Day Twelve - Developing Your Friendship with God

Rather than the truly biblical idea of Man yearning for God (Ps. 42:1), Mr. Warren has presented his speculative idea of God yearning for Man. His idea involves a finite God who must rely upon Man for cooperation before his yearnings can be realized. The God of the Bible is the Sovereign Creator and therefore Determiner of all reality. Nothing can hinder the full realization of His desire (Rom. 8:31-39). The finite God of Evangelicalism must yearn for Man because he depends upon the cooperation of Man for fulfillment. This sort of God has all manner of superior resources that may benefit Man, but since in the end Man’s realization of the benefits depends upon his own initiative, Man must find a way to unlock the “secrets.” This is the spirit in which Mr. Warren presents his six “secrets” for Man developing his friendship with God. Mr. Warren flirted with the real issue involved in God-Man relation when he said on the previous Day that Jesus “…paid for our sins on the cross.” (p.86) However, as described on several previous occasions, Mr. Warren’s idea of Sin is lacking, and so his idea of Redemption has no adequate accounting of how the Cross “paid for” sin. Rather than a true idea of Redemption, Mr. Warren’s summation of the work of the Cross is that, “…access to God was once again available.” (p.86) Thus, his idea of becoming a friend of God is couched in the idea that prior to such friendship we were “disconnected from God’s presence.” (p.28) In biblical terms, those who are not God’s friends are His enemies. (Rom. 5:10) In biblical terms we do not struggle to learn “secrets” in order to become God’s friends; God, by His own design, initiative, and power, reconciles us to Himself. The Christian life is characterized as growth unto maturity. (Eph. 4:12-16). Mr. Warren presents his “secrets” of friendship with God on his speculative terms, not on truly biblical terms. Therefore, though many of his themes have the form and appearance of truth, they are in reality full of errant content. Surely, we have no argument with the importance of prayer, Bible reading, honesty, obedience, Christian values, and a desire for God. But it is the very importance of these things that makes their corruption so insidious.

Mr. Warren terms the first of his six secrets “constant conversation” (p.87) by which he evidently means prayer. He suggests that we are to be constantly muttering words and phrases addressed to God as we go about our daily activities. He says, “ ‘Pray without ceasing’ means conversing with God while shopping, driving, working, or performing any other everyday tasks,” (p.87-88) though, he seems torn as to whether this will produce the desired closeness with God. For example, he says on page 88, “Everything you do can be ‘spending time with God’ if he is invited to be a part of it and you stay aware of his presence.” But on the facing page he then says, “Sometimes you will sense God’s presence; other times you won’t.” (p.89) We are left with the image of Man and God urgently casting about to find a way to establish and to develop a friendship for their mutual benefit: God benefiting from the pleasurable emotional experiences Man is able to impart to him, and Man benefiting from the superior wisdom and strength that God has to offer. Mr. Warren supports his idea of prayer by citing I Thessalonians 5:17 twice from two different versions: “Pray without ceasing.” He takes this to mean that we ought to be engaged in prayer at every moment and at no time are we to fail to be in prayer. “How is it possible to do this?” he asks. (p.89) His answer is, “You choose a brief sentence or a simple phrase that can be repeated to Jesus in one breath…” (p.89) and claims that, “many Christians have done [this] for centuries.” (p.89) He provides no references for such a claim. What he describes as prayer “without ceasing” is the chanting of mantras. If we consult the wise Christian teachers who lived and wrote over the centuries that Mr. Warren invokes, we find quite a different idea of I Thessalonians 5:17 than Mr. Warren proposes. Presented below is a mere sampling.

Hilary (4th Century A.D.), in his “Homily on Psalm 1,” wrote, “Parallel to this passage are the words of the Apostle, Pray without ceasing. As though we were bound to set at naught our bodily requirements and to continue praying without any interruption! … The way to secure uninterrupted prayer is for every devout man to make his life one long prayer by works acceptable to God and always done to His glory: thus a life lived according to the Law by night and day will in itself become a nightly and daily meditation in the Law.” Basil (4th Century A.D.), in the Fifth of his Panegyrical Homilies, wrote, “Ought we to pray without ceasing? Is it possible to obey such a command? … Prayer is a petition for good addressed by the pious to God. But we do not rigidly confine our petition to words. Nor yet do we imagine that God requires to be reminded by speech. He knows our needs even though we ask Him not. What do I say then? I say that we must not think to make our prayer complete by syllables. The strength of prayer lies rather in the purpose of our soul and in the deeds of virtue reaching every part and moment of our life… Thus wilt thou pray without ceasing; if thou prayest not only in words, but unitest thyself to God through all the course of life and so thy life be made one ceaseless and uninterrupted prayer.” Augustine (5th Century A.D.), in his commentary “On Psalm 38,” wrote, “For not without meaning did the Apostle say, ‘Pray without ceasing.’ Are we to be ‘without ceasing’ bending the knee, prostrating the body, or lifting up the hands, that he says, ‘Pray without ceasing’? Or if it is in this sense that we say that we ‘pray,’ this, I believe, we cannot do ‘without ceasing.’ There is another inward kind of prayer without ceasing, which is the desire of the heart.” More recently, John Calvin (16th Century A.D.) wrote in his Institutes, Bk. 3, Ch. 20: 28, “The reason why Paul enjoins, ‘Pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks,’ is because he would have us with the utmost assiduity, at all times, in every place, in all things, and under all circumstances, direct our prayers to God, to expect all the things which we desire from him, and when obtained ascribe them to him; thus furnishing perpetual grounds for prayer and praise.” Adam Clarke (18th Century A.D.) wrote in his Commentary on I Thessalonians 5:17, “Ye are dependent on God for every good; without him ye can do nothing; feel that dependence at all times, and ye will always be in the spirit of prayer; and those who feel this spirit will, as frequently as possible, be found in the exercise of prayer.”

