***DISCLAIMER: I RECEIVED THIS BOOK FOR FREE FROM MOODY PUBLISHERS TO REVIEW***
Tony Evans’ God, Himself: A Journey Through His Attributes represents the fourth book I have reviewed for Moody Publishers this year. It is also the second book overall that I have reviewed by Tony Evans.
The book itself is rather self-explanatory; it takes the reader on “a journey” through God’s attributes. This book has ten chapters. The chapters address God’s nature, allness, holiness, wrath, sovereignty, love, wisdom, goodness, grace and glory (pp. 7-228). The book also has an appendix titled “The Urban Alternative” (pp. 229-236). Evans gives some brief acknowledgments on the book’s last official page (p. 237). At a reading pace of thirty minutes a day, it took me about two weeks to finish reading this book.
This book had no less than two strengths. First, Evans goes to Scripture a lot through this book. I don’t recall any instance of consecutive pages that had no Scripture reference of some sort. I remember having to check the Scriptures a lot as I was reading this. That is a strength in the sense that it keeps the reader on the toes. This book was far from a snoozer.
The second strength I found was some of the sound statements Evans made throughout this book. In his introduction on the chapter about the wrath of God, Evans states the following (pp. 83-84):
What would you say about a pastor who told you about God’s love and forgiveness and patience but never warned you of His wrath? That pastor would be doing you a great disservice.
God’s wrath is not an easy subject to talk about. But it is as integral to His nature as His other perfections, such as His love, holiness, or mercy. If I failed to teach and write about it, I would be doing my church, my readers, and others exposed to my ministry a great disservice.
You can go plenty of places today if you don’t want to hear about the wrath of God. Many churches run from the subject. They bypass it because it is difficult to talk about.
Any discussion of God’s character that does not include wrath is an incomplete study. It may even be an errant study of God, because one of the very real and inescapable truths about our great God is that He is a God of wrath.
The issue is not whether we like it, want it, or agree with it. The Bible has more to say about God’s wrath than it does about His love. Of course, God is good, kind, loving, and forgiving. But if you put a period there, you haven’t got the complete story. God’s wrath must be taken seriously. Let us begin by defining our subject: the wrath of God is His necessary, just, and righteous retribution against sin.
It would have been nice if Evans made mention of the “many churches” that run from the subject of God’s wrath. Nevertheless, they are out there (Joseph Prince and Max Lucado come to mind). Evans is correct that pastors do need to preach God’s wrath. Those that do not do such a thing are a picture of the false prophets of Jeremiah 23 and the false shepherds of Ezekiel 34.
Another sound statement Evans made involved some Gospel nuggets. In the chapter on the grace of God, Evans states the following (pp. 186-187):
Grace, then, is all that God does for us, independently of us. Grace is absolutely free and cannot be earned (Rev. 21:6; 22:17). People are saved only when they trust in Christ alone, apart from works, for the forgiveness of sin and the gift of eternal life (Ephesians. 2:8-9; Rom. 4:4-5).
It is true that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. It is most certainly free. I am happy Evans cited some passages to back those statements. Evans also states that “we will go to heaven only because of what Jesus did” (p. 189). I’d like to expand a little further on this Gospel. By default, people are born dead in trespasses and sins.
Ephesians 2:1-10 explains:
2 And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, 2 in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. 3 Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 6 and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.
The Bible is clear that people are born dead in trespasses and sins (2:1-3). God’s being rich in mercy makes one alive in Christ (2:4). Furthermore, it is by grace through faith that one is saved (2:5-9). It is not based on works (2:9).
If you do not believe what Ephesians 2:1-10 states, I would ask you please look at the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20:1-17. Have you ever told a lie? Have you ever stolen something, even if it was small? Have you ever used God’s name in vain? Jesus said that whoever looks upon a woman to lust after her has already committed adultery in the heart (Matthew 5:27-28). Jesus also said that if you ever get angry at someone, you’ve committed murder in the heart (Matthew 5:21-26). Just the mere thoughts of adultery and murder make you guilty of the very acts themselves.
