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Why Jesus?

Yesterday was one of those happy days when a little brown box full of books shows up on my doorstep, and I had just enough time to grab one of them as I ran out the door with my daughter to swimming lessons.  Twenty minutes later, after collapsing poolside nearing the end of what felt like a long day, I read these words that open William Willimon’s Why Jesus?:

Why Jesus? Because he is the most fascinating person in the world. Into my life he came, unsought and uninvited, took over, and refused to go. He led me into dangerous territory. Only later did I learn this is typical. Though he is one with us, he is neither casually nor promptly known, not because he is arcane but because he is so very different from us, so difficult to categorize or to define, because he is also one with God. You can know him for many years, yet never really know him as well as he appears to know you. He manages to be unfathomable, deep, ungraspable, and yet oddly close, intimate, talkative, and relentlessly relational.

4 Comments Post a comment
  1. Ken #

    I hate to see one of your postings go commentless, so here is something.

    How is Willimon’s Jesus different from that of the author of Jesus Calling?

    Willimon here says: “Into my life he came”, “He led me.” “Me” and “my” sounds as individualistic or personal of a relationship as the one Sarah Young describes. His Jesus may not speak exactly the same words as the one of Sarah Young, but he knows “you” really well, he takes over and refuses to go, he is “close, intimate and relational,” and he is “talkative.” Talkative! Just like Sarah Young’s Jesus.

    Neither the testimony of Willimon nor Young bothers me, even though I don’t speak of God or Jesus in the same way as either of them. Willimon comes from a background (Methodist) in which personal piety is emphasized, and I imagine Sarah Young may too. The Reformed tradition that largely shaped me, and that I still admire, does not have that emphasis. Such are the accidents of our lives, of our histories, of our theologies. So I don’t mean to pick on Willimon or Young or their admirers. I am just trying get the conversation going here.

    January 17, 2011
    • Your question is a fair one. There are certainly similarities between the language of Young and Willimon. It’s hard to say why I find the one attractive and not the other—especially since I am generally suspicious of overly familiar language about God and reticent to use it myself. I suspect that it might be due, at least in part, to my general familiarity with Willimon through some of his other writing. I know that the familiar language he uses here comes out of a fairly rigorous and deep lifelong intellectual engagement with Scripture, theology, the church, etc. But no sooner do I say this than I hear the rejoinder, “So someone has to be a ‘deep’ thinker or an intellectual to use the language of intimacy?!” No, I certainly don’t want to go there…

      Maybe in the case of this quote, I was simply drawn to it because the language of familiarity and intimacy comes after an acknowledgment of some of the more difficult aspects of a life with Christ. The order is important for me, even if I know this view may not be shared.

      (For the record, I’m OK with posts going commentless :), much as I appreciate the interesting conversations that you and others get going.)

      January 17, 2011
  2. Ken #

    Re: “Maybe in the case of this quote, I was simply drawn to it because the language of familiarity and intimacy comes after an acknowledgment of some of the more difficult aspects of a life with Christ. The order is important for me, even if I know this view may not be shared.”

    Is that view shared among Anabaptists generally?

    Is piety emphasized among Anabaptists? If so, what piety is emphasized?

    Do Anabaptists use a “language of familiarity and intimacy” with respect to Jesus?

    January 18, 2011
    • I’m not sure if my view would be shared among Anabaptists generally. We’re a pretty diverse bunch! If I were to hazard a guess, I would say that more people would not share it than those who would, but I doubt that it is much different than the general population (at least among those who, by virtue of the “accidents” of history and theology, have been nurtured in more pietistic traditions).

      Re: is piety emphasized among Anabaptists? Well, certainly in our little MB tribe it has been. The formation of the Mennonite Brethren conference was influenced, at least in part, by the teachings of a traveling Lutheran Pietist in the nineteenth-century Russian colonies. A strong emphasis upon revival, conversion, personal discipleship, bible-reading, prayer, etc was present from the beginning and has remained to the present.

      This includes plenty of familiarity and intimacy language with respect to Jesus, of course. To whatever extent I am uncomfortable with this, I would probably be swimming against the broader stream of the MB world to some degree. But, as I said, Anabaptists are a very diverse group, and there are people on all points of the “familiarity and intimacy” spectrum.

      January 18, 2011

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