A Feature Review of
Dismissing Jesus: How We Evade the Way of the Cross
Reviewed by Tim Otto.
Although I’m not the “Novice Master” equivalent in my New Monastic community, I do get to teach a class for new apprentices. A great joy of my life is that I get to help people open books as gifts. Staples of the class are books such as Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry, Does God Need the Church? by Gerhard Lohfink, and Being Church by John Alexander.
Recently I’ve been thinking that we need a book focused on the revolutionary Jesus, and how the good news he proclaimed creates a new society. Happily, there is a terrific new book that does just that—Douglas M. Jones’s Dismissing Jesus: How We Evade the Way of the Cross.
Jones’s book explores the gaping canyon between the Jesus of modern Christendom, the one who guarantees an automatic heaven based on a “conscious decision to accept Christ’s sacrificial death” (Alcorn) and the Jesus of the gospels who teaches deliverance through repentance and turning from Mammon—which Jones defines as power, prestige, and possessions. Jones often has some deserved fun as he explores the shallow Jesus of contemporary Christianity. Commenting on the “conscious decision” he writes, “Oooh. It’s not mere belief, no. It’s a special ‘conscious’ decision. That captures so much of modern evangelicalism.”
While such comments might turn some off, by the time Jones writes that, he has earned it. The first part of his book is entitled “What is the Way of the Cross?” Within that are seven chapters, the first being “The Way of Weakness.”
I’ve appreciated “weakness” as an aspect of Jesus’s teaching and am fond of the twelve-step saying “Lead with your weakness.” But I’ve never seen Jesus’s “way of weakness” laid out so clearly or compellingly. Jones, who throughout the book demonstrates an impressive knowledge of scripture, surveys how God asks Abram to leave the security of his inheritance, how Abraham chooses the lessor land when he divides it with his nephew Lot, how God gives Abraham a child in the weakness of his old age, and that is just the beginning of dozens of examples. Finally Jesus reveals a God who works not through the strength of angel armies, but through the weakness of an execution usually reserved for slaves.
The next chapter, “The Way of Renunciation,” lays out a key idea for Jones. He contends that Jesus’s way is best understood in contrast to the way of Mammon. When Jesus said, “You cannot serve God and Mammon” (Matt 6:24) he isn’t just referring to money. “Money is the blood of Mammon, but it’s not all of Mammon. It’s not the brain or heart or fist of Mammon.” Jones makes the case that Mammon is a kind of divinity, a system of power, prestige, and possessions which most of us take for granted as “how things are.” We try to Christianize that system (worship it “Christianly?”), all the while ignoring the fact that Jesus calls us to worship a fundamentally different divinity.
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