Book Write-Up: A Contrarian’s Guide to Knowing God

Larry Osborne.  A Contrarian’s Guide to Knowing God: Spirituality for the Rest of Us.  Multnomah, 2018.  See here to buy the book.

Larry Osborne pastors the North Coast Church, which is located in Vista, California.  This book is an updated version of a book that was released in 2007.

The book challenges a variety of cliches and attitudes that have been prominent within evangelical Christianity.  Is faith believing something without any doubt?  Are Christians supposed to put God first?  Are Christians supposed to be zealous, as if there is no room at all for low-key Christians?  Are all Christians called to be serious students who love to journal about their spiritual lives?  Should Christians take risks, allowing God to demonstrate God-self by coming through for them? Osborne covers other topics, as well.

Essentially, Osborne challenges a one-sized-fits-all Christianity, one that assumes that all Christians should be the same and stresses rules for the sake of rules rather than the use of spiritual practices as tools for spiritual development.  While Osborne believes in diversity within the body of Christ, he does affirm that there are certain things that all Christians should do.  All Christians should forgive.  All Christians should place others ahead of themselves.  All Christians should obey God, both the teachings of Scripture, and God’s calling on their lives.  All Christians should be honest in their dealings.  Osborne also believes that Christians should be in small groups, and, while he is critical of how accountability is practiced in evangelicalism, he holds that Christians’ lives should be an open book before others.

In a number of cases, Osborne offers alternative explanations of biblical passages that Christians have cited in support of the attitudes that he criticizes.  In some cases, he does not.  For instance, although he attempts to explain some passages in which Jesus criticizes doubt (i.e., Matthew 11:21; Mark 11:23), he does not really account for the part of those passages about not doubting.

Osborne does well to criticize a number of Christian cliches, or at least to ask what exactly they mean.  What does it mean to put God first?  That we read the Bible on our night-stand rather than another book?  At the same time, I would say that some of what Osborne advocates is itself nebulous.  What does it mean to place another person ahead of oneself?  Granted, there are many times for this, for the purpose of love and of peace.  But can people never have what they want?  Can egoism be taken out of the picture altogether?  Should people give everything to others?  In addition, what Osborne says is not binding on every Christian, some Christians may treat as biblical commands or biblical exhortations (i.e., evangelism, reading Scripture).  Osborne is somewhat nebulous about what Christian obedience looks like; still, there are occasions when he offers a constructive, and Scriptural, way to look at the Christian life.  For instance, rather than putting God “first,” he asks, why not do all that we do for the glory of God?

There were plenty of occasions when I said “Preach it” in reading this book.  I myself have wondered why all Christians are exhorted from the pulpit to be zealous leaders.  Some things, I did not like as much, such as Osborne’s statement that God will take away whatever light we have if we disregard the light we have been given.  How would that help anybody, exactly?  And there were cases in which Osborne, in my mind, successfully challenged a prevailing Christian paradigm (more unofficial than official doctrine) and suggested a viable, biblical alternative.  The stories and illustrations also assisted this book effectively.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher through Blogging for Books.  My review is honest.


About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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