BOOK REVIEWS

Basics For Believers – D.A. Carson

basD.A. Carson, Basics For Believers: The Core of Christian Faith and Life (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2018), 156 pp.

D.A. Carson’s book, Basic For Believers: The Core of Christian Faith and Love is a focused overview on the book of Philippians. Carson tackles Paul’s letter to the Philippians with the care and precision that readers are accustomed to.

Dr. Carson takes five chapters to exposit Paul’s epistle, all of which are packed with gospel-centered reality and principles that encourage and equip followers of Christ. The book is basic enough for new believers to comprehend but also contains a wealth of information that seasoned believers will benefit from.

Christians are encouraged to gaze intently on the cross of Christ, emulate worthy Christian leaders and stand firm in the gospel. The principles are an accurate reflection of Paul’s letter to the Philippians, all of which are timeless and transcendent realities. I commend this work for anyone who seeks a solid treatment of Philippians and needs Christ-centered encouragement in a godless age.

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

BOOK REVIEWS · Theology

THE FLIP THAT FLOPPED: The Consequences of Doctrinal Compromise

President Obama promised to “fundamentally transform the United States of America.”  He has inflipped many respects delivered on that promise with the unveiling of the Affordable Health Care Act and a host of executive orders that are, in the final analysis, out of step with American values.  But give credit where credit is due.  The transformation which the president promised has taken place.  Now, Americans wait for the painful consequences to set in.

In Doug Pagitt’s latest book, “Flipped,” the author sets out to fundamentally transform the classical view of God.   This transformation is creative and innovative.  It is intuitive and will attract the attention of many readers.

Pagitt sets forth three goals at the beginning of the book:

  1. To see that changing your mind, drawing new conclusions, and engaging new ideas all lie at the heart of Jesus’s message and life.
  2. To behold the big, beautiful story of God as you find new ways to live in it.
  3. To invite readers to a full and vibrant life in God.

The basic idea that runs through this book is what the author refers to as a “flip” – which is nothing short of revising one’s views about God, Scripture, and the Christian life in general.  Pagitt adds, “The Flip at the center of this book is one that turned me around as a pastor and a Christian writer as well as my personal life and faith.”

The Flip That Flopped

Several “flips” are addressed in this work.  But the one that keeps surfacing concerns a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of God.  At the heart of this book is a commitment to panentheism.  This worldview, also known as process theology is a radical departure from the traditional understanding of God, yet is receiving a hearing in the emergent church and some liberal churches.  One might consider such a view a halfway house between theism and pantheism.  But make no mistake – panentheism is outside the scope of historical orthodoxy.

All is in God?

To be fair, the author never uses the word, panentheism.  Yet this panentheistic theme runs throughout the book.  Pagitt argues, “God is not a separate single subject … If God were not a separate being from all things in the cosmos, then we need not simply say God exists.  We can say that God is existence.  All is in God.”  Such language is the classic lingo of panentheism.

My initial impression: Surely this is a typo!  The author can’t possibly mean what he is saying.  But as I continued to read, my suspicions were confirmed.  “… All that exists is In God,” writes Pagitt.  He tries to justify this “flip” by appealing to the rationale from Acts 17:28 where Paul quotes Epimenides of Crete: “In him, we live and move and have our being.

In addition to promoting panentheism, the author posits the notion of universalism: “Beyond that, the power of God that was alive in Jesus is alive in us.  In short, the fullness of God is active in humanity without assistance from any religious system.”  He continues, “Instead, we can recognize that all people live, move, and exist In God.”

Evaluation

Flipped is a radical departure from the biblical understanding of God.  The notion that all people “exist In God” simply fails to match the biblical data.  Much to the contrary, we find a distinction between the Creator and the creature.  Whenever one denies such a distinction he makes a dangerous theological move with several critical implications.  What are the implications of denying the Creator-creature distinction?

  • Misreads and misinterprets Scripture.
  • Compromises God’s character.
  • Compromises biblical authority.
  • Minimizes the transcendence of God and emphasizes the immanence of God in biblically inappropriate ways.

