Book Review: Jesus is Better Than You Imagined by Jonathan Merritt

  • Hardcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: FaithWords (April 1, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1455527874
  • ISBN-13: 978-1455527878
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.8 x 0.8 inches

Many thanks to FaithWords and Jonathan Merritt for a review copy of Jesus is Better Than You Imagined.

An Overview

The book contains twelve chapters–ten “Encounters,” bookended by two chapters, an introduction and a conclusion.  Each of the “Encountering” chapters is based own a personal story, ranging from a journey to a monastery in the New Mexico desert to a bar, “Nestled in Atlanta’s Old Fourth Ward, a gentrifying district in the heart of the city, this bar has become a hipster hangout, a gathering place for the dechurched, and a regular happy hour stop for the obscenely beautiful casts of Drop Dead Diva and Vampire Diaries.”  The reader discovers a vulnerable Jonathan Merritt in these pages, especially in the chapter “A Thread Called Grace: Encountering Jesus in Honesty.”

The reader also finds Mr. Merritt rethinking and challenging along the way his own fundamental Southern Baptist roots and upbringing.  You see, Jonathan Merritt grew up in the home of a well-known Southern Baptist pastor–a home from which he draws over and over, in his journey of discovering that Jesus is better than he imagined.

Mr. Merritt is quite adept at storytelling.  Neither is he afraid to rethink the popular use of certain Scriptures.

A Critique

For the most part, I enjoyed reading Jonathan’s Jesus is Better Than You Imagined, especially the vulnerability shown throughout.  However, as much as I appreciate the vulnerability displayed, I was left thinking that Mr. Merritt was too ambiguous toward the end of his most vulnerable chapter (which I mentioned above).

In addition, as I turned each page, I kept saying to myself, “I have read this book before: another frustrated evangelical Christian, challenging that fundamental element of the church tradition he or she grew up in.”

Next, I believe the title of the book really doesn’t fit its contents.  The book would have been better titled Fresh Encounters: How I Discovered Jesus is Better Than I Imagined.  Why? Well, ten of the twelve chapters are these “Encounters,” which leads Mr. Merritt to a rethinking and a re-imagined of the Christian tradition he was bred in.

Concluding Thoughts

While the reading of Merritt’s Jesus is Better Than You Imagined reminded me of similar books I’ve read, I was drawn in to Jonathan’s person stories and encounters, especially after his encounter at the New Mexico monastery.  I actually looked forward to each new “Encounter.”  As a Southern Baptist myself, I was especially encouraged by what I was reading–Jonathan not being afraid to rethink and challenge some of the customs and practices that the more fundamental Southern Baptists have been known to embrace.

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