Book Review: Addictions

Edward Welch, P&R (2001), 320 pages, 4 of 5 stars

Screen Shot 2015-10-03 at 4.26.50 PMVoluntary slavery. This is how Edward Welch defines addiction. His thesis: the root problem of our addictions is not genetic makeup but ultimately a disorder of worship. He centers on addictions like alcohol and drugs but also addresses lying, pornography, overeating, and laziness.

Regarding the last point, my wife once asked our neighbor if she has any hobbies. “Sleeping”, was her reply. This book could help her.

Welch gets the big issue right. Addictions are not the fault of chemical imbalances. The deepest problem is sin, meaning the greatest solution is the gospel. He also shines when digging deeply into the psychological nature of sin, by “psychological” I mean in relation to the mind, not lying on a couch hitting a pillow tagged “Dad”. He is a bit soft on Alcoholics Anonymous but that is quibbling.

Husband, Father, Pastor, Preacher

As father and husband, I was convicted that anger is an addiction (see quote #8 below). As a pastor, I was convicted for not being more approachable. “Ask family members. Are you perceived as humble and patient by those close to you? Are you quick to anger? If so, no one is going to be eager to speak honestly with you” (70).

As a preacher, I need to be more practical in the pulpit. Welsh gives 7 behaviors to spot addicts, 8 ideas for private worship, and 14 ways to remember you are in a battle. P-r-a-c-t-i-c-a-l. He uses every weapon available, be it role-play, homework, or illustrations. Who said Presbyterians aren’t teetotalers? He rails against gateway drugs like cigarettes and alcohol and reminds us that addiction is monolithic. “Everything is alcohol (drug, food, sex) soluble.” Whatever the addiction, it can dilute guilt, alleviate depression, bring pleasure and quiet loss.

Excerpts

  1. Perhaps no other narrative portrays the irrational nature of sin so clearly [than Samson in Judg. 13-16]. With Delilah his lust defied all reason. Over and over she was exposed as a betrayer, yet Samson was intoxicated with her. Although aware of her plotting, his desire still blinded him. (57).
  2. Satan and sin are like wild animals (1Pt. 5:8; Gn. 4:7). There is no subtlety here. No wooing, attractive women. No idol that holds out promises it can’t keep. This is just plain old in-your-face, rip-you-apart warfare. Sin and Satan victimize. They enslave. (60)
  3. Addicts must know that they are being given a gift, and those who are helping addicts must know how to give this gift in a way that reflects its cost and beauty. Beautiful gifts must be presented in the most attractive way possible. Ask the person, “Does what we talk about sound like condemnation, or does it sound like a beautiful gift?” (63)
  4. When an addict is caught, excuses are masterful. They are offered immediately, without hesitation. They are bold, without averted eyes or a hint of “I just got found out.” Inevitably, they will somehow make friends and loved ones feel guilty. (75)
  5. [Use a gentle tongue]. If there is going to be a battle, you want it to be between the person and God, not between the person and yourself. (94)
  6. Being rebuked is not the same thing as being hypocritically judged. (114)
  7. We can quickly identify [evil] temptations by asking ourselves which of our desires prefer to stay in the dark. Which desires do we want to hide from certain people? (230)
  8. Let’s say a husband and father is dominated by anger. When he gives into his rage, he verbally abuses his family and destroys property. Rage is his addiction; he wants it. (241)

Book Review: The Great Gain of Godliness

Thomas Watson, Banner of Truth (1682/2006), 166 pages, 4 of 5 stars

Screen Shot 2015-09-11 at 8.59.36 AMThomas Watson squeezes the orange and yields more heavenly juice from three verses than many a modern preacher.

From Malachi 3:16-18 he writes 168 pages and 16 sermons. This small book would make an excellent Homiletics textbook. A young preacher wonders how he could get forty-five minutes of sermon material from, say, the story of the prodigal son. Here, in an obscure passage, Watson goes phrase by phrase and mines truckloads of truth. The word “then” receives one sermon. “Fear of the Lord” gets five. His lists are endless: four things to consider, nineteen ways it is important to fear God, and two cautions about deceit.

