One of the book reviews I said I’d post occasionally:
I cannot recall just how or where I came across Benjamin Corey. I discovered his blog at patheos.com some weeks ago while trawling about. Right away I was struck by his words; not just that he is a superb wordsmith, but also of course because of what he says with them, with occasional lines just begging to be quoted for their profundity! I suppose I was drawn to his blogs fairly naturally since he, like me, is seeking to challenge us to examine and re-examine our theology, our faith and how we live and talk about exactly what we believe. He seems to have arrived at roughly the same place on his journey with God as where I have found myself. I was an outsider to evangelical culture, never truly fitting into it, unlike the majority of my fellows who were ‘raised’ in church and amongst that way of living and thinking. Corey, though, was definitively one of them[*], describing his first days in seminary as a stage of skeptical disbelief that these theologians could tell him anything new about his faith that he had already garnered over his lifetime in church. That changed for him, and he recounts his journey of discovery with such fondness and excitement as he remembers those moments of spiritual enlightenment and inspiration, drawing you along with him as he simply explains, in very readable English, what he discovered and how he wishes for the reader to grasp it.
*[Corey lives in the USA, and he calls his background ‘fundamentalist culture’ with his blog name Formerly Fundie, but this is practically identical to what I call ‘evangelical’ – it’s just different labels within our respective cultures, for me at least. Any differences would be slight.]
Once I started talking to others about this blogger, both off and online, I realised right away that there was a problem, and it’s this: evangelicals think they have it all correct! Exactly what Corey has been trying to say all along. While we pat ourselves on the back that we do indeed have the truth of the gospel that we preach, we tend also to think that anything else theological we hold dear is just not up for discussion. Even though we have to admit that within the ‘evangelical’ fold (which is not actually written down in any creed anywhere) we have different denominations, with their own separate creeds and slants on things. Since Corey seems to come at things from a different point of view, having confessed he is no longer labelling himself ‘fundamentalist’, he inevitably draws suspicion. Evangelicals can be a very wary and jittery bunch, and anyone not identifying with their grouping is taken with a fair handful of salt. When Corey described the moment he realised he was ‘without a tribe’ I chuckled to myself.
He is viewed by many as “just another one of those ‘liberals”, which brings up so many other cultural problems, and such an attitude defeats his rhetoric before he even speaks. For a discussion of what the insult ‘liberal’ means to me, see my last blog. By my definition, he is anything but liberal!
The book itself is surprisingly short, since it feels like so much more. Almost every page I got a fresh insight into something, and it always seemed to just click into place like pieces I need to help me complete more of my jigsaw that is of Jesus. It is listed as 192 pages on amazon, though I pre-ordered it on kindle (for less than £2!). My kindle showed my time taken to read it, which was just about 5 hours. I would not recommend reading it all at one sitting, but let each topic or chapter sink in and get digested before tackling another. Even chapters I thought would not speak to me, like the one on forgiveness, since I’ve learnt so much about that in my life, left me with a feeling of newness, like having woken up and realised something that should have been so apparent all along.
Added to that were, for me, things that just confirmed what I’d been trying to say for years, and lately on my own blog, so the feeling of a ‘kindred spirit’ was strengthened. I have often said I tire of the “I don’t smoke, don’t drink, and don’t go to the pub anymore!” testimonies I hear over and over again, like parrots at the zoo. Corey relates how he “realised that following Jesus is more of a list of things you do, rather than things you don’t do.” YES! But he goes into depth about just what those things are and how they should affect us in all parts of our lives. While he prefers the term ‘Jesus follower’ to ‘Christian’ he does not just poo-poo all those who call themselves Christian, in an all-too-often ironic conceitedness that many ‘progressives’ display. Rather, he embraces the idea of belonging to this large family of God and does not denigrate the label. In fact, his jibe at ‘not belonging to a tribe’ is referring to a tribal mentality that too many of us have towards each other.
The aim of his book is to whittle past culture and get to the heart of Jesus’ radical lifestyle message. My only gripe with the book is that it is totally couched within American culture, but the application to other cultures is perfectly possible to do, since it is the principles of throwing off that baggage that is not from Christ, and rediscovering what was preached to the crowds 2000 years ago. It was still very relevant to me, certainly. Every chapter is headed ‘Undiluted ____’ and it’s the dilution that culture does to the very strong message of Jesus’ words.
When I came to the last chapter, about his transformation from a rabid fundamentalist, I actually heard my soul say “oh no, he’s going to bash the fundamentalists/ evangelicals!!” Suppose it’s ingrained in me too! However, though it was a rebuke, it was not about getting the gospel wrong. It was how we have inadvertently actually simplified the gospel of salvation so much that what we hear preached from our pulpits is correct, but only a part of the whole message Jesus brought. Many things (like end-times prophecies) have drawn us away from correct attitudes to the world around us. Again, I was astounded.
I say: get past the perceptions and the labels. So what if you’ve read a few of his blogs and find him a bit ‘off base’ from where you are? If we cannot agree to differ on some things… well, go and join an exclusive brethren sect, or the Amish (if they’ll have you!). Read to be challenged and taught, and you just might be surprised.
Grace be with you.