Book Review – Creation Regained

I received Creation Regained [1985, Eerdmans] from a Pastor friend of mine, and had never heard it before. I’m a sucker for any good book on worldview.   The subtitle “Biblical Basics for a Reformational Worldview” hooked me even further.

Albert Wolters defines ‘worldview’ as “the comprehensive framework of one’s basic beliefs about things.” [2]. Everyone has one.  Whether they know it or not.  Now…for a Christian then, Wolters states, and I agree, that our worldview must be shaped and tested by Scripture.  From that foundation the book “offers help in the process of reforming our worldview to conform more closely to the teaching of Scripture.”

This should be understood to mean all of life – a biblical worldview is simply an appeal to the believer to take the Bible and its teaching seriously for the totality of our civilization right now and not to relegate it to some optional area called “religion.” [9]

The author lays a foundation for distinguishing between those disciplines that usually play in the worldview sandbox together – philosophy and theology.  He lays down a “distinction between philosophy and theology that can be make more clear if we introduce two key concepts: ‘structure’ and ‘direction.’ Philosophy can be described as that comprehensive scientific discipline which focuses on the structure of things…and theology can be said to focus on the direction of things.” [10-11]

What makes this view reformational are the details within the big parts of the grand meta narrative of Scripture – Creation, Fall, and Redemption.

When we talk about creation, we must not “lose sight of the Creator’s sovereign activity in orientating, upholding, guiding and ruling his world.” [14]. Scripture clearly presents Christ as intimately involved in the preservation of creation.  All things were created by him and are held together in him [Col 1:16-17], he sustains all things by his powerful word. [Heb 1:2-3].  Thinking then of the work of Christ, he is in fact the mediator of both creation and re-creation. [24]. Scripture therefore, [the Word of Christ]  must be used to illuminate creation.  One fundamental concept to hold true is that creation, before sin, is wholly and unambiguously good. “Deeply engrained in the children of Adam is the tendency to blame some aspect of creation (and by implication the Creator) rather than their own rebellion for the misery of their condition.” [50]

The fall, was “not just an isolated act of disobedience but an event of catastrophic significance for creation as a whole.” [53] Furthermore, “it is one of the unique and distinctive features of the Bible’s teaching on the human situation that all evil and perversity in the world is ultimately the result of humanity’s fall, of its refusal to live according to the good ordinances of God’s creation.” [55]. “Sin is an alien invasion of creation, is completely foreign to God’s purposes for his creatures. It was not meant to be; it simply does not belong.” [58]

When speaking then of a worldview, the “world” is not just limited to a realm outside of the church, for there certainly is worldliness [=sin] in the people of the church.  There is no sacred/secular divide, as Wolters states “this compartmentalization is a very great error.” [64].  What’s the result?  “Christians have abandoned the ‘secular’ realm and have themselves to blame for the rapid secularization of the West.” [65]

This is a glaring call for redemption.  A restoration which “affects the whole of creational life and not merely some limited area within it.” [69] Note this is a restoration, not that God “scraps his earlier creation and makes a new one, but he hangs on to the former creation and salvages it.  He refuses to abandon the work of his hands – in fact he sacrifices his own Son to save his original project.” [70]. I love where Wolters goes this this – everything then is not necessarily avoided or abandoned, but redeemed for God’s glory.  Marriage, sex, politics, art, business…the list goes on and on.  “Redemption is not a matter of an addition of a spiritual or supernatural dimension to creaturely life the was lacking before; rather it is a matter of bringing new life and vitality to what was there all along.” [71]. YES!

“What was formed in creation has been historically deformed by sin and must be reformed by Christ.”  [91] AMEN.

Wolters then goes into an extensive practical section on “Discerning Structure and Direction” which I appreciated for the most part. He separates the sections into societal and personal renewal.  I was into the societal, but the personal section included a bit on “Dance” which makes me itchy.  Maybe it was because this book was originally written in the 80s.  Or maybe it’s because I see little to no use of social dancing [private is another story] redeemed or otherwise.  [Or perhaps it’s because I look like a complete DORK anytime at all I dance? I’ll consider that too…]. Also, the topics seemed very random.  What about including other topics like alcohol? Medication?  Even self-improvement?

The book includes a very helpful post script which I appreciated.  I love anything that brings us back to the centrality and foundational nature of the gospel, which the author(s) did well.  “The gospel is a redirection power. It is not first of all doctrine or theology, nor is it a world view but it is the renewing power of God unto salvation. [Ruel: Romans 1:16]. The gospel is the instrument of god’s Spirit to restore all of creation.” [121]. They also go on to note that the gospel is restorative, but they point out that the “creation itself is the goal of the salvation”…I would push on that word a bit and say rather that “God himself is the goal of salvation” which I’m certain the authors would agree with, but I understand in the redemptive context what they are going for.

The gospel is also comprehensive in it’s scope and it fulfills the long story that is unfolded in the OT.  Last – the church, the people of God is essential to the gospel.

“This gospel is the source of our life and the means by which we interpret our place in the world.”  [143]. AMEN!

Great resource for anyone who wants to deepen their understanding of a gospel based worldview!

 

 

 

Book Review – Finding Faithful Elders and Deacons

OK, so true story, I finished this book weeks ago, but have not posted a review.  I think what finally makes me post it is the fact that I’m nearly done with another book and I don’t want to be in the place of having to post two reviews. That would be weird.  Anyway…onward.

Finding Faithful Elders and Deacons is another great resource from author Thabiti Anyabwile and 9Marks.  I received this book [among many others] in my goodie bag and it is indeed a goodie.

71qIfSbyeJL.jpgThe book, as one would expect is very well organized into three helpful sections – deacons, elders, and pastors.  Also, as one would expect, all the chapters are solidly biblically based – and by that I mean the chapter content is all based on a particular qualification for an elder or a deacon.  There are 28 total chapters but they are short and impactful.

