Kevin Adams. The Extravagant Fool: A Faith Journey that Begins Where Common Sense Ends (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2014) 218 pp. $15.99
American Dream Gone Wrong
What if you lost all of the material possessions you had worked your entire life to obtain? What if the luxurious lifestyle you lived crumbled around you? What if your faith in God was reduced to the size of your bank account that forced you into near homelessness? Kevin Adams was the epitome of business success. He had seemingly endless clients with a business with more work than he could keep up with. He was a multi-millionaire who owned multiple homes and was truly living the American dream until his exuberant world came crashing down with the economic recession of 2008. At the beginning of 2009, Kevin Adams had lost everything.
The Extravagant Fool is an inspirational story of how one man went from being a worldly fool to a sold-out fool for God. It is a story of God’s provision and how faith in God is more valuable than millions of dollars, multiple homes, and a thriving business. Adams tells his story as a journey from being an ambitious businessman, to a blogger and author seeking to encourage believers and glorify God. Through a beautifully, though sometimes overwhelming, poetic narrative, Adams recounts his journey from casual Christianity to an all-out dependence on God through faith.
With the English Christian leader and founder of countless orphanages, George Mueller, as his example, Adams boldly faced empty bank accounts and no income by relying fully on God’s provision.
Reliance and Intimacy
The greatest strength by far in The Extravagant Fool is the author’s clear and passionate reliance on God. While criticizing all forms of Christian self-help, Adams argues for full reliance on and intimacy with God as the only means worthy and able to get you through the night (95-105). It is clear that Adams was once a Christian who claimed full reliance on God, yet was entirely self-sufficient. However, his financial plunder took him to the depths of his own soul where he found God waiting with a warm embrace. This is especially conveyed in Adams’ discussion of losing the ability to provide for his wife and kids. Many men can testify to the emasculation such a situation brings. However, Adams had an epiphany—one that is crucial to the Christian faith.
After being unable to provide for his family for months and even a couple years, Adams concluded,
“God is weird, but His strange impressions tap at the glass until we’re annoyed enough to look up and begin to truly listen to Him. The counterfeit idea says the dream was just fear over losing my role as provider and protector. But in the context of counting it all joy…was a message that said, ‘Kevin, you were never the provider or protector, so let go already’” (88).
Reflecting on his circumstance to this point, Adams said, “I’d become a man ready to embrace the mystery of my circumstances, but unwilling to let go of everything—a man still white-knuckling his perceived identity, by failing to abdicate his family from a throne meant for a king” (88). Adams clearly relied on God to provide for him and saw each opportunity, whether it be a place to live or a job to work, as a gift from God (182).
Adams also began to see that the more his world eroded around him, his value was found in Christ. He writes, “My value is measured by the price that was paid for me, not by the sweat of my brow or career status—a truth that is easy to say, but hard to accept” (91). This chapter on Adams’ relationship with his wife before and during losing all that he owned is by far the best this book has to offer. His candor and honesty in his journey to accepting biblical truth about him and his circumstance is present on nearly every page and is sobering for the reader.
Although The Extravagant Fool is filled with many commendable points, there are a few concerns to keep in mind as you approach this book.
First, there are theological concerns that I would encourage you to approach with caution. Adams seems to communicate faith in God as resulting in material blessing or reward. The more faith Adams exhibits in God, the more God would mysteriously return blessing to his life. Does Adams hold to a Joel Osteen-like prosperity gospel or a Joyce Meyer-like word of faith theology? Or is it an ambiguous rendering of sola fide? He seems to communicate the former in various places:
“The power of God lies not in the size of the seed but in the gigantic potential He’s hidden within it—the Harvard degree in faith that will rise to the top of the industry if we’ll stop attempting to dig our way out and just plant it” (75).
“Daddy, didn’t you say that anything is possible with God if you just believe hard enough?” “Sure, sweet girl. Absolutely” (72, emphasis added).
“My wife and I went to training conferences and were encouraged that our direction was taking a better turn, conferences filled with godly people who believe that abundance is not only okay with God, but his best intention for life on earth—something I wholeheartedly agreed with” (58).
In times of turmoil and suffering, Adams sees God as planning something for his life that can be unleashed by faith, but in the meantime, God “tucks himself just out of sight.” Seeing God’s activity in our suffering like a game of hide-and-seek, Adams says, “We faithfully count with our eyes closed, while He anticipates the ready-or-not moment, only to delight in our search from behind the curtain while his child tiptoes nearby” (76). It appears Adams sees God as drawing intimacy out of us by placing mysteries in our lives. I think Adams interprets God’s relationship with suffering and evil to be one that intends for his children to see a mystery in the suffering and then seek after the answers in him.
However, despite what I see as a forced theological answer to the problem of evil and suffering, I appreciate Adams’ call for intimacy in times when we want to question God. “[G]rowing up means giving logic the cold shoulder and becoming intimate with the One who puts the beans on every table. It requires the willingness of a child and the vision of an adult” (76). Though his theological answers to the relationship between God and suffering is weak, his call to intimacy with God during suffering while honestly seeking answers to difficult questions is spot on.
You will not want to look to Adams for sound theological answers.
A Revelation Problem
Adams believes he receives special revelation from God personally—outside of Scripture. There are many places in the book indicated by italics where Adams recalls God’s special and specific words that he spoke to him either in a dream, prayer, or when he was going about his day. Compare this with the miniscule references to Scripture. This imbalance is alarming and Adam’s expressed theology of revelation and the Bible is flawed.
