Psalms of Lament

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Fifty or one-third of the Psalms are classified as laments. Gary Yates further explains, “Laments are times when the psalmist prays to God in times of trouble, distress, sadness, and in life-threatening situations.”[1] Walter Brueggemann classifies laments as psalms of disorientation as the relationship between the psalmist and God is conducted in an honest engagement, and where pain and hurt are acknowledged rather than denied and avoided.[2] The basic elements of the laments consist of: (1) an opening address or an introductory cry out to God in a very personal way; (2) a lament where the psalmist gives a description of present troubles, often in a very figurative, extreme, and over the top way, to make God aware of the dire circumstances; (3) a petition or prayer, which consists of what the psalmist is actually asking God to do; (4) a confession of trust and faith that God will act; and (5) a vow of praise where thanksgiving and sacrifice are offered when the Lord delivers the psalmist from his trouble.  Logan Jones describes the depth of pain in laments, “was the characteristic way of expressing and voicing the hurt, [but] the distinctive movement from plea to praise [demonstrated] an act of boldness. This movement does not stay stuck in the plea of brokenness and grief; [it] moves beyond to praise and unparalleled transformation with joy, wisdom and hope.”[3] This transformation did not deny the reality of brokenness or grief. Instead, the lament provided trust, confidence, and gratitude towards God.

Yates also illustrates, “The Bible does not command us to fake joy; it promises us a deep and real joy that is so satisfying because we know God is with us, regardless of what we are facing in life, [enabling us to] come to Him with complete honesty, especially in times of desperation.”[4] Jones adds, “By praying the laments, Israel had a way of directly facing the hurtful dimensions of human life. Israel did not try to explain them away, deny them, or avoid them. Instead, Israel held to the premise that all of life – even the hurtful dimensions – was embraced by it covenantal relationship with God.”[5] The psalmist’s relationship with God is deep, personal, and authentic. In Psalm 13, Nancy deClaissé-Walford et al. explain:

The prayer is spoken from a situation of severe crisis… The original crisis may have been a physical, emotional, social, or economic crisis. But two things are clear. First, the psalmist definitely understands the crisis as a spiritual and theological crisis — the relationship with God. Second, the psalm is now available to any believer for reuse in a variety of life situations.[6]

Craig Broyles further demonstrates, “This psalm allows believers to voice the mixed emotions often felt toward God while in the midst of hardship, namely complaint and trust.”[7] In Psalm 79, the lament depicts a community crying out for help and most likely refers to the Babylonian exile in 586 B.C. Everything the nation of Israel had believed and trusted in was gone and the people had no hope. However, in every lament, there is a wonderful transformation that occurs, where heartache, pain, and misery turn into joy, thanksgiving, and praise.

Laments are cries for help and Yates makes a valid point that “Part of dealing with pain is being able to express it.”[8] As Roland Murphy demonstrates, “The psalms are about honest dialogue where nothing is held back. The words of the psalms speak to the very core of human experience in ways other language cannot begin to approach. In this way, the psalms teach us how to pray, how to stand faithfully before God, asking and even demanding response, action, and answers.”[9] The psalms also teach us to bring our hopes, praise, and joy to God and they call us to bring our fear, pain, and sorrow before God. In desperate times, Jones illustrates “the psalmist gives voice to the anguished part of our human experience, [where] questions are asked that have no answers: How long will God forget? How long will God be hidden? How long must pain be born? How long will the enemy be exalted?”[10] These are valid questions, which every believer has wrestled with. Jones suggests some of the greatest reasons for the laments are to help believers make it through seasons where there is no hope and a cry for deliverance, for healing, for life, for mercy, for forgiveness, for help, for vengeance, for relief, for hope, for attention, for presence, and for strength.[11]

Jones then explains, “bad things happen, circumstances change, loss occurs, and grief and sorrow break the heart, [which] leads to the first movement [as] the cry of lament speaks of the terrible truth of disorientation.”[12] However, when the pleas and petitions reach God, Jones illustrates disorientation does not last forever. Instead, the laments petition God to be true to His character and as a new orientation emerges, blessings and breakthroughs in life are witnessed and praise and worship are given for all God has done. However, spiritual growth does not happen over night; it is a life-long pursuit of trusting and praising God, despite the circumstances.

By praying the laments, individuals will be able to face any hurt, betrayal, or anxiety, by looking to God and embracing the covenant relationship he or she has with Him. Jones explains, “The movement from orientation to disorientation to new orientation… is a way to move deeper into a faith which is transformative, where God indeed makes a difference.”[13] Laments illustrate why it is important to lift one’s petitions before God because as Jones explains, “Our pain can be spoken and named, our hurt can be lifted up and heard, our cries can come from our heart, and we can rest assured nothing, nothing at all can separate us from the love of God.”[14] The believer must simply understand and trust that God hears every prayer and He is continually working in the lives of His children, according to His perfect plan.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Broyles, Craig C. Understanding the Bible Commentary Series: Psalms. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing Group, 1999.

deClaissé-Walford, Nancy, Rolf Jacobson, and Beth Tanner, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament – The Book of Psalms. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2014.

Jones, Logan C. “The psalms of lament and the transformation of sorrow.” The Journal Of Pastoral Care & Counseling 61, no. 1-2 (2007): 47-58. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed November 3, 2016).

Murphy, Roland. “The Faith of the Psalmist,” Interpretation 34, (1980): 235-238.

Yates, Gary. “The Lament Psalms: Part 1.” Filmed [2011], Liberty University Website, OBST 660 Course Content, Week Two Video Presentation, 17:54. https://learn.liberty.edu/webapps/blackboard/content/listContent.jsp?course_id=_328279_1&content_id=_14949919_1 (accessed November 1, 2016).

________. “The Lament Psalms: Part 2.” Filmed [2011], Liberty University Website, OBST 660 Course Content, Week Two Video Presentation, 14:18. https://learn.liberty.edu/webapps/blackboard/content/listContent.jsp?course_id=_328279_1&content_id=_14949919_1 (accessed November 1, 2016).

 


[1] Gary Yates, “The Lament Psalms: Part 1,” Filmed [2011], Liberty University Website, OBST 660 Course Content, Week Two Video Presentation, 17:54. https://learn.liberty.edu/webapps/blackboard/content/listContent.jsp?course_id=_328279_1&content_id=_14949919_1 (accessed November 1, 2016).

[2] Logan C. Jones, “The psalms of lament and the transformation of sorrow,” The Journal Of Pastoral Care & Counseling 61, no. 1-2 (2007): 47. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed November 3, 2016).

[3] Jones, “The psalms of lament and the transformation of sorrow,” 48-49.

[4] Yates, “The Lament Psalms: Part 1.”

[5] Jones, “The psalms of lament and the transformation of sorrow,” 49.

[6] Nancy deClaissé-Walford, Rolf Jacobson, and Beth Tanner, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament – The Book of Psalms (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2014), 158.

[7] Craig C. Broyles, Understanding the Bible Commentary Series: Psalms (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing Group, 1999), 87.

[8] Gary Yates, “The Lament Psalms: Part 2,” Filmed [2011], Liberty University Website, OBST 660 Course Content, Week Two Video Presentation, 14:18. https://learn.liberty.edu/webapps/blackboard/content/listContent.jsp?course_id=_328279_1&content_id=_14949919_1 (accessed November 1, 2016).

