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A Thicker Jesus: Incarnational Discipleship in a Secular Age
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on November 22, 2012
Format: Paperback
Today American evangelical churches are in serious moral difficulty. We are in dire need of spiritual and ethical repentance and renewal. In this book, Dr. Glen Stassen, Louis B. Smedes Professor of Christian Ethics at Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, CA, calls Christians to this needed repentance and renewal through his ethics of incarnational discipleship within the context of our modern secular age.

A "thick Jesus" means that Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior was a historically situated, flesh-and-blood person who walked the dusty roads of Palestine, a Jew thoroughly immersed in the Hebraic tradition, especially that of the prophet Isaiah. He lived, taught, and worked within the historical, physical, social, spiritual, and political, realities of his time and place. In this Jesus revealed God's character and provided norms for guiding our lives today. Like Jesus, our ethics must be historical, social, spiritual, and political. They must be embedded in the "thick" realities, struggles, and particularities of earthly life, not in the "thin" conceptualities of platonic idealism or sectarian perfectionism. Stassen wants us followers of Jesus to "enter into" the world and be deeply (thickly) engaged in all its flawed messiness in this "age of interaction."

Toward this end, Stassen offers his Trinitarian paradigm of incarnational discipleship: (1) the holistic sovereignty of God and Lordship of Christ, (2) God revealed thickly, historically in Jesus Christ, and (3) the Holy Spirit, independent of all powers and authorities, reminding us of Jesus and calling us to repentance from ideological entanglements (p. 17). Grasping the narrative character of human cognition, Stassen emphasizes "historical drama" in Jesus and in our living out of the Christian life. He believes that the true test for the validity of an ethic is its historical fruit-how it performs in the "crucible" of history. In this regard, the great German theologian and martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer plays a prominent role. Stassen is a leading Bonhoeffer scholar.

Seeking an integrative and holistic approach to ethics and life, Stassen draws on diverse sources: Nancey Murphy's conception of scientific research programs (based on the philosophy of Imre Lakatos), Charles Taylor's analysis of modern individualism and secularism, his own background in scientific procedures and methods, the existentialist novels of Albert Camus, as well as careful analysis of biblical texts. Drawing on Bonhoeffer, Stassen offers an intriguing "incarnational" theory of the cross (atonement) that, so far as I know, is new.

Finally, Stassen reiterates his interpretation of the Sermon on the Mount, giving it a central place in his ethics. For him, the Sermon is not idealistic perfectionism but concrete realism. He presents his "fourteen triads" for interpreting the Sermon and summarizes his ten "transforming initiatives" for just peacemaking, which is one of Stassen's central concerns as a Christian living in today's conflicted world. Stassen is on a mission to see Christians live out their faith in a morally credible way in the real world. He wants to see Christian churches pass the moral test of history. His passion for this is evident in the book.

Stassen is a man of remarkable character and vision, extremely knowledgeable, widely read, a brilliant and accomplished scholar and thinker. Yet he remains a profoundly personable and humble man. And he puts feet on his faith. He is not content to stay in his office writing books or hobnobbing with his fellow professors. At age 76, he is an activist involved in the rough and tumble problems of the world such as peacemaking in the Middle East. In the book he tells of his extensive work in the civil rights movement in the 1960s.

The book is dense in places, and Stassen's sense of urgency sometimes leads him to try to put too much meaning into too few words. Also, if you are not familiar with some concepts, such as Nancey Murphy's theory of scientific validation, you may find parts of the book a little hard to understand. It also would have been nice if Stassen had placed Jesus and ourselves more realistically in the ecological contexts in which all earthly life is located. But, overall it is an excellent and easy read. Stassen's message comes through loud and clear.

All Christians (and a lot of non-Christians) ought to read this book. And it is, or ought to be, required reading for all students and scholars in Christian ethics. When all is said and done, Stassen wants only one thing-that all of us who name Jesus as Lord follow him realistically, incarnationally and in so doing bring glory to God. As his final sentence asks: "Will you join me in the apostolic witness to a thicker Jesus-in the tradition of incarnational discipleship?" (p. 221).
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on December 7, 2012
Format: Paperback
For a Christian ethic's scholar to write a very insightful book for the public, that can be read and understood by the people who do not have a master degree in theology or in ethic, deserves a high praise! I read several Christian ethics book and most of my experience with them was that, I had to struggle each page of what the author is trying to say. However, with this book, it was easy to understand and the author is very clear with what he is trying to say. Nevertheless, this does not mean that it is a less academic book.

