A Strange Review: Broken

Broken.250w.tnReading Jonathan Fisk’s Broken: 7 “Christian” Rules That Every Christian Ought to Break as Often as Possible is not unlike watching one of his webcasts. The energy, the humor, the pop-culture references, the easy glide into theological language, it’s all there. The only thing missing is that Gorgon-looking creature who groans “Eeeeee-mail.”

Yesterday, I reviewed a review of Broken by David Snyder, a Reformed Baptist. I was taken aback by how he ended his assessment: “Broken does a great job of exposing false gospels, but also tends to underestimate the power of the true one.” I then used that as the basis for a very long post on what I thought was missing, not necessarily from Broken, as I admitted I had not read it, but from too many Lutheran pulpits, especially in relation to reaching young people.

Now I have read it.

As Snyder affirmed, Fisk is very good at culling from the culture the many false starts at finding God, as well as the attempts either to tame Him, internalize Him, or reduce Him to mere moralism. Young Christians trapped in legalistic churches that have reinterpreted the Faith as little more than trying harder will find welcome relief from passages such as these:

Guilt is the firstborn son of Moralism. You set your rules, and then you break them. You put off your judgment by judging others. You slide the scale to make it go away. But following Moralism’s rule is like trying to erase answers on the SAT. As hard as you rub the pink rubber eraser, the black number 2 lead still lays engrained in the page.

And I found both fun and funny his takedown of New Age nonsense like The Secret — which he counterintuitively embeds in his chapter on Rationalism, and frames with references to Star Wars and the botch that was the second trilogy. It may seem like a mish-mosh, or at least mish, but Fisk pulls it all together and makes it work:

Mentioned for the first time in the “new” Star Wars movies . . . midi-chlorians were something no self-respecting Star Wars had ever heard of or dreamed of. They are microscopic organisms that live inside Jedi Knights, acting as conduits by which the Force can be used.

But wait a minute. Huh? Exactly. The Force was supposed to be an inexplicable, mystical energy field that held all things together and was channeled through sheer strength of will, aided by religious devotion. . . .

But, nope. Sorry to disappoint you. As it turns out, that was mostly mumbo jumbo. It was not a convenient, if ignorant, lie. Luke Skywalker did not guide those two proton torpedoes into the Death Star’s exhaust with super tenacious prayer juju. Instead, he merely inherited from his father a very unique (and quite advanced) bacterial infection. . . .

So what this means is that, a long, long  time ago, on a weekend in 1993 [sic], Rationalism crushed Mysticism’s Rebel Alliance to overthrow pop culture. . . .

This is why when author Rhonda Byrne sold her secret knowledge of “how to manipulate the universe in three easy steps, like Star Wars before her, she, too, needed to explain her religious “Law of Attraction” with an appeal to science. The postmodern mystic won’t buy just any old voodoo. But a bottle of snake oil  empowered by the marvel of cutting-edge quantum physics?

Fisk riffs through restorationist ecclesiology, the great church do-over, which never quite gets done, and so finds itself starting all over again, a near relation to church hopping, the consumerist approach to the church that “works” for me. (Although there’s a strange disconnect between the way Fisk opens the door for a variety of worship styles and his later commendation of tradition. And where is the emphasis on the right administration, and theology, of the Sacraments as a sign that you’re on the right track in picking a church?)

He tackles erroneous ideas about prosperity—or lack of it—bearing a direct relationship to your standing with God.While he highlights the Trinity Broadcasting type hucksters and megachurch stuff, this actually has deep roots, in certain strains of Puritanism. Again: the search for our election in something other than the promises of God, in, say, his temporal blessings. (Which is not to say we should expect to be poor, lonely, sick, and confused all our lives. At least I hope not.)

Finally, Fisk closes Broken with the ultimate delusion: that we find God, as opposed to God’s finding us. And he ties up the “Broken” theme nicely with an exposition of how Christ was broken for us.

I find the subtitle a tad “off,” somehow. Although Fisk calls his rules “Christian,” I think most readers will recognize most of these ideas or tendencies more as wayward paths that are on sale as alternatives to Christianity, although variants can certainly sneak their way into the tabernacle in devious ways. But that’s a quibble.

