Timothy George and John Woodbridge’s The Mark of Jesus: Loving In a Way the World Can See

What a unique and interesting book Timothy George and John Woodbridge’s The Mark of Jesus: Loving In a Way The World Can See is.  The title and content are meant to pay homage to Francis Schaeffer’s tremendous little book, The Mark of a Christian, and to Schaeffer’s idea of love as the “final apologetic.”  Maybe it’s best to see this book as an update and extension of Schaeffer’s work.

Much has changed since Schaeffer wrote, and yet so much has not.  What has not changed is the need for the Christian witness to be grounded in love and borne on the wings of love.  With the rise of Islam and an increasingly tendentious religious scene in the United States (and around the world, for that matter), there has never been a better time for a renewed call for the final apologetic.

Love is the final apologetic because it cannot be refuted or argued against.  Our arguments for Christ or against other religions can be bandied about, debated, and dissected, but genuine love for people cannot be.  This is the case that George and Woodbridge are making, and they do it well.  This is not, by the way, a lapse into sentimentalism.  Strong arguments and truth claims are needed.  But when these are buttressed by love, how much stronger they become.

Anything by Timothy George is worth reading (and I’m sure by Woodbridge as well, though I’m not as familiar with him).  It is nice to see a popular level book by Dr. George, and I do hope he will do even more of these.  Of course, being from the pens of two academic, this book occasionally wanders in fields that some might find a bit tedious.  The long chapter on the rise of fundamentalism was fascinating, but I did occasionally wonder, while reading this chapter, who exactly this book’s target audience is?  Regardless, that chapter in particular is important and helps explain a great deal about media terminology in covering religious realities in North America as well as about how people view evangelicals and fundamentalists.  Furthermore, the authors do a good job in this section of questioning the oft-repeated supposed linkage between Christian fundamentalism and Islamic fundamentalism.

There’s helpful and practical wisdom here about what Christian ecumenism should look like.  The authors refuse to sell doctrine down the river in exchange for dialogue and peace.  No, we are to hold to our biblical convictions and seek to communicate them clearly.  But we communicate our convictions with hearts of love and understanding.

Personally, this is a word I needed to hear.  I suspect it’s a word we all need to hear.  I highly recommend this book.

Henri Nouwen’s Out of Solitude

One could make the argument that the most powerful things in life are simple and brief – a passing word of encouragement from a friend, a glance from one’s spouse, a child’s laugh, a moving quotation from an esteemed leader, or a teaching of Jesus. In short, human beings are never truly moved by the mind boggling and the complex. We are moved by powerful simplicity. The greatest spiritual teachings have never needed an interpretive flow chart.

With this in mind, I would like to recommend to anyone reading this review that they purchase Henri Nouwen’s Out of Solitude and read this short and simple little book – not because of its shortness and simplicity, but because of its power. I was given this book by a friend who recently rediscovered the importance of solitude in his own walk with the Lord. His only instruction was that I read it more than once. I have just finished my second time through it. It will not be the last time.

This book consists of three sections that were originally delivered by Henri Nouwen as sermons at the United Church of Christ at Yale University. Section one deals with solitude. Section two deals with care. Section three deals with expectation. Through introductions and conclusions to each section, Nouwen shows that these three facets of the spiritual life (solitude – care – expectation) stand together and, properly understood, progress into each other. The book also includes photographs by Ron P. van den Bosch that mirror the content of the text in their subtle strength.

Nouwen makes a compelling case that solitude served as the primary component of Jesus’s ministry. He contends that it was in His moments of solitude that Jesus reveled in His “oneness” with the Father. Consequently, all other facets of His earthly ministry sprang from this solitude. He then contends that solitude is no less important in our lives. Without it, Nouwen argues that we will live our lives in constant search of success, affirmation, and the pleasing of others over and against unity with God. Solitude therefore stands as the cornerstone of our spiritual lives – “A life without a quiet place, that is, a life without a quiet center, easily becomes destructive.” (p.21)

It is only of out solitude that we will learn to care. As a pastor, I found this section to be perhaps the most powerful. Nouwen states that we are more consumed with fixing people’s problems than with caring for them. He notes that “care” essentially means “to suffer.” Who can deny that we are a results-oriented society? This is a very real temptation in ministry (i.e., to want to fix but to forget to care) but it is a truth that is no less applicable to all Christians.

Lastly, Nouwen points to the Christian’s eschatological hope as that which keeps care from becoming “a morbid preoccupation with pain” (p.51). In his discussion of expectation, he highlights two aspects: patience and joy. His discussion of patience is particularly moving. In it, he notes that we will not understand what it is to truly live until we understand that life’s unexpected surprises, calamities, and joys are themselves opportunities for living and growing in patience and hope. He ends with reminding all of us that the expected consummation of all things in the coming kingdom of God is the only basis for true joy.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who would like to reexamine the most basic aspects of their walk with Jesus. Nouwen shows us that solitude, care, and expectation are much more difficult to attain and achieve than we had imagined. He also shows us that we simply cannot know what it is to be a Christian and a human until we do attain these things.