BOOK REVIEWS · Calvinism · JONATHAN EDWARDS · Jonathan Edwards

True Grace, Distinguished From the Experience of Devils – Jonathan Edwards (1752)

Jonathan_Edwards_engravingOn September 28, 1752, Jonathan Edwards was invited to preach a sermon before the Presbyterian Synod of New York.  His son-in-law, Aaron Burr (who had recently married his daughter Esther) was the president of the College of New Jersey and undoubtedly had an influence in the invitation that Edwards received.

James 2:19 is the text that Edwards utilizes – You believe that God is one; you do that well.  Even the demons believe – and shudder!

Doctrine

Nothing in the mind of man, that is of the same nature with what the devils experience, or are the subjects of, is any sure sign of saving grace.

Edwards essentially argues this: there is no sign of grace in demons.  Three propositions drive the doctrine which he presents.

  1. The devils have no degree of holiness: and therefore, those things, which are nothing beyond what they are the subjects of, cannot be holy experiences.
  2. The devils are not only absolutely without all true holiness, but they are not so much as the subjects of any common grace.
  3. It is unreasonable to suppose, that a person’s being in any respect as the devil is, should be a certain sign, that he is very unlike, and opposite to him; and hereafter, shall not have his part with him.

Edwards includes a series of improvements or inferences which assist his hearers and instruct them in the Christian faith.

First, Nothing that damned men do, or ever will experience, can be any sure sign of grace.

Second, No degree of speculative knowledge of things of religion, is any certain sign of saving grace.

Third, For persons merely to yield to a speculative assent to the doctrines of religion as true, is no certain evidence of a state of grace.

Fourth, [Converted men] have been the subjects of very great distress and terrors of mind, through apprehensions of God’s wrath, and fears of damnation.

Fifth, It may be further inferred from the doctrine, that no work of the law on men’s hearts, in conviction of guilt, and just desert of punishment, is a sure argument, that a person has been savingly converted. 

Sixth, It is no certain sign of grace, that persons have earnest desires and longings after salvation.

Seventh, Persons who have no grace may have a great apprehension of an external glory.

Edwards demonstrates in stroke after stroke how and why the devils lack saving grace.  He applies his thesis to the hearts of men as noted above.  Once again, the Puritan divine accurately diagnoses the human condition apart from grace.  But he concludes by contrasting the graceless state of devils with the gracious state of a person who trusts Christ: “By this, above all other things, do men glorify God.   By this, above all other things, do the saints shine as lights in the world, and are blessings to mankind.”    It is here where Edwards draws his readers and those who would listen to this sermon – to the fountain of grace which never ends!

 

BOOK REVIEWS · Calvinism · JONATHAN EDWARDS · Jonathan Edwards

True Grace, Distinguished From the Experience of Devils – Jonathan Edwards (1752)

Jonathan_Edwards_engravingOn September 28, 1752, Jonathan Edwards was invited to preach a sermon before the Presbyterian Synod of New York.  His son-in-law, Aaron Burr (who had recently married his daughter Esther) was the president of the College of New Jersey and undoubtedly had an influence in the invitation that Edwards received.

James 2:19 is the text that Edwards utilizes – You believe that God is one; you do that well.  Even the demons believe – and shudder!

Doctrine

Nothing in the mind of man, that is of the same nature with what the devils experience, or are the subjects of, is any sure sign of saving grace.

Edwards essentially argues this: there is no sign of grace in demons.  Three propositions drive the doctrine which he presents.

  1. The devils have no degree of holiness: and therefore, those things, which are nothing beyond what they are the subjects of, cannot be holy experiences.
  2. The devils are not only absolutely without all true holiness, but they are not so much as the subjects of any common grace.
  3. It is unreasonable to suppose, that a person’s being in any respect as the devil is, should be a certain sign, that he is very unlike, and opposite to him; and hereafter, shall not have his part with him.

Edwards includes a series of improvements or inferences which assist his hearers and instruct them in the Christian faith.

First, Nothing that damned men do, or ever will experience, can be any sure sign of grace.

Second, No degree of speculative knowledge of things of religion, is any certain sign of saving grace.

