The Evangelicals You Don’t Know: A Book Review

I have long struggled with the evangelical label–especially having grown up in an evangelical context. Thankfully, my foundational church experience was more moderate, and I never really considered myself one of “those” evangelicals. Even so, any time my religious background comes up in conversation, I feel the need to quickly explain that I am different than the preconceived idea about being Baptist in the South and everything with which THAT is loaded.

Thankfully, Tom Krattenmaker presents us with, for lack of a better term, the “new” evangelicals. He identifies as a person of faith, although more theologically liberal, and writes for the religion section of USA Today. In The Evangelicals You Don’t Know, Krattenmaker provides one example after another of how today’s evangelicals are more than meets the eye–and should be approached less with suspicion and more with the possibility of partnership. These evangelicals have become more progressive in their desire to address complex social issues such as the environment, abortion, sexuality, politics, human slavery and trafficking, and the broader contributors to poverty at home and abroad. These are the things that are making these evangelicals pro-life and prompting a desire to make the world a better place–indeed more like the Kingdom–for everyone. And so it means working alongside of people with different beliefs, or none at all, in partnerships that work to make communities stronger…without the requirement of a conversation about where you would go if you died tonight. These evangelicals are committed to partnerships for the greater good, honest conversations with those who want to have them, and their own theological positions–even if they differ from someone else’s. What Krattenmaker reminds us of in the end, is that both sides of the religious spectrum–as well as those with and without religion–should be more gracious with the other side, more willing to have honest conversations and meet in the middle, and more willing to work for the greater good, putting our theological differences aside. Because in the end, it’s more about what we do for our brothers and sisters than how solid our theological presuppositions might be.

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Note: Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255.

 

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Hometown Prophet: A Book Review

Maybe it’s the cynic in me, but a modern day prophet who shares/interprets dreams doesn’t seem very realistic. However, when you set that modern day prophet against the backdrop of fictionalized real events and give him a different voice, you can’t help but appreciate this story. Jeff Fulmer’s Hometown Prophet is the story of Peter Quill, a 31 year old man who has moved home to live with his mother after several fits and starts at life. Peter starts as a timid man, carrying layers of shame and hurt who unexpectedly receives a “gift” of vivid dreams that are unlike any other dreams he’s had. He begins to record these dreams, trying to find meaning in each one as they come along. Not sure what to do with these experiences, Peter consults with his mother’s pastor at the church at which he grew up–the same man who is at the center of Peter’s initial dreams. The two realize that Peter’s dreams truly are different–prophetic, even–coming true just as Peter envisioned. With each subsequent dream, the stakes become higher–and Peter receives more varied and intense reactions from others–particularly once Peter’s dreams begin to challenge the worldviews of people in his hometown.

This books includes an interesting and varied cast of characters that are similar to people we might encounter in our own hometowns. The difference is, Peter has a voice that can be heard, prophesying in a somewhat stereotypical way of an Evangelical with the content of a revolutionary for social justice and love. The question is whether anyone will listen.

In spite of my cynicism regarding a modern day dreaming prophet, this story was captivating and the book moved along quickly. What I appreciated most about Peter was that he was a very real, down to earth, ordinary man who was cautious in his attributions and quick to admit his own imperfections. He was not at all pretentious and had many of the characteristics you might expect a “true prophet” to hold. What I appreciated most about the book was the way in which Peter was given a voice–and ultimately how he used that voice–to challenge beliefs and thoughts of those around him. Who doesn’t want to be able to do that at some point?

There were a handful of typos, grammatical mistakes, and the occasional word missing from a sentence that is distracting for someone like me. However, it was not enough to frustrate.

Fulmer admits that this book was born out of his own frustrations with how Christianity has been misused and misrepresented for personal and political gain. I share those same frustrations and was happy to read a book that challenged those values in somewhat of a lighthearted way. It’s not a book I would have ordinarily picked up, but I’m glad I did.

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Note: Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255.

Dress Code

I just got back from not quite two weeks in Israel and Jordan with the Campbell University Divinity School Study Tour (for a full recap, head over here–and keep reading. There are about 12 posts).

One of our leaders reflected in his blog today about the dress code to which we had to adhere in various places on our trip. Sites owned/run/overseen by various faith groups required modest dress, which basically meant no shorts or bare shoulders or too much neck. We didn’t have any men wearing wife beaters in our group, so it meant they had to resort to pants–usually the convertible kind in which the legs were unzipped to shorts rather quickly later in the day. It did mean the women had to be more prepared about their dress. Our leader was mindful of the schedule and would let us know when we had to think about what we were wearing–if the women weren’t already mindful about asking. And so we would appear at the bus in long skirts (worn over shorts so the skirts could easily come off later) or long pants, a shirt with a neckline that didn’t plunge and sleeves that were long enough–or a scarf to cover the tank tops some chose to wear that day. Occasionally, hats were required–usually for the men.

In some ways, it was an exercise in benevolent self-interest. Yes, our mode of dress was out of respect for the Orthodox/Catholics/Jews/Muslims who owned(?) the site. But we also knew that if we weren’t dressed appropriately, we would not be allowed to enter or participate in the site. And no one wanted to miss out on a moment of this whirlwind tour.

