Essay / Theology

Review of Morey’s Embodying our Faith

Tim Morey’s Embodying our Faith: Becoming a Living, Sharing, Practicing Church (InterVarsity, 2009) is an enjoyable read. As a reworking of his Fuller Theological Seminary D.Min. thesis, Morey’s text is engaging, his writing style friendly and his content engaging. In seven chapters, Morey gives a well-reasoned defense for what he calls an “embodied apologetic,” that is, instead of only using rational arguments in the apologetic task, the post-modern generation longs for community. Therefore, we need to meet them where they are at instead of expecting them to meet us where we are. Foundationally, this makes good sense and it is really what makes Morey’s text most convincing.

Morey does several things that I really like:

  1. he does not denigrate the “old school” approach to apologetics (i.e., rational, logical arguments that oftentimes lacked a relational element), acknowledging that there was a time and place for that;
  2. though he is convinced that evangelism today must be built around personal, intimate relationships, Morey does not fault the Billy Graham-style of evangelism that has been popular for some time now;
  3. arguing that we must use the culture to reach post-moderns, Morey recognizes that one can’t interact with culture without expecting that interaction to have a (possibly) negative impact on a believer; and (4) Morey’s apologetic is rooted in the local church community and not in the individual.

Yet, there were several things about the book that left me stumped. First, Morey’s insistence that we use the culture to read post-moderns seems to be limited to music and movies. What about literature and the visual arts, both of which take more patience to understand. Though I doubt Morey is dismissive of literature and the visual arts in general, I do find it telling that movies and music are the avenues that he chose to highlight. Could it be that a return to the great books and the great works of art can be an avenue into the post-modern longing for meaning and community? Could Caravaggio, Raphael or Michelangelo impact to such an extent that one would come to faith as a result? Do King Lear and Macbeth not remind us of the frailty of the human condition to such an extent that they could be our “in” with a post-modern person? I wish Morey would have considered these two areas.

Second, Morey’s favorite phrase to describe discipleship or spiritual formation is for one to become “an apprentice of Jesus.” Despite the fact that this conjures up images of Donald Trump, it also rings of corporate America in my ears. An apprentice learns a skill, whereas a disciple learns about/becomes like a person, I think. Connected to this is the absence in Morey’s text of a strong Trinitarian dimension to his ideas on spiritual formation. There’s lots of Jesus in the book but not much Holy Spirit (which seems odd given the Spirit’s role in spiritual formation) and even less about God the Father. Granted, to speak of one is to speak of all three persons but still, Morey’s text is certainly more economic than immanent when it comes to the Trinity.

Third, Morey is insistent that spiritual formation cannot/must not be reduced to a program or a set of rules. Yet, the book’s concluding chapter seems to be describing a program of discipleship/embodied apologetic that is practiced at Morey’s church. In one place Morey holds up the institution of monasticism as a good example of a model of spiritual formation while simultaneously acknowledging that the monks and nuns live by a rule of life. Monastic rules, of course, are programmatic documents. They are prescriptive rules of how one can grow in holiness. I would suggest that even monks are prone to what Morey seeks to reject, a programmatic approach to spiritual formation. Perhaps it easier to say that spiritual formation should not be a program but much harder to accomplish in practice, as monasticism clearly demonstrates. (This also leads me to my one editorial criticism, on p. 156 Morey states that Augustine wrote “the earliest of monastic rules.” This is simply not true and what is the earliest rule is still an ongoing debate among scholars of monasticism.)

In the end, however, I did like this book and believe that it is what the evangelical church needs at this time in her history. Perhaps the best way to illustrate this is to simply confess that the Holy Spirit has used Morey’s text to prompt me to be more intentional about being in community, with both Christians and non-Christians. When a book prompts you to act, that’s the sign of well-written, persuasive book. Thus, I heartily recommend this book!

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