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

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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: 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

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