CAN I KNOW GOD’S WILL – R.C. Sproul (2009)

R.C. Sproul consistently writes excellent books.  He has a unique ability to make difficult theological truths understandable.  Can I Know God’s Will? is no exception.

Chapter one explores the meaning of God’s will.  Dr. Sproul makes it clear that the will of God is no matter to trifle with.  Indeed “to search for the will of God can be an exercise in piety or impiety, an act of humble submission or outrageous arrogance – depending on what will of God we seek.  To try to look behind the veil at what God has not been pleased to reveal is to tamper with holy things that are out-of-bounds.”

Sproul argues that Christians have a habit of looking for simplistic answers that yield unhelpful and unbiblical  results.

The author rightly notes that the will of God is spoken of in more than one way in Scripture.  The first Greek term he explains is boule, which expresses a “rational and conscious desire.”    This term is contrasted with the Greek word, thelema which means “an impulsive or unconscious desire.”

Sproul points out that boule usually refers to God’s providential and predetermined plan (see Acts 2:23) while thelema has more to do with a will of consent, desire, or command.

This leads to a discussion of the decretive will of God and the preceptive will of God.  The decretive will (or will of decree/secret will) is what God ordains in eternity past:  “When God sovereignly decrees something in this sense, nothing can prevent it from coming to pass.”  Sproul warns against restricting the will of God to the sovereign will.  He warns against embracing a “what will be, will be” attitude which is in the final analysis a “sub-Christian form of fatalism.”

The decretive will of God stands alongside the preceptive will of God (or will of command/revealed will).  The preceptive will of God is violated and disobeyed by people every day.  Sproul continues, “The preceptive will of God is found in His law.  The precepts, statutes, and commandments that He delivers to His people make up the preceptive will.”  Sproul also introduces God’s will of disposition which is “tied up with the ability of man to disobey God’s preceptive will.”

The author includes a helpful section on righteousness  and argues that “true faith manifests itself in righteousness … We are called to bear witness to the righteousness of God in every area of life – from our prayer closets to our courtrooms, from our pews to our marketplaces.”

In the final analysis, Sproul maintains that the will of God is a serious matter to consider for every Christian.  We must embrace the distinctions that surface in Scripture that concern the will of God.  We must resist any inclination to uncover the secret aspect of his will.  On the other hand, we must strive to obey the revealed will of God and pursue righteousness.

Chapter two overviews the meaning of man’s will.  The author urges readers to examine how the will of man functioned before the fall and how it consequently functions after the fall.  He applies Augustine’s classic formulation which outlines four possibilities:

1. Able to sin

2. Able not to sin

3. Unable to sin

4. Unable not to sin

This helpful discussion leads Sproul into an exposition of man’s radical fallenness.  He argues with Augustine that post-fall man no longer has the ability “to not sin.”  He continues to articulate the anthropological position of the bishop of Hippo: “Augustine declared that in his prefallen state, man enjoyed both a free will and moral liberty.  Since the fall, man has continued to have a free will, but has lost the moral liberty he once enjoyed.”  Additionally, he compares Augustine’s views with Jonathan Edwards in his monumental work, Freedom of the Will. While they differ at some points on terminology, their views are virtually identical.

Sproul boils the subject of free will into a clear sentence that we are so accustomed to:  “Stated simply, man still has the ability to choose what he wants, but lacks the desire for true righteousness.”  He stands on the shoulders of Jonathan Edwards by reasserting his view: “Not only can we choose according to our strongest desires, we must choose according to our strongest desires of the moment.”

The author presents the dominant position that has emerged in the church (and contrasts the Augustinian position).  This view wrongly holds that the will is “free from any internal rule of disposition or desire.”

Chapter three discusses God’s will as it relates to vocation.  The author seeks to answer four questions that help answer the vocational dilemma that is so common:

1. What can I do?

2. What do I like to do?

3. What should I like to be able to do?

4. What should I do?

Finally, Dr. Sproul provides helpful advise for those seeking God’s will when it comes to marriage.  His arguments are biblical, balanced, and encouraging.

The book under consideration is a short book.  But make no mistake – this is vintage Sproul!  Once again, R.C. makes difficult truths understandable and readable.  His writing is typically clear and biblical.  While brief, Sproul’s work is perhaps the best work I have read on the will of God to date.

4.5 stars

One or Two – Peter Jones (2010)

One or Two, another important book by Peter Jones contrasts paganism with historic Christianity.  Jones refers to these worldviews as one-ism and two-ism respectively.

One-ism is the erroneous belief that all reality is one. One-ism believes “that all is one and shares the same essential nature.”

