Book Review: Think, Act, Be(lieve) Like Jesus
Author: Randy Frazee
Additional links: Believe the Story
[Disclaimer: I was provided a free copy of this book by Zondervan Publishers in exchange for my fair and unbiased review.]
The problem with this book is that there is nothing necessarily wrong with it. I think. I mean, you can read through it and not be offended, or unsettled, or argumentative. There's nothing in it that's going to make the person write the author and rip him a new one. There's nothing in it that will start a theological dialogue spanning the next year or two or start a publishing war. It's a fairly standard, straightforward, new Christian handbook.
Then again, there is everything wrong with it. This is the kind of book a person reads if they are interested in being comfortable in their faith, self-centered in their faith, and really understanding very little about what it means to 'think, act, and be' like the Jesus of the Bible. It's like he's saying that all Jesus was about was making people who think, act, and do certain things, in certain ways so that they fit into the club.
Yes. That's what I'm going for with this review: there is nothing about this book that actually inspires me to think, act, and be like Jesus. Instead a person comes away thinking, acting, and being like your every day, standard, run of the mill join the club, go to church, and be good kind of Christian. There's nothing exciting about this book. There's nothing revolutionary about this book. There is nothing revelationary about this book. In a word, it's boring.
To get through this book, the reader has to wade through countless tired illustrations and stories that have been regurgitated in other books (like, say, the story of Steve Saint p. 178-179; great story, but I'm sick of hearing it), wrestle with some troubling statements (like, say, 'If we want to have a relationship with God and have eternal life, then, Jesus says, we need to do good works' (his emphasis); even in context this statement makes little sense, p 41), listen as verse after verse of out of context Scripture is 'applied' to a systematic theology of 'life after baptism' (for example, the out of context thought that Jesus talked about money all the time, p 146), and plod through a nearly 300 page book of randomly generated, arbitrary 'practices' and 'beliefs' that are supposed to make us wholly Christian (for example, in his list of worship 'convictions' on page 97-87, there is a conviction about God, a personal God, salvation, The Bible, Identity in Christ, Church, humanity, compassion, stewardship, and eternity but nothing, specifically, about Jesus, Kingdom, hope, grace, the Holy Spirit, etc.)
There were times, yes, when I thought the author handled Scripture fairly well and was able to draw out significant and meaningful applications and thoughts. For example, on pages 100-102, he does a little exegesis of the story of David dancing before the ark of the Lord. He does a great job of contrasting David's actions with those of Michal, Saul's daughter. In this place, I thought he was dead-on and did a good job. Then there were times when I thought he was off target. For example, when he talks about Matthew 25 and the king who separates the sheep from the goats. He could have given us more context and showed us that Jesus wasn't talking about the poor and imprisoned in general but those who are 'the least of these, his brothers and sisters' (See pages 166-167).
I also thought he did a good job in the beginning (pages 18-20) talking about eternity and what it will be like. Here, he and I are in nearly full agreement. His discussion of what eternity is like, what 'heaven' is all about, and what will happen in the consummation of the ages is, in my opinion, probably the best part of the book. '
But there is so much more he could have talked about and written about in the book. He had nearly 300 pages and I feel like I didn't really read anything. For a seasoned Christian, this is a one sitting book because there will be a lot of skimming and skipping.
It should be noted that there is not really, necessarily, anything wrong with the book. He gives us ten things we probably should believe even if I would formulate those things differently, eliminate some of them, add others, and develop their theology from a more contextual format as opposed to his style of plucking Scripture from its context. He gives us ten things we ought to 'do' and who among us will argue that any of those ten things are 'bad' or 'wrong'? Of course we should worship, pray, study the Bible, and more. Sure; I have no argument there. And finally, I'm not saying there's anything wrong with 'being' like Jesus when it comes to love, peace, self-control and more. The church might be a happier place if more of us practiced such things. So, yes, Amen to all of those things. (Except that in the introduction to Part 3: Be Like Jesus, he didn't bother to tell us that the ten things he will write about are actually the fruit of the Spirit. I get about being connected to the Vine, but that's not the context of Galatians 5 where his chapter headings come from.)
I just think these things have been said by others and better. These things are on the shallow end of what is meant to be a deep faith and all of these things need to be spoken of in the greater context of who Jesus is and what Jesus did. The title of the book carries the name of Jesus and I simply didn't find enough Jesus in the book. Maybe he should have taken ten stories about Jesus and simply expounded upon them–that would be compelling reading. Here's the thing, the church simply does not need another program for spiritual development (whatever that means). They are all over the market place and the church is over-saturated with these sort of books. I realize it's too late since the book is already published, but I wonder if there is no end to these sort of books? There is so much more to the Jesus story than mere spiritual disciplines and can the fundamentals of Christian faith really be narrowed down to a mere ten different (arbitrary) beliefs?
At the end of the book, this is the spiritual formation of one man for his church, but I'm not of the opinion that this is the best program of formation of life in Jesus for a larger body of Christ. I get that it is for a new believer (I think it is anyhow) and that depth isn't necessarily the point (although it should be!) Nevertheless, some depth would be nice. I don't understand why the only place to get depth from authors is to go to the academic side of publishing houses. I hate to be that way, but self-centered spiritual disciplines and belief in tiny fragments of things Scripture says in a larger meta-narrative are simply not going to produce the sort of Jesus people that will stand up when life really starts to suck for us who are comfortable here in American churches.
We need our preachers who write books to do more, to say more, to help end the drought. We need our publishing houses to give us more depth–less books, more depth. I hate to say it, but this book is simply not all that helpful.