Monday, July 18, 2011

Book Review - At the Corner of 6th and North by Joshua J. McNeal

At the beginning of this review, I must reveal my bias. The author, Josh McNeal, is a friend of mine who asked me to read his book and let me know what I thought. I will admit, I began reading the book as a favor to Josh, but the story drew me in bit by bit until I was reading the book to see how it ended. In my mind, that is one of the signs of a good book.

This is Josh's first published novel and I would say it is worth the read. The story revolves around 6 characters, all of them in the midst of a variety of life situations. All 6 suddenly receive a phone call, followed by a mailed invitation. The invitation requests their presence at the corner of 6th and North in their town. When they arrive, strangers to each other, they are picked up by a school bus and whisked away.

It is at this point in the story that the plot gets mysterious. The characters' bus ride into the unknown reminds me a bit of C. S. Lewis' literary device in The Great Divorce. The 6 end up at a strange hotel that is independent of time and there they are met by their host – Jesus Christ Himself.

If this sounds a bit like William P. Young's book, The Shack, I will admit that there are some similarities. Thankfully the Jesus portrayed in At the Corner of 6th and North is a Jesus with solid, biblical, theology, as opposed to Young's Jesus who seems to pick and choose which biblical ideas are important. Without spoiling the rest of the plot, the bulk of the novel is built around Jesus revealing himself to the 6 invitees and in a unique way, inviting each of them into relationship with Him.

Now, there are lots of Christian fiction books out there – why read this one? First, Josh is a great young man with a heart for the Lord and I would love for you to read his book. He has written an interesting story that draws you in and leaves you encouraged. Second, and more seriously, this book has some challenges for Christians. It is a reminder of the fact that Jesus is the answer to the situations of life that people find themselves in or, in some cases, even create themselves. I don't mean for you to think that the Jesus of the novel is a milquetoast, therapeutic Jesus – He is not. He loves, but displays His justice at the same time. But the way Josh portrayed Jesus and His individual ministry and individual call to each one of the 6 characters was a profound reminder to me of how He ministers in each of our lives. As a pastor, it is easy to fall into a “ministry rut.” Josh's book reminded me of the importance of examining how we do things, examining how I portray Jesus in my messages and my life and recognizing that our Lord can use a variety of different people and methods to draw someone to Him. Another scene challenged me in the area of worship – is my heart really in the right place for worship? What does Jesus hear and see when I worship – a heart that is sold out to Him or a body just going through the motions?

Some may read this book and argue that, like too much Christian fiction, everything works out too neatly in the end. As I was reading, I admit that I was wondering if that was going to be true. And you could say that is what happens. But the author has an answer for that argument. Near the end of the book, as one of the characters is being escorted through the hotel by Jesus after surrendering her life, they pass a number of empty hotel rooms. When the character asks if more people should have been at the hotel, Jesus' answer is that many are called, but few are chosen. (Matt. 22:14, KJV) In other words, many invitations were sent, but only the 6 characters responded. So what Josh has presented to his readers is a picture of the unique and effectual call of Jesus in a life. The power of such a call should draw believers to their knees in praise and re-ignite our hope for those we love who do not yet know our Lord and Savior.

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