BOOK REVIEWS · Calvinism · JONATHAN EDWARDS · Jonathan Edwards

True Grace, Distinguished From the Experience of Devils – Jonathan Edwards (1752)

Jonathan_Edwards_engravingOn September 28, 1752, Jonathan Edwards was invited to preach a sermon before the Presbyterian Synod of New York.  His son-in-law, Aaron Burr (who had recently married his daughter Esther) was the president of the College of New Jersey and undoubtedly had an influence in the invitation that Edwards received.

James 2:19 is the text that Edwards utilizes – You believe that God is one; you do that well.  Even the demons believe – and shudder!

Doctrine

Nothing in the mind of man, that is of the same nature with what the devils experience, or are the subjects of, is any sure sign of saving grace.

Edwards essentially argues this: there is no sign of grace in demons.  Three propositions drive the doctrine which he presents.

  1. The devils have no degree of holiness: and therefore, those things, which are nothing beyond what they are the subjects of, cannot be holy experiences.
  2. The devils are not only absolutely without all true holiness, but they are not so much as the subjects of any common grace.
  3. It is unreasonable to suppose, that a person’s being in any respect as the devil is, should be a certain sign, that he is very unlike, and opposite to him; and hereafter, shall not have his part with him.

Edwards includes a series of improvements or inferences which assist his hearers and instruct them in the Christian faith.

First, Nothing that damned men do, or ever will experience, can be any sure sign of grace.

Second, No degree of speculative knowledge of things of religion, is any certain sign of saving grace.

Third, For persons merely to yield to a speculative assent to the doctrines of religion as true, is no certain evidence of a state of grace.

Fourth, [Converted men] have been the subjects of very great distress and terrors of mind, through apprehensions of God’s wrath, and fears of damnation.

Fifth, It may be further inferred from the doctrine, that no work of the law on men’s hearts, in conviction of guilt, and just desert of punishment, is a sure argument, that a person has been savingly converted. 

Sixth, It is no certain sign of grace, that persons have earnest desires and longings after salvation.

Seventh, Persons who have no grace may have a great apprehension of an external glory.

Edwards demonstrates in stroke after stroke how and why the devils lack saving grace.  He applies his thesis to the hearts of men as noted above.  Once again, the Puritan divine accurately diagnoses the human condition apart from grace.  But he concludes by contrasting the graceless state of devils with the gracious state of a person who trusts Christ: “By this, above all other things, do men glorify God.   By this, above all other things, do the saints shine as lights in the world, and are blessings to mankind.”    It is here where Edwards draws his readers and those who would listen to this sermon – to the fountain of grace which never ends!

 

BOOK REVIEWS · JONATHAN EDWARDS · Jonathan Edwards

The Peace Which Christ Gives His True Followers – Jonathan Edwards (1750)

Jonathan_Edwards_engravingImagine shepherding a congregation of people, only to find yourself
expelled from the church.  That is exactly what happened to Jonathan Edwards – America’s greatest intellectual.  Within a month of his dismissal, Edwards pens a series of sermons – one of which is entitled The Peace Which Christ Gives His True Followers.

The Text: John 14:27

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.  Not as the world gives do I give to you.  Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.

The Doctrine

That peace which Christ, when he died, left as a legacy to all his true saints, is very diverse from all those things which the men of this world bequeath to their children when they die.

It is not surprising that Edwards is inclined to turn to John 14:27, especially in light of the recent events that turned his world upside down.  Three central propositions support the doctrine.

1. Christ at his death, made over the blessings of the new covenant to believers, as it were in a will or testament.

Edwards clearly shows how Christ promised not only peace but joy and grace and victory over the world.  Indeed, we have a delightful inheritance.

2. A great blessing that Christ in his testament hath bequeathed to true followers, is his peace.

Two things are granted to believers in this monumental promise.  First, Christ bestows true peace and comfort on every believer.  Each believer experiences peace with God, peace with one another, and peace within themselves.    Edwards notes, “By these means true saints are brought into a state of freedom from condemnation and all the curses of the law of God” (Rom. 8:34).

Second, Christ bestows his peace to his followers: “So Christ’s true disciples, though in the world they have tribulations, yet in God they have peace.”

