Brad Jersak unveiling a better faith in “A More Christlike Way”

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Before I start this review, I need to make a confession. I arrogantly thought that this book would just re-hash what I thought I already knew. I came to this book thinking “okay, so I know God is perfectly revealed in Jesus, and so yep, that means that is God is love, and so then a faith modelled on love becomes how we embody our faith into the world- simple! And if this is what Brad is going to say (though only in a longer version) then he’ll be confirming what I generally already know”. Needless to say, the Spirit used this book to gently remind me, once again, that true knowing of Love (i.e. God) is not the type of knowing that you exhaust, or understand, or grasp (and it certainly isn’t “simple”). Rather, true knowing is relational knowing that you don’t grasp, but rather, grasps you. And when it’s the God who is Love that grasps you, you learn more and more from the Master of Love; and so you learn to love better and to love with more of oneself. And that can’t ever be exhausted or fully understood- rather that is something that we grow in over a lifetime (if only we keep our hearts open and teachable). And so, Brad’s book served as a means of God to bring about God’s gentle reminder (and my later act of repentance); for it was in Brad’s pages that I learnt more of what a more Christlike Way could be. So, as I started reading this book, Brad writings showed me again that I am (and always will be) a student in the ways of God’s abundant grace. As such, this book then immediately set the tone of it being a work that would gently rebuke and yet rebuild- and I honestly think it will serve to that ends for many…And here’s me hoping it’ll also do that to the wider church as we so desperately seek her on-going reformation.

 

And so with this, Brad sort to build on the good tone he had set for the book: that the Jesus Way is neither a call to a new form of moralism (whereby we think we bring the Kingdom, or for that matter think we have it all figured out) or us merely standing still and thus not be active in living the life of love. Instead, Brad reminds us that walking in a more Christlike way is an invitation into a graceful participation in what God is doing, has done, and will do. Brad reminds us that it is Jesus alone who perfectly walked his own walk, carving the path that we only later walk, and that following is called following– not standing still. Brad continues to return to these equal truth’s as I read this book, and as a reader I found this constant reminder a needed reminder- for it is easy to slip into the pattern of moralism that then makes one think that they have it all together (and as such have all the answers), or into a pattern of static & still faith that serves to no fresh action on our part in the world. As such, Brad is careful to avoid both the pits of moralism on one side, and a cheap grace on the other, and instead call us into the narrow Christlike way- whereby we participate in what God is doing, and to participate in this only by the power of the Spirit. So, with these good reminders throughout the pages of the book, Brad then calls us into a vision of what is a more Christlike Way.

 

Of course, we can’t start to speak of a more Christlike Way without talking about God being a Christlike God. And so, Brad is wise to set his book on good foundation by reminding us of his main thesis of his last book (A More Christlike God): that Jesus is the gateway to knowing who God is (and always has been), with the epicentre of this revelation of God being that of Christ crucified (God as self-giving and cross-shaped). However, Brad’s writing into showing us again a more Christlike God started to (by design?) lead unto the rest of the book that painted for us a more Christlike way. But here’s the question: how much have we let the true Image of the more Christlike God trickle down into a genuine and sincere Christlike way?

 

Brad reminds us that- in the post-2000 years of our faith- we have made such deviations from the central revelation of God being revealed perfectly in Jesus. And so, UnChristlike ways have sprung up with the Christian label put over the top of it like that of wolves in sheep’s clothing. Yet, even in Brad’s assessment of how we have got it so terribly wrong in our 2000 year history, Brad is once again balanced and pastoral in his assessment. He is aware that the church has indeed done wonderful things- that a rag-tag bunch of imperfect people have stumbled in doing tremendous good in the world. And so, Brad is quick not to mis-label the entire church & it’s history as pure evil. And yet, in the same quickness, he names evil’s done in church, so much so that he doesn’t merely sympathise with those who felt like they needed to leave as a result of hurts done to them, but emphathised with those who needed to leave. Brad hears & names their stories and hurts, acknowledging their need for a sojourning journey beyond the walls of the places that have caused them hurt. Brad’s balance is fair, theologically reflective, and also pastoral.

 

Our faith has been co-opted in many ways, and by many zeitgeists, that all in turn mass produce various ‘Christian’ faiths that are more made in the image of our rebellion than in the image of the God who is perfectly revealed in Christ. And we have all been baptised in those contaminated waters of these pseudo-Christian faiths. None of us come out of those waters unscathed. As such, it is with humility, that Brad’s thorough critique of these pseudo-Christian faiths is done as one pulling a log out of his own eyes first before he goes to pull the twig out of those who practice faith these ways. It was Brad’s confessional nature in these pages that helped me see that the problem isn’t merely “out there”, but also inside of me. Brad models for the readers this humility whereby he says “Lord have mercy” rather than saying “Well Thank God I am not like them”. This could have been a book about finger pointing elsewhere, but instead it was a book about humbly analysing our own hearts first in order to then be able to find the better way to be human in Jesus.

