Review: Delighting in the Trinity

Michael Reeves, IVP, 2012, 135 pages

trinityDelighting in the Trinity gives an introduction to the Christian faith through the lens of the triune God. Michael Reeves draws heavily from church history—with generous quotes from the Puritans, Jonathan Edwards, Luther, and Calvin. To show the importance of the Trinity, he quotes the Athanasian Creed that says whoever does not hold to the Trinity will “perish everlastingly”. Imagine that being said from the pulpit today.

Reeves is cheeky and witty but not so as to forget the Scriptures. The Christian life could not exist without the triune God, he says, and then gives some examples. Only the triune God (as opposed to Allah) can inherently love, for apart from the Godhead there would be no one for God to love (Jn. 17:24) before the world began. Only the triune God can atone for sinners, for if there were no sinless Son sinners would have to atone for themselves.

The last two chapters were a bit disjointed but this short book succeeded in proving its thesis: “the triune being of God is the vital oxygen of Christian life and joy.” (18)

Excerpts:

  1. The Trinity is not a problem. In looking at the Trinity we are not walking off the map into dangerous and unchartable areas of pointless speculation. Pressing into the Trinity we are doing what in Psalm 27 David said he could do all the days of his life: we are gazing upon the beauty of the Lord. (12)
  2. The Lord God in Isaiah 42 is not a single-person God, desperately hugging himself and refusing to share as he whines: I will not give my glory to another.” Far from hoarding his glory, the Father gives it, freely and fully, to his Son. It is simply that he will give it to no other than his Son. (70)
  3. The Qur’an is a perfect example of a solitary God’s word. Allah is a single-person God who has an eternal word beside him in heaven, the Qur’an. Thus when Allah gives us his Qur’an, he gives us some thing, a deposit of information about himself and how he likes things. However, when the triune God gives us his Word, he gives us his very self, for the Son is the Word of God. (80)
  4. John Owen [was said to have had] as much powder in his hair as would discharge eight cannons. (97)
  5. We cannot choose what we love, but always love what seems desirable to us. Thus we will only change what we love when something proves itself to be more desirable to us than what we already love. I will, then, always love sin and the world until I truly sense that Christ is better. (101)
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Review: Missionary Methods: St. Paul’s or Ours?

Roland Allen, Eerdmans, 1962, 130 pages

Missionary MethodsRoland Allen was a missionary in China for eight years at the turn of the 20th century. He was a minister in the Anglican Church and was nurtured in the Catholic understanding of churchmanship though—surprisingly—this background does not come out in his writings as one would expect.

Allen observes that St. Paul had immense church planting success in a relatively short time—about ten years. Though most missionaries today have not replicated this level of success, they argue it is because Paul had special advantages like background, calling, and gifts. Allen argues against this. After all, there were others in the NT besides Paul who were also successful. Modern man has several advantages that Paul did not. And even if Paul did have an advantage, it was not so great as to except the modern missionary’s lack of success.

Allen’s thesis could be syllogized as follows. Paul successfully planted many churches in a short amount of time. Missionaries today do not. Therefore, missionaries today must not be following Paul’s example. Or, in Allen’s words, “I propose in this book to attempt to set forth the methods which [St. Paul] used to produce this amazing result.” (7)

It will not be long until an angry choir rails with shouts of “yeah but”. In fact, the majority of Allen’s book is an answer to all of the “yeah buts”. He anticipates the arguments that point out certain advantages Paul had which missionaries today do not.

The format of Allen’s book is simple and I shall try to do the same. He rebuts 10 apparent advantages, offers three conclusions, and closes with several applications. Below I will summarize Allen’s perspective on five of the apparent advantages and applications and insert my thoughts below each one.

  1. Strategic Points: “Was Paul’s success due to the strategic places he went?”

No. Paul was not deliberate and didn’t even plan his journeys ahead of time. The Spirit led and forbid him. He went to provinces that were Roman (and thus had protection), Greek (and thus had no language barrier) and Jewish (and thus had a familiarity with their religion and culture). His strategy was to assail the centers of world commerce.

These are major advantages afforded to Paul that led to his immediate success. Unlike Paul, most missionaries go to places where they have to learn a new language from ground zero. Unlike Paul, John Paton and Jim Elliot and thousands of others do not have political protection by birth. Unlike Paul, modern missionaries enter a completely foreign culture and religious worldview. Thus, Paul had advantages in the four major obstacles missionaries face: language, culture, religion, and government.

