Wednesday, December 13, 2023

The Problematic Manifesto of Jonathan Cahn — Part 10

This is part 10 of a multi-part review and critique of Jonathan Cahn's latest book published in 2023. You can read Part 1 here, Part 2 here, Part 3 here, Part 4 here, Part 5 here, Part 6 here, Part 7 here, Part 8 here, and Part 9 here


I must admit, I was greatly surprised when I got to this part of the book. For the most part, the speculative language of sentences that start with “Could…” or “Is it possible…” that pervade the earlier sections of the book are absent from this seven-part manifesto. It literally felt like this part of the book was written by a different author.

In the first part of the manifesto, Cahn writes:

So too as American and Western civilization have turned away from God and monotheism, in its place has risen a form of revived paganism. The metamorphosis can be seen in its worship of nature, its deification of the material world, its desanctification of life, its religious syncretism, its moral relativism, its sexualization of popular culture, its abuse of life, its fragmentation of reality, its worship of images, its embrace of alternate spiritualities, and its overturning of biblical standards, values, and precepts. (190)

I can shout a hearty, “Amen!” to that statement. And while it is saddening and perplexing to see this downturn in Western society, we shouldn’t be surprised by it. Jesus himself told us to expect such things as the time of His return draws closer. Also, if we look at the Greco-Roman world of the first century, we can see that in spite of facing all of these same difficulties, the early church “turned the world upside down” through proclamation of the gospel and faithful embodied witness (Acts 7:6). Many in the church today say they want to experience the power the early church saw. Maybe it will take facing what the early church faced (which is strikingly similar to what believers in the majority world are facing presently) to make us dependent on the Holy Spirit again.

That said, there are still some points in this manifesto where, even though Cahn makes some good points, he doesn’t seem to apply them broadly enough. In the second section of the manifesto, titled “Against the Flow,” he writes:

As the mainstream of Western culture grows increasingly hostile to God and the Christian faith, the church can no longer operate in unity with that culture. If it retains its former position in a now apostate culture, it will itself become apostate. Thus it will either hold on to its place and lose the presence and power of God, or it will let go of that place and retain God’s presence and power. It must choose the latter.


So it is for each believer. One cannot follow the ways of God and, at the same time, the ways of a culture that wars against Him. (200-201)

It strikes me as extremely ironic that Cahn can write such a true statement about the need to stand strong and uncompromising against culture, while also seeming to try to place God’s stamp of prophetic approval on Donald Trump and his worldly, ungodly tactics, as well as upon the many within the church who seem to believe that Christians must maintain a place a secular political power, even at the cost of abandoning the ethics of Jesus Christ by compromising with the corrupt. On page 205, Cahn writes, “In the face of a radically evil culture, the believer must become radically good.” I would wholeheartedly agree, and at the same time point out that becoming radically good is incompatible with compromising with wicked strongmen just to maintain a position of influence or a seat at the table in “the room where it happens.”

In the third section of the manifesto, titled “Separation and Resistance,” Cahn points out how, in Josiah’s time, the “gods and their altars had made their way into the royal precincts and into the temple” (211). He says that Christians “must remove from their lives the altars of Baal—any idol of increase, gain, success, anything they have honored above God” (212). While this general statement and declaration is indeed correct, Cahn does nothing to point out how the idols of political power and social dominance have compromised the conservative church just as much as other idols, such as social acceptance, have compromised the progressive/liberal church. Without pointing out how these very true statements apply to both sides, he leaves his readers (who are primarily conservative Evangelicals) free to think it’s all about the other guys, those “compromising liberal Christians, who may not even be saved to begin with.” But of course, if Cahn were to directly confront the idols on the right, he wouldn’t sell as many books or get invited to be a guest on so many Christian TV and web programs.

On page 218, Cahn writes about civil disobedience in a manner that is very reminiscent of Niebuhr:

The righteous must prepare for the days ahead in which an apostate culture will increasingly enact laws that will directly and brazenly war against the laws of God. They must prepare to make the same choice made by the righteous of past ages. When confronted with a command that would force them to disobey the ways of God, they must prepare to disobey it.


They must do so soberly, wisely, and judiciously, as the breaking of a law is a serious matter. It must be done according to God’s Word and leading and only with regard to a law that clearly forces the violation of God’s laws, when there is no other way, and when not doing it would transgress the will and law of God. When that is the case, the righteous have no choice. (218)

That is a very true and accurate analysis and statement. I was taught something almost identical in the ministerial ethics class I took early in my training. I just find it hard to square what Cahn is saying here with the way, earlier in the book, he frames the events of January 6, 2021, as a “sacred assembly” convened by a “modern-day Jehu” to march into the “temple of Baal.”

