APOLOGETICS

Biblical Apologetics: How Shall We Respond to Unbelief?

Unbelief is in the air.  Unbelief is gaining ground in postmodern culture.  Over 100 years ago, the German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche wrote, “I call Christianity the one great curse, the one great innermost corruption, the one great instinct of revenge, for which no means is poisonous, stealthy, subterranean, small enough – I call it the one immortal blemish of mankind.”

The bankrupt philosophy of the so-called four horsemen of atheism continues to gain in popularity.  Why?  Apparently, unbelief is in.  Unbelief is hip.  But the question that is burning a hole in the table for Christians is this: How shall we respond to unbelief?  How shall we who have a heart for lost people answer when they malign the Christian faith and mock the very foundations of historic Christianity?

The apostle Peter instructs believers to respond rightly: “But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15, ESV).  In other words, we must develop the mindset of an apologist (ἀπολογία).  John Frame’s definition of apologetics of helpful: Apologetics is “the discipline that teaches Christians how to give a reason for their hope … it is the application of Scripture to unbelief.”  Cornelius Van Til writes, “Apologetics is the vindication of the Christian philosophy of life against the various forms of the non-Christian philosophy of life.”  Tragically, the mandate to engage in apologetics often turns ugly.  Well-meaning Christians have turned apologetics into a nasty slug fest.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Notice six crucial principles of biblical apologetics.

1. Apologetics involves verbal proclamation

Christians are commanded to proclaim the good news.  The Greek word, “proclaim”  (κηρύσσω) means to announce or proclaim; to preach or publish.”  St. Francis of Assisi was on to something when he quipped, “Preach the gospel and if necessary, use words.”  The point: Make sure your life matches the gospel.  However, actions alone cannot convert.  Actions must be backed up with verbal proclamation.  “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17, ESV).  Simply put, the gospel is meant to be published.  The gospel must be proclaimed.  Postmodern gurus and emergent sympathizers may be quick to downplay preaching and promote a “deeds not creeds” mentality.  Jesus disagrees: “And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to the nations, and then the end will come” (Matt. 24:14, ESV).  The first principle of apologetics involves verbal proclamation.

2. Apologetics involves bold proclamation

The New Testament apostles boldly proclaimed the truth.  Paul prayed for an extraordinary boldness (Eph. 6:19).  And Luke made it clear how bold proclamation characterized his ministry: “He lived there two whole years at his own expense, and welcomed all who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance” (Acts 28:30-31, ESV).  We too, must boldly proclaim the Word of God without apology.  Now is the time for bold and courageous proclamation.

3. Apologetics involves logical proclamation

Peter argues that we must “always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you …” (1 Peter 3:15, ESV)  “Reason” (λόγος) involves a word, an utterance or reasonable speech.  The apostle Paul was quick to reason with the thinkers that flooded the first century marketplace of ideas:

  • “And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures” (Acts 17:2, ESV).
  • “So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there” (Acts 17:17, ESV).
  • “And he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and tried to persuade Jews and Greeks” (Acts 18:4, ESV).

We must be able to spell out the gospel message.  We must clearly and logically explain how a holy God created men and women in his image.  These image-bearers fell from God when they sinned which separated them from a holy God.  But God in his mercy, sent Christ – born of a virgin to live a perfect life, obey the law of God and die on the cross.  Christ satisfied  the justice of God and extinguished the wrath of God for every person who would ever believe.  On the third day, Jesus rose from the dead, conquered sin and death, opening the way to a restored relationship with God for anyone who would repent of their sin and turn to Christ alone for forgiveness.  It is our privileged responsibility to proclaim the truth of the gospel in a logically compelling way.

4. Apologetics involves hopeful proclamation

We offer a message of hope!  We offer a message that promises liberation (John 8:36).  It tells  sinners they can be forgiven; that they can be delivered from the penalty and power of sin; and one day they shall be free from the presence of sin (Luke 1:66-67; Acts 5:31; Eph. 1:7; Col. 2:13; Rom. 4:7; 1 Pet. 2:9).  Apologetics involves hopeful proclamation.

5. Apologetics involves faithful proclamation

This message of hope is for everyone.  Therefore, our task is to share this hope with people as we are given opportunity:  “And he said to them, ‘Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation'” (Mark 16:15, ESV).  The Great Commission involves faithful proclamation to all peoples (Rev. 5:9).

6. Apologetics involves Christ-centered proclamation

Peter makes it clear: “but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15, ESV).  First, we must maintain an attitude of gentleness (πραΰτης), which implies humility or an unpretentious spirit.  It involves a kind answer.  Additionally, we must be respectful (φόβος) as we engage in apologetics, a term that conveys deep admiration for another person.

Our response to unbelief is crucial.  The world is watching.  May our apologetics match the biblical model.  And may we proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ in a winsome and compelling way.  For in the final analysis, all of God’s elect will hear and believe.

“Therefore let it be known to you that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will listen” (Acts 28:28).

BOOK REVIEWS · Puritans · Theology

A Puritan Theology: Doctrine For Life – Joel Beeke and Mark Jones (2012)

A comprehensive assessment of A Puritan Theology: Doctrine for Life by Joel Beeke and Mark Jones is something akin to sharing one’s thoughts or emotions while gazing at the Grand Canyon, Niagara Falls, the Statue of Liberty, or the Lincoln Memorial.  This magnum opus is like oxygen for the barren soul, light for a blind man, a symphony for a deaf man, and a Super Bowl ring for a lame man.

A Puritan Theology is exactly what it suggests.  The authors meticulously walk readers through each branch of systematic theology and discuss the typical view that was embraced by the Puritans.  Where the Puritans disagree, the authors are careful to represent each side with graciousness.  The book is nothing to trifle with.  It is a veritable tome that just falls short of 1,000 pages.  But readers should not be intimidated by the sheer volume; rather they should make their way through this valuable book, noting key insights and marking Puritan writers they were previously unfamiliar with.

While the entire book is worthy of a careful read, several chapters stand out as especially significant.  I enjoyed Chapter 4 – Stephen Charnock on the Attributes of God, Chapter 5 – The Puritans on the Trinity, Chapter 6 – John Owen on Communion with the Triune God, Chapter 10 – The Puritans on Providence, and Chapter 44 – John Bunyan’s Preaching to the Heart.  A few additional chapters are worth examining in some detail.

Chapter 26 – The Puritans on Understanding and Using God’s Promises

Beeke and Jones’ remark, “The promises are the pathways where Christ meets the soul.”  It is critical to have a correct understanding of God’s promises.  Additionally, it is important to distinguish between different kinds of promises.  For instance, “Absolute promises make known a certain and sovereign purpose, while conditional promises reveal what God will do if the fulfillment of those promises glorifies Him and is best for His people.”

