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Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Book Review: Fearless by Max Lucado

I have to admit that it’s been awhile since I read a Max Lucado book. Earlier in my ministry life I read several. And while I enjoyed them, to me they came to represent in part what was wrong with the church in general: namely, an overly simplistic approach to the Gospel; Christianity-lite. I know that sounds arrogant and judgmental. I really don’t want to be. It’s just that these books are in large part written for “the masses,” and let’s face it; like it or not, “the masses” in the church today have been taken in by a shallow Gospel; a “me-centered” religion where Jesus is my BFF, not the Holy Creator and Redeemer of the world.

Anyway, when Thomas Nelson offered to send an advance copy of Lucado’s latest book Fearless to review, two things made me say yes, both related to the topic. As the title suggests, this is a book about living life without fear; overcoming anxiety. And as I’ve confessed on this blog before, this is an issue I struggle with, so that’s one reason. And two, we live in a world of ever growing fear, so this is certainly a timely issue. So here we go.

There is much to like about this book. Like some previous offerings, it still has a tendency to be overly simple in its approach to the gospel. Often more care is given to turning a clever phrase than to adequately present the reality of man’s depravity vs. the holiness of God and the sacrifice in Christ that was necessary to bridge that gap.

However, there are some places where the message is less sugar coated. Speaking of the disciples in the boat with Christ during a storm, Lucado points out that “this story send the not-so-subtle and not-too-popular reminder: getting on board with Christ can mean getting soaked with Christ.” The Christian life is not the pleasure cruise so many want to make it out to be, and that reminder is welcome.

And yet, in the midst of those things, we are reminded that God has commanded us to not fear. Lucado points out that the largest percentage of direct Christ-issued imperatives in the New Testament are of the “Do not be afraid” variety. Have courage. Take heart. Do not fear. It’s a command.

The book then deals with a variety of areas in which we experience fear: fear of insignificance, fear of violence, fear of global crisis, fear of death, fear of the future. In each case, we are given some good Scriptural reminders of how God has made provision for these issues. Ultimately, the reminder is that God has given us Himself: just as Christ was in the boat with his disciples, He has promised to never leave nor forsake us. We know that, but need the reminder often. In enjoyed the repeated focus on prayer and God’s presence, the ultimate fear busters.

I was a bit disappointed in the chapter on the “fear of disappointing God.” He actually suggested that Adam and Eve’s original sin stemmed not from pride, but from fear. He pushes the text a bit to make the point. And the truth is, that in our sin, we do disappoint God. So much so that it required the death of His Son to overcome the breach of relationship. But at the same time, I understand the point that those who are truly saved need to rest in the finished work of Christ, and not constantly live in fear that somehow we will do something to make God take back that salvation.

Likewise, I was a bit uneasy with one of the final chapter’s insistence that God cannot be defined by doctrine. I think I know what he’s saying; the whole “let’s not underestimate or limit God” kind of thing. But in truth, God has given us His Word to give us some “definition” of Himself, and that Word tells us to hold on to sound doctrine, to promote sound teaching, etc. We have to be careful not to open that door to wide so as to make anything and everything that claims to be “godly” acceptable.

Still, overall I enjoyed the reminders given here, and the group discussion guide at the end was certainly helpful. The whole thing could be summed up well by the quote from John Chrysostom shared by Lucado on p. 88: “What can I fear? Will it be death? But you know that Christ is my life, and that I shall gain by death. Will it be exile? But the earth and all its fullness is the Lord’s. Will it be the loss of wealth? But we have brought nothing into the world, and can carry nothing out. Thus all the terrors of the world are contemptible in my eyes; and I smile at all its good things. Poverty I do not fear; riches I do not sigh for. Death I do not shrink from.”

As Paul reminds us in Romans 8: “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? … Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? … No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom 8:31-39)

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