Is the Christian book store a safe place? Can you go there and let your guard down? I think we would have the intuitive feeling that we should be able to—I should be able to go into a book store that says that it is a Christian book store and find Christian things and not just Christian knick knacks or art or waterfalls but actual books.
Is this the case? Can you do this? Well, you can certainly go into a Christian book store and find things that are Christian but sadly, you can go into a Christian book store and find many things that are subpar.
I remember a long time ago, I shared an article on social media and it was about a popular book, a very popular book called The Jesus Calling. It’s a devotional and it’s like Jesus speaking to you each day. It’s written as if Jesus is speaking to you. I think as Christians, this should be deeply concerning because if we want God to speak to us, we go to his word. It was actually written thousands of years ago and it still speaks today and it’s the Bible.
If you want to hear God speak, read your bible, it’s been said. If you want to hear God speak out loud, well, read your bible out loud. There’s this devotional called The Jesus Calling and there’s actually a sequel coming out shortly that speaks for Jesus. It definitely seems to touch people’s emotions and their passions and things like this but the irony is, is when you actually read the gospels and you hear Jesus speaking in the gospels, this devotional sounds nothing like that and we should be very wary of things that claim to speak for God. In the Old Testament, when you claim to speak for God and you got it wrong, you got killed. I’m not saying that’s a New Testament standard but speaking for God is not something anyone should take lightly by any means.
I remember posting the article about The Jesus Calling. This sweet lady talked to me later in the week and said, “Brian, I had no idea. I read this devotional each day. I had no idea that it was so problematic.” The article had detailed several reasons why this was the case. It certainly wasn’t the one point I had just mentioned here.
She said, “How do you know what is good to read and what is not good to read? Can you just go to the Christian book store and find a book and be good?” I understood that this was a woman who desperately wanted to live a life that glorified God. She wanted to fill her life with Christian truth.
I had to tell this devoted lady that no, you cannot just go to the Christian book store and indiscriminately pick up a book and trust that it’s going to contain good, solid biblical teaching. That’s sad but that’s the case.
We have musicians out there who are thought of as Christian musicians that are materialists. They don’t think there’s anything supernatural. We have bands out there that deny the Trinity or at least now deny the Trinity. We have bands out there that are gay-affirming and those types of things. They go under the Christian name or at least at one time went under the Christian name.
What this should just show us with regards to music is we have to keep our guard up. We really do have to be cautious because one of the sad truths is is someone that is solid and biblical today may not be that way tomorrow. I think of Rob Bell.
I remember being a youth intern and sharing Rob Bell’s NOOMA videos. This is about 10 years ago with a youth group. These are videos by Rob Bell where he would ask a lot of questions (which is still what he does today) and he would try to get you to think about Christianity and God in a different way. It was thought provoking but Rob Bell today isn’t the same Rob Bell at least publicly that he was those 10 years ago. What used to be sold and okay in a Christian book store back then maybe was troubling if you looked really closely, but today, a lot of the things he says are flat out heretical and against orthodox Christian teaching.
This speaks to the fact that someone who was solid 10 years ago may not be today. Then there are those people that are right on the line. I think of Joyce Meyer. She is popular in Christian circles but she really flirts with the prosperity gospel in some ways. More than that, she also has some bad doctrine. She says Jesus paid for our sin in hell. That is extremely incorrect. Someone who may be encouraging and uplifting and teach good morals in one way may be thought of as Christian but may have serious doctrinal or biblical exegetical issues in another place or they might just simply preach something really close to a false gospel but they may be thought of as Christian.
A Simple Model to be Discerning
We have to keep our guard up. How did I answer this woman who wanted to live a godly life, who wanted to be able to read Christian things that would help her grow in her walk? I said, “Here’s what you do (and this is not profound by any means), whenever you read something, you ask questions of it. You say, ‘How does this fit with Scripture?’ When you read Scripture, you say, ‘How does this Scripture fit with other Scripture?'” The word of God is a united whole. It’s God’s revelation to us. As such, it’s true, there’s no other standard or authority by which we could analyze that that is higher than it. God’s word is true and it all fits together. When we come to a passage and we ask what does this mean, we say how can I best fit this with what I understand about other passages.
