Review: For the Glory of God

Daniel Block, Baker, 2014, 432 pages, 4 of 5 stars

screen-shot-2017-01-21-at-8-05-57-amFor the Glory of God is a clear and concise biblical theology on the nature of worship. If worship were a golf ball, each chapter would commence at the tee box of Genesis and finish on the greens of Revelation.

Daniel Block is an OT scholar at Wheaton College, the author of numerous books and the senior translator of the NLT Bible. His goal in For the Glory of God is this: how does one determine the right kind of worship? The answer is crucial, for in the modern world, one’s “worship style” has become the church’s calling card—the ID that every visitor requests. “These days if people ask what kind of church you attend, they are probably not inquiring about denomination, but about worship style: traditional, liturgical, or contemporary?” (Loc. 180) Continue reading

Review: Paul’s Theology of Preaching

Duane Litfin, IVP, 2015, 400 pages, 3 of 5 stars

screen-shot-2017-01-21-at-7-49-34-amFirst Corinthians 1-4 is the only place in Scripture where we find the specifics of Paul’s philosophy of rhetoric, or put more biblically, his theology of preaching. This is cast in the milieu of the Greco-Roman world, where the people prized oratory above all else. The ancient populous lionized the greatest speakers whose ultimate goal was to persuade, move, and win. Nothing in Greek culture was higher, more ideal, than the man of eloquence.

Shockingly, Paul smashes this ideology with the words of a herald, a proclaimer, not an orator of great rhetorical gifts. “Not with words of eloquent wisdom” had he come to speak (1Co. 1:17), but with a message of “folly” to the majority (v. 18). Such a message actually destroys the wisdom of the wise (v. 20) and places the onus of success not on results, but on faithfulness (4:2).

Does this mean Paul is opposed to all rhetoric? Do homiletics have any place in the preacher’s bag of tools? At first, it appears Litfin’s answer to this is no. He writes in Paul’s Theology of Preaching: “It is not the herald’s job to persuade but to convey” (264). He is a proclaimer, an announcer.

It was the proclaimer’s function to make certain that the recipients heard and understood, but it was not the proclaimer’s role to engage his rhetorical skills so as to induce his listeners to yield to the message (264).

These latter two quotes by Litfin reveal two things. First, Litfin has a habit of overreaching and overstating his point. I said to myself over and over while reading–“that can’t be true”, only to later say, “Oh, now I see where he’s coming from.” Second, Litfin is probably speaking more about persuasion as the ultimate force that makes the hearer yield, rather than the content of the sermon that urges the listen to change. Continue reading

Review: The Conviction to Lead: 25 Principles for Leadership That Matters

Albert Mohler, Bethany House, 2012, 225 pages, 4 of 5 stars

screen-shot-2017-01-21-at-6-14-00-amMohler argues that far too much of what passes for leadership today is mere management. “Without convictions you might be able to manage, but you can never really lead.” (26-27)

The author has room to talk. At 33 years old, Mohler took over as President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary–an enormous but theologically sinking organization. Since then, he has led the school through one of the greatest institutional turnarounds in modern history. Seminaries almost always move left. Rarely do they become more conservative, but that is exactly what happened at SBTS. In the book he pulls often from what he learned through those difficult years and how it has helped him as a leader. He does a great job throughout the book of creating ethos.

This would be an excellent book for the church leadership to read through. Anyone who knows Mohler immediately recognizes his rare intellectual acumen. He is biblical, courageous, and relevant. As I read, I found myself greatly motivated to become a better leader in my church and home.  Continue reading

Review: Reformation: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow

Trueman, Christian Focus, 2000, 127 pages, 3 of 5 stars

screen-shot-2017-01-21-at-6-02-55-amTrueman picks on problems in the contemporary church and addresses how the Reformers could help us improve and think biblically.

He criticizes such ecclesiastical activities as testimonies in church, most evangelical choruses and obsessive talk about the Spirit while praising church actions like catechising, Christ-centered preaching, and extra care in distributing the Lord’s Supper.

Trueman wrote this book some time ago when he was in his late thirties. It was nice to see how one of today’s foremost historians learned to write and–while nothing he said was directly contrary to what he believes today–he has definitely grown in his ability to argue and write since then.

Review: The Real Scandal of the Evangelical Mind

Carl Trueman, Moody, 2011, 41 pages, 3 of 5 pages

screen-shot-2017-01-21-at-4-41-46-amThe Real Scandal of the Evangelical Mind is a rejoinder to Mark Noll’s 1994 book The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. In the latter work, Noll argued the “scandal” was that evangelicals have no mind, especially on doctrines of intellectual suicide such as dispensationalism and six-day creationism. Noll censures evangelicals for their lack of cultural and theological engagement.

Trueman argues the opposite. The “real” scandal is evangelicalism’s lack of clear doctrinal definition within the wider Christian community. It’s not that there is no mind–there is no Evangel. 

The only time problems arise…is when the term ‘evangelical’ is used as if it has doctrinal meaning, when in fact it does not. (19)

Trueman, with his characteristic sass and wit, comes out swinging. He calls out seminaries like Fuller and Wheaton, the latter so earnest to be the “evangelical Harvard” that it fails miserably to draw narrow theological lines. Even Dallas and TEDS meets Trueman’s ire for recently downplaying their historic distinctives.

Is the term “evangelical” of any value when claimed by polar opposites like Joel Osteen and John MacArthur? Is the Evangelical Theological Society wise in making the Trinity and inerrancy the only ground for membership, both of which are compatible with Roman Catholicism? And don’t Catholics who have been removed from ETS have a legitimate beef for being mistreated? Trueman would answer no, no, and yes.

