Category Archives: Church

Whole Life Transformation: Keith Meyer

Whole Life Transformation

by Keith Meyer

217 Pages

InterVarsity Press

I don’t believe that most men are looking for the Ultimate Fighting Jesus of Mark Driscoll lore. On the other hand, I don’t believe most men are looking for a Diary of a Wimpy Kid Jesus either. Unfortunately, for me, Meyer did not manage to strike the balance necessary to portray a Jesus I can relate to.

Meyer evidently was an overworked, ambitious, and terribly successful church pastor. He had everything going for him: a family, a church, and success. But he had something else too: piles of work on his desk in his church office, an overwhelming sense of self-importance, and a disconnect with reality. All of this came to a head one day when, while ‘spending quality time’ with his son, his son said to him, ‘Dad are you home yet?’ This caused Meyer to examine his life deeply.

He soon discovered a hole in his heart, a less than fulfilling life, a lacking social life, a distance with his wife, his son, and friendships. He also discovered a flaw in his character—filled as he was with all sorts of anger, lust, ambition among others. He claimed to a Jesus follower, but there were obvious flaws. It was Dallas Willard’s Spirit of the Disciplines that sort of helped bring Meyer back to reality because it helped him to ‘see things in the Bible in such a different light’ so that he ‘began to hope for a different kind of life’ (17). He went on the proverbial journey in order to discover this new way of living. This led him out of ministry, back into ministry, and eventually to teaching at seminaries and conferences, retreats, and consultations (19).

He writes as one who hasn’t necessarily arrived, as one who has many questions still, but who is willing to hear the questions and search for answers. He admits that he has searched for answers in strange places for a Protestant Evangelical including the Roman Catholic Church and in Quakerism (19) and other places too. I’m not so much bothered by where he found answers as to where he didn’t. I wonder, that is, why it seems that so often when such journey’s take place the person on the journey looks to the Roman Catholic Church, the Quaker Church, or the Eastern Orthodox Church for answers? Why is it, so often, the answers to life’s most troubling questions concerning slowing down, not being busy, loving your family, shunning ‘success’, and the like are found in the mysticism found in these church expressions?

It’s about this point that the author loses me. Simply put, the book comes across as wimpy. Don’t misunderstand me: I’m most certainly not suggesting that we need to have hyper-masculinity in order to be a Jesus follower. At the same time, reading through Meyer’s book was difficult at times because, frankly, it comes across as terribly weak. Sometimes I sensed that Meyer wanted to say more than he was saying, or that he was saying less than he should have been saying. Sometimes he was elusive and enigmatic.

Meyer is well read. He talks about books he has read from Mike Yaconelli to Philip Yancey to CS Lewis to Dallas Willard to NT Wright to Brother Lawrence to Scott McKnight to Dietrich Bonhoeffer to Frederick Buechner and others. I appreciate that he has read these authors. He has taken their ideas and woven them cohesively into his own semi-auto-biographical narrative of the discipline driven life. These authors have been valuable to my own journey and I see the value of their work.

There are some Evangelical Christians who will have trouble reading Meyer’s high praise of Roman Catholicism. They will have trouble with him listening to Eddie Vedder and Led Zeppelin. They will have trouble with his praise of Mother Teresa and John Henry Newman. They will be most unhappy with his praise of Phyllis Tickle, Dallas Willard and NT Wright. They will be most unhappy as he recounts his story of how the church he was pastor at ‘Open Door’ held a private baby dedication for a lesbian couple (chapter 6). And finally, there are those who will be somewhat bothered by Meyer’s insistence on seeking help from therapists and ‘life coaches’ and ‘spiritual directors’ and counselors. I admit that I find a bit of this annoying, but I am not Meyer. He had issues he believed could only be dealt with in this way. Just because I don’t find them particularly useful, doesn’t mean others will not.

