Book Review - Dual Citizens
"Dual Citizens" - by Jason Stellman
This book has the subtitle "Worship and Life between the Already and the Not Yet" which I found to be very intriguing. From the title, subtitle, and brief description of the book I found I thought the book would be about the seeming push-pull relationship between living on earth but living for Heaven. I was fairly wrong and disappointed.
The book is divided into two sections. The first 7 chapters cover the worship aspect of Christianity and the last 7 chapters deal, somewhat generally, with life. I felt that seven chapters on church was a little much, partly stemming from some issues I had with his theology of church. The second half is definitely the best half, with chapters 9 and 11 being my favorites. The book doesn't always make sense in it's flow from chapter to chapter. I especially found it odd to end a book for Christians on a chapter detailing the assurance of salvation provided by the Holy Spirit. I think placing it at the beginning would give you a better context for the rest of the text.
The first half of his book is dedicated to explaining various aspects of corporate worship and how they show the world that we, as Christians, are called out and different. Perhaps it was his writing style or just my thick head, but I had difficulty at times understanding the weight he intended to convey in various points he made regarding the church. There were several issues I had with his beliefs regarding the church that made it hard for me to accept his more general ideas regarding the church. First, he places in inordinate amount of weight on what he calls the sacraments - baptism and communion. I don't mean to say that they are insignificant. But he goes so far as to say that the main ways we are to grow in Christ are baptism, communion, and corporate worship. I think he overlooks and seems to dismiss some other important aspects of a Christians life - prayer, personal reading and studying, and fellowship with other believers. He also appears to believe that anything with the label "evangelical" is directly opposed to "true Christianity", which in his view means the Reformed tradition. I adhere to many parts of Reformed doctrine and there certainly are problems with some things labeled as "evangelical". I was uncomfortable though with the extreme position that he seems to take in the book.
Another important difference is that, as a Presbyterian, he believes in infant baptism. I don't believe that faith can be passed from parent to child by means of baptism, but that faith come from the Holy Spirit working in someone's life and is a personal, individual belief.
My biggest concern comes from his view of pastors/preachers within the church. Not only is his view of sacraments rather exalted, but so is his view of pastors. He seems to veer into Catholicism every now and then, both by his language and choice of words, his quoting of several Catholic scholars and theologians, and by his stated beliefs regarding the church. For instance, on page 83, he writes, "When your minister faithfully expounds God's Word, that is Jesus talking. When he declares the forgiveness of your sins, that is Jesus forgiving you. When he administers the bread and cup, that is Jesus feeding you His own body and blood. The keys of the kingdom have been entrusted to the officers of Christ's church for the holy purpose of opening, shutting, binding, and loosing (Matt. 16:19)." (emphasis original) From my understanding, that's essentially Catholic doctrine right there. He also views the words of preachers to be as authoritative as Scripture itself, using verses out of context to attempt and support his position. "In fact, Paul insists that when the saints hear Christ preached, they are actually hearing Christ Himself preaching (Rom. 10:14, NASB; Eph. 2:17), a point made powerfully in the Second Helvetic Confession, which states that 'the preaching of the Word of God is the Word of God.' Personal "quiet time," therefore, can never replace the regular hearing of the gospel preached in the context of the local church, for it is here that God addresses His people in a unique and powerful way." (p. 13)
As for the second half of the book, I found it to be rather uninspiring on the whole. I felt that only chapters 9-11 really dwelt on the subject of "dual citizenship" with any real clarity and applicability of subject. Several chapters didn't make sense to me in light of his purported topic. (boasting, and the Holy Spirit's assurance of salvation) There were some good nuggets tucked away in a few chapters, but overall it felt a little dull and disjointed.
I enjoyed his discussion of the tension we feel between physical and spiritual, and the pursuit of pleasure. I particularly liked this quote he had in his book which is referenced from "Ahlquist" - "The problem of paganism and puritanism is partly a problem of pleasure. The old paganism degenerated into the mere pursuit of pleasure. The old puritans reacted against it by the deliberate and elaborate avoidance of pleasure. The new pagans reacted against the old puritans. The new puritans reacted against the new pagans. Reactions against reactions, all missing the point. Both puritanism and paganism misunderstood pleasure. But, more importantly, both misunderstood what is good. The pagans emphasize the physical to the neglect of the spiritual. The puritans emphasize the spiritual to the neglect of the physical. Both miss the point of the Incarnation. God created a physical world and said it was good. He created us in his image. We are both spiritual and physical beings. And though we have taken a good world and misused it, though we are sinners, God himself redeemed us by becoming flesh."
I felt the book fell short of it's title and purported topic of discussion. Apart from a couple chapters I enjoyed, it seemed almost stoic and stodgy in it's presentation. And it's riddled with what I would consider as rather sketchy theology - particularly regarding the church. It's not a book I would necessarily recommend, unless you were looking for a different viewpoint on the importance of the church. I'll be giving my copy of this book away as I'm not interested in re-reading it so if you are intrigued by it, let me know and I'll get it to you.