Jesus, Bread, and Chocolate: Crafting a Handmade Faith in a Mass-Market World

This book teaches more than just faith.

by Scott A. Shuford, Trending Christian News

faithWhat can a book about artisan bakers, chocolatiers, coffee cuppers, microbrewers, farmers, and music curators teach us about the Christian faith?

More than we can imagine, as it turns out – thanks to John J. Thompson’s new book “Jesus, Bread, and Chocolate: Crafting a Handmade Faith in a Mass-Market World.”

Thompson introduces us – as Philip Yancey once put it – to a Jesus we never knew – or, more accurately, a Jesus we’ve forgotten. With endearing humor and humility – admitting his own faults along the way – he gently exposes a deadly problem in the church.

Much of Western Christianity has absorbed the industrial consumer culture into its faith.

We covet convenience and low prices in our faith journey much the same way we prefer the fastest, cheapest, saltiest, and sweetest foods and drinks – even if it ruins our health.

But there is a better way, and it is worth the high cost it requires.

“Jesus, Bread, and Chocolate” aims to ruin our taste for the cheap and convenient – especially in the most important pursuit of all: our relationship with the Artisan King and His beloved Bride – our fellow believers – for whom He paid the highest cost imaginable.

True Artisanship: The Hard, Joyous Work of Christian Maturity

God loves to use the creativity of His servants to awaken dead nerves in the church. For centuries, the artisan work of authors, composers, and painters have helped us “steal past those watchful dragons,” as C.S. Lewis wrote, of religious over-familiarity. Through art we rediscover Christ and Christian community.

John J. Thompson uses the artisanship of food, drink, woodworking, farming, and music. We steal past the watchful dragons with full stomachs, hands stained with soil, and a tune on our lips.

And the book serves up many delightful courses to achieve this, including these central themes:

  • Acquiring a taste for the intensely flavored Bread of Life and Christ’s demanding discipleship over the bland white bread Gospel of the Western church might be the hardest thing we ever do – and the best.
  • Handmade chocolate, and its stunning process of cocoa bean fermentation, teaches us lessons about absolute truth, partnership with God, and breaking free from the factory values of mass-market faith.
  • The worst cup of coffee in history, sedition in the American Revolution, and a trip to Honduras have more in common than you think; coffee shows us how changing the way we measure cost and value can save lives.
  • A brewery run by Martin Luther’s wife financed the Reformation – a telling example of how beer, when used with godly discernment, played a central role in Christian fellowship for centuries; and it still can today.
  • The intriguing history of beer shows us why the pleasure blessings of God – food, drink, sex – must always remain connected to their source and purpose.
  • The revolution of urban gardening is bringing green life back to the crumbling landscape of Detroit and other struggling cities. In a Christian culture that dislikes God’s spiritual pruning, the hard work of organic farming has much to teach us.
  • The living room concert craze, fueled by artisan songwriters, has taken the music world by storm. Its profound intimacy and vulnerability reveals what worship and fellowship can look like in the close quarters of real community.

faithWhen you really savor these revelations, it stops you in your tracks and demands self-assessment.

It’s a little like walking into your church late at night, perhaps to spend some time alone to pray, and then finding – to your utter shock – Jesus standing over a work bench with tools in His calloused hands and sweat shining on His brow and dripping off His nose – the King of Kings and the Artisan of Artisans, working late into the night, pouring over the living stones of His temple with blood, sweat, and tears.

And the further you get into “Jesus, Bread, and Chocolate,” something begins to dawn on you.

Jesus’ labor of love for the church and for your soul does not stop when the neatly packaged 30-minute sermon ends Sunday morning or when people quickly disperse to their fast food runs and buffet lunches. We enter our churches, consume the goods, and leave as quickly as we exit a Panda Express after zipping through its food line.

But belonging to the church means, in Thompson’s words, being “deeply committed to other flawed and difficult people. I feel his hands sanding my rough edges and binding me irrevocably to his people. Church is art, or at least it should be. If yours isn’t, maybe you should roll up your sleeves before heading for the exit.”

Artisans in Pursuit of the Father’s Heart

faithThe book does more than provide interesting facts and spiritual insights. The stories of bread, coffee, and chocolate play out before a looming backdrop of Thompson’s difficult childhood. We learn, with shock, about the monstrous actions of his father who was an abusive alcoholic and a con artist.

This troubled man casts a tangible shadow over the early chapters of the book – a wildly unpredictable villain in an intense drama: one moment he is threatening Thompson’s mother with a gun, the next moment he’s happily treating the boys to “Star Wars: Episode IV” at the cinema.

But as the story progresses, we travel with the author on a journey of profound healing.

We see God miraculously deliver his family from danger and place people in the right places at the right times – Christian artisans and mentors – who speak life into Thompson’s wounded heart.

We see God use the power of artisan work – excellent music, bread, coffee, and other crafts – to bring healing to incredible hurt.

And, besides helping adults heal from the past, this book speaks powerfully to youth who are wandering, wounded, and uncertain that they will ever find the love of the Heavenly Father and authentic community so central to Jesus’ message.

Colorful Characters Along the Way

The book introduces real personalities – lovable characters from the author’s life who are as nuanced, earthy, and memorable as the ones in a John Steinbeck novel:

  • A long-haired baker and rock guitarist with a smile as genuine as the fresh bread from his bakery
  • A wildly successful chef who once cooked for Paul McCartney and who found God after discovering the wonder of handmade chocolate
  • A banjo-playing coffee cupper with a beard down to his belly, a floppy beat-up hat, and a talent for roasting coffee beans with an old metal pot and a heat gun used for stripping paint

And these are just a few of the warm-hearted characters in the book. As we meet each one, we feel the power of handcrafted discipleship and Christian community.

Our Desperate Need for Artisan Discipleship

As Thompson points out, Jesus spent far more time with His little circle of disciples than He did preaching to massive audiences. Jesus favored artisan discipleship as the measure of a community’s health and growth, not the bigger-is-better ideals of industrial-minded consumerism.

The message of “Jesus, Bread, and Chocolate” is simple: if we’re willing to roll up our sleeves, join Jesus at the work bench – sweat, blood, tears, and all – and engage our faith and relationships as artisan crafts of the highest quality, we might find ourselves becoming exactly what our surrounding culture needs right now: a believable, authentic vision of the love and power of Jesus Christ.

Taste and See For Yourself

To learn more about John J. Thompson’s new book, “Jesus, Bread, and Chocolate: Crafting a Handmade Faith in a Mass-Market World,” and to download a free chapter, visit the book’s official site:

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