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).

No comments: