Book Review – Sharing Jesus [without freaking out]

I can’t avoid the reality that I once had a near terminal case of CKD – “Christian Kid Disease.”    Those at risk for CKD include children of the 80s who went to Youth Group, went to church at least 4 times a week, listened to awful…and I mean AWFUL Contemporary Christian Music with even worse theology, and had a deep seated terror and a near co41eNHDPEIKL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgmplete paralysis when it came to “witnessing” [80s word] – or as it’s better known “evangelism.”  Fortunately, CKD has a cure – a heaping dose of the pure, unadulterated gospel.

Dr. Alvin Reid (Pastor and Professor of Evangelism at Southeastern Baptist Seminary) gets this, and thankfully wrote “Sharing Jesus [without freaking out}” to help those suffering with CKD learn to love sharing Jesus. As he states “We need to reboot our understanding of evangelism.”  Oh. I like this book.

Right away, Reid doesn’t fall into the CKD trap of making evangelism a super awkward Christianese-filled monologue where one pressures someone to ‘invite Jesus into their heart.’  Instead, “its in our everyday conversations that we can help people see that their life matters, that their passion to live comes from God and that he good news of Jesus can rescue them from pain.”  [2]

Reid makes many solid points, and one of the first that resonated loudly with me is that one of main reasons why Christians don’t share the hope of Jesus more often is because typically Christians surround themselves with other Christians…and spend life in a Christian bubble.  We need to be more intentional in our relationships – start real friendships that are based in love and naturally sharing Jesus.   He then goes on to outline several principles for being fruitful.

Principle 1: God created you for his glory, to advance his gospel with the gifts, talents, and opportunities he gave you. [11]  We need to be more intentional about owning the mission, not just feeling guilty about not participating in it. We need to back up the mission with credible lives, proclaiming the gospel in word and deed.

Principle 2: In order to share Jesus confidently and consistently with others, first share him confidently and consistently with yourself. [23]  We need to be biblical theologians. Not only do we need to know our Bibles, but we need to know the story of the Bible.  All the Bible points to Jesus, the center of the redemptive plan of a holy God who rescues a human race that rejected it’s Creator.  He writes “They need to see the story of Jesus is as big as the Bible itself, the story of Jesus is bigger than our times na dour individual lives, or even the spiritual aspect of our lives alone.” [25]  This is the grand metanarrative – the overarching ‘big story’ of the Bible – creation, fall, rescue, restoration.

Principle 3: Shifting from giving and evangelistic presentation to having an evangelistic conversation takes pressure off the witness and relates the gospel more clearly to an unbeliever.  [41] This is the weakness of the CKD model of the 80s where an awkward monologue was the tactic of choice.  Reid calls for more “gospel intelligence” and “gospel fluency” to introduce the gospel in everyday conversations.  He also calls for three vital things people can tell about us in a conversation:  (1) If we care about them, (2) If we believe what we are talking about, (3) If the hand of God is on our life. I also appreciated the realism in this book, for example the author writes “most times your conversations will not lead to a conversion, but will help nudge the person further along in their gospel understanding.”

Principle 4: God has sovereignly placed you in this world at this time with the abilities and gifts you have to bring glory to him and show the joy of the gospel to others. [56] This includes “starting with the why” – understanding why we are doing evangelism, even before the “how.”  [This is the great mistake of pragmatism.]  You were made to do this, he writes, with the personality, limitations, and circumstances of YOU!

Principle 5: Effective evangelistic conversations connect the unchanging gospel with the specific issues people face. [68] This is a realistic, non-programmatic approach – again in contrast to years gone by.  He gives five approaches to being a conversationalist in today’s different [social media[ world.  (1) The power of stories, (2) asking good questions, (3) genuine affirmation and encouragement – ie. not condemning a person for their sin, nor condoning it – affirm them as a person made in the image of God, (4) speak to the person’s mind and heart, and (5) connect beneath the surface.

Principle 6: Expect people to be open to the gospel, and learn to share Jesus where they live. [84] Quoting Bruce Ashford, Reid points out four areas which we are called to live out our faith: home, culture, workplace, and community.  [87] Reid reprints Thompson’s “Concentric Circles of Concern,”  and in so doing again points out the weakness in a programmatic, plastic evangelistic method – most of those “techniques” were geared towards “Person X’ – all well and good, but more realistically how about our family?  Our neighbors? Our co-workers? Those that God has sovereignly placed in our lives through relationships!  [see Principle 4!]

Principle 7: Talk to the actual person in front of you about the Jesus inside you; let them see and hear the change Jesus makes in you.  [99] The truth is “God uses people just like [us] to impact people just like those you know for his glory.” AMEN!  This principle included a helpful section on dealing with objections, in a gracious and accessible way.