I’m not altogether bothered by this stuff. The goal of Meyer’s book is to teach his readers the steps that he took to see his life transformed. Ultimately it boils down to the so-called disciplines. Again my trouble is not so much the disciplines themselves as their particular ‘use.’ One, in particular, bothered me greatly and that was Meyer’s suggestion of using an ‘image of Jesus’ when he prays. He wrote:

At the time I began a practice of starting my day with Jesus, I would use a picture of Jesus that my spiritual director suggested as I prayed. I need a new image because, as a child I was frightened more than comforted by a large picture of Jesus that hung behind the pulpit of our church. It was a popular painted called Head of Christ by Warner Sallman….The new picture that my spiritual director suggested I use isn’t culturally correct. I call it ‘GQ Jesus’ due to the Brad Pitt face, vanilla but tan, and hair. (189)

Frankly, I cannot imagine a worse practice whether it is a Warner Sallman or GQ Jesus. I find this suggesting appalling, dangerous, and deceiving. This is where some of the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic traditions have rendered Meyer’s arguments rather ineffective and useless. I see absolutely no use whatsoever in the use of icons in worship–it borders way too close to idolatry.

Two final criticisms. I hate endnotes. I understand the need to keep the academic feel out of the book, but I had endnotes. Second, there is no bibliography. For as much as Meyer quoted from a hundred different authors or referenced their work in some way, it is terribly disappointing that the book is devoid of a good bibliography or a at least a ‘books of further interest’ section.

I think this book, my criticisms notwithstanding, might be helpful for some people. There are a lot of people who have experienced problems similar to those of Meyer: overwork, burnout, distance from family members, sense of self-importance and worse. I’d like to think that Meyer’s book will help them in some way. The problem is that for all the helpful chapter titles, for all the quoted authors, for all the stunning anecdotes, for all the personal angst and revelation, for all the success, for all the wonderful ideas flowing from spiritual disciplines…I was left wanting more because I was left wanting Jesus. Maybe that was his point.

I have no doubt that readers will gain something from the book. I have no doubt that if read and applied faithfully, people will grow in their depth of spirituality. But what if we never have that crisis moment that causes us to question everything? What if we have no children to ask us if we are home yet? To be sure, there is no such thing as a life ‘free of worry, lust, anger, contempt, gossip and greed.’ There is only the life that contends against these things, continuously, by the power of the Spirit and the blood of Christ—his grace is sufficient regardless of how insufficient our faith is. If people get to the point where they read this book, I think they will find some grace they need.

I give this book 3 stars out of 5 not because I think he has a lot of answers, but because he is at least willing to go on the journey. Too many of us are not willing to take the journey and thus we never meet Jesus who is waiting for us. Meyer’s journey is a courageous one even if I am not particularly enthusiastic about some of the places he has stopped along the way.

***/5

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Sun Stand Still: Steven Furtick

Sun Stand Still

By Steven Furtick

210 pages

Multnomah

“The sun stopped in the middle of the sky and delayed going down about a full day. There has never been a day like it before or since, a day when the Lord listened to a human being. Surely the Lord was fighting for Israel.”  (Joshua 10:13b-14)

Steven Furtick claims that these verses (and 12b-13a) form the core of what he calls a ‘theology of audacity’ (7). He goes on:

“You probably don’t have one of those yet, but it’s essential. In fact, if you ever encounter a theology that doesn’t directly connect the greatness of God with your potential to do great things on his behalf, it’s not biblical theology. File it under heresy. I’ll take it further: if you’re not daring to believe God for the impossible, you’re sleeping through some of the best parts of your Christian life. And further still: if the size of your vision for your life isn’t intimidating to you, there’s a good chance it’s insulting to God. Audacious faith is the raw material that authentic Christianity is made of” (7-8; paragraph breaks omitted, emphasis added).

At the heart of my review of this book lie two questions. One is theological, the other personal. First, is Steven Furtick’s interpretation and application of this verse from the book of Joshua fair, biblical, and orthodox? That is, why did God causes the sun to stand still, what is the theological lesson learned in the context of The Story, and what are we to take from it? Frankly, this question must lie at the center of our inquiry of any book whose author takes a passage of Scripture and develops an entire idea or principal of living around it—as Christian authors are fond of doing (even though the Bible was not written in a verse by verse vacuum). I ask this question of every book and every sermon I read or listen to. I’m not one who believes the Scripture can be used in a willy-nilly way in order to fashion any old or new idea or justification for an idea. (Many times, while reading this book, I thought, ‘This is little more than the Prayer of Jabez for a younger audience.’)

