Home
 

The Importance of Feedback

THE IMPORTANCE OF FEEDBACK
Mike Cunningham
March 29, 2015

I’m sure there have been times when some of you folks have believed that I’m obsessed with getting feedback about my sermons. Any feedback! It doesn’t matter whether it’s good or bad. Well that’s a fact I can’t deny because it’s absolutely true. Your feedback is very helpful to me. That information helps me to plan future sermons. I also want to address the issues that you folks are wrestling with. And I certainly appreciate being corrected if I have said something that isn’t true. However, above all else, I want to glorify God in everything I think, do and say throughout each day and I certainly don’t want to lead anyone astray.

As I said last week, “Judging from the comments folks have made about the latest series of sermons, either to me personally, and/or on my blog, everyone enjoyed it. In fact, I haven’t received a single negative comment. Although this best selling novel was written in 1983, it is still in print and folks such as you and me have been inspired and engrossed by it. Actually, there were several times when I was so inspired by the story that literal “tears of joy” trickled down my face.“

“Since only a small number of you have expressed your opinion, I can’t help wondering how the rest of my readers feel. I wish I had received more feedback.” So I decided to check the book reviews on Amazon. Boy am I glad that I did. There were a ton of reviews. They were certainly eye opening and thought provoking to say the least. Allow me to share the following reviews with you. It’s been my prayer filled hope that these reviews will be as helpful to you as they were to me. Here’s the first one.

“I purchased JOSHUA only because I knew Father Girzone many many years ago and I was curious about what he may have written.

JOSHUA is a simple story about Jesus (Joshua) living in modern times. The message Joshua delivers gives comfort to those of us who have been raised with the strict rules of the Catholic Church accompanied by the feeling that you can never quite “measure up.” THE BOOK CHANGED MY LIFE! JOSHUA strengthened my faith by giving me a simplistic version of Jesus’ message without all of the “excess baggage” that accompanies organized religion.
Many thanks to Father Girzone for the gift he has bestowed on his readers — a clearer understanding of God’s love for us. I read reviews that pointed out “flaws” in the writing. If the message shines through (which it obviously did by reading the reviews) – then the writing was perfect! A must read for EVERYONE!”

++++++++++
The book JOSHUA changed my life. That’s a simple but powerful statement and that is exactly what this book is: a simple but powerful book.

It seems to be divinely inspired and written with devotion and love. It was obviously Fr. Girzone’s first attempt at writing for it often read like the way a child speaks but I found that to be charming instead of annoying. The book was pure in its voice and pure in its motive to communicate how organized religions can often move away from the true message and character of Christ.

Joshua, like Jesus, is a man with human flaws but who has attained a level of love for God that most of us aspire too but fall far short of achieving. Joshua doesn’t go around rigidly preaching the word of God so much as he lives his life according to the word of God–his life is a sermon and example to us all, like Jesus’ life was.

Fr. Girzone seems to be trying to show us how Joshua (Jesus) was a simple man who led a compassionate life devoted to a loving God. His life and message were not bogged down with rules and an inhuman ideal of perfection. Joshua could worship in any temple, any church, on any hilltop because God can be found anywhere and, at the same time, his love for God allowed him to worship with Christians, Jews or simply all by himself.

God is too great for any one religion to corner the market on understanding Him and our quest to please Him. We still can’t explain the size or the birth of our universe so how can we be expected to be all knowing about God? Joshua attempts to bring that thought to light. Learning and loving God is a journey that spans many lifetimes but Joshua shows us that compassion and love will put us on the right path.

The book MY ISHMAEL rattled my universe and left me feeling like an earthquake had just pulled the ground out from under my feet. My faith was enhanced, but it took me days to calm down from the experience. JOSHUA, on the other hand, was like being rocked in the arms of heaven with an angel whispering the Secret of Life in my ear.”

++++++++++

“For several years I have picked up this book for some reason, and then replaced it on the bookstore’s shelves. I wrongly judged it to be a “Catholic” book, but I’ve been drawn to it again and again. One day I decided to purchase it. What I read was an interesting, enjoyable and intriguing story about how Jesus, under the name of Joshua, came into our midst in today’s time, and how we treated him. The story started out somewhat slow, but a strange power kept me interested in the story–barely letting me put the book down. Joseph Girzone has done an excellent job of telling the story about a man trying to live in our modern society, and yet be true to his beliefs about God and Jesus’ teachings. And he does it without cramming religious beliefs down your throat. It is not a “Catholic” book, but a book for anyone that would want to meet Jesus today as a man with incredible wisdom and compassion for his fellow man.”

