A God-Shaped World (Steve Langford) - A Review
A GOD-SHAPED WORLD: ExploringJesus’ Teachings about the Kingdom of God and the Implications for the ChurchToday. By Steve Langford. Bloomington, IN: Westbow Press, 2018. Xi + 127 pages.
Jesus came preaching the kingdom of God. His audiences thought they knew what that meant, but Jesus always seemed to undermine their expectations. Even his closest followers struggled to understand what Jesus meant when he spoke of the realm of God. I would venture to say that even today those who claim to follow Jesus struggle to understand its meaning. Thus, it is worth spending time diving into the idea as it is developed in Scripture, because the conversation will have implications for how churches understand their mission.
Steve Langford, a United Methodist pastor with degrees from Southwestern Baptist Seminary offers us one possible resource for exploring Jesus vision of the kingdom of God, which he understands (as the book title suggests) to be A God-ShapedWorld. He introduces us to his vision of the kingdom of God through a conversation with the Gospel of Luke. He does so in a readable and thoughtful manner.
I was sent the book by a publicist hoping I would review it either on my blog or for the journal I edit. I hadn’t heard of the publisher, so I did a little exploring. Westbow is the “self-publishing” arm of Thomas Nelson and Zondervan. While there are a lot of self-published books that are not worth reading, this isn’t one of them. As an author myself, I know the difficulty of finding a publisher. Most publishers want authors who have a significant following that guarantees sales. That often precludes authors who have something worth sharing but lack the platform. To be self-published requires one to do much of the leg work, and if a book is to look professional, it will require a significant outlay of funds. But, if you have something you want to share, then you make that investment. I believe that in this case it is worth the investment.
When I received the book I saw Southwestern Baptist, and I wondered what that mean. Did he study there before or after the conservative take-over? I don’t know when he was a student there, but what I found in reading the book was a solid, Mainline, vision of God’s realm. While he understands the kingdom to encompass the life to come, the focus of the book is on the way in which God is shaping this world, through the ministry of God's people. It is a vision that has at its care a sense of justice, but one that is rooted in faith. Action and prayer are seen to be partners.
The book contains ten chapters that explore elements of the kingdom, as revealed in Scripture. He shares his understanding of what the kingdom looks like and what it requires of us. It is an invitation to be transformed, even as God transforms the world. He writes that the world Jesus envisioned is "radically different from the world shaped by the self-serving inclinations that are inherent to our human condition." If this vision is to be implemented, then " a radical change of heart and mind is needed -- what the gospel writer called repentance." (p. 15).
While the author has written brief, accessible chapters exploring this vision, he also offers a study guide for each of the chapters, making this an excellent starting point for groups wishing to explore the nature of God's realm.
I found the book easy to read and thoughtful. If there is one thing that I would like to see changed, that is the way in which the author notes scripture texts. In general, passages from the Gospel of Luke are simply marked by chapter and verse numbers. This can be confusing, especially if you have put down the book and picked it up a day or two later, and you have forgotten that the reading is from Luke. Simply adding Lk. would have been helpful. Aside from that, I found few copy-editing issues, which is good considering, as I noted, this was published as an expression of Thomas Nelson/Zondervan's self-publishing program.
With this said, if you're interested in exploring the idea of the kingdom in conversation with a pastor who is deeply committed to the church and its presence in the world, then this should prove to be a very down to earth and helpful resource. He doesn’t attempt to cover every issue, especially social issues, but he does get the conversation going. It’s a conversation that needs to be undertaken.