I can imagine a homiletical exercise that asks for a sermon manuscript on Malachi 3:16. When the students return frazzled and empty of sufficient material, tell them to read Watson’s ten sermons on the same verse. It may be to them as scales falling from their eyes.

The Puritans teach us how to use word pictures in illustrating truth. Like an Eskimo his clothing, Watson layers his metaphors. “Profession is often made a cloak to cover sin” is followed by, “the snow covers many a dunghill”, which is followed by Absalom covering his treason with a religious vow (2Sm. 15). “The fear of God swallows up all other fears, as Moses’ rod swallowed up the magicians rods” (33). How to illustrate the need to share the sweetness of what you have read this week? “Samson having found honey did not only eat of it himself, but carried it to his father and mother” (68). Christian unity: “one single coal is apt to die, but many coals put together keep in the heat” (72).

The Great Gain is an excellent counseling manual as well, for it shows how to present Scripture winsomely to the hurting soul.

Excerpts:

  1. Almost all court the Gospel Queen when she is hung with jewels. But to own the ways of God when they are decried and maligned, to love a persecuted truth, this evidences a vital principle of goodness. Dead fish swim down stream; living fish swim against it. (6)
  2. Reproaches are but splinters of the cross. (11)
  3. Be not laughed out of your religion. If a lame man laughs at you for walking upright, will you therefore limp? (11)
  4. Fear is as lead to the net, to keep a Christian from floating in presumption, and faith is as cork to the net, to keep him form sinking in despair. (15).
  5. A secure sinner lays in Delilah’s lap, yet hopes to be in Abraham’s bosom. (23)
  6. He who pampers his body and neglects his soul, is like him who feasts his slave and starves his wife. (34)
  7. A Christian should keep two books always beside him; one to write his sins in, that he may be humble; the other to write his mercies in, that he may be thankful. (108)
  8. God will not stretch the strings of his violin too hard, let they break. If God should strike with one hand, he will support with the other (Sg. 8:3). Either he will make our yoke lighter, or our faith stronger. This promise is honey at the end of the rod. (158)

Book Review: The Devil’s Dictionary

Ambrose Bierce, A Public Domain Book, 144 pages

Screen Shot 2015-03-03 at 10.11.45 AMHumorist Ambrose Bierce began writing this book of satire at the end of the 19th century. Douglas Wilson is a modern theologian who makes heavy use of satire and argues that Jesus used it often. Satire helps us to take ourselves less seriously.

Flannery O’Conner said: “Only if we are secure in our beliefs can we see the comical side of the universe.” Satire also is one of the ways Christians can attack false teaching—or at least blind spots of the guy in the pew next to us.

Keep this in mind as I list a few of my favorite definitions.

  1. Christian, one who believes that the New Testament is a divinely inspired book admirably suited to the spiritual needs of his neighbor.
  2. Exhort, in religious affairs, to put the conscience of another upon the spit and roast it to a nut-brown discomfort.
  3. Hospitality, the virtue which induces us to feed and lodge certain persons who are not in need of food and lodging.
  4. Logic, the basic of logic is the syllogism, consisting of a major and a minor premise and a conclusion—thus: Major Premise: sixty men can do a piece of work sixty times as quickly as one man. Minor Premise: One man can dig a posthole in sixty seconds; therefore—Conclusion: sixty men can dig a posthole in one second.
  5. Mouth, in a man, the gateway to the soul; in a woman, the outlet of the heart.
  6. Non-combatant, a dead Quaker
  7. Overwork, a dangerous disorder affecting high public functionaries who want to go fishing.
  8. Plagiarize, to take the thought or style of another writer whom one has never, never read.
  9. Politeness, the most acceptable hypocrisy.
  10. Positive, mistaken at the top of one’s voice.
  11. Saint, a dead sinner revised and edited.

Book Review: Culture Counts

Roger Scruton, Encounter Books, 2007, 117 pages

Screen Shot 2015-03-03 at 9.57.04 AMThis book is a good exercise of “pulling myself up to understanding,” as Mortimer Adler has defined reading, since much of what Scruton says is difficult to understand. I took fifteen minutes to finish some pages. It felt like mental chin ups.

