Corona Crisis | Book Review


The COVID-19 pandemic can be viewed through many interpretive lenses. In Corona Crisis, Mark Hitchcock views it through the lens of eschatology, that branch of Christian theology concerned with end-times events. Specifically, he views it through the lens of dispensational premillennialism.

Dispensational premillennialism holds a pessimistic view of history. The course of world history will become increasingly difficult before Jesus Christ raptures believers into Heaven, signaling the start of the seven-year Great Tribulation. In the first half of that tribulation, the Antichrist will unite the world under a global government and religion, promising peace. However, in the second half, that peace will turn into tyranny as the Antichrist persecutes with ferocious intensity those who have come to faith in Christ during that period. At the end of the Great Tribulation, Jesus Christ will visibly return to Earth (the Second Coming), establish his kingdom, and reign for 1,000 years (the Millennium).

The persistent temptation of dispensational premillennialism is date-setting. By this I mean the tendency of some dispensationalists to interpret current events as the fulfillment of biblical prophecy. The most notorious (and roundly mocked) recent example of this is Edgar C. Whisenant’s book, 88 Reasons Why the Rapture Will Be in 1988. The book caused a stir when it was published, but the date Whisenant identified came and went and believers were still here.

Corona Crisis is blessedly free of that kind of date-setting and eschatological speculation. In fact, Hitchcock specifically denies that the COVID-19 pandemic is a sign of the imminent Great Tribulation. Instead, he writes, “most of what we see today is not the direct fulfillment of end-time prophecy but rather a foreshadow of what will come after God’s people have been raptured to heaven” (28). He reiterates this point later in the book: “The coronavirus is not a fulfillment but a frightening foreshadow, a foretaste, of what lies ahead” (102). How does he know this? “The rapture has not occurred (the bride of Christ is still here)” (102–103).

Hitchcock’s anti-speculative bent was welcome to me. While he clearly believes Christians need to know how to read the “signs of the times” (Matthew 16:1–3), he places four parameters around that belief

  • “First, we must shun a sensationalistic approach to current events and world headlines” (19).
  • “Second, current events, headlines, and world news must be assessed in light of the Bible, not the other way around” (19).
  • “A third important principle for signs of the times is to remember that they relate directly to Jesus’ second coming back to earth, not the rapture” (21).
  • “One final parameter for signs of the times is that most of what we see today is not the direct fulfillment of end-time prophecy but rather a foreshadow of what will come after God’s people have been raptured to heaven” (28).

Given Hitchcock’s anti-speculative bent, the question that obviously arises is whether end-times prophecy is a helpful interpretive lens for viewing the COVID-19 pandemic. If dispensational premillennialism cannot differentiate whether this pandemic (or any other) is a sign of the times, what value does it have in interpreting the times? Hitchcock seems to answer this question when he writes, “I believe coronavirus is part of the stage setting for the end times.” (30). How so? It is “revealing the interconnectedness of the modern world as well as accelerating it.” Moreover, “COVID-19 is also speeding the rise of globalism. The pandemic intersects with the drive toward a one-world economy and government that will fall under the rule of a global strongman, the final Antichrist” (30–31).

Part of the difficulty with this kind of analysis is that it pushes in only one direction. Yes, there are globalizing trends in current history. There are also localizing trends, however. The push and pull of centralization and decentralization seems to be a constant of history, as empires rise, are resisted, and fall. Given this history, why should we assume that the present moment is the foreshadowing moment, rather than just another iteration of a longstanding cyclical pattern? Those who read events through the lens of biblical prophecy need to keep in mind that we have a bias for the normativity of the contemporaneous that may distort our views of both the past and future.

In saying this, I’m not making a comment about the correctness of dispensational premillennialism as an eschatological viewpoint. (Eschatology is a matter of dispute among evangelicals, and I don’t want to weigh in on that here.) I’m simply highlighting the difficulty of using such an eschatological viewpoint as a way of analyzing current events. Even Hitchcock concedes that until the rapture happens, we can only interpret the current pandemic as a foreshadowing of something worse to come, but we have no idea of the timeframe of the advent of that something worse.

