on October 8, 2012
"Greater" by Steven Furtick
"Greater = the life-altering understanding that God is ready to accomplish a kind of greatness in your life that is entirely out of human reach. Beyond Steve Jobs. Beyond what you see in yourself on your best day. But exactly what God has seen in you all along."
This is the closest thing to a definition of "greater" that Steven Furtick could give us. Unfortunately, He doesn't really mean it. It is clear that Furtick has charisma and is a gifted communicator, but that simply doesn't cut it. It does not seem too much to ask for a definition of the word that you will throw around all over the book. At one point, "greater" is becoming rich, influential, and successful beyond your wildest dreams while at other points "greater" is simply sucking it up and enduring the nightmare that has been your job, marriage, or life. And it all depends on you.
I'm really not out to get Furtick. I had high hopes in reading this book, but there is nothing concrete. There is no firm foundation for the readers to stand on. As much as Furtick might try to sweet talk his way out of it, he leaves us (or introduces us) to a god who is distant and moody. A god who plays with our emotions at times in hopes that we will somehow get it right. A god who is waiting for us to get our act together, otherwise he simply can't or won't work. Furtick's god is not the God of the Bible.
Furtick's book is misleading at best. He gives no clear definition for the word he uses throughout the book and even as the title. There can be no practical help when there is no practical use for the word. I can use the word "love" all day long, but if "love" starts to mean something other than "love" it ceases to be "love." Furtick wants everyone to feel like God has called them to be Steve Jobs, but that's simply not the case. Furtick, to his credit, does not claim that everyone can be the next Steve Jobs, but in ambiguously using "greater" he wants you to think you can. He's a motivational speaker using God as the means by which you become successful in your own eyes.
Furtick's book tries to impress us with stories of overcoming obstacles, letting go of past failures, and becoming what we've always dreamed of becoming. He claims to have biblical basis for his practically non-practical approach to faith and life, but the misses the point. A point that Furtick could not agree with, but one that he fights against in his book. Jesus says in Matthew 23:11, "The greatest among you shall be your servant." I don't think that Steven Furtick would have a problem with Jesus saying this. Steven might even point to this verse when people come to him and ask him why burning their plows, digging ditches, and striking the water didn't work for them. No one wants to be the servant. No one has dreams of being the servant. No one forsakes everything to be the servant. The focus cannot be on us. God's work cannot be dependent on our faith or action. "Our God is in the heavens and He does whatever pleases Him." (Psalm 115:3, emphasis added) Our call is to pursue Christ, not pursue an ambiguous dream of something "greater."
on October 13, 2012
2 out of 5 Stars
Author: Steven Furtick
Reading Level: Leisure
I haven't read Furtick's other book but everything I heard was either unbridled praise or scorn. I don't know if Greater deserves either of those extremes. I found some portions of the book helpful but most of it was self-help knitted into the story of Elisha--which is weird. He seems self-aware that his message is primarily one of self-empowerment while rejecting "self-help" as a title. For instance Furtick says,
I'd understand if you were tempted to write me off as just another self-help hype man, wheeling and dealing promises about a better you that won't hold up in reality. . . .
I'd be suspicious about someone who said those kinds of things.
But I haven't said, and don't plan to say, any of those things in this book.
Instead I want to walk you straight into the gap between the greater things God has promised in His Word and the results we see in our lives. (pp. 12-13; see also p. 37)
Later he says, "I've built my whole ministry by motivating people" (p. 74). There's a tension and I'm not sure it's a healthy one. The gospel isn't about motivating people.
Back to my biggest critique. Furtick displaces the story of Elisha from its context and works the idea of his book into it. I don't think it works primarily because the idea of dreaming bigger, starting smaller, and igniting God's vision for your life isn't present.
The Old Testament is filled with instructive stories but they are notoriously hard to preach and teach from. Furtick is over his head here. For example, let's take the first two steps he gives to greater living. Step one becoming more acutely aware of God's presence in your life (p. 29). But it's not only or even primarily the objective word of God or the freedom we have in Christ to obey him in a thousand different ways rather it's paying "attention to the spiritual vibrations around you" (p. 34).
The next step is "burning the plows" by leaving good behind and seeking greater (pp. 46-50). But again it's all subjective which ties back into my point: Where are these points in Elisha's story? First, even it were, Elisha's story isn't normative. His experience is supernatural but it's not subjective. He wasn't waiting for spiritual vibrations. Elijah, God's spokesman on earth, came and directly revealed God's will for Elisha's life life. We have the Bible but it doesn't directly tell us to work here or do that but that's the beauty of our freedom in Christ.
