The Midwives of Mission: a book review

When I picked up To Alter Your World: Partnering with God to Rebirth our CommunitiesI was already a Michael Frost fan, having read several of his books on the missional church and incarnational community. I was less familiar with his co-author, Christiana Rice; however, as a missional practitioner, church planting coach and trainer for thresholds, she brings keen insights to what it means to partner with God in the birthing of New Creation for neighborhoods and communities. Together, they crafted a book that is both helpful and awakens my imagination for mission.

4137Frost and Rice’s book is about transforming communities and neighborhoods, as its title, To Alter Your World, implies. Yet, I think this is one book where the subtitle, Partnering with God to Rebirth our Communities, is a more apt description of the book and its contents. The first half of the book (chapters 1 to 6) rests on images and metaphors of birth: labor, birthing, midwifery. The latter half of the book describes the dynamics of bringing social and spiritual change to neighborhood and place.

In chapter 1, Rice & Frost describe how God groaned like a woman in labor (Isa 42:14) awaiting Israel’s rebirth—their return from exile and captivity (14). They connect Israel’s experience to the Church’s role in welcoming the Kingdom of God into our broken world. In both cases, it is God who does the (re)birthing of communities, and not our frenetic religious or political activity.  Nevertheless, we are invited to partner with God in his restorative work. “Only this one—the Ancient of Days—can change our world, and those of us who have heard God’s groans and responded in faith are invited to serve God in this empire-shattering work” (28).

In chapter 2 and 3, Rice and Frost address the types of things which stand in the way of partnering in the New Creation,  God is bringing (e.g. the church’s disengagement from secular life, colonizing methodologies,  and big-box rootless churches, disconnected from the places and communities they inhabit). Frost and Rice articulate an invitation to churches and missional communities to be a disruptive presence by heeding God’s restorative purposes for communities.

In Chapters 4 through 6, Midwives to the Birth of the New Creation, Rice and Frost describe five Midwife practices. These practices are:

  1. – Releasing our Agendas.
  2. – Shaping the Environment
  3. – Holding the Space for Birth
  4. – Being Flexible and Fearless
  5. – Living Out a New Narrative

The metaphor of midwifery is an alternative metaphor to the sort of militaristic ‘band-of-brothers’—let’s take this city for Christ!—metaphor for mission. Midwives don’t deliver babies, they attend births, hold the space, help open doors, and nurture the birthing process. Frost and Rice draw the parallels between midwives attending birth children and leading pioneering missional movements which transform communities. Missional leaders attend to the New Creation God is birthing in their neighborhood context. Rice draws parallels between the midwife’s role at the birth of her children, and she and Frost point to stories of similar dynamics, as missional communities and churches partnered with what God was birthing in their communities.

In chapter 7 they present the Emory Social Change Model, which describes social change at the level of (1) the individual, (2)interpersonal relationships, (3) community, (4) institutional and (5) structural levels. While all levels are necessary and are encompassed by concentric circles, most churches operate at the individual and interpersonal levels, “encouraging personal self-awareness, congruence, and commitment” (124). However, Frost and Rice argue that to “catalyze social change there needs to be more work done on the three higher tiers” (124). By focusing on community and societal transformation, missional communities cast a bigger vision for what social transformation may look like in their contexts.

Chapter 8 demolishes the old clergy/laity divide, describing a more inclusive vision of work and vocation for community/church members. Chapter 9 explores how to change the world through place crafting (the church working with-in and in-with the wider community to bring about mutual flourishing). In chapters 10 and 11, Frost and Rice describe how the road towards social change, is also a road of mutual life with those communities. Missional communities do not just work to change others, they too are changed.  Missional communities do not just do just ‘take the city for Christ’ but are invited into a lifestyle of suffering and greater vulnerability as they seek the good of the city (or neighborhood) they are planted in.

