Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Sun Stand Still Review, Part 2

David Sorrell continues his review.

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Sun Stand Still Chapter 3: Page 23 Vision

Before I begin this chapter I’d like to take a brief interlude to explain a few things. First, I’m sure Furtick is the real deal—a genuine Christian. The problem is that his understanding of Christianity and the Bible is firmly embedded in a specific culture: American, and particularly Southern. What we wind up with is a book that is designed for that specific culture as well.

Diving right into Chapter 3, on page 21 Furtick starts off on the wrong foot by claiming that “God gives people the exact experiences he wants them to have in order to shape the specific destiny he’s designed for them.” To the culture that the Bible was written in, of course, this would be absolutely foreign—akin to the Ministry of Silly Walks sketch on Monty Python’s Flying Circus. But I would argue that Furtick is missing the point. There is a God-designed destiny for those who believe, and Furtick misses it: to be conformed to the image of Christ. How we do that is up to us, but there are some key Biblical themes missing from Furtick’s description of that ‘destiny.’

One thing that stands out in this introduction is his description of the ‘typical chief of sinners’ testimony. It does get mentioned later, but his primary identification with the Gospel is that it transforms a person’s life to turn them around from addictions, and attitudes, and other things that harm themselves and others. Slight problem: That’s not the Biblical gospel. Sanctification is not justification, and he clearly managed to leave that out. While being conformed to Christlikeness is one of the sanctifying works of the Spirit, there is a real problem with identifying ‘having your act together’ as the evidence of faith—and this shows up in spades later on.


Ultimately I have a question for Furtick: He describes ‘walking the aisle’ to make Jesus the Lord of his life, but why? If it was to repent and ask the forgiveness of sins, why did this necessary part of the gospel get left out here? This is a pretty glaring omission.


Page 24 is where Furtick mentions the epiphany of sorts that endows him with his grand ‘vision’ (a term we’ll mention later) for his life and ministry. It mentions one sentence in a book by Jim Cymbala called Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire.


And thus we get the first hint of the Charismatic influences on Furtick’s ideas—and this starts showing up a whole lot. But ultimately what emerges is a picture of a 30-year-old megachurch pastor with little in the way of discernment: he’s open about who influences him, and this gives us a good idea of where he’s coming from.


Furtick is very clear about how he read about the things God was doing in Cymbala’s church in Brooklyn, and how he didn’t want his life to be wasted. Unfortunately, this is where the influence of the “Experiencing God” stuff shows up: for Cymbala, and then in Furtick. This is why I call SSS an attempt at apologetics: it is trying to prove God through personal experience. And I think I know why—because we live in an age of experience, and personal, subjective experience can’t be called into question by those who doubt (or so it is thought).

It is no surprise that Furtick would come to the conclusion that the experiences described by Cymbala and others are an ironclad proof for God.

Interestingly enough, Furtick does say on page 25 that “[i]f the dream in your heart isn’t biblically based, focused on Jesus, …” among other things, then it’s likely it’s not a God-given vision. With this much I readily agree. However, this means that Furtick’s own book fails that test because it’s decidedly lacking on the Biblical content, and what Biblical content it uses it mangles out of context.

Page 29 introduces one very big problem: the praise of naiveté as some sort of virtue. He relates the story of knowing he was supposed to start a large church in a large city, but knew nothing about how to go about doing it. Why is this treated like a virtue? This is not biblical faith. This is blind faith that the Bible repeatedly denies. His wrap-up for this section is “The legions of the naïve can change reality just by being ready to respond to the visions God gives them.”

Mr. Furtick, why aren’t you a Mormon?

The entire book is centered on Furtick’s understanding of Joshua 10, and the life of Joshua in general. But as a result of the Western, American Christianity he grew up with, we are treated to some slack-jaw-inducing statements like “Before Joshua could change the world through audacious faith, he had to seize God’s vision in a Page 23 moment of his own.”


Say what? For Furtick, the historical importance of the event takes a backseat to an allegorical view: that it contains some principle that can be applied to our own lives. Suffice it to say that those in the times of the Bible would have keeled over laughing at such an idea. And the entire book is chock full of statements just like it, and about more passages than just this one. Such an understanding of the miracle of Joshua 10 manages to completely misunderstand both the reason for the miracle, and exactly who did the world changing (hint: it wasn’t Joshua).

The chapter ends with Furtick listing all the things that would not have happened ‘without his Page 23 vision.’

