When Character Was King: A Story of Ronald Reagan – Peggy Noonan

A number of years ago, I began devouring books about my favorite president, Ronald Reagan  When Character Was King by Peggy Noonan emerges as one of the most thoughtful and inspiring books about the former president.

Noonan paints a compelling portrait of President Reagan; a portrait that is an exceedingly human portrayal of a man who feared God, loved his country, and cherished freedom.  The author writes, “As president, Ronald Reagan believed without question that tyranny is temporary, and the hope of freedom is universal and permanent; that our nation has unique goodness, and must remain uniquely strong; that God takes the side of justice, because all our rights are His own gifts.”

Reagan opposed the godless ideology that held millions of Russians hostage from 1917 to 1991.  Lenin said in 1920, “We repudiate all morality that proceeds from supernatural ideas that are outside class conceptions. Morality is entirely subordinate to the interests of class war. Everything is moral that is necessary for the annihilation of the old exploiting social order and for uniting the proletariat.”  In contrast, Reagan knew that virtue and morality are directly related to one’s relationship with God.

A few quotes reveal the man we know as President Reagan:

We had strayed a great distance from our Founding Fathers’ vision of America.  They regarded the central government’s responsibility as that of providing national security, protecting our democratic freedoms, and limiting the government’s intrusion in our lives – in sum, the protection of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  They never envisioned vast agencies in Washington telling our farmers what to plant, our teachers what to teach, our industries what to build.

Don’t give up your ideals.  Don’t compromise.  Don’t turn to expediency.  And don’t for heaven’s sake, having seen the inner workings of the watch, don’t get cynical.

All of these things – learning to control the government, limiting the amount of money it can take from us, protecting our country through a strong defense – all of these things revolve around one word, and that word is ‘freedom.’

President Reagan was and continues to be a breath of fresh air in an increasingly pessimistic political climate.  He was unafraid to stare evil in the face.  He courageously stood for the cause of freedom.  Indeed, he was jealous to see the flag of freedom fly in every land.  He opposed despotism, communism, and socialism.  He promoted free enterprise.  President Reagan refused to capitulate in the face of adversity.

Nothing But the Truth

Scripture warns, “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ” (Col. 2:8, ESV). As followers of Christ, we need to be vigilant, constantly on guard, and discerning good from evil. One of the ways that the worldly system “takes us captive” is by marginalizing truth or eliminating it altogether. It is important to understand that the worldly system militates against the Christian view of truth. Is it any wonder, then, that the importance of truth is highlighted so much in Scripture?

David Understood the Importance of Truth

King David acknowledged that since God is truth, he expects his people to live truthful lives. He writes, “Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart” (Ps. 51:6, ESV).

The implications of David’s words are massive as we consider our inward motivations, conversations, and the way we conduct our lives. Ask yourself, “Am I a person that is committed to the truth?” “Does the love for truth undergird my life and worldview?”

Paul Spoke Often About the Truth

The apostle begins the book of Titus with these revealing words: “Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness” (Titus 1:1, ESV) . Notice the relationship between truth and godliness. Indeed, they are intimately connected. “The truth of the Gospel,” writes Warren Wiersbe, “changes a life from ungodliness.”1 As Christians, we unapologetically adhere to the truth. We must not only adhere to the truth; it must stand at the very center of our lives.

Additionally, Paul referred to the church as ” … a pillar and buttress of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15, ESV). The church, then, is God’s appointed means of declaring the word of God to the nations. Ask yourself, “How is God using me to declare the truth to my community?” “How is God using me to declare the truth to the nations?”

Paul Warned People Who Abandon the Truth

Scripture is packed with examples of people who abandoned the truth. Paul writes, “This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith, not devoting themselves to Jewish myths and the commands of people who turn away from the truth” (Titus 1:13–14, ESV). Tragically, this trend continues in our generation. Young people are turning away from the truth by the thousands. College students are manipulated and deceived by professors who peddle a worldview that opposes historic Christianity. Hearts are cold to God’s revealed truth. Ask yourself, “Am I pursuing the truth or am I fleeing from the truth?” “Do I have a sinful unbelieving heart that is turning away from the living God?” (Heb. 3:12).

Peter Pressed Home the Importance of Truth.

Peter is an interesting character to be sure. Here is a man who denied Jesus, the very embodiment of truth – three times! Yet, he was forgiven and restored and was used in a mighty way to spread a passion for the truth of God:

Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart … (1 Peter 1:22, ESV).

Ask yourself, “Do I obey the truth?” “Am I established in the truth?”

John Had a Passion for the Truth.

