A History of Christianity in the United States and Canada | Book Reviewers


When first published in 1992, Mark A. Noll’s A History of Christianity in the United States and Canada quickly established itself as one of the best, if not the best, treatments of the subject. The second edition of that book revises, updates, and adds to the original text. Its length (592 pages) and price ($55.00) will limit its readership to scholars and students in undergraduate and graduate institutions, who are likely its intended demographic. As a Christian minister in the U.S., however, I heartily recommend it to my North American colleagues who are past their school years because it will enrich their understanding of the development of our faith in these lands.

Noll divides his treatment of the subject into five parts:

  1. Beginnings (17th century)
  2. Americanization (18th-century)
  3. The “Protestant Century” (19th century)
  4. Tumultuous Times (20th-21st centuries)
  5. Reflections

As can be seen from these divisions, the book tells the story—or perhaps, stories—of Christianity in the U.S. and Canada chronologically, though he sometimes jumps ahead of the chronology in order to show organic connections across the centuries.

The book begins with a nine-page analytical Table of Contents that outlines the topics in each chapter, as well as a Preface that briefly describes the revisions, updates, and additions to the 1992 edition. The chapters do not contain notes, but each one concludes with an up-to-date list of Further Readings for those interested in pursuing the topic in greater detail. The book ends with a Bibliography of General Works and an Index.

As a layman to the academic discipline of history, I won’t pretend to offer an academic review of this text. Instead, let me identify several aspects of the book that stood out to me as particularly helpful:

First, as Noll himself notes in the Introduction, “The ‘plot’ of this text centers on the rise and decline of Protestant dominance in the United States. Along the way, full consideration is paid to Canadian contrasts, both Catholic and Protestant.” In large part, this is the story of “evangelical America,” which grew in the 18th century, dominated the 19th, and fractured in the 20th. If you’re looking for a historical explanation of why so many U.S. evangelicals believe that America is a “Christian nation” or feel that their worldview should shape American culture, Noll provides one of the best.

Second, my favorite chapter of the book, if that’s allowable in a personal review of an academic work, is chapter 11, “The American Civil War.” Noll divides the chapter into two sections: “The Civil War as a Religious War” and “The Civil War as Turning Point.” The war both reflected the “Protestant Century,” as each side was intensely religious, and began the unraveling of “evangelical America,” because though each side “read the same Bible” and “prayed to the same God,” as Lincoln put it, their common faith could not resolve their deepest differences. The title of an earlier book by Noll states the matter well: The Civil War as a Theological Crisis.

Third, the comparison to the development of Christianity in Canada, whether in its French Catholic or Anglo Protestant varieties, was informative and humbling. To be honest, I didn’t know much about Canadian history generally, and Noll’s book helped begin to fill that deficiency. In the concluding chapter, Noll writes, apropos of the running comparison of American and Canadian forms of Christianity: “despite a national history without the ideology of special divine blessing, Canada has enjoyed an even better objective argument for having enjoyed the history of a ‘Christian nation’ than does the United States.” That’s a bitter pill to swallow, but a medicine we American Christians might want to consider taking, if only to alleviate our symptoms of nationalist pride.

Fourth, and finally, Noll raises the question of where Christians should find meaning in their histories of faith in the U.S. and Canada. He writes: “the history of Christianity in North America, as opposed to the history of North American Christianity, might not be so much about the gain or loss of culture influence as about ‘signs of contradiction,’ moments when the faith offered something unexpected to a person, a problem, a situation, or a region” (emphasis in original). He offers numerous examples of these contradictory signs, but concludes with this one: “They are illustrated supremely by the black acceptance of Christianity, offered as it was with a whip.” There’s much to unpack in these two brief quotes, but for those concerned with the practice of authentic Christianity, they need to be unpacked, for they demonstrate the “theology of the Cross” impinging on how we understand and write our history.

A final personal note: I had the privilege of taking two classes from Prof. Noll when he taught at Wheaton College, from which I graduated in 1991. He wouldn’t remember me—I studied philosophy, not history—but I remember him and his excellence as a teacher. I’ve read the majority of books he’s published, and I can honestly recommend each one.

Book Reviewed
Mark A. Noll, A History of Christianity in the United States and Canada, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2019).

P.S. if you liked my review, please click “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

America’s Religious History | Book Review


American Christians, generally speaking, are ignorant of the history of their own religion in this country, let alone of other religions here. This is not due to a lack of excellent scholarly resources. If anything, there is a surfeit of excellent studies of American religion. The problem is that most Americans won’t read them because they are either too academic or too specific. (Or too long.)

