Thursday, September 17, 2009

Book Review: Christianity Beyond Belief

Christianity Beyond Belief: Following Jesus For the Sake of Others by Todd Hunter

We’ve all heard the message, it says that we’re sinners separated from God, in desperate need of grace. Thankfully, Jesus came and died and through Him we can have forgiveness and go to heaven when we die, if only we accept him into our hearts. Questions hang in the air, however, why do we stay here? Why the incarnation? What are we saved for? The answer, really, is that this is an anemic view of the gospel (so too, really, is the so called “Social Gospel,” but for other reasons). It is these questions, and a deeper view of the gospel, that are addressed in Todd Hunter’s Christianity Beyond Belief: Following Jesus for the Sake of Others.

Fundamentally, what Todd develops is a theology of coming to orthodoxy as a result of a life lived in an environment of spiritual formation. Throughout the work, Todd draws heavily on the work of Dallas Willard and N.T. Wright, which naturally sets the theology on very solid ground. He advocates, as any good Christian theology should, the making of disciples who live their lives for the sake of others and thereby usher in the presence of God’s Kingdom in the here and now.

Todd also understands the importance of imagination and story in the shaping our lives, and he emphasizes the importance of understanding the true story of the gospel if we are to really live the lives Christ calls us to live. This understanding, coupled with a deep awareness of the love and grace of God, means that Todd firmly avoids the pitfalls of guilt-ridden legalism that believers all too often fall into, but still maintains that there is something more to Christianity than mere intellectual agreement to right doctrine. As he himself has said, “Anything you can do with guilt, you can do better without it.”

There were a few places were Todd’s theology seemed to come uncomfortably close to that of the emergent church. Really, that’s only natural as part of what he’s seeking to do is to address the needs of the postmodern generation, which is the same thing the emergent church has sought to do. I think, however, that Todd does it better, because he meets the postmodern where it is, but he does it without losing the anchoring of tradition and orthodoxy.

If I had one complaint about the book, it would be the prevalent use of The Message paraphrase of scripture. I respect Eugene Peterson and the intention behind The Message, but as a writer I find the loss of poetry in that version frustration. This is, however, only and aesthetic complaint and it in no way dampens the important of the message of this book.

Ultimately, Christianity Beyond Belief is a fantastic book that paints a clear, graceful picture of the Gospel and the vibrant promise of life promised by Christ. I recommend that Christians pick up this book and soak in Todd’s expression of the vision of the Gospel. Also, at the risk of repeating myself too much, if you’re in the Orange County area and looking for a church, I strongly suggest you check out Holy Trinity, the church Todd Hunter is launching in Costa mesa at the end of September.