Frost and Rice have given some helpful and heartfelt instruction to those of us who long to see the Kingdom more fully revealed in our midst.  Through stories and the midwife metaphor, they make vivid a vision of mission. On a personal level, I found the ‘midwife/birthing’ chapters the most compelling part of this book, because it describes the missional vocation as actively partnering in the process of bringing about new creation (the Kingdom of God/the fall of empire/social change) without turning the minister into ‘the one who makes it all happens.’ The role of the midwife is not passive, but responsive, not manipulative but attentive and nurturing. This seems fundamentally right to me.

The sections on social change, place-crafting and ‘work as vocation’ are helpful. I underlined a lot of things and I think Frost and Rice say things well (and give lots of examples from their lives or from fellow missional practitioners). These sections weren’t new to me, in the sense that every missional author I respect says something similar, but they did flesh out a few of the ways we can enlarge our vision of what social change and put it into practice. I give this book four stars. ★★★★

Notice of material connection: I received a copy of this book from InterVarsity Press in exchange for my honest review

Another Benedict Option: a book review

St. Benedict has gotten some good press recently. Conservative columnist Rod Dreher published The Benedict Option (March 2017) arguing that Christians ought to segregate themselves from modern society in order to live out our Christian calling away from the corrupting influence of liberalism. Dreher’s thesis harkens back to Benedict of Nursia’s  monastic rule and the intentional and cloistered Benedictine communities he founded.

At-Home-in-this-Life_9-page-001-663x1024-1Jerusalem Jackson Greer discovered another ‘Benedict Option.’ In At Home in this LifeGreer describes how she dreamed of moving with her family to the country, so she and her husband could impart to their children the virtues of hard work and life on the land and mutual life. Unfortunately, their house in town didn’t sell, and as she listened to God’s voice, and the rule of St. Benedict, she heard the call to stay put where she was. Benedict’s call to stability (not moving from where you are planted) resounded louder than the call to withdraw. Greer was called to stay.

Greer’s book is one part memoir, one part DIY manual for life on the homestead, and one part spiritual disciplines guidebook. Greer shares honestly about her hunger for a deeper spiritual life, how Benedictine spirituality has shapes her practice, and the ways she has learned to embody Christian spirituality in everyday life (not that this is always easy). She takes us on a journey from her angsty desire to be somewhere else (e.g. a country farm), toward learning how to embody Benedictine virtues of humility, hard work and hospitality in ordinary life. She describes what she’s learned from the practices of stability, stewardship, silence, stillness, prayer, Sabbath, manual labor, mutual support, humility and hospitality, and along the way she gives us tips for painting walls, making laundry soap, patching sweaters with doilies, crafting prayer flags, starting worm farms and gardening, cooking (together), hospitality, and organizing garage sale fundraisers.

Greer is a different from me. She’s from the south and loves the country. I’m a North-Westerner and am a city boy. I was drawn into Greer’s story by our mutual love for Benedictine spirituality, and the writings of people like Barbara Brown Taylor, Wendell Berry, Kathleen Norris, Joan Chittister, Dennis Okholm, etc. I enjoyed reading her story about how the wisdom of St. Benedict works out in her everyday life and the ways she’s learned from stability, silence, humility and humbleness. Her description of learning to navigate meal preparation with her husband reminded me of some culinary angst my wife and I had early in our marriage. Greer writes with insight, vulnerability and a good humor. I enjoyed this book. I give this book four stars. ★ ★★ ★

Notice of Material Connection: I received a copy of this book from Paraclete Press in exchange for my honest review.

The Arts & the Christian Imagination: a book review

Clyde Kilby(1902-1986)was renowned for popularizing the works of C.S. Lewis, Tolkien and the Inklings among American evangelicals (and founding Wheaton’s Marion F Wade Center). However, he was also Wheaton’s professor of English and wrote prolifically and thoughtfully about the Arts and aesthetics.  Kilby attempted to allay evangelical suspicion of imagination and aesthetics and provide a positive vision for Christians in the Arts.Arts-and-the-Christian-Imagination

The Arts and the Christian Imagination: Essays on Art, Literature, and Aesthetics(Mount Tabor Books, 2016) edited by William Dyrness and Keith Call bring together many of these essays, some previously published, and some published here for the first time. In many ways,  conversation evangelicals were having about arts in the fifties, sixties, seventies, and eighties has moved some. There is less, general suspicion of the imagination. Today, Evangelical voices like W. David O. Taylor, Jeremy Begbie, Luci Shaw, Makoto Fujimura, Dyrness, and others, have all carried these conversations in new directions; nevertheless, Kilby provided an apology for imagination and helped set the trajectory for evangelical engagement in the arts.

