The question of heaven, hell, election and predestination are hot topics troubling many unbelievers for the answer to it has heavy repercussions for God’s moral perfection.
I was therefore extremely interested as I received a free copy of this book through the Speakeasy ministry of Mike Morell.
The author is a revival pastor having “a passion to spread the exuberant love and joy of the supernatural gospel of Jesus Christ.”
In what follows, I am going to offer my critical thoughts on the content of the book.
Christian mysticism, logic and contradictions
The author made it clear that he belongs to the strongly charismatic and mystic wing of the Church. While it does not correspond to my psychological makeup, I don’t think there is necessarily something wrong with that.
Crowder rightly points out that “American revival religion has a very low threshold for mystery” which I would add is by and large true for the entire modern Western society.
I agree with him that “Eastern and Western thought need one another, just as you need a right and left side to your brain.”
He shares the view of the great reformed apologist Francis Schaeffer that having made the laws of nature independent of God is the cause of modern Western materialism.
“Newton took deism, viewed the laws of nature as independent. “
“Kruger says, “It seems to me that we are giving ourselves far too much credit, assuming that ‘ordinary’ things like laughter, fellowship, caring, working, giving ourselves for others, being parents, making music, creating things are simply ‘human’ and have no Jesus or any Holy Spirit in them. Our dualisms have blinded us, and we don’t even know it.””
They are in good company in believing this since no less of an atheistic philosopher as Ludwig Wittgenstein wrote that “the whole worldview of modernism is grounded on the illusion that the so-called laws of nature are an explanation of the phenomena of nature”.
Crowder went on quoting Albert Einstein: “the most beautiful emotion we can experience is the mystical. It is the power of all true art and science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead. To know that what is impenetrable to us really exists, manifesting itself as the highest wisdom and the most radiant beauty, which our dull faculties can comprehend only in their most primitive forms – this knowledge, this feeling, is at the center of true religiousness. In this sense, and in this sense only, I belong to the rank of devoutly religious men.”
I think that caution is required here. Unlike many village atheists, Einstein believed that there is an unfathomable mystery underlying the whole Cosmos, but he was by no means a atheist, believing instead in a form of pantheism.
I started out disagreeing with Crowder as he wrote that
“Just like Calvinism and Arminianism, Universalism as a theological model ultimately relies on human logic to resolve mystery. It says that everyone will definitely, automatically, eventually make it out of hell with utmost certainty – if hell even exists at all. It is dogmatic in areas where scripture is fluid and open ended.”
I think there is a real danger that our embrace of mystery can lead to an embrace of logical contradictions as well.
I found the following passage deeply problematic:
“though it may seem mystical and hidden to you – you have even transcended the laws of time, physics, gravity and more in Christ! We no longer have the excuse of the seasons … I’m not prepared. I don’t have enough money. I don’t have enough education. He has fully filled you, equipped you and given you everything – whether you know it or not.”
This reflects an irrational tendency within the Charismatic community which has serious consequences as we shall see in an other section.
Biblical inerrancy and belief in contradictions
While he did not clearly speak out in that respect, I glean from his writings that Crowder holds fast to the Chicago statement of inerrancy, according to which every writer of the Bible made no mistake as he wrote his part(s) of Scripture.
To his credit, he clearly emphasizes that Jesus is the ultimate revelation of God.
“True Knowledge is more than data – He is a Person. “
“In the world of theological complexity, we can rest in two things for sure … that God is Love and that Jesus Christ is the Word of God.”
He also pointed out that inerrantists all too often confuse the message of Scripture with their own interpretation:
“How often do you hear someone militantly say, “I don’t need theology. I only believe what’s in the Bible.” What they are really saying is that they only believe their interpretation of the Bible.”
However his commitment to inerrancy leads him to quite a few contradictions.
“We are not dealing with two different gods between Old and New Testament. We’re dealing with two separate ways of God dealing with mankind”
“When Christ is given His place, then the scriptures fall into place. Otherwise, you’re looking at an impossible, conflicted and illogical rulebook of haircut patterns and genital mutilations.”
“In every instance I must see His love – even in the most difficult, traumatic, genocidal passages.”
Well the most likely interpretation is that theological ideas evolve with time and that neither Ezechiel nor Jesus shared a belief in the justice of collective punishment and genocides.
The nature of salvation: grace or work?
The same can be said about his analysis of the part of the Bible pointing towards the importance of good works for one’s salvation.
“The apostle James tells us that faith without works is dead. This is a beautiful truth, and one that is often misunderstood and distorted. Always read James through the lens of Paul, not in addition to Paul.”
How so? Why could we not as well read Paul’s writings through the lens of James?
Or why could we not use the historical method to conclude that both authors most likely did not share the same view of salvation?
It is kind of misleading for Crowder to confidently write that
“In fact, the average Sunday Bible Belt Christian flips open to the Sermon on the Mount and assumes he has to accomplish the whole thing to be saved! He doesn’t realize that Jesus was still preaching law, prior to the cross (preaching it hotter than Moses).”
since this is only one possible interpretation among others.
The victory of the Christian
Crowder takes the view of Evangelical theologian and pastor Neil Anderson according to which Christians no longer have a sinful nature and therefore possess the ability to overcome to a large extent sin in their life.