Principle 8: Developing a lifestyle of sharing Jesus consistently flows out of a plan to share Jesus regularly. [112]  This speaks to living an intentional life.  This includes prayer [though covered more in Principle 5], but realistically understanding your giftedness, calling, and our passions.

I loved this book and highly recommend it, especially for those recovering from the effects of CKD.  It’s an easy, well-written, yet convicting and highly practical read – with all the theological grounding one would hope for.  Onward to the evangelistic revolution!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book Review – Married for God

51nwKRzG+wL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_I know what you are thinking – it’s just like what my friend said when he saw my copy of the book “We need another book on marriage?”  I honestly thought the same thing, but it was Tim Challies who included Married for God on his “Favorites of 2016” list that caught my eye.  Because after all, if Challies thought this book was needed…that’s probably saying something.  Right from the beginning, this book didn’t move in the “customary” marriage book topic flow.  Sex is literally the first word, and carries an important undercurrent throughout the rest of the book.  The books focus is on the centrality of wanting what God wants, in our sexuality, but more to the related point – in our marriages.  We need to want what God wants, Ash writes, because he is not a god in our service, we are in His and we need to ask God what he wants and then line up our goals behind his, rather than expecting him to line up his goals behind ours. God has given us all we have and what God wants is actually in line with how things actually are, because he is the Creator and we are the creature. When we ask what God wants, we really are asking what is best for us. [16-17]

Pursuant to having a book that is based on what God wants, particularly in our sexuality, Ash starts with grace, because unless we start with grace we will end up either with despair or self-righteousness.  With that in mind, Ash boldly enters into gospel-fused discussions of the brokenness of sexual sin and how that profoundly affects marriage  – because the Bible speaks to men and women who are all spoiled in the area of sex. Even for those of us who think that we are pretty much in the clear, the gospel teaches us that we are not, when we are talking about the areas of sexual desires and things of the heart. [22-23]. Ash quickly brings in the powerful hope of the gospel, that there is forgiveness, but realistically even though there may not be sexual fulfillment in this life.  This then points to his empowering grace, which allows us to live lives of purity, based soundly on the hope of the gospel.

The author biblically traces the topics of gender, marriage, loneliness, and companionship – noting how we have reoriented these things to be self-serving and not God-serving. It is a serious mistake to think that marriage is made to meet my needs – for two reasons.  First, Genesis 2:18 needs to be rightly interpreted.  It’s not sex in the service of me, it’s sex in the service of God.  Second, simply – the rest of the Bible doesn’t support such a view.  God has bigger purposes in all things than just meeting our perceived needs.  AMEN!  A marriage is made to meet my needs mentality is wrong, self-focused, and destroys marriages.

Ash aptly pushes on the Western undercurrents of children being either curses or something to be idolized.  “We idolize education, caring more about their getting good grades and getting to into a good school than their faith and godliness.” [53]  He boldly (but sensitively) takes a minority position on having children in marriage which I found bold – that deliberately choosing to not have children is wrong.  This goes with this thesis of our lives being not for our own needs but for others, as any parent will attest to – this is inescapable in having children.

He then spends more time developing a convicting and biblical position on sexuality in marriage.  While Christians tend to focus on the epidemic of sexual activity within marriage, he calls us to focus on the epidemic of sexual inactivity within marriage. [67]  As a Pastor this rings true, I’m still saddened to see so many marriages that have a sexual relationship that has all but died, and it’s poison has spread to many other areas in the marriage.  All the while neglecting what is to be the supreme act of intimacy reserved for husband and wife, as other much lesser pursuits have taken priority.  He cautions from having too high a view of sex, nor too low a view.  A husband and wife’s delight in each other, should overflow into areas of service, usefulness and blessing to others.

This is also exemplified in the roles of husband in wife in the “shape” of marriage, in which Ash appropriately balances both the wife submitting to the husband, but also the husband loving his wife, as Christ loves the church.  He notes that Paul writes forty words to the wife about submission, but 115 words to the husbands about sacrificial love. [85] This again has everything to do with sex and making sure that all sexual energies are reserved exclusively for one’s spouse, as a primary way of honoring marriage in a culture that dishonors it.  I appreciated again his boldness and clarity on biblical sexuality and the multitude of implications within sexual sin.  Marriage after all is a covenant promise, and a promise is to be kept, whatever the cost – see Psalm 15:4. [111]

The author has a helpful chapter on singleness. Stressing again that the whole duty of every person on Earth is to love God with all their heart, soul, mind and strength – married or single. The question then becomes how we are going to love and serve God. [120] Ash pushes on the ‘gift of singleness” stressing that whatever circumstances God has allowed are his gracious gift to me, and I am to learn to accept them from his hand as such. Just because we have been gifted with singleness or marriage, doesn’t mean he can’t change that status either. [126] One point that I found challenging was that neither status is an easy option.  There are unique challenges to each, and we need God’s grace and strength to fulfill God’s calling on us, particularly as sexual purity intersects life and the pursuit of holiness.

