Review: Friends of Calvin

Summary: Twenty-four biographical sketches of Calvin’s closest friendships
This wasn’t a page turner but I’d still recommend the book because the chapters are short and the topic of friendship is sparse today in Christian literature. I should say books on godly masculine friendship are rare, not this.
Friends are often best at pointing out another’s weaknesses. Calvin knew he didn’t always have an easy personality. His friends undoubtedly noticed as well. But Calvin also seemed to value friendship more than most because his marriage was short and he had no children. Friends filled in the gaps.
Strengths: There were a number of interesting points about Calvin’s friendships. For example, most of his friends were not from Geneva where he ministered most of his life. Many Genevans were his enemies. His bond with Viret (over four hundred surviving letters between them) was built on trust—Calvin confiding in him some of his most embarrassing sins.

Continue reading

Review: God, Greed and the (Prosperity) Gospel

Costi Hinn, Zondervan, 2019, 224 pages, 3 of 5 stars

Summary: an autobiography of Benny Hinn’s nephew and how he finally left the prosperity gospel and found Christ.

You want a history of the prosperity gospel (PG) in America? Read Bowler. A theological treatise against the PG movement? Read Strange Fire. But suppose you have a buddy at work with anointing oil in his cubicle and bumper stickers flashing Isaiah 53:5 (“with his wounds we are healed”). He loves TBN. He reads everything Crefloe Dollar and Joyce Meyer put out. He’ll never pick up a hardcover by Justin Peters or Johnny Mac.

This might be the book to give him. Sometimes stories that put you in the moment (“I carried cash–a lot of cash”, p. 57) can be more convincing than assertions. Benny Hinn is perhaps the world’s most well-known prosperity evangelist. Benny grooming his nephew to be his successor, only for Costi to abandon this teaching and move to orthodox Christianity would be like the brother of the infamous atheist Christopher Hitchens coming to faith in Christ. This happened by the way. God has a sense of humor. Continue reading

Review: African Christian Theology

Samuel Waje Kunhiyop, Hippo Books, 2012, 250 pages, 3 of 5 stars

Summary: a simplified and abridged theology covering the major themes of systematics and applied to African life today

Samuel Waje Kunhiyop (SWK) wants to be true to Scripture and writes African Christian Theology (ACT) in an effort to take the African situation seriously. This is a thoughtful yet rare contribution to the African church and deserves to be read carefully.

Strengths: (1) ACT interprets theology contextually. Why an African Theology? SWK is correct that “Scripture is always interpreted within a context” (p. xiii). Thus, John MacArthur’s Biblical Doctrine written in 21st century America gives significant attention to doctrines like cessationism and gender roles when John Calvin’s Institutes does neither because it was written in 16th century France. SWK scratches where the African itches. He doesn’t waste time on proofs for God’s existence since rare is the African atheist. Continue reading

Review: How to Get Unstuck

Matt Perman, Zondervan, 2018, 288 pages, 3 of 5 stars

Summary: it’s not enough to protect your time. You must protect your focus.

“The Preciousness of Time” by Jonathan Edwards is the best teaching I’ve read on time management because of its theological rigor. From a productivity standpoint, however, Unstuck was more profitable. Matt Perman, a Christian that blogs at Whats Best Next, provides ten principles for maximum productivity. But his greatest contribution is the importance of focus–no easy thing in our preoccupied world.

The secret to effectiveness is concentration, which is focusing on one priority for an extended time.

Concentration gets more done better. The goal is “deep work”, a state of high concentration. It is a kind of super power that most people cannot perform because it has so many obstacles. The formula is: time spent x intensity of focus high quality of work produced. Effective people are able to concentrate (doing one thing at a time) for long periods on the most important things. This takes a lot of practice.

