Friday, September 30, 2011

Book Review: The God Pocket by Bruce Wilkinson

The God Pocket: He owns it. You carry it. Suddenly, everything changes.The God Pocket: He owns it. You carry it. Suddenly, everything changes. by Bruce Wilkinson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Summary: Bruce Wilkinson says that you should carry around a certain amount of money, a "God pocket", as it were, with the intention of giving it away whenever and wherever God leads you to do so.

Review: This is a short book, nonetheless my review will not be appropriately short.

Strengths: Wilkinson is an engaging and clear writer. His prose moves quickly and he tells stories well when giving examples. The whole book could be read in a single sitting without much difficulty.

Also, Wilkinson's call to generosity is an important one for Christians, especially for American Christians who have sufficient material wealth to actually be generous. The idea that we should be prepared to be generous at any time and any place is also a good one, as is the idea that such generosity should be both personal (rather than the more distant methods such as electronically sending a check once a month) and directed towards God as the source of the gift. Not, of course, to say that we can't give in other ways too (tithing electronically might be the best way to make sure that it happens regularly), but that this additional giving should be a regular part of our lives.

Weaknesses: For all its strengths, this is not a book I'd recommend a Christian read about giving (it still gets 3 stars because I have a rock-solid rule that if a book is well-written, it gets 3 stars however terrible it might be otherwise).

First, Wilkinson is far too reliant on the idea of inspiration. The "God pocket" is to be given according to the "God nudge", which is God telling you to give away the God pocket. What is a "God nudge"? It's the internal, unexpected, uncomfortable, and "subtle but clear" feeling that you should give away your God pocket (46-47). The "God nudge" is confirmed by the external "cue" and the "bump", the former of which is a sign from the other person that they actually need the money in your God pocket, and the bump is a question you ask them to make sure (48-49). The problem of course is that there is no Biblical evidence that God works this way. God's primary direction to us is found in His Word, not in an inner voice. We are of course commanded to give, and we have some discretion concerning whom we give to (so long as we're caring for our families and giving to the church), but the claim "God told me to do X" is always a dangerous road to walk.

Second, the examples Wilkinson uses are, well, problematic at best. The spectrum ranges from "person A needed money desperately and person B gave them their God pocket just in time and they both praised God" to "person A needed money desperately and person B gave them their God pocket just in time and person A became a Christian and they both praised God." Granted, Wilkinson (I think) lives in South Carolina, where cultural Christianity might still have something of a toehold and "praise God" might come more naturally, but the bulk of people Christians are going to run into around the country are going to be the homeless, the mentally disturbed, the rude, the crotchety, the loud and obnoxious, and so on. We should as Christians be prepared to give despite the response of the recipient, not in anticipation of a postiive one.

Third, Wilkinson dances around the idea that if you give your money away, God will give it back to you with interest. He does admit that the ultimate repayment will come in heaven (93), so he can't be classed completely with the prosperity gospel crowd. Nevertheless there's a consistent tone that "most people I've met who practice the God Pocket become more enthusiastic givers through their local churches- and with more funds to give."(99) This forgets that the only promises God gives us concerning life in this world are that 1) it's temporary; and 2) it's full of suffering. There is no discussion that God very well might not return His money, and that giving should be done even through suffering, poverty, disease, war, and every other kind of destitution imaginable.

Finally, and most important: there is no Gospel in this book. The other weaknesses could be forgiven if the Gospel were shared as the center of the idea. Our being sinners who deserve Hell, and the mercy of God in rescuing us from Hell by sending Christ to give up His life in our place, these central doctrines of Christianity make no appearance anywhere in the 124 pages of the book. Consequently, this is fundamentally not a Christian book and I cannot in good conscience endorse it as such. To tell people that Christians ought to give without mentioning that we give because God first gave us salvation, and that our generosity is overflow from the generosity God has shown us on the cross, is merely to create a legalistic feel-good theology that doesn't address the true problem of the human condition: that of sin. While I am sure that Wilkinson is personally a Christian, that fact seems not to have affected his "God Pocket" idea in this little book.

Disclaimer: I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.

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