Another year, another quality trip to Soul Survivor! We always go and we always love it, and this year was no exception. Brilliant people, great messages, passionate responses and more cheeseburgers than you could fling a ketchup sachet at.
All this said, the ol’ theology student in me still twinges a little bit during these trips. I used to be quite critical and unnecessarily found issues with lots of superfluous areas, but even after maturing deeper and understanding better, a niggle still remains.
It’s like there’s something missing, a foundational ‘something’ that should be holding the pieces together more coherently. This elusive piece shows up in the messages, the seminar choices, and really the whole structure. And I think I may, perhaps have finally put my finger on it.
Its Christology. Or rather lack thereof. See if you can see a pattern from the keynote messages:
- The first main message of the week was all about responding to Jesus like Levi did.
- The second was about being brave and expectant with the supernatural and not being afraid to have a go.
- The third was focused around worry and anxiety, and how to live intimately in the moment with God.
- The fourth message was about how Jesus loves the broken and wants to fulfill their lives.
- Message number five was an exposition of tongues and how to pray with tongues.
- Message six (my favourite) talked about the need to be wowed by God, experience woe at our brokenness, and then go into the world as an evangelist.
- The final message was about going ‘all in’ for Jesus – giving him your whole life.
Did you notice it? They are all about us. Focused on us as followers and our lives and responses in light of Jesus. There was very little in the messages actually about the specifics of who Jesus is.
Unpacking The Problem
These were all good messages by and large, but they all came across individually and collectively like there was something missing. A perspective off, or a direction reversed. It’s almost like listening to a car enthusiast speaking about high performance sports cars, racing around a track without quite understanding the nature of gravity. You recognise the cars – and the passion for them, but you realise something is a little off in the explanation.
I carefully and gently suggest that what is ‘a little off’ is Christology; the understanding and expounding the person of Jesus Christ directly – and not just in relationship to our responses.
Soul Survivor constantly reminds us that Jesus loves us – and that we should love Him too. Twice during the week, Mike Pilavachi carefully and expertly explained the Gospel, clearly saying what Jesus has done for us. One of these times he did so – I think – because the speaker was calling people to follow Jesus without an explanation of what that actually means. Christology, however, is much more than understanding these Gospel formulas and the essential basics of Jesus’ character.
If Jesus doesn’t work in real life then Jesus doesn’t work. This means we need a real life, relatable Jesus with a full character arc, clear personal traits, and high definition colour individuality: A Jesus that draws the whole Bible together and is tangible and active in the present.
Christology needs us to have arrived at some measure of organic agreement on the who, what, when, where, why and how of Jesus – beyond the formulas and basics. Who is Jesus really, why did He do what He did, what does it look like today specifically, what does this following of Jesus actually look like beyond ‘tell people about Him, worship and adore’. Who is He, who is He, who is He?
When you walk with Him – how do you describe Him? Is it easier to talk about the specific tangible qualities of your wife, husband, mother, father, children or friend? Can you talk about Jesus that clearly and coherently?
A Subtle But Essential Distinction
You can probably tell if an organisation hasn’t got a clear and coherent understanding of Christology when most of the message focuses are placed on people responding to Him, rather than to Him directly.
Did you see the last solar eclipse, or did you watch people watching the solar eclipse? Which one of those two – if you were there – would you describe? Would you focus on the people standing still in the street, gazing up at it, and taking photos? Or would you talk about the eclipse, specifically and in detail?
There is a theological imperative to know the subtle differences between talking about the Jesus we relate to, and talking about the relationship with Jesus. Soul Survivor talked about and engaged with us as the participants – rather than a clearly presented Jesus.
Do We Recognise Your Jesus?
We looked at what it means for us to follow Jesus and to be loved by Him, but without really saying much about Him specifically. This meant that I didn’t always recognise the Jesus they spoke about, because they said very little actually about Him.
I challenge Soul Survivor – and seriously challenge myself – to put more than a bare-bones skeleton of who Jesus is to the young people who will listen.
I want to leave Soul Survivor knowing more of Jesus, not through just a ‘touch of the Holy Spirit’ or a constant reminder of His love (as valuable as these are). I want the messages, and the coherent shape of the entire festival to celebrate the specific qualities of who Jesus really is.
If we’re going to get something right, and have something to celebrate on the last night – then lets pour our energies, passions and efforts into this deeper understanding of the Jesus we relate to, not just the relationship mechanisms themselves.