Thursday, January 28, 2016

Book Review: Ready to Return

In Ready to Return: Bringing Back the Church's Lost Generation, Ken Ham prays that the "findings [in his book] will be a wakeup call to the Church."  His "heart is burdened because of the sad state of Christianity today," but he is also encouraged because "that with God's enablement, Bible-believing Christians can turn things around," (p.13).  Mr. Ham contends that: "In order to impact the world around them, God's people first need to seek God and be obedient to His Word...By returning to God's Word, beginning in Genesis, and by repenting of the rampant compromise that has spread throughout the Church and Christian institutions, we can reform the failing Church," (pp. 15-16).

First, Mr. Ham notes that young adults who regularly attended Sunday School in their youth have left the church behind.  He claims that this problem in the United Kingdom and the United States "began when the Church basically disconnected the Bible from the real world.  Churches in America are not places where people typically talk about dinosaurs, fossils, or the age of the earth--that is left up to the secular schools and colleges.  Effectively, the Church concentrates on the spiritual and moral aspects of Christianity," (pp. 24-25).  It's apparent that Mr. Ham's affiliation with Answers in Genesis, his para-church organization that supports a literal 6-day creation, is skewing his analysis.  If churches were concentrating on the moral aspects of Christianity, then the young adults leaving the church would not support abortion, gay marriage, and premarital sex, which he outlines on page 24 of his book.  In addition, we don't need to teach our children about dinosaurs or fossils to keep them in church.  Today's Christian church needs to properly evangelize the children in the church.  The young adults leaving are products of decisional regeneration when they attended Vacation Bible School in their pre-school years.  They are not true believers, and therefore, "they went out from us, but they were not of us," (1 John 2:19).

Next we see the bias of Mr. Ham (with his Answer in Genesis affiliation) in his call to action: "As stated in the previous chapter, it is time for a new Reformation in the Church--to call the body of Christ back to the authority of the Word of God, beginning with His first words in Genesis," (p. 26).  Yes, the Christian church today needs to get back to the Word of God and not to the word of man.  But this is not accomplished by defending the literal 6-day Creation found in Genesis 1.  All of God's Word is true (John 17:17); however, just getting people to believe in the Creation account is not going to save that person, nor will it reform the church.  We need to get back to the Gospel, not only to save the lost, but also to edify and sanctify the regenerate.  People who do not believe the Gospel, do not know God (2 Thess. 1:8).  If someone doesn't have saving faith in Jesus Christ, it really doesn't matter if they believe the Creation account or not; they will end up in hell either way.

The author's underlying presupposition that all children who attend church are saved is shown when he answers the question of what it takes to influence a generation so that they will continue to attend church: "You target the minds of young people--beginning from when they are born!...While their minds are still open and impressionable, you create a comprehensive campaign of indoctrination, both covert and overt in nature," (p. 50).  Mr. Ham rightly identifies that it is a problem that so many young people are leaving the church once they leave home, but the answer is not convincing them that the Bible is true.  The answer is preaching the Gospel and praying for their salvation.  Young people leave the church because they are not true believers in Jesus Christ, and teaching them that the Bible is a "real book of history that can be trusted" (p.51) will not make them believers in Him.  Parents cannot ensure that their children are saved either.  This is why preaching, teaching, and living the Gospel is imperative in the home and church.  Salvation is a work of God alone, but He uses the means of preaching to accomplish His will. 

Mr. Ham agrees that churches are teaching the Gospel (but he did not present any data or statistics on this); however, he contends that young people are being brought up in a culture that attacks the historical accuracy of Genesis.  In school, they are being taught that the Bible cannot be trusted.  Therefore, since they don't believe the Bible overall, they are skeptical of Jesus' message (p. 53).  Salvation is not an intellectual assent to the truths of the Bible alone.  Mr. Ham's remarks seem similar to Sandemanianism, which is the heretical belief that all you need to do to be saved is to give intellectual assent to the Gospel.  Saving faith is more than just intellectual assent; it also grasps the heart and the will, (Rom. 10:10).  It seems that the author is saying a person has to believe that the Bible is true before he can be saved.  The biblical truth is that the person is regenerated by the Holy Spirit, and then believes the Bible (Rom. 8:5-11).

Ironically, Mr. Ham's stand on whether or not a Christian needs to believe in a literal Genesis is not clear.  He has multiple statements that contradict themselves.  First, he states: "They [children] are not trained and equipped to answer skeptical attacks [evolutionary ideas] on the Bible.  So ultimately, even when the message of Jesus is taught to them, they don't really believe it," (p. 53).  Next he says that "believing in a literal Genesis account is not a salvation issue," (p. 72).  But then he says: "So to believe in millions of years is a gospel issue," (p. 79), and he reverses again: "Many Christians believe in millions of year and are truly born again," (p. 85).

Ready to Return continues with more research statistics about the sad state of today's Christian church.  The information is helpful, but also discouraging.  The scare tactic that "skeptics are becoming more blatant in aggressively going after the coming generations to indoctrinate them [our children] in an atheistic worldview," (p. 62) is not biblical.  Every person born has an inherent sin nature that rejects God (Rom. 3:10-12); no skeptic has to teach our sinful children to reject God's Truth because they are born that way (the author does finally admit this on page 165).  Therefore, Christian parents should diligently teach their children biblical truths and preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ to them day in and day out.  Unfortunately, this book does not adequately address the fact that those who leave the church are not true believers.  Mr. Ham briefly comments that casting aside faith "could indicate that they have never truly come into a saving relationship with Jesus.  Only God really knows," (p. 98).  True, only God knows, but 1 John 2:19 is clear that those who leave the church and cast aside their faith were not Christians to begin with; those with true saving faith are preserved by God and persevere to the end (1 Thess. 5:23; 1 Peter 1:3-5).  Even though, Mr. Ham continues to contend that "the acceptance of millions of years (old earth) by the majority of church leaders, the lack of teaching of apologetics in churches and Christian homes, and the effects of public school education are hands down the major reasons the 20-somethings are leaving the church," (p. 145).  Believing this might help his ministry prosper, but it will not result in true church growth.

In conclusion, the underlying problem with Ready to Return is apparent when Mr. Ham agrees that "it's not a matter of lack of evidence to convince people that the Bible is true; the problem is that they do not want to to believe the Bible, and thus have closed their minds to truth," (p. 124).  But sadly his solution is "to convince people like Isaac Asimov that Jesus Christ is Creator.  Why?...because we know that those who do not trust the Lord will spend eternity separated from Him," (p. 125).  This is NOT the Gospel (1 Cor. 15:3-4).  Convincing someone of the general revelation that there is a Creator will not bring them into saving faith.   Mr. Ham talks about the need for Christians to share the gospel to our dying culture (p. 135), but he still ties it in with convincing them first that the Bible is true.  Biblical apologetics is not the crucial answer for the problems in today's Christian church.  Therefore, I cautiously recommend reading Ready to Return.  Mr. Ham unashamedly promotes his books and para-church resources without giving consistent biblical analysis of the information presented.  The survey results are eye-opening, but the answer given is not properly focused on the Gospel of Jesus Christ first and foremost; and therefore, it will not bring results in this generation or the next.

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

"For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God," (1 Corinthians 1:18).
"Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth," (John 17:17).
"Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it," (Matt. 7:14).