The book could definitely have used more editing, some tightening up. It tends to wander and miss necessary connections it should be making. There is also need for some clarification of language. For example: “Just as His incarnate flesh was not merely human, so now His own human words are still breathed whenever they are spoken with a total spiritual divinity.” This comes across as somewhat monophysistic, which I’m certain was not his intention. Jesus’s flesh was certainly human and his person comprises two natures—human and divine—such that His words are truly God’s words. Yes?

With all of that said, and in light of my post from yesterday, would I add or retract anything regarding what David Snyder saw as missing from Broken and what I saw as missing from too much of Lutheranism today?

No.

Fisk addresses the problems with “freedom” as manifested by lawlessness as just another God dodge, but doesn’t sustain an argument for what this means in the life of the individual believer. In the chapter “Never #4: Ozymandias and Me,” he speaks about his youthful rebellion, his drug use, and how he ended up praying to be forgiven for his sin and to be relieved of his addiction, which he insists was a Sisyphusean act of futility. The chapter then veers off into another direction entirely, but finally circles back to his conclusion:

In the war waged against one’s own soul, sanctification’s most certain fruit in an everlasting awareness that for every sin you manage to leave behind, you find six more, all worse than the first, that you didn’t even know you were harboring within. . . .

Getting away from my mental dependence on marijuana took a long time and a great amount of Gospel. At last it was not about the dangers and sinful self-destruction that brought about the change, nor was it a visionary moment of superpowered reversal. It was forgiveness. . . . But I make no mistake. My sin is not gone, nor will it be this side of the Last Day.

This opens so many cans of worms, I could open a store. I wish Fisk had rested here a while and talked about addictions that don’t necessarily heal with the balm of forgiveness. Is it always wrong to pray to be relieved of the burden of a particular habit, sin, or obsession? (From things I’ve heard him say online, he tends to de-emphasize particular “sins” as opposed to Sin. As I asked in my post yesterday—what of auricular confession to a pastor? Is this just a morbid dwelling on particulars when the penitent should be focusing strictly on the universal?)

Fisk also rings the self-worship bell so often—the depths of our depravity, our sin hiding only more sin—that one wonders whether there’s an I at all that isn’t merely a catalog of horrors. He’s walking a thin line between a realistic assessment of our separation from God and what appears to be a separation from anything recognizably human. He does remark that this theology “frees the you in yourself to not always have to be about Me.” But then he appears to take it all back, because even love for fellow sinners can easily revert to being about how free you are, and thus it becomes all about Me again. But my goodness, man, at what point does even the struggle with Me-ism become, well, all about Me? How easy it is to fall into the maze of solipsism that even to pray for release is just another self-interested sin!

Now, it is absurd to expect a confessional Lutheran pastor to write a book that will please a Reformed Baptist like Snyder or even an opinionated smart aleck like me all the way down the line. I have no doubt Fisk wrote the book he set out to write. And it may seem churlish to groan about the book he didn’t write.

Bu-u-u-u-u-t . . . if his primary audience is composed of the young, restless, and misguided, I don’t think it’s wrong to expect a chapter, even a coda, on What now. “OK, Rev. Fisk: you’ve pointed me in the right direction—the Word of God. I’ve learned not to trust my feelings or scientism or ‘progress.’ I trust only in the Cross. I lean not on my own understanding but on the promises of a God who is faithful. But what now? Can I pray to be healed of this or that addiction, compulsion, illness? Or is that some form of self-worship? Can I pray for guidance in choosing a career, a home, a spouse? Or is that to look for God’s word outside the Bible? Should I be simplifying my lifestyle so I have more disposable income to give to the poor? Or is that works righteousness? Am I allowed to do anything but confess that I’m a sinner? I really need to know. Because I’m afraid I’m confusing law and Gospel without even knowing it.”

My fear is that the portrait Fisk paints of the faith is one of an endless series of booby traps, spiritual no-nos, landmines, one after another, such that the uninitiated will begin to sense not freedom but that they’re being set up to fail—no “dos” but a thousand and one mental and conceptual “dont’s.” Yes, a confessional legalism.

