My Interview With Bishop T.L. Craft

Life Impact

It’s impossible to adequately articulate how Bishop T.L. Craft has impacted my life and ministry. He is best known around the world as the Bishop of First United Pentecostal Church of Jackson, MS. To thousands like my mother, who attended Jackson College of Ministry, he left an indelible imprint as JCM’s founder and president. Many think of Bishop Craft as a pastor’s pastor and a friend’s friend. He’s the definition of a scholar and a gentleman. Untold numbers of ministers, preachers, teachers, pastors, evangelists, and missionaries found their start under T.L. Craft’s kindhearted tutelage. Furthermore, hundreds of dynamic women of God, like my precious wife, credit Bishop Craft as the pastor that enabled them to launch out successfully into life and ministry. But if you ramble past the thick haze of accolades and success, you see a man who is steadfastly apostolic, warm, sincere, and imminently approachable.

90

Bishop Craft recently turned ninety, although he seems much younger. His mind is sharp, and his thirst for knowledge remains unquenchable. When I walked into his home a few days ago for a podcast recording session, he was well-dressed and just as dapper as always. The only hint of aging was the residual pain and mobility issues associated with a minor stroke. While talking with or observing Bishop Craft, I’ve always felt that he could have been wildly successful within any vocation. He has an enviable knack for making anyone feel totally at ease within seconds. It’s not a show or a put-on. It’s just who he is at the core. He genuinely likes people, and they really want to like him right back because of it. His consistent, approachable demeanor is a refreshing departure from the unfortunate arms-length attitude many high-profile preachers adopt towards people outside their inner circle. After spending just a few minutes with Bishop Craft, it’s easy to see why he’s had to build lots of new buildings over the years to accommodate church growth.

Season 2, Episode 6

The other day I had the opportunity to sit down in Bishop’s home and record a conversation for Apostolic Voice (listen to the whole conversation below or wherever you enjoy podcasts). But I wanted to give a few highlights from that conversation and links to books Bishop mentioned during the episode. As always, if you’d like to support this ministry, please leave an iTunes rating and review. And if you’d like to help financially for as little as $0.99 per month, follow this link.

The Criticism Flip

Christians, especially ministers, tend to feel above criticism. Or at least, we avoid criticism like the plague. I think that’s universal to the human condition. Even “so-called” constructive criticism hurts, particularly when it’s given without an invitation. However, Bishop Craft echoes the sentiment of the CEO of Tesla Motors, Elon Musk, by inviting criticism from outsiders and insiders alike. Bishop Craft smiled and said, “You’ll never hear more honesty than when you invite a visitor to give you honest feedback about things you’re church could be doing better.” “Ignore that honest feedback to your detriment,” he said somberly. He continued, “Inviting criticism is a great way to witness and teach a Bible study.” “You wouldn’t think so,” he said wryly. He explained with a twinkle in his eyes, “By giving them the upper hand, they don’t feel defensive, and you can defend your faith without seeming pushy or overbearing.” You can invite criticism and flip it to your advantage with kindness and open dialogue in countless areas of life.

Advice to Ministers

I’m adding a few bonuses that Bishop Craft mentioned when the microphones were off. I specifically asked Bishop for some ministerial advice. I’m summarizing it in bullet points for quick reference:

  • Always be in service. Don’t miss church.
  • If you’re traveling, let people know where you’re going and what you’re doing.
  • Read voraciously.
  • Be a well-rounded reader by engaging in books on theology, Christian living, history, philosophy, leadership, business, biography, science, culture, and politics.
  • Give your phone number to everyone.
  • Don’t prioritize a secular job over the work of ministry. If you must work a secular job, don’t allow it to become your first priority and define you.
  • Take vacations.

Book & Commentary Recommendations

Apostolic Voice

The End Is Beginning – A Narrative Poem

The slumbering snore baffled the sages.
Long tattered rags masked the seismic rage.
For eons, scribes waited with bated breath.
Ominous groans bolted prophets out of sleep.
Fickle throngs belabored on with stopped-up ears.
Battle drums beat somewhere in time's vast space,
Faintly thumping as if Hell were marching in place.
The Great Bear rose, and the Red Dragon groaned,
The Eagle fluttered while the Rose tilted and swayed.

Have you not seen, have you not heard?
The time is at hand; the end is beginning. 
	
Faintly a horn blasts in the distance dreamily.
A weary few were watching and listening easily. 
Others barely noticed until their screens glistened. 
Where did they go? The anchors droned on and on.
An old tape squawked, I Wish We’d All Been Ready,
The irony of something ignored so warily ignited
Feelings of agony until now left unexcited.
How soon before vials break and wrath explodes?
A trumpet blasts from heavenly places like a war cry.
	
Have you not seen, have you not heard?
The time is at hand; the end is beginning. 

Two fire-breathing preachers wandered outside,
Speaking truths the world long shouted down.
The beginning of sorrows and woe is trickling now.
They shout in the streets like wild men of old.
Beastly fury stamps them out, they lie there cold.
Moses? Elijah? Peter? James? John? No one knows.
Fear, hunger, pain, madness, confusion, delusion 
Crouch in the shadows, waiting to pounce gleefully.
What does this mean? Every human lip screams.

