Monday, April 14, 2014

The Gospel is for Christians, Too

There were times when I'd wonder why I would attend church services, since very often the services I'd go to did not have much of anything to say to me. When the preacher gave a sermon about the Gospel, it wasn't directed at someone like myself who was already a Christian. Such a sermon was directed at the people in the congregation who might not have been Christians, or perhaps at the Christian who may have drifted and backslidden. When an altar call was given, and the half-dozen or so slow verses were being sung, it was understood that the altar was open only for those two groups of people.

There is certainly a place for preaching to those who are not redeemed, and a very important place, too. But if those are the only people to whom the message is directed, then are the Christians at the service just spectators? Are they there only because they should be? Is the Gospel only for those other people, but not for us who believe?

In the past few years, having been influenced by some people among Lutheran and Reformed churches, and attending an Anglican church, it's been a great relief and blessing to learn that the Gospel is also for me, too.

I am a Christian, but I have also sinned. I have been selfish and self-centered. I have been covetous. I have been angry without good cause, I have said things I should not have said, I have not said things I should have said. Even when I've done things that I would like to think are good works, I must acknowledge the truth of the Bible's statement that all of my works of righteousness are as filthy rags, that they are as soiled and polluted by my sins as a baby's soiled diaper.

In the services at the church I now attend, there is a time when we pray a prayer of confession, where we confess that we have sinned against God in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done and not done. We confess that we have neither loved God with all our hearts, nor our neighbors as ourselves. A bit later in the service, we will celebrate the Lord's Supper.

The Christian guy who's put in 40+ hours the past week, the Christian woman who was waiting tables the evening before, the Christian parents who struggled to get the kids ready for church that morning, the Christian high school student who's struggling with all the things such a student goes through, all of these normal, average Christians, we all need to be reminded that Christ died for us, so that our sins can be forgiven. This isn't to excuse our sins, but to remind us that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the chief”. While we should be growing in grace and doing the good works God has given us to do, the Gospel reminds us that the Christian life is not about what we do, but about what Christ did for us.

The Gospel is an important message for the unredeemed, that is true, but it is just as important for the Christian, too.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

book review—Just Jesus by Walter Wink

just the jesus he made up

I received a free copy of this book from Waterbrook Multnomah's Blogging for Books program.

This book is a mix of personal stories and some theological musings. I'll leave the personal stories alone, for what that's worth, because the theological musing are enough to show that the author's views are far from orthodox.

On page 162, the author says about himself, “Interpreting Scripture is what I do best, and most”. It would be closer to the truth to say that it is what he does worst, and least. He does not interpret Scripture; rather, he reads into it what he wants, or twists and contorts things to fit his own views.

For example, on pp. 99-112, there is a chapter (it seems to have been an excerpt from another of his books) about the vision in Ezekiel 1. This is what he says about that vision on p. 102, “And this is the revelation: God is HUMAN”, “But Ezekiel is not beholding a figure of speech. This is really what God is: HUMAN” (capitalizations in the book). Yeah, that's not in the biblical text at all. That's not interpreting Scripture, that's butchering the meaning.

Regarding what the Bible teaches about Jesus' return, he writes, “This heavenly “son of the man” is a long, long way from the Galilean teacher who renounced violence in the name of a nonviolent God”. Apparently, this author doesn't like the notion of Christ returning as a king and conqueror, because it doesn't go with the jesus he made up himself. So, what the Bible teaches about Jesus' return, the rebellion it will be met with and all that, needs to be jettisoned. That's not interpreting Scripture, that's butchering it.

His Jesus is a caricature. He states on p. 167 that he does not believe in the historical reality of Jesus' ascension. For him, Jesus is some kind of archeype of human beings ascending to some kind of higher state, of us not-quite-humans (whatever that may mean) reaching human-ness.

Pp. 152-156 is his attempt to say that homosexuality is now ok, that we should disregard what the Bible plainly teaches about it (and even he acknowledges “Where the Bible mentions homsexual behavior at all, it clearly condemns it”, p. 154). His position is this, “The Bible has no sexual ethic.” Not sure where in the Bible he got the notion that the Bible permitted prostitution, p. 154, he offers no support for such a claim.

To put it succinctly, this author's theological musings add up to this; the elevation of mankind and the denigration of God. With a large dose of political correctness.

While I received a review copy of this book from Waterbrook Multnomah, it was published by Image Catholic Books. I'm not sure what the connection is between those two, but I must question the wisdom of any Christian publisher putting out this book. The views of God, of Jesus, and of Scripture in this book are aberrant and heretical. This author was clearly outside of the faith, and no Christian publishing company should be a part of promoting and spreading this work.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

book review--Introduction to the Old Testament Template by Landa Cope

questionable

There are some things about this book that I found rather annoying, and other, more serious things that seemed to be more than a little off to me.

Among the annoying things, for example, were things like this. The author kicks off the book talking about a time she was watching some kind of news program on TV about a certain city in the US and how Christian that city really is. She claims that this program caused her pretty serious distress, calling into question many of the things she had previously taught. But for such an important event for her and for this book, there is very little information about this program itself. We are not given the program's name, nor the name of the channel that broadcasted it. We are told that the journalist was British, but that doesn't do much to narrow things down. We aren't even given the year in which the author saw it. The author says that several pastors, "...the kind of pastors Christians would respect." (Kindle Location 170), were interviewed during the program, but we are not told who they were, nor are we told what they said except for the author's summation.

Another annoying thing the author does is constantly blame the church for the state of things in the world. For example, in regards to a trip she made to Africa, "In each nation the story was the same. Poverty, disease, violence , corruption, injustice, and chaos met me at every turn. I found myself asking, Is this "Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven"? 2 Is this what the blessing of the gospel brought into a community looks like? Is this what a nation looks like when it is "reached"?" (Kindle Locations 218-221). One question that could be asked, though, is what gospel is being spread through Africa and all over the world? Very often, it's not the Gospel of Christ crucified for our sins, but the name-it-claim-it prosperity gospel. Let me recommend this book, Where Are We Heading To?, where the author tells of how these kinds of apostles and ministers are in it to build their own wealth instead of to minister to their people, who brag about their cars and how much their clothes cost instead of using the money the people give in wise and godly ways. Foreign Policy magazine did an article called "Angels and Demons", one part of which is about how supposed healing services in Malawi are causing people to claim to be healed of HIV, so they stop taking their anti-retroviral drugs. And at the site for the 2013 Strange Fire conference, there are two videos of presentations by Conrad Mbewe about the effects of this false gospel in Africa.

Mostly, I think the author's two primary claims are open to being questioned.

One is this, "As Christians, we do say our faith, lived out, will influence a society toward good." (Kindle Locations 176-177). "Our transformed lives are to be salt and light to our families, neighborhoods, communities, and nations, making them better places to live." (Kindle Locations 259-260).
Can we say that Jesus ever taught this kind of thing, or the apostles? Could we say, for example, that Jesus made Israel a better place to live in during and after His time? Did such things happen during the time of the Apostles and the early church? Jesus was the one who told His disciples that if the world hated Him, it would also hate them for loving and following Him. He was the one who told them they would have troubles in this world. He was the one who told them that they would be put into prisons and persecuted. He was also the one who prophesied over Jerusalem about the city's coming destruction for having rejected Him. And the apostles were not any more positive in their messages to the early churches.

"The early church transformed Israel, revolutionized the Roman Empire, and laid foundations for Western European nations to become the most prosperous in the world." (Kindle Locations 263-264). Israel was destroyed in the war that led up to the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. Christianity struggled in the Roman Empire for a few hundred years, and even when Constantine recognized it, it is questioned how much that helped and hurt the Church.

