Tuesday, May 12, 2015
Gospel Treason by Brad Bigney (Book Review #39 of 2015)
Gospel Treason: Betraying the Gospel With Hidden Idols
I have been going through this book with a weekly gathering of men (age 30s-70s). A couple of men in the group had been assigned this book in a Biblical Counseling course at Southern Seminary. As I was reading it, the chapters were often morning devotionals for me. The notes for personal study and discussion questions are available for free on his website, I recommend taking a look even before buying the book as they've been helpful. This book contains some hard-hitting questions right up front. After the first few chapters, it sort of gets rather repetitive. I agree with other reviewers that it seems Bigney's publisher convinced him to stretch this out for use as a book study. I would recommend a book or study like McGee's Search for Significance, which focuses heavily on Jesus' being propitiation for our sins, and John Piper's Desiring God or Future Grace before this book.
What is an idol and are you an idolater? "An idol is anything or anyone that begins to capture our hearts, minds, and affections more than God." Look at an object, person, or activity in your life that you devote a good bit of time, money, and attention/affection toward. Ask yourself: Would I sin to get this? Would I sin to keep from losing this? Does this object, person, or activity fill my heart and affections more than Jesus? If you answered "yes," then you've found an idol.
Bigney, a pastor in my state, had an idol of needing approval of everyone in the church. Hence, he was the uber-servant devoting all of his time to God and little to his wife and kids. Anything that interfered with his idol or what people's perceptions of him were caused him to be angry. This was a recipe for a failed marriage, and it was through marriage counseling that he came across the principles of this book. Most of the works he quotes in the book are recent, he quotes especially often from Paul David Tripp. As the book goes on, you realize the questions asked above were from these sources which suggests to me that one ought to read books from his bibliography first.
One challenge with this book was to keep the focus on the Gospel and away from legalism in our efforts toward repentance. As one man in our group asked "What am I going to be able to enjoy anymore after reading this book?" which is not what the author intends. The point is to make sure that the things we enjoy we're ultimately willing to let go of if God demands. To realize that we can enjoy them because Christ set us free from sin, and has given us talents and abilities to enjoy those things as a greater part of subduing the earth (not explained well at all by Bigney).
Some chapters do a better job than others of keeping the focus off of our thinking and behavior. Chapter 11 was in my opinion the best chapter in the book, a Gospel-filled chapter reminding us that "People who live under the weight of a self-made perfectionistic standard are...so consumed with measuring themselves that there's no time to fix their eyes on Christ." In our desire to repent of idols and to stop sinning, we often put our performance on ourselves and forget that we are only able to claim righteousness because of the imputed righteousness of Christ. Our efforts toward quiet times, Bible-reading, prayer, fasting, etc. may turn into the habits we worship (as Oswald Chambers rightly points out) instead of Christ. "Don't let your spiritual disciplines degenerate into raw regulations instead of a living relationship with Christ." Bigney admonishes us to "get rid of your 'checklist' mentality."
However, Chapter 12 follows with a list of "habits" the author encourages one to start including a diagram on pg. 194 that looks incredibly like it's all on our own decisions and power.
A greater concern with this book is in the lack of recognition of other factors that help exacerbate our hostile responses when people mess with our idols. There are a host of physiological factors that influence our desires. Your testosterone level affects your desire for pornography, for example, and that can be heavily influenced by diet and exercise. How you breathe can influence how you treat your spouse when you get home, etc. I'm concerned with the amount of Christian literature that gets published for counseling that ignores biology and psychology (particularly areas like behavioral economics).
In all, I give this book 3 stars out of 5. I gleaned a lot from it, but found it was longer than it needed to be, and Bigney does not quite from extremely helpful sources like Piper and Keller who I feel have dealt extensively with the idols of our hearts.