Reviewed by Aimee Byrd
Maybe saying I would read this book for review wasn’t my “best yes.” It puts me in an undesirable position. New York Times bestselling author Lysa Terkeurst has written her seventeenth book, The Best Yes. It is an Amazon #1 bestseller in Christian Women’s Issues, and boasts 249 five-star reviews. Women love Lysa Terkeurst. She writes in a playful, self-deprecating, girlfriend-to-girlfriend kind of way. She is very likeable. When a book is this popular in the Christian market, I know I will be approached by well-meaning women who want to recommend it to me or ask if I have read it. Some of these women will be studying it in their churches.
So I read it. And I watched a “Best Yes” session Terkeurst gave at her home church, Elevation.
Let me start with what is refreshing about Lysa Terkeurst, and I would hope is a big reason why so many women are attracted to her books and speaking. Terkeurst is a charismatic author who emphasizes personal responsibility in decision-making. She wants to give practical help and advice on weighing, evaluating, and making decisions that honor God.
I was happy to see that the author promotes wisdom and teaches that this virtue involves regular Scripture reading and prayer, obedience to God, and seeking godly counsel. Terkeurst doesn’t excuse a woman’s responsibility and accountability with a passive “ask your husband” theology. She wants to equip women to be thinkers.
When I received this book in the mail, I was expecting the usual kind of writing that makes a bestseller’s list: humorous illustrations, emotional stories that draw the reader in, followed by Bible verses with a moral lesson. And I was expecting it to be written at a reading level that would be accessible to most readers. But I have to say that my eyes have now been opened to what must be a turning point in our reading culture.
Yesterday’s “7th grade reading level” has evolved with our technology. I felt like I was reading a new genre, something like stream of conscience meets Twitter. The sentences are short. Many of them are not sentences. I get what she’s doing there, and even throw in a few sentence fragments myself for effect on occasion. But when they are generously peppered into the text as a major component of the writing style, you don’t feel like you are reading a book anymore. I don’t think Terkeurst writes in this fashion because she is unskilled. Rather, I believe she has capitalized on our culture’s conditioned reading habits from social networking. Apparently this is appealing. I have to say that I found it a bit insulting as a reader.
Missing the Forrest for the Trees
The purpose of this book stated in the subtitle is “making wise decisions in the midst of endless demands.” Throughout the book, the author explains that some yeses are better than others, and she gives tips to teach women how to “chase down” their decisions before they make them so that they can see the consequences they will lead to. She gives good practical, albeit somewhat common sense advice to guide the reader in this.
Terkeurst emphasizes that women can easily overwhelm their schedules with obligations because they have a proclivity to please and be liked. Our “overwhelmed schedules” will often lead to “underwhelmed souls” that miss out on God’s personal assignments for our lives. In other words, we fill up our days with obligations from all the yeses we give, and we don’t leave room for the best yes that God has in store for us.
Are you confused yet? Well, Terkeurst gives many personal examples that help the reader see how she learned that it’s okay to say no to people and that she is a better mother, wife, and child of God for it. And she does have a point. We need to be good stewards of the time God gives us. But even though she gives some good decision-making advice, I wasn’t left convinced that there is a best yes that I need to pin down every time someone could use my help. There are many good yeses I could chase down, and much of this is because, like Lysa Terkeurst, I live a very privileged life enriched with many opportunities to serve and contribute. And so instead of teaching about wisdom, the forest, this book is filled with many, many trees, yeses and nos.
Who’s Yes is Best?
