The Cure What if God Isn’t Who You Think He Is and Neither Are You? by John Lynch, Bruce McNicol and Bill Thrall
The Cure, written by three men in leadership at the Truefaced Mission, is structured like most books of this genre. The authors try to convince readers that their lives are a mess, but the remedy for their messiness is found within the covers of their book. In this case The Cure pigeonholes Christians into two categories: those living in the room of good intentions and those living in the room of grace. Those in the first room are misguided legalists, hard-hearted and judgmental, mean-spirited, pretenders hiding behind masks (p. 14) that keep them imprisoned in their moralism and performance (p. 16), which they have mistaken for Christianity. Those residing in the room of good intentions are living in fear of exposure, hopelessly enslaved to good intentions but not to Christ. They live by self-effort (pp. 13-14) and are conscious that God is constantly disappointed with them (p. 15). As a result they are tired, superficial, lonely, guarded (pp. 16, 20, 30-37) and hiding in shame (pp. 31, 59). Such people will offer techniques for controlling behavior but won’t stand with you to resolve issues (pp. 89-90) and they focus on sin instead of God (pp. 102-103). Hitler might sound benign by comparison.
Those in the room of grace, however, are trusting God rather than being weighed down by trying to please Him (pp. 13, 20), are transparent (pp. 35-39), are authentic Jesus followers (p. 19), are focused on God rather than sin (pp. 102-103), and have removed their masks allowing others to see who they really are (p. 33).
It is hard to imagine what kind of background and history these authors bring to their understanding of the Christian life. Straw men and straw gods abound. While the authors get a few things right, and no doubt have good intentions, it is amazing how many things they get wrong in such a short book. In order to keep this review from getting out of hand I will limit my concerns to four:
- Distorted portraits of God and Christ
The authors want to distance themselves from any concept of God as a demanding judge who is disappointed with us (pp. 56, 47). They rightly want to assure their readers that God’s approval, acceptance and love is not contingent upon our actions but upon the work of Christ. We are loved and accepted because we are in Christ, and that does not change because of our behavior, good or bad. But in order to communicate this vital truth they distort the biblical picture of deity. We are repeatedly told that God is “crazy” about us (pp. 25, 28, 49), a purely romanticized and superficial description of God’s love. So crazy is God about us Christ, “on my worst day…stands right in front of [us] and smiles bigger and happier than any human being ever could” (p. 21). At such times God “puts His hands on my shoulders, staring into my eyes. No disappointment. No condemnation. Only delight. Only love. He pulls me into a bear hug, so tight it knocks the breath out of me for a moment.” (p. 22). As the Lord looks at our sin He merely says, “That is a lot of sin. A whole lot of sin. Don’t you ever sleep?” Then He starts laughing (p. 22). He then assures us, “We’ll deal with this when you’re ready. I’ve got your back.” (p. 23). Once we grasp this concept of God we find “at the other end is light and freedom and healing and beauty and safety and buttermilk donuts” (p. 72). But while our Lord deeply loves us, knows our weaknesses, eagerly forgives us and never forsakes us, the Bible view of God is very different. He is grieved when we sin; He does not smile like a goof and take lightly our rebellions. There is no place in Scripture in which the Lord is seen trivializing sin as The Cure claims He does. Just ask David, Ananias and Saphiria, Demas, or those who took lightly the Lord’s supper in 1 Corinthians 11. His love is not minimized because He takes our sins seriously. The Cure paints a portrait of God that is unrecognizable to that found in Scripture.
- Misunderstanding of biblical teachings
There is a number of concerns under this heading. Do people rebel because of moralism (p. 44) or because they are born rebels and truth suppressors? Because the believer is righteous before God positionally, does that mean he should not pursue practical righteousness (p. 50)? Does Scripture really tell us to forgive people for our own benefit in order to be set ourselves free (p. 70), that is, “to free myself, to begin healing” (p. 74)? Is the definition of repentance a calling out for help as the authors claim (p. 71), or a changing of our minds about sin with the resulting change of behavior? Is it true that we can’t focus on others until our own wounds are healed (p. 101)?
- Passive sanctification
The authors of The Cure see sanctification as passive – a work of God to which we contribute nothing but trust (pp. 13-16). Our efforts to deal with sin never work because, “We can never resolve our sin by working on it” (p. 17) and “God is not interested in changing me because He already has” (p. 49). Again, the authors confuse our state of righteousness with our living righteously.
- Faulty Cure
Finally we turn to the promised cure itself. It begins when we realize, and confess to ourselves and others, that we are a mess (p. 19, 33). We must let everyone know that we are fakes, tired phonies. Really tired…weary of hurting…feel betrayed…even by God Himself (p. 33). The Cure takes place when we take our masks off and reveal to everyone our messiness (pp. 35-39). By telling others what is going on inside you, “The madness, the pain, the damage…all of it stops. The power of sin is broken” (p. 61). Then we “experience the truth that living in holiness is living with nothing hidden. Then I am clean, I am free; I am healing” (p. 62). Consequently “the world around [us] transforms into a place of safety, trust, freedom and love, better than anyone could dream. This is not hype or white-knuckled, disciplined resolve. This is the cure” (p. 78). Eventually we come to believe that “it’s less important that anything gets fixed but that nothing is hidden” (p. 86). We find that “new power is released…when I’m safe enough to tell the worst about myself to someone else” (p. 86). Once the cure has done its work “you’ll walk out into the daylight, your skin feeling the morning air for the first time since you can remember. You’ll drink in the beauty of flowers and earth, free from those nauseating fumes of epoxy holding your face to a mask” (p. 39). But it gets even better:
Sometimes God says to us, “You get to be the mother of a child who will be very difficult to raise. He’ll rebel and break your heart. In his twenties, though, he will return to your love, to God’s love. Because of your influence, he will vitally bring lasting transformation to a burned-out, forgotten neighborhood in Nairobi. You will be home with me before this takes form. But we will watch it one day together.”
Or, “You get to coach a Little League team that improves to 5 and 23 after your first season without a win. But your influence will never be forgotten by the straw-haired second baseman, who came to tryouts without a glove because his single mom didn’t even know he was trying out. One day, you will speak to him after practice about the love of God. You will tell him God knows right where he lives and will not forget him. That boy will begin to trust God and make choices that break patterns in his family line. His daughter will develop the technology for a water treatment system radically increasing life expectancy throughout the entire majority of the world. You will know all of this someday.”
All of this if only you will apply “the cure” of admitting you are a mess and a fake, taking off your masks that hide your messiness so that others can see, and therefore, love you. However there is a problem or two. First nothing remotely like “the cure” is found in Scripture. Certainly we are not to be hypocrites, nor to pretend that we have everything together. And James 5:16 calls on us to confess our sins to one another in the sphere of those who are affected by our sin. But we are not called in Scripture to generally reveal our messiness for all to see. Nor is this method taught as a means of sanctification. And certainly nothing is remotely promised of the nature quoted from The Cure above. The authors have determined that removal of masks is the key to the Christian life and happiness. Any other effort on our part is legalistic and counterproductive. Under this system we may not grow in practical righteousness but we will apparently be free to enjoy ourselves.
The Cure What if God Isn’t Who You Think He Is and Neither Are You? by John Lynch, Bruce McNicol and Bill Thrall (San Clemente, CA, CrossSection, 2011) 121 pp., paper $14.99
Reviewed by Gary E. Gilley, Pastor-teacher Southern View Chapel.