The God-Shaped Heart

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 03 Nov 2017

Member Reviews

I abandoned this book after 6 chapters. It had a promising, even fascinating start but took a turn into dangerous waters when it downplayed God's justice, denied the significance of Christ's penal substitution, and flirted with Universalism. I'd recommend skipping this one.
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Review - The God-Shaped Heart
Tim Jenkins suggests there is a “heart disease” in Christianity, and there are indications that something is wrong. The God-Shaped Heart draws the Christian’s attention to the nature of God’s love and recognize he plans to “pour his love into our hearts to heal, transform, and rebuild each of into his original design for humankind.” In the first chapter, Jenkins uses the medical references to explain the startling Barna statistics regarding trends in sexual conduct and seemingly negligible impact of Christianity across ethical categories. Can those who actually profess to be Christians can have behaviors so obviously against God’s design? Jenkins seeks transformation from within and hopes the reader Christian will have a renewed heart.
In chapter two, Jenkins provides us with insight into what he believes is the “infection.” Using the Biblical concept of heart, he details the spiritual nature of renewal and being transformed by the Holy Spirit occurs first on the inside. He also concludes the infectious thought is the view that God’s law functions in the same manner as human-made laws do and are “rules imposed and enforced by threat of punishment." God’s “designed law” is love, and everything outside of that is “imposed law." It is at this point I begin taking serious issue with Jenkins theology and argument.
Chapter three utilizes research by Dr. Lawerence Kohlberg who offers six stages of moral decision making, with Jenkins providing a seventh. God calls us to grow and progress; this necessary requires effort on our part. Level 1 is reward and punishment and it is the most basic level where children operate at. In this level, one recognizes right and wrong on the basis of what is rewarded and punished. This level “doesn’t even require a brain” and “is not worthy of human beings.” Marketplace exchange is level 2. This consist of a quid pro quo system and Jenkins uses Israel as an illustration. Israel has been led out of Egypt and when they are given the law, they respond with “We will do everything the LORD has said,” (Exodus 19:8; 21:24). In Jenkins’s view, this constitutes the level of a business transaction with God and is okay for children and animals, but not mature Christians. Level 3 is social conformity and the persons submits to the behaviors acceptable by the community. Level 4 is law and order and right and wrong are set in place by codified rules, judges, and prescribed punishment—our civil government. Love for others is level 5. At this level, one realizes the best interest of others determines right and wrong. Level 6 is principle-based living and a person does something “not because a rule says to do so but because it is understood to actually work that way.” Jenkins provides the example of marijuana. A person at level 6 will choose not to use marijuana even if it is legal because it is not healthy. They do not perform behaviors considered bad because they are harmful. Understanding friend of God is the level 7. At this point, one not only grasps God’s intended design, but his purposes. They are studied theologically and live not for themselves but “to fulfill God’s purposes utilizing God’s methods.”
In chapter four, he explores spiritual growth, and what often leads to lack of growth. Chapter five explains how love heals. He denies the forensic nature of Jesus’s death and states that those who see God as requiring payment for sin must understand “God’s law functioning like human laws-imposed rules, and if God doesn’t punish, then there is no justice.” When one sees the law as imposed, the Christian is unable to trust God; these beliefs keep them in a state of fear. Those are in the moral developmental levels 1-4 fails to see God’s law as a “diagnostic tool and protective hedge, just like loving parents have rules to protect their children until they grow up.” While most in the Reformed tradition have argued for three uses of the law—it reveals the righteousness of God and our shortcomings, it restrains evil, and it guides the Christian in faithful obedience—Jenkins regards this as immature and and when the Christian reaches level five they will be freed from the law as they now have a view of God in which he is a God of love.
In chapter six Jenkins begins by scrutinizing the theological statements of Catholics, Evangelicals, Pentecostals, Southern Baptist, Seventh-day Adventist, and Mormons. He concludes that they all wrongly present God as a “cosmic torturer.” This is natural progression when accepting God’s law as imposed law. In chapter seven we are to see a contrast in the reason for worship. Jenkins incredibly argues that what prevents professing Christians “from overcoming anger, rage, and violence against their families” is the replacing of “God’s law with imposed law, which results in worshipping a punishing god—and we become like the god we worship.” Jenkins depends on the contrast between a “God of love” and an “authoritarian god.” He is arguing that any view which sees God and God’s law as punishing sin must have a theology in which God is authoritarian. Worshiping this “god” leads to abusing loved ones.
