What does it actually mean to live a life with Jesus at the epicenter? Murray claims that we have “marginalized” Jesus. I think in many ways he is right.
I think the best definition of Christianity is simply, a host of commonplace people following the form of Jesus’ life on earth. I respect the rich legacy of the Christian church and I also think we are greatly profited by a multitude of perspectives on biblical history and witness. However, simple faith does not mean simplistic faith. In this way, I very much agree with Murray, and I think his brand of Anabaptism is uniquely positioned in our culture to remind Christendom of the Jesus-centered faith we have forgotten.
I think his focus on Constantine is heavy-handed. I think his history, although not wrong, is less watertight than he presents it. However, I think his point about Jesus being spiritualized and domesticated is a strong one. We don’t serve an “imperial figure” but instead the very Author of the Gospel of Grace.
Most Christians would claim to look at Jesus as the True North of their existence. Murray seems to be attempting to put real skin on this too often-floated Christian platitude. Jesus should consume our footprint on society, not the unpredictable winds of our culture, our time or our country. Jesus lived out true religion and grafted his own life into the pain and everyday experiences of the downtrodden. The amazing thing about a Jesus-centered faith is that it points to an unearthly power that can cut through the cynical contemporary noise in a way that dogma simply cannot.
The life of Jesus Christ does not have the scent of huckster’s religiosity. For example, Buddha left his family and Muhammad carnally chased the flesh. These things all reek of humanity whereas the life of Jesus is surrounded by a different aroma. Selfishness and sensual appetite can be explained away by a world that has seen it all, but a King coming to die for the slaves of sin is clearly something not of this world.
Murray’s second principle asserts a “Jesus-centered approach to the Bible.” I know very few believers who would disagree. However, Murry seems at times to be licking his finger and sticking it up in the overly emotive wind of our culture. The New Testament is vibrant and alive; as is the Old Testament. My personal problem with voices like Murray, is that they seem to dive head first into the feel-good swimming pool of grace, refusing to occasionally dry off with the towel of truth. I read the life of Christ as one who tightrope walked the balance of grace and truth brilliantly. In my humble opinion, Murray does not. Murray’s major point is that a Christian’s citizenship is in the heavenly kingdom alone. He claims that it is not for the Christian to follow in the kingdoms of this world. Instead, we are to be Kingdom travelers, pilgrims, heavenly migrants. I do not disagree, however, I often found myself wondering how he pairs this thinking with his progressive opinions about social justice?
The Anabaptists have always read Scripture independent of the fleeting whims of the time. I think this has been a wonderful thread running through our unique history. When interpreting scripture, we must all be wary of temporary trends that seem pressing but are in fact, fleeting and fickle. In the past, the western church was far too quick to run blindly into the arms of jingoistic conformity. I often fear that Murray and his ilk are swinging the pendulum the opposite direction. Both of these reactionary approaches to interpreting scripture strike me as foolish sides of the same trend chasing coin.
A Jesus-centered focus while reading scripture is enduring and steadfast. A focus on community and faith is badly needed today. Murray’s Jesus uber alles brand of Anabaptism has a huge opportunity to impact our time and shape us into kingdom likeness.
My personal prayer is that we have enough wisdom to avoid the timeless temptation to dragnet every Johnny-come-lately societal proclivity into our Jesus boat.