I’m in beautiful Agoura Hills, California, at the annual Hashivenu Forum, a Messianic Jewish think-tank (in my mind, the Messianic Jewish think-tank). The topic this year is Community and Messianic Judaism.
I was asked to give one of the two book reviews and was assigned a book the president of a Christian University, a primer on community as it relates to counseling and wellness. I would not have picked this book out, but I’m glad it was assigned. I learned more than I expected and spent a week or two discussing it at synagogue before coming here. The book (I’ll name it and say more after the jump) says that we are not individualistic persons, but were made to be in community. Modern therapeutic views of wellness have missed this and religious communities (most are actually what the author calls pseudocommunities) have failed to get it right.
The book is Counseling and Community: Using Church Relationships to Reinforce Counseling by Rod J.K. Wilson, the president of Regent College in Vancouver, British Columbia.
Here is one excerpt from my review (the whole thing is over 3,000 words and I’d gladly email it to you if you request it at yeshuaincontext at gmail):
After a brief introduction to modern attitudes about community and nostalgia for what Wilson says were only allegedly better days, he gets into issues of the definition of community. Wilson doesn’t want this notion to be vague, simply a “warmly persuasive word describing no particular set of relationships at all.”
The first specific definition is that of Scott Peck, from his book The Different Drum:
. . . a group of individuals who have learned how to communicate honestly with each other, whose relationships go deeper than their masks of composure, and who have developed some significant commitment to “rejoice together, mourn together,” and to “delight in each other, make others’ conditions our own.”
Peck’s three fundamental qualities of community are inclusivity, commitment, consensus. Peck says that exclusivity is a killer of community. Differences within the group are to be expected, but through high level of commitment people will remain together despite them.
Wilson agrees with Peck’s definition, but differs with him over the possibility of community amongst non-Christians. He quotes Bonhoeffer from Life Together:
Christianity means community through Jesus Christ and in Jesus Christ. No Christian community is more or less than this.
Wilson says that Christianity is not a guarantee of community, but that a Christian cannot have community at the deepest levels in a non-Christian group.
Part of Wilson’s reason for believing in this uniqueness of community in Christ is that a theology of community taught in Christ is vital. He cites the definition of community in Jean Vanier’s book Community and Growth: “groupings of people who have left their own milieu to live with others under the same roof, and work from a new vision of human beings and their relationship with each other and with God.”
The keys to successful community are following the Great Commandments, the New Commandment, and the Great Commission, says Wilson. In that sense, his notion is that non-Christian community is lacking the deeper dimensions.
In the rest of the chapter, Wilson contrasts these community definitions with the tendencies to be individualistic. Baptists, he says, are centered on an individualistic view of conversionist salvation. The Holiness-Pentecostal movements are concerned with personal piety. Reformational and Confessional traditions combine rationalism with a personal understanding of salvation. The only tradition in Protestantism that comes off well in Wilson’s analysis is the Anabaptist tradition.
To summarize Wilson’s complaint, he says in effect that the individualistic, needs-based, otherworldly gospel is not found in the gospels. To make this graphic he cites a typical church summary of a gospel presentation and argues that its language is foreign to the gospels and scripture on the whole.