Monday, 28 March 2011

You give love a bad name....

A book review- Love or Die, by Alexander Strauch.
Love or Die was given to me as part of a gift pack at a bible conference a couple of years ago, so when I thought of reviewing a book for this blog, I naturally chose this one. I thought to myself ‘Yep, this book will have a good theological base, will make for an interesting review and will be an easy post to write’. And then I read the book. And honestly, I was a bit disappointed.
Love or Die is split into two parts:
In Part one, Strauch discusses a passage of scripture: Revelation 2:1-6 in which Jesus speaks to the early church at Ephesus (one of the first churches since the time Christ was alive). Jesus assess’ the church to be a bible believing, discerning church with one major flaw- they lack love. Strauch asserts that not having and showing love to those around you is wrong, and sinful, and goes as far as to suggest that a lack of love indicates that one may not truly be a Christian after all. Strauch asks- do you measure up to Gods command to love? He admits that in fact, no one can say that they do, and then he offers a solution- just try harder.  Remember a time when you were loving, feel sorry that you don’t love as you should anymore, and try harder to love more. The second part of the book gives you 6 steps that you can follow to make you love more.
Sounds reasonable enough, right? Well, lets just examine the main points of the book closely for a moment. Jesus commands us to love- yes, thats right, Jesus does command us to love in many places throughout the bible. The great and first commandment is to love God with all your heart, soul and mind (Matt.22:37-38; Mark 12:28-34), and the second commandment is the same as the first: Love your neighbour as yourself (Matt.22:39).
So do we meet Gods commands to love? Not at all! Strauch is also correct in this. The bible is very clear that we are all sinners, not merely in the fact that we break Gods commands sometimes, but also in our very nature- that we are unable to keep all of God’s laws all of the time.
Ok, so far so good.. Strauch and I are on the same page... until we get to the issue of what we do about the fact we don’t love as we should. Strauch’s solution is to try harder to keep Gods command- the exact opposite of what the bible says. The bible says we all have broken Gods laws, and the rightful punishment for this is an eternity in hell. The only way to get to heaven is through the act of one perfect man- Jesus. Jesus took the punishment that we deserve by dying on the cross. This brutal death is what we should have done to us for disobeying God, but God gave his son  Jesus to die in our place, so that we might go free. This is called the gospel, or good news of Jesus. So when we cant keep Gods commands, there is no point in ‘doing better-trying harder’- we will never meet the standard expected of us. Let me use this as an example... lets say you were facing a murder charge. When before a judge, you try to get a lesser punishment by saying ‘Yes, I murdered someone, but then straight after that I helped a little old lady across the road’. I don’t think this would go down too well. You broke the law, and no matter how many good things you do to fix it, the damage is done. The same is with God, no amount of trying to do better will change the fact you have already broken Gods commands. Your only hope is to trust that what Jesus did on the cross, (taking the punishment you deserve) is what redeems you before God. Then, out of gratitude for what Christ has done, and with Gods help you can learn to love as God commands you to.
So, hopefully you can see that Strauch’s concept of trying to do better, and love more following his simple six step plan has two fundamental flaws- 1) Your motivation is wrong: you want to be better at loving to meet Gods command to love, instead of being motivated by gratitude for what Christ has done for you- taking the punishment you deserve. 2) You WILL fail at trying to keep the six step programme, as you are trying to do it on your own steam (without Gods help).Then you are back at the beginning of the problem of not keeping Gods command to love in the first place. Strauch really makes you feel as though YOU CAN keep Gods command to love- just follow these steps! But in reality, we will fail... and then what does Strauch have to offer?
Its not that Strauch doesn’t mention Christ at all in this book, it  quite the contrary in fact. Strauch has many statements that had gospel-like intonations. Its just that at best the gospel is assumed, and at worst it is misunderstood. The gospel is not offered as a solution to our problem of sin, but rather Christs act on the cross is referred to merely as an example of radical love. However, there is a big difference between ‘Jesus showed sacrificial love- and so should I’, and ‘Jesus died for me- I am so grateful he did, I want to reflect my gratitude in all that I do’
And his six step programme to regaining love? Apparently, just reading all the passages about love in the bible will cause love to magically exude from your very pores.....Really?
As for the style of the book- it was an easy read. Strauch presents his ideas very clearly... although this was achieved through repetition. He could have presented his ideas in far fewer words. That is, he could have got his main point across in a more concise way. I’m just saying, Strauch could condensed this book into one far smaller.
Um, Jodie? Some of you might be wondering ‘Did you like ANYTHING about this book? You seem to be awfully negative about the whole thing.....
Well, although the book overall left me deflated, there was the odd sentence that had something to it. Strauch includes the Holy Spirit as a helper for us to love others. The Holy Spirit is the part of God that helps believers to be faithful and obedient to God(Its complicated to explain unfortunately and may need a whole post to itself). So although it is contradictory to the main thrust of the book, Strauch does acknowledge God has a part to play in the process of learning to love more. The book was also a great exercise in discernment (separating biblical truth from not biblical truth).
So, my assessment of this book may seem a bit harsh, and maybe it is, but out of all things, the gospel is the hill I am willing to die on. Hopefully the next book I review will have a slightly more positive outcome!

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