Pros: Perman has spent decades crafting excellent habits of time management. I didn’t want to forget his advice, so I consolidated his book into my own mnemonic device: F-O-C-U-S. (1) Fight distractions. These are the biggest obstacles to deep work because it kills flow. It’s crucial to finish one job at a time because incomplete tasks dominate our attention (“I still have to get this done”) and depletes energy (“I’m so stressed”). Personally, eliminating distractions during deep work includes seclusion, having no access to my phone, closing email and Evernote, doing online reading after the work day, no “work” post 5:30 pm, and no phone checks until after breakfast.

(2) Order the day according to priorities. There’s a difference between responsibilities (duties) and priorities (chief duties). It is vital to give our best, longest and most skilled time to priorities.  It’s not a priority if it doesn’t take high concentration. (3) Complete the task. Start and complete one job at a time. Bach and Handel composed one major work at a time. Rare freaks like Mozart that could do multiple works simultaneously are not the model.

(4) Use large chunks of time to accomplish deep work. Two small chunks of 2 hours are must less effective than one chunk of 4 hours. (5) Stop work when the day is over. End your day at a specific time so you can recharge. You’ll be less effective during the day if you tell yourself you can get tasks done late at night.

Cons: Perman is a Christian and Southern Seminary grad (MDiv in two years) that used to serve on staff at Desiring God. I wish he had used more Scripture in the book. Unstuck has a little too much business/CEO feel for my taste. But I never read books from that genre, so it probably was good for me.

Conclusion: Perman succeeds in convincing the reader to habitually prioritize his day and focus on important tasks for long periods of time. Read chapter 13 if you only have time for one. Chapters 1, 11-12, and 16 were helpful too.

Excerpts:

  1. “The more distracted we are, the more shallow our reflections; the shorter our reflections, the more trivial they are likely to be.”
  2. “If there is a ‘secret’ of effectiveness, it is concentration. Effective [people] do first things first and they do one thing at a time.” – Peter Drucker
  3. “Only the confidence that you’re done with work until the next day can convince your brain to downshift to the level where it can begin to recharge for the next day.”
  4. “The ability to concentrate intensely is a skill that must be trained.” Cal Newport

Review: The Heart of the Bible

John MacArthur, Thomas Nelson, 2005, 143 pages, 3 of 5 stars

Summary: a list and explanation of fifty-two key passages every Christian should memorize

John MacArthur wanted to encourage his congregation to memorize more Scripture. He chose 52 passages that reflected ten main themes–the heart of the Bible. The 2-3 page explanations on each passage are theologically rich and easy to understand.

Pros: (1) This is a great book to give new Christians at their baptism. As they begin their Christian walk, these pages will encourage them to memorize and understand the Bible’s foundational passages.

(2) The book fits well into a one-year course. Our little African church is memorizing one passage for each week of the year.

Review: What’s Your Worldview?

James Anderson, Crossway, 2014, 112 pages, 3 of 5 stars

Summary: an interactive storyline designed to help the reader identify and clarify their worldview and its implications.

Don’t read this little paperback from cover to cover. Follow the “Choose Your Own Adventure” plot to help you discover the consequences to your worldview (e.g. atheism, polytheism, pantheism, etc.) and other big questions (“Does God exist?” “Is there more than one true religion?”).

Pros: (1) Creative. The book is short. But it must have taken considerable thought to piece it together. (2) This is a nice, little title to give the unbeliever in the cubicle next to you. The size won’t intimidate him and it will make him think. (3) This is a good refresher on apologetic terms like Nihilism (what does that word mean again?) and Deism (“a halfway house on the road from Theism to Atheism”). (4) This is a good refresher on apologetic arguments, like why the problem of evil is harder for the atheist than the Christian. (5) His six-page intro on worldviews was excellent.

Cons: (1) Anderson tries to be unbiased but is sometimes timid (“some worldviews…walk with a pronounced limp”) or feeble (“the Christian worldview has a lot going for it”). Actually, all other worldviews are dead wrong! (2) The “end of the trail” on the Christian worldview was weak. If I traveled this far, at least give me a taste of Whitefield.

