Book Review: Echoes From Eden – By A.W. Tozer

AWTozer Echoes From Eden.pngLetter WWhenever I want to get deep into the theology of scripture and truly immerse myself within the glory that is the depth of God’s word, AW Tozer is not the writer I look to to satisfy my desire; he is however one of the writers I look to when I want some good light reading or am in the mood for a devotional study as opposed to a intellectual treatise. This is not to say that Tozer is not as intelligent or as gifted as other Christian writers, only that he approaches writing in a different manner, one meant to talk with you and challenge you rather than strictly educate you.

Echoes From Eden is a short book by Tozer which begins with the premise that man is lost but not abandoned and that the voice of God still echoes from the garden, reverberating throughout the generations the call of “Adam, where art thou?”

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Book Review: The Pursuit of God – By A.W. Tozer

Tozer The Pursuit of God.pngLetter IIn his book The Knowledge of the Holy A.W. Tozer outlines what it is we mean when we speak of God, in The Pursuit of God he outlines what our response should be once we have found him. The Christian endeavor doesn’t end with salvation, with discovering God (or as it were, with God discovering us); even after God is acknowledged we are still to strive after him, indeed, because of this acknowledgment we strive after him. As Tozer says: “To have found God and still pursue Him is the soul’s paradox of love…”

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Book Review: Sex, Romance and the Glory of God – By C.J. Mahaney

Mahaney Sex Romance Glory of God.png“The biblical purpose for marriage, you see, is not man-centered or needs-centered. It’s God-centered.”

Letter TThe preceding quote does well to sum up the idea behind this book. In a time when there is much talk concerning the ‘sanctity of marriage’, where divorce and gay marriage steal the headlines, the actual basis of the institution is often lost within the shuffle. While I am not the target audience of this book I think it is probably safe to say that foundations of marriage are often lost even on Christian couples. In this book, Sex, Romance And The Glory Of God, C.J. Mahaney seeks to tackle the obstacle of how to properly glorify God within marriage, specifically in the avenues of sex and romance.

Naturally in analyzing how best to glorify God through this aspect of our lives Mahaney looks to Scripture (which is not only filled with plethora of verses on marriage as well as the Song of Solomon, but is also the first place we must always look for such questions). One of these key scriptures is the comparison that is made between Christ and the Church, and it is here which the author says we may look: “We don’t look to marriage to understand the relationship between Christ and the Church. Instead, we seek a clear, biblical understanding of the relationship between Christ and the Church so we can better understand the purpose of our marriage.”

He goes on to state that “Something of the selfless love, care, and sacrifice that Jesus shows towards the Church is supposed to be evident in you as you relate to your wife. Something of the respect, submission, and devotion that the Church shows toward Jesus is supposed to be evident in your wife as she relates to you. That’s the purpose of your marriage. That is why God has given her to you, and you to her.”

With this set as the foundation upon which marriage sits Mahaney goes on to make his case on how best the husband might seek to instill this romance into his marriage. The key principle he establishes here is that “In order for romance to deepen, you must touch the heart and mind of your wife before you touch her body.”

What follows is the author laying out from his own experience and wisdom how best to go about this: by being intentional, by learning about your spouse, by gathering information and following a detailed plan so that you may cater to their desires, by reviewing and setting goals for date-nights and romance.

All in all this is a book which would do good for any husband to read. The first half has an almost devotion tone while the latter half pulls at the more practical senses, and all in a brief 126pgs.

Memorable Quotes:

-“Motherhood is exceptionally important. It calls for immense sacrifices and deserves great honor. But I can say with full conviction that according to Scripture, motherhood is never to be a wife’s primary role. In fact, I think the most effective mothers are wives who are being continually, biblically romanced by their husbands.”

-“Your children should be able to look at your life and know beyond any doubt that they have the great privilege of being the most important people in the world to you… right after their mom.”

-“But they do not desire to be together simply so they can experience sexual gratification. They want to be together because they are in love, and the sex they enjoy with one another is an expression of that love… As a married couple, they have great sex because they love one another so completely, not the other way around.”

Specific Criticisms

Somehow despite the deep message of the first part of the book I felt myself at a loss during the second part, not because I’m not the target audience, but because all the beauty and depth of the first section slowly began to fade into little more than good advice (albeit good advice with scriptural references). This is not to detract from the advice given, the advice is sound enough, practical enough and even scriptural enough.

