Crave: Wanting So Much More of God. By Chris Tomlinson. Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 2010. 218 pp. Paper, $13.99.
In many ways, Crave is rather refreshing. It is written with a combination of compassionate exhortation and honest internal dialogue. In it, Tomlinson recounts several awkward experiences that he has floundered through seeking to live obediently but struggling with fears and conflicting desires. The result is that we can easily relate to him in all of these situations and share in his struggles and desire for obedience. I actually found it quite difficult to be objective about the book because Tomlinson is so likable that I really wanted to like his book.
Chris Tomlinson is a businessman, not a pastor or theologian, and his theology is hard to discern from the book itself. He does, however, quote often from John Piper (about as often as every other author combined) and also quotes or references Francis Chan (Crazy Love), A. W. Tozer (The Knowledge of the Holy), Donald Miller (Blue Like Jazz), and C. S. Lewis (Mere Christianity). In an endnote, he singles out
John Piper’s ministry as especially valuable to him, stating, “The mission of John Piper’s ministry, Desiring God, is particularly appealing to my spiritual affections. It states, ‘We exist to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ’” (Chapter 10, n 30). Yet, even with Tomlinson’s very honest descriptions of his struggles, I did not find any of the lack of assurance inherent in the ministries of Piper and Chan, nor did I find any influence of their works-salvation or works-assurance in this book. Tomlinson uses desire for walking closer with God as motivation to obedience, not fear of hellfire.
In one paragraph, which is one sentence that goes on and on (seemingly purposeful, see below), Tomlinson seems to strongly support grace. He says, “You likely know what grace is all about, that it is favor from God that we don’t deserve, so I won’t belabor the point that grace is free, and that we can’t earn grace, and that grace plus anything is no longer grace, and that salvation by faith through grace means that salvation is a gift from God irrespective of any good work we’ve ever done, and that the righteousness we have before God is credited to us because of Jesus’ death on the cross on our behalf” (p. 123).
You may have noticed an odd statement in that paragraph, though, that might reveal the influence of Piper on Tomlinson, namely “salvation by faith through grace.” This oddly reverses the statement from Eph 2:8 “by grace you have been saved through faith.” It could be simply a mistake. But even if it is, this may show that Tomlinson has bought into the idea of faith as something that follows regeneration, and he has thus reversed the Biblical order of things in his mind. Yet, even so, this sentence shows that he sees salvation not as a works transaction, but a gracious act of God.
I have to admit that I was a little bothered by one thing he did with this paragraph. This is because he goes on later to say, “You may have even quickly skipped over the paragraph about grace because you’ve heard it all before” (p. 123, referring back to the quoted paragraph above). People tend to gloss over rambling sentences that start out with, “You likely know…” and it seems like Tomlinson was trying to set the reader up for a gut-shot by writing it that way. It is a good point to make that it is easy to gloss over important truths, but the method here seemed unnervingly slick. And if you are going to write in such a way that intentionally makes people lose interest and skip a paragraph, could you at least not do it with the one paragraph in the book that clearly presents salvation (regeneration in this context) as a free gift apart from works?
The charm of this book can also be a negative. For example, his humble and honest internal dialogue makes the book accessible, but it is also self-defeating in a way because it comes short of expressing the power of the indwelling Christ we experience in those times when we are living by faith. While Tomlinson does not at all give the impression that he considers himself to have “arrived” spiritually, it would be easy to come away thinking that a divided mind is all we can expect at the best of times.
He says things like, “I’ve tried to produce this kind of love on my own” (p. 91), with a strong implication that this is the wrong way to go about it. But he comes short of saying that Jesus can produce that kind of love (love for those it is difficult for us to love) in us. While he is clear that legalism isn’t the answer, he falls short of expressing that Christ is the answer.
The value of Crave is that it raises a lot of questions about the way we go about things in a way that is both rare and effective (not many people are willing to be as transparent as Tomlinson). The down side is that it fails to adequately point us to the answer—Jesus.
I recommend this book for its refreshing honesty and helpful assessment of many things that hinder our sanctification.
Grace Bible Church