The Goodness of God by Randy Alcorn

The Goodness of God

Randy Alcorn

117 Pages

Multnomah Publishing

I have read quite a few books concerning suffering. D. A. Carson wrote a good one called How Long, O Lord? And many authors of the Christian stripe include sections on suffering in their books regardless of the subject matter of the book itself. They are not, for that matter, all Christians either. Some authors, in their exploration of suffering, have actually discovered what they believe to be God’s Achilles heel. “Aha,” they say. “Suffering and evil in the world prove there is no god or God.” Alcorn does not view it that way: “…we can follow the lead of Scripture and embrace the belief that God is accomplishing eternal purposes in the midst of painful and even tragic events” (73). That’s a difficult proposition, to be sure. But if our point of view is only from this world, horizontal, we will surely abandon all hope. Rather, Alcorn writes, we put our faith in God’s character and God’s promises.

I’ve read some good books on suffering. He Leadeth Me by Walter Ciszek is a fascinating book by a Catholic priest who was convinced that the time he spent in Soviet slave labor camps in Siberia had meaning. “It is much easier to see the redemptive role of pain and suffering in God’s plan if you are not actually undergoing pain and suffering” (119) he wrote. He went on to write,

It was only by struggling with such feelings, however, that growth occurred. Each victory over discouragement gave an increase in spiritual courage; every success, however fleeting, in finding the hand of God behind all things, made it easier to recapture the sense of his purpose in a new day of seemingly senseless work and hardship and suffering (119).

He learned during his time in the camp. He learned about faith, humility, humanity, death, freedom, and the kingdom of God. He met Jesus and became acquainted with his sufferings.

Leaving Church by Barbara Taylor Brown is another exciting book about suffering. When she began to lose, and eventually lost, she, too, learned about Jesus: “The second thing that happened when I lost my power was that I got a taste of the spiritual poverty that is central to the Christ path…Only those who lose their lives can have them” (163). Indeed. Yet sometimes we are not so willing to give up those lives and they have to be taken from us. We do not enjoy that taking away so we fight and kick and scream like little children who have had their favorite toy taken from them by a tired parent. We cannot prevail.

N.T. Wright’s fascinating look at suffering is found in Evil and the Justice of God, yet it is difficult to read through any of Wright’s books without finding a paragraph or two, chapter or two, devoted entirely to helping the wayfarer discover meaning in suffering.  Couching his argument entirely in the historical death and resurrection of Jesus, Wright writes, “The new life of the Spirit, to which Christians are called in the present age, is not a matter of sitting back and enjoying spiritual comforts in a private, relaxed, easygoing spirituality, but consists rather of the unending struggle in the mystery of prayer, the struggle to bring God’s wise, healing order into the world now, in implementation of the victory of the cross and anticipation of the final redemption” (119).

Many authors of fictional work have written brilliantly on the subject of suffering. Some of my favorite books The Count of Monte Cristo (Alexandre Dumas), Crime and Punishment (Fyodor Dostoyevsky), and King Rat (James Clavell) are books that delve deeply into philosophical and theological explorations of suffering. Another favorite, Silence by Shusaku Endo, is simply brilliant. The priest suffers mightily in the story, but at the end Endo writes, “…he was not betraying his Lord. He loved him now in a different way from before. Everything that had taken place until now had been necessary to bring him to this love” (191).

There are others. Annie Dillard, Philip Yancey, Flannery O’Connor, Henri Nouwen, Eugene Peterson, C.S. Lewis, and many, many others have written either overtly or through a glass about suffering. So now is added to the plethora of books on the subject of suffering, God, and justice Randy Alcorn’s thin The Goodness of God. Inherent in all the books I have mentioned, and not absent from Alcorn’s, is the idea that our suffering means something. There is some point to pain and sadness and darkness, we are told, that we may or may not understand while we are suffering it or being blinded in darkness. The problem, of course, is coming up with answers that in some way or other cover all possible scenarios. Alcorn does ask a very important question a little more than halfway through the book: “Whose purpose in your suffering will prevail? Whose purpose are you furthering?” (79). I agree this is a most important question to ask and, frankly, I wish this had been explored a little more than it was in the book.

I know that Alcorn is not intending his book to be a tour de force explanation of suffering. His book is one-hundred, seventeen pages; I read that many pages before breakfast. Still it is a helpful book, I think, for the beginner. Those who have taken a few more steps on the journey of faith will likely find the book to be a bit shallow while those who are just getting started, so to speak, will find nourishment. The book is milk, not meat. I think there are a lot of times when Alcorn gives us some good one-liners that we can jot down in our journals or on note cards for handy reference. This book, while theologically sound, is not taking us to greater heights or depths, but again, it is not intended to. Nevertheless, there are some rather profound insights in the book that I appreciated and have given much thought to. I’ll note two in particular.

