I had the privilege of attending the Thursday plenary sessions with some students from Columbia Bible College as part of a course I teach. I was curious to hear how they experienced the session as they were stepping into the conference mid-stream. And considering how the conference has so far presented attendees with a diverse range of approaches to discipleship in the context of the local church, I wondered, “Will Bible College students resonate with the session?”
Darrell Johnson presented an incisive interpretation of Matthew 5:38-42, exploring the implications of what it means to “preach Jesus’s performative word.” Who knew a Baptist could preach practices of peace with such force (!) to a group of Mennonite leaders? The source of the teaching, along with the content itself, was not lost on me, which others also mentioned during the time of sharing.
In conversation with my students, however, it wasn’t the irony of having a Baptist preach peace to Mennonites that struck a chord (perhaps that irony was for us theology nerds). No, the students weren’t distracted by denominational nuances or theological abstraction as valuable as that can be in certain circumstances. Instead, the students went straight to centre of discipleship with its root in the person and claims of Jesus.
Jake remarked, “If we actually believe this, why don’t we live this out?”
And Eddie echoed Darrell Johnson’s conclusion, “If people lived this out this could change the world.”
There wasn’t an attempt to rationalize the ideals of Jesus’s preaching on peace. Jesus’s preaching was worth listening to. There wasn’t the assumption that Jesus’s teaching breeds naive social engagement in a complex world of war and conflict. There was immense hope in the possibility of creative engagement with Jesus’s kingdom that should make a tangible difference in the world.
This interaction reminded me that where I’m prone to rationalize my ideals around Jesus’s life and teaching, sometime we need to step back and take heed of Darrell Johnson’s opening remarks: “It’s time to listen to Jesus preach again.” And in our hearing the words of Jesus, we can be inspired, as my students were, to imagine how a disciple’s subversive and active response has profound implications in what Darrell Johnson described as the “daily unheroic situations.”
—David Warkentin is director of Columbia One and general studies at Columbia Bible College, Abbotsford, B.C.