By LORAINE V. MURRAY-Book Reviewer | Published January 26, 2006
AUTHENTIC FAITH: The Power of a Fire-Tested Life; by Gary L. Thomas; Zondervan, 2002; 256 pp; paperback; $12.99.
What does it mean to follow Jesus? Is going to church regularly and keeping the commandments enough?
Not really, according to best-selling author Gary Thomas, who in “Authentic Faith” examines 10 disciplines that he believes God uses to bring our faith to a deeper level.
At times, “Authentic Faith” makes Christianity appear so rigorous that readers might despair of ever becoming real Christians. Still, the book is a good read for folks who want to reflect on what it really means to embark on a Christ-centered journey.
The book will be especially meaningful to Catholic readers because although Thomas is Protestant, he often appears to be defending the traditional Catholic position that salvation must be connected with good works.
Here are the disciplines:
Selflessness. Thomas suggests that we reflect on the motives underpinning our service work. He warns that, in a society that celebrates “finding” ourselves and doing our own thing, sometimes even our volunteer work may become selfish, if our goal in helping others is to feel wanted and needed.
Waiting. In a world of instant gratification, Thomas says that God sometimes disciplines us by sending us situations that teach us about patience. God may also require that we wait a long time before events in our lives make sense to us.
“God’s blessings don’t come with the speed of a bullet, but with the slow, steady approach of a glacier,” Thomas notes.
Suffering. Many Christians apparently believe that they will be spared from suffering, as long as they follow the Ten Commandments and go to church. In this chapter, Thomas debunks this myth. He presents stirring examples from the lives of holy people, and from Scripture, to show that suffering is part of the Christian journey.
Persecution. We often think the days of martyrdom are over for Christians, but Thomas shows there is a modern-day persecution still in place, since Christian values clash with the values of a secular world.
“People hated Jesus,” he writes, “and people will hate us for preaching Jesus Christ.”
Social mercy. G.K. Chesterton wrote that a preference for the poor makes Catholicism unique among all other religions. Although Thomas doesn’t mention Chesterton per se, he agrees that care for the poor is essential to authentic Christianity.
Forgiveness. In reflecting on forgiveness, Thomas presents moving examples of people who have been victims of terrible crimes, but still forgave the perpetrators. He suggests that if we are having trouble getting over our bitterness about someone, we should try praying for that person.
Mourning. Thomas believes that authentic Christians, even when not mourning a loss in their own lives, would always be sharing in some way in the hurt in other people’s hearts.
Contentment. Although society often promises that contentment is connected with wealth, power and material goodies, Thomas shows that Christian happiness has a different flavor. For authentic followers of Christ, contentment has three prongs: being satisfied with your lot in life, relinquishing the quest for possessions and money, and seeking God’s peace and grace.
Sacrifice. Thomas suggests that if you are disillusioned with your faith, or with God, it makes no sense to place the blame on God. Instead, this disillusionment indicates that it is time to ask some questions: What sacrifices have I been refusing to make to God? What have I been holding back from Him?
Hope and Fear. This chapter examines the different kinds of punishment that may await us after death. It is interesting that Thomas comes close to assuming a Catholic position about purgatory, without labeling it as such.
In short, he suggests that people who have been “saved” before death will still suffer some punishment for their misdeeds after death. He does not take the next logical step, but Catholic teaching does.
Since such punishment could not occur in heaven, a place of eternal rewards, nor in hell, from which there is no escape, it would require a midway place. And Catholic readers will recognize this realm as a familiar place known as purgatory.
Lorraine V. Murray is a regular columnist in The Georgia Bulletin and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the author of three books on faith and spirituality.