Review: Blessed

Kate Bowler, Oxford, 2013, 337 pages, 5 of 5 stars

Summary: a lucid, concise and superbly researched historical account of the prosperity gospel—the best in print.

Bowler took years visiting health and wealth churches around the US in research for this book. Ironically, incurable colon cancer struck this young Duke professor as the book was going to print.

She argues the prosperity gospel (PG) centers on four themes: faith (a power turning words into reality), wealth (faith in the pocketbook), health (faith in the body), and victory (faith’s final goal). These topics became four of the five chapters.

The book’s subtitle (‘a history of the American prosperity gospel’) could just as well remove the word “American” since much of the PG round the world pulls from the US anyway.

Pros: (1) She names name by the hundreds. In this regard, she’s Paul-like (1Tm. 1:20). They called Puritan Richard Sibbes the sweet-dropper. Bowler is the name-dropper. She’s coming after you if you’ve influenced American prosperity over the past 100 years (e.g. Jakes, Cho, Lake, Bakker, Roberts, Meyer, Peale). Her favorite target is Joel Osteen. (2) Her tone isn’t polemical. She writes as an objective researcher. I consider this a plus because good arguments don’t need white knuckles and red faces to terrify the reader. (3) The lengthy bibliography on PG/Word of Faith works is invaluable.

(4) She must have researched a million pages of PG literature (cruel and unusual punishment) and then gives the reader the choicest dreck. For example, “Plant the seed of faith and put away the Washington’s” or this gem from Creflo: Dollar “I own two Rolls-Royces and didn’t pay a dime for them. Why? Because while I’m pursuing the Lord those cars are pursuing me” (p. 134). (5) Bowler excels at showing how earlier metaphysical mind-power repackaged itself into positive thinking (‘picturize, prayerize, actualize’) which repackaged itself into the modern prosperity message.

Cons: Besides the occasional Scripture reference, Bowler rarely interacts with the Bible. True, this is a history, but I expected more from a professor of religion.

Conclusion: Most missionaries and pastors should read this because most missionaries and pastors do battle royal against the PG in their ministry. This book gives the historical underpinnings of the deadliest poison within Protestant churches. The daily Christian should consider this hardback as well since “soft prosperity” (think Osteen) is more pervasive in the church and home than they know.

Quotes:

“[Speaking in tongues] became the gateway drug for other gifts of the spirit” (70).

“At Paula White’s Without Walls church, a feminine aesthetic pervaded the sanctuary and encouraged giving through the provision of floppy pink envelopes which tithers were encouraged to wave during the service” (129).

“John G. Lake and his ‘God-men’ theology pumped confidence into the veins of faith believers who called each other ‘overcomers,’ ‘dominators,’ and ‘little gods’” (179).

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Review: The Grace of Shame: 7 Ways the Church Has Failed to Love Homosexuals

Tim Bayly, Joseph Bayly, Jurgen Von Hagen, Warnorn Media, 2017, 180 pages, 5 of 5 stars

As the car of American culture hurls off the cliff of biblical morality, it’s good to know there are still faithful men that can see through the fog of today’s sexual revolution.

One example is Tim Bayly and his book The Grace of Shame: Seven Ways the Church has Failed to Love Homosexuals. Bayly is a PCA pastor at Clearnote Church in Bloomington, Indiana (one of America’s gay meccas) and a contributor at the insightful blog warhornmedia.com.

The subtitle makes one think this is just another liberal Christian apologizing for the church’s Neanderthal oppression of today’s sexual minorities. “You should be ashamed of yourselves.” Continue reading

Review: John G. Paton: The Autobiography of the Pioneer Missionary to the New Hebrides

John G. Paton, Banner of Truth, 1897/2013, 538 pp. 5 of 5 stars

This is the story of an island of cannibals, their journey out of darkness, and the man who led them to the light.

