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Friday, March 15, 2013

"The Briarpatch Gospel" (Shayne Wheeler)

TITLE: The Briarpatch Gospel: Fearlessly Following Jesus into the Thorny Places
AUTHOR: Shayne Wheeler
PUBLISHER: Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale Momentum, 2013, (186 pages).

What is a BriarPatch Gospel? It is a place of spiritual dryness or darkness, where instead of the promised faith, joy, and hope, there is that doubt, despair, and discouraging spiritual life. It is a place where the blues seem to take over the skies of bloom, covering it with dark clouds of gloom. The types of people who enter the briarpatch include those who are often ostracized for their sexual orientations, as social outcasts, the depressed, sinners, the marginalized, and those struggling to spring out of the boredom-crisis pendulum. Even in churches, there are many who feel worn out or utterly discouraged for whatever reasons. Take heart. If you are in any of these situations, do not let your hearts be troubled. For if you are a Christian, Jesus will be calling you into the briarpatch. He wants to love us and to heal us. Then he wants to send us into the world to do the same for others. Wheeler reminds us that regardless of our spiritual conditions, rain or shine, thorny or comfy, Jesus will be right there with us. Wheeler deals with two types of briarpatch conditions. The first is external, like home which is where we feel welcome. It is a place where we feel accepted even though we fall short on many fronts. It is a place where we can freely connect without having to sign our names in the blood of commitment. Home is where visitors and strangers will not feel like visitors or strangers, but as family. Instead of abandoning or avoiding friendship with people who are different from us, we address the differences and try to accept one another as best as we can. The way of love is how Jesus accepts people as they are.

The second kind of briarpatch is internal. How possessive are we about our material possessions? Have we shared well with the poor? What is the place of money in our lives? Are we putting relationships above accumulation of things? Inner briarpatches also exist as doubts. How do we deal with pressing questions of faith when there seems to be no answers? Even the early disciples were stunned when Jesus, their Teacher and Master was killed. The sad thing is that many Christians not only allow their doubts to linger without being addressed. As a result, many fail to grow. Like the character Eustace in The Voyage of the Dawn Trreader, one needs to undress the dragon scales, to be freed and naked before God. Let God heal us, and make us whole. God wants to change us from the inside out, if we let him.

While the first two parts of the book deal with the external and internal briarpatches of one's life, the third part helps to show us how God can build us up in the midst of journey through the parched land. There is a trajectory of hope. There is the promise of God who is trustworthy and true. God will shape us. God will use us to shape others. Wheeler shares about how reaching out to others has reaped much spiritual dividends and encouragement for him and his church. About a Mr Buford who murdered the man who raped his wife. Even in his brokenness, Buford found Christ. He found faith. Another story is about a man who was just released from prison. He was jailed for drug offenses. What is the meaning of Jesus in the midst of such brokenness. Wheeler helps us realize that life is complicated. Jesus died for all people, not just those who are nicely dressed on Sundays, live a respectable life, and holds a decent job.

Without the rain, we cannot see the rainbow. Without recognizing the briarpatches of our own lives, we deceive ourselves. Without learning to grow in spite of these spiritual dryness, we will not bear fruit. Transformation begins when we realize it is all grace. Grace is free. Grace is radically free. Grace is given to us. Grace is in the person of Christ. Yet, it is also an invitation to us to accept. We are not force to take it. How does a transformed briarpatch pilgrim look like?

According to Wheeler, he will be living out heaven's reality on earth. He will embody the life and presence of Christ in his work and his relationships. He will be "ambassadors of grace and mercy." He will be praying and hoping that God's kingdom will come soon, and make not just one, but all things new.

Shayne Wheeler has written a very sensitive book. It reaches out to the down and out, the marginalized in society. It also touches the emotionally down or the spiritually outcast. In doing so, he strikes a chord with many who are going through rough times right now. In some way, this is not exactly a typical feel-good kind of an inspirational that charges one up to storm the battlefield. There is something more subtle in the way that it motivates readers. This is the goal of the whole book, which is worth quoting:

"As we enter the briarpatch of our tangled, fallen world, we take the presence of Jesus with us, and we find that he is already there, in the midst of the thorns and thistles, preparing the way for restoration, reconciliation, and redemption." (Shayne Wheeler, p171)
The gospel is bigger, way bigger than any briarpatch.

Rating: 5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me free by Tyndale House Publishers and NetGalley without any obligation for a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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