All posts by durough

Blessed to be a witness.

Book Review: The Go-Giver: A Little Story About a Powerful Business Idea, by Bob Burg and John David Mann

The Go-GiverThe Go-Giver: A Little Story About a Powerful Business Idea by Bob Burg and John David Mann is, simply put, twisted Prosperity Gospel propaganda. The authors call it a parable, meaning they don’t know what a parable is. Containing absolutely no depth and requiring no thought (if thought is given one will quickly see through the charade), this is a contrived, poorly written, forced narrative that promotes fantastical success and results based on an “if this, then that” lie of “giving = getting.” There’s just enough truth embedded within (yes, giving is good!) to cause a plethora of folks to buy into the enormity of its fallacy. If it has caused people to have a better attitude and give more, that’s wonderful; but let’s not also buy into the lie that the end justifies the means, nor vice versa. If it caused people to believe that giving always leads to getting, then the book has served its unfortunate purpose.

Without reading the book, one may simply turn to page 123 to get the gist in its totality…or just read it here:

The Five Laws of Stratospheric Success

The Law of Value: Your true worth is determined by how much more you give in value than you take in payment.

The Law of Compensation: Your income is determined by how many people you serve and how well you serve them.

The Law of Influence: Your influence is determined by how abundantly you place other people’s interests first.

The Law of Authenticity: The most valuable gift you have to offer is yourself.

The Law of Receptivity: The key to effective giving is to stay open to receiving.

Burg and Mann make an admirable claim in the Q&A appendix: “What we’re saying is that success is the result of specific habits of action: creating value, touching people’s lives, putting others’ interests first, being real, and having the humility to stay open to receiving” (138, though page numbers are not marked in the Q&A section). What they are really saying, however, is that giving will always manifest itself in receiving more.

Since Mann is the professed Christian of the two, he took on, “Doesn’t the Bible say, ‘It’s better to give than to receive?’” His response is the result of poor exegesis and the very thing Health and Wealth Prosperity Gospel folk like to do: twist Scripture just enough to make it sound legit and yet mean something entirely different. Mann’s response:

What it says (in Acts of the Apostles) is that “it is more blessed to give than to receive.” The Greek word makarios (blessed), which is the same word used in the Eight Beatitudes…, carries these meanings: fortunate, rewarded, prosperous, rich, happy. In other words, when you focus on giving you end up more abundantly rewarded than if you had focused on receiving.

At its root, makarios means “grow larger” (like macro). When you give, you become a bigger person, in every way—more successful, more influential, more fulfilled. (145)

No, Jesus never said anyone is guaranteed success and wealth in return for giving. The blessing and reward we look forward to is not of this world; otherwise, we are no different than the rest of the world.

I was given this book to read by someone who stopped me outside a coffee shop and wondered if I was interested in doing business with online tech and social media, with which I’m already familiar, but soon discovered was trying to rope me into the World Wipe Group (World Wide Dream Builders) and Amway pyramid scheme. I certainly do not recommend the book, but I do recommend steering clear of anyone who does. Don’t get sucked in!

Book Review: Heaven on Earth: God’s Call to Community in the Book of Revelation, by Michael Battle

Heaven on EarthIn Heaven on Earth: God’s Call to Community in the Book of Revelation, Michael Battle unconvincingly attempts to harmonize the messages of Origen, Desmond Tutu, and Martin Luther King, Jr., among others, with what he refers to as John’s “speculative” (105) vision of heaven and earth in the book of Revelation. Ultimately, this is a book about universalism and a realized eschatology (60, 82) living in community in an utterly selfless way to create heaven on earth. Battle argues that heaven is not some distant place in regards to space and/or time, but is in his words “an uninhibited God” (7), “where God is present” (19), and “the joy derived from interdependent persons who adore someone greater than themselves—God” (21); however, demonstrating the inconsistency found in his work, he also says it is a place we “go to” (171) that will be “everyone’s final destination and reward” (31). While he often redefines heaven in such a way that fits his argument on any given page with no regard to inconsistencies, taken in its totality, it appears that Tutu’s Ubuntu theology, “A person is a person through other persons” (135), is really Battle’s epitome of heaven on earth. (So enamored with Tutu, Battle writes as if South Africa’s example is going to save the world, all while ignoring rampant racism therein with a flip-flop of its past racial hierarchy.)