Lest I seem overly negative, what Fisk does accomplish, however, is no small thing. If teenagers and college kids need anything, it’s focus. Their minds, hearts, loyalties are diverted by a thousand different siren songs. They need a focal point in their field of vision to reorient them, to keep them moving on through the narrow gate. And Fisk is very good at that—refocusing his readers’ eyes onto the Cross.

When all is said and done, there’s enough good stuff in Broken that I have no qualms about recommending it so long as my caveats are kept intact. The language is certainly accessible to even a theologically illiterate reader, and at the very least it can prove the starting point for some interesting conversations, and even pushback along the lines I have expressed. Plus, the man has 248 children to feed. Have a heart, you miserable pikers.

Here’s what I hope. There are 2.3 million members of the LCMS. I hope 1 percent—one measly, minuscule percent—of LCMSers buy this book. Believe me, I’ve been in publishing long enough to know that those sales figures will result in police showing up at Concordia Publishing House because of all the calls about the partying going on there. Consequently, Rev. Fisk will be motivated to write a second book: Risen: Living the Gospel Life Like Only a Lutheran Can. 

Let me leave you with this. I watch The Journey Home program on EWTN from time to time. As I have written before, two of my former Lutheran pastors have appeared on that show. Both are now Catholic priests. One of the issues raised on a pretty consistent basis is how Protestantism doesn’t have a way to deal with suffering the way Catholics do. You know, offering it up for the Holy Souls in purgatory to mitigate their misery kind of thing. With all due respect to my Catholic friends, it’s at that point I usually roll my eyes and turn on reruns of WKRP in Cincinnati.

From Fisk:

To combat this inherited evil dwelling in you, God also insists that you experience a little water slapped in your face, along with the regular taste of a bit of bread and wine on your lips. About these experiences He speaks to you and tells you that they are of Christ. He says these words and signs are His imputation. His binding of your death, debt, and failures to the cross of Jesus, and the great converse grafting of Jesus’ resurrected heath, eternal wealth, and divine prosperity into you … through faith alone. You don’t see Him, but you believe in Him (1 Peter 1:8). His mind is your mind (1 Corinthians 2:16). His future is your future (2 Timothy 2:11). He is safe (1 Peter 1:4), immortal (1 Timothy 1:17), imperishable (1 Corinthians 15:54), having conquered death once, never to die again (Romans 6:9), having overcome this perishing world (John 16:33), having prospered (Matthew 28:6) in the true, God-given way (John 14:6), for you (1 John 4:4).

With that vision of the Great Exchange, what need for purgatory?

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77 thoughts on “A Strange Review: Broken

  1. Anthony,

    Shoot. Was I that confusing? :)

    “If I’m hearing anything, Nathan, is that there is no higher level of sanctification. No growth or process.”

    No, no, no. If we are regularly in God’s word (this is something our new man seeks) we will indeed be progressing in holiness. Are we going to see this? Maybe – and if so, we will give glory to God alone for the times we simply find ourselves “caught up” in doing good as well as the time that we, empowered by His Spirit, cooperate with the various good things He gives us to choose from or the stricter duties that Luther says we are to “make a pleasure”.

    But because of our sin and because of the attacks of Satan, it is just as likely that we are not going to feel like we are progressing at all. But here we need to cling to His Word of forgiveness which says He always is eager to cover even the evil that clings to the good we do and also the clear words He gives us which tell us that we will be growing.

    In any case, we do want to have discipleship, the pursuit of holiness, etc. This primarily means putting down the old man when he stears us away from time in the word (in worship [with the Supper!] but also other time we have to do this but squander). But this also means our new man subduing old Adam by making time for fasting, prayer, alms as well. In all this there is vocation. And the ten commandments. This does not necessarily mean I should be in a small group Bible study although for some persons (esp. those without families) I think this may be very helpful to them.

    In vocation, I think we do need to make room for persons to do “ministries” at church – let them loose with their gifts! But churches can be pretty self-righteous in all the “programming” they do – I’ve seen it. Also, we have to be careful about “guilting” people when they don’t get involved in everything like this. I for one have 5 boys and I will tell you I think going to Platt’s church would kill me. We try to be generous for example, but the resources are sparse (I’m a librarian – my wife works about 10 hours a week and homeschools our boys).

