You’re probably not going to like me for saying this, but I didn’t want to like this book. I didn’t think I would and I didn’t want to. Why? I’ve only heard one sermon by Judah Smith (from the last Passion conference), and I didn’t like it. I thought it was shallow and boring. He was clever and had some jokes, but that’s all there was too it. And I know I shouldn’t judge a book by it’s cover, but every time I see him I think he just looks goofy.
Now you can probably see why you wouldn’t like me.
However, despite all of that, I liked this book more than I thought I would. Really. I’m not real big on books like this one (Christian Atheist, a la Craig Groeschel – which I did read halfway through because it too, wasn’t as bad as I thought…for a while). But eventually both Christian Atheist and this one started to get a little dry. Perhaps it’s because I read this one so quickly (about 3 different days spread over a week and a half).
The idea of the book is discovering out who Jesus is. It’s not an in-depth, scholarly study of the real Jesus. This is not a continuation of the third quest for the historical Jesus. The question asked in this book is “Jesus is ______? How would you finish that sentence?”
There are 6 major sections (answers to the main question) in the book:
- Jesus Is Your Friend
- Jesus is Grace
- Jesus is The Point
- Jesus is Happy
- Jesus is Here
- Jesus is Alive
It is written totally in Judah Smith style. Judah intends to point us to a Jesus who is in love with us and wants to be with us just like He was with men and women in the Scriptures. He attempts to help give us the opportunity to drown out the lies that we’ve heard and get down to the basics of who Jesus really is and what He did for us.
So how well does this come across?
Well, it’s iffy.
The Chocolate Milk
- Judah has a pretty engaging style, and I’m sure that’s why most people like him. He’s clever, he’s funny, and he makes some interactions i the text that aren’t the most obvious to see (he puts us in the shoes of the prodigal son quite nicely). I don’t want you to think that just because I went to Bible college I think I know a lot, but admittedly I was surprised to learn anything in this book. I know it sounds arrogant, (because it is), but like I said, I normally don’t read these kinds of books. I thought it would be all application (which, yes, it pretty much was). Yet, it was still good.
- I really liked that this book wasn’t too long. The chapters are short. There’s 6 main sections to the book, and in them are 15 chapters, an Intro, and a Conclusion. The book is 200 pages = roughly 13 pages a chapter, and they go pretty quick for the most part.
- Judah believes the Bible is inspired by God. It is written to all people to show us how God loves all of humanity. The Bible is down-to-earth. It’s for real people facing real issues. I’m just glad to know that he takes the Bible for what it says it is: inspired by the Holy Spirit. Yes, that includes I Chronicles 1-9, 23-29, and even Leviticus (of all books).
- Judah is real in this book. He tells us of his struggles, his faults, things he wishes he could do but can’t, to things that he wishes he could do more of but isn’t able to. He expresses hurts, pride, and how he’s inadequate for the grace that God gives him.
- I was actually impressed with how he took the parable of the prodigal son in Chapter 4: Embrace Grace. I haven’t “studied” that parable myself (aside from hearing it in sermons and reading it myself), so things he said (that were right there i the text) just opened my eyes to the difference it had on the people Jesus was talking to. It was simple, but I enjoyed it.
- He makes a good analogy of how we put ourselves under legalism to try to get better. So we think about our sin all day and how we aren’t going to do it. However, instead, it’s just like looking at a donut and hoping to lose weight. It ain’t gonna happen. If you think about the sin all day, you’re going to eventually give in. But the more you focus on Jesus, the less you will focus on your sin and the more you will want to please Him.
- He makes a joke about the Smurfs (55) and how in the 80s parents wouldn’t let their kids watch it because it had magic, and wizards, and apparently the Smurfs were little blue demons. Now he doesn’t knock he parents who put those rules on their kids (and neither do I), but I found it funny because I remember growing up hearing that some people thought that. It reminds me of the anti-Pokemon craze some parents had. Not mine. In fact, I may even have Pokemon cards lying around somewhere, and I watched Ren & Stimpy as a kid. I guess “PK’s” are the worst. He uses that to lead into talking about rules and grace with kids which I won’t go into, but I liked what he had to say.
- Some things he says is almost (if not more so) convicting. He tells a story of a pastor friend asking him if he knew any crackheads, prostitutes, or drug dealers. Smith said, “No.” His friend said the same thing, and that might be just the problem. Some of us don’t know the worst people, while Jesus went to the worst.
- While we don’t need to spend every day in the slums of life, but it should lead us to stop and think about how we treat other people who we see as ‘dirty and dingy.’ They’re still people and God still loves them too. Every one of us are dead in our sins without Jesus Christ (Eph 2). Every one.
The Spoiled Milk
- Smith uses scripture to support his message, but the pop culture references were a bit much. In fact, the way Judah writes is a bit much. I like jokes and I’m all for humor. I probably joke too much myself. But there were more references, jokes, anecdotes, and stories than even Samson could shake a jawbone at. Smith writes a lot of stories about himself, his family, church, and friends (especially in the second half of the book) to help give a visual picture of his biblical points. But at times I felt he was just getting wordy.
