About the author: Gerhard Lohfink grew up in Germany in the midst of rising national tensions as nations built up to World War II forcing him to move many times. He excelled in the field of academics gaining permission to pursue higher degrees while serving as pastor and chaplain in various posts. His perspective as a German, a priest, and college professor uniquely qualify him to make bold claims with his thesis and to support it with evidence from scripture, early church history, and first hand experience.
About the Thesis: His thesis claims that Christian Community’s form must come from the practices of Jesus that we have in the form of the gospels, which was uniquely focused on Israel, gathering it together so that the world my experience the kingdom of God, bringing God’s reign into the earthly realm, standing out in the midst the dominant culture, and acting as Christ’s agent of change.
About the Structure: He supports his thesis using a 4-section structure. First sections define Jesus’ model of Community as implied by his actions on earth and Old Testament precedent. The final sections outline how Apostles and early followers continued the important aspects of community instituted by Christ. These practices include but are not limited to: praying for the sick, living as a contrast society, bearing the identity of “God’s people,” passively resisting the kingdom of this world, and cultivating a community of equals that serve each other.
Personal Reaction: Lohfink’s repetitious structure aided my understanding of his thesis. With out the repetition of a claim, a scripture, an explanation of the passage, and conclusions, he would certainly have lost me. Thankfully we did not have to read it in German. From my perspective these insights are valuable, but perhaps too familiar. This may be a byproduct of the generation I’m a part of and the generation of people I work with, but I found myself too easily agreeing with Lohfink’s highly authentic, communal, egalitarian, peaceful, and accountable version of Christian community. After reflection, I find myself asking, “Why don’t more people in my stream of Christianity know about this book?”
About Application: As for application to my ministry situation, I think this book will find it’s place in a stockpile I’ll return to in a search to provide Shoreline’s youth an alternative to consumerism. The image I found most vivid was in the introduction. It talked about a priest, a counselor, and physician roaming a city “on call” (Location, 84). This vivid picture illustrates a tension I currently feel in ministry to a large church. We want to help people, but Lohfink challenged my thinking about the way Mega Churches serve congregations. There certainly isn’t anything wrong with serving a parishioner, but what if the structure of a community actually encourages individualism? If Jesus was in charge of my youth group, (a bold thought, I know) what would he say about our programs and the impulses they feed? How would they compare to the picture of Christ’s community provided by Lohfink?
Initially, I think we have a long way to go as a contrast society. We have a gathering, but I wonder about how much of Lohfink’s community we experience. There are brilliant moments that punctuate our program, that come in Small Groups, Retreats, and Summer Camps where young people catch a glimpse of what God’s Kingdom might look like, but this rarely translates into the day to day life of our community. This issue cannot be solved with a sermon series or a small group study. Perhaps I need to look at my own life and ask if I’m buying what I’m “selling?” My gut level hunch is that young people will not do it until they see it, so perhaps what our group needs is a contrast society within our community.