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The Teaching of the Twelve: Believing & Practicing the Primitive Christianity of the Ancient Didache Community Paperback – December 1, 2009
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From Publishers Weekly
Calling the Didache the most important book you've never heard of, Emergent leader Jones (The New Christians) briefly unpacks the theological and practical lessons to be gleaned from one of early Christianity's most overlooked texts. Less than half the length of the shortest New Testament gospel, the Didache (teaching) informed new Christians about spiritual practices like baptism, prayer, hospitality, fasting, Eucharist, generosity, and basic morality. Dated between 50 and 130 C.E., it is one of the oldest extant Christian texts not found in the New Testament. Jones writes engagingly, explaining the Didache's meaning and importance while also introducing a surprising interlocutor called Trucker Frank, a Missouri truck driver whose house church has based its life together on the Didache. The great and unique value of this book is its vision of how Christians today might put the Didache in practice, rather than as a contribution to early Christian studies; in fact, biblical scholars and historians may raise eyebrows at a few of the book's assumptions, particularly its oversimplifications about Gnosticism. Jones, however, has done a great service by recovering and interpreting this neglected classic for the ancient-future church. (Feb.)
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Didache simply means teachings. By our best guess, this is the earliest Christian literature not in the Bible. It probably predates one or more Gospels, and may be made up of about four separate writings. The opening portion appears taken directly from the Q source. So early are the teachings of this Didache community that they show no indication of familiarity with any Pauline writings.
The Didache is not a book about believing, but about living. It's not about evangelizing, but about being a neighbor. It's a guidebook about how to share the Eucharist, how to give alms, how to baptize, how to appoint elders and treat prophets, and more. You won't read anything about miracles, the twelve disciples, the crucifixion, or the resurrection. It's just about how to be a Christian.
Jones relates the words of the Didache, provides a short, inspirational analysis, and relates how a group of Christians he knows has taken its teachings and humbly formed a community determined to return to the simple, compassionate teachings of the early church.
Last week, I finished reading his little book about the little book, the Didache. The didache is a book that dates back to the ancient church but didn't quite make it into the cannon of Scripture. Unlike some of its contemporaries, it didn't make it in because it was steeped in gnosticism... instead the didache likely didn't make it in because it didn't provide deep theological teachings, warnings, or narrative about Jesus. It's not really a letter or narrative at all. Authorship is also unclear. Instead, it's a group of teachings- probably from various authors- that baptismal candidates likely studied before being accepted as Christians in a small town in the first century.
In other words, the Didache (greek word meaning teaching) is a practical guide for living in community with other believers. That's an area I am growing. I've spent the last 10 years teaching on and focusing on individualistic growth in relationship to God. All the while, I've been fascinated by books about first century Christians, Essenes, the Qumran community, and early church history. There was a contradiction there between the individualistic faith of American believers and the community faith I read about in the first century. I have long been trying to figure out how to rectify the two as there is a gulf of difference between what we do today and what was practiced then. Deep down, the Holy Spirit has stirred in me a desire to figure out how we can do life together. I don't have it figured out... but I'm on a journey of discovery towards figuring it out.
Like a lot of conservative Evangelicals, I tend to approach books by Tony Jones with my ears finely tuned to look for a twist to something traditional about his hermeneutic. For some reason I'm left looking for the agenda behind his words. I don't know where this started... but it was something I carried into buying and reading this book. My radar was finely tuned!
So, for those haters, here is the bad news. Tony's latest book approaches Scripture in a thoughtful, academically pure way. It reads the same as many of the scholarly texts places like Dallas Theological Seminary, Wheaton Graduate School, or Trinity Evangelical Divinity School would require of New Testament students. He doesn't lift the didache up as Scriptural, rather uses this groups application of Apostolic teachings to explain how that culture was applying early Christian teachings. Even when the text permits him to hypothesize to tear away at traditional Christian values, he instead affirms them. When the text talks about a pre-millenial view of the community in the first century, he doesn't try to spin it to another viewpoint... instead affirms what the text makes clear, that community looked forward to the imminent return of the risen Christ.
Conservative haters are left with nothing to hate. In fact, I think a lot of my friends need to read this book as we all figure out... "What does it mean to live in community as believers?" Yeah, we need to learn. Yeah, we may just be doing community wrong. Gasp! The horror!
I will leave you with the same encouragement that lead to me buying this book in the first place. Before you hate, before you criticize, before you call names, take the time to read for yourself. Read it, like I did, with a critical eye. Then, when you go to critique, you can do so intelligently. But my feeling is that if you actually read the Teaching of the Twelve, you'll be as impressed as I have been with the treatment.
In his book, The Teaching of the Twelve: Believing and Practicing the Primitive Christianity of the Ancient Didache Community, he relates how the Didache (DID-uh-kay) was discovered and what it says about how the earliest Christians lived and tried to apply the teachings of Jesus and his apostles to their lives. It is a fascinating study, and one that not only challenged some of my assumptions and priorities, but also shed new light on numerous passages of Scripture for me.
An introductory chapter ("The Most Important Book You've Never Heard Of") and the translation of the complete text of the Didache (a mere 2,190 words in the original Greek) are followed by five short, easy-to-read chapters: "The Didache Community--Then and Now," "There Are Two Ways," "Sex, Money, and Other Means of Getting Along," "Living Together in Community," and "The End is Nigh." I found especially interesting the Didache's tone, as Jones puts it, of "centrist pragmatism," an approach that could benefit the twenty-first century church. In any case, the message of the Didache (which was considered for inclusion in the canon of Scripture, but rejected) and The Teaching of the Twelve has provoked thought and--I hope--prompted some changes in me.