Scruton defines culture as the accumulation of a civilization’s elements that have stood the test of time, though these reach different heights. Civilization, therefore, must constantly choose what it thinks is best, including customs and traditions. If we agree with him here, then we are set up for the politically incorrect conclusion that has been hiding around the corner: all cultures are not equally good.

If a society consistently chooses, for example, that the best way to appease the gods is by sacrificing children to Molech, then that culture is inferior (at least in that particular matter) to other cultures that, say, preserve their children at all costs. And if that same society continues to add checkmarks in the “evil” column, then we should not feel bad at all about saying that culture A is superior to culture B. No one is arguing that inferior cultures have only checkmarks in the wickedness column and that superior cultures only have checkmarks in the virtuous column, just that the when everything is added up, we shouldn’t expect a tie. Scruton gives the reader seven chapters of tools to judge the virtues of culture.

The chapter that struck me most was the fourth: “The Uses of Criticism.” Scruton jumps right into an insightful philosophical analysis of humor. “Comedy is a fundamental ingredient in every serious culture” (45). Humor has value because it unites people and philosophies, for aren’t our closest friends the ones with whom we can laugh about the same things? To agree in our laughter is to agree in our judgments.

My colleague Seth and I laugh about the kiosks in our villages, the materialism of America, the administration of the Zimbabwean government, and the missionaries from Wheaton that double as Abercrombie models because in laughing together we are concluding together.

But laugher should be inward too, meaning we should chuckle at our own American accents. “When you and I laugh together, we reveal to each other that we see the world in the same light, that we understand its shortcomings and find them bearable. We are jointly ‘making light of’ our burdens by vicariously sharing them.”

I doubt you have ever heard a Muslim laugh at his own civilization? Scruton says this is dangerous because the one who cannot laugh at himself lacks “the principal way in which people come to terms with their own imperfection” (48).

Short book, long read, but worth it.

Book Review: Christ’s Prophetic Plans

John MacArthur and Richard Mayhue eds., Moody Press, 2012, 220 pages

Screen Shot 2015-03-03 at 9.48.07 AMNo one today has been a greater champion of dispensational (called“futuristic” in the book) premillennialism than John MacArthur. He is also the best example today of one who has preached expositionally through all of the New Testament. Is this a coincidence? Those who agree with his eschatology say no.

Let me try to summarize the book in five points. If you and I were drinking coffee together and you asked me what is so convincing about futuristic premillennialism, I’d give five marks that encapsulate the core of this book.

First is Revelation 20:1-4. The fivefold action (seizing, binding, throwing, shutting, and sealing) of the angel toward Satan in order to forbid him from deceiving the nations has not yet happened, for presently he is the god (Rev. 9:1-3), ruler (1 Jn. 4:4), and lion (1 Pt. 5:8) of this world who snatches away the gospel (Mk. 5:15). The timing of this cannot be at the cross, for whatever was done in v. 2 will be undone in v. 7. John’s usage of “thousand” is literal, as are most of the numbers in Revelation and is happy to use generic terms for time elsewhere (20:2,8). The premill position does not recapitulate but moves chronologically right through the 2nd Coming in Revelation 19.

Second is the nature of election. All agree that the election of angels, Christ, and the church was divine, irrevocable and unconditional. So why is the election Israel not given the same definition?

Third is the nature of Israel. “Israel” is found over two thousand times in Scripture, 77x’s in the NT and always refers to “ethnic” Israel. The only two passages up for debate are Romans 9:6 and Gal. 6:16. At the outset, then, the burden of proof is upon those who define Israel differently. The context of these two passages makes “Israel” to refer to Christian ethnic Jews. The Bible teaches, then, that salvation and restoration of the nation of Israel will be a means of blessing. There is one people of God in the sense that there is salvific unity among all believers through Christ. But this doesn’t mean there is no distinction within that one people (like Israel and the church).

Fourth is church history. Essentially all the church fathers were premill. It began to wane with the rise of Augustine, allegorical hermeneutics and Platonic dualism.

Fifth is the New Testament view of the kingdom and the pre-trib rapture. The disciples still saw the kingdom as literal (Mt. 20:21; Acts 1:6). Jesus promised thrones (Matt. 19:28; Lk. 22:28). Paul too (Rom. 11:1, 25-28). Regarding the harpazō, 1Thessalonians and 1 Cor. 15:51-52 refer to the same event but not the same as Matt. 24-25. The church is not mentioned in Rev. 6-19 and John 14:1-3 parallels 1Thess. 4:13-18.

