D. James Kennedy, The Real Meaning of the Zodiac, Ft. Lauderdale: CRM Publishing, 1996.
Review by Pastor Gregory L. Jackson
One of my Lutheran friends, not a pastor, asked me to review Kennedy’s book on the Zodiac. Of all the television ministers, Kennedy is the most respectable. He has been an able speaker when dealing with anti-Christian leaders, such as one who tried to quote George Washington out of context, attempting to prove that the first president wanted America to be unChristian. Kennedy dispatched the atheist with cold scorn as he discussed the facts of the complete quotation.
Kennedy often has something worthwhile to say, unlike most of his telegenic brethren. I have heard him speak at a Billy Graham School of Evangelism event in South Bend. When he was speaking, I told my wife, “Buy his book. There will be a run on them after he is done talking.” When he finished, the bookstore immediately sold out all of his books. I thought his “Evangelism Explosion” made some good points about reaching people with the Gospel, but his entire religious approach was unsatisfactory for me and for typical Lutherans as well.
Later I learned that Kennedy was one of the top salesmen for the Arthur Murray School of Dance. (Billy Graham is another former salesman, a record-breaker for Fuller Brush.) The difficulty I had with “Evangelism Explosion” has grown exponentially with “The Real Meaning of the Zodiac.” Kennedy, as a Reformed minister, thinks that we can present the Gospel in such a way that people will be persuaded to make the proper decision for Christ. Therefore, his “Evangelism Explosion” uses a logic tree, not unlike a sales presentation, which leads someone to the inevitable conclusion that being a Christian is a good thing.
Lutherans alone teach that God has bound His Spirit to the Word and Sacraments, the Means of Grace. Although few Lutheran leaders believe this doctrine now, it remains the “peculiar glory of the Lutheran church.” It preserves Lutheranism from rationalism (the sales presentation) and from irrationalism (Pentecostalism). When people look for security in the faith through human reason, they end up as Unitarians, reducing the Bible to certain essential “truths,” such as the Brotherhood of Man and the Fatherhood of God.
When they seek security in the faith through experience, they become tongue-speaking, dancing-in-the-Spirit, falling on the floor laughing Pentecostals. Neither state, Unitarianism or Pentecostalism, is very satisfying. Therefore, I am not surprised that some prominent Lutherans, such as Richard J. Neuhaus and Robert Wilken, have become Roman Catholics. When Lutheranism shrinks from the Means of Grace, pastors will find security in the knowledge that the Church of Rome, for all her faults, has taught the same doctrine since the Council of Trent.
But I digress. Book titles are extremely important, and I find “The Real Meaning of the Zodiac” a scary title. I was hoping that Kennedy put his name on a ghost-written tome, as Jerry Falwell and others have done. Instead, I noticed that the book is compiled from sermons he gave at Coral Ridge. He seems to have taken his material from Joseph Seiss’s “The Gospel in the Stars,” Kregel, 1972, referenced in a chart provided in the back of the book (illustrating the zodiac). My copy of the book says that it is the fourth printing. One can only guess how many have been deceived by the book and by the attitude it represents.
Kennedy’s theme is simple, yet profoundly wrong. He argues that the Zodiac contains the message of the Gospel. Although I have only a little knowledge of astronomy, I find his comments on the field amazingly simple and shallow. He informs us, for instance, that the five planets visible to the naked eye now were also visible to the naked eye in the ancient world. (And why not?) He fails to mention that people lived under the stars, had truly dark skies, and often saw more than we do today. When people leave their urban environments and spend an evening away from all city lights, they go into shock over the beauty of the firmament. They express great astonishment that someone can point to a point of light and identify it as a given star or planet. One evening, all five planets were visible at once across a span of the sky. We were attending a synodical service. When I pointed out that the spectacle would not occur again for 12 centuries, an old maid pastor said, “I had a boyfriend who loved the stars. That’s why I dumped him: he was so boring.”
In such an atmosphere of ignorance, combined with a saturation of TV commercials for “psychic counselors” who charge $240 an hour, Kennedy’s book can have quite an impact. Kennedy is impressed that Job mentions certain constellations and stars. Although Kennedy properly disparages astrology as against the Scriptures, he claims on the same page (p. 8) that “there was a God-given Gospel in the stars which lays beyond and behind that which has now been corrupted.”
One can find certain parallels to ancient religions and the Bible. The most obvious is the Flood, which is enshrined in all ancient histories and religions. Many elements of the Genesis Flood can be found in those other stories. That part is factual. What we do with the facts can be quite different. Some say that all flood stories represent a common fear. Others think that Genesis “borrows heavily” from other accounts. Still others, such as A. Rehwinkel, think that the Flood stories sound alike because they tell the same story of the same man. If we found Noah’s ark, with his name carved on the side and his captain’s log miraculously preserved, not one person would be converted by physical proof of the Genesis Flood. Only the Holy Spirit working through the Word can convert a soul to faith.
God has revealed Himself in nature, so that man is left without excuse (Romans). Whether we view the jeweled expanse of the Milky Way Galaxy in the telescope or look at the calciferous glands of the mighty earthworm, we must recognize the order, design, and purpose of the universe. However, the Gospel is not revealed in nature. It may seem clever to have a country singer tell us that various things in a deck of playing cards remind him of the Bible (Four gospels, four suits; get it?), it is not impressive to have a prominent minister claim that the Gospel is revealed in the Zodiac.
