Monday, October 10, 2011

Sun Stand Still Review: Part One

For this posting, we present a review by longtime Tekton reader and occasional team member David Sorrell, who profiles a church leader who may be local, but whose sentiments are global.

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If you live in the Charlotte, NC area, there’s a very good chance you’ve heard of Elevation Church, led by one Steven Furtick. It’s currently one of the fastest-growing churches in the nation by every count, with over eight thousand members at a number of campuses in the Charlotte area and beyond.

Furtick himself is something of a rising star in the seeker-sensitive movement; along with those like Perry Noble, Erik Dykstra, Craig Groeschel, and others who took the Purpose-Driven Church model from Warren and applied it unsparingly—and it worked. Big time. Elevation started in 2005 and has been growing ever since.

In 2010 Furtick published a book named after a successful series of sermons called Sun Stand Still. It is intended as a sort of exposition on this sermon series, but also as a sort of an updated “Prayer of Jabez” gig.

So why does this book need a review? I think that will be evident as things come out and measured against Scripture and context.

While Furtick occasionally gets some things right (and those will be pointed out too), some of the things he gets wrong…he really gets wrong.

Prologue: This is how it feels…to read a book by a thirty-year-old megachurch pastor

It is perhaps a sign of things ahead that the book starts out with Furtick saying it’s a good thing to have Bono opening for him. It also sets the stage for the tone of the rest of the book.

Chapter one

Page 3: the dissonance begins here. Are the people living in the slums of Kampala not praying audaciously enough? Considering that the things that are listed as situations deserving of SSS prayers, which are mostly material concerns, do the poor Christians in the slums have audacious faith? Why or why not?

One unsettling theme rings through SSS against Furtick’s design: And it’s the same problem with the prosperity gospel. Over and over, Furtick talks endlessly of people that have done great and ‘audacious’ (more on that later) things—mostly about himself—is that those who pray SSS prayers have great things happen to them. Even though he does address when God doesn’t answer prayers, the same theme rings through: it’s happened to us, it can and will happen if you pray boldly enough.

Which leads me to my primary criticism of the book: It is not that Furtick’s prayers are too large; if anything, they are too small. This shows up through the whole book. And as a result, it distorts the Gospel, it distorts God’s word, and it distorts God’s will.

Page 8: “Let me ask you: does the brand of faith you live by produce the kinds of results in your life that you read about in the Biblical stories of men and women of faith?” Who said it had to? Is this the faith that the Bible in its entirety encourages us to? Biblically, what is faith?

Page 9: This is the first serious mangling of Scripture. He quotes Galatians 2:20 and says, “If this is too clunky for you, trade it in. Exchange it for an easier, no-money-down model.”

Excuse me? Exactly what does he think the Gospel is? This is the core of the Gospel. Read verse 20 in its context—what did it mean to Paul, and the Galatian church that he sent it to?

If Galatians 2:20 is “too clunky” for you, it’s not a sign that the text is too tough. It’s a sign that you’re not studying the text seriously enough. It’s a sign that your culture has so informed your approach to Scripture as to distort it like a funhouse mirror. Furtick has a degree from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (Mohler’s school—hint hint, why don’t you aim the big guns at Furtick, who is doing a whole lot more damage to studying the Bible, than someone like Licona?)

Furtick quotes Hebrews 11:6—and gets something right, but in doing so, also gets something wrong. He says that “faith isn’t just a get out of hell free card”—and he’s right about that; but he goes too far in treating it like a blank check from God. He rightly says we can’t shy away from seriously acting in faith “because some have treated it recklessly and unbiblically”—well, yes, I wholeheartedly agree, but unfortunately Sun Stand Still is a great example of exactly that.

Chapter 2 sets out the main premise of the book: a brief explanation of the events of Joshua 10 and the miraculous intervention of God on behalf of Israel.

