Friday, December 2, 2016

Book Write-Up: At Work Within, by Rick Osborne

Rick Osborne.  At Work Within: Be Transformed into All God Created You to Be.  Impartation Idea, 2016.  See here to buy the book.

In At Work Within: Be Transformed into All God Created You to Be, Rick Osborne talks about how Christians can be spiritually transformed.  According to Osborne, the Gospel is not just about accepting Christ and going to heaven.  Referring to New Testament passages, Osborne makes a case that the Gospel is also about Christians becoming conformed to God’s image, and people becoming righteous like God.

How do Christians become this, with all of their sinfulness, wayward thoughts, and uphill spiritual battles?  Osborne raises a variety of considerations, as he continually appeals to Scripture for support.  Osborne emphasizes God’s activity of working within Christians to will and to do God’s good pleasure (Philippians 2:13).  There is Christ’s presence with and within Christians, discipling, motivating, and empowering them.  Faith that God will accomplish this spiritual transformation and hope for the good that God has in store for believers also play a significant role in the Christian life, according to Osborne.  Christians are to recognize that they are new creations, which means that they are acting according to how they truly are when they are righteous, and against who they truly are when they sin.  They are consciously to put off fleshly attributes such as sexual immorality and anger, and put on attributes such as humility and love (Colossians 3).

Scripture reading, memorization, and prayer about Scripture are crucial aspects of sanctification, according to Osborne, for the Holy Spirit uses Jesus’ words in instructing believers (John 14:26), and focusing on Scripture enables believers to keep God’s agenda in the forefront of their minds.  In the picture of sanctification that Osborne presents, God plays a role in instructing and empowering Christians, and Christians remind themselves of godly attributes through reading and memorizing Scripture and demonstrate their continued reliance on God through prayer.  Osborne’s model is not rigid, for the Holy Spirit can be flexible in terms of what he wants to teach a believer at a given time.  Osborne also stresses that Christians should regard spiritual transformation as an act of divine grace, which God gives freely, not something that they deserve or earn.

In the Conclusion, Osborne has a more communal focus, as he talks about discipleship.  Osborne expresses problems with spiritual mentorship.  For Osborne, the goal of discipleship is not for mentors to create clones of themselves, but rather to point disciples to Christ, so that they can learn from Christ themselves.  Osborne believes that Christians should go deeper than listening to a sermon once a week and going to a small group, noting the intensive teaching and discipleship that occurred in the New Testament.  Still, in discussing practicalities, Osborne seems to fall back on the paradigm of church services and small groups.

Osborne shares his own experiences of spiritual success coupled with spiritual fruitlessness and emptiness (these co-existed, according to Osborne).  He talks about dreams that he has had that he believes are from God, and what he thinks that those dreams teach him and can teach others.  Each chapter also ends with short sayings, many drawn from the book itself, which readers can share on social media.

In terms of positives, Osborne conveys a compelling and passionate thirst for God, one that wants to go deeper in a relationship with God.  Osborne asks interesting questions and makes intriguing observations about biblical passages.  He notes, for example, that Paul in Romans 1:15 wanted to share the Gospel with Christians, whereas many evangelicals today often act as if the Gospel is primarily supposed to go to non-believers so that they can be converted.  In discussing Ephesians 3:17-21, Osborne observes that Paul is asking Christians to know what is beyond knowledge, which appears rather paradoxical.

Osborne portrays a relationship with God in which God is tangible and real, and I have difficulty identifying with that.  Therefore, I appreciated something that Osborne said on page 55: “…Jesus is walking with you and teaching you, whether it always feels like He is or not…”

Osborne does well to criticize authoritarian impulses in Christian circles.  In response to Christians who rely on their favorite teachers, Osborne points out that Paul in I Corinthians 10:15 encouraged the Corinthian Christians to judge for themselves what Paul says.  Osborne’s contrast of discipleship with mentorship was also effective.

Overall, Osborne painted a specific picture of the sort of spiritual activity that he was prescribing.  He gave examples of what believers can do in praying about Scriptures, and he described how that worked in his own life.  His story about how God transformed his attitude towards women (moving it from lust to humanizing and honoring them) conveyed where Osborne was, where God wanted him to be, and how God moved him in that direction, with Osborne’s participation and cooperation.

In terms of critiques, I think that Osborne’s method can be effective, in some areas, but I doubt that it can remove or heal every deep scar, weakness, or inability, at least not by itself.  Many people may need more, such as counseling, or medication.  Osborne mentions counseling in one brief passage, but the book would have been better had it presented a more holistic picture of healing and transformation.  Osborne also could have been more specific about how Christians can edify others, beyond advising them to share passages from the book on social media.  Since I am a bit of a loner, I somewhat gravitated towards Osborne’s individualistic picture of the divine-human relationship (not that he necessarily intended it to be individualistic).  Still, as he acknowledges, Christians are to take their transformation into interactions with others.  He should have been more specific about how that can occur, and what it looks like.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through Bookcrash.  My review is honest!

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