The book consists of stories of people and communities who have transcended that “clock in-clock out” mentality to exhibit authentic discipleship. Maul shares transformative elements of his own faith journey, which includes experiences in a variety of church and para-church organizations, and experience as a young adult in a controlling religious organization led him to conclude that “religion based on fear is contrary to the invitation to follow Jesus, and I believe such a path serves to kill faith in many vulnerable followers who are manipulated and deceived” (p. 51).
As Maul reflects on the church, he cites many of the same problems other authors have pointed out, such as the fear of change and the tendency to venerate tradition and even habit. He recalls the often quoted seven deadly words, “We’ve never done it that way before,” and in response offers seven life-giving words, “I can do all things through Christ.” That reliance on Christ is the focus of the full-time faith Maul advocates throughout the book. He recalls conversations from a class of energized young adults who are able to be truthful about their doubts and unbelief on their shared path of discipleship, invites us to be “flies on the wall” at a senior banquet where parents and youth share meaningful memories and real faith. The author points us to Christ, who meets us wherever we are on our pilgrim journey and invites us to the next step. This kind of authentic faith cannot be made into a formula and is not easy to define. But it is the essence of what it means to be “emergent,” says Maul.
I would have liked more reflection on what it means to be an “emergent church,” especially within the larger culture of the Presbyterian Church, and too often the book follows well-worn paths, such as the section on the Bible as “guide book.”
Maul offers a challenge, however, to “live as if you mean it,” and engage in a journey that challenges our perspective and sets us on a deliberate path of pilgrimage. The challenge is best met, according to Maul, with the support of other Christians in faith communities, in intentional small groups, and in our own families. Having real conversations about authentic faith and a shared prayer life with a consistent group of companions is a source of encouragement and accountability. But the call to engage goes far beyond such intimate circles. We are ultimately called to engage a broken world with God’s promises and God’s purpose — relationship, restoration, and reconciliation. This book is very accessible and could serve as an excellent resource for small groups or adult education classes, with Scripture, prayers, and thought-provoking questions at the end of each chapter.
JUDITH FULP-EICKSTEAD is associate pastor, Trinity Church, Arlington Va.