BOOK REVIEWS

Reenchanting Humanity: A Theology of Mankind – Owen Strachan (2019)

owenOwen Strachan, Reenchanting Humanity: A Theology of Mankind (Geanies House: Christian Focus Publications, 2019), 418 pp.

I was recently asked by a parishioner to evaluate a professing Christian author. My response was tenuous as the author under consideration is notoriously difficult to nail down. Is he a Calvinist or an Arminian? A Complementarian or an Egalitarian? Does he affirm the authority, inherency, and infallibility of Scripture? One may never know. Frankly, it would be easier to nail jello to a wall than decipher the theological commitment of the author in question!

One of the many reasons, I appreciate Owen Strachan so much is that he is the polar opposite of the author above. Agree or disagree, readers always know where Dr. Strachan stands. His latest book is no exception.

Reenchanting Humanity: A Theology of Mankind is a book that is desperately needed by the church in our day. Many in the church have lost their bearings (some appear to have lost their minds). The journey to the Celestial City has been sidetracked by compromise, theological error, and political correctness. Instead of sailing to our heavenly home with biblical fidelity, scores of people have surrendered their oars and are dog-paddling in a different direction. Rather than affirming what the Scripture affirms about mankind, they embrace the ideology of the zeitgeist. Instead of tethering their view of mankind to Christ, they cling to the flimsy and flawed view of culture.

Reenchanting Humanity is a theological antidote to the rampant compromise which is currently polluting the church and corroding the pillars of the Christian mind. But Reenchanting Humanity is more than an antidote. It is more than a defensive reaction to the godless ideology that infects the church. Rather, it is an offensive biblical bombshell that destroys error and bolsters the Christian worldview.

The lofty aim of Reenchanting Humanity is “to give future pastors of Christ’s church great confidence in the doctrine of man.” Strachan’s hope is that “those facing many challenges to this doctrine from inside and outside the church, will gain strength from or rigorously biblical and theological study of theocentric anthropology.”

Dr. Strachan’s goal is achieved in the space of 418 pages. He anchors this tour in anthropology by demonstrating that creatures are made in the imago Dei. In other words, we have been created by God – for his glory. As such we have intrinsic value. He rightly notes, “Mankind is not an accident; mankind is the special creation of almighty God. By recapturing the biblical account of human origins, we recapture human dignity, human worth, and our own identities.”

But the Bible clearly describes how creatures sinned and fell far from God. Strachan skillfully shows readers the many consequences of the fall and helps them decipher where work, sexuality, race and ethnicity, technology, and justice fit in a fallen world.

The chapter entitled, Contingency is thought-provoking, challenging, and illuminating. The author writes, “Humanity was, is, and will be contingent. We are wholly dependent on God, wholly under divine control, and wholly and unalterably beings made by God.” He continues, “We need God. We depend on him for existence, but just as significantly, we depend on him for purpose, meaning, and the discovery of hope. Take away the Lord, and all is futile.” And so the fact of contingency weighs heavily on creatures. Tragically, however, many either refuse to acknowledge their contingent status or give up entirely. But Strachan reminds us, “The biblical portrait of man’s temporality drives us not to despair but to worship God. Once reconciled to the reality of our finitude on the earth, we may reverse our natural instincts and adopt a mind-set of savoring all the wonder, mystery, beauty, pain, promise, challenge, and purposefulness of our God-given days.”

Reenchanting Humanity is clear, consistent, compelling, comprehensive, and countercultural. These important attributes will likely make the book vulnerable to criticism and mark out the book as a target for detractors. But readers who maintain their allegiance to Scripture will appreciate Strachan’s approach, which is relentlessly biblical and faithful to the truth.

Quite frankly, I found Reenchangting Humanity enthralling. Strachan never backs away from controversy and he is unafraid of telling the truth about the condition of mankind. But the book concludes with a majestic crescendo as the author guides readers to the Lord Jesus Christ and the story of the second Adam: “Truly, he is the new humanity, and he is leading a new exodus to the new heavens and the new earth. He is the salvation and ontological restoration we so desperately need; his new covenant blood washes us clean, makes us new creations, and gives us new names.”

Reenchanting Humanity: A Theology of Mankind is not only highly recommended; it is one of the best books of 2019!

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The White Flag: When Compromise Cripples the Church – Foreword

Peacetime Christianity does not exist. Not yet anyway. Not as long as we wage war with the world, the flesh, and the devil. Until Jesus comes back, the battle rages and there are no days off. 

