This week's Free Stuff Fridays is sponsored by 10ofthose which, as you know, also sponsored the blog this week. They are offering a prize package made up of some of their best products. There will be 5 winners this week and each of them will receive the following:
Daily Readings Through All Four Gospels by J.C. Ryle. "This edition of Daily Readings from all Four Gospels is a fresh presentation of Ryle’s classic Daily Readings. This high quality, soft touch, deluxe edition contains all 732 readings from the Ryle’s previous volumes and arranges them for the morning and evening of every day of any year."
Everything a Child Should Know About God by Kenneth Taylor. "Help your child discover the wonder of God and His Word! Dr. Kenneth Taylor explains in child–friendly language the essential Bible truths you want your child to know. He tells children about God’s creation of the world, why Jesus came to earth, how the Holy Spirit helps us, and so much more!"
Evangelistic Preaching by Roger Carswell. "Clear, faithful proclamation of the gospel is needed more than ever, but the pressures of the age are often causing us to stay silent and withdraw. Roger defines biblical, evangelistic preaching as ‘proclaiming the gospel, to non–Christians, who are listening.’ He then helpfully, unpacks this and walks us through the Bible principles of sharing the good news. This is far from being just a theory book. With stories and examples, Roger applies what the Bible says, helps us think through how it will impact our preparation, prayers and preaching and excites us for what God can do through His word. If you’re a seasoned preacher or just starting out, this book is for you. It will help you think through both your message and method, how truth can be clearly communicated and manifested in love."
God and Politics by Mark Dever. "Mark Dever unpacks what the Bible has to say on this topic, and teaches how we can ‘Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s’ without compromising on what we believe. We’ll see that our duty to God is comprehensive and that there isn’t an area of life that we can separate from His influence. This little book won’t take long to read, but its impact could last a lifetime."
Intentional by Paul Williams. "If we’re honest none of us find evangelism easy. We’re told we should do it, we might know that we should be doing it, but the reality is often too scary. Paul Williams is realistic about our fear and guilt, but with gentleness he shows us that the key to banishing our fear isn’t complex and clever answers, but rather to take our friends to the person of Jesus. He gives practical examples of how we can naturally and thoughtfully share how Jesus answers, and is the answer to commonly asked questions. Paul also shares how this simple model has led to greater confidence and joy in his own evangelism. This can be our joy too!"
Galatians by Peter Mead. "Be encouraged as Peter Mead takes us through 36 undated devotions; be reminded that Christ is everything, that the gospel is sufficient and that we have all we need for our lives now in Jesus. Helpful reflection questions will allow you to dwell on these great truths throughout the day."
Giveaway Rules: You may enter one time. As soon as the winners have been chosen, all names and addresses will be immediately and permanently erased. Winners will be notified by email. The giveaway closes Saturday at noon. If you are viewing this through email, click to visit my site and enter there.
In this ongoing series of articles I am taking a look at books that have won the Platinum or Diamond Sales Awards from the Evangelical Christian Booksellers Association. The Platinum Award recognizes books that have achieved one million sales while the Diamond Award recognizes the few that have surpassed the ten million mark. Today we turn our attention to a bestseller meant to help men battle and overcome sexual temptation.
Every Man’s Battle by Steven Arterburn & Fred Stoeker
Every Man’s Battle: Winning the War on Sexual Temptation One Victory at a Time lists three names on its front cover: Steven Arterburn and Fred Stoeker with Mike Yorkey. The story is that Stoeker wrote the book and passed it to Yorkey for a substantial edit. Yorkey’s editing led to the offer of a contract from Waterbrook Press, but the publisher believed it would thrive with the voice and name recognition of a respected counselor. For that reason they enlisted Arterburn who as founder and chairman of New Life Ministries had begun a chain of mental-health facilities, was hosting a nationally syndicated Christian counseling talk show, and had already authored more than thirty books. He was just the man they needed. In the introduction Stoeker explains that he had once been held captive by sexual sin and that he wrote the book to help other men liberate and cleanse themselves from it. “Are you anxious to get started? Good…so am I. We need real men around here—men of honor and decency, men with their hands where they belong and their eyes and minds focused on Christ. If roving eyes or sexually impure thoughts or even sexual addictions are issues in your life, Steve and I are hoping you’ll do something about it. Isn’t it time?”
