Friday, March 27, 2015

Jesus Without Borders, by Chad Gibbs

Chad Gibbs is a funny guy with a sense of adventure and a craving to experience culture and life around the world.  He pours all of that into his new book, Jesus Without Borders: What Planes, Trains, and Rickshaws Taught Me About Jesus.  Having lived his whole life in the South, Chad decided he needed to spread his wings a bit and gain some perspective on global Christianity.

On one level, Jesus Without Borders is a funny, at times hilarious, travelogue.  Chad is not ashamed to admit his ignorance and provincialism, but his eagerness to try new foods and experiences is refreshing and contagious.  I enjoyed reading about his dealing with currencies, customs, language barriers, cultures, and menus. His gastronomic adventurousness had its limits; he does admit a "twinge of guilt eating American fast food in foreign countries."  He liberally injects his goofy humor throughout.  One example: upon arriving at Oxford, Chad stops for a cup of coffee.  He quips, "I studied the menu so that, like Jay Gatsby, I could one day tell people I studied at Oxford."

More important than eating at McDonald's around the world and encountering life in other countries, Chad expands his view of the church.  He quickly learns that "It's important to reflect on how much of my faith is shaped by where I live on a map."  Refreshingly, he never disparages the Southern, American, evangelical Christianity in which he was raised, but he realizes that his tradition "make[s] up a very small part of Christianity." 

That's the greatest strength of Gibbs's book.  Don't expect a detailed travel guide to any of the places he visits.  And don't expect deep theological reflection about comparative religion.  Gibbs's simple affirmation that the slice of American Christianity he has experienced most of his life is a tiny part of the body of Christ as a whole leads him to appreciate it even more.  American evangelicals in the Bible Belt never experience being the only Christian in our school or workplace, hearing the Muslim call to prayer in our neighborhoods, or meeting for Bible study in secret.  By visiting with Christians around the world Gibbs saw his "preconceived notions" disappear, his "prejudices, some [he] didn't even know [he] had, slowly melted away," and he began to see more clearly "a line out there between patriotism and idol worship."

It's a big world.  It's a big church.  Not all of us have the opportunity to travel the world as Gibbs has.  His first-hand accounts and perspective on global Christianity is one man's limited view, but it's a large enough view that all of us can gain some understanding, and because it's Chad Gibbs's view, enjoy a good laugh along the way.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!

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