Two Book Reviews: There’s Gotta be More

clutter1eyesSometimes, there is a disconnection between what Christians say they believe and what they experience in everyday life. We say it’s about power, intimacy, affection, transformation and influence.  Sometimes, disciple life turns out to be more weakness, distance, suspicion, same old thing and compromise.  We can get stuck and long for a breakthrough in our faith life.

            Two new books are meant to help us get unstuck.  They come from different perspectives and have a different flavor, but have the same basic  premise: a disciple’s life changes from the inside out.

            Many disciples are genuinely confused about all that seems to be involved in a faithful journey in the Christian life. There’s passionate worship, intense Bible study, social involvement, deep fellowship, generous giving, care for the poor, missions, theological accuracy, evangelism and more.  What’s most important and in what order or proportion are they to mark our lives so that we please God and experience all God has for us?  Robert Jeffress gives his answer to that in Clutter-Free Christianity: What God Really Desires for You (Waterbrook, 2009).

            While affirming that our relationship is all of grace from salvation to heaven and that we don’t have to work to please Him, Jeffress notes, “The essence of the gospel is a changed life…Unfortunately, too many of us come to the cross ‘just as I am’, we receive our pardon from hell and we leave just as we were.”  Why?  “Perhaps the reason our faith seems to make so little difference in our lives is that we’ve clouded Christianity with secondary concerns and missed the core issue….God understands that the basic issue in life is the condition of our heart. Unless our heart is right, nothing else is right.” I think he rightly notes that we usually get this precisely backwards, attempting behavior modification without deep heart transformation.

            Clearly influenced by Dallas Willard’s Renovation of the Heart, Jeffress defines the life of a disciple as resembling Jesus in “attitudes, actions and affections”, all of which arise from the power of a heart being powerfully transformed by the Spirit.  That power is unleashed by the desire of the disciple to change an area of life, a detailed plan and the discipline to stick with it.  The rest of the book follows that outline as applied to six key areas:  forgiveness, obedience, trust, contentment, service, and prayer.

            Jeffress writes like the pastor he is, with a warm tone and clear Biblical basis and application. He doesn’t plow any new ground here, but it will be helpful to get a long-time disciple unstuck or younger Christians solidly rooted with significant spiritual habits for a lifetime.  There is also a helpful discussion guide for small groups.

            The second work also “looks” at a disciple’s growth from the inside out. In Eyes Wide Open: See and Live the Real You (Waterbrook, 2009), Las Vegas pastor Judd Wilhite invites disciples to put on new spiritual lenses to combat the natural distortion of the heart that can affect every area of our lives.  He sees himself as “a guide” that can help disciples navigate the occasionally challenging and risky journey of re-visioning four areas:  God, personal identity, life change and influence through life.  

            Our vision of God must be rooted in a grasp of His deep Father-love and “uncensored grace” towards us — even when we are terribly flawed. “Uncensored grace is not simply grace for when we first come to faith; it is grace for each day after, as we fail and struggle….a work of transformation over an extended period of time.”  While similar to Jeffress’ point, the sense of affirmation is stronger, which propels into the second area of our identity.  Self-image, like a funhouse mirror, can be distorted based on performance, others’ opinion, etc. But God chooses and remakes His followers as saints, priests, slaves and servants.  Wilhite says “to see yourself as an accepted follower of Christ will affect how you behave as well,”

            A new identity propels us to look afresh at the concept of life change.  And that is the point: “ the adventure is not just seeing with less distortion, but living with less distortion.” The life is the process of becoming more like Jesus over time, more like the you God has always seen, without masks or secrets, but with authenticity.  That requires a retooling of our thought life and a constant filling by the Spirit. None of this change is possible in isolation; deep connection the community of faith is required.

Finally, living with eyes wide open means that we look at our influence in the world differently as well.  This is probably Wilhite’s most thought-provoking work.  “If we focus exclusively on individual transformation…then we have only seen half the story of what God desires for us.  The full story includes our call to create culture and restore it.”  Christ-followers make a larger difference with simple engagement of love—one person at a time.  Wilhite asserts that “the culture war is over.  And we lost.” That means we relate to others with the same grace that we have received, confident in the hope that God is in control of all things.

Wilhite’s work is carried by a nice blend of narrative–stories from his ministry in Las Vegas — and Biblical principle. His heart for disciples to know grace and live out grace pulses throughout.  The only slight criticism (and it is slight) is that the Bible material (especially in the first two sections) tends to arise from a people-centered viewpoint more often than a God-centered one.  I would argue that for most Christians, a clear vision of God’s glory apart from me is at least as distorted as our vision of God’s love towards me.  That is mostly an interpretive bias; the truths communicated remain solidly evangelical. 

These books could work well in tandem. Read Wilhites’s first to stir the heart towards a freshened walk with Jesus and then use Jeffress’ as the practical application of some aspects of life change from the heart.

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