Where I think it fails is in straying from it’s initial thesis. Mahaney sets out to show the God-centered nature of marriage, romance and sex; to feed off of the analogy of Christ and the Church, demonstrating marriage as (again) “something of the selfless love, care, and sacrifice that Jesus shows towards the Church.” The practical application part of the book does not build upon foundation but suffices to offer varying amounts of advice and demonstrating these tidbits as scriptural.

And yet I can’t help but think it would have been much more to the point, even much more practical, to base the entirety of the book upon the analogy of Christ to the Church: upon that selflessness, upon that God-centeredness, upon that sacrifice. The author would have done better to demonstrate the pouring out which should be present in love and use this for his springboard into practical dating, to delve into the selflessness of the fact in discovering how best to touch the mind of your spouse and ever reminding that none of this analysis of sex and romance is first for God’s glory, second an expression of your love to your wife, and not about fulfilling your own desires at all (even on the tertiary level) – your needs are not your prerogative, they are God’s and your spouses.

Any other to romance in which one party is attempting to get something they want is an approach from the wrong angle (which is coincidentally the entire problem with relationships today, they are based upon selfishness). I think the latter part of the text is too tied up with the personal aspect of ‘how to get the most out of your relationship’ (even if not intentionally so) rather than ‘how to give the most to your relationship’. As A.W. Tozer says “[Love] considers nothing its own but gives all freely to the object of its affection.”

The practical aspects of the book simply fail to address how one might glorify God in their marriage, save for pointing out that a healthy marriage is something which good desires. Yet striving for a strong romance and a healthy marriage first is again the wrong direction; we should be striving for God, with the result being a strong romance and a healthy marriage (and again, save for its introductory remarks I think the text strays away from this point).

Finally, it is worth pointing out that Mahaney’s credibility has been somewhat tarnished in recent years by due to scandals revolving around abuse of leadership, blackmail, and child abuse at Sovereign Grace Ministries. These have no bearing on whether the ideas presented in this particular book are valid, but it is worth pointing out.

Book Review: The Knowledge of the Holy – By A.W. Tozer

 

Tozer Knowledge of the Holy.pngletter-aAW. Tozer is what one might call a classic author within Christianity; he’s one of those individuals which many Christians can recognize along with C.S. Lewis and Oswald Chambers. This isn’t to say these authors are particularly comparable, simply that they are recognizable.

The first time I read through Tozer’s works three or four years ago I was never particularly impressed, going back I have developed much more of an appreciation for him.

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Depression – A [Short] Study

Depression.png
Letter DDepression as a general phenomenon has often been referred to as “the common cold of psychopathology”; an extreme of this condition – Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) – serves to be a much more severe form of depression, indeed, it is “one of the most common, debilitating, and deadly psychiatric conditions.”

In order to best understand this disorder it is necessary that one understand multiple aspects of it, to include: the symptoms associated with the disorder, its etiology, its prevalence, and the various modalities used to treat the disorder.

Furthermore, as the Christian counselor seeks to understand the disorder, it is also necessary that the Biblical and theological issues and critiques relating to the disorder also be addressed; this is especially true because as A.W. Tozer once noted “because we are the handiwork of God, it follows that all our problems and their solutions are theological.”

Symptoms

 The symptoms of MDD are varied and not confined to a single area of functioning, rather, there are “emotional, motivational, behavioral, cognitive and physical symptoms of depression; it is a holistic phenomenon.” As laid out by the American Psychiatric Association in the most recent edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, there are nine primary symptoms of MDD.

When the individual has MDD these symptoms will be present during the same two-week period, will occur most of the day, nearly every day, will not be attributable to the physiological effects of some substance or to a medical condition, and will cause clinically significant distress in functioning.

The first of these symptoms is a depressed mood, expressed by such things as feeling sad, empty, and/or hopeless. It could be said in this state that depression feels like a mere absence of everything, of an empty pain that feels not merely like pain but like meaningless pain.

The second of these symptoms is anhedonia, or a loss of interest or pleasure in most to all activities. One of these previous two symptoms must be present in order for an individual to have MDD.

Apart from these two, at least four of the other associated symptoms must be present in order to diagnose with MDD. These other potential symptoms include such things as a significant amount of weight loss despite not dieting, or weight gain of more than 5% body weight in a month; a marked decrease or increase in appetite may also suffice. These also include insomnia or hypersomnia; fatigue or loss of energy; a lowered ability to think or concentrate; feelings of worthlessness or inappropriate guilt; psychomotor agitation or retardation; and recurrent thoughts of death, such as suicidal ideation (even without a specific plan) or a suicide attempt. One way of describing a person in this state is that they “view the world through gray-tinted glasses.”