Christians must make right use of God’s promises.  The Puritan Andrew Gray is cited in this regard and notes ten specific ways to make right use of God’s promises:

1. Believing the promises greatly promotes the difficult work of mortification.

2. Believing the promises helps a Christian in the spiritual and heavenly performance of prayer.

3. Believing the promises upholds a Christian afflicted by spiritual desertions and temptations.

4. Believing fosters patience and submission in the midst of the saddest afflictions.

5. Believing helps a Christian distance himself from the world and live more as a pilgrim on earth.

6. Believing is the mother of much spiritual joy and divine consolation and helps a Christian to express praise.

7. Believing is a notable means to attain spiritual life.

8. Believing raises a Christian’s esteem of the thing promised.

9. Belief is the door through which the accomplishment of the promise enters.

10. Believing secures the advantages mentioned in 2 Peter 1:4: we are brought to the blessed conformity with God that we lost in the fall, and we put off the ugly defilements that are Satan’s images on our souls because of the fall.

The authors point to the Puritans who urged their readers to pray the promises of God which involve submission to the will and way of God.

Chapters 42 and 43 – The Puritans on Preaching 

My two favorite chapters in this work focused on the biblical mandate of preaching God’s Word.  The Puritans, the authors note, “had a profound sense that God built His church primarily by the instrument of preaching,” an appropriate place to begin, given the reluctance of so many men to preach strong, dogmatic, theologically-informed, expository sermons.   “The Puritans were earnest preachers who made it their aim to please God rather than people.”

The authors point to the power of Puritan preaching who “preached out of a biblical framework to address the mind, the conscience, and the heart.”  Beeke and Jones add, “The Puritans thus reasoned with sinners through plain preaching, using biblical logic to persuade each listener that because of the value and purpose of life as well as the certainty of death and eternity, it was foolish not to seek and serve God … The Puritans understood that a mindless Christianity fosters a spineless Christianity.

There is no doubt that the Puritans aimed straight for the mind – but never to the exclusion of the heart: “Puritan preaching wooed the heart passionately … The Puritans used compelling preaching, personal pleading, earnest praying, biblical reasoning, solemn warning, joyful living – any means they could – to turn sinners from the road of destruction and to God via the mind, the conscience, and the heart – in that order.”

The Puritans were convinced that preaching must by definition, be doctrinal preaching: “The Puritans believed that to live well, people must know doctrine.”  J.I. Packer concurs: “Doctrinal preaching certainly bores the hypocrites, but it is only doctrinal preaching that will save Christ’s sheep.  The preacher’s job is to proclaim the faith, not to provide entertainment for unbelievers.”

The Puritans simply believed that preaching was the primary way to nourish the flock of God.  John Owen writes, “The first and principal duty of a pastor is to feed the flock by diligent preaching of the Word.”  Beeke and Jones offer a challenge to readers: “It is not enough just to read the Puritans.  We need the authentic, biblical, intelligent piety of the Puritans in our hearts, our lives, our sermons, and our churches.”

The Puritan approach to the pulpit is a powerful antidote to the sappy preaching that is so prevalent, especially in American pulpits.  It is a vivid reminder that preaching stands at the center of God’s purposes for the church.

Chapter 52 – Puritan Theology Shaped by a Pilgrim Mentality

J.I. Packer notes, “Puritans saw themselves as God’s pilgrims traveling home, God’s warriors battling against the world, the flesh, and the devil; and God’s servants under orders to do all the good they could as they went along.”  The authors picks up on these pilgrim portrait by showing how the Puritans lived the Christian life in practical terms.  First, they had a biblical outlook.  Thomas Watson (my favorite Puritan) and John Cotton are given as examples of men who sought to live their lives in a biblical framework.

Second, they had a pietist outlook – that is to say, they feared the Lord.  Beeke and Jones continue, “The genius of genuine Reformed piety is that it marries theology and piety so that head, heart, and hand motivate one another to live for God’s glory and our neighbor’s well-being.”

Third, they had a churchly outlook.  The authors explain, “We can learn much from the Puritans, especially when so many churches today give scant attention to purity in worship and put all their emphasis on what pleases people rather than God.  The Puritans did the opposite.  Their goal was to please God through holy worship.  The question was never, ‘What do I want in worship?’ but always, ‘What does God want in worship?'”

Fourth, they had a warfaring outlook.  There was a battleground mentality that the Puritans embraced, striving always to battle “the triple-headed enemy” by the power of the Spirit, through the instrumentality of God’s Word.  The authors reflect the mentality of the typical Puritan: “The Christian fights against the devil, the world, and his old nature by looking to Jesus and using the armor of His provision to stay upright as he progresses from this world to the next.”

The Puritans were indeed on a spiritual pilgrimage.  In the final analysis, the authors note: “They can teach us, as no other group of writers in church history, how to live a disciplined life to God’s glory without falling into dead orthodoxy or deadly legalism.”

Summary

A Puritan Theology is a labor of love that should be cherished by the church for years to come.  It should be read for helpful theological insight.  It should be read devotionally.  The contents are bound to equip, encourage, and rebuke.  For me personally, the Puritans have been a deep source of encouragement, especially concerning the nature of God, the promises of God, the sovereignty of God, the lordship of Christ, sanctification, and the ministry of the Holy Spirit.  Of course, no one surpasses the courage demonstrated by the Puritans as they sought to faithfully live the Christian life in the power of the Spirit.

It is not uncommon for people in our generation to marginalize and malign the Puritans.  Even more disturbing, it is not unusual to find people who caricature the Puritans or assign them false motives.  I know of one personally who accused the Puritans of becoming Unitarians!  Much to the contrary, the Puritans were a godly lot who battled sin and believed the promises of God, forever faithful on their Christian pilgrimage.  Oh, that we would learn the lesson of church history well and seek to emulate the Puritans.  May their love of Christ and his gospel permeate our hearts and minds.  May their hatred of sin enter the area of our lives.  May their disdain for the triple-headed monster – the world, the flesh, and the devil be weaved into the fabric of our worldviews.  And may their passion for God’s Word and holiness become a part of the warp and woof of our lives.

Highly recommended!

BOOK REVIEWS

Post Christian: A Guide to Contemporary Thought – Gene Edward Veith, Jr. (2020)

Gene Edward Veith, Jr, Post Christian: A Guide to Contemporary Thought and Culture (Wheaton: Crossway, 2020), 308 pp.

Followers of Christ can always count on Gene Edward Veith Jr. to deliver up-to-date and candid analysis of our culture and its relationship to the church. Such is the case in his most recent book, Post Christian: A Guide to Contemporary Thought and Culture.