Quotables: “Worldviews are like [brains]: everyone has one and we can’t live without them, but not everyone knows that he has one.” (12)

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). Continue reading

Review: This Horrid Practice: The Myth and Reality of Traditional Maori Cannibalism

Paul Moon, Penguin, 2008, 304 pages, 3 of 5 stars

screen-shot-2017-02-15-at-10-28-29-pmExactly 130 years ago some Swiss missionaries living just a stone’s throw from our village drew attention to some particularly gruesome scenes of cannibalism in Elim.

The missionaries recorded most of these accounts in their private journals. And yet, the modern author (and revisionist) I was reading–now looking back at such claims–believes this material was most likely invented. “Missionaries embellish,” he would say cynically. “Foreign churches expect dramatic stories.” On and on. Continue reading

Review: She Calls Me Daddy: 7 Things You Need to Know About Building a Complete Daughter

Robert Wolgemuth, Focus on the Family, 1996, 2014, 256 pages, 3 of 5 stars

screen-shot-2017-02-10-at-10-43-56-pmI had never heard of Robert Wolgemuth until I watched “Unexpected Grace”, a video directed by my friend Nathan Bollinger for Revive Our Hearts Ministry. It tells the marvelous story of Wolgemuth’s marriage to Nancy Leigh DeMoss.

I found the video so intriguing that I decided to read one of his books. The first volume he ever published, She Calls Me Daddy, was also his best-seller. Since then he has written a number of other books, many of them on family. Having two daughters of my own, I figured this was a good place to start. Continue reading

Review: Wordsmithy

Douglas Wilson, Canon Press, 2011, 128 pages, 3 of 5 pages

screen-shot-2017-01-21-at-8-28-39-amWilson’s Blog and Mablog is the only blog I read consistently, not because we lock shields on every theological matter but because he is such a consummate writer.

So who better to publish a book on skillful scribble than a writing wiz like Wilson? The chapters divide into seven “hot tips” for writing–filled to the brim with advice like using the element of surprise, the importance of reading books on grammar, steering clear of word fussers and the goodly role of a verbal pack rat.

If you want to write well, find a model and follow him. Doug Wilson’s Wordsmithy is a good place to start. It’s short, lively, and humorous.

Excerpts:

  1. “The more you know the more you can know.”
  2. “The writer’s life is a scrounger’s life.”
  3. “Interesting people are interested people.”
  4. “The mind is like a muscle, not an attic.”

Review: Paul’s Theology of Preaching

Duane Litfin, IVP, 2015, 400 pages, 3 of 5 stars

screen-shot-2017-01-21-at-7-49-34-amFirst Corinthians 1-4 is the only place in Scripture where we find the specifics of Paul’s philosophy of rhetoric, or put more biblically, his theology of preaching. This is cast in the milieu of the Greco-Roman world, where the people prized oratory above all else. The ancient populous lionized the greatest speakers whose ultimate goal was to persuade, move, and win. Nothing in Greek culture was higher, more ideal, than the man of eloquence.

Shockingly, Paul smashes this ideology with the words of a herald, a proclaimer, not an orator of great rhetorical gifts. “Not with words of eloquent wisdom” had he come to speak (1Co. 1:17), but with a message of “folly” to the majority (v. 18). Such a message actually destroys the wisdom of the wise (v. 20) and places the onus of success not on results, but on faithfulness (4:2).

Does this mean Paul is opposed to all rhetoric? Do homiletics have any place in the preacher’s bag of tools? At first, it appears Litfin’s answer to this is no. He writes in Paul’s Theology of Preaching: “It is not the herald’s job to persuade but to convey” (264). He is a proclaimer, an announcer.

It was the proclaimer’s function to make certain that the recipients heard and understood, but it was not the proclaimer’s role to engage his rhetorical skills so as to induce his listeners to yield to the message (264).