In the Christian realm there are also spiritual symptoms which one may observe. Thus the symptoms of depression can express themselves as being compounded by a feeling that God is angry with them.

Causes

There are a number of theories regarding the causes of MDD. Sometimes the disorder seems to arise out of nowhere while other times it seems to have a trigger. Because of this it is often difficult to ascribe a specific cause to a depression. According to the DSM-5, the risk factors related to this include temperamental, environmental, genetic, and other factors.

The main temperamental risk factor associated with MDD is neuroticism, which cause individuals to be more likely to develop a depressive disorder in reaction to stressful events in life.

The main environmental factor which plays into MDD is the presence of stressful life events – this is especially so in terms of childhood experiences, which research indicates plays a large role in the development of cognitive processes. Examples of such life events would include the loss of a parent before age 5 (which has been associated with an increase in depression as an adult), some sort of abuse, or living in an environment where the child’s self-esteem was constantly threatened and/or a negative worldview communicated.

Other environmental factors include such things as the lack of a support system, systems which “have been shown to mitigate the effects of negative stressors”, as well as a significant amount of stress in the individual’s life which can result in a chemical imbalance which may then trigger a depression.

The main genetic factor associated with MDD is that having a close family member who has had MDD increases an individual’s chances of developing it themselves; it has furthermore been found that there is a higher prevalence of MDD in females than in males.

Finally, the presence of any other non-mood disorder can play into an individual developing depression, with substance abuse, anxiety, as well as borderline personality disorder being the most prevalent, along with other medical conditions. Of these other factors that may play into the development of depression, while mild symptoms of depression have been associated with conditions such as diabetes, asthma, and heart disease, it has been found that obesity does not play a significant role in causing depression.

Apart from these risk factors, there are also other elements which have been linked as contributors to depression, such as the biological element. As stated by Yarhouse et al., few clinicians today “would deny that there are usually biological foundations for problems of mood.” One of these biological elements is the influence of chemical hormones and neurotransmitters, for instance, a decrease in serotonin or norepinephrine will result in the feelings that rare labeled as depression.

A potential cause of this decrease are the thoughts of the individual, for “it is now believed that thoughts stimulate chemical hormones.” Because the chemical balance of the body plays such a large role in the way an individual feels, serious depressive symptoms can also be “direct results of poor choices about chemically controlling our mood states” such as is present with abuse of both legal and illegal medications and drugs.

The cognitive element also plays a role in the etiology of MDD. A major cognitive element present in both major and minor depression is negative self-talk, and there are at least three different misbeliefs or types of negative self-talk that individuals repeat to themselves or ruminate over as a way of devaluating themselves; these include the beliefs that they are no good, that their daily life is no good, and that their future is hopeless. This sort of self-talk “can and does create and maintain feelings which are so miserable they may lead to suicide attempts.”

While engaging in this sort of negative self-talk the individual will often reinterpret their own personal history so that those things which were good – or even average – become seen as “terrible and deserving of infinite guilt.”

These sorts of cognitive patterns often become immune to attempts at logic, and it is debated whether or not these patterns are the primary causes of depression or results of a “synergistic combination of stressors and vulnerabilities.”

In being immune to normal logic, depression also shows a logic of its own so that the afflicted individual is unable to distinguish between loving actions, hurtful ones, and indifferent ones. Regardless of whether this sort of rumination is the cause or the effect in relation to depression, it has been shown by Vanhalst that the most harmful component of rumination was often the uncontrollability of it.

This negative self-talk is generated in a variety of ways and can perhaps be narrowed down to five major cognitive errors.

These errors include: selective abstraction, where the individual focuses only on certain elements of an experience to describe the entire thing; arbitrary inference, where the individual draws a conclusion without evidence or in the face of contrary evidence; overgeneralization, where the individual draws a conclusion based upon only a single incident; personalization, where the individual relates events to themselves even without evidence that the events are so linked; and dichotomous thinking, where the individual classifies events into either/or and all/none categories despite the possibility of there being other options.

From the Christian perspective it should also be noted that sin can be a cause of depression. Despite this, one can’t automatically attribute one core sin as being the cause of a depression. This sort of connection should not be made lightly, especially since in Christian circles depression is usually seen as a moral failing anyway, even when it may not be.