Veith’s analysis of contemporary thought and culture is sharp, clear, and crisp. He “rounds the base pads” by alerting readers to reality (part 1), the body (part 2), society (part 3), and religion (part 4). Each part is explored in great detail and subjected to the weight of biblical scrutiny.

Veith’s research is impeccable and show a depth of understanding that is hard to find these days. The presentation of his findings is objective and gracious, yet he never withholds any data for fear of offending the sensibilities of post-modern people. His approach is honest, forthright, and gracious.

While much of the book is discouraging as it reveals the true condition of the current culture and the state of the church, Veith is quick to show how followers of Christ can thrive in such a climate.

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

BOOK REVIEWS · Historical Theology · Puritans · Theology

A QUEST FOR GODLINESS: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life – J.I. Packer (1990)

A Quest for Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life by J.I. Packer is a superb introduction to the English Puritans.  For too long, the Puritans have been marginalized, unfairly caricatured, and relegated dusty boxes of books in the garage.  Packer intends to bring the Puritans to the forefront of Christian thought, precisely where they belong.

Part One: The Puritans in Profile

J.I. Packer begins by arguing (and rightly so) that current day Christians need the Puritans.  Indeed, “the Puritans exemplified maturity; we don’t.  We are spiritual dwarfs.”  The author reminds us that “Puritanism was at heart a spiritual movement, passionately concerned with God and godliness … Puritanism was essentially a movement for church reform, pastoral renewal and evangelism, and spiritual revival; and in addition – indeed, as a direct expression of its zeal for God’s honor – it was a world-view, a total Christian philosophy …”

Packer discusses Puritanism as a particular movement of revival.  It is true that revival strikes at the core of who the Puritans were and what they sought to accomplish.  Packer’s definition, then, is appropriate and accurate.  “Puritanism I define as that movement in sixteenth and seventeenth-century England which sought further reformation and renewal in the Church of England than the Elizabethan settlement allowed.”

The author includes a helpful section on the practical writings of the Puritans.  Central to Puritan thought was a God-centered education.  They were in the strict sense of the word, “mind-educators.”  Packer writes, “The starting-point was their certainty that the must must be instructed and enlightened before faith and obedience became possible … Heat without light, pulpit passion without pedagogic precision, would be no use to anyone.”

The Puritans are often painted into the corner as cold and emotionless, dry and boring.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Packer rightly adds, “All the Puritans regarded religious feeling and pious emotion without knowledge as worse than useless.  Only when truth was being felt was emotion in any way desirable … So the teaching of truth was the pastor’s first task, as the learning of it was the layman’s.”

Additionally, Puritans are often charged with teaching doctrine and neglecting application.  Again, this is an inaccurate caricature.  Rather, the Puritans were famous for preaching and teaching doctrine and always proceeding to the point of application.

Part Two: The Puritans and the Bible

John Owen is the primary Puritan discusses in this section.  Owen is regarded by most to be the among the greatest of all the Puritans.  He wielded and continues to wield enormous influence among Reformed theologians.

Packer zero’s in on Owen’s approach to God’s revelation.  First, he describes how Owen would have reacted to the “irrationalism of the neo-orthodox idea of a ‘knowledge’ of God derived from non-communicative ‘encounters’ with him.”  But he moves  forward to describe the essence of Owen’s approach: “Mere rational instruction thus proves ineffective; only the illumination of the Holy Spirit, opening our heart to God’s word and God’s word to our hearts, can bring understanding of, conviction about, and consent to, the things that God declares.”

The author continues to guide the reader in understanding Owen’s understanding of the giving of revelation, the inspiration of Scripture, the authentication of Scripture and the interpretation of Scripture.

At this point, Packer moves into deeper waters as he surveys the general attitude of Puritans as interpreters of Scripture.  He cites Thomas Watson: “Think in every line you read that God is speaking to you – for in truth he is.  What Scripture says, God is saying.”

Part Three: The Puritans and the Gospel

In chapter eight, Packer includes his introduction to John Owen’s, “The Death of Death in the Death of Christ” and is perhaps the best chapter in the book.  Packer demonstrates that “universal redemption is unscriptural and destructive to the gospel” a notion that is very unpopular in the church.

“Christ did not win a hypothetical salvation for hypothetical believers, a mere possibility of salvation for any who might possibly believe, but a real salvation for his own chosen people.  His precious blood really does ‘save us all’; the intended effects of his self-0ffering do in fact follow, just because the cross was what it was.  Its saving power does not depend on faith being added to it; its saving power is such that faith flows from it.  The cross secured the full salvation of all for whom Christ died.”

While Packer (and Owen) argue against universal redemption; i.e. unlimited atonement, they both believe strongly in universal invitations.  They reject the erroneous hyper-Calvinist notion that the gospel should only be proclaimed to the elect.  Packer adds, “The question of the extent of the atonement does not arise in evangelistic preaching; the message to be delivered is simply this – that Christ Jesus, the sovereign Lord, who died for sinners, now invites sinners freely to himself.  God commands all to repent and believe; Christ promises life and peace to all who do so.”

Often the preaching task is described as “bringing men to Christ.”  Packer is quick to note, however: “The task of preaching the old gospel could more properly be described as bringing Christ to men (emphasis mine), for those who preach it know that as they do their work of setting Christ before men’s eyes, the mighty Savior whom they proclaim is busy doing his work through their words, visiting sinners with salvation, awakening them to faith, drawing them in mercy to himself.”

Packer’s chapter on the Puritan View of Preaching the Gospel is also excellent.  “The Puritan view was that preaching gospel sermons means teaching the whole Christian system – the character of God, the Trinity, the plan of salvation, the entire work of grace.  To preach Christ, they held, involved preaching all this.  Preach less, they would tell us, and what you do preach will not be properly grasped.”

Part Four: The Puritans and the Holy Spirit

Part four summarizes the witness of the Spirit in Puritan thought, the spirituality of John Owen, and Owen’s view on spiritual gifts.  Owen’s work, Communion With God is a classic and should be required reading for all Christians.  Packer writes, “Communion with Christ then becomes a matter of acknowledging his presence in the power of his reconciling sacrifice and of observing the ordinance with reverent confidence that in it Christ comes to pledge his saving love to each one personally, so that ‘we sit down at God’s table as those that are the Lord’s friends … there being now no difference [contention] between him and us.'”

Part Five: The Puritans and the Christian Life

Part five summarizes the Puritan approach to the Lord’s Day, worship, and marriage/family.

Part Six: The Puritans in Ministry

Finally, Packer outlines the Puritan vision of the Word preached.  He cites Richard Baxter: “Labor to awaken your own hearts, before you go into the pulpit, that you may be fit to awaken the hearts of sinners … When I let my heart go cold, my preaching is cold … and so I can oft observe also in the best of my hearers that when I have grown cold in preaching, they have grown cold too.”

