Know this believer, to thy everlasting comfort, if those arms have once embraced thee, neither sin nor hell can get thee thence for ever.
Richard Baxter, The Saint's Everlasting Rest
The Transformation of the Inner Man: a Book Review
by Viola Larson
The book, The Transformation of The Inner Man, by John and Paula Sandford covers many important social issues including marriage, parenting and sexual relationships.Their terminology and ethics, at first glance, seems biblical, however greater investigation reveals approaches and solutions that are based on false foundations. The basic ideas for the theology in this book are found in their earlier work The Elijah Task which is referred to in The Transformation of The Inner Man. This book is therefore important in defining the theology of the Sandfords.
Their belief concerning the nature of God is found in The Elijah Task. Their concepts of Christian redemption are found in both books. They write in The Elijah Task, "there is a sea of the Spirit of God the Father in which the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit and all creation, men and angels exist. The energy of the being of God is one Spirit, in which everything lives and moves and has its being."(p135) The authors go on to explain that there is a "distinction between spirit (as transcendent and impersonal) and the Holy Spirit (as immanent and personal)."(136) They also believe that "Spirit and matter are one" and are "different only in degree."(p136) This is basically a pantheistic view. The Trinity is accepted, but only within the concept of an all-pervading impersonal god-force or energy. In contrast to their view, orthodox Christianity teaches that although God is omnipresent, He is not part of His creation. God is transcendent, independent of His creation and He is personal, involved with His creation.
The Sandford's concept of the Spirit of God and the Holy Spirit leads to a form of animism. They write, "Every plant and bit of earth, all seas and winds, each animal and thing has intelligence, will, and desire."(p144)
The Elijah Task speaks of the crucifixion of Jesus as being an experience in the present; overtime a person sins and brings sin to the cross, Jesus feels the pain. They write, "The price for every sin is excruciating upon the body and within the eternal soul of Christ . . . the mystery of time is such that our present sins crucify him anew."P117) The Bible refutes this stating, "nor was it that He should offer Himself often, as the high priest enters the holy place year by year with blood not his own. Otherwise, He would have needed to suffer since the foundation of the world; but now once at the consummation of the ages He has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself." (Heb.9:25-26)
The Transformation of The Inner Man rests on this theological foundation, then expands towards more practical matters. There are principles, according to the Sandfords, that operate in the "Spirit" of God which causes each person's sin to "set in motion irrevocable forces."(p72) The wrath, justice, and personal judgment of God are replaced by impersonal laws working in the universe or sea of the Spirit of God. They write, "The reaping of evil seeds sown is impersonal, not personal punishment, having nothing to do with vindictiveness or vengence."(p71) The authors go on to write of the work of the cross, sin, the blood of Jesus and denying oneself. These are much needed topics in the writing of contemporary inner healing advocates, but because of their view of an impersonal god force combined with a personal Trinity, the Sandford's theories on inner healing and transformation are confusing and possibly deceptive.
Another idea that is suspect is elitism. The book implies that they are talking about something the Church has never fully understood or applied, but now it is time for this to happen. John Sandford tells the reader, "Something was yet lacking. That something, that key to sanctification, turned out to be the knowledge of how to reach to the depths of the heart with the power of the cross and resurrection to effect lasting change by continual death and rebirth."(p7) He goes further, "It is historical fact that the maturation of the entire Church waits upon this single missing ingredient. Nothing can be securely built because the laying of foundations is incomplete."(p27)
To say the Church has existed for almost two thousand years without proper understanding of a firm foundation is absurd; Jesus Christ is the foundation. "For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ."(1Cor.3:11) The Church has experienced times of worldliness, coldness, and ineffectiveness as well as times of great revival and holiness; yet the Church is always triumphant because it is the work of God. The Sandfords may ponder the Church's "continuing perversity and weakness,"(p8) but from a real historical viewpoint, the Church is built and prevails because of its relationship to the Lord Jesus Christ. (Matt.16:17,18)
Included in the process of transformation, the writers maintain that because a believer may still have an unbelieving heart, he needs to have that nature, which is sin, die and a new nature, which is Christ, be resurrected in that area. This they call continual death and rebirth. The process is aided by a counselor who finds the "root" to the problems of the counselee. This is where impersonal laws are used to solve problems. If a person's parent was deficient or erring in some area this caused a "root of bitterness" within the counselee. This "root of bitterness" can also be caused by other persons such as a wife or friend. The resentment or bitterness sets off a chain reaction which grows and the person reaps double or more of the resentment. In other words, if a man resented a heavy mother, he may reap a fat wife.
Not unlike Scientology, every contrary or negative action creates a chain reaction which will eventually create ruin or be stopped at the cross. The authors write:
"Sam may, by fleshly determination, or even by the power of the Holy Spirit, give back a loving answer and that stimulus may evoke a loving response and so the evening may spiral to joy. Nevertheless, the original hurt cannot be denied. It lives, repressed and forgotten. But the universe is legal and that hurt must find a respond. If we multiply that event by the thousands that normally occur in any relationship, we see that if Jesus failed to intercede continually, death of happiness, or even physical destruction is unavoidable for all of us."(p97)
The root of bitterness is then taken to the cross where death is to occur. This process is also somewhat like a reaction in Scientology called "boil off." The Sandfords write, "Death of a portion of our self initiates a convulsion or deep shudder throughout our interior being. We undergo sadness, confusion, disorientation, despondency, heaviness, sleeplessness or turmoil. In that time death is happening throughout the subterranean regions of our emotions and practices.(p109)
Biblically, as Christians we are to deny ourselves and put others first, still there are practical ways of dealing with family and other relationships. The kind of counseling the Sandfords advocate does not offer that kind of solution. When writing of the problem of oneness in marriage, they suggest, "Thinking and talking about it leads only to affixing blame and erecting defenses. Serving Jesus, without a word (1Peter 3:1,2) is the simple sole answer."(p381) In other counseling they advise, "Having heard of a violent father, for example, we fail to transform if we only comfort. By such 'healing' alone, the victim is left able to 'throw a pity party.'"(p135) While it is true that Christians need to deal with resentment and forgive those who have hurt them, this is not always the root of their problem. There are couples and families with a need for practical ways to communicate and interact. There are people who simply need comfort.
This kind of counseling begins to eliminate personal sin and personal salvation as well as true Christian growth that comes through actual sanctification. When the Holy Spirit or even a friend or counselor reveals sin in our life, we should repent of it and ask forgiveness of God and others. "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."(1John 1:9) This is the work of the cross in our lives. The Scriptures tell us to consider ourselves to be dead to sin because we know that our old self was crucified with Him. "Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus."(Romans 6:11) "Knowing this, that our old body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin."(Romans 6:6) Our sanctification is God's work brought about as we yield to him, allowing Him to have His way in our lives. Repentance, confession and denial of self are important parts of Christian growth, but not in the manner stated in The transformation of The Inner Man.
The Transformation of The Inner Man, while containing scriptural advise that is good and helpful, also presents an unscriptural world-view and advise which might wound rather than heal. The book is an example of experimental theology being read as established Biblical theology. The authors need to sort out their theology, testing it against scripture before marketing it to the public.
This book creates confusion and raises many questions whose answers may be less than orthodox. To be involved in the care of people through such questionable doctrines and methods is anything but Christ-like and could be sin.