Truman’s little book is valuable not only in proving the moniker “evangelical” doesn’t mean much any more but showing the catastrophic consequences of those who want to be culturally relevant on matters such as homosexuality and evolution.

Review: A Serrated Edge

Douglas Wilson, Canon Press, 2013, 121 pages, 4 of 5 stars

screen-shot-2017-01-11-at-4-37-12-pmIs sarcasm, ridicule and scorn a valid weapon of communication for Christians? Erasmus tried it; Luther perfected it. But what about today’s Christian?

Is satire like formal debates: fun to do but not persuasive to the masses? It isn’t the argument people hate but the vehicle in which it is carried. Right? Maybe Erasmus would have changed had Luther not been so cheeky. Why anger your opponent by angering him with mockery?

Douglas Wilson, pastor of Christ Church (Moscow, Idaho), argues satire is a lost art and is both legitimate and good. Jesus used it and so should we—provided we do so skillfully. He writes:

A common argument against the satiric approach is that it is counterproductive; it turns people off. The problem with this argument is that it is simply not true. A certain kind of person is turned off, that is true enough, but another kind of person is attracted to the ministry because of it and flourishes there (loc. 943).

Strengths and Weaknesses Continue reading

Review: Preaching? Simple Teaching on Simply Preaching

Alec Motyer, Christian Focus, 2013, 148 pages, 3 of 5 stars

screen-shot-2016-12-14-at-1-49-40-pmThe renowned British scholar Alec Motyer passed on to glory a few months ago. For all of his academic accomplishments, his book on Bible proclamation shows he was first and foremost a preacher.

Why have a book on preaching anyway? Aren’t preachers born, not made? Motyer says most sermons are poor because they are muddled (“muddle is the characteristic mark of the ill dressed window, the careless baker, and the bad sermon”). So a preacher can improve if only he learns to be plain and unmistakable. Not everyone can be a good preacher, says the author, but no one need be a bad preacher. Continue reading

Review: Parables

John MacArthur, Thomas Nelson, 2015, 4 of 5 stars

screen-shot-2016-12-07-at-11-28-28-amI was very much helped by this recent book by MacArthur on the parables because he corrects so much sloppy thinking about the parables. Yes, the parables made hard truths understandable to those with ears to hear. But they also purposefully hid truths to those with hardened hearts. The latter is an idea rarely heard.

This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand….’You will indeed hear but never understand, and you will indeed see but never perceive’ (Mt. 13:13-14).

MacArthur addresses about a dozen of the forty or so parables. The chapters are short and Scripture saturated, making the book a great tool for Bible studies. And as with any MacArthur book, expect no political correctness or nuance, as seen in his explanation of the rich man and Lazarus: “Jesus’ primary intent is to produce in sinners a terror of eternal hell….Hell is punitive, not remedial. People in hell don’t get better” (170, 174).

Review: Paul the Missionary

Eckhard Schnabel, IVP, 2008, 518 pages, 5 of 5 stars

screen-shot-2016-12-07-at-10-59-09-amFrom time to time, most missionaries have asked themselves why their ministry is not as successful as the Apostle Paul’s. “I must be using the wrong strategy,” we groan. And it is certainly understandable to search for patterns in his ministry in hopes of garnering the same triumphs. But Paul was fruitful, Schnabel argues, not because of methods but because of the Holy Spirit’s work.

This theme is among the many reasons I consider Paul the Missionary among the top five books I have read on missions. It is a challenge to missionaries to (re)evaluate the goals and methods of their ministry in light of the work of the apostle Paul.

Schnabel’s goal is to examine “Paul’s missionary work—proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ and establishing communities of believers—in terms of the goals that he had and in terms of the methods he used” (30).

And just in case we were wondering what a missionary is, he defines him as one who establishes contact with unbelievers, proclaims to them the gospel, leads them to Christ, and integrates them into a local church.

Did Paul have a missionary strategy? Schnabel says no in that he didn’t use a carefully nuanced, well-formulated game plan but yes in that he did have a broad and flexible goal to preach the gospel to as many people as possible while relying predominantly upon the Spirit’s power to change lives.

Common Misconceptions about Paul and Missions

Schnabel’s greatest strength is exposing popular misconceptions about missions and Paul’s ministry. I have consolidated six of them:  Continue reading

Review: The Gospel for Muslims

Thabiti Anyabwile, Moody, 2010, 177 pages, 3 of 5 stars

screen-shot-2016-10-25-at-10-35-26-pmIt is important to know where each Christian book on Islam fits. A Christian Guide to the Qur’an will help you interpret Islam’s holy book. James White’s books are more scholarly and help you prepare for debates. This paperback by Anyabwile is short, irenic, and personal—the kind of book you could give to your Muslim friend.

For those thinking, “I don’t even know where to start with my coworker Malik”, this book is simple and practical. It is first and foremost evangelistic. He even has a whole chapter on hospitality (“you coffee table should have an abundance of pastries…”). Continue reading

Review: The Power of Speaking God’s Word

Ellsworth, Christian Focus, 2000, 144 pages, 3 of 5 stars

screen-shot-2016-10-15-at-9-22-55-pmPaper is a poor conduit of heat. So are sermon manuscripts poor conduits for preaching. So says Ellsworth on this paperback about preaching memorable sermons.