The essays in this volume are divided into four sections, each with an editor’s introduction by Dyrness. Part 1—Christianity, The Arts, and Aesthetics—lays out in detail Kilby’s aesthetics. Dyrness and Call include Ninety-five pages from Kilby’s 450 page manuscript on Christianity and the arts, a previously published thirty-page booklet and a Christianity Today article, Kilby wrote that interacted with Selden Rodman’s The Eye of Man. In these pages, Kilby argues that the choice is never between aesthetics and no aesthetics, but between a good aesthetic and a bad aesthetic. Thus, he urges his fellow evangelicals toward the making of good art. He speaks glowingly about the role of imagination and lays out a Christianized-Platonic aesthetic of forms.

Part 2, The Vocation of the Artist, discusses Evangelicals in the Arts. Kilby argues in “Christianity and Culture” that Christian artists need to clarify and take a stance on their belief in culture (e.g. is Christianity coterminous with culture, or against culture, or somewhere in between). In the chapter entitled, “In Defense of Beauty,” he argues against P.T. Forsyth that the Hebrew Scripture was devoid of an aesthetic.  In “Vision, Belief, and Individuality” Kilby sets the ‘art experience’ along side the scientific ‘analytical experience,’ seeing value in both. In “Evangelicals and Human Freedom,” Kilby takes issue with the notion that the imagination is to be spurned wholesale (though he acknowledges it may get us into trouble. He closes this essay with 8 suggestions for evangelical writers and publishers:

  1. A Serious acceptance of poetry, the novel, biography, autobiography and the personal essay.
  2. More use of the parable, the parabolic, and allegory.
  3. A return to the use of symbol.
  4. Publishers demonstrating more care in accepting, editing, proofreading, illustrating and laying-out manuscripts.
  5. More willingness for publishers to ‘lift the evangelical taste.’
  6. The establishment of an evangelical writers’ colony.
  7. Week-long conferences with evangelical publishers, editors, writers, and critics that would face Christian publishing problems honestly.
  8. Engagement with classics like Aristotle’s Poetics or Plat’s Crito and Apology to find better models of ideas and style
  9.  And that as Evangelicals, we learn to poke some fun at ourselves (197-198).

Part 3, Faith and the Role of the Imagination’ has five essays which probe the value of the imagination in the Christian life (the first of which is in the form of an imagined dialogue on the nature of belief). In Part 4, Poetry, Literature and Imagination, Kilby offers his defense of Poetry and fiction (as an English professor at an Evangelical institution).

There is no question that Evangelical engagement with the Arts is more positive than the Evangelical world that Kilby addressed. However, this book has value beyond its critique of a bygone era. Kilby showed how the arts bring glory to God. His words spoke into a suspicious evangelical context and imparted a sense of wonder. Anyone who cares about the state of Christianity and the arts will find Kilby’s words instructive. I give this four stars. ★★★★

Notice of Material Connection, I received a copy of this book from Paraclete Press in exchange for my honest review

Healing Hatred in Rwanda: a book review

When John Steward arrived in Rwanda in 1997, three years after the genocide, he was greeted by Rwandans who told him in a friendly, but direct manner, “Welcome to Rwanda. You have a difficult job— and please don’t ask me to forgive anybody” (11). He was there to coordinate reconciliation and peacebuilding work. He began searching for models that emphasized ‘the process of healing, the journey of forgiveness and the possibility of reconciliation (13). He also wanted to sensitive to the African culture and context. Building on the work of Rwandan psychologist, Simon Gasibirege, they began holding Personal Development Workshops (PDW) which helped Tutsis, and Hutus work through the pain of genocide and racial tensions.