Thomas S. Kidd is distinguished professor of history at Baylor University. His faith perspective is evangelical Christian generally and Southern Baptist specifically. His scholarly expertise is colonial and early U.S. history. Earlier this year, he published a two-volume survey, American History, for college students. Now, he’s published America’s Religious History, a single-volume introduction to that topic, also intended for college students—it’s published by Zondervan Academic—but readily accessible to a broad readership.

America’s religious history did not start with Christianity, of course, which was only introduced to the Western hemisphere beginning with Christopher Columbus in 1492. Kidd touches briefly on aspects of indigenous religious before colonization, but the main line of his story starts with first Catholic and then Protestant colonization efforts. While Catholicism always played an important role in the history of those lands that eventually became the United States, Kidd’s main focus throughout the book is on “the fate of Protestantism in America,” which is the nation’s “most powerful religious strain.” He does mention developments in other religions too, as well as in nonreligious, skeptical points of view.

As a Pentecostal Christian and ordained minister in the Assemblies of God, I was delighted by Kidd’s treatment of Pentecostalism in the last few chapters of the book. While I acknowledge that our tribe has problems—televangelist scandals, prosperity gospel preachers, etc.—our history also demonstrates a spiritual vitality and ethnic diversity that bode well for our future.

Kidd begins the book with three sentences that identify a thread running throughout America’s Religious History: “The story of American religion is a study in contrasts. Secular clashes with the sacred; demagoguery with devotion. Perhaps most conspicuously, religious vitality has existed alongside religious violence.” Readers looking for a chirpily cheery national history of Christianity specifically or religion generally will be disappointed by Kidd’s work. There’s much in America’s “lived religion,” its daily practice of faith, that is heartening, of course, but disheartening episodes abound too, especially when it comes to evangelicals and politics.

Kidd closes each chapter with a list of “Works Cited and Further Reading.” This list makes an excellent next step for readers who want go deeper on the historical developments surveyed in that chapter. While the publisher probably intends this book for use in a college classroom setting, I think it can also be used profitably by Sunday school classes, small groups, and book clubs. Or, of course, for the solitary reader seeking a better understanding of this nation’s religious history.

Book Reviewed
Thomas S. Kidd, America’s Religious History: Faith, Politics, and the Shaping of a Nation (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Academic, 2019).

P.S. If you liked my review, please click “Yes” on my Amazon review page.

The Coming Revolution in Church Economics | Book Review


Tithes and offerings are the standard model for financing a church’s ministry. Sure, a congregation may rent its sanctuary for weddings and funerals or its fellowship hall for community events, but the revenue generated by these rentals is tiny fraction of its income. In the coming years, argue Mark DeYmaz and Harry Li, that tiny fraction will need to grow. That growth is, as the book’s title puts it, The Coming Revolution in Church Economics.

DeYmaz is founding pastor of Mosaic Church of Central Arkansas, cofounder of the Mosaix Global network, and a leader in the multiethnic church movement. Li is senior pastor of Mosaic Church of Central Arkansas. Their church’s budget derives 70 percent of its income from tithes and offering and 30 percent from other sources, including a non-profit charity that receives state and local grants and a for-profit business that rents out a portion of the church’s facilities to businesses.

If you’re like me, you’re probably wondering why the authors think tithes and offerings need to be supplemented. I was raised as a pastor’s kid in what became a megachurch. I worked in several megachurches as a staff pastor. All three churches generated income through the standard model.

Only when I became the senior pastor of a small congregation did I begin to understand the need to cultivate additional revenue streams. We had declined significantly in attendance over the years, but we had the largest evangelical church auditorium in the city. During my years there, we rented our facilities to a much larger congregation without a building, then later to a smaller one in the same predicament. We needed that revenue to pay for much needed, but long deferred improvements to our physical plant.

I mention my personal experience because I was initially skeptical of the book’s proposal until I realized that what I had done out of necessity was something the authors were recommending as sound financial sense. In the coming years, DeYmaz and Li point out, tithes and offerings simply may not be enough to sustain a church’s ministries. The middle class is under increasing financial stress, people are increasingly giving to charitable causes other than religious ones, younger generations give differently than older ones, and the American populace is growing older and more diverse, all of which trends put downward pressure on the amount of money available to churches.

