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.

BOOK REVIEWS

The White Flag Unfurled

wf

These 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

Order your copy of The White Flag: When Compromise Cripples the Church here!

BOOK REVIEWS

Unshackled: The god of WM. Paul Young

lies

WM. Paul Young, Lies We Believe About God, New York: Atria Books, 2017, 273 pp. $13.48

Lies We Believe About God is the latest book from the author of The Shack, WM. Paul Young. The author originally penned The Shack at the request of his wife as a Christmas gift to his six children. First published in 2007, this book has sold over 20 million copies and was recently unveiled as a feature film.

The Shack struck a central chord in people, many of whom confess that the storyline helped them overcome personal pain and tragedy, what the author refers to as, the Great Sadness. Wes Yoder, who endorses The Shack summarizes the ideas in this story. He writes, “The Shack is a beautiful story of how God comes to find us in the midst of our sorrows, trapped by disappointments, betrayed by our own presumptions.” Eugene Peterson adds, “This book has the potential to do for our generation what John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress did for his. It’s that good.”

But many reviewers of The Shack were less sympathetic. In the minds of some, the nature of God was compromised and the boundaries of orthodoxy were broached. But since The Shack is a novel, the line between fact and fiction became blurred and the theological intentions of the author were difficult to discern.

Young’s most recent offering, Lies We Believe About God, puts to rest any speculation about his views of God and Christian theology. The truly impressive feature about Young’s most recent offering is its transparency and honesty. The author presents twenty-eight “lies we believe about God” in terms that are unmistakable. Readers will no longer be able to sweep the theological statements in Young’s previous novels under the carpet. His views concerning God are set forth in plain terms, giving readers a better understanding of what was proposed in his previous novels.

The question for discerning readers to ask is whether or not Young’s views measure up to the scrutiny of God’s Word. Three critical areas of concern surface in the book, Lies We Believe About God.

A Flawed View of God

It is a great irony that a book which sets out to challenge the so-called “lies we believe about God,” does in fact, promote views of God that fail to match the biblical record. First, Young promotes a soft view of God. Specifically, he argues that God is not in control.

Instead of accepting God’s will of decree, which is settled in eternity past, the author questions God’s sovereign control: “Does God have a wonderful plan for our lives? Does God sit and draw up a perfect will for you and me on some cosmic drafting table, a perfect plan that requires a perfect response? If God then left to react to our stupidity or deafness or blindness or inability, as we constantly violate perfection through our own presumption?”1 John, one of the characters in Young’s novel, Eve concurs: “When it comes to plans and purposes, God is not a Draftsman but an Artist, and God will not be God apart from us.”2

Instead of accepting a sovereign God who ordains everything that comes to pass, Young posits a God who reigns by love and relationship alone. “The sovereignty of God is not about deterministic control … Love and relationship trump control every time. Forced love is no love at all,”3 writes the author.

Yet, Scripture contradicts what Young would have us believe. The Bible presents a God who exercises control in creation, providence, and miracles. Proverbs 21:1 illustrates the control of God in vivid terms: “The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever he will.” In Ezra 6:22, the LORD “turned the heart of the king of Assyria.” In Ecclesiastes 7:13-14, God’s providential control over all things is clearly illustrated: “Consider the work of God: who can make straight what he has made crooked? In the day of prosperity be joyful, and in the day of adversity consider: God has made the one as well as the other, so that man may not find out anything that will be after him.” And Ephesians 1:11 shows us the overarching purposes of our God: “In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will.” Indeed, God exercises sovereign control over all things.

The Westminster Catechism argues, “The decrees of God are his eternal purpose, according to the counsel of his will, whereby for his own glory he hath foreordained whatsoever comes to pass.” That is, God is the sovereign king who does as he pleases (Ps. 115:3). God reigns (Ps. 99:1-5). His control knows no boundaries. God acts in order to advance his glory (Exod. 14:4). And we rest in the infinite wisdom of God’s plan, knowing that his purposes can never be thwarted (Isa. 46:9-10; Job 42:2).

