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Fall 2004 · Vol. 33 No. 2 · pp. 229–231 

Book Review

Mere Discipleship: Radical Christianity in a Rebellious World

Lee C. Camp. Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos, 2003. 208 pages.

Reviewed by Tripp York

In this thought-provoking and extremely accessible book, Lee Camp offers an alternative account of how we as Christians can re-envisage our relationships toward economics, politics, and one another in such a way that adequately reflects the politics of Jesus. Drawing heavily on the work of Mennonite theologian John Howard Yoder, Camp leads us through the basic practices of Christianity (prayer, communion, baptism, etc.,) and how our convictions, in relation to these practices are intelligible only inasmuch as they are expressed in continual “doings.” That is, what disciples believe cannot be separated from what disciples do, since what disciples do betrays what disciples believe.

Camp begins his book by noting those competing narratives that vie for the Christians’ allegiance (e.g., the family or nation-state) and how living in a nominally Christian society renders it difficult to navigate {230} the tension between such competing allegiances. By suggesting that Christianity in Western culture often, unwittingly, operates under a “Constantinian cataract,” Camp argues that such a lens makes it all the more difficult to practice discipleship as “the masses already too easily believe themselves to be Christian” (22-23). Camp, therefore, proceeds to argue for a way of seeing the Gospel that goes beyond the Christendom-based hermeneutic in order to pave the way for the practice of a radical Christianity. The crux for Camp is the necessity to move Christianity away from the idea that it is a religion constituted merely by cognitive assent to propositions, to one that is embodied by the simple, yet oh-so-demanding call to follow Jesus. For Camp, the call to believe in Jesus is the call to follow Jesus.

In the second part of his book, Camp gives a description of what it is that Christians believe. He discusses this in terms of the Gospel, the Savior and the Church. In this section he argues that these three intertwining elements, all of which constitute the “Good News,” create a new world which disciples are capable of engaging. The images and language provided by Scripture and tradition allow us to envision the world in a new way. That God’s kingdom is at hand (calling us to repent), that its king is a slaughtered lamb, that such a politic is only possible through those Jesus assembled to bear witness to him (the ecclesia) makes it possible for those calling themselves Christians to follow Jesus and to, therefore, bear testimony to the in-breaking kingdom of God.

Following Camp’s description of what it is that Christians believe, he continues in the third and final part of his book to show how such a grammar creates the ability to habituate such a world through right actions. Baptism, argues Camp, means that the barriers that ethnicity, national citizenship, race or gender once imposed have been leveled. No longer is one a Canadian or a German who happens to be a Christian; rather, in their baptism one becomes a Christian who happens to have been born in Canada or Germany. This means that one’s citizenship is first and primarily located in the church—or as St. Peter and the ante-Nicene writers continually proclaimed, in heaven. Christians are no longer divided by nationality or race or whatever; Christians are now bound to one another through the politic that transcends all borders: the church.

Camp concludes this splendid text by insisting that the ability to literally follow Jesus is not only feasible but necessary for the world’s salvation. No longer must the church buy into the Niebuhrian concept that to follow Jesus one must forsake relevance; rather, it is only in the {231} following of Jesus that we, as the church, betray what is truly relevant, what is truly authentic, and what is truly salvific. If the church is to avoid sectarianism, then the church must begin to take its own self seriously. Camp refers to a powerful comment made by the French philosopher Albert Camus: “The world of today needs Christians who remain Christians.” Imagine that coming from an atheist.

Tripp York
Ph.D. Student
Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, Evanston, Illinois

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