BOOK REVIEWS

Redemptive Reversals – G.K. Beale (2019)

redG.K. Beale, Redemptive Reversals (Wheaton: Crossway, 2019), 189 pp.

Redemptive Reversals and the Ironic Overturning of Human Wisdom by G.K. Beale is the latest installment in the Crossway series, Short Studies in Biblical Theology. Thus far, the books in this series stand on their own merits and make a unique contribution to the field of biblical theology. Dr. Beale’s book is no exception.

Redemptive Reversals marvels at the ironic overturning of human wisdom in seven short chapters that touch on sin, idolatry, salvation, the Christian life, faith, and eschatology.

For me, the chapter addressing idolatry was the most significant. Beale says, “What you revere, you resemble, either for restoration or ruin.” Hence, the idol worshipper finds ultimate misery in what felt like pleasure in the short term. Conversely, the one who worships God finds fulfillment and satisfies the reason for his creation.

Redemptive Reversals caught me by surprise as it takes a bit of a different approach to biblical theology. In the end, this volume is both useful and encouraging. I encourage readers to interact critically and thoughtfully with this excellent material and add it to the growing list of solid resources that bolster the discipline of biblical theology.

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

BOOK REVIEWS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BOOK REVIEWS

The White Flag Unfurled

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

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

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

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

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

BOOK REVIEWS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BOOK REVIEWS

Narrative Apologetics – Alistair McGrath (2019)

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

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

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

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

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

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

BOOK REVIEWS

Sophie and the Heidelberg Cat – Andrew Wilson (2019)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BOOK REVIEWS

The Pursuit of Excellence – George Sweeting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BOOK REVIEWS

Something Needs to Change – David Platt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BOOK REVIEWS

Not Home Yet – Ian K. Smith

not homeIan K. Smith, Not Home Yet (Wheaton: Crossway, 2019), 167 pp.

One of the recent encouraging developments in the church is an interest in biblical theology. 2 Peter 3:13 says, “According to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.” This grand promise is the theme of Ian K. Smith’s recent book, Not Home Yet.

Dr. Smith argues, “Home is where we belong.” Therefore, he urges readers to set their sights and affections on their heavenly home. But some will be surprised to learn that “Jesus’s return to this earth is the focus of the Christian’s hope, and this return will not just be for a visit, to pick us up and take us home to heaven. He is coming to stay. The new Jerusalem will descend to earth, and we will be at home, with Jesus, on earth.”

“The aim of this book,” writes Ian Smith “is to reawaken (resurrect even), a biblical understanding of the earth and God’s mission to it.” The author skillfully guides readers along the biblical plot line that leads them to their heavenly home on the new earth, where they will reside for all of eternity.

Smith’s work is a rich combination of scholarship, yet he never isolates those who have not enjoyed the benefit of a theological education. His writing is clear, straight to the point, a biblical from start to finish. In the end, he accomplishes his objective by re-engaging readers and helping them understand God salvific plan and redemptive purposes for his people.

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

BOOK REVIEWS

Vulnerable: Rethinking Human Trafficking – Raleigh Sadler (2019)

vulRaleigh Sadler, Vulnerable (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2019), 267 pp.

“Preach the gospel – and if necessary use words.” This pithy quote by St. Francis of Assisi has captured the hearts and minds of many. The sentiment sounds right and may even feel right but fails in the final analysis to do justice to the gospel. Yes, the gospel is meant to be lived. Yes, the gospel makes a difference in the lives of others and demands sacrificial service. But St. Francis falls short in the matter of proclamation. We may serve people and love them but if we fail to proclaim the message of the good news, the “gospel” loses its efficacy.

Raleigh Sadler’s book, Vulnerable: Rethinking Human Trafficking works hard to maintain a commitment to proclaiming the gospel and reaching people by engaging them at every level. The heart of the author is unveiled at the beginning of the book and serves as the general theme of the book: “Jesus Christ motivates vulnerable people, like you and me, to love other vulnerable people for us, to the point of death.” Christ’s vulnerability, then, serves as a supreme example for his people and motivates them to love others.

Sadler exposes the trafficking industry and calls Christians to make a difference. His ultimate aim is to eradicate all human trafficking. Vulnerable is filled with stories of people who have been marginalized, manipulated, or trafficked in some way. The interview with Michael Horton is the highlight of the book as Dr. Horton weighs in on the subject of trafficking. “I’m not a co-redeemer with Christ when I’m opposing human trafficking; rather I’m witnessing to that redemption that Christ has already won, and will one day consummate when he returns bodily,” writes Horton. Such a perspective provides a keen biblical balance that remains obedient to Scripture but also steers clear from any liberalizing proclivities of the so-called “social justice” movement.

Vulnerable is not an easy book to read. The pain and suffering that the author reveals, however, is a reality that Christians must face. The only answer is the saving message of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

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