Book Review: Unleashed

The authors, Anne and Gavin Calver, rightly write that “we are nothing and can do nothing without Him“. Personally, getting to the point of writing this book review has been an entertaining journey. I now work for IVP – and IVP has published, this, the theme book for a Spring Harvest that isn’t happening as planned (the 2020 Coronavirus pandemic has moved it, like so many other things, online). I was privileged to see the text in its early stages – and challenge a few things. But what I said to a colleague at the time of my first read through still stands: this is an inspiring, and engaging book. The enthusiasm of it’s authors for the mission of God, to make famous the name of Jesus that the church would be unleashed to live and speak courageously for Christ and the Kingdom, seeps from every page.

Readers who might be put off by the linking of this book to the Spring Harvest theme should not be – this is actually a brilliant book rooted in Acts that should inspire churches and individuals to press in and push on into what God is doing. As the Calvers’ write, “We are living in a time when being a Christian is like being a cultural alien, a stranger in a foreign land and a part of a marginalised minority. In many ways we actually find ourselves in a ‘pre-Christian’ context. Many talk of the UK as a post-Christian nation but we don’t see it like this. It’s not that generations have heard about Jesus and rejected this because they disagree. Many have never heard and as such pre-Christian is the right definition. In so many ways our context is very much like the context for the Acts church just nowhere near as difficult.” I love the honesty here. In the UK at least, Christians are not being persecuted – but there is a marginalisation going on. Indeed, they write elsewhere in Unleashed that “In the UK we are certainly not being persecuted but we are more marginalised than we have been. There is a growing ‘chill factor’ towards evangelical Christianity and we are finding ourselves increasingly on the wrong side of social orthodoxy. As this happens we need to hold on to the fact that we know the end of the story. No matter how many bad things happen between now and the end of time, however many wars, rumours of wars, famines, murders and much more the end is the same.” Some parts of the country, particular demographics perhaps, might be post-Christian, but a better understanding would arguably be pre-Christian. By digging into Acts, particularly the first few chapters, the Calvers invite and exhort followers of Jesus to have the same passion for the Kingdom of God that the nervous, scattered and uncertain early church did. And like the early church, our hope is rooted in the unstoppable Kingdom of God.

There are two threads in Unleashed that I was particularly encouraged by. Firstly, and very much in keeping with one of the key threads of the Bible’s grand narrative, is a wise emphasis on personal dignity:

It is not OK to treat anyone more highly than anyone else. All people are made in the image of God and must all be treated with love. We need to be brave in this season but we also need to be kind. The brave part is often easier than the kindness but the two need to go together. The best example we can think of is when Joseph is intending to divorce Mary after finding out she is pregnant. Believing his betrothed has been unfaithful he wants to do the right thing and divorce her. However, he wants to do it kindly, away form the crowds and with as much love as possible. Perhaps this is what it means to be brave and kind. Treating people the right way and loving them whilst not losing truth. Also, like Joseph, we want to be up for a complete change of direction in the light of an angelic visitation!

Amen! It is vital to remember that bravery and kindness must go hand in hand – and this is rooted in the radical truth that every human is made in the Image of God. From that fundamental the Calvers’ leap into the unknown, excitingly drawing the reader further up and further in to the marvellous mission of God. This book is a manifesto for hope, a Gospel call to get off the bench and into the game. I could mix metaphors further, but I’d rather share some more of what they are inviting the church to ponder:

We need to wake up, rise up and become urgent for the sake of the Gospel. We never know when the Lord will return but we must live each day in expectation that it’s soon. Like the Acts church before us we need to lay it all on the line and get moving sharing with all around us.

Maybe we need to get dangerous and brave again knowing that He will be with us empowering us through the Spirit. Perhaps you’re a little distracted and have lost sight of the main thing. Maybe it’s all got a bit safe for you. We need to ensure that our walk with Jesus is the light by which we see everything else. That his will is the driving force behind our lives. That we go where he wants, are brave if he says so, and see the things around us in the light of His glory and not forget that he is central to everything.

We must avoid confusing style with substance. The substance belongs to the Lord and we must not change that but the style can change like the wind.

I trust you can see some of the passion of this pair! One important note to add as this review winds up is that this is not all bravado and bravery. There is a very real weight of the awareness of sin and suffering. The Calvers’ are inviting us to remember that “flourishing is not without struggling and instabilty“, with a constant emphasis on the need for prayer and repentance. This is at the very heart of the message of Unleashed, just as this reality of pain and persecution, of hope mixed with challenge, is part of the narrative of Acts. In describing the kind of church they hope will be inspired by Unleashed, the Calvers’ write:

An unleashed Church is a church that begins to pray like they have never prayed before, individually and corporately. It is a Church that wakes up to the world it is in and seeks to look, sound and smell different to it. It is a Church that starts on its knees in confession and rises through shaking off the chains that seek to pin it down. A Church that starts believing for so much more than what we currently see and begins to step out trusting God to come through in every place we set our feet, for His glory.

Practically speaking, Unleashed is in 16 chapters split across five parts. It takes Scripture seriously – seeing God’s word as a catalyst for mission in God’s world – and also takes the power and presence of the Holy Spirit seriously. Cessationists will not like this book! However, for those of us who are sympathetic to where Gavin and Anne are coming from, Unleashed is a fresh angle on Acts, with some great suggestions for further reading, group discussions, and how to apply the Book of Acts to the world we find ourselves in. It is, as I say, a privilege to have had a sneak peek at this inspirational and book – I join with the authors in praying that it acts like a firelighter, sparking inspiration and mission across the church. You can get a copy from IVP now.

A couple of related books that fit in this space, and Anne’s new book!

  • Anne Calver, Baby Change: Navigating the Mess – Anne’s written this brilliant little book for parents of new babies.
  • Phil Knox, Story Bearer – one of Gavin’s colleagues at the EA (Gav wrote the foreword) wrote this superb book on the nuts and bolts of evangelism.
  • Simon Ponsonby, More – one of my favourite books ever, this gives a bit of the theology behind Unleashed.

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