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Wednesday, July 27, 2016

"Jesus Outside the Lines" by Scott Sauls. A Review

Jesus Outside the Lines: A Way Forward for Those Who Are Tired of Taking SidesJesus Outside the Lines: A Way Forward for Those Who Are Tired of Taking Sides by Scott Sauls
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Sometimes we Christians come across as a snooty, snobby sort. Usually it happens when we forget what we were saved out of and where we came from. At other times it’s because we have lived inside a particular church’s walls for so long that we can’t imagine anyone calling themselves “Christian” and thinking differently than us and our particular sacred fraternity. So it’s good to be reminded what we’re supposed to be about, and given suggestive ways to get there. And that’s where writings like “Jesus Outside the Lines: A Way Forward for Those Who Are Tired of Taking Sides” can be a helpful refresher. Scott Sauls, senior pastor of Christ Presbyterian Church in Nashville, Tennessee, penned this 210 page paperback in 2015 to give fellow believers a gentle nudge in the right direction. But it is also written for the investigative, adventurous unbeliever who might – on a whim – want to hear a little more about Jesus and his world reclamation project.

“Jesus Outside the Lines” jumps out, both in title and introductory chapter, as a corrective to Christians taking sides in political, theological and social debates. Sauls challenges believers about “outrage porn,” the lust many have for becoming offended and infuriated. He rightly offers a corrective, asking are “we known by what we stand for instead of what we are against” (xix). And his underlying contention is that when “the grace of Jesus sinks in, we will be among the least offended and most loving people in the world” (xx), because the “more we move outside the lines of our own traditions and cultures, the more we will also be moving toward Jesus” (xxii).

Then the book heads off in earnest, and surprisingly it doesn’t go where a reader might have expected it to go. The author, instead of following the trajectory the introduction seemed to be heading, moves in a different way. Sauls addresses how Christians should deal with politics, abortion and poverty, church and unchurch, greed and contentment, critique versus criticism, the Day of Judgment and hell, hypocrisy, chastity and libertinism, pain and suffering, and pride and humility. Though I had a few beefs with the author on occasion, one of which I mention further down, nevertheless I was pleasantly pleased with what Sauls addressed and where he came out. Seriously, if an author can affirm the relevance of the local church, as well as confirm hell and the Day of Judgment, while keeping the Gospel in the center, then that author is likely coming at things pretty soundly! It seemed clear to me that Sauls didn’t back down from the tougher subjects and consistently ended up making the right conclusions. Finally, “Jesus Outside the Lines” concludes back at where the introduction began, but with a twist, “I wrote this book because I’m tired of taking sides. But sometimes taking sides is unavoidable” (189).

So where’s the beef? Of the few statements Sauls made that I would like to ask him to re-think, the one that really sticks out had to do with Christians and the Day of Judgment. The author heartily states that for “those who believe in Jesus, the Cross moves their Judgment Day from the future to the past” (112), and then shows that in Christ’s death on the cross for his people, their condemnation is removed altogether. My beef may be from my own misreading, and I want to say that up front. But the idea that the Christian’s Judgment Day is moved from the future to the past seems to fly in the face of Scripture. In at least three New Testament passages (2 Corinthians 5.10; Romans 14.11-12; Hebrews 4.12-13) it is specifically stated that Christians will face the Judgment Day to give an account of what they have done in the body, whether good or evil. Rightly, Sauls notes that there is no longer any condemnation for those who are in Christ (Romans 8.1), nevertheless we will still have a day of accounting and reckoning. And thank God that in Christ and because of Christ we will now be addressed on that Day as children of God, and be openly acknowledged and acquitted (Westminster Shorter Catechism 38; see also the Westminster Confession of Faith XXXIII).

From front to back “Jesus Outside the Lines” was an enjoyable read. The author handles his subjects well, and gives a solid, faithful presentation of Christian morality and the Gospel. This might make a good source for an adult Sunday School or discussion group. It would also benefit most anyone desiring to think through the ways we sometimes blind ourselves to certain subjects while overemphasizing others. And lastly, it could be a good resource to hand to someone who is not a Christian, but is asking questions. Without any qualms I gladly recommend the book.


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