As I mentioned in March QuickLit, I really enjoyed Gary Wilkerson's biography of David Wilkerson. After that, it was a logical next step to read The Cross and the Switchblade. I do recommend both books - and the biography, published in 2014, helps to set the older book in its context.
The Cross and the Switchblade is one of the most influential Christian books of the 20th century. Worldwide. ("More than 15 million copies have been distributed in over 30 languages," says the World Challenge website.) When I was a teen, it was assigned reading for 13-16-year-olds in many Finnish schools. And wow, what a story it tells. But it's really only a very small slice of David Wilkerson's life.
The Teen Challenge ministry, whose beginnings are told in The Cross and the Switchblade, is still going strong - and global. It's fair to say that David Wilkerson communicated God's love to millions - through sermons, books, meetings, personal encounters... Multitudes of people have come to faith through his work or through the ministries he started. Their lives have changed.
And Brother Dave was the first to admit it all was God's doing, not his own effort.
The man we see in Gary Wilkerson's biography of his father is a dedicated man of God, a man of prayer, completely focused on doing God's will, surrendered to God. Before he did anything, he prayed. If he did not sense that God was in it, he would not do it. But he was not inerrant, not without faults. His life was never an easy stroll from one victory to another.
With all the challenges David Wilkerson faced in ministry and his family's health issues, he had no time for superficial Christianity. Superficial isn't enough for questions of life and death. But partly because he was so keen to take God seriously, Brother Dave could also come across as harsh and legalistic, especially in certain issues. His family background in strict Pentecostal Holiness circles influenced his views. Moreover, his parents hadn't shown him affection and approval in ways that would have spoken to his heart. If you learn to strive for approval from the time you're little, and you're never quite sure your efforts are enough - it will be very hard to really, really grasp God's unconditional love.
The biography reveals that throughout the years, as God did amazing things through David Wilkerson's ministry, he himself was often unsure of God's love for him. Did God really love him? Had he - David - done enough? It's as if he was able to give a lot more grace to others than to himself.
So we get this man of God who was always hungry to learn more of God. And humble enough to receive from other people, too. He had friends and mentors, and he received books from them that would feed his soul in a special way: old books written by Puritans. These helped Wilkerson to understand God's grace better: that holiness really is all God's work in us and not our own effort.
And that, ultimately, is the main message of Wilkerson's biography: it's all about Jesus. David Wilkerson, with all those ministries and worldwide fame and respect, was completely dependent on God's grace, and so are the rest of us.
I think it's a message that Dave Wilkerson would approve:
Readers, be hungry for more of Jesus.