Most books try to attract an audience with an intriguing cover or a catchy title or subtitle. One book title that comes to mind is "What's So Great About America?" Another one that also fits this methodology is "Where Will You Be When Suddenly Millions Are SNATCHED AWAY!" Not so with this book by Mike McKinley which cuts away all of the hype and comes right in the front door with a book title that accurately describes the content in his book: "Am I Really a Christian?"
According to any number of surveys, the majority of Americans will respond affirmatively when asked this or similar questions. What McKinley does in a very easy reading and low technical style is challenge his readers to take a personal spiritual inventory and do what the Bible tells everyone to do, "Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves!" (2 Corinthians 13:5). Although he uses a number of anecdotal stories to make his points, McKinley made every effort to anchor this book to the foundation of cited biblical texts, sometimes an entire portion of a Bible chapter is quoted to ensure contextual accuracy.
According to McKinley, this book is primarily directed at Christians and those who call themselves Christians. In his Introduction, McKinley provides a clear statement of what this book is all about, and in some sense why I should read it. Personally, I like it when an author tells me up front what is the point of the book, what he or she intends to do in the next dozen or so chapters. Here is part of McKinley's purpose:
"Becoming a Christian means admitting that you are a sinner, and admitting that you are sinner (sic) means admitting that you are prone to self-deceit. Gratefully, God has given us other Christians to help us see the things we cannot see about ourselves. Therefore, you might say that this isn't a book for individual Christians. It is a book for Christians in churches. The Christian who thinks he can do the sort of self-examination we're going to do in this book apart from other members in his or her local church is off to a bad start and may never find the answers he or she is looking for."
A quick look at the Table of Contents reveals what I initially thought seemed to be an unusual way of approaching the central question, "Am I Really a Christian?" Seven of the nine chapters begin with the phrase, "You Are Not a Christian..." I'm not sure why McKinley chose this literary devise to speak to Christians. It seemed to confuse the positive central question with a negative application. However, by the time several chapters are finished, the reader will see that the author has successfully made his points, and in fact has been directing the book at both Christians and those who think they are, as well as what may be referred to as "cultural christians" (christians by virtue of nationality or ethnicity).
McKinley effectively uses the text in Matthew 7 (quoted below) as his central biblical point of reference for this book, and then builds upon that (line upon line, precept upon precept) with supporting texts to make it clear he is not just "cherry-picking" a verse and then building a book around it. He shows that the four gospels and the epistles are in complete agreement concerning what makes one a biblical Christian; there's no "Jesus said this, but the apostles taught that," in the New Testament. McKinley's exposition and sound use of scripture is the hallmark of this book.
"Not everyone who says to Me, `Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, `Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?' And then I will declare to them, `I never knew you; depart from Med, you who practice lawlessness.'" (Matthew 7:21-23).
I do have a couple of points that I thought detracted from the value of McKinley's book. In some cases his use of anecdotal material was, in my opinion, less than accurate and did not support what he was writing about. That is typically the weakness of using this type support material. An example of this may be when McKinley was describing the transformation that takes place when the sinner is translated from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of God's dear Son. He implied in at least a couple of places that becoming a Christian is like removing the jersey of one team (Satan's) and putting on the jersey of another team (Christ's). I was taken back by this analogy and found it a good example of a weakness in this book.
I also tried to put myself in the shoes of a relatively young Christian reading this book when McKinley would write things like the following, introducing a section titled "You Do What You Are":
"Okay, admit it. You didn't read that last part very closely. You skimmed it, didn't you? It's okay, you can tell the truth; it's just you and me here (and I'm not even really here, am I?). All right, I like the cut of your jib, so I'm going to cut you a break. Let me summarize for you what you need to know. The Bible says that there are two kinds of people: servants of Satan and servants of God. It's one jersey or the other. And the way you can tell which jersey you're wearing is by the role that sin plays in your life"
I may very well be over reacting here, but why would you use such a confrontational outburst to retain someone's attention? I don't know. McKinley may have intended this to be humorous, but after reading it over several times, it still failed to sound funny to me. One last point and I'll get back to the positives. In a book written to readers with varied backgrounds, it would seem important to minimize references to ones own denominational affiliations when citing examples. McKinley didn't do this a lot, but there were times when he could have used something less specific, which probably would have been less denominational and at the same time resonated with more readers.
Overall, this book has numerous uses. Small group Bible studies, church leadership seminars, new believer follow-up, as well as good sermon material from the pulpit. McKinley does a good job of covering difficult doctrinal subjects in a clear and concise manner. He ends each chapter with relevant questions for discussion and provides action points for personal response to the material covered. The final chapter is an overview of the material in chapters one through eight. When covering as much detailed information as this book does, it would seem very important to end with a quick review to ensure all of the points are clearly understood and to enhance retention. Recommended.