I try to avoid reading reviews of my books.
OK, I admit, if it’s 5 stars or a glowing review in Publisher’s Weekly, I’ll probably read the review. Possibly even 10-15-80 times.
But the other day I saw the first one star review show up for A Christian Survival Guide. I didn’t read it. I was just passing along the link to the book’s page and didn’t scroll down to see anything else. However, I can pretty easily imagine why quite a few Christians will really hate this book.
1. Our Christian culture has confused certainty with stability.
There’s nothing wrong with being certain about what you believe. However, there’s a big problem when we expect everyone to follow our own templates for faith. We all pass through seasons of doubt, uncertainty, or personal struggle, and the results of those seasons will differ from person to person.
There’s no single template for followers of Jesus. And actually, if there was, the template for following Jesus would be doubt and confusion. Jesus’ followers had three years to get things straight about Jesus and what kind of Messiah he was, and they still weren’t fully clear about Jesus until the very end of his ministry.
My pastor has a saying that goes like this, “In Christianity, you either become a mystic or you become an atheist.” That’s an intentional overstatement, but he gets to the heart of things: Bible study and theological systems can’t handle everything life throws at us. We all have to sort through things in our own way, and oftentimes that means prioritizing the presence of God over theological certainty.
2. This Book Is Too Liberal and Too Conservative
When someone asks if I’m conservative or liberal in my theology, I usually say, “It depends who you ask.” I’m probably too conservative for the liberals and too liberal for the conservatives. It’s not that I’m trying to land in the theological middle on every issue. Rather, I try to keep various perspectives in conversation with each other without always taking a side in each instance.
That will probably drive some people crazy. Remember, this is a book for people who are processing their faith and trying to sort out answers. If there’s a majority position that causes a lot of problems for Christians, I take some pretty major swings at it. If you love the idea of an end times rapture and hell being a place of eternal conscious torment, you’re going to really hate this book, because I present the biblical arguments against both of these positions.
That isn’t to say that one can’t believe in the rapture or hell as ECT in order to survive as a Christian. Rather, I’m helping people ask hard questions about these kinds of issues.
3. I Will Tip Some Sacred Cows
While I can’t cover every topic that may cause someone’s faith to falter, I’m also pretty frank in pointing out the kinds of issues that have become distractions from the core issues of Christian living. I write in the Introduction to the Survival Guide:
“When I speak of Christian survival, I’m talking about the real problems and doubts that can hinder your relationship with Jesus and your fellowship with others. In America we are bombarded with all kinds of campaigns, organizations, and agendas that are supposed to be important to us as Christians.
We’re told by politicians on both sides that we need to support legislation that will preserve the “moral character” of America. We learn that our country is either in danger of being taken over by maniacal socialists/fascists (which is an impossible mix by the way) who will turn America into Canada or that fundamentalists will turn our open-minded republic into the Holy Land Experience. Others warn us that men need to watch ultimate fighting or they’ll start baking cupcakes and give up their careers to stay home with the kids, and that women need to raise kids and bake cupcakes lest they spend their free time watching ultimate fighting.
We are bombarded by campaigns to build museums that tout certain agendas or prove certain views of the Bible. Some lament that America is on the brink of becoming a land crawling with atheists and therefore we need to buy a certain book, attend another conference, or believe some checklist of absolutes. Others fear that America is on the brink of being overrun with religious zealots who want to take control of the minute details of our lives.
I trust that the people behind such campaigns mean well and that they love Jesus, but these “important” issues are not essential for our faith as Christians. I’m far more concerned about getting the basics of Christianity right: learning how to pray regularly, how to commune with the Holy Spirit, how to love our neighbors, and how to read the Bible so that we can live in relationship with Christ and do God’s will on earth. If the basics are following Jesus, loving God, and loving others, shouldn’t we make our top priority the removal all of potential obstacles that could keep us from God?”
So you may hate this book. It’s a distinct possibility. Some people have already confirmed how much they disliked this book. However, I suspect that as annoying as this book will be for one group, it will be a lifeline for others. In fact, I’ve heard just that thing from many early readers who felt like I’d been spying on them and addressing the very questions that have been troubling them. It’s really impossible to answer everyone’s questions in one book.
That’s how faith works: it’s always shifting and moving. At least, that’s how it works for me. I’ve passed through different seasons. I’ve watched my faith change and grow and struggle and then shift. This is a book for a season of questions, seeking, and exploring. It’s my hope and prayer that you’ll find my book a helpful guide if you’re in that kind of season right now.
Check out A Christian Survival Guide today! You’ll… um… love it?