by Mark Labberton
InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, Ill. 174 pages
REVIEWED BY MAIRI O. RENWICK
Mark Labberton’s latest book reminds readers that THE Christian’s first call and vocation is to love God and neighbor. Labberton convincingly argues that the church and her members have not actively responded to this call and must actively change this. In Pope Francis, Labberton sees a model to follow, a person who is impacting the world by simply following Christ.
Throughout his book, Labberton calls for Christians to reorient themselves toward the greatest commandment by demonstrating the theological and biblical reasoning behind the church’s need to change and providing practical solutions for readers.
For instance, Labberton argues that Americans typically believe that they live in the Promised Land, the land of milk and honey. However, American consumerist culture, a culture that forgets the call to love God and neighbor, has led to a “Plundered Land.” Labberton points out that American Christians are no longer a majority and “the Church of Christendom is fading and flailing.” As a result, the image that should guide our thought is not that of the Promised Land, but of exile.
It may be a bit overwhelming to redefine one’s identity as an exile or to show the world that we are motivated by love, but Labberton encourages readers to begin with small steps. For example, a person may walk through his neighborhood, consider the needs around him, and actually pray for his literal neighbors on a consistent basis. While some suggestions seem small, the book calls the reader to examine her own behavior and if she is truly loving God and neighbor.
Like the Babylonian exiles, Christians must not throw tantrums about the world we live in, but find ways to live into Christ’s redemptive love in our current state (see Jeremiah 29). Only when Christians are realistic about their exilic identity can they truly begin to respond to their vocation to love in a way that will transform the contemporary church and those whom they encounter.
While new programs and technological advances do not hurt the church and may be helpful, unless we love God and neighbor and are seen doing so through our actions, we will remain exiles. Out of step with the world, we will remain people who are doing the “polka in a hip-hop world” — cute and quaint, but disconnected from society.
So, Labberton advises that we find ways to respond to God’s call. We do not have stop dancing, but we must change the moves so God’s call to love is heard, obeyed and witnessed by all of our neighbors.
Labberton provides resources to encourage conversation over social media, allowing readers to further consider the implications of following Christ and realistic ways to do so with their global neighbors. He offers a six-session study guide with videos and church resources. (Visit fuller.edu/called for more information.) For those who use Twitter, you may participate in conversation using #CALLEDtofollow.
Overall, Labberton makes a compelling case that Christians must change by answering God’s call to follow and act like Christ.
MAIRI O. RENWICK is a teaching elder and is currently serving as Union Presbyterian Seminary’s director of admissions.