Thursday, July 21, 2011

MAX LUCADO, COME THIRSTY (BOOK REPORT 5)

(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

Max Lucado, Come Thirsty (Nashville, Tennessee: W Publishing Group, 2004), 215 pp.

Max Lucado is probably the best known, most loved Christian writer in the world today. Hank Hanegraaff, in his usual over-the-top manner, calls him “one of the greatest authors on the planet.” Max Lucado is popular. Multitudes think his writings are great. But the truth is, his books are popular and considered great because Christian readers are addicted to literary cotton candy. By page 71 I was so thirsty for something more satisfying than watered down milk that I had to lay it down and try something else. Every time I tried to read this my stomach literally knotted up. In contrast to what the cheerleaders say on pages i and ii, I came thirsty, left early and parched, and did not have the fortitude to return.

I did observe some good points before I quit. He says this against legalism, “Grace blockage. Taste, but don’t drink. Wet your lips, but never slake your thirst. Can you imagine such instructions over a fountain? ‘No swallowing, please. Fill your mouth but not your belly.’ Absurd” (p. 32.) Many, if not most, of the stories he tells are slow and wearisome. But there are some short, sharp ones. The one about Florence Nightingale is not bad (though how true, I wonder?): “She went to bed. And stayed there. For fifty-three years!…Except for three years, Florence cowered before the giant of death. But during those three years on the Crimean battlefront, she made a name for herself, not as one who suffered, but as a friend of those who did” (p. 42.) There are some excellent quotes, even one from Joseph Alleine on the gravity of human depravity, “O miserable man, what a deformed monster has sin made you! God made you ‘little lower than the angels’; sin has made you little better than the devils” (p. 21.) Some of his own attempts at eloquence work out okay, “Blessings and burdens. Both can alarm-clock us out of slumber” (p. 52.) This pithy coinage reminds me of Henry Drummond (a much better writer with a worse worldview) saying that theology has to ‘uncentury itself.’ And it reminds me of R. M. M’Cheyne (who deserves to be read more than almost everybody) asking his transient church members if they know ‘what o’clock it is?’ Lucado can hit the mark at times, at least stylistically. 

So what do I have against Max Lucado? Is he not blessing thirsty souls? I think that his writings, and books by other authors of the same class, are glutting shelves and souls with an inferior brand (if not a pseudo-brand) of evangelism and devotion. The situation is like the shelf in the grocery store, where all the processed food is at eye level, while all the healthy stuff is down at your feet, out of sight and out of mind. Compare the everywhere-available Come Thirsty to William Bridge’s hidden gem, A Lifting up for the Downcast. See the difference for yourself. 

Here are three things I have against Come Thirsty and other similar narrative-like ‘devotionals.’ (1) The gospel mishandled. This book is not just for the saved. That is obvious on page 46 where an invitation is tendered to the lost. But I can find no explicit command to trust Jesus or to repent of sin in order to salvation. On page 25 he says to “trust the work of God for you. Then trust the presence of Christ in you.” But is that enough? That Jesus died for you is necessary to your salvation, true. But trusting that he died for you is not trusting in his death, and, all by itself, will do you no good. Trusting that Christ died for you will not guarantee that he is savingly in you. Believing that Christ died for you is not saving faith; trusting in his death, this is. Here is a subtle difference on paper; but believing one way or the other spells the difference between heaven and hell! Hear Spurgeon on this point: “I have heard it often asserted that if you believe that Jesus Christ died for you, you will be saved…Do not get that into your head, or it will ruin you. Do not say, ‘I believe that Jesus died for me,’ and because of that feel that you are saved. I pray you to remember that the genuine faith that saves the soul has for its main element—trust—absolute rest of the whole soul—on the Lord Jesus Christ to save me, whether he died in particular or in special to save me or not” (See The Forgotten Spurgeon by Iain Murray, p. 78.)

(2) The coarseness. To supply the imputed righteousness of Christ with a colloquial equivalent, Lucado offers up, “His Teflon coating becomes yours” (p. 25.) To popularize the parable of the prodigal son, he gives us, “Fire up the grill. Bring on the drinks. It’s time for a party!” (p. 29.) Being filled with the Spirit is described as, “No sipping. No tasting. It’s time to chug-a-lug” (p. 58.) The word of God deserves a more sober, reverential assortment of expressions by the man who would do some justice to its illustration than what Max Lucado comes up with. The phrases just culled from his pen are not just homely (that would be okay); they are ungodly. This dialect he uses is the language of the bar, the glutton, and the weekend drunkard. Does this kind of talk not make us wonder about Mr. Lucado’s lifestyle and reading habits? Is this how holy men speak today? This kind of speech is unholy.

