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Book Review: Russ Kennedy’s “Perplexity,” All you Need is the Cover
19 April, 2014
Really? Christians need yet another book on gospel contemplationism? In Perplexity: Bringing My Questions to God, the theses is a very familiar one in our day. As I was reading through the Kindle version while riding in the family car with my wife Susan, intermittently reading aloud, she commented, “It sounds like the same ole’ stuff.” Indeed, the institutional church will continue to relentlessly pound this one simple message into the heads of Christians in different ways, and anyone who comes up with a different version will be lauded accordingly.
It’s ironic, Russ Kennedy, the “pastor” of Clearcreek Chapel in Springboro, Ohio was at the center of one of the most perplexing seasons of my life. Had this book been published at that time, perhaps I would still be there, and living according to its age-old theses. But I wanted answers, and according to the theses of this religion, a very ancient one, that’s arrogance. Yes, perplexity is a good thing because it humbles us, it reminds us that we can’t know anything except that we are perplexed, and living in the dark cave of life. Hence, see the cover of the book. This is not perplexing at all; you are in the dark cave looking up, and the light seen at the mouth of the cave is the gospel. If you know what Russ Kennedy et al believe, all you need is the cover—it says it all in a visual bumper sticker.
Let me interject something here: that perplexing time of my life was only perplexing at the time. That’s one of the real truths of biblical perplexity; time often reveals exactly how God uses the evil of the world for His divine purposes. In the midst of severe, dark trials, we continue in well-dong and wait for God’s answers (1Pet 4:19). That’s difficult, we will need the love and truthful encouragement of other Christians. Yes, in rare instances, we will have to wait for glory to know the answers, but we can be sure that God is working all things for His divine purposes, and for the believer, that isn’t for the express purpose of showing us how worthless and depraved we are. Conspicuously absent in Kennedy’s book is the following concept:
Deuteronomy 29:29 – The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.
According to Kennedy and the long history of those who supply thoughts for him, the only thing that Christians can DO is the same gospel that saved them. We are in the dark cave, and all we can do is contemplate the light outside of the tunnel. Our reality is a subjective dark cave, and according to a former elder that supplied the overall philosophy for the Chapel, “New Covenant Theology presumes a Christocentricity to the understanding and meaning of all reality.” Said elder, Chad Bresson, departed from the Chapel, also dubbed “Cloudy Creek Chapel” by many former members, at approximately the same time of a controversy concerning an accusation that the Chapel elders were teaching, “some kind of Christian mysticism.” Go figure.*
So, if Christians can’t really know anything objectively except the suffering of the cross, what’s the point? Well, that answer isn’t perplexing at all: joy. As you look up from the dark cave of life and humanity to the only thing you can know, the light of the glorious cross shining outside of the cave, the result is the stripping away of everything treasured at all other than Christ resulting in joy while in the cave. Joy, regardless of circumstances, is the payoff. Joy in the cave is the payoff. Like Hinduism, the cause and effect of knowledge and the application thereof are toys that we discard as we mature spiritually, IF we come to realize that life is a completely preordained god-narrative that points us to a light that transcends empirical knowledge. As Kennedy states in the book, answers to life’s problems are “shadows.” Right and wrong answers are not the issue; the arrogant assumption that you can know anything except the suffering of the cross is the issue.
Listen, I was perplexed, and paid a price for wanting answers, but I see now that God used those dark circumstances to incite me to seek godly knowledge. I would only change one thing: I shouldn’t have been ignorant in regard to authentic church history and its progression of various soteriologies. My own ignorance and lack of knowledge led me to that darkness. Instead of letting me suffer the full brunt of my lazy Christianity, viz, letting others think for me, God restricted the circumstances to awakening me out of my pathetic slumber. That’s grace in sanctification my friends. When it gets right down to it, I can’t blame Russ Kennedy mysticism for what happened; we live in an information age, I was a know-it-all according to everyone else’s “knowledge.” Christ died to save me from the law, and gave me a “helper” to sincerely love Him with God-given talents. Instead of utilizing that, I did not study to show myself approved—it’s on me. For certain, I do not deserve what God has done to rebuild my life, but be sure of this, I have learned from it.
What have I learned? I have learned that the present-day chaos in the church is not perplexing at all. It is as simple as the cover on Russ Kennedy’s book. Frankly, the audacity of Plato’s cave adorning the cover of this book shouldn’t surprise us. The framers of the American Constitution readily observed that the colonial Calvinist Puritans of that day were followers of Plato. That, coupled with the tyranny that they experienced growing up under the colonial Puritan theocracy of that day inspired them to create one of the greatest experiments of all time—the American ideal, which God has used to wreak more good on the earth since the good news of the gospel. For one example, the Puritans, like the one Kennedy cites in his book, called Benjamin Franklin a devil for inventing the lightening rod. The only thing that saved Franklin from the fate of others who tried to improve the human condition through knowledge was the fact that his lightening rod saved churches from burning down via lightning strikes.
Platonism eventually became Gnosticism which was nemesis #1 for the New Testament church. The Neo-Calvinist resurgence of our day is a return to that Gnosticism in every respect, and the teaching method is no different than that used by Kennedy in his book:
1. Focus on being rightly descriptive about how trials and the rigors of life are experienced. This makes the listener think that you understand where they are at.
