An Oldfangled Idea for a Book

People have told me now and then that I should really write a non-fiction book. I really do want to. But while I have lots of interesting and helpful things to say ;-), I lack the credentials. In fact, if I had the right credentials, I could probably publish my non-fiction book even if I had nothing interesting or helpful to say. Judging by the selection at my local Christian bookstore, anyway.

I do hope that should my fiction writing ever afford me the liberty of writing non-fiction, I will be able to say old things in fresh ways. I think the Church really needs a heapin’ helpin’ of Old Things. I’ve got nothing against Rick Warren, but I don’t want the Church to catch the cultural waves of the minute. I want it to seek the deep waters of yesteryear. I’ve got nothing against Brian MacLaren, but I don’t think we need new kinds of Christians. The old kinds work just fine.

My mentor-pastor Mike Ayers and I have been working on a book project off and on. We are not in a hurry. It is a labor of love and will reflect the growth we have undergone and are undergoing. It’s a church book, but there’s no rush because we don’t plan on writing one that is about the church of the day. We’d have to keep starting over every year if we were to do that. No, instead we are thinking and mulling and growing and working and talking and researching and writing, so that one day it will be ready when we are ready. It was C.S. Lewis who said “The more up to date a book is, the sooner it will be outdated.” That’s sort of the opposite of what we want to write.
Last week I had a brilliant idea for a title and I e-mailed him to share my inspiration and Mike agreed it was perfect. Surely someone will steal it (if someone hasn’t used it already), but we’re liking The Gospel-Driven Church.

I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately. And that’s got me thinking about what my first non-fiction book would be about. I’m thinking The Gospel-Driven Life. And I want it to be an antidote to all the Christianized self-help, pickyourselfupbyyourbootstraps gobbledygook. It will be hopelessly out of date and therefore extremely relevant. Especially for people like me. Normal people. That is to say, people not on or funding TBN.

The Gospel-Driven Life will not be about achieving victory. It will be about trusting Christ right in the middle of our messed-up-ness. So, you know, it will be honest.
It won’t be about discovering the champion in you because it will flat-out inform you right off the bat that there is no champion in you.
It won’t be about speaking positive words in order to create the prosperous reality you want to live in. You can read Harry Potter for that kind of stuff. Instead, it will be about faith and contentedness in being: a) poor, b) sick, c) almost dead, d) single, e) homely/ugly, f) married to an idiot or a nag, g) a freakin’ human being. It won't be about trusting Jesus to "fix" those things, but just to be present and working in and through them.

Are any of those books out there written for dudes who sit on couches and watch “The Simpsons” reruns after working on an assembly line all day? ’Cause they don’t seem like it.
A week or so ago I read David Hansen’s excellent little book Long Wandering Prayer and among all the wonderful things he wrote in this book was something that went like this (I’m paraphrasing from memory): “If you don’t want to read about prayer from someone who has watched thousands of hours of football on television, this book isn’t for you.” I loved that.
The larger point was about how God desires obedience, not necessarily sacrifice, and that giving up things you enjoy (that aren’t sins, obviously) to spend more time in prayer and Bible study won’t work. He’s not saying it’s wrong to do that, he’s just being realistic about the odds of its success. Instead, Hansen recommends giving up yard work or doing the dishes for time with God. Not altogether, but he’s saying you might as well cut back or sacrifice for the moment the things you don’t want to do anyway.

If laziness wasn’t a sin, I’d title a chapter in my book “Good News for Lazybones.” Why do all of these books out there seem like they were written for Type-A personalities? Not everybody has an inner Tony Robbins just waiting for Joel Osteen to tell him to “choose blessings.”
Sure, that works from time to time.

But that’s the key, see? Works. What to do. These are things you do to achieve victory/blessing/prosperity/happiness. Pray this prayer for 30 days and God will finally get so sick of it he’ll give in.
Some of these books are just Pelagianism translated into Christian motivational speak. They are a stylish repackaging of the prosperity gospel for mainstream evangelical audiences.
Like God is some Thing to appease or trick or cajole. There’s something to be said for battering the threshold of heaven with our prayers. And then there’s treating God like a candy machine that’s always jamming.

The Bible doesn't call for speaking victory over your obstacles and negative thoughts. It calls for repentance from sin. (I'm not even sure those words are in the vocabularies of some of the folks I'm talking about, and at least one of them has gone on record saying he doesn't like to talk about them. Which is why one of his supporters in a blog forum said we talk about the cross too much!)

So no Jabez for me. No Braveheart or Maximus or Neo or Obi Wan.
I’m lookin’ at Job. And not because he was a Super-Happy Triumphant Prosperous Victory Ninja.
Because the dude just sat there. He just sat there and trusted.
His friends were all bugging him and pushing him and telling him what to do. No doubt one of them handed him a copy of Your Best Life Now. And what did Job say? (Man, this guy rocked. And he didn’t do anything! Just sat there all ash-headed and what-not.) He said, “Shall I accept good from God and not trouble?” (My paraphrase.)

So, yeah, The Gospel-Driven Life will be for the rest of us. It will be for the neurotic and the pathological, for the broken and the wounded, for the irritated and the unmotivated, for the guilty and the ashamed, for the proud and the self-deprecating, for the doormats and the martyrs, for the worried and the ignorant, for the poor, the middle-class, the rich, and P. Diddy.

You know, because the Bible says the good news is for sinners. And that’s me. I don’t know who these other books are for, but they’re not for people like me. And the churches they are spawning and feeding and being spawned and fed from are not for people like me either.
The Gospel-Driven Life will be for people who are broken and/or imperfect, including those who don’t know it yet, as well as for those whose kids aren’t perfectly behaved at the supermarket. A book about God’s presence and love in the midst of doubt, wandering, suffering, losing, worrying, not measuring up, sinning, and grocery store tantrums would be Good News, wouldn’t it?

So I’ll write that someday.

But those who suffer he delivers in their suffering; he speaks to them in their affliction. -- Job 36.15

(The image is a watercolor by Turkish-Canadian artist Atanur Dogan.)