John Cooper’s book “Awake and Alive to Truth” offers an easy-to-understand, engaging, and timely message about the truth of God in the face of cultural lies.
Skillet’s lead singer, John Cooper, released his debut book, “Awake and Alive to Truth: Finding Truth in the Chaos of a Relativistic World,” on November 27, 2020. The book later won the Book Impact Award at the 2021 K-LOVE Fan Awards.
For those new to the rock band Skillet, they have garnered increasing popularity over their 25-year career that began in 1996. By the release of John’s book, they had sold 12 million albums and had 4 billion streams of their music worldwide.
They’re not just any band of Christian musicians either; they have an edgy style, and while they are Christians, their audience is a mix of Christians and non-Christians alike. Their live performances even have pyrotechnics, which is not your typical show of faith-based rockers.
I was first introduced to their music during the early 2000s with the album Alien Youth, which I put on repeat in my car’s CD player.
So I was surprised when this lead singer I listened to in my youth became an author. Yet I was impressed how he wields the words on a page even as a first-time author.
Why This Book Is Important
This book is important because it’s rare that a prolific and successful musician would be bold enough—and talented enough—to write a quality book about theology. It’s not a book on systematic theology by any stretch, but it is primarily about theology, not his life’s story.
In fact, he uses his life’s story simply as a platform to lift up his theology about God and the gospel.
When he could have easily written more of a memoir, he chose to write a treatise of faith.
He wrote this theologically oriented book on an easy-to-understand level for a broad audience. He sprinkled in personal stories and anecdotes at the right places to keep the flow moving and the reader engaged.
Another reason this book is important has to do with his specific message. In “Awake and Alive to Truth,” he wrote a timely message for the church, one that is very relevant, inspiring, and even convicting for the church and world today.
This isn’t a discipleship book in the typical sense of the term, but it can serve as a great resource for disciple makers as they disciple others against the messages they hear from the culture. The book will be especially impactful among creative, younger folks (millennials and younger).
The Major Takeaway
My major takeaway from the book is this:
Truth is fixed on God, not based on our emotions.
In an age where truth is equated with one’s inner “truth” or “what’s true for me,” Cooper comes onto the stage as a creative—one who places a high value on the subjective—and says, I hear you that emotions have their place in life, but truth is not based on how we feel.
What an important message for this time and place. It’s a simple reality for many of us—that ultimate truth is not based on how we feel—but for an increasing number of people today, this reality is not self-evident.
In fact, that’s John’s point: Christians need to stand up and fight against lies like relativism and subjectivism (although he only uses the former of those terms).
Why John Cooper Wrote the Book
As John Cooper received the K-LOVE Book Impact Award, he used the opportunity to share his heart about why he wrote the book: so many of his friends (and others) have decided that their spouse, their family, and Jesus are no longer for them.
He quoted the words of the martyr Hugh Latimer to Nicholas Ridley as they walked to their death: “Play the man, Master Ridley; we shall this day light such a candle, by God’s grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out.” By “play the man,” John believes Latimer meant that we should seek the proclamation of the gospel.
Cooper encouraged those watching the K-LOVE Fan Awards to “play the man” too. He said there’s been a revival in the church of late, but it’s not a good one. It’s a revival of ancient heresies, and the church is ill-equipped to handle them.
We must seek out truth and learn how to fight for truth.
That’s why he wrote the book, but how can it serve the church exactly?
How This Book Can Serve Church Leaders
Church leaders—lay leaders and pastors alike—can add this book to their quiver of arrows from which to draw as they seek to help others follow Jesus.
First, this is a great tool, if I can call it that, for those who are considering walking away from the faith. John Cooper was featured on Alisa Childers’s podcast several times in 2021 to talk about progressivism and the current exodus of believers from the faith.
This book is part of his answer and serves as a great bridge for Christians whose faith is weak due to deep cultural temptations. Many face doubts about the Bible, historic faith, and the reliability of fixed truth, and John’s book is especially helpful for them.
As I mentioned, those who are more creative—musicians, artists, and the like—will more easily connect with John’s message because he’s a professional musician himself. But the depth he offers in this book will appear to non-creative types as well. These are many of the ones listening to his music and wrestling with the questions he addresses.