Ash closes with a chapter on the heart of marriage, as faithfulness, emphasizing that faithfulness in marriage comes from the faithfulness of God. This understanding is even cloudy in “Christian” marriage materials who instead can focus on feelings, instead of faithfulness. As God promises eternal faithfulness to us in Jesus, we are to life lives of faithful obedience to Him, whether we are married or single.

This is a highly recommended resource for all aspects of marriage!

Book Review – Walking with God through Pain and Suffering

Tim Keller is oimgres-2.pngne of those particularly gifted and effective evangelical Christian thought leaders.  He continually serves the church with his writing, his church planting efforts, his work with the Gospel Coalition, and perhaps most importantly – his pastoring.

Indeed, it would be near impossible to write a credible book about walking through pain and suffering if (a) you hadn’t walked through it yourself and/or (b) you walked closely with others during their time of trials.   Suffering is a universal topic, and one that – short of Christ’s return – will never go away.   It effects us all deeply, profoundly, and personally and our theology of suffering will go a long way in preparing us for when it inevitably comes for us, or someone close to us.  Particularly for pastors – we need to know how to help those in suffering well.  Keller, in his brilliance, succeeds in writing a challenging, informative, honest, and helpful book that everyone should read.

This book is not for the faint of heart – not only for it’s subject matter (the classic “no one wants to learn about this until we absolutely have to…”) but it’s a long book and sometimes deep sledding, but well worth it.  So…let’s mush on…

Keller divides the book into three parts, and what he says unites them is the central image of suffering as a fiery furnace.  Part 1: Understanding the Furnace; Part 2: Facing the Furnace; Part 3: Walking with God in the Furnace. Fire, can destroy – but if used properly does not.  Things put into the furnace can be reshaped, refined, purified, and even beautified.   Going thru suffering well is not a matter of technique.  Suffering can refine us rather than destroy us because God himself walks with us in the fire. Ours is to orient ourselves towards God and this purpose in suffering, instead of away from him.

Keller sets a philosophical foundation by examining various cultures and how we as Americans have one of the worst and weakest views of pain and suffering of them all. the older Christian idea that we exist for God’s glory receded and was replaced by the belief that God exists to nurture and sustain us. [54] This is the weakness of modern secularism – if this world (and possibly the God who created it) is designed for our comfort then how can the undeniable reality of pain and suffering fit into that worldview. It can’t.

Even the professional mental, psychological, social, civlil, health experts are only there to not help us deal with the big questions (because they can’t) of “Why is suffering here? How do I deal with it?” their job is the alleviation of the pain by the removal of as many stressors as possible. [24] This is a major premise to understand and I was delighted to see Keller include it early on in the book.  Christianity comes out as the only worldview that answers the big questions of pain and suffering – and empowers it’s people to sit in the midst of this world’s sorrows, tasting the coming joy. [31]

At the end of each chapter is a story detailing, sometimes in quite painful detail, the sufferings encountered by “everyday” people.  These are powerful, emotional, life-applicational evidence of how a biblical worldview can give strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow.

One of the things the I found most helpful in the book’s first part was how Keller pointed out that sorrow is not to be denied, but rather Christians do not see grief as a useless thing to be suppressed at all costs. Not all weeping proceed from unbelief or weakness. [44] Pain and suffering is hard – let it be so.  So many times we do so much damage by trying to cliche away the pain, or remove it as fast as possible – God is at work in the pain.  It hurts…but there is purpose in the pain.

Keller masterfully tackles the age old conundrum of the problem of evil, surveying several theodicies, but the teeth of the argument again goes back to our Western cultural perception of suffering – the problem of evil was not widely perceived to be an objection to God until modern times. [99]  To think that we would demand an explanation (that we couldn’t ever understand anyway) from the almighty sovereign God as to his defense for allowing pain and suffering is more than a little arrogant.  Quoting Anderson – he writes “To bring God under obligation to human morality is a threat to his sovereignty.” [277], and again “There is a rebuke for person who, by complaining about particular events in his life, implies that he could propose to God better ways of running the universe.”  Elisabeth Elliot furthers this point “God is God.  If He is God, He is worthy of my worship and my service. I will find rest nowhere but in His will, and that will is infinitely, unspeakably beyond my largest notions of what He is up to.” [287]