Charles Hodge has a sharp disagreement with the soft view of God presented in Lies We Believe About God. Hodge writes,

“This is the end which our Lord proposed to himself. He did everything for the glory of God; and for this end, all his followers are required to live and act … If we make the good of the creature the ultimate object of all God’s works, then we subordinate God to the creature, and endless confusion and unavoidable error are the consequence. It is characteristic of the Bible that it places God first, and the good of the creation second.”4

The errors which result from promoting a God who is not fully in control, as Hodge maintains, will have serious consequences and have tragic consequences on one’s perception of God.

Second, Young presents a God who submits to people. The notion that God submits to the creature emerges in The Shack as well. The Holy Spirit figure, Sarayu, tells Mack, “We have limited ourselves out of respect for you … Relationships are never about power, and one way to avoid the will to power is to choose to limit oneself.”5 And Papa sympathetically responds to Mack who is reluctant to demonstrate emotion: “That’s okay, we’ll do things on your terms and time.”6

The Jesus of The Shack confesses to Mack, “Submission is not about authority and it is not obedience; it is all about relationships of love and respect. In fact, we are submitted to you in the same way.”7

In Young’s novel, Eve, Adonai says to Adam, “Our Love will not withhold from you the consequences of your choices. We honor and respect you, so We consent and submit to you” (emphasis mine).8 Later in the story, Adonai makes a similar remark to Lily: “Look up and into My face. I am here and will never leave you. In any dance you sometimes lead, but always both submit. So now, dear Lilly, you must choose, and I submit to you.”9

In Lies We Believe About God, the author maintains that the word control is not a part of God’s vocabulary: “God submits,” writes Young “rather than controls and joins us in the resulting mess of relationship, to participate in co-creating the possibility of life, even in the face of death.”10

Yet, we never find God submitting to the creature in Scripture. To the contrary, the creature submits to the Creator. Job learned a quick lesson when he tried to turn the tables on God. He learned the importance of submitting to God, not the other way around (Job 38-41).

John Frame helps us understand the importance of God’s authority and the proper response of the creature: “The first thing, and in one sense the only thing, we need to know about God is that he is Lord …This is a confession of lordship: that Yahweh, the Lord, is the one and only true God, and that therefore he deserves all of our love and allegiance.”11

The soft view of God who submits to the creature must be rejected as it fails to stand the test of biblical faithfulness.

A Fallacious View of Humanity

Young rightly holds that humans are created by God in the imago Dei. Since humans are created in God’s image, they have inherent worth and significance. The author should be commended for highlighting this important aspect of anthropology, which admittedly, is neglected by some Christians.

Additionally, the author believes that humans are sinners. However, sin is redefined and fails to measure up to the biblical test. “Blind, not depraved, is our condition,”12 writes Young. He continues, “Sin, then, is anything that negates or diminishes or misrepresents the truth of who you are, no matter how pretty or ugly that is.”13 Such a view find no biblical support and is a foreign concept in Christian theology.

Young acknowledges that sin involves “missing the mark.” But he adds, “The mark is not perfect moral behavior. The ‘mark’ is the Truth of your being.”14 But Young goes one step further in his redefinition of sin: “And what does the truth of your being look like? God. You are made in the image of God, and the truth of your being looks like God.”15

Now that Young has redefined sin, he is in a position to pose an additional question: Does sin separate us from God? Young argues that the notion of sinners being separated from God is a lie: “A lot of ‘my people’ will believe that the following statement is in the Bible, but it isn’t: ’You have sinned, and you are separated from God.’” 16 The biblical proof he offers is Romans 8:38-39, that is, “nothing can separate us from the love of God.” Such an explanation, however, fails to consider the context of Romans 8 which is a clear promise to the elect of God, not the entirety of the human race.

Two responses are in order. First, Young’s reformulation of sin is inadequate as the Bible clearly teaches that all people are sinners by nature and choice. John MacArthur sheds light on the real meaning of sin:

“Sin must be understood from a theocentric or God-centered standpoint. At its core, sin is a violation of the Creator-creature relationship. Man only exists because God made him, and man is in every sense obligated to serve his Creator. Sin causes man to assume the role of God and to assert autonomy for himself apart from the Creator. The most all-encompassing view of sin’s mainspring, therefore, is the demand for autonomy.”17

When sin is redefined from a man-centered viewpoint, this only strengthens the resolve of his quest for autonomy. Yet this is exactly what we find in Young’s version of sin – a Creator catering to the needs of the creature and satisfying his autonomous bent.

