Monday, April 19, 2010

What's In A Title?

If anyone needed proof that some North American Christians have become consumed by humanistic dogma, consider the title of a newly-released book written by Jim Pace, “Should We Fire God?”

Am I the only person who shivers at the audacity and hubris represented by such an imperious and presumptuous title?

Maybe Pace doesn't even realize how dangerous his book's title appears. After all, many evangelicals have had their world view warped by contemporary Christianity's seeker movement which conveys an imballanced perspective on mankind's hierarchy juxtaposed with the Divine. In other words, man-centered ministry has replaced God-centered ministry in so many churches to the point that a title like this was probably inevitable.

First, Some Background

Pace pastors a church near the Virginia Tech campus, and college students comprise a significant percentage of his congregation. After the infamous atrocities committed by deranged shooter Seung-Hui Cho in 2007 at Virginia Tech, Pace quickly became one of the personalities turned to by the media for expert commentary regarding how the university’s faith communities were responding to the crisis.

During the intervening years, Pace has fielded numerous questions of angst, confusion, fear, and disillusionment over the God-factor in this horrible event. Where was God? Why did He allow something like this to happen? Isn’t He supposed to be a God of love and peace?

Without dismissing as irrelevant the honest search for answers after tragedies, while acknowledging that a lot of things that happen to and around us create vivid perplexities we may never resolve, and with a personal conviction that to ask such questions and wrangle with such emotions is neither sinful nor unbiblical, I must qualify all of our anxieties and doubts with God’s own admonishment that we should never mock Him by denying His existence, dismissing His sovereignty, or refuting His love for us.

Why I Have Problems With the Title

Can we ever presume to expect God and His will to be subjected to our finite insight? In how many ways is the title of Pace’s book implausible at best and sacrilegious at worst?

  1. If you are a supervisor and you fire somebody, what are you doing? You are telling a subordinate that their presence in or contribution to your mission is no longer required by you or your organization. You are saying that you can function at least equally well, if not better, without that person.
  2. Can the created tell the Creator that He is no longer a viable entity?
  3. Doesn’t the basic premise of the question indicate a supposition that mortals have the authority to dismiss the presence of God as irrelevant or unnecessary?
  4. What is the point at which mortals can pass judgment on God’s importance and relevance without being heretical?
  5. Can one biblically extrapolate the possibility of broaching the idea that God can be “fired” in any context while still believing in His sovereignty, infallibility, and complete perfection?
  6. How inappropriate is it to entitle a book with a statement that purports to ascribe potential legitimacy to heresy?

"Don't Knock It 'Till You Try It?"

Of course, a popular defense of books is “you can’t critique it without reading it.” And if I were purporting to write a book review, I would agree. But I’m not writing a book review; I’m responding to known facts about the book, and specifically, its title.

When the woefully inaccurate and deceptively myopic “Wild At Heart” by John Eldridge came out in 2001, defenders of the book tried to muffle widespread cries of dissent by asking “did you read the book?” But how silly an argument is that? Do we need to read Playboy to know its content? Do you need to drive a Lexus before deciding whether or not you can afford it? Can evangelicals believe in Jesus Christ without reading the Bible cover to cover?

Even a lot of book reviewers don’t read the entire book they’re reviewing. I believe the standard is the first two chapters and the last chapter, and maybe the first paragraph of the other chapters.

People of discernment can usually determine the validity of something by it’s name or title, what other people of discernment (or lack of it) have already said about it, the way the item is marketed, and what the creators of the item say about it.

That’s what I’ve done with Pace’s book. I’ve checked out his personal website, his church’s website, and read an interview of him on Crosswalk. I’ve also taken what things I know about the character of God and applied all of these things to my evaluation of the book’s title. And I have to confess, the fact that Pace’s book has a forward written by Rick Warren did not prejudice me positively.

From the reviews I’ve read, most of Pace’s material in the book adheres to a fairly standard formula of listing grievances against God and then struggling with hard answers. If it weren’t for the title, perhaps the book would become invisible among the plethora of other Christian angst writings. Pace himself admits that we Americans have a very low tragedy tolerance threshold compared to other cultures around the globe.

Asking Questions Is One Thing...

Now, be as careful here as I’ve tried to be: the fact that many people have been confused with and angry at God because of the perverse and atrocious things He allows to happen in our world does not mean that we sin when we have these reactions and emotions. The fact that Pace has written a book that delves into these deep, dark questions is not the issue.

However, believers are admonished that in our anger, we are not to sin. We are not to deny God His deity. We are to relinquish the control we think we have to Him and rest in His sovereignty.

Does Pace’s title accomplish any of these directives? How does Pace’s professed insight into God’s workings through tragedy manifest itself in the title?

To the extent that the title of a book actually represents its content, does the title “Should We Fire God?” warrant evangelical consideratrion as helpful reading material? Should it raise red flags cautioning against possible misinterpretations of Biblical suffering? Even if "should we fire God?" is a question one of Pace's counseling patients asked, shouldn't he have exercised better judgment than to put it in lights as the book's title?

Or did Pace’s publishers think a more controversial, eye-catching title might sell more books?

For further consideration:

  • Job 38:1-7
  • Job 42:1-6

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