Two-ism, which describes the historic Christian faith acknowledges a Creator-creature distinction.  “Two-ism believes that while all of creation shares a certain essence (everything apart from God is created), the Creator of nature, namely God, is a completely different being, whose will determines the nature and function of all created things.” God is outside his creation (but is at the same time intimately involved with it) and is sovereign over all.

The book is divided into three parts.  Part One describes a church that desperately needs to return to the truth set forth in Romans 1.  Jones describes two kinds of worship, one in which the creation is worshiped (which represents one-ism and is a lie).  The other kind of worship, namely, biblical and God-centered worship is fixated on the Creator (which represents two-ism and is the truth).

Jones warns, “Neo-pagans infects the church by dressing up as the Christian faith.”  The author clearly sets forth the purpose behind the book: “Only a clear understanding of the two worldviews based on either the Truth (Two-ism) or the Lie (One-ism), will open our mouths to speak the truth with love and courage that honors the person of the triune God.”

Part Two is an exposition of Romans 1 in light of the concerns raised in the previous section.  The author skillfully contrasts the Truth and the Lie by pointing to specific examples. Three critical issues are contrasted, namely, the truth and lie concerning God, spirituality, and sexuality.  Jones demonstrates how the three areas are interrelated.  He argues, “Mess with your sexuality, and you will mess with your worship.  Mess with your worship and you will mess with your thinking about God.  Mess with your thinking about God and you will mess with your sexuality.  No matter which exchange you make, you will begin to adopt a Oneist spirituality and ultimately expose yourself to the judgment of God.”

Part Three focuses on personal application.  Jones challenges readers to soberly examine the choices that stand before them.  He clearly describes the deception of One-ism: “One-ism exchanges the God of Two-ism for ‘the god of this world,’ who is not a god but a creature, the epitome of Evil.  Without the true personal God, without the heavenly Father, we creatures – lonely orphans in an impersonal universe, worshiping idols of their own making – are left to ourselves to devour one another.”

Once again, Peter Jones strikes at the core of neo-Pagan lie.  He clearly and lovingly warns readers to steer clear of this diabolical worldview.  But the warning also includes joyful proclamation, namely, the hope of eternal life found in Jesus Christ.  Jones is a straight shooter.  He combines an informed mind with a warm heart and sounds a necessary alarm in a culture that is growing increasingly secular and pagan.

 

DECISION POINTS – George W. Bush (2010)

Decision Points by President George W. Bush is a book that every American ought to read.  The former president chronicles his early days in politics and honestly shares his weaknesses and decisions that he regrets.

Decision Points is possibly the most honest and candid book I have read to date.  Mr. Bush consistently takes the blame for decisions he made and refuses to cast blame on others. He congratulates others on their successes when he could have taken the credit himself.  Indeed, Mr. Bush embodies the sentiment of President Reagan who once said, “There’s no limit to what you accomplish if you don’t care who gets the credit.”

Mr. Bush discusses decision points that concern stem cells, war, Hurricane Katrina, and the financial crisis. This well written memoir bears witness to the importance of strong character, moral integrity, and a love for God, country, and freedom.  And while the former president is primarily concerned with the consequences of his decisions during his time in office, this is a vivid reminder of the importance of future decision points, crucial turning points that will impacts generations to come.

4 stars

THE WORKS OF JONATHAN EDWARDS: On the Equality of the Persons of the Trinity – Volume 21

ON THE EQUALITY OF THE PERSONS OF THE TRINITY

In this short, untitled fragment that was originally written on a salvaged letter cover, Edwards demonstrates how “the personal glory of each of the persons of the Trinity is equal, though each one, as they have a distinct personality, have a distinct glory.”

Edwards argues that the divine essence of the Trinity is undivided and independent in two senses:

1. “With respect to its being, but not with respect to its relative being … that the divine essence should be what it is, is not in any respect in any dependence or by derivation.”

2. “The divine essence is independent and underived in another respect, i.e. it is not dependent on any arbitrament or voluntary communication.”

In typical Edwardsean fashion, he is delving deeply into the mystery of the Trinity.  He reiterates the importance of understanding the three person distinction and the equality among the members of the godhead.

A MIND FOR GOD – James Emery White (2006)

“Thinking Christianly” is the purpose of James Emery White’s, A Mind For God.  He writes early on, “While short in length, it sketches out a very large challenge and investment: to develop our minds in light of a biblical worldview that is then used to think Christianly in the world.”