The other claim that should be questioned has to do with what she calls her Cornfield Revelation. "The light flashed into my poor little brain. Revelation hit like a laser beam. Moses' job was to disciple a nation , to teach a people who had been slaves for four hundred years how to form and run their nation." (Kindle Locations 427-429). Where is it taught in the Bible that Moses was discipling a nation? Where does any New Testament writer point to Moses as the example of what Jesus meant when He told the apostles to teach all nations? Where does any New Testament writer tell us that in order for a nation to be considered discipled, the church needs to put that nation under the Law of Moses, or at least some contextualized version of some principles someone claims to have found in the Law of Moses?

This is a pretty serious claim on the part of the author. Is the Gospel really about putting people back under the Law? Can "discipling" really be summed up as simply making sure a nation's laws are based on someone's ideas of biblical principles taken from the Law of Moses?

To my mind, the author is failing to make what I've heard some in Lutheran and Reformed circles call "The proper distinction between Law and Gospel". How can there be discipleship apart from conversion? But for the unconverted, the law is not designed to make them righteous, it's designed to show them how far they have fallen, to show them their sins, and how much they need the Gospel of Christ crucified for their sins. Imposing the Law of Moses cannot lead to discipleship, it would be merely to clean up the outside of a dirty cup, and perhaps lead to the kind of result that Jesus accused the Pharisees of, that of making converts who are even more children of Hell than before their supposed conversion.

One of the signs that this author is not making this distinction is in statements like this, "He encouraged that if they would obey his teachings, they would not have poverty in their land." (Kindle Locations 830-831). There is a very big "if" in there, because none back then, and none now, are able to fully obey God's law. We have all sinned, we are all fallen, there is not a one of us who is righteous by our own works and attempts to keep the law. But this author holds it up as something we can attain, as if we can make even the churches, let alone the unconverted, fully obey God's laws.

For more on this, let me suggest a few resources. The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel (ESV) and The World-Tilting Gospel

There is some wisdom in this book, but there is lot that could easily lead one into some very questionable areas, too. And I can't ignore the similarities between what is taught in this book, and what Seven Mountain Dominionists teach, too. While this author is much more sensible than someone like Johnny Enlow, her works point in that same direction.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

movie review—Noah

What were they thinking!!!

Considering that a major theme for this year's movies seems to be loosely-Christian ideas, it's of some interest to see how those ideas are shown.

Listening to some of the radio ads for the movie “Noah”, it's admitted that “artistic license” was used. I really have to say that it was a pretty serious license, almost to the point of making the story unrecognizable.

True, many of the basics are there. There's Noah, his wife, and three sons. There's an ark, and the animals. There's a flood, with water coming from both the sky and from the ground. Outside of that, though, it gets over into the realm of fantasy, and even worse thing.

For example, there were the Watchers, some kind of angelic beings who had rebelled against God and had been sent to Earth, to live in some kind of rock shells. They resemble the ents from The Lord of the Ring movies, or maybe some of the Transformers from those movies. The Bible makes no mention at all of them, and the notion that they are “fallen angels” who somehow still end up helping Noah becomes problematic, too.

Then, there's Noah himself. For about 2/3 of the movie, he's not a bad sort. It isn't until about the time that the flood begins that we see the emergence of Noah the nihilist, who thinks God wants the human race to end with him and his children, even to the point of keeping his sons from finding wives to take with them, except for Shem who marries a woman who is thought to be unable to have children, and wanting to kill his newborn twin granddaughters, who were born on the ark.

This nihilistic Noah is completely contrary to anything the Bible says about Noah. Genesis 6:18 “But I will establish my covenant with you, and you shall come into the ark, you, your sons, your wife, and your sons' wives with you.” Genesis 7:7 tells us that Noah's son already had wives, and they went with them into the ark. And Hebrews 11:7 says that Noah built the ark for the purpose of saving his household.

Even outside of that, there is much in the movie that is questionable. In Genesis 6, God plainly tells Noah what's going to happen. In this movie, Noah gets some strange dreams that he must figure the meaning for himself, and one reason for his fall into nihilism is because he thinks these unclear messages mean that God wants his children to be the end of the human race.

Although little is shown of the cities the supposed children of Cain had built, there is the hint that industrialism was one reason for God's displeasure in man, along with the eating of meat. The message from the creation, that man is to have dominion over the earth and subdue it, is put into the mouth of the movie's main bad guy, almost as if saying that this message was not a part of God's original order, but rather something inserted later by man.

Overall, this movie is disappointing, and even distasteful. This movie makes the biblical account of Noah seem like fantasy, and it makes a man of faith look like a psychotic maniac. Sadly, I cannot recommend this movie.

Friday, March 21, 2014

book review—How to Believe: Restoring the Passion of Worship by Tommy Tenney

garbage

I got a free e-copy of this book when Destiny Image offered it for free.

At one point in this book, the author makes this comment concerning the things some preachers say in their sermons, “He (God) probably listens to our preaching and says , “Did I say that? I don’t remember saying it quite that way….”” (Kindle Locations 1007-1008). He may be right, but it is not merely ironic, but hypocritical, for him to say that, because throughout this book he is continually putting words and ideas in God's mouth.

For example, he says in this book that we need to build a Mercy Seat. Good luck finding where Paul or any other epistle writer tells the churches to do that, because they don't. They don't say a word about the churches needing to build any such thing. Oh, but this author must be oh-so-much-more spiritual and enlightened then those old fuddy-duddy apostles from 2,000 years ago, 'cause he can tell the church that it needs to do something that they didn't even consider.

He says that we shouldn't trust anyone who doesn't have a limp, like Jacob. That makes about as much sense as looking at the life of Moses and saying we shouldn't trust anyone who doesn't stutter, or the life of Samson and saying we shouldn't trust anyone who hasn't been blinded. He says that if we are in prison, we should sing and praise like Paul and Silas did, and God will open up the prison doors for us. Funny, though, 'cause in Acts 12, Peter was asleep when the angel came to free him from prison. And Paul wound up in prison again later on, related in the last few chapters of Acts. I guess he just didn't sing and worship enough, 'cause he stayed in prison for quite a while.

When it comes to the Bible, the author is much more interested in reading his own make-believe stories and ideas into the accounts than in looking at what the accounts actually say. “Read the second chapter of Acts and explain to me why the disciples stumbled and staggered out of an upper room so inebriated in the Spirit that people accused them of being falling -down drunks.” (Kindle Locations 816-817). He should read Acts 2, and show us where it tells us that the disciples “stumbled and staggered out of an upper room” in anything like inebriation. It doesn't. “Esther refused to trade the winking approval of men in the king’s court for the favor of the king himself.” (Kindle Locations 943-944). There is no hint in the account of Esther that she experienced “the winking approval of men”, that's something the author found only in his own mind. He inserts this in the account of Jesus meeting the Samaritan woman, “They (the disciples) said something like, “Jesus, we saw a Burger King right down the road there. We’re going to get something to eat. We’ll bring you something back, is that okay?”” There is no hint in that passage that the disciples were in the wrong to have left to get food.

“He will even put “His strength into captivity ” to come sit with us because He is so desperate for us to be with Him (see Ps. 78: 61).” (Kindle Locations 660-661).That verse in context teaches no such thing. Psalm 78:56-66 tells of times when God's people Israel rebelled against God, and the consequences of that rebellion. Verse 61 is referring to God's judgment against His people, one form of which was them being sent into captivity. “When lucifer fell from glory, I believe a crucial aspect of heavenly worship fell with him.” (Kindle Location 1071). You won't find that taught anywhere in the Bible, nor his notion that God needs us to provide music in Heaven.

