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Tuesday, July 16, 2019

"Upside-Down Spirituality" (Chad Bird)

TITLE: Upside-Down Spirituality
AUTHOR: Chad Bird
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2019, (208 pages).

The early disciples turned the Roman civilization upside down. In spite of ostracization from the Jews and persecution by the Romans, the early Christians maintained their faith and religious practices. They were considered outcasts and failures by society. Yet, the faith they hold on to are very much alive and kicking. The use of false witnesses, smear campaigns, vicious persecutions, and other obstacles could not stop the gospel from spreading. All these happens exactly according to what Jesus had said. We save our lives by losing it; we who are the least would become the greatest; and the way to be first is to come from being last. The counter-cultural spirituality is something that author Chad Bird tries to highlight in this book of "9 essential failures" of the Christian life. Nobody likes to hear about failures. Yet, the very nature of success is that it is the fruit of multiple failings. Failures in things we accumulate about ourselves will save us from ourselves. After all, a good life according to the world is to have everything going right for our selfish selves. A life with Christ however would entail the same manner in which Christ was treated, we too would be treated. This reminds me of the last beatitude of Jesus in Matthew 5:11 that disciples of Christ will be persecuted for his sake. Briefly, the kind of "good" failures Bird talks about are:

  1. Failure to believe in ourselves like the world
  2. Failure to seek after our own name and fame
  3. Failure to let our hearts rule our lives
  4. Failure to perform perfectionist parenting
  5. Failure to restrict calling to just "making a living"
  6. Failure to look for Ms or Mr Perfect
  7. Failure to build walls to separate the Church from the world
  8. Failure to keep our faith private and confidential
  9. Failure to embrace size and numbers as better
The first three "failures" address the way we look at ourselves. The second set of three failures deal with the way we life our lives. The final three failures have to do with the way we run church. The way Bird presents his case works on some kind of a reverse-logic. By challenging us this way, readers are forced to make sure they get their angles right. On the one hand, such a method helps us to read more carefully and think out of the box. On the other hand, there could be some confusion especially for anyone unable to get where Bird is going. Plus, the word "failure" carries a negative image and might discourage some readers from even picking up this book. Thankfully, the author clarifies any doubt by doing a summary chapter at the end of the book. There, he presents his "beatitudes" of failure to ensure we don't get the wrong message. Perhaps, the publisher might want to put these "beatitudes" in the book up front to ensure no confusion.

My Thoughts
All in all, this book challenges us in three ways. First, the author urges us not to fall into the ways and expectations of the world. The world may insist on Godzilla-size achievements and numerical superiority. Jesus instead begins with the mustard seed and highlights a quota of two (Matt 18:20)  for His presence. The second way I find this book challenging is the way the author makes us embrace our failures. Seeing the world overtaking us is not nice at all. We feel left out and ostracized when we don't keep up. It takes faith and courage to embrace and pursue the counter-cultural ways of Christ. Finally, we need to do our homework to make this set of nine failures into affirmative actions. It is one thing to say no to things. It is yet another to find out our "yes" as to what our response should be. Here's my sample list on the beatitudes, revised in a more affirmative manner.
  1. Blessed are those who delights themselves in the LORD;
  2. Blessed are those who make a Name for Christ rather than themselves;
  3. Blessed are those who follow after the heart of God rather than theirs;
  4. Blessed are parents who try their best but don't kick themselves to bits when they fail to become perfect parents;
  5. Blessed are those who live their  lives according to their primary calling to Christ;
  6. Blessed are those who are contented with their marital status;
  7. Blessed are those who conform to the ways of the Kingdom of God;
  8. Blessed are those who are part of an active community of Christ
  9. Blessed are those that the gospel and grace of God is enough.

I am sure readers will be able to come up with a far better list than mine.

Chad Bird has served as pastor, professor, and guest lecturer. He holds graduate degrees from Concordia Theological Seminary and Hebrew Union College. He cohosts the popular podcast "40 Minutes in the OT."

Rating: 4.25 stars of 5.


This book has been provided courtesy of Baker Books and NetGalley without requiring a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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