[9] Roland Murphy, “The Faith of the Psalmist,” Interpretation 34, (1980): 235.

[10] Jones, “The psalms of lament and the transformation of sorrow,” 52.

[11] Ibid., 52.

[12] Ibid., 51.

[13] Jones, “The psalms of lament and the transformation of sorrow,” 50.

[14] Jones, “The psalms of lament and the transformation of sorrow,” 54.

Use of Imprecatory Psalms in Prayer Today

imprecatory-psalms

The use of Imprecatory Psalms, as a model for prayer, requires proper context. As John Day explains, “These psalms express the desire of God’s vengeance to fall on His [and His people’s] enemies and include the use of actual curses, or imprecations.”[1] At first glance, these psalms seem to stand in direct opposition to the teachings of Jesus who called His followers to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt. 5:44). Several implications result from this assumption: the Old Testament only involved cursing enemies, the New Testament only involved loving enemies, and the morality of Scripture evolved over time. Each of these false assumptions are self-refuting because the nature of God cannot change, as Day suggests, “The tension between loving and cursing [must] be harmonized, [since] the character of God does not change, so the essence of God’s ethical requirements does not change. Therefore, as the imprecatory psalms were at times appropriate on the lips of Old Testament believers, so they are at times appropriate on the lips of New Testament believers as well.”[2]

The psalms remain relevant because “They rooted their theology of cursing, of crying out for God’s vengeance, in the Torah – principally in the promise of divine vengeance expressed in the Song of Moses (Deut. 32:1-43), the principle of divine justice outlined in the lex talionis,[3] and the assurance of divine cursing as well as blessing in the Abrahamic Covenant (Gen. 12:2-3).”[4] To fully comprehend the imprecatory psalms, Day demonstrates four crucial truths:

First, the vengeance appealed for is not personally enacted; rather God is called on to execute vengeance. Second, these appeals are based on God’s covenant promises. Third, both testaments record examples of God’s people justly calling down curses or crying for vengeance.[5] Fourth, Scripture further records an instance in which God’s people in heaven, where there is no sin, cry out for divine vengeance and are comforted by the assurance of its near enactment[6] (Rev. 6:9-11).

Day illustrates the Book of Psalms contains nearly one hundred verses with imprecations, each one containing the cries of God’s people for vengeance for unspeakable atrocities against them as God’s people were oppressed, persecuted, and ultimately carried off to exile in Babylon. In Psalm 58, David is appealing to Yahweh to act justly against the unjust rulers. As Frank E. Gaebelein demonstrates, in this Psalm, “It may well be classified as a prophetic type of lament in which David speaks prophetically of God’s judgment on evil.[7] He charges the earthly system of justice with unfairness, commits his case to the Lord’s justice, and is confident of God’s vindication. The psalmist’s prophetic understanding is a comfort to God’s people[8] whenever they are harassed or maligned.”[9] The theological foundations are developed in the Pentateuch, but as Day furthers establishes, “The expression of exultation over the destruction of the enemies of God and His people is seen throughout Scripture. It begins in the Song of Moses (Deut. 32:43), finds utterance in the Psalms (58:10), is proclaimed in the prophets (Jer. 51:48), and climaxes in the Book of Revelation (18:20).”[10] Given these precedents, should a Christian follow David’s example? This writer believes David’s passionate cries should be emulated as David continually demonstrated immense faith in his God. Day then reminds the reader what is being voiced here is poetry, which often used vivid imagery and where a concept in narrative form may be described dispassionately; in poetry, it may well be expressed emotively. G. L. Peels perceives that the phraseology of Psalm 58:10b “Employs a powerful image, borrowed from the all too realistic situation of the battlefield following the fight (wading through the blood), to highlight the total destruction of the godless.”[11] Nancy deClaissé-Walford et al. illustrate “If God removes the rulers’ power, then they will be like toothless beasts.”[12] This shows David’s first wish was for the rulers to become powerless and ineffective, but ultimately, in the end, David knew the only way to end the suffering of the righteous was “bathing his feet in the blood of the wicked.”

Psalm 109 is an imprecation against a personal enemy and reads much like an individual lament. Day recognizes this psalm as being, above all others, highly criticized in its harsh and explicit appeal to the Lord. With the language found in this psalm, it is initially difficult to see any relation to the New Testament’s commands to love our enemies (Matt 5:44), turn the other cheek (Luke 6:29), and to pray for those who persecute you (Matt 5:44). However, in this psalm, David’s enemies had continually returned hatred for his sustained love, so David called out to the divine Judge, as Day puts it, “to extend to his enemy the demands of the lex talionis, [but] David did not react in private revenge; instead, he released the retaliatory demands of justice to the One in whose jurisdiction it rightfully lies. He voiced his cry for vengeance to God – a cry that would transform to public praise when divine deliverance was revealed.”[13] David looked to the Abrahamic Covenant and then appealed to God to curse those who had shown him only hatred. Now the question becomes: is this covenant promise of divine cursing relevant to Christians today? In this writer’s opinion it is and (Gal 3:6-29) makes it clear, “If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants – heirs according to promise.” Here, Day demonstrates “the dual-edged promise blessing was not merely a spiritual abstraction; it applied as well to the physical life of God’s people in their times of extremity… [And] this psalm is the cry of the child of God who has no other recourse for justice…”[14]

Jesus felt the same oppression the psalmist and Israelites faced, but He called for one another to love his or her neighbor. This apparent contradiction in actuality shows the harmony that exists when one understands the character of God further demonstrating, Christians should use imprecatory psalms as a source of strength and honor, in their worship of God.[15]

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Broyles, Craig C. Understanding the Bible Commentary Series: Psalms. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing Group, 1999.

Day, John N. “The imprecatory psalms and Christian ethics.” Bibliotheca Sacra 159, no. 634 (April 2002): 166-186. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed November 9, 2016).

deClaissé-Walford, Nancy, Rolf Jacobson, and Beth Tanner, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament – The Book of Psalms. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2014.

Gaebelein, Frank E. ed., The Expositor’s Bible Commentary – Volume 5: Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1991.

Peel, G. L. The Vengeance of God: The Meaning of the Root NQM and the Function of the NQM-Texts in the Context of Divine Revelation in the Old Testament. Leiden, Netherlands: Brill Publishers, 1995.

Footnotes

[1] John N. Day, “The imprecatory psalms and Christian ethics,” Bibliotheca Sacra 159, no. 634 (April 2002): 166. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed November 9, 2016).

[2] Ibid., 168.

[3] The principle or law of retaliation that a punishment inflicted should correspond in degree and kind to the offense of the wrongdoer, as an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth; retributive justice.

[4] Day, “The imprecatory psalms and Christian ethics,” 168.

[5] Mark 11:14; Matthew 21:19; Galatians 1:8-9; 1 Corinthians 16:22; Acts 8:20; and Revelation 6:10

[6] Day, “The imprecatory psalms and Christian ethics,” 169.

[7] Psalm 14

[8] The righteous.

[9] Frank E. Gaebelein, ed., The Expositor’s Bible Commentary – Volume 5: Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1991), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 405.

[10] Day, “The imprecatory psalms and Christian ethics,” 171.

[11] G. L. Peels, The Vengeance of God: The Meaning of the Root NQM and the Function of the NQM-Texts in the Context of Divine Revelation in the Old Testament (Leiden, Netherlands: Brill Publishers, 1995), 218.

