Earlier, I described the book, Red Letter Revolution by Shane Claiborne and Tony Campolo, as “charging out of the gate, to finally cross the finish line at a gentle saunter. Not so with Shane Hipps’, Selling Water By the River, published by Jericho Books. This book, which begins as a casual stroll, warms up to an aggressive, ambitious tour de force.
One gets the sense early on that parishioners at Mars Hill Church in Michigan, where Hipps has been serving as pastor, have heard much of this material already in some form. Hipps is a master of metaphor, and one assumes that he employs the deft use of this tool in his sermons as well as his writings.
I have found Hipps’ previous writings to be helpful, if only in the sense that he brings some important ideas to a more popular audience. His writing and speaking on media theory, for instance, is good, but will seem somewhat simplistic to those who have read Marshall McLuhan, or even Rex Miller, and others. This is not a criticism, but rather a recognition of Hipps’ audience and voice.
As I read the first 4 chapters of Selling Water by the River, I found myself assuming that I would be characterizing this book in a similar way. Good martial, but if you’ve read McLaren or Rollins, or even Shane’s predecessor at Mars Hill, Rob Bell, this will seem like lighter faire.
And then came chapter 5. My left eyebrow raised in amused interest. The metaphors started to get more interesting, the ideas behind them more stirring. Things began to warm up. Upon completion of the book one gets the impression that Hipps serves us some light appetizers in the beginning, with the clear intent of preparing our palette for the more substantial meal to come.
There is a clear changing of courses, for instance, between the very conventional metaphor of The Wind and the Sails (chapter 3) and Shedding the Swaddle (chapter 5).
The main course? For me, it came in chapters 8 and 9, The Constant Gardner and The Hidden Treasure.
In the chapter titled, The Constant Gardner, Hipps compares the type of care employed for the Mona Lisa, at the Louvre in Paris, with the type of care provided by a gardner at a botanical garden. Two very different approaches. One with a glass case and a scary looking guard, and one with a nurturing gardener, tending, watering and shaping the very subject of her care.
As Hipps writes…
“The gardener and the guard had two very different types of jobs. The guard’s job was to protect and preserve an ancient artifact. The gardener’s job was to cultivate and promote the growth of living things.” (p. 108)
Hipps makes the point that if the approaches to care were swapped, the painting would be destroyed and the plants of the garden would most certainly die.
“The key…is understanding the object so the wrong methods are not applied.” (pp. 108-109)
Again, Hipps writes…
“The same is true when it comes to our relationship to the message of Jesus – the gospel. We must accurately understand the nature of the gospel if we are to treat it with the proper care.” (pg. 109)
Hipps goes on to make the case for a trajectory of a growing and ever widening gospel. In this way, Hipps argues, perhaps the gospel is more like a plant than a painting. Maybe the gospel is less in need of guards than gardeners.
There’s more of this type of thoughtful, compelling material to follow. I hope I’ve whetted your appetite. This meal is well prepared.
In the end, Hipps is taking particular, and sometimes complex, matters of philosophy, theology and hermeneutics, and wrapping them in simplified language and metaphor. And, in this case, it’s effective – even for a guy like me, who might not be quite as much of an intellectual as he thinks he is.