Welcome To The Family: What To Expect Now That You’re A Christian, by John MacArthur
When I read the subtitle to this book, I had a sense of mild and somewhat sardonic amusement, as if the author was choosing to make a sly reference to book titles like “What To Expect When You’re Expecting,” which would show a higher degree of wit and humor than one normally reads from John MacArthur as an author, usually . Reading this book reminds me of two related trains of thought that give me mixed feelings. On the one hand, the author’s title reminds me of my own thoughts about baptism, where I welcome those who are baptized or looking to get baptized into the family of God as my brothers and sisters . On the other hand, the author’s tone in this book reminds me a lot of my own experience as a Christian from baptism and to the stories I have heard of others being baptized in freezing streams or rivers or cow troughs. This is a book that is somewhat grim and unpleasant, and certainly not what anyone would consider an uplifting book. It speaks truths but sometimes goes out of its way in order to be too unpleasant, at least more unpleasant than it needs to be to get the point across.
In terms of its contents this book is immensely brief. I read the entire book (around 120 pages or so) in the course of one interrupted half-hour lunch break at work. I did not race through the book because it was dull or uninteresting, and nor did I skip through it, but the book reads extremely quickly, largely because the author is content to remain at the same level. There are some authors who vary their tone and approach in order to keep their readers off their toes, but this author has the same overly solemn and immensely grumpy tone throughout. The author has titles to his chapters like “one love,” “actions speak loudest,” “fellowship of the burning heart,” “the daily battle,” “answered prayer,” “the supreme test,” “old friends, new friends,” “a spiritual harvest,” “don’t just sit there,” “fire on the pathway,” and “the joy of a living hope,” and yet he does not seem to be able to capture joy very well in this book. This book is more an unending slog than it is a celebration of the joy of salvation. MacArthur is a serious writer, and certainly that is an approach to writing I understand well, but he is at his best when approaching subjects from an unexpected direction, as he does in his fantastic books on Parables and Twelve Extraordinary Women, when he gives a fresh approach to subjects that are often misunderstood. Here, he has very little new to say and he says it as gloomily as possible, as if it would be a sin to give happy and cheerful advice to a new believer.
This is the sort of book that, if I am in a particular sardonic or witty mood, would blame on a general cheerless tendency among Calvinists. Yet I don’t think this book itself is problematic on those grounds. Certainly, there is little that the author says to new Christians in terms of content that I would not similarly tell. There is a general expectation among people that life is supposed to become easier when one becomes converted, and the author correctly notes that this is not always the case because our conversion means we are implacably opposed to the fallen ruler of this corrupt world. Yet one cannot help but take issue with the author’s tone. This book is not a welcoming message but rather laying out the unwelcome mat to new believers who cannot distinguish from the author’s tone and from the truth that is covered in fog and gloom here. Not only that, but when the author does choose to talk about happier subjects he merely ends up humblebragging about NFL-worthy football skills, which is no less off-putting than anything else he has to say. In the end, this is a book that has a lot to offer, but is not a welcoming read. At least it’s short, though.
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