The author reaches his intended goal.  First, he explains the Christian mind and stresses the importance of recognizing and submitting to propositional revelation.  “The Christian mind is a mind that operates under the belief that there is something outside of ourselves that we must take into account.”

Second, the author develops the cultural mind.  In so doing, he explains the cultural battle that faces every Christian, namely, moral relativism, autonomous individualism, narcissistic hedonism, and reductive naturalism.  James Emery White argues essentially that Christ-followers must recognize these cultural competitors and respond in a biblical and winsome way.

Third, the author spends time developing the importance of developing good reading skills in order to nurture the Christian mind and provide a solid foundation for intellectual development.  Scripture, of course, is the centerpiece of the strategy here.

Fourth, there is a certain body of truth one ought to know if he or she is to nurture a properly informed Christian mind.  Included among the most important items are biblical, historical,  and theological literacy.  “Before a mind can contend with culture,” White argues, “it must first ground itself in a sound and vibrant Christian theology.”

The author stresses the need for spiritual discipline: “We need to recapture a sense that the development of our minds is a spiritual discipline.”  He props up specific rules for reading, learning, and reflection.

Finally, James Emery White brings everything together by making an appeal to the lordship of Christ, the issue that stands at the crux of Christian mind development and discipleship.  He writes, “This is the vanguard of Christian thinking – knowing how to live and then working to make the kingdom of God a reality for others to be able to live as well.”

I really enjoyed this book.  James Emery White has the perfect blend of Bible, cultural awareness, passion for the truth, and creativity. A Mind for God is a welcome addition to my own book, Developing a Christian Mind in a Post-Christian World which creates a workable framework for “thinking Christianly.”

4.5 stars

BONHOEFFER: PASTOR, MARTYR, PROPHET, SPY – Eric Mataxas (2010)

Eric Metaxas has outdone himself with his latest work, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy.  The author sets the stage for Bonhoeffer’s life and ministry by detailing his life as a child and the events that led to full-time Christian ministry.

Metaxas provides rich detail that helps deconstruct this enigmatic character we know as Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  The formative years in Rome are explored, student life in Berlin, and his first pastorate in Barcelona.  Bonhoeffer is painted as one who loved children and had a passion for equipping young men for the ministry.

His life as a university student in Berlin is a fascinating journey, especially the information that pertains to his friendship with the German theologian, Karl Barth.  Also interesting is path chosen by Bonhoeffer as he studied with German liberals like Adolf von Harnack.  These years taught Bonhoeffer to think for himself and carefully formulate his theological presuppositions and produce doctoral and post-doctoral dissertations (Sanctorum Communio and Act and Being respectively).

Shortly after Act and Being was published with little acclaim, Bonhoeffer make his way to America in 1930.  He struggled with the lack of discipline that he saw demonstrated among the theological students.  He was shocked at horrific way that some Caucasians treated African-Americans.

In 1931, Bonhoeffer journeyed back to Germany after his time in America.  At this time, he struck up a friendship with Karl Barth.  He also returned to the lectern and pulpit with renewed fervor.  Metaxas observes Bonhoeffer’s desire to nurture the life of the Christian mind in his students: “He wished to disciple them in the true life of the Christian.  This ran the gamut, from understanding current events through a biblical lens to reading the Bible not just as a theology student but as a disciple of Jesus Christ.  This approach was unique among German university theologians of that era.”

One of Bonhoeffer’s students commented, “Among the public, there spread the expectation that the salvation of the German people would now come from Hitler.  But in the lectures we were told that salvation comes only from Jesus Christ.”  Bonhoeffer sought students who were biblical to the core.  Another student noted, “He taught us that the Bible goes directly into your life, [to] where your problems are.”

Bonhoeffer was a man of conviction.  In 1933 he preached at Trinity church in Berlin and boldly proclaimed, “The church has only one altar, the altar of the Almighty … Whoever seeks something other than this must keep away; he cannot join us in the house of God … The church has only one pulpit, and from that pulpit, faith in God will be preached, and no other faith, and no other will then the will of God, however well-intentioned.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer not only took a stand for Christ; he stood on behalf of Jewish brothers and sisters.  His essay, “The Church and the Jewish Question” helped bolster his case for the Jews.  Metaxas rightly observes, “But Bonhoeffer knew that a church that did not stand with the Jews was not the church of Jesus Christ, and to evangelize people into a church that was not the church of Jesus Christ was foolishness and heresy.”