9781783688838From Genocide to Generosity tells the stories of those impacted by Steward’s work in Rwanda, testimonies of those who faced grief, rage, and deep wounds, and took steps towards reconciliation and healing. In his prologue, John Steward shares how he was prepared for his Rwandan work when eighteen months prior to his trip to Rwanda when his wife told him he needed to work on his attitude. He began attending a workshop called, “Men Exploring Non-Violent Solutions”—an anger-management course. Through doing his own inner work and observing the emotional healing of other participants (many of whom were court ordered attendees), he built a foundation for his Rwandan work.

My own understanding of the Rwandan Genocide has been mediated through films like Hotel Rwanda (2004), Beyond the Gate (2005), and books like Roméo Antonius Dallaire’s Shake Hands with the Devil (2003) and Jean Hatzfeld’s Machete Season (2003). Of these, only Hatzfeld’s book does the best job describing the aftermath of the genocide in Rwanda, and from the perspective of convicted perpetrators of violence. Steward casts a wider net, sharing about the healing journey of both the victims and victimizers.

This book is part of the Langham Global Library (a ministry of the Langham Partnership) and was a 2015 INDIEFAB Book of the Year: Gold Award Winner in the category of Grief/Grieving. It is both heart-wrenching and inspiring, as you hear stories of how people have picked up the fragments of their life after a profound tragedy. I give this four stars. ★★★★

Notice of Material Connection: I received this book through the SpeakEasy Blog Review Program in exchange for my honest review

Seeing the Bible Through the Eyes of the Artist: a book review

C.S. Lewis famously said, “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”By that, he meant that the contours of the Christian story shaped his perception of the broader world. It gave him eyes to see. And with imagination, he helped many of us to see the Christian story (and everything else) through evocative works like the Chronicles of Narnia and the Space Trilogy. What is true of Christianity is true of the Arts and the artist, no less the Christian artist, could also say “That through art and because of it, she sees everything else.”

9781498217330If the biblical story is the lens through which we as Christian see, the Arts have the ability to sharpen our focus.  In Imagining the Story (Cascade Books, 2017), Karen Case-Green and Gill C. Sakakini, engage the biblical story, bringing it into conversation with poetry, the visual arts, and creative enterprise. Intended as a coursebook for artists in community, they retell the bible story through a series of ‘C’ words, helping us to see implications for art and faith: Creation, Crisis, Calling, Conception, Coming, Cross & Comeback, Charisma, Community, Church, Consummation.

Case-Green and Sakakini bring pastoral, theological and aesthetic insight to the biblical story. Case-Green is a Baptist preacher and writer, who has lectured in English at the University of Surrey. Sakakini is an artist and teacher, a faculty member of the Grunewald Guild, and has taught at Carey Theological College. I met her when we were students together at Regent College. She is presently training as an Anglican priest. Her depiction of Christ’s incarnation provides the cover art for this book.  These two women meld their insights into the biblical narrative, with their appreciation and engagement of visual arts and literature.

Each chapter cycles through four components, we as readers are invited to engage. First, we read a passage of scripture (e.g., chapter 1, on Creation has us read Genesis 2:4-20, p 2-3). Second, we are invited to respond to the passage, through a series of questions on the text. Third, we reflect, bringing the passage, and the chapter of the story we are in, into conversation with works of art or poetry. Here also, Case-Green and Sakakini give their own reflections on the implication of the biblical story for them as artists and believers. Finally, we are invited to make—”a chance to playfully participate in the story by creating something—either visual or verbal—in response to the particular theme of the chapter” (xxii).  As this book is intended as a coursebook, the reflections, and creative projects work best in group discussions and contexts, though the book can be read, as I read it, on one’s own. However, in order to fully appreciate what Case-Green and Sakakini are doing, this book ought to be read slowly, and each of the four components engaged fully.

