Archive for October, 2014

21
Oct
14

Book Review: Unshockable Love

unshockableThis is a book review I really don’t want to write.  I was provided a copy of John Burke’s Unshockable Love: How Jesus Changes the World through Imperfect People (Grand Rapids:Baker, 2013) by Baker Books with the expectation that I would write a review of it, and honestly if it weren’t for that, I don’t think I would have made it 100 pages into it.  In writing a book review like this, I want to acknowledge that there is a real brother in Christ who poured his heart into this work.  I won’t write anything I wouldn’t say as a concern if we were sitting down face-to-face.  But ultimately, I cannot recommend this book.

The Good

There really is a lot about this book to commend.  Burke has an obvious passion to reach the lost, and specifically those who are trapped in the deep webs of sin which our culture so readily produces. Over and over he tells true stories of how he and people in his church have engaged the most broken, the most desperate, and showed them the love of Christ.  Burke’s primary grid is to see people as the image of God, a masterpiece covered in the mud of sin.  Seeing people as a hidden masterpiece rather than judging them by the sin they have are trapped in empowers the Christian to a kind of acceptance and compassion which people don’t find anywhere else in the world.  They experience a community which welcomes them and through that they eventually come to meet the Savior around whom the community meets.

This is absolutely the strength of the book.  Throughout it, you will be encouraged to reach out to the broken, and you will see that you don’t have to be some super-trained evangelist or a seminary graduate to show people the kingdom of God. If you can read this book and not feel a greater compassion for the desperately lost, your heart is ice.  This is a message that we western Christians need to hear often, because it is so easy for us to quietly submerge ourselves in our Christian subculture and lock out the world.

The Not As Good

The biggest problem this book has is its theological underpinnings, and that it fundamentally why I cannot recommend this book.  Consistently throughout the book Burke has a very optimistic view of our ability as mud-covered masterpieces to respond to God, and a deficient view of sin.  There is basically no mention of the need for the Holy Spirit to change anybody’s heart, which seems to fly in face of major teaching like John 3.

He presents hell as if that were a last resort that Jesus used only to shock the proud and self-righteous, but there are so many passages where Jesus brings up hell and judgment just talking to his disciples.  Reading Burke you would never get the impression that he warned his disciples about hell – he only brought “the hammer” to the really hard cases like the Pharisees.  But what about Luke 13, where Jesus discusses judgment and punishment three times, telling his disciples?  What about the end of the Sermon on the Mount?

Fundamentally it’s things like these – and they fill the book – which make me unable to recommend it.  Over and over throughout the book Burke has emails from people who have seen their lives change because of encounters with their church.  I cannot recall a single email which referred to salvation, which praised Jesus for making atonement for their sin, or which seemed to see sin as anything more than the big systematic problems in their lives like drugs or immorality.  The Gospel really does deliver people from the clutches of darkness, but it is so much bigger than that, and I never got the impression in this book that Burke was pointing them toward that bigger gospel.

The second half of the book is talking about how to set up what he calls a Network for putting this idea into practice.  The ideas are interesting, I suppose, but for most churches they are really impractical.  A network requires 20-70 people and should be in regular contact with 100-300 people (where I live, that would qualify as a full church).  But within networks you have small groups (maybe 20 people), as well as very small accountability relationships (3-5 people).  On top of that, everyone is meeting weekly as a congregation.  Everyone should be in mentoring/discipling relationships outside of these other venues, and you should be actively and regularly reaching out to the lost in your circle of influence.  Perhaps I expect too little of people, but how many churches can seriously expect their people to be engaged regularly in six regular events?  I’m sure he suggests this because it’s actually working at his church, but is there a smaller version of this that people can do to try to get their feet wet?  The average church in America only has 100 members: can this plan be done if you don’t have a megachurch?

One other item which is more a matter of personal preference than a theological issue, there had to be at least thirty references in this to Burke’s other two books and how those have been effective in people’s lives.  Honestly, I got weary of the constant references to No Perfect People Allowed and Soul Revolution.

In conclusion, Burke really is a talented writer: his prose is crisp and engaging. As I read the book I prayed that my heart would pursue the lost the way his does. But I cannot with good conscience recommend a book which I think is theologically at odds with the main thrust of the New Testament.

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11
Oct
14

Book Review: Same-Sex Marriage

samesexmarriage

On a scale of 1-10, I give Same-Sex Marriage: A Thoughtful Approach to God’s Design for Marraige (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2014) a 10 for how well the authors address their chosen topic. Throughout my reading of this book I continually rejoiced in the grace and compassion shown by Sean McDowell and John Stonestreet toward the homosexual community, while at the same time not compromising in their solid support of marriage being defined exclusively as between 1 man and 1 woman.

The authors explore how our culture has transitioned from disapproval of homosexuality to acceptance and even a demand for same sex marriage. They underline that homosexuality and same sex marriage are just one of several forms of the sexual immorality the Bible condemns, such as adultery. Our culture has long been undermining the true definition of marriage, through allowing “no-fault” divorce laws and advancing the idea of marriage for “as long as we both shall love” instead of “for as long as we both shall live.” They state that if we are to allow same sex marriage to stand, we must radically redefine marriage and what is to stop us from including incestuous or polygamous relationships?

The authors use Scripture to support God’s view and purpose for marriage–procreation, raising children in stable homes with a mother and a father, and as a parable explaining the mystery of Christ and His church. Marriage between 1 man and 1 woman was a creation ordinance, and though it has been tarnished and corrupted by the fall of man, God’s purpose holds strong and unchanging.

The authors interviewed many men and women for this book, getting their perspectives on marriage and cultural shifts, how to engage people compassionately and in an informed manner, that even Christians can struggle with same sex attraction, and how essential it is for Christians to defend traditional marriage and their faith.

Ultimately we are to remember that every human is an image bearer of Christ, regardless of sexual orientation. We are all sinners in need of a Savior, and Jesus Christ’s sacrifice is sufficient to restore ANYONE to Himself. I highly recommend this book to any who seek “a thoughtful approach to God’s design for marriage.”