November 30, 2013

Risky Gospel: A Book Review

A Great Book for the Millenial Generation

Owen Strachan's book, Risky Gospel, is written for a generation in the eye of today's cultural hurricane. They are floating unattached to needed mooring points, being blown out to sea by the gale, all the while thinking it is merely a nice summer breeze to be enjoyed. While Strachan does call for unsettling risk in living out the gospel every day, it is not the kind of risk we hear from other authors. Instead of calling for "wild-eyed, John the baptist in camel hair clothes gnawing on locusts" radicalism, the author raises visibility to such radical ideas as living a faithful Christian life in obscurity while loving those around you through self-sacrificing service.

Risky Gospel's focus audience is a few years removed from where I'm at in life.  It is strongly oriented towards the 30ish-and-under crowd. The life-choices Strachan explores are not what most empty-nesters, retirees, or senior-citizen-saints are considering. Nonetheless, for its intended audience, I see the author stretching in many ways to try to bring reality as it is and Christian life as it should be into view for the millenials. I found many surprising word-hooks that should find traction with a disconnected, vaguely-committed generation.  For example:

"A Christian is not some prettified spiritual contestant in the great pageant of Who Can Look the Most Religious."

"John Owen, a Puritan teacher who wore one of those killer white wigs,..."

"Life as many evangelicals approach it isn't supposed to be scary. ... We want the Jesus of our best life now to give us a blanket and some hot cocoa, not send us out in a fearsome world."

"We can see where we should be. We just don't really have the oomph, the spiritual horsepower, to get there."

But Discipline Takes So Much... Well... Discipline

In describing hurdles to discipline, Strachan's somewhat sardonic sense of humor is on display:

"I remember the first time I tried to be disciplined in prayer. Maybe you had a similar experience. I saw that I needed to devote myself to prayer, so I set out to pray for half an hour. Target: set. Locked and loaded, I launched in.
 "I prayed up a storm. Everything I could think of. The wind howled; the earth shook. Moses and the saints interrupted their heavenly discussions to peer down through the filmy clouds at this fledgling mystic. This was serious prayer.
 "As I wound to a close, I let my words trail off. A prayer warrior had been forged. A lifetime of supplication had begun. I looked at the clock with a sense of pietistic triumph...
"... and saw that exactly nine minutes had elapsed. And--wince--my knees hurt from kneeling."

Watch Where You Step

The author isn't afraid to scatter some sanctification landmines across the countryside. He skewers the oft-repeated mantra, "I lack discipline." Instead, Strachan rightly diagnoses our heroic, olympian, mis-directed discipline.  He writes:

"We have discipline, all right: discipline for hedonism, self-satisfaction, pleasure.
 "Call it self-driven discipline.
 "Our favorite TV shows? You couldn't make us miss that must-watch reality program on fashion if you stole all five of the remotes it takes to DVR them. Our fantasy football league? We conduct more research on who to draft in round seven than paralegals working on billion-dollar settlements. Going to sports events or concerts of the artists we love? Of course we can postpone our studying or call in sick for work. You only live once, right? Buying the latest offerings from the technology gods? We'll wear the same clothes for a month if it means we can access the cloud whenever we want. Getting the coffee and treats we want? You couldn't stop us from that Starbucks run if you personally took hold hold of the wind, the rain, and the snow. Nothing keeps us from our $4.50 coffee--truly nothing.
 "You know what these patterns show us? You and I are serious about what we want to be serious about."

Can Risky Gospel Christians Make Plans?

Risky Gospel hits on many areas of life, and some very specific challenges within the evangelical world. For example, many of our young people are fearful to embark on an active faith because they don't have any solid footing biblically to stand on. More specifically, many are confused on how to turn faith into any specific concrete action due to a flavor of mysticism at work in the evangelical world. Waiting to hear "the still small voice", a profound paralysis strikes our young people because they aren't sure if they are hearing anything. Strachan writes:
"You may have been trained as many believers are in mystical, fearful Christianity. If so, the Bible has great news for you. Provided you are saturating your mind and your prayers with biblical wisdom in a Romans 12:1-2 sense--such that your heart and mind are being transformed by Scripture--it's appropriate to strategize, and plan, and then to act."

Could Ricky Gospel Launch You To a New Life?

Yes. It is worth reading, considering, learning from. The author gives wise counsel, settles a few old debts and doubts, and keeps his eyes on the cross of Christ while moving towards it. I believe this book will prove to be a cornerstone work for the Millenial generation. To give a compliment that is truly a compliment, Strachan has written an impacting work akin to Jerry Bridges' Pursuit of Holiness/Practice of Godliness for this generation. Risky Gospel is set on the bedrock of the cross-work of Christ and the real freedom that results from the concerted effort of the Trinitarian God in saving all who would come to Him. I leave you with the following extended quote to demonstrate Strachan's commitment to the gospel as the bedrock of Christian freedom, upon which every encouragement to risk is built.

"Jesus triumphed over the grave, much to the shock of his followers. This is not an abstract fact, though. It's not a magnet for your refrigerator, a key chain for your pocket. With the defeat of sin at the cross, the defeat of death through the resurrection means that now we can live righteous lives.
"This is a bonfire in your heart.
"The gospel message of Jesus' saving work offers us the power to risk everything for him, and gain everything in him. When we come to Jesus, we are not merely punched through to the afterlife, though. We are redeemed--all of us. Heart, soul, and mind. The old has passed away. The new has come. This is precisely what Paul tells us: "From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation" (II Cor. 5:16-18).
"This passage is foundational for bold spirituality. If you're going to pursue the Lord with zeal each day, you need to know the core DNA of your faith. Here it is. Bullet, meet powder. You are not a miserable wretch. You are not 50 percent saved/50 percent wicked. You are in Christ, and you are a "new creation." The old is gone. The new is here.
"This isn't your work or mine. God has done this through Christ. On the cross, Jesus bore our sin; through the cross, we gained his righteous standing. This is what his reconciliation means for us. We're no longer outcasts. We're reconciled to God. This is our fundamental identity.
"God loves us. We are his." 

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