The Power of Right Believing by Joseph Prince: reflection 2

"The power of right believing" by Joseph Prince
"The power of right believing" by Joseph Prince

Tomorrow I fly off to lead a group of 47 pilgrims in a tour of Israel. Half the members are from our church, the other half are their friends and a group from another church. Its going to be an exciting time. We go to pray and to bless Israel, and certainly be blessed as well. Blessed to see what was once not a nation now a nation; blessed to hear Hebrew, once dead but now a living language; blessed to feel how Old Testament prophecies have been fulfilled, and God’s faithfulness revealed. All this will be energizing for us. This is also the land where Jesus lived, moved and ministered. Here He was born; here He died and rose again. Here is where He will return in glory. I’m excited. Do pray for us.

Before I go off I wanted to write this reflection on the second part of Joseph Prince’s book. If you have his book and it is lying on the shelf somewhere why don’t you read this particular part and help contribute some thoughts on how the book has helped you. You can share what you like or do not like in the book, and discuss more deeply some of the ideas in this part which covers chapters 4, 5 and 6. Imagine you are in a reading club and we are all reading this stuff together to discuss it on this platform instead of face to face.

Part 2 is titled “Learn to See What God Sees” and here is my summary of each chapter in this part:

Play the Right Mental Movies (chapter 4) – The central idea is that we have a tendency to look at the negative and this creates fear in our hearts. We play the wrong kind of mental movies. And fear like a boa constrictor suffocates us to death. We cannot get rid of such fearful ideas. The best way is to replace them. Replace them with God’s truth and right belief.

See Yourself As God Sees You (chapter 5) – Here Prince introduces the doctrine of justification in its practical implications. A great exchange has taken place. Jesus took our sins. We received his gift of righteousness. When God looks at us He sees Jesus’ righteousness and not our failures, sins, weaknesses. He looks at us and He sees a child of God deserving of favor, blessing and approval.

You Are Irreversibly Blessed (chapter 6) –  Prince takes the Old Testament story of Balaam paid by Balak to curse Israel but when it came time to curse Israel he actually blessed Israel. Balaam explained that God commanded him to bless and he could not reverse that. God has “not observed iniquity in Jacob, nor has He seen wickedness in Israel”(Num23:20,21). The chapter went on to develop further the idea of justification and how God views us who are made righteous in Christ, and how therefore God loves to pour out his undeserved blessings on us.

I am beginning to notice the use of a dominant image or life story in each chapter. For instance the mental movie, the constrictor snake, or a businessman who moved from fear to faith, or an American guy who found help in knowing how God sees him. I like it that he is using both local as well as Caucasians (with an eye to connecting to American Christians) as it shows that this message can have the same fruit across national boundaries and cultures.

When I read Chapter 6, I thought, I must digest this and share this with the church. Its a beautiful “shadow”  that points us to the amazing work of justification and its implications. Traditional teaching on justification falls shy of talking about how God will bless and favor us as a fruit of justification. They will focus on the spiritual blessings as in Romans 5. Prince boldly talks about material blessings though not in this chapter but elsewhere.

Conservative interpretation of the Old Testament also does not allow for the use of typology when the event, person, object or colour is not so used in the same way in the New Testament. Thus since Balaam and the story of Israel, and the high priestly breast-piece,  used as “shadows”pointing to the real blessings of justification was never mentioned in such a connection in the New Testament, it is not permissible to interpret the OT text in this way. I am less conservative with regards to this, and there are scholars along a spectrum on this issue. To me, such typology should be permissible. However, the text must not be artificially contorted beyond recognition and reason. It should not contradict any of the major Bible doctrines that are made clear elsewhere. Lastly, it brings out the loveliness of Jesus finished work and not shed light on some insignificant subject. If it sheds light on the overall redemptive theme of the whole Bible and I give it my thumbs up.

The Power of Right Believing by Joseph Prince: reflection 1

"The power of right believing" by Joseph Prince
"The power of right believing" by Joseph Prince

There are seven parts to this book and I hope to post my reflections on them a part at a time. This book was written to help people with fears, guilt, and addictions. Prince is convinced that the difference between those who were set free and those who were not, is simply right believing.

First a summary of the first part: Believe in God’s Love for You

What You Believe is Powerful (chapter 1):  Wrong beliefs keep you imprisoned but the truth sets you free. The truth that sets you free is the gospel of grace which when believed will uproot all your wrong beliefs.