Arterburn begins the book with an account of his own history with lust. He describes a time he let his eyes and imagination wander and ended up causing a car accident. This story has gained notoriety for its explicit detail about the woman he was ogling—her actions, her clothing, her shape, her desirability. “My eyes locked on this goddesslike blonde…” He tells that for the first ten years of his marriage he was held captive by this kind of lust. Stoeker follows with his own description of sexual sin, manifested through casual sex, addiction to pornography, and habitual self-gratification. In contrast to such sexual darkness the authors lay out a plan to recover sexual purity. “God offers you freedom from the slavery of sin through the cross of Christ, and He created your eyes and mind with an ability to be trained and controlled. We simply have to stand up and walk by His power in the right path.”
This path of self-control involves replacing old destructive habits with new and better ones. “While sexual impurity works like a bad habit, sexual purity works like a good habit.” The two-part habit they teach is bouncing and starving the eyes. “Your eyes have always bounced toward the sexual, and you’ve made no attempt to end this habit. To combat it, you need to build a reflex action by training your eyes to immediately bounce away from the sexual, like the jerk of your hand away from a hot stove.” The authors state that after six weeks of doing this it will become established as a habit and lust will lose its power, halting the cycle of sexual fantasy.
Sales & Lasting Impact
Every Man’s Battle released in July 2000. It sold briskly for the first few years and in 2004 was awarded the Gold Sales Award for selling a half million copies. Sales would slow but remain steady until by 2013 it sold its one millionth copy and was awarded the Platinum Sales Award.
The book was widely praised for its man-to-man tone and its practical advice. It put into words what many men had grappled with—the lust, the desires, the wandering eyes, the self-gratification. It was published at a time when Internet-based pornography was beginning to run rampant but before the problem had been widely acknowledged. Many men turned to this book in shame and despair and many of them found help in its pages.
However, the book has not been without its critiques, the foremost of which is its lascivious tone. Many readers and reviewers have despaired to find that their imaginations are fired rather than freed by the authors’ detailed descriptions of their lust and the objects of their lust.
Of greater concern is the book’s habit-based solution to sin in which the authors offer a behavior-modification approach instead of a gospel-grounded one. They teach the reader to deal with bad habits by replacing them with good ones, but they do not sufficiently explore the root of the sin of lust. The core of any sin is idolatry, a deep heart condition that replaces satisfaction in God with satisfaction in something else, worship of God with worship of something created by God. As Erik Raymond says, in the moment you look lustfully at pornography (or a woman who is not your wife) “you have just declared that these images are chiefly beautiful and worthy of your desire. You have elevated your selfish lust to a position of supremacy above what God has called beautiful. You have exchanged the beauty of God for the beauty of a fleeting image. Your sinful heart has just robbed the glory of God of what is due him by ascribing glory and beauty to this image.”
The Every Man’s Battle approach focuses too much on externals and too little on internals. In that way it offers a faulty and often short-lived approach. Bad habits need to be replaced with good ones to be sure! But habits without the gospel are an insufficient, works-based approach to holiness. So yes, bounce your eyes! Starve them, shut them, pluck them right out of your face if that’s what it takes! But don’t do any of this apart from a deep grounding in the gospel.
Since the Award
The book spawned a plethora of related titles including Every Young Man’s Battle, Preparing Your Son for Every Man’s Battle, Every Man’s Challenge, Every Man God’s Man, Every Young Man God’s Man, Every Man’s Marriage, Every Single Man’s Battle. Then there were the similar books for women: Every Woman’s Battle, Every Young Woman’s Battle, Every Single Woman’s Battle, and so on. There are at least 16 books in “The Every Man” franchise. The books for men continued to list Arterburn, Stoeker, and Yorkey on the front cover while the books for women listed Shannon Ethridge with forewords and afterwords by Arterburn. In 2013 Every Young Man’s Battle and Every Young Woman’s Battle both surpassed 500,000 sales.
Both authors have continued to write books and both speak at conferences, though Arterburn has by far the bigger platform. Today he has some eight million books in print, his daily radio program is heard on more than 180 radio stations across American, and he founded the Women of Faith conferences which have now seen over 5 million women attend.