Not everyone sees it this way, of course. I remember in my first pastorate when a deacon told me that most days in his life, he spent about two minutes or less in prayer and if ever anything really serious came up he would devote a little more time to it. He and another man actually reprimanded me for suggesting that two minutes in prayer wasn’t enough. It was not my desire to put a time limit on prayer, but for us to realize something that is crucial to walking with Christ: there is no such thing as peacetime Christianity. 

The problem, of course, is so many live a peacetime Christianity in the midst of an all-out onslaught against the truth. Can you imagine a soldier in the midst of the fierce battle of Iwo Jima writing a letter about how great the weather was that day? Or what about a heart surgeon in the middle of a triple bypass beginning his fantasy football draft? Too many professing Christians are living casual lives almost oblivious to the compromise happening all around them, even in their own hearts, homes, and local churches. 

In steps Dr. David Steele with this book, The White Flag: When Compromise Cripples the Church. In this book you now hold, Steele sounds the alarm on the critical state of so many local churches today which are raising the white flag of surrender to a wicked and corrupt culture instead of standing firm in truth and calling sinners to repentance and faith in Christ. It is critical that Christians today see the war for truth all around them and wake up from their slumber of capitulation. “We must,” as Steele writes, “repudiate lazy, lackadaisical, passive Christianity.”

As the author lays out the reality of the spirit of our present culture, the reader will be reminded that not only are there those outside the church seeking to destroy the truth, but there is arguably an even greater threat from those inside the church who intentionally or unintentionally twist the truth. Pay careful attention to Part 2 as we are shown how too many within the church are seeking to dismantle God, disregard doctrine, denigrate the work of Christ, disregard Christ’s judgment, and demolish the Christian mind. 

In each of these areas, too many professing believers are watering down the truth of Scripture. Sometimes this is not done intentionally but results from a chain of pragmatic choices that only hoist the white flag of compromise ever higher. And regardless of intentionality or not, there will be serious consequences for those who impugn the character of God, make light of his truth, scoff at Christ’s work, neglect his coming judgment, and numb the Christian mind. The key is this: there is no neutrality! If we are not intentionally seeking to actively combat these errors, then we have placed ourselves on the wrong side of this war for truth. 

When you see a medical doctor for a serious health issue you are facing, you most likely want one who will not only tell you the truth, but is also willing to go through the details of both how this happened, and what the solution is. This is exactly how Dr. Steele writes in the pages ahead. With skillful precision and an honest, yet loving bedside manner, you will be shown the truth of how the church has slipped into such a state of compromise. But you will also see the way out. Yet, I need to warn you: lowering the white flag isn’t for the faint of heart. You must be willing to stand boldly upon the holy, authoritative, inspired, inerrant, and all-sufficient Scriptures. You must reaffirm your commitment to the perfect life, substitutionary death, and victorious resurrection of Christ. You must be serious about personal holiness and you must be zealous to proclaim the gospel to all people, calling them to repent of their wretched sinfulness and to flee the wrath to come by placing their faith in Christ alone as their only suitable and all-sufficient Savior.

You must understand the robustness of the Christian worldview and be willing to be a contributing soldier in the present war. You must desire to be discerning in all things and willing to graciously, yet firmly, confront those who are in moral or doctrinal error in the church. But you must also remember it’s all worth it! Christ is coming soon to rule and reign with his people forever. Never forget that and in the words of Francis Schaeffer: “Keep on!” 

What you will find in the pages ahead is a gospel-rich, doctrinally-sound, Christ-honoring, historically-relevant, Scripturally-saturated, intellectually stimulating, well-illustrated, and functionally useful book. Dr. Steele will step on your toes at times. He may cause you to bemoan the age in which we live. But you will be emboldened to strap on the sword of the Spirit and do battle against the forces of evil. 

I bid thee well, oh reader! And if providence would have us meet somewhere down the line, may we both have a much greater resolve to never raise the white flag of surrender because we have been so masterfully and lovingly exhorted by our dear brother, David Steele. With that, I leave you to read this book for yourself. 

Allen S. Nelson IV 

Author of From Death to Life: How Salvation Works and Before the Throne: Reflections on God’s Holiness 

June 2019 

Pick up your copy of The White Flag: When Compromise Cripples the Church today!

