If you’re both a teenager and a Christian, it’s likely that there are some far-off Christians who have a big impact on you. They may be speakers, writers, singers or something else … but these are the people whose very existence convinces you that there’s something in this, that it’s going to be worth sticking with it. American preacher (and, I discovered later, sociologist – even though for a while I didn’t know what one of those was) Tony Campolo was one of these. He wrote a handful of books aimed at young Christians which were funny, to the point and world shaking. His books invited you to imagine and way of following Jesus which was both fun as well as challenging and changing the world in which you lived. It was quite some time later – when I reached a semblance of adulthood – that I finally heard him speak. I was delighted to discover that he was even better in person – funnier, even more intelligent, even more intent on actually doing something about the problems of the world, and remarkably self-effacing. When I met Bev, whom I would later marry, in the course of jobs at hostel for young people who found themselves homeless in London, I discovered she’d first felt the stirring of a call to this type of work on hearing Tony Campolo speak about the rather alarming parable of the sheep and the goats.
We’ve been married nearly 14 years now, and Tony Camplo is still going strong. The more Christians I meet with a concern for social justice, the more I find his fingerprints are all over the souls of Jesus’ people labouring hard in the trenches. People who live and work in these draining contexts can often burn out. That burn-out can take any number of forms … be it physical, emotional, spiritual, psychological, theological or some combination thereof. This book, written by Campolo alongside spiritual director and Communications professor Mary Darling, is the sort of lifeline which will provide a way to stop such burn-out from occurring.
The book seeks to connect ancient spiritual disciplines – such as the prayer of examen, ‘divine reading’ and centering (meditative) prayer – with social action and evangelism. I read it in a season of personal tiredness. I lead a church in a country which is not the country of my birth; I’m surrounded both by the need which most pastors find around them in every church, as well as the immense social need of a country and a local context with severe social problems. I needed fresh energy; I needed a shot of hope. This book helped me find it.
It’s structured simply and well, and is aimed at anyone who wants a deeper Christian faith – and/or one which actually enables them to make a difference in the world around. It establishes what the sometimes scary sounding Christian mysticism is and isn’t, the link between this and both evangelism and justice and the need for an understanding of the gospel which can truly be called holistic. There then follows a journey which seeks to take us closer to God, to deepening our understanding and experience of His love for us; and how that then fuels our evangelism and work for justice; concluding with three simple approaches to deepening our walk with God and examples of how these have been expressed by other Christians in today’s world.
There’s no shortage of books about the practice of Christian spirituality – especially where that concerns people like St Francis of Assisi, Ignatius of Loyola and Catherine of Siena. Such books are usually ends in themselves. Which is not a bad thing – but it can inadvertently encourage a spirituality which spins continually in on itself. This book is one of the very few I’ve come across to seek to link the classic spiritual practices with the service of the last and the least. It put me in mind of writers like Shane Claiborne and Richard Foster – whose work I was unsurprised to find referenced in this book’s conclusion. It’s a book which is not excessively long, and neither is it hard to read. Not is it shallow. It’s started me on a journey; as I continue, I shall revisit its pages and wish there were more of them.
I rated this book 4/5 on goodreads.com