Third, For persons merely to yield to a speculative assent to the doctrines of religion as true, is no certain evidence of a state of grace.

Fourth, [Converted men] have been the subjects of very great distress and terrors of mind, through apprehensions of God’s wrath, and fears of damnation.

Fifth, It may be further inferred from the doctrine, that no work of the law on men’s hearts, in conviction of guilt, and just desert of punishment, is a sure argument, that a person has been savingly converted. 

Sixth, It is no certain sign of grace, that persons have earnest desires and longings after salvation.

Seventh, Persons who have no grace may have a great apprehension of an external glory.

Edwards demonstrates in stroke after stroke how and why the devils lack saving grace.  He applies his thesis to the hearts of men as noted above.  Once again, the Puritan divine accurately diagnoses the human condition apart from grace.  But he concludes by contrasting the graceless state of devils with the gracious state of a person who trusts Christ: “By this, above all other things, do men glorify God.   By this, above all other things, do the saints shine as lights in the world, and are blessings to mankind.”    It is here where Edwards draws his readers and those who would listen to this sermon – to the fountain of grace which never ends!

 

BOOK REVIEWS · Calvinism · CHRISTIAN LIFE · Culture

The Lordship of Christ: Serving Our Savior All of the Time, In All of Life, With All of Our Heart – Vern Poythress

Vern Poythress. The Lordship of Christ: Serving Our Savior All of the Time, In All of Life, With All of Our Heart. Wheaton: Crosswaypoy
Books, 2016. 224 pp. $14.49

The Dutch statesman, Abraham Kuyper famously said, “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine.’” Such is the theme of the recent book by Vern Poythress, The Lordship of Christ: Serving Our Savior All of the Time, In All of Life, with All of Our Heart.

Poythress attempts to show readers that the Lordship of Christ extends to every area of life, including politics, science, art, the future, education, and work. Nothing is excluded.

The author sets the stage by making the crucial assertion that the lordship of Christ extends to believers and unbelievers alike. No one is excluded. Every atheist, agnostic, neo-pagan, gnostic, new ager, evolutionist, and every Christian is subject to the lordship of Christ. The general tone of the book is to help readers understand the implications of living in a world where Christ is Lord over all.

Poythress carefully establishes the basis for a Christian worldview which is grounded in absolute surrender to Jesus Christ: “To confess Jesus to be Lord is to confess him to be God, the same God who is the God of Israel and who created the world.” Poythress continues, “Jesus is therefore worthy of absolute allegiance. In giving allegiance to Jesus we are at the same time giving allegiance to God the Father and God the Holy Spirit, because the three persons are God.”

At the end of the day, every person who stands under Christ’s lordship also recognizes that glorifying him brings the highest measure of satisfaction. Poythress observes, “We find our deepest satisfaction and the deepest fulfillment of who we are – who we were created to be – when we serve God: ‘Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.’”

One of the most helpful aspects of this book is a basic repackaging of Cornelius Van Til’s apologetic method. Standing with Van Til, Poythress demonstrates the principle of antithesis (which was also popularized by Francis A. Schaeffer). The author demonstrates how knowledge is always derived from God and is therefore, never autonomous: “We must not seek knowledge autonomously, in independence from or isolation from God’s words. That is a form of rebellion, which dishonors God’s way of living. When there seems to be a tension between God’s word in Scripture and what we are learning from other sources, Scripture has the priority because it is the word of God.”

Some books are meant to be nibbled at; others are meant to be devoured. The Lordship of Christ is of the later sort. This is a serious book for anyone who is serious about pursuing Christ and glorifying him in every arena of life. College students and Seminarians should devour this wonderful book and find great freedom in living under the authority and lordship of Jesus.

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

BOOK REVIEWS · Calvinism · Theology

Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Christian Belief – John Frame (2013)

a frameHow does one review a systematic theology by one of the leading minds of the evangelical world?  How does one summarize the thoughts of a 1,100-page book that towers with truth; a book that takes readers to the top of the theological mountain?  Anyone who attempts to read and devour Systematic Theology by John Frame will be faced with such questions.  Indeed, while the oxygen is scarce at the top of this theological peak, readers will be delighted to enjoy the view that Dr. Frame presents.  As one might expect, every branch of systematic theology is explored.  The author invites readers on a journey which introduces them to God who relates to creatures as their covenant Lord.  The three lordship attributes are articulated throughout the book – control, authority, and presence.

