You may as well Repent and Believe, because Christ has already saved you.
That is the theme of Paul Kurts’ book Trinitarian Letters (Westbow Press, 2011). Retired Pastor Kurts is sending a simple Trinitarian message: God loves you, Jesus saved you, and the Holy Spirit is with you always. As God told Joshua, “I will never leave you nor forsake you,” so Mr. Kurts repeats with great enthusiasm that we should never lose sight of Jesus’ amazing work, and the fact that only our own refusal of Him can alienate us from God. It is a good theme to have in an age so filled with negativity and doom-saying. And, at least for me, it is good for that message to include constant reminders that the Holy Spirit is with us, fulfilling the Father’s will and empowering us just as Jesus did. It’s not just about the cross (which is certainly key to our salvation) nor simply about the Father’s love (which is the reason for our salvation), but also about the Holy Spirit of God being constantly with us.
Many of the letters themselves read like short devotionals. Most of them seem to have been written to address some specific question someone had asked, but others seem more like notes to the author himself–perhaps for upcoming sermons, perhaps to help him organize his thoughts before writing a longer letter. Because the style does vary, some of the letters can be hard to make sense of on their own. While I don’t always agree with Pastor Kurts’ use of certain Bible passages, I must say I appreciate that he doesn’t just ramble on about an idea without backing it up. Instead, he paraphrases a theological idea in terms we can understand, and then he backs it up with a Scripture citation. That is refreshing.
However, a few things came to mind that ought to be addressed. First, until I had read about a third of the book, I was very nearly under the impression that Mr. Kurts was preaching a Universalist theology—i.e. that everyone is saved, regardless of faith. It took a while for some of his messages to finally get around to mentioning repentance and belief. I’m glad they finally did get mentioned, but the fact that I had read big chunks of this book without ever encountering repentance is a problem. That oversight is an unfortunate liability of the short 1-or-2-page format of these letters, and makes it too easy for a whole letter or two to be taken out of context. I just hope no one comes away from this book with the wrong impression about what salvation really means.
Secondly, I had nearly finished the book before I found anything about obedience. Now, I am not about to say we must work for anything concerning God, because I know that Jesus Christ has done it all for me. My part is to repent and believe. (Mark 1:15) However, the question becomes: “What then?” The unfortunately popular perception is that we Christians rarely act like our Jesus Christ, and I think any pastor would agree that the reason for that is too many people think they can believe in Christ and not change their way of living. “Never mind being transformed into the likeness of Christ, and don’t bother with living in the Spirit rather than the flesh, just keep believing,” seems to be the popular mantra. The problem is not that Christians don’t believe in Jesus Christ. The problem is that they DO believe, and yet they do NOTHING about it. Yes, it is true that we are not saved by works. But we are saved to do good works. We don’t do good works to get to heaven. We do good works because we already know we’re going to heaven. But we have gotten so far away from ANY talk of works in our faith life that we don’t think it is “required.” They’re NOT required, and yet they are expected. And thankfully, Mr. Kurts eventually did get around to mentioning that.
And finally, what about the gifts of the Holy Spirit? It seems strange to me for someone who talks so much about the Spirit to never mention the working of the Spirit in people’s lives. It seems that the Holy Spirit is simply God’s presence in our lives, and while we are to live our lives as Christ lived, there seems to be no way for us to make that happen. No mention is made of spiritual gifts, of healing or prophecy or wisdom. If we are to accept that the Holy Spirit is active in our lives, then we must also realize that the Spirit gives us the power to do greater works than Jesus. The Helper was sent not just as a presence in our lives but as Emmanuel, God With Us, to continue the work of miracles and healings and making disciples begun by Jesus Himself.
From an editorial standpoint, I was surprised at how many punctuation errors there are. Every few pages one finds extra periods, missing quotation marks, and misplaced punctuation and half-sentences. The formatting also fluctuates pretty widely, depending on when and how Mr. Kurts wrote that particular letter/message. Also, while I appreciate Mr. Kurts’ passion for his SUBJECT MATTER, the constant CAPITALIZED WORDS were distracting when a simple bold type would have worked just fine. I suppose the editor wanted to keep the feel of the original short letters as written, but there is a point where an editor can and ought to put his or her foot down and encourage the author to let them do their job: namely, letting the words and ideas speak for themselves, relying on simple typography without some 17th-century constant capitalization. These are minor quibbles, but they can be distracting at times.
So how does one read this book? It has 150 or so “chapters” organized alphabetically by title, and they can generally be read out of order. They might make a nice daily devotional series. I started off reading them in order, and then I found myself skipping around to look at how Mr. Kurts looked at different subjects such as other religions, hell, election, and even Christian living. What I found was no surprise to me, coming as Mr. Kurts does from a Trinitarian theological standpoint. I learned a thing or two, and I enjoyed his simple way of addressing the reader.
However, as a writer who has written a lot of short messages myself, I understand both the limitations and the power of the short missal. Were I to assemble my own messages as a book, I know I would have to organize the five-hundred-plus messages I have written into something readable for everyone. The alphabetical order used in Trinitarian Letters ruins much of the continuity between ideas—and Mr. Kurts really has some ideas that are worth reading. It’s a pity that someone didn’t take the time to work with Pastor Kurts to rework these letters into a book that might make more sense. I did enjoy this book in general, but the lack of organization hindered my reading and understanding. My sincere hope is that perhaps this book will get a second edition that completely reorganizes and/or expands the ideas written here. They are worth reading, but I cannot honestly say everyone will experience them as powerfully in the way they are presented in this volume.