Cover Image: A Bigger Table

A Bigger Table

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date:

Member Reviews

A Bigger Table by John Pavlovitz is written by a pastor who reached his tipping point at the culmination of last year's presidential election. He compares the confines of the Ameican Church to the Church that was initially established in the book of Acts and finds a huge disconnect especially because the election highlighted such a divide in the American church. It is in this disconnect that he questions all the tenets of his faith -  his idea of God, what does it mean to really love as Christ commanded us, and the internal conflict of preaching one thing and living another.

He is not alone in his thoughts, as many resonated with me. Thoughts in this book are expressed eloquently through the author's life and his experience as a pastor. He so eloquently states that doubting and questioning your faith is not a bad thing, as a matter of fact, it may be necessary to deepening your walk. "Doubt isn't the sign of a dead faith, not necessarily even a sickly one. It is often the sign of a faith that is allowing itself to be tested, one that is brave enough to see if it can hold up under stress. God is more than big enough to withstand the weight of your vacillating belief, your part-time skepticism, and even your full blown faith crises."

If you are numbed by the lack of love you feel in your Christian walk today, this book is for you. The subtitle of this book could be - Challenge: Are you willing to love like Jesus did?
This book challenges what has become conventional thinking around the church. Some tough questions that he addresses are: Why are LGBTQ individuals automatically excluded from the Christian community? Black people? Poor people? Aren't they people just like the rest of us? Why are churches so segregated? What biases do we have that prevent us from reaching out to the least of theses? Are we putting principles over people?

The author is white so as a Black woman, I give him kudos for recognizing the position he's in and being bold enough to challenge the status quo. Radical love whether black or white will do that to you. Building a bigger table is messy as we find seats for all who want to partake. This is a book about humanity and one man's view of how he's trying to live out God's love.

If you are looking to broaden your views on Christianity, I recommend this book.
Was this review helpful?
This is another one of those books I wish I had been able to read several years ago when I was really freaking out about how deep the rabbit hole would go for me... I love this quote from the book:

"I hadn't yet summoned the courage to face the most terrifying questions Christians can ever ask themselves: "if this small part of my faith that I always believed to be true no longer is, what else might not be true?" and "If the Bible doesn't say what I'd grown up believing it says in these handful of verses, where else have I gotten it wrong?" It begins to feel as though those questions themselves will destroy your faith for good, when in reality they should be welcome intrusions. Doubt isn't the sign of a dead faith, not necessarily even of a sickly one. It's often the sign of a faith that is allowing itself to be tested, one that is brave enough to see if it can hold up under stress. The worst thing you can do in those seasons of uncertainty is to pile upon your already burdened shoulders guilt for the mere fact that the wavering exists. God is more than big enough to withstand the weight of your vacillating belief, your part-time skepticism, and even your full-blown faith crises. We've been taught that such things are the antithesis of belief, usually by those who are afraid to be transparent about their own instability. God can handle your wavering, friend, even if those around you can't." (John Pavlovitz, 44)

I give it 3 out of 5 stars on Goodreads because I like the book, I like the message of the book, but there's not enough meat to it or content to warrant a repeat reading. I do agree with his message and his heart for creating that space, that bigger table, where everyone, truly everyone is welcome. 

Here are some other quotes I liked: 

“The heart of the bigger table is the realization that we don't have to share someone's experience to respect their road. As we move beyond the lazy theology and easy caricatures that seek to remove any gray from people's lives, we can meet them in that grayness, right where they are, without demanding they become something else in order to earn proximity to us or to a God who loves them dearly. Just as was true in the life and ministry of Jesus. Real love is not contingent upon alteration; it simply is. There is no earning of fellowship or deserving of closeness; there is only the invitation itself and the joy that comes when you are fully seen and heard.” (18-19)

“The truth is real spirituality is usually costly. Many followers of Jesus end up learning this not from the world outside the Church but from our faith tradition itself. We end up choosing Jesus and losing our religion; finding proximity to him creates distance from others. If you seek to expand the table you're going to find yourself in a tough spot. The truth may not get you fired. (Although it might).” (52).

