Andy Braner grew up in a conservative, fundamentalist church and it seems that his adult journey has been spent trying to overcome its effect on him. He realized that he had spent a lot of time getting to know about God rather than actually trying to know God and let him influence the way that he lived. As he unpacked his own experiences and why he was taught to respond to certain things in certain ways, he realized that much of the response that he had been taught was governed and fueled by fear.
Braner writes, “We are far too concerned with the outward appearances of daily life without really addressing the core fears brewing deep inside ourselves.” Instead of questioning and spending time in relationship with those with whom we disagree, he says, we attack. We don’t build relationships but build walls instead. He asks his reader to ponder what might happen if Christians began to look at people as people and relationships rather than battles to be won or arguments in which to triumph.
Somewhere along the way, Braner claims, Christians excelled in becoming defenders of the Gospel and of God rather than becoming examples of Christ to the world. In these efforts to protect God and the Gospel, we have actually created places where sin is prohibited and managed to such an extent that people can’t be open and honest with their struggle and where they can’t confess to one another because of the fear that’s driving them. God is not a sales pitch, Braner adds.
In embracing a culture of protection, we have feared the “other,” anyone who is different than us. We have failed to engage them and find common places of thought as starting points. Instead, we have created walls, building them up instead of building the relationships that are so important in which God could work. Braner suggests that we enter into relationships free of agendas and with a simple desire to know the other person and where they are coming from, regardless of the differences in opinions, beliefs, and ideologies.
Throughout this book, Braner shares personal stories about how he has found success in confronting his own fears and found ways to engage the “other” in his life. He shares of praying in a mosque, of engaging a whole group of Jehovah’s Witnesses and inviting them to dinner, of boldly mixing Christian and Muslim teenagers for a week of summer camp, and other stories. He says that, “The most compelling adventures are those that happen when we recognize fear, address it, and move to a place of reliance on what God is doing in the hearts and minds of others.”
Braner questions where Christians are known more by what they are against or by what they are for. In our media-saturated culture, he sees that we have lost the art of healthy dialogue, instead tending to trade it for brief shouting matches between experts in which the winner is the one who yelled the loudest. He adds that, “This practice has done nothing to help us reach out and discuss things in a civilized disagreement. It promotes anger, yelling, and extremism.”
Overall, I didn’t walk away from this book feeling as if Braner had shared anything groundbreaking with the reader. In some ways, he dwelt heavily in generalizations to the point that he made it seem as if there are no Christians out there who are making in-roads in building relationships with those with whom they don’t see eye to eye. In fact, there were times that I felt his stories were shared more for their shock value than because the readers could actually benefit from them. If the average Christian falls into most of the generalizations which Braner lays out, chances are that they wouldn’t be impressed with his stories as much as they might be shocked and turned away.
I appreciate Braner’s heart shining throughout this book. The reader can tell that he is passionate about which he writes. He is passionate about building relationships with those with whom he doesn’t see eye to eye. If you have sought a third way, a way to engage the “other” without offending, turning off, or defeating, Braner offers his own stories as possible suggestions. If you fit into the generalizations of Christians that Braner shares, you might be better served looking elsewhere for a safer and more comfortable read. Braner doesn’t pull any punches and he does so with a purpose. While this book didn’t “wow” me, I don’t feel that it was a waste of time either.
(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Baker Books. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)