Until recently Shane Hipps was the teaching pastor at Mars Hill Bible Church, a role he held for several years with Rob Bell. In May he announced that he too is leaving Mars Hill, but it is through his work at Mars Hill and with Rob Bell that he is best known.
At the Wild Goose Festival Jericho Books was giving out advance proofs of Shane’s new book Selling Water by the River, which is scheduled to be released this Fall. While under no obligation to do so, those who took the books were encouraged to review them after reading them. Having finished Shane’s book last week, I offer these thoughts about it.
Subtitled “A book about the life Jesus promised and the religion that gets in the way,” this isn’t a book for folks who object to Christian critiques of Christianity. Like his more-famous former co-pastor, Hipps has a gift for disentangling the beautiful way of following Jesus from the centuries of cultural and institutional baggage that so often obscure that way. Hipps contrasts Jesus (the “river”) with Christianity (which he likens to selling water by the river)–insisting that it is the former, not the later, to which we should give our devotion. Here’s a taste:
We must be careful not to confuse Christ with Christianity. One is the river; the other sells water by the river. Christ is the river; the Christian religion attempts to package and provide access to water that is readily available to anyone at anytime. Often the merchant gets in the way of the water it wants to provide. Ironically, the religion that proclaims Jesus sometimes builds big barriers to him.
I suspect the book originated in sermons, as it is composed of part biblical teaching, part personal vignettes and part application. It is the fresh perspectives on scripture that are the gems here. His look at the significance of the story of Jesus turning water into wine by itself makes the book worthwhile.
Selling Water by the River is a quick read. There are no footnotes and there is no bibliography. I would’ve prefered more analysis of the Biblical texts. But Hipps is seeking a popular audience and although this book won’t make the kind of splash Rob Bell made with his books (yes I know he must grow very weary of the comparisons to Rob Bell) it should be well-received by those who are seeking to better follow Jesus, and who are sincerely wondering how much the institutional church is helping.
It seems to me that in our postmodern times, more and more folks are prefering the river to the water sellers. It is with these folks that Shane Hipps, Rob Bell, Brian McLaren and others like them will continue to resonate.