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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.

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