(One’s level of piety, whether devotional or practical, depends much on knowledge being either learned or misconceived. In these analyses we have made mention, occasionally, of books that either help or hinder the grand object of piety. It seems natural, consequently, to supplement the analyses, now and again, with correlating book reports.)
GABOURY’S CRITICAL BOOK REPORT
James B. Richards, The Gospel of Peace (New Kensington, Pennsylvania: Whitaker House, 1990), 203 pp.
Richards’ object is to present the converse of a “works-righteousness [which] always brings fear and rejection” (p. 93.) The book seems mainly for believers who may have slipped back into an unbelieving works-righteousness attitude in their too fearful approach to God. “There should be no fear of God in the heart of a believer” (p. 11.)
It is true that a works-righteousness attitude may lead to feelings of fear and rejection, and that this was common in the Dark Ages among persons who feared God. But are such feelings necessarily unhealthy? And is this our problem today? Fearing God is not our problem. Our problem is that we do not fear God. We have no craven fear, no reverent fear, nor any other kind of fear. No more shame…no more fear! says the subtitle, when shame and fear are exactly what we need!
It is often difficult to make out to whom Richards’ counsel is directed and in what manner his ‘no fear’ is intended. This may be on account of his attempt to apply the book to everyone. When we examine the basis for Richards’ counsel of peace, it becomes obvious that The Gospel of Peace must be classified as heresy. I was encouraged to discover some soteriological doctrines in this Gospel of Peace, like justification, propitiation, and reconciliation. The heresy is that these contributors to gospel peace are nullified by Richards’ position that says man has been at peace with God all along. If we were enemies to God only in our minds (p. 65), then what need of reconciliation? If “God has never been the enemy of mankind” (p. 66), then who needs any of the whole system of salvation and the coming of Christ to make peace? If “God is at peace with man” (p. 96) already, do we really need to preach that souls are in peril of hell? Literally everything pertaining to salvation and judgment is nullified if God has never been man’s enemy. Richards doesn’t realize this, obviously. I do not question his desire to minister. But his is truly a case in which the order to “lay hands suddenly on no man” (1 Tim. 5.22) was not heeded, and a man who knew not the gospel was appointed to preach it. By the uncritical and relaxed standard of some college or seminary, a babe, or maybe even an unbeliever, was given the title of doctor. When the gospel is undermined by the notion that God is at peace with mankind and always has been, then it is no surprise that Richards’ evangelism is void of saving substance. The sinner’s prayer that he urges upon the reader at the close of his Gospel of Peace is self-defeating, “…You [God] have never hurt me. You are not judging me. You are not the source of pain in my life…You love me; You accept me,” &c. (pp. 196, 197.) If God has never hurt me and if God is not judging me, what’s the problem? Why a sinner’s prayer? Where there is no condemnation, there is no need of being saved.
It is common among charismatics to wrongly assert that the source of all discomfort is the devil. I think that’s why Richards views peace with God as something that just needs to be acknowledged instead of obtained. Why does he promote the idea that God has always been the friend of every soul? Part of the answer, I believe, may be gleaned from the Dedication in which Richards exalts his uncle as “the only real father I ever knew…without rejection.” My guess is that Richards is constructing a theology around the wounds of his youth as a balm to help him get through this tough world. And he thinks to help troubled teens in his ministry to them by applying the same unbiblical psychology. We trust that some youths are actually helped, regardless. And let us generously suppose that some are helped for eternity, not just temporally, for the Lord can use an ounce of truth in a pound of heresy. Richards himself was saved through a twisted mix of profanity and Scripture when he overheard a blasphemer curse an evangelist! (p. 175.) Strange things happen. We can be sorry that Richards had no father. We can rejoice that he is not on the typical charismatic sign-gift hobbyhorse. But he has a long way to go before he gets the gospel right. We must disapprove any gospel of peace that negates what was done by Christ to obtain our peace.
Richards arrives at his false interpretation of Scripture by two avenues mainly. (1) He selects verses that emphasize only one side of a truth, and then promotes this truth as the whole truth. Example: It is written that we reap what we sow. But does this truth mean there is no judgment of God in plagues and afflictions? (p. 128.) Did God not plague Egypt, for instance? (2) He selects verses that touch on his theme, and then he stretches the meaning of these verses to support his proposition. Example: In Proverbs there are certain prohibitions concerning anger. But does this mean that fiery preaching (what Richards calls ‘hard preaching’) is unbiblical? (p. 165.)
Embarrassing errors can fall out from a halfhearted stab at interpreting Scripture: “Because I am in Jesus and have His righteousness, every promise God ever made to anyone in the Bible is mine” (p. 69.) Let’s test this proposition. So God’s promise to Abraham, that his seed would be as the dust of the earth for number (Gen. 13.16), consisting of nations and kings (17.6), this is God’s personal promise to me? I can be the father of all Israel? Just as embarrassing are sweeping statements made that call an author’s integrity into question: “As I have traveled around the world, I have seen every miracle in the New Testament,” says Richards (p. 189.) And so are we to understand that Richards has witnessed men walk on water, the dead raised up, virgins found pregnant by the Holy Ghost, and even fishes with coins inside for paying the tax? I guess so.
I should not leave the impression that this book is entirely bad. Some basic truths are simply iterated. Example: “Works place the emphasis on what I have done. Faith places the emphasis on what Jesus has done” (p. 70.) But because his idea of peace makes what Jesus did unnecessary, Richards must be included among those he warns us about, who “have run forth out of their own zeal…anxious to perpetuate their own perceptions…not sent with the Gospel of peace” (p. 121.) What Richards says on page 170 should give us goose-bumps, “What I sow from the pulpit is what I and the people will reap in the church and our lives.” We hope, then, that his book is not too popular. In more ways than one, you don’t get what you pay for. This book runs to 203 pages. Sixty-seven of these are blank. And each chapter begins halfway down the page.
Content: C (No gospel is a false gospel.)
Style: C (Unremarkable.)
Tone: C (Presumptuous.)
Grading Table: A: a keeper: reread it; promote it; share it.
B: an average book: let it go.
C: read only if you have to.