What Jesus Intended: Finding True Faith in the Rubble of Bad Religion

Reviewed by:

G. Connor Salter, Professional Writing alumnus from Taylor University, Upland, IN.


What Jesus Intended: Finding True Faith in the Rubble of Bad Religion


Todd D. Hunter


InterVarsity Press

Publication Date:

July 18, 2023




192 pages


The church can be great. The church can also be tough. These days, in the wake of many churches’ flaws being exposed, it’s particularly easy to be disillusioned with the church. Todd C. Hunter uses his own church experiences and stories from Christians he’s asked about the church over the years to consider the good, bad, and downright ugly side of church. He argues that in the many ways the church fails, one thing never fails: Jesus. As he considers the main areas where the church fails us (the history of religious abuse, the struggle to find a community that helps us think through our doubts), he shows attributes of Jesus (his love, his trustworthiness) that heal those wounds.

It’s an old but true cliché that there are no new ideas. On paper, Hunter’s idea (look to Jesus, see what the Bible says about him, what we may miss because we got distracted by what fallible church people said about him) isn’t too different from books like The Jesus I Never Knew by Philip Yancey. However, he uses the current moment to show how the concept remains topical. Where humans will fail, God never does.

Without sharing too many private details, Hunter gives poignant portraits of people he’s met who were hurt by the church. He’s equally careful to balance honesty with empathy when talking to the leaders who caused those hurts. He doesn’t pretend those leaders made good choices but shows he knew some of them, saw their capacity to do great things for God, and also saw the insecurities that motivated their dysfunctional behavior.

Some of the book’s most telling moments are when Hunter reckons with failings. He seems to feel complicit. When discussing politics, he talks about flaws he sees on both sides (progressive friends who seem obsessed with finding political solutions to eternal problems, conservative friends who seem to have mistaken America for the eternal kingdom). However, he also critiques himself a bit. He reflects on the culture wars and how his generation probably gave up too much credibility by seeking political favors. He talks about how the Jesus Movement, where he became a Christian, gave him great faith. He also reflects on how the Jesus people tended to assume they had figured everything out, disdaining others.

Both comments show Hunter’s willingness to admit his own mistakes. In a way, they become a lament. Jon Ward (Testimony) and others have argued that America has reached its polarized present because the Jesus Movement traded in countercultural faith for cultural acceptance during the 80s, with messy consequences that continue today. Some have avoided grappling with what the Jesus Movement missed, preferring to preserve the period in amber. In a time when many Christians are perhaps too willing to look at the past and ignore its mistakes (polarized times breed nostalgia), Hunter’s choice to be honest about his generation’s slipups proves refreshing. His humility turns the book into more than just a well-written discussion about getting back to Jesus. It also becomes a lament, a reckoning with how we got here. This may sound a bit heavy, but it is necessary. Renewal begins with lament and repentance.

A winsome yet bracing, intelligent yet accessible discussion of how we can find good religion again.


Rating (1 to 5 stars)

4.5 stars

Suggested Audience

Christians who have been hurt by the church seeking healing and spiritual nourishment.

Christian Impact

The author balances recognizing how great the church can be as a community and how fallible, foolish, and hurtful it can be. Looking both sides squarely in the eye, he allows readers to understand that we must see both sides… and recognize that, ultimately, Jesus’ example is there for us when the church fails.

NOTE: ECLA readers who enjoyed this book may enjoy Hunter’s previous book:


What Jesus Intended: Finding True Faith in the Rubble of Bad Religion



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