Monday, April 29, 2013

book review--Spiritual Warfare by Dean Sherman

this author fails at his own standard

Early in the book, Sherman makes this statement, "When it comes to spiritual warfare, if it’s not in the Bible, be careful." (Kindle Location 335). I think this is a pretty wise statement. Sadly, I do not think that he abided by it very much throughout the rest of the book. Here are some examples...

In the first pages, he claims to have gotten this message from God, "Praise is the key to breaking down the forces of darkness which have held this city since the beginning of time. These forces have never been challenged." (Kindle Locations 84-85) But he records no attempts to verify whether the Bible teaches this or not. In fact, if these were the exact words he received, he should have been immediately warned, because this city in Papua New Guinea had obviously not existed from the beginning of time, so "the forces of darknes" could not have had hold of it for that long.

He writes this about Satan, "He is a thief who wants to rob us of all he can. He wants to steal our health and another year of life. He wants to steal our productivity, our relationships, our joy, our peace, and our faith." (Kindle Locations 566-568), and "His full intention is to destroy our minds, our bodies, our character, our reputations, and our relationships." (Kindle Location 592). While the Bible does describe Satan as a thief, are these the things he is most concerned about stealing? Are there not sinful peple who would claim that they have productive lives, good relationships, happiness, peace, and faith in something? Would they not say that they have sound bodies and minds, good reputations and character? On the other hand, are they not Christians who are maybe not so healthy in mind or body, have bad reputations because of their faith, have lost relationships because they are more loyal to God rather than to others? If Satan is a thief, perhaps he has bigger game.

He claims that Satan has a kingdom, and that this kingdom has three kingpins. "These three are pride, unbelief, and fear. Everything that Satan does, his entire kingdom and his nature, emanate from pride, unbelief, and fear." (Kindle Locations 862-863) He gives no biblical passage in support of this assertation.

He has a strange take on the passage "our battle is not against flesh and blood". "It has never been, and never will be, a Christian activity to write books and articles or make speeches against other Christians. We get into a savage theological controversies that neither side will every win." (Kindle Locations 1161-1162) "We should fight issues in society, but not people. Fighting people never advances the Kingdom of God, no matter how right the issues." (Kindle Locations 1193-1194) "Even if we have the right doctrine, if we damage people in defense of it, we give the enemy entrance. It’s okay to fight issues, but not the people behind the issues. We can never win if we battle other human beings." (Kindle Locations 1171-1173). If I were to take his interpretation of this seriously, then Jesus was wrong to speak against the Pharisees and other who were misleading the people, Peter was wrong to speak against Ananias and Sapphira, Paul was wrong to say that those are accursed who were teaching the churches another gospel, and Jesus was again wrong in Revelation to speak against the churches. And at various times in church history, when there were those like the Gnostics who tried to bring in heresy, there were those like Irenaeus and Athanasius who spoke against them, exposed their teachings, and would not compromise. It seems that Sherman is saying that they were wrong to have done this, that they should simply have dealt with ideas but not named names and stood against the ones spreading these heresies. I find that ridiculous.

He makes a rather bizarre statement concerning the Pharisees, "It may be hard to swallow, but the Pharisees were right. They understood the Scriptures completely."(Kindle Locations 1173-1174). Yet it was Jesus Himself who got onto them about not understanding the Scriptures, saying that while the search them to find eternal life, they would not believe and come to Him. If they did not come to Him, but rather worked to crucify Him, then they obviously did not undstand the Scriptures completely.

"However, it is essential that we become well acquainted with the invisible realm." (Kindle Location 1285). But if it is so essential, why does the Bible tell us so very little about it? We get glimpses, but hardly much more than that. "More time and energy need to be invested in the unseen world." (Kindle Location 1296). If that is so, then were does the Bible say that?

"The greatest manual for spiritual warfare is the Old Testament. The battles that were fought then in the earthly realm are exactly the same as those we now fight in the unseen world." (Kindle Locations 1615-1616) He seems to simply try to make the OT battles into some kinds of analogies for current spiritual warfare. Where does the Bible tell us to view those battles in that way?

