Erwin W. Lutzer’s 2010 book When A Nation Forgets God: 7 Lessons We Must Learn From Nazi Germany reveals “seven trends that transformed our society much like our own into Nazi Germany” (back cover). This book has seven chapters and a variety of different sources. This review notes some highlights along the way. It should be noted that the version of this book I reviewed did not include the foreword by Eric Metaxas.
Lutzer seems to identify his audience as “the church—the people of God” (p. 7). He requests his readers “pay careful attention to the last section of each chapter where I point the reader to scriptural promises and attempt to give encouragement as we face the huge task that confronts us” (p. 8). Lutzer states this book “forces us to grapple with the conflict between our allegiance to government and our greater allegiance to God” (p. 11). He also states “we are derelict if we do not study the Nazi era to learn all we can about our present struggle as the church in America” (p. 12).
Keep in mind that this book was written in 2010. Therefore, it obviously does not take into account some of the events and movements that have emerged between then and now (i.e., homosexual marriage in the United States, the emergence of Black Lives Matter, the killing of George Floyd, the concept of Fake News, etc.). Nevertheless, this book offers some good history to study.
In chapter one, Lutzer explores how judgment follows whenever God is separated from government (pp. 15-34). He explains this by detailing how both Hitler and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) desired to remove God from the public square in Germany and America, respectively (pp. 17-31). Lutzer makes an interesting proposition for future study when he states the following (p. 31):
We need to develop a “theology of civil disobedience”; that is, we need to think through this question: When do we tolerate the curtailment of our freedoms and at what point should we speak and act?
In chapter two, Lutzer argues that “the economy often trumps matters of liberty and principle because money is so integral to who we are and, of course, we need money to live” (p. 49). Lutzer also looks at Hitler’s rise to power as it pertained to the economy in Germany (pp. 35-47). In chapter three, Lutzer looks at such topics as Nuremberg, the People’s Court and a speech Hitler gave in 1923 in Munich, Germany (pp. 57-62). Lutzer also looks at the basis of law, law in early America, law in transitional America and law in modern America (pp. 60-69). Two noteworthy quotes I found in this chapter were “Show me your laws and I will show you your God!” and “As go the courts, so goes America” (p. 73).
Stuff gets more interesting at the book’s midway point. Chapter four focuses on how propaganda can change a nation (pp. 75-95). This chapter has arguably the most noteworthy quotes out of all the chapters in this book. Lutzer cites no less than two Hitler quotes from Hitler’s work Mein Kempf (pp. 77, 83). The most eyebrow-raising of them was this one (p. 77):
The first task of propaganda is to win people for subsequent organization…The second task of propaganda is the disruption of the existing state of affairs and the permeation of this state of affairs with the new doctrine, while the second task of the organization must be the struggle for power, thus to achieve the final success of the doctrine.
If I may off-road for a bit, I connected the above quote with the vision-casting leaders that pose as pastors in the seeker-driven movement. These people include but are not limited to Steven Furtick, Perry Noble, Mark Driscoll, Brian Houston, Rick Warren, Bill Hybels, Bob Buford, Dan Southerland, Andy Stanley and any other “pastor” that engages in the nonsensical, unbiblical, New Age practice known as vision-casting (accommodated by something held near the beginning of the year called “Vision Sunday” or “Vision Weekend”). If you watch the excellent documentary Church of Tares or view this cultish material Dan Southerland gave about a decade ago, you will find some similarities between the above quote and what these flagrant disobeyers of God’s Word do.
Think about it. These vision-casters’ task is to win people to the vision God supposedly gave to them. They wish to disrupt the “existing state of affairs” in the church (i.e., the way church had been done prior to the rebellion from these Johnny-come-latelys in the last century) with the “new doctrine” (a.k.a., their vision that God supposedly gave to them). They “struggle for power” by both claiming direct revelation from God and going ad hominem/blessed subtraction on those who don’t agree (or on an extreme end, leave “a pile of dead bodies behind the Mars Hill bus” as Mark Driscoll once torted) in an effort to achieve the “final success of this doctrine” (aka their supposedly God-given vision).