“In Exodus 19, He invited everyone in the group to come up and hear Him speak for themselves. This was an opportunity to go beyond the anointing and taste of His glory for themselves. The children of Israel basically said, “Moses, you go talk to God and find out what He says. You can have the intimacy— just take some juicy pictures and bring the anointing back to us” (see Exod. 20: 19).” (Kindle Locations 760-763). Has this author even read Exodus 19 and 20? If he had, he'd see that what he's writing about those chapters is not what is said in them. Exodus 19:24 “24 And the LORD said to him (Moses), “Go down, and come up bringing Aaron with you. But do not let the priests and the people break through to come up to the LORD, lest he break out against them.””

Finally, I want to return to what he wrote about the disciples acting like drunkards (they didn't, btw). This tells me that, when he talks about experiencing God's presence or the like, he's referring, at least in part, to the kinds of ungodly, blasphemous things that happened in Toronto and Pensacola, things like the blasphemous “drunk in the spirit” phenomena.

About the only thing this book proves is that this author has no right to consider himself a Christian teacher. This book is garbage, the author's sole interests are in bragging about himself and teaching his own made-up ideas. You'd be wise to find the nearest trash can, and chuck this book into it.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

book review—The Quilted Heart Omnibus by Mona Hodgson

an outsider's review

I received a free copy of this book from Waterbrook Multnomah's Blogging for Books program.

First, I should say that I am an outsider to this kind of book. My normal tastes in fiction are usually more towards the sci-fi/fantasy section. There was a time a few years ago when I pretty much devoured the westerns of Zane Grey and Louis L'amour, but they are a good bit different than books like this. Since this is a collection of three fairly short stories, I'll do a bit for each of the stories.

Dandelions on the Wind: Probably the best of the lot. It stays pretty well focused on the four main characters, while also making mention of others who would play parts in the later stories. The story may have seemed a bit rushed at times, but it didn't seem forced or contrived.

Bending Toward the Sun: Sadly, this one was hurried, and the ending did seem contrived. The girl's change from sensible and serious to love-struck was rather too sudden. While mention was made of the man's doubts about God, they are basically brushed over, as if his love for the girl were answer enough for his doubts.

Ripples Along the Shore: Probably the main problem with this one was that there was simply too much going on for this kind of short story. The preparations for the ride west upstaged the requisite romance, and several new characters come in who simply don't get developed all that much. This one would probably benefit from being made into a longer work.

Overall, I think a 3 or 3.5 is fair. My negativity towards the second story aside, they aren't bad story, but nor are they all that great, either. I like a good romantic element to stories, I'll admit, but when the romances become the main focus of the overall story, and a happy ending is basically guaranteed going in, it does get a bit dull after a while, at least for me. Other readers may disagree, and that's fine. I can't say that I found anything in the book that would make me tell anyone to stay away from it, so take my muted enthusiasm as a matter of taste, if you want.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

book review—I Like Giving by Brad Formosa

focused on the wrong things

I received a free copy of this book from Waterbrook Multnomah's Blogging for Books program.

There is some good that could be taken from this book. Wise acts of generosity could well be considered among the good works we are to encourage each other to do, and there are some accounts in this book that could well be good ones to read and think about.

But I have a hard time really saying that this book is a good one. Here's my reasons why.

C.S. Lewis began his essay “The Weight of Glory” by noting how the old virtue of love has been replaced by the more modern virtue of unselfishness. “A negative term has been substituted for a positive, and this is of more than philological importance. The negative idea of unselfishness carries with it the suggestion not primarily of securing good things for others, but of going without them ourselves, as if our abstinence and not their happiness was the important point. I do not think this is the Christian virtue of love”.

Understand, please, that many of the accounts given in this book do express a large degree of concern for the recipient of the act of generosity. But when, for example, the author says things like “When I choose to give with no strings attached and no sense of obligation, I have the sense that I am valuable, that I am needed, that I make the world a better place”, or “Remember, giving is for you—it gives you life”, then this seems to be doing much the same thing that Lewis describes. If my act of generosity is more about making myself feel good, or about giving life to myself, rather than a real and genuine concern for the one whom I wish to help, then am I really being generous? Am I not really being selfish?

Of course, none of us have completely loving or selfless motives. As the Bible says, even all of our righteous acts are like filthy rags, and as Jesus said, even if we should do all that God says for us to do, we would still consider ourselves unprofitable servants. We all must ask God's forgiveness for the times we fail to do things for the right reasons.

Perhaps the most troubling aspect of this book is that, while there is a modicum of God talk, there is little to no mention of God's love for us as shown in the sacrifice of Jesus for the forgiveness of our sins. This lack is truly sad and even without excuse, given both that “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life”, and “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord”.

In spite of some good accounts of generous acts, I simply cannot recommend this book as being a very biblically informed look at how individuals and churches should better be generous.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

book review—Crash the Chatterbox by Steven Furtick

almost good, but not quite

I received a free copy of this book from Waterbrook Multnomah's Blogging for Books program.

This has proven to be a surprisingly difficult book to evaluate fairly.

On the one hand, there are some parts of it that are rather good. For example, in Chapter 8, when he says this about God's love, “Because it's not a love based on what I do. It's based on what Jesus has done”, that at least I have no problems with. As well, the author isn't one of those “follow my formula, and everything in your life will be alright” types. As he relates in the book, he simply knows too many faithful people who have gone through some pretty bad situations, and that reality keeps him from going too far into the “You can have your best life now” type of thinking.

But while there are some good spots, far too much of the book is simply not so good.

Because what is the book about? It's about us and what we can do. “Brennan Manning wrote a line that perfectly describes what happens when the chatter gets the best of us: “Great deeds remain undone and the possibility of growth into greatness of soul is aborted.”” (p. 9). The premise is that the voice of this chatterbox can somehow keep us from doing these great deed or having this greatness of soul if we listen to it's negativity. It's simply the kind of book meant to boost your ego in what you can do, if of course you do what the author suggests, which will result in crashing your chatterbox.

But if anything, the concept of the chatterbox becomes cumbersome, even for the author. He simply cannot in all honesty say that this chatterbox's negative statements are always wrong or harmful. He can only try, such as in Chapter 9, to set up some ideas that show the difference between condemnation from the chatterbox and God's conviction. But these principles tend to be cumbersome, too. “First person is the default voice of condemnation.” (p. 133), but it was the Apostle Paul himself, in Romans 7, who writes “Oh wretched man that I am!”, definitely using the first person, and referring to himself in a very strong way.

Honestly, I found the idea of a chatterbox unhelpful after a while. If I may suggest something, what Paul wrote in II Corinthians 7 about the differences between godly sorrow and worldly sorrow seems more helpful, and not as cumbersome.

It is possible to read this book, and find some good stuff in it. But one has to wade through a lot of motivational-speak, personal stories, and silly pop-culture references to find those small bits of good. I'm simply not sure it's worth the effort.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

get it while it's free!!!

The Fallible Prophets of New Calvinism

I did a review of this book a few months ago, and it's one I recommend very highly. I don't know how long the Kindle version will be available for free, but at the moment it is. Again, very highly recommended!

Note: I think the time when it's being offered for free has now passed. But I still recommend getting it.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

book review--Life Outside the Matrix by Venetia Carpenter

freeloader theology

In his book Christless Christianity: The Alternative Gospel of the American Church, Michael Horton wrote "So much of what I am calling "Christless Christianity" is not profound enough to constitute heresy...the message of American Christianity has simply become trivial, sentimental, affirming, and irrelevant." This book, "Like Outside the Matrix", perfectly fits that category. Although a few statements do indicate some aberrant beliefs, overall the book is so shallow and silly, it's difficult to imagine people taking it seriously. But, given the state of the church nowadays, the profane is often called profound.

