On this blog I review a number of books from a broad range of Christian perspectives. Charismatics, Reformed, Dispensationalists and mega church pastors have all been reviewed favorably here. While I am as opinionated as anyone, I also try to make sure I listen well to the book I’m reviewing and affirm whatever I can. I’m not out to slam any author and I try to communicate my criticisms in a way which is respectful if the author reads this blog.
I find One challenging to review because, well, I just didn’t like it. That isn’t to say that Michael Williams doesn’t have some interesting and challenging stuff to say. It could be that Williams storyjust doesn’t resonate with me. He spent the early part of his Christian life in a Christian cult, became a Baptist, and then a charismatic Bible teacher in the Word of Faith movement. Coupled with this history, he also has come out as a homosexual (a sin he was once ‘delivered’ from). He has had to face the legalism, and spiritual manipulation of his past. My own religious experience (as a moderate, evangelical heterosexual male) has given me a healthier perspective on aspects of evangelicalism than Williams has experienced. Along the way I have had my struggle with legalism and beating myself up for personal sins; yet I have not felt the need, as Williams has, to jettison the Evangelical convictions which formed me in the faith.
The best part of this book is the way that Williams articulates the gospel of grace in a way that is remarkably Christocentric. For Williams, the cross of Christ put to death the need for any of us to earn, or achieve our own salvation. In Christ, ALL are saved (whether they’ve had the psychological event of having their ‘slate wiped clean.’ This is an impassioned presentation of Christian universalism. Unlike Rob Bell, he doesn’t present this in a series of ‘what ifs’ but states it clearly. Although he also resorts to awkward ALL CAPS in his prose to make his points. This gets tedious.
But Williams big axe to grind is religion. He posits that ‘Christianity’ represents a perversion of Christ’s (and Paul’s) teaching and that if we are to experience the gospel we need to move beyond the institutional church. ‘Christians’ focus on morality, and water down the grace of God by requiring each other to do things like ‘confess sin,’ become righteous and ‘pray for forgiveness’ (God has already given us forgiveness through the cross).
Much of this is rooted in Williams own frustration with once trying to ‘pray away the gay.’ His botched attempts at walking the straight and narrow path led to severe depression, suicidal tendencies and a lengthy stay in a mental institution. He now looks askance at any religious attempt to change orientation. Instead he wants to articulate a vision of the gospel that is both Christocentric and radically self-affirming. I have no doubt that Williams’s faith is now much healthier than his former Christian self, but I found myself disagreeing with him in a number of respects.
And he makes some good points along the way. However, the gospel according to Mike lacks an ethical vision. This is intentional. Williams tries to separate the Gospel (The One Jesus becoming the righteousness for all humanity) from morality. I honestly think this is at best a truncated gospel. Paul follows his gospel indicatives with imperative therefores. The gospel is nothing less than the Kingdom of God come near, and that implies a social program and an ethic. I do think he is right to emphasize salvation through grace but I felt he didn’t say enough about what this meant about how we should then live (although he does have good things to say about our ‘identity’ in Christ).
Does that mean that we shouldn’t heed Williams warning about legalism among evangelicals, protestants, and Catholics? No, we have enough legalists in the church, and certainly we can all be tempted to forsake the grace of God for a religious system. We need to know that we are delivered from the law of sin and death and that we are held in the grace of God. But if you read One book this year, make it the other one.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255.