Book Review by Dr. Nate Mullen
Practicing the Way of Jesus: Life Together in the Kingdom of Love, by Mark A. Scandrette, Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2011. 220 pages. Reviewed by Dr. Nate J. Mullen, III.
Practicing the Way of Jesus is one of several writings under review by the Center for Community Transformation at Fresno Pacific University. This book was chosen for its innovative methods in facilitating spiritual formation.
Author Mark Scandrette is a teacher, activist and forward thinking Christian leader. He is also the author of Soul Graffiti: Making a Life in the Way of Jesus, and the founding director of ReIMAGINE: A Center for Life Integration based in San Francisco. There, he leads an annual series of retreats, learning labs and projects designed to help participants integrate the teachings of Jesus into all aspects of life through shared practices and intentional community experiments.[i]
The thesis of the book is that we need to recover a sense of immediacy and action in our spiritual practices.[ii] In support of this thesis, the purpose of this book is to offer a “practical approach to spiritual formation that is serious about scripture, action-focused, communal, experiential, and connected to real world challenges and opportunities.”[iii]
The book is divided into two parts. Part one is called Perspectives, which includes chapters 1-6. This is where Scandrette lays the foundation of his thesis. Jesus called his followers to immediately engage in and partake of the kingdom of God.[iv] By extension, Scandrette says,
We don’t enter the kingdom of God merely by thinking about it or listening to one another talk about it. We have to experiment together with how to apply the teachings of Jesus to the details of our lives.[v]
Scandrette uses the term “experiment” to denote an active learning environment where creative collaboration is invited and expected. Furthermore, the language of “experiment” lends to the idea that there is space for error. As believers, we are engaged in “working out our salvation”.[vi]
Spiritual formation has been spoken of from time to time as an ascetic and inward practice. In support of a balance between orthopraxy and orthodoxy, Scandrette is advocating for spiritual formation being done in community, or better, what he calls a “community of practice”.[vii]
In support of the thesis and purpose of this book, Scandrette thoroughly communicates the need for a community-based approach to spiritual formation. Further he conveys with lucidity the importance of the inward and outward journey of transformation. At the conclusion of part one, Scandrette devotes a full chapter to practical methods for establishing a community of practice. This chapter is where the reader begins to receive tangible means for exploring the realm of practice based spiritual formation.
Part two is called Practices, which includes chapters 7-11. Every chapter includes stories of how lives were affected through each topical oriented experiment. Scandrette helps the reader understand that we seldom get spiritual formation right the first time by transparently communicating where they have made mistakes.
Each chapter focuses on a particular topic of Jesus’ teaching along with examples of community experiments, discussion points for journaling, one-time exercises, seven-day experiments, and extended projects & practices questions. The topics laid out include Identity, Purpose, Security, Community, and Freedom & Peace.
Each chapter places a high emphasis on what Jesus would instruct us to “Be” and “Do” in order to follow his teaching in a given area. Chapter 8, which is on “Purpose”, invites us to take a look at “What Jesus Instructs Us to Be and Do to Fulfill Our Purpose.”[viii] Several bullet points follow up these statements with an action step accompanied by scripture.
My response to this material is overwhelmingly positive. This book makes a significant contribution to the way we understand spiritual formation in the following ways. First, it inextricably links discipleship and action.[ix] I serve as a pastor and a professor and from either vantage point practice-based spiritual formation can be something we merely teach others to engage in. Scandrette is calling all believers to action.
Second, this book is written in a posture that is humble enough for a new believer in Christ to latch onto and yet rich enough to hold the attention of ministry leaders. The tools of community transformation have to be readily accessible across multiple socioeconomic and educational boundaries.
My only negative critique is that it could have given a stronger emphasis to the active work of the gospel on behalf of the powerless or those without a voice. In Luke 4:18 Jesus says, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free” (NIV). In Luke 10, Jesus sends out 72 disciples as missionaries into a Jewish village with instruction on how to spread the good news of the Kingdom.
I believe the Disciples’ obedience and willingness to be rejected for the sake of the gospel was a part of their spiritual formation. Jesus did not send them out in the hopes that they would be marginalized. He sent them out to preach the gospel and they had to accept the possibility of marginalization.
Perhaps best of all, Practicing the Way of Jesus invites us to have fun with the transformative process. We serve a creative God! This book can help people of diverse culture groups experiment and experience Christ from their vantage point, crucial in our diverse central valley. I am so excited that this book is listed in the online resources of the Center for Community Transformation!
[ii] Location 82
[iv] Matthew 3:2; 4:17, 23; 6:10; Mark 1:15; Luke 10:1-24
[v] Location 88
[vi] Philippians 2:12
[vii] Location 103
[viii] Location 1251
[ix] James 1:22