I first met Morgan Guyton about five years ago at a required event for soon-to-be clergy in the Virginia Conference. We, and dozens more, were gathered at a college campus for a week for what I like to refer to as “Pastor Bootcamp.”
The distinct memory I have of Morgan was from an evening at a Mexican restaurant (one of many during the week). Over beer and chips and salsa, a group of us found ourselves in a deep theological conversation. For anyone who knows Morgan, you will not be surprised that he was at the helm of this conversation. In between scoops of salsa, Morgan would raise yet another question. Not to be argumentative, but to authentically seek more knowledge.
This theological wrangling with scripture, tradition, experience, and reason is a part of who Morgan is, and is captured in his first book, How Jesus Saves the World from Us. His writing aims to answer the question, “Have Christians become what Jesus came to stop us from being?”
Tapping into his own evangelical roots, Morgan proposes that there are twelve toxic attitudes that Christians today have adopted. In response to these behaviors, Morgan presents twelve antidotes. These include, for example, “Worship, Not Performance,” “Honor, Not Terror,” “Communion, Not Correctness,” and “Outsiders, Not Insiders.”
It is evident that Morgan is an extensive reader, reading works from both his evangelical background and books that resonate with his current theological grounding. He is able to put writers from both traditions into dialogue, articulating how the writings support, or don’t support, toxic Christianity. He does this with such respect that at first you don’t realize that he is about to drop the mic on some of these well known thinkers.
Some have argued that this approach may be too narrow. That it seems that there are only two options when it comes to these theological ponderings. While there may be another way to approach the problems as Morgan identifies them, this is not how I read it. Morgan presents his antidotes from his perspective as a Southern Baptist youth turned United Methodist pastor.
Morgan is truly honest with himself and the reader about his faith journey. The journey is important, as it shapes Morgan’s understanding and reasoning for change in the church. These “two sides” are his perspectives of what isn’t working and what is working in the church. These are based largely on his own experiences, which without, the book would lose much of its significance.
In particular I appreciated chapter ten, “Outsiders, Not Insiders: How We Take Sides in Conflict.” In this chapter, Morgan recalls joining a Bible study at a United Methodist Church in Ohio. The study was being led by “the unofficial, unordained lesbian co-pastor who had the spiritual vigor and passion for Christ I’d always associated with evangelicals.” The spiritual mentoring relationship that developed between these two, impacted Morgan’s theology and his practice, evident in his work with college students in New Orleans.
Morgan writes, “I changed because I was accepted unconditionally by people who had been rejected by the church.” Morgan argues that if the church insiders stepped out of their roles and built relationships with those on the outside, than perhaps there wouldn’t be so much conflict. Perhaps we would see what God is doing in each other’s lives and be moved – or changed – because of unconditional love.
Later in the book, Morgan draws on the episode in Acts 10, where Peter’s vision of unclean animals calls him to be in ministry with Gentiles. This was a change for Peter and for the early church. By Acts 15, the church discerns to be open to Gentiles. A game changer for the early church.
“This incident,” Morgan writes, “changes the missional perspective of the whole church.” He begs us to consider what vision the church may be receiving today. Who are those on the outside? With whom should we stand in solidarity? In what ways are we being called to change?
Morgan reminds us that the church is made up of imperfect people who have created imperfect practices. Acknowledging that the church today has developed some imperfect methods, Morgan invites us to be apart of the solution, not the problem. “But our quest is to be perfectly loving,” he writes, “rather than the perfect rule enforcers.”
Morgan has the gift of seeing and articulating some of the challenges the church faces today. If anything, How Jesus Saves the World From Us should motivate to let Jesus save the world by transforming us to his Way.
So, grab some chips and salsa, and a beer if you want, and journey with Morgan through some significant theological ponderings where love is greater than rules; outsiders are insiders; and a tough look at ourselves.
You can purchase your own copy of the book by clicking the image below:
Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for a digital review copy.