Thursday, October 19, 2017

Hitler's Cross - Erwin Lutzer




Why and how did Hitler ever come into power?  Was it because Satan had the upper hand over God? Was God powerless to stop it?  As Mr. Lutzer asks, "Is God only involved when righteous leaders are installed and uninvolved when a leader is something less than distinctively Christian, or even evil?" Of course, the answer to this is that God is always involved, otherwise He is not God. This is something that I really like about Lutzer's book Hitler's Cross. He reminds us that Hitler's ascension to power was not an accident, it was not outside of God's power. Lutzer reminds us of Romans 13: "...there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God." Satan himself is not outside the realm of God's sovereignty, every move he makes works perfectly into God's plan.  Speaking of God's sovereignty in even evil things that take place, the author comments:  "Some prefer to call it His 'permissive will,' but it is His will nevertheless. He directs all things to their appointed end." and again: "Those Christians in Nazi Germany who believed that evil was triumphing because God was too weak to stem the tide could find no hope in their distress."  This is comforting to we who are Christians, nothing, even evil, is stronger than God, and nothing can take place without His will!

It was fascinating to me how Hitler used religion to gain over professing Christians in Germany.  Much of Germany was religious at the time, the Lutheran church was connected with the state.  Instead of wiping out the church, the plan was to infiltrate Christianity, politicize it (more than it already was) and change its doctrines bit by bit until true Christianity vanished altogether. Christian Jews  ended up being required to worship separately from Christian Aryans, Pastors were eventually required to swear an oath to Hitler, Nazis even planned that Hitler's Mein Kampf would take the place of the Bible in the churches. The official church in Germany became the 'Reich church' .

Lutzer points out that there were Christians who were against  the Nazification of Christianity, even at the cost of being sent to consecration camps and/or death. Refusing to take the oath of loyalty to Hitler as the head of the Pastors, they declared that God's word was their authority, and they also declaring that Jews and Christians are one in Christ, therefore there should be no ethnic discrimination in the church of God. By separating themselves from the official church(now the Reich church) and the so called 'German Christians' they were not apostatizing from the church, rather they were declaring the political Reich church apostate.

Lutzer sees that there are parallels between what led to Germanys being Nazified and things in America today. After world war I the Germans had a short lived Republic, they gave up this Republic for a dictator because the economy was very bad. Under Hitler's regime "Workers now had job security, a health service, cheap holiday schemes; if freedom meant starvation, then slavery was preferable." They gave up freedom for temporary safety. Which is something that America may be headed toward.  Lutzer makes us ask questions:  what will we do if things become like they were in Nazi Germany. What are we doing now? What decisions are we making now in our Christian life, what do we truly hold as valuable?

I've read this book before, several years ago.  I remembered having really liked it at the time and recently decided that it would be nice to read it again.  My perspective has changed over the years, and though I still like the book, I've noticed statements in the book that I don't seem to have noticed before. For instance, Lutzer uses Matthew 25:35-36 (I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink…etc.)to say that when the Jews were persecuted, it was the Lord Jesus Christ who was suffering and therefore Christians should have focused on helping them.  But I'm pretty sure that Lutzer is using that passage incorrectly, it clarifies that " ..Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it unto one of these MY BRETHREN, even these least, ye did it unto me."(vs. 40  ASV - emphasis added by myself).  Who are Christ's brothers and sisters? Christ Himself says, "Who is my mother? and who are my brethren? And he stretched forth his hand towards his disciples, and said, Behold, my mother and my brethren! For whosoever shall do the will of my Father who is in heaven, he is my brother, and sister, and mother." (Mat 12:48-50 ASV) And in Luke 8:21 He says, "But he answered and said unto them, My mother and my brethren are these that hear the word of God, and do it (ASV).  This would seem to indicate that Christ's brethren are Christians, His followers.  And Christ also says that this is how the world will know that we are His disciples, "if you have love for one another".  The whole New Testament seems to emphasize focusing on Christians loving and caring for other Christians and meeting their needs more than it does meeting the material needs of unbelievers.

