Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Rev. Zwonitzer's Book Review of The Best is Yet to Come: 7 Doors of Spiritual Growth

Pastor Rodney E. Zwonitzer, author of Testing the Claims of Church Growth, in response to the request of one of his parishioners at Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Dearborn, Michigan, is writing a confessional chapter-by-chapter review of Pastor John Kieschnick's book The Best is Yet to Come: 7 Doors of Spiritual Growth. We've been granted permission to peek over his shoulder.

Rev. Kieschnick was formerly the pastor of Gloria Dei, the Houston Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod megachurch, and is now with the Lutheran Church Extension Fund (LCEF). He was also one of the original Pastoral Leadership Institute (PLI) Board of Directors members. Rev. Kieschnick is the cousin of LCMS President Jerry Kieschnick.

Someone pointed out several quotes from the book to me last week. One really stood out: "But there's good news: God will accept us if, and only if, we accept his gift of grace." (pg 32) That quote ought to trigger an alarm in your head. Is something amiss in this book? I'm thinking this will be a good learning opportunity for me as Pastor Zwonitzer reviews each chapter, so I plan to follow along. I hope you will too. And now, Pastor Zwonitzer:

I've been asked to read this book by one of my members and comment, so will just share my comments here as I read in the hopes that it will bless.

Comments from the Introduction:

One notices right away that with each chapter the author quotes the Bible followed by a quote from a non-biblical author. Some of these authors (10 in all) I'm familiar with: Martin Luther, Os Guinness, Winston Churchill, Martin Luther, Mark Twain, Mother Teresa, Leo Tolstoy. Yet the rest I am not acquainted with in any involved way: Henri Nouwen, John Piper, William Barclay. So out of the lot we have only one Lutheran, one politician, two authors, a Catholic nun, and the rest non-Lutheran theologians. What heightens my suspicions for the rest of the reading already is from an old adage among pastors that by finding out what one is reading, one can very quickly approximate that person's theology. In other words, what influences a pastor is where he spends his time reading. Seems the author is in to lots of very mixed influences.

The main theme of this work is hereby revealed to be "doors of opportunity begging to be opened every day for the Christian!" (page 12) He quickly tempers misunderstanding though by stating that this is not about worldly success, but the way of faith, of the cross. We and God want more out of our lives, and we find it in Jesus. However, many disciples are not finding and opening these opportunistic doors. Some find something missing is their faith walk, others find that that it has become stale. They have settled for a "bland, lifeless form of Christianity. They sing the songs and hear the messages, but they are distracted by the cares of living." (page 14) This has all the indications of being a Church Growth type tome.

To come to the rescue of such meaningless Christianity, Kieschnick proposes to talk then about authentic "spiritual growth," or sanctification will be the main topic. He will do this by discussing seven doors of spiritual growth: witness, worship, connections with other believers, prayer, Bible study, service and giving. He emphasizes these are not techniques or ways to receive God's grace, but because we have His grace we want to know Him better. (page 14)

His diagnostic for lack of spiritual growth in many Christians is that the doors are always there and Jesus is beckoning us to open them and walk in, but for various reasons we are timid, and only at best crack the door. We are afraid of what we'll find by truly opening them. At this very point, he seems to offer what will be the major theme of the book: MAKE US MORE LIKE JESUS! "I believe God is behind every door, and he delights in us when we open those doors and walk through boldly. He stands behind every door to meet us, greet us, confront us, change us, mold us, and transform us. He wants to make us more like Jesus." (page 15)

And to do this, what is necessary? CHANGE!!! Here we go down Church Growth path. He goes on to say that these doors of opportunity will challenge our attitudes, behavior and direction, and they can be threatening. The question remains: do they challenge our Lutheran beliefs and confessions? We'll see.

All this starts to make one think that this just might be a Lutheran attempt to put the Lutheran spin on Rick Warrens' Purpose Driven Life. Kieschnick even ends this introduction with comment about receiving rewards to changing and going through these opportunistic doors. (page 17)

This is lining up to be yet another book on Sanctification, or what one preacher called: Third Base Ministry. If the spiritual life of a Christian is compared to running the baseball bases, then home plate would be the Law, first base is Gospel, second is Faith and third is Sanctification. I'll speculate right now that Kieschnick is a third base pastor. Lutheran pastors want their sheep to run the bases, not stopping on third!

So much for now. Next installment we'll look at Chapter One: Jesus Behind Every Door.

Blessings in Risen Christ!


Click here to continue to the next part of Pastor Zwonitzer's review.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for your insightful comments. I, for one, have quit reading the Bible because it wasn't written by Confessional Lutherans. It will be the good old BofC for me from here on out.

Your Friend,

Frank said...

Joel Osteen’s claims of if we just have the faith to believe… are nearly identical. I’m sure Kieschnick means well.