Book Review: The Normal Christian Life

The Normal Christian Life, Watchman Nee, Christian Literature League, Tyndale House, 285 pages.

  • Critical read
  • Must read
  • Good read
  • Read if you want
  • Read something else

Why this book is a critical read: If you have been raised in or have come to faith in churches in North America, chances are you have had very little teaching and modeling of true New Covenant faith.  This is most likely true whether you are in a protestant or Catholic congregation, or attend an evangelical, Pentecostal, or mainline congregation.  That sounds like a broad and dangerous statement.  It is.  And I sincerely believe it to be true.  I will be addressing this issue soon in a series of “Climb Free” posts.  Stay tuned.

Our expression of Christianity is atypical to that of the rest of the world, except where we have imposed our “style” on other cultures. Our expression is steeped in the old covenant practices that extend back to the days of Constantine, practices that have survived pretty much every effort at reform including the Reformation itself.  The paradigm for “doing church” is still old covenant in its orientation, and is at its heart a religion and not a vital relationship with a God who lives within us.

Some of you are getting pretty upset with me at this point, and I get it.  One of the most painful passages in my life has been realizing that the evangelical groups I have known and loved since childhood have be missing the point of the New Covenant in their practices and structures.

The cost of these ongoing paradigmatic errors has been enormous. North America is the only populated continent on which the Christian faith is losing ground in terms of numbers and converts.  The percentage of the population that identifies as in some way Christian is shrinking toward half of what it was 100 years ago.  The faith that is growing faster than the population in North Korea, Iran, and Viet Nam is losing ground in the place where it thinks itself the most healthy.  Despite having it all – private schools, higher ed, seminaries, media, money, buildings, paid staff, fog machines and coffee bars – the gates of hell are prevailing.  If we are not truly concerned and repentant over this situation, we are asleep in the light.  Pointing at other groups is a useless dodge.

There are many issues underlying this tragic situation, and most of them can be traced to a functional ignorance of what it means to be a Christian in the New Covenant Kingdom of our God.  This book by Watchman Nee, “The Normal Christian Life,” is one of the most readable and effective explanations of New Covenant living available.

Why you should read this book: You must read this book precisely because it is one of the most readable and effective explanations of New Covenant living available.  If you understand the points explained in this book and order your thinking to fit them, you will then be able more fully experience New Covenant living every day.  Nee takes you on a concise yet challenging tour of the book of Romans, the apostle Paul’s explanation of the how and why of the New Covenant. The book culminates in a deeper dive into Romans chapters six through eight.  You cannot understand how Romans eight works for you without understanding six and seven fully.  Nee takes you to that understanding.

The point: Nee’s simple writing style and effective use of illustrations brings clarity to the pervasive problem of sin and our inability to overcome it every day.  His explanation of how true faith includes the twin understandings of our depravity and our need to be joined to Christ in His death and resurrection is impactful.  He makes the theology of New Covenant clear in a way that can change one’s thinking and practice every day.  Nee unpacks the dynamic tension between our desire for righteousness and our total inability to achieve it that Paul raises in Romans 7.  He follows that with how our death with Christ (Romans 6) is the answer to the power of sin over us. Finally, Nee clarifies the centrality of the Holy Spirit for successfully living free from the power of sin every day (Romans 8).  Not the gifts of the Spirit or the fruit of the Spirit – the Holy Spirit Himself is the key.  In the second half of the book, the reader will begin to see the importance of living a crucified life every day, and of always living under the full control of the Spirit.

Impact: This is a life-changing read if one approaches it in a prayerful manner, asking the Holy Spirit to unclutter the mind from old covenant concepts and fill the mind with truly biblical understandings.  Nee’s explanation of the linkages between Romans 6, 7, and 8 are priceless.  I have read this book at least three times over the years.  Each reading unfolds new perspectives.  I believe this is because each reading peels back some of the old covenant paradigm in which I was steeped, allowing for the next reading to push the horizon further out.  If you read this book to notch your bookcase with another “Christian classic,” you will likely gain little.  If you come hungry for truth and for personal change to the point of disruption, you will likely not be disappointed.  Plan on at least two reads, and three or four spaced out with a couple of months between will serve you well.  It is that useful.

Similar reads: “The Crucified Life,” by AW Tozer, “The Imitation of Christ,” by Thomas aKempis, “The Mystery of Godliness,” by Ian Thomas, “The Pursuit of Man,” by AW Tozer, and two books by the same title, “God is Closer Than You Think,” but by different authors, Juan Carlos Ortiz and John Ortberg.

Read this book.  It is that good.

Nee was converted to Christianity at age 17 in China prior to the Communist Revolution.  By age 21 he was a pastor and writer recognized in the Chinese church.  He was a contemporary of T. Austin Sparks, and spent time with Sparks on several occasions.  In 1952, shortly after the revolution, Nee was imprisoned by the Communists in an effort to silence his influence. He stayed in prison until his death in 1973.

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