Note: a copy of this book was provided me free of charge by the publisher for reviewing purposes.
Eric Michael Bryant, author of "NOT LIKE ME", is a young guy who introduces himself by way of stating that he's white and bald but lives in a part of town where most of his neighbors are either African American or Hispanic. And he's also a youth minister. Pretty soon in the book one discovers his passions - for conversion and for reaching out to groups of people he feels Christians often ignore. And while this is certainly commendable, i.e. We should not require our friends to have to agree with us in order for us to love them, it isn't necessarily what Jesus had in mind when He told us we should love unconditionally. Conversion as the result of reaching out to others, is a condition.
That being said, the book offers some good suggestions including, befriending folks who are different, bringing over treats for new neighbors and inviting new people to outings, probably things we all knew about but still, a reminder every so often is good.
Where the book runs into problems is toward the end where Bryant extends his search for diversity among the attendees of a church, in a bit questionable direction.
He describes a dark woman as attending a church where she was pleased to find a warm friendly reception, until they discovered that she is an abortionist. Suddenly church members' attitudes toward her cooled as they attempted to share with her why abortion is so wrong. Needless to say, she left the church rather than abandoning her lucrative profession. Eric Bryant appears to disagree with the attitude of the members toward abortion and maintains that had the church looked past her gruesome field of work and tolerated her totally, she might have converted.
I disagree here. While we are asked to love the sinner, not telling her about such a serious sin would have not taken her spiritual welfare into consideration. The Catholic Church calls "admonishing the sinner", a spiritual act of mercy. Thus the folks in the church who let the abortionist know how the church and God looks at abortion, did her a greater kindness than those who would have remained silent.
One of my favorite quotes comes from Edmund Burke:
"All that is needed for evil to prevail is for good men to keep silent!"
Bryant's conclusion about abortion was that people shouldn't complain about it but rather adopt an unwanted child. Adoption is a good idea but I cannot see how this will end abortion. It sounds good though and more importantly, allows those who are "pro choice" to be comfortable (and possibly attend his church, bringing their bucks along?). I feel it's very wrong for a Christian to be any kind of tolerant toward something as intrinsically evil as abortion.
Bryant took a similar non-position on immigration - he pointed out that we had imported thousands of these people to labor for us (for very low wages) thus boosting our economy (true) but then also stated that "thousands of immigrants" had stolen Americans identities in order to work here. I've heard this accusation from the media but find it hard to believe that the rather un-techy immigrants from Mexico would bother stealing an identity in order to do manual labor for low pay. Bryant left the reader questioning just what his position on immigration was.
A chapter entitled "the Mosque next door" held promise of perhaps counteracting the anti Muslim sentiment prevalent now, however I found that whereas Eric Bryant seemed tolerant of "alternate lifestyles" and s/s marriage, and even tolerant of abortion, he seemed less willing to respect other spiritual paths like that of the Muslims. Ironic was that Muslims who enjoyed his young ministry events, were likely as intent on converting him as he was intent on making them Christians!
Bryant got in his complaints about liturgy also, toward the end of "Not Like Me". He writes,
"religion does not work because religion is humanity's attempt to earn God's favor" (page 224)
"Jesus message was very different. He taught that the practice of "religion" cannot be the answer." (page 222)
He also points out that he feels that,
"We cannot do enough good to come to God on our own merits" (ibid)
He is of forgetting the following rather clear part of the Bible:
James 2:18ff "Indeed someone might say, "You have faith and I have works." Demonstrate your faith to me without works, and I will demonstrate my faith to you from my works."
This is a common omission on the part of many believers in the "Salvation by Faith alone" theory.
My issues withstanding, I did find "Not Like Me" to be well written and organized in a unique manner. Bryant often uses his own experiences and family anecdotes to illustrate his points which I found charming. At the end of every chapter, he includes comments from other Christian writers which bring a different prospective to the chapter's discussion.
That is, if you don't mind the contradictions and theological errors, you might find "Not Like Me" an interesting read.
About the author:
Eric Bryant serves as an elder, speaker and navigator with the leadership team at Mosaic (www.mosaic.org) in Los Angeles, a church known for its creativity and diversity. He is part of the core teams for the Mosaic Alliance (www.mosaicalliance.com) and The Origins Project (www.originsproject.org). Bryant completed his Doctorate of Ministry in Entrepreneurial Leadership with Bethel Seminary. He lives with his wife, Debbie, and two children, Caleb and Trevi, in the middle of Los Angeles County.
You can find Eric and share your break through ideas at www.ericbryant.org.