Book Review: The Intentional Christian Community Handbook
Author: David Janzen
Publisher: Paraclete Press ISBN: 9781612612379
This book is outstanding! The extraordinary breadth and depth of experience shared in this single volume leaves me at a loss for words, but I will try to share my thoughts in this review.
As I have already indicated, there is a lot in this book; it weighs in at just over 350 pages including the introductory writings, notes, and selected reading recommendations. The author, David Janzen, is uniquely qualified with over forty years of intentional Christian community experience and leadership to write this handbook. I’ve been studying and reading almost everything I can get my hands on regarding intentional communities, neo-monastic communities, and the like for the past several years. I’ve read a lot of good books, learned a lot of great things, but I have yet to encounter the detail and attention this particular work gives to intentional Christian community. I would not refer to it as a handbook; I will refer to it as THE Book. It is this good.
Janzen has outlined the ICCH into six parts. Part One is titled The Yearning for Community in Context. It seemed to me, this chapter was about describing philosophy for Christian community and since the context of community can be unique from person to person, Janzen provides some first-person introductions to people drawn to and living in Christian communities. He will use the personal snapshots throughout the book.
Part Two invites the reader into exercises of self-examination; specifically to ponder the calling of intentional community in their life. I appreciated the honest and humility that David Janzen displayed in the chapters of this section. While not using the words exactly, he tries to move the reader past notions of romanticism and community. He shares some of the difficulties of shared life together and brings balance by sharing successes and beauty of living a Christ-focused life. Again, throughout this section Janzen uses the stories of others to springboard into real-life situations that help to give substance and flesh to these ideas and experiences.
Part Three of ICCH I think, is devoted to preparation before joining or beginning a community. In this section, Janzen deals with “first steps,” conflict, commitment, membership, stability, as well as sticky issues like race and gender. While these chapters are loaded with great information, I found a numbered list on pg. 110 especially helpful that essentially touts the merit of being “birthed” by a mature or existing community. The value of this type of oversight and support can be priceless.
Parts Four, Five, and Six cover the lifespan of community; Part Four is the first year, Part Five is the adolescence and growing years, and Part Six speaks to maturity and perpetual fruit-bearing. Chapter 19, On Why Your Community Might Need an Onion, from Part Five was one of my favorite chapters. The Onion Chapter uses a metaphor developed by the Simple Way Community (Shane Claiborne) that describes levels of involvement-commitment of the peoples associated with the community. I liked the illustration and the accompanying metaphors described which helped to develop my own community involvement design where I have used a diagram of concentric circles.
I had a number of favorite quotes, but one in particular seems to sum up the whole of this marvelous book. Janzen writes regarding participation in Christian community and spiritual formation; “Becoming a committed community member does not automatically cause one to grow in all, or any, of the virtues. But without community these things usually do not happen, and with community, there is help” (pg.212)
This book is definitely written to and for a particular demographic, but if you are thinking about or even remotely interested in intentional Christian community, you need not look further for an all-in-one resource. This is it.