I’m not sure what I was expecting from this book. I think I was, in part, expecting neat little quotes about spirituality and Johnny Cash that could be distilled into bite-sized memes and encourage and impress my friends. This book is a lot deeper than that.
Can it be read devotionally? Absolutely. Should it? I’m not sure.
But if the gospel according to Johnny Cash is anything, it’s really not about our ability to walk the line. The gospel isn’t about our faithfulness to God; it’s about God’s faithfulness to us. Johnny Cash couldn’t walk the line. Nor can you or I or anyone else. God walks the line for us.
I’ve read all of Bob Goff’s books. Everybody, Always has been my favorite, but I think this one just surpassed it. Like Bob’s other works, it’s filled with stories and experiences that will leave you laughing, crying, and wondering how on earth this man has done this many things? Does he ever sleep?!?!
Dream Big seems to me to be the most practical of all of Bob’s books. It’s not just about where he’s been or what he’s done. He leads the reader, step-by-step toward their dreams, punctuating the journey with his stories of successes and failures. You can learn from both.
Bob’s outline is superb. He includes important exercises to move the reader toward fulfilling their ambitions and purposes. The end of the book is filled with questions to lead both individuals as well as groups. This would be an excellent book to read in concert with other “dreamers.”
My one complaint about the book will likely sound picky, but . . . So what? I’m picky! I have to wonder who did Bob’s proofreading for him. Bob’s a Bible guy, and he’s got plenty of preacher/ministry friends. Did they not spot the goofs that were so apparent to me?
The big one was in chapter 10, where he recounts the story of Jesus feeding the 5000. Bob writes (on page 62), “One of my favorite stories about availability is the two boys who gave their lunches to Jesus to feed the people who had followed Him out into the field.” He continues the chapter, building on the story of these two boys. The only problem is, there was just ONE boy (John 6:9).
Someone at Thomas Nelson should have noticed that. Someone who proofread or wrote a recommendation surely had enough Bible knowledge to spot that!
Maybe I’ll call Bob up and offer my services as a proofreader for the next book. I’m a big enough Bible nerd and I have his number around here somewhere.
Could it be that we’ve limited our definition of “faith” to our hopes and feelings? Could it be that by doing so we’ve limited our understanding of what the gospel is and what it calls us to?
Reading Gospel Allegiance
I’ll be the first to admit, this book is a little out of my wheelhouse. I likely wouldn’t have picked up a copy of Gospel Allegiance on my own, but when a free book shows up, you read it!
Note: This should not be taken as a request to send me more free books. But who am I to stop you?
In our world today, the word “gospel” has become shorthand for any truth that seems so apparent no one could miss it. In the church today, “gospel” is often a nebulous and smarmy word that defines everything from music to message, but far too often misses our mission. Add to that, the word “faith” has been relegated to the heart at the expense of the head, and Bates concludes, “we need better language and a new model to more accurately convey what Scripture teaches about salvation”(page 15).
I found the opening sentence to Unclean, by Richard Beck, to be revolting. But that was kind of the point. He begins his book with a thought exercise. “Imagine spitting into a Dixie cup. After doing so, how would you feel if you were asked to drink the contents of the cup?” (page 1).
And We’re Off!
Unclean, by Richard Beck attacks both the senses and sensibilities as Beck delves into the psychology of disgust in an attempt to understand Jesus’ quote of Hosea in Matthew 9:13, where he tells the Pharisees, “Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but the sinners.” Beck is very clear on his purpose and plan for writing. On page 3, he states “The central argument of this book is that the psychology of disgust and contamination regulates how many Christians reason with and experience notions of holiness, atonement, and sin.”
In other words, we are far more moved by what “ewwwwws” us than what “awes” us. Everyone swallows the saliva in their mouths, but once removed from the body, it’s no longer saliva but spit. The “otherness” disgusts us and influences us far more than we realize.
This expulsive act of disgust is also worrisome. Whenever disgust regulates our experience of holiness or purity we will find this expulsive element.
“I Am Not a Theologian”
Beck is upfront about who he is and isn’t. On page 4, he makes it clear, “I am not a theologian or biblical scholar. I am an experimental psychologist.” Beck chairs the psychology department at Abilene Christian University. He spends a solid page offering explanation for his approach, but his apology is far from necessary. He handles all aspects of the material with aplomb.
