book report: Dangerous Church by John Bishop (2011)
I'm a northerner who never experienced barbecue in my youth. The closest I came to barbecue was hot dogs. Then I became a griller and tried out barbecue sauce as a young man. But I don't think I really started to appreciate real southern barbecue until a southerner opened a small restaurant a mile away. I don't really understand why the place was never successful. Perhaps because too many of my northern neighbors had no idea what they were missing. What has this to do with John Bishop's book, Dangerous Church? It's a book, that by the cover and title, seems to dry and overdone, like the first time a northener like myself would look at a meat done in a dry rub at 250 degrees for 5 hours, like the veal ribs I made this weekend. What looks like dry crust, is actually a flavorful jacket holding within tender chunks of meat that fall off the bone and almost melt in your mouth.
One of my other stereotypical faults as a Connecticut Yankee is my cynicism. The garish book cover and the opening high speed informational style of Bishop, pastor of Living Hope Church in Vancouver, WA, came across as dry and tough at first. I didn't hear his voice at first. It almost seemed like it was written by committee. So I put the book down and watched out a recent sermon online from his church. I picked the one on Heaven or Hell?, from April 24, 2011. It was given partly in response to the recent Time magazine article on Hell and Rob Bell's book. I was blown away. First of all the church band performed AC/DC's song, Highway to Hell, and performed it well. I admit I was worried. Was he too relevant to risk saying something actually risky, like Jesus did, and would he stay so contemporary that he'll inundate with platitudes and religiosity, or not. He didn't. He practically got all fire and brimstone up there. In Bishop's reading of the gospels, Jesus was telling the truth that without him, we are all on the highway to hell. I like that. I'm not saying I like that people are going to hell, but I like when an expositor does not interfere with what Jesus said. Bishop does not just offer an altar call, for those who are not saved to become born again, he offers a call to baptism, to anyone in their street clothes that morning who want to begin their new life in dramatic fashion, and people respond, in the service I watched and, according to the book, in every service, every week. They have a dunking pool in front of the stage, and clean towels for all those who did not plan, but are compelled by God to begin their new life with the all important rite for every Christian.
I came away from that viewing not only more comfortable with the ride Bishop wanted to bring me along in his book, but with his voice in my head as I read his words. I received his anecdotes, as I read them and "heard" them in his voice, without suspicion. Some illustrations were lame, but his experiences as a pastor, trying to fully follow God, were challenging and encouraging. One of my pastoral roles in our church is to baptize people. They tend to be very organized. So were Bishop's, until they lost their list of people, and just everyone who was supposed to be baptized that morning to come to the pool. They had planned for sixty, but ended up with God's plan for 300 that morning. Now the spontaneous baptisms are expected.
Towards the end of his book, I appreciated his stories of hiring staff, and his advice to hire from within the community. I can agree with that. But his Biblical examples of all the failures God used to bring his kingdom to earth were very encouraging. I also sympathized with his struggle of betrayal by a staff member and his own efforts to not defend himself, but let God prevail, which he did. The story still seems very raw. Bishop's voice came through very clearly at the end.
This is why, this book is like a good, dry-rub barbecue. It's crusty on the outside, but it's tender and nourishing on the inside, after you take a big bite. I recommend every church leader take a big bite of John Bishop's book, Dangerous Church. The chapters are short, the lessons are not complex, but the stories of Jesus's victories are heartening, even to this crusty Yankee.
I am thankful to Zondervan for a complimentary review copy.