Have you not seen, have you not heard?
The time is at hand; the end is beginning.

An Open Letter to Dr. Jordan B. Peterson

Dear Dr. Peterson

Please forgive the gimmicky aspect of this letter. Your immense popularity or repulsiveness (depending on whom you’re talking to) renders you unreachable by normal means. I’m under no illusion that you will see this letter. However, I sincerely hope this reaches you at some point. Allow me to begin by expressing my sincere earnestness in praying for your health and for the health and safety of your family, whom you seem to love dearly. Also, I’d like to thank you for your thoughtful, meaningful, and life-impacting contributions to national conversations. 12 Rules for Life has roused many forgotten young men to rally to the challenges of existence with courage, integrity, and goodness.

Beyond Refreshing

Along with millions, I’ve enjoyed listening to your podcast and following your lectures. I’ve cheered in admiration as you’ve resolutely refused to be cowed by woke media personalities or bullied into submission by cultural fads. You are a voice of reason, logic, and morality. That’s beyond refreshing in this post-postmodern or metamodernist culture (I’d love to hear your thoughts on post versus post-post versus metamodernism). It must be strange navigating the complexities of fame on a worldwide platform. I, for one, am appreciative that you do so with grace and kindness even when in strong disagreement.

Your Popularity Among Christians

I’ve heard you ponder the question of why you are so popular among Christians several times. And why your lectures on Genesis garnered overwhelming positive attention. Even though you are not a theologian, I thoroughly enjoy your religious conversations. Your influence has impacted me to take a renewed interest in Jungian psychology. I’m indebted to you for that as I quote Jung several times in a soon-to-be-released book that takes a biblical look at alcohol. Anyway, most people you speak with lean more philosophical than evangelical. Although you remain cautiously critical of “orthodox” Christianity, the liturgical influence on your religious (or philosophical) thinking is obvious.

A Brief Context

For the sake of transparency, I am a minister within a marginalized segment of Christianity. Interestingly, postmodernism helped and hurt us at the same time. It hurt in the sense that culture moved away from seeking or even believing in absolutes or Truth. Yet, it helped because we are less ostracized due to our beliefs (we were severely persecuted at the turn of the twentieth century). These words might sound a little foreign; I am a Oneness Apostolic Pentecostal Christian. We’re the fastest-growing religious movement in the world, even as liturgical churches are shrinking. In the past one hundred-plus years, we have exploded to the tune of approximately fifty million worldwide. Even though we are technically evangelical by definition, historically, our evangelical brethren have been loath to allow us that title.

Answering the Question

I mention my beliefs not because I expect you to find my theology particularly interesting (although you might). But because I believe my perspective allows a unique insight into your immense popularity among Christians of all stripes. You are tremendously popular in my circles and the converging circles of Christianity. And here’s why: You intellectually articulate the defense of our existence. That’s the nutshell version. Beyond that, you are the most intelligent person using your influence to help us maintain space and have a voice in the public space. Even when you don’t agree with everything we say or believe, you brilliantly defend our right to hold those thoughts and speak them out loud, whether in our churches, public forums, or the universities. Your unique one-foot in Christianity and one-foot outside Christianity stance gives you gravitas blatantly religious leaders can’t wield.  

The Woke Wave

Sincere Christians saw the woke wave coming decades before it hit culture full force. We were silenced and demonized in the public schools. Our children were bullied into submission by Stalin-like totalitarian tactics. The universities turned Christian shaming into an art form. I’ve been forbidden to open up city council meetings by praying in the name of Jesus. And that’s in the Bible Belt of the United States. That’s only one small aspect of the anti-free speech overreach directed at Christians in public forums. We’ve watched our cities covered in graffiti while the Ten Commandments were removed from our courtrooms. We’ve had to fight like mad to keep the government from forcing us to fund abortions for people on our payrolls. Same-sex couples who’ve never darkened the doors of our churches routinely try to force us to marry them in our buildings, hanging legal action over our heads if we don’t comply. If we dare try to help children suffering from gender dysphoria overcome their confusion lovingly, we’re called hate-mongers and worse. I could go on and on.

You’re the Voice We Could Not Use

We’re subjugated to name-calling constantly while being told to keep our mouths shut. Free speech is only allowed for certain woke groups these days. All this seemed to go from a simmer to a boil when the transgender movement began doing its best to force us into ignoring science and radically changing definitions. Then you stepped onto the scene and became the voice we could not use in that arena. Your brilliance, coupled with genuine humility, captured our consciousness. As we got to know you, we realized you were a true friend and a sincere moralist. And while we may approach morality from divergent directions, we hold it dear nonetheless.

