Spirit Body Mind Health: a book review.

We all want thrive at life. Certified nutritionist, co-pastor, poet and playwright, Laura Harris Smith wrote The Healthy Living Handbook to offer a holistic approach, helping us thrive in our spirits, minds and bodies. Building on her previous book, The 30-Day Faith Detox, Smith describes 30 healthy habits, to put and pray into practice over the course of  30 days. She organizes these habits into habits for the Spirit (i.e. the Christian life, and having a healthy spiritual life), habits for the mind, and habits for the body. Smith has some decent life advice to dole out, but I had issues with much of her approach.

9780800797881Smith begins her survey of life habits with a focus on the spiritual. Because her background is Pentecostal/Charismatic movement, this is where this section begins. The first three habits describe being open to miracles and the supernatural, praying in a prayer language (AKA tongues) and the experiencing the baptism of the Holy Spirit. She next focuses on cultivating habits such as: daily bible reading, respect for authority, weekly church attendance, guarding our personal salvation, trusting in Christ, choosing faith and ‘dodging doubt’, and having the assurance of salvation.

The charismatic emphasis (and the Arminian emphasis on working out your salvation) may be off-putting to some readers. But my issues begin with her ideas about honoring authority. For example, in describing how spiritual healthy people crave opportunities to show honor, she writes, “I would rather be physically ill than to dishonor a pastor or other spiritual mentor, and I trust I will continue to reap honor from my own congregants as a result” (59). This sort of sentiment is really common in the charismatic movement, and sometimes results in an unquestioning obedience and reverence of the senior pastor. In a #metoo/#churchtoo age, I think this message of honor and respect needs to be balanced with a message of holding leaders to account. There are rebels without a cause, but just as often, and far too often is there abusive structures that need to be called to account.

But another troubling side of the spiritual advice that Smith gives, is how me-centered it all is. I know, not a fair critique of self-help book, but following Jesus is a life on mission, announcing the Kingdom of God and transforming the culture. The charismatic signs and wonders side of the spiritual life, is framed by Smith, as entering fully into all God has for us. And she gives advice about practices that cultivate our spiritual lives (reading the Bible, praying, going to church, knowing we’re saved). The section on knowing we are saved, does briefly talk about sharing our salvation story in evangelism, and that would be the whole emphasis on mission in the whole ‘spirit’ section of the book. If I wasn’t reviewing this book, I probably would have quit reading this book at this point. It isn’t that I don’t value the spiritual aspect to life and faith in Jesus, it is that the message of the Kingdom of God is short-shrifted by Smith’s approach to Spiritual health.

But the other sections of the book did have some useful life advice to offer, however. The mind section focused on cultivating organizational habits, being kind and courteous, smiling and laughing, avoiding stress, ‘refusing’ discouragement, cultivating good boundaries, healthy relationships, and forgiving others. The ‘mind’ section didn’t have much to say about cultivating the intellectual life, but there was practical tips for navigating life and keeping a positive outlook. Yay.

The final section, draws more heavily on Smith’s expertise as a nutritionist. She describes the journey of improving personal nutrition (e.g. eating a rainbow of fruit and vegetables, limiting meat, sweets and wheat, avoiding fast food, getting a good night’s sleep, exercise and watching your weight, using essential oils, and drinking plenty of water. This is the section that is the most practical and helpful, and found myself far less disgruntled in this section than I was in other sections of the book.

I am totally on board with healthy living, and like that Smith takes a holistic approach. However there was too much in this book I found problematic for me to feel like recommending it to others. I gave it 2 stars.

Notice of material connection: I received a copy of this book from Chosen books in exchange for my honest review.

 

Putty in Christ’s Hands: a book review

Putty Putman, AKA “Heart-throb” Rob Putman (okay, maybe just Rob Putman, I don’t know), was finishing up his Ph.D. in theoretical physics at the University of Illinois when the reality of the Holy Spirit came rushing into his life. Today. he is the founding director of the School of Kingdom Ministry (SoKM) in Urbana, Illinois, as well as serving in leadership roles in preaching and executive teams for the Vineyard Church of Central Illinois. He wrote Living Like Jesus: Discovering the Power & Impact of Your True Identity to help Christian’s experience more fully the presence of the Kingdom of God in our midst, and the experience of forgiveness, righteousness, and authority Christ offers as we share in his Divine Presence and are transformed into His likeness.