Perhaps the most unusual thing to happen since the book’s release was an article featured in a 2006 issue of GQ magazine. A journalist wrote about the evangelical abstinence movement and in doing so interviewed Arterburn. As he did that, he discovered a surprising fact: Arterburn had recently been divorced for the second time and married for the third. “As my meeting with Arterburn is winding down, I notice a photo on a desk of a fresh-faced blond knockout I take to be his daughter. He corrects this impression: She’s his third wife, Misty. She’s in her early thirties, he informs me; he met her a few years back at one of his seminars, they corresponded through e-mail for a while, and he’s been married to her for nine months. She’s also pregnant with their first child.” Arterburn expressed concern that this might impact his ministry, but his fears were unfounded.
A Personal Perspective
I read Every Man’s Battle in 2003 and offered just a short review. This was long before I had given substantial attention to sexual sin and purity, but even then I found myself dissatisfied with the habit-based approach. “Primarily I find I am disappointed that the authors have no better solution than bouncing the eyes. I would like to believe that God can truly free men from sexual sin rather than having them live their lives masking this sin.” Even then I knew that God must be able to do a deeper work than merely retraining a man’s habits. Can’t God actually deliver a man from the sin of lust? I need to believe God can do a deeper work in a man than merely training him to bounce his eyes.
A few years later I wrote a series of articles titled “Sexual Detox” and these turned into a book by the same title. In some ways that book was my own attempt to right some of the weaknesses of Every Man’s Battle. Far and away the most common feedback I have received is something like this: “Thank you for writing with dignity and not writing in such a way that you cause me to lust even more.” I know exactly what they mean.
With all of this said, I would not wish to deny that God used Every Man’s Battle to challenge and sanctify many of his people. God does not use only perfect books (which is good since there is only one of them). God does not change only those people who have a perfect understanding of sin and how to battle it. He saw fit to use this book. However, since 2000 hundreds of others books have been written that tackle issues of sexual sin and purity and many of them are far superior. Here are my recommendations.
Yesterday, right after I posted my daily article, my server experienced what the host described as “catastrophic hardware failure.” For that reason the site was unavailable most of the day. I believe the problem has now been fully fixed. Finally, after years of paying for backups, it was proven worth it!
And now some links, beginning with Westminster Books which has a great deal on the ESV Heirloom Bible.
Jared Wilson is right in his wheelhouse writing about things like this. “Our church worship gatherings ought to be welcoming and comprehensible to unbelievers who are present, but many churches actually structure the entire worship service around them. There is no real biblical precedent for this, and furthermore, it’s not the most effective way for your church to reach lost people, anyway.”
“Barronelle Stutzman is the Washington florist sued by a gay man, a friend and client of almost a decade, who was outraged by her refusal to do the flowers for his same-sex wedding. Whatever you think you know about her case, I bet you don’t know a lot of things in that short three-minute video.”
This is way above my pay grade, but still awfully interesting. “While others have covered the ins and outs of the controversy with some depth, I am more interested in why this clash is happening, and why it is happening now. Michael Bird has said that this is about to be a ‘miniature civil war’. While that may be an exaggeration, the clash was inevitable for several reasons.”
This Day in 64. 1,952 years ago today, Nero began the first Imperial persecution of Christians. *
Courtney Reissig: “I’m no historian, but I wonder if there has ever been a time where a longing for significance and fame has been so present for all of us.” Can we be content to be anonymous in a world that wants us to try to make a name for ourselves?
“In brief, an evangelical is a person who believes the ‘three rs’: ruin by the Fall, redemption through Jesus Christ, and regeneration by the Holy Spirit. It follows that an ‘evangelical leader’ is a person who stands out in the advancement and defence of those truths.”
I have often been told that “broad” views are wanted in the present day. I wish to be as broad as the Bible, neither less nor more. —J.C. Ryle
As you know, I am well into a series that tells what I believe by discussing the things I do not believe. To this point I have told why I am not atheist, Roman Catholic, liberal, Arminian, or paedobaptist. That means we are hastening toward the end of the series with just three articles remaining. Today I will tell why I am not dispensational, and I warn you in advance, it may prove disappointing. Each of us has areas in which our theological convictions are deeply developed and others in which they are not quite so much. In this area I have not carried out the same level of study as, for example, the doctrines of salvation or scripture. My convictions are developed but not nearly as much as I might hope and, indeed, as you might hope.
If you are still reading after that warning we will move on to definitions. All Christians profess with the Apostle’s Creed that at some point in the future Christ will come “to judge the living and the dead.” But exactly how and when this will unfold are matters of intense and ongoing debate. This field of study is called eschatology which Greg Allison says “covers the return of Christ and its relationship to the millennium (amillennialism, postmillennialism, premillennialism) and the tribulation, the resurrection, the last judgment, the eternal blessing of the righteous and the eternal judgment of the wicked, and the eternal state of the new heaven and the new earth.” In other words, eschatology is the study of what’s next and of what’s last.
