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Book Review: Jesus and Community - Gerhard Lohfink

Gerhard Lohfink was professor of New Testament at the University of Tubingen until 1986. It was at that point that he resigned in order to offer his services to the Catholic Integrated Community. Steeped in their identity as a community of Christians, the group was founded by young German Catholics in order to wrestle with the meaning of Christian community in the context of post-World War II Germany.

The thesis of the book is this: The teaching and praxis of Jesus give a clear and normative tradition on community (p. 5), in radical juxtaposition to the more recent Western liberal exegetical emphasis on individualism (p. 4). Beginning with the preparation, through John the Baptist (p. 7), of Jesus' ministry and teaching (firmly rooted in the community of Israel) and moving quickly through the institution of the twelve (p. 9), the healing of the sick (p. 12), Jesus' prayer for gathering and sanctification of the people of God (p. 14), through to the universal reign of God (p. 26), Part 1 deals with the broader context of Jesus' teaching to Israel as a community. Part 2 seeks to address how Jesus envisioned and modeled the gathering of this community, namely, through the instruction, teaching, requirements of, and promises to the disciples. His focus on Israel and the disciples is indicative of, not contra-distinctive to, his universal concern for the community, the people of God, to be gathered and restored (p. 71). Part 3 addresses the fact that the early Church, New Testament communities, were just that, the people of God, the true Israel, called into community (p. 77), marked by the Spirit (p. 82) and the "elimination of social barriers" (p.87), and punctuated by the practice of "togetherness" (p. 99) and love (p. 107). Culling extensively from the Early Church Fathers and their dealings with healing, brotherhood, society and war, Part 4 deals with the undeniable principle that the ancient church continued "Jesus' praxis of the reign of God"(p.149) in community.

One of the things I most appreciated about Lohfink's analysis goes back to an early statement that he made in regards to the liberal exegetical focus on individualism. He gave a brief illustration of an ecclesiastical mobile unit and how it could be likened to the church as "an institution which offers its wares to a group of individuals" (p. 4). He then compared this to our consumer society, as exemplified by the large super-market. One of the greatest barriers I see to missional living in the 21st Century, at least in the Western world, is this consumer-driven, church-as-purveyor-of-goods-and-services mentality that many people have in our society. Instead of helping people to become culturally subversive in regards to consumerism, churches have abdicated their role as pilgrim/prophet and become spiritual super-markets. Lohfink's analysis of the faults of individualism, and the overarching theme of the people of God as community, was a cup of cold water in a dry and weary desert of consumer-driven instincts. May he be like a voice in the wilderness crying out for the church to be what she was meant to be - the people of God, gathered, restored and missional.

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