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Review: Louie Giglio’s Simple Pursuit: A Heart After Jesus (A Daily PASSION Devotional)

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Simple Pursuit: A Heart After Jesus
A Daily Passion Devotional
Copyright 2016
Published by Thomas Nelson, a registered trademark of HarperCollins Christian Publishing, Inc.
ISBN-13: 9780718087623


Simple Pursuit is a daily devotional book that comes out of Louis Giglio’s Passion Movement.  Merely containing an introduction by Giglio, with brief commentaries by “Christian celebrities” Chris Tomlin, David Crowder, and Matt Redman, the daily devotionals are written by 68 “Contributing Writers” drawn from the book’s target millennial audience of 18-25 year olds.

Following Giglio’s brief introduction, the book issues its “268 Declaration,” a five-pointed mission statement for the Passion Movement that is sourced in Isaiah 26:8.  The crux of the statement is drawn from John Piper’s Christian Hedonism theme, “The heart of Passion is God’s glory, and God is most glorified in us when we live lives that are fully satisfied in Him.”  The outlined five points of Passion are:

  1. A Passion To Know God Above All Things
  2. Love For The Local Expression of His Church
  3. Unity Among Believers That Amplifies His Name
  4. A Desire To See Christ Celebrated Where I Live
  5. Willingness to Shine The Gospel To All People

It is from this outlined premise that the writers of the daily devotionals have penned pithy summaries primarily of “you can do it with God” sorts of encouragement that read with a tone that implies “knowing God” is more an experiential function for the believer than it is one of apprehending and understanding Scriptural truth. (Colossians 1:9-10, Philippians 1:9)

This Christian hedonism approach to faith is inherently dangerous.  It encourages the experience of pursuing the joy of God for ourselves above that of the apprehending and understanding of God’s written revelation of Himself.  Christian hedonism, as popularized by Piper, and echoed throughout this devotional guide, elevates the pursuit of one fruit of the Spirit – joy- above the others and, by emphasizing the pursuit of that experience, relegates all other aspects of ongoing sanctification in the believer to a lesser-than status.

Dr. Peter Masters’ analysis of Piper’s hedonism would be appropriate in response to the similar theological premise of Simple Pursuit’.  (Masters is, btw, pastor of Metropolitan Tabernacle whose pulpit was previously occupied by the prince of preachers, Charles Spurgeon.)

“God’s Word does not provide a single organising principle to govern and drive all the component duties of the spiritual life. ‘Christian Hedonism’ is not drawn from the teaching of the Lord, nor of Paul. However, the Bible does provide a clear prescription for the Christian life, listing a number of spiritual and moral duties, all of which must be given direct and individual attention. We are given famous lists (such as the Beatitudes of the Sermon on the Mount, and the lists of 1 Timothy 6.11-12 and Galatians 5.22-23 – see footnote 3) and we must set our minds to accepting a multiple-track righteousness. We will pay a high price for any kind of clever system that reduces biblical duties to an artificial formula, however sound and inspiring many of its elements may seem to be.”   Dr. Peter Masters  (Source)

41lwvmuq4lSimple Pursuit faces the same challenges of any devotional book: brevity, Biblical integrity, and believer edification.  Most devotional books do not pull this trifold challenge off with any success; Simple Pursuit hasn’t either. (A perpetually reliable, and recommendable, devotional guide would be Spurgeon’s Morning and Evening.)

The format of Simple Pursuit is a page-per-day devotional in which each is headlined by a singly plucked verse of Scripture accompanied by a one, two, or maybe very brief, three-paragraph commentary of encouragement or explanation, concluding, on most days of the books’ entries, with a one or two sentence, suggested summarizing prayer.

Obvious exegetical risks accompany any such endeavor with so limited a scope of intent. The contextual fullness of singly-plucked verses is difficult to responsibly divulge to the reader. The poor exegetical performance of Simple Passion is evident by its clear lack of pastoral oversight or theological insight that exhibits concern for, and consistency of, sound doctrine.  Verses are plucked, often out of context, presumably because of their particular importance to the unidentified author and exposited in a Scripturally-illicit “what’s this verse mean to me” sort of manner.