The apostle John was a warm-hearted Christian thinker who had a passion for the truth. Listen to how this God-centered man expressed his love for the truth:

Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth (1 John 3:18, ESV).

I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth (3 John 4, ESV) .

Jesus Spoke Plainly About the Truth

Finally, we turn our attention to Jesus, the One who made the startling claim that he was in fact the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6). The importance that Jesus attaches to truth cannot be denied:

Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth (John 17:17, ESV).

… and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free (John 8:32, ESV)

Conclusion

All spiritual growth is based on a knowledge of truth. Yet countless people, even people in the church are discarding truth and walking down paths that fail to honor and glorify God. Al Mohler warns, “Departing a Christian worldview leads to a distrust of final truth and a rejection of universal authority, which then hides the way back to the God of the Bible.”2 As followers of Jesus Christ, may we cling to the truth, proclaim the truth, and defend the truth. May we stand with the men and women throughout redemptive history who were willing to lay their lives down for the great cause of truth. May the cry of our hearts be, “nothing but the truth!”

  1. Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 2, p. 260). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
  2. Albert Mohler, The Gathering Storm: Secularism: Culture, and the Church (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2020), 11.

The Expulsive Power of a New Affection – Thomas Chalmers

Thomas Chalmers, The Expulsive Power of a New Affection (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2020), 72 pp.

“The heart is not so constituted, and the only way to dispossess it of an old affection is by the expulsive power of a new one.” So says Thomas Chalmers (1780-1847), professor of philosophy and theology at the University of St. Andrews and the University of Edinburgh.

The heart is the target of Chalmers in his short book, The Expulsive Power of a New Affection. Part of the Crossway Short Classics, this work shows the inner workings of Chalmers and the solution he proposes for sinners. The author uses 1 John 2:15 as a launching pad that will be of immense help for his readers:

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.

Chalmers maintains that there are two approaches for Christians who seek to obey this first. They may either flee from the world or foster godly affections. The second approach is not only preferred; it is the approach that renders power to followers of Christ. Chalmers holds that the former approach is “altogether ineffectual” while “the latter method will alone suffice for the rescue and recovery of the heart for the wrong affection that domineers over it.”

The author develops this theme as prescribes the expulsive power of a new affection. In other words, only a heart that has been regenerated may move in the direction of obedience. And by definition, a regenerate heart is one that is being renewed day by day (2 Cor. 3:18). The regenerate heart is being sanctified by the Spirit.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review.

Strangely Bright – Joe Rigney

Joe Rigney, Strangely Bright (Wheaton: Crossway, 2020), 117 pp.

“Can you love God and enjoy this world?” This question drives Joe Rigney’s newest book, Strangely Bright. Such a question often generates more heat than light as many people are accustomed to downplaying earthly things and emphasizing heavenly things. After all, the well-known hymn encourages us to:

Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full on his wonderful face, and the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of his glory and grace.

The admonition seems sound and even reasonable. But Rigney argues something that may run counter to conventional wisdom. His argument is essentially this:

Enjoy God in everything and everything in God, knowing he is greater and more satisfying than any and all of his gifts.

The path that leads to Rigney’s conclusion is set up by examining the passages that help clarify the biblical tension. First, the author reveals the biblical texts that place an emphasis on complete devotion to Christ. Such passages are referred to as totalizing passages and include Colossians 3:1-2, Philippians 3:7-8, and Psalm 73:25-26. These texts are contrasted with things of the earth passages that include James 1:17, 1 Timothy 4:4, and 1 Timothy 6:17. These passages emphasize God’s good gift that creatures are meant to enjoy.

In the end, Rigney skillfully demonstrates how glorifying God and enjoying his good gifts are not at odds: “All of God’s gifts are invitations – they display who he is and invite us to know him and delight in him.” The author borrows a page from John Piper’s Christian Hedonism that was introduced in his book, Desiring God that was first published in 1986. “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him,” argued Piper.

Strangely Bright is a stunning retelling of Piper’s original thesis. This is a thrilling and liberating book. It skillfully crushes legalistic tendencies and warns readers to steer clear from any form of idolatry. The author strikes the biblical balance and leads readers on a path that is sure to encourage many.

Highly recommended.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review.

Blackout: How Black America Can Make Its Second Escape from the Democrat Plantation

Blackout: How Black America Can Make Its Second Escape from the Democrat Plantation by Candace Owens will irritate and offend many people. But this is a book that needed to be written. More importantly, this is a book that deserves to be read and internalized.

Owens explores how liberals have consistently manipulated and marginalized black Americans. She tackles controversial subjects ranging from family, faith, and feminism. But she also focuses her attention on socialism, education, media, culture, and slavery.