[12] Nancy deClaissé-Walford, Rolf Jacobson, Beth Tanner, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament – The Book of Psalms (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2014), 495.

[13] Day, “The imprecatory psalms and Christian ethics,” 178.

[14] Ibid., 179.

[15] Ibid., 186.

Power and Value of Prayer

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There is no denying prayer is arguably the most important task of the spiritual leader and Colossians 4:2 only serves as evidence that prayer and thanksgiving cannot be dissociated from one another in the Christian life or for the spiritual leader. F.F. Bruce further demonstrates how, “The remembrance of former mercies not only produces spontaneous praise and worship; it is also a powerful incentive to renewed believing prayer. Men and women of persistent prayer are those who are constantly on the alert, alive to the will of God and the need of the world, and ready to give an account of themselves and their stewardship.”[1] Christians are called to be Christlike, which means doing the things Christ did. Prayer can often be the determining factor and Dave Earley makes a great point asking: “If Jesus Christ, the Son of God, needed to pray, how much more do you I?”[2] Making time to pray was vital in the life of Jesus and it should be the same for every believer and especially for every spiritual leader. Earley could not be more correct in his assumption that, “Time spent praying can be the best time-saving device you have,” since God can accomplish in seconds what would take a human a lifetime, or longer to achieve. In life, one will always make time for what is important and the greatest indicators are often revealed by analyzing where a person’s time, talents, and treasure are being utilized. When God is not the priority, it is not a matter of if; it is only a matter of when life will come crashing in. For this writer, this was a lesson learned the hard way, but one that will never be forgotten. When God is first in all things, everything else in life will naturally line up. This does not mean life will not have challenges; in fact, Jesus told us, “In this world you will have trouble,” so this only makes prayer and intimacy with God even more important.

The first application is maintaining intimacy with God because this is the sustaining force behind any ministry and one of the primary ways to develop this relationship is through prayer. Earley shows, “Jesus viewed prayer as the secret source of spiritual strength and the reservoir of real refreshment. Even when He was very busy, He was never too busy to pray.”[3] The statistics are frightening how many pastors are leaving the ministry either due to burnout or moral failure and those that stay in ministry often feel unequipped, discouraged, and disillusioned in ministry. According to Maranatha Life, fifteen hundred pastors leave the ministry each month due to moral failure, spiritual burnout or contention in their churches. In addition, eighty percent of pastors and eighty-four percent of their spouses feel unqualified and discouraged in their role as pastors. Of these that choose to stay, fifty percent are so discouraged that they would leave the ministry if they could, but have no other way of making a living.[4] This is a huge problem!

The second application reveals how prayer is a vital lifeline to God and many spiritual leaders like Billy Graham believe that more can be accomplished through prayer than by any other means. However, Earley goes one step furthers stating, “Prayer is our greatest weapon.”[5] To this notion, one must truly ask themselves is prayer really a weapon? There is often talk of spiritual warfare and Paul alludes to a believer’s fight not being against flesh and blood, but against spiritual forces of evil. It can be easy to picture doing battle through prayer, but the only offensive weapon listed in the armor of God comes in the form of the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, not prayer. While a believer’s protection does come from the armor of God, prayer only becomes a weapon when it is coupled with the Word of God. There is a cataclysmic event that occurs as prayer is used in conjunction with the Word of God. This can be seen after Jesus was baptized and went into the wilderness and was tempted by Satan. In each occurrence, Jesus used the Word of God to counter every temptation. Knowing the Word of God is vital for every spiritual leader to understand because the quickest way to scatter the flock is to attack the shepherd.

A third application comes in knowing God certainly responds to His servants when they pray, but does this mean God acts only in concert with His servants’ prayers, must God wait until prayer occurs, or is God free to act as He chooses? To these questions, Earley does a great job explaining why eleven of the fifteen accounts of Jesus praying are found in Luke’s account because he sought to portray the human aspect of Jesus. Throughout the gospels, Jesus is seen retreating alone to commune with God in prayer and from His model, it becomes apparent every believer must make time for prayer. In Revelation 5:8, the notion that the prayers of the saints are stored up until the golden-bowl is full enough to be poured out is indicated. While this text may point more to end-time events, it still shows there is power in continued prayer efforts.

Ultimately, it is important to understand God is free to act whenever and however He likes. Isaiah 55:8-9 (ESV) demonstrates, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Some of God’s greatest gifts are often unanswered prayers and with finite minds it is impossible to see the bigger picture of what God is accomplishing in and through people and their situations. When humans see disaster, destruction, and atrocities, God may see countless people turning their lives over to Him and seeking His comfort and peace. While there are plenty of biblical accounts of God choosing to act due to the intercession of His followers, He is only bound by the promises in His own Word.[6] There are also examples of intercession occurring until God was moved. Abraham’s plea and God’s ultimate destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah are prime examples.[7] In this instance, Earley shows how Abraham issued God a challenge based on His character and His promises.[8]

Lastly, while God most certainly is free to act in anyway He sees fit, that does not diminish one’s need to pray. Followers of Christ are instructed to cast their burdens and cares upon the Lord. Prayer should then release one’s cares and concerns to God and one of Martin Luther’s famous quotes was spot on: “Pray and let God worry.” A beautiful illustration of what happens when prayers are lifted up is picturing Jesus at the right hand of God acting as the mediator between Christians and God. As prayers are lifted, Jesus takes those petitions directly to the Father, interceding on their behalf. Jesus interceding with and for the believer is a powerful picture and God’s Word even promises, when one does not know what to pray, the Spirit knows the heart and lifts those petitions before God.[9] Douglas Moo further illustrates:

God knows what the Spirit intends, and there is perfect harmony between the two, because it is in accordance with God’s will that the Spirit intercedes for the saints. There is one in heaven, the Son of God, who “intercedes on our behalf,” defending us from all charges that might be brought against us, guaranteeing salvation in the day of judgment (8:34). But there is also, Paul asserts in these verses, an intercessor “in the heart,” the Spirit of God, who effectively prays to the Father on our behalf throughout the difficulties and uncertainties of our lives here on earth.[10]

While praying is crucial to a successful ministry and spiritual wholeness, knowing what and how to pray are the most important aspects. To truly turn prayer into an offensive weapon, one must know the word of God and the promises found within it. Earley explains, “The Bible contains 7,487 promises, many of which contain God’s willingness to answer prayer. [This means,] when we pray for things that we are confident God wants to do, we can boldly quote His Word back to Him.”[11] While knowing the Word of God is important, it is also crucial to live a life of integrity and honesty so that nothing hinders the prayers being lifted to God. Love, acceptance, and forgiveness are some of the key ingredients to living a life above reproach and one focused on intimacy with God, but God also calls His followers to act justly, to walk humbly, and to love mercifully and intimacy through prayer is greatly needed to fulfill all of these commandments.

BIBIOGRAPHY

Bruce, F.F. The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Epistle to the Colossians, to Philemon, and to the Ephesians. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1984.

Earley, Dave. Prayer: The Timeless Secret of High-Impact Leaders. Chattanooga, TN: Living Ink Books, 2008.

Maranatha Life Website, “Statistics about Pastors,” http://www.maranathalife.com/lifeline/stats.htm (accessed October 26, 2016).

Moo, Douglas J. The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Epistle to the Romans. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996.