Dispensationalism is a kind of framework for history that is organized around seven dispensations—seven orders or administrations. Particular to this framework is the eschatological position known as “premillennial dispensationalism” which holds that Christ will return prior to a literal one-thousand-year reign on earth. When I say I am not dispensational, this is primarily what I mean—I do not hold to premillennial dispensationalism. Allison points out “It differs from historic premillennialism by its belief that prior to the tribulation, Christ will remove the church from the earth (the rapture); thus, it is also called pretribulational premillennialism. Revelation 20:1-6 pictures Christ’s rule over the earth (while Satan is bound) for a thousand-year period, which is followed by Christ’s ultimate defeat of a released Satan, the last judgment, the resurrection of the wicked, and the new heaven and new earth.”
As I’ve mentioned before, most of my childhood was spent in Dutch Reformed churches and Dutch Reformed schools (despite, as I’ve also mentioned, my complete lack of Dutch heritage). This means I was raised on a steady diet of the Heidelberg Catechism which my parents supplemented with the Shorter Catechism. Neither one of these documents places much emphasis on the end times. For example, the Westminster simply asks, “In what does Christ’s exaltation consist?” and answers “Christ’s exaltation consists in his rising again from the dead on the third day; in ascending into heaven; in sitting at the right hand of God the Father; and in coming to judge the world at the last day.” There are no follow-up questions about that coming judgment. Most who treasure these catechisms adopt amillennialism or postmillennialism and, indeed, I was raised amillennial. It was my understanding that the world will continue roughly along its current tragic trajectory until, at last, Christ returns. (Allison: “With respect to eschatology, the position that there is no (a-) millennium, or no future thousand-year period of Christ’s reign on earth. … Key to this position is its nonliteral interpretation of Revelation 20:1-6: Satan’s binding is God’s current restraint of him, enabling the gospel to advance everywhere. Saints who rule are Christians who have died and are now with Christ in heaven. At the end of this present age, Christ will defeat a loosed Satan, ushering in the last judgment, the resurrection, and the new heaven and earth.”)
The first I ever heard of an alternative was through Christian music. In my teens I began to listen to Petra and though I discovered them in the Beyond Belief era, I eventually went back and bought their older albums. There I encountered songs like “Gonna Fly Away,” from their 1974 self-titled debut. It is hardly brilliant songwriting, but does discuss Christians being removed from the earth while non-Christians remain.
Dreamin’ about flyin’ since I was a boy
Never thought I’d see the real McCoy
I think it’s safe to say, I finally found a way
Gonna fly away
Gonna fly away
Every day I’ve been looking in the sky
Hope it’s not raining when I start to fly
I bet you think I’m strange, wait until I’m changed
Where you gonna be when the trumpet blows?
All that’s left of me is gonna be my clothes
I’d really like to see, you flyin’ next to me
It wasn’t until twelfth grade that I actually met someone who held to this position and could explain it to me. I heard her explanation—rather a good one, I think—but couldn’t reconcile it with my understanding of the Bible. I realized quickly that premillennial dispensationalism was going to have a long uphill climb if it was ever to displace my latent amillennialism. To this day it never has.
So why am I not dispensational? I’d like to say that I have studied the issue very closely, that I have read stacks of books on eschatology, and that I can thoroughly defend my position against every alternative. But that’s not the case. It’s more that my reading of the Bible, my years of listening to sermons, and my study of Christian theology has not been able to shake or displace the amillennialism of my youth. To the contrary, it has only strengthened it. Paul Martin’s recent sermon series through Revelation strengthened it all the more. The very framework of dispensationalism appears to me to fall into a similar category as paedobaptism in that they both, in the words of Tom Hicks, “wrongly allow the Old Testament to have priority over the New Testament.”
While I am not dispensational and do not hold to premillennial dispensationalism, I do wish to express my love and respect for many who hold this position and especially to John MacArthur who has been as important as anyone in forming and shaping so many of my convictions. I am thankful that this is one of those issues in which Christians can joyfully agree to disagree.
This evening I’ll be heading to Vancouver for the Men for God conference. I’d be grateful for your prayers that I would serve well as I speak on discipleship and gospel freedom. If you are going to be there, be sure to say hi.