Finally and probably the most atrocious example is found in Furtick's use of the story of the lost axe head as a parallel for losing your "edge" (pun intended by Furtick) in the Christian life. The advice itself isn't so bad (crying out to God and relying on him to do the stuff we can't do) but I'm not sure the story of 2 Kings 6 is the right story for that.
He ends by asking, "Is going after a greater life even biblical? . . . Over the next few chapters I'll address [this question] head on. Not always with tidy answers. But from a Biblical perspective" (p. 91). But he failed to carry through on his promise. He did provide an answer but it wasn't rooted in faithful exposition of Scripture. He tells the story of the Shunammite woman's dying son and then follows up by saying,
Sometimes people hear from God, or think they hear from God, and they burn their plows. Or they dig their ditches. Or they pour the one jar of oil. And instead of being given beauty for ashes, they are given ashes for ashes. (p. 98)
It's seems greater faith is equated with subjectiveness and risky living. If there's some truth and value in taking risks it's lost in the over emphasis. Compare this pulled punch with the first quotation in my review. Or with this:
Elijah passed on his mantle to Elisha. Through your surrender to God's Spirit, the mantle of Elisha has been passed on to you. Think of the scriptures you've encountered in this book as your cloak. Bound up in God's Word is the impartation you need to leave your life of good enough behind and step into the greater life God has had in mind for you all along. You're about to make your crossing. Your divine destiny waits for you on the other side. (p. 184)
The story of Elisha is so integral to the message of Greater that it's nearly impossible to separate the bad interpretation of the story from the message Furtick is telling.
A free copy of this book was provided by Multnomah.
on September 14, 2012
"The thing is, most believers aren't in imminent danger of ruining their lives. They're facing a danger that's far greater: wasting them."
Steven Furtick is a man whose life isn't being wasted. In listening to his podcasts over the years he has become my favorite preacher. So I must say that I had an advantage in reading this book...I could hear it being preached to me. I could hear his tone of voice when telling a funny story and knew when his voice would raise with passion when presenting a point he wanted to drive home. That being said, whether you are familiar with Pastor Steven or just hearing his name for the first time, get your highlighter ready - this book is full of wisdom and practical application.
Here's what I liked about the book that sets it apart:
1) It's Real. Pastor Steven is willing to share his "behind the scenes" questions and insecurities. The book also tackles the question of wasted faith. What happens when you do all the right things on a path to a greater life, but your situation ends with heartache? Was your faith wasted?
2) It's Biblical. The book follows the story of Elisha the prophet, taking events from his ministry and applying them to our journey toward being greater. Pastor Steven shares God's Word in a way that brings insight and understanding.
3)It's Attainable. He says "God's greater purpose in any area of your life means giving up your false expectations of greatness to find the greater things He's called only you to do." It all boils down to taking small steps of obedience and allowing God's greatness to show through you.
This book will ignite God's vision for your life. (Good preaching, Pastor!) There are also small group discussion questions included for each chapter.
I just have one little complaint. The last page advertises a new CD by Elevation Worship...12 songs written to go along with the content of this book, corresponding to each chapter. That is right up my alley! But after doing some research I discovered the CD won't be released until Feb 2013! And so I wait...
*I received a complimentary copy of this book from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishers in exchange for an honest review.
on September 14, 2012
There is no doubt that the author of this book has some understanding. If, for example, one were to take the chapter on pride, and prune it of some of the extraneous stuff and the rather bizarre slams of Lebron James, much of what he says there would be rather well on target, almost worth the price of the book in itself. And there are other parts of the book that are the same.
But there are a couple of chapters that lead me to think that even he doesn't completely buy what he himself is trying to sell.
His overall message could be summed up as this, that if we do certain things, then we will have this "greater" life. If we burn our plows, if we dig our ditches, if we keep or refind our edge, then we will stop having a mundane, ordinary life of repetitious work and bottom-line living.
It would be interesting to try to come up with a clever name for chapters 7 and 8. Given that the author makes a big deal out of Elisha the plowboy looking at oxen rears while working, it would be fair to say that these chapters are the author covering his own rear. They are, in effect, his caveats, his disclaimer. In his own words...
"Sometimes you pray in great faith, act in great obedience-- and the miracle still doesn't come. The ditch stays dry. You still have only one jar of oil. Sometimes you've done everything you know to do, and in the end you're left with a sense of disappointment with God, even a sense that God has failed you. And if you have never experienced a moment like that, well, quite honestly you haven't lived long enough." (Kindle Locations 1195-1198).