9780800798529Putman aims at enlarging our vision of the gospel of Jesus (chapter 1). In chapter 2 he describes the gospel he thought he knew—Jesus the sin sacrifice for humanity. He acknowledges that this is part of the gospel, but he posits that this doesn’t give us a full picture of the life in the New Covenant which Jesus ushered in.  In chapter 3, he examines how the Fall (Genesis 3) turned humans into broken image bearers, caused our loss of dominion (because we handed it over to Satan), and broke our relationship with God (61-62).  Chapter 4 discusses how the problems present in the Fall were addressed in Jesus (our identity and authority restored, and we now live with Christ in us.

These first four chapters, provide kind of the theoretical framework for what follows. In chapters 5 through 7, Putnam describes how the gospel transforms us: makes us new, gives us a new nature,  and forgives us and frees us from the demands of ‘the law.’ In chapter 8, Putnam explores the reality of the Kingdom of God as a demonstration of God’s power, made evident primarily through signs, wonders and the driving out demons. In chapter 9 through 10, he encourages us to walk in the reality of Christ living in us, transforming us into his likeness, us living from this new center, and bringing God’s presence with us wherever we go.

There are a number of things about this book I want to commend. First off, one of the ways Charismatic Christians challenge me, in a good way, is to be expectant about seeing God’s supernatural activity in this world, now. Putnam, expects God to act in his life. He expects Christ’s presence to transform a believer’s life. This kind of expectancy is really good. Secondly, I think Putnam names the problem of a too narrow definition of the gospel (e.g., sin management and getting into heaven when you die), and posits a bigger, more expansive vision of what life in Christ is like—a lifestyle characterized by Christ’s righteousness, Christ’s authority, and Christ’s divine presence. There is something inspiring about that! Third, I think Putnam’s emphasis on our transformation into Christ’s likeness is profoundly right. Fourth, there is a missional awareness in Putnam’s writing of how we carry Christ’s presence to the world. This is all very good.

Nevertheless, I had some issues with the book. While I applaud Putnam’s widening of the gospel, from a Shekinah-Pie-in-the-Sky-when-you-die promise to something more expansive and transformative, he doesn’t interact with much biblical scholarship, some of which would have sharpened his case. For example, N.T. Wright, Matthew Bates, Scot McKnight, Dallas Willard have all wrote important books widening our understanding of what the gospel is. The only one of these guys referenced is Scot McKnight, briefly, in a Christianity Today article (not The King Jesus Gospel or a Fellowship of Differents). These scholars would sharpen his vision of the New Covenant we are called to live in. In fact, Putnam’s book is almost wholly lacking in any substantive references.  His biblical languages references are Thayer’s Lexicon, Strong’s, and The Blue Letter Bible, with no more recent or comprehensive scholarship in biblical languages, theology, or biblical studies. There are 5 good quotes from church fathers on page 168, though, sp I guess that’s something.

Also, I find it problematic that he prioritizes signs and wonders, and deliverance as ‘the Kingdom of God.’ Clearly these are meant as signs of the kingdom which demonstrate God’s authority, but by seeing them as the central, and fundamental demonstration of the Kingdom (in opposition to Satan), Putnam spiritualizes and depoliticizes the kingdom language of the Gospels (Gospel is also political language in the first century, but not covered here). He calls on Christians to pray for healing (which I do), but social concern seems to take a back seat to these more otherworldly, supernatural demonstrations of power. He does eventually get to social transformation:

The Kingdom is bigger than healing, deliverance, or prophecy. It  includes financial breakthrough and social equality. It involves people growing in the wisdom of God and finding innovative solutions to the problems of society. It includes people coming into relationship with Jesus and broken familes and relationships made whole. (154).

But while the end result may be social change, “The first link in the chain is the miraculous, and the miraculous is meant to be woven through all facets of the Kindom of God, redefining our world” (154). Perhaps, but Jesus wasn’t crucified for healing the blind and the lame. He was crucified for chasing the money lenders out of the temple, for challenging the status quo, and unsettling the powerful from their thrones. There is a political dimension to the Gospel of the Kingdom that is under-represented here.

Thirdly,  I am occasionally troubled by the direction Putnam goes with his theology. For example, he argues that the Law (Torah) was not God’s original intent for Israel but was given to them as an afterthought when the Exodus community was too afraid to approach God (Ex 20):

The Israelites asked for a different relationship from what God intended. They basically told Moses, “We don’t want to be priests. We want you to be priests. we want you  to be the priest. We don’t want direct access to God. We want something between God and us to protect us because He’s scarey” (125).