This German pastor was intensely practical and had little interest in academics as an end it itself.  Bonhoeffer writes, “Theological work and real pastoral fellowship can only grow in a life which is governed by gathering round the Word morning and evening and by fixed times of prayer.”  Additionally, Bonhoeffer would have been grieved by the so-called postmodern emphasis on “making the Bible relevant.”  He adds, “Do not try to make the Bible relevant.  Its relevance is axiomatic … Do not defend God’s Word, but testify to it … Trust the Word.”

Bonhoeffer placed a strong emphasis on preaching the written Word of God.  Metaxas comments, “For him a sermon was nothing less than the very word of God, a place where God would speak to his people … Like the incarnation, it was a place of revelation, where Christ came into this world from outside it.”

Metaxas chronicles the fascinating account of Bonhoeffer’s role as a spy and conspirator against the Nazi regime.  Bonhoeffer was a member of Military Intelligence but was in reality working to destroy Hitler’s evil devices.  The author speaks approvingly of this double agent pastor/spy: “Bonhoeffer was not telling little white lies.  In Luther’s famous phrase, he was ‘sinning boldly.’  He was involved in a high-stakes game 0f deception upon deception, and yet Bonhoeffer himself knew that in all of it, he was being utterly obedient to God.”

Metaxas meticulously details the events that led to two assassination attempts on Adolf Hitler which ultimately sent him to prison (even though the Gestapo did not initially have any idea of Bonhoeffer’s involvement in the conspiracy) and led him to the gallows.

Metaxas surveys the prison landscape that would serve as Bonhoeffer’s home for the last eighteen months of his life.  He explains how Bonhoeffer sought to keep the details of the conspiracy secret and hints at the Lutheran pastors’ ability to play a skillful game of subterfuge: “He was not a ‘worldly’ or ‘compromised’ pastor, but a pastor whose very devotion to God depended on his deceiving the evil powers ranged against him.  He was serving God by taking them all for a long ride.”

Before Bonhoeffer made his way to the gallows, he uttered these final words: “This is the end.  For me the beginning of life.”

Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy is a thoughtful and illuminating biographical account of a man who lived a faithful Christian life before God and the people of God.  The author brilliantly weaves data from personal research and a voluminous set of letters to and from Bonhoeffer.  The final product is an encouraging portrait of a courageous pastor who sought above all to obey God.  Highly recommended!

5 stars

JESUS THE EVANGELIST – Richard Phillips

Jesus the Evangelist by Richard Phillips cuts to the core of the evangelistic task.   The purpose: to study key chapters in John’s gospel and learn evangelism from Jesus himself.

In part one, the author discusses basic principles of evangelism that is drawn from the example and witness of John the Baptist.  The author reminds, “A Christian witness is first and foremost about Christ … We need to declare that Jesus saves people from their sins.”

In part two, the author zero’s in on Jesus’ witness to Nicodemus and unpacks a theology of the Gospel.  He stresses Christ’s imperative in John 3, “You must be born again.”  A strong emphasis is rightly placed on monergistic regeneration.  Specifically, God alone regenerates the human heart.  There is no human cooperation.  And sovereign regeneration enables sinners to believe the gospel.

Part three includes a discussion of Jesus’ witness to the Samaritan woman and includes Jesus’ method or practice of evangelism.  The author spends time developing Jesus’ dynamic approach to evangelism and shows how he deals directly with sin.

Jesus the Evangelist is an important tool that should be utilized by anyone who has a passion for lost people.  This work is unique because it provides a solid theological framework for evangelism and a workable methodology. 

3.5 stars

THE TWILIGHT OF ATHEISM – Alistair McGrath (2006)

The Twilight of Atheism: The Rise and Fall of Disbelief in the Modern World by Alistair McGrath is a book that deserves to be read.  The author maintains that the “rise and decline of atheism is framed by two pivotal events, separated by precisely two hundred years: the fall of the Bastille in 1789 and that of the Berlin Wall in 1989.”

McGrath skillfully guides readers through a detailed  tour of intellectual thought and demonstrates the corresponding rise and decline of atheism.

Part One: The High Noon of Atheism

Part one includes an excellent overview of the French Revolution.  Voltaire and Marquis de Sade are given special consideration and given special credit in the rise of atheism in France.

McGrath explores the intellectual foundations of atheism in Marx (God as an opiate), Freud (God as an illusion), and Feuerbach (God as an invention).

Atheism is seen through the eyes of science with a superb overview of atheism’s advance primarily through the pen of Charles Darwin.  McGrath demonstrates the rise of the so-called face value dichotomy which has contributed to the rise of secularism: “Science proves things, whereas religion depends on the authoritarian imposition of its dogmas, which fly in the face of evidence.”

