Sunday, November 07, 2010

Not For Sale

A book review.

Title: The Holy Spirit is Not for Sale
Author: J. Lee Grady

Not long ago I heard of Grady's book, picked it up at Borders Books, and read through it. Grady is best known for being a contributing editor and columnist at Charisma magazine. And his recent book is published by Chosen Books, which is a division of Baker Publishing Group. The paperback edition I purchased runs to about 235 pages, the first four pages having endorsements from Dr. Ronald W. Carpenter Sr., Jack Hayford, Barbara Wentroble, Dr. Naomi Dowdy, R.T. Kendal (PhD), Germaine Copeland, Sujo John, Vinson Synan (PhD), Joni Lamb, Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, David Ravenhill, Jay Lowder, Alice Smith, and Hal Donaldson.

For the publisher to get fourteen different people to write short endorsements makes for endorsement overkill, I think. Except for Hayford and Synan, I've never heard of the other people. But what Grady wrote needed saying even if nobody wanted to sign his name to it in endorsement. People should read the book, and therefore I will refrain from quoting too many portions from it, other than the following money quote on page 26, over in Grady's introduction:
I've been pondering the changes happening in charismatic churches particularly and praying about our future as a movement. …And I've reached an uncomfortable conclusion, namely that the charismatic movement as we know it has ended.
The rest of the book which follows page 26 elaborates on this basic point. If anything, Grady puts things very mildly and pulls his punches. I would have been more emphatic and said the movement now verges on the portals of death, has one foot in the grave, and even now the Grim Reaper knocks at its doors, banging ever louder. Yet somehow it continues to stumble along in rotting moribundity like a gruesome zombie, begging everyone it meets to deliver a final coup de grâce and haul off the corpse to the crematorium. But Grady writes much more politely than I would, especially since book publishers for a xtian audience must avoid excessive mordaciousness.

As I am implying, I do recommend the book. But I would like to note a few minor criticisms of mine. First of all, Grady's book needed to be boiled down to under half its current length. This would have benefited himself and his readers by forcing him to narrowly focus on what was truely important. It seemed to me that Grady would make some point in one part of his book only to repeat himself later on, the same ideas only recast in different words. The redundancy got to be a little tiresome. He really needed to distill his ideas down to their bare essence, and focus on delivering the substance with as a massive a wallop as he could throw. Too often he overstated the obvious, by telling a variety of anecdotes which basically amounted to the same old story of sex, money, arrogance, and so forth.¹ He did mention some names that I've never heard of before.

Secondly, Grady's book lacks clarity regarding whom he intended to address, who his target audience is. Is he addressing the leadership? Or is he addressing the "rank and file"? Grady might have done better not to address the leadership, because they are simply too entrenched in self-interest to reform themselves. Their genius for making excuses amazed me, especially after seeing the cases Grady talked about. Perhaps convincing the rank and file would have been more productive avenue to pursue. Grady could have said to them something like "when you see such and such happening, then for Heaven's sakes stop writing checks to these clowns!" And if everybody followed this advice, 99 percent of the abuses Grady catalogued would have been stopped cold in their tracks. Every since early Sunday school, xtians have had it drummed into their heads the importance of financially supporting the gospel ministry, and indeed they should. But equally important is knowing when to stop. For example, how long would an actor like Todd Bentley² stay in business once the money quit flowing in? Once the gravy train ground to a halt, he might have been forced to get honest employment rather than grifting off of gullible charismatic xtians with his performance arts. Perhaps working an job might have done him a world of good and speeded him onto a genuine "recovery." The very fact that so many continue to defend Todd Bentley demonstrates that Grady has a tough row to hoe.

