Having recently questioned iffy Christian reasoning, and cast aspersions on more new-fangled spirituality, maybe it’s time I explain what I support. Throwing bricks is easy; building foundations is hard. Three Christian books that recently crossed my desk give me that opportunity.
Megachurch pastor Kyle Idleman has grown weary of fair-weather Christians whose loyalty runs no deeper than that to their favorite team. In Not a Fan, Idleman describes a life lived in complete submission to God’s will and Christ’s mission. While many call themselves Christian because they were baptized and attend church, Idleman wants believers to examine their hearts and their Scriptures for how that means they ought to live.
Idleman takes as his text Luke 9:23—“Then [Jesus] said to them all: ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.’” He intricately parses this scripture to find that we become truly Christian only when we die to those desires which aggrandize ourselves, but prove as fleeting as the wind. Only a life founded on God’s will can give us the meaning most of us constantly seek.
Little of what Idleman says is new; Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship addresses the same topics, but Idleman states them in language meant for lay readers. From an earthly viewpoint, Bonhoeffer and Idleman agree, Christianity makes little sense. What other philosophy calls its followers to die? Yet our short-term desires leave souls ultimately unfulfilled; only when we die to those desires can we take on the nourishing spiritual life.
Unfortunately, Idleman focuses a smidge too much on what faith calls us away from, less on what it calls us toward. But Mark Batterson stands ready to step into that gap. In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day uses a nearly forgotten image, deep in 2 Samuel, to show how God gives us all a choice. We can step out boldly, confident that God has given us a life of constant opportunity; or we can huddle in man-made security and watch life pass by.
Notice how often, in Scripture, God’s opportunities look terrifying: a flood, a giant, a cross. But victory falls to those who seek God’s instructions and never let earthly fears part them from their goals. Not that God makes everything easy. Remember, Paul fled Ephesus fearing the crowd. But even that boldness helped found one cornerstone congregation of the early Church.
Like Idleman, Batterson doesn’t want Sunday morning pew warmers. Christianity, to him, gives believers courage to step beyond the known, secure, and comfortable, and change their world. Christ did not come to write sermons, but to fill us with boldness and steer us to act. If we would honor God, Batterson says we must first find God’s opportunities, and face up to them wrapped in Godly courage.
Batterson chooses a few wobbly terms to express his belief. Early on, he says that “God is in the résumé-building business,” and implies that God’s opportunities build us up. He corrects himself later, thankfully, before lukewarm believers can distort his meaning. Batterson’s spiritual heart is clearly in the right place; his tongue, unfortunately, makes some statements I wish he could take back.
If we submit ourselves to God and act boldly, our family will be the first to notice. Christian counselors John Trent and Gary Smalley noticed this, and derived the idea of The Blessing so parents can pass on the strength their children need in our complex, discouraging world. Our society tells parents not to get too close to their kids; but if we’ve died to the world, what do we care?
Trent and Smalley craft a step-by-step process, modeled on the blessings passed from father to son in the Hebrew Scripture, and from Jesus to His followers in the Gospels. Their process is simple yet sound, requiring nothing risky or dangerous, but demanding that parents commit to their children. On the surface, it seems simple, even obvious; but since modern society treasures autonomy and tells parents to keep their distance, it’s actually revolutionary.
Indeed, by limiting themselves to parents, Trent and Smalley sell themselves short. Modified to suit cultural standards, the Blessing could transform how teachers relate to students, bosses to workers, politicians to constituents, and neighbors to each other. By sharing strength and giving each other a vision to pursue, the Blessing could give us a stronger, more community-minded world.
And between these three writers, they build a world I want to inhabit. God willing.
Also in this review: Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship