Monday, December 5, 2011

Review of What God Thinks When We Fail

I received this book free from IVP in exchange for a review.  I thought about failing to review it for the irony of it, but then realized everyone would fail to catch the irony because only my wife and the online publicist from IVP knows that I got the book to review.  If you think this review or any of my jokes up tot his point can be considered a FAIL, then take heart I’m not offended I’ve read this book and I’m okay with it…really. 

Rather than trying to summarize myself I’ll treat you to the IVP Press Release:

What does God think of us when we fail?

Does he think

  • You're a loser.
  • There's no hope for you.
  • What a wimp!
  • You're good for nothing!

Or does he think something very different?

If you've ever lost a job or a relationship, let your friends down, seen your finances collapse, found your ministry crumbling or failed to meet your own ethical standards, you might wonder if recovery is possible. Perhaps you've wondered if you can ever repair the damage done to others, to yourself and to your relationship with God.

Steve Roy has good news for you. He had to face his own failures, but his failures also drove him deep into what God thinks about us and success, especially in Christian ministry. He searched deeply in Scripture and listened carefully to the stories of others. He found that God's view of success is very different from ours. And that a biblically grounded view of success and failure challenges our preconceived notions but leads to hopeful renewal that goes beyond what we often ask or think.

Roy’s book is simple but not simplistic.  His main point is that what really matters is what God thinks of us.  That is good news because God is not concerned with our performance He is concerned with our faithfulness and obedience. 

If done poorly this book would have been dangerous.  And many have veered off the gospel path on this point.  Many would agree with Roy’s thesis statement that failure is only failure as determined in the eyes of God.  They would agree further that would God is really concerned with is our faithfulness and obedience to him.  But then once the “moralistic therapeutic deism” that we call modern Christianity is inserted into the equation, Roy’s thesis ends up being a sledgehammer to bludgeon and already downtrodden “failure”. 

You see knowing that success is determined by God is not freedom unless you rightly understand the gospel.  One particular area that I see many Christians fall in concerns the “finding the will of God”.  What do you do when you have made a really dumb decision and somehow find yourself “outside of the will of God”?  (Read my review of Kevin DeYoung’s excellent book Just Do Something for a little more perspective on this).  This is the area where many Christians feel like failures.  They assume that they have somehow failed in the eyes of God (obedience and faithfulness) and therefore must clean themselves up, dig themselves out of the hole of their own making, etc. before God can truly like them again. 

Thankfully Steven Roy doesn’t take that path.  Roy takes the narrow path of the gospel.  He helps us “failures” come to realize that our identity is in Christ.  He even helps us to see that our screw ups can be used by God to make us more holy and even to further His kingdom.  His advice for confronting failure is simple really, believe the gospel and keep your eyes fixed on Jesus. 

The final chapter is also helpful and I am glad that the book does not end at chapter 7.  It seems to me that God often uses our failures and our sufferings to help others to cling to Jesus and fix our eyes on Him.  In the final chapter Roy speaks to ministers (but just as easily to anyone that has failed and knows somebody else that has a heartbeat) when he urges us to share our failures with other failures.  That is helpful.  Many ministers want to keep their weaknesses hidden.  Roy follows the apostle Paul in reminding us that it is in our weakness that the power of God is shown. 

So what does God think when we fail?

He’s not surprised by it, it doesn’t change his love for us, it doesn’t even change His ability to use us to further His kingdom.  Failure is only really a problem if it’s not covered by the gospel.  Or perhaps if we refuse to move on and live in the forgiveness that Christ has already purchased.

Should You Buy It?

I would recommend this book to about anyone.  Roy helpfully applies the gospel.  He writes in a compelling fashion.  He gives solid theology but does not do it in a boring way that many often associate with “theology”.  It’s a good read and a helpful reminder that God is faithful even when we blow it.  Throughout the book Roy points to Jesus and encourages the struggler to look there.  And that always makes a book worth handing to somebody else. 

I will keep this book in my library and I’m guessing I’ll be giving it away to some “failure” that comes into my office because they’ve assumed they’ve blown it. 

Don’t fail to buy this book.  You can get it from Amazon for about 10 bucks in Kindle and paperback.  Buy it here.

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