Title: Outlive Your Life
Author: Max Lucado
Publisher: Thomas Nelson (2010)
Some time ago, I was in the president’s office at a Christian NGO and noticed a new book on his desk. Making conversation, I asked, “What’s that one about?” It’s about the Christian’s responsibility in areas of poverty and injustice, he said. I made a mental note and determined to give it a read.
A couple weeks later, I began to read Outlive Your Life by Max Lucado. Over the course of 16 chapters, Lucado loosely examines the first twelve chapters of Acts in an attempt to show readers how they “were made to make a difference” in the lives of impoverished men, women and children around the globe.
Christian books on social justice and caring for the poor are tricky things. There’s a tendency to turn a God-honoring act into “God’s mandate” for the Christian life. A false gospel based around our work, rather than Christ’s work on the cross.
So where does Outlive Your Life land?
A weird place.
First, what did I like about this book?
Lucado is a very fast-paced writer; his style is easy-going, light and conversational. The plus side of this is that it makes this book a very quick read. The chapters are short (usually no more than about 4-5 pages) and you can breeze through it in a couple hours.
Lucado’s use of illustrations from everyday life help makes his subject matter come alive. He generally portrays himself as a bit of a goober, so you get the impression that he’s just a regular guy who puts his pants on one leg at a time (but when he puts his pants on, he sells hundreds of thousands of books).
When it comes down to the content, I greatly appreciated chapter 15, “Pray first; pray most.” This section in particular was a strong reminder of the importance of prayer and why everything we do, if we are followers of Christ, should be saturated with prayer.
Additionally, I did appreciate the idea behind the chapter, “Don’t write anyone off.” There’s no one that God can’t save—so why would we write off anyone as “unsave-able” when God is capable of doing more than we can imagine? After all, He saved Paul, who persecuted the Church & murdered Christians and used him as His instrument to spread the gospel throughout Asia Minor, and into Rome.
Now, having said that, there is a lot that concerned me about Outlive Your Life.
Some of it’s just goofy, like a strangely graphic description of a temple guard on page 78 (that I’m not entirely sure is historically accurate) that wouldn’t seem out of place in the movie 300. There’s some creative speculation into biblical stories in an attempt to engage readers… But there’s also this prevalent notion that sound doctrine isn’t as important as actions and working together for the common good.
Now here’s where he’s right: Unity is important to God. No part of the body can say to another “I have no need of you” (cf. 1 Cor. 12:21). And in cases of secondary doctrinal issues (ie in-house debates), we absolutely do need to put aside those at times to work for a common goal that relates to a matter of first importance. So yeah, paedo-bapists and credo-baptists can probably shelve the argument when it comes to teaming up to, for example, meet the physical and spiritual needs of people in developing countries.
Where he goes too far is by, it seems, suggesting that we don’t need to be united in doctrine beyond the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. On this issue and in the context of a missions experience in Guatemala, he writes:
We cannot say, “I have no need of you.” The megachurch needs the smaller church. The liberal needs the conservative. The pastor needs the missionary. . . . Suppose our group had clustered according to opinions. Divided according to doctrines. If we had made unanimity a prerequisite for partnership, can you imagine the consequences? We wouldn’t have accomplished anything. (p. 46-47)
Unless I’m grossly misunderstanding him, the assumption here is that everyone’s playing on the same team. This, however, is simply not the case. We aren’t permitted to, for example, team up with professing Christians who deny the authority of Scripture, or distort the character and nature of God. We disagree on matters of first importance that affect everything else.
Far more concerning is that while Lucado advocates “remembering to give people the bread” (that is, the gospel), he does an astoundingly good job of botching it within this book. When he attempts to give us “the bread,” he’s light on the fact that it was not only the religious leaders in Jerusalem who put Jesus on the cross—it was us. it’s not simply they who killed him. It was us.
Further, there’s an air of almost needing to get the gospel out of the way so we can get on with talking about how we can make a difference in the world. It’s very moralistic, but not so much gospel-driven.
Most alarmingly, though, is what I read on page 138:
Of course, no one believed in people more than Jesus did. He saw something in Peter worth developing, in the adulterous woman worth forgiving, and in John worth harnessing. He saw something in the thief on the cross, and what he saw was worth saving… [emphasis mine]
I nearly did a spit-take when I read this. This is the exact opposite of the gospel! Jesus did not believe in people, because He knew their hearts (John 2:24). There isn’t anything in us particularly worth saving—that’s why we need Jesus!
If we could save ourselves through works of the law, through moralism, through being good people… if there was anything that was “worth saving,” then Christ died for nothing (cf. Gal. 2:21).
I don’t know if I can stress the seriousness of this error more. While it might seem like I’m nitpicking, this is really, really important. How we understand the gospel affects everything else in our lives. And if we get the gospel wrong, everything else will be, too.
Believe it or not, I actually wanted to like Outlive Your Life, but to get something so fundamental so wrong… I just can’t, nor can I recommend anyone read this book.