Hitchcock ends Corona Crisis helpfully, and less controversially, with four biblical strategies: 1) maintain perspective, 2) take practical steps, 3) keep praying, and 4) proclaim the gospel (107–123). These four points evince a noncontroversial, unifying, evangelistic point of view. I’ll leave the last word to Hitchcock, a word that I heartily endorse: “Times of upheaval provide unique opportunities to hold out the gospel” (122).

Book Reviewed
Mark Hitchcock, Corona Crisis: Plagues, Pandemics, and the Coming Apocalypse (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2020).

P.S. If you liked this review, please click “Helpful” on my Amazon review page

God, Trump, and COVID-19 | Book Review


I am working on a review essay about Christian responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. My research largely focuses on books written by, marketed to, or likely to be read by evangelical Christians, where evangelical is defined broadly. Stephen E. Strang’s God, Trump, and COVID-19 is one of those books. (The others were written by Walter Brueggemann, Mark Hitchcock, John C. Lennox, Kristi Mair and Luke Cawley, John Piper, and N. T. Wright.)

Strang is a charismatic Christian with roots in the Assemblies of God. I was interested in reading his perspective because I am a Pentecostal minister, ordained by the Assemblies of God, and currently serving as executive editor of its leadership perspective.

(I should quickly add that this review states my personal opinion only and should not be understood as a denominational evaluation. I should also acknowledge that Strang is a friend of my father’s and has always been kind to my family, and on the couple of occasions where I have met him, to me.)

Unfortunately, despite theological and spiritual affinity with Strang on a number of issues, I cannot recommend this book. There are several reasons for this:

First, Strang does not grapple in a serious way the wisdom the Bible brings to bear on current situation. He does not draw from the well of systematic theology or apologetics to illuminate the pandemic’s meaning. And he does not offer an extended reflection on the ethical dimensions of the pandemic. The other authors I am reading do what Strang does not. He writes, “I want the reader to understand where God is in the midst of a historically tense, intense time” (xv). The desire is good, but the execution is not.

What Strang does instead of grappling with the Bible, theology, and ethics is focus on politics and prophecy. My second and third criticisms have to do with these two issues.

Let me start with politics. Throughout the book, Strang tells readers that God, Trump, and COVID-19 is a follow-up book to God, Trump, and the 2020 Election, published in late 2019. In these books, Strang offers a full-throated defense of President Trump’s action specifically with regard to the pandemic and generally on public policy, respectively. Throughout the COVID-19 book—I have not read the 2020 election book—Strang portrays Trump as the decisive, farsighted leader Christians need to support, all the while castigating Democrats, the Left, and mainstream media. Whatever you may think of Strang’s arguments, his focus is on the political dimensions of the crisis, which is perhaps why he doesn’t deal in any in-depth way with biblical, theological, and ethical issues.

Third, Strang gives too much attention to modern-day prophets such as David Wilkerson, Shawn Bolz, Chuck D. Pierce, and the like. Chapter 1 opens with a 1986 prophecy allegedly given by David Wilkerson:

I see a plague coming on the world and the bars, church, and government shut down. The plague will hit New York City and shake it like it has never been shaken. The plague is going to force prayerless believers into radical prayer, into their Bibles and repentance will be the cry from true men of God in the pulpit. And out of it will come a third Great Awakening that will sweep America and the world (1; cf. 69–71)

I use the term allegedly because the authenticity of the quote has been disputed by fact-checkers. Strang defends the authenticity of the prophecy by attributing it to a hand-written note by Mike Evans based on a conversation the latter had with Wilkerson in 1986. Evans stuck the note in the Bible he was using at the time, and when recently going through that Bible, he claims that the note fell out.

