I recently decided to re-read the late Dr. Jerry Falwell Sr’s Building Dynamic Faith. Falwell Sr. (henceforth referred to as Falwell) founded Liberty University in 1971. I forget what class required this book for reading. I was actually a dropout of Liberty University’s online graduate school program. I dropped out for, at the time, personal reasons (back in 2014). After reading this book, I am convinced that my rationale behind dropping out might have had an underlying reason.
Before I proceed with the review, I know that after reading this review, one may think that I am bitter toward Liberty, the late Falwell, or others affiliated with the school (spoiler alert for the review). I am not. As a Christian, I am called to forgive others (Matthew 6:5-15). I know the depth of my own sin far more than any other person; I sin everyday and I certainly do not measure up to God’s law (Exodus 20:1-17; Matthew 22:37-40).
My goal in this review is to compare what Falwell is saying to the Word of God. The Bereans did such a practice with the apostle Paul and they were regarded as noble-minded (Acts 17:11). As a Christian, I am called to contend for the faith (Jude 1:1-25). As a Christian (and perhaps even a teacher given I both review books for a publisher and volunteer as a staff writer for another Christian organization), I am called to teach what is in accordance with sound doctrine and refute those who contradict it (Titus 1:5-16). This book review (like any book review I have done and will do) attempts to be sober-minded in its approach and earnest in its adherence to sound doctrine. It’s also worth noting that Falwell himself states we should “compare everything in this book with the Word of God” (p. xi). That is a rather wise thing to do.
Now, on to the review.
Falwell’s book is basically a 31-day devotional that attempts to equip the reader with a deeper relationship with God (back cover). George H.W. Bush (U.S president from 1989-1993) writes the book’s foreword. The introduction (titled “God Wants To Stretch Your Faith”) follows. In the introduction, Falwell states that his prayer is that “this book will help you learn how your faith can move mountains” (SPOILER ALERT: this book didn’t do that for me; p. ix). He makes what essentially amounts to a sales pitch with the following paragraph (p. ix):
Think of some obstacles you’d like to remove from your life; God can move them if He chooses, through your faith. So dust off those old dreams and dream again. Dream big! Read every day’s devotional in the next month so you can grow a dynamic faith. These devotionals will help you develop a life purpose, then they’ll help you develop a life plan so you can accomplish your life dreams. Get ready for God to do exploits for you. It can happen if you plan and believe God for them.
Already I got an issue with where this book is headed. Nowhere in Scripture are we called to develop a life purpose, develop a life plan and/or accomplish life dreams. Furthermore, this emphasis makes me think God would owe me something if I was to plan and believe God for whatever life purpose, life plan and life dreams I could formulate. God does not owe me anything. He could take my life tomorrow. He could strip me of all I got like He did Job if he wanted to (Job 1-2). The only thing I deserve from Him is His wrath and judgment.
It is important to understand that blood-bought born-again believers (i.e., those who have received the gifts of repentance and faith via the saving work of Jesus Christ’s death on the cross) are created for good works (plural), not some life plan or life purpose (singular). Ephesians 2:1-10 explains (NASB):
2 And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, 2 in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. 3 Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 6 and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.
The Scripture is clear that blood-bought born-again believers (henceforth referred to as Christians) are created for good works. The next logical question to ask is what a good work is. The backs of the epistles provide excellent examples of what a good work is. Ephesians 5:22-6:9 is one such text:
22 Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body. 24 But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything.
25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, 26 so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless. 28 So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; 29 for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church,30 because we are members of His body. 31 For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and shall be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.32 This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church.33 Nevertheless, each individual among you also is to love his own wife even as himself, and the wife must see to it that she respects her husband.
6 Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. 2 Honor your father and mother (which is the first commandment with a promise), 3 so that it may be well with you, and that you may live long on the earth.
4 Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
5 Slaves, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in the sincerity of your heart, as to Christ; 6 not by way of eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart. 7 With good will render service, as to the Lord, and not to men,8 knowing that whatever good thing each one does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether slave or free.
9 And masters, do the same things to them, and give up threatening, knowing that both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no partiality with Him.
Another text that shows what a good work is is Colossians 3:18-4:6:
18 Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. 19 Husbands, love your wives and do not be embittered against them. 20 Children, be obedient to your parents in all things, for this is well-pleasing to the Lord. 21 Fathers, do not exasperate your children, so that they will not lose heart.
22 Slaves, in all things obey those who are your masters on earth, not with external service, as those who merely please men, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. 23 Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, 24 knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve. 25 For he who does wrong will receive the consequences of the wrong which he has done, and that without partiality.
4 Masters, grant to your slaves justice and fairness, knowing that you too have a Master in heaven.
2 Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving;3 praying at the same time for us as well, that God will open up to us a door for the word, so that we may speak forth the mystery of Christ, for which I have also been imprisoned; 4 that I may make it clear in the way I ought to speak.
