Book Review: Finally Free

Finally Freefinally-free-lambert_0
Fighting for Purity with the Power of Grace
Heath Lambert
Zondervan; 174 pages

The best book you’re going to read on overcoming porn.

Really, the review could be over. That’s all you need to know. But it wouldn’t be much of a review unless I told you why I thought this book was so powerful.

Gospel Driven
If someone were to ask me, “What do you mean by gospel-driven?” this book could serve as Exhibit A. Lambert first establishes that grace as the foundation for fighting pornography. He then develops that the same grace that saves a person (justifies) is the grace that works in their life to change them (sanctifies). This does not mean that strategy and effort are not employed. Lambert states: “Every strategy you employ in your fight for purity must be grounded in the grace of God in Christ if it is to lead to lasting freedom” (15). He presents God’s grace and our need to fight without contradiction. The two should not be seen as enemies (grace and effort) but as allies, with grace leading the charge.

One reason Lambert does not find himself caught in contradictions or constantly having to modify his statements is because his strategy genuinely flows from grace. He employs eight different topics that flow from grace:

  1. Understanding Godly Sorrow
  2. Using Real Accountability
  3. Taking Radical Measures
  4. Understanding Confession
  5. Using your Spouse (or your singleness)
  6. Using Humility
  7. Using Gratitude
  8. Your Dynamic Relationship with Jesus

Each of these measures flow straight from the gospel and do not stray from it. They continue to be driven from the application of the work of Christ on our behalf!

Practical Application
Lambert is the Executive Director of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors, (formerly called NANC). Lambert has also written The Biblical Counseling Movement After Adams, which I have not read, but feel like I just saw modeled. Lambert does a great job of keeping grace at the center, but also giving very practical application. Each chapter ends with application and/or questions. Usually, I’m tempted to scan right over these. However, Lambert’s fuel discussions in counseling, and even allow a reader to work through issues in private, if necessary. I would think they would work ideally for two men studying this book together.

Because his practical application flows from the gospel, you can pretty much start with any chapter. When a man approaches me about this issue, I typically will start with Chapter 4 (and then go back to the beginning of the book) and encourage him to have his wife read the Appendix (Help for Families and Friends of Men Struggling with Pornography).

Because pornography is so accessible, so subtle and so destructive, it’s tempting to feel like it is the juggernaut that will tear our churches apart. However, after reading Lambert’s book I had a spring in my step. Our churches surely can win the battle over porn, and the battle is one in the application of the gospel!

I highly, highly recommend this book!

 

Posted in Book Review, Idolatry, sanctification | 1 Comment

Book Review(s): Saving Eutychus & Preaching

Saving EutychusSaving-Eutychus
How to Preach God’s Word and Keep People Awake
Gary Millar and Phil Campbell
Mathias Media; 171

Though I have never heard of Millar and Campbell, I enjoyed multiple Mathias Media resources, and the title caught my mind. Eutychus was a young man who fell out of a window when Paul was preaching up to midnight. Though none of us probably preach at midnight, Millar and Campbell warn that our preaching can still put others to sleep. But preaching is not rocket science. The Irishman and Aussie suggest three major parts to the process:

  1. Work out the big idea.
  2. Apply it to ourselves.
  3. Think through how to preach it.

While Millar and Campbell do a good job covering the first two sections, it is in the third section that they really excel. Together, they introduce concepts like leading into the text with a summary (rather than reading the text first, then explaining), keeping your sentences short and varying your tempo, volume and pitch. They work through all these issues, even offering some technical information (like how to check your readability score online), with wit and humor. For example, one section on using practical vocabulary suggests:

I’m talking about choosing the clearest, least stilted words you can. Listen to yourself sometime. And then eschew utilizing cumbersome terminology when a less pretentious vocabulary would adequately suffice.

Though Campbell and Millar do not require readers to manuscript, they highly recommend it. They point out that clarity is a key to preaching “success.” From their suggestions, I began manuscripting and applying some of the suggestions they provide. From comments made by those in the body, their aids have helped me preach better sermons.

___________________________

Preaching9781781911303
Simple Teaching on Simply Preaching
Alec Motyer
Christian Focus; 188 pages

Though I was not familiar with Motyer, his book was endorsed by one of my favorite Old Testament preachers, Dale Ralph Davis. In fact, the book was endorsed by several well respected preachers. But Motyer keeps the cookies where I can reach them:

Not everyone can be what people call a ‘good preacher,’ but no one need be a ‘bad preacher.’

Motyer presents a six-fold view of preaching:

  1. Examination
  2. Analysis
  3. Orientation
  4. Harvesting
  5. Presentation
  6. Application

But Motyer is not formulaic in his approach. He’s concerned with the preacher as well. He wraps up the book with chapters on the walk of the preacher, the calling of preaching and the beauty of seeing Christ in all of Scripture. His book is not overly technical but it is detailed. He helps the preacher consider clearly understanding the text so that he can clearly communicate it.

