Film and Book Reviews

'Ordinariness' no barrier to faithful service

BookFaithful Witness in a Fractured World: Models for an Authentic Christian Life, by Nicole L. Johnson and Michael T. Snarr (Wipf and Stock, 2019

By Nils Von Kalm

April 6 2020Someone once said that behaviour never lies. It reveals our character and where our heart is at. Jesus also said that people will know we are his disciples by our love for one another.

Reading Faithful Witness in a Fractured World reminded me of the inspiration that comes from learning of the actions of love by disciples of Jesus. It lifted my spirits, stirred me and encouraged me. The book tells the stories of seven individuals who are genuinely following Jesus by living sacrificially loving lives in service of those whom society would reject.

We meet people like Rick, who gave up a six-figure salary to walk into conflict zones and be a human shield with Christian Peacemaker Teams. We meet Tammy, a suburban housewife who noticed an increasing number of homeless people in her neighbourhood and now provides shelters for them. 

Rick, Tammy and the others we meet are ordinary people seeking to authentically live out their faith in the risen Jesus. And that is the main point of this book. They are living these lives of faithful witness to the outsider because they are Christian.

The seven people profiled are friends of the authors. They are not big names, their fame may never go past being written about in a book, but they are faithful, and that is all that matters to them and the authors.

It is because of their very ordinariness that these people’s lives have been highlighted. They are proof that you don’t need special abilities to serve, you just need a heart full of love and devotion to Jesus. 

This book is written as an encouragement to a church that is divided in a dark and uncertain political environment. It is intended to provide hope for a church that needs it. And it is proof that living a life of faith, hope and love in the service of others is the most fulfilling life one could ever live.

The people highlighted in this book never thought they would end up where they are now. Ron never thought that his own hopeless life of addiction would lead to recovery and helping fellow addicts turn their lives around. When Tessa started her lucrative career as a fashion designer, she never thought it would lead to working with refugee women to provide them sustainable employment and a living wage. These are examples that any one of us can emulate. 

Because of the very ordinariness of these people, this book is relevant to anyone who wants to serve. In particular, the authors state that it is for those who are interested in the intersection of religion, culture, politics and social issues. It is for those who are tired of the infighting of Christians in these polarised times and who want to get on with living outward-looking lives of mission rather than inward-looking lives of predictable self-centredness. And it is for those who want Christians to be known for what they are for more than what they are against.

The idea of faithful witness is described by the authors as following the Jesus of the gospels, whose public ministry was announced in Luke 4 when he stood up in the synagogue and quoted Isaiah 61, brazenly announcing that the Spirit of the Lord was upon him to pronounce freedom for the captives, recovery of sight for the blind and the year of the Lord’s favour. It is emphasised as working for God’s kingdom to come right here on earth as in heaven, as we pray every week in church.

The powerful stories of the seven servants highlighted in this book are complemented by key themes shared by each of them. They are the following:

  • Christian faith is never passive, but “requires embodied, active work toward the common good”.
  • Christian faith-based service leads to “an increasingly broad and inclusive ethic of love for different kinds of people”.
  • True Christian faith shows allegiance to Christ above any political party or ideology. The people highlighted in the book are from across the range of the political spectrum, yet they all understand that loyalty to Christ always precedes loyalty to their politics.
  • Christian service contributes to “holistic redemption and restoration”. The work of these servants is seen by each of them as part of a greater whole, of “contributing to the larger narrative of the Christian story.

Throughout the book, fascinating little snippets of Christian history are drawn out to highlight the fact that these are people just like the rest of us. They struggle and they get it wrong at times. But they dust themselves off and learn and continue. This is the wonderful balance of both encouragement and challenge that these stories provide.

Faithful Witness is a short book and easy to read. You will find it difficult to put down, but may also find yourself putting it down at times and seeking God out to ask how you can be a faithful witness in this fractured world. The seven people who we get to know are spreading yeast through the dough, providing outbreaks of the kingdom in little pockets of their towns and suburbs. 

Be warned though. Don’t read this book if you just want to sit in church on a Sunday and remain comfortable. In the words of the old saying, this book could disturb the comfortable and comfort the disturbed among us.

 

 

Nils von Kalm is Church and Community Engagement Coordinator at Anglican Overseas Aid. His book Bending Towards Justice: How Jesus is More Relevant than ever in the 21st Century is published by Coventry Press.