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Choose Love Not Power: How to Right the World's Wrongs from a Place of Weakness

I forget exactly what it was, but as I was sitting in the Good Friday service the other night and

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a phrase of Jesus just popped out at me, a word from the gospels that hadn't quite struck me before. You know now that works.

For me--for better or worse, I suppose--this naturally leads me to books and, well, book-ling. I don't think it is "God telling me" to try to sell a certain title, exactly, but I am not going to blush about this. I do think of books that others might read, or I feel a compulsion to name resources for others, often right in the middle of prayers or Scripture or hymns. I think of these as my Spirit-led ad campaigns.

Perhaps I'm just projecting my own needs, connecting the dots of the Biblical text and my own sorry life. Maybe I've got an over-active imagination and ought to leave work at work sometimes. Or maybe God is telling me to tell ya about something.

Well, just in case it is some holy summons, I'm not going to delay.

I kept thinking during that Good Friday service that I should tell people about the new Tony Campolo book, Choose Love Not Power: How to Right the World's Wrongs from a Place of Weakness (Regal; $14.99.)

Yes, I know, for some of us, Tony has been around a long time, he has re-told more stories and shared so many of his favorite anecdotes and Scriptures at conferences and revivals and conventions and camps that some of us can nearly repeat his talks along with him. Lately, I have noticed a few people roll their eyes when I mention him---not so much because they disagree with his vibrant faith or differ with his call to progressive evangelical politics. It's just, well... maybe we could call it Tony Overload. And it makes me sad.

It frustrates me because I don't think that is fair. Campolo is still a master communicator, still has a commendable desire to offer more-or-less traditional Baptist faith with more-or-less socially relevant gospel application. From his books on apologetics (like Partly Right where he gives a generous explanation of the big questions of critics of the faith like Freud and Darwin and Marx, but exposes their errors) to Things We Wished We Had Said, his book on fathering, sweetly and honestly co-written with his adult son, Bart, Tony has written very interesting books that make people think and invite a serious, yet joyful, way of living. Carpe Diem is one of his most popular, you know, and one of my favorites.

Campolo wants people to know the gift of salvation through God's grace, he teaches people how to pray and "get into the Word" and reminds folks of the joys of evangelism. Despite a reputation for hanging with the hurting, and being involved in political stuff, he rails against unrighteousness and names our temptations---from sexual sins to materialism to gluttony. He doesn't come across like a hair shirt, but those who say he is soft on sin must be talking about somebody else.  He preaches about the cross.  And he makes people laugh, and when their guard is down from all the zany storytelling, he invites folks to sign up for prayer meetings, or an experience of urban ministry, or even to give a year to serving the poor; he asks people to at least make a donation to his educational work in Haiti or to adopt a Compassion child or to give service to whatever group is hosting him. He has helped us out here in York more than once, most recently helping us raise money for Bridges of Hope, a mentoring ministry for homeless moms. You got a problem with that?

A brand new book is coming soon, Connecting With Jesus, co-authored with Mary Albert

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Darling of Spring Arbor College (Jossey Bass; $21.95.) I can't wait to see it. They co-authored a really great book a few years ago called The God of Intimacy and Action: Reconnecting Ancient Spiritual Practices, Evangelism, and Justice which is a wonderful combo of stories, Scripture, social engagement and burning passion for not only a deeper, more contemplative faith, but a more robust social witness, in both words and deeds.

Still, the one that came to my mind, pondering Christ's non-violent resistance as Peter lopped off that poor guy's ear and then Christ's quiet witness at the sham trial, as we did a few days ago, was one of Dr. Campolo's very early books. In the 80s it was called The Power Delusion or something like that. It was ahead of its time, with Tony the sociologist analyzing ways we view success and how we relate to power and authority, and Tony the preacher calling us to a radical Christian alternative to the American Dream and the way we exercise control over others. This is a foundational book, yet with such practical implications. It is about how to serve God in ordinary ways on ordinary days, from parenting and home life to thinking about global concerns and our public life. As you might guess, Tony draws on sociologists and cultural critics and theologians to offer a critique of power, our addictions to be in control, our gender relations and how we think about work, and invites us to humility and compassion. It was never a big hit (wonder why?) and went out of print years ago.

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Well, a month ago the evangelical publisher Gospel Light/Regal--God bless 'em for re-issuing John Perkins, too!---somehow got this old book of vintage Campolo back into print. It is expanded and edited and updated for the new century and is, as I said, now called Choose Love Not Power.

