Wednesday, March 12, 2014


Overwhelmed: Winning the War Against WorryOverwhelmed: Winning the War Against Worry by Perry Noble
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

My child will be going to a church camp this summer.  That terrifies me.  As a former youth worker who has spent much time in youth and children’s ministry I know the damage that can be done by many well-intentioned camps.  Much rides on the main speaker and how he is going to approach certain aspects including the mandatory (cultural, not Scriptural) altar call.  I began researching the speaker for this camp, including looking for the people that he quotes, reads, follows on blogs/twitter/etc.. This is often a good way to get a gauge on someone that you may not know much about.  Birds of a feather, right?  This speaker had two names that were vaguely familiar to me, Steven Furtick and Perry Noble.

I couldn’t remember much about Perry Noble but I did remember that his name had bad connotations in my thinking.  It so happened that NetGalley had an ARC of his forthcoming book and I figured this would be a good opportunity to check out some of his work.

Noble’s newest book is titled Overwhelmed.  It is on the topic of busyness and stress and fear and disappointment and, well, being overwhelmed with life and all that it brings.  This is an important topic because it is hard to live in this world and not experience this feeling, this burden.

Noble offers some great advice on how our perspective affects our experience.  “If we constantly focus on our circumstances, we will be overwhelmed.”  Noble encourages the reader to shift their focus away from their circumstances and towards God, the One who deserves our undivided attention.  He also encourages the reader to see what God is using their circumstances for and how their pains and trials exist to grow and train them. “I was looking to Jesus to change my circumstances; He was trying to change me.”

One of the highlights of the book is that Noble doesn’t minimize the experience of each individual, even if from a global perspective the things that often overwhelm us seem pretty trivial.  This is important because God deals with us in the same way.  He doesn’t look at our hurt and our fear and say, “Huh, don’t you know that this person or this group or this period in history had it much worse”.  No, He meets us where we are like a loving Father and gives us perspective, but in a healing and restorative way.  God does not deal with us with an “others have it worse, get over it” approach and we shouldn’t deal with others in that way either.  Noble does not tell the reader to look at the plight of others and count their blessings of their own circumstances.  Nope, he says to take the focus off of circumstances and place them firmly on God

“Crazy as it may seem, the best way to conquer feeling overwhelmed is to take our eyes off whats consuming us and get a bigger picture of what’s really important.  One of the main ways we accomplish this is by changing our perspective so we can get a true sense of God’s character.”

Noble returns over and again to the unbelievers need to believe the Gospel.  While repentance does not get much space, Noble is explicit and persistent about the need for a person to come to Christ in faith.
Over and again Noble harps on the fact that the Christian life is not “easy” and, rather, is one of suffering.  While there are times where what he says could fit well in Smiley J. Houston’s next best-seller, Noble is adamant that the reader know that a life of following Christ is likely to be hard, uncomfortable, and suffering-filled.  In this vein, Noble hits over and over again on the indwelling sin in believers and in the church corporate and how we should be a refuge for those who are, with us, pilgrims on the way and works in progress.  One of the main ministries of the church is to show grace to each other and that is important to Noble and it is critical to the health of any Christian body.

Noble deals well with the topic of depression.  He deals with depression and how it is mishandled in the Church.  This seems to be an area that God led him through and allowed him to suffer through in order to minister to others.  His counsel on depression is honest, wise and biblical.  He encourages the reader to fix their eyes upon Christ, knowing that even in the midst of their despair that “as long as Jesus is alive, there is always hope.”

Noble’s answers on how to deal with issues are often strikingly biblical and Christ-centered.  Depression and hopelessness?  Remember that “as long as Jesus is alive, there is always hope.”  Feelings of anxiety and fear?  Focus on the character of God, how He is good and holy! “Holiness and goodness are not what He does but rather who He is.  And  He can’t cease to be who He is.”  Beyond that, God is near and “God’s presence is greater than our problems.”

When Noble is on-topic and dealing with practical cures for being overwhelmed this book flourishes and offers much hope and great benefit.  However, there is much in the book, and Noble’s teaching as a whole, that is concerning and cause for hesitation.

How Noble interacts with the Old Testament narratives as a whole is misguided.  They are used as a sort of sermon illustration for how to be not overwhelmed.  This is shown in one statement like, “The biggest lesson we can learn from Daniel’s life is that correct thinking leads to correct actions.”  Noble’s interpretation of the focus of Daniel and Job is a type of pragmatic moralism that fits in well with the prevailing motif of Western church culture, what Smith refers to as Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.

