Posts by bobbyhowell23

I am a husband, father, follower of Jesus, and aspiring theologian, academic, and spiritualist. My reading habits are all over the place, as are my tastes in music and entertainment. I love helping people, so I pray that my insights will be profitable for you.

“The Gospel of Self: How Jesus Joined the GOP”: A Review

The Gospel of Self: How Jesus Joined the GOP by Terry Heaton is an interesting, self-reflective book. To be honest, upon seeing the title I was not sure what to expect from Mr. Heaton’s work. In a short summary, it is the walkthrough of Mr. Heaton’s time working with Pat Robertson and CBN, covering how the motives of Mr. Robertson and CBN eschewed the lines between legality and truth, adherence to love for neighbors and the pushing of an agenda. Ultimately, it is a memoir of Mr. Heaton’s journey to a more open, emergent faith.

Rather than walking through the book, I want to present my thoughts on different aspects of the work. It may be confusing, but as this is the way I digested the book, I wish to be consistent.

At times, it is difficult to follow the book. It roughly follows a timeline of Mr. Heaton’s time with CBN and Mr. Robertson. However, interwoven throughout the work are “soapbox” stands, political views, and personal issues with both Mr. Robertson and CBN. Unfortunately, Mr. Heaton confuses conservative politics with the actions of a few, presents his arguments as the best, and then leaves the reader with the only conclusion that anything less than a leftist, liberal politic is following a gospel of self.

For example, Mr. Heaton opens his first chapter with these words, “The evangelist’s message has always been self-centered, for it preaches the gospel as a means to saving one’s own ass from eternal hellfire and damnation in the afterlife. Evangelical Christianity has refined the message over the years and turned it today into the means for blessings in this life as well.” (Heaton, 2017) Mr. Heaton is illustrating a failure to grasp the biblical Gospel. It is not a means of “saving one’s own ass” but of God intervening to deliver individuals from death in trespasses and sins to life (see Ephesians 2:1-10). Later in the book his asks, “Was I naïve, because I was such a novice in the faith?” (Heaton, 2017) Yes Mr. Heaton, you were, for the views you present in your work are not biblical Christianity. Furthermore, Mr. Heaton attaches his hatred for conservative views (politically, economically, etc.) by attempting to apply the “blessings in this life” with those views and stances of conservatism.

Let me say that Terry Heaton has a point. This aspect of his book should be eye opening to those who claim to be Christians but do not go to church, do not believe the Gospel, and fail to live the Christian life. Instead, they find an avenue that furthers their greed and personal comfort and cloaks it with the name Christian. Mr. Heaton’s book does an excellent job of this. He acknowledges, “We presented as Biblical mandates or “laws” economic views that catered to the haves of culture, teaching that being one of the haves was available for everybody.” (Heaton, 2017) The problem with Mr. Heaton’s work, however, is a failure to distinguish individuals who proclaim a prosperity gospel rather than the true Gospel. Additionally, his hatred for conservatism belies an ignorance of how the economy works, basic constitutionalism, and how balanced Christianity is in light of both conservative and liberal views. He laments, “There is no zeal quite like that of religious zeal, for it comes with blinders to alternative views of reality.” (Heaton, 2017) Is this not what Mr. Heaton is doing? If you read the book, I believe you will come to that conclusion.

In his condemnation of the politics of Mr. Trump (see pages 7-13) he fails to exhibit grace in reaching out to others (see pages 38-39). He refers to the viewers of his programs as “ignorant, polyester-wearing, Bible-thumping morons.” (Heaton, 2017)

The chapter on The Shadow Government, 1984-1985 was highly interesting. I would like to say I am shocked about the accusations, but Christians, particularly those who are most likely not Christians, it is no surprise.

Finally, the last chapter is an appeal to an emergent view of Christianity. The emergent church movement is a joke. The absence of biblical basis is ridiculous. The movement saps the foundation and material of Christianity from the faith and leaves nothing but a blubbery mess of confusion and damnation.

Who should read this book? I think it would be helpful for individuals claiming to be Christians and hyper-conservative. It may help open your eyes to your own consistencies. For those on the left, I recommend reading this to see the spirit in which some of your own arguments come. Both sides have much to learn from each other. One last recommendation: do not read this book for any information about the Scriptures, God, or the Gospel. It is a failure for this.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255.

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Guided by Gurnall

It has been a while since last we visited Gurnall’s exposition on Ephesians 6:10-20.

You can check out the previous posts here and here.

We pick up in verse ten, where Paul writes, “Be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might.”

