C.S.Lewis’s Mere Christianity is considered a classic of Christian apologetics. Any young Christian seeking to understand the difficult, and often frightening, world of apologetics is almost guaranteed to have Lewis’s work thrust upon them. In fact, very few Christians can honestly say that Mere Christianity has not been recommended to them at point. This is because Mere Christianity, like most of Lewis’s works, is timeless in its defense of the Christian faith making it an essential read for those seeking to understand the most effective way of making the case for Christ (to borrow the title of another Christian classic).
So how does Le Donne’s Near Christianity relate to Lewis’s Mere Christianity? For one thing, it is unlike any book I have ever read. When I read Mere Christianity my mind was aflame, amazed at Lewis’s brilliance and I think I first understood the magnificent weight of the faith I held. To Near Christianity I reacted in much the same way. Never before had I read a work solely devoted to the borders between Jews and Christians written by an author so refreshingly honest about his own shortcomings and struggles with the faith he holds. Le Donne’s books rings with revealing truth and honesty, as he asks us to understand those who are closest to us in faith.
“How will we know how to value others above ourselves if we do not first (a) know ourselves and (b) know our neighbors? In our history of pilgrimages and sojourns, Christians have gained many more neighbors than we would have otherwise. We therefore have greater opportunity and responsibility to learn from our borders.”
In seven chapters, Le Donne analyzes seven borders that Christians and Jews share and how the skirmishes that have taken place along these borders have affected Jewish-Christian friendship. In the process of analyzing these boards Le Donne also argues why these friendships are so incredibly important: understanding Judaism, understanding our neighbors in faith makes our faith even deeper, stronger, and resilient.
The most poignant chapter in Near Christianity is entitled “On the Border of Jesus and Genocide”. In a book about Jewish-Christian relationships the Holocaust has to come up eventually. Le Donne handles this topic with delicacy and great respectfulness. Aware of his cultural shortcomings, Le Donne actually spends a portion of the chapter interviewing his friend to understand the catastrophic nature of the Holocaust and how it affects the way Jews interact with Christians. This is a wonderful display of humility on the part of Le Donne as he, a self-described “main-line” Christian, could not possibly hope to explain the tragedy of the Holocaust.
“The vast majority of Christians forget our complicity. We repeatedly commemorate our virtuous episodes to cover up our appalling vices. American and “allied” Christians are especially guilty of this as we fail to remember the role Christians as passive and active perpetrators of the Holocaust.”
But he does not only explore how the Holocaust altered Jewish mindset. He also argues that Christians were complicit in the Holocaust. Nazi antisemitism did not spring up overnight. Hitler did not wake up one morning deciding that the Jewish people sounded like a good group of people to unilaterally exterminate. The foundations that made the Holocaust possible were laid long before the 1930’s or 1940’s. They were laid when Martin Luther published his shocking The Jews and Their Lies, encouraging widespread antisemitism among Protestants. Le Donne describes how misinterpretation of the New Testament allowed for vicious Christian attacks upon Jews during the Holy Week for retribution for “the Jews killing Jesus”. He describes how language and teaching to “Not be like the Pharisee” infiltrated the church and gave everyday Christians a less than charitable view of the Jewish people. All of these events, bad doctrine, and prejudice ultimately culminated in the Holocaust. An event which was overseen by men, many of which considered themselves devout Christians, and approved of by people who had had the false teaching of antisemitism pollute their Gospel.
“An evil like genocide is too often an institutional sin supported by generations of subtle gestures, jokes, quietly held beliefs, and averted eyes. If so it is crucial that we Christians become more self-aware than we have been. Even our subtle gestures toward anti-Judaism can undo the moral progress we have made with Jewish-Christian relations.”
Many of the ideas posed in Near Christianity were surprisingly new to me, especially the idea of Christian complicity. I have always believed myself to hold a belief set that is exceptionally sensitive to Jewish traditions and Judaism as a whole, but I have never given much thought to the borders walked by Christians and Jews. After all, much of our Holy texts are the same. The Savior of Christianity was Jewish not to mention nearly all of the founders were also Jewish. So why are these borders not discussed openly in our churches? Why do we as Christians not stop to think how understanding these borders we share could possibly help to end injustice and enrich our own faith in the process? Le Donne poses similar questions throughout his work. Neither he nor I can come to satisfactory answer except to say that when you are in the majority it is very easy to never consider the minority.
“What happens when the self-emptying way of love empties us of our affection for God? I have been gifted with God’s silence more often than not. My prayer life is often an experience of numbness. I once though that these were problems that required fixing. It occurs to me now that most Christian definitions of love (especially divine love) are superficial. I will also confess that my own superficial conceptions of love and God continue to create trouble for me.”
But Near Christianity also includes moments of raw honesty from Le Donne. He confesses his short comings, his frustrations with the main-line Christian community, and his doubts. He also describes how this Jewish-Christian border walking, this friendship, has allowed him to find a strengthened, renewed faith that is still growing and changing but present all the same. These are snippets of relate ability that allow the reader to see that Le Donne is not some academic lecturing us on how to be good Christians. He is in the trenches with us, fighting for a real and honest faith that is securely our own.
Overall, Near Christianity is an incredibly unique book. With the rise of Anti-Semitic language in our nation and a culture that is increasingly fearful of anything different Near Christianity is also an incredibly timely one. I fear that the hard-hitting and unpopular opinions, as truthful as they may be, will prevent this book from becoming as widely read as it deserves to be. This is no criticism of Le Donne, we are in desperate need of Christian authors who honestly write the truth, it is instead a criticism of the current landscape of “main-line Christianity”. Without reservation, I recommend Near Christianity to any Christian seeking to understand and appreciate our borders.
Follow the Author on twitter: @AnthonyLe_Donne
Visit the Authors Blog: The Jesus Blog