Staying in chapter four, Lutzer also looks at the power of slogans (pp. 78-80). Lutzer also draws from Sears and Osten’s The Homosexual Agenda in explaining how “the homosexual movement has transformed America” (pp. 83-93). The movement’s tactics involved wearing out the opposition, appealing to the emotions, treating its cause as just & right, and getting media compliance (pp. 84-88). A quote of Lutzer’s that I believe strongly applies to present-day America is the following on p. 80:
I’ve observed, as I’m sure you have, the power of what I call “a cultural current.” That is, a dominant idea promoted by the media and willingly adopted by a critical mass of people who want to believe a myth so badly they will close their minds to all contrary evidence. When such a cultural movement gains momentum, people will stare at facts and filter out what they don’t want to believe. Contrary evidence will be ignored or reinterpreted to fit their deepest wishes. And the more people who believe the myth, the more difficult it is for those who wish to counter it. In a spirit of euphoria, all warning signs are brushed aside. Before we know it, we are in a world where facts do not matter.
Think about it. The situation involving NASCAR driver Bubba Wallace comes to mind. Moreover, confirmation bias in the church is still a thing today when false teachers like Beth Moore, Joel Osteen, Rick Warren and Bill Johnson are heralded, for whatever reason, as sound. The concept of “cultural current” is very much alive today.
Chapter five is titled, “Parents — Not The State — Are Responsible For A Child’s Training” (pp. 97-115). Topics discussed in this chapter include but aren’t limited to state-sponsored indoctrination, politically correct texts books, the sexualization of children, Hitler’s understanding of the value of child education, and the impact of experiences/feelings over facts (pp. 99-114). As interesting as the information on the feelings/facts subject was, it paled in comparison to the alarming stuff on children. Lutzer shows some interesting Hitler quotes on the matter (pp. 99-105). Lutzer also draws often from a book called Public Education Against America by Merlin Maddoux (or Maddox; p. 147 shows two different spellings of the last name in Lutzer’s endnotes for chapter five—this example is one of quite a few in which Lutzer has bad grammar/spelling/punctuation). There were quite a few eye-opening quotes Lutzer cited from that work. Among them was a 7-point list that North Carolina teachers were told to use as values to “instill in their children” (p. 110). Here is the list:
There is no right or wrong, only conditioned responses.
The collective good is more important than the individual.
Consensus is more important than principle.
Flexibility is more important than accomplishment.
Nothing is permanent, except change.
All ethics are situational; there are no moral absolutes.
There are no perpetrators, only victims.
The above list is hostile to biblical Christianity. First, all have sinned and have fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). Therefore, all are perps and not victims (I sadly hear a lot of “victimhood” preaching from the seeker-driven movement, but that’s for another day). Second, if consensus is more important than principle, why did Jesus emphasize entering the narrow gate instead of the broad gate (Matthew 7:13-14)? If the many find the broad gate that leads to destruction, how exactly can consensus be more important than principle in that scenario? Finally (and I can go a little further here), if nothing is permanent except change, why hasn’t anybody definitively found the bones of Jesus? His death, burial and resurrection is rather permanent. The fact that the above “values” are being instilled in the minds of children should get any Christian with publicly-educated children on their knees in prayer to God for mercy and protection.
Chapters six and seven represent calls to action for the reader (pp. 117-141). In chapter six, Lutzer looks at a few Christians who have made a difference; these include Charles Colson, Zakaria Botros, Corrie ten Boom and Donnita Travis (pp. 121-127). Lutzer also cited a disagreeable quote from the book A Severe Mercy by Sheldon Vanauken (pp. 127-128). The quote is as follows:
The best argument for Christianity is Christians: their joy, their certainty, their completeness. But the strongest argument against Christianity is also Christians — when they are sombre and joyless, when they are self-righteous and smug in complacent consecration, when they are narrow and repressive, then Christianity dies a thousand deaths….Indeed there are impressive indications that the positive quality of joy is in Christianity — and possibly nowhere else. If that were a certain, it would be proof of a very high order.