My only critique–and it’s minor–is that Motyer provides no explanation for his Appendix. In the Appendix, Motyer offers ten different six-day devotionals. They look good, you are just left wondering why they are there. Motyer provides no explanation.

______________________

Overall, these books are perfect to read in tandem. Preaching does a great job of helping you craft the sermon and understand the text. Saving Eutychus helps you present the text effectively. I recommend either book, but highly recommend reading them together!

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Overview of my “The Bondage Breaker” Review

I’ve written a number of book reviews (and am quite behind on some pending ones), but I’ve never spent the amount of time I have on this book review. My intention with such detail is not to overwhelm, but was to try to be thorough and accurate.

However, this means I have written a rather lengthy review. Therefore, I’m summarizing the entire series below. Follow the links to read through the sections:

Why I wrote this review as a pastor of my church.
Why I wrote this review as a member of my Fellowship of churches.
Why I am not able to support the message of The Bondage Breaker. (This link serves as a shorter explanation of the entire series.)
Is The Bondage Breaker biblical?
Is The Bondage Breaker a healthy perspective on Satan?
Is The Bondage Breaker gospel-driven?
Is the Bondage Breaker good shepherding?

Critical book reviews are never easy. I have sought to write my disagreements in such a way that Neil Anderson and I could enjoy a cup of coffee while we discuss what he and I have written. If you disagree with these posts, I would simply ask a) that you do not take it to a personal level, and b) that you would read what I’ve written (and not just the summary statements above) before seeking to correct me.

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TBB: Pastoral Reasons for my Review

So why bother tackling such a review? In light of all the really great books that are out there, why isn’t it sufficient to simply imply I disagree with the book by not endorsing it? Is it really necessary to say why I would not recommend the book? Do I really want to start identifying what I don’t believe, rather than just focusing on what I do believe?

While I have no desire to make a “negative review” a regular part of my pastoral ministry, I do think it is necessary in this case. One of the reasons regards my individual congregation.

Our church has just completed a sermon series in Jude.. As we worked through Jude, the text really convicted me that I need to contend (agonize) for the faith in such a way that mercy, peace and love are multiplied (Jude 2-3). So while I don’t think it is good for a church to focus all her efforts on constantly refuting errors, part of the way in which we preach truth is to shed light on the distinction between truth and lies. We must contend.

But “The Bondage Breaker” does not become my random choice for contending. It became an extremely relevant book after I preached Jude 9:

But Michael the archangel, when he disputed with the devil and argued about the body of Moses, did not dare pronounce against him a railing judgment, but said, “The Lord rebuke you!

In the sermon, I encouraged all of us to be mindful in how we interact with demons and Satan. If it was not appropriate for Michael—the highest ranked angel—to rebuke Satan, I hardly think it is appropriate for us. In fact, Jude’s point is that these “intruders” (false teachers) were working into the body, and with no respect for authority, they even become proud in their interactions with spiritual forces.

That sermon immediately created feedback (which I always love). But the feedback had one common denominator. For those who were struggling with whether my sermon was accurate, almost all had received intense counsel in line with Anderson’s methods. In fact, as I was interacting with one person about the passage in Jude, another person walked up and stated that they felt my sermon directly contradicted “The Bondage Breaker!” It seemed to me that I had a pastoral responsibility to explain that our counseling method is not simply different than other forms simply because of gifts, personalities or preferences, but that we have rejected some other options that are out there. I needed to give “The Bondage Breaker” a fair reading, and after doing so—if I felt I could not recommend it—that I address the issues publically to explain our rejection of his methods is intentional, and not simply an issue of oversight or preference.

My prayer is that this review will help explain why our church does not use and does not recommend the approach given in “The Bondage Breaker.”

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TBB: For the Sake of (Our) Fellowship

My last post explained my pastoral motivations for my review. My primary calling is to our specific local congregation. However, as a member of the Fellowship of Grace Brethren Churches, our ministry extends beyond our own walls. A quick google search of “Neil Anderson and Fellowship of Grace Brethren Churches” will show that several of our churches are using his materials. Many of these churches are churches I respect and pastors I love. One ministry partner in the Fellowship even offers many of his resources in their lending library.

Do I consider myself the watchdog of our Fellowship? By no means. Do I even require that all churches and organizations within our Fellowship share my perspective on counseling and ministry materials? Not at all.

However, I do have a concern that our Fellowship does not really have an environment that facilitates good, critical dialogue. I understand that this review could get me labeled as divisive, negative or judgmental. It is not my desire to be these things, nor do I intend to convey that my ministry or personal theology is flawless. However, I am asking, “Can we create an environment where we can agree to disagree?” “Can we be humble enough to acknowledge that sometimes we can all endorse something that isn’t as helpful as it could be?” “Can we examine if pragmatism is designing our ministry or careful study of Scripture?”

