When Esteban, the church parking lot attendant, was charged with heresy, no one took the accusation seriously — at least not at first. He viewed his trial as one more platform for The Story, and with a very influential audience. No one could have predicted the crowd becoming a mob, and his listeners becoming his executioners.
If you recognize this account of the stoning of Steven from the book of Acts in the Bible’s New Testament, you’re ready to read Into the Fray by Matt Mikalatos. Transporting first-century events and characters into present-day settings pushes aside the veil of historical remove: “Oh, yes, this is the way it would have felt if I had been there. This is the prejudice, or the legalism, or the wrong-headedness that exists today in the church . . . that exists in my own heart.”
With each chapter built around a modern-day re-telling of a narrative from the early church, Matt tells it slant and then pulls back the magnifying glass — behold, it’s a mirror, and the revulsion that Dr. Lucas (Luke, the author of Acts) feels for the Ethiopian eunuch calls out our present-day homophobia or rejection of those who challenge our neat categories. The problem of feeding the Greek widows becomes a discussion of the bodies’ slow acceptance of minorities, our rejection of the “unlikely person” who just shows up one Sunday, and the logistics of church growth. Just what would happen if our fellowship went from 120 people to three thousand plus? That’s a lot of folding chairs!
Matt’s writing reads like the transcript of a TED talk or an NPR show, and just as The First Time We Saw Him drew me into the plot of familiar gospel stories because of the unfamiliarity of their re-telling, Into the Fray reveals the power of story to cut through our staid and settled thinking, to send tremors to the heart. Savor this description of the Good News, put into the mouth of Ananias:
“It moved into homes through tiny cracks like a mist. It burst out of any prison cell, strong as a lion. It couldn’t be contained or controlled, only heard or received or retold. . . Of course people tried to destroy it. They tried to stamp it out like fire. They beat it with branches. They blew on it, they fanned it, they threw water on it. But the water only caused it to spread. Trying to restrain it was like trying to grab hold of the wind. Trying to stop it was like trying to put smoke back into a fire. Yes, the story burned and every person it touched was irrevocably changed.”
If this is the reason God spoke to humanity in story form, could this also be motivation, then, to tell our own stories? Paul did not share the stories of John or Peter; it was his own compelling and powerful encounters with God and his adventures on The Way that drew first-century Gentiles to Christ and that continue to capture our imagination today.
Could this be the reason why the book of Acts ends as it does, with Paul “preaching the kingdom of God and teaching the things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ with all confidence, no one forbidding him,” (Acts 28:31)? Paul was a story-teller, and we are invited to pick up the thread of his Tale, to demonstrate the Spirit’s weaving of life into Life until the fibers of the story touch every corner of the world. Our stories do matter.
This book was provided by BakerBooks, a division of Baker Publishing Group, in exchange for my review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
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