Owens is an unashamed black conservative woman. She has a dizzying intellect and a charismatic personality. But the most impressive thing about Owens is that she is bold and courageous. She is willing to tell the truth about the liberal elites and is more than prepared for the fallout.

The author is deeply in touch with the plight of the black community. And she links that plight to the purposeful ploy of leftists who have and continue to pander to blacks and hold them captive to their liberal worldview and ideology.

Owens passionately encourages black America to stand and be counted. She urges black America to make its second escape from the Democrat plantation: “If black America finds its free voice; if there is a blackout from the liberal establishment, and if the occasional voices of those freed from the mental slavery of the left turn instead into a chorus, then black America will finally find that its suffering may turn a corner …”

Owens raises the banner and admonishes black America to reclaim their freedom and move forward with bold and courageous resolve:

The gates of the castle are under attack. We must now batter them down and storm the fortress of the liberal order. Join the ideological battle now. Let us turn the lights off in the liberal establishments of America as we shut the door behind us. Let us make this blackout a reality.

Blackout should be required reading for every thinking American – both black and white and everyone in between. It should certainly be read by every high school and university student. Those who read with an open mind will be challenged and moved to action.

Thanks to Candace Owens for courageously wielding the sword of truth in these perilous times!

Everything is Spiritual – Rob Bell

Rob Bell, Everything is Spiritual (New York: St. Martin’s Publishing Group, 2020), 310 pp.

In 2011, I reviewed Love Wins, my first book by Rob Bell. The piece prompted praise by conservatives and vicious scorn by progressive Christians and liberals. Whatever anyone thinks about Bell, one thing is for sure: the guy can write. He is a master communicator. And whenever he writes or talks, people listen.

Anyone familiar with Rob Bell knows that he is somewhat of a gadfly among evangelicals. And “gadfly” is a massive understatement. But there is something endearing about Bell. Some point to his skill. Others are impressed with his intellect. For me, I’ve always been drawn to Bell’s ability to communicate what he’s truly feeling – including insecurity, childhood pain, or unfulfilled expectations. He identifies a “generational lack of grace,” a trait that is found too often in the church. His transparency is refreshing and his candor is something that is greatly needed in our day.

While I applaud Bell’s transparency, I have expressed deep concern with some of the theological and philosophical assertions that he has proposed. His most recent book, Everything Is Spiritual is no exception. Michael Eric Dyson’s endorsement of the book provides a revealing summary:

“In Everything Is Spiritual, Rob Bell updates Teilhard de Chardin’s Catholic mysticism, makes sexier Werner Heisenberg’s quantum physics, and baptizes Jewish Kabbalah in an exciting vision of the future of human evolution. Bell challenges the notion that science and belief are at war, with his sublime fusion of Christian faith and modern evolutionary science. Bell’s book is the perfect antidote to the plague of an evangelical worldview that is captive to imperial dreams and a literalism that kills the spirit of Christianity …”

I will argue in this review that while Michael Eric Dyson truly does capture the essence of Bell’s intentions in Everything Is Spiritual, the end result is unhelpful and spiritually dangerous. Instead of illumination, readers will be left in a quagmire – with more questions than answers. And they will wander aimlessly in a spiritual wasteland, armed with an inaccurate portrait of God that leaves them hopeless without the biblical gospel.

No Final Answer

One of the common themes in Bell’s writing is ambiguity. He extinguishes certitude and exalts mystery (both of which are fundamental tenets of postmodernism). Careful readers will notice that the author is quick to pay lip service to Christian theology but swiftly degenerates into a subtle (or not so subtle man-made philosophy). The Bible warns, “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (2 Tim. 4:3-4, ESV).

Tragically, many have been deceived by Bell’s “spirit myths” over the years. For instance, in Bell’s book, What We Talk About When We Talk About God, he argues that God is “with us, for us, and ahead of us – all of us.” The notion that God is “with us,” “for us,” and “ahead of us (every single one of us) may sound good initially but falls short of the biblical model. It is true that God is “with” his people. We see this especially in the incarnation of Jesus, the One who is named Immanuel – or God with us (Matt. 1:23). Yet God is not “with” the man who has rejected the revelation of God in Christ. God is not “with” the one who rejects the Lord Jesus Christ and his gospel. “… Whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him” (John 3:36).

It is true that God is “for us” – that is to say, he is for his people. “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:38–39, ESV). Yet, God is not “for” the man who repudiates the promises and purposes of God. The holy God opposes the proud (Jas. 4:6; 1 Pet. 5:5).