Book Review: I Write What I Like

Steve Biko, Picador, Africa, 243 pages

UnknownAt age thirty, Steve Biko was killed while in police custody. Before his demise he was known as a political activist and founder of the Black Consciousness Movement. But after his untimely death he became a symbol of heroic defiance against apartheid in South Africa. In his college days he wrote columns in the student journal under the pseudonym “Frank Talk”, which later became this book.

Biko writes intelligently and with conviction. On every page he fights against white supremacy and racism, defined as discrimination by a group against another for the purposes of subjugation. “Black Consciousness” (BC) encouraged blacks to take pride in being black. Even today, T-shirts with the BC slogan are everyone in our village: “Being black is not a matter of pigmentation—being black is a reflection of a mental attitude.”

There is biblical truth in this. Christians should seek unity with all races, because all Christians—regardless of skin color—will join the same choir one day (Rev. 5:9; 7:9). Scripture doesn’t tell blacks or whites to give up their cultural identity in order to appear like another race or people (1Co. 7:18-19).

Let me make two points where Biko’s reasoning is flawed. Economically, I wonder how he can maintain the superiority of tribal land and the inferiority of private ownership and yet talk of “theft”. How can there be “theft” without private property? How can you say “our” land was stolen, if no one owns anything? And how does he determine to whom South Africa belongs? Those who were here at the creation of the world? Those who were here first? If the latter, then South Africa belongs to the Khoisan, whom the dominant Bantu of today’s South Africa displaced long ago. Biko also paints South Africa with utopian strokes, saying before the whites came, “poverty was a foreign concept”. History says otherwise.

Biko’s attempt to use Black Theology to make Scripture relevant to the African is the problem, not the solution. Indeed, the Bible is relevant to Africans! But Biko, instead of pulling out those applications already in the text, removes those items that do not fit the worldview Africans currently possess. This is exactly what the Prosperity Gospel does today, leading Africans to hell by the millions. Biko denies hell and man’s depravity and espouses the inherent goodness of man. He blames the weakening of cultural values on missionaries and calls Christianity “cold and cruel.” As a missionary in South Africa, that struck me as inaccurate.

No missionaries are perfect. If some were racist and refused to teach that all believers, regardless of race, are baptized by one Spirit into one body (1Co. 12:13), let history and Scripture pronounce them in error and sin. But I suspect that the vast majority of missionaries loved the blacks, leaving kin and country to show them Christ’s love, and should be lauded as the instruments God used to bring many of them to Christ.

Book Review: John Adams

David McCullough, Simon and Schuster, 2001, 751 pages

Screen Shot 2015-03-03 at 8.04.26 AMJohn Adams—America’s second president—is a man to imitate. Brilliant with an inexhaustible love of books (“let no girl, no gun, no cards, no flutes, no violins, no dress, no tobacco, no laziness decoy you from your books”), Adams, the son of a poor farmer, read Cicero in Latin, Plato in Greek, and was fluent in French and Dutch. He helped craft the Constitution and signed the Declaration of Independence. He wrote the Constitution of Massachusetts, the oldest functioning written constitution in the world. His son became the sixth president.

There are a heap of reasons to read this Pulitzer Prize winner. Here’s five.

First, it is important for us as Americans to be well-versed in our nation’s history. McCullough chronicles the birth of the United States from the start of the American Revolution up until America’s 50th anniversary, July 4, 1824—the same day both John Adams and Thomas Jefferson died. Adams should be praised for proposing a government of “laws, and not of men” but rebuked for pushing non-elected, lifetime appointments of Supreme Courts justices.

On one side you have the Federalists of Adams, Hamilton, and Washington who wanted a strong federal government, on the other the Republicans of Monroe and Jefferson who were pro-French and believed that government is best which governs least. We’re given a tour of Robespierre and the French Revolution, Alexander Hamilton, the beheading of Louis XVI, the Louisiana Purchase, Bonaparte, the Reynolds Affair, and the yellow fever epidemics. Continue reading