Several thoughts help capture the essence of this incredible book.  While some will be put off by such thoughts, my hope is that a majority of readers will be motivated and inspired to pick up Dr. Frame’s work.  This powerful book is marked by at least ten features:

  1. It is God-Centered
  2. It is Scripture-soaked
  3. It is unashamedly Calvinistic
  4. It is conservative
  5. It exposes liberal scholarship and lays bare its erroneous presuppositions
  6. It is biblical
  7. It is mind-penetrating
  8. It is heart-softening
  9. It is personal
  10. It leads readers to worship God

Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Christian Belief by John Frame is a theological tour de force.   This weighty volume is drenched with Scripture and is drowning with biblical wisdom.  I cannot think of any other writer who has influenced my thinking, outside of Jonathan Edwards himself.  This work is a true labor of love, a gift to the church, and a tool that will sharpen the minds of Christ-followers and serve as a heart-tenderizer for many years to come!

Highly recommended

5 stars

Apologetics and Worldview · BOOK REVIEWS · Calvinism · CHRISTIAN LIFE · Theology

Walking With God Through Pain and Suffering – Timothy Keller

kellerI have yet to meet a person who enjoys pain and suffering.  Yet suffering is a part of the warp and woof of life.  It is not a part of God’s original intent for creation.  Since Adam’s first sin, pain and suffering have been an abnormal part of the cosmos.  Suffering is an unwelcome guest who bullies his way to the table and makes demands – much like a  soldier on a bloody battlefield.

Walking With God Through Pain and Suffering by Timothy Keller addresses this topic with candor and clarity.  Keller leaves no stone unturned here.  The book is organized into three sections:

Understanding the Furnace

Keller introduces the problem of pain and suffering and explores some of the philosophical challenges that Christ-followers must understand and address.

“Nothing is more important than to learn how to maintain a life of purpose in the midst of painful adversity,” writes Keller.  Yet our culture has a tendency to respond to suffering in ways that are helpful and wrongheaded.  The moralist response to suffering is to “do good.”  The fatalist’s response to suffering is to “hang in there” and “endure.”  The dualist response to suffering is “purified faithfulness.”  And the secular response to suffering is focussed on “technique.”  A combination of these erroneous responses to suffering litter the current milieu and produce a generation of confused and discouraged people.

Keller rightly alerts readers to the importance of worldviews and their relation to the subject of pain and suffering.  Ultimately, the matter of pain and suffering is a matter of faith.  “Faith,” writes Keller “is the promise of God.”  He adds, “We can be fully accepted and counted legally righteous in God’s sight through faith in Christ, solely by free grace … It means freedom from fear of the future, from any anxiety about your eternal destiny.  It is the most liberating idea possible and it ultimately enables you to face all suffering, knowing that because of the cross, God is absolutely for you and that because of the resurrection, everything will be all right in the end.”

Facing the Furnace

Part two provides readers with the theological muscle – a crucial part of the battle.  Keller unpacks the doctrine of God’s sovereignty and provides a painful but biblical rationale for the role of suffering the lives of people.

At the heart of this discussion is an important look at the suffering of the Lord Jesus Christ.  The author summarizes, “That is, in order to satisfy justice, in order to punish sin so that in love he could forgive and receive us, God had to bear the penalty for sin within himself.  God the Son took the punishment we deserved, including being cut off from the Father.  And so God took into his own self, his own heart, an infinite agony – out of love for us.”

Keller’s treatment in part two travels great distances to help resolve the problem of evil – the so-called “Achilles heal” of the Christian faith: “So while Christianity never claims to be able to offer a full explanation of all God’s reasons behind every instance of evil and suffering – it does have a final answer to it.  The answer will be given at the end of history and all who hear it and see its fulfillment will find it completely satisfying, infinitely sufficient.”

