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“The Power Of One Thing”–Book Review

Carlson, Dr. Randy.  The Power Of One Thing (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale, 2009).

Carlson’s work, The Power of One Thing, does much for any who might need an extra “push” to get something done.  It is a book akin to the Nike commercial, “Just do it.”

That “One Thing,” however, is not Christ.  It is “intentionality.”  If you’re expecting a book that clearly speaks of forgiveness of sins and hope in Christ for all eternity, even the power of God to change lives, this book is not it.  If you’re looking for a book that is primarily motivational in nature, having steps that one might take to begin making changes in one’s life, then this book may appeal to you.

A word of caution is in order.  Like others before him, and others writing in like fashion, Carlson frequently quotes from various translations of the Bible (a.k.a. Rick Warren in Purpose Driven Life) for his own purposes and to his own end.  Yet in doing so, he not only misquotes Scripture, but divorces the texts from their contexts.  He reworks the Bible in an attempt to make it mean what it does not.

One example of many might suffice.  First, concerning translations.

Carlson uses these translations: New International Version, New Living Translation, New American Standard Bible, King James, New King James, and The Message.  The latter is not even a translation, but a paraphrase, and should not at all be quoted as Scripture.  It is someone’s understanding of the text, and in this case, Eugene Peterson’s.

Now, to one example of Carlson using Scripture out of context to make it say what he wants it to say but doesn’t.

The text is from Philippians 3:13-14 (NIV), which reads, “One thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press toward the goal” (16).  As these words are, they are true.  However, verse 14 has not been given in its entirety.  Words have been omitted, and very significant words.  They are these, “to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

Read in full, verse 14 reads, “I press toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

Paul, then, according to the full verse of verse 14, is not just speaking of any goal.  Paul rather is speaking of a very specific goal, even the “prize” of eternal life.

In verse 12, Paul writes, “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.”  And what is it that Paul has not yet obtained?  “The resurrection of the dead” (v11).

For fuller context, read the entire chapter of Philippians 3, noting what Paul does say, and noting what Paul does not say.

In contrast to Paul, who sets forth what the goal actually is, that which is in Christ and for eternity and doesn’t concern the things of the earth (Colossians 3:1ff), Carlson would have the reader believe that Paul is speaking about “putting the past behind you and straining toward a better future by concentrating on just one thing…embarking on an intentional life” (17).  But Paul is not talking about “straining toward a better future by concentrating on just one thing,” unless that future is heaven, not “a better life now,” and that “one thing” is Christ, and not something else.

For Carlson, that “one thing” is living “for today, intentionally doing the one small thing that will take you another step closer to your goal” (16).  That “one thing” is not Christ.  It is something we do.  The emphasis is us.  And Carlson’s “better future” is not the goal of heaven of which Paul is speaking.  It is but drawing ever closer to your goal, whatever that goal is.

There is quite a contrast between Paul and his intended meaning in Philippians and Carlson’s use of Paul and his intended meaning in The Power of One Thing.  Carlson wants to use Paul, in this instance, to mean something which he does not.  And what is the result?  Carlson minimizes the real meaning of Paul and distracts from the true sense of the text, which is of Christ and salvation, eternal life and resurrection.  He therefore reduces the Bible to a “self-help” book or a “manual for instruction” rather than upholding it as God’s revelation to man that man know his sin and the only Savior from sin—Jesus Christ.

Carlson is a Christian who wants “to help people experience the freedom and peace” that he’s “witnessed in those who have decided to live an intentional life in Christ” (xi).  Certainly, The Power of One Thing contains activities and plans that can be helpful for setting goals, and even meeting those goals.  But for the purpose of living “an intentional life in Christ,” this book is deceiving.  It is deceiving because such a life is not formed or produced or kept by us.  In other words, it is not “intentional” on our part.  It is a life wrought by the Holy Spirit, and lived in the Spirit, that is, through faith in Christ (Romans 8).

