Tuesday, September 15, 2015

The Cross and the Switchblade

This is one of those books that stays with you after you've finished it.  Up there with Keith Green's biography, it will make comfortable, middle-class Christians go 'ouch'.

As inspiring as it is confronting, The Cross and the Switchblade is the story of an ordinary man - David Wilkerson, a small-town US pastor - who is enabled to do extraordinary things in God's power.  One night in 1958, Wilkerson hears about the murder trial of seven teenage boys from New York on the TV; they had been charged with stabbing another boy to death because they felt like it.  Wilkerson couldn't shake the feeling that God was leading him to New York to help the boys.  While he never got to do that, it was the start of an incredible outreach to gangs in 1960s New York, which eventually led to the development of Teen Challenge.  This residential rehabilitation ministry offers hope to those suffering from drug and alcohol addiction.

While the book is an amazing testimony to the power of God, there were some parts of the story which didn't sit well with me.  Wilkerson 'tests' God's will a lot by laying fleeces, a practice which I also found irksome in Jim Elliot's biography.  Also, I disagree with the Pentecostal obsession with speaking in tongues.  While trying to get some of the teenagers in his care off drugs, Wilkerson believes they would not be free from addiction or have the Holy Spirit until they spoke in tongues.  There is a heavy emphasis on the Spirit setting young people free from loneliness, addiction, anger etc. and while I certainly believe that God heals and restores people's lives, an emphasis on sin being everyone's greatest problem seems to be lacking.

Overall, I think this is a book that must be read.  It's so easy to become a comfortable Christian, but God can use anyone.  We are all clay in His hands.  Let's pray that He uses us as He wishes, no matter how scary that may be, to change people's lives.  No-one is in the too-hard basket, no-one is beyond His grace.

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