“There is a danger of forgetting what one has to say while working out a clever way to say it. (103)” ~ St. Augustine, De Doctrina Christiana (On Christian Doctrine)
Infomercials have always struck me as odd. You’re watching a movie or T.V. show, and it breaks for commercials. An infomercial appears. “Aren’t you dissatisfied with that irritating shave?” it says,”What about those pesky stains you can’t get out of your shirt? Have you broken one too many dishes?” You can feel the suspense building as you recall any one of those horrors in your life – especially as you hear another glass dish shatter as it hits the tile. “But wait,” the infomercial says, “your pesky sad-sack filled life isn’t all there is. We have invented this widget to solve exactly that problem.” And then they continue to build value, savings, immediacy. The process is simple: Problem. Solution. Purchase.
When we arrive to church, the pastor asks, “Are you feeling depressed with your life?” or “Are you not feeling God’s work in your life?” The pastor, for all I know, could be right, Biblically sound, and offering advice for an audience who needs that message. But the type of transaction happening in our church is the same sort of transaction happening in an infomercial: Problem. Solution. Purchase. In the face of a modern church that has strayed from teaching the core principles of reading scripture, knowing not only to test all things but how to test all things, and meditating upon God’s word, we often fall victim to theological infomercials. And this book takes full advantage of a population susceptible, no, desiring, the theological infomercial.
We begin to cherry-pick verses to support our messages instead of cherry-picking our “messages” to fit the verses. Our will for “something more” turns the Bible into “something else”. As the late Pastor Chuck Smith once said, “If you torture the Bible long enough, it’ll tell you anything you want to hear.” We must assess a theology not on what it says it gives or upon the promises of scriptural support, nor can we accept a doctrine because it claims to come in the name of God or an Angel of light, but must do as it is written in 1 Thessalonians 5:21, to test all and to hold on to what is good. That is my first, second, third, fourth, middle, last, and the continual point I will make throughout this entire series. We cannot, as this book would surely have us do, throw out “the problem between our ears” and forfeit our God-given abilities to test what is true.
Side Point: A Treatise?
I remember sitting with in my Metaphysics tutorial at Oxford University presenting my weekly assignment when my professor interrupted me and said, “You said ‘God’ and then continued to say, ‘the concept of God’? My concept of God may or may not be what God is, so surely you do not believe they are the same thing? What are you trying to say?” There are few people in the world who are as sharp as a metaphysician (or metaphysicist, if you will) or will understand the problem in conflating the two terms, and so I will try to refrain from making responses concerning conceptual fitness in this review (Though the author does, at a later time, make a convoluted case for “realism” which will be the only coming exception).
However, there is one term right in the beginning of this book, at the end of the second paragraph of the first forward, which must be addressed. Though Pres. Jack Taylor insists on calling it one, this book is by no means a treatise. This book lacks the exhaustion, systematic presentation, or formal analysis such as found in Locke’s An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (An 800+ page essay, I might add) would bring to the table. I’m making this point now because referring to this book as a treatise at the beginning would invite a level of scrutiny (one well beyond my current theological capabilities) who’s burden would break the spine of this book.
With that, allow us to continue.
“I love…” – Forward from Jack R. Taylor, President of Dimensions Ministries (Melbourne Florida)
There are two points I would like to touch on concerning this forward: Criteria and the relationship between Primary and Secondary Reality.
After one of my friend’s Lincoln-Douglass debate round, she came up to me and said, “You were making some weird faces during the debate. Why?” And I responded, “Well, after listening to your debate, and considering your claim that your moral criteria is human flourishing, I don’t actually believe what you provided was a moral criteria. It was merely a description.” She quickly responded, “Yes it is a value.” And I replied, “How?” She said, “Because I value it.” I began to laugh so hard that I began to cry. No, it wasn’t at her, I found the equivocation of one use of the word value and another use of the word value to be a keystone of political humor.
A criteria isn’t a description, it is a metric to allow us to know when something satisfies some condition. For example, the end-zone at each end of a football field is 12 yards deep by 50 yards wide. When the football crosses over the line of the end-zone, within the 12×50 dimension, it is considered a touchdown and 6 points are scored. Likewise, a criteria is like a football end-zone but instead used for measuring the worth and relevance of arguments, or concepts, or policies. If an argument can cross the minimum line of the criteria, but also stay within it’s domain, it is considered a possibly good and relevant argument. The problem with my friend’s criteria was that while it claimed to be a criteria of sorts, it failed to provide the “ougthness”, or normative or prescriptive, dimensions that are necessary for a moral debate.(ie. The purpose of a Lincoln-Douglass debate).
Jack Taylor provides two criteria for evaluating the worthiness of a book, and there are as follows:
1) Is the life of the author consistent with the message of the book?
