Here is a highly critical review of a very popular Christian book. One that you have likely read. I read it a long time ago and didn’t notice the things that Pat Holding points out. It suggests to me that too many of us reading gullibly and with too much trust. Just as we are to test the words of a speaker, we need to test and examine the words of every book we read. We need more maturity and insight. You may not like the following review, but it would be good for you to read it and ponder it – and think about how astutely you approach what is given you in word or text.
From the July 2009 -Block, a guest spot by “Teluog”. It’s a review of Blackby’s “Experiencing God.”
My own title for this review is:
Experiencing “Blech”aby: How to Live the Full Adventure of Not Knowing and Not Doing Basic Exegesis. When I began to write up this review, I planned on typing up an analysis of each chapter. I did this until I got to chapter eight, which is where I decided to stop reading. As I went through these eight chapters, my review quickly turned into a polemic. There are so many problems in this book that it is useless to mention even the majority of the major problems, so I dropped the chapter-by-chapter analysis. Even a topic-by-topic analysis is impossible due to the quantity of errors. The problems are consistent throughout the whole book, so a brief review of the fundamental issues will be looked at.
The first impression I have of this books is that it reeks of individualism. On the back cover it reads, “share the experience that has led a million people into a new personal relationship with God,” and, “Experiencing God challenges Christians to experience…a life lived in a fellowship with the loving, personal God. God reveals Himself to each of us in special and exceptional ways, so our perception of Him is unique. [EG] shows you how to deepen your own personal relationship with God.”
The preface is littered with phrases like, “God asked me,” “God gave me a vision,” “God has spoken to me,” etc. The preface ends with an editor’s note about the book content is mostly from Blackaby’s personal experience, and “written as though Henry were your personal counselor. This first-person approach was selected as a means of making this book a warm and personal message just for you.”
It sounds sweet and all, but the high emphasis on uniqueness and privateness should set off alarm signals in our mind, because individualism has wreaked enough havoc in both our society and church. Not to mention that our personal relationship with God really isn’t that different from anyone else’s, and is not as personal as many of us believe it to be.
Blackaby also uses terminology and concepts that suggests that he views Jesus/God as his personal buddy or romance partner. Blackaby personally spends “quiet time with God” so that he can “enjoy His fellowship.” Not only is this doctrinally incorrect (more on that later), this also dumbs God down to the level of another regular human like everyone else. In other words, Blackaby is recreating God in his own modern, private, Western individualized, and introverted image, and has been doing so throughout the book. He does this a lot with his (ab)use of Scripture (more on that later).
Blackaby even suggests that we should confess to God the times where we didn’t spend this private time with God. Apparently, we are sinning if we aren’t as introverted as Blackaby is.
The writing style is of an adolescent level. This and the concepts make the book appear like it is meant for Junior High Youth. Blackaby’s target audience is mostly mature adults. In fact, the questions at the end of each section are like the questions I came across when doing English in grade four. They are way more distracting than edifying.
Throughout a chapter, Blackaby will say something like “We should live a God-centered life, not a self-centered life.” The questions at the end of that section would go something like, “We should live a _______-centered life.” The contents, style, and questions are not sufficient to challenge the person of average intelligence. Everything is super-simplified to the point that Blackaby is vague and unclear in what he is trying to get across to the reader.
And yes, a lot of what Blackaby says is unclear. Often, his point will not come across due to poor paragraph structure. He also goes off-topic at times. He often doesn’t mention enough details of a subject that leaves the reader hanging and clueless. He teaches that “God provides,” without detailing what it is that He provides (Money? Health? Wisdom? The basic living necessities of food, water, and shelter?). God provides, that’s all.
There are a lot of these. Perhaps the most noticeable is when Blackaby affirms that the Bible is our final guide and authority for faith and life, but relies on extra-biblical revelation and experience as a greater guide. It’s impossible to highlight most of them, but a couple of the major ones are:
- At the beginning of chapter five, Blackaby states that “when God gets ready to do something, He reveals to a person or His people what He is going to do.” At the beginning of chapter eight, he says, “God doesn’t consult the servant before He begins His work.”
- Blackaby views Moses as the example that we all should personally follow today. But then, Blackaby says, “When I want to learn how to know and do the will of God, I always look to Jesus. I can find no better model than Him.”
- Blackaby points out that whenever God spoke to people in the Bible that those people were certain that it was God speaking and that they knew what God was saying. Then he turns around and points out that people have a hard time hearing and knowing when God is speaking.
Most of his contradictions lie in his (mis)interpretation of Scripture.
Eisegesis, Misinterpretation, and Abuse of Scripture
Tying in very closely with the above categories, Blackaby’s (mis)handling of Scripture is quite frankly offensive to those who look to the Bible seriously as an authoritative guide. Here’s a broad idea how he (mis)treats the text.
Blackaby is fond is using rare occurrences in the Bible (and thus, rare throughout all of ancient history), and rare character roles as examples that Joe Christian today should follow day-by-day, month-by-month, or year-by-year. If it happened once in the Bible, it happens to us regularly, according to Blackaby.
