So, I met Rob earlier this year at Spring Harvest, and it was a nice surprise to receive this in the post a few weeks ago with an invitation to read/review… this morning I picked it up, and read it quickly, and appreciatively!
The overall question that Rob is asking is what does it mean to live as a citizen of God’s kingdom, living as ‘resident aliens’ (Hauerwas’s term) on earth?
I was struck by Rob’s questioning of what was a ‘successful’ life, as he sought to live a life true to God’s leaning, discern his passions, and to ensure that prayer was accompanied by action, challenging the gospel of individualism – aka ‘Golden Ticket Theology’ (Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory style), which focuses the question on ‘if I died today, where would I go?’, and doesn’t challenge our life on earth too much. Using the character of Frank:
He has not allowed Jesus’ gospel to permeate his being. Instead, Jesus has become an add-on when Frank has run out of options on his own, a go-to in times of trouble. Frank is trying to live the “Western dream” and bring Jesus along for the ride as well. (p27)
Rob’s emphasis is that yes, Jesus died to save you from something, but also for something. We are looking for transformational living, not just of our own, but also as a part of community (especially those who wouldn’t set foot in a ‘traditional’ church). We are called to reimagine our lives, reposition our values, re-identify who we are, and re-centre on Jesus (p29) – and in this – lose our fear – we should be the biggest risk takers on the planet… but we prefer safety, comfort, routine, etc (p100)
We long to be noticed, to be listened to, to be known and understood, and our identity – the way in which we see ourselves – is affect by all of these things. (p49)
Giving us a sense of citizenship through both his own journey from the States to the UK, and notions of citizenship in Jesus’ time, as they affect our identity – although this ideally should not be dictated by our present circumstances. As we claim our identity in Christ, we claim a solid identity – which breeds security. We gain an understanding of the word ‘ecclesia’ as it was in Roman times – an exclusive, and how Christians reclaimed the word to make it an inclusive meeting. Rob emphasises the importance of friendship in identifying the beauty of others, but also in ourselves, and cautions that in a modern world, it’s easy to have many friends and be incredibly busy, but avoid deep friendships.
On p70-71 Rob highlights the difference in the way we introduce ourselves. In Biblical times (and still in many cultures) people are introduced as part of a clan and identified as part of a line of descendants, whereas in contemporary Western culture we are introduced by what we do. What we do achieves us certain material goods and lifestyle, but we, as Christians, are unlikely to be satisfied by this because we were not made for this (and you know, having decluttered strongly, and done a lot of work on values, etc. this is far more satisfying = less things to maintain/upkeep!). Rob also challenges the denominational model that so many align themselves with: “What matters is that each of has found Jesus, and our citizenship is now in heaven” – however much the denominational lenses may differ. We spend too much time and energy arguing about our differences, than focusing on our unity… and that much of church growth is done at the expense of other churches, rather than a joint venture. Christlikeness does not happen by osmosis, but by practice… note Mahatma Gandhi… if we are Christians, it is part of our identity and therefore should inform how we live (see some thoughts on this from a talk I gave at Spring Harvest) – see also p139 re sacred/secular divide.
Rob talks about the dangers of inoculating the world with mild Christianity – we give the impression it doesn’t matter to us/makes not difference to our lives, so they go about their business. If we compartmentalise our lives, we end up living Pharisaical or secret lives. We like taking the benefits of living with Jesus – but often don’t see the full picture, thinking nuns/monks, etc. are those who need to do the full thing. This is all part of a process of sanctification of ‘becoming more like Jesus’.. a proactive, not a reactive process – one that involves spending time with other ‘citizens’, being honest, asking hard questions and examine your motives with more mature Christians. On pp 127-129 Rob calls on Rich Wilson’s session on discipleship in a digital age – noting that what people feed on tends to dictate who they become, that the world/information moves so fast that we have no time for questioning the ethics and impact. The top 0.05% of users on Twitter are celebrities, but are read by approximately 50% of users. They become ‘the cultural disciples of our day’.
I love Rob’s example of counter-cultural notions of success as p142 outlines – when choosing what grade to aim for at theological seminary, the tutor noted that those with other responsibilities such as family, should not be aiming for an A, as family was a higher priority. We are challenged as to whether we have an ‘association’ or a ‘relationship’ with Jesus – have we given into the priorities of the world? If we follow religion rather than faith, we echo actions and behaviours of others and feel that we are ‘doing it right’. WE need a life of intentionality.
These disciples became citizens and observers of the Kingdom way of life as they walked and lived with Jesus. He modelled for them what heaven on earth was to look like, and then he took them aside to explain it to them. (p158)
We are challenged that we should not be ‘outsourcing’ evangelism, but looking at what we as a community can do. We need to consider how many programmes, activities and Bible studies we are involved in, giving us no opportunities to be part of the wider world. The gospel is not just something you speak/profess, but something that you live and act upon. We need to identify what is broken in our world and begin righting the wrongs, even if it is at our own cost – God continually identified with the poor, and so must we. See Isaiah 58:3-9 in The Message.
Inspired? You should be … to read the whole book!
Dr Bex Lewis is passionate about helping people engage with the digital world in a positive way, where she has more than 20 years’ experience. She is Senior Lecturer in Digital Marketing at Manchester Metropolitan University and Visiting Research Fellow at St John’s College, Durham University, with a particular interest in digital culture, persuasion and attitudinal change, especially how this affects the third sector, including faith organisations, and, after her breast cancer diagnosis in 2017, has started to research social media and cancer. Trained as a mass communications historian, she has written the original history of the poster Keep Calm and Carry On: The Truth Behind the Poster (Imperial War Museum, 2017), drawing upon her PhD research. She is Director of social media consultancy Digital Fingerprint, and author of Raising Children in a Digital Age: Enjoying the Best, Avoiding the Worst (Lion Hudson, 2014) as well as a number of book chapters, and regularly judges digital awards. She has a strong media presence, with her expertise featured in a wide range of publications and programmes, including national, international and specialist TV, radio and press, and can be found all over social media, typically as @drbexl.