Confessions Of A Christian Psychologist

Finding God,by Larry Crabb (Zondervan, 217 pp.; $12.99, hardcover). Reviewed by Kevin D. Miller, editorial resident of YOUR CHURCH magazine.

Reading the introduction to psychologist Larry Crabb’s latest book is like sneaking a peek into someone’s diary: “I have come to the place in my life where I need to know God better or I won’t make it. Life at times has a way of throwing me into such blinding confusion and severe pain that I lose all hope. Joy is gone. Nothing encourages me.”

A confession from one of Crabb’s counselees? Sort of. In Finding God, Crabb attempts to diagnose his own lack of passion for God in his life. In writing the book, he becomes something of his own counselee, while the text becomes the therapy transcript.

The ailment that Crabb diagnoses in Finding God is one more commonly associated with atheists than Christians: unbelief. Too many Christians have shifted their focus from finding God toward finding themselves, he warns. “Helping people to feel loved and worthwhile has become the central mission of the church. We are learning not to worship God in self-denial and costly service, but to embrace our inner child, heal our memories, overcome addictions, lift our depressions, improve our self-images.”

While not the first person to offer such criticism, Crabb’s “countless hours providing therapy for hundreds of people” makes his conclusion worth hearing: “A focus on increased knowledge of self rarely leads to richer knowledge of God.” The obsession of many Christians with counseling and self-help books, he believes, points to a refusal to embrace the more painful—but the only truly effective—remedy: repentance.

It is from this biblical concept that Crabb presents his most original contribution, a descriptive, psychological profile of sin. The apostle Paul’s law of sin is our “inclination to believe that God is not good, or at least not ‘good enough’ to be fully trusted.” This, says Crabb, forms the foundation for a structure of unbelief, which has five levels: first, we turn to others to gain from them what we couldn’t get from God; second, we hate others when they fail to meet our needs; third, we hate ourselves, the way others have hated us for hating them; fourth, we resolve to survive, even if alone; and fifth, we take any steps necessary to ensure our survival.

A myriad of examples is given to illustrate each of these levels, many of them being unflattering incidents from Crabb’s own experience. An especially poignant story goes back to 1991 when his brother died in a plane crash. While speaking at the memorial service, Crabb recalls, “I noticed that a phrase I had used was especially rich.… I paused to let that phrase sink in. During that three second pause, I heard these words run through my mind, ‘I’m doing a pretty good job. That was a good pause.’ ” His selfishness at his brother’s funeral would haunt him.

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What purpose do these stories serve? Call it the psychology of confession. “Telling our stories requires us to face painful truths about ourselves,” says Crabb. And he is on track, for, as the prophet Isaiah or the apostle Peter would readily attest, our seeing the ugly truth about our sinful condition is inextricably tied to our seeing God for who he really is.

But Crabb does not leave it there. “Once we’ve faced those truths,” he writes, “we will again feel the noble passions to love, … passions planted in our hearts by God’s Spirit.” Hence, God is found and the joy returned.

Slave, Pastor, Missionary

From Slavery to Freedom: The Life of David George, Pioneer Black Baptist Minister,by Grant Gordon (Lancelot Press, P.O. Box 425, Hantsport, N.S., Canada B0P 1P0; 356 pp., $13, paper). Reviewed by Mark A. Noll, McManis Professor of Christian Thought at Wheaton College in Illinois.

One of the most encouraging recent developments in religious history is the fresh attention being paid to African Americans. For too long the attitude prevailed that “Christian history” meant the story of Europeans and Americans (with perhaps a footnote or two for people of color). Grant Gordon’s thoroughly researched biography of David George (1743–1810) adds to the growing list of significant books demonstrating how vital the experience of African-American believers has always been to evangelicalism.

George was born a slave in Virginia, but as a young man he escaped and fled south. In the early 1770s, he was instrumental in establishing the colonies’ first independent Black Baptist church in Silver Bluff, South Carolina. Because he remained loyal to Britain during the War for Independence, George was resettled in Shelburne, Nova Scotia, where he established the first Black Baptist church in what would become Canada. George’s pioneering work was not yet finished, however.

In 1792 George emigrated to Sierra Leone, where he became the first Baptist pastor (White or Black) to head a church in Africa. George endured much for his faith from the hands of American slave owners and patriots; he was the object of racial prejudice in three widely scattered regions. But, throughout, he maintained a sturdy faith, which leaned toward Calvinism in doctrine and toward ecstatic experience in practice. Grant Gordon, who teaches at Ontario Theological Seminary, has included an illuminating selection of primary documents concerning David George in this most helpful book.

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Downsizing Schindler’S List

Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory,by Deborah E. Lipstadt (The Free Press, 378 pp.; $22.95, hardcover). Reviewed by Richard V. Pierard, professor of history, Indiana State University, and coauthor of Two Kingdoms: The Church and Culture Through the Ages (Moody).

Four years ago a furor erupted in Hoosierland over a part-time history instructor at an Indianapolis campus who told his students that the Holocaust was a propaganda hoax designed to vilify the Germans and that he was presenting the “other side” of the matter since textbooks only gave the “orthodox view.” The school eventually dismissed him for teaching material that was irrelevant to the course and lacking in scholarly substance. However, because he had briefly taught at my university (he actually replaced me while I was on leave), various reporters contacted me. I told them in no uncertain terms that his assertions not only were a gross falsification of history but also were designed to arouse animosity against Jews.

Deborah Lipstadt’s recounting of this incident revived the memory of my first direct involvement in the struggle against “Holocaust revisionism,” and the book itself is a powerful indictment of the fastest-growing and most common form of anti-Judaism today. Moreover, David Duke’s use of such arguments in his presidential campaign in 1992 brought home to the evangelical community the seriousness of the problem. Even some of my fellow believers fell for Duke’s sweet-tasting conservatism that was laced with the deadly poison of anti-Semitism.

