standard disclaimer – I recieved a free copy of this book to review. I hope that doesn’t cloud what I say.
I spent the first part of this week up in Nottingham with friends from the Vineyard movement at the National Leaders Conference. Part way through her profound (And, in my view, prophetic) preach on the Tuesday night, National Director quoted a number of theologians, leaders and and other folk who have useful things to say because they invite those reading and hearing to read their Bibles and then go out and tell people what they have found. One of these was Peter Sanlon, an Anglican from Kent, whose book I’m reviewing today. The Bible Theft is a collection of lightly edited (in some cases not enough – his pastors’ heart and interest shines through a bit too much for a disconnected reader) sermons on the subject of Bible teaching and how to discern between that and false teaching.
Fundamentally, this book is about the Bible. Shaped by it – each chapter is an exposition of a passage of Scripture – and concerned with it. Anglican Archbishop Foley Beach writes in his foreword:
“Guard the teaching of the Word of God. Guard it in your life, and guard it when you hear wrong teaching. Years ago, bank tellers in the US would study a dollar bill so intricately and thoroughly, that when a counterfeit bill would come along while they were working at the bank, they could immediately tell it was a fake and guard the bank’s interests. We, the people of God, should know the Word of God so well that when false teaching comes along, we know it is false, and then we can expose it and guard the teaching of the Word of God”
This is a book about the Bible, shaped by the Bible, from a man obsessed with teaching and explaining the good news found in its pages. This seeps out of every page – and makes it a very helpful book. If you are thinking of preaching or writing or teaching on ‘false teaching’, or on some key passages, then this book is well worth reading. Peter has shared with us some thoughtful and arguably prophetic sermons on Romans 1, 1 Corinthians 5, 1 Corinthians 6, Jude, 2 John, 2 Timothy 3, Revelation 2, and Revelation 3. Tracing the theme of false teaching and the paradoxical, powerful message of the Gospel as an invitation to holy transformation, The Bible Theft is an interest and nourishing read.
Some, but by no means all (my favourite chapters didn’t mention it, instead focusing on God’s power being made perfect in our weakness) of these chapters focus on or refer to issues of identity and sexuality as flashpoints. By basing each chapter/sermon on a Bible passage, Peter allows the bigger story of the Bible (And his own study) to illuminate that context and make it clear that when we are talking about ‘this’ (Sexuality, etc), we are actually talking about ‘that’ (following Jesus, faithfully). In this, we see the beautiful story of the Kingdom of God: “Jesus brought God’s kingdom to earth through His death and coming to life again. Paul explained to the churches what it really meant to live in God’s kingdom: the change that it makes for us. It all fits together perfectly well; it is the same teaching. The kingdom of God makes a difference. The kingdom of God is different to the kingdoms of this world.” As I read this book, I felt that Peter is offering his readers some astute, perhaps prophetic, cultural analysis. I think that this paragraph sums up a significant part of the teaching of the New Testament as regards false teachers:
“There will be religious leaders who can look back on twenty, thirty years of faithful teaching, but now, in the latter days of their lives, they tolerate the teaching they once opposed. It is in some ways understandable – as people get older and approach retirement they long for an easier path. We need to see that Jesus says those previous decades of faithfulness are insignificant. Faithfulness only counts if you hold on until the end of your life. ‘Until I return,’ Jesus commands. A solemn encouragement to all of us to keep going to the end of life. It is how we finish that counts. We are weak, but if we will just cling to Jesus’ words he will hold on to us”
I didn’t expect to like this book. But, as I read it, I realised that this is a book about the Bible, and a book about following Jesus, that will challenge and equip leaders of churches. I cringed at ‘the bible theft’ as an image – but Peter’s point is deep and true. God’s teaching is under attack – we know this, because Jesus told us it would be – and this is a helpful book for thinking about some of the key issues of the day, and considering what the New Testament teaching about false teaching might relate to.