We are now on page 25 of Gurnall’s work, and an incredible thought came from his pen. He is working with “An amplification of the direction, ‘and in the power of his might’”. (Gurnall, 24) His goal is to present several doctrinal implications and their respective outflow in the life of the believer. It is wonderful. In his exposition, however, he develops an idea that I shall reproduce in its entirety:

As a father in rugged way gives his child his arm to lay old by, so doth God usually reach forth his almighty power for his saints to exercise their faith on, [as He did for] Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, whose faith God tried above most of his saints before or since, for not one of those great things which were promised to them did they live to see performed in their days. And how doth God make known himself to them for their support, but by displaying this attribute? ‘I appeared unto Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, by the name of God Almighty,’ Ex. vi. 3.This was all they had to keep house with all their days: with which they lived comfortably, and died triumphantly, bequeathing the promise to their children, not doubting, because God Almighty had promised, of the performance. (Gurnall, 25)

Whoa! I suggest you read and reread that again. Though the language is archaic, its point is nonetheless potent. These men lived incredible lives of faith on the Word of God. How wonderfully limited this Word was! And yet, the faith was not in the amount or clarity of words, but in the One Who is the Word. I was gripped by two thoughts:

  1. If these men were able to accept the revelation given by God, though limited in comparison to today, how can I speak otherwise.By this I mean, how can I question God with the vast amount of revelation we have in the Scriptures? Though by human nature I may seek more knowledge, greater clarification, or understanding to God’s work in the world, this should never leave me frustrated or angry with God. I must rejoice in the vast amount of revelation that I so often take for granted.
  2. Secondly, do I enjoy the blessings of God more than the God of the blessings? I think this happens to everyone. It is easy to enjoy the creaturely blessings with which God blesses us. While working through Gurnall’s work I have also been reading Ephesians almost daily. The opening paragraph speaks of the spiritual blessings believers have in Christ. Paul, however, opens with the focus on God. He writes, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ…” (Ephesians 1:3, ESV) God, let my focus remain on You and You alone!

I close with the words of a prayer titled Longings After God, from Banner of Truth’s Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions.

My Dear Lord,

I can but tell thee that thou knowest

               I long for nothing by thyself

               Nothing but holiness

               Nothing but union with thy will.

Thou has given me these desires,

               And thou alone canst give me the thing desired.

My soul longs for communion with thee,

               For mortification of indwelling corruption,

                              Especially spiritual pride.

How precious it is

               To have a tender sense and clear apprehension

                              Of the mystery of godliness,

                              Of true holiness!

What a blessedness to be like thee

               As much as it is possible for a creature to be like its creator!

Lord, give me more of thy likeness;

Enlarge my soul to contain fullness of holiness:

Engage me to live more for thee.

Help me to be less pleased with my spiritual experiences,

               And when I feel at ease after sweet communings,

               Teach me it is far too little I know and do.

Blessed Lord,

               Let me climb up near to thee,

               And love, and long, and plead, and wrestle with them

               And pant for deliverance from the body of sin,

               For my heart is wandering and lifeless,

               And my soul mourns to think

                              It should ever lose sight of its beloved.

Wrap my life in divine love,

               And keep me ever desiring thee,

Always humble and resigned to thy will,

               More fixed on thyself,

               That I may be more fitted for doing and suffering.

 

“Mind Your Life” A Review

Mind Your Life

Mind Your Life: How Mindfulness Can Build Resilience and Reveal Your Extraordinary was a challenging read. Not because of the depth of the material or the inclusion of verbose vocabulary. Rather, it was difficult because I have zero experience with mindfulness.

The book is largely based off the work of Shinzen Young, a fact that Meg Salter discusses in her special recognition. I will provide an overview of the book and then my final thoughts.

The book does an excellent job weaving the personal stories of the author (Meg Salter) and others throughout the chapters. She begins with the basics (the third chapter Changes to Brain and Body and develops the key concepts of mindfulness. She defines it as “learning to pay attention to what’s happening in the present moment in the mind, body and external environment.” (Salter, 20) The book flairs when Salter discusses the practical applications of mindfulness, beginning with chapter seven and ending with chapter eleven. I really appreciate how practical the book is. I find books addressing similar topics to be woefully lacking in these life-changing ways.

I mentioned before, but I really enjoy the life stories of both the author and various individuals. It gives a real-life feel to the book. One can read of the benefits mindfulness has had with a recovering PTSD individual to people struggling to survive in life.

With all of this said, there are limits to what mindfulness can achieve. I think the religious and cultural barriers present difficulties with the general understanding of mindfulness. Simply paying attention to one’s “happening in the present moment” will not be a fix-all to every problem we face. Salter acknowledges this on page 6, but then goes on to suggest a different form of mindfulness will suffice.

It was certainly a challenging read, but one that I do not see as being helpful for my current stage in life. However, you may find it to be the opposite.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255.

Guided by Gurnall

We continue our guided tour through Ephesians 6:10-20 with William Gurnall. I have been blessed, encouraged, and convicted by Gurnall’s exposition. I’m only 17 pages in!

