Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Book Review: Marry Wisely Marry Well

Ernie Baker wrote his book Marry Wisely Marry Well: A Blueprint for Personal Preparation "to bring home to those who are not married--in high school, college or beyond--a hope that you don't have to experience a failed marriage--hope that the Lord, through Scripture, will give you wisdom to choose a spouse.  It is also written with the conviction that you can start preparing now for marriage--before you are in a relationship.  Prepare yourself now by doing things that will lead to stability in your future home," (Kindle location 112).

The author uses the analogy that building a good marriage is like building a house.  Mr. Baker notes that the foundation of the house is built on wisdom with Christ being foundation of all wisdom, then he likens the first floor of the house to the wisdom of the individual waiting for marriage, and finally, he points out that "the roof that crowns your marriage will be the glory of God," (Kindle location 2535).  He uses a lot of Bible verses to support his contentions, but there are also many counseling questions and checklists (Kindle location 834, 1147, 1226, 2607, 2611, & 2626) and secular research results (Kindle location 99, 103, 186, 190, 906, 1369, 1743, and 1745) in his book that are not found in the Bible.  Rather than exegeting what the Word of God says about marriage, Mr. Baker uses his counseling experiences along with current research statistics to show what he thinks is the best way to approach marriage and then looks to the Bible for support.  This can be seen from his use of the phrase 'I believe' twenty-eight times, the phrase 'I do not believe' four times, and the phrase 'I think' four times (six times in all, but only four in the context of the author's knowledge of marriage).  In contrast, he uses the phrase 'Scripture says' three times [the phrases 'the Bible says' or 'the Word of God says' are not in his book].

Because Mr. Baker is not drawing out what the Word of God actually says about marriage, he is able to make marriage into a works-based blessing from God.  He encourages the reader to "think that God will bless you with a spouse if you are willing to serve him faithfully during your single years," and follows up this advice by quoting Matthew 6:33, 'But seek first his kingdom and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added to you," (Kindle location 1238).  This Scripture is taken from the middle of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount where the context is not marriage.  Similarly, he makes wisdom into a works-based blessing as well when he says: "Let me give you three reasons why the Lord reserves this wisdom for those who are willing to work hard to get it," (Kindle location 458).  But James 1:5-8 tells believers to obtain wisdom by asking God in faith.

The author continues to read his own ideas into the Bible as he looks at Genesis 1:26 and contends that "marriage provides a unique opportunity to glorify God when the husband and wife are in a redeemed relationship reflecting his image," (Kindle location 944).  But the Bible tells us that redemption is found only in Jesus Christ (not through a spouse, nor the act of getting married) and that an individual believer is conformed to His image (Rom. 8:29), not the couple.  Scripture plainly tells us that the marriage relationship is a picture of Christ and His Church, (Eph. 5:23), which the author agrees with (Kindle location 997 & 1359); but unlike Mr. Baker, Scripture does not liken the marriage relationship to the image of God.  Mr. Baker also states that "we can legitimately say that marriage is the crowning action of creation," (Kindle location 958), and that "creation was not complete until Adam and Eve were united to live in relationship with one another to fulfill God's purposes for them as a team," (Kindle location 964); but there are no Bible verses that support these statements.

In addition, Mr. Baker includes the theme of Christianity-as-a-community when he states that "Christianity is about the group, and the world needs to see something radically different in the way we deal with one another," (Kindle location 1498).  Christianity is about Christ and Christ alone, and each believer is saved individually by believing on the Lord Jesus Christ.

Finally, when dealing with the issue of whether or not someone will hear audibly from God when seeking a spouse, Mr. Baker concludes that "Scripture warns us to be careful of placing experiences and voices above the written Word of God," (Kindle location 2097) and that God's Word is honored "by showing that the Lord guides us primarily through his Word," (Kindle location 2130, emphasis mine).  Unfortunately, the author does not come out and clearly state that no one hears the voice of God (the Father, the Son, and/or the Holy Spirit) outside of the Bible because the canon of Scripture is closed.

While the author has some good questions to ponder for those considering marriage, his advice is more pragmatic than biblical.  After finishing this book, I asked myself if I thought it was profitable for my two young adult sons to read Marry Wisely Marry Well.  Ultimately, I concluded that it would not be profitable for them; therefore, I can't recommend it to other Christians either.