First, he wrote, “Most people today understand evil as anything that harms others; the more harm done, the more evil that action. The Bible uses the word evil in a broader way to describe anything that flows not from loving God but rebelling against him” (9). I think this is healthy. I recently had a friend ask me that question, “What is evil?” Interestingly enough, before I read Alcorn I gave a very similar answer: Evil is anything that works against God, his righteous plans, his purposes in Jesus. Not everyone buys this, of course, but apart from such a righteousness (God’s righteousness) how else can we define evil? If I am the measure of all things, then my standard necessarily prevails against yours, and you had better hope you don’t violate my standard! Either everyone is wrong, or no one is. And if one person is wrong, then clearly we are all wrong.

A second important point comes from a later chapter where he wrote, “….there’s a fault in the logic of the major premise of the problem of evil… ‘it shouldn’t be limited to only two attributes of God—being loving and powerful—but it should include all of them—merciful, faithful, wise, holy, patient, glorious, etc.’” (33). Again, this is true. Often when considering God and his relationship to suffering we see on earth we limit God to one or the other of these two categories: power and love. And when we do, God is damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t.  We are never fully satisfied with God’s answers to our suffering—the suffering and evil that we tend to bring upon ourselves.

I disagree with Alcorn on a couple of points. His discussion of hell being a moral necessity if God’s justice is to be real in chapter 9 was a bit sketchy for me. I don’t believe our modern constructs of hell are fully in line with the Scripture and thus I think that some of Alcorn’s points here are a bit antiquated and missing the mark.

I also disagree that suffering and evil necessarily define what is and is not a good worldview: “And I believe the greatest test of any worldview is how it deals with the problem of evil and suffering” (34). I believe that the greatest test of any worldview is how it deals with Jesus.

The book is riddled with some of the more troubling Christian clichés about suffering. Of course the story of John Newton and Amazing Grace are recounted. C.S. Lewis’s tired saying about suffering being God’s megaphone to rouse a deaf world is quoted. Stories about the perplexities of suffering under noted Atheists like Hitler and Stalin are paraded across the pages. We are told the story of the Eliot’s and the Saint’s too. Predictably, Harold Kushner, Richard Dawkins, Viktor Frankl made appearances. And, finally, we are told that undeniably banal story of the train operator who had to choose between saving his son or saving a hundred people on a train if he didn’t pull the switch. There are so many, many, many other authors and stories to pay attention to when talking about suffering—not least of which is Endo, Dostoyevsky, Dillard, Chesterton, Tolkien, Hemmingway, Buechner, P.T. Forsyth, John Donne (who wrote a great book on suffering called Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions), Thornton Wilder (The Bridge of San Luis Rey)…and so many others. All I’m saying is that some stories in the repertoire ought to be laid to rest forever and authors who want to write in popular level theologies on suffering and evil and God ought to have to give us better illustrations. (To be sure, Chesterton and Dostoyevsky both make appearances in the book, but it is the clichéd stuff we might have expected, not the unexpected we might hope for.)

In the few short pages, Alcorn gives us a robust portrait of the God who allows our suffering. There is no doubt about that. But there is not enough help understanding God’s silence–which I believe to be the biggest problem for Christians. Christians for the most part get suffering; we struggle with God’s silence. Who could write that book without falling back to the, “Oh, God is sovereign and wants you to grow up a good jelly-bean that’s why he is being quiet” kind of clichés we have grown accustomed to in pop-Christianity? What we least like about suffering is God’s silence. This was Job’s complaint, but when God answered—ah, then it was Job’s turn to be silent. We despise God’s silence, I suppose, as much as we despise his noise. That is, I dread not hearing his voice, but when I do I am frightened of what he is saying. I’m not sure, after reading Alcorn’s book, I have heard that voice—even if I did happen to hear traces as if through a static filled radio.

2.5/5

Get more @Randy Alcorn

Alcorn’s Blog

Chapter 1 @ Scribd

Buy @ Amazon

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

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Sabbath by Dan Allender

Sabbath by Dan Allender, with a forward by Phyllis Tickle and published by Thomas Nelson is a fantastic book.  When I saw it on the possible books to review list, I snatched it up as fast as was possible. I waited with anticipation for it to come. I was not disappointed.