In the forward, W. David O. Taylor, recalls the words of Calvin Seerveld, “God’s Spirit calls an artistic practitioner to help their neighbours who are  imaginatively handicapped, who do not notice there are fifteen different greens outside their window, who have never sensed the bravery in bashfulness, or seen how lovely an ugly person can be” (xiv). Taylor writes:

For the Christian the twin gift of coherence and attentiveness afforded by good works of art comes as welcomed news. In fact, it’s nothing less than gospel stuff. It’s the sort of things, I’d hope, that we ought to be making and promoting and patronzing ourselves. And, in a sense that is exactly what Gill and Karen offer the reader in their book, Imaginging the Story (xiv).

This is the gift that this book offers. Case-Green and Sakakini invite us to contemplate the old, old Story and to reflect on evocative works of art. They have produced an accessible guidebook to a whole new way of seeing the Bible, the Faith, Creation and Creating—and everything else. The book is chock-full of images, though the printing of the book I read, is in black and white. However, a tech-savvy reader can find many of theses images online (including Gill Sakakini’s own gallery). Sometimes, they include web links to artist web pages in their footnotes. To me doing the extra step of looking for full-color and larger renderings, enhanced my appreciation of what Sakakini and Case-Green were doing through this book.

I recommend this for small groups, classes or anyone interested in seeing the Good, True, and Beautiful through the eyes of Scripture and the Arts. Four Stars ★★★★

Notice of material connection, I received this book from Wipf & Stock in exchange for my honest review. I was not asked to write a positive review.

Revival Theology: a book review

Revival has always played a significant role in American evangelicalism. The First and Second Great Awakenings (in the period roughly 1740-1840), transformed the religious landscape of our country and provided our communities with inspiring conversion stories (and hope for similar acts of God). But what were the theologies that underpinned these revivals? What was it that the revivalists actually believed?  Robert Caldwell III (Ph.D., Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) is associate professor of church history at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. In Theologies of American Revivals, he provides a comprehensive overview of the major theologians that shaped the First and Second Great Awakenings.

5164Caldwell describes these revivalists in chronological order. His first three chapters discuss the first Great Awakening. In chapter 1, Caldwell describes the early revivalists (George Whitefield and others) and explores the theological features of the Moderate Calvinist theology (New Light) that inspired the first Awakening. There were three features of moderate evangelical revivalism: (i) Conviction of sin—the preparation of the heart to receive Christ (brought about by various means and a protracted conversion process) (ii) Conversion—the Spirit’s implanting illumination and regenerating the soul, and (iii) Consoltation—the experience of assurance of salvation through self-examination and sanctification.

In chapter 2, Caldwell describes two ‘Great Awakening alternatives’ to this moderate evangelicalism. First, he describes the free grace revivalism of Andrew Croswell, which emphasized passivity,  and criticized moderate evangelicals for confusing the message of grace by emphasizing ‘spiritual works and religious experiences, and for their lengthy conversion process (46) Creswell posited instead that salvation was available immediately, ‘in right and grant’ to all who believe (48), and that assurance of God’s love was what drew sinners to repentance (54).

The other alternative was found in the theology of Jonathan Edwards, himself a moderate evangelical. While Edwards  was similar to other New Lights, his theological innovation was ‘a voluntarist accent to his theology’ which impacted his understanding of original sin (all men are complicit in Adam’s sin)( 58-62) and free will (humans have a moral inability to choose Christ apart from the Spirit’s work, but a natural, inherent ability to repent and believe) (63-68). He also promoted a ‘disinterested spirituality’ which redescribed conversion as coming to behold the objective, moral beauty of God (68-72).  In chapter 3, Caldwell describes how the New Divinity School, (John Bellamy, Samuel Hopkins, John Edwards, Jr., etc), built on Edward’s theological innovations and brought them to mature expression.

Chapters four through six describe, generally, the theologies of the Second Great Awakening. Chapter four describes the Congregationalists (who promoted an Edwardsean style revival) and the ‘New School Presbyterian Revivalism’ of  Nathaniel William Taylor, which was more optimistic than Edwards on the freedom of the will. Chapter five explores the Arminian revivalism of Methodists in the Second Great Awakening and chapter six explores the diversity of theology among early American Baptists.

