Book Review: A Christian Survival Guide by Ed Cyzewski

4331 lifeline cvr CC.inddGreetings friends!

Long time readers of the J-Blog know all about Ed Cyzewski, and the awkward way that the two of us met. Since then, I have been extremely honored to call Ed a friend, and I have been looking forward to this release from him for quite a while. So without further delay, here are my thoughts on Ed’s newest book, A Christian Survival Guide: A Lifeline to Faith and Growth

Shane Claiborne in his book The Irresistible Revolution which I was reading just before this keeps referring to “Pop Christianity.” I absolutely loved that term. The musician in me totally got it. Pop music is candy coated sugar junk that is fun to listen to every now and again. Real music is deeper, more fulfilling. I’ve never sat down at my vinyl player and listened to Ke$ha. In the same way, there’s a pop Christianity, the kind that doles out easy answers and quick bible verses and makes everybody feel good. And then there’s the kind of Christianity that is much like sitting down with a cup of french roast by the vinyl player. It’s enjoyable, fulfilling, and meaningful. Now it sounds like I’ve forgotten what this post is about, but hang with me. Because in A Christian Survival Guide, Ed does a masterful job of taking pop Christianity to task.

Ed recognizes that pop Christianity will almost always eventually let a believer down. There will come a time when someone will go to stand on that faith, and it will crumble beneath them. It will feel a little bit like sinking. And so Ed’s book comes as a life preserver to those who are sinking, a refuge for those who have had enough sugary pop Christianity and are desperately in need of the refreshment of a meaningful faith.

At only 200 or so pages, my only gripe with this book is that I wish Ed would have spent more time on each of the topics that he explored. But that said, what Ed works with is remarkable. Particularly, I was over the moon with the chapter on the Bible and it’s interpretation, and the chapter on evangelism and sharing of faith.

In the chapter on the bible, Ed gives voice to something I’ve been feeling for quite some time. “…I would go so far as saying that it is unbiblical to say that there is a ‘biblical’ way to live.” Yes! For example, what is the biblical definition of marriage? Is it Adam and Eve? Is it Abraham, who tried to loan his wife out by pretending she was his sister in order to be safe? Is it David, a man after God’s own heart, who had multiple wives and a few concubines? Is is Paul, who thought we should all throw marriage to the wind and focus on Christ? To say that something is biblical is to assume that the bible contains a blueprint that runs through the entire narrative, and it simply doesn’t. That isn’t to say that the bible isn’t a central text. It really really is! But perhaps our problem is that we’ve convinced ourselves that simplifying the bible is a way to have a high view of scripture, rather than having a high enough view of it to ask serious questions of that text.

While I was reading the chapter on evangelism, the faces of so many of my students and members of our congregation were flashing across my mind. “…the most basic first step in talking about Jesus with others: fall in love with God.” I have said that to people who have sat on my couch and struggled with the idea of sharing their faith over and over again. It’s not unlike my recent love for FroYo. I can’t help myself, if we’re together and near a FroYo place, I’m going to take you. I love it that much. Our efforts to share Christ with others shouldn’t be forced out of some sense of guilt or obligation. Our efforts to share Christ should be a bit like talking about the person we’re in love with. Of course we’re going to chat your ear off about them, because they’ve changed our lives.

I could say so much more, but we’re already at a pretty long post. As Ed noted in one of his own blog posts, of course I didn’t agree with everything he had to offer in this book. There were some moments that we might have diverged and had a discussion were we together over coffee. But man, this book has a purpose, and I would argue a specific purpose in my ministry.

Every year, almost like clockwork, our students who are in 11th grade suffer some sort of crisis of faith. It’s something that we’re looking at pretty hard, trying to research and discover where this phenomenon comes from. But in the meantime, as I was reading Ed’s Christian Survival Guide, I knew that I would be purchasing several more copies, and handing them out to students when these crises of faith arise. I would highly recommend youth pastors of all walks of life buy a batch of these books to have on hand to give to your students. You’ll be glad you did.

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