We see that for centuries Christians have taught that there is a formal sense of prayer in which we bow the knee, prostrate the body, lift up the hands, as wholly dependent creatures and sinners, piously appealing to God, our Creator and Redeemer, in thanksgiving for the needs of our lives. They have taught also that there is another sense of prayer, as a “spirit of prayer,” in which we manifest a continual, uninterrupted desire for godliness, which has no bounds, and in which we declare by each moment of our lives the holiness of God’s Law. For centuries Christians have taught that it is this latter sense in which we pray literally “without ceasing,” and that we engage in the formal exercise of prayer in season. Mr. Warren wrongly has claimed that his idea of chanting mantras has been the Christian practice for centuries.

Mr. Warren next discusses the importance of reading God’s word. This he refers to as “meditation.” (p.90) Rightly he declares that we must know God’s Word in order to know God, for He reveals Himself in His Word. However, Mr. Warren focuses upon the utility of the Word of God and neglects the authority of this Word. This is evident in the fact that he presents “meditation” as the entirety of our approach to God’s Word. There is a valid exercise of meditation in the Word of God, however, this practice is itself grounded in the didactic study of the Word as the authority for all of thought and life. For Mr. Warren meditation in the Word has utility for Man as a means of “getting to know” God. He also suggests that the Word has utility for God as a means of reaching out to Man, for whom He yearns, as he characterizes the Word as a “method” God utilizes to pursue Man. (p.90) However, given the ideas of God and of Man he has delineated thus far in his treatise, he is prevented characterizing the Word of God in any other terms. If the Word of God is on a par with the word of Man - since in Mr. Warren’s terms the content of the Bible cannot sharply be distinguished from thoughts that “all by themselves” appear in the human mind (p.21) - then the Word of God merely has utility as a means of “getting to know” God in the same way as the words of Man may help us to get to know Man. In contrast to this, a truly orthodox idea of the Word of God couches the utility of the Word in the authority of the Word. God created all of reality by His Word (Gen. 1:2, 6, 9, 11, 14, 20, 24, 26, 29; Jn. 1:1-3). “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us…” (Jn. 1:14) because, “God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son…” (Heb. 1:1-2a) His Word determines reality (Gen. 1:1-31), defines righteousness (Ex. 20:1-17), and engenders faith (Rom. 10:17). In truth Man is a creature and a sinner, and is obliged without excuse to bow before his Creator and his Judge. Reconciliation with God is premised upon these truths alone and cannot arise from any “method” or technique.

Mr. Warren announces, “You are as close to God as you choose to be.” (p.92) This statement reflects very accurately the dynamic that Mr. Warren has constructed in this treatise in his ideas of God and of Man. For him God inhabits a general and undefined “reality” along side Man, though he admittedly is much larger, smarter and more powerful than Man. But, as Mr. Warren conceives it, God and Man share “being” in common, and so mutually benefit from their “relationship,” as elaborated above. According to his idea, Man became “disconnected” from God through some general and undefined thing that is popular to refer to as “sin.” This sort of God “yearns” for Man and sent Jesus to the cross as a demonstration that he “would rather die than to live without” Man. (p.79) Thus, in this dynamic, the initiative is left with Man. The God of modern Evangelicalism has done all that he can do and now must stand by waiting for Man to act. It is in terms of this dynamic that Mr. Warren speaks of the remaining four of his “secrets.” He speaks of honesty, obedience, value, and desire.

Mr. Warren states, “God doesn’t expect you to be perfect…” (p.92). He offers no Scripture text to support such a statement, as evidently not even the loosest of today’s modern, relevant, living paraphrases says anything close to this. Jesus concluded his Sermon on the Mount with the exhortation, “Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Mat. 5:48) The perfection of God, the perfection of His Law (Ps. 19:7), and the ideal of the perfection of human nature (II Cor. 7:1) is the whole basis for God’s wrath due to sin. It is only as sin is completely discounted, as it is in this treatise, that it would make any sense to suggest that God does not expect perfection. However, in lieu of perfection Mr. Warren suggests that God, “…does insist on complete honesty.” (p.92) The ideal of perfection requires repentance of the sinner; the ideal of “honesty” does not. Surely, it is a good thing for one to own up to his true thoughts and feelings. But, when such “honesty” specifically is contrasted with perfection, it becomes a justification for error. In 1963 a very controversial book by Anglican Bishop John A. T. Robinson was published titled Honest to God. In it he explained how “honesty” required him to confess that he really did not believe the Doctrines of Christian Orthodoxy. Did God expect perfection from a Bishop of the Church? Was God pleased with the “honesty” of Bishop Robinson? And what of the “honesty” of Mr. Warren? Would not his ideal of “honesty” require him to be completely self-conscious and forthcoming with his readers in setting aside the Doctrines of Orthodox Christianity in deference to the Humanistic God-talk that we see in his book?

