Jesus Is ________. By Judah Smith
[Note: This book was provided for free by Thomas Nelson Publishers in exchange for an honest review.]
It took a long time in the course of reading this book before I understood why this book was so superficial. As is often the case, I read this book without being the intended audience of this book–or if I was, then the author wildly miscalculated on how to appeal to me as a reader. Where I expected some serious depth concerning Christological concerns, what I found was a haphazard and superficial attempt to marry pop culture references (including the author’s golfer buddy Bubba Watson, who wrote the Foreword to this book) to a passionate belief in Christ, without any doctrinal matters getting in the way.
The author is the main pastor of a the City Church in Seattle, Washington, which generally ranks (along with Portland, Oregon) as one of the least religious cities in the United States. In order to help provoke some thought, however profound or superficial, about Jesus Christ, the City Church paid for billboards that read Jesus Is __________. There was encouragement for people who saw these billboards to fill in the blanks, and the author does his own work, filling in the blanks with words such as “your friend,” “grace,” “the point,” “happy,” “here,” and “alive.”
It is clear that the author hopes that his light and superficial approach will win over people to Christ who are disinclined to take anything too seriously or too deeply. The book has no interest in engaging in rational discourse or in discussing the finer points of doctrine (the author appears to have little knowledge of God’s law, and mentions the Trinity once in one of the more embarrassing admissions of ignorance that I have read about that particular doctrine). This book is therefore of the biggest appeal to those who are put off by “religious” people but who are open to being told that Jesus loves them how they are, which happens to be true, but only the first step. Those who are already called and living a godly life are not really the target audience of this book.
It took a significant distance into this book before the author had anything good to say about God’s laws and ways, and the position he ended up defending was a sound one not too far removed from my own, except that he prefaced his statements by making a lot of negative comments about doomsaying Christians and people who try to earn salvation. Truth be told, I really don’t know many people who honestly think they can earn their salvation, and it bothers me that contemporary writers in the midst of a society that is exploding with gross corruption and wickedness still feel it far more necessary to condemn legalism than they do to address God’s standards of justice and righteous behavior. On the plus side, the author’s point that Christians should recognize that Jesus Christ is in control and not be so despondent at political losses and difficult times in the world is spot on.
Despite the fact that this book is greatly mismarketed, is rather superficial and lacking in theological and spiritual depth, and despite the fact that the author seems to think he is far more hip and cool than he really is (perhaps he has really generous parishioners), the author seems like he would be a nice enough person to have an enjoyable dinner conversation with, even if he is not well suited to writing a book with depth and focus about Jesus Christ, or anything else if this book demonstrates his general approach. Then again, perhaps those just coming to a faith in Jesus Christ who really need to know that God loves them despite their broken state and their clearly sinful lifestyle will appreciate this book because it will give them what they need and what they are looking for to see the relevance of Jesus Christ in all aspects of life, at all times, and for all people. For those people, I imagine this book would be quite welcome, if still very light.