[1] F.F. Bruce, The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Epistle to the Colossians, to Philemon, and to the Ephesians (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1984), 172.

[2] Dave Earley, Prayer: The Timeless Secret of High-Impact Leaders (Chattanooga, TN: Living Ink Books, 2008), 18.

[3] Earley, Prayer, 21.

[4] Maranatha Life Website, “Statistics about Pastors,” http://www.maranathalife.com/lifeline/stats.htm (accessed October 26, 2016).

[5] Earley, Prayer, 11.

[6] Exodus 32 & Psalm 106:23

[7] Genesis 18:22-25

[8] Earley, Prayer, 45.

[9] Romans 8:26

[10] Douglas J. Moo, The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Epistle to the Romans (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996), 527.

[11] Earley, Prayer, 116.

And He Dwelt Among Us: Book Critique

and-he-dwelt-among-us

Aiden Wilson Tozer (1897–1963) is considered by many to be one of the greatest theologians of the 20th century. Tozer was a minister in the Christian and Missionary Alliance churches in Toronto and Chicago, from 1919 up until his passing. However, it was not until 1950, when he became the editor of Alliance Witness that he began to put word to paper. Much like John Wesley, he was, “a man of one Book, but a student of many.”[1]

The Gospel of John captivated Tozer’s imagination, as he would preach weekly Spirit-filled and anointed sermons, which had profound impacts on the congregation, to the point following the conclusion of the service, many were paralyzed in silence by the intensity of the message and the truth Tozer had clarified. Tozer believed, “any doctrine that did not rise to the height of identification with the Lord Jesus Christ was either misunderstood or not properly rooted in Scripture.”[2] On this assumption, Tozer sought to show doctrine must always establish truth, while also acting as a pathway to an intimate knowledge of God. Tozer understood in order to preach from John, a sound doctrinal foundation was imperative, especially since John was such a mystical thinker. James Snyder goes as far to describe Tozer being a “mystic with his feet on solid doctrinal ground.”[3] Another core reason, which compelled Tozer’s writing and preaching was the “spiritual boredom” that had overtaken the evangelical church. Tozer recognized the familiarity and complacency, which was taking root, especially in America and he sought to cast light on the darkness, which had attempted to eclipse the truth of the Word. “The heavens declare the glory of God,”[4] was a profound truth that resonated in Tozer’s soul as he saw John’s Gospel as a bright lens to view the love and nature of Jesus through. He recognized, “We are resting in the truth of the Word and are forgetting that there is a Spirit of the Word without which the truth of the Word means nothing to the human spirit at last.”[5]

Analysis

Tozer saw John’s way of presenting Christ in a mystical setting insightful, while other scholars viewed mysticism as something to avoid. Gnosticism was partly to blame for this and mid-nineteenth century literary criticism sought to discredit Johannine authorship as well. Instead, Tozer sought to highlight how John used sound theology in a way to truly define Christ’s nature. Right from the start of John, “In the beginning,” Tozer shows how mankind has been elevated into the realm of everlasting. This is an interesting point and something many fail to realize. Everyone has everlasting life, the only thing that determines where it will be spent is if one has a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. “From everlasting to everlasting, God is God” is profound, and the thought of an eternal separation from the Father should compel every follower of Christ to seek to help the lost and hurting comprehend the everlasting nature and love of God. Tozer demonstrates, “To ascend into the heart of God in this fashion is to begin to experience the Old Testament encouragement, ‘the eternal God is thy refuge.”[6] [7]

There is a God-shaped hole inside every man and woman and the reality of this statement means, “everywhere you go you see people who manifest a deep-seated restlessness, [which] shows there is something deep within the soul, put there by God, that yearns for the everlastingness that is only found in God.” Being created in the image of God and understanding He has put eternity into the mind of man, demonstrates why He puts the “everlasting beginningless” into the hearts of His children. God’s design was for mankind to always have freewill, however, hardwired into every mind, there has always been a longing for the everlastingness of God. Some call this quest for immortality a conditioned human response, but Tozer demonstrates, “God made man in His own image, and though man fell, He keeps the longing after eternity there and the appreciation of everlastingness there.”[8] There are many human responses God has placed inside men and women, but as Tozer highlights, “the most natural thing for a person who has been redeemed is for that person to lift his or her heart in prayer and praise to God. God put that response there, and redemption unleashes its capacity… [However,] when man fell in the Garden, it brought a dark cloud over the soul of all mankind.” This dark cloud is evidenced in the moral decline seen all across the world, as it attempts to suffocate the dreams, aspirations, and longings for a relationship with the Creator. Satan cannot stand anything God loves, so he attempts to counterfeit, destroy, or pervert anything that would create unity and oneness with God. This is evidenced by his early actions in the Garden of Eden.

Since mankind was cast out of Eden, everything has been tainted and Tozer argues everything is wrong until Jesus sets it right stating, “the kiss of death rests upon everything in our world [and] nothing in this world will help anybody toward God.”[9] Tozer rightly identifies the war being raged between the desires of the mind and the longings of the heart. He also demonstrates how the brain wants improvement and advancement, while the heart longs for everlastingness. The battlefield of the mind is a treacherous place where the greatest enemy is you. This is so true because the heart will never be satisfied with the desires of the depraved mind. An important concept here is the transient and finite nature of this world. Everything in it attempts to captivate one’s time, talents, and treasures, yet true meaning and happiness is only found in God. Toys, conveniences, games, hobbies, careers, will never satisfy because each of them is fleeting, here one moment, but gone the next. Only God is eternal and our souls will only be satisfied found in the divine everlastingness of the Word made flesh.

Tozer skillfully illustrates how God has no beginning and no end, making Him completely self-sufficient and self-existent. He needs nothing outside of Himself and that includes His creation. Tozer uses this truth to show, “We are likely to forget that God once lived without help and without creation… [and] when we give God anything, we are only giving God what He gave us in the first place.”[10] As humans, it can be remarkably easy to forget one’s place in the metanarrative of God’s story and how everything is dependent on everything, except God. Created things only lead to other created things, but each of them can be traced back to God, Who had no beginning and will have no end. The governing laws of the universe attempt to place restraints on God, essentially trying to put Him a box, so He can be defined or quantified. This is impossible, as Tozer shows, “God Himself established all the laws of creation and He created life and spirit, in order that there might be creatures conscious of Him. Christ has every claim over His creation and He has prepared a hell for those who do not respond to His call. This is heartbreaking to contemplate, but as Tozer highlights, “We should never come to God as a gesture of pity, thinking that God desperately wants us; we should give ourselves to God because He is worthy.”[11] This section of the book would have considerable impact to any freethinkers or individuals wrestling with intelligent design or science versus God dilemmas.

Tozer’s unpacking of, “He was in the world, and the world was made by Him, and the world knew Him not”[12] is enlightening. He shows the cause and effect relationship as the world is always an effect and the Word is always a cause. God created the world with order, beauty, harmony, and purpose. Tozer then explains, “Everything He created brought pleasure to Him in some way: ‘Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power, for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.’”[13] [14] The world was filled with the presence of God, first in the form of the Shekinah of the Word, and then in the incarnate form of Jesus Christ, becoming the light into the world.[15] John’s use of light and darkness is not accidental as light reveals was darkness attempts to hide. Pleasure, comfort, and luxury are dangerous in this sense, especially when there is no want or desire, as God can easily be forgotten. This writer believes Satan learned a valuable lesson when he persecuted Job. The worst things became and the more loss Job suffered, the closer he drew to God. The same thing is evident today as the church is being persecuted in many areas of the world, causing them to go underground, for fear of torture or death. The harder things become and the darker things get, the more people turn to God, but when man has no burdens and instead has all the comforts, desires, and pleasures one could hope for, God can quickly be forgotten. This is a profound truth!

