“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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“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.

“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.

“So, You Want to Be Like Christ?”: Five Sources of Mind Clutter

I’ve been reading through Chuck Swindoll’s “So, You Want to Be Like Christ? Eight Essentials to Get You There”. I’ve been using his section on prayer as we study this in our small groups on Wednesday evenings.

It is a relatively small book, numbering 188 pages. But this morning I came across an excellent chapter on simplicity. Toward the beginning of his chapter he wisely states, “Christlikeness is a journey, not a destination….” [Swindoll, 2005]

I think that we often forget that our journey is one of a lifetime. In our society our goal is efficiency, productivity, the mastering of each and every second. I am wired this way. I miss so much because I feel as those I am wasting time if I am not doing something. I can’t just sit and rock in the rocking chair. I have to read, write, plan. And while there is definitely wisdom in capturing every moment (Ephesians 5.16) there are times when we simply need to sit. Just sit and listen. 


Imagine yourself as the individual in the picture. Hear the birds chirping, the cicadas as the sing to each other, the wind rustling the leafs, and the waves lapping the shore. This is simplicity. Imagine hearing that still, small voice of God speak peace to your heart (I Kings 19.11-13, cf. Mark 1.35).

So what keeps us from this simplicity? What “clutters” our minds, as Swindoll discusses? He offers “five sources of mind-clutter common to the twenty-first century.” [Swindoll, 2005]

  1. First, most of us today say yes to far too many things. -How often do we say no? I mean simply say no? We almost think it is rude to turn down that lunch invitation, that movie request, that hang out time with a friend. But it’s okay to say no. And in order to simplify our lives, we must become more accustomed to saying no.
  2. Second, most of us do not plan time for leisure and rejuvenation. – My wife is one of the most organized individuals I have ever met. She schedules everything. And once she has made a schedule she sticks to it. I love that! I was fairly organized before we got married, but I’ve learned so much from over over the past six years from her. And one thing she schedules is down time. Now I used to think that was insane. Like, why do you need to schedule that? Don’t you just simply take a break? But the problem is that we don’t take breaks. We find more tasks to be completed, more projects that need starting, and so on. So, if you are a planner, plan time to rest.
  3. Third, most of us rarely experience the joy of accomplishment.– Swindoll references Proverbs 13.19. How true is that? When was the last time you completed a project? Finished a book? How many times have we started something only to leave it to begin another? Simplifying our lives means focusing on a given project, assignment, or desire to its completion. 
  4. Fourth, most people living in wealthy countries owe more than they can hope to repay. –This is something a vast majority of Americans struggle with, including myself. The desire for more and the ease of credit cards has helped create a society built on covetousness and greed. We work to pay bills for items we purchased to have no time to use or enjoy. Simplifying our lives means enjoying the things we have, taking time to enjoy that cup of tea, watching the sunset, or simply sitting in stillness. 
  5. Fifth, most of us fool ourselves into thinking that with out modern technology, we have simplified our lives. –Swindoll writes, “In an age when, thanks to technology, most everything requires a tiny fraction of the time it did just a century ago, we have less unoccupied time than ever!” [Swindoll, 2005] I often lament this fact. My wife and I love watching Andy Griffth, and one of the things I love about that show is the pace of life. Now certainly they were busy, and assuredly they had busy seasons of life. But in more than one episode you find Andy reading a newspaper while drinking coffee, Opee sitting in the floor playing with a toy, and Aunt Bee knitting. It seems so peaceful. Now we are all on our smart phones, multitasking between emails, texts, the latest breaking news, planning that trip to the parents, paying that electric bill, all while binge watching the popular show on Netflix. What a vast difference! And while I love many of our advances in technology, I often wonder what we have lost for the exchange of convenience

So what needs to be eliminated? How can we simplify our lives? Life is a journey. Don’t become so bogged down on the road map that you miss the amazing people, places, and perspectives you come across.

‘If You Can Keep It’, A Review

Eric Metaxas’s addresses a vital need for the hour of this country. The views that one holds of one’s own country will affect how one lives. How one lives affects how a country functions. And how a country functions determines the lives of countless others.

There is no doubt that Metaxas loves the United States of America. Almost every story is told with attention to detail, but more than that, a love of the people who helped shaped this land for over two centuries. He writes with the tone of a mother who is grieving for a wayward son. He writes in the introduction, “We have a charge to keep. This book is about seeing that we understand this again—and that we keep that charge, that republic, that glorious promise.” [Eric Metaxas, If You Can Keep It: The Forgotten Promise of American Liberty (New York, Penguin: 2016), 15]

His book reads as if he is sitting across from you, briefly taking sips of steaming coffee before continuing his discussion about the country he loves. He tells you of stories about many men and women who have stood firm in the face of unsurmountable difficulties, who forged ahead on uncertain and challenging roads, and who made incredibly tough decisions. From great men like Abraham Lincoln to Martin Luther King Jr., Eric Metaxas draws on an even greater idea, that of self-government. In fact, more than the individuals he addresses, Metaxas’s focus is on the basis of the greatness of this country and the wild requirements to maintain such a place.

The book encourages the reeducation of Americans, whether they are Jewish or Muslim, whether agnostic of atheist. He draws on personal experience and history from America to help create a hunger for the rich diversity that is the United States.

One drawback is the lack of citations. There are only eight notes, and of those only four are citations. If one is familiar with the writings of Metaxas, particularly of his historical biographies, one may feel disappointed. However, it is more of a manifesto for a revival of love for America. So it suits his purpose to provide a more readable and less dense work.

Eric Metaxas is a Christian, so it should not come as a surprise that his work is filled with Scripture and references to accounts of the life of Jesus. For some this may be an issue, particularly to those who tend to hold negative views of religion. But it is written from a neighborly perspective, and not as one who is simply speaking to one to make a proselyte.

If you would like to know more about America, this is a great start. Addressing everything from our beauty to our warts, Metaxas presents a magnificent view of the United States. If you have lived in this country for long, then it is more than likely that you have ill-feelings toward this nation. Metaxas’s work is a wonderful reminder of the genesis of America, a birds-eye view of arguably the greatest nation in the history of civilization.

Purchase your copy now!