***DISCLAIMER: I RECEIVED THIS BOOK FOR FREE FROM MOODY PUBLISHERS TO REVIEW***
***2ND DISCLAIMER – DUE TO GRAPHIC QUOTATIONS I SHOW IN THIS REVIEW, READER DISCRETION IS ADVISED***
Todd Nettleton’s When Faith Is Forbidden: 40 Days On The Frontlines With Persecuted Christians represents the fourth book I have reviewed for Moody Publishers for 2021. I chose this book because it appeared to pertain to the topic of persecuted Christians. I have read a book on persecuted Christians in the past. That book was Tortured For Christ by the late Richard Wurmbrand. Wurmbrand was the founder of an organization known as The Voice of the Martyrs. Nettleton is the host of The Voice of the Martyrs Radio.
The book’s inside cover provides insight on the book’s structure:
GRAB YOUR PASSPORT and come along on a 40-day journey into hostile and restricted nations, where we’ll meet brothers and sisters who refuse to deny Christ despite being beaten, imprisoned, or even killed for their faith. When Faith Is Forbidden will introduce you to a Chinese Christian woman who called six months in prison “a wonderful time.” We’ll go through armed checkpoints to meet an Iraqi pastor praising God just eight days after assassins’ bullets ripped into his flesh. And we’ll sit down for a cup of tea with others from our Christian family in Iran, Eritrea, Turkey, Jordan, and other nations.
Each stop on this 40-day journey will provide inspiration and encouragement through the story of a persecuted believer. You’ll also find space for reflection and a suggested prayer as you grow to understand the realities of living under persecution — and learn from the faithful examples of these courageous believers on the frontlines of faith.
As the inside cover explains, this book is designed as a 40-day journey. Each day (which represents a chapter) details the experiences of various persecuted Christians. Each chapter begins with a Bible verse or more as an introductory quote. Each chapter also concludes with a “reflection” section, a “prayer” section, a “journal” section (one for yourself and one from the author’s journal), and sometimes additional ending quotes/Bible verses. I admit that I did not take 40 days to read this. Moreover, I did not journal.
I found no less than two pros in this book. First, Nettleton’s 40-day journey basically reminds the reader that there are Christians who are getting persecuted. Moreover, Nettleton provides a website that gives information about Christians that are in prison for their faith (p. 125). The website is http://www.PrisonerAlert.com. Until I read this book, I never heard of the website. The website has a section titled “Persecution Worldwide.” Here is some relevant text:
In more than 40 nations around the world today Christians are being persecuted for their faith. In some of these nations it is illegal to own a Bible, to share your faith Christ, change your faith or teach your children about Jesus. Those who boldly follow Christ—in spite of government edict or radical opposition—can face harassment, arrest, torture and even death. Yet Christians continue to meet for worship and to witness for Christ, and the church in restricted nations is growing.
Areas of the world where Christians face persecution include:
Gaza and the West Bank
United Arab Emirates
40 countries is a lot of countries. Pray for those countries. Also pray for those countries that are not on that list (including but not limited to Canada and the United States).
The second pro I found in this book was the details Nettleton used to describe the persecution. Like VOM founder Richard Wurmbrand did in his book Tortured for Christ, Nettleton also uses graphic details to describe the tortures that persecuted Christians suffered. Here is a quote (pp. 233-234):
When torturing Mrs. Choi’s body didn’t convince her to reveal the name of the man who’d delivered the Bible to her, North Korean police changed tactics. They decided to try torturing her heart.
Police went to Mr. Choi, telling him that if he would testify against his wife and admit their “crime” of having and reading a Bible, then she could soon come home and be reunited with him.
Then they went back to Mrs. Choi in jail: “Your husband will be a witness against your crime,” they gloated. “So you might as well confess everything.”
Recalling the betrayal, even years later, Mrs. Choi could barely continue the story, pausing often to catch her breath and wipe her tears.
“After that, they tied my legs and hung me upside down and beat me. In prison, I was beaten every day, all day long.
“The policemen had me stand up and place my hands out of the door, because there was a small window in the door, and they hit my fingers and my hands with a pipe. I was bleeding all over, and my hands were torn. I could not use my hands for more than twenty days.
Can you imagine yourself being beaten all day long while being tied upside down? For those of you who use your hands a lot while working, can you imagine not being able to use them for twenty days due to torture? This is painful. This is also reality.
The quote continues (p. 234):
She held up her hands to show us as she told the story; the marks of this torture were still clear as several fingers jut out at odd angles. I couldn’t imagine the pain of having your fingers beaten with a pipe.
When the time came for Mrs. Choi’s trial, her husband realized the police had lied to him. Instead of testifying against his wife, he offered bold words in her defense. Amazingly, at the end of the five-hour trial, she was found “Not Guilty.”
