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Life Way In Transit

Tagged Book Reviews on May 27th, 2007

Static by Ron Martoia I used to challenge the thinking of nominal believers during my undergraduate studies in theology by asking them a few pretty serious questions about the Jesus they so easily called lord and savior. One of the most challenging questions I asked a choice few of these individuals had to do with surnames and identification by family. Specifically, I’d ask them if they were aware of Jesus’ surname, and if so, what is it? They normally responded with “Christ,” which of course led to a sketchy discussion about the differences between a Jewish concept/title and a family name. Obviously, Christ is not Jesus’ last name. I thought individuals who actually called Jesus “lord and savior” should at least know that his last name was not “Christ.” I still do think believers should be more than nominal and very literate of that in which they are actually investing belief. Authentic discipleship demands as much.

It’s not too difficult to find points of personal convergence in the basic premise and goal of Ron Martoia’s Static, given my own dedication to non-nominal and critical faith consideration(s). Static is Martoia’s attempt to unpack Christian ideas and concepts that are easily advanced but rarely contemplated and/or considered at a deep or critical level. Martoia specifically focuses upon popular Christian vocabulary; the meanings of words like gospel, repentance, salvation, and kingdom are contextually and historically considered in the book. His goal: to point out and challenge the many contemporary assumptions and definitions superimposed onto Christian words (mostly by Evangelicals), and thus challenge his readers to embrace a static-less, deeper, and authentic expression of Christianity, so they can then tell the story honestly. I do think he accomplishes as much, and that accomplishment earns my respect, but I must admit that it takes far too long for him to get there, and the final arrival is less informed than it could be.

So, yes, the book accomplished the basic premise and goal, but I had a very difficult time getting there. I’ll explain in a couple of points, following:

1. I really do find it unnecessary - and slightly annoying - to read authorial disclaimers about a universal lack of knowledge re: the mind and actions of an infinite God, and how this universal lack of knowledge re: the mind and actions of an infinite God enlightened the author to his inability to “figure it all out,” only to have him (the author) spend thirty chapters pointing out the obvious theological mistakes of others and articulating exactly how he has “figured it out.” Seriously, it is a tired and less than honest methodology, isn’t it?

2. The historical aspect(s) of the work in this book is less than complete. There is so much more to be said about Jewish eschatology and the entire 1st Century backdrop to the story of Jesus of Nazareth. I got the distinct impression that this book was built upon weak highlights of works by Herzog, N.T. Wright, Borg, Crossan, and maybe Lenski. Static just seemed so under-developed in the area that matters most to its basic premise and goals. Anyone interested in a fuller picture of the history and setting into which the story of Jesus is situated would be better served by picking up a few works by experts in the field.

3. The running theological conversation shared between Ron, Phil and Jess is literarily entertaining (helpful), but laughable in light of the premise and goal of the work. Yes, that sounds harsh, but it’s true. Why? 1. The running conversation between Ron, Phil and Jess substantiates what I said earlier re: authors who say they don’t have “it” all figured out, yet go on to talk to others as if they actually do have “it” all figured out. 2. The overall setting of the running conversation between Ron, Phil and Jess is loaded with a sort of evidential consumerism which made it very difficult to focus upon the 1st century setting and definitions in which, according to the author, the “authentic meaning” of Christianity’s words are rooted! I had a very difficult time connecting what little historical information was provided by the author to the Christianity modeled in real-time by the author. Talking about the real ramifications a first century understanding of Jesus of Nazareth has upon contemporary expressions of Christianity over a seemingly endless supply of NASCAR-size toolboxes, Three-burner 80,000 BTU Gas Grills, T-bone steak dinners, Ben & Jerrys, Blackberry(s), iPods, SUVs, the Lexus, vacations, regular recreational weekend trips, etc., etc., is blatantly counterproductive. Seriously, the juxtaposition created a real gap in this book I could not bridge. It’s like watching Mel’s Passion of the Christ with a gallon of soda in one fist, and three pounds of buttered popcorn in the other, in a comfortably air-conditioned theater, isn’t it?

4. The goal of the author is not that radical. So, I’m not really sure why a sort of “get ready to have your theological world shaken at any moment!” warning was consistently strewn throughout this book. It’s not radical to go deeper than popular surface definitions, is it? I suppose it depends upon who you ask.

All of that said, I do think the author articulated well his desire to see more people embrace a static-less, deeper, and authentic expression of Christianity. It just seemed to take him forever to get there, and when the arrival finally came, it was less than literarily and academically satisfying. He basically ended by defining the major words like so:

Gospel = Newsflash | Repent = Reorient | Kingdom of God = Empire of God | Sin = Shame | Salvation = Do-over and Shalom

Again, what is so radical? Personally, I will tell the story of Jesus like an Anabaptist would tell it. I think I have a very good understanding of the historical meanings of the words used too, so I’ll stick with my tradition and conducive missional method(s).

I think I should also say that sometimes the gospel is rejected by unbelievers. It is rejected because it is a stumbling block to many, and for a variety of reasons. The gospel also just might include repentance from moral sin too, and not just social injustices and failures. I think it is a “both and,” rather than an “either or.” This book bends heavily in a social direction. The gospel is both; it is gospel.

I would just slightly recommend this book, and only after reading deeper materials re: the historical setting of the 1st Century and Jesus of Nazareth. Static is not fully developed.

Note: All of the books found under the “Book Reviews” tag are sent to me free specifically for review on this site (4 Mis-Categorized Exceptions: Watt, Hirsch, Bell and Webber). Thank you!

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