Monday, February 2, 2009

Book Review: The Cross

I'm not really sure what to think of The Cross, by Arthur Blessitt.

On the one hand, the story is compelling: A guy carries a 12-foot cross for 38 years over more than 38,000 miles because, he says, God told him to. The book recounts the vicissitudes of his travels and travails, from the first opposition he encounters within the first few minutes of carrying the cross in Hollywood, California; to meeting Yasser Arafat in West Beirut; to climbing Mt. Fuji in Japan.

On the other hand, the book raises theological, doctrinal, and practical questions and problems that are kind of hard to avoid. Like does God talk to us the way Arthur Blessitt believes He does? And isn't there the hint of an inherent problem when a believer's God-calling causes so much stress that his marriage breaks up?

Finally--and I know I'm out of hands, here, but please allow me to put up a third one--there's also the matter of the actual quality of the writing itself.

Arthur Blessitt's story is compelling. There is no doubt (in my mind, at least) that he loves Jesus, and that he is willing to put everything on the line in order to follow him. He endured heat and cold, persecution and arrest; he even faced a firing squad in Nicaragua. His devotion and sacrifice has resulted in literally millions of people hearing the Gospel as Blessitt dragged his 45-pound cross. Whether you are a Jesus-follower or not, don't you have to admire this kind of single-minded commitment?

Does God talk to people today the way Arthur Blessitt believes he does? I have a super hard time believing and understanding this, which could totally be a function of my own immature faith. I want to know how a person can objectively verify that what they are "hearing" is God's voice, and not their own imagination or their own desires.

But Blessitt has no such problem. Early in the book he describes getting specific guidance from God as a seven-year-old. He was carrying water across his father's field to migrant workers picking cotton, when, he said, "I felt Jesus speaking to me...I was to walk forward thirteen steps, then turn right and go another twenty steps, and then turn to the left four more steps." This random "guidance" continued for days, until one day his dad spotted him and furiously reprimanded him.

For the rest of the summer, Blessitt said, he "went straight to the workers whenever my father was nearby. But when he was in town...I would listen for God's prompting and go where he told me to go." This whole anecdote strikes me as a very clear example of someone who wants very much to hear the voice of God, and who ascribes his own thoughts to God. "It is difficult to explain exactly how I knew [it was Jesus speaking to me]," Blessitt said, "but I felt within my spirit and my mind that Jesus was telling me to follow him."

Blessitt does not tell tales about his first marriage; he only says that he and his wife mutually agreed to officially end their marriage, and that their divorce was the result of their own failure. It's hard for me not to believe that this failure could be directly linked to a mistaken understanding of divine guidance. Would God direct a man to pursue a path that would result in the breaking of the solemn vows of marriage?

I cannot find any information on the web about whether Blessitt submits to any kind of financial accountability, which is unfortunate. I'd like to just trust that he's using the funds he raises in a responsible way, but I don't roll that way. In fact, I think any organization that accepts individual contributions--and even moreso those who do so in the name of Jesus--should be completely transparent about their finances. I did send an email inquiring if Blessitt makes his ministry finances public, or if he has any kind of financial accountability with an independent group such as Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, but I haven't heard back.

Nevertheless, I believe the guy. I believe he does what he does because he loves Jesus, and not for fame or financial gain. I would find it more difficult to believe that he'd spend his entire life carrying a cross around the world if he were not internally, spiritually motivated.

Each chapter of the book relates a particular story about Blessitt carrying the cross, encountering obstacles, meeting world leaders and/or local residents, and telling people about Jesus. As part of his chapter formula, Blessitt includes a pastoral message of faith and discipleship, and occasionally an altar call for those who do not yet follow Jesus. Though formulaic, the tone is sincere and the style is never stiff. But the formula necessarily results in repetition and redundancy, and the preaching gets old. The Cross is not a book that will win awards for literary style--but then again, that is clearly not the author's priority.

My review is based upon an early galley copy of the book, which was scheduled to be published in January 2009. The Cross has already been made into a movie which opens on March 27; here's a link to the trailer.

So, there you have it. I'm ambivalent and conflicted about The Cross. I know I'm supposed to find it inspiring, but I don't. I believe, however, that many, many people will find it to be moving and inspiring. I'd love to know what you think about it.


Doug Miles said...

Mr. Peevie,

Jesus said, "My sheep hear my voice", don't you? The question shouldn't be, "why does Arthur Blessitt hears the Lord's voice?", but "Why don't we?" The answer is that Blessitt often prays and fasts for long periods of time. Jesus indicated that prayer and fasting brings spiritual power to cure difficult syndromes.(Mk9:29 ISV)

As for the second issue, God's mission causing strain: God's mission caused Paul's wife to divorce him. To be a Pharisee Paul had to be married and to have a child. Yet, despite the divorce foisted upon him, Paul asserted that he had a right to marry, or as he phrased it "to lead a sister in the Lord." That doesn't mean that Paul wasn't pained by the divorce which he didn't want and the loss of the children that he loved. Paul said, "Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved."(Rom. 10:1)

As for the strangeness of the mission, what about Isaiah? God paralyzed him for a year.