I was first introduced to Allender’s writings in college. Since then, I’ve been hooked. I was a bit nervous because the Sabbath seems to be an idea that is often approached with dogmatism and division. Nothing could be untrue about Allender’s book. There are absolutely no heavy-handed shenanigans in this book. Allender takes an extremely balanced and positive view of the day.  When I was growing up I knew a family that would not allow their children to play outside. They could play inside as often as they wanted to play, but not outside. It always struck me as hypocritical–after reading this book, I think that Allender would agree with me.

The author makes some rather bold statements about Sabbath. He says, “In all cases, we can celebrate Sabbath, even in a fifteen minute window, and receive the gift of the day.”  He goes on in another section of the book to say, “the Sabbath is a day of delight for humankind, animals, and the earth; it is not merely a pious day and it is not fundamentally a break, a day off, or a twenty-four hour vacation. The Sabbath is a feast day that remembers our leisure in Eden and anticipates our play in the new heavens and earth with family, friends, and strangers for the sake of the glory of God.” In yet another spot he says, “All too often we approach Sabbath like a forced conversation at a social gathering.”

Some more of my favorite quotes from the book:
*    The Sabbath is a sensual delight to be enjoyed in communion with God, others and creation.
*    We must enter the earth to be struck dumb by the beauty of the trinity
*    In God’s economy, there is no distinction between work and play: his creation is not due to lack loneliness, or necessity. It was free and groundless–that is without reason other than delight.
*    Sabbath doesn’t deny that death exists; instead it celebrates life
*    Grace is not the exception to justice, but it’s fulfillment

Allender’s main point seems to be that Sabbath is so that we can enjoy ourselves and in so doing, we enjoy God. In one section he talks about listening to favorite music, drinking beer and smoking pipes as Sabbath activity.  This book will not sit well with a lot of people, and that’s probably ok. I highly recommend it because it will start some conversations that need to happen. There’s a reason we tend to want to overlook the commandment about Sabbath, maybe it’s because we have been treating like something it’s not.

You can buy this book at Amazon by clicking here.

I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”.”

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Radical: David Platt

Radical

by David Platt

230 Pages

WaterBrook Multnomah

Eugene Peterson tells the story in his book Eat This Book about visiting an orthodox synagogue in the little Galilean village of Hoshia. He tells of going to an early morning prayer meeting and hearing some young boys, ranging from twelve to seventeen, read from Scripture. Peterson comments, however, that “it only seemed to read for he had memorized it, the entire Torah, the first five books of the Bible” (35).  He continues:

We were moved by the joyful devotion of those boys to God’s revelation to them in that scroll, by their not talking about but living the centrality and authority of these Holy Scriptures. And then more deeply moved when we later talked over how many boys and girls and men and women in gatherings all over the world, hungry men and women, were doing the same thing, and how lucky we were to have had so many good meals with so many of them—hearty meals, soul-filling meals. (35-36)

If you were to ask me, “Are you a Christian?” I would likely answer with something equivalent to a “Yes.” I don’t think I would hedge that with any fences or equivocate in any way. I would say “Yes,” but maybe I wouldn’t be as quick to add an exclamation point as others would. Maybe it’s just cold outside.

I jest, of course, but the truth is that it is easy to wonder at times whether or not we do believe what we profess. Jesus says a lot of things in his book that are very, very difficult to come to grips with—especially if one is a Christian in America.  And if these things are hard to believe, how much more difficult are they to live out in everyday life? Here is where David Platt’s book picks up the story.

Platt does two things, primarily, in this book. He asks if we really believe what the Bible says and he then asks whether or not we are living it out in everyday life.  His opening salvo should be enough to make one either close the book in hopelessness or press on in the hope that the book is going to challenge its reader to radically alter the very core of their faith.

I am convinced that we as Christ followers in American churches have embraced values and ideas that are not only unbiblical but that actually contradict the gospel we claim to believe. And I am convinced we have a choice. You and I can choose to continue with business as usual in the Christian life and in the church as a whole, enjoying success based on the standards defined by the culture around us. Or we can take an honest look at the Jesus of the Bible and dare to ask what the consequences might be if we really believed him and really obeyed him. (3, paragraph break omitted.)

Platt spends a lot of time decrying so-called American Dream Christianity and I am being honest when I say that I struggled with this a great deal, and this is my only really, truly honest complaint with the book: it is very difficult to read about how terrible we are as American Christians when the person doing the writing is a 30-something, with a PhD (and two Master’s degrees for a total of five degrees), leading a 4,000+ member church, and globetrotting on mission trips. By the time I got to page 85, I had heard about trips to India, China, Sudan, Indonesia, and other African places. This was the only aspect of the book that truly frustrated me.

