***Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.***
In the title, the authors of this book recognize who they (and admittedly most of us) are not. They are not the radical Christians you will see on the five o’clock news who have given everything to become homeless on the streets of San Francisco. They are not the leaders of a church that meets under a bridge whose membership includes people from all swaths of society. The problem for Arthur and Wasinger isn’t that those groups are too radical – they applaud people like this. Instead, the authors recognize a need for others wanting to enter the conversations already happening and provide people a “first step” toward radical faith.
In a span of twelve chapters, in which each chapter represents a month of their life, Arthur and Wasinger guide readers through twelve distinct spiritual practices that cause readers to reflect on their life and “reclaim and live the practices…core to our understanding of what it means to follow Jesus,” (pg. 5). Borrowing loosely from Shane Claiborne’s movement of New Monasticism, they decided there were twelve areas of the Christian life they needed to examine:
1. Covenantal Friendship (yes, they signed a piece of paper together. Covenant.)
2. Hospitality (one family invited a single woman to live with them)
3. Radical Finances (hint: full transparency)
4. Reclaiming Spiritual Habits (and why LED candles are good for preschoolers)
5. Tackling the Stuff Monster (props to them for doing this in December)
6. Holy Time (think Sabbath)
7. Vows (how do you ensure you are caring for your marriage?)
8. Planted in the Church (the local church is there for a reason!)
9. Kid Monasticism (how do you do all these things with kids around)
10. Sustaining Creation (or a dandelion-filled yard)
11. Unselfish Self-Care (recognizing when you need help)
12. Living Justly (moving from “slacktivism,” comfort, and safety to real activity)
Their twelve marks are subjective: the two families got together and read through the marks of New Monasticism (link here) and decided which of them applied to their situations the best as a pastor and his family and another family at a suburban church in Michigan. The stories from each chapter, as well as the theological reflections, are vulnerable, powerful, and oftentimes humorous.
They talk about letting each other see their entire financial records and sharing their monthly budget with each other, about Dave and Erin’s bumbling attempts at praying regularly as a couple for the first time in their twelve-year marriage, about foregoing the gaudy excesses of Christmas (and trying to explain the lack of gifts to their kids), knowing when you need to see a therapist, and believing in your local church enough to co-opt its mission. They approach each with enough grace for us all, recognizing some of these tasks will be easier or more difficult depending on one’s circumstances. Each chapter is thought-provoking and convicting, reminding readers about the small things.
(1) This book is to be read with a group of people who you are in the process of or have agreed to “do life with.” Although there are many points that will be helpful for those diving in without an existing community, I think this book best serves those already choosing close covenantal friendship with others. Repeatedly, they talk about the need for communal discernment in any “radical” activity. The discussion questions at the end of each chapter are designed to get you out of your comfort zone and make you vulnerable with those around you.
(2) The orientation of this book is toward young families. The two authors are both mothers of multiple children and are married – one of the most difficult decisions in the book is how one mom is going to educate her daughter. Will she choose the public school system, homeschooling, or a charter school? In addition to talking extensively about kids, they focus a chapter on “Vows” which ends up being almost exclusively about marriage.
Even though I am not yet at the Arthur’s and Wasinger’s life stage yet, I thoroughly enjoyed this book, so much so that I have already let the life group at the church I attend know that this is the next book I want to read as a group. This is the kind of book that makes you squirm as you re-evaluate your definition of Christianity and following Jesus. It will make you pause and consider: Are you practicing the small things faithfully?
Rory Jones is a student at George W. Truett Theological Seminary and a co-editor at Words About God. He enjoys cooking with his wife, Elise, and playing board games.