Perhaps I sound absolutely horrible in saying that! I sound strange to myself! But I’m NOT saying that Christian shouldn't have helped the Jews.  What I'm getting at is this:  if they didn't go out and actively seek Jews to hide or help, were they being disobedient to the Word of God? That is one of the questions I'm struggling with.  Yes they should have stood up to the law that no Christian of Jewish descent could become a pastor, yes they should have stood against the politicization of the church and establishment of Hitler as its head.  But what if, besides dealing with those issues that directly affected their brethren, they did not focus on primarily helping unbelieving Jews in need, but focused mainly on helping their fellow Christians in need (both Jewish and non-Jewish believers in Christ as their Savior and Messiah?).  What if they mainly fed and clothed their fellow saints, took them in and visited them in prison over and above helping non-believers? Would they be sinning if they did this?  Would they be turning their back on Christ if they focused on serving their fellow Christians over and above serving non-Christians?  Will Christ say that He never knew people who focused their lives on serving their spiritual brethren who do the will of God?

To apply this to the present day: What if we Christians don't focus on ending abortion (the killing of little babies in the womb)? Yes, we absolutely want it stopped, but how much of our lives ought we to biblically devote to stopping it?   How far should we go? Should we kidnap any pregnant woman who says that she will have an abortion and free her when her baby is born alive? Are we sinning if we don't go out every year and picket abortion clinics? What if we don't devote some of our lives to ending slavery in the world? Or ending child abuse, spouse abuse or human trafficking?  What if we focus the majority of our lives on loving our fellow saints? Will Christ say that He never knew us?

Of course, we Christians will help unbelievers, if we have opportunities to help them, materially and spiritually.  We are to walk with wisdom and have gracious speech toward "outsiders' (Col 4:5),  keeping our behavior pure, to love our enemies and do good to those who hate us, blessing those who curse us,  showing hospitality and are told, "as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone"  and yet even that statement is qualified by the next: "and especially to those who are of the household of faith."(Gal 6:10 ASV).  I just can't get over the strong emphasis of the New Testament on helping one's fellow believers.

Again, I am not saying that the Christians in Germany should not have helped Jews who came their way.    I'm simply saying that I'm starting to think that Lutzer goes too far in his implications that the church in our day needs to focus on stopping the practical evils of our day: abortion, slavery, child abuse…etc.  And that it needs to focus more on helping the unbelieving world.  I think that biblically, the church in our day needs to focus more on loving our fellow believers.  Christ says " By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." (Joh 13:35)  And I'm not sure that that is the reputation of the church in our day, which I suspect has more of a reputation for its love for unbelievers than its love for believers.

I don't want to sound nit-picky, I just felt like I needed to say something about that. There were some other things as well, but I won't bring them up here.  But I still like the book overall. it is a fascinating recounting of the heavy influence of Nazi Germany on the 'Christian' worldview of many of the Germans at that time, and how the churches reacted or didn't react to it.  Many churches of that day proved that their focus was temporal, while others were willing to suffer for the truth of the Gospel.  It really makes you think about how we would react in our day.  Are we willing to suffer and lose everything in this life for the sake of Christ? Will we panic if another 'Hitler' arises in our day and becomes the President of the United States of America? Or will we realize that God is still in perfect control and be willing to suffer persecution for doing what is right?  The sovereignty of God over all the affairs of this world is something that we Christians need to come to realize now, and then we won't have to wrestle later with fears and doubts about His power and about whether or not all things are working together for our good (Rom 8:28-29).


Many thanks to the folks at MPNewsroom (Moody Publishers) for sending me a free review copy of this book (My review did not have to be favorable)!

My Rating: 4 Out of 5 Stars
****

This book may be purchased at places like Amazon and Christianbook.com

Monday, October 9, 2017

Enjoying God - R. C. Sproul

R.C. Sproul's book, Enjoying God: Finding Hope in the Attributes of God is meant to draw the Christian's attention to the greatness of the God we serve.  How awesome, powerful and yet how loving and merciful He is toward His own.  As Sproul points out,  "Worship is the duty of every creature.  But any kind of worship is not enough, God commands us to worship in a proper manner."  And part of that worship is knowing God accurately.

Sadly, there were many things in this book that bothered me about this book.  First, I had thought that it was going to focus more on the attributes of God and how those affect how we live.  But, it didn't go into that as much as I thought it would.  I felt like it focused too much on questions like, "Does God's immutability, His unchangeableness, mean that He doesn't move around?" Or, "Can God limit His power?"  "If God did something bad would it really be bad?" I guess I just thought the book would focus more on God's attributes as presented in the Bible and how we live in light of them rather than on superfluous questions.  It just seems as though it would be more edifying if it didn't delve into those types of questions, they do not build one's faith or one's hope.