So, according to Putnam, God gave Israel Torah as a concession and it was not part of his intent. The Law brought wrath and Israel now needed a redeemer because the Law introduced the notion of keeping score (128). If you follow the logic, Putnam makes it sound like the cross because of a necessity because of something God did, and not fundamentally because of God’s plan for human redemption. This is antinomian and it problematizes Jewish spirituality. Jesus came not to abolish the law but fulfill it (Matthew 5: 17). I can’t follow Putnam too far down the road.

Fourthly, I simply don’t buy every charismatic experience that Putnam describes in this book. It is not that I don’t think that God can’t or does not heal. But when Putnam describes how he felt his vertebrae come apart while he was playing with his daughter, and was healed at the moment he thought: Jesus lives in me, I call B.S. (Bible Study) on his whole anecdote (170). This sounds too Word of Faith-ish for my tastes.

So while I liked elements of this book, I still found enough that bothered me. In the end, I could only give this a middle of the road review, three stars. – ★★★

Notice of material connection: I received a copy of this book from Chosen Books in exchange for my honest review

Treasure in ‘Dark’ Places: a book review

I grew up in the Christian Missionary Alliance and I love a good missionary biography. They tell the story of those on the field, giving all, and living sacrificially to share the good news about Jesus. They speak of trusting God and seeing the miraculous, alleviating suffering and seeing real transformation in people’s lives and in whole communities. So I picked up Leanna Cinquanta’s book, Treasures in Dark Places, with interest, looking to see the way God worked through her ministry to set people free, including some of the over 25, 000 girls abducted annually in the region of Northern India where she serves as a missionary.  Cinquanta founded TellAsia Ministries and through her influence, more than 10,000 churches have been planted in areas which are only 5% Christian. I was excited to here about her work there and the ways she trains up indigenous leaders to do the work of the gospel.

9780800798161And she does tell about some of that in her book. Treasure in Dark Places speaks of her call to missions, and her experience of the supernatural at home and abroad. She shares some stories from the mission field nd she tells of growing up and feeling the call towards missions, some of her experiences of God along the way (prophecy, miracles, etc).

However, I felt like this book was more about her than about the mission itself. I heard her story of her call, but the mission was vague on the details and I am fuzzy as to what she actually does to combat sex trafficking in Northern India. There are few disconnected stories.

I am a crypto-charismatic and I like hearing stories about the miraculous. However, I didn’t feel like I was offered much in the way of a compelling narrative here. The details are too sparse, and we hear dramatic encounters but not much on the hard work of ongoing relationships. On the plus side, Cinquata does refer to the people she encounters in India as God’s treasures whom she is working to liberate. This mitigates some of my discomfort with calling a region of dark-skinned people a spiritually dark place (though it still bugs me).

In the end, I just didn’t connect with this book but I am glad for the mission and the ways Cinquata has extended the welcome of God’s Kingdom in northern India. The book itself I give two stars.

Notice of Material Connection: I received this book from Chosen Books in exchange for my honest review

Spirit Empowered Theology: a book review

With over 65 years in ministry and with conviction and experience of the Spirit moving in power Charles Carrin, D.D. has compiled a one-volume resource aimed at helping ordinary Christians understand, articulate, and experience the Christian life.

9780800798178  Spirit-Empowered Theology is comprised of 300 questions organized under headings which are roughly reminiscent of a traditional systematic theology. Carrin discusses who God is, who we are, the nature of Scripture, the significance of Jesus’ death and resurrection,  the Kingdom of God, the Church, the five-fold offices of the church, Spiritual gifts, deliverance ministries, the foundations of faith, doctrinal variations, various heresies, God’s plan for Israel, significant events and people in Christian history,  Creationism, the Covenant and the meaning of various terms.

As this is a concise overview of the Christian Faith, theology, history and practice (from a Charismatic/Pentecostal perspective), the answers to the 300 questions Carrin poses are brief. Carrin has an index but no bibliography or footnotes (though he obviously referenced a number of works in compiling this resource).  His consulting editors include John and Carol Arnott, Bill Johnson, Stephen Chitty, R.T. Kendall, Randy Clark, Michael Peterson, Leif Hetland and Jack Taylor (19).  This list favors pastors and practitioners who are open to manifestations of the Spirit (Kendall may be the one theologian in the mix). Notably absent from the list are folks like Amos Yong, Wolfgang Vondey, Frank Macchia, Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen or other scholars from a maturing Charismatic/Pentecostal academia. Even Wayne Grudem’s charismatic friendly Systematic Theology is never referenced. This isn’t so much a criticism but an observation. This may be a ‘theology’ but it is conceived as a practical resource, not an academic tome.