Packer is quick to point out in the Puritan belief in the “primacy of the intellect.”  He adds, “It follows that every man’s first duty in relation to the word of God is to understand it; and every preacher’s first duty is to explain it.  The only way to the heart that he is authorized to take runs via the head.”

The Puritans also believed in the primacy of preaching – a message that should not go unheeded today.  “Reverence for revealed truth and faith in its entire adequacy for human needs, should mark all preaching.”  John Owen is emphatic, “The first and principal duty of a pastor is to feed the flock by diligent preaching of the Word.”

The Puritans had a strong belief in the sovereignty of the Holy Spirit.  Packer writes, “The Puritans insisted that the ultimate effectiveness of preaching is out of man’s hands.  Man’s task is simply to be faithful in teaching the word; it is God’s work to convince of its truth and write it in the heart.  The Puritans would have criticised the modern evangelistic appeal, with its wheedling for ‘decisions’, as an unfortunate attempt by man to intrude into the Holy Spirit’s province.  It is for God, not man, to fix the time of conversion.”

The Puritans were expository preachers.  Their preaching was doctrinal.  “To the question, ‘Should one preach doctrine?’ the Puritan answer would have been, ‘Why, what else is there to preach?”  Packer adds, “Doctrinal preaching certainly bores the hypocrites; but it is only doctrinal preaching that will save Christ’s sheep.  The preachers job is to proclaim the faith, not to provide entertainment for unbelievers – in other words, to feed the sheep rather than amuse the goats.”

Conclusion

A Quest for Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life is an important book.  It unpacks the most important components of Puritan thought and introduces readers to the essence of Puritan theology.  It is true that we live in a different day.  However, the message that the Puritans proclaimed has not changed, not will it ever change.  The Puritans remind us of the importance of being faithful and refusing to capitulate to the winds of pragmatism.  The Puritans remind us to faithfully preach the Word of God and share the message of God’s grace to our dying generation.

BOOK REVIEWS

The Preacher’s Catechism – Lewis Allen (2018)

allen

Allen Lewis, The Preacher’s Catechism (Wheaton: Crossway, 2018), 216 pp.

I am a big fan of catechisms. So when I learned about The Preacher’s Catechism by Lewis Allen, I was intrigued. Actually, I jumped at the chance to read and review this book. Little did I know that this powerful little book would break me and convict me. It would mold and challenge me. It would encourage and edify me. The Preacher’s Catechism is remarkable in a myriad of ways, a few of which I will briefly describe below.

The Preacher’s Catechism is a book targeted to preachers. While some may consider this narrow target audience as ill-conceived, this strategy works well and helps accomplish the ultimate ends of the author.

Three convictions govern this book, which are set forth in the opening pages:

  1. The church needs preachers who last and thrive.
  2. Preachers must understand how preaching works, and how their souls work.
  3. The Westminster Shorter Catechism is an outstanding resource for the heart needs of every preacher.

With the governing convictions in place, Allen Lewis determines to utilize the pattern of the Westminster Shorter Catechism by targeting specific questions and answers to preachers. The book is arranged in four parts:

Part 1: The Glory of God and the Greatness of Preaching

Part 2: Jesus for Preachers

Part 3: Loving the Word

Part 4: Preaching with Conviction

Summarizing the essence of The Preacher’s Catechism is an impossible task. But at its very heart is a series of gospel-centered challenges and soul-stirring encouragements. This work is like a theological battering ram that is designed to crush pride, self-sufficiency, false motives and deeds of the flesh. But make no mistake. The author does not intend to merely convict preachers; his ultimate aim is to encourage them. Once the feeble scaffolding of the flesh is sufficiently toppled, the author winsomely directs the attention of preachers to the cross. “Listeners need to know that the preacher is contented in his God and rejoicing in his Savior,” writes Allen. He continues, “When our lives as preachers are filled with a sense of amazement about the grace that is ours in Christ, others start asking questions about that grace and seeking it for themselves.”

To call The Preacher’s Catechism a success would be a profound understatement. For this book captures what is truly important about pastoral ministry. It is a vivid reminder to keep the main thing the main thing. It serves preachers by admonishing them and encouraging them. But in the final analysis, it leads preachers back to the cross. It graciously beckons them to not only preach Christ crucified but to cherish the old rugged cross and lay claim to the saving benefits that Christ wrought for his elect.

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

CULTURE

A Black-And-White Proposal: Farewell To Fuzzy Thinking

Donald Miller raises the banner for “fuzzy thinking” in a recent blog post entitled, “The Problem with Black-and-White Thinking“(re-posted on relevantmagazine.com).  His main thought: “Black-and-white, either-or thinking polarizes people and stunts progressive thought.”  Additionally, he holds that this kind of thinking stunts our “ability to find truth.”

DEFENDING THE GOOD IN MILLER’S PROPOSAL

Miller admits that there is such a thing as right and wrong.  He also admits the existence of absolute truth.  So Miller does not advocate full-fledged relativism.  For this, we can be thankful.  In fact, even though his posting is loaded with difficulties, Miller does include some helpful suggestions worth considering:

First, Miller suggests, “Disengage your ego from your ideas.”  This point is well taken because many times a particular view is so tied to one’s ego that it becomes virtually impossible to separate fact from fiction.

Second, Miller encourages, “Understand there is much you don’t understand.”  He rightly adds, “We begin to think in black-and-white when we assume we know everything.”  While he does not press the point of Christian humility (as he should – pardon the black- and white thinking), it seems to be a part of his overall argument.

Third, Miller seems to argue in essence, that charity and grace ought to be a part of conversations and even arguments.  This implied pointer ought to be a part of daily life, where conversations and arguments produce more light than heat and stimulate deeper thinking about a given subject.

DISMANTLING THE BAD IN MILLER’S PROPOSAL

There are four problems that emerge, including unwarranted assumptions that must be dismantled.

Black-and-White Thinking Demonizes the Opposition

Miller advances the common notion that black-and-white thinking is polarizing; a bad thing. Again, “Black-and-white, either-or thinking polarizes people and stunts progressive thought.”  He adds, “… We begin to believe whatever thought-camp we subscribe to is morally good and the other morally bad, thus demonizing a threatening position.”

But this is not necessarily the case.  One can advance a dogmatic view but do so in a humble, yet decisive way.  After gaining a hearing with the philosophers in Athens, Paul presents an argument that could be construed as black-and-white:  “The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17:30, ESV).

