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Monday
Oct292012

Contend - Book Review

When in love and mercy a wife confronts her husband about his struggles with anger, challenging him to grow in his character, she is contending for the faith.

When an employee encourages his openly Christian- but-disconnected-from-community employer to join a local church, he is contending for the faith.

When parents teach and discipline their children in light of the gospel, they are contending for the faith.

These are just a few of the practical examples Aaron Armstrong provides in his book Contend (Cruciform) of what it looks like to contend for the faith. Prior to this, in the chapters leading to it, Armstrong builds a foundation for what contending is, why we need to do it, and what it looks like.  He discusses the context, the content, the challenge, the clergy, and the the congregation.

The challenge is, of course, that contending means taking a position on something; it means taking action, if necessary.  But it is not done without mercy.  Armstrong points out what contending is:

Contending must be understood and exercised as an act of mercy toward those who doubt and those who have been deceived, regardless of whether they claim faith in Christ.

Armstrong opens the book by discussing the difficulty in contending in this current age where consensus is more valued that doctrine.  Why can't we just get along?  He discusses why that simply cannot be, and then he outlines what, exactly, we are to contend for.  What are the "do or die" things we contend for? In our culture, contending can be done or the wrong things, for preferences above principles.  Armstrong outlines the content of what we contend for:  Scripture, the Doctrine of God, and the gospel.  Contending for the character of God, and by extension, His word and the content of the gospel, are the things worth contending for:

Without these truths, we have no ground to contend for. We will be rudderless ships, left with only our opinions, incapable of showing the kind of mercy Jude pleads with us to show the doubting and deceived. But as we embrace these truths—not only accepting, but also rejoicing in them—we will be able to expose error with the light of Truth and encourage others to walk in that same light.

One of the things Armstrong emphasizes is that we must contend well.  He refers to the nature of internet discourse, where much of the "contending" is really about issues that are not serious.  In a section entitled "Biting and Devouring in Broadband" he points out the often dark side of blogging:

Junior bloggers set themselves up as the theology police, thrashing those with whom they disagree and doing so with relative impunity or even the encouragement of readers who seem hungry for controversy. In their wake come the blog commenters, hiding behind aliases while firing off ill-considered rants, seemingly unaware of the damage such behavior can do both within the church and the world at-large. Think about unbelievers assessing the reputation of Christ by the online behavior of those who call themselves his disciples!

Such foolishness is not what Jude meant when he called us to contend for the faith.

I've seen this happen, and in all probability, done it myself. 

The two chapters which deal with the place where contending takes place, within the local church, were the ones which spoke to most most profoundly.  In this day of internet dialogue and "biting in broadband," the reminder that we are people called to work these things out within the context of the local church was timely:

The local church is a principal means by which God sanctifies us, for in community we are formed more and more into the image of Christ.89 It should be no surprise, then, that community is essential to contending.

Armstrong presents the case that the pastor is responsible to shepherd his flock in such a way that he contends for the truth and equips them to do so as well.  This means he recognizes false teaching and addresses it.  He must feed his flock, correct them when necessary, and protect them.  This highlights the need to pray for pastoral staff. Armstrong reminds us that those who are false teachers lurk about within the church.  We don't always spot them from the outside.  The responsibility to uphold our pastors is that much more crucial.   It also implies that if the leadership of our church is weak and is not looking to contend, then perhaps we have some thinking to do about such a situation.

Armstrong opened his book with this:

Contending requires action. And while it may sound like something polite people simply don’t do, the fact is that we all contend. Asserting our opinions, vocalizing our likes and dislikes, broadcasting our beliefs, defending our positions—whether our point is profound or trivial, most of us go through the day fully primed to pass along our views to others.

I guess the bottom line is that we all contend for something, but are we contending for the right things? For the Word of God, the character of God, and the gospel?  Or is it something else?

I'm not sure I had a clear picture of what "contend" meant before I read this.  I knew enough to know I don't want to be "contentious," but Armstrong's book opened my eyes to what this involves.  It challenged me about my place in the local church.  I highly recommend this book.

I was given a free copy of this book with no other expectation than that I give an honest review.  I thank Cruciform for their generosity and their commitment to publishing great books.

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