Book Review: Dual Citizens: Worship and Life between the Already and the Not Yet by Jason Stellman

dual-citizensInitially promising, but ultimately unsatisfying. That’s how I would describe Dual Citizens: Worship and Life between the Already and the Not Yet by Jason Stellman. Now I want to be clear that I’m not on a witch hunt for Jason Stellman’s head. I’ve never met him, but clearly he’s a brother in Christ, and I would say that he seems like a pretty cool guy. I randomly discovered his book while browsing Nashville’s local reformed bookstore (logos), was highly intrigued by the subject matter, and purchased it with an extreme excitement and eagerness to begin reading. And, I’ll happily admit that the introduction to this book rocked my world – helping to construct some much needed theological framework. But, by the end of the book I felt like Stellman kind of lost steam.

The basic concept of Dual Citizens is that there is a necessary division between the sacred and secular in the lives of Christians. Contrary to the opinion of many – including John Frame (whom Stellman quotes and disagrees with in the intro – ballsy!) – there should be a distinction between how Christians operate when gathered for worship as a church and when scattered throughout the week as citizens of earth. I should make clear that Stellman is not arguing for any sort of antinomianism position that allows Christians to act like “hell” during the week and act like “angels” during church service. But, he is arguing that the main way in which Christians are countercultural is through their gathering on the sabbath to participate in the preaching of Word and the taking of sacrament (Lord’s Supper and Baptism). He decries any sort of seeker-sensitive, “let’s be relevant” approach to church. Church is not supposed to be relevant to culture, but obedient to the Bible. And Stellman argues that the Biblical pattern for our gatherings are: Word and sacrament, period.

The book is divided into two main sections. The first seven chapters describe Christian worship, and the last seven chapters describe Christian life. In my opinion, the first half (Christian worship) forms a more cohesive whole than the second half of the book. I don’t agree with all of Stellman’s conclusions in this first section, but he does a better job writing this section than he does in the second section. One of my main critiques is that, Stellman over-argues his point about the church gathering being free from cultural influences. I’m not sure that’s a good thing or even possible. He argues that “culture, then, is never to be the determining factor in a church’s worship” (8). But I would argue that all churches necessarily take on cultural forms both because they are composed of people from specific cultures and because they attempt to clarify the gospel to these specific cultures. Certainly the attempt to be “relevant” can go too far and water down the gospel, but so can the attempt to avoid this pitfall. The opposite of the “relevant” pitfall is to be so culturally insensitive that the gospel fails to even be understood. You can argue all day long that the church is not composed of seekers but of saints; however, any church that loves people will be filled with both saints and the seekers. Cultural sensitivity and even acclimation will always be necessary to make the gospel clear. Without clear cultural understanding the gospel may be mistranslated altogether. Having argued this point, I still think that Stellman does a fair job of deconstructing a lot of seeker-sensitive nonsense that Christianity seems to be so captivated by, but I think he could have made his point in a more even-handed way.

My other critique of this book is that while the first seven chapters were captivating (if overstated), the last seven were kind of boring. Having read Stellman’s arguments for “worship,” I had a lot of questions about his conception of “life,” but he didn’t really answer many of my questions. This is why I say that the book kind of lost steam. The last seven chapters were more of a shotgun approach with bits and pieces of the puzzle being put together, but clearly with some frustrating gaps in clarity. Two of the chapters:  9) Egypt’s Unworthiness: Joseph, Moses, and Vanity of Time and 11) Worldliness: Puritans, Pagans, and the Proper Place of Pleasure were on point, but the other chapters seemed to deal with secondary or even tertiary issues rather than the main subject matter at hand. Maybe Stellman is just lacking a conclusion or an introduction to the second half of the book, but I can’t shake the taste of confusion that the book left on my tongue. I would have appreciated more information about how Christians should participate in the culture. How should they work, enjoy and create art, raise families, and participate in politics? I’m not looking for answers from the Religious Right, I’m looking for answers from the Bible, but Stellman doesn’t really help me any in this endeavor. He does briefly touch on some of these issues, but never for long, and never in a complete way. Personally, I could have done without a few of the chapters that he did write (even though they were fine in and of themselves) and done with a few of the chapters he didn’t write on cultural engagement. And to reiterate again, I think Stellman would benefit from a conclusion to pull all the pieces together.

So…for a first book this is pretty decent (I mean I’ve never written a book!), but I think it could use some additional clarity in the second half, and a more nuanced approach overall. Also, I couldn’t help but feel that Stellman occasionally mischaracterized some of those whom he critiqued (which is why I would appreciate a more nuanced approach). (And hopefully it won’t be said that I lacked a nuanced approach while writing this review, which is brief at best, but I’ll gladly accept any dialogue about my comments if anyone disagrees.) At the end of the day, I think it would be a blast to sit down with Stellman at a coffee shop and talk theology, and maybe some day I’ll run into him and we’ll do just that. Probably not, but maybe. Anyway, I hope he writes another book because the nugget of understanding that he provided for me in the introduction about cult and culture was worth the whole book.

I’ll end by saying that if you are interested in the subject matter of dual citizenship, I don’t think you can go wrong with Living at the Crossroads by Bartholomew and Goheen. In my opinion it’s a clearer and more well-rounded approach to this same subject. At least read it first, and then read this book second.

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