Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Review of "Jesus Outside the Lines"

Presbyterian pastor Scott Saul's new book, Jesus Outside the Lines: A Way Forward for Those Who are Tired of Taking Sides tackles issues that bring out the "unchristian" side of many believers on Facebook or Twitter. He looks at issues from many angles and borrows thoughtful quotes from both Christians and atheists to send a message of respect and tolerance.

Early in the book, Sauls tells the story of how Dan Cathy, founder of Chick-fil-A, and viewed as either a hero or bigot depending on one’s views on gay marriage, never “personally affirmed or joined” the Christian rally to support Chick-fil-A after the LGBTQ community boycotted the restaurant chain. In fact, in the aftermath of Cathy’s public statements about viewing marriage as between one man and one woman, he discreetly reached out to a gay activist in an attempt to dialog. Instead of defending his rights to religious freedom, Cathy approached the activist in an attitude of learning and expressed regret that people were mistreated in the name of his company. Sauls sums up this model of being Jesus outside the lines of our particular Christian tribe’s doctrines on page xxvii with this:

Deep disagreement and no apologies for what he believes. 
Love, respect, listening, and friendship. 
At the same time.

The author also takes this posture as he expresses his views in chapters addressing politics, abortion, same-sex marriage, the institutional church, money matters, constructive critique, hell, hypocrisy, suffering, and true humility. Without apologizing for his conservative views on issues that often polarize Christians from nonbelievers (and from each other), Sauls follows his own advice to see the good in all viewpoints by striving to find points of agreement with those who might disagree with him.

I thought the best chapter in the book was “Chastity or Sexual Freedom,” which firmly maintains the Evangelical perspective on sexual purity before marriage and marriage between one man and one woman, but also urges the church to be the place where singles and celibate homosexuals could find unconditional love and deep, meaningful relationships. Here I need to pause to say that I’m not 100 percent sure of my views on gay marriage. Though I grew up holding the belief that the Bible expressly forbids homosexuals from acting on their desires, I honestly wish that maybe one day most Christians will interpret the biblical passages on homosexuality differently, just as Christians see verses mentioning slavery much different today than 300 years ago. I wish that those born with the desire to have a loving, exclusive marriage relationship with a soul mate of the same sex could do so in good conscience. I know there are many gay Christians who wish this as well.  As a pastor of a large  Presbyterian church, the author says he serves many such men and women in his congregation, so he speaks from a place of humility. But to the argument that gay marriage is a civil rights issue and Christians are going to be on the wrong side of history, Sauls makes a passionate, loving observation that when gay Christians surrender their inborn desire to pursue a homosexual relationship, “it is a surrender that each of them has considered worthwhile, not because Jesus is a roadblock to love but because Jesus is love itself” (144).

Again, it’s this characteristic attitude of being unapologetic for his Christian beliefs, yet respectful and open to what others experience and believe that makes this book worth reading to those who follow Jesus, no matter on which side of the issues they fall. 

*I received a complimentary copy of this book from Tyndale in exchange for my honest review.*

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