You’re Much Like Aaron

In some ways, your notoriety reminds me of Aaron (greatly anticipating your book and lectures on Exodus). As you know, much has been assumed about the Bible’s description of Moses as being “slow of speech and slow of tongue (Exodus 4:10).” Was Moses simply inarticulate? Did he have a stutter? I’ve always leaned towards the theory that Moses had a speech impediment of some kind. Whatever it was, God wanted Moses to overcome it and speak. But Moses resisted God and failed to use his voice. God relented and sent Aaron to be Moses’ spokesman before Pharaoh and often before the people. Moses’ failure to speak up created a vacuum (particularly in the political and secular realm) that Aaron naturally filled. God even acknowledged that Aaron was intelligent and eloquent compared to Moses (Exodus 4:14-16). It seems you have become the confident voice the Church was too afraid or perhaps unable to use. You’re the unofficial spokesperson, if you will.

The Overlooked Experience of Glossolalia

Admittedly, my primary motivation for writing is a burning desire to humbly add something to an ongoing thread that permeates your conversations. First, you have mentioned a particular mystical religious encounter that was personal to you. Also, the question of transcendent, mysterious occurrences, their origins, and repeatability comes up periodically. Lately, I’ve been noticing more and more scientific questions involving the use of psychedelics to replicate (or achieve) a spiritually transformative experience. I find myself talking to your podcast through my air pods when these topics arise. Mainly because the transformative encounter described in these conversations, although rare in liturgical circles, are frequent experiences for Pentecostals. We experience many types of transcendent encounters with God, but most notable is what the book of Acts refers to as speaking in other tongues. Which can be a known language (although previously unlearned) or a heavenly language, but it produces an ecstasy and clarity like nothing in this world can offer. This biblical phenomenon is commonly referred to as glossolalia in academic circles. Apostolics consider it to be a necessary element in the process of redemption.

Glossolalia’s Transformative Narrative

Regardless, I’ve witnessed countless individuals give up smoking, various drugs, and alcohol without any withdrawal symptoms after experiencing glossolalia (we would refer to it as receiving the Holy Spirit). It’s that well-documented transformative religious experience you’ve mentioned at various times. I know how strange this can sound to a person unfamiliar with it. However, is it stranger than looking for answers in psychedelics? Having witnessed your intellectual curiosity at play, I’m reasonably confident you would find the data interesting at the very least. Hundreds of millions have experienced glossolalia. Many of those millions have been permanently changed for the good. If this sounds overly preachy, I apologize. I am a preacher, and there’s nothing I can do to change that reality. Believe it or not, I’ve tried very hard to avoid inserting gobs of theology, dogma, and personal opinions into this letter. My only hope is that perhaps you will use a measure of your vast intellect to investigate glossolalia with a level of openness. Whatever else, it can’t just be discarded outright or ignored with any genuine intellectual honesty. Just the plethora of historical biblical accounts (Isaiah 28:11-12, Mark 16:17, Acts 2:1-47, Acts 10:46, Acts 19:6) set a narrative that’s difficult to reject off-hand.

Encouragement in Exodus

Please continue to speak against impending malevolence courageously. May you and your family be blessed. I pray your body remains as strong as your mind. I’ll bid farewell with one of my favorite passages from the book of Exodus:

8 Now there arose up a new king over Egypt, which knew not Joseph. 9 And he said unto his people, Behold, the people of the children of Israel are more and mightier than we: 10 Come on, let us deal wisely with them; lest they multiply, and it come to pass, that, when there falleth out any war, they join also unto our enemies, and fight against us, and so get them up out of the land. 11 Therefore they did set over them taskmasters to afflict them with their burdens. And they built for Pharaoh treasure cities, Pithom and Raamses. 12 But the more they afflicted them, the more they multiplied and grew. And they were grieved because of the children of Israel (Exodus 1:8-12).

This passage encourages me when I’m feeling weak and insignificant, and adversaries seem intensely overwhelming. It’s a reminder that even enemies perceive the strengths that I can’t see. Furthermore, affliction placed upon righteous people is a precursor to growth and eventual deliverance.

Sincerely, Ryan French

Breakers, Takers, Givers, Makers – What Kind of Saint Are You? (Article + Podcast)

Called to Be Saints Together

When the apostle Paul wrote to the church in Corinth, he referred to them as “those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 1:2, ESV).” I’m taking a slight liberty with the text, but I like the English Standard Version in this particular verse because it emphasizes that we are “called to be saints together.” We are together in our local church and with our brothers and sisters worldwide. And that’s the beauty and the beast of the situation. When things are as they should be, “togetherness” is beautiful, unifying, and extraordinarily powerful. But when things aren’t right, “togetherness” is beastly, gnarly, disunifying, and destabilizing. And even though this is most visible in our local churches, the ripple effects of a disunified local church negatively impact the global Church.

Three Types of Togetherness

We Pentecostals have all heard plenty of sermons about the importance of unity. We know they were in “one accord and in “one place” on the Day of Pentecost. Physical, spiritual, and emotional “togetherness” was vital to the first outpouring of the Holy Ghost, and the same is true today. Satan knows this as well. So, he is constantly attacking those three types of togetherness. He’ll either try to keep you from physically being together with other saints, spiritually disunified with other saints or emotionally disconnected from other saints. Revival becomes impossible if he can destroy any of those three types of togetherness among saints in a local church. If disunity becomes malignant in a church, it takes painful emergency surgery to fix it. Otherwise, the church will suffer a slow, agonizing death. In plain terms, spiritual surgery involves one of two things: Radical miraculous heart transplants among significant sources of disunity or those sources of contention leaving the local church permanently.

