29 July 2012

Examining the Gospel Presentation of 'The Harbinger'

The Harbinger continues to grow in popularity among some segments of evangelical Christianity. It has been the subject of both criticism and praise. Supporters and fans of the bestselling book may be heard arguing that it is a message of repentance, and that the Gospel is clearly and unashamedly presented. Consequently, any other minor quibbles having to do with proper hermeneutics and exegesis ought to be handled lightly. After all, if the book is calling people to repent and come to Christ, then ultimately it must be of God. To question the contents or the message of the book is to find oneself quickly labeled as a 'Pharisee' or worse.

Having read the book, this writer noticed three primary problems as it regards the issue of its Gospel presentation (there are far more concerning details that arise when reading the book, but those are not the purpose of this post). What follows is this writer's perception and opinion, and ought not be perceived as an attack upon the author of The Harbinger.

Firstly, it is true that throughout the pages of The Harbinger, the broad concept of repentance is presented. It is done so, however, by repeating the phrase "turn back to God," and seems to most often be presented in the context of America doing the turning. The book argues that this nation has turned away from God by removing prayer from schools, by legalizing abortion, by accepting homosexuality, etc. America has run God out of its daily life. The basic implication then becomes that to turn back to God is to engage in moral reform. Of course, America could become the most moral nation in the world and it would be nothing more than a massive whitewashed tomb. Mere morality does not save anybody.

Further, if the Gospel of Jesus Christ is of utmost importance to the author of The Harbinger and essential to the value of the book, then one must question why the book's version of the Gospel is not presented until Chapter 21 (the book contains 22 chapters total)? Throughout the book the main character, Nouriel, is an unbeliever. The character known as "the Prophet" has been tasked with revealing to Nouriel the secret mystery of America's warning and potential judgment from God. Once all of the mysteries have been revealed, the Prophet shares with Nouriel about eternity.

At the end of Chapter 21, entitled "Eternity," Nouriel indicates that this journey and this story began "years before." Is the reader to believe that God is more concerned with sending a journalist on a scavenger hunt than He is with presenting to that unsaved journalist the good news of salvation and forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ? Is the reader really to believe that God's own priorities are so skewed that He would send a "prophet" to a man, but would instruct that prophet to withhold from that man for years the way of salvation?

This portion of The Harbinger presumedly is part of the 10% of the book that author Jonathan Cahn claims is fiction. Nevertheless, if a primary concern of the book is to proclaim the Gospel, then why is the reader given the impression that the obscure harbingers and the mysterious warning are of greater importance than the message of eternal salvation?