But Furtick critically misses the point of the backstory to Joshua. He briefly describes the incident with the twelve spies, and describes the people being afraid and turning back. “But fear won out that day. God’s people didn’t understand that if you want to experience God’s blessings, audacious faith is not optional.” WHAT? Their problem wasn’t fear. Fear was a symptom of the real problem: UNBELIEF. They did not believe that God would save them. This was in direct contrast to God’s getting them across the Red Sea and out of Egypt in spectacular fashion; after the Law was given to Moses and all the rest.

Ultimately this is a very big problem for Furtick: he doesn’t even treat the next forty years in the wilderness, and all that happened there, as the judgement of God. He doesn’t even mention it. He doesn’t even mention the death of all the unbelieving Hebrews—just Moses, and only then because that’s when Joshua got promoted.

Suffice it to say that this entire approach suffers from the “Prayer of Jabez” syndrome: ripping a passage out of context, allegorizing it, and thinking that it’s a way to apply God’s same power today in our own lives.

Are we really so self-centered as to fall for this? Everything wrong with PoJ is wrong with this; indeed one little verse in Joshua 10 torpedoes the whole premise of the book: “There has been no day like it before or since, when the LORD heeded the voice of a man, for the LORD fought for Israel.” (Joshua 10:14)

The ‘before or since’ should be a pretty big clue to the reason for the miracle—and as we see later, Furtick fails to understand the purpose of a miracle.

Right after briefly describing the event, he does the usual song-and-dance of “I don’t know how it happened, other than that it happened.” While the Hebrew allows for some interesting alternate ideas of what happened (see here), there’s no doubt that it was a meteorological miracle—one designed by God to vindicate himself and to save the bloodline of the Messiah, as well as to demonstrate the bankruptcy of Ba’al, the false god who was supposed to be in control of the weather.

But what’s the reason for the miracle? Let’s put it in its historical context and see if that sheds any light. First, you have Israel, who has been delivered miraculously from Egypt, and who spends the entirety of the book of Joshua conquering the Promised Land by the miraculous power of God. Jericho had occurred a few chapters earlier, and after the time of Joshua, there are miracles throughout the book of Judges—not in conquest, but in liberation of the spiritually bipolar Israelites. And this clues us in to the real purpose of miracles: God intervenes at times of spiritual immaturity. Through the course of Israel’s existence, and even the early church, the miracles performed by God authenticate the message of whoever was speaking on behalf of God at the time. They are attention-getters for precisely that reason: miracles, while often signs of God’s blessing, arrive in times of inattention to God’s message. In every case of a miracle, they were the ultimate vindication of the honor and glory of God, and the overarching theme of the Bible: the Gospel. Such is the case with Joshua 10.

Page 19: “If we have the audacity to ask, God has the ability to perform.” Remember the dissonance I mentioned earlier? It builds every time he says something like this—which is very, very often. At least half of this book is him talking about himself or his church.

Which brings me to another point: this book is an attempt at apologetics, even if Furtick doesn’t realize it. He’s trying to prove God by way of His acting miraculously in his own life. We will see later how this backfires. Make no mistake—this is John W. Loftus grade narcissism here.

Page 20: “You and I may not see the same miracles Joshua did, but we serve the same God.” Good so far. “His nature never changes.” Even better—we’ll revisit that theme again. “The same power that stopped the sun and raised Christ from the grave lives in every believer.” Pretty good. “God still demonstrates his power and supplies his provision…” Definitely true. “…in direct proportion to the faith of his children.” Nope! Swing and a miss. If anything the reverse is true; and this is exactly what I mean with the dissonance I’ve described between Furtick’s idea of prayer and the true nature of God’s will. This paragraph was great until the last line; in my own life (and I’m quite certain that this is true of most who would read this), God’s faithfulness has often been in spite of my faith or my performance. I’m a sinner. I frequently find myself asking how it’s even possible for one person to sin so much. I’m timid. I’m nervous. I’m diminutive in stature. But God has seen fit to bless me in spite of all of my shortcomings, and the Bible is quite clear as to why: His Spirit is at work in me (Ephesians 2:8-10).

That’s all for now.Part 2 coming soon!

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