A number of years ago, I was really into the show Arrested Development. I would often watch it with my wife and her family and—in the words of my brother-in-law—we would “bust a gut” at the show’s antics. “Hey brother,” and, “I’ve made a huge mistake,” remain a part of our daily lexicon. But perhaps what has stuck with me the most over the years is George Michael’s bland girlfriend, Ann Veal. In the show, Ann, a Christian, was portrayed as so blah that George Michael’s father, Michael Bluth, would often call her the wrong name or not even notice she was there. In the episode titled “Afternoon Delight,” George Michael accompanies Ann as she and her family celebrate Christmas on “Bethlehem Time” and sing hymns in exaggeratedly monotonous, awful voices. The show’s take on Christians comes across clearly: they are dull and their religion is thoroughly unattractive.
Fast-forward fifteen years and the perception of Christians by many in America has surpassed the disinterest portrayed in Arrested Development. In fact, I sometimes wish people simply viewed believers as boring and bland instead of bigoted or misogynistic.
This image problem is at the center of Scott Sauls’s new book, Irresistible Faith: Becoming the Kind of Christian the World Can’t Resist. In the introduction, Sauls, the pastor of Christ Presbyterian Church in Nashville, Tennessee, highlights the way Christians in America are often viewed. He quotes Gandhi, San Francisco journalist Herb Caen, and Vampire Chronicles author Anne Rice on the state of Christianity before asking, “As a forgiven, loved, and Spirit-filled people we can do better than this. Can’t we?” The answer to this question provides the framework for Irresistible Faith.
In the first of the book’s three parts, “Abiding in the Irresistible Christ,” Sauls systematically walks through the miracle of sanctification, including our role in this mysterious process. Rather than redefining the term or offering any new insight into how to be sanctified more effectively, Sauls interprets and applies lessons from history and pop culture. In this section, he uses Tolkien’s Gollum to emphasize just how unattractive Christians can be when they treasure some other “precious” more than Christ. On the flip side, he submits the lives of Jonathan Edwards, Timothy Keller, and John Bunyan as examples of Christians who, by abiding in Christ, shined, or in the case of Keller, still shine, an irresistibly attractive gospel light.
In the book’s second section, “Belonging to an Irresistible Community,” Sauls exposits the human condition as one filled with loneliness and a desire to fit in no matter the cost. According to Sauls, in order to overcome this tendency towards self-preservation we need to rise to the call of transparency, come out of hiding, and be willing to engage with others in community. Letting others see our deficiencies and failures is no small thing in a world full of flawless Facebook profiles. But like Nathan with David and Paul with Peter, we need others to steer us back on track when our own fear or spiritual blind spots take us off the right path. Being willing to be stabbed in the front by a friend is crucial according to Sauls who writes, “The cultivation of irresistible faith requires from us a level of humility that invites others to resist us whenever we get out of step with the gospel.”
Sauls reserves the third section of the book for casting a vision of “Irresistible Faith.” Although there is undoubtedly a myriad of ways Christians could live out an irresistible faith today, Sauls cites three areas of opportunity where Christians could shine the brilliant light of irresistible faith. Rather than give away the details of Sauls’s vision, let me just say that choosing to address the areas he does shows the wisdom Sauls brings to writing on such an ambitious topic. There are plenty of felt needs in our culture and the gospel uniquely equips believers to meet those needs for others.
Overall, Sauls answers the question that forms the basis for the book with a hearty yes, we can do better. His writing is compelling and necessary in the age of “nones” and exvangelicals with their cries of #EmptyThePews. His command of both scripture and pop culture is impressive. He is just as comfortable quoting Jim Morrision as he is the book of Proverbs and with both masterfully portrays a glimpse of an irresistible faith that we all long to see. In Irresistible Faith, Sauls gives us much reason to hope that the faith he describes in the book is both worthwhile and attainable.
Cover image by Casey Horner.