Review of Owen Strachan’s “Risky Gospel”

The good news of Jesus Christ crucified and risen is a liberating message, and author Owen Strachan wants that news to embolden and fortify every area of your life. His new book is Risky Gospel: Abandon Fear and Build Something Awesome. The already good title is followed by a subtitle that clarifies the book’s focus. Owen writes with a loaded laptop, and his aim is precise. God has not called us to fear but to lay it all on the line for the glory of His name.

Owen isn’t saying the “Gospel=What We Do.” The work of Christ flows in the veins of each chapter, for Owen knows that the good news is not about us. But when we embrace this good news, we are not left unchanged. We have a new identity, for the Last Adam has raised us from deadness in sin, and we are called to a new life, to follow Jesus–and to live faithfully for the glory of Jesus is a radical life.

Owen talks about this radical life with the right nuances. Each chapter beckons the reader to see another component of our lives in the gospel’s light. We need risky faith, risky identity, risky spirituality, risky families, risky work, risky church, risky evangelism, risky citizenship, and risky failure. In the opening pages, Owen speaks frankly about our tendencies to play it safe, to not make waves, to buckle under cultural pressure. Owen calls it like he sees it: “This is decaf faith. And that means the people around us, those we should lead and influence to live on mission for the living Messiah, who reigns in heaven, live decaf lives” (17).

Risky Gospel is a summons to courageous living, and the timing of its message couldn’t be any better. The impetus for Christian faithfulness cannot be the applause of the world. “God’s awesomeness should propel our faithfulness” (29). In Christ we have “empowered dependence” (63). Apart from Jesus we’re left with vain ambitions, but the gospel is a theology of hope! What is “gospel risk”? Simply this: “trading in small things that produce a shallow, defeated life for the life shaped by the gospel, one devoted to God and his glory” (66). From the beginning of the Bible, God has called His people to exercise dominion, and Owen unpacks how we consciously apply gospel-dominion to all areas of life. Hence his subtitle: Abandon Fear and Build Something Awesome.

God is the ultimate Builder; so as people made in His image, we build (66-67). And for God-honoring dominion, we need discipline, not the low-bar pursuit of comfort and selfishness. “You could think of our selfish pursuits in this way: they are false gospels” (75). The true gospel reorients our lives, reminds us of what matters, and blows our minds with the reality that God’s glory and fame must be paramount for the worshiper. What should our lives be characterized by? Gospel-driven discipline (77). We need discipline to grow in holiness and to fight the battle against sin. Does this mean a life of legalism? No! “Here’s the difference between soul-crushing legalism and gospel-driven discipline: legalism tricks you into thinking that certain actions will justify you, or give you righteous standing with God, while gospel-driven discipline makes no such error. It’s grounded in the gospel, in the power of Christ’s cross and resurrection. It’s motivated not by fear or pride, but by the joy set before us that comes from honoring the Lord and doing his will” (88).

Strong families don’t happen without risk. “The Christian family is all about the glory of God and the spiritual health of the family’s members. It is about togetherness and joy grounded in the Lord. It is pursuing something far greater than an impressive pedigree, major high school sports accomplishments, or wealth” (99). That, friends, is radical! Living in glad submission to the world’s true Lord is counter-cultural foolishness in the eyes of some. In a land where marriage is denigrated and children are aborted, disciples of Jesus should make it their task to build biblical manhood and womanhood into their lives.

Dominion also includes our vocation, Owen says, for we are gospel entrepreneurs! (120). Christians should steward their talents and earnings wisely and faithfully, avoiding the twin errors of prosperity theology and poverty theology. “Find work where you can, and do it to the best of your ability….Remember that all conscionable work is honorable to the Lord” (128). Your place of work, as taxing as it can be at times, must never subvert or replace the place of worship. Believers need the body of Christ. “God loves the local church. He made it, after all. It’s his brainstorm” (141). Dominion in our discipleship will include service to others. “This is a crucial point: if we say we want to serve the Lord, then we shouldn’t excuse ourselves from the church. We should see the local church as the first place we go when we want to honor him by service” (146).

Understanding the risky gospel will mean remembering that all of life is witness. Through your church and work, Owen calls us to be bold for Christ (172). We should live with a mind awakened to the global mission work of the gospel (174-75). As we think about the redeeming love of Christ, we will be empowered to love our neighbors near and far, those next door or across the world. Our love and actions should consist of “winsome courage” (193). This courage means we must prepare ahead of time to face suffering. The risky gospel is not a sedative to pain or an escape hatch from struggle. The “world-shaking power of Christ’s death and resurrection” means that in Him we are more than conquerors, and “that’s a transformative reality….It changes things for you and me–for every single Christian” (207).

Owen Strachan is a brilliant thinker and gifted writer. Risky Gospel is his effort to cast gospel-light on our “ordinary” lives. It’s his summons–or, more accurately, his highlighting of the Bible’s summons–to do all you do for the glory of God’s fame, to build and exercise dominion for the sake of His name. The lordship of Jesus should be the joy of every believer, and we should eagerly ask, “What should this area or that issue look like under Christ’s reign?” Owen interweaves his own experiences, the stories of others, and spot-on analogies along the way. His tone is winsome, yet he pulls no punches when it counts. His style is accessible, yet showcases the transcendent power of the gospel. The gospel is power, overcoming fear and shame and selfishness. When you finish this book, you’ll want to go build something awesome.

Check out Owen’s blog and his other books. He is a professor at Boyce College, executive director of The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, and elder at Kenwood Baptist Church. Follow him on Twitter at @ostrachan

I’m grateful to Thomas Nelson for sending me a review copy of Risky Gospel, in exchange for an unbiased review.

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