by Margot Starbuck
Trade Paperback: 272 pages
Publisher: Baker Books
Released: March 1, 2013
Source: Review copy from the publisher.
Book Description, Modified from Back Cover:
Scouring the Gospels for the Jesus who felt as uncomfortable as she did around disreputable sinners, Margot Starbuck was surprised to find no record of him there. Instead she found the kind of grace that would actually be received by those in bars, in strip clubs, and at drag queen bingo. Starbuck explains how there are no "Special Sinners" who are more deserving of contempt than others and challenges us to a radical acceptance of the ones God loves and receives.
When I read the book description and the first chapter, I thought this book would look deeper into how Jesus interacted with those that the religious looked on as especially sinful and explore how different people are following Jesus' example. I was expecting the focus to mainly be on examples of people "doing things right," but instead it was primarily on criticizing people who are "doing things wrong."
While I'd agree that the people in her examples weren't approaching people in a very loving way, I also didn't feel comfortable with the language she used. It invited the reader to mock the people she criticized and categorize them as an "other" that aren't worthy of being understood or loved--the exact thing she'd been saying we shouldn't do to people. Near the end of the book, she talked about loving those we don't agree with yet she didn't seem to realize that she wasn't acting very loving toward certain people in the proceeding chapters. By the end of the book, I was left feeling deeply troubled by the difference between how she believes we should behave and how she was actually behaving. Will readers do as she says or what she's demonstrating by example?
The first few chapters were actually pretty good and did include looking at the gospels to see how Jesus interacted with sinners. Each chapter was on a different topic rather than building directly on each other. Most of each chapter was a modern story that illustrated her main point for that chapter. About a third of the way in, the tone of the book shifted: her arguments started to be based more on her opinions than on what Jesus did or said, and her tone toward Christians that she didn't agree with got harsher.
Thinking over how she decided Jesus would act today, I don't think Jesus really would go to a Gay Pride parade or into a strip bar or into a porn convention. To use passages she looked at: we don't see Jesus sitting down with the tax collector as he collected more money for taxes than he had to (for his own gain) to show His love. We don't see Jesus telling the Jews to not hate what the tax collector was doing or supporting laws to force people to act like they support the tax collector's behavior.
Even if Jesus would go into strip bars and porn conventions, I doubt that this is a good idea for the rest of us if for no other reason than we're more prone to give into temptation...even if we think we won't be. I was disappointed that she didn't talk more about the many ways to show God's love that don't involve putting yourself in a position of temptation.
I visit prisoners, mentor at-risk kids, and generally try to reach out to the forgotten. Showing a genuine love and concern for a person often creates a trust that opens the way to talk about Jesus and how He can make our lives whole and abundant--things that everyone wants. I appreciate that the author was trying to steer people toward showing genuine love as an effective way to reach "Sinners."
If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.
Excerpt: Read an excerpt using Google Preview.