Thursday, April 21, 2016

Jesus Called, He Wants His Church Back by Ray Johnston

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.

The main idea of this book is great - that many people, including most Christians, have not allowed Jesus to actually change who they are and how they live their life. I agree with Johnston that if we allow Jesus to guide our thoughts and lives, we will be taken to unexpected and beautiful places.

I'm less agreeable to some of the way he presents this idea. The book begins with "bad news," a whole three-chapter section talking about all the things wrong with the United States and the Christians who live therein. While his case can certainly be made, I'm not sure it needs to be made in such a guilt-ridden, negative way. Further, he over-makes his case, with generalization and false representations of a number of ideas (and thus people who value them).

It was so troubling, I almost put the book down after chapter three. It's only because I was given the book for free and feel obligated to read the whole thing before reviewing it, that I continued. He talks about Jesus and compassion and service in the right ways, but the details and method are really difficult to get through. As much as Johnston wants to encourage a relationship with Jesus as truth, a lot of times his particular perspective on what that should look like seeps through. Now, this could be a really great example of how we're all human and fall short of Christ's example of grace and humility, but there is some sense of irony that Jesus Calls employs some of the narrow judgmentalism it condemns in delivering its message.

With each new heading titled, "Five Reasons Why _______________" or "Seven Steps to Doing __________________ Better," my shoulders drooped and I let out a long sigh, before summoning the strength to continue reading. The book reads like a conglomeration of all the worst evangelical sermon cliches. Again, Johnston clearly means well and he's been an effective communicator - he's got a congregation with thousands of people and I don't - but this is just as far from my style as one could possibly get.

As effective as this approach might be, it doesn't sit well with me, mostly because, in my experience, its those are the sorts of easy answers that actually keep people from making the difficult sacrifices necessary to see real change. There's a lot of pastor lines and conversations stoppers, Sunday School answers, and over simplifications. The underlying message is strong: this Jesus guy was on to something, check it out - but the narrow, churchy, evangelical box its packaged in is just that: narrow.

There is certainly an audience for this kind of thing and for that reason, I'm glad Jesus Called exists, I am just not part of that audience and neither are the people I've come to care about and feel blessed and burdened to love.

We are not all the same - and while I felt reading this book was a true struggle, with some questionable practices and theology, it might be right up your alley (although perhaps that kind of relativism wouldn't sit so well with the author).

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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