Thus, while sin may be a contributing factor in a depression, other factors should always be taken into consideration.

Prevalence

According to the APA the prevalence of MDD within the United States is approximately 7%, where 18-29 year olds have a threefold higher rate than those over 60 years of age, and females have a “1.5- to 3-fold higher rates than males beginning in early adolescence.” More specifically, the prevalence of depression has be shown to be between 3-8% in adolescents (with a lifetime prevalence of 14%), and a prevalence of 17% in adults, where approximately 40-70% of those who experienced as adolescents also experiencing it as an adult.

This recurrent nature increases with each additional onset, such that approximately 60% of those who develop have one episode will experience a second, “70% of those with a second will suffer a third, and 90% of those with three or more episodes will experience further, often many more, recurrences.” Beyond this, it is also noteworthy that there are symptoms of depression “underpinning many acute psychological disorders.”

Treatment 

Recently it is becoming more understood that depression is something that needs to be treated holistically and in an interdisciplinary way. This treatment uses one or more of multiple types of interventions, to include: suicide prevention, biotherapies, psychotherapies, and family involvement. Suicide prevention is the most pressing treatment needed if there is a risk, as 15% of those with severe depression will eventually commit suicide (this in itself accounting for 60% of suicides). This can be accomplished through such things as getting the client merely to agree not to kill themselves, by breaking the pattern of ruminations through hospitalization, and to assign task once this pattern is broken.

Biological treatments are a major tool in the treatment of MDD, which includes everything from serotonin reuptake inhibitors to mood stabilizers to electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). According to Maxmen et al., 78% of individuals improve through use of ECT, 60-70% with the use of antidepressants, and 23% improve simply through the use of a placebo (p. 363). ECT is usually only used with the most severe cases of depression, such as those which do not responds to any sort of medication.

Because depression includes cycles of negative self-talk and ruminations, its treatment should go beyond mere medication to also include counseling for change in beliefs and behavior. Cognitive approaches to psychotherapy are one of the more effective treatments, especially as it is this sort of approach which is most directly able to target the negative self-talk as well as the irrational attitudes and beliefs, selective memory, pessimism, guilt, and shame associated with depression. This approach has been shown to have successful results of 50-60%.

For the Christian, part of this approach may include correcting the misbeliefs which plague the depressed individual.

Thus it can be asserted that the individual is indeed a creature of worth and value, created in the image of God. It can be shown that even a depressed person can find meaning in activities, because the daily life of the Christian comes from God. It can finally be shown that the Word of God says that the future is not hopeless, but that there is hope in Christ.

The goal of this is to change the way the individual perceives the problem, which then may result in a reevaluation of the problem; in this way “experience has been altered through the change in meaning.” Once the experience has been altered through this change in meaning the individual may begin to find some sense of hope.

Strategies along the behavioral line focus on helping the individual to develop social skills and reinforcing non-depressive actions. This development of social skills is especially important – as noted earlier – the lack of support systems is a possible contributing factor to depression. The development of social skills may go a long way in correcting this, and as is noted by Larry Crabb: “because our worst problems began in community, that’s where our answer lies.”

Rather than seeing themselves as “damaged selves needing repair,” the individual needs to see themselves as “isolated souls who can find life only through connection with God and with other people.”

These behavioral strategies can also include helping the individual to set and achieve goals that they themselves set, which because they are set by the individual are more likely to succeed.

In the same vein as this development of social skills in order to create support systems is the need for family involvement. This is especially important because the family members may also feel drained through involvement with the depressed individual.

The involvement of the family serves three primary functions, to include: supporting the individual, supporting the family, and treating the family. In this the family should be shown the limits of what they can do to help the individual, but should also be educated and involved in the treatment process, thus “by helping the family help the patient, the therapist helps the family.”

From the Christian worldview there are a few other noteworthy nuances to treatment. One of these is the potential to deal with the problem of sin, which may be one of the causes of the depression. It is likely that many of the false beliefs and the negative self-talk that the individual is engaging in is based upon a non-Biblical worldview, and correcting this worldview may be a step in the right direction for the individual, along with helping the individual to get beyond certain sins in their life.

Beyond this, more drastic measures may be necessary, and in some circumstances deliverance from demonic influence may be in order and may be helpful for the individual.

While major depression is one of the more common and more serious disorders that individuals deal with, there is much about it that is understood and also much that can be done about it. Through the use of suicide prevention, biotherapies, psychotherapies, and family involvement, many individuals will be able to overcome the disorder.

