Monday, July 11, 2016

Book Review: Judge Not

Judge Not. Todd Friel. 2015. 320 pages. [Source: Borrowed]

If you're familiar with the teaching of Todd Friel, you should know exactly what to expect from this book: bold, emphatic opinions expressed with a good dose of snark.

Six out of seven parts focus on what is wrong with Christianity today, with today's church. The seventh part--let's be honest, it's just one chapter--focuses on the solution.

Part One: Discernment Disasters (3 chapters)
Part Two: Ecclesiastical Calamities (9 chapters)
Part Three: Theological Train Wrecks (7 chapters)
Part Four: Wonky Evangelical Movements (9 chapters)
Part Five: Toxic Trends (7 chapters)
Part Six: Bad Attitudes (4 chapters)
Part Seven: The Solution (1 chapter)

The book is argument driven. He makes some very bold statements from the very beginning. Statements like, "The single largest moral influence in America is the Protestant church. If American culture is ailing morally, it is because the Protestant church is ailing." And, "the church became Burger King telling the world they can have God their way. Needless to say, God is not a hamburger." Both of these statements come from the book's introduction.

In part one, Friel argues that Christians NEED to be discerning. He seeks to teach readers what discernment is and isn't. How they can put discernment into practice in their own lives.

In part two, Friel discusses mainly what churches are doing wrong--in his opinion. Here are some of the chapter titles, "Pastors Who Think Jesus Needs Help," "Happy-Clappy Church," and "Manipulative Altar Calls."

In part three, Friel turns to theology, to theological train wrecks. I personally think this section is the most important in the book. The chapters include, "Twisting Scripture," "Hearing from God," "Describing Hell Inaccurately," "Making God the Red Cross," "Giving Wrong Salvation Instructions, part one and two," and "Compromising on Creation." The two chapters on GIVING WRONG SALVATION INSTRUCTIONS make this one well worth reading.

In parts four and five, Friel focuses on movements and trends. In some ways, he is demonstrating the discernment he was talking about in the first part. He discusses a little bit of everything--from the worship band Jesus Culture to purity rings and daycare.

In the sixth part, he focuses on how bad attitudes do a disservice to Christianity. This section, I think, is important to keep in mind. I really would recommend his chapter, "Being Disgusted by Homosexuals." (He also addresses the issue of immigration.)

The seventh part is more a conclusion. In it he mainly states the obvious. (Read the Bible. Obey the Bible.) The book, in some ways, is a bit unbalanced. He spends all but five pages focusing on the negative and only five on what Christians can do about everything that is "wrong" and "messed up" with the church.

I just want to say this. When I agreed with him, I found myself really agreeing with him. When I disagreed with him, I found myself REALLY disagreeing with him. I do think he gets some things wrong. And I think he doesn't always practice what he preaches. (Who does, though?)

One place I do disagree with him is on Christian music and Christian worship music. I am curious to see how much he really, truly listens to Christian music. When he listens, does he have an open mind? OR does he listen with his snarky hat on, combing through each line, each word, always, always assuming the worst theological intentions of the SONGWRITER and the SINGER. While I wouldn't say he has a zero tolerance policy for worship music written in the past hundred years, I would say that he has a one strike and your out policy. It seems if he finds one line in one song, then he holds a grudge against the songwriter and/or the singer. If one line in one song is iffy, then, you shouldn't listen to any of that person's music ever. It might be contaminated too.

I disagree with him for several reasons. First, he seems to be presuming that hymns are always theologically better, of more substance and value. I have found bad theology in hymns as well as contemporary worship music. Hymns do not always signal sound theology. If you're going to be discerning in what you listen to, then be fair and critical of hymns as well. Second, he seems to take the worst examples and present them as the norm, as if each and every worship song is the same. There are hundreds if not thousands of worship songs. Quality varies. And while it's true a percentage of songs do fit with what he is saying, that's not to say that most of them do. Third, he outright condemns singing songs written or performed by songwriters of denominations he does not agree with. For example, he calls out Matt Maher for being Catholic, and, says ALL charismatic songs should be avoided. I believe songs should be used discriminately (with discernment) on their content alone. It's one thing to object to the lyrics of a song.

I do agree, however, on some things. Worship matters. How we worship--why we worship matters. And songs should carefully be examined and considered. I do think that the songs we sing in worship should be of good, high quality--musically and theologically. I think that our hearts and minds should be engaged together in worship. I think we have a tendency to go through the motions in church, singing the words but not meaning the words and really connecting. I do think the Holy Spirit uses music to minister to us. Not just hymns. Not just worship songs. The Spirit brings meaning to the song. In other words, anyone can sing Tis So Sweet To Trust in Jesus or Amazing Grace, but, it takes the Spirit for us to EXPERIENCE the meaning of those beloved songs.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

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