 

ORIGEN AND UNIVERSALISM:

Heavily influenced by and in agreement with Origen’s speculation about heaven and the origin of creation found in Origen’s De principiis, Battle believes everyone always existed with God before creation and that “God has given us earth to practice heaven again” (88) after having fallen from heaven due to selfish desires—earth, according to Orgien, was basically created because there needed to be a place to land from the fall. Battle continues, “On earth we are given a soul which is the ‘sliding middle’ in which choices are made. If we wish to attain transformation back into spirit, the soul must choose communal existence as opposed to individualism” (88). Yes, we must choose community, but not for the reasons found in Origen’s speculations. Whereas Battle thinks, “[Origen’s] genius is to show us that heaven can only be found in community” (90), I think it’s more appropriate to say that heaven exists as community—it certainly may not be found in just any community.

A further point of inconsistency: If this were true—if earth was created as temporary place to practicing being better in order to get back to a state of unity with God in heaven, thereafter eliminating the need and place of earth—I’m not sure why Battle found it necessary to include the following akin to ying yang philosophy: “heaven is unintelligible apart from earth; and earth is unintelligible apart from heaven. In other words, we need both of them to know each of them” (111–112). Perhaps he finds this to be a temporary necessity?

In an endnote from chapter eleven, Battle writes, “Origen uses an illustration of a student of geometry for hierarchy of souls (Princ. 1.4.1). Death does not finally decide the fate of the soul, which may turn into a demon or an angel. This ascent and descent goes on uninterruptedly until the final apokatastasis when all creatures, even the devil, will be saved” (187, n.7). Yes, the devil/Satan being saved is the only way Origen’s speculation could possibly come to fruition, and it appears Battle believes the devil will be saved. This is, however, an enormous monkey wrench even for Origen. While De principiis certainly implies the possibility, Origen never explicitly states that Satan will be saved. When pressed, Origen only goes so far as to concede its possibility while also stating, “Even one who has lost his mind cannot say this” (see Jennifer L. Heckart, “Sympathy for the Devil? Origen and the End,” Union Seminary Quarterly Review 60, no. 3–4. 2007: 57). Pressing further, Lisa R. Holliday writes, “By considering the devil within Origen’s stance on volition and the nature of the soul, it is clear that while the devil technically retained the possibility of salvation, he did not wish to attain it, due to the degree to which he pursued his own desires” (Holliday, “Will Satan Be Saved?: Reconsidering Origen’s Theory of Volition in Peri Archon,” Vigiliae Christianae 63, no. 1. 2009:1). The fact that even the Catholic Church deemed Origen a heretic for centuries is not mentioned in Battle’s argument, nor are the weightier points of De principiis that would likely cause many readers to stop reading Battle’s work altogether. While later absolved, Origen’s teachings on this subject were not.

It is my opinion that Origen did not really believe that Satan would be saved, and found himself in quite a quandary: to fully admit Satan could be saved would contradict Scripture and would have Origin deemed a heretic, which, as already noted, eventually happened posthumously simply based on his implications; but to flatly deny the possibility of Satan’s restoration would nullify his entire argument in De principiis. (Scholars often find themselves with this sort of conflict when confronted with compelling evidence contrary to their work, as if being academically honest and changing one’s position thereby negates one’s position and ability in scholarship. To be closed to correction and change is not very academic or scholarly at all, but the academy is strange and defensive thing.)

I hope Battle would be open to criticism and evidentiary change, but the following example of how Battle simply dismisses pushback with, “In any event,” leaves me doubtful:

Realized eschatology has gained some currency among biblical scholars in the United States. These tend to base their arguments, again, on the reordering of the Gospel material which then can be made to show that Jesus was a sort of Cynic teacher of social reform. My view, however, is based more on the notion that I attribute to Care Waynick, the Episcopal bishop of Indianapolis. Bishop Waynick heard that I was writing this book and offered me this insight: “[Jesus] said repeatedly that ‘the kingdom is among you.’” A critic could easily say that neither the bishop nor I seem to be aware that the passage we are referring to is unique in the Synoptic Gospels, occurring only in Luke 17:20–21: “The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ For, in fact, the kingdom is among you [within you; entos hymon].” This passage has been much controverted, especially in the context of saying that Luke constructed his own version of realized eschatology. The sharp criticism comes: If one were to assume that Jesus made the statement in the passage and meant by it that there was no future coming of the kingdom, then how is the material that follows (Luke 17:22–37) to be read? Did Jesus also make the other, numerous, futuristic statements in the Gospels?