Sherman says this at one point, "The kingdom of darkness is as well-oiled as the best human military machine. Satan has particular battle plans for each geographic area and for each group of people." (Kindle Locations 1710-1711) Since he gives no real scriptural support for this assertion, only out-of-context verses, we can only assume that his spiritual spies have gained copies of these plans, or maybe his spiritual communications specialists have cracked the codes Satan's army is using.

"In light of our Great Commission to “Go into all the world,” praying into all the world should be our first response and our first commitment to win the world to Christ." (Kindle Locations 1741-1743). If that were so, then why did not Christ say that, instead of actually telling us to go?

He makes some unwarranted leaps. "If there are princes of Persia and Greece, there are also princes of Scotland, Hawaii, London, Dallas, and even North Dallas." (Kindle Locations 1755-1756) He references Daniel 10 for the princes of Persia and Greece, and that's all well and good. But why should we then conclude that every country, city, or even suburb has it's resident demonic prince? Outside of Daniel 10, the Bible doesn't seem to elaborate on this subject further, leaving one to conclude it's hardly a major biblical teaching. The New Testament writings are silent on this subject, no epistle writer tells the churches to be concerned about demonic princes over their city, so I can only conclude that Sherman is stressing something that isn't really all that important.

"Many activities of the enemy are functions that intersect in the heavenlies. If we ask the Holy Spirit, He will reveal how Satan is working in any given place or situation." (Kindle Locations 1882-1883). He doesn't say where the Bible says that the Holy Spirit will tell us this if we ask.

There are some questionable speculations. Concerning the fall of man, "Adam and Eve had something of tremendous value to Satan. Satan wanted the authority God had given to man." (Kindle Location 2056) He never gives any scriptural support for this claim that Satan wanted man's authority.

Sherman comes close to blasphemy in this, "God promised to bruise Satan’s head—not directly, but through the seed of the woman. The seed of Satan would in turn bruise mankind’s heel. This established the grounds for spiritual warfare. Satan is working through mankind to do his business on the planet. And God is working through mankind to defeat the enemy. This is what has been happening throughout history...The seed of the woman is three things: It is, first of all, all who are born from Eve—the human race. Satan’s attack on the seed of the woman is seen primarily in his attack on all human children." (Kindle Locations 2068-2076) This couldn't be more wrong. The "seed of the woman" mentioned in Genesis 3 is a prophesy referring to Christ, not mankind as a whole. Shame of Sherman for this awful teaching!!

"We need a revelation of what happens among demonic powers when we speak the precious and powerful name of Jesus. It’s not a magic word. We must be wholly submitted to Jesus to use it." (Kindle Locations 2306-2307) This is the sort of thing that has led to that awful practice on the part of the obvious false teachers, who get up and think that simply repeating a phrase like " Jesus' name!!" is some kind of spark for things to happen. But there are several passages in the New Testament, gospels and epistles, where demons spoke Jesus' name.

Sherman gives a kind of example prayer of intercessor spiritual warfare, "Father, we come before you in the name of Jesus Christ and ask you to bring conviction upon this person and to lead him to repentance in his life. Satan, we come against you in the name of Jesus Christ and we cut off your influence in the life of this person in the areas of…" (Kindle Locations 2982-2984) But the Bible is rather silent about the need to "come against" Satan like this prayer suggests; in fact, in the short book of Jude, where it says that Michael the archangel and Satan disputed over the body of Moses, it says that not even the archangel spoke like that to Satan, but simply said "The Lord rebuke you". In this, it seems that Jude warns against such things.

Here is another unsupported claim. "God has established certain irrevocable principles in the universe. He will move in the affairs of mankind according to the degree and how specifically we pray." (Kindle Locations 3021-3022) There doesn't seem to be any biblical support for what he is saying here; indeed, this god would be a rather pathetic being, as even Sherman himself shows, "God is crying out to His people: “I want to move. I want to bless. I want to save. I want to protect, provide, and stop injustice. Why won’t you intercede?” (Kindle Locations 3024-3025) Yeah, poor god, stuck on the sidelines, unable to play until we let him in the game.

