More than perhaps anyone else ---- given the gazillions of books he has sold --- San Antonio pastor Max Lucado has succeeded in translating biblical doctrines and events into stories that resonate with contemporary readers, largely through the use of vivid word pictures. He's a master at employing metaphors to create lasting images. Who can forget the floor-plan motif he used to illustrate the Lord's Prayer in THE GREAT HOUSE OF GOD? Or the excess-baggage imagery in TRAVELING LIGHT? These are just two examples from his many adult books; his children's books paint even clearer pictures of the truth he is so passionate about and so determined to convey.
In NEXT DOOR SAVIOR, you get what you've come to expect from a Lucado book, with a couple of twists. For one thing, each chapter focuses on a specific Bible story and is therefore independent of the others. In that respect, it's more like a devotional book or a collection of sermonettes, which is fine unless that's not what you're expecting. The second thing is that the last 40 or so pages comprise a discussion guide, which again is fine unless you're not expecting it, which I wasn't. (It's similar to --- but nowhere nearly as annoying --- as the trend in fiction toward teasing the reader by placing the first chapter of an author's next book at the end of that author's current book. You turn the page, and instead of a continuation of the story you're reading, you bump into something entirely new. It's a whole lot worse in fiction than it is here, believe me.) The discussion guide could certainly be seen as a value-added enhancement, but a little warning would have helped the flow by preparing the reader to expect an end to the text long before the number of pages ran out.
The idea here is to present Jesus as the man He was on earth, with His divinity fully intact --- a next-door neighbor as real as the people in your everyday life, but as different from those people as humankind is from, well, God. In attempting to illustrate this, Lucado frequently inserts elements of contemporary American life into stories from the Bible. Take Chapter 7, "What Jesus Says at Funerals," for example. It's based on the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. Max the Storyteller sets the scene: The chapel in Bethany is "library quiet." You're sitting there remembering how "just last month you took the guy out to lunch. You and Lazarus told jokes over nachos." Mary and Martha occupy the front pew, their faces streaked with sunlight filtered by the stained-glass windows. And then Jesus arrives "wearing a tie, though you get the impression he rarely does. His collar seems tight and his jacket dated." This is pure, unadulterated, classic Lucado, the kind of writing that has endeared him to countless readers and those loyal fans who own the entire collection of his works.
Familiarity, though, often breeds predictability, and readers looking for a new focus or a deeper treatment of the material won't find it here. What they will find is the genuine warmth that radiates from everything Lucado writes. And that goes a long way toward making this book, like his others, a worthwhile read.
Reviewed by Marcia Ford on September 3, 2003