So, when it comes to deacons, think not of high church Baptist style, but rather think of Acts 6 –

“Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty.”  (Acts 6:1–3 ESV)

Anyabwile steps thru each of these, and more deacon qualifications in a systematic and helpful manner.

Likewise, elders are clearly identified in Scripture in such passages as 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1.  Elders are called to shepherd the flock of God, but doing so knowing that “ultimately, the shepherd we need is Jesus himself.” [49]

Last, the author provides a section on pastors, which at first I found a little odd, as pastors and elders are used interchangeably in Scripture.  The qualifications for each are the same, with the grand exception of a pastor being one who is called to be an elder full time and receive his income from it.    Thabiti writes about this difference “on the one hand, a senior pastor has the same basic tasks as an assistant pastor or a lay elder.  On the other hand, the leadership demands are different. More issues stop at my desk for decision, input and direction.” [111]

One of the primary ways this is manifested is the regular preaching of God’s Word.  All elders must teach, but there is something different about the man who is called to be the primary teacher, Sunday after Sunday, of God’s Word to a particular body of believers.  This should be a weight and responsibility that drives us to our knees in humility and supplication for God to empower us to do this diligently!

With so much misunderstanding about the role of the church, flat out false teaching, and confusion about church leadership, this book is a breath of fresh air and a challenge.  This should find it’s way onto every pastor, elder, and deacon’s book shelf.

 

 

Book Review – Defining Deception

This is a bold book.  It is a personally revealing and transparent book. It is a humble and sensitive book [see the Preface – “The Heart of the Authors”]  It is a book that will make lots of people uncomfortable.  I’m sure many people are angry about this book.   It’s a book that will make many people stop and think about the music they listen to and the teachers they repost on Facebook and Twitter, and what they are actually teaching and promoting about the charismatic work of the Holy Spirit in healings, tongues, spiritual experiences, and prosperity.  [Think “Word of Faith” and “Name it Claim It…” God wants me to have a car, I just have to speak it into existence and receive it with thanksgiving. A la Osteen and Copeland…]

Therefore, this is also a colossally important book at a very important time.

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I have been looking forward to reading Defining Deception, since I stumbled upon the news of it’s upcoming release on the Twitter.

As a Pastor, one of the hardest parts of my “job” is to gently, yet clearly, identify false teaching and as a result have hard conversations with people about it.  One of the worst parts of my “job” is the painful untangling of years of false teaching and helping sort through the spiritual corrosion that bad theology leaves behind in it’s wake.  It shipwrecks faith, undermines marriages and relationships, and spreads like the flu on social media.

For this reasons and more, I’m very thankful for this book.

I was also surprised by the focus of this book.  I was thinking with someone like Costi Hinn, nephew of infamously famous false teacher, Benny Hinn, that it would focus primarily on him.  Indeed some time is spent on Uncle Benny – but Costi and Wood also present a balanced, comprehensive, and historical survey of the Pentecostal and New Apostolic Reformation landscape.  To say the conclusions are terrifying would be an understatement.

Nearly 1/3 of the book is devoted to a history of Pentecostalism and it was well worth the history lesson to see the twisted theology of the forefathers of these modern movements.

However, one of the most noteworthy modern movements is Bethel Church, Bill Johnson, and their band Jesus Culture.  Now, I get it. JC is a ridiculously talented group of musicians.  Years ago, when I first heard “Your Love Never Fails,” I didn’t stop playing it for about a month.  I even did it in church at a worship night. [I simply couldn’t wait to capo my Telecaster and chug it up.] The lyrics [at that time] didn’t have any red flags.  But then I discovered the theology of the ministry at large and needless to say, I stopped listening and never lead that song again.  Yet, so many simply don’t know. Yet, I didn’t know the scope and depth of the heresy. This book will help.

The authors spend a chapter identifying legit doctrinal errors in Johnson’s teaching with [jaw-dropping] quotes from his book that fly in the face of orthodox Christianity and are in direct contradiction to the Word of God. There are too many errors to list here, but this isn’t little stuff, this is HUGE stuff.  Not squabbling over eschatology, but like the deity of Christ and the authority of Scripture over and above our experience.  As the authors so clearly put – “A regenerated life surrendered to the Holy Spirit will always point back to Scripture for faith, theology, and practice. Christianity has held this truth for 2,000 years, and no self-professed modern-day apostle or prophet should lead us away from this foundational truth.” [105]

The book closes with a very helpful appendix section with an honest and personal testimony from Costi, amongst scores of others who have had their eyes opened to the purity and power of the true Word of God centered on the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Another appendixes include a helpful FAQ section, clear teaching on what Scripture actually says about speaking tongues, being slain in the spirit and healings.

In this current spiritual milieu with so many voices, I’m very thankful for this helpful, clear, and strong voice crying out for a return to God’s truth in His Word.  Our experiences and feelings cannot drive the bus, our hearts will lead us astray. This book defines that deception and it needs to be read. That is clearly what is happening with false teachers preoccupied with the supernatural and the experience.  May we have the courage to call it what it is in our lives, pulpits, and relationships to the glory of God.

 

 

Book Review – If You Only Knew

91Q8sZbrKwLThis book caught my eye immediately for two main reasons.  First, I thought [correctly] it was the wife of Austin Stone Worship Leader Aaron Ivey.  [Can you say “Jesus is Better“?  If you haven’t heard this song, STOP and go listen now. Seriously.  It’s OK.  We’ll wait.]

Second, it’s the author’s “unlikely, unavoidable story of becoming free.”  Many of us have a dark past and I’m no different.  I love to hear stories of redemption, and always have hopes that the gospel will outshine the darkness, especially in the re-telling of the story.  Jamie succeeds mightily at this.

