The 3:16 Promise by Max Lucado

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Max Lucado brings his winsome and creative pen to Scripture’s most beloved verse and the result is mixed. I assume that Lucado is writing an evangelistic tract of sorts as he develops the teachings of John 3:16 around the words: He loves, He gave, we believe, we live. This short book (only 60 small pages) is perhaps also aimed somewhat at the Christian who will further appreciate the gift of salvation that is his.

On a positive note we are happy to see Lucado identify sin and the wickedness of our hearts as mankind’s ultimate problem (pp. 15-17). Lucado is also clear that Jesus Christ is the only way to God (pp. 25-26), that we cannot save ourselves, that only Christ and His death on the cross can (p. 27), that faith in Christ is necessary (pp. 29-30), and that Christ died as our substitute ( v. 18-19).

Since some of these truths are being ignored or denied in many Christian circles today it is encouraging to have Lucado confirm them. But on the other hand the author leaves us confused at times. When he writes, “God will not let you go. He has handcuffed Himself to you in love” (p. 11), what does he mean and to whom is he talking? Is the unbeliever handcuffed to God in love? If so, what about the wrath of God in verse 17? Is God handcuffed in love to those who are in judgment in Hell? And has God “exchanged hearts” with the unbeliever at the cross (p. 19)? Does any Scripture actually teach that “we enter heaven, not with healed hearts, but with His heart (p. 20)? And has the unbeliever “been given a brand-new life” (p. 41)? These statements at the very least need further explanation.

In a similar vein this gospel tract leaves out important details. We are to believe in Christ—but who exactly is Christ? Lucado apparently assumes his reader knows—a false assumption I think. Lucado amplifies the love of God but skips over Jesus’ statement about perishing. This is a strange omission in a book dedicated to explaining one verse of Scripture.

Most concerning is Lucado’s convoluted invitation to trust Christ for salvation (pp. 51-52). First, he offers an illustration which obscures his meaning, then he provides a sample prayer for salvation (p. 57): “Father, I believe you love this world. You gave your one and only Son so I can live forever with you. Apart from you, I die. With you I live. I choose life. I choose you.” Given the confusing and minimal details wrapped around Lucado’s gospel account, this prayer is surely inadequate. Most people, Americans anyway, would gladly admit that God loves them and they would like to live forever in heaven, but such falls far short of the gospel message. Perhaps Lucado’s little book could be a starter in an evangelistic presentation, but much more needs to be understood and explained.

This booklet is one of the many adaptations from Lucado’s larger volume 3:16: The Numbers of Hope which hopefully fleshes out the gospel more fully.

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