Physical, spiritual, and emotional togetherness was vital to the first outpouring of the Holy Ghost, and the same is true today. Satan knows this as well. So, he is constantly attacking those three types of togetherness.

Revival Begins with Decrease

If you understand that God is serious about cutting out cancerous growths of disunity, you’ll realize that not all “growth” is healthy, and not all “decrease” is unhealthy. If a doctor cuts a cancerous growth off your body, you wouldn’t consider that a loss. And when disunifying people leave a local church, that shouldn’t be considered a loss either. Instead, it’s God’s way of cleansing and positioning a local church for unity and revival. Most of the dynamic church growth I’ve witnessed in churches began with a numerical decrease before the increase was seen.

If you understand that God is serious about cutting out cancerous growths of disunity, you’ll realize that not all growth is healthy, and not all decrease is unhealthy.

This principle is on full display in the story of Gideon leading a ragtag army to fight the oppressive Midianites (Judges 7:1-24). Gideon had 32,000 men, which was still a tiny number compared to the massive Midianite army. But God was looking for unity in the camp. So, he told Gideon to send the men who were fearful back home. And boom! Twenty-two thousand men left, leaving just 10,000 soldiers. But God wasn’t done cutting the problems out of that army. The Lord instructed Gideon to take his army to the water and make them drink, and whoever got on their knees with their faces in the water could not fight the Midianites. One commentary gives an interesting take on why God would demand such a strange thing:

Those who drink water in a kneeling position with their heads in the water to lap it up are (1) easy targets, (2) unaware of any enemy movement while they drink, and (3) susceptible to leeches. The alternative is to lie down flat (where one presents less of a target) and to keep alert, bringing water to the mouth while continuing to look around.[i]

The men who put their faces in the water weren’t fit for the victory God was about to give. They weren’t alert enough to be unified with God’s plan, and they were vulnerable to leeches and disruptive diseases that endangered the camp. In the end, Gideon’s army was whittled down to just 300 men. That must have felt like a terrible loss to Gideon at the moment before the victory finally came. But it was God’s way of getting the glory and keeping that ragtag army unified and humble.

Three Kinds of Church Members

Recently, I ran across a comment describing three kinds of church members: Browsers, Customers, and Shareholders. Some people are chronic church “Browsers.” When someone approaches and says, “Can I help you with anything?” they respond with, “No, thank you, I’m just browsing.” Browsers are looking for the perfect fit before they commit. They have an idea of something they want in their minds, and they’re not sure if they’re buying yet. It’s understandable to be in this group for a little while. But if a person stays “browsing” a church for too long, it can become an excuse to attend without commitment or submission, which eventually leads to spiritual bankruptcy.

If a person stays “browsing” a church for too long, it can become an excuse to attend without commitment or submission, which eventually leads to spiritual bankruptcy.

There’s another category of church members called Consumers, and they are often the majority of people in a local congregation. They attend with the sole purpose of consuming from the church. They come because of the music, the kid’s program, missions, the Bible teaching, the great preaching, the active fellowship, or the convenience of the location, but if you take any of those things away, they leave. If the Consumers stay around long enough, they might be mistaken for a worker and asked to do or sacrifice something, but they’ll quickly remind you that “they don’t work here.” Ironically, this group of people is usually the most vocal about their opinions, dislikes, complaints, and gripes. They have an “it’s all about me” mentality that makes them very vocal about their wants. If they give financially (they often don’t), they do it as a consumer expecting a particular product or program in return for their payment. If they don’t change, they become a drain rather than a gain to the church.

There’s another category of church members called Consumers, and they are often the majority of people in a local congregation. They attend with the sole purpose of consuming from the church.

Finally, there are Shareholders in every church. Sometimes we call them the “core” or “backbone” of the church. These are the ones who show up to a workday. They give of their time, talent, and treasure without strings. They have invested in the kingdom of God, and they take ownership and responsibility for their involvement. They pray, work, and long for the spiritual success of the church. It’s “their” church. Not in the wrong way. They know ultimately that it’s God’s church. They speak that way because they’ve invested and bought into the vision and purpose of their local congregation. They are true saints of God. Most Shareholders began as Browsers or Consumers but somehow caught the vision and grew into what God intended for them to be all along.

There are Shareholders in every church. Sometimes we call them the “core” or “backbone” of the church. These are the ones who show up to a workday. They give of their time, talent, and treasure without strings.

Breakers, Takers, Givers, Makers

Personally, the Lord gave me a vision years ago of four types of people in a local church. The first two are harmful because they are Breakers and Takers. The last two are positive because they are Givers and Makers. The Lord showed me people who were physically breaking things in the church. God was showing me physically what Breakers do spiritually. They tear things apart and cause brokenness all around them. They engage in gossip, backbiting, and leadership bashing (almost exclusively in private). Breakers sow discord, engender strife, resist all healthy changes, and refuse responsibility for their actions. They hurt vulnerable new believers and discourage seasoned saints. Breakers are responsible for the failure of programs and hinder progression of their local church when left unchecked. Confusingly, they usually portray themselves as Shareholders, but they are toxic Consumers. Or, as Jesus said, “wolves in sheep’s clothing.”