Paul does polarize his audience.  Notice their response.  “Now then they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked.  But others said, ‘We will hear you again about this'” (Acts 17:32).  The polarization that occurs is a necessary part of proclaiming the gospel message.  “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Cor. 1:18, ESV).

Jesus employs a similar strategy when he confronts the Jews in John 8:  “Whoever is of God hears the words of God.  The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God” (v. 47, ESV).  Jesus does not demonize his hearers.  He merely tells them the truth.  Again, polarizing – but necessary.

These Jews maintained, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone.  How is it that you can say, ‘You will become free?'” (John 8:33, ESV).  Jesus polarizes his Jewish audience when he says,”Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin” (John 8:34, ESV).  Oh, the horror of polarization!  But Jesus does not leave them without hope.  He adds, “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36).

I would argue that when people are polarized, this can prove to be very helpful. When a truth claim is presented, one either accepts or rejects the claim.  If one accepts the claim but disagrees, thoughtful dialogue may continue.  So instead of “stunting progressive thought” and “stunting our ability to think and find truth” as Miller claims, black-and-white thinking can actually lead to the discovery of truth.

Black-and-White Thinking Assumes Arrogance

Miller continues in his diatribe against black-and-white thinking:  “It [black-and-white thinking] allows us to feel intelligent without understanding, and once we are intelligent, we feel superior.  People who don’t agree with us are just dumb.”  Honestly, Miller’s charge may prove quite accurate at times.  It is true that black-and-white thinking may lead to arrogant behavior and a haughty spirit.  But this does not have to be the case.  One can embrace and promote a dogmatic view and do so in a spirit of gentleness and humility.  This much is demanded in the Scripture.

Scripture instructs believers to “speak the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15) and demonstrate compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience with one another (Col. 3:12).  Additionally, God’s Word instructs believers to speak in a way that demonstrates gentleness and respect (1 Pet. 3:16).  Paul admonishes Timothy, “And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness …” (2 Tim. 2:24-25a).  In other words, there is a place for admonition (which by the way requires black-and-white thinking).  But the admonition must be laced with gentleness and kindness.

For instance, Jesus says, “I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12, ESV).  What is Jesus saying here?  He graciously tells his listeners that if they reject his lordship, they will walk in darkness.  Again, he polarizes his audience but speaks the truth in love.  There is no hint of arrogance.  Indeed, this is the sinless Son of God! Jesus adds, “I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins” (John 8:24, ESV).

It is simply naive to automatically assume that black-and-white thinking inevitably leads to arrogance.  Christ-followers, then, must make truth claims with boldness and humility.  Recognizing the danger of pride and arrogance, they must season their words with grace and gentleness.  They must be winsome in their approach to communicating the truth.

Black-and-White Thinking Discourages Open Dialogue

This point is implied when Miller encourages people to walk away from a conversation that becomes characterized as black-and-white.  He says, “When the conversation becomes about defending one’s identity, it’s time to politely move on.”  He goes on to say that “these discussions go nowhere and don’t help me find truth.”  Miller unfairly draws a conclusion that black-and-white arguments result in “defending one’s identity.”  This is certainly a possibility – but is not inevitable.

A few years ago, Whoopi Goldberg and Joy Behar walked off their own set on The View when the conversation got heated with Bill O’Reilly.  They walked away from a black-and-white conversation as Miller encourages.  O’Reilly who was and is usually unashamedly black-and-white was construed as an uncaring and insensitive person, based on some comments he made about the 911 attacks.  Some would argue that Miller’s prediction came to pass; that O’Reilly’s strong stand was tied to his identity.   The fact is that when Goldberg and Behar made their exit, the dialogue stopped – and became even more heated and controversial.  Moreover, O’Reilly was not the only person on the set who promoted black-and-white thinking!

Black-and-White Thinking Assumes the Impossibility of Certainty

Built into the framework of Miller’s argument is at the very least, an implicit suspicion of certainty.  Since Miller admits the existence of absolute truth and since he rejects relativism, he must embrace that some truth is certain.   But where will this suspicion of certainty lead in the long run?

Some progressive-types may be tempted to hop on the postmodern bandwagon and condemn “certainty” as a worn out product of the Enlightenment (a position that is amusing because it is dripping with so much certainty!)

I am less concerned with Don Miller at this point.  He’s too smart to make absolute statements against absolute truth.  What concerns me is what some will do with his antipathy to black-and-white thinking. What concerns me deeply are those who take the next step into uncertainty because they have not examined the logic (or irrationality) of their presuppositions.  What concerns me is that full-fledged relativism is just around the corner.

John Piper sums up the essence of relativism: “No one standard of true and false, right and wrong, good and bad, or beautiful and ugly, can preempt any other standard.  No standard is valid for everyone” (Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God, 98).  This relativistic way of thinking is knocking on the door of the church and in some cases has already barged in.

DISTURBING ELEMENTS OF FUZZY THINKING

Fuzzy Thinking Does Not Work in the Real World

Fuzzy thinking will not fly when it comes to raising children: “Please be home by 10:00 p.m. or feel free to do whatever you want.”  Fuzzy thinking will not fly when a police officer stops you for speeding.  Fuzzy thinking doesn’t work very well at the bank.  It doesn’t work on the basketball court. And it certainly does not fare well on the operating table.  Fuzzy thinking will always lead to a bad grade in philosophy class (and every other course).  Fuzzy thinking cannot stand up to the brutal reality of absolute truth.

Fuzzy thinking didn’t work for Jesus either.  Imagine the difficulty in pointing sinners to the Father in John 14 if Jesus had employed fuzzy thinking.  He would have been forced to say, “I am one of the many ways to the Father.  Everyone gets to heaven so long as their motives are right.”  But instead, Jesus speaks in absolute, black-and-white terms: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6, ESV).  He not only makes an absolute truth claim concerning his identity; he utilizes a universal negative and makes it clear that “no one comes to the Father except through me.”

Jesus utilizes black-and-white thinking throughout his ministry.  Notice his absolute truth claims:

“Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him” (John 3:36, ESV).

“But whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty forever.  The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:14, ESV).

“God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24, ESV).

“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life.  He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life” (John 5:24).

Fuzzy Thinking Does Not Work in the Pyre

If fuzzy thinking does not work in the real world, then it certainly does not work in the midst of persecution.  The martyrs of historic Christianity lived and died because of black-and-white thinking.

On his way to martyrdom, Ignatius wrote seven black-and-white letters that have proven to be very valuable documents to help our understanding of early Christianity.

When Polycarp faced execution for his Christian faith, the judge promised a quick release if Polycarp swore allegiance to the Emperor and vowed to curse Christ.  Polycarp responded, ““For eighty-six years I have served him, and he has done me no evil.  How could I curse my King, who saved me?”

