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 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: 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: 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: 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: 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.