Richard Bushey’s book, The Open Minded Christian: How to Engage Charitably with Fellow Sinners presents a message that we often need to hear. That message is one of Christian love for neighbor.
Bushey outlines this necessary love of neighbor broadly in the first several chapters, noting that too often Christians tend to treat other Christians as though they were necessarily enemies of the faith. Moreover, this lack of charity extends to non-Christians as well. Repeated challenges are issued throughout the book for Christians to re-examine their own attitudes.
Several of the examples used to this regard are utilized very effectively. Bushey leads with a hot-button word like “evolution” or “homosexuality” and then turns around and presents analysis of how Christians tend to react to such topics. After that, he issues a call to Christians to act more Christlike in disagreement and to avoid jumping to conclusions about the “other” when it comes to issues like these. Thus, in the chapter on homosexuality, Bushey notes how quick many Christians are to disown or disavow people who are homosexual, thus leading to a continuing circle of anger and frustration. These and other examples are enlightening and help to bring to light how we ought to have a greater love of neighbor, even if we do not love everything about them.
A difficulty with the book is that there are many assertions about how certain groups shouldn’t split that ultimately seem unsubstantiated. For example: “[T]here is no ecclesiological reason that Calvinists and Arminians cannot congregate together” (7). First, what is meant by an “ecclesiological reason” as opposed to some other reason? A little ways down on the same page, Bushey seems to define what is meant by the term “ecclesiological reason”: “That is to say that if a church’s general practice is different from another, then creating different denominations make sense.” Second, why limit the scope of separation between denominations/churches to whatever is meant by “ecclesiological” reasons?
Given the definition Bushey apparently offers for “ecclesiological reason,” though, it seems that groups like Calvinists and Arminians do have reasons not to congregate together. For, if the umbrella is “general practice,” then many Calvinist churches have a general practice to speak of the sovereign decree of God in sermons and Bible studies; while many Arminian churches have a general practice to critique Calvinism from the pulpit (I have experienced both instances personally in different churches). Just a paragraph or so later, Bushey further clarifies, claiming that such ecclesiological differences are to be differentiated from “secondary” or “tertiary” differences, but again we have no definition of what is meant by those. I doubt that most convinced Arminians or Calvinists would feel their adherence to those sets of theological teachings are merely secondary or tertiary, given that it often comes back to the doctrine of God; but that is neither here nor there. The point is that some definitions offered at the outset would improve this work immensely.
Another problem is that Bushey at times mischaracterizes theological opponents when trying to demonstrate we ought not to do that very thing. For example, in section in which he is arguing that Christians ought to challenge their own beliefs in order to see if they match with reality, he writes, “The person who believes that water baptism washes away sins should dive into Romans 3-5 and try to prove that their view is wrong. They should read the text closely with the end in mind of proving that salvation comes by faith alone to the exclusion of baptism” (73). But this is a clear misunderstanding of what baptismal regeneration teaches. As one who affirms that (a Lutheran), I was shocked to see how my view was so clearly misrepresented here. It’s not as though by believing in baptismal regeneration, I deny salvation by faith alone. Far from it, and this shows how crucial a misunderstanding Bushey has here, for he seems to think that the view entails a kind of works-righteousness. Instead, Lutherans see baptism as a means of grace–an act of God; not a work of humanity. It was pretty jarring to have such a clear lack of understanding in a book that continually encourages understanding the other side.
Another example of this is the offhanded comment on the hypostatic union as allegedly entailing a kind of contradiction: “In the case of the hypostatic union, adherents deny that there are two persons within Christ, even though their view logically entails it” (88-89). Given that the hypostatic union has historically been affirmed as an orthodox understanding of Christology, and is used exactly to demonstrate that the two natures of Christ explicitly do not entail two persons, this is an astonishing statement. Indeed, one might ask how, exactly, two natures “logically entails” two persons. It doesn’t, and this basic, nonchalant dismissal of orthodox Trinitarian theology as being “inconsistent” is disappointing, to say the least.
The Open-Minded Christian is ultimately an uneven ride. The central message is one that needs to be heard, but it is surrounded by some serious misunderstandings and misrepresentations that make it difficult to take it as seriously as we ought to. It is worth a read for the good examples, but requires a critical eye.
+Some examples utilized quite effectively
-Theologically suspect at times
-Some basic misunderstandings of opposing views
-Some grammatical errors
Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of the book for review by the author. I was not obligated to provide any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.
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