In my previous post about this book I said that I wanted
to see where Stephens takes us next. Or, to be more precise, I want to see where God takes us next: after all, it’s God’s church, the ‘Bride of Christ’, so-called, for better or for worse.
Having now read the entire book and discovered where Stephens wants to take his readers, it saddens me to have to say that it’s not a direction I’d encourage anyone to go in, and — far more importantly — nor is it a direction I can see God taking the church in.
The essence of Stephens’ solution to the church’s problems is developing an ‘abundance mindset’, an idea that he expounds at length, pp.84-124. It’s a classic case of prosperity theology backed up with dozens of proof-texts, all sincerely offered and well-intentioned, no doubt about that — but sincerely wrong; and it doesn’t matter how sincere or well-intentioned someone is about driving down the wrong side of the motorway, it can only end one way…
Prosperity theology is typically hot on tithing, and Stephens proves himself to be no exception. Tithing, he tells us, is a God-given principle that’s key to living ‘the abundant life’, and poverty is to be avoided at all costs: “The best thing you can do for the poor is not become one of them!” (p.95). Perhaps someone should have explained this to St Francis of Assisi? As for the importance of tithing itself:
The tithe already belongs to God, it is not ours and He expects us to acknowledge that. So to not tithe, or to not give an offering, is to rob from God and to be brought under a curse… (p.115)
Please don’t misunderstand me: I have no objections to tithing — if all Christians tithed the church’s financial worries would almost certainly be over. Stephens is right about that. But to make tithing into an underlying law of the universe, into a principle upon which God’s blessing or curse depends, as Stephens does, is to twist the scriptures beyond recognition.
The Rt Revd Dr John Sentamu, Archbishop of York, is cited — with evident approval — on the cover:
This book has a health warning: You may not agree with everything in it, but you cannot ignore its direction of travel.
He’s right: it certainly should come with a health warning; and its direction of travel shouldn’t be ignored: it should be avoided completely.
But what we truly cannot afford to ignore is Stephens’ story, which he relates on pp.29-39. It’s the story of a young man driven to despair by “a church doing church for church with little or no impact on the society or community in which it lives” (p.39). It’s an eerily familiar story and it’s made all the worse for where Stephens has ended up theologically: alienated by the church he belonged to, he’s lost the plot but has learnt how to shout. He is angry and that comes across loud and clear in his book, like a slap in the face or a bucket of water thrown over you when you’ve fallen asleep.
He’s angry because he sees a church that’s dying (I’m tempted to say “seems to be dying” but from Stephens’ point of view there’s no “seems to be” about it) and he doesn’t want that to happen. What he wants is a revolution, and there’s no doubt in his mind that a revolution is possible if only Christians will wake up, acknowledge the problems and — above all — do something!
In this, he is right. Action is needed. But that action needs to be rooted in a more balanced, much less extreme theology. Read this book: listen to the author’s concerns; but beware the direction of travel and be aware of how far off the wall theology can go. Right questions: wrong answers.
Wake Up Dead Man
Quick Brown Fox Publications, 2008 (126pp)
9780955480423 | 0955480426
Download the Opening Chapter (pdf, 392kb)
Somewhat bizarrely, Stuart Anderson’s snapshot feature in the Bookseller that originally drew my attention to Wake Up Dead Man was subtitled “The Borders Islington Inventory manager is taken by a riposte to The God Delusion” (‘Reading for Pleasure’, 11 April 2008, No. 5327, p.30). This completely misrepresents the book, which makes no reference whatsoever to either Dawkins or The God Delusion; if anything, to the contrary, it leaves the distinct impression that Stephens has never even heard of Dawkins, let alone that he is delivering any sort of ‘riposte’ to him: not so much post-Dawkins as distinctly pre-Dawkins.