Readers should recall how God is truly presented in Scripture.  He is never presented in a panentheistic scheme – ever!  Rather, he is presented as the absolute personal God.  This absolute God is transcendent; that is to say, he is over and above the scope of the universe.  He is distinct and independent of his creation (Isa. 57:15; Isa. 40:10).  He is preeminent  (Isa. 40:25-28; 44:6-8).  Jonathan Edwards adds, “His power is infinite, and none can resist him.  His riches are immense and inexhaustible.  His majesty is infinitely awful.”  And God carries supreme authority over all.  Nothing rivals the supreme authority of God (Job 41:10; 37:9-14).

The Triune God holds all things together.  In a few words, St. Paul demonstrates both the transcendence and the imminence of God: “For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible; whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities – all things were created through him and for him.  And he is before all things, and in him, all things hold together” (Col. 1:16-17, ESV).  God is sovereign (Dan. 4:34-35).  Nothing can thwart his sovereign decrees!  He is distinct from the created order (Acts 17:24-29).  And the Bible tells us that God is wholly other (Isa. 46:9).  This is a far cry from people who “exist In God.”

God is not only absolute; he is personal.  He cares for his creation.  He is intimately involved with his creation and he delights to meet the needs of his creatures.

God is the Sustainer (Col. 1:17; Heb. 1:3).  He is the Healer (2 Chron. 7:14).  He is the Protector (2 Sam. 22:2).  He is the Shepherd (Ps. 23:1-6).  He is the Forgiver (Rom. 5:1).  And Scripture demonstrates the ultimate love that God expressed on the Cross when Jesus died for sinners (Rom. 5:8).

Flipped will likely attract many readers; especially readers who are committed to theological liberalism.  The author seeks to fundamentally transform the vision of God by convincing readers that  “… All that exists is In God.”  The only problem: The view presented here is dead wrong.

A.W. Tozer understood the importance of getting God right.  He rightly noted in his best-selling book, The Knowledge of God:

The gravest question before the Church is always God Himself, and the most [awe-inspiring] fact about any man is not what he at a given time may say or do, but what he in his heart conceives God to be like … So necessary to the Church is a lofty concept of God that when that concept in any measure declines, the Church with her worship and her moral standards decline along with it.  The first step down for any church is taken when it surrenders its high opinion of God.

May followers of Christ heed Tozer’s advice.  We certainly do not need to flip our views of God.  Any deviation from the biblical vision of God will have tragic consequences in the church and the culture in which she seeks to minister.  Any flip will become a flop that ignores the clear teaching of Scripture.

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

 

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

Reformed Preaching – Joel Beeke (2018)

refJoel Beeke, Reformed Preaching (Wheaton: Crossway, 2018), 475 pp.

Preaching the Word of God is at the very center of pastoral ministry. Indeed, the task of preaching God’s Word that should occupy a good portion of the pastoral week. Neglecting this critical responsibility results in weak sheep who are unable to discern the times. Minimizing or marginalizing preaching always leads to a malnourished flock.

Joel R. Beeke addresses the matter of preaching in his latest volume. Reformed Preaching: Proclaiming God’s Word from the Heart of the Preacher to the Heart of the People underscores the importance of the preaching task and inspires every expositor who is set on obeying the biblical mandate. Beeke alerts readers to his purpose early in the book:

May God graciously use this book to promote God-honoring preaching that addresses the real needs of his people – preaching that is not only biblically doctrinal, covenantal, historian-redemptive, and practical, but also biblically and warmly experiential both in its applicators and discriminatory dimensions for the building up of the universal church.

At the center of Beeke’s concern is preaching that engages the affections, a quality that is sorely absent from many Reformed pulpits. He offers a stern warning for preachers who provide good instruction but fail to nourish the flock of God! This identical concern also occupied the attention of Jonathan Edwards:

I should think myself in the way of my duty to raise the affections of my hearers as high as I possibly can, provided that they are affected with nothing but the truth … Our people don’t so much need to have their heads stored, as to have their hearts touched; and they stand in the greatest need of that sort of preaching that has the greatest tendency to do this.

Herein lies the dilemma for the preacher – engaging both the head as well as the heart. Tragically, too many Reformed preacher’s aim for the head and miss the heart altogether. Beeke’s work seeks to remedy this dreadful state of affairs. This work focuses on three areas that help accomplish the above objective.