“This is what it means to be the people of the bigger table: to look for the threads that might tie us together and to believe that these are more powerful than we imagine. This is the only future the Church really has. Disparate people will not be brought together through a denomination or a pastor or by anything the institutional church can offer. We know that now. These were useful for a time, but they are an exercise in diminishing returns. The Church will thrive only to the degree it is willing to be out making space for a greater swath of humanity and by recognizing the redemptive power of relationships. (62-63)

This sounds all too familiar:

“Frame the spiritual journey as a stark good-vs.-evil battle of warring sides long enough and you’ll eventually see the Church and those around you in the same way too. You’ll begin to filter the world through the lens of conflict. Everything becomes a threat to the family; everyone becomes a potential enemy. Fear becomes the engine that drives the whole thing. When this happens, your default response to people who are different or who challenge you can turn from compassion to contempt. You become less like God and more like the Godfather. In those times, instead of being a tool to fit your heart for invitation, faith can become a weapon to defend yourself against the encroaching sinners threatening God’s people—whom we conveniently always consider ourselves among. Religion becomes a cold, cruel distance maker, pushing from the table people who aren’t part of the brotherhood and don’t march in lockstep with the others.” (28)

“I knew without blinking that I didn't have to choose between loving God and loving my brother - and he didn't have to choose between being gay and being adored by God.” (17)
Was this review helpful?
I liked this book so much that I encouraged my small group to use it as the topic of our group study, which we did. I appreciate John’s focus on the idea of developing a greater and all encompassing love for others. The book stimulated great discussion and brainstorming among our group.
Was this review helpful?
Thank you Westminister and Netgalley for an ARC of this book.

I enjoyed reading the perspective of John Pablovitz in his book ‘ A Bigger Table’, where he encourages a more inclusive approach of all people.  I  was interested to read his thoughts and perspective in how things are relative to how he would like them to be.  
This is a timely book for everyone of us to be more accepting of others, regardless of your perceived similarities and differences.
Was this review helpful?
I first started following John Pavlovitz during the 2016 Presidential election. He made some good points and said some good things. However, I soon noticed that things started to feel off. His views, soon after the election began to not feel very Biblical. RJ noticed that he rarely actually uses Scripture (something I need to be better about as well) and I hoped that getting to read more of his thoughts than just those on social media might prove helpful. I didn’t enjoy or really get anything out of A Bigger Table because I found all the same problems- a lack of Scripture references and some ideas that do not align with my personal beliefs. I’ve stopped following John Pavlovitz on social media and I won’t be reading any of his books in the future.
Was this review helpful?
Our table of understanding and tolerance is way to small. There is only space for people of similar thoughts, similar skin colour, similar political beliefs, and similar cultural distinctivenesses. Beginning with a lament about the state of the American political scene, and the way the Trump presidency had divided many communities, the big question is: "What does it take to expand that table?" How do we create a more inclusive, diverse, and accepting environment? According to author and pastor John Pavlovitz, this book is "about humanity, about the one flawed family that we belong to and the singular, odd, staggeringly beautiful story we all share." The first part of the book details his journey from being hired to getting fired. He shares his background as a young "insider" experiencing within a community that makes stark distinctions between people inside and people outside. Such "faulty biographies" were handed to him and he was expected to toe the line. Raised in a Catholic home, and seeing how his community has become such a "gentrified, sanitized, homogeneous" one, he aspires to become a pastor to all people, to learn to break bread with the broken, the marginalized, and the lesser ones around. He chronicles his journey through many different shakeups. From his brother coming out as gay to moving to a Protestant Church; from seeing the Church as a place of acceptance to a place of rejection; from outspoken faith to "conspiracy of silence" when it comes to navigating the tricky terrains of truth and love. When he tries to push back against the way Christians use "clobber verses" to push through their views, it marks the beginning of the end for his role as pastor. The price of honesty is steep. That sets him up with a conviction to start building a bigger table.

Part Two shows us how he goes about doing that. He reflects on Jesus being welcoming of all people, especially the outcasts. This contrasts with many communities around us content only to preach to the choir. Go beyond mere tolerance and acceptance toward genuine hospitality. This table is a table of authentic connections. It comprises the four legs of hospitality; authenticity; diversity; and relationship. Radical hospitality is that perseverance of welcome in spite of opposition. Total authenticity is about creating that space to be honest. True diversity means being able to see all our differences as beautiful manifestations of God's grace. Building relationships is about building an agenda-free community. These four legs represent the foundations of building a bigger table.

