Weekend Reading: Am I Really a Christian? by Mike McKinley
A couple of months ago, I had the opportunity to attend a conference where Mike McKinley was one of the speakers. I enjoyed his presentations and sermons immensely and was fortunate enough to meet him and trade a few emails. I committed at that conference to buy both the books he has written and review them for you. Am I Really a Christian? (2011, Crossway) is really the second of his books. I will post a review of the other in a few weeks.
I am more conflicted over this book than I have been over a book in a long time. First let me say, it is a really good book. Further, it addresses a real issue in the church: people who think they are Christians but are not. But how do you know who is and who is not really a Christian? It is less important for me or you to identify who is or is not; it is vitally important for me to be able to identify whether I am or not. and that is what McKinley tries to help us answer.
This book does not seem to be a direct reply to the doctrines of “Free Grace Theology” – inasmuch as it does not directly reference those belief systems or their proponents. Instead, it is a prophetic voice to a Christian subculture that often elevates professions and image above a genuine relationship with the God of the universe through the salvation that comes only in Jesus Christ.
In Am I Really a Christian?, McKinley identifies seven traits or characteristics which he thinks out to help an individual determine whether or not he is a Christian; he then writes a chapter based on each of these characteristics from the negative perspective. The chapter titles all begin: “You Are Not a Christian …”:
Just Because You Say That You Are
If You Haven’t Been Born Again
Just Because You Like Jesus
If You Enjoy Sin
If You Do Not Endure to the End
If You Don’t Love Other People
If You Love Your Stuff
McKinley’s writing is conversational and easy to follow. Most importantly, it is rooted in the scripture. And this is a good place to address why I am conflicted over this book. I appreciate that it uses the truth of the Gospel as the foundation. The problem is that I disagree with some of his interpretation. Don’t get me wrong; most of it is spot-on. He could not be more right. The problem is where I think he gets it wrong, he gets it very wrong. This is most true of Chapter 5: “You Are Not a Christian If You Do Not Endure to the End”.
When I ordered the book, I was fully aware of McKinley’s Calvinist or Reformed beliefs; and I have an appreciation for them. The chapter about enduring did not surprise me. It is the depth of my reaction that surprised me.
The other surprise was my response to the scriptures he used to support his Calvinst position. I would use pretty much the same passages to support my Reformation Arminian position. It really is a matter of interpretation!
I don’t want to be uncharitable. I count Mike McKinley as a bother and co-laborer in ministry. He desires to desires to associate and work alongside brothers and sisters who do not share his Calvinist soteriology, as do I.
He closes the book with a chapter where he asks then tries to answer the question: Can I ever really know if I am a Christian? followed by a chapter stressing the importance of membership in the local church. The chapter on church membership is perhaps the best in the book. My hope is that he will soon write an entire book on that topic.
Am I Really a Christian? is really quite a good book. That being said, as a reader you must go in with your eyes wide open. McKinley definitely approaches the subject through the lens of his deeply held Reformed theology, as he should.
This is a book I would recommend to pastors and teachers, along with those who are confident enough in their understanding of scripture to prevent being unduly influenced by the areas where I think McKinley just gets it wrong. I am hesitant to recommend it to individuals who struggle with assurance because the chapter on perseverance breeds the very false assurance McKinley tries to guard against. The book would also make a great general outline for a preaching or teaching series.