The Scriptures paint a portrait of sinful creatures which is undeniable and devastating: “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” (Gen. 6:5, ESV) Indeed, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jer. 17:9, ESV) Edwin Palmer writes, “Total depravity means that natural man is never able to do any good that is fundamentally pleasing to God, and, in fact, does evil all the time.”18 The biblical evidence for total depravity is overwhelming and conclusive (Ps. 51:5; Isa. 53:6; 64:6; Eph. 2:1-3; Rom. 3:23; 5:12).

Second, the Bible clearly teaches that sinners are separated from God. Apart from grace, sinners are without hope and are utterly cut off and separated from God. Isaiah 59:2 says, “But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear.” In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul demonstrates that sinners are separated from Christ. He refers to them as “having no hope and without God in the world” (Eph. 2:12). Our only hope, then, is found in Christ alone who came to forgive us and reconcile us to a holy God (Eph. 2:13-22).

A Faulty View of Salvation

Two major problems can be summarized here. First, Young promotes universal reconciliation. In The Shack, Papa answers Mack’s questions concerning the efficacy of the cross. Papa says, “Honey, you asked me what Jesus accomplished on the cross; so now listen to me carefully: through his death and resurrection, I am now fully reconciled to the world.”19 Mack asks, “The whole world? You mean those who believe in you, right?”20 Papa answers resolutely, “The whole world, Mack. All I am telling you is that reconciliation is a two-way street, and I have done my part, totally, completely, finally.”21

In a stunning admission, Young says,

“The Good News is not that Jesus opened up the possibility of salvation and you have been invited to receive Jesus into your life. The Gospel is that Jesus has already included you into His life, into His relationship with God the Father, and into His anointing in the Holy Spirit … God has acted decisively and universally for all humankind.”22

If there is any question about the universalism here, the author removes any cause for doubt: “Are you suggesting that everyone is saved? That you believe in universal salvation? That is exactly what I am saying?”23 He continues, “Here’s the truth: every person who has ever been conceived was included in the death, burial, and resurrection, and ascension of Jesus. When Jesus was lifted up, God ‘dragged’ all human beings to Himself.24

The Bible paints a very different portrait. The Bible speaks of people apart from grace who are enemies of God (Col. 1:21; Rom. 5:10) and children of wrath (Eph. 2:1-3). Only the redeemed are reconciled to God.

Appealing to passages like John 12:32 is insufficient and fails to build the case for universal reconciliation. Jesus says, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” All people must either mean “all without exception” or “all without distinction.” As we compare Scripture with Scripture, clearly the later is in view.

Jesus proclaims, “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Matt. 7:13-14). ). Jesus speaks of two trees, the healthy and the diseased. Speaking of the diseased tree, Jesus says, “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire” (Matt. 7:19). Moreover, Jesus teaches about two kinds of houses, the one that is built on the rock and one that is built on the sand. “And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it tell, and great was the fall of it” (Matt. 7:26-27). Indeed, every person who refuses to build his “house” on the rock and build his or her life on the promises of God; every person who rejects the Son and his work on the cross will endure an eternity of wrath (John 3:36; Rom. 2:8; 2 Thes. 1:9). “At the end of the day, there are only two ways – the way of the kingdom or the way of death.” Scripture is clear: not everyone will pursue the way of the kingdom. Universal reconciliation is a lie.

Second, Young argues that the cross was not God’s idea. The author poses the question, “Who originated the Cross?” Young’s answer is disturbing, to say the least: “If God did, then we worship a cosmic abuser, who in Divine wisdom created a means to torture human beings in the most painful and abhorrent manner … Better no god at all, than this one.”25 In a few words, the author not only repudiates the reality of God’s involvement in the cross of Christ; he casts aside penal substitutionary atonement.