My concern and desire is two-fold for our Fellowship. One, I pray that I might display discernment about “The Bondage Breaker” that is fair, theologically driven and yet gracious. I do not want to imply anyone else is less faithful to God or less Biblically informed if they endorse the book. However, I would like to give each person pause, and at least have them reconsider if the book is truly as helpful as they think. Second, I want to encourage other pastors out there who may have objections. If you have concerns about the book as well, you’re not alone! If you don’t have time to write out your own personal review (I’ve had one person even refer to this one as a “position paper” due to its length), it would be a privilege to serve you by providing mine.

When we create an environment where contending cannot take place, we open ourselves up for a world of unhelpful teaching. But I pray that I can offer such a review in a way that can truly multiply mercy, peace and love in our churches. It is not my prayer that this review ends discussion within the Fellowship, but that it might foster it.

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TBB: Summary of my Concerns

Since my review is rather long, I was encouraged by others to give a bit of a recap from the onset. In essence, this post can serve as an outline. I’ve organized my concern with The Bondage Breaker into four themes:

I do not find The Bondage Breaker to be biblically faithful. Though the pages are filled with references and quotations, I have serious concerns with Anderson’s approach.

  • Anderson avoids important passages (for instance, 2 Peter & Jude) that address issues of sin, spiritual warfare and angels/demons.
  • Anderson avoids explaining many of the passages he quotes. Rather than explaining the text, he often uses stories or illustrations to make his point.
  • Anderson appears to deliberately avoid portions of the text that don’t support his point. At times, he cuts off in mid-verse and ignores the rest of the text.

While such practices lead to a confused argument on spiritual warfare, there is a greater concern. Such methods lead to bad Bible study habits, and can create a host of confused perspectives in Scripture.

I do not find The Bondage Breaker to have a healthy perspective on Satan. While Anderson makes many theologically accurate statements about Satan, his application often contradictory.

  • Anderson agrees that Satan is not omnipresent, yet his book speaks of Satan as if he is everywhere. Regularly, Anderson turns passages about the world or about sin into being about Satan, giving the impression he is simultaneously afflicting everyone around the globe.
  • Anderson agrees that Satan is not omniscient, yet much of the book indirectly speaks like he is. Theologically, he is accurate in saying that Satan cannot know all things, but in practicality, he speaks of him planting thoughts in your mind and coming pretty close to knowing all that you’re thinking.
  • Anderson agrees that Satan is not omnipotent, yet Anderson presents him as potentially more active than God. Several times in the book, Anderson presents God as if He is sitting back, waiting for you to take the first step. He never presents Satan as more powerful than God or even equal, however the message is often sent that God waits for permission to act…something Satan does not do. This in turn, presents Satan as more active than God.

This conflict between theology and practice is visible throughout the book, regarding Satan. Anderson seems preoccupied with him. Therefore, Satan and demons make it into over half of his trust statements, and his procedures always seem to have one eye on the “underworld,” even as a person seeks to pray to God.

I do not find The Bondage Breaker to be gospel-driven. I was encouraged to find Anderson regularly making comments about focusing on Christ, but his methods fail to follow through.

  • Anderson does not distinguish between the saved and the lost. Throughout the book, Anderson provides lots of illustrations, yet never distinguishes if the person he counsels is saved, and never provides an illustration where he presents the gospel.
  • Anderson never gives a clear gospel presentation. It’s not just that Anderson never gives an example of a gospel presentation with a counselee, but he never gives a clear gospel presentation, period.
  • Anderson takes a light view of sin. Anderson speaks of sin as if it is just pursuing a good thing to an extreme level. By ignoring passages like James 1, Anderson never really discusses heart motivations involved in sin.
  • Anderson fails to acknowledge grace. His methods create a system where God is sitting back waiting for us to act, not seeking out after us. His steps present a formulaic approach, whereby your actions determine whether you will see results. Such an approach to Scripture ignores a “redemptive thread” throughout Scripture.

I do not find The Bondage Breaker to be good shepherding. As a pastor, I have concerns that Anderson’s method does not lead to a healthy shepherding environment.

  • Anderson’s appeal is largely pragmatic. Long before presenting his method or working through his positions, Anderson fills the book with testimonies from changed people. Instead of making his case from the Scriptures, Anderson wants to keep a Berean’s eyes on results.
  • Anderson’s method presents himself in the position of expert. His method does not come from a central passage. He also gives multiple accounts where he succeeds where other pastors/counselors could not. This creates an atmosphere where the reader needs to come to Anderson for his special wisdom, and thus cannot go to the Scriptures himself.

I understand that some of these statements could feel unfair or overly critical in isolation. However, the following posts include quotations from Anderson’s book along with more detail to explain my conclusions. Please, if you felt a particular point was unfair, click the link to take you to the specific post that deals with my concern in greater detail.

Posted in Book Review, doctrine, Hermeneutics, pastoring, The Bondage Breaker | Leave a comment

TBB: Is it Biblical?

Anytime you write a review, there’s a possibility that someone will get offended. When you say something is not Biblical, it may offend the author and any readers who found the author’s work beneficial. While calling a cookbook unbiblical is hardly offensive, it becomes particularly difficult in “Christian literature.” Are you calling the author heretical?

