Tom Holladay, a teaching pastor at Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California, has learned well from his senior pastor, bestselling author Rick Warren. In a sense, THE RELATIONSHIP PRINCIPLES OF JESUS picks up where Warren's THE PURPOSE-DRIVEN LIFE left off. Warren himself asserts this in the foreword; where his book focused on personal renewal, he writes, Holladay's focuses on the next logical step: relational renewal.
Nothing is more important than relationships, Holladay states in the opening chapter, and no one was more of an expert on relationships than Jesus was. Drawing on Jesus' practices and teachings, the author structures his presentation of relationship principles much like THE PURPOSE-DRIVEN LIFE, with 40 chapters to be read daily over 40 days and encourages readers to follow that daily reading plan rather than read ahead. Good luck with that.
The daily chapters support one of six relationship principles that also give structure to the book: placing the highest value on relationships, loving as Jesus loves, communicating from the heart, judging as you will be judged, recognizing servants as "the greatest" and treating others as you want to be treated.
The chapters are intended to be read slowly and thoughtfully. A sidebar within each chapter provides a relevant meditation based on a portion of Scripture; a section at the end of each chapter highlights a "point to ponder," a related Bible verse, a question to consider and the title of the following day's chapter. Readers will likely find it difficult to stick to a chapter a day, either because they're eager to discover what's next --- or because they're hoping to discover something new. Much of the material is basic and very familiar to long-time Bible readers.
Even so, Holladay makes important points that are too often missed or forgotten. One of the best examples is found in a chapter on communication (you have to wait until Day 21 for that chapter if you've chosen not to read ahead). There Holladay shows how Jesus responded to criticism (he answered clearly and confidently); doubt (he offered proof); ridicule (he said nothing); entrapment (he offered truth); and rejection (he moved on). Many a strained relationship could be healed or improved by following Jesus' example, as presented by the author.
Holladay writes in a casual, conversational style, using anecdotes from his own life (as well as confessions that reveal his vulnerability and transparency) and stories from the lives of others to illustrate his points. "As I looked to learn about relationships from the example of Jesus," Holladay writes in the introduction, "I felt a little like a middle school algebra student thrown into a university trigonometry class. I was in over my head. Sometimes I had to admit that I didn't even understand the questions, let alone the answers." That's a refreshing admission from a pastor at what has become one of the best-known churches in America, if not the world.
If your own relationships --- whether they be with God, other people or yourself --- are suffering, this 40-day journey may be just the prescription you need to follow. THE RELATIONSHIP PRINCIPLES OF JESUS would also make a great Christmas gift, especially if the recipient is a fan of THE PURPOSE-DRIVEN LIFE.
Reviewed by Marcia Ford on September 16, 2008