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Brimstone“Brimstone: The Art and Act of Holy Nonjudgment” by Hugh Halter.  Published by David C. Cook, 2015. This review refers to the Kindle edition.

So up until a few weeks ago, I knew nothing about Hugh Halter.  He wasn’t even on my radar as far as someone who I thought I might like to read.  However last month Jonathan Merritt of Religion News Service posted a bit of a review/interview with Halter on Twitter and I was hooked.  I bought the book the next time I got paid!

“Brimstone” begins with a simple question: “If you were the only baker in a small town, and a gay couple asked you to bake a cake for their wedding, should you bake it?”  Yup, Halter jumps into controversy right off the bat, (though he doesn’t give his opinion on the question until the end of the book).

The book itself revolves around two key themes.  The first establishes nonjudgment as a critical teaching and feature of the life of Jesus Christ, and goes on to assert that the roles of judge and jury are not the job of Christians or the Church.  Halter asserts, convincingly, that the role of judge is set aside for Christ himself.

The second theme looks at what our job as Christians actually is, and that is the job of mission, trying to draw people to Christ.  According to Halter, our race to judgment has done so much to damage our reputation as followers of Christ, and I agree with him 100%.  In regards to trying to draw people to Christ, we consistently shoot ourselves in the foot, and we consistently fail by setting ourselves apart from, and usually above, the very people that we are supposed to be a witness and servant to.  When you look at the overall public opinion of Christianity today in America, it’s hard to argue that he’s wrong. Not to mention the fact that most churches are bleeding people and many young people have no desire to associate with the church at all.

But something tends to happen when you stop making somebody’s “sins” the main topic of conversation and instead talk about Jesus.  Many people like to hear about Jesus. Not everybody for sure, but you’d be surprised.  The name and person of Jesus still has an undeniable power to attract and interest people.  I know this first hand from talking to people in my life.  Most are quite interested and inquisitive when they hear me talk about Jesus and what he’s done for me.

If I were to approach those same people and say something like “Hey, don’t you know God hates the fact that you’re sleeping with somebody you’re not married to,” the interaction isn’t going to go nearly as well.

And hey look, it’s not my job to do that.  I have plenty of my own sins and shortcomings to worry about. Isn’t there something about removing the plank from your own eye before removing the speck from your neighbors? OH YEAH THERE IS.

Halter makes two crucial points on sin, judgment, and love toward the end of the book. The first is that God’s grace, to which we are all equally entitled, covers a multitude of “sins,” more than we could even imagine.  Who are we to go around saying a particular person or group of people are “in” or “out?” Who are we to go around saying that somebody is beyond the grace of Christ as won by his death and sacrifice?  To me it seems like that certainly cheapens grace, especially while we who fancy ourselves to be judges continue in our own sin.

The last point he makes is that we should err on the side of love.  If you’re any kind of an orthodox Christian, you probably believe that at some point you are going to stand before Christ (the only true and right judge) to give accounting for your life.  Now, grace covers all of our sins, but when he looks at your life in relation to others and your success or failure as an effective ambassador for the Kingdom of God, wouldn’t it be better to err on the side of love? “Yes Jesus, I know that the Bible says things about homosexuality, but I was just trying to love as you loved and follow your example.”  I think He would appreciate that. We’re not to slam the door in anyone’s face, we’re to offer the free gift of grace.

There’s so much more to the book than this.  Halter is a very good writer and injects the perfect amount of humor.  It doesn’t seem like he’s talking AT you, but it really feels like you’re just two friends sitting and talking over a cup of coffee (though not at a “Christian joint” like “Holy Grounds” or “He-Brew”).

And look, Halter isn’t some radical liberal either.  On the balance I’d say that his theology is more conservative than mine.  When he talks about Marriage Equality, he talks about not totally denying it to people, but admits that he really isn’t at the point where he could officiate at a same sex union.  However, that wouldn’t necessarily stop him from going as a friend and supporting people.

Wow, what a mature, honest opinion!

This book gives me great hope. It gives me hope that just maybe Christians of all of these different conservative and liberal types could actually sit down in honest and open dialogue and start to work again for the Kingdom of God instead of acting as judge and jury.

And that question at the first of the book…well read it and find out!

And check out this video that he put out: “How would Jesus treat the gay couple next door?”