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Profound insights, even if they've been "warmed over"
on May 25, 2009
In his recent release The Disappearance of God: Dangerous Beliefs in the New Spiritual Openness, Dr. R. Albert Mohler Jr. treats his readers to an intelligent and insightful critique of present dangerous trends in the culture and in the church while offering profound corrective steps to those who seek to remain faithful to Jesus Christ and His Word. If the material in this book has a familiar to feel to regular readers of Mohler's online commentary [...] it is not a case of deja vu. Though the publisher does not inform the reader in the front or back matter, every chapter of the book is a near verbatim repetition of some of the most salient commentaries published there during 2004 and 2005. While one may understand the desire of an author or publisher to not disclose that fact openly, readers' appreciation and comprehension of the book would be greatly aided if they were told that each chapter was intended to stand alone as an individual essay.
Among the essays contained in this volume is Mohler's landmark call for mature Christians to practice theological triage. This essay has received a wide audience and high praise from evangelicals since its original publication in 2004. The church would perhaps be greatly helped in the present generation by a book-length treatment of this subject by Dr. Mohler in the future. Additional essays treat the subjects of assurance, morality, sin, hell, beauty, the emerging church, liberal Christianity, open theism, church discipline, the "post-Christian" age, missions and preaching. Each essay functions well on its own, offering a solidly biblical analysis of the issue in the present milieu. For this reason, the book serves as a handy guide for Christian pastors and lay-people to utilize in responding to the claims and questions of those who have been engulfed in the waves of change in church and culture.
Readers may wonder why certain subjects are treated in single chapters while others are divided into "parts" over several chapters. For instance, the monumental work on theological triage is contained in the eight pages of the book's opening chapter, while the Augustinian flavored discussion of beauty covers three chapters and totals nearly thirty pages. The discussion on church discipline is divided into four parts (or chapters), covering some thirty-five pages. The divisions are as they are because of the original form of the essays. For instance, the four parts covering church discipline were originally published online on May 13, 16, 17, and 18 of 2005. Though a major editorial change may have resulted in a wide variation of chapter lengths, one cannot help wondering if continuity may have been better established in the book by combining these thematic units into singular chapters.
Additionally, because of minimal editorial work prior to publication, some loose ends are left untied. Chapter 14, on the divisive issue of Open Theism within the Evangelical Theological Society begins by stating, "Theology was front and center at the 2003 meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society in Atlanta, Georgia." Mohler goes on to detail the charges which were being brought against Clark Pinnock and John Sanders for their teachings on the openness of God and the subsequent vote that was to determine if they would be able to remain members of the Society. The chapter ends with the statement, "This much is certain -- God will not change based on how a vote turns out." The original essay, written during the week of the Society meeting in 2003, ended as follows: "This much is certain -- God is not waiting to see how this vote turns out." Certainly both concluding statements are true, however, had Mohler or an editor chosen to include what actually happened with that vote (which took place over five years prior to publication of the book) perhaps his point of the theological demise within Evangelicalism would have been strengthened, in addition to his readers' curiosity satisfied. In point of fact, the Society did not vote to remove the offending brothers. Thus, inclusion of this information would have demonstrated that tolerance of unbiblical beliefs has not only infected the culture, liberal Christianity, and the emerging church, but even the cradle of evangelical theology.
Another significant weak spot in the book is in the treatment on the emerging church. While the information presented in these chapters is accurate and the analyses needed, readers may be disappointed to find very little original analyses by Mohler himself. The essays that make up chapters 10 and 11 amount to a protracted book review of D. A. Carson's Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church. Carson's work may be the most relevant and balanced examination of the emergent trends, yet in a book such as this by a scholar such as Mohler, one should expect to find original insight and critique rather than a summation of another's work. As president of one of the largest seminaries in the world, Mohler is certainly able to respond to the issues presented by the emergence of a radically different church in our day. It is our loss that we do not have it contained herein.
Although each article stands very well on its own to offer pointed and profound theological and cultural analysis, in their present form they have the feel of a disjointed miscellany, lacking the flow of careful thematic development from start to finish within the book's covers. While a reconsideration of the order of the chapters may have aided this somewhat, perhaps what is more needed is a more careful editorial process which would take the articles as they were originally written and weave them together in a way that more cohesively develops the theme of the "disappearance of God."
If this reviewer understood the main point of the book as a whole, it is that the disappearance of God in the culture has created a spiritual vacuum. Many in the church have responded to this vacuum inadequately by accomodating cultural trends to the neglect of biblical doctrine. Traditional understandings of God, hell, and the church have been jettisoned in exchange for postmodern and post-Christian ideals. Mohler addresses several of the most pressing concerns of our day (more accurately, of 2004-2005, for some of these concerns have undergone a course correction to some degree in the intervening years) with searing intellectual analyses and offers a clarion wake-up call to the church. Mohler would have the church to recommit itself to expository preaching, absolute truth, and gospel-centered missions, uniting around the central and most precious of Christian doctrines through a process of theological triage.
In conclusion, The Disappearance of God represents some of the most clear-thinking biblical thinking about several pressing issues that the church needs to confront in our day by one of its most articulate voices. Those who have read the essays before will be disappointed perhaps to find that this book contains nothing that they have not already encountered. Still, we should be glad to be reminded of the truths these writings contain and grateful to have them bound in one volume (not to mention having them accessible when there is no wi-fi connection or when a power outage occurs). While the initial disappointment of being served intellectual leftovers may taste bitter at first bite, we must not allow ourselves to be so cynical to miss the blessing that is ours because of gifted men and the fruit of their labor such as we have in this volume. The church should be grateful for present-day voices like Al Mohler, and for publishers who wish to broaden their impact.