Here is a book on the oral nature of preaching, an exploration of what spoken communication (orality) means for the proclamation of God’s Word. Continue reading

Review: Finally Alive

John Piper, Christian Focus, 2009, 203 pages, 4 of 5 stars

51B1pSVLWTL._SX311_BO1,204,203,200_Pastor, author, and theologian John Piper lucidly unpacks the doctrine of regeneration in Finally Alive. But after so many top-sellers, why pen a work on the new birth? He illustrates. The Christian research firm, Barna, suggests born-again Christians are just as likely to divorce as non-Christians. Piper finds the equation of church-going evangelicals with regenerated Christians a profound mistake and defamation to the term born again. The rest of the book is to show why.

Piper writes to illustrate the radical change rebirth makes in the life of a sinner (viz. 1 Jn. 2:29, 3:9, 4:7, 5:4, 5:18). What brings the sinner is what will keep the sinner. Scriptural preaching? Yes. Miracles? No. “This is one of the great dangers of signs and wonders: You don’t need a new heart to be amazed at them. The old, fallen human nature is all that’s needed to be amazed….” (30).

“Whether the conversion experience is emotional (like Augustine) or sober (like C.S. Lewis), the born-again Christian (an acknowledged redundancy) will live differently.

Summary and Strengths

Though Finally Alive is divided into five sections, 90% of it is a commentary on John 3 and the book of First John. I appreciated his interpretation of the must disputed “born of water and the Spirit” passage in John 3:5. He gives four reasons why water is not referring to baptism but instead to one of two aspect of the new birth in Ezekiel 36: cleansing of the old (“water”) and creation of the new (“spirit”).

I wish he had delved a bit into the other views of water. I spoke to a pastor recently who believes adamantly “water” is referring to physical birth. The strength of this view appears to be the context, since Nicodemus had just spoken about physical birth in v. 4. It actually goes against the context, however, because Jesus in v. 5 is correcting Nicodemus, not building on his misunderstanding. He was a renowned teacher and he still missed it (v. 10). Piper didn’t touch on this but should have to strengthen his own argument. Continue reading

Review: The New Well-Tempered Sentence

Karen Gordon, Mariner Books, 1993, 147 pages, 3 of 5 stars

51X4G9M7Q1L._SX354_BO1,204,203,200_Like flannel pajamas in a wedding march, jocularity and jest seemed out-of-place in a grammar book. But everyone stayed until the final vows and I finished the whole book!

The NWTS is a creative book on punctuation designed to make the reader gasp, guffaw, and giggle. Long on puns and short on punctiliousness, it teaches grammar with sass and verve and answers those thorny punctuation questions piercing my side.

Can an explanation point fit mid sentence? Should it go inside or outside the quotation marks? Really now. Is a verbless sentence like the former allowed? When do ellipses come in threes and when in fours?

My favorite chapter was on the comma, that curvaceous acrobat too often littering our sentences. Should the comma divide two independent sentences? What about simple items in a list? Gordon answers, then moves to colons (“forthcoming is her middle name”), italics, brackets, semicolons and more. Per the author, too many parentheses is sophomoric (we all know how annoying that can be!).

My one complaint is the nude graphics covering every other chapter or so. Intended to be whimsical, the sketches were tawdry and a deal breaker for younger audiences. Still, this little volume hit its mark, so much so that I didn’t insert an apostrophe in “its”. I like paperbacks that are not abashed to use borscht, puissance, lugubrious, chintz, and fichu on the same page. By the end of the book, I was combing for the well-turned phrase more than the well-placed comma.

Review: The Bondage of the Will

Martin Luther, Baker, 1525/1957, 322 pages, 5 of 5 stars

Screen Shot 2016-03-22 at 5.19.57 PMEarly in the 16th century, two great minds collided on a topic with tremendous implications. On one side was Desiderius Erasmus of Rotterdam, a humanist scholar of unsurpassed learning. No one in Europe could rival his deftness in linguistics. His witty tongue was evident in his best-selling satire In Praise of Folly.

Though Erasmus was an ardent Roman Catholic, he was not a theologian, nor did he care to be. And the amicable Erasmus would rather do his fighting behind a desk than brawl behind a pulpit. As one author put it, he could never stand contra mundum.

It would be difficult to find an equal mind with greater dissimilarity than Martin Luther. He was the antithesis of everything Erasmus valued. Bombastic and brash, Luther had been convinced monasticism was the surest way to heaven—that is, until he found the Gospel in Romans 1:17. His Ninety-Five Theses, previously idling in the parking lot, would now be parked just outside the Vatican.  Continue reading

Review: Praying the Savior’s Way

Derek Thomas, Christian Focus, 2001, 124 pages, 3 of 5 stars

Screen Shot 2016-03-18 at 12.05.51 PMThe great Scottish minister Robert McCheyne said if you want to humble Christians, ask about their prayer lives.

Prayer is difficult. It doesn’t come naturally and, thus, must be learned. Jesus taught his disciples how to pray in the Lord’s Prayer, and Derek Thomas aids us in explaining that prayer. This book is an exposition of the Lord’s Prayer to help Christians in learning the priority of prayer.

The Lord’s Prayer contains six brief petitions (three toward God, three toward man) and embodies three of the four key elements of prayer: adoration, petition, and confession (the other being thanksgiving).

Here is a recommendation: use each day of family worship time to adopt one of the six petitions in the Lord’s Prayer, then employ Thomas’ work as an ally in explaining those requests.

