Monday, November 10, 2014

Book Review: Invitation to Philippians

Invitation to Philippians: Building a Great Church Through Humility is part of a series by Donald Sunukjian to develop biblical preachers.  The message of this book is to show that "a sermon comes alive when it is true to the biblical author's flow of thought, clear in its unfolding, interesting to listen to, and connected to contemporary life," (Kindle location 76).

Mr. Sunukjian gives an overview of the book of Philippians in the Introduction and includes a chiastic outline of the Apostle Paul's letter.  In Chapter 1, "The Blazing Fastball That Gives Us Confidence," the author looks specifically at Phil. 1:1-8.  I do not agree with his chapter conclusion that Christians can have confidence that God is doing a good work in their lives when they consistently (1) open their homes for the benefit of others, (2) take a stand for the truth and risk consequences for the sake of righteousness, and (3) give their money generously in order that God's work will be strong, (Kindle location 253).  In these eight verses, Paul does not make any imperative requirements; he is thanking the saints at Philippi and showing his affection and concern for their spiritual warfare.  Mr. Sunukjian is erroneously pulling out legalistic requirements for Christians to follow from the introductory remarks in Paul's epistle.

Ironically, Mr. Sunukjian then warns Christians against legalism in Chapter 10, "The Christian Subculture: Righteous or Rubbish?"  He says:  "Sometimes in our good churches--our solid, evangelical, biblically-committed churches--we feel pressured to act in certain ways, to fit in with certain norms, and to participate in certain activities.  Its a subtle pressure, but it carries with it the idea that if you really want to be pleasing to God, these are the things that you'll do, these are the ways you'll act, and these are the activities you'll engage in," (Kindle location 1400).  But this is exactly what he did in Chapter 1 when he required Christians to open their homes, stand for the truth, and give even though the verses referenced did not command such actions.

As an example of a pressure of the Christian subculture in Chapter 10, Mr. Sunukjian states that "You'll be urged to tithe, to give ten percent of your income, to your local church...You're not bound by anybody's rules as to how much you should give or who you should give it to," (Kindle location 1409, 1483).  But back in Chapter 1, the author states that "When people won't do that--when they give just a few bucks to sort of play the part instead of the real percentage of their incomes that God is looking for--it's probably a sign that God is not in their lives," (Kindle location 243).  These chapters blatantly contradict each other.  The author provides a list of things that Christians should do in Chapter 1 to show that God is part of their lives, but in Chapter 10, he states that Christians do not have a "set of rules and regulations that we have to observe to have confidence before God," (Kindle location 1492).  Therefore, I have no degree of confidence that the author is properly explaining the book of Philippians or applying it to the Christian life.

In addition, Mr. Sunukjian also speculates too much about what the Apostle Paul felt or thought and what motivated him to say or do something.  The author makes up conversations between Paul and his prison guards, as well as conversations between the prison guards themselves.  This fictional information does not help Christians understand what is actually written in the book of Philippians and may even lead them astray to believe something that's not true.  The Word of God is sufficient, so not only is there no need to add to it, there is biblical prohibition against adding to it, (Rev. 22:18).

Finally, many of the author's examples involve situational ethics regarding drinking, maintaining purity, lying, etc.  Even if the person makes the "right" moral choice, that doesn't make the person a Christian.  Mormons are very moral people, but they deny that Jesus is God, and therefore, they are not Christians.  Mr. Sunukjian regulates what Christians should and should not do based on his personal experiences without specific biblical references; that's not Christianity, that's just another works-based religion. 

The book of Philippians was written by the Apostle Paul to show his thanks and affection, to give exhortations and cautions, and to express praise and blessing.  Paul's epistle focused on Christ, but the author's focus was specifically on himself and generally on the individual Christian.  He did have some good points in the book, but overall, they did not outweigh the weaknesses.  Therefore, I cannot recommend Invitation to Philippians by Donald Sunukjian for any Christian, much less recommend it as a tool for preparing preachers.  Performing the requirements outlined by the author does not prove that anyone is a Christian and reduces the Christian life to a legalistic check-list.

Full Disclosure:  I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.