Rejecting the penal substitution theory of the atonement, he wrote that
“The Bible never says that the death of Christ was to reconcile God to us. The death of Christ was to turn us back to God.”
“On the cross, Jesus was not changing God; He was changing you.”
“We are not in a time-process of becoming holy; we are in a process of discovering how holy we’ve been all along.”
He wrote a particularly interesting sentence which parallels the practice of mindfulness meditation:
“We are not in a time-process of becoming holy; we are in a process of discovering how holy we’ve been all along.”
Apotheosis or how to become divine beings
He went on writing about a theory considered as a blasphemy by most conservative Evangelicals, namely our becoming gods through our union with Christ, quoting different Biblical and Christian writers.
For the Son of God became man so that we might become God.
“I said, ‘You are gods, and all of you are children of the Most High.’”
“Augustine said, “If we have been made sons of God, we have also been made gods.”96”
“And again we see Thomas Aquinas write, “The only-begotten Son of God, wanting to make us share in His divinity, assumed our nature, so that he, made man, might make men gods.”
He concluded with an amazing quote of C.S.Lewis:
“It is a serious thing,” says C.S. Lewis, “to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship.”
Prosperity Gospel and manifestation of the spirit
One of the most troubling aspect of the book was its conveyance of prosperity teachings.
“”In our own ministry, we have seen a most extraordinary display of miracles … hundreds healed of tumors, cancers, deafness and blindness. And the more phenomenal displays such as people floating off the ground, rain falling inside buildings, huge sums of money appearing in pockets or supernatural weight loss of twenty, forty, even eighty pounds!”
At other places he defends the so-called Toronto blessings involving “being drunk in the spirit”. There is a huge danger here for it clearly conveys the ideas to unbelievers (and other believers as well) that they belong to a crazy cult.
His promises of well being are really dangerous.
“Power, right living, good marriages, healthy children, liberation from poverty … it’s all your inheritance available now, as we discover what’s already ours. ”
“The admission of hunger is an admission of lack. A hungry child is a sign of bad parenting. It is an assertion that Christ’s sacrifice was not a good enough meal for you. “
This can all too easily lead countless Christians living in poverty to think that the problem lies in them.
Calvinism, Arminianism and Universalism
This finally leads me to what I take to be the central question handled in this book, namely the nature of salvation. I want to show the main problem with Crowder’s line of thinking.
The universal character of salvation
Crowder made it clear that he rejects the theory of limited atonement and believe that Christ died for everyone, writing that it leads to “a god of our own making who is conveniently less moral than we are”.
“there is a very real universal aspect to the atonement that Western evangelicals frightfully deny.”
“There is no limited atonement any more than there is a limited incarnation. Fully man for all of humanity.”
“As death came through one man, so also the resurrection came through one man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ shall all be made alive”
“Paul does not limit his context to Christ’s relationship to believers but gives fundamentally the same account of His relationship to all men,” adds Barth. “
“For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive (1 Cor. 15:21-22).”
How many died in Adam? Ummm … all? Well we’re talking about the exact same all here made alive in Jesus Christ. How quick we are to have faith in the one man Adam to bring death to all … yet how fearful is the suggestion that the one man Christ could bring life to those same dead men! Some rabid evangelical may call you a Universalist!”
He however is not a “dogmatic universalist” because he apparently also believes in the possibility of rejecting God.
“As C.S. Lewis said, “The doors of hell are locked on the inside.”
“All that are in hell choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. To those who knock it is opened.”
“Heaven and hell are both full of forgiven sinners. It’s just that those in hell refuse to accept their already given gift of acceptance.”
Faith as God’s gift
Nevertheless he also embraces the notion that we cannot ourselves generate faith but that this can only stem from God, approvingly quoting John Calvin:
“The reality of our adoption is not one we can force. For those of us who would charge into claiming our ‘adoption’ as yet another thing to accomplish, the good news is that adoption is under the Holy Spirit’s jurisdiction,” said John Calvin. “Our adoption—God welcoming us into His relationship with His Son—is brought about by the Spirit, ‘without whom no one can taste either the fatherly favor of God or the beneficence of Christ.’
Crowder further wrote:
“When you tell people they have to believe in Christ, you’re actually preaching law, not Gospel.”
“When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matt. 19:25-26).
This is the whole point! Salvation is God’s business. You can’t do anything to be saved.”
“His command to believe, like every other command, highlighted our inability to do it. The guys He most instructed to “believe” (the disciples) were also the guys He clearly said did not believe.”
According to the beliefs of Crowder in the universal offer of salvation and faith as God’s gift, the following syllogism can be built.
1) God wants everyone to be saved
2) Humans can do absolutely nothing to be saved, this is a pure gift of God which cannot be refused
3) Thus God will offer it to everyone
4) Therefore everyone will be saved (dogmatic universalism).
Given his own presuppositions, Crowder should ultimately be certain that everyone will spend the whole eternity with God.
This book will probably be mostly interesting for readers having a mystical approach to the Christian faith and sharing the Charismatic commitment of the author.
However I recommend everyone to take with a grain of salt his assertions, some of which being highly problematic.
Nevertheless it must be recognized that this book raises a lot of vital questions, even if some of the answers fail to be consistent.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255.
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