Book Review: Fearless by Max Lucado

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Fearless: Imagine Your Life Without Fear By Max Lucado, Thomas Nelson, 2009, 224 pages.

Fearless is a practical book addressing various fears in life by pointing to Jesus as the answer to those fears. The book is filled with real-life illustrations of fear and the things people do to run or hide from those fears. Lucado answers those fears with examples of biblical stories and Bible verses. He does use a variety of translations to make his points which might give pause to some readers. However, there are a few other speed bumps to give the reader pause.

Full disclosure: This was the first book by Max Lucado I have ever read.

Lucado does a good job of pointing out the fears people struggle with in life. When those fears become the center-piece life they lead to sin to cover them up in some way or another. Those fears lead one away from trusting Jesus. This is where Lucado is very good at using life illustrations. He offers a helpful “eight worry-stoppers” that are abbreviated in the acronym “P-E-A-C-E-F-U-L.”

He tackles these practical fears in life and points the reader to Jesus. The book certainly shows Christ to be the hope of the world in this life and after. The reader is pointed to the fact of the resurrection and the reliability of Jesus’ loving promises. In this light, the book exposes peoples’ problems and exhorts them to trust Christ.

Fear, mismanaged, leads to sin. Sin leads to hiding. Since we’ve all sinned, we all hide, not in bushes, but in eighty-hour workweeks, temper tantrums, and religious busyness. We avoid contact with God. We are convinced that God must hate our evil tendencies. We sure do. We don’t like the things we do and say. We despise our lustful thoughts, harsh judgments, and selfish deeds. (35)

Jesus loves us too much to leave us in doubt about his grace. His “perfect love expels all fear” (1 John 4:18 nlt). If God loved with an imperfect love, we would have high cause to worry. Imperfect love keeps a list of sins and consults it often. God keeps no list of our wrongs. His love casts out fear because he casts out our sin! (37)

Lucado offers a very surface level approach to trusting Christ in life’s trials while exhorting people away from sin. This is a reason many will find this book encouraging and engaging. A few issues were not very clear though.

What is unclear in the book is man’s sinful position in relation to God. As in the above quote from page 37 it is as if sin is minimized. God may not keep a ‘list of sins’ but He does care about sin so much that Christians should be mindful of their lives. It might be asked if Lucado is speaking solely to Christians or to non-Christians or both.

While Lucado does present life’s fears and difficulties it is almost as if man is a victim. Although he does use the language of choosing to live for God which shows some level of responsibility. What is not stressed is the sinfulness of man as the reason for his hopelessness. It is not just that people do not trust God and sin. It is that people actively rebel against God. People are much worse than they think.

Another aspect of the book that wasn’t entirely clear is concerning hope after death.

Suppose death is different from how they thought of it, less a curse and more a passageway, not a crisis to be avoided but a corner to be turned? What if the cemetery is not the dominion of the Grim Reaper but the domain of the Soul Keeper, who will someday announce, “O dwellers in the dust, awake and sing for joy!” (Isa. 26:19 rsv)? (117)

Lucado goes on to say that this is the promise of Christ. It is clear that this afterlife is the promise of Christ. It is not clear that this promise is exclusively for Christians. It is good to trust Christ to overcome sin. The missing component is that the reader is not told what the wages of sin brings which is death. This is missing from the book.

The consequences of sin which would have fit nicely with the biblical illustrations. Even in the context of arguably the most quoted Bible verse, John 3:16, verse 18 (ESV) states, “…whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not o believed in the name of the only Son of God.” The fallen state of humanity is very important to understanding how Jesus saves people in spite of self.

Lucado does give a good warning in the last chapter about putting Jesus in a box. It is agreed that Jesus should not be aligned with a certain political party nor should He be created according to one’s own preconceptions. He then offers an ambiguous statement.

About putting Jesus in box “Define Jesus with a doctrine or confine him to an opinion? By no means.” (171)

It is hard to understand what is meant by defining Jesus with a doctrine. It is difficult to divorce theology from the Person of Jesus. While not desiring to put Jesus in our own boxes He must be understood as He is revealed in the Bible.

There is a study guide at the end of the book. It fits well within the context of the practical issues of fear that the book addresses. One disturbing recommendation in the study guide is Roman Catholic theologian Peter Kreeft’s book Love Is Stronger Than Death. (For more on this see the Amazon review of Kreeft’s Ecumenical Jihad where potential  universalism along with an out of body experience are documented.)