So I did some research on Joshua chapter 10, consulting some of the more significant commentaries that have been written [among them, Joshua, by Richard Hess (Tyndale OT Commentaries); Joshua, Trent C. Butler (Word Biblical Commentary); The Book of Joshua, Marten H Woudstra (The NICOT); and Joshua, Mark Ziese (CPNIV Comentary)]. What I wanted to know is if Furtick’s understanding and application of this prayer of Joshua is valid and not entirely outside the bounds of solid exegetical practice. The emphasis in each one of these commentaries centered around the idea that ‘God fought for Israel’ (Woudstra); of ‘God’s assistance to Israel’ (Hess); and of ‘God’s [provision] of victory for his people in battle’ (Butler). Ziese took another trail though focusing more on YHWH’s specific action noted in the text:

“Readers have the luxury of slowing down to contemplate the portents in the sky (hail, sun, or moon), but the narrator presents and altogether different reason for pause. The true marvel arises when an audacious prayer is coupled with a positive answer: ‘Yahweh listens’ or possibly even ‘obeys the voice of a man’” (Ziese, 222)

There’s that word, audacious. It shows up so much in Sun Stand Still that I was actually sick of reading it by page 21, but there it is—used in the same interpretive context, by another author, as Furtick uses it. Such a person who boldly comes before God with such a request is indeed audacious. What Ziese suggests is amazing about this chapter is not so much the audacious prayer, audacious though it may be, but the fact that God listened to a man!

The book of Hebrews says we are to boldly, confidently approach the throne of God with our prayers (Hebrews 4:14-16). Then there’s also this story in Matthew’s Gospel:

When Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking for help.  “Lord,” he said, “my servant lies at home paralyzed, suffering terribly.” Jesus said to him, “Shall I come and heal him?” The centurion replied, “Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” When Jesus heard this, he was amazed and said to those following him, “Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith. I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.  But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Then Jesus said to the centurion, “Go! Let it be done just as you believed it would.” And his servant was healed at that moment.  (Matthew 8:5-13)

So there is a biblical theology of audacity or boldness and Furtick is careful to define what this means: “Audacious faith is based on who God is, what he’s already done, and what he continues to do” (120). Audacity of faith, worked out through the boldness of prayer in the throne room of God, is centered entirely on the person and character of God. Jesus, indeed, admired such boldness. And, furthermore, Jesus listened to the prayers of the audacious.

But is that the point of the story in Joshua? Is Joshua’s prayer, uttered during the course of an extermination program on YHWH’s behalf, to be used to fix broken relationships, secure financial provision, make career advancements, find physical or emotional healing, achieve important life goals, or to discover one’s purpose in life? (This is a partial list from Sun Stand Still found on page 37.) Frankly, it is difficult to square these ideas with the context of the Joshua prayer. There’s nothing wrong with those prayers (as the story from Matthew 8 partially demonstrates) but I’m just not certain that is the conclusion the author of Joshua wanted us to come to after reading this story—this story of the conquering of The Land. In other words, I’m not persuaded by Furtick’s use of the Joshua story—as if it were a mere outline for us to fill in with modern scenarios. There is far more going on in the story found in Joshua 10 than mere success in battle or overcoming obstacles standing in the way of important life goals.

The problem is: Centurion’s Servant Healed doesn’t make nearly as good a book title as Sun Stand Still.

The second question is personal: If Furtick’s thesis is correct and God does want us to be bold, audacious, and praying-like-a-juggernaut success stories, then why does it come so easily for some and not for others? (And why do those for whom it does come so easily always end up writing books about it?)  Furtick provides plenty of answers to this question (especially in chapter 13 ‘When the Sun Goes Down’—which is a really good chapter in the book.) Ultimately, however, I found his answers unsatisfying and somewhat self-serving (He recounts the story of his ‘Aunt’ Jackie who told him one day after church, “Well, whether you believe it or not, it’s true. God always gets his, and I am praying that you’ll be one of God’s greatest instruments to get the Word out”, 168; audacious indeed!) Why God causes some preachers, even some Christians, great success and others great failure is beyond my imagination—and I’m not convinced, per Furtick’s argument, that it has anything to do with the sort of prayers we pray. I know plenty of faithful, prayerful preachers who are bold and unassuming and audacious who are mired in the morass of small church life, who pray for years and yet never see what Furtick describes in his book.

