Thursday, November 12, 2015

It's Not What You Think by Jefferson Bethke

Disclaimer: I was given a free copy of this book for the purpose of review. My integrity is not for sale. Those who know me well are aware a free book isn't enough to assuage my cutting honesty. If I've failed to write a bad review, it has nothing to do with the source of the material and only with the material itself.

I had never heard of Jefferson Bethke when I picked up his new book, It's Not What You Think. I had heard of the title of his first book (Jesus > Religion - which, by the title, sort of seems more interesting to me than this one). He is evidently a youtuber, although I was unaware (which is understandable since this week I also found out my own cousin has 5 million subscribers - I am decidedly NOT a youtuber). It seemed like an interesting title nonetheless - I'm a fan of anyone challenging conventional notions of anything.

It's a great book. It's really good. Bethke does indeed, as the title (and my intro) suggest, challenge some basic assumptions of Christian thought in ways that encourage people to make their faith more a lifestyle than an accessory. This is good. He has clearly done a lot of study and reading to inform his position and writes with the freshness and excitement of youth. The book is lifegiving and graceful. It's good for people to know that love is at the core of all creation, that people and relationships are foundational to life, that the Kingdom of God and the narrative of sacrificial love embodied in Jesus Christ are present realities that both counter and defeat contemporary notions of right and power. Just about anyone would benefit from reading this book.

Based on the suggestions for further reading in the back, Bethke and I have read a lot of the same books and thus it's not surprising he's arrived at many of the places I've arrived in faith. You won't see a lot different in this book than you see on this blog. Bethke is a young man, and one clearly interested in learning and development. His thinking will continue to evolve. Because of that, critique seems less than helpful. Instead I'd like to offer a challenge.

Throughout It's Not What You Think, Bethke shows great willingness to question and challenge traditional interpretations to better capture the free and expansive grace of God in the human story. In the same way, I'd challenge him to look past some traditional assumptions that have arisen to support particular interpretations of creation, humanity, and sin - particularly in the first few books of the Bible. For example, he refers to the notion of a six day creation, to the idea Moses wrote the Torah, even the concept that heaven is a return to some Edenic paradise. Now, these are not really central to the arguments made in the book, but one's perspective on them does have far reaching implications that, I think, would dovetail well with the direction his faith and thought seem to be progressing.

Overall, it's a great book. I think it's immensely accessible and could in now way harm someone's faith (which sounds like a backhanded compliment, but being non-threatening while talking about God, especially while challenging traditional beliefs, is pretty impressive). It's not something advanced faith thinkers will really find groundbreaking, but that's not the target audience. I look forward to seeing what contributions Jefferson Bethke will make in the future. I pray he avoids the trapping of evangelical celebrity and continues to focus on relationship and theology - there's a real gift there to share with the world.

*Although, because I just have to be a little nit-picky, I'd challenge the editing team to spend a little more time on the theological review - after a stellar, concise explanation of baptism, the comment is made that "of course Jesus didn't have to be baptized." That's certainly a legitimate position to take, but not in light of the description of baptism preceding it. Also, there's one reference to Israel "worshiping Baal because Moses took to long on the mountain." Israel made a golden calf, yes, but as representative of Yahweh. There's some pretty important theological distinctions (not to mention worship lessons) there.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the® book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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