In response to these trends, DeYmaz and Li enumerate seven “directives” to prepare American churches for the future:

  1. Free your mind.
  2. Stop begging for money.
  3. Create multiple streams of income.
  4. Leverage church assets.
  5. Become a benevolent owner.
  6. Monetize existing services.
  7. Start new businesses.

The authors have implemented all of these directives at Mosaic Church with some success, as well as a few false starts along the way. Lest you think their advice is coming from a suburban megachurch, you need to know that Mosaic is a mid-size church with approximately 600 in weekly attendance. It was intentionally planted in a multiethnic, economically depressed part of Little Rock, Arkansas. It repurposed an old K-Mart with the idea of providing space for the congregation but also space for start-up businesses. In other words, the church is ministering to both the soul and the body of its community, to its spiritual and economic needs.

I’ll be honest and say I’m not sure that I buy the book’s argument 100 percent. I’m worried that its funding model may drag pastors into businesses for which they have no training or expertise. There are tax implications to churches owning for-profit businesses and receiving government grants for its separate non-profit charities. And the tension between religious liberty on the one hand and employment nondiscrimination and public accommodation laws on the other raise several caution flags in my mind.

DeYmaz and Li are mindful of these worries too and address them in the book. They recommend that your church not do anything without first performing due diligence with regard to the tax and legal implications of its decisions. I second that recommendation. Before you do anything, consult a knowledgeable attorney and accountant.

Still, The Coming Revolution in Church Economics is a worthwhile read, eye-opening in its description of trends and thought-provoking in its recommended responses to those trends. Like me, you may not agree with everything the book says, but it will help your church get ahead of the curve, financially speaking. Of course, the standard model of tithes and offerings must always be the main source of your church’s income. God’s people must support God’s work faithfully. But as economic trends continue to put downward pressure on voluntary giving, good and faithful stewardship requires that we invest our talents with an eye toward a profitable return.

Book Reviewed
Mark DeYmaz with Harry Li, The Coming Revolution in Church Economics: Why Tithes and Offerings Are No Longer Enough, and What You Can Do About It (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2019).

P.S. If you liked my review, please click “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

P.P.S. Also, check out Mark’s article in the September/October 2019 issue of Influence magazine: “Move Over Generosity,” which is also available in Spanish.

Blue Moon | Book Review


Lee Child released Blue Moon, his 24th Jack Reacher novel, on October 29, 2019—Reacher’s 59th birthday. Like most 59-year-olds, Reacher is set in his ways: a committed vagabond who stays out of people’s way unless they cross his path, helping those who need it, hurting those who deserve it. And like Reacher himself, Lee Child’s writing is set in its way too. Readers know exactly what they’re going to get when they turn the first page.

Remarkably, the formula still works well. Reacher finds himself on a bus observing a young punk trying to figure out how to lift the large amount of cash an old man obviously holds in his coat pocket. The old man gets off the bus, the young man follows him, and Reacher follows the young man, just to make sure no harm comes to the old one. No good deed goes unpunished, however, and Reacher ends up helping the old man and his wife, who find themselves caught in an escalating war between violent Albanian and Ukrainian gangs. Throw in a plucky “petite and gamine” waitress with a backstory who wants to try something new every day, and Blue Moon unfolds inexorably toward its dénouement: the good guys win, the bad guys lose, and Reacher walks away.

My number-one criteria for suspense novels is that they keep me turning pages. Blue Moon does that. That page-turner quality has to be balanced against the reader’s willing suspension of disbelief, which all novels force us to occupy. My main beef with the past few Reacher novels is that the page-turner quality was starting to lose out to the suspension-of-disbelief quality. Blue Moon did better, in this regard, than its immediate predecessors.

Still, when I turned the last page, I started wondering: Why would a pretty thirtysomething waitress find a nearly 60-year-old homeless man attractive? Can a man who’s been on the road for 22 years—Reacher retired from the Army in 1997—stay at the top of his physical and mental game, as this story shows him to be? And can a guy who’s killed as many bad guys as Reacher really evade law enforcement as long as he has?

I suppose the balance between page-turning and believability has shifted for me over the last few novels, which would explain why I didn’t pick this book up the day it was published. Lee Child probably has a few Reacher novels left in him. And while I enjoyed this novel a little more than its past few predecessors, my interest in Reacher is flagging. I’ll give the 25th novel a read in honor of Reacher’s 60th birthday, but then I think I’ll be done. Reacher should be done by then too.

Book Reviewed
Lee Child, Blue Moon: A Jack Reacher Novel (New York: Delacorte Press, 2019).

