A Feature Review of
Centering Jesus: How the Lamb of God Transforms Our Communities, Ethics, and Spiritual Lives
Reviewed by Andrew Camp
“As human beings, we tend to take on the characteristics of whatever or whomever we focus on” (19). So writes Derek Vreeland in his newest book, Centering Jesus. This begs the question: what am I focused on? What are we as a community of Christians focused on? It is all too easy to assume for any one of us that because we believe in Jesus, we are rightly focused on him. But when I look around in my own life and in the life of the church, I see first-hand how easy it is to lose focus on Jesus. There are just too many tugs and pulls at all of our hearts; we need a constant reminder to recenter on Jesus, and not just the Jesus I want or think the world needs, but the Jesus presented to us in Scripture.
Derek Vreeland challenges, yet lovingly invites Christians– both individually and corporately– to behold Jesus as the Lamb, an image from Revelation 7:17: “The Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd” (NRSV). Derek writes, “With all the hostility boiling just under the surface of our world, we need a renewed vision of Jesus as the Lamb of God who can lead us in the peaceable ways of the Kingdom” (xvi). As the subtitle of the book alludes to, Derek focuses on three key aspects of life that can be transformed by this vision: spiritual disciplines, ethics, and our communal life.
But before expanding on these three areas, Vreeland lays the foundation of why this vision of the Lamb is so vital today. All too often the evangelical church has succumbed to the pressures and values of the culture over the vision given to us through Scripture. Our posture often gives way to antagonism and hostility instead of the peaceful, civil ways of Jesus as the Lamb of God. Derek draws much of his imagery of Jesus as Lamb from Revelation, and rightly so. If we can behold Jesus at the end of the story when all is made right, we will begin to believe that vision is possible, in part, right now. Instead of beholding and believing culture, we will behold and believe Jesus, practicing the actions that align us with God’s Kingdom instead of the kingdom of this age. Vreeland is not suggesting that we acquiesce to all power, but rather share in the power of the Lamb, a power “not in the ability to devour his enemies… but in his sacrificial love, the kind that suffers with us” (27, emphasis added).
Derek first turns his attention to spiritual formation, namely the long slow-process of being conformed to the image of Jesus. He focuses on three key areas of the process—the Jesus Prayer, Scripture, and the Spirit—all with the focus on keeping a Jesus-centered view of it all. Without Jesus at the center, Christians find it all too easy to drift towards the current of culture, “We Christians have already become more secular than we recognize or care to admit” (36). In an age of authenticity and autonomy, prayer, Scripture, and the Spirit keep us connected to Jesus. Vreeland does not offer easy quick fixes to these problems; rather he roots his understanding in the centuries long held beliefs of the church. His goal is not to encourage us to accumulate more knowledge, but rather, again and again he points us toward connectivity to a person so that we can have a lived experience of connectedness.
In Western culture, virtue is often rooted in productivity, devoid of the interior quality of a person’s soul. In turning to Christian virtues, Derek focuses on the three theological virtues from 1 Corinthians 13:13—faith, hope, and love. His goal, again, is not simply knowledge acquisition, but rather, is about becoming followers of the Lamb of God. What I appreciate about Derek’s treatment of these three virtues is that they are inherently relational. They are “God’s gifts to us. We have the responsibility to practice faith, hope, and love but we do not generate them; [but] receive them as a gift of grace” (88). In talking about faith, Derek writes, “Faith as confidence in the Lamb of God is a relational quality of our hearts based on past evidence, which enables us to hope in God for the future” (93, emphasis added). When he discusses love—the greatest of the three—he again roots love not in mere sentimentality or infatuation, but rather in the deep relational love of Jesus displayed on the cross. In order to be faithful, hopeful, and loving, we must consistently practice these virtues, because “our being and our doing mutually reinforce one another” (86).
Flowing directly from faith, hope, and love, Vreeland turns to our common life together because our primary opportunity to enact these virtues is anytime when we gather (128). Our common life together is not centered around commonalities of socio-economic worth or ethnicity, but rather our common life with Jesus as the Lamb of God where we find people from “every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb” (Rev. 7:9). If this is the view of the end of all things, then it changes how we structure church, justice, and politics. In all three of these arenas, none of which we can avoid or write off, we are governed by this principle of Jesus—“Jesus rules not by the love of power but in the power of love” (172).
We were created to be present with and to worship our Triune God. This is the chorus that is repeated throughout Scripture. When Jesus came to earth as the supreme revelation of God’s love, he not only taught us how to live, but invited us to focus on him as we follow his example, “If we place any other person, object, agenda, plan, or intention in the center, we will quickly veer off course” (181). As Christians, our call continues to be what it has always been—to center Jesus in everything minute by minute, day by day. Centering Jesus presents us with a beautiful picture of what is possible when this does happen, not for ourselves, but for our families, our communities, and our world.
Andrew Camp draws on his experience as both a professional chef and a pastor to help people experience a rich lived experience around the table. He has a Masters in Spiritual Formation and Soul Care from Talbot Seminary. He is married to Claire, and they have two daughters Hazelle and Hannah, and they currently live in Flagstaff, AZ
Reading for the Common Good
From ERB Editor Christopher Smith
"This book will inspire, motivate and challenge anyone who cares a whit about the written word, the world of ideas, the shape of our communities and the life of the church."
-Karen Swallow Prior
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