Jesse Ancona's Reviews: Following Jesus without Embarrassing God
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Book Review

Following Jesus without Embarrassing God

Campolo, Tony, 1997. Following Jesus without Embarrassing God. Dallas: Word Publishing. ISBN 0-8499-4068-0

This is an interesting book that looks at a number of aspects of daily living, and attempts to show how Christians can apply Biblical principles to their lives without becoming just plain weird. Though we are called to be "a peculiar people," this word in the KJV did not have the connotation of mental instability that it does now. While the gospel is "foolishness to the world," we ourselves are to be "a light to the world," so our conduct must be exemplary, even if our beliefs seem odd. If we, too, allow ourselves to become odd, our witness is lost, and we are easily dismissed as "nut cases."

While I personally don't feel this book is as strong as some others I have reviewed, I still recommend it, because it is the first book I have seen to tackle this problem of embarrassing Christian behaviour head-on, and it is well-written and interesting, and worth reading. In a way, its purpose is like the book of Proverbs, attempting to show people how to use common sense and sanity when applying true religion to all aspects of their lives.

I particularly liked the chapter on "Dealing with Technology without becoming Amish," and the author's account of a field trip he took with his Bible students to visit an Amish leader. In it, many misapprehensions about the Amish way are dispelled, and the leader makes many astute points, such as the role of the automobile in premarital sexual encounters, the way electricity changes the rhythm of day and night, and the way the telephone invades one's privacy.

This chapter hit home for me, particularly since I read the book at a retreat, in which I was away from telephone, TV and computers for a whole week. Oddly enough, I didn't even notice, or miss them. When we were shown a video on the third day, I found myself looking at the strange box for a moment, then thinking, "Oh, yes, now I remember -- television!" And it occurred to me then that I hadn't missed it. It made me rethink how I use my time (she says, typing this review on a computer, irony of ironies).

Each chapter deals with a practical aspect of day-to-day living, and shows how Biblical principles can be applied to it in a balanced way. It is not prescriptive, and does not lay down a bunch of rules: the author simply looks at different aspects of life, and examines how it relates to Biblical principles. I have found this approach much more common in Jewish writings than Christian ones, and I found it refreshing and interesting, and made me want to do a lifestyle inventory and self-examination (my terms, not his).

One point I feel compelled to make, though: this book assumes that the Christians reading the book are acting embarrassing because they are OK deep down inside, but just need some practical pointers. Since the author teaches young Bible students, this is probably often true for them. And it is true for many other Christians, and the obvious often needs to be stated to "show wisdom to the foolish" whose heart is in the right place.

Still, the prospect must be faced that many embarrassing actions occur because one's heart is wrong. Philip Yancey's books, particularly "Soul Survivor", deal with this problem very clearly, and Steven Mosley's "Burned out on Being Good" approaches the problem of superficial religion being based on wrong assumptions and motivations. But then, these books do not get into the kind of nitty-gritty detail, offering practical guidance using the number of life examples that Campolo does, and I think this approach, as well as his title, is brave, and taken in context with an understanding that one's actions must proceed out of a right heart, can be a useful one.

So, I suppose my only major complaint with this book is that it could be misused by hypocritical religious frauds to more closely mimic the balanced life of mature Christians, much as sociopaths watch normal people with consciences to pick up cues about how to behave to pass as normal. Still, any book can be misused in this way -- the Bible certainly has been -- so this is not really a valid criticism. I suppose the lack of encouragement towards self-examination, and the emphasis on outward behaviour, is a bit disturbing to me, especially if his audience is younger or less-mature Christians, who may be easily led into thinking Christianity is all about correct behaviour.

This book may be a needed corrective for many people who have been inundated with many works on the "inner man," with an overemphasis on faith and feeling over action. I found that, for all that I have been "done to death" on the details of "correct behaviour", I found this book gave me food for thought on many aspects of my life I might have never thought to examine.

I must admit that this is another book I read on retreat, and had to return to the library before finishing it (though I skimmed it all, and read many chapters at a slower pace), but I liked its balanced approach towards a Christian's external behaviour.

Reviewed by Jesse Ancona
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