[easyazon_image align=”left” height=”333″ identifier=”1631468510″ locale=”US” src=”https://englewoodreview.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/41mLJBXBML.jpg” tag=”douloschristo-20″ width=”238″]The Out-and-Out Strangeness of an Alternative, Redeemed Society
A Feature Review of
Keep Christianity Weird:
Embracing the Discipline of Being Different
Paperback: NavPress, 2018
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Reviewed by Joshua Rhone
Austin, Texas and Portland, Oregon are two cities at the forefront of what has become a movement of sorts. They are weird cities. Cities that reject the conformity and homogeneity that characterize so many of the cities of the modern era, in favor of all things artisanal, unique, and sustainable. As such, these cities, and others like them, both stand out and stand in stark contrast to what we have come to associate with a normal city, which have led them to attract a different type of resident––the offbeat and eccentric, the creative and out-of-the-box thinker.
Michael Frost, a leading voice in the missional church movement, draws a parallel between the values and ethos of “weird cities” and the movement that began with Jesus and has continued to the present time. It is a movement that at times has embraced the marginalized, eccentric, and weird while, at other times, ostracizing or at least keeping at arm’s length those who have espoused alternative views, worshipped in new ways, and/or practiced a faith rooted in radical obedience to Christ.
In the book’s first chapter, “Here’s to the Crazy Ones,” Frost rifts on Apple’s iconic “Think Different” advertising campaign, introducing his readers to some forerunners of the faith, who were perceived as eccentric and weird by their peers. People, such as the Scottish missionary St. Boniface, who in his zeal to follow Christ become frustrated by the status quo and ended up cutting down a sacred oak tree, dedicated to a pagan god, and using the wood to construct a church dedicated to the worship of the Christian God (3-4). People, whose orientation toward life has changed––putting God, rather than self at the center of one’s life. People, whose lives are off-center because they serve a God who does not play by our rules, conform to our expectations, or affirm our worldview; but, rather invites us to submit to God’s rules, conform to God’s expectations, and affirm God’s way of viewing the world. Frost encourages his readers to embrace, rather than exclude, those whose views, voices, and perspective are different than our own or that of the mainstream majority.
Having toasted the “crazy ones,” Frost directs his reader’s attention in the direction of weird cities. Cities that are offbeat and eccentric and are flourishing because of their strangeness and eccentricity, rather than in spite of it. Looking to the values that are driving the success of these cities––values and ideals that are helping these cities to lead the way as bastions of creativity, sustainability, and liveability for the current generation––Frost contends that the church must learn from or suffer the fate of the cities that eschew the weird, eccentric, and quirky. Shopping malls in such cities and their suburbs have closed. Casual dining restaurants are fighting an uphill battle to keep their doors open. Unless the church takes note, and something changes, Frost believes the church will follow the same trajectory of suburbia––a trajectory ultimately leading to death (41). This means the church must become rooted in place; open to the views of all; and ethnically diverse.
More importantly, the church must think differently, rediscovering its roots: first, in terms of its founder and architect; and, second, with regard to the original ethos of the Jesus movement. According to Frost, “Jesus was the original weirdo.” (53) Relying heavily on Mark’s gospel, he introduces his readers to a Messiah who is characterized by “out-and-out strangeness.” (55) The herald of the Messiah––Jesus’ cousin John the Baptist––is wild and crazy. Jesus’ ministry takes things a step further, in Frost’s estimation. He’s not just weird, he’s perceived by the religious leaders to be dangerous. Jesus claims to forgive sins. He spends his time with those on the fringes of society. Even his own family does not know what to make of him. And that is just the stuff that Mark records in the first few chapters of his gospel. Frost continues, pointing to three case studies that he believes further support his contention: Jesus’ exchange with Nicodemus, the healing of the woman with the issue of blood, and the cleansing of the Temple. Ultimately, Jesus would be put to death in a plot involving both the Jewish religious and Roman political leaders, only to rise again. (All of which is not your everyday, run-of-the-mill sort of thing). Not surprisingly, the followers of a Messiah such as this would give rise to a movement that “from the beginning was an alternative, redeemed society.” (77) Frost contends that this alternative, redeemed society shares much in common with the weird cities of today, things such as: social justice, environmental concerns, and an inclusive community. Within the Christian movement these values emerge as a result of the Holy Spirit’s work of renewing the mind. In response, according to Frost, Christians began to cultivate habits, “habitual practices to help keep that weirdness in place.” (79)
Yet, a battle rages. A battle for the soul of Christianity. It is a war between conforming to that which is normal, ordinary, and status quo and embracing, cultivating, and living out the weird: believing in the incarnation and resurrection, and joining in the ongoing mission of God. Hence, Frost’s clarion call to “keep Christianity weird.”
In my opinion, Frost’s book and its accompanying challenge could not come at a better time. With the church in the West in decline in many sectors, what is needed is not one more book filled with easy answers or tried-and-true practical solutions that can be implemented out-of-the-box. These have been tried and found wanting, and are partially to blame for the homogeneity and conformity in the Western Church that Frost decries. Rather, we would do well to look to Jesus, study the vibrant faith of those who have followed Christ throughout the ages, and think deeply about what it would mean for us to authentically follow Christ and live for him today.
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
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