As ever, when appropriate, it is worth mentioning that this book is published by IVP, who I currently work for. Hopefully my review isn’t clouded by that.
In my last blog post, I shared a bit about the ‘Season of Stott’ that IVP is currently running. One of the great passions that Stott has instilled in me, at least, is for fruitful unity between Christians, and celebrating where that happens. One great movement that has offered glimpses, however imperfectly, of that, is Soul Survivor, a series of conferences founded by Mike Pilavachi. They’ve been instrumental in convincing me of the validity of Charismatic theology – and the book I’m review today is from that stable. Freddie Pimm is a junior doctor, part of a church where he preaches occasionally in London, and a regular Soul Survivor speaker. The Selfish Gospel is his first book – though I hope it won’t be his last.
So what is the selfish Gospel? Freddie was inspired in his title by Richard Dawkin’s famous concept of ‘the selfish gene’. As a medic, he brings a scientific precision to bear on what he diagnoses as the problem: lots of us preach, teach and celebrate a selfish Gospel. The subtitle to Freddie’s book is a clue as to the way that he thinks we can go about correcting this: ‘be transformed by giving it all’. As a person, broken, vulnerable and hopeful, Freddie is wise and authentic in unpacknig the problem – as well as being honest and vulnerable about where he has bought into limited understandings of the Gospel, and not given the Kingdom of God and the message of Jesus the place in his life it deserves.
Though I didn’t grow up in a charismatic environment, I recognise a lot of the pitfalls and problems that Freddie identifies in the first part of his book – the diagnosis. Most sobering of these is something I regularly encountered when trying to share my own faith at university – Freddie calls it ‘Gospel fatigue‘, describing something that will be familiar to many UK Christian students, young people, and adults: “because they had grown up in a ‘Christian country’ and attended a church school, they thought their understanding of Christianity was pretty spot on – so they didn’t want to hear any more about it“. This review isn’t the place to delve into why this might be the case – but this kind of helpful observation is a big part of the strength of Freddie’s book. I referenced unity between church streams at the outset of this review because I think what Freddie is proposing, rightly, is a sort of empowered mere Christianity, with gems like “Many of us will have heard the statement ‘You are the only Bible that some people will ever read’, but if we are not being personally transformed by the Bible, perhaps we more closely resemble an issue of Glamour magazine!“.
With the stage set, a pretty damning – or, at least, challenging to action – diagnosis in place, Freddie takes us back to the words of Jesus in the Bible to consider how we can counteract how selfish we have made our faith, and be transformed by giving it all. His theme – familiar to many but always worth revisiting, and beautiful in its simplicity – is Jesus’ teaching about the Kingdom of God. The way Freddie goes about explaining this is beautiful – holding together (not in tension but in beautiful union) the vitally important personal salvation aspect of the Gospel with the reality-changing movement of God: “We have to see the cross in the context of the kingdom of God. The cross was not only the climax of Jesus’ ministry; it is also the pinnacle of the Kingdom of God. Through Jesus’ sacrificial death our sin was paid for, we take on Jesus’ righteousness and, because of that, we are free to be in right relationship with God. In an ironic twist, Jesus’ death at the hand of the religious authorities proved once and for all that the kingdom of God isn’t about effort or application but about repentance and (the aspect we too often overlook) restoration“.
Overall The Selfish Gospel is peppered with good theology digested and explained in ways that are simple but profound. This would make an ideal book for youth groups or youth mentoring – but it certainly isn’t ‘just’ a book for young people. The problem that Freddie (in my opinion, rightly) identifies and the solution he (in my opinion, rightly and faithfully) points to in Jesus’ teaching of the Kingdom of God is a pan-generational problem in the church. I hope that this book will be well read, and the challenges taken on board. I’d warmly recommend this book to Christians of any age – whether you are coming to this for the first time or the thousandth time, Jesus’ Kingdom message is always powerful. I’d also recommend this book to friends who’ve maybe wandered away from the church or faith because of our selfish focus – or people wondering how the church can get so much wrong – this is a book that puts Jesus back at the top, the King, and helps explain how the Gospel has always really worked.