Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Rev. Zwonitzer's Continuing Book Review of The Best is Yet to Come: Chapter 9

This is the ninth and final post in the series of Pastor Rodney E. Zwonitzer's book review of Pastor John Kieschnick's book The Best is Yet to Come: 7 Doors of Spiritual Growth. Thanks to Pastor Zwonitzer for sharing his thoughts with us.

Before we go to Pastor Zwonitzer's final remarks, I'll share a comment with you that was posted by Adam on the Wittenberg Trail regarding the discussion of the Church Growth Movement and Pastor Kieschnick's book. His comment reflects the seductive nature of some of the emphases in the Church Growth Movement:

I would like to make a comment on this new type of Lutheran theology. My wife and I spent ten years in a church very much driven by the Kieschnick approach both John & Jerry). Thank God, the spirit led us to another Lutheran Church where this approach is very much shunned. My wife is a life-long Lutheran and I am a convert, after changing churches, we were truly stunned to find that we were both well down the path to becoming unchurched.

The most frightening thing was, of course, that we had no idea that this was happening as it crept in so slowly. I do not say this lightly; this doctrine will destroy the Lutheran Church if it is permitted to spread.

Review of Chapter 9—Growth: Walking Through the Doors

He wants to finish this book by talking about growing through difficult times. He shares: “I want to make this point at the beginning of the chapter on growth because it’s so easy for us to shift our eyes, ever so slightly, to techniques of growth or measurements of growth instead of the only one who is worthy of our affection and attention.” (page 205) We’ll see.

He begins by stating: “When we center our lives on Jesus Christ and respond to his invitation to walk through the doors of the disciplines, we grow in our commitment to him and his cause.” (page 203) This is syncretism! No mention of the means of grace in the Divine Service fueling this spiritual growth, but again as we have pointed out throughout this read the focus is more on the individual responding.

He progresses with discussion about building on Christ alone, then believing that God’s grace is for each of us, but with “one qualification for experiencing grace: honesty about the need for forgiveness.” (page 207) So, we come to a major point, a critical one: experiencing grace. We will grow only if we experience grace, which he proceeds to unload as responding with a broken and contrite heart. Is this pre-grace or post-grace? He provides his interpretation of Scripture to support his point, Luke 7:36-50. He surmises this story’s main point that she responded to Jesus’ forgiveness, that she honestly felt her need for forgiveness experientially and was rewarded. No mention whatsoever about her faith. This passage is about Jesus’ declaration of all her sins forgiven and His ability to do so. Why focus on her response, rather than God’s divine action to bring her to this forgiveness? The Augsburg Confession speaks of this contrition as being God given, as well as the faith which then uplifts and consoles the poor miserable sinner begging for mercy. They actually quote this passage in The Apology, Article XII, 57: “From all these example godly readers can see that we assign to repentance those parts that belong to conversion or regeneration and the forgiveness of sins.” Seems Kieschnick would be blessed to have spent more time in the Confessions that his reading of Yancey, Packer, et al.

And read he has of such as Philip Yancey, a non-Lutheran who truly has sold many millions of books full of theology that is replete with theological defects. Next Kieschnick fills the need to quote Yancey identifying three stages of spiritual growth: child, adult, parent. Again, he confuses the biblical distinction of the priesthood of all believers with the office of public ministry and fails to distinguish their differing roles in spiritual growth, lumping them altogether in one of these three groups.

Theme of book: best is yet to come! He applies this to himself, Christians he has known and read of, and suggests it to the reader. He believes that these seven doors are of “growth which leads us into the presence of God.” (page 211) He has us looking for Jesus behind each door, searching for Him, when in actuality it is Jesus always present through His means, the Word and Sacraments. To find Jesus in prayer, relationships, stewardship, and service is looking in the wrong place. Jesus has already found us in His Holy means, and thus lives in us and through us in these sanctified disciplines.

Yes, God uses the tough times and difficulties in our faith walk with Him to strengthen our dependency upon Him. My only wish here was that Kieschnick would have utilized the Biblical and Lutheran theology of the cross more. The path of Jesus, our Master, is the one for His followers.

The end is quickly approaching. What final words are penned for us here? How does this spiritual growth occur through these seven doors? Kieschnick: “By grace, through commitment.” (page 214) His writing in convoluted here, for he quickly shifts away from our commitment to keeping eyes of faith on Jesus for forgiveness. But then he quickly turns to the life-long benefits of confession and absolution, and ends with this troublesome sentence: “Repentance provides the cleansing, refreshment, and refocus I need to keep my eyes on Jesus.” (page 215) Repentance alone does not give such comfort, but the absolution of Christ that follows such confession is the only relief available. Just getting our sins off our chest by their admission to God certainly is therapeutic, but it would be the ultimate nightmare if these admissions went without their full remission in the justifying blood of Christ spoken to us by our Lord. This is more evidence of Kieschnick’s inattention to such confused writing and the lack of adequate doctrinal review which this book did not have the benefit of.

He continues with a section on spiritual growth being mysterious and intentional: “Spiritual growth occurs when we make commitments and take action, but the working of God in the human heart is mysterious.” (page 216) It takes time, and no one really knows how this growth is taking place or at what pace. Nevertheless, Kieschnick advocates intentional pursuit of these seven disciplines and expect that God will work through them.

And now the conclusion. Guess what is the final topic? Rewards. He admits that what is has been driven by are visible manifestations of his ministry as being successful: “he’s taken me through all kinds of circumstances to build my faith. Quite often, the faith-builders were answers to prayer, people coming to Christ, the Holy Spirit’s touch and comfort in times of need, and a million other manifestations of the grace of God. But sometimes God took me through times of disappointment and doubt when I didn’t sense his presence and I had no clue what direction to take.” (page 217) “I used to be a very driven person … I used to believe that I had to achieve certain things to be acceptable to people and to God. The drive itself wasn’t wrong, but the focus was off base. Now, I’m just as driven, but not as much to win approval and achieve prestige. By God’s great grace, I care a bit more now about his honor than mine, and building his kingdom instead of building one for me.” (page 218) Amazing and honest an admission as this is, just caring “a bit more now about his honor and kingdom than mine?” I think we’ve discovered something at the very end which the author is troubled about. His he a bond-servant of the gospel of Jesus Christ, or is he a people pleaser? You can’t be a little of one and more of the other. You can only serve one master. See the Apostle Paul on this in Galatians 1.

Certainly every pastor is simul iustus et peccator, simultaneously saint and sinner. He confesses this and receives the same absolution he speaks to his flock. However, he fights this with the holy means God gives Him and these are his life! Kieschnick certainly appears to me to be a nice man, a man I’d enjoy sitting down and talking to. But by his own admission and the words he has pinned, I would have to express to him my concern that he is a most mixed up theologian. His Lutheranism has been compromised with all sorts of unbiblical thoughts and concepts which he has acknowledged he has studied and bought into in this very book. At many points we have heard evidence more of a Calvinistic pastor (irresistible grace; quibbling over the Sacraments) than of a Lutheran. Throughout we heard continuing references to the influence Rick Warren has had upon his ministry, and so the suspicion that this is an attempted Lutheranization of the Purpose Driven Life cannot fall much short of the target.

I would not recommend anyone reading this book who is not a mature Christian, who through intense and trained Bible study has discernment to ferret out the true from the error in this book. Truly, this one is reader beware!

Lord have mercy on us!

Pastor Rod Zwonitzer

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