While the Wilkerson prophecy portends a severe plague, prophecies by Bolz and Pierce point to something less. Strang writes, “I believe God’s prophets [i.e., Bolz and Pierce] were saying it [the pandemic] wouldn’t be as bad as the politicians, medical experts, and liberal media were saying” (75). In favor of that interpretation, he notes that the virus seems to have peaked in mid- to late-April in the most affected areas of the country (especially New York City). However, the book was written and published prior to the summer outbreak that has pushed COVID-19 cases and related deaths higher. With another outbreak expected in the fall, those numbers could go higher still.

Fourth, Strang displays throughout the book a penchant for relying on spiritual leaders for accurate information about the pandemic and its effects, even as he seems to downplay expert testimony. (In the quote above, note how he throws “medical experts” under the bus alongside “politicians” and “liberal media.”) This penchant gives Strang’s analysis a patina of journalism, even as his sources are passing along second- and third-hand information.

The most egregious example of this comes in Chapter 3, “China’s Role in the Pandemic.” Strang tells how he received a text message from his friend Frank Amedia. Strang writes that Amedia “had new information from one of his Chinese friends that on the surface sounded like a major conspiracy theory.” Rather than emerging from a Wuhan wet market, the text claimed the virus came “from a Wuhan virology lab that collected hundreds of viruses with the idea of finding vaccines or learning enough to prevent another SARS or swine flu outbreak” (18). Strang tracked down Amedia’s source, whom he names “Jay.” Jay was “a Chinese American Christian who was getting his information from the ‘grass roots’ in China via the internet, and much of it contradicting what we were hearing in the media at the time” (20).

In other words, Strang received a tip from a non-medical expert (Amedia) based on information from another non-medical expert who was not in-country (Jay) who was passing along information received from non-medical sources within China. Given the malfeasance of the Chinese government in its handling of the outbreak in Wuhan, we may never know the truth about the pandemic’s origin. And even mainstream sources and commentators acknowledge the potential of an accidental release of the virus from a Wuhan lab. So, maybe there are elements of truth in Strang’s reportage. My point is that its provenance is suspect. Much of what he reports as insider knowledge was being speculated about on the internet at the same time he received this tip from Amedia. (I know because I was reading all sorts of speculation at that time on the internet.) Public speculation does not become insider knowledge just because you heard it from a guy, who heard it from a guy, who heard it from several other guys, which is literally what the Amedia-Jay-grass-roots chain of testimony is.

My fifth and final criticism is the dark conspiratorial tone with which Strang ends the book. Strang writes:

What if I were to tell you that these events were planned? [In context, these “events” were long-term social trends such as family breakdown that preceded the pandemic.]  What if I were to tell you that powerful ungodly groups actually control/own much of the ‘mainstream’ media, the central banks, and many of the world’s largest corporations and that they all were working in tandem toward an agenda? I know, it sounds crazy, but I believe it’s actually true! Even the UN was founded by some of those very same elites. Look up its history. Now the UN Agenda 2020 and Agenda 2030 clearly lay out this go-forward plan for us all to see. It is slowly pushing us toward globalization. The UN wants people to be all mixed with no borders or national identities. This is their strategy (94).

Strang goes on to describe this as “the ‘beast system’ being finalized and prepared for the next phase” (94). It would’ve been one step closer to reality had Hilary Clinton become president in 2016. However, “God intervened,” writes Strang. “Just when the cabal was about to complete the globalist plan, further give up our rights and sovereignty, and solidify Agenda 2030 through various trade deals, treaties, and laws—just when the nail was about to be driven into the coffin, God heard the prayers of the saints and gave us a last-minute reprieve! He gave us a billionaire who was able to align with the patriots inside the government who wanted to stop the cabal and its sinister plan for our nation and world” (95).

Earlier, Strang acknowledge that Jay’s story seemed like a “major conspiracy theory.” But Jay’s account of the virus’ origin pales as a major conspiracy theory compared to the one Strang closes the book with: the eight-decade globalist cabal that began with the founding of the United Nations. Strang tosses off this conspiracy theory in the final pages of the book without providing any evidence for it whatsoever.

