A Christian Response to RaviWatch’s ‘Credentials Critique’

Despite the smear campaigns against Ravi Zacharias, his quality contributions to apologetics stand for themselves.

RaviWatch is an anti-evangelical website purporting to be a altruistic whistleblower against Ravi Zacharias—a seasoned Christian apologist, as well as a prolific author and speaker in favor of the Christian faith. This website, written by San Francisco-based lawyer Steve Baughman, is thorough in its documentation, claiming that Ravi’s honorary doctorates are a joke and that his resume is a fraud. (It’s true, Ravi hasn’t earned a doctorate, although he spent stints at Oxford and Cambridge and has been given three honorary doctorates.) But as a Christian publisher, I can say that Baughman is also very short-sighted in his understanding of Christian ministry and publishing. He presents Ravi as a mastermind who has played up his academic profile to gain a wide readership and charm his Ivy League audiences. But that’s simply not how it works.

Publishing Doesn’t Work That Way

In any traditional publishing house, the writer doesn’t have the final say over everything that goes into a book. A prolific writer and speaker such as Ravi Zacharias also isn’t responsible for fact-checking every single line of his book; the publisher is. Publishers and copyeditors frequently make mistakes, and it is very shortsighted to think that every mistake falls on the author just because his name is on the cover. When you read that a mistake was printed in a book, you should think about how many sets of eyes have passed over a book before it goes into publication—author, friends, publishing agent, editor, assistants, copyeditors and reviewers, to name a few. All of these simply want the book to be clear and accessible in its information, and they want the book to sell.

This mitigates (if not eliminates) most of RaviWatch’s claims. A statement in Ravi’s autobiography could easily be clarified or modified without specifically noting it to the author. They probably send a query to him for many changes, but in the end, the editor makes the decisions.

Cherry-picking segments or statements doesn’t constitute a valid criticism; when Ravi says, “My professor in quantum physics was John Polkinghorne,” for instance, it’s understood from context that he is doing free research during a sabbatical, not doing doctoral work in physics.

Granted, these publishers are concerned about the bottom line. They want their authors to appear in the best light. And Ravi isn’t the sole arbiter of his image.

Asia Doesn’t Work That Way

At least India doesn’t.

Baughman points out that Ravi’s “Asian Youth Preacher Award” seems to have only been an Indian event, not an Asia-wide competition. (Given that India itself has far more than a billion inhabitants, speaking a thousand mother tongues, it hardly decreases from the impressiveness of the story.) Indians seem to think of themselves in Asia the way “Americans” think of themselves in North America. It’s quite possible that the competition bore that name “Asian” but primarily included Indian competitors, and had only a few international participants.

Where I grew up, being “Asian” implied that someone was Chinese, Taiwanese, Japanese or Korean, because these were the only people from Asia I encountered. Now, I live in the Middle East, where Indians are most frequently known simply as “Asians.” There’s even a mall in the region called “Asian Town” which is actually for South Asians—primarily Indians.

Doctorates Don’t Work That Way

At least not in the church.

A false claim of having a doctorate is a serious crime. But Ravi hasn’t made that claim falsely. In Christian circles, it is understood that many preachers have honorary doctorates. An honorary doctorate isn’t meaningless; it’s meant to confer the honor on people who have made a contribution worthy of the name.

When I joined the church, I found that they used all kinds of titles I had never heard before. Jack is Brother Jack, Pastor Jones is also Presbyter Jones; his wife, Mrs. Jones, is also Sister Jones, and to some people, she’s Sister Pastor. When someone is introduced as Doctor So-and-So in a church, unless he is a professor at a college, I, for one, would understand that he has made a great contribution worthy of the name ‘doctor’; not necessarily that he earned a Ph.D. at a university.

By far, the majority of Ravi’s listeners and readers are Christians, and he speaks at pulpits as often as podiums. So perhaps the greatest difficulty has been that of church members introducing Ravi in the university the same way they would in a pulpit, and the discrepancy or confusion that arises because of that. That’s not Ravi’s fault.

Authority Doesn’t Work That Way

At least not for Christians.

As Christians, we are specifically taught to see the best in people. We are also taught that a doctorate (or a law degree, for that matter) doesn’t make someone an authority on a topic. We believe that authority comes from God, and if Ravi has that authority, no one can take that away from him. We also acknowledge that no amount of post-graduate study can give a person that same authority.

So Ravi is in fact known as a “recognized authority” even if you think it’s for a limited audience. His expertise may be homegrown, with a Bible in one hand and Schopenhauer in the other; to us, it doesn’t make much difference. I haven’t watched his speeches or read his books because of his titles; I watched them because the arguments were powerful, helpful, and delivered with excellence.

