Book Review of ‘Guerrilla Gospel: Reading the Bible for Liberation in the Power of the Spirit’ by Bob Ekblad

Bob Ekblad. Guerrilla Gospel: Reading the Bible for Liberation in the Power of the Spirit (Burlington, WA: People’s Seminary Press, 2018).

It is a great honor to be asked to read and review an advance copy of Guerrilla Gospel: Reading the Bible for Liberation in the Power of the Spirit by my friend and teacher, Bob Ekblad.

Bob and I first met fourteen years ago, when I was a seminarian at Regent College in Vancouver, BC. It was through his classes that I began to discern my sense of call to ordained ministry. I walked into his class with one career plan and walked out with another. Over the intervening decade and a half, Bob’s ideas have continually influenced the shape, location, and direction of my ministry as a substance abuse counselor, street chaplain, and pastor to a congregation of mentally disabled people.

Click here to read a blog post on how I have made use of Bob’s methods in my own ministry setting.

Bob taught me how to read the Bible with a new set of eyes. I had previously approached the Scriptures as a compendium of morals and doctrines. Bob showed me how to encounter and inhabit the Bible as a treasury of liberating news for people who live outside the bounds of institutional religion.

Guerrilla Gospel is a follow-up to Bob’s earlier book, Reading the Bible with the Damned (WJK: 2005). Both books present the sound theological basis for Bob’s method of biblical interpretation and illustrate the process with copious personal stories. Readers will derive the most benefit by perusing both books, though either one can stand on its own merit.

While Reading the Bible with the Damned focused on the theological framework, Guerrilla Gospel gets down to the nitty-gritty details of preparing and leading Bible studies with marginalized people. With its more practical emphasis, Guerrilla Gospel answers my one remaining question after finishing Reading the Bible with the Damned: “How do I actually do this?”

Clergy will find much in this book that is familiar from seminary courses in biblical exegesis, and will benefit from seeing how Bob applies these study methods in ministry contexts outside the institutional church. Lay leaders will also find in Guerrilla Gospel a thorough, yet accessible, crash-course in biblical interpretation. I would recommend this book for anyone seeking to start a Bible study in a traditional church setting, but especially for those who practice their ministry in marginal places like jails, prisons, drug rehabs, and homeless shelters. Hopefully, those who read Guerrilla Gospel from within the institutional church will be inspired to reach out and find the Spirit present and active in unexpected places. Believe me, you will be glad you did.

One of Bob’s greatest gifts is the way he so skillfully navigates the convergence of disparate streams of Christian thought. There is something in this book for almost everyone. Evangelicals will connect with Bob’s deep love of Scripture, charismatics with his openness to the movement of the Holy Spirit, contemplatives with his explications of centering prayer and monastic spirituality, academics with his erudite scholarship, and social justice activists with his background in liberation theology.

At the same time, Bob’s unique theological location guarantees that Guerrilla Gospel also has something to make everyone uncomfortable. Readers of all theological stripes should come prepared for a challenge to their unconscious biases and assumptions. Wise and discerning readers will remain open to having their horizons expanded.

As a high-church Episcopalian, the one thing I would have liked to read more about in Guerrilla Gospel is the role of the Sacraments in ministry contexts like Bob’s. To be sure, the subject is not entirely absent. Another of his previous books, A New Christian Manifesto: Pledging Allegiance to the Kingdom of God (WJK: 2008), has an amazing chapter on Baptism. Personal stories from his several books, including Guerrilla Gospel, frequently touch on the topics of healing (Unction), confession of sin (Reconciliation), family relationships (Matrimony), personal commitment (Confirmation), and ‘deputizing’ for ministry (Ordination) from a less formal perspective. In a future book, I would be very interested to read more about the ways Bob has witnessed the Holy Spirit liberating ministry through the celebration of the Eucharist, and what its theological implications are for margins and mainstream alike.

Whether the reader is clergy or laity, evangelical or progressive, contemplative or charismatic, leading ministries of education within the church or outreach beyond the church, Bob Ekblad’s Guerrilla Gospel: Reading the Bible for Liberation in the Power of the Spirit has something to inspire, inform, comfort, and challenge anyone who wants to be part of Jesus’ liberating movement on earth.

Also by Bob Ekblad:

Further reading:

Wetbacks: Following El Buen Coyote

Image by Manfred Werner. Retrieved from Wikimedia Commons.
Image by Manfred Werner. Retrieved from Wikimedia Commons.