This takes us to what we looked at last week with the question of abortion in the Exodus passage that made it seem like the unborn’s life was not as valuable as the mother. This flies in the face of other passages so we should always interpret Scripture in light of other Scripture in a harmonious way. We ask questions of the text. What does this mean? How does it fit with other Scripture? Then when we read something that is not the bible, we say how does this square up with what I know from Scripture.
If I read a devotional that says “God wants to bless you today. He wants to work through you. Don’t hamper him. He wants to make your life good and enjoyable and easy,” you ask, does that fit with what I know about God in the bible? Does the bible say God wants to give me an easy life? No. It actually says that we should expect tribulation and persecution. Maybe this warm flowery devotional isn’t actually aligning with God’s word. It also doesn’t align with God’s word when it says that God is just desperately waiting to move but we’re hampering him. God is sovereign over everything. He waits for no man. He accomplishes his purposes. As Ephesians 1 says, “He works all things together according to the counsel of his will,” in his time. He raises rulers. He deposes kings. He is sovereign.
We have to be careful because there are things out there that play to our feelings, that play to our emotions, play to the things we like but it doesn’t mean they’re true. We always need to be asking questions. How does what I’m reading line up with what Scripture says? I would say more than that, we just cannot walk into a Christian book store and find things that are necessarily solid. There are a wide range of views that are considered to be Christian. There is everything from “Jesus got it wrong” or” maybe Jesus was right but Paul got it wrong“ to “every word in Scripture is the inspired, inerrant, infallible word of God.” That range exists in what is called Christianity today, and more than that, if our current American election season hasn’t demonstrated it, there are so many people calling themselves evangelicals that just have wildly different morals and values and definitions of Christianity.
Then when you look at polls, you see that a remarkably high percentage of those who call themselves Christians think that everyone goes to heaven and that you’ll go to heaven if you live a good life. What we realize is this label “Christian” doesn’t necessarily mean what we always think and hope it means. We have people that have books published by Christian publishers that deny the exclusive nature of salvation through Jesus alone. We have to be careful.
We cannot just go into the Christian book store. We cannot just look at a blog. We cannot honestly just listen to someone who preaches and claims to be a Christian. We must hold every idea up to the light of Scripture and submit every philosophy, every idea to the word of God and critique it there in light of that.
Will we get it all right? No, we won’t. I don’t get everything all right. You won’t get everything all right. Only Jesus is the man who walked the earth and got everything all right but our goal should be to get it right. Part of being a Christian and growing in maturity is growing in discernment. That’s not necessarily something like a sixth sense you get but what that is is knowing the truth and being wise in its application to see error and realize it before you accept it as some other truth.
This has been kind of a different episode today, I know that but I think it’s helpful because we do think, “Well, the Christian book store, that’s where I go to get Christian books, right?” Not everything that’s “Christian” is Christian, sadly. We have to be aware because just like there are false teachers roaming around like wolves seeking who they can devour, there are books where the dust jacket says Christian that are not Christian in their contents or they’re questionable enough where we still need to keep our guard up.
It’s interesting that even some of the best preachers and best speakers out there still accidentally say the wrong thing from time to time, and if we’re just accepting everything we hear and not critically saying how does this fit with Scripture, how does this fit with other truths. We always should be thinking. We always should be analytical people. That doesn’t mean critical people but it means alert people. We need to be alert with our learning, with our lives, with our doctrine.
We need to not be able to be led astray. The only other thought I’ll leave you with is this: my church is currently going through Galatians. It’s my favorite letter in the New Testament. It’s interesting that Paul’s spent so much time with these people. He taught them the gospel. As he says in Chapter 3, “Christ was very vividly portrayed as crucified before you.” They got it. He explained it to them and they knew the gospel and then he leaves. He says, “I’m surprised that you’re so quickly deserting the truth that I taught you.” What happened is there were people who came into their midst and started teaching something contrary to it and they weren’t critical enough to understand the mistake, to resist it, maybe even to realize it was wrong. We cannot be like that.
