Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Teaching of the Twelve (review)

I also posted this review on Community of the Risen:


The Teaching of the Twelve by Tony Jones is a thorough and practical study of an ancient text, the Didache. Jones takes a book, dated some time around the late 1st or early 2nd century AD and creatively brings it to life not only by exploring it in its' original context but by using, as an example, a modern "church" community called the Cymbrogi, which uses the Didache as "a rule of life" of sorts. After carefully dealing with the original context of each section of the Didache and with some of the scholarly talking points therein, Jones brings it back to the thoughts of Trucker Frank, a leader in the Cymbrogi community. This helps provide a model for any good study of Scripture (remembering that the Didache is not canonical) taking the time to deal responsibly with the text as well as to ask and see what it may look like to learn from said text.
About the Didache itself:
I don't think Tony Jones would take offense at this but the best chapter in the whole book is the one he didn't write--the actual English translation of the Didache itself. In the second chapter, Jones invites the reader to read the Didache slowly in its' entirety as a sort of lectio divina. There in the Didache we find an incredible text from very early followers of Jesus. The simplicity of the perspective is inspiring and yet the detail and thoroughness is challenging. This text deals with everything from Eucharist to Apocalypse (making it automatically a new favorite of mine) and it acts as a rule of life as well as a resource for training. But the focus, as Jones mentions, is not so much on belief and doctrine as we might expect from some later texts, rather the emphasis is on right-living or "orthopraxy." There is little mention of Jesus himself outside of the liturgy of the Eucharistic liturgy, many of the teachings of the Didache come straight from the mouth of Jesus. What you'll find in the text, as Jones says it, is a "primitive" and "lost version of Christianity." It is unique and powerful.
What does Tony do with it?
Jones does a pretty good job of dealing responsibly with the text itself and with the questions at hand. Although, if he'd have forced it, he may have had the opportunity to push another agenda (like that of the "Emerging Church"), he stayed right with it in academic yet accessible posture. Jones utilized resources in textual criticism and form criticism while allowing the text to speak directly into modern contexts. He could not have done this as well as he did without the example of Trucker Frank and the Cymbrogi community. Tony shows in each chapter why the section he is dealing with was important for the original readers and how it can offer some teaching to the modern reader.
How does this fit in with Jones' other works?
This question only needs to be asked because Jones usually writes about the Emerging Church and he usually stays away from such involved studies of ancient texts. So why does he care about the Didache? Jones says himself that "it represents a lost version of Christianity, and one that many of us long to get back to" (page 121 from the Epilogue). Jones, in all of his endeavors, is on the lookout for not only a fresh perspective but also for a way of getting back to the roots of the Church and he seems to have found both in this ancient forgotten text and in the community call the Cymbrogi.
For anyone interested in the Didache, this is a great read.

2 comments:

Robin Dugall said...

so you recommend the book? I also agree with you...the Didache is awesome reading...if the book is anything like it, it will be worth the money...I just finished Kathleen Norris' book on Acedia...some of it is a bit laborious but there are a couple of chapters that blew my heart out! miss ya bud!

WES ELLIS said...

Robin,
yeah man. I thought it was worth the read. It's a casual read and a good one. I'll check our Norris' book. I miss you too!