Part One describes Reformed experiential preaching. Beeke writes, “Reformed experiential preaching uses the truth of Scripture to shine the glory of God into the depths of the soul to call people to live solely and wholly for God.” Such preaching “reaches people where they are in the trenches and gives them tactics and hope for the battle.” Beeke offers several benchmarks that help shore up the definition of Reformed expository preaching:

  • Tests genuine Christian experience by the standard of biblical truth – idealistically, realistically, and optimistically.
  • Draws lines distinguishing between believers and unbelievers.
  • Makes frequent and wise application of truth to life.
  • Balances biblical, doctrinal, experiential, and practical elements.
  • Cultivates a life of communion with our God and Savior.
  • Builds experience upon the foundation of Scripture.
  • Goes beyond contemporary superficiality into the deep wisdom of old paths.
  • Offers food to satisfy the new spiritual sense of the believer’s soul.
  • Touches the heart with the bitterness of sin and the sweetness of grace.

Experiential preaching passionately proclaims the timeless truths of Scripture without apology. Experiential preaching is deeply Reformed, that is, “it helps people to see God as the great King of grace, present and working at all times and places to carry out his wise plan of eternal love.”

Part Two illustrates Reformed experiential preaching. Fifteen chapters are packed with examples of how to preach in this fashion. The like of Calvin, Goodwin, Bunyan, Edwards, and contemporary pastors like Lloyd-Jones are presented which provide a wealth of information and inspiration. This section is historically illuminating and practical from start to finish.

Part Three addresses preaching experientially today. A host of lessons are set forth for contemporary preachers to meditate upon and immediately apply. Beeke urges preachers to be balanced in their approach: “We must speak with the tenderness of a nursing mother and the earnest love of a father, sharing with them not only the truth but opening our very souls to them.”

The author encourages preachers to be bold, even when some react with scorn to biblical dogma: “At first a sinner may dread and hate God’s sovereignty. But when convinced of his responsibility to repent and his inability to do so, God’s sovereignty becomes the sweetest of attributes, for only a sovereign Savior can help us.”

Above all, our preaching must be Christ-centered. This theme occurs again and again in this volume, leaving preachers no room to equivocate or compromise. Preachers are reminded that “it is a fact of human nature that men would rather do penance (to try to atone for sin by doing good works) than repent (to hate and forsake sin). Therefore, faithful preachers must be Christ-centered as they stand behind the pulpit.

It is exceedingly difficult to convey the depth and richness of Joel Beeke’s Reformed Preaching. This volume is educational, inspirational, and will serve preachers for many years to come. I eagerly commend this work and trust that it will be a mighty tool for many and fervently pray that the flock of God will be better nourished as a result of this marvelous book!

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

BOOK REVIEWS

The Ten Commandments – Kevin DeYoung

deyoungKevin DeYoung, The Ten Commandments (Wheaton: Crossway, 2018), 190 pp.

Ask anyone if they are familiar with the Ten Commandments and the answer will be in the affirmative. But ask that same person to recite the ten commandments by memory. The results will not be as encouraging, even among professing Christians.

Kevin DeYoung devotes his latest book, The Ten Commandments to explaining and exploring these ten imperatives. The subtitle describes the essence of the book: What They Mean, Why They Matter, and Why We Should Obey Them.

DeYoung carefully guides readers through each commandment, grounding his exposition in Scripture and applying his explanation to the real-world needs of contemporary people. Each chapter focuses on one commandment in particular and is set forth in a clear and understandable way.

I found The Ten Commandments  to be deeply encouraging and challenging. DeYoung’s writing is engaging and draws readers from different backgrounds to one conclusion: These commandments are for today. But in the final analysis, they lead us directly to the cross of Christ. Indeed, as DeYoung writes,

“We can no longer keep the Ten Commandments rightly unless we keep them in Christ, through Christ, and with a view to the all-surpassing greatness of Christ. As new creations in Christ, the law is not only our duty but also our delight. If we want to love Christ as he deserves and as he desires, we will keep his commandments.”

