Though I didn’t remember until looking back it was a year ago that I reviewed Mark Batterson’s book: The Circle Maker. Since the New York Times best selling author’s new book, All In, is now making waves, I picked it up simply because as a writer, pastor’s wife and mom I like to be first-hand knowledgable of what the general Christian culture is reading and being taught.
To that end I am again inclined to post my thoughts on his teachings. To me it’s very much same song, different verse. First it was “praying through” with “bigger, bolder prayers,” now its going “all in and all out” for God. In both “verses” I do believe the author’s desire is for God to be glorified in and through our lives, but the resounding “refrain” I hear is that our actions determine His blessing.
“You are only one decision away from a totally different life…if you have the courage to completely surrender yourself to the lordship of Jesus Christ, there is no telling what God will do.”
“If you don’t hold out on God, I can promise you this: God will not hold out on you. But it’s all or nothing.”
Please hear me: I agree with a lot of what Batterson says (some even sounded like it came from the influences of PCA pastors Tim Keller and Tullian Tchividjian and the Westminister Confession our denomination holds to). I agree that we have absolutely cheapened the gospel. I agree we are idol worshippers to a far greater extent than we see or admit. I agree that we don’t make sacrifices. I agree that we don’t view Him as Everything. I agree that we are called to glorify Him in all things. I agree that we are to be full of grace.
But the message of the gospel that is clearly stated as God’s work and nothing we can earn gets muddied because of Batterson’s continual connecting our actions to God’s actions. Now everything I agree with becomes cloudy, confused, contradictory…
- Is it All Jesus or not?
- Is everything grace or not?
- Is it all His work and righteousness or not?
To be honest, this book wore me out. I found the stories of those who went “all in” as our charge to go “all in” to be false motivators. What makes me want to be “all in” is when I hear more of Jesus! When He is preached throughout all the Scriptures and we see more of His character, His love, His perfection and devotion. When I am reminded that He is everything that I am not, that He is my strength, my rock, my hiding place, my living water, bread of life- hearing this makes me want to fix my eyes on Him and worship!
But what happens when idols still rule me? When sin keeps me from being fully surrendered? When I don’t keep my eyes fixed on Him?
Since Batterson referenced the apostle Peter walking on water so shall I. One moment Peter appears to be “all in” because he took that step of faith out of the boat. But what happened the very next moment?
Peter saw the roaring wind and waves and was filled with fear again. This is when he started to stumble and sink, yet Jesus in His faithfulness pulled Peter up. Praise God my failure (like Peter’s) to be “all in” at any given moment doesn’t disqualify His grace and movement toward me!
And what about the Israelites? They grumbled constantly in the wilderness, set up false gods and repeatedly failed the test of going “all in for God.” But what did God do anyway? He delivered them. He showed them over and over again that He was with them. He remained faithful despite their going backwards on the “all in” claims of “Yes, Lord, we will do all that you have said.” (Exodus 19:8)
Here is my point- Jesus went “all in” for His children because we will not. We can’t earn it and won’t ever be successful trying, even with the best intentions. If we think otherwise we are depending on self, focused too much on what we need to do, and not looking to Him for all things.
Should believers desire to surrender all and go “all in” for Him? Yes!
But, the reality is we will fail. And when we do I am afraid this book leads us to the false notion that we must then try harder so as not to disappoint God or forfeit his blessings. Perhaps we think doing something bigger or giving up more will gain back His favor. All self-focused action instead of resting in the security of His deliverance.
This book is in stark contrast to the one I will be going through this summer with a group of ladies. It’s Steve Brown’s Three Free Sins. Instead of focusing on what we need to do, it actually shows us what we fail to do! I know that really makes you want to go read it :), but if your hope is built on the gospel alone it should! Here is what this author says:
“You don’t have to get better to get God to love you. You don’t have to get better to maintain God’s love… You don’t have to get better to be forgiven. You don’t have to get better to make a difference. And you don’t have to get better to be sanctified or holy.”
This is freeing! God takes me as I am and uses me despite my sin!
There is no spiritual heirarchy and though we grow in grace, sanctification is life-long and looks different in each of our lives. For some, transformation may be “a totally different life” (as Batterson says going “all in” does), but for others you may be barely hanging on with faith like a mustard-seed and for every step forward it’s two steps back. Well, guess what? When you are His, your sin is no longer the issue.
You are “in!”
He is always faithful. He will never forsake or fail His children. He is full of endless grace and will do with your life exactly what He has purposed!
Praise the Lord! This is the One I am called to worship and the One who frees me so I don’t have to beat myself up on whether I’m “all in” enough.
Jesus + Nothing = Everything!
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