Now Featured in the Patheos Book Club
Called to Community: The Life Jesus Wants for His People
By Eberhard Arnold, Saint Benedict, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Joan Chittister, Dorothy Day, David Janzen, Chiara Lubich, Thomas Merton, Henri J. M. Nouwen, John M. Perkins, Mother Teresa, Jean Vanier, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, and others
Edited by Charles E. Moore
1. This isn't the first book about Christian community. What's different about this one?
First, most of the selections are written by people, including myself, who have lived a life of Christian community. Second, this book blends together both the theological and the practical dimensions. There are many books that expound on the vision of the church as community, but fail to put any hands and feet to it. Then there are how-to books on building small group dynamics, for example, which I mostly find contrived and simplistic. The selections in this book are deep-going reflections on community life as it is really lived. You'll find a great deal of hard-won wisdom in these pages. Lastly, there is no other book I know of that includes authors from such a broad spectrum across the Christian tradition.
2. Who is this book for? Is it only for those who want to live in some kind of intentional community?
Yes and no. This book is for those who are no longer satisfied with church as usual. It's for those who know that being the Body of Christ demands much more than spilling coffee on one another on Sunday morning or having a beer and talking theology together at the local hang-out. It's for those who are tired of going to retreats and concerts and two-week mission trips and then returning to life as usual. It's for those who long to put the teachings of Christ into practice with others on an everyday basis. This doesn't have to mean living under the same roof, but it does mean intentionally living close enough to one another that the experiences and demands and duties of life can be shared—a full-orbed life that reflects God's coming kingdom.
3. Some of the selections seem to suggest that life in community is not optional for those wish to follow Christ. Is community a biblical requirement?
In Acts 2 and 4 we read how the first Christians, after being filled with God's Spirit, devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching, to prayer, to the fellowship, and to the breaking of bread. They shared everything in common, praised God together, and everyone's basic needs were met. The result? God blessed them and added to their number greatly. Is prayer a biblical requirement? Is devotion to the scriptures or breaking bread a biblical requirement? If so, why not community? Actually, it seems to me that a new life together with fellow disciples filled with the Spirit and governed by love is a gift, part of the gospel itself. It's not just a requirement. Besides, if we are the body of Christ, then why not live in such a way that the world can see the body of Christ?
4. What are some of the obstacles that keep Christians from sharing their lives more fully with others?
This book delves into this question quite directly. As much as we yearn for meaningful relationships, there is something inside each of us that resists. I think one major obstacle is fear. Because of past hurt, abandonment, and isolation, we're afraid to trust. This is a real killer when it comes to community. Then there's the illusion that happiness depends on being free— untethered, and keeping one's options open. Our culture perpetuates the lie that happiness is getting whatever one wants and being whatever one wants to be. Relationships only go deep when we are willing to forego our preferences and demands. That means limits, and a lot of work, but it also means experiencing the joy of knowing and being known deeply.
5. What advice do you have for people who would like to try out community living but don't know where to start?
Don't "try out" community living. The place to start is Christ and what he came to bring. You first have to be convinced of the good news that in Christ everything can change, including the kinds of relationships you have. Then, if you find others who feel similarly, you need to ask God what's next. A more intentional life together must be based on God's leading and be built on God's terms. With God's help, and step by step, you'll figure out how to make it happen.
6. Several contributors in your book insist that community cannot be an end in itself and that communities are in danger of turning inward and imploding. How can that be avoided?