I recently joined a group of selected bloggers that receive early copies of books in exchange for writing reviews of them. The first book I chose is called The Diversity Culture: Creating Conversations of Faith with Buddhist Baristas, Agnostic Students, Aging Hippies, Political Activists, and Everyone in Between. Written by Matthew Raley, the pastor of Orland Evangelical Free Church in northern California, the title of the book alone grabbed my attention.
The premise is fairly simple: he weaves the narrative of Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:1-26) as an example of how to engage those who are different than yourself in conversations about Truth. I thought this was one of the real strengths of the book. His writing in these parts has the ability to bring the story to life, and I agree that it is an amazing example of the point he is trying to make.
Raley also sets up two stereotypes and contrasts them: a woman at Cafe Siddhartha (the birth name of the Buddha) and a Baptist at Cafe Siddhartha. This is one area where he lost me. I’ve never been one for stereotypes, and I felt like he lost momentum every time he would reference these two make-believe people throughout the book.
The book does have some interesting and articulate parts, but overall, it failed to fully engage me. I never got lost in a chapter (in a good way). In fact, it often felt like I was pushing through a section just to see what was next. In addition, he did something that I’ve grown to loathe with so many Christian writers today: taking pot-shots at megachurches. For example, he states that “the reality is that the growth of megachurches is the result of many evangelicals making the same choices, adopting a religious lifestyle that matches American consumerism. The responsibility for megachurch superficiality is broadly shared.” It sounds like he is arguing that growth = superficiality. That isn’t Biblical, or accurate. Anyone can make a straw-man church and then tear it down. His description of megachurches hasn’t been what I’ve seen at Central or a handful of local megachurches in Arizona.
Despite this, here are a few quotes that stood out to me and developed his point well:
“We interpret people as stock characters, as members of groups. Jesus interpreted the woman at the well using a story about her as an individual.”
“People wear and carry objects that feed stories about who they are, how they see themselves, and what their agendas are. Sometimes the mixed signals are calculated and even defensive, but in other cases they simply reflect the bearer’s experiences–and evangelicals can have trouble discerning which.”
“…we can see how John pits individuals against their groups. Whether the characters are Jesus’ disciples or his enemies, the crowbar that pries them away from their worldly loyalty is their knowledge of Scripture. The pattern is consistent throughout John’s gospel…”
“We cannot break the power of groupthink by opposing it with more groupthink. We need to restore one of our oldest appeals: Sola scriptura. The signature of biblical Christianity has always been freedom of thought.”
“Once an individual is thinking for himself, he is ready to meet Jesus.”