I referred to Paul’s warning in 2 Tim. 4:3-4 again and again as I read Everything is Spiritual. Indeed, doctrine is downplayed and orthodoxy is questioned. But not everything is ambiguous. As he did in Love Wins, Bell dogmatically casts aside the doctrine of hell: “Because some stories are better than others. Stories about a God who tortures people forever in hell shouldn’t be told. They’re terrible stories. They make people miserable. They make people want to kill themselves. Stories that insist that a few human beings are going to be okay and every other human being ever is doomed for eternity are horrible stories.”

In a magical twist, certitude suddenly reappears! Alas, the painful reality is obvious here: Anyone who bemoans doctrine is in fact, dogmatic themselves! It appears, then, that the dogmatic bark is worse than the bite.

No Final Authority

To make matters worse, no final authority is offered in Everything Is Spiritual. It is difficult to determine if Bell embraces pantheism, panentheism or some other theological construct. Whatever the case, the book makes much of God’s immanence and downplays his transcendence.

But what is missing here is a distinction between the Creator and the creature. Missing is a Creator who is sovereign over creation and rules over all. Bell’s account of God is noted in the biblical exchange with Moses who refers to himself as I AM. So far so good. But notice how Bell’s understanding of God undermines the Creator/creature distinction:

“Moses wants to locate God, and what Moses gets is Everywhere. Moses wants something to wrap his mind around, and what he gets is All of it.

“What an answer. Another way you could say I AM is Being Itself.

“That’s past, that’s present, that’s future. All of it. Being Itself, the formless beyond any one form, animating all forms. The electricity the entire thing is plugged into. The water it’s all swimming in.”

“That’s every you that ever was and ever will be. All your yous.”

Later, Bell refers once again to “Being Itself. I AM.” He writes, “You ground yourself in that, and you’re all of it. You root yourself in the source and Spirit beyond all these forms and categories and labels, you listen to that and follow that and you keep going.” Bell refers to this as the “collective unity of humanity,” or “the body of Christ.” He adds, “All of us humans ever, across time, all together, adding up to something. The body of Christ.”

Not only does this line of reasoning militate against the Creator/creature distinction; it misleads readers into believing that they are members of Christ’s body, when the unbelieving world is described as enemies of God and under his holy wrath.

Acts 17:22-31 reveals a Creator God who is the cosmos shaper, the kingdom shaker who lives above creation. He is the all-sufficient Ruler, Life-Giver, and Destiny Maker. And he is the righteous Judge who “commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed …” (Acts 17:30-31, ESV).

And Scripture speaks of the creature who was created by God (Gen. 2:7). The creatures (Adam and Eve) were originally free from sin but fell and as a result became sinners by nature and by choice (Gen. 3:1-7). As such, these sinful creatures have no inherent righteousness, no desire for God (Rom. 3:10-11). Subsequently, all creatures are born with a hatred in their hearts for God (Rom. 8:7-8). They are dead in sin (Eph. 2:1-3), and they are enslaved in sin; totally unable to come to Christ apart from God’s empowerment (John 6:44). These creatures are dependent upon God for everything. While they have the ability to make free choices, these choices are determined in eternity past (Acts 17:26; Prov. 19:21; 21:1). And these creatures are accountable to a righteous and sovereign Judge (Rom. 2:5-11).

As such, there is no final authority in Everything is Spiritual. Bell writes, “God is not detached from the world, up there, or above, or somewhere else, that would make God a form like everything else.” So, we are left with the strange and unbiblical blending of the Creator and the creature.

No Exclusive Path

One of the reasons that people are drawn to Bell is because he refuses to be boxed in by a religious system or creed. He is quick to jettison the traditional path and proudly promotes another route: “And then there was soul. This deeper voice within me telling me another truth, coaxing me to rethink what success even is. I had my own path, and it wasn’t this, and what you do with a path is you walk it … But walking your path, when you’re surrounded by multiple voices with strong opinions about what you should be doing, that takes tremendous spinal fortitude.”

“Spinal fortitude,” is to be commended. The problem is that Scripture points to one path – the path that Jesus describes as “narrow.” Jesus says, “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Matt. 7:13-14).

One of the primary arguments in Bell’s book is that “everything is spiritual.” He refers to Christ, who holds all things together: “All of it. All of us. Everybody, everywhere, in Christ.” He rightly notes how every person is created with dignity and honor and possesses “infinite worth and value.” But things take a tragic turn for the worse. For the one who pursues his own path, according to Bell, is something of a radical. In a stunning admission, Bell acknowledges: “The radical is not the person who wandered off the path into the deep weeds. The radical is the one who went back to the origins, to the roots, to how it all began. Sometimes the tribe has lost its way, sometimes the ones claiming to be orthodox, correct, pure ones have gone off the rails, sometimes it’s the mother ship that has lost its bearing, and it’s the radical who’s actually rediscovering the true path.”