He says this, concerning the conquest of Jericho in the book of Judges, "Through obedience and the very presence of the people of God, Israel drove back the powers of darkness in the unseen realm. God showed them the importance of going exactly where He wanted them to go, and doing exactly what He wanted them to do. Before the walls of Jericho fell, there was victory in the spiritual realm."(Kindle Locations 3228-3231) He gives no biblical support for this claim, and it isn't anywhere in the account in Judges.

This review is rather long, but it actually contains only a few of the many questionable, unscriptural things taught in this book.

I cannot recommend this book at all. Sherman fails at keeping his own standard. His book is a theological train-wreck, unworthy of being looked to for solid bibilcal teaching. It is to YWAM's shame that they published this book, and telling their DTS students to read it and practice the unbiblical things taught in it.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

book review--Humble Orthodoxy by Joshua Harris

short book, well worth the read

This is a small book, but it really is one that is quite good. Probably about 4/5 of it, I have no problems with, and even the parts were I may express concern or disagreement are not areas of strong disagreement. I can agree quite well with his premise that we need to be concerned with both being orthodox in our beliefs and humble in our attitudes. There are things that we may need to stand strong for, such as the divinity of Christ, but also things that are not worth dividing over, such as some theories about the end times. There have been times in the past, and today, when disagreements over secondary matters have become too heated.

I'm not completely without some concerns, though.

Harris begins the book by telling a bit about a friend of his, a fellow author whose book apparently had some questionable things in it. People responded to this other author, and some apparently in a strong way. "He said the harshest ones (e-mails) were from people who presented themselves as "caring about doctrine". Their e-mails were vitriolic, pointing out the theological errors and inconsistencies of what he had written". p 1.

Harris doesn't identify his friend, nor his friend's book, so I can't comment about it that way or this. I don't know if his friend showed him the e-mails he thought were vitriolic and harsh. My main concern is this--it's quite common today for people to take any criticism of themselves or their work, and see it in the worst of lights. How are we to know that this other author may not simply have read those e-mails in a worse way than the writers had intended? Perhaps those readers were responding with real concern to serious errors that they saw that this other author was teaching, and were not trying to be unduly harsh?

This is such a common thing, I see it often. For example, a Christian rapper recently put out a song, calling certain popular authors and pastors and teachers in the church "Fal$e Teacher$". Some claim that he is being divisive, they would probably use words like "harsh" and "vitriolic" to describe him and his song. My opinion is that he's simply calling a spade a spade, the people he identifies as false teachers are really false teachers, and of the worst sort. To my mind, if anything the church has been far too accepting of such false teachers, letting them practically define Christianity in the minds of those in the church and in the world.

Finally, we have examples in Scripture were Jesus and the Apostles were none too gentle in their words regarding those who were leading people astray with their unscriptural teachings. In Matthew 23, Jesus is unsparing in this words against the scribes and Pharisees. In Galatians 1, Paul says that anyone who preaches another Gospel is accursed, and in chapter 5 of the same book he wishes that those who wanted to put the believers under by law of circumcision would emasculate themselves. In the book of Jude, the author compares false teachers to unreasoning animals, and that's just at the start of his descriptions of them, none of which are complimentary. II John tells the church being written to, and by extension us, to not even welcome false teachers into our homes or churches, or even greet them.

I know that we must weight these things against the command to love our enemies, and if I've understood him corrently in this book, I think Harris agrees that sound doctrine is important, and we must warn against false teachers.

Anyway, I highly recommend this book. It's short, but weighty, and you'll be given some things to ponder on.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

book review--Answering the Contemplative Call by Carl McColman

not very biblical

I received a free copy of this book from Speakeasy.

It's hard to escape the various flavors of contemplative practices out and about in the church nowadays. Whether its more refined versions of it like in this book, or the rough-and-tumble of the ways the New Apostolic Reformation folks do it, it's everywhere. Whether it's sitting alone doing mantra-like chants and lectio divina, like McColman recommends, or it's YWAmers practicing the supposed steps of prayer and intercession, then sitting around in a circle trying to get guidance from some inner voice, it's all the same and one.

The fact that none of it has much in the way of biblical support seems to be lost on all of these practitioners.