Finally, it seems as though the message of the good news of Jesus Christ is presented in a blurry manner. Below, the reader will find an abridged quotation of the Gospel presentation that is contained within the book, The Harbinger. This particular chapter is 12 pages long in the print version of the book, and it takes nearly all of those pages to paste together the entirety of its Gospel. The quoted material below, then, seeks to adequately represent the primary substance of the chapter. For the sake of clarity, liberty has been taken to carefully indicate which character is speaking each line.
The Prophet: "Judgment isn’t ultimately about nations—but people. As it’s written: ‘It’s appointed for man once to die and then judgment.’ After the end comes the Day of Judgment, in light of which all other judgments are only foreshadows. And no one is exempt. Each must stand before Him.”
Nouriel: “Why?”
The Prophet: “Why judgment?”
Nouriel: “Yes.”
The Prophet: “It must be. As long as there’s evil, there has to be judgment. Every sin, every wrong, every evil has to be brought to an end. Without it, there would be no hope.”
Nouriel: “Without judgment there would be no hope?” I asked.
The Prophet: “Without judgment, there would be no end to evil in the universe…or in man’s heart. There would be no heaven. 
[...] 
“And who is evil?”
Nouriel: “Those who kill, who deceive, who steal, those who hurt and abuse others…”
The Prophet: “And that’s it?” he asked.
Nouriel: “I’m sure there are other categories.”
The Prophet: “And what about you, Nouriel? Do you fit into any of those categories?”
Nouriel: “No.”
The Prophet: “No,” he replied, “you wouldn’t. But remember, ‘All the ways of a man are right in his own eyes.’ It’s from the Book of Proverbs. That’s human nature. So be careful of the image that appears in your own eyes. [...] You can never judge yourself by your own standards and your own righteousness, but only in light of His righteousness.” [...]
(Jonathan Cahn, The Harbinger, [Charisma House: 2011], 227–229).
The prophet seems to affirm that Nouriel would not fit into the categories of "evil" that they have listed. Yet, is Nouriel not representative of human beings? Then he undoubtedly would have hated, which is murder of the heart (Matt. 5:21–22). Nouriel surely has lied in his life, has hurt others, possibly has even stolen. Nouriel, like every man, fulfills every category of sinner set forth by the Scriptures.
Nouriel: “But then who could stand?” I asked. “Who could make it into heaven?”
The Prophet: “No one could stand, and no one could make it into heaven. How far would just one sin take you away from the infinite righteousness of God?”
Nouriel: “An infinite distance?”
The Prophet: “Yes. So how far are we from heaven?”
Nouriel: “An infinite distance.”
The Prophet: “And how great is the judgment?”
Nouriel: “Infinitely great.”
The Prophet: “And how long would it take us to bridge the gap, to be reconciled to God, to enter heaven?”
Nouriel: “An infinity of time.”
The Prophet: “Eternity,” he said.
Nouriel: “So we could never get there, could we?”
The Prophet: “And to be infinitely separated from God and heaven…is what?” he asked.
Nouriel: “Hell?”
The Prophet: “Hell—infinite separation from God and from all things good; total, infinite, eternal judgment. 
[...] 
The soul is eternal,” he said. “One way or another, at the end of a thousand ages, you’ll still exist. The question is where. And if the joy and glory of being in God’s presence in heaven is beyond our imagining, so then too is the darkness and horror of being in His absence…without Him forever…hell.”
(Cahn, 229–230).
Of course, for an unbeliever who by nature is at enmity with God, the thought of being in a place without Him is not a scary one. Hell is more than merely the "absence of God." Rather, it is the wrath of God being poured out on unrepentant sinners for eternity (see Rev. 20:8, 11–15; Matt. 13:40–42 as just a few examples).
The Prophet: For what alone is it that can answer an infinite judgment and bridge an infinite chasm?
Nouriel: “An infinite love,” I said. “The infinite presence of an infinite love.”
The Prophet: “Of the infinite One,” he said.
Nouriel: “You mean God.”
The Prophet: “God.”
Nouriel: “But you haven’t mentioned the word religion even once.”
