In Killing Us Softly, Efrem Smith wants to encourage believers to participate in bringing transformative change to their communities and neighbourhoods. Smith argues that salvation does not stop at the personal level but requires actively engaging and inviting those who are underprivileged and marginalized to experience renewal through Jesus. Moreover, the author calls Christians to challenge the numerous upside-down systems, institutions, and people in society so that the right-side up of the kingdom of heaven can gradually be realized as we wait for Christ’s return. Smith asserts that the first step in doing so is to experience personal renewal through Christ by repenting and putting to death the sinful ways and thoughts that permeate our lives. In specific, Smith focuses heavily on the racial conflicts that have plagued America and believes that Christians can play an important role in reversing the hostility and tensions that divide and hurt because of discrimination.
Although I appreciate Smith’s passion for urban renewal and caring for those who are oppressed, I have some reservations on how he frames the gospel message throughout the book. Smith describes the gospel as being the good news that Christ came to empower those who are marginalized. It seems then that Smith is advocating for a version of the social gospel which emphasizes social justice as Christ’s primary mission in His incarnation, death, and resurrection. Without a doubt, Jesus came to heal the sick and dwell with those that are poor and destitute. However, it is important to note that Jesus did not begin a social revolution to empower the underprivileged and restore social justice. Rather, Jesus pointed toward heart change through the work of the Holy Spirit which results in repentance and faith in Christ as Saviour and Lord. Even in what we refer to as the Great Commission, Jesus tells his followers to make disciples, baptize them, and teach them to follow all He commanded but there is no mention of social justice. I do agree that Christians are bound by the Bible’s commands to perform good works and uphold justice but we also must acknowledge that Christ came not for social liberation but to free us from the power of Satan, sin, and death. We should not turn a deaf ear to calls for justice and mercy but we recognize that true restoration is found in Jesus and would only be fully realized when He returns and all tears, pain, and death will be wiped away.
I would recommend this book with reservation for Christians who want to be challenged to step out of their comfort zones to witness to a progressively sinful world. Smith encourages readers to carry the burdens of those who are suffering, encourage those who are downcast, and motivate those who need opportunities to reorient their priorities. Instead of being self-satisfied and complacent, Smith urges readers to reverse the distortions of society and promote the right-side up ways of God’s kingdom. All these points are good and noble as I agree that Christians should be involved in expressing the love of Christ to proclaim the gospel. However, Jesus does not ask us to merely bring in social change but to point people to their deepest need which is salvation through Him. It is only when we have transformed hearts that we can bring cultural and societal renewal to our communities. Moreover, we need to set our eyes firmly on the hope for total restoration of all things when Jesus comes to set all things right-side up forever.
In compliance with Federal Trade Commission guidelines, I received a review copy from Tyndale House Publishers in exchange for a book review.