Excerpts:

  1. [Regarding “Hallowed by thy name”] It is not that God is made more holy than he is, but that he is more holy than we have imagined him to be. We are to pray that he will become more glorious in our eyes.” (39)
  2. [Regarding “Thy will be done”] It is a sign of meekness, not weakness, to add, “If it be your will.” (63)
  3. [Regarding forgiving the unrepentant] To hint that forgiveness may be possible without repentance is to fly in the face of the gospel way. God does not forgive without repentance!” (90)

 

Review: Silence

Shusaku Endo, Taplinger, 1969. 201 pp. Three of Five Stars

Screen Shot 2016-02-02 at 9.47.09 PMIs God silent in our suffering? The author implies “yes”, but Christians know better. God is not aloof in suffering. “For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too” (2Co. 1:5).

Written by a Japanese-Catholic, Silence addresses the troubled period of Japanese history known as “the Christian century”. By 1614, 300,000 “Christians” lived in Japan’s population of 20 million. But amidst the light, dark persecution prevailed.

Apparently a highly revered missionary, a priest named Ferreira, had apostatized by recanting his faith. A Portuguese priest is sent to find out if it is true and finds persecution himself. This is a novel about a young priest who, among excruciating persecution, is fighting to maintain his faith in God. The more he resists recantation, the more he asks: “Lord, why are you silent? Why are you always silent?” Continue reading

Review: The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Robert Louis Stevenson, Amazon Digital, 1886. 82 pages. Five of Five stars

Screen Shot 2016-01-16 at 4.12.51 PMIn 1885 and at the age of 36, Robert Louis Stevenson published his third and most popular larger novel, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. It is a dark and complex tale about corrupt human nature.

In real life, Stevenson experienced a grim story of his own. Always tormented by poor health, Stevenson dropped out of his law profession, married a divorcée against his parent’s wishes and died suddenly of a brain hemorrhage at the age of 44.

The protagonist is Dr. Jekyll, an elderly scientist who has discovered how to change himself into the grotesque form of Mr. Hyde. It began as an innocent experiment by which Hyde could indulge in carnal delight by night and Jekyll could maintain his high social standard by day. It was the perfect life of two identities.

The doctor made systematic provisions for his evil nature, including his own quarters, wardrobe and bank account. Though Jekyll was confident that he could control Hyde, he soon found that his evil nature was gaining strength.

If each, I told myself, could be housed in separate identities, life would be relieved of all that was unbearable; the unjust might go his way, delivered from the aspirations and remorse of his more upright twin; and the just could walk steadfastly and securely on his upward path, doing the good things in which he found his pleasure…

But Hyde had energy and the will to be alive. One morning, Jekyll awoke to discover that he had transformed into Hyde without taking the potion. “My devil had been long caged, he came out roaring.” He then realized that a choice had to be made between the two. Continue reading

Review: Ordering Your Private World

Gordon MacDonald, Thomas Nelson, 2003. 330 pages, Three of Five stars

Screen Shot 2016-01-16 at 3.55.00 PMGordon MacDonald’s Ordering Your Private World is a book for undisciplined and disorganized people. That this book was a national bestseller with over one million copies sold tells us that most of us fit into these two categories.

This book on spiritual disciplines is for pastors, but applicable for everyone—one reason being the host of excellent illustrations.

The “private world” includes the aspects of our lives that are invisible to those around us. It is spiritual. It is vital. Indeed, it is private. MacDonald balks at the clichés used today to describe the private world, “quiet time” being one of them. A person’s “quiet time” is too easily measured; it is too rigid. Our private world encompasses everything we are before God. Unless a person is militant in managing this aspect of his life, he eventually will “hit the wall”, which is the title of MacDonald’s first chapter. Continue reading

Review: The Five Points of Calvinism

The Five Points of Calvinism is a concise and convenient description of the doctrines of grace. First published in 1963, the second edition was published in honor of its fortieth anniversary. Although the new edition is three times larger and offers a plethora of new insight, the body is essentially the same.

The subtitle of the book is also the outline: “defined, defended and documented”. The first 15 pages explain the history of Calvinism. The bulk of this section pairs off the five points of Calvinism against the five points of Arminianism in order to demonstrate their differences.

In the second section, the authors use 55 pages to defend the five points. One by one, the authors present the points, defined and defended by scores of Scripture texts. For instance, just in the section on “irresistible grace” alone, the authors use 103 Scripture verses.

Finally, the book concludes with several appendices, of which I found McGuire’s “A Kinder, Gentler Calvinism”, Spurgeon’s “A Defense of Calvinism” and Daniel’s “The Practical Applications of Calvinism” to be very helpful.

The final section of the body (also the largest—60 pages) presents recommended reading. Three hundred and twenty-eight sources (compared to 104 in the first edition) are documented in annotated bibliography form, which was compiled by Quinn and proofed by Curt Daniel. I found this extremely helpful.

Because the authors contend that there are “thousands and thousands” of works on Calvinism, a condensed summary was helpful. I narrowed the list even more to twenty.

  1. Analysis of the Institutes of the Christian Religion of John Calvin—Ford Battles (421 pages). Battles would take his students through this analytical study of Calvin’s magnum opus in one semester.
  2. The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination—Loraine Boettner (435 pages). “Best overall treatment of the subject…one of those rare books that is profitable for both the beginner and the more advanced student.”
  3. The History and Theology of Calvinism—Curt Daniel (521 pages). “One of the most helpful and readable treatments of Calvinism in print. Worth its weight in gold!” Only available through Reformed Bible Church in Springfield, Illinois. Find MP3s here.
  4. The Deeper Faith—Gordon Girod (135 pages). “One of the clearest and most convincing statements of the distinguishing doctrines of the Reformed Faith that can be found anywhere.”
  5. Debating Calvinism: Five Points, Two Views—Dave Hunt and James White (427 pages). “Grew out of …White’s response to…What Love Is This? This book has a debate format and could well go down as the most lopsided debate in church history.”
  6. Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God—J.I. Packer (126 pages). Because of its high quality, this book has remained in print for over forty years.”
  7. Sermons on Sovereignty—Charles Spurgeon (256 pages). Includes a brief sketch of Spurgeon’s life and a selection of 18 sermons dealing with some aspect of Calvinism or the sovereignty of God.
  8. Reformed Theology in America—David Wells (287 pages). “This is an outstanding book with a wealth of information and background on the shapers of Reformed theology in America.”