But these are just minor criticisms of Grady's book. In any case, I did notice Grady using a common literary device, which he employed in different forms throughout the book. I call this "Our Third World Betters," for lack of a more concise term. I've seen it used dozens of times by various xtian writers and bloggers and preachers, and I can almost write a convincing, fictional one about dear pastor Juan José. For pastor Juan lives in a faraway, steamy, poor country in South America, next to that country's capital. He ministers in a small church with a leaky tin-metal roof, and he counts himself especially blessed that its cinder block walls now have glass windows, after receiving some generous contributions from some rich yanqui churches up in Los Estados Unidos, which is how Juan would refer to the United States. The windows help to keep out the swarms of tropical black flies endemic to that country. Who wouldn't be thankful? Juan and his wife have fifteen kids whom they are barely able to feed, and the whole family lives in a two-room plywood hut next to the city trash dump, where some of his older children supplement the meager family income by scavaging for recyclables. Despite having a life of continuous hardship, Juan is a man of tremendous joy and faith, and at his small church, near the other side of the dump, the miracles that happen are so commomplace that when asked about them poor Juan doesn't even know where to begin to tell them all. Now compared to poor Juan, we xtians living here in North America are such dirty rotten…. And so it goes, and any good writer could fill in the ellipsis with any number of things he wished to criticize, although the Third World country could just as easily have been in Africa, or it could have been somewhere in China. Preachers in America often use "Our Third World Betters" to beat their congregations over the head and to shame them, usually into giving more money. Perhaps we should send more money to Juan José instead of someone like Todd Bentley.

Now "Our Third World Betters" as a rhetorical device is often accompanied by a contrasting anecdote, to drive home some point the writer or speaker is trying to make. Grady does this in several places, and at one point he told an especially interesting one:
One friend of mine in Texas recently inquired to see if a prominent preacher could speak at her conference. The minister's assistant faxed back a list of requirements that had to be met in order to book a speaking engagement. The demands included:
  • a five-figure honorarium
  • a $10,000 gasoline deposit for the private plane
  • a hairstylist for the speaker
  • a suite in a five-star hotel
  • a luxuary car from the airport to the hotel (the make and model were specified)
  • room-temperature Perrier water
Grady doesn't say who this preacher was, but when I told a friend about this section in the book, my friend was more than positive that Benny Hinn was the preacher demanding the five-figure honorarium. I think my friend is dead wrong, because Hinn has a large empire to maintain and probably requires something more in the six or seven digit range, and he gets around in a Gulfstream jet instead of a more modest airplane. Notice that Grady doesn't explicitly name the make and model of the car. This probably would have given away who the preacher was. In any case, this kind of contrast is often used to good effect by Grady and other writers as well.

Overall, I recommend J. Lee Grady's book. And when the day comes that Benny Hinn goes bankrupt and Todd Bentley is forced to sell used cars to make a living, we shall know that Grady's book has had a lasting impact.

¹ There are some aspects that Grady didn't emphasize. For example, I would have pointed out two other unwholesome trends. First, there is a widespread and increasingly proprietary entrepreneurialism, for lack of a better term, in how things are done. For example, when I look at the websites run by charismatic ministries, my number one inescapable impression is that the big majority of them are all trying to sell you something. They all want to peddle DVDs and books. They want you to sign up for this and that. The second problem, which I think Grady rather overlooked, is the increasing spiritual syncretism with the world. This is an age old problem in the Church, and lately the problem has cropped up again, perhaps even severely, wherein charismatics are too eager to indiscriminately adopt, willy-nilly, the latest ideas and fads that are floating around. To elaborate on this point, however, would require a long essay of its own, but let me qualify this by saying there's increasing syncretism among evangelicals as well and the problem isn't just endemic to charismatics.

² When I first heard about Todd Bentley and the so called "Lakeland revival," for a time I was willing to keep an open mind since the events there were on the other side of the country from me and I didn't have any direct access to seeing what was going on. But I knew that in the long run Time would tell. I even did a little gumshoe work verifying one of Bentley's claims about his getting an "ordination" from a ministerial outfit up in Canada. The outfit denied having given him any such thing. And, sure enough, Time did eventually tell, and it's all History now. I cite Bentley only because he is the most recent and widely known example of egregious leadership scandals among charismatics.