BOOK REVIEWS · Theology

The Unity of the Bible: Unfolding God’s Plan For Humanity – Daniel Fuller (1992)

The Unity of the Bible by Daniel P. Fuller sets out to discover the theme that gives coherence to the teaching of Scripture.  It presents the logic behind God’s unfolding revelation from Genesis to Revelation.  Dr. Fuller writes, “Only by seeing the whole of God’s purpose in creation and redemptive history can one appreciate God’s individual actions in realizing this purpose.”  The author sees a need to summarize the whole Bible along the time line of redemptive history, instead of getting trapped in timeless categories that have been popularized in the discipline of systematic theology.  The bottom line: God does everything in the creation of the world and its history in order to uphold the glory of his name (Isa. 48:9-11).

Part One

Dr. Fuller maintains the Bible proceeds according to a plan.  Beginning with the creation of the world, it then relates and interprets a series of historical events that lead to the grand climax and goal of the world’s history.  He overviews the formation of the Old Testament canon and points out that God has always been in the business of working for the benefit of his people so long as they trust in him (Isa. 64:4).  The emergence of the New Testament canon is presented with careful attention given to the closing of the Apostolic age.

Part Two

Part two is devoted to explaining the foundations of redemptive history by doing an inductive study of Genesis 1:1-3:24 and by demonstrating God’s necessary work of being a Trinity.  Fuller argues persuasively that God’s purpose in creation and redemption is “that the earth might be filled with the glory of his desire to service people and … to do them good with his whole heart and soul.”  The author proceeds to explain man’s responsibility in responding to God’s purpose and outlines the purpose of hell (for those who fail to respond to God’s purpose) and the riches of God’s mercy demonstrated on the cross.

Part Three

Part three details the Abrahamic covenant and a comprehensive treatment of faith’s futuristic and past orientation is presented.  Specific steps are given for battling attitudes of unbelief.  The author argues that the justified and forgiven sinner always perseveres in faith.  The purpose of the law is also discussed and is seen by Fuller to be in continuum with the gospel rather than in contrast.

Part Four

Part four explain the plan of God in getting the gospel to the world and includes an important discussion on the kingdom of God and the conversion of Israel.

Summary

Dan Fuller writes with clarity and backs his views up with solid biblical theology and thorough exegesis.  The author maintains a Berean mindset as he surfaces key points which challenge my Bible study habits and encourage me to dig deeper.  This book like no other has challenged my thinking in significant ways and has influenced my approach to studying redemptive history and teaching practical issues of the Christian life.  The Unity of the Bible is an underrated masterpiece.  It is a true encouragement for those weary of classical dispensational charts that are riddled with proof texts.  This work offers a better approach – a true biblical theology that is sure to encourage many in the days ahead.

Apologetics and Worldview · BOOK REVIEWS · Philosophy · Theology

A History of Western Philosophy and Theology – John Frame (2015)

frameThe Word of God is emphatic about our role as we enter the marketplace of ideas. The apostle Paul sounds the warning in Colossians 2:8 – “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.” Scripture instructs Christ-followers, “For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ …” (2 Corinthians 10:4–5, ESV).

John Frame maintains and promotes such a mindset in his latest offering, A History of Western Philosophy and Theology (HWPT). The discipline of philosophy, which is defined as “the disciplined attempt to articulate and defend a worldview,” is broken down into three subdivisions including metaphysics, epistemology, and value theory. Readers familiar with Frame’s work will immediately recognize his commitment to perspectivalism, a powerful grid for thinking which includes three perspectives: normative, situational, and existential. This commitment has been clearly articulated and defended in his Lordship series, a series of books which are essential tools in every pastor’s library.

HWPT is dedicated to Dr. Cornelius Van Til, whose influence is evident throughout the book. Readers who are entrenched in Van Til’s methodology will quickly recognize themes such as the Creator-creature distinction and the charge that non-Christian thought lapses into the intellectual bankruptcies of rationalism and irrationalism.

