11.21.2012

"Bold as Love", by Bob Roberts, Jr.

 

 
RATING: I don't typically begin book reviews with my rating, but I'm going to change course and do that this time.  Bob Roberts Jr wrote a masterpiece with "Bold as Love", and I give it 5 stars out of 5!  I not only liked it, but, more importantly, I was challenged by it.
 
INTRODUCTION: When Handlebar Publishers offered this book for review, I wasn't reading anything at the time.  So after reading the short description I figured I'd check it out.  When I received the book in the mail and opened to the first page, I was immediately on guard because I opened to the "thanks" page.  There, Roberts thanked Prince Turki al-Faisal of Saudi Arabia, his "close Jewish, Muslim, Christian, and secular friends", and Imam Zia of the Irving (TX) Islamic Center."  I immediately expected this to be one of those all-inclusive, all-religions-lead-to-the-same-God kind of books.
 
But I was wrong.
 
MULTIFAITH: Rather than explain what the book is about, and rather than defend the merits of the multifaith principle, I'd prefer to explain what Roberts has challenged me to do.  But first, I'd like to briefly describe "multifaith" in Bob Roberts' own words. 
 
Multifaith suggests "we have fundamental differences, but the best of our faiths teach us to get along" (p.19)  It implies (1)religious adherents are free to maintain their theological convictions without feeling pressured to compromise truth for the sake of "tolerance" and "unity"; and (2) religious adherents can work together for the common good of society.
 
I have to admit, I was initially reluctant to accept this idea of multifaith because I worried there might be pitfalls that would lead to compromise, which would then lead to blending of the religions.  But Roberts makes it clear that this need not be the case.  He proclaimed a strong, Jesus-centered gospel throughout the book, and in one chapter in particular (pp.121-122).
 
"Multifaith is not about syncretism!", he continues.  "Multifaith not only respects but encourages religious people to say exactly what they believe, no matter how stark the differences. But it encourages them to do so in the spirit of peace" (p.136).
 
THE CHALLENGES: The book contained plenty of challenges, and these are some of the thoughts that struck me hardest.
 
1) "[Christians] believe in missions and fund them to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars, yet in the case of the imam in Memphis, we have a man right in our backyard and yet no one wants a relationship with him.  This is shocking and sad" (p.53).
 
This one strikes a chord with me because I have long wondered why we spend so much time and money training Americans to go "over there" when America is as -- if not more so -- multi-cultural / multi-faith as any country in the world.  It is good that we "go into all the world", but we often miss the forest for the trees.  In the case Roberts mentioned, we miss the person needing us right in our own backyard.
 
2) "It is impossible to love someone and still be his or her enemy.  In other words, as Christians we have no enemies" (p.48).  This is one of those comments that inspired me to comment in the margin of my copy of the book.  While I agree with the first sentence, I disagree with the second.
 
When Jesus told us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us, he did not suggest we, as Christians, would have no enemies.  There is a distinct difference between having an enemy and being an enemy.  I think the vast majority of human beings have enemies at some level.  Maybe it's a person or entity who is severely persecuting us, but maybe it is a neighbor who doesn't like us for one reason or another.  Nevertheless, I think it is a certainty that Christians, in fact, will have enemies.  After all, Jesus had enemies. 
 
But it is certainly an impossibility to love a person AND at the same time be that person's enemy. A.W. Tozer once wrote, "Love is not primarily something you feel, but is something you do, and is directly measured by unselfish sacrifice."  So how can one actively love someone AND be in the state of being a person's enemy?  We may have enemies, but we are not to be enemies.  Jesus had enemies, but he was not an enemy to any person.

The enemy passage challenges me to not just pray, but also to reach out (actively love) to those with whom I am at odds, as well as to those with whom I have absolutely nothing in common.  That might be people of a different religion, and it might be people of a different race, or even social class.  So the question I ask myself is this, "Am I being somone's enemy by looking down on them, or by not befriending them for whatever reason?"  If so, I am in the wrong.
 