It’s been said that the gospel’s always one generation from going extinct. From man’s perspective, I think this is true. However, I don’t think God will ever let that happen. But if we don’t keep and maintain the purity of the gospel and we let it get perverted and watered down because we’re not careful of what we take in and what we teach others and what we teach our children, then we’re going to become propagators of error, just like those people that we’re supposed to be on the lookout for.
5 thoughts on “Episode 83 – Is the Christian Book Store a Safe Place?”
Has there ever been a more divisive theological topic than God’s sovereignty? Perhaps this is because human language is not enough to cover it. I certainly will not inflate my own opinion of myself that I could ever change a mind or cover this 2000+ year old controversy in a blog post comment. The reality is that I greatly enjoy your posts and your views on God’s sovereignty is the only thing to ever give me pause. As I enjoy the discussion of it I will post a few of my thoughts in the spirit of love and understanding.
I’m sure, being someone greatly interested in God’s word, that you have parsed all the arguments and obviously come to your own conclusions. Fortunately I believe that people can run the gamut of beliefs on this topic and still be dedicated believers in the Lord Jesus Christ. Their walk may be a little different but doesn’t the priesthood of believers cause that anyway? Ultimately we are responsible to God and no one else for our beliefs (several scripture verses I could refer to on that).
The Spirit of God insists that even the most Biblically educated should always leave open the possibility of being mistaken (and perhaps they should be the most wary). Thankfully the Gospel is clear (though many still try to pervert it by complicating it which seems to be the thrust of this blog). Sometimes keeping it simple is the best way to avoid discernment pride! (I pray that the rest of my writing reflects discernment humility). I say this because I have seen the pursuit of theological purity at all costs do much damage. There are definitely layers of theological purity that are more or less important (and it can be argued that there has been a relative historical orthodox consistency in the important ones). I would personally put the rest of what I am writing in the “less important” category. It is so easy to trust ourselves more than the Holy Spirit to point people to the truth or to elevate interpretive differences beyond their “human understanding” foundation. Yes God’s word is truth; our interpretation often isn’t.
I agree with your disagreement concerning the enjoyable and easy life. That is clearly un-biblical (though He does want us to have a "good" life (joy and peace, etc); but definitions kill us every time). Having said that, I will simply posit the irony that the very fact that you post theological blogs indicates that God in His sovereignty has bestowed on us at the very least the power to reject Him and His truth. Is it not a stretch of reality to think that we don’t "hamper" Him in our own lives (definitions again)? The point of your blogs I think is to help keep us from doing that!
Of course, He knows our choices before we choose them, so I am never claiming that His ultimate goals will not be accomplished due to any of my choices. But in His sovereignty He chooses to use humans as His ambassadors. I am infinitely glad He can work around my stupidity to accomplish His ultimate plan; but it is also Biblically clear that He has deemed our choices to matter; so I would much rather make the choice to be in union with Him so that He is working through me rather than around me (I’m certain you feel the same way). I know there is a lot of mystery here.
This is a complicated topic and certainly an ultimate high view of God’s sovereignty seems less complicated (and perhaps it is). But less complicated doesn’t always make it Biblical. In my humble opinion certain aspects of this view can actually diminish His sovereignty (and no, I do not align with either of the common theological extremes). A truly sovereign God can elect to limit Himself any way He wants (such as the inability to lie); and give the power of certain choices to anyone He wants. He can thus limit Himself from removing that choice once given and still remain absolutely sovereign. The main point is to recognize that He is the one limiting and we may not recognize the way or ways He is doing it.