++++++++++

If Christ’s teachings set the practitioner free, why does established religion impose a set of rigid rules and traditions on their followers? In his book, “Joshua”, Fr. Girzone beautifully re-explores this territory first broached by Dostoevsky in his chapter “The Grand Inquisitor” in “the Brothers Karamazov”. Girzone asks the question, “Can mankind shed its true nature, throw away its need for power and truly embrace the simple life that Christ advocates?” In “The Grand Inquisitor”, Christ reappears, His love of man evident in the simple miraculous acts he performs when he walks among the sick and poor. These actions cause attention to be drawn to Him. Eventually he is imprisoned by the grand inquisitor who engages Him in a lengthy conversation regarding what the established Church provides the people, and exactly what the Church is unwilling to sacrifice in order to truly follow Christ’s example. The Grand Inquisitor fully admits the Church has supplanted the role of Christ in the lives of its congregation and in effect is responsible for the “non-existence” of God.

Similarly, in “Joshua”, Christ reappears in a small town in upstate New York. Joshua is a wood carver who lives simply, enjoys the beauty of nature and above all has the ultimate compassion for anyone he encounters who is in physical, spiritual or mental need. Word of Joshua’s simple lifestyle sets the town’s ears on fire and curiosity drives them to meet Joshua for themselves. No one is disappointed. As Joshua’s popularity grows he is singled out by leaders of the established churches and the synagogue.

As in the Grand Inquisitor, Joshua eventually comes head to head with the powerful leaders of the established religion and the egotistical need man has for power. As in the gospels, His words are meant to break down the hierarchical authority that enslaves rather than frees its underlings. His message is heard only by a few and as in the past, it is discussed, mulled over and spread.

This feel-good book has a simply rendered yet powerful message. I recommend it to anyone who wants a modern version of the impact Christ must have had on anyone he encountered. His humanity and divinity are superbly and finely drawn.

++++++++++

Now, there were some positive things about these books. The general premise of the books were interesting — the question of what would it be like if Jesus were to come into a small town in our lifetime. I believe that the author had some things right — for example, that Jesus would not be happy with the current state of the Christian church today, as a whole. It was also good that the author portrayed Jesus as basically saying that we needed to be careful that we have not gone beyond what God says in Scripture, adding legalistic requirements to the Christian faith. There were some other great things that the author makes readers think about in regard to loving God and loving one another. Christian unity was another theme that was brought up — that Christians in various denominations should see past the non-essentials, and be willing to love and accept one another as brothers and sisters in Christ, joining in Christian causes together, etc.

However, there were also serious problems with even some of these positive things listed above in the way that they were brought up in this book. The main problem with the books is that Joseph Girzone has the Joshua/Jesus character give a gnostic/New Age type message throughout both books.

The story is not a parallel universe kind of what if story — what would happen if Jesus came now instead of 2000 years ago. Rather, it is a story in which Jesus decides to come back before the Second Coming, something that goes against Scripture, but could be overlooked if the author provided some sort of disclaimer at the beginning or end of the book that basically said something like this, “I am aware that Scripture states that Jesus will not return until the Second Coming, but this is a fictional account of what might happen if He did. Also, this is how I see Jesus, but I may be incorrect.” Something like that — some kind of message that affirms biblical teaching so that those reading the book might not get the wrong idea from the work.

The Joshua in this story is not the Jesus of Scripture. In saying that, yes, I am very aware that Jesus is a form of the name Joshua, so my issue is not with the name. Rather, it is the fact that the words and actions of Joshua in this story show that the Jesus in this story is a different Jesus, a false one, a Jesus that the author created based on how he imaged Jesus to be, and one that has a lot more in common with the gnostic/New Age Jesus than the Jesus of Scripture.

For example, Joshua/Jesus’ message in the stories is that God made people to live in freedom from rules and restrictions, and that that was the reason that Jesus came the first time. He wanted people to know how to live in freedom and peace and love. He wanted them to love God and love one another. All of that sounds wonderful, and some of it is correct. However, the little that is correct has been watered down and twisted to make it be the complete gospel message of Girzone’s Jesus, without the cross or forgiveness of sins.