So I say to pastors, young adults ministers, and youth ministers especially:
Consider using this book for a 10-week youth group series on truth.
You could, for example, have the book available and on hand for people to buy if they want to go deeper. Then, you could teach a two-and-a-half month series correlated with the ten chapters of the book.
You could write discussion questions to engage your specific group. The book flows well for that type of study.
Summary of the Book’s Contents: Chapter by Chapter
I love how Cooper opens not with a traditional “introduction” to the book but with what he calls the “Pre-show.” This sets the stage, no pun intended, for a unique book-reading experience. This important first chapter is as close as he comes to writing on a purely autobiographical level, so it feels like gold when reading it.
He shares about the watershed moment in his life when he decided to prioritize Christ over his success. A record label rep advised him to “disassociate from [his] Christian music history” (8), and he chose not to, which set the tone for the rest of his career.
In Chapter 1, “Built on the Rock,” John shares his testimony of coming to Christ at the age of five, how his mom discipled him, and how she prepared him to be faithful even amidst challenges. His mother died while he was young, but he remained strong in faith, just as she had taught him.
Cooper uses his story as a launching pad to discuss truth and its enemies in Chapter 2. Engaging the event of Brett Kavanaugh’s hearing in 2018, he articulates how the philosophies of postmodernism and relativism threaten people’s view of truth today.
These philosophies don’t teach that truth is fixed.
Instead, these systems of thought teach there’s no absolute truth.
He claims people today want to burn down tradition, and now truth is found from within. He writes, “Some Christians are starting to believe that in order to teach some truths, you must first have suffered an evil or been a victim of some sort” (31).
Yet one’s identity and experiences don’t change truth. Thus, he retorts: “Truth is revealed by God and God alone.”
Not only this, but “a sort of anti-authority sentiment has crept in.” This point hits home for me because it overlaps with the message that Jim Putman and I make in “The Revolutionary Disciple.”
Having rightfully rejected some authority, people now reject all authority.
This is not good for discipleship, as we mention in our book. We must embrace God’s truth in Scripture, which includes God’s view of submission to authorities in all Five Spheres of Discipleship.
In Chapter 3: “In the Name of God,” John Cooper provides a theology of the “Word of God” from Scripture, orienting readers to God’s truth. He argues we can trust in Scripture because it’s God’s Word, spoken by God and recorded by his trusted messengers. It’s authoritative and absolute.
But can’t we find truth on our own? In Chapter 4, he addresses that as humans we’re sinful creatures who cannot find truth on our own. We’re uniquely created, yes, but we’re still born broken and need a source of truth from outside ourselves.
By the time I got to Chapter 5, “Simply Irresistible,” I thought I’d be getting into denominational dogma territory based on the chapter’s title, but I was delighted to find that what he could have made into a strongly Calvinistic message, he instead focused on God himself and not doctrine proper.
He combated directly the idea that our emotions reign supreme in leading us to truth. He wrote on page 58:
“Our feelings can be the biggest obstacle in our search for truth.”
We must sometimes resist what he calls irresistible convictions in order to arrive at God’s truth because the two don’t always align. In fact, our emotions sometimes “compete with the Spirit” (61).
Chapter 6 goes into the subject of how our culture idolizes love. He makes the great point that “love is not God.” That is, while “God is love,” that does not mean “love is God.” This may be his greatest practical point. This faulty understanding comes from missing some fundamentals of logic.
As he notes, people use this false understanding that love is God to leave their spouse, take one’s own life, and the like. While love plays a central role in our lives as disciples of Jesus, we cannot worship love and define it however we wish.
In Chapter 7, John goes deeper into idolatry with a refreshing yet convicting assessment of how our culture, like all others, struggles with idolatry. This chapter pierces the heart and challenges readers not to put anything above God: neither our theology, our position, nor even ourselves—whatever we “love supremely” (80).
Then, he takes the opportunity in Chapter 8 to remind us that the Scriptures picture Jesus as a lion. This lion wasn’t always “nice.” In fact, he went after religious people the most because “Jesus hates pride.”
