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A review of
Geneva Two: A Parable of Christian Calling and Community
Paperback: CreateSpace, 2014
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Reviewed by Kevin Wildman
There were two factors that fueled my interest in Geneva Two, by Russell B. Smith; 1) it is fiction, 2) it is about Christian community, specifically an intentional community. I was very excited to read this book until I read the introduction, after reading the introduction all enthusiasm was lost. The disappointment was due in part to explanation in the author’s introduction that this work is written from the perspective of Hatcher Christolphson, a journalist interviewing the various members of the Geneva Two community. I was convinced that a book consisting simply of a series of interviews was going to be incredibly tedious.
Two days later I set out to read the Hatcher’s introduction. Quickly, I completed the introduction and first two-interviews. The next morning having a little free time I read a little more, and from there the momentum steamrolled. Throughout the day every chance I got I was reading Geneva Two, only to completely finish the entire book that night.
I share my lost enthusiasm, not as an attack on the work or the author, but as an encouragement to potential readers. This book is well worth the time you’ll invest in reading. It didn’t take long for me to recognize that my initial evaluation was incorrect. Rather than being tedious, I found Geneva Two to be quite enjoyable and profitable.
The reality is people are difficult. This makes being in community difficult at best and painful and impossible at times. This reality has led many to disconnect from the church and Christian community. It has been my experience that often those who have become embittered toward a church have completely pushed away from The Church, often with the reminder that they “don’t have to go to church to be a Christian.” However, Scripture seems to be clear, at least to me, that one cannot grow in Christ apart from Christian community of some sort.
Geneva Two member, Kyle Edmonds, puts it this way, “We’re made for community’ it nourishes us and helps us to thrive. Of course we can survive in isolation, but God designed us in such a way that we flourish in relationships—relationships of trust and mutual giving to one another. It’s at the root of what it means to be a human.” (33).
Geneva Two may be the most honest insightful study of Christian community I have ever read. Don’t let the term study discourage you, in no way does it read like a study. Instead it reads like a conversation. The book is deeply honest in presenting the reality that even in a Christian community conflict can be found in abundance. Even unresolved conflict with accusations, bitterness, and hatred.
That being said, more than just an honest perspective and observation of Christian community, Geneva Two is a fantastic portrayal of grace, maturity, accountability, forgiveness, and reconciliation.
The interview structure, though discouraging to me at first, quickly helped me to understand human interaction in community with greater clarity. Specifically I found this structure insightful when it came to the issue of conflict. This structure allowed me to be an outsider looking in upon the conflict within the community.
As I listened in on the conversations, I quickly realized the implications for my own life and community. So many times the conflict seems clear and the offenders and victims obvious. However, as I learned from the Geneva Two community, such details aren’t so clear and obvious. Furthermore, the guilt is usually to be shared, not placed on one party alone.
Mathilde Probisco helps to put conflict in its proper place, “Every time we have trouble and pain in working issues out, we later discover that the difficulties were God’s tools for shaping us, for leading us to trust one another more deeply.” (27).
Throughout the book I found myself both laughing and cringing at the comments made. Russell Smith does a terrific job pulling the reader up to the table alongside Hatcher and the individual he is interviewing. As a result of Smith’s success at getting the reader in the room, and the relevance of the situations faced by the Geneva Two community I found myself emotionally invested in the outcome of the relationships. This investment was not because of a need on my part for the Geneva Two residents to flourish in community, but because in each of the members I saw myself and those with whom I live in community. Because of this investment and reflection of my own circumstances I found a special joy and hope in the emails that followed the conclusion of Hatcher’s interviews with the Geneva Two community.
While this work may be especially relevant for those belonging to or considering joining an intentional community, it is filled with gems for all Christians. Geneva Two has been encouraging and insightful for me as a Christian and as a pastor, and is a book that I will highly recommend to all who are striving to follow Christ faithfully. Additionally, I would go so far as to say that Geneva Two is a must read for all serving the church in a leadership role.