Radicals like Jan Hus and Martin Luther rediscovered the true path when they embraced biblical authority and the gospel of Jesus. But Bell is not referring to these stalwarts of the faith. Rather, he is referring to those who dare to break free from the chains of orthodoxy. After all, writes Bell, “You aren’t an object, you aren’t a pawn … you possess Spirit. Personal, intimate, infinite, knowing, Spirit. You reflect the divine, present in each of us. You’re in Christ.

No exclusive path is necessary since we are “in Christ,” according to Bell. This theme emerged clearly in Love Wins as Bell undercut sovereign grace by arguing that God draws all people to himself. He writes, “ … We see that Jesus himself, again and again, demonstrates how seriously he takes his role in saving and rescuing and redeeming not just everything, but everybody.”

But Scripture stands in opposition to this theme. The Bible never declares that all people are “in Christ” as Bell supposes. Rather, each person is born in Adam and experiences death as a result (Rom. 5:12-21). Jesus never promises to rescue and redeem all people. Rather, people are assured that they will receive eternal life and forgiveness if they turn from their sin and trust the Lord Jesus Christ (John 3:15-16; 6:37, 47; 7:38; 8:12; Acts 4:12; Rom. 10:9-13, 17). When a person trusts in Christ alone for their salvation, then and only then, are they truly “in Christ.”

Bell’s “gospel” is described as “the divine announcement that you are loved and accepted exactly as you are, that everything has been taken care of, that everything you’ve been striving to earn has been yours the entire time, that you belong, in exactly this condition that you are currently in, nothing additional required or needed.” Readers are left, then, with more ambiguity. Whose “gospel” is Bell describing? And does this “gospel” tolerate sin? Does this “gospel” lay down demands? Is surrender required? Belief? Repentance? Is this “gospel” inclusive or is it exclusive? Is this “gospel light?” Or is this the “gospel” that Scripture refers to as a “different gospel” (Gal. 1:6)?

The matter of the gospel has eternal implications. The apostle Paul warns the Christians in Galatia to beware of those who “distort the gospel of Christ” (Gal. 1:7). He continues, “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed” (Gal. 1:8-9, ESV).

The biblical gospel or the “good news” of God begins with God. It declares that God is sovereign and holy. It tells us that God created people for his glory (Isa. 43:7). It tells us that people are sinners by nature and by choice (Rom. 3:23; 5:12). The gospel warns us that God is just and that he has the right to punish sin and that unrepentant people will endure the wrath of God for eternity (Rom. 6:23; John 3:36). The gospel tells us about a Savior who will destroy death and rescue his creatures from the power of sin and the penalty of sin. And one day this gospel will rescue followers of Jesus from sin’s very presence.

The gospel distinguishes between the Creator and the creature. Peter Jones adds, “The Bible warns us not to worship the creation but to worship and serve only the Creator. The starting point of gospel truth is that God the Creator, in the three persons of the divine Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – is the one and only God and that all which is not God was created by him … The Christian faith maintains a separateness between God and His creation.”1 The gospel makes provision for sin, exalts the crucified and risen Savior, and reconciles sinners to a holy God.

Tragically, the biblical gospel is jettisoned in Everything is Spiritual. The gospel is reduced to a “divine announcement” of acceptance. This soft, inclusive “gospel” is a different gospel that Scripture condemns (Gal. 1:6, 9).

Summary

“Everything is spiritual.” The very idea sounds so very, well … spiritual. And people who flock to read the musings of Bell continue in a trancelike state like they’ve been doing for years. But the author makes a very revealing statement near the end of the book. He writes, “I want to help people rediscover the wonder and awe of their existence.” Yet, no final answer is given. No final authority is offered. And no exclusive path is revealed. Instead of rediscovering “the wonder and awe of their existence,” readers are left wandering in an existential fog, unaware of the Creator God who made all things for his glory; the transcendent God who sovereignly rules and reigns; the God who sent his Son to rescue sinners, redeem them, and bless them with eternal life.

Michael Eric Dyson refers to Bell’s book as “a perfect spiritual antidote to the plague of an evangelical worldview that is captive to imperial dreams and a literalism that kills the spirit of Christianity.” Nothing could be further from the truth. The message that Rob Bell presents in this book is anything but spiritual. Instead, it offers a syncretistic concoction of worldly philosophy that leads the unsuspecting on a path to divine judgment. That’s a far cry from an antidote. Poison doesn’t cure disease. Poison kills the unsuspecting.