Breakers sow discord, engender strife, resist all healthy changes, and refuse responsibility for their actions. They hurt vulnerable new believers and discourage seasoned saints.

Takers aren’t as toxic as the Breakers, but they aren’t where they need to be either. Sometimes they’re very kind, friendly people. However, they do have a deep flaw. Takers are selfish. They take far more than they give. Not just financially, they take in every area from the church. They come to be fed, but they never do any giving of their own. Takers watch while others work their fingers to the bone without feeling any desire to help. They’re not invested in the kingdom; they’re invested in themselves. Takers think it’s more blessed to receive than to give. They enjoy the benefits and comforts of the church without making meaningful contributions of their own time, treasure, or talent to bless others.

Takers think it’s more blessed to receive than to give. They enjoy the benefits and comforts of the church without making meaningful contributions of their own time, treasure, or talent to bless others.

One quick caveat about Breakers and Takers might seem like a paradox. They will work if given a level of power, leadership, or authority. Sometimes they will even work very hard and have the appearance of Shareholders because of their efforts. However, because their motivations are selfish ambition, self-promotion, or the love of influence and power, their work ultimately becomes destructive and draining to the church. Any apparent good they do is outweighed by the bad. God will not bless selfish efforts regardless of how noble they seem on the surface. Even worse, if they gain notoriety, their spirit becomes contagious to others. Correcting or removing them becomes a nightmare. Many churches have been destroyed because a Taker or a Breaker gained too much influence.

God will not bless selfish efforts regardless of how noble they seem on the surface.

Givers and Makers are the opposite of Breakers and Takers. Givers and Makers make things happen with their own sacrificial blood, sweat, and tears. They give generously and work graciously. They never tear down but strive to build others up continuously. They’re supportive, selfless, kingdom-minded, concerned, compassionate, caring, loving, devoted, faithful, hardworking, sacrificial (when needed), and committed to the greater good. They prefer others before themselves (Philippians 2:3-4). They handle it with a godly, peacemaking spirit if they are hurt, disappointed, or upset. They’re slow to anger, slow to speak, and quick to listen (James 1:19). Makers and Takers are passionate about their church’s physical, spiritual, and emotional unity.

Givers and Makers make things happen with their own sacrificial blood, sweat, and tears. They give generously and work graciously. They never tear down but strive to build others up continuously.

What Kind of Saint Are You?

It’s hard to admit it, but we’ve all had a little of the Browser or Consumer mindset as saints. It’s even possible we’ve been a Taker or a Breaker at some point or another. It takes real courage to examine our hearts to see what kind of saint we really are in God’s eyes. Hopefully, we all attain Shareholder status. To be a Giver and a Maker in the kingdom of God comes with tremendous benefits and privileges. It’s contrary to our fleshly understanding, but selflessness produces lasting satisfaction. Our flesh wants to fight and scrape for “our way” and “our stuff” and our “opinions,” but that only brings heartache. Maybe, just maybe, God reversed the order and decided the least will be the greatest and the greatest will be the least (Matthew 5:19). That’s how God operates. He loves to make the last become the first and send the first to the back of the line (Matthew 20:16).

It’s contrary to our fleshly understanding, but selflessness produces lasting satisfaction. Our flesh wants to fight and scrape for “our way” and “our stuff” and our “opinions,” but that only brings heartache.

God reversed the order and decided the least will be the greatest and the greatest will be the least. That’s how God operates. He loves to make the last become the first and send the first to the back of the line.

If you’ve felt a twinge of conviction, don’t worry, God can give you a heart transplant if you ask for it. You can be everything God has called you to be. If you’re honest with yourself, you’ll realize the browsing is tedious, and the consuming never fills you up. The breaking hurts you the most, and the taking leaves you with less than you had in the first place. Let God give you peace. For all the selfless Shareholders out there, please know that you are precious beyond compare. Your sacrifice is not in vain, and it doesn’t go unnoticed. You have great treasure stored up in Heaven. Let me say “thank you” for everything you do. I need you. Your church needs you. God is for you. Nothing can stand against you. And no weapon formed against you can prosper.

Church browsing is tedious, and the consuming never fills you up. The breaking hurts you the most, and the taking leaves you with less than you had in the first place. Let God give you peace.


[i] John H. Walton, Victor H. Matthews, and Mark W. Chavalas, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament, Accordance electronic ed. (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 255.

The Anatomy of a Failure (A Scriptural Survey of Why Sincere Souls Fail God) – Article + Podcast

The Anatomy of a Failure

During several formative years of my life, Bishop Douglas White ministered to my soul at camp meetings, conferences, and seminars. Time and time again, his stirring sermons send me running to an altar to touch God. His dynamic preaching ministry is in constant demand and has been for as long as I can remember. He has a way of preaching hard truths with love and urgency that compels you to respond. I’m grateful for his ministry. So, when I discovered his newest book, The Anatomy of a Failure: A Scriptural Survey of Why Sincere Souls Fail God, I purchased it faster than you can say “Visa.” Links to buy The Anatomy of a Failure are listed below. I suggest ordering several of them to give away.

