Eugene Cho, founder of charity One Day’s Wages and lead pastor of Quest Church in Seattle, writes an honest, searing book about the popular issue of social justice, and how it’s not just a popular issue. Pastor Eugene gets deep into the hands-on grittiness of doing justice that lasts beyond our flashy social media and emotional trappings. He also shares his own personal journey in getting there, a vulnerable season of his life when he was brutally humbled and he honestly confronted himself.
I must first admit my own bias here because I’m absolutely excited that my own story is in the book. A couple years ago, I donated half my salary to Eugene Cho’s charity One Day’s Wages to fight human trafficking. It was a check for $10,000, and after attempting to raise a matching donation, an anonymous donor contributed $8085 to reach $20,000. What convicted me most to save for the year was hearing one of Eugene Cho’s messages from the Catalyst Conference in 2011, in which he delivered a passionate sermon about really doing justice more than loving the idea; incidentally, it has become the main thread of his first book. Though I’ve never met Pastor Eugene, I’m truly honored that I’m a part of his work.
Here’s a confession. I’ve read over 200 Christian books and I’ve been a pastor for over seven years, and I can truthfully tell you that I’m woefully jaded to the Christianese scene of books, podcasts, and conferences. I’ve read the best there is and have heard the best preachers. I know every great one-liner, buzzword, and knock-out tweet in the entirety of our Christian bubble. There’s not a single Christian book in the last year or so that has impacted me deeply, and perhaps the last truly great book I’ve read is Josh Riebock’s Heroes and Monsters. So while I love Eugene Cho and his charity, I approached his book with some fear that it would encircle the same tropes I’ve come to eye-roll.
Here’s what surprised me. Pastor Eugene does follow some of the familiar language from other pastors and Christian authors. He does insert the alliterative catchphrase and the near-guilt-trip taglines. There are tons of statistics and cautionary stories and proper theology, as all good Christian books must contain. In a sense, Pastor Eugene isn’t saying a whole lot that I haven’t heard before.
Yet: every page seemed to come alive for me and speak a pulsing, gripping truth that exposed the worst of my selfishness, while paving a way forward. I can tell that Pastor Eugene has wrestled over and over with the idea that we are more in love with our ideas than actually doing the marathon work of carrying them out. I can tell he’s struggled with maintaining integrity about feeling good versus doing good. I was reminded that in doing justice, it is first our priority to become just, because merely doing “good work” will enforce a savior-narrative and make it all about me.
The book takes a little while to get going, but the best chapters here are 4 through 7. It’s chapter 4 where I could hardly put it down. Pastor Eugene questions our hastiness in the spontaneity of our plans, since we so often embark on something without the appropriate research, knowledge, and sustainability. Here he also shares one of the hardest seasons of his life, where he had moved on from his church to plant his own, but was met with unemployment and terrible setback while his wife was pregnant. For six months, he couldn’t find a job, and he humbly admits that he was turned down by Taco Bell. He ended up cleaning toilets for a year at Barnes and Noble. There’s nothing wrong with cleaning toilets, but as a fellow Asian, I know the embarrassment of facing a shame-and-honor culture in which you’re expected to succeed at the highest level. But it was this very season where Pastor Eugene learned to wait, examine his own motives, and surrender his heart to the God who knows best.
Chapter 5 discusses our quickly disposable culture, in which we quit too fast when things get hard. Chapter 6 examines our self-broadcasting, in which we tend to tell better stories than actually living them. And chapter 7 is about our hashtag generation, in which Pastor Eugene calls for depth, and that even though it’s great to do missions trips and dig wells in Africa or help the homeless, there are much more effective ways than simply throwing money at these things.
If you want to be empowered to connect your heart and your hands, this is that book. I was rocked out of Christian-world jadedness and reminded once again about what God does on the earth, and how He so graciously invites us in. The book will both rock you out of complacency but also gently point the way to get into the mess of others. I highly recommend Eugene Cho’s Overrated, which you can get here on Amazon.
“When God hives us a vision, conviction, or dream, He may not want us to act upon it instantaneously. Instead, allow it to incubate in the waiting room. Some of us see the waiting room as weakness, but I believe it is an example of character and maturity.” (103)
“I believe we should be about the marathon and not about instant gratification. We don’t need one-hit wonders; we need steady and faithful engagement. We need people who are faithful. People who are tenacious. People who don’t give up. These people are few and far between. But they can truly change the world.” (118)
“You can’t know everything about everything, but when you say that you care about something in particular, and feel called about it, this is where I say you have to dig deep, be deep. Take time to understand the issues, facts, complexities, and nuances. Without knowing even the basic background of what you care about, you can hurt the people you are trying to help. This is an issue of respect.” (161)
“We cannot speak with integrity about what we are not living. We don’t need more dazzling storytellers; we need more genuine storytellers. And the best way to become a better storyteller is to simply live a better life. Not a perfect life, but one of honesty, integrity, and passion.” (178)
“This, in my opinion, is the best part of wanting to change the world. Inevitably, we will be changed in the process.” (22).
My testimony here.
One thought on “Book Review: Overrated by Eugene Cho”
As someone who lost their job seeking justice for an oppressed group, being passionate about justice as a necessity (not an optional extra), I find this intriguing. My list of to-reads gets bigger all the time…