If You Only Knew” [B&H, 2018], by Jamie Ivey is a refreshing, vulnerable [borderline uncomfortably so], and best of all – thoroughly gospel-grounded look into the journey of faith.   [One that doesn’t look as neat and tidy as sometimes we can represent it to be in our churchy churches.]

I’ll come clean.  I started to read this book and was filled with “meh” and thought “Oh boy.  Please don’t let this be another ‘I-used-to-be-awful-but-then-God-restored-everything-and-now-I-speak-everywhere-and-have-3M-Insta-followers’ book.”  As a Pastor, I see plenty of ‘regular’ people who actually don’t have everything restored.  Again, I am stoked to say “This is not one of those books.”

I totally get the pain and loneliness of having a sinful past and then walking into church where everyone looks so dang perfect.  I definitely remember thinking,  “If they only knew my story, they’d probably run for the door.  I’m not as perfect as they are.”  I get it. It’s the old square peg/round hole with a healthy dose of an identity that’s not rooted in Christ.  However, as Jamie writes – “When seen through the eyes of the gospel, our stories are not obstacles to our freedom; they are actually the key to unlocking it.” [9]

The author powerfully confesses how self-imposed labels can paralyze one’s spiritual and emotional health.  [“F” = Fake; “W” = Whore; “U” = Used, etc.]  Jamie writes “Not only until years later did I begin to realize that the only one obsessively focused on all these letters was me…and those letters don’t match up with God’s letters”  [27/29].  She boldly and very transparently chronicles, possibly sometimes with a little too much detail, a deep past of sexual sin and the wreckage and heartache it caused.  All the while, trying to fit in this God that she was taught about all her life.

I can also throughly relate to this – the challenges of growing up in church, especially in the theologically light 80s and 90s [flannel graphs, Christian rock and “True Love Waits” need I say more?] and yet not truly understanding the gospel.  “Knowing where to find the Sermon on the Mount and truly believing what Jesus meant when He said it are two vastly different things. Spending time at church and living like you are the church are not the same.” [47]

All sin is at it’s root is a decision to please self rather than please God.  Whatever we are thinking we need to please self – sex, substances, attention from others, fill in the blank.  The author also doesn’t let us off the hook.  In this social media fueled world, we crave attention and glory.  Addressing this and hitting a book theme, Jamie writes “But I know deep down where my desire comes from.  It’s from wanting to be truly known and loved for exactly who I am. And that’s something I’ve discovered can only come from God.” [66]

This is the role of the church, to clearly point people to the love of God in Jesus Christ and  boldly stand on His Word.  Jamie exhorts us to continually make the church where people don’t “feel unwelcome to be real.” [81]

Our churches have to be this place, I completely agree and my people will tell you I say “It’s OK to not be OK…we just can’t stay there…” [thanks Chandler] many weeks from the pulpit.  A faithful, biblical church is where people should see the blood soaked cross, standing center stage, proclaiming we all need a Savior, and in fact he pursues us in his overwhelming love and grace.

This is what turned Jamie Ivey around.  God pursuing her.  Indeed I can relate to this as well and I’m sure many can.  God’s love comes after us and in the author’s word “leads us to a point of unavoidable vulnerability that felt more crippling to me that anything I’d ever been through before.” [88]  Amen.

This relationship with a God who pursues us isn’t neat and tidy.  It’s full of fits and starts in the beginning.  We “stumble [our] way toward trusting Him.” [117]. I felt conviction in my heart as Jamie told her story of failure AFTER surrendering to Christ and becoming new.  It’s such a vulnerable time, all the appetites of our old, newly dead self all up in the mix.  It caused me to think about new Christians, new church members, and how much they need our support, biblical friendship and grace.  Just because someone makes a really dumb decision, doesn’t mean they aren’t saved.  We are all capable of great sin. May God cause us to persevere.

What I learned from this book was that grace is needed, because this is a long haul.   It’s not an instantaneous thing.  Jamie writes that this took her years to get [156].  Even in all that, my self-righteous wondering “How common is this to take years to get it?” This be a disconnect on account of me being male.  Upon checking with my lovely wife, she verified that indeed my man-ness may be revealing itself in a lack of grace.  It does take years, especially with extensive sexual sin and especially for women.  This is why it’s all the more critical to keep preaching the gospel of Jesus, for only in that is true hope of healing and renewal.

I thoroughly appreciated the way Jamie opened up a gospel fire hose in the closing chapters of this book and went deep dive.  She carefully, and biblically, and passionately preaches the life giving gospel in this book and it was what I was hoping for.

Make no mistake, sin is profoundly destructive.  Jamie, at great personal risk, tells us that clearly from her story.  But what I really like about this book is that as great as the damage of sin may be, Jesus truly is far greater in his ability to save and renew.  Let’s help each other stop looking so long at our sin and look at our Savior.

Book Review – Our Secular Age

This is one of those books that I wouldn’t have picked up…unless I got it for free…like at a conference.  Which I did.  I’ve [shockingly] not heard of Charles Taylor, nor “Our Secular Age” and I now officially feel like I have been missing out. [#FOMO].

Taylor, a Catholic philosopher, wrote “A Secular Age” in 2007 and based on the endorsements page, it seems to have been a hugely impactful book.  The issue appears to, as I’ve not read it, the accessibility of the book.  It reminds me of Piper and his revisions of Jonathan Edwards books in a much more accessible format.  As is probably needless to say, this book was a pleasant surprise for me.  I love to engage secular thinking with the truth of the biblical (not cultural) gospel.

All that being said, the Gospel Coalition commissioned 13 authors wrote essays to interact with and explore gospel concepts in a secular world, of course the one in which we all live and engage with.

