A post from the Jesus Collective Theology Circle

Contribution by Meghan Good (Arizona, United States)

For many people, hearing a Christian church or movement describe itself as Jesus- centered” sounds pretty strange. It’s like talking about a watery ocean or a musically-oriented” band. I mean, isn’t the Jesus thing kind of built into the package? Are you suggesting there are Christians who are not Jesus-centered?

At Jesus Collective, we believe that God is currently raising up a movement of people and communities who are rediscovering what it means to ground their life and faith in Jesus. This movement is far bigger than any single institution, denomination, or tradition. It is a work of the Spirit, calling the church into deeper alignment with Jesus’ defining revelation of God. Jesus Collective exists to help amplify and resource this growing, global movement.

There are a few common questions we often hear from people discovering this movement who are trying to understand what distinguishes it from other expressions of Christian faith:

#1 Why start with Jesus?

Jesus-centered Christians believe that Jesus plays an utterly unique role in our understanding of God and God’s desires. Simply put, Jesus is the one divinely authorized to reveal both who God really is and what our human lives are meant to look like.

Many believers in God through history have had intuitions about what God is like and what God wants from humanity. These intuitions vary by time, culture, experience, and even personality. We have always been prone to shaping gods in the image of ourselves — in the image of our own strengths and fears, our own values and distortions. Incarnation is God’s choice to step out from behind the veil of heaven and into the clear view of history. God’s decision to reveal God’s self in the person of Jesus enables us to say with confidence, God is like this…and not like that.” As John puts it, no one has ever seen God…but God the only Son has made God known (John 1:18). Paul writes in Col. 1:19, All the fullness of God was pleased to live in [Jesus].” The author of Hebrews declares that Jesus is the light of God’s glory and the imprint of God’s being” (Heb.
1:3). Jesus himself says simply, Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9).

From the very beginning, the particularity of Jesus has been Christianity’s scandal and its power. Because of this person, who walked in the dust of Galilee, who was crucified and returned still bearing the scars, we have an authoritative way to measure every claim that is made about God and God’s desires.

#2 What does it mean to Jesus-centered?

The phrase Jesus-centered” describes an approach to life and faith in which every belief and practice is oriented according to Jesus as the North Star. Jesus is the yardstick against which every truth-claim must be measured. Jesus-centered” is short-hand for a cluster of important theological convictions: Jesus is the one through whom we learn God’s character. If it doesn’t look like

  • Jesus is the interpretative key to understanding the Bible. The Bible’s inspired
    meaning is whatever it means in light of him.
  • Jesus is the one who shows us what true humanity looks like. We become more fully human as we are transformed in his likeness.
  • Jesus has authoritatively revealed the true shape of love, justice, righteousness, and power. Creation flourishes when we embrace his radical redefinitions of these terms.
  • Jesus is what God sounds like every time God speaks. The Spirit speaks on behalf of God in terms always consistent with him.

This approach of seeing all things through the lens of Jesus is not new but dates back to the earliest church. The first Christians centered their faith on one revolutionary declaration: Jesus is Lord (Rom 10:9). To confess Jesus as Lord has never been a simple statement of abstract belief but a public recognition of authority and a commitment to follow Jesus’ lead in every part of life.

#3 Aren’t all Christians Jesus-centered?

Most people and communities who call themselves Christian acknowledge a distinctive role for Jesus within their faith. But how expansively that role is understood and applied varies significantly. Not all Christian traditions have consistently emphasized the transformative impact of grounding all claims about God in Jesus, nor have all place equal emphasis on the Way of Jesus as a comprehensively new pattern of life. In practice, individuals and communities can operate from a variety of different functional centers. And Christian theology and practice tend to play out quite differently depending on the central point of orientation. A few alternative centers are particularly
common within twenty-first century Christianity:

  • Bible-centered Christianity. Bible-centered communities tend to put heavy emphasis
    on developing a biblical worldview and maintaining biblical truth. However, when Jesus
    is not recognized as the Bible’s authoritative center, the result can be perceptions of
    God’s character and desires that substantially conflict with Jesus’ defining revelation.
    Biblical truth becomes effectively undermined by failure to recognize the unique
    interpretative role of Jesus as the Truth incarnate.
  • Cause-centered Christianity. Cause-centered communities orient their collective life and faith around a key value, virtue, or principle that they have identified as of central importance — for example, justice, liberation, or love. While the cause itself may initially emerge from reflection on Jesus, when it becomes decontextualized from Jesus’ holistic message and defined apart from his concrete incarnate revelation, it develops a trajectory independent of him. The result will be a virtue that gives lip-service to Jesus while frequently misreading, misrepresenting, or openly contradicting his larger intent and often disconnecting from the power source (the Spirit) needed to fuel his radical mission.
  • Gospel-centered Christianity. Gospel-centered communities define their identity by a particular, favored short-form story that they believe sums up what God has accomplished in Jesus. The trouble is, while the term gospel” could encompass the entirety of Jesus’ mission, in practice its definition often becomes excessively narrow and formulaic, neglecting Jesus’ life and message and reducing the meaning of his death to just one of a rich field of divinely-inspired biblical descriptions. The Jesus who remains at the gospel-center often ends up being far thinner and less gloriously layered than the fullness of Jesus to whom the four Gospels give witness, and the participatory call to follow his Way is deemphasized.
  • Spirit-centered Christianity. Spirit-centered communities emphasize above all the active presence of God, speaking and supernaturally empowering the living church. However, manifestations of power and presence that become disconnected from the revelation of Jesus lose both their ultimate goal and their critical edge of discernment. Gifts that were given to serve God’s world-transforming mission can become self-serving, distracting, or even abusive without Jesus to steer both means and ends.

#4 Which Jesus are we talking about?

Putting so much emphasis on the role of Jesus in defining our vision of God and of human life very clearly raises the stakes for how we understand Jesus. Many observe that centering on Jesus doesn’t actually solve all of our problems. The truth is, people have quite different pictures of who Jesus is and what he wants. Does focusing on Jesus simply relocate our conflicts about faith, without fundamentally changing them?

It is true that committing to center on Jesus as God’s defining self-revelation does not magically eliminate all disagreements about faith and practice. God has chosen to reveal God’s self to the world in a person, not an abstract proposition. There is a messiness inherent in such a form of revelation — a messiness that God has apparently embraced. When we identify Jesus as our center, we are agreeing on the ground on which our dialogues — and disagreements — as Christians will take place. We are acknowledging that our debates about God no longer involve a simple clash between
blind intuitions but are anchored in a historical person to whom witnesses testify.

Furthermore, the Christian church has said clearly from the very start that there is one specific moment in which Jesus’ revelation of God becomes the clearest and brightest: the moment of his death. Paul writes to the Christians at Corinth, I had made up my mind not to think about anything while I was with you except Jesus Christ, and to preach him as crucified” (1 Corin. 2:2). Nothing we ever say of God’s character and desires can contradict this: the self-giving love of the cross.

Every truly Jesus-centered portrait of God starts here — with a God who chooses to suffer rather than to inflict suffering. A Jesus-centered definition of love is forever cross-shaped. A Jesus-centered definition of justice? Cross-shaped. A Jesus-centered practice of power? Cross-shaped. A Jesus-centered life? It takes up its cross and follows (Matthew 16:24).

The question Which Jesus?” will never be uncomplicated. It is the beginning of a conversation, not the end of one. But this is a conversation that grows upward from deep, strong, and immovable roots. Which Jesus? Jesus Christ the crucified.

Meghan Good 1

Meghan is the author of a books, The Bible Unwrapped and Divine Gravity . Theologically, her interests include biblical hermeneutics, spiritual practices, preaching, and rediscovering the place of the Spirit in Jesus-centered faith.