The basic premise of the book is this, "Jesus was actually asking me to quit my full-time job, sit in prayer before Him for extended hours, journal what He was showing me, and trust Him for all my provision." (Kindle Locations 152-153). And what was one way she was taken care of? "As I began to do this I was led to food and household provision through friends who actually provided me with these things free of charge!" (Kindle Locations 187-188).

What reasons would I have to doubt that she got those instructions from Jesus? Take a look at II Thessalonians 3:6-12, and see if that passages in any way recommends this kind of freeloader non-activity. If anything, it is very much against it. "6 Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us." Paul in this context even gives the command, "If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat".

This author's statement that Jesus told her to quit her job and do nothing to earn her living is directly against Paul's statements and example, and I'll take Paul over this author any day. This woman received no such command from Jesus.

This author tries to convince the reader that they need to see into something she called "the supernatural realm". This is something the Bible says nothing about , she must simply attempt to insert it into a few verses. "The more I pondered this verse (Hebrews 11:6), I came to realize that the supernatural realm is really our birthright as believers." (Kindle Location 170). A look at the verse, and it's context, has nothing to do with any supernatural realm.

And the trite and shallow nature of this book is also evident in how Jesus is written about. Jesus becomes a car lot owner who wants to put you in a sweet ride, a metaphor for provision. Jesus is the partner who's waiting to give you those provisions if you look into the realm of the spirit. "Our partnership with Him calls things into being on this earth even though our physical eyes can't see them right away." (Kindle Locations 360-361), even though the Bible never says that we are able to call things into being. This is simply Word of Faith nonsense.

I got an e-book copy of this book when Destiny Image offered it for a free, and that may well be the only good thing about this book. I'd hate to think that the money I worked long and hard for would end up going to someone promoting this kind of freeloading theology.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

book review—Cloak of the Light by Chuck Black

good story, but remember that it is fiction, not theology

I received a free copy of this book from Waterbrook Multnomah's Blogging for Books program.

I want to deal with this book from two angles, story and theology.

Story—It has an interesting premise, that the results of an experiment causes the hero of the story to see things that no one else can see, and how this young man acts and reacts to the things he's seeing that no one else can see. The story keeps up a fairly good pace, and kept my interest.

A bit on the down side, while the main characters were likeable, they were not always all that believable. While many of Drew's actions made sense, I still got the impression that things became too The Matrix-like with his super-fast reaction times and how he came to use them. Perhaps because we see things mostly from Drew's eyes (it's not a first-person story, but still told from his perspective), Sydney sometimes comes off as too perfect, always doing the right things for all the right reasons.

The “invaders” are an interesting take on the whole angels and demons thing, if one keeps in mind that it is only the author's speculations. One good thing the author did was to factor in Drew's and Berg's ignorance about things spiritual and religious, so for them the “invaders” are not angels, but other kinds of beings.

Theology—Spiritual warfare is a big thing in a lot of churches and movements, and the teachings about it can be rather bizarre. While I'm trying to keep in mind that this is a work of speculative fiction, there are some aspects of what happens in this story concerning the spiritual warfare that happens in it that did cause me to wonder.

For example, why were the evil invaders (demons) unable to follow Drew when he took a boat out on the water? And why did it seem like even a good invader (angel) was hurt when rain fell on him? Maybe it was only a device for the story, but it's an odd one. Following that logic, one would think that a submarine would be completely demon- and angel-free. I don't recall any such thing being taught in the Bible, either.

In another part, the story's main battle towards the end, the good invaders (angels) are empowered when Sydney seems to be praying. This is a fairly popular teaching in some circles, that our prayers empower angels or free them to do things or keep them employed, but even the author, in the study guide at the end of the book, notes that the Bible doesn't teach that this is how prayer works.

So, on the one hand, I enjoyed the book as a story. It was a quick read, and kept my interest. Perhaps that is how it should be read, as speculative fiction, as simply a fairly good Christian sci-fi thriller. But one should be wary of reading it as an example of spiritual warfare, or as a glimpse into how angels and demons fight each other.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

book review—A Godward Heart by John Piper

short writings, but substantial

I received a free copy of this book from Waterbrook Multnomah's Blogging for Books program.

Devotional writings have never been something I've ever really liked. Usually, they are too short to offer much of substance, which means they are often little better than a bit of fluff.

It may be going too far to say that this book is a devotional reader for those who don't like devotionals, but there would be some truth in that kind of statement. The chapters are not very long, and each covers a different topic. But though the chapters are brief, they have real substance to them, as the author offers real biblical teachings about the topics he writes about.

It has been a very thought-provoking read for me, and I would guess that would be true for others who would read it. I recommend it highly.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

book review--Is That Really You, God? by Loren Cunningham

hearing unreliable voices and getting the Gospel wrong

As an autobiography of Cunningham's life and how he came to start Youth With A Mission, and how the organization grew, the book is all well and good. If that was all it was, I'd likely have little real problem with it.

But it's not. Worked through it is the notion that there are things we can do to somehow hear God's voice, and ways of determining if what we're hearing (to a loose definition of "hearing") is really God or not. It is these things that I simply cannot buy into, because they simply are not biblical.

One example would be what he calls the Wise Men Principle. "This really is amazing, I thought to myself. It was like the Three Wise Men. They each followed the star--their individual perceptions of God's direction--and in doing so came together to be led to Jesus." (Kindle Locations 1165-1167). "What a great idea! Maybe, in fact, it was God's idea! If so, perhaps I could see the Wise Men Principle I'd just learned in New Zealand work in the lives of young people, where two or more people see the same guiding star at the same time." (Kindle Locations 1301-1303). The account of the magi following the star to Jesus can be found in Matthew 2, and you'll find nothing there or in other parts of the Bible which teaches this Wise Men Principle. The account of the magi was not recorded to tell us to follow stars, literally or metaphorically, but to show us that Jesus is indeed the King.

"I had come as a speaker, but it turned out that I was the one who was learning new ideas on this isolated island. The first came from the New Zealand kids themselves. They had a guidance practice that intrigued me. In their minds they would be "given" a chapter and verse from the Bible without knowing what the reference said; then they would consider whether or not that reading was a special guidance for whatever they were facing. "You'd be surprised how often God uses that as a way to speak," they insisted." (Kindle Locations 1135-1138). Can one even imagine Paul or any real Apostle telling the churches that God would lead them in such a trite, haphazard way? Or that they should read the Scripture in such a way? That isn't hearing the voice of God, that's closer to fortune telling.

Then, there's what I've seen referred to as the Magic 8-Ball way of reading the Bible. "I was sitting quietly praying with my Bible open to Hebrews. Suddenly the words of chapter 12, verses 26 and 27, leaped off the page. "Yet once more I will shake not only the earth, but also the heaven...that those things which cannot be shaken may remain" (NASB, italics added). A rock hit the bottom of my stomach. "Oh no! I hope that doesn't mean the ship!" (Kindle Locations 1767-1770). Umm...no, Hebrews 12 had nothing to do with that ship, sir. It was written well before that ship had been constructed, well before you ever planned to make use of it. A look at the context of the verses in question would show you that.