The Prophet: “Because it’s not about religion; it’s about love. That’s the meaning of the sign, the overcoming of the infinite judgment by the infinite love.”
Nouriel: “The love of God.”
The Prophet: “The love of God. For God is love, and the nature of love is what?”
Nouriel: “To give?” I replied.
The Prophet: “Yes, to give of itself, to put itself in the place of the other even if it means that by so doing it must sacrifice itself. So if God is love, then what would the ultimate manifestation of love be?”
Nouriel: “I don’t know.”
The Prophet: “The giving of Himself…God giving Himself to bear the judgment of those under judgment if, by so doing, it would save them. Love puts itself in the place of the other. So then the ultimate manifestation of love would be…”
Nouriel: “God putting Himself in our place.”
The Prophet: “In our life, in our death, in our judgment…the sacrifice.”
Nouriel: “As in Jesus…”
The Prophet: “The infinite sacrifice,” said the prophet, “to bear an infinite judgment, in which all sins are nullified and all who partake are set free…forgiven…saved. An infinite redemption in which judgment and death are overcome and a new life given…a new beginning…a new birth. The love of God is greater than judgment…. Remember…there is no sin so deep that His love isn’t deeper…and no life so hopeless…no soul so far away…and no darkness so dark that His love isn’t greater still.”
Nouriel: “But this is all…I wasn’t born with it, or raised in it, and I’m not religious.”
The Prophet: “Being religious has nothing to do with it,” he said. “There’s no religion in heaven, only love. It’s the heart, Nouriel. And you couldn’t have been born into it to begin with, only born again into it. And it can’t happen without you choosing it. 
[...] 
Do you know His real name?”
Nouriel: “Jesus?”
The Prophet: “Yes.”
Nouriel: “I thought that was His real name.”
The Prophet: “His real name is Yeshua. It’s Hebrew. He was Jewish, as were all His disciples, and the message they proclaimed was all about the Jewish Messiah, the fulfillment of the Hebrew Scriptures, the Hope of Israel. Yeshua is Hebrew for God is Salvation, or God is Deliverance…Protection…Rescue…Freedom…Refuge…and Safety. In the Day of Judgment, there’s no safe ground…no salvation, except in Him who is salvation.”
(Cahn, 231–233).
It is true that the transliteration of Jesus' Hebrew name is Yeshua. Yet, the implication that 'Jesus' is not also His real name is erroneous. The New Testament was written in Koine Greek, which renders 'Yeshua' as Ἰησοῦς, which translated into English is 'Jesus'.
Nouriel: “So how does one become saved?”
The Prophet: “‘You cannot see the kingdom of God unless you are born again.‘ Those are His words.”
Nouriel: “And how does one become born again?”
The Prophet: “By receiving…by letting go…by letting the old life end and a new one begin. By choosing…by opening your heart to receive that which is beyond containing—the presence…the mercy…the forgiveness…the cleansing…the unending love of God.”
Nouriel: “By receiving what exactly?”
The Prophet: “The gift, freely given and freely received, and yet so great a gift that you treasure it above life itself…so great a gift that it changes everything else. 
[...] 
It begins with the receiving…with the opening of one’s heart…with the turning away from darkness and to the light…with the giving of oneself…the committing of one’s life—a vow of love…a prayer…decision…a total and unconditional yes.”
Nouriel: “And it takes place…”
The Prophet: “Anywhere, any place, alone or with others, wherever you are. It takes place anywhere, for it takes place in the heart.”
Nouriel: “And at any time?”
The Prophet: “No, Nouriel,” he said. “It doesn’t take place at any time. It only takes place at one time. 
[...] 
Now…” said the prophet. “Now is the only time in which it can happen. As it is written, ‘Now is the time of salvation,’ never tomorrow, only now."
(Cahn, 233–234).
The Prophet goes on to exhort Nouriel that he is only "one heartbeat" away from eternity, and thus must choose salvation now. Of course, the urgency of his exhortation remains shrouded in irony considering that at this point he has known Nouriel for a period of years and has not until now shared this eternal message.