Carrin’s theology affirms traditional Christian doctrine: God is One and Three, revealed to us as Father, Son, and Spirit. Salvation comes through trusting Jesus as Savior and Lord and the efficacy of his death and resurrection, the Bible is God’s Word and contains the truth about God, Jesus, us, the world, and the coming Kingdom.  As a ‘Spirit-Empowered’ resource, Carrin emphasizes the experiential dimension of the Christian life (i.e. signs and wonders, prophesy, healing, Spiritual gifts, deliverance, etc). This Charismatic perspective pervades and there is no pretended objectivity on this point.  For example, after a matter of fact summary of What cessationism is (146-47), Carrin writes, “This is religious absurdity. Ignore it.” (147).  It is also pretty clear that he favors an Arminian perspective over Calvinism (207-209).

The Christian history sections (Part 14 and 15) are underwhelming for me. Carrin does a nice job of highlighting significant moments in Christian history, but with 1-5 paragraphs per entry, these events are brief sketches without much color. The profiles of significant figures in Christian history are even briefer (a paragraph apiece). You could find out more about these events and people from Wikipedia (and in many cases actually have footnotes to chase down for research). There is more a chronology of events/people as good historiography would give more in the way of context and analysis. As a lover of Church history, this section of the book is a disappointment, though it was interesting to see which events/people Carrin chose to highlight.

There are other aspects of the book where I didn’t find myself in complete agreement with Carrin (i.e. his discussions of science and Israel come to mind). However, I think a resource like this which provides Charismatic laity with practical and pastoral answers to theological questions is to be applauded. With the brevity of answers, this almost a ‘bathroom reader’ of Charismatic theology.  It is also an at-a-glance resource when particular questions arise. I appreciate Carrin’s summary of (his perspective on) demonology, demonism and Spiritual warfare.

I give this book three-and-a-half stars and recommend it for Charismatic lay folk. If theology and church history is your jam, you will find Carrin overly brief, and lacking in nuance on a number of points. However, if just want a quick resource which is traditional, responsible and friendly to a charismatic worldview (and open to the Spirit’s movement), this is a good book for you.

Note: I received this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review

God’s Supernatural Agents: a book review

I was interested in Angels: God’s Supernatural Agents for two reasons. First I do not have enough authors on my reading list, or enough Christian authors from the charismatic/pentecostal stream. With this book,  I got both. Ed Rocha hails from Brazil and is immersed in the Charismatic movement (á la Randy Clark, and Bill Johnson).  Rocha has a degree from International Bible Institute, London, is the founder of Pier49 and a speaker for Global Awakening Ministries and is planting a church with the Global Awakening Network. In this book Rocha describes angels as ‘ministering agents sent to serve those who inherit salvation” (Hebrews 1:14). He aims to demonstrate the ways angels protect us, come to lead us into worship, or in answer to prayer, and the gifts they have to offer us.

ANgelsThe scholarship in this is really thin. The foot notes mostly point to the Strong’s Bible lexicon (accessed via Blue-Letter Bible). Rocha does point to scriptures about Angels and discusses angels in the Bible, but for the most part account of angels is colored by his experience of signs and wonders (i.e. where he or others have witnessed ministering angels). He tells stories of angelic visitations and times when angels helped him through difficult circumstances (like getting him through customs).

I like hearing angel stories, and I am interested in seeing how a supernatural God may use such beings to intervene in people’s life. I felt challenged by Rocha to be open to the way God uses angels in our lives. Unfortunately this book strained credulity. In chapter twelve Rocha describes unusual signs which sometimes accompany angelic visitations, such as gold dust, golden teeth or hair, and gems from heaven. Golden teeth and gems sounds more pirate-like than angelic. He also describes a picture of an angel he has on his iphone. I am all for recapturing the supernatural nature of the Christian faith but this all seemed like it fell into ‘experience hunting’ rather than abundant life in Christ.

I give this book two stars (because I enjoyed some of the stories) but I can’t recommend this.

Note: I received this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

You Were Born For (Even) More: a book review

I had a sneaking suspicion that I would not like this book.  The front cover has a larger-than-life picture of the author in a handsome suit (setting himself up as the ‘expert’); the title, “You Were Born For More,” has that  self-help tone to it with a heavy ‘prosperity’ vibe.  A Oneness Pentecostal wrote the book forward, which put my inner theologian on high alert for evidence of a defective trinitarianism.

