Martha Baker Reviews “Connecting Like Jesus”

Martha Baker Reviews “Connecting Like Jesus” July 15, 2010

{Tony Campolo and Mary Albert Darling. Connecting Like Jesus: Practices for Healing, Teaching, and Preaching. Jossey-Bass. 232 pages. $21.95}

Reviewed by Martha K. Baker

Tony Campolo and Mary Albert Darling set out to write Connecting Like Jesus to prove that “relationships can be radically transformed through integrating communication practices with spiritual practices.”

They succeed.

In Connecting Like Jesus, the second book they’ve penned together, Campolo and Darling have produced a text both wise and practical. Theirs is a humble effort, never flying too close to the sun, but well grounded in chapter and verse — or what they call “spiritually charged communication.” They never lose their own connection with Jesus, and, by joining hands and words, they strengthen the readers’ connections. Throughout their good suggestions, helpful hints and recipes, they thread Jesus’ reported words and deeds. For example, in writing about “other-centeredness,” Darling reminds readers that “Jesus did not force people to change. He was patient, sometimes even silent….” Later, in the chapter on “sacred listening,” Darling cites Luke 24 to show Jesus as the exemplar, then lists four other verses that speak to the power of his listening ear.

Together, they explain what they mean by “connecting like Jesus” in Part One. Separately, Darling, a communications professor at Spring Arbor University in Michigan, writes Part Two, “Practices for Soul Healing.” She addresses “knowing yourself” (“it is about you”), asking questions, and praying. Both write about “shaping narrative,” that is, telling stories.

Campolo, author of 35 books and speaker-in-demand, takes over to write Part Three: “Practices for Teaching and Preaching,” wherein he lives out his role as an evangelical. He invites  — yeah, verily, exhorts — others to proclaim the gospel. And then he proceeds with very practical suggestions of just how to do this, following Jesus: “Jesus was very clear about what he was motivating his listeners to do in response to his teaching and preaching.” Part Three addresses how to preach, when to shut up (his wife once criticized Campolo’s sermon for going on long after he was finished), why rest matters, when to use jokes (rarely), how to tell a story, and how to pray into, breathe through, and sit with Scripture. Valuable for preachers — newbies and oldies — in the pulpit or on the street corner or for any of us baptized as we live and breathe and have being in Jesus Christ.

The wisdom in Connecting Like Jesus comes in bits: “Trusting God to work in us to forgive means yielding to the Holy Spirit instead of to our own wounded spirits.” And it comes in swaths: all of Chapter 7: “Conflict: An Opportunity To Connect.” Wisdom also comes in quotes from authorities and spouses, with a range so wide that Joyce Meyer speaks on one page, Albus Dumbledore on the next. Running throughout are the gems panned from longer, topic-specific interviews with pastors and practioners Brian McLaren, Mindy Caliguire and Shane Claiborne. Being treated to their thoughts on the authors’ topics feels as companionable as being pastored by Anne Lamott’s ministers and priests via her essays on faith.

At the end of this super book, the two teachers suggest ways to use the book in discussion groups. Throughout Connecting Like Jesus, Campolo and Darling maintain a pastoral tone and the pedagogical goal. They stay constant and focused as they integrate communication practices with spiritual practices, as promised.

Reprinted with permission from The Beatitudes Society.

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