Also, Noble’s interaction with indwelling sin and a person’s identity would seem to preclude an understanding of the believer as simul lustus et peccator, that is simultaneously just and sinner.  In fairness, nowhere in the book does he explicitly reject this, but his language seems to indicate an inherent opposition to this understanding of the believers experience.  This rejection logically leads to the Gospel being viewed as a ticket in, useful to become saved but rather unnecessary once one is a believer.  The Gospel becomes superfluous in the ongoing life of the believer.

I was also troubled with Noble’s recounting of a story of an elderly lady who was offended by him early in his ministry.  Noble had spoken of a woman’s water breaking from the pulpit and this older saint was offended that he had done so.  Noble attributes this to the fact that people are often fake in churches and don’t want to deal with anything that is messy.  He never seems to consider the fact that it might have more to do with understanding what is appropriate in a corporate worship setting or a mixed setting or a multi-generational setting and what is not.  This is, of course, the man who later would utilize AC/DC’s Highway to Hell in an Easter worship service and see no problem with it even when confronted by other pastors.  If only he would have listened to this elderly saint rather than judge and mock, he might not have slid so far down into the pits of cultural engagement means sacrilege.

Beyond that, Noble shows his anti-intellectual, experience driven bias.  “Somehow church has become a place where we don’t want to hear about real issues or relevant struggles or sins we’ve been dealing with all week long. We’d rather hear obscure history lessons, Greek and Hebrew word training, and lots of quotes from dead white guys.”

This false dichotomy of theology vs application, engaging the head vs engaging the heart, creeds vs deeds, depth vs relevance is pervasive in our Christian sub-culture and leads to the sheep not being equipped to live a life of faith.  It leads to disciple-less churches, a problem even Bill Hybells has recognized and sought to rectify.  Noble would do well to take a cue from this pioneer of seeker-sensitive and add some meat to the milk so that his flock might grow in their faith and be able to stand on their own.  Keeping people ignorant has always been a way to control and pastors do not seek to exercise this type of abusive control over their flocks.

After spending pages using his church’s numerical growth, Noble then offers this very troubling statement:

“As our attendance increased and awareness about our church spread, it became obvious that some people who called themselves Christians didn’t like what we were doing or how we were doing it. As a result, a flurry of criticism and personal attacks came my way.”

This is disconcerting for a number of reasons.  First off, there is the implicit understanding that numerical growth equals proof of Gospel fidelity.  Take a trip to Houston and check out Reliant Stadium on a Sunday morning and this will prove to be an unnecessary conclusion.  For Noble, obviously if people are coming it has to be of God.  This Gospel of William James that bows itself to the idols of pragmatism and numbers is false and dangerous.  To see how numbers are not equal to fidelity just look at the earthly ministry of Jesus and how many times the masses abandoned Him.

Secondly, it is a bad place to be where you can honestly argue in your heart that someone who criticizes you and disagrees with you is an unbeliever.  Those who “called themselves Christians” dared to question the great Perry Noble.  This is cult-logic and I hope that this is not how he truly thinks or operates.(In fairness, I have no reason to believe he does. His language in these situations does concern me however.)

Chapter 26 is a great example of the good and bad of this books.  The points he makes about God’s love are priceless and encouraging and Scriptural, but his use of Daniel’s narrative like a fabel to get there is unhelpful and causes Daniel to be the focus, not Christ.  This way of using Scripture to make a point always puts a bad taste in my mouth.

Noble’s interaction with the Apostle John is  ridiculous.  It is built on conjecture and the desire to make points rather than actually engaging the text properly.  Noble imagines some things and presents them as unassailable fact. John gave himself a nickname, Peter and Andrew were fishermen because they were rejected, John was “religious”, that is self-righteous.  (Noble follows the contemporary antithesis between religion and faith/relationship) Noble knows this because he is able to see the intentions behind John’s actions even though the Scriptures do not reveal them.  This may make for entertaining reading and great stories, but it is not necessarily based on Scripture.  At all.  It is always dangerous to reach beyond what God’s word says in order to make a point and Noble makes a habit of this.  Sometimes the point is great, but that doesn’t excuse his handling of the Scriptures, which is poor at many points.

This book offers some very practical helps on dealing with an overwhelmed life and is wildly encouraging at parts (especially how he addresses depression), but there are too many negatives to be able to recommend it.  If you are looking for a good book on how to deal with an overwhelmed life I would suggest Crazy Busy by Kevin DeYoung.
I received an ARC of this book through NetGalley for review purposes.

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