Thinking Out Loud

May 23, 2011

Book Review: Not a Fan by Kyle Idleman

I believe what we’re looking at here is a book that has the potential to pick up where books like Crazy Love by Francis Chan and Radical by David Platt left off and move us to the next level of commitment.

Not a Fan: Becoming a Completely Committed Follower of Jesus by Kyle Idleman is one of those “Snakes on a Plane” type of titles; since once you’ve seen the cover, you know exactly where the story is headed.  There were people in Jesus’ day, just as there are in ours, who are fans but not followers.  End of synopsis.  The book consists in accurately delineating the difference.

But I am, in fact a fan — of the author, teaching pastor of Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, Kentucky and host of the brilliant but underrated H20 video evangelism series, Kyle Idleman; which is why I begged the people at Zondervan to toss me a freebie of this one, which, I can now say, I would have gladly paid for anyway.

Just as the ten short films in the H20 collection cut back and forth between teaching and story, Not a Fan cuts back and forth between Bible narrative and illustrations from people Kyle has known, including some very candid stories from his own life and family.

The book begins in an off-hand, light-hearted way, using occasional footnotes suggestive perhaps of an ADD or ADHD author who is his own worst distraction.  But there’s nothing light at all about the book, which sets the bar high in terms of what Christ followership implies.  If anything, the relatability of the author, including some rather self-depreciating moments, leave you totally unprepared for the moments where the hammer falls in terms of truly deciding if you’re a follower or a fan.

The first seven chapters include snapshots from the gospels of people at various levels of intimate relationship with Jesus.  The next four chapters are a superlative breakdown of Luke 9:23–

If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.

– while the last three chapters continue to explore the implications of that theme.  For the last seven chapters in total, it rolls out this way:

  • Anyone: No list of pre-qualifications or character references required
  • Come After: Pursuing God with passion; with abandon
  • Deny: What happens when it costs everything to be a follower
  • Dying Daily: Taking up your cross today, tomorrow, and the next day
  • Wherever: It’s probably not where you think
  • Whenever: Right here, right now, no excuses
  • Whatever: No second thoughts

Each of the 14 chapters ends with a testimony of someone who wishes to stand up and be counted as being “Not a fan.”  Honestly, if you can live out everything this book challenges us to do and to be, there ought to be button you remove or a sticker you peel off on the last page to demonstrate your desire to make that same commitment. 

I am giving this book my unqualified full endorsement as the book to read in the summer of 2011.  But I want to go beyond that; I want to suggest that Not a Fan is the book for house church, small group or adult elective study for the fall.  You can combine chapters one and two to create a 13-week curriculum out of this, if you have to stick to a quarterly schedule.  Others may want to take even longer to flesh out the implications of Luke 9:23 and what Jesus truly intended when he said, “Follow me.”

My name is Paul Wilkinson, and by God’s grace, and with God’s help, I am not a fan.

Read an excerpt of the book posted here on May 1st and another at Christianity 201 on May 11th.

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25 Comments »

  1. Paul:: Thanks. This is a good one (not superfluous)Too busy to follow up.BUT, is there an autobiography or at least some story of the life of Paul Wilkinson???JL

    Comment by Joseph Lambert — May 23, 2011 @ 3:29 pm

    • This review is about a book, not about me, or my approval rating. But if you want more substance, you might want to switch over to Christianity201, as this blog will always be a potpourri of content.

      Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — May 23, 2011 @ 3:34 pm

  2. Sounds like the next book I will buy!

    Comment by Cynthia — May 23, 2011 @ 10:59 pm

  3. This book is at the top of my wanted list. I hope it is in the next catalogue.

    Comment by meetingintheclouds — May 25, 2011 @ 5:09 pm

  4. Paul, great review. Did you know that there already is a Not a Fan small group study and a feature film version as well. Kyle partnered with us (the makers of H2O) to produce the Not a Fan study last year. Check it out at http://www.notafan.com under the “resources” tab. If want a copy, I can get you one.

    Comment by Tim Byron — May 26, 2011 @ 8:23 am

  5. I have seen this book recommended by several people I really trust, and it is high on my wish list. Thanks for the great and informative review.