Please understand that it only takes one murder to be a murderer, one lie to be a liar and so forth. David said in Psalm 51:5 that he was conceived in sin. Genesis 6:5 states that every intent of the thoughts of man’s heart is only evil continually. Clearly, man has a sin problem. Romans 3:23 states that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Man is in big trouble with God because of his sin. This is more amplified by the fact that perfection is the standard (Matthew 5:48).
Now, some people try to justify their sin by trying to balance it out with the good deeds that they have done. However, if you were to try that in a court of law, the judge would throw the book at you. A good judge would not accept a bribe. He would cast you off into jail. God likewise will not accept a bribe, for there is no partiality with Him (Deuteronomy 10:17; Ephesians 6:9).
Thankfully, Jesus came to solve the sin problem over 2000 years ago (Isaiah 53:1-12). You and I broke the law. Jesus paid the fine (Matthew 26:14-28:20). This means that the judge can do what’s legally right in dismissing your case. He can say, “This person has broken the law, but someone has paid his fine. He’s out of here.” This is good news.
There are two things a person must do. He must repent. This means to turn from his sin (Mark 1:16; Luke 24:36-49; 2 Timothy 2:19-26; Acts 17:30-31). He must also put his trust in the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (Acts 16:31, 17:30-31; Romans 4:1-25, 10:1-17; Galatians 3:1-14; John 6:26-29). These gifts of repentance and faith are granted by God (Ephesians 2:8-9; 2 Timothy 2:22-26). If you repent and put your trust in the Savior Jesus Christ, He will forgive you of your sins and grant you everlasting life (John 6:47). Oh may you know His mercy and grace today if you have never repented and put your trust in Jesus Christ alone for salvation.
While Evans had some strengths to this book, there were more weaknesses. In this review, I list no less than four (there were more).
First, while Evans cites quite a few Bible passages, he also omits/skips quite a few verses or parts of verses in a good number of the citations (pp. 12, 37, 39, 117, 135, 155-156, 182, 191-192, 198, 215, 217, 221). Sometimes he uses an ellipse (…) to show the omission. Other times he does not. For an example, here is an instance of 3 omissions within a page (pp. 220-221):
How should we respond to God’s glory? Psalm 96 gives us some great answers:
Sing to the LORD a new song;
Sing to the LORD, all the earth.
Sing to the LORD, bless His name;
Proclaim good tidings of His salvation from day to day.
Tell of His glory among the nations. (vv. 1-3)
One of my favorite songs some years ago was by the Winans. They sang, “Everything you touch is a song.”7 Many of us do not know that when cows moo, they are giving glory to God. When kittens meow, they give glory to God. Dogs bark to the glory of God. When the rooster wakes up and crows, he is saying, “Cock-a-doodle-do, God!” We do not understand that when the lions roars, he is giving glory to GOd.
You say, “Wait a minute! I don’t believe those things are giving glory to God.” Look at verses 11-13 of this psalm:
Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice;
Let the sea roar, and all it contains.
Let the field exult, and all that is in it.
Then all the trees of the first will sing for joy
Before the LORD, for He is coming.
If everything on earth shouts God’s glory, what should we be doing? Go back to verses 7-9:
Ascribe to the LORD, O families of the peoples,
Ascribe to the LORD glory and strength.
Ascribe to the LORD the glory of His name;
Bring an offering and come into His courts.
Worship the LORD in holy attire.
On the page before the table of contents (unofficially page 4), it states that all Scripture quotes are taken from the NASB unless otherwise noted. What I do now is compare what Evans cited to what the texts state in the NASB. I bold any omitted words. If you cannot see the bolding, simply compare the two different citations:
Sing to the Lord a new song;
Sing to the Lord, all the earth.
2 Sing to the Lord, bless His name;
Proclaim good tidings of His salvation from day to day.
3 Tell of His glory among the nations,
His wonderful deeds among all the peoples.
