Sunday, July 20, 2008

Book Review

Bill's first post. Sorry, it's not a great story about my exciting life, or even juicy details about my excellent wife or lovable daughter. It's a book review. Our friend Jessica works at Zondervan and had a give-a-way over on her blog. Enjoying books and reading and being the sucker I am for things that are free, I signed up and below is my review.

Messy Spirituality by Michael Yaconelli (Zondervan 2002, 2007)

The premise of this book is that the spiritual life is messy, cluttered, and inconsistent. The author shows us of biblical characters who were “messy” and had their fair share of flaws. It mentions the people who Jesus hung out with, saying that they were certainly not the “religious” crowd of the day. Although this is true and everyone makes mistakes (the result of sin in our world and in our hearts – reference Ecclesiastes 7:20, Jeremiah 17:9, Isaiah 64:6, Romans 3:10-18), the biblical characters mentioned would not be characterized as living “messy” lives, but lives that were spent seeking after God.
Likewise, the people whom Jesus hung out with did not continue in their current state, they were changed by Jesus. Jesus welcomed them as they were – absolutely – but those that were His followers led significantly different lives from then on, especially after His death and resurrection. Readers should be warned that this book minimizes the importance of changing once God reveals Himself to us. The one place where this was discussed properly was in the latter part of Chapter 3, starting with the commentary of the man born blind. But after this, the focus on change is lost.

There are truths in this book. The fact that God loves us is evident throughout. That His grace for us is overwhelming is also clearly presented. But this book is dangerous. Sin is taken very lightly. Grace and our freedom in Christ is abused, as the author introduces us to “spiritual” people who aren’t worried about changing their habits, and keep on going because of “God’s annoying love”. Let us not forget that God has more characteristics than just love. His love is perfect and complete, but there are more references in the Bible to God’s wrath and anger than to His love and tenderness. The author chose to loosely demonstrate God’s love and grace through feel-good stories, instead of taking us to Scripture where we can see the real thing in action. 1 Corinthians 6, Galatians 5, Ephesians 2, 4, 5, Philippians 2, Colossians 2-3, and more and more passages that talk about the grace of God and the result that it produces in our lives.

These Biblical passages speak powerfully of the grace of God, and they speak of us. They tell us what we once were, and what we are now because of Christ in our lives. But this book wanders from the latter part (what we are now), and what a changed life looks like. The author tells us we are free to sin because of our freedom in Christ (in the “unspiritual growth” chapter). Freedom for me to sin thanks to Jesus who died because of my sin? That’s not in my Bible. The author also challenges us in the last chapter to resist God’s love, hide from His love, and run from His love, and God will always be there for us. Why would we ever want to do that? Why would we want to grieve Him who gave His son to redeem us by living in a way that does not honor Him? (Isaiah 63:7-10, Ephesians 4:25-32) Why would we want to excuse “messy” behavior in light of the gospel? Will we sin? Yes. Will God forgive us? Yes. Should we continue in sin so that grace will increase? No. (Romans 6:1-2, 15-23) Is this a good book for someone pursuing spiritual growth? No.


Cathryn said...

You made some great points, Bill. Whether or not one has read the book! :) The New York Times Best Sellers List should be afraid. Very afraid.

Jennifer said...

Great review. I got a copy of the book also but stopped reading it when he called Jesus "a troublemaker". I agree with you that it is a dangerous book. My husband said it almost seems like the author is proud of his sinfulness. I am the first to admit that God isn't finished working on me yet but I am not willing to glamorize my sins.