About This Blog

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

"Our Good Crisis" (Jonathan K. Dodson)

TITLE: Our Good Crisis: Overcoming Moral Chaos with the Beatitudes
AUTHOR: Jonathan K. Dodson
PUBLISHER: Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 2019, (192 pages).

The word "crisis" nowadays is very much an understatement. With the recent pronouncement of the Covid-19 as a pandemic, many people are living in a state of an emergency. There are chaos in many places, though some may say organized pandemonium. Author Jonathan K Dodson brings clarity to the meaning of crisis. He presents a whole potpourri of moral conundrums that are fast becoming confusing and troubling. He compares and contrasts the difficult choices behind abortion, sex, financial scandals, and various forms of injustice on age, gender, ethnicity, etc. He also questions the way the society at large have been using (or abusing) the word "crisis." How can it be good? In order to answer that, author Jonathan Dodson adopts three approaches. The first is the etymological approach, to study the origins of the word 'crisis.'  He goes all the way back to the original mention of trees in Genesis, namely, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the Garden of Eden. Secondly, he traces the history of how the word crisis has developed through the ages. What was originally used for moral judgment, the word has evolved to describe "momentary uncertainty." This parallels the rise of relativism and comes at a time where there is increasing dilution of moral clarity. He laments how this leads to the confusion surrounding the essence of what is good and what is not.
Finally, Dodson takes us through the "Greatest Moral Document," also known to many of us as the beatitudes of Christ. Going through all nine of the beatitudes, the author uses each beatitude to target a particular trend or moral choice in society. He uses "poor in spirit" to hit out at individualism and selfishness.  By admitting we are poor and humbled in the first place, we will not easily give in to self-focused programs that arise out of our own loss of identity. In "Blessed are those who mourn," we are faced with the reality of tragedy and senseless acts of violence. We are encouraged to re-examine the way we become distracted by technology, habits, and harmful acts to our neighbours. In "Blessed are the meek," Dodson address the topic of true humility. This helps us see our true inheritance in terms of the value of heavenly rewards instead of the temporal treasures of the earth. In "Blessed are those who hunger after righteousness," we look at the dilemmas surrounding moral choices of right vs wrong. Personal values must line up with spiritual virtues. Human preferences must align with biblical principles. Avoid self-righteousness, and don't mix it with true righteousness. In "Blessed are the merciful," we learn to see the difference between tolerating the wrong to boldly upholding the right. This calls for firmness rather than stubbornness. The former calls for controlled resilience while the latter refers to those who are intolerant of people who don't see their point of view. "Blessed are the pure in heart" gives us the opportunity to let ourselves decrease, that God many increase. Let our own self-importance take secondary stage. For inner purity is about letting go of our own prejudices and trusting God to take charge, especially when we feel we are helpless. In "Blessed are the peacemakers," Dodson cautions us about letting anger deteriorate into offensive behaviour. We are called to see peace not as an absence of conflict but the presence of constructive engagement. He brings us back to the meaning of true shalom. In "Persecution," we are reminded about how privileged we are in our modern society. Learn to care for the have-nots, and the less privileged. Remember the persecuted even as we brace ourselves for future trials that may come.

My Thoughts
Dodson has essentially turned "crisis" into an opportunity to point us back to the origins of the word. By doing that, he reminds us not to base our understanding of "crisis" according to modern subjectivity but on the strong foundations of its original meaning and how it relates directly to the beatitudes. Dodson starts on a somber note, making himself vulnerable as he shares his own setbacks. In that manner, he tells the reader that he is not speaking from some moral high ground, but is sharing his ideas from a fellow member of a sinful human race. That is especially appropriate given the nature of this book, which is about moral judgment and ethical values at stake. Moving from personal confession to public application, the author shows us how the beatitudes of Christ directly addresses the moral confusion of our day.

I appreciate the fresh approach that Dodson has given with regard to teaching the beatitudes. Many begin with a deep treatment of the Biblical text before bringing in the applications. One example is in the popular "Inductive Bible Study" approach that goes from Observation of the Test; to the Interpretation; and subsequently the Application of the text. Dodson approaches it from another angle. He highlights first the reason for the need to study the beatitudes. He then describes the emptiness of the world values before ushering in the venerable teachings of Jesus. This is possible because the list of beatitudes are not only brief but easily understood at first glance. While there are deeper insights to be discovered, the first cursory glance would keep us mindful of the blessings that come with each virtue.

Why do we need this book? If there is one reason, it would be remindering ourselves that we are susceptible to moral flaws and misjudgment. Only by comparing ourselves to the biblical standard can we appropriately know and to decide what is right thing and what is the wrong thing to do, at least on a spiritual and ethical standpoint. Like how Dodson says it: "The Beatitudes are a vision of the kingdom breaking into earth." When believers do just that, they are practicing what they have been praying all along in the Lord's Prayer, "Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in heaven as it is on earth."

Jonathan K. Dodson is pastor of City Life Church in Austin Texas. He is also founder of the Gospel-Centered Discipleship.com that aims to produce resources for discipleship.

Rating: 4.25 stars of 5.


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

No comments:

Post a Comment