These latter two quotes by Litfin reveal two things. First, Litfin has a habit of overreaching and overstating his point. I said to myself over and over while reading–“that can’t be true”, only to later say, “Oh, now I see where he’s coming from.” Second, Litfin is probably speaking more about persuasion as the ultimate force that makes the hearer yield, rather than the content of the sermon that urges the listen to change. Continue reading

Review: Reformation: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow

Trueman, Christian Focus, 2000, 127 pages, 3 of 5 stars

screen-shot-2017-01-21-at-6-02-55-amTrueman picks on problems in the contemporary church and addresses how the Reformers could help us improve and think biblically.

He criticizes such ecclesiastical activities as testimonies in church, most evangelical choruses and obsessive talk about the Spirit while praising church actions like catechising, Christ-centered preaching, and extra care in distributing the Lord’s Supper.

Trueman wrote this book some time ago when he was in his late thirties. It was nice to see how one of today’s foremost historians learned to write and–while nothing he said was directly contrary to what he believes today–he has definitely grown in his ability to argue and write since then.

Review: The Real Scandal of the Evangelical Mind

Carl Trueman, Moody, 2011, 41 pages, 3 of 5 pages

screen-shot-2017-01-21-at-4-41-46-amThe Real Scandal of the Evangelical Mind is a rejoinder to Mark Noll’s 1994 book The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. In the latter work, Noll argued the “scandal” was that evangelicals have no mind, especially on doctrines of intellectual suicide such as dispensationalism and six-day creationism. Noll censures evangelicals for their lack of cultural and theological engagement.

Trueman argues the opposite. The “real” scandal is evangelicalism’s lack of clear doctrinal definition within the wider Christian community. It’s not that there is no mind–there is no Evangel. 

The only time problems arise…is when the term ‘evangelical’ is used as if it has doctrinal meaning, when in fact it does not. (19)

Trueman, with his characteristic sass and wit, comes out swinging. He calls out seminaries like Fuller and Wheaton, the latter so earnest to be the “evangelical Harvard” that it fails miserably to draw narrow theological lines. Even Dallas and TEDS meets Trueman’s ire for recently downplaying their historic distinctives.

Is the term “evangelical” of any value when claimed by polar opposites like Joel Osteen and John MacArthur? Is the Evangelical Theological Society wise in making the Trinity and inerrancy the only ground for membership, both of which are compatible with Roman Catholicism? And don’t Catholics who have been removed from ETS have a legitimate beef for being mistreated? Trueman would answer no, no, and yes.

Truman’s little book is valuable not only in proving the moniker “evangelical” doesn’t mean much any more but showing the catastrophic consequences of those who want to be culturally relevant on matters such as homosexuality and evolution.

Review: Preaching? Simple Teaching on Simply Preaching

Alec Motyer, Christian Focus, 2013, 148 pages, 3 of 5 stars

screen-shot-2016-12-14-at-1-49-40-pmThe renowned British scholar Alec Motyer passed on to glory a few months ago. For all of his academic accomplishments, his book on Bible proclamation shows he was first and foremost a preacher.

Why have a book on preaching anyway? Aren’t preachers born, not made? Motyer says most sermons are poor because they are muddled (“muddle is the characteristic mark of the ill dressed window, the careless baker, and the bad sermon”). So a preacher can improve if only he learns to be plain and unmistakable. Not everyone can be a good preacher, says the author, but no one need be a bad preacher. Continue reading

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: The Power of Speaking God’s Word

Ellsworth, Christian Focus, 2000, 144 pages, 3 of 5 stars

screen-shot-2016-10-15-at-9-22-55-pmPaper is a poor conduit of heat. So are sermon manuscripts poor conduits for preaching. So says Ellsworth on this paperback about preaching memorable sermons.