The theme of “unity,” as highlighted in point three of the five points of Passion, runs through a number of the daily entries.  Commenting on this in the book, contributor Chris Tomlin writes, “Jesus said that the world would know we are His by our love (John 15:35).  Interestingly, He did not say ‘by our doctrine’ or ‘by our denomination,’ but by our love.”  This “doctrine is divisive” narrative echoed by Tomlin is not unknown, and, ironically, it is most often offered by those who “don’t know” what Scripture teaches in its fulness.

The popular suggestion that doctrine divides is a vehemently anti-Scriptural claim.  The Apostle Paul, through whom the Holy Spirit inspired and wrote much of the Jesus-approved New Testament defined division in the church.

I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive.  Romans 16:17-18

Another example of doctrine-avoiding unity is from the devotional on Day 182:  “What is one thing that every denomination has in common?  Despite stylistic differences, we reach out to God in prayer.  If we are going to see Jesus at work through our generation, then we need to be united around a clear purpose.”  That mechanism of unity, for the Simple Pursuit writer, is not the Jesus of Scripture, but the Jesus of prayer.

While the “stylistic differences” may exist between those, for example, praying at Hillsong, or Bethel, or the nearest Catholic parish, or the Baptist church down the street, one thing is certain among all of those congregations – each is praying to a very different “Jesus.”  The actual Jesus of Scripture, however, gave us His focal point for Christian unity in His high priestly prayer to the Father: “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.”  (John 17:17)

Scripture – and the sound doctrine it contains – is the point of unity for believers.  According to the writer of this day’s devotion, with no agreement on the correct Jesus or God of Scripture, Christians could theoretically be found in spiritual unity with any religion that prays.  But it’s a certainty the Muslims are praying to a decidedly different “God” than Christians do.  Appeals for unity outside the boundaries of Scripture are dangerous to the believer, toxic to sound doctrine, and may rapidly become blasphemous to God.  Indeed, for those not adhering to sound doctrine and proclaiming illicit variants of it, the apostle is quite clear: “Avoid them.”  (Romans16:18)

The prevalent “Gospel” contained in Simple Pursuit is the ever-popular, but always unbiblical social gospel.  From one entry we read, “Not only does our pursuit of justice bring healing to this world, but it also brings us closer to God.”  Or there’s this line, “Fighting injustice, speaking against lies, loving others, and seeking to end poverty all require much effort often personal discomfort – but they give so much gain.”   Or, from another entry, this explanation: “Just as materialism is heart bondage, so poverty and injustice are physical bondage.  When we generously give to the needy for the good of God’s kingdom, we take part in God’s purpose for the world: to free creation from the bondage of evil through the love of Christ.”

The social justice refrains reflect an aberrant Gospel message exhibited in Simple Pursuit.  They smack of a form of dominionism in which believers must eradicate the ills of the world – poverty, homelessness, legal injustices, for example – as critical to the “good of God’s kingdom.”  While these noble acts of Christian charity are done as a consequential outflow of a truly redeemed soul, the acts themselves do not constitute the Gospel.   Apart from doing such charity with a clear, corresponding proclamation of the Gospel, the results won’t be establishing “God’s kingdom,” but simply making the world a better place from which to go to hell.

Rather, God’s plans for this divinely cursed world (Genesis 3:17) are certain – see 2 Peter 3:10-12 – and, until that “day of Lord” arrives, believers are to seek to reconcile with God the spiritually lost (and, according to Scripture,  spiritually “dead” – Ephesians 2:1) by purposefully, audibly sharing – not merely “shining,” as Passion point #5 puts it – the authentic Gospel of Christ.  God’s temporal purpose is not to “free creation from the bondage of evil” through a social gospel agenda, but to take for the Son from it a bride – the church – comprised of those divinely regenerated as a result of His powerful, authentic Gospel. (Romans 1:16)  Believers in the true Gospel of Scripture are awaiting the new creation, “a new heaven and a new earth.”  (Revelation 21:1)

Commensurate with a doctrine-less, social gospel platform for which Passion is known, their devotional book perpetuates the unbiblical notion that all men are the beloved children of God who merely need to “love Jesus.”  Regrettably, the Jesus glimpsed on the pages of Simple Pursuit is a Jesus that cannot be properly gleaned from a responsible reading of Scripture.