He gives some accounts of people he knowns who have apparently done the kinds of things he recommends in his methods, and things didn't work out. In order to make sense of that, he posits the theory that there is something like a "trust fund"...
"Here's what I've come to believe: God has a trust fund with my name on it. He's governing every deposit He originally made in my life. And although I haven't seen the terms or the details, He knows the exact time every resource needs to be released to me." (Kindle Locations 1373-1375).
And his basis for this idea? In Genesis, where it is said, "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness". Apparently, the author just looked for the word "credit" in the Bible, and thought it would apply. "The Bible says God handled Abraham's belief according to a sort of divine credit system." (Kindle Locations 1387-1388). Perhaps the author could use some study work on Romans to help with understanding what that really means.
But the point is this, the author cannot absolutely guarantee that if you do all the things he says you should do, things will work out. Why is that? I think that it is because there is one element to the account of Elisha that is missing or misinterpreted in this book. In the account of Elisha, there are prophets who were actually hearing from God.
Here's the truth. If Elisha had burnt his plows without having been called by Elijah to come with him, he would have bene acting presumptuously, not in faith. If Elisha had told the kings that there would be water in the morning, and in the morning there was no water, then he would have been a false prophet. If Elisha had told the woman that within the next year she would have a child, and in that year she had no child, he would have been a false prophet. If Elisha had told the woman to pour her small amount of oil into all the other jars she had collected, and the only oil she poured would have been the original amount from the original jar, he would have been a false prophet.
And given that today there are no prophets (plenty of people pretending to be prophets, true, but given how inaccurate their prophecies are, they've already proven themselves to not be true prophets), we must look elsewhere for a sure word from God. And that place isn't inside ourselves, listening to some kind of vague, hard-to-hear voice in our hearts, which the Bible says nothing about. And mentioning the Bible, that is the place to look for that sure word from God.
But in place of either prophets or the Word of God, what does this author give us? "You have to pay attention to the spiritual vibrations around you." (Kindle Location 537). First, please stop singing the Beach Boys' song. Second, please stop building a theology around the Beach Boys song. Third, please tell us anywhere in the Bible saying anything about "spiritual vibrations" and us needing to pay attention to them. The author of this book doesn't. Look at the context of that quote, and you'll see that the author gives no Scripture to support his claims, not even out-of-context Scripture.
There are lots of truly strange things being taught concerning ways of hearing God's voice, such that writing about "spiritual vibrations" is rather mild in comparison. For a good rebuttal to such teachings, I would recommend Finding the Will of God?: A Pagan Notion?
I contend that this unsound element in his teachings is one reason he must spend two chapters issuing a disclaimer and trying to create the idea of some kind of heavenly trust fund. This unsound element is one thing that makes his teachings in this book completely unsound.
One last thing...
There is something the author and I have in common--we both like to eat. Unlike the author, though, I'd like to show some respect to those who actually grow the food that I eat. He may think that doing the mundate, repetitive work of plowing a field to be work that a Christian should be above doing, but for my part, such work is to be respected, and any Christian who does such work has no cause to hang his head in shame before anyone, even and especially a big-city mega-church pastor. In fact, it would probably do some good for some big-city mega-church pastors to get out from behind their pulpits (and from in front of their cameras) and get behind an honest pair of oxen, or up on a tractor, and plow some rows.
on October 31, 2012
Steven Furtick, pastor of Elevation Church in Charlotte, NC has written a new book entitled "Greater". Furtick writes on the premise that the Christian can have a better and greater life than the one they are living. He writes, "most believers aren't in imminent danger of ruining their lives. They're facing a danger that's far greater, wasting them." He deals with the choices of lives we as believers can live. There is Good Enough, baseline life marked by mediocrity. There is Greatness, unrealistic aspirations of somehow doing better only to be frustrated. There is Greater, in his words, "the life-altering understanding that God is ready to accomplish a greatness in your life that is entirely out of human reach." Furtick loosely pins his book to one single verse, John 14:12. The framework of this book is the story of the calling of the Old Testament prophet Elisha. Each of the latter chapters deal with different aspects of Elisha's life and ministry.
