Tuesday, August 28, 2007

I’m OK – You’re Not – John Shore

[You can see this review also at Pastor Bookshelf. That's the place where minister types can get involved in the "Review" program by reviewing a book, then signing up to receive new books to review.]

I was first introduced to this book by Kevin Bussey whose recommendation came as a result of his desire to be Jesus to friends he encounters every day (often as he sips a tall one at the local Starbucks). My attention was piqued when Paul Littleton also had it on his reading list. So, when I finally found it on a bookstore shelf, I relieved my wallet of the 13 bucks and the bookstore of its sole copy.

My take on the book may be somewhat skewed because of my disagreement with the basic premise that Shore is trying to defend. However, I’ll try to be as fair as possible in my assessment of the book and try not to get overly defensive about my own prejudicial leanings in regard to evangelism.

To a certain degree, I can agree with Shore’s assumption that many (perhaps most) evangelical Christians have so emphasized the Great Commission that they have excluded the command (what Shore and Rick Warren both refer to as the “Great Commandment”) to love your neighbor as yourself. It should be noted that Jesus indicated that the greatest commandment is to love God with all that you are and that the second is just like it—love your neighbor in the same way that you love yourself. The designations of “Great Commission” and “Great Commandment” are memory joggers placed upon these scriptural principles by the modern-day church. I also disagree with his assumption that everyone in America has heard the gospel.

In reaction to this overemphasis, Shore suggests that Christians swing to the other extreme—emphasize the Great Commandment. While he spends a great amount of time claiming that he is not against evangelism (under the right circumstances), his basic premise leads the reader to believe that Christians should love to the exclusion of witness. I believe that he would argue “let your love be your witness.” Sadly, this approach leads to an “either/or” thinking that has caused the problem warranting the publication of the book in the first place. I would suggest that our direct command from Christ isn’t to either love or witness, but to both witness and love—witness with love, if you please.

The book has several distractions making it difficult to work through. Shore has a fondness for capitalization, capitalizing words and phrases ad infinitum whenever he wants to emphasize it as something in particular. This is distracting to the reader especially when what is offered as a proper noun is in actuality just part of the sentence. He also has a proclivity for the words “amongst” and “whilst” which are overused to state his case. Another blatant distraction is Shore’s use of humor. In taking on this most serious of topics, he attempts to make his ideas more readable by including humor. I have no great problem with including a humorous anecdote or line occasionally to lighten an otherwise heavy topic; however, Shore’s levity swims on every page, if not in every paragraph, if not in every sentence. Littleton makes this observation about the use of humor in the text:

On a literary level I hardly liked this book at all. According to the back
cover, "John Shore is a humorist...." But his humor just doesn't work for me.
I'm a fan of humor, by the way. I believe it is a powerful tool in both written
and oral communication, especially if you want to disarm your audience and get
people to relax with you and your topic. I just find the humor in this book to
be a little trite. It is an easy-to-read book, but I was highly unmotivated to
finish it because it's just not my style.

The use of humor in the book almost leads one to believe that Shore is not serious about the topic (although the tone of the work suggests that he is).

Also, in a work about loving our neighbor, one would think that the object is to model love. Shore manages to alienate both his audience and his subject. He spends a great amount of time belittling the practices of believers in the form of a rant. Then he decides that name-calling is better than labeling and suggests that we no longer designate un-believers as “lost” but call them “Normies” instead. In effect, he has succeeded in angering both the Christian community and the world at large in one fell swoop.

I don’t want you to believe that this book is a waste of time or money though. There are several things about Shore’s topic that need to be said, need to be heard, and need to be addressed by the Christian community. The fact that we have too long lived in a lopsided world that disregards the necessity to love our neighbor as we share with him the gospel removes our voice among non-Christians. To use Paul’s words, “if I have not love, I am nothing.” Shore also gives a long-overdue look into the perception that the community outside the church has of Christians—especially those who live to witness. Under the heading of “Ouch” at the end of each chapter, Shore quotes non-Christians who responded to an on-line message board he set up as part of his research.

If you read this book and are a typical evangelical Christian, be prepared to be mad. But don’t let your anger get in the way of the lesson that we must hear: love must permeate our lives if we are to be credible among those who haven’t heard the message of Christ.

I'm OK -- You're Not receives 3 thumbs.

—Benjamin Potter, August 28, 2007

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