Book Review: This Beautiful Mess

This Beautiful Mess: Practicing The Presence of the Kingdom of God, by Rick McKinley

[Note: This book was provided free of charge by WaterBrook Multnomah Books in exchange for an honest review.]

I’m not sure whether it is an advantage or a disadvantage that I live in Portland and am familiar with some of the places that this book discusses, as it was written by a minister who serves in Portland [1] in many of the areas that I know well but whose group and efforts I have never heard of before. This particular book mentions a lot of Portland areas, and seems to assume (a bit presumptuously) that living in Portland has made the author hip enough and tolerant enough about flagrant and unrepentant sin so as to be credible in critiquing the lack of success in evangelical Christianity. In some ways, the author appears to be grossly self-deceived, such as his touting of brethren who engage in massive income redistribution efforts and leftist environmental agendas while claiming to be nonpartisan. The fact that the author considers giving cigarettes to the homeless to be a suitable act of Christian love (there’s nothing like giving someone what is harmful and addictive to show how much you really love them as Christ does) shows a certain tone deafness to morality, as does the fact that the author sees no tension (a particularly favorite word of his) in being fond of the socially just implications of the Sabbath without showing any desire of honoring the Sabbath that Jesus Christ is the Lord of in any biblical fashion.

Nevertheless, it would be unjust to simply condemn this book, even though it is deeply flawed, because there are some aspects of this book’s arguments that are of great worth for Christians who are living out the tension between the aspect by which we are to be models of the Kingdom of God in all aspects of our lives, including the need to show love and concern for all of those created in the image and likeness of God, as well as showing proper stewardship of that which God has provided us, as well as eagerly awaiting for the justice and wholeness that can only result from the return of Jesus Christ to fix this “beautiful mess” of a world that we have marred throughout sin. The book is full of intriguing poems and thoughtful perspectives, if decidedly slanted towards the leftist “social gospel” and decidedly ignorant of the standards of biblical morality that God expects. If the authors spent more time showing their hatred of sins apart from those sins of greed that are particularly thought of as the province of the left, while maintaining their love for repentant sinners of all stripes, the book might have more credibility outside of its narrow partisan base. As it is, the book’s partisan slant will lead it to be condemned for its flaws by those who could use the most pointed reminders of its virtues, while those who trumpet the book’s virtues are likely to be ignorant of its flaws and unable to provide the sort of balanced rebuke and appreciation that would show the right amount of passion for loving and living as Jesus Christ did while not being caught up in the sins of our corrupt culture, especially the corrupt culture of leftist America (which this book certainly falls victim to).

There are many areas where this book provides encouragement to believers, whether it is a sense of pity about our desire to avoid suffering, a timely recognition that we need to build authentic preaching through the building of relationships that give us credibility in the lives of others who will know that we care before they care what we know, as well as the ways in which Christians from more privileged backgrounds can learn from those whose struggles give them a deep understanding of the opposition that comes from living God’s way in many parts of the world. Far too often, though, this book fudges the real ethical demands of following God’s ways (namely, internalizing His ways and laws) and contains far too much hand-wringing and guilt over white privilege for it to be a truly excellent work. Unfortunately, it appears very likely that this book will appeal to the same sorts of leftist self-professed Christians who believe that Christianity is all about loving sinners and tolerating their open and flagrant sins while hypocritically condemning the social evils and oppression that are too easily practiced as well. Had the book shown more balance and less of an obvious partisan bias, it might be a better clarion call to living a godly life. Perhaps the author, who probably thinks himself to be particularly hip and relevant because he lacks the moral worldview of the minor prophets in their hatred of both the social and the personal sins of ancient Israel and Judah and considers himself as tolerant towards sin as the brethren of Corinth, is so smug in his approach because he does not see how blind and naked he is but thinks himself rich in both material goods as well as faith, when in reality he is poor and ought to buy gold refined in the fire so that he might not be so wretched and poor as an example of God’s ways. Rather than loving the supposedly beautiful mess of this world that we have marred and corrupted through sin, perhaps the author ought to desire a life of more wholeness and integrity that would better serve his laudable aims of being a representative of God’s Kingdom here and now. After all, he who is a friend of the world is an enemy of God, and this book shows far too much of a spirit of friendship with a corrupt world, namely the social and political culture of the Portland which the author exemplifies all too well.


About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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