"Yes, God had told us to get a ship, and repeatedly He had confirmed His guidance, using all the ways we had learned for hearing His voice. He used the Wise Men Principle; He used scriptures that He seemed to lift off the pages for us; He used provision of money and people; and that inner conviction--but we had failed in the way we had carried out His guidance. We had subtly turned from the Giver to the gift." (Kindle Locations 1827-1830). There are two things to be learned from this. First, these supposed confirmations are hardly confirmations at all. God can give all these go-ahead signs, but then pull the rug out from under their feet? Is that really God, period?

But instead of wondering if maybe these ways of getting confirmations were really sound, he resorts to the second thing to be gotten from this, what I think of as the Cheap Guilt Trip. A bunch of people who have been trying hard to determine if what they are doing is really what God wants them to do suddenly get broadsided by a guilt-trip of them taking their focus off of God? Is the really God, period?

But this brings up perhaps the biggest error Cunningham makes, an error in regards to the Gospel itself. "My calling was clear: to preach the twin character of the Gospel. Through Jesus Christ it is possible to love God with all our hearts and to love our neighbors as ourselves." (Kindle Locations 2099-2100). "Jesus told us there were two important things to do. One was to love God with all our hearts, souls, minds, and strength--teaching people to do that is evangelism. The other command was to love our neighbors as ourselves--to take care of people, as much as is in our power to do. These were two sides of the same Gospel: loving God and loving our neighbor." (Kindle Locations 1003-1005).

Those commands, as important as they are, are not the Gospel. Those are commands, laws, things we must do, things we fail to do every day, every hour, every minute, every second. The Gospel is not a command, but the message of God's gift of salvation and forgiveness of sins through the sacrificial death of His Son Jesus Christ. One of the important aspects of the services of the Anglican church I attend is the confession of sins, where we confess "We have not loved you with our whole heart, we have not loved our neighbor as ourselves". It's not an excuse, it's a confession, a reality. For a good look at the division between Law and Gospel, please read The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel (ESV).

And this is not just a matter of semantics. Of course, they let their focus get off of God, and they continued to do that even after their Cheap Guilt Trip, every day and often. When your gospel is a gospel of law, know going in that you're going to fail at it.

But the happy news is, the Gospel is for saved sinners as well as unsaved ones. As Paul said in I Timothy 1:15, "The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost"

In the end, I cannot recommend this book as a guide to teachings about hearing the voice of God. It's principles and techniques are without sound biblical support. Though they may tack a verse or two on to what they say about the principle or technique, when one looks at the passage they refer to, one sees that they simply don't teach what the principle or technique says. For example, the account of the magi coming to the Christ child does not teach the Wise Men Principle, Isaiah 30:21 says nothing about a "quiet inner voice". And, even more important, the Gospel is made into something we do (law), not something God has done for us (gift).

Monday, January 20, 2014

wackiness, thy name is Benny Hinn

http://www.fightingforthefaith.com/2014/01/benny-hinn-authentic-fire-or-authentic-con.html

You'll have to go to the page itself to see the video, but it's well worth it. It seems like, no matter how often this man's bizarre teachings and false prophecies are brought to light, there will still be people who defend him. Well, maybe a little more light needs to be put on them.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

book review—Spiritual Anorexia by Doug Erlandson

a lot of good things to ponder on
There's a lot in this book to consider, even when I'm not completely convinced about some of his points.

Among the good things are a lot of what he says about how the preaching and song lyrics in too many churches today are simply missing the point, and not providing much that they should be. The songs are too often shallow and do little to teach us much of anything about God, while the sermons tend to be more like inspirational speeches than proclamations of the Gospel of Christ. In so many words, these churches have lost their main focus, which is to worship God and teach the Gospel, and what is important for them is to be entertaining, have lots of people in attendance, and not be so “churchy” (my word, I don't think the author used it) as to supposedly drive off the unchurched.

As someone who in the last few years started attending a liturgical type of church, an Anglican one, I have some appreciation for the ways that prayers, Scripture readings, and the Lord's Supper are regularly done in the services at this church. And having listened to a lot of poorlydone sermons while listening to Fighting For The Faith podcasts, it's easy to see how shallow and unimportant things have taken the place of these important things, and the results.

There are some points this author makes that I'm less sure about. He puts some importance on things like vestments and pulpits and the church calendar, things that I'm fine with but I would say are of at best secondary importance, and secondary even as areas of disagreement. They don't take away from the many excellent points he makes.

This book is one that is well worth reading, well worth pondering on, and well worth considering how to put into practice, even where one may not be sure of each point or practice the author endorses.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

different qualities of revelatory words?

This is a response to an article in Authentic Fire, which can also be found online here. The article is an attempt to defend the notion that modern-day prophets do not need to live up to the Old Testament standard of perfection in what they say in prophesy, that they can prophecy incorrectly, that prophecy today is fallible.

It's a long article, and I'll not deal with all of it here. Parts of what he says, such as his attempt to see fallible prophecy in the account of Agabus in Acts, have been dealt with in this book.

To try to explain, Storms is responding to statements made that, if there are true prophets today, then why do we not view their prophecies as being as inspired as Scripture, why do we not add those prophecies on to the end of the Bible.

One things that Storms tries to posit is that there are various levels of revelatory words. One, possible the highest, is what he calls “Scripture-quality”, and then posits that there is at least one level of revelatory words that is of lesser quality, and that modern prophecy is at these one or more lower levels. His position is this—there were many prophets and prophecies given in the early church, the Bible even mentions specific people who were prophets, yet with only a few exceptions we do not have the prophetic revelatory words these prophets spoke. Ergo, these unrecorded prophetic words were of a lesser quality than those recorded in the Bible. Or to use Storms' own words...

My question is this: If such words, each and every one of them, were the very “Word of God” and thus equal to Scripture in authority, what happened to them? Why were the NT authors so lacking in concern for whether or not other Christians heard them and obeyed them? Why were they not preserved for subsequent generations of the church? I’m not suggesting this proves that these “revelatory gifts” operated at a lower level of authority, but it certainly strikes me as odd that the NT would portray the operation of the gift of prophecy in this manner if in fact all such “words” were Scripture quality and essential to building the foundation for the universal body of Christ.


One thing that a little thought made me realize was that even in the time before Christ's death and resurrection, there are examples of prophets about whom we have no prophesies.

For example, here is a few verses from I Samuel 19


18 Now David fled and escaped, and he came to Samuel at Ramah and told him all that Saul had done to him. And he and Samuel went and lived at Naioth. 19 And it was told Saul, “Behold, David is at Naioth in Ramah.” 20 Then Saul sent messengers to take David, and when they saw the company of the prophets prophesying, and Samuel standing as head over them, the Spirit of God came upon the messengers of Saul, and they also prophesied. 21 When it was told Saul, he sent other messengers, and they also prophesied. And Saul sent messengers again the third time, and they also prophesied. 22 Then he himself went to Ramah and came to the great well that is in Secu. And he asked, “Where are Samuel and David?” And one said, “Behold, they are at Naioth in Ramah.” 23 And he went there to Naioth in Ramah. And the Spirit of God came upon him also, and as he went he prophesied until he came to Naioth in Ramah. 24 And he too stripped off his clothes, and he too prophesied before Samuel and lay naked all that day and all that night. Thus it is said, “Is Saul also among the prophets?”


So, here we have an account of a company of prophets who were prophesying, and when King Saul himself came to them, he prophesied. Were these people true prophets of God? Considering that Samuel was in some sense their head, I think we can say that they were. Yet we have no record of what they prophesied.

Another interesting example would be from the Gospels. Luke 2 gives the account of the parents of Jesus taking their newborn child to the Temple, and there they encounter a woman named Anna, who is called a prophetess. Yet the passage in Luke gives no prophetic statement of hers.