Continue reading

Review: Ephesians: An Exegetical Commentary

Screen Shot 2016-01-16 at 2.39.29 PMAs Francis Bacon said, “some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed and some few to be chewed and digested.” Hoehner’s commentary on Ephesians fits the latter category.

Dr. Hoehner has served as professor of NT studies for over 30 years at Dallas Theological Seminary. Though he took nearly 20 years to compile this commentary, it was well worth the wait. The formatting is excellent and the research superb. The Greek text of Ephesians contains 2,422 words, which means that Hoehner’s 900+ page volume covers about 2 1⁄2 words per page. The strengths below will show why this is significant.

One of Hoehner’s strengths is that he approaches Ephesians from a dispensational viewpoint. I agree with his conclusions on Israel in chapters 2 and 3. More importantly, Hoehner is Calvinistic in his soteriology. And most importantly, this commentary is the quintessential example in how to do word studies.

I learned how to do word studies the old-fashioned way. With hundreds of examples, Hoehner meticulously details the root, function and usage (classical, LXX, NT, Paul, Ephesians).

In conclusion, Hoehner surpassed Garland’s First Corinthians as my favorite commentary. People generally refer to—not read—commentaries. But I digested Hoehner from cover to cover nearly twice. Bravo!

Review: Darwin on Trial

Philip Johnson, IVP, 1993, 220 pages, 4 of 5 stars

Screen Shot 2016-01-16 at 2.15.50 PMNo statement serves as a clearer harbinger than the title of Johnson’s fifth chapter: “The Fact of Evolution”. While Johnson deftly illustrates that evolutionists do not know how large-scale evolution could have occurred, it is still considered fact in most scholarly circles.

Johnson’s goal is to show that Darwinian evolution has no evidence to prove that biological innovations took place; this was most clearly proven in the first several chapters, which deal with the theoretical (natural selection), experimental (mutations), and historical (fossil record) difficulties that Darwinism faces.

Johnson’s thorough critique on the Darwinian/evolutionary system unearths the clandestine presuppositions of modern-day evolutionists by debunking their faulty logic and showing evidence contrary to the evolutionary system.

Weaknesses

Early on, Johnson tips his hand that he is not a “Biblical fundamentalist” (later defined as a literal, young earth creationist) nor is he sympathetic towards them. Still, he admits that he is a Christian, though his particular slant is that of theistic evolution. He says, “whether animals evolved more than once remains an open question as far as fossils are concerned” (79) and assumes that there were “transitional steps between apes and humans” (85).

Johnson also concedes far too much. After examining some Darwinian evidence, he admits, “birds did somehow develop from dinosaur predecessors” (81). He even appears to soften the Darwinist’s motives by implying that their theory is not presented with “the intent to deceive” (118).

Strengths

First, I enjoyed a critique on the Darwinian theory as seen through a lawyer’s eyes. Lawyers know how slippery language in debates work (e.g. Darwin used the double negative “not immutable” to describe species). Johnson deftly analyzed the motives, presuppositions, and evidences behind every claim of the Darwinists.

Second, I enjoyed the plethora of logical errors that were exposed on the part of the Darwinists (e.g. 34).

Things I learned

First and foremost, Darwinist’s have a religious motive. Man has no value because there is no God to place value upon him. Even if the evolutionary theory is filled with holes, it is believed because the only other alternative is intelligent design, something unthinkable to the Darwinist.

I also learned that evolutionists are militant. Those who do not accept their theory are called stupid, insane, and ignorant. “Theories” with no evidence (like the Piltdown man) are presented as fact as long as possible until it is finally debunked (e.g. Chapter 11 and the graphic account of zealous Darwinists).

“Natural selection” is the Darwinist’s replacement of God. To use the words of Richard Dawkins, it is the “blind watchmaker” that is capable of producing new kinds of organs and organisms. In order for natural selection to take place, however, two things are needed: massive amounts of time and some kind of intelligent force behind it.

Finally, the deathblow to the Darwinian theory is the historical fossil record. According to Johnson, historically, it is this record, not clergymen and preachers, which was the most formidable opponent to Darwinism. Darwin called the fossil problem “the most obvious and gravest objection which can be urged against my theory” (47).

In sum, Johnson logically and scientifically exposes the myriad of problems behind the Darwinian theory. I would highly recommend this book.

Review: The Hole in Our Holiness

Kevin DeYoung, Crossway, 2012, 162 pages, 3 of 5 stars

Screen Shot 2016-01-16 at 1.15.35 PMHave you ever been mocked by other Christians for trying to do right? Ever been jabbed with the eye roll or tagged with the title “legalist” for efforts to be holy?

The author of this book has. He wants to help you. In some ways, this work is a response to the popular Hypergrace movement today that suggests the unmerited grace of Christ is the only–or one of the only–legitimate motivators in doing right. Do right because of the gospel. 

DeYoung disagrees. Of course the gospel is the focus, nucleus, and hinge of everything we do, but the most helpful section of the book is where the author lists 40 ways Scripture motivates Christians to pursue holiness (e.g. duty, Christ’s example, folly of sin) (56-60).