For the discerning Christian, there are plenty of things in this book that should cause alarms to go off. For example, while he makes a point of saying that he's teaching about Christian mysticism or spirituality, one gets the impression that the "Christian" part of that is much less valuable to him than the "mysticism" or "spirituality" part. "Saint Paul sees Christ on the road to Damascus. The Buddha achieves enlightenment sitting under the Bodhi tree. Mohammed takes the miraculous night journey of Isra and Mi’raj, carrying him from earth to heaven. And of course, Aquinas and Julian and Merton have their singular peak moments and their lives are forever changed." p 32. Experience trumps beliefs, one may well assume.

In fact, conversion seems to have become unnecessary. "He (Merton) also became increasingly interested in interfaith dialogue, and began to explore the points of connection between Christian monasticism and the spirituality of Judaism, Islam, and Buddhism." p 24. And the author of this work is also involved in such dialogues.

And the Bible? Well, consider this. "Here’s a comment that Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, a monk of the twelfth century and a renowned mystic, once made about nature—one I believe could just as easily be applied to any of life’s mysteries. “Believe me as one who has experience,” said Bernard, “you will find much more among the woods than ever you will among books. Woods and stones will teach you what you can never hear from any master."...Consider this: Bernard is not rejecting the kind of wisdom or under­standing that can be found in books or from a spiritual director. He just recognizes that nature—even the silence of “woods and stones”—is an even greater teacher. " p 7. If we are to believe that nature in superior to books, and the Bible is a book, would it be unfair to conclude that Bernard, and by extention this author, are saying that nature is a better teacher than the Bible? That God speaks better through woods and stones than throught the words He gave to the apostles and prophets?

"Jesus has been loved and accepted by the mystics, not as a way of appeasing an angry God, but as a joyful entry into the mysteries of love." p 77. Now, I can look in Scripture, and see passages which speak of Christ's death being a substitutionary atonement for us, to among other things appease the just anger of a righteous God directed at sinful rebellious humanity. For example, read the biblical book of Romans. I can't read the scriptures to find where Christ's death was "a joyful entry into the mysterities of love". Why bother with crucifixion, if that's all Christ was doing?

He engages in some shenanigans. "Jesus’s followers were called disciples, implying that disci­pline is an essential part of the Christian wisdom tradition." p 128. No problem with the statement itself, but when he tries to sneak in these contemplative practices, I have to ask where the Bible says that Jesus had the disciples sit around trying to experience God inside themselves.

"God’s Word emerged out of “the sound of sheer silence” (I Kings 19:12), and words of the Divine mystery have been emerging out of silence ever since." p 125. I'm calling shenanigans again. The prophet Elijah did not get a message from silence, he heard the voice of God, even if it was calm and gentle. The Bible nowhere says that God's language is silence. God used real words to communicate to real people so that they understand what He was saying to them.

Nor did Elijah hear a voice inside himself. The voice He heard was outside himself, outside of even the cave he had been in.

In his book Broken, Jonathan Fisk writes "The plain words of Holy Scripture are the antidote to the poisoned dish of Mysticism. Reading those words carefully and learning their context is to inwardly digest the faith that God is not only real but also gives us real, pure, true answers. God is far more generous to us than to force us to endlessly seek Him in the flurries of the wind and the palpitations of our hearts. He wants us to do far more than merely imagine what His will for us might be. He wants us to be certain." (Kindle Locations 510-514). When I read works by these modern-day NAR contemplatives, I'm simply appalled by how bad they are theologically. Something seems very wrong with the people who practice these things. When people put the voices they hear inside themselves above the words plainly taught in Scripture, then that's a sure way to get led astray.

I agree with Fisk, God cares for us far too much to make us sit around trying to hear some kind of almost-impossibly-difficult-to-hear voice inside ourselves, that can be easily confused with our own thoughts, and that may not even be the voice of God at all (and probably isn't). God has spoken, we have His words in the Bible. God can still speak, I think there are reliable sources who have had dreams and visions from God, even in modern times.

I simply cannot recommend this book, or the practices recommended in it. They are unbiblical, thus spiritually unhealthy. Stop looking inside your heart to hear the voice of God, because you have God's Word at your fingertips.