But call off the inquisition, I didn’t see heresy here.  Harry Jackson is rooted in Wesleyan/Holiness theology and he develops his theme with wit and grace.  He may have a mild prosperity theology, but he’s endorsed by a wide range of evangelical ministers: T.D. Jakes (the Oneness Pentecostal), Bill Johnson (charismatic), Jim Daly, Tim Lahaye,  Tony Evans (regular old evangelicals). I found very little to disagree with but I didn’t feel like Jackson explored the full story of  God’s blessing.

This book is written for those in the midst of life’s struggles. Jackson’s message is that no matter what circumstances you are facing, God has something better in store for you. And so he presents six steps to receiving God’s blessing:

  1. Have a humble and willing spirit
  2. Trust God and be someone He can trust
  3. Be an emissary of God’s love
  4. Endure in the face of adversity
  5. Remain faithful even in uncertain times
  6. Commit yourself to personal purity

These six steps are developed in six chapters.  There are several features of Jackson’s book that I appreciate.  He is vulnerable about his own struggles when he faced health concerns and financial hard times. This is not some Pollyanna approach.  Likewise he does attempt to root his theology in a classic Evangelical understanding of divine providence and grace (even reviewing the classic Calvinist and Arminian options).

My disagreement with this book is matter of tone. I actually believe that if you follow Jackson’s steps you will be blessed by God. I would  lean more towards God’s blessing being more about spiritual benefits than material benefits *though clearly God provides for our needs materially). I think Jackson would agree, though his example of buying a multi-million dollar church property as an example of God’s blessing, does lend itself to a more material interpretation.  However I do take issue with Jackson’s framing God’s blessing as his (or my) personal destiny.  Walking humbly with our God is more than a pathway to personal blessing. There is little here which calls us as Christians to take a prophetic stance against injustice and work to transform the culture through Kingdom work.  There is a personal dimension to Christian spirituality, but God’s blessing transforms cultures, impacts cities, renews the church, brings life and light to those in darkness.  I was born for even more than my bad self.

I give this book three stars.

Thank you to Chosen books for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

What Would Dawkins Do?: a book review

Charles Sheldon’s book In His Steps inspired many Christians to ask, “What Would Jesus Do?” if Jesus were in your situation. Author Robbie Dawkins turns that question on its head in his book, Do What Jesus DidWhile Sheldon’s classic novel focused on living out your faith with integrity and modeling your character on the life of Christ, Dawkins has a somewhat different tack. Dawkins urges Christians to actually do what Jesus did–things like healing the sick, speaking prophetic words, casting out demons or raising the dead.  It isn’t that Dawkins doesn’t appreciate how Christ models moral perfection for us to imitate, but he challenges Christians to experience the supernatural character of the Kingdom of God.

Dawkins is the pastor of a Vineyard church in Aurora, Illinois which ministers among the urban poor. In his capacity as pastor (and police chaplain for the city of Aurora) he has witnessed God change the lives of  all kinds of people (including leaders of the notorious Latin Kings gang).  God’s supernatural healing has broken into people’s lives as Dawkins (and other members of his church have prayed). He has seen people delivered from demonic oppression and God has blessed people through prophetic words. In this book, he offers practical advise for entering into supernatural ministry (in the tradition of John Wimber’s Power Evangelism).

Whenever I read a book like this that is chocked full of stories of healing and deliverance,  my first reaction is to be a little skeptical. I didn’t  know of Robbie Dawkins before reading this book and some of his stories are outlandish (as all miracle stories are). However Dawkins doesn’t just include success stories. There are stories of heartbreak and failure as well. In Dawkins’s chapter on raising the dead, he tells a succession of stories about praying for people to be raised from the dead, but none of the people he prays for are raised.  Dawkins talks about this as ‘pushing to failure,’ borrowing a term from the weightlifting world. In other words he says we should train ourselves by praying risky prayers for big things (like raising the dead), and we will grow in our capacity to see God move miraculously. There is a certain amount of practical wisdom in this: if you want to see God move miraculously in the lives of your community, then you should habitually pray for it.

I liked this book and hearing how God is working in Aurora was inspiring.  There are areas of this book I would critique (for example, I am suspicious of the reliance on techniques to effect miracles); yet I appreciated the tenor of this book. I am a quiet charismatic and affirm the reality of healing, deliverance, and prophecy for today. I appreciated Dawkins balanced presentation, though I felt the character/moral aspects of Jesus’ life were under-emphasized.  Dawkins comments several times how ‘if God can use him, he can use anyone.’ This is a humble and true statement about God, but can easily become an excuse for not developing one’s own character.  I think we should pursue holiness with the same tenacity that Dawkins pursues the supernatural.  These  criticisms aside, I give this book 4 stars.

I received this book from Chosen Books in exchange for my honest review.