One of the greatest advantages of blogging specifically to review books is that I’m able to read a lot of books I normally wouldn’t read on my own, partly because when I choose books I choose stuff I may not spend money on, and partly because some stuff literally just lands in my lap. This has been a great experience over the past several months. Today I finished reading Defeat Fear Forever by Christina Li, one of those books that literally just landed in my in-box to review. Ms. Li’s first book can be purchased by visiting her web page, and she also has a blog which can be accessed by clicking here.
Now for my review. Over all, I found the book rather simplistic and lacking in depth, not to mention some significant theological issues; I also found her reliance on the KJV to be cumbersome to read through at the beginning of the book, though, to be fair, she also quotes heavily from the Amplified and the Message (KJV at the beginning, with more Amplified in the middle, and the Message in the latter third). In terms of readability, her writing is very conversational and easy to understand, though when Bible verses are quoted back-to-back in multiple translations I did find myself wishing she had chosen one over the other instead of making me wade through two different ways of saying the same thing.
My biggest disappointment in the book is that there was no clinical examination of fear, no exploration of the psychological sources of it. Granted, the book was clearly written for Christians (the gospel message is not even introduced until the latter 1/3 of the book), focusing solely on the spiritual aspects of fear without giving it any context psychologically left too much up to the reader to understand exactly what she was referring to. For example, while Ms. Li touches on the difference between positive fear (“fear of the Lord”) and negative fear, there could have been a much deeper study of these two terms that would have made the book easier to read. Each chapter ends with a summary paragraph (or paragraphs) that begin with something along the lines of “In this chapter, we discussed…” and for the first three or four chapters when I got to that paragraph I literally found myself thinking, “Oh, so that’s what this chapter was about? That’s not what I thought.”
While I understand that there are differences of opinion within Christianity in regards to theology, there are three major concerns I have with this book, and, over and above my criticism above, are why I would not recommend it to any of my friends or family. Before I mention those, let me be clear that I fully accept that Ms. Li is a sister of mine in Christ and I am not suggesting she is not. I am simply taking a different opinion on three theological issues (one which I consider rather significant). The first is her position on speaking in tongues, the second is the implication that we can loose our salvation, and the third is her over-glorification of man in God’s eyes. Without going into a deep theological treatise here defending my own views, I’ll simply show hers and say how my disagreement impacts my understanding of the book.
Let’s start with tongues. While many evangelicals will say that tongues has ceased, I am not one of those people. My issue with Ms. Li is not that she believes in the gift of tongues or speaks in tongues herself. My issue is that at multiple times throughout the book she heavily implies that tongues are a requirement for salvation. Take this statement from Chapter 6, where she presents the gospel message:
“The obvious first thing to do is repent of your sins (say you’re sorry for all the bad things you’ve done), get baptized in Jesus’ name, and receive the Holy Ghost with the evidence of speaking in other tongues, Acts 2:38”
Again, I have no issue with speaking in tongues, but in this passage, and several others throughout the book, Ms. Li seems to suggest that tongues are a sign that we are saved, which begs the question: If I don’t speak in tongues am I not saved? And if that is the case it is simply not Biblical teaching. Paul himself addresses the issue of tongues quite extensively in his epistles to the Corinthians and flat out tells us that not everyone speaks in tongues – it is a gift to some but not to others. To list speaking in tongues as a requirement in the same sentence as “repent of your sins” during a gospel call is to put a requirement on salvation that just isn’t in the scripture. Later on in the book she retells an incident where she went in to pray for a friend in the hospital and wasn’t sure what to say to the person, so she prayed first in tongues and “waited for the interpretation.” (Chapter 9). While I’ll be honest and say I don’t have this gift of the Spirit, I will say my understanding of Scripture is that the person who speaks in tongues is never the interpreter for what was said. Perhaps I’m wrong on this second point, and if I am any of you readers are free to point that out. This is not my main issue with the tongues issue.
