Book Review: Intimacy & Mission

As mentioned before, I am taking a class withDr. Luther Smith, of Intimacy and Mission. One of things I’ve set myself to doing is to writing short to mid length book reviews of the texts I am reading for my classes. That you can, if you choose get a little picture of what’s going on.
So, here is a first review on Dr. Smith’s Intimacy & Mission:
Intimacy and Mission examines the contexts of five different communities whose identity and mission are especially committed to the work of Christian justice in the context of America. While considering five criteria for evaluating the works, Smith carefully puts each community in conversation with the others to highlight for the reader the extent to which the experience of radical discipleship is formed in diverse and often challenging ways. While Smith’s work holds in tension the distinct movement of each community as it relates to the work of justice and discipleship in the American context, one can not help but be challenged by the manner in which the text repeatedly calls the reader to evaluate the radical discipleship of intentional community as something very different than the practice of disciple-making traditionally undertaken by most congregations. In fact, Intimacy and Mission articulates clearly that radical disciples are not simply made, but rather radical disciples are formed through the suffering and commitment to place that awakens the passion for transformation.
While radical discipleship is never explicitly defined in the book, the question of how suffering relates to the formation of radical disciples in religious community is explored often. At several different junctures of the book, but especially when relating to Koinonia community, the book calls the reader to seriously consider how the disciples of these communities were formed in the face great turmoil and volatility. As Smith writes, “In answering the call to community, members realize how uncertain and volatile their future will be. This is, however, the biblical nature of call” (Smith 65). The side of justice and mission in community, it seems, is neither an easy journey nor one for everyone. By carefully bringing into conversation the experiences of these often-tumultuous religious communities, Intimacy and Mission challenges those seeking to become radical disciples to apply their new understanding to the congregations of any local parish. Such a conversation serves to not merely challenge congregations in their commitment to place, regardless of whether they live are in a rich or poor neighborhood (Smith 74), but also acts as a prophetic witness emphasizing that suffering plus place equals an opportunity for God’s justice to be experienced. Make no mistake, Smith offers no simple explanations for why some ministries thrive and others struggle; however, the mantra that radical disciples are deeply formed through the context of struggle is repeatedly considered.
Keep on reading…
joshua c

Another aspect of radical discipleship as explored within Intimacy and Mission is that of the importance of place in concern to prophetic neighboring. For Smith, prophetic neighboring is key to understanding a form of radical discipleship that seeks to have a compassionate witness to neighbors in a particular place. Intimacy and Mission as a text insists that only through the commitment and engagement with place can one get a sense of what it means to be prophetic, compassionate and neighborly. Although many congregations find it easy to remain committed to place throughout seasons of vibrancy and homogeneity, for Smith, radical disciples are always committed to what God is doing in a particular community despite any changes or challenges that arise from a particular context. Again, when speaking of the Koinonia community’s initial commitment to place, Smith highlights the degree to which place played a central role in choosing where to be located. “The prospectus stated that the farm would probably locate in Georgia or Alabama ‘because of the poverty of the soil, and because of the need and neglect of the people, especially Negroes.’” Smith then goes on to say, “The community’s location was not selected on the basis of environmental conditions that assured a protected and prosperous community. The location chosen had an environment in need of a communities care and resources” (Smith 55). Some years later when the Koinonia community had established itself as a voice for justice in the South, its call to place would be challenged time and time again. However, like all intentional communities explored in this book, facing the crucible of radical discipleship meant that their commitment to place was an essential part of their witnessing to justice among their neighbors.
Inevitably, as religious social communities akin to the ones in Intimacy and Mission are arising all over the US, one must question what lessons about radical discipleship have been learned. As one reads the pages of Intimacy and Mission, one can not help but think that critical engagement with many of the concepts explored by Smith are necessary for certain mistakes to be avoided, certain encouragements to be received, and yes, certain neighborly postures to be adopted. In an age where increasingly the younger American religious populous seems to be re-commissioning itself as a grassroots movement of prophetic neighbors, a healthy understanding of suffering and place are needed if they are to make the transition towards being radical disciples. While many of today’s practitioners and religious community organizers are seeking just as Smith’s to “go back to the roots of Christian faith” (Smith 53), one must sincerely ask if the political climate in which they now seek to bring about transformation is not more akin to the political, economic, and social climates of the communidades eclesiales de base mentioned early in the book (Smith 26). For while these “[r]adical disciples make their devotion to God the priority which shapes all other decisions,” (Smith 22) one can only ask if the predominant religion of Consumerism is far too dominant an expression to overcome. At the end of the day, Smith’s book offers a glimpse of how radical disciples have approached such a task in the past, and hopefully, how through seeing, communing, covenanting, transforming, and knowing, a new generation of radical disciples can risk suffering with others for the sake of God’s future, and coming justice in America.