Titles Don’t Work That Way

At least not for Indians.

On top of this, in the East, titles are exaggerated in many cultures. Where I live, my classmates would frequently refer to each other as Sheikh, Imam, or Expert, as a form of honor or flattery. Stories about Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, and Central Asia are replete with overuse of titles to reflect your respect for someone in authority. Ravi even mentions in his autobiography that they had to use an honorific when speaking to their own father. So as someone who was socialized in Indian culture, he would not spurn honor from those who kindly offer it.

Introductions Don’t Work That Way

I believe the biggest guilty party here is probably Ravi’s promoters—but they are not the only ones ignorant of the distinctions made in academic circles. Academia is not understood by the general public. I don’t know how many times I have explained to someone that a doctorate is not the same as a masters’ degree, and post-doctoral studies don’t constitute a degree.

I myself have been wrongly introduced many times, and the correct response is never to turn around to your host and say, “Actually, that’s not the type of research I do. Let me explain the difference between the subfields of linguistics.” It would be patronizing and irrelevant, especially in a timed talk in front of an audience.

Christian event-organizers are not fully aware of Ravi’s academic credentials; what they are aware of is his speaking and writing career, which has had a huge impact. His work and writing speaks for itself. He is a recognized authority on philosophical topics in Christian circles, whatever Baughman thinks.

Conclusion: Intersection Points

Baughman has some valid criticisms, and RZIM has accepted those and rejected the rest. Ravi has had a long international career that started in the church, where academic credentials are not necessarily a boon (or a bane). Critics seem oblivious to the mix of cultures—Indian and North American, Christian and skeptic—that Ravi has been bridging during his lifetime. (In a way, Baughman is criticizing these cultures when he criticizes Ravi.)

Ravi represents a crossover between church authority and scientific authority, and it is a volatile mixture. A Christian host would introduce Ravi as a serious philosopher and a recognized authority because to the Christians in the audience that’s what he is. An atheist grad student in philosophy may find out Ravi didn’t achieve a Ph.D. in philosophy, and think, this guy’s a joke; if that’s what he thinks, let him refute Ravi’s arguments—they stand for themselves. The “ad hominem” approach benefits no one.

It is the goal of the Christian to always think the best of someone, including those who oppose us. So Baughman may simply be ignorant of the publishing industry and the Christian church. He may be ignorant that although we all make mistakes, there are Christians who live with integrity and a clean conscience. Is Baughman culpable for acting on his ignorance? About as culpable as a student club president who introduces Ravi as a professor from Oxford or Cambridge.

So who’s guilty of being short-sighted? I am sure many event-organizers, publishers, and editors have been mistaken. Many of us have shared in the misunderstanding of mixing secular and Christian authority because we are not always sure which is which. Ravi has taken on the dangerous life-task of becoming an intersection point between the two. Is he a fraud for trying to present himself as the same person in one arena that he is in the other? I think not.


Image credit: TMDrew

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Review: Letters to a Devastated Christian

Rating: ★★★★

Who: Gene Edwards is a pastor and spiritual writer who primarily addresses issues related to church life and humility. Many of his other writings are allegorical; his 1980 book A Tale of Three Kings is considered a classic on Christian authority and humility.

Edwards has also worked to put Christian mystics—namely, Brother Lawrence, Madame Guyon, and Fenelon—back into print by creating and managing his own publishing house, SeedSowers.

Overview: This book of nine brief letters de-allegorizes Edwards’ earlier thoughts on humility and authority depicted in his bestseller A Tale of Three Kings. Both books deal with life under unjust authority—an experience that almost everyone goes through at some point in time. The “devastated Christian” of the title is someone that has been “sold a bill of goods” by becoming overcommitted to an unhealthy Christian movement, one where the leader demands more than he gives, and seeks to make overreaching decisions about believers’ personal lives. Sadly, this is not uncommon, since, Edwards points out, no one has unlocked the key to instantaneous sanctification (though a few have tried).

Meat: Many Christians go through this experience of disillusionment coming out of their youth. After spending a few years serving a thriving church movement, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, we ripen enough to spot the weaknesses in our leaders. What do you do when you see weakness in your leaders? When should the weakness be a red flag that you are in a truly unhealthy church?

