The following is audio and text from the teaching given by Leah on September 13, 2015. Feel free to listen online, download, or read. This teaching is the first in our fall series, "Sailing the Blue Ocean."
Shigeru Miyamoto is a legend in his field. Miyamoto is a Japanese video game designer, who was the brains behind several of Nintendo’s classic, groundbreaking, best-selling games, including Donkey Kong, the Super Mario games, and the Legend of Zelda. But by the first decade of the 21st century, Nintendo was struggling to keep up in the video game market. The Sony Playstation and the X-Box 360 with their high-definition graphics, DVD and Blu-Ray capabilities, and sophisticated games were the favorites amongst hard-core video gamers, and Nintendo was becoming increasingly irrelevant.
Miyamoto and his colleagues had a decision to make. They could try to continue to compete on the terms of a narrow industry for a small slice of market share. Or they could perhaps begin to imagine something different. Miyamoto’s team began to look at the larger population who did not appreciate video games. Nintendo began speaking to seniors, to younger children, to parents who wanted their kids to play more active games, and other non-gamers and began to design a system and way of playing with this new population in mind who had never previously shown interest in traditional video games. Their gamble paid off. In 2007, Nintendo launched the first version of the Wii and as seniors started exercising through Wii sports, soccer moms started to workout to Wii fit, and families began to play things like Just Dance together, a new segment of gamers was created.
The story of Nintendo’s reinvention of itself with the release of the Wii has been identified by business strategists as a perfect example of what’s come to be known in the corporate world as "Blue Ocean Strategy". The term was coined in 2005 by W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne, with the release of their book in that year by the same name. In the book, Kim and Mauborgne use a metaphor for the market. The authors describe competitive companies as fishermen, and the existing market space where companies are competing as the red ocean. It’s red because there’s blood in the water due to so many fishermen fishing in a small area. All the fishermen are fishing in the same way, on the same terms, and their goals are to catch the most fish and eliminate their competitors who are all doing the same thing in that narrow space of water.
But as Kim and Mauborgne point out, there’s more than a red ocean out there. In fact, according to the metaphor, there’s a whole lot of Blue Ocean, too, where there are plenty of fish, but no one is fishing. According to the theory, if a fisherman could innovate new ways to catch those fish in the Blue Ocean, there’s no limit to the potential for growth. That’s why many business strategists think what Nintendo did through creating the Wii, and with it a new audience for video games, is a perfect example of a company fishing the Blue Ocean.
Well, in recent years, it’s become clear that the church has a red ocean of its own. In some ways, America has more religious competitors than history has ever known. In Christianity alone, there are a dizzying myriad of denominations and independent churches. When you consider other faiths, there are even more. Today we have religious charities, religious radio stations, religious bookstores, television stations, music, religious universities, and so on. But while it is true that there has probably never been so many options for the practice of religion in our country, the percentage of people engaging in it is shrinking. Survey after survey demonstrate the growth of the “nones,” those who say they have no religious affiliation, particularly in well-educated, diverse urban areas. In fact, it may not come as a surprise the San Francisco Bay Area holds the honor of most un-religious in the country.
But despite this reality, there are a number of us living and following Jesus in these very secular liberal Blue Ocean places, and finding that the water there is actually pretty great. And years ago a number of us in those kind of settings - urban areas like Manhattan and college towns, like Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Iowa City, Iowa - we started talking about the opportunities for new kinds of faith communities to thrive in these settings. Jesus had called actual fishermen and taught them how to “fish for people” in powerful and surprising ways. “Might he be doing the same thing today?” we asked, and if so, how might he be leading a movement of Jesus followers to catch fish in Blue Ocean spheres? Many of us found that conversation so compelling that it became the origin of a new network of churches that we at Haven are a founding part of, called Blue Ocean Faith.