“If a horrific act of murder happens somewhere in the world, but you don’t blog within minutes about it, or Tweet about What It All Means…do you still care?” This is the kind of question we need to ask in a social media world.
J. Warner Wallace: “Even if the gospels were written early enough to have been authored by eyewitnesses, wouldn’t 15-20 years be enough time for the authors to forget something important or add something errant, especially if they were only retelling the story orally?”
“There’s more than a little irony to the impending collapse of Barnes & Noble. The mega-retailer that drove many small, independent booksellers out of business is now being done in by the rise of Amazon. But while many book lovers may be tempted to gloat, the death of Barnes & Noble would be catastrophic—not just for publishing houses and the writers they publish, but for American culture as a whole.”
Kim Shay: “I recently read a woman’s view that as long as one sheltered her children from unbelievers enough, she would never need to worry about kids dating unbelievers or dabbling in the world. I still squirm at the notion that our children’s spiritual development is simply a matter of controlling their environment. The reality is that good parents raise kids who do unwise things. When we’re young, we’re tempted to think our kids will never do that! Sometimes, they do. I hope this provides encouragement for some today.”
I am a dutiful person who is usually happy enough to carry out life’s basic responsibilities. I am a husband with responsibilities toward my wife, a father with responsibilities toward my children, a pastor with responsibilities toward my congregation, a neighbor with responsibilities toward the people who live around me. My success as a husband, father, pastor, and neighbor is dependent upon being dutiful in all of these relationships.
Dutiful is good, but not good enough. Living well involves duty to be sure, but it also involves delight. Living well is made up of those things I must do, but also those things I get to do. For this reason I take time every week to consider each of life’s areas of responsibility and to ask not only how I can be dutiful in that area but also how I can express delight in it. I do this by asking a simple two-part question: How can I serve and how can I surprise? (I owe “serve and surprise” to a series of articles written by C.J. Mahaney.)
Like most people, I live within a kind of system that brings structure to my life. I spend a few minutes each morning getting my day organized, deciding which of the many things I could do today I actually will do—or at least attempt to do. Once each week I take a look at life in a broad way, and this is where I prayerfully pause to ask, “How must I serve this week and how can I surprise this week?” Or “What have I got to do this this week to fulfill duty and what do I get to do this week to express delight?”
The question of service is usually quite simple. To serve my wife I need to ensure I am present in body and mind, to serve my children I need to ask them about their friendships and to make sure they are completing their homework, to serve my church I need to be present at our services and to come well-prepared to lead them, to serve my neighbors I need to spend time with them. Those are all good and basic duties that fall to me, and I am happy enough to carry them out. But I want to be more than dutiful. I want to go beyond the basic duties of my life to also express delight. I don’t want to merely serve but also to surprise.
The question of surprise takes a little more thought and creativity. It requires me to know others and to understand what brings them joy and pleasure. How can I please Aileen and let her know that she is loved? How can I surprise my children and bring them joy? How can I express delight in my church? These are the kinds of questions I ask and then, in one way or another, I answer them by turning them into actions or plotting them into time. I may choose to take certain actions in the week ahead: Buy flowers for Aileen. Rent a movie with the kids. Send a gift to someone in the church. Or I may choose to reserve time on my calendar so we can do things together: Take Michaela out for breakfast. Have a family night of silly games and activities. Invite some church families over for Sunday lunch. These actions and activities go beyond basic service to pursue and express delight.
Do you see it? Life is never less than duty, but at its best it is so much more. Duty usually comes easily enough whereas delight requires thoughtfulness, effort, and creativity. Duty can be impersonal—the duty of one father toward his children may not differ very much from the duty of another father toward his children. But delight is customized and requires study, it requires personalized knowledge (another strength of Mahaney’s approach.)
If we are to live in such a way that we bring glory to God by doing good to others, we owe it to them to serve and surprise, to fulfill duty and express delight. So who do you need to serve and surprise in the week ahead?
Be sure to check out Westminster Books’ deal on The Life We Never Expected. There are other books discounted as well. Also, Grace and Truth Books now has the complete inventory of Richard Belcher’s “A Journey In…” theological novels. Some are heavily discounted.
Tomorrow is a big day for the UK and many are struggling with how to vote. “But God’s Word has not left any of us struggling to know what to pray for. And those who aren’t voting on Thursday still have the privilege of praying—and praying earnestly—for the referendum.”