Let me say from the outset, I believe Neil Anderson has every desire to be Biblical in “The Bondage Breaker.” Let me also say that TBB is so chocked full of references and Scriptures that it’s understandable if a reader first considered the book thoroughly Biblical. I’m not questioning if Anderson believes the Bible to be authoritative or sufficient in the life of a believer. I’m likewise not accusing advocates of TBB of hating the Bible or being heretics.

However, as a pastor/shepherd, I find the way Anderson handles the Scriptures in TBB to be unhelpful. And if his methods implicitly teach Bible study, I think it can actually become harmful. I know that is a difficult charge, but allow me to explain with the following.

Anderson flat out avoids important passages. As mentioned earlier, I was directed toward TBB again after preaching from Jude 9. This passage directly addresses rebuking the devil, and the context addresses how some humans respond to angels. While Anderson acknowledges we should seek the Epistles in our guidance for spiritual warfare (255), he simply does not even address this portion of Jude. In fact, with Jude and 2 Peter both dealing with human and angel interactions, it seems negligent that Anderson is not even willing to address these texts.

Some may counter that Anderson is hardly writing a systematic theology of the underworld. How could he possibly write on every issue or instance that demons are addressed in the Scriptures?

I would agree with this question, and would be willing to accept the avoidance as a simply oversight, if Anderson didn’t use another form of avoidance as well.

Anderson also avoids explaining many of the texts he quotes. While making his case that Satan can be destructive in the life of believers, Anderson seems to appeal to multiple texts. From pages 188-192 he introduces a text and then offers a paragraph that breaks it down. At first glance, this seems very exhaustive and Scripture-centered. However, read his explanation of James 3:14-16 (189):

James 3:14-16. James indicates that if we yield to jealousy and selfish ambition, we may open ourselves to being controlled by wisdom which is “earthly, natural, demonic” (verse 15). I had a seminary student whose logic regarding Scripture was completely confused. He had been completely orthodox in his faith until he encountered a prostitute who challenged his faith to the core. Then he started coming up with all kinds of new “insights,” but nobody could understand them. His arguments sounded like they came from a book by Mary Baker Eddy, and none of the other students agreed with him. To my knowledge he never recovered from his experience with demonic logic.

A closer reading of the text will show that James does not say that jealousy and selfish ambition open you up to demonic wisdom. Rather, James is saying that jealousy and selfish ambition show you are already following “earthly, worldly, demonic wisdom.” A closer reading of the above paragraph will show that Anderson doesn’t really unpack the text for us at all, but simply tells a story. Either way, we also realize the above paragraph does nothing to substantiate his desire to “show how destructive Satan can be to believers.” (188)

This is not uncommon in TBB. Many times, Anderson will quote a Scripture (or offer the reference in parenthesis) and then give an accompanying story. Now, I am all for illustrations and offering real life examples to help put feet to explaining the text. However, Anderson regularly uses illustrations as the explanation of his texts. This is not an example of careful Bible study.

Careful Bible study is especially critical when you are trying to make a point that others would find debatable. Among orthodox Christians, a doctrine can be debated when different interpretations can be taken from the same passage. Therefore, when an author (or preacher) takes a controversial position, he should carefully show how he is faithful to the intention of the Text.

Anderson avoids portions of the text that don’t support his position. For example, Anderson states that Acts 5:1-11 is “perhaps the most definitive passage on Satan’s ability to control believers” (189). Of course, to make the point from this text, one needs to demonstrate that Ananias and Sapphira were both believers. Anderson acknowledges that many scholars doubt their salvation, but he rejects such a position. His first reason is that Acts 4:32 states that the event took place in the Christian community and Ananias and Sapphira were both members. He is right in his observation, but ignores a whole host of Scriptures that present some members of the church as unsaved. (Multiple Scriptures state that some of these “members” are false teachers.) This argument alone does not make his point. Anderson then moves on to his second point:

Second, Acts 5:11 records, “And great fear came upon the whole church.” If God were judging someone outside the church, why would great fear come upon those within the church? There was great fear among the believers because God had dramatically displayed His attitude toward believers who life a lie. (191-192, emphasis in the original)  

My first concern is that Anderson blatantly ignores (or neglects to inform his readers) that Acts 5:11 in its entirety states, “And great fear came over the whole church, and over all who heard of these things.” While Luke does state that the church became afraid, he just as clearly states that those outside the church became afraid as well. In fact verse 13 also supports this, “But none of the rest dared to associate with them; however, the people held them in high esteem.” Luke seems every bit as interested in those outside the church as he is with those within it.

But Anderson is not simply ignoring the text, but is also employing subjective reasoning. Anderson assumes the supernatural execution would only get the attention of the church if the two were actually believers? His logic is not complete. Anderson offers yet one more support.

Third, the severity of the punishment indicates that God was underscoring the importance of truth in the community of believers. Unbelievers lie all the time, and they usually are not as swiftly and thoroughly judged as were Ananias and Sapphira.” (192).

