Unsettled Christianity

Gloria Dei homo vivens – St Irenaeus
January 7th, 2014 by Joel Watts

Review of Discerning the Body: Searching for Jesus in the World

Jason Byassee has a generous orthodoxy and a healthy writing habit. For nearly the past decade, Byassee has written articles, blog posts, and offered other literary creations for Christianity Today, the Christian Century, First Things, and Duke’s Faith and Leadership webzine among other venues. His goal seems to have been to wrestle openly with a pastoral response to a secular culture. What he finds, like Jacob of old, is that God is very present even in the darkest of nights. Indeed, Byassee promises us that Jesus can still be found and found in places evangelicals and other Protestants may not look.

Our author has collected several dozen essays and categorized them into 8 parts, covering a wide range of material. They are, even in the categories, not necessarily linear. Rather, the categories are best understood as wide catalogues. The areas covered include, but not limited to, Catholicism, Sports, the African Church, and even popular Evangelicalism. What unites these categories? Jesus. Jesus and his Church have not departed, but as Scripture promises us, continues. This is the message Byassee insists upon. And how does this happen? Because Jesus is ever-present.

Like the author, I am a member of the United Methodist Church. However my heart lies awash in the Tiber so his section on Catholicism was of a particular interest to me and is a section I will highlight in this review. While Byassee makes a mistake about Wesley’s rosary (137; even Luther had one), what he presents in these 8 chapters of Part 4 is a balanced a respectful view of Roman Catholicism and a Wesleyan discipline not afraid, like Wesley himself with his out-stretched arm, to find Jesus even in those traditions with which he disagrees. He covers in one essay a Protestant view of Marian veneration that would, I believe, invite positive conversation from St. John Damascene. He treats the Mass and Latin liturgy with the same respect. It is not simply that Byassee finds Jesus in these practices, but he exhibits Jesus when he displays his this charity of respect to others.

During a seminary class, I was required to read and comment on Jason Byassee’s previous book on the Small ChurchI made no issue with the fact I believed Byassee a self-centered and self-righteous, even pompous pastor. I may need to reconsider my earlier estimation of the author given the full breadth of these essays. They show a remarkable kindness and appreciation of the nooks and crannies of where the Church is. The Church is in the split of the wood and under the stone. Indeed, the Church hides in plain site. If we look, we find Jesus because Jesus is still here and is okay for Protestants to understand that. This is marvelous book and one worth taking up and reading.

Joel Watts
Watts holds a MA in Theological Studies from United Theological Seminary. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, analyzing Paul’s model of atonement in Galatians, as well as seeking an MA in Clinical Mental Health at Adams State University. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion, 2013), and Praying in God's Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014).

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