Here again is the difficulty: Furtick never talks about failure. That sounds negative and terrible, but it is the reality of life. I think the closest he gets to talking about failure is in chapter 14 (‘Pray Like a Juggernaut’) where he talks about Furtick’s Book of Dumb Prayers. He candidly admits, “Audacious faith doesn’t mean my prayers work every time. It means that God is working even when my prayers don’t seem to be working at all” (148). But what does this mean in a book full of stories about how his prayers have in fact succeeded every time? I’m not clamoring for ‘failure’ stories, but for those of us in the world and in the church for whom failure seems to be the way, the only way, God works—it’s a bit much to read of how one person’s prayers always seem to succeed. But that’s the point of the book, right?

We know a strange God according to this book. This is a God for whom prayer either doesn’t matter at all or for whom only the right kind of prayers matter. I haven’t decided which one yet is true, maybe I don’t want to. Maybe there’s a third option—the one that involves never seeing success, never tasting victory, and never seeing God ‘move.’ And maybe those prayers and the Christians who pray them are not heretics, but faithful in the way God has called them to be faithful. Or maybe we are just missing something.

Since to this point I have been mostly critical of Sun Stand Still allow me a minute to note just a couple of highlights from the book that add balance to my criticism. These are thoughts from Furtick that I believe are wholly justified and would be helpful to write down in your Moleskine for future reference.

  • “Seizing his big purpose for your life is not just about figuring out what God wants from you and getting down to business. It’s about becoming intimately acquainted with who Jesus is. It’s about mining the depths of who you are in him.” (26)
  • “How will God accomplish the impossible vision he has planted in your heart? By his grace—and through your willingness to sacrifice your life for the sake of Jesus.” (80)
  • “The very sin you’ve been ignoring and minimizing may be the one that’s limiting your ability to rise to greater heights in God. The most powerful sin in your life is the one you haven’t confessed yet.” (135)
  • “Prayer is the arena where our faith meets God’s abilities.” (153)

These are a few of the better sound-bites from the book. I’ll leave you to interpret them or apply them to your life.

There is a lot to admire in this book, and in the person of Steven Furtick. He seems thoroughly convinced of what he’s saying. Evidence of this is found in the prologue. When questioned by a friend as to whether he truly believed he would host a worship service in the same building where he had attended a U2 concert, Furtick replies, without so much as a hint of doubt, “Yeah. I did. I really believed.” The main problem I have with this book is its naiveté. Frankly, it reads like the journal of someone who has never experienced a setback or failure in his life (not that he has not). Furtick is the golden boy, charged at the ripe old age of 16 to be ‘one of the greatest instruments to get the word out.’ It’s hard to read this with enthusiasm knowing how hard it is for most preachers who struggle day in, day out, praying constantly for change that never comes to their small congregation. It’s hard to read this because in the back of my mind I constantly wondered: When is he going to tell us the reality of life on earth, that most of our prayers go unanswered? When a congregation is in the fight of its life to stay in possession of their building, after breaking away from the denomination, it is sort of difficult to understand why God was more concerned about whether Furtick’s church would take up space in a shopping mall.

That’s not a personal criticism, but a cold hard reality. In my experience, Furtick’s ideas and experiences are simply not the norm—maybe he wants them to be? So I wonder why this is true. Is it because those of us who haven’t had his success have simply not prayed the right prayers? Is it because we didn’t have an aunt or uncle who prophesied over us? Is it because we were unwilling to do something for Jesus? Is it because we are, gasp, the sort of heretics Furtick described in the opening salvo? Or is it because God gave only Steven Furtick the wisdom to figure out that Joshua, in fact, held all the clues to pastoral and Christian success? (Again, echoes of Wilkinson’s Prayer of Jabez.) It is difficult for me to read books that build a philosophy of discipleship on one prayer, from one book—especially when there is good cause to believe that prayer and the reason for it have been misinterpreted in the first place, as I do.