The apostle Paul speaks of the power of the cross (1 Cor. 1:17-18), “making peace by the blood of his cross (Col. 1:20) and even boasts in the cross (Gal. 6:14). However, Young says, “Nothing not even the salvation of the entire cosmos, could ever justify a horrific torture device called a cross.”26

When we contrast the Bible with Young’s view, we find that the cross was God’s idea after all. Two passages in the book of Acts show the sovereignty of God in salvation and demonstrate God’s involvement in the cross from start to finish:

“this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.” (Acts 2:23–24, ESV)

“for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.” (Acts 4:27–28, ESV)

The faulty view of salvation which is promoted in Lies We Believe About God is deeply troubling and must be rejected by discerning Christians.

Conclusion

Paul Young has shared openly and honestly about some of the hurts in his life. Pain and suffering, while inevitable in this life are regrettable realities. The dark night of the soul will likely affect most of us. And so we sympathize with Young and his Great Sadness and pray that God will minister in deep and abiding ways. But no amount of personal tragedy or loss can excuse the propagation of false views of God.

It is a great tragedy when an author writes a book that minimizes God or misrepresents God. A.W. Tozer helps us understand the importance of understanding God rightly: “Worship is pure or base as the worshipper entertains high or low thoughts of God.”27 How we think about God matters! For “there is nothing more important than knowing God.”28 Our view concerning his essence and attributes is not a mere academic debate among theologians. Our view of God affects how we approach him and how we worship him. Tozer continues, “For this reason the gravest question before the Church is always God himself, and the most portentous fact about any man is not what he at a given time may say or do, but what he in his deep heart conceives God to be like.”29

“God does not lower his standards to accommodate us.”30 Therefore, our responsibility is to view God rightly, worship God rightly, and approach God rightly and reverently. Indeed, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.”31

The chief problem in Lies We Believe About God is an undermining of biblical authority.  It ultimately caters to the creature and encourages the autonomy that he craves. When the authority of the Bible is compromised the people of God always pay a price. It’s not too late to get unshackled.  True freedom is found in submitting to Scripture, trusting and obeying Jesus Christ who loves sinners, and worshipping God in the way that he demands!

  1. WM. Paul Young, Lies We Believe About God  (New York: Atria Books, 2017), Loc. 329.
  2. WM. Paul Young, Eve (New York: Howard Books, 2015), 181.
  3. Ibid, Loc. 347.
  4. Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology – Volume I (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Company, reprint 1995), 536.
  5. Young, The Shack, (Newbury Park: Windblown Media, 2007)106.
  6. Ibid, 83.
  7. Ibid, 145.
  8. WM. Paul Young, Eve (New York: Howard Books, 2015), 239.
  9. Ibid, 258.
  10. Young, Lies We Believe About God, Loc. 355.
  11. John Frame, The Doctrine of God (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed, 2002), 21-22.
  12. WM. Paul Young, Lies We Believe About God, Loc. 296.
  13. Ibid, Loc. 1645.
  14. Ibid, Loc. 1643.
  15. Ibid, Loc. 1645.
  16. Ibid, Loc. 1663.
  17. John MacArthur and Richard Mayhue, Biblical Doctrine: A Systematic Summary of Bible Truth (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2017), 453.
  18. Edwin H. Palmer, The Five Points of Calvinism (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1972), 13.
  19. William P. Young, The Shack, 82.
  20. Ibid.
  21. Ibid.
  22. Young, Lies We Believe About God, Loc. 889.
  23. Ibid, Loc. 898.
  24. Ibid.
  25. Ibid, Loc. 1101.
  26. Ibid, 329.
  27. A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy (San Francisco: HarperCollins Publishers, 1961), 1.
  28. John Frame, The Doctrine of God (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed, 2002), 1.
  29. A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy, 1.
  30. R.C. Sproul, The Holiness of God (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, 1995), 88.
  31. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy, 1.
Uncategorized

All Torn Up

I cannot get the image out of my mind. It keeps playing back in slow motion, like Joe Montana hurling a football into the end zone to Jerry Rice. But 70,000 fans are not screaming. Instead, millions of Americans are horrified.

