Book Review

Thoughts From The Normal Christian Life by Watchman Nee

I’ve been reading The Normal Christian Life by Watchman Nee lately. It is a very readable commentary of the book of Romans, though it is not intended to be comprehensive nor verse-by-verse. Nee has practical illustrations which make biblical principles of living the Christian life come alive. After each illustration (of which some people complain are too numerous in Nee’s writings) I sit back and think, “why haven’t I seen the simplicity of that before?”

To give you a taste of the book, here are a few passages that stood out to me as I read chapter 8 today. The chapter is about the indwelling and empowering on the Holy Spirit in the life of a believer.

Because the Lord Jesus died on the cross, I have received forgiveness of sins; because the Lord Jesus rose from the dead, I have received new life; because the Lord Jesus has been exalted to the right hand of the Father, I have received the outpoured Spirit. All is because of Him; nothing is because of me. Remission of sins is not based on human merit, but on the Lord’s crucifixion; regeneration is not based on human merit, but on the Lord’s resurrection; and the enduement of the Spirit is not based on human merit, but on the Lord’s exaltation. The Holy Spirit has not been poured out on you and me to prove how great we are, but to prove the greatness of the Son of God.

Book cover, The Normal Christian LifeSome time ago a young man, who had only been a Christian for five weeks and who had formerly been violently opposed to the Gospel, attended a series of meetings which I was addressing in Shanghai. At the close of one in which I was speaking on the above lines [Acts 2:32-36], he went home and began to pray earnestly, “Lord, I do want the power of the Holy Spirit. Seeing Thou hast now been glorified, wilt Thou not now pour out Thy Spirit upon me?” Then he corrected himself: “Oh no, Lord, that’s all wrong!” and began to pray again, “Lord Jesus, we are in a life-partnership, Thou and I, and the Father has promised us two things—glory for Thee and the Spirit for me. Thou, Lord hast received they glory; therefore it is unthinkable that I have not received the Spirit. Lord, I praise Thee! Thou hast already received the glory, and I have already received the Spirit.” From that day the power of the Spirit was consciously upon him.

As soon as we see the Lord Jesus on the cross, we know our sins are forgiven; and as soon as we see the Lord Jesus on the throne, we know the Holy Spirit has been poured out upon us. The basis upon which we receive the enduement of the Holy Spirit is not our praying and fasting and waiting, but the exaltation of Christ. Those who emphasize tarrying and hold “tarrying meetings” only mislead us, for the gift is not for the “favored few” but for all, because it is not given on the ground of what we are at all, but of what Christ is.

In the same way, you can pray and wait for years and never experience the Spirit’s power; but when you cease to plead with the Lord to pour out His Spirit upon you, and when instead you trustfully praise Him that the Spirit has been poured out because the Lord Jesus has been glorified, you will find that your problem is solved. Praise God!

It is wonderful to know that my relationship with God does not depend on my ability. Rather, the benefits He has promised are mine because of His faithfulness.

This is the first Watchman Nee book that I’ve read (as far as I remember). I have been pleased with his ability to explain things in a simple manner. You can find many more Watchman Nee titles at the Amazon author page for him.

[Some of the word capitalizations have been changed in the quotes above to reflect my preference capitalizing pronouns for deity and not capitalizing certain nouns.]

Book Review

Book Review: Situation Ethics by Joseph Fletcher

As a personal quest to understand the field of ethics better, I picked up the book Situation Ethics by Joseph Fletcher at a local college library. This book seems to be the definitive guide on the matter of situation ethics as it began to infiltrate religious circles.

From everything I have been able to read about Joseph Fletcher and reading his book, I have determined that though he may have been a religious man, he certainly does not seem to have had a personal relationship with God. When he wrote this book in the late 1960s he was an Episcopal priest. He died a humanist and athiest. In the book it looks as though he believed Christianity was a good belief system around which to base one’s life, but was not necessarily something that changed his life.

book cover for Situation Ethics

The word legalist has been defined by different groups for different purposes. For Fletcher this would mean someone who holds to a set of laws and principles for moral decisions. By his definition I am a legalist. I believe that God has given us a book containing His absolute law and that there are many Bible principles we can use to guide our life and decisions.

Fletcher believes there is no law but love. He is talking about agape love. The type of love God has for mankind and that we should have for one another. The problem I have with his concept of love being the only guiding principle and that we each have to make the decision of what the most loving thing to do in any given situation is that it is completely arbitrary. Whatever you decide is the most loving thing in your situation is right according to Fletcher. In the book, and in life, he followed his beliefs to their only logical conclusion. He accepted the concept of abortion for any reason and the right to die (even committing suicide) if you decided it was the most loving thing to do. This would be morally acceptable and obligatory using the conclusions drawn in his book.

I cannot, as one who loves God and His Word, accept what Fletcher taught in Situation Ethics.