Psalm 96:1-3 (NASB)
11 Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice;
Let the sea roar, and all it contains;
12 Let the field exult, and all that is in it.
Then all the trees of the forest will sing for joy
13 Before the Lord, for He is coming,
For He is coming to judge the earth.
He will judge the world in righteousness
And the peoples in His faithfulness.
Psalm 96:11-13 (NASB)
7 Ascribe to the Lord, O families of the peoples,
Ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
8 Ascribe to the Lord the glory of His name;
Bring an offering and come into His courts.
9 Worship the Lord in holy attire;
Tremble before Him, all the earth.
Psalm 96:7-9 (NASB)
Evans state the last part of Psalm 96:9 on p. 222. However, the above bolded sections of the respective passages were still omitted without the use of an ellipse. I find it interesting that Evans omitted such a large portion of Psalm 96:13, a verse talking of God’s coming to judge the earth and the world. It is interesting that Evans has a chapter on the wrath of God while he, at the same time, omits parts of a verse about judgment without employing an ellipse to show something did get omitted. I used to call these types of citations (those without an ellipse) dishonest because in the many sermons I have reviewed, I observe pastors quote a verse or more without quoting all of it. That type of thing bugs me because often when pastors do that, they are twisting Scripture. Evans’ not using an ellipse to omit parts of verses bugged me. It was a distraction for me as I was reading this book.
The second weakness of this book is Evans’ lack of discernment. On page 139, Evans cites Bob Goff, a phenomenal public speaker/storyteller but questionable (to put it kindly) theologian. In my review of Goff’s book Everybody Always, I note how Goff both claims direct revelation from God (which thus denies Sola Scriptura) and twists the parable of the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25:31-46). Goff claims to have a passion for people, and yet he has me blocked on Twitter. I also emailed him my concerns about his book in early July, but he has yet to contact me back. The fact Evans would cite such a questionable theologian who denies the sufficiency of Scripture shows Evans’ lack of discernment.
The third weakness of Evans’ book is the amount of narcigesis in it. The term “narcigesis”, to my knowledge, was coined by Pastor Chris Rosebrough of the program Fighting For The Faith in early 2012 when his program was strictly a podcast. The term “narcigesis” combines the words “narcissism” and “eisegesis.” Narcissism involves a love of self. Eisegesis means reading into the biblical text stuff that is not there. Therefore, “narcigesis” involves the reading of self into the biblical text.
To demonstrate Evans’ narcigesis, I show two paragraphs to show the narcigesis in context (p. 68)
Thus, “In the year of King Uzziah’s death” (Isa. 6:1). Isaiah saw the Lord. In fact, Isaiah “saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple.” Don’t lose the irony here that Israel’s throne room sat empty at the same time that Isaiah saw God sitting on His throne. That means, similarly, whatever is on the throne of your life that is getting in the way of God, God knows how to remove it. Whatever is being treated like God, God knows how to reduce it. And when He does, you will find out (as Isaiah did) who is really sitting on the throne after all. See, God must get rid of anything and everything that tries to take His place in your heart. King Uzziah acted out of arrogance. As a result, God dethroned him.
Before we get any deeper into this content, I want to ask you to take moment to personally reflect. Is there a Uzziah in your life? Is there something (or someone) sitting on the throne of your thoughts and heart? Because if it infringes on God’s holiness, He may remove it. Sometimes God even has to kill dreams and desires when we raise them in opposition to Him. Sometimes He has to change situations, cancel careers, or reverse finances when they seek to usurp His throne. God won’t be shy to do that because His holiness demands that He be first place in each of our hearts.
It is important to understand that the Bible is not about you. It is also not about me. It is about Jesus Christ (John 5:39-45; Luke 24:44-45). To ask if there is a Uzziah in my life is absolute nonsense. I’m not in the book of Isaiah. The Bible is not about me. Isaiah is not a prescriptive text; Isaiah is a descriptive text. It is absolutely narcissistic and nonsensical to even think about reading one’s self into that biblical passage. I do not have a Uzziah in my life that is dying (p. 127). My heart has no throne. If my throne had a heart and something was on it, I am pretty sure I would have trouble breathing. There is also no thorn somewhere in my life (p. 198). There is also no glory cloud leaving me (p. 218). Evans’ narcigesis is both unhelpful and a distraction in this book. Finally, narcigesis is no way to read the Scriptures responsibly and respectfully.