  1. Audience: “Was Paul’s success due to a special kind of audience or class of people?”

No. It is true that Paul always started by preaching to the Jews in synagogues. But after he was rejected, he went to the Gentiles, most often of the lower class. Therefore, we can’t excuse our poor results because Paul had a synagogue or special group.

To minister in a culture where a location is set aside in every town for the public reading and discussion of the Law is a tremendous advantage. Paul shared the same background and esteem for the law. Hebrew and Greek had vocabulary that could carry the heaviest of theological terms. Jewish roots were in a book. I minister in Tsonga, a culture rooted in oral tradition. The language does not have words for adoption, redemption, and propitiation. There is no way to say “justifier”. There is one word for want and need; for leg and foot. Continue reading

Review: The Essential Guide to Speaking in Tongues

Ron Phillips, Charisma House, 2011, 129 pages

TonguesOn the declining scale of literature, there are good books, there are bad books, and then there is The Selective Writings of Schleiermacher. Speaking in Tongues may not have reached that level of schlock, but its certainly on the same podium.

Were all of Phillips’ errors addressed, I suppose the world itself could not contain the books that would be written (Jn. 21:25), but I shall spar with a few. Here are six weaknesses of the book. First, Phillips ignores the gospel. He asks the question: “How does one receive the Spirit?” (10), then fails to give the way of salvation. Nowhere do we find the message of sin, judgment, and the sacrificial death of Jesus. This is standard procedure among the prosperity crowd.

Second, he admits that God decides who gets which gift (12), but later says speaking in tongues “is a sign that accompanies not simply apostles but also those who are people of faith” (27). So does everyone have the gift to speak in tongues or not? He often implies everyone should speak in tongues.

Third, he often asserts with no proof. He avers that the “spiritual songs” in Ephesians 5:19 includes singing in tongues, but never shows why. And since this singing is for the purpose of “addressing one another”, wouldn’t that mean an interpreter would be needed? And how could this be done with multiple tongues at the same time? Again, he says that all “prayer in the Spirit” includes tongues, but again, never proves this.

Fourth, he overemphasizes the disputed ending in Mark. Most conservative scholars believe that chapter 16 ends with verse 8, a significant point because the text after this verse is where Phillips draws many of his arguments (most of chapter 4). He points to v. 17 and says: “Let me say unequivocally that Jesus endorsed and prophesied about speaking in tongues” (21).

Fifth, he discounts the evidence of history. “There is not a single shred of evidence in Scripture or history in support of [the cessation of tongues after the apostles” (29). Not a shred? That none of the church fathers, Reformers, and great 18th century evangelists spoke in tongues is insufficient evidence for Phillips. Besides giving only one citation in his entire historical survey (brotherMel.com), he presents the heretical Montanists, the schismatic Donatists, and the Red River Revival as historical evidence for tongue speaking.

Sixth, he misrepresents the cessationist position. In opposition to John MacArthur’s assertion that the three seasons of miracles in Scripture were during Moses/Joshua, Elijah/Elisha, and Christ/the apostles, he points to other “miracles” in other epochs such as the flood and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. But Cessationists do not define a miracle proper as anything supernatural; in this case, every time a person is converted is a miracle. Rather, we define a miracle narrowly as the supernatural done by the hand of a human being.

Finally, in his tenth chapter on tongues and order, he almost completely ignores the four guidelines for tongue in 1 Corinthians 14: at the most two or three total (27), one at a time (27), use an interpreter (27), and no women (34). While he did briefly address the matter of women speaking in tongues, I would argue that the even if tongues do exist today, I have never been to a church that advocates tongues that follows these four indisputable guidelines.

Review: Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices

Thomas Brooks, Banner of Truth, 1652, 253 pages

Brooks’ greatest strength is his ability to support his arguments with texts from every corner of Scripture. He shows it is no disparagement to seek reconciliation first because Abraham the elder did so with Lot the younger in Genesis 13. To prove that self-seekers are self-destroyers, he points to prideful men like Judas, Absalom, Saul and Pharaoh who killed themselves. To demonstrate that the smallest sins bring the greatest punishment, he references the eating of the apple, the touching of the ark, and the picking up of sticks on the Sabbath. These men knew their Bibles indeed.

Another strength, as in all Puritan books, is the large number of lists. This allows the busy reader to maximize the 15 minutes he has by following a complete thought on, say, the importance of keeping a great distance from sin.

A giant in metaphor Brooks in not, but his assault upon Satan’s devices is peerless.

