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Real: Christ's Call To Authentic Living
by Steven James
Howard Publishing 2005
Ronald Sider's recent book The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience is a wakeup call for a church described by some as 'of the world, but not in it.' Sider works through research that suggests in many key areas of 'private life', such as divorce, domestic violence, and pornography use, the demographic describing themselves as evangelical Christians do not stand out from the prevailing trends in North American culture. In such a context voices reminding us that being honest with and about ourselves is a key requirement of a faithful Christian life are much needed, and it is such a voice that Steven James seeks to raise in Becoming Real.
James's core thesis is that we must stop living as if our purpose were to put on a show. Reliance on God is born from vulnerability and so we must expose ourselves in order to find the purpose of our lives. The argument is peppered with examples from his own life and those of others he has come across in the course of travelling to share his storytelling art. The result is a patchwork of narrative, preaching, and apologia with a clear target, but too much hyperbole to hit it squarely.
Beyond the hyperbole, what particularly reduces the book's momentum is its engagement in the brand of existentialist gnosticism peculiar to the modern evangelical church. That model reduces faith to the individual's purification of their 'skin wrapped spirit.' As a faith born to be lived in community, it is disappointing that a purported description of more honest Christianity contains so little reference to that community.
It is encouraging that James's final chapter begins to touch on the necessity for an 'authentic' faith to take seriously Jesus's call to consider 'the least of these.' It is also indicative of the inward-focus and compartmentalism of the work that such a core tenet of faith should appear solely as an end result rather than both process and purpose of developing faith. It would have been helpful for James to have cut much of the repetition that appears earlier in his book in order to present a more integrated exposition of 'authentic' faith.
James Stewart 3/14/2005