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Book Review: Live Love Lead by Brian Houston

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One of the highschoolers in my youth group handed me this book last week, with a card that says:

“THIS BOOK BELONGS TO TIM LIM. Every delegate at Hillsong Conference received a free copy of this book to give to someone else and I chose you because I know you’ll read it right? And you like books but you’re also someone who can discern if this book’s good. Tell me if this book’s good. Hope it helps you :)” 

I say this as a thank you and also as a disclaimer. I’m not writing this to stir up strife around Hillsong or Brian Houston. I’m writing this to provide wisdom and advice for people who ‘have less time’ to read books or think theologically, especially those who have recently attended Hillsong Conference 2015 in Sydney. I only want to review what he mentions in his book. You may notice that I mainly quote from the first half of the book, as it presents most of the stuff I think you need to hear.

Each chapter begins with a quote of lyrics from one Hillsong’s songs, in contrast to the usual Christian book that begins with a quote of bible verses at the start of each chapter (not that this is necessarily a bad thing). It’s nice how there are plenty of stories about the Australian lifestyle, ministry struggle and family relationships. I felt quite at home reading such an easy and conversational book – and I think this is one of Brian’s strengths.

As I read along, however, I noticed a recurring theme. Throughout the book, there seems to be an underlying focus on the individual. Myself. Our dreams and visions can come true with a little faith in ‘no other name’ (see chapter 11). Brian encourages readers to live “a life you perhaps could only ever dream of… comfortable in your own skin… where God wants you to live your life.” (pp. 32-33). According to this book, we’re to “enjoy A Big Life” while apparently going “through A Narrow Gate” (p. 4).

I struggled to understand what the focus of the book was on, but I guess that’s the nature of the book from its title – living, loving and leading. He touches on a few areas of faith but centres them around the reader’s hopes and dreams. I wasn’t surprised. After all, the subtitle of the book says “Your Best is Yet to Come!”1. There is no mention of the fact that sin affects everything, even our desires.

No personal offence to Brian’s writing style (which is actually very engaging and entertaining), but the stories of his own life, his own family, his own church and influence can draw readers away from this ‘no other name’ and toward himself – the man on the front cover. For example, it left my feelings confused when he shared his story being “five years old when I made the decision to accept Jesus as my Lord and Saviour… [now] I am living my dream” (pp. 38-39, emphasis added).

There are some really encouraging and heartfelt moments of ‘transparency’ that Brian displays in his stories. This is honestly awesome, yet the lack of reference to sin, suffering, and the will of God fails to provide a healthy doctrinal diet to the reader. Moralistic applications of characters in the bible with no biblical theology dominate (aka. canonical theology, where the biblical storyline revolves around the Christ), and Jesus just doesn’t seem to be the focus of this book.

Another weakness (in my opinion) is his disoriented definition of faith. I presume this is from his (admittedly subtle) differing theology of God, Jesus, and the Spirit, along with his synergistic view of the Christian life (i.e. working together with God rather than God working in you). He defines faith as “holding on to your purpose and trusting in God’s goodness in the midst of all the peaks, celebrations, and mountaintops, as well as the trials, temptations, and tragedies that life throws at you.” (p. 40). This definition is nice in the sense that it encapsulates trusting God through the high as well as the low points of life. It just seems too self-centered.

A definition I prefer asserts that “biblical faith finds its expression in both the objective content of the Christian gospel and the subjective feelings that indicate true heart transformation.”2 Since the doctrines of Brian, Hillsong and the wider Pentecostal denomination (objective) differ to the doctrines I hold to be true, it should be no surprise that the resulting Christian lifestyle depicted is quite different (subjective). Once again, I say this as a provision of clarity for readers and skeptics.

Brian talks about the great commission from Matthew 28, and while this is a nice pep-talk to evangelism, he solely applies it to his model of ministry for Hillsong. God’s “unconditional love for all people” (p. 51) where his proclaimed fact that “God loves us without conditions” (p. 53) seems to be his doctrine of the church (cf. p. 46).

I find it helpful that Brian mentions the outworkings of theological disagreements in a specific section of his book. “It seems these days that any person in authority who is building something significant has a collection of naysayers and bloggers ready to cut down and criticise anything and everything that they disagree with. Yet I believe we have to find a way to love other people beyond our disagreements.” (p. 49).

You’re right, and sometimes criticism is based on wrong judgements and inappropriately voiced. It is the duty, however, of Christian leaders to protect and train God’s flock in the truth (cf. Acts 20:28). And you know what? I learnt a lot from reading this book. I may disagree that this book should even exist or be distributed, but this book nonetheless encouraged me to live transparently, love authentically and lead courageously (p. 129).

In conclusion, get this book if you want the ‘Hillsong feeling’ running through your veins. If you prefer some more robust biblical teaching (in my opinion) and encouragement, there are plenty of other books that do a better job talking about Christian living, love and leadership3. This book’s going to the unlisted library.

 


See also: “The Prosperity “Gospel” v. The Gospel of Jesus Christ” – http://www.standfirminfaith.com/?/sf/page/30917

2 Definition from: “Inclusivism: What is faith anyway?” – http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/trevinwax/2007/11/23/inclusivism-what-is-faith-anyway/

Other books I recommend with the same themes include ‘Ordinary’ by Michael Horton and ‘Just Do Something’ by Kevin DeYoung.

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