Jesus is ____. by Judah Smith (Book review)

Review Format

I’m going to try a different format for this review. I will list things in the order of the “The Good,” which is my assessment of what makes a book valuable, “The Bad,” which are content related things that need some work, and “The Ugly” which is an assessment of how the material is presented (or poorly presented). Following this I’ll give my final evaluation and rank it on a six category scale. Best is “Hardback Buy”, then “Paperback Buy,” then “Ebook buy,” then “Borrow”, next to worst is “Meh” and worst is “Avoid at all costs.” I’ll use this for all future book reviews (regardless of whether they exist in hardback or ebook form).

This is a review of Jesus is _____. by Judah Smith. It is based, in part at least, upon the wildly successful “Jesus is ____ ” campaign from Seattle that asked people to fill in the blank, had billboards and websites, and generally got “Jesus on the mind of Seattle.” Judah Smith is pastor of City Church in Seattle, along with his wife Chelsea.

The Good

I’ll start off by saying that this is a good book for Christians. It does raise some interesting questions and presents a few perspectives I hadn’t considered before. Ultimately, the overall message is good and uplifting and may lead to a closer relationship with Jesus. It certainly made me think about church in a few different ways.

The Bad

Judah Smith’s Old Testament theology needs some serious work. He is still in the mindset that the Old Testament religion of the Hebrews was a works based salvation. It wasn’t. It is full of Grace. This review isn’t the place to make that argument, but this bit, which he relies upon for some contrasts, is just mistaken. The same contrast could have been made if he simply talked about how most people think about religion (weighing good and bad, etc.).

The Ugly

OK, this may get messy. Let me state from the outset that Judah Smith seems like a great communicator. A great oral communicator. Really this seemed like an extended sermon series (with each sermon being a little longer than he is likely use to delivering). While I understand that this is the primary way he communicates his message, it makes the reading a bit labor-intensive at times, and each chapter could probably be about 25% shorter (and I’m pretty long winded, so that says something). Many of his jokes fell flat, in large part because he couldn’t deliver them in person (I could see how they might be funny if I heard them instead of read them), and in part because he seemed to assume they were funny anyway. Finally, some of his illustrations are just too trite or too silly to take seriously (Worthy World versus Grace Land? Seriously?).

Final Assessment

Judah Smith clearly has some great big picture thoughts and ideas. He seems to be readily able to develop these into sermons/talks. Not into books though. The major downside of this book was a lack of follow through and execution. Honestly, he could have said what he needed to in about half the space. There was just too much needless fluff (or undeveloped points). My overall assessment “Borrow.” (3 out of 6) It’s worth looking at, but once through (and even a skim through) is probably enough.


I received a free copy of this book from the “booksneeze” program for the purposes of review, affiliated with Thomas Nelson Publishers. I have not been paid or received anything else for this review. I nevertheless try to maintain objectivity in my review.

  3 comments for “Jesus is ____. by Judah Smith (Book review)

  1. March 5, 2013 at 5:25 pm

    I loved the book. I think Judah Smith is awesome and has a voice in this generation that is impacting lives. Blessings!

    • March 5, 2013 at 6:10 pm

      A lot of people loved the book. I do think there are some valuable things in it and I can see that he is a great oral communicator. I just didn’t see why he published this book, at least as it currently stands. It looked to me (and I admit this is my opinion) as though he published it mostly because of his status as a Christian leader, and not because he was an amazing author. His writing needs work so that it sounds more cohesive and flows better as a written work. Honestly, I think people who have heard him speak before may have an easier time because they can hear it in his voice and get the tone down, but I haven’t, and it just didn’t read well for me. Plus, I couldn’t really tell what was different about this book that hasn’t been said thousands of times over by others. Again it is just my opinion, but I think that if he plans to keep writing he really needs to develop a unique voice and one distinct from his sermon giving voice. For me it was a book with a lot of potential, but needed more work. Thanks for your thoughts though. I think we can disagree (mildly) in a respectful way.

  2. Sharon
    September 30, 2013 at 9:50 pm

    Love this book. Brought me to the throne of Grace.

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