Apart from Carlson’s use of Scripture, any Christian or nonChristian can make use of this book and learn to “be intentional” about doing certain things.  One does not have to be Christian to have good ideas about how to meet one’s goals in life.  Nor does one need to be Christian in order to meet set goals.  It would have been profitable for Carlson to omit the biblical references all together.  Instead, Carlson minimizes and distracts from the true sense of Scripture, which is not “how to” be intentional about living, but the revelation of God in Christ Jesus.  He confuses the goal of Christianity, which is eternal life, with the goal of humanity, which might be said to be self-improvement.  Also, in using Scripture as he does, Carlson demonstrates what is all too common among Christians today—the tendency to use the Bible for purposes that it was not given.  Using the Bible in such a way is not right.  Nor is such use of God.

We preach Christ


We preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block

and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks,

Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.

1 Corinthians 1:23-24


Foolishness!  It is utter foolishness—to preach Christ and Him crucified!  It is a stumbling block!  Who wants to hear such things?  It doesn’t “grow” the church.

Such is the way many perceive the preaching of Christ.  Of course, we should expect nonbelievers to take such a position, as St. Paul the apostle describes.  They do not believe in Christ.  They seek their own way, their own means of salvation.  The salvation of God they deplore.  But within the church?  How could this be?

Within the church, there is a battle going on.  Many would like to deny this and say that “all believe the same thing.”  But is this the truth?  Should we ask, “What is the Bible?” various answers will be given.  Should we ask, “What is the purpose of the Bible?” not all would say the same.  Should we ask, “What is Christianity?” we would hear a divided, not a united, response.

These “differences” demonstrate, not a unity, but a disunity.  They are not positives, but reveal the sinfulness of man, for if true external unity did exist, we would all say the same thing and be saying the same thing.  Our doctrine and confession would be one.  But as it is, we do not all confess the same doctrine.  Nor do Christians everywhere teach the same thing.

These things are so, not because of so called “interpretation” as many presume, but because not all take Christ at His Word—not all believe what Christ did and how He works.  Not all believe what God says.  It is a question of belief vs. unbelief.

Christ crucified is a stumbling block and foolishness because His way is not according to our way.  God saves by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus alone.  Reason and human nature would lay salvation on us somehow.  But God speaks differently.  He reveals life in death; strength in weakness; wisdom in folly; and honor in what is despised.  Thus do we see Christ, God in the flesh, dying for the sinner; strong, yet weak; wise, but foolish; honorable, yet despised.

God and His ways are opposite from our own ways and the ways of the world.  And thanks be to God that this is so, for those who are called, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God!


“True Christian theology does not present God to us in His majesty, as Moses and other teachings do, but Christ born of the Virgin as our Mediator and High Priest.  Therefore when we are embattled against the Law, sin, and death in the presence of God, nothing is more dangerous than to stray into heaven with our idle speculations, there to investigate God His incomprehensible power, wisdom, and majesty, to ask how He created the world and how He governs it.  If you attempt to comprehend God this way and want to make atonement to Him apart from Christ the Mediator, making your works, fasts, cowl, and tonsure the mediation between Him and yourself, you will inevitably fall, as Lucifer did (Is. 14:12), and in horrible despair lose God and everything.  For as in His own nature God is immense, incomprehensible, and infinite, so to man’s nature He is intolerable.  Therefore if you want to be safe and out of danger to your conscience and your salvation, put a check on this speculative spirit.  Take hold of God as Scripture instructs you (1 Cor. 1:23, 24): ‘Since, in wisdom, the world did not know God through wisdom, it please God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.  We preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.’  therefore begin where Christ began – in the Virgin’s womb, in the manger, and at His mother’s breasts.  For this purpose He came down, was born, lived among men, suffered, was crucified, and died, so that in every possible way He might present Himself to our sight.  He wanted us to fix the gaze of our hearts upon Himself and thus to prevent us form clambering into heaven and speculating about the Divine Majesty.” (Luther’s Lectures on Galatians, LW 26, p29).

Prayer: Heavenly Father, keep us from presuming Your Word to be our own and Your ways to be our ways.  Humble us that we turn away from our self-righteousness and look to You alone for comfort and salvation.  Keep us in the true faith, that denying ourselves, we confess our sins and trust only in Christ for help and strength.  Amen.


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