One of the key questions addressed is “Does God get to be God?” The answer, even for many self-described Christians is, “No, only on our terms.” How true this is and how much this comes in conflict with our secular age…one in which we might be more alike than different.  Author Collin Hansen reflected that Taylor helped him answer the questions “Why reformed theology?” with this response to the initial question.  You really only have two options in a secular age. Either God is for you, on your own terms, or he sets the terms. This is what makes reformed theology, and our “homeboy” Jonathan Edwards not only unthinkable, but also reprehensible to modern sensibilities: Edwards God is about God, not us. [6-7].

Michael Horton helpfully points out in his essay that it’s “not merely that our beliefs have changed, but that our way of believing has shifted.  We are masters of our own destiny. Even if God plays a role, it is a supporting one, helping us achieve our best life now.”  [#ShotsFired 23-24]

What this world view organically leads to is the collision with reality and the transcendence of God.  There will be moments that we are faced with the reality that there is something bigger than us at work.  Everything this secular world has to offer can’t be enough and we end up realizing we are “missing something.”  As Taylor writes, and John Starks points out “There is a fear and anxiety that ‘our actions, goals, achievements, and life, have a lack of weight, gravity, thickness, substance. There is a deeper resonance which they lack, which we feel should be there.’ ” [40]

This sets up a few of Taylors foundational concepts, one of them is the “buffered self.” The buffered self “blocks out certain ways in which transcendence has historically impinged on humans, and been present in their lives.”  For the buffered self, the purpose of everything is human flourishing and hence has no category for a God that calls us to “die to ourselves, consider others more important, turn the cheek, etc.  It creates a conflict with the modern buffered self.” [43]. I have come across this countless times. Most recently in a man who was determined to “fix his marriage” and wanted to use God as a tool to do that.  Yet, he refused to surrender his buffered self, deemed it “not working” and we’ve never seen him again.  I’d like to say this is the exception, but it only proves Taylor’s point is still valid in 2018.

I’m sure we all can relate to [if not personally experienced] a sense of being unfulfilled in this world.  Another key concept of Taylor is this “malaise” – which only “deepens because even tough we have given up on transcendent reality, we haven’t given up on transcendent feelings and experiences.  We instead look for transcendence within an imminent frame, which only exposes the smallness of our reality and intensifies the sense of loss.  This takes on three forms: We struggle to find significance in life, crucial moments in life such as birth, marriage and death only heighten the sense of malaise, and we receive a lack in everyday moments, in the mundane.” [44-45]

In this, as Derek Rishmawy writes, there is an opportunity – “Christians have an opportunity to present the gospel as a beautiful alternative to the creamed ideologies of immanence that dominate our landscape.” [59] AMEN!

“The church must not be a place prone to overreaction, or quick to provide conversation-stopping cliches (which inadvertently produce reactive questioners). Questions and dialogue must be welcome. The approach actually calls for a more robust ecclesiology  and community, rather than a thin one. Churches with strong practices of membership and discipline actually have the stability required to include someone without destabilizing the community or undermining it’s credibility.” [61].  This too, is a sad reflection of the current landscape of churches which are lacking in these areas.  Many would argue, and I would be one of them, another reason why the video campus model is ultimately unhealthy and unsustainable.

Compounding that point is Taylor’s concept of authenticity.  “While many speak of their desire for “community,” the community they seek is…participating only the shallow and fleeting “community” that can be enjoyed in the “lonely crowd.” This community can be “synthesized – rather than a bond of deep mutual commitment and she shared disciplines that powerfully and enduringly unit us in the pursuit and celebration of common objects of love.” [68] Indeed, one look at the landscape of churches today will reveal many focused on a worship “experience” – which ultimately leads to precisely what Taylor describes.

It is no wonder why Christians church-shop, looking for just the right fit to suit their consumeristic mindset.  Churches not grounded in biblical ecclesiology only “amplify the instability. They encourage the fickle, commitment-phobic habits of consumers who attend only insofar as it fits the nuances of their personal curated spirituality.”  [Again #ShotsFired, 78] Brett McCracken continues to drive his well-taken point home – “By shifting the focus away from the fixed point of Jesus to the fickle, frequently diverging paths of individual churchgoers, churches lose their bearings and become inherently unstable. When a church becomes less about the demands of Scripture and more about the demands of individuals on the church to fit their prefaces, it loses its power to transform us and subvert our idols.  It becomes a commodity to be shopped for, consumed, and then abandoned when another shinier, trendier, more relevant option appears.” [81]

This directly sets the true biblical gospel against the modern secular goal of human flourishing. “God never signed his name to or promissory notes of marriage, children, financial security, meaningful work, and health.  Let’s not forget we are in the middle of the drama, groaning for God to finally and fully repair this world…our ethic is not autonomous freedom, but obedient love.” [121-2]

Judging by my daily social media feeds, this is still the challenge of the day.  We all walk around and being far more influenced by the philosophy of secular human flourishing and using God and the church as a path to get there.  I am thankful for books such as these that bring well thought out perspectives to combat such drifting.

 

 

 

Book Review – The Porn Problem

This week,  an article appeared in the New York Times entitled “Let’s Ban Porn.”  I’ve been increasingly sensitive to the fact that it’s not just Christians that are saying that porn is harmful – now it’s society at large.  Yet, still so many of us struggle.  The pull is so strong and so addictive.  So many men [and more and more women] are shipwrecked in their ability to flourish as they, and God, would desire.

But…simply banning porn isn’t going to fix the problem.

downloadThis week, I also finished Vaughan Robert’s little book “The Porn Problem.” [Good Book Company, 2017] . A helpful book to “lend perspective and offer some biblical guidance on following God and loving people as God loves us.” [9]

Realizing that there has always been a sexually deviant side of society, but also that it has completely exploded and become pervasive with the advent of the smart phone, Roberts engages the issues involving pornography – especially within the church.  The author writes that porn is a private sin that leads to private despair, and therefore we need to change the culture of our churches to be one where these issues are spoken of more openly and help is given more freely.  There is HOPE in the gospel for a porn free life.