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

"God, having all life, glory, goodness, blessedness, in and of Himself, is alone in and unto Himself all-sufficient, not standing in need of any creature which He hath made, nor deriving any glory from them, but only manifesting His own glory in, by, unto, and upon them," (The Baptist Confession of Faith, Chapter 2, Paragraph 2).

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Book Review: Good and Angry

In Good and Angry, David Powlison's goal is "to teach you how to more fruitfully and honestly deal with your anger.  Your struggle with anger (and mine) will last a lifetime, but it can go somewhere good.  We can learn to deal with anger differently," (Kindle location 186).

While the author makes a commendable attempt at addressing how Christians should handle anger, he looks at the subject from a human perspective and then adds the Bible on top.  This approach makes his reasoning appear logical, and even biblical at times, but it also distorts the image of God as the author describes Him from man's perspective.  The author believes that his counseling is different from the standard advice given in Christian self-help books (Kindle location 3418).  Mr. Powlison provides many biblical references in his book, but he does not exegete the text.   In Chapter 13, he lays out the eight questions that will help you take your anger apart and put it back together (Kindle location 2330), and in Chapter 16, he helps you determine which ladder your are climbing when you are angry at yourself (Kindle location 3175); but there is no biblical text that contains the eight questions or describes the self-anger ladder.  The author reads his ideas into Scripture, rather than drawing sound doctrine from the Word of God.

In addition, Mr. Powlison believes that because man is made in the image of God and man experiences anger, then God must experience that same emotion.  The author describes mercy and anger as being closely related and defines mercy as "a response to feeling displeasure," (Kindle location 1185).  He states that good anger is the "constructive displeasure of mercy...Good anger operates as as one aspect of mercy...Your anger and mine can be remade into God's image," (Kindle location 1174); and therefore, he likens God's perfect mercy to the human emotion of good anger when he writes:  "He [God] shows the constructive displeasure of mercy...His mercy is not niceness...To what extent does our mercy mirror this?  What we do is infinitely small in scale, but like in kind," (Kindle location 1540, emphasis mine).  This statement implies that God experiences emotions in the same way that people do and contradicts the doctrine of Divine Impassibility which is clearly laid out in the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith, Chapter 2, paragraph 1: The Lord our God is but one only living and true God; whose subsistence is in and of Himself, infinite in being and perfection; whose essence cannot be comprehended by any but Himself; a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions."

From the Confessing Baptist Podcast episode #78 on February 3, 2015, Mr. Sam Renihan, editor of God Without Passions, A Reader, states: "The doctrine of Divine Impassibility states that there are no emotional changes in God; God does not experience emotional changes either from within or effected by His relationship to creation...It's not wrong to speak in the language of Scripture, but it is wrong to equate human language with the divine Creator."

Finally, the author also presents God as being mutable: "Goodness, if only we did not suffer and did not sin! We would have no need to receive God's mercies--his paradoxical, lively expressions of his displeasure with how things are," (Kindle location 1187), and "The presence of anger depends on the presence of evil," (Kindle location 3594).  Since evil entered the world at the Fall in Genesis 3, these statements imply that God has characteristics [mercy and anger] that did not exist until after the Fall of man.  Biblically, God does not have mercy or anger because sin came into the world; His perfect mercy and anger are immutable parts of His character which have always existed.

There's no doubt that all humans, including Christians, experience anger, but Christians should be angry and sin not (Eph. 4:26) and should strive to put away (Eph. 4:31) and put off (Col. 3:8) anger.  Nevertheless, how man experiences anger should never be ascribed to God.  For all Christians, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance (Gal. 5:22).  The author tries to include anger as an additional positive attribute in a Christian's life by renaming it as "the constructive displeasure of mercy," (Kindle location 1178), but his assertions line up more with human reasoning and counseling philosophy rather than the Bible.  I found other areas of concern in Mr. Powlison's book as well, but his presentation of a mutable, impassioned god, as I describe above, is enough for me not to recommend reading Good and Angry.

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

"Make no friendship with an angry man; and with a furious man thou shalt not go: Lest thou learn his ways, and get a snare to thy soul," (Proverbs 22:24-25).