But “Not Guilty” was not an acceptable verdict to the regime, and the judge’s decision was thrown out and a new trial ordered. Her second trial lasted only an hour, and Mrs. Choi was unable to speak in her own defense because she’d been beaten so badly that her face was too swollen to talk. This time she was found guilty and sentenced to fifteen years in prison.
Nettleton goes on to state that after a year in prison, Mrs. Choi weighed 62 pounds (p. 234). She begged her husband to get her out, and he did get her out. However, he had to sell their home and pay off the guards with a television and a bunch of money he had to collect. The details Nettleton uses paints a clear picture of what is happening with these persecuted Christians. It is certainly sobering.
When I reviewed Tortured for Christ by the late Richard Wurmbrand of VOM, I didn’t elaborate on the theological shortcomings in that book because of what Wurmbrand endured. On the surface, I cannot tell if Nettleton has endured any of the tortures that either Wurmbrand or the persecuted Christians have endured. If he has, then perhaps my explaining the theological shortcomings is a little insensitive. If he has not, then perhaps the explanations are warranted. Therefore, I discuss two recurring cons in this book in an effort to teach a bit. I only chose two since I explained two pros for this book. Moreover, I don’t critique anything within the body of the chapters. Instead, I look at what surrounds the body of the chapters. It is my theory (and I could be wrong here) that those were written completely independent of any thought on the part of the persecuted Christians.
First, Nettleton could have used some discernment with the quotes he cited. In some chapters, there are additional quotes/Bible verses alongside the closing reflection, prayer and journal sections of the chapter. I have no issue whatsoever with the Bible verses, for God’s Word is absolutely powerful and beneficial (2 Timothy 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:16-21; Psalm 119; Psalm 19). My issue is with the people he positively cited. Now, Nettleton didn’t get every positive citation wrong, for he does cite an outstanding quote from Charles Spurgeon (p. 196). However, positively citing David Platt (p. 114), Brennan Manning (p. 147) and Tim Keller (p. 178) is unacceptable. Platt is a hireling who endorses hireling and narcissistic heretic (not to mention an approver of fleecers of Christ’s sheep) Louie Giglio. Keller is a false teacher who claims that the Scriptures say that if you have white skin, you’re involved in injustice, “even if you didn’t do it.” Finally, Brennan Manning is a purveyor of contemplative prayer, a dangerous and mystic practice that no Christian should do. In the important documentary Church of Tares, Manning is quoted as stating the following:
[T]he first step in faith is to stop thinking about God at the time of prayer.
The Signature of Jesus. Sisters, OR: Multnomah. 1996, revised edition, p. 212
[C]ontemplative spirituality tends to emphasize the need for a change in consciousness…we must come to see reality differently.”
Ibid., p. 216
Choose a single, sacred word…repeat the sacred word inwardly, slowly and often.
Ibid., p. 218
[E]nter into the great silence of God. Alone in that silence, the noise within will subside and the Voice of Love will be heard.
Ibid., p. 215
Obviously, the first quote I cited is absolutely asinine in light of the LORD’s prayer. One can say the same thing about the third and fourth quotes. The second quote is just an informational one about an unbiblical and nonsensical practice. Matthew 6:5-15 helps refute Manning’s unbiblical nonsense:
“And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. 6 But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly. 7 And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words.
8 “Therefore do not be like them. For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him. 9 In this manner, therefore, pray:
Our Father in heaven,
Hallowed be Your name.
10 Your kingdom come.
Your will be done
On earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us this day our daily bread.
12 And forgive us our debts,
As we forgive our debtors.
13 And do not lead us into temptation,
But deliver us from the evil one.
For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.
14 “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
Matthew 6:5-15 (NKJV)
Brennan Manning emphasizes vain repetition with his nonsensical practices. God’s Word says not to use vain repetitions when praying. Moreover, there is no silence when one prays. Consider the Luke account of the LORD’s prayer:
11 Now it came to pass, as He was praying in a certain place, when He ceased, that one of His disciples said to Him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples.”
2 So He said to them, “When you pray, say:
Our Father in heaven,
Hallowed be Your name.
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done
On earth as it is in heaven.
3 Give us day by day our daily bread.
4 And forgive us our sins,
For we also forgive everyone who is indebted to us.
And do not lead us into temptation,
But deliver us from the evil one.”
Luke 11:1-4 (NKJV)
Either Brennan Manning is lying or God’s Word is lying. Who will you believe? Also, why would Todd Nettleton quote someone whose prayer methods are so hostile to the Word of God? This is something to think about. Finally, I find it interesting that Nettleton talks about praying for discernment (p. 167) when he does not have much himself. One should pray for Nettleton’s discernment.
The second con I found in this book is the liberal-sounding language. This language mostly showed itself in the bodies of the chapters. However, it also showed itself in the chapters’ closing sections. Here’s an example from a closing prayer that concluded Day 9:
Jesus, help me to pray the same prayer Peter Paul prayed in prison: “Whatever is Your will, Lord, do it in my life.” Whether Your will involves comfort or suffering, peace or heartache, health or disease. Whatever is Your will, Lord, do it in my life. Help me seek Your heart and sense Your presence in every circumstance.