Roberts identifies many tragic and devastating effects of porn:

  1. Porn cheapens sex. [Its’ an entirely physical and selfish portrayal of sex.]
  2. Porn objectifies people. [Those people on the screen are actual people.]
  3. Porn damages self-esteem. [We don’t look like them. Should we?]
  4. Porn harms the young. [Kids are now learning how to have sex by watching porn.]
  5. Porn corrupts its users. [We always are chasing the perfect and increasingly edgy porn clip.]
  6. Porn turns people on themselves. [One teen said “Who needs the hassle of dating when I’ve got online porn?”]
  7. Porn undermines marriage. [It’s adultery.  See Matthew 5]
  8. Porn undermines future marriages. [Marital sex starts off in the wrong direction.]

Porn is also highly addictive.  It gets lodged in our sinful hearts and we need the gospel of Jesus to forgive and restore.  It needs to be starved to death, like all sin patterns. Roberts provides some other helpful steps in conquering the slavery to porn and helping others.  There. Is. Hope.  You don’t have to stay addicted to porn.  Jesus shed his perfect, divine blood for us to be free.  Start now.  This book can help get you started.

 

 

 

Book Review – Faith Alone

So.  RC Sproul.  A towering giant of a theological beast.  One of those guys that I’ve listened to a little, but not a lot.  This year, he also passed from this life and into his eternal reward.51GFR7S5VHL._SX311_BO1,204,203,200_

By all accounts he was a man who lived his life worthy of the gospel he was called to.  As far as ministry, he would be one to aspire to imitate.

So, I thought that I should definitely read a Sproul book this year, and I probably will read more than one.  I found this book on my “to be read” shelf, another in the “I have no idea where I got this from” folder, so I was excited to dive in.

Faith Alone: The Evangelical Doctrine of Justification is part meat and potatoes, and part commentary on the Evangelical and Catholic perspectives on justification.

Written in 1995 at the height of the “Evangelicals and Catholics Together”  [ECT] movement, Sproul comes out swinging to biblically answer the most important question ever – “How are we justified from our guilt before a holy God?”  This is the most important question and as Sproul writes “No doctrinal dispute has ever been contested more fiercely or with such long term consequences as the one over justification…non so central or so heated as justification.” [18] He sets a strong foundation of what the evangelical position is, grounded in the Protestant Reformation and of course, Scripture – and centered on faith.

The ECT document would agree that justification is by faith…but the rub, as the book’s title suggests, not faith “alone.” [Sola fide] Sproul points out that the ECT doesn’t make that clear enough, and additionally faith alone is in direction opposition to the Roman Catholic position. Rome would agree faith justifies, but not faith alone.

This is, not a trivial issue – it is foundational and systemic. [68] “Sola fide is important not merely because the church stands or falls on it.  It is important because on it we stand or fall.  The place where and the time when we will either stand or fall is at the judgment seat of God.” [70]

At the heart of justification lies the essence of righteousness and again, biblically faithful evangelicals should find themselves at odds with the theology of Rome.  “A person is justified when God declares that person just. The reason or the ground of that declaration differs radically between Roman Catholic and Reformed theology” [97] The Bible presents our justification [just read Romans…] is as a result of faith alone that imputes the righteousness of Christ to us.  Our righteousness isn’t infused to us from the church, or the sacraments – it comes from faith in Christ alone.

Again, get this wrong and we are guilty before a Holy God.  Eternity hangs in the balance, and the biblical gospel clearly shows the way.  Sproul does a masterful job of defending the gospel.

“One thing is certain. Though the historical context and even the issues themselves may change from century to century, the gospel itself cannot change. We may seek to change it. We may seek to revise it. We may alter its content, but then it is no longer the gospel.” [177]

If you have ever wondered if Protestants and Catholic theology actually differs, it does – on the most important aspect possible.  This book is an excellent resource and a thorough introduction to the issues involved with justification.  Good read!

PS: If you aren’t familiar with RC and Ligonier Ministries, spend some time on their website.  They put out countless great resources.  [The Reformation Study Bible and Tabletalk Magazine to name a few…]

 

 

 

Book Review – Kiss the Wave

Charles Spurgeon famously said “I have learned to kiss the wave that throws me against the Rock of Ages.”  Spurgeon was a man acquainted with suffering, with personal attacks, with sickness, with depression…to name a few.  He spokes those words from a position of personal experience.51CTr+KcmBL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg

Dave Furman also is a man with extensive personal experience in suffering.  A nerve condition leaves him not only with very limited use of both of his arms, but at times he suffers through bouts of debilitating pain.  Add to that the emotional stress of trying to be a father of little kids and a helpful husband without the use of his arms, and also how to be an approachable, engaging Pastor without the ability to shake anyone’s hands.  Yes, Dave Furman is intimately acquainted with suffering as well.  Which makes him very qualified to write “Kiss the Wave: Embracing God in Your Trials.” [Crossway, 2017]

Furman, the Pastor of Redeemer Church of Dubai writes in an honest, bold, and sometimes raw tone that consistently points the reader back to the glories of God in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Personally, this book was also deeply helpful, as one of our dearest friends is walking through the daily struggle of Lyme Disease, and being a Pastor and seeing several more people in the midst of chronic illnesses and other trials.  This will not stop, this is normal, and in my opinion suffering in chronic illnesses is only getting more common.  Trials and suffering confront our faith and demand an answer, and Furman equips us to meet this confrontation biblically and soberly.