Nancy Pelosi is ripping the State of the Union Address to shreds. Slowly. Deliberately. Defiantly. Like a petulant child who didn’t get her way, the Speaker of the House is desecrating the speech which bears the name of the President of the United States.

Never in recent memory has anything like this happened in Congress. At least not in my lifetime. Political opponents have always disagreed, yet maintained a semblance of respect. Tip O’Neal respected President Reagan. Newt Gingrich was able to make good progress with President Clinton. Paul Ryan showed respect to President Obama.

But political discourse took an ugly turn on February 4 when the Speaker of the House brazenly tore the President’s State of the Union Address. Commentators did what they do best. Political pundits weighed in. Members of both sides the isle chipped in: Liberals offered excuses. Conservatives offered condemnation. This morning, Americans will discuss Pelosi’s latest stunt around the water cooler.

When the smoke clears and everyone has a chance to make their partisan contributions, we’ll still be left with a speech torn to shreds. That speech will likely end up on the desk of a politician – a memorial to the defiance of the Democratic party.

But think about what the desecrated speech really represents. When the Speaker of the House shredded President Trump’s speech, she didn’t merely disrespect the highest office in the land. She disrespected America. She disrespected the hopes and dreams of people.

When Nancy Pelosi ripped the president’s speech asunder, she offered a vote of no confidence to Americans like Army veteran Tony Rankins. She offered a vote of no confidence to Janiyah Davis, a beautiful little girl who was given an opportunity scholarship to attend the school of her choice. Speaker Pelosi dishonored the memory of fallen American soldiers. And she disrespected the most recent recipient of the President Medal of Freedom, Rush Limbaugh.

Today, President Trump will be acquitted. America will move forward. Some Americans will celebrate a vibrant economy, a rock-solid military, and a country committed to the cause of freedom. Others will be left with the fragments of a torn up State of the Union Address. Senator Lindsey Graham remarked, “You can tear up the speech but you can’t tear up the accomplishments.”

Thomas Jefferson allegedly said, “Dissent is the highest form of patriotism.” Pelosi’s actions do not represent dissent, however. Her behavior was disrespectful and defiant. Her actions represent a new low in American political discourse. Her unprecedented and shameful act will be etched on the American conscience for generations.

On a day when Americans should be talking about a historic speech and hope for the future, the Speaker of the House has managed to turn the spotlight on herself. “Congratulations, Mrs. Pelosi. Your selfish and immature actions have swayed the public discourse.” Is it any wonder that so many Americans are all torn up?

BOOK REVIEWS · Calvinism · Gospel · Theology

Grace Works – Douglas Bond (2014)

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I once titled a sermon  Grace Works, based on Titus 2:11-14.   Verse 11  reminds us that grace has appeared in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ.  This grace has saved us.  This grace has transported every believer from death to life.    This grace saves us, sanctifies us, and secures our future with Christ.  Indeed, grace works!  So when I learned about the new book by Douglas Bond, entitled Grace Works I requested a copy from a company I write reviews for.  It was a great decision!

Douglas Bond is concerned; deeply concerned.  He along with a handful of evangelicals including R.C. Sproul, J.I. Packer, Jerry Bridges, John Piper, and Tim Keller are concerned that the gospel is being eclipsed by works-based righteousness.  John Calvin had a similar concern in the 16th century: “We must exercise the utmost caution lest we allow any counterfeit to be substituted for the pure doctrine of the gospel.”

Douglas Bond alerts Christ-followers to this gospel counterfeit in his latest book, Grace Works.  The author shows how this counterfeit gospel has emerged throughout church history.  He demonstrates the subtle shift that took place in European churches that once glowed with Reformation fervor.  He cites several examples of how the gospel has been distorted and continues to be distorted in the contemporary church.

At the heart of the book lies a concern that many believers appear to be confused about the biblical gospel.  While many give lip-service to the doctrine of justification by faith alone, many continue to add requirements which muddy the “waters of grace” in the final analysis.