Well, we’re starting a new teaching series I’m calling, “Sailing the Blue Ocean” where we talk a bit about some distinctives of this new little church network. Now Blue Ocean isn’t the type of organization to have codified stances handed down from on high that all of us must pledge allegiance to; we’re far from that. But a few of my pastor friends who are at the helm of this venture have spent some time articulating what they see as six distinctives that could helpfully describe what makes a Blue Ocean church “Blue Ocean” per se.
We’re going to spend the fall looking through these, so I’m gonna start by reading all six, and then we’ll talk specifically about the first for the rest of today.
So here are the six Blue Ocean Distinctives:
1 Our primary framework is SOLUS JESUS.
2 Our primary metaphor is CENTERED-SET.
3 Our approach to spiritual development is CHILDLIKE FAITH.
4 Our approach to controversial issues is THIRD WAY.
5 Our approach to other churches is ECUMENICAL/CONVERGENT.
6 Our approach to culture is JOYFUL ENGAGEMENT.
So there you have it. These are what we’re going to be looking at over the weeks to come. Some of these are much more self-evident than others; so if at first pass you don’t totally get what’s being communicated, that’s ok. I’ll be filling you in. And today we start with what might be the biggest head scratcher on the first look, number one. “Our primary framework is “Solus Jesus”. Solus what…?
“Solus Jesus” is a latin phrase that means “Only Jesus” or “Jesus Alone”. So why not just say that? Why bother with Latin? Well, at some point Blue Ocean might opt for that, but at this point, we’re keeping the Latin because it’s a reference point, and the reference point goes back to one of the last major periods of change that the church has gone through.
Phyllis Tickle is a retired professor, author and speaker, who has spent years studying and teaching on religious history. She was the founding editor of the religion department for Publishers Weekly. In 2008 she released a book called The Great Emergence - How Christianity is Changing and Why. In it, Tickle made clear that a pattern has taken place for millennia, whereby every 500 years or so, there’s a great upheaval in the structure of how religion is practiced, and this pattern can be traced not only looking back through Christianity to the birth of Jesus, but even further back through the Judaism that Christianity was birthed out of. The same pattern seems to be evident in other long-standing religions as well. And as it turns out, the last great reorg in the Christian Faith took place about 500 years ago. We call it the Great Reformation. Let’s watch a brief video as Phyllis explains some of what took place then, and where it has left us 500 years later. (Watch video here).
So sola scriptura was the answer to Martin Luther’s call for reform. No longer does the authority lie in a mortal person called the Pope, it lies in a book. And there was a lot that was helpful about that reform. We got literacy. We got a re-engagement of personal faith. You didn’t need to go to the priest or the pope to connect you to God, you could read the Bible and have your own personal connection with God yourself. That’s all to the good, and so we’re profoundly grateful for the innovations of the Reformation, including sola scriptura. But as Phyllis, pointed out, there were also some real problems with that approach and 500 years later, we feel these problems today. We feel them in the absurd number of denominations we have. We feel them in the theological wars the church has undertaken, particularly in the last 150 years, as the cracks in the armor of this framework have become more clear. Theological disagreements have taken place about slavery. Disagreements about science and medicine, and the creation of the cosmos. Disagreements about women and their capacity to contribute to society as equal members and even leaders. And most recently bitter disagreements about how we understand gender and sexual orientation. Sola scriptura has often driven a wedge between the evangelical church and the secular world. We’ve been seeing it in the last couple weeks all over the media, haven’t we?
But what do we do? Even if we acknowledge that there were limitations to sola scriptura, what alternative do we have? If the Bible can’t have the ultimate authority, what does? And what does the Bible become? Does it still have a meaningful place to speak into our lives? Or do we have to call it “just a book” among other religious books which may have some helpful stuff for us, but is ultimately not a reliable source of truth? Just considering these questions, it becomes clear why, as Phyllis said, the thought of moving beyond sola scriptura can feel very threatening.
