Sunday, September 21, 2014

Book Write-Up: David Wilkerson

Gary Wilkerson, with R.S.B. Sawyer.  David Wilkerson: The Cross, the Switchblade, and the Man Who Believed.  Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2014.

David Wilkerson was a Pentecostal preacher.  In the 1950’s, he read about a high-profile murder trial in a newspaper and went to New York City to show the love of God to the murderers.  He was thrown out of the courtroom and did not get to meet the murderers, but he ministered to gangs, and one prominent gang member became a Christian as a result of David’s influence.  David Wilkerson wrote about this experience in what became a bestselling book, The Cross and the Switchblade.  The book would be made into a movie starring Pat Boone as David Wilkerson.

David Wilkerson would minister to people who used drugs.  His book, the movie based on his book, and his Christian recovery organization would reach throughout the world, even in some countries that were not particularly friendly to Christianity, but which respected Wilkerson on account of his successful outreach to drug addicts.  Wilkerson would also travel across the country as a preacher, and later he would serve as a pastor.

In David Wilkerson, David’s son Gary tells about his father, basing his story on interviews and his own experiences.  On page 299, Gary says that “In our dad’s eyes, his life was simply a picture of normal Christianity, of a man who was flawed yet yielded.”  David Wilkerson was an introverted and often socially-awkward man, yet he had a love for God and a sense of mission.  There was long a tension within him between focusing on the love of Christ and legalism, but he came to appreciate the grace of God more in his later years as he read the Puritans.

There is so much of worth in this book: the stories of miracles and prophetic gifts, of letting people pursue their own path, of relationships, of generosity, of empathy, and of people from different backgrounds working together.  (On the last one, according to Gary, Wilkerson actually had more luck getting The Cross and the Switchblade published by a secular publishing house because many Christian publishing houses were hesitant to publish a book that talked a lot about charismatic gifts!)  If I had a favorite passage, it was on page 24: “For reasons of his own, [David Wilkerson] had turned down every invitation from a US President to visit the White House, but he would drive hundreds of miles out of the way during an evangelism tour so he could meet an obscure nun who had written something about Christ that had moved him.”  It was when I read that passage that I knew that I would love this book!

I give the book five stars because it is excellent.  I heard David Wilkerson speak once at Times Square Church, and I one time heard one of his recorded messages.  One message was full of fire and brimstone, and the other started out tough but moved towards a tender expression of appreciation for God’s mercy.  I was glad to have learned more about this man’s background, and I identified with David Wilkerson’s introversion and personal devotion to God, while admiring his courage.

If I have one criticism, it is that I wish that Gary had gone more deeply into the issue of prophecy.  According to Gary, his father at crusades often had the gift of being able to tell people he had never met specific details about their lives.  Yet, Gary acknowledges that his father sometimes made predictions that he claimed were from God yet did not come to pass, to his father’s dismay.  While Gary seems to attribute one of those visions to his father’s insecurity about death, he should have attempted to offer a theological or biblical explanation for how prophets can predict things that do not come to pass, even though there are indications that God is using them.

Note: I received a complimentary review copy of this book through the BookLook Bloggers (http://booklookbloggers.com/) book review bloggers program.  The program does not require for my review to be positive, and my review reflects my honest reaction to the book.

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