J. John, Authentic Media
I first encountered J. John in the late 1980s at the University of Sydney, when the Evangelical Union, in which I held office, brought him from England to speak at a week-long series of evangelistic events.
Soul Purpose is a kind of collected wit and wisdom of Mr John on “what it means to be a follower of Jesus in the 21st century”.
The book’s intended audience would seem to be people who have made a new commitment to Christian discipleship. I came away from the book disappointed and concerned, not so much by the biblical literalism, theological over-simplification, and leaps in logic to which John is prone (after all, he is not writing to impress someone like me), as by the apparent lack of development in what he has to say now compared to what he had to say over 20 years ago.
This disappointment is symbolised for me in the superfluous subtitle on the book’s cover: “Living the Life that God Lives”. The subtitle was my whole reason for reading the book — to see whether John had something good to say to ordinary believers about the ancient Christian confidence that the life of faith is about becoming God-like.
Alas, the subtitle disappears after the front cover and the book’s contents are basically a syllabus of conservative evangelical dogma on the point of the gospel, the nature of God, the truth of the Bible, morality, and getting to heaven.
What is our “Soul Purpose”? Not, it turns out, to live the life that God lives.
Rather, it is “your life, God’s way”.
The more pertinent feature of the cover, then, is the image of a clothes tag imprinted with the words: “One Size Fits All”. That wasn’t true in the late ’80s and I don’t think it is any more true now.
We need evangelists who will speak boldly and clearly about the power of the Christian gospel (even, as the saying goes, with words, if necessary), but must the gospel — must God — be held captive to the imperatives of a dogmatism that stunts, not invigorates, personal growth?
Andrew Irvine teaches philosophy and religion at Maryville College, Maryville, Tennessee. He attends New Providence Presbyterian Church (USA).
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