Beck builds a solid case; moving easily from evolutionary psychology, to biblical texts, to modern proclivities. All with a view of what Jesus’ call to what mercy should look like in the church. His examples are wide enough that I think everyone will find something they relate to. His points are solid enough that they hit hard.
The word for “differences” is haireseis, from which we get the word heresy. The later technical definition of heresy was a difference of belief, but the original and more primitive notion of heresy was sociological division and exclusion. The Corinthian Christians were heretical in how they were erecting divisions between themselves.
The Corinthian Issue
I’m reading the book as a preacher, of course, looking for sermon material. There are numerous useful illustrations (though, given the disgust factor, many might be best suited to an audience of junior high boys). Beck cites various studies that uncover our notions of disgust and purity. They are all easily understandable and many are far too relatable. Again, though he confesses to not being a Bible scholar, Beck does some excellent exegesis of his passages.
Chapter 7 focuses on the issues surrounding the divisions in the Corinthian church. Beck’s explanations of Corinth’s divided community and Paul’s call for mutual love is amazing. His exploration of Paul’s “body of Christ” motif from 1 Corinthians 12, with its talk of honor and shame, is very well done.
It could be argued that hospitality—the welcoming of strangers—is the quintessential Christian practice. Welcoming sinners to table fellowship was a central, distinctive, and perhaps the most inflammatory aspect of Jesus’ ministry and teaching.
Bringing it Back to the Table
Beck makes a solid case for recognizing that notions of disgust and contamination determine our acceptance and rejection of others rather than rationality. Our repulsion is far too often based on feelings of wrongness rather than any logical thought process. He refers to this process as “moral dumbfounding.” We know something is wrong . . . we simply can’t defend our judgment with words.
The four “moral situations” scenarios detailed in chapter 4 will leave you dumbfounded . . . and they’re likely to bother you a lot.
When moral dumbfounding comes to church, it causes us to determine who is in and out by our own visceral reactions rather than any biblical call to holiness and grace. In doing so, we miss Jesus’ call to mercy rather than sacrifice. Beck finds the correction and common ground we all need in an understanding of the call to hospitality and an invitation to table fellowship.
Beck’s remedy to our reactive repulsion is the Eucharist. He does a wonderful job in the final chapters identifying the place and need of the Lord’s Supper as a “regulating ritual in the life of the church” (pages 193-194), explaining how the Eucharist counters the “four disgust domains” detailed within the book.
As one of those Christians who weekly comes to the table, viewing communion as the centerpiece of the Sunday worship experience, I found Beck’s concluding focus both confirming and convicting. I cannot allow my gut feelings on sin and disgust to be the limiting factor to who I welcome to the table. There is nothing of Christ’s call to mercy in that reaction.
I will confess, I anticipated a much lighter read; a notion I based upon the use of the word “Meditations” in the title. These are not short devotional thoughts with which to start your mornings. This book demands digestion and time to process.
Beck seems to write with the understanding that most of us are out of our element here. He’s patient with his readers; gently bringing us along with plenty of recaps of material previously covered and warnings about what lay ahead. Busyness forced me to take a week-long break from reading; I worried that I would be lost when I returned to the book but found it surprisingly easy to pick back up where I left off.
Unclean, by Richard Beck contains plenty of fodder for sermons, Bible lessons, communion meditations, and self-study. Prepare to have your assumptions about the source of your notions of morality confronted.
And be prepared to never view a Dixie cup the same way again.
A chasm has opened up between the academy and the church. In this situation, the academy is seen as the place where serious theology is done by theologians who are working according to the criteria of the academy, while the church is where pastors are called to guide people in living life, giving them biblical wisdom for tackling the everyday challenges of the real world
Joel D. Lawrence in Becoming a Pastor Theologian, page 123.
I received Becoming a Pastor Theologian for Christmas after hearing a recommendation on Cary Nieuwhof’s podcast. At the time, I was deep into my studies for an MA in Bible and Theology, but I vowed to read the book as soon as I finished my degree. It capped to my studies perfectly; cementing the investment of my degree to the call I serve under in as a pastor.