Under the entry for Day 27, entitled “Hear The Knock,” the false, but evangelically-hallowed, door-knocking Jesus is seen.  “Jesus knocks at the door of our hearts and is waiting to enter fellowship with us.”  The cited verse for this illicit statement?  Revelation 3:20 … a verse in which Jesus is not knocking on anyone’s heart, but is issuing a dire warning against apostasy and disobedience to the believer-void church of Laodicea.  The day’s devotional ends with a dangerous tone of contemplative spirituality, “What can we do to be still so we can hear God’s voice today?  Let us pause to hear His voice, and answer the knock at the door of our hearts.”

The “Jesus loves everyone” notion shows up in a number of the daily readings.  In one, the closing is in the form of a question, “How can you learn to see everyone as Jesus does – a dearly loved child in need of an eternal savior?”  While every believer should proclaim the gospel to everyone, not everyone is “a dearly loved child” of God.  What this errant proclamation fails to recognize is that even Jesus, while on earth, did not exhibit limitless, gushing divine love for everyone He encountered.  In fact, the Jesus of Simple Pursuit seems unlike the judgmental Jesus of Matthew 13:10-16 who began teaching in parables precisely so that not all His hearers would grasp His divinely taught truth.  As MacArthur writes, parables “were designed to hide the truth.”  “Do you know why Jesus taught in parables?” writes MacArthur.  “It was a judgment.  It was a judgment on willful, hard-hearted unbelief.”  So much for “Jesus loves you and has a wonderfully hedonistic plan for your life.”

John Piper & Louis Giglio

Giglio, in his introduction to Simple Pursuit, says this:

“From the start [of the Passion Movement], we have wanted to see a generation stand in awe of Jesus; to fall in love with the wonder and majesty of who He is.  And we have sought to inspire them to reflect that glory to their world.”

Those words ring with a noble resolve, to be sure, but the ambition is based on an errant theology. The fundamental premise of Christian hedonism that is rampant throughout the volume, as it is the Passion Movement, elevates the pursuit of joy in Jesus above the very thing which Christ Himself said would identify those who truly love Him: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”  (John 14:15)  God commands our obedience.

Simple Pursuit encourages social justice as a way to “shine” the Gospel for the intent of maximizing individual joy.  This form of hedonism seems foreign to the authors of the New Testament who defined themselves, often in the opening words their epistles, as “doulos” – or slaves – of Christ.  (Romans 1:1, James 1:1, 2 Peter 1:1, Jude 1:1, Revelation 1:1) A slave exhibits obedience to his master, first and foremost, not the relentless pursuit of self-gratifying joy to be gained in the name of his master.

“So my call to you now, in the name of God Almighty, is that you might make it your eternal vocation to pursue your pleasure with all the might that God mightily inspires within you.”  John Piper, Passion Conference 1997 (Source)

Simple Pursuit is an avoidable devotional guide for the millennial.  In a post-modern world where relativistic, subjective pursuits run counter to Scriptural veracities, the continued proclamation of the tenets of Christian hedonism will drive many to ultimately seek escape from Christianity, for the Christian faith puts a priority on obedience to Christ, with sanctification resulting in many fruits in addition to joy. (Galatians 5:22-23)

Scripture does not promise unbridled temporal joy nor prescribe the pursuit of indulgent self-gratification though Christian hedonism slathers these ambitions with a veneer of Christian-ese. But Piper and Giglio and his Passion colleagues are required to read into Scripture a formula for faith not naturally, normally, or – from the record of orthodoxy – historically found within it.  Such a “simple pursuit” cannot be sustained by those who have no true foundation in the fundamental doctrines of faith, the “sound teaching” from the Word. (1 Timothy 4:6, 2 Timothy 4:3, Titus 1:9)

As Dr. Masters pointed out, “We will pay a high price for any kind of clever system that reduces biblical duties to an artificial formula, however sound and inspiring many of its elements may seem to be.” Simple Pursuit is effectively a “rah-rah” approach to faith, proffered in a daily sound-byte format, and most certainly exemplifies this dangerous, menacing, “clever system.”

Simple Pursuit is not a sound, endorsable resource for authentic believers of any age.

(I received a complimentary copy of this book through BooklookBlogger in return for my honest review.  I was not required to give a favorable review to the book.)

[Contributed by Bud Ahlheim]