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!

THE GOSPEL OF THE KINGDOM – George Eldon Ladd (1959)

The Gospel of the Kingdom is a solid biblical theology that stresses the importance of God’s kingdom.    The thesis is that the Gospel of God in the New Testament is the redemptive work of God active in history for the defeat of his enemies, bringing men the blessings of the divine reign.

Ladd presents the kingdom as a present spiritual reality and has popularized the “already-not yet” paradigm of the kingdom.  The kingdom is not only spiritual; it is also an inheritance which God will bestow on his people when he comes in glory.  Ladd notes that the kingdom is God’s sovereign reign, but God’s reign expresses itself in different stages throughout redemptive history.  In order to enter the kingdom one must submit himself in trust to God’s rule here and now.

The author explains the mystery of the kingdom.  The mystery is that the kingdom has come among men and yet men can still reject it.  The kingdom will not experience uniform success in this age.

Ladd makes it clear that righteousness is required for entrance into the future realm of God’s kingdom.  This very same righteousness  God imparts as he comes to rule within our lives.  When one submits himself to the reign of God, the miracle of  the new birth takes place within his heart.  The author continues to explain that the kingdom demands repentance which determines the quality of present life and future destiny.  The basic demand of the kingdom obedience. Ladd stresses that there is but one people of God (in contrast to classical dispensationalism).

The Gospel of the Kingdom has many strengths worth noting.  First, Dr. Ladd does a great job making sense of the different aspects of God’s kingdom, i.e. present versus future.  Second, he writes on a personal level and vividly conveys the hope of the kingdom to the new covenant believer.  The perspective in this book is quite illuminating.  Rather than getting weighted down by sophisticated theological arguments,  Ladd presents his case in a simple, yet profound manner.  Third, the author engages in a serious biblical theology.  No proof texting can be found here.  Forth, this book causes the reader to worship as he confronts the reality of the present and future reality of the kingdom of God.  Finally, the author does a formidable job at explaining the relationship between the church and Israel.  He remains committed to premillennialism, yet rejects the erroneous distinctions of classical dispensationalism.

4 stars

THE GAGGING OF GOD – D.A. Carson (1996)

The Gagging of God seeks  to equip Christians to be intelligent, culturally sensitive, and to remain faithful to the gospel of Jesus Christ.  In general the book argues that philosophical pluralism (also coined religious pluralism) may be the most dangerous threat to the gospel since the rise of the Gnostic heresy.  Thus, the central purpose of this 569 page tome is to think through how Christians should responsibly confront contemporary philosophical pluralism.

The author lays the foundation at the beginning of the book by distinguishing between empirical, cherished and philosophical pluralism.  One the chief arguments is that confessional Christianity cannot wholly embrace either modernity or postmodernity, yet it must learn lessons from both; it must vigorously oppose many features of philosophical pluralism, without retreating into modernism.

The book is divided into four parts.  Part one discusses hermeneutical issues that have tremendous bearing on the whole postmodern discussion.  Indeed, “all the challenges” writes Dr. Carson, “arising from postmodernism and philosophical pluralism are connected in some way with hermeneutics, how we interpret things.”  He proceeds to specifically discuss the various approaches of deconstruction and it’s influence even among evangelical churches.

Part two details religious pluralism which insists that all assertions of worldview and outlook that make exclusive truth claims are necessarily wrong.  The author’s primary concern in this section is communicating that a grasp of the Bible’s plot line is of utmost importance.  It is crucial for believers who seek to share the gospel to understand the puzzle pieces that form the mosaic of redemptive history.  The author, further argues that communicating the gospel must be bold, yet must be communicated in a spirit of humility.

Part three answers the question, “How can Christians live in a pluralistic culture?”  Aspects of government, religious freedom, law, education, economics and ethics are discussed with appropriate Christian responses to the dilemma that is confronted in culture.

Part four deals with pluralism in the evangelical camp.  Most interesting,  is the author’s discussion of communicating the gospel when the church itself is immersed in pluralistic thinking.  Again, Dr. Carson stresses the importance of starting from the beginning and nailing down the turning points in redemptive history in order to have maximum evangelistic success.  Further, he stresses the primacy of biblical theology and helpfully adds, “The good news of Jesus Christ is virtually incoherent unless it is securely set into a biblical worldview . . . A world both biblically illiterate and sold out to philosophical pluralism demands that our proclamation of the gospel be a subset of biblical theology.”

The Gagging of God is a phenomenal book.  The author presents a clear and scholarly look at pluralism and how the Church can effectively evangelize in a culture that has largely given up on absolutes and biblical truth.  The author writes with precision and wit and stimulates readers to pursue this subject further.

