Morgan Guyton. How Jesus Saves the World from Us: 12 Antidotes to Toxic Christianity. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2016. See here to purchase the book.
Morgan Guyton blogs at the “Mercy Not Sacrifice” blog at Patheos and has written a number of online articles. He has also been a United Methodist pastor. In How Jesus Saves the World from Us, Guyton critiques what he considers to be toxic Christian attitudes. More saliently, Guyton offers what he believes is a constructive Christian alternative, referring to Scripture and his own experiences. This constructive alternative concerns one’s attitude towards sin and atonement, one’s view of Scripture, and one’s spirituality.
People who feel burned out by conservative evangelical Christianity will probably enjoy this book. At the same time, while many may stereotype Guyton as a liberal mainliner, he is not entirely that, for he does seem to embrace the historicity of the virgin birth and Jesus’ literal resurrection in this book. For Guyton, these events are examples of God doing something new in history, encouraging people to hope in God’s fresh activity.
Guyton also is edified by Roman Catholicism and Orthodox traditions. He speaks in favor of sacraments that allow people to sense the faith, and he tells a beautiful story of how he used to visit regularly a Catholic mass and respected the awe for the holy that he observed there. Moreover, while Guyton is critical of elements and attitudes within evangelicalism, he embraces elements of conservative Christianity.
In terms of positives, Guyton does offer food for thought, along with honest and vulnerable anecdotes. His story about visiting the Catholic mass was excellent, but so was his insight into Jesus’ parable of the sower. Guyton observed that the sower was wasteful in scattering the seed, even towards ground where the seed would not grow. For Guyton, that means that God is continually speaking to us, even when we are not receptive. Guyton’s stories about the humility that he observed in dying mainline churches, which he had previously considered “lukewarm,” also stood out.
Guyton’s critiques of evangelical attitudes drew an “Amen!” from this reviewer, and yet Guyton also told an endearing story about a friend of his who was once a progressive and became a conservative after being in a conservative Christian addiction program. Guyton respects this person’s path, even if it is not Guyton’s own, and Guyton views this person as a fellow co-worker for the Kingdom. Building bridges and respecting another’s path are commendable.
In terms of criticisms, I have three.
First of all, on page 128, Guyton states: “When was the last time you invited a homeless person into your home to eat at your table? I sure haven’t.” Guyton is implying that we should do this, while acknowledging that he has not (at least prior to this book). People may have understandable reservations when it comes to letting people into their home, however. Guyton should probably lead by example on this before he tells others what to do, and not only because it is tiring to see progressive Christians (not all, but many) put heavy burdens on people that they themselves do not carry. By leading by example, Guyton can tell stories about how something like this is done, and then other Christians may not be as apprehensive about taking that kind of step.
Second, on page 122, Guyton talks about an officer who shot an African-American woman. Responding to friends who knew this officer and said that he was a Christian man, Guyton states: “I don’t doubt Encinia is a good Christian man who believes that he must respond severely to any challenge to his complete authority.” That is a very judgmental statement. Guyton may have been saying this to set the stage for his excellent critique of Franklin Graham, who said that police shootings can be avoided through obedience to authority. As Guyton astutely notes, Jesus challenged authority! But Guyton could have made that point without presuming to know the motives of the officer.
Third, Guyton talks about how he has been jealous of famous evangelical pastors who pack auditoriums, but that God has used his relative lack of fame to teach him about the Kingdom. Guyton should have told more anecdotes to illustrate this. Earlier, he told a story about how a lesbian mainline pastor reached out to him at a low point in his life, but he should have elaborated about the lessons of the Kingdom that he has encountered in humble settings. That would have clarified his point, while balancing out—-or better, overshadowing—-his personal complaints.
I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review.