On a large-scale, HWPT leads readers on a fascinating journey that educates, contextualizes, and warns.

Education

Frame has a reputation for educating not only his Seminary students but a rather broad reading audience. HWPT is no exception. The author gives readers an up-close look at the history of western thought. Unlike the typical tour of philosophy and theology, Dr. Frame provides readers with the proper lens with which to view such ideas. The book is built on the immutable, authoritative, infallible, inerrant Word of God. Readers are alerted in advance that the author carries certain presuppositions, above all – an allegiance to sacred Scripture. The author clearly reveals the presuppositions which guide his writing and inform his worldview:

“As a Christian, I am committed to a worldview that comes from the Bible: God the Creator, the world as his creation, man made in his image, sin and its consequences as our predicament, Christ’s atonement as our salvation, his return as the consummation of all things.”

Such an admission is rare in the world of philosophy. Frame’s candor should be respected and greatly appreciated by believer and non-believer alike.

Context

HWPT stands alone by contextualizing the various philosophic movements and the thinkers who represent those movements. The author helps readers understand how various philosophers influence future generations and worldviews. Such an approach is greatly needed, especially among undergraduate students who often see philosophy in bits and pieces instead of a unified whole.

Warning

The most helpful aspect of HWPT is the warning extended by Dr. Frame, a warning that takes Colossians 2:8 and 2 Corinthians 10:5 to heart. The author demonstrates how various philosophers have influenced generations and have contributed to the erosion of the Christian mind. These thinkers, most of whom continue to rule from the grave are exposed and for their futile thinking, which generally follows Van Til’s charge of being rationalistic and irrational at the same time.

I commend HWPT to pastors, Bible College students, Seminary students and Christ-followers who have a passion to see the picture in the world of philosophy and theology. HWPT is a serious book for serious Bible students. It is a book that I will return to again and again. May God use John Frame’s latest work to glorify the great God of the universe and encourage a new generation of Christian theologians, philosophers, pastors, and leaders.

Soli Deo Gloria!

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

CULTURE · Theology

The Eclipse of the Gospel and the School of Hard Knox

A Powerful Man

I stood in the shadow of St. Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh, Scotland. Clouds gathered overhead and people walked curiously through the front doors. Here, the famous reformer, John Knox faithfully tended the flock until his death in 1572.

Once inside this massive cathedral, I was transfixed by the sheer beauty of this place. I was overwhelmed by the architecture – the awe-inspiring flying buttresses that point worshippers to the transcendence of God. A single elevated pulpit is located in the center of the sanctuary. It stands strategically above the worshippers, which symbolically places God’s Word above sinful creatures.

John Knox brought reform to Scotland and re-energized a nation that had all but forgotten God. Knox helped awaken a nation that neglected God’s truth which led to a virtual eclipse of the gospel. Martyn Lloyd-Jones describes Knox as a man who preached “with the fire of God in his bones and in his belly!  He preached as they all preached, with fire and power, alarming sermons, convicting sermons, humbling sermons, converting sermons, and the face of Scotland was changed …” Simply put, the faithful preaching of Knox brought much needed reform to the Scottish landscape and renewed evangelical fervor to the church.

John Knox courageously raised the banner of the gospel and defended the truths of the Protestant Reformation. He was unashamed of the gospel (Rom. 1:16) and fearlessly proclaimed the Word of God. He stood boldly and with Peter and the apostles, obeyed God rather than men (Acts 5:29). Indeed, Knox is a true exemplar of faithfulness in the face of adversity.

A Personal Lesson

As I made my way out of St. Giles, my mind was filled with stories surrounding the life and ministry of John Knox. As I turned to gaze again at the rising fortress where Knox served the Lord, a thought occurred to me. It was not a new thought. Rather, it was a lesson that has moved me for many years now but in this moment, the lesson was magnified as I scanned the edifice of St. Giles. The lesson is this: church history matters.

It seems like such a simple lesson. But it is a lesson that many contemporary Christians are unfamiliar with. Even as a young Bible College student, I failed to understand the importance of church history. The buildings seemed so old and the names were so hard to pronounce. It is a sentiment that is not unique to me. I hear it all the time. I hear the cruel remarks about John Calvin and the caricatures that biased people have cooked up about Jonathan Edwards. But when we move past all the petty talk and face reality, we realize that church history truly does matter.

A Pivotal Mindset

First, Church history matters because when we forget the past, we fail to learn valuable lessons that impact our lives. George Santayana famously said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” So Christians who minimize the importance of church history are vulnerable to the theological error that plagued the church in the past. Additionally, they repeat the sins committed by our forefathers.

For example, Arius committed a fatal theological error by teaching that Christ was the first created being. This theological controversy which erupted in 318 A.D. led to a series of erroneous Arian propositions:

  1. The Son was created by the Father.
  2. The Son owed his existence to the will of the Father.
  3. The Son was not eternal, that is, there was a time when he was not.

Such teaching stood diametrically opposed to Scripture and was outside the bounds of orthodoxy. In the end, Arius rejected the full deity of the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Second, Church history matters because it strengthens our faith. Scripture instructs, “Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.” (Heb. 13:7, ESV) The term remember is a present imperative verb that means, “keep thinking about,” or “call to mind.”

Remembering godly leaders in church history is not optional; it is a command in sacred Scripture. The author of Hebrews does not limit the scope of these “leaders” to men like Moses, Abraham, Paul or Peter. He instructs us to remember leaders “who spoke to you the word of God.” So remembering leaders like Augustine, Calvin, Edwards, Luther, and Spurgeon is an important part of the Christian pilgrimage. We do well to follow in their paths by boldly proclaiming the truth and living faithfully before the Lord, even when our detractors heap insults on us for faithfully remembering these heroes of the faith.

Third, Church history matters because God ordained specific events that lead to the worldwide spread of his glory. Church history truly is “his story.” Whenever we discount history, we subtly stand in judgment over God and claim to know a better way. Whenever we disparage church history and subtly place ourselves in a position that was never ours to enjoy. Indeed, “Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases” (Psalm 115:3, ESV).

The School of Hard Knox

John Knox was a faithful man who led a gospel-centered life, according to the grace that was given him by his Savior. His relentless preaching helped drive away the darkness and restore the light of the gospel to his land. Almost five hundred years later, St. Giles still stands but the truth has fallen on hard times. Once again, the gospel is being eclipsed by man-made philosophy and foolishness.

As Christ-followers, we must learn well the lessons that church history teaches us. When we forget the past we falter in our faith and fail to exalt the sovereign purposes of our Savior. When we forget the past, we become comfortable stumbling around in the dark and begin to glory in our ignorance.

Let us become educated in the School of Hard Knox. And may the gospel shine brightly again. “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (Habakkuk 2:14, ESV). And may we recover our love of truth and our passion for the gospel.

BOOK REVIEWS · Theology

Did God Kill Jesus? – Tony Jones (2015)

It takes 234 pages for Tony Jones to answer the central question in hisjones new book, Did God Kill Jesus?  The author is a self-described “theological provocateur,” so the question posed in his book should not surprise anyone.  The answer that emerges on page 234 is crystal clear: “No, God did not kill Jesus,” says Dr. Jones.  Readers will find that the path to this answer is paved with doubt and skepticism.  Frankly, it is a path fraught with theological compromise.

Tony Jones has a knack for asking questions.  He has an uncanny ability of questioning the theological status quo and forcing readers to decide, even re-evaluate their cherished views.  Unfortunately, some of the answers that Jones provides do not match the biblical record or pass the test of orthodoxy.

The author sets out to examine the various views of the atonement which have been offered up throughout church history.  The questions he fires at these theories are fair enough:

  • What does the model say about God?
  • What does it say about Jesus?
  • What does the model say about the relationship between God and Jesus?
  • How does it make sense of violence?
  • What does it mean for us spiritually?
  • Where’s the love?

Ultimately, none of the theories fully satisfy the author.  But the one he finds the most repugnant is penal substitutionary atonement.  Jones argues that this view, which he labels the payment model is currently in vogue “largely because it appeals to our sense of justice and our understanding of law and penalties.”  And he is not particularly bashful about how he feels about penal substitutionary atonement.  In his previous book, A Better Atonement: Beyond the Depraved Doctrine of Original Sin, Jones writes, “I’m on no quest to reject the penal substitutionary theory of the atonement (PSA).  (I merely intend to dethrone it).”  However, what he fails to see is this: when penal substitutionary atonement is dethroned, the gospel of Jesus Christ is thrown into the ash heap and the hope of every person perishes.

In his explanation of penal substitutionary atonement, the author assures readers that “God is holy, and we are less-than-holy.”  This appears to be a strange starting point since all who hold to penal substitutionary atonement embrace the biblical idea of total depravity – which is quite a leap from “less-than-holy.”  However, Jones’ starting point makes perfect sense (just not biblical sense) when one discovers that he has also discarded the doctrine of original sin:

“What I’ve come to realize is that the idea of original sin is not, in fact, God Eternal Truth.  It is, instead, like so many other items of faith, historically conditioned.”

To be fair Jones’ acknowledges the existence of sin.  However, he rejects the “notion that human beings are depraved from birth.”

Jones caricatures the doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement by placing God the Father in an untenable position by “sending his perfect Son to Earth, then letting him – or making him – die as a substitute for the billions of human beings past and future who are incapable of paying off the debt incurred by their sin.  That’s the Payment model” according to Tony Jones.

The biggest disappointment in this book is the repudiation of penal substitutionary atonement, the doctrine which contains the very core of the gospel message.  As noted above, the path which leads to the ultimate question in the book is riddled with “rocks” and “weeds” and “branches” that careful readers should navigate in order to understand the position the author takes. Two of these stumbling blocks are noted below.

1. Dishonoring God

A.W. Tozer was certainly on target when he wrote, “What we think about God is the most important thing about us.”  Yet what we find here is a view that has much in common with process theology.  The author writes, “… We can surmise that in Jesus, God was learning.”  He continues, “But on the cross, something else happened altogether, possibly something that even God did not expect.”  The implication here appears to be a compromise of God’s comprehensive omniscience, a troubling turn of events to be sure.

Additionally, the author promotes what he refers to as the “weakness of God.”  He adds,

“Here is the guiding idea: God has forsaken power in order to give creation freedom.  In other words, God’s primary posture in the world is that of weakness, not strength.  This is a tough pill for many Christians to swallow – we’ve been taught to claim God’s power in our lives, to pray for power, and to trust God’s power and perfect plan for our lives …”

A “tough pill” to swallow?  You bet!  Discerning readers would do well to keep that “pill” out of their mouths, especially when the testimony of Scripture points to a God who is all-together sovereign and omnipotent over everything and everyone in the cosmos.  Swallow such a “pill” will leave readers spiritually sick.

2. Destroying the Heart of the Atonement

Jones makes it clear early in the book that he along with other liberals have “grown increasingly uncomfortable with the regnant interpretation of Jesus’ death as primarily the propitiation of a wrathful God.”

Yet, when one reduces the cross to a mere display of love and refuses to acknowledge that Jesus bore the wrath of God, the gospel is utterly stripped of its saving power.  Such a move is to destroy the very heart of the atonement.

Summary

In the final analysis, the answer to the question of this book is not a simple yes or no answer.  The Scripture makes it plain that both God and man killed Jesus Christ.

“… let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by him this man is standing before you well.” (Acts 4:10, ESV)

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

This is a book that should upset a lot of people.  Frankly, I’m glad Jones wrote the book because it will rally conservatives around the truth of the gospel.  This book should motivate pastors and scholars to go deeper into the reality of the gospel and prompt God-centered reverence and worship as they glory in the beauty of penal substitutionary atonement.

Evangelicals need to pay careful attention to books like this that grow more and more popular.  Jones urges readers to participate in what he calls, “the smell test.”  Unfortunately, something doesn’t smell right about this book.

Admittedly, Tony Jones stands in a theological stream that is more liberal-minded.  One important distinction between Jones and many other liberals is that he actually affirms the bodily resurrection of Jesus.  For this, we can be thankful.  However, since he rejects penal substitution and as a result softens (or even eliminates) the wrath that Jesus bore on the cross, the scandal of the cross is blurred and even obscured.  Indeed, as Jeffery, Ovey, and Sach have rightly written, “If we blunt the sharp edges of the cross, we dull the glittering diamond of God’s love.”

Whenever wrath is removed from the cross, something crucial is missing, which is to say, the gospel is at stake.  For this reason, the view promoted here does not pass the “smell test.”

Readers are encouraged to explore the God-honoring doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement in three powerful and provocative books which include: The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross – Leon Morris, Pierced For Our Transgressions – Steve Jeffery, Michael Ovey, Andrew Sach, and It is Well: Expositions on Substitutionary Atonement – Mark Dever and Michael Lawrence.

 

 

BOOK REVIEWS · Theology

Slave – John MacArthur (2010)

John MacArthur has been churning out quality Christian books and resources for over thirty-five years.  He has been defining and defending the biblical gospel in books like The Gospel According to Jesus, Faith Works, Ashamed of the Gospel, Hard to Believe, and The Truth War. Each of these books, beginning especially with The Gospel According to Jesus has had a profound effect on my life and pastoral ministry.

MacArthur’s book, Slave continues to articulate the biblical gospel, the very same gospel that was preached by the apostles, Reformers, and Puritans.   The uniqueness of this book is that the author seeks to “pull the hidden jewel” as he says, “all the way into the sunlight.”

MacArthur’s concern is that what is means to be a Christian has been and is being redefined by many evangelicals.  But the New Testament clearly delineates the meaning of what is means to be a Christian, namely, a “wholehearted follower of Christ.”  MacArthur picks up the same theme he began in The Gospel According to Jesus when he argues that Christian discipleship “demands a deep affection for Him, allegiance to Him, and submission to His Word.”

The Greek term doulos is at the heart of MacArthur’s concern.  While English translations have been notorious for mistranslating this term as “servant,” the proper translation is “slave.”  He notes this glaring error and insists that while many Greek words can be translated “servant,” doulos is certainly not one of them!  The author highlights the key distinction between a servant and a slave, namely, “servants are hired; slaves are owned.”

Therefore, Christian disciples are defined in a biblical sense as slaves of God.  MacArthur adds, “He [Christ] is the Master and Owner.  We are His possession.  He is the King, and the Lord, and the Son of God.  We are His subjects and His subordinates … True Christianity is not about adding Jesus to my life.  Instead, it is about devoting myself completely to Him – submitting wholly to His will and seeking to please Him above all else.”

MacArthur argues convincingly that Christ is Lord and Master over his church (Eph. 5:23; Col. 1:18).  Indeed, Christ is sovereign over every person and everything in the universe.  John Hus is cited as a model of one who fully gave his life “to the sovereign lordship of Christ and the supremacy of His Word …”

The author demonstrates the folly of a watered-down version of Christianity: “To diminish the dominating role of Scripture in the life of the church is to treat the Lord of the church as if His revelation were optional … Nonbiblical ministry, non-expository preaching, and non-doctrinal teaching usurp Christ’s headship, silencing His voice to His sheep.”

MacArthur presents the biblical portrait of man apart from Christ, namely, “bound, blind, and dead.”  The backdrop of depravity sets the stage for grace to rule and reign in the hearts and minds of sinners.  For “it is from slavery to sin that God saves His elect, rescuing them from the domain of darkness and transferring them as His own slaves into the kingdom of His Son” (Col 1:13).  The author continues, “Freedom in Christ, then, is not freedom to sin but freedom from sin – freedom to live as God intends, in truth and holiness.”

MacArthur presents an excellent summary of particular redemption, a doctrine that has been neglected for years in the church.  He argues, “Christ’s death on the cross actually pays the penalty for the elect sinner, redeeming him from sin and rescuing him from God’s wrath … the saving benefits of Christ’s redemptive work are applied only to those whom God has chosen for Himself.”

The author sets forth the biblical teaching concerning adoption.  The historical precedent for adoption is shown in the Old Testament.  And the New Testament reality of adoption is explained in detail.  All of God’s elect are thus “simultaneously sons and slaves.”  MacArthur adds, “Like justification, adoption rests on the loving purpose and grace of God.”

Finally, the author presents four compelling paradoxes that relate to the overall theme of the book:

1. Slavery brings freedom.

2. Slavery ends prejudice.

3. Slavery magnifies grace.

4. Slavery pictures salvation.

John MacArthur just keeps getting the gospel right.  Ever since he wrote The Gospel According to Jesus, he has been warning the church to define the gospel biblically and keep Christ at the center of the gospel.  He continues to remind the church to steer clear from the no-lordship position that is promoted by the Free Grace Movement, which is, in the final analysis, a different gospel.

MacArthur hits the Christological target with this book.  With the skill of a theologian-marksman, he exalts and magnifies Christ.  In the final analysis, Slave is a primer on Reformed theology and is written with humility and great erudition.  It should receive a wide reading for years to come and make a significant difference in the body of Christ.

I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze.com <http://BookSneeze.com> book review bloggers program.

 

 

Apologetics and Worldview · BOOK REVIEWS · Philosophy · Theology

A History of Western Philosophy and Theology – John Frame (2015)

frameThe Word of God is emphatic about our role as we enter the marketplace of ideas. The apostle Paul sounds the warning in Colossians 2:8 – “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.” Scripture instructs Christ-followers, “For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ …” (2 Corinthians 10:4–5, ESV).

John Frame maintains and promotes such a mindset in his latest offering, A History of Western Philosophy and Theology (HWPT). The discipline of philosophy, which is defined as “the disciplined attempt to articulate and defend a worldview,” is broken down into three subdivisions including metaphysics, epistemology, and value theory. Readers familiar with Frame’s work will immediately recognize his commitment to perspectivalism, a powerful grid for thinking which includes three perspectives: normative, situational, and existential. This commitment has been clearly articulated and defended in his Lordship series, a series of books which are essential tools in every pastor’s library.

HWPT is dedicated to Dr. Cornelius Van Til, whose influence is evident throughout the book. Readers who are entrenched in Van Til’s methodology will quickly recognize themes such as the Creator-creature distinction and the charge that non-Christian thought lapses into the intellectual bankruptcies of rationalism and irrationalism.

On a large-scale, HWPT leads readers on a fascinating journey that educates, contextualizes, and warns.

Education

Frame has a reputation for educating not only his Seminary students but a rather broad reading audience. HWPT is no exception. The author gives readers an up-close look at the history of western thought. Unlike the typical tour of philosophy and theology, Dr. Frame provides readers with the proper lens with which to view such ideas. The book is built on the immutable, authoritative, infallible, inerrant Word of God. Readers are alerted in advance that the author carries certain presuppositions, above all – an allegiance to sacred Scripture. The author clearly reveals the presuppositions which guide his writing and inform his worldview:

“As a Christian, I am committed to a worldview that comes from the Bible: God the Creator, the world as his creation, man made in his image, sin and its consequences as our predicament, Christ’s atonement as our salvation, his return as the consummation of all things.”

Such an admission is rare in the world of philosophy. Frame’s candor should be respected and greatly appreciated by believer and non-believer alike.

Context

HWPT stands alone by contextualizing the various philosophic movements and the thinkers who represent those movements. The author helps readers understand how various philosophers influence future generations and worldviews. Such an approach is greatly needed, especially among undergraduate students who often see philosophy in bits and pieces instead of a unified whole.

Warning

The most helpful aspect of HWPT is the warning extended by Dr. Frame, a warning that takes Colossians 2:8 and 2 Corinthians 10:5 to heart. The author demonstrates how various philosophers have influenced generations and have contributed to the erosion of the Christian mind. These thinkers, most of whom continue to rule from the grave are exposed and for their futile thinking, which generally follows Van Til’s charge of being rationalistic and irrational at the same time.

I commend HWPT to pastors, Bible College students, Seminary students and Christ-followers who have a passion to see the picture in the world of philosophy and theology. HWPT is a serious book for serious Bible students. It is a book that I will return to again and again. May God use John Frame’s latest work to glorify the great God of the universe and encourage a new generation of Christian theologians, philosophers, pastors, and leaders.

Soli Deo Gloria!

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!

Memorials · Theology

A Tribute to R.C. Sproul

On December 14, 2017 Dr. R.C. Sproul entered into the presence of his Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Dr. Sproul was a graduate of Westminster College (B.A. in Philosophy), Pittsburgh Theological Seminary (B.D.), Free University of Amsterdam (Drs.) and received additional recognition from Geneva College (Litt. D) and Grove City College (L.H.D.) in 1993.

Dr. Sproul was ordained in 1965 by the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) and taught at Westminster College (1965 – 1966), Gordon College (1966 – 1968), Conwell School of Theology (1968 – 1969), Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary (1971 – 1981) and held the John Trimble, Sr. Chair of Systematic Theology at Reformed Theological Seminary (1987 – 1995). He served on the Executive Committee for the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy (1977 – 1983). He held various leadership roles with the Coalition for Christian Outreach (1971 – 1976), Evangelism Explosion III, International (1980 – 1981), and Prison Fellowship (1979 – 1984).

In addition to several other teaching roles at theological Seminaries, including Knox Theological Seminary and Reformed Theological Seminary, Dr. Sproul served on the pastoral staff at Saint Andrews Chapel in Sanford, Florida.

Dr. Sproul was the founder and Chairman of Ligonier Ministries, a non-profit organization dedicated to providing theological education for the church. Ligonier provided and continues to provide a myriad of teaching resources by Dr. Sproul and others, which are primarily directed toward the laity.

Many tributes will be posted for several days and weeks to come which will celebrate Sproul’s life and legacy. My small contribution will be personal in nature as I recount the ways that my life was impacted by his ministry.

The Sovereignty of God in Salvation

R.C. Sproul was greatly used by God as he reintroduced Reformed theology to the evangelical church. He articulated the doctrines of grace with passion, courage, conviction, and authority. He spoke about the depth of our depravity and reminded us that the “flesh profits nothing” (John 6:63). Indeed, as Luther said, “Nothing is not a little something!” “Sin is cosmic treason,” writes Sproul. “Sin is treason against a perfectly pure Sovereign. It is an act of supreme ingratitude toward the One to whom we owe everything, to the One who has given us life itself. Have you ever considered the deeper implications of the slightest sin, of the most minute peccadillo? What are we saying to our Creator when we disobey Him at the slightest point? We are saying ‘no’ to the righteousness of God.” R.C. Sproul powerfully proclaimed the hideous effects of sin on a fallen race.

He not only spoke of the depth of depravity; he proclaimed the beauty of sovereign grace. He helped us understand the importance of election and predestination. Chosen by God served an especially important purpose in my life. This book was a theological battering ram. Chosen by God smashed my preconceived Arminian notions. It shattered my Semi-Pelagian understanding of free will and petty arguments against Calvinism.

Positively, Chosen by God elevated my understanding of God’s sovereignty. However, it would be more accurate to say that Sproul catapulted my view of God’s sovereignty into the stratosphere. “If there is any part of creation outside of God’s sovereignty,” writes Sproul, “then God is simply not sovereign. If God is not sovereign, then God is not God.”

Chosen by God helped shift my understanding of mercy into biblical categories. Previously, I held the view that God was obligated to offer mercy to sinners. But Sproul’s theological battering ram obliterated my presuppositions about mercy. I’ll never forget reading these words: “If God is not pleased to dispense his saving mercy to all men, then I must submit to his holy and righteous decision. God is never, never obligated to be merciful to sinners. That is the point we must stress if we are to grasp the full measure of God’s grace.”

R.C. Sproul captivated us with the wonder of effectual grace. And he spoke often of the perseverance of the saints, or better yet, as he was fond of saying, “the preservation of the saints.” Indeed, “the doctrine teaches that if you have saving faith you will never lose it, and if you lose it, you never had it.”

R.C. not only equipped a new generation of Reformed thinkers; he alerted the body of Christ to theological error. He lamented the rise of theological wolves and deceitful hucksters. And he warned us about the Pelagian Captivity of the Church. Sproul notes, “One thing is clear: that you can be purely Pelagian and be completely welcome in the evangelical movement today. It’s not simply that the camel sticks his nose into the tent; he doesn’t just come in the tent — he kicks the owner of the tent out.”

The first time I saw Dr. Sproul preach at a live event, I stood in line for at least an hour to say “hello” and get a signature in his latest book, Not a Chance. It was a typical scene where several hundred hungry theology students gathered for a chance to visit for a moment with one of the premier theological minds of the day. Sproul was signing books and carrying on in casual conversations. When my time came, I uttered these words: “Dr. Sproul, I want to thank you for your ministry. Before I began reading your books, I was a total Arminian.” Those words caught his attention. He lowered his reading glasses and looked me straight in the eye: “Weren’t we all Arminians at one time!” The crowd roared but R.C.’s infectious laugh overcame the whole room.

Dr. Sproul confronted the love affair with free will in the church: “The semi-Pelagian doctrine of free will prevalent in the evangelical world today is a pagan view that denies the captivity of the human heart to sin. It underestimates the stranglehold that sin has on us.”

Pursuing Church History

Dr. Sproul awakened in me a love for church history that was previously non-existent in my life. He had a special gift for storytelling that invited listeners to enter the world of Augustine, Calvin, Luther, and Edwards. His passion for uncovering the treasures of church history was something to behold. These giants of the faith came to life when R.C. spoke of their courage, tenacity, and faithfulness in proclaiming the unadulterated Word of God.

Passion for the Holiness of God

R.C. Sproul authored at least sixty books, most of which I digested over the past thirty years. Those books are filled with highlights, notes, and observations. But the book that impacted me above all was The Holiness of God. R.C. writes, “We fear God because He is holy. Our fear is not the healthy fear that the Bible encourages us to have. Our fear is servile fear, a fear born of dread. God is too great for us; He is too awesome. He makes difficult demands on us. He is the Mysterious Stranger who threatens our security. In His presence we quake and tremble. Meeting Him personally may be our greatest trauma.”

The Holiness of God caught me completely by surprise in my early twenties. My mind was transfixed. My heart was warmed. And my life was forever changed as I poured over the pages of this book which will no doubt be in print for many years to come.

Defender of the Gospel

Finally, R.C. Sproul was a teacher, preacher, and defender of the gospel of Jesus Christ. He articulated the deep realities of the gospel in simple terms and invited anyone with ears to hear to come along for the ride. R.C reminded us that we are “saved by faith alone but that faith is never alone.” He made sure that we memorized Luther’s famous line that, “justification is that article upon which the church stands or falls.”

It is difficult to summarize the life of a man who carried such a huge weight of influence for over thirty years. A few short paragraphs hardly seem fitting for a man who helped change the face of evangelicalism.

In a recent sermon, Steven Lawson admonished his audience, “Give us some men who know the truth.” R.C. Sproul was such a man. R.C. taught the truth, defended the truth, and worked tirelessly to proclaim the truth to the nations.

Dr. R.C. Sproul (1939 – 2017) fought the good fight. He finished the race. And he kept the faith. Enter into the joy of your Savior where you will reign with him unto all eternity.

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