So maybe here it would be helpful to take a step back from the ethos of sola scriptura and the threatening question of whether it should or shouldn’t stand, and simply look at Jesus. What was his approach to the scriptures? Was he a sola scriptura kinda guy, or did he have a different way of looking at things that might be helpful? Let’s look together at his approach as shown in a familiar passage from scripture itself, Mark 4.:
Jesus began to teach by the lake. The crowd that gathered around him was so large that he got into a boat and sat in it out on the lake, while all the people were along the shore at the water’s edge. He taught them many things by parables, and in his teaching said: “Listen! A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants, so that they did not bear grain. Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, multiplying thirty, sixty, or even a hundred times.” Then Jesus said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
When he was alone, the Twelve and the others around him asked him about the parables. He told them, “The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables so that, “’they may be ever seeing but never perceiving, and ever hearing but never understanding; otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!’” Then Jesus said to them, “Don’t you understand this parable? How then will you understand any parable? The farmer sows the word. Some people are like seed along the path, where the word is sown. As soon as they hear it, Satan comes and takes away the word that was sown in them. Others, like seed sown on rocky places, hear the word and at once receive it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful. Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop—thirty, sixty or even a hundred times what was sown.”
(Mark 4:1-20, TNIV)
OK, so for many of us this is a familiar parable, but I think it’s an important one to consider as we think about the Bible and the role it plays in our lives. So we’re gonna tease this out a bit. First, let’s look a little closer what is happening in this story.
Jesus is teaching by a lake. He’s got a very large crowd. And he’s teaching in parables, which basically means stories and pithy sayings. And one of these stories is reported here. It seems like a pretty simple agrarian story, right? This is not rocket science. The farmer sows seed in all kinds of places, with four different kinds of soil of varying qualities, and only in one place does it actually take root and grow into something.
Now Jesus lived in an agrarian society; farming was a way of life. If you couldn’t farm, or couldn’t participate in farming through commerce, you did not eat. It’s trendy now to be farm-to-table, but back then, that was the only way you lived. So imagine, if you will, that you have heard about an incredible teacher, someone who is so compelling, someone that everyone is captivated by that you think, “you know I should go hear this guy myself”. But it’s a hike. I mean a crowd that size doesn’t live in the local village, this is drawing people from many miles away. So maybe you have to walk a day or so to hear this guy preach. But you do it, cause you think maybe he’s got something worth hearing. And then you finally get there, and this is what you get. A story about a farmer who apparently didn’t know what to do with his seed because he carelessly threw it everywhere with no regards for whether or not that was a wise move. And surprise, surprise, most of the seed didn’t grow. If I put myself in that person’s shoes, I think at the end of the day, they would have heard that story and felt pretty jipped.
I was trying to think of an equivalent story for 21st century Bay Area types. Here’s the best I could come up with. Imagine a really compelling presidential candidate or other lecturer you find fascinating is coming to speak, maybe at Cal. You have to stand in line for over a day to hear him or her, but you do it, cause you want to be there, and then he or she gets up and says this:
An engineer had an iPhone, an iPad, an Apple Watch and a MacBook Pro. He came home from work, and after getting out of his Toyota Prius, he put his computer on the hood of his car, and went in the house. The next day, when he got up, his computer was gone. Also, when he came inside that evening, he left his iPhone in his coat pocket, and the next day it didn’t work, because he hadn’t charged it. His Apple Watch he put on the charging station, but in the night he spilled a glass of water on the nightstand and didn’t clean it up, and when he awoke, the watch no longer worked because it was covered in water. But his iPad he kept in a clean, dry place, where it charged all night and was productive all the following day. The end. Thank you very much. Have a great day.
Um…really? That’s the best you got? Don’t leave your mac book on the car? Don’t forget to charge your phone? What kind of an idiot do you think I am? Why are you wasting my time? I think this was what most of those farmers thought they heard from Jesus that day, and a lot of them went home, I would think, pretty frustrated about it.