As Keller points out repeatedly – just because we cannot see a logical reason why pain and suffering are allowed, it doesn’t mean that God doesn’t have any.  [97]  A better question might be why in light of our human race, does God allow so much happiness? [115]

Evil, suffering and pain must therefore be looked at in light of God’s big story – Creation, Fall, Redemption, Restoration.  Without the hope of this eternal big picture,  one can easily spend the entirety of suffering in hopeless despair.  Christianity is future focused – Keller pushes on this truth by asking “Buy why could it not be that God allowed evil because it will bring us all to a far greater glory and joy than we would have had otherwise?” [117] One day, by his glorious grace, he will return and permanently “undo” the damage the evil has wreaked on the creation. [156]

A god (intentional lc ‘g’] who simply supports our plans, how we think the world and history should go is a god of our own creation, a counterfeit God. Powerfully quoting missionary Elisabeth Elliot after her husband was murdered “If God was merely my accomplice, he betrayed me. If on the other hand, He was my God, He had freed me.” [172] Am I serving the sovereign God of all creation or the god of my plans?

One of the greatest comforts we have as Christians is the truth that our God identifies and knows our suffering, because he himself suffered – exponentially more than we ever can.  He allowed himself, in the person of Jesus Christ, to be rejected, tortured, and executed – all the while having the crushing load of emotional and spiritual darkness placed upon him, in our place on the cross.

Because of Jesus, there is always hope, even in the darkest moments of your life. [251]

This has powerful application in real life and the realities of pain and suffering must be faced by all believers – particularly before suffering actually hits.  As Keller writes, “the stakes are high. Suffering will either leave you a much better person or a much worse person than you were before…trials will either make you or break you. But either way, you will not remain the same.” [190]

The truth is that God uses suffering in innumerable ways – to transform our attitude toward ourselves, to profoundly change our relationship to the good things in our live, and to strengthen our relationship to God as nothing else, it is also a prerequisite if we are going to be of much use to other people, especially when they go thru their own trials.  We have to be weary of getting trapped in our suffering mindset, getting accustomed to our pain as our identity – “Suffering can turn the soul into it’s accomplice…we become complicit with the affliction, comfortable with our discomfort, content with our discontentment. This complicity impedes all the efforts to improve…even going as far as to prevent someone from seeking a way of deliverance…sometimes even from wishing for deliverance.” [215] Think of the crippled man by the pool in John 5…

When helping others, we must be leery of real truths applied poorly.  Things expressed at the wrong time or in an unreasonable manner.  Talk to anyone who has suffered and they can give you a catalog of unhelpful things that anxious friends have said to them in an attempt to act as an interpreter and find something to say to make it all better.   Sufferers need to be able to weep and pour out their hearts, and not to immediately be shut down by being told what to do. Nor should we do that to ourselves if we are grieving. [245]

One such biblical truth is “rejoicing in suffering.”  This is much different though than rejoicing “for” suffering.  We need to learn to rejoice more in God and his love, but the evil was evil and would always be painful. [217] Likewise, we should be wary of trying to interpret, understand, and digest the whole trial at once.  God never promised to give you tomorrow’s grace today. He only promised today’s grace for today, and that’s all you need. (Matthew 6:34).  [218]

The final section of the book was extremely helpful – how do we walk thru pain and suffering?  Keller points out that the walking metaphor points to the idea of progress.  Again, us modern Western people view suffering as bad weather that we have to endure.  We cannot lose our footing and just let the suffering have it’s way with us.  We are to meet and move thru suffering without shock and surprise, without denial of our sorrow and weakness, without resentment or paralyzing fear, yet also without acquiescence or capitulation, without surrender or despair. [226]

As hard as it is, we must let the grief and sorrow drive you more into God.  Feel the grief – the joy of the Lord can happen within sorrow.  The weeping drives you into joy, it enhances joy, and then the joy enables you to actually feel your grief without it sinking you. In other words, you are finally emotionally healthy. [253]  This is a difficult concept for modern Western people, since we think our feelings as almost holy, sovereign things.

Quoting Lloyd-Jones, he makes this point “we are not to expect God will exempt Christians from suffering and inner darkness, nor that he will simply lift the darkness as soon as we pray. Rather than expecting God to remove the sorrow and replace it with happiness, we should look for a ‘glory’ – a taste and conviction and increasing sense of God’s presence – that helps us rise above the darkness.”  It is not an absence of feeling! [253-4]

This usually all boils down to trust.  Evelyn Underhill said “If God were small enough to be understood, he wouldn’t be big enough to be worshipped.”[255]

Continually citing scriptural examples, he points out Joseph – “The Joseph story tells us that very often God does not give us what we ask for.  Instead, he gives us what we would have asked for if we had known everything he knows.”[264]

Suffering should then drive us to God in prayer, John Newton said “If we are not getting much out of going to God in prayer, we will certainly get nothing out of staying away.”  All of this means that if we cannot feel God in our darkest and most dry times, he is still there.  Like Job, you must seek him, go to him. Pray even if you are dry.  Read the Scriptures even if you are in agony. Eventually, you will sense him again – the darkness won’t last forever. [288].