Ephesians 5:3 has to mean something (“sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you”). Christians may disagree on exactly what it means, but it’s certainly not there to poke fun of. God has called us to holiness (1 Thess. 4:7), we are “created in Christ Jesus for good works” (Eph. 2:10) and husbands are to love their wives so that they “might be holy and without blemish” (Eph. 5:27). Continue reading

Review: How to Help People Change

Jay Adams, Zondervan, 2010, 224 pages, 4 of 5 stars

Screen Shot 2016-01-16 at 12.57.27 PMJay Adams is old school, confident, biblical, and one of my favorite authors. For those interested in counseling and wanting an introduction to his work, this would be a start. Pastors are his audience but a thoughtful mother or layman could handle it.

The author’s big point is that preachers teach in order to change lives. We do not proffer bare facts for the intellect. Our byword is Colossians 1:9-10. How does such change come about? It begins on the inside. Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for only having outward righteousness (Mt. 5:20).

Adams says this divine inward change comes by carefully following the four steps in 2 Timothy 3:16 (teaching, conviction, correction, disciplined training in righteousness), which divides the four major portions of this book.

A Summary

The first section is on “teaching for the long haul”, as Adams puts it. He encourages pastors to resist their natural reaction to skimp in their instruction by ending counseling upon the first sin of relief, and then hoping the problem won’t recur. Often the drunkenness or fornication continues and God’s name is dishonored. His solution is to teach (i.e. explain and apply) Jesus’ words about radical amputation and the need to take preemptive measures against future sin. He makes heavy use of milieu teaching, homework, and the three-step promise in 1 Cor. 10:13.

Continue reading

Review: Why Johnny Can’t Sing Hymns: How Pop Culture Rewrote the Hymnal

David Gordon, P & R, 2010, 192 pages, 3 of 5 stars

Screen Shot 2016-01-16 at 12.20.06 PMThe author of this fascinating book is an Anglican who listens to Black Sabbath and Led Zepplin on weekdays but sings high church hymns on Sunday. Why can’t Johnny sing hymns? According to Gordon, it is because he’s addicted to pop culture.

Gordon’s goal is to find out why we have a preference for music that is often literarily, theologically, or musically inferior. He labors to show the inferiority of CCM and why it is an example of “impoverished congregational praise.”

Gordon is wary of using contemporary music in worship services at all, objects to its common use and zealously opposes exclusive use.

Strengths

The greatest value of this book is its emphasis on the style of music, a subject most modern worship books avoid altogether. I once asked Keith Getty if style was neutral. He said yes. But for Gordon, style matters.

Why do we attend a birthday party in a clown suit but not a funeral? Why not use a kazoo at a wedding? Style is not just a matter of personal taste. Style sends a message, like when Rick Warren wears open casual shirts to preach but a suit at Obama’s inaugural address. All music sends a message. Gordon thinks that the message of CCM is entertainment.

Another area where Gordon excels is that he forces those who comply with his perspective to go all the way. You can’t agree with his position and then listen to “Joyful, Joyful” while changing the oil in your car. Sacred music is that which is deliberately and self-consciously different from other forms of music. What does this say about those traditions that listen to Christian music all the time?

Continue reading

Review: Coming to Grips With Genesis

Mortenson, Ury, eds., Master Books, 2008, 478 pages, 5 of 5 stars

Screen Shot 2015-12-22 at 4.59.09 PMThe book’s best line is actually from Gleason Archer—an old-earther—proving once again that the age of the earth debate is not an exegetical matter.

“From a superficial reading of Genesis 1, the impression would seem to be that the entire creative process took place in six twenty-four-hour days. If this was the true intent of the Hebrew author…”

Now let’s stop here for a moment. How do you think this sentence will end? Will biblical exegesis follow?  “…This seems to run counter to modern scientific research, which indicates that the planet Earth was created several billion years ago…” Continue reading

Review: Jan Christian Smuts, A Biography

 J.C. Smuts, Heinemann and Cassell, 1952, 568 pages, 3 of 5 stars

Screen Shot 2015-12-22 at 4.04.57 PMJan Smuts’ son clearly portrays the brilliance of his father in this hagiographic biography.

Smuts (1870-1950) was a renaissance man. As soldier, at the age of 31 he was General of the Boers during the Second Boer War and later commanded Allied troops against German East Africa. As statesman he was prime minister of South Africa (his terms separated by 15 years!) and helped found the League of Nations. As author he wrote Holism and Evolution that no doubt colored his view of other-colored people.

During the Boer War in South Africa Smuts would used his rifle to kill Brits by day then rummage through his saddle bag and read his Greek New Testament by night. The British in turn put a monstrous price on his head, forcing upon him numerous narrow escapes. England “won” the war, felt guilty, paid millions of pounds in compensation and ended up giving South Africa an independent republic a few years later.

Smuts was Afrikaans but thought in English. His son paints his father as a moderate, separate from the Afrikaans “bitter-enders” and willing to work with the English. To the dismay of many, he and Botha were behind the 3000-carat Cullinan diamond as a gift to the English king. He was given the US Order of Merit and honorary degrees from 27 universities.

This was book was published in the heyday of apartheid, meaning all modern day politically correct speech is absent. The most alarming chapter was “The Native Problem”, where even back then Smuts said blacks could see “the days of emancipation approaching.” Everyone knew apartheid wouldn’t last.

Contrary to modern thought, Smuts most likely was not a Christian, though he was handy with his Bible and believed Jesus to be a remarkably gifted man. His son wrote of his father: “Whether he believed in God depends on the implications of the question. He certainly did not believe in a supernatural being in the form of a man…but he did believe in some deity” (292).