Moses is frequently used an example that we all should personally follow in our lives. Although Blackaby confesses that Moses’ experience at the burning bush was unique, he still uses it as an example for how Christians should be called to ministry. Apparently, Blackaby is unaware that God doesn’t speak through miraculous phenomena like burning bushes or dreams. People don’t regularly report God speaking to them in the morning out of a box of Fruit Loops, or out of a tornado. Not only that, but Moses had the once-in-history opportunity of leading an entire nation, a nation of God’s covenant-people, out of slavery, for 40 years while travelling across a large portion of geographical land, and into a land promised by God many years earlier. How, exactly is this something that Joe Christian can follow today?
Blackaby believes that since God spoke to people in the Bible that he still speaks today. He states correctly that it’s clear that God speaks to his people, but never points out that the times that God spoke were in rare and urgent circumstances. He uses three verses in John to try to prove that God speaks to us today, when one verse was Jesus speaking to his opponents, while the other two verses only were directed to the disciples. They do not apply to us, nor is there anything to say that they do.
He also tries with Hebrews 1:1, which says, “God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son” (NKJV). Blackaby apparently can’t even handle basic English, let alone basic exegesis. The verse clearly doesn’t say that God spoke all the time; it says He spoke at various times. It also says that he spoke through prophets, a rare office, and there is no indication that prophets heard God speak on a regular basis. It also says that God spoke in the time of the Hebrew author(s) by Jesus, not by the Holy Spirit, which is what Blackaby is trying to make this text mean. Blackaby didn’t get anything in this verse correct!
He also uses these rare and various occurences of God literally talking to people in the Bible as proof that God speaks to us through the Holy Spirit today. He doesn’t even prove that God speaks today; he just says that God speaks today without providing any proof from Scripture. He cites Scripture showing that the Holy Spirit indwells in us, but he doesn’t cite anything showing that the Holy Spirit speaks to us in any particular way. He misinterprets Scripture everytime he speaks of God speaking. He also fails logic on this subject at the same time.
Blackaby makes statements on spiritual “truths” without explaining himself or providing proof from Scripture. One such case is when Blackaby states that “when God gets ready to do something, He reveals to a person or His people what He is going to do.” He doesn’t expand on this or provide any Biblical reference, he just makes the statement and moves on. Blackaby sees things in the text that aren’t really there, or doesn’t see something in the text that really is there. Here are some examples that deserve attention:
- Blackaby believes that God supernaturally enabled Noah and his sons to build the ark, but the text does not mention God enabling him in any way whatsoever. The narrative simply says that God gave Noah instructions, and Noah followed them.
- Blackaby interprets the name “I AM” not only to mean that God is eternal (which is correct), but also to mean that God would be all that Moses needed to free His people. The latter is not reflected in the name at all. God gave Moses this name so that His people in Egypt would recognize Him and know that Moses was not being deceitful, not to give Moses a boost of confidence.
- Blackaby believes that Moses was called to the top of Mt. Sinai for to have personal fellowship with each other. This is plain absurd. Moses was called up the mountain to get instructions from God, and if Blackaby is assumed correct, then an obvious inequity is created, as it would be unfair for God to call only Moses up while leaving the other 600,000 men plus women plus children alone, if indeed personal fellowship was the purpose. Not even righteous Caleb was called up for fellowship. Indeed, this example would only serve to contradict Blackaby’s contentions of universal personal fellowship.
- Blackaby doesn’t believe that God used Moses to free his people because of any skills he had; God equipped Moses with his administration skills only after calling Moses to lead. Apparently, Blackaby is unaware that Moses was raised in the royal courts of Egypt under Pharaoh, and likely already had the administrative abilities. Blackaby even takes this further by commending that today’s Christians not look for ways of using our talents and abilities when going into ministry! Imagine Paul not making use of his Scripture and theology training from Pharisee school to write out his letters full of thick, systematic theology and Old Testament references!
- Blackaby looks to the 12 disciples as an example of having a “personal” relationship with Jesus, only there are TWELVE disciples, not one. The only time where one disciple was alone with Jesus was when Peter took him aside only to get rebuked! Plus, as Holding explains, “Since people of the ancient world seldom ‘got to know each other’ personally (as is taken for granted in modern, Western society) there is no way that NT writers could have had an idea like a ‘personal relationship with Jesus’ in mind” (see #2: God is my buddy, Jesus is my friend).
- Blackaby believes that God had a personal relationship with Moses and Noah, even though there is nothing in either account of this.
In some cases, Blackaby makes inexcusable blunders. Blackaby believes that in Job 16:20, Job is calling God his “friend,” when Job is clearly referring to his friends who tried to comfort him. In 2 Kings 6:17, when Elisha prays for God to open up the eyes of the servant, and the servant then sees chariots of fire protecting him and Elisha from the Syrian army, Blackaby interprets this to mean that God opens our spiritual eyes so we can discern God’s activity around us. He spiritualizes something that is meant to stay literal.
There are many more mistakes, misinterpretations, blunders, contradictions, and unsupported assertions in the first eight chapters alone that I put the book down to concentrate on something more edifying and useful. There is, actually, some good theology here and there, and the rare good point is made, but there is too little of it compared to the fallacies that Blackaby makes. It’s not worth anyone’s time to have to sift through and sort out the good stuff. People are better off reading Mere Christianity or Blue Like Jazz, or a more technical systematic theology treatise. This book is not worth the reader’s time.