Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Book Review: John Burke, Soul Revolution

To really get to the heart of this book, I think you need to understand John Burke's target audience. As I understand it, this book is focusing on two groups of people:

1. People who have never known the healing, transforming, redeeming power of their Creator God, people living lives separate from the God who made them, people seeking hope and comfort and joy in everything but God, and who are becoming desperately aware of the fact that it just doesn't work. Entertainment, sex, booze and drugs, achievements in life, even family - none of those bring true, lasting fulfillment.

2. People who have been "Christians," or at least "church-goers" for some time, but have never been able to figure out how it all transcends Sunday morning. Those who enjoy the company they find at church, the friends, the inspiration from the music and speakers, but who have yet to truly experience the fullness of God's grace and mercy in every facet of their lives. They've gone to classes and tried to read their Bibles. . .but still, life somehow seems incomplete.

Burke writes that Jesus "insisted that God intends for you to live a life that fulfills your deepest desires and transforms you into a life-giving person." The problem, though, is that most people are living lives separated from the God who gives that life. "God wants to meet our deepest needs, but early in life we get wired to meet our needs without God." This is obviously true of those living lives apart from Christ, but often it is true of Christians as well. Most Christians were led into their first steps of faith, and then left with no real understanding of what it means to "abide in Christ." Thus, while they may be "in Christ," their day-to-day lives tend to operate more by the world's methods than God's.

Recognizing this problem, Burke decided to give his church a challenge - he called it the 60/60 Challenge. That challenge is the heart of this book.

In essence, the charge is to spend 60 days conforming every thought to God and his ways. To constantly keep God and his Word in mind, to stay in continual dialogue with God, seeking his will and his desire in each and every situation.

Since even the most devout would have trouble giving every moment over to God, especially in the first weeks of this experiment, Burke suggested that participants buy a watch or timer that beeps every 60 minutes. Thus, at least once an hour, those taking the challenge are reminded to stop whatever they are doing and once again seek the Lord. "Am I pleasing God in this discussion?" "Am I obedient in what my eyes are gazing upon right now?" "Am I behaving in a Godly manner in my relationships with my friends and family right now?" "Is this really how God desires that I treat the drivers around me as I commute to work?"

Over time, Burke postulates, as we slowly seek God on a regular, moment-by-moment basis, God will come to us in new ways, transforming us from the inside out, giving us grace and a deeper knowledge of his love for us, while at the same time using us more and more to be agents of grace and redemption to the world around us.

That is all, essentially, the first part of the book. The second part is an introduction to the basics of victorious Christian living. If you've been living faithfully in Christ for 30 years, if you have a deep, rich, vibrant prayer life, if you gladly serve and love all those around you, if you know God's hand at work deep in your soul, then this is all so much basic review. But for the rest, there is a lot of valuable information here.

Some of the areas Burke covers include
- Prayer (what it is and how to do it)
- How to walk in simple faith and trust as God directs
- How to have healthy relationships (read: conflict resolution)
- Accountability with others
- Spiritual Self-examination
- Overcoming addictions and destructive habits
- Basic spiritual disciplines (Burke calls it a "spiritual workout")
- Service of others
- Money

As he works his way through these various thoughts and ideas, Burke assumes the reader is doing the 60-60 experiment, and thus offers questions for thought and reflection as you go about your day, seeking to hear from, and serve, God.

One of the things I appreciate about this book is that it's grounded in real people's lives. Burke pastors a large church in the Austin area, and he fills the pages of this book with the stories of people he knows in his church and community. This is not simply theory, but scriptural truths proven by the experiences of people who have found true hope and healing, who have overcome addictions and negative thoughts, people who have found success as they have turned their broken lives over to the Lord who heals.

I appreciated the simplicity and honesty of this book. I also appreciated its breadth. He covers a lot of different areas, and gives many, many good ideas to the reader, probably too many to handle at once. But there is ample opportunity for anybody to find something helpful within the pages if Soul Revolution. I would have no trouble recommending this book to anybody who is tired and bored and fed up with trying to manufacture happiness through the world's standards, and who is ready to see if God can't clean up the mess of their lives.

On the other hand, that also ties into the one of the complaints I have for this book. In the end, it becomes awfully myopic, awfully singular, awfully individualistic. One could walk away from this book believing that God's main goal in life is to make me happy and content. That it's all about me. In fact, early on in the book, Burke writes, "[In John 10:10-11] Jesus explained that someone out there wants to destroy your life and rob you of joy - but that someone is not God. The whole reason Jesus came was to lead us into life in all its fullness. That's what motivated him to lay down his life for you - so that you would trust him and follow him into a more fulfilling, life-giving experience than you can ever imagine." I might argue against that a bit, especially when he says "The whole reason. . ." I can think of a few other reasons, such as universal redemption, the defeat of Satan and all the powers of darkness, the overthrow of evil dictators and the uplifting of those trodden down by diabolical systems, feeding of the hungry and freeing of the slaves, even to bring God's Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. While Jesus truly desires to bring life and freedom to his children, we must be careful that we don't stop there, believing his plan is complete once our own problems are taken care of.

My other complaint is a subtle yet persistent theme across the pages that says, essentially, when we turn our lives fully to Christ everything turns happy again. Depression goes away, financial problems disappear, marriages recover, addictions are defeated, diseases are healed. Of course, I believe all that to be true. The power of Christ overcomes all that is broken, it brings healing and redemption. I have seen people find joy, I have seen relationships restored in Christ, I have seen (metaphorically) the dead rise from their graves. If God wasn't able to do these things, he wouldn't be worth following. But the problem with this book is that it sends the message that all these good things will happen every time to everybody. Perhaps Burke doesn't exactly believe this, but I find no room in the book for those for whom the marriage still falls apart. Or those who don't receive healing for their depression. I know too many fine Christians who still struggle deeply with issues of depression and mental illness, who have cried out for healing and not found it - for whatever reason, God has chosen not to grant healing. But those stories don't exist in Soul Revolution. There doesn't seem to be any room for the idea that God might actually allow people to remain sick, or in financial trouble, that God may not save every marriage. And if you're one of those people, this book may simply cause more pain, guilt, and doubt.

However. . .with those caveats in mind, I still think this is a useful book. I still would recommend it to others. I even found myself challenged at various points throughout the book. If anything, it caused me to stop and consider what we're doing as a church to help people live faithful, daily lives in God's presence, and how we might better in that area. It was a worthwhile read.

If any of you read it, feel free to let me know and I'd love to discuss this book in greater depth with you.

A special thank you to Zondervan Books, for giving me the opportunity to read and review this book

Coming next: A Faith and Culture Devotional, by Kelly Monroe Kullberg and Lael Arrington


Lori said...

You quoted, " "God wants to meet our deepest needs, but early in life we get wired to meet our needs without God." I am focusing on the first part of that sentnece. Why was God not meeting our needs when we were in dire need when we were children? Thant is a need plain and simple. tell me Dan. Where else can we go when God stands by and watches innocent people get hurt?

Dan said...

That's what I was getting at with the 2nd half of the review - there are deeper questions that Burke glosses too quickly over. I know that's not the point of this book, but an acknowledgment on his part that often pain remains unresolved, that there is great evil in the world would have gone a long way towards presenting a better balance.