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In the past, I’ve given Christian author T. D. Jakes a pass because he’s so darn likable and, while an evangelical, has a theology that is somewhat palpable. (After all, it is said that his views on the gay community are “evolving,” and that can only be a good thing.) He recently published a book called SOAR!, which was about how to be an entrepreneur and be Christian about it. It was a charismatic book, probably due to the fact that in talking about how to be a good businessman, the Christian themes were dialed down just a little bit. Well, Jakes is back with a new book, Crushing, and his beliefs are flying at full flag in this one. And that, unfortunately, makes the book a little less compelling.
The book is meant for anyone who is going through a rough patch. Jakes’ theology — which includes, alas, atonement theology — makes for a read that is meant to be encouraging, but it’s problematic. You see, Jakes believes that if you’re going through a rough patch, God is crushing you like what a vintner does to a grape to turn you into a new and better person. Personally, I prefer the theology that says that God is suffering with you on your own personal cross during the tough times — but I can see where the evangelical crowd might have a tough time with that, feeling as though they can tap into the supernatural power of the Almighty One. (And wouldn’t an evangelical God be a God that acts?)
Jakes has never met a wine metaphor or allegory that he didn’t like, and this book is full of them — comparing the season of crushing, fermentation and transformation one might go through to the process of how a grape becomes a fine wine to be shared. This is not a book to be read by the recovering alcoholic. (And one wonders the wisdom of using alcohol as an allegory for an entire book when some of the author’s audience is bound to be in some kind of recovery.) Basically, Crushing just drones on and on with all the wine talk. Basically, this book feels as though 15 of Jakes’ sermons on a single theme were jam-packed into a single volume.
And it’s not for a lack of interesting things to say that Jakes encounters his problems. Right in the first chapter, he talks about his 13-year-old daughter announcing that she was pregnant to him and his wife at about the same time that his mother had passed on. Not to be a nosy neighbour, but there’s an interesting story in there — one that Jakes buries. The reader will naturally wonder how you raise a daughter and a grandson in the same house. Or how Jakes’ ministry survived such a personal crisis. The answers to those questions are not raised. It’s a shame, even if answering the questions would mean veering off course for just a little bit, because there’s something fascinating in hearing about the plight of other people’s lives.
In other parts of the book, Jakes seems to be writing solely for the purposes of figuring out the Bible for himself with no comparable reason to be sharing what he’s sharing. In the middle passages of Crushing, Jakes writes (at length) of the circumcision of Moses’ son by his wife — a short and rather obscure passage of the Bible. The point of this seems to be obtuse and unclear. What do the actions of a woman and a very sharp rock against a son have to do with anything someone might be going through in their lives that might be troublesome? How does a deep dark valley of the soul have anything to do with circumcision? The effect is just … baffling.
Crushing is at its best when Jakes is shooting from the hip and being candid, but even here he doesn’t go far enough. At one point, he wrings his hands over the fact that he’s been lumped in with those who preach the prosperity gospel and you think that he’s going to go somewhere with that. Basically, he doesn’t really do anything with that kernel — suffice to say that he preaches on the back of the Word. It’s frustrating because time and again, the diversions from the main points that Jakes wants to drive home are the most interesting points of the whole read. It’s infuriating.
Still, I find T. D. Jakes to be a fascinating person. He’s been at both ends of the poverty versus affluence spectrum. He’s been to exciting places and done wonderous things. At the end of the day, he comes across as a guy you’d like to have coffee with. And while he believes what I think are semi-harmful things, he does it in a way that doesn’t make it seem so harmful at all. He’s not out to abuse anyone, in other words. I think it can be said that you can be on the opposite end of where you are in your faith — for I’m a progressive — and you can see someone at the other end that you hold a certain amount of compulsion for.
T. D. Jakes is that kind of a guy. Sometimes he even has good books in him. Crushing, alas, is not one of them. It ambles along in its own obliviousness, to the point where eyes begin to glaze over and points start to sail over your head. With more concentration, I am hopeful that Jakes will be able to course correct for his next book — which I’m still very eager to read. After all, it isn’t every day that you encounter an evangelical megachurch minister that you feel some affinity towards. What a man, what a man!
T. D. Jakes’ Crushing: God Turns Pressure Into Power was published by FaithWords on April 16, 2019. An advance reading copy was provided by the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review.