- “[Jesus] came down to their level because they could never rise to his. He wasn’t out to prove how good he was or how bad they were. He just wanted to offer them hope” (22).
When reading the whole book you can see Judah talk about the gospel, but then there are time when he just says things like this, and I have to think, “Why? Why are you saying this?” Jesus was out to prove how good He was and how bad others were. He’s perfect. No one would follow the Messiah if He wasn’t perfect, or if they thought they could get to God themselves. Everyone needed to see how perfect Jesus was, how filthy they were, and how much He loved them.
It’s pivotal for the gospel to show us how horrible we are. Because that’s the good news: We’re filthy, yet God still loves us and took the initiative to make a way for us (Eph 2:10). And Jesus wanted to offer us more than just hope. He wanted to offer us abundant life with and in Him. To have a relationship with Him that would one day be perfect and unbroken by sin. I look forward to all of that in my hope.
- Chapter 6 (Leaving Worthy World) is only 17 pages, but it seemed to go on and on and on and…off. Smith has a knack for being wordy. I part of the reason is that he spends 4 pages talking about how much he loved getting his yearbook signed, and how there were a lot of people who said he was an inspiration to them. If he would have known that, he would not have been as self-conscious and would have acted differently.He then quotes Luke 3:22 and 1 John 4:17 and tells us that God is just as pleased with us as He is His Son.Yet, through all of that encouragement, still remains the fact that he spent 4 pages talking about getting his yearbook signed. It’s only 4 (or even 3 ½) pages, but just picture most of the book being like this.
- In running with that idea, Smith writes like he talks. His way of writing is interesting, but it gets old fast fast. To write like you talk (i.e. hipster-ese) makes you sound less mature than what you might be. His style can be engaging, but it can also be so off-and-on that you can’t make a marriage with it. There were times that I didn’t know what was going on, or I didn’t understand an analogy so I had to reread some section to figure out what the point was.
- In fact, sometimes his analogies are pretty good (sin and the donut mentioned above), but other times they don’t quite make sense:
He contrasts and parallels Disneyland (a cool place)
….. with Worthy World (a money-sucker – nonbeliever’s life)
….. which he then contrasts with Grace Land (God’s grace).
Yet people don’t want to go to Grace Land because of pride.
(P.S. We don’t have to pay anything nor do we deserve it to be free because of what Jesus did for us).
- Now, the analogy works, but it’s hard. There’s just enough going on that it makes sense while at the same time not making sense. Makes sense?
- While there were times I felt his analogies didn’t make much sense, there were other times where they just didn’t make any sense. In Chapter 11 (The One You Love), Judah starts off with a 3 page story on Love Languages, Freudian Slips, and putting his foot in his mouth to show what was really in his heart in a certain instance with his wife. He connects it with Martha showing what was in her heart when she was talking with Jesus after Lazarus had died. I can see the connection, but I had to read the Martha-Jesus discourse a few times to figure out where/what the connection even was. Even now I still think, “Couldn’t he have used a better story?”
- In Chapter 14 (where I started to wonder why the rest of the book was even here, except for Ch. 16), Smith says some of us need to “discover a sense of humor” because I guess he knows not every one will enjoy his Zombie Jesus humor.
Quote one: Jesus is “…the ultimate zombie. He was killed, then he came back from the dead, and now he’s coming for you.”
Quote two: “‘Really?’ Jesus must have thought. ‘I come back from the dead and my friends don’t even recognize me. Lame.'”
Maybe some will think it’s cool insight, but it’s annoying in the midst of the zombie “hype” that many people seem to be into. Even worse, it’s annoying when you try to tell Sunday School kids about Jesus’ resurrection and they immediately jump on the “Zombie” bandwagon and start talking about “Zombie Jesus.” Jesus isn’t walking around in a rotting body trying to eat people, and He knew His disciples would flee at his death. I doubt Jesus walked around saying, “Lame.”
For the most part, aside from the way he wrote, I liked this book. I read a few Amazon reviews, but reading in context, their negative comments didn’t make much sense. Some thought Judah was too high on God’s grace and not enough on works (to show your faith). While I agree to a point, he never tells us to live how we want. He tells us to live in a way that pleases God.
Who is this book for?
- This is a book for anyone dealing with legalism or earning their salvation.
- The main emphasis is on God’s grace. Judah emphasizes God’s grace and ultimately resting in Jesus. While he didn’t fully answer his main question “Who is Jesus?”, it makes sense. How could anyone fully answer that question (especially in a 200 page book)?
- New Christians.
- Long-time(-ish) Christians.
- Youth group/high school age.
Who is this not for?
- Scholars (what is good enough for them?)
- Those who want more on what a text says over applicational anecdotes.
- Older Christians.
I approve. I wouldn’t pay much for it, but I approve.
- Amazon: Jesus is ____?
- DVD based Study Kit
- Thomas Nelson: Jesus is _____?
- Barnes and Noble: Jesus is ____?