This well written book will really help Western Christians who seek to be serious disciples of Christ in the Western world. Most importantly, this will help the readers to realize that Christian life is living out biblical principles concretely here and now. Stassen strongly argues and tackles Christians who think that religious life is about abstract and platonic ideas.

We have many challenges living in a secular age and when we face those challenges, we are unclear of what it means to live out as a Christian. This book will help you to recognize those challenges and guide you of what it means to follow Jesus in the midst of those challenges.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on November 27, 2012
Format: Paperback
In A Thicker Jesus, Stassen truthfully engages the world as it is, utilizing a variety of sources to support his multidimensional understanding of discipleship in Christ. Stassen argues that Christians should have "enough openness to assess the evidence of the data of history" (x). I believe he robustly models that openness in this work, and in so doing, points contemporary churches towards an incarnational discipleship that engages and confronts real problems in our world today.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on February 19, 2014
Format: Paperback
Great book, but be aware of the ultra small print. Why on earth the publisher chose to use this very small print (9 points?), will probably remain a mystery. It defintely affects the reading experience. Overall it's one of the best books on incarnational discipleship I have ever read.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on October 1, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition
For a layman, this is a tough read; partly because of Stassen's stricter interpretation of Jesus's intent with His instructions in the Sermon on the Mount, and partly because of the frequent references and comparisons to other writers and theologians. Stassen does a good job of justifying the indictments of today's secularization of the church. He also very effectively defends Dietrich Bonhoffer's early inaction against Hitler. He does not do a very good job of explaining and selling the namesake terms "A Thicker Jesus" and/or "Incarnational Discipleship". Overall it is a good book and it opens some new perspectives, but it is not a quick read; it requires considerable "digesting" in spots.
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on January 10, 2014
Format: Paperback
Church renewal is becoming a popular topic for books, seminary studies, and conferences. But for the longest time I have felt as if something is missing within this boat everyone is jumping into. I’ve read books for church renewal that have just as easily been about renewing a business. There have been techniques, list, long range plans, models. Then it hit me, other than slapping some scripture on to someone else's ideas, Jesus has been missing - His spirit and His truth. Well, not anymore. “A Thicker Jesus: Incarnational Discipleship in a Secular Age” by Glen Stassen is about church renewal Jesus style. No techniques to learn just good solid theology.

Glen Harold Stassen is the Lewis B. Smedes Professor of Christian Ethics at Fuller Theological Seminary where he has taught since 1997. “A Thicker Jesus” makes the case that our path to renewal is not one of changing style, names, look, techniques, location, words and etc... but rather the path to church renewal is a theological spiritual path. This is a refreshing approach considering the plethora of attempted renewal-through-restructuring-schemes and approaches. What’s needed in this secular age and within an increasingly secular church, Stassen maintains, is a rediscovery of Jesus, what he calls “a thicker Jesus.” “ A Thicker Jesus” is a beautiful and compelling book.

If you have asked where to find a faithful and solid identity for faith and ethics, read this book. If you have wondered how Christian identity can be a compass in a rapidly changing culture and secular context, read “A Thicker Jesus”.
“A Thicker Jesus” requires pastors and church leaders to explore where, how, in what ways, and to what ends, God’s grace enters incarnationally into the midst of our hiding, into the midst of our lives, into the midst of our witness. This will empower the church to meet the challenges of the secularism of the twenty-first century.
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Format: Paperback
How do we explain the convictions and the passions of living for Christ in people like Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Dr Martin Luther King Jr? What is that quality of faith in these brave men of faith that can continue to be manifested in our contemporary secular age? The answer: Be thick for Jesus. More specifically, be thick with "Incarnational discipleship" that comes through in integrity, courage, and "perspicacity," or penetrating discernment, that holds strong even in changing times. Enters the three dimensions of ID. Facing adversity, these characteristics will stand well the test of trials and tough times. It stands against iron-fisted authoritarianism that radicals both secular and religious groups force on people. It stands against godless secularism that threatens to wipe out the standing of religious faith. It stands against wanton materialism, consumerism, and individualism. This book offers the Incarnational Discipleship way that is anchored in tradition, practiced in humility, and tested by faith. By looking at the historical drama in the Bible, one sees how the biblical characters and some famous Christian leaders respond to the worldliness of their age. By bringing together some of the well known public figures and martyrs of the faith, people like Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the civil rights leader, Dr Martin Luther King Jr, Stassen studies their lives to find out what makes them tick, in particular, what is in their heart that makes them accomplish things far beyond themselves. Two questions are used in this quest.

