Learning about community from the Didache

I’ve got bad news for Tony Jones haters. There’s nothing to hate about his latest book, The Teaching of the Twelve. In fact, you may love it.

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.

By Adam McLane

Kristen and Adam live in the San Diego neighborhood of Rolando with their three children.

5 comments

  1. I took a student on a college visit to Cedarville University (very “conservative”). We sat in a Bible class and the prof. was teaching on the didache.

    I thought, if he mentions that there is a new – reader friendly – book out right now by Tony Jones about this I’ll be AMAZED.

    The prof. didn’t ….

    ….. maybe these “emergents” don’t hate God like so many people have thought…..

  2. It really is user-friendly. One of my favorite things about the book is that it isn’t loaded with footnotes.

    I’ve found Cedarville to be surprisingly “progressive-friendly” so I wouldn’t be all that surprised if the prof would have plugged the book. I think that points more towards the fact that most profs live in a bubble. And since this book isn’t likely to get reviewed in an academic journal, it probably just isn’t on his radar… yet.

  3. “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.”

    Amen! I’ve had a number of conversations with fellow ministers who simply dismiss a book or a perspective without ever having read anything beyond a few paragraphs or a blog review. I’m learning to curb my own knee-jerk reactions and simply read the book/perspective for myself.

    And now I’ve got another book to add my ever-growing reading list. 🙂

  4. I want to read this book too. I listened to Tony’s reading of Didache, but have not had a chance to read his book about it yet.

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