[Editor’s note: Not too long ago we reviewed a book by Doug Sayers entitled Chosen or Not? Today Doug returns the favor and in a guest blog post reviews two books by myself.]
In his two books, “The Road to Heaven” (RTH) and “America’s Deadliest Enemy” (ADE) Bob Wheeler demonstrates that he is not only a zealous reader of books (especially the Bible) but is a very capable author as well.
His first, The Road to Heaven (2004), is a careful and thorough explanation of the Christian experience/life as it ought to be lived. The second (2008) expands upon the giant potholes, wrong turns, and potentially fatal cliffs in, and along, the road to heaven. Bob’s style is straight forward and no nonsense. There isn’t much color commentary in his writing; he tends to be a little long on explanation and short on illustration. Bob reminds me of Sargent Joe Friday and his signature line in the old Dragnet TV series: “Just the facts, ma’am.” Bob should be commended for his ardent pursuit of the truth; as this is absolutely essential for anyone who wishes to write books about Jesus, who is The Truth.
If you follow Bob’s recommendation and read only a little bit each day you will find the biblical description of how to get on the road to heaven and even more instruction on how stay on it. Unlike most modern GPS systems and roadmap software, Bob not only gives sound directions but he also points out the many detours to avoid; he explains how to keep our “car” running smoothly and performing at its peak.
Occasionally this reader found himself wondering if the author believes that the Christian life is merely about obeying a long list of “we musts”, and not about justification by faith alone. But to be fair, this is the way the Bible reads, and it has been a point of controversy throughout the history of the Christian Church. There is no contradiction in the Bible about how one finds forgiveness (that is salvation). We are, as Luther put it, saved by faith alone but not a faith that is alone. Bob notes this in Chapter 10 of RTH where he writes: “But how do we know that Abraham had faith? The answer is, because he acted on the promise.” In this point, Bob shows himself to be in agreement with historical Protestant teaching and the strength of RTH is its fundamental biblical orthodoxy. You will be hard pressed to find points with which to argue in either book, if you are a student of Scripture. This fact rescues him from using the “editorial we” throughout the book, which I find distracting. One of the most basic principles of interpreting the Bible (and all literature) is to know exactly who is talking and who they are addressing. I don’t remember any places where Bob actually said “I” believe this is what we must do, or “I” believe this is wrong with the modern church. He claims to be speaking for a group of people who he fails to name.
Based on these two books, Bob would seem to be a Calvinist sympathizer but he carefully avoids the overtly Calvinistic teachings about salvation being “unconditional” and “irresistible” for some… and impossible for others. In chapter 7 of RTH, Bob does not suggest that Jesus only died for the particular sins of a predetermined elect, who must therefore eventually repent and believe the gospel. Like the Bible, he repeatedly stated that Jesus died for “us” and he did not qualify the term. At the end of the chapter, he even addresses any potential unbelieving readers and exhorts them to confess their sins and ask for forgiveness. The Apostle Paul does the same thing in his epistles. I think the author may be like many of us. We are sure that God is sovereign and salvation comes by grace through faith but the down and dirty details of historical Calvinism are still subject to question. Both Calvinists and non-Calvinists are quoted, in a favorable way, in both books.
Bob paints with a broad (and a little presumptive) brush. He is not happy with the “modern church.” Not at all. This is unmistakable in RTH and is the main point of ADE. Now, this might tempt you to assume that Bob is just another self-appointed / old school know it all / holier than thou / wannabe prophet who assumes that he is the only one left who has not bowed the knee to worldliness and consumerism. But don’t be too quick to judge him on this point. His indictment of the modern church is not without just cause. I will offer one quibble. Especially in RTH, he brings a lot of charges which, I think, he assumes, are self-evident to any, and all, who observe the modern American Church. Here is a sampling:
“We fear that one reason why so many church members fail to live the Christian life is that many of them have never really been saved in the first place.” P41
“The great scandal of modern Evangelicalism is the large number of professing believers who show no evidence of changed lives”. P45 (Note: It could be argued that the church has had this problem since its inception.)
“This is one reason why we see so few genuine conversions today: our modern preachers rarely discuss in the pulpit the law of God, and, as a result, few of their listeners are ever convicted of sin.” P53
In chapter 12 on the fear of the Lord, he writes: “This truth is at once basic to the biblical conception of true religion and at the same time widely misunderstood or even forgotten altogether by the modern church.”
On prayer: “…where the modern church is most apt to fail.” “Today, we scarcely pray at all.” P77
“The scandal of the modern church is its lack of holiness.” P143
I’ll stop there. Bob doesn’t think we do much right but it is not clear whether he considers himself, and/or his church, among the ranks of the diluted and lukewarm who “must” get their act together. Nevertheless, it really doesn’t matter whether, or not, he includes himself among the mass of the Christian double minded today, if his charges are valid (albeit thinly substantiated). His accusations would carry more weight if he would have brought in more statistics, or particular personal experiences, as proofs of his universal indictment. Notwithstanding, the books are a legitimate and urgent call to duty and should be viewed as such.
One of Bob’s main assertions, especially in ADE, is the toxic and contagious consumerism of our day that is fueled by the entertainment industry. I don’t think he is entirely blaming a free market economy, per se, for our malaise but he is convinced that it is a great enabler of our natural covetousness and lust. He bluntly says, “Hollywood is Wall Street’s whore.” P2 Here, on this point, Bob did offer some statistics that effectively illustrated and vindicated the charge. His remedy to this threat is plain, simple, and unpopular: “For many of us it is either Christ or TV. Which will it be? Which is really our God?”
Strong medicine for a serious ailment.
Again, it can be tempting with books like these to write them off as written by disillusioned wannabe prophets who enjoy bashing the church more than Tiger Woods enjoys knocking golf balls into orbit. But I don’t think that would be fair with these two. Let’s give Bob Wheeler the benefit of the doubt here and take heed to his words. If we neglect these biblical warnings then we run the risk of losing our joy, both in this life and the life to come.