The book does point to Jesus and His work on the cross. It is missing the clarity of the bad news of sin and death which makes the sweetness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ that much clearer as the worlds only hope.

Tags: , ; Categories: books,theology
The above article was posted on September 8, 2009 by Mark Lamprecht.
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{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Catherine September 8, 2009 at 12:20 pm

So, let me get this right. This book discusses fears, but doesn’t clearly give a Gospel message which is the real answer for fear?

2 Mark Lamprecht September 8, 2009 at 4:29 pm

I’m not sure how to answer as some would disagree. He does not use the word repent. A sinner’s prayer is offered on page 38 though.

Dear Father, I need forgiveness. I admit that I have turned away from you. Please forgive me. I place my soul in your hands and my trust in your grace. Through Jesus I pray, amen.

Lucado also mentions sin as our “deepest problem.” That is the issue though.

To sin is to disregard God, ignore his teachings, deny his blessings. (34)

It’s as if sin is just some problem in our lives rather than something we are actively doing by rebelling against God. The approach just seems very soft.

I’m not saying it is a terrible book. Just weak in some areas, IMO.

3 Catherine September 8, 2009 at 4:53 pm

Mark, I appreciate your truthful answer. He’s taking the same approach that many are as they write their new books. I’m so cautious about what I want to spend my time reading lately or recommend to others to read. I’ve had too many times recently when I finish a book and end up saying, “Okay, that’s a lot of hours that I’ll never get back again.” I find that I am gravitating more and more to the ‘dead guys’ for my reading lately and I have found some really good ones. I know….I’m picky!

4 Mark Lamprecht September 8, 2009 at 5:06 pm

You are welcome. I’m trying to be fair and accurate. It is also my understanding that Lucado abandoned baptismal regeneration some years back. I’m still not exactly sure what to think of his position on baptist. It can be read online.

5 gospeldiet September 9, 2009 at 2:44 pm

Hi Mark,

I think what disturbs me about this is the “blurring of the lines” that is happening with writers and speakers like Lucado. He was involved this last year with the Renovaire (sp?) conference in San Antonio. The line up was a veritable mish-mash of speakers but many were from the Contemplative movement and they’ve been increasingly going to the Catholic side of things.

I really think his earlier books showed a little more faithfulness to the Gospel as presented in the Bible.

Thanks for the review but I think I’m with Catherine on this one…:)

6 Aaron Armstrong September 9, 2009 at 9:49 pm

Hey Mark,

I really enjoyed reading your review of Fearless. It’s interesting to see how different people notice different things.

One thing in particular was how we interpreted the quote on page 171 differently. I saw it not as an attempt to divide the Person of Jesus from doctrines about Him, but as the shedding of our incorrect assumptions and limitations of our understanding of Jesus—the culmination of a line of thinking that included his own issues of having an incorrect view of Jesus (a handful of doctrines that were perfect for creating a Jesus of his own making- see pg. 164). In short, I think he was saying the same thing you are when you wrote, “While not desiring to put Jesus in our own boxes He must be understood as He is revealed in the Bible.” Perhaps, however, I’m misreading it. But you’re right in pointing out the trouble of an ambiguous statement.

The thing I see with Lucado is a real love for Jesus, a certain belief that the Bible is true, that sin is serious, a great love for people, and a desire to remove as many stumbling blocks for people as possible. Unfortunately, sometimes in an effort to remove stumbling blocks, as is the case with many Evangelicals who really came into their own in the seeker-sensitive movement, the emphasis on the love of God becomes unbalanced to the detriment of the wrath of God.

But this is the challenge we all face, isn’t it? A lot of guys who lean a little more Reformed in their theology are unbalanced in the opposite way. (This is not an excuse for doctrinal sloppiness, by the way.)

What I hope is that all of us, whether we’re a Bible-believing Christian who leans seeker-sensitive or one who are Reform-ish, will strive for as much loving clarity as possible. I think there’s a fair bit of it, even in the midst of the softness that we perceive in Lucado’s work.