The author cites Tim Keller approvingly who says, “It is only in the gospel of Jesus Christ that you get the verdict before the performance.”  Bond adds, “Every other religion requires performance before the verdict.  But in the gospel, Christ has stooped down and perfectly obeyed for us, as our substitute.  Jesus the righteous one was righteous in our place.  By the grace of the gospel, performance will follow, but in justification the verdict is already in: we are forever righteous in Christ.  That is immeasurably good news!”

Yet, a stunning number of professing evangelicals are repudiating justification by faith alone by adding requirements which is tantamount to a works-based approach.  The road back to Rome may be paved with good intentions, but thoughtful observers can hear the gnashing of teeth.

Bond warns readers of the subtle ways that law creeps into the gospel, especially when pastors and Christian leaders make obedience a requirement for justifying grace.    Bond adds, “Serious error arises when trusting and obeying are required as concurrent actions the sinner must do in the context of his justification.  Trusting is not sufficient – which is the same as saying that faith alone is not sufficient; you must also obey the law to win God’s final favor.”  Several examples are cited and once again readers are warned to flee from the works-based system of Rome.

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Douglas Bond is to be commended for writing a book that is timely, especially in light of the so-called New Perspective on Paul movement.  The gospel shines brightly in Grace Works.  The doctrines which were rediscovered by the Protestant Reformers are put on display.  The law is put in its proper place as a tutor which leads us to Christ.  Readers are reminded that the law cannot justify; nor can the law sanctify.

My hope is that Grace Works receives a wide readership and that thousands of people will be equipped in gospel-centered reality.  My hope is that many will see the errors of the Roman road; that they will turn back and swim in the waters of free grace and be refreshed by the sola’s of the Reformation!

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

Highly recommended!

CULTURE

ON FIRE FOR CHRIST: Remembering John Rogers (February 4, 1555)

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The smell of burning flesh hung in the air.  The villagers turned their heads and gasped.  Stray dogs fled.  The man’s wife wept bitterly.  His children watched in horror and the smell burned their nostrils.  The stench was a vivid reminder of who sat on the throne.  Mary Tudor ruled with ironclad authority.  Her subjects were obligated to obey.  Any dissenters would pay the ultimate price.  The world would remember her as “Bloody Mary.”

The day was February 4, 1555.  The man roped to the pyre was known well in the British village – a man of humble origins.  A man with bold ambitions and simple obedience to match.  A man who dared to challenge the throne with two simple acts – preaching the Word of God and printing the Matthews-Tyndale Bible.  His name was John Rogers.  Pastor, father, martyr.  He was the first Christ-follower to pay the ultimate price of death during Mary’s bloody reign of terror.  He was the first of hundreds who would die at the hands of this blood-thirst tyrant.

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John Rogers stands in a long parade of God-centered men; men who preached the truth, confronted sin, lived uncompromising lives, and finished strong.  Like Rogers, some were martyred.  Others died of old age or were tormented with disease.  Those who participate in this Christ-exalting parade still have something to say.  Their courage emboldens us.  Their lives inspire us.  Their theology instructs us.  Their devotion moves us to action.

February 4, 2020 marks the anniversary of Roger’s brave march to the pyre.  Over 460 years later, the world is a very different place.  Yet the persecution of Christ-followers has not decreased.  It has increased.  As people committed to the sovereign reign of Jesus stand for truth,  righteousness, and justice – the persecution will grow steadily.  As Christians take a stand against same-sex marriage, abortion, human trafficking, and pornography – the persecution will escalate.  Tolerance is the popular buzzword, yet fidelity to God’s Word will not be tolerated by many in this world.  John Rogers is a reminder to stand firm in the face of adversity.  His picture is glued to the flyleaf of my preaching Bible and beckons me to boldly declare the truth of God’s Word – unashamed, unhindered, and resolute – on fire for Christ!

Semper Reformanda!

BOOK REVIEWS

Created to Draw Near – Edward T. Welch (2019)

Edward T. Welch, Created to Draw Near: Our Life as God’s Royal Priests (Wheaton: Crossway, 2019), 215 pp.

