Review of ‘Impossible Christianity’

Review of ‘Impossible Christianity’

DeYoung’s main premise is that the Christian life is not impossible, even if we have been led to believe it is. Two culprits are: 1) an inaccurate portrait of life with God, and 2) an unbiblical understanding of our limitations. He reminds us of a comforting truth: we cannot care about everything. We are not omniscient or omnipotent; that describes God alone. Our job as humans is to recognise the Creator-creation distinction and then seek to obey what God has placed in front of us, by His grace.

Impossible Christianity is written for Christians who have become disillusioned with the Christian life. Part of it is that we don’t know how God calls us to live. At the same time, our problem also has to do with the unrealistic portrait we have painted of the Christian life.

On one hand, we are inclined to view the Christian life as an endless list of ‘dos and don’ts.’ This quickly leads to exhaustion. On the other hand, we are tempted to simplistically view the Christian life as freedom from divine judgment, leaving us to do what we like in the interim.

DeYoung shows that both extremes are dangerously unbiblical, drawing particular attention to the defeatist mentality that prevails in many of our churches. He addresses this hopelessness with the gospel of grace, showing its application for the whole of the Christian life.

The Defeatist Mentality

What is the defeatist mentality? DeYoung suggests it comes about when we begin to view the Christian life as impossible to live. This is evident when we begin to say things like ‘Sin is no big deal’ or ‘We should stop being so hard on ourselves’ (pp. 18-20). At some time or another, all Christians have consciously or subconsciously lived as if such an approach was true.

DeYoung argues that while well intentioned, the phrase ‘God loves us even though we are spiritual failures’ is ‘unbiblical, inaccurate, and unhelpful’ (p. 6). It is the product of a warped view of the Christian life:

“Humility does not mean we should feel miserable all the time; meekness is not the same as spiritual failurism. The Spirit works within us. The word moves among us. The love of Christ compels us” (p. 9).

DeYoung shows there is a better alternative: namely, a proper understanding of the relationship between justification and sanctification. That is, the connection between God’s acceptance of us in Christ, and our ongoing transformation into His likeness. While the book is not structured along these lines, it is imbued with these truths from beginning to end.

Only a proper understanding of these glorious doctrines can keep a despairing believer from hopelessness, whilst simultaneously humbling the overly ambitious who expect perfection in this life.

Hope for Believers

DeYoung’s writes that ‘Ordinary Christians and ordinary churches can be faithful, fruitful, and pleasing to God’ (p. 7). This will be a breath of fresh air for many who have fallen prey to unrealistic optimism on the one hand, or unbiblical pessimism on the other.

Encouragingly, DeYoung reminds us that ‘Christians are conquerors, not capitulators; overcomers, not succumbers (cf. Rev. 2:7, 11, 17, 26; 3:5, 12, 21)’ (p. 37). Even though this language is from Scripture, many Christians wince at the idea that our faith is one of victory and triumph. Maybe this is because we are overreacting to the distortion of these truths by prosperity gospel preachers?

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