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.