Sense Your presence? Am I a jedi or something? Notice the emphasis on feelings. The emphasis is on feeling some kind of presence. This is subjective. Where is the emphasis on seeking His Word (which is objective)? Thankfully, page 80 has an answer to that question. However, notice its complimentary ingredient. I also show the “reflection” section on the prior page:
There are many aspects of Sergei Bessarab’s story that challenge us, but today focus on two of them. First, reflect on your personal time with God. Sergei was spending four hours a day in Scripture, prayer and worship — and he didn’t think it was enough! He wanted more time with His heavenly Father. How is your time with God? Do you long for more time in His presence? What is the next step for you? Perhaps you need to begin having daily time with God. Perhaps, for you, a commitment to memorize God’s Word or to more focused time in prayer.
Jesus, give me a longing to be in Your presence, to learn from You and be shaped by You, a longing so strong that even four hours a day would seem too short a time to satisfy my need. Help me use your time well and wisely in order to grow the time I can spend in Your presence and Your Word.
Notice the emphasis again on His presence. Thankfully, His Word makes an appearance in both citations.
Here’s a final example:
Dear Lord, help me never let fear keep me from doing Your will. Help me always pursue the path You lay before me. And Lord, please bless my brothers and sisters in Eritrea. Watch over those in prison. Protect them, care for them, and let them know Your amazing presence. Please let them know right now, supernaturally through Your Spirit, that they are being prayed for.
There was similar “presence” language like that used throughout the book; this includes usages of the word “experience” done in a way that seemed like heretic Henry Blackaby may have some kind of influence on Nettleton (pp. 38, 51, 119, 132-133, 194, 218). In September 2020, I posted a book review on an important work called Christianity & Liberalism by J. Gresham Machen. Consider these paragraphs (p. 55):
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.
Nettleton’s book had some language that placed emphasis on pure feeling. Such a thing is really useless compared to the written Word of God. He would be better off scrapping the overused “presence” language. He should instead focus much more on the written Word of God.
Here are a few more paragraphs to consider from Machen (pp. 80-81):
It is not true at all, then, that modern liberalism is based upon the authority of Jesus. It is obliged to reject a vast deal that is absolutely essential in Jesus’ example and teaching —notably His consciousness of being the heavenly Messiah. The real authority, for liberalism, can only be “the Christian consciousness” or “Christian experience.” But how shall the findings of the Christian consciousness be established? Surely not by a majority vote of the organized Church. Such a method would obviously do away with all liberty of conscience. The only authority, then, can be individual experience; truth can only be that which “helps” the individual man. Such an authority is obviously no authority at all; for individual experience is endlessly diverse, and when once truth is regarded only as that which works at any particular time, it ceases to be truth. The result is an abysmal skepticism.
The Christian man, on the other hand, finds in the Bible the very Word of God. Let it not be said that dependence upon a book is a dead or an artificial thing. The Reformation of the sixteenth century was founded upon the authority of the Bible, yet it set the world aflame. Dependence upon a word of man would be slavish, but dependence upon God’s Word is life. Dark and gloomy would be the world, if we were left to our own devices, and had no blessed Word of God. The Bible, to the Christian is not a burdensome law, but the very Magna Charta of Christian liberty.
It is no wonder, then, that liberalism is totally different from Christianity, for the foundation is different. Christianity is founded upon the Bible. It bases upon the Bible both its thinking and its life. Liberalism on the other hand is founded upon the shifting emotions of sinful men.
Wanting more time in His presence (whatever that means) is tantamount to an experience of some sort. It’s pure subjectivity. Such a thing is endlessly diverse and no authority at all.
Consider 2 Peter 1:16-21 (NKJV):
16 For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17 For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” 18 we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. 19 And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, 20 knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. 21 For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.
The apostles were eyewitnesses of Jesus Christ’s majesty. The specific event referred to in this passage is Jesus Christ’s transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-13; Mark 9:2-13; Luke 9:28-36). The apostles saw it with their own eyes. And yet, Peter is elevating the written Word of God as more authoritative than that (I’m sure) epic and awesome first-hand experience of Jesus Christ Himself. That is some profound statement. And yet, Nettleton features a bit of language in this book that emphasizes experience and presence. That is simply unsatisfying. If he cuts out the “presence” and “experience” language from this book, the book would be much more theologically technical.
Nettleton’s book certainly raises awareness about the Christians that are getting persecuted around the world. It is important to be reminded of that fact. What’s also important is discernment and good theology. I found the discernment to be lacking in this book. Moreover, the theology could have been more technically sound. Despite the book’s obvious shortcomings, Nettleton’s book is not a waste of time. Anyone who reads this book should read it with discernment. Every Christian who reads this should be reminded to keep the persecuted Christians in prayer.