Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Miles McPherson's Do Something!: Make Your Life Count

Do Something! is an interesting read. I wanted to review it online here, sharing my own opinion. I read this book for my work, so as to be an encouraged leader of our local church. The book sports endorsements by popular level writers or personalities. I once heard a teacher say you can tell a book by its endorsements. That's not a bad thing, just a statement of fact. When you see Lee Strobel as the lead recommender, you know it's not going to be very deep. But I wasn't looking for a super deep read. I just want to give my perspective going into this.

The book is very useful in my view, as an encouragement to get into the community or be at church in a serving way. That is the main thrust as you would expect. There are great application points at the end of each chapter, which vary between personal application at home, in your closet in prayer, to public community action. The book is not political as such, but more along the lines of social action for Christ.

Miles uses stories drawn from a variety of places, from people's health struggles (probably the most common prayer request in any Christian church, including his Rock Church in San Diego) on to military experiences. Generally, the stories are the kind that make you sad or concerned. Drug addiction, pornography addictions, people with cancer, people fighting and dying in foreign countries in an army. So it isn't a 'pick me up' except that in each case the author uses Scripture passages, sermonettes, to offer how God can get a person's perspective back on Him. I really enjoyed this. They aren't too long, most of them are bringing a passage to bear on real life. They break up the stories in the chapters. The whole book is organized around a plan of points, beginning with "P" words. I won't reveal them, since that is the author's perogative, and you can read it. Suffice it to say, that while I focused on them up front, I didn't notice them throughout helping me to organize what I read. But maybe it did for others.

I do believe anyone who reads this book will be challenged to a deeper quiet time / spiritual focus on God; beyong 30 second tidbits. And for a book to be used of God to convict greater times with God is a very good thing. In that sense I recommend the book very much.

My concerns however, are with the level of the theology. I feel like this book would be good evangelistically, don't get me wrong, that isn't bad. But I mean with the evangelistic presentation; there are some doctrinal question marks or errors I noticed. Most were not persistent, but a few were. Beyond these few I really liked the book, but I'll point them out so you may be made aware spiritually if you are a reader.

It's generally better to withhold judgment on theological points until you are well into a book and can see how terms are being used, picking up on the author's language.

1. He seems to hold to a belief that if you pray to recieve Jesus Christ (in his case from some hippies in a dollar store type place, ex page 149), then you can not live it after and still be genuine in that profession. In his case, he accepts Jesus allegedly then goes and does hard core drugs. Not to mention other life dominating issues, like pride. But then he rightly and properly later on in the book says he knows there must be fruit for a profession to be real. It seems that the time he really was saved was later in his life, as he lays out on page 149, when he realized that drug use wasn't the best way to go; Christ should be Lord instead. It seems like a clear cut salvation experience. While no one is sinless in this life, it is not clear to me that an outward praying of a prayer early in life means much if the heart and mind are not changed to obey God in repentance. Romans 6:1-2 says are we to continue in sin, knowing grace will abound? Paul says no way, not possible. How would it even be possible Paul says by the Spirit, for someone who is dead to sin to still live in it? (Lifestyle of sin). He goes on to talk about our newness of life, and walking in it. So Miles is holding to a popular Christian culture belief that someone can pray a prayer when they are young, live like hell for years on end, and still be saved. I don't think he holds this strongly, because he sort of soft peddles away from it later in the book by saying deeds must be there if a profession is genuine. But the whole 'both / and' thing left me confused. It seems that Miles is saved, and that it was this second realization when he got saved.

2. Patripassionism? I'm not sure exactly if that is what I'm reading on page 187. There is a prayer to God, saying He suffered on the cross. Of course, in Christian theology both the Father and Son and Spirit are God. But usually in the New Testament useage, God refers to the Father when it is alone by itself without clarification (most cases). Miles' prayer is on this page that God suffered on the cross, which is the point of confusion itself. I just found myself wanting clarification, is it the Father he is addresssing (Miles) when he gives this prayer (as we are commanded to normally pray to the Father, Matthew 6:9-13 is the reference). If it is the Father Miles meant, then he slipped into the doctrinal error of Patripassionism briefly when he said that God walked into the pain of the cross. I didn't see this error a lot in the book, so I'll stop here. But we affirm as Christians that rather the Son suffered on the cross, that is correct doctrine.

