Though I'm not generally one to "speak out" in church, this book garners a hearty "AMEN" from me. To tell you the truth, I was beyond delighted to find an author so clearly express many of the issues that have been on my heart for quite some time. (Okay, I admit that could have something to do with my liking the book!) The Jesus of Suburbia is most definitely a case in not judging a book by its cover. Frankly, the title doesn't offer much insight to the contents and the cover art struck me as downright unattractive. The contents, however, are not to be missed.
Pastor and author Mike Erre points out the growing difference in being a follower of Christ as opposed to a follower of "Christianity." Erre points out that perhaps Christ has less influence on our culture today because we have created and accepted a diminished version of Christ Himself, a "safe" Christ. He states that
"Much of what passes for modern, western Christianity isn't of Jesus. We can (and do) lose Jesus right in the middle of prayer meetings and worship services."
"We are drawn to the Jesus of Suburbia--the tame, whitewashed, milk toast Jesus who is primarily interested in our security and comfort--and oblivious to the dangerous and wild Jesus of Nazareth who beckons us beyond the safety of our small lives."
Erre pushes the reader to examine how our culture of "risk management" has influenced us in our relationship with Christ. We want our relationship with Jesus to be all reward and no risk and refuse to give ourselves to Him. Erre encourages us to stop labeling thing as "Christian" or "non-Christian" and points out that neither label makes a thing good or bad. He asks us to move away from religiosity and join in the exhilarating revolution of living our lives in Christ, to go against the dominant belief systems and worldviews "not out of religious obligation but in wholehearted response to the person of Jesus."
Personally, I have often been frustrated to listen as a fellow Christian tells someone (often a new believer) how perfect their life is now that they have Christ. I'm always agitated by this because I find it misleading. No, I find it downright wrong and potentially harmful! The Bible shows me no example that life will be peaches and cream after accepting Christ, nor does my personal experience. In fact, if anything, it points to the opposite. We will meet challenge, we will meet resistance, we will endure suffering for our own growth and for reasons we don't even understand.
By not teaching this, new believers are left wondering where they went wrong when life becomes difficult. Erre encourages us, instead, to share with believers the reality of following Christ. Christ calls us to sacrifice and is more concerned with our knowing Him than with our comfort or security. Our journey with Him will be exciting and exhilarating, but there is a cost and there is no promise of life as we'd like it. Many of us make the same mistake Erre confesses to:
"I gave money to the church so that God would always provide; I waited to have sex so that I could have a great sex life when I was married; I pray for my kids every day to guarantee they will turn out well. I confess to having pursued God for his benefits, but not for Him."
Erre simply calls us to follow Christ, to know Christ, and to grown in Christ. In doing so, however, he points out the ways in which we tend to think we are doing just that but really are not. He gives us food for thought in examining our own lives and motivations. He asks that we seek to see Jesus as he really is and not as we'd like Him to be.
"Would you ask the Jesus of Nazareth (not the false Jesus of the church or of American suburbia) to show himself to you in unmistakable ways: This is a dangerous request. I believe it is one Jesus always answers. He reveals himself to people whose hearts are open. Let us throw down our idols and vending machine gods and give Jesus Christ his rightful place as Lord and King in both our hearts and churches."
Again, I say, "Amen"!