    Comment by Barry Simmons — May 30, 2011 @ 10:22 am

  6. I say this with humility, but it takes a lot to get me away from THE BOOK. Everything seems to pale in comparison to the scriptures. But I did read “Radical” and “Crazy Love” and they both are still lying on my bedside table for reference and thought. They stretched me and forced me to confront my “lazy” parts. “Not a Fan” sounds like it would do the same. There seems to be a new move among a remnant of Christian leaders to show the masses of convenient and comfortable Christians the way out of the futility of the desert and into the power of the promised land.

    Comment by Cynthia — May 30, 2011 @ 10:27 am

    • I hear you. Of the writing of books there is no end. But I also believe the cream rises to the top, or to switch analogies, a great picture can be enhanced by a great frame. I personally find that my supplementary reading draws me back into the Biblical texts, so for me, it’s not either/or. Another blog post later today — I didn’t want to just run the contest and not post anything else — continues this theme.

      Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — May 30, 2011 @ 10:49 am

  7. If this book is like crazy love I would love to read it and even be part of a group discussion on it. my husband and I listened to the audio book of crazy love while painting a house last summer and had to continually pause it to discuss the subjects francis chan brought up. I love the challenge to people “how would your life be different if you werent a christan?”

    Comment by rae-anne — May 30, 2011 @ 1:34 pm

  8. oh another point… I dont know if you struggle with this at your store but sometimes I really struggle with getting people to purchase a book by a somewhat new or unknown author. any thing with chan or yancy or lucado flys off but people here seem hesitant to try anything new

    Comment by rae-anne — May 30, 2011 @ 1:40 pm

  9. Hmmm…this does sound like an interesting book and I am always looking for life-changing material for my small group. Thanks for the great review!

    Amy // amyismyfriend at aol dot com

    P.S. Of course anything by Yancey flies off the shelf. He’s an excellent author. So is Francis Chan.

    Comment by Amy — May 30, 2011 @ 11:45 pm

  10. [...] read that, you might want to start with a general understanding of the major outline of the book, so just click here, and we’ll wait for you to get [...]

    Pingback by Not a Fan: The Fall Kickoff Study DVD You’re Looking For « Thinking Out Loud — June 13, 2011 @ 5:56 am

  11. Hi Paul, I just bought the Kindle version of this book. So far I love it! Thanks for the review. (Joel Black from http://www.irreligiouscanuck.com – but I haven’t blogged in a long time. Remember me? We have mutual friends in Cobourg.)

    Comment by Joel — July 21, 2011 @ 1:23 pm

  12. I am 100 hundred pages into the book, and liking the message, however, I have been trying to find out where the author would have obtained the information regarding Matthew and the expectations of his priesthood.

    Comment by Tammy — October 19, 2011 @ 11:49 am

    • Send me the page number and paragraph and I will try to delve into your question.

      Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — October 19, 2011 @ 11:59 am

      • Thank you, the comments are contained on page 89 and are severl paragraphs.

        Comment by Tammy — October 19, 2011 @ 1:09 pm

    • I’ve e-mailed Kyle’s church to see if he’d be willing to come over the blog and give us an answer.

      In the meantime, I have an advance copy of the book and the pagination is different. Just give me the chapter number and how many paragraphs in. (Sorry about that.)

      Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — October 19, 2011 @ 5:15 pm

      • Thank you it is under the section titled “Anyone Means Everyone and is approximately 6 paragraphs in. The paragraph begins with “If any of his closest followers felt that way it had to be Matthew.” and runs for the next apporixmate 6 paragraphs. Thank you again for your time. Tammy

        Comment by Tammy — October 19, 2011 @ 8:01 pm

    • Okay. Page 117 in my copy!

      We don’t know much about Matthew’s early life, but there are some things we can generalize from. First of all, the education system wasn’t streamed as ours is today, but basically everyone was on the same rabbinical track. They would all memorize Torah by age ten (or maybe as Kyle said, age twelve) and then go on to memorize the history books and wisdom literature and the prophets. The best would be chosen to apprentice with a rabbi, but if things didn’t work out, they would return to the family business; i.e. fishing.

      There are some who teach that each and every one of the disciples were, in fact, rejected at some stage for becoming one of the followers of a specific rabbi or teacher. It was the job everybody was shooting for.