 

Beliefs and Believing the Bible

bibleOften in the desire not to cause controversy or argument those who follow Christ will revert to saying “I can only say that I believe the Bible” or else simply refuse to get involved in a discussion of what many consider vital points of Scripture. This isn’t limited to layman, Joel Osteen and A.W. Tozer come to mind in the world of Christian teachers. The problem with this statement is that it is without content, it says nothing. One cannot only say that they believe the Bible and end there, for one must believe something about the Bible. That is to say, if one is to believe the Bible one must have beliefs.

Paul in his letter to Titus instructs that the elders must be those who “hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it (Titus 1:9).” Now, if you are going to “give instruction in sound doctrine” you must be able to do more than say that you believe the Bible, you must be able to say what it is that you believe about the Bible, you must say what the Bible teaches.

The Christian faith has been established and maintained not by “saying only that I believe the Bible” but by bringing to bear what it is that the Bible says – it has been maintained by “rebuking those who contradict it.” Tozer maintains that the “Holy Spirit has come into this world to take polemics away from the scholar and give it back to the human heart,” but it is in the vigorous yet patient polemics that the church has survived, otherwise it would have faded into obscurity before it could get off the ground.

Christ did not send the Holy Spirit to take away the ability to discuss and urge truth from the scholar, but the change is in that he gave that scholar his Spirit that he might rightly divide the word of truth and that he might engage his fellows in love rather than a mere desire to win; he renewed that scholar’s human heart. It is out of the refuting of heresy that the church persevered and cleansed itself of ideas hostile to Christ – it is only by saying “that is wrong and this is why” that we can say “Christ is true and this is why”; it is only by refuting heresy that you may have orthodoxy. It is in part by “demolishing arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God (2 Corinthians 10:5)” that Christians may define what is unique about their faith, though the fact that they do so out of love and concern rather than hatred and pride sets them apart. It is by knowing and believing what the Bible says and standing by it that we can keep from falling off the narrow path that is the truth.

As G.K. Chesterton puts it, the church’s “purity was preserved by dogmatic definitions and exclusions. It could not possibly have been preserved by anything else. If the Church had not renounced the Manicheans it might have become merely Manichean. If it had not renounced the Gnostics it might have become Gnostic… If the Church had not insisted on theology, it would have melted into a mad mythology of the mystics, yet further removed from reason or even from rationalism; and, above all, yet further removed from life and from the love of life (From ‘The Everlasting Man‘).”

In the end the proper response to anybody who claims “I can only say that I believe the Bible” is to say “ok, well what does the Bible say?”

The author of Hebrews (most likely Paul) states:

“We have much to say about this, but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food!Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil. Therefore let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, instruction about baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And God permitting, we will do so (Hebrew 5:11-18,6:1-3).”

Tozer says “It is no longer and intellectual problem – it is a moral problem… These are the important things – confirmation by the Spirit of God concerning sin, righteousness, and judgment. Let me assure you that the Holy Spirit has not come among us to become involved in  a lot of our minor concerns, the trivial things that take up much of our attention [including prophetic interpretation, modes of baptism and eternal security]… I want the Holy Spirit to help me and guide me and He will not help me if I insist on fooling around in those areas that are not the most important in Christian truth and proclamation. Those are important things which Tozer identifies, the most important things even, but those are also the same things the author of Hebrews identifies as the milk.

It is the milk which Tozer would sup forever in his effort to avoid arguments and intellectual pursuit. But we are not instructed to stay an infant in the faith, we are to grow, to get into the meat of the Word which will allow us to mature (the meat being those areas that Tozer refuses to ‘fool around in’).

There is nothing to fear in teaching true Biblical doctrine; what is controversy when compared with the truth of God? There is only one truth – it is our job to bring forth that truth in its whole, not just the parts that we feel others won’t disagree with.

The caveat is that we must speak that truth in love; which is also to say that we must not speak to anybody about the truth until we first learn to love them. If we view the other person as the enemy, if we dislike them for their differing stance, if we hate them for who they are, then we have no right to speak to them at all.

Finally we must not speak to anybody while our goal is to merely ‘win’. Winning is not our job. Christ won. That is done. Our job is to spread the good news of the cross.

We must speak the truths of the Bible, but we must speak them to those that we love as fellow humans. Once we know how to love, and once people see that we love them, it is only then that we can say ‘this is what the Bible says’.