BOOK REVIEWS

The White Flag Unfurled

wfThese are troubling times. We live in a day which is marked by theological error and apostasy. Leaders are falling, truth is routinely maligned, and compromise is celebrated. A glance across the cultural milieu reveals an unfurled white flag. The white flag has been hoisted high and a diabolical deal has been struck. This flag reveals a horrifying reality which must be addressed, namely – final surrender in the church.

The White Flag: When Compromise Cripples the Church diagnoses our current condition and offers biblical action steps for marching forward in a way that glorifies God. It is call to faithfulness in age that is characterized by weak knees, passivity, and capitulation. It instills courage in weary Christ-followers who toil in a post-Christian era.

“Here is a passionate call from a pastor’s heart, from a man widely read, who sees with great clarity the difficult situation the church now faces, with opposition without and weakness and compromise within, who believes the battle will be won by the faithful believing and by the courageous teaching and proclaiming of the Word of God.”

  • DR. PETER JONES, Director, TruthXchange; author of The Other Worldview, Escondido, CA

Pick up a copy for a reduced price today at Amazon.com http://the white flag

BOOK REVIEWS

Emblems of the Infinite King – J. Ryan Lister (2019)

eemJ. Ryan Lister, Emblems of the Infinite King: Enter the Knowledge of the Living God (Wheaton: Crossway, 2019), 181 pp.

From time to time, I enjoy a good children’s book. There’s something about taking a break from my usual theologically robust reading schedule and immersing myself into a book designed to inspire and educate kids. J. Ryan Lister’s book is targeted to pre-teens and teens but I won’t be shelving this book with other notable children’s books by C.S. Lewis and Douglas Bond. Emblems of the Infinite King: Enter the Knowledge of the Living God will be strategically placed in my section devoted to biblical theology. Lister’s book will stand proudly next to works of biblical theology penned by Thomas Schreiner, Patrick Schreiner, Peter Gentry, Stephen Wellum, George Eldon Ladd, and James Hamilton.

Emblems of the Infinite King invites young readers into God’s redemptive drama and presents the definitive pillars of the Christian worldview – creation, fall, redemption, and consummation in a compelling story. The introduction sets the necessary tone as readers are presented with a series of life-changing keys:

“His strong and wise command cut through the empty silence as he reached out of the shadows to offer an ancient key … Those who turn this key will never be the same.”

“It will show your deepest guilt and display your darkest shame.”

“You’ll see who you were made to be and what you’ve really become.”

“ … The way ahead is the path that leads into the throne room of the Son, this one they call the Death Killer, who gives his life to pay your ransom.”

A brief note about the underlying story that undergirds the book. One reviewer questioned the validity of the imaginative elements of Emblems of the Infinite King. This critique is perplexing, especially in light of the stunning efforts of C.S. Lewis (The Chronicles of Narnia) and J.R. Tolkien (The Lord of the Rings). And who can argue with the effectiveness of John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, one of the best-selling books of all time? One of the great needs in the church is a Christ-saturated imagination which is theologically robust and Reformed, one that captures the heart and makes the human spirit soar. Tragically, much theological writing is aimed squarely at the mind but bypasses the heart altogether. Emblems of the Infinite King strikes a biblical balance that celebrates orthodoxy but also warms the heart with imaginative prose and a compelling story.

Each chapter describes a particular key that explains a doctrinal reality that ultimately leads to the throne of God. Dr. Lister presents each branch of systematic theology in the framework of the story and guides pilgrims on a journey that glorifies the King, the Death Killer – the central figure of the redemptive drama.

Make no mistake – this is a serious book. And serious books have life-changing implications. The author writes clearly and creatively. But even more important, he writes with biblical precision. It is obvious that Lister has thought through each turn in the story and has a passion to either introduce readers to the King or help strengthen their relationship with him.

I must add that this is a beautiful book. Frankly, it is stunning. First, the cover is majestic and begs prospective readers to turn to the first page. The book is illustrated by Anthony M. Benedetto. Young people will be instantly drawn to his breathtaking illustrations that add so much to this volume.

2019 has been a great year for Christian publishing. Of the 170 books that I’ve read this year, Emblems of the Infinite King is among the best of them! Emblems of the Infinite King is a modern-day Pilgrim’s Progress that is sure to encourage many young people and will be a strategic tool for parents and grandparents to help disciple children for God’s glory.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review.

