Outlive Your Life: You Were Made to Make a Difference
by Max Lucado
Thomas Nelson, 2010
My Rating: 3/5
Purchase at Amazon
“Social Justice” is all the rage right now. The swaths of American twentysomethings serious about their faith who have found Evangelicalism to have a heart inflamed for the wrong things, a head stuck in the wrong places, and absolutely no legs at all have tried to wrestle with and take seriously the call for God’s people to be not simply his “ambassadors” or “proclaimers”, but rather his very Hands, Feet, and Presence. Movements like Shane Claibourne’s The Simple Way here in Philadelphia and New Monasticism have shaken many from the fog of an (ultimately inadequate) purely intellectual faith into a faith that is firmly rooted in life. As Calvin put it, “For we cannot with propriety say, there is any knowledge of God, where there is no religion or piety.” In other words, the truest knowledge of God and His Gospel is found in its practice just as much (if not more) than in its content.
But, until recently, the concerns of this movement have found themselves most readily embraced by those surrounded with starkest representations of brokenness and social injustice–those in cities. This has egged on the increased polarization between the “‘urbs” and the burbs. Those in cities have looked on in judgment at the suburban Christians out there who seem out of touch with the “real” issues of the day as they sit in their comfortable, safe, disconnected real estate developments; suburbanites have in turn accused us city dwellers of merely being swept up in a liberalistic fad driven by cultural accommodation, a slip in morality, and a loss of the “authority of Scripture”. Indeed both of these opinions are incorrect caricatures of the believers living in these differing worlds, but nevertheless, those in suburbs have begun to feel the pressure to figure out how they too are meant to serve this broken world.
Max Lucado’s newest book Outlive Your Life is an attempt to answer some of these concerns. It could easily be entitled Social Justice for Soccer Moms. Ever since last year’s Fearless (read my review), my assumptions about Lucado were proven incorrect and I have been excited to have Max Lucado be so popular in the super mainstream and commercial Evangelical world. In the present book, Lucado spends the first few chapters showing us the necessity of the Church reaching out, the next few giving us a “heads up” on what we’ll encounter if we take this call seriously, and the last chapters giving us the reason why we do it and practical ideas to live it out. He has some wonderful exhortations to the Church, most often subtly placed in the prayers he closes each chapter with. Consider this prayer from page 107:
Dear Lord, you promised we would always have the poor among us. Help me to make sure that the reverse is also true: that I am always among the poor–helping, encouraging, and lending a hand wherever I can. Enable me to love the invisible God by serving the very visible poor in my corner of the world. Help me to be creative without being condescending, encouraging without being egotistic, and fearless without being foolish. May the poor bless you because of me, and may my efforts somehow reduce the number of the poor. In Jesus’ name I pray, amen.
Ultimately, though, in spite of the bright spots, the book falls flat. It does not do enough to shake people from their slumber. I can see Lucado’s desire to do this oozing between his words, but his decision to not push too hard too fast (out of pastoral consideration, I assume) ends up turning this book into little more than an encouragement to write a check to a couple of charities now and then and maybe actually smile and give some cash to the next homeless guy you meet. Sure, there are subtle “suggestions” to actually spend some time living life with those that are poor and underprivileged, but his subtlety is almost too effective, ultimately neutering his desire to evoke real change in his readers. For example, Lucado encourages us to serve the poor, but does not challenge the idea I’ve heard so often that this call to the Church “actually” means to serve the “spiritually” or “emotionally” poor; he warns us that to truly live the Christian life is to invite persecution upon ourselves but says nothing to counter the mindset that would believe that simply having a coworker say he doesn’t believe in God is tantamount to 1st century “persecution”.
In short, there is no limit to how far the human heart will go (even the Christian human heart) to keep itself comfortable, isolated, and fooled into thinking it is fulfilling its eternal obligations. We will turn anything into just enough of a system that we can grade ourselves, check our boxes off, sleep easy, and ultimately cease living life by faith itself. If there is any hope to move the human heart to action, strong fortifications must be attacked, high walls must be scaled, and long-held defenses must be countered. What Lucado says in this book is absolutely true in most every regard, but he seems to lose sight of the fact that this issue, to this audience, is one that requires a little more fire and a little less balm.
If you are trying to find a really good book for this issue, I would whole-heartedly suggest David Platt’s Radical, Francis Chan’s Crazy Love, or Total Church by Tim Chester and Steve Timmis (it’s cheaper at WTSbooks).
(Disclosure: I was sent a free copy of this book from Thomas Nelson publishers)