So, are we to assume that, simply because these prophets' revelatory words are not recorded in the Bible, then they were of a lesser quality? That they were even fallible, even though they were still subject the Old Testament standard of having to be completely correct in their prophetic statements?

I would say, no. And I would go further and say that Storms' position simply doesn't hold up. There is no hint in the New Testament that prophetic words today can be of a lesser quality than those in the Old Testament.

Even the concept of varying qualities of revelatory words seems to be very questionable. Where is such a concept in the Bible? Where does God ever say that He speaks less clearly to some people than to others? Where does God plainly speak to one prophet, but another prophet has to make do with trying to interpret vague feelings? What happened to God's communication abilities, such that in the Old Testament He always spoke clearly to the prophets, but since Christ's death and resurrection He tends to speak in an unclear, garbled way, leaving the prophets to rely on revelatory words that they may get wrong.

Understand, I'm talking about the words themselves, not necessarily interpretations. Even the Old Testament prophets did not completely understand the things God was saying to them prophetically, you can read the last chapter of Daniel to see that Daniel did not understand everything being said to him. But even in that, Daniel plainly heard the words being said to him, and recorded them accurately.

So, I find Storms' idea of lesser qualities of revelatory words to not be supported by the Bible. It seems more like a supposition he has formed to support his notion of fallible prophecy, then something that is plainly taught or ever strongly hinted at in the Bible.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

i don't believe in revival

This post is similar to the one where I say that I don't believe in social justice, and in many ways, it's very similar, though in much the same way a photo negative is similar to the photograph.

In the religious section of the liberal and conservative divide, revival serves much the same function among conservatives as social justice does for liberals. It is the goad that makes people get out and do whatever the people in charge want them to do. It is the carrot that is hung before the crowds to make them respond.

Revival is a nebulous concept, and perhaps all the more useful because of it's lack of clarity. What is revival? Hard to say. A church, particular of an older mindset, might have a week of “revival meetings”, which might mean that the church has invited a guest speaker to preach every night that week. But that doesn't seem to be what some today mean by revival.

One might think that the seemingly endless stream of conferences, gatherings, and events that fill stadiums and large mega-churches might qualify as revival, or at least an indication of it. But while such things may be considered good things, they aren't themselves really revival.

Like social justice, revival isn't really something one arrives at so much as something one is constantly trying to arrive at. Just as things are never just enough in the social justice mindset, things are never revived enough in the revival mindset. If you surrendered yourself completely last month, well, that was last month, have you done it today? Are you at this moment completely surrendered now? If not, well, you'd best do it!

And like social justice, revival is tied in to the political and social ambitions of the leaders. In other words, revival is closely tied with Dominianism. Just as a liberal dominionists might dream about a society which embodies their notions of social justice, conservative dominianists dream of a society which embodies what they mean by revival.

Revival isn't just conversion. It's always something more. One must always do more, surrender more, give more, pray more, pray longer, pray more extremely, take a bigger risk, live larger, want more, have bigger experiences, want more and more to change the world, and so on.

I do not believe in revival, just as I do not believe in social justice. I do not believe that revival is the answer, I do not think that if the church prays enough, surrenders enough, gives enough, whatevers enough, then all of a sudden the world will start to like us more, and will finally do what the church wants it to do. I do not believe that if somehow the people in charge of the various aspects of society were to become Christians (in it's loosest definition), then suddenly the country will become a much better place, and might even be well on its way to becoming christianized.

I do not pursue revival. I do not attend all-night meetings where people over and over and over ask God to send revival. I do not go to various places where people say “the Spirit is moving there!”. I sure don't go to church to fall down, bark like a dog, act like a drunk, or any of the inane and bothersome signs of what people have called revival in the all-too-recent past.

I believe in conversion. I believe in the Gospel of salvation through faith in the crucified and risen Christ. I believe that Christians have good works God has given them to do, and that a lot of those works are very mundane things—doing honest work well, looking after your families, loving and serving the people around you.

I also believe that the world hates God, and thus will hate those who are God's. I believe what Jesus said about the same world that hated Him will also hate those who follow Him. I believe what Jesus said about how in this world we will have trouble, but we should be of good cheer because He has overcome the world. I believe that we are more than conquerors while in the midst of lots of terrible stuff like tribulations, persecution, trials, and all kinds of bad situations.

The emotional appeals of revival have grown stale to me. The constant stress on wanting God more does not do much for someone who knows that God is with him. The straining to hear some kind of hard-to-hear voice that may or may not be God has become very suspect, since seeing that such a thing is not taught in the Bible.

If our hope is in revival, our hope is in the wrong place.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

disturbing look at the prosperity gospel in Ghana

First, HT to Delight in Truth, which is where I first found this video.

This is a pretty disturbing look at how the prosperity gospel in being used and spread in the nation of Ghana.

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Sunday, January 5, 2014

book review--Authentic Fire by Michael Brown

not the worst book i've read, but maybe the most disappointing

This book is a response to Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship by John MacArthur.There is some meat in this book. A lot of the goofiness that fills so many books from those on the charismatic side of things is absent here. Brown's defense of continuationism in chapter 6 is at least plausible, though I've seen some cessationist arguments that are equally so, too.

But there are simply times when Brown's arguments are far from convincing, and seem, at best, forced.

For example, when he goes on about what he refers to as the genetic fallacy, it reminded me how often I've heard or read of charismatic churches or organization go on about their spiritual genetics or spiritual DNA, holding up those in the past as examples to followed. For example, in Jesus Culture: Living a Life That Transforms the World, the author, while not completely denying their faults, holds up several very questionable people as example of those he considers to be revivalists.

If that is considered a legitimate practice, then MacArthur's referring to the at best questionable aspect to Azusa Street and those who lead it is no less legitimate.

To my mind, one of the most questionable things Brown does is an attempt to spin some stats about how popular the prosperity gospel has become across the world. "What the Strange Fire camp did not emphasize strongly enough (or, at times, at all) was that: 1) A majority of the population in some of the countries surveyed is extremely poor, which means that "material prosperity" for many of these believers simply meant, "Having enough food for my family so we won't starve," or, "Having a roof over my head that doesn't leak." Is it so heretical to believe that God will grant that to His children? 20 (Note that, according to some estimates, 70% of the world's population lives on less than $ 3 per day.)" (Kindle Locations 2195-2199).

I'm not sure how Brown concludes that because a majority of people are in extreme poverty, than that means they are not open to believing the prosperity gospel. Do not prosperity gospel preachers prey on the very poor as well as the more well-off? To show the truth behind the stat without Brown's attempt at spin, I'd like to recommend this book Where Are We Heading To? by Thuso Kewana, an African minister who has seen the damage done by the prosperity gospel. It's a short book, well worth reading. He mentions, for example, pastors who boast about how much their suits cost, or one who taught that those who do not tithe should be cast out from the church.

An article by Sam Storms favorably reprinted in this book sums up the main problem with the current charismatic movement, no matter if Brown's arguments concerning continuationism are valid or not. Storms tries to defend the idea the modern-day prophets do not have to live up to the plainly stated OT standard of being completely correct in the prophetic words they give, but can made mistakes, and he even tries to read between the lines of certain NT passages to find this idea of his, though it is not plainly taught in the NT. A good response to this kind of teaching is this book, The Fallible Prophets of New Calvinism: An Analysis, Critique, and Exhortation Concerning the Contemporary Doctrine of "Fallible Prophecy" by Michael Beasley, and I recommend it pretty highly.

