Book Review: Getting Jesus Wrong by Matt Johnson

DISCLAIMER: I have been given a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.  All thoughts and notes regarding this book are mine and do not reflect on the organization I serve (Clarity) it's staff or it's attendees.  

When I first picked up this book I was intrigued with what seemed like an obvious intent to connect to a certain type of reader who is predisposed to reading a book with this kind of title.  What do I mean by that?  I picture the religious contrarian, or the "I love Jesus but not the church" person or the "People should stop asking Jesus into their heart/beer drinking Calvinist".  In some ways this is actually me, but I digress :p

Upon reading the intro of this book, the author didn't disappoint.  To be completely fair, I swam in the waters of the kind of people he is writing to - so I get it.  From the intentional decision to call himself a "crappy Christian" within the first sentence of his intro to the book to his ending 

"I’ve had the wrong picture of Christianity for a long time. It’s quite possible I still do" 

the author does a good job throughout the book to connect with an audience that appreciates a tone of humility and authenticity about a journey through faith.  Depending on your background, this may come off as an attempt to give a criticism, sandwiched in between two layers of authenticity and transparency.  

I'm still not sure how I personally feel about this book - or at least the author's choice of style.  I am sure if I knew the author personally it would strongly influence my view of his writing.  Like my wife says, "Honey when you write you sound like a jerk so stop emailing and texting people...just talk to them."  Maybe he has not an ounce of cynicism and his humility is sincere, or maybe he's just using good communication skills to try to build a bridge between his readers and the content of what he wants to say.

What he does have to say in the middle is actually really good stuff. In fact, we probably are influenced by the same kind of stuff.  At the end of his intro he says what we who are Clarity Church try to remind each other on a daily basis, that 

“each step of the way faith must be grounded in who Jesus is and what he’s done.”

I appreciated that perspective.  On a side note, he really does like using the word "crappy" so if you're offended by that kind of stuff, you probably won't like this book. You also may not want listen to any of my sermons...just and FYI.

On to the content...

To sum it up, the author divides this book into two sections.  The first section is about establishing what are the "wrong beliefs" about who God is and what he's done."  The second is about re-establishing a perspective on who God is and what he has done.

Along the way, the author basically gives his life story as a background for an application which is both entertaining and helpful to establish the reality that the title of his book should have been, "I Had Been Getting Jesus Wrong:  How I gave up spiritual vitamins and checklist Christianity."  Also, along the way, it seems that the author is making a possibly unintentional jab at megachurch pastors.  This is where my red flag usually goes off.  I TOTALLY am for calling out false teachings, but to throw all pastors who appear "toothy-grinned" or those who happen to get the honors to lead a church of 2,000 people or more as people you should be skeptical of is totally unfair. I am nowhere a toothy-grinned pastor nor am I a pastor of a 2,000 member church, but I know a lot of people who are a genuine and mature follower of Christ who lead large churches and have great teeth.  

To be fair, I get the author.  I too came from a Pentecostal background, played music in bands, had a membership at the local Vans Skatepark and I was an ordained Calvary Chapel pastor on top of it all (you'll have to read the book to get the references).  If we ever somehow ended up I the same neighborhood I think we'd be good friends.  :)

What I do appreciate about this book is a SUPER STRONG foundation in and commitment to a belief in the Gospel.  I think the author gets that right.  And as a person who is a fellow "armchair theologian" I can even track with his rationals and statements.  I just don't know if I could trust this book to someone I just lead to Christ.  I think about "Othello" (named changed...obviously) who has recently come to faith in Christ and I have had the opportunity to continue to be part of his discipleship journey.  As a person who didn't have the same background as this author or me, I know that this book would sound less like an intention to point people to Jesus and the Gospel and sound more like a "You can't trust anyone or anything you've heard about the Bible and spiritual things."  Honestly, it would most likely cause more harm than good, mostly because the author's story is one that had a lot to do with an account of spiritual hurt and disappointment along his journey.  I get that, but I also know that is not everyone's story and because it isn't I'm not sure this is an excellent book for everyone.

On the flip side, I have a lot of friends who would be comforted by this book.  It would be a good salve to the soul to know that being hurt by "church people, leaders, or systems" is not only wrong but that they are not alone and that they can still have a beautiful and engaged relationship with God through Jesus Christ despite their past.  

My only big problem with this book - while it laid out an ok theology for who Jesus is and isn't (I feel he took a lot of liberties to represent only "one theological camp" in some of his arguments) he barely touched on the importance that gospel-centered community plays in the learning to submit all of life to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.  I think some people will walk away reading this book saying, "Yeah!  This guy is right.  Everyone has got it wrong!" and then they will unknowingly retreat into an altered version of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism because they have no one in their life to call them on their "crappy Christianity".  I also feel that this book in many ways represented a therapeutic way to vent his frustrations of poor expressions of church and church leadership, and in some instances, I think he "throws the baby out with the bathwater."  

All in all, a good book and one I would recommend as long as you know that the author does have kind of "punk rock/contrarian" approach in his communication.  I for one found it enjoyable.  He's also a GREAT storyteller.  

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Phillip Santillan