At this point, he had my undivided attention and unbridled curiosity! Unfortunately that is as far as it went.
He spends a great deal of time establishing that we do not have to add to God's grace.
That we are free from the laws of Judaism. That we are freed from the Law, that we are freed from legalism, yet often the church attempts to replace the old Judaic laws with their own new laws. He makes a great statement on page 150,
“Remember, grace has to be drunk straight. The law is an add-on
Always remember this simple equation: grace plus law equals law.”
He goes out of his way to bring into sharp focus silly self-help programs and those who might monopolize on those of us in need. Inner healing, deliverance courses, Christian counseling (having no differential comparison to secular psychology).
He then goes on to warn of the deliverance counselor's (focusing on keeping themselves in business indefinitely) who keeps their patients in a perpetual state of need – as well as making the patient subjective to a form of “works”. (Legalism as opposed to Grace).
Ultimately he is making all these things as being synonymous with a “Old Covenant, do-it-yourself perspective”.
He makes great points in regards to 'acquired' spiritual 'gifts'. The warning, the point being that these are some form of self-effort of their own doing.
“Paul said that the Galatians were bamboozled. They had been hoodwinked... The Galatian bewitchment, very simply, mean to work for the gift... These guys [Charismatic speakers] never fail to mesmerize the crowds with their self-abasement. Though they wouldn't say it, they take great delight in making you feel lazy, less spiritual and incompetent in comparison to them.” pg. 141
It has been years since I read a book that pissed me off as much as this one did. (And no, not because, as John Crowder says, this "gospel I may have never heard before... threatens to turn my Christianity upside down". Not as all. I thoroughly look forward and enjoy my ideas of Christianity turned upside down. It's sobering and refreshing.
I am faced with some difficulties when writing this book review.
Allow me to first say that I wholeheartedly disagree with the angle this book is pitching. But that posed a significant problem for me. Am I the kind of person who gives good book reviews to those whose opinions a line with my own and bad reviews to those who I disagree with, I asked myself?
Ultimately I fear this will not be simply a book review, but is going to contain elements for discussion, and a certain degree of analysis alongside being a review.
I needed to establish the parameters that this book exists in; John Crowder's rules of the game if you wish. Clearly an Evangelical, a Born Again Christian, and Charismatic.
“Jesus did not come to be your example. He came as your substitute.” pg. 164So, clearly, Jesus is in no way an exemplar to this author.
He makes the point that the gospels were written for the sake of the Pauline epistles and not the other way around. (which is true and near impossible to disagree with). He then states that we have to see the entire bible through “Pauline eyes”, which if we're going to promote Grace, works quite well.
The basic message, put simply in a nutshell, is that once saved, the sinful nature is instantaneously gone. No more "old man" to do battle with. No more struggles with sin. No more personal cross to bear". No more purgation. In fact, a Christian cannot sin. No process, no time, no sanctification; instant change.
And more importantly, absolutely no need of self-effort (Because of grace) you cannot earn your way or God's favour. It's all instant and free. (I agree with this part).
But that's where the first cracks appear. On page 23 he says, "Your union with God in Christ is instant and effortless. It happened the first moment you believed". (I don't agree with this statement, but I need to remember that I am reading this book within the parameters of the author).
Rob Bell, in Love Wins puts it best,
"If the message of Jesus is that God is offering the free gift of eternal life through him - a gift we cannot earn by our own efforts, works, or good deeds - and all we have to do is accept and confess and believe, aren't those verbs?
"Aren't verbs actions?
"Accepting, confessing, believing - those are things we do".
But John Crowder at least attempts to address this 'condition' to some degree by saying, “Granted, loving God is definitely the “greatest” commandment. But it is still a commandment. It is the grand summation of the law. And we know that law does not save us.” pg. 183
It is a great point and nearly echoing Rob Bell's point. But then he takes a complete 180, saying “The cross is the fountainhead of all love. If you won't accept that He [God] accepts you... then you have no part in Him” pg. 183, returning to a conditional grace.
I think one the the biggest stumbling blocks faced by this book is a lack of imagination when it comes to viewing metaphoric truths and literal truths.
“One of the most amazing aspects of martial union is that of co-habitation. You do not have an infrequent audience with the King. You sit ever with Him enthroned. Just as the husband and wife live together in uninterrupted fellowship, so do we dwell in God's house both now and forevermore. A wife is afforded benefit that a stranger could never conceive possible” pg. 190-191Here is the inherent problem. When a metaphoric interpretation is forced into a literal reality it becomes delusional. He continues by saying,
“The abundant blessings of this union are far too many to account. Physical healing. Financial provision. Reconciliation in relationships. Emotional fulfillment. Unspeakable joy. Righteous authority to be wielded over regions and people groups. Creative miraculous abilities. Mystical powers. Authority in this age and the age to come. The possibilities are endless, as you are wed to God”. pg. 190Physical healings? Financial provision?!
The danger with this is when these fruit do not manifest. What does that mean?
But then John Crowder answers this question.