William Gurnall wrote this about Jesus, encouraging believers to “be strong in the Lord and the power of His might.”

“For prowess, none to compare with him: he never turned his head from danger: no, not when hell’s malice and heaven’s justice appeared in field against him; knowing all that should come upon him, [he] went forth and said, ‘Whom seek ye?’ Jn. xviii. 4. For success insuperable: he never lost battle even when he lost his life: he won the field, carrying the spoils thereof in the triumphant chariot of his ascension, to heaven with him: where he makes an open show of them to the unspeakable joy of saints and angels.” (16-17)

These are so powerful! I especially love, “when hell’s malice and heaven’s justice appeared in field against him; knowing all that should come upon him, [he] went forth and said, ‘Whom seek ye?’ Jn. xviii. 4.” Our Savior, the Captain of our faith (Hebrews 2:10), is truly the Mighty God.

Guided by Gurnall

This initial post will be an ongoing project as I work my way through William Gurnall’s The Christian in Complete Armour, published by Banner of Truth.

This series of sermons comes from Ephesians 6:10-20.

In one of his dedications he writes, “The subject of the treatise is solemn; A War between the Saint and Satan, and that so bloody a one, that the cruelest which was ever fought by men will be found but sport and child’s play to this. It is a spiritual war that you shall read of; and that not a history of what was fought many ages past and is now over, but of what is now doing—the tragedy is at present acting—and that not at the furthest end of the world, but what concerns thee and every one that reads it. The stage whereon this war is fought is every man’s own soul. Here is no neuter in this war. The whole world is engaged in the quarrel, either for God against Satan, or for Satan against God.” (emphasis his, Gurnall, v)

With these solemn, weighty words, I was eager to engage! What depths of the Scriptures has Gurnall dove that will draw strength for me in this war? It only took a few pages into the very first verse (Ephesians 6:10) before Gurnall began to tune my heart to the power of God’s Word.

For this first guide, I shall take Gurnall’s first point, namely “The Christian is to proclaim and prosecute an irreconcilable war against his bosom sins; those sins which have lain nearest his heart, must now be trampled under his feet.” (emphasis his, Gurnall, 13)

He goes on to write, “So David, ‘I have kept myself from iniquity.’ Now what courage and resolution does this require?” (Gurnall, 13) He then uses Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Isaac as unable to equal the power our “bosom sins” hold over us, how desperate and difficult the task truly is. He passionately cries, “Yet, what was that to this? Soul, take thy lust, thy only list, which is the child of thy dearest love, thy Isaac, the sin which has caused most joy and laughed, from which thou hast promised thyself the greatest return of pleasure or profit; as ever thou lookest to see my face with comfort, lay hands on it and offer it up: pour out the blood of it before me; run the sacrificing knife of mortification into the very heart of it; and this freely, joyfully, for it is no pleasing sacrifice that is offered with a countenance cast down—and all this now before thou hast one embrace more from it. Truly this is a hard chapter, flesh and blood cannot bear this saying; our lust will not lie so patiently on the altar, as Isaac, or as a ‘Lamb that is brought to the slaughter which was dumb,’ but will roar and shriek; yea, even shake and rend the heart with its hideous outcries.” (Gurnall, 13)

Paul opens this section of the Christian and the war by encouraging, “Finally, be strong in the Lord…” (Ephesians 6:10, ESV) Gurnall’s exhortation is drawn from this one verse. Actually, it is the idea found in “be strong”. He denotes this doctrine as “The Christian of all men needs courage and resolution.”

I sat in my living room floor floored. I have read that verse dozens of times, and never has its power and implications hit me as hard as when exposited by this Puritan preacher.

Have you seen the seriousness of the battle at hand? Do you see the need for courage in God for this fight? Do you see how vicious, destruction, and unrelenting the enemy of sin is to your soul? I have not felt the weight of it until now. And lest you leave this initial post discouraged at how great the battle is and how malevolent our inner-enemy is, remember from Whom our strength comes: it is the God who, when He speaks, things happen (Genesis 1:3), it is the God at whose presence the whole earth trembles (Psalm 33:8; 114:7), it is the God who made an open show of our dastardly enemies (Colossians 2:15). Take courage, be strong in the Lord, and fight!

John Owen famously preached, “Be killing sin or it will be killing you.” (On the Mortification of Sin) Brothers and sisters, let us be killing sin.

“Seven Stories”: A Review

“Seven Stories”: A Review

I recently received a copy of Anthony Bartlett’s Seven Stories: How to Study and Teach the Nonviolent Bible from SpeakEasy. I am going to divide my review into different stages: aesthetic appeal, content, and overall thoughts.

Aesthetic Appeal

The book itself is quite beautiful. The print is crisp and contrasts well with the predominately-white background. Even when other colors are used (from blue to green) the print is easily read and pleasing to the eyes.