3)  In one section of the book, Roberts tells how he once prayed with a group of Muslims as they prayed.  He asked them to tell him when to stand, when to kneel, when to bow, etc.  My heart raced as I read this, but Roberts probably figured it would, so he continued with his rationale.  He explained that as he prayed beside them, he prayed for each of the men by name, that God would reveal Jesus to them.
 
He asked, "Did I sense the presence of God? Yes."  He then asked what his reader (me) was sure to ask, "How could I pray with Muslims and feel that?"  I appreciate his answer: "I pray every week with Christians who are cheats, adulterers, thieves, mean, gossips, two-faced...If I can pray with them and feel God's presence, then I reckon a Muslim or a Jew won't hurt a lot when I'm praying" (pp.142-143).
 
No doubt, if you're like me you'll say, "Yeah, but praying with sinners who worship the true God is different from praying with sinners who worship a false god."  I, of course, agree with you.  Roberts continues with the idea, "My worship is focused on God and not those I stand near...My worship is not an emotional experience based on the presence of others but a profound realization of the presence of Jesus.  If I bow to another god, that's one thing.  But if I bow to God made flesh in Jesus, all is well" (p.143).
 
While I'm generally on board with Roberts' multifaith idea, I'm not sure I'm sold on praying in unison with a group of Hindus, or going through the postures, motions, and rituals of Muslim prayer.  Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego come to mind here.  They did not bow at all when Nebuchadnezzar gave the orders to bow to his statue.  Even if they physically bowed before the statue but spiritually bowed their hearts and minds to Yahweh, I get the sense their consciences would have been seared -- and the moral law violated -- by doing so.  They could very well have gone through the motions to save their own skin, but what would it have proclaimed to those around them?  Instead, they stood and received courageously what would come to them, and in the end, it was Jesus who stood in the flames with them -- unseared!
 
4) Roberts astutely reminds us that people of other religions (especially Muslims) are not our enemies.  He points out that our battle is not against "flesh and blood", not against humanity, not against each other (p.156).  He proceeded to point out that Jesus was marvelous at this, for he loved and hung out with Gentiles, drunks, prostitutes even when his own tribe despised those people.  He courageously loved the unlovable, even if it cost him popularity.
 
When Christians hear reports in secular, liberal media about Christianity being evil, we tend to take offense to it because it hurts.  Why does it hurt?  Because we believe the claims of Jesus in the Bible to be true, and the deeply-held convictions become ingrained in us and make us who we are.  
 
Is it possible for adherents of other religions to feel similarly?  When we plaster the Internet (blogs or articles) with messages of, "Islam is evil", it is probably that we assault the very people who hold to their deeply-held convictions and hurt them?  What does it prove when we hurt others?  What does it accomplish?
 
Roberts asks, "When people look at you, what impression are you giving of Jesus?"  Do you love people that others despise?  Maybe this person isn't someone of another race or religion, but is maybe that person is the smelly, ugly co-worker that everyone else picks on.  Will you be courageous enough to be in trouble with your own "tribe" for the sake of loving others who are unlovable?
 
CONCLUSION: Look, you may not like the notion of multifaith.  Maybe it still bothers you and looks like another attempt by a Christian to blend Christianity with other religions.  Trust me, that's not what Roberts is attempting in "Bold as Love".  However, you will not be able to read this book and put it down without asking yourself some very difficult questions.  I shared only a few of the ones that came to mind, and that's because I felt them punch me in the gut stronger than some of the others.
 
Pick up a copy.  You'll be glad you did.  Then, go into all the world...


Disclaimer: I received this book free of charge from Handlebar Publishers in exchange for my unbiased review of it.  All opinions are mine.  I was not threatened or coerced to provide a positive review.

1 comment:

  1. Appreciate this viewpoint of multifaith. Your quoted question "When people look at you, what impression are you giving of Jesus?" really hits the nail on the head. May we be people that others can see Jesus through.

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