A review of Out of the Comfort Zone. By R.T. Kendall.

Hodder & Stoughton, 2005. (Available in Australia from Koorong Books)

Way back in 1952 J.B. Phillips wrote a book called Your God is Too Small. In it he urged Christians to not put God in a box, but try to see him as he really is, in all his grandeur, majesty and magnificence. God is far bigger than our limited understanding of him.

And C.S. Lewis spoke about God as the “great iconoclast”. He is forever having to shatter our icons, our false pictures about Himself. We have distorted images of who God is. So God in his mercy has to break all the false and limiting understandings we have of who he really is.

In a similar vein, Kendall here writes about a disturbing trend in the church: the tendency to reduce God to a likeable, nice buddy and pal. He is a safe and domesticated God who will not want to upset us or challenge us. He is more of a celestial mate who exists to keep us happy, than the awesome God of the universe that demands our obedience and reverence.

Image of Out of the Comfort Zone : Your God Is Too Nice
Out of the Comfort Zone : Your God Is Too Nice by Kendall, R.T. (Author) Amazon logo

Thus the subtitle of this book: Is Your God Too Nice? Kendall argues that most of us want a nice God, a tame God, an inoffensive God, a non-demanding God, a likable God and an easy-to-get-along-with God. But the real God of the universe is not necessarily any of these things.

Indeed, we “are embarrassed about the God of the Bible, especially the God of the Old Testament,” says Kendall, and “even the teachings of Jesus and the apostles when it comes to the need and the only way to be saved, God’s right to judge and (last but not least) hell.”

These can all be uncomfortable doctrines for some Christians, so we have a habit of glossing them over, or denying them altogether. The truth is, we want a nice God, a manageable God, and a tame God. And we certainly do not want to offend others, to rock the boat, or to appear to be too radical or divisive.

All of which means we have put God in a box and made him in our own image. Kendall says we must stop “apologizing for God” and “give up trying to make him look appealing”. Only by upholding the real God of the Bible will we bring honour to him and make a difference in this world. But the Nice God “is not big enough, strong enough, awesome enough or knowledgeable enough to hurt a fly”.

We have de-stigmatised the Christian message, watered down the claims of God, and taken the offence out of the Gospel. But if we will be true to God and his Word, then we must be willing to get out of our comfort zones, and suffer with Jesus outside the camp, bearing his disgrace, as Hebrews 13:13 says.

Kendall mentions various ways in which we will need to step out of our comfort zones. One is to be willing to be made a fool for Christ’s sake. It means being willing to do what our Lord asks of us, even if it means we end up receiving all the world’s ridicule, derision and scorn.

As Paul reminds us in 1 Cor. 1, God chooses to use the weak, foolish and lowly things of the world to get his job done. Unless we are willing to humble ourselves and identify with our Lord in his shame and disgrace, we will not be effective for him.

Certain doctrines must also be reclaimed. The fear of the Lord is one of them. This doctrine is emphasised throughout Scripture. But we have managed to water it down and anesthetise it. We say that the fear of the Lord really means just having awe and reverence. It does mean that, but much more as well.

As Kendall notes, the fear of God is a very serious matter in Scripture. The God with whom we have to do is not to be trivialised and made safe. He is a consuming fire. And when we are told to fear God, often that means just that – to fear God.

For example, the same word is used in Matt. 1:20, when an angel tells Joseph not to fear taking Mary as a wife. Surely this does not mean, “Do not be in awe”. It means do not be afraid. The same term is used of how we should approach God. A bit of holy fear would do us all a lot of good.

Sure, we are reconciled to God because of what Jesus did, but that does not mean God becomes some safe, tame and nice cosmic grandfather. Kendall points out the many passages in the Gospels and Acts where we read of the disciples being filled with great fear. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

In many other ways Kendall urges us to get out of our comfort zones and let God be God. We have for too long settled for a domesticated and humanised God. As Lucy had to be reminded in the Lewis Narnia stories, Aslan (the Christ figure) is not to be trifled with.

Lucy asks if Aslan is safe. She is answered with these words: “‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you”. While we can all have a personal love relationship with God through Christ, we still remain humans, and he still remains God. We always need to keep this truth in mind.

Kendall has done a good job of reminding us that God is God, and he will not be brought down to our level. Indeed, what God wants is to bring us up to his level. But we come to him on his terms, not ours. This book is a good reminder of these truths. We do not need a nice God. We need the God of Scripture and him alone.

