Jesus – Safe, Tender, Extreme by Adrian Plass (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006) 290 pp., cloth $23.99
Adrian Plass is a Christian author who has written many books detailing his experiences as he navigates through life. His writing is humorous, vulnerable, refreshing and enjoyable. He does not pretend to be a theologian (something he would not want to be anyway, see pp. 142, 145); he is “simply allowed to be a man with a broom, sweeping away the rubbish that prevents others from passing further in and further up, and [he] tends to do this by talking about what Jesus does and doesn’t do in [his] life” (p. 13).
To a certain degree Plass does sweep away some “rubbish,” such as when he deals openly and honestly with his own struggles with depression (p. 79) and doubts (pp. 40-44), when he points us to central truths such as loving and obeying Jesus (p. 139), when he reminds us that spiritual growth is not passive but calls for partnership with Christ (pp. 200, 221-223), and when he challenges believers’ false expectations regarding the Lord that can lead to falling apart when those expectations are not met (pp. 194-198). However, while sweeping away some rubbish, he sweeps some back in. He is purposely uncertain or ambivalent about a number of things:
• He challenges healing ministries yet accepts some as valid and highly respects John Wimber, founder of the Vineyard Movement and strong promoter of modern day signs and wonders (pp. 49-53).
• He recommends Catholics and mystics (pp. 73, 209).
• He does not altogether eliminate God’s wrath and judgment but minimizes it, preferring to major on God’s love instead (pp. 150-159).
• He has a low view of Scripture as is evident in saying that Jonah’s story may be a myth (p. 141).
• He gives a muddled gospel.
This last piece of “rubbish” is the most concerning. Plass speaks often of being a Christian and following Christ, but he makes statements such as “when I became a Christian, whatever that really means” (p. 258) and “Jesus is the gate, and whoever enters through Him will be saved. No matter which path we take, we arrive at the same place” (p.62) and, “You must make sure that you mix with important and influential people if you want to be welcomed into heaven” (p. 109). He, at best through such statements, confuses the gospel. Most telling is Plass’ understanding of salvation found in a long story about a poet friend who had some serious physical and mental issues. Plass never shared the gospel with his friend and, in fact, kept others from doing so, yet he is somehow certain his friend will be saved (pp. 110-124). In fact, when Plass dies and is “quizzed at the gates of heaven about [his] qualification for entering” he will “name-drop.” He will point to his friend and tell God, “It’s all right Lord; I’m with Paul. I’m a friend of his.” Plass is sure “that should do the trick” (p. 124).
Since Plass never gives a clear presentation of the gospel, these quotes and stories leave a great deal of rubbish left unswept from the pathway of those on the Christian journey. While there are some helpful insights in Jesus – Save, Tender, Extreme, these pieces of rubbish are likely to trip up the unsuspecting traveler.