“If Sunday didn’t exist, would anyone know you were a follower of Jesus?” This is the key question Jamie Snyder challenges his readers with in his book Real, and he actually does a really nice job with his argument. Over the years I’ve read a lot of books that hit at the heart of what Christianity is supposed to be about – recent titles that come to mind in the past couple of years are Radical by David Platt (which, for the record, was one of the very first books I ever reviewed on my blog), and, more recently Not a Fan by Kyle Idleman.
Here’s the difficulty I have with many of these books that challenge modern-day Christianity: even though they suggest they don’t put forth a “program” or a list of things to do, in essence they really do prescribe how we’re supposed to be good Christians. Take this excerpt, for example, from Real:
The joy factor in your life and mine will never be a result of working hard; it will always be the natural by-product of living a life surrendered to the will and way of the Holy Spirit…Living a life surrendered to the will and way of the Holy Spirit is not so much about doing as about being. (p79-80)
Then later in the book Snyder writes, “We must get this: Christianity is not about following a list, a creed, or a mere doctrine. It is about following a real man named Jesus.” (p142)
Sounds good so far; and I agree 100%. But the disconnect (for me) happens in the the middle section of the book. Snyder tells us that when we seek to follow Jesus we will live a life defined by:
- Unbridled Joy
- Daring courange
- Rebellious joy
- Risky faith,
- Relentless hope
- Scandalous grace
- Mad love
The danger I fear is that people will view these as a the very list of things they are supposed to do that Snyder attempts so hard to avoid. And this is the struggle with every book I read like this. Don’t get me wrong, I agree that all these things are byproducts of a life lived with Jesus through the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit, but if we focus on getting these things rather than focus on dwelling with Him (the “being” that Snyder referenced at the beginning), we’ll be doing nothing more than the what the Pharisee’s did with their rules and regulations.
God has been teaching me this year that what is important is my relationship with him – the relationship that has a natural ebb-and-flow because it’s, well, a relationship between two beings – and one of us is imperfect! The only metaphor I can think of (which I happen to think is a very biblical metaphor) is marriage. There are certain aspects of all healthy marriages as I’ve come to learn – two of them are that couples spend time with each other and that they communicate with each other. But if the focus shifts to the spending time or the communication and off the marriage then the marriage is no longer healthy. So when we focus on only showing grace or love or joy or courage I’m afraid that too often we take our eyes off Jesus – something the writer of Hebrews warned us about. This is a delicate balancing act between “judging a tree by its fruit” and remaining connected to the vine.
As I’ve read these books more lately I’ve actually felt a little convicted. But not convicted that I don’t live up to what the author is saying, but that I’m reading the book at all rather than just spending time in the Word. It’s as if the Holy Spirit is saying to me, “There’s nothing new here. Just read my word and accept it for what it says – I will explain it to you. Just abide in me and this stuff will take care of itself.”
So, I’m giving this book 4 out of 5 stars (I would be tempted to give it a perfect five, but that would just be too high, so I’ll drop it back a couple of spots to 4). If you read it with an understanding that what you read about a things that Jesus will do in you as he transforms and sanctifies you as you remain in him, then you will learn much from the book and hear him speaking to you through it. If, however, you look at these things as a list of things to do, you’ll miss Snyder’s point entirely. Either way, I personally think it would be wiser to spend time in, say, studying Ephesians or reading the gospels and studying the life of Jesus. You’ll learn the same thing, but you’ll learn it from the source.
For the record, I was provided a complimentary copy of this book by the publisher Bethany House in exchange for an honest, though not necessarily favorable, review.