2) Is his (or her) ministry supportive of the declarations of the book?
I hope someone reading these two criteria would experience some intuitive “emptiness”. This feeling that while it is obviously true that these two criteria are important, there must be something more. And for those people, I would agree.
First the criteria is too vast. Mormon doctrine could be just as recommended as Buddhist or Islamic doctrine. It would be like having a football end-zone spanning half the length of the football field and that as long as a football, or soccer ball, or tennis ball, or any sort of object lands in the area, six points will be offered to that team. As long as the author lives by the precepts of the book and has some ministry (In America we often conceive of ministries as inherently religious – that’s not the case for many governments around the world) to support his or her claims, we’re golden. The criteria must be more restrictive.
And second, the criteria is inconsistent with the aims of the genre. A book that is written for advancing the Kingdom of God, helping Christians come to understand the Biblical message, should have built into its criteria something concerning scriptural support. There are none provided nor advocated. And I would even go as far as to say that none could be provided nor advocated because the orientation of this book is seemingly hostile to theological analysis. The problem, says the authors of the forwards and Bill Johnson, is “between the ears” – and that which is between the ears is the source of our theological understanding and primary way to “test what is true”.
II. Primary v. Secondary Reality (2 Cor. 4:18):
“I love this book because it points us toward primary reality in a world almost totally preoccupied with secondary reality. The reader of Scripture is aware that it ultimately defines primary reality as “unseen and eternal” while secondary reality is temporal, that is, it doesn’t last (see 2 Cor. 4:18). Bill Johnson’s beliefs, teachings, and ministry center on primary or Kingdom reality and finds that realty sufficient to change the face of “that which is seen”.”(pg.18)
Allow us to quickly unpack this paragraph into three points:
First point – there are two sorts of realities: primary and secondary. Primary reality is something that is unseen and eternal, secondary reality is something that is seen and transient.
Second point – whatever is the relationship between primary and secondary reality, we know that secondary reality can be changed by primary reality.
Third point – He makes a citation to 2 Corinthians 4:18, which reads, “as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” But, alas, read the prior verse and the verses following just after in Chapter 5. This has nothing to do with “Kingdom power” (a word which appears to be dependent upon the aims of this book) or the “life of miracles” or even, in the context that the Jack Taylor appears to be asserting (ie. a source which changes secondary reality). The verses prior are the famous, well-quoted, 2 Corinthians 4:8-9, “We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed,” and followed by the often referenced 2 Corinthians 5:8, “to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord.” Paul is speaking to the present sufferings in light of our heavenly dwelling.
But all else aside, his point boils down to a perplexing conclusion. If we were to accept the author’s distinction, and ignore any potential problems they may infer – that primary reality is that which is eternal and secondary reality as that which is transient – then what do we make of Spiritual Gifts (1 Cor. 12 lists them)? Are they things of primary reality or things of secondary reality? Allow us to read 1 Corinthians 13:8-10, when Paul writes,
8 Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part. 10 But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away.
The spiritual gifts are transient. So are they categorically things that are a part of secondary reality and thus not our focus? Or are they primary reality because they are spiritual? According to Jack Taylor’s definition they must be of secondary reality in virtue of their transient nature, but that goes directly against the grain of this book. This book is arguing that our focus should be upon primary reality and the power we have to change secondary reality through the spiritual gifts. A perplexing problem which never gets sorted.
[Soon I’ll be posting on the question, “Are the Spiritual Gifts Gone?” which will link from this article to that one because there appears to be, at least at a Theological level, a massive problem with maintaining both that the scripture is closed (ie. cannot be added to) and the acceptance that the Spiritual Gifts of Prophecy and Speaking in Tongues are still available.]
III. Problematic Premonitions
This point is getting a bit ahead of ourselves, but I would include it here for the sole purpose of allowing ourselves to see the things to come. Jack Taylor writes, “We do not seek such things but are promised that signs and wonders will follow those who believe.”[emphasis mine] or that “Kingdom prayer as the gateway to power” [emphasis mine]. These claims, as with others who have followed in the footsteps of similar teachings, provide this as a foundations to the doctrine of, “You lack healing because you lack faith.” Or, put more poignantly by a teacher from Bill Johnson’s Bethel church, “The reason you were not healed is because you allowed Satan to snatch it from you.” This is a particularly dangerous doctrine that even Christ, on several occasions, rebuked the disciples for. I’ll address these points in more detail as we continue through this review.
“Little ole me’s” – Forward by Randy Clark, Global Awakening Ministries
Randy Clark’s forward, in opposition to Jack Taylor, has less constructive argumentation but provides much room for cliche packed content. And so, I think it’s best to pull a few of those cliches and simply respond to each in turn.