This writer believes one of Jesus’s favorite miracles was the healing of the blind, so it is tragic how the very people He came to save were blind to Him being the prophesied Messiah. Tozer cites five insightful reasons why people continue to reject Him, even today, but each of them comes back to the blatant fact, humanity simply loves sin more than God:

(1) Change in priorities, meaning placing Christ first in life and no compromise in life; (2) Change in habit, allowing the patterns of life to be disturbed; (3) Personal Cleansing, requiring a pure heart; (4) Change in Direction, asking followers to “take up his [or her] cross and follow Me;”[16] and (5) Risking Wholehearted Trust, by showing faith in the unseen.[17]

The finite thinking of humanity denies the mystery of Christ’s incarnation and sacrifice partly because they themselves would never be willing to do the same thing. Tozer demonstrates, “The most profound mystery of human flaw is how the Creator could join Himself to the creature… [making] the incarnation of Christ shrouded in an impenetrable mystery that we could never uncover with our finite thinking.”[18] Christ was no less deity when He became flesh and this would mark the first time since creation God was dwelt with man again. While God would sometimes appear in the form of a theophany, He never dwelt with man in quite the same way He did in the Garden, with Adam and Eve. Being in the physical presence of Christ must have been a fascinating experience, especially to those who believed during the time of Jesus. This was an area Tozer could have gone a little deeper in, as John’s Gospel is packed with Old Testament references. He mentions Moses briefly, but this work would have been even better if it included more references to Isaiah or some other encounters with prophets, priests, and kings.

Tozer, insightfully illustrates, “What God thinks about a man is more important than what a man thinks about himself, [because] as far as God is concerned, what a man is always is more important to God than what that man does.”[19] Christ came into the world to show how much God values His creation and it is only through Christ God chooses to dispense His blessings on creation. God’s grace is ultimately the all-in-all and Tozer does a good job showing how God’s grace precedes everything from creation to the incarnation, even the mystery of the sacrificial atonement. For many, this is the part of the story where one cannot fathom why this had to happen and “why the eternal Father turned His back upon the Son – the Son of man, the sacrificial Lamb to be slain – and in blind terror and pain of it all, the sacrifice, the Lamb, temporarily became sin for us and knew Himself forsaken.”[20] Due to the requirements of the Law, atonement and the shedding of blood was needed for the remission of sins and Jesus allowed us to be redeemed, by taking upon Himself every sin and curse of the world. Through His crucifixion, He revealed God’s grace and mercy and made a way for humanity to have restored communion with the Father.

Tozer does demonstrate John’s strategic use of some Old Testament Scripture to confirm the Messianic prophecy had been fulfilled. John the Baptist rightly speaks of Jesus as the Lamb of God Who had come to take away the sins of the world[21] and he points out Jesus was the only hope for salvation. Christ is often referred to as the second Adam and Tozer explains, “God began the redemption of the human race within the race so that there are now two races running parallel to each other. The unregenerate race that goes back to the loins of Adam and the regenerate race that goes back to the start of Jesus.”[22] The world, ruled by the unregenerate had a choice to make, as every sinner belongs to the old race, but every Christian becomes redeemed and part of the new race. Every person matters to God, yet Satan wants everyone to believe they have no worth or purpose, and many fall prey to this pernicious lie.

Understanding why Jesus came into the world is a crucial point many discount or simply do not comprehend. He did not come to pronounce judgment; instead, He came that the world might be saved. When mankind becomes aware of sin, there is a natural feeling of judgment because sin separates mankind from God and the “wages of sin is death.”[23] Fortunately, the last part of this verse is, “but the gift of God is eternal life found in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Contemplating how Jesus came into this world, as a baby born to a virgin, is even more complex. Tozer further explains Jesus had a fondness for babies, regularly performing miracles on them, so it makes one ponder the early life of Christ, especially since there is very little evidence found in Scripture. This, perhaps, is another area Tozer could have added some additional insight in, pertaining to the relationship Jesus as a child had with the Father. If Christ had come in the form of a grown man or a theophany, John 3:16 would probably be needed to assure people destruction and judgment were not imminent. Instead, Jesus came as a baby to a lowly family to begin His mission of saving the world. At Christmas time, Christians celebrate the birth of the Savior, but Easter represents a much different occasion. Tozer demonstrates, “Without the cross on which the Savior died, there could be no Scripture, no revelation, and no redemption, but [even in John 3:16] there is no mention of the cross.”[24] God simply reveals He sent and gave His Son, which has deep meaning when used in conjunction with the story of the prodigal son.[25] Mankind, living a life apart from God is like the prodigal son, as everything is only about him or her. This mindset leads one further and further away, until he or she hopefully has the realization how much better things were back at home. For many, this takes humility and courage to face what awaits one’s return, but this story represents the true heart of the heavenly Father as the earthly father runs out to meet his son when he sees him on the horizon. He runs to his son, to protect him from shame and because what was lost was now found, and he embraces his son with grace and mercy by putting a ring on his finger, by placing the best robe around him, and throwing a feast in his honor. This is the celebration God must experience every time one of His children come to his or her senses and comes back to His loving embrace. With over twenty-five million children in America growing up in a fatherless home, this section of the book will help anyone struggling with how a heavenly Father could love them when his or her earthly father abandoned or abused them.

As one comes to faith in Christ, he or she is being invited into the Godhead, which exists in perfect harmony. Tozer beautifully explains, “Whatever the Father does, the Son sees Him do and works in harmony. And the Holy Ghost is the perfect bond between the Father and the Son, energizing the eternal Son with the energies of the Father and so working harmoniously to a preordained end.”[26] The holy trinity has been a topic of debate in some scholarly circles, as Jesus possessed the nature of man and the nature of God, but Tozer rightly shows how even these seemingly contradictory states harmonized into one perfect personality.[27] The mystery of the three-in-one and the unbroken fellowship, which exists, is hard to fathom with finite minds and it is even harder to picture given mankind’s fallen and sinful nature. Despite this, even when Jesus walked the earth, He maintained perfect visibility with God and He remained in perfect love within the Godhead. Tozer offers great insight into the inadequate concepts of judgment, as “mankind did whatever was right in his [or her] own eyes.”[28] During this time period, God equipped the Israelites with Judges, but today’s moral decay only demonstrates the depravity and misunderstanding, which exists, as Tozer shows:

(1) the law of compensation only serves to counterbalance any action; (2) we are accountable only to our society has partial truth, [however,] when we do something against God, we are accountable to Him for our actions; (3) we are accountable to human law, which demonstrates an outlaw is never a happy man because he is accountable to the law even while he is breaking it, and he is miserable even while he is flaunting the law; and (4) man’s accountability is to himself alone, which seeks to show man is a law unto himself and is the worst concept of judgment in all of society.[29]

Ultimately, every human being is accountable to God and Scripture is quite clear on this point.[30] Fortunately, God is all knowing, impartial, and empathetic, acting as both Savior and judge. Tozer says, “Those of you who do not want Jesus as a judge, had better think seriously now about Him as a Savior and stand like a penitent or kneel like one and confess your sin.”[31]

