“If you’ve been part of a church for more than six months and nobody in it or nothing about it has irritated you yet, then you’re probably clinically dead.”
I don’t read many Christian books. Part of the reason is that I spend more time reading Islamic theology and there are only so many hours in the day for reading religious literature. The main reason, however, is that I find most popular Christian books pretty dire. Most I toss, mentally or physically, on to the ‘crap’ pile along with the plethora of self-help books by motivational speakers. Such books should be listed as fiction as the authors usually write some nonsense about how you can be a better, more spiritual person and find the ‘real you’ while casting out all your anxieties and fears at the same time. Life just isn’t like that.
But I always have time for books by Jeff Lucas not least because this author has spent his life being very real, very honest and almost offensively blunt about what he thinks of just those kind of ideas. Instead, Lucas offers some of the most honest and down-to-earth criticism of what’s worst about the church I’ve ever read:
“Why are so many Christians shame addicts, when the gospel is supposed to be such good news of forgiveness and liberation? Why do we keep coming up with the same old clichés and slogans, which we dump on those who are suffering? How can we prevent ourselves from becoming territorial, petty people? Have we painted an inaccurate portrait of what it means to be a follower of Christ, which quickly leads many to disappointment when they find out that the life of faith is not the breathless adventure that was advertised?”
Faith in the Fog by Jeff Lucas is an introductory commentary on John 21 which is easy to read yet gives the reader plenty to think about. Lucas has the remarkable ability to get inside my head and say the very things I often feel myself. This is more than a commentary or meditation on the famous post-resurrection breakfast at the end of John’s Gospel; it’s a criticism of the many erroneous views taken by the church worldwide which do nothing but condemn the average believer and leave them believing they are nothing but a failure.
Yet Lucas never preaches from the pulpit. In condemning the attitudes which turn people away from Christ he doesn’t end up condemning himself through hypocrisy. Instead, as Lucas does with all his books, he points the finger only at himself sharing his own mistakes, his own wrong thinking, his own failures.This is a book written by a man who is my equal, not my spiritual superior. He shares his own ‘fog’ moments – when his faith was just not there and when he simply doesn’t know the answers. He’s humble about his own weaknesses:
“I have a thick “pending” file of questions still unanswered, doctrines that I haven’t abandoned but refuse to preach on because those issues remain unclear to me, still in the fog — and I won’t feign clarity about that which still lies in the mist.”
This humility underlies not just the author’s writing but every talk I’ve heard him give too. Lucas loves to share his screw-ups and does so wonderfully humorously. Faith in the Fog is no exception as he shares many tales of the scrapes he gets into. I giggled as he shared what should have been a deep spiritual experience in the holy land but ended up with an embarrassing incident involving his shorts. This is typical Lucas and I alternated between laughing out loud and nodding my head vigorously at the pages. As I read the book in bed my wife almost banished me to another room because I couldn’t read the book quietly without shouting “exactly – just what I’ve always said!” or giggling like a school boy.
Lucas takes us through his own failures and shares those of others – such as Mother Teresa – to show us we’re not alone when we feel inadequate as believers. He offers fascinating insights and suggestions about the context of some verses while never suggesting he has found ‘the answers’ which have eluded others. As he looks at Peter’s humiliating failings and how Jesus gently raises him only to commission him to the hardest of challenges, Lucas shows us a God who takes us as the failures we are and raises us up – not to a life of luxury and ease but equipping us with grace to carry on with the harsh reality of life.
Of all the characters in the Bible, Peter is the one with whom I most identify myself. Not Peter the ‘Rock’, the leader, but Peter the awful screw-up who even after the events of the Gospels still messes up with Paul having to chastise him at least once. For me, he’s the most human of all those mentioned in the New Testament. Lucas agrees and shows us how this mess of a man was treated in a way not many of us believe God does with us now. A highlight for me was the author’s re-imagining of Jesus talking to the disciples on the shoreline as they fail to catch any fish. He captures, with humour, the essence of the condemnation we heap on ourselves so often. He goes on to dispel this myth and show us how Jesus gives grace to us just as he did to Peter.
I don’t agree with everything this author believes I have to say. I’ve heard him speak many times and I can’t go as far as he does with some ideas. Faith in the Fog is no exception to this. For instance, he writes criticising those who claim to be ‘in love’ with Jesus and says no, they are not. To love and to be in love are two different things, Lucas says. I think he gives the impression of thinking being ‘in love’ is an entirely erotic emotion. While I appreciate his thinking, and warning of insipid declarations of love which mean nothing, I think he labours the point too much. But this is a small quibble and thankfully Lucas doesn’t demand us to agree with everything he says. He speaks from the heart, with honesty and with clarity – leaving the rest up to us to decide its worth. The result is a helpful and thoughtful book which gives hope to Christian believers without trying to pretend all is, or should be, well.
An excellent introduction to a Gospel passage often passed over as, perhaps, a little odd and unknowable, Faith in the Fog is for anyone who feels an outsider at times in the church. This is not the moans and groans of a cynical church leader; instead Faith in the Fog, through bringing us back to Jesus and his relationship with Peter the ‘failure’ offers hope for the Christian who is struggling with the day-to-day reality of living in faith. A must-read for all who wonder, like Lucas, what happened to their first love for Christ and where to go from here.
‘Faith in the Fog’ by Jeff Lucas publishes on the 25th February 2014.
You can order the book from Amazon.com here
or Amazon.co.uk from here.