And then Sproul made some surprising and very unnecessary statements.  When discussing Christ's ability to not know something, like the day or the hour of His return, Sproul makes the statement, "I doubt if the human Jesus knew that the earth was round." Where did that come from? How is that biblical? Why does His not knowing the day or the hour make one think that He didn't know the shape of the earth He created?

And here's another one that took me off guard: speaking of Mary's response to Gabriel's news that she would give birth to the Messiah he says, "This response of the mother of God may be the most profound…"  I would be very wary of using the term "mother of God' to refer to Mary.   For one thing, it can give the impression that Mary was Christ's mother from eternity, and she was not;  Or it can elevate her in people's minds to the status of a 'goddess', which she was not, she was a sinful human being.   And for another, it disregards the Trinity.  Yes, yes, I know that God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are One, and "in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily"(Col 2:9) but biblically we still need to differentiate between them at times.  God the Father sent His Son into the world to be born of a woman (Galatians 4:4).  That statement is just too dangerous to use, in my opinion, and it's not a biblical term and it's not a necessary term. 

There were good things in this book, but not enough for me to want to recommend it. 


Many thanks to the folks at Baker Books Bloggers for sending me a free review copy of this book! (My review did not have to be favorable)


Monday, October 2, 2017

CSB Reader's Bible

The CSB Reader's Bible is designed to make it easy to sit down and just read each individual book. It is more along the lines of how it would have been read by the early Christians whose Bibles (or sections of the Bible/individual letters) were not divided into chapters and verses until many, many years after the Apostles had died. The text of this "Reader's Bible" is in a single column, like a regular book, instead being placed in two columns.  It has no chapter numbers and no verse numbers.  

This edition is a nice looking grey cloth over board volume, and includes an attached ribbon marker.  The font is a nice size and seems about the size of a regular book's font and is a very readable edition. I do want to note that the pages are very thin and quite flimsy, much like, or exactly like, a regular Bible's pages. I think that the edition would be nicer if the pages were the same thickness as a regular book's.  But perhaps they would have to divide it into several volumes if they did that, and it might be heavier as well.  This one still works very well.

The only real problem I have with this Reader's edition is that, though they do remove the chapter numbers, they leave the chapter breaks and make the first letter of each 'chapter' large (and colored blue). To me that rather defeats the point of removing the chapter numbers.  I don't necessarily mind chapter breaks in the narrative portions, and other portions that require it to make reading easier, though I do wish they would leave them out altogether in the Epistles/letters.  I do wish that they had taken advantage of the reader oriented design and completely revamp the chapter breaks to make the text flow more smoothly than a regular Bible's which have (at least to my mind) some unnatural chapter breaks that disrupt the flow of thought.  For example, here is how a portion of Malachi reads:

"I will have compassion on them as a man has compassion on his son who serves him.  So you will again see the difference between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve him.

 CHAPTER BREAK  

For look, the day is coming, burning like a furnace, when all the arrogant and everyone who commits wickedness will become stubble."

Or as another example, in Acts, where Stephen is brought before the Sanhedrin:  "And all who were sitting in the Sanhedrin looked intently at him and saw that his face was like the face on an Angel.

CHAPTER BREAK

'Are these things true?' the high priest asked.  'Brothers and fathers,' he replied, 'listen…."

They could have omitted the chapter breaks, kept the text together and these texts would read much better without interruption. 

But all in all, this is a very nice Reader's Bible.  I really like the idea of going closer to how the text was originally laid out.  It is nice having other Bible editions around without the extra numbering and unnecessary dividing of the text. Again, I am not against chapters and verses, but editions like this truly do make the Bible more 'readable', as it were, and helps one to remember that "context is king".  Rather than viewing the Bible as little chunks of numbered statements that can be divorced from their context, it lends more to one seeing the text as an inspired whole. 


Many thanks to the folks at B&H/Lifeway for sending me a free review copy of this book. (My review did not have to be favorable)

You may purchase this book are Amazon.com and Christianbook.com