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Tuesday, August 28, 2018

LORD, SAVE US from YOUR FOLLOWERS: WHY IS the GOSPEL of LOVE DIVIDING AMERICA? by Dan Merchant



Published in 2008 by Thomas Nelson.

Dan Merchant went on a cross-country trip in an effort to discuss why it is that so many people have a negative view of Christians and Christianity. He often dons a set of coveralls covered in religious-themed bumper stickers (both for and against religion) and then engages random people on the street in a short conversation about religion. His goal is to find out why a religion that is supposed to be based on a message of love is dividing people? Isn't that oxymoronic?

Merchant's strength is his congenial nature. He takes criticism very well - he actually listens to the answers he gets to his questions and takes them to heart. The answers are pretty predictable. If Christians came even halfway close to their ideals, it would be a different story. But, the experience of too many people, especially in certain communities, is that Christians do nothing but condemn and maybe even rejoice at their misfortunes as punishments from God. 

Early on in the book (page 14), Merchant makes this point: "To me, the divisions of America, this separateness, isn't getting any of us anywhere. And both sides are making the same mistake: they think the culture war is a winnable war. Some think, eventually, one side will win out over the other."

Merchant talks a lot about being a "red letter" Bible Christian, meaning that he focuses on what Jesus said more than anything else (for those not in the know, many editions of the Bible highlight the spoken words of Jesus in red). I have to say, the older I get, the more I become a "red letter" Bible Christian. He emphasizes this point on page 26 by supposing that Jesus would say that the 10 Commandments are gifts to make the journey of life easier, but the new commandment is to show your love for God by loving His people. Who are His people? Everyone - even the ones you don't like. Especially the ones you don't like.

Merchant interviews several people for this book, including Al Franken (before he became a Senator, let alone before he had to stop being a Senator), Michael Reagan, Rick Santorum and even a few people you've never heard of, like Sister Mary Timothy, a transvestite who dresses like a nun in kabuki-style makeup. Some of those interviews are better than others, some are a bit dated. But, they do illustrate the "culture wars".

I was struck by the two of the last chapters in the book: "The Confessional Booth" and "Grace in Action". The Confessional Booth features an idea from the book Blue like Jazz, sort of a counterculture religious book. Merchant set up a a confessional booth at a Gay Pride celebration - not to hear the sins of the people at the celebration, but to confess the sins of both Christianity and Dan Merchant. Let's face it, if you actually want to talk to the other side of the culture war, you have to come in humility or you will not be heard. This was very powerful. It made tears come to my eyes. Very powerful.

Grace in Action featured stories of people doing simple, human things for "the least of these" that come off as amazing things because we simply don't do the thing that Merchant referred to way back towards the beginning of the book - show our love of God by loving His people.

This book is powerful and is really on inhibited by the fact that it is dated. I would love to see it re-worked with new interviews and takes on more current cultural trends. I'm going to keep it in my library.

Note: this book was written to be a companion piece for a documentary that I have not seen.

I rate this book 4 stars out of 5. Very powerful at times, but also dated. Also, there are some slow parts.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: LORD, SAVE US from YOUR FOLLOWERS: WHY IS the GOSPEL of LOVE DIVIDING AMERICA? by Dan Merchant.

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