The God Who Seeks the Shunned (chapter 2):  God is not after you for your mistakes and failings and sins. People will shun you like the village shunned the Samaritan woman, but Jesus would seek you out.  Uproot common misconceptions about God’s attitude towards those who fail him. Know and believe He abounds in mercy and love and your life will change.

“Jesus Loves Me This I Know” (chapter 3): God’s love for us is unconditional. He forgives us completely; He justifies the ungodly; and loves the sinner. It’s not about how much you love Him but about how much He loves you.

Joseph Prince’s book is very readable. I like the easy to read typo and spacing. The chapters are probably adaptations and edited versions of his sermons. They bear some characteristics of sermons. They speak directly to you in a conversational tone. Sometimes there is the occasional detour and the repetition of ideas in different words. It’s also inspirational and declaratory.

What resonates for me was the mention of how we often have mere head knowledge of the vastness of God’s love for us but when a crisis hits our lack of real belief and knowledge is betrayed by our great fears, anxiety and guilt. On reflection I realize these moments when we see a gap between what we believe about God and how we react or behave are opportunities for the Spirit to write on the tablets of our hearts His personal love letter. Through such experiences what we know in the head percolates to the heart.

From reviewing the first part, I can understand why he keeps preaching the rich theme of God’s grace over and over. For one there are always new people in the audience who need to hear it many times in different ways before it uproots their wrong concepts about God. Second, the whole Bible has a rich deep vein of inexhaustible grace to be mined and surfaced for the people to draw from. Third, faith is not built over a Sunday and often when we are facing a challenge we need to be reminded again and again to look to the God of grace and unconditional love.

A review of Renovation of the Heart by Dallas Willard

renovation of the heart

Vision of spiritual formation

The author wants the church to hold to a vision of spiritual formation of all believers into the likeness of Jesus Christ. This is rooted in the Great Commission, and the church that fails to do this simply has failed. Dallas Willard is a professor of Philosophy in U.S.C. and a widely read author. His writing is cogent, and patiently builds up air-tight arguments to prove his thesis. His extensive reading and research is evidenced in his references. But his background also explains why his definitions of various elements of the human, like soul, spirit, and heart betray a lack of biblical theology.

Dallas begins by painting a grim picture of the gap between what is professed and what is lived out by the church. Many have severely fallen short of the standard of Christ’s holy life. He then pinpoints the church’s problem: majoring on the minors. The cure: a fresh, intentional focus on spiritual formation. A vision of change and hope is outlined and then in detail he goes on to show how every element of the human person can be transformed. The thought life and the feelings; the will and the body; the social and soul, all need to come under the transforming work of Spirit and man’s intentional and habitual response.

Biblical theology gap

The definitions and explanations and practical applications about what Christians can do to predispose themselves to God’s grace in transformation are clear and the arguments almost airtight. However I would have been more convinced if he had brought in more biblical theology with word studies, of biblical terms like the heart, or spirit and soul. It sounded more psychological than biblical. Perhaps in targeting the lay Christian reader, he has deliberately avoided technical discussion on such matters, but I wished that at least it could have been included in an appendix.

He could have filled a gap in terms of biblical theology of how Christ’s finished work, our union with Christ, the sacraments, and sanctification relates to spiritual formation. Perhaps he was overeager to avoid theological jargon but we readers would like to be able to relate what we read in his book to the epistles of St Paul in Romans 6-8 and other great passages. For example, he made some insightful observations about how “ideas, sensations and emotions”, both positive and negative, can by habit become “settled attitudes” that become like tendencies that can trigger automatically without conscious thought in reaction to life situations. It would have been wonderful if he discussed that in relation to the “old man” or “the flesh” or “body of sin” or “ indwelling sin”.

Community applications needed

His suggestions were practical. For instance, memorization and meditation of the Scriptures to renovate the mind so that it comes fully under Christ’s rule. However, it is noticeable that most of his applications were directed to the individual Christian. There were a few directed to the community and leaders of the community in the social dimension but it would have been better if all the application were viewed from a community and relational viewpoint. Thus the applications for mind renewal could have been the reading and preaching of Scriptures in the worship service, the role of hymns, the family’s role in encouraging thinking from God’s viewpoint, the study and discussion and application of truth to life in small groups etc. Frankly, most individual Christians will not memorize scriptures or study over the long haul. The only hope of such actions becoming habits must be for a community practice to be established and for them to participate in them faithfully.

An Asian way?