[Situation ethics] holds flatly that there is only one principle, love, without any prefabricated recipes for what it means in practice, and that all other so-called principles or maxims are relative to particular, concrete situations! If it has any rules, they are only rules of thumb. pg. 36

In other words, there are no absolutes. Nothing else in the Bible matters when a decision is being made: no laws, no commandments, no biblical principles.

Writing about the last five of the Ten Commandments he says:

But situation ethics has good reason to hold it as a duty in some situations to break them, any or all of them. We would be better advised and better off to drop the legalist’s love of law, and accept only the law of love. pg. 74

He sets forth 6 propositions that help the situationist make decisions. Look at these and see if they fit with a holy God who has given a law that brings us to an understanding of grace.

  1. Only one ‘thing’ is intrinsically good; namely, love: nothing else at all.
  2. The ruling norm of Christian decision is love: nothing else.
  3. Love and justice are the same, for justice is love distributed, nothing else.
  4. Love wills the neighbor’s good whether we like him or not.
  5. Only the end justifies the means; nothing else.
  6. Love’s decisions are made situationally, not prescriptively.

God has given us a law to follow. That is His Word–the Bible. And the Bible does speak to the point that love should be a guiding principle. It is found in Romans 13:10 “Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.” In other words, love is doing what is right according to God’s laws. Fletcher says that love is doing what you personally decide is right without regard to any prescriptive laws. I must reject that.

It is unfortunate that the book is so expensive (currently $23 at Amazon). If you can get a copy at a library it would be worth reading if you are a student of ethics. Go into it with an understanding that Fletcher claimed to be a Christian at the time he wrote this book, however, he was not a Christian in the sense that he had a personal relationship with God and wanted to be obedient to the Word of God.

Book Review

Book Review: George Washington Carver by John Perry

George Washington Carver book coverLike most kids growing up in a Christian school I had to read a little bit about George Washington Carver as part of my education. However it has been many years since I read about this great scientist and Christian. I was excited for the opportunity to read about Dr. Carver again. Thomas Nelson has a new series called the Christian Encounters Series in which they have biographies of great Christians of the past. I had not read any of these books before, but will likely read more based on this title.

This biography focused on two things that shed some interesting light on the man and the time period. First was his relationship with Booker T. Washington. The second was his view of the scientific method. With those two items the author wove in some of the socio-political environment that surrounded the time.

Booker T. Washington was the man who started the great school in Tuscaloosa, Alabama where Dr. Carver spent the majority of his career as a teacher and researcher. While these two men worked with each other for many years, they had a rough personal relationship. They both had common goals, but their approach was completely different on how to achieve those goals. This brought tension in their day-to-day work environment. It seemed Carver tendered his resignation a couple of times each year while Washington was still alive. Washington never accepted the resignation letter because he knew that he was completely dependent on Carver and what he added to the school. They had a mutual respect for one another and publicly spoke highly of the other man. However, privately they seemed to struggle and were constantly frustrated with the actions of the other.

Carver believed that God revealed to him what facets of research he should be engaged in. Because of this, he did not have any regard for the scientific method (the idea that a scientist would document each variable in his research so that he could know what did and did not produce the results that were seen). Since Carver did not take exhaustive notes of his research, he had to rely on intuition and past experience to know what caused the results. This was not because of laziness on his part. He honestly believed that if one was in tune with God and His leading, then God would reveal and guide the scientist to the right answers. Carver understood the scientific method, but he believed it was an un-Christian way to do research.

For all the good points Dr. Carver had, he seemed to be overly focused on recognition for his accomplishments. He would rather have someone publicly recognize his achievements as opposed to give him large sums of money for his work. This need for public recognition was much of what caused the tension between him and Washington. Money meant nothing to him. In fact, he saved virtually every dollar he earned and gave it away to different causes towards the end of his life.

The book is well written and moves the story along. While not everyone is looking for a quick read, I personally like an overview-type biography. This book is just 176 pages. Though I have not read any books by John Perry, I am interested in other books he has written in the Christian Encounters Series.

George Washington Carver by John Perry. Thomas Nelson 2011.

[Disclosure: I received a free review copy of this book.]

Book Review

Review: The Book of Missionary Heroes

The Book of Missionary Heroes was one I saw recently offered on the Kindle for free. I was surprised to find in it a very well written book. The vast majority of the missionary stories were new to me. Most of the missionaries mentioned were men and women I had never heard of either. Because of this, it was not a re-telling of many familiar tales. It was an encouraging timeline of how the Gospel has propagated throughout the world.

Book Cover: The Book of Missionary HeroesThe author, Basil Mathews, starts by telling the story of the Apostle Paul and how he shared the Gospel with cities and countries near and far. However, the story of Jesus did not stop with the distance Paul could carry the message. It continued to spread to western Europe and eventually around the globe. This book uses the premise of a relay team carrying the baton from one point to another. The author traces the baton of the Gospel throughout history by giving snapshots in time of how the baton was taken from continent to continent and little islands in between.

