Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Thinking with God

The Prayer of Jabez
Jabez was more honorable than his brothers. His mother had named him Jabez, saying, “I gave birth to him in pain.” Jabez cried out to the God of Israel, “Oh, that you would bless me and enlarge my territory! Let you hand be with me, and keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain.” And God granted his request.

Bruce Wilkerson has been receiving a lot of bad press, and World Magazine has loaded on his wagon with a bit more in this month’s issue with a commentary by Joel Belz. Now, normally I greatly respect Joel’s columns and read them with delight and anticipation but this time I found myself asking why. Why did he write this column?
As one who heard Wilkerson speak during his early years of preaching on Jabez I heard a Biblical passage with strong conservative exegesis, and as a student of Biola, I watched his sermon motivate some 95 students to go overseas to witness and preach the gospel. I am aware of those who have tended to go too far with his exegesis, which I suppose is what Joel is implying when he refers to Wilkerson’s quirky philosophy.
As I read the passage waiting for Joel to explain his term “quirky” I was somewhat appalled by his never bothering to do that. He faults Wilkerson for dreaming too big in his Africa trip and makes an analogy to another person named Peter, emphasizing the smallness of his dream. I am not sure he pulls off the analogy very well because, at least in my mind, I perceive the other person must have had the very vision of God in his successful ministry. I am uncomfortable with deigning the plan of God as something “small”, and I cannot see how Peter could be very happy with it either. Perhaps the more important question would be: is God happy with being termed small?
I cannot leave this review without taking a stab at the exegesis of the passage of Jabez. I do think this passage compares favorably with many New Testament passages. In discussing this Jabez thing with my daughter, a different alumni generation from Biola, she rightly pointed out that the Bible seems to amply cover the doctrine of Jabez in other passages. For example, Jesus said that if you have the faith of a mustard seed you can move mountains. The theology of asking great things of God is replete in the Bible; I think it was A.W. Tozer who famously said, “Expect great things from God, attempt great things for God.”
Of course along with our expectations comes the uncomfortable doctrine of the Providence of God. I do not pretend to know whether Wilkerson has been giving proper deference to the Providence of God. For the sake of argument, let us assume that he has made a mistake in what is frequently wrongfully termed “getting ahead of God”. (I think the term to be spuriously wrong as we can never get ahead of God—at those times that we think we are ahead we are of course falling rapidly out of the plan of God.) So he has become guilty of exactly what? He has dared too dream too largely, and out of the Providence that God wishes to dispense. Which one of us has not also done the same thing? I have built what I term castles in the air many times as I have sought for the will of God in my life. I am concerned that Joel has become guilty of “casting the first stone” perhaps unconsciously implying that he is “without sin” in this area. I would that he would reconsider his hurtful remarks. As a loving Christian I do expect better of Joel.


David Porta said...

The article seems to be a long way of saying, "It's better to give a hand up, than a hand-out."

Mr. D said...

Yes he was. But I think it could have been succinctly stated without disparaging either man. I do think he even disparaged Peter though unintentionally.