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When I was offered the opportunity to read and review Christianish by Mark Steele, it looked very interesting to me.  The subtitle is “What if we’re not really following Jesus?”  I am not familiar with Mark Steele, but the subject interested me.

Here are the positives:

  • Mark Steele is a pretty funny guy who can tell a story.  In many ways this is similar to Donald Miller’s best work (in my opinion, Blue Like Jazz and Searching for God Knows What).  He uses rather lengthy stories to introduce the topic of the chapter.
  • He has some important things to say.  There are a number great thoughts for the American church to consider.  There are many ways in which we truly are not following Jesus, and Mark identifies a great deal of them.

These things make the book accessible to broad evangelicalism.

The problem is that Mark never really gets to the core issue.  He never even really defines Christianish, but leaves it as fairly obvious.  Each chapter addresses one aspect of what he thinks is Christianish and how we should be instead, but he never gets around to defining the problem of what I call nominal Christianity, or cultural Christianity.  Some great thinkers like Jonathan Edwards (Charity and Its Fruits) and Dietrich Bonhoeffer (The Cost of Discipleship).  In those books, Edwards calls the problem counterfeit grace and Bonhoeffer cheap grace.  Steele’s perspective would have been deepened from spending time with these men, applying their thoughts to our generation.  This, in fact, is what seems to separate Donald Miller from Mark Steele.  Miller subtly comes off as well read.

Since Mark does not adequately identify the problem, he completely misses the cure.  It basically sounds like try harder, try differently.  It could be imagined that he is talking about repentance without clearly talking about repentance.  You get a sense similar to what I thought of MacArthur’s The Gospel According to Jesus after talking about it in class with Jerry Bridges.  Much of what John MacArthur says is true, but he neglects the doctrine of regeneration which gets to the core of the issue.

John Piper’s recent book, Finally Alive, is essentially addressing the same issues as Mark Steele’s.  Not as hip, to be certain.  But he gets to the core problem & cure: lack of regeneration & believing (and savoring) the gospel.  I think this is part of the problem with broadly evangelical books- they lack a depth of theology and saturation with Scripture.

I am aware that this sounds harsh.  I enjoyed reading Mark Steele’s book.  I just didn’t find it helpful in combating the remnants of Christianish in me, or others.  And address it we must.

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