The approach of breaking down all the human elements that need transformation is also a very Western and scientific approach. It helps me to understand each particular part and how it functions together and deepens my understanding, but it also overwhelms the individual with too much applications, and it feels quite cumbersome. It may be better if he had taken a more Asian or holistic and biblical approach and viewed the human being as a whole and demonstrated how Christ’s death and resurrection has provided a basis for the renewal of my whole being and how the church needs to provide a conducive context where all its members can better predispose themselves to the ongoing grace of sanctification.

Book review of Streams of Living Water by Richard J. Foster

streams of living waterA mature faith

One of the marks of a mature faith is that it is sufficiently secure to explore other Christian traditions and discover in them good which they can incorporate into their life without losing their roots in the essentials of faith in Christ. One of the early steps we can take to hop out of our wells and widen our appreciation of the larger body of Christ is to read this interesting book. It is substantial without being too academic. It will give you food for thought, and stimulate desire for holistic growth.

General content and development

The author identifies six traditions from the various movements in church history and categorizes them according to their unique emphasis in faith and practice. They are the contemplative, the holiness, the charismatic, social justice, the evangelical, and the incarnational. He argues that the essence of these major traditions find their embodiment in the person of Jesus, and since we are called to follow Him, these traditions and practices are to be nurtured in the life of the believer and the church. He unpacks each tradition by using 3 persons as illustrations: a historical figure; a Bible character; and a contemporary person. The he describes the tradition and lists its strengths and perils and suggest practical applications.

One example of how he develops his subject is the charismatic tradition where he first uses St Francis of Assisi as the historical figure that epitomizes this stream; and then St Paul the apostle as the biblical example of the charismatic; and finally, James Seymour, the leader in the Azusa Street outpouring, as a contemporary example. Next he shows how the tradition is supported by scripture. Moving from this base, he lists charismatic strengths, one of which is empowering to serve; and a list of perils, one of which is rejecting the rational and intellectual. Finally he gives practical suggestions of how to be more open to follow the promptings of the Spirit.

Debatable choices and Third World absence

Naturally it is debatable who would be the best candidate to represent each stream. For example, the use of St Francis to illustrate the charismatic tradition could just as well, or even better represent the social justice tradition. Dietrich Bonhoeffer could be a candidate for social justice instead of holiness. I would have thought someone like bishop Oscar Romero should not be left out of the book completely. He should at least appear in the list of notable figures and significant movements in appendix B. Sadly sterling Asian men of God like Watchman Nee, John Sung, Bakht Singh and Wang Ming Dao were conspicuously absent.

The book does not sufficiently argue the how and why he arrived at the six traditions and not one less, or one more? Could there have been an additional tradition that did not make the list and why not. It would have been enlightening and more convincing if the reader had some access to the arguments, even if only in an appendix.

An incomplete end?

The conclusion was too abrupt. He could have debated about whether the Bible posits an ideal of every Christian having all these six traditions in full mature expression, or whether what is seen of the six traditions, and in Jesus is meant to be expressed not through the individual, but through the corporate or community expression of the Body of Christ, whether in its local expression, or in the universal expression. It would have been good for the author to identify the contemporary situation: are all streams represented in today’s church? Which denomination is displaying which tradition best? And discuss if what God intended is actually having different members or “tribes” of his worldwide church displaying these streams in varying strengths so that together they present the fullness and the ideal.

A good and important read

However what I like about the book are many. This book has broadened my perspective and understanding. The natural tendency is to be entrenched in our own tradition and to denigrate those of others. Reading this has deepened my appreciation of the richness of the faith that the Lord of history has deposited into the life of the church over centuries, a treasure not to be despised.

Another asset is how the author shows that the various strands are inter-related to each other. Out of a rich contemplative life would flow a life of holiness and the charismata of the Holy Spirit. Logically too such a person would have power to be and to live compassionately. Justice and compassion cannot go without the evangelical witness of the Gospel message. And all these traditions must be embodied in people who live ordinary everyday lives and this is the incarnational tradition. What a joyful dance the inter-relationships point to!

richard j fosterRichard J Foster is a well known author of best selling books like “Celebration of Discipline”, “Prayer” and other books on spirituality and spiritual disciplines. The tradition that nourished him is the social justice tradition of the Quakers. There are Quakers of the more liberal sort, and those that are very evangelical, and he belongs to the latter.

This is also one book where I read all the appendices. The summary of church history from the lens of the six traditions and the list of notable persons and movements in history was a different approach I liked. And though they were not as exhaustive as I would prefer it to be with respect to Asian and African representation, they helped to strengthen the author’s thesis. I have benefited much from reading this book and will explore further its proper application to life.