Book review: Coffee Shop Conversations, Dale and Jonalyn Fincher
The really big deal is for Christians to be reminded that we need to be real human beings and treat others like real human beings made in God's image. If you're a Christian, you'll get some solid biblical background for doing the human act, and if you're not, you'll understand that a lot of Christian obnoxiousness is rebellion against the gospel and not an expression of it.
Part I, "Making Spiritual Small Talk," isn't really about small talk. It's about how to relate as a Christian to our fellow humans, which is a big deal. It makes enough valuable points to make it worth the price of the book.
For instance, it argues capably that everyone we meet has something valuable to teach us about God, no matter what their theology.
Unfortunately, the book does get shallow in the usual evangelical way. For instance, it brushes off the history of Christian atrocities with the excuse that people of all kinds violate their professed beliefs and that that doesn't mean the beliefs are wrong. For instance Buddhists on occasion engage in violence, and that doesn't necessarily invalidate Buddhist teaching.
All that is true, but irrelevant. The problem is not Christian misbehavior due to our human frailty. The problem we have to deal with is the wickedness that Christians teach and aspire too, which they would not do if they were not Christians. We owe people a real accounting for how Christianity routinely pours spiritual filth into the world and teaches people to make evil conduct a goal. Certainly the Bible addresses that in Jeremiah, who declares that the prophets of Jerusalem have actually strengthened the hands of evildoers (Jeremiah 23), and for sure in the gospels, whose value is in their description of Christianity today, not in the long dead scribes and Pharisees whose ways and venomous teachings have been our own for many centuries with only rare dissent. An honest accounting of our history and the corruption in the foundation of our doctrine is called for, and here the book does not deliver.
This carries into Part II, "Restocking Your Tools," in which there is some perfectly good advice, although even that is insipid compared to Part I. It fails to rise above imposing various rules of interpretation on the Bible which are not found in it, thereby making these man-made rules supreme authority. Reading stuff like this makes me wonder how evangelicals can criticize Roman Catholics for subjecting the Bible to church traditions.
It turns out that not subjecting the Bible to human tradition is more difficult than it looks. My own view is that without God being around, and without us holding out for it being right all the way down, it just can't be done. In Part I, there was some promise of getting there, but Part II fails to follow through.
Part III, "Helping Friends Home," feels to me like a review of Part I, a good read. I have little more to say about it, because I already have.
Overall, an odd mix of bold and timid. It's hard to follow Jesus and get really clear of the Christian crap. Dale and Jonalyn Fincher are working on it.