This point too correlates with the major thesis I make with Putman in “The Revolutionary Disciple.” We subtitled our book “Walking Humbly with Jesus in Every Area of Life” because pride gets in the way of following Jesus at every level, which is why Jesus shows us a different path—and sometimes does so with fury. We must face the reality that:
Discipleship costs us everything … even our pride.
Cooper takes Chapter 9 as an opportunity to celebrate the positive aspects of the “triumph” we have in Christ.
Since most of the book fights against lies, heresy, and deceptions, he makes sure to come back to the benefits of discipleship: we’re heirs to the promise, we’ve been set free, and we’re forgiven and recreated in Christ.
I love that he handles how Scripture says we have a “divine nature” in Christ (103; see 2 Pet. 1:3–9) because progressives sometimes use this passage to make very different . I’ve heard them describe “the divine within” to mean we are Christ (see Richard Rohr’s “The Universal Christ,” for example). That goes far beyond we have Christ.
Finally, in Chapter 10, Cooper ends with the practical implications and a call to action for readers: “So what should I do now?” he writes sympathetically to readers who have been tracking with his message (107).
We can either trust in ourselves or trust in God, he says. And when we trust in God, the best is yet to come—in eternity with God. So we must believe in him, which starts with giving our hearts to him and letting him be our boss (116).
What I Appreciated About This Book
John Cooper’s “Awake and Alive to Truth” offers a simple, easy-to-understand critique of postmodernism and relativism, packaged with relevant and enjoyable stories.
The most powerful part of the book was not any of that. It was deeper: the life of the author, which bled through in each chapter. This came through stories, yes, but his sheer passion for the gospel, for truth—for God himself—is what made the great impact of the book. I walked away encouraged to speak out.
John Cooper’s conviction is contagious.
In the end, I can tell John cares not only for God but also for people, especially that they know God through the gospel of Jesus. This comes through loud and clear, and that’s what I appreciated the most about it.
My Critiques of the Book
While this short book is jam-packed with stories and truth, I must say that its physical packaging diminished the presentation of its punch. I noticed formatting issues and numerous punctuation typos throughout the book. Also, the chapter titles didn’t match the contents of each chapter well.
There were a few instances where I did not agree with the exegetical or theological conclusions Cooper makes in the book, but these were minor.
I didn’t agree with his assertion that “our natural bent [as Christians] will always be toward unrighteousness” (47). I agree with Dallas Willard and others who believe that God changes our very nature, including our our natural bent, at least in some areas in life, so that through training and the power of the Spirit, we naturally do the holy and righteous thing. Maybe John believes this too, but it seems he does not from this statement.
The other disagreement I had with him was on page 50, where he quotes Genesis 3:3, which is when Eve reported to the serpent what God said: “You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die” (NIV). My bone to pick here is not with a major point John makes in the chapter but simply with the fact that this quote is not “explicit instructions by God,” as John says it is.
Eve’s words here are likely a misquote of what God told Adam. My point is minor but to me important because it appears that Eve was adding to God’s instructions that were given to Adam in Genesis 2:17. This verse is where we know for sure that God gave explicit instructions, and he did not include “you must not touch it” (which Eve claims God said).
The most natural interpretation is that either Adam or Eve added these words, which became a “hedge around the law” and the first pharisaical statement in Scripture. This is a nuance, though, and not a major critique.
My final critique of the book has to do with the fact that I wanted a little more to sink my teeth into at the end. Cooper does a good job giving the non-believer a clear call to action at the very end, which was an altar call to come to faith.
But he didn’t give believers as much to walk away with in terms of a clear call to action. Despite these minor critiques, I give my recommendation.
I heartily recommend “Awake and Alive to Truth” by John Cooper. He gives readers an important, timely message to chew on, apply, and embrace at the heart level.
What a beautiful tribute to God and testimony to the gospel of God’s grace. I believe the message in this book as well as John’s life has lit “such a candle” that will never be put out.
Add this book to your collection, pass it along, and tell others about it—especially those on the fringe of faith.
Thanks, John, for your boldness and courage. I walked away inspired to speak boldly for the truth as you have and continue to do.
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