Does Anderson consider Herod a believer? Non-believers are filled with arrogance all the time, and many are even self-declared gods. The angel of the Lord struck Herod, he was eaten by worms, and died (Acts 12:23). That seems swift. That seems thorough.

I certainly do not mean to belittle Anderson. I simply want to illustrate that one should not make controversial statements from subjective interpretations, especially when many other passages are being disregarded.

It’s not simply that TBB employs poor Bible study methods. It’s actually that Anderson’s argument is built upon these shaky methods. TBB advocates an approach to demons and Satan that seems to contradict 2 Peter and Jude, even as he peppers the book with Scriptures. However a close examination of Anderson’s method shows he builds with implication and inference. For example, Anderson spends pages 96-103 talking about the armor of God. This gives the appearance that Anderson is being careful with the text. However, Anderson ignores that this passage calls for the believer to stand and to pray and instead puts the believer on the offensive simply because “any soldier who just stands there in his armor will get picked off” (94). Anderson uses conjecture, assumptions, shifting definitions and a selective picking and choosing certain passages.

Though TBB is not a book about Bible study methods, anytime we teach from the Word, we implicitly teach our methods. As a pastor, I am not only concerned with Anderson’s conclusions regarding spiritual warfare, but also with his hermeneutic (study methods). If a person studies this book and thinks this is a faithful way to study the Scriptures, far more than his view on spiritual warfare will become confused.

While TBB sits in a Christian bookstore, deals with spiritual issues, and has Scripture references throughout it, I would not be comfortable calling it a “biblical book.” This is one of the reasons I not only can’t recommend the book, but actually consider it to be harmful.

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TBB: Is it a Healthy Perspective on Satan?

When wanting to examine the topic of Satan, demons and the dark world, finding material isn’t a challenge. The world offers plenty of commentary. Simply type “satan” or “devil” into the IMDB and you’ll find a broad spectrum. There are comedies and satires, which turn Satan into a joke; a simple mythology carried over from ignorant, distant cultures. Others present him as a conquering adversary, destroying everything in sight. You have no defense. Ultimately, he will consume you.

Both extremes are obviously wrong. But the answer to viewing Satan properly is not “balance.” The problem with pursuing balance is that it’s always full of over-corrections. People need to take Satan seriously, but then you have to remind them not to take him too seriously. People need to have confidence over him as a defeated foe, but not become too confident. Corrections become over-corrections. Reactions become over-reactions.

While Anderson never lands at either extreme position, reading through the book gives one the impression that he’s constantly leaning toward one extreme or the other; sometimes within the same paragraph:

In Christ, we are important, we are qualified, we are loved. Satan can do absolutely nothing to alter our position in Christ and our worth to God. But he can render us virtually inoperative if he can deceive us into listening to and believing his insidious lies accusing us of being of little value to God or other people. (151)

Relax, you’re safe in Christ. But don’t relax too much because if you somehow fall for Satan’s subtle lies, you’ll be rendered ineffective. Is either statement above incorrect? No. However, he’s mixing the topics of position and power. His first statement speaks to your eternal security in Christ. His second statement speaks to your continual growth in Christ. In the end, this produces a process that doesn’t feel like “balance” or even a well-rounded approach, but actually comes across feeling like contradiction.

Anderson has a great quote when he says, “Finally, people in conflict often have a distorted concept of two kingdoms. They think they are caught between two equal but opposite powers: “bad old Satan” on one side, “good old God” on the other, and “poor me” caught in the middle. This of course is not the truth, and such people are defeated if that is what they believe. The truth is, God is omnipresent, omnipotent, and omniscient. Satan is a defeated foe—and we are in Christ, seated with Him in the heavenlies.” (264)

The quote comes near the very back of the book. And as I read it, I was thankful for Anderson’s perspective, yet I felt like the rest of the book presents methods that contradict. As I read through the book, I couldn’t help but feel the following:

While he says Satan is not omnipresent, much of his book indirectly speaks like he is. Anderson has a bad habit of turning passages that speak about the world or the flesh into discussions about Satan (139). The book regularly presents your battle as against Satan. If 1,300,000 people (number of copies sold) have read the book, is Satan simultaneously attacking all of us? Obviously, he can’t. Yet, Anderson often says he is attacking the reader. This leads to one of two conclusions: 1) Satan is so powerful he attacking everyone in the world at once, or 2) You’re so important, that out of all the people in the world, Satan has specifically chosen to put all his efforts into attacking you.

While it seems that Anderson’s effort is to call Christians to see and believe in the reality of Satan, by naming Satan as the culprit in nearly every problem and behind every conflict, it seems that Anderson actually makes him out to be legend.