    For the 10 commandments this is key. As I’ve said: The Law of God describes that objective form of life wherein (not whereby) our relationships with God and neighbor are nourished and are brought to fulfillment. That said, all of these are summed up in love and the applications of these commandments in their positive forms are endless. There are many ways we are free to seek God’s face (not to be closer to Him in one sense since He is already as close to us as He can be, but for us to realize all we have in Him more and more – like Mary, sitting at His feet!) and serve our neighbor!

    Am I growing as much as I should be? I don’t think I am and do honestly think I’ll feel that way my whole life. There is more I could be doing for sure. Not to be saved, but because I have been saved. I want to re-start this process of pursuing holiness every day, for I am baptized! Even as I long to be found outside of myself – in other words where I loose the “me” and am “lost” in the joy of simply being where He is (where I am there my servant will also be) – finding Christ in everyone I meet even as I, being in Christ, am a “little Christ” to all.

    Still, there is a me. There is an I. The “new man” is not just Jesus or Jesus in me. And that is glorious for He knows all the hairs on my head and treasures even me. I participate with Him in synergy.

    And so do we all.

    +Nathan

  2. Anthony,

    Others share your frustration:

    Kelly Klages recently said on a blog:

    “This whole argument has been full of red herrings, from beginning to end. Those who suggest that Lutherans have always taught growth in holiness are at once Calvinists, holier-than-thou pietists, dominate all their preaching with Law, are trying to measure their holiness to prove their Christianity, don’t do good works because they’re too busy talking about works… you can’t have a conversation with this noise in the background.”

    EDH at Jordan Cooper’s blog said this:

    “Trying to find the word progressive in the confessions is like trying to find the word Trinity in the Bible. And two senses of a word is hardly a cop out – what about the different senses we use for gospel? Or repentance?

    The fact that this is arguable in Lutheranism is quite embarrassing. It’s no wonder we are caricatured so horribly! It’s true! I am thankful for faithful pastors like William Weedon and Jordan Cooper – not that they have merely remained faithful, but they have remained faithful in our communion. Thank you!”

    I must admit I feel the same way sometimes! But look at what the Apostle Paul does! And look at Luther’s preaching! Something has gotten away from us. It is Lutheranism’s unique temptation I think to fall down here. The Gospel is so good, and wanting to do everything we can to protect it, we are failing to see the bigger picture.

    I need to be done for today. God bless all here.

    +Nathan

  3. “But this also means our new man subduing old Adam by making time for fasting, prayer, alms as well.”

    And this is done to further subdue our old Adam.

    +Nathan

  4. I just read this in Chemnitz this morning:

    “The testimonies of Scripture are clear, that the renewal of the new man, as also the mortification of the old, is not perfect and complete in this life but that it grows and is increased day by day until it is perfected in the next life, when this corruptible will have put on incorruption. Profitable also and necessary in the church are exhortations that the regenerate should not neglect, extinguish, or cast away the gifts of the Spirit which they have received but that they stir them up with true and earnest exercises, calling on the help of the Holy Spirit, that He may give an increase of faith, hope, love, and of the other spiritual gifts; for what the punishment of spiritual negligence is the parable of the talents shows. There is also no doubt that faith is effectual through love, that it is the mother of good works, and that good works please God through faith for the sake of Christ. And in this sense the statement of James 2:21-24 can be understood and accepted appropriately and rightly, that through the numerous good works that followed Abraham is declared to have been justified by faith, and it is shown that faith is not empty and dead, but true and living.” Examination of the Council of Trent, 1.538-539

    Also, from earlier in his work:

    “It is a far different thing to speak of the powers or faculties of the mind, will and heart of man before conversion, before he has begun to be healed and renewed through the Holy Spirit, than when once he has begun to be healed and renewed. For then, through the gift and operation of the Holy Spirit, there are present and follow new movements, in the mind, will, and heart. Also the healing and renewal itself is not such a change which is immediately accomplished and finished in a moment, but it has its beginning and certain progress by which it grows in great weakness, is increased and preserved. But it does not grow as do the lilies of the field, which neither labor nor worry; but in the exercises of repentance, faith, and obedience, through seeking, asking, knocking, endeavoring, wrestling, etc., the beginnings of the spiritual gifts are retained, grow, and are increased, as in Luke 19:13…”1.424

