John Cooper is the founder and lead vocalist for the rock band Skillet and is not the kind of person one would normally expect to write a book heralding biblical truth – but he has. Given his celebrity status among young people who enjoy his brand of music, he perhaps may draw a unique audience to his message. His message is that our lives must be built on the immoveable foundation of biblical truth (pp. 9, 21). Cooper addresses the shifting ideas concerning truth in our culture (pp. 21-33) and passionately defends the authority of Scripture (pp. 36-45). The author understands well the fallen, sinful nature of mankind and recognizes that the original bent of all people is toward unrighteousness (pp. 47-55). As a result, not only can our natural thinking not be trusted, but neither can our feelings (pp. 55-64). Therefore, we must follow the Word (p. 59) and allow God to be our “boss” (pp. 16-17).
Cooper discusses some heavy theology, from the identity of God (pp. 39-42) to the gospel (pp. 84, 116), to guilt and propitiation (pp. 102-103). He calls for serious dedication, claiming that truth isn’t always polite and following Jesus will cost you everything (pp. 90-91). He realizes that Generation X glamorizes hedonism which will ultimately lead to dissatisfaction (p. 116). After all, we are not created for constant pleasure (p. 112). Cooper assures his reader that God wants us to be free (from sin and addictions – p. 101), much more than He wants us to have fun (p. 115).
Readers who accept and apply the message of Awake and Alive will greatly benefit. However, there are some issues which should be mentioned, some of which could be a matter of miscommunication. For example, when Cooper writes that “we must not let the Spirit overrule the written word” (p. 61), he probably means to not allow our feelings to overrule Scripture, not that the Spirit contradicts Himself. When Cooper asks, “Is there anything more harmful in the church than the rise of the rock-star preacher?” (p. 83), is he writing tongue-in-cheek; or did he just call himself out? And perhaps he is merely confused when he states, “God wants… to restore His image in us” (p. 111), not realizing that God’s image does not need restoration. Of a more serious nature is Cooper’s view that God puts His kingdom inside us, and we are now being led to bring kingdom rule and dominion to the world (pp. 99, 105). This is a form of dominion theology that is certainly problematic. His covenant theology is exposed when the author writes, “Abraham’s true children are not natural-born descendants [i.e. Israel], but rather, they are spiritually born… Therefore, all the promises that God made to Abraham and his children are for us, so long as we believe in His truth!” (p. 100). The promises of God given to Israel apparently are not to be taken literally, but rather to be spiritualized and applied to the church.
The book, taken as a whole, presents the biblical gospel, but some of his specific statements are weak and pragmatic. In the final statements, as Cooper presents a gospel presentation, he rightly calls for repentance from sin and turning to God but then closes with a limp invitation: “Wherever you are, God is there with you. And if you do not know what to say, just begin with this childlike statement: Jesus, I give my heart to you, and you are the boss. Come awake. Come Alive. Then, see what happens. See if you don’t notice something like joy, peace, and ultimate fulfillment setting in, both today, and for the journey ahead” (p. 116, emphasis his). Since Cooper makes no mention of confession of sin, the cross or resurrection of Christ, faith nor that salvation involves forgiveness and righteousness, and that joy, peace and fulfillment are benefits of the gospel, not the essence of it, this is a truncated gospel presentation, at best.
Finally, while Awake & Alive turns readers constantly to the truth and authority of God’s Word it is disconcerting that Cooper opens with two mystical experiences from his youth in which Jesus supposedly spoke to him, and upon these two experiences, everything in his life has been built (pp. 13-15). Throughout the book, Cooper proclaims the Scriptures as his foundation, but here he claimed his foundation are mystical experiences from his childhood. This sends a mixed message and weakens the excellent thesis of this book.
by John L. Cooper (John Cooper, 2021) 127 pp, paper, $17.99
Reviewed by Gary E. Gilley, Pastor-teacher at Southern View Chapel