As a young man Smuts had studied and mastered Darwin and became a convert to his concept of evolution (336). Thus, it shouldn’t surprise us that he said: “The Bushman, like the Australian Aborigine, [is] a freak survival from some primitive age. We have never accorded this small evolutionary enigma an equal status” (305). He believed the facial bones of blacks pointed to Neanderthals.

At other times, however, he spoke positively of blacks, calling them “the only happy human I have come across” (307).

Regarding gun control, there is much alarm among Afrikaners these days. Bravo. But they must remember they were the first ones to initiative such measures. Smuts writes: “We must prohibit non-Europeans from possessing firearms, or the training in their use. Manufacturing industry, wealth and education must be kept in white hands” (306).

In sum, Smuts should be admired for his brilliance and accomplishments, while chastised for his foolish acceptance of Darwinian evolution and the even more foolish system of apartheid that flowed from it.

Review: Neither Poverty Nor Riches

Craig Blomberg, Apollos, 1999, 300 pages, Four of Five Stars

Screen Shot 2015-12-22 at 2.35.21 PMNeither Poverty Nor Riches is one of the many excellent books in the NSBT series edited by DA Carson. I have gravitated toward Systematic Theology because of champions like Grudem, Berkhof and Reymond.

But I am warming to the Biblical Theology. This method highlights historical context and inductive study by tracing important biblical themes throughout the whole Bible. Blomberg’s task here is to study money and possessions from Genesis to Revelation.

The author begins with two thorough chapters on the OT view of possessions, deftly addressing the major difference in principle between the testaments.

Never was material wealth promised [in the NT] as a guaranteed reward for either spiritual obedience or simple hard work. This omission flows directly from the fact that the people of God are no longer defined as one ethnic group living in one divinely granted piece of geography (242).

Again, he said: “Wealth as a sign of God’s blessing and as a reward for one’s labor, then, are the two major strands of Old Testament teaching that for the most part do not carry over into the New Testament” (83).

Chapters 4-7 are given to the New Testament perspective on money. His belief that the percentage of giving should go up in relation to one’s income was convincing.

Not surprisingly, Blomberg’s analysis on our Lord’s perspective of money is most insightful. His exegesis on fifteen of Jesus’ parables was marvelous. If one does not have time to read the whole book, his closing chapter of conclusions is well worth it.

This book is not without its warts. Blomberg is sympathetic to the free market but doesn’t go far enough. At times he seems to promote some kind of hybrid of capitalism and socialism (26). I disagree when he says no single economic system can be called “biblical”.

Contrast this with Wayne Grudem (Poverty of Nations) and his straight-to-the point opening quote in a lecture on the free market: “There is only one solution to world poverty. It is the only solution that has ever worked and will ever work. This solution is evident from economic history of every wealthy nation of the world today and this solution is consistent with the teachings of the Bible.”

There were a couple other unsightly stinkers. Blomberg suggests that if Southern Baptists want to boycott Disney because of their friendship with homosexuality, they ought to be consistent and boycott Nike as well, who pays Michael Jordan more in one year than its 18,000 employees in Indonesia (251). Not only are the vices hardly on par, but one wonders if Blomberg has forgotten that if Jordan wasn’t paid, neither would the majority of those Indonesian workers.

Elsewhere he’s misleading in saying a man as the primary breadwinner is “completely generic in the Greek” of 1 Timothy 5:8 (208). But just two verses later a godly widow is described as one that brought up her children, obviously making the man the primary provider.

I had to shield my eyes when he suggested world poverty could be eliminated if Western Christians would merely tithe, since foreign aid has never eliminated poverty except for a corrupt few. Overall, this book was one of the best reads of the year.

Review: Theonomy in Christian Ethics

Greg Bahnsen, Covenant Media Press, 2002, 610 pages; 3 of 5 stars

Screen Shot 2015-10-16 at 6.00.36 AMI first heard of Greg Bahnsen in relation to his cult classic debate with atheist Gordon Stein. I’ve listened to that exchange a couple dozen times. When it comes to presuppositionalism, the doctrines of grace, and a high view of God’s Word, he and I are in lock step. Theonomy—the teaching for which he is most known—is another matter.

This work by Bahnsen is probably the most scholarly defense of Theonomy (i.e. Christian reconstructionism), the presumption that there is moral continuity between the New and Old Testaments. It teaches that “the Christian is obligated to keep the whole law of God as a pattern of sanctification and…this law is to be enforced by the civil magistrate where [Scripture stipulates].” (36)

Before getting into the text, John and Paul Feinberg’s brief summary of the four views of the law may help. (1) Theonomists hold a continuity position whereby all the OT applies today. (2) The moderate continuity position believes the OT applies generally but must be adjusted in relation to the NT. (3) The radical discontinuity position believes all law has been abolished and Christians should follow the leading of the Spirit. (4) The moderate discontinuity view believes that while there is great overlap between OT and NT laws, Christ and his teaching ultimately fulfills the law and thus determines which OT laws are valid.

Summary of Bahnsen’s Work

Mathew 5:17-20 is the key text pertaining to Jesus and his view of the law. Bahnsen’s interpretation of this passage is also the title of his second chapter: “The Abiding Validity of the Law in Exhaustive Detail.” That is, Jesus did not come to rescind any of the OT commands but instead came to confirm and restore them (plēroō) in full measure and these laws will not be invalid until the world comes to an end. Bahnsen’s exegesis of this passage is lengthy and vital to his position.