Common Heartache

Every Apostolic reading this shares the familiar heartache of knowing friends and family members that have forfeited their salvation. And for those of us who genuinely believe what the Bible teaches about salvation and Hell, we agonize over the condition of their souls and the wasted earthly potential. We’ve all seen as White says:

A beautiful soul rushing back to a hideous condition. A victorious spirit tumbling back to a tortured existence. An honorable life stumbling to a dishonorable lifestyle. A blessed home collapsing into a cursed abode.

How does this happen? That’s the question White strives to answer in The Anatomy of a Failure. The book is a spiritual autopsy. A posthumous examination of dead souls that once thrived in the Spirit. More than that, however, White somberly reminds us that we too have the potential to fail God. This book equips us with defensive weapons and understanding that might be vital to finishing the race. Another byproduct of this book is the light it sheds on the process of backsliding. I finished reading The Anatomy of a Failure with a greater understanding of why good, and I mean “genuinely” good people, abandon Truth. My prayer is that by understanding backsliders better, I might assist them in finding restoration.

Losing Salvation is Possible

Grace is probably the most misunderstood, misconstrued, and misused doctrine in the Bible (I’ve written more about that here). It’s at least up there in the top five. With that in mind, White tackles that issue in the prologue titled The Fallacies of a Failing Soul. In what becomes the underlying text for the entire book, White cites Hebrews 12:14-15:

Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord: looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God.

Because grace is often tragically misrepresented as a Divine blank check enabling us to sin freely without consequence, White doubles down on the meaning of Hebrews 12:14-15, saying, “God’s grace never fails – but people can fail.” And he continues:

Nobody will ever stand before God, look Him in the eye, and say that His grace was anything but glorious and forgiving. However, when an individual spurns the grace that God is offering and continues in his sinful lifestyle, it is he who is failing God’s miraculous grace. It is one of the fallacies of a failing soul to think otherwise.

Nobody will ever stand before God and say His grace was anything but glorious and forgiving. However, when an individual spurns the grace God is offering and continues in a sinful lifestyle, it is he who is failing God’s miraculous grace. -Doug White

White moves on to address the most common objection to the reality that good people can fail the grace of God, “A loving God wouldn’t send anyone to Hell (I’ve written an in-depth study on the biblical doctrine of Hell here).” For me, White’s response was revelatory:

A loving God would not send anyone to Hell. But the moment a person dies, Jesus no longer sees him or her through the eyes of a loving God but through the eyes of a righteous judge that must judge every person by the same standard: Did they walk in obedience to God’s Word?

When a person dies, Jesus no longer sees through the eyes of a loving God but through the eyes of a righteous judge that must judge every person by the same standard: Did they walk in obedience to God’s Word? -Doug White

Ultimately, when sheep refuse to follow God’s ways, they forfeit the benefits and protections of the Great Shepherd. White says it best, “Offering salvation is God’s task; maintaining salvation is our task.” Later he rephrases it like this, “A sinful nature and a saved nature cannot coexist in your life.” It’s important to remember that not every falling away from God is accompanied by a dramatic, loud exodus from the church. Of course, some do, and we remember those moments the best. But more often than not, people slip silently away from God while quietly justifying themselves and ultimately convincing themselves they’re just as saved as ever. That’s the fallacy of a failing soul.

When sheep refuse to follow God’s ways, they forfeit the benefits and protections of the Great Shepherd.

Offering salvation is God’s task; maintaining salvation is our task. A sinful nature and a saved nature cannot coexist in your life. -Doug White

Not every falling away from God is accompanied by a dramatic, loud exodus from the church. People slip silently away from God while quietly justifying themselves and ultimately convincing themselves they’re just as saved as ever.

Four Main Reasons Good People Make Bad Mistakes

Bishop White identifies the initial source or the root of every backslider’s eventual failure. He insightfully leans on forty years of ministry to pinpoint four common trouble areas that fit into the anatomy of a body. The four bodily diseased areas that rip people away from the Body of Christ are feet, stomach, head, and heart. Learning to protect, heal, defend, and cultivate these areas is the key to successfully serving God for a lifetime.

Feet: The Instability of an Unsure Foundation

White reminds us that “the only hope we have of standing firm in living for God is determined by the quality of our foundation.” He makes a classic reference to the parable of the man who built his house on the rock compared to the man who built his life upon the sand (Luke 6:48-49). Everything else in our spiritual life is built on our initial foundation. This is perhaps the most crucial area to get right early on in the spiritual journey.