When Jesus ascended into heaven, He passed on His mission to the church. During His earthly ministry, “He was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.”[32] Even though Jesus had left earth, He had not abandoned humanity. The omnipresence of God assures He is infinitely everywhere at all times. This concept can be hard to fathom, especially given mankind’s coexistence in two worlds: we are in this world, but not of it.[33] The dualistic physical and spiritual worlds are at odds with each other, but Tozer explains, “When I say there are two worlds, I do not mean to out the material world. God made it also, but not to last. He only made it temporarily…”[34]

There is no denying religion has improved morality and culture, but at the same time, the legalism found in many denominations has caused immense heartache and pain. America, while founded on biblical principles and responsible for much of the early evangelism and missions around the world, is now a nation where Christianity is no longer the fastest growing religion. Tozer further explains, “No religion ever rose higher than its concept of God and a nation can go below its religion.”[35] As a result, America is no longer one nation under God, America is far from being one church under God, and very few people can truly attest to being one people under God. The only hope is, “If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”[36]

Conclusion

John could not be clearer about the mission of Jesus. He became flesh, so everyone could know Him and thus know God. Previously, The Pursuit of God was this writer’s favorite Tozer work, but And He Dwelt Among Us is now a close second. Tozer masterfully tackles the mystery of the incarnation. He then shows how God is calling His children to come home to Him, just as the father of the prodigal son awaited his son’s return, God is waiting for us to call upon His name. He calls out to the weary and the broken and wants to give them the bread of life and living water, so he or she will no longer hunger or thirst anymore. He wants to give them rest by taking on Himself all the burdens and worries of life. That is why God sent His Son to save the world, so if anyone would simply believe in Him, God would grant forgiveness of sins and give the gift of eternal life. This promise releases the believer from judgment and condemnation, but one will only find Jesus Christ through faith, confession, and humility. Tozer closes saying, “Humility is a beautiful thing, but not very many people have it.”[37] This is tragic because when one seeks Christ in humility, He will reveal Himself to us and as we know Christ, we will know God. This masterpiece would be well suited for anyone wanting to know the true nature of God, regardless of where one is on his or her spiritual journey. It also would be beneficial to anyone taught since John was not considered part of the Synoptic Gospels, it did not deserve as much attention.

Tozer, A.W. And He Dwelt Among Us: Teachings From the Gospel of John, Edited by James L. Snyder. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishing Group, 2009, 218 pp. $14.99 (Paperback).

 Bibliography

Tozer, A.W. And He Dwelt Among Us: Teachings From the Gospel of John, Edited by James L. Snyder. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishing Group, 2009.


[1] A. W. Tozer Theological Seminary, (Redding, CA), “Who is Tozer?” http://tozer.simpsonu.edu/Pages/About/Tozer-AWTozer.htm (accessed September 16, 2016).

[2] A.W. Tozer, And He Dwelt Among Us: Teachings From the Gospel of John, Ed. by James L. Snyder, (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishing Group, 2009), 8.

[3] Tozer, And He Dwelt Among Us, 9.

[4] Psalm 19:1

[5] Tozer, And He Dwelt Among Us, 11.

[6] Ibid., 17.

[7] Deuteronomy 33:27

[8] Tozer, And He Dwelt Among Us, 20.

[9] Ibid., 23.

[10] Tozer, And He Dwelt Among Us, 32-33.

[11] Ibid., 41.

[12] John 1:10

[13] Tozer, And He Dwelt Among Us, 48.

[14] Revelation 4:11

[15] Tozer, And He Dwelt Among Us, 53.

[16] Matthew 16:24

[17] Tozer, And He Dwelt Among Us, 70-73.

[18] Ibid., 78-79.

[19] Ibid., 83.

[20] Tozer, And He Dwelt Among Us, 91.

[21] John 1:29

[22] Tozer, And He Dwelt Among Us, 103.

[23] Romans 6:23

[24] Tozer, And He Dwelt Among Us, 134.

[25] Luke 15:11-32

[26] Tozer, And He Dwelt Among Us, 140.

[27] Ibid., 141.

[28] Judges 17:6

[29] Tozer, And He Dwelt Among Us, 156-158.

[30] John 5:22, Romans 14:10 & Philippians 2:10-11

[31] Tozer, And He Dwelt Among Us, 168.

[32] Isaiah 53:5 (ESV)

[33] John 17:16

[34] Tozer, And He Dwelt Among Us, 194.

[35] Ibid., 204.

[36] 2 Chronicles 7:14 (ESV)

[37] Tozer, And He Dwelt Among Us, 217.

Apologetic Methods

cslewis

While there are an array of methods and strategies used in apologetics, they all should seek to define truth, defend the faith, and move individuals closer to a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Truth, faith, and reason are among some of the most contested topics debated over in philosophical engagements, so a proper understanding of each of them is crucial. Douglas Groothuis defines faith as:

Believing something without or against evidence and logic, [meaning] the less evidence and logic [available], the more need for faith, [while] the more evidence [present,] means the less of a need for faith… Fideism is the term Groothuis uses to designate the highest and most commendable faith in an attempt to protect Christian faith against the assaults of reason by means of intellectual insulation and isolation.[1]

The logic of truth began with Aristotle’s logic of law, which classified specific laws of logic and contradictions to enforce, “Nothing can both be and not be at the same time, in the same respect.” Groothuis uses this law to demonstrate, “anyone who claims this basic principle of thought is false must also assert to the principle, in order to deny it.”[2] When dealing with worldviews, Groothuis claims:

The best method of apologetic reasoning is hypothesis evaluation and verification, which first commends the Christian worldview, secondly, presents itself as a candidate for the most important truths, and lastly, presents an apologetic argument for the Christian worldview by applying the same criteria or tests of truths to each of the contending worldviews.[3]

Interestingly, as Groothuis points out, some argue that the criteria for truth are worldview dependent, meaning specific criteria cannot be used to assess competing worldviews. To overcome this obstacle, the apologist must be able to develop objective criteria for any contending worldviews. For example, since God is ultimately the source of all objective truth, this declaration becomes a core aspect of any Christian’s worldview. Competing worldviews, such as truth relativism teaches there is nothing that is objectively true, but rather everything is subjectively true. Edward Martin further defines truth as a property of propositions, and knowing as having reasonable justification or confidence about truth. Martin then demonstrates how knowing is a human exercise, whereas truth is an extra-human exercise.[4]

While there is no clear apologetic method, which can be used in all cases, there has been success by using a variety and combination of methods. The relationship between faith and reason have become bookends to the question of whether, “do we start with faith and only then try to explain or justify it, or do we provide reasons for Christianity and only then, on the basis of those reasons commit in faith?”[5] Within the continuum of faith and reason, this writer relates most to the Reformed Theology popularized by Augustine and Calvin, who “gave universal primacy to neither reason nor faith. In some contexts and for some people, reason will lead; in other contexts and for other people, faith. Moreover, faith is absolutely reasonable, and utilizing one’s reason is, in an important sense, an act of faith.”[6] James Beilby, thus proposes doing apologetics well requires three things:

(1) One’s argument must be effective, [meaning] they must be logically valid and persuasive, and they must directly address the objections offered by the skeptics; (2) one must have a proper conceptualization of the nature of both Christian belief and unbelief; and (3) most important, one’s attitude and approach to apologetic conversions must be appropriate, [because] too often, Christians are condescending, arrogant, and dismissive in their apologetic encounters.[7]

Three popular schools of apologetics include: evidentialists, presuppositionalists, and experientialists. Groothuis defines evidentialistism as, “a method in apologetics that argues that the most significant historical events in Christianity – particularly the resurrection of Jesus are matters that can be established through proper historical argumentation, even apart from any prior arguments for the existence of God.”[8] Evidentialists rely on the inerrancy and infallibility of the Bible and the truth claims of Jesus. An area of caution for evidentialists occurs when one is convinced a supernatural event occurred in history, but he or she lacks the ability to place the event in a coherent worldview. Beilby adds, “Evidentialist apologetics needs to be distinguished from evidentualism, a position that involves a claim that one who accepts a belief without basing it on arguments is irrational.”[9] Within the Evidentialist family, there are classical apologetics, which use a two-step approach, historical apologetics, which emphasize rational and evidential arguments, and cumulative-case apologetics, which converges a multiplicity of arguments.

