Learning From the Jesus Movement
Being a “child” of the 60’s and influenced by the Jesus Movement of that era, I can relate to many of the elements the emerging and missional movements espouse. Many of us were exploring and practicing them as part of the JM and still adhere to them today.
As eager as I am to see the emerging and missional movements advance, some apprehension arises. You see, many of us influenced by or that participated in the JM have already traveled this road and can report some of the perils that lie along the path. My motive here is not to attack or dissuade, but to exhort and caution, because I think the emerging and missional movements can learn from our journey.
Here are five perils that quickly come to mind.
- Politics — We have to constantly be on guard not to allow praxis to drive us to political party activism, either on the right or left, red or blue. As Brian McLaren once wrote, we need “purple peoplehood — people who don’t want to be defined as red or blue, but have elements of both.” Reminds me of the title of one of Gogol Bordello’s song, “Start Wearing Purple.” We should never allow ourselves to be identified as Democrat, Green or Republican. We should be for justice and fair dealing, not a political party.
- Aberrant Groups — The JM was generally unconcerned with theology, it therefore produced a number of aberrant groups including the Children of God. It also became an effective recruiting ground for such heretical groups as The Way International. We must be on guard and not allow the continual re-examination of theology and the desire to be open to differences in belief and morality to lead to heretical beliefs and practice. The revisionists types within these movements fail to appreciate the danger here, IMHO.
- A Culture of Being Against — The JM was part of the counter-culture movement of its day. Once that counter-culture movement died, the JM faded away because it failed to construct ideas, concepts and practice that could sustain it. When it comes to things like evangelicalism, the mega church, or the institutional church in general, don’t fall into the error of negativism and form a culture based solely on being against them. You can’t develop effective ideas, concepts and practice that will sustain the movements based only on weaknesses in the institutional church. It is okay to deconstruct, but let’s not forget to reconstruct as well.
- The Power of the World — A common mistake in the JM was underestimating the power of the world, the flesh, and the devil to pull one back into a non-Christian worldview. Taking a holistic view of the role of the church in society calls for a radical change in lifestyle and attitude for the average middle class American. The world, flesh and devil will be working to compromise your commitment to this radical lifestyle. Be on guard always.
- Evangelism — It is easy for us in the emerging and missional movements to react so negatively to the narrow definition of the Gospel we see in most Evangelical faith communities that we are in danger of dropping any strong emphasis on evangelism. The JM was at its core about evangelism and, as Scott McKnight rightly warned, “any movement that is not evangelistic is failing the Lord. We may be humble about what we believe and we may be careful to make the gospel and its commitment clear, but we better have a goal in mind — the goal of summoning everyone to follow Jesus Christ and to discover the redemptive work of God in Christ through the Spirit of God.”
Mass baptism in the ocean of Southern California during the Jesus Movement.