Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Book Review: The Barbarians Are Here

The Barbarians Are Here. Michael Youssef. 2017. 272 pages. [Source: Review copy]

The Barbarians Are Here by Michael Youssef was a thought-provoking read. I was reminded of several authors, actually: Martin Luther and A.W. Tozer.

I was reminded of Martin Luther because essentially what Youssef is calling for is a new reformation of the church. Just like Luther listed out his grievances with the church of his day, Youssef shares his. To clarify, Youssef is boldly saying that every preacher, every teacher, every person or group that calls himself/herself a "Christian," is not actually a Christian. It doesn't matter if you've got book deals and radio and television slots. If your gospel does not line up--is not true, is not pure--with Scripture, your worshiping a god of your own creation and encouraging others in idol worship.

It was interesting that I was reading The Barbarians Are Here at the same time I was reading Martin Luther's To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation. The two books are surprisingly similar in goals. Luther was calling for the German nation to come together and be great again, to embrace the true gospel message, to reject the false gospel of the Roman Catholic church, to reform all areas of life, not just "the church," but everything. Youssef's goals are similar. He's calling for repentance, for revival, for reform. He wants Americans on their knees in prayer, wants the morals of the nation to change--from the inside out, not some ill conceived outside-in. People need changed hearts. People don't need to do better, try harder. If you consider every church, every denomination, every preacher or teacher with a large following, every bestselling author as "the church in America," it is easy to see why it needs reform and where it needs reform.

Here's how Youssef sees it:
What would that New Reformation look like? It would call men and women in the church to repent of all the things they have added to the gospel—or have taken away from the gospel. It would call them to preach God’s truth out of pure motives, instead of from a lust for wealth or fame. It would call them to put away the false teaching and idols of the Prosperity Gospel, the Social Gospel, the Emerging Church, and all the other distortions and perversions of the good news of Jesus Christ. A New Reformation would expose the lies that have blinded so many professing Christians in our time. A New Reformation would awaken our Western civilization from the false hope that we can bargain with the barbarians or persuade them to turn from their way of destruction. A New Reformation would be rooted in realism, not wishful thinking, and it would recognize that those who seek to destroy our civilization and our faith will never abandon their quest. Only the good news of Jesus Christ can melt a barbarian heart. A New Reformation would stand in opposition not only to political Islam but would also stand in opposition to the City of Man—our secular Western society, drunk on wealth, power, sexual immorality, and drugs. Much of the Islamists’ hatred of Western civilization is rooted in a mistaken belief that all of the ills of secular society are somehow caused and condoned by the church. A New Reformation would draw a clear distinction between the City of God and the City of Man. A New Reformation would show the world the face of authentic biblical Christianity—a Christianity that preaches the good news of Jesus Christ without compromise, that demonstrates truth and love in perfect balance, and that cares about people in need but refuses to back down from the truth in the face of threats and terrorism.

I was reminded of A.W. Tozer because of Youssef's passion and zeal. Youssef, like Tozer, calls it as he sees it. He can be brutally honest and confrontational. Youssef's book may prove shocking, revolting, offensive to some readers. Why? Because Youssef affirms a few things that make people squirm. He affirms that God is God and we are not. He affirms that we are all--one and all--SINNERS. He affirms that God hates sin, and justly and righteously punishes sin. He suggests--without apology--that God is punishing America as he punished Israel and Judah in the Old Testament. He clearly states that TERRORISM is our "Babylonian captivity;" that our exile isn't to be sent to a foreign country, but to have terrorists--within and without or borders--terrorize us. I can see why Youssef's message that we are in part responsible--by our sins, by our immorality, by our idolatry, by our compromising doctrines--for the rise of terrorism would be seen as either ridiculous or offensive. But is there any truth to it? That is the question at hand.

Here's what we know: God is God. We are not. God takes sin seriously regardless of whether we do or not. IT is not our thoughts of God that determine his character, his being. God, we are told time and time again, is sovereign. He is also never-changing. Is it that big a stretch to see that the God who punished nations in the Old Testament--not just Judah and Israel, but Egypt and Assyria, etc.--might still be 'punishing' nations for their idolatry? God cannot be anything but true--true to His Word, true to His Promises, true to Himself--his character, his attributes. The Word clearly reveals that a day of judgement is coming. We don't know when. We don't know how--exactly. But the day that every man, woman, and child stands before the judgment seat of Christ--is coming sooner or later. It's just a matter of when. People can try to laugh it off, try to forget it, try to deny it, try to numb it, whatever.

He writes,
History repeats itself. This was true throughout Old Testament times, and it is still true today. When we are unfaithful and will not repent, God has no choice but to hand us over to our enemies to be shaken and oppressed. Only when we realize that we are reaping the just consequences of our sin do we cry out for deliverance. Only then will He rescue us from the oppressor. God has not repealed this principle. It remains in force today. That’s why I believe we are living in times like the era of the Judges and the era of Jeremiah. I’m convinced God has handed Western civilization over to our enemies. Who are the enemies of Western civilization? The barbarians, the radical Islamists, the violent jihadists, those who are still waging a religious war against the so-called Crusaders of the West.Terrorism is our exile. The terrorists are our Babylonians. Just as God handed over a rebellious and unfaithful Israel to the Babylonian Exile, God has handed over a rebellious and unfaithful Western culture—both our secular culture and our apostate church—to be shaken by terrorism, as Israel was shaken during their captivity in Babylon. God has given us plenty of warning in His Word.
Youssef's message is not just that America is doomed and better repent while she has the chance. Though that is one aspect of his message. No, his message is that every person needs to hear the gospel. Every person--even your enemies, especially your enemies, especially those you discount or discredit as being unlovable, unworthy, a waste of time--needs to hear the gospel.

