Monday, July 12, 2010

Jordan's Crossing, by Randall Arthur

Waterbrook/Multnomah Publishing recently re-released Jordan's Crossing, by Randall Arthur. It originally came out in 2006, but I confess to not having heard of it prior to now. It's advertised as a story about "A Revengeful Father Confronted By a Forgiving God" but the thing that had me intrigued was Randall's own description, which is as follows:

"The book was written," says Randall, "to illustrate in a true-to-life drama just how destructive life can become when one's perspective is totally skewed by liberal thinking, with no anchor and no truth. In a day when a culture ware in our nation rages between conservatism and liberalism, hopefully the re-release of Jordan's Crossing will prompt some needed introspection."

In the preface of the book the author acknowledges a time when he began to doubt God and trust in himself, only to find that he had no inner truth of his own. Arthur was driven back to the cross.

I found that premise to be highly intriguing and wondered how thought-provoking this book would be. So I said 'yes' to reading it.

Almost from the instant I started into the story, I was gripped by the knowledge that I would have to read this book all the way through to the end. If there was a story that I could most liken this book to, I would have to say that it reminded me a lot of Mel Gibson's Ransom. Suspenseful and dramatic and gory and sad and thrilling. (I must confess that I enjoyed these types of stories much more before I got married and have children. Now? Not so much.)

The basic idea of the story is that Jordan moves his family to Germany against their will and his wife's better judgment. While there his teenage son is brutally murdered. Jordan's quest for vengeance is frightful, to say the very least. (And now if you are wondering why ever did I pick this book up...) But there is a gospel message attached and the question the book essentially asks is, "What will happen when God steps into a broken, man-centered situation?"

Ok. So I'm sure you can guess at the end of the story but I won't give spoilers. Suffice it to say, that God steps in, throwing this book into the "Christian fiction" category. I will say that Jordan's Crossing is very well written. I could see everything that the author was describing clear as day. The relationship between the characters was quite believable and it was easy to lose one's self in the pages. If you like a good suspense/thriller type of book, then you are likely to enjoy this one quite well.

I was driven to the book not so much because of the storyline but because of the message the book was suppose to convey. By that, I was disappointed.

In the book, Jordan's path crosses with a man who has dealt with his own personal thirst for revenge and is the messenger of truth into Jordan's life. Now, I want to fully acknowledge that God can turn even the most vile of situations around. No questions asked. He can do whatever He wants, not only fixing, but healing broken situations. He is big enough. I was disappointed that the message that I felt Arthur most conveyed was that the way to healing is through relationships with people.

Scene: Jordan finds himself in a church setting where the people in the congregation are sitting under a visiting pastor and are encouraged to be honest with one another. They are welcomed to bear their souls to one another in the safety and fellowship of the other congregants. Real, honest and true relationships. No holds barred. People in the congregation start standing up at whim and random and baring their souls and problems to each other. The pastor of this service encourages the people to continue on in this manner, and decides to forgo any delivery of the Word of God during in the meeting, in favor of people and relationships.

"Remember this little formula," he [visiting pastor] told them. "Relationships versus programs. . . . building relationships in the church - through scripturally teaching one another, encouraging one another, forgiving one another, listening to one another, confessing to one another, forgiving one another, and interacting with one another in a host of other ways - will transform the church from a passive audience to a living family." (page 158)

Now I have a bone to pick with this message as a be-all-end-all to restoring someone's faith and building community. (Plus, I don't think that totally encompasses how Christians are to interact and relate to one another.) If we're only supposed to go to church to cry on each other's shoulders or to offering words of comfort to one another, then we're somewhat missing the point. I am ALL about a church family being exactly that - a family! That is so special and important and highly prized in my eyes. At the same time, in order for anyone's sins to truly be confronted and dealt with, there must be teaching from the word of God. Clear and truthful instruction must be delivered from pulpit to people, otherwise, the people are attending a club every Sunday morning rather than church. Clubs can make people feel happy, accepted and welcome. But clubs do not effectively and finally change lives. Only the gospel of Jesus Christ can do that. Without a focus and emphasis on delivering the gospel message at church, something is desperately missing. Without the gospel - people will ultimately fall apart and the happy church family is threatened with disillusionment and brokenness. The tie that binds is Christ. Faith comes by hearing the Word of God (Romans 10:17) - not by hearing another person's opinion or sympathy. I felt that that message was somewhat lacking in this book.

Riveting? Yes. Interesting? Yes. And when Arthur focused on the Gospel message, I was able to breathe easier. But I can see how this message about people and relationships would resonate with others and that honestly sets my teeth on edge a bit. Why? (Think: The Shack. Happy gooey mushy.) Because I think we are more apt to dismiss cold, hard truths when we could content ourselves with hugs and, "I hear ya's!" instead. We like hearing that people "get" us. It's harder to go to the Word and hear, "You're wrong, you know!" Personally, I prefer coffee with an understanding friend sometimes rather than biblical instruction. It's easier to drink the coffee than it is to apply the truth!

I just didn't find that message that only Christ is able to clear the way to be all that strong in Arthur's book. I heard a lot about Jordan's wife's faith and how she was responding to Jordan. I heard a lot about the pastor friend. And can God work through people? Of course!!! But the people shouldn't get in the way of Christ, if that makes sense. They should only help to deliver Him in the most effective and unmuddied way possible (and by humbling themselves a great deal in the process.)

I walked away from this book not really being sure what he was trying to communicate in the end, except a good story with an ultimately redeemed situation. And like I said, if you like thrillers and suspense (and you like Mel Gibson action movies!) then this book is probably going to fit the bill. I found it engaging in like manner. But since that wasn't the point of my reading the book, it fell a little flat and was mildly disconcerting to me in various points.

I do appreciate Waterbrook/Multnomah for giving me the opportunity to read through it. It was still an intriguing read, on the whole, and made me think through some things which, I suppose was my main purpose all along!


Stephanie Kay said...

I hate when a book fails to live up to expectations! Now that I'm a parent, I also find it hard to read or watch anything where a child or spouse is hurt. Thanks for the review!

Rachelle said...

In Arthur's defense, he is writing from a perspective of being in legalistic churches where a sermon was preached from the pulpit and everyone was conditioned to act as if they had it all together when behind closed doors it was falling apart. I think he would say the Word of God is absolutely central but he would want it applied relationally and not as a list of rules.
You should read Wisdom Hunter and Brotherhood of Betrayal. I think they hit these issues head-on a lot better than Jordan's Crossing which was my least favorite of the three.
Though the other two are far more disturbing in portraying the reality that sometimes things don't get sewn up nicely at the end. Sometimes life is messy and painful.

Carrie said...

Yes, Rachelle. Sometimes life is messy and painful. I would venture to say that it is that most of the time. However, the only thing that is going to hold it together IS truth. Pure, undefiled, Biblical truth. And the arguments used in this book were more relationally oriented than truth oriented and I'm going to object to that. Each and every time.

Having lived messy and painful, I can testify to the need for accuracy in truth. Some do see that as "rules and regs" but when life is falling apart all around you - again - sometimes it's those rules and regs that keep you together.

As humans, we improperly share such truth with each other at times, and I think that causes people to react against the "black and white" and just want and crave an "understanding ear." That "I getcha" I was talking about. And that is important (and I stressed that I find the church FAMILY valuable). But sometimes the only way to heal and keep things together is to deal with facts you don't want to face.

Jesus was relational, yes. But He also never backed away from, or communicated anything less than truth - for that is what and who He is.

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