When suffering hits, it may be our first reaction to forget about God.  To become so consumed with what is happening to us we “go about our days as functional atheists. We believe in Jesus, but we act like he does not exist.  We go through our days and face our storms forgetting Jesus and what he has done for us.” [28] That is the very thing we should not be doing.  “We need to consistently be reminded that Jesus is in control. Remind yourself of his power as you regularly read His Word.” [29]  This gets our mind off ourselves and onto the greatness of God, as hard as it may be in the midst of pain it is still the right thing to do.

In a powerful, and yet very real way, Furman reminds us that we can run to Jesus because only Jesus knows exactly how we are feeling. [Hebrews 4:14-16] Again, personally, I have felt the awkwardness of trying to identify with someone who is walking through things I can’t even imagine.  I have fought the temptation to just dish out a trite platitude and say that “I’ll be praying for you.” I have endured the long silence of just trying to be a presence and hoping that it is enough.  Church, we need to get better at this.  We aren’t going to love suffering people perfectly, but we do need to love them more biblically.

This is all made possible by the gospel of Jesus.  The great exchange where he took my sin and gave me his righteousness.  This should be the banner that flies over all of our lives – when things are going great, or when we are in the mud.  Furman powerfully quotes Scriptures to realign our faith – [56]

  • Though my trouble is overwhelming today, the cross shows me that because God is for me, who can be against me? (Romans 8:31)
  • Though the waves of my trials threaten to drown me, who will separate me from the love fo God in Christ Jesus? (Romans 8:35)
  • Though I can’t stop crying today, I know there is coming a day when Christ will be with us and he will wipe away every tear from our eyes. death will no longer exist and all crying and anxiety will leave. (Revelation 21:4)

Rightfully so, this means we have to “take ourselves in hand” and preach to ourselves, instead of listening to ourselves.  [S/O to Martin Lloyd-Jones of course]  To those suffering – preach God’s Word to yourself. To those loving them, coming alongside them – read them God’s word and encourage them in the gospel.  They have been chosen by God and are known by God.  There can be no greater comfort to the soul, even when the body is suffering.

For those suffering, “this means that God knows you and what you are going through in your darkest trials.  This is a truth [we] must come back to every day. ”  Furman provides personal examples to reinforce the depth of this truth – “God knows every time I bump my tender elbows and the side of a door and cry out in agony. He knows when my leg pain is so bad that I lie awake in bed for hours. He is keenly aware of my feelings of depression and the hopelessness that often rage within my heart.  He knows about every ache ever wound, eery thought and emotion. Every bad day is a day Jesus is aware of. Not trial surprises him or escapes his eye.” [83-4] Because we are known by God, we are never ever alone or without someone who can identify with us.

Our suffering is also not purposeless.  For the Christian, this means growing more into the image of Jesus Christ – growing in Godliness – perhaps most particularly in suffering.  “You trial is an ample time to kiss the wave and embrace the reality that God is using your pain to make you more like Christ.” [93]  For those suffering keep pointing yourself in the direction of growth in Godliness.  This isn’t a plastic ‘count it all joy’ kind of orientation, but a brave, intentional, and faith testing perspective that will eventually come for us all.  Furman cuts this line clearly – “There is nothing good about pain itself.  But I know God will use my adversity in ways I cannot see right now.” [103]

Finally for the Christian we have other resources to help us, to assure us.  We have the church, where God’s truth is preached, where people are loved, where people are helped [hopefully in actually helpful ways].  Where even hurting people can serve, or encourage, or just be present.  And best of all, we have Jesus. We have a future glory that far outweighs any and all suffering now.  The author encourages us well “Friend, if you are struggling with adversity, sickness, anxiety, fear, or loss of any kind, this too will one day be in the past.  What seems so defining and certain now will be done away with. You may feel like your pain is never-ending, but heaven is coming.” [135]

Amen.  Come, Lord Jesus.

 

FTC Disclosure Statement: A copy of this book was received for review from the publisher.

 

 

 

 

Book Review – The Imperfect Disciple

Christmas is a great time for book junkies.  Not to mention, it’s also a great time for those who buy presents for book junkies.  It’s a win-win situation.  I’m happy because I got a book I wanted and they are happy because they got me something I wanted, and hopefully will prove helpful.   Yes, in this case it was a win-win.  [Thank you Mom and Dad Shivers!]

I’ve also never read any books by Jared Wilson, which for such a gospel-centered dude such as myself seems somewhat shocking. I mean I know who he is, of course,  I’ve read plenty of his online stuff and Tweets, but never a whole book.  Once I got knee deep in this book, I could quickly see what all the fuss has been about.  Wilson is an extraordinary writer – he is sharp, eloquent, witty and just the right mix of cranky. [I guess that means he is cranky about most of the things I’m cranky about.]

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The Imperfect Disciple, as the subtitle tell us, is about “Grace for People Who Can’t Get Their Act Together” and right away, Wilson comes out swinging against all the stuff I like people to swing at.  He is transparent and vulnerable and even tackles the obvious question up front that I was asking – “How is this book going to be different than the 84 other books on discipleship?”  Welp.  I found out quickly.  Wilson pulls the curtain back on the truth that we all know deep in our hearts – we don’t all have it all together. This then is a book writing for people who want to “follow Jesus even though their feelings speak more loudly.” Or those who “deny themselves in order to do what’s right although I don’t really want to.”  It’s NOT a book for those who give the Sunday School answers all the time and never get down into a cage match and wrestle with sin and self until someone’s dead.  THAT to me is really following Jesus.  Dealing with sin and self every stinking day and growing and changing into the image of Jesus in his overwhelming, jaw-dropping grace.

