In Ron Carpenter Junior's "The Necessity of an Enemy" he writes: "I believe there's a level of wisdom and maturity that finally comes to believers who realize they don't have to condemn or even answer the tongues that are speaking against them. Remember: Whatever voices you recognize, you've decided to give them credibility and allowed them an entry point into your life" (Pg. 171). I certainly believe this is good advice. However, I also believe that we need to at least sometimes listen to and heed the words of those that speak against us. The title of "The Necessity of an Enemy" is certainly catchy and I agree that there is a necessity for enemies in our lives. For the most part however, that is where my agreement with what Carpenter has to say in his book ends. While my many criticisms of Carpenter's book are my own, there are parts here and there that I also appreciated. If Pastor Carpenter were to read this review I would hope that he would at least consider allowing me an entry point into his life.
Before detailing some of what I disagreed with in Carpenter's book I wanted to provide some context to my review. Carpenter's impetus for writing the book mainly stems from an event in his life where the church he pastors began a single mothers ministry that ended very badly. This ministry was started as a result of a man not long involved with the church approaching Carpenter with the idea. The ministry was doing great and was even receiving media attention. It was also receiving monetary investments in large sums. Not long after these investments came in the man with the idea of the ministry skipped town with the money, resulting in Carpenter being investigated by the FBI. Carpenter was completely innocent and his church community had been swindled!
I have never experienced anything even close to resembling the kind of betrayal that Pastor Carpenter experienced in my life. Personally, I like to believe that I live out Jesus' words of, "Love your enemies." If I am honest though, I must admit that I have never really been in a situation that stretches my ability to follow this command and certainly not anything close to what Ron Carpenter had to go through. This incident in Carpenter's life sets the stage for the rest of the book. While I do not agree with most of what Carpenter contends with respect to enemies, without going through something similar myself I cannot say that my ideas on enemies would be much different from Carpenters. Therefore, I was concerned with how to write a negative review of a book without assassinating the character of the writer. This, for me, is a challenge! Therefore, please read what follows critically and with an open mind. Feel free to disagree or agree--with parts or with the whole. Also please keep in mind that while I am reviewing a book, I am not reviewing a person.
One, if not the biggest, issue that I have with Carpenter's book is its failure to distinguish between enemies that are people and enemies that are not people. By enemies that are not people I mean such things as chemical addictions, lust, greed which all stem from the ultimate enemy Satan. His book does not have conventional chapters but is broken into small sections, each of which fall into nine different parts. The following is the title of those parts:
-Part 1: The Necessity -Part 2: The Plan -Part 3: The Target -Part 4: The Enemy Within -Part 5: Weapons of Mass Destruction -Part 6: Prowling Your Neighborhood -Part 7: How to Fight to Win -Part 8: The Spoils of Victory
Every one of these parts can be interpreted through the lens of war. Failing to distinguish between human enemies and non-human enemies while using war language does not strike me as something that, in my opinion, Jesus would do. I honestly believe that a book on "The Necessity of an Enemy" really needs to be broken into two very clear categories of enemy: our human enemies, and our non-human ones.
"They will beat the swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore." This passage is found in two of the Old Testament Prophets (Isaiah 2 and Micah 4) and if you are not going to start with Jesus' command to "love your enemies" found in Matthew 5 this prophecy regarding war would be a good place to start for writing a book about enemies. The story of the Good Samaritan would also be a good place to start. Carpenter's book however does not really touch on any of these verses or stories in the Bible.
Carpenter's book, however seems fixated on making our enemies footstools. "God's intent is to make all your enemies your footstools" (Pg. 166). "As you move through life and ascend to new levels of potential and breakthrough, you'll discover that your enemies are just as essential as your friends; in fact, they may be even more critical in your times of transition, if you'll recognize them for the stepstools they are for you" (Pg. 11). Personally, I believe God calls us to at least try to make our enemies our allies through love. Nowhere in the New Testament does God call us to make our enemies our footstools if that enemy is another human being. Of course, "Till I make thine enemies thy footstool" is in three of the four Gospels: Matthew, Mark and Luke. In those three gospels it is the same story of Jesus speaking to the Pharisees and quoting Psalm 110:1. I contend that Jesus is using this quote to challenge the Pharisees regarding who Jesus is. Psalm 110:1 reads: "The Lord said to my Lord: `Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet.'" Jesus is concerned with, "The Lord said to my Lord" part of this passage because the Pharisees know Jesus comes from the line of David and believe that he is not the messiah. Jesus therefore asks the Pharisees to explain why David, being the King of Israel and therefore having no Lord, would start one of his Psalms with "The Lord said to my Lord." I further contend that Jesus continues with "Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet." to put the Psalm in context, that is, making sure that the Pharisees know that it is a Psalm of David. I honestly believe that Carpenter's book has missed the point here--I would perhaps even say that the book has hi-jacked this verse and avoided the paramount topic of reconciliation.
Despite my belief that Carpenter's book has really missed the point with the necessity of an enemy, some passages pleasantly surprised me. For example, Carpenter mentions that he wants to "...confront racism in the church and to seek to help break the bondage of poverty in this region" (Pg. 38). Both of these speak to me and I would be very interested in reading a book by Carpenter that addresses these issues. Furthermore, toward the end of the book Carpenter pens my favorite paragraph from the entire book: "Jesus always had a way of creating an atmosphere where weakness could be revealed, but we have developed in families, in friendships, and especially in churches today an atmosphere where weaknesses are hidden. This pressure to be okay and not have our problems show isolates us further from the people and places we should be able to go to for healing of our internal struggles" (Pg. 199). This reconciliatory paragraph appears paradoxical when taken with the context of adversarial-enemy relations that the rest of the book presents. However, being toward the end of the book my hope and prayer is that it is reconciliation that Pastor Carpenter is moving toward rather than the adversarial confrontation dominating much of the earlier parts of the book.
I received this book free from Waterbrook Multnomah, who I would like to express sincere gratitude toward for allowing me to share my honest thoughts, insights and criticisms.