5 Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity. 6 Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person.
The Scriptures are clear that Christians are created for good works. They are not created for a life plan or life purpose per se. One can state that a Christian’s purpose is to walk in the good works Jesus Christ has called him/her to do. However, to state one has a life purpose, unique purpose or the like that does not involve those aforementioned good works is not technically in alignment with what the Scriptures say. Therefore, already there is a problem with Falwell’s sales pitch because it emphasizes something that is not in alignment with Scripture.
As it pertains to this book’s structure, each chapter begins with the citation of a Bible verse (sometimes two separate ones) out of context. On two occasions as it pertains to the chapter beginning, Falwell uses his own translation when citing the verse (pp. 73, 129). He uses his own translation more often in the chapter bodies in a number of chapters. He also begins each chapter with a faith experience from his own walk with God (p. x). In other words, he appeals often to his own personal experiences when discussing the chapter principle (i.e., developing a dream, facing obstacles, discerning faith, etc.). Every chapter concludes with an “Experiencing Faith” section and a suggested reading in a passage of Scripture. Thankfully, these suggested readings are sections of Scripture (sometimes even a chapter and then some) rather than a single verse ripped out of context.
This book has no less than one decent thing. I appreciate that at the end of each chapter, there is some suggested Scripture readings. Furthermore, as mentioned earlier, these readings are chunks of Scripture rather than single verses ripped out of context. Unfortunately, the single verses ripped out of context in the chapter beginnings and even during the bodies of each chapter (with some citations being Falwell’s own translation rather than a solid translation) somewhat even out this particular decent thing. Nevertheless, in an effort to be sober-minded in this review, it is appropriate to at least acknowledge something decent this book offered. Given God’s Word is fully profitable and perfect (2 Timothy 3:10-17; Psalm 12:6; John 17:17; 2 Peter 1:16-21), Falwell’s list of suggested readings of Scripture (independent of his commentary) represent the best thing this book has to offer.
Unfortunately, this book’s weaknesses (and there are many of them) significantly drown out the few decent things this book has. I focus only on five particular weaknesses.
First, I am squeamish on Falwell’s take on salvation. I’m also squeamish on his being influenced by Charles Fuller. Nevertheless, Falwell does seem to recognize that he was a sinner and that he had broken God’s law (pp. 23-24). He explained how a gentleman had both taken him through the Scriptures and led him to Christ. I must admit I’m not a big fan of Falwell’s placing an emphasis on asking Jesus into his heart (pp. 24-25). Such a concept is foreign to Scripture and historical Christianity. Instead, you see language about repentance and faith (Marks 1:16; 2 Timothy 2:22-25). Falwell’s conversion experience seems to reek of the Pelagian heresy (semi-Pelagian at best). Despite those concerns, Falwell’s recognition of both his sin and his needing a Savior is not something I hear often in modern evangelicalism. Moreover, it is far from the worst Gospel presentation I have seen (that would belong to Rick Warren or even Joel Osteen).
Second, Falwell’s handling of Scripture is atrocious. As mentioned, he often rips verses out of context. Furthermore, he completely butchers other passages (his handling of Habakkuk 2:2-3 on Day 5 is absolutely reprehensible and it eerily reminded me of how heretic Brian Houston butchered this same passage in somewhat the same way some time ago at the 1:13:00 mark of this episode). One particular passage I found often abused (particularly in the latter half of the book when I started noticing a verse being cited over and over) was Matthew 18:19 (pp. 135, 138, 140, 173, 197, 202). That verse states, “Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven” (ESV). Falwell essentially takes the LORD’s in name in vain by twisting this text on those occasions. Here are some quotes showing how he twists this text:
The Bible tells us to pray with others to get our requests answered. “If two of you agree…ask, it will be done” (Ma 18:19).p. 135
Understand that there is value in the volume of prayer. Jesus has promised, “If two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My father in heaven” (Ma 18:19). If two can get answers to prayer, think of what happens when thousands pray together. When two or more agree, it means they talk together, have faith together, and pray together. Just as many shoulders are needed to lift a car off an accident victim, it takes many people praying to move heaven and heart.p. 138
Pray with another person, because it will build your faith for bold praying. Our faith can grow from the faith of another person, especially when “two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask” (Ma 18:19). When we agree with each other, we feel each other’s confidence and strengthen each other’s faith to pray for bigger things than we might otherwise ask.
