A Faith of Our Own: Following Jesus Beyond the Culture Wars by Jonathan Merritt will likely be a highly recommended book from me for a long to come. Jonathan gets a lot right and it’s excellent starting point for conversation between conservatives/moderate/liberal types and just as important, for Builder/Boomer/X’er/Millennial types too. I find that not only to be impressive, but very needed.
According to the publisher …
“The book “illuminates the spiritual ethos of this new generation of believers who engage the world with Christ-centered faith but an un-polarized political perspective. Through personal stories and biblically rooted commentary this scion of a leading evangelical family takes a close, thoughtful look at the changing religious and political environment, addressing such divisive issues as abortion, gay marriage, environmental use and care, race, war, poverty, and the imbalance of world wealth. Through Scripture, the examples of Jesus, and personal defining faith experiences, he distills the essential truths at the core of a Christian faith that is now just coming of age.”
Starting from the beginning, I must say that I loved the foreword by Kristen Powers, a Fox News political analyst and New York Post columnist. She begins by saying, “Six years ago when I became a Christian … the first thought I had was, “I can’t be a Christian because I don’t want to be a Republican!” – Perfect way to begin this book. Also glad she attends Trinity Grace in NYC – great church.
Among what I like about the book is who Jonathan is. See, his father is James Merritt, who was the President of the Southern Baptist Convention for a few years. He’s a “player” in the Evangelical South, was an advisor to President W Bush and currently is the senior pastor of Cross Pointe Church in Duluth, GA. I like that Jonathan is clearly not riding his dad’s coat tails but figuring out his own path (hence the title of the book). In fact, I imagine a good bit of what he’s saying has made things difficult for the both of them (regardless of whether is father agrees/disagrees). I always admire those who have a lot to lose. I pray God will give them wisdom, that “insider” people will be supportive to what is actually being said and the message will be blessed and lives.
I also liked how Jonathan talks about his experience at Liberty University (where I also did my undergrad but at a different time), I liked how he talked about growing up a Southern Baptist (as I did not. But my wife did and I know some of the stories ;) I like how he talks about politics, generational humility, issues like social justice and creation care and I loved his presentation at the Q Conference in DC this year (I hope to blog on that another time).
I couldn’t help but laugh as he shared the story of being a high school student and having breakfast with his father and Jerry Falwell at the IHOP in Lynchburg. Interesting story of pretty much being drafted to attend LU. It also reminded me not only of the number of times that I saw Falwell there but also the time that my friends and I got yelled at by Jerry Jr. and his wife and were threatened with school discipline. I’m telling you we didn’t even really say anything that bad … :)
Which Brings Up Falwell
A lot of attention is spent on him, his role as leader of the Moral Majority and the political mentality that he caricatured. Initially, I was caught a little “off guard” by this as I was concerned Jonathan would get bogged down with Falwell’s character and end up ironically fighting his own version of the culture war but he does a good job at avoiding all that.
Falwell is a such a difficult figure for his controversial statements, positions and his personality. I too will never forget coming home from college break and my friends asking about the Telaetubbies thing, “What goes on at the weird school of yours?” “Umm, I don’t know really …” (I saw it more of as a financial appeal to the Builder Generation grandparents to support his ministry against the gay agenda and so forth but whatever the motivation, it’s definitely an example of the culture war mentality). Falwell has just said so much into a microphone, so much good and so much absolutely awful that I find him a difficult person to reconcile – and honestly, I want to. We can certainly learn from him and for those interested specifically on this, I recommend Blinded By Might by Cal Thomas and Ed Dobson.
What I Really Liked
What I really liked about A Faith of Our Own is that Jonathan pushes back on a good amount of the conservative mentality without breaking fellowship. In an early chapter he describes a patriotic service at a previous church where his father pastored and how uncomfortable that display of nationalism was. Clearly he doesn’t break fellowship with his family as evidenced by the fact that he not only still attends his father’s church but serves on staff. From what he shares, they both have changed their views on a number of issues over the years and seem to have respectful dialogue on the ones where they differ.
I appreciate this because this is extremely true for me and my family. This includes my parents, in-laws, relatives and many dear friends. And that’s among the reasons that makes it relevant and worth sharing. As we all know, convictions and opinions on religion and politics can bring such amount of tension that can hurt the family dynamics – isnt that why we are not supposed to discuss them with each other? I think this book is helpful for the many like me that enjoy a growing relationship with his family but continue to think differently (because today’s context is different).
Which brings up my only “complaint.” As I was reading, I grew uncomfortable with the title, A Faith of Our Own as it implied that Jonathan was leaving one faith adopting a new one of his own or abandoning his family in search of a new one. The book is focused more towards the X’er and Millennial but clearly there are a number of Boomers who have embraced it was well. It will be interesting to see what Jonathan’s does with his next book.
Some have critiqued the book saying that “Merritt hasn’t said anything new” here. To their point, I will admit that I’m not sure how much I learned that was “new” but learning “new data” isn’t the only reason I read. I found that statistics were used well, liked that he interacted with people like Robert Putnam and David Campbell, continued parts of the conversation from David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons, and quotes people from Niebuhr to Lewis to Wink to Mouw. I’m glad that it’s books like these that are published, selling well, and again, I think this is a great starting point for needed conversation and this is perhaps what I like most. A Faith of Our Own gives language and reference points for Christ-followers who desire to converse with each other at different points of the political and generational spectrum.
Meaning I could give a copy of A Faith of Our Own for my dad and his reading of it wouldn’t make him defensive – which is what I hope to do.
You can see more at his site (bio, more video clips, speaking schedule, etc.) jonathanmerritt.com.
Favorite quote of the book:
“I’ve interviewed dozens of young people who have defected. I always make sure to ask them why they left the church and what might make them consider returning. The word that has consistently emerged is “authenticity.” They do want to follow Jesus, and they do want to be a part of the church. But they want a faith community that is free of agendas. Today’s Christians encounter the Jesus of the New Testament – the One who emptied himself to dwell among us – and they find Him calling us away from the pursuit of power to a life that looks more like the one He lived (p. 80).” I have had similar conversations, I have critiqued some of this and have said some of it myself. This is the very much part of the conversation that many of us are having.
Grace Chapel/Metro-West Boston friends, this fall we are planning to use this book in our Reading Circle that meets after GC@Night in our cafe. Stay tuned.
Note: I have not been asked to review this book by a publisher or by the author. Like all reviews however, these are my sincere opinions. Thanks for reading.