It has a crown of thorns on the cover, so maybe I should have listed it a week or so ago. Still, it took my carefully listening sitting in the darkened sanctuary of our Tennebrae service to recall it. Yes, this is a fabulous book to explore after Easter. Christ has shown that His way is true. In fact, he has shown it to be ultimately not just faithful, but effective. It was through this cosmic method---overcoming evil with good--that His claims to Lordship have been vindicated.

In Ron Sider's late 70's classic, Christ and Violence (Wipf & Stock; $15.00) he roots Biblical peace-making not just in a sentimental reading of "love your enemies" or a quaint reminder that we are to "turn the other cheek." More deeply, perhaps, than simple obedience to these bold commands, Sider roots Biblical pacifism in the very nature and ways of God. While we were yet His enemies, Romans 5:10 reminds us, Christ gave His life over for us. That is, nonviolent love of enemies seems to be at the very heart of God, who may have woven it into the fabric of the universe. And old Peter never forgot that lesson as he wrote, at the end of his life, that Christ's episode in the garden is an example for us to follow.

And so, I want to suggest that a great post-resurrection, after-Easter study might be to ask how this Christ-like manner, this forgiveness of enemies, this ironic silence at the trial, this utter humility, might shape our lives, our views of success, our views of power. And Campolo explores this question very well. We highly recommend it and trust that it will make you think for yourself (which is what he asks in a moving afterward, where he admits to the complexity of the matter, and his own ambiguities at times.)

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Yes, Choose Love Not Power is full of Campolo-esque bluster, cool testimonials, and colorful storytelling. I am sure most people will think it is a fun read, a great book to have and to share. And, it is not too difficult, nothing obscure or obtuse, even as he does some serious study, helpfully citing heavy scholars like Christopher Lasch and Philip Rieff. (He also cites his beloved Martin Buber, and tells that wonderful story from Franny & Zooey.) He examines how power works in various settings and wonders how Jesus might want us to act. In a way, it is all too clear: Tony insists that there is a simple choice to be made, and one cannot truly live out a commitment to both ways. We must choose: love or power. I love Mark 10 and Matthew 20, Zechariah 4:6, and 1 Corinthians 1:26-29. I agree mostly with Tony's concerns and appreciate his vivid warning against religious coercion and flexing our political muscles. (Recall that last week here I highly recommended the recent scholarly work from James Davison Hunter, To Change the World where he takes Campolo to task; I'm not sure Hunter has read this portion of Campolo's corpus.)

Regardless, I think I'd tweak Choose Love.. a bit, wondering why he seems to presume that power is illicit, and how we might formulate a more appropriately Christian understanding of power. Does he, like Jacque Ellul, say, have a better doctrine of the fall and idolatry than he does of creation and "natural" norms? (That is, is power an inherently good thing, created by God, which is now most often distorted and misused, or is it itself a manifestation of our fallen order?) Must it be love vs power, either/or? Can not love redeem power?

I think Campy might agree. He seems to suggest as much in some parts of the new edition. He tells the story of his work to bring some moderate land reform and social responsibility to Gulf & Western, the sugar cane corporation that was accused of abusing their role in the economy of the Dominican Republic. It is an admirable story, a great example of limited but effective use of power. I wonder what you think?

Here's to resurrection victory, a display of God's power. He's to newness of life breaking out, newness that certainly effects our views about things, from the bedroom to the board room. Here's to another year of figuring out what it means to be truly faithful to Jesus and His reign, how to be servants of all, even in the ways we use power. Here's to tears of laughter and tears of repentance and tears shed from tender stories told by one of finest evangelical communicators, Dr. Tony Campolo.

Invite somebody into your life to read this together. No eye rolling will be allowed. And no ugly power plays to see who reads it first or finds the most poignant critique. Only playful and mutual discussion and healthy learning allowed.  Of course, as he himself says, you won't agree with it all.  It should be obvious, but there are few books that we sell that we agree with every line; few authors where I fully love all of their work. So?  I think this is a very useful book on a very important topic, by a fine writer and important voice.  Join the conversation!

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How to Right the World's Wrongs from a Place of Weakness

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2 Comments

Great comments!

I continue to appreciate your reviews and general commentary on American Christianity.

Is this special price valid if I stop in next week? I've been meaning to get back to the store. If not, I'll go ahead and order online. Thanks!