My rating: 1 of 5 stars
Many of us say we want to change the world. We find ourselves tugged and tugged by each opportunity. We complete ALS Bucket challenges. We like quotes and statuses on Facebook. We put bumper stickers on our car. We might even buy a pair of Toms shoes or give a dollar or two to the March of Dimes when the cashier at the grocery store asks us too.
However, as far as Eugene Cho is concerned, that is not enough awareness from Christians. We are called to live like Christ and to do justice and to right the wrongs of the world. Anyone who does not live in this manner, according to the author, may have to examine whether or not he is truly a follower of Christ.
Along the way of calling Christians to action for justice, Cho shares part of his own story in his upbringing, in his vocation, and in his work and establishment of the charity One Day’s Wages.
Cho is an excellent storyteller. His tales of his upbringing and family, his desperate search for a job during his wife’s pregnancy and his establishment of a coffee shop are fun to read and are told with great wit. I found myself smiling as I read his stories.
He also has some excellent facts about our habits. For example, did you know that the average American wastes 9 years of their lives in front of the television? Or that most Americans are in the top 1% of the world’s wealthiest people? However, despite that, Cho is willing to acknowledge the large minority of families in the US that can’t even pay rent. It’s a delicate balance, and Cho is able to discuss it without seeming like he wants to make improverished Americans feel like they are overburdened with guilt.
Cho also does an excellent job of reminding us that we live what we believe. Everything else is truly just talk. As he does this, Cho also makes the excellent point several times that giving to others is a way that God uses to change us.
His argument is kind of muddled. He begins the book with a really strong social justice theme, and expects it of all followers of Christ. He points out all the ways our culture is materialistic and how we could be giving more and doing more for others.
Then, in almost the same breath he denounces many forms giving and justice organizations by saying that they hurt more than they help. He discusses our misperceptions of Africans and the things that they don’t need. He cautions us against hurting local economies and provides almost mocking examples of things people have done wrong for giving because their hearts were in the right place, but they lacked the knowledge to truly help.
He demands something of Jesus followers that he then doesn’t provide them with the tools to provide. Then, his tone mocks those who help wrong. Perhaps a better focus for his book and the latter part of his book could have been more of a “ways you can truly help make the world a better place.”
He also finishes by quoting quotes from Mother Teresa about helping those closest to you and going home and making the world a better place by going home and loving your family. This is the complete opposite of the advice that he’s been giving the entire book. The logical inconsistency just about drove me crazy.
Also, I must note in this section that most (but not all) of his footnoted sources are either Wikipedia or online news outlets. I immediately deduct a star in my rating for any book that uses Wikipedia as a primary source. Wikipedia is better than it used to be, but it is still not a reliable place to get research data.
However, unfortunately, the muddled and unclear help for those wishing to practice social justice is not the worst part of the book. The “ugly” part of the book is the misuse of the gospel message.
I was a little irked in the beginning about his use of “changing the world” as a theme. I was pretty sure that our job was to bring the gospel message to the world and trust Jesus (the only true world-changer) to draw men to him and to change their hearts. I was pretty convinced that it wasn’t our job to change the world that the Bible says lies in the power of the evil one (I John 5:19). So, I was a little inclined to be skeptical about Cho’s argument from the beginning.
Then, he talked about God prompting him and the Holy Spirit prompting him to pledge a certain amount of money to his charity and to the tough trials that completing this public pledge would cause him to go through. He didn’t even leave it at prompting though. He even claimed that twice God literally spoke to him. No chapter and verse were cited to back up any of this discussion of God leading him/prompting him/speaking to him. There is no examination of what scriptural authority he has for any of the actions that “God prompted him” to do.
Then, there were three statements made in the book that made me truly question the author’s theology. The first statement is this: “Jesus came to usher in the kingdom of God, and part of the promise of the gospel is that Jesus came to reconcile and restore all that is good and beautiful back unto the One.”
Like the pantheistic concept of neutral monism? Or the Hindu idea of absorption of individual souls in an absolute? I’m not trying to be nitpicky, but I don’t know how else to read that, and I was seriously contemplating how he meant it since he uses the phrase “back unto the One” several times in the book.
The second statement that I truly questioned in the book was the statement that: “I’m not trying to diminish the importance of salvation, but to limit the depth and power of the gospel merely to salvation is simply a disservice to the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
There is a serious issue with “to limit the depth and power of the gospel merely to salvation is simply a disservice to the gospel of Jesus Christ.” This is an especially troubling statement. “Merely to salvation” implies an arrogance about my sin and my total inability to save myself. “Merely to salvation” makes like of Jesus’s sacrifice, which we are told in the Bible was made as a propitiation for our sins. We are sold that God loves us so much that he gave his only begotten son to us that we might have eternal life through our belief. There is no “merely” about salvation. There is only amazing about salvation. A pastor who can forget that has left his first mission and his first love to serve something else. I’m going to need to see some actual Biblical exegesis for him to support this statement that he makes in passing before I can see it as anything other than I serious misunderstanding of the importance of our salvation to God and to the gospel.
The third serious theological red flag I had in a statement in his book is when he is discussing a certain passage out of Acts chapter 2. In this passage, verse 42 tells us four things that the believers devoted themselves to. They devoted themselves to fellowship with other believers, the apostles’ teaching, breaking bread together and to prayer.
Cho’s discussion of verse 42 contains this statement: “Do you know what I think the most important element was? I think the most important element was not what they did, but rather the devotion itself. Read verse 42 again. They devoted themselves.”
Many people have wrecked their lives by devoting themselves to the wrong thing. I think at best this is an irresponsible statement on the part of Cho, and at worst, this is a serious misinterpretation of the passage. What we do is very important. Otherwise, Cho would not have written a whole book encouraging us to change the world through the practice of social justice. Just saying.
Despite the fact that Cho really does have some good information and is a great storyteller, his muddled thesis and his complete misrepresentation of the gospel have me saying that this book is completely “overrated.” If I had read this book from a secular perspective, it would have probably been a three star (average) book. However, once Cho played the Jesus card to add weight to his message, his misrepresentation of the gospel becomes more than enough reason to avoid this book.