Keller gives practical instruction in how to find God’s peace in the midst of pain and suffering – thinking, thanking, and loving – per Philippians 4:6-9.

Think hard and long about the core doctrines of the Bible. Reckon these things. [Romans 8:18; Phil 4:7-8]  You will see Jesus coming to earth, suffering, dying, rising again – think primarily on the gospel.  If you are a Christian today and you have little or no peace it may be because you are not thinking. Peace comes from a disciplined thinking out of the implications of what you believe. [300] Phil 4:6 encourages us to be thankful, for everything he sends, even if we don’t understand it.  Phil 4:8 challenges us to love differently – to love not indiscriminately, but to love the right things.   The final way to get the calm, the tranquility, the peace is to love him supremely.

This comes down to the heart – you will never understand your heart when things are going well.  It is only when things go badly that you can see it truly. [308]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book Review -No Little Women

Author, blogger, speaker, and podcaster Aimee Byrd has boldly written a very helpful book for the church in No Little Women.  I’ll put my cards on the table early here – I loved this book and I think every Pastor, Elder, and Women’s Ministry Leader should read it immediately.  It is clear, brave, biblical, sometimes funny, and extremely timely with the current publishing and media landscape of watered down women’s ministry books, Shack-like movies, and increasing misunderstandings of women’s roles in the church.  She states that she would like to “open up the doors of biblical womanhood and let the sunshine of theology for every woman shine through.”  Byrd accomplishes this extremely well.  [Disclaimer:  I’m pretty passionate about the issues in this book and I agree with where the author is coming from, so consider yourself warned.]

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Byrd immediately identifies the well-founded need for theological clarity in women’s ministry and the usual weak and sometimes outright false doctrine that is contained within it’s books.  Byrd boldly comes out against a “Christian” publishing industry that knows all too well that women are a big revenue stream, and one that can put operating income at a higher priority than correct biblical teaching.   I echo a hearty AMEN to this and thank Aimee for being so candid.

She writes, “many books marketed to women that appear to be godly, while a closer look reveals that they are not in accord with Scripture.”   Pastors, Elders: we need to hear this – the responsibility for what people are being taught in our church falls squarely in our court. (Titus 1:9) Byrd is correct in pleading “please do not let your women be susceptible targets. This is a pastoral issue.”  We also have a responsibility to train and equip our people to know biblical doctrine and be able to spot false teaching. (2 Tim 2:23-26) Frankly, we can do better.  I know I can.   The women and families in our church are far too important.

Women, as all new creations in Christ, need to be good theologians and the church needs to clearly understand the true biblical roles which they are called to.   “[Women] are being transformed into the image of Jesus Christ. So there should be no little women.”  I greatly appreciated how Byrd explored the issue of gender roles in the church. While holding to an orthodox complementarian view, she pushes against an over-realized view of it that, I agree, most likely goes beyond the boundaries of Scripture’s intent and can pigeon hole men and women into a mere “men can do this, and women can do that” mindset.  “Women should thrive alongside the men as they are serve according to their giftedness and the needs of the church.”  While I support what I believe to be the biblical view of male leadership in the church (Pastors and Elders), I do believe we can, and have, stifled women’s ministerial growth by regulating them to roles solely within women and children’s ministries.  There is more than this – I have much to learn from the Godly women of our church.   There is more of a need, gifts need to be used, but biblically.  This is what has contributed to the explosion of parachurch women’s ministries and the gangrenous spread of weak or false teaching contained therein.

Two additional perspectives added to the book’s significant helpfulness for me.  First, this is not a book written just for women, but rather Byrd consistently and powerfully speaks to the Pastors and Elders of churches.  The author provides practical biblical insight that challenges us as leaders of the church.  She also provides an entire chapter at the end of the book about preaching to the women’s perspective, while supporting a sound exegetical and expositional pulpit.

Second, Byrd boldly identifies false teaching by some of the most beloved female authors and ministry leaders…by name and writing excerpts.  I especially appreciated her tone in this – one that wasn’t mean spirited or malicious, but thoroughly biblical – while all the while not hiding the serious damage done to theological underpinnings of many women.  I have seen this first hand, and am thankful that Aimee was so bold in doing this.  The need to clarity in biblical teaching will only grow in the future.

Thank you, Aimee Byrd, for skillfully and passionately articulating the many nuances on this important topic that, until now, have not had a loud voice in reformed biblical circles.

