Friday, August 06, 2010

Book Review: Same Kind of Different as Me

A New York Times Bestseller, Same Kind of Different as Me is the true story of two men--a homeless modern-day slave (Denver), and a self-made millionaire (Ron)--who form an unlikely friendship. 

At first, I found this true story intriguing--gripping, actually.  Denver's accounts of his sharecropping experiences and the hard life on the streets tugged at my heartstrings. 

So did Ron's story of a crumbling marriage and an empty, things-driven lifestyle. 

The story and the friendship progress nicely, with both characters fumbling around in their own minds to find meaning to their lives and a purpose for their existence.  I found the plot to be a bit predictable, yet still enjoyable. 

Then, halfway through the book, Ron's wife Debbie gets sick.  That changes things.

Ron struggles, as any devoted husband would, with the meaning of life and the purposes of God.  While I appreciated the honesty of the struggle and the peek into his raw emotion, I finished the book discouraged.  Ron never comes to accept God's ways as best.
Bitterly, I wondered if He could have managed to build [the new homeless mission] without taking my wife...  One of the phrases we evangelicals like to throw around is that Christianity is "not a religion; it's a relationship."  I believe that, which is why I know that when my faith was shattered and I raged against Him, He still accepted me.  And even though I have penciled a black mark in His column, I can be honest about it.  That's what a relationship is all about.
While the book does drive home several noble truths (God can save anybody; God's call must be obeyed; people are more important than things; one person can make a difference.), it sorely misses the mark theologically. 

For one, the authors do not present a clear Gospel message.  One would expect that, at the very least, from a book such as this.  How can a message of redemption truly hit home to anyone, unless it proclaims the truth of the Redeemer?  How can a story of faith inspire hope, unless it clearly presents the Object of that faith?  This was extremely disappointing. 

In addition, during Debbie's illness, Denver claims to have several visions and revelations from God, which he imparts to Ron on God's behalf.  What's more, Denver supposedly sees Debbie's spirit one night shortly after her death.  Debbie speaks to him, and he's filled with peace. 

And if the story didn't discourage me enough, the Q&A section at the end of the book did me in.  Two of Ron's answers were especially disappointing.  When asked, "What is the message you hope the reader will receive from reading this book?" Ron answered, "One person can make a difference."  Not, "Jesus is all you need."  Not, "Christ came to seek and save the lost."  Not, "Repent and be saved!"

And when asked, "What is your current definition of success?"  Ron says, "A successful person is one who is living a joyful life with the hand he or she was dealt."  Really?  That's it? 

For storytelling and characters, I give this book four stars. 
But for its theology and Biblical accuracy--the important stuff--I wouldn't recommend it to a bum on the street.  He'd be no better off after reading it than he was before.

Disclaimer: I was given a copy of this book by Thomas Nelson Publishers in exchange for this review. All opinions expressed here are my own.