Conversatio Divina

Part 1 of 16

Following the Jesus Way

An Introduction to This Issue

Tara M. Owens

“Verbicide,” C. S. Lewis writes in his excellent collection of lectures called Studies in Words, the murder of a word, happens in many ways.”C.S. Lewis, Studies in Words (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press-Canto, 1967), 7. Lewis goes on to explain that there are a few more common ways that words are murdered: inflation (using “sadism” for “cruelty,” as an example) or verbiage (using a word in a way that implies a promise that will never be kept; for example, describing something as “significant” without any reference to what it might signify).

Over the last five years, we’ve been witnessing just such a crime. It has, sadly, been a corruption in parts, a slow death that has gone almost unnoticed by all but the most observant. The victim: the verb “to follow.”

To wit, ask yourself what it means to follow something or someone. Think about the ways you’ve last used that word, whether you were referring to watching your favorite television series, like Lost, or being the dedicated fan of a band, like U2. Do you participate in social network sites, such as Facebook or Twitter? If you do, you’ve probably “followed” someone—meaning you’ve subscribed to that person’s daily, or sometimes hourly, updates about what’s going on in his or her life (in 140 characters or less, of course). Whether you feel yourself worthy of it or not, you’ve also mostly likely got your own set of “followers,” friends or family who are interested in what you have to say.

More and more, following is an action that no longer requires any, well, action. Instead, it has come to mean something passive and impersonal, requiring little of us in terms of sacrifice or change. Indeed, to follow someone used to mean we “proceeded after” them, actively following in their footsteps. To follow a philosophy or religion meant we engaged in that belief system as a calling or way of life. To follow meant we accepted the authority of that person or calling so that we might seek to act in accordance with that which we were following.

As the new senior editor of Conversations Journal, words and their demise are of more than simply passing interest to me. If we are followers of Christ—the Logos, the Word made flesh—words and the value they carry reflect the manner in which we value communicating to one another, those for whom Christ died. Indeed, Richard Foster’s excellent article in this issue goes into much greater detail about words and what they teach us about the Jesus way. I hope you will not only enjoy but be transformed by his words.

But before I get ahead of myself, let’s get back to following.

When Jesus called His disciples, and by extension us, to follow Him, He wasn’t talking about something easy, impersonal, and detached. As Eugene Peterson shared during RENOVARÉ’s International Conference on Spiritual Renewal in San Antonio, Texas, the way of Jesus is “robustly human,” deeply conversational, and highly ordinary. Jesus requires our participation. We can’t simply be a fan or an admirer; we must enter the story; we must participate in making meaning, just as we participate in and personalize our understanding of what the metaphor of “the way” might mean.

The theme of this issue, and the intent of the changes you see within these pages, is “Following the Jesus Way.” The word “following” here does triple duty.

First, following the Jesus way means this issue follows after, both chronologically and thematically, the work and meaning that RENOVARÉ and its partners put into their International Conference. Aptly titled “The Jesus Way: Recovering the Lost Content of Discipleship,” the event hosted gifted speakers and teachers such as Eugene Peterson, Chris Webb, Dallas Willard, and others—many of whose words you’ll find in the pages of this issue of Conversations.

Second, the content of this issue—its ideas, articles, and exercises—is meant to assist you, the reader, in learning about what the way of Jesus looks like in practical and personal terms. We ask the questions, What does it mean to follow Jesus? What does it mean when He asks us to follow Him, and how have others done just that along the Way? As Eugene Peterson writes in his book The Jesus Way: A Conversation on the Ways That Jesus Is the Way, “To follow Jesus means that we can’t separate what Jesus is saying from what Jesus is doing and the way that he is doing it.”Eugene Peterson, The Jesus Way: A Conversation on the Ways that Jesus Is the Way (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2007), 22.

Third, following the Jesus way is something we at Conversations are seeking to do in the redesign and restructure of both the physical journal and our website. And by this, I don’t mean to trivialize what following the Jesus way might mean. Back in March, the staff of Conversations, including our editor in chief, Gary Moon (Transformational Theology), and new section editors Mindy Caliguire (Honesty About the Journey), Cindy Bunch (Life Together), Jan Johnson (Intentionality of the Heart), Emilie Griffin (Classical Spiritual Exercises), and Joannah Sadler (Features) gathered at a retreat center in Virginia to talk about the future of the journal. For a weekend, we lived in community, praying, talking, laughing, and journeying our way into what it means to run Conversations the Jesus way, what it means for this community to follow Jesus.