He does mention sin again, but treats it strangely: he speaks of simply trying to ‘manage’ sin, or feeling like a spiritual failure by comparing yourself to others instead of Jesus. And I simply have to question his understanding of the Gospel here, because there’s no better way to feel like a spiritual failure than comparing yourself to Jesus unless you know what the gospel means.


“Rules without revelation result in rebellion.” Excuse me, please read the Old Testament. Rules by revelation still resulted in rebellion because that’s our nature. What about looking to Jesus deals with sin? How does Jesus deal with sin? Why leave that out here?


Chapter 4 is the “Sun Stand Still Lexicon,” and as such there’s definition and explanation of his terms. Great! Let’s take a look.


“Sun Stand Still Prayer”


“Sun Stand Still is based on a prayer in Joshua 10 that affected time and space. […] As it applies to you, SSS is a metaphor for the seemingly impossible things God wants to do in and through your life.”


And what sort of ‘impossible things’ does Furtick have in mind?


“Broken relationships, financial provision, career aspirations, spiritual breakthroughs at work, in the community, or elsewhere in the world, physical and emotional healing, loved ones who are far from God, standing strong against temptation, achieving important life goals, finding and embracing purpose, and ministry resources and momentum.”

Why does the gospel not show up until number six in the list, and even then not directly? How is the inability of man to save himself from his sin not the most important ‘impossible thing?’ Everything else mentioned is ‘secular’ in nature and not really evidence of God’s working—good things happen to unbelievers too, but the one thing that is truly impossible is the one thing that God has already done for us in Christ. Is that really ‘afterthought’ material?


Purpose, of course, is baked in to the whole book because Furtick is one of the top acolytes of the Rick Warren-esque Seeker Sensitive movement. As such it suffers from those flaws as well.


“Page 23 Vision”


“Believing God for the impossible begins with seeing the invisible—understanding who God is and what he wants to accomplish through you.”


I would argue that such a point is made more eloquently in Romans 12:1-2. Christlikeness is nowhere to be found in this book, at least through this.


“Impossible”


“What qualifies as impossible? Anything that seems impossible to you.” He goes on to say that impossibilities don’t exist since there’s nothing God cannot do (misquoting Matthew 19:26 and Luke 1:37), nevermind the philosophical sloppiness of such a claim, it’s clear from the Bible that there are a whole pile of things God can’t do—for which we have great reason to be thankful.


“Audacity”


(Aside from being ruined by a certain book called “The Audacity to Hope”—it gets ruined again.)


Amusing is his comment that his terms might come across as empty jargon.

It’s all empty jargon. That’s been painfully clear from page 1.
“Biblical audacity is a mind-set that approaches God with confidence and believes him for the impossible. It’s rooted in the gospel and it’s powered by the Holy Spirit.”

Actually, I’d agree with this because it comes the closest to the Biblical understanding of faith as based on trust—and for Christians, we can trust precisely because of the gospel and what was accomplished through it. Sadly it doesn’t look like a Sun Stand Still prayer, and is hobbled by the ‘impossible’ baggage.


“Audacious Faith”


He starts off on the right foot here too, mentioning Hebrews 11:6 and Ephesians 2:8 and then goes on to saw off the branch he’s sitting on by saying “Unfortunately, faulty interpretations of isolated verses have resulted in shaky foundations of faith for many Christians.” I’d completely agree. Unfortunately, his own foundations are very shaky, and he has passed on the shakiness inherent in the system through Sun Stand Still.


“Audacious faith isn’t some newfangled, extrabiblical variety of faith. It’s a return to the core of Christianity: trusting Jesus completely” On this I’d wholeheartedly agree up to this point. This is precisely what the church today needs. Once again he mentions part of the Gospel here by saying “We are saved by grace through faith in Christ, period;” but the nagging question that keeps popping up is “What are we saved from?” At this point in the book it becomes apparent that if he spent any more time talking about sin and the gospel’s relation to that, it would seriously change the content and timbre of the book. As well it should—because the book is very silent on the real nature of sin and the gospel.


“A Move of God/The Miraculous”


“When I talk about a miracle or move of God, I’m not necessarily referring to a supernatural phenomenon from a scientific perspective. I’m more focused on the way God’s power infuses the life of ordinary believers to produce results that glorify Jesus.”


Which is an interesting thing to say when he describes both Biblical miracles and otherwise great events in our lives as cheapening the term ‘miracle.’


And that concludes this segment of the review. Next time we’ll look at Chapters 5 and 6, “Ignite the Ordinary” and “Wave Jumper.”

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