Broken: 7 ”Christian” Rules That Every Christian Ought to Break as Often as Possible
by Jonathan Fisk
Concordia Publishing House (2012)
Reviewed by Miguel Ruiz
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Broken: 7 “Christian” Rules That Every Christian Ought to Break as Often as Possible by Jonathan Fisk is a spirited romp through the circus of American Christianity taking aim at the sorts of things that drive Evangelicals into the wilderness. But it is so much more than another “the problem with the church today is…” type of book, because it does not offer any new secret or silver bullet for the answer. Instead, Fisk points us back to an ancient understanding of the nature and power of God’s Word as the source of the Christian’s faith and knowledge.
The book is a popular level explication of the distinction between Law and Gospel modeled after The Quest for Holiness by Adolf Köberle. Let the reader be warned: this book is unabashedly Lutheran, yet somehow I believe it fails to mention that. The reason is that joining the Lutheran church is not the answer, and by no means are LCMS congregations above his critique. Law and Gospel are presented here in terms that can be understood, appreciated, and applied by all manner of Christians, and he does so with all the style and flair that keep the attention deficit returning for his 20 minute vlog lectures on Greek etymology and syntax. Never before has straight up Lutheran doctrine been written in the lingo of surfer dudes (the book features a “Whatup” instead of a foreword, preface, or introduction).
One particular feature of this publication that sets it apart from others of similar theme or style is the doctrinal review process. Most popular level theology books written by celebrity pastors are ultimately accountable to corporate boards interested in selling copies. Being published by Concordia Publishing House means that it is accountable to the LCMS for its theological integrity and professional church workers have had the opportunity to review the teaching it presents for conformity to Scripture and the Lutheran confessions. (You can learn more about the process at: http://www.cph.org/t-about-doctrinal-review.aspx) There is nothing new being said here.
Broken explores seven lies that infiltrate churches and cause the core of Christianity to be displaced with things that divert attention from Christ. His inventory of the theological bankruptcy crisis we are facing goes straight after the Christian publishing industry, the trendiness of celebrity fads, and the kind of naive idealism that keeps stringing along burnt out volunteers to keep stacking chairs. Those who have experienced high levels of frustration with the evangelical church will find much to relate to here. Fisk’s guided tour of the church du Soleil in our day is quite comprehensive in scope and leaves us beyond a shadow of a reasonable doubt that there are major problems with the way that Christianity is presented in America that must be addressed. He is ruthless in going after the systemic idolatries that make circuses out of churches, to the point of naming names and giving specific examples (complete with web links!).
Barbecue sacred cow is seldom well received, but Fisk serves a full buffet of seven well done heifers that have never tasted better. His hard hitting and fast paced rhetoric is often in black and white terms, which means this book is not for the easily offended. If you can take sweeping generalizations of entire historical movements with a grain of salt, there are points being made that are well worth your consideration. His extensive use of metaphor some might find distracting, but I find their hyperbolic humor helps balance the heavy ideas being scrutinized with some lighthearted comic relief. With an average of seven type fonts per page and an abundance of illustrations crowding the margins that range from creative to bizarre, there are plenty of quirks and oddities to propel you through its pages, and he saves the five syllable theological words until at least chapter five.
The word “inerrancy” gets thrown around a bit, but keep in mind that Lutherans mean something a bit different than most Baptists, Evangelicals, or Fundamentalists who use the term. In fact, the whole book is, in a sense, an exposition of the Lutheran doctrine of God’s Word (which was, for me, the most exciting post-conversion discovery). In a culture where the faith of many is broken by the deceptions of mysticism, moralism, rationalism, prosperity, pragmatism, lawlessness, and the impetus to justify self, Fisk brings us back to a Christianity that is all about a living Word who comes to us through the written word which we receive through a visible word.
The youth are leaving the church, and it most certainly is not because we haven’t tried hard enough to be cool. This dilemma is highlighted in Broken as it follows the story of “Punk Rock John” through a journey of getting his misplaced faith dashed on the rocks of critical thinking. Fisk has no secret trick for getting this generation to come flooding back into the pews, but it doesn’t take a genius to figure out why they’re leaving. His examples and descriptions of the struggles that doubting young believers face hold a mirror up to contemporary cultural assumptions about the way we do church while he calls us back to a tradition of prioritizing faithfulness to the Word of God over what seems relevant now. A wise man once said, “If Christianity is not a dying word to dying men, it is not the message of the Bible that gives hope now.” Let’s get back to those words.
This is a rather difficult review for me to write with much objectivity. I have not looked forward to a publication this much since Mere Churchianity, and I’ve gotta say, it has exceeded my expectations. Those interested in understanding the Law and Gospel distinction better or curious what lies down the Wittenberg trail could find no better starting point.
I cannot recommend it strongly enough.