Friday, November 29, 2013

Book Review: A Traitor Within

On the Puritan Board Forum, Pastor Damon Rambo of First Baptist Church in Markham, Texas, offered free electronic versions to anyone who would read his new book A Traitor Within: How our Feeling Driven Minds are Undermining Our Purpose (And What We Can Do to Stop It) and review it on their blog.  I offered to do a review, and Pastor Rambo sent out his book on Monday, November 25, 2013.

The foiling began from the outset; in the first five words of A Traitor Within ("If you are a guy"), Pastor Ramon excludes half of his readers.  The first paragraph and first two sentences of the second paragraph are trite, and I found that they did not really encourage me to continue reading his book.

The thesis of A Traitor Within is clearly stated in the introduction:  "This book is about the feeling driven tendencies that have captured western society, me included, and in turn infiltrated the mainstream, traditional church."  However, this statement is vague and cannot be proven because of the subjective nature of feelings, which is why Pastor Rambo ends his introduction with the stress that this book is his answer; implying that it may or may not be my answer, and in my mind begs the question of why I should continue reading his book.

In the second paragraph of the introduction, Pastor Rambo implies that he is talking to true Christians and states that the traitor within leads us astray.  I agree; even as Christians we still struggle with a sin nature, and we do sin.  However, he goes on to identify the traitor as "our postmodern, politically correct, feeling driven minds."  From  Postmodern is characteristic of a school of thought that rejects the dogma and practices of any form of modernism; politically correct is demonstrating progressive ideals by avoiding vocabulary that is offensive; and feeling is having the ability to think or act emotionally.  Even though these three adjectives are very subjective, they are amoral in and of themselves.  It is our sin nature that corrupts them through our mental and physical actions.

In the introduction, Paster Rambo states that "feelings are good" and "God designed us to be feeling creatures."  Where is the biblical support for this?  The ESV (the cited source for his book) does not use the word 'feeling' or 'feelings'; the KJV and NASB use the word 'feeling' twice (and not in the way he stated), but never the word 'feelings'.  The author seems to equivocate the term 'feeling(s)' with our inherent sinful nature.  He says that we "seek after feelings that are pleasurable at the expense of doing the right thing" and claims that this is "why men cheat on their spouses and workers steal from their employers"  This terminology downplays the idea that Christians struggle with sin, not just the feeling of sin or "sinful tendency".  He goes on to say that he is being tempted to "seek pleasure", he is "pulled by various feelings", and he is being led "to do things that I should not do"; these phrases are just a soft sell for sin in his life.  Equivocating on the biblical word 'sin' is the politically correct thing to do...

The author cites 2 Timothy 3:4 as evidence that people will be lovers of pleasure in the last days.  In context, the men referred to in verses 2 through 5 are not true believers, but false believers.  Therefore, this verse cannot be applied to support the claim that believers have become pleasure-seekers rather than end-seekers.

I think that part of the problem may be the unclear definition of Christian in A Traitor Within.  Pastor Rambo definitely divides the sheep and the goats when speaking of the believer and the heretic, but it seems that he is not clear as to whether the "Christian" he is talking about is truly regenerated or just a cultural Christian.  I agree that there are many purpose-driven churches that rely on emotion to manipulate and deceive their members and the members of those churches are led by their feelings.  However, Pastor Rambo self-identifies with the feeling-driven group in his book; therefore, the purpose-driven group must be excluded in his assessment.

Mr. Rambo pastors a Southern Baptist Church with a high view of the sovereignty of God.  He states that his book is not directed toward emergent or mystical churches, but then he talks about churches that have "embraced feelings and placed them alongside the Bible as a director of action and determiner of truth".  What reformed church, or even traditional church for that matter, is exalting feelings in this way?  Maybe individually, feelings have become a biblical hermeneutic, but it's not an accepted hermeneutical principle, and I would say that this subjective practice is promoted by the prevalence of relativism in our culture, and not because feelings are being exalted.

After a thorough look at the introduction, I quickly read through the entire book just in case my issues were clarified, but that did not happen.  Pastor Rambo's personal anecdotes and hasty generalizations are not founded upon fact, but conjecture; there's no citing of surveys, polls, research, etc.  In addition, saying that the Bible rejects a postmodern outlook is anachronistic.  The lack of clarity of who he is talking to (it appears to be the evangelical church as a whole--regenerated and unregenerated), prohibits the reader from agreeing with the problem and applying the biblical solutions he provides.

Pastor Rambo rightly identifies that the chief end of man is to glorify God.  I think it's commendable that he referenced the Shorter Westminster Catechism, but the evangelical church will not recognize that work, nor give it any credence due to their unfamiliarity.  The logical flow of how a postmodern, politically correct mindset thwarts the purpose of a believer to glorify God is missing from this book.   The current cultural acceptance of abortion and homosexuality does not prove that true Christians have feeling driven minds.  Some believers do not have a clear understanding of the Bible; therefore, they need pastors and elders who can rightly divide the word of God every Lord's Day.  He also mentions the importance of the gospel, but fails to explicitly express the gospel, which assumes that he is writing to regenerated Christians (again, it is difficult to determine the audience of the book).  

The solution to the thesis is to "be purposeful every second of every day in our rejection of postmodern thought and politically correct language" by properly reading & studying the Bible.  A true Christian is a new creature (2 Cor. 5:17), who is transformed by the renewing of his mind (Rom. 12:2).  Applying proper hermeneutical principles is part of the discipleship process, which I agree is lacking in many churches, not because they are postmodern, but because they are unregenerate and/or deceived.  This problem has been around since the serpent deceived Eve in the garden.  Paul tells us that they have itching ears, but they cannot endure sound doctrine (2 Tim. 4:3).

To combat the problem of feeling driven minds by proper Bible study, Pastor Rambo states that "we also need to understand the languages (Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic) in which the Bible was originally written."  Requiring the understanding of Greek, Hebrew, & Aramaic in order to truly understand the Bible puts an unbiblical stumbling block in front of the believer much like the Roman Catholic Church prior to the Reformation.  He also exhorts pastors to "do a sermon series on the dangers of postmodernism, political correctness, and the feeling driven culture."  A sermon series focused on the dangers of the world's philosophy is not what the church needs; Pastors should focus on the Lord Jesus Christ as found in the Bible because "the promise of Christ, and salvation by Him, is revealed only by the Word of God" (London Baptist Confession of Faith, Chap. 20, paragraph 2).

In the introduction the author describes the inherent sin nature as a set of feelings, but fails to follow-up with a clear gospel presentation as a solution to that sin nature.  He proposes that both saved and unsaved people can have a postmodern, politically correct worldview.  If the person is saved, he needs to be sanctified by God's word, and if he is not saved, then he needs to hear the preaching of God's word.  Either way, the legalism that is presented in A Traitor Within lacks God's grace and will not produce the result that Pastor Rambo is hoping for.

In summary, preaching the cross to them that perish is foolishness; but to us who are saved it is the power of God (1 Cor. 1:18).  No amount of self-imposed purposeful thinking to counteract worldly thoughts will change anyone.  I think A.W. Pink sums it up in his book, The Doctrine of Sanctification:  "...if your heart is still unsanctified, you are still unsaved; and if you pant not after personal holiness then you are without any real desire for God's salvation."  

I don't agree with the premise or conclusion of A Traitor Within; therefore, I cannot recommend this book.