In any event, I am one of those people like Bishop Waynick who believe that Jesus did more than say the kingdom is among us—he actually came among us. In addition, not only did he come among us, he is still here. Those like Bishop Waynick and myself practice this presence regularly through the Eucharist and caring for the least in society. (82)

 

KINGDOM LIVING (HEAVEN ON EARTH?):

Battle rightly encourages his reader to be what many of us simply refer to as active citizens of the kingdom of God. Though not yet in its fullness, we are called to be witnesses to a real kingdom right now, not to coop our Christian identity into nationalism or focus merely on our personal salvation as if it could be disconnected from love of neighbor, which is very much a part of being a disciple of Jesus and kingdom citizen. He points out some proper concerns, such as, “We seem more eager to argue over passages of Scripture pertaining to sexuality than passages such as Matthew 5:38–45” (62), but he does tend to focus on communal care and acceptance of all people as they are to the exclusion of anything else we may find entailing a God-honoring life. The only sins Battle appears to be concerned with are racism, violence, and concern for oneself (individualism) to the exclusion of others. He certainly misconstrues the reason Jesus hung out with “sinners”:

Do not seek your personal salvation—in doing that we end up like those religious hypocrites that irritated Jesus the most. In fact, Jesus doesn’t get angry at those who seem to be most worthy of our anger—those who embezzle money (the tax collectors) and those who commit sexual sin (prostitutes and adulterers). These were Jesus’ best friends; he required from them conversion and fidelity. He became angry at the religious folk who sought only their personal salvation. (151)

Jesus wasn’t in the business of finding people deep in sin, becoming best buds, and telling them it’s all okay; he was changed lives by pointing them back to the way God intended us to be because he loved them. Nor was Jesus angry with people who wanted to be “personally saved,” though he did chastise folks for ignoring and oppressing others for selfish gain. To not be concerned about one’s relationship with God is, in fact, not honoring God.

 

CONCLUSION:

All in all, this book does not have as much to do with community in the book of Revelation as it does with an overly repetitive, argumentative soapbox against white, Western, fundamental, individualistic, liberal and conservative straw men with no introspection or self-criticism to be found. Here Battle should have listened to his own words: “Labels of conservative and liberal theologies only obfuscate arguments” (36). While reading this work was quite tedious and not at all recommended, I hope what I have read is simply the result of much frustration over the lack of love for one’s neighbor Battle sees and experiences on earth as it is now.

 

*I received a temporary digital copy for review from Westminster John Knox Press via NetGalley.

Book Review: The Berenstain Bears 5-Minute Inspirational Stories, by Stan and Jan Berenstain with Mike Berenstain

The Berenstain Bears 5-Minute Inspirational StoriesHonestly, I wasn’t the biggest fan of Berenstain books when I was a kid. Bears living in tree houses didn’t make a lot of sense, and the Bible messages always seemed a bit off. Of course, I wasn’t your average kid and wasn’t fond of being read to. I’d read something myself or not at all, so I didn’t get any further explanation beyond what I found on the pages. It’s been decades since I last read one of their books, so when I came across The Berenstain Bears 5-Minute Inspirational Stories, I thought I’d give it a shot to see if it’d be something to recommend.

As an adult, I now see the Little House on the Prairie style church, community, and particular denominational undertones, which is going to be received more easily by some than others. (If this was the case with these books when I was a child, then it makes sense why my family didn’t have Berenstain books in our home. However, we did watch the aforementioned TV show, which was easier to follow and from which I learned some interesting lessons.) The cheesy names and artwork are exactly as I remember, and the stories have the same lengthy conflict that’s wrapped up in a tidy single sentence or two. For those who with small children much less critical than I was (okay, I still am, and became an even bigger art snob—just forgive me), these stories may prove helpful when combined with guidance and further explanation.

