Bruxy Cavey’s new book (re)union: The Good News of Jesus for Seekers, Saints, and Sinners is out, so here’s a quick review. Bruxy wrote for the three audiences listed in the book’s subtitle and here’s how I would feel if I were a member of each one:
- If I were a Seeker, I would be highly attracted to the beautiful picture Bruxy paints of God’s love for humanity, and his description of authentic Christianity as a community of love. “Sounds good. What’s to lose? Sign me up!” would be my response.
- Since I am a Sinner (as Bruxy writes, “Aren’t we all?”), I am thrilled to know that my sins, past, present, and future, have all been covered and taken care of by Jesus, and that God loves me in spite of my sin. (I’ll return to this thought further below.)
- Finally, since I am a Saint (yes, it is true of all believers), my response to the book is, “Hey, wait a minute! It seems like Bruxy has only covered part of the topic! Is there a sequel?”
I’ll review what I liked about the book, what I have concerns about, and what I hope Bruxy covers in his next book.
What I liked
If you’ve followed my series of blog posts in the Community Leadership category, you will know why I liked these aspects of (re)union — I’ve written about most of them already in the blog and in my book The Church At Work.
- Bruxy gives possibly the best and most concise explanation I’ve read of the relationship within the Triune God before Creation and why God chose to create humanity in the first place. Since I’ve made exactly the same points in my book, that’s high praise for Bruxy!
- In the temptation story, Bruxy adds what to me is an original thought, that while talking with the serpent, Eve was speaking as though God was not present, and so began the feeling of separation from God.
- I greatly appreciate Bruxy’s point that until we talk about Jesus (rather than the more generic talk about God), we haven’t really talked about the gospel.
- Bruxy has several corrections to suggest to the church that I think are much needed.
- He notes that Christians have sometimes been the biggest obstacle to Christ and I have to admit that we have indeed made mistakes or gotten sidetracked over the years. See my post Mistakes not to make again for an example within our lifetimes. I do think that many of the really bad mistakes made earlier in history came about not because of authentic pious Christians, but because either the church was co-opted by the State or the State was co-opted by the church. See my blog post Christians and the Power of the State for more on the political angle and The Plank in our Own Eye about sin within the church.
- We should be living out the life of God’s kingdom here in this world. We have often been so focused on heaven that we’ve neglected life on earth. I agree, and this has negatively affected our role in creation care and our enjoyment of the very life that God wants us to live in the here and now. It is a mistake to think that salvation is limited to the afterlife. I’ve written about this in There’s a Big World Out There.
- Bruxy says if we really believe the gospel, it is unkind not to share its good news, and I agree. It is meant to be shared. We are too respectful of tolerance and allowing people to believe what they want. They need to hear about Jesus! I read in one book where a non-believer was interviewed and he said, “If you really believe I’m going to hell and you choose not to tell me about Jesus, you must really hate me!”
What I have concerns about
I’ll limit my comments to just a few of the significant issues.
- Bruxy may be making valid points in the book, but it disturbed me that he didn’t research at least one of his illustrations more carefully, and the result was it made me read the rest of the book with a lot more skepticism (in addition to my existing skepticism about some of the theological points).
- Bruxy used the creeds to illustrate his point that sometimes Christians have not allowed the teaching of Jesus to shape their lives. He says, “Notice what aspect of the Christian faith had dropped into the background by the time the creeds were crafted. What’s missing? The entire life and teachings of Jesus!…Thankfully, since the time these creeds were written, increasing numbers of Christians have repented of any theological focus that ignores the centrality of the teachings and example of Jesus Christ.”
- Bruxy says the “dash” between Christ’s birth and death in the Apostles and Nicene creeds proves his point.
- In fact, the ancient creeds were never intended to document what we believe about Jesus and his life on Earth. They were designed to counter heresies of the time which were threatening the church’s theology and doctrines. The Apostles Creed addressed Gnostic and Arian heresies, and the Nicene Creed addressed Marcion heresies.1
- The church had the Gospels to read and study when the creeds were written. Christian leaders were certainly very well aware of Jesus’ life and ministry.
- I grant that Bruxy is quite correct that at times the church has lost that awareness (especially in Fundamentalist and certain Neo-Evangelical circles in the early to mid-twentieth century), but the creeds can’t be used to make that point. I support Bruxy’s focus on Jesus’ life and ministry, but with this illustration he made an assertion that made me question his credibility as a reader of history.
- Bruxy’s treatment of repentance could be much more robust.2 He defines repentance (metanoia in the Greek) correctly as a change in the way we think, based on its etymology, but he doesn’t say that in all but perhaps one of its contexts in the New Testament it is “referring exclusively to renouncing and turning from one’s sin (emphasis added).”3 The five examples of repentance that he gives in the book do not include this key meaning of repentance. The closest he gets is to promote confession and forgiveness.
