I was recently sent a review copy of “Eternity is Now in Session” by John Ortberg. This book basically is a call to a deeper faith, a call away from shallow Christianity. Ortberg argues that Christians already have eternal life, which means knowing God and following Jesus every day.
What did I think of the book? In a word, it’s not that helpful. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not absolutely terrible, but there are so many better resources on this topic. This is one to pass up. Why the negative words?
First, Ortberg sadly sets up a false dichotomy between believing in Jesus and following Jesus. Here are a few examples: “…Jesus didn’t say, ‘believe the right things about me, and you can be my disciples.’ He said, ‘Follow me, and you’ll be my disciples….’ What matters most to Jesus is not that I’m a believer about him; it’s that I’m a follower of him” (p. 133). There are other similar statements.
I agree that Christianity is not just a bare belief that Jesus was a historical figure. However, it is essential for the Christian to believe the right thing about Christ. If you believe the wrong things about Jesus (like a Mormon, for example), you are not truly following him. Jesus himself told his disciples to believe what the (OT) prophets said about him (Lk. 24:25) and he spoke propositional truths about himself that were essential for faith (John 11:26-27; 17:8, etc.) Furthermore, there are plenty of verses that talk about the necessity of believing in Christ (Jn. 3:15, 16, 18; Jn 5:24, Jn 6:40, etc.). Or think of Paul’s teaching about Christ – the Christian must believe those truths! When Ortberg downplays belief in certain truths about Jesus, he’s setting up a false dichotomy. Christianity has to do with believing the right things about Jesus and it has to do with following Jesus. There’s a biblical balance.
Secondly, and related to my first critique, Ortberg talks about faith as believing what Jesus believed (pp 133-145). This isn’t 100% wrong, but it’s certainly ambiguous. Ortberg takes “faith in Jesus” to be “the faith of Jesus.” That is, Ortberg says we have to have the faith of Jesus, we need to believe what Jesus believed: “To have saving faith is to believe what Jesus himself believed… (p. 137). If one parses this out, it’s actually an unbiblical teaching. Saving faith for the Christian means believing that Jesus, God’s Son, saves us from our sin, misery, and death (e.g. Gal. 2:15ff). Saving faith in Scripture means a person understands his sin and his need for a Savior. I suppose we can say that Jesus had faith – he trusted the Father – but he wasn’t a sinner who trusted in God’s forgiving mercy for salvation from sin. This section of the book is unhelpful.
Anwyay, as you can see, I’m not a fan of “Eternity Is Now in Session.” It’s not a book on my “recommended” list.
(NOTE: I received a review copy of this book, and – as might be obvious! – I was not compelled to write a positive review.)
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