A Feature Review of
The Deeply Formed Life: Five Transforming Values to Root us in the Way of Jesus
Reviewed by Ryan Meek
A police officer, an ex-felon, and Jesus walk into a bar. No, this is not the beginning of a joke. It could be the setup of a modern recounting of Jesus’s team of disciples. The disciples came from wide-ranging and diverse backgrounds who, in many cases, had directly competing interests. Despite the very fertile ground for debilitating conflict, the disciples carried out their mission peacefully and constructively. In The Deeply Formed Life: Five Transforming Values to Root us in the Way of Jesus, Rich Villodas guides the individual on a journey to a deeper faith that leads us toward a deep and faithful relationship with God and community. Villodas’s journey shows the individual through contemplative rhythms, racial justice, interior work, sexual wholeness, and missional presence, leading to a robust and practical outworking in community. This journey will help folks navigate the “pace, hostility, distractions, and shallowness” of the world to become deeply rooted in the transforming way of Jesus that leads us towards a more robust and loving church body (219).
Villodas breaks down each of the topics above into two chapters. One chapter describes each topic and issue, followed by a chapter describing the subject in practice. He begins with contemplative rhythms to help people deal with the exhausting pace at which the typical American lives their life. People of all stripes are exhausted and overwhelmed by a “dangerous pace at which we often unwittingly live” (3). The contemplative rhythms Villodas walks us through are rooted in ancient monastic rhythms but updated to be helpful in our over-paced society. Practices such as Lectio Divina, which marries slow reading, meditation, prayer, and contemplation, can be easily adapted to fit into a fast-paced lifestyle. The ultimate goal here is to slow down enough to fully absorb scripture, which practically leads to fully absorbing God’s creation in a stable and balanced lifestyle.
A stable lifestyle centered on the teachings of Christ helps us tackle the next issue in our lives and churches. Villodas brings in his own experience pastoring a very diverse church in Queens, NY, to address racial reconciliation. We know from scripture that God’s intention is for a unified community that includes “every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages” worshipping God in unity (Revelation, 7:9, NRSV). Villodas captures this quite well in these two chapters by highlighting God’s will for the “creation of a new family that transcends racial and ethnic barriers” (50). In Jesus’s time, this new family had a zealot (Simon) and a tax collector (Matthew) in its core group of disciples. At that time, tax collectors worked for the occupying Roman government, and the zealots were essentially terrorists working to end the occupation. Therefore, “Matthew had to stop taking advantage of people like Simon; Simon had to embrace a different vision of revolution” (52). Matthew and Simon did not stop seeing each other’s differences but embraced a different way to do life together.
Villodas does an excellent job illustrating how people like Matthew and Simon can co-exist in a new type of family. He says, “When the gospel is deeply at work, racial reconciliation results in a diverse community that embraces the unique gifts and acknowledges the distinctive sins of their ethnic-racial-social makeup while experiencing loving communion with others under the lordship of Jesus” (62). This understanding comes through in the practices of racial reconciliation. Villodas walks us through the racial habits of incarnational listening, lament, self-examination, renouncing whiteness, confession, repentance, and forgiveness. This chapter reads like a walk through the gospel of Christ because it encompasses the love of others and the love of self in a manner that is reflective of the high points of Jesus’s ministry. Learning selflessly, loving selflessly, praying selflessly, and selfless repentance will lead us toward a deeply formed community or new family.
Villodas begins the interior examination chapters with a cursory look at how Psalms show us to be human. In this collection of ancient writing, we find songs of praise, laments, and prayers of thanks that help us dive into our thoughts on being human. These “doubts, fears, rage…and joy to God” show us that “the way toward divine union in worship is through a willingness to be human” (96). The chapters on interior examination present Villodas as more than willing to undertake a frank look at humanity. He encourages us to do the same. In practice, Villodas encourages us to look at the deep dark secrets within our family histories, anxiety, feelings, and reactions to steering us away from compartmentalization. This inner truth-telling rounds out the remainder of the book.
Villodas approaches a Christian sexual ethic from the place of honesty. Honesty in a community should lead away from shame, not toward it. Openness allows us to search our being for weaknesses that lead to addressing weaknesses with a “proper perspective of our lives…which is to be carried on to our relationships with others” (156). When we realize that we are not strong on our own, we can understand community more deeply. Villodas does an excellent job of extending the portrait of intimacy beyond the one-on-one sexual relationships between couples to platonic relationships in community. He makes it clear that the community of Jesus, the church, should be a community in which people can express themselves without shame to develop an intimate and vulnerable community that is “connected in love” (157). Honesty helps the community understand that a sexual ethic is not a “performance driven, self-satisfying endeavor” (165). Ultimately, intimacy is shown to be an honest reckoning of “the presence of Jesus on earth,” both in community and covenantal, sexual relationships (169).
Finally, Villodas’s chapters on missional presence can be summed up in his small definition of the gospel, “And the good news is that Jesus doesn’t wait for us to be perfect before inviting us into mission” (172). His previous chapters offer that the church does not need to be a perfect group of perfectly aligned people in any matter, whether political, spiritual, or otherwise. However, a deeply formed church should be a model of a loving community near God because they are just, hospitable, and out in the world, shaping new community and family.
In The Deeply Formed Life, Villodas articulates the practical outworking of the gospel in authentic and meaningful ways. This work does not happen overnight or alone. The Deeply Formed Life would be best utilized in a small group where accountability and honesty are core values. How Villodas challenges the church to convey the gospel cannot fit into a simple tract or slogan. “This is not cookie cutter evangelism” (213). The challenge here is not simply a statement of faith. It begins with individual faith and change, then transitions into authentic community. I highly recommend this book for groups or churches that value growing a more open and authentic community.
Ryan Meek is active in his church in Greenwood, Indiana, teaching Bible studies and blended family courses with his wife, Heather. He holds a bachelor's in Biblical Studies and currently attends Wesley Seminary at Indiana Wesleyan University.
Reading for the Common Good
From ERB Editor Christopher Smith
"This book will inspire, motivate and challenge anyone who cares a whit about the written word, the world of ideas, the shape of our communities and the life of the church."
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