So, for these reasons, I cannot recommend this book as a serious Christian analysis of the COVID-19 pandemic. It is too light biblically and theologically, too reliant on contemporary prophesies, and too strong on conspiracism. Pentecostals and charismatics need to speak into the current situation, showing where God is in the midst of our intense, tense reality. God, Trump, and COVID-19 is not the word we need, however.

Book Review
Stephen E. Strang, God, Trump, and COVID-19: How the Pandemic Is Affecting Christians, the World, and America’s 2020 Election (Lake Mary, FL: FrontLine, 2020).

P.S. If you liked my review, please click “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

Where Is God in a Coronavirus World? | Book Review


Where Is God in a Coronavirus World? by John C. Lennox is a short essay about “the problem of natural evil,” the suffering that is “a result of natural disasters and diseases, for which humans are not (directly) responsible.” By contrast, “the problem of moral evil” is “suffering for which men and women are directly responsible” (page 14). In other words, Lennox’s book is an outline of theodicy.

The problem of evil, in whatever form—natural or moral—is often taken to be an argument against the rationality of belief in God, as well as for the rationality of atheism. In the words of the Scottish philosopher David Hume put it, citing Epicurus: “Epicurus’s old questions are yet unanswered. Is [God] willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then is he impotent. Is he able but not willing? Then is he malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Whence then is evil?” (page 26).

Unfortunately, however, atheism—at least the kind informed by evolutionary naturalism—is unable to explain why something is good (or bad). Lennox quotes evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins here to good effect:

In a universe of electrons and selfish genes, blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reasons in it, nor any justice. The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference. DNA neither knows nor cares. DNA just is. And we dance to its music (page 26).

Perhaps this bleak determinism appeals to some, but with Lennox, I am inclined to see it as both unreasonable and unlivable.

If, however, there is no God, and therefore there are no transcendent values, then how can there be any objective standard of God? If there is no good or evil in any case, the concept of morality disappears, and moral outrage is absurd. The so-called “problem” of evil—moral or natural—dissolves into the pitiless indifference of uncaring matter (page 29).

Once Lennox dismisses atheism, he turns to Christian theism. “How can there be a coronavirus if there is a loving God?” (as the title of chapter 4 puts it). He begins to answer that question by paraphrasing Penn State viral ecologist Marilyn Rossock, who argues that “viruses are essential to life, and that at most 1% (a high estimate) of them are pathogenic—that is, harmful to their hosts” (page 34). In other words, he appeals to laws of nature—that is, scientific descriptions of the way things work—as a theodicy.

That only pushes the question back further, however, as Lennox recognizes. He asks, “could God not have made a world without viral pathogens?” (page 35). His argument then takes an anthropological turn and gestures at a free-will theodicy:

In fact, people who wish they inhabited a world without the possibility of evil are actually wishing themselves out of existence. The reason is that one of the greatest gifts that God has given us is that of free will. We can yes or no, and that capacity opens up wonderful things: love, trust and genuine relationships with God and each other. However, that very same wonderful and good capacity makes us capable of evil, even though it does not give us permission to do evil (36).

In the biblical narrative, it is Adam and Eve’s misuse of free will that introduces both moral and natural evils into the world. “What happened in Genesis 3 was that the human rejected God, and sin entered the world,” writes Lennox. “The consequences were huge. There was death—first in the spiritual sense of a rift in the relationship between humans and God, and, later, in the sense of physical death” (pages 38–39).

Interestingly, Lennox concedes that “none of us has ever been satisfied with the outcome of that particular discussion,” that is, about “what a good, loving and all-powerful God should, could or might have done” (42). As a Christian, I do not think the atheist use of the problem of evil, in whatever form, makes an airtight case against belief in God. The case has too many leaks, especially since it proceeds on a sense of moral evaluation that it cannot maintain metaphysically. But that doesn’t mean theodicies are airtight arguments either, at least from a philosophical point of view.

