A Christian Survival Guide claims to offer an “accessible and safe place to deal with issues that can give Christians sleepless nights.” While it addresses many of the issues, I can’t recommend the book.
Perhaps I was just unrealistic in my expectations, but they certainly weren’t met. Based on the description of the book and the table of contents I expected a primer on basic theology and spiritual disciplines. And the introduction and first chapter (Prayer) was actually enjoyable. Cyzewski wrote about how as our survival “as followers of Jesus may hinge on our preparations for the decisions we make and the challenges we face,” saying that we need to learn to “rest daily in Christ, our solid foundation.” When I read the statement, “This book aims to help the saints persevere” and that “surviving as a Christian demands having the right beliefs, putting them into practice in community with other Christians, and most importantly, meeting with God regularly” I was actually excited. While I believe in the concept of grace – that we can’t do anything to become saved – I also understand that the Bible speaks much to sanctification and working out that salvation, so I felt like the book was going to offer a great balance to those books that almost seem to suggest we can just keep sinning and never experience the transforming power of God all because of grace.
So where did I start struggling? It was in chapter 2 when he starts to talk about the Bible. My objection is probably obvious to Cyzewski (and probably not unanticipated – not from me personally, but from readers in general). He does a great job of trying to balance a lot of different ideas in the chapter, but the one that I struggled with the most was his view on creation. While he never comes out and specifically says he doesn’t believe the Biblical account of a literal six days for creation, he suggests that perhaps that view is a very acceptable view in scripture and that perhaps evolution and creation can co-exist. He offers the usual arguments, most notably that the Hebrew word translated “day” can refer to a 24 hour period or to a longer period of time, and they were all arguments I’ve heard before. Yet he (and everyone else) always gloss over the rest of the verse where scripture says, “And there was evening and there was morning”.
And, to be honest, normally this wouldn’t be that big of a deal for me. But in the very next chapter he begins to address some of the more difficult concepts presented in scripture – like God being violent – and offers up the explanation that since Scripture is inspired we have to both believe it and accept it, even when we don’t understand it. And that’s where I started to get the rub. Why is it that he (we?) can accept the stories of God destroying entire nations in the Old Testament and explain it away as “because the Bible says so,” but when it comes to creation in six days apparently “because the Bible says so” isn’t good enough. In other words, where do we draw the line on what is solid ground and what allows for interpretation? In the same book – in adjacent chapters – Cyzewski seems to argue both points. And that’s my ultimate issue.
If you want to believe that God took more than six days to create the world that’s honestly fine with me; we can disagree on it, and I’m not going to say you’re not a Christian. But you can’t have it both ways – you can’t say that scripture is open to interpretation and also suggest that there are things we don’t understand and just need to accept. Cyzewski – even if he doesn’t say it outright it is there if you read between the lines – seems to suggest both are true, but he never offers any guidance for when to disregard something and when to accept it, outside of the typical “pray about it”, “listen to what God is saying”, and “confer with other believers”. But the problem I have with this is that it places the ultimate source of authority for interpretation and understanding not in what God has already said, but in our own mind and perceptions. The authority on God can’t be us; it needs to be God.
Does the book offer some great, practical suggestions for how to live a Christan life? Absolutely. But are there better books out there on the subject that won’t leave readers walking away scratching their heads going, “So how can you say one thing in chapter 3 and another in chapter 4?”. Certainly.
Overall I’ll give this book 1.5/5 stars. His style is great, he’s easy to read, and the tone of the book is very comfortable and conversational. I just think that if you read the book you’ll see there are glaring inconsistencies in it that just leave you more confused than when you started.
For the record, I did receive a complementary copy of this book in exchange for an honest (though not necessarily favorable) review.