Review: “The Way Back” by Phil Cooke & Jonathan Bock

Whether you’re a Christian or not, it’s not difficult to see that Christians have lost cultural credibility. They’re more likely to be called hypocrital than honest; self-righteous than selfless.

Can Christians regain the cultural credibility they once had? That’s the central question that Phil Cooke and Jonathan Bock tackle in their latest book, The Way Back: How Christians Blew Our Credibility and How We Get It Back (2018, Worthy Publishing), releasing today.

The Way Back by Phil Cooke and Jonathan Bock

Phil Cooke and Jonathan Bock live and work in what is arguably the cultural capital of America: Hollywood. Phil is a filmmaker, writer, media consultant, and co-founder and CEO of Cooke Pictures, with productions in over 60 countries around the globe. As the only active producer in Hollywood with PhD in theology, he regularly advises churches and corporations on cultural influence.

Jonathan is the founder and president of Grace Hill Media. He has marketed over 500 major motion pictures and TV projects to audiences around the world, including titles like The Blind Side, The Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, and Ladybird. TIME Magazine calls him the “man who helps Hollywood get religion.”

With expertise in marketing, they set out to solve this daunting PR challenge. How do you turn the tide of the massive media machine that actively denigrates Christian values and those who hold them? “As marketing professionals,” they wrote, “we were 100% certain this was a perception problem, a messaging problem, a branding problem. Now we’re convinced otherwise.”

The problem, as they put it, is not a marketing problem. It’s a salesforce problem. Too many Christians don’t believe in their product. They looked at four essential practices of the Christian faith and reached some interesting conclusions:

Prayer. While 55% of Americans say they pray regularly, only 63% of Christians say it’s essential. That means more than a third of those professing a Christian faith don’t view communing with God to be an essential activity.

Church attendance. Here, the evidence of a sales problem is even more apparent. The authors ask an indicting and rhetorical question: “We fancy ourselves ‘a Christian nation,’ when studies show only about 20% of people show up to church with weekly regularity. About 20% of Americans jog regularly—would we say we are a jogging nation?”

Bible reading. And what about the Bible reading habits of churchgoers? According the LifeWay Research, the Bible—source of truth for Christian living—is read “once a month, rarely, or never” by 40% of churchgoing people.

And, if that weren’t enough evidence of a salesforce problem, consider the practices of Christians in the final practice Phil and Jonathan examined:

Tithing. “Fewer than 10% of churchgoers give 10% or more of their income.”

Indeed, American Christianity doesn’t suffer from a marketing problem. It has a salesforce problem. We lost credibility because we lost our commitment, and the world has taken note. The authors sum up the cultural disconnect this way: “We have abandoned our faith. We’re just the last to notice.”

Those are hard words.

Yet, the authors write them, not to cast a stone, but to stir a recommitment. The Way Back is a call to reexamine our attitudes and actions as believers, and reengage in ways that are truly transformational. In the words of the authors, we need to stop being “the fat guy in the gym who’s lecturing everyone else about health.” Instead of influence through boycotts and petitions, seek to serve in ways that “so baffle the culture that we would force people to rethink what they thought about Jesus.”

The idea of rattling the perceptions of others through remarkable action is not new. In fact, Phil and Jonathan describe how the early Christian beliefs spread throughout those ancient cultures because of the sacrificial and baffling actions of its believers. The Way Back is a reminder of the power of gospel, authentically lived out one person at a time.

While the authors make no mention of it, this ancient strategy has also been confirmed by modern psychology. Our brains excel at taking short-cuts and when applied to people, those first impressions (or stereotypes for groups) are difficult to break. But as social psychologist Heidi Grant Halvorson points out in her book, when a perception holder encounters an unexpected attitude or action in another, they take notice.

Phil and Jonathan have a written a book that calls every Christian to live a life that others will notice—not to draw attention to themselves, but to the One who so loved the world.

Listen in on my conversation with Phil and Jonathan about their new book on the BoldIdea Podcast.

Comment below: If you’ve listened to the podcast or read their book, what are your thoughts?

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