Edwards’ counsel is to look for a few keys which I believe are quite telling:

  • “Specialism”: Beware anyone who says, “We are the move of God in this generation.”
  • “Unity”: This is the idea that, “If anyone doesn’t choose to meet with us, they are damaging Christian unity.”
  • “Covering”: All decisions have to be approved by the elders. After all, every believer needs “covering.” This can easily lead to leaders overreaching in believers’ personal lives—not just issues of holiness, but issues of personality that should be left to Christian liberty.

Later in the book, he also mentions leaders with defensive attitudestreatment of women, and the longevity of a movement.

In the course of the book, Edwards also tackles the idea of following a “New Testament pattern”—an idea fraught with danger when divorced from its cultural context and taken to extremes.

In the last chapter (p. 41-45), Edwards gives concrete counsel to his “devastated Christian,” most of which resonates with his advice in A Tale of Three Kings:

  1. Broadcasting bitter experiences with everyone you meet is an unhealthy way of seeking release. It would be better to seek not to dishonor Christ by bashing those who have served him in an unhealthy way.
    Edwards has right motives here in advising discretion; however, as other reviewers have pointed out, survivors of significant abuse need to find significant outlets to better understand their pain. He only lightly touches on this—
  2. Christian counseling is healthy for those who have undergone significant or long-lasting psychological abuse.
  3. Don’t give up on structured Christianity. For all the weaknesses, there is a lot of good to be found.
  4. Don’t surround yourself with bitter people. Try to find some positivity.
  5. Finally, “You are going to have to start believing. You are going to have to believe that there are movements born of God. You are going to have to trust Christians and [Christian] workers again.” (p. 44)

Bones:

There doesn’t seem to be space, in such a short book, to offer an alternative vision of Christian gathering. As F. W. Boreham says, “The hunger of the human heart can never be satisfied with denials.”¹ So, given Edwards’ repeated advice against authoritarianism doesn’t really give a sense for where to go instead. (In point of fact, Edwards is a supporter of house churches.)

Another criticism pointed out by other reviewers is the grave possibility of victim-blaming. He advises almost total discretion, which is often great advice for walking out forgiveness, but is not always advisable. Edwards also writes, “I believe the Christian who has joined the worst possible group, if he gets out of it, should take what he learned and treat the lessons he learned as gold.” (p. 32) But this would come across as awfully fatalistic to someone who was sexually abused under a pseudo-Christian cult. I would repeat as a caveat that Edwards’ advice in this book, in general, pertains to unhealthy Christian movements, and not to abusive religious communities or heretical cults.

Quotes:

“Head for the door when a man or a people declare: ‘We are the work of God for this generation.'” (p. 4)

“If a movement is ten years old, you can tell a lot more about it than when it is two years old.” (p. 23)

“Every Christian worker has certain weaknesses, failures, and inabilities, so you can’t hang a man for that. But here is a good yardstick of a man’s internal spiritual strength: When his work is under attack, when pressure has mounted, when a split threatens his work, how does he react?” (p. 24)

“If you cannot totally get healed, I do not think that it is healthy for you to sit around forever, licking your wounds. . . . You are going to have to start believing there are decent and honest workers out there. You are going to have to believe that there are movements born of God.” (p. 44)


¹ F. W. Boreham, “All Fools’ Day.” The Crystal Pointers. 1925. p. 142.

Meet James Hannington

Meet James Hannington, the Jim Elliot of his generation, whose earthly story ended 133 years ago on October 29, 1885. James Hannington was appointed the very first Bishop of Eastern Equatorial Africa in June 1884, mainly because of the growth of the church in Uganda in the 1870s. Hannington had volunteered as a missionary in 1882 after hearing of two other missionaries murdered at Lake Victoria.

Henry Stanley, the man who found Livingstone, had also reported that the King of Uganda, Mutesa I, was inviting missionaries.

However, that king died in October 1884 while Hannington was on preparing to enter Uganda from the north, and the new boss wanted to establish his power.

Previous missionaries took an arduous southern route that Arab traders had followed to the inland kingdom of Uganda, but Hannington wanted to create a much simpler route from Mombasa. He did not know that the Ugandans had a great superstition about foreigners invading from the north. His colleagues tried to alert him that his new route would cause trouble, but their message arrived too late.

When Hannington got to Uganda, he was immediately imprisoned, and after eight days of confinement during which he suffered fever, King Mwanga II had him speared to death, along with most of his African attendants who helped him enter their territory.

One of his porters, Ukuktu, undid his ropes as he was led away to be murdered. He recounted the following, as retold in the final pages of his biography: “As the Bishop walked to that spot he was singing hymns nearly all the way. As they were in English, he did not know their meaning; but he noticed that in them the word JESUS came very frequently.” His biographer comments, “Ours is the loss, and Africa’s; his the eternal gain.” Despite persecutions under Mwanga II, the church continued to thrive in Uganda during that time period as literacy increased and new gatherings formed. Today Uganda is about 85% Christian.

