Friday, August 15, 2008

Book Review: Rapture Fiction: And the Evangelical Crisis by Crawford Gribben

Crawford Gribben has a great name. Better, he has written a great book. This professor of Renaissance literature and fine theologian has tackled a subject largely (and wrongly) dismissed by “my circle” of Calvinistic Baptists; The Left Behind series.
First of all, Gribben has read the books! That alone deserves a medal in my estimation since I really have no stomach for them. But even more laudable than this, he reports on them in a very fair and balanced style and carefully critiques the theological message they impart. That is why this book is a must read for anyone who has enjoyed “Left Behind.” (By the way, the other required reading for anyone who has enjoyed “Left Behind,” is Nathan Wilson’s “Right Behind” – this parody will at least make you chuckle.)
The title “Rapture Fiction: And the Evangelical Crisis” is not so much communicating the falsity of some secret removal of Christians from the earth, as it is a signal that Gribben is going to evaluate the body of literature known as “rapture fiction.” The subtitle explains this further as the author really seeks to use this form of literature to springboard into a discussion of how sad a state of affairs the evangelical church has fallen into.
For those who argue the books’ classification as fiction rules them out from theological examination, Gribben provides substantive answers as to precisely why that is not the case. And he is careful to quote widely and avoid straw-man arguments.
Gribben also includes an appendix that briefly and fairly describes the major eschatalogical positions within evangelicalism. Those who scratch their heads and wonder what all the fuss is about will be able to see some of the major differences quite clearly.
I highly commend the book and remain thankful to Evangelical Press for publishing this helpful title. Buy a few copies and have them on hand to give away to those who find too much life in false hopes and not enough in a robust understanding of God Himself.

Disclosure: Crawford Gribben sat in on one of my classes at Toronto Baptist Seminary once and he did not make fun of me or show my students how dumb I am. For this I am very thankful. But that is not why I think his book is so good!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Without the Holy Spirit, Worship is Dead

In his introduction to David Well’s book, God the Evangelist, J.I. Packer writes of our true need in worship. The quote is by Packer, but he begins by quoting A.W. Tozer. (Just in case you got lost there: the book is by Wells, it contains an introduction by Packer, and the Packer intro includes a quote from Tozer!). Here it is:

With regard to worship, A.W. Tozer wrote in 1948,

There are today many millions of people who hold “right opinions,” probably more than ever before in the history of the Church. Yet I wonder if there was ever a time when true spiritual worship was at a lower ebb. To great sections of the Church the art of worship has been lost entirely, and in its place has come that strange and foreign thing called the “program.” This word has been borrowed from the stage and applied with sad wisdom to the type of public service which now passes for worship among us.

This is arguably truer now than it was when Tozer wrote about it. Worship — in the sense of telling God his worth by speech and song and celebrating his worth in his presence by proclamation and meditation — has been largely replaced, at least in the West, by a form of entertainment calculated to give worshipers the equivalent of a sauna or Jacuzzi experience and send them away feeling relaxed and tuned up at the same time. Certainly true worship invigorates, but to plan invigoration is not necessarily to order worship. As all that glitters is not gold, so all that makes us feel happy and strong is not worship. The question is not whether a particular liturgical form is used, but whether a God-centered as distinct from a man-centered perspective is maintained—whether, in other words, the sense that man exists for God rather than God for man is cherished or lost. We need to discover all over again that worship is natural to the Christian heart, as it was to the godly Israelites who wrote the psalms, and that the habit of celebrating the greatness and graciousness of God yields an endless flow of thankfulness, joy, and zeal. Neither stylized charismatic exuberance nor Anglican Prayer Book correctness nor conventional music-sandwich Sunday-morning programs provide any magic formula for this rediscovery. It can occur only when the Holy Spirit is taken seriously as the One who through the written word of Scripture shows us the love and glory of the Son and the Father and draws us into personal communion with both.