Another digression. We now know that there was a Star of Bethlehem, although I remember intellectuals laughing over it not many years ago. The Chinese recorded a “guest-star” at the appropriate time. But the ancient Chinese, for all their learning, were not precise about what a “guest-star” was. It might have been a planetary conjunction or a comet or a nova. Perhaps God would like to have us wonder and do more research, so that some astronomer will look up the appropriate passages in the Bible and be converted by the Word. The Star of Bethlehem is definite and precise, but God chose to use the event to point to Christ, not to point the wisemen to the stars.
Kennedy’s leaps of logic are disturbing. He mentions Aratus (from Tarsus), who wrote a poem which Paul quoted in Acts 17:28. Aratus says in the same poem that Zeus “himself hath fixed in heaven these signs.” (p. 15) If Paul quoted Aratus, then Kennedy may quote another passage of Aratus to prove that the Zodiac figures are signs of the Gospel.
Kennedy would like to convince us that the twelve houses of the zodiac correspond to the twelve tribes of Israel and the twelve apostles (p. 16). “We are going to look at each of the twelve chapters individually as they related to Christianity.”
One example is enough to show Kennedy’s method. He begins with Virgo, the Virgin, and wants to make Virgo the virgin of Isaiah 7:14. Are we to believe that one can ignore the ancient respect for the virgin (seen in the virgin goddess Athena) and imagine that God had the early cultures assign this name to this group of stars in the sky, to show us the Gospel? What can we do with the Big Dipper, also known as the Great Bear (Ursa Major) and the Drinking Gourd? I would like Kennedy to find an early culture where the virgin was not honored and respected. His argument is a variation of the skeptics claim, that Mary is a virgin because the primitive cultures valued virginity. The skeptics need to ignore the revelation of the Scriptures, that Jesus’ mother was a virgin, because Proverbs says, “The fool says in his heart – There is no god.” Kennedy needs to find Mary in Virgo, because it fits the theme of his book, which he borrowed from Seiss.
So much of Christ is ignored in the Old Testament that we would be better served by “The Gospel in the Old Testament” than “The Gospel in the Stars.” One can take any basic word and associate it with pagan religion and the Christian faith: sheep (entrails and the Good Shepherd); grain (pagan sacrifice and the Parable of the Sower); virgin (Athena and Mary); blood (human and animal sacrifice versus the atonement of Christ). Why not be honest and say, “The pagans saw a goddess in Virgo, but the name reminds me of the prophesy in Isaiah 7:14.” One cannot argue that God intended the pagan zodiac to support the Scriptures. They stand on their own authority and need no support, no argumentation, no salesmanship.
The weakness of the Reformed view of the Scriptures has come up frequently in my conversations with a published scientist, Dr. David Menton, associate professor of anatomy at Washington University School of Medicine. Non-Lutherans expect him to back up the Bible with his enormous fund of knowledge about science, as if his science could sway someone who opposes and rejects the Word of God.
Let me explain a saying of Luther by mentioning the greatest battle tank in the world, the M1 or Abrams tank. In the Persian Gulf War, one Abrams tank was mistaken for an enemy tank at night, because enemy rockets were bouncing off its armor. In the night scope, it looked like it was firing on American positions. The allies fired four different Hellfire missiles at it. Normally a Hellfire missile would blow apart any armored vehicle, but the M1 crew crawled out the back unharmed. In another situation, the Americans had a disabled Abrams tank, so they decided to blow it up rather than let it fall into the enemy’s hands. Normally, a tank can kill another tank. So they fired at their M1. The shot, which killed Russian tanks at 2 miles distance, bounced away. They got closer to their tank, fired at point blank range. Nothing. So they fired into the most vulnerable part of the tank, the rear. The fire suppression equipment immediately put the fire out. Finally they towed the tank away and it was repaired successfully.
With this in mind, please consider this: Would you protect an Abrams tank with your body or would you let the tank protect you? So Luther says. We are not to protect or defend the Bible, which is itself God’s powerful weapon and shield against all error. The Sword of the Spirit is sharper than any two-edged sword, as the author of Hebrews revealed, at a time when swords were razor sharp for slicing through armor, bones, and sinew.
So the Reformed use the stars, Noah’s ark (the Protestant relic, to be worshiped when found), and science, or in other words, weak weapons to defend the greatest of all weapons, the Word of God. The Holy Spirit is always present when we teach the doctrines of the Bible, so God is on our lips when we speak. Then God accompanies the Word which goes forth. God in then in the ears of the audience, and then in their hearts. How can God be in their hearts without effect?
Lutherans do not shun science, but through faith they see the wonder of God’s Creation. Lutherans do reject efforts to Christianize paganism. The Lutheran reformer most enamored of astrology was Philip Melanchthon, whose love creating unity between natural enemies (Aristotle and Christ; the pope and Lutherans; Calvin and the Lutherans) caused so much harm. In contrast, Martin Chemnitz was a professional astrologist who became disgusted with his profession. Melanchthon betrayed the Reformation and almost destroyed it. Chemnitz preserved the Reformation in the years following Melanchthon’s treachery.
Kennedy’s book illustrates how the wrong use of reason leads to greater and greater folly.