You can read more about Hannington’s life in his biography by E. C. Dawson, who also afterwards published his last journals.

The Life of Peter Jaco

The Lives of Early Methodist Preachers, no. 4. Edited by Thomas Jackson.

[These little biographies were personally commissioned by John Wesley in examining his associates for ordination. Forty-one of them responded by penning their own biographies; we will be posting a few of the shorter ones here for those interested.]

THE LIFE OF MR. PETER JACO,

WRITTEN BY HIMSELF.

LETTER TO THE REV. JOHN WESLEY.

Rev. and dear Sir,

I am sorry that I cannot comply with your desire so effectually as I could wish; having left the papers containing the particulars of God’s dealings with me some hundred miles off. At present I can only give you some circumstances as they occur to my memory.

I was born of serious parents, at Newlyn, near Penzance, in Cornwall, in the year 1729. When capable of learning, I was put to school, where I continued till I was near fourteen; but, being of a gay, lively disposition, and my master being given to drink to excess, (on which account I soon learned to despise both him and his instructions,) did not make that proficiency which I otherwise might have done. As I could not endure the school under such a teacher, my father took me home, and proposed several businesses to me; but I chose rather to be under his care, and to be employed with him in the pilchard-fishery: first, because I knew him to be a perfect master of his business; and, secondly, because I knew he was a truly serious man.

From my infancy, I had very serious impressions, and awful thoughts of God; which, with the care and precepts of my parents, prevented my running into many excesses incident to youth: though in other respects I was bad enough. I was exceeding proud, passionate, and ambitious; and so fond of pleasure, that at any time I would neglect my ordinary meals to pursue it. But amidst all my follies, I was still miserable; and often to such a degree, that I wished I was anything but a rational creature. After many a restless night, I was ready to say, with Job, “He scareth me with dreams, and terrifieth me with visions.” I frequently resolved to leave my sins: but, alas! my goodness soon vanished away. Thus I repented and sinned; and as I was totally ignorant where my strength lay, I was frequently at the point of giving up all striving against the torrent; and of gratifying every passion as far as my circumstances would permit.

About the year 1746 God sent His messenger into our parts, who proclaimed free and full redemption in the blood of Christ. But though this was the very thing my conscience told me I wanted, yet I would not give up all to come to Him. No: I would dispute for His servants, fight for them, (an instance of which you, dear sir, saw the first time you preached on the green between Penzance and Newlyn, when a few lads rescued you from a wicked mob,) but I would come no nearer. However, going one Sunday night to hear Stephen Nichols, a plain, honest tinner, the word took strange hold on me, and seemed like fire in my bones. I returned filled with astonishment, retired to my apartment, and, for the first time, began to take a serious review of my past life, and present situation with regard to eternity. My eyes were now truly opened. I saw myself a poor, naked, helpless sinner, without any plea, but “God be merciful to me.” My convictions became more and more alarming, till I was driven to the brink of despair. And though my religious acquaintance (for I immediately joined the society) did all they could to encourage me, I would often say, “I have no hope.” In this deplorable state I continued near four months, when one Sunday, (may I never forget it!) as I was attending to the exhortation before the sacrament, when the minister pronounced, “He that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself,” (a very wrong translation,) “not discerning the Lord’s body;” I immediately concluded, “Then I am lost for ever.” Yet, through the persuasion of my father, I stayed; and I resolved, if I did perish, I would perish in the means of grace. Accordingly, in the afternoon, I set out by myself for church, a mile distant from the town, for solitude was all my comfort. I had not walked far, before it was strongly suggested to my mind, “Jesus Christ died for the vilest sinner.” I immediately replied, “Then I am the wretch for whom He died!” In that moment it seemed to me as though a new creation had taken place. I felt no guilt, no distress of any kind. My soul was filled with light and love. I could no more doubt of my acceptance with God through Christ, than I could of my own existence. In this state I continued near two years, and am firmly persuaded might have still continued in it, but for my own unfaithfulness. I was now convinced it was my duty to do all I could for God; and, accordingly, reproved sin wherever I saw it, without regard to the character or station of the person; and, wherever I found a disposition to receive it, added a word of exhortation.

Some years after, my friends thought I might be more useful, if I was to exhort in the society: with much reluctance I made the attempt; but, though God blessed, in a very remarkable manner, my feeble efforts, I was with difficulty persuaded to continue it.

