Mike McKinley previously served on the pastoral staff for Capitol Hill Baptist church before moving to Guilford Baptist Church. This book is actually his second contribution to the 9Marks series having already written Church Planting is for Wimps. Both of these are fairly short books, but that’s just because they get straight to the point and don’t beat around bush. If you want simple, biblical answers to the question “Am I Really a Christian?” then this book is for you.
My first thought in reading this book was that anyone living in the South (read: anyone who has loyalties to a college football team in the SEC) should probably read this book and ponder what McKinley has to say. McKinley actually implies this at one point, but overall, his book aimed for people of all geographic persuasions, but specifically it is for committed Christians (as a check up) and for nominal Christians (for a wake up). I could imagine non-Christians perhaps reading this book, but it is really for people who call themselves Christians in one way or another.
I read this book in one sitting. Most people may not be able to read that fast, but if you spend a day at the pool, it is definitely do-able for most people. The style is clear and engaging, with hints of snark and wit sprinkled throughout. It makes McKinley seems like a real person who actually has a sense of humor as well as a heart for people and is relaying that to you in a conversational tone. This book is packed tightly with good theological exposition of the Scriptures, but in a way that is highly accessible to the average reader.
While you may be able to read in a day, because each chapter has a four part response section at the end, you may want to spread it out over a few days, come back and really think through some of the questions McKinley asks. Each chapter ends with some questions to reflect on, things to repent of and/or report to someone close to you as a way of establishing accountability, and truths to remember.
Framing the argument of the book negatively, you are not a Christian:
- Just because you say you are (Chp 1)
- If you haven’t been born again (Chp 2)
- Just because you like Jesus (Chp 3)
- If you enjoy sin (Chp 4)
- If you do not endure to the end (Chp 5)
- If you don’t love other people (Chp 6)
- If you love your stuff (Chp 7)
Without the last chapters though, even someone who is pretty confident of their faith in Christ might despair. It in the last two chapters that McKinley clarifies that even those who are Christians do struggle with still sinning, not fully loving other people, and having idolatrous attachments to their stuff. Our assurance of being a Christian comes from our faith in Christ’s character, work, and promises (Chp 8). If we are trusting in Christ alone today and the Spirit is bearing fruit in our lives, we can know that we really are Christians. Overall, the trajectory of our life is moving away from those sins mentioned above and we are growing in grace. McKinley offers a brilliant illustration from David Powlison that captures this nicely:
The pattern of Christian life and growth may be like a yo-yo, but it’s like a yo-yo in the hands of someone walking up a flight of stairs…In the day-to-day, we are acutely aware of the yo-yo feeling, the ups and the downs of the battle against sin. But we miss the larger picture of growth and maturity that God is graciously working in us – he is carrying us up the stairs. Even our low points are now higher than our high points used to be. (p.131)
Seeing how this works out in your own life is only possible if you are plugged into good Christian fellowship (Chp 9). The book closes with a case for being an active church member who does more than just show up on Sundays in their local church. Surrounded by other believers and able to receive the Lord’s Supper, baptism, and corrective discipline if needed, it is much easier to confirm that you are in fact
- Truly believing the gospel of Jesus Christ
- Growing in your hatred of the sin you see in your own life
- Persevering in your faith over time
- Growing in your love of other people and demonstrating it in the church
- Becoming more and more free from love of things in the world
It would be easy on your own to convince yourself that these things are all true, but other people can more readily see through your self-deceptions. At first read, one might be tempted to think that McKinley is making the case that only people with pristine doctrine, extreme hatred of sin, exuberant love for other people, and utter disdain of the things of the world are really the true believers. He makes steps to clarify throughout and really hammers it home in the end that it is not perfection in these areas that makes one a Christian, but a fundamental change of the heart that reorients one in this direction that evidence that you really are a Christian.
I would recommend this book to most Christians because you either need to read this to clarify your own faith, or you know someone who might and you can take the first step by reading this and then helping them walk through it. Each of the chapters is clear and to the point and provides a biblical basis for the claims McKinley is making about what characterizes a true Christian. Some people will welcome this as a good checkup on their faith, spurring them on to further growth. Others will do well to heed the warnings McKinley presents and wake up to the fact that they may not really be a Christian after all.
Thanks to Crossway for providing this review copy!