A review of
Practicing the Way of Jesus:
Life Together in the Kingdom of Love
by Mark Scandrette.
Reviewed by Jasmine Wilson.
Practicing the Way of Jesus:
Life Together in the Kingdom of Love.
by Mark Scandrette.
Paperback: Likewise Books / IVP, 2011.
Buy now: [ ChristianBooks.com ]
“Practicing the way of Jesus begins with having an imagination for life in the kingdom of love, desiring that life, and then taking steps to live into that reality through tangible changes in our minds and bodies” (67). Mark Scandrette has found a method of making those tangible changes both in his life and in the lives of others through a method he calls “experimenting.” He defines an experiment as a practical act of obedience to Jesus that is creative and part of the process of finding out what pleases God (30), and ultimately, a sign of our journey as disciples of Jesus. The experiments should be embodied practices and communal—not just abstract ideas that you think about by yourself, but instead practical changes you and your friends make in your lives, such as being a vegetarian (either for a short period of time or for the rest of your life), giving away half your possessions, or finding someone in the sex industry and giving them the dignity of hearing their story.
These are just a few examples that Scandrette gives, so throughout the book you have the opportunity to hear an experiment and think about duplicating it, or enough examples that you can come up with your own. This is a “how to” book (93) which ends each chapter with discussion questions and exercises based on the truths found in the chapter. Scandrette clearly envisioned it being read by small groups so that people could have the accountability that comes from commitment within community. He also gives very practical advice to leaders who are interested in orchestrating experiments, giving advice on experiment choosing, advertising, and finding the right sort of people who will be faithful to the project. There are three kinds of experiments he discusses, each of which can shape and change people in different ways: one time experiments, short term projects and long term relationships. All of the experiments should come from a desire to take the words and model of Jesus seriously.
The second half of the book is organized around 5 themes Scandrette sees portrayed in the Lord’s prayer, with numerous experiment ideas based on each theme:
1) Identity: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.” The questions he asks based on this clause of the prayer that relate to identity are, “Who are we? What kind of God do we serve?” Experiments include stillness prayers, practicing communion at an evening meal for one week, or taking a 30 minute solitary walk with God.
2) Purpose: “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Most of the experiments Scandrette lists in this section are about seeing the economic discrepancies in one’s neighborhood or city and spending time ministering to the homeless and downtrodden.
3) Security: “Give us today our daily bread.” Experiments in this theme range from just talking about your finances with other experimenters, to pooling resources with them, or giving away money and possessions to people in need, reflecting on the abundance of God.
4) Community: “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” Reflecting on the fragmentation of our lives, and the need for deeper networks of relationships, Scandrette offers experiments such as taking communion together, washing each other’s feet, hosting a discernment meeting where a group listens and offers advice to someone facing a major decision in their life, or calling one person every day for a week in an effort to connect.
5) Freedom and Peace: “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” Reflecting on behaviors and sins that people struggle with, Scandrette offers the suggestion of abstaining from something for a week as a group, meeting with a mentor, developing a “rule of life” or a system of daily, weekly and seasonal habits that one needs to keep momentum, such as Sabbath keeping, spiritual friendship, exercise, sleep, study, time in nature, etc.
Scandrette’s book has a lot of practical ways of being a disciple of Jesus in a postmodern world, and would be especially helpful for those interested in the “post-Christian” crowd, that is, those who have been fed-up with the institutional church or Christians who don’t demonstrate the fruit of the spirit in their lives. These experiments are a way of thinking outside the box and leading readers into deeper discipleship of Jesus. While at times it does seem a little separated from a deeper theology that comes from a tradition, and does not really factor in lenses of interpretation that people bring with them, assuming that everyone who reads the gospels will know that Jesus is calling them to the most radical counter-cultural practice one could think of, I can still imagine it having a lot of traction in certain arenas. It even allows for technological community after you read the book: if you engage in some of the adventurous experiments, you can share your stories at jesusdojo.com and be inspired by the stories of others.
C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at: C-Christopher-Smith.com