Satan is also not all knowing. He is a created being with limitations. However, Anderson presents Satan in such a way where he is penetrating our minds. He’s so closely watching us that he can come close. Anderson says: “Why is it so important to speak God’s Word, in addition to believing it and thinking it? Because Satan is not omniscient, and he doesn’t perfectly know what you’re thinking. By observing you, he can pretty well tell what you are thinking, just as any student of human behavior can…It is not hard for him to tell what you are thinking if he has given you the thought.” (100)

Such a perspective of Satan’s knowledge goes so far, that on the next page he states: “Paul says, “With the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation” (Romans 10:10). Since you know your own thoughts and God also knows them, they why does verbal confession result in salvation? Paul could be saying that saving faith is not complete until the will is exercised, but he could also be implying the need for the god of this world to hear our commitment.” (101)

Anderson’s perspective seems to have Satan constantly in your head planting thoughts, but unsure of what you’re thinking. So if you are focusing on Christ, Satan needs you to tell him you are focusing on Christ. But such an approach gives Satan some of your attention, thus making it impossible to fully focus on Christ.

Satan is not all-powerful. While Anderson affirms this point regularly, he often puts Satan in the driver’s seat. He doesn’t present Satan as more powerful than God, but often presents God as waiting until after you’ve dealt with Satan. “Once you choose to forgive, Satan will have lost his power over you in that area, and God’s healing touch will be free to move.” (224)

Anderson’s perspective presents Satan waiting to step in and take control when we sin in ways that open that door for him (185). This attack can feel overwhelming. As you realize the attack is strong you may cry out to God, however Anderson provides God’s answer: “And God responds, “I’ve done all I’m going to do. I defeated and disarmed Satan at the cross. I conferred all authority on you in Christ. Now open your eyes. Realize who you are and start living accordingly.” (85).

The above quote does not say Satan is more powerful than God, but it does present him as more active. Satan is actively pursuing you. However, God has done what He’s going to do, he’s sitting back and expecting us to take care of the problem.

In the end, this creates a very unhealthy perspective on Satan. He becomes the force behind every sin, temptation and accusation. He is listening in on every conversation. And so, even in our times of fellowship with God, our focus is always split between God and Satan.

Satan, demons and spiritual warfare ultimately dominate Anderson’s theology. I was excited to find an eleven-part “Statement of Truth” by Anderson (219-221). However, as you look at the statements, Anderson regularly turns his attention back to Satan. A large degree of attention is paid to Christ’s work on the cross freeing us from the power of Satan, but only illusion is made to His substitutionary atonement. One entire point of his statement of faith is directed toward spiritual warfare (a very interesting choice for a Statement of Truth). One of his statements even begins with “I renounce,” indicating that even when he wants to focus on the truth, his eyes are too often on falsehood. Over half (6/11), of his statements of truth deal with “Satan” or the “domain of darkness.”

This preoccupation with Satan plays into his Steps to Freedom in Christ. Anderson makes it very clear that God can hear our hearts (102). It is not necessary to speak aloud to God, for part of his omniscient ability involves knowing our thoughts. However, in Anderson’s Steps to Freedom, he regularly encourages the person to pray to God aloud. Why would it need to be aloud if God is the One listening?

Reading through the suggested prayers reveals that God is never intended as the only audience. Though Anderson advises not addressing Satan or demons directly (258), his methods have you addressing them indirectly as you talk to God. In the end, you’re still talking to Satan and/or demons. It is similar to when one of my children says, “Dad, please inform (name of sibling) that I am not speaking them any longer,” while that sibling is within earshot. I’m not really the intended audience. The child is talking to his brother, but is using me as a conduit. So even as Anderson has a person praying, their attention is rarely focused on the Mediator who makes prayer possible, but is at best, split between focusing on God and on Satan.

I am fully aware that this specific critique of TBB will cause some to accuse me of being to rationalistic or call me a modernist. They will claim that I am saying Satan is not real, is not a foe, or shouldn’t be resisted. I want to be very clear. I believe Satan is real. I believe he is our adversary. I believe he wants to destroy. I believe he should be resisted. (1 Peter 5:8-9) However, when Anderson employs a methodology for “resisting” that is not found in Scripture, his methodology seems to contradict his theology. While I believe it is necessary and biblical to be aware of Satan, I believe Anderson’s book leads to an overwhelming preoccupation with Satan. At its best, Anderson’s methods seem to keep one eye on God while keeping the other on the devil. I do not believe this approach is healthy for the believer.

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TBB: Is it Gospel-Driven

There has recently been an increase in the popularity of terms like “gospel-centered,” “cross-centered” or “Christocentric.” Obviously, these terms point to a very good thing, but as they are used more and more, they have the potential to become buzzwords. Though my copy of TBB was published in 2000 (before some of these terms grew in popularity), Anderson’s book contains a few of them.

From his introduction (“A Word from Neil”), Anderson begins to establish that understanding our identity in Christ is critical. Anderson states, “Every defeated Christian I have worked with has had one thing in common. None of them have known who they were in Christ or have understood what it means to be a child of God” (46). Anderson later exhorts, “Don’t be demon-centered, be Christ-centered” (77). Such statements gave me hope that Anderson’s principles were going to be built upon the message of the gospel.

