What Is a Nazarene? deserves a close examination by pastors in the 21st century who are navigating the pluralistic religious environment in which we function. This is a must-read. It was a must-read in 1998 when it was first published, but the need for it has grown exponentially since then.
Frequently, Nazarene pastors and laity are confronted with the question that, in one form or another, centers on our theological identity. This book helps to answer that question in terms of similarities and differences from other traditions or philosophies, both inside and outside the current of the Christian Church.
The introduction alone is worth the price of the book. Wes Tracy articulately, even poetically, captures the frailties and strengths of the Church of the Nazarene that are rooted in our theological ancestors, our history of ministry to the marginalized, and our intensely relevant message of the radical optimism of grace. The eight characteristics that unified the scattered and varied Holiness Movement of the late 1800s and early 1900s (chap. 1) are enlightening when it comes to our past and yet could serve as a “blueprint” to direct our path into the future.
These kinds of insights run throughout the book and should come as no surprise to those who are familiar with the authors. For decades, Tracy and Ingersol have lived, studied, and reflected upon our tradition and theology as a part of the Christian Church, and even more broadly, as a part of the religious community that surrounds us. The connections that they identify with our shared-Methodist heritage, if utilized properly, would open doors for conversation with co-workers, neighbors, and friends. With the enormous number of Catholics in the United States and Canada, the chapter that compares and contrasts Nazarenes with Catholicism is an invaluable resource. The question and answer format is particularly helpful, and they have accurately anticipated, in my view, the frequently asked questions.
Reading What Is a Nazarene? in this newly revised and updated edition has reminded me of the incredible theological and social treasure that the Church of the Nazarene plays a part in stewarding. It is worth a closer examination that is not based on superficial appearances but on the core beliefs, ways, and practices that truly define Nazarenes.
As an addendum, pay no attention to the actual cover of the book. It looks like an empty piece of paper or a “blank slate” as if “Nazarene” is yet to be defined or is open to any interpretation. Quite literally, do not judge this book by its cover because what is inside is much better!
BRAD ESTEP is senior pastor of Kansas City (MO) First Church of the Nazarene.