Review: Following the Call

Following the Call, Edited by Charles E. Moore. Walden, NY: Plough Publishing House, 2021.

Summary: A collection of 52 weeks of readings working through the Sermon on the Mount, meant to be discussed and lived out in community.

Back in 2016, I reviewed a collection of 52 readings from the same editor and publishing house, titled Called to Community. This book, similar in format, builds on that earlier collection.

Charles E. Moore has edited a collection of readings organized into 52 weeks of readings with contributions from a wide range of Christians throughout history, from Augustine to Tim Keller, from Martin Luther to Martin Luther King, Jr. The readings follow the Sermon on the Mount, section by section, portraying how a wide range of believers have understood and sought to live under this challenging message of Jesus.

A reading at the end of this collection of readings articulates the intent in creating this set of readings. Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes:

“This word, whose claim we recognize, this word, which issues from his saying ‘I have known thee, this word which sets us at once to work and obedience, is the rock on which to build our house. The only proper response to this word which Jesus brings with him from eternity is simply to do it. Jesus has spoken: his is the word, ours the obedience. Only in the doing of it does the word of Jesus retain its honor, might, and power among us. Now the storm can rage over the house, but it cannot shatter that union with him, which his word has created” (p. 332).

The assumption throughout is that this is a kingdom manifesto, describing the way Jesus’s followers will actually live, rather than some unrealistic ideal. Furthermore, and this is emphasized in the subtitle, the Sermon on the Mount is meant to be lived together and the book is written to be discussed together. Each weeks readings, from one to four writers and covering five to eight pages, are meant to be read, along with the pertinent portion of the Sermon, in a small group. A study guide at the conclusion of the text offer several probing questions and additional scripture passages to aid discussion. The aim is that a group would help one another take steps to live out the Sermon week by week.

The readings are offered in four sections with an introductory article to each section by Moore. They are:

Kingdom Character (Matthew 5:1-16). A highlight in this section was the short reading from Oscar Romero on persecution. He observes: “It is very easy to be servants of the word without disturbing the world in any way” (p. 71).

Kingdom Commands (Matthew 5:17-48) Jen Wilkin writes on law and the place of obedience and offers this example: “We don’t train our children to obey us so that they can gain our favor. They already have our favor. We, being evil, train and equip them to obey because it is good and right and safe. And how much more does our heavenly Father love us?” (p. 87).

Kingdom Devotion (Matthew 6:1-18) William H. Willimon and Stanley Hauerwas offer these convicting words: “Those who are being formed by praying, ‘Our Father who art in heaven, holy be your name’ are not permitted to about the holiness of God by attempting to put a leash on God, then dragging God into our crusades and cruelties” (p. 195).

Kingdom Priorities (Matthew 6:19-7:28) Dallas Willard challenged my own understanding of the teaching about pearls before pigs: “Pigs cannot digest pearls, cannot nourish themselves upon them….The reason these animals will finally ‘turn and rend you’ when you one day step up to them with another load of Bibles or pearls, is that you at least are edible” (p. 287).

This is but a tiny sampling of the rich fare offered in these readings. You may wonder if you will find enough to discuss in the few pages and short passage for each week. I suspect once you get going, if there is good trust and spiritual openness among you, that you will find there isn’t enough time.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher via LibraryThing’s Early Reviewer program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Review: Called to Community

Called to community

Called to CommunityCharles E. Moore (ed.). Walden, NY: Plough Publishing House, 2016.

Summary: A collection of readings on Christian community centered around the Bruderhof Community but also including theologians and writers from throughout church history.

The Bruderhof communities, beginning with the initial ones formed by Eberhard Arnold, are in the vanguard of a movement among Christians longing for a greater depth of community than ordinarily experienced in congregational life, including intentional communities of Christians sharing accommodations and life together. This book represents a collection of writings published by Plough, the Bruderhof publishing arm, including Arnold and other Bruderhof authors, but also a diverse collection of writers on community including Benedict of Nursia, Eugene Peterson, George MacDonald, C. S. Lewis, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Jean Vanier of the L’Arche communities. This volume, organized into 52 chapters that may be used by groups over a year, brings together some of the best writing by these and a number of other writers on community.

The book is organized into four parts. The first is “A Call to Community”. Gerhard Lohfink’s statement in the chapter on Embodiment was a stunner:

“For many Christians it would not be a turning point in their lives if they decided, one day, to stop praying tomorrow, to leave off going to church next Sunday….”

This section challenges us to consider the call to something that is central rather than peripheral to our lives.

The next part is on “Forming Community.” It includes Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s telling observations on “Idealism” from his Life Together, and a wonderful contribution from fellow Ohio Art Gish on “Surrender.”

Part Three discusses “Life in Community.” The chapter on “Deeds” includes Mother Teresa talking about not despising small things, and John F. Alexander’s challenge to focus not on using gifts but cleaning toilets. Working through issues of “Irritations”, “Differences”, and “Conflict” the section concludes with essays by Richard Foster and Jean Vanier about “Celebration.”

The last section is titled “Beyond the Community”. One of the most moving essays is that by Emmanuel Katongole and Chris Rice describing how they “interrupted” a series of five minute reports at a World Congress to wash one another’s feet before the assembly. Several chapters in this section talk about boundaries and the real tension between compassion and self-care that allows one to continue to minister and recognizes personal limits. The collection ends with Dorothy Day’s incisive comments on “Mercy.”

The book includes a study guide with questions and scripture readings for each chapter as well as sources for further study. It seems the perfect resource for a group who wants to go deeper in community, whether they have formed a more intentional community or not.

One of the things that commends this collection is its catholicity, and the stature of those whose writings are included. To listen to those who have lived community across the centuries is to drink at a deep well of wisdom. This is not just the latest “new monastics” thinking or the latest offerings from the Emergent Church. The call to community is challenging, and yet the recognition of the real challenges of community both tempers naive enthusiasm and offers wise counsel to those who pursue intentional communities out of faithfulness to Christ.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher via LibraryThing’s Early Reviewer program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.