Michael Hardin, founder of Preaching Peace and one of today’s leading scholars in the theological application of mimetic theory, is the author of the theological tour de force The Jesus Driven Life and now also What The Facebook: Posts from the Edge of Christendom. A friend of the Raven Foundation, Michael’s work is invaluable to the study of mimetic theory and Christian peacemaking. Along with my review below, I must also comment on how fitting it is that Michael’s latest publication not only utilizes a Girardian-informed hermeneutic to discuss a variety of theological topics, but does so through the medium of Facebook, a virtual social playground if ever there was one! While the book itself doesn’t reveal the lengthy discussions that the majority of Michael’s posts generate, the fact is that this material would not be with us today if it weren’t for — not only Michael Hardin’s enormous and insightful brain — but also his relationships with his many curious, inquisitive, thought-provoking friends. Michael has been known to say that none of us are individuals; rather, we are all interdividuals. In other words, we are our relationships. Within our individual bodies we are shaped by the people who love us, care for us, interact with us on a daily basis or in particular, formative moments. Made in the image of the Triune God, we are made in and for relationship. A book that reflects a year’s worth of Facebook posts is the literary equivalent of interdividuality — though we may see only Michael Hardin’s writing, beneath the surface lie the questions and thoughts provoked by friends, students, theological mentors, etc.,… making What The Facebook? an excellent resource for studies in mimetic theory not only in content, but in form as well. So, without further ado, my review:
As a liturgigeek (theology geek would be more accurate, but it doesn’t have the same ring to it), I can remember days in seminary wishing I could talk to and ask questions of those theologians who captivated, inspired, and sometimes befuddled me. I never imagined I would have that very opportunity through the magic of social media, but God works in mysterious ways. One of today’s most profound and provocative theologians, Michael Hardin, known as “The Dude” of theology, has taken to Facebook to engage anyone interested in following Jesus more closely, understanding scripture through the lens of Girardian anthropology, the theology of peacemaking, and a host of other topics. In 2013, I friended Michael Hardin and soon found myself logging in daily to partake of his wit and wisdom as he churned out post after post of deep, edgy, thought-provoking material that helped me to think more critically about my faith and ponder the divine love of God as revealed in Jesus. By the end of the year, Michael had produced more than enough material to comprise this awesome book.
What The Facebook? is a theology book like no other because as substantive and academic as much of it is, it also has the tone of a journal or a letter to friends… because that’s what it is! The format draws in the reader because it is a part of a conversation, and throughout the book the reader will find glimpses of personal joys, struggles, and frustrations interwoven with Hardin’s theology. While this theology is dense, comprehensive, and may occasionally send you running for a dictionary, it is immensely accessible because the humanity of the author shines through so well. Hardin can be humorous, boisterous, impassioned, humble, compassionate, but never dull.
Much of this book is a collection of series of topics of 5 to 15 or so posts on topics like hermeneutics (the science of interpretation), the satan (understood as the human principal of accusation, deceit and murder), the Nicene Creed (revitalized like you’ve never seen) and more. As such, it is perfect for church or small group studies, with some series even designed to fit perfectly into a liturgical season. The facebook post format makes the book digestible in ways that very few other theology books are. It is accessible to the lay person, though scholars, too, have something to learn. And in addition to Hardin’s own insights, the bibliography of this voracious reader is a great bonus!
But overall, what draws me most to What The Facebook? and other works of Michael Hardin like The Jesus-Driven Life is the solid, compassionate fruit-bearing theology. As someone who has struggled immensely with the violence in scripture and what it means to my faith, Hardin among other Girardian theologians makes me appreciate and take seriously every word of scripture without needing to claim it as an inerrant, unified Word of God. Hardin helps the reader to see the two major trajectories of scripture — that of sacrifice and that of mercy — and shows not how Jesus fits into the sacrificial mold depicted so clearly in Hebrew scripture, but how he redefines God as the one who suffers our violence rather than commands it. Using Jesus the forgiving victim as our hermeneutic opens up the scripture in new and profoundly enlightening ways. What does this Jesus lens mean for the way we understand evil and how we are to respond to it? For the way we understand our identities as members of Christ expressed in the Nicene Creed? For the way we understand discipleship? For the way we understand atonement and reconciliation? All of this and more are found within these pages. Buy the book, read it, and friend Michael Hardin. You might just get glimpses of excerpts from the future books!