About the time I finished reading Lazarus Awakening, I also finished The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited by Scott McKnight. In his book, McKnight argues that part of the problem with the Gospel today is that we, Christians, do not really know what to do with the story because we do not really understand what the story is about in the first place. He argues that the Gospel is "all about the Story of Israel coming to its resolution in the Story of Jesus and our letting that story become our story" (Kindle, 153). He goes on to write: "There is one and only one way to become People of the Story of Jesus: we need to soak ourselves in the Story of Jesus by reading, pondering, digesting, and mulling over in our heads and hearts the Four Gospels. Genuine soaking in this story always leads to the Story of Israel because it is only in that story that the Story of Jesus makes sense" (Kindle, 153, his emphasis).
He is, of course, correct. We become who we are meant to become when we know Jesus–not when we fluff our way towards warm, fuzzy feelings.
When I was a mere twenty-two years of age, I was ordained into Christian ministry. I accepted the charge given me by the elders of my home church preach the Gospel wherever I went and to be welcomed by the church. I chose for my preaching text that evening the passage from John 11 upon which this book is constructed. I recall that sermon very well because I chose John 11 as an allegory for my own personal resurrection from several teenage defeats and struggles and conflicts. I preached it nearly exactly the way Joanna Weaver has constructed her book from being in a stuck place to coming out of the tomb to leaving our graveclothes behind. It was a tightly constructed sermon worthy of my twenty-two years of age. And it very well may be the worst sermon I ever preached precisely because I'm not sure I really understood preaching at that time let alone Jesus.
To this day, I am embarrassed by that sermon.
I think every person is going to have to decide for themselves if they think Weaver handled the text of John's Gospel in an appropriate manner. I have not read the main text, only the study guide, but if the study guide mirrors the main text, then there are likely serious exegetical and theological issues in the book. Here's how the Study Guide begins: "The story of Lazarus shouts hope to our anxious hearts: 'You are loved. You are accepted.'….So are you ready, my friend? It's time to learn what it means to truly live" (1, her emphasis). But you see all the emphasis in this opening salvo is focused on 'me.' (I was also left mouth agape after reading pages 20-21 where every passage of Scripture is redirected to talk about 'I'.
- Do you ever feel stuck…
- As though you have one foot in a new life…..
- Do you struggle to believe that God could love you….
- I know I have…
- You are loved…
- You are accepted…
- We can cry out to our Savior…
And there is so much more…so many more first person personal pronouns…it's so overwhelming. I'm not denying that any of these things are true. They are. Yes, we are loved. Yes, we are accepted. Yes, we can cry out to God. Yes. Yes. Yes.
But John 11 is not the place to make those points. John 11 doesn't make those points. John 11 may as well be a fairy tale if these are the points we can gather or make after reading the story of Jesus' actions in that chapter–the chapter where his emotional roller coaster is painful to watch (he loves, he gets angry, he weeps, he resolves, he is troubled–all of this because someone died), the chapter where he gives an advance sign of Who he is and What he is about and Why he was there in the first place. The story of John 11 really isn't about us or, for that matter, Lazarus. It's about Jesus the one who came to complete Israel's story, the one who came not just to put a stopper in death, but to completely unravel and demolish it–as previewed by his demonstration at Lazarus' tomb.
From my perspective, Weaver did not handle the text appropriately; furthermore, I think it matters if authors do or do not. I have grown weary in my middle years on earth of what passes for Bible Study materials in our churches. I have grown weary of what is passed off by publishing houses as worthy of our money and time. I have grown weary of authors who take the Scripture and make it little more that a christianized version of Stephen Covey or Tony Robins. Seriously.
That's my take on the substance of the book: It's deplorable. If you need to feel good about yourself, fine, do so. But please read Scripture carefully, in context, and try hard not to make outrageous points about it from your specious exegetical methods.
As far as it goes, however, I'm sure there's nothing about the book that will cause anyone harm. It's a fairly fluffy study guide book featuring eight weeks' worth of study. There are places for prayer requests, homework, memory verses, 'Israel Moments' (coordinated with the DVD), and so much more. I'm sure it will all be helpful to someone. It just wasn't for me. I simply cannot envision a scenario where I would use this material to teach a small group or my Bible school class on Sundays.
The DVD packaging is nice. One box contains three DVDs. Each disc contains 2-3 lessons and 2-3 'Israel Moments.' I didn't care for the DVDs any more than I cared for the Study Guide. I had a lot of trouble making a connection with the host for some reason. This is simply a package that didn't work for me at any level–mostly for the reasons I stated above concerning Scripture.
I'll give this program 2 stars and I'm probably stretching to get there. I think we are right to study the Bible. I think there might be a place for such esteem building programs. I'm not sold entirely and as I get older and more widely read I find myself bored with all the feel good finding yourself in God's heart kind of teaching. I want Jesus. I want to hear his story. I want to hear what he did and how The story finds completion in Jesus. I want to know how the story of Lazarus advances God's promises to Israel and, by extension, to us. I want to know more about Jesus. I know enough about myself. What I really want to know is Jesus because I think if I know Him and know Him deeper, well, then I will, like John, decrease and Messiah will increase.
Seems to me that should be a lofty goal considering Jesus, who being God in very nature, didn't consider it but humbled himself, taking on flesh. I want to know Him. I don't need esteem. I need Jesus.
Important Book & Author Things
- Where to purchase Lazarus Awakening Study Guide and DVD Combo Amazon ($27.96); Waterbrook Multnomah ($39.99)
- Author: Joanna Weaver
- On the Web: Lazarus Awakening
- On Twitter:
- Academic Webpage:
- Publisher: Waterbrook
- Pages: 142
- Year: 2015
- Audience: small groups, women
- Reading Level: High School
- Disclaimer: I was provided an advance reader's copy courtesy of Waterbrook's Blogging for Books blog program in exchange for my fair and unbiased review.