Groothuis explains, “presuppositionalism as a school of apologetics influenced by Reformed Christianity that rejects the tools of classical apologetics… claiming that the Christian should presuppose the entire Christian worldview and reason from this conviction with unbelievers.”[10] Groothuis then demonstrates, “The problem with this approach is it limits positive apologetics and claims unless a person presupposes Christianity, he or she cannot make any sense of the world morally, logically, or scientifically, since Christianity alone supplies the required conditions for these areas of life to be intelligible.”[11] Beilby further explains, “Presuppositionalists believe the problem with non-Christians is not a lack of good reasons, but innate sinfulness manifested as rebellion against God, a rebellion that first and foremost amounts to a refusal to acknowledge God’s proper place.”[12] Revelational presuppositionalism teaches, truth, logic, meaning, and value can exist only on the presupposition that the Christian God exists. The rational counterpart places a higher value on logical arguments, while the practical side emphasizes the necessity of starting from fundamental Christian truths, rather than arguing to them.[13]

Lastly, proponents of experientialism view God as being infinite and omniscient. Beilby illustrates, “experiential apologists do not rely on logical arguments or evidences, because their reasons for rejecting an exclusively rational approach is different. They do not hold that the truth of Christianity must be presupposed; rather they hold that is must be experienced.”[14] However, the major issue with this approach is it limits one’s perception of God due to humanity’s finite minds. This approach also prevents the individual from aspiring to anything more than some metaphysical union or religious experience.

Once again, each of these strategies contains strengths and weaknesses, so this writer believes an eclectic apologetic approach and strategy will be most effective. That being said, it is necessary to not view one’s own approach as the only viable one, while at the same time not viewing other methods as being only problematic or ineffective.

Bibliography

Beilby, James K. Thinking About Christian Apologetics: What It Is and Why We Do It. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2011.

Groothuis, Douglas. Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2011.

Martin, Edward. Liberty University. APOL 500, Week Three Presentation “Truth.” (Video), 2013, 18:38, https://learn.liberty.edu/webapps/blackboard/content/listContent.jsp?course_id=_317469_1&content_id=_13462356_1 (accessed September 14, 2016).


[1] Douglas Groothuis, Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2011), 45 & 60.

[2] Groothuis, Christian Apologetics, 46.

[3] Groothuis, Christian Apologetics, 49-51.

[4]Edward Martin, Liberty University, APOL 500, Week Three Presentation “Truth.” (Video), 2013, 18:38, https://learn.liberty.edu/webapps/blackboard/content/listContent.jsp?course_id=_317469_1&content_id=_13462356_1 (accessed September 14, 2016).

[5] James K. Beilby, Thinking About Christian Apologetics: What It Is and Why We Do It, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2011), 88.

[6] Beilby, Thinking About Christian Apologetics, 89.

[7] Ibid., 157.

[8] Groothuis, Christian Apologetics, 69.

[9] Beilby, Thinking About Christian Apologetics, 96.

[10] Groothuis, Christian Apologetics, 62.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Beilby, Thinking About Christian Apologetics, 99.

[13] Ibid., 100.

[14] Ibid.

The Emotionally Healthy Church

The Emotionally Healthy Church

          Peter Scazzero is the founder of New Life Fellowship Church in Queens, New York, which is a large, multiracial church with more than seventy-three countries represented. After serving as the senior pastor for twenty-six years, Scazzero now serves as a teaching pastor with a primary focus on a groundbreaking ministry that equips churches in deep, beneath-the-surface spiritual formation, and integrates emotional health with contemplative spirituality.[1] Scazzero takes real life experiences from both his own personal life and those from New Life Fellowship members, no matter how painful, and uses them to take the reader on a liberating journey of freedom found through emotional and spiritual healing. During a crisis of faith, Scazzero came to realize, “The sad reality is that too many people in our churches are fixated at a stage of spiritual immaturity that current models of discipleship have not addressed, [exposing] the link between emotional health and spiritual maturity, [which] is a large unexplored area of discipleship.”[2] This is a central problem because there is also a direct correlation between the overall health of a church and that of its leadership.[3] In addition, Scazzero demonstrates, “The starting point for change in any nation, church, or ministry has always been with the leader first.”[4] Scazzero then found people could not be spiritually mature while remaining emotionally immature, especially when conflict was involved. This profound realization came after Scazzero’s wife Geri said, “I quit” to New Life, but after a brief sabbatical and counseling, God restored and equipped the Scazzero’s marriage, to bring about real change in the culture at New Life, and now countless others have been impacted. Through this restoration process, Scazzero discovered the degree to which people live in truth is also the degree to which people are truly free.

            Scazzero breaks his strategy of discipleship into four parts: (1) discipleship’s missing link, which focuses on leaders initiating the change; (2) biblical basis for a new paradigm of discipleship, which shows the relationship between emotional health and spiritual maturity; (3) seven principles of an emotionally healthy church, which takes inventory of where the church finds herself and forces a hard internal look, by pulling back the multiple layers to uncover areas for potential growth; and (4) where do we go from here? This last part demonstrates, “In the same way, our growth into Christlikeness requires we get rid of our old, hard, protective shells and allow God to take us to a new place in him, [it also] calls for a commitment to do the hard work – one day at a time,[5] so Scazzero’s model shows love and listening as a core components.

       One of the most compelling areas of Scazzero’s work involves a new paradigm shift in the discipleship process. What made this section so valuable was its application to both the individual and the corporate setting. When New Life began to implement what Scazzero uncovered, the church moved from being “human doings to human beings, [but this process started first with] Scazzero’s understanding of what it meant to minister out of who you are, not what you do.”[6] The concentric circles of applying emotional health[7] properly demonstrate the necessity for change to occur from the top down in terms of leadership and influence. In a church setting, this would start with the senior pastor, then his or her family and spouse, staff and interns, elders and board, actively serving leaders, leaders in development, rest of the congregation, and the wider community influenced by the church.