- My concern is that when it comes to actual transformation of character into Christlikeness, Bruxy leaves it as a matter between the person and God. He expects God’s grace will inspire the person to change (with the help of the Holy Spirit), but that requires the person to choose to cooperate with the Spirit.4 What about unrepentant sin? Is there room for one person to call out another (in appropriate ways of course) for continuing sin? There’s no mention of church discipline. I wonder what Bruxy makes of 1 Corinthians 5:9-13? That’s a pretty strong word of direction by Paul to the Corinthian church that it appears would never happen if we followed Bruxy’s direction to not condemn or judge but simply support each other in real relationships.5 Healthy supporting relationships do include confronting, but that doesn’t seem to be what Bruxy intends as he describes it. True repentance leads to a new way of living that includes turning away from one’s sins.
- I feel that Bruxy’s treatment of sin needs considerable expansion. He defines sin (hamartia in the Greek) as missing the mark, which is correct. But he writes that what that means is that sin refers to “any ways we fail to live the life of love for which we were created.”6 My problem is that he has immediately restricted sin to “failure to love.” That definition certainly captures many different ways of sinning, but it misses or avoids some sins which would be covered by the traditional definition of hamartia which is primarily about “failing to meet God’s revealed moral, ethical, and ritual standards.”7 My concern is that “love” is a pretty generic concept and I may think love means “X”, which could turn out to be only one component of many. As a new follower of Jesus, maybe my concept of love would be limited to relationships with others but not my personal conduct. A generic description of love wouldn’t be all that helpful to me in that case. What would be helpful would be details of the breadth of love and what it looks like in various scenarios (eg., that it includes helping suffering people in other countries and sacrificing my wants to be able to help someone else get their needs met). It would be great if Bruxy would be more explicit and deal with the lists of sins as found in the New Testament and also their relationship to church leadership (which can be found in Titus 1:5-9 and 1 Timothy 3:1-7).
- Bruxy acknowledges we are called to live holy lives 8 and correctly defines holiness as being set apart, to be distinct. But then he immediately switches to a discussion of grace and unconditional salvation rather than talking about holiness. Holiness is a New Testament topic and it gets short shrift in the book, causing some concern that Bruxy is content to let people stay where they are: that is, in the church but caught in a cycle of continuing sin and forgiveness, and never growing into greater Christlikeness.
- An example of why I said Bruxy only covered part of the topic is when he says Jesus was full of grace. That comes from John 1:14 and is only half of what Jesus was full of. The complete quote is that Jesus was “full of grace and truth.” I think this is a significant oversight because most of the concerns I have with the book are related to the truth which Jesus was full of and which should guide our daily lives as much as Christ’s love does. It’s grace and truth together which lead to a full understanding of God’s desire for how we should live.
- Bruxy boils our responsibilities down to fulfilling the Two Great Commandments, which are to love God and neighbour. But how do we show love? Bruxy conveys the impression that if we are loving, we have fulfilled our responsibility. But have we? Our concept of love may not include all the activities and the objects of our love that God intends. After giving the Two Great Commandments,9 Jesus said “All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” In other words, the rest of the Law and Prophets (a reference to the many Old Testament directives which carry over into the New Covenant) is based on the logic of love but contains more particular examples of its application (such as Micah 6:8). Some things may be overlooked if we think only of love. It’s important to avoid a reductionist view of Christianity and the Christian life.
Bruxy’s next book
Here’s what I hope will be covered in Bruxy’s next book.
I feel that if Bruxy is serious about persuading the Saints to adopt his views, he needs to address their “Yes, buts.” Perhaps it would be best if he co-wrote it with a widely-respected Evangelical theologian and/or a Christian sociologist and addressed the Saints’ “Yes, but” issues more fully, and most especially, at a practical as well as theological level. The topics should include:
- Christian responsibilities, individually and in community with each other, and with much more focus on the application of the first of the Two Great Commandments.
- Church leadership qualifications, given that everyone has fallen short of the mark in some way
Enjoy the book. It will be a challenging read for many, but it does have some excellent ideas that we all could benefit from, not the least of which is that we can be a more loving church.
- As discussed in the standard church history textbook by LaTourette and the more recent standard text by Gonzalez. ↩
- P 203 in my advance copy. ↩
- The Expository Dictionary of of Bible Words. ↩
- Pp. 131-133 in the advance copy. ↩
- P 132 in the advance copy. ↩
- P 115 in my advance copy. ↩
- The Expository Dictionary of of Bible Words. ↩
- P 172 in the advance copy ↩
- Matthew 22:38-40 ↩