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I’m a Christian aren’t I?

Author: Dan Clark
Published By: IVP (Nottingham)
Pages: 144
Price: £7.99
ISBN: 978 1 84474 419 0

Reviewed by Philip Joy.

This book is either a dinosaur, or it’s unimaginably important. According to many, our contemporary postmodern era has spawned that odd peculiarity, the post-evangelical. In this view, it is an anachronism to challenge whether a Christian-like person is indeed a Christian, as we did in the heyday of David Watson, John Stott and Billy Graham. For a profound change has come over Western societies whereby people’s faith is no longer defined by whether they are ‘in’ or ‘out’, but by whether they are facing the light, or turned away from it. It is now a question of ‘bonded centres’ rather than ‘bounded circles’.

I am not being deliberately abstruse. I myself came to faith under the tail end of high modernism, but I went on to minister under postmodernism. Having been baptised as a seeker at 14, it was not until I was 21 that I was challenged to accept Jesus as Lord and got born again. But fifteen years later, when I came to work evangelistically amongst those on the fringes of local churches, I became aware that the old propositional forms of evangelism which helped me personally, and worked almost formulaically with so many, were woefully inadequate for the new age.

There are no longer two categories - spiritual believers, and un-spiritual un-believers. There are unbelievers who are deeply spiritual and believers whose spirituality is appallingly shallow. There are non church-goers who do good deeds and church-goers who are frankly wicked. And over in the USA, if the documentaries are to be believed, there are now 70 million Southern Baptists who could claim to have been born again by a single ‘decision’ for Christ, but amongst many of whom there has been no apparent effect upon their personal morality or their sense of social injustice (vis a vis Palestine is one glaring example of the latter). The world of Christian seeking and evangelism has become a vast melting pot with innumerable peoples from innumerable walks of life asking innumerably complex and varied questions.

And that’s just among Bible-believing churches! In a ‘churches together’ context, I got into real trouble with the local Anglican Priest for asking a young man from the High Church when he became a Christian: heresy! No! Not heresy! An absolutely required question! But one which must have an answer bespoke-tailored to every single and unique individual. One which would have cost me dear in time and attention to the young man in question. One which this book I dare to think might have begun to answer, perhaps even to the satisfaction of the Priest in question.

So is this book - more importantly this idea - an anachronism? Or do we today in fact even more than ever need a book which asks that primary challenge: “Am I (really) a Christian?” The latter. We need such an idea and such a book more than ever before, but it must take account of the changes that have happened in society in the last forty years. It cannot be a matter of simple gospel summaries on the backs of envelopes. It has become an immeasurably more complex business. It must be done in the right way.

And this book does. Clark does not pretend the world hasn’t changed. He is not black or white. He acknowledges the multiform confusions and complications, paths and objections of postmodern faith. He uses real life stories - sixteen full-page or even double-page stories. He provides helpful summaries of each chapter. He addresses virtually all the possible misapprehensions, combinations and grey areas of what he calls the ‘jigsaw’ of contemporary believing.

Yet this is a remarkably concise, lucid volume. There are chapters on the pieces of the jigsaw:  ‘Believing’, ‘Belonging’, ‘Behaving’, ‘Baptism’ (he likes B’s!). But be re-assured, for Clark, none is, on its own, enough. They all have to come together under the umbrella of a real personal relationship with the Living God - a relationship the validity of which is not denominationally defined, nor bears any other label, be it Reformed, Evangelical or Charismatic, but which is Jesus-defined, Jesus-orientated, Jesus-saved - in other words (final chapter), a truly ‘Born Again’ relationship created by grace alone. This is Clark’s central piece of the jigsaw.

But note: he doesn’t say any particular piece of the jigsaw must come first, like in the old modernist days. Rather each person’s jigsaw is a unique and complex puzzle requiring immense pastoral and evangelistic resources to fit together. Hence Clark ends with portraits of (imaginary) people who have but part of the jigsaw and then asks us to work out what’s missing! In the end, it is not that the Christian faith has changed any: it is people that have changed. There are just so many more paths to the same orthodox Christianity. Yet this refreshing book deals clearly and unambiguously with pretty much every combination I can think of.

I must admit to one or two nags. I read very little about discipleship as such, although I concede the concept is there in the consistent emphasis on Jesus’ teaching. There is little mention of the impulse or command to witness being part of the new creation. I read nothing that would neatly explain the ‘Alpha’ phenomenon. I read very little on the Baptism in the Spirit. Indeed the book could well be more Trinitarian. Yet no one volume I’ve read recently has ever covered so much in such a short space. And there is absolutely no missing the powerfully christological and ecclesiological thrust of its message.

It’s a no-brainer. I have decided that I am not just going to review this book, but to buy it, and to read it with my 14 year old daughter. For it raises so many of the questions she is asking and it offers a platform for a confused parent to know where to start and to be sure that somewhere in the book, by the end of the book, her gaps will have been filled! Could there be a higher recommendation for this humble, even rather corny, title?

Philip Joy

Specialist in Old Testament narrative and typology

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You are reading Issue 50 of Ministry Today, published in November 2010.

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