I've had an interesting challenge this week. I've been helping Rachel learn to write Book Reviews, only to discover for myself how difficult this can be! The best way to teach a thing is to first do it yourself. So I set out to review Gary Thomas' book, Authentic Faith. The catch for me was that though I loved the first three chapters and they were absolutely a God-send for me because they addressed a stage I found myself in, this enthusiasm waned significantly as I read further. Then it turned to apathy and finally to actual resistance and resentment toward the author. Yikes! So I was bracing for a harsh review in response to what I felt was a harsh message. Hmm.... As I prayed about these reactions God led me through a little review of things to consider such as...
"Who are you to judge another's servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand." Rom. 4:14
"Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door. " James 5:9
"Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God." Rom. 15:7
"Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins." I Pet.4:8
So this process of doing a simple book review got a little more complicated as I submitted my reactions to the Law of Love, at least so far as I can see at present, considering the debris in my own eyes!.... God is gracious. I submit to you my review for your consideration...And if you get the chance, do read the book and let me know how it blesses you!
Authentic Faith by Gary Thomas
A book review by Linda Skelton
Gary Thomas has done the modern-day church a huge service in bringing to us voices from the past. I have long believed that reading history gives a perspective on our own times that is indispensable to living a balanced life. The trends and fads of one’s time can seem all-important and we can easily stray into unrecognized pitfalls if we don’t step back and consider the wisdom of the past.
In Authentic Faith Gary Thomas takes on the question: “Are we in the Christian faith for what it gives us, or is our chief purpose to glorify God? “ He organizes his response around ten ‘disciplines’ that he proposes are signposts to authentic faith. They are refreshingly different than much popular teaching, but uncomfortably pointed if you’re looking for a faith designed to make you feel good, live longer and be happy in the process!
The disciplines Thomas emphasizes are: selflessness, waiting, suffering, persecution, social mercy, forgiveness, mourning, contentment, sacrifice, and hope/fear regarding coming judgment. He says these are the disciplines that will mark a maturing friendship with God and give us what he terms ‘defiant beauty’. They differ from the traditional disciplines of fasting, meditation, prayer and the like in that they are not primarily actions we initiate. They ‘turn us away from human effort—from men and women seeking the face of God—and…toward God seeking the face of men and women.’(p.14) Thomas says these are God-ordained and God directed disciplines that will produce a spirituality dependent on God. It will be good to keep this opening thesis in mind as the book progresses. For disciplines like these become a heavy lot to manage the instant we take on responsibility for making them ‘happen’. As long as this perspective is kept in view this book will be a valuable guide in helping believers appreciate and respond to these disciplines as we face them in our lives.
Each chapter focuses on one of these ten ‘authentic disciplines’-- defining, describing, and illustrating with examples from the author’s own life or the life of saints in the past and always including quotations and explanations from the ancient church classics, such as Augustine, Ambrose, De Sales and St. John of the Cross. In my opinion, these references to wise Christians of the past are the most valuable contribution of this book. These are the ‘great cloud of witnesses’ that surround us (Heb.12:1). From them we can gain wisdom and encouragement for the running of our own race. In their witness we can more readily see the errors of our times and not be caught in foolish trends.
While this book offers valuable aid in embracing different seasons of growth, it can also become a source of condemnation. The wise reader will focus on the areas where God is already leading him to make changes, and will beware of taking on more than he is ready to ‘chew’. This is a book that does not need to be read in its entirety all in one season! Consider it like the various medicines in your cabinet. Beneficial, but only as symptoms dictate. The first three chapters are excellent and foundational to healthy growth. Chapter One introduces the concept of seasons in our growth, while Two and Three consider selflessness and waiting which are inherent to any process of Christlikeness. After that the chapters do not have to be read consecutively.
Any application of ‘disciplines’ will readily become negative and burdensome when attempted by sheer ‘will power’. Our growth has seasons that are directed by God. Regrettably, though the author makes this observation in his introductory chapter, he seems to lose sight of it when it comes to areas of weakness and immaturity in the church that particularly peeve him. Though love for the Body may be his reason for writing, a tone of condemnation slips in. This want of grace seriously detracts from the book’s effectiveness. Sharp criticism must be tempered by love and grace if it is to bring about heart change. Otherwise there is a risk of only hardening the heart of the reader. Reader beware. But don’t miss the wealth of practical time-tested wisdom here, thanks to Gary’s impassioned research. Take it and let God apply it in season as you walk out an authentic faith with the God who seeks our friendship.