Yet, is this message adequate? The most basic elements of the Gospel seem to be present, but are they presented clearly? If a person with no biblical background were to read this, would he understand what he must do to be saved? Could the gospel message of The Harbinger stand alone and bring a sinner to salvation and faith in Jesus Christ? The reader is encouraged to search the Scriptures carefully as he seeks to answer these questions.

Further Reading
Ken Silva Responds to Discernment Drama Created by 'The Harbinger'
The Harbinger: Fact or Fiction? A book review by David James.
Implications of The Harbinger

16 comments:

  1. I have one major issue with this gospel presentation that was not touched on in the article. It is where the prophet says, "with the giving of oneself…the committing of one’s life—a vow of love:"

    Salvation is NOT committing one's life. It is NOT a vow. It is faith and trust in Christ! Eph 2:8-9, John 3:16, Acts 8:36. Salvation is by faith ALONE in Christ ALONE. There is NO committment required on my part to receive salvation. Read every presentation of the gospel in the book of Acts and you will never find Paul, Peter or anyone else inviting someone to "commit their life to Christ" for salvation.

    Salvation is also NOT giving oneself. I have nothing worthy to give to the Lord. I am a guilty sinner. I need His grace and forgiveness to make me a new creature. Only AFTER salvation can I give my life to the Lord, but even then, my giving of my life is simply to allow Him to work through me.

    Anyways, those are just my thoughts.

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    1. Thanks, Jess, great thoughts, and I completely agree.

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  2. Jan Markell would do well to check out the warnings regarding The Harbinger as noted on Berit Kjos' website today at www.crossroad.to .

    Berit details how Rabbi Cahn has favorably quoted the Zohar and how the Kabbalah and Jewish mysticism are very important reasosn for Christians to be concerned about this end time tome.

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  3. "Having read the book"--- was that referring to you Ebenz?

    Well, I'm glad that someone has read the book so as to give us a thorough critique...

    As time has moved on I have finally listened to Jan Markell's interview with Jonathan Cahn to have a more balanced view of where he's coming from.... They do make some good points that I do agree with such as their use of Isaiah as a "(pattern) of God's judgment" and that they are NOT replacing Israel..


    However, I'm a bit more confused and becoming disillusioned as I am realizing that some of the discernment is getting a little bit overboard and out of hand on some issues- nitpicking error on both sides. Does Jesus treat us like this? We all make mistakes and are wrong in many areas of our lives every single day. I'm sure that when Jesus was on this earth he could have pointed out the mistakes and sins of the disciples all day long.. But he did not. I believe some of our focus is too much on trying to find any and every error. Christ's YOKE is easy and his burden is light.".... He is gentle and humble and does not treat me as my sins deserve..

    Does this mean we should not call out error where we see it? Absolutely not --we should.

    I do like how it is pointed out in this article the concern about the gospel and this is my biggest gripe about Cahn's book. Is Cahn calling people to repentance to the only eternal true Gospel of God's grace "according to Scripture" or is he trying to call people to repentance and just merely restore America??. This is a false assumption and an egregious error in Cahn's book since the majority of Americans are NOT SAVED so how in the world can they repent and turn back to God??? This is also very selfish in that People's eternal destiny is of eternal importance NOT America. Saving America does not equal SAVING individual Souls...

    As One dear brother put it,,"We can commiserate and lament the loss of the great American dream lifestyles we have known all our lives, or we can see this as a tremendous opportunity to show a frightened world spinning out of control that the Christian alone has a solid, secure confidence that the unregenerate cannot hope to have by any means they can acquire"----

    It just sounds too much like Cahn is taking the same path as Kirk Cameron to me...

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    1. Hi Linda,

      Yes, I have read the book, and doing so opened up even more concerns than I had from simply listening to hours of Cahn in interviews.

      His biblical hermeneutic is atrocious, as I've mentioned several times in the past. He has yet to demonstrate from either Scripture or history (preferably both) how it is that Isaiah 9:10 is a pattern. His stretches to seek and find these secret, mysterious 'harbingers' would be ridiculous if people weren't actually taking it seriously.

      Is God judging America? Yes. I don't really think we need a novel to tell us that. We also don't need to go into Isaiah 9:10, to a passage explicitly describing Israel, in order to see that the actions of America warrant God's judgment. Romans 1 has it all laid out quite clearly, no secret harbingers required to understand it.

      The gospel presentation, as I've pointed out above, is lacking in my opinion. Not only does it take painfully long to get there, thus offering the impression that the harbingers are more important, but when it is presented, it's obtuse, veiled and quite honestly, confusing. It would be incredibly difficult for anyone who is unfamiliar with biblical Christianity to read this chapter of Cahn's book and know what to do to be saved.

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    2. "there's a pattern that happened to Israel that is now replaying in America"-Cahn

      I really want to understand what's wrong with a statement and why. Could you please delineate a little hermeneutically rather than just saying it is atrocious?

