When I first picked up Missing Jesus: Finding Your Life in His Great Story, I’d never heard of the authors, Charles and Janet Morris. Now I feel like I know them. And I like them. Their book is filled with stories from a life of following Jesus Christ. As the title suggests, they write so that we won’t miss him. Here’s a nice statement of their hope in writing:
God has sent his glorious Son into the world to be everything for us, to be the center of our lives, to draw us into fellowship with the living God. . . . As believers we need to keep on hearing this good news over and over again because we have a great tendency to lose sight of Jesus. . . . That’s what this book is about—it’s about not missing Jesus. (12)
And so the Morrises write to preach the goodness of Jesus Christ for all of life. Missing Jesus gets this done in 11 chapters across three parts, moving roughly from conversion (Part 1: “Seeing Him Big”) to sanctification (Part 2: “Being the Guest”) to mission (Part 3: “Making His Glory Known”). In addition to reflections on Scripture, the chapters are composed mostly of stories from their lives and the lives of the friends they’ve made along the way. The Morrises don’t just tell us that the Bible and our lives are about Jesus; they write to show us how true and wonderful that is in both the happier and the harder seasons of life.
A Story of Life and a Life of Stories
There’s much to be thankful for in this short book. I’m thankful for the bright and happy tone with which the Morrises write. They didn’t write because they were frustrated some people are missing Jesus. They write to share the joy of their own “Copernican revolution, a simple but profound shift in our worldview that comes from seeing the crucified, resurrected Jesus on the throne of the cosmos” (20). The joy of this vision comes through on about every page.
I’m also thankful to have met this happy couple through these pages. It would take a unique match of gifts for a husband and wife to team up in ministry as they do both in their work on the radio (through Haven Ministries) and in writing this book. It also takes a strength of character and a strength of marriage. They are transparent about their sins and frailty, and they share some of their greatest losses with us, including the tragic death of their son. The effect is that after reading their book I want to have the Morrises over for dinner to listen and learn more from their lives. That doesn’t usually cross my mind when reading a book.
I’m also thankful for the reminder that the Christian life is an experience. Christianity is more than true; it is real in my life right now as I write this review. Jesus is raised from the dead, and he is involved in the specific affairs of my life. I certainly believe this truth, but like all Christians I need reminders. I was helped by the reminder that my little life is part of a great unfolding story whose center is Christ.
Too Jesus-Centered and Not Jesus-Centered Enough
While Missing Jesus as a whole left me encouraged, I had a number of question marks in the margins. Several of the book’s strengths are matched with corresponding weaknesses.
For example, while the conversational style will appeal to many readers, a few levels of imprecision will prove difficult for others. There seemed to be a loose relationship between chapter titles, content, and the general structure of the book, leaving me wondering at times where the book was going. And while the authors weave seamlessly in and out of Scripture quotations, often without reference to chapter, verse, and book presumably for smooth reading, this makes for some confusion. Moreover, at times it was difficult to distinguish an actual verse quotation from a loose quote. For example, on one page they quote exactly from 1 John 3:1–2 in one paragraph and then in another paragraph quote the serpent from Genesis 3 as such: “He’s not the Holy Creator God who made heaven and earth as an act of creative joy and then made you in his image for a life-filled relationship with himself. No, my dear” (34).
More seriously, though, while the book is strong for its spotlight on Jesus Christ, there are several ways in which Jesus’ centrality is actually diminished, distorted, or misunderstood. We should agree that the recent explosion of Christ-centered resources is an encouraging thing for the church. These writers are on board. But in our effort to be biblically Christ-centered in our living and our leadership, it will be helpful to linger a bit on what this means.
While the book’s subtitle, “Find Your Life in His Great Story,” is good, the “Great Story” itself was mostly assumed. The chapter titled “Living in The Great Story,” for example, makes only a single sentence reference each to Abraham, Moses, and David and closes without a mention of the creation account or Adam. In a short interaction with Genesis 3, our active rebellion and God’s judgment are omitted, thereby muting the condemnation the Great Story is meant to resolve. So while the chapter is filled with enthusiastic reminders that the Old Testament is about Jesus and personal anecdotes about why that’s a glorious thing, this chapter needed to actually show us how that’s so from the Bible.
In terms of reading and applying the Old Testament story, the Morrises are right that “every story in the Bible was foreplanned by God to . . . enlarge our understanding of Jesus” (32). To clarify this point, however, they share an anecdote to reveal the “horror” of asking children questions like, “What can we learn from Daniel about how God wants us to live?” (31). But if the Spirit inspired 1 Corinthians 10 and Hebrews 11, then the Old Testament was also written for our warning and example. There’s no contradiction. The Old Testament instructs us about Christ, and it is instructive for life as well.
At one point the Morrises tell the story of a woman praying for her rebellious and unbelieving son, that “the Spirit would descend on him like a dove and that the Father would say, ‘This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased’” (49). I can appreciate the spirit of this prayer. But lifting this line from Matthew 3, even with a lowercase “son,” diminishes the uniqueness of Jesus’ relationship to his Father and the uniqueness of his glory as God’s divine Son, a glory not even shared by the likes of Moses or Elijah—a point actually made by Matthew in the parallel event of the transfiguration in Matthew 17. Then, in the course of helping us not miss Jesus, the authors sometimes seem to miss the Father and the Holy Spirit. Here’s one example:
[Jesus is] not gone. He’s not far removed way up in heaven somewhere. . . . He’s right here with us . . . just like he was with the Israelites in the wilderness when he traveled with them and filled the tabernacle with his presence. Only now he’s with us in our own flesh and blood. (42–43)
It’s true Jesus says, “I am with you always” (Matt. 28:20) and that Paul speaks of “Christ in you” (Col. 1:27). Yet these are the exceptions. In Missing Jesus, while there is a chapter addressing the Spirit’s work (chapter 7), the Spirit’s work is mostly attributed to Jesus. The New Testament, by contrast, is clearly Jesus-centered, but in a rich and specific way with regard to the Trinity.
I’m thankful for the Morrises and God’s work in them. They make many fine and encouraging points in their book. I only wish it were more carefully composed to accomplish their admirable goal.