Monday, November 8, 2010

Book Review

Not Like Me: A Field Guide for Influencing a Diverse World
Formerly titled: Peppermint-filled Piñatas
Eric Michael Bryant

Eric Michael Bryant is a leader at one of the most diverse church communities in America. This credential alone creates a platform from which he can teach others how to operate in a setting outside their own culture. Add to that the fact that he, a “bald white guy”, and his wife deliberately chose to live in a neighborhood in which their family could be the minority. It is evident that he likes challenging boundaries.

His book Not Like Me was released in 2006 as Peppermint-filled Piñatas. The latter is a reference to a personal narrative in which Bryant wanted to fill the piñata for his son’s birthday party with cheap peppermint candies rather than spending more money on candy the neighborhood children would likely enjoy. His wife intervened before the party and filled the piñata with more popular candy. Bryant uses this story to create an analogy of what the church sometimes offers the world. “We offer peppermints, when the world wants Gobstoppers, Airheads, and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. We offer something sweet to believe; they want a new life that helps change the world” (69).  The new life he’s referring to is relationship with Christ.

Not Like Me has a foreword by Erwin McManus and “Field Notes” at the end of each chapter written by authors like Margaret Feinberg and Lon Wong. The field notes provide varied perspective through additional personal narrative and application questions relating to the lesson in Bryant’s text. They serve to enrich the message, adding depth and leaving room for the reader’s personal application.

Bryant covers a great deal of important cultural ground, like seeing past stereotypes, living missionally, loving our neighbors, and separating politics from religion. Unfortunately, he has attempted to cover too much ground with not enough reference back to his thesis or the gospel. This is especially problematic for a book with a new title, and little contextual reference to it.

While I’m sure a great deal of market research went into the full title before Zondervan spent money on a reprint, the subtitle, A Field Guide for Influencing a Diverse World makes me uneasy. In particular, the word “influencing” teeters too closely to the realm of manipulation. Taken from the lexicon of modern American business, and certainly not found in the gospel, “influencing” implies superiority for the party of influencers.

Dr. Ed Stetzer serves to steer away from the notion of influence in his contribution to the “Field Notes”. He says, “People are not projects…When Jesus saw Zacchaeus in the tree, he did not say, ‘Well, well, well, what have we here? A rebellious, God-hating tax collector!’ On the contrary, he invited himself to Zacchaeus’s house for dinner and a conversation. With Zacchaeus, Jesus was willing to push beyond the surface of obvious differences to his actual point of need” (206). Dr. Stetzer is careful with his illustration.

Bryant is less careful when he says this, “Sadly, when we push away those who have homosexual tendencies, we eliminate opportunities to show Christ’s love, much less to influence others” (196). The call to love our neighbors here fully reflects the gospel, however thinking we can influence people is arrogant and dangerous. It is our mission to love others, not to change their hearts—only the Holy Spirit can do that. Attempting to change others can either result in superficial change or fractured relationships. Only relationship with Christ saves and sanctifies. God’s word is clear: we are to love our neighbors, not make them notches on our Bible covers.

While Not Like Me gives many examples of how we can love our neighbors and apply Christ’s teaching to our diverse world, Bryant needs to be careful with the language he chooses. People are not projects, conquests, or challenges. They are God’s children, just like us. We are wise to love them—all of them—and leave room for the Holy Spirit to influence.  

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