Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Book Review: Escaping With Jacob

Escaping With Jacob: 30 Devotionals to Help You Find Your Identity, Forgive Your Past, and Walk in Your Purpose was written by David Ramos for those who are "tired of running or hiding", "tired of not knowing God the way He wants to be known", or "feel as if your past is keeping you from the life God has for you," (Introduction).  The author presumes a Christian reader and does not give a Gospel presentation.  As a formatting note, I am reading this book from a .pdf file.  There are no page numbers within the text itself; therefore, I'm citing direct quotes with the chapter title from the Table of Contents and the corresponding devotional day, if applicable.

This 30-day devotional looks at the life of Jacob from the book of Genesis.  The author states that the "[t]he story of Jacob is a story of becoming - how one man transformed from an escape artist into an overcomer.  The same offer [to guide your life] still stands," (Introduction).  This statement is the overarching problem with this book; the Bible is not about you or me or how we can transform our lives.  The Bible is about Jesus Christ.  However, Mr. Ramos wrongly focuses the reader on himself and Jacob: "Next time you find yourself like Jacob...," (He Prepares A Way, Day 15).

The Bible shows us God's Covenant of Redemption through His Son Jesus Christ, but rather than seeing Jesus through the Old Testament promises, Mr. Ramos falsely claims that "[i]f you really take the time to look at Jacob's story you'll see a common theme appear over and over again.  God always gave Jacob more than he was expecting," (More Than We Expect, Day 25).  Again, the author misses the Old Testament foreshadowing of Christ when he states that "[i]t's in these trials that Jacob's story offers us a quiet hope.  God knows what He is doing with your story.  As simple as it may sound, it is also one of the most powerful truths in the Bible," (Our Quiet Hope, Day 30).  No one living today has his life story in the Bible because ultimately, the Bible is about Jesus: "But these [Scripture] are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name," (John 20:31).  The Bible also shows Christians how live a holy, godly life in order to be conformed to the image of Christ: "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works," (2 Tim. 3:15).

The book of Genesis is a narrative story.  Christians do not look to Jacob to be more like him because Jacob is a sinful man in need of God's saving faith just like you and me.  Christians read about Jacob because he is part of the Abrahamic lineage that would bear the promised Seed [Jesus Christ] from Genesis 3:15.  The author misses the fact that God has spoken to us by His Son (Heb. 1:1-2) because in his 30-day devotional, he only uses the word 'Jesus' in 3 days: Justice Verses Love (Day 16 prayer); God Loves Works in Progress (Day 22), and Inevitable Pain, Unstoppable Promise (Day 24); and he uses the word 'Christ' in 3 days: At Our Weakest (Day 2), God Loves Works in Progress (Day 22), and Uncovering Our Identity (Day 29).  Christians overcome the trials of life by daily taking up their cross and following Jesus Christ, the Author and Finisher of the Christian faith, (Heb. 12:2).  Looking to Jacob for the answers as we struggle with life and our own sin-nature is a fruitless endeavor, and ultimately, a waste of time.

Mr. Ramos gives a Bible reference for his audience to read each day.  However, it would have been more helpful for the author to actually write out the verses he is discussing.  Instead, he gives a brief summary of the verses filled with his own private interpretation and speculation on the emotional state of the individuals as well as their motivation.  For example, in At Our Weakest (Day 2), Mr. Ramos recounts the story of Esau selling his birthright to Jacob.  In retelling this event, the author muses that Esau forgot to plan ahead and was frustrated and that Esau had done this many times before.  However, the Bible simply states that "Esau came from the field, and he was faint," (Gen. 25:30).  The author elaborates on the Biblical text by using his own imagination and human reasoning where the Bible is silent.  If the author had taken the time to write out the Scripture, his speculation would be evident.  Mr. Ramos admits that he is speculating on Day 6: "We can guess from this passage what Jacob must have been feeling: anger, depression, frustration, and hopelessness."  But the Bible tells us that the Word of God is Truth, (John 17:17).  There is a serious warning for all men who want to alter the Bible:  "For I [Jesus] testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy from this book.  If any man shall add unto these things, God shall ad unto him the plagues that are written in this book: And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life," (Rev. 22:18-19).

The most disturbing aspect of this 30-day Devotional is the author's subtle implication of the doctrine of Open Theism ("The belief that God does not exercise meticulous control of the universe but leaves it open for humans to make significant choices--free will--that impact their relationships with God and others. A corollary of this is that God has not predetermined the future. Open Theists further believe that this would imply that God does not know the future exhaustively. Proponents affirm that God is omniscient, but deny that this means that God knows everything that will happen," Theopedia.com).  This belief is evident in the following statements:
  • "The way God fulfills his promises to us is often unglamorous.  He does not rain down fire or boom advice from heaven.  Instead, he guides us softly and quietly.  Like a chess player carefully placing each piece, anticipating what is to come," (The Frustrating Path to Fulfilled Promises, Day 8).
  • This monumental frustration was all for Jacob's good.  Remember Jacob's story when it seems like God is far away.  He is not far.  Instead, He is moving the pieces exactly to where they need to be," (The Frustrating Path to Fulfilled Promises, Day 8).
  • "But then we also see Jacob fending for himself, seemingly by himself.  These periods of Jacob's life in which God seems absent are a reminder that we are capable of changing our situations," (Solving Our Own Problems, Day 10).
  • "Yes, God is the one in control and allowing or blocking certain difficulties to come into our lives.  But he is also watching and giving us room to succeed or fail," (Solving Our Own Problems, Day 10).
  • "God equipped Jacob with an incredible creative mind.  When Jacob found himself in a difficult situation he used his creatively [sic] to solve the problem and achieve his freedom," (Solving Our Own Problems, Day 10).
  • "At this moment God intervenes," (When God is With Us, Day 11).
  • "There is this idea that because God allows evil in this world it must be one of the tools He uses...But we find that not to be the case...You see, God does not work with evil.  He works in spite of evil," (Through And In Spite Of, Day 20).
  • "We don't just serve a God who is sovereign; a sort of heavenly chess player who is shaping the world towards His purposes," (The Character Of Our Creator, Day 23).

Ironically, in his chapter Half-Time (Day 17), the author actually admits the sovereignty of God in Jacob's life: "Everything in Jacob's life happens or doesn't happen by God's hand."  However, as shown above, he overwhelmingly implies than God is not always sovereign.

Due to Mr. Ramos's additions to the biblical text based on his own speculation, his promotion of the false doctrine of open theism, and his exhortation to look to self rather than Jesus, I cannot recommend Escaping with Jacob to any Christian.  The author's triteness in his epilogue, Continuing the Journey, is the culminating evidence that this devotional lacks substance for the serious Bible student: "The one lesson from Jacob's story that I will never forget is this: God loves messes."

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