Authentic relationships (by Wayne Jacobsen and Clay Jacobsen)

I'd come across Wayne Jacobsen's writing before: he's one of the authors who combine in the pseudonym of Jake Colsen, in the excellent fictional 'So you don't want to go to church anymore?'. His brother, Clay Jacobsen, works in broadcasting.

The two Jacobsen brothers wrote 'Authentic relationships: discover the lost art of one anothering' together. It's a very thought-provoking book about Christian community, in the best sense of the word. Starting with Jesus' command to love one another, the authors look at several of the 'one another' verses that are in the New Testament. They suggest what they might have meant at the time, and - most importantly - how they can be applied today.

The first part of the book looks at how we can best demonstrate God's love by reaching out to other people around us. They describe the vital importance of fully accepting others, with all their faults and hangups, making us safe people to talk to. They point out, too, the dangers of gossip.

There are then some chapters suggesting how to begin to reach out, some about developing relationships with our acquaintances, and finally some suggestions about mature, committed relationships and what it means to have such close fellowship. It's rarely found these days, but the authors suggest that if we start by following some of their suggestions, we may - on rare occasions - come across other believers who will behave the same way, thus opening the door for truly authentic friendships.

I was particularly taken with the interpretation of the idea of submitting to one another. It was rather different from standard evangelical teaching, focusing not on authoritarianism obedience, but on mutual submission and letting go of our own expectations or need to be right. I found the chapter quite challenging; what they suggest seems much more akin to what would have been meant at the time than what is often taught today.

Each chapter ended with a few discussion questions, for anyone wanting to use the book with a few friends or in a small group. I'm not sure how appropriate they would be - I didn't find the questions particularly helpful. But for someone wanting to explore these ideas, they could make a good starting-point.

I'm not sure how far I will be able put the authors' ideas into practice, being a fairly private person by nature. However, it would be very encouraging to see more real community within the Christian church.

I found the book interesting and often thought-provoking, and certainly expect to be reading this again in future. Highly recommended.

Review copyright Sue's Book Reviews, 6th June 2009

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