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

Biography · BOOK REVIEWS · Calvinism · Church History · MARTIN LUTHER · Preaching · Reformation · The Gospel · Theology

The Legacy of Luther – R.C. Sproul and Stephen Nichols, Ed.

lutherR.C. Sproul and Stephen J. Nichols, The Legacy of Luther. Sanford: Reformation Trust Publishing, 2016, 308 pp. $15.66

On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed the Ninety-Five Theses to the castle door in Wittenberg. One act of courage sparked a theological firestorm in Germany that set the world able in a matter of days. Spreading like wildfire, thousands were introduced to the gospel, which is received by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.

The Legacy of Luther celebrates the accomplishments of this godly man. Edited by R.C. Sproul and Stephen Nichols, the book surveys Luther’s life, thought, and ultimately his legacy. A wide range of pastors and theologians contribute to this volume; men like Steven J. Lawson, Michael Horton, Sinclair Ferguson, and Derek Thomas, to name a few.

The Legacy of Luther is a sweeping look at the German Reformer. The book contains basic information that will appeal to first-time students of Luther. But it is also filled with a wealth of information that will satisfy the most deeply entrenched Luther scholar.

The Legacy of Luther certainly honors a significant man who stands head and shoulders above most others in church history. But at the end of the day, the book does not exalt a man; the book exalts the gospel of grace and celebrates the accomplishments of our Savior. The neglected gospel truths which were recovered by the Reformers are proclaimed with passion in zeal in this important volume.

Readers may be interested in my recently published book, Bold Reformer: Celebrating the Gospel-Centered Convictions of Martin Luther.

BOOK REVIEWS · Theology

WHAT WE TALK ABOUT WHEN WE TALK ABOUT GOD – Rob Bell (2013)

0062049666_lI am a disturbed man.  I am disturbed because people compromise the truth.  I am disturbed because people marginalize the truth and swerve away from biblical reality.  I am disturbed because a great communicator with a bright mind and a love for people continues down a rocky path.  On Tuesday, March 12, Rob Bell unveiled his newest book, What We Talk About When We Talk About God.  I am disturbed because one group of people uncritically accepts anything that comes off the end of Bell’s pen.  On the other hand, I am disturbed by Christians who refuse to debate civilly with the likes of Bell.   Instead, they cast stones and call names.  They protest outside at his speaking events and drop nasty one liners on Facebook.   Surely, there must be a better way!

In Bell’s previous offering,  Love Wins,  several fundamental doctrines were undermined, most notably the doctrine of hell.  Bell argued then, “If we want hell, if we want heaven, they are ours.  That’s how love works.  It can’t be forced, manipulated, or coerced.  It always leaves room for the other to decide.  God says yes, we can have what we want, because love wins.”  The author continues, “Restoration brings God glory; eternal torment doesn’t.  Reconciliation brings God glory; endless anguish doesn’t.  Renewal and return cause God’s greatness to shine through the universe; never-ending punishment doesn’t.”

The author continues the dialogue (according to emergent standards)  in What We Talk About When We Talk About God.  The writing is witty and inquisitive.  Bell has mastered the art of asking questions and has adjusted his eyes and tuned his ears in order to understand postmodern culture.

One of Bell’s central claims in the book is this: “We have a problem with God.”  He argues that many people are rethinking the nature of God.  Personally, I think that Bell is on to something here.  He is keenly aware of a shift that appears to be taking place in the minds of some people that concerns the nature of God.  Consider some of the ways that the nature of God has been recast in recent years, especially with the rise of open theism, inclusivism, and universalism.   Bell is not only aware of this “mind-shift” that has to do with the nature of God; he embraces it himself.  He compares God to the classic Oldsmobile.  This old car served many people in its day but has since been proven irrelevant.  Bell ponders what he calls the “tribal God” – “…  the one who’s always right (which means everybody else is wrong) – is increasingly perceived to be small, narrow, irrelevant, mean, and sometimes just not that intelligent.”  Bell quips, “Is God going to be left behind? Like Oldsmobiles?”

What We Talk About When We Talk About God essentially argues that the old view of God (the Oldsmobile view) is outdated and needs to be updated.  The argument revolves around three words: “With, For, and Ahead.”  Essentially, Bell argues that God is with us, for us, and ahead of us –  all of us.