When the judge threatened him with burning him alive, Polycarp simply answered that the fire that was about to be lit would only last a moment, whereas the eternal fire would never go out.  After Polycarp was tied to the post in the pyre, he looked up and prayed out loud: “Lord Sovereign God . . . I thank you that you have deemed me worthy of this moment, so that, jointly with your martyrs, I may have a share in the cup of Christ . . . For this . . . I bless and glorify you” (Justo L. Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity – Volume I, 39-48).

And consider the example of William Tyndale.  Tyndale courageously opposed anyone who quenched the work of the Spirit or despised God’s Word.   Again, Spirit enabled black-and-white thinking fueled his resolve.

One time a clergyman told Tyndale, “We are better without God’s laws than the pope’s.”  Tyndale’s black-and-white thinking prompted a decisive response: “I defy the Pope and all his laws; and if God spares my life, I will cause the boy who drives the plow in England to know more of the Scriptures than the Pope himself.”

Ignatius, Polycarp, and Tyndale held fast to the good (1 Thes. 5:21).  John MacArthur describes this imperative as “a militant, defensive, protective stance against anything that undermines the truth or does violence to it in any way.  We must hold the true securely; defend it zealously; preserve it from all threats.  To placate the enemies of truth or lower our guard is to violate this command.”

Fuzzy Thinking Minimizes the Role of Reason and Logic

Miller argues that black-and-white thinking would never make it “through the door of an undergraduate course in logic.”  Much to the contrary, the law of non-contradiction teaches us that a statement and its opposite cannot both be true at the same time and in the same sense.

Ron Nash reminds us, “The presence of contradiction is always a sign of error.  Hence, we have a right to expect a conceptual system to be logically consistent, both in its parts (its individual propositions) and in the whole.  A conceptual system is in obvious trouble if it fails to hang together logically” (Worldviews in Conflict, 55).

In other words, every worldview needs to be subjected to the law of non-contradiction.  When a contradiction emerges, the worldview must be abandoned.  Without black-and-white thinking, this worldview test passes by the wayside and discernment vanishes.

The root of this discussion concerning black-and-white thinking is tied to the formation of a worldview.   And in order for a worldview to be plausible, it must be able to be lived out in the real world.  Francis Schaeffer reminds us, “We must be able to live consistently with our theory” (The God Who is There, 121).

So in the final analysis, black-and-white thinking is not problematic.  Indeed, black-and-white thinking is not only philosophically tenable; it is an essential part of living the Christian life.  Without black-and-white thinking, it would be impossible to choose between two competing alternatives.  Without black-and-white thinking, theological and philosophical assertions would all receive equal acclaim, which is to say that truth at the end of the day is a matter of personal preference.

Whenever someone begins to back away from absolutes, reason and logic suddenly become unwelcome in the house of irrationality; a house that is destined to collapse under its own weight.  Peter Kreeft demonstrates the importance of logic: “If an argument has nothing but clear terms, true premises, and valid logic, its conclusion must be true” (Socratic Logic, 32).  Fuzzy thinking, however, tends to minimize the role of reason and logic, which at the end of the day proves not only unrealistic, but irrational.

Additionally, fuzzy thinking militates against the Law of the Excluded Middle.  James Nance and Douglas Wilson define this law: “Any statement is either true or false … it excludes the possibility of a truth value falling somewhere in the middle of truth or false” (Introductory Logic, xi).

Here’s the funny thing.  I am quite certain that Miller embraces these philosophical laws.  The problem is when he discourages black-and-white thinking, he unwittingly begins to whittle away at laws of logic which flow from the nature of God.  The downhill descent eventually leads to full-blown relativism.  Again, I am not concerned so much with Miller.  I am convinced that he would never go this route.  I am concerned, however, with those who are convinced by his arguments against black-and-white thinking.

DETERMINING A PROPOSAL REGARDING  BLACK-AND-WHITE THINKING

Donald Miller focuses on the so-called problems of black-and-white thinking.  I argue that Christian testimony and gospel witness will begin to erode to the degree that black-and-white thinking deteriorates.  Indeed, the essence of the gospel will erode to the degree we embrace fuzzy thinking.  Therefore, I submit the following proposal:

1. Black-and-White Thinking Should be Encouraged – Not Discouraged

Black-and-white thinking should be encouraged on biblical, philosophical, and practical grounds.  Sometimes, such thinking is criticized as “hair-splitting.”  Yet this black-and-white “hair-splitting” was indispensable as Athanasius challenged the arch-heretic, Arius.  This kind of thinking was a necessary part of formulating the doctrine of the Trinity and affirming the two natures of Christ; i.e. fully God and fully man.

Black-and-white thinking led to the formation of the major creeds and catechisms including the Apostles’ Creed, Nicene Creed, Chalcedonian Creed, the Heidelberg Catechism, and the Westminster Confession of Faith.

Black-and-white thinking should be encouraged.  For whenever black-and-white thinking is discouraged, the net result is theological error and irrationality.

2. Black-and-White Thinking is Essential to Christian Epistemology

Francis Schaeffer warned the church in 1968:  “We are fundamentally affected by a new way of looking at truth.  This change in the concept of the way we come to knowledge and truth is the most crucial problem facing America today” (The God Who Is There, 6).  In other words, “absolutes imply antithesis.”  The working antithesis is that God exists objectively (in antithesis) to his not existing.

The loss of antithesis (or repudiating black-and-white thinking) in American culture led to what Dr. Schaeffer coined the “line of despair” or giving up all hope of achieving a rational unified answer to knowledge and life.

So Christians must rise above the level of despair and affirm a Christ-saturated epistemology.  They recognize that truth is a unified whole.  They understand that there is no disparity between faith and reason.  In other words, faith and reason are not out of contact with each other.  They embrace what Nancy Pearcey refers to as “total truth.”

3. Black-and-White Thinking is Essential to Healthy Christian Living

Christ-followers who recognize that truth is unified understand this fundamental reality:  They know that black-and-white thinking is essential to the Christian life.  They recognize real good and real evil: “Ponder the path of your feet; then all your ways will be sure.  Do not swerve to the right or to the left; turn your foot away from evil” (Prov. 4:26-27, ESV).

Because Christians understand that “absolutes imply antithesis” they speak and live in terms of black-and-white:

“Whoever is steadfast in righteousness will live, but he who pursues evil will die.  Those of crooked heart are an abomination to the LORD, but those of blameless ways are his delight.  Be assured, an evil person will not go unpunished, but the offspring of the righteous will be delivered” (Prov. 11:19-21).

“Whoever speaks the truth gives honest evidence, but a false witness utters deceit” (Prov. 12:17).

