I must admit: When I first received Kyle Idleman’s new book, The End of Me, to review, I was a bit hesitant? Why, you may ask?
Simply put, Idleman is the teaching pastor of Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, KY, a church that is the 7th largest in the U.S., boasting an astounding 23,000+ average attendance. And just to be honest, I’m initially suspect of a teaching pastor of a church that big. Not because there’s anything inherently wrong with large numbers (3,000 came to faith at Peter’s sermon in Acts), but by and large, American mega-churches are dominated by the feel-good religion of Joel Osteen or the “mile-wide but inch-deep” teaching that we see all around us.
So I came to this book with a guard up, ready to point out how Idleman doesn’t address sin, or an explicit substitutionary understanding of the Gospel, or how he doesn’t prepare the reader for the high cost that comes with following Christ, or how he espouses a feel-good, just-do-this-and-your-life-will-be-better sort of faith.
To My Surprise
But let me tell you — much to my surprise, none of that came true.
And in a surprising and refreshing way, I came away from reading this book saying, “Amen!”
Let me give you an example: Remember how I said I came to the book expecting Idleman to downplay sin, or not address the topic at all? Check out this quote from chapter 2 (I know its lengthy … but I believe its important!).
I read that a few years ago the Oxford Junior Dictionary tried to make it a clean sweep by removing the word sin. Supposedly it was an old, decrepit word that now sat in the corner of the vocabulary parlor, rocking in a chair and talking about the old days. Nobody paid attention to that one anymore. Cousin Iniquity and Cousin Turpitude, well, they passed away, and the children don’t come to visit much. Children? Mistake. Unfortunate Choice. And of course, little Boo-boo.
To be honest, I feel this tension as a preacher. We tend to tweak the word sin and substitute mistake or one of those other more innocuous phrases. Sin is ‘preachy.’ It wags its finger at us too much. It meddles. So we talk about unfortunate choices or slip-ups.
But those words don’t really fit, do they? If I step on your foot, that’s probably a mistake. My bad, but I didn’t mean to do it! I’m just clumsy. On the other hand, if I don’t like you and I intentionally stomp on your foot as hard as I can — that’s no mistake. Now we’re in the sin territory.
Another word that pinch-hits for sin is disease. It brings a whole no-fault concept with it. I shouldn’t have robbed that bank, but, you know — it’s my disease. I’m wired that way. I have an addiction to entering banks with a gun and taking bags of money …
We can wipe sin out of our dictionaries. If only we could wipe it out of our souls. As a culture, we can try to rub out the definition of sin, but the condition isn’t going anywhere. It cracks the whip on just as many slaves — the entire population of the world — as it ever did. If we fail to acknowledge its reality, there can be no mourning. And without mourning there can be no confession. And without confession we miss the richest blessing of God’s forgiveness and grace.
So don’t call it a mistake, an addiction, a boo-boo, or ‘my bad.’ Call it sin (56-57).
Amen! And Amen!
So What’s The Book About?
Now that I’ve confessed to you my (false) preconceived ideas coming into the book, and how they were (thankfully) proven wrong, what is this book all about?
The book is called: The End of Me: Where Real Life in the Upside-Down Ways of Jesus Begin. In a nutshell, the book is about how we must come to “the end of ourselves” — realizing that we are weak, empty, sinful, broken — in order to fully understand the grace of God and how He can, and will, use us in this life, in accordance with His will, for His glory.
To do this, he splits the book into 2 sections. In section 1, Idleman focuses on four of the beatitudes from the sermon on the mount. Each chapter focuses on a different paradoxical teaching of Christ, where he shows us that blessings begin and fulfillment is found in the least likely place — the end of ourselves. In section 2, Idleman gives us 4 chapters teaching us that “when we get to the end of ourselves and finally realize we aren’t strong enough, smart enough, or talented enough, then ironically we are in the best position to be used by God in significant ways” (15).
He then ends the book with a final chapter that serves as a great summary of the whole book. In the middle of that final chapter, he gives us a great summary of what he’s been arguing in the previous 8 chapters:
“This book has been a kind of path, treasure hunt if you will, and on it we’ve followed Jesus through his teachings. We’ve seen how he turns the world’s views inside out and upside down. He simply cuts against the grain of how we naturally think, and we realize that to follow Jesus, we need to retrain our minds to focus through spectacles we’ve never worn before. The key to thinking his way is an utter surrender, a giving up of the old ways, which never would have worked anyway” (196-197).
And what are the “steps” in that treasure hunt? From Matthew 16, he shows that there are 4:
- Deny Yourself
- Pick Up Your Cross
- Follow Him
- Prepare To Die
There was nothing necessarily “new” said in this book. You’re not going to walk away with some novel idea, some new nugget of truth that no one has ever discovered, or anything of the like (as a side note, if anyone ever claims they’re going to teach you something that 2,000 years of church history has never figured out, run away FAST).
But what you will find in this book is a fresh reminder of a 2,000-year-old truth — If you want to follow Christ, you must take up your cross and deny yourself. Or in the words of Idleman, you must come to “the end of you.” This is a truth that we all need to be continually reminded of.
In accordance with FTC regulations, I would like to thank David C Cook Publishers for providing me with a review copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.