[982 words]

9 Replies to “A review of Out of the Comfort Zone. By R.T. Kendall.”

  1. Thanks Bill. R.T.Kendall has exposed the Self-Destruct button. The Uniting Church has kept it’s finger on this button since it’s inception in 1977. It did this by ignoring the essential need to get agreement on the nature of God.
    Stan Fishley

  2. And in “The Last Battle” it was said “Aslan is not a tame lion!”
    John Angelico

  3. Dear Bill,
    Thanks for your review of this book. I now don’t have to waste time reading it! Sounds like a lot of do more try harder religious crapola to me! If you want a clear view of what scripture says about our Heavenly Father, have a read of Luke 15. The Father is being described by Jesus himself, and I think he is an authority on the matter. Fact is, this Father ran(unheard of in mid east culture)to his son to welcome him home and embrace him. Anything other than this view of the Father is a figment of our imagination! God is love! God is relational-the original family, Father,Son and Holy Spirit! We are included in their family. We do not have the power to unson or undaughter oursleves. We are not that powerful! So, my view of Father,Son and Spirit(God) is that they love me unconditionally, have brought me into their midst through the vicarious actions of Jesus and now I am seated with THEM at the right hand of the Father in Christ! Read Ephesians chapter 2 and John chapter 17. This is the context which you should read the Bible. They NEVER act out of anything than LOVE, even His wrath, because THEY ARE LOVE!!!
    Blessings,
    Lou d’Alpuget

  4. Thanks Lou

    I realise that we all have our preferred theological positions. But RT Kendall is a godly saint and retired pastor who has been used by God to bless many, lead many into his Kingdom, and encourage many souls along the way. Thus it is sad and unfortunate that you are so dismissive of this brother in Christ, and that you can simply call his book crap when you have not even read it.

    As to the theological issues you raise, I have in part dealt with them elsewhere on this site.

    But it seems that we do no one a favour by taking our own particular theological slant, and making it an absolute, especially when it means we have to throw out large portions of the Bible that we think do not fit in with it. Like Paul, I believe we have an obligation to “proclaim the whole counsel of God,” and not just those bits that we like or fit in with our particular pet theology.

    So we might have to agree to disagree here.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  5. Sounds like a good book and one that is desperately needed in today’s compromised and lukewarm church (in the West). The fear of God is completely absent from Western society today and one big reason for that is that it first went missing from the church. Those who think we need to know nothing else about God other than His attribute of love, are the ones who have put God in a box and have an unbalanced reductionist view of God.

    I have news for those who think the church doesn’t have to demonstrate or teach anything other than that God is love: it doesn’t work. This is predominately the message we hear from many pulpits today, and yet it isn’t changing society. In fact, what I see happening all around me is a society that continues to move further and further away from God’s truth and a church that preaches about God’s love but the message ends up sounding more like universalism. The church has become irrelevant because it has abandoned much of God’s truth.

    Christians need to be reading books like Out of the Comfort Zone and not so much of the mush that adorns the best-seller shelves of the Christian book stores. The church would be in a far healthier state if we did.

    Ewan McDonald.

  6. Thanks for your review Bill. I hope to get Kendall’s book and read it. I’ve had another thought lately. Some parts of the church see God as being only concerned with the physical needs of people, ie having enough food, clothing and shelter and social needs,ie having people who are friends or good neighbours.
    What happened to the God who longs for people to find eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ?
    Graham Lawn

  7. I have to agree with Ewan. Lou try reading Revelation 3:14-21.
    Angel Romano

  8. Kendall’s 2009 revised edition of this book is titled “Out of Your Comfort Zone”. It sounds like a better title I think – as we all have different comforts we tend to cling to at times!

  9. This book helped me understand how big and unfathomable and wonderful and good God really is. Read the book of Job and how God takes Job out of his comfort zone and reveals Himself as mighty and awesome. How do we explain doctrines of hell and judgment unless we realise God is The great I am, higher than all our understanding, untameable, all powerful… He is multifaceted. He is the loving, accepting Father of the prodigal, He is the good shepherd, and I love nothing more than to spend time in His presence, understanding I am saved and accepted. But He is also the God who will come in judgement of the world. We can’t remove the “not nice” facets of God from our theology. I agree with RT and thank him for having the courage to write this book which goes a way towards helping me to see God as far greater than my boxy theology.

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