But not everyone, right? Because the passage goes on. After the crowd leaves, there are some people still around. Mark tells us “the Twelve and the others around them”, so we’ve got Jesus’ closest followers and some others who’ve stuck around after most folks have left. And they ask him, “What’s the deal with these parables? What’s up with these cryptic, sound kinda stupid stories? Why are you telling us about iPads and iPhones,” or in their case, “seeds and soils”?
And that’s where Jesus seems to say the most puzzling thing of all. He comes out with this quote from Isaiah that says, “The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables so that, “’they may be ever seeing but never perceiving, and ever hearing but never understanding; otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!’”
What is Jesus talking about? This sounds like mean. What’s up with the insider/outsider language? And why does it sound like Jesus doesn’t want people to understand? Does he really not want them to be forgiven..? How cruel is that?
If at first it doesn’t sound like what we might expect of Jesus, maybe it’s worth digging a bit deeper. So we’re gonna hold those questions and come back to them.
Let’s look at what Jesus says about the parable. He starts to interpret it for them. Turns out the story isn’t really about planting seed after all. It’s about what? The word of God. Now when we hear that phrase it can be confusing what it means. Are we talking literally about specific words? Which words are they? Does this phrase mean the Bible?
A better translation, I think, of this phrase “word of God” would be the communication of God, or the message from God, or perhaps even better, the revelation of God. God is communicating, revealing things through human modes of communication and to talk about that we talk about words, but it goes beyond letters strung together on a page, right? The word of God is the message God is communicating to people, and according to this parable, God is communicating it to Everyone. God is throwing his seeds everywhere, liberally. But the people are like the soils; they receive it differently.
Some people are like the path, they hear and it seems to bounce off. Nothing penetrates past the surface. Then there are those people who are apparently like the rocky soil. They hear the word, they take it in, perhaps it starts to make sense, but it doesn’t root, it doesn’t go deep, so it doesn’t take much to kill it off. There’s also those who are like the thorny ground, apparently. They take in the message of God, but there are too many cares of the world that concern them, that they block God’s message from growing in them. And then there are those who receive it well and it takes root, and it grows and prospers and it’s fruitful in their lives: the good soil.
So now the story makes more sense. It’s not about where to plant your seed at all, it’s about recognizing what it means to be good soil, to be receptive to the work of God in your life, right? Now let’s go back to that mysterious thing Jesus said earlier. “The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside, everything is said in parables.”
So what makes these men and women different from those on the “outside”? How do they possess the secret? Do they get the parable more than the others? No, clearly not. They’re pretty clueless about what Jesus is talking about. So how are they any different than the others? Well, what if Jesus means quite literally they are different than those on the outside because they are here and the others are not. The others have left - they are outside of the room.
The folks who came and heard what Jesus had to say and then left without asking any questions or pursuing the interpretation, what did they get out of Jesus’ teaching that day? Probably nothing, right? Most likely, they went home frustrated. Or maybe they pretended to get it, but did they really? I don’t think so. I think what this passage shows us is that they couldn’t. The story was designed to be cryptic. It was meant to confuse. So those people who heard it and walked away - they are like the path. The word bounced off of them, they couldn’t really receive it, because they hadn’t actually engaged with Jesus on it. They weren’t staying after to find out what it really means. They weren’t using the teaching as a jumping off point into an active relationship with Jesus. They were simply consuming it and walking away. But what if the communication of God is not meant to work that way?
If I write my husband a letter, it’s because I want to articulate something that will then lead to deeper relational connection between us. Maybe it’s a love letter where I detail to him all of the things I find fabulous about him, and I expect that when he reads it, he’s not just going to read it, say that’s nice, and go back to his video games. I expect him to get hot and bothered and the moment he sees me, sweep me into his arms and we go from there. Or maybe we’re having a fight, some sort of conflict, I might write a letter to communicate my point of view, but it is an invitation to connection, to reconciliation, to restored intimacy. If my communication doesn’t lead to that, what’s the point of it?