Dr. Carson writes, “Postmodernism defines itself most clearly in terms of what it isn’t – and that inevitably means a critique of the past.  It has nowhere to go, for it has no vision of a transcendent reality pulling us onward.”  Here lies the great opportunity for Christians committed to the evangelistic endeavor, namely, to express truth revealed in Scripture and communicating the “God who is there and who is not silent” with bold conviction and love.

Carson’s work is probably not for everyone.  But if you love apologetics and worldview issues, it will be a key resource on your book shelf and will influence and encourage you in countless ways.

5 stars

MOST INFLUENTIAL BOOKS IN MY LIFE

Today I got to thinking about the most influential books in my life outside the most important book, the Bible … The theme that keeps coming back is Romans 11:36 – “For from him and to him and through him are all things.  To him be glory forever and ever.  Amen.”

  • The Doctrine of God – John Frame
  • Desiring God – John Piper
  • The Pleasures of God – John Piper
  • The Sovereignty of God – A.W. Pink
  • The Holiness of God – R.C. Sproul
  • Chosen by God – R.C. Sproul
  • Willing to Believe – R.C. Sproul
  • Total Truth – Nancy Pearcy
  • The Institutes of the Christian Religion – John Calvin
  • The End for Which God Created the World – Jonathan Edwards
  • The Freedom of the Will – Jonathan Edwards
  • Religious Affections – Jonathan Edwards

HEAVEN – Peter Kreeft (1989)

Heaven, by Peter Kreeft seeks to recapture the longing of every human heart.  “Heaven is not in your heart but a picture of heaven, a silhouette of heaven, a heaven shaped shadow, a longing unsatisfied by anything on earth.”  The purpose of the book is to raise that picture to consciousness.  The author contends that one must first diagnose the cause of human hopelessness before a prescription can be offered.

Kreeft attempts to make an accurate diagnosis by pointing to broad historical movements that have engaged in a quest for heaven.  First, Kreeft points to the Renaissance which longed to return to Greco-Roman humanism and rationalism.  In contrast, the Reformation longed to return to simple biblical faith.  The two movements in history disintegrated into the medieval synthesis which produced modernity.  The author notes that “once modernity denies or ignores God, there are only two realities left: humanity and nature.  If God is not our end and hope, we must find that hope in ourselves or in nature.  Thus, emerge the two new kingdoms of modernity – the kingdom of self and the kingdom of this world.”  Both are clearly alternatives to the kingdom of God and result in idolatry.

The author goes on to show that every idol has “cracks.”  Hence, every idol, whether ancient or modern does not work.  Every idol fails to produce lasting happiness.  They make promises they can never deliver.  So every potential worshipper is faced with three choices: A turning to the true kingdom of God, a  turning to another idol, or a turning to nothing which leads to despair.

Kreeft proceeds to explore the heart’s longing for heaven.  “We find the presence of God by first finding the presence of the absence of God, the God-shaped hole that nothing else can fill.” Therein lies humanities deepest failure – to satisfy our deepest desire,  a relationship with God.

The author concludes that we are already in heaven in part.  The eschatological hope is not mere speculation or a flirting with eternal things.  It is now.  It is not only the future hope of heaven; it is the present reality of eternal life, living Coram Deo – before the face of God.

Heaven is filled with strong points.  First, the historical movements give the reader a context to understand modern day attitudes.  Second, the philosophical approach is commendable.  Rather than offer “pie in the sky” answers, the author deals with tough questions in a biblical fashion.  The author embraces the philosophy of C.S. Lewis which only enhances the book’s credibility.  Third, the author writes with precision and causes the reader to think deeply about the important questions in life.  Fourth, the book offers hope.  It is entirely positive and gives the reader hope for the future and a better understanding of the eschatological hope.  Further, it stresses the reality of eternal life in the here and now, not merely in the future.

4.5 stars

THE VERITAS CREDO

Cultivate the Christian mind and worldview (Matt. 22:37)

Understand a unified view of truth and a biblical epistemology (John 14:6)

Lead prisoners out of the darkness and into the light (John 8:34; Eph. 2:1-10)

Tell the truth by engaging people with love and boldness (Acts 17:30-31)

Undermine worldly ideologies (2 Cor. 10:5)

Recognize cultural trends and false worldviews (Col. 2:8)

Equip the Saints for the work of God’s kingdom (Eph. 4:11-16)

PREACHING AND PREACHERS – Martyn Llyod-Jones (1971)


Preaching and Preachers by Dr. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones is a wonderful book that emphasizes the man more than the art of preaching and spiritual preparation more than sermon preparation.  The author contends that the most urgent trend in the church and world is true preaching.  While the book was published in 1971, I believe the Doctor would cling to his original statement if he were alive today.