In a Christian book that wants to teach about wisdom, I would expect some theological teaching on this important fruit. And the primary way to do that would be to teach about Jesus Christ, the embodiment of wisdom. However, Christ was hardly even mentioned in the entire book. He is mentioned so scarcely, that I marked the two or three pages I found him. Even her gospel presentation reads in a very man-centered fashion:
It is difficult to embrace an intimate relationship with someone we never see. God understood this, so He physically came to earth and took on another name: Jesus. The absolute Best Yes we’ll ever give is asking Jesus Christ to be “the Lord God” over our lives. When we receive Him, we receive life everlasting. But this is just the starting place. We must walk with Him daily, using His gift of wisdom with each and every decision. (112)
First of all, this language leads me to ask some questions about Terkeurst’s view of the Trinity. Does she teach that God just took on another name and came to earth, or that the eternal Son took on flesh? And did the Son come because he understood that we just needed to see God to embrace an intimate relationship with him? Where is the mention of God’s sovereignty, holiness, justice, and man’s wretched sin that separates us from him? Only then can we begin to understand his great love in sending his Son. And is Jesus waiting on our Best Yes so that he can be “the Lord God” over our lives? No! He is the Lord God no matter how powerful we make our yeses and nos!
Her next big mention of Jesus is on the last page of the main body of the book. Terkeurst rightfully concludes that we should want people to “see Jesus when they see us. Hear Jesus when they hear us. And know Jesus when they know us” (231). But she did not use the 230 previous pages to teach us about Jesus. So while I read all about best yeses and “the power of the small no,” I did not read about the person and the work of Jesus Christ, the One who embodies wisdom and gives it to us. God’s yes to us in Jesus Christ is the fountain for every yes that we may be privileged to utter.
The Scripture She Did Use
While the book is lacking in a theology of wisdom and even a clear gospel message, Terkeurst does use many Scriptures to affirm our need for wisdom and to give us biblical examples of wisdom. Unfortunately, much of her biblical exposition is poor. She seems to force her Bible excerpts into her teaching points and illustrations rather than being guided by the text. I was left scratching my head throughout the book. For example, Isaiah 30:21 just can’t be simplified as a lesson about God whispering his best yes to us in our daily stress (14).
And Moses wasn’t merely “refusing to release his fear that just speaking to the rock as God commanded wouldn’t actually bring forth water” when he struck it twice (6).
Hebrews 10:24-25 isn’t to be reduced to “connecting with those we love” (182). It is referring to gathering with the covenant community of God’s people in worship.
And Exodus 18:7-12 isn’t a story about Moses’ father-in-law stepping in to help Moses “unrush a season of his life” (183).
The book is full of these sorts of reductionist, man-centered expositions. I was also disturbed to see many references to The Amplified Bible and The Message, which I just don’t think are responsible sources to be quoted as Bible translations.
A Well-Oiled Tweetable Machine
Charismatic teachers employ catchy phrases as teaching tools. Terkeurst is the master of these. These slogans are then repeated in large, calligraphic lettering, interrupting the text throughout the book. But just in case you didn’t want to interrupt your reading to grab that phone and quote her in a tweet, there is a section at the end of the book that contains all these “Things I Don’t Want You to Forget.” No, she does not actually suggest that you tweet these lines, but they are lying there beautifully on pages, practically begging like a puppy in the window. Not all of them will fit on Twitter. Several of the 73 lines to remember may need their own Facebook post. Here are a few:
Never is a woman so fulfilled as when she chooses to underwhelm her schedule so she can let God overwhelm her soul.
Refusing to release often means refusing to have peace. I trade my peace for a weight of regret. And it’s a bad trade.
What if a small no can be given in such a way that it becomes a gift rather than a curse?
Saying yes all the time won’t make me Wonder Woman. It will make me worn out woman.
Appointment and disappointment walk hand in hand. To accept one invitation is to decline another.
Those who constantly try to impress others will quickly depress themselves.
The book closes with a “Chase Down That Decision” Tool that summarizes her practical teachings on making a decision, accompanied by a printable diagram to fill out for guidance. The Best Yes is marketed well. But I am going to have to give it a “small no” as a recommendation.
Aimee Byrd is a wife and mother of three and the author of Housewife Theologian. She is also the “Residing Housewife Theologian” here at Books At a Glance.
Buy the books
The Best Yes: Making Wise Decisions In The Midst Of Endless Demands