Saturday, September 17, 2011

Booklet Review: The Politics of Witness

I call this a booklet review because Allan Bevere's The Politics of Witness is only 62 pages of texts, making it much larger than a pamphlet but somewhat undersized as a book. The size is just about right however because this booklet and the others in the Aeropagus Critical Christian Issues series make no attempt to be comprehensive voices on a given subject but rather are high level overviews and introductions.

Allan draws a very convincing portrait of the changes in the witness of the church starting with everyone's favorite whipping boy, Constantine. The more I read, the more convinced I become that the so-called Constantinian Shift was the worst thing that has happened to the church in its nearly two thousand year history and most of the negatives that have been linked to the church in the centuries since (the religious wars in Europe, the Crusades, the persecution of the Anabaptist's, etc.) can be tied back to this event in the fourth century.

I especially liked the chapter, It's Israel and the Church, Not Israel and America where Allan calls out Jim Wallis and the religious Left as being mirror images of Jerry Falwell and the Religious Right, both sides employing a faulty hermeneutic. America is not Israel and America is not the church and the sooner we understand, the better off we will all be!

The Politics of Witness is full of quotable material but I liked this one a lot and found it applicable in today's never-ending political campaign season:
My great concern is that when Christians in America want to play the role of prophet in Pharaoh's court, they end up looking, not like the wise sage, but the court jester that gets used by the king for his or her own comical and unsavory purposes. (Bevere, The Politics of Witness, pg. 49)
It is more and more apparent to me that both political parties pander to people of faith in different ways for the coldly calculated purpose of gaining and retaining political power. The church has been the patsy of politicians for far too long!

If there is a weakness in The Politics of Witness I would say that it comes from Allan not fully exploring the way that the traditional model of competing and autonomous local churches that focus on Sunday morning ritual religion hampers our witness (for example using the idea of calling certain people to ordained ministry). He touches oh so briefly and tantalizingly on it on page 61, less than a full page from the end of the book,and leaves the reader (at least this reader) wishing for more. Allan alludes to the problem by writing:
...the politics of witness can probably only begin to happen in small enclaves of Christians who desire to be such a faithful remnant...I am saying that it is quite unlikely that any established congregation will be willing and therefore able to undertake such a (not so) modest proposal (Bevere, The Politics of Witness, pg. 61)
That is an idea that needs more fleshing out.

It seems that the result of what Allan is saying is that the church is appealing for many people because it supports their view of America. I think that a church that is not part and parcel with American values and patriotic fervor has no appeal to many churchgoers. Take away the flags and the morality and watch what it does to attendance. We desperately need to embrace a view that sees the church as a witness to the culture, not as a far too comfortable part of the culture. I would highly recommend The Politics of Witness as a great stepping stone and conversation starter. What a great tool for a short small group discussion! If you are like me and sense something is drastically wrong with how we understand the church, this is a great book to study.

(Please note I was provided a copy of The Politics of Witness free of charge and without obligation to provide a positive review)

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