Real Christian Fellowship
Yoder for Everyone series
John Howard Yoder, edited by John C. Nugent, Branson L. Parler, Heather L. Bunce
How do we have meaningful fellowship with others? Today, more people live alone than ever before. We are increasingly distracted by social media, the internet and the entertainment beast that be Netflix.
Real Christian Fellowship, the third book in the Yoder for Everyone series helped me explore this question. Exploring Yoder’s key insights throughout the series has been engaging and, interestingly – each book arrived at a most appropriate time in my personal life. I reviewed Radical Christian Discipleship while I was studying at Bethany College, building key practices into my own life with Christ, Revolutionary Christian Citizenship came while I was doing an internship in the United States, and now Real Christian Fellowship speaks to me while I build my own individual box (with four walls and a roof) called a home.
In this final book of the series, the editors continue to take key teachings the respected and reviled theologian John Howard Yoder presented at churches, colleges and in print. Since most of these teachings were aimed at a general audience of church members or students, they bring a lot of Yoder’s heavier theological thoughts into the basic realm of understanding for the majority of us.
Real Christian Fellowship summarizes Yoder’s teachings on the life of the church.
What does it mean to fellowship together? (I’ll give you a hint: It’s more than serving coffee and donuts.)
What is central to our faith, our worship, our service and our witness?
The editors compiled Yoder’s teachings into four categories – Believing, Gathering, Serving, Singing – to ask questions and provide (some) answers as to how Christians can practise these disciplines.
One key point that stuck with me after reading Real Christian Fellowship came from the essay “Believing is Fellowship,” originally titled “Faith is Fellowship.” Yoder emphasizes that part of believing is indeed fellowship. And part of believing happens through our communion together. This is because, in Yoder’s writing, fellowship involves forgiveness.
Fellowship is messy. It involves people, and people screw up. But that is why it’s so important to faith, and to the church. Fellowship shows us firsthand what forgiveness looks like and gives us a chance to enact it.
Yoder drives the point home: “In the Christian fellowship, our primary goal is not merely to understand. We need to understand while doing: while serving, loving, praying, and praising” (emphasis his) – and I might add that he meant while doing all these things together.
We should to take this to heart in our postmodern, individualistic, self-realization-obsessed society. Maybe we need to be in fellowship more than we ever thought we did. Fellowship teaches us things we cannot learn through any book, twice-edited Facebook post, or opposing view shared through an internet bullhorn.
Real Christian Fellowship isn’t a narrowly focused book, however. If you want a cohesive and in-depth discourse on what Christian fellowship should look like, you may want to look elsewhere. But if you are okay with a collection of snippets that get you thinking each on their own, independent but still related to the topic, I recommend this book. In my opinion, it is the best in the series.
Real Christian Fellowship is for those who wish to engage their minds and their hearts with a variety of questions that still plague the church almost four decades after these thoughts were originally penned. The editors have done a particularly excellent job of making Yoder’s teachings accessible in this book. In this volume more than the previous two, readers will find more questions to wrestle with that apply to their day-to-day lives – at least, in a more direct way. There are moments when the writing could still intimidate some readers, and it still isn’t bedtime story material, but most chapters will push readers into engaging and meaningful dialogue – hopefully – while fellowshipping with others.
—Spencer Nikkel lives with his wife Tasha in Saskatoon. Alumni of Bethany College, Hepburn, Sask., they are now enjoying careers in financial services and youth work, respectively. They look forward to their own fellowship with their small group every other Thursday, as well as with many others who cross their path.
Read Spencer’s reviews of the previous two books in the series:
Updated Nov. 28, 2015.