Mr. Warren then proceeds into a discussion of obedience, his fourth “secret.” If God does not expect perfection, then what is the need for obedience? Since the idea of obedience is completely foreign to the system that Mr. Warren has constructed, it is not possible to give an accounting of the inclusion of it here should Mr. Warren himself not comment on this question. It is evident that he struggles with this oddity, as he says, “We don’t normally think of obedience as characteristic of friendship…” (p.95) As a result of this oddity, the only two feasible options are 1) discard the idea of obedience or 2) go back and re-think the idea of the friendship of God and Man. Speaking of honesty, it does not appear that Mr. Warren is being honest in his struggle with this question, for he embraces neither option with any clarity. Citing John 15:14, he wishes to maintain his notion of the correlativity of God and Man while adding to it the idea that Man is obliged to do whatever God commands. He attempts to accomplish this by advancing an idea of “obedience” without any sense of obligation. Says he, “We obey God, not out of duty or fear or compulsion, but because we love him and trust that he knows what is best for us.” (p.95) Mr. Warren assures us that, “God always acts in your best interest…” (p.94) Rather than a God Whose Word defines reality and righteousness, Who does all things for His own Glory, before Whom we bow in fear and obligation as creatures and sinners, Mr. Warren suggests a God whose word consists of good advice, who does all things in our interests, whom we approach as someone who has superior resources and therefore has the ability to make our lives more rewarding, if only we will follow his advice. He is careful to remove all notion of wrath from his idea of God. In his view of things sin is not the breaking of God’s Law, and so the notion of the wrath of God has no place in his system. He assures us, “God is not mad at you; he’s mad about you.” (p.98)

Mr. Warren’s fifth “secret” is to value what God values because, “This is what friends do - they care about what is important to the other person.” (p.96) Among mutual correlates, such as Mr. Warren has cast God and Man, how is it to be determined who has the controlling value? He already has told us that God always acts in our best interests. How is it not the “secret” that God values what we value? What determines it to be the other way around? Mr. Warren does not entertain this question, but proceeds on the assumption that God’s values are the controlling values. One explanation for this would be that God is the Creator and we are the creature, but this would destroy the idea of the correlativity of God and Man that is required to support the system that Mr. Warren is building. Somehow, Mr. Warren assures us, God has the controlling values. He characterizes this as follows: “What does God care about most? The redemption of his people. He wants all his lost children to be found! That’s the whole reason Jesus came to earth.” (p.97) We may rejoice that Mr. Warren finally speaks of redemption in Christ. But, given all that has come before in this book, what can this possibly mean now? Here we have a book that purports to be about the purpose of human life and it is not until page 97 that we encounter the term redemption. It is to be greatly mourned that nothing that is said in the prior 96 pages serves to provide any true, biblical content to this term. It certainly is biblical to state that Jesus came “to seek and to save that which was lost” (Lk. 19:10), but even in this form of orthodoxy Mr. Warren introduces a subtle corruption by characterizing the redemption of Men as that which matters most to God. Mr. Warren has left his opening statement, “It’s not about you” (p.17), far, far behind. Here he confronts an opportunity to recover something of this theme, but passes it by. Even in a context of exhorting his readers to value what God values, the potential of this exhortation is turned back around into a focus upon the fulfillment of human life. “To be a friend of God, you must care about all the people around you whom God cares about.” (p.97) The potentially noble formula, “Man must value what God values,” turns into Humanism thus, “Man must value Man because God values Man.”

The last of Mr. Warren’s “secrets” is desire. “I must desire friendship with God more than anything else.” (p.97) With this discussion he returns to the theme, “You are as close to God as you choose to be.” (p.98) Surely, in the psychology of human experience the godly man will entertain a great desire for God. But it is far from biblical to suggest that one acquires or develops a “friendship” with God by means of his desire. What Man has done with his desire is to have become enticed away into sin. It is the desire and pleasure of God to reconcile sinners unto Himself. By focusing the reconciliation of Man to God upon the desire of Man and the other “secrets” by which Man pretends to determine his relation to God, Mr. Warren has muddied understanding not only of the Christian Doctrines of Creation, Sin, and Redemption, but also has muddied understanding of the true human psychology of prayer, meditation, honesty, obedience, value and desire.


Blogger Beyond The Rim... said...

Mr. Mooney, just a quick note to let you know that it will take a while for me to work through your journal, but I really appreciate the effort and commitment you have made. So, don't give up.

12:42 PM  

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