by Anne Graham Lotz
Word, 300 pages
What's it like to be a woman preacher in the heart of evangelical Christianity? Ask Anne Graham Lotz--the daughter of evangelicalism's most famous preacher. (Yes, that Graham.) Her family name, along with her widely acclaimed ability as a preacher, gets her invited to speak even to audiences of suspicious male preachers. And Lotz seems capable of winning them over--sort of.
In her new book, Lotz reports that "one of the most beautiful compliments" she has ever received in ministry came from a pastor who had initially questioned whether a woman should be preaching. "Mrs. Lotz," she quotes the grateful man, "it's obvious to me that you have been in the kitchen, preparing the Food. Thank you for serving it to us tonight without messing it up." This backhanded endorsement is good enough for Anne Graham Lotz--because she loves Jesus.
Though Billy Graham has said that Anne is "the best preacher in the family," Anne modestly says that her gifts are in encouraging Christians, not converting unbelievers, and her brother Franklin is set to inherit the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. But Lotz has built her own ministry, which takes its next big step with a series of arena events throughout the United States this summer. "Just Give Me Jesus" offers a foretaste of what she'll be offering.
Like customers at your local family restaurant, evangelicals don't get new items on the menu very often. Lotz's evangelical readers will be hungry for another helping of her personable, enthusiastic prose, nearly guaranteeing that it will be a commercial success. Lotz's focus is the portrayal of Jesus in the gospel of John, and each chapter follows a reliable formula: heartstrings-tugging story, lively and modernized retelling of a snippet of the biblical material, accompanied by some choice (if often oversimplified) observations from biblical scholarship, an offer of grace and a call to decision, and, to finish off, a sweet and memorable story.
Along the way Lotz treats issues ranging from hell to suffering, marriage (including some of her own struggles) to life-threatening illness (including her son's recent diagnosis with cancer). Still, some of Lotz's heart-warming stories are decidedly warmed-over (haven't we heard enough yet about World War II evangelical hero Corrie Ten Boom?). There is very little in this book that hasn't been said many, many times before--even some of the personal anecdotes have a curiously familiar ring to those versed in the stock stories of evangelical preaching.
Lotz is in some ways a thoroughly modern woman, so even as conventional a book as this makes for an interesting comparison to its devotional predecessors of a previous generation. Not only is Lotz pursuing a traditionally male career by preaching and running a growing para-church ministry; her life, and the lives of her assumed readers, betrays a busy sophistication that would have been puzzling to a generation of less "worldly" evangelicals.
At one point, Lotz describes a visitor arriving at her doorstep and seeing the warmth of her morning kitchen, smelling coffee brewing, and seeing fresh muffins on the table-and having to stay on the doorstep, since Lotz has learned to talk to visitors through the screen door lest they take too much of her time. As with the story of "not messing up the food," Lotz tells this one with no apparent consciousness of its irony.
But aside from these few moments of interest, there's little here that diverges from the popular evangelical literature spawned by the first Graham generation. Which makes one wonder why this book had to be written. After all, there's a difference between meals (and, indeed, live preaching) and books. You need to eat every day, but you don't need to write another book. Preaching to a receptive crowd yearning for something more than America's middle-class agnostic pragmatism, Lotz no doubt serves up a feast. But her writing hovers uncomfortably between comfort food and leftovers.