My second issue is that suggestion that we can loose our salvation. Again, I’ll quote Ms. Li in Chapter 6:
“Once a person has been saved, he/she needs to take steps that will insure he/she stays saved.”
As with tongues, the doctrine of eternal security is one that (unfortunately) divides people and denominations. But it is a doctrine I subscribe to. So let’s be clear on this: Scripture clearly teaches that once we are saved we can not loose our salvation, so there are no “steps” we can or must take to “insure [we] stay saved” – it’s simply not Biblical. Why is this an issue? In a book about overcoming fear I find it absurd that the author would place forth a doctrine which should rightly contribute to fear (ie, “I’m afraid because I don’t know if I’m saved or not. Did I do enough today to insure my salvation? What about yesterday? Have I confessed all my sins?”) This one doctrinal position seems to me to make her entire thesis impossible (that being, we can overcome fear forever).
Finally, what I call the over-glorification of man in God’s eyes. Perhaps this is symantix, but, again, it is significant. Ms. Li throughout the book seems to have a very high opinion of humans, writing that
“In fact, He [God] wants me to sit on His throne – next to Him!” (Chapter 6)
Now, again, this may not be that big of an issue, but I read no where in scripture where we are told we will sit next to God on His throne. God is the only one who will sit on God’s throne. Yes, we as humans are the crown of creation and we will serve as judges over angels, but we will not sit on God’s throne. She talks about the difference between vertical and horizontal relationships (ie, Master/Servant and then two equals); the book indicates that God wants to have both a vertical and a horizontal relationship with us, but while Christ does call us his brother we are never equal to Christ – we will share in his glory, but never in the fulness of his authority. She also mentions that you and I should consider Jesus our fiance’ because, in essence, we are since we are his bride. While in some ways this may be technically true, we do need to remember that the Church is the bride of Christ, not individual people. Additionally, at several places in the book she flat out writes that we should not trust our feelings, but then in Chapter 8 we’re told to tell God “the desires of your heart” so that we can know what God wants for us. Which way is it? Are we supposed to ignore those feelings we have or are we supposed to look to them for guidance? Personally, I think there’s a little truth in each answer – but there was no in-depth treatment or examination of this in the book.
So why are these three issues enough to push me away from the book when there are plenty of good things in it (see below for some great quotes)? In the case of tongues, Ms. Li is placing a requirement on salvation that just doesn’t exist in Scripture. This is the modern day equivalent of the first century requirement that Gentiles be circumcised to be saved. We are trusting in something outside of the grace of God for our salvation. In the case of eternal security, I have already pointed out that without a belief in that doctrine we have something to fear and that fear can never be put to rest, which is a direct contradiction to her thesis. In the case of the third, by raising the view of humans to such a high level we run the risk of becoming God ourselves (note, Ms. Li does NOT say or imply that and I don’t believe she feels that way, but it will be a logical conclusion of someone who is not well-grounded in scripture to reach).
There were some great testimonies of the power of God throughout the book (the story of her husband preaching at the prison and the story of the little girl who couldn’t walk are two of them), and some great quotes that are worth sharing. My favorite two highlights are the statement in chapter 2 that “Fear is a choice” and her final conclusion that “Fearless living isn’t really hard. It’s simply choosing to trust the Lord no matter what the circumstances around you are.”
But because of the theological issues I have with the book and the sense that the book lacks some real spiritual and psychological depth, I can not in good conscious recommend it to anyone. A wonderful book worth reading is Robert McGee’s Search for Significance. While not specifically on fear, it does explore fear and the reasons behind fear as well as how fear affects all areas of our lives, helping us to understand the root causes of our insecurities and fears, bringing specific Biblical promises to counter the lies we have been led to believe. If you’re looking for a book to read on this subject that is the one to invest money in. I’ll give this book 1.5 out of 5 stars.
Note: I received this book free from the author specifically to review on this blog. I was not required to write a positive review of it. I am disclosing this to comply with FTC regulations.