Part Two: Twilight

The second half of the book picks up on the theme that Nancy Pearcey has so skillfully described in her book, Total Truth, namely the bifurcation of the sacred and the secular.  McGrath surveys the history of intellectual thought up through the Protestant Reformation and discusses the shortcomings of Protestantism.

Next, McGrath narrows his study to the birth of modernity and demonstrates that “atheism was [and is] perfectly suited to this rational and logical worldview.”

Postmodernity grew out of modernity, which according to McGrath seriously “undermines the plausibility of atheism.”  The reason: “Postmodernism is a cultural mood that celebrates diversity and seeks to undermine those who offer rigid, restrictive, and oppressive views of the world.”  And since atheism proves an incredibly intolerant worldview, the prospects of its growth do not bode well given the presuppositions of postmodernism.  McGrath suggests the reason for the incompatibility of atheism with postmodernism: “For postmodernity is intolerant of any totalizing worldview, precisely because of its propensity to oppress those who resist it” (which in the final analysis excludes atheism).

The book concludes by discussing the “fading appeal of atheism.”  McGrath discusses the shortcomings of this hopeless worldview and leaves the reader wondering what the future holds.  The author maintains, “Western atheism now finds itself in something of a twilight zone.”

The Twilight of Atheism is a welcome addition to an ever-increasing list of books on apologetics, worldviews, and evangelism.

4 stars

HOLLYWOOD WORLDVIEWS: Watching Films With Wisdom and Discernment – Brian Godawa (2009)

Whenever a book is dedicated to Francis Schaeffer, I usually stand at attention.  Brian Godawa’s book Hollywood Worldviews: Watching Films With Wisdom and Discernment is no exception.

Godawa presents the purpose of the book in to introduction: “I want to inform the reader of the nature of storytelling and analyze how worldviews are communicated through most Hollywood movies.  As readers sharpen their understanding of movies, they will be more capable of discerning the good from the bad and avoid the extremes of cultural desertion (anorexia) and cultural immersion (gluttony).

This work is divided into three parts and  are summarized below:

ACT ONE: STORYTELLING IN THE MOVIES

The first section includes a survey of movies that are laden with violence, profanity.  Also included are movies that stress stories, myth, and redemption.  The author is quick to point out that “every story is informed by a worldview.  And so every movie, being a dramatic story, is also informed by a worldview.  There is no such thing as a neutral story in which events and characters are presented objectively apart from interpretation.”

The author challenges readers to watch movies with a discerning eye and avoid generic responses such as “I liked it” or “I didn’t like it.”

ACT TWO: WORLDVIEWS IN THE MOVIES

In section two, the author presents a wide assortment of movies that promote existentialism, postmodernism, romanticism, monism, evolution, humanism, and Neo-paganism.  He honestly and thoughtfully interacts with and dissects dozens of movies and contrasts them with the Christian worldview.

ACT THREE: SPIRITUALITY IN THE MOVIES

Godawa explores the identity of Jesus in the movies and how Christianity is represented (usually poorly) in contemporary films.  He rightly alerts the reader to the fact/value dichotomy that emerges in many movies.

Hollywood Worldviews: Watching Films With Wisdom and Discernment is an excellent overview that clearly outlines the strengths and weaknesses in literally dozens of movies.  The author candidly interacts with worldview themes and carefully summarizes themes that are inconsistent with Scripture.  Godawa’s work is a breath of fresh air as he evaluates film and contemporary culture with a spirit of grace and a clear-headed approach.

4 stars

2010 in review

The stats helper monkeys at WordPress.com mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads Wow.

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

A Boeing 747-400 passenger jet can hold 416 passengers. This blog was viewed about 8,300 times in 2010. That’s about 20 full 747s.

 

In 2010, there were 123 new posts, not bad for the first year! There were 253 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 84mb. That’s about 5 pictures per week.

The busiest day of the year was December 21st with 902 views. The most popular post that day was SLAVE – John MacArthur (2010).

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were challies.com, facebook.com, lagrandefbc.org, Google Reader, and faithbyhearing.wordpress.com.

Some visitors came searching, mostly for veritas et lux, kouzes and posner 2007, baldreformer, no creed but christ, and what is vocation.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.

1

SLAVE – John MacArthur (2010) December 2010
2 comments

2

THE LEADERSHIP CHALLENGE – James Kouzes and Barry Posner (2007 Revised) March 2010

3

Dr. David Steele January 2010
4 comments

4

THE SEVEN SAYINGS OF THE SAVIOR ON THE CROSS – A.W. Pink February 2010

5

MANAGING PEOPLE IS LIKE HERDING CATS – Warren Bennis (1999) August 2010