Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Review of Pastor Matthew Harrison's "Christ Have Mercy: How to Put Your Faith in Action"

I recently acquired a copy of and read through Pastor Matthew Harrison's "Christ Have Mercy: How to Put Your Faith in Action". It was an excellent read. I believe that the hypothesis of the book put forward is true. And this is it- that it is not fancy programs or church fads that will bring people to Christ, or "keep the Church alive" (because for some reason, people have this notion that if we don't do something, God is going to let His people be destroyed). No, it is mercy, and the showing forth of that mercy to others. It definitely made me think.

Rev. Harrison goes on to explain how this all happens. He explains first and foremost how mercy comes not from humans naturally, but instead flows from the Triune God. He then shows how this mercy was most strongly expressed- through the Incarnation of the Second Person of the Trinity, the Son of God, Jesus Christ. And this is not merely referring to His birth (though that certainly is a part of it). It is talking about His full work- but it centers upon the cross. Because only when we know Christ and Him crucified do we know the love of God.

After this, he explains how this mercy is manifested to us and through us. It is given to us in Word and Sacrament. And it is manifested in our whole life- as the Church corporate, and as people living out our daily lives. He shows that the social gospel waters down the Gospel, while an extreme confessionalism can lead to one not giving aid at all. Pastor Harrison rightly declares that, while some of these things may have been well-intended, they are both wrong. One cannot give up doctrine for the sake of charity, but at the same time one cannot deny help to those in need for the sake of seemingly being "confessionally pure". The two go hand in hand- one flowing from the other. Works of mercy are fruit of the faith, and just as mercy is given to us by Almighty God, so we should show mercy to others.

Now, the name can be misleading. "Ho to Put Your Faith in Action" seems just like a how-to manual right? Wrong! In fact, this book isn't a how-to manual on holy living. What it is saying is that as the Body of Christ, we are to engage in these things not because they are better, but rather because it is the natural response to the overflow of God's love and mercy given to us. In fact, I would argue (and this is my personal opinion), that while the author urges us to do things as described in the book (helping out in the inner city, giving aid to children in Africa, etc.), he is pointing to something deeper, more personal. He is saying that in all believers' lives, we do good works not because we "have to", but because we "have to". I know, paradoxical and logic defying, isn't it? We don't do good works because we "have to" for the sake of our salvation, but because we "have to" for God's mercy transforms us, and the closer we come to being in the image of Christ, the more it will be natural for us to do good works. Classic Lutheran mind-boggling rhetoric!

Despite the obvious Lutheran overtone of the book, I'd say that it could be (and should be) read by all Christians, regardless of denominational affiliation. It is a wonderful book showing that mercy is a gift received by grace alone, though faith alone, in Christ alone. And that showing forth mercy isn't just a way of putting faith into action- it is faith in action. And we aren't the primary participants- it is Christ working through us, so that none may boast.

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