Rodney Clapp, Tortured Wonders; Christian Spirituality for People, Not Angels (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2004), 278pp.
So much talk and literature about Christian discipleship drifts off into the heavens with pious platitudes, jumbled jargon, and syrupy slogans. Rodney Clapp tethers us back to earth where we belong, taking as his focus the every day realities of ordinary people. The title for his book comes from the English poet George Herbert (1593–1633) and his poem "Affliction (IV)," the first stanza of which reads, "Broken in pieces all asunder, / Lord, hunt me not, / A thing forgot, / Once a poor creature, now a wonder, / A wonder tortur'd in the space / Betwixt this world and that of grace." We are, wrote Augustine (354–430), "intermediate beings" poised between beasts and angels, between time and eternity, and because of that discipleship is at best only "partially apprehended by means of a puzzling reflection in a mirror" (p. 94). As tortured wonders we normally experience this "in-betweenness" as "incongruous, mysterious and self-contradictory" (p. 177). So, what Clapp gives us is a delightfully offbeat and different narration of Christian discipleship that takes as its starting point "the mud, the blood and the beer" (Johnny Cash) of earthbound creatures and only after that moves to sanctuaries with sanitized, stained-glass windows.
As "ensouled bodies" or "embodied souls" (Karl Barth, p. 36), authentic spirituality is characterized by a genuine earthiness. Contrast the early gnostic Valentinus (second century), who admitted that Jesus ate and drank, but insisted that he was continent in such a way that "the food did not pass out of his body" (p. 178). So much for body functions. Part One (chapters 1–6) focuses on what Clapp calls "classic Christian spirituality," a catch-all term that he never defines and which is broad enough to be problematic. He gives lengthy consideration (three entire chapters) to the place of the Eucharist or Lord's Supper in discipleship, defending a form of sacramental realism, that is, that Jesus Christ is truly and really present in the elements of bread and wine in some objective, real sense. In other words, the Eucharist is about how God makes Himself present to us rather than how we subjectively remember or memorialize Calvary. Part Two (chapters 7–12) turns the dial and explores "Christian spirituality in the light (and darkness) of the 21st century." Clapp characterizes our contemporary society as "Elvis World," using the singer in a literal way to unpack cultural currents, but also as a metaphor to describe modern life (money, sex, power, celebrity, drugs, etc.). Clapp clearly enjoys engaging our (post) modern world, our consumerism, film, music, and the like. Successive chapters, for example, treat of death, sex and bodily exercise. However imperfect we remain as "tortured wonders," we experience God's grace truly and really, here and now, because of Jesus who "became flesh and tented among us" (p. 253 = the last sentence of the book). That is truly good news.