Tony Jones’ newest book is an examination and application of the Didache for today. The Didache was an early church training manual for disciples that was composed and in use prior to the completion of the texts in the New Testament. What it means is that a number of communities in the early church used this document to fulfill the command in the Gospel of Matthew to ‘make disciples and teach them what I have commanded you.’ I am a huge Didache fan and not just because it demonstrates the normative practice of believer’s baptism (and dunking!) in the early church. Did I mention I am a Bapti-mergent?
In the chapter 4 ‘There are Two Ways,’ Tony looks at how the Didache appropriates a very popular teaching in first century Judaism: ‘There are two ways, one of life and one of death!’ Putting aside the scholarly and textual arguments Tony makes (because I am sure none of you want to know where I disagree with him on that), the chapter clearly presents the structure of Christian existence presented and presumably taught by the communities where the text was in use, the way of life.
The way of life is the way of God, because the way itself has been God’s gift to the world in Torah, the history of Israel and from the holy vine of David in Jesus Christ. The gift of God is a community of life and this is its way. It is different from the Gentiles and in particular those shaped by Roman imperialism because it does not love only those who will return in like kind (1:3) by abandoning the oppressed to support the wealthy (5:2), but instead lives from the way of life and to the God of life. While the way of death is focused internally upon itself and its own well being, the way of life is turned outwards and lives for the other, because God desires the gifting of all (1:5). Even when the agents of death’s way hate those in the community of life love remains the command, for people of this way have no enemies. The way of life, found in Torah and Jesus, is an insurgent’s way when the world is dominated by a political and cultural ordering of society that fails to value life and live in love.
This structure is then taught apprentice style to new converts. What? You mean you don’t just pray a prayer? Where are the quotes from Romans? That’s right, Tony is arguing for a more rigorous process of initiation into the community that involves learning the structure of Christian existence presented above. That means the individual would come to know the Torah, the story of Israel, and the teachings of Jesus. Not only would they pass the Bible quiz, but presumably someone would bear witness to the actual bearing of fruit in their life. I can imagine some people thinking this is impractical, requiring someone to actually learn the language and living of the faith before full membership, this could almost be a circumcision size evangelism problem, but ‘There are two ways, one of life and one of death! and there is a great difference between the two ways.’
Tony remembers a conversation with Trucker Frank….
‘When I later asked Frank what he meant about the heart of God on paper, he pointed to the last verse of this chapter: “Hate no one; correct some, pray for others, and some you should love more than your own life.” This, said Trucker Frank, is the cornerstone verse of the entire Didache. ‘
If that is the heart of the Didache and God as it understands and seeks to call people to then I am all in.
The Big Question…
Has Tony pulled a Glenn Beck.? He wrote a book that contains an entire old book within it. Unlike Glenn, Tony did get the book translated (thanks, the public domain translation is ruff). There are of course other differences, like Tony’s book isn’t 1\3 the old book and Tony’s doesn’t come free with a subscription to Town Hall magazine, but none the less the two books do discuss similar topics like money and war and then end with a call to action. We can only hope that Tony sells as many copies as Glenn. Who really wants to think about Common Sense with Glenn and Thomas Paine when you can look at the Didache with Tony, Trucker Frank, and oh yeah Jesus. Through December 11th you can get the book for $8.99 when you get at least 3 copies. That means you can give a book on the teachings of Jesus to your family and friends for Jesus’ birthday. Ohhh and did I mention that if you buy this book you can get a free subscription to the Homebrewed Christianity Podcast!!!!
Here’s the rest of the Tour…click away!
November 30: An introduction with Tony Jones
December 8: Special Question, Is this text, The Didache, really so important? Why? Do we know that it was important to the earliest communities of Christians? with Jonathan Brink at Missio Dei
December 9: Special Question, Does the Didache teach or advise anything that substantively differs from what was decided at the earliest ecumenical church councils (such as Nicaea) with Dwight Friesen
December 10: Special Question, Why is the Didache relevant, in particular today? Is it more relevant today than it was, say 100 years ago? Why? with Bob Hyatt