P.S. If you liked my review, please click “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

The Night Fire | Book Review


The Night Fire is Michael Connelly’s third novel featuring LAPD detective Renée Ballard, and his second pairing Ballard with Harry Bosch. I like the pairing for many reasons. Ballard is a great character, as is Bosch. But Bosch is aging, so Connelly—who is my favorite murder mystery author—needs a new lead character. Thankfully, he’s got Ballard.

The novel begins with an arson-related death that Ballard is assigned on Hollywood Division’s “late shift.” It looks accidental, so she files a report and hands it off to day detectives. Bosch’s story begins when John Jack Thompson, his mentor as a young detective, dies and leaves him with a murder book that he had “stolen” from LAPD when he retired. The murder is a cold case from 1990. At the same time, Bosch helps his half-brother Mickey Haller question the guilt of an alleged a confessed murderer whom the police have dead to rights because of DNA, leaving open the question of who the “real killer” is. Ballard and Bosch co-work these cases, leading them into surprising discoveries…and danger.

The Night Fire is a slow burn. The danger part doesn’t really come in till the last 30 pages of the book. So, if you’re looking for explosive action, this isn’t your book. But as a police procedural—carefully following the evidence where it leads—this book kept me turning pages, which is my number-one criteria for whether I like a murder mystery.

Book Reviewed
Michael Connelly, The Night Fire: A Renee Ballard and Harry Bosch Novel (New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2019).

P.S. If you like my review, please click “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

The Battle over Religions Liberty in America | Influence Podcast


“We’ve long lived in a country where religious freedom was secure, and we didn’t need to give it much thought,” writes Luke Goodrich. “Now we’re realizing the country is changing and we might not enjoy the same degree of religious freedom forever. If we don’t start thinking about it now, we’ll be unprepared.”

I’m George P. Wood, executive editor of Influence magazine, coordinator of Religious Freedom Initiatives for the Assemblies of God (USA), and your host. In this episode of the Influence Podcast, I’m talking to Luke Goodrich about the contemporary state of American religious freedom.

Luke Goodrich is vice president and senior counsel at Becket Law, a leading non-profit, public-interest legal and educational institute with a mission to protect the free expression of all faiths. He was part of the Becket legal team that won four major Supreme Court cases in four years: Little Sisters of the Poor v. BurwellHolt v. Hobbs, Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, and Hosanna-Tabor v. EEOC. He is the author of Free to Believe: The Battle over Religious Liberty in America, published this past Tuesday by Multnomah.

This episode of the Influence Podcast is brought to you by My Healthy Church, distributors of Help! I’m in Charge:

No matter what kind of leader you are, the pressure to get everything right can plague you with worry. That’s why in Help! I’m in Charge, Rod Loy offers the candid advice you need to face the fears and challenges of leadership. Straightforward, light-hearted, but never sugar-coated, Help! I’m in Charge will guide you to develop the kind of practical, Scripture-based leadership skills that can fortify your confidence for years to come.

For more information about Help! I’m in Charge, visit RodLoyBooks.com.

Free to Believe | Book Review


Religious freedom is one of America’s most cherished values. It is enshrined in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and protected by a thick web of statutory laws and judicial decisions. The same holds true at the state level.

Yet religious freedom is also one of our nation’s most contested values. Many American Christians believe religious freedom is under attack. According to Luke Goodrich, they’re not entirely wrong.

“We’ve long lived in a country where religious freedom was secure, and we didn’t need to give it much thought,” Goodrich writes in the Introduction to Free to Believe. “Now we’re realizing the country is changing and we might not enjoy the same degree of religious freedom forever. If we don’t start thinking about it now, we’ll be unprepared.”

Goodrich knows whereof he speaks. He is a lawyer with Becket Law, a leading nonprofit, public interest legal and educational institute with a mission to protect the free expression of all faiths — “from Anglicans to Zoroastrians,” as Becket lawyers like to say. He was part of the legal team that won four major Supreme Court cases in as many years: Little Sisters of the Poor v. AzarHolt v. Hobbs, Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, and Hosanna-Tabor v. EEOC. He also is an evangelical Christian, and in Free to Believe, he aims to prepare Christian readers for “the battle over religious liberty in America,” in the words of the book’s subtitle. He does this by answering three questions:

  1. What is religious freedom?
  2. What are the most serious threats?
  3. What can be done?

In Goodrich’s definition, “religious freedom means the government, within reasonable limits, leaves religion alone as much as possible.” It is, in other words, an expansive but not absolute right. As a general rule, government must leave religion alone; it should step in only “to protect other rights.” Just as the right to free speech does not entail the right to libel and defame others, for example, so the right to exercise religion does not license child sacrifice. Government must “balance many competing rights.”

