Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Review: Authority in Prayer: Praying with Power and Purpose

Authority in Prayer: Praying with Power and Purpose
by Dutch Sheets
Bethany House
ISBN: 978-0-7642-1173-7
US $15.99

Over the ages, there has been much confusion about “authority” in the Christian church. For many denominations like Roman Catholicism, it implies human hierarchy. For some churches, the word  “authority” conjures up ideas of Apostolic Succession. The author of this book is writing about the word for a charismatic, full-gospel, and pentecostal readership. Here the meaning described the Christian believer’s authority over a particular sphere God has given him.

But there is still not a general consensus about how much authority the believer has. Generally speaking, these spheres of authority include authority over certain kinds of physical and mental states such as disease and the power of sin; authority over demons, and authority over certain groups such as family, church, geographic regions.

Dutch Sheets has written a book which shows the Biblical reasons for his belief about authority in prayer. He describes the purpose of God in creating Man, and what was lost when the First Adam fell. There are doctrinal definitions of authority versus power, and Satan’s loss of Authority over certain spheres because of Jesus’ perfect life, death, shed blood, and resurrection. Then he describes how Jesus Christ --the Second Adam-- returned that authority to us. There are also many examples, testimonies, and anecdotes about how authority has helped in the lives of Christians. Some of these examples show Dutch Sheets himself and/or some of his friends working behind the scenes to affect the outcome of the nation. These examples might sound a bit arrogant, far-fetched, wild-eyed, or innocent to readers who don’t believe that God works through people.

But the author appears so humble -- and never states that he alone can use his authority in Christ-- that one can easily believe these testimonies. Those Christians who do not know anything about the authority of Christ might be put off by the fact that someone believes in supernatural answers to prayer. They will also have to put aside some of their Calvinist fatalism or change some of their definition of God’s sovereignty. (The book doesn’t go overboard into dominionism.) Certainly, people raised to believe that suffering is ordained of God and must be patiently endured will have to truly ponder the choice and power inherent in this doctrine of authority.

There is much humor in this book, and it feels like a conversational memoir. There are also Bible verses that explain this doctrine. This is definitely a good book to read if one wants to understand a balanced presentation of the Christian doctrine of authority. Recommended.

I received this book for free in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Review: Discipleship: Living for Christ in the Daily Grind by J Heinrich Arnold

Review: Discipleship: Living for Christ in the Daily Grind
 by J Heinrich Arnold

  • Print Length: 311 pages
  • Publisher: Plough Publishing House; New Expanded Edition edition (January 2, 2014)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English

Okay, first things first: I never knew who  J Heinrich Arnold was before receiving this book to review. As anyone who reads my blogs knows, I avoid reading much modern theology because I find the more popular ones -- by famous televangelists and theologians-- to be a tad empty. Not that I'm that full or that deep, but I've read enough to know that other theologians --of old-- wrote about certain topics with more knowledge, maturity, subtlety etc.

So imagine my surprise when I discovered the author of this book (or collection of writings) was born in 1913 and died in 1982. Yes, my kind of theologian! He also served as an elder in a Christian communal movement called Broderhuf. I don't know much about the Broderhuf except for being in their neck of the woods one day in our family travels. But I do have a soft spot in my heart for Christians who turn their backs on the world and try to live holy simple communal lives. Unless it gets all cultish and oppressive.

The book is divided into three large sections (The Disciple, the Church, the kingdom of God), which are further divided into subsections such as (under the Disciple) The Inner Life, Repentance, Conversion, Faith, Dogmatism, Commitment, Reverence, Surrender, Sincerity); (under The Church) Community, Gifts, Forgiveness, Unity, Baptism, Lord's Supper, Family Life, Illness and Death, Evil and Darkness, World Suffering; and (under The Kingdom of God) Jesus, The Living Word, The Cross, Salvation, The Holy Spirit, the Kingdom of God.

This edition has the Discipleship book, with expanded sections such as taken from different works and from letters. As such, there is a flow to the paragraphs in the sections but sometimes....not. Because the excerpted letter paragraphs are placed in the chapter without introduction.  Still, its good to see these excerpts from the letters which show a very kind pastoral heart...which can be firm if need be.  

One would think that a spiritual leader of people committed to living apart from the ruin hypocrisy of Christendom would be very hard and dogmatic. On the contrary. In the section on dogma we see a person who respects Christian dogma but who seeks primarily that those in his fellowship find the relationship with Christ.

This book is really good. I love what he says --in his firm way-- about love, marriage and sex.

A couple of examples:

"Sex is man's secret, something that he feels touches on his inmost being. Every disclosure in this sphere reveals something intimate and personal and lets another person into his secret. This is why the area of sex is also the area of shame: we are ashamed to unveil our secret before others."

Or this (from a letter):

"Your question, 'Why do I feel attracted toward this boy if he is not meant for me but for someone else?' is a bit of a rebellious one, It accuses someone higher than yourself. Ultimately, it accuses God. Human nature being what it is, we often feel attractions that we have no choice to reject. That is simply part of our human weakness. Who is destined for you, or whether or not someone is destined for you, is not for me to say. The important thing for you is to give your life to Jesus."

Can you imagine getting a rebuke like that from your spiritual leader? And keeping the letter?

He must have been a very great man.

I highly recommend this book. A copy was sent to me by Plough publishing for a fair and honest review.

Monday, December 01, 2014

Review: Gift of Truth by Robert Fleming

Gift of Truth 
by Robert Fleming
Urban Christian

  • File Size: 1110 KB
  • Print Length: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Urban Christian (February 1, 2014)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00HG21C4S

  • Robert Fleming is one passionate writer. He understands the history of African-Americans and the history of the Black church and his knowledge abounds in this novel about a minister who tackles racial religious compromise in the South.

    We've met this minister before in Fleming's first novel Gift of Faith. In that novel, we were more involved with the main character's/narrator's life as he recovered from his wife's suicide and her murder of his children.

    In this novel, he is more of a spectator. He is healed of the wound caused by his wife's betrayal and suicide but now he has to encounter betrayal on an even larger scale. Trouble is, discernment and truth is needed.

    His friend Reverend Peck, another minister, has called him down to Alabama; a self-styled prophet has arrived on the scene and has sheep-napped the minister's flock. The prophet, Wilks, comes from a long line of shysters and con men and he performs flamboyant healings in front of frenzied audiences.

    I'm trying to review this book without giving away spoilers because there are twists galore!

    Complicating the problem of flock-nabbing are the racial and socio-economic tensions between the poor Black farmers, the rich white agribusinessmen, the KKK, and white lawmen. For the religious Black men, there are great obstacles and temptations. Social compromises to protect one's reputation or one's life, sexual temptations, monetary temptations, and the compromising of truth.

    This is a very good novel. The challenge of being a prophet --especially one who is called to battle social ills-- echoes both the lives of prophets in the Bible and the lives of African-American activists such as Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, and others. Of course the prophets in the Bible are totally holy, but the prophetic activists and great ministers of Black history have been flawed.  

    I had a few nits of course. The main one is that the author is so knowledgeable about African-American culture and history that sometimes there feels like way too much teaching going on for a novel. It's not bad, of course, and one does get the feeling the book is written to honor great Black heroes and musicians. But Mr. Fleming is a cultural historian and that kind of writing is to be expected.

    A few writers might feel the author is picking on certain types of Christians i.e. pentecostal types. But I don't think that Mr Fleming was doing that. But I do think he is saying that Christians can sometimes be like sheep if they don't discern the truth and stand up for it.  Some Christians might be offended by events in the story but I encourage them to read through the book and finish it. As I said, there are some good twists. 

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