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THE UNQUENCHABLE FLAME: Discovering the Heart of the Reformation – Michael Reeves (2009)

Veritas et Lux

I place books on church history in two distinct categories – boring or breathtaking.  The Unquenchable Flame: Discovering the Heart of the Reformation by Michael Reeves is of the later sort.

The Puritan, Richard Sibbes called the Reformation “that fire which all the world shall never be able to quench.”  Reeves is careful to keep the fire stoked in his work on the Reformation.

The author helpfully explains the historical context of the Reformation and links together the important pieces that ultimately led to the formation of what we now know as Protestantism.

Reeves provides a basic and very interesting overview of the key players that emerge in the Reformation.  He is especially concerned with Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin.  He also summarizes the Reformation in Britain and the Puritans.

The author fans the 493 year Reformation flame by responding to Mark Noll’s assertion that the Reformation is essentially over.  Indeed…

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Narrative Apologetics – Alistair McGrath (2019)

narAlistair McGrath, Narrative Apologetics: Sharing the Relevance, Joy, and Wonder of the Christian Faith (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2019), 167 pp.

Alistair McGrath is no stranger to the field of apologetics. He as penned some noteworthy books that are widely read and utilized by Christ-followers around the world. His most recent work, Narrative Apologetics is no exception.

Narrative Apologetics argues that there are three tasks that must be employed: First, we must engage cultural objections to religious belief. Second, we must show the ways that historic Christianity connects with people in the real world. Third, we must present the Christian faith in a clear, compelling, and understandable. way.

Dr. McGrath argues that utilizing narrative is a powerful way of carrying out the above objectives. He cites numerous examples in order to build a positive case for his proposal. I believe his proposal is not only sound but is also necessary. In the end, the author does not militate against propositional truth but seeks to bolster it through narrative literature. Such an approach will engage the emotions and stimulate the imagination of hearers.

McGrath’s approach in Narrative Apologetics is winsome and informative. The author says, “By telling our stories, we bear witness to the capacity of the gospel to give us direction in life to cope with uncertainty and difficulty and to live well and meaningfully ink art so often seems a confusing world.” I commend Narrative Apologetics to readers with a background in the field and trust that it will be a helpful tool that will be used with great effectiveness in many evangelical “toolboxes.”

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review.

BOOK REVIEWS

Sophie and the Heidelberg Cat – Andrew Wilson (2019)

catAndrew Wilson, Sophie and the Heidelberg Cat (Wheaton: Crossway, 2019), 32 pp.

It is rare to find a children’s book that contains a combination of stunning artwork, creative writing, and orthodox theology. Sophie and the Heidelberg Cat by Andrew Wilson, achieves all three of these objectives.

First, the illustrations by Helena Perez Garcia instantly capture the attention and imagination of the reader. A quick glance through the book reveals a skill that is unmatched and rivals the art found in any children’s book on the market. Frankly, the illustrations here are a breath of fresh air in a Christian market that too often peddles content that is substandard and boring. Kudos to Helena Perez Garcia for her fine work!

Second, Andrew Wilson presents a story geared to children that is easy to understand and engaging. At the center of the story is girl who faces a troubling situation and is met by a talking cat who guides her on a path of biblical wisdom and truth.

Finally, and most important, is that commitment to orthodox theology. The path is encouraged by the cat is one that is paved by the principles in the first question in the Heidelberg Catechism:

Q1: What is your only comfort in life and in death?

Q2: That I am not my own, but belong – body and soul, in life and in death – to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood, and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil. He also watches over me in such a way that not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my Father in heaven; in fact, all things must work together for my salvation. Because I belong to him, Christ, by his Holy Spirit, assures me of eternal life and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him.

It is disturbing that some reviewers have equated this book to “moralism.” Nothing could be further from the truth. This work is grounded in grace and beckons children to trust in the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. My hope is that Sophie and the Heidelberg Cat leads to many gospel-centered discussions between parents and their children and grandparents and their grandchildren.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review.

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The Eclipse of the Gospel and the School of Hard Knox

Veritas et Lux

A Powerful Man

I stood in the shadow of St. Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh, Scotland. Clouds gathered overhead and people walked curiously through the front doors. Here, the famous reformer, John Knox faithfully tended the flock until his death in 1572.

Once inside this massive cathedral, I was transfixed by the sheer beauty of this place. I was overwhelmed by the architecture – the awe-inspiring flying buttresses that point worshippers to the transcendence of God. A single elevated pulpit is located in the center of the sanctuary. It stands strategically above the worshippers, which symbolically places God’s Word above sinful creatures.