I think we can both agree that God is the creator of all things including morality. So a simple philosophical argument would say that the sovereign being who establishes something can remove it. Thus God, who establishes the moral code of what is a lie, could change that moral code at any time. The problem with this is that the sovereign God has communicated to us in the Bible. While His communication is limited in the conceptual scope of His sovereignty, and our understanding is certainly limited, there are some more explicit things covered. Such as God cannot lie (Tit 1:2; Heb 6:18). And God is immutable (Mal 3:6; 1 Sam 15:29; Heb 1:3). Now maybe there is a logical fallacy here I am missing but it seems like the fact of His not lying is immutable. This is not me limiting God in any way or even promoting an idea that He is limited. This is simply my trying to understand more about Him and the ways He has communicated His own self-limitations.
I personally think this fact is a bigger proof of His sovereignty than a sort of "puppet" theory, but I digress because I am probably oversimplifying your beliefs based on a few of your writings. Still, I am in absolute awe and wonder that He can work His ultimate plans without necessarily forcing His creation to go against their own will. That is absolute sovereignty!! And once again I emphasize the mystery of it.
Often in these discussions a non-sequitur is thrown out based on Paul’s statement about the clay questioning the potter. I call it a non-sequitur because God’s actual sovereignty is unaffected by our seeking a Biblical understanding of it. Most sides of the issue can claim this non-sequitur because most of them claim to have the "high" view of His sovereignty. I read about a study somewhere that put people from both of the normal theological sides of this issue in a single room and gave them a list of proof texts from the other side and asked them to prove their theology only from the texts given. The amount of Biblical contortions that went on for both sides was instructive. Does this mean we should not seek as much Biblical understanding as possible on God’s sovereignty? Absolutely not. But with all theology, if we make it an idol, and if the foundation is not love and an openness to being wrong, then we disrupt the entire purpose for studying it in the first place.
Sometimes the most Biblical answer is to agree to disagree and pray that all parties reach a true understanding including ourselves. When we are both in the final Kingdom maybe we will fully understand this (or maybe by then it won’t matter!). Thankfully the super-abundant grace of God covers even our theological mistakes! God bless you and your work in His kingdom.
Thank you for the graciously written reply!
There’s a lot in there that I won’t be able to address at this point, but I would like to address some things:
I have tried to stay away from this topic, which is why you’re hard-pressed to find much (more than 1?) article that directly touches it. This is not for a lack of strong convictions on the topic. I used to believe very differently than I do today.
But, returning to this podcast episode. My intent in saying the things I did, in approximating what the devotional might say, was to paint the picture of a devotional that is supposedly speaking for Jesus where the emphasis is all about “me.” I could have done a better job at this.
After reading what you wrote, I do see that we believe differently on the issue of divine sovereignty/human responsibility, but I’m not sure we actually disagree on what I said. I could be wrong in this. You seem to also affirm that, while we do things that are against God’s commands, even still, God’s will is always done. Am I correct in saying that?
Your reply was even more gracious than mine, as I knew it would be. I am definitely an amateur at this, though a dedicated amateur, so thank you for being iron to my iron. I think I made a similar mistake that I often do with my wife. My tentativeness in my discussion comes across much more dogmatically than I intend. I am searching on this topic and have not gotten peace on it. Thank you for the time; your gracious response goes a long way to trusting your spirit on the matter. Awesome!
I think I actually intended to reply to Episode 65 but did not for various reasons. Your comment about us not hindering reminded me and I wanted to get my thoughts out. I apologize for the off-topic comments. As I indicated this is clearly a divisive and confusing topic, and many scholars with much more experience than me disagree (and apparently can write more clearly than me). But part of my thoughts on commenting was that I respect your work and am always willing to learn.
You bring up some excellent points. I will limit myself to commenting on them as I’m sure you have better things to do! 🙂
1. I think this is the actual difficult one. I will try to write more carefully this time! Maybe since it was His will to give us the choices in the first place even knowing the "consequences" then you could say that our choices are the outworking of His plan. Once again I’m not sure our minds or communication ability can really cover this topic. At the same time there is something in me that feels it is actually important despite the tensions. I will re-read post 65 and perhaps comment there since it is more on-topic.