As much as I have liked Lutzer’s quotes in this book, this quote is a bad one. The best argument for Christianity is not its Christians; the best argument for Christianity is Jesus Christ and His Resurrection.
Think about it. Christians sin daily and sin much (I know I do). Christians are both sinners and saints. They are simultaneously righteous and sinners (also known as the phrase Simul Justus et Peccator). The apostle Paul explained this concept best in Romans 7:1-25 (NASB):
7 Or do you not know, brethren (for I am speaking to those who know the law), that the law has jurisdiction over a person as long as he lives? 2 For the married woman is bound by law to her husband while he is living; but if her husband dies, she is released from the law concerning the husband. 3 So then, if while her husband is living she is joined to another man, she shall be called an adulteress; but if her husband dies, she is free from the law, so that she is not an adulteress though she is joined to another man.
4 Therefore, my brethren, you also were made to die to the Law through the body of Christ, so that you might be joined to another, to Him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God. 5 For while we were in the flesh, the sinful passions, which were aroused by the Law, were at work in the members of our body to bear fruit for death. 6 But now we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter.
7 What shall we say then? Is the Law sin? May it never be! On the contrary, I would not have come to know sin except through the Law; for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, “You shall not covet.” 8 But sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, produced in me coveting of every kind; for apart from the Law sin is dead. 9 I was once alive apart from the Law; but when the commandment came, sin became alive and I died; 10 and this commandment, which was to result in life, proved to result in death for me; 11 for sin, taking an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me.12 So then, the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.
13 Therefore did that which is good become a cause of death for me? May it never be! Rather it was sin, in order that it might be shown to be sin by effecting my death through that which is good, so that through the commandment sin would become utterly sinful.
14 For we know that the Law is spiritual, but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin.15 For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I wouldlike to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate. 16 But if I do the very thing I do not want to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that the Law is good. 17 So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. 18 For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. 19 For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want. 20 But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me.
21 I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good.22 For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, 23 but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin.
If the best argument for Christianity is Christians who still sin this side of eternity, then Christianity is in big trouble. In fact, the apostle Paul would even agree with the fact that if Christ is not raised, Christians’ faith is in vain and they (like the rest of mankind) are dead in their sins. 1 Corinthians 15:1-58 explains (NASB):
15 Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, 2 by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain.
3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep;7 then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; 8 and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also. 9 For I am the least of the apostles, and not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me.11 Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.
12 Now if Christ is preached, that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised; 14 and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain. 15 Moreover we are even found to be false witnesses of God, because we testified against God that He raised Christ, whom He did not raise, if in fact the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; 17 and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.
20 But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep. 21 For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive. 23 But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, after that those who are Christ’s at His coming, 24 then comes the end, when He hands over the kingdom to the God and Father, when He has abolished all rule and all authority and power. 25 For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet. 26 The last enemy that will be abolished is death. 27 For He has put all things in subjection under His feet. But when He says, “All things are put in subjection,” it is evident that He is excepted who put all things in subjection to Him. 28 When all things are subjected to Him, then the Son Himself also will be subjected to the One who subjected all things to Him, so that God may be all in all.
29 Otherwise, what will those do who are baptized for the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why then are they baptized for them? 30 Why are we also in danger every hour? 31 I affirm, brethren, by the boasting in you which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily. 32 If from human motives I fought with wild beasts at Ephesus, what does it profit me? If the dead are not raised, let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die. 33 Do not be deceived: “Bad company corrupts good morals.”34 Become sober-minded as you ought, and stop sinning; for some have no knowledge of God. I speak this to your shame.
35 But someone will say, “How are the dead raised? And with what kind of body do they come?” 36 You fool! That which you sow does not come to life unless it dies;37 and that which you sow, you do not sow the body which is to be, but a bare grain, perhaps of wheat or of something else. 38 But God gives it a body just as He wished, and to each of the seeds a body of its own. 39 All flesh is not the same flesh, but there is one flesh of men, and another flesh of beasts, and another flesh of birds, and another of fish. 40 There are also heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is one, and the glory of the earthly is another. 41 There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory.