Informed denial

Lipstadt, a historian at Emory University, adopts a multipronged approach to the problem. She analyzes the various contentions of the Holocaust deniers and shows that virtually without exception they are founded on lies, half-truths, and conscious deceptions. In the process, she examines the historical origins of denial in the American and European extreme Right, dissects the writings of several high-profile deniers, discusses the movement’s use of the mass media as a tool for propagation, and assesses the matter’s role in German neo-Nazism.

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Lipstadt denies the deniers even the least bit of respectability. She never calls them “revisionists” (a term professional historians use to refer to the reinterpretation of significant happenings through the discovery of new evidence and insights), since all they do is deny established facts.She insists that we must never debate or discuss with them in a public forum or the press, as that would imply there is an “other side” to this matter.

She also lays bare the anti-Semitism that undergirds their belief system. For instance, she quotes Robert Faurisson, a French professor of literature, who calls the “so-called gassings” of Jews a political swindle designed to benefit “the state of Israel and international Zionism,” and Arthur Butz, an engineering professor at Northwestern University, who declares the Holocaust “the hoax of the twentieth century,” invented to further “Zionist ends.”

Lipstadt argues eloquently that the First Amendment provision on free speech does not give the deniers the right to a public forum. There is a difference between the government forbidding them to speak (censorship) and requiring the mass media and schools to grant them opportunity to present their views. She argues that the deniers are contemptuous of the very tools that shape an honest debate—truth and reason—and they twist or create information to buttress their beliefs and reject any evidence that counters these. Their use of video lectures and footnote-laden essays even gives their work the appearance of scholarly objectivity; however, they employ the language of scientific inquiry for what is a purely ideological enterprise.

Relatively speaking

One of Lipstadt’s most telling points is that the modern-day attack on the Western rationalist tradition has fed Holocaust denial. The deconstructionists’ claim that literary texts have no fixed meaning and the reader’s interpretations, not the author’s intention, is what determines meanings, leads to the logical conclusion that all truths are relative and nothing is objective. Rejected is the notion that one version of the world is necessarily right while another is wrong. In this ambiguous world, all experience is relative and nothing is certain, history may be rewritten for political ends, and ideological conformity supplants scientific historiography.

The author’s conclusion, “If Holocaust denial has demonstrated anything, it is the fragility of memory, truth, reason, and history,” should make evangelicals stop and think. We have nothing to do with those who deny the objective reality of God, the authority of Scripture, and the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Should we, then, be any more charitable toward the convoluted relativism of the deniers who reshape history to fit their agenda?

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Lipstadt’s work is a wake-up call that we need to hear. The fact that so many deniers call themselves “Christians” and “patriots” should alarm American evangelicals. Allowing them to gain a foothold in our ranks simply undermines the credibility of our witness.

Half-Full Ecumenism

Ecumenical Faith in Evangelical Perspective,by Gabriel Fackre (Eerdmans, 230 pp.; $17.99, paper). Reviewed by Harold O. J. Brown, professor of biblical and systematic theology, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Deerfield, Illinois.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn reported that doctrinal differences among Christians tended to lose all significance in the gulag. The modern secular world is not a “gulag” in Solzhenitsyn’s sense, but here, too, it makes sense for Christians of various colorations to overlook their differences and to stand together for their Lord. It is to this end that Gabriel Fackre, professor of theology at Andover Newton Theological School, has given us Ecumenical Faith in Evangelical Perspective.

Fackre presupposes and defines two distinct types of mostly Protestant Christians: evangelical ecumenicals—the group to which he claims allegiance—and ecumenical evangelicals, the group that he would like to attract. Fackre’s work is genial and generous. He offers a clear and fair typology of evangelicalism. This book will be especially useful in the current context where anyone who takes the Bible seriously, particularly biblical morality, is likely to be branded as part of the “detestable religious Right.” Here he offers valuable and sane correction.

Fackre identifies evangelicals primarily in terms of their approach to biblical authority and hermeneutics, rather than in terms of their doctrines of personal conversion and the new birth. Thus he tends to identify the difference between evangelicals and ecumenicals as being a question of emphasis or degree rather than of fundamentally diverse commitments. This may be a weakness, for evangelicals have difficulty accepting those who do not have a clear doctrine of repentance, conversion, and the New Birth as Christians, regardless of whether they may have a high view of the authority of Scripture. (After all, Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses also profess a very high view of Scripture.)

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This points to a fundamental difficulty, specifically the one presented by the late J. Gresham Machen six decades ago in Christianity and Liberalism. The Russian Orthodox, Baptists, and Pentecostals who were thrown together in Russia’s gulags discovered that they shared much in common as Christians; the fifth-generation liberalism in many of the mainline denominational seminaries, however, is, as Machen said, another religion.

This criticism does not apply to Fackre, but it applies to much of the liberal camp where he finds his home. This may cast a shadow on his project, for he cannot truly reconcile the evangelical and ecumenical camps when the ecumenical camp, as evangelicals see it, is populated, and to some extent led, by individuals who affirm neither biblical authority nor personal conversion.

Fackre’s book is beautifully written, tactful, and very well done in many respects, and his generous spirit and sincere desire for Christian unity are to be admired. Nevertheless, his work fails to do justice to the substantial difference that divides evangelicals from so many ecumenicals once they leave the genteel terrain of academic scholarship and enter into the task of contending for the truths of the faith. The ecumenical group in which Fackre finds his home surely contains many Christians, but it also contains much that is in harsh conflict with biblical Christianity. Much has changed since Machen wrote Christianity and Liberalism, but the problem that he exposed remains: “different religions.”

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