Westminster John Knox Press, 248 pages
Reviewed by Emily Berman D’Andrea
John Pavlovitz writes using provocative language and phrases, lacing his sentences with humor and everyday anecdotes and encounters. You may have already sensed that just by the title; if you didn’t, you will definitely pick it up when you encounter chapter titles such as: Love Your Damn Neighbor; Oh, Hell No!; and The Sh*t Is Never Getting Together (which he confesses should probably be the title of the book).
In the introduction we learn the author’s intent: “This book is about the walking: about imagining what love should or could look like if we take that mandate seriously … . It’s about the ways a bigger God is going to yield a greater capacity to love more people, and about what that will cause us to confront and confess and jettison.” While Pavlovitz addresses many of the doctrines that are core to the Christian faith, he looks at them in new ways, particularly at the actions that result from our theological beliefs.
Pavlovitz holds nothing back in his writing — which is engaging, conversational and often distracting. I’d find myself tittering or looking behind me to see if anyone was peeking over my shoulder, and would have to stop reading and wonder why I was reacting this way. I think my reactions were mostly because of the author’s phrasing and word choices rather than his ideas. Or, perhaps Pavlovitz intended to grab the reader’s attention and make us reflect on ourselves and phrased ideas in a way to help readers rethink the ideas themselves. If this was his intent, he succeeded!
In chapter four, Pavlovitz shares his own spiritual journey as well as his theology that, as it turns out, is summed up in the book’s title. “My meandering, five-decade pilgrimage as a theological mutt — from obedient Catholic altar boy to disenchanted teen to hopeful agnostic to defiant atheist to overconfident United Methodist megachurch pastor to deconstructing progressive to humanist Christian to whoever and whatever I am today . . . [has led me to] the sole universal truth I can hold onto — that faith shouldn’t make you a jerk. That’s it.”
Many of the issues that so-called progressive Christians are wrestling with in faith communities, homes, families, neighborhoods and personal lives are addressed. There’s a discussion guide with questions specific to each chapter, making this a strong choice for a group in which issues of justice, evangelism, tolerance and diversity are desired discussion topics. The author’s unique phraseology lends itself to further unpacking and conversation. Pavlovitz writes about “pocket-sized theology when there is an expansive space waiting” and challenges Christians to “stop living so small.” These and many other challenges emerge, making this a great selection for an established small group seeking to delve deeper into some of the thorny areas of liberal Christianity.
Emily Berman D’Andrea serves as pastor and head of staff at Potomac Presbyterian Church in Potomac, Maryland.