Part Three shows us the challenging paths forward. We are urged to show the need to put our words into practice. Understand what unconditional love means. Don't become a Bible bully. For the heart of the construction of the bigger table is essentially an "apologetic of love." He sees too many people ready to speak but slow to understand or empathize. Pushing a theological agenda seems to be more important than accepting persons as they are. Overcome the perceptions of bigotry through leading change for the better, such as increasing diversity and welcoming differences. Let the diversity of opinions be a rich reservoir of material for greater understanding. These and many others help us expand our awareness of the huge distance we need to cover not just to speak but to live out the truth in love.

My Thoughts
First, this must have been a painfully difficult book for the author to write. Many of the experiences are from his own. Being fired for one's own personal convictions is not something easy for anyone to stomach. Not only that, to speak out at the risk of excommunication from family and friends show us the high cost of open sharing. While conceptually, sharing is a good thing, practically, it could make or break any relationship.

Second, from pain comes the frustrations in writing. I sense several moments of sarcasm and disappointment, especially the part about the predictable "template and sequence for birthing Christian faith." He goes on to list the key influencer, the expected ministry teams, and the way typical churches emphasize buildings, budgets, and bodies. Calling it "top-heavy," he laments at the way many typical churches are built upon. While it is true that such a strategy is predictable, he doesn't offer a practical alternative apart from his own journey of starting with a "one-night table gathering." Honestly speaking, is there a more understandable alternative to the predictable church? Perhaps, starting an alternative from within the conventional church might very well be something more possible. Understand that changing mindsets might take generations. Thus, patience and generous outlay of gentle teaching and guiding might help bridge any divide. Letting negative experience drive one's strategy is not the best way to start with. In fact, such negative experiences would require strong facilitating, something that only people who had gone through harsh setbacks and who had been healed are able to do.

Third, for all the exhortations to change and to encourage the building of the bigger table, this book is limited in terms of its effectiveness. The best that it could do is to increase awareness and propose a way different from our conventional church model. I like the title of the book which captures the picture of inclusiveness. I appreciate the openness the author has with regard to his painful personal journey. He is also spot on with regard to the multiple levels of fear as our default setting in many church ministry circles. Like going against a huge tidal wave, unless one is secure and stable, be prepared to get drenched. One's shipload of ideas may also be easily overturned. This calls for wisdom and discernment about how to communicate the ideas of radical hospitality, total authenticity, true diversity, and agenda-free community. The best people to effect such change would be influential people from within. Don't forget that the Church is God's and with prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, we can make our petitions solely to God and trust that He will create spaces and difference makers sooner rather than later.

John Pavlovitz is a former megachurch pastor who was fired for his progressive liberal beliefs. He has developed a following through his blog articles. He is thankful to be free to express his personal views more openly through the public platform.

Rating: 4 stars of 5.

This book has been provided courtesy of Westminster John Knox Press and NetGalley without requiring a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.
Was this review helpful?
I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for my unbiased opinion.

In A Bigger Table, John Pavlovitz talks about the ways Christians can make the church welcoming to all people.  Too often, Christians use the differences in other people to put up a fence and isolate themselves.  Instead, we need to show them Christ's love.  As Jesus often dined with prostitutes, tax collectors, and other marginalized people in his time, so we need to invite the marginalized people of our time to spend time with us and listen to their stories.