What if the secret that has been given to those who were there isn’t some mysterious magical knowledge that they alone have been chosen to possess? What if Jesus is simply saying, “You people, you who are hearing the message and letting it provoke you - provoke you into questions, provoke you into confusion, provoke you to come to talk to me - you’ve got the secret. Now I can tell you what my story means. Now I can help you understand. And perhaps, if you can avoid the rocks and the thorns, you can let God’s revelation root in you. You can see God’s word actually make an impact in your life. You can be good soil. But you start by coming here and connecting with me. That’s the secret.”
I believe Jesus is inviting his followers, through this parable into an interactive relationship with him. He is saying, “Yes, receive what God has to say to you, yes receive it through God’s communication, including the written communication of the Bible, but if you want it to sink in, if you want it to go deep, if you want it to bear lasting fruit in your life, you have to read it and process it and wrestle with it and embody it with me. I, myself, am the focal point of the Word. I, Jesus, am the purest revelation of God.”
For all of it’s benefits, the problem with sola scriptura was that it reduced God to words on a page. It boxed God into narrow readings of ancient documents and even narrower interpretations of how those readings should be applied. But if we look at how Jesus, as well as the disciples he surrounded himself with, and those who prominently came after him like Paul, if we look at how they used the Bible, it didn’t work that way at all. That’s why Jesus was always getting in trouble with the religious people of his day. He was reinterpreting the Sabbath. He was challenging their temple systems and structures. And it drove Jesus crazy that folks would be obsessed with the Bible and miss receiving the message of God through it. In John 5, he said this to them: “You study the scriptures thoroughly because you think in them you possess eternal life, and it is these same scriptures that testify about me, but you are not willing to come to me so that you may have life.”
It’s like Jesus is saying, “You can study the scripture all you want. But the scripture apart from me will give you nothing. The scripture is here to point you to me. You have to come to me if you want to have real life.” You have to come to Jesus.
As many of you know, I came to an active faith in Jesus in college, and I’m grateful that I did so in a setting where I could be nurtured in a faith that took the inspiration of the Bible seriously, and that also believed that God is still speaking to us today and that we can cultivate a dynamic connection with that God through the Holy Spirit. If it wasn’t for both of those things being true, I know with confidence I wouldn’t be here pastoring this church today. But the working out of the tension of those two has not always been easy.
In my early years as a Jesus follower I had multiple things going on. I was falling in love, not only with Jesus, but with studying everything about him, particularly the Bible. I declared a double major in religion so I could pursue my curiosity academically. I also went to every Bible study meeting my campus fellowship held, and there were a lot of them. They were big on the Bible. As I did so, I came face to face with sola scriptura and the teachings that most sola scriptura churches took on women which ranged from on the most extreme conservative end, “women can’t have authority over men in any arena of life”, to the more standard take in my sphere that a woman could play lots of important roles and be an executive in the market place, but she couldn’t be the lead pastor of a church. These positions were rooted in what these churches perceived to be very clear teaching of scripture. “I do not permit a woman to teach or have authority over a man” Paul had said in 1 Timothy 2.
But thankfully I was also in a church that believed that Jesus speaks to us and leads us today though his Holy Spirit. Now I had always been a leader from an early age, organizing all my friends on the school yard into little plays or other games. I’ve always known I was a leader, and as I came to faith in Jesus as young adult, I knew that this was a part of my identity that he affirmed. It was how God had created me. It was something my communities of faith affirmed too, so that no sooner was I beginning to turn myself toward Jesus then I was given things to lead, and I thrived. Further, people would listen to God when they prayed for me, and they’d share the words they thought God might be saying to them to encourage me. “God’s made you to be a Pioneer,” they’d say. “Or a trailblazer”. And I knew those things were true. I could feel it.
