Over the last five years, Larry Osborne, Senior Pastor of North Coast Church in nearby Vista, California, has become one of my favorite ministers to glean wisdom from. I’ve heard him teach on ministry in a number of venues on all sorts of leadership topics. I usually find myself laughing quite a bit and also nodding my neck sore. He is one of those guys that “gets it.” His stuff on leadership is absolutely fantastic.
Now, he has written a book entitled, 10 Dumb Things Smart Christians Believe. I loved it. It’s a work of pastoral theology, with a bent toward doctrinal apologetics.
10 Dumb Things is book that tries to expose spiritual myths as myths and help the reader understand why that matters. The book reads quickly, and is packed with real life examples of how each of these myths can dramatically injure our life circumstances, and most importantly, our relationship with God. Osborne uses language that nearly everyone can understand. However, 10 Dumb Things is also meaty enough that it doesn’t seem “lightweight”.
In an effort to survey the book’s content in a brief but helpful way, I have listed the 10 Dumb Things below, in order, along with a favorite quote from that chapter. (Keep in mind that these are pulled out of context).
1. Faith can fix anything. “This kind of hopeful thinking is more about faith in faith than faith in God.”
2. Forgiving means forgetting. “That’s what I was taught as a new Christian. I was told that if I confessed my sins to God, he would forgive them. If I confessed the same sin twice, God would be confused. He’d have no idea what I was talking about, because he’d already forgiven and forgotten the first time. Forgiveness was an act of self-induced spiritual amnesia that God did for me and I was expected to do for others.”
3. A Godly home guarantees godly kids. “If nothing else, Adam and Eve should put to bed the idea that environment controls outcomes. If rebellion happened there, it can happen anywhere, even in the best Christian homes.”
4. God has a blueprint for my life. “Their great error is the mistaken assumption that choosing the right mate will trump living the wrong life. As a result, they treat God as a part-time blue-print consultant—someone to turn to for the really big decisions, but someone who’s not particularly relevant on the day-to-day stuff. But that’s the problem. God doesn’t do consulting. God does God.”
5. Christians shouldn't judge. “Imagine an engineering student arguing that his calculations don’t matter as long as they work for him. Not many of us would drive over a bridge he designed. Or imagine your doctor giving you a handful of pills and telling you to take whichever one ‘feels right.’”
6. Everything happens for a reason. “Ive been told that an affair was part of God’s plan because the new union resulted in a happy marriage. I’ve been told God must have orchestrated a bitter church split because it led to the birth of a dynamic ministry. I’ve been told that God was behind a murder and the subsequent conviction because the murderer met the Lord in prison. Such thinking is nonsense. God never approved of these people’s sin. He didn’t cause it. He didn’t even “use it.” He overcame it. That’s what grace does.”
7. Let your conscience be your guide. “I’ve come to the conclusion that lots of people who want to let their conscience be their guide have no idea that it’s no longer working very well.”
8. God brings good luck. “Jesus promised forgiveness. He promised eternity. But winning lottery numbers, job promotions, good health and riches? Not exactly.”
9. A Valley Means a Wrong Turn. “The myth excuses and even encourages self-centered decisions in the name of getting out of pain as quickly as possible. It even truncates God’s power. If we run from every messy situation on the assumption that God can’t be in it, we’ll never experience the miraculous power of the deliverance.”
10. (My favorite chapter of the book) Dead people go to a better place. “Once we lose any real concept of hell, the natural consequence is more than just putting us at odds with Scripture; it eventually devalues the cross, redefines salvation, and turns obedience into an extra-credit spiritual add-on.”
The book was a treat to read. It was a sort of spiritual multivitamin. It didn’t make me completely fit at once, but it contributed to my spiritual health in a variety of ways, beyond a doubt. It’s a book that would benefit any Christian, and ministers would do well to use 10 Dumb Things or something like it as the basis for a doctrinal stress test—first on themselves, and then their churches.
Doctrine matters. It matters a lot.
Those of us with advanced theological educations in particular would do well to learn from Larry Osborne's way of communicating difficult and complicated subject matter in real, every-day language. It will help our preaching and teaching immensely.
In my humble opinion, pastoral theology such as wins the day in 10 Dumb Things will be the prominent type of theology produced and embraced by the Church over the next 10-15 years (also see Mark Driscoll’s recent books including the “A book you’ll actually read on…” series). 10 Dumb Things Smart Christians Believe and books like it that will be produced in the years to come will be practical, but also bring classic theology to bear on everyday life using more every-day language and illustrations. This will be a good thing in the long run as it will likely produce healthier disciples of Jesus and perhaps cause those who don’t have or desire the benefit of a formal Seminary education to engage more frequently in substantive thinking about God and Christian doctrine.