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Loving Jesus
Mark Allan Powell
Augsburg Fortress Press, Minneapolis 2004
196 pages, indexed

Preaching Peace isn’t something that can be accomplished by sheer mental effort alone. We may be able to identify and resist the principalities and powers that possess our culture, but in the end we will succumb to the mimetic propensity for scapegoating the “other.” In this case, the “other” is usually the “warmonger,” or the purveyor of “Christian triumphalism” or “theologies of glory.” This is a danger we wrestle with all the time at Preaching Peace.

In Romans 7 Paul tells us that he is unable to understand his own actions. The very things he wants to avoid, he does, and vice versa. This is the unavoidable trap of mimesis. We need to be rescued “from this body of death.” Then Paul shouts (If we’re honest, these words can’t be read any other way.), “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Jesus Christ is our way out. The power of the Spirit, dwelling in us makes possible the thing we lack the insight or the strength to do ourselves. And the vehicle by which we are filled with that strength is not knowledge (despite our best efforts on Preaching Peace!) but love. Love of Jesus.

Mark Powell teaches his readers how to come to a mature love of Jesus that we at Preaching Peace believe is absolutely necessary for a complete conversion of the heart to the cause of peace. He speaks lovingly of the first blush of infatuation that comes with discovery of the Person of Jesus, and the subsequent and necessary distancing that Paul Ricouer calls “critical distance.” He then leads the reader back to a relationship with the Person of Jesus that he calls a “sense-able” spirituality, Ricouer’s “second naivete.” His approach to spirituality is grounded in the earthiness of our existence as human beings.

His understanding of spirituality is one that takes the teachings of the academy fully into consideration, and still insists on a joyful expectation of the near return of the Beloved. Perhaps the least satisfying chapter is his attempt at dealing with theodicy, or the problem of suffering. It seems that Powell still permits the very dualistic Western notion of “the good” to govern both his questions and his answers.

His chapter “Jesus Is For Losers” helps us to approach Jesus in trust, and without fear of the brokenness that relationship will no doubt teach us to see in ourselves. He leads his readers through the portrayal of the disciples’ ineptitude in Mark as an invitation to us to follow without worrying that we may disappoint or frustrate our Lord. Indeed, it is in the moment within which we discover anew our own utter spiritual poverty that the women arrive with the news that Jesus is risen, and awaits us in Galilee! The chapter keeps us from falling into the trap of expecting Jesus to be no more than a “buddy” to us. He continues to serve as physician, pointing out our sickness, and mending it.

Powell teaches several time-tested approaches to growing in this new relationship without resorting to religious language that will be a turn-off for many readers. He offers us a simple image of worship as adoration. Not new, but often missing in our churches today. This unashamed, unabashed outpouring of love is irreplaceable. He also reminds his readers that worship is “not about us,” a welcome reminder in this day of consumerism in church selection. Powell highlights the power of confession as a means of instilling in us the gratitude that leads to love (though he doesn’t limit love to gratitude!) and the power of giving, of stewardship, to change the heart. As I read this portion, I was reminded of a saying from an acting class from many, many years ago. “If you don’t feel it, act like you do, and soon you will.” Stewardship, a response of thanksgiving, can inspire thanksgiving as well.

Powell also insists on the value of setting time aside every day for God. Not the left-overs. Not the drive-to-work time. Real, dedicated time for conversation with God. That conversation can take a number of forms, and Powell introduces his readers to various approaches to Christian meditation. Centering Prayer and Lectio Divina (though he never uses the latter name for his section on praying the Scriptures) are offered in common sense ways that any Christian can appreciate. In so doing, he convinces us that having this real, loving relationship with Jesus isn’t a matter of spiritual mumbo jumbo or an unearthly head-in-the-clouds pseudo existence, but a concrete possibility for any follower of Jesus.

In our estimation, Loving Jesus provides its readers with a practical guide to developing a relationship with the Prince of Peace that can make possible the kind of conversion our readers hope for.

Dear Readers of Preaching Peace,

Thank you for using Preaching Peace. I know from your e-mails how much our work has meant to you. Your communications indicate the astounding number of times we have helped your preaching and teaching by showing people how to read the Bible and know the God of radical love from a perspective that engages the whole Christian tradition, is peacemaking in its orientation, and makes sense of our contemporary world. Our recent trip to Australia, New Zealand and the UK where we spoke to over 4,000 people was one unending litany of enlightenment and gratitude.

We are energetically moving forward with this peace message for our next fiscal year. Immediate plans include:

Speaking at Q and A sessions for the premier of Hellbound? The Movie in east coast theaters, followed by similar events on college campuses. Three new book projects related to the gospel, peacemaking and the contemporary church. New video releases of peacemaking Christian education curricula to be circulated on our website, YouTube and Facebook. Monthly Webinars for clergy and church leaders both here and around the world featuring speakers who will help them take further steps toward teaching their congregants about radical discipleship and peacemaking.

We are asking you, as readers of our lectionary commentary to make a $50 (or more) contribution. Will you help us? We will gladly receive gifts or pledges between now and Sept 30. It’s easy using the Donate Now button

Join us now to help change the thinking, the theology and the activity of both local and global Christianity. Help make this Good News a reality to folks still longing to find it. Your gifts, as always, are tax-deductible. We give thanks to God for your prayers, your encouragement and your financial gifts. Our proven record together with your good foundation of support will again produce results beyond our best dreams.

In the Peace of Jesus,
Michael Hardin

These are exciting and challenging times for Preaching Peace. They are exciting because a growing number of people like you are eager to learn more about the peace perspective by which Jesus interpreted God and lived out his faith.

We want the doors of Preaching Peace to stay open, the production of adult DVD curriculum to advance, the books to be completed for publication, seminars going on in local communities, and the commentaries to keep flowing.

With your help this will be possible. For the work we continue to do for you, for the mission to continue to reach those in the church who are longing to hear about Jesus’ vision of peace, will you please give today? Any amount will be greatly appreciated!

We give you our sincere thanks in advance and wish you the Peace of our Lord in all your endeavors.