A Brief Review of
His Surprising Approach to Wholeness… and Why It Matters Today
by Mark Foreman.
Paperback: Ampelon Publishing, 2008.
Buy now: [ ChristianBook.com ]
Reviewed by Joshua Neds-Fox.
Mark Foreman, lead pastor of North Coast Calvary Church in Carlsbad, California, and father to half of the rock band Switchfoot, offers a distillation of an increasingly prevalent brand of theology in WHOLLY JESUS. At least I infer that his message is increasingly prevalent, given that a layman like me has encountered most of it piecemeal over the course of the last decade. Foreman’s chief concern is to present a gospel of wholeness: Jesus came not merely to save souls for some future eschaton, but to transform us now, physically, emotionally, spiritually, interpersonally and intrapersonally — what he often refers to as “bio-psycho-social-spirtual” wholeness. (51) “My desire… is to apply Jesus’ offer of salvation-unto-wholeness as he intended, through his message of the kingdom of God.” (39) Foreman sets this all-encompassing idea of wholeness — essentially the restoration of the image of God to our fallen humanity through Jesus’ death and resurrection — up against any number of alternative plans, Eastern and otherwise. His view of wholeness rests comfortably in the ‘already/not yet’ Kingdom theology of Ladd and Fee, which he presents succinctly. That’s not his only succinct presentation: he tackles an incredible range of topics, from the Imago Dei to the doctrine of the fall, Jesus’ healing ministry, the mission of the church, first century Jewish worldview, 20th century church history, the Theologia Crucis, Christian Meditation and more.
This broadness is one of WHOLLY JESUS‘s main weaknesses. It attempts to outline almost an entire theology in a slim trade paperback, and so ends up both feeling a little disjointed and doing disservice to certain of its topics (a bloodless few pages on theodicy come to mind, along with a message of the cross that, although it acknowledges that “it is all or nothing with God” (87), will not go so far as to unequivocally say that taking up one’s cross involves our death). I also found myself confused about Foreman’s intended audience. His particular gospel of wholeness is good news for a non-churched readership, and the pains he takes to walk us from brokenness through the cross to salvation and restoration seem to indicate that Foreman thinks so, too. In a coda with a strikingly different tone from the rest of the book, he strongly advocates a ‘church without walls,’ permeable to the world, and a non-separatist missional posture that walks already-established cultural pathways, and these offer support for the idea that the book is intended for the world-at-large. Yet the language of the book reads, at times, like a shorthand for the already-indoctrinated, and I found the final chapters (while helpful and essential) to be unambiguously targeted to the Church. Most likely the book is meant for both audiences, but this dilutes its impact.
The good news is that WHOLLY JESUS is the Good News, and another telling of the gospel is always welcome. It’s not a bad book — Foreman’s message could be revelatory to a wide swath of Christians and non-Christians alike. That it feels like a codification of a decade of trends in Empowered Evangelicalism is probably not a count against it. Maybe the time has come to recognize that a forward-thinking theology of the Kingdom of God is becoming something like settled doctrine in a certain segment of the Church. Settled enough, at least, to make its way comfortably into trade paperback.
C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at: C-Christopher-Smith.com
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