by Shannon Craigo-Snell and Shawnthea Monroe
Fortress Press, 2009, 194 pp.
reviewed by Ruth Huizenga Everhart
Is the church as dead as Shakespeare seems to be? I posed this question to my daughter, who loves Shakespeare as much as I love the Church. We raced to save our venerable institutions. The comparison question struck me after reading Living Christianity. Other interesting dinnertime conversations will be prompted by a close reading of this book.
The two authors are a pastor/professor pair: Shawnthea Monroe is senior minister at Plymouth Church of Shaker Heights, Ohio, and Shannon Craigo-Snell is associate professor of Religious Studies at Yale University. Their goal is to tackle foundational issues of theology with an eye to translating those issues immediately to the pulpit and pew. They meet their goal.
Like any good theological system, the authors start at creation, work their way through sin, grace, and Jesus Christ, to ecclesiology, and end up in Heaven.
The Creation section works through basic Biblical interpretation in a concise way, then springboards from that topic into epistemology. Craigo-Snell lays out descriptions of modernity and post-modernity, then applies these to the current debate between creationism, intelligent design, and evolution. Monroe then applies some of those reflections in a brief sermon that covers an extraordinary amount of ground.
In the Christology section, Craigo-Snell offers short summaries of three approaches to this topic: Roman Catholic, Reformed, and Liberation theology. For each tradition, she asks and answers the question: At what moment in the Jesus story is salvific power located? All of this is background for a sermon by Monroe on Sin that illustrates precisely why each question matters.
The theology of Karl Barth introduces the ecclesiology section, which is familiar territory, but then does an interesting turn into constructive theology. Craigo-Snell uses the field of performance studies as formulated by Peter Brook, who suggests that there are four types of theater: Deadly, Holy, Rough, and Immediate. What is the comparison to the church? In discussing this, Craigo-Snell quotes a line from Brooks that, alone, is reason to buy the book: “It is not the fault of the holy that it has become a middle-class weapon to keep children good.”
Using questions solicited by the authors from their parishioners, they conclude their book discussing heaven. This section wraps around to issues of incarnation and bodily resurrection in ways that are satisfying and helpful.
Not only is the book helpful in the material it covers, its format and approach are also instructive. Any academic discipline should be in dialogue with the practical application of the fruit of that discipline, yet this happens only rarely in theology. By engaging in a pastor/professor dialogue, both disciplines can do best what they do best, which is to bring the life of the mind and spirit to bear on the practice of ministry.
RUTH HUIZENGA EVERHART is pastor of Poolesville Church in Poolesville, Md.