Monday, July 22, 2013

I want to be a fan of this book

not a fan. Becoming a Completely Committed Follower of Jesusnot a fan. Becoming a Completely Committed Follower of Jesus by Kyle Idleman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I generally hesitate to write about books on spiritual matters for a number of reasons. I won't outline them all here, but suffice it to say that I don't pretend to have expertise in theology and don't have the desire to argue with those who know even less and wish to engage me in their futile battles. As Timothy wisely instructed, "Have nothing to do with foolish controversies; you know that they breed quarrels." And too many people love quarrels.

But this book has struck a couple of nerves in me, so against my better judgment, I'm offering a few thoughts.

Idleman's book is dangerous for a few reasons. One of those is good. It's main message, that following Jesus is much more than putting a bumper sticker on a car or heading to church on Sunday is absolutely right, and if people who claim to be Christians actually followed Jesus, they and the world would be radically changed. That's the good news.

The book also sets up an either/or dichotomy that may not be healthy for many people either emotionally or spiritually. Idleman does not acknowledge that spiritual life is a journey, not a one time decision made, and once made makes one the exact same person as everyone else who has made that decision. Further, while there are a number of inspiring examples of how people have recognized the difference between being a fan and being a follower of Christ, much of the book implies that a true follower sees everything as Idleman does. He leaves no room for people in various stages of spiritual development or from different cultural backgrounds or with different modes of support for spiritual growth.

All that said, I do want to get back to the main message of the book: that following Jesus requires real commitment and that this commitment is what Jesus expects, not just lip service or a t-shirt. As I went through the book, despite my misgivings, I felt that this basic truth was not only solid, but what the world needs to hear. The world needs the real Gospel, not a watered-down, or politicized version of it. And the book, on the whole, encourages this. I felt I might be on the verge of a modern version of The Cost of Discipleship. (I was surprised that Bonhoffer's great book was never mentioned in not a fan.)

The book is well organized, and while it doesn't really offer a "how-to," it does give quite a few "reasons why." The chapter on the Holy Spirit was probably the most important part of this book. I wish the author had spent more time on this aspect of spiritual commitment. Nevertheless, I do recommend reading this book, even though one may want to keep a few grains of salt handy. It opened an important dialogue for me.

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