The author has Joshua say that all people are basically good, and never talks about a sinful nature. In fact, the only sin that he talks about is religious leaders making it hard for people to live in freedom/peace and free of restrictions and rules, and that various Christian denominations are not united. Since people are basically good, then there is no sin to repent from. The Jesus in these stories never calls anyone to truly repent. Girzone also has Joshua/Jesus state that it is part of human nature to be imperfect, and that we all need to grow to our full potential that God has for us.

This grow to our full potential thing is a very humanistic concept. This isn’t necessarily bad in and of itself, but when it is preached to the exclusion of the real gospel (that we are sinners in need of a Savior, that we cannot save ourselves, that Jesus is the only way, and that we need to repent, accept what Jesus has done for us on the cross, and believe in His bodily resurrection, and that He will come again, etc.) then it becomes a huge problem. While Christians reading it could interpret it in an orthodox way (that we are being sanctified by the Holy Spirit), the author leaves too much open, allowing for New Agers to also read their understanding into it, since Girzone never goes into detail as exactly what he means by this.

When Joshua/Jesus refers to Jesus’ death on the cross — reflecting back on it — the character never really talks to any of the characters in the story about it. The references are always vague, and the reader gets the impression that the death on the cross was simply Jesus being a good victim — that it simply happened because religious leaders didn’t like Jesus’ message of freedom and peace in the context of religion — and that he was against religion having rules and theology, etc. So it just happened, but there was no real point to it.

Adding to this, whenever Joshua in these stories performs a miracle, he always tells those around him that it was really nothing to do the miracle, and that he didn’t do it because he was special, but rather that all humans can do miracles. All they need to do is believe in themselves and believe in God and have faith. Then they, too, can do miracles. This is not very much different from what the hyper-charismatic churches teach today.

Moreover, the Joshua character never really mentions his deity. The book just notes that he has a special connection with the Father, and sort of upholds the Trinity. When Joshua talks to the Jews at the synagogue and gives a sermon, all he really tells them is that God might be bigger than what they’ve thought, and that God might come in different ways from what they are expecting. He also tells them not to look for a Messiah in the way that they have been, etc. However, this is another instance in which orthodox Christians might read this, and be satisfied, but New Agers might read it, and be satisfied too. Nothing is defined clearly, and it is ambiguous as to what the author is trying to say here.

The Joshua character is extremely humble, to the extreme, never really clearly admitting to any other character that he is Jesus, even when they directly ask him. He will give hints, but he always leaves his listeners confused and wondering. The real Jesus made clear comments to people that He was the Messiah and equated Himself with God. It is true that sometimes He told people not to tell anyone He was the Messiah, but He seemed to do that because of the political implications of what people thought the Messiah would be like. He didn’t hide it forever, though, and He definitely did not deny it.

Furthermore, in the second book, (Joshua And The Children) Joseph Girzone has Joshua meditate, and it is not the biblical kind of mediation, but is rather the one with everything in creation type of meditation (Eastern mediation.) The author also mentions a spark within all creation, but he did not specifically say `divine spark.’ Since the author is not clear about this, and only mentions it once, the reader is left to interpret it any way that he or she chooses to. Orthodox Christians might skip over it, not thinking much of it. New Agers might read it and see Girzone teaching about the divine spark, and hyper-charismatics might see the God DNA divine spark teaching (not any different from the New Age view, they only give it another name).

However, the clearest example of a New Age type theology being present in these books is when Joshua talks about looking to the God within, or looking for God within self, or any variation of this concept. This theology is present in both books, but especially in the second book. While an orthodox Christian might assume that the author is talking about the Holy Spirit indwelling an individual, the Joshua character never mentions the Holy Spirit. The vague language used in these sections allows for readers to read into whatever meaning the person wants to see there. The very fact that Joshua never tells people to find God outside themselves, never tells them to really believe on him (or Jesus, if he doesn’t want to say he’s Jesus), never claims that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, etc. makes me think that the author intended a New Age view here.

There are other theological problems with the books, including the fact that Joshua, though he’s supposed to be Jesus, doesn’t have a resurrected body. In fact, no reference is really made to Jesus’ resurrection at all. In the second book, some bad guys shoot Joshua in the heart, thus killing him again. He apparently has another resurrection — or more accurately, his body just disappears during his funeral service. This suggests that the author may not actually believe in a bodily, physical resurrection of Jesus, which would explain why he didn’t portray Joshua as having a resurrected body in the books. In fact, perhaps the author doesn’t believe that Jesus ever came in the flesh to begin with. Maybe, to the author, Jesus’ body only appeared to be real, which would be a gnostic view.