       Scazzero then demonstrates the necessity of understanding mankind is created in the image of God, which encompasses much more than merely the spiritual dimension; it also includes the physical, emotional, social, and intellectual dimensions. Scazzero illustrates by “Denying any aspect of what it means to be a fully human person made in the image of God carries with it catastrophic, long-term consequences – in our relationship with God, with others, and with ourselves. Unhealthy developments are inevitable when we fail to understand ourselves as whole people, made in the image of our Creator God.”[8] Regarding this writer’s current emotional and spiritual health, there will always be areas to improve, as one of the best indicators of a good leader is being teachable and open to the guiding of the Spirit. However, being engrossed in fulltime ministry while also being a fulltime student has created a constant battle for time and priorities. The inventory and assessment of spiritual and emotional maturity illuminates strengths and areas for improvement, while also making sure the priorities in life are reflected in where time, talents, and treasures are spent. Scazzero’s principles can then be applied in the vision and mission of the church and for individuals, by affirming in all matters, God comes first. Scazzero also does a brilliant job demonstrating when people operate out of hurt or an underdeveloped character, he or she will not allow people to get close. Ultimately, past hurt leaves deep wounds, making it difficult to trust people. Scazzero concludes by showing how leadership is lonely, making it vital to surround oneself with like-minded individuals because another important part of being healthy is to surround oneself with healthy people. Unfortunately, this is not easy at churches, since the church is a place for broken and hurt people to come in order to find wholeness and restoration. As a result, Scazzero also lists self-care and forgiveness as challenges of anyone who serves, since forgiveness in not a quick process.[9]

Bibliography

New Life Fellowship Website, http://newlifefellowship.org/about-us/about-new-life/our-staff/  (accessed August 9, 2016).

Scazzero, Peter. The Emotionally Healthy Church: A Strategy for Discipleship that Actually Changes Lives, Updated and Expanded Edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010.


[1] New Life Fellowship Website, http://newlifefellowship.org/about-us/about-new-life/our-staff/ (accessed August 9, 2016).

[2] Peter Scazzero, The Emotionally Healthy Church: A Strategy for Discipleship that Actually Changes Lives, Updated and Expanded Edition, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010), 17-19.

[3] Ibid., 20.

[4] Scazzero, The Emotionally Healthy Church, 36.

[5] Scazzero, The Emotionally Healthy Church, 217.

[6] Ibid., 34.

[7] Ibid., 35.

[8] Scazzero, The Emotionally Healthy Church, 54 & 164.

[9] Ibid., 151.

Explanation & Response to the Gospel

JESUS_NOTHING

            Greg Gilbert best describes the gospel as, “The proclamation that Jesus, the crucified and risen Messiah, is the one, true, and only Lord of the world.”[1] Gilbert also demonstrates how Paul’s letter to the Romans is a great place to find the most basic explanation of the gospel. In chapters 1-4, Paul first wants his readers to know they are accountable. Gilbert illustrates, “We are made by Him, owned by Him, dependent on Him, and therefore accountable to Him.”[2] Secondly, Paul tells his readers that their problem is that they rebelled against God. This applies to Jews and Gentiles alike because every single person in the world had sinned against God.[3] Thirdly, Paul says that God’s solution to humanity’s sin is the sacrificial death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Gilbert demonstrates, “Having laid out the bad news of the predicament we face as sinners before our righteous God, Paul turns now to the good news, the gospel of Jesus Christ.”[4] Lastly, Paul tells his readers how they themselves can be included in this salvation. This is where every individual must decide if the gospel is good news for him or her or not. Gilbert summarizes these four points as: God, man, Christ, and response.[5]

How One Properly Responds to Gospel

            Gregory Faulls provides four steps as a response to the gospel: (1) Confess before God any sin and responsibility. The first response to the gospel always begins with repentance and then faith.[6] (2) Turn away from life apart from Christ and toward a life of following Christ. This step is critical as many Christians are currently asking Christ to follow them instead of following Christ’s lead. (3) A Christian must believe that Jesus died on the cross for his or her sin and that He rose again. The believing has to do with personally trusting what Jesus did for the believer’s salvation.[7] (4) The believer must completely surrender his or her life to His leadership.[8] Using these four declarations as a foundation, every believer should strive to spread the gospel while also showing love and compassion to everyone. A true response to the gospel causes a transformation to take place in the believer’s life, one in which the work of the cross is central to what is said and done. Gilbert demonstrates by keeping the cross at the center of one’s life, he or she will become dependent on the cross both for salvation and sanctification.[9]

Vital Connection Between Evangelism and a Believer’s Spiritual Growth

            Spiritual growth is vital in the life of a believer because if one is not growing, then he or she is essentially dying. For growth to occur, the believer must maintain intimacy with God in the form of praise, prayer, and daily reading of God’s Word. The natural progression of spiritual growth leads to evangelism, as the believer is transformed more and more into the image and likeness of Christ. Another crucial component to spiritual growth is obedience, which combines the Great Commandment[10] with the Great Commission[11] to form powerful evangelism as the believer shares the love and mission of Christ with others. Gilbert reminds the reader that despite all the evangelism efforts, “The kingdom promised in the Bible will only come about when the King Jesus Himself returns to make it happen, [so] our social and cultural [evangelistic] victories will never bring about the kingdom of God. Only God Himself can do that since the heavenly Jerusalem comes down from heaven and is not built from the ground up.”[12]

Ways to Improve Evangelistic Commitment

            For something so life-changing, it is a mystery why people are so afraid to share the gospel with friends, family, co-workers, and the people they interact with on a daily basis. Fear of rejection, insecurity of not having all the answers, or any other number of excuses prevent the spread of the gospel. For this writer, watching what is said as well as what is done remains at the forefront of daily living. People are always watching and since actions speak louder than words, a Christian’s life should be his or her testimony to God’s love and forgiveness. Scripture says, “They have overcome [Satan] by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony.”[13] Robert Mounce shows, “Not only does Satan suffer defeat at the hands of the archangel, but he is overcome by faithful believers as well. The primary cause of their victory is the blood of the Lamb. The great redemptive act that freed them from their sins and established their right to reign is the basis for their victory. Their share in the conquest then stems from their testimony.”[14] These saints’ willingness to proclaim the message overcame even the natural fear of death, so it is interesting to look at the areas of the world where Christians are experiencing great persecution and witnessing that those are the only areas that are experiencing real growth. In America, the culture has made everything about them by providing things, easier, cheaper, and faster. A real relationship with God cannot be obtained through some six-minute video to get six-pack abs routine. Instead, God must come before all other things, so that He becomes the motivator behind everything the believer says and does. It ultimately boils down to loving God and loving others.

Bibliography

Faulls, Greg. From Dust to Destiny. http://prevailinglife.com 2014. (accessed July 27, 2016).

Gilbert, Gregory D. What is the Gospel? (gǒs’pəl). Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010.

Mounce, Robert H. The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Book of Revelation. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997. WORDsearch CROSS e-book.


[1] Gregory D. Gilbert, What is the Gospel? (gǒs’pəl), (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010), 19.

[2] Gilbert, What is the Gospel?, 28.

[3] Ibid., 29.

[4] Gilbert, What is the Gospel?, 30.

[5] Gilbert, What is the Gospel?, 31.

[6] I John 1:9

[7] Romans 10:9-11

[8] Greg Faulls, From Dust to Destiny. http://prevailinglife.com 2014, 39. (accessed July 27, 2016).

[9] Gilbert, What is the Gospel?, 110-111.

[10] Matthew 22:36-40

[11] Matthew 28:16-20

[12] Gilbert, What is the Gospel?, 92-93.

[13] Revelation 12:11

[14] Robert H. Mounce, The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Book of Revelation, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 238.