In the fourth section of the manifesto, titled “Powers,” Cahn states, “A culture that has fallen from God will always seek to justify its altered state by altering standards, redefining values, and reframing reality” (225). Here his target is clearly the drift toward situational ethics and lowered moral standards of the broader culture. I remember hearing a lot about those issues as a teenager in the 1980s. The great irony here is that this very true statement can clearly also be applied to what happened to conservative Christians when it comes to politics in recent history. Many who reluctantly voted for Trump in 2016 as the “lesser of two evils” compared to Hillary Clinton, in 2020 found themselves to be outright apologists for Trump, all-in with regards to supporting him, and unwilling to even discuss his errors and character flaws. Public Christian leaders altered their standards, redefined their values, and reframed reality to justify their unswerving support for a man who was morally repugnant and clearly utilizing Evangelicals for his own political purposes.

Section five of the manifesto is “Agents of Heaven on Earth.” Here Cahn points out the importance of the church being agents of transformation in the world as a shining light in the darkness. Speaking of the Great Commission’s command to “Go,” he writes of the righteous always moving forward and advancing, even in the face of attacks and opposition. “They are to fulfill their prime directive, which is to go and take new ground” (232). Yet one must ask if Cahn is referring to the command to “make disciples of all nations” as Jesus told His followers to do, or to the dominionist idea that Christians are supposed to take control of society’s positions of power and influence. Our Savior talked about the Kingdom of God being like yeast that works it way through the dough, bringing transformation from within, not as something imposed from above or outside in a forceful manner.

Cahn then talks about when Jesus asked His disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” near Caesarea Philippi. He writes, “When Messiah spoke to his disciples of the kingdom of hell, He did not say that its armies would fail in its attacks—but that its gates would not prevail against them” (232-233). Space does not permit going into all the historical and geographical context surrounding this passage in Matthew 16, but suffice it to say that Cahn completely ignores such context regarding Jesus’ use of “gates of Hades” here, which seem in context to be more about the power of death not being able to hold Christ’s church captive than about a military assault against a city’s entryway.

Cahn also, quite accurately, writes that “one cannot overcome the world by the world, or evil by evil means. One cannot use ungodly means to accomplish godly ends” (233). I wholeheartedly agree with this statement, and have been trying to tell people this for years (especially when it comes to the way Christians engage the sphere of secular politics). But one honestly has to question whether the author truly believes this statement himself, in light of all his promotion of Trump and the ways that many Christians have tried to use worldly tactics to gain power and influence.

In “The Kingdom of the Lamb,” the sixth section of the manifesto, Cahn writes:

If the righteous seek only to change the outward structures of culture, laws, institutions, and systems, their efforts will be undone. If one changes laws without changing hearts, the changed laws will be changed back by the unchanged hearts. In order to revolutionize the world, one must revolutionize the heart. And to revolutionize the heart requires the power of God. Change the heart, and the world will follow. (240-241)

This is absolutely correct. I would point people again to Jesus’ illustration of the leaven and the dough (as well as Alan Kreider’s book The Patient Ferment ofthe Early Church: The Improbable Rise of Christianity in the Roman Empire). But if Cahn really believes what he writes here, why does he seem to focus so much on worldly politics, instead of on evangelization leading to transformed lives (which will in turn lead to redemptive lift in society)? Is it possible that the American church has become so enthralled by the allure of political power hat it has lost its own distinctive kingdom identity (see Cal Thomas and Ed Dobson, Blinded by Might)?

Again, this part of the book called “The Manifesto” feels like it was written by a different author than the earlier sections, especially when one contrasts the very true and applicable admonitions found here with what seems like an apologetic elsewhere in the book for Trump and others who violate these very principles, utilizing rhetoric and actions that are not in harmony with the ways of Jesus.

Cahn could have gotten his main point—the contents of these seventy-two pages of the manifesto—across without all of the sensationalistic material in the preceding nine sections of the book. But then the book would be 66% shorter, and not provide what the buying public is seeking. Jonathan Cahn’s audience buys his books because of all the “secrets,” “mysteries,” and other techniques that he uses to wow and amaze people. If he didn’t continue to use this style that put him on the map in Christian publishing, his books might not keep selling like they do. It’s almost as if straight-up exposition of what the Bible says, and how we should apply it to our daily lives, isn’t enough for Christians today. On the contrary, they demand something new and impressive that reveals "secrets" and "mysteries" that are supposedly hidden and require just the right person to discover them.

Many preachers and teachers I have heard take Paul’s warning to Timothy about people in the last days seeking teachers who will tickle their itching ears (2 Tim. 4:3) to be about those who will lessen the cost of discipleship, make excuses for sin, etc. But I’m a firm believer that even conservative, Bible-believing Christians can fall into the trap of seeking the novel and extraordinary to satisfy their longings for something supposedly “deeper” than old-fashioned, solid interpretation of the Bible. As Dr. Carolyn Tennant and Dr. Joseph Girdler point out in their excellent book Keys to the Apostolic and Prophetic: Embracing the Authentic—Avoiding the Bizarre, "People are not only wanting to hear false doctrine that better fits our culture but also exciting 'spiritual' details that are tangential to the truth. It can help them feel in the know and in control" (Tennant, 179). Cahn’s books seem to give conservative Christian readers what they demand to hear with regard to the problems of idols “out there” in secular culture, or in the compromised “mainline liberal” churches, without forcing them to confront their own idols of political power and desire for cultural dominance.

Read part 11 here

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