Book Review: Greater by Steven Furtick

Mathew Sims

2 Stars

October 13, 2012

2 out of 5 Stars Author: Steven Furtick Publisher: Multnomah Reading Level: Leisure

I haven’t read Furtick’s other book but everything I heard was either unbridled praise or scorn. I don’t know if Greater deserves either of those extremes. I found some portions of the book helpful but most of it was self-help knitted into the story of Elisha--which is weird. He seems self-aware that his message is primarily one of self-empowerment while rejecting “self-help” as a title. For instance Furtick says, I’d understand if you were tempted to write me off as just another self-help hype man, wheeling and dealing promises about a better you that won’t hold up in reality. . . .

I’d be suspicious about someone who said those kinds of things.

But I haven’t said, and don’t plan to say, any of those things in this book.

Instead I want to walk you straight into the gap between the greater things God has promised in His Word and the results we see in our lives. (pp. 12-13; see also p. 37) Later he says, “I’ve built my whole ministry by motivating people” (p. 74). There’s a tension and I’m not sure it’s a healthy one. The gospel isn’t about motivating people.

Back to my biggest critique. Furtick displaces the story of Elisha from its context and works the idea of his book into it. I don’t think it works primarily because the idea of dreaming bigger, starting smaller, and igniting God’s vision for your life isn’t present.

The Old Testament is filled with instructive stories but they are notoriously hard to preach and teach from. Furtick is over his head here. For example, let’s take the first two steps he gives to greater living. Step one becoming more acutely aware of God’s presence in your life (p. 29). But it’s not only or even primarily the objective word of God or the freedom we have in Christ to obey him in a thousand different ways rather it’s paying “attention to the spiritual vibrations around you” (p. 34).

The next step is “burning the plows“ by leaving good behind and seeking greater (pp. 46-50). But again it’s all subjective which ties back into my point: Where are these points in Elisha’s story? First, even it were, Elisha’s story isn’t normative. His experience is supernatural but it’s not subjective. He wasn’t waiting for spiritual vibrations. Elijah, God’s spokesman on earth, came and directly revealed God’s will for Elisha’s life life. We have the Bible but it doesn’t directly tell us to work here or do that but that’s the beauty of our freedom in Christ.

Finally and probably the most atrocious example is found in Furtick’s use of the story of the lost axe head as a parallel for losing your “edge” (pun intended by Furtick) in the Christian life. The advice itself isn’t so bad (crying out to God and relying on him to do the stuff we can’t do) but I’m not sure the story of 2 Kings 6 is the right story for that.

He ends by asking, “Is going after a greater life even biblical? . . . Over the next few chapters I’ll address [this question] head on. Not always with tidy answers. But from a Biblical perspective” (p. 91). But he failed to carry through on his promise. He did provide an answer but it wasn’t rooted in faithful exposition of Scripture. He tells the story of the Shunammite woman’s dying son and then follows up by saying, Sometimes people hear from God, or think they hear from God, and they burn their plows. Or they dig their ditches. Or they pour the one jar of oil. And instead of being given beauty for ashes, they are given ashes for ashes. (p. 98) It’s seems greater faith is equated with subjectiveness and risky living. If there’s some truth and value in taking risks it’s lost in the over emphasis. Compare this pulled punch with the first quotation in my review. Or with this: Elijah passed on his mantle to Elisha. Through your surrender to God’s Spirit, the mantle of Elisha has been passed on to you. Think of the scriptures you’ve encountered in this book as your cloak. Bound up in God’s Word is the impartation you need to leave your life of good enough behind and step into the greater life God has had in mind for you all along. You’re about to make your crossing. Your divine destiny waits for you on the other side. (p. 184) The story of Elisha is so integral to the message of Greater that it’s nearly impossible to separate the bad interpretation of the story from the message Furtick is telling.

A free copy of this book was provided by Multnomah.