When you, sir, visited us in 1751, you persuaded me to enlarge my sphere, and appointed me to visit several societies. I accordingly complied, but still with unwillingness. In your next visit to Cornwall, you thought I was not so useful as I might be, and proposed my taking a Circuit. This I could by no means think of. I looked on myself as an occasional helper, having a good deal of time on my hands; and if a preacher was ill, or unable to keep his Circuit, I thought it my indispensable duty to fill his place. But, though I knew I was called to this, I could not see that I should go farther, on account of the smallness of both my gifts and grace.

In the year 1753 you proposed my going to Kingswood School: and accordingly, having settled the terms, I set out for Bristol in April, 1754; but, to my great disappointment, I found the school full, and a letter from you, desiring me to come immediately to London. This, together, with your brother’s telling me, that if I returned back to my business, he should not wonder if I turned back into the world, determined me to comply with your desire. At the Conference in London, the 4th of May, 1754, I was appointed for the Manchester Circuit, which then took in Cheshire, Lancashire, Derbyshire, Staffordshire, and part of Yorkshire. Here God so blessed my mean labours, that I was fully convinced He had called me to preach His Gospel. Meantime my hardships were great. I had many difficulties to struggle with. In some places the work was to begin; and in most places, being in its infancy, we had hardly the necessaries of life; so that after preaching three or four times a day, and riding thirty or forty miles, I have often been thankful for a little clean straw, with a canvas sheet, to lie on. Very frequently we had also violent oppositions. At Warrington I was struck so violently with a brick on the breast, that the blood gushed out through my mouth, nose, and ears. At Grampound I was pressed for a soldier; kept under a strong guard for several days, without meat or drink, but what I was obliged to procure at a large expense; and threatened to have my feet tied under the horse’s belly, while I was carried eight miles before the commissioners: and though I was honourably acquitted by them, yet it cost me a pretty large sum of money, as well as much trouble.

For many years I was exposed to various other difficulties and dangers. But, having obtained help from God, I continue to this day! And, all thanks to Him, I wish to live and die in His service. At present I find my mind as much devoted to Him as I ever did. I see and feel the necessity of a greater conformity to Christ. May I never be satisfied till I awake up after His likeness!

Thus, dear sir, I have given you a brief account of my life, as far as my memory would assist me. If it is useful to any soul, my purpose is full answered.

PETER JACO.

London, October 4th, 1778.


It is stated by Mr. Atmore, that Mr. Jaco was remarkably comely in his person, tall and handsome, and possessed an amiable natural temper. His understanding was strong and clear; and he had acquired much useful knowledge, which rendered him an agreeable companion. His talents for the Christian ministry were very considerable; and he was a scribe well instructed in the things of God. In consequence of bodily indisposition, he was compelled, for several years before his death, to desist from his itinerant labours. He died in peace at Margate, in Kent; and his remains were interred in the burying-ground connected with the City-Road chapel, London; where a stone, erected to his memory, bears the following inscription:—“In memory of Mr. Peter Jaco, who died July 6th, 1781, aged fifty-two years.

‘Fisher of men, ordain’d by Christ alone,
Immortal souls he for his Saviour won;
With loving faith, and calmly-potent zeal,
Perform’d and suffer’d the Redeemer’s will;
Steadfast in all the storms of life remain’d,
And in the good old ship the haven gain’d.’”

The following original letter of Mr. Jaco is worth preserving. It was addressed to Mrs. Hall, of London:—

“NEWLYN, NEAR PENZANCE, Sept. 11th, 1776.

“Having a few minutes of freedom from multitudes pressing on every side, to ask me how I do, and bid me welcome once more to the place of my nativity, I with pleasure embrace the opportunity of fulfilling my promise to my much-esteemed and valued friend. Perhaps it may not be unentertaining to give a brief account of my journey to this world’s end, which is upwards of three hundred miles from London.

“On Thursday, August 29th, at six o’clock in the morning, Mr. Folgham and your friend set out. We travelled hard all the day, being allowed fifteen minutes for breakfast, and twenty for dinner; but no tea, nor any supper. We arrived at Salisbury at seven o’clock; stayed half-an-hour for Mr. Folgham, who had some business to do; and then set out for Blandford, in Dorset, twenty-three miles from Salisbury, across the plain and open country, without any enclosures. The night was remarkably fine. The moon was full; and there was not a cloud in the sky to obstruct her light. Not a breath of wind was stirring, nor any living creature near, except large flocks of sheep, penned on each side of the road, whose innocent bleating, reverberating from the adjacent hills, rendered the scene awfully delightful. All the fine sentiments dispersed through the ‘Night Thoughts’ crowded upon my imagination; more especially those in the ‘Ninth Night,’ where the author has given us a picture at large, which I would recommend to your serious perusal. I was much affected with that instructive passage:—

‘Night is fair Virtue’s immemorial friend;

The conscious moon, through every distant age,

Has held a lamp to wisdom.’

