[The following is a book review of Colors of God by Randall Mark Peters, Dave Phillips, and Quentin Steen. For more information on the book or for other reviews, please check out Viralbloggers.]
I’ve had countless conversations about preaching and it seems that people see only two methods: with a script and without; or perhaps in the pulpit vs. walking around. For many, there is a distinct dividing line between these two seemingly opposing methods. Those of us that have a ministry that includes preaching within the context of a congregation can tell you that there are many more methods and methodologies than those two. It is in this context that Colors of God opens up and talks about the way preaching is done at the authors’ church. Preaching is shared simultaneously as a dialogue. Both preachers prepare and have a conversation in the midst of the liturgy, wrestling with the Scripture, sometimes together, and sometimes in opposition. It is a strangely kinetic and visual environment that is both radically different from the current practice most of us are used to, while also theologically consistent with how we actually think of Scripture and how we actually describe our liturgy: as a response.
Though I did want more literary punch, I did get into the conversational tone and felt like I could hang out with them and talk about Jesus.
As I read this book, I felt an interesting tension: that it defied my ability to define it, not in the normal way that refers to our own inability to place a book in a genre, but in that as easily as it slips into a genre, it rejects its labels and presuppositions. It is a strange little book that can truly best be described as the result of three guys sitting in a coffee shop with a tape recorder. Who then take that tape recorder home and have someone type it up. This may be seen as positive or negative, depending on whether or not you find this idea compelling and the book is at times both. But it is earnest and believable, and that goes a long way.
The premise of the book is pretty simple, these three leaders (former capital-E evangelicals, but abiding by the small-e moniker), struck out on their own and formed an emerging church called neXus. And in their ministry, they have found four important components of faith, which they describe with colors. They seem to intend the colors as a gnomonic device for referring to each of these components, while also demonstrating that the presence of each color brings vibrancy to a picture.
The authors use the colors, however, not as a congregational creed or as a simple Rorschach test, but as a means of describing the most important elements to their church, in some ways basing an entire book on what a church might try to put on its webpage. But instead of sounding like a pitch, it does sound mostly right. They begin with Blue, saying the Gospel and historic faith is central to their identity, and the other three serve to demonstrate what is unique about neXus. They are about healthy living (which is in intentional contrast to sin-avoidance), creating a community that truly welcomes all people (as opposed to claiming this and then marginalizing different groups as greater sinners), and fully engaging the culture, especially pop culture.
Though this is the format of the book, the most compelling, and at times difficult part of the book, is something living within and without that structure: their eagerness to share of themselves constructively and precisely. This isn’t to say that they don’t wander or that this book couldn’t be summed up in 25 pages instead of 225 (which it easily could). But that they are very adept at stating and describing the gospel message that they profess. This was difficult for me at times because I really do think that they are much more Protestant than I am. However, the consistency and compassion of their message always won me over, sometimes leaving me struggling to think of a better way of putting it and failing.
Though I liked this book and would encourage many people to read it, I can’t give it an enthusiastic blanket recommendation. I want to give it caveats, depending on to whom I am talking. I’m thinking something like this:
Q: Are you an evangelical that is struggling with your church’s stance on issue X?
R:Then you should read this, noticing how faithful they are being to the Scripture.
Q:Are you a cradle Episcopalian or other mainliner?
R: Maybe; observe how comfortable they are in communicating their message and with dealing with the messiness of life.
Q: Are you a lapsed ______ and looking for a reason to go back to church?
R: Skip it and find something more akin to your place, like Brian McLaren or Marcus Borg.
Q: Are you looking to enhance diversity in your congregation?
R: Sure, but only if by diversity, you are using the term broadly or generationally, not so much in terms of race.
I don’t give these caveats because I think the book is bad or difficult or insufficient; far from it. I do this because I wanted the book to shout at me or drive me or motivate me or shake me up in some way, and what I received was a very readable, engaging, and occasionally intriguing book that fits within the paradigm it hoped to. In other words, it rarely surprised me. And yet, I read it all, pretty quickly, and found myself liking these guys, even though I had some issues with the way the describe the connection between the “Old Covenant” and “New Covenant”. Though I did want more literary punch, I did get into the conversational tone and felt like I could hang out with them and talk about Jesus.
I did have an interesting experience when reading this and I’m not sure what to make of it. Twice, while reading the book in public, I had an African American Christian make note of the book and ask me what I thought of it. Not something that happened when I was reading John Caputo or Philip Clayton in the last couple of months. I trust that they were taken by the title, and cover image, which does give the impression of a book about our ‘traditional’ use of the term diversity. The authors, however, don’t really engage racial diversity, but a more universal diversity (Kingdom of GOD diversity, perhaps) through the atonement.
My bottom line: 3 stars (out of 5)
Pros: I like the book for its readability and its earnestness. My personal learning from the book is in the clarity of voice and keeping to the message. The diversity in their theology and placing their emphasis on health is pretty unique and is relatively easy for anyone (outside of hardcore fundamentalists) to go along with.
Cons: Not as snappy as the stuff to which I am normally drawn. I have some trouble with their theology with regards to the covenants and the atonement.