Monday, January 2, 2017

Book Write-Up: Who Are You to Judge?, by Erwin W. Lutzer

Erwin W. Lutzer.  Who Are You to Judge?  Learning to Distinguish Between Truths, Half-Truths, and Lies.  Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2002, 2016.  See here to buy the book.

“Judge not, that ye be not judged” (KJV).  So said Jesus in Matthew 7:1.

What did Jesus mean, though?  Does Jesus forbid Christians to evaluate people, behaviors, or beliefs?

Erwin Lutzer, the senior pastor of Moody Church, addresses this question.  Lutzer is critical of trends in Christianity that pursue church unity at the expense of doctrinal and moral soundness.  As Lutzer rejects the idea that Matthew 7:1 prohibits Christians from making evaluations, he wrestles with what Jesus meant.  Lutzer concludes that Jesus in Matthew 7:1 forbids condemning people, judging their motives, and trying to morally purify others without working on oneself (i.e., the beam in their own eye, according to Matthew 7:3).

Lutzer spends the remainder of the book discussing how Christians can judge various things: doctrine; prophets; miracles; entertainment; physical appearance; neopaganism; supernatural manifestations (i.e., ghosts and angels); conduct; and moral character.  In the process, Lutzer wrestles with different issues, such as biblical teaching on wealth (in reference to the prosperity Gospel), the debate between continuationism and cessationism, the occult, and the validity of the healings at Lourdes.

Here are some thoughts:

A.  Lutzer’s discussion on Matthew 7:1 was effective, overall.  This was especially the case when Lutzer looked at the Sermon on the Mount and noted that Jesus’ commands implied that his disciples should make judgments.  There were aspects of the discussion that remained unresolved, however.  According to Lutzer, Jesus forbids people to judge others’ motives.  Yet, Lutzer notes that Jesus, in exhorting his disciples not to cast their pearls before swine (Matthew 7:6), presumes that his disciples should judge who is a swine.  Does not judging a person to be a swine cast judgment on that person’s motives?

B. Lutzer believes that not every miracle is from God.  For Lutzer, a miracle may be a demonic deception, there may be a natural explanation for it, or it could be made-up.  Lutzer says that there were miracles in the ancient world outside of Christianity, and that there are miracles in non-Christian religions.

Such discussions in this book stood out to me, on account of my reading of Christian apologetics, and arguments against Christian apologetics.  Many Christian apologists have argued that miracles, especially Jesus’ resurrection, attest to the truth of Christianity.  But if non-Christians can perform miracles, too, does that not undermine the evidentiary value of miracles in demonstrating the truth Christianity?  There are Christian apologists who argue that Christianity has been unique (or a rarity) in the miracles department, but Lutzer does not appear to go that route.

I have not yet read Lutzer’s apologetic works, but I will be interested to see how he treats miracles in those writings.

C.  Lutzer seems to have problems with miracles that are performed without any concern about what the beneficiary believes or does morally.  And, on the basis of Hebrews 1:14, Lutzer argues that angels assist believers, not non-believers (or, more accurately, Lutzer says there is no Scriptural evidence that they help non-believers).  Lutzer is critical of stories about angels helping people who lack Christian faith.

Lutzer’s arguments deserve consideration.  Lutzer notes that the gift of healing in I Corinthians was a spiritual gift within the church.  In addition, one can argue that Jesus was not merely a traveling miracle-worker, as there was a significant spiritual component to his message.

Lutzer’s stance, as I understand it, does rub me the wrong way, though.  There are indications in Scripture that God cares for and blesses those who do not know God (Matthew 5:45; Acts 14:17), or whose knowledge of God is only partial (Acts 10).  Perhaps God can heal non-believers or send them angels as part of God’s kindness that is intended to lead them to repentance (Romans 2:4).  Moreover, Jesus healed ten lepers, and only one came back to thank him (Luke 17:11-19), so perhaps Jesus does heal people, knowing that they will not always respond in the proper spiritual fashion.

D.  Lutzer’s discussion of Romans 14 is especially helpful.  For Lutzer, the passage is not about avoiding offense of people, for Jesus offended people.  Rather, the passage is about being compassionate about where people are and the sins with which they struggle.  That makes sense, in light of the passage itself and as a practical rule in life.

E.  Lutzer’s chapter on integrity was pastoral, but it could have been more so.  For Lutzer, integrity demands that a person do the right thing, regardless of the cost.  A person who received workman’s comp after claiming that his injury was work-related when actually it was from a hunting accident, for example, should turn himself in and go to jail, as far as Lutzer is concerned.  Fraud should not be tolerated, but how would Lutzer address reservations that the man may have about turning himself in?  If this man goes to jail, how will that impact his family?

There are places, though, in which Lutzer recognizes and appreciates the complexity of issues, particularly when he discusses how Christian parents can respond when their children read Harry Potter novels.

F.  Lutzer had good advice.  He talks about an elderly man who stopped vegetating in front of the television set and started writing letters to missionaries and praying for them.  And, on page 140, Lutzer states: “Don’t close your Bible until you have something from it that will fill your soul for that day.”

Overall, this is an enjoyable book.  Lutzer wrestles with difficult questions.  Scripture plays a significant role in this book, though there are times when Lutzer speculates without much Scriptural backing.  The anecdotes in the book enhance it, for they make the book more interesting and relatable, while also giving the book a tone of authority, as Lutzer connects his discussions with real life (assuming the stories are accurate).

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

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