More > Real explores how readers can have an honest, real faith and live the full life that Jesus has come to give us, even in the storms of life. What I love about this book is that Jon does not shy away from the realities and complexities of life, yet he also does not compromise on what the Bible has to say about important matters including the cost of following Jesus, growing in faith, what real success looks like, wrestling in prayer and much more. It’s vulnerable. It’s honest. It’s authentic.
To read the author’s own struggle with doubt to the point that he gave up his faith for a while will be a comfort to those of us who waver. I found it refreshing to read of his struggles because so often we do not go beneath the surface with others. The ‘hi, how are you?’ pleasantry is usually answered with ‘yeah, fine thanks’, or ‘I’m good, you?’ Jon opens up in each chapter in a way that will help the reader to know that they are not alone.
One of my favourite chapters was ‘Real Cost’ and all that it means to live for Jesus, including all that it will cost us. I found myself highlighting vast portions of the chapter! When it comes to the more difficult bits in the Bible, it is easy to shy away from them or gloss over them, or at worst, ignore them. Yet Jon rightly challenges the Christian in this:
‘I sometimes wonder whether, in relating to our friends and communities, we have soft-pedalled the gospel, claiming it was out of compassion when in reality it was out of cowardice. I wonder if what we’ve called being relevant and relational is a cover for our fear of not being liked.’ (pg. 70)
It is not just individual Christians that are challenged, but the church as a whole:
‘Many churches are shrinking and being forced to rethink how to get more ‘bums on pews’. We don’t want to be unpopular and don’t want to offend – which we are aware is now the biggest sin in our Western culture.’ (pg. 71)
And of course if Jesus is our example to go by then should we be surprised by the cost of what it means to follow Him?
‘Jesus isn’t interested in the multitudes of consumers who have come looking for an easier life, or for someone to agree with their lifestyle, or for someone who can provide miracles whenever they request them. He’s looking for sinners who know they’re lost, know they’re broken and will give anything for him (John 5; Mark 2:17). (pg. 77-78) [emphasis added]
Jon also challenges the reader to be vulnerable in their relationships with others as vulnerability ‘allows us to demonstrate empathy for others, building closeness and community’ (pg. 112). In an age where loneliness is an epidemic and connecting to others is often done through technology rather than face-to-face, there is a real need to be vulnerable with other people in a real, tangible way.
He shares how God shows us a better way rather than ‘giving off the impression to people that our life is sorted, we’ve got it all together, and our glossy Instagram photos are what our life is really like…’ (pg. 103). In contrast the Bible is full of real characters with real struggles:
‘The Bible doesn’t nip and tuck its embarrassing bits. It shows its characters complete with all their flaws: David’s adultery, Jacob’s lies, Gideon’s fear, Samson’s lust, Noah’s drunkenness, Sarah’s doubt, Joseph’s pride, Jonah’s resentment, Mary Magdalene’s demons, Rahab’s prostitution, Moses’ murder, Abraham’s deceit.’ (pg 103)
Another chapter that really spoke to me was ‘Real Success’ as it has refocused how I define success. Before reading the book, I have always had this idea of what I thought success was and it turns out my view is shared by countless others:
‘Our climate, culture and economy may be shifting, but how we view success isn’t. It’s still the same as our parents’ generation, and the generation before that, and every generation since the beginning of time. We evaluate success by the three Rs: Riches, Reputation, Relationships.’ (pg. 118)
Yet these three things are temporary and unstable. I found this chapter to be one that I underlined and marked because it just gushed out with so much truth that I wish more people would wake up to. From sentences like ‘There is an idolatry of magnitude. We worship the big, the popular, the remarkable’ (pg. 119) and ‘For things to be of value we believe they need to be impressive’ (pg. 119), in a mic-drop moment, the author applies these attitudes to what is often the case in churches too! Thank goodness someone said it. I am humbled and thankful by Jon’s honesty and it challenges me deeply of what I have often gravitated towards.
When it comes to how the Bible views success it ‘isn’t about being impressive but rather about living a life of love and service’ – it is all about God’s glory (pg. 121). The extraordinary is found in the ordinary moments. Moreover, when we look at what Jesus did on the cross for each of us, we can fully grasp what real success is:
‘Real success is found when we fully grasp our identity in Christ and live like those who know they are citizens of heaven. While our world is grasping for riches, reputation and relationship, we have the assurance that there is a day coming where we’ll have all three – not just for a few short decades but for eternity. Because of Christ’s success on the cross, defeating death and making a way to the Father, we can have confidence, not in our own achievements but in the finished and successful work of Christ.’ (pg. 131)
There is so much more that I could write about this book and I have only covered a few chapters here. I would encourage Christians, especially in their 20s and 30s (although any Christian who wants to be more ‘real’ in every aspect of their life will benefit) to grab this book and digest its wisdom. The chapters are broken up into scannable sections which is ideal for those who feel they are just ‘too busy’ or wanting to dip in and out of it. You definitely should find time to read this book – it will bless you greatly and challenge you as you seek to follow Christ in your everyday life.
For the other reviews I have done in the ‘More >’ series published by IVP:
- More > Truth by Kristi Mair
- More > Distinct by Calvin T. Samuel
- More > Direction by Ayo and Ruth Afolabi