Chapter seven provides an analysis of the theology of Charles Finney. Caldwell shows that Finney was deeply influenced by the New Divinity School and had an Edswardsean superstructure under-girding his revival theology.  Finney followed Edwards and the New Divinity school’s emphasis on  ‘disinterested spirituality’ and their atonement theology (174-75); nevertheless, his theological anthropology was indebted to Taylorism (sinner has moral ability  to repent and believe),  and he employed ‘new measures’ (e.g. prayers, protracted meetings, and ‘the anxious bench’) to effect revival.

Chapter 8 describes two skeptical responses to revivalism. The first was the Old Light Calvinism of Princeton (Archibald Alexander and Charles Hodge), which critiqued, especially, the New School Revivalism of Taylor and Finney. The second critical response came from Restorationists like Alexander Campbell and Walter Scott, which offered a biblicist response to revivalism.

Caldwell describes common threads running through both Awakenings and distinctives of important figures. I learned quite a bit from this book, especially from his articulation of Edwardsean theology and the theology of Charles Finney.  Having not read deeply of either thinker (I’ve read more Edwards than Finney), I found that Caldwell helpful articulated their theology. I was always taught to cast a critical eye to Finney for the ways he turned revival into a ‘set of techniques’ instead of a work of the Spirit. While it is true that Finney did employ ‘new measures’ and style of preaching to effect revival, Caldwell points out that he saw the Holy Spirit as the necessary agent:

Finney is often characterized as a mechanizer of revival, one who has so thoroughly overthought the human side of the revival process that there seems to be no place for the Holy Spirit in a genuine revival of religion. This caricture is inaccurate, however. When we peer into his writings we find him repeatedly noting the necessity of the Holy Spirit’s efficacy in the conversion process and the vast importance of remaining utterly dependent on him for grace (184).

Caldwell offers a more balanced, evenhanded treatment of Finney, even if he remains critical of aspects of his theology.

Because this book focuses solely on the ‘theology of revivalists,’ and ‘the theology of revival,’ it treats the practices of the Great Awakenings in less detail and doesn’t describe every feature of the revivals. For example, The Great Awakenings both had impacts on African American communities (Albert Raboteau, Slave Religion, OUP, 1978, pp 128-31). Caldwell doesn’t make any mention of race, or the abolitionist movement, though he does mention temperance (123). The emphasis throughout is on sin, redemption, the means and meaning of conversion. He focuses on the theological systems of major tenets of revival.

Caldwell notes in his conclusion, ” After the Second Great Awakening there were no major developments in the History of American revival similar to the changes that took place between 1740 and 1840″ (227).  This seems like a major assertion, especially when you consider the impact of Pentecostalism and the Charismatic movement in the 20th Century; however, Caldwell again is limiting his discussion of revival to issues surrounding the nature and meaning of conversion. Pentecostalism builds on the Holiness theology of Methodism, which is discussed in this text.

Evangelicals in America are still impacted by the religious thought of these revivalists. Caldwell has produced a substantive volume that explores conversion, conviction of sin, the bondage and freedom of the will, sanctification. This book will be of interest to anyone interested in theology or church history and will be a helpful aid in thinking through these issues. I give this four stars.

Notice of material connection: I received a copy of this book from IVP Academic in exchange for my honest review .

Are American Christians Persecuted? It’s Complicated. (a book review)

I was a pastor in Florida at the time the Supreme Court passed the Marriage Equality Act. At a nearby megachurch, the pastor there launched into a series on how the Christian faith was under assault. The recent Supreme Court decision was only the most recent example. Political Correctness sought to silence good Christians, atheists like Richard Dawkins were trying to make them appear evil,  the Muslims were seeking to bring Sharia law to our country, there was no prayer in schools, and abortion on demand was the law of the land. I know some of my own parishioners wanted me to describe, in similar terms, the persecution we as a church were facing. Only I didn’t actually believe it. We were free to worship God, voice our convictions and talk to our neighbors about Jesus. Congress had made no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. Us evangelicals had lost some of our cultural influence and clout, but we were in no way persecuted.

