One of the jobs I have as a Salvation Army officer is training people to be Salvation Army soldiers. It’s an important task, and one that I want to get right. Whilst such training continues for the whole time I am involved with the (prospective) soldier, there is a formal element. People who wish to become Salvation Army soldiers are expected to undertake a course of study explaining the basics of Salvation Army doctrine as well as Army history and practice. I suppose it’s analogous to confirmation classes or the like in other denominations.
There are a few resources around to help with this task. For the last twenty years or so most Corps Officers I know have used a small book called ‘Battle Orders.’ This is a series of ten or so lessons which more or less cover the basics. Whilst the content is solid, I’ve never really enjoyed using it. I really don’t know why. Perhaps it’s just a bit dated, or the didactic style doesn’t suit me. Whatever the reason, I really would like something else.
A few weeks ago I received a copy of a new book which has been written for this purpose. It is written by a husband and wife team, Danielle Strickland and Stephen Court. It is entitled SA101: Training Warriors to Win the World for Jesus. On first inspection it seemed to be exactly what I was after. The emphasis is on training soldiers, not just completing lessons. Moreover, there are lots of different suggestions for further reading, videos that can be used and so on.
However, the book has a few flaws, some of which have heavily dampened my initial enthusiasm. Some aren’t that big a deal. For example, the book frequently refers to ‘General Catherine Booth.’ I may be quite wrong here, and I would appreciate a note of correction in the comments, but Catherine Booth was never General, and she was never referred to as such. Her husband was General, and she may have been called ‘Mrs General’ from time to time, but I don’t think she ever bore that title herself. Whilst it is a nice sentiment, I think it does her a disservice to give her a title because her husband bore it.
Another silliness is the insistence on referring to Satan as ‘satan,’ with a lower case ‘s.’ I’ve seen this sort of thing before, but I’ve never understood the logic. Sure, he might be the prince of darkness, but does that mean we have to throw out the basic rules of written English whenever his name comes up. And don’t get me started on K.D. Lang… 😉
Some of the flaws are far more serious and, to my thinking, render it useless (at best) to dangerous (at worst, but quite likely.) Allow me to share an example.
There is a section that treats the importance of the Bible in the Salvation Army. There are a couple of paragraphs that discuss 2 Timothy 3:16 and the high number of ancient manuscripts available. Then we get this, on page 16:
The Bible is even reliable scientifically. No, the Bible is not a science textbook. But it includes in its pages many allusions that can be tested scientifically. And in those cases, it is accurate, often supernaturally so. For example, it consistently spoke truth before the conventional science of even relatively recent history discovered it:
- Every star is different (1 Corinthians 15:41). ‘Science’ used to believe that all stars were the same;
- Light is in motion (Job 38:19,20). ‘Science’ used to believe that light is fixed in place.
- Air has weight (Job 28:25). ‘Science’ used to believe that air was weightless.
- Wind blows in cyclones. (Ecclesiastes 1:6). ‘Science’ used to believe wind blows straight.
- Blood is the source of life and healing (Leviticus 17:11). ‘Science’ used to believe that sick people must be bled….
And of course, the Bible indicates that the earth is a sphere (Isaiah 40:22), while it took ‘Science’ quite a while to get away from the flat earth belief.
Most of these ‘scientific teachings’ of the Bible are strained attempts to read our modern understanding of the world into holy writ. The authors of those texts were often writing poetically, and they were certainly writing according to the generally accepted understanding of the time. Most of our pre-modern scientific beliefs were derived from Aristotle and other ancient Greeks, not from the ancient Near-East.
On the last point offered—regarding the shape of the earth—my reading of the passage suggests that the Bible teaches that the earth is disc-shaped, not spherical.
My concern is that this is far too glib an introduction to a topic that is highly controversial but very important in the church today. Moreover, I would suggest that the position taken is, quite simply, wrong. If the last four hundred years of science and theology have taught us anything, it’s that theologians are constantly having to reinterpret the Bible in the light of scientific discovery. Trying to do science by looking at the Bible for guidance is a recipe for disaster.
I would be very concerned if one of my soldiers tried using these examples to engage someone apologetically.
I have other concerns, but I’ve written more than enough for now. I feel like I have been quite negative about this book. That isn’t my intention, but unfortunately, the more I look at it the more I find to be negative about. It has good points. Perhaps I’ll try to balance this post with a more generous one in the near future.
I would be interested to hear from anyone who has other suggestions about good resources for soldiership and/or discipleship training. If I can’t find anything I am comfortable using, I guess I could take the old fashioned approach and write a resource myself. Thoughts? Ideas?