Review: Letters to a Future Church: Words of Encouragement and Prophetic Appeals

Letters to a Future Church: Words of Encouragement and Prophetic Appeals
Letters to a Future Church: Words of Encouragement and Prophetic Appeals by Chris Lewis
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The concept of this book is a simple and potentially profound one. Based upon the seven letters from Christ to the Church in Revelation, the authors invited a range of people to write an ‘eighth letter’, what they prayerfully though God might be saying to the church today.

There is something very intimate about letter, especially a hand-written letter as opposed to a hastily typed email. The act of writing with a pen, personally, to someone you know and care about, is an act of self-giving, and the very existence of the letter communicates to the recipient that you communication with them was important enough for you to take the time to do it in this way. There is a level of vulnerability in writing a letter. In this age of electronic expression, it is rare to reveal our own handwriting to others.

I wanted to love this book. The idea behind it was one that intrigued me – in fact I’ve tried to encourage folk in our church to give it a go, aware that if a number of letters are received, it may be possible with care to discern trends in them through which God may be saying something to us. Of course all letters are written with a specific recipient in mind. What they have to say addresses them, speaks into their situation and into your relationship with them, whatever that might be. This is their power. It is also possibly for me the weakness of this book. These letters are addressed to the Church of North America. Whilst there are many similarities between England and the USA, both in general and in the church, there are also many differences. Inevitably these differences will lead to a different level of engagement between me and this letter and a North American Christian. On the whole, although I found many of the letters interesting, I didn’t find that they spoke directly to me or grabbed my imagination. I would love to know how my North American sisters and brothers find it.

This is not to say that there weren’t images and ideas here that challenged me. We have recently started a Foodbank and are providing those in crisis with food from our church. Peter Rollins’ letter (‘The Sin of Abstraction’) challenged me to not provide food for the hungry but to think about what I can do to change the situation so that people aren’t hungry in the first place. A number of letters, Shane Claiborne’s springs to mind (‘A Dozen (or So) Flags and Seven Piles of Poop’), reinforced the growing conviction that I have about the importance of developing relationships with the poor and needy, not just having a theology concerning their plight. Both Jesus’ teaching and lifestyle radically related to those in need and those who are rejected. It is very easy for us to acknowledge this from the pulpit, but another thing entirely to actually live it out. There were a few letters concerning the importance of embracing art and artists in the church. Too often we have preferred clear cut teaching to open ended imagination; a bizarre start of affairs when our founder spoke so playfully in parable, the prophets challenged in poetry and the heart of the Bible is a book of songs! I was reminded of a desire I have to allow creativity and art to be freed to express God and his Kingdom within and even without our church.

One final letter I want to mention, that by Nathan Colquhoun titled ‘On Self-Justification’. Like many other letters in this book, he talks about the gap between the life Jesus modelled and taught and the life that we lead and teach. He points out how we often attempt to close this gap through justifying the difference, explaining it away and finding approaches that can make us feel more at ease with it. He uses the example of Jesus instructing the Rich, Young, Ruler to go away and sell everything he has and give the money to the poor, and how we so frequently devise ways of working around this so that his instruction is not our command. Such self-justification enables us to live a lie without feeling guilty. Rather than using so much energy attempting to find peace through justifying our actions, Colquhoun suggests we would be far better off simply admitting and living with the difference between our beliefs and our actions. At first this sounds like an enormous cop out, but the truth is that we will never be able. Sure we should seek to, striving to be open to the Spirit’s guidance and enabling as we take on Jesus’ yoke (as in Aileen Van Ginkel’s letter ‘Real Rest’), but we will never be able to achieve this fully, just as we were unable to live out the Law of the Old Testament. That’s why Jesus had to come, as he and he alone could fulfil that Law, live out that life. The act of admitting that we are unable to, that we live a lie, leads in fact to liberation and a greater chance of being obedient, as being humble and admitting our frailty frees us to be open to the Spirit’s transforming power. In many way’s this letter is one of the most important in the book. Without it, such a collection could leave us feeling impotent and guilty. With it we are able to listen to the challenges contained within and aspire to them, without the worry of having to count our successes.

I’ve given this book 3 Stars (‘I liked it’ rating). I didn’t find it an unputdownable book (does such a word exist – it should do as such books certainly exist!) possibly as it doesn’t directly speak into my culture, both in general and in the church. That said, it was certainly worth reading and as my unusually long review demonstrates, it has provoked thought, helped and crystallised through writing this.

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Review: The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical

The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical
The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical by Shane Claiborne
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’ve had this book on my shelves for a while now – picked it up at the Greenbelt festival a few years back but it got put away with the rest of the stuff I’d picked up whilst there and then forgotten about. Really wish I’d read it earlier.

This is a book for all who’ve dared to think that there might be more to life than the daily grind, or have felt that somehow the church has lost sight of the radical life of Jesus. In it Shane pours out his beliefs about what Christian life should look like, that it is possible to live in a different way, and dares us to give it a go. Alongside this he describes examples from his own life and that of the various communities he’s belonged to. On the way he addresses our attitudes to relationships, peace and possessions. At its heart is the simple message of relating to those around us as people and being brave enough to step out of systems that don’t do this.

The next thing I’m going to do with this book? Give it away. Don’t normally do that, but I think it would be good to let it challenge others the way it has challenged me.

*****

I wrote about this book in our church newsletter. Here is what I said in case anyone is interested:

Living As We See It
I’ve been reading ‘The Irresistible Revolution: living as an ordinary radical’ by Shane Claiborne recently; you may have heard me mention him a few times recently in our services. I’ve found it an inspiring read. There are times when his enthusiasm for his point of view about how we should live out the Christian life leads him to sound judgmental when talking about those who see it a different way, and there are times when maybe his use of Scripture is a little fast and loose, but when I finished his book on Thursday night and put it down, I knew that it had changed me in some small way. At its heart is the challenge not just to believe in Jesus, but to actually live out a life like him – to not see the Sermon on the Mount especially as just idealistic writing, but a call to live differently; something to be done.

Here’s a quote of his from near the end of the book,

“Maybe we are a little crazy. After all, we believe in things we don’t see. The Scriptures say that faith is “being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (Heb. 11:1). We believe poverty can end even though it is all around us. We believe in peace even though we hear only rumours of wars. And since we are people of expectation, we are so convinced that another world is coming that we start living as if it were already here.”

This is a totally Scriptural point of view. This is at the heart of Paul’s writing in the New Testament and at the core of Romans. As we see what the world will be, as we know God’s judgement over us already as we are in Christ, then why continue living out the old life, instead lets live out the new. Revelation paints the picture of Heaven coming to Earth, of God living in the midst of humanity as in Eden at the start. A life where pain has gone, tears have ceased, peace reigns and we are reconciled to God, each other and the world we live in. If this is how it’s meant to be, then surely we should be striving to live that way today.

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Claiborne’s Letter to Non-Believers

Shane ClaiborneJust stumbled across an old article on the esquire website entitled ‘Letter to Non-Believers by Shane Claiborne‘. Don’t follow Esquire at all, but was lead here by a link on another site that caught my attention. I first came across Claiborne a few years at either Greenbelt or Soul Survivor where I was struck by he determination to live our the call by Jesus to follow him in as real a way as he could. Here was a man who walked the walk as well as talked the talk as they say. Have to agree with much of what he says here, and recommend this letter non-believers, but not just them, also believers as I think we sometimes need to hear this stuff too.

Find out more about Shane here.