While Keller never attempts to provide a comprehensive answer to the problem of evil, his treatment of this thorny subject is some of the best in print.  He may not satisfy the disciples of David Hume, Voltaire, or Sam Harris – but he does give ample ammunition for believers who are looking for honest answers.

Walking With God in the Furnace

Parts one and two explore the philosophical and theological angles of pain and suffering.  Part three helps readers with practical application.  They are given practical tools for “walking with God in the furnace.”  The very notion of walking with God in the furnace assumes pain – pain that some are unwilling to admit.  But practical experience reveals that we live in a broken world; a world which has been torn to shreds by the consequences of sin.

Keller urges readers to walk with God in suffering: “If you go into the furnace without the gospel, it will not be possible to find God in there.  You will be sure he has done terrible wrong or you have and you will feel all alone.  Going into the fire without the gospel is the most dangerous thing anyone can do.”  So the gospel is the first and last defense of every Christ-follower; indeed it is the hope of the watching world.

Second, the author stresses the importance of weeping during seasons of adversity.  Elijah serves as an example of a man who cried out in great agony.  He was a man unafraid of weeping.  Such an approach is not only honest – it is a sign of emotional health.

Third, Keller demonstrates the need for trusting in God during days of pain and adversity.    Joseph is portrayed as an example of a man who trusted: If the story of Joseph and the whole of the Bible is true, then anything that comes into your life is something that, as painful as it is, you need in some way.”  Jesus too demonstrated trust in his Father and points believers in the identical direction.  Keller continues to alert readers to other tools that they should utilize during their dark days.

Walking With God Through Pain and Suffering is a watershed book that deserves to be read.  Christ-followers will no doubt be encouraged by this Christ-exalting book; a book which drives readers to the cross of the suffering Savior.

Highly recommended!

BOOK REVIEWS · Calvinism · Theology

Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Christian Belief – John Frame (2013)

a frameHow does one review a systematic theology by one of the leading minds of the evangelical world?  How does one summarize the thoughts of a 1,100-page book that towers with truth; a book that takes readers to the top of the theological mountain?  Anyone who attempts to read and devour Systematic Theology by John Frame will be faced with such questions.  Indeed, while the oxygen is scarce at the top of this theological peak, readers will be delighted to enjoy the view that Dr. Frame presents.  As one might expect, every branch of systematic theology is explored.  The author invites readers on a journey which introduces them to God who relates to creatures as their covenant Lord.  The three lordship attributes are articulated throughout the book – control, authority, and presence.

Several thoughts help capture the essence of this incredible book.  While some will be put off by such thoughts, my hope is that a majority of readers will be motivated and inspired to pick up Dr. Frame’s work.  This powerful book is marked by at least ten features:

  1. It is God-Centered
  2. It is Scripture-soaked
  3. It is unashamedly Calvinistic
  4. It is conservative
  5. It exposes liberal scholarship and lays bare its erroneous presuppositions
  6. It is biblical
  7. It is mind-penetrating
  8. It is heart-softening
  9. It is personal
  10. It leads readers to worship God

Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Christian Belief by John Frame is a theological tour de force.   This weighty volume is drenched with Scripture and is drowning with biblical wisdom.  I cannot think of any other writer who has influenced my thinking, outside of Jonathan Edwards himself.  This work is a true labor of love, a gift to the church, and a tool that will sharpen the minds of Christ-followers and serve as a heart-tenderizer for many years to come!

Highly recommended

5 stars

Apologetics and Worldview · BOOK REVIEWS · Calvinism · CHRISTIAN LIFE · Theology

Walking With God Through Pain and Suffering – Timothy Keller

kellerI have yet to meet a person who enjoys pain and suffering.  Yet suffering is a part of the warp and woof of life.  It is not a part of God’s original intent for creation.  Since Adam’s first sin, pain and suffering have been an abnormal part of the cosmos.  Suffering is an unwelcome guest who bullies his way to the table and makes demands – much like a  soldier on a bloody battlefield.

Walking With God Through Pain and Suffering by Timothy Keller addresses this topic with candor and clarity.  Keller leaves no stone unturned here.  The book is organized into three sections:

Understanding the Furnace

Keller introduces the problem of pain and suffering and explores some of the philosophical challenges that Christ-followers must understand and address.

