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.

Could it be….Satan? (A book review)

As I am reflecting on the nature of sin this season, I thought it would be worthwhile to read a book from a Charismatic/Pentecostal perspective. This book talks about the invisible battle we face as we seek to live holy lives. As someone who’s diabolic imagination has been set aflame by Screwtape Letters I accept the world that Kris Vallotton describes in Spirit Wars: Winning the invisible Battle Against Sin and the Enemy. I have attended charismatic churches and been around when people were praying over others for demonic deliverance. A lot of these ‘deliverances’ seem more psychosomatic than real, in the same way that divine healing can sometimes be attributed to the placebo effect. Still I have seen enough, and have thoughtful friends with enough discernment that I know that some of it is real and there is a real spiritual battle being fought. Therefore a book helping Christians better wage this war makes sense to me.

And Kris Vallotton does not disappoint. He shares from his own experience of demonic oppression, physical depression (or in his case a hormonal issue), experience in praying with people and his reading of scripture. He argues that for those who are in Christ, victory over sin and the powers is not only possible, it is the norm (explaining at one point that he can go several weeks without sin). Vallotton does not discount that there could be psychological causes for struggles and advocates that those struggling with long term depression or anxiety see a physician, get a proper diagnosis and medication. He also avoids the spirit-flesh dualism of some Pentecostal preachers by urging that physical, emotional and spiritual causes for our struggle are intermingled inside the human person and cannot be easily separated.

I don’t endorse everything that Vallotton says here. He oversimplifies at some points and takes fanciful leaps. I would question his interpretation of the Bible. People who self-describe as prophets (as Vallotton does) often take an imaginative approach in biblical exegesis, which provides keen insights as well as abysmal errors. So I affirm some of what he says but have serious questions about other portions of this book. For example, he uses Nehemiah and Joshua as exemplars of how we can resist “the enemy” and carry out the task that God gives us. This spiritualizes and allegorizes the biblical history of the Old Testament, which is legitimate to a point, but Vallotton’s approach means an uncritical view of both Nehemiah and Joshua. Contrary to leadership and popular accounts, the hero of the books of Joshua and Nehemiah are not the men the book is named for, but Yahweh himself. Joshua and Nehemiah do some things well and also make horrid missteps along the way ( i.e. Joshua is told to be strong and courageous, but instead sends spies and sits on his hands for several chapters, fails to call on God; Nehemiah ends with the sending away of foreign wives). I think if Vallotton was attentive to the ways these leaders failed, his insights for spiritual warfare would be more incisive.

Also, Vallotton makes errors in his interpretation of passages by drawing distinctions that are not in the text. He makes the common error of drawing a strong distinction between spirit and soul (within the human person), but the biblical material neither supports this nor warrants it. Likewise, he distinguishes terms (such as a distinction between prisoner and captive in Isaiah 61:1) which betray an amateur understanding of Hebrew poetics and parallelism.

I think this book is more useful as describing one person’s experience of the spiritual battle and his personal insights into the nature of it. When it comes to Biblical interpretation I do not think Vallotton is a trustworthy guide though he does provide and interesting window on individual texts. I would recommend this book to the discerning charismatic Christian who can separate the good from the bad, truth from error. While I have my reservations about parts of this book (some of which I failed to mention here), I will likely refer back to sections.

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