07 April 2014

Book Review: Could it Be This Simple?

I received a free copy of Could it Be This Simple? A Biblical Model for Healing the Mind (2012) by Timothy Jennings MD at last year's world conference for the American Association of Christian Counseling. As a Christian and a neuropsychologist, I was eager to read what he had to say.

Replete with examples from everyday life and from his clinical experience, Jennings describes a model of "healing the mind."  In the early chapters, he laid out the link between our spiritual natures, conscience, will, reason, feelings, thoughts, and physical functioning in influencing our mind.  He then set out to show how our minds functioned before sin entered the picture and then subsequently, how sin affected us.

There is much to commend about this book. Jennings is a clear and engaging communicator. This was an simple, though not simplistic, book to read.  I appreciated his recognition of the multiple elements of how the mind functions. Too often, it seems that we focus on one area (e.g., thoughts, relationships) to the exclusion of others. Dr Jennings seems to find that balance reasonably well.  He recognizes that God created us as thinking, feeling, volitional, relational beings and that each of those areas--as well as others-- were affected by the fall. 

Near the center of the book, he took time to develop his thoughts about the laws of liberty and of love as well as their counterfeits. I think that, for the most part, he is right especially as he talked about what right, biblical love looks like.  In chapter 12, his discussion of forgiveness and its associated myths are worth reading.

Despite much to commend about this book early on, the book took a decided turn for me on page 129.  Prior to that, I had some concerns that he was developing a model of healing based upon the law of linearity that Larry Crabb talks about.  In others words, if I have problem A, and I apply treatment B, good things will happen.  If-then Christianity.  Because there was much that was good, I was happy to set that aside.  However, then came page 129.  Under the heading "a false gospel", he essentially dismisses penal substitutionary atonement as a "wolf in sheep's clothing". He argues that Christ did not come to appease God's wrath toward sin and that we need to be cautious with phrases such as "being clothed in Christ's righteousness."  He wrote, "far from what it professes, this false view is actually a candy-coated, rotten-apple theory."  At best, his description is incomplete; at worst, it is heretical.  It may be that I am misreading what he wrote in this section, though I don't think I am.  Having read it several times, he seems to reject the biblical notion of propitiation. He appears to favor a semi-pelagian view of salvation rather than salvation based purely upon the free gift of grace offered through Christ, the sacrificial lamb, which is well-described in Hebrews. 

Finally, at the end of the book, it was hard for me to determine his views of eternal life. On page 136, he wrote, "if we utilize our reason, we would realize that God cannot be the loving Father and the threatening destroyer at the same time...If God is not threatening to destroy the unrepentant, then what will he do to those who reject Him? It is very simple, really. He takes the only loving action He can: He lets them go, and when the Life-giver lets go, they die." This section, and those following make Jennings sound like an annihilationist (like the late John Stott), though I was never entirely sure.

In the end, there are many good elements to this book and some that are strikingly concerning. I believe a discerning reader could wade through the concerns, but unfortunately, this book is not targeted to the theologically sophisticated. Having said that, I humbly acknowledge that I hope it is my own limited understanding and not false theology that raises concerns for me.  I would be eager to hear any corrections from Dr Jennings if I am misrepresenting his work.

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