Broadman & Holman Publishing
I commend Tim Riter for tackling a difficult, yet much needed subject. In an age of seeker-friendly marketing strategies, the difficult teachings of Christ must be brought to bear on people’s lives. Riter is correct, “Early believers never saw following Jesus as the pathway to success, prosperity, self-actualization, or ease” (p. 6), which is why “Jesus asked for total commitment from his followers” (p. 7). Chapter One is a sounding call for the church to “eliminate the notion that God exists to help us reach our goals, to maximize our potential and talents . . . We serve his goals. We honor him . . . It’s not about us, but about him” (p. 11). However, because of the serious theological errors within this book, I cannot recommend it. A few of these errors are listed below.
First, Riter errs in his soteriology. This is the most significant error, since it cuts to the very heart of the book. Though some of Riter’s explanations of Jesus’ demanding words are helpful and contextually driven, many of his interpretations actually discount, ignore, and emasculate Jesus’ message. Though the book is a call to fully commit oneself to Jesus Christ, Riter wavers about whether this commitment is necessary for salvation. Riter writes, “But until we fully surrender . . . we’ll continually battle complacency and mediocrity in our faith . . . When we accept the cross, we strike a blow at the most dangerous deterrent to a vibrant Christian life” (pp. 40-41). Is one a true believer if he has not surrendered completely to Jesus Christ? Are Jesus’ hard demands a matter, not of eternal life, but of the vibrancy of one’s life? Jesus’ words are clear, if one does not fully surrender to Him, he will not save his life in eternity (Mt 10:37; Lk 14:26-27; Mk 8:34-38; 10:17). However, Riter seems to imply otherwise. To fail in this area is to miss the heart of Jesus’ message and the Gospel itself.
Second, Riter errs in his Christology. Riter illustrates Jesus’ demand to “hate one’s own family” by using Jesus as a model. He writes, “When Jesus requires that we hate our family, didn’t he do pretty much the same when he left his heavenly home with the Father . . .” (p. 26). Jesus’ greatest love is found in the triune relationship of Father, Son, and Spirit. In no way did leaving heaven to come to earth imply a “forsaking” of His Father. Just the opposite is true. Christ came to earth in order to display the glory of His Father (Jn 17:1-4), which is Christ’s greatest act of love. Another error occurs when Riter uses Jesus as an example to encourage those who do not willingly embrace God’s will for their life. He writes, “[I]t helps to remember that Jesus didn’t eagerly embrace God’s will either! The evening before he took up his cross he asked the Father for a way out” (p. 45). However, this fails to recognize that Jesus found His greatest pleasure in doing God’s will (Jn 6:38-40). There is not much comfort in a Savior who did not eagerly embrace His Father’s will. However, there is much encouragement in a Savior who willingly endured horrific pain and separation from God for the joy that was set before Him (Heb 12:2).
Third, Riter errs in his endorsement of theological movements and organizations. Unfortunately, Riter praises the work of Chuck Colson, specifically mentioning his role in the Evangelicals and Catholics Together movement. Yet, this ecumenical movement is attempting to unite two different groups that are divided on the issue of justification, which undermines the very heart of the Christian faith. Another example is found in Chapter Seven, which begins by Riter recounting an event in his great-great grandfather’s life (p. 95). Though I am not opposed to using family members as examples, I was shocked when Riter said this man was an influential member of the Mormon church, one who even served as president of the LDS for the eastern United States. Should Roman Catholics and Mormons now be considered evangelicals?
A book that began by calling a culturally conformed church into obedience with Jesus’ hard teachings unfortunately muddied the theological water to such an extent that much of what is written is not helpful. Because of Riter’s watered-down soteriology, humanistic Christology, and lack of discernment regarding ecumenism, I cannot recommend this book. A better book that deals with many of the same Scripture passages is John MacArthur’s book, Hard to Believe. – Patrick Slyman, Christian Book Previews.com
Jesus said that disciples must die, give up their family, rejoice even in suffering, and not worry about anything. Postmodern people in and out of the church hunger to explore those difficult teachings in a world gone soft. Not a Safe God allows them to do that.
Author Tim Riter states: “Contemporary Christianity has focused so much on God’s goodness that perhaps we’ve forgotten he’s a lion. He’s not safe—not safe at all. He demands much of us and throws down the gauntlet to the fatal disease of complacency that has infected us. We’ve made God comfortable. But if we take him seriously, he’ll overturn our current lifestyles.”