I'm not really sure what to think of The Cross, by Arthur Blessitt.
On the one hand, the story is compelling: A guy carries a 12-foot cross for 38 years over more than 38,000 miles because, he says, God told him to. The book recounts the vicissitudes of his travels and travails, from the first opposition he encounters within the first few minutes of carrying the cross in Hollywood, California; to meeting Yasser Arafat in West Beirut; to climbing Mt. Fuji in Japan.
On the other hand, the book raises theological, doctrinal, and practical questions and problems that are kind of hard to avoid. Like does God talk to us the way Arthur Blessitt believes He does? And isn't there the hint of an inherent problem when a believer's God-calling causes so much stress that his marriage breaks up?
Finally--and I know I'm out of hands, here, but please allow me to put up a third one--there's also the matter of the actual quality of the writing itself.
Arthur Blessitt's story is compelling. There is no doubt (in my mind, at least) that he loves Jesus, and that he is willing to put everything on the line in order to follow him. He endured heat and cold, persecution and arrest; he even faced a firing squad in Nicaragua. His devotion and sacrifice has resulted in literally millions of people hearing the Gospel as Blessitt dragged his 45-pound cross. Whether you are a Jesus-follower or not, don't you have to admire this kind of single-minded commitment?
Does God talk to people today the way Arthur Blessitt believes he does? I have a super hard time believing and understanding this, which could totally be a function of my own immature faith. I want to know how a person can objectively verify that what they are "hearing" is God's voice, and not their own imagination or their own desires.
But Blessitt has no such problem. Early in the book he describes getting specific guidance from God as a seven-year-old. He was carrying water across his father's field to migrant workers picking cotton, when, he said, "I felt Jesus speaking to me...I was to walk forward thirteen steps, then turn right and go another twenty steps, and then turn to the left four more steps." This random "guidance" continued for days, until one day his dad spotted him and furiously reprimanded him.
For the rest of the summer, Blessitt said, he "went straight to the workers whenever my father was nearby. But when he was in town...I would listen for God's prompting and go where he told me to go." This whole anecdote strikes me as a very clear example of someone who wants very much to hear the voice of God, and who ascribes his own thoughts to God. "It is difficult to explain exactly how I knew [it was Jesus speaking to me]," Blessitt said, "but I felt within my spirit and my mind that Jesus was telling me to follow him."
Blessitt does not tell tales about his first marriage; he only says that he and his wife mutually agreed to officially end their marriage, and that their divorce was the result of their own failure. It's hard for me not to believe that this failure could be directly linked to a mistaken understanding of divine guidance. Would God direct a man to pursue a path that would result in the breaking of the solemn vows of marriage?
I cannot find any information on the web about whether Blessitt submits to any kind of financial accountability, which is unfortunate. I'd like to just trust that he's using the funds he raises in a responsible way, but I don't roll that way. In fact, I think any organization that accepts individual contributions--and even moreso those who do so in the name of Jesus--should be completely transparent about their finances. I did send an email inquiring if Blessitt makes his ministry finances public, or if he has any kind of financial accountability with an independent group such as Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, but I haven't heard back.
Nevertheless, I believe the guy. I believe he does what he does because he loves Jesus, and not for fame or financial gain. I would find it more difficult to believe that he'd spend his entire life carrying a cross around the world if he were not internally, spiritually motivated.
Each chapter of the book relates a particular story about Blessitt carrying the cross, encountering obstacles, meeting world leaders and/or local residents, and telling people about Jesus. As part of his chapter formula, Blessitt includes a pastoral message of faith and discipleship, and occasionally an altar call for those who do not yet follow Jesus. Though formulaic, the tone is sincere and the style is never stiff. But the formula necessarily results in repetition and redundancy, and the preaching gets old. The Cross is not a book that will win awards for literary style--but then again, that is clearly not the author's priority.
My review is based upon an early galley copy of the book, which was scheduled to be published in January 2009. The Cross has already been made into a movie which opens on March 27; here's a link to the trailer.
So, there you have it. I'm ambivalent and conflicted about The Cross. I know I'm supposed to find it inspiring, but I don't. I believe, however, that many, many people will find it to be moving and inspiring. I'd love to know what you think about it.