I was recently requested to write a review of Max Lucado’s Cast of Characters on my blog. I was offered a free book, so I couldn’t pass it up. I don’t think that the publishers at Thomas Nelson realize no one ever reads my blog. Anyway, here is my review…
There is a reason I have never read a book by Max Lucado before. I always suspected based upon the cover, the title, and the brief description that the book by this author would be full of contemporary Christian cheesiness and plagued with superficial exegesis that manipulates the interpretation of Scripture to make it seem more pertinent. My suspicions were largely correct.
Cast of Characters is a proper title for this book. The book is a selected amalgamation of various chapters and sections from previous Lucado works that all deal with a biblical character or a few characters. Lucado goes to great lengths to illustrate these characters in ways that help 21st century Americans understand what their story is. He sometimes makes up new parallel stories that have the same basic message, often writes out what he believes is going on inside their minds at the time, and he makes clear relationships that he sees between the bible character and people in the church today. His central goal appears to be to portray the Biblical characters in a way that uncovers their similarities to us in thought processes, emotional responses, insecurities, messiness in relationships, and in the difficulties we have along this journey toward Christlikeness.
He does a good job making people of the past feel like they are real people in the present. Max demonstrates a very strong understanding of human experience in his rewriting of Biblical stories. His emphasis on the spaces in Scripture as much as the actual words allows him the liberty of writing out thoughts of character and their story backdrops that the Bible doesn’t mention. These new aspects of the story usually are inspired by generic versions of real people in today’s world. I’m sure many people felt a connection with a lot of the Biblical characters that they never felt before. There are a number of potent stories told that actually took place in today’s world. Max also works to be both very encouraging to people and help them to be honest about where they are at in their lives and in obedience to Christ. I like these basic ideas because I do believe that the message of Jesus is both very difficult to practice and loaded with hope of having life to the full. I simply don’t like the way Lucado does these things.
I don’t appreciate the way Scripture is handled by Lucado. I don’t like long lists of single verses separated from their original contexts. They aren’t that helpful for actually making interpretive points about what Scripture says and I don’t think a bunch of platitudes are helpful in living life more encouraged and more powerfully. I think that the way that Lucado interprets Scripture is fundamentally wrong. I believe Lucado searches so deliberately and determinedly to discover biblical correlates with everyday life that he twists Scripture in the process and interprets it to say things that it was never meant to say.
The most evident example of this (but just one of many) is his interpretation of a passage in John 12 talking about the aftermath of Jesus’ resurrection of Lazarus. Martha does the serving, Mary pours the nard on Jesus’ feet, and Lazarus reclines. Lucado basically gives a somewhat common, but simplistic, interpretation. Martha represents the pragmatic workhorses of the church. Mary represents the worshippers. Lazarus represents the evangelists that only bring new people in but don’t do much in the church. Lucado then goes on to talk about how the Marthas need to be reigned in so that they are focusing on worship and not just getting stuff done. The Marys also need to both worship and help out the Marthas. It’s good that Lazarus evangelizes, but he shouldn’t be lazy in church. To me, this is a barbaric biblical butchering. I don’t doubt that there are different types of people in the church that have different roles and functions, but this passage about a meal before the death of Jesus should not be used to give scriptural credence to the existence of these different people types and what their various strengths and pitfalls are. It’s going beyond what the author meant to say here and so it actually ends up saying less than the author intended. I believe the most transformative stories and truths from Scripture come by interpreting Scripture in the way it was meant to be interpreted by the original author.
I have nothing against Max Lucado. I’m sure I’d love to hang out with the guy over coffee and talk about what God is doing in our lives and in our ministries. His books really don’t do a lot for people like me though. Cast of Characters probably has had transformative impacts on a lot of people and helped them realize just how human the Biblical figures we look up to are. It’s just probably not going to stir deep emotions, new thoughts, or new hope in the up and coming young adult leaders in the church. There seems to be a cultural gap between the church world of Lucado and my church world that is only bridged in moments of personal sharing and respectful treatment of Scripture.
Coming Up Next: Sin – The Burden Must Be Born
Day 1: Bethel Seminary
It was a lot of what I expected and generally missing some of the things that I had also anticipated. My classes are kind of default Seminary classes, obligatory classes that I have to take prior to taking the classes I have a stronger desire to take. I had four hours of Spiritual Formations, four hours in Discipleship in Community, and 3 and a quarter hours in Hermeneutics. I was in class for 11.25 hours. That was a long time, but I didn’t sleep at all, and that is beyond incredible. I usually sleep better in long classes than I do in my own bed.
People there were interesting. I was tired because I hardly slept, meaning I was less socially outgoing than I wanted to be, but I definitely met some people and talked to them. I like Seminary folks. I joked with Jared last night, “There are a lot of hot, intelligent, godly, young singles at Bethel.” “Yeah?” he responded. “Yeahp, and they’re all guys.” A sad experience, hahaha. It’ll be fun to develop relationships more and see what God may have for them in the future.
Class content was okay. It wasn’t great. It will be more difficult than my undergrad, but not necessarily more time consuming. It’ll just require more focus during that time to perform well. I’m going to have a hard time motivating myself. Thus far, I’m not that excited with the book choices. They so far seem to be a little less scholarly than I had hoped for. Blah. I haven’t actually read them yet though. Formations should be like a really expensive small group. Discipleship in community I think will actually be practical for developing church community. Hermeneutics was .5 pages of notes and frivolous semantic debates between the professor and students in the class. It was a lot of work to make a very small point.
In two classes I spent a lot of time in small groups. That’s fine I guess, but I’m not in class to talk to other students, I’m here to learn from the professor. I’m here to know what they know and to hear them lecture about their area of expertise. One class we talked about scripture related to the topic together, in another we talked about differences between words. In that class, it’s all about forming spiritually, together. I will take care of my own spiritual life and develop my own community. I’m not in seminary to pay a grand so you can make me buy and read devotionals, then talk about them. Silly. I do that crap for fun… and because I desperately need it.
There wasn’t much arguing over issues. I haven’t met professors that are obstinate about their beliefs yet, at least not ones that really matter to me. I kind of feel like I have missed out thus far. There’s a very similar mindset regarding scriptural interpretation in seminary as there is regarding textual interpretation in my literature minor at uwec. I don’t like that. There is a lot of diversity in seminary professors though, which will be cool.
I’ll end this ramble with one last thing. We were basically told yesterday that without a hermeneutics class we weren’t really capable of understanding or writing about scripture well. The majority of christian pop books (which I generally don’t like) were written off as unbiblical. Apparently without a seminary education and degree, you just aren’t going to able to interpret scripture well, unless you are one of the very few exceptions. Move over Spirit of Jesus Christ, we’ve got a hermeneutic now for understanding your words to us. My advice, either enroll in seminary or stop reading your Bible.