 

 

 

 

 

Sons in the Son – Book Review

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Sons in the Son (P&R Publishing, 2016) by David B. Garner goes deep into the doctrine of our adoption in Christ.

Adoption is one of those doctrines that warms and encourages the soul and needs to be dwelt upon.  It is also deeply foundational to who we are as united to Christ.  J.I. Packer famously wrote (and Garner is quick to quote) that if he could summarize the New Testament in three words it would be “adoption through propitiation.”

This book is a challenging and academic read, one that is good for enhancing,  deepening and poking at our gospel perspectives, while keeping Christ central.

In Garner’s first section of the book, he lays the adoption foundation -“Securing a family of adopted children occupied the mind of God since before the world’s origins…God purposed adoption, God accomplished adoption, and God applies adoption.” [19] After a brief survey of the concept of adoption in early church history and culture, Garner focuses on the Pauline references to huiothesia – the Greek term  (literally “son-placing”) for adoption which the Apostle uniquely uses for spiritual (not social) adoption.

In the second section, the author dives into the specific texts exegetically and theologically.  Ephesians 1:3-6 [“…God the Father…predestined us for adoption to Himself as sons thru Jesus Christ…”]  As Garner wisely puts it “the opening words of Ephesians affirm, without the all-wise counsel and eternal purpose in the mind of God, redemption would have never happened.”  Amen!  Praise be to God for his sovereign mercy and grace.  Garners stresses, as Paul does in his letters that adoption is in Christ (en Christo) and that union with Christ is paramount to keep in central focus.   Many things stem from this, but one I appreciated particularly was the connection between adoption and Christlikeness.  Eph 1:4 says that he “chose us…to be holy and blameless.”  We have a calling and a purpose therefore as his adopted sons and daughters – bring him glory by looking more like Jesus, through his abundant transforming grace.

The author brings in a redemptive-historical view of adoption when looking more closely at Galatians 4:4-7. [“…so you are no longer a slave, but a son…”]  We see that adoption was not only sovereignly planned, but accomplished in Christ.  As he powerfully writes “the stranglehold of the law and the power of it’s curse meet their defeat under the power of Christ and the cross…” [93] As a result, thru faith, we are no longer slaves to the law/sin – but we are adopted as sons in freedom! Romans 8:15-17 furthers the emphasis of accomplishment. [“…you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons…”]  This is indeed a powerful and central point, once again tied to Christlikeness in practicality – “The Spirit of adoption empowers the believer for spiritual renovation by mortification of sin, and he accomplishes  this empowerment in the mystical union with the Son by the Spirit, or as Paul puts it succinctly, by adoption.” [115]  Through this mortification of sin we grow into the reality of our adopted sonship.  [129]

Garner makes some big statements in this book, one of which he brings out in the context of Ephesians 1:4 to 1:11.  [“…works all things according to the counsel of his will…”]  “Or put in Pauline shorthand, adoption is the singular goal of redemptive history, an adoption that changes the state of the sons, the hearts of the sons, and even the bodies of the sons.” [143]  I can’t say that I disagree with this statement, but the author is laying the groundwork for some bigger statements to follow.

Section 3 contains the significant disconnect I have with the book.  While remaining faithful to the orthodox doctrine of the eternality of Jesus as the Son of God, Garner maintains that Jesus himself was adopted as the Son of God at His resurrection.   This point he carries then for the rest of the book, but devotes a whole chapter to it in chapter 7.  Again, Garners sets the theological foundation with boundaries – “That Christ is eternal Son does not mean, however, that there is therefore no progressive, functional dimension to his sonship.” [179]  Quoting Dunn, he claims this was the adoptionist perspective of primitive Christian teaching “…to have regarded Jesus’ resurrection as the day of his appointment to divine sonship, as the event by which he became God’s son.” [179]  This can be a dangerous perspective and I couldn’t help but take it as a thesis driven push point.  It colored the rest of my interpretation of the book.

The author mainly relies on Romans 1:3-4 for textual support  – ““concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord,” (Romans 1:3–4 ESV). The centrality of the argument is the ESV (and KJV, NKJV, and NASB) translation of horisthentos as “declared” which Garner (along with NIV and the new CSV BTW) claims is actually better ” appointed” – thus surmising that Christ was appointed the (adopted) Son at his resurrection.  To be blunt, I can’t buy this, I don’t think it’s helpful, and again it can be dangerous.  Citing support from Gaffin [“…the resurrection of Jesus is his adoption.”] he claims this nuanced interpretation warrants serious attention. [187]