 

Brad continues to lead the humble charge of repentance as he carries the book forward into a needed section on how to actually go about this change. Change requires breaking down all the pseudo-ways we have practised UnChristlike ways. This breaking down is named by its popular term: deconstruction. Now, I can’t name too many Christian authors who tackle the topic of deconstruction by deconstructing deconstruction itself! And yet, in keeping with seeking a more Christlike way, Brad offers to his readers a more Christlike way to deconstruct in such a manner that doesn’t look like some versions of deconstruction. This to me was a real gem in the book. Such a ‘meta’ approach was welcomed by someone like me who, in being a qualified therapist, has seen the knee-jerk reactions people have had to their own painful situations (whereby in their knee-jerk reactions have caused more pain in the wake). Brad, being a qualified theologian, observes the same type of knee-jerk responses in some people’s versions of deconstruction. Brad offers a better way as he sets the navigating course of the book. One word Brad did want to question was that of the imagery of the word “deconstruction” itself, as Brad seems to think is often a violent metaphor. Whilst I see the angle he is getting at, I did wonder if Brad could see the deconstruction language as akin to like that of the un-doing of Christ on the cross? After all, Paul uses the metaphor of death & resurrection as it relates not only to coming to faith, but also that of the pattern of on-going life in faith, which to me might be a way of speaking of deconstruction and reconstruction…? Though maybe I am becoming caught up in the semantics game. Perhaps what I am trying to say then is that the words “deconstruction” and “reconstruction” don’t necessarily have to have the violent images attached to them when the words are used. That said, I understand Brad’s point too: that the underlying phenomenon behind the words can be that of violent, saddening, and painful tumbling process.

 

Out of the woods of a better way to deconstruct (reconstruct?), Brad leads his readers down an analysis on the very concept of “the way”. Way to what? Brad gives the readers a tour of scripture about how the texts gives us different ways of speaking of going down different paths. This is the next layer that Brad builds as he moves his readers further up and further into his book. Brad is careful to paint the outlines of a more Christlike Way before he fills us in with the colours. And so then, Brad is careful to make sure the reader knows that such paths aren’t about going somewhere else after death (i.e. heaven or hell) but rather frames these paths as about the wise counsel of a God that seeks the best for his children. This was important for Brad to do this, as approaching the texts he did, we can come with our minds & imaginations already baptised in toxic waters of a punitive God with either reward or punishment facing us. Brad seeks to make sure we know that- whenever we talk about paths, or ways- it’s in the context of a good Abba, not some sort of bad abusive sky dad. Brad is then quick to discern another thing a reader might bring up: isn’t all of this talk of Christlike way step into a type of pluralism (whereby those outside explicit affiliation of the Christian religion can follow in this Christlike way)? Brad- in remarkable anticipation as to how his readers would react to some of his claims- calms the theological storms by giving a precise account of what exactly he means when he speaks of someone following in The Way. To use theological language, Brad appears to be an inclusivist (Or, as one other theologian has put it- that Jesus is the way, but there are many ways to be in that one singular way). I too include myself in this camp. And yet Brad isn’t a pluralist- Brad thinks it is precisely Christ who carves this way. Brad seeks to provide an explanation on how one handles the relationship between orthopraxy and orthodoxy as one seeks to speak about The Way. Personally, I would have liked him to unpack this more (What role does orthodoxy play as it relates to being a Christ-follower?), however I understand that this might of gone beyond the scope of the book.

 

It is now that Brad adds the brick and mortar to the foundation that he has laid in his book. And it’s here that his book takes on its full force of a beautiful and gentle tour-de-grace. And is in these two main sections of the book that I found myself equally saying “amen” out loud, and also “Lord have mercy”.

 

As Brad continues with his book, he outlines some of the false faiths that have been generated in our time. He lists four major ones (Moralism, Partisan Amoralism, Retributive Factionalism and Nationalism & Civil Religion). Brad’s great analysis of what these ‘faiths’ look like was daunting. Each pseudo-faith spoke to my heart in one way or another. For moralism, the big thing that Brad brought to my attention for me was how easy it is for us to look at someone and say “thank God I am not like that person”, and that in doing so (i.e. not being honest about our own brokenness) we become self-righteous. For Partisan Amoralism, the big thing that Brad brought to my attention for me was how easy it is for us to allow our own morality- whether personal or political- to go so unchallenged by a Jesus, who wants us to give our full-fledged allegiance to Him, that it erodes Jesus into a label that we then slap onto our own agendas and coerce people into. Similarly, for Retributive Factionalism, the big thing that Brad brought to my attention for me was how we still- in our us vs. them minds- go and make political or group boxes, then go and live in those boxes, then think that the boxes of our political or group thought are always right, and as such we throw insults to those in those others boxes, and thus all-in-all missing the humanity of the political/group ‘other’. For Nationalism and Civil Religion, it was a more personal for me. Part of a family that has a history of military service, and so any talk against country can be seen as sacrilegious. And yet Brad reminds me of how Jesus himself calls us into a to a higher love– that we love Christ and His Kingdom, and then out of that place of love, seek to affirm and critique where a country is failing to be all it can be.