I have enjoyed John Pavlovitz's blog posts and was excited to get a chance to read his book.  A lot of what he says will resonate with those who feel alienated by what the American church has become.  The world would be a better place if people would listen to those with different backgrounds from them.
Was this review helpful?
A bigger table by John Pavlovitz is a great book. As Christians we accept so many people in the church that go against the God's rules for us, i.e: divorcees, adulterers, liars, sexual abusers, coveters, idolators, dishonoring your parents - just pick a 10 commandment - and yet we still allow them in our door. The church has accepted all these people because let's face it if they didn't, the church would be really sparse. We are all sinners. But yet we see LGBT as if they are so far out from all the other sins that we turn them away. The bigger table is John's journey and struggles with the Church. It's his view on what the bible says about the inclusivity of all vs what the Church has been doing. I think it's important for people to realize that we are not God, though we like to judge what God thinks. The Bible shares Jesus's stories on the people he ate with (which was so very important in the ancient world), the people he walked with to share God's message and the people he helped. The people Jesus met with would be the people on the outside of normal society. They were the sinners, the unclean and the people that society had deemed not worthy of being a part of the normal structure. Jesus teaches us that we should be inclusive of all. Being inclusive is not the same as acceptance of everything they do. - Think of your children. You love the heck out of them but man there are some things you which you could change about them. But you love them anyway. I believe that Jesus's walk shows us that kind of love. The love of a parent, a friend, and mentor. John's book is so good. We can fundamentally disagree with each other but I love you anyways and you are welcome in my house for dinner. Come and eat with me. So good!
Was this review helpful?
I had heard of John Pavlovitz but had not read anything by him before.  Now I wonder where he had been hiding.  I connected with his theology and was challenged to do more..  I highly recommend this book to anyone who is willing to open their eyes and gain a larger understanding of the grace of God.
Was this review helpful?
This book seems so promising for people who want to be more welcoming for their neighbors. But there are lines that cross moral lines that many faithful followers of Jesus will not be comfortable with. 

Being progressive is not the same as being correct.
Was this review helpful?
John Pavlovitz is a popular blogger who challenges the Christian norm. He refuses to put, or leave, God or the Church in a box.  In A Bigger Table, Pavlovitz encourages church leaders to hold on to the virtues of courage and patience.  And he calls for radical hospitality, total authenticity, true diversity, and an agenda-free community. Pavlovitz shares openly from his own life. He is transparent in his own journey. And he is aware that making the table bigger is "easier said than done." And he is transparent about his thoughts on the 2016 election. He sees it as part of the growing schism between the left and the right in the United States. And this has implications for the Church. Pavlovitz, like so many other leaders, calls for a Church that looks different from the way we have always done church. Now, more than ever, we need a bigger table where all are welcomed. And this is the vital message of the book. So, let's start with setting another place at the table.
Was this review helpful?
Customer Review
4.0 out of 5 stars
and we should work out our faith like Jesus did
ByC. Fergusonon February 1, 2018
Format: Paperback
In may ways, Pavlovitz is right-on in his complaints about Evangelical Christianity. Too often, churches are slick decision-centric salvation machines, based on a business model that prizes numbers and spits out those who are different, needy, or have doubts. He is right; we need a bigger table, and we should work out our faith like Jesus did, in relationships, without an agenda.
However, one thing I found lacking in this very engaging book is any sense of the supernatural. Sure, we should have a bigger table, but once we get people to the table, what then? Should we have diversity, just for diversity's sake? We should love and care for people, but it isn't our love and care that changes them: it's the work of the Holy Spirit. A changed life is the mark of the born-again believer.
Also, Pavlovitz' political prejudices were in full view. He paints conservatives and Trump voters very negatively, and with a very broad brush, as if there were no problems with the other candidate----!!
I've been around a long time, and have seen American Christianity go through many changes, from the Jesus Movement of the '70's up to today, and Pavlovitz is prescient in saying that American Christianity needs to change. These changes occur every 20 years or so, as the church reforms itself, hopefully towards more Biblical standards. Though I disagreed with Pavlovitz on many of his views, I found his voice refreshing and his challenges thought-provoking. May the dialogue continue.
Was this review helpful?
This book is about including more people at the table of Christianity which is opposite from what churches in traditional evangelical churches do.  He encourages us to include our LGBTQ members around the table and accepting them for who they are instead of trying to change them which is something that is traditional evangelical churches try to do in the United States of America.  He is provides encouragement to the LGBTQ community as well as their family members and those who support them in letting them know that one could still be a Christian as well as LGBTQ.  He also wants us to include those who are different from us in the Church.  In this book he senses that ALL means ALL in those who should be welcome in the Church even though sometimes if you are different or have differing beliefs than you are not welcome in the Church unless you change.  He thinks that churches should encourage everyone should come to church just as they are.  I received a copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for a review.
Was this review helpful?
This book was much better than I thought it would be. A lot of Christian Books
tend to talk over our heads and not apply the scripture to everyday life.
I have followed John on Facebook and Twitter for a long time. Many of his postings
have said exactly what I was thinking. The book started out with John's life and
how he became the loving person he is today. I got this book free from NetGalley.
I loved his writing and his word so much, I want a hard copy to keep and refer to.
I think anyone will enjoy this book whether you are in Church or not. You will learn
that it's ok to love everyone, no matter what. Somehow we have gotten completely
away from, Love thy neighbor. This book will bring it back.
Was this review helpful?
A Bigger Table is an eye-opener.  It only took one week after starting John Pavlovitz’ book to see a Sunday morning service from the point of view of the one on the outside, instead of my entrenched view from the inside.  I was disturbed to see how easily we alienate and exclude those who don’t seem to fit from being part of our community.  While reading A Bigger Table I found myself revisiting the gospels, looking at how Jesus expanded his table and focused on inclusion not exclusion.