Review: The Doctrine of Repentance

Thomas Watson, Banner of Truth, 1668, 128 pages

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Thomas Watson is my favorite Puritan because of his unrivaled usage of metaphor. “Your Best Life Now” just isn’t winsome after reading “the sword of God’s justice lies quiet in the scabbard till sin draws it out” (49) or “there is no rowing to paradise except upon the stream of repenting tears” (63). The pastor who dwells with such men is bound to preach like them.

This book is great for its endless lists: the six ingredients of repentance, the six qualifications of godly sorrow, the nine ways sin brings shame, the ten impediments to repentance, the sixteen motives to excite repentance. It is also holistic in scope–when is the last time you heard a preach urge you to “repent of…your non-improvement of talents” (71)? Like tuxedos and Converse All-Stars, Puritan sermons are timeless. I could preach through this book to my rural African congregation and they wouldn’t be lost or lethargic.

This is because the Puritans placed all of their sermons on accessible pedestals. Pedestals in that everyone could see and understand them. Grannies can comprehend propositions like “It is not falling into water that drowns, but lying it” or “turning from sin is like pulling the arrow out of the wound; turning to God is like pouring in the balm.” Their sermons are accessible in that they are on matters to which everyone can relate. For example, his fifth ingredient of repentance is the hatred of sin. “Christ is never loved till sin be loathed” (45). Then he argues that if there is a real hatred, we must not oppose sin in ourselves only but in others as well. Then he gives five passages to prove this. Who cannot relate with that?

Review: Turning to God

David Wells, Baker, 2012, 192 pages

TurningThis is a book about conversion—turning to God. Wells recognizes that because people have so many different backgrounds and Scripture uses a host of different terminology, there are a myriad of ways conversion can be expressed. So we shouldn’t necessarily panic if the testimonies of Margaret Jones and Mzukisi Quobo sound very different because while conversion stories differ not in what Christ has done they do differ in how a person turned to him.

In chapter one he tracks down the meaning of epistrepho (conversion), metanoeo (repent), and pisteuo (believe), then uses the rest of the book to distinguish between insider (much Christian knowledge before coming to Christ) and outsider (little Christian knowledge). For the former, the gospel is the last piece needed for the puzzle. The latter needs a fresh start.

There were a few areas of concern. At times Wells seemed to sympathize with paedobaptism, though elsewhere he says: “There are no people whom we can predict will be believers.” But isn’t this exactly what paedobaptists believe? Doesn’t it symbolize probable future regeneration? Another point giving pause was his answer to the question: “Are certain people (based on environment, personality etc.) more susceptible to conversion than others?” Wells says no way, and uses a little Scripture (the stories of Jews and pagans believing) and lots of psychology to prove this. This seems to be at odds with 1 Corinthians 7:14, where the believing spouse makes the other unbelieving family members “holy”. Their chances of conversion are greater within the marriage than without. Moreover, don’t those in Winston Salem have a greater chance than those in Dubai? The matter of personality types in relation to conversion is more difficult to answer. I wish he had taken this further.

Overall, however, there is much to like. Wells defines his terms well. “If [your conversion testimonies] do not involve turning from sin to God, on the basis of Christ’s atoning blood and by means of the Holy Spirit’s work, they cannot be called Christian” (13). Again, everyone must “see Christ as their sin-bearer, must repent of their sin, and must in faith entrust themselves for time and eternity to him” (24). He also attacks “decisions” emphasized in revivalistic churches and says pushing children for such decisions “even if this is done with the best of motives” is not the best” (68).

Review: Withhold Not Correction

Bruce Ray, P & R, 1978, 144 pages

WithholdLuther said that sin is like a man’s beard. You can shave it today, but it will be back again tomorrow. Parenting is tough because the sinful tendencies of our children are always before us. Ray authors a helpful little book on parenting that I would recommend. Here I’d like to devote a little time to three of his issues.

The first point relates to how parents should address the matter of grounding. Ray says that teens are not exceptions to spankings and shouldn’t be grounded because grounding is (1) impossible to enforce and (2) allows sinful tension to remain. While its possible for parents to handle grounding poorly, I don’t see why it has to be this way. If 12 year-old Jeff steals $10 from his mother’s purse, why couldn’t a wise parent say: “You sinned by stealing and deceiving. I accept your apology and will not bring it up again, but you’ll not be going to the basketball game tonight”? And I would generally be opposed to spanking teenagers. Parents discipline for the purpose of teaching their children. For small children, pain on the rump usually gets the point across. But if I’m training my boys to be strapping young men—“plants full grown up in their youth” (Ps. 144:12), then a childish whipping that stings a few seconds won’t mean much.

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