John G. Paton stands as one of the great missionaries in church history. He was an icon in his day—a household name in Great Britain and Australia. Contemporaries such as C. H. Spurgeon called him the ‘King of the Cannibals’. Continue reading

Review: The Courage to Be Protestant

David Wells, Eerdmans, 2008, 253 pages, 5 of 5 stars

screen-shot-2017-03-06-at-10-47-47-amThe Courage to Be Protestant condenses the central points of the author’s previous four volumes (No Place for TruthGod in the Wasteland, Losing Our Virtueand Above All Earthly Powers) and emphasizes the same five themes: Truth, God, Self, Christ, and Church.  Wells argues it takes no courage to call oneself a Protestant but much of it to live Protestant truths. This book is a damning and unfettered critique of modern-day evangelicalism. Continue reading

Review: Paul the Missionary

Eckhard Schnabel, IVP, 2008, 518 pages, 5 of 5 stars

screen-shot-2016-12-07-at-10-59-09-amFrom time to time, most missionaries have asked themselves why their ministry is not as successful as the Apostle Paul’s. “I must be using the wrong strategy,” we groan. And it is certainly understandable to search for patterns in his ministry in hopes of garnering the same triumphs. But Paul was fruitful, Schnabel argues, not because of methods but because of the Holy Spirit’s work.

This theme is among the many reasons I consider Paul the Missionary among the top five books I have read on missions. It is a challenge to missionaries to (re)evaluate the goals and methods of their ministry in light of the work of the apostle Paul.

Schnabel’s goal is to examine “Paul’s missionary work—proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ and establishing communities of believers—in terms of the goals that he had and in terms of the methods he used” (30).

And just in case we were wondering what a missionary is, he defines him as one who establishes contact with unbelievers, proclaims to them the gospel, leads them to Christ, and integrates them into a local church.

Did Paul have a missionary strategy? Schnabel says no in that he didn’t use a carefully nuanced, well-formulated game plan but yes in that he did have a broad and flexible goal to preach the gospel to as many people as possible while relying predominantly upon the Spirit’s power to change lives.

Common Misconceptions about Paul and Missions

Schnabel’s greatest strength is exposing popular misconceptions about missions and Paul’s ministry. I have consolidated six of them:  Continue reading

Review: The Bondage of the Will

Martin Luther, Baker, 1525/1957, 322 pages, 5 of 5 stars

Screen Shot 2016-03-22 at 5.19.57 PMEarly in the 16th century, two great minds collided on a topic with tremendous implications. On one side was Desiderius Erasmus of Rotterdam, a humanist scholar of unsurpassed learning. No one in Europe could rival his deftness in linguistics. His witty tongue was evident in his best-selling satire In Praise of Folly.

Though Erasmus was an ardent Roman Catholic, he was not a theologian, nor did he care to be. And the amicable Erasmus would rather do his fighting behind a desk than brawl behind a pulpit. As one author put it, he could never stand contra mundum.

It would be difficult to find an equal mind with greater dissimilarity than Martin Luther. He was the antithesis of everything Erasmus valued. Bombastic and brash, Luther had been convinced monasticism was the surest way to heaven—that is, until he found the Gospel in Romans 1:17. His Ninety-Five Theses, previously idling in the parking lot, would now be parked just outside the Vatican.  Continue reading

Review: The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Robert Louis Stevenson, Amazon Digital, 1886. 82 pages. Five of Five stars

Screen Shot 2016-01-16 at 4.12.51 PMIn 1885 and at the age of 36, Robert Louis Stevenson published his third and most popular larger novel, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. It is a dark and complex tale about corrupt human nature.

In real life, Stevenson experienced a grim story of his own. Always tormented by poor health, Stevenson dropped out of his law profession, married a divorcée against his parent’s wishes and died suddenly of a brain hemorrhage at the age of 44.

The protagonist is Dr. Jekyll, an elderly scientist who has discovered how to change himself into the grotesque form of Mr. Hyde. It began as an innocent experiment by which Hyde could indulge in carnal delight by night and Jekyll could maintain his high social standard by day. It was the perfect life of two identities.

The doctor made systematic provisions for his evil nature, including his own quarters, wardrobe and bank account. Though Jekyll was confident that he could control Hyde, he soon found that his evil nature was gaining strength.

If each, I told myself, could be housed in separate identities, life would be relieved of all that was unbearable; the unjust might go his way, delivered from the aspirations and remorse of his more upright twin; and the just could walk steadfastly and securely on his upward path, doing the good things in which he found his pleasure…

But Hyde had energy and the will to be alive. One morning, Jekyll awoke to discover that he had transformed into Hyde without taking the potion. “My devil had been long caged, he came out roaring.” He then realized that a choice had to be made between the two. Continue reading