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Fall 2000 · Vol. 29 No. 2 · pp. 196–97 

Book Review

Chameleon Christianity: Moving Beyond Safety and Conformity

Dick Keyes. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1999. 121 pages.

Reviewed by Ron Toews

Dick Keyes believes one thing keenly: that Jesus’ call to serve as salt and light in a decaying, dark world is largely being ignored by Evangelical Christians in the Western world. While Jesus’ salt and light metaphors are radical and interactive and call for a critical engagement of culture, Keyes asserts that Evangelical Christians have handled the metaphors badly and fallen prey to one of two wrong approaches: (1) they have become saltless salt. A distinctive Christian identity is lost, and the believer has nothing to offer the world that the world does not already have. Or (2) they have become a light hidden under a bushel basket and fallen prey to Christian tribalism. In this error, Christian distinctiveness is contained within a Christian ghetto or subculture.

It is into this morass that Keyes wades with Chameleon Christianity. The grist for the book has surely been Keyes’ work over three decades with student-oriented L’Abri Fellowship in Switzerland, England, and Massachusetts. A graduate of Harvard University and Westminster Theological Seminary, Keyes’ areas of particular interest include apologetics, the intersection between psychology and theology, and Christianity and culture. He has written several other books, True Heroism (1995) and Beyond Identity (1984, 1998), also primarily intended for the young adult reader intent on regaining a more biblically countercultural strategy of engagement. Apologists Francis Schaeffer, C. S. Lewis, and G. K. Chesterton have evidently been Keyes’ mentors.

Compromise and tribalism are not new to the people of God; Keyes briefly illustrates their existence in the biblical literature before providing a more thorough analysis of the present-day church. He concludes by {197} arguing that (1) the recovery of apologetics, and (2) the recovery of the church as community, will restore the church to Jesus’ salt and light objectives. Regarding (1) apologetics, Keyes asserts that it is not possible to engage people with the gospel until one has first understood their arguments, and so he argues passionately for Christians to listen seriously and lovingly to peoples’ ideas, beliefs, objections, gripes, doubts, and struggles. The flip side of the issue is that Christians who do not understand the Scriptures will have nothing at all to say to unbelievers.

Regarding (2) the church as community, Keyes asserts that the Western church has become a lifestyle enclave. The New Testament church was by far more diverse than ours but corralled chaos through a common commitment to Christ’s lordship. Keyes argues that a recovery of the biblical concept of the church as community will pull the church back from the twin dangers of compromise and tribalism. “Our hope,” he concludes, “lies in being open to the challenge of the Bible in our individual and collective lives” (113).

Ron Toews
Senior Pastor, Dalhousie Community Church
Calgary, Alberta

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