Tuesday, November 30, 2010

LHP Review: Danger, Danger!

Labberton, Mark. The Dangerous Act of Loving Your Neighbor: Seeing Others Through the Eyes of Jesus. Downers Grove: IVP, 2010. 236 Pages. (Pre-Release Galley reviewed.) Hardcover. $20.00. http://www.ivpress.com/ (LHP)

The topic of human injustice and oppression is a perennial problem making it a worthy topic for Christian thought and examination. Mark Labberton provides a good entree into the subject in The Dangerous Act of Loving Your Neighbor. On every page, the reader is challenged to demonstrate and give the love of God in Christ to one’s neighbor. Labberton follows the consistent example of Jesus in encouraging Christians to see people as human beings created in the image of God rather than a nuisance, inconvenience, or problem to be avoided. The call to love people of the world in real, tangible ways is simply a basic, though imperfectly practiced, conviction of the Christian faith that is rooted solidly in the Biblical witness. The author argues persuasively that showing love is not simply a matter of doing a few good deeds from time to time, but rather a new heart that is being transformed by the love and grace of Jesus, to enter into the life of Christ Himself by faith and obedience.         

The transformation of Christian hearts that Labberton envisions is described provocatively in a three-fold manner: how we perceive, name, and interact with people in the world. Though each is described in separate chapters, they are intertwined and play upon each other. Injustice and oppression, which the author rightly acknowledges grow out of sinful human hearts, are allowed to flourish because people do not see their fellow human beings as being created in God’s image, do not honorably name them for who they are, nor act toward them in a way that reflects their status as unique and special individuals. If, for example, a person is seen as a commodity to be used and exploited, that person will be named appropriately to match their perceived status (i.e., slave, ugly, expendable, and so forth). Consequently that person will be treated and acted upon accordingly (i.e., forced into slavery; sexually, economically, or socially exploited, etc.).

One very helpful feature of this book is the “Reflection” sections scattered throughout the chapters. Penetrating questions are presented that are intended to help the reader evaluate how they see, name, and act regarding people they encounter via direct, personal contact, news media, church and charitable programs, etc. The questions are offered not as a means of inducing guilt but rather to train hearts and minds that are redeemed by Christ to reflect the love of Jesus in the world. If a reader is looking for a “how to” approach to being more compassionate and just, then this is not the book for you. Labberton is aiming at a deeper, more profound change in human hearts that produces a virtuous character and habitual inclination to act more justly and compassionately.     

If there is one area of weakness in the book, it is an overreliance on the number of anecdotal stories. Every story serves the intended purpose in the book: to help put flesh and blood on the need to see, name, and act rightly toward all people but especially for the oppressed. This is a minor criticism and does not detract from the valuable service the book provides.

 The Dangerous Act of Loving Your Neighbor is a very worthwhile book. There are many valuable and memorable gems scattered throughout its pages. The author’s insight of how the simple, yet often taken-for-granted, response of “you’re welcome” is being replaced with “no problem” is absolutely priceless and worth the price of the book. That simple observation encapsulates how people see, name, and treat one another. In many ways this book is an easy read, but if read well, the impact will be profound both upon the reader and those who receive their love in acts of justice, mercy, and compassion. 

The Rev. Kenneth Mars is Pastor of St. John's Lutheran Church, Kimball, Nebraska and Immanuel Lutheran Church, Burns, Wyoming, Secretary of the Wyoming District of the LCMS, and a regular contributing reviewer to QBR