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One reason to review a book is the hope that others might want to read it. However, this book from 1991 is out of print and only a few used copies are out there. Nevertheless, I will write a review. The author has very astute thoughts about the misuse of faith. I originally thought I’d give this book a quick read and then donate it, but I want to keep it for future reference.

Holding God Hostage by Tom Watson and Stan Schmidt, Wolgemuth & Hyatt Publishers, 1991.

This book is a bit of a indirect approach to the prosperity gospel. Schmidt developed depression (bipolar disorder) and early in his diagnosis he became a Christian from a Jewish background. The Christians who led him to Christ were charismatic and prosperity gospel proponents. He was told that through strong faith he could be healed of being bipolar. Schmidt, in strong faith, threw his lithium in the trash can. And while things were great for a short time, he ended up being admitted to a psych hospital when his symptoms returned with a vengeance. In the brief interval when he’d been “healed” he submitted an article to a Christian magazine about his healing. While laying in the psych hospital, he got a call from his mom that the magazine wanted to print his article! Schmidt honestly told them about his current condition, and the magazine still wanted to do an article – but to change it and make it about when faith does not heal.

The reason I said this book is a bit of a indirect approach to the prosperity gospel, is that some of the book is simply educational about depression. In fact, the category of the book for the Library of Congress cataloging is for mental health and manic-depressive psychosis. Schmidt’s psych doctor even writes the intro to the book.

Thankfully, Schmidt’s experience did not make him reject Christianity (that can happen) but led him into careful consideration of the Scripture and analysis of other failed healings. Schmidt shares a multitude of cases where individuals or families refused medical treatment for various diseases because they, in faith, believed God would heal them – but the person died. Many of the cases ended up in court, as a child died, the parents charged with negligence and manslaughter. Some cases were not prosperity gospel proponents, but Jehovah’s Witnesses and Christian Scientists. Schmidt also looked at Christian groups that purposely handle poisonous snakes or drink poison because their faith would protect them. There were deaths.

Scattered throughout the book is keen biblical insight about faith and the problems with a prosperity gospel approach. In a early part of the book, he lists 10 safeguards for not falling for such things. (Maybe in another post I can share all 10.) But some are:

Guard against sifting through your Bible searching for confirmation for what you have already decided or what you want to be true.

Have healthy skepticism about claims of supernatural experience or ability.

Beware of those preoccupied with the quality or quantity of their own faith.

Schmidt warns against an attitude of presumption, that is, unwarrantable boldness, recklessness, or taking something for granted. The book is entitled Holding God Hostage. We are expecting and limiting God to work in only one way. We are bossing God around. But God can work in various ways, such as using modern medical science to treat or heal illness. We crave power and control. We want to be God, to be able to control things through our faith. We are trying to impose our will upon God. But that is not what faith is about! And some rather sinful attitudes lurk beneath this approach.

I liked this paragraph in the book where Schmidt describes his faulty approach to faith:

I figured if a little faith is good, a lot of faith is better. Faith was the issue, and I had plenty and to spare. It is amazing how quickly the ego can move in, even on the heels of a genuine spiritual transaction. In my mind’s eye, I saw myself throwing back my shoulders, pounding on my chest, and crying out to the world, Do I have faith or what! [He discarded his lithium and praised God he was healed.] I told everyone…about my deliverance and my super-faith. I was Stan, the faithful witness and anointed soul winner.”

Also addressed in the book is the problem with blaming the Devil for everything. As in, a sickness is a spiritual attack, therefore the cure is spiritual – having super faith.

I’ll close with some quotes or excerpts from the book:

Is our chief end really “to glorify God and enjoy him forever” (Shorter Catechism)? Then any alternative that entices us with benefits, prosperity…is not likely to be the Spirit of truth. The spirit of falsehood seeks to exploit God, not glorify and enjoy him. It prompts us to always look for our own benefit.

Faith must yield to reality, not vice versa. No volume or intensity of believing will change a false premise into a true premise.

The presumptuous aspect of faith healing and prosperity begins when people assume God decrees every believer is entitled to vibrant health, generous income, and stressless circumstances. Does that assumption apply also to humble Christians in cultures less fortunate than ours who are barely keeping body and soul together while living in squalid slums? … the prosperity theory would fly in the face of stark reality.

The size of my faith didn’t matter; I should have focused my thoughts on the size of the God in whom my faith rested. I had viewed my faith as a virtue – a spiritual accomplishment – instead of as a gift of God and a means of His grace. Consequently, I had failed to balance my faith with the wisdom that comes only from God (James 1:5).

Believing God’s specific promises – not flexing spiritual muscles, running ahead, or impressing Him with our bravery – is the dynamic which carries our spiritual transactions.

Believing people affirm by faith – faith mixed with wisdom and reason, and armed with facts.

Some people make the mistake of reading their thoughts into Bible texts instead of reading God’s thoughts out of them.