Call me a nerd, but to me, there’s nothing quite like a good book! I could spend hours reading and typically, I have 2-5 books going at one time. And every so often, a book comes along that is worth sharing with others. Recently, an old friend of mine from Camp Good News wrote a book. He’s written a few now, but this time he opened it up to Facebook friends to read and review it and I jumped on it. Now, the deal was, I could get an un-edited copy to read and then I was supposed to give a little review around the time it came out…It was released Nov. 26, so 2 weeks later is still “around” that time, right?! Yes, as usual, I am late. But, better late than never…
Risky Gospel, by Owen Strachan, is chock full of the ingredients it takes to make a good book on Christian living: personal stories, biblical text, humor and applicability (did I just make up a word?) I’ll be honest, going into it I thought it might be over my head – a deep theology text, which is not my kind of reading. Even as a teenager, Owen was a deep-thinker. He’s well-educated, intelligent and articulate. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to follow, much less relate. But this book is for people of all walks of life and all stages of their journey with the Lord.
No matter who we are, life often feels very busy – sometimes overwhelming. We don’t want to settle for mediocre, but we do and for a hundred different reasons. And life gets hard. I think there’s a part of all of us that just wants things to be easy. But, as Owen points out, the Christian life wasn’t made to be an easy, put-your-head-down-and-get-through-the-day kind of life. We were made for more – so much more! But, that doesn’t mean life will be easy. In fact, many verses paint the opposite picture and Owen doesn’t try to hide that fact. “You follow God and you just might get asked to walk in the wilderness. For forty years.” (pg. 34) That sounds scary to some and causes us to hold back, it keeps us living in mediocre-land. To step out of that and live out the risky Gospel, we have to first understand who God is and realize our identity as His child. In chapter 3, Owen does a phenomenal job of pointing out the need to understand who we are in Christ and he does so by pulling out Scripture to encourage us in embracing our identity. As we do that, we gain purpose and confidence. We begin to see that no matter our station in life, we can grow, we can bring glory to God. Once we understand our identity, Owen reminds us of the importance of building our faith and gives us practical ways to do that. Then he points out something most books seem to ignore: that we will fail. We will get frustrated with ourselves and our experiences. But the story doesn’t end there – we have hope because of this risky Gospel living in us. Too many authors today give us these ways to be better Christians and then when we don’t live up to it, we feel guilty, ashamed and drowning in despair. I love that Owen is honest about the human condition, his own included, and the redemption found in Jesus.
The next few chapters are spent showing us how we can bring glory to God in a variety of ways: by building a legacy, a vocation, a godly community, an evangelistic outreach and public witness. I loved that each of these chapters focused on the importance of these areas of our lives and give the reader practical ways to grow. Being encouraged to invest in your family and see spouses and children as great blessings is refreshing. Hearing that God cares more about your heart and your service than your title and paycheck is always encouraging, especially in a world so focused on the latter. And even in Christian circles, we chalk spiritual “success” up to how involved we are in ministry and whether it is vocational or not. While being in ministry is wonderful, it doesn’t necessarily determine how Christ-like one is. God has lots of us in lots of different places in life because that’s where He can use us best or grow us more like Him. And in a day and age of “church shopping” it’s good to be challenged to commit to a godly community. Many people today have a bad taste in their mouth when it comes to church, usually because of a bad experience (or a bunch!) or people who have been hurt. But the reality is, we NEED each other – in the good AND the bad. That’s challenging to read, but oh so good, too! Owen gives great (and often overlooked) ideas for how to serve other believers. The same week I read that chapter, I had an opportunity to help out with something at our new church. I didn’t want to go. It was our night off, we go to a large church and I don’t know anyone…the excuses went on. But then God reminded me how much I need to be connected to a local body of believers. So, I went. And nothing huge happened, but it was an opportunity to serve and meet people. We need that, even when we think we don’t. Owen mentioned the story of Rosaria Champagne Butterfield in this chapter. If you’ve never heard of her or read her book, you should! But, that’s for another day…
Probably the most difficult chapters for me were the ones on evangelistic witness and public witness. Like many people, I’d rather keep my head down and be out of the spotlight. I don’t like to ruffle feathers AT. ALL. I try to be super sensitive about not offending people (I’m sure I offend people more than I think, but I do try not to!) And while we shouldn’t be out trying to offend people and make enemies, the reality is, the Gospel is offensive. People are going to get upset and relationships may be severed. And that’s where I struggle. And yet again, as is true throughout the rest of the book, Owen breaks it down to show us ways to step out in faith and obedience – makes it seem doable. And of course, it is because of the power of Christ in us. So, while I didn’t “like” these chapters, it wasn’t because anything Owen said was incorrect – it was because the truth hurts! And a book like this wouldn’t be good if it didn’t challenge you.
The book ends with a challenge to Christians to live out this risky Gospel, understanding that the risk is really minimal when we serve a great big God. From our earthly standpoint, it seems scary, but God knows all the days of our lives and what will bring Him the most glory. It may mean we face all sorts of trials, big and small. Only God knows. But, as Owen writes, “if we’re pursuing Christ wholeheartedly through a life of gospel risk, here’s the awesome truth: there really is no such thing as failure.” (pg. 215) There’s no “you’re doing it wrong.” And that does not sound risky at all. In fact, the thought is quite comforting.
So, even though I’ve written a novel of my own, there’s still a lot of good stuff left to explore. If you get a chance, pick up a copy. I’m pretty sure it’ll be under the tree this Christmas for some of my loved ones! J