  1. Peter Jones, Gospel Truth, Pagan Lies: Can You Tell the Difference? (Enumclaw: Winepress Publishing, 1999), 23-24.

Live Not By Lies: A Manual for Christian Dissidents – Rod Dreher (2020)

Rod Dreher, Live Not by Lies (New York City: Sentinel Books, 2020), 240 pp.

When Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was annexed from the country he loved, he published a parting message to the Russian people. “Live Not by Lies” was a bold challenge to the brutal totalitarian system that raved countless thousands of people.

Rod Dreher picks up where Solzhenitsyn left off in his new book, Live Not By Lies: A Manual for Christian Dissidents. This riveting work helps readers discover what it means to live not by lies. The author interviews Christians who endured the days of totalitarianism behind the Iron Curtain and gains a wealth of information that both inform and inspire us today.

Part One: Understanding Soft Totalitarianism

Part one explores the underbelly of what Dreher refers to as soft totalitarianism. “A totalitarian state,” according to Hannah Arendt, “is one that aspires to nothing less than defining and controlling reality. Truth is whatever the rules decide it is.” Mussolini defined totalitarianism as, “Everything within the state, nothing outside the sate, nothing against the state.” Wherever this worldview reigns, mankind declines, and decays.

The author explains the essence of soft totalitarianism:

Today’s totalitarianism demands allegiance to a set of progressive beliefs, many of which are incompatible with logic – and certainly with Christianity. Compliance is forced less by the state than by elites who form public opinion, and by private corporations that, thanks to technology, control our lives far more than we would like to admit.

A cursory glance at culture reveals the rise of social justice, the “woke revolution,” radical environmentalism, acceptance of sexual deviancy, reverse racism, and identity politics. Soft totalitarianism includes educational propaganda like the “1619 Project,” an attempt to brainwash students and cause them to abandon the principles that help birth the United States of America. The list goes on and on. Yet more and more people are willing to accept this radical ideology for the sake of convenience.

Dreher adds, “And this is the thing about soft totalitarianism: It seduces those – even Christians – who have lost the capacity to love enduringly, for better or for worse. They think love, but they merely desire. They think they follow Jesus, but in fact, they merely admire him.”

The author warns that Christians who refuse to speak up and resist soft totalitarianism will pay a heavy price. Literary critic and poet, Czeslaw Milosz agrees: “Their silence will not save them and will instead corrode them.”

Part Two: How to Live in Truth

Part two helps readers respond biblically and decisively. It shows them how to “live in truth.” The principles that Dreher shares are invaluable and will be a great encouragement as Christians navigate their way through the social sludge.

Dreher encourages readers to fight for and defend free speech. “To grow indifferent, even hostile to free speech is suicidal for a free people,” writes the author. He encourages truth-telling that is wisdom-based and prudent.

Dreher admonishes readers to foster cultural memory. He says, “Everything about modern society is designed to make memory – historical, social, and cultural – hard to cultivate. Christians must understand this not only to resist soft totalitarianism but also to transmit the faith to the coming generations.”

The author urges Christians to cultivate strong family units. “Christian parents”, writes Dreher, “must be intentionally countercultural in their approach to family dynamics. The days of living like everybody else and hoping our children turn out for the best are over.” Fathers, in particular, must lead their families and help them exercise biblical discernment. They must fight for the truth.

Dreher promotes religion as the “bedrock of resistance.” He continues, “This is the uncompromising rival religion that the post-Christian world will not long tolerate. If you are not rock-solid in your commitment to traditional Christianity, then the world will break you. But if you are, then this is the solid rock in which that world will be broken. And if those solid rocks are joined together, they form a wall of solidarity that is very hard for the enemy to breach.”

We must stand in solidarity. “Only in solidarity with others can we find the spiritual and communal strength to resist,” says Dreher. He adds:

And this is the thing about soft totalitarianism: it seduces those – even Christians – who have lost the capacity to love enduringly, for better or for worse. They think they love, but they merely desire. They think they follow Jesus, but in fact, they merely admire him.

Each of us thinks we would be like that. But if we have accepted the great lie of our therapeutic culture, which tells us that personal happiness is the greatest good of all, then we will surrender at the first sign of trouble.

Conclusion

There is much more to explore in this fascinating book. I challenge readers to dig deeply into this “treasure chest.” In the end, both varieties of totalitarianism enslave people. Dreher reminds us, “Hard totalitarianism depends on terrorizing us into surrendering our free consciences; soft totalitarianism uses fear as well, but mostly it bewitches us with therapeutic promises of entertainment, pleasure, and comfort.” It is to this end that we must resist soft totalitarianism with all our might or we, along with the proverbial frog in the kettle will slowly boil in a kettle that appears safe but will, in the final analysis, result in a grizzly death.