Much more could be said to the negative. For instance, how arbitrary and juvenile for a church leader to hang a book on an acronym he pulled out of his hat instead of on a Scripture text! But just one more point. (3) The pride. In his Acknowledgements we read, “They prodded, applauded, extolled, and cajoled…Jim Barker—the God-seeking golf professional…Susan Perry—Look up the word servant in the dictionary and see your picture,” &c., &c. If Lucado were a teenage girl, I’d leave him alone. But that so many people are necessary to a church leader completing something this shallow and insubstantial should be too embarrassing to admit. And such inflated flattery toward his helpers is a fat hint that the author believes his work is worth more than it is. Compare the proud tone of these acknowledgments to what J. C. Ryle confesses at the close of his Preface in his Expository Thoughts on the Gospel of John, Volume 3: Borrowing from Dean Alford, he says, “I have now only to commend to my gracious God and Father this feeble attempt to explain a most glorious portion of His revealed Scripture. I do it with humble thankfulness, but with a sense of utter weakness before the power of His word, and of inability to sound the depth even of its simplest sentence. May he spare the hand which has been put forward to touch the ark!” There is a contrast here, and not only of styles. I’m sorry to rain on so many people’s parade. Max Lucado may have helped you. And he may be thanked. But a Christian so highly esteemed should exhibit more sanctity than this—much more. God is not exalted by Lucado’s grimy rhetoric; and I fear that by his substandard explanation of Scripture many sinners may be falsely assured of salvation.  


Content: C (Should be revolting to anyone familiar with truly devotional literature.)
     Style: C (Holy truth cast in the form of poor, foul poetry.)
    Tone: C (Thoroughly conceited, albeit, maybe somewhat ignorantly.)

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.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

CROSSROADS CHURCH, SHIPWRECKED (SERMON ANALYSIS 3)

April 2010

Mr. Cochrane, Crossroads, March 22, 2009, Shipwrecked.

Summary: (He opens with a few anecdotes about storms, and tries to make it funny. Then he does a reading from Acts 27, acknowledging that the reading of Scripture is what does the most good.) Luke likes to speak of journeys. In Acts, Luke takes us from Jerusalem to Rome. The point of spending so much time telling of this shipwreck is to teach us that God is sovereign. This means to be in absolute control, to be above all, working everything out to accomplish his purposes. “Nothing and nobody can thwart God’s purposes.” God purposed Paul to bring the gospel to Rome. Many circumstances happened that seemed to come against this purpose. The sea represents the devil trying to thwart God’s purposes. (He cites examples from the Bible of the devil’s opposition.) “By the way, God has a purpose for your life. It’s really good.” (Then he paraphrases 1 Corinthians 2.9. And, concerning the content of this verse, he continues.) This is true of heaven. But the context shows that it has nothing to do with heaven. It’s got to do with here. This is about God’s plan for you to serve in his kingdom. The enemy will try and thwart that. Sometimes we do it ourselves by falling into sin. You can trust God to fulfill these purposes in your life if you’ll just walk with him day after day after day. When storms hit, like job losses or relational issues, we say, ‘How am I going to survive?’ If you can’t survive them, you’ll never get to see God’s purposes worked out. Here are three things that stabilize in the storm. (A) Storms are inevitable. (Anecdotes follow.) ‘Count it all joy,’ says James. When we compare the cases of Paul and Jonah at sea, we learn that even when you’re in the center of God’s will, storms happen. In the midst of the storm, or trial, James tells us to pray. (Here follows the story of a storm.) (B) Not every storm is stilled. This storm of Paul’s was not stilled. “For every person that’s healed, somebody isn’t.” God is working out his purposes and will bring something out of it. He can be trusted if the storm ends, or if it doesn’t end. (Here he cites, with comment, Isaiah 40.31.) Sometimes God will give you strength to run through the storm, sometimes strength enough just to walk. (C) God’s word, not our circumstances, must determine how we act in a storm. God’s word sustained Paul. For Paul, God’s word led to godly actions. Our words and actions can be a great help to others. (He comments on the similarity between the breaking of bread in Acts 27.35 to Communion. And he references an anecdote from a book to show good action during a storm.) “Christians are hope agents in the world when they live by the word of God, not the circumstances around them.” Paul was not alone in this storm. What storm are we all in together? An economic storm. We don’t know where it will end. I’m going to leave you with some pointers on how Christians live and act in the storm we are in together. We can live and act in such a way as to give hope even to those who may be watching us. Don’t panic. God is in control. We may literally have to pray for our daily bread one day. Let God’s word, not circumstances, determine the action we take, especially regarding money. Here are God’s money management principles: earn enthusiastically, but honestly; live within your means; avoid debt; save and invest if you can; give to the poor; give ten percent to God; trust God, not your money. These principles work both in good times and in storms. But here’s a warning. It doesn’t always feel good. You might have to wear last year’s fashions. It’s not easy, but it’s right. (D) Declare the faithfulness of God every single day. We should learn to thank God during the storm. (He’s funny here in a good sense.) Noah saw a rainbow after the storm. Ezekiel saw one during the storm. On the isle of Patmos, John saw one before the storm. Let’s declare God’s faithfulness today. His will will be done. And we praise him. (He closes by inviting the music team to come up and play their storm theme. And while this is under way, people may come up and wait for prayer. Then a general prayer is given.)   