If this book left me with one overriding impression, it's that, with the best will in the world, Brown is insuring that nothing in the charismatic churches is going to change. False prophets will continue to prophecy falsely, and charismatics will not do much about it because they are too afraid of "quenching the Spirit" (as if God was not the one who set up the standard of perfection in prophecy). The prosperity gospel will continue to spread, especially as it is currently morphing in the pursuit of one's dreams and living a fulfilled life, and there will be little or no accountability concerning it. The craziness will continue, and will continue to get worse and worse, and Brown will continue to get more worked up over those who try to expose and refute it than anyone actually spreading it.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

book review—The Path (Fire on the Mountain) by Rick Joyner

massive self-aggrandizing

For a while, I had thought to call this review “disney theology”, because of lines like this, “The familiar things you are looking for to give you bearings are not the same, and you are not the same. Therefore, your guidance must come from your heart, your spirit.” (Kindle Locations 156-157); “After a few minutes, Mary walked up to Elijah and looking him directly in the eyes asked, “Are you the real Elijah?” “What does your heart tell you?” he replied. After a minute, Mary answered with less boldness, “You really are Elijah. I’m sorry, but it’s just hard to believe that we would be so special to have you come to help us.” (Kindle Locations 1076-1080). We needs to get guidance from our hearts? This girl's heart tells us this guy is the real Elijah? That is one of the main problems with this book—subjective standards like feelings and “your heart” are set up as our guides, and the objective standard of what the Bible says is at best secondary.

But after a while, another bit of something started to become more obvious—the way the book boosts the egos of certain people with rhetoric like this, “ “Every one of these is a messenger. They are being prepared to shake cities and nations with the power of the message they will be given. In time, they will capture the attention of the entire earth, and everyone on earth will marvel at them. These will be ‘the mighty ones’ that Enoch prophesied would come. They are alive now, and they are starting to find this path,” Elijah concluded, and walked away.” (Kindle Locations 1725-1728). “He (Elijah) stopped , hesitated for a moment, and then turned and said, “I have never seen so many in one group who are called to be the mighty ones that Enoch talks about. Every one of these is called to walk in more power than I did. Obviously the time is now close.”” (Kindle Locations 844-846).

One thing statements like those brings up is, where does Enoch say anything about these “mighty ones”? The Bible says precious little about Enoch, and gives only one prophecy of his, mentioned in Jude. It is about Christ returning with His saints, which seems to be supported by Revelation 19. Joyner, though, spins this differently, “You are a forerunner of the forerunners. You are to help prepare those who will prepare the way for the King.” (Kindle Locations 269-270). This notion of preparing the way for the Lord is made much of in the book, which combined with his rhetoric about how great these coming “mighty ones” will be, leads to one conclusion—Joyner is teaching dominionism. It goes by a few different names—Joel's Army, Manifest Sons of God, Elijah Company, Seven Mountains, et al—but the notion is that the church has to essentially take over the world before Jesus will return.

Now, that's questionable and important, but I came to think that the main message is something else—that this is self-aggrandizing for Joyner. Look at what happens in the book. Joyner has the prophet Elijah hanging around him and his group, approving of everything Joyner is teaching them. Joyner has a group of people following him about, hanging on every word he says, some asking questions but none really challenge anything he's teaching them, and they constantly heap praise on him and what he's teaching. Enoch gives him a staff made from wood from the Tree of Life itself, which is suppose to represent some kind of authority Joyner now has. This is self-aggrandizing on a pretty large scale..

There are also reasons to be concerned about the nature of this story, if Joyner is claiming it's some kind of prophetic vision.

For example, early on Elijah tells him, ““You must also have the living water. You must never let it out of your sight again. You must drink from it as soon as you begin to thirst.” (Kindle Locations 164-165). This living water is usually found in a stream close to the path they are suppose to take. But later, when they start going uphill, this stream disappears from sight. Enoch tells him, “You must always stay close to the living waters, and they are always flowing, but here they are not on the surface. As you go into higher places like this you will often have to dig for the living water. The higher you go the deeper you may have to dig for them, but they will be near you. They will always be close to the path you are to walk,” (Kindle Locations 2489-2491). So, there's a contradiction—Joyner is not to let the water from his sight, but it's underground so he can't see it. These two things contradict each other.

Another has to do with the staff Enoch gave to him. The group's prophetic kid says this to Joyner, “You think your rod is new and freshly cut, but it is much older than you can imagine. It seems like it is new and fresh because of the life that is in it, and life will stay in it as long as you walk with God and do not depart from His path. This was cut from the Tree of Life before the world was formed, and it was sized just for you at that time.” (Kindle Locations 2629-2631), but a moment later he tells him in private, “Your rod was a bud that was given to you when you were very young in the Lord,” (Kindle Locations 2662-2663). Those two statements contradict each other.

One of the big problems, then, is how we are to understand what this book is? If it is simply an allegory, then such contradictions could be noted as maybe being some clumsiness on the author's part, but not serious problems. But if Joyner claims that this book is a record of a prophetic vision, things like he's claimed to have written before, then we have serious problems, 'cause such contradictions would not exist in a godly prophetic vision.

Honestly, this book is very disappointing, and doesn't even succeed at being interesting reading. It's like Joyner just mailed it in. There's not much new here, and reading obviously stilted conversations gets very dull very quickly. Despite an occasional good nugget, overall the last thing the reader should do is act like the people in the group, who just take whatever Joyner says without discernment. If you do read this book, do it as the Bereans in Acts, looking to the Bible to see if what this book is saying is what is taught in the Bible.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

death does not whitewash

Christian Leaders Mourn Loss, Honor Memory of Paul Crouch

I left a comment there earlier, but it is now gone. My comment was something along the lines that, while I give condolences to this man's family and those close to him for his passing, and hope that he found grace and repentance, the truth is Paul Crouch taught and spread the worst of the worst in modern heresies, bad theologies, and aberrant practices, and his life and 'ministry' are not thing to hold up as examples.

Although Charisma has, for some reason, seen fit to remove such a comment, that doesn't take away from the truth in it. Simply because someone has died does not mean that we can or should whitewash their lives. There may be a place for grieving with those who are grieving in this situation, but spreading fictions is only giving false hope.

There is little in the memory of Paul Crouch that deserves honor. How many people have been and still are hell-bound because they believed the false gospels spread by the false teachers on his station? How many people have lost their money because they gave it to some TBN teacher who promised them 10-fold or 100-fold from God if they gave until it hurts? How many thought they were going to be healed if they did whatever some TBN fake healer told them to do?

No, grieve for him and those close to him, but Paul Crouch was no hero. The main thing to gain from his life is what NOT to do, what NOT to teach. Perhaps the main thing one could mourn is that one who had such potential influence wasted it on robbing widows to fatten his own accounts, living in luxury while begging from the poor for even more.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

book review—The Fallible Prophets of New Calvinism by Michael Beasley

a good answer to this very questionable teaching

A few years ago, there was a TV program called “Flash Forward”. The basic premise was that an event happened in which people all over the world had brief glimpse of what they would be doing at a particular time in the future. When the time they saw finally came, the events unfolded but with certain differences in details for many of the ones the show focused on. Some details are as they had seen, but others were different.

There is a certain parallel between what happened in that show and what some teach concerning prophecy today. There are those who teach that modern-day prophets, assuming there are any, are not required to live up to the biblical requirements that what they prophecy be 100% accurate, that they can make mistakes and will make mistakes in their prophecies, and that these mistakes do not mean they are no real prophets. Prophets today could be as inaccurate as the characters in that show, and not only will they be defended, but those who point out their false prophecies and try to hold them accountable are the ones who are derided.

This book responds to this teaching about fallible prophecy, and I think does so very well. I especially found what he said concerning how Agabus is used to defend the idea of fallible prophecy, and how he defends Agabus as a man who prophesied truly, to be of interest.