Again, allow me to be clear. I do not believe Anderson refutes the gospel. I saw nothing in the book that would suggest that Anderson preaches “another gospel.” However, if our actions are not driven by the gospel, and drive a person back to their understanding of the gospel, then we can hardly call them gospel-centered. There are several things in Anderson’s book that I believe drives the reader’s mind away from a focus on the gospel. A few of them are:

Anderson does not distinguish between the saved and the lost. As I’m reading accounts of Anderson’s counseling, I’m often left wondering about conversion. Are all of his examples believers? Anderson tells a story of a young woman who had spirit guides. The woman comes to Christ in her high school years, but nothing changes about her spirit guides until he takes her through his steps (8). Another woman is presented to the reader as a troubled Christian. When Anderson tries to get her to read a sentence about being a child of God, she sneers and curses at Anderson (45). This is explained as the ugly presence of the evil one in the woman’s life. One man is presented to us as deceived about the voice of God. This man believed God was preparing him to be one of the prophets in the book of Revelation and had sought out the Mormon church for his growth. Were these examples believers?

Now, Anderson addresses many times that he believes born again Christians can be influenced greatly by Satan and demons. But it’s interesting in his book that he never once gives an example where conversion needs to take place. There are times where he says he walked a person through their identity in Christ, but he does not explained if the person was already a convert or needed to trust in Christ. In fact, there is no example of a conversion taking place in Anderson’s book.

Anderson never gives a clear gospel presentation. This is not an unusual phenomena. In my own preaching, I can recognize when I have assumed the understanding of the gospel in my listeners, rather than articulating it. However, it is hard to center our theology around the work that Jesus has done for us without articulating it. While Anderson does mention Jesus and does point to his sacrifice on the cross, he chooses to keep most of his focus on Christ’s victory over dark powers. While Christus Victor is one legitimate view of the atonement, it is not the only thing that happened on the cross. Christ also paid the ransom for our sin. He purchased us back to God. He took the penalty for our sins. These gifts are received by repentance and faith, two concepts that are not given attention.

Anderson takes a light view of sin. Anderson states, “The problem with any attempt at being our own gods is that we were never designed to occupy that role…we never had nor ever will have the potential to be God or even a god” (38). There is no mention that appointing yourself as God is actually an act of rebellion against God.

In fact, the Bible often speaks of sin as idolatry. We replace the worship that is due God with created things (Romans 1:23). He presents sin as simply taking a good thing beyond the boundary of God’s will. He then proceeds to offer a bullet list that shows when a good thing become excessive (137-138). However, his list does not address corrupted affections at the core, but simply as interests that cross a line. The heart is not really engaged.

The damage of this perspective eventually comes clear when Anderson addresses self-deception. Anderson makes the case that being self-deceived makes us vulnerable to Satan’s lies. He then goes through a list of ways we can be self-deceived from Scripture (167-171). He presents these elements as if they were a check-list. You need to avoid these things to make sure Satan doesn’t gain a foothold. However, a humble reading of this list should cause the reader to see their failure, not their accomplishment. If we see sin as more than just infractions of rules, but as the desires of the heart, then we find ourselves guilty of all of these ways to be self-deceived. This would mean that Satan constantly has an open door to attack us.

Anderson fails to acknowledge grace. A light view of sin will always result in a light view of grace. Since Anderson does not really deal with James 1:14 and the origin of sin in our own souls, he presents men as almost taking the first step toward God. God did the work on the cross, now it’s your time to act.

Anderson presents some people as bound because their ancestors participated in false religions. Quoting from Exodus 20:4-6, Anderson then states, “Iniquities can be passed from one generation to the next if you don’t renounce the sins of your ancestors and claim your spiritual heritage in Christ. You are not guilty for the sin of any ancestor, but because of their sin, you may be vulnerable to Satan’s attack” (240).

First, the Bible never calls for you to renounce another person’s sin. Why would you need to abandon another person’s sin? Certainly, you can’t go before the Lord on their behalf, since Christ alone is appointed as our Mediator. But Anderson also seems to ignore the power of the New Covenant. In Ezekiel 18, the Lord explains that He will no longer hold the child guilty for the sins of the father. The chapter speaks specifically to idolatry and states “The son will not bear the punishment for the father’s iniquity, nor will the father bear the punishment for the son’s iniquity” (Ezekiel 18:20).

But second, this approach defies the logic of grace. Anderson’s methodology throughout the book presents us as people who must take action ourselves, if we want to see “freedom in Christ.” He presents God saving us (though without clear explanation) and speaks much about being in Christ. But he also speaks about walking in victory, and that walk is largely up to me.

By not acknowledging the presence of the sin nature in a believer, Anderson sets the believer up for pride or despair. If the believer is encouraged, he sees himself as delivered from temptation and sin. This is a dangerous position. But if the person is aware of their own sin, they can end up in despair and fear, knowing these sins apparently open the door for Satan to take control.

This results in a formulaic approach to spiritual issues. If you are struggling with an issue, Anderson recommends reading a chart. If you are sure the oppression is demonic, you certainly need to read the quotations aloud. If you want true freedom, you need to walk through his seven steps. If problems recur, you’ve probably become complacent and need to repeat the steps.

