I have heard of Max Lucado for about a decade. He became very popular through his books and has since developed into an entire industry. I do not begrudge his success in terms of being liked or his financial prosperity. If a man can have these things and continue to be faithful to the Lord, more power to him.
Though I have known of Ludaco for a long time, I never did read one of his books, until recently, that is. Why? I really do not know. I wanted to, but just did not get around to it…and have mixed emotions now that I have.
In one sense I am happy about reading his book, 3:16, because it gave me insight into who he is and what he teaches. In another sense I am saddened because Lucado is a pitiful writer (in my opinion) and worse gospel teacher (in light of the New Testament). I truly am amazed he ever received a writing contract and distribution deal if all of his work is like 3:16. However, poor writing style aside, his doctrine is what this review is about.
The Good…Sort Of
Not all of 3:16 is worthless. The book does defend Jesus as the one-and-only Savior. He presents God as a being of love and justice.
In chapter 10 Lucado addresses the issue of hell. He defends a literal interpretation of the Bible’s teaching on hell. He says with regard to Matthew 7:23, “This verse escorts us to the most somber of Christian realities: hell.” Something modern men and even some so-called Christians are now denying hell is real.
This is about all the good in the book. As you will see below, however, they also have their problems.
3:16 advocates a form of Calvinism. Lucado states, “God handles the task, start to finish,” with regard to the new birth. He said, “Born again. Birth, by definition, is a passive act. The enwombed child contributes nothing to the delivery” (6). If the parallel between a physical birth and spiritual birth are true in this sense, then God chooses who will and will not be born again. Man would have nothing whatsoever to do with it. Thus, God sends men to hell without any contribution on their part; it would be passive.
The Bible teaches that men have a part in their salvation. A man must hear and obey the gospel (Rom. 10:9-17). Jesus’ teaching about the wise man and the foolish man demands man has a part. He said the wise man heard and did what He said, but the foolish man heard and did not do (Matt. 7:24-27). We do exert effort. We exercise our free will, accept the Bible’s teaching, and apply it to our life by taking action with regard to it. The Bible is right, Lucado is wrong.
Back to the issue of hell: Lucado claims hell is a physical place. He says, “Words such as body, finger, and tongue presuppose a physical state in which a throat longs for water and a person begs for relief—physical relief” with reference to Matthew 10:28 and Luke 16:24 (95).
First, Matthew 10 and Luke 16 are discussing two different topics. In the former Jesus referred to hell, the eternal dwelling place of the devil, his angels, and all the wicked. In the latter Jesus referred to Hades, the realm of the unseen, where spirits go to await the resurrection (Lk. 16:23). No bodies exist in Hades. When the rich man died his body was in a tomb, while his spirit was in torments (Lk. 16:22, 23; cf. Jas. 2:26). Same with Lazarus. Same with all who die.
Second, the Bible does teach that all will be raised and given a body suited for eternal existence (Jn. 5:28, 29; 1 Cor. 15:22, 35-49). First Corinthians 15 teaches that we do not know what kind of body it will be, but it will not be like the one we now have. Just as a kernel of corn and the corn stalk are different, so our temporal tabernacle and eternal one will be different.
Here is the real problem with claiming hell is an actual physical, geographical place, like Iowa. 3:16 also claims heaven is a physical place. With reference to the physical earth he says,
Why obliterate a work of art? God never denounced his earth, just our mistreatment of it. Besides, he is the God of reclamation, not extermination. He restores, recovers, renews. Expect and look for him to do it again—to renew and reclaim every square inch of what is rightfully his (106).
The Bible teaches the material universe will be utterly destroyed.
But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up. Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved…the heavens will be dissolved, being on fire, and the elements will melt with fervent heat (2 Pet. 3:10-12).
Yes, there will be a “new heavens and new earth,” but to claim these will be like the old ones is an oxymoron. If they are new, they cannot be like the old. It is like saying the New Testament is the Old Testament recreated. Nonsense!
Lucado outdoes himself on page 110. He advocates having occupations in the new earthly heaven. He says, “You might oversee the orbit of a distant planetary system…design a mural in the new city…monitor the expansion of a new species of plants or animals.” Again, “Architects in Moscow might draw blueprints in the new Liverpool. We will feast in heaven; you may be a cook on Saturn…he may entrust you with the care and feeding of an Africa or two.”
He has truly lost his mind. His ability to study and explain the precious Word of God is gone, completely. Whatever he may have had at one time is there no longer. “For whoever has, to him more will be given, and he will have abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him” (Matt. 13:12). His philosophy is a cross between Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons; both cults. The JWs have always taught the recreation of the earth, life on earth forever with only 144,000 going to heaven. Lucado goes one step further by putting all the redeemed on earth, including Jesus. The Mormons teach that man can ascend to godhood and have his own planet(s) over which he may rule.
What 3:16 shows is the depth of materialism in religious circles. Heaven is the dwelling place of God, now (1 Kgs. 8:30, 39, 43, 49); not something that will come into existence after the judgment, especially a scrubbed-down, warmed-over earth. It is a place where its citizens will praise God forevermore. Physical attributes given to heaven, or God for that matter, are done merely to help us earthly beings have some type of concept of its glory and beauty (Rev. 21, 22). It is not intended to convey an earth-like existence in the hereafter.
Finally, if God is in the renewing and reclaiming business, then what will happen with all His creatures in hell, including the devil? Will He not eventually reclaim them? All souls are His (Eze. 18:4). Thus, as Lucado said of God, He will “renew and reclaim every square inch of what is rightfully his.” Is this only the non-human creation? Is that which is made in His image banished to eternal punishment and corruption, while the rest of creation enjoys a new, eternal bliss? My prediction is that before long, Lucado will “re-create” his view on hell and annihilate it altogether.
My admonition to you is be careful who you listen to. Jesus said, “Woe to you when all men speak well of you, For so did their fathers to the false prophets” (Lk. 6:26). Wide popularity and teaching the truth are not compatible. Jesus, the ultimate teacher of truth, was crucified for it. Paul was relentlessly persecuted, pursued from town to town, and, legend says, eventually beheaded in Rome. False teachers, on the other hand, are praised and promoted. Examine everything, every man teaches in light of the Scripture, including me (Acts 17:11; 1 Thes. 5:21; 1 Jn. 4:1-6).