Sunday, February 1, 2015

book review--Divine Applause by Jeff Anderson

say hello to the new legalism

Blogging for Books provided this book to me for free in exchange for an honest review.

I suppose a lot of people are familiar with the old legalism, the “Christians don't drink or chew, and don't hang out with folks who do” type. This kind of legalism was grim and dour, looking askance upon fun and entertainment. Rock music was evil, movies were evil, dancing was evil, TV was the devil's tool box, and so on.

The new legalism is different. It comes with a smile, offering all kinds of good things. The god of the new legalism isn't looking to strike you down if you slip up; rather, he's just eager and waiting to drop all kinds of blessings on you if you'll just get your act together. That's the god of Divine Applause.

The god that Anderson writes about in this book is a god whose attention you have to get, and Anderson tells you how. If you give money, God notices. If you fast, God starts paying attention. If you pray, God's ears perk up.

But though the new legalism wears a very different face from the old one, it is still legalism. How much should you give? Well, maybe tithing isn't enough for you to get God's attention. “Honest study suggests there is no biblical giving measurement that applies to everyone. In fact, it's possible that your 10 percent, or even beyond, may not please God...We learn from Jesus's applause of the generous widow at the Temple that God measures our gifts according to how much our gift costs us. He measures it according to our unique sacrifice.” So, how do you know if you giving is pleasing to God? “If your decision to give 5 percent of you income (or 1 percent or even one dollar) causes your heart to beat faster and your hands to sweat, then that healthy tension can make your gift matter both to you and to God.” Of course, he doesn't show where racing hearts and sweating palms are taught in the Bible as a basis for giving.

Much of the rest of the book is along those same lines, basically him taking a few biblical passages and making stuff up about them, trying to read between the lines, so to speak. Gideon had only a few hundred people to fight with because he asked God a few times to verify what He'd said to him? That's not taught in the Bible. All the backstory about Abraham's unnamed servant sent to find a wife for Isaac? None of that is in the Bible. This author is far more interested in his own vain imaginations then in teaching sound bibilical theology

“When even good, holy, and proper things become confused with the gospel, it is only a matter of time before we end up with Christless Christianity: a story about us instead of a story about the Triune God that sweeps us into the unfolding drama.” Michael Horton. Christless Christianity: The Alternative Gospel of the American Church (p. 109). Anderson tries to deal with good, holy, and proper things—giving is good, prayer is good, fasting is good. But he does so in a way that makes the story about me. “What did Jesus mean when He told the adulterous woman to “go, and sin no more” (John 8:11 KJV). He must have believed in something greater for her life. And when He preached to the crowds, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48), He had something greater in mind for them too.”

But the adulterous woman could no more keep from sinning than she could keep from breathing, perhaps even less so. The people who heard Jesus say that weren't suppose to think that they could be perfect by their own efforts—many of them were already trying to do that by their own efforts, by keeping the law, by living in legalism. The law isn't meant to inspire us to a form of bootstrap theology, but to help us see how sinful our sins are.

Romans 3“21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over  n former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” One of the big things the law is suppose to do is show us how much we need the Gospel of Christ dying for our sins, to show us how lost we are without Christ's sacrifice.

In the end, this book is simply another in a sad and sadly growing collection of ego-boosting works of me-centered theology. God is there to make my life an adventure, give meaning to my life, make me a superstar, but I have do everything right so that God can do that for me. God is relegated to being a supporting player in the grand and glorious story of me. Few things could be less Christian.

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