 

After Brad does the important task of naming such pseudo-faiths, he now draws his readers to what he sees as seven facets of a more Christlike Way: Radical Self-giving, Radical Hospitality, Radical Unity, Radical Recovery, Radical Peacemaking & Radical Forgiveness, Radical Surrender, Radical Compassion & Radical Justice. So far, the whole book has been wonderful, yet this section of the book really stood out for me. Now, I want you all to read this book, so I don’t want to spoil what Brad says by saying too much. However, I do want to leave you with a delightful taste in your mouths, and so let me just say a few words about how Brad goes about each facet:

-Radical Self-giving: To become a people who see and then embody Christ as one who set to the side his divine privilege. As Brad says, “Any privilege Jesus of Nazareth enjoyed as a Jew or a male or freeborn was offset by the scandal of his birth (in Bethlehem), his refugee status (in Egypt) and his blue-collar upbringing (in Nazareth)”. This is followed by Brad’s call to be a people who also set aside privilege and carry our cross.

-Radical Hospitality: To create space for all by calling everyone in, including those we think are out. And to do so by having the humility that we are all in this together. After all, as Brad says, “If we imagine we’re better than they are, we become exactly what we hate—it’s ironic”.

-Radical Unity: To become a people who are known by their love towards each other in mutually enriching ways.

-Radical Recovery: To become a people who follow in the way of the cross as spoken about in Jesus’ sermon on the mount, which is the way in which the Spirit transforms us.

-Radical Peacemaking; Radical Forgiveness: To become a people who, in staring into the eyes & the ways of the non-violent saviour (with his epicentre of revelation being the cross), we seek to embody the way of Jesus’ non-violence into an often so violent world.

-Radical Surrender: To become a people of a spirituality that seeks to rest in God; to be a giving-over people unto the trusting hands of a God who loves us. And so, we rest.

-Radical Compassion; Radical Justice: That as Christ so identifies with the poor, that we are to become a people whose heartbeat are for the poor.

I want to stress to readers of this review that I haven’t even scratched the surface of this section. This section of the book is richly dense. There is so much more I could say in each of these facets, but that’s what the book is for. What I can say about this section is this: my eyes were more freshly opened. I cannot stress enough how Brad’s confessional nature, storytelling form, his anticipation for pushback (and his subsequent responses to such pushbacks), his practical, and his pastoral yet deeply theological posture in this section, allowed for a rich and transforming read in how we can have for a more Christlike Way.

 

But it’s in Brad’s last chapter that made my heart rate climb as it leapt in joy for a vision of truly Good News. My knees buckled in gratitude to what God has, is, and will one day do, and I began to pray on bended and excitable knees. I couldn’t put this section of the book down. It was Brad’s wonderful articulation of Abba’s Dream for the world- and our beautiful invitation to participate in it- that was truly and powerfully poetic. Indeed, he utilised the poetry of scripture and also his own visions & dreams of God’s caring and climatic action in the world, and it was this well-crafted combination that proved this final section of his book so beautiful. It’s moments like this, that the writing grabs you in such a manner, that you are no longer just reading the text, but participating in it. And for that, I am deeply grateful.

 

Needless to say, overall this book was a wonderful read. It would be too shallow to say that it was merely intellectually stimulating, for it was certainly not the work of an ivory tower theologian, but of a theologian doing writing the way I (personally) think all theological work should be done: As part of our lived experience and on the ground. Brad’s confessional nature, his relationship with others in solidarity, and his reflected meditations on the God-who-is-Love, made for what I think is the best type of theological reflection and reading…Reading that is equally stimulating intellectually and emotionally, and in such a manner that it creates the deeper reservoir of meaning– moving the written work beyond the mere rationalism and emotionalism. Good theology must always outwork itself relationally & beautifully, and Brad has done this with great precision with this book. In reading this book, I hope that we can all learn A More Christlike Way.

 

(Available at Amazon here: https://www.amazon.com/More-Christlike-Way-Beautiful-Faith/dp/1889973351/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=)

 

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