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January 9, 2008

Is Your Jesus Too Small?

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Seeing Gray – In a World of Black and White’ by Rev. Adam Hamilton 

By Candace Talmadge

3.5 Stars (out of 5)


Jesus seems to be in a jam. On one hand, in his name, legions of Christians cannot stand anything about modern society and are vocal and active about using laws and pressure to enforce their retro vision of society. On the other are those who decry in increasingly strident terms anything to do with religion or faith.


And then there are those who are neither Christian nor non-believer, but we’ll get around to them in a bit.


“Christianity is in need of a new reformation,” writes Adam Hamilton, pastor of the 14,000-member United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas. “This reformation will be led by people who are able to see the gray in a world of black and white.”


Amen – tell it, Brother, and he does. This mega-church minister refreshingly admits to his failings and acknowledges the validity of viewpoints with which he does not agree, and respectfully asks for the same consideration from others. Above all, he never claims that his book is the answer to anything. Instead, Hamilton’s goal in writing is to nurture and sustain a thoughtful discussion about hot-potato faith and social issues.


Out of a conversation instead of a confrontation, the author hopes will emerge a new consensus, both among Christian faithful and in the political arena. The only drawback is that those on either of the extremes who might benefit most from his approach are the least likely to read “Seeing Gray”.


Instead of a narrative, this book comprises a series of thumbnail reviews of both religious and secular topics. Some of the chapters speak mostly to Christians, or anyone who is interested in a concise, readable overview of the doctrinal disagreements among Christians of varying Protestant sects.


One of my favorites: “Is Your Jesus Too Small?” Hamilton describes the “personal savior” of conservative Christians and the “social activist” of liberal believers, and suggests that Jesus was both and yet is greater than the sum of those parts.


The author also wades fearlessly into the choppy waters of the so-called culture war, examining issues like abortion (against it), stem cell research (for it, with certain limits), war (against the Iraq invasion before it began, but not a pacifist), and homosexuality (love gays, lesbians or transsexuals as God would but does not say whether he favors civil rights like marriage).


Hamilton addresses the timely question of choosing a president. As much as he wants a person of Christian faith in the highest office of the land, he would opt for the candidate with the most qualifications and experience over a person of faith who lacks the relevant background. This take on casting a vote does not bode well for Republican presidential aspirant Mike Huckabee, a Baptist minister who has zilch foreign policy experience.


The strength – and limitation – of Hamilton’s book is his Methodist/Christian perspective, which presupposes that Jesus is and should be the foundation of what he calls an emerging “radical center” of divisive political and social issues.


For many Americans, however, Jesus is not and cannot be a part of their political discussion. These Americans are not Christians, or they may espouse no faith whatsoever. Or they may be believers but do not subscribe to any traditional religious doctrines.


How then do we transcend the divide between those who want to include Jesus – however obliquely – in the national political/social discussions, and those who do not? Is it merely a matter of being respectful of differing viewpoints, as Hamilton asserts, or is this a case of stealth theocracy?


By its very nature, this book cannot answer that question. But at least we have a mainstream Christian minister willing to give non-Christians a hearing. All the rest of us can do is return the favor and talk to each other – in respect and love, which the author agrees are not limited to any one creed or sect.


Publisher: Abingdon Press

Publication date: April 1, 2008

Price: $21.95 (hardcover)

ISBN-13: 978-0-687-64969-3

Pages: 232


© 2008 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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