Live Not By Lies delivers a powerful and unforgettable message. The price of liberty is costly. This much is true. “There is no escape from the struggle,” writes Dreher. “The price of liberty is eternal vigilance – first of all, over our own hearts.” Live Not By Lies is a must-read book for freedom-loving Christians. To ignore the principles that Dreher sets forth would be foolhardy at best. Heeding the warning of the author will help pave the way for fruitful discussion and greater liberty in the coming days.

Heaven is a World of Love – Jonathan Edwards

Jonathan Edwards, Heaven is a World of Love (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2020), 118 pp.

“Happy, thrice happy those who shall thus be found faithful to the end and then shall be welcomed to the joy of their Lord! There they shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat, for the Lamb that is in the midst of the throne shall feed them and lead them to fountains of living waters, and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.” Thus, says Jonathan Edwards in his monumental work, Heaven is a World of Love.” Edwards’s important book is a part of Crossway’s Short Classics. “Classic” in this case is an understatement. Edwards leads us to the very edge of the heavenly shore.

Heaven is a World of Love was penned by the Puritan divine in the mid-18th-century. And while Edwards’s work is over 250 years old, it speaks directly to readers in our generation. Edwards has gained a reputation for preaching sermons focused on hellfire and brimstone. Indeed, messages like Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God do deal directly with the holy wrath of God. But what comes as a surprise to many is that Edwards took great delight in preaching and writing about our eternal place of rest.

Heaven is a World of Love not only describes our heavenly resting place; it draws readers into the very presence of God. In typical fashion, Edwards uses Scripture to alert readers to the reality of heaven. In the end, they will not only learn more about their heavenly home; they will have a greater desire to go there.

Highly recommended!

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review.

Why Social Justice is Not Biblical Justice – Scott David Allen (2020)

Scott David Allen, Why Social Justice is Not Biblical Justice (Grand Rapids: Credo House Publishers, 2020), 250 pp.

In 1969, Francis Schaeffer warned, “There’s bound to be death in the city once people turn away from the base upon which our culture was built … Death in the city will be increasingly all-consuming unless there is true reformation in the church and culture upon the foundation of God and His revelation.”1 Fifty years later, Schaeffer’s words ring true as professing Christians succumb to the spirit of the age. One example of this is the introduction of social justice. Social justice has creeped into the church, parachurch, and the academy. The accommodation of this ideology has inflicted untold damage and is deceiving people and leading them astray.

Scott David Allen’s book, Why Social Justice is Not Biblical Justice sets the record straight. At the outset, the author contrasts biblical justice with social justice:

Biblical Justice: Conformity to God’s moral standard as revealed in the Ten Commandments and the Royal Law: ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’

Social Justice: Deconstructing traditional systems and structures deemed to be oppressive, and redistributing power and resources from oppressors to their victims in the pursuit of equality of outcome.

Careful readers will notice that the differences in these definitions are vast and wide. Biblical justice, which is an important aspect of God’s character is repeated throughout Scripture. Make no mistake: All Christians celebrate the reality of justice. The notion of social justice (what the author refers to as idealogical social justice) that many are embracing is not only unbiblical; it is anti-gospel. Scott David Allen skillfully shows why ideological social justice fails the biblical test and urges followers of Christ to steer clear from this worldly ideology.

There is much to commend in Allen’s book. The author shows the dangers of the “woke” movement, not to mention the ungodly ideology that drives critical race theory and intersectionality. These matters require a more comprehensive treatment, which are beyond the scope of this review. At the heart of the book, however, is a careful differentiation between the Revolutionary Narrative and the Preservation Narrative.

The Revolutionary Narrative

The Revolutionary Narrative flows directly from the polluted stream of ideological social justice. This view maintains that institutional racism and systemic injustice must be upheld and emphasized. People of color, according to the Revolutionary Narrative are constantly battling systemic white oppression.

The Revolutionary Narrative embraces the notion of “white fragility,” popularized by former University of Washington professor, Robin Diangelo. The notion of “white fragility” embraces the idea that white people need to “come to terms with their whiteness.” According to Diangelo, “whiteness has given them a big leg up in life while crushing others’ dreams, that their whiteness … has shielded them from growing up as quickly as they might have done had they not so heavily leaned on it to make it through life.”2 Thus, according to “white fragility,” all white people are racists, whether they realize it or not.

This narrative embraces the organization, Black Lives Matter, the neo-Marxist group that is growing exponentially in America. BLM is “queer affirming” and celebrates LBGTQ+ rights and seeks to abolish capitalism and replace it with a form of Marxist collectivism, not to mention the defunding of the police. The idea that America has driven by systemic racism is at the very heart of both BLM and the Revolutionary Narrative. America, in this scheme, about oppression, not freedom.