Religious freedom is worth protecting, Goodrich argues, because it is a secular good. It “benefits society” through the promotion of good works, the protection of dissenting opinions, and the reduction of social tensions. It “protects our other rights” by limiting the scope of governmental action. And because it is “rooted in human nature,” it is a “fundamental human right,” intrinsically worth protecting.

But religious freedom is not merely a secular good. It is a spiritual good, too. Goodrich argues that religious freedom is “rooted in God’s original design for humanity — in the way God created us (for relationship with Him) and in the way God relates to us (giving us freedom to embrace or reject Him.” A genuinely loving relationship is non-coercive. Because even God does not coerce religious belief or practice, neither should government. Consequently, “religious freedom is a basic issue of biblical justice, rooted in the nature of God and the nature of man.”

Having defined what religious freedom is, Goodrich turns to the five most serious threats to it: religious discrimination, abortion rights, gay rights, Islam, and the naked public square. My guess is that you are probably acquainted with some of the current clashes revolving around these threats. These clashes center around questions such as:

  • Can a religious organization use religious criteria for hiring and firing employees?
  • If a law requires businesses to provide contraceptive coverage to employees, but religious business owners believe some of those contraceptives actually induce abortion, can they refuse to provide them?
  • Can religious florists, bakers or photographers refuse to provide goods or services to an LGBT couple getting married?
  • Should the law accommodate Muslim religious practices, and if so, to what degree?
  • Are religious symbols permissible on public monuments or public property?

Goodrich argues that the answer to each question is, or should be, yes. He has litigated several cases before the Supreme Court that arrived at affirmative answers. But neither the Constitution nor federal and state laws guarantee that the religious freedom side will win every legal contest. Remember, religious freedom, while expansive, is not absolute, and U.S. courts must take up cases that involve balancing the rights of the religious with others who claim a contrary legal right.

The section on threats to religious freedom is the longest part of the book. I won’t further describe those threats here because you’re probably already acquainted with them. What these chapters will do is deepen and complexify your understanding of the relevant legal issues, even as they clarify the case for religious freedom in each instance.

This is essential reading for any Christian who is concerned with the state of religious freedom in America today. Indeed, I believe Free to Believe is the best Christian primer on American religious freedom currently available.

Knowing what religious freedom is and what threatens it, Goodrich concludes Free to Believe with suggestions about how best to advance its cause. He is a lawyer, so litigation is obviously on the table. But Goodrich is also an evangelical Christian, and it is as one Christian to others that he offers this important word of wisdom: “before we address what we’re going to do about religious freedom, we need to reconsider what type of people we’re called to be in the midst of religious freedom conflicts. Only if we become those people can we ‘win’ religious freedom fights in any meaningful sense.” In other words, “We’re called not to win but to be like Jesus.” Win or lose, we must imitate our Lord.

Goodrich goes on to outline seven biblical principles that American Christians find difficult to live out, even though our brothers and sisters around the world do so in environments with far less religious freedom:

  1. Expect suffering (Matthew 10:16–25).
  2. Rejoice when it comes (Matthew 5:11–12).
  3. Fear God, not men (1 Peter 3:14–15).
  4. Strive for peace (Romans 12:18).
  5. Continue doing good (1 Peter 4:19).
  6. Love our enemies (Luke 6:27–28).
  7. Care for one another (Hebrews 13:3).

As someone who is deeply committed to religious freedom, I believe we should be vigilant about threats to it in America and abroad. And to be honest, those threats often feel like they’re growing.

Even so, I believe Goodrich is right. The ultimate question is not how much religious freedom we have, but how well we freely use the religion we have. As the apostle Paul enjoined Christians at an earlier time and in another place, “You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love” (Galatians 5:13).

If you’re looking for a long-term solution to America’s contests over religious freedom, I’d suggest that loving, humble service of others is the best place to start.

Book Reviewed
Luke Goodrich, Free to Believe: The Battle over Religious Liberty in America (Colorado Springs, CO: Multnomah, 2019).

P.S. If you liked my review, please click “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

P.P.S. I wrote this review for the November-December issue of Influence magazine. It is posted here by permission.

