I Give Up Book Review: “The Gospel of John” Life Lessons with Max Lucado (2006)

This Bible study book is part of the Inspirational Bible Study Series put out by Max Lucado through Word Publishing. I write this review for one reason only: if I don’t vent against “inspirational” soon, I may very well explode in a rather un-inspired way, at which point some smiling Christians will apparently doubt my Christianity.

My faith makes me feel good, there’s no doubt about it. Just keep feeding me passages like II Corinthians 3:1-17 or Hebrews 4:14-16 (and Hebrews entirely, for that matter), and I will be the feel-good Christian I ought to be. The confidence and hope that I have in Christ’s saving work, His full forgiveness, and the Spirit’s perpetual sealing is inspiring enough for me. I don’t need much else.

So when I take a look at Christian authors who make their living on Christian inspiration, I first give them the benefit of the doubt: I’m sure they’re just focusing on the blessings of salvation. Then I pick up a book like this—118-odd pages, 12 lessons on the book of John, plenty of thought-provoking questions. As I go through the text, I realize that Max doesn’t work his way through every verse of John. Ok. Understandable. It’s a short Bible study, and he can’t cover everything. But when it comes right down to picking and choosing passages from a Gospel, what guides his selection process? Inspiration? Which passages should he leave out? What portions of John are not inspiring? I was floored to discover that this “inspirational” Bible study book—whose goal is to prove that “the purpose of the Bible [is] salvation” (p.6)—skipped in their entirety John 18 and 19! Lucado takes his readers directly from Jesus’ prayer for believers in the Garden in Lesson 10 to Jesus’ resurrection in Lesson 11, without so much as a mention of Jesus’ trial, suffering, crucifixion or burial. Sure, he writes “To complete the book of John in this twelve-part study, read John 18:1-20:18” (p.99), but in a Bible study guide dedicated to inspiration and salvation, how could not discuss these chapters!?

I fear that the modern fascination with inspiration, emotions, and feel-good texts has removed the average Christian entirely from the life-long realities of the Gospel and has replaced these realities with unfounded ideals of earthly bliss and problem-free living. Christian inspiration ought not be fluffy compilations of God’s promises taken out of context. That’s a Christian latte, according to Hebrews 5. It ought to be God’s Truth taken as the whole lump sum of His Word, carefully studied and applied through hard work and deep meditation. That’s the Christian steak dinner to which the writer of Hebrews refers.

So how am I to respond to this “inspiration” fad? Am I only to smack against it whenever its cute, air-filled head noses itself into my library, or am I to counter its presence with books a bit more substantial? I could suggest books like The Gospel for Real Life (or really anything by Jerry Bridges) or perhaps something from the Couterpoints series put out by Zondervan. But really I just need to get the word out: if a book has the word “inspirational” on the cover, it’s probably akin to theological skim milk and not worth your precious time.

©2011 E.T.

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