The 9 Arts Of Spiritual Conversations: Walking Alongside People Who Believe Differently, by Mary Schaller & John Crilly
[Note: This book was provided free of charge by Tyndale Momentum in exchange for an honest review.]
Before reading this book, I had never heard of Q Place, which holds conversations where the majority of people are questioners or seekers and not believers, but which are set up in order to encourage such people to look to the Bible and take it seriously. Both of the book’s authors happen to be deeply involved in the organization, with Mary Schaller serving as president and John Crilly as a former national field director. There is an irony at the heart of this book, in that it seeks to present a model of Christianity that focuses on respectful dialogue with unbelievers, or those who believe differently, criticizing believers who adopt a model for evangelism that involves a bait and switch, only to write a book that is itself a giant bait and switch affair in that it seeks to promote itself as providing 9 lost arts of spiritual conversations only to end up promoting Q Place. One wonders if the authors were reflective on any level about the hypocrisy of criticizing others for engaging in conversations for the purpose of promoting a certain agenda only to do the same thing. Certainly the authors believe in their organization, but so too do believers believe in the agenda that they are trying to promote. Ironically, this book ends up being a classic example of that which the pages of this book frequently criticize.
Even so, the contents of this book, at least the first 220 pages of it or so, are immensely worthwhile apart from the sales pitch at the end for Q Place in the last two chapters. The authors begin in a good place, looking at the example of Jesus Christ in the way that he related to other people through his heart and habits, and introducing nine relational practices of Jesus Christ that the authors urge us to follow, even if they do not necessarily follow them themselves. The nine practices are divided into three sets of three that take up the next nine chapters of the book: three practices relating to “getting ready” to have a relationship with others by noticing others, praying for others, and listening to others. The next three practices relate to getting started in a relationship with others by asking questions, loving and welcoming others. The last three practices keep a relationship going by facilitating, serving together, and sharing. The last two chapters, which is a case of subtraction by addition given the sales pitch they contain, look at ongoing spiritual conversations believers can have if they set up a Q Place which would help, according to the authors, turn cups of cold water into rivers of living water.
As someone who reads more than my fair share of hipster denunciations of traditional Christianity or consultants seeking to profit off of the desire of churches to grow , this book squarely fits in a tradition of people seeking to promote their own ideas about how Christians should practice that take certain biblical principles, divorce them from biblical doctrines or high-level theological discussion or understanding, and seek to promote the growth of Christianity through a focus on orthopraxy and a criticism of orthodoxy. If the reader can overlook one pro forma reference to the Trinity, apparently done to maintain the authors’ street cred as mainstream Christians, as well as the last forty pages or so of the book, which contain its closing sales pitch to start their own Q Place discussion groups, this book has a lot to offer the reader. To be sure, the authors’ suggestions are not earth-shaking—I mean, listening to people, praying to them, being hospitable to them, asking questions, and loving them ought to be fairly standard behavior for believers with everyone that they encounter, but any reminders for people to be more welcoming and understanding and decent and friendly is welcome. We could all stand to be more loving to others and to be treated more lovingly by others, after all. And if the reader is looking for warm personal stories and an encouragement to better behavior and a focus of people as being created by God and worthy of spending time with and having relationships with, it is a very worthwhile book despite its flaws. Certainly its message is a welcome one.
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