In MORE JESUS, LESS RELIGION, Stephen Arterburn --- prolific author, speaker, and host of the national radio program “New Life Live!” --- and co-author Jack Felton, a licensed therapist and ordained minister at New Hope Christian Counseling Center, have developed a primer on what the church should not look like. They are not talking about aesthetics either. Arterburn, whose ministry is all about helping people deal honestly with their struggles, shares countless incidents where the organized church (crossing all denominational lines) has repeatedly undercut the good work of Jesus Christ by offering judgment rather than helpful, compassionate care.
While no one would argue that churches in America are struggling, many Christ followers differ on the reasons behind general waning membership, tepid commitments, and overall dissatisfaction within its ranks. Some camps cite lack of social and economic responsibility, while others blame poor leadership and antiquated governing systems. Whatever the reason, everyone would agree that an honest revisit of priorities (those given by Jesus through the Bible) is in order. It is with a humble approach that Arterburn and Felton dissect the church system with a realistic yet loving voice.
Readers will appreciate their take on what it means to embrace a healthy faith life. In every chapter, they offer examples of what is not healthy and then contrast it with what is (by biblical definition) the healthy alternative. Some of the topics include thorough discussions on being realistic with one's faith by understanding the frailty of humanity, thus making errors throughout life even when growing closer to Christ; learning that God treats each of His children as individuals, not corporate entities; understanding that fully trusting God is the beginning of an exciting adventure with Him; and recognizing that each person decides if he or she wants to make a personal commitment to God, and no one can decide for him or her.
Healthy faith doesn't have anything to prove because Christians understand that their value comes from God alone. Human emotions are not evil but God-given elements of our whole person. Being nonjudgmental and non-offensive is simply emulating the walk and talk of Jesus Himself. A healthy faith is consistently respectful of others and is always growing in its relational ties to others. Service is an integral part of living out a healthy Christian life. Contentment and balance are marks of a mature believer who understands that more than achievement and appetites govern his life.
Especially meaningful is the chapter on developing a growing faith where the authors recount examples of people who have failed and how the church (and individual Christians) served to further discourage these hurting souls rather than build them by loving them and helping them mend their mistakes. Arterburn reminds believers that Jesus forgave and continues to forgive every person's most heinous sins, yet Christ followers expect unattainable perfection from their fellows. There is no instant maturity, there will be growing pains, and it will take a lifetime of small, seemingly insignificant steps toward holiness, during which time Christians must extend grace, hope and love to one another. Arterburn and Felton's work is just what the church ordered, and their fans will value the integrity with which they approach this tough topic.
Reviewed by Michele Howe on April 13, 2010