Here is a book on the oral nature of preaching, an exploration of what spoken communication (orality) means for the proclamation of God’s Word. Continue reading

Review: The New Well-Tempered Sentence

Karen Gordon, Mariner Books, 1993, 147 pages, 3 of 5 stars

51X4G9M7Q1L._SX354_BO1,204,203,200_Like flannel pajamas in a wedding march, jocularity and jest seemed out-of-place in a grammar book. But everyone stayed until the final vows and I finished the whole book!

The NWTS is a creative book on punctuation designed to make the reader gasp, guffaw, and giggle. Long on puns and short on punctiliousness, it teaches grammar with sass and verve and answers those thorny punctuation questions piercing my side.

Can an explanation point fit mid sentence? Should it go inside or outside the quotation marks? Really now. Is a verbless sentence like the former allowed? When do ellipses come in threes and when in fours?

My favorite chapter was on the comma, that curvaceous acrobat too often littering our sentences. Should the comma divide two independent sentences? What about simple items in a list? Gordon answers, then moves to colons (“forthcoming is her middle name”), italics, brackets, semicolons and more. Per the author, too many parentheses is sophomoric (we all know how annoying that can be!).

My one complaint is the nude graphics covering every other chapter or so. Intended to be whimsical, the sketches were tawdry and a deal breaker for younger audiences. Still, this little volume hit its mark, so much so that I didn’t insert an apostrophe in “its”. I like paperbacks that are not abashed to use borscht, puissance, lugubrious, chintz, and fichu on the same page. By the end of the book, I was combing for the well-turned phrase more than the well-placed comma.

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: Silence

Shusaku Endo, Taplinger, 1969. 201 pp. Three of Five Stars

Screen Shot 2016-02-02 at 9.47.09 PMIs God silent in our suffering? The author implies “yes”, but Christians know better. God is not aloof in suffering. “For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too” (2Co. 1:5).

Written by a Japanese-Catholic, Silence addresses the troubled period of Japanese history known as “the Christian century”. By 1614, 300,000 “Christians” lived in Japan’s population of 20 million. But amidst the light, dark persecution prevailed.

Apparently a highly revered missionary, a priest named Ferreira, had apostatized by recanting his faith. A Portuguese priest is sent to find out if it is true and finds persecution himself. This is a novel about a young priest who, among excruciating persecution, is fighting to maintain his faith in God. The more he resists recantation, the more he asks: “Lord, why are you silent? Why are you always silent?” Continue reading

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: Why Johnny Can’t Sing Hymns: How Pop Culture Rewrote the Hymnal

David Gordon, P & R, 2010, 192 pages, 3 of 5 stars

Screen Shot 2016-01-16 at 12.20.06 PMThe author of this fascinating book is an Anglican who listens to Black Sabbath and Led Zepplin on weekdays but sings high church hymns on Sunday. Why can’t Johnny sing hymns? According to Gordon, it is because he’s addicted to pop culture.

Gordon’s goal is to find out why we have a preference for music that is often literarily, theologically, or musically inferior. He labors to show the inferiority of CCM and why it is an example of “impoverished congregational praise.”

Gordon is wary of using contemporary music in worship services at all, objects to its common use and zealously opposes exclusive use.

Strengths

The greatest value of this book is its emphasis on the style of music, a subject most modern worship books avoid altogether. I once asked Keith Getty if style was neutral. He said yes. But for Gordon, style matters.

Why do we attend a birthday party in a clown suit but not a funeral? Why not use a kazoo at a wedding? Style is not just a matter of personal taste. Style sends a message, like when Rick Warren wears open casual shirts to preach but a suit at Obama’s inaugural address. All music sends a message. Gordon thinks that the message of CCM is entertainment.

Another area where Gordon excels is that he forces those who comply with his perspective to go all the way. You can’t agree with his position and then listen to “Joyful, Joyful” while changing the oil in your car. Sacred music is that which is deliberately and self-consciously different from other forms of music. What does this say about those traditions that listen to Christian music all the time?

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: 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