The Preservation Narrative

The Preservation Narrative “affirms the goodness of America’s founding principles and seeks to preserve them while desiring to continually improve our systems and institutions to more perfectly reflect these principles.” Such a view is deeply patriotic and cherished the work of the Founding Fathers, the United States Constitution, and the Bill of Rights.

In contrast to the Revolutionary Narrative, this narrative strongly emphasizes personal choice and responsibility. While racism exists and persists, it acknowledges that the ultimate evil lies in the human heart (Jer. 17:9). The author adds, “The challenges in the black community can be overcome in ways that are not dependent on the actions of white people, but the choices and actions of black people themselves.” Thus, individuals are accountable for their actions – both for good and evil.

The Preservation Narrative acknowledges America’s history of racism but also acknowledges the progress made, beginning with the abolition of slavery and racial equality. “Today,” writes Scott David Allen, “America is one of the least racist countries in the world and a land of opportunity for people of all ethnic backgrounds, which is why immigrants continue to flock here in huge numbers, including many with black and brown skin.” Racism, in this view, is condemned and justice is coveted for all peoples.

Non-Justice

The social justice movement has skillfully and tragically redefined justice as follows:

The tearing down of traditional structures and systems deemed to be oppressive, and the redistribution of power and resources from oppressors to victims in pursuit of equality of outcome.

For Christians, it is critical that we understand the worldview shift taking place before our eyes. We have slowly moved from a Judeo-Christian worldview that provided a framework for justice and established worth among all people. “Today,” writes the author, “all this has been cast aside, as that which formerly brought order to society and meaning and purpose to the individual has been abandoned.” Ironically, then, ideological social justice does the opposite of what it sets out to do.

Ultimately, the social justice movement seeks to overthrow the Christian worldview. The author reflects on the consequences of ideological social justice: “In the zero-sum world of social justice power struggle, there is no ‘live and let live; tolerance. No win-win, or even compromise. No place for forgiveness, or grace. No ‘love your enemy.’ No ‘first get the log out of your own eye’ introspection. There is only grievance, condemnation, and retribution. Bigots, haters, and oppressors must be destroyed.” Thoughtful Christians, then, need to see through the veneer of this diabolical scheme to supplant a God-centered worldview that sees all people as image-bearers of God and bestowed with inherent worth from their Creator.

Conclusion

Francis Schaeffer’s admonition to aim for true reformation in the church by clinging to God’s revelation hearkens our attention back to Psalm 11:3, “If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?” Day by day the foundations are eroding as ideological social justice eats away at the fabric of God’s propositional truth. The social justice movement strikes at the very core of the gospel – and is indeed, anti-gospel.

Rod Dreher warns us in his most recent book, Live Not By Lies that the “social justice” machine is one that must be opposed at every juncture: “Far from being confined to campuses and dry intellectual journals, social justice warrior ideals are transforming elite institutions and networks of power and influence.”3To be clear, this movement is worming its way into the church at an alarming rate. Therefore, we must resist it with all our might and focus our attention on loving God, loving people, and working to assure that people of every color and creed are accepted and loved as image-bearers of God. We must return to the cross of Jesus where justice and mercy meet and promises eternal life to each person who trusts in an all-sufficient Savior.

Why Social Justice is Not Biblical Justice is a landmark book. It should be devoured and discussed by Christians. The net gain will be a renewed interest in biblical justice and a reinvigorated passion to reach every person with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

  1. Francis A. Schaeffer, The Complete Works of Francis A. Schaeffer, Volume 4 (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1982), 222-223.
  2. Robin Diangelo, White Fragility (Boston: Beacon Press, 2018), xii.
  3. Ron Dreher, Live Not by Lies: A Manual for Christian Dissidents (New York City: Sentinel, 2020), 42.

The Prisoners, the Earthquake, and the Midnight Song – Bob Hartman

Bob Hartman, The Prisoners, Earthquake, and the Midnight Song (The Good Book Company, 2020).

The Prisoners, the Earthquake, and the Midnight Song by Bob Hartman is designed especially for children and tells the true story about the Philippian jailer in Acts 16. The subtitle reveals the essence of the book: A True Story about how God Uses People to Save People.

The book not only accurately recounts this gripping biblical story; it is also accompanied by the stunning illustrations by Catalina Echeverri. Each page contains beautiful artwork that draws young minds to the biblical text.

Congratulations to Hartman and Echeverri for producing such a stunning book that will no doubt minister to children for many years to come.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review.