4. There Should Be No Dichotomy Between Bold, Black-and-White Convictions and a Gracious Offering of Truth Claims

For instance, Jesus proclaims a series of woes on the Pharisees in Matthew 23.  His black-and-white thinking is actually stunning.  Yet at the end of chapter 23, we find him lamenting over Jerusalem: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it!  How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!” (v. 37).

5. Black-and-White Truth Claims Should be Set Forth With Decisive Humility

On the one hand, Christ-followers must maintain their commitment to absolute truth claims.  They must do so vigorously and decisively.  They must boldly proclaim the truth in the marketplace of ideas.  And they must point to Christ, who is the essence of truth, apart from whom, knowledge is impossible.

On the other hand, Christ-followers must believe, proclaim, and defend black-and-white truth with Spirit-enabled humility: “But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word” (Isa. 66:2b, ESV).  They must passionately proclaim truth “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love …” (Eph. 4:2, ESV).  And they must teach and defend the truth and embrace the framework of 2 Timothy 2:24.  “And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness …”

SUMMARY

I hear what Don Miller is saying and I suspect that he’s concerned with Christ-followers who demonstrate less than loving behavior.  He would be right to be concerned.  Indeed, Christ is the most loving person that ever existed or will ever exist.  But Christ was also a black-and-white thinker.  The prophets were black-and-white thinkers.  The apostles were black-and-white thinkers.  And the martyrs were black-and-white thinkers.

Miller’s position could be construed to mean something like this: “We need less truth and more love and grace.”  I am quite confident that this is not his intention.  Similarly, my position could be construed to promote the following: “We need less love and more truth.”  Of course, this is not my argument either.  Rather, as Christians, we are called to both!  We are called to speak the truth – and we are called to engage in this ministry of proclamation with love, gentleness, and humility.

The funny thing is that Miller uses black-and-white thinking to argue against black-and-white thinking.  So at worst, his argument is self-refuting.  At best, perhaps there is hope for the future because, in the final analysis, Miller embraces black-and-white thinking after all!

If Miller is concerned primarily with the promotion of personal opinions, fine.  If he is concerned with soliciting dogmatic statements in gray areas that concern cultural matters like music and one’s choice of the best Italian restaurant, I have no quarrel.  But when it comes to matters of eternal significance, black-and-white thinking is essential.

We live in a world of absolutes.  And absolutes demand humble and decisive proclamation.  May Christians continue to proclaim and defend black-and-white propositional truth to the glory of Jesus Christ.  My black-and-white proposal: Farewell to fuzzy thinking!

“I know that truth stands and is mighty forever, and abides eternally, with whom there is no respect of persons.” – John Hus, Czech reformer, black-and-white thinker and martyr (1412)

Veritas et Lux!

BOOK REVIEWS

Steal Away Home – Matt Carter and Aaron Ivey (2017)

chMatt Carter and Aaron Ivey, Steal Away Home, Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2017, 294 pp. $14.60

Church history is filled with stories of courage, adventure, adversity, and persecution. From the exile of Athanasius, the martyrdom of John Rogers and William Tyndale, or Luther’s trial at Worms, these stories are well-known and we are quick to pass them along to the next generation.

Steal Away Home by Matt Carter and Aaron Ivey is a tale that will be new to many readers, however.  It was certainly new for me! The story involves two men from backgrounds that have very little in common. C.H. Spurgeon was the Prince of Preachers, a refined man with a rich theological heritage who occupied the pulpit in Victorian England. He was well-known around the world. He was a best-selling author and recognized by thousands. Thomas Johnson was a simple slave boy who was unjustly shackled in colonial America. He was known by few and treated like an animal. His slave master worked him to the bone on the Virginia tobacco fields.

Jesus Christ liberated Thomas Johnson. He freed him from the power and the penalty of sin. President Abraham Lincoln rescued Thomas Johnson from the sin of slavery. The Emancipation Proclamation, which Lincoln regarded as the crowning achievement of his presidency, liberated Thomas from his slave master. Jesus Christ liberated Thomas from the slave master of sin.

Through a series of Providential events, Thomas Johnson found himself at the front door of C.H. Spurgeon in London. After his training was complete, he and his wife made their way to Cameroon, West Africa in 1879.

PERSONAL TAKEAWAYS

Steal Away Home is a work of historical fiction. It becomes clear at the outset, however, that the authors spent many hours researching the details of this intriguing story. My hope is that a few personal takeaways will prompt many people to enter rich world of the 19th century and absorb some life-altering lessons.

1. The Humanization of C.H. Spurgeon

I have been reading Spurgeon and books about the Prince of Preachers for almost thirty years. This book brilliantly captures the essence of Spurgeon and is not afraid of revealing his warts, weaknesses, and worries. It is a breath of fresh air for anyone who is under the false notion that the famous preacher from London lived a life of ease. Spurgeon’s doubt and lifelong battle with depression is highlighted and his fears are revealed.

2. The Horror of Slavery

Most Americans recognize that slavery is a perpetual “black eye” on our nations’ history. But few understand the gravity of what these innocent African Americans endured. Carter and Ivey masterfully reveal the pitiful nature of slavery through the eyes of Thomas Johnson. Sympathetic readers will feel genuine grief as they walk with Johnson and experience the horror of his chains.

3. The Hallowed Ground of Friendship

Steal Away Home reminds readers of the importance and value of friendship. The friendship fostered by Spurgeon and Thomas is grounded in grace and nurtured by honest communication, genuine fun, rich encouragement, and biblical accountability. Like David and Jonathan, these two men are examples of friendship that glorifies God. Indeed, “A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother” (Prov. 18:24). Indeed, friendship is hallowed ground that too few men tread upon.

4. The Hope of the Gospel

Finally, this story shows how the gospel operates in the real world. Apart from grace, Charles Haddon Spurgeon and Thomas Johnson were dead in trespasses and sins, without hope and without God. Indeed, apart from grace, Spurgeon and Johnson were both spiritual slaves. Both men, however, were set free as they cast their hope on the Lord Jesus Christ. In the course of their very different earthly paths, they wound up on the same spiritual path, which ultimately led them both to the Celestial City!

Steal Away Home encouraged me personally and moved my soul in ways that most books only hope to do. Matt Carter and Aaron Ivey stepped up to the plate and hit the ball out of the park.  Their work will no doubt be a contender for book of the year.  I commend their work wholeheartedly!

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

BOOK REVIEWS

John Calvin: For a New Reformation (2019)

calDerek W.H. Thomas and John W. Tweeddale, Ed. John Calvin: For a New Reformation (Wheaton: Crossway, 2019), 608 pp.

