One of the perks of having worked for the UK’s leading Christian publisher is that you get to meet all sorts of people and take a look at all sorts of books. Today I’m reviewing a book I was given by one of those people, Matt Chandler and David Roark’s Take Heart: Christian Courage in the age of unbelief.
This is a good book for the time we find ourselves in. Chandler and Roarke take aim at the sacred cow of Christendom – there simply isn’t such thing as a Christian country today – and challenge the church to grab hold of the opportunity that living in what they identify as the age of unbelief is. It’s worth noting that, whilst the authors are quick to say that this book is not a response to The Benedict Option, but this book does engage with various approaches to culture, offering ‘courage’ in response to a changing culture as the way that the church should be postured. Or, as Chandler and Roark put it: “the church is on the right side of history because we are on the side of the Lord of history“.
Whilst the authors of this book are American, and they predominantly interact with American theologians and issues, this is a book for the whole of the church in the West. Partly this is because, as the authors recognise, Christianity is no longer in the dominant position it once was, but also because of the biblical emphasis Chandler and Roark underline their thoughts with. There is a helpful, challenging and ultimately encouraging exposition of the theme of God as warrior – which finds its best expression in the radical events of Easter. This is, however, not just a series of thoughts about the Cross, rather, this is a book rooted in the Resurrection:
“The arc of history bends towards the justice and peace and triumph of Christ’s return, and that is the story and the message and the confidence of the church. We know the result of the battle that has raged since creation and the fall, and that was won on the cross, and that will end with the divine Warrior’s return.
Since we know the end, we live toward it.
We draw courage from it.
We take heart in it.
We do not wring our hands over the progress of some culture war if we know the result of the cosmic war”
Courage, though, is all well and good. But is it enough? Whilst Chandler and Roarke recognise that this is not a social program – though it is a strong motivator, and resonates (as they remind us) with the experience of the early Church and Paul’s letter-receivers – and so offer some practical ways to put this into action. Perhaps surprisingly, the bulk of the emphasis in the practical end of this book is on hospitality. Here, in a relatively conservative book, we have a beautiful Gospel-motivated and Kingdom-shaped emphasis and explanation of hospitality. I hope this will be taken on board – it certainly challenged me to re-affirm my commitment to hospitality and welcome.
It’s fair to say that I thoroughly enjoyed this book – and was very pleasantly surprised by it. This is a solid, biblical, encouraging reminder to ‘take heart, have courage’, rooted in the Bible and culturally engaged. This is a helpful and readable potted approach to culture – perfect for people just starting to read Christian books. I hope lots of my American, particularly conservative, friends will read it – though I think it is also a helpful reminder for those of us in other Western countries too.
Given the prevalence of ‘The Benedict Option’ as a suggestion for missional engagement, I’m not expecting many people to take this book that seriously. I’m glad to be wrong – David Robertson thinks otherwise.