So when I had a chance to get a free review copy of her self-proclaimed favorite book, Interrupted: When Jesus Wrecks Your Comfortable Christianity (extensively revised and re-released), you better believe I was all over that.
This is not a feel-good story...and yet it is. Jen recounts the painful, hilarious, gut-wrenching journey of how God gave her eyes to see what had been in Scripture all along, and called her and her family out to actually live it. She could no longer be satisfied with her comfortable Christian life spent "blessing the blessed and serving the saved"--she couldn't un-see, couldn't un-know. She writes in the introduction:
“This is the story of my heart, the arc I find most relevant and vital to my generation: God plucked me and my family out of complacent, comfortable, safe Christianity and dropped us into the deep end of struggle, injustice, brokenness, and a hurting humanity. Whatever used to be soft and squishy about faith gave way to a stunning urgency and painful acknowledgement of the mission at hand.”
And yet, as she wrote in a wonderful blog post today, the life she has found on the other side is better than anything she could have imagined. So she encourages the reader:
God is not engineering a Guilt Trip. Just go ahead and knock that off. He is giving you eyes to see a little better and ears to hear a little clearer, and you wringing your hands and mourning lost years is not helping. You did the best you could with what you knew. Now God is just giving you more to know, so off you go. Don’t be guilty; be grateful, be generous, be brave.I so appreciate this perspective. This book is hard-hitting; Jen doesn't mince words about the seriousness of Jesus' words and the urgency of our mission. Yet she clings fiercely to the gospel as she calls us to live out its implications. She finds comfort in the midst of the parable of the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25--somewhere I've never seen it. She comes alongside you as a fellow sojourner and friend, not a preachy know-it-all who is disgusted that you just don't get it yet. She's wonderfully willing to tell you how she has stumbled along the way. And she shows you the compelling beauty of Jesus and invites you to get on mission with Him.
A few of the best bits of the material were familiar to me from her phenomenal talk at IF:Gathering last February--especially the chapter "Desiring, Doing and Remembering," a radical, fresh look at Luke 22 (Jesus at the Last Supper). I've thought about her exposition of "do this in remembrance of Me" many times since I first heard it. I will say, however, that in the book, this section included one of the only quotes that made me pause to scribble down an argument. She says: "Obedience to Jesus’ command is more than looking backward; it’s a present and continuous replication of His sacrifice. We don’t simply remember the meal; we become the meal.”
I have to raise a serious objection here. Jesus’ sacrifice cannot be replicated. Ever. Our works are not the good news—His are. Our sacrifice may save physically, but only His can bring spiritual, eternal salvation. I love what she is saying here, how honoring and remembering Jesus is so much more than a five-minute ritual during a Sunday morning service, but in our zeal for Christlikeness and Christ-honoring social justice and mercy, we cannot confuse or equate our work with Jesus’ once-for-all work. Truly, Jen knows this, and her larger point stands and is so very important--but I just couldn't let that one go without comment.
And really, on the whole, Jen does not miss that point. At all. She cautions clearly against those who focus on doing good works apart from Jesus:
"There is no back door into salvation, rerouted around the sacrifice of Christ. Otherwise, the whole earth could gain heaven by good works, and His day on the cross would be pointless.”I so appreciate this gospel emphasis, and it gives me hope. Could our generation be the one when the two halves of the coin come together? The church commonly drives in one ditch or the other—either a focus on right theology and doctrine to the neglect of social justice, or a focus on social justice to the abandonment of truth and the gospel. Oh, that God would raise up a generation of men and women who love Him and His Word passionately, who keep the person and work of Christ absolutely central to everything, and *in response to* that glorious gospel, are passionate about social justice and extending mercy!
I'm tempted to copy and paste eleventy billion more quotes here, since I underlined half the book. Her actual words say it so much better than my feeble attempts to summarize...especially at 11PM when I've procrastinated writing this review for a month :P Suffice to say I loved the book and found it well worth reading. I saw in Jen's story the undercurrent of dissatisfaction in my own journey, the persistent questions of "is this all there is?," the uncomfortable acknowledgement that I am not actually spending and being spent for the things that Jesus said matter most.
I have to admit, however, that while the book resonated so deeply and was convicting to me, I also lost steam a little through the last section, and even came away feeling a little discouraged rather than energized and motivated. I suspect that a lot of that has to do with my own personal circumstances rather than with any lack in the book.
Jen is careful to note repeatedly that Austin New Church is *not* the perfect church that has all this figured out. Still, I had this sense that it would be a lot…well, “easier” isn’t the word, but realistic, maybe, or doable…if you had a body of believers with this kind of vision and commitment, rather than being “wrecked” on your own and trying to navigate what you can and should do individually. I look forward to having my husband read this so we can talk about it more, for sure. And certainly the first call is to prayer--to earnestly ask God to kindle in me a holy discontentment and produce in my heart the courage to follow where He leads.
I want to say so much more, to give you a better taste of the book...but I confess that having procrastinated so terribly, sleep wins out over a well-crafted review at this point. So I will conclude with one more quote, from Jen's blog post today--I loved her words to her "past self," the Jen who first wrote this book five or six years ago:
...This is the beginning of the rest of your life. Embrace it all – all the struggle, all the tension, all the humility, all the beauty. It is safe to be faithful to a faithful God. He loves you and is for you. He loves this world and is for it. Put that YES on the table indefinitely and, seriously, go with God.
I'm so glad that this book has been expanded and re-released for this very reason--the way the author can come back with a few years of perspective and affirm her own message from experience. And as I've revisited the book today and read through Jen's latest post, I'm inspired again and longing to press deeper into following Jesus.
GOOD NEWS: I have a copy of this book to give away to a lucky reader! Tyndale sent me both an e-version and a print copy--so I am happy to pass the print version along to someone else who wants to be wrecked in the best of ways :)
UPDATE 8/22, 5:10PM: We have a winner!
[full disclosure: Tyndale sent me a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review]