He also seems to make an unhelpful distinction between God and the Word of God. Adams doesn’t seek, find, or base any answers to his plight in Scripture. Although he makes the claim that the written word of God is “the open door for personal revelation where, for anyone who is willing, God is willing to descend” (142), it seems to me he sees little more value in the Bible. Adams sees the Bible as a means to intimacy with God, but clearly he sees personal revelation as superior (155).
It seems that he desires something more than Scripture. Here are just a few examples of Adams’ preference for personal revelation through dreams and visions over God’s self-revelation in his Word.
“[Dreams] were personal challenges to my faith as delicate as the weight of a fingerprint, yet as powerful as its billion-to-one distinctiveness. And therefore nearly impossible to ignore or rationalize in the way that I’d always done with Scripture” (103).
Adams seems to find most clarity from personal revelation rather than from the Bible. One example of this is when Adams claimed he received special revelation from God in what he called “a note from the King.” After recording that note, Adams commented, “Inspiring, indeed, from His mouth to my ear, yet so lofty a notion that merely reading aloud in solitude inspired my own doubts” (198). For Adams, personal revelation is preferred over God’s revelation in his Word.
There are many places I stand in agreement with Adams, but not in the means to which he came to his conclusions. While he clearly has a desire to be Christ-centered, I would have preferred that he see that this comes by being Bible-centered.
Despite this criticism, there is one section in The Extravagant Fool that, though unbalanced from the rest of the book, is an offering of praise to the Bible. He writes, “[E]very single word, whether in red ink or black, spoken by prophet, king, physician, fisherman, or a collector of taxes, whether from the mouth of Jesus or those inspired by His Spirit, is supernaturally intact…It was either meant for the willing, whether rich or poor, simpleminded or genius, to be trusted completely or not at all” (160).
My question to Adams would then be, “Great! Then why is this not enough?” I am perplexed at his need for further revelation in light of his correct sentiment to trust the Bible “completely or not at all.”
Probably the most alarming part of The Extravagant Fool is something that is practically absent—the gospel of Jesus Christ. Granted, Adams mentions the content of the gospel in an email to a tenant who was diagnosed with terminal cancer, calling Jesus “our only hope” (82). However, there is not a gospel-centered framework through which Adams responded to his financial crash. The foolish thing about The Extravagant Fool is that faith is the focus of the book, not Jesus.
Adams speaks of relying on God’s provision and strength in his time of financial desperation, but there are few to no examples of relying on God through Jesus. There is no mention of identification with the suffering of Christ. His story provides ample opportunity to point to the gospel. In fact, I could see great comfort, perhaps the only comfort, coming from the gospel. It is simply alarming that the implications of the cross are absent from this book. I felt the author’s pain while reading, but the comfort he found was not as comforting as I anticipated.
I find little in this book that would help those in similar places of suffering deal with suffering. Adams finds hope in God’s blessing that comes through faith. But as far as dealing with the suffering, Adams failed to communicate if there is any redeeming quality or joy to be found. Ignorance of the gospel and the biblical witness to the glory of God in suffering is a stain on this otherwise inspiring story.
The ultimate question I left this book asking was, “How would an impoverished person feel after reading this book?” Living in poverty, being poor, and not living financially abundant is conveyed as an incredibly negative thing. I may be way off the mark, but at times I felt I was reading a book written by a man influenced by prosperity “gospel” proponents. Adams communicates that God does not want you to suffer and that you can escape it through faith. Are you suffering? Are you poor? Faith leads to blessing. More faith = more blessing. This conclusion and manner of facing suffering is theologically and biblically unhelpful and unwise.
Inspiring Story, Poor Theology
Kevin Adams has a very inspirational story with a few serious deficiencies. Adams hoped his story would “be compelling, real-life evidence that God can be trusted with everything—that He really is that good” (218). He accomplished this goal and there is much to gain from his experience. His journey will cause you to ask the difficult question, “Would I be willing to follow God even if he took away my possessions?” The value of faith is questioned and discovered when adversity strikes. Adams’ intimacy with God is admirable. He made me ask many convicting questions of my own heart.
However, despite some clear strengths, the theological and biblical weaknesses in The Extravagant Fool cause me to encourage you to approach this book with caution. Adams admits he is not a pastor or theologian. However, as a Christian writer, his work must be evaluated against God’s word and proper theology.
As I read this book I was inspired, yet frustrated at the author’s theological errors and preference for personal revelation over the Bible. If you decide to read this great story, read with caution. If you yourself are weak with your theology in the face of suffering, this may not be the best book for you.
Adams is right when he says God wants abundant blessing for you. But this blessing is found ultimately in Christ and may include a life filled with suffering and poverty that does not turn around for earthly gain. Material wealth is a gift from God to be stewarded wisely. There is nothing inherently wrong with having a large income. However, God is glorified in times when God gives and when he takes away (Job 1:21). Adams expresses this and readers will learn from it, yet the theology that grounds it is not strong enough to uphold his claims. Learn from his faith that led to intimacy, but cautiously approach his theological claims.
Mathew Gilbert is a student at Boyce College (B.A. Biblical and Theological Studies). He is the author of the forthcoming book Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God (CrossBooks). Mathew lives in London, KY with his wife, Erica, and their dog, Simba. You can follow him on Twitter @Mat_Gilbert.