2,3,4 You are right. It is in His nature. It is easy to forget that the Bible is written in human terms and thus to characterize it as such. That was my mistake. So maybe a better way to say it is that the moral code as written in the Bible (such as lying) is described to help us in our limited understanding of God’s nature. Thus He would not be able to go against His own description of Himself (which is our small perspective on His entire nature). Is that better? The rub here for me is thinking that something that He Himself has described as against His nature would be His will for us. But I will keep searching.
4. Excellent. Sin is a limitation…if we could only understand that I think it would go a long way to take the sting out of temptations. Excellent. I was once again in-artful in my attempt to fit God into a Bible word-box so to speak. I go back to my previous point and I was wrong to do it.
5. That was a 3rd party story and I do not have details on the "contortions". I simply mention it because it emphasizes the limitations of our interpretation (we are too easily biased). I won’t call out a name in public but the person has a book on the subject that I do not have the resources to buy yet. I do plan on buying it eventually because I want as many perspectives as possible. Christ promises we can know the truth; but as Romans 14 says we must be convinced in our own minds! 🙂
6. There are some who are not as gracious as you on the topic. In my search for the truth that verse is often used against my questions to shut me down. Romans 9 is a tough one I admit; in context Paul is defending God’s bringing the gospel to the Gentiles but the harden statement is not easily parsed, so I am not convinced in my own mind yet (Rom 14 again). I do not question the fairness of God’s election I just question my (and everyone’s) understanding of what election actually means. I admit, at some level it really doesn’t matter. Those who are the elect are the elect and whether that is a direct appointment from God or an foreknowledge of choice appointment they are still the elect. Either way they are partakers in the divine nature and should act like it! But that is another topic.
7. Thank you for pointing out ways that what I wrote reflected incorrect thinking. That was valuable to hone my writing and thinking. I am finding, as you are probably well aware, that there is sometimes a discrepancy between our brains and the written (or spoken) word that calls for carefulness. As for sovereignty I will keep praying, studying, searching because there is just something deep in me that feels this is important. At the same time I have to remember it is not as important as the Gospel. I think we can both agree on this which is why you have limited your posting on the topic.
In conclusion, thank you so much again for your time in response. I will respect your wishes and refrain from further posting on this topic (unless I go back to episode 65 and have some questions). I agree with your overall conclusions on the devotional; we should be careful. But I have found that rejecting the entire scope of someone’s work based on disagreeing on the non-essentials may not be helpful. The Spirit might have something for you to learn from them. As a friend put it, eat the chicken and spit out the bones. But as always filter it through the word.
As far as your last question, I just don’t know yet. It just doesn’t seem Biblical to say that any sin is God’s will. I guess it is sort of like election, what is the definition of "God’s will"? The first thing that comes to mind is the Lord’ prayer. Why pray that God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven if that is already happening? That might be one that gets contorted. I just never want to be guilty of reading more (or less) into Scripture to support my theology.
So while I am certainly willing to say that God’s overall plan is accomplished whether His will is done or not; I am not convinced yet that His will is always done on earth. But I may get there! I am fully willing to admit that we are both limited in what has been revealed concerning God’s nature and our understanding of it. Which is awe-inspiring in and of itself. We struggle to understand the little that has been revealed! Thank you for your time; have a blessed day!
I appreciate the followup!
To clarify, I’m very willing to discuss any/all of the things you brought up, I just haven’t done episodes on them (if that makes sense).
You do hit on important questions. I believe there are two wills to God: His moral will (what he reveals in scripture for us to do) and his sovereign will (which encompasses all that he wants to happen—everything that comes to pass). These are sometimes different. For instance, the cross: It was against God’s moral will to murder Jesus. But it was totally in line with his sovereign will to glorify himself in his crucifixion to ransom a people for himself.
Acts 2:23 and 4:27 speak to there being two intents in the crucifixion: The evil one of man and the predetermined (good) plan of God, yet the same, single action.
Have a good weekend!
Wow, apologies for the weird formatting, I wanted to emphasize the numbers you used so I put a number symbol. This is did not come through in the preview. Thanks.