1) How are we to find out the faithful and solid identity for faith and ethics?
2) How can that identity be a compass for us in this rapidly changing culture and secular age?

Stassen then brings readers through the seven challenges of secular society, as observed by the philosopher, Charles Taylor. The challenges of democracy, modern science, individualism, sin, the cross of Christ, love, and war. At the heart of the war between secularism and religion, between people of faith and people of mere secular philosophies, is a tussle for control over certain basic quest for living. Is there a right or wrong way to live on this earth? How do one who is convicted about his beliefs interact, support, or oppose practices that are either moral, amoral, or immoral? The origin of human rights contain three sets of rights.

- religious and civil liberties
- life and justice
- human dignity in community

The Sermon on the Mount seeks to preserve all of these. The Incarnational Discipleship model seeks to uphold these. The ID model reflects very much the Person of the Triune God. The Father is Creator and Ruler of all. The Son is embodied and incarnated among us. The Spirit is working through and through, leading and guiding all to a restored relationship with God and to one another. The big motivation in Stassen's model is that it is POSSIBLE and REALISTIC to put these into practice. Secularism has distorted life so much that the seven major challenges as pointed out by Charles Taylor, are proving to be formidable. ID can overcome all of them. Stassen's work can be a little heavy going as it dives deep into philosophical engagement at times. I must say that the examples are rich. The testimonies of the heroes of faith who have overcome the challenges will encourage modern believers to do the same. With God's help, we can do it, in the power of the Holy Spirit. This book makes the practice of Sermon on the Mount even more vital in our secular age. What Christians need to fear is not the rising secularism in a pluralistic age. In a culture that increasingly favours "spirituality" over "religion" or "secularism" over "faith," the task for Christians is not to shrink back in fear. Incarnational Discipleship points the way believers and faithful men and women of God can do something about. If there is any fear, it will be the total disregard or ignorance of the things mentioned in Incarnational Discipleship. Readers who heed the steps shared in this book would have taken a step in the same direction as the martyrs and prophets of old, who themselves fought the hard and harsh battles for faith. We need to fight the same battles for our generation, even the next.

Rating: 4.75 stars of 5.

conrade
This book is provided to me free by Westminster John Knox Press and NetGalley without any obligation for a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.
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on December 7, 2012
Format: Paperback
At times Christianity has treated the life and teachings of Christ as something so idealized, so beyond our reach that they no longer have bearing to how we actually live our lives. In this work, Stassen shows how this trend has zapped the vitality from our faith, and how this relates to Charles Taylor's insights about the rise of secularism in our day. Some highlights include a fascinating discussion of the relationship between discoveries in quantum physics and how we conceptualize God's involvement in the mundane thing we sometimes find our lives to be, and a stimulating discussion of how we understand the cross. The model of incarnational discipleship offered is very helpful, and I believe that Stassen does prove through the course of the book that incarnational discipleship is grounded in the life and work of Jesus Christ, and that it can meet the challenges of our day. A Thicker Jesus does not shy away from deep theology, but it is written in a way that is quite readable and enjoyable. Students, church leaders, pastors, and anyone concerned about holistic Christian ethics, or how to follow Christ for that matter, would definitely benefit from reading this book.
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on December 16, 2012
Format: Paperback
Glen. Thank you for several conversations over the years, and for your writings, especially Just Peacemaking, from which I have drawn so much as a pastor. Thank you especially for your newest, Thicker Jesus. I am reading it very slowly each week as I work on my sermons. I have found your trinity of Creation-Incarnation-Spirit to capture well the emphases I try to bring to the pulpit, and will be using your description freely. Peace be with you.
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on January 16, 2014
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
In a conversation with Dr Stassen, he expressed the hope that we can recognize the quality of Jesus' life in the gospel and in the lives of people who have lived the message. He uses Taylor's insight to discuss how perhaps we have watered down Jesus and his message to make it more palatable even it it is not substantial. Good read. Principles and anecdotes and autobiography help to make the book a good read.
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