“But, alas, like all transitory scenes, this pleasant night gave way to a gloomy rainy morning, when the bleak winds, coming down from the stupendous mountains, attended by impetuous floods, formed a contrast the most disagreeable.

“Nothing memorable happened till Saturday afternoon, when I had the pleasure of seeing our worthy friend Mr. Wesley, who received me with the warmest affection.

“At Plymouth-Dock I stayed till Tuesday morning, and then set out on horseback for this place; full ninety miles. Through the infinite mercy of God, I arrived safe on Monday evening, to the great joy of an affectionate father.

“My apartment here is, perhaps, the most agreeable that you ever saw. I have two neat chambers, built upon the extreme margin of the shore. A large bay opposite my windows is twenty-one miles long and twelve wide; so that at this moment I can see nearly twenty sail of ships, and upwards of a hundred large fishing-boats, passing and repassing. Nothing on earth can be more agreeable to me. Yet I must soon part with it. I have no home but heaven. God grant that I may not fall short of it!

“I hope this will find you resolved to be a Christian indeed; determined to take heaven by violence. Nothing short of this will do. Christ cannot approve of any sacrifice but that of the heart; and not even of this, without a surrender of the whole. O, give it Him. He is worthy of it. It is His undoubted right. He has paid dearly for the purchase. Let Him have it, in God’s name. This is perhaps the most critical period of your whole life. [* At this period Mrs. Hall had lately become the youthful and unencumbered widow of a negligent spendthrift. She was possessed of great personal beauty, and of sprightly conversational talent. In her second choice, she profited by the advice of her friend.] You have need of all your understanding and prudence. Above all, you have need of much prayer, that God may direct and keep you in every step you take.

“How long I shall stay here I know not. I have done nothing yet; and when I shall do anything I cannot tell. Perhaps I shall do nothing, after all my expense and trouble, except that of getting a few fair promises of amendment from my brothers, which may last while I am on the spot.

“Your affectionate and obliged friend,

“PETER JACO.”

 

Review: Psalms (Dietrich Bonhoeffer)

Rating: ★★★★★

Alternate title: The Prayer Book of the Bible.

German title: Das Gebetbuch der Bibel: Eine Einführung in die Psalmen.

Who: Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German theologian who became a leader in the Confessing Church, an evangelical anti-Nazi movement which supported several plots to assassinate Adolf Hitler. After two years of imprisonment, he was executed at Flossenbürg in 1945, just as World War II was coming to a close.

Bonhoeffer’s book on the Psalms was his last popular work to be published (after Creation and FallThe Cost of Discipleship, and Life Together). It is sometimes given as a companion to Life Together, since both books are brief and suitable for devotional reading.

“Soon after this little book on the Psalms appeared, the Nazis prohibited him from further publishing and dissolved the seminary at Finkenwalde” (p. 78), presumably because the book gave great honor to the Old Testament, the sacred book of the Jews. (See also Metaxas, p. 367.)

Overview: Psalms: The Prayer Book of the Bible is a brief, Christocentric guide to the Psalter. Bonhoeffer introduces the Psalms as a guide to praying in the name of Jesus. He sees the Psalms as through and through a Christian collection, capable of reorienting a believer’s thinking and prayer life toward the cross of Christ.

Bonhoeffer himself prayed through several psalms a day, and inculcated the same practice at his innovative seminary in Finkenwalde.

After finishing his introductory points, the largest portion of the book tackles major categories of psalms under expected headings such as “Creation,” “Suffering,” and “The Messiah.”

Meat: This little book is extremely useful as an introduction to the Psalms for devotional use, of which Bonhoeffer was an important proponent. Although he in no way attempts to cover every psalm, he covers major interpretive pitfalls such as: Is David praying in the Messianic psalms or Jesus? How can one pray through instructional psalms like Psalm 1? Why do the psalms seem repetitive? How can a Christian make use of imprecatory psalms?

The biography of Bonhoeffer included in my Kindle edition, written by Eberhart Bethge, is also a very useful introduction to his life and work—and much shorter than that tome by Metaxas!

