In Reading for the Common Good, C. Christopher Smith imparts a vision for the local impact that can come through deliberately reading together across a broad range of subjects and taking collective action from what learn for the good of our communities. Reading is more than an individual effort for our own enrichment. It is a way for us to join efforts toward the flourishing that God intends for the world.
The book’s theme follows up well on what Smith and co-author John Pattison presented in Slow Church. The local church is to be a learning organization that continues its reading together over time with slow and deliberate intent. While focused on the local church and using many examples from the author’s home church, Reading for the Common Good is relevant to any groups of people who want to join together to learn and impact their local communities. This broader vision for not only reading scripture but for finding and exploring books with themes relevant to the common good is an emphasis not often found in discussions about what it means to be the local church.
One of the pertinent themes explored is the importance of reading to civil dialogue. We need to be reading together to promote our mutual flourishing and to reimagine how society as a whole can change through what we are learning on the local level. This contrasts with the emphasis that is usually directed at the federal level in discussions for social and political change. Change starts locally and in our communities through reading and acting upon what we learn together.
Reading for the Common Good motivated me to find more readers focused on similar themes and to work toward my reading being a collective rather than individual effort. It inspired me with a vision for the impact that can be made when people are learning and working together. The book also introduces relevant books of fiction, non-fiction and poetry across a variety of themes and lists all of the mentioned books in the back. This is a reading list that could keep one busy for a long time.
I highly recommend Reading for the Common Good for those who wish to inspire groups of people to learn together and to impact their communities.
The Barna Research Group has done significant research into American’s involvement with church and published the results in 2014 in Churchless: Understanding Today’s Unchurched and How to Connect with Them. This quote from the book expresses the heart of a course that I taught for Bethel Seminary on Christianity & culture.
“For the sake of the life-changing message of Jesus, and of the Great Commission to share that message entrusted to us, the Christian community has an obligation to understand the unchurched.”
Do you think that the churches that you have been a part of have understood the people in their community who were not a part of the church?
The pace of life in the current age continues to speed up while technology and the economy make it look like we are just getting started. In an age where life feels too fast to keep up, there is a strong temptation to speed up anything that we can with shortcuts and streamlined systems focused more on efficiency than on people.
The International Slow Food Movement is an effort to preserve traditional food preparation, promoting communal enjoyment and protecting local food producers. Authors Christopher Smith and John Pattison use slow food as a metaphor to help us reimagine what it means to live together as communities in churches that are rooted to a particular time and place.
Slow churches resist the “cult of speed” that drives us to fill our churches as quickly as possible with people just like us, focusing instead on “…cultivating a deep, holistic discipleship that touches every aspect of our lives.” (14) This contrasts with a more fast-food-like approach that aims at efficiency, values predictability, measures by quantifiable results and seeks to retain control of God’s works in the church.
God is much more patient than we are and desires to collaborate with us in the work of reconciliation. Although we would prefer to speed the process up by moving forward on our own, God gathers us into communities to represent Christ’s body in the places where we live. “The people of God become a soft of demonstration plot for what God intends for all humanity and all creation.” (30)
A seismic shift has shaken the Western world in recent decades, pushing Christianity and the church out of the center of society and into the margins. The era often referred to as Christendom featured the religious arm of the church and the secular arm of the state cooperating to build a Christian civilization. The collapse of this long-standing arrangement raises profound implications for the life and ministry of the church.
After Christendom is a series of books that aims to explore these implications. Lloyd Pietersen carries this discussion into the realm of how we read the Bible. He proposes that “…the alliance between church and state from the second half of the fourth century onwards has resulted in ways of reading the Bible fundamentally alien to that of the earliest church.”
The demise of Christendom presents an opportunity to interpret Scripture from a perspective that is less hindered by privilege and more consistent with the context of the Bible’s original audience. Pietersen lays out his case for this fresh look at how we read the Bible in three parts.