“The Confederate Civil War prisoner camp in Andersonville, Georgia, was an utter nightmare for the many soldiers held within. It was dangerously overcrowded, rife with disease, and food and medical supplies were always in short supply.” This short video describes it.
“In 1946, a group of Russian children from the Vladimir Lenin All-Union Pioneer Organisation (sort of a Soviet scouting group) presented a carved wooden replica of the Great Seal of the United States to Averell Harriman, the U.S. Ambassador to the Soviet Union.” But it was much more than a mere gift!
On July 16, hundreds of thousands of young people will descend on The Mall for Together 2016. The event’s web site promises, “Together 2016 is the day our generation will meet on the National Mall to come together around Jesus in unified prayer, worship, and a call for catalytic change. We’re coming together with as many people as possible who believe Jesus changes everything.” The event features a long list of speakers: Christine Cain, Francis Chan, Ronnie Floyd, Ann Voskamp, Ravi Zacharias, and many others. And, of course, there will be the musicians: Crowder, Hillsong United, Kari Job, Lecrae, Matt Maher, and Michael W. Smith just to get started. It promises to be a massive event. A couple of weeks ago came the announcement that Pope Francis will even make an appearance via video. “That His Holiness would choose to speak into this historic day is a testament to the urgency and the need for followers of Jesus to unite in prayer for our nation and our world.”
This event was conceived and organized by Nick Hall, founder of the evangelistic organization PULSE and author of the brand new book Reset: Jesus Changes Everything. This work was timed to coincide with Together 2016 and is in many ways a call to participate in the event. To examine the book is to understand what he hopes to accomplish at Together 2016.
Reset begins as a biographical work that tells about the beginning of Hall’s ministry. A man of unusual zeal, he has an all-consuming passion to see souls saved. Since his college days, he has been touring the world holding arena-sized evangelistic events for young people. As he tells the story, it seems that he has met with great success, at least judging by the numbers he offers: “I was subsequently invited to tour with a group of bands to forty-seven cities around the country as part of Winter Jam, a gathering that drew about ten thousand … each night.” “If we needed to reset our priorities, I explained to the ten thousand or so people gathered there that night, then Jesus could help us do that.” “As a ministry, we’d already done events in thirty-nine of the fifty states, reaching two and a half million people and seeing a half million of them respond to the gospel.” “…in the end, more than fifty thousand people (that we know of) surrendered their lives to Jesus.” “Over the year to come, our tour reached six hundred and fifty thousand people.” From his description, it seems that he has spoken to many millions and seen hundreds of thousands of them turn to Christ.
“Reset” is the gist of Hall’s message, his one-word summary of the Christian gospel: “Jesus offers a reset to anyone from anywhere, for anything. All we need to do is turn to him.” Or “Whatever has been tripping you up, a reset is available to you. You don’t have to earn it, buy it, beg for it, or swipe it when nobody’s looking. It is yours, free of charge. It is yours, by the grace of God. All you have to do is receive it, open hands and open heart. Say yes to the life you were meant to live. Say yes to a Father who’s good.” Time and again he leads to a call like this one: “You don’t have to go one more second in this life without knowing Jesus—his love, his care, his presence, and his joy. He is standing at the door to your heart and calling your name, asking if it’s cool to come in.”
If the first half of the book is a description of the gospel through the “reset” theme, the second half is seven common ways people feel a deep need for a reset: faith, plans, self-image, relationships, purity, habits, and affections. He closes with a call for this entire generation to experience a reset.
This “reset” message will be at the heart of Together 2016. In fact, it seems that those two words, “reset” and “together,” will dominate. “Reset” will describe the personal change he wants each person to experience—Christians as they reset from bad patterns to adopt better ones and non-Christians as they reset their lives to accept Christ for the first time. Meanwhile, “together” will represent the broad call for unity Hall envisions in which denominational lines will be forgotten and all who profess Christ will stand together against division. For this reason the speakers and musicians span conservative evangelicalism all the way to traditional Roman Catholicism. It is, by design, an ecumenical event.
I am going to offer a couple of critiques, but want to assure you that I do so somewhat tentatively. Hall is a man who is on fire to share the gospel with others. I, meanwhile, am constantly battling to be more than tepid when it comes to evangelistic fervor. I want to be careful before criticizing someone who deals seriously with God’s commands that we take the good news of the gospel wherever we go. As I read the book I was challenged by Hall’s zeal. I was inspired by his desire to dream and to actually attempt great things for the Lord. I was moved by his commitment to prayer. I was reminded of the value of speaking the gospel freshly to each generation. And yet I still had very real critiques.