The fourth and final weakness I discuss in this book is some of the questionable language. By language, I am not talking profanity; this book is clean. What I mean is some of the terms Evans uses either often or in passing make me scratch my head. For example, the terms “experience” and “love relationship” appear often enough to be noticed in this book. These terms (especially “love relationship”) were prominent in a book I reviewed by Henry Blackaby called Experiencing God. Blackaby twisted Scripture and denied Scripture’s sufficiency in that book. In Evans’ case, it makes me wonder if he is more mystical/liberal than I think. Here is a paragraph I show as an example of the repetition of the word “experience” (p. 218):
Nothing is more important in life than the glory of God.
Conversely, when the people disobeyed God, the Bible says that over Israel was written “Ichabod”, which means “The glory has departed from Israel” (1 Sam. 4:21). When the glory cloud leaves you, you are in trouble because you have no presence of God. You can pray, but you will not experience God’s power. You can call out, but you will not experience God’s presence.
That paragraph/sentence combo is a melting pot of stuff I have noted in this book. First, Evans makes a statement that few would disagree with, for the glory of God really is the most important thing in life. Second, one sees the narcigesis regarding the “glory cloud” that will supposedly leave me. Third, notice the repetition of the words “experience” and “presence.” I recently reviewed a book called Christianity & Liberalism by J. Gresham Machen. Machen touches base on the words “presence” and “experience” in his book. They’re linked with modern liberalism. Here is a notable quote:
The Christian gospel consists in an account of how God saved man, and before that gospel can be understood, something must be known (1) about God and (2) about man. The doctrine of God and the doctrine of man are the two great presuppositions of the gospel. With regard to these presuppositions, as with regard to the gospel itself, modern liberalism is diametrically opposed to Christianity.
It is opposed to Christianity, in the first place, in its conception of God. But at this point we are met with a particularly insistent form of that objection to doctrinal matters which has already been considered. It is unnecessary, we are told, to have a “conception” of God; theology, or the knowledge of God, it is said, is the death of religion; we should not seek to know God, but should merely feel His presence.
With regard to this objection, it ought to be observed that if religion consists merely in feeling the presence of God, it is devoid of any moral quality whatever. Pure feeling, if there be such a thing, is non-moral.
Machen argues that pure feeling in non-moral. What is Evans’ emphasis in the cited paragraph on page 218? Pure feeling. That certainly raises an eyebrow.
One final thing I note as it pertains to the language in this book is Evans’ use of the word “manifestation” (p. 219). I have heard the term “manifestation” used as it pertains to modalism. Modalism, first developed in the second and third centuries, is a heresy that, according to GotQuestions.org, “views God as one Person instead of three Persons and believes that the Father, Son, and Spirit are simply different modes or forms of the same divine Person.” Moreover, modalists believe God switches among three different manifestations. Evan stated that Jesus was “the visible manifestation of God in human flesh” (p. 219). That term “manifestation” raised an eyebrow with me. I will not go so far as to say that Evans is a modalist. I will state that in light of the narcigesis, lack of discernment and prominence of liberally suggestive terms in this book, Evans could have certainly been more careful in how he labeled Jesus in that sentence on page 219.
Tony Evans states some stuff in this book that are solid. He also cites a lot of Bible verses. This is certainly not a boring read. Unfortunately, the narcigesis, skipped/omitted verses, lack of discernment and overemphasis on words like “experience” and “love relationship” were too distracting and troubling for me. If you want a non-distraction journey reading through the attributes of God, read your Bible out loud alongside a solid commentary. Just don’t make the mistake Evans did by reading yourself into the biblical text while you’re at it. This book by Evans is one of those “eat the meat and spit out the bones” type of books. I do not recommend those types of books.