The book is particularly focused on the LGBTQ community, which is so topical and I think will become an even bigger issue for the global church over the coming decade.  It would have been useful if the author had also focused on other people excluded from the table, such as those with mental health issues or intellectual disabilities.

One small niggle – the anger expressed in this book sometimes seemed to wander from righteous anger for justice to perhaps an anger more influenced by personal past hurts.  In saying this, I really appreciated the story of extending the Table not only to the hurt LGBTQ girl, but also to “Sign Guy” who was opposing her lifestyle.  I also appreciated the final letter to Pastors, which started to have more practical application for those in a traditional church setting.

Be warned – this is an unsettling book, and may put you in a state of what Pavlovitz calls a “spiritual flux”.    It will certainly change your view of the size of God’s table.
Was this review helpful?
Full disclosure, I follow John Pavlovitz on Facebook and agree with nearly everything he says, so I was very much predisposed to like this book. This is full of valuable advice in very divisive times. It also calls out a lot of what bothers me about organized religion and self-righteous followers who claim to be Christian. I hope this book reaches a wide audience and gives a lot of people some serious insight and makes them think.
Was this review helpful?
This is a good well written book and includes interesting insight into the life of John Pavlovitz (whose work I regularly read). What he writes is worthwhile. And it is important to keep putting out in the world to counter the louder uglier voices that often are put forward to represent Christianity. He offers good reminders that all are welcome to the table and that is good news for so many people who have been told otherwise. That said, there was nothing particularly groundbreaking for me in the theology presented. So I recommend this for progressive Christians who are looking for help articulating the radical hospitality of Christ.
Was this review helpful?
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. The main idea of this book is that we should all (especially those of us calling ourselves Christians) be willing and available to talk to those who don't have the same opinions we hold. Super difficult to do, especially in these tense political days, but it is vital that we try to see the humanity in each other. 

I really liked that, though this book is about reaching to those on the "other side" of a debate / of the aisle, the author doesn't hide his beliefs. He is completely progressive and will not operate in an environment that debases others -but he's willing to dialogue with others. I think that's what I will remember from this book the most. Don't dilute your values, thoughts, opinions, but don't hold them so tight that you can't reach out and shake hands with someone whose opinions are different.
Was this review helpful?
A Bigger Table: Building Messy, Authentic and Hopeful Spiritual Community by John Pavlovitz is one man’s journey to Christianity and envisions a table where everyone is welcome. He focuses on homosexuality and the LGBT community. He opens with the feelings of the morning after the election of Donald Trump and sees the already deep divides among the American people becoming “cavernous.” He discusses his belief that the only sin in the world is exclusion. We need to love each other and leave us that way as that’s how we were made. He doesn’t really offer any ideas to bring all Christians to the table, only that we need to gather together. It seems to be a lot of talk without much thought to the action needed.
I really wanted to like A Bigger Table and gladly accepted an invitation to read it. However, I was turned off by his self-righteousness and self-congratulatory tones. I feel as a pastor, he questions the authority of the Bible and what it says about homosexuality. You cannot hand pick which verse to believe and follow and which ones to ignore. While I admit that these verses have been used as the basis for horrible and horrific treatment of the LGBT community and it is wrong. However, to ignore the clear language of the verses is equally wrong especially in the New Testament. I am highly disappointed in this book. I can see Mr. Pavlovitz’s goal to open the conversation and I can appreciate this goal. However, I feel he further pushes others away instead of trying to pull everyone in together at the same table. I do not recommend A Bigger Table.
A Bigger Table
is available in paperback and eBook
Was this review helpful?
Enjoyed reading about his experiences in his faith journey. Inspired me to look for ways to expand me view of the faith community
Was this review helpful?