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 · 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 (2016)

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 · Gospel · Theology

Grace Works – Douglas Bond (2014)

2014-06-18 18.19.31

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Highly recommended!

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!