A surprise gift frtoshareinthebody-125om my brother, Craig Hovey’s To Share in the Body: A Theology of Martyrdom for Today’s Church arrived in the mail a couple days ago. This book has been on my wish list since a few months before it was published (which was sometime in 2008). I have been pouring through it, am about a third of the way completed (which is quick for me, and includes time for meditation and examination) and already rank this as the best book I’ve read since Tripp York’s The Purple Crown: The Politics of Martyrdom.

While I will obviously have to save any sort of review for after I’m done with the text, I did want to share some of the amazing quotes I’ve encountered so far.

They [Christ and the Church] are distinguishable but not separable. To identify with Christ in his death and resurrection is to identify with the church. But this also makes sense only if the church is a martyr-church. What does this mean? It means that the church is characterized by the life of the resurrection insofar as it undergoes the pain of the cross. (pg. 27)

As we consider how this growth takes place, it is worth noting that one cannot baptize oneself. Entering the church involves subjection to the way of life the church has preserved for disciples. It cannot be made on the basis of a separate assertion or the invention of a better way. To do so would only leave individuals to be their own churches, deprived of the gifts of God made present in the gifts that are the other members of Christ’s body. So baptism is a reminder that we cannot partake of the gifts God gives the church apart from being a part of it. (pg. 29)

But the connection between the threat [that seeks to extinguish the Church] and preservation [of the Church] is never resolved by an overwhelming power. God does not meet the risk of of extinction by extinguishing the risk. Instead, God promises to enact countervailing acts of creation out of nothing. God’s intervention is not characterized by eliminating the church’s enemies, prevailing over the factors that imperil its peace. Its peace does not depend on the defeat of its enemies in any normal sense. This is what is celebrated in baptism. it is the fulfillment of God’s promise in which the church celebrates both the constant newness of its ranks and the deliberate way that God is saving the world.

… In baptism, a human individual is transferred from the world to the church. The world registers a loss in loyalty; the church registers an advance in loyalty….

… The world attempts to regain its lost members, to secure its former loyalties, and to establish its earlier power. In this way, baptism is an overtly political act. Like the burning of draft cards, baptism declares a switched identity, a refusal to be one thing and a determination to be something else. (pg. 32-3)

The church is not first against the world but for the world. When it encounters hostility in a world that refuses to hear the gospel, the church must have a clear conscience before God that it has not courted that hostility. (pg. 37)

Meaning the Church cannot be guilty of acting in violence, promoting violence, supporting violence.

And here is a profound set of questions that we need to engage:

Does the world ignore the church out of goodwill? Or has the church often given the world too little to reject, too little witness, too few challenges, a too small God and a harmless Jesus? (pg. 39)

However, the church of faith is granted no separate mitigation of the risk it is asked to take, nor is it given assurances that its following will achieve anything. (pg. 45)

[In reference to Mark 8:34 "If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me."] In fact, if it were any other political movement, we would be tempted to call it a call to arms. It is not a call to arms, but only because arms are precluded from playing a role in the revolution of the crosses. But it is no less a revolution for being nonviolent. (pg. 47)

Craig Hovey is spot on.