(PLEASE NOTE THAT WHEN I READ THIS BOOK IT WAS UNDER THE TITLE "aka LOST", that is why I call it that in my review. My page numbers below reflect the page numbering in aka Lost.)
What I think that a lot of the reviewers on amazon.com miss is that Henderson plays with a lot of unscriptural ideas. My review is divided into positive and negative sections, and much of it is quotes from the book. I will not take time to explain why I have listed each item under positive or negative but if you don't understand my concern, feel free to comment.
I have heard a lot of people talk about passing out tracts or street evangelism. I enjoyed reading a different and much more natural approach--befriending unbelievers. In Henderson's words: "The church has spent enormous amounts of time and energy planning programs for reaching the unchurched. We've redesigned church parking lots, reprinted our brochures, repainted our Sunday-school rooms, and even gotten flashy Web sites up and running, but the battle isn't happening in our buildings. It's in our backyards."
The following was one of my favourite quotes in the entire book. One of my other favourites I already quoted here."When I sense that one of my missing (unsaved) friends now trusts me or when that person initiates a conversation with me about life or Jesus, I feel as if I just won the lottery." (p104-105) I feel the same way!
This book reminded me of the importance of consistently showing love and concern for unbelievers. Doesn't the Bible say that as Christians, we will be known by our love? That should be our quality that stands out. Some Christians see no value in spending time with unbelievers if we aren't explicitly sharing the gospel in words every time. I cannot agree. But we aren't loving people if we aren't standing for truth.
The Bible teaches certain and distinct categories. For example, there is a Creator and there are His creatures, and they are eternally distinct. Within the realm of created things, there are various created distinctions (angels, human beings, animals) and two main categories in which humans find themselves today, spiritually: found (saved) or lost. As the emergent church, Henderson included, blurs these distinctions, it is no wonder that John MacArthur has come to this conclusion about them: [...]
Creator/Creature distinction blurred
Henderson talks about Jesus quite a bit, but he uses a few events and phrases from Jesus' life to frame his arguement (with no mention of the big picture of the Scriptures). A few times it made me wonder if Henderson really believes Jesus to be the Creator from the Old Testament. This is a classic example of how an unbalanced view of the Scriptures leads to warped conclusions:
* "I'm stuck following the Jesus who, while functioning in a league above us mere mortals, nevertheless displayed some reassuring traits of ordinariness and humanity, such as the inability to always control his circumstances, not always getting his own way, moments of not completely understanding what was going on (think of...the Garden of Gethsemane), and admitting his vulnerability to his three closest disciples." (p123)
* Conrad Gempf quote on p60, "Jesus...in at least one notable case, doesn't know the answers of questions addressed to him."
* "You might be thinking that Jesus had some special power as the Son of God that enabled him to get extra mileage out of his questions. But if he had that kind of power, then why would he bother to ask questions at all? He could have simply cut to the chase..... But he didn't. Why? Maybe because it's actually true that he limited himself to the kind of humanity you and I are stuck with." (p67 )
Saved/Lost distinction blurred
Henderson continually blurs the distinction between saved and lost. It seems the thrust of his book is on getting Christians to see unbelievers as OK.
* He calls the lost/found dichotomy an "artificial separation" and an "unnecessary and unhelpful obstacle" (p18). He goes so far as to say that we "do violence to others in their minds when they refer to the people Jesus misses most as 'the lost'" (p20). Henderson would rather use a culturally relevant term than use a Biblical term. He coins a new term, "missing people", and quotes McLaren: "Missing people aren't bad; they're just not what they're supposed to be." (p19) He quotes Hunter in saying that "Celtic Christianity viewed human nature not as being radically tainted by sin and evil, intrinsically corrupt and degenerate, but as imprinted with the image of God, full of potential and opportunity, longing for completion and perfection...people would be receptive if...treated...that way." (p57) (But what is a Biblical view of man's condition?)
* Henderson applauds church "outreaches" that do things like pick up garbage after a solstice parade (p48) and invite non-Christians to be part of their outreaches.
* Henderson encourages believers to talk more like unbelievers. He suggests calling terms like "I just feel so blessed" and "I sought the Lord's face" banned words, and encourages talking with your believing friends in the same way you'd talk with your unbelieving friends. (p60-61) He even claims that maybe swearing is OK after all. (p132)
Salvation/Discipleship (Sanctification) distinction blurred
* Several times Henderson speaks of evangelism as "the game of nudging people across the starting line to Jesus." (p41, 58) He speaks of his own salvation experience in the following words: p22 "...I recognized my lostness, and I accepted his invitation to enter into his heart and life." (Is that really what happens at salvation?) "...conversion and disciple-making often get blurred, overlapping and combined like ingredients poured into a mixing bowl....Conversion is an important but a small step toward discipleship... (p126).