As for danger, Arthur Blessitt faces more danger than any individual Christian since Jesus' time. However, that's the mission. Almost all of original Apostles of the Lamb were executed. His contemporaries killed the prophet Zechariah son of Berechiah(Zech 1:1). This was the prophet who wrote about Jesus as the "prophet and High Priest 'Joshua' (Zech 3:1-8). Jesus tells us the pharisees: "upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar" (Mt 23;35 NIV)

Anonymous said...

Dear Mr. Miles
I am a Bible student and I would like to pose the question as to where you get your information that Paul divorced his wife? Yes, according to history Pharisees were to have a wife but no where in the Bible nor in history does it state that Paul divorced his wife. What the Bible does say is that God hates divorce (Malachi 2:16). From my understanding, if the things that you feel God is leading you to does not line up with what the Bible says than what you feel is just a feeling. For the Word of God is He's WORD. God's Word says that we are to test everything to see if they are of God (1 Thess. 5:21). The way we test that is seeing if it lines up with what God says in His Word.

Anonymous said...

In one of Arthur Blessit's books he mentions that God told him to marry his first wife. Later on Arthur tells people that he then felt led to divorce.

As a youngster, I was very much impressed and influenced Arthur Blessitt. I believed that God should always be speaking to me with a clear audible voice, telling me what to do. Now I know that this kind of belief is a terrible bondage and people ought to remember that God also gave us a brain and common sense. God also lets us choose who we want to marry and what we want to do in our lives. God does not treat us like robots.

Anonymous said...

The Apostle Paul divorced...that's a new one. Philippians 3 gives a glimpse into Paul's former life as does Acts 8. In Acts 8:3 Paul had the authority to enter Jewish homes, arrest and send those people to prison. In Acts 9:1 Saul (soon to become Paul) went before the Sanhedrin (ruling Pharisees and Sadducees) in Jerusalem and was granted letters of authority in Damascus. The Sanhedrin did not hand those out to just anybody, so Paul was, as he says in Philippians 3, a Pharisee among Pharisees.

We are pretty sure that Paul was around 34 when converted. At age 34 he would have been married. But everything I have studied on Paul suggests that he was a widow, if he was in fact married. Paul taught, as he learned from Jesus, that there is only 1 reason for a man or woman to seek divorce and that is infidelity. NO WHERE DOES THE SCRIPTURE ENDORSE REMARRIAGE AFTER A DIVORCE, including Deuteronomy 24. A lot of people like to point to Matthew 19, you don't have to be a Greek scholar to understand that Jesus no mentions remarriage, in fact Jesus says directly that remarriage is adultery. So does Paul in 1 Corinthians 7.

In Matthew 19 Jesus is making a direct reference back to Genesis 1:27 and 2:24, especially 2:24. Here God declares that the two become one flesh. The bond of marriage, which is a vow taken before God and man, causes the two to become one in the eyes of God. And what God brings together let no man put asunder. That marriage vow and bond can only be broken by death in God's eyes. Some black roped mystic sitting on a bench in a courtroom some where my declare someone divorced but he has no authority to do so. That authority is God's alone and He will only break the bonds of marriage because of death.

Does God speak to man? Absolutely, though it is extremely seldom done in an audible voice. For those that wait upon the Lord, He reveals His plan in such a way that man has no control over. In other words, if you think God has spoken to you, wait for Him to unfold the plan. We think God has spoken so we run out and start kicking down doors in an effort to work out God's plan for Him. God is never in that, the servant who trusts Him waits upon Him. And God will never lead different that His Word (think Bible).

I have had Christians tell me that God told them to marry someone, then turn right around and tell me that God told them to divorce the same person.

I have had Christians tell me that God told them “trust Him” and buy way more house than they could afford. Then turn right around and tell that could told them to walk away from that same house. They stopped making the payments but continued to live there.

Both of these examples (and I could do many more) are both leadings of “the flesh”, God did not speak it was simply a man chasing after his own selfish and self centered desires.
Matthew 7:15-16, “Beware the false prophets who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits...”
Matthew 7:21-23, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!” (These are the most frightening words in the Bible.)

I am not cursing Arthur Blessitt, I am praying for him.

Anonymous said...

When Paul says " I resolved to know nothing among you save Jesus Christ and him crucified, I don't think he was telling people that he needed to continually spout a message about someone dying on a cross.

Witnessing to the world does not have to be verbal at all. Someone might say - well how on earth would another understand if we did not speak the message to others using human words?
Paul would say " For the kingdom of God does not consist in words but in power"

God's power transcends all languages, words, letters and understanding. Love is greater than words. Words will eventually vanish.

The good news has been cheapened and exchanged for a lie, a counterfeit!

You don't need skills to be powerful on this earth. You just need to care for those who need loving, especially those who are wounded.

Anonymous said...

The person who wrote a comment on August the 2nd got my attention. Just to let you know!