I think Youssef would fully support Tozer when he says, "Nobody is a challenge for the Holy Spirit," and "What is not built upon the Scriptures will not stand and is not of God."

Youssef talks a good deal about Islam, Isis, the refugee crisis, and the potential dangers--for America, for Europe, for all nations really--of immigration. He is not writing to cause panic or anxiety so much as he's writing to gently or not so gently wake up the church. He's writing from a historical point of view--tracing the history of Islam and the on-again, off-again conflicts with "the West" or the Christian church. His message is not: hate Muslims, fear Muslims, judge Muslims, bully Muslims. It is love Muslims, show grace and be kind, share the gospel with Muslims. Be aware of the dangers of terrorism, but don't stop seeing Muslims as individuals. I mention this because I want to be honest in my review. This content is part of the book.

His title of the book is The Barbarians Are Here. I'll let him explain--in his own words--what that title means.
What is barbarian? Why do I use this term to describe the Islamists who want to destroy us? This is not merely an exercise in name-calling or resorting to insults. I don’t use the term barbarian to hurt anyone’s feelings or to make someone out to be culturally inferior. This word has a specific meaning, and I am using it in a precise and careful way to convey a specific shade of significance. A barbarian is a person who is not part of our civilization, who wants no part of our civilization, and who seeks the conquest and destruction of our civilization. The Islamists—Muslims who seek to restructure all governments and all of society in accordance with the laws of Islam—are cultural chauvinists who see Islam’s Sharia law as vastly superior to Western secular law. They believe a totalitarian Islamic culture would be infinitely superior to the free societies of Western civilization, which are based on Judeo-Christian values. The seek the destruction of Western civilization, and that makes them—by definition—barbarians. As Christians who seek to live in obedience to the Great Commission (the command of the Lord Jesus to preach the gospel to all people in every nation, recorded in Matthew 28:19–20), we want to convert people to a saving faith in Jesus Christ—but only those who come willingly and freely. Unlike the Islamist cult of the barbarians, Christians do not make converts at the point of the sword. We do not conquer in the name of Christ through murder, war, terror, and political subversion. That is one of the many differences between the Christian faith and the cult of the Islamists.

The Barbarians are Here is first and foremost thought-provoking. It is because it is so thought-provoking that I'm recommending it.
How have we, as Christians in the twenty-first century, been unfaithful to God? Answer: by adding to—and taking away from—the crystal-clear purity of God’s Word. The Western church has adulterated the gospel. The good news of Jesus Christ is simple and transparently clear—yet we have clouded and adulterated it with false philosophies, ideologies, and doctrines. We have added business principles, psychological principles, worldly philosophies, “new revelations,” political ideologies, and human greed to the purity of the gospel message. Then we call this poisonous stew “Christianity.” Oh, we have not denied Jesus. We love Jesus. We sing songs about Jesus. We preach sermons about Jesus. We’ve just added a few “harmless” ideas to make Jesus more “relevant.” When we blend worldly philosophies and ideologies with the gospel, we are practicing friendship with the world—and making ourselves enemies of God.
Youssef spends a great deal of time in his book discussing Augustine's notion of the City of God and the City of Man. For the first time, I'm actually contemplating reading Augustine for myself, not just about Augustine. Youssef's passion is contagious!
While we have a Christian duty to oppose injustice and immorality—abortion, homosexuality, pornography, and other forms of depravity in our culture—political action can never take the place of the good news. We will never create a utopia on earth by legislating a conservative social agenda. God’s way of changing society has always involved preaching the good news of salvation—changing one heart at a time through the pure gospel. Many Christians on both the Right and the Left have lost faith in the power of the gospel to change hearts—and to change society. So instead of preaching the gospel, we have tried to force change on society through political power. We’ve tried to change laws instead of hearts.
The notion that Christians ought to mingle biblical truth with the falsehoods of other religions is spiritual poison. Jesus never said, “Tolerance for other religions will set you free,” or, “Doubt will set you free,” or, “Uncertainty will set you free.” Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31–32; emphasis added). Truth comes from the teachings of Jesus, and only the truth of Jesus will set us free.
We live in a time of moral and spiritual anarchy, when the Christian church has added so many false ideas and unbiblical notions to the gospel that the good news of Jesus Christ has become obscured and unrecognizable.

I will say one thing, however, and I mention this not because I want to discourage you from picking this one up, but I didn't always agree 100% with every little thing he said. For example, he loves, loves, loves to apply 2 Chronicles 7:14 to America. In my humble opinion, we can't just pick verses out of their context and make them fit because we want them to fit. While I think one could argue that God is good and faithful, gracious and merciful, sovereign and wise, compassionate and comforting, and therefore likely to answer the prayers of the Christian church if they pray for repentance and revival and for God's will to be done among the nations, for HIS name to be glorified, and HIS kingdom to come... I don't think one can convincingly argue that GOD PROMISED THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA in his Word THAT HE WOULD ALWAYS PROTECT US BECAUSE WE'RE SUPER-SPECIAL AND GOD'S CHOSEN NATION. You can't make every verse in the Bible concerning the nation of Israel (or Judah) BE about America. This isn't an episode of Super Why. You can't just replace the word 'Israel' with the word 'U.S.A.' and be done with it and say GOD IS ON OUR SIDE. It says it right here in his word, and his word is true. God has never abandoned His people, never left us alone or forsaken us. But there is a difference between the church--the elect he has called from all nations, all countries, from the beginning to the end of time--and the concept of NATION.

Even with as long as this review has become, it still isn't doing this book justice. It covers so much.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

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