- File Size: 908 KB
- Print Length: 243 pages
- Publisher: B&H Books (August 1, 2009)
- Publication Date: August 1, 2009
- Sold by: Amazon.com Services LLC
- Language: English
- ASIN: B004T0AAPC
- Text-to-Speech: Enabled
- Word Wise: Enabled
- Lending: Enabled
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #138,884 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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When the Church Was a Family: Recapturing Jesus' Vision for Authentic Christian Community Kindle Edition
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About the Author
Joseph H. Hellerman is professor of New Testament at Biola University in La Mirada, California, and helps pastor Oceanside Christian Fellowship in nearby El Segundo. He holds degrees from Biola (Master of Divinity and Master of Theology, Old Testament) and the University of California (Bachelor of Arts in English and Masters of Arts in English and History of Christianity).
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Never once does he appear to go down the street and ask the Korean American church about living as a collectivist community, or the African American church about solidarity with their brothers and sisters. About raising their children as a village.
The only person of color or member of a collectivist community that he appears to directly interview for this work, was a single Iranian student.
He also misses entirely the historical and sociological forces that created our individualist society, the foremost being economic and social power. Something his doctor and lawyer SoCal church has a lot of. On the contrary, he appears to treat the concept of Christian empire with either indifference, or approval. Which makes sense, considering how his own descriptions of his church sound like a nightmare of control and manipulation. Maybe it’s not, maybe he’s done a horrible job explaining it. But, he wrote this book. So I can only judge him by his words.
Not once does he use himself and his own failings, mistakes, or struggles as an illustration. He prefers to throw his wife under the bus, saying she struggles with “throwing things away,” and has “OCD.” (Therefore, she “struggled” with having her house invaded, completely rearranged, and some of her stuff thrown away, without any of their family’s consent or knowledge.) A young girl he was a youth pastor for, is described as “rotund” in a story that has a massive glaring question mark, and a sense that he’s not telling us everything. A woman in his church is described as having a favorite TV show that is “trashy” and completely without merit.
Not content to make jabs at women who are easily identifiable by anyone who knows his church, he makes general jabs at women with snarky jokes about the time they spend in the bathroom, or how women want lots of stuff and big houses. “Hurhur, women, amiright?” (He also, for some reason, plunges into “men are from Mars, women are from Venus,” despite that having nothing to do with the point he was trying to make.)
It’s no wonder, frankly, that he works to make the marriage relationship (the whole “becoming one flesh”) so unimportant in this book. He seems to have a deeply low view of women, despite being the father of two daughters.
He points out the dangers of building a cult, but then also disparages people who had the audacity to marry Christians outside his church, and tells his church members to submit to his suggestions because he’s speaking for God. But this isn’t a cult, he argues, because he’s got a team of leaders, and cults can only form if there’s one leader. The reality of #churchtoo shows how bankrupt this view is. A group of powerful men are more likely to circle the wagons and protect their own, than listen and respond to an abuse victim.
Honestly, I could go on. I do, in the notes on my Kindle copy of this book.
But here’s the thing. I DO agree that our churches are too individualistic. I’m speaking as a single woman here. I DO think we need to rediscover a family orientation. But that’s driven by power. We’ve exchanged Christian love for Christian power, and the result is a hot stinking mess in the eyes of the world. The solution is not more power over people.
It’s time to stop talking, and listen.
Listen to the voices of churches who’ve been living in the margins for years, and have had to become a family to survive.
It’s time to listen to our black and brown brothers and sisters, and study what they’ve been doing all along. To learn from their experience.
It’s time to stop talking about submitting to authority, and start teaching healthy personal boundaries. It’s time to stop talking about love and start teaching people about emotional and relational bonding, and our deep need for this, regardless of social or economic power. It’s time to stop sheltering abuse in the name of “not airing our dirty laundry” or “biblical church discipline.”
If you want to rediscover how to make the church a family, then go ask the people who are living this. Not a white, privileged academic who’s studied ancient Rome.
Hellerman treatment of Scripture is troubling at times. He seems to argue that it is wrong to emphasize the death of Christ disproportionately (pg. 62-63), but this is the precise emphasis that the gospel writers make! Each of them gives disproportionate attention to the final week of Jesus' life. Does Hellerman now challenge Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, who wrote the perfect, inerrant Word of God? Hellerman also makes the claim that the solidarity between brothers was the most intimate bond in ancient Jewish society. This is an outlandish claim; especially when considering that Paul describes the marriage bond as "one flesh", likening it to a picture of Jesus Christ and his church. He never shows with acumen why the fraternal bond, and not the parental or marital bond, is the deepest bond in all of human relationships. In other words, he makes his claim but does not justify it with clear, sound biblical exegesis.
This book is not good. It is helpful for its aim of providing perspective on Christian community. But it's great flaw is not in the premise (authentic, loving, sacrificial, highly-prioritized Christian community). It's flaw is in it's methodology.