I have committed to blog informal reviews and mental wrap-ups of what I read and am titling these blogs by the book’s name itself. This blog is long overdue, but i needed time to think. So here it is…

Here is my overdue “review” of Robert D. Lupton’s Theirs Is The Kingdom: Celebrating the Gospel in Urban America. I finished the book a couple weeks ago but due to the fact that I have been pretty busy and I also need to time to mentally digest some of the content so I am only now posting about it. I got so much out of this book spiritually but in all honesty, I feel like there was so much more there that I missed, like I was shooting a fire hose into my mouth and drinking from it; anyway, all that is to say that I will need to read this book many more times.
Lupton works as the director of a coalition of community services in inner city Atlanta, Georgia. He writes this book with Barbara R. Thompson, a freelance writer also from Atlanta. This book’s format is that it is divided into nine different sections and each of these sections is further subdivided into one to three page essays. The short essay format works wonderfully because those few pages are usually packed with truth and gravity, and they are easy to read. Lupton conveys deep theological and relational truths through the lens of his experiences in urban Atlanta. The gospel presented by Lupton is one that applies directly to the poor, downtrodden, oppressed and broken-hearted; in actuality those for whom Jesus came. He writes about our modern world of efficiency and organized ministry and how they often directly oppose the interactions Christ calls us to as his followers.

Lupton presents God’s economy as one living for today. The church exists to give away. The resources are pooled and then disbursed, nothing is saved, for God will provide the next time the offering plates pass around. Lupton’s words can anger his readers; “the church must be financially responsible!” we cry. “The church cannot spend itself carelessly,” say the board members. Lupton gently and radically shows, however, that the church by definition cannot exist for the future and savings accounts. As the Body of Christ, we are called to spend ourselves without saving. We trust God will provide the next day. We can think of the Israelites wandering in the desert, receiving food from heaven. They were commanded not to gather more that they needed; if they hoarded, it would rot. Lupton’s writings about God’s economics make us wonder if our modern churches don’t experience similar concepts when we store wealth.

The writing itself is poignant and powerful, showing the disturbing tragedies of poverty, urban ethics and survival, and misguided ministerial charity programs. Lupton writes with skill and depth unexpected from such brief vignettes. He shares his own shortcomings, misconceptions and breakthroughs and his honesty convicts and spurs the reader to examine his own heart and absolutely penetrates to the core. Lupton writes as one who takes Jesus at his word; that the world should know us as his followers by our love for one another, and our lives should be marked by extraordinary community. The themes he writes about are filled with the applications and buzzwords that are currently moving throughout Christianity. His themes of social justice, real, deep relationships, allegiance to Christ, and even political issues like abortion, gay rights, war and pacifism, and elections speak directly to a reader in 2008, though it was written in 1988.
It seems like Lupton’s honesty and discernment help his words cut so deeply to our own core, twenty years later. As one who desire’s to live like Jesus and take his teaching to heart, Lupton’s words convict me to love people through the messiness and reality of life, to understand that my time and life are not my own, but God’s to direct and ordain. I also feel connected with Lupton’s writings about inner-city ministry because there are parts of Hawaii that closely resemble Lupton’s Atlanta. Some areas of Honolulu obviously are inner city, but also, some areas of Hawaiian homestead land deal with the same issues of poverty, generational welfare, survival ethics and more. I don’t say this to bash those people, but rather, it seems like that mentality can arise wherever areas of government-subsidized housing exist for some time. There are sort of ghetto-survival situations that arise, and the areas of Hawaii, mirror Lupton’s descriptions of inner city Georgia. I can honestly say that this book about the author’s inner city Atlanta experiences has burdened my heart for the people of Oahu.

There are too many quotes I could include and as I reread the book, will probably post more, but I wanted to conclude with a quote from the final essay, “Snowflakes and Sunsets,”.

I think God must detest sameness. At least, he has gone to great lengths to avoid it. Every snowflake, every cloud, every flower is unique. He has created and continues to create an endless variety of trees, bugs, sunsets and beasts. He has created billions of human beings, every one an original…And humans…are given the high privilege of being cocreators with God.

I suspect that one of the results of the fall for humans was the loss of some of our creativity. Not all of it, of course, We still are quite capable of creating symphonies and paintings and children and other beautiful things. But I think that sin brought with it sameness. Boredom. Monotony. Instead of being cocreators with God, we opted for making molds.

Lupton uses this incredible image to lead into a discussion of the city as a melting pot, which he concludes by wondering why God’s selection for our final dwelling place to be the city of God. Lupton’s appreciation for God’s diversity and creativity is contagious, he reminds us of God’s creativity and helps us to love God more for it. I highly recommend this book to anyone who will listen to me, and look forward to reading it many more times, both for the beautiful reminder of God’s kingdom, as well as the invitation to participate.

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