Undiluted by Benjamin Corey
I had the privilege of reading an advanced copy of Undiluted by fellow MennoNerd Benjamin Corey. The goal of the book is to help us reclaim an understanding of Jesus and Christian faith that has not been diluted by our culture. In my estimation, it does a great job of accomplishing this goal.
It is a very readable book. That much will stand out right away. I spaced my reading out simply because of a busy summer, but I’m sure doing it in a day or at least a weekend wouldn’t have been challenging. That’s an important quality for a book with this one’s goal. To be more specific, each chapter essentially begins more as a memoir and then shifts to a more general discussion of Jesus’ life and teachings on the topic. The other point I really want to praise the book for is that it is not primarily about what is wrong with the American Church. Criticisms are definitely there, but Ben does not dwell on everything that is wrong – and there is plenty. Instead, he quickly moves past that to start painting a picture of something healthier and more Jesus-like. It is easy for many of us to get stuck in deconstruction. That deconstruction is an important stage, something that many people need now or have needed in the past (I know I did). We just can’t afford to stop there; at some point we need to move on to living out something better.
Finally, on a completely superficial point and maybe the harshest criticism of the book I can come up is that I just don’t like the title. I don’t know why. It is a perfectly logical title. It describes the book’s contents well. I just don’t like the word “undiluted.” I think it is just a weird-sounding word to me. He uses it regularly throughout the book and it actually threw me off a little each time. You can’t write a review without saying something bad, right? That’s all I’ve got.
Ben spans a wide range of topics which have been diluted, particularly in American Christianity but we could really say in many places other than that. I’m not going to spoil all of the goodness, but here are the topics:
Readers here won’t be surprised that two of my favourite chapters were Inclusion and Justice. Here’s a quote from each to whet your appetite:
The truth I came to see is that the message of Jesus isn’t offensive because of who gets left out, but who gets let in. It’s not the exclusivity of the gospel, which is an affront to our sense of justice, but the inclusivity that shocks us – as it did with the religious leaders of Jesus’ time. Jesus began and ended his public ministry the same way: by infuriating the religious conservatives through preaching a radical message that included the excluded and embraced the outcast. The first time Jesus does this, it nearly gets him killed – the second time, it actually does.
Not exactly a picture of the Jesus so many of us grow up with, but it’s true. (pg 50)
Justice, as we see throughout scripture, is less focused on punishing wrongdoing and more concerned with restorative actions designed to bring peace, restoring wholeness to society. When we see themes of justice in the Bible, we quite often see “justice” repeatedly associated with particular groups of people whom God points out are especially in need of our care and protection: the poor, oppressed, vulnerable, widows, orphans, and immigrants. Justice, as we see it in scripture, is defending and caring for the most vulnerable of society so as to restore them to their rightful place, beside us. (pp 96-97)
This article is part of a blog tour for the new book by fellow MennoNerd, Benjamin Corey, entitled Undiluted. You can find all the articles in this blog tour by going to http://mennonerds.com/undiluted-mennonerds. The book was received free of charge from the publisher under no obligation for a favourable review.