With: God is with us.  He is the “energy, the glue, the force, the life, the power, and the source of all we know to be the depth, fullness, and vitality of life from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows and everything in between.”

For: God is for us.  “I believe God is for every single one of us, regardless of our beliefs or perspectives or actions or failures or mistakes or sins or opinions about whether God exists or not.”

Ahead: God is ahead of us.  “It’s as if human history were progressing along a trajectory, an arc, a continuum; and sacred history is the capturing and recording of those moments when people became aware that they were being called and drawn and pulled forward by the divine force and power and energy that gives life to everything.”

These affirmations are all very interesting and will likely receive much positive feedback.  But do they stand up to the scrutiny of Scripture?  I offer four specific critiques that go to the core of the book.

1. Being Certain About Certitude

Bell stands shoulder to shoulder with postmodern thinkers who mock the possibility of certitude.  Anyone who has studied the Enlightenment (Christian and non-Christian alike) will admit a posture of arrogance during these days.  But certitude does not necessarily entail an arrogant attitude.  Indeed, even Bell is pleading for a particular kind of knowledge that is wedded with humility.   Orthodoxy should include bold propositions and large doses of humility.

What is troubling about Bell’s discomfort with certitude is that certitude appears throughout the book.  His certitude about the world, the laws of physics, and the nature of God conflicts with the argument against certitude!

2. A Failure to Distinguish Between Law and Gospel

I am increasingly aware of and concerned with Christian thinkers who fail to distinguish between law and gospel.  What is concerning about this particular work is that neither emerge clearly.  When the author argues that “God is for every single one of us” law is essentially extinguished.  Additionally, the gospel appears to be inclusive; it is a gospel that appears to cut across all kinds of theological traditions, including traditions that fall outside the pale of orthodoxy.

3. A Failure to Distinguish Between the Creator and the Creature    

The notion that God is “with us,” “for us,” and “ahead of us leads readers away from the importance of the Creator-creature distinction.  The apostle Paul made this distinction plain in his message to the philosophers in Athens: “The God who made the world and everything in it, being the Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything” (Acts 17:24-25, ESV).

Acts 17:22-31 reveals a Creator God who is the cosmos shaper, the kingdom shaker who lives above creation.  He is the all-sufficient Ruler, Life Giver, and Destiny Maker.  And he is the righteous Judge who “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 …” (Acts 17:30-31, ESV).

And Scripture speaks of the creature who was created by God (Gen. 2:7).  The creatures (Adam and Eve) were originally free from sin but fell and as a result became sinners by nature and by choice (Gen. 3:1-7).  As such, these sinful creatures have no inherent righteousness, no desire for God (Rom. 3:10-11).  Subsequently, all creatures are born with a hatred in their hearts for God (Rom. 8:7-8).  They are dead in sin (Eph. 2:1-3), and they are enslaved in sin; totally unable to come to Christ apart from God’s empowerment (John 6:44).  These creatures are dependent upon God for everything.  These creatures, while given the ability to make free choices, are determined (Acts 17:26; Prov. 19:21; 21:1).  And these creatures are accountable to a righteous and sovereign Judge (Rom. 2:5-11).

4. A Failure to Reveal the Whole Truth About God

The notion that God is “with us,” “for us,” and “ahead of us (every single one of us) may sound good initially but falls short of the biblical model.  It is true that God is with his people.  We see this especially in the incarnation of Jesus, the One who is named Immanuel – or God with us (Matt. 1:23).  Yet God is not “with” the man who  has rejected the revelation of God in Christ.  “… Whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him” (John 3:36).

It is true that God is “for us” – that is to say, he is for his people.  “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38–39, ESV).  Yet God is not “for” the man who has rejected the promises and purposes of God.  He resists the proud (Jas. 4:6; 1 Pet. 5:5).

And it is true that God is “ahead of us” – he works on behalf of his people (Isa. 64:4).  Indeed, he works all things for good – but not for all.  The promise in Romans 8:28 is this: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28, ESV).  And Scripture is clear on this point: God does not give sovereign grace to all people.  “For many are called, but few are chosen”” (Matthew 22:14, ESV).  The one who resists God’s authority; the one who refuses to take refuge in God will endure the wrath of almighty God (Ps. 2:12; Deut. 32:35; Rom. 1:18-24).

