Playing Favorites, Rodger Woodworth. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2021.
Summary: All of us prefer the company of those like us while the gospel bids us to engage across cultures, with those unlike us, challenging us to stop “playing favorites.”
We like to think of ourselves as tolerant and unprejudiced. But the fact is that all of us prefer the company of those like us and unconsciously are biased against those different from us. Yet as Christians, we worship a God who shows no partiality and calls us to live that way. Even if we agree with this idea, how do we experience change in our propensity to prefer those who are like us? Rodger Woodworth explores that question in this book.
It begins with humility, recognizing that all we have comes of the grace of God. We are not the great stuff we think we are and we might do well to recognize as more significant. Instead Woodworth observes we often cling to the life-preservers of our abilities, our race, our political party, our social status, and our culture. When we do so, we lose sight of the impartial God of grace and become partial toward others. We build walls for which Christ died to create peace between “us” and “them” making a new people that are just “us.” Why then do we resurrect barriers?
Woodworth explores all the people with whom Jesus broke down barriers: lepers, gentiles, and women. God’s grace makes us all even as we see in the parable of the workers: all were hired at his initiative, all were paid a full day’s wage, and God made them all equal (which bothers the heck out of many of us!). He traces Peter’s journey to overcome partiality–from declaring that God shows no favoritism in the house of Cornelius to retreating when Jewish brothers saw him hanging out with Gentiles and being rebuked for his hypocrisy by Paul.
Will we be those who tear down the fences and cross the street to love the neighbor who is different as the Samaritan did? Drawing on Miroslav Volf, he suggests that this may begin with examining our assumptions about the other and listening to how the other thinks of us and then taking the risk to invite the other into our lives. Drawing on his church-planting experience in an urban context he describes his own efforts to bridge cultural divides. He urges, “focus on the marginalized over the multitudes.” He paints a picture of becoming a third culture people, opening and embracing, but not crushing, and who can both remain close to and critique our home culture.
Woodworth concludes with practical advice: to make prayer, particularly for one’s own transformation, a priority, to learn from the perspectives of those who are different, to find a person from whom one can learn, to submit to service providers of different races, and be willing to enter situations where you are the minority.
This is a pithy little book (82 pages plus discussion guide) with a laser-focus on one thing–moving from playing favorites to bridging cultural divides and embracing those different than us. Woodworth has “walked the talk,” and the feel of the book is an invitation to “come with me and do as I have done.”
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.