John Knox brought reform to Scotland and re-energized a nation that had all but forgotten God. Knox helped awaken a nation that neglected God’s truth which led to a virtual eclipse of the gospel. Martyn Lloyd-Jones describes Knox as a man who preached “with the fire of God in…

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The Pursuit of Excellence – George Sweeting

exGeorge Sweeting, The Pursuit of Excellence (Chicago: Moody Press, 2019), 196 pp.

Our days are characterized by a general lack of discipline and lethargy. Even many Christians have afflicted by mediocrity and aimlessness. Dr. George Sweeting’s recent book, The Pursuit of Excellence is a help aide for anyone weary of these troubling trends.

Sweeting is the former president of Moody Bible Institute, a true veteran of the Christian faith. I had the honor of sitting under his teaching in my doctoral program in the late ’90s  in Seattle. His commitment to the faithfulness to Scripture and allegiance to the lordship of Christ has never wavered. The Pursuit of Excellence is yet an another example of Dr. Sweeting’s influence in the evangelical world.

His recent work begins with a bold challenge that calls Christians to a life of excellence. Such a challenge is grounded in the very character of God who is the source of all excellence: “O LORD, our Lord, how excellent is Your name in all the earth, who have set Your glory above the heavens” (Psalm 8:1). Sweeting adds, “Excellence is never cheap. It’s costly … Excellence requires desire plus discipline plus determination.” The remainder of the book is a powerful minder of this fundamental reality.

The author unpacks nine qualities that help define a life of excellence. The qualities include faith, character, action, single-mindedness, love, suffering, prayer, wisdom, and staying power. These combined qualities are the building blocks that followers of Christ must pursue to lead a life of excellence. All the aforementioned qualities, of course, are grounded in the grace of God and his sovereign purposes for his people.

The book concludes with an examination of Christians who emulate the qualities outlined in the book. Leaders like William Carey, C.H. Spurgeon, and Joni Eareckson Tada are presented as exemplars of excellence.

Dr. Sweeting has been writing since the early ’70s and continues to encourage and bless the church with his gifts. This book is no exception. It is sure to encourage and equip many followers of Christ and help them pursue a life of excellence!

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review.

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Something Needs to Change – David Platt

plattDavid Platt, Something Needs to Change, (Multnomah, 2019), 208 pp.

In an age where it has become in vogue for pastors to question the Christian faith, compromise the faith, or even abandon the faith – David Platt is a breath of fresh air. The fiery Washington D.C. pastor and author of Radical is back with another thought-provoking book, Something Needs to Change.

Pastor Platt invites readers on a life-changing journey to the rugged Himalayan trails where he encounters poverty, human trafficking, and a host of problems that lead to personal crisis and life change.

Platt is not content to hoard his life-changing journey; he wants to share it with others. He wants to challenge others and inspire them to something greater. According to Platt, then, something needs to change. A few highlights help summarize the general flow of the book. The author intends:

  • To integrate what we know in our minds with our hearts and feel genuine compassion for lost people (my words).
  • Challenge readers to engage their hearts with a broken world.
  • Motivate readers: “What we need is not an explanation of the Word and the world that puts more information in our heads; we need an experience with the Word in the world that penetrate the recesses of our hearts.”
  • Spur reader to take action: “We need to dare to come face to face with desperate need in the world around us and ask God to do a work deep within us that we could never manufacture, manipulate, or make happen on our own.”

The real beauty in this book is found in Platt’s insistence to steer clear from the social gospel. To be sure, the author never minimizes the massive human need for food, shelter, medicine, or education. He never skits the difficult subjects of poverty, human trafficking, or disease. These are all areas that followers of Christ must address when the opportunity arises. Yet, these physical needs are penultimate. The greatest need of every image bearer is the gospel. The greatest need of human beings is being in a reconciled relationship with a holy God. The greatest need of creatures is redemption.

The response to social justice alone makes this book a worthy read. Too many churches are neglecting the purpose of the church by drawing lines that maximize social justice and minimize the gospel. Something Needs to Change is the biblical antidote to the misplaced emphasis of the so-called social justice movement.

David Platt is to be commended for his heart and passion for the truth. But strong dogma never discourages maximum impact. Rather, strong dogma demands maximum impact – so that God might be glorified among the nations!

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review.