There is nothing new in this book. I found "Greater", in my opinion, to be too far on the side of "Name It Claim It" theology. Furtick writes, "You only have to be willing to believe and press into the greater things God has already prepared for you." He writes, "it is true that God has a greater life in store for you than anything you have known before." He further writes, "You've come too far to give up now." The best part of this book is the story of Elisha's calling. Furtick communicates this powerful Old Testament story very well. As far as the focal verse of John 14:12 goes, I believe the true meaning and context of the verse did not match the premise of the book. "Greater" is "Sun Stand Still" with a different story line. To be perfectly honest, if you have read Joel Osteen's "Your Best Life Now", don't waste your time on this book.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Waterbrook Multnomah Publishers as part of their Blogger Review Program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."
on September 16, 2012
Stephen Furtick, pastor and founder of the growing Elevation Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, believes that Christians can be greater. I wholeheartedly agree and that is why I chose to read this book.
Furtick says, "Most believers aren't in imminent danger of ruining their lives. They're facing a danger that's far greater: Wasting them!" He, then, proceeds to talk about how God will bring the greater life to you. It may come through hardships and setbacks. We will have to burn the plows from our old lives to see what God will do in our future.
This book is full of great thoughts like, "His greatest ambition in leading you into greater things isn't that you would know what to do. It's that you would know who He is!" Furtick uses the life of Elisha to show how God can bring us from good to greater.
This book is inspirational and motivates others to want greater things in their walk with God. But I am not sure that this book really covers what John 14:12 is really all about. I felt like Furtick gives us this verse and then goes on to show only part of what the verse was really all about. Nevertheless, I do think many will be encouraged by the message of this book.
I received this electronic review copy from Waterbrook Multnomah and Edelweis for my honest review.
on January 15, 2016
This book Greater, is just what I needed to start my New Year off right. I have to be honest and say that Steven Furtick has never been a favorite speaker or author of mine, although I have heard him in person and really was impressed, encouraged, and challenged by his message. But this book, about the Old Testament Prophet Elijah passing his mantle of ministry on to Elisha. Although Elijah had done great things, Elisha asked for a double portion of Elijah's anointing and in the end he did even greater things. And the great things is, you and I have been passed the mantle of Jesus and we can and will do even greater things than He did. These are Jesus words, not mine.
If you need some fuel for your journey, this is a great book to start with this year.
on August 20, 2013
"Naaman was a rock star." - Steven Furtick
Why does the book exist?
Steven Furtick's basic premise is that "most of us are not in danger of ruining their lives, we're in danger of wasting them."
This book promises not to be just another "self-help psuedo solution" but to "give you confidence to know that nothing is impossible with God, the clarity to see the next step He's calling you to take, and the courage to do anything He tells you to do."
Does he succeed in all this? Maybe I'm getting old, but this book reads like it comes from the experience level of a teenager. When I read quotes like "Naaman was a rock star", or "Captain Awesomesauce", or "history would be rewritten" it gets difficult to take it seriously. If I can't take a book seriously it's not going to give me confidence, clarity or courage.
What does Furtick do well?
The book is easy to read and engaging. He weaves personal anecdotes in and out of the message with ease.
In general, he encourages the reader to trust in God even when it doesn't seem like things are getting better.
He also encourages the reader to not settle for good enough, or mediocrity. However, this one gets sticky because he assumes that if what you're doing something like farming, or working a 9-5 job, then you're stuck in the mundane and mediocre.
And that's about all the good I can pull out of this book.
Where does the book fail?
The book is fraught with problems, but I'm going to narrow it down to three.
Furtick makes a lot of assumptions and they start at the very beginning. At the end of chapter 2, Furtick describes Elisha, the prophet whose life is the basis for the book.
"Elisha started out just like many of us, living under the tyranny of the ordinary, plowing hard dirt."
Elisha's first appearance in the Bible (1 Kings 19) finds him driving a plow behind a team of oxen. It was certainly hard work, but we are never told how Elisha feels about this work. Did he love it? Did he hate it? Was he doing a good job, or a poor job? We don't know. Furtick makes the assumption that Elisha must be suffering from the "tyranny of the ordinary." Even though there's no evidence of it, Furtick needs Elisha to hate his job for the premise of the book to work; if you're just plowing a field, you must be wasting your life.
The next big problem is the allegory. Furtick has a bad habit of turning events into allegories.
When Elijah shows up to commission Elisha, Elisha burns his plows (1 Kings 19:21). Furtick then asks, "What plow do you need to burn?"
In 2 Kings 5 a man named Naaman wants to be cured of leprosy. Elisha instructs him to wash in the Jordan River seven times to be healed. Naaman refuses because the water is too dirty for him. Furtick asks us the question, "What is the Jordan River in your life?"
