Can a minnow critique a whale?

Dear friends,

I’ve never been to Hillsong but I’m conscious that in my very secular city we have a famous gathering called “Hillsong” which must surely say to our city that the church is not old and dead.

Not only is the original Hillsong here but there are Hillsong plants in many cities in the world – and their music is known and sung widely. [I remember meeting a lifesaver in Hawaii and all he knew about Australia was Hillsong!]

The pastor Brian Houston is my age and we’ve never met but I’m conscious that he is a remarkable leader and someone, unlike so many of us, who encourages and rejoices in positive ways about life and ministry!

And now I’ve read his book (just released) called “There is more” – subtitled “when the world says can’t, God says you can”. There is much in the book that is valuable, I loved his quote from Corrie ten Boom that “when a train goes through a tunnel and it gets dark, you don’t throw away your ticket and jump, you sit still and trust the driver.”

But having been reading the Bible for forty eight years, I find something is centrally different about his approach and mine. And since his approach has affected more people than I ever will, I find myself cautious to comment yet concerned as well.

It’s a strange thing to take the Joseph example and talk about the need to dream dreams. The Bible is descriptive about God’s work in and through Joseph but not prescriptive that I should be a dreamer. The New Testament has nothing to say – that I can think of – on dreaming with profit.

It’s also a strange thing to take the incident where Jesus tells the disciples to put out into the deep to catch fish – and then use the illustration to urge us to take risks, etc. The actual effect of the incident in Luke 5 is to make Peter conscious of sin and Jesus’ holiness – not to be adventurous, etc.

What I think I’m reading in the book is a great emphasis on me and what God might do for and through me – rather than a great emphasis on Him and what He is at work to do for His own glory as He uses us to that end. I’m giving you my hunch.

One example of this is the power of the word. Brian Houston says that our words hold creative power. “They can breathe life into dead situations, create hope where there was none. You can speak life into your marriage, your spouse, your families. You can speak destiny and purpose into your children’s little bodies …. into your well being and your finances” (page 71).

What the bible says is that God speaks powerfully but it sounds in the book as if God’s creative word becomes mine.

Another example is where he quotes from 1 Corinthians 15:45-47 on the “natural then the spiritual body”. The apostle is explaining what God will do in changing our earthly body one day into a resurrection body. But Brian Houston gives the work to me to pursue my natural obligations with a view to producing my spiritual progress. The task has moved from God to me.

One of the very honest parts of the book is the emphasis on troubles and trials in the Christian life. He does not present some victorious and triumphant Christianity but is honest and realistic (though I’m not sure what it means that Jesus “died to bring heaven to earth” page 94).

What I am saying in all this as I read this book and reflect on an amazing work that has reached tens of thousands (who gather in Hillsong churches around the world) is who is at the centre of the message? Because it’s a very different thing to be told that He (the Lord) has great power and might – than to be told that I might have it as well. If I take what only He can do and make it something that I can do (or He will help me do) then even my praise will shift from ‘you are worthy’ to ‘you are helpful’. Pray for us all to be truly Christ-centred.

Yours,

Simon Manchester