Where it troubles me further is the connection made to biblical Christology and biblical soteriology.  “To put it simply, without the human biography of Christ Jesus, capped by his own adoption as the Son of God, there is no salvation.” [195] – I would wholeheartedly agree with this statement, were it not for the singling out of Christ’s “adoption.”Hence, I cannot.  We are saved by grace through faith in Jesus, I know the author agrees with that of course, but the addition of the adoption of Christ himself seems to obfuscate the overwhelming orthodox centrality of it.   Highlighting my concern are statements such as “…there is no adoption of believers in Christ Jesus without the adoption of Christ Jesus.”  As he continues to make the point, I find myself less and less convinced and more and more concerned.  Don’t get too excited – I realize that Garner isn’t denying the eternal divine sonship of Christ, he is stating that “…at his resurrection, Jesus enters a new phase and new dynamic of sonship.” [214], but I’m at a loss as to why this nuance is emphasized for half of the book.

I appreciated Garner’s discussion of the ordo salutis and rescuing it from a forensic, stale, sequential view. He returns to highlight the importance of sanctification resulting from our adoption, and brings a balanced perspective to a sometimes over-emphasized justification.  “Actual holiness is as important as declared holiness.”  [292] AMEN!  He expands the readers view of ordo salutis and it is appreciated and helpful.  “The golden chain of salvation then comes to the redeemed not as consecutive links, but at once as a gloriously completed crown of divine filial grace.”  Once again, AMEN!  Having sat thru many extended dialogs on “which came first” this is very refreshing and helpful.

All in all, I found this book equally helpful and challenging, but one that should be read with a Berean mindset as the priority given to Christ’s own adoption should not be read without significant personal prayer, study, and thought.

 

 

 

Signs of the Spirit – Book Review

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Jonathan EdwardsReligious Affections is one of the most foundational books on the life of a believer ever written. But reading Edwards can be a bit…challenging, shall we say?Henceforth – in Signs of the Spirit, Sam Storms takes on the massive task of recasting and commenting the treasure trove that is sometimes buried within his writing style.

Edwards wrote Religious Affections as a response to the controversy surrounding the Great Awakening, particularly answering the questions “What is the nature of true religion/conversion?” and “How can we tell between authentic and spurious holiness?”

What is the evidence of a genuine saving encounter with the Spirit of God?

Storms sets a foundation from Edwards and then he goes on to explain and apply Edwards’ 12 signs of genuine religious affections.

First, per 1 Peter 1:8, we see that love for Jesus and joy in Jesus are the essence of true spirituality. This love and joy should endure through trials and pain, knowing that God is working within us, like a sculptor who “chips away in us anything from our lives that doesn’t look like Jesus.” This then is no ordinary, temporary emotion, but more of an “inclination of the will,” or as Edwards puts it an “affection” of the heart.

Inclinations and affections should therefore not be half-hearted or lukewarm, but intense and vibrant – ultimately giving way to outward actions that are pleasing to God. As anyone knows, affections cannot (most of the time) be self-generated, we are thus dependent on God to bring them, and that’s where prayer comes in. Storms powerfully writes/summarizes “We are not to pray as if our petitions inform God of what he doesn’t know or change his mind or prevail on him to bestow mercy that he was otherwise disinclined to give. Rather we pray “to affect our own hearts with the things we express, and so to prepare us to receive the blessings we ask.” In fact, virtually all external expressions of worship “can be of no further use, than as they have some tendency to affect our own hearts, or the hearts of others.”

Likewise, our singing should be vibrant and stir our affections. Our preaching should aim to affect hearts, not just inform minds. Our enemy, Satan, is quite happy to see Christians fall into a zone of lifeless religious ceremony, stoicism, and routine. “There is no true religion where there is no religious affection, because if the great things of religion are understood, they will affect the heart.” Chief among these great things is the gospel of Jesus Christ! There should be our greatest joy, delight and affection.

The controversy therein is which are genuine, biblical affections and which are not. Sometimes people can appeal to affections which in actuality prove nothing of genuine spirituality. In Edwards day, as in today, there is a school of thought that would put all the weight on a “spiritual experience” rather than the fruit of genuine faith. We cannot rely on outward expressions, but rather something much more deep. This has everything to do with assurance of faith and Storms/Edwards is right in saying that there is no assurance of salvation in any other way, than by mortifying corruption, and increasing in grace, and obtaining the lively exercises of it.

This then sets the stage for an analysis of the twelve signs of authentic affections that Edwards provides. I’ll try to quickly list and comment on each.

