Perfect and Forgiven, Zach Maldonado. Self-published, paperback, 166 pages. (c) 2019. Available on Amazon.
Zach Maldonado from Church Without Religion created a study guide to reflect his personal faith journey and his identity in Christ. He developed a series of topics such as “Complete,” “Delighted In,” “Masterpiece,” and “Blessed.” Each topic begins with a phrase or verse of Scripture as jumping off point. So far, so good.
On first glance, this study guide looks like a good, down-to-earth Bible study. And in most places, it is. For anyone who has struggled with self-esteem and self-worth, particularly when comparing oneself to a holy and righteous God, I have no doubt it will be helpful. The language is down-to-earth with very few theological terms (which is refreshing!) There are a few well-used tropes (the blind men touching an elephant, for instance) but much of the content is from his personal experience.
This study guide could be used with students as young as middle school. The topics are not complex and there is not nuanced discussion of questions that come up in high school. For use as a daily reflection, the chapters are short, and the daily affirmations are good for any age. At the end of each chapter, there is a paragraph titled “Hearing God’s Opinion.” This is a paragraph written as though God is speaking it to the reader. For the most part, I found those to be encouraging, as is their intent.
My quibble with this study guide is that it has a very narrow theological focus. It is from a conservative, evangelical viewpoint. It espouses the “penal substitution” view of atonement. It uses snippets of scripture from a variety of Bible translations, apparently to make the language work for the main point of the chapter. (For instance, Zach drew from NASB, NIV, NCV, ESB, NET, CSB, NLT, BSB… but there were no selections from NRSV, a standard in theological study.) God is always referenced as a gendered male. I understand his evangelical perspective, but it is easy enough to re-write and not use “he” in every instance.
Maldonado also uses a male-centric focus in writing about women which I find troubling. For instance, he mentions ‘the woman caught in adultery’ – and no mention of the man. (Logically, a woman can’t be “caught in adultery” without a sex partner…) In an era of “Me Too” and “Church Too” I would like to see a better handling of this topic. He also refers to marriage as heterosexual only, and sex as something not done “outside marriage.” As a result, I do not recommend this book for churches which are welcoming and affirming, nor for any LGBTQ+ Christian organizations.
There is a positive Spirit within the pages, and some of the content would be helpful for anyone. Zach writes for his church and his audience, and I respect that. For the broader Church community, I would not suggest using this study guide.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I was provided this book without cost from the publisher and was not required to give a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.