“Nothing is more important than to learn how to maintain a life of purpose in the midst of painful adversity,” writes Keller.  Yet our culture has a tendency to respond to suffering in ways that are helpful and wrongheaded.  The moralist response to suffering is to “do good.”  The fatalist’s response to suffering is to “hang in there” and “endure.”  The dualist response to suffering is “purified faithfulness.”  And the secular response to suffering is focussed on “technique.”  A combination of these erroneous responses to suffering litter the current milieu and produce a generation of confused and discouraged people.

Keller rightly alerts readers to the importance of worldviews and their relation to the subject of pain and suffering.  Ultimately, the matter of pain and suffering is a matter of faith.  “Faith,” writes Keller “is the promise of God.”  He adds, “We can be fully accepted and counted legally righteous in God’s sight through faith in Christ, solely by free grace … It means freedom from fear of the future, from any anxiety about your eternal destiny.  It is the most liberating idea possible and it ultimately enables you to face all suffering, knowing that because of the cross, God is absolutely for you and that because of the resurrection, everything will be all right in the end.”

Facing the Furnace

Part two provides readers with the theological muscle – a crucial part of the battle.  Keller unpacks the doctrine of God’s sovereignty and provides a painful but biblical rationale for the role of suffering the lives of people.

At the heart of this discussion is an important look at the suffering of the Lord Jesus Christ.  The author summarizes, “That is, in order to satisfy justice, in order to punish sin so that in love he could forgive and receive us, God had to bear the penalty for sin within himself.  God the Son took the punishment we deserved, including being cut off from the Father.  And so God took into his own self, his own heart, an infinite agony – out of love for us.”

Keller’s treatment in part two travels great distances to help resolve the problem of evil – the so-called “Achilles heal” of the Christian faith: “So while Christianity never claims to be able to offer a full explanation of all God’s reasons behind every instance of evil and suffering – it does have a final answer to it.  The answer will be given at the end of history and all who hear it and see its fulfillment will find it completely satisfying, infinitely sufficient.”

While Keller never attempts to provide a comprehensive answer to the problem of evil, his treatment of this thorny subject is some of the best in print.  He may not satisfy the disciples of David Hume, Voltaire, or Sam Harris – but he does give ample ammunition for believers who are looking for honest answers.

Walking With God in the Furnace

Parts one and two explore the philosophical and theological angles of pain and suffering.  Part three helps readers with practical application.  They are given practical tools for “walking with God in the furnace.”  The very notion of walking with God in the furnace assumes pain – pain that some are unwilling to admit.  But practical experience reveals that we live in a broken world; a world which has been torn to shreds by the consequences of sin.

Keller urges readers to walk with God in suffering: “If you go into the furnace without the gospel, it will not be possible to find God in there.  You will be sure he has done terrible wrong or you have and you will feel all alone.  Going into the fire without the gospel is the most dangerous thing anyone can do.”  So the gospel is the first and last defense of every Christ-follower; indeed it is the hope of the watching world.

Second, the author stresses the importance of weeping during seasons of adversity.  Elijah serves as an example of a man who cried out in great agony.  He was a man unafraid of weeping.  Such an approach is not only honest – it is a sign of emotional health.

Third, Keller demonstrates the need for trusting in God during days of pain and adversity.    Joseph is portrayed as an example of a man who trusted: If the story of Joseph and the whole of the Bible is true, then anything that comes into your life is something that, as painful as it is, you need in some way.”  Jesus too demonstrated trust in his Father and points believers in the identical direction.  Keller continues to alert readers to other tools that they should utilize during their dark days.

Walking With God Through Pain and Suffering is a watershed book that deserves to be read.  Christ-followers will no doubt be encouraged by this Christ-exalting book; a book which drives readers to the cross of the suffering Savior.

Highly recommended!