Bones: Bonhoeffer was quite demanding for the men he discipled, and in his other books he has a tendency to be prescriptive in explaining Christian practice. In Life Together, for example—an outstanding book—Bonhoeffer argues that congregational singing should always be in unison (not harmony).

More to the point, in Psalms, Bonhoeffer enjoins the reading of several psalms a day by every Christian believer. He believes this is the intended use of the psalms, as a “prayerbook.” I take no issue with this, but with the headstrong prescription of practice for spirit-filled believers.

Quotes: 

On praying the Psalms:

“The richness of the Word of God ought to determine our prayer, not the poverty of our heart.” (p. 15)

“The Psalms are given to us to this end, that we may learn to pray them in the name of Jesus Christ.” (p. 15)

On the creation psalms:

“The creation psalms are not lyrical poems, but instruction for the people of God. The creation with all its gifts is there for the sake of Jesus Christ.” (p. 29-30)

On the psalms of lamentation:

“Even in the deepest hopelessness God alone remains the one addressed.” (p. 47)

“There are no theoretical answers in the Psalms to all these questions, as there are none in the New Testament. The only real answer is Jesus Christ.” (p. 48)

On imprecatory psalms:

“The crucified Jesus teaches us to pray the imprecatory psalms correctly.” (p. 60)

Daniel: God’s Kingdom is Supreme

DANIEL
is the revelation of
GOD’S KINGDOM
in which God is
SUPREME.

God’s Kingdom in Exile (ch. 1)

The beginning of the book is similar to a dystopian novel: it begins with teenagers, in their most formative years, being brainwashed by a godless system and society. Nonetheless, Daniel’s steadfastness in prayer is a bulwark to his faith (6:10), and he and his friends live on in exile, not without pain, but without stain.

In their first examination, they were found “ten times better” than the pagan magicians of Babylon (1:20). Not only in his spiritual life, but in his intellectual life, his social life, and his work life, “they could find no charge or fault.” (6:4) Joseph Parker said in a sermon on Daniel, “Men are influential not according to their numbers, but according to their convictions.”⁠1 Daniel was thus enabled to influence several pagan kings and kingdoms, even as a minority in exile.

Jesus came to his own, and his own didn’t receive him. Until the ushering of a new era, exile is the natural state of righteousness on this earth. Other religions may come with political theories; the kingdom of Christ is not of this world (John 18:36-7), and comes not with observation (Luke 17:20-21).

Revelations and Revelation (ch. 2)

The key confession of Daniel’s prophecy is that of Nebuchadnezzar, the pagan Babylonian king: “Truly, your God is God of gods and Lord of kings, and a revealer of mysteries, for you have been able to reveal this mystery” (2:47). For Nebuchadnezzar, divine revelation is evidence of the superiority of Israel’s God.

Daniel’s tale mirrors that of Joseph quite closely. In Daniel’s case, God’s revelation saved him from death and brought him an exalted position. Revelation is heavenly; it comes from another realm. God is able to reveal even another’s dreams, if it serves providence. Every secret bows to God’s kingdom.

He Is God of Gods (ch. 3, 6)

The Lord’s supremacy over other gods is demonstrated in his deliverance of his people. Daniel and his friends are not persecuted because of cultural insensitivity, or issues of religious form, but specifically because they were public proclaimers of the God of Daniel. God delivers them both because he cares about them and because they are proclaimers of his glory.

In ch. 2, God shows mercy to Daniel and his friends (2:18) by revealing the king’s dream; in ch. 3, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego rejected the Babylonian gods with impunity; their God was with them in the furnace. Likewise, in ch. 6, Daniel prays to his own God rather than Babylon’s; again he is punished, but with God as his defender. God’s deliverance reinforces the point that, even in exile, even among lawlessness and corrupt kingdom, God holds sway.

He Is Lord of Kings (ch. 4-5)

God’s supremacy over human kings and kingdoms is demonstrated in almost every passage of Daniel. God’s sovereignty does not mean that he cannot be rejected in working his will, but that he is not constrained in working his counsel. “The Lord has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all” (Ps. 103:19).

Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in ch. 2 illustrates the supremacy of God’s kingdom.

The shaming of Nebuchadnezzar (ch. 4) and the “writing on the wall” of Belshazzar (ch. 5) teach the same lesson: “The Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will” (4:25, 32).

