Tuesday, April 10, 2012

a Cross-Shaped Gospel---book review

I was recently asked by Moody Publishers to do a book review on "a Cross-Shaped Gospel: Reconciling Heaven and Earth" by Bryan Loritts. Bryan is the lead pastor of Fellowship Memphis-a multiethnic church that minsters in urban Memphis, Tennessee.

Bryan Loritts’s book a Cross Shaped Gospel presents for the church a vision for a big Gospel. A Cross-shaped Gospel has ten chapters that maintain momentum and keep your interest with unique and different ways the Gospel can be applied on the horizontal plane.

A Cross-Shaped Gospel explains how the Gospel should transform our lives in both our relationship to God and our relationships with people. In the introduction of the book Loritts points out that “Life is at its richest when we are living in close communion with God and loving our neighbors at the same time (p.10).

There is one example in the book of how we can be out of balance in our application of the Gospel’s horizontal and vertical dimensions. The sub-heading is titled, George Whitefield and the Gospel---here Whitefield’s bio is given as one of the greatest preachers of the Gospel in church history. It was said when Whitfield preached, the churches could not hold the people; so they would take to the fields. 

As the story goes; Loritts points out that Whitefield was a slave owner, but not only a slave owner he also fought to have slavery legalized in the state of Georgia. There are other examples in the book of how the Gospel’s horizontal transformative power has not always been realized throughout the history of the church.

On the positive side, Loritts gives us an example of how the Gospel’s horizontal powers worked in the life of the famous evangelist Billy Graham---Loritts gives us this great example on Page (19) “On March 15, 1953, just a few days into his crusade meeting in Chattanooga, Tennessee, he [Billy Graham] personally removed the ropes that separated the black and white sections of the audience.”

Loritts goes to the New Testament to show how the Gospel transforms relationships by using the example of how the Jews and the Gentiles were united by the cross of Christ. We are also given the example of Jesus passing through Samaria and taking the time to talk to the non-Jewish Samaritan woman. We are also given insight into the relationship between Matthew (the tax collector) and Simon (the revolutionary). Matthew was the traitor, while Simon fought against those who Matthew aligned himself with (the Roman Government), but it was the power of the Gospel that brought these two totally opposite people together.

On page (30), Loritts notes that, “you can’t reach out without first reaching up,” we are then told that Loving God must be first and that loving our neighbor must be seen through the lens of our Love for God. In this light, Loritts makes a critique of our liberal churches today by noting, “The liberal church today might well be described a elevating the command to love our neighbor over the command to love God with the totality of our being” (p.34).

With all that being said---the most glaring weakness of the book is the lack of theological explanation on the vertical dimension of the cross. If one is looking to find any real solid teaching on Soteriology, justification by faith, sanctification of the believer, or any major doctrine, I would note that this book would not fill that need.

The reason I brought that topic into the review is because of the books title, a Cross-Shaped Gospel: Reconciling Heaven and Earth. While Loritts does note that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is a matter of life and death importance to him, and he is careful and cognizant that many churches make an idol out of diversity, still the majority of the book by far concentrates on the horizontal dimensions of the Gospel, leaving the reader with a sense of vertigo.

Under the sub-heading The Gospel and Race on Page (72), Loritts uses Numbers 12:1-4 to show that God judged Aaron and Miriam for the sin of racism. I feel that Bryan Loritts took some interpretative liberty with this passage. While the passage (v.1) does say that Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Cushite women---any solid interpretation would show at best that, that was if any, a pretext to the real reason for their attack on Moses.

We see the real reason for the attack in (v.2) “Has the Lord only spoken through Moses,” and then they said “He has also spoken through us.” Then we see God saying that there is only one mouth piece that I’ve been using and that is my servant Moses (vs. 6-8). The judgment of God came upon Miriam and Aaron because they questioned the authority of Moses, not because of any racism on Miriam or Aaron’s part.

I would recommend this book to all who need to feel the full weight of the Gospel. This book would make a great small group study tool; for it has the potential to act as a spring board into many fruitful discussions, but I would look for a seasoned small-group leader to guide the discussions.

Thank your Bryan Loritts for your front-line work in declaring the Gospel of Jesus Christ to a culture that is heading the wrong way real fast.

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