To an extent, though, Platt redeemed himself. I did sense as I read the book that Platt himself struggles mightily with these things.  There were two places where I sensed this struggle in Platt and one of the two times I thought maybe a breakthrough was coming.  The first was on pages 48-49 where Platt writes:

This is where I am most convicted as a pastor of a church in the United States of America. I am part of a system that has created a whole host of means and methods, plans and strategies for doing church that require little if any power from God. And it’s not just pastors who are involve in this charade. I am concerned that all of us—pastors and church members in the culture—have blindly embraced an American dream mentality that emphasizes our abilities and exalts  our names in the ways we do church.

The second time was near the end of the book when Platt ‘wrestled’ all the way to Sudan with whether or not he should have spent $3,000 to travel there after someone confronted him with this question: “Why don’t you just send the three thousand dollars to the people in Sudan? Wouldn’t that be a better use of money than your spending a week and a half with them? Think of how far that money could go” (197).

Don’t misunderstand me, please. I’m not criticizing Platt for sharing these two anecdotes.  He has his own journey to make and I am actually glad he has shared his struggles while on the journey. I’m glad he is being honest with us about his struggles.  But if you recognize you are part of the problem, and if you will ask me to give up my own money (as he does frequently), then there is wisdom in asking the question about whether or not spending three thousand dollars is a good use of money and no amount of justification (as follows this story on page 197-198) will do.  Platt asks his readers to sacrifice; indeed his constant decrying of American-Dream Christianity is his sacrificial rally-cry. I understand his point; I don’t understand his solution: “Like the rich young man in Mark 10, every Christian has to wrestle with what Jesus is calling us to do with our resources as we follow him” (119). Wrestling is not a solution.

I guess I wanted the conviction to run a little deeper and I wanted a heroic conclusion. I wanted a Francis Chan solution: give up the mega-church ministry instead of wrestling with the contradiction. Three thousand dollars to sit with someone in Sudan is a far cry from three thousand dollars to feed the very people Platt says we ought to feed:  “More pointedly, if our lives do not reflect radical compassion for the poor, there is reason to wonder if Christ is really in us at all” (111). That’s bold.  It’s perfectly true. And it’s strangely confounding given his wrestling. I’m glad Platt shared the story and opened himself up to the criticism; he gives all who read it a lot to consider.  (Don’t misunderstand me, please, because I don’t believe for a minute that Platt is a man who is neglecting the poor.)

There’s a lot of John Piper (the phrase ‘make much of God’ is right out of the Piper lexicon of neo-Reformed theology) in this book and clearly he is Reformed (Calvinistic) in his theological disposition. This doesn’t bug me too much, although it is a bit pedantic for those of us who do not happen to share his happiness and conviction for said theology. I’m not personally a huge fan of Piper’s theological ideas, but it does not necessarily get in the way of the larger point that Platt is making.

All of that said, I like this book. I like it because Platt is honest: he struggles. He struggles with the words of Jesus. He struggles with the journey. He struggles with the contradiction. He struggles with consistency. I could worship in his church and listen to him preach. I would gladly serve alongside him as he serves the poor because I am certain that no matter how many trips he takes, he is serving the poor, feeding them, and loving them in the name of Jesus. Platt believes that the words of Jesus are true and that we ought to be living according to them. And, to be sure, the stories he tells of Christians in various parts of the world is encouraging and challenging at the same time.

He tells stories like Eugene Peterson does: with passion: “And then more deeply moved when we later talked over how many boys and girls and men and women in gatherings all over the world, hungry men and women, were doing the same thing.” That’s the kind of stories Platt tells: Christians around the world, hungry for the Word of God, hungry to worship, hungry for the Spirit, dying for Christ, suffering for the cross, and praying despite all appearances that no prayers are answered. These are the folks that Platt tells us about, the people he has chosen to identify with, and the Christians who are our brothers and sisters in Jesus. It is the stories Platt tells about Christians around the world that ultimately makes this book worth the read.

I go away from this book extremely challenged. He challenges me to take the words of Jesus seriously and literally.

As a result, Christ commands the church make the gospel known to all people. If this is true, then the implications for our lives are huge. If more than a billion people today are headed to a Christless eternity and have not even heard the gospel, then we don’t have time to waste our lives on an American dream. Not if we have all been commanded to take the gospel to them. The tendency in our culture is to set around debating this question, but in the end our goal is not to try to find an answer to it; our goal is to alleviate the question altogether (157-158).

