Bruce Wilkinson's long-awaited third book in his Breakthrough Series ("small books, big change"), A Life God Rewards, is finally here. (The series as it is currently planned is supposed to eventually hold seven volumes.)
Whereas the first two books, The Prayer of Jabez and Secrets of the Vine, followed easy-to-understand, logical progressions or "steps," the concepts in A Life God Rewards are a bit more esoteric. There's no four-step process, no three basic truths. Just a general gathering of observations and teachings, based on five years of research that Wilkinson once conducted on what eternity in Heaven will be like, and what God means in the Bible when He talks about the ways in which we will be "rewarded" there for the actions we undertake here.
Now before I go any further, I know that that last sentence has probably already raised a flag with some readers. It's been well documented here and elsewhere the distaste many have for what they call Wilkinson's "prosperity theology" teachings -- this notion that everything Wilkinson teaches is about what I can get out of my relationship with God, instead of what I can do for God. (I disagree with this belief about Wilkinson, but more on that later.) Several Christian musicians, as well as other authors, in claims published on this site and elsewhere have been decrying this book for months, long before it was released. (I find it intellectually incredible, by the way, that anyone could be precognizant enough to know the book's contents are untrustworthy before it's finished or before they've actually read it).
But, table-ing all of the biases on both sides for a moment, these arguments are not entirely without merit. I too find it odd, even uncomfortable, to find a book that puts so much focus on the reward rather than the race. However, my past experiences with Wilkinson have afforded me trust enough to allow him the benefit of the doubt. And frankly, I'm no theologian. The merits of the book's ideas will no doubt be debated for a long time to come by souls far wiser than I.
And they already have been -- the book's first chapter explains how Wilkinson was once invited to a Christian college to lead a week-long seminar series on the same research that led to this book. The seminars were attended by "church historians, Bible teachers, seminarians, and pastors from a range of denominations," all of whom, he says, left the seminar convinced that Wilkinson's observations were examples of rightly dividing the Word. The book's final pages (likely added in anticipation of the criticism that this book will receive) contain quotes from the works of prominent Christian thinkers and authors, such as C.S. Lewis, John Wesley, Martin Luther, R.C. Sproul, Charles Swindoll, Jonathan Edwards, Charles Spurgeon, Charles Stanley, and even Billy Graham -- all of which completely support the book's assertions that what we do with the time that God has entrusted to us here on earth will somehow translate into differing levels of "rewards" in Heaven.
The ideas are provocative, to say the least. It's hard to accept that God will want to reward us in some real, tangible way at the end of this journey, but Wilkinson backs up his claims with hard evidence, directly quoting from scripture, and with that, I find it impossible to argue. One chapter even delves into speculation on what our roles and duties will be in Heaven, and how our actions here today play an important part in that. Wilkinson offers no easy or specific answers, only mild speculations supported by his findings in scripture.
When I reached the end of the book though, to be candid, I was a bit underwhelmed. Not because the book's contents weren't fresh or compelling enough, but because I've spent so much time reading Christian books over the last year that I've already seen most of the topics in this book covered elsewhere, and usually in far greater detail. Still, for the audience that Wilkinson targets with these "small books" -- those who don't usually read a lot about discipleship -- it serves its purpose of whetting your appetite and conveying truths that will lead to altering the way you live your daily life for the better.
Regardless of what the book's (and Wilkinson's) detractors may think, is not that goal -- changing the way people live their lives -- a noble one? Most important to remember is the fact that Wilkinson always keeps things in their proper perspective. Yes, learning about eternal rewards may be this book's focus, but it's not the most important aspect of the Christian faith, and he never asserts that it is. Even the areas where he talks about how we can expect to be rewarded are handled with kid gloves, very delicately, to ensure that nothing is misunderstood about his intentions with this book (not that that will make much of a difference for those who have already made up their minds).
A Life God Rewards is not the strongest entry in The Breakthrough Series, but it's enough to hold my interest for what Wilkinson has planned for book #4. And it certainly doesn't spread these silly notions of "selfish Christianity" that some claim it does.
By Robin Parrish