Reading and Faith

Back in the day before I had children, I used to buy books. Eventually I came to realize what a waste this was. Once I read them I was done with them. It’s not like the endings change.

Non-fiction books make a little more sense to own if you use them as references. But even there it became obvious to me the absolute vanity of owning books (vanity as in emptiness more than pride, although both can factor in).

Which brings me to the book of Ecclesiastes, “of making many books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh.” There are approximately 2.2 million books published per year now.

About 8 of those are worth reading. Two are worth owning.

Faith is about much more than study. By saying this I don’t mean you should cut down your study time. What I do mean is that we should make sure we are applying what we are studying, otherwise study is pointless.

For one who loves reading–You need to get your nose out of a book and go apply some stuff.
For one who hates reading–You need to go home and read.

Even if you read a crummy book, it will make you think. Why is it crummy? Analyze how they use Scripture and see if you can figure out how they arrived at such goofy opinions. What would you say, from Scripture, to refute them?

There is no better book to read than the Bible. If you do not have the Bible freshly rooted in your mind continually you will be out to sea being tossed about with every wind of doctrine.

Read the Bible. Then read it again. And again. And again. There’s more in there you haven’t seen and there’s way more you don’t remember. Too many people take another person’s word for what the Bible says and this destroys faith.

In all your reading, make sure you apply, apply, apply. In all your application, make sure you read, read, read more of the Bible.

How to Detect a Really Bad “Christian” Book

In the last ten years I have read 400 “Christian” books. Over this time I have detected ways to identify really bad Christian books just by glancing at them. Yes, Virginia, you can judge a book by its cover.

Most of the Christian books I read are non-fiction (unless written by a Calvinist or Pentecostal, then there’s a fine line between fiction and non-fiction). The below only applies to non-fiction Christian books. I will say right out of hand, if you are contemplating reading a Christian Fiction book, your soul is already in danger.

If you are contemplating reading that new non-fiction Christian book everyone is talking about, refer to this list. If the book in question has more than four (4) of these characteristics: AVOID IT LIKE THE PLAGUE! Adhering to the message of this book may indeed result in you receiving plagues.

1. The author’s face is the predominant feature of either the front or back cover. If their face is on both front and back, this counts as two points against

2. The author’s name is in larger font than the title. If the title has the word “Jesus” in it and is in smaller font than the author’s name, this counts as two points against.

3. If the author, editor or main character has gone to heaven, hell or purgatory

4. If the first seven pages are filled with blank pages and endorsements by Christian celebs.

5. If the biggest endorser on the front or back cover is an entertainer/singer.

6. If pages have more white space than word-space, or uses funky fonts throughout in sort of a magazine layout.

7. The book has been written in the past ten years.

8. The book has the name “Joel Osteen” on it.

9. The book was an Oprah Book Club selection.

10. Has one of those funky covers that feel rubbery. If nothing else they make your fingers smell weird after reading and I hate that. It’s not worth it.

11. Book is written by a tan, grinning man who looks like he’s about to wink.

12. Book is written by a woman and you are a male reader.

13. Author’s name is attached to a string of initials–PhD, DMin, etc.–on the front cover.

14. Author is currently a popular athlete.

15. Author is, was, is thinking about being a politician, or once had lunch with a politician.

16. Title gives no clue at all that it is a Christian book.

17. Amazon shows that the book has five stars. If everyone likes it, it’s bad.

18. Title includes the word “Code.”

19. Title includes the words “Breath,” “Breathe,” “Breathing,” “Wind,” “Windy,” “Whisper,” “Whispers,” “Whispering,” “Whispered,” or any other icky word along those lines. Yuck. I feel creeped out already.

20. Cover has a person gazing longingly into the middle distance.

If your book contains FOUR (4) of these things, you’re in for it. You can still read it, but I warned ya. Don’t say I didn’t warn ya. Cuz I did. I’m warning you right here. You’ve been warned. Read carefully out there; they’re out to get ya.

Why I Don’t Like Christian Books and Yet Do

Not long ago I mentioned that I read a lot of books, many of which are “Christian.” I was asked by a faithful reader to mention some of the good books.

The problem with this is that many of the books really aren’t good. Rather, many are average (usually containing some good insights with a degree of odd theology), some are really bad and there are a few that I think are excellent.

If you’ve hung about this blog, you know I like everything written by A. W. Tozer. I really like Oswald Chambers, Harry Ironside, and I’ve now read everything by C. S. Lewis (Mere Christianity and The Four Loves are the tops, everything else is downhill from there).

I have gained a lot from John Piper and John MacArthur, but those of you who read this blog also know a huge area where I disagree with them! I have enjoyed Philip Yancey and Ravi Zacharias but they often get too philosophical for my liking.

Most Christian books miss the deal, in my mind. Many delve into the author’s experience and a desire to turn everyone into the author. That if you don’t have the author’s experience you don’t have Jesus.

Nothing could be further from the truth. I mean seriously, nothing. Not even atheism. Atheism is better than personal cults. Atheism is at least honest in its denial; personal cults are tricking you into thinking you are following Christ when you are really following a person.

I recently read a book about a woman who traveled to the Holy Land to “find Jesus.” She already knew Him in her head, now she wanted to know Him “with her heart.”

Oh gag.

The point of her 160 page ramble was to say that just as the Holy Land sights are all debated due to reliance upon tradition rather than facts, so to is theology. Theology puts God in a box; she wants to follow the Spirit. The Bible exists to argue against, to rankle under its strictness and for giving you pithy statements from Jesus to make deep sounding pronouncements about mundane observations.

I quite honestly wanted to poke my eyes out and shave the top 6 layers of skin off my fingers so I would be prevented from being able to read another book.