…get many people praying for you. I heard somewhere and I repeat it often, “There is value in the volume of prayer.” So I got church members praying constantly. Some met daily for prayer during that ordeal. Their prayers not only touched heaven, they touched me and encouraged me. Their prayers demonstrated that they believed in my leadership and the church’s integrity. I claimed Jesus’ promise, “If two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven” (Ma 18:19). My wife, Macel, and I agreed God would intervene, and He did.p. 173
It should be clear by now that Falwell uses Matthew 18:19 like some kind of magic wand that grants whatever he wishes. Page 197 should make this abundantly clear. The chapter begins with the citation of Matthew 18:19 out of context. The first two sentences of that page (day 29) read as follows:
Praying with others is one of the great ways to develop life-changing faith. Jesus said if two agreed together, they would get their prayer answered.p. 197
As I will demonstrate soon, Matthew 18:19 has absolutely nothing to do with getting prayers answered. Instead, it has to do with church discipline. In context, we look at Matthew 18:10-20 (NASB). I start at verse 10 with the parable of the lost sheep because the concept of restoration discussed in verses 10-14 carry over to verses 15-20:
10 “See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven continually see the face of My Father who is in heaven. 11 [For the Son of Man has come to save that which was lost.]
12 “What do you think? If any man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go and search for the one that is straying? 13 If it turns out that he finds it, truly I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine which have not gone astray.14 So it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones perish. 15 “If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. 16 But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 18 Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.
19 “Again I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father who is in heaven. 20 For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.”
In this passage, Jesus is not talking about getting prayers answered when two people agree on anything. Instead, He is talking about restoration. What Falwell has done essentially by twisting Matthew 18:19 is take the LORD’s name in vain. Falwell twists the text to make it sound like God will just answer whatever prayer requests that has two in agreement. God has never said anywhere in Scripture that He will answer whatever prayer request that has two in agreement. This is blasphemy on the part of Falwell because Falwell has said something for God that God did not say. This blasphemy represents one of the biggest weaknesses of this book if not the biggest.
A third weakness of Falwell’s book is his heavy emphasis on his personal experiences rather than the Word of God. As Falwell himself mentions in the introduction, each chapter (or day) shows a faith experience from his own walk with God (p. x). These experiences of his (which are completely subjective) drive this book. The Word of God is not what is driving this book. As has already been shown, Falwell is quite the Scripture twister. Falwell rips verses out of context (even using his own translation on some occasions, which obviously cannot be good given he cannot even handle a good translation right) to support his experiences. By doing such a thing, Falwell essentially makes the Bible say whatever he wants it to say (as demonstrated by his twisting Matthew 18). What would have made his book sound (for I’m not sure it’s even sound at all) is if he both started with a biblical text in context (not single verses ripped from context) and let those rightly-handled passages drive each chapter. He somewhat did this on day 26 when he discussed the first two chapters of Job (pp. 177-182). If he did this on every chapter, I think he would have had the potential to have an overwhelming majority of his bad Bible handling corrected. Unfortunately, this was not the case. Instead of drawing the reader in to the Bible and the amazing truths it has to offer, Falwell draws the reader after himself and his own personal experiences. This eerily reminds me of the wolves the Apostle Paul speaks of in Acts 20:17-38 (NASB):
17 From Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called to him the elders of the church.18 And when they had come to him, he said to them,
“You yourselves know, from the first day that I set foot in Asia, how I was with you the whole time, 19 serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials which came upon me through the plots of the Jews; 20 how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you publicly and from house to house, 21 solemnly testifying to both Jews and Greeks of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. 22 And now, behold, bound by the Spirit, I am on my way to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there,23 except that the Holy Spirit solemnly testifies to me in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions await me. 24 But I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God.
25 “And now, behold, I know that all of you, among whom I went about preaching the kingdom, will no longer see my face. 26 Therefore, I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all men. 27 For I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God. 28 Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. 29 I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30 and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. 31 Therefore be on the alert, remembering that night and day for a period of three years I did not cease to admonish each one with tears. 32 And now I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified. 33 I have coveted no one’s silver or gold or clothes. 34 You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my own needs and to the men who were with me. 35 In everything I showed you that by working hard in this manner you must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He Himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”
36 When he had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all. 37 And they began to weep aloud and embraced Paul, and repeatedly kissed him,38 grieving especially over the word which he had spoken, that they would not see his face again. And they were accompanying him to the ship.
In this book, I learned more about Jerry Falwell and his Scripture twisting than I did the Scriptures themselves. This is not a good thing. If one is to write a book about faith, it would be better to let the Scriptures speak for themselves on the matter rather than start with one’s own ideas (or in this case experiences), rip the Scriptures out of context to seemingly back them (but said Scriptures in context would not do such a thing) and as a result draw the reader away from the Scripture and toward the person with all these experiences. Falwell’s heavy emphasis on his own experiences rather than the perfect and pure Word of God represents a third big weakness in this book.