My only real concern with this Berenstain book in particular has to do with the third story, “The Berenstain Bears Love Their Neighbors,” the Berenstain version of “The Good Samaritan” parable. The “neighbors” are stereotypical hillbilly folk—dirty clothes, clunky car, and all. Their accent and dialect are inconsistently written and the whole story left me rather uncomfortable. The fact that there’s a word missing on page 50 set aside (really, in a simple children’s read-along book), I’d still refrain from using this specific story at all. The rest I could work with.

*Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers book review bloggers program. 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: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Book Review: The Minister as Moral Theologian: Ethical Dimensions of Pastoral Leadership, by Sondra Wheeler

The Minister as Moral TheologianFor the aspiring, new, and even seasoned shepherd/pastor/preacher, I cannot recommend enough Sondra Wheeler’s The Minister as Moral Theologian: Ethical Dimensions of Pastoral Leadership. This is not a book on ethics, as some would academically approach the subject, although Wheeler does offer a brief primer on types and methods; it is an encouragement and guidebook on being ethical for those shepherding the church. Pastors are not merely prayers, preachers, and teachers; we are (ought to be!) shepherds who model the life of a disciple of Christ and guide others to do the same. This means we “walk the talk,” so to speak, and come alongside others—beginning where they are—and guide them in the same.

Life is messy and often encountered in the grey, which makes how we “do ethics” vitally important in our greater task. Regardless of how much some may want or force it to be, it’s usually not as easy as “yes or no” or “do this to fix that.” In such a small book, Wheeler helpfully discusses with much wisdom the “what, when, why, and how” of living, preaching, teaching, and counseling—or not, as the case may need be. While written in a way that often presumes a more traditional, western and liturgical church, particularly with clergy, its application is by no means strictly understood and confined therein. As a longtime pastor of smaller and home-based churches, as well as a mentor, teacher, and guide to those who come from other churches for pastoral care, I found Wheeler’s book to be an exceptionally helpful and encouraging reminder. I learned from her scholarship and wisdom, as I suspect will any reader open to Spirit of God.

Wheeler is already working on a follow-up, also to be published by Baker Academic: Sustaining Ministry: Foundations and Practices for Serving with Integrity. I look forward to reading that, too!

 

*I received a temporary, pre-published digital copy for review from Baker Academic via NetGalley.

Book Review: A Little Book for New Bible Scholars: Why and How to Study the Bible, by E. Randolph Richards & Joseph R. Dodson

A Little Book for New Bible ScholarsInspired by Helmut Thielicke’s popular publication from 1962, A Little Exercise for Young Theologians, IVP Academic (of InterVarsity Press) has been putting out lengthier books—still quick reads—in it’s A Little Book for New [X]: Why and How to Study [Y] series. Thielicke’s work is so well done in that it shouldn’t be surprising to find it being quoted in these new books. So, what’s the point in trying to replace? I’m not sure that’s necessarily the intent, though some schools and classes may decide to go that route with their book requirements and recommendations.

The latest addition to the series, A Little Book for New Bible Scholars: Why and How to Study the Bible by E. Randolph Richards and Joseph R. Dodson, is certainly not a replacement to Thielicke’s, but it is a welcome and helpful addition. Its helpful and encouraging contributions are often through narratives likely much more palatable and an easier introductory pull into the field for millennials than perhaps Thielicke’s language may be. It is also, as the title suggests, more specific to biblical studies than theology, a distinction students will (should) eventually learn. My only major criticism is on the awkward and uncomfortably forced chapter on equality wherein the authors encourage “female, black, Hispanic, and non-Western scholars to step up and do the hard work of biblical studies” (79). To be fair, it is a sincere and grace-filled attempt at inclusivity. As stated by one of the authors, “Sometimes white male scholars like me can be a jerk. (I may even have stated some things in this chapter in insensitive ways—forgive me.)” (87) That said, I would still recommend the book anyone interested in or considering academic Bible study.

 

Note: I have not yet read Kelly M. Kapic’s A Little Book for New Theologians: Why and How to Study Theology (2012), thus I am unable to speak to how his approach may or may not be different from Thielicke’s and what may or may not be gained from reading it in conjunction with others in this series.

 

*I received a temporary, unpublished digital copy for review from IVP Academic via NetGalley.