So for years, even as pastors and other leaders encouraged me to consider vocational ministry, I declined. “I’m for the world, not the church,” I’d say. Now part of this was about my passion for folks who weren’t really the church-y type, which is still true today and a central part of what I still feel called to. But another part of it was this reality that I knew that ultimately in ministry, as a woman, for me there would be a ceiling. Perhaps I could become a worship pastor or something, but somewhere along the line I’d reach a point where I could go no further because of my gender. Why, at 22, would I start down that path?
So when around 24 I was in a powerful prayer time and I thought Jesus said as clear as day to me, “Someday you guys are going to start a church” my natural reaction was, “Oh. You’re gonna call Jason to be a pastor.” In my sola scriptura environment, I had no imagination for anything else.
It was several years later that I started getting opportunities to preach and to find out that I loved it, and I was good it. It was years later later that my mentor at the time sat me down, and said, “Leah, your gifts are those of a church planting pastor, a senior pastor” and I felt in my core that she was saying something scandalously true. It was years later that I began to read books from Biblical scholars on the scriptural case for women in leadership. I learned about Junia the apostle whom Paul had said was outstanding amongst the apostles. It was years later I began to learn about some of the issues surrounding the particular churches that Paul had worked with, and why some of the limitations he had placed on women need not be understood as universal.
But at the core, it was not a new interpretation of scripture that gave me the confidence to move forward in embracing a call to be a senior pastor. Ultimately it was the interplay between how I was reading the Bible, and how Jesus was working in my life. I believe Jesus was leading the whole process. By the time the theology was there, Jesus had been speaking to me for years about leading a church; I just didn’t know then all that he was saying. Once it became more clear, though the Biblical case was still debatable, my journey with Jesus gave me the confidence to stand and walk into ministry.
It is real that I know that today there are still many sola scriptura Christians, (and I’m talking about people I know well and have served in churches with, and I believe they are sincere Jesus-followers and my brothers and sisters in Christ), but many of these Christians today do not believe I should be leading a church because I am a woman. Likely, throughout my entire lifetime that will always be the case. But I no longer live insecure about my status before God because I’ve experienced fruitfulness with Jesus as I’ve walked this path. I’ve experienced Jesus leading me not only in how I understand my faith Biblically but how I live it out. I can move forward because I know that in the end it won’t be my faithfulness to a particular reading of a particular verse that I am ultimately responsible for. In the end, I stand by my faithfulness to trying to follow Jesus alone and walk whatever crazy radical journey he has me on. It’s not sola scriptura. It’s solus Jesus. It’s not Scripture Alone. It’s Jesus Alone.
This is what we mean when we say our primary framework in Blue Ocean is “Solus Jesus.” When Phyllis Tickle asks, “where then is the authority?” we say it isn't the Bible alone, it’s Jesus alone. He’s the only one we want to entrust with that task.
So if that makes sense to you, if you buy that “Solus Jesus” might be the framework that best fits a Blue Ocean Faith, what would it mean? How would we live that out? Well in a sense, that is part of what the other five distinctives are going to help address. So it’s something we’ll be exploring for the next several weeks, but I do want to end by quickly acknowledging three important implications of a solus Jesus framework, each of which gives us a first step in the right direction.
The first implication is this: Solus Jesus depends on an interactive, connected relationship with a living Jesus. Solus Jesus only works if Jesus is alive and connected to us. It’s banking on that being true: that the God of the Universe has revealed himself most clearly through the person of Jesus Christ, and that God has sent his Holy Spirit so that we could not only know about Jesus but we could be connected to him in a real way, and receive actual direction from him that would bring life to ourselves and to the world around us. It’s banking on the fact that when Jesus looked at his followers the night before his death and said, “I will not leave you as orphans. I will come to you,” he meant it. He meant that the Holy Spirit would provide a means to stay connected to a living Jesus on the other side of death and resurrection.
