The Book Corner
No More Mr. Nice Guy: Saying Goodbye to “Doormat” Christianity. By Stephen Brown. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1986. 231 pp. Cloth, $14.95.
“God don’t make no wimps!” says the author, pastor of the Key Biscayne Presbyterian Church. Wimpishness, false humility, the reluctance to every say “no” to volunteering for Christian service, these are a few of the themes Brown addresses in this “sic ‘em” book for believers.
Endorsed by such Christian leaders as Chuck Colson, R.C. Sproul, Stuart Briscoe, Calvin Miller, and Haddon Robinson, No More Mr. Nice Guy is a helpful book which challenges the believer to stand up to a world which tolerates Christians (as long as they stay within the four walls of the church and sing hymns to one another). “If you Christians ever get over your fear of speaking God’s truth in the world,” Brown says, “you are going to be dangerous!” Our task is to transcend not simply the Christian Stereotypes of our own creation (fear of being bold; bland, insipid Christian living; being strangled by Christian legalism; etc.).
Personal anecdotes enhance the easy writing style of No More Mr. Nice Guy and illustrations from church history reveal the breadth of the author’s scholarship. Brown’s concern for those who don’t know Christ shows itself in his reference to Peter Cartwright, an early American Methodist pioneer preacher. Cartwright would stand on a hilltop when he approached a town and say “I smell hell!”
The author of “Developing a Christian Mean Streak” (Leadership, Spring ‘87) says don’t be afraid of some people (even Christians) not liking you. In the words of John Witherspoon: “It is only the fear of God that can deliver us from the fear of man.” Don’t fear risk and vulnerability in your service for Christ.
C. H. Spurgeon’s challenge to his students to “Learn to say no. It will do you more good than Latin!” introduces Chapter Five which is appropriately entitled “‘No’ Is Not a Dirty Word!” Brown discusses three lies that lead to “yes” (overcommitting oneself to too many Christian activities) and offers practical advice in dealing with illegitimate guilt.
Although characterized (by its jacket) as a text on “Christian Living,” I would recommend No More Mr. Nice Guy especially to aspiring pastors and professional Christian workers. Brown’s work spurs us to bid farewell practically to dormant, doormat Christianity so that we can get on with the work.
—Larry E. Dixon
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Living Above the Level of Mediocrity: A Commitment to Excellence. By Charles R. Swindoll. Waco, TX: Word, 1987, 283 pp. Cloth, $15.95.
Chuck Swindoll, the author of Come Before Winter, Growing Strong in the Seasons of Life, and over twenty other best selling books, employs D’Israeli’s words to challenge the Christian to “soar as an eagle” for God. This metaphor of eagle-type living pervades Living Above the Level of Mediocrity, a work guaranteed to remove our excuses for second-rate spirituality and shoddy service for the Master (if we read and heed).
Marked by an eminently readable style, this work is peppered with enlightening anecdotes. At places it sometimes reads as recycled sermons, but what helpful sermons they are!
The striving for excellence begins in our minds. Our “mediocre mindsets” are transformed when we memorize, personalize, and analyze the Scriptures, says Swindoll. The author’s lively summaries (“let’s take a quick safari,” he says) of scenes of biblical history drive home his points with freshness and relevance.
Living Above the Level of Mediocrity is not a collection of pious platitudes strung together, but rather solid biblical teaching on such topics as the kingdom of God, the nature of temptation, the centrality of commitment, the need for courage, and the hindrances to steady sanctification.
Lest one think that only Christian “professionals” are the intended audience, he emphasizes that “one of the toughest assignments in all of life is staying by the stuff at home, handling the endless, thankless tasks of parenting” (p. 190). “Those who achieve excellence are faithful in the tedious, monotonous details of life” (p. 191).
Memorable definitions add to the book’s appeal. Vision he defines as “reading the presence and power of God into one’s circumstances” (p. 94). Determination is “faith in the long haul” (p. 126). He simply illuminates and clarifies terms frequently employed matter-of-factly by other Christian authors.
His use of descriptive language makes this 283-page book easy to read. “A life which soars,” he reminds us, “doesn’t get caught in the trap of the temporal” (pp. 37-38). Our task is to be continually “hammering out the meaning of obedience” in those areas no one (except the Lord) will notice (p. 41).
The author is a master of purposeful alliteration: “rare are the ones,” he says, “who… fight against the pull of the mediocre magnet” (p. 49). The question “has peer pressure paralyzed you?” (p. 57) stresses the theme of commitment. In the chapter “Slaying the Dragon of Traditionalism,” he challenges, “Whoever decides to soar in the clear, clean heights, well above the level of mediocrity, must first fight through the flatland fog which hangs heavy over the swamp of sameness” (p. 161).
Swindoll is speaking of where truth is at stake, not tiny scenes of mere taste and custom. “Tradition is the living faith of those now dead; traditionalism is the dead faith of those still living” (p. 163, quoting Jaroslav Pelikan). Be an eagle who soars high for God’s truth, not a parrot who is a low-flying creature that stays on a perch and mimics only what it is told to say! (p. 163). “Truth that sets people free is the greatest threat to traditionalism” (p. 171).
When you read this book, see if you can answer the following Swindoll Quiz: What does he mean by “break a vase” for the Lord (p. 68?) To what is he referring when he uses the term God’s “wrestling match” (p. 118)? What is his solution for stress (p. 132)? What does he mean by the statement that “joy is the runner-up virtue” (p. 193)?
“Who’s Appraising Your Excellence?” Swindoll asks in his concluding chapter. If you’re into status quo Christianity, avoid this book! For Swindoll and other struggling, yet eager, eagles the message is “we must soar!”
“For His eyes only we commit ourselves to living above the level of mediocrity. He deserves our very best; nothing more, nothing less, nothing else” (p. 278).
—Larry E. Dixon