Life In Community: Joining Together To Display The Gospel, by Dustin Willis
Having read another book by the author which I happened to enjoy, I was struck by the way that this book resembled the writings of Bonhoeffer and Nouwen, who were both deeply interested in the way that believers lived in community , or at least should. I must admit this is not something I do very well. The author speaks a lot in this book about the isolation that many Christians feel and this is definitely something that I am familiar with, but I must admit that I do not feel that I do community very well. The author’s fondness for telling personal stories about himself and his own life struck me as a bit awkward as well, especially as the author had a lot of things to say about such issues as his own struggles to be a good husband and a miscarriage his wife had. Hopefully his family is okay with his candor, because even as a fairly candid writer about my own life, I found much in the author’s approach that struck me as uncomfortable, and given that the author was encouraging believers to live in community with other believers who encourage them, this may not have been the best way to go about it.
Like the author’s previous book, this one is about 180 pages and also ends with a leader’s guide for a six week discussion course on the book’s material that includes questions for readers to talk about with others in a group. The first part of the book contains three chapters on forming a community with a discussion of the need for community (1), the common ground that believers have in their faith if not their personal interests (2), and the way that a relationship with God and others should help us be continuously transformed into the image of God and Christ (3). After this the author talks about some of the necessary values for living in godly community, like bringing our best to the table of fellowship (4), refusing to wear masks to hide our true selves (5), hating the right things like evil and injustice (6), being stuck like glue to what is good (7), behaving with kindness, affection, and honor towards other believers (8), persevering together and providing encouragement (9), meeting the needs of our brethren when we become aware of them (10), and pursuing hospitality even it means exposing our imperfections (11). The third section urges the reader to do something and start now to building a strong community (12) before the closing leader’s guide.
One thing that can be praised about the author’s approach is his acknowledgement that life in community with other believers is messy. We have to be comfortable in showing ourselves to others for who we are and others have to be comfortable in showing themselves to us. This is not an easy task even if we are the sort of people who work hard on our honesty. Yet if we are to avoid being isolated, we have to find community and feel as if we are part of a larger world that cares about us even if it often places unwanted demands on us and is nosy and intrusive. Yet when we enter into a relationship with God at baptism and have the Holy Spirit placed inside of us by God, we are called to be one with our fellow brethren as God and Jesus Christ are one, and that intimacy is a scary and messy thing. It is little wonder in an age as terrified as intimacy as our own is–and I certainly speak for myself here–that we would be terrified of genuine community, but that is what we signed up for when we became a part of God’s Family at baptism. Living up to that call is by no means an easy one.
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