by Scott A. Bessenecker
Warning, The New Friars will be hazardous to your suburbanite soup kitchen mentality!
InterVarsity Press, P.O. Box 1400, Downers Grove, IL 60515-1426, 2006, 199 pages, $15.00.
—Reviewed by Marcus W. Dean, associate professor of intercultural studies, Houghton College, Houghton, New York.
Warning, The New Friars will be hazardous to your suburbanite soup kitchen mentality! Bessenecker, director of global projects with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, challenges the reader with an account of what God is doing through a small number of disciples who serve those in intractable poverty. These disciples, the “new friars,” follow the Franciscan spirit without forming religious orders and hold a Nazarite-like commitment without making formal vows. Voluntarily living alongside the hopeless poor to see the Kingdom of God established is their “order.”
After an initial overview chapter, Bessenecker briefly analyzes the forces that push people into poverty. He begins with a hard hit on the economic practices of the rich—which includes those in the United States—that hold people in virtual slavery with $2 per day wages; he follows with the compounding factors of corruption and crumbling infrastructure in the nations of the poor. Bessenecker explores the cultural, personal sin and spiritual forces that pull people into poverty.
The new friar movement flows out of the historical basis of Jesus’ incarnation and the lives of Francis of Assisi and St. Clare. From this historical reality, Bessenecker discusses the essential ingredients of the new friars who incarnationally move into the urban dumps of the world to embrace the poor, form devotional communities for drawing near to Christ, give up Western individuality to live communally with the poor, missionally invite the poor into the Kingdom of God, live at the margins of society and share in the rejection and dangers faced by the poor.
Bessenecker sees the new friars as a fresh movement of the Spirit for a worldwide society darkened by problems of global poverty, destruction of the environment, exploitation of children, excessive urbanization and genocide. While it takes a clear call from God to accept the life of commitment and hardship faced by the new friars, no Christian is exempt from involvement. All can respond by living a simpler life and supporting and praying for the new friars.
In the appendices, Bessenecker gives information on the agencies presented in the book so that the called can join. He also shares ideas for Christians to get involved, helps for living a simpler life and a brief history of other religious movements attributed with paving the way for the new friars. This book gives a convincing call to become a part of this movement.
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