Published by Herald Press on August 11, 2020
Genres: Non-Fiction, Christian Life
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Got salvation? What if salvation is not one more thing to acquire but an invitation to radical transformation?
Christians often turn life—and faith—into one big quest for the good life. We expect to “get” a good job, loving spouse, a life of comfort, personal satisfaction—oh, and salvation with a cherry on top. Our acquisitive impulses aren’t limited to lattes and designer jeans; Christians in power throughout history have focused on getting people saved, possessing the land, and gaining dominance in government. But what if Christianity isn’t about striving for something more, but about renouncing the power and privilege that prevent us from receiving God’s abundant life? What if we are called not to treat salvation as one more thing to pursue but as an invitation to conform to Christ?
Born Again and Again is the story of how a religion birthed on the margins of the Roman Empire became functionally the official religion of today’s largest military superpower. Pastor and blogger Megan K. Westra takes on the self-serving form of Christianity that has birthed the doctrine of discovery, planet-killing lifestyles, and civil religion. She leads readers into an encounter with the Jesus who gave up everything to come to us and invites us to give up everything to come to him. Conforming to Christ radically reorients our lives, priorities, and faith away from the pursuit of our own interests and toward a pattern of discipleship, setting us free from fear-based consumption and creating new possibilities for connection and belonging within the community of God’s people.
Whenever I read a physical copy of a book, I will take pictures of quotes that stood out to me and type them into a document later. As a pastor and public theologian, you never know when you might need a good stockpile of quotes. Fifty pages and fifty pictures in, I abandoned that process lest I end up with the world’s worst pirated ebook. Every single page of Megan Westra’s Born Again and Again burns with a wisdom and passion that’s difficult to describe. But let me try.
I was four years old the first time I got saved. That’s the first sentence of the book. The conversion experience she describes is one that I can empathize with quite clearly because this part could be my story. She was twelve when she was saved again—or “rededicated,” as the parlance goes—and lived the life of the Christian over-achiever. Then she grew up. Then she got out into “the real world.” And it’s then she was in for a shock.
The Jesus I invited them to ask into their hearts had nothing to say about the daily struggles of their families or their communities. It was a crisis moment in her faith, one that led to a new realization of what it meant to be saved—of a salvation that meant becoming part of and bringing about God’s Kingdom in the present.
[I started to see] that justice was a system, not a product. Justice wasn’t a helpful and hip addition to the gospel, it was intrinsic to the gospel. This book is written about a decade after this reflection and represents what Westra has learned along the way.
I’m learning that the faith I love so much, that has raised me and held me tenderly, has been a crushing fist of oppression in the lives of others…I am coming to understand salvation as a people to which I belong and a practice to which I submit. I am learning to live in ways that are consistent with the profound truth that the first opinion God has of us is not that we’re terrible, rotten sinners, but that we’re beloved. I am no longer focused on manipulating a divine system for my own interests—eternal or otherwise. Instead, I am learning to follow in the steps of Jesus, redirecting my own power and relinquishing my privilege and find a new way of life—a life more abundant.
And all of this is from the first eight pages. There is a poetic beauty to Westra’s prose. A prophetic beauty, as well. With love, wisdom, and overwhelming zealousness, Born Again and Again calls readers to envision a new kind of salvation and a new kind of faith—one that is lived and worked out in the public sphere.
Each chapter grounds itself in the history of the evangelical church and builds from that. As such, Westra offers a valuable resource for evangelicals uncomfortable with the current state of things and offers them a lifeboat that ensures that jumping ship does not mean rejecting the heart of their beliefs. She deftly picks her way through the issue of authoritarianism, racial relations, capitalism and consumer culture, our use of money, creation care, and gender equality. Each chapter concludes with sections on how to engage with these issues personally, toward other people, and publicly. Intertwining history, her own experience, and prophetic prose, Born Again and Again excoriates the establishment of empire while calling on believers to build an alternative Kingdom.
Megan Westra gives me hope for the church. This book makes me feel less lonely. There are so many people who grew up in the kind of faith that Megan did and now they’ve lost that faith completely because it was hypocritical and nonsensical to them. The terms “exvangelical” and “deconstruction” have become buzzwords as more and more young people leave the church. But every deconstruction needs a reconstruction and Born Again and Again provides that. Westra shows that you can deny a certain understanding of church, but in so doing you can also embrace the Jesus of the Gospels ever closer.