Maybe it’s because I too grew up on the 80’s, and can relate to much of the youth group era hijinks that contributed to my gospel comprehension not getting off the launch pad.  For guys like us, the pressure to live out the good works of the gospel [“witnessing,” anyone?] without fully appropriating the truths of the gospel didn’t make sense.  It felt like we were moving on to doing stuff when we clearly hadn’t grasped why we were doing it in the first place.  The reality of what wasn’t mentioned so much back then, was that we live our lives in Romans 7, while not realizing that Romans 8 is the blast of air we desperately need.  As Wilson writes, “you bring Romans 7 into Romans 8 and say ‘Look what I found everybody!'”[26]

Wilson is also transparent with the complexities of pastoral ministry, and how in the muck and the mire we still cling to the gospel alone as we help others follow Jesus.  “Plenty of times, though, if it weren’t for the gospel, I simply wouldn’t have words at all.”  I’ve seen that look, just this week actually, when people are in the midst of a huge tragedy and you show up on the scene and it feels like 100 million eyes just landed on you and they all want you to say the magic thing to make it all better.   As I looked into the eyes of a young woman holding her stillborn 25 week old baby, all I could say was that “Jesus came for this very reason, to put an end to death.”

While this is true and good, this is hard and Wilson totally gets that.  It’s flat our hard to trust, to deny your feelings, to think of God’s glory above our selfish lusts – and that’s why we are all imperfect disciples.  Good thing we follow the one who is perfect, and the reality is that this perfect God uses those hard times to grow us, it’s his plan, and we have to get that thru our thick skulls.  “What if Jesus actually brings us to the very moment of those no-more-rope situations in order that we might actually, finally trust him?” [48] What Wilson didn’t say, and I wrote in the margin was “But what if that is your whole life?”  I think the truth is many do spend their whole lives with no more rope, and Jesus is right there with them. We should redefine “normal” – it’s not the absence of trials, but the ugly, sweaty, bloody quest to glorify God when you’ve got next to nothing left in the tank.

We miss this glory because as imperfect people, we are side-tracked by the glory of a million other, less glorious things.  Our phones, our ‘perfect’ lives, our whatevers have dulled our appreciation of the glorious.  Wilson quotes Ray Ortlund, in encouraging us how to regain what we have lost – “stare at the glory of God until you see it.”  [65]  Amen.  The theme of the book hangs on the fact that the power to change, doesn’t come from the law, but rather it can only come from the glory of Christ. [67]  Growing disciples, even though they may be imperfect, must be guided and directed by one thing – bringing God glory, over and above and especially in the middle of our mess.

In our mess it can seem like God isn’t listening, isn’t there.  As a Pastor I hear this all the time, and I was encouraged to see that Wilson would answer it the same.  “…so long as we have the Bible, this is simply not true. In fact, because we have the Bible, it is an incredibly selfish and sinful thing to say.” [93] See, I told you this guy gets me.

Yes, and AMEN!  Scripture must be in the center of the daily cage match with sin and self for the imperfect disciple! We must read it and chew on it and in those moments where things feel as imperfect as they really are, we need to bring it to bear like a fire extinguisher of truth.

This spills out into the life and the culture of the church.  I love the chapter title “The Revolution Will Not Be Instagrammed.”  Our perfectly lit and clever hash tagged images all make our discipleship lives look a heck of a lot more together than they really are.  “The church has got to be a place where it is OK to not be OK. 98% of family life is simply Not Ready for Instagram.  Is it any wonder so many f us struggle with church community” [121-2] People, we need each other, and we need our churches to be a “culture of grace” that will cause people to stick around when things get imperfect.  “You cannot grow in holiness and holier-than-thou-ness at the same time.” [136] #MicDrop

This sets up nicely how to follow Jesus in community, Wilson gives nine irrefutable laws of ‘followship.’

  1. Be ye loving
  2. Be ye joyful
  3. Be ye peaceful
  4. Be ye patient
  5. Be ye kind
  6. Be ye good
  7. Be ye faithful
  8. Be ye gentle
  9. Be ye self-controlled

If you recognize those as the fruits of the Spirit you are correct! But what Wilson points out is that “against these things there is no law” [Gal 5:23] is saying that while there is law against drunkenness, immorality, coveting – there is no law against any of these things so that we are free in the gospel to grow more into the image of Christ by using the law to sanctify us! “The law can tell us what to do, but it can’t help us do it.”  To grow in these 9 areas as an imperfect disciple, we need the limitless grace of the gospel.

This has everything to do with the battlefield, not of the mind, but of the hearts in the arena of idolatry.  This is the true self – indeed there is nothing more true than what we truly struggle to give over to Jesus in our hearts.  And he is right there with you.  “The real you, the you inside that you hide, the you that you try to protect, the you that you hope nobody sees or knows – that’s the you that God loves.” [188]

This is the beauty of the growth of the imperfect disciple – “over time we each become more and more like Jesus while at the same time becoming more and more our true selves.” [191]

This once again, is all in the power of Christ, and that is where we rest.

“This is how you boast in your weakness and suffering too. This is how you boast in your sorry little devotional life. This is how you boast in your constant inability to get your act together No, not by seeing a physical revelation of the heaven that awaits you. But by beholding a vision of the glorious Christ, whose power rests on you if you’re a believer.” [225]

May we all rest in this power as we imperfectly follow our perfect Savior.

 

 

 

 

 

Book Review – Gospel and Kingdom

Straight up, I honestly don’t know where I got this book…but I’m glad I did.  I was looking for one more book to round out the year, by far my best reading year yet! [not counting mandatory seminary reading of course].  I’ve not read anything by the author before, so this was all new territory to me.

My sense was that Gospel and Kingdom was a well known classic that had escaped my radar, and that sense was confirmed. This is a very helpful book to help us understand the centrality of the gospel in the whole Bible, specifically, the Old Testament. [OT]

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For any Christian, the question of what do make of the OT is a very prevalent one.  There are things in there that just defy our modern mindset of all sense – unless you understand we are dealing with God Almighty and see them as parts of His overall redemptive plan.

