Book Review : Impossible Christianity

Impossible Christianity Review By James Jeffery

Impossible Christianity is written for Christians who have become disillusioned with the Christian life. Part of it is that we don’t know how God calls us to live. At the same time, our problem also has to do with the unrealistic portrait we have painted of the Christian life.

On one hand, we are inclined to view the Christian life as an endless list of ‘dos and don’ts.’ This quickly leads to exhaustion. On the other hand, we are tempted to simplistically view the Christian life as freedom from divine judgment, leaving us to do what we like in the interim. 

DeYoung shows that both extremes are dangerously unbiblical, drawing particular attention to the defeatist mentality that prevails in many of our churches. He addresses this hopelessness with the gospel of grace, showing its application for the whole Christian life.

The Defeatist Mentality

What is the defeatist mentality? DeYoung suggests it comes about when we begin to view the Christian life as impossible to live. This is evident when we begin to say things like ‘Sin is no big deal’ or ‘We should stop being so hard on ourselves’ (pp. 18-20). At some time or another, all Christians have consciously or subconsciously lived as if they were true.

DeYoung argues that while well intentioned, the phrase ‘God loves us even though we are spiritual failures’ is ‘unbiblical, inaccurate, and unhelpful’ (p. 6). It is the product of a warped view of the Christian life:

“Humility does not mean we should feel miserable all the time; meekness is not the same as spiritual failurism. The Spirit works within us. The word moves among us. The love of Christ compels us” (p. 9).

DeYoung shows there is a better alternative: namely, a proper understanding of the relationship between justification and sanctification. That is, the connection between God’s acceptance of us in Christ, and our ongoing transformation into His likeness. While the book is not structured along these lines, it is imbued with these truths from beginning to end. 

Only a proper understanding of these glorious doctrines can cast despairing believer from hopelessness, whilst simultaneously humbling the overly ambitious who hold to an over-realised eschatology (expect perfection in this life).

Hope for Believers

DeYoung’s writes that ‘Ordinary Christians and ordinary churches can be faithful, fruitful, and pleasing to God’ (p. 7). This will be a breath of fresh air for many who have fallen prey to unrealistic optimism on the one hand, or unbiblical pessimism on the other. 

Encouragingly, DeYoung reminds us that ‘Christians are conquerors, not capitulators; overcomers, not succumbers (cf. Rev. 2:7, 11, 17, 26; 3:5, 12, 21)’ (p. 37). Even though this language is from Scripture, many Christians wince at the idea that our faith is one of victory and triumph. Maybe this is because we are overreacting to the distortion of these truths by prosperity gospel preachers?

Either way, we should not throw the baby out with the bathwater. The reminder that the Christian life is not impossible is just the reminder we need. It is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, the present enthronement of King Jesus, and our union with him that give us power to enjoy the victorious Christian life. 

This transforms our walk with Christ from being one of misery and endless disappointments, to one of joy and success, understood Biblically. The restoration of this truth leads to the transformation of all spheres of our life. 

A Realistic Christian Life 

DeYoung’s main premise is that the Christian life is not impossible, even if we have been led to believe it is. Two culprits are: 1) an inaccurate portrait of life with God, and 2) an unbiblical understanding of our limitations.

He writes:

“One of the reasons Christianity can feel impossible is that we’ve concocted a Christianity unsuitable for finite creatures. If I had an infinite supply of time, money, and energy, I wouldn’t have to make any hard choices…But of course, we are not infinite beings. We have limits — lots of limits, God-given limits, and probably more limits than we realize” (p. 108).

DeYoung reminds us of a comforting truth: we cannot care about everything. We are not omniscient or omnipotent, nor do we have the capacity to. This is God’s job. Our job as humans is to recognise the Creator-creation distinction and then seek to obey what God has placed in front of us, by His grace. 

Practically, this means that not every believer will or must be involved in Christian political activism, though some should (p. 110). Likewise, not every Christian will or must help out at homeless shelters, though some should. 

Furthermore, this is a necessary message to hear in a time where Christians are heaped with guilt for historic sins, overwhelmed by the constant stream of tragic news reports, and are left feeling helpless and hopeless. 

The Biblical alternative is to recognise that God has gifted each of His people with unique strengths, and that our duty is to steward these for His glory. This means we cannot place unbiblical demands on others who do not share our gifts. Simultaneously, we must recognise that God gave us our gifts to build up the body of Christ. 

Not Just a ‘Quiet Time’ and Evangelism

Many believers across the world today have come to believe that Christianity is all about securing a quiet time and sharing the gospel with others. This is likely the aftermath of the pietism of the past 300 years since the Great Awakening, and the gradual withdrawal of believers from the public square. 

Either way, DeYoung notes that Christianity is not just about locking in a time of solitude with God, however important it may be. He writes:

“Too many of us have learned to measure our discipleship according to [our quiet times], and because we can always spend more time in prayer, we never seem to be measuring up” (p. 48)


“…for all the emphasis we put on personal evangelism — sometimes treating it as the good work above all other good works — there are few verses we can go to in order to underscore its importance” (p. 51)

I could not agree more. To be clear, reading your Bible, praying, and sharing the gospel are important dimensions of the Christian life, but they are not everything. Indeed, when we reduce the Christian life to these disciplines, it becomes both impossible and compartmentalised. 

The Christian life is all-encompassing and requires us to submit every dimension of our being to the glory and Lordship of Jesus Christ. We do this not by mere will-power, but the power of the Spirit who works in us. 

The Bottom Line

Impossible Christianity is an accessible, pithy, and much-needed book for our time. DeYoung taps into the ‘now-and-not-yet’ reality of the Christian life which guards us from being either disheartened or triumphalistic. 

It is a particularly helpful book for those new to the Christian life, college students, and exhausted Christians. It would also make a great gift for any friends who have grown complacent and weary in their Christian walk and are looking for the light at the end of the tunnel. 

My hope is that Impossible Christianity will challenge our unbiblical pre-conceptions whilst giving us hope and joy that the Christian life is actually possible. When we do so, we will begin to delight in God both as Saviour and Lord, and we will understand what DeYoung says when he writes:

“If we walk with Jesus, solid joys and lasting treasure are possible” (p. 127).