* When we allow people to belong before they believe, when we include them in the life of our faith community and introduce them to people they would normally never associate with, we are discipling them...providing a context for them to engage with the Holy Spirit as he teaches them all the truth they need to know at that time." (p127)
As someone who doesn't know exactly when she first trusted Christ as Saviour, I can see Henderson's point. But the Bible teaches that whether we remember that moment or not, positional salvation/justification is a one-time event. I fear that by "blending the two" Henderson will have a "church" full of people who've reformed their own actions but who don't know the Redeemer. AKA lost people.
Human viewpoint on evangelism
Henderson comes at the topic of evangelism from a very human point of view. He continually uses secular research rather than Scripture to support his claims. "We can learn valuable skills from those shrewd folks who may not know God but who understand people." (p69) On a secular basis, he says things like this:
* We should make evangelism fun. "Sociologists tell us that we tend to repeat what we enjoy. We voluntarily put our hearts and souls into doing the things that delight us. If it's fun and fulfilling, Christians will gravitate toward and approach that feels more like real life and less like a sales pitch." (p99)
* Acting is more important than speaking. "...communication experts tell us that that the truly important elements of any message sent between two people are eye contact, tone of voice, and body language. Effective communication can be reduced to this: Show me; don't tell me." (p110)
* Statistics say people don't get saved quickly. "Some experts say that it takes about two years for people to move from seeker to finder...it's a gradual process, not an isolated event." (p131)
I am not saying that these observations aren't true, but on the basis of these statements it would be easy to excuse never talking about our faith or having no urgency in sharing Christ. Because Henderson's viewpoint is earthly, he encourages our natural desires:
* Don't be too preachy. a.k.a. "Lost" makes it seem like a Christian should never be the first to speak up about the Lord. (p41)
* If you don't think you can preach, then don't try. "...many of us feel genetically encoded to do something to nudge people toward Jesus...but...we are not equipped to "preach". Somehow we must rediscover the power and attractiveness of simply being ourselves. It turns out that just doing that is good enough to get the job done." (p45)
* Be a coward for Jesus. (That is actually a subheading in a.k.a. "Lost"). "Jesus didn't ask us to be brave (most of the time); he asked us to be ourselves. That means we are ordinary, normal, dysfunctional human beings who know we are loved by Jesus. When we manage to communicate that message to our missing friends, they think it sounds like good news." (p97) (Is this idea based on Scripture or on our natural fear of man?)
* Don't worry about getting much verbal information across: "Following Jesus on his mission to the missing means we go to them. We spend time with them....We don't spell out every detail of the plan of salvation. Many of them are already listening closely. They are interacting with and wondering about the Living Plan of Salvation, Jesus, who expresses himself through Christians just being themselves." (p44) "Dan Allender, president of Mars Hill Graduate School, explains how his school trains students in evangelism: 'That's easy,' he says, 'we teach them how to order lunch.' Apparently, Dan believes that it counts when we have lunch w/ a friend and practice being unusually interested in him....All that Jesus asks of us is what's doable." (p74)
* You can do it. "When God asks us to give him something, he asks us to give him only what we already have.... The problem is we don't think that what we have is enough." (p75) (Who is the focus here? God or man?)
We should not be more offensive to unbelievers than necessary (as a wise preacher told me, "the gospel is offensive enough, we don't need to be"). Things that are not expressly stated in Scripture, but are mere conventions of our Christian culture, can be modified. But we cannot shape the Bible's teaching and practice to suit a human point of view. And that is exactly what Henderson seems to be suggesting.
A complete reconciliation between the Bible and human reason is impossible, because the Bible shows the mind of our Creator, who is distinct from us. In a part-time course listing I saw a course called Why Christianity must change or die. This is common thinking in our society. But changes to the Bible's teachings would BE the death of Christianity.
I will close with some words from A. W. Tozer. His writings have provided me with much insight into orthodox Christianity:
"The witness of the Christian church is most effective when she declares rather than explains, for the gospel is addressed not to reason but to faith.... The power of Christianity appears in its antipathy toward, never in its agreement with, the ways of fallen men.... The cross stands in bold opposition to the natural man. Its philosophy runs contrary to the processes of the unregenerate mind, so that Paul could say bluntly that the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness. To try to find a common ground between the message of the cross and man's fallen reason can only result in an impaired reason, a meaningless cross and a powerless Christianity! (A. W. Tozer, Renewed Day by Day, January 26 reading).