That is radical indeed.

****/4

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

Read an excerpt at Scribd

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Voltuntary Madness by Nora Vincent

Voluntary Madness is a disappointing book. I was intriqued by the premise of the book and the writing started out all right. Ms. Vincent “voluntarily” checks herself into three separate mental health organizations in attempt to bring down the system around our ears. She sets out to expose the big bad system. She doesn’t actually pull it off, although she does get some points across well and manages to make a personal breakthrough in her last placement.

The interesting thing is that Norah Vincent just comes across as angry. Angry at the whole world.  She slams the people who work in a mental hospital or ward calling them lazy and unsympathetic.  She rants against the rules. She rants against this drugs. I actually wanted to agree with her on this one because I believe by and large we overuse drugs in our society and she made some valid points but they get lost in her anger.  She blames the residents/clients who start coming to her with a sense of entitlement .

The author ends the book with perhaps the best writing of the entire tome. She wonders about institutions being the way they are because of people or it is vice versa?  She then turns her anger from the institutions to the people and asks,

“Why waste therapy and resources on people who will actively resist, and so derive no benefit from them anyway? Why not just medicate the bejesus out of people, when medication is the one thing that requires no effort or willpower to have an effect? If people arent’ going to heal, because they don’t want to heal, then containment is the most any system can do for them and for us. And containment is necessary.” (p. 275-76).

 

Ms. Vincent continues to philosophize in such a manner for a while before she flips the script and tells the reader that there is a bright side. People can help themselves. Ultimately, change is up to the individual, he or she must take responsibility for their own change. It is in this that I agree with the author fully. It is also this part that will cause those entrenched “in the system” to become angry with her.  This book is a quick read and not exactly a deep read. It’s a lot about the author and I never felt like I should care about her all that much. Some of her conclusions are interesting. Ultimately, the value in this book came from being able to watch her work through her naivety (she even admits to it in the book). I’d be fascinated to meet her I suppose to see if her anger comes out in her personal life as it does in her writing.

Right now, Amazon has this book for 6 bucks. It’s probably not worth a whole lot more than that, but at that price you might enjoy it.

2.5 Stars out of 5.

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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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Hope, Help and Healing for Eating Disorders by Gregory Jantz

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Dr. Gregory L Jantz’s book, Hope, Help and Healing for Eating Disorders deals with both “eating disorders” and “disordered eating.”  As a Counselor I was immediately drawn to this book. It seems in our society, overweight people are the last  people group that it is OK to mock and make fun of for our enjoyment. I actually had a guy tell me that he enjoyed me being at the poker game because I was fat and it was not only OK but it was expected that people would make fun of people. For some reason, I had no desire to visit his faith community.

In another conversation I heard someone use the terms overweight and glutton synonymously.  When I asked about this, I got a rather convoluted answer—in my opinion. What does this have to do with the book? Well, a lot of people who talk about food intake are rather judgmental about it. Rather than admit that they are selling out to our society’s obsession with being thin, they are cloak it in spirituality and science, which is usually a parroting of the latest book/DVD/commercial they read or saw. The truth is that body image is a huge issue for almost everyone. Many people are struggling to answer core questions about themselves through their management of food and their body image. Some try to answer this question through exercise and food control, while others choose to answer it through over-indulging.

This book deals with eating disorders without becoming judgmental about them. He points out that there are people who look healthy, who have disordered eating.  A great quote early in the book is “Some people suffer from a diagnosed eating disorder and some suffer from a debilitating pattern of disordered eating” (p. 27).  He points out that it’s not just people who have bulimia, or anorexia that have food disorders. If food has moved from being about nutrition to some sort of control in your life, you probably have an eating disorder. I found this perspective to resonate powerfully.

He comes at these issues from what is essentially a Family Systems approach first and foremost.  There is nothing wrong with that necessarily, but I do think there are other issues that factor in from an existential point of view, which he doesn’t seem to address but that could be because I tend to view almost everything from a search for meaning point of view.   He also deals with the issue of abuse and how that factors into eating disorders/disordered eating.  These two aspects are the strength of the book. He offers hope and guidelines to help people through these disorders. I do wonder how helpful a book can be on its own merit. It seems to me that eventually a person dealing with these will have to enter into Therapy.

Overall, I think this book is an excellent read. There are a few minor points where he and I would part ways but I am not the one of us that is running a successful recovery institute.

3.5 out of 5 stars

I received this book free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group as part of their Blogging for Books program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255

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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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