BOOK REVIEWS · Theology

THE FLIP THAT FLOPPED: The Consequences of Doctrinal Compromise

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

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

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

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

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

The Flip That Flopped

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

All is in God?

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

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

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

Evaluation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BOOK REVIEWS · Theology

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. Being Certain About Certitude

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

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

2. A Failure to Distinguish Between Law and Gospel

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

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

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

Acts 17:22-31 reveals a Creator God who is the cosmos shaper, the kingdom shaker who lives above creation.  He is the all-sufficient Ruler, Life Giver, and Destiny Maker.  And he is the righteous Judge who “commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed …” (Acts 17:30-31, ESV).

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

4. A Failure to Reveal the Whole Truth About God

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

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

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

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

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

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

Soli Deo Gloria!

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3) The importance of personal discipleship.

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

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

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

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

Tolle Lege!

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 · 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.