Book Review: Normal, by Craig Groeschel
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Once it started to penetrate my socially-derived expectations, the idea of Christianity as a counter-culture started to make a surprising amount of sense. Growing up as I did in America, on the East coast, coming from a double-whammy family of Irish and Latin American Catholics, it was odd to meet someone who didn’t at least call themselves Christian. Of course, how people label themselves and how they live are often two different things (see under Matthew 15: 7-9). At the end of the day, that is what this book is about: living as Christians when the world calls us to be anything but.
Much of what Groeschel covers–time, money, relationships–are aspects of the Christian life I had already read and thought about, but his tone and storytelling make the book worth reading. More often than not, he forces the reader to confront “normal” behaviors head on and isn’t shy about explaining exactly why those conventions run contrary to Christianity. Time and again, I found myself pretty seriously convicted by his words. It wasn’t so much that I could raise my hand and say ‘yup, I’ve done that.’ Instead, I was startled by how I had allowed my thought patterns to align so clearly with the world.
Groeschel leads with, and often returns to, Jesus’s statement from Matthew 7:13-14: “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” This becomes the guiding principle for the book, creating the distinction between normal and weird. The author puts it this way:
The majority of people–the crowd–is traveling the wrong path, the one that leads to destruction. They’re the normal ones–intent on looking like the rest, spending money like the rest, living like the rest, keeping up with the rest. But their road leads to a dead end. Only a few people–the weird ones unafraid to exit the normal highway–find the right road. Not many, but a small and brave group of travelers willing to separate from the crowd and embark on a different kind of journey down a less obvious path (pg. 16).
The non-conformist in me (to say nothing of the J.R.R. Tolkien fan) loves the image of “a small and brave group of travelers.” It takes guts to live according to Jesus’s words and not according to our cultural or religious expectations of a Christian. It means giving up the fear of being judged and replacing it with the fear of God, trusting that “[He] knows the plans [He] has for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29: 11). It’s not an easy walk, nor does it lead to expected places, but it is one I find ever more worth taking. Consider this book a good signpost along the way.