Over two thousand years of church history have produced a wide assortment of Christian leaders, theologians, and churchmen.  One man who exerted an enormous amount of influence in his day was John Calvin. In recent years, theologians and pastors have revived an interest in Calvin including, A Godward Gaze: The Holy Pursuit of John Calvin, by yours truly.

The most recent and comprehensive offering is an edited volume by Derek W.H. Thomas and John W. Tweeddale. This massive volume that spans over 600 pages includes contributions from well-known scholars such as Stephen Nichols, Steven Lawson, Burk Parsons, Paul Helm and others. The afterward by R.C. Sproul is a fitting conclusion from the man who should be credited for restoring an interest in Reformed theology in the twentieth-century church. Dr. Sproul’s words are especially moving and significant, since this is his last published writing before his death in 2017.

John Calvin: For a New Reformation is arranged in two parts. Part 1 explores the life and work of John Calvin. The contributors share a wealth of biographical information on Calvin including his early years, conversion, and friendships. Especially significant is the piece by Steven Lawson that summarizes the expository preaching of Calvin.

Part 2 explores the teaching of John Calvin. The contributors weigh in on several doctrinal subjects including the providence of God, the person and work of Christ, predestination, the sacraments, perseverance of the saints, and Calvin’s approach to eschatology. Edward Donnelly’s chapter, The Christian Life stands out the most. Donnelly helps readers see the pastoral heart of Calvin, which is undergirded by four central features of the Christian life: self-denial, cross—bearing, meditation on the future life, and the present life. Donnelly shows how Calvin lived an authentic and transparent Christian life, which inspired thousands of people in the sixteenth century and continues to inspire people in our day.

Additionally, Donnelly shows readers how Calvin lived in constant fellowship with the Lord and submitted daily to his lordship. “We are God’s,” writes Calvin. This acknowledgment was the very essence of Calvin’s Christian life. Also, Calvin was committed to mortifying idolatry and serving other people.

Over the years, I have read dozens of books about the French Reformer, John Calvin. This book is among the best. Thomas and Tweeddale should be commended for assembling such a worthy team of writers who celebrate a man that continues to wield a mighty influence on individual lives and the church of Jesus Christ.

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

BOOK REVIEWS

The Way Forward: A Roadmap of Spiritual Growth for Men in the 21st Century – Joe Barnard (2020)

Joe Barnard, The Way Forward: A Road Map of Spiritual Growth for Men in the 21st Century (Geanies House: Christian Focus Publications, 2020), 165 pp.

The Way Forward: A Road Map of Spiritual Growth for Men in the 21st Century by Joe Barnard addresses the unique spiritual needs of men in a way that is thoughtful, engaging, and biblical. Much like a skilled surgeon, Barnard diagnoses the problem and offers a deeply encouraging solution.

The author holds that an accurate diagnosis is an essential ingredient in moving men forward in a way that honors the Lord. With that in mind, he presents seven factors that contribute to the weak spiritual growth that is epidemic among Christian men. In the end, Bernard points out that men are failing to achieve their potential in Christ for a variety of factors, which prove to be complicated.

The prescription is a process of spiritual development that includes five characteristics – captivation, clarity, competences camaraderie, and self-control. The sum total of these qualities will help Christian men move in a Godward direction.

The first characteristic, captivation is worth focussing on. The author adds,

“I am convinced that no man will make serious progress toward spiritual maturity until he is captivated by the glory of Christ … Being captivated by the glory of Christ is the secret to mounting a coup against a false god … no amount of willpower can shove an idol out of the heart.”

These statements provide the fuel for the remainder of the book as the author is set on moving men toward spiritual maturity. Additionally, Bernard is quick to recommend other key books that should be required reading for men on a trajectory of spiritual growth.

The Way Forward is a valuable book, one that should be in the arsenal of every man committed to growing in the Lord.

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

BOOK REVIEWS

Getting the Gospel Right – R.C. Sproul

gospR.C. Sproul, Getting the Gospel Right: The Tie That Binds Evangelicals Together Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2017, 235 pp. $10.70

There are many things in life that we “get wrong.” Some of the things we get wrong may cause temporary pain or inconvenience but usually do not pose a significant challenge to our daily lives. But getting the gospel right has eternal implications. R.C. Sproul addresses this matter in his book, Getting the Gospel Right. Originally published in 1999, Baker Books has repackaged this timely book for a new audience that probably never had the chance to read the original work.

The book includes three parts. Part One discusses the Controversy Concerning the Gospel. The debate reaches back to the sixteenth century when Luther boldly challenged the doctrinal underpinnings of the Roman Catholic church.

Dr. Sproul helps readers determine the marks of a true church which is distinguished by the faithful proclamation of the gospel, the administration of the sacraments (or ordinances for Baptist readers), and church discipline. Since the Roman Catholic church has jettisoned the gospel by abandoning sola fide, which is essential to the biblical gospel, one would rightly consider Rome to be an apostate church. To assign such a label to the Roman Catholic church does not automatically mean that certain individuals have not experienced personal salvation; it merely demonstrates how Rome has abandoned the biblical gospel. The author adds, “When an essential truth of the gospel is condemned, the gospel itself is condemned with it, and without the gospel, an institution is not a Christian church.”

The author presents the historical debate between evangelicals and Rome by clearly identifying the meaning of the term, evangelical. The term means “the gospel.” Sproul continues, “The Reformers used the term evangelical to define their movement as it related to the central theological issue of the day, the doctrine of justification by faith alone … the Reformers believed that sola fide is essential to the gospel, that without sola fide one does not have the gospel.”

Sproul continues by explaining the rise of liberalism and the ECT (Evangelicals and Catholics Together) document that “heralded another subtle but significant shift in the contribution of sola fide to evangelical unity.”

Part Two includes a critical analysis of The Gift of Salvation, the joint statement by Roman Catholics and evangelicals in October 1997. Sproul’s comments and critiques are straightforward and gracious. He affirms the points of agreement between Rome and evangelicals but he also identifies several doctrinal deficiencies. These deficiencies who prevent most evangelicals from endorsing such a document.

Part Three includes a detailed exposition of The Gospel of Jesus Christ: An Evangelical Celebration, a document that was drafted by notable evangelicals including D.A. Carson, J.I. Packer, R.C. Sproul, and others.

The document includes a series of affirmations and denials and is essentially an exposition of the document, which includes safeguards and doctrinal sideboards which help preserve the very essence and purity of the gospel.

We may get things many things wrong in life. Such decisions may prove painful in the short run, but in the final analysis, such decisions have little effect upon our lives. Failing to get the gospel right, however, has eternal implications.Getting the Gospel Right reminds readers of the importance maintaining our allegiance to the truth of God’s Word. Trifling with the gospel is simply not an option for followers of Jesus Christ.