Remarks: The reading of Scripture is good. That Acts 27 teaches the sovereignty of God is indisputable. His interpretation of the sea as representative of the devil is correct. Storms indeed are inevitable, and not always stilled by God; his word must determine how we act in the storms of life; and we should declare his faithfulness always. All of this is excellent and true. The illustration drawn from the rainbows that were seen by Noah, Ezekiel, and John is brilliant. This is meant to show, I think, that God may manifest his promise to us before, during, or after the storm. And so we should trust his promises and praise him whether we see the rainbow right now or not. His comparison of the breaking of bread in Acts 27.35 to Communion is insightful and intriguing. And the principles of responsible finance are useful. An attentive Christian would find comfort from this sermon.

Here are the faults in it. (1) His interpretation of 1 Corinthians 2.9. There can be only one true interpretation of any given verse, though many applications. Here is the verse, “But as it is written, eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.” Mr. Cochrane is right when he says that this is true of heaven but that it refers to the present. But then he says that it’s about God’s plan for Christians to serve in God’s kingdom. This part of his interpretation is incorrect. The things spoken of in verse 9 are said in verse 10 to have been revealed to us by the Spirit. But has the plan of God in the service we will render been revealed? For many of us it has not, except in the very general sense that our service will be according to the precepts that should govern the new life. Regardless, this verse is not speaking of our service to God, as important as that is. The context shows that what has been revealed to Christians is the mystery that pertains to Jesus Christ, and him crucified (verse 2, 7.) After looking at the passage surrounding verse 9, that is the sense I came away with. Then I checked three respected commentators to see if they took the same sense as this. They all agree that what has been revealed are those gospel truths that the world is blind to: like the pardon of sin, the atonement, justification by faith, and the blessedness of being favored by God. In short, ‘eye hath not seen’ until the incarnation: these glories of the gospel. That’s what 1 Corinthians 2.9 is all about. It is so sad that all of the meat that the congregation needs is right there, but then missed by a hasty interpretation! The spiritual victuals that the congregation needs for the Christian walk that the pastor speaks of is all right there in the marrow of this one verse. Too bad it was misinterpreted! He could have dug into a vein of gold, but went panning instead, and so ended up with not one nugget concerning Jesus and what he accomplished at the cross! But why did this happen? It seems that this pastor is always looking for something about the Christian’s walk, and in so doing, misses the doctrinal road the Christian is supposed to be walking upon. And this amounts to some form of humanism at the expense of teachings about Christ. Of what use is it to always be telling your people to walk the walk when you fail to tell them where they came from, how to get on the right road, what that Way is, and how to stay upon it? To do this, the doctrines of sin, redemption, and the ongoing process of growth and sanctification need to be expounded.

(2) His concept of God’s purposes. First, he says this, “Nothing and nobody can thwart God’s purposes.” A little after that, he says this, “By the way, God has a purpose for your life. It’s really good.” Now if both of these propositions are true, then the deduction must be that everyone to whom he is speaking is eternally safe. But only the most na├»ve pastor will assume that all his listeners are Christians. Even in churches of old where all the substance of the gospel was preached for years every Sunday, it was assumed that empty professors abounded. There needs to be some qualifications, then, to these propositions of his. Is that not a dangerous thing to say that the purposes of God are both unalterable and good for a whole company made up of saints and unrepentant folk? This mistake he makes about the purposes of God shows the need for, and this pastor’s lack of, strong theological study. This lack has him stumbling right into universalism!

Conclusion: When we put these two faults together, the gravity of the problem should be apparent. There is no gospel doctrine taught, yet the never-failing purposes of God to these church members are said to be all good. What might the consequence be from this coupling? People who are ignorant of the gospel may assume that there is yet a good purpose from God for their lives and that this purpose cannot be thwarted. And so, they might imagine a bright future in eternity for themselves that they have absolutely no basis to hope for. And what is more tragic that that? For a pastor to assume that God’s good, never-failing purposes are to each one, even while the pastor expounds no gospel and accuses no one of sin (by the revelation of which they may be reconciled to God)—this must be put down as a cardinal fault. It is a perilous thing for sinners to go away with a notion of possessing a salvation they likely do not have. But this, I fear, is exactly what is happening in this church. There is a passage in 1 Timothy 1 that speaks of certain fellows who made shipwreck concerning the faith (1.19, 20.) It happened when they failed to hold the faith and maintain a good conscience. This faith they failed to hold refers to the grand truths of Christianity; this conscience they failed to maintain refers to that which these truths affect unto godliness. And so these souls were shipwrecked. Any pastor who swerves around the life-changing truths concerning Jesus Christ ought to expect the same result multiplied in his church. Unless the facts about the person, life, and death of Jesus Christ are particularly preached, along with how sinners may come into saving union with him, the same result is inevitable. I repeat that Christians could go away consoled and encouraged by this sermon. I must hold to that. But the two faults he makes are huge. Because of these faults, the message is without doctrine, without Jesus, man-centered, and so more shallow than it might have been. And as I have shown, it may tend to grant an assurance of salvation to listeners who have no valid reason whatsoever to believe they are saved.