Review: The Inconvenient Gospel

The Inconvenient Gospel (Plough Spiritual Guides), Clarence Jordan, edited by Frederick L. Downing, Introduction by Starlette Thomas. Walden, NY: Plough Books, 2022.

Summary: A collection of the talks and writings of Clarence Jordan, rooted in the teaching of Jesus, drawing out the radical implications this has for war, wealth disparity, civil rights, and true community.

I’ve known of Clarence Jordan for many years but it wasn’t until this collection of his writings crossed my path that I read him. I knew he was a Baptist preacher in the south, that he wrote his own paraphrase of the gospels, The Cotton Patch Gospels, and that he helped form an integrated farming community, Koinonia Farms, in the face of great opposition. One can learn all this and more in Frederick Downing’s fine introduction to this collection.

What I learned in reading this collection was that here was a man who really was formed more by his reading of the gospels than the culture and I think this comes through in every piece in this collection. He makes this radical claim in the first piece, “Impractical Christianity”: “For Christianity is not a system you work–it is a Person who works you. You don’t get it; he gets you.” In “The Meaning of Christian Fellowship,” he elaborates the meaning of koinonia: common ownership, distribution according to need, and the complete equality and freedom of every believer. In “What is the Word of God,” he emphasizes the priority of the living Word and that scripture must never be a prison for the living Word but rather a witness to him. He forcefully challenges White Supremacy in “White Southern Christians and Race” by contending 1) there is no scientific basis for inferiority or superiority of any race over the other, 2) there is no biblical evidence that God has favorite children, and 3) differences are differences, not signs of superiority or inferiority.

“No Promised Land without the Wilderness” sets out the challenge every true leader of God’s people will face–criticism when things are harder or don’t go the way people expected. In his talk at Goshen College on the Ten Commandments, he stresses the idea that the laws were given out of love–that we not so much break laws but break ourselves upon them. He emphasizes, in “Jesus, Leader of the Poor,” the kind of king Jesus was in sitting on a “mule whereon no man had ever sat,” humorously remarking on his own attempts to sit on such a mule, concluding that he was still “a mule whereon no man had ever sat”! Yet Jesus sits on this lowly yet recalcitrant animal. In “Love Your Enemies,” he recounts a confrontation with the insults of a segregationist with whom he could have easily mopped the floor. Asked why he didn’t, he said that he was trying to obey the command to love his enemies–or at least do him no harm, leading to a conversation on what it means to be a Christian.

“Jesus and Possessions” talks about the distorting power of possessions over us. “Metamorphosis” speaks of the transforming power of the gospel, one that takes two people who would have been at each other’s throats, Matthew the tax collector and Simon the Zealot and turns them into brothers. In “The Man from Gadara,” he explores how this demoniac could have come to lose his own self to a legion of demons. He raises questions about societal hypocrisy–why pigs in a land where no one is supposed to eat pigs?–and raises questions about teaching children not to kill and then sending them to war, and what that does to one, anticipating the traumas of PTSD we see with so many war veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan. “Things Needed for our Peace” was a talk given four weeks after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. and draws on Jesus’ words approaching Jerusalem, speaking to the needs for racial humility, for an understanding of violence, and that Christian faithfulness may lead, not to success, but the cross, and, if we survive, to a new attitude of servanthood and identification with the hurts of others.

The last in this collection, “The Humanity of God,” returns to the person of Jesus, the concern of Jordan throughout his ministry. He speaks of the attempts of Mary and his earthly family to control him and Mary’s relinquishment of Jesus at the cross, allowing him fully, and finally, to be about his Father’s business. From start to finish, the pieces in this collection face us with the uniqueness of Christ as fully God and human, his authority, and flowing from that his radical call for those who would follow.

This book is part of the Plough Spiritual Guides series. This, as well as the others acquaint us with the best of spiritual reading, which is always to take us into the heart of God to see both great love and unequaled authority. They remind us that there are really only two ways to live and that we can’t have it both ways and that the only good way is the way of the good news, as strange from a worldly view, as it seems. Jordan reminds us that it is both strange and good.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher.