Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Book Write-Up: Live Like Jesus, by Putty Putman

Putty Putman.  Live Like Jesus: Discover the Power & Impact of Your True Identity.  Minneapolis: Chosen, 2017.  See here to buy the book.

Putty Putman has a Ph.D. in theoretical quantum physics and is the founding director of the School of Kingdom Ministry in Urbana, Illinois.  He also serves at a Vineyard church, which is charismatic.

This book addresses Christians who wonder if there is more to the Christian life than what they are experiencing, or if they are even experiencing what Christians are supposed to experience.  Putman opens the book with case-studies that effectively illustrate this predicament.

Putman then proceeds to question the conception of the Gospel that is held by a lot of evangelical Christians: that Jesus Christ died to procure forgiveness for sinners because, otherwise, God in God’s holiness could not tolerate to be around them.  Putman asks excellent questions, which have also occurred to me.  If God cannot tolerate to be around sinners, then how could Jesus in the Gospels, God-incarnate, freely associate with tax-collectors and sinners?  In bringing forgiveness, did Jesus bring anything new, since sacrifices brought forgiveness to Israelites in the Old Testament?  Do many evangelical Christians marginalize Jesus’ resurrection in stressing that Christ’s death atoned for people’s sins, when New Testament passages stress the necessity of Jesus’ resurrection?  Do Jesus and Paul contradict each other in the foci of their Gospels?  Putman also criticizes the tendency of many Christians to think that their sinful flesh is still a living reality, against which they must wage intense war.

Putman offers what he believes is an alternative picture.  It includes the following elements:

—-God created Adam and Eve in God’s image, with the authority to rule God’s creation.  Adam and Eve submitted to the serpent (Satan) in sinning, and their authority over the world was transferred to Satan.  Adam and Eve also gained a sinful human nature, which they passed on to their children and descendants.  Centuries later, Jesus proclaimed the Kingdom of God, which was expressed through healings and exorcisms.  In dying and rising again, Jesus essentially killed the sinful flesh of those who unite to him.  Jesus also brought them righteousness, which Putman sees as practical righteousness and a restoration of pre-Fall human nature rather than imputed righteousness.  Believers do not need to struggle with the flesh because their sinful flesh is dead, and they simply need to acknowledge and live in that reality, as they are connected with Christ; for Putman, their struggle is not against the sinful flesh but against wrong thoughts, and they need to renew their minds.  Putman also believes that believers have the authority that Adam and Eve lost, and they demonstrate that authority by performing miracles (through God’s power) and by working for social justice.  Financial prosperity is also part of the equation, but Putman states that financial prosperity should lead a Christian to further God’s kingdom work.

—-God sought a direct, intimate relationship with Israel, but Israel at Sinai rejected that out of fear, so God instead instituted a system of laws and sacrifices.  Israel under this Old Covenant system would repent and offer sacrifices, then God would forgive them.  Christ died and rose, in part, to appease the demands of the law, which was actually God’s Plan B.  In doing so, Christ brought a different kind of forgiveness-system.  God has forgiven everybody and does not hold people’s offenses against them; they need not repent to be forgiven, for they are already forgiven.  Putman stresses that this does not mean that everyone is saved, for people still need to accept and live in light of God’s forgiveness.  While Putman believes that Jesus’ death is what initiated God’s proactive, unconditional forgiveness, he also thinks that Jesus demonstrated it during his ministry on earth, with the tax-collectors and sinners and the woman of John 8 who was caught in adultery.

—-Christ actually lives inside of the believer.  Believers can arrive at the point where they think God’s thoughts, and God thinks and feels through them.  This is not unbelievable, for humans were made in God’s image.  Putman even speculates that I Corinthians 5:4-5, where Paul seems to imply that his spirit was present with the Corinthian church, could mean that Paul, in some sense, was omniscient, like God.

—-For Putman, embracing these truths makes the difference in one’s spiritual life.  Christians who see themselves as sinners rather than righteous focus on beating themselves up rather than on what is positive.

You can read the book if you are interested in Putman’s Scriptural argumentation for these positions.

A lot of “But what about?”s entered my mind as I read this book.  While Putman addressed Romans 7 in arguing that believers need not struggle against the flesh, since their sinful flesh is dead and God has made them internally and practically righteous, he did not interact with I Corinthians 9:27, where Paul affirms that he disciplines his body and makes it his slave.  Putman states that each believer can have all of the spiritual gifts, but Paul seems to imply in I Corinthians 12:29 that believers do not have all of the spiritual gifts: not everyone is a healer, for example.  If Jesus gave unconditional forgiveness, why did he insist that God would not forgive those who did not forgive others?  Putman believes in forgiveness but not imputational righteousness, but does not Paul promote imputational righteousness in his interpretation of Genesis 15:6?  (Putman briefly attempts to address this.)  I wondered why Jesus would have to die to appease God’s Plan B (law).  Putman tells a story in which God healed everyone in a tribal audience except someone with extreme palsy; extreme palsy should not be a challenge for God, though, right?  And, sometimes, I felt as if I were reading an infomercial for Putman’s ministry.

I am skeptical about some of Putman’s points, though I believe that at least some of them, on some level, have Scriptural support.  My sinful flesh feels like a reality within me, even though Paul pronounces the sinful flesh of believers to be dead.  Like Putman, I find conventional evangelical attempts to reconcile that to be rather unconvincing.  While I do not dismiss the occurrence of miracles, I am skeptical that believers can perform them regularly; Putman himself states that the miracles that he has experienced are not everyday occurrences.

I am still giving this book five stars because it is a compelling read.  Putman asks many of the same questions that I have had about evangelical conceptions of the Gospel.  He highlights aspects of Scripture that arguably are neglected, de-emphasized, or explained away in evangelical circles.  He writes in an empathetic manner, as he understands why many Christians struggle to believe that they are truly dead to sin or can do miracles.  His section about how many people seek approval and validation from the world resonated with me, and his picture of how Christians can handle being cut off in traffic (or other trials) sounded constructive.  The book also had effective anecdotes: the one about Einstein’s struggle with quantum theory comes to mind, as was Putman’s honest acknowledgment that Einstein was not a traditional theist.

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

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