So, Lennox turns to a different question: “If we accept—as we must—that we are in a universe that presents us with a picture of both biological beauty and deadly pathogens, is there any evidence that there is a God whom we can trust with the implications, and with our lives and futures?” (page 43).

Here, Lennox dives back into the biblical narrative, focusing on the Incarnation:

Christianity claims that the man Jesus Christ is God incarnate—the Creator become human. At the heart of the Christian message is the death of Jesus Christ on a cross just outside Jerusalem. The question at once arises: if he is God incarnate, what was he doing on a cross? Well, it at the very least means that God has not remained distant from human pain and suffering but has himself experienced it.

Therefore, a Christian is not so much a person who has solved the problem of pain, suffering, and the coronavirus, but one who has come to love and trust a God who has himself suffered (page 44).

And, obviously, Christ’s story does not end in death but in resurrection. “The importance of this cannot be overestimated,” Lennox writes. “It addresses a fundamental difficulty that the atheistic worldview cannot cope with: the problem of ultimate justice” (45). And not only justice. The death and resurrection of Jesus also make a way for the salvation of those who do evil. Those who repent and confess faith in Jesus “receive forgiveness; peace with the personal God who created and upholds the universe; a new life with new powers; and the promise of a world where suffering will be no more” (page 47).

Where Is God in a Coronavirus World is short, coming in at only 64 pages, and my review has gone on long enough. What I appreciate about the book is three things: 1) It clearly identifies the problem. 2) It shows the deficiency of atheism in accounting for the objective nature of good and bad. 3) It offers several lines of theodicy that are elements of a Christian theistic account of evil, whether natural or moral, even as it recognizes their philosophical limitations. And 4) it focuses on the heart of the Christian narrative—the Incarnation of the Word of God—as a way of accounting for both the reality of evil and for hope that it will be overcome in the future.

Where Is God in a Coronavirus World? is more like a sketch of directions on a napkin rather than a detailed topographical map. But it will get the average reader where he or she needs to go.

Book Reviewed
John C. Lennox, Where Is God in a Coronavirus World? (Charlotte, NC: The Good Book Company, 2020).

P.S. If you liked my review, please click “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

Coronavirus and Christ | Book Review


It is incumbent upon followers of Jesus Christ to think, feel, and act Christianly—that is, like Christ—at all times. This includes how we think, feel, and act with regard to the COVID-19 pandemic that has radically changed life’s routines for millions, if not billions, over the course of this year. In the face of this upending of normalcy, John Piper’s Coronavirus and Christ asks, “Do we have a Rock under our feet? A Rock that cannot be shaken—ever?” (page 8).

The answer comes in Part 1, “The God Who Reigns Over the Coronavirus.” Piper’s thesis is that “the same sovereignty that could stop the coronavirus, yet doesn’t, is the very sovereignty that sustains the soul in it” (pages 23, 38, 45, 50; emphasis in original). Piper is a well-known Calvinist, and this answer reflects his theological commitment to “all-pervasive sovereignty” or “meticulous sovereignty” (pages 40, 49). Piper writes:

So when I say that God’s sovereignty means that he can do, and in fact does do, all that he decisively wills to do, I mean there is no force outside himself that can thwart or frustrate his will. When he decides for a thing to happen, it happens. Or to put it another way, everything happens because God wills it to happen (page 39, emphasis in original).

Three pages late, Piper draws the logical conclusion from this view of sovereignty:

The coronavirus was sent, therefore, by God. This is not a season for sentimental views of God. It is a bitter season. And God ordained it. God governs it. He will end it. No part of it is outside his sway. Life and death are in his hand (page 42).