He Is Revealer of Mysteries (ch. 7-12)

Daniel’s Second Vision

The apocalyptic section of Daniel consists primarily of three visions. The first vision (ch. 7) is about four beasts, and it is the most uncontroversial of his visions, since it can be connected to Daniel’s first vision in ch. 2. One of Daniel’s guides explains that the beasts symbolize “kings” (7:17), and Bible interpreters have further identified these as four kingdoms: Neo-Babylonian, Medo-Persian, Greek and Roman. Again, this prophetic vision concludes with a statement of God’s supremacy over all kingdoms (7:14, 18, 27).

The vision is interrupted, too, by a vision of “one like a son of man” (7:13). “And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed” (7:14). Jesus identifies himself as this figure before the high priest at his trial (Mark 14:62). (See the motif study on “The Son of Man.”)

Daniel’s Third Vision

Daniel’s third vision (ch. 8) involves a ram and a goat, symbolizing the Medo-Persian and Greek kingdoms (8:20-21). Like Daniel’s second vision, it includes some very clear interpretive guidelines (8:15-26).

Daniel’s Prayer

In ch. 9, Daniel repents on behalf of his people. His fasting and repentance is intimately  connected to his prophetic understanding of current events, based on the words of Jeremiah (Jer. 25:11-12, 29:10). Although God had even orchestrated the timing, he wanted Daniel to cry out on behalf of his people. What an encouraging thought about prayer!

When Gabriel answers Daniel’s prayer, he tells him, “Seventy weeks are decreed about your people and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to put an end to sin, and to atone for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal both vision and prophet, and to anoint a most holy place” (9:24). Based on the work of Sir Robert Anderson in the 19th century, this is believed to date from Artaxerxes’ decree to rebuild Jerusalem in 445 B.C., to Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday.

Daniel’s Fourth Vision

Daniel’s fourth vision begins with a terrifying vision of Christ (ch. 10). Matthew Henry writes of this vision, “Let us admire his condescension for us and our salvation. The greatest and best of men cannot bear the full discoveries of the Divine glory; but glorified saints see Christ as he is, and can bear the sight.”⁠2

Daniel’s fourth and last apocalyptic vision (ch. 10-12) is more intricate and controversial than those that precede it, in particular in ch. 11, which deals with the kings of the south and the north. Unlike his other visions, Daniel’s guide doesn’t give him much guidance in understanding this vision (see 12:9).

The vision of the Daniel 11 deals with either Antiochus Epiphanes, who defiled the temple during the Maccabean period; or the Antichrist who has yet to come; or both. This debate extends back many centuries. This is probably the most detailed prophecy in the entire Old Testament, to the extent that secular scholarship (since the third century A.D.) seeks to place the dating of Daniel after the events he described concerning Antiochus Epiphanes (known as the “Maccabean thesis”). It is interesting that Nonetheless, as Daniel’s guide says, “The words are shut up and sealed until the time of the end” (12:9).

Study Recommendations

For thoughts on success in exile, read The Daniel Files by Winkie Pratney.

David Cross usefully relates Daniel 1-6 to tentmaking missions in his book, Work of Influence.

Irving Jensen’s Survey of the Old Testament has helpful charts on the prophetic sections of Daniel, although several resources should be consulted, since theologians are not unanimous on some points.

1 Ezekiel and Daniel. Volume 19 of The People’s Bible. Kindle edition. Location 3863.

2 Matthew Henry on Daniel 10.

Call to Sacrifice

By Samuel Zwemer

Source: Neglected Arabia, no. 96 (March 1916)

We plough deep furrows and scatter the seed of the Word, hoping for the harvest. But God Himself is waiting for the sowing of the good seed— the children of the Kingdom. “That a furrow be fecund,” said Sabatier, “it must have blood and tears, such as Augustine called the blood of the soul.” The Moslem world must have its Gethsemane and Calvary before it can have its Pentecost. The present condition of that world, therefore, is a supreme call to sacrifice: the sacrifice of our provincialisms or the narrow horizon of our sectarianisms for cosmopolitan statemanship as missionary leaders.  e must sink our differences and unite on the essentials. The sacrifice of wealth for investment in schools, the publication of literature, hospitals, and every form of evangelisation, on a scale adequate to meet the new opportunities. There is a call for the sacrifice of life—making it sacred—to force an entrance into the unoccupied mission fields where doors long closed are about to open. “As the Father hath sent Me, even so send I you.”

Out of the realm of the glory light,
Into the far-away land of night;
Out from the bliss of worshipful song,
Into the pain of hatred and wrong;
Out from the holy rapture above,
Into the grief of rejected love;
Out from the life at the Father’s side,
Into the death of the crucified;
Out from high honour, and into shame
The Master willingly, gladly came:
And now, since He may not suffer anew,
As the Father sent Him, so sendeth He you.