(One’s level of piety, whether devotional or practical, depends much on knowledge being either learned or misconceived. In these analyses we have made mention, occasionally, of books that either help or hinder the grand object of piety. It seems natural, consequently, to supplement the analyses, now and again, with correlating book reports.)
GABOURY’S CRITICAL BOOK REPORT
Max Lucado, Come Thirsty (Nashville, Tennessee: W Publishing Group, 2004), 215 pp.
Max Lucado is probably the best known, most loved Christian writer in the world today. Hank Hanegraaff, in his usual over-the-top manner, calls him “one of the greatest authors on the planet.” Max Lucado is popular. Multitudes think his writings are great. But the truth is, his books are popular and considered great because Christian readers are addicted to literary cotton candy. By page 71 I was so thirsty for something more satisfying than watered down milk that I had to lay it down and try something else. Every time I tried to read this my stomach literally knotted up. In contrast to what the cheerleaders say on pages i and ii, I came thirsty, left early and parched, and did not have the fortitude to return.
I did observe some good points before I quit. He says this against legalism, “Grace blockage. Taste, but don’t drink. Wet your lips, but never slake your thirst. Can you imagine such instructions over a fountain? ‘No swallowing, please. Fill your mouth but not your belly.’ Absurd” (p. 32.) Many, if not most, of the stories he tells are slow and wearisome. But there are some short, sharp ones. The one about Florence Nightingale is not bad (though how true, I wonder?): “She went to bed. And stayed there. For fifty-three years!…Except for three years, Florence cowered before the giant of death. But during those three years on the Crimean battlefront, she made a name for herself, not as one who suffered, but as a friend of those who did” (p. 42.) There are some excellent quotes, even one from Joseph Alleine on the gravity of human depravity, “O miserable man, what a deformed monster has sin made you! God made you ‘little lower than the angels’; sin has made you little better than the devils” (p. 21.) Some of his own attempts at eloquence work out okay, “Blessings and burdens. Both can alarm-clock us out of slumber” (p. 52.) This pithy coinage reminds me of Henry Drummond (a much better writer with a worse worldview) saying that theology has to ‘uncentury itself.’ And it reminds me of R. M. M’Cheyne (who deserves to be read more than almost everybody) asking his transient church members if they know ‘what o’clock it is?’ Lucado can hit the mark at times, at least stylistically.
So what do I have against Max Lucado? Is he not blessing thirsty souls? I think that his writings, and books by other authors of the same class, are glutting shelves and souls with an inferior brand (if not a pseudo-brand) of evangelism and devotion. The situation is like the shelf in the grocery store, where all the processed food is at eye level, while all the healthy stuff is down at your feet, out of sight and out of mind. Compare the everywhere-available Come Thirsty to William Bridge’s hidden gem, A Lifting up for the Downcast. See the difference for yourself.
Here are three things I have against Come Thirsty and other similar narrative-like ‘devotionals.’ (1) The gospel mishandled. This book is not just for the saved. That is obvious on page 46 where an invitation is tendered to the lost. But I can find no explicit command to trust Jesus or to repent of sin in order to salvation. On page 25 he says to “trust the work of God for you. Then trust the presence of Christ in you.” But is that enough? That Jesus died for you is necessary to your salvation, true. But trusting that he died for you is not trusting in his death, and, all by itself, will do you no good. Trusting that Christ died for you will not guarantee that he is savingly in you. Believing that Christ died for you is not saving faith; trusting in his death, this is. Here is a subtle difference on paper; but believing one way or the other spells the difference between heaven and hell! Hear Spurgeon on this point: “I have heard it often asserted that if you believe that Jesus Christ died for you, you will be saved…Do not get that into your head, or it will ruin you. Do not say, ‘I believe that Jesus died for me,’ and because of that feel that you are saved. I pray you to remember that the genuine faith that saves the soul has for its main element—trust—absolute rest of the whole soul—on the Lord Jesus Christ to save me, whether he died in particular or in special to save me or not” (See The Forgotten Spurgeon by Iain Murray, p. 78.)
(2) The coarseness. To supply the imputed righteousness of Christ with a colloquial equivalent, Lucado offers up, “His Teflon coating becomes yours” (p. 25.) To popularize the parable of the prodigal son, he gives us, “Fire up the grill. Bring on the drinks. It’s time for a party!” (p. 29.) Being filled with the Spirit is described as, “No sipping. No tasting. It’s time to chug-a-lug” (p. 58.) The word of God deserves a more sober, reverential assortment of expressions by the man who would do some justice to its illustration than what Max Lucado comes up with. The phrases just culled from his pen are not just homely (that would be okay); they are ungodly. This dialect he uses is the language of the bar, the glutton, and the weekend drunkard. Does this kind of talk not make us wonder about Mr. Lucado’s lifestyle and reading habits? Is this how holy men speak today? This kind of speech is unholy.
Much more could be said to the negative. For instance, how arbitrary and juvenile for a church leader to hang a book on an acronym he pulled out of his hat instead of on a Scripture text! But just one more point. (3) The pride. In his Acknowledgements we read, “They prodded, applauded, extolled, and cajoled…Jim Barker—the God-seeking golf professional…Susan Perry—Look up the word servant in the dictionary and see your picture,” &c., &c. If Lucado were a teenage girl, I’d leave him alone. But that so many people are necessary to a church leader completing something this shallow and insubstantial should be too embarrassing to admit. And such inflated flattery toward his helpers is a fat hint that the author believes his work is worth more than it is. Compare the proud tone of these acknowledgments to what J. C. Ryle confesses at the close of his Preface in his Expository Thoughts on the Gospel of John, Volume 3: Borrowing from Dean Alford, he says, “I have now only to commend to my gracious God and Father this feeble attempt to explain a most glorious portion of His revealed Scripture. I do it with humble thankfulness, but with a sense of utter weakness before the power of His word, and of inability to sound the depth even of its simplest sentence. May he spare the hand which has been put forward to touch the ark!” There is a contrast here, and not only of styles. I’m sorry to rain on so many people’s parade. Max Lucado may have helped you. And he may be thanked. But a Christian so highly esteemed should exhibit more sanctity than this—much more. God is not exalted by Lucado’s grimy rhetoric; and I fear that by his substandard explanation of Scripture many sinners may be falsely assured of salvation.
Content: C (Should be revolting to anyone familiar with truly devotional literature.)
Style: C (Holy truth cast in the form of poor, foul poetry.)
Tone: C (Thoroughly conceited, albeit, maybe somewhat ignorantly.)
Grading Table: A: a keeper: reread it; promote it; share it.
B: an average book: let it go.
C: read only if you have to.