I. Pie-in-the-sky theology
“The stories of healings and miracles done through the “little ole me’s” in this local church are truly amazing. This book is not about some theoretical possibility, nor some pie-in-the-sky theology, nor some rationale for the lack of power in the Church. No, instead it offers practical, tried-and-proven strategies for pushing back the kingdom of darkness and advancing the kingdom of light.” (pg. 20)
While I may not be too concerned with the stories of miracles and healings, nor even the odd assumption that calling Theology pie-in-the-sky is some form of argument against it, but his view that we need “tried-and-proven strategies for pushing back the kingdom of darkness.” Why? Where in the Bible do we receive the command to “push back the kingdom of darkness”? It is not in the Great Commission, it is not upon the lips of Christ who said both, “My kingdom is not of this world or else my followers would fight” and “you are fishers of men.” One of the big topics of this book is to introduce what is called, “Kingdom Theology” which prima facie has no biblical foundation. This lack of foundation requires them to create a comprehensive reinterpretation of Genesis, The Lord’s Prayer, and The Great Commission.
However, what’s so perplexing is that to get their doctrine off the ground they must engage in pie-in-the-sky theology. The only unfortunate consequence from their great aversion to the disciplines of theology is that they themselves end up landing in a pie-in-the-sky interpretation of Genesis, The Lord’s Prayer, and The Great Commission – running against the grain of Christ’s own words. It shifts from the orthodox position that the gospel of Christ is the salvation of mankind to the unorthodox position that the gospel of Christ is our power to confront the Kingdom of Darkness. It shifts our focus from being fishers of men to being conquers against Satan; It ultimately shifts our attention from why we are here on earth to why we are not on earth. The Gospel is the Good News and that news is for man, it is not for Satan and his kingdom.
However, quick point. Some will have read what I have just written to mean something to the effect that, “So we should not care what Hitler would be doing?” Obviously not! The difference is that we are not fighting against Hitler because of the Gospel of Christ. The Salvation of man has little to do with our response to Hitler; our response to Hitler is grounded in our moral responsibilities deriving from God’s Moral Law.
II. Key is hearing…
“Unbelief is anchored in what is visible or reasonable apart from God. It honors the natural realm as superior to the invisible…. Unbelief is faith in the inferior”; and “Faith comes by hearing… It does not say that it comes from having heard. It is the listening heart, in the present tense, that is ready for heaven’s deposit of faith…. Hearing now is a key to faith.” (pg. 20-21)
I would like to point out this passage because it is a prime example of poor argumentation. It is a series of well stated sentences, rhetorically awesome, concluding with something totally vacuous. It is this sort of reasoning, not to be too poignant, which would have made this book a quarter of it’s size. Allow me to ask a very simple question, “After reading the above paragraph, what, exactly, are we supposed to be hearing?” Better yet, allow me to ask, “What is it that you have heard?” Nothing is mentioned to answer either of those questions, but many will leave feeling as though something profound has been articulated. Don’t allow me to be the only critic, answer the questions yourselves if you may.
Note: Randy Clark may be referencing Romans 10:17, but read verse 16 and 18.Paul is speaking in the context of Isaiah and Moses. So ‘the now’ must be influenced in some ways by ‘what has already been said’. This paragraph appears to make the assertion that we must be hearing now and that now must be something different from what has already been.
III. Thoughts of the devil.
We are so entrenched in unbelief that anything contrary to this world view (the dispensationalist’s view of a weak end-time Church) is thought to be of the devil.” (pg. 20)
Margaret Thatcher, former Prime Minster of the United Kingdom, once said, “I always cheer up immensely if an attack is particularly wounding because I think, well, if they attack one personally, it means they have not a single political argument left.” We must be thorough in the arguments presented in any book we read. Whether or not you agree with Dispensationalism, the fact remains that we must still ask the much more difficult question, “Is it correct?”, and therefore devote our time to the much more difficult process of “trying to understand what the Scriptures actually say on this topic.” Simply throwing out provocative statements cannot be a basis for what we believe concerning Jesus Christ, the nature of Divine Covenants, or what the End-Times may in fact hold for us.
IV. Theological Blinders
“He forces us to see what the Scriptures actually say, instead of only seeing what our theologically correct blinders allow us to see.” (pg. 21)
St. Anslem, in his Proslogion, defined Theology as, “Fides quaerens Intellectum,” or, put another way, “Faith seeking Understanding.” If we are really to take Randy Clark’s remarks seriously, we must seek either seek theologically incorrect ways or atheological ways of interpreting scripture while possessing a faith devoid of understanding. But, as Chesterton once eloquently wrote, “For all denunciation implies a moral doctrine of some kind,” and so we must ask, “To what doctrine does the book ascribe?”
I would argue that the rest of my review will seek to understand how to answer that question in the terms that the book provides for itself – I’m simply afraid that we may not like the answers we receive.