      I'm NOT trying to drill you and nor am I trying to be over inquisitive with you..So please if you do have time help me here by taking me by the hand like a little child through this...

      BTW I do GET it Erin when you state that we don't need a novel to tell us that God is judging America...That makes complete sense ~
      I cringed when Cahn said "The ancient mystery that holds the secret of America's future and it's a mystery that goes back 2and 1/2 thousand years to ancient Israel that lies behind everything that is happening from 911 to the collapse of the economy the decline of America so exact that it will even touch on the words of American leaders, the actions they speak going to exact dates such as the crashes of wall-street and it goes back to 9 signs of warnings that were given to ancient Israel and its last days before its destruction that are now reappearing on American soil",,,etc Jonathan Cahn

      It doesn't settle well with me about "ancient mystery that holds the secret" because that language has always been gnostic to me and what "secret" are they referring to? I don't like anything that sounds like ONE person holds the key or Secret to something all these 1000's of years. --WE ALL are given FULLNESS in Jesus Christ-Col.2:10.

      What is wrong with that?

      I believe that he's applying the one time historical events (patterns) that were ONLY For Israel to America. Is it heremeneutically wrong to go by "patterns"? is this the same way that the Jehovah's Witnesses take passages such as Isaiah 43:10 out of context that was ONLY for Israel and apply it to themselves 19 cen. later? I'm not sure where it's wrong?
      "He has yet to demonstrate from either Scripture or history (preferably both) how it is that Isaiah 9:10 is a pattern. His stretches to seek and find these secret, mysterious 'harbingers' would be ridiculous if people weren't actually taking it seriously."

      I didn't know he was stretching and seeking these mysterious harbingers... He makes them seek as though they are all falling together in a perfect pattern "exact" as he says...

      So anyone could find harbingers and this is just a gross misrepresentation to sell sensationalism??..


      Sincerely, Linda

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    3. I listened to David James and Jonathan Cahn with Jimmy DeYoung about the "Harbinger and have finally come to understand some of the problems. STill listening to the program~

      One thing David James points out in Cahn's book is where he blurs the lines with America having a covenant with God or not. I think Cahn is disingenuous here where he skirts around the issue but then the "prophet" says there's "another side" to the covenant which to me means that he IS alluding to America having a covenant with God-

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    4. I understand where Jonathan Cahn is coming from that in Context Isaiah 9:10-11 can be used as a "pattern" just like any scripture can be used in our lives... The problem is that the Scripture passage WAS already fulfilled. God CAN and DOES use Scripture in our lives as applications but the Scripture itself only has ONE MEANING. So MY problem is that Cahn speaks of God applying the passage as EXACT... I cannot agree with a one time fulfilled prophecy becoming exactly applied AGAIN to America.. I CAN understand that God can and does speak to us... For example the first verse that came alive and spoke to me personally was Matthew 5:6 "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they will be filled"... It lifted off the page and I understood for the FIRST TIME what that meant in my life as a Child of God.. This was a general passage though and not a detailed laid out account of specific events.. Take the woman at the well, many people identify with her and God can convict a person of their many promiscuous affairs with men.. BUT the passage is specific in that God never again has a woman doing EXACTLY what the woman at the well did. That was a one time event. So in closing I believe that Isaiah 9:10-11 in general can happen as a "pattern" but this is not what Cahn does. He's taking what happened once and saying that it's identical and happening again.. This is Error and unbiblical

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    5. Hi Linda,

      I apologize - it's been kind of a crazy week and I just haven't been able to respond! I appreciate the follow-up comments you've left here, because I think you've hit on the problem.

      Is there a pattern in that God may judge a nation that kicks him out? Surely. All we need do is read Romans 1. Is Isaiah 9:10 a "pattern" in that every time God is about to judge a nation there will be a fallen sycamore tree and hewn stone and blah blah blah? No. And if Cahn wants to run around New York and Washington D.C. to find these nifty signs and write a book, that's fine, but unless he can demonstrate that other nations received the same "harbingers" prior to judgment by God, I see little basis for calling it a "pattern."

