Within the Restoration Movement, we have always placed a premium on the importance of all of God’s Word. But the Book of Acts has been especially formative to our fellowship, especially since it contains so many occasions of conversion, as well as how the early Christians practiced their faith.
In his book, How to Start a Riot, Jonathan Storment seeks to help his readers see Acts in a new light. He does not believe that our traditional way of reading Acts is invalid—just incomplete. In his words, “[This is] a book trying to wake Jesus followers up to the implications of following Jesus.”
He later adds, “In the religious tribe that I belong to, we have tended to read the book of Acts as if it could be broken down into a series of steps or a law code of some kind, all the while forgetting the most basic message Acts is telling.”
There are three themes in Acts that Storment traces throughout his book. First, the implications of Jesus’ resurrection dominate the story of Acts more than we may have previously realized. In Storment’s view, “resurrection has been misrepresented as a doctrine that promotes indifference.” It’s certainly true that hope in the afterlife can cause some to not care much about this life. Instead of indifference, Storment argues that the resurrection should make the church bolder, inspiring us to take greater risks. “Jesus said to go into all the world. He never said anything about coming back.”
Second, Jesus’ ascension is, in Storment’s estimation, one of the most neglected events in Scripture. Like the resurrection, however, the implications are striking. He mentions how Jesus’ ascension was direct challenge to the authority and lordship of Caesar. By preaching a risen, ascended Christ, the early church stood against the politics of their day, and though they were willing to render to Caesar what was Caesar’s, they nonetheless denied him the one thing he wanted most: worship.
Finally, Storment weaves an argument throughout this book that the church today has become much more domesticated and tranquil than our first-century counterpart. Indeed, the title of Storment’s book echoes the reality that Paul and others caused quite a disturbance wherever they went with the gospel. In a world where the church is increasingly expected (even commanded) not to rock the boat, Acts serves as a manifesto for the church to turn the world upside down.
Overall, I appreciated Storment’s message in How to Start a Riot. It is human nature to grow comfortable with our paradigms and patterns. Occasionally, however, we need to re-read Scripture so that God can correct our blind spots. Storment observes the undercurrent of racial and socioeconomic reconciliation running through Acts, areas in which the church has struggled periodically throughout her history. The church is depicted in Acts as a community in which we learn to love those most different from us. If I’m honest, I much prefer going to church with people just like me.
While there is much to like in this book, some readers may not understand or appreciate Storment’s many pop culture references or dead-pan humor. There are also doctrinal viewpoints expressed in the book that I did not agree with, but none are essential to the book’s main message. The churches of Christ are right to point to Acts as a source of patterns of conversion and church life. But evidently the apostles’ memoirs have additional implications for us to reflect on and put into practice.
Acts is a manifesto of a people who went all over the known world proclaiming that Jesus is Lord and that God is doing a new thing that is available for anyone.