Blogging for Books provided this book to me for free in exchange for an honest review.
Although one can find an occasional good bit of stuff in this book, overall it goes off the rails right off the bat, and probably no where more so than in it's basic premise. At one point, for example, they write “Jesus is the Word. The message—the gospel—is the person of Jesus”. Fair enough. They even make the very good point about the Bible, that “It's His (Jesus') story from beginning to end”. If they had stayed on that point, going more into that, this book would have been so much better.
Sadly, they don't. Using some convoluted illogic, they write this: “Jesus is the Word. The Word is the Gospel. Christ, the Word, lives in you, Translation. You are the gospel...Friend, you are I are the gospel.” Sorry, but that is not true, it is not what the Bible teaches. We are witnesses, messengers, ministers, but we are not the message, and to make the messenger the message is to change the message.
The Gospel is Christ crucified for our sins, not anything we do. It would be one thing if the authors were to encourage us to good works, that's would be very good. But it's wrong to try to say that our attempts at good works are the Gospel, because they aren't.
But when one buys into this “My life is the gospel” stuff, one inevitable result is the need to keep up the performance, to do more and more, such that everyday things become denigrated. “Like you, little of what we do is just about us. It's about our families, our friends, our church. But with all of that, we are still strapped for time...But here's the problem when have no time and we have no margin in life, we will generally choose not to get involved in things God is calling us to do...Our life message will be set aside, and we'll hop in the car to pick up more groceries.” Huh? So, being taking care of one's family and friends and church is not something God is calling us to do? Getting groceries is such a measly thing that God has nothing to do with it?
Reading things like that in books like this, one could wonder why, when Paul wrote to believers on they were to act, he tells them to do rather mundane things—husbands are to love their wives, wives are to submit to their husbands, children are to obey their parents, fathers are to not provoke their children to anger, believers are to live quietly and to do their work.
But when “My life if the gospel”, then such mundane things are not enough. One has to listen for “divine whispers”, which the Bible says nothing about. One has to be concerned about “making a difference”, whatever that means. “Doing something new, something outside of your personal space, is a key step in being the message...It means putting yourself out there in your local community so that your life message can be seen.” In other words, putting yourself on display, being an advertisement, making people see what a good person you are so that they can see how your life is the gospel. To sum it up in one word, Performance.
In “Christless Christianity”, Michael Horton writes something that seems very pointed, in light of the Shooks' book. “But hypocrisy is especially generated when the church points to itself and to our own "changed lives" in the promotional materials. Maybe non-Christians would have less relish in pointing out our failures if we testified in word and deed to our need and God's gift for sinners like us. If we identified the visibility of the church with the scene of sinners gathered by grace to confess their sins and their faith in Christ, receiving him with open hands, instead of with our busy efforts to be the gospel, we would at least beat non-Christian critics to the punch.” (pp. 118-119).
In short, “Be The Message” is wrong from the get-go. We are not the message, and we should be glad of that. Christ and His sacrifice for our sins is the message, the Gospel. However important our good works may be, they are not the gospel.