The only hope we have of standing firm in living for God is determined by the quality of our foundation. -Doug White

Perhaps you’ve heard of the Millennium Tower located in downtown San Francisco. The luxury condominium cost a whopping 350 million dollars to build in early 2002. It’s a beautiful structure, made chiefly of elegant glass that towers high into the horizon, reflecting the radiant hues of the sun. Until 2015 everything went precisely as planned. The building became a status symbol of wealthy city living and garnered several awards. It became the residence of choice for affluent San Franciscans. But that all changed when residents began to report loud popping noises and large panes of glass started cracking unexpectedly. And worse, experts noticed the building was sinking and tilting drastically. So far, it has fallen nearly eighteen inches into the ground and tilted another fifteen inches to the northwest. All that lurching, turning, and twisting is breaking all kinds of things from the top of the structure to the bottom. Even after pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into the effort, the renovations have done little to stop the problem. Groundwater loss from adjacent construction has been blamed for the issue by the tower’s developers, while geotechnical experts say the key is that its foundation is not rooted in bedrock. You see, where I’m going, it doesn’t matter how incredible the exterior looks if your spiritual foundation isn’t rooted in bedrock.

It doesn’t matter how incredible the exterior looks if your spiritual foundation isn’t rooted in bedrock.

White points to three crucial materials that must form every spiritual foundation: The Bible, faithfulness, and integrity. He says:

Far too many individuals walking through those spiritual realms struggle with being ‘tossed to and fro,’ in and out of righteousness because their feet are not firmly planted on the sure foundation that is provided by God’s Word.

Too many individuals walking through spiritual realms struggle with being ‘tossed to and fro,’ in and out of righteousness because their feet are not firmly planted on the sure foundation that is provided by God’s Word. -Doug White

In our podcast conversation, Bishop White made a profound statement, “The person in most danger of failing God in your church is the one who loves the music, loves the preaching, loves the worship, loves the fellowship but never settles doctrinal absolutes in their minds.” Without using the words, White spends a great deal of time pushing back against universalism and ecumenicalism, both of which are prevailing heresies of our age. While there might be room for disagreement on some biblical points, central salvific doctrines like the oneness of God, baptism in Jesus’ name, the necessity of the infilling of the Holy Ghost, holiness, and righteous living must become the bedrock of faith.

The person in most danger of failing God in your church is the one who loves the music, loves the preaching, loves the worship, loves the fellowship but never settles doctrinal absolutes in their minds. -Doug White

The second element in the threefold mixture that forms a sure spiritual foundation is deep, abiding faithfulness. White describes it this way:

It is faithfulness that refuses to negotiate with sin or temptation or even emotional upheavals. Those who live on a sure, solid foundation are the individuals who choose daily to live a life of faithfulness to God: Faithful involvement with God’s kingdom. Faithful gathering together with the saints. Steadfast in our walk with God. Authentic in our representation of God to our world. Regardless of how much you claim to believe in biblical truth, this truth is rendered completely ineffective in your life if you don’t baptize it with faithfulness… Your belief in truth is null and void if you don’t act faithfully upon the principles of that truth.

Regardless of how much you claim to believe in biblical truth, truth is rendered completely ineffective in your life if you don’t baptize it with faithfulness. -Doug White

The third and final element in the foundation mixture is unshakable integrity. White defines integrity as “having the ability to see yourself the way God sees you, not the way you would like to be seen.” A life of integrity is devoid of hypocrisy and infused with humility. I consider this to be White’s most impactful quote in the first chapter:

In most cases pertaining to spiritual stability, if you let your feet provide your direction, you won’t have to worry about problems your head could cause.

In most cases pertaining to spiritual stability, if you let your feet provide your direction, you won’t have to worry about problems your head could cause. -Doug White

Stomach: The Pull of an Unholy Consumption

If you could only read one chapter of The Anatomy of a Failure for some strange reason, it should be this one. I consider unholy consumption to be the primary reason the average person falls prey to the enemy. Because our highly advanced, super technological culture allows for instant and nearly unlimited access to the consumption of carnal things, countless Christians develop a habitual taste for dainties that slowly pushes out their desire for holy things. Just like the eunuch thought Daniel would be weakened by abstaining from defiling foods from the king’s table, society views our restrictive lifestyle of purity as fanatical and unsustainable. But our separated lifestyle is the key to our power. Sadly, some have come to view it as a hindrance because they desire to fill their bellies with unrighteousness. Hungering and thirsting after righteousness includes separation from immodest appearance, fleshly vices, worldly entertainment, and unholy speech. White says:

Hungering and thirsting after righteousness includes separation from immodest appearance, fleshly vices, worldly entertainment, and unholy speech.

While the story of Daniel is old, the principle it promotes is just as true today: The spiritual life of a child of God will either excel or decline depending on what their appetites are… If you fit into the category of someone who constantly struggles in your walk with God, I suggest you take an immediate inventory of what you are putting in your spiritual stomach. Such an inventory is necessary because allowing your spiritual man to exist in perpetual struggle eventually eliminates vital elements like joy, passion, zeal, and even a desire to continue serving God.

The spiritual life of a child of God will either excel or decline depending on what their appetites are. -Doug White

What you consume will affect you spiritually just as surely as the physical things you consume will affect you physically. It’s also important to realize that it’s not just sinful things that can potentially harm you. But if consuming hobbies or benignly distracting things pull you away from faithfulness, you will eventually fail God. White gives a good measuring stick for measuring the quality of your consumption, “Anytime you start feeling a fondness for a former slavery, it is a sure sign of partaking in questionable consumption.”