The model presented in What We Talk About When We Talk About God  appears to have something in common with panentheism which says that the world is “in” God.  So in the final analysis, the book appears to make much of God’s immanence and make light of his transcendence.

A.W. Tozer rightly said, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.”    Tozer continues, “Among the sins to which the human heart is prone, hardly any other is more hateful to God than idolatry, for idolatry is at bottom a libel on His character.  The idolatrous heart assumes that God is other than He is – in itself a monstrous sin – and substitutes for the true God one made after its own likeness.”  Therefore, we must beware of our propensity to fashion a god that suits our particular needs.  We must always subject our vision of God to the Scriptures and allow God’s Word to have the final say.

My plea to fellow evangelicals who disagree with Bell is to engage with biblically minded sensibility.  Name calling and ad hominem attacks must stop.  May our debates with those whom we disagree be filled with kindness, humility, meekness, and patience (Col. 3:12).  And when we talk about God, may our talk reflect the biblical vision of God that emerges in Scripture.  May we bow before his transcendent majesty.  May his holiness stop us dead in our tracks.  May we find comfort in his immanence – for he finds great delight in working for his people.  May we marvel at and worship this great God who tends “his flock like a shepherd and gathers the lambs in his arms” (Isa. 40:11).

Soli Deo Gloria!

 

 

BOOK REVIEWS

The Church in Babylon – Erwin Lutzer (2018)

babyErwin W. Lutzer, The Church in Babylon (Chicago: Moody Press, 2018), 295 pp.

These are perilous times, especially for Bible-believing Christians. We are daily faced with bowing down to an increasingly secularized culture and capitulating our Christian beliefs. Indeed, as one wise writer says, “He who marries the spirit of the age will soon become a widower.” While the zeitgeist beckons us to bow, the call of Christ towers above culture and has transcendent authority over every principality. It is in this context that Dr. Erwin Lutzer seeks to encourage readers in his latest work, The Church in Babylon: Heeding the Call to Be a Light in the Darkness.

Lutzer challenges readers to be bold and courageous in these compromised times: “We have to be a church that is, in some ways, repulsive to the world because of our authentic holiness and yet very attractive to the world because of our love and care.” In other words, as Lutzer says, “If we are not distinct from the world, we will have nothing to say to the world.” The author immediately places his finger on the essence of the problem – which is addressed in the remainder of the book.

The Church in Babylon is a multi-layered invitation. It is an invitation to fight. It is an invitation to invitation to faithfulness. And it is an invitation to flee from the darkness. When Christians commit themselves to live faithful lives in a postmodern culture, they experience the blessing of God.

The Church in Babylon is not only a multi-layered invitation; it is a multi-layered challenge. The author challenges readers to stand strong by defending the faith. He urges them to fearlessly proclaim the message of the gospel. And he prompts them to be people of prayer and power.

Ultimately, the church is called to love people: “The church that survives in Babylon is one whose members accept their lot with both sorrow,  but also a joy that is inexplicable. It is a church that attempts to silence its critics by its authenticity and commitment to others. It is a church that is willing to follow Jesus all the way to the cross.”

The Church in Babylon is Erwin Lutzer at his best. His passionate appeal to faithful Christian living will deeply encourage many Christians as they face trials and temptations in contemporary culture. Lutzer’s work would work nicely in an adult Sunday School class and should also be utilized in youth groups.

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

BOOK REVIEWS

Spirit-Filled Jesus – Mark Driscoll

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Mark Driscoll, Spirit-Filled Jesus (Lake Mary: Charisma Media), 242 pp.

Some writers have a unique ability to gather a crowd and speak to their needs. Mark Driscoll is such a writer. He has a solid understanding of Scripture. And he has a grasp of people and contemporary culture. As such, he is able to communicate in a way that is both challenging and comforting.

Driscoll’s latest book, Spirit-Filled Jesus invites readers to consider the Spirit-filled life of Jesus, which will enable them to live by his power. The author presents Christ in a way that is biblical and balanced. His Christological treatment is also consistent with creedal formulations, which are widely accepted. This treatment is a helpful introduction to new believers or students who are not versed in theology.