  5. Appreciate your writings Anthony! I have recently joined the LCMS church, but have struggled with sanctification and holiness throughout the journey to this place. I am not a formally educated person, just an elderly ranch wife, but I finally found a satisfactory answer to this question in my recent (and first) reading of Hammer of God. I would commend any of Bo Giertz’s writings.

      • And we were having such a lovely discussion. But there’s always one.

        Embarrassing? Where on earth did I write that or even intimate it? Why would I encourage people to go out and buy BROKEN if that were the case?

        I’m the only Lutheran who understands Luther? Again? Where in the thousands of words did I whip out some pedigree to declare that? On the contrary, I have admitted that I am perfectly willing to (a) learn and (b) admit that I am wrong. BUT given the many different comments below, is it not the case that maybe there is more than one way to come at this issue?

        And I happen not to believe that what I am proposing would result in Wesleyanism — unless the quotes from Chemnitz and Marquart are examples of such.

        Obviously I have touched a nerve — and that usually makes people jumpy. Or in your case nasty. I notice there is no name attached to your post. If you’re going to dump in public, you should at least sign your name to it.

        Or would that prove too embarrassing?

  6. If only more Luther were read out in the churches then what? Then we in the LCMS lumpenproletariat would look closer to your idea of what Christians ought to look like? Its like you want to affirm Lutheranism in principle but the actual Lutherans you are forced into fellowship with are a terrible disappointment to you. Or maybe you are the only Lutheran who understands Luther. Get over yourself.

    You should read Veith’s input carefully. He points out very incisively how the Lutheranism that you are proposing is indistinguishable from Wesleyanism.

    And that book that you think Fisk should write about the Christian life? Its already been written. Its called the Purpose Driven Life and no Christian should read it.

  7. Honestly, I think Fisk’s book is one of the best books ever written for the average Christian. Walk into your local LifeWay and you can find every one of the 7 counterfeits on display. Many of us have grown up in such a vacuous theological environment, that we will be duped by any or all of them. I’m thankful for this book, and for its plain accessibility.

  8. Anthony, I would direct you to a distinction made in the Formula of Concord art II on “Free Will”

    There Chemnitz lists a battery of quotes from the earlier confessions concluding that we cannot cooperate in even the smallest way in our Conversion, enlightenment… or our sanctification or preservation in the faith.

    Then later he says this: We MUST cooperate with the Holy Spirit in our daily life of repentence. We cooperate with the Holy Spirit in our death this says We cooperate in our Mortification of Old Adam.
    This is where Christians take up the Law and kill themselves, literally, doing it. For their neighbor. Not for God. God doesn´t need those Good Works. Our Neighor does!

    So for Lutherans, Good Works are not about working on our sanctification. That happens, alone, by hearing the Gospel. Rinse. Repeat.
    Lutherans work on their mortification, and they do that in order to force their Old Adam flesh to be useful to serve the creaturely Romans 8 perishing goodness and mercy that are Good Works.

    The life of a believer is all about mortification. The Life of a believer is ALL hidden in the Works of Another. The Believers life is all death. The believer´s Life , and so also entirely his sancitification, is the fact that his Life and also his life, are all hidden , completely, in the Life that is Christ.

  9. Frank has finally found his way here.

    The believer’s life may be principally mortification but it is not only mortification. It is also resurrection. This new life is not the basis of or part of the action of justification but it does flow out of justification. Yes, Luther would say that what we do outwardly is indistinguishable from the acts of love of an unbeliever but he would also say that inwardly they are entirely different–flowing from faith that has Christ working in me. And the new Adam in me can be encouraged to listen to the Holy Spirit, recognize and assent to what is coming from Christ, and, yes, actually do it…me, bride AND Bridegroom, two acting as one. Otherwise New testmanet exhortations such as Hebrews 10:24 “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works,
    ” make no sense.

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