Not only that, but how does the OT apply to us today?  Goldsworthy has written this book to “bride the gap” from the ancient world to the modern man, to build a basic structure to confidently use the OT and the Bible as a whole. [9-10]

Namely, the OT is Scripture and Scripture points to Christ. As Christians, we will always be looking at the New Testament [NT] from the framework of the gospel and therefore we will be driven back to the OT for the gospel foundation of the NT.  Believe it or not, the gospel is alive and well in the OT.  The cross of Christ wasn’t a reaction to an experiment gone wrong.  God’s redemptive plan existed before time, and the OT is the foundation for the gospel made flesh in the NT with Jesus Christ.  [19]

I appreciated how the author brought us back to biblical facts, as opposed to more modern day feelings.  “The core of the gospel, the historical facts of what God did in Christ, if often down0graded today in favor of a more mystical emphasis on the private spiritual experience of the individual.”  [20]  Amazing that was written back in 1981, and that problem has only gotten exponentially worse in Evangelicalism.

So how does one bridge this gap between OT, NT and today?  Goldsworthy helps us by noting “we cannot simply transfer the experiences of the past wholesale to today. We can’t view the OT as a series of events in which to draw little moral lessons or examples for life.”  [25]  I’ve heard way too many moralistic talks on David and Goliath to sadly say this is how many teachers view the OT.

In order to get our arms a bit more around the OT, we need to understand more about what it is.  First, it is history. But not just history – theological history.  A record of God’s own dealings with the world and with men. [41]  The theology controls the writing of the history. the fact that God acts in the history of men and interprets his acts means that these historical events will form a pattern that relates to the purposes of God.  Biblical history is theological history. [42]

Specifically, the OT is the theological history of redemption.  Goldsworthy writes, “the key to the OT is not the part Israel plays, but the part God pays in redeeming a people from slavery and making them his own.” [46] This history is progressive, and incomplete without the NT, and it is to be interpreted.  There is a flow to this interpretation – we begin with the NT, for there we see Christ and believe. The NT then drives us back to the OT, because the OT is the basis of the gospel.  Then, and only then, we see that the NT establishes for us what the OT promises.  This is all fulfilled in Christ.  Indeed, then we can do the work of explaining and applying the OT to our life today.

In this redemption, there is a relationship and certain parameters that need to be clarified, and the author does that well.  God is king and man is his subject.  Man’s sin is his attempt to renounce his creature-hood and to assert his independence of God.  This is the Fall and is the break in the relationship between God and man.   God takes the initiative in restoring the relationship and does so by covenant – originally with Israel to be a people, a land and in relationship with God.  Every later expression of this relationship stems from the original covenant. [53]  The content of the covenant is the Kingdom of God – God’s people, in God’s place, under God’s rule.  The author then walks us through several kingdom perspectives in the OT.

First, the kingdom revealed in Eden.  God is the Creator and we are his created subjects, made in his image.  Yet, as mentioned, we rejected God’s authority over us for which we deserved judgment and instead Adam and Eve [we] received grace.

Next we see the kingdom revealed in Israel’s history.  God establishing a nation through Abraham, from which redemption would come.  We see again the themes of God’s people, in God’s place, under God’s rule – and all the ups and downs, and bumps and warts that went with it.  God always acting in faithfulness to his plan and his glory, while continuing to show lovingkindness to Israel and ultimately to us in Jesus.

The kingdom of God is also revealed in prophecy.  Not like the lame word-faith nonsense, but like the actual biblical prophets. This must be overlaid over the history of Israel – the old-order prophets, pointing to the Sinaitic covenant, the pre-exilic prophets, when Israel was invaded by Babylon and lost their land, and the exilic and post-exilic prophets who interpreted the failure of Israel’s kingdom and the hope of an eternal kingdom of God.   This “restored kingdom will be in the context of a new heaven and a new earth, and all this new creation of God will be permanent, perfect, and glorious.” [99]

This brings us to the kingdom revealed in Jesus Christ.  The gospel is a declaration of what God has done for us in Jesus for our salvation. [107] The unavoidable conclusion from the NT evidence is that the gospel fulfills the OT hope of the coming of the Kingdom of God. [108] Each of these kingdom expressions represent the same reality, but expresses it in a different and yet related way. [109]

This is then provides a foundation for how we can interpret the OT.  Each stratum has the same essential ingredients relating to the saving acts of God and the goal to which they lead. Each stratum prefigures the realities of the gospel. Each step is not only a movement in the chronological sequence of revelation, but is a movement in the process of making clearer the nature of God’s Kingdom until the full light of the gospel is revealed. [123]

The author then suggests a helpful method of interpretation, based on that kingdom foundation.  (1) Identify the way the text functions in the wider context of the kingdom stratum. (2) Proceed to the the same point in each succeeding stratum until the final reality in the gospel is reached. (3) Show how the gospel reality interprets the meaning of the text, at the same time, as showing how the gospel reality is illuminated by the text. [126]  The lesson of biblical theology is that no text stands alone, and the whole of scripture is it’s ultimate context. We have to be aware of that in our interpretations and not try and force the text to say something it really isn’t.

The author provides several OT examples of this interpretive method and concludes with a return to the rallying cry of not forsaking redemptive theological history for personal spiritual (mystical) experiences.  Again, I’m struck at how forward thinking this was back then and how painfully relevant it is now.  “The evangelical who sees the inward transforming work of the Spirit as the key element of Christianity will soon lose contact with the historical faith and the historical gospel.” [137]  We risk going astray when we make the Bible, and Christianity about us and our kingdom, and not about God and his.  We would do well to heed the warning and instruction in this helpful book!