      But Kyle points out something I had missed, and that is Matthew’s other name, Levi. His parents — and possibly extended family and friends — probably had the expectation that he would become a religious teacher, and when the rabbi thing didn’t work out, he was rather depressed over the unrealized expectations. (If that’s true, it actually places Matthew in a position of empathy with Judas, who had his own expectations about what Jesus’ messiahship was going to look like, and then lost interest when things didn’t appear to be working out.)

      But it’s also possible that Matthew’s family situation simply didn’t allow him to slide back into a family business — it had been an all or nothing life prospect — so he sold out to the Romans and started collecting taxes.

      So…I think Kyles assertion about Matthew would check out about four different ways. I did look up some brief bio info on the disciples, and they don’t offer much about their early life. However, in this case I think the speculation would turn out to be well-founded.

      When you meet Matthew (Levi), you can ask him!

      Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — October 19, 2011 @ 9:40 pm

      • Did Kyle respond to this question about the background info concerning the expectation of the priesthood as it related to Levi/Matthew? I share the same interest in this question. Thanks!

        Comment by Karen — January 13, 2012 @ 10:43 am

      • Unfortunately not to this point. I have another inquiry running with an author who is also a pastor and all I have at my disposal is the church contact form. Churches put those on their websites, but who knows where the messages end up afterward.

        Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — January 13, 2012 @ 11:05 am

  13. Isn’t it interesting how there seems to be such a different emphasis in the Old and the New Testaments when it comes to swearing an oath. Here we find Abraham requesting his chief servant swear an oath to him regarding the journey that he will go upon looking for the woman we will later know as Rebekah. In fact, God himself commands that his people, if they swear, they shall swear by his name, Yahweh (Deuteronomy 6:13, 10:20). When the command is given about not taking the Lord’s name in vain (Exodus 20:7) it is not implying that God’s people should never use God’s name nor is it implying that we ought never swear by God’s name, but it is saying that we should not do so for vain (empty or thoughtless) purposes. The same command is given in Leviticus applying to all oaths taken (Leviticus 5:4) and clarified later that we are not to swear by God’s name falsely (Leviticus 19:12; Psalm 24:4). In fact, when it comes to God’s wrath in judgment, He puts those who swear falsely in the same category as sorcerers, adulterers, and those who abuse the widow and orphan (Malachi 3:5).

    Yet, when we get to the New Testament, we find Jesus speaking these words:

    “Again, it was spoken in ancient times, ‘You shall not perjure yourself, but you shall pay out to the lord your oath. But I say to you do not swear at all — neither by heaven for it is the throne of God, nor by the earth for it is the stool for his feet, nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great king. Neither should you swear by your head for you do not have the power to make one hair white or black. Instead, let your word be, ‘yes, yes’ and ‘no, no;’ anything more than this is from the evil one.”

    (Matthew 5:33-37)

    So how do we reconcile these two things? Is this just a change in the way that God expects us to do business or is there something else going on here? The answer to these questions seems to be rooted in the context of what Jesus is teaching as well as in the use of the term “lord.”

    In New Testament Greek, the term ku/rioß (kurios) or “lord” has both a general and a specific meaning. In terms of the general meaning, it can refer to anyone who is in authority over you — an employer, a master, a leader, etc… It can also be used as a simple term of respect, much like we would use the term “sir” today. Its specific use is essentially the superlative of the idea of lordship and is only used of God. In the Greek translation of the Old Testament, known as the Septuagint or the LXX, the word ku/rioß (kurios) was used to translate both the Hebrew words yˆnOdSa (Adoniy — usually written as “Adonai”) and hwhy (Yahweh). Thus, when the specific use of the term ku/rioß (kurios) is applied to Jesus in the New Testament, we recognize it to be the application of the covenantal name of God to our Lord and Savior.

