Weekend Reads: 'The myth of problem-free Christianity'
by Russ Pulliam
Posted 12/26/15, 08:03 am
John S. Dickerson writes a very good book on suffering because he has endured his own suffering.
The medical term is hemiplegic migraine, and Dickerson faces hours of torture when he gets a mini-stroke and can only lie in bed in great pain. But he takes Romans 8:28 to heart and has learned to find God’s purpose in the suffering, spelling it out in his new book, I Am Strong: Finding God’s Peace and Strength in Life’s Darkest Moments, which will be released by Zondervan on Tuesday.
The result is a very good book, offering truth in place of what Dickerson calls “the myth of problem-free Christianity.” And he has several strengths that also make the book stronger. He was an award-winning journalist (and is an occasional contributor to WORLD’s website), so he tells stories well and has an eye for interesting facts you may not have heard before. Dickerson also has been a faithful pastor, first in Arizona and now in Los Gatos, Calif., so he is very familiar with the suffering of many others who have been under his spiritual care. In between good stories and illustrations Dickerson restates profound truths, or paraphrases passages such as Genesis 50:20 and Psalm 119:71.
“God’s strength best invades our lives through our weakness and pain,” he writes. “I’m learning that my suffering, when combined with God’s strength, is actually far more powerful than my own way of living in times free of suffering.”
Like a good reporter, Dickerson keeps his stories short and simple. He uses a 2010 mine rescue operation in Chile to illustrate Christ’s death on the cross. Like a good pastor, Dickerson gently directs the reader to biblical truth, such as our need to grow in dependence on the Lord. Yet he does it with images and stories that offer new angles on old truth.
In some ways it’s a book about sanctification, or growing in the Christian life, and Dickerson keeps coming back to the foundational truth that God uses suffering for good. It has all the elements of a strong sermon and a solid news story.
Biographical examples in Dickerson’s book range from the Apostle Paul to Corrie Ten Boom. The big lesson: “Your greatest contribution in life,” he writes, “may result from your greatest pain or weakness, surrendered.”
Dickerson keeps the focus on Christ, not on techniques or methods, and he warns against any ultimate faith in good pursuits, such as children or fulfillment in work. “You can see God supernaturally renew your strength, too, as you learn to hope in Him alone,” he writes. “If you build your peace and contentment on the shifting sands of earthly circumstances, then you will live a shifting, shaking life.”
John Dickerson is still fairly young, with young children. His first book, The Great Evangelical Recession, previewed the current decline in the popularity and influence of evangelicals. Now that he is a teaching pastor in California, the door is open for more books.
Russ is a columnist for The Indianapolis Star, the director of the Pulliam Fellowship, and a member of God's World Publications' board of directors.