  1. Authentic religious affections arise from supernatural influences on the heart. God, in response to our hearing of the gospel, through the power of His Holy Spirit, gives us new life – which includes new perspectives, feelings, desires, and appetites.
  2. An awareness that divine things are not for self-benefit. In short, it’s not about us. It’s about God and we are drawn then for more of God. The hypocrite rejoices in self, the child of God rejoices in God. Our primary joy must be of God Himself, and not in even in any perceived “experience” of God. I unfortunately see this all over the church today, primarily in the false gospels of prosperity and charismatics. We don’t come to God for what he can do for us, period.
  3. Affections that are founded on a belief of the goodness, sweetness, and beauty of divine things. Do we really believe that God is good, that his word is true and sweet, that prayer is joyful dependance, that the church is our spiritual family? Or do we consider other things more valuable, when they are in actuality pale substitutes.
  4. Affections that result from the mind being divinely enlightened about spiritual things. When God’s word is read, preached, spoken of – it becomes understood by us through the Holy Spirit. Subsequently, per the last point, spiritual things aren’t merely intellectually appreciated, they are savored in the heart.
  5. Affections that come with a level of conviction about the seriousness, judgement and reality of the gospel. These again, are not a mere intellectual belief, but a deeper conviction that spiritual things are indeed truth.
  6. Affections must be accompanied by humility. An awareness of one’s sinfulness and the gift of God in Jesus. Not to mention, deep pain at the signs of sin and the lack of deeper affections for God Himself.
  7. A change of nature must be visible. True conversion includes a gradual renovation of the thoughts, impulses, and actions.
  8. A reflection of the character of Jesus in love, humility, forgiveness, mercy…and many other things.
  9. A tenderness of spirit and a sensitivity toward sin. If we are claiming to be Christians, are we more inclined to determine what is sin and act on it?
  10. A symmetry and pervasiveness in Godly affections. It is a characteristic of the hypocrite to pick and choose where Christlikeness applies in their lives. This is still alive and well in the church in legalism. We pick and choose our pet issues and are willing to die for them, but then subsequently express an inconsistency and imbalance in applying sanctification in other areas of our lives.
  11. True religious affections want more. False affections are satisfied in spiritual complacency. We are called to grow (Eph 4:15) and to give ourselves to seeking God and applying his likeness in “ever increasing measures” so that we will not be ineffective or unfruitful. (2 Peter 1:3-8)
  12. Straight up – we bear the fruit of holiness in our actual lives. This is the most important of the signs. True Christians are never content with the presence of sin in their lives. True Christians will sin, but never completely forsake righteousness. Always fight, by the grace of the gospel, to be more consistent with their spiritual new life in Christ. As Edwards wrote “holy affections have a governing power in the course of a man’s life.” Then we have come full circle, because holiness fuels Godly affections.

Storms includes an additional part of the book about the personal spirituality of Edwards. If you haven’t read a biography on a saint like Edwards that has gone before, please do so. (PS:  Here is a good one on Edwards if you’d like.) They are tremendous soul building exercises. Storms includes a mini-biography in the final part of the book that explains in transparency how much Edwards believed and lived by his faith. We see a mini-tour of his confessions, struggles, and aspirations and it should encourage and give hope for us.

We have much to learn from the saints that have gone before us, your soul will benefit from getting to know Jonathan Edwards.  Thank you, Sam Storms for making these deep truths even more accessible.

Book Review – Discipling

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Discipleship can be a mysterious topic in churches.  How do we do it well? What does it look like? Is it a formal didactic lecture or an informal hang time?  Dever, as he tends to do well, simplifies the mystery in his book “Discipling” he provides a working definition of discipleship as quite simply “helping others follow Jesus.”

In this increasingly individualistic culture, it rubs against the grain to intentionally orient our lives towards others, but that is the foundation of discipleship – particularly, of course, with an eye towards gospel influence.  Yet, this is what the book, appropriately so, encourages.

The book is well organized into three parts, addressing some of the questions in discipling.  What is discipling? Where should we disciple? How should we disciple?  As is expected and appropriate, Dever highlights the centrality of the local church as the primary place for making and maturing disciples of Jesus.   If the church is doing it’s job, people will be diligently following Jesus and then others will be following their example in discipleship relationships.

This all should ultimately be based on the word of God, as the core of discipleship is about teaching truth from the Bible and applying it in our actual lives.  This looks differently for each situation.  I have seen people intimidated by a discipleship relationship thinking that it is a didactic lecture from the Greek text with PowerPoint slides each week, but it doesn’t have to (and probably shouldn’t!) look like that.  We share the word of God in our dailiy relationships which are born from the local church.

Truth needs to be taught and seen in peoples actual lives, with it’s chaos and unpredictability.  This is what Dever highlights as the “life-truth-life” pattern.  Our lives should attract people to listen, we teach truth from God’s word to them, and then their transformed lives illustration what is taught and in turn attract more people to listen to them…and the cycle repeats, and God is glorified!