The paper itself feels good to the touch. I enjoy printed books, and they are more enjoyable when the quality of the materials is high. The binding is solid, allowing me to bend the pages in order to lay flat on my desk. Additionally the pictures, charts, and inserts are well designed. They are simple and cover the point well.

The only negative aspect of the book itself is the size. It is designed (in part) to be used as a textbook. Bartlett notes on page 14, “Alternatively, Seven Stories can be teacher-led, where at least one individual with background in the study of scripture and theology will undertake to lead a group of students through the material.” While being a perfect size for a textbook, it does prevent easy transportation. Thus, I was limited in where I could bring the book. Overall, I’d give it a 9 out of 10 on design and quality of materials.

Content

To understand where the book is coming from simply read “About the Author.” I had not previously heard of Dr. Bartlett, I had no idea what to expect. The title hinted at the content, but at times authors use appealing titles to draw in readers.

To sum it up (simply, so I beg your pardon!) he is writing for an emergent viewpoint. There is now a great deal of literature on this topic, and I encourage you to read through the vast amounts of materials according to your desire and time. This will provide a better framework for understanding Bartlett’s concepts and views.

Basically, it is a denial of biblical, orthodox Christianity in favor of a less-violent, less-offensive religion and view of God. In his introduction he develops the framework of the book, covering the different stories with accompanying lessons.

In the chapter “Method” he attempts to provide a brief treatment of the various methods of interpreting Scripture. He then presents his own method (modified and heavily relied on the work of René Girard) as the preferable method for understanding God as He truly is.

From this point he addresses each story, covering the biblical history and focusing on different issues or topics surrounding the story. For example, in his story on “Victim to Vindication” (or story 5). He develops the idea of “the way in which the victim’s vindication leads to forgiveness.” (Bartlett, 148) This, of course, builds off the idea of a bloodless faith that is examined in more details in stories two and three. At Bartlett notes, “Job is the indisputable case, the locus classicus, of the innocent victim who is vindicated.” (Bartlett, 148) He understands Job as vindicated from God (see pages 151-152). It is this different understanding of the account of Job that illustrates Bartlett’s method of interpretation and its effect on the understanding of Scripture.

On a different note, I love Bartlett’s ending for each lesson. In his story “The Temple and its Destruction” (pages 172-193), at the end of lesson one he includes the following: lesson questions, personal reflection, glossary, resources/background reading, and cultural references.

I found these to be quite fascinating, and something that, should I ever have the privilege of writing a book, would love to include in my work. The lesson questions are very direct and cover the materials addressed. The personal reflection takes the materials presented and personalizes them. The questions are developed around different aspects of the lesson but allow one to personalize them. The glossary provides the reader with excellent definitions of key terms (as a bonus, the terms and others can be found on pages 227-232). The resources/background reading provides the more scholarly student with additional materials that are similar. Finally, and perhaps most interestingly, the cultural references. Bartlett connects the teachings of the stories (or lessons) with various media in culture. For example, in lesson one of “The Temple and its Destruction,” Bartlett cites C. S. Lewis’ book Till We Have Faces, A Myth Retold “for descriptions of the terror and power of the sacrificial holy.” (Bartlett, 179)

 

Overall Thoughts

As a Christian adhering to the orthodox creeds and faith, I found myself frustrated working through Bartlett’s book. Stemming from his method of hermeneutics, his understanding of Scripture simply brushes aside biblical doctrine, accounts, and theology to present a god in whom he can believe.

It is nothing new. Brian Mclaren, Rob Bell, and others have already attempted to present logical and scholarly reasons for rejecting the orthodox views of Scripture. Though at times he presents some interesting views, holistically it is unfortunate.

If you enjoy reading and being challenged on your biblical views, check it out.

If you do not believe in God as understood throughout centuries of Church history, then you will enjoy Bartlett’s reinterpretation.

 

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255.

Preach: The Density of Sermons

In Mark Dever’s and Greg Gilbert’s book Preach: Theology Meets Practice, they devote a chapter to “Delivering the Sermon.” Overall the book is simply yet very helpful. This chapter, particularly, was helpful to me.

Under the heading “The Density of Sermons” the authors write, “The point isn’t for your congregation to be able to recall, like human Google searches, every sentence or even every point you made. The point is for the Word to shape their hearts and minds and wills, and that can happen even if they don’t remember the precise words or points you spoke.” (Preach, 124)

This was so helpful to me, because I tend to get discouraged when people don’t remember what I preached about. I read Andy Stanley’s and Lane Jones’ book Communicating to Change and was left with the impression that if people don’t remember the sermon then I have failed as a preacher. I know that was not their point, but that is how I felt.

With that being said, I hope this might help some of my preacher friends.