This idea that theology limits God and is somehow opposed to being led by the Spirit is one of those things that will send me into orbit. The notion that the journey is the destination, that uncertainty means you’ve arrived, that the Bible can be debated away so you can have “mystery,” has to be the essence of Devilish deception.

“Hath God really said?”

So, I looked this book up on Amazon to see if others had the same problems with it I did.

Nope. Not a one. One of the highest rated books I’ve seen for quite some time.

Oh Lord, help us all.

So, that keeps me from talking about books because I get irritated with it all. What passes for sound theology these days, what passes for godliness and “Christian” is appalling.

And then, just when you think you could never read another book by a Christian again, along comes a beauty of a book that restores hope and brings you closer to Christ. That is what I read for. The diamond in the rough. If diamonds were common, they wouldn’t be valued!

The Rise of Apostolic Succession

“There is no salvation outside of the Catholic Church. If you leave the Church of Christ you will not come to Christ’s rewards; you will be an alien, an outcast, an enemy. You cannot have God for your father unless you have the Church for your mother. If you could escape outside Noah’s ark, you could escape outside the Church.”

Here is another quote from Church History, this one by Cyprian of Carthage (200-258). I think if his use of the word “Catholic” was meant in the actual definition of “universal, all believers everywhere” way, I guess I’d go along with him. There is no way to the Father except through Christ. All who are in Christ make up the Church, the Body of Christ.

Except I know that’s not exactly what Cyprian meant because he has a context. Just as yesterday’s quote had a context. Yesterday’s quote is from Spurgeon, and has much to do with the Calvinistic idea of limited atonement–Christ only suffered for the sins of the elect not, as the Bible says, for the sins of the world.

Cyprian’s context has to do with apostolic succession. God granted Peter and the disciples the power to loose and bind. This was interpreted as “forgiveness of sins can only happen from the apostles.” That being the case, the disciples passed on this authority to their guys before they died and they passed it on and so forth.

So, Cyprian’s idea is that unless you go to a church where one of these guys who can trace back his authority to an apostle is, you cannot be saved. This is sheer hooey.

The notion of Apostolic Succession was invented as a means to keep power centralized. There was a priest named Novatus who suffered persecution from the Roman authorities for not partaking in pagan sacrifices. He then claimed that his suffering granted him the ability to forgive sins.

Well, we can’t have any old, persecuted fellow out forgiving sins! So up came the invention of Apostolic Succession and our need of “mother church.”

Did Christ’s Sufferings take ALL of God’s Wrath for Sin?

“At the cross the Son of God died a death in which all the weight of divine vengeance for sin was compressed into a few hours of bodily and spiritual anguish.”

When I read this statement my brain hiccupped. Really? I’m not sure it is wrong, but then again, it sure doesn’t sound right. Let’s consider if it were true:

1) What is hell then? If “ALL the weight of divine vengeance” against sin was here, what is going on in hell? Is hell not God’s wrath, anger and vengeance being poured out on unconverted sinners?

2) Does bodily suffering really remove sins? I know we are healed by His stripes, but is this the same as saying bodily suffering removes the punishment of sin? If ALL the weight of sin’s vengeance were here, might I be able to suffer some pain for my little, tiny lie I told? Can I pain my way through more sin and get its punishment removed?

3) What was the point of resurrection if bodily suffering removed sin’s punishment? Couldn’t He have just suffered and called it a day then?

4) What about the discipline of the son whom God loves? Why would God ever punish anyone for any sin if ALL the vengeance has been poured out already?

5) When Ananias and Sapphira died for their lies to the Spirit, was this double jeopardy?

I imagine it was thinking along this line that lead people to invent purgatory, where a guy could work off his sin with bodily suffering. I imagine it also had something to do with monks who would flagellate themselves for their sins and felt they were removing sin. In fact, this statement was probably invented by a guy trying to refute Catholic thinking. “Christ suffered so I don’t have to” kind of thing.

I have a feeling that this is a fine sounding statement that overstates the point. I imagine it is heard with much head-nodding and “amen”ing. But I have some reservations about it. How about you?

Satan’s Attacks are Irritating

There are stories in the Northwoods about bears that break into people’s houses and do damage. I imagine if I were all snug in bed and I heard a bear break the back door down and start smashing up my kitchen, I would get out of bed and attempt to do something.

Can’t have bears snacking on my cookies. Not to mention my wife and kids being in danger.

But there are other times when little things happen at night and I’m all snug in bed. Sometimes I hear thunder and think, “I should go unplug the computer so it doesn’t get blown up be lightning.” But the bed is so cozy and I don’t want to get out. I consciously decide that it would be better to just buy a new computer than it would be to get out of bed right now.

Human nature is funny. Big things stir us to action but little things, even if they are potentially costly, have a harder time getting our attention.

No doubt, if someone came up to you tomorrow and said, “Hey, moron, there is no God.” You would be able to stir yourself to defend your faith. It would be easy to get a rise.

But Satan is much more subtle. He rarely does full-frontal assaults. His way is the way of erosion–small change over time that wears on you. Constantly.

In the Garden of Eden he did not tempt Eve by saying, “Hey, Eve, there is no God.” No, instead he said, “Did God really say?” He played around with doubt. He tried subtlety. Remember, “Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made.”

The problem with subtle problems is that we can ignore them. They creep in slowly, they might wake you, but rarely do they call you to action. Soon enough, over a process of erosion over years, he has rounded our corners and eventually wears us down from boulders to pebbles.

Satan doesn’t want so much to eliminate the Gospel as he wants to subtly change it. Leave enough of it there to assure you that you’re good with God, but change it enough to guarantee you never will be.

Be ware of his constant, irritating, annoying, wearing, wearying attacks, and stand firm.