Review: Slave

John MacArthur, Thomas Nelson, 2010, 225 pp. 3 of 5 stars

What is the most unforgivable notion in today’s world? Slavery is good.

In Slave, John MacArthur explores the paradox that people never stop being slaves. Pre-conversion, we are slaves to sin. Post-conversion, we are slaves to Christ. “Although you used to be slaves of sin…you became enslaved to righteousness” (Rom. 6:17-18, HCSB).

MacArthur calls the mistranslation of “slave” to “servant” a centuries-long cover up by English NT translators, much of it owing to the historical stigma of slavery. But there is a difference. A servant is hired. A slave is owned. Surprisingly, the latter is the most common metaphor for a Christian in Scripture. It speaks of absolute commitment as a requirement for all Christians, not an add-on for extra-spiritual Christians. “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (Jn. 10:27).

This book is really MacArthur’s contribution toward the doctrines of grace from the perspective of total surrender to Christ. After skillfully weaving Scripture with church history (e.g. Luther and Newton), MacArthur uses chapters 8-11 to unpack TULIP (total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace, perseverance of the saints).

He closes with four compelling paradoxes about slavery: it brings freedom (to do right), it ends prejudice (since all are slaves), it magnifies grace (we’re undeserving) and it pictures salvation (slavery is the central message of salvation).

This volume is not as popular as The Gospel According to Jesus or perhaps as helpful as the explicit Lordship volume Hard to Believe. Still, it is a message that is rare in today’s churches and invaluable for sinners and saints to ponder.

Excerpts:

  1. “The one slavery is terminated precisely in order to allow the other slavery to begin” (140, quoting Murray Harris).
  2. “True freedom begins when slavery to sin ends. And slavery to sin ends only when we have become the slaves of God” (142).
  3. “To my great astonishment I found that the [Scripture] passages which speak decidedly for election and persevering grace, were about four times as many as those which speak apparently against…” (151, quoting George Müller, who had once called election a “devilish doctrine”).
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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: 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 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: 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.

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)