Anyway…

7 Mark Lamprecht September 9, 2009 at 10:07 pm

Tim, thanks for the comment. I agree about blurring the lines. That’s what troubled me about this book. It could be that I am misunderstanding it to a point. Also, the lack of clarity of some areas of sin. I don’t understand it. For some one who is a gifted writer able to paint word pictures, some would say, it would seem they would be able to paint a clear and accurate picture instead of glossing over certain areas.

What do you think of bro.. Aaron’s comment below? He and I line up theologically, yet came away with different opinions.

8 Mark Lamprecht September 9, 2009 at 10:25 pm

Aaron, I struggled with my review, but I also wanted to be honest in what stood out to me. As I mentioned on the review, he points to a Roman Catholic for a book recommendation. This troubles me. However, I don’t doubt that Lucado loves the Lord.

As far as the putting God in a box issue, Lucado could have appealed to a solid biblical theology for understanding Jesus. All you have to do is read The Shack Review comments to see where some might take comments like Lucado’s. Again, that is how I understood it. A little hazing needing more clarity.

I’m sure we agree that the Gospel itself is a stumbling block. Given that, I do understand the desire to reach people in a more sensitive way. Sometimes I wonder if we try to be more sensitive than the Bible. If we really don’t understand just how bad we are and how much we need a Savior just how glorious does the Gospel really look?

Check pages 24 and 25. When speaking about being made in the image of God we see another glossing over of sin. He mentions the Chinese orphans believing they were born broken and Lucado doesn’t seem to agree. Well, the Bible says we are born “broken”. He could have used his gift of writing to expound on that by showing the abundance of God’s love despite our brokenness and rebellion. It seems an example of the sinner as victim mentality.

Anyways, as I mentioned above, I don’t know why such a gifted writer would not try to really expound and clarify the biblical positions without being so “seeker-sensitive” if that’s what he is doing. I did think the book was written to believers, but that is something else that is not explicitly clear in the text.

Thanks for making me think a bit more.

9 Aaron Armstrong September 9, 2009 at 10:59 pm

Absolutely agree. I wonder if there’s an unspoken concern on the part of the more “seeker sensitive” types that a focus on understanding how bad we really are will turn off Jesus (even though it’s what the Bible says over and over again)?

I guess in the end, anything else we can say is only speculation. That’s a great point about pages 24 and 25 — I totally missed that and will have to go back to it.

10 gospeldiet September 10, 2009 at 12:58 pm

I think the point of the discussion is that we don’t want to go burn all of Lucado’s works, I still have “No wonder they called Him Savior”, which I think was his best, and we’re not saying that Lucado doesn’t love God. I believe it is seeing the direction one is going and call it what it is.

Not for the sake of being right. I loved what Josh Harris says, “standing for the truth, not because were right but because we’re rescued.”

I was in a church where Lucado’s now Sr. Pastor was, Randy Frazee. He was a part of the now infamous ‘Leadership Network’ of the early 90′s headed by Bob Buford that included Pagitt, McLaren, et all. I saw up close how the ‘blurring’ welcomed many different traditions, creeds, confessions at the expense of the true gospel. Also it lead to mission with different agencies that were cooperating with the World Council of Churches (WCC). When I confronted the lead Pastor on this his response was a little dispassionate plea, “maybe we can show them Christ”. This is the confusion that gives when there isn’t clarity, the WCC knows Christ they just think he is a good ‘moral compass’, not the Savior of the world! I like to think that there were things happening, in the church, that would honor Christ but it wasn’t intentional but an accident.

My own ‘Rubicon’ that got me to investigate the doctrines of grace was John Piper’s book “Don’t waste your life”, that was about 6 years ago. We are now at a Reformed SBC church here in the DFW area going through membership classes and trying to accentuate the ‘grace’ of those doctrines in my interactions with others…:) Thanks for sharing and may God continue to bless.

11 Catherine September 10, 2009 at 2:59 pm

tlink4;
I appreciate your comments on ‘blurring’ and believe you are correct in your assessments of it.

12 Brendan December 17, 2009 at 5:12 am

Many of our Free Bible Story Crafts For Kids encourage cooperation or sharing, but the Noah’s Ark mural requires real teamwork. One of our favorites, the mural illustrates the Ark and features the animals God sent to Noah to protect. A rainbow over Noah’s Ark and all the colorful animals reminds children of God’s promise.

13 JD December 31, 2009 at 9:16 am

Well said Aaron. Thank God for your comment.

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