    The practical question, though, is which use of the term ku/rioß (kurios) is Jesus intending in this passage? Typically, translations of the New Testament have seen this as a specific use of the term “Lord” thus have written it with a capital “L.” This is based on the references to the Third Commandment that are found in the Old Testament in terms of not vowing falsely when you use the Lord’s name (see references above). And while that might seem the plain reading of the text at the onset, the statement that Jesus makes is not implying that one is using the Lord’s name as part of the oath, but instead it is toward the lord that one is making said vow. Thus, it seems that it is better to understand this passage as a comment on the Ninth Commandment, not on the Third. In turn, the “lord” in reference, being the one to whom you are making an oath, is a human master or leader.

    A reading focused on Jesus’ interpretation of the Ninth Commandment would also be consistent with the rest of this section of the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus addresses the Sixth Commandment (Matthew 5:21-26), the Tenth Commandment (Matthew 5:27-30), the Seventh Commandment (Matthew 5:31-32), and the Eighth Commandment (Matthew 5:38-42) respectively. This covers Jesus’ interpretation of the second half of the Law (Commandments 6-10) if understood in this way. Jesus then teaches that we ought not ever be in a position where we need to take oaths to confirm the truthfulness of our words — in other words, because we build a reputation where our “yes is yes” and our “no is no,” there is no question of a need to swear an oath.

    If that is so, then we are still left with a bit of a quandary. If Jesus is teaching us that we should never need to swear, why here is Abraham still demanding the oath from his servant? Surely Abraham knows the character of his chief servant by this point in his life. The easy out is simply to say that Abraham slipped in his faith and demanded something from Eliezer that he ought not have demanded. Yet that answer is a bit of a cop-out based not only on the context of Abraham’s request but also on the various teachings of scripture calling for oaths in God’s name. It is also tempting to draw a line of division between different kinds of oaths. It could be argued, and rightly so, that this oath that Abraham is swearing his servant to is an oath in connection with the covenantal promises of God, not simply a human transaction to which Jesus (and the Ninth Commandment) arguably is speaking. While at the onset, this might seem to be appealing, it creates divisions that seem a bit artificial to the reading of the text.

    The better answer seems to be the way in which Jesus is interpreting the Ten Commandments in the Sermon on the Mount. He is deliberately intensifying them not only to show the intention behind the commandment, but also to make sure that none of us walk away from the Ten Commandments feeling as if we have somehow satisfied the command by satisfying the letter of the law. Thus, Jesus states that if you are angry with another person, you are guilty of breaking the law against murder; if you have lusted in your heart, you are guilty of adultery, and thus, if you have taken an oath by anything that is outside of your sphere of control (which, apart from your word is not much), you have broken the commandment about not bearing false witness.

    And here we have an answer, I believe, that suits the context of Abraham’s action while also understanding what Jesus is trying to show us in the Sermon on the Mount. Abraham is a man of faith, but he is also a sinner — as we are all. Indeed, we should strive to live a sinless life, but the reality is, we all fall short of the mark in our daily activities and we need to take that principle and set it before us always.

    So, then, what ought we do when making a contract with another? Should we take an oath or not? The best answer to that is first, never bear false witness against another so that they want anything more than a “yes” or “no” from you along with a handshake or a signature. Yet, if their conscience is burdened or if they do not know you and desire a greater assurance, said oath may be taken, but do not take the oath on heaven and earth or even on the hairs of your own head. First of all, you neither made them nor can control them. Second of all, there is someone higher and greater than the heavens and the earth — compared with whom the heavens and the earth are rather puny. Indeed, God states (and Jesus does not contradict) that we ought to swear an oath by the name of Yahweh, the God and creator of all things. He is the superlative of superlatives and you belong to him. It is not that your oath will compel Yahweh to complete what you cannot complete, but your oath, taken in holy reverence for the one in whose name you are taking it, ought to compel you to truth and action. May your word be your bond, but if you are compelled to swear an oath, do not do so by anything in creation for the earth and the stars cannot compel you to action; God can and will.

    Comment by JJ MOLINA — July 18, 2012 @ 2:02 am

    • Most interesting.

      And the direct connection between this and my book review is what exactly?

      Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — July 18, 2012 @ 8:56 am

  14. I am looking for a book to use with our youth group kids. Is this way over their heads or do you think that it would be a relevant read for them? Is it written at a reading level that they can absorb? Thanks for your insight! Wendy

    Comment by Wendy Jayson — August 28, 2012 @ 9:34 am


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