Biography · BOOK REVIEWS · Calvinism · Church History

The Evangelistic Zeal of George Whitefield – Steven Lawson (2014)

It is impossible to determine the impact that Reformation Trust’s,  A Long Linewhitefield of Godly Men Series will have.  have personally been enriched, challenged, and inspired by this excellent series that has surveyed the likes of Jonathan Edwards, John Calvin, Martin Luther, C.H. Spurgeon, and John Knox.  The latest installment, The Evangelistic Zeal of George Whitefield by Steven Lawson packs a powerful punch and will leave readers hungry for more.

Several features make Dr. Lawson’s latest work noteworthy.  First, the book is very interesting and readable.  It is filled with historical facts that help readers contextualize the arena that Whitefield ministered in – on both sides of the Atlantic.

Second, the book raises critical awareness about the biblical relationship between the doctrine of election and the need to evangelize.  Lawson is quick to point out that while Whitefield embraced the doctrines of grace, he was also eager to proclaim the gospel to every creature – a scathing indictment of hyper-Calvinism and a challenge to anyone who scoffs at the two-fold  truths of election and evangelism.

Third, the book provides an inside look at a man who faced a myriad of trials and tribulations.  Every preacher, indeed, every Christ-f0llower experiences trials.  But I have yet to meet a pastor who was met by an angry mob who hurled dead cats and rotten fruit onto the platform.  Whitefield endured this and more.  Yet he endured each tribulation and he passed the test.

Fourth, the book acquaints readers with the evangelistic zeal of George Whitefield.  Here is a man who took the Great Commission seriously!  His ministry led to countless conversions – all a result of faithful proclamation.

Whitefield was a man who refused to compromise the truth.  He delivered the truth with power and passion.  And a multitude of lives of changed as a result of his preaching ministry.  Lawson cites Arnold Dallimore who writes about the God-centered stature of George Whitefield: “And what manner of men will they be?  Men mighty in the Scriptures, their lives dominated by a sense of the greatness, the majesty and holiness of God, and their minds and hearts aglow with the great truths of the doctrines of grace.”  Oh that men in this age would model the Whitefield approach.  May their hearts be consumed with nothing but the greatness of God.  And may people from every tribe and nation be drawn to the sovereign Savior.

Highly recommended!

5 stars

BOOK REVIEWS · Calvinism · Church History · Gospel · Martin Luther · Reformation · The Gospel

Why We’re Protestant – Nate Pickowicz (2017)

why we're prot

“Justification is the article upon which the church stands or falls.” So said Martin Luther as he battled for reform in the eye of the sixteenth-century storm that we know as the Protestant Reformation. The Reformers rediscovered the truth and beauty of the gospel message and proclaimed it faithfully and forcefully. Their allegiance to the gospel inform and inspire us as we strive to follow in their footsteps.

Nate Pickowicz beautifully summarizes the spirit of the Reformers in his most recent book, Why We’re Protestant: An Introduction to the Five Solas of the Reformation. First, the author clearly describes the “gospel crisis” that emerged in the sixteenth century. The crisis involves a fundamental disagreement on how sinners are justified. The answers proposed by Rome and the sixteenth century Protestants are clear. The answer proposed by Rome falls short of the biblical benchmark and leads sinners to a pathway of destruction. The Protestant reply is faithful to Scripture and leads sinners on a pathway to the Celestial City.

The essential message of the Reformation is captured in the five solas – grace alone, faith alone, Christ alone, Scripture alone, and to God alone be the glory. Pickowicz guides readers on a journey that unfolds these remarkable truths in a way that is winsome, historically accurate, and faithful to Scripture.

Why We’re Protestant is a veritable battering ram and a boon for the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ. As we draw near to the five hundredth anniversary of the Reformation, I commend this fine work and trust that God will use it to fortify a new generation of reformers who exalt the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ!

Apologetics and Worldview · BOOK REVIEWS · Calvinism · CHRISTIAN LIFE · Theology

Walking With God Through Pain and Suffering – Timothy Keller (2013)

kellerI have yet to meet a person who enjoys pain and suffering.  Yet suffering is a part of the warp and woof of life.  It is not a part of God’s original intent for creation.  Since Adam’s first sin, pain and suffering have been an abnormal part of the cosmos.  Suffering is an unwelcome guest who bullies his way to the table and makes demands – much like a  soldier on a bloody battlefield.