In the book, Anderson even gives one example of a well-meaning girl. This girl desired humility and saw that God humbled Paul through his “thorn in the flesh.” So she asked God to give her one as well. Anderson explains to the girl that her negative symptoms were due to her prayer. The “thorn,” he claims, is a demon. He explains to this girl that when she prayed to God for a thorn to make her humble, God then responded to her prayer and allowed a demon to begin to influence her. Though the girl was tormented, the demon would continue to harass this young woman until she took it upon herself to renounce the demon and renounce her request for a thorn. This woman renounces the request and receives temporary relief. When the symptoms return, he walks her through the Steps to Freedom. Once that is complete, she becomes free. (32-33)

This entire account is troubling. It presents a woman simply wanted to see God working in her life and prayed for a “thorn.” According to him, either God heard her prayer and chose to send a demon to a child of His, or the prayer somehow gave a demon permission to torment her and God did not intervene. Then, God simply sits back and waits for her to go through the process of renouncing before she can be made free. Does that sound like grace?

But this is the common strategy of Anderson. He does not present a God who steps into the picture while we were His enemy (Romans 5:8). Instead, he presents God as sitting back, waiting for us to make our move. If we’re aware of the deception of our own hearts, this should not be good news. We desperately need a God who takes the initiative on our behalf, not a god who is waiting on us to work through a checklist.

If the reader is a nonbeliever, I do not believe Anderson presents the gospel clearly enough to lead to salvation. If the reader is a believer, the book will not draw them closer to the gospel, but actually creates methods that seem to ignore it.

Posted in Book Review, doctrine, pastoring, The Bondage Breaker | 1 Comment

TBB: Is it Faithful Shepherding?

If you’ve read through this review, the final section may seem unnecessary. If a book isn’t really grounded in good Bible study, doesn’t have a healthy perspective on Satan and isn’t centered on the gospel, is it really necessary to evaluate the shepherding nature of the book? You shouldn’t be surprised to hear that I do not believe TBB models good shepherding.

However, I do believe it is necessary to address this issue because of the number of people I know who have received counsel from The Bondage Breaker. I also find it necessary because I know (and respect) several shepherds who have used “The Bondage Breaker.”

Anderson leans heavily on commendations. Nearly every chapter involves a testimony from a person who has been liberated by Anderson’s methods. Often, these accounts state the failures of other methods or techniques before Anderson helped bring “freedom.” Though Anderson regularly mentions his “Steps to Freedom in Christ,” he does not bother to reveal them until page 199. There are two concerns I have with this shepherding method.

First, the appeal to pragmatism creates human pressure. If his methods work for everyone else, then what is wrong with you if they do not work? If you have concerns about what he is presenting, who are you to argue with the results? While testimonies can lend to encouraging a person, and even illustrate what application may look like, it is not helpful if the accounts simply list our success.

This is a major temptation for all of us who shepherd. When working with a person, we can easily find ourselves appealing to our own resume for trust. Rather than pointing the person to the Scriptures, we can be tempted to point a person to our credentials. Such efforts always lead the person away from the cross and toward self-effort.

Second, Anderson’s method presents him in the position of expert. Not only is Anderson’s book full of praise from others about his methodology, nearly every other book he encourages you to read was written by him or his associates. Add to that a method that is not centered on one central passage, and you have a system built on unique knowledge. Anderson’s method is so experientially driven, and his Biblical references seem so scattered, that I doubt anyone else could come up with the same seven steps on their own. You need Anderson, because he alone has the information you need. This places the counselee forever at the feet of the counselor. This is not a healthy shepherding dynamic. Though a shepherd leads and teaches, it should never be from the perspective of a master. We should be seeking to “equip the saints for the work of the ministry.” If your counsel requires personal expertise, or if your counsel does not lend toward the person becoming healthy and no longer needing your counsel, it isn’t shepherding.

I pray that this review does not present me as an expert. I did not write this review because I think I could write a better book than Anderson. However, I was drawn to reviewing this book because I believe I see others who have been influenced in unhealthy ways due to its content. My heart breaks for them. I see other pastors pick up the book as they look for help on issues of spiritual warfare. I want to lovingly come alongside and suggest that the book doesn’t cover issues as faithfully as they might think.

If you’ve read The Bondage Breaker, or if you’ve even advocated it to others, please do not read this review as challenging your intelligence. The Word of God tells us that we all have blind spots. And please, do not view me as the expert on the subject. Simply take the concerns I’ve shared. Evaluate them according to the Word of God. Review the book and see if I’ve handled the content fairly.

Then, if you realize the book isn’t as helpful as you once thought, rejoice in the grace of God. He has used you to minister to others, not on the basis of your skills, but on the basis of His grace. Every good shepherd should see their own need for the Good Shepherd. We should rejoice in pointing people, not to ourselves, but to Him!

Let’s observe that grace and walk forward in faithfulness!

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