For several years, Edward T. Welch has been on the front lines of the biblical counseling movement. His recent offering, Created to Draw Near: Our Life as God’s Royal Priests is an insightful look at the scope of redemptive history and shows how believers are called upon to draw near to God as his royal priests.

Accordingly, the book is arranged in three parts: 1) Our Past, 2) Jesus Our Tabernacle, and 3) Almost Truly Human. Each section contains a series of short meditations, all of which are designed to show readers that God’s intention all along is for his creatures to draw near into his presence.

This book may take some getting used to for readers. There is a ebb and flow and a strategy that enables readers to see the big picture of God’s grand story. In order to see the forest, though, readers must become familiar with the trees.

“In the weakness of a baby he (Jesus) gave up power. He came to us, and the distance between heaven and earth has been forever recalibrated.”

“God’s laws, at their best, are instructions about how to be in relationship with him. Like any relationship, the more we follow the rules of the relationship – sexual fidelity, truthfulness, serving in love – the more we know intimacy and pleasure.”

“As saints, together we enjoy God’s fellowship, we want to know him even better and love him more, and wee want those who are further away to come near.”

A few noteworthy treasures are noted below. These treasures appear throughout the book and help bolster the original thesis that Dr. Welch advances, namely, that intends his creatures to draw near as God’s royal priests. Welch skillfully achieves his goal in this book, as the book ends with a majestic crescendo, expressed best in Revelation 21:3 – “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.”

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

BOOK REVIEWS

Enough About Me: Finding Lasting Joy in the Age of Self – Jen Oshman (2020)

Jen Oshman, Enough About Me: Finding Lasting Joy in the Age of Self (Wheaton: Crossway, 2020).

Self. The very word makes postmodern people proud. After all, we are encouraged each day to please ourselves, nurture ourselves, and congratulate ourselves. Self-promotion is considered a virtue in our age. This propensity to narcissism is part of the warp and woof of contemporary culture. Self-absorption is so prevalent that Ryan Holiday takes the subject up in his recent book, Ego is the Enemy. It appears that “we” are the hero in our own epic drama. Tragically, this drama has an ending that is anything but happy.

Jen Oshman’s recent book, Enough About Me: Find Lasting Joy in the Age of Self addresses the alarming trend of “me, myself, and I” which has not only invaded the postmodern milieu; it has also subtly crept into the church.

First, Oshman sounds a jolting, yet necessary alarm. She issues a warning that the banner of narcissism is in our midst and it aggressively and relentlessly competes for our attention. While the book is primarily addressed to women, the principles apply across the board. The author notes that we have moved from “relying on self to deifying self,” a shift that has been encouraged as various worldviews have morphed on a godless trajectory.

Second, Oshman moves from cultural diagnosis to theological purpose. She rightly notes the purpose of the Creator as he fashioned people in his image to glorify his name. The contrast between God’s sovereign purposes and our culture is stark:

God says, “I made you in my image to live for my glory.” Culture says, ‘Be self-made in whatever image you like and live for your own glory.’ This is a counterfeit calling, and it’s killing us.'”

Most important is the prescription which is prescribed by the author. This prescription is both radical and exclusive. And it is fixated on a person, namely, the Lord Jesus Christ. Oshman closely follows the Pauline imperative in Colossians 2:6-7 and commends her readers to get rooted in Christ, built up in Christ, and established in Christ. Anything less will lead to frustration and despair in this life.

The dominant message in Enough About Me one of rest and reliance. The author writes, “ … We can really rest – because we are established in Christ. He is in control. And he is good. And he is alive. He always ensures that his will comes to pass for our good and his glory.” This Christ-exalting theme is a sure foundation and is the ultimate antidote for anyone who has grown weary with platitudes and worldly promises.

Enough About Me is a much-needed book, especially for women in the church who are searching for hope and joy in all the wrong places. Jen Oshman is a faithful and reliable guide who offers one answer – the gospel of Jesus Christ. Her wise counsel will benefit readers who find themselves adrift in our postmodern age and help cut through the fog of uncertainty. I trust that Jen’s book will receive a wide readership and benefit many in the days to come.

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