Just finished Gerald Sittser’s book Water from a deep well for my next D.Min. class. I have to admit, this is not a book that I would have sought out or even stumbled across in a bookstore, but it is a treasure. This is one of the most powerful books I have ever read, and that is saying a lot, since I’ve read a few.
What Sittser does is something that every Christian needs, not just leaders, but everyone who claims to follow Jesus. He gives us a history lesson.
So many of us have no idea about the history of Christianity, why at its heart it is a missionary religion, the passion of those who have gone before, the blood that was spilled for the movement of Jesus to be where it is. It is so rich, so powerful and gives us such passion and enables us to continue following after God to this day.
It starts by looking at martyrs throughout church history. For many of us in the Western world, the idea of dying for your faith is remote, if not a non-thought. But, as “missiologist David B. Barrett estimates 160,000 Christians were martyred in the year 2000 alone. They died that year for the same basic reason they died in the year 155, when Polycarp was marytred, or in 202, when Perpetua was martyred. The early martyrs believed that if Jesus is Lord and the only Savior, then he accepts no rivals – no person or religion or ideology or empire. They affirmed that the Christian faith requires nothing less than a firm and joyful commitment to this conviction. Jesus came as God in human flesh to show the way to God and to be the way to God for us. This is the only Jesus there is. A lesser Jesus is not the real Jesus at all, at least not according to the testimony of the martyrs, from Stephen to the present.”
Here are a few things from the book I highlighted:
- The only way to understand something is to love it first, that is, to study it with sympathy, patience and appreciation.
- That we might not have to die for Christ is irrelevant. How we live for Christ is the real issue.
- It is easy to gawk but not learn, listen by not sympathize and thus trivialize what is sacred. These stories are not fanciful, fictional accounts that have been recorded and passed down for our entertainment. The martyrs were real people who did in fact die horribly. They had families and friends, hopes and longings, and they wanted to live a long, peaceful and prosperous life, just like us. They chose to accept death rather than renounce their faith because they believed something was more valuable than the long and happy life for which they longed.
- The early church lived by a different ethic, which impressed the very people who suffered the most as victims of Rome’s immorality and injustice.
- The appeal of Christianity still lay in its radical sense of community: it absorbed people because the individual could drop from a wide impersonal world into a miniature community, whose demands and relations were explicit.
- To love all members alike, pastors have to love them all uniquely.
- Struggle is normal, necessary and even healthy in the spiritual life. Struggle proves that we are taking the Christian faith seriously.
- Mystical spirituality is concerned with one basic question: how can we truly know God?
- Preaching is the Word of God only if the sermon itself actually proclaims the Word of God.
This statement summarizes the essence of the book: “The Bible tells the story of human resistance and God’s persistence. The story is full of flawed heroes and strange twists of plot, of the wretchedness of evil and the triumph of good, which was accomplished in a way that no one could have predicted, namely, through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.”
This book was one of those books that impacted me on a personal and professional level, which is quite rare for a book to do. The stories, especially chapter 5 “holy heroes” left me with a sense of awe for the legacy and history of Christianity and what God calls each of us to.
Chapter 9 on the reformation showed me the high view of God and the Bible that the reformers and their churches had. Their role in communicating the words of God and their love and passion for the people they were called to lead was inspiring.
This is one of those rare books. If you want to know more about how Christianity got to where it is today, this is the book to read.