2. Exploit the fact trying to do the right thing the right way is very prevalent in the human experience. Then interpret those failures as a misconception regarding the very interpretation of reality. Interpret those failures as part of the overall failures of reason itself: i.e., Plato’s shadows in the cave. Our existence is experienced subjectively via the shadows of the true forms. The Puritans merely changed Plato’s true forms into the gospel/Christ, and our human existence is the cave.
3. Offer the alternative of gospel contemplationism, using proof-texting with verses that only tell half of the story: mysteries that belong to the Lord—which can only be experienced by joy and not known. This is the crux of Gnosticism. All reason and human knowledge are only shadows of the mysteries of Plato’s trinity: the true, good, and beautiful. They merely make Plato’s trinity “the gospel.” Any member at Clearcreek Chapel who is honest with themselves will see this concept woven within all of Russ Kennedy’s teachings sometimes plagiarized from John Piper’s Christian Hedonism which led to his dismissal from a church in Illinois.
Church history tells us that Gnosticism has always had mass appeal and has always been the greatest challenge to true Christianity. This is because it feeds our propensity towards lazy thinking, and enables us to step back from the rigors of life and observe them from afar. It also enables us to escape responsibility, and change by glorying in our ignorance while appearing spiritual. Yes, we are the humble totally depraved who “know nothing but Christ and Him crucified.” Change is hard, and many will exchange it in a heartbeat for the easy way while having the added bonus of looking humble and spiritual to boot. This is the mass appeal that has always been Gnosticism, a kissing cousin to Stoicism.
"Wow! Look at his faith in the face of this immense tragedy! If only I had faith like that!"
Faith? Or a Gnostic indifference towards reality? Was it faith that led a son to stand up at the funeral of a godly pastor and proudly proclaim that his father was a “wicked sinner?” What of the disdain shared by a Clearcreek elder in regard to his mother-in-law’s grieving because she was terminally ill and would not see her grandchildren grow up? The disdain evolved around her treasuring of her grandchildren more than Christ. Grandchildren are mere shadows.
There is only one false religion: antinomian sanctification. A rejection of knowledge in sanctification under the guise of “knowing nothing but Christ and him Crucified” portrays a certain mindset about justification. It exchanges love in sanctification for fear in justification. If we must keep ourselves justified by a humbleness defined by knowing nothing, we indeed need the Russ Kennedys of the world which is why he wrote the book. But one best ponder the very words of Christ: “Because of anomia, the love of many will become cold.”
Strange, once again I am inadvertently ministered to by tyranny. Susan and I have been considering a change of direction as this ministry is a very lonely ministry that fights the uphill battle against completely unnecessary perplexity in the American church. A recent sermon by Andy Stanley has Christians “troubled” and “perplexed.” In the sermon, Stanley proffered the idea that Christ put people before “his religion” which he made synonymous with the law. Supposedly, the Pharisees did the opposite by putting the law before people. Stanley then defiantly dared anyone to ask for a practical application to the sermon. Stanley then concluded the “sermon” by stating that he didn’t know where the theses would lead, that of course, would be decided by the Lord. As one blogger noted:
"With all due respect, I submit that if Andy Stanley did not know the answers to the questions posed above, he should have never delivered the sermon."
With all due respect, Christians need to stop being perplexed in regard to where these antinomian teachers are coming from. We find the same exact concept in this book published by Kennedy. In the difficult questions of life and times of darkness, you don’t look for answers; you only meditate on the gospel and not shadowy reason. In death, you seek more death, so that the joy of the cross may abound in your heart. This is what you do while waiting for the Lord to change your circumstances at a time of his choosing. Of course, this is a counselor’s dream; one size fits all. Every counselee walking in has the same problem: they value life. Don’t be fooled by multiple layers of nuance and careful choice of synonyms, this is the crux of the matter; you either treasure Christ alone, or you treasure all else but Him alone. It’s either the dark cave or the light, period.
So yes, once again I am being tempted to lazy thinking. “I have done my share, I have done my duty. This research is hard, time for something different. Think of all the money Susan and I would have if I didn’t do this full time?” Indeed, Susan and I will pray for, that’s right, wisdom in our decision, but then we will DO something. If God wants to stop us, he is well able. But once again, the Clearcreek elders have jolted me into remembrance…
Their god is the god of confusion, not ours. And perplexity is not a glory; it is the disdain of lady wisdom and a lamp-less dark path to destruction. Lord forgive me of my lazy thinking, may I be totally spent for your truth.
*Incredibly, the Chapel still benefits from the biblical counseling movement started by Dr. Jay Adams in 1970. The movement was a true revival because it called the church back to practical application in sanctification. As a former pastor at the Chapel, I witnessed this doing reformation (at its peak in the early 90s) firsthand because the Chapel was a NANC training center at the time. The movement was neutralized by a Gnostic form of biblical counseling followed Russ Kennedy and his elders. Nevertheless, they represent themselves as advocates of the original movement and its tenets. As they deceptively allow people to come into membership under this false pretense, controversy arises later due to the contradictions involved. Much of the energies expended by the Clearcreek Chapel elders involve damage control.
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