Finally, Girzone’s view of the various Christian denominations is off. As a retired Roman Catholic priest, surely he knows that the different Christian denominations are not separate religions or separate faiths, yet when speaking of these, he tends to use the terms “different religions” or “different faiths” to describe the different denominations. Thus, he refers to gatherings among Christians in different denominations as being “inter-faith.”

What he is subtly doing here is to say that since the Christian denominations are really separate “religions” or “faiths,” and God works in all of these, then he can start slipping in truly different religions, and say that they are the same as well, such as Islam. Although I have not read the third book, I looked up some reviews of it, and apparently Joshua refers to “Allah” as the same God that the Christians and Jews worship. It is not hard, then to imagine that the author continues to expand what is considered acceptable worship by Joshua, until the result is universalism, and that all religions are equal pathways to God, etc.

One other gnostic/New Age theme in both books is that the author seems to believe that humanity can make society better — that we can make peace on earth if we would just work together. Again, the author doesn’t take into account that we have a sinful nature, and seems to suggest that we can do this with or without God’s help. This is similar to the hyper-charismatic Manifest Sons of God teaching, as well as the New Age idea that humanity can make a utopia, etc.

These are the main theological problems that were present throughout the first two books. This is not an exhaustive list, but I believe these to be the most important issues. Since the author is a retired Roman Catholic priest, there is a Roman Catholic slant to the stories, which is to be expected. Aside from the above mentioned theological issues, there are plot problems as well.

For example, the author has created characters that are out of character as to how real people would act in the situations described in the book. Would Jews really commission a random wood carver in a small town to carve a statue of Moses and put it in their social hall? Would pastors ask this same wood carver to make a statue of the apostle Peter for them? Would almost everyone that Joshua meets really be drawn to him and want to be his buddy? The only people in the entire story who seemed to have a problem with Joshua were some of the Roman Catholic religious leaders, as well as some conservative members of Protestant congregations, and some Protestant pastors. In real life not everyone likes nice guys who are humble. But, this is consistent with the author’s apparent denial of original sin and the whole sinful nature. For the author, everyone is good. Some of the situations in the book were just ridiculous, but no need for me to go into any more detail with that. Other reviewers have done that already.

The books themselves are written at a fairly low reading level, with short sentences, etc. This is probably because the author wants to make his work available to as many people as possible, including children. This fact makes the books even more dangerous, because a child may not be able to see the false teachings contained in the books, and is therefore able to be influenced — something the author is clearly aware of, considering the plot of his second book.

Taking the above into consideration, I would say that the negative things about the book outweigh any good in the books. I would not recommend these books to Christians, or to anyone. If you are interested in the story of Jesus, then read the Gospels.”

++++++++++

The following feedback is a comment on the above review.

“Thank you dear person for this exhaustive review. My daughter was interested in reading this and since it was nowhere in our homeschool list, I was unsure and let her read the first one, which she liked. I agree that the negative far outweighs the positive and that the doctrine of Christ as He presented it has too many enemies already and we have to uphold its purity.”

++++++++++

There were several times in the Joshua series when I said that I found the book to be a “highly entertaining, wonderful, thought provoking and very inspiring ‘NOVEL’, so much so, that at times I shed literal tears of Joy”. I feel the same today! I haven’t changed my opinion. I assure you that it contains much more of these terrific features. That’s the reason I encourage you to purchase it. You won’t be disappointed. You can also view the movie for free on You Tube.

In evaluating the above reviews and thinking about them carefully, I came to the unmistakable conclusion that Satan and his slime ball cohorts are very active throughout our world. Every human being, including you and me are drenched with sin. None of us has a corner on all truth. Each of us is a flawed human being. We’re not perfect, nor will we be, until we leave this world and enter into Heaven.

Please don’t forget that at the beginning of the novel the author stated that, “This story is fictional. The characters in the story are fictional, and any similarity to persons living or dead are coincidental. The author does feel, however, that what takes place in this book could very easily happen in real life.”

I hope that by now I have convinced you folks about “The Importance Of Feedback.” Of course, I would be grateful if you would post your thoughts on my blog or let me know personally whether or not the reviews you just read in today’s message have been helpful to you. They certainly were to me. By the way, please keep them shorter. Otherwise they will automatically be consigned to the trash bin. ☺

Lord willing, next week….

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

March 29, 2015 Posted by Categories: Uncategorized 2 comments

2 Responses to “The Importance of Feedback”


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Top