Monday, April 15, 2013

peter wagner: Jesus could have decided to sin

That certainly seems to be what Wagner is saying in this quote from his book "On Earth as it is in Heaven", emphasis mine.
A fresh look at Jesus’ temptation will remove any lingering doubts that Satan had acquired true dominion over the earth. What I am going to say now assumes that we believe the three temptations were real. They were literal, not just figurative. In each of the three, Jesus could have decided to sin, which, of course, He didn’t.

On Earth as it Is in Heaven (Kindle Locations 796-799).
This is more than a little bizarre. Jesus could have sinned? Really? Doesn't that mean the Jesus was less than divine? If Jesus could decide to sin, then that's essentially saying that God could decide to sin.

I think Wagner needs to consider his words a bit better, at the least. In fact, perhaps he should stop pretending to be a church leader, after that one.

Monday, April 8, 2013

book review--Spiritual Avalanche, by Steve Hill

Not very good, but interesting

This book is not well written. It's rambling, disjointed, and Hill spends far too much space bragging about himself, trying to explain how important his vision is, as if no one else had noticed that things are very wrong in the church up until he found it out. The vision itself is rather unconvincing, and Hill seems to have to provide his own interpretation to it, very much unlike how God explains visions He gave to prophets in the Bible.

But for all of that, there are points of interest. When Hill finally gets around to explaining the heresies he's worked up about, which is about halfway through the book, I have to admit that, by and large, he's spot on with those things being heresies. His explanations are brief, and don't tell us who's spreading these heresies, but I'll give him credit for presenting real heresies.

When Hill writes things like "Instead of the true gospel, people are fed a lukewarm, pitiful, watered-down message of the cross of Christ..." (p. 26), I agree with him, this is a real problem.

There are, however, some contradictory messages. Early in the book, he writes this, "If you’re reading this and do not have a Pentecostal heritage, keep going. This is about fundamental truth, not nit-picking theological issues that have embattled the church for centuries." (p. 12). Yet towards the end of the book, in chapter 14, he basically tries to bring in the charismatic stuff. "You see, those who used to believe that stuff (tongues, modern-day prophets, et al) have been affected by the snow falling upon the mountain and don’t even know it." (p. 187).

At one point, he says "In the same way, Christians rarely concern themselves over the depth of any teaching. Why waste time examining the prophet and his prophecy? That’s already been done." (p. 63). But at times, he seems to discourage such examining of his own vision and teachings. "Although any outside comments are greatly appreciated, they are not necessary for me to continue this work. What has been revealed to me about the times we are living in is without dispute. There is no jury out deliberating on whether or not this is valid truth." (p. 123). "Regardless, I want you to trust the words you’ve read and allow your spirit man to consume and digest the words to come." (p. 41).

In chapter 10, Hill gives lots of warnings about false prophets, which is very good, very needful; however, when I look at the people who endorsed this book, I see...lots of false prophets. James Goll? Cindy Jacobs? Sid Roth? Mike Bickle? False prophets don't get any worse than those people.

One of my big complaints about the book would be that it's not really all that informative. True, he does point out some heresies, but he refrains from naming names, and doesn't really deal with what's being taught in any detail.

So, I'd like to suggest a few books for further research, if this discussion of heresies has piqued your interest. When Hill mentioned "The carnal prosperity message" (p. 80) as one heresy, it brought to mind Hanegraaff's excellent expose "Christianity In Crisis: The 21st Century", which shows the truly awful things some have taught in order to simply get people to send them money. As well, you may want to check out "Counterfeit Revival", though Hill comes under a bit of fire himself in that book, and not without reason.

Another good one, concerning the feel-good messages being preached far too much, is Michael Horton's "Christless Christianity: The Alternative Gospel of the American Church". And though I haven't yet read it, I know enough about John MacArthur to think I'm safe in recommending "The Truth War: Fighting for Certainty in an Age of Deception". As far as other resources go, listening to a week's worth of episodes of the Fighting For The Faith internet radio program will get you up-to-date very quickly on what kind of complete lunacy is being taught in far too many churches, as well as a lot of good stuff, too.

So, my three star review for this book is mainly my way of saying that I'm cautiously optimistic, but not buying what Hill's selling. There's really nothing new in this book for anyone who's kept their eyes and ears open, but if you're new to this kind of stuff, and Hill's book has opened your eyes and ears to what may be going on, then welcome aboard.