Chapter eight sees how “institutions,” such as churches, tend to have leaders functioning at level four, the law and order, or a person who understands there are rules and they need to be enforced. According to Jenkins, “What matters is not proper definitions of doctrine or right enactment of ritual, but love—the proper treatment of others!” His solution is stated similarly, “The solution is quite simple: we must reject the imposed-law construct— purge it from our books, catechisms, doctrines, creeds, and fundamental beliefs—and return to design law.”
Chapter nine questions the purpose of the sacraments, suggesting they are symbolic at best. Chapter ten begins by looking at the sacrificial system in Leviticus, which Jenkins calls “an acted-out production—a little theater” for those who were uneducated. The rest of the chapter details what Jenkins sees as the cast and the parts of the “play.” He concludes with a key-point of the section stating, “Salvation is not dependent on acting in a ritual but on experiencing a God-shaped heart.” Chapter eleven looks at how truth and love operate together and chapter twelve looks at the topic of homosexuality. In chapter thirteen, Jenkins attempts to explain God’s actions in the Old Testament. He sets up a straw-man early by stating, “Persons who already hold a view of God as dictator-like have formed an entire system of belief—definitions of words, explanations of Bible stories—all filtered through and in harmony with the imposed-law construct.” Those in this category then see “the view of God as love and his law as design protocols” as “not being true to Scripture” or “denying evidence in Scripture.” He then goes for it all stating, “What is actually happening is that the picture of God I present is at odds with their understanding of Scripture, not with Scripture itself.” Here he places himself with Scripture against all others who would oppose him. As he continues through the chapter, he shows his presuppositions from which he is operating and it is clear one cannot interact with him on the topic of law and Old Testament until we are operating with the same view of God. For example, while Jenkins walks through Psalm 51 where David confesses his sin and seeks inner renewal by God, he doesn’t interact with Psalm 7:11-13 where David says: 
“God is a righteous judge, and a God who feels indignation every day. If a man does not repent, God will whet his sword; he has bent and readied his bow; he has prepared for him his deadly weapons, making his arrows fiery shafts” (ESV). 
In his last chapter, Jenkins looks at the matter of eternal judgement and concludes “our eternal destiny is not God’s judgment upon us but our judgment of God.”
Jenkins sincerely desires for Christians to grow but misses the mark with a one-dimensional view of both God and his law. The author's theology shapes his understanding of God’s law and, therefore, how the Christian grows spiritually. Jenkins contends that the levels 1-4 of moral development keep Christians from growing as they are self-centered and levels 5-7 are “other-centered.” Jenkins sees the Protestant view of Jesus’s death as a substitutionary atonement as a result of the “deep infection of the imposed-law construct.” At the same time, he suggests that the Protestant and Catholic theologians who are debating the issue of Christ’s merits are both missing the point as they are worshiping a “dictator god who requires some payment in order not to punish.” Sin is no longer a legal problem before God, but rather a condition we are born with. Jesus did not come to “fix the Father’s wrath,” but to “fix the sinners heart.” 
Jenkins has no category for a person who sees God’s law as regulatory and yet walks according to them because the regeneration of the Holy Spirit has broken one’s bondage to sin. The authors black and white thinking leads to either a person does not see the law not being an imposed list of rules, or if they do it eventually leads horrible actions (Chapter 5). All issues from chapter five on all stem from Jenkins conception of God and God’s law. He can only see “God’s design” as equaling love and “human law.”
It was a sad experience reading The God-Shaped Heart. I was hopeful for a book which sought to encourage Christians to grow and follow the commands of Christ out of a desire to glorify God in the person and work of Christ. Christ accomplished what the sinner could not, a perfect life, and paid their ransom price. Unfortunately, what Jenkins attributes to the character of God and the work of Christ are not biblical. In the end, he has placed himself against the majority of the church and God’s Word. His book is laced with stories and medical references, but he does not center his argument around Scripture. What the reader finds are cherry-picked verses fitting within his worldview.
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