      Regardless, my primary issue at this point is with the Gosepl in this book. It seems to be an afterthought, and even then it's horribly lacking.

      We don't need to hand our unbelieving friends a copy of The Harbinger, we need to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with them.

      Just a note, I have heard that David James' book (refuting The Harbinger) is complete and available for purchase, or will be soon.

      Thanks for all your good thoughts and comments, Linda! I appreciate them, even though I'm generally terrible about replying in a timely fashion! :-)

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    6. I say a hardy AMEN and praise to the Lord from whom all wisdom comes from and appreciate the wisdom and discernment GOD has granted to you..

      You gave the BEST answer and it's so simple---Romans chapter 1!!! hello we don't need to be writing books and making this complicated and nor is it a mystery

      As far as you replying to me,, you just take all the time you need Ebenz..I'm a very patient person-(not that I've arrived)..

      I'm just glad that I understand NOW what I couldn't quite place my finger on but knew something was wrong with the hermeneutics.. Thanks for your patience with me as well and I do appreciate You

      Sincerely,
      Linda

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  4. Why are so many people so quick to cut this guy some slack and find a way to give him a stamp of approval? His book is based on the occult, mysticism, and satanism and yet the Christian community is all too ready to greet him with open arms. Is it some fantasy world that we live in that the judgment of God has become trite in our eyes? Why is America so important to God that special warnings have been hidden in Scriptures for some twenty five hundred years? Read the last question again; don't you see how ridiculous that statement is? If by accepting this book with it's "warnings" will that afford you exemption from the judgment that is pronounced on America? To read what some say that is the case. Where are the tears for such a fate that awaits us? I see no rush to warn; I do see some questionable marketing tricks to sell books.

    For those who haven't figured it out yet America has been under the judgment of Almighty God for decades. It started when we began to supress the truth in unrighteousness. The progression of this judgment has been detailed for all to see in Romans 1:18-32. So for those who must find the USA in the Bible, here it is. To fix an exact date of when this judgment began is futile, but the argument could be strongly made that it began before the Constitution was ratified.

    There have been too many lies perpetrated on the church since it began. It's time to put this foolishness away once and for all.

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  5. great book. western christians are ignorant of prophecy and the culture of the bible. we would be wise to start supporting those who are on the front lines warning us to repent and watch.

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    1. Did you read this post, Anonymous?

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    2. What is prophecy anonymous?


      Jimmy DeYoung made an extremely important statement about Prophecy... Prophecy is something that is occurring NOW or in the FUTURE not in the past from a prophecy that has already been fulfilled. btw, is Isaiah 9:10-11 a prophecy? Jackie Alnor has pointed out in her review of Cahn's book that it's not even a prophecy. The Isaiah 9:10-11 has already taken place and cannot be made as a prophecy again and NOR is it proper hermeneutics to glean from Isaiah 9:10-11 that it "contains an ancient mystery that holds the secret of America’s future". This would imply that there are a plethora of "ancient mysteries" in Scripture passages that contain all kinds of ancient mysteries. This is contorting Scripture.. anyone can go and search for harbingers and fit them together to make it seem as though it's a bit uncanny and clairvoyant. this is extremely dangerous since this implies that there are prophecies that God has not mentioned in the bible (mysteries) that are yet to be fulfilled that somehow he has esoterically revealed to a person prophetically.

      Also this carries Christians and people (away) from Christ- away from the only true GOSPEL that saves, away from the proper rendering of God's word--- the TRUE "revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God,". Rom.16:25-26

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  6. One more concern and then I'll try and return to the subject of the post..

    Could these be considered to be like Omens? Is Cahn being used unwittingly by the enemy in practicing the interpretation of omens or presages? Could Satan be slipping this kind of practice "innocently" under the radar into the Church by referring to them euphemistically and harmlessly as harbingers.?

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