“Jesus. All about life”, by Murray Smith


Jesus. All about life (Youth Edition)

Murray Smith

Bible Society NSW, Macquarie Park, 2009. 135pp.

Murray Smith has put together a smart and sassy little book called Jesus. All about life. This 135-page creation has an obvious connection with the evangelistic campaign of the same name, but Smith’s book is aimed squarely at teenagers. It’s the sort of book you could easily imagine sitting on a teenager’s bedside table (or, more likely, somewhere on the bedroom floor underneath a recently discarded jacket).

When the book arrived in the post, I noticed its unusual size and layout: the spine seemed to go along the bottom of the book. “Convention does not apply”, I thought. “That’s good.” When I opened the front cover, the second thing I noticed is that this book tries to look good—and succeeds. It has that polished grunginess that appeals perfectly to its audience of upper high school-aged young people. From the photos of normal, but not unattractive-looking teenagers in grimy urban settings to the distorted graphics and visual feel, Jesus. All about life gives due regard to design. Let’s remember that design is important to this generation, who chose the iconicity of the iPod to be its symbol extraordinaire.

Although the urban appeal of the book makes me far more likely to pass it onto teenagers than something with an embarrassingly clichéd sunset on the cover, the real question is whether Jesus. All about life has the content to back up its cool. Murray Smith succeeds here as well. There is an excellent apologetic feel to the first half. Smith anticipates the questions that young people are asking—particularly in the areas of the exclusivity of Jesus’ claims, the relationship between Christianity and science, and the interrelationship of God with human suffering. He handles the issue of the historicity of Jesus and the Christian faith with considerable expertise and aplomb (p. 101ff). In my experience, these are the questions that young people are asking. Experienced youth ministers will find a reassuring familiarity in Smith’s arguments and illustrations. He deals with each question or objection to the Christian faith in a straightforward and good-humoured way. Furthermore, he does so with a deft human touch, which, for this generation, can often be as important as getting the right answer.

It’s not obvious from the chapter headings that the book works this way. (In one or two places, these aren’t good descriptors of the content.) But as it moves into the second half, the book becomes more evangelistic as Smith builds upon his apologetic foundations in order to proclaim the gospel. Without using such jargon, he covers the incarnation, Jesus’ atoning death, Jesus’ transforming resurrection (for which he provides an excellent and compelling defence) and the regenerated life we can lead in Christ. There is a clear and logical progression in his writing, but also a laid-back informality that will appeal to a generation largely made up of non-readers.

If I were to cite one drawback on the content, it is that Smith seems to dart around the topic of personal judgement, even in obvious places where you might expect it to pop up—for example, when he talks about Jesus’ return (e.g. p. 114). It’s not that discussion of our moral predicament before God is absent; Smith talks about us being stuck in sin, guilty and experiencing a broken relationship with God. But where the topic of judgement appears, it is caged in impersonal and external terms—perhaps to avoid the implication of an angry, spiteful God. So a judgement will be involved, says Smith, but it is phrased in terms of “cleaning up the world” and “getting rid of sickness and death and suffering and sin” (p. 117). This sounds like a cause that a 17-year-old might buy a wristband to support. But I suspect a young person could read the book and not realize that without personal repentance, they are in grave personal danger. If there’s no judgement to worry about and no hell to fear, the Christian appeal can lose its urgency. There’s no need to go overboard on judgement and hell, but downplaying it makes the gospel less compelling, in my opinion. This is not a fatal flaw by any stretch; the book is too well put together for its audience. But it probably means that along with reading the book, a conversation should take place that covers the truth of personal sin, personal judgement and punitive hell.

Jesus. All about life looks good and is good. It is accessible in design and content for young people, and has a clarity of thought and expression that makes it readable for people of all ages. Although the Jesus. All about life campaign is officially over in Sydney, in my opinion, Smith’s book will have currency and purchase for a good few years.

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