3. There are several places in the book where Miles thinks that God has appeared to him personally, like in his bedroom. While I'm not one who is opposed to thinking that God could appear to someone today, it would not be a theology I would want to endorse in the exact way that Miles says it. For there is again Trinitarian confusion; and this one keeps popping up in the book. What he says is that the Holy Spirit is an Invisible Man. Like a human figure whose face he cannot see who appeared. He then is urging people in the book to ask the Invisible Man, the Holy Spirit for His help. My problem with this is that the Holy Spirit to my knowledge does not appear anywhere in the Bible as a man or human figure. In fact, the Spirit appears in the form of a dove. But never as a human. And the title invisible man is never used of the Spirit in the Bible. It just caught me as strange, that Miles would not refer instead to the Son who did appear bodily or in a human form in the Old and New Testaments.... And so I just have doubts about the tightness of the view of the Trinity at his church and in his book, given the play loose with image thing. The book the Shack is notorious for this on a far worse scale than Miles ever gets to. But one has to be careful about playing too lose with biblical metaphors. There are a lot of wrong metaphors for instance that more liberal Presbyterians and Baptists use to insert worldly philosophy into churches through this back door method. I don't think Miles is doing this in any sophisticated way, but it makes me wonder about who he reads to get his Trinitarian theology and why they are ascribing metaphors God never uses for Himself in the Bible to God. I would just want to be far more cautious than Miles feels he needs to be. This is a gentle rebuke. And it is also a gentle rebuke of Baker Books, the publisher, that they didn't recommend an edit or refuse to publish it without more clarity.

4. This next one keeps popping up in churches, and I suspect it is because Christians are often guilty of reading through the Law of Moses at 100 mph, with the exception of a study in Genesis, or perhaps Exodus from time to time. It is the mistaken notion that God only wanted blood sacrifices. It is true, and hear me, that without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins; per what the Bible says clearly in Hebrew 9:22. This is fulfilled in what Christ Jesus did voluntarily going to the cross and dying for our sins, per His Father's will. However, blanket statements about God only accepting sacrifices if they were blood ones is mistaken. It is true that Cain was rejected with his fruit of the ground. And Abel's was accepted, and it happened to be a blood sacrifice. However, no where does it say Cain was rejected because specifically it was not a blood sacrifice. It only says God was not pleased. We ought to assume that Cain brought sort of the leftovers or easy to obtain things, which showed his heart really wasn't into God that much. This was the problem, and it is why Cain so easily turns into a massive sinner by murdering his brother. He wasn't far from that to begin with spiritually. Abel's sacrifice was of the firstlings it says in the Bible, which means Abel brought the best. It is the fact that Cain brought leftovers that was not acceptable to God. Much like today people come to worship God in church if it is convenient, if it isn't too costly to worship God; God is offended at their arrogance, just like Cain's. Miles wrongly interprets this on page 196. I am not trying to be too hard on him, though, as I hear this mistake all the time among pastors; who ought to read more carefully. God clearly, since His Word is timeless, accepted non blood sacrifice for sins in the Mossaic Law, Leviticus 5:11 being one example enough to blow away Miles' point. The non blood sacrifice was for those who could not afford to (not because of laziness or greed but income level) bring a large animal or even two pigeons. They brought flour instead as an offering, that is to say grain. But it was fine flour, not the last fruits of produce, but the best. That is what Miles and many pastors in Baptist, non-denominationl denominations miss out on. Of course, the Law never actually could permanently remove sins. But neither could Cain or Abel's sacrifices. Nor does God killing an animal to make fur clothes for Adam and Eve prove that God would only take animal sacrifices or preferred them. In fact, the Son of God is the only One who could come take away our sins. It is virtually meaningless then to go on a long speal in a book, Sunday School, or the pulpit about Cain having brought only vegetables. The point of the text is that he brought low quality, grade D, vegetables, rather than something fine; rather than the first fruits.

That's enough now, it's time to get on with other things. May this profit someone who is thinking over their reading.

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