About This Blog

Friday, April 15, 2016

"How Jesus Saves the World From Us" (Morgan Guyton)

TITLE: How Jesus Saves the World from Us: 12 Antidotes to Toxic Christianity
AUTHOR: Morgan Guyton
PUBLISHER: Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2016, (208 pages).

There is a common saying about the spiritual obstinacy of ancient Israel: "You can take Israel out of Egypt, but you cannot take Egypt out of Israel." Compared to external things, whatever that is inside our hearts is much harder to remove. In the same light, people who have dabbled with all forms of worldliness will have the world in their lives. What does it take to be liberated from all of these? How can we be more free to pursue our calling instead of running after things that do not last? According to Morgan Guyton, it is not about removing us from the world, but to remove the world from us! He gives not just one but twelve"antidotes" to save the world from us.
  1. Worship, not Performance
  2. Mercy, not Sacrifice
  3. Empty, not Clean
  4. Breath, not Meat
  5. Honor, not Terror
  6. Poetry, not Math
  7. Communion, not Correctness
  8. Temple, not Program
  9. Solidarity, not Sanctimony
  10. Outsides, not Insiders
  11. Servanthood, not Leadership
  12. Kingdom, not Stadium

The author is using this book to target Christians who have consciously or unconsciously embraced worldliness into their midst. He aims at our tendency toward exhibitionism, spiritual aloofness, moralistic behaviour, arrogance, divisiveness, and all manner of worldliness that does not reflect the truth and grace of Christ. It is sad that some Christians are not behaving like the salt and light of the world. This book is a way to save the world from such Christians through redemptive teachings.

In worship, we are reminded that we ought to come to God like little children, innocent, open, and without pretense. Contrast this with the professionalism and the performance-like atmosphere in churches that seem to take the fun and joy out of worshiping God. Are we tending God's garden or more concerned about our own plantation? Guyton even refers to such performance-like attitudes to a "Simon Cowell" god that picks apart how believers worship God. Guyton points out the showmanship that tends to exalt man's techniques rather than exalting God in worship.

In loving people, we need to show mercy instead of insisting on sacrificial service, just like the prophet Samuel who reprimanded Saul for sacrificing animals when God wants obedience.  Here, Guyton is taking aim at judgmentalism.

In seeking God with a pure heart, we must avoid coming to God full our ourselves, our good deeds, or our cleanliness. As we approach God, empty handed, we are recognizing that we are indeed nothing and needy. We need God.

We are also reminded to live in whole rather than to live in part; in the Spirit instead of in the flesh. Calling it "breath, not meat," Guyton refers to the tendency for us to rush to gulp down food instead of enjoying food by taking breaths in between. It is essentially about how disembodiment and separation of lifestyle into parts. He attacks consumerism, and the poor ways people treat their bodies. After all, if the body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, should we not learn to treat it more respectfully?

God is to be honored and revered, and not shunned in fear. Here, Guyton helps us along to understand what it means to have the "fear of God." On Bible reading, we are urged to read the Bible more as poetry rather than a science textbook.  We should not treat the Bible as a book of facts (Wall). We need to let the Spirit of God (Wind) guide us in the interpretation of the Bible. The Word of God is a beam of light (Wave) to shine the way for us. There is a chapter on doctrine, one on the way we use sacred space; sin; Church unity; and others.

Let me share some brief thoughts about this book.

First, I like the way Guyton puts across some basic Christian living tips in simple terms. Using the contrast and compare method, he is able to hone in on the essentials after pointing out the worldliness of certain behaviour. For instance, the part about servanthood over leadership is such a necessary reminder. Using the three temptations of Christ as a way to anchor his arguments, he reminds me of Henri Nouwen's classic book on leadership, "In the Name of Jesus." I like the way he describes "shepherds who speak, or sheep who listen deeply" showing us that it is God that we all like sheep should always listen for. The servants of God are channels of God's grace, not to be hero-worshiped.

Second, I think the chapter on reading the Bible as poetry rather than math is a bit too simplistic for my liking. The way forward is actually genre awareness. Not all parts of the Bible are poetry. There are different genres like narratives and history that require us to adjust our way of interpretation. Perhaps, the key purpose of that chapter is to hold off hyper-literal interpreters. Thus, the way to benefit from this chapter is to make adjustments to our interpretation rather than to become poets overnight.

Third, I think the part about being merciful is really necessary in the light of accusations of hypocrisy and judgmentalism. We all need a good dose of reminders about grace, truth, and mercy. Christians can be so right that they can be rightly riding on the wrong horse. Like Bonhoeffer's warning, that it is no use running in the right direction along the corridor of a train heading the wrong way. For this, I am reminded of the THINK acronym which essentially brings in the merciful attitude we need to have.
  • T = Is it True?
  • H = Is it Helpful?
  • I = Is it Inspiring?
  • N = Is it Necessary?
  • K = Is it Kind?
Morgan Guyton is Associate Pastor of Burke United Methodist Church in Burke, VA. He blogs at "Mercy, Not Sacrifice." If there is one thing memorable about this book, I would say that just the table of contents alone can bring lots of reflective moments.

Rating: 4 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Westminster John Knox Press and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

No comments:

Post a Comment