Wednesday, July 31, 2013


This month I've read Simply JesusWrecked and More or Less.  I've already mentioned two of them (Smith Scale & Hunger). You may not be able to tell from the titles, but all three are about the problem of poverty and suffering. 

Simply Jesus, by N.T. Wright, explains the work Jesus was doing when he came to be King.  The focus of the book is the idea of the kingdom of heaven from an Old Testament perspective, a New Testament perspective, and then going forward as the people of God.  Since the kingdom of heaven was announced by Jesus it has been this: "the blind receive sight and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them" (Matthew 11:5). Thus the church's goal is to advance the Kingdom of God just the way Jesus did by preaching, teaching, healing, helping, feeding and blessing.

In Wrecked, Jeff Goins seems to have an audience in mind of 20-somethings who have already been struck dumb by the pain and suffering they see. The book assumes a generally Christian point of view although it is certainly not a Bible study of any kind.  Under the assumption that confronting the suffering in the world face to face will wreck a person's life, the opening chapters call the reader to "be wrecked."  However the book mostly addresses what happens after that initial experience.  Especially the idea of how young people can settle down and grow into the next stage of their life and along with their continued commitment to serve.

More or Less is a book about creative generosity.  Jeff Shinabarger invites everyone to reassess the idea of "enough."  He not only believes that his middle class American readers have far more than they need but that they could relieve the world's suffering by finding creative ways to share what they have.  The book is structured around social experiments, ways that the author and others have experimented with voluntary suffering and loss in their own lives in order to share with others who have less.  Although there are points where it becomes clear that Shinabarger is himself a church goer, the book is clearly aimed at a wider audience. 

I enjoyed all three books. However for two of them my husband and I didn't fit the intended audience. My husband commented as we listened to a selection from Shinabarger, "He's very first world, isn't he."  That was my thought too.  That's not a problem, it's just a long way from my life.  Wrecked on the other hand had several chapters that were simply too young for us.  The book encourages its inexperienced readers to commit to something, to stick to it. A fine lesson but we're well into honoring our commitments as mates, parents, and workers.  

Although Simply Jesus was far and away my favorite, it too had clear drawbacks.    Wright was bold enough to stretch his theology out into the realms of environmentalism, politics, and social justice but his practicality fell short in places.  I often wished that Wright would dwell on the common problems that occur when the church is reaching out into the community and make practical suggestions for overcoming the resistance we often face.

I have written before about my introduction to the idea of a separation of "church" and "kingdom."  Can individuals further the kingdom of God by good works without being tied down to a church made up of real fallible people? Or from the other side, are faithful Christians excused from worrying about a world full of the homeless, hungry, hurting and dying?  Each of these books addresses a facet of the problem. For instance people who are content in their life and their church, but feel helpless in the face of the world's troubles will find More or Less a great fit.  People whose hearts were broken on a short-term mission trip or by volunteering weekends at the mission should read Wrecked.  As a person who's been "wrecked" so to speak I found it both comforting and challenging.  Finally people who love God but don't see the connection between church on Sunday and clean water in Africa (or clean air in Austin, Texas) need a dose of Simply Jesus!
We often gloss over the fact that the world is rotten down to the core. The poverty, hunger, hatred, hurt and sin are almost more than we can bear so we look away.  All three of these books demand that we look back. The good news though is that all three of them look and see the opportunity for change.  Again it's here that Wright's book really shines because he tackles not only the physical problems, but he clearly understands that sin lies just below the surface of every one of those horrors, making their healing the unique responsibility of Jesus and his church.

I hope you're brave enough to pick up one or more of these books and read.  More than that though, I hope you'll step past what's comfortable and do something!  Heal the sick!  I know a ministry that can take 250 dollars and pay for the surgery that will close up the cleft palate of an impoverished Chinese child. (  Feed the hungry!  Don't know how?  See this article for suggestions.   Clothe the naked!  Your town's rescue mission would love to have your old clothes, especially winter coats. Advance the kingdom one step at a time.  
Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE(R), Copyright(c) 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

No comments:

Post a Comment