Morgan Guyton. How Jesus Saves the World from Us: 12 Antidotes to Toxic Christianity. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2016. See here to purchase the book.
Morgan Guyton blogs at the “Mercy Not Sacrifice” blog at Patheos and has written a number of online articles. He has also been a United Methodist pastor. In How Jesus Saves the World from Us,
Guyton critiques what he considers to be toxic Christian attitudes.
More saliently, Guyton offers what he believes is a constructive
Christian alternative, referring to Scripture and his own experiences.
This constructive alternative concerns one’s attitude towards sin and
atonement, one’s view of Scripture, and one’s spirituality.
People who feel burned out by conservative evangelical Christianity
will probably enjoy this book. At the same time, while many may
stereotype Guyton as a liberal mainliner, he is not entirely that, for
he does seem to embrace the historicity of the virgin birth and Jesus’
literal resurrection in this book. For Guyton, these events are
examples of God doing something new in history, encouraging people to
hope in God’s fresh activity.
Guyton also is edified by Roman Catholicism and Orthodox traditions.
He speaks in favor of sacraments that allow people to sense the faith,
and he tells a beautiful story of how he used to visit regularly a
Catholic mass and respected the awe for the holy that he observed
there. Moreover, while Guyton is critical of elements and attitudes
within evangelicalism, he embraces elements of conservative
In terms of positives, Guyton does offer food for thought, along with
honest and vulnerable anecdotes. His story about visiting the Catholic
mass was excellent, but so was his insight into Jesus’ parable of the
sower. Guyton observed that the sower was wasteful in scattering the
seed, even towards ground where the seed would not grow. For Guyton,
that means that God is continually speaking to us, even when we are not
receptive. Guyton’s stories about the humility that he observed in
dying mainline churches, which he had previously considered “lukewarm,”
also stood out.
Guyton’s critiques of evangelical attitudes drew an “Amen!” from this
reviewer, and yet Guyton also told an endearing story about a friend of
his who was once a progressive and became a conservative after being in
a conservative Christian addiction program. Guyton respects this
person’s path, even if it is not Guyton’s own, and Guyton views this
person as a fellow co-worker for the Kingdom. Building bridges and
respecting another’s path are commendable.
In terms of criticisms, I have three.
First of all, on page 128, Guyton states: “When was the last time you
invited a homeless person into your home to eat at your table? I sure
haven’t.” Guyton is implying that we should do this, while
acknowledging that he has not (at least prior to this book). People may
have understandable reservations when it comes to letting people into
their home, however. Guyton should probably lead by example on this
before he tells others what to do, and not only because it is tiring to
see progressive Christians (not all, but many) put heavy burdens on
people that they themselves do not carry. By leading by example, Guyton
can tell stories about how something like this is done, and then other
Christians may not be as apprehensive about taking that kind of step.
Second, on page 122, Guyton talks about an officer who shot an
African-American woman. Responding to friends who knew this officer and
said that he was a Christian man, Guyton states: “I don’t doubt Encinia
is a good Christian man who believes that he must respond severely to
any challenge to his complete authority.” That is a very judgmental
statement. Guyton may have been saying this to set the stage for his
excellent critique of Franklin Graham, who said that police shootings
can be avoided through obedience to authority. As Guyton astutely
notes, Jesus challenged authority! But Guyton could have made that
point without presuming to know the motives of the officer.
Third, Guyton talks about how he has been jealous of famous
evangelical pastors who pack auditoriums, but that God has used his
relative lack of fame to teach him about the Kingdom. Guyton should
have told more anecdotes to illustrate this. Earlier, he told a story
about how a lesbian mainline pastor reached out to him at a low point in
his life, but he should have elaborated about the lessons of the
Kingdom that he has encountered in humble settings. That would have
clarified his point, while balancing out—-or better, overshadowing—-his
I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review.
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