You can’t fake it with solus Jesus. You can’t rely simply on words on a page. But really: why would you want to? If there isn’t a living God who wants to connect with us, why are we even here? So if we profess this God revealed in Jesus, solus Jesus says, ok then, let’s let him be the judge. Let’s let him be the teacher. Let’s let our leaders submit to this Jesus. And let’s see how that shapes the community we become; when we allow ourselves to be shaped and taught and led by the one who said turn the other cheek when you want to fight. The one who said I’ve not come for the healthy but the sick. By the one who said take up your cross and follow me and so much more. This Jesus is our authority. This Jesus is who we answer to.
So if everything relies on an interactive relationship with a living Jesus, we best invest in that. We’d do well to learn all we could about hearing from this Jesus in all kinds of ways: through the gifts of his spirit, through a vibrant, relationally connected prayer life, through heart-opening worship, and yes, through serious study of the Bible in the company of Jesus himself. Solus Jesus depends on an interactive connection with the living Jesus.
Here’s what I think the second implication of solus Jesus would be: we get to let go of the need to have all the answers. We get to let go of the need to have all the answers. In a solus Jesus framework we embrace the secret of the kingdom of God - that we need Jesus to help us understand the nature of God. It’s not our job to search the scriptures for a clear, self-explanatory, universally applicable answer to every question about anything. That’s never been our job and it’s never worked when we tried to make it our job. Our job is to bring our questions to Jesus. To allow him to speak to us, often through the Scripture, but sometimes in unexpected ways. Our job is to find Jesus in the tensions. To find that the secret of the kingdom isn’t some special knowledge or insight or theology; it’s connecting with Jesus himself.
We’re going to talk in the weeks to come about what we do when we disagree about what Jesus is saying through the scriptures, or when we come to different conclusions about how Jesus might be leading us forward, but it all starts with admitting that we do not have all the answers. This is great news! We don’t have to figure it all out. We don’t have to pretend we have it all figured out. We get to admit that we can’t figure it all out, not because we’re not smart enough but because we’re not God. Instead, we turn our eyes to the living Jesus, and we gain life by embracing humility. We become teachable. We become eager to learn from any one we can, even those with whom perhaps we disagree about a lot of things. We can acknowledge that the more we learn of God, the more we realize how little we know.
Finally, I think the third important implication of a solus Jesus framework has to be that it works better in the company of others. Jesus was a fan of teams, and he encouraged his followers to rely on them, too. He called groups of followers. He took them places in groups. He sent them out in groups. He understood that it is not good for human beings to be alone. The Apostle Paul said that the community of Jesus followers - this is the body of Christ. We embody Jesus together. We need one another to do it.
In a strictly sola scriptura framework, the core value for a gathering of believers has to be purity of doctrine. That’s why denominations split again and again, because they can’t agree on the right interpretation of scripture and so they believe they must separate to maintain purity of doctrine.
But a solus Jesus framework looks to a Jesus who seemed more interested in reconciling relationships than correcting doctrine. It looks to a Jesus who was more invested in including people than excluding people. It looks to the Jesus who said, “If I am lifted up, I will draw all people to myself.” This is the Jesus who scandalized the religious of his day with who he was willing to include. A solus Jesus framework encourages us to put down our Biblical metrics for who’s in and who’s out, and worship the God who longs to draw all people to himself; who wants to throw open the doors to his banquet and compel anyone who wants to to come in.
So if we’re serious about solus Jesus, we’re serious about real, authentic community. We recognize we can’t do this on our own. We’re serious about actual partnership in the hard stuff of the life of faith. We’re serious about experiencing Jesus in the midst of his followers. “When you come together in my name, there I will be in the midst of you” he says. So we engage in intentional community not because we need a leader to go to God for us, or because we need a church to tell us how to read God’s book. We engage in community because we want more of Jesus.
(1) Vibrant spiritual connection to a living God. (2) Humility, teachability, and an eagerness to learn. (3) Authentic, committed, inclusive community. These I believe are three hallmarks of a Solus Jesus kind of faith. And they just might be the nets that Jesus is giving us to fish the Blue Ocean. Let’s spread our sails, and launch our boats, and invite Jesus to take the helm so we can find out together. Amen.