This is what troubles me most. I grant you this is personal and that may be unfair. Maybe, on the one hand, there are preachers in the church who can perfectly understand where Furtick is coming from and validate and justify his theology of bigger-is-better audacity. Maybe, on the other hand, there are preachers in the church who get so caught up in the everydayness of visiting nursing homes, preparing two or three sermons a week, preaching funerals, conducting weddings, visiting shut-ins, preparing worship services, writing letters, printing bulletins and newsletters, going to meetings, leading, etc., that they don’t have the time to dream as big as Furtick did and does—and maybe that’s OK. Most preachers, for better or worse, have time to pray, “Lord, give us this day our daily bread—that’s all I have time for.”

Most of the time, daily bread is enough.

**/5

*I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.

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The Year of Living Like Jesus by Ed Dobson

I bought this book for my wife. I wasn’t sure if I would read it or not. I’m glad that I did. Ed Dobson is on the short list of preachers who’s sermon’s I’ll listen to over and over again. When he talks, or writes I want to listen.

This book has taken some serious criticism, from people who don’t like the style to the more vapid, aggressive fundamentalist. Of course, the criticisms are also leveled at the author
He’s criticized for being in an airport, for praying the rosary, and for listening to an iPod. He’s called a heretic and a cretin. Spawn of Satan was probably thrown out somewhere I’m sure. He voted for Obama!

God forbid a man trying to live like Jesus wrestles with his conscience and votes accordingly. It’s not important if I agree with Ed that voting for Obama is what Jesus would do. What matters is that it is evident in this book that Ed loves God and wants to serve Him. Ed wants to continue to love Jesus in the midst of a disease that would have caused most of us to shrivel up like a prune left on the dashboard of a locked car in the middle of August. Most of us would have quit and died.

Not Ed. He delved deeper into his faith. He pushed himself to explore what he believes and how it impacts his life.

This book is full of fantastic applications that Ed either learned or was reminded of through his journey over the course of this year. In one chapter Ed reminds the reader “Whenever I think that what I am doing qualifies me to be in a closer relationship with God, I am arrogant.”

In a world that seems to be divided along the very lines of who qualifies to be in a closer relationship with God, Ed has the guts to put it out there for everyone to see how he wrestles with his own relationship with God. I don’t really know Ed. He preachers at our church now and again and we had a stretch where he preached regularly. I wish that I did. I have the feeling that he’d be a fun guy to have a beer with and ponder the Scriptures with. I’m sure that I wouldn’t agree with him on everything but I’m also pretty sure that would be all right with him.
I’m sick of the battle between, “The way it always was, is the way it must be” and “What if we’ve gotten it wrong for the last 2,000 years.” What makes Ed’s book and teachings to poignant is his ability to value our heritage and to look at with a fresh perspective.
Buy this book, read it, you’ll enjoy it.

5 Stars

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Real Church by Larry Crabb

It’s not that this book is bad, it’s just isn’t what it could be.  It leaves a bitter taste in the mouth through much of the book—and that might be the genius. I resonated with much of what the author had to say early on in the book. I loved how he talked about his former “Catholic phobia.”  I stood up and clapped (literally) when he stated, “I’m not persuaded that experiencing God sensually and knowing God compellingly are the same thing.”

But then he went and did it again. He complains about churches that don’t equip their people to “experience God” (whatever that means) and he then complains about the churches that do. As others who have reviewed the book have noted, he seems almost schizophrenic.

But maybe that’s the magic in this book. Or maybe it’s the danger. I love Crabb’s writings. I have almost all of his books. Many are marked up and highlighted but even I have to admit that Crabb has always been writing on the edge of his formed thought. One year, we need counseling, the next we just need to find the safest place on earth (ironically he insinuates in that book that it is the church).

For a while, I put this book down and walked away for a long time. Those issues were my own. This book sat on my shelf like a spurned friend’s advice. Ultimately, when I came back to it chapter 23 was there waiting for me. It has five thoughts that brought it all around for me, along with the postscript.

Crabb’s writing is raw, and honest. Maybe that should be enough.

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