Driscoll is careful to make direct applications which aim directly at the heart of readers. He does not shy away from confronting sin but in doing so his approach is gracious and understanding.

One concern should be noted. First, while the book is solid as mentioned above, much of the work does not focus on the subject at hand, namely, the Spirit-filled Jesus. While the material is useful and biblically consistent, it appears off the beaten path at times. Such an approach is distracting and unhelpful.

In the final analysis, Spirit-Filled Jesus will prove helpful to Christians just getting started in the Christian race. It is a basic overview of applied Christology and Pneumatology. Seasoned believers, however, will be disappointed and may choose to look elsewhere.

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

BOOK REVIEWS · Mending the Achilles Heel: A Biblical Response to the Problem of Evil · Theology · VERITAS FELLOWSHIP

THE ENCHIRIDION – Aurelius Augustine (420 A.D.)

The Enchiridion (a book that contains key information on a particular subject), by Aurelius Augustine is a handbook of Christian doctrine that provides brief answers to Laurentius, one of Augustine’s friends.  The book is divided into three sections, the first of which is a brief exposition of the Apostles’ Creed.  The second part contains a basic exposition of the Lord’s Prayer.  The third part focuses on the Gospel.

Augustine begins by acknowledging the request of Laurentius, namely, a handbook with answers to the big questions of life.  The author articulates a few of these questions: “What ought to be man’s chief end in life; what he ought, in view of the various heresies, chiefly to avoid; to what extent religion is supported by reason; what there is in reason that lends no support to faith, when faith stands alone; what is the starting point, what the goal, of religion …”  Augustine maintains that his disciple can know the answers to all of the above questions, so long as he thoroughly knows the “proper objects of faith, hope, and love.”

Augustine boils down a piece of essential knowledge that is required for all who follow Christ, namely, that the goodness of the Creator created all things.  It is refreshing to hear the simplicity of Augustine’s message regarding origins; a message that comes almost 1,500 years before the scandalous musings of Charles Darwin: “It is enough for the Christian to believe that the only cause of all created things, whether heavenly or earthly, whether visible or invisible, is the goodness of the Creator, the one true God; and that nothing exists but Himself that does not derive its existence from Him; and that He is the Trinity – to wit, the Father, and the Son begotten of the Father, and the Son begotten of the Father, and the Holy Spirit proceeding from the same Father, but one and the same Spirit of Father and Son.”

Augustine wrestles with the problem of evil and holds that evil is the absence of good.  In other words, it is possible for evil to exist in a universe that was originally created as good.  Or to put it another way, evil is dependent upon goodness.  He writes, “There can be no evil where there is no good; and an evil man is an evil good.”

Augustine maintains the God, who is omnipotent is a good God, even when he permits evil: “Although, therefore, evil, in so far as it is evil as good exists, is a good.  For if it were not a good that evil should exist, its existence would not be permitted by the omnipotent Good, who without doubt can as easily refuse to permit what He does not wish, as bring about what He does wish.”

The author addresses the nature of free grace and responds to the Pelagianism that was corrupting the church in the fifth century (and continues to poison many contemporary churches): “Men are not saved by good works, nor by the free determination of their own will, but by the grace of God through faith … So when man by his own free will sinned, then sin being victorious over him, the freedom of his will was lost.”

Thoughtful readers will graciously pass by Augustine’s erroneous promotion of paedo-baptism; they will refuse to “throw the baby out with the bathwater!”  Draining the bathwater would preclude the reader from profiting from Augustine’s theological insight.  These insights include but are not limited to:

1) The importance of building a strong and biblical doctrinal foundation.

2) The importance of exercising discernment with professors of Christianity.

3) The importance of personal discipleship.

4) The importance of developing a Christian worldview, especially in regards to the Creator-creature distinction.

5) The folly of free will apart from grace and the liberty that new creatures receive in Christ.

6) The sinfulness of sin, the bondage and slavery of unregenerate man, and the necessity of a Redeemer.

Read the thermometer in our postmodern climate.  It nearly always reads, “trivial,” “banal,”  “superficial,” or “amusement.”  Augustine’s Enchiridion provides a much needed shot of meaty mercury! Read it with an open Bible and a pen in hand.

Tolle Lege!