Though in the title he addressed how this idea of fallible prophets is being spread in what is called New Calvinism, this idea is no less popular in more normal charismatic circles, and this book should also serve to address this bad teaching among them, too.

I can recommend this book very highly. It would be good for this idea of fallible prophecy to finally be put on the theological junk heap, because it has already caused enough damage, and is plainly without any biblical support. If there are prophets today, they should not try to scamper from under the weight of the biblical requirement that they be accurate in what they prophesy. Prophecy is serious business, it is no light thing to claim to be speaking what God has directly told you to say, and it should not be done frivolously, as far too many modern-day prophets seem to do.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

movie review—The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

The art and skill of storytelling is a strange and mysterious one. A few months ago, I was watching some episodes of a certain series which proved to be very effective and very moving. Give that same kind of material to many other directors, producers, and/or writers, and they would likely have made it so sappy and over-emotional and cheesy that it would have been almost unwatchable.

Catching Fire could be considered on the good side of that storytelling equation. At times very moving, almost always well done as a movie, there is little that I would complain about in the movie.

Given the nature of the movie, there are ways in which it resembles the first movie, but in ways that makes it seem very different from the first. There are many of the same kinds of scenes, but with a twist that gives it a different look and even meaning, such as the talk show scene or the chariot ride.

The two big differences from the first are at the beginning, with the added element of the Victor's Tour, and the twist at the end. The tension is ratcheted up, as the unrest shown a few times in the first movie becomes even greater, and overall the movie is very intense.

I remember only one scene that had any serious language in it, and those words were bleeped out. There was one bizarre scene in an elevator, though little is shown. Of course, given the nature of the game, there is also the callous way lives are tossed aside, but that's one of the things the movie is about and even against. There is plenty of action and violence, disturbing scenes with poisonous fog and killer monkeys, and lots of backroom scheming.

If you watch it, be ready for a pretty intense ride. It's not a short movie, but it rarely drags. I can recommend it pretty highly.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

book review--Strange Fire by John MacArthur

a devastating series of sledgehammer blows

This book has certainly stirred up no small amount of controversy in some circles, and I suppose with good reason. Frankly, though, a lot of the controversy seems either ill-informed or ill-adviced.

MacArthur does a very good job of showing how far too much in charismatic churches is going some very disturbing places. Prophets who are free to prophecy falsely and not be accountable for it? Speaking gobblety-gook and claiming it's tongues? Claiming apostles are still around today? All the fake healers putting on shows and leaving the truly sick people out in the cold? And much of this stuff has been going on for over 100 years? MacArthur rightly calls out those who practice and promote those things, and shows from Scripture just how off those ideas are, and then shows what the Scripture tells us how the Spirit works.

Reading parts of this book is liking seeing one sledgehammer blow after another—showing how supposedly spirit-filled ministers fall into immorality again and again, how they couldn't prophecy their way out of a paper bag, how they will do almost anything for money, how they hide the fact that they don't really heal much of anyone who is really sick, how they put more emphasis on the things they feel inside themselves than in what Scripture says. If charismatic churches were to really take these things to heart, this book would signal the end of the too-popular TV charlatans and fake healers and false prophets who have shamed the church for far too long.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

book review—Manifesto for a Normal Christian Life by Bill Johnson

vain imaginations

In regards to the book itself, a good portion of it could have been left out, as it consists simply in Johnson repeating himself, even to the point of repeating the same stories. Even knowing that these are transcripts of speeches Johnson gave, one would assume that the editors would have done some work at avoiding such needless repetitions.

Concerning the contents, well, it's basically typical Bill Johnson—a bunch of made-up ideas he claims to have gotten from out-of-context Bible verses, which don't say what he says they say, all with the intent of boosting the egos of the people listening.

It could be said that Johnson's problems begin with how he says he reads the Bible. “It has not been given to us to try to assign the scriptures to particular seasons...The Bible is filled with rich promises. It is theologically irresponsible to take the great promises of scripture and ascribe them to a period of time for which I have no responsibility.” (Kindle Locations 361-363). This seems to be saying that the context of the biblical passage, who is being addressed and the context of the statement, are not important to Johnson. “If I could encourage you to do anything in your life it would be that, any time you have a problem, get into the Book and read until he speaks to you.” (Kindle Locations 837-838).

There is a way of reading the Bible that I've seen compared to the Magic 8-Ball toy, where you basically read until something “jumps out at you”. This is not a valid way of reading the Bible, and this seems to be something like what Johnson is recommending.

This reckless use of Scripture is evident through the book, when he bothers to use Scripture at all to support his ideas. “In Matthew 10: 8 we have this commission, one of the commissions that Jesus gave his disciples: ‘heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out demons. Freely you have received, freely give.’” (Kindle Locations 155-156), and he tried to make it seem like this is something we should do today, without regard to either whom Jesus was speaking to, nor even all the instructions Jesus gave here. For example, Johnson doesn't touch on Jesus' command in verse 5 for the disciples to not go to the Gentiles or Samaritans, nor verses 9 and 10 where they are told to not acquire gold or silver for their journey, nor take a bag with them, nor an extra change of clothes or shoes.

“What was it about the shadow of Peter that could heal people? There is no substance to a shadow. Your shadow will always release whatever overshadows you, whatever you live conscious of, whatever you carry.” (Kindle Locations 175-176). The account of people trying to get Peter's shadow to fall on them is found in Acts 5:12-16, and you will not find any mention of a teaching like “ Your shadow will always release whatever overshadows you” in that passage. Johnson is simply making that up. Regarding the account in Mark 4 were Jesus slept during a storm at sea, he says “Do you know why he could sleep in a storm? Because the realm he was dwelling in has no storms.” (Kindle Location 1081). He even gives the passage in his book, and you will not find any such statement in the passage, nor anything like that even hinted at. Johnson is simply making that up. Again concerning that same passage, he writes, “You have authority over any storm you can sleep in.” (Kindle Location 1095). Jesus doesn't even come close to saying that, Johnson has to twist and change Jesus' words to make it seem like He's saying that to the disciples.

Of course, he doesn't limit his ideas to things he claims to have found in the Bible. “People ask me often about a lifestyle of miracles. How do you come into a lifestyle of miracles?... But I found out something. You need to take time to get alone with God, to get in a secret place with God and cry out to him.” (Kindle Locations 680-685). He offers not biblical support for such a claim, and the Bible does not teach this. “Nothing happens in the Kingdom until first there is a declaration. Everything hinges upon the simple faith of people who will make decrees.” (Kindle Locations 880-881). Johnson offers no biblical support for this statement, because the Bible doesn't teach that. This if Word of Faith heresy. “He always manifests himself opposite to his surroundings. He manifests himself opposite to the spirit of the day that has captured the affections and the attentions of a generation. Because he has a better way. He has a better solution. That means that when you live at a time when people are going broke, bankrupt, when there is financial crisis and chaos, and fear is spreading all around you, that’s the time God wants to prosper you.” (Kindle Locations 1245-1248). The Bible doesn't teach that, this is just Prosperity Gospel heresy.

This is only a small sampling of the ludicrous things Bill Johnson teaches in this book.

Where are the church leaders who hold this guy accountable, that tell him that his teachings are not biblical and that he should step down from his pulpit and actually study the Bible before he's allowed to speak before anyone again? It is a testimony to the sad state of the church today that Bill Johnson is considered a successful minister, when he has no idea how to properly handle the Word of God.

For better, far more biblical teachings, I would recommend The World-Tilting Gospel  by Dan Phillips.