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Recently, I was asked to do a book review of a book called nuChristian (no that’s not a typo…its actually ‘nu’ as in ‘new’) that is a response of sorts, but more so a contribution to the ongoing conversation that resulted from the book unChristian written by Dave Kinnamon (President of The Barna Group) and Gabe Lyon (founder of Fermi Group, now Q) and published in 2007. Written by Rev. Russell Rathbun, one of the founding pastors of House of Mercy in St. Paul, Minnesota, the book is practical, pastoral, and conversational and based largely on Russel’s experience in the post-modern world. As such Russell is upfront about the fact that he is writing from a “highly subjective, extremely relational perspective” (p. viii). While some may discount his book since it is “subjective” and “relational,” I think it has a great deal of insight to offer and I am thankful Russell chose to write from this standpoint.
In the Forward of the book, Shane Claiborne writes, “I am convinced that if we lose a generation in the church, that loss won’t be because we failed to entertain them, but because we failed to dare them–to take the words of Jesus seriously and to do something about the things that are wrong in the world” (p. vi). According to Shane, “Russell Rahtburn offers us that dare–to renew a Christianity that reminds the world of Jesus again” (p.vi).
There is a lot that I could say about this book. I think Russell does a great job of responding to the data presented in The Barna Group’s study. And I very much appreciate his straightforward but gracious approach in his response. I think the two things that jumped out at me the most while reading Russell’s book were his discussion of ‘scapegoating’ and his understanding of the way postmodern people read the Bible.
Russell goes into some depth to draw his reader into his understanding of ‘scapgoating.’ While I was familiar with the term, I very much appreciated his efforts to place the concept within our current culture and context. Early on in the book Russell writes, “The kingdom of God is made up of every kind of person there is” (p. 3). Though this may result in a response of “well, duh” from many people but let’s be honest…this is not the reality of many churches. I personally have attended or visited many churches and found them to be demographically and ideologically anemic. Many write this off as a result of people seeking to be with others who are like them (what Russell refers to as the “homogenous unit principle” as introduced by Dr. Donald A. McGraven [p. 1]). I personally think this it’s a cop out. Russell presents the idea that it is ‘scapegoating’ (p. 6). The bottom line in this seems to be that “scapegoating is when we find someone else like us, and we bond of the shared object of our envy, anxiety, and fear” (p. 6) since “one of us most be wrong” (p. 7) if there is a difference in desires or opinions. It is harder for me to walk the line between scapegoating and judgement, but undoubtedly blaming any one certain group for the ills of society is unfounded at best. I appreciate Russell’s efforts to drive the point home that “nuChristians listen to and consider the opinions of others” (p.88). That coupled with the reality that “human perfections is an illusion” (p.88) makes a great case in and of itself for leaving the judgement of others to God.
As for Russell’s understanding of the way postmodern people read the Bible, he first explains that previous generations typically view scripture “as an instruction book, a guidebook, [or] a book of answers” (p.16). In this line of thing, “there is only one right interpretation of every text in the Bible” (p.16). In the eyes of a postmodern person, if this is trued, they “see the Scriptures as something dead” (p. 17). Instead of thinking of the Bible as an answer book, Russell proposes that we view it “as a book of really good questions” (p.18). I really like that. It took quite some time in my own life to see that if Christianity is just about following rules, you don’t need the Holy Spirit. Or discernment. Or a brain even. Machines can follow rules. Russell compares this to the use of a “checklist” saying, “you don’t need God when you have a checklist” (p.19). I also found it very intriguing that Russell has found that “in [his] own ministry…highlighting the questions we find in Scriptures gives people permission to voice the questions they have always wondered about” (p. 18). It’s rather boring, after all, when someone just provides you with all the answers. Our brains can only take so much of that. It’s boring, frankly, and it assumes that the person giving the who is on the receiving end of the answers doesn’t have the mental capacity to think through things on their own. Our curiosity is primed, so to speak, when there is mystery. And if there is one place there is enough ministry to last us until Christ returns, it’s God and the Bible. Allowing people to wade through the deep waters that are the Scriptures will surely bear more fruit and cramming answers in their brains.
While I am sure I disagree with Russell on at least a few things, the more I think about it the more I understand agreeing isn’t really important. It seems to me that Russell is daring us to hold our beliefs loosely and others tightly. Love of God and Love of neighbor are linked inseparably. And if loving my neighbor means challenging myself to be more accepting of ambiguity and more realistic about the limits of my own humanity I am all for it. No one has it all figured out. We can all learn from each other. The question is, will we humble ourselves enough to allow that to happen?
He has showed you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.
*for more reviews on this book, visit http://www.judsonpress.com/blogtour.cfm for a list of blogs included on this blog tour*