It’s not just sinful things that can potentially harm you. But if consuming hobbies or benignly distracting things pull you away from faithfulness, you will eventually fail God.

Anytime you start feeling a fondness for a former slavery, it is a sure sign of partaking in questionable consumption. -Doug White

The conversation surrounding what is acceptable for Christians to consume and still be saved is always fraught with disagreement. At the core of this conversation is wisdom. It takes wisdom to know what is healthy, benign, and unhealthy for a Christian to ingest. Sadly, I’ve been around many conversations revolving around how much junk a Christian can devour and still be saved. White mirrors those questions, “How much poison can I consume and still stay alive? How much filth can I eat without getting sick? How much rottenness can I devour without suffering the consequences?” He continues, “Knowing the challenges every individual has to contend with to serve God with integrity, why would anybody challenge themselves further by deliberately empowering their flesh?”

There’s an old Indian story of a grandfather telling his grandson about two wolves that live inside us all. One wolf is good, loyal, pure, and full of integrity. The other wolf is violent, angry, evil, and dishonest. “Each day, these two wolves fight inside of me,” said the grandfather to his young grandson. Wide-eyed, the boy asked, “Which one will win?” “The one I feed,” replied the wise grandfather.

Head: The Hindrance of an Unbridled Mind

This issue is so important that the Bible speaks of our thoughts 138 times and refers to our minds 137 times. White emphasizes how the battle for our soul begins in the mind. And while temptation is not sin, a runaway thought can morph into an unholy intention if it isn’t taken into captivity and cast down. White puts it succinctly, “Sadly, over time those thoughts became temptations, which eventually developed intentions. Those intentions eventually found an occasion to sin.”

While temptation is not sin, a runaway thought can morph into an unholy intention if it isn’t taken into captivity and cast down.

The old-timers used to say, “You can’t keep a bird from flying over your head, but you can keep it from settling in and building a nest there.” We can’t keep unholy thoughts from flying through our minds, but we can make sure they don’t make a home there. As White wisely states, “Your mind will either assist you or assassinate you.” Gaining the self-control needed to retrain your mind from dwelling on ungodly things is paramount to every believer. White says it best:

To stop the catastrophic loss of salvation, your unbridled mind is hurling you toward; you must become spiritually mature enough to turn off the flow valve of the deadly sewage of unholy thoughts.

Your mind will either assist you or assassinate you. Gaining the self-control needed to retrain your mind from dwelling on ungodly things is paramount to every believer. -Doug White

Heart: The Delusion of Misplaced Passions

White comes out swinging in this chapter, “Our heart can either be our greatest advantage or our greatest adversary.” It’s eerily possible to be faithful, worship, praise, and go through the motions of godliness without engaging the heart thoroughly. White teaches that passion is the gauge for measuring spiritual heart health, “Passion is the tell-tale sign that our heart is involved; without passion, any work we do has ceased to be a matter of the heart.”

Our heart can either be our greatest advantage or our greatest adversary. It’s eerily possible to be faithful, worship, praise, and go through the motions of godliness without engaging the heart thoroughly.

This chapter revealed something that had perplexed me for a long time: How can people seem to love God but not serve him passionately? White reminds us that we are commanded to love God with all our hearts in no uncertain terms. He says:

Any time this commandment is casually diminished by placing a greater passion on something else, we have become the victim of a divided heart. The obvious way to tell if an all-the-way-salvation has become a divided-heart situation is to compare your passion for God with your passion for other things.

And here is the revelation that greatly enhanced my understanding:

Most people who backslide don’t fall out of love with God; they just fall in love with something else, leaving a divided heart.

Most people who backslide don’t fall out of love with God; they just fall in love with something else, leaving a divided heart. -Doug White

Conclusion & Summary

Pay prayerful attention, and you will find that everyone you have seen fail God fits into the four categories as defined by Bishop White:

  • They had spiritual feet that lacked a sure foundation, leaving them unstable and quick to fall.
  • They had a spiritual stomach that consistently fed on unholy things, leaving them weak and defenseless against the adversary.
  • They had a spiritual head that refused to restrain their unholy thoughts, allowing temptations to become sinful intentions, which led them to sin.
  • They had a spiritual heart that became careless, allowing them to misplace their passion in carnal things, deluding them with the idea that “selling-out” wasn’t as important as merely “claiming salvation.”

We are all susceptible to failing in these areas if we aren’t on guard. Awareness is half the battle. Viewing these anatomical areas invigorates my desire to put on the whole armor of God. Years ago, the Lord gave me a dream of thousands of Christians rushing into battle with incomplete armor. Some had everything but a helmet, while others had a sword. One by one, they fell to the enemy. In that graphic visual, the problem seemed so obvious. But Christians do this all the time, yet they feel safe because they have almost all the armor they need. They have an allusion of safety but lack the fullness of God’s necessary resources. I pray this is not so for you and for me too.