Walking With God Through Pain and Suffering by Timothy Keller addresses this topic with candor and clarity.  Keller leaves no stone unturned here.  The book is organized into three sections:

Understanding the Furnace

Keller introduces the problem of pain and suffering and explores some of the philosophical challenges that Christ-followers must understand and address.

“Nothing is more important than to learn how to maintain a life of purpose in the midst of painful adversity,” writes Keller.  Yet our culture has a tendency to respond to suffering in ways that are helpful and wrongheaded.  The moralist response to suffering is to “do good.”  The fatalist’s response to suffering is to “hang in there” and “endure.”  The dualist response to suffering is “purified faithfulness.”  And the secular response to suffering is focussed on “technique.”  A combination of these erroneous responses to suffering litter the current milieu and produce a generation of confused and discouraged people.

Keller rightly alerts readers to the importance of worldviews and their relation to the subject of pain and suffering.  Ultimately, the matter of pain and suffering is a matter of faith.  “Faith,” writes Keller “is the promise of God.”  He adds, “We can be fully accepted and counted legally righteous in God’s sight through faith in Christ, solely by free grace … It means freedom from fear of the future, from any anxiety about your eternal destiny.  It is the most liberating idea possible and it ultimately enables you to face all suffering, knowing that because of the cross, God is absolutely for you and that because of the resurrection, everything will be all right in the end.”

Facing the Furnace

Part two provides readers with the theological muscle – a crucial part of the battle.  Keller unpacks the doctrine of God’s sovereignty and provides a painful but biblical rationale for the role of suffering the lives of people.

At the heart of this discussion is an important look at the suffering of the Lord Jesus Christ.  The author summarizes, “That is, in order to satisfy justice, in order to punish sin so that in love he could forgive and receive us, God had to bear the penalty for sin within himself.  God the Son took the punishment we deserved, including being cut off from the Father.  And so God took into his own self, his own heart, an infinite agony – out of love for us.”

Keller’s treatment in part two travels great distances to help resolve the problem of evil – the so-called “Achilles heal” of the Christian faith: “So while Christianity never claims to be able to offer a full explanation of all God’s reasons behind every instance of evil and suffering – it does have a final answer to it.  The answer will be given at the end of history and all who hear it and see its fulfillment will find it completely satisfying, infinitely sufficient.”

While Keller never attempts to provide a comprehensive answer to the problem of evil, his treatment of this thorny subject is some of the best in print.  He may not satisfy the disciples of David Hume, Voltaire, or Sam Harris – but he does give ample ammunition for believers who are looking for honest answers.

Walking With God in the Furnace

Parts one and two explore the philosophical and theological angles of pain and suffering.  Part three helps readers with practical application.  They are given practical tools for “walking with God in the furnace.”  The very notion of walking with God in the furnace assumes pain – pain that some are unwilling to admit.  But practical experience reveals that we live in a broken world; a world which has been torn to shreds by the consequences of sin.

Keller urges readers to walk with God in suffering: “If you go into the furnace without the gospel, it will not be possible to find God in there.  You will be sure he has done terrible wrong or you have and you will feel all alone.  Going into the fire without the gospel is the most dangerous thing anyone can do.”  So the gospel is the first and last defense of every Christ-follower; indeed it is the hope of the watching world.

Second, the author stresses the importance of weeping during seasons of adversity.  Elijah serves as an example of a man who cried out in great agony.  He was a man unafraid of weeping.  Such an approach is not only honest – it is a sign of emotional health.

Third, Keller demonstrates the need for trusting in God during days of pain and adversity.    Joseph is portrayed as an example of a man who trusted: If the story of Joseph and the whole of the Bible is true, then anything that comes into your life is something that, as painful as it is, you need in some way.”  Jesus too demonstrated trust in his Father and points believers in the identical direction.  Keller continues to alert readers to other tools that they should utilize during their dark days.

Walking With God Through Pain and Suffering is a watershed book that deserves to be read.  Christ-followers will no doubt be encouraged by this Christ-exalting book; a book which drives readers to the cross of the suffering Savior.

Highly recommended!