Todd Wilson. Real Christian: Bearing the Marks of Authentic Faith. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2014. 208 pp. $16.99.
Church and Ministry
Authenticity is a heart craving of post-modernism, and disingenuous efforts to produce it are swiftly sniffed out by others. I like how Todd Wilson puts this: “Nobody likes a fake. Even in our airbrush culture, we despise counterfeits and crave authenticity. Everyone wants to be real. But what does it mean to be real? No one really knows.” (17).
The Church is not without excuse. In evangelical statistics, we hear about self-professing nominal Christians, practical deists by all means. This self-identifying group continues to drop out of the Church and join the burgeoning contingent of religious nones. Lines are becoming statistically clear, yet individuals are just as confused as ever on where they lie on the spectrum of belief.
That’s where Todd Wilson steps in. Wilson has a PhD from Cambridge, cofounds and chairs The Center for Pastor-Theologians, and pastors Calvary Memorial Church in Oak Park, Illinois. With years of shepherding under his belt, he’s seen the spiritual confusion many experience and offers a guide to help diagnose what a real Christian looks like. According to Wilson, “Real is something you can see. There is a visible difference between real and not-real Christians. It’s not enough to say you’re real; you should be able to see you’re real” (19).
This book, Real Christian, is first and foremost a spiritual diagnostic. Inspired by numerous readings of Jonathan Edward’s classic treatise, Religious Affections, Wilson follows Edward’s structure in Real Christian by presenting six marks of real Christians: humility (chpt. 3), meekness (chpt. 4), contrition (chpt. 5), wholeness (chpt. 6), hunger (chpt. 7), and perfected love (chpt. 8). Readers sit alongside the good Dr. Wilson, who diagnoses their hearts because, as he asserts, “A transformed heart is what gives rise to all the marks of real – from humility to hunger. And nothing else but a new heart can do this” (35).
Benefit for Pastoral Ministry
This book isn’t so much about a pressing issue in the church – though, true enough, diagnosing authentic faith is a challenge today – as it is about spiritual formation. Wilson is not banging a large pot with a metal spoon over his head crying, “You’re not real Christians!” If that image comes to mind, cast it aside. Real Christian offers a portrait of real faith: life-changing, influential faith that points to Christ. This kind of faith is a lasting faith – one that overcomes every threat – for as Wilson points out about real Christians: “They hold on to the faith tenaciously” (174).
Don’t let Wilson’s PhD credentials fool you into believing Real Christian is a stuffy, labyrinthine, academic tome. The writing is surely elegant, but more importantly, it is reader-friendly. Wilson’s use of anecdote aids readers to both connect to the author in winsome fashion and effectually grip each mark of real Christians.
For instance, chapter three’s explanation of humility kicks off with a story from Wilson’s academic days at Cambridge. Upon completing his studies, he attended a gathering where a rather “quintessentially British gentleman” asked him how he would use his degree. After hearing that Wilson would pastor in America, the gentlemen commented that this role was anticlimactic for a Cambridge man.
Here’s how Wilson processed this response:
“I was like a drowning man groping for a life preserver, clinging to the prerogatives and prestige of my Cambridge PhD. I watched as it slipped away, leaving me to sink under the weight of my own vanity and pride. It was a humbling experience, and it didn’t feel all that good.” (55)
I think we all relate to this sentiment. Yet, as Wilson explains, a self-deprecating, Mr. Milquetoast attitude is not true humility. Humility is a posture that produces love. “Humility is not letting who you are hinder you from loving others” (58).
That’s just looking briefly at the first mark, which is a splendid pacesetter for the rest of Real Christian.
Real Christian may be one of the most practical books I’ve seen in recent years; it’s a book for every believer to read. I do not recommend many books on spiritual living these days, outside of some classics. I’m recommending this one to friends and family this coming year. I think it stands in like category with Don’t Waste Your Life by Piper, Not A Fan by Idleman, or Radical by Platt. If I were a youth pastor, I’d give this book to high school graduates.
Essential — Recommended — Helpful — Pass It By
Real Christian reminds you that fruit indicates the kind of tree you are (Mt. 12:33).