It is not an unbroken chain from person to person and country to country, but this book gives the reader a sense of how the Gospel spread from one location to another. Where he does connect the links it is amazing to see how God brought people together at one time in their lives which ignited a greater passion for sharing the good news with the world.

I don’t know the history of all the missionaries mentioned in the book. It seems that some would not be considered Baptist (as I am), or even Baptistic. The love of God and the truth of the Gospel is shared nonetheless.

Each story is relatively short (about 10 pages per chapter in the print book). There are 28 chapters which each containing a story. Some stories are continuations of the previous chapter, yet all the chapters stand alone in their content. These would be great stories to read for a mission group in church.

You can get the Kindle version for free. The version for the Nook is $0.99. But the print version is over $20! Time to buy that ebook reader you have been considering. You can also get the Kindle software for smartphones or for reading books on your computer screen.

The Book of Missionary Heroes is worth the effort to read. You will be encouraged as to how God used various people to share His story with the world.

Book Review

God Has a Wonderful Plan for Your Life Review

I was first introduced to Ray Comfort and his ministry by a fellow missionary in Mexico. We watched some of the videos that are at his website and became excited when looking at what Mr. Comfort had to say concerning witnessing. Seeing the way personal evangelism has been done and taught over the last several years, it is no wonder that we have people in churches who have no assurance of their salvation, or who probably aren’t even saved. Of course I have no way of passing judgement on anyone concerning their salvation—nor would I want to.

This little book, God Has a Wonderful Plan for Your Life, is nothing new if you have read some of Mr. Comfort’s other books. But what he does in this book is focus on the core of why presenting only the good news of the Gospel without the conviction of the law is causing false conversions.

This book is not as  much about how to present the Gospel, but why you should do it using the law of God. When a person never understands that they are a guilty sinner before a just and holy God, they will never understand the good news that Jesus offers. This causes them to want salvation for the wrong reasons. They are told that: God loves them and God wants them to be happy. Salvation can give them a full and joyful life.* The problem is that when they have trouble in their lives and the joy is gone, they no longer want the salvation that goes along with it. Could they have been saved in the first place with that perspective on God and His provision? Again, I can’t know the answer to that, but I would venture to guess that they only came to Christ for the benefits, not the fact that they needed a Savior. And in that case, I would say they were never saved.

There is one illustration the author uses that I think sums up his whole point. The example relates to someone having a speeding ticked paid for them. A man comes up to a stranger and tells him that someone paid a $25,000 traffic ticket for the second person. The first person is excited that he can share the good news with the second guy. However, the second guy is offended that the claim is being made that he has supposedly broken the law in such a heinous way. This man has no recollection of committing such a crime. Instead of the man accepting the good news, he sees it as someone trying to publicly ridicule him.

However, if the first man approached the second man differently, the outcome would be different. The first man should explain to the second man that he has broken the law—help him understand that an offense has been committed. The explanation is that the police recorded the man driving 50 MPH through a neighborhood that was zoned for 15 MPH. The reason for the strict speed limit is that there is a blind child who lives in the area. The first man can bring proof from the judge stating that the offender was in that neighborhood at a certain time on a certain day. He would help the man to realize that he really was breaking the law. For his offense the man owed a $25,000 fine, or imprisonment. Now that the man understands he is guilty, it is an appropriate time to tell him the good news. The good news being that the fine was paid by someone else. At this point, the man who was guilty can see his need for someone to pay the penalty for him. He also becomes grateful to the person paying the fine. He is not offended, rather he is humbled because of what someone else has done on his behalf.

When we present the Gospel to others, we should start by helping them understand that they have broken God’s laws and are guilty. This can be done in a loving way, but it still needs to be done. The Bible repeatedly states that we understand our need for grace because the law has brought us to that point. Too many people are trying to preach grace without teaching the law. You end up with people claiming a Savior out of a desire to be happy rather than an understanding of their spiritual need.

This little 128-page book is full of guidance on why we need to consider a change in the way we present the Gospel.

At the Living Waters website (Ray Comfort’s ministry), they are giving away the book for the price of shipping. You are limited to 1 per customer and they don’t indicate how long the book will be available for free. They also offer a case of 48 books for $48. If you are interested in more than one book, but not 48 you can pick them up for $5 each at the website. Amazon sells them for $9.

When you are at the Living Waters website, take some time to read through their materials and watch some of the videos. They are well produced and I think it will be a blessing to you.

UPDATE: I found a new website they set up for this book. It gives the details of getting the book for free as well as other features. The book is available as a PDF and as an audio book that you can listen to at the website or download and put on your MP3 player.

*It is true that God loves people and can give them joy, but that is not what brings them to see their need of a Savior. These are things we experience after salvation. Salvation doesn’t come because we think that adding God to our lives will give us joy. Salvation is a result of humbling ourselves before a holy God in repentance for the wickedness of our sins.