Thursday, February 14, 2013

Book Review: Jesus Is ______.

Judah Smith has written a new book  Jesus Is ______. with the subtitle "Find A New Way To Be Human". Smith tells us of the campaign his church engaged in to ask the people they know how they would finish this statement. He's received many answers, some thoughtful, some filthy and blasphemous. He has a website for the campaign at

I must admit at the forefront of this review, that I was a skeptical reader knowing that a lot of what Smith teaches is the typical seeker-sensitive, feel-good message and not what I believe to be the root Gospel message of Scripture using proper hermeneutics. It's too watered-down for the depth of study I desire in my walk with Jesus.

With that said, I was surprised with what Smith has written here in Jesus Is ______. I must commend him for his effort with this book. I appreciate his struggle with his own faith and the things he's been wrestling with.

"Over the last few years, I've been on a journey that has challenged stereotypes--of myself, of sin and sinners, of Jesus himself. It's hard to describe the depth of the transformation I've experienced, but I do know this: I'll never be the same again." (pp. xv-xvi)

I believe what Judah has written (whether he would agree or not) is geared toward those that are far away from God and His commands. He's written a book that one could hand to someone who did not know God; even one who did not want to know God in an effort to reach them for Christ. Jesus Is ______. was written as an outreach to those living away from Christ calling them to believe the Good News.

I did differ with much of what Smith has written. So, while I commend his effort and work, I think there were a few things that troubled me personally.

"So when I preach and write, I often retell Bible narratives in my own words. It's not a new translation; it's a paraphrase, usually with a good dose of humor thrown in. Sometimes I crack myself up; but laughter is biblical, so I feel almost holy laughing at my own jokes." (pg. xviii)

I often retell and talk through the Bible narratives myself when I preach. I may even say things that are funny, but I do my best to remain faithful to the words written down because I don't want to take liberty in clear passages and promote a false message or a false Gospel. I can't say Smith did that, but some of his 'retellings' were a bit out there for me. He used vocabulary and slang that just didn't speak to me. Some of it I found very distracting. A few things were a bit too much.

In his retelling of the story of Zacchaeus, he referenced really corny things like TMZ (the tabloid organization that chases celebrities and has a daily show where they reveal the results of their stalking.), "blinged-out robes", Justin Bieber, and references a lot of movies like Nacho Libre, Napoleon Dynamite, and Braveheart. Another issue I had was Judah uses some 'colorful' language (not really that bad, but enough for me to scratch my head) like "This is jacked up...". I know it isn't that bad, but I know too many pastors that curse thinking it's edgy and acceptable today. This wasn't cursing, but it rubbed me the wrong way.

"...and there must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks." (Eph. 5:4 NASB)

I commend Judah for a lot of what this book addresses, which is the problem of sin that this world is filled with. I also disagree with what Judah and many others believe about sin:

"The problem with the "if God can save...." statement is that it implies a rating system for sins. It's an unspoken, often culture-driven, and arbitrary badness scale...To him, all sin is equally evil..." (from pg. 4)

I disagree that sins are all the same. To God, all sin IS indeed evil, but God does not see someone like the shooter of Sandy Hook elementary and equate what he has done with my 7 year-old son who lies to me about whether he brushed his teeth at night. There is a huge difference between a willful, intentional murderer and a young man who is content with his gingivitis and tells me he is clean (see, I can be funny). Does God want my son to lie? Of course not. He wants him to learn to respect his parents and be a truthful, faithful person. But God is not going to stand in judgment with the same wrath about that sin that He does about a man who planned ahead to bring guns into a school to shoot little children. I believe strongly that there is a difference. All sin is wrong, but all sin is not equal.

I also believe God has called those of us who live in the Light of Jesus to speak out against sin. I do not believe it is hypocritical or judgmental to be the "righter" of wrongs and the voice of justice. Sin is wrong and it corrupts. We, as Christ's followers, should be loud about the things that are around us and call them out with gentleness and respect.

In all, what Judah Smith has written is something one could hand a friend who knew nothing about Jesus. It is very basic and easy to read. It took me about an hour and a half to get through the whole book at a quick reading pace. At the end, I would want to discuss it with the reader because of what Smith has said in the past in order to caution the reader about taking everything he says at face value. They may go on to listen to Smith's sermons online and take in some really bad theology and teaching. But for those who need a very basic book about sin and how Christ died for that sin, this is a good book for that purpose. He did a good job keeping the Gospel message simple. Jesus did die for those sins you commit. He wants you to turn from them. He wants to save you. This is great news and I appreciate Judah Smith teaching this wonderful truth. 
I would give Jesus Is ______. 3 out of 5 stars.

I received this book free from the Thomas Nelson Publisher's Booksneeze review program. I was not required to write a favorable review. I was only asked to be honest. The words are my own.