And that third manner of following has resulted in some changes that we’re excited about and that, I hope, bring a deeper meaning to what Following the Jesus Way is all about. Whether you’ve subscribed to every issue of Conversations or are just now joining us, we hope you’ll appreciate the things we’ve done to make the content and the style of the journal easier to read and, if I might stretch the term a little, to follow. The language Jesus spoke wasn’t something that we need a PhD to understand; He spoke the same way that you and I do. In order to follow the Jesus way in the way we publish this journal, we’ve included splash pages for each section so that you have clear markers along the way to help you find your place in the journey of each issue. We’ve cared specifically for typeface and the placement of text—in order to honor not only the words, but also the living Word we seek to follow. We’ve made intentional decisions about paper quality in order that the physical body of the issue invites you to read, interact with, and carry the issue with you.

We’ve also put greater emphasis on involving you, the reader, in each article—through exercises, invitations to interact, and extra content on our also redesigned website. As you’ll see in our Join the Conversation section, we’ve invited you to pull up a chair and talk with us. As Peterson says, “Insider stuff when it comes to spirituality is an illusion of the devil.”Eugene Peterson, “The Jesus Way: What Is It? Why Do I Care?” (lecture at RENOVARÉ International Conference on Spiritual Renewal, The Jesus Way: Recovering the Lost Content of Discipleship, San Antonio, Texas, 21 June 2009). Our spirit in this redesign is to boycott the false impression of a self-important “inner ring” of authors and editors, into which you as the reader may only peer from a distance.C. S. Lewis, “The Inner Ring” The Weight of Glory (New York: Harper Collins, 1949), 141–158. “The Inner Ring” was a memorial lecture at King’s College, University of London, London, England in 1944. This very helpful lecture details the temptations and realities of what we deal with when we desire to enter any “inner ring.” While we may not know you personally, you (yes, specifically you) are important to us, not only as a reader, but also as a fellow traveler on the Way—one from whom we can learn, with whom we seek to interact, and to whom we hope to bear the life of Christ.

This isn’t just a journal full of God-talk. As we wrote and edited each article, we thought about how to make it personal, conversational, and life giving. From Chris Webb’s focus on what it means to be honest as we face God to Juanita Rasmus’s candid story of transformation, and from Dallas Willard’s challenge to relinquish our kingdoms and enter exile to James Bryan Smith’s call to look at the stories we tell ourselves about what God is really like, we asked ourselves and one another, What does it mean to each of us, personally and corporately, to follow the Jesus way? The point isn’t just a magazine full of interesting insights but, as our tagline suggests, that we together provide a forum for authentic transformation, a springboard for real conversations and spiritually renovating practices. Disciples, as John Ortberg said in San Antonio and relates in his article later on, are handcrafted, not mass-produced.John Ortberg, “Finding Your Jesus Way: Faith, Doubt, and Lifelong Discipleship” (lecture at RENOVARÉ International Conference on Spiritual Renewal, The Jesus Way: Recovering The Lost Content of Discipleship, San Antonio, Texas, 24 June 2009).

Following, ultimately, is a metaphor. Jesus isn’t a physical path on which we walk. When He calls himself “the way and the truth and the life” (John 14:6, NIVScripture quotations marked (NIV) are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™), He asks us to participate in making meaning, to become “a speech partner with the Word made flesh.”Peterson, “The Jesus Way.” It will be easy enough to skim through this issue, to take in the information impersonally rather than engaging with the meaning Christ would make of these articles in your own life. The challenge I give to you in this, my inaugural issue, is this:

Resist the temptation to accept the kind of passivity that the world is seeking to bring into what it means to follow. Engage. Reach out. Pass along. Make following the Jesus way something that you do, rather than something you simply read.


Tara M. owens is the senior editor of Conversations Journal. a certified spiritual director with Anam Cara Ministries (, she practices in Colorado and around the world through Skype and other technologies. You can continue the conversation with her about this issue or any other subject at, or you can “follow” her on Twitter @t_owens.