“One of the biggest stumbling blocks to the gospel message (from charismatics anyway) revolves around the topic of manifestations. If I am really in effortless union with God, then why don't I levitate every day? Why don't I heal every single person I meet on the street? Why don't I glow like a light bulb?... A powerless life is a symptom of the fall. But be assured that the antidote to this disease will always [be] the same. Belief in Christ's finished work is the mother lode of all supernatural power and experience.” pg. 191-192“So the born-again person can never be, basically, self-centered again. You can move in a self-centered act. You can't be self-centered”. pg. 85
“Your union with God in Christ is instant and effortless. It happened the first moment you believed.” pg. 23 (Crowder's definition of a true Christian).“Saved people don't sin”. pg. 39 (Again, fleshing out his definition of what a Christian is).
But here's where the confusion starts.
“Nor am I saying that it is impossible for a Christian to sin”. pg. 202
”A powerless life is a symptom of the fall”
What?! I thought a Christian was free of, absolutely cured of, and immune to sin.
I think what he unknowingly and unintentionally revealed was the Achilles Heel of the Charismatic movement. But, ironically enough, he goes on pointing out the problems with churches.
He subtly ditches Catholicism and the Eastern Orthodox churches. I believe he misses the values he would identify as Mariolatry and theosis, but yet rambles on about his witnessing miracles of levitation, healings, gold dust creation, oil running down church walls, tongues, etc., in what I can only hope is meant as some form of humour. Ultimately I think John Crowder is exhibiting little more than veiled Tribalism.
"When I wake up everyday, I just know that my old depressed self went into the grave with Jesus. It is difficult for a dead man to be worried about his bank statement or a bad doctor's report. No circumstance can dictate my emotional state. The gospel tells me that my old critically religious self no longer exists! If I'm feeling bored with my Christian walk, the message of the gospel quickly snaps me out of that lie. My old boring self is dead. The new me is intoxicated on the wine of the New Covenant. I can "reckon myself dead" with Christ... simply realizing that I do not own those negative feelings any longer". Mystical Union, by John Crowder, page 34-35What is this, the Prosperity Gospel? What this is preaching is the delusion of perpetual happiness. The facts of the matter are people (yes, even Christians) do worry about their financial health and are concerned when bad news comes from their doctor. People/Christians do struggle with right and wrong and do choose incorrectly and selfishly at times - they still sin.
Yes, they do. So, how do we deal with the problem of evil?"Saved people don't sin". pg. 39
This really says nothing. It absolutely side-steps the problem of evil and relegates it into infantile levels. I can't honestly blame or fault anyone for avoiding the problem of evil. It's no simple issue. However, please don't spoon feed me crap if you're not up to the task.“Some think that an over-emphasis on God's sovereignty and a diminishing of the human will blames God for evil. Rest in this: God is sovereign, but He is also good. Rather than blame Him for sickness and trials, let us believe Him for healing and deliverance. He doesn't dirty your water, but His sovereignty, He changes it into wine.” pg. 162
This isn't even worth addressing, it is so outlandish.
...but all this aside! As scandalous and incredible as this all is, does he make his case?
Well, for those of you truly interested in reading this book, I won't give it away. But I'll say this much. In the introduction, he provides a biblical translation index (just to help you out and make things clearer) he goes on to list the forty-eight bible versions he quotes from!
Although I agree that making use of at least a couple of biblical translations is good practice, especially when attempting to make head-and-tails of some difficult passages, there is a danger when this many versions/translations/interpretations are used. The tendency is to pick and choose whichever one best fits the angle you're trying to sell. Not all translations are good and accurate.
In every book review I always like to attempt to address either the book's "target market" or who would be interested in reading it.
Unfortunately, I'm not sure I can answer these questions. I get locked up in a preemptive state. I notice what can only be poor editing or poor grammar. Take your pick.
...so I check who the publisher is.
"Sons of Thunder Ministries & Publications"
The author himself; John Crowder.
Reminds me of how many magazine covers Oprah appears on. Wow! A lot... until you realize she owns the magazine.
I can't help but think the prime "target market" would be people in his ministry itself. (And I hope I'm wrong on this one because it sounds a little too cultish to me). Maybe people attending his seminars/speeches may pick of a copy in the spur of the moment.
“We do not base our theology on subjective experience. Rather, we allow the Word to be our springboard for experiencing the divine”. (read in Sola Scriptura or Biblioatry). ”Experience is in no way a qualifier or pre-requisite for union. But experience will follow true faith, because true faith always manifests, works and demonstrates”. pg. 195-196What exactly is he saying here? I can't help but think his point is one's experiences are only valid if confirmed through the bible. What about those experiences that are not? But I think he ultimately answers this question as well.
A true Christian is sinless, cannot sin, and is immune to sin.
A true faith always manifests miracles.
...and for those who do sin and cannot or do not manifest miracles?
This is the same old divisive Christianity that the world has long since grown tired of. This is, yet again, another attempt to market Unconditional Grace with religiosity's conditions quietly slipped in. There's little 'scandalous and revolutionary' about this concept and even less so about this book.
“If you are exploiting the grace of God – sinning under the guise of your perfection – please do the rest of us a favor and stop calling yourself a Christian”. pg. 202
I received this book free from SpeakEasy Blog Network. Providing me a free copy in no way guarantees a favorable review. The opinions expressed in this review are my own.