In 2004 Scot McKnight published a book that introduced readers to his idea that the very heart of Jesus' message can be found in his words in Mark 12:29-31: "Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.' The second is this, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no other commandment greater than these." These words are an echo of an Old Testament creed Jews called the Shema. But McKnight dubbed this passage, and his book, The Jesus Creed.
At that time McKnight, a professor at North Park University in Chicago, explained it this way: "As Thomas a Kempis puts it, in the Jesus Creed Jesus has 'put a whole dictionary into just one dictum:' Everything about spiritual formation for Jesus is shaped by his version of the Shema. For Jesus, love of God and love of others is the core. Love, a term almost indefinable, is unconditional regard for a person that prompts and shapes behaviors in order to help that person to become what God desires. Love, when working properly, is both emotion and will, affection and action."
McKnight himself has been saying the Jesus Creed daily for the last five years, and in 40 DAYS LIVING THE JESUS CREED he encourages you to do the same. He contends it will be a transformative experience. But he warns, "To remind ourselves in a sacred rhythm that our central tasks are to love God and to love others is to keep in mind something that is more challenging than anything in life. It is one thing to do what seems to be right and good and just; it is another thing to love God and to love others --- all day long with every ounce of our being."
Challenging, indeed! I'm one of those people for whom doing anything every day is a huge challenge. My life rhythms are consistently inconsistent. And so the idea of saying the Jesus Creed everyday is daunting. But it's hard to argue with McKnight (not to mention scripture, the Christian tradition, and the cloud of saints hanging about up there) when he points out that such spiritual discipline does the work of conforming our hearts and minds to the likeness of Christ.
In 40 easy-to-read-in-five-minutes chapters, McKnight goes about explicating the New Testament (and a smattering of the Old) through the lens of the Jesus Creed. McKnight focuses on the primacy of loving relationships --- with others, with one's self, and with God --- that pervades scriptures. Often offering personal illustration, his casual tone is welcoming. And along the way he reinforces his thesis that the Jesus Creed and its command to love God and others is the beating heart of what it means to live as a Christian. Above all, above even saying the specific words of the creed every day, McKnight is calling readers to a life more closely in tune with the person of Christ and the love he preached.
On day 39 McKnight offers this when encouraging readers to read the Gospels in order to learn more about Christ: "In faith-based reading, we read and listen and pause and pray and ponder and relish and chew and digest and wonder and pray some more. The Christian philosopher Paul J. Griffiths says this so well in his book RELIGIOUS READING: in religious reading we 'read as a lover reads, with a tensile attentiveness that wishes to linger, to prolong, to savor, and has no interest at all in the quick orgasm of consumption.' Religious reading wants not only to learn about Jesus but to meditate on him so much that he enters into the soul and sinews of who we are and how we live."
Reading and meditation have corresponding qualities, as both require attention and care. And if, like me, the idea of reciting the Jesus Creed daily seems daunting to you, take heart. You are already a reader. And so the capacity for attention McKnight hopes to cultivate is within. And frankly, 40 DAYS LIVING THE JESUS CREED makes adopting such a practice as easy as it's going to get, even for schedule-adverse people like me. Forty days might sound daunting, but it's doable.
Reviewed by Lisa Ann Cockrel on April 1, 2008