A fourth weakness of this book is Falwell’s lack of discernment. This lack of discernment is shown in no less than two ways. First, he proves himself to be a hireling with his endorsing wolves in sheep’s clothing. These wolves I speak of are John Maxwell and the aforementioned Rick Warren. Maxwell, a person Falwell calls a “good friend” (p. 217), is a habitual twister of God’s Word who also frequently uses the heretical Message paraphrase. Pastor Chris Rosebrough of Fighting For The Faith has done extensive work documenting Maxwell’s many Scripture twistings. Falwell also calls Warren a good friend (p. 211). Warren, like Maxwell, is a habitual twister of God’s Word. Moreover, Warren is a liar and a false teacher. Rosebrough has done extensive work outlining Warren’s many Bible twistings over the years. I wrote a book review of Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life. In it, I pointed out Warren’s dishonest Bible citations, lack of discernment and his promotion of the heretical Message paraphrase. Falwell’s endorsements show him to be a picture of the hireling shepherd spoken of in John 10.
The last weakness (of the many in this book) that I will discuss is Falwell’s tacit denial of Sola Scriptura. Apparently, God told Jerry that Jerry could ask God for money. If you don’t believe me, that’s fine. Please, however, consider these roughly three paragraphs from day 21 (pp. 143-144). These paragraphs are in the context of Falwell’s needing to raise money to keep Liberty’s accreditation in the mid-90’s.
The summer of 1996 was time to do the unthinkable. I personally went on a forty-day fast. Form July 20 the the first of September, I didn’t eat anything, but only drank liquids. I was fasting and praying that 1997-98 would be the year when Liberty’s debt burden would be removed. In that forty days I kept asking God for money, but I heard God say, “Jerry, don’t look for My pocketbook, look for my heart.”
God impressed upon my heart Jeremiah 29:13, “And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart.” God impressed me to get close to Him, to listen to Him, and to trust Him. I found myself fasting to know God —a legitimate biblical principle — not fasting to get money. As I ended that forty-day fast, I was learning what God wanted to teach me. I didn’t have a money answer, but I purposed to do everything humanly possible to prepare for an accreditation visit, knowing we could lose everything. Sometimes God doesn’t give us more until we’re ready to give up everything we have.
I ended my fast without a financial answer, and for the next twenty-five days I ate my regular meals. On the morning of September 25, 1996, as I was praying, God told me I could ask Him for money.
I won’t go into depth on Falwell’s botching Jeremiah 29:13 out of context (it has already been established that Falwell is a Scripture twister). What’s clear here is that Jerry Falwell claims direct revelation from God. As I wrote in my book review on Experiencing God, Falwell’s claim of direct revelation from God is a tacit denial of Sola Scriptura. It is important to understand that God’s Word is all true, all powerful and without error (2 Timothy 3:16-17; Numbers 23:19; Malachi 3:6; Psalm 12:6; John 17:17; Titus 1:2). Furthermore, it equips the believer for every good work, for it is sufficient for all things pertaining to life and godliness (2 Timothy 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:3-9). Scripture is sufficient. Scripture alone is one’s authority for the faith and practice of a Christian. Hebrews 1:1-2 (NASB) states:
God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, 2 in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world.
Who is “His Son”? That would be Jesus Christ, God in human flesh (John 1:1-14). Jesus is the Word incarnate. Moreover, He has already revealed all the Christian needs to know as it pertains to life and godliness. The danger of denying Sola Scriptura is that when you deny Sola Scriptura, anything goes. This is what makes Falwell’s claims so dangerous and potentially (if not certainly) manipulative.
There were quite a few other weaknesses in this book. For example, Falwell sugarcoats sin more than he does call it out. He even referred to lying as a mistake (see Day 25). Lying is more than just a mistake; it is a breaking of one of the commandments (see Exodus 20:1-17). Revelation 20:1-10 also states all liars will have their part in the lake of fire. I could go on with others. At this point, it is simply running it into the ground.
After taking Falwell’s own advice on comparing the things in his book to the Word of God (p. x), I found this book to be a mess. Falwell in this book mangles Scripture a lot. Furthermore, I did not learn how to build dynamic faith in this book. Therefore, his sales pitch at the beginning absolutely failed. I would not recommend this book to anybody.
Despite my not recommending this book, I must admit I am interested in seeing his other works given he is basically a historical figure. If the things shown in this book are commonplace in his sermons, other written works and even in the required readings of the religious curriculum at the school he founded, it would show the great influence Falwell has had as a religious figure.
NOTE: Because Jerry Falwell Senior is deceased, I did not send this review to anybody related to him or to the school itself. I did not send it to his son because I do not know his son and I would not send him a review I did on his dad’s work. I do not know if his son has the same theology as his dad. I do not think it would not be right of me to send this to him when the two could be (and I do not know this for sure) heavily different in theology. Nevertheless, I pray for his son that he would not adhere to the false teachings and Scripture twisting found in this book. My prayer is that he would watch his life and his doctrine (1 Timothy 4:16).