In the grand scheme of things, I agree with Tony’s take on whether God cares about how we appear in his/her presence. At the same time, I have a different take on the dress code.

Perhaps it’s because I’m a woman and women are usually more affected by these things.

We all have our visions of how Arab or Muslim women dress. Usually they have on long sleeves and pants, and their heads are covered in a hijab. I can count on one finger the number of times I have seen a full burqa in the US. The same was true in the Arab areas we visited. Usually, the women (and girls) wore long sleeves, pants and hijab. I can count on 7 fingers the number of full burqas I saw (which may speak to the more liberal nature of Palestinians and Jordanians–or that these areas are more secular than you might expect).

Although I’m not advocating the burqa, I must confess that it was nice to have to wear pants and short or 3/4 length sleeves. Although wearing a burqa rubs my feminist fibers the wrong way, it sure does take the question out of what to wear, feeling like there’s nothing to wear, and wondering how one’s butt looks in those jeans. And so, in some ways, I appreciated being made to cover up. Then there is no question about the usual things with which American (and I’m sure other Western) women are so obsessed (tan lines, varicose veins, cellulite, arm jiggle, leg jiggle, chub rub…the list, I’m sure, goes on).

The dress code also makes me mindful of our typically less than modest modes (or retail choices) of dress for women and girls in our country. When thong underwear is marketed to girls who are barely in elementary school, we have a problem. Our daughters become sexualized way too soon; our women spend far too much time and energy trying to pull hard in the tug of war of aging in an effort to keep an iron grip on youth and beauty.

Would that we all take more time to think about our dress–not resorting to sack cloth and ashes, but keeping some things under wraps more than we do–and about what our bodies can and were made to do instead of how they look or are adorned.

The Naked Gospel

Andrew Farley’s Naked Gospel is an invitation to celebrate the newness we receive in Christ, to learn who you really are and to just be yourself. For many, this book will likely shatter paradigms, illusions and preconceived ideas about who we are and what we are “supposed” to do as Christians.

Farley reminds us that “the old has gone; the new has come,” and, as Christians, we live under the new. That means, folks, that we don’t answer to the Law. We live in the Spirit just as the Spirit lives in us. We are born sinners and that’s just part of our make-up. What we don’t need to do is spend all our time self-flagellating and “getting right with God.” All of our sins–every. single. one.–were wiped out on the cross. We’re wasting our time and denying the saving work of Christ when we fixate on our flaws, shortcomings or sins. Unfortunately, most Christians focus there and not on the resurrection that happened three days later. Farley points out that “we’re inundated with a lackluster gospel that advocates partial forgiveness, a pressure-filled motivation for behavior change, and the promise of earned rewards in heaven or a cash return while on earth” (p. 192).

Farley helps to liberate the reader from this lackluster gospel, providing a new way of thinking about the message and work of Christ. And, if we take the time to adjust our views, liberated we become. When we stop focusing on the inevitable (that we will continue to screw up), we can focus more on the important things of loving God and people–which is really what it’s all about.

This book is an easy read, though the language may not be as accessible to those who are not Christians. It assumes that the reader has a Christian background–whatever form that background may take. For me, personally, it helped to articulate and even put a scriptural basis to what I was already thinking and the way in which I viewed God and what I should be about as a Christian. It’s Christ in and through me theology. The question is whether I (or any of the rest of use) will live fully in this new paradigm, this new covenant.

Farley’s examples were, at times, not particularly useful or fell short of the point he was trying to make. The book wandered quite a bit and I found myself wondering how much longer would this go on. However, the message is worth reading, and the implications are worth considering.

The Naked Gospel is a call to differentiation, to embracing who you are as a person created by God, to liberating yourself from the list of things all “good Christians” should do–from prayer to confession to tithing. This book is a reminder that Jesus liberated us from the restrictions and limitations of the Law to provide us with the freedom to love God and love people.

For my anti-religion/anti-things Christian readers, I apologize for all the God talk. However, I’m also up for loaning out the book or having a conversation about it.

Thanks to The Ooze for a copy of this book!

So What About That?

Apparently, this is no longer a Christian nation, and things aren’t so black and white. 

A couple of recent (as in today) stories floating around out there caught my attention…because I wonder what the religious right would have to say about either/both of them.

This from USAToday: Most religious groups in USA have lost ground, survey finds

And this from the BBC (though it’s all over the news on all major (and many minor) news networks): Obama ends stem cell funding ban

One of the more interesting quotes from the USAToday article is this: 

“‘The piety gap defines the primary sides in the culture wars,’ Kosmin says.

‘It’s about gay marriage and abortion and stem cells and the family. If a personal God says, ‘Thou shalt not’ or ‘Thou shalt’ see these a certain way, you’d take it very seriously. Meanwhile, three in 10 people aren’t listening to that God,’ he says.” 

I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that some would link these two stories, saying that because of the “falling away” from Christianity, we, the people, are more prone to be accepting of things such as lifting the ban on stem-cell research…which is just not allowed according to their God. 

I wonder at the right’s opinion, because I’d really like to engage the dialog. What do people (conservative and/or evangelical Christians) think about the movement away from God? About movement away from organized religion? And what do you think is the appropriate response?