Assuming for now the tripartite division of the law (moral, i.e. The Ten Commandments; civil, i.e. Sabbatical Year; ceremonial, i.e. animal sacrifices) and acknowledging both sides of this debate generally agree that the ceremonial law is no longer binding but the moral law is, this issue really comes down to the civil law. Theonomy argues nations should be ruled by the standards of the Old Testament civil law. When it comes to difficult passages that imply Christians are no longer under the law, Bahnsen maintains the law is being renounced as a means to save, not as an obligation to obey.

Ten Points of Critique

Bahnsen should be commended for his exhaustive study. I agreed with many of his points,  including his chapter on the functions of the law. He was careful in his exegesis and insightful in his applications. Nonetheless, I did not find his arguments convincing. Here are ten reasons. Continue reading

Review: Manly Dominion

Mark Chanski, Calvary Press, 2004, 247 pages, 3 of 5 stars

Screen Shot 2015-10-13 at 9.01.33 PMHere is a meat and potatoes manual on masculinity and the husband/father’s role in the home.

Mark Chanski is a seasoned pastor and father of five, and may have penned this while wearing a hunting knife and camo. He’s a tough guy with a soft heart. He gives the kind of wisdom your father did while chopping wood: work hard, career-plan early, don’t be a perfectionist, rear your children, think clearly, learn a trade. The teen and grandfather would equally benefit. Some chapters are only three pages long.

The best section was on “vocational laboring” but a survey of his 31 chapters shows the author’s wide swath of subjects: “Our Sinful Children”, “Evaluating Dating”, “Assertive Talking”, “Family Devotions”, “Job Hunting”. His excerpt from John Abbott’s The Mother at Home (©1833) was a gem.

Chanski shines in his section on decision-making. He blasts the subjective leading of the Holy Spirit. “Asking God for life directing impressions, is asking God for fresh special revelations. This is wrong and unbiblical.” (86) Since we all know of people who are so heavenly minded they are no earthly good, Chanski tells the humorous story of going to a wooded area to cut trees and his partner said: “Don’t you think we should first pray and ask God which tree we should cut down first?”

In sum, this book motivated me to be a better husband, father, and Christian. I learned nothing new and the well-turned phrases were few but the content was winsome, true, and masculine. I’ll give this book to my sons when they turn thirteen. I’ll read it with them, too.

Excerpts

  1. Unemployment can mentally, emotionally, and spiritually shake a man to his foundations. A man without work can become like waters without current. Standing water soon putrefies into a scummy pond. (68)
  2. Though carnal sounding, cash is the fuel that runs the kingdom machinery. Many kingdom ships that could be launched end up rotting in the harbor due to lack of funds. Were it not for generous financial supporters, the great missionary Adoniram Judson would never have set sail for Burma. (78)
  3. [Quoting John Murray] This view of the Holy Spirit’s guidance [i.e. feelings, impressions, convictions] amounts, in effect, to the same thing as to believe that the Holy Spirit gives special revelation. (88)
  4. The lives of many women have become barren wildernesses because they’ve been neglected by uncommunicative husbands; men who indulge themselves in selfish silence, men who are stingy with their words, men whose typical answer is one of no comment, men who like Adam in the snake infested garden leave it to their wives to do the talking. (179)
  5. Do you really want your children to experience everything you’ve experienced? Most of us believing parents, whose youth mirrored [promiscuous teen years] are ashamed of many of our actions, and can only marvel at God’s grace that kept us from destroying our souls. In reality, we’re just the survivors, and some very scarred survivors at that, while many of our peers passed through this cultural minefield and lost their souls. (234)

Book Review: Flame of Yahweh: Sexuality in the Old Testament

Richard Davidson, Hendrickson (2007), 880 pages, 5 of 5 stars

Screen Shot 2015-10-03 at 4.39.16 PMAmbrose Bierce once criticized a book by saying the covers were too far apart. This book isn’t one of them. Davidson’s 844 pages (140 of them bibliography) were so good, I read it through twice.

With that glowing statement, let me start by giving a few negatives of Davidson’s thorough treatment of every imaginable sexual matter in the Old Testament.

First, the top three cited sources in his massive bibliography are feminists. Second, as you have guessed, he is friendly to egalitarians. He argues there is no inherent hierarchy between the sexes. He does in the end begrudgingly admit hierarchy exists between husband and wife, but only because of the fall. It doesn’t carry over to the church. Davidson uses heavily watered down language and wants to lead us back to the days with no hierarchy (76).

Third, he argues in his brief NT section that “mutual submission” in Eph. 5:21 speaks of equal and joint compliance between a husband and wife. He is correct that Christians should be “submitting to one another”, but Paul explains in the next paragraphs that this means everyone should be submitting to the one above them, not everyone submitting to everyone else in the same way.

But this work is a tour de force. He thoroughly exegetes every OT passage dealing with sexuality. Allow me to condense Davidson’s massive work into 1,800 words of summary on his most lucid conclusions. I’ll sprinkle some thoughts in between.

 Davidson on Homosexuality

First, he distinguishes between homosexual practice and orientation (propensity, inclination, disposition), the former a sin and the latter not discussed since “no Scripture passage addresses this point” (133). He says Scripture contains “no culpability for homosexual orientation per se”, just as it does not for tendencies toward heterosexual lust.

But if Romans 1 is correct and homosexuality is an unnatural sin and heterosexual lust a natural sin, how does a homosexual arrive at unnatural temptations? Accidentally? The passage says it is through a series of previous sinful actions. Furthermore, homosexual practice alone cannot be sin only, for Scripture says to lust in the mind is also transgression (Mt. 5:28).

Continue reading