Blessed to Bless | Influence Podcast


“The blessing of God is the solution to your biggest problem, the answer to your boldest prayer, and the fulfillment of your bravest dream,” writes Mark Batterson in his new book, Double Blessing. But God doesn’t want us merely to receive His blessing, He wants us to give it away too. We are, as Batterson puts it, “blessed to bless.”

In this episode of the Influence Podcast, George P. Wood, Influence magazine’s executive editor, talksto Mark Batterson about this “double blessing.” Batterson is pastor of National Community Church, a multisite congregation in Washington, DC, and the New York Times best-selling author of fifteen books, including In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day and The Circle Maker.

P.S. This podcast is cross-posted from InfluenceMagazine.com with permission.

When to Walk Away | Book Review


This sentence in Gary Thomas’ new book grabbed my attention: “Sometimes to follow in the footsteps of Jesus is to walk away from others or to let them walk away from us.”

I wish someone had told me that 25 years ago, when I stood in a courtyard between Sunday School classrooms yelling at a church member. At that time, I was the 25-year-old Christian education director of the church in which I had grown up. I superintended approximately 20 Sunday School classes and taught one myself.

One day, an eager, early-middle-age Brit joined the class. At first, he kept to himself, which was fine by me. After several weeks, he began participating in class discussions, which was also fine by me. But I began to notice a trend to his class contributions. They all had to do with the inferiority of this or that modern translation of this or that Bible verse when compared to the King James Version. He was a King James Only kind of guy, it turned out.

It took me a while to catch on to this. My first response was to educate myself. Then, young teacher that I was, my next response was to educate him. But regardless of my months of feeding him articles and hours of one-on-one time explaining the error of his ways, he persisted in derailing every class discussion he participated in — and he now participated in all of them! — with bad exegesis and crazy conspiracy theories.

Which is why I was standing in the courtyard after Sunday School, exasperated at his latest shenanigans, telling him not to attend my Sunday School class, or any other, ever again.

Why do I tell you this? Not because I am proud of my response to KJV Guy. I’m not. I tell you this because at that stage in my life, I felt it was my duty as a Christian and as a minister to devote lavish amounts of time to any person who demanded it, no matter how unreasonable their demand. Over the years, as a practical matter, and to retain my sanity, I’ve stopped doing that. But in the back of my mind, I always felt a bit guilty for not being more like the “Hound of Heaven.”

But as Gary Thomas demonstrates in When to Walk Away, not only did Jesus himself walk away from people on occasion, He allowed them to walk away from Him. Thomas includes an Appendix listing 41 times in the Gospels that Jesus did this for one reason or another. It makes for eye-opening reading.

Jesus walked away or let others walk away for a variety of reasons. Thomas’ focus in this book is walking away from “toxic people.” These people excel in at least one of three things: “a murderous spirit, a controlling nature, and a heart that loves hate.” When to Walk Away includes numerous examples, from Thomas’ life and pastoral counseling, of toxic people.

Thomas is careful to warn against understanding toxicity too broadly. It’s not synonymous with difficult people or circumstances. After all, Jesus came to “to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10), and the lost are difficult people in difficult circumstances by definition. Toxic people are difficult, but in a soul-killing, relationship-destroying way. Like internet trolls, once you’ve identified them, you’re best off avoiding them.

Why? Because God doesn’t want His children to play defense against toxic people. He wants them to go on offense, using their best time, talents and treasures to develop “reliable people,” that is, 2 Timothy 2:2 people. In that verse, Paul writes, “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.”

Although Thomas spends most of the book advising readers how to identify and then disentangle themselves from toxic people, the heart of his book is really Chapters 6 and 7, “No Time to Waste” and “Reliable People.” In those two chapters, he outlines a strategic offense that allows us to put our best time and efforts into reliable people. This doesn’t mean avoiding problems or difficulties, since even reliable people have plenty of both. It does mean exercising discernment about people, however. And in some cases, the good news is that even toxic people, at least some of them, can become reliable ones through strong boundaries and good counsel.

I recommend When to Walk Away to pastors and other church leaders especially, who, perhaps more than others, strongly feel Christ’s imperative to disciple people. Thomas didn’t write it just for pastors, however, and it can be read profitably by just about anybody.

Book Reviewed
Gary Thomas, When to Walk Away: Finding Freedom from Toxic People (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2019).

P.S. If you liked my review, please click “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

P.P.S. I wrote this review for InfluenceMagazine.com. It is posted here with permission.

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