Jesus Says Go
by Robin Wells
Review by Joanne Appleton, Communications Officer, Redcliffe College.
Jesus Says Go is a revised and expanded version of Robin Wells' earlier book My Rights, My God (Monarch, 2000). Wells states it is written "especially for those who …may be facing big decisions about their futures – possibly including long-term mission", and it is an attempt to help readers count the cost of these decisions in the light of biblical principles.
The clear and simple style makes the book very accessible, and the use of many stories from former and current missionaries brings the issues discussed to life.
Jesus Says Go consists of three sections:
Part 1 – An exploration of the issues someone planning to go overseas might face. These include expectations in ministry; money and standards of living; facing danger; singleness, marriage and family; and children's education.
Interlude – Seven 'three minute reads' on themes such as 'building your world vision', 'getting ready to go' and 'short-term service'.
Part 2 – This section by Rose Dowsett looks at the missionary heart of God, from Eden to eternity.
A 'last word' by George Verwer and appendices giving details of mission agencies and bible colleges around the world complete the book.
Jesus Says Go should be one of the books anyone considering a missionary career overseas should read, with its practical exploration of the difficulties and sacrifices they may well face.
Part 2 is a particular highlight. Dowsett states that mission is 'rooted in the character of God, not an optional extra', adding that we simply cannot be authentic Bible-believing Christians and not be missionary Christians. She backs this up by taking her readers through the Bible and showing how God's character and mission are inextricably bound together from Genesis to Revelation.
But it's the fact we are all missionary Christians that causes me some problems with Part 1.
For Wells, mission appears to be mostly defined as going from the 'culture of comfort' in the West, to the rest of the world. All but one of the examples used are of people from affluent societies working in poorer countries. The single exception is a couple in Brussels with a ministry amongst international students.
You could argue this is valid, given the readership is most likely to be Westerners thinking about working abroad. But there are many examples of cross-cultural mission where the missionary stays in their own country, and works amongst an ethnic minority group for example, or lives in a deprived inner-city area such as the Eden project in Manchester, UK.
And what about people from Africa, Asia and Latin America who are involved in mission in the West? An Indian student recently told me he used to be very critical about people from his country leaving to do mission elsewhere, given the obvious needs in India. Now he has changed his mind, as his experience of living in the UK for a year has opened his eyes to the deprivation and spiritual poverty here.
My other concern is related to this. Because Jesus Says Go is particularly about working abroad, readers could be left with the impression that what Wells calls the 'high call' to the Lordship of Christ is primarily a 'high call' to mission overseas. If we feel called to remain where we are, is that a lesser call?
Yes, we do need more people willing to make the particular sacrifices involved in working in other countries. This book will be a great help to them as they consider God's call on their lives.
However, we must recognise that for some people, the 'full blooded discipleship' mentioned at the end of Part 1 will mean following God's prompting to talk to the teenagers who hang around outside their church building, or spending time with a neighbour they feel they have nothing in common with.
Jesus does indeed say 'Go' - to all of us. May we be challenged and encouraged to obey that call, whether it's across the continents, or across the street.
Author: Robin Wells
Publisher: Lion Hudson
Eat This Book: The Art of Spiritual Reading
by Eugene H. Peterson
Review by Tim Davy, Reviews Editor for Encounters.
Eugene Peterson is best known for his contemporary rendering of the Bible, The Message. Although this will probably always be the case Peterson's work on Christian spirituality and leadership is no less important. Indeed, for anyone engaged in 'ministry', in their own culture or another's, his four books on pastoral work are worth their weight in gold (Under the Unpredictable Plant, Working the Angles, The Contemplative Pastor, Five Smooth Stones for Pastoral Work).
Since retiring Peterson has been working on a five-volume work on Spiritual Theology, three volumes of which are now available (Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places: A Conversation in Spiritual Theology; Eat This Book: The Art of Spiritual Reading; The Jesus Way: A Conversation in Following Jesus).
In the delightfully titled Eat This Book Peterson suggests that we read different writing in different ways. In contrast to reading for facts, reading to know how to do something, or reading purely for entertainment, spiritual reading is an approach to reading that seeks to be changed by a text. Perhaps this is the tension all Bible College students face: trying to get to grips with the Bible yet allowing the Bible to get to grips with us!
Part one shares the title, Eat This Book. Here Peterson sets out his stall:
"I want to pull the Christian Scriptures back from the margins of the contemporary imagination where they have been so rudely elbowed by their glamorous competitors, and reestablish them at the center as the text for living the Christian life deeply and well." (p.17)
But what do we do with the Bible once we are paying attention to it?
"Christians feed on Scripture. Holy Scripture nurtures the holy community as food nurtures the human body. Christians don't simply learn or study or use Scripture; we assimilate it, take it into our lives in such a way that it gets metabolized into acts of love, cups of cold water, missions into all the world, healing and evangelism and justice in Jesus' name, hands raised in adoration of the Father, feet washed in company with the Son." (p.18)
Eat This Book lingers over the nature of Scripture and our response to it in rich and engaging ways. Above all, Peterson contends, Scripture is the revelation of a personal God.
Part two is a reflection on the practice of Lectio Divina, a fourfold method of reading Scripture classically set out by the 12th Century monk, Guigo the Second. Peterson sees it as a guard against using Scripture merely as a means to our ends. Rather, the process of reading the text, meditating on the text, praying the text and living the text draws us into the world of the Bible, allowing God's Word to set the agenda.
Part three focuses on the issue of translating Scripture. This is a particular highlight of the book as it draws on Peterson's extensive scholarly and practical experience of the task. Peterson is very much a champion of the Bible as a book for all people, and so believes that translations must capture the earthy nature of the original languages.
I enjoyed reading Eat This Book a great deal, not least because anyone who saw me doing so was fascinated by the title! I always feel refreshed and nourished by Peterson's work and this was no exception. While struggling on the mission field a mentor once impressed upon me the importance of immersing myself in (to use Barth's phrase) 'the strange world of the Scriptures'. I wish Eat This Book had been available then to flesh out what this wise piece of advice was getting at.
My one main criticism of the book, and of the Spiritual Theology series as a whole, is that many people may be put off this excellent work because it appears vague and inaccessible. This would be a crying shame because these books deserve to be read and re-read for many years to come.
Author: Eugene H. Peterson
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton, 2006