51v9d3s6ncl-_sx322_bo1204203200_Jason Wiedel lives in Surry, Virgina where he directs Habitat For Humanity and works to extend the influence of Christ beyond the walls of the church. In Persecution Complex (2014), Weidel takes aim at the ways this persecution narrative and the accompanying culture wars have poisoned our public witness.  The current situation may be slightly different today from when Wiedel first published this book in the late Obama years. President Trump has sought to curry favor with evangelicals, and the ways in which conservative (white) Christians have felt unheard. There is a way in which the evangelicals who feel persecuted may now feel less under fire, though suspicion against liberal elites remain, and inevitably the pendulum will swing.

Part 1 of Persecution Complex describes the Christian persecution narrative. Wiedel describes the persecution narrative as a reaction to the wider cultural drift away from certain biblical commands, and a reaction to the alleged ‘anti-Christian forces’ who seek to minimize Christian faith in the public sphere (e.g. taking prayer out of schools, and assaulting cherished Christian beliefs through legalizing abortion and marriage equality)(5-6). These ‘anti-Christian forces’ “seek to distract us from important spiritual and moral issues by focusing society’s attention on climate change, scientific research, civil rights, income inequality, prison reform, drug legalization, education, gender equality, and universal healthcare” and seek to marginalize Christian voices as much as possible (7). Wiedel questions the fundamental basis of this narrative, asserting that the loss of some cultural influence of the church in American culture, is not persecution. As counter evidence, he reproduces Sam Killermann’s 30+ Examples of  Christian Privilege (57-59)

In Part 2, Wiedel describes the appeal of the persecution narrative (e.g. how it creates community and rallies people to action, ‘legitimizes our cause’ (we’re the victim!), and gives us someone else to blame. In part 3, Wiedel outlines six dangers inherent to the persecution narrative:

  1. We feel and act superior to others (111-113).
  2. We justify antagonism (113-114).
  3. We dehumanize others (115-116).
  4. We eliminate conversation and debate (117-118).
  5. We become immune to criticism (118-121).
  6. We ignore the suffering of others (121-123).

Part 4 offers some strategies for breaking away from our persecution narrative through showing interest in others, speaking prophetically against systems of violence and advocating on behalf of the poor, fighting injustice (instead of ‘persecution’), loving our enemies, and following Jesus’ example of self-sacrifice.

Wiedel does offer a good analysis of the culture war mentality and our alleged persecution. But while Wiedel is right, he may overstate his case slightly. Christian’s in America are not the victims of persecution, but there is something to there being an anti-Christian bias, in some settings. I think of Carolyn Webber’s excellent memoirs Holy is the Day (IVP, 2013) and Surprised By Oxford (Thomas Nelson, 2011) which describe the challenges of trying to be a faithful Christian in the world of academia (in her case, as a grad student, and then as  professor of literature), or sociologist George Yancey’s Hostility (IVP 2015) which describes, through qualitative research, the phenomenon of anti-Christian bias (again, especially in academia).  Neither of these authors is involved in the sort of culture war that Wiedel is critiquing, and neither would cry persecution (Yancey would also acknowledge that Christians are somewhat to blame for the bias they experience), but anti-Christian bias does affect some Christians in America, in some spheres, some of the time.

None of this detracts from Wiedel’s larger point, critiquing the use of a narrative of persecution to justify our bad behavior and our culture war offensives. Unfortunately, me reading this book, makes Wiedel ‘preach to the choir.’ I am soooo done with American Christian’s persecution complex (and the ways that claiming persecution here diminishes the actual suffering of the world church). My question is, would the people who actually need this book, read this book? I’m not sure they would with how entrenched our current political discourse is. Important points, but how to get Wiedel’s message into the right hands? I give this four stars. ★★★★

Notice of material connection: I received this book from SpeakEasy in exchange for my honest review.W