Reading Jesus as a coyote who brings us into God’s reign against the law at no charge, or presenting baptism as making us all equally “wetback” strangers and aliens, are understandings coming directly out of years of working with undocumented immigrants struggling with the constant reality of possible deportation…

Reading Paul with undocumented immigrants, inmates, and “criminal aliens” cam clearly bring new life to worn-out texts.  Reading these Scripture passages in a way that holds onto the radical grace that infuses them requires faith and risk.  Though I am fully aware of other texts that emphasize the importance of being subject to governing authorities (Rom. 13:1-7) and of walking by the Spirit and not by the flesh (Gal. 5:16-26), I do not believe that people always need to be presented with the “whole picture.”  Most people on society’s margins assume the Scriptures are only about lists of dos and don’ts and calls to compliance.  Reading with people whose social standing, family of origin, addictions, criminal history, and other factors make compliance with civil laws or scriptural teachings impossible requires a deliberate reading for and acting by grace.  The good news alone must be seized by faith as having the power to save, heal, deliver, and liberate.  This good news is no one other than Jesus Christ himself, who meets us through the words of Scripture and the sacraments, and through the flesh of his family of buen coyote followers.

Rev. Dr. Bob Ekblad, Reading the Bible With the Damned, p. 179-180, 195-196

 

The Immigrant Apostles’ Creed

Rio Grande on the USA-Mexico Border. Image by Bob Palin. Retrieved from Wikimedia Commons.
Rio Grande on the USA-Mexico Border. Image by Bob Palin. Retrieved from Wikimedia Commons.

This was posted to Facebook by Neal Presa, the current moderator of the Presbyterian Church (USA).  I’m told it was originally written by Rev. Jose Luis Casal.  Fruitful theological food for thought for anyone who cares about USA immigration policies.

Also worth reading on this subject is this sample chapter from Reading the Bible With the Damned by Bob Ekblad:

FOLLOWING JESUS, EL BUEN COYOTE: READING PAUL WITH UNDOCUMENTED IMMIGRANTS

And here is the Immigrant Apostles’ Creed:

I believe in Almighty God,
who guided the people in exile and in exodus,
the God of Joseph in Egypt and Daniel in Babylon,
the God of foreigners and immigrants.

I believe in Jesus Christ, a displaced Galilean,
who was born away from his people and his home, who fled
his country with his parents when his life was in danger.
When he returned to his own country he suffered under the oppression of Pontius Pilate, the servant of a foreign power. Jesus was persecuted, beaten, tortured, and unjustly condemned to death.
But on the third day Jesus rose from the dead,
not as a scorned foreigner but to offer us citizenship in God’s kingdom.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the eternal immigrant from God’s kingdom among us,
who speaks all languages, lives in all countries,
and reunites all races.
I believe that the Church is the secure home
for foreigners and for all believers.
I believe that the communion of saints begins
when we embrace all God’s people in all their diversity.
I believe in forgiveness, which makes us all equal before God,
and in reconciliation, which heals our brokenness.
I believe that in the Resurrection
God will unite us as one people
in which all are distinct and all are alike at the same time.
I believe in life eternal, in which no one will be foreigner
but all will be citizens of the kingdom
where God reigns forever and ever. Amen.

Tierra Nueva in the News

I love it when I get to advertise for my friends and their ministry work, especially when said work is being done at Tierra Nueva, an ecumenical outreach organization in western Washington state.

Tierra Nueva played a major role in my discernment process when I was preparing for pastoral ministry. It was there that I had two major “moments” of realization about myself and my life.  To tell that story now would detract from this being a post about these remarkable friends of mine.

In the past couple of weeks, two “arms” of Tierra Nueva’s ministry have been featured on my denomination’s national website.  The first is Chris Hoke and his work as a chaplain for gang members.  The second is Amy Muia and her work of establishing a halfway house for women in recovery.  Both of these articles are worth reading and both ministries are worth supporting.

Jail Break

Prayer is Like Medicine

Their founder and director, Bob Ekblad, is a sessional lecturer at Regent College, where I went to seminary.  Bob was, without a doubt, my favorite professor there.  I first met him as a student in his class, Reading the Bible With the Damned.  Shortly after I took the class, Bob wrote a book with the same title, published by Westminster John Knox.  You can order that book on Amazon by clicking here.

These are my friends and I’m proud to know them.