Friday, October 14, 2011

Sun Stand Still: Part 3

David Sorrell continues:

Chapter 5: Ignite the Ordinary, otherwise known as Storytime with Steve

The entire premise of chapter five is the idea that there is a difference between ‘ordinary faith’ and ‘audacious faith,’ but it takes different forms. On top of that, he writes that the ‘ordinary’ lives we live are numbing and otherwise harmful to ‘audacious’ faith.

Pulling a page straight out of the Blackaby playbook, he begins by talking about how Moses was doing ordinary stuff—like tending sheep—before the burning bush incident of Exodus 3.

And judging by his descriptions of how unappealing such a scene would be in a movie, it’s like he’s never actually seen The Ten Commandments with Charlton Heston.

This is immediately followed by a list of examples of ordinary, ho-hum scenarios: negative medical results, becoming a youth pastor with limited resources, being an at-home parent, or a job that only serves to pay the bills. It’s good that he does illuminate ways to be like Christ in each situation he describes, which is a real plus, it begs one unsettling question: based on what was written in previous (and certainly later) chapters, how are these situations anything other than the fault of those who are in them—because they did not pray Sun Stand Still prayers to begin with?

There are a few other examples of normal people doing extraordinary things to help those in need, but there’s a problem: unsaved people do that stuff too. Again, the theme comes through: there’s really not much in the way of difference in the lives of saved and unsaved people, if you look at them through the lenses of ‘life improvement’ or ‘personal fulfillment.’

Furtick commits another Biblical snafu here in saying that the only Biblical task for pastors and teachers is to prepare God’s people for their own personal ministry. I would argue that’s not the case: the task of the pastor is to oversee, feed, and nurture the flock, and that the end result of that is that flock being equipped for personal ministry.

“The people don’t fill the seats to watch my exegetical dunking skills.” I’d say that’s true, and it’s a problem: because the purpose of pastoral exegesis is to explain and illumine the truth of Scripture for the believers. It’s part of the building up of the church, and I think Furtick has missed the point of it. I’d even say that doing some exegesis could have saved him a lot of trouble with this book.

In the section titled “Jesus’ affinity for the ordinary,” Furtick claims that “There was no shortage of talent in the seminaries of Jesus’ day, but he passed over the MDivs and scooped up a collection agent named Matthew.” Did Furtick forget about the MDiv named Paul?

The irony in all this is that for all his talk of igniting the ordinary, Furtick spends an awful lot of time talking about how extraordinary his church is, and more disturbing still, is how those close to him spend an awful lot of time talking about how extraordinary Furtick is (the ‘documentary’ put out by Elevation is still online, and provides an alarming glimpse of how he is viewed by his congregants). That unavoidable dichotomy comes roaring back: we’re extraordinary. We prayed sun stand still prayers. You could be like us.

Furtick makes a really unfortunate remark at about this point: “Over the course of his three-year earthly ministry, most of his recorded miracles happened in the marketplace or by the side of the road, not in the synagogue. Put that in your theological pipe and take a toke.”

Well, Steven, if you’d been doing your exegetical practice like you should as a pastor, you’d know that Jesus did not perform miracles there because of their unbelief. It wasn’t the ordinary/extraordinary dichotomy that Jesus saw, it was the ‘believing or unbelieving’ dichotomy that Jesus saw. Now why don’t you take your own advice and put that in your theological pipe and fire that up?

But because of this failure to mention the reasons, he actually introduces a critical problem into his idea: and that is the unintentional statement that he didn’t go for the rabbis and ‘DMins’ of his day because they already had their act together. And this is a symptom of a more critical problem: people today don’t think they need God because their lives are already decent. People have this funny tendency to turn to God only when things get bad. Furtick literally has no reason for an unbeliever who is content with his life to consider the gospel as he understands it. They’ve already got the life change. They’re already motivated and set. And capable—sometimes really capable. What good would an Elevator’s (the term given to those who attend Elevation) experience of God in their lives be to them?

“Don’t be disillusioned by a lack of special effects in your life.” He’s speaking of ‘big’ missions from God (I can’t help but think of the beginning scenes of Blues Brothers), but after all he’s written about God doing the impossible for people with audacious faith, this seems a little…hedgy. He’s spent five chapters talking about special effects and then says, don’t be surprised if there aren’t any. Might that be because the entire premise is mired in personal subjectivity?

Chapter 6: Wave Jumper

More of the same, but one notable mention: Furtick seriously mangles the understanding of 1 Samuel 14 when Jonathan raided the Philistine camp.

He quotes 1 Sam 14:6 and then says, “Wasn’t Jonathan sending the ultimate mixed message? If you were trying to convince me to join you in an initiative this dangerous, I’d want you to do better than ‘Perhaps the LORD will act on our behalf.’”

Incidentally he preached a sermon not long ago on this same passage at James MacDonald’s church; it hasn’t gotten any better. He focuses way too much on the ‘perhaps’ of the verse as indicative of some sort of doubt about what God will do, but this is just the result of being a na├»ve Westerner. Needless to say, good exegetical dunking skills could have saved him some trouble here. This wasn’t an example of ‘faith in uncertainty,’ as Furtick seems to think it is, it is faith understanding that God is fighting on behalf of Israel and that their task is fully reliant on God’s will for the matter. But that is the biggest problem with the book, as we’ll see later.

The rest of chapter six is Furtick talking more about how Elevation got started.

Chapter 7: Tiny Babies, Giant Faith

I have a soft spot for preemies. And I should, because I was one of them. This is a chapter relating the story of a family at Elevation who had twin girls who were born twelve weeks early, who miraculously lived.

Rather than nitpick the events of the story, which would be tacky, this is a good time to begin a constructive criticism of the book: how are we, as Christians, supposed to pray? What is our relation to the will of God? I’m inclined to think that God did act to preserve the lives of the twins; I’ve seen lives spared and taken away, blessings come and blessings go, but what does the Bible really say about all this? And this is where Furtick’s gifts could be used to great effect and advancement of the gospel.

Here’s a hint of what it will look like: of all the Bible has to say about prayer, Joshua 10 isn’t one of them. And for a reason.

Chapter 8: The Surcharge of Sacrifice

I have very few objections to the content of this chapter. I would only add the cultural significance of OT circumcision, which served to set Israel apart from the Canaanites that they were going to war against.

His discussion of the trials of Joseph in the book of Genesis once again begs the question of the will of God; it wasn’t really a matter of ‘audacious faith’ and ‘Page 23 vision’ and things like that. Unfortunately he ignores Genesis 50:20, which the death knell for the Sun Stand Still idea. It’s hard enough to appropriate OT historical texts to make them somehow applicable today, but harder still to try to explain prayer in this way in relation to the will of God.

Minor irony alert: there’s a section of this chapter where Furtick says that people might not accept your vision or calling, and to be prepared for the disapproval of others. He’s got a church of eight thousand plus members. I have a sneaking suspicion if he preached a little more about sacrifice and less about audacious faith and sun stand still prayers, he’d have a smaller church.

But if he writes any further books, this is where he needs to begin—because he
nailed most of the Biblical material.

This gets us to Chapter Nine. The flying will get a little choppy after this, I’m afraid.

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