That being the case, in Part 2, “What Is God Doing Through the Coronavirus?” Piper turns to Scripture to identify six possible answers to God’s purpose in the pandemic. They are:

  1. God is giving the world in the coronavirus outbreak, as in all other calamities, a physical picture of the moral horror and ugliness of God-belittling sin (page 61, emphasis in original).
  2. Some people will be infected with the coronavirus as a specific judgment form God because of their sinful attitudes and actions (page 69).
  3. The coronavirus is a God-given wake-up call to be ready for the second coming of Christ (page 73).
  4. The coronavirus is God’s thunderclap call for all of us to repent and realign our lives with the infinite worth of Christ (page 77).
  5. The coronavirus is God’s call to his people to overcome self-pity and fear, and with courageous joy, to do the good works of love that glorify God (page 87).
  6. In the coronavirus God is loosening the roots of settled Christians, all over the world, to make them free for something new and radical and to send them with the gospel of Christ to the unreached peoples of the world (page 95).

I am not going to take the time to offer a detailed rebuttal of Piper’s thesis or the six possible answers outlined above. Instead, I would simply point to three lines of questions that Christian readers might ask in a critical reading of Coronavirus and Christ:

First, is Piper’s account of God’s meticulous sovereignty in fact the Bible’s own? I ask because the line of reasoning in these two sentences (quoted above) seems a non sequitur: “When he decides for a thing to happen, it happens. Or to put it another way, everything happens because God wills it to happen.” I agree that if God wills something to happen, it will happen. This doesn’t mean that everything that happens is God’s will, however.

Second, might it be better to interpret Piper’s six answers in terms of result rather than purpose? I acknowledge that the coronavirus can be the occasion for Christians to grow in Christ, manifesting as works of evangelism and compassionate service. I do not necessarily think, however, that we can confidently say that these are the reasons why God willed the coronavirus to happen.

Third, has Piper missed other lines of inquiry from Scripture? I would simply point out the way multiple ways the spread of COVID-19 has been exacerbated by bad policy decisions at all levels of government, and that the brunt of the disease has been felt by the elderly, the racial and ethnic minority, and the poor. Might thinking, feeling, and acting Christianly also entail engaging with these systemic issues?

Book Reviewed
John Piper, Coronavirus and Christ (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2020).

P.S. If you liked my review, please click “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

How to Relaunch Your Church | Influence Podcast


After weeks of being closed by state and local public health orders, many churches are beginning to reopen their doors for ministry to their communities. Rather than merely reopen, however, the present moment offers churches an opportunity to relaunch. We’ll explore what relaunching your church might look like in this episode of the Influence Podcast.

I’m George P. Wood, executive editor of Influence magazine and your host. My guest today is Dr. John Davidson. He is director of Leadership and Development for the Church Multiplication Network of the Assemblies of God. In that capacity, he oversees CMNLead.com , a website providing free resources for pastors.

Over the past few weeks, CMNLead.com has published—and will continue to publish—resources to help local churches respond to the coronavirus pandemic. Spanish-language resources are available at CMNLead.com/Spanish. One resource you’ll want to look at particularly is the Church Relaunch Kit, which we’ll talk about in this conversation.

How to Lead When Your Church Is Closed | Influence Podcast


The coronavirus pandemic is temporarily changing the way Americans live, work, and use their free time. The federal government has asked citizens voluntarily to “[a]void social gatherings in groups of more than 10 people,” but many state and local governments are imposing bans on such gatherings. This negatively affects the ability of local churches to gather for worship, most immediately, but it also may have other longer term effects.

How should—how can—pastors lead their congregations when their churches are closed?

That’s the question I’m asking Dr. John Davidson in this episode of the Influence Podcast. I’m George P. Wood, executive editor of Influence magazine and your host. Davidson is director of Leadership and Development for the Church Multiplication Network of the Assemblies of God. In that capacity, he oversees CMNLead.com , a website providing free resources for pastors. Over the next few weeks, CMNLead.com will publish resources to help local churches respond innovatively during the coronavirus pandemic. Spanish-language resources are available at CMNLead.com/Spanish.

P.S. This podcast is cross-posted from InfluenceMagazine.com with permission.

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