42 So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown a perishable body, it is raised an imperishable body; 43 it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; 44 it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. 45 So also it is written, “The first man, Adam, became a living soul.” The last Adam became a life-giving spirit. 46 However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural; then the spiritual. 47 The first man is from the earth, earthy; the second man is from heaven. 48 As is the earthy, so also are those who are earthy; and as is the heavenly, so also are those who are heavenly. 49 Just as we have borne the image of the earthy, we will also bear the image of the heavenly.
50 Now I say this, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51 Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53 For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality. 54 But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, “Death is swallowed up in victory. 55 O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” 56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; 57 but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
58 Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.
The definitive providing of the bones of Jesus would be the thing that would sink Christianity. If there is no resurrection, there is no forgiveness of sins. If there is no resurrection, there is no point in following Christianity. If there is no resurrection, there is no need for me to fight for the faith, promote sound doctrine, refute bad doctrine, seek to live a godly life in Christ Jesus, etc.. Only Christianity has a risen Savior.
I will agree that smugness, self-righteousness and joylessness can give Christianity a really bad name. However, it is not the best argument against Christianity. Those aforementioned behaviors certainly give Christianity a black eye. However, they do not deal a death blow by any means. Definitively provide the bones of Jesus? That would be the death blow to Christianity.
In chapter seven, Lutzer gives an exhortation to exalt the cross (pp. 131-141). Lutzer notes the radical commitment of the early church (p. 133). He also notes a glaring problem in modern evangelicalism; Christian books (I will add sermons) having little to do with the heart of the Christian message are flooding the markets (pp. 136-137). Lutzer shows his observations with the following quote (p. 137):
Here are a few substitutes for the message of the Gospel that I have observed:
God wants you to experience physical healing.
God wants you to be healthy and wealthy too.
Jesus will help you be a better businessman, parent, entrepreneur, etc.
God wants you to cheerily face life by knowing “God is for you”—whether you’ve repented of sin or not.
God’s will for you is good nutrition, physical exercise, and in general, living the good life.
The message of Christianity is community—not the cross.
In the evangelical community, psychology is substituted for theology and cheap grace has replaced what Bonhoeffer described as “costly grace.” In short, we have lost our intellectual and spiritual center and replaced it with consumerism, self-help, and the quest for personal advantage. We are self-absorbed rather than God-absorbed. And we can see the results.
Lutzer is not wrong here; Rick Warren’s best-selling book The Purpose-Driven Life is really self-absorbed rather than God-absorbed. I have seen sermons with the emphasis of “God is for you” that did not include anything about repentance and the forgiveness of sins in Jesus’ name. The late Jerry Falwell Senior’s Building Dynamic Faith placed an emphasis on “building dynamic faith” for one’s self rather than for the glory of God (and the book failed miserably in doing so for the reader….at least for me). Given the late Falwell’s utter mangling of Scripture in that book, there is no way that book was God-absorbed at all. Post 2010 (when Lutzer’s book was published), we have books such as Christine Caine’s Unshakable that not only blaspheme God’s name but engage in utter narcissism. It is clear that the church in America needs to get back to exalting the cross rather than self.
I found this book to be a good read. I obviously didn’t agree with everything said in the book given my lengthy rebuttal regarding the best argument for Christianity. Furthermore, as I briefly mentioned, this book had some spelling/grammar/punctuation errors littered throughout the book. Nevertheless, the comparisons of Germany and America cannot be denied. Moreover, Lutzer supplied good information and quotes to highlight the parallels between the two countries. He also gave a solid exhortation to close his book. Since the book is long in the tooth in terms of age (2010), it may not be 100% “must-own” status given the events that have happened since that time. However, if you love Christianity, history and America, you will want to read this book.
NOTE: I emailed him the review via email@example.com. I also tagged him in my tweet of the review.