Not a Fan of “Not a Fan”
This book has been on my reading list for quite some time because of strong responses on both sides from others to it. Kyle Idleman presents a pretty agreeable central premise that there are many people who call themselves followers of Jesus who are really just fans looking to join the crowd without the cost. Unfortunately the book is probably longer than it needs to be and didn’t read particularly well in points.
The overall tone of the book is awkward; not only is it a conversational read from the author, which is totally normal, but it references the work of writing far too much (ie. ‘this isn’t a book that…’). Especially in the first few chapters this was very cumbersome and unnecessary.
A major challenge of the book is that the term fan gets used with the widest of meanings and there is never a clarifier of what types of fans are being referred to. As a result the word becomes a junk drawer term to mean whatever doesn’t qualify as a follower in Idleman’s view. It seemed to me that he could have added some adjectives and created different classes of fans to show distinction between the various problems he was raising. For instance, near the beginning of the book fans are referenced as casual weekend attenders who don’t want their faith to interrupt their lives but later in the book the same term is used to describe people who are working like Pharisees and will burn out because they aren’t being empowered by the Holy Spirit. These are both people who should be addressed but the fan idea isn’t a cogent descriptor of both and several of the others he highlights.
There was some really helpful historical work done to bring fresh perspective to rabbinical training and the significance of Jesus inviting His disciples to follow Him but there was also some very sloppy scholarly work done in the area of historical exegesis. Specifically his casual and convenient takes on slavery and dying to self. These terms do not mean the same thing today that they did two thousand years ago and to load our definitions and baggage into what biblical authors meant is profoundly irresponsible, even if it makes your point.
The crux of the matter is that the modern asceticism that Idleman presents is ironically another form of the legalism he points out in certain fans. His means of getting there is to condemn the specific acts of legalism and behavior by challenging people to look at their heart (which I agree with), but then he tells them to do this by doing other legalistic behaviors. The circular reasoning employed is problematic.
I don’t think the book is heresy or poison to the church but I do think we need to look beyond its simple answers of new behavior patterns and pursue the life that Christ offers us through His Spirit and be obedient to what He compels us towards. It’s messier and less articulated but far more biblical and healthy at a soul level. When we follow laws as a means of garnering any favor with God we are misguided and ill equipped to accomplish our goal, which is why we need Christ.