In 2 Kings 6:5 one of Elisha's disciples is swinging an axe and it flies off the handle into the river. Furtick asks, "How have you lost your edge?" Your edge, like an axe head; get it?
These events aren't morality tales, they are actual events. Elisha burning his plows means Elisha burned his plows. Naaman was actually told to wash in the Jordan. Elisha's disciples actually lost an axe head. To allegorize these events is to make the Bible about you instead of God.
The sad part is how Furtick applies his own allegory. When Elisha burned his plows it was his source of income. No plow, no income. He was committing himself to God's call through Elijah. There was no going back. How does Furtick apply this? He burned his CD collection.
In my opinion there is one problem with this book that is "greater" than all the rest: It's confusing. Furtick relies so heavily on emotional pulls and motivational cliches that he must think the reader will gloss over the "yes it is/not it isn't" logic running through each chapter.
In one particular chapter he tells the reader it's not about Jesus and then explains why it is about Jesus. Then he explains again why it is always, but never, about Jesus.
"The more I study the earthly ministry of Jesus Christ, the more I'm struck by an irony that marked his attitude toward His life. If Jesus had published a campaign slogan, I think it would have gone something like this: It's not about Jesus." (Greater, page 131)
Admitting this will sound heretical he quotes a couple of Bible verses; Philippians 2:6-7 and Matthew 20:28, Luke 12:37. None of these passages imply that Jesus' ministry wasn't about Jesus, only that He came to serve.
Then he starts to back track.
Let me say clearly and definitively: everything is for Jesus's glory. (Greater, page 132)
So, it is about Jesus. Well, no, it isn't.
But as He walked the earth, how did Jesus demonstrate the riches of His eternal glory? By getting down low. By choosing the way that made Him appear to be nothing in the eyes of people, all the while reconciling all things to Himself with a servant's towel around His waist. It only stands to reason: if it wasn't about Jesus, then it definitely isn't about you." (Greater, page 133)
Okay, so what he means by "It's not about Jesus" is that it's not about us. That's fair, it's not about us, but does that mean it's not about Jesus? Didn't Jesus claim to be one with the father? Didn't Jesus commend Peter for identifying Him as the Messiah? Didn't John the Baptist proclaim that Jesus was the lamb of God?
Furtick goes on to confuse the issue even more.
"In the words of the One whom it was all about / never about: `Whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it' (Mark 8:35)" (Greater, page 133)
"All about / never about"? That's a logical impossibility and to suggest that it's never about Jesus is just plain wrong and the verse he quotes proves it. Enough said.
The Wrap Up
As much as Steven Furtick wants to believe he's on to something new with this book, he isn't. The dustcover of the books says, "If you're tired of being ordinary - dream bigger." But what's wrong with being ordinary? What's wrong with doing your job well, providing for your family, and raising godly children? In Philippians 4, Paul talked about being content in all circumstances, but Furtick wants to incite us to discontent. If God calls you to do something different than what you're doing, then you should do it, but never despise what God is doing with you right now, right where you're at.
This is what "Greater" feels like: a motivational speaker who, because he's also a pastor, shoe horns scripture into his messages to make them sound Christian. Consequently you get a good idea with no foundation. It reminds me of when Jesus talked about building a house (good idea) on sand (bad idea) in Matthew 7:24-27. Funny, in that passage Jesus was saying that those who put his words into practice were like the man who built his house on a solid foundation. I guess it was about Jesus.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review. I was not required to write a positive review. Check out my other reviews and you'll see this is often true.
on September 5, 2012
I have always respected Steven Furtick for how relatable he is in his messages. Fortunately, that carries through in this book. It's very personal and feels conversational rather than pastor-to-pew. At a basic level, the book is about realizing our brokenness before God and realizing that we must become less so that we can allow Him to be greater in our lives.
You won't regret buying it!
on March 3, 2013
It's probably a good thing to read a "personal motivation" book like this now and again, but I can't help but feel that people like Steven Furtick (who is most definitely a "purpose driven" sort of guy) don't understand that most people probably don't relate to the extraordinary examples of purpose-driven-ness found in the Bible (such as Elisha, who forms the key case-history for Furtick in this book). It is occasionally consoling to think that every Bible verse is a direct promise to everyone, and every example is a dead-on example for everyone, but I'm afraid I don't quite believe that. This doesn't stop me from trying harder, and, as I say, books like this probably do me more good than harm. But if my life doesn't eventually reflect a bigger dream, or more obvious purpose, will this book have simply added to my guilt? Tough question.