Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Harbinger: My Thoughts

I just finished reading Jonathan Cahn’s The Harbinger.  A church member had told me it was a must read.  Just a couple of days after she told me about it I saw a copy of the book at my parent’s house.  One of my mom’s friends told her it was her favorite book.  My mom tried to read it and said she had to put it down.  I was curious, so I picked it up and read it in a morning. 

To be fair and honest, I did not fully immerse myself in the book, I skim read it after the first couple of chapters.  I found the book highly repetitive.  It seemed to be the same thing over and over again.  I am comfortable knowing that I would have come to the same conclusions even if I had read it with an intentional focus on detail.

The book is about a man who has been visited by a prophet several times and is given seven seals that are harbingers to America.  These harbingers connect the events of the Assyrian invasion of Israel to the events of 911.  It is told through the eyes of the man who received these visits as he shares them with a reporter.    

First, I like his conclusion: I do believe God is calling “us” back to him.  However, I would expand Cahn’s use of the word “us”.  I believe God is not just calling America back to him, I believe God is calling every individual of every nation, tribe and tongue!  And I believe He is calling us every second of every minute of every hour of every day of every year for the rest of our lives. 

Second, it gets ridiculously repetitive.  Not just the story, but the dialogue.  After the 3rd or 4th chapter I knew I could skim read and get the message the author was trying to convey.  I cannot imagine wading through the overly redundant dialogue with a focused intention. 

Third, I do not agree with the connections made between Israel falling to the Assyrians in the prophecies of Isaiah and the events of 911.  Israel was in a suzerain treaty type of covenant with their God.  That’s why God operated the way He did: He was executing the arrangements of the covenant.  In the New Testament Jesus fulfilled the old covenant to bring about a new covenant:  a covenant of grace. 

I do not see the founding fathers of the United States of America entering into a covenant with God like that of the Isaraelites.  They couldn’t have even if they had wanted too because the new covenant is one of grace established once and for all through the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Fourth, what bothered me the most is that what Cahn does in the book.  It's eisegesis at its finest.  On the surface, the connections made between Israel (Isaiah 9:10) and the events of 911 seem amazing and more than a coincidence, however, without using good biblical hermeneutics anyone can make the Bible say anything they want it to say.  I have a really really hard time believing that the fall of Israel has anything at all to do with the tragic events of 911. 
What was written in Isaiah was for a specific time to a specific prophet with a specific audience in mind to address a specific situation.  To do what Cahn does is to neglect the original intent of the author and avoid good biblical interpretative methods. 

The easiest question I have ever had on an exam in seminary was this: what are the three most important things to consider when interpreting a text of the Bible?  There were three blanks numbered one two and three like this:


The answer:
1.       Context

2.       Context

3.       Context

Cahn neglects the context of Isaiah and makes the text say what he wants it to say.  The reason it’s so persuasive is because Cahn breaks out some Hebrew words and meanings and demonstrates a capacity for bibilical history that the average Bible reader does not know.  The reader then gets sucked into thinking “well if he knows Hebrew and he knows Biblical history then his application must be right too.”  To be fair, my Hebrew is quite rusty, so I can’t speak to the accuracy of his use of the language.  While I do agree with the conclusion of Cahn’s application his process of getting there really bugs me as a pastor who takes serious consideration when it comes to Biblical interpretation.

Lastly, I can appreciate what Cahn is trying to accomplish with the book.  If I am right he is trying to warn America about it’s turning away from God (through greed, over consumption, selfishness, pride, etc.) and he’s trying to bring people to Christ.  However, these two noble purposes are executed with poor biblical interpretation and a redundant fictional story.

This book will probably be a bestseller because it’s about end times and America and mystery and seals and prophecies and how it is all connected.  For some reason many Christians love that kind of stuff.  I would just say “read with caution.”  People have said that this book has shaken them up and everyone needs to read it.  I didn't have that experience with this book.
However, books like Crazy Love by Francis Chan, Radical by David Platt, Jesus Wants to Save Christians by Rob Bell and my next read The Hole in our Gospel by Richard Stearns are the kind of books that shake me up as a Christian. 
Also, if you really want to get educated on how to read the Bible in a way that is faithful to the original context, two books I would recommend are How to Readthe Bible for All it’s Worth and The Blue Parakeet (I haven't read this one but I trust Scot Mcknight and have heard good things about it).


Unknown said...

Thanks for reviewing this, Rich!

To your last paragraph, I would add Ben Witherington's "The Living Word of God" as a must-read when it comes to interpreting the Bible.

I'd also add a certain DVD course...


pfd said...

We read The Harbinger in a book club and I wanted to do some research on how Christians view this book. I apologize but I have never heard of you before and I was looking for some "big name" input but after reading your comments they are so right on, I think my research is done. Thank you for taking the time to put this book in context to the Bible.

pfd said...

My book club just read this book & we will be discussing it tomorrow so I was looking for some comments on it from a Biblical point of view. I wanted to find some "big name" Christian who would put it in context and though I had never heard of you (sorry) I found you nailed it with you thoughts on it. Thank you for taking the time to review it. Putting it in the context of the covenants was just what I needed.

Rich Tuttle said...


I can't believe I'm just now seeing your comment. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Same comment as pfd - I was researching for my book club discussion and I have read other reviews but have not read anything as clear and truthful as this. I completely agree. Thank you