It takes a Church to raise a Christian

Tod Bolsinger, Brazos Press, 2004
reviewed by Graham Old

Tod Bolsinger convincingly argues that there is a central truth that churches need to recover if they are to be the kind of communities that can form exceptional people: As God is, so the church should be. As God does, so the church should do. In fact, the way we live together affirms – as it expresses – the reality of God as Divine Communion.

Bolsinger employs a wide spectrum of Christian thinkers to support and develop his case, from John Calvin to Richard Foster, from Dallas Willard to N.T. Wright. Readers may expect that a popularized version of a doctoral thesis will be a little heavy for some tastes. The book handles its weighty themes with admirable clarity For Bolsinger, the sacramental life of the church – where the presence of God is revealed and received – is encountered in the ordinary. In fact, since the ‘ordinary’ people of God are the truest sacrament, it should not surprise us that the central rite of the church’s life is the ordinary experience of eating together. We are, as Tod Bolsinger frequently reminds us, people of the table.

If I were to point out weaknesses in this book, there would be two. For all of his emphasis on a meal as the enriching and enduring tradition of Christian life, there is a sense in which a full meal is the ideal way to gather around the table, but neither the ordinary or essential way. This struck me as inconsistent and actually at odds with major aspects of the book’s argument. It would have made a more profound impact if the book had defined the Eucharistic meal as an actual meal around an actual dinner table.

Second, it is disappointing that a book on how the community of faith transforms disciples for fellowship and following as they gather around the table completely disregards the Anabaptist contribution. This is astonishing, because the book simply reads like a more thorough and more Trinitarian presentation of the ideas in Yoder’s Body Politics!

You only have to read the preface to presume that the author must have been influenced by Anabaptists, as the argument he makes is one that has been a component of Anabaptist thought for centuries. Yet the only mention of Anabaptists is a dismissive one, as Bolsinger approvingly quotes Chan to the affect that ‘a pure church of pure souls is at best a short-term solution’ (p.146).

These brief criticisms notwithstanding, this is a wise and compelling book. It deserves to be read by scholars and church leaders, placed alongside Paul Fiddes’ Participating in God, Miroslav Volf’s After Our Likeness and John Zizioulas’ Being as Communion.

Yet I would want to recommend it more widely than that, as it is much more than an academic investigation, or a practical how-to. This is one of those rare books that I wish every Christian would read and every church would live.