Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Book Review (#42 of 2014) Wholly Jesus by Mark Foreman

Wholly Jesus: His Surprising Approach to Wholeness and Why it Matters Today
Foreman is a pastor and father of Jon Foreman, member of the band Switchfoot.

I am reading this book at the same time I'm working through several books in the work as worship/ theology of vocation movement looking at the doctrines of work and vocation. This book almost fits into that category as Foreman is addressing the same false dichotomies of "secular" and "sacred," and confronting the idea of being "separatist" instead of engaged in the world and bringing Jesus to everything we do. Other authors, like Dallas Willard, have addressed the same issues that Foreman has addressed, and done so more thoroughly. Foreman writes as if he's pioneering these thoughts without recognizing that there are centuries worth of scholarship on it. Foreman seems to be unaware of other scholarship, although he mentions Willard a couple of times. He quotes frequently from C.S. Lewis and also mentions Richard Niebuhr as an influence. Willard and modern Reformed pastors like Tim Keller, when writing on such subjects, quote from a host of ancient sources and inspire the reader to dig deeper as well.

If you gave this book 5 stars and it really influenced you, I wonder if you've read much on the topics Foreman presents or on church history. If this book didn't impress you, you probably have done some reading on this area. To his credit, Foreman's personal anecdotes are good examples of a living faith.My criticism is that he writes as though his thoughts are original when there is "nothing new under the sun."

Foreman intends to confront the stereotypical American evangelical church is focused on a "two-chapter" Gospel instead of a "four chapter" Gospel (Foreman doesn't use this term, but others do, so I'm using it to describe his thinking). American evangeliacls preach the Gospel as forgiveness of sins and assurance of eternity in heaven--full stop. You pray to "ask Jesus into your heart" to get your "fire insurance" and then the Gospel does not penetrate anything else you do. "Separatism" is encouraged as the Church settles in a defensive and critical posture rather than offensive and engaging one. "Really spiritual" people are encouraged to quit their "secular" jobs and engage in "full-time ministry."

This Gospel ignores the Cultural Mandate of Genesis where man is called to subdue and exercise dominion over the earth as the image of God, as well as the Great Commission which is focused on making disciples and not just baptising people. It ignores that all of creation is being redeemed by God, and that the salvation of souls is just one part of it. Christians too often think worship is something they do on Sundays instead of every day of the week. That Jesus is someone who "lives in my heart" instead of also living in our words, deeds, and mind. A theologian might argue that Foreman is confronting the dispensationalist church and reminding us of historical covenentalism, however he does not use that language and hardly harkens back to anything written before 1950.

Another commenter pointed out that Foreman doesn't spend too much time on the Cross as being the sole means of redemption. There is a good mention of the cross and the Gospel when looking at Romans 12, but there are too many statements like "our righteousness is based on the faithfulness of Jesus," instead of Christ's atonement on the cross that would make me recommend this book. He doesn't advocate a watered-down Gospel or church services, however. In the last chapters he implores the church not to entertain youth but teach them the importance of prayer, Bible study, and intentional evangelism. He warns against Eastern religious influences in the modern church, harkening back to the problems of Gnostic dualism and Platonic views on human activities of the first centuries. Books critical of the modern American evangelical church are a dime a dozen, and Foreman's book is one of many that criticizes from a conservative standpoint.

Foreman doesn't address vocation and worshiping until the final part of the book, probably because his only experience in the church is through the arts, worship, and preaching. His book comes across more as a collection of sermons that you'd hear him preach. There is nothing wrong with that, it just isn't a great book. It is mostly exhortations to be more patient, not gossip, love one another during the week, etc.

A couple tidbits that I liked: Foreman gives an illustration of surrender. When he first came to Christ he thought he needed to give up all his music, so he drug his keyboard and equipment to the church and donated it. A year later he was at a church worship concert and the band needed a keyboard player. He eagerly volunteered and found it was his old equipment on stage he'd be using. He gave up something he thought was hindering him from a relationship with God and got it back from God in a radically different way.

He also explains the dilemmas he felt as an early Christian, being pressured by his church to conform to their will. He was playing in a "secular" band and his churchmates constantly criticized him for it, urging him only to play music in the church. He rightly points out that his church's thinking is not the New Testament example-- Foreman had a ton of missional influence and was able to share Jesus with people who never would have darkened the door of a church; one of his bandmates came to Christ. 
After trying to talk his bandmates into working some Jesus-related songs (like "Jesus is Just Alright with Me") into their sets, they asked him to leave. He ponders why the church supports foreign missionaries who intentionally get into the community context to share the Gospel but criticizes anyone who does the same thing in their back yard.

He concludes the book with the illustration that our Sunday worship services should not be the Main Event, but rather be the halftime pep-talk from coaches and teammates while the weekday living out of our faith is really the Main Event. I agree with this, and enjoy the analogy, just wish Foreman would have drawn more strength from others in the church espousing these same ideas since the Reformation. 

2.5 stars out of 5.

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