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Monday, March 6, 2017

Review of the Second Edition of ALtmC

Note: I wrote this review back in May and only just discovered that I had never published it outside of Amazon. My analysis remains the same and I heartily recommend this book.

Ken Wilson, the former senior pastor of the Ann Arbor Vineyard and current co-pastor of Blue Ocean Faith in Ann Arbor has just released his second edition of A Letter to my Congregation in which he expands on the first edition in a number of helpful ways. But before I address them I would like to mention what the book does as a whole.

Those who have spent any time in the environment of American evangelicalism are, by now, well aware of the “micro-culture war” taking place over the place of LGBTQ+ Christians in the Church. When Wilson’s first edition came out in 2014 it offered a path beyond culture war. The “Third Way” as Wilson and others refer to it, requires a lot of combatants on both sides. Laying down our arms involves making space for the other without devaluing anyone, including those some see as a threat and those who have hurt us and/or the people we love. Wilson’s Third Way, based on Romans 14 and 15 and expounded in the book with exquisite pastoral care and compassion, calls for “traditionalists” to abstain from excluding those they believe to be in sin while simultaneously calling on “progressives” to maintain unity with, and respect for, the very people whose views and actions have done so much damage. Ken Wilson is calling us all to the very radical love for one another which is at the heart of Jesus’ high priestly prayer and was the overriding priority of the first Jerusalem council. This book will not be an easy read for anybody who shares in God’s heart for the church, but it is a necessary one. If there is to be any catholic and Christian way forward for the church in the west, I am convinced that it will have to be the Third Way.

As more and more books are being published to address Christian responses to LGBTQ+ Christians (and they vary widely in degrees of quality and of applicability on both “sides”), “A Letter to my Congregation” and particularly this second edition of it, find an important place in the genre. First, because Wilson writes from his experience as a pastor. In the first edition, he wrote as and evangelical proposing an exciting, if challenging, way forward. In the second, Wilson has added some somber reflections on his projects. Two years into the Third Way, Wilson is able to provide the reader with an report of what is likely to happen for and to churches which choose to adopt this way. To judge from his update, the way has,indeed, been a difficult (one might even say “narrow”) one, but there are rays of hope as we now see Third Way communities growing and flourishing around the country.
The second major addition to this edition, is some careful revision to Wilson’s theological analysis of “the question”. In Chapters 3 and 6, Wilson has responded to some of his more strident critics with a more thorough, robust analysis of the “clobber texts” and of the more general theological and philosophical arguments which are often brought to bear on the discussion. Here we get to see Wilson accommodating and responding to critiques of the original book in a way that show he has “done his homework” and that it has resulted in an even stronger theological foundation for the Third Way approach.

In these two updates, we get a glimpse in miniature of the core strength of this book. Ken Wilson writes as a pastor, the book is a pastoral letter, but he does so without abandoning a rigorous commitment to theological scholarship. Readers looking for a thorough engagement with intellectual and theological questions will find it here, shot through with the shepherd’s care of an experienced pastor, while readers looking for a compassionate, human approach to the very real relational stresses they have with LGBTQ+ friends and family (or their own experience of life) will also find those needs met, rooted in careful, deliberate exegesis and scholarship.

A Letter to my Congregation reflects the heart of God the Father for a wounded and fractious creation, the love of Jesus for His shattered, invaluable church, and is shot through with the Spirit’s discernment of the broken hearts and desperate longings of individual Christians.

You can pick up the Second Edition of A Letter to my Congregation on Amazon by clicking HERE.

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