The first critique is that “reset” does not quite capture the gospel message of the New Testament. I understand that Hall wanted to find a word that resonates with young people. The word “reset” is common in technology and, therefore, familiar to the millennial generation. Hall says “The offer of a reset is exactly what the gospel is about.” This is true, but only kind of. To reset something is to set it back to the way it used to function. Yet the gospel assures us that we have never functioned properly; we are not computers that came from the factory in perfect condition and have been gummed up with viruses and malware. We are not malfunctioning machines that need to be restarted, but dead souls who need to be given life. It’s not that the reset metaphor is utterly wrong, but that it is incomplete, it isn’t used in the Bible, and it isn’t sufficient, especially as the heart of the message. The full truth of the bad news and the full beauty of the good news is obscured by this soft “reset” gospel. And, indeed, Hall never deals with the full extent of our depravity and our spiritually deadness. He sets the good news in incomplete contrast with the bad.
The second critique is that “together” does not quite capture the gospel unity of the New Testament. Hall has determined that denominational divides must be put aside for the sake of the gospel. If we want to have a message that resonates with the world today, we must first eradicate that division. “Jesus directly challenged a culture of division. He prayed we would be one—one family, one body. And He told us to love our enemies. Everyone loves their friends; it’s when we love those who aren’t like us that the world takes note. It’s time to come together around Jesus in a counter-cultural moment of unity and love for each other.” Yet his position is naive. Iain Murray explains this in Evangelicalism Divided:
The ecumenical call in [the mid-20th century] was not for truth and salt; it was supremely for oneness: the greater the unity of ‘the Church’, it was confidently asserted, the stronger would be the impression made upon the world; and to attain that end churches should be inclusive and tolerant. But it has never been by putting unity first that the church has changed the world. At no point in church history has the mere unity of numbers ever made a transforming spiritual impression upon others. On the contrary, it was the very period known as ‘the dark ages’ that the Papacy could claim her greatest unity in western Europe.
Hall’s unity extends too far. “We’re coming together with as many people as possible who believe Jesus changes everything.” But believing Jesus changes everything is an insufficient basis for deep and lasting unity. I’m quite sure Satan himself agrees that Jesus changes everything! Hall’s unity extends a welcoming hand to those who deny the gospel of grace alone by faith alone in Christ alone. It denies or downplays crucial distinctions. It demands unity at the expense of the gospel. It extends so far that it will grant the pope the title of “His Holiness!” Yet as J.C. Ryle warned so many years ago, “Unity without the gospel is a worthless unity, it is the very unity of hell.” And “Unity which is obtained by the sacrifice of truth is worth nothing. It is not the unity which pleases God.” Hall’s kind of unity does not and cannot please God because it welcomes those who damage or destroy his gospel. Sadly, some disunity is good and necessary when it involves separation from those who deny what is most fundamental to the gospel.
I love Hall’s zeal for evangelism. I love his fervent prayer. I love his desire to see the church united. I love his heart to reach the Millennial generation. And make no mistake—his message is perfectly crafted for that generation. The message of “reset” resonates because who isn’t unhappy with some part of who they are or what they’ve done? Who doesn’t want a reset? “Together” resonates because who would advocate disunity or division? Combined, the two of them resonate because what young person isn’t enthusiastic enough to believe that simply gathering with a few hundred thousand others for some messages and rock concerts can actually change the world? Who wouldn’t want to be part of something so big and so exciting? But they don’t know that this has been tried before, and tried again, and tried again after that, and always found wanting.
None of this is to say that the event will be utterly fruitless. God works his miracle of salvation in a million different ways and he may just save his people—even many of his people—at Together 2016. I pray he does. But that alone cannot validate the event. I cannot endorse “reset” as the heart of the gospel. I cannot endorse Together 2016 as the fruit of the gospel. The first is sorely lacking and the second seriously misdirected. It may sound ironic or full-out fundamentalist, but I’d stay away from Together.
I am a follower of Jesus Christ, a husband to Aileen and a father to three young children. I worship and serve as a pastor at Grace Fellowship Church in Toronto, Ontario, and am a co-founder of Cruciform Press.