What defines the Christian faith? Historically, councils, denominations, bishops, congregations, and theologians have attempted to answer that question with creeds, systemic theologies, credos, and other statements of faith. Some have been relatively brief and others have been extensive, and what’s essential to one might not be essential to another. History also shows that not everyone follows the dictum of Rupert Meldenius that in “essentials unity, in nonessentials, liberty, and in all things charity.”
An evangelical college professor (North Park University), biblical scholar, author (The Blue Parakeet, among others), and blogger (Jesus Creed), Scot McKnight has proposed an answer to this question, which he calls the Jesus Creed. That creed can be simply stated as “loving God, loving others,” which briefly restates the two great commandments established in the Pentateuch and reaffirmed by Jesus (Mk. 12:29-31). The Jesus Creed for Students takes this concept, which McKnight first developed in The Jesus Creed (Paraclete, 2004), and applies it to the needs of high school students – with the assistance of Chris Folmsbee and Syler Thomas. Folmsbee, director of a youth ministry training organization called Barefoot Ministries, and Thomas, a youth pastor in Lake Forest, IL, are credited with helping McKnight focus the book toward a younger audience than he’s probably used to working with. Thus, the concepts and basic framework are McKnight’s but the style is somewhat different from what I’ve become accustomed to as I’ve read his other work.
Being that it’s been a while since I was either a high school student or a youth minister, I decided to read this book from the perspective of a left of center Mainline Protestant pastor who’s been asked to recommend for resources for youth to use in deepening their faith. As I began to read the book, I started with the assumption that the author stands to my theological right (although I didn’t read the original Jesus Creed book, I’ve read enough of his works to get a good sense of his theology). From that standpoint, I decided that this book would be very appropriate for most Mainline Protestants. That’s not to say that it is liberal. It’s just straightforward biblically based wisdom.
The point of the book is to help high school students understand what it means to love God and love others. He does this by not only focusing his attention on the great two commandments, but also the Sermon on the Mount, which stands at the heart of this conversation. In the course of this conversation he discusses the beatitudes, wherein he distinguishes between blessedness and happiness, which he says “describes the person whose central principle is ‘love myself’” (p. 21). The discussion continues on by addressing Jesus’ expectations (Jesus’ expansion of the law) and what he calls spiritual branding, by which he means seeking to impress God and other people with our spirituality. Later chapters explore the Lord’s Prayer, forgiveness, one’s priorities in life, discipleship, and how one understands the person of Jesus. Finally, he invites the reader to be a “boundary breaker.” In this final chapter McKnight he invites the reader to consider what it means to follow Jesus by taking up a life of ministry (not professional ministry, but ministry in general), a calling that three characteristics: forgiveness, fellowship, and freedom. In the closing sentences of this chapter he suggests that “loving God and loving others is the path we are made to travel, and that when we love others genuinely, forgiveness and fellowship and freedom flow like a river” (p. 100).
Although this book could be used in a bible study, it’s really designed for personal use. McKnight invites the reader to begin each day by reciting the Jesus Creed and then recite the Lord’s Prayer each evening, so that these foundational Christian statements can penetrate the heart and mind. Again, the idea here is to establish habits (reciting the Jesus Creed in the morning and the Lord’s Prayer at bedtime) that will inform the moral vision of the young person.
Although I’m neither a youth nor a youth minister, and so I can’t speak to whether the style is appropriate to the audience, I do believe that this book should prove to be a valuable resource for helping young people develop a moral vision and a deeply rooted Christian faith, whether they’re Evangelical, Catholic, or Mainline Protestant. I might quibble with something that’s said here or there, but there’s nothing that stands out as a barrier to this being used by youth in my church. After all the premise here is to imbibe the vision that we are called to love God and love others!
This book was provided for review by Paraclete Press