Sunday, April 27, 2014

book review—Girl at the End of the World by Elizabeth Esther

preview of things to come?

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

For me, the first few chapters were the weakest. Some of the author's attempts at humor came off as needlessly crude, and why the editors allowed the F-word to be retained at one point, especially in such a pointless way, is not easily understood, as it comes off as a gratuitous attempt to be shocking and offensive.

And there were times it seemed I was being asked to feel outrage at things I couldn't understand. Why should I be against homeowners setting up standards of dress and conduct for those who stay in their house? Am I suppose to think it wrong that parents are concerned about how their high-school aged daughter is dressing, the types of friends she has, the boys she's noticing? Am I suppose to think it ridiculous that a church teaches its youth to resist sexual temptations?

And am I allowed to notice a bit of irony that this publisher, Convergent, puts out this book, which seems to be very critical of a form of “community living” as the author's parents practiced it, but also has books written by at least one person involved in New Monasticism? Do NM communities that say you have to pool all the money you earn into a common purse, maybe have a small bit of money given to you for your own personal spending money, and may even determine if you may move away to pursue career aims, seem less oppressive than anything mentioned in this book?

The middle part of the book, until just before the end, was the strongest part. The attempts at crude humor are mostly set aside, and real serious issues with her grandparent's church are brought to the fore, and how they are affecting her and her own family. The double standards inherent in a cult of personality are shown, and those who dare to ask reasonable questions are told to not ask about such things. I doubt any reader would think the author and her husband wrong to leave that network of churches.

And some of her observations on the culture, in and out of the church, are rather pointed, too.

I think there are a few reasons this book may well be worth reading and taking the events recorded in it seriously. I think what the author went through is a lot like what many others are going through, and will go through in the not-too-distant future.

One reason is because the church the author got out of is not very unlike too many other churches today. It is becoming plain that too many megachurches are simply cults of personality. The vision-casting church leader has replaced the pastor who shepherds the flock of God, and in some cases the words of this vision-casting church leader have replaced the Bible. And it is becoming plain that there are double standards in such churches.

Similar to that is how obviously disqualified people are made into leaders in the churches. Do I need to mention names like Todd Bentley and Bob Jones, the prophet? And those are only two names among far too many.

To put it in so many words, in far too many ways the church as a whole is simply a disaster waiting to happen, as occurred with the church this author's grandparents started.

A 3 to 3.5 rating for this book is about the best and worst I can give it. I think it would be worth reading, though I don't have complete agreement with the author in everything she wrote.

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


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.