The author discusses the reason for preaching’s decline and makes the case for the priority of preaching based on Scripture and church history.  The Doctor contends that the primary task in preaching is to put man into a right relationship with God, to reconcile man to God.  Everything else in ministry flows from being faithful to the primary purpose, namely – preaching.

The author distinguishes between the kerygma – evangelistic preaching from the didache, or preaching that deals primarily with the edification of believers.  Either way, preaching must always be based on a theological foundation and must not violently impose a theological system upon the text.  Rather the system of theology should be used as a filter to check a particular interpretation.

All sermons should be expository.  Dr. Lloyd-Jones begins with the initial text and walks the reader through his exegetical procedure.  Once a doctrine is thoroughly explored, the preacher must consider the relevance of the doctrine and the people who will be listening.  He writes, “You are to show that this message is vitally important for them and that they must listen with the whole of their being, because this is really going to help them.”

“The chief end of preaching is to give men and women a sense of God and His presence.”  The preacher must therefore stand in the pulpit with authority and exude a sense of seriousness, warmth, urgency, persuasiveness and power.

The author discusses how the preacher must prepare himself.  He contends that preachers must maintain a general discipline of life and an attitude of prayer.  He adds that serious preachers need to regularly read the Bible systematically and maintain good reading habits that include a study of theology, church history, biographies and apologetics.

This book has many strong points.  First, it is immensely personal.  The author truly shares from the heart.  Second, the section on “calling” is very helpful, especially to younger preachers.  Next, Dr. Lloyd-Jones encourages preachers to beware of extremes in our post-modern era. Further, the author’s passion for preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ rings true on every page which motivates this preacher to do the same.  Finally, I especially appreciate the repeated emphasis on relying on the Holy Spirit.

With the rise of the so-called emergent church, watered-down teaching and preaching, doctrinal compromise, and the downplaying of authoritative proclamation, Preaching and Preachers is welcome and needed reminder of the necessity of Christ-saturated, uncompromising preaching.    Soli Deo Gloria!

4.5 stars

SPECTACULAR SINS – John Piper (2009)

Spectacular Sins is a breath of fresh air in a world that embraces the deistic notion that God has “left the building” and let the earthlings fend for themselves.  The opposite error of fatalism, where an impersonal force controls everything capriciously is also rejected.

Piper strives to answer four key questions:

1. Why does God want us to know his sovereignty over sin?

2. Why does God not restrain sin more often?

3. How can we have faith and joy during the severity of the last days?

4. How Christ is glorified in a world of sin?

The author navigates the so-called problem of evil by making an appeal to the sovereigny of God and rooting the reader in his all-wise purposes.  Piper ingeniously answers the questions above by illustrating how God uses sin through various examples such as the Fall of Man, the tower of Babel, Judas’ betrayal of Christ, and the crucifixion of Christ.

Piper argues,  “If you embrace the biblical truth that God ordains spectacular sins for the  global glory of his Son, without God in any way becoming unholy or unrighteous or sinful in that act, then you will not shrink back from the cross of Christ as a work of God.”

Spectacular Sins is one of the four required texts for the upcoming Veritas Class, “Mending the Achilles Heel” because it honestly answers one of the most thorny questions in Christian thought, namely, the problem of evil.

Read this book slowly and prayerfully.  Let it encourage you during difficult days.  Know that every sin is under God’s sovereign control and will somehow advance his kingdom purposes in his time and for his glory alone!

Five stars

TRUSTING GOD – Jerry Bridges (1988)


 

This week I re-read Jerry Bridges excellent book, Trusting God.   I had no idea what I was getting myself involved with when I first opened this book over twenty years ago.  Three years of Bible College had somehow blinded me to the precious reality of the sovereignty of God in all things.  Truth be known, my education can not be blamed for my ignorance concerning God’s sovereignty.  Rather, my pride got in the way of truth and hijacked one of the most incredible maxims in Scripture.

The author provides an “accessible gateway” for learning the doctrines of grace.  Admittedly, this gateway seems simple enough to begin with.  But by the end of Trusting God the reader is  launched to into the thin air of Mt. Everest!  Bridges introduces readers to the breathtaking doctrines of God’s decrees, providence, and his comprehensive sovereignty.  Thoughtful readers will linger at the summit longer than a climber on the real mountain.  And passionate Christ-followers  purpose to stay at 29,045 feet for the rest of their lives trusting in a God who promises to work for them (Isa. 64:4).

4 stars