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Quick Reads for November 2018

November 14, 2018 by

Ed Stetzer, Christians in the Age of Outrage: How to Bring Our Best When the World Is at Its Worst

Christians in the Age of Outrage

I read this book during a week that started with bombs being mailed to various high-ranking Democrats, and ended with the synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh. Now, in the aftermath of the midterm elections and another mass shooting, the country feels even more steeped in outrage. So Ed Stetzer’s new book couldn’t be timelier.

Outrage focuses specifically on how Christians are perceived in these times – as often throwing oil on the fire, rather than trying to quench the flames of our tongues as commanded in James 3:6 – and on what we can do to counteract the poor exemplars of our faith, who unfortunately seem to garner most of the headlines.

Besides delineating the various reasons for our increasingly polarized country, which he calls “a cultural forking,” Stetzer also debunks several of what he calls the “lies of outrage” – including both misconceptions spread about Christians (“they are the worst!”) and our own misconceptions about ourselves (“my anger is a righteous anger!”). Stetzer comes down particularly hard on those Christians who hide behind the anonymity of social media and no longer exhibit patient loving correction.

Nothing too earthshattering there, and nothing that’s strictly limited to followers of Jesus. It’s in Part 3 – “The Outrageous Alternatives to Outrage” – where Stetzer finds his groove. Delving into the imagery of ambassadors of Christ, he reminds us that we are sent by a King with a message of reconciliation and grace-filled love. His chapter on “winsome love” provides further guidance on how we can counteract the outrage in ourselves and others; “winsome” as a descriptor took me by surprise, but actually it works. One of its synonyms is “childlike” and that’s a good, if uncommon, way to describe the way we should be; we all too often forget that the kingdom of heaven belongs to children.

Stetzer’s lines on humility, in the chapter “Online Activity Aligned with Gospel Mission,” reminded me of J. Heinrich Arnold’s words that “Only the light of Jesus should rule in the church. God does not need human light. He needs men and women who wait in the darkness for his light, who hunger for truth and thirst for living water.” We should bear in mind that it’s highly unlikely we’re going to convert anyone, to our point of view or to Jesus, with the force of our logic and argument. Much better, says Stetzer, to remember the Kenny Rogers song “The Gambler” and know when to simply walk away.

He has strong words, too, against empty virtue signaling, and about how, practically, to moderate our online usage so we become truer examples of Christ. (There are echoes of Alan Noble’s recent book here.)

Now, there are those who would say that polite, civil, winsome Christianity is a flawed response to the zeitgeist, for at its core, isn’t authentic Christianity radical, and counter to the dominant culture? There is truth in such criticism, but I don’t think Stetzer means us to be cowed by the scorched-earth mentality of our opponents; he just doesn’t want us to resort to their low tactics.

The true solution to all this becomes apparent in the last chapter, “Neighborly Engagement,” which is in essence a call to more community – community that can provide hope, truth, accountability, grace, and gospel to its neighbors. In all this, Stetzer’s book is a cogent reminder that while the way of Christ is not really the way of this world, and while we acknowledge that we’re only here temporarily, we’re each here for a reason. And we must fulfill our role as ambassadors: to be known by our love for Him, for each other, and for humanity. 

 

Haley Stewart, The Grace of Enough: Pursuing Less and Living More in a Throwaway Culture

The Grace of Enough

As with a number of books I’ve reviewed over the last year, Haley Stewart’s The Grace of Enough makes the case that the way to a more gospel-centered family and community is simple: less stuff, less Internet, less arguing, more patience, more big tables with more food, and more engagement with the non-religious or broken souls in our neighborhoods.

On one hand, it’s getting a little repetitive to keep writing reviews about hospitality and unplugging and engaging the neighborhood, but on the other hand, more books indicate that more people are trying, and I hope this results in more people getting inspired to action. So kudos to Stewart and her family for sharing their successes and failures with us.

The Grace of Enough packs a powerful challenge into its slim binding: are you ready to break out of whatever level of western consumerism you find yourself in to live a life that actually follows Jesus’ commands to not worry about what to eat and what to wear? If so, you probably don’t even need to pack up and move to a sustainable farm as the Stewarts did, because they have plenty of suggestions for you, whether on frugality, gardening, composting, and slow food, or on building a “domestic church” and founding a family.

Stewart is a popular Catholic blogger and podcaster, but even if you’re not of that persuasion, there is much to be gleaned here, as long as you don’t discount her as some religious proto-hippie: “We are certainly not hobbits merrily frolicking in the green hills of the Shire all day,” she warns, but the Gospel does promise us abundant life (but crucially, not success, health, or wealth), and if we feel like we don’t have that abundance, it’s up to us to make some changes. In a book whose cover is adorned with carrots, it’s only fair to say it delineates those changes in spades.

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Red Zimmerman

Red Zimmerman

Red Zimmerman lives at the Woodcrest Bruderhof and is the editor of Bruderhof.com.

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