3. This legacy of Christ to his true disciples is very diverse from all that the men of the world ever leave to their children when they die.

Edwards assures believers that Christ’s peace differs from worldly pleasures in four specific ways.

  • Christ’s peace is a reasonable peace and rest of soul.
  • Christ’s peace is a virtuous and holy peace.
  • Christ’s peace infinitely differs from the world, in that it is unfailing and eternal peace.

Application

Edwards urges believers to cling to Christ and make good use of the peace he gives so freely.  He urges unbelievers to receive the free offer of Christ or suffer the temporal and eternal consequences: “As long as you continue to reject those offers and invitations of Christ, and continue in a Christless condition, you never will enjoy any true peace or comfort; but in whatever circumstances you are, you will be miserable.”

Edwards choice of John 14:27 is certainly no surprise.  His resolute handling of the text is no less bewildering, given his gospel-centered track-record as a pastor.  The remarkable thing about this sermon is that Edwards forges into the future, unhindered by life-altering circumstances.  This is an example of a Christ-exalting hope and a Christ-satisfied faith!

Hearken, therefore, to the friendly counsel that is given you this day: turn your feet into the way of peace; forsake the foolish and live.  Forsake those things which are no other than the devil’s baits, and seek after this excellent peace and rest of Jesus Christ, that peace of God which passes all understanding.

CULTURE

A Black-And-White Proposal: Farewell To Fuzzy Thinking

Donald Miller raises the banner for “fuzzy thinking” in a recent blog post entitled, “The Problem with Black-and-White Thinking” (re-posted on relevantmagazine.com).  His main thought: “Black-and-white, either-or thinking polarizes people and stunts progressive thought.”  Additionally, he holds that this kind of thinking stunts our “ability to find truth.”

DEFENDING THE GOOD IN MILLER’S PROPOSAL

Miller admits that there is such a thing as right and wrong.  He also admits the existence of absolute truth.  So Miller does not advocate full-fledged relativism.  For this, we can be thankful.  In fact, even though his posting is loaded with difficulties, Miller does include some helpful suggestions worth considering:

First, Miller suggests, “Disengage your ego from your ideas.”  This point is well taken because many times a particular view is so tied to one’s ego that it becomes virtually impossible to separate fact from fiction.

Second, Miller encourages, “Understand there is much you don’t understand.”  He rightly adds, “We begin to think in black-and-white when we assume we know everything.”  While he does not press the point of Christian humility (as he should – pardon the black- and white thinking), it seems to be a part of his overall argument.

Third, Miller seems to argue in essence, that charity and grace ought to be a part of conversations and even arguments.  This implied pointer ought to be a part of daily life, where conversations and arguments produce more light than heat and stimulate deeper thinking about a given subject.

DISMANTLING THE BAD IN MILLER’S PROPOSAL

There are four problems that emerge, including unwarranted assumptions that must be dismantled.

Black-and-White Thinking Demonizes the Opposition

Miller advances the common notion that black-and-white thinking is polarizing; a bad thing. Again, “Black-and-white, either-or thinking polarizes people and stunts progressive thought.”  He adds, “… We begin to believe whatever thought-camp we subscribe to is morally good and the other morally bad, thus demonizing a threatening position.”

But this is not necessarily the case.  One can advance a dogmatic view but do so in a humble, yet decisive way.  After gaining a hearing with the philosophers in Athens, Paul presents an argument that could be construed as black-and-white:  “The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he 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; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17:30, ESV).

Paul does polarize his audience.  Notice their response.  “Now then they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked.  But others said, ‘We will hear you again about this'” (Acts 17:32).  The polarization that occurs is a necessary part of proclaiming the gospel message.  “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Cor. 1:18, ESV).

Jesus employs a similar strategy when he confronts the Jews in John 8:  “Whoever is of God hears the words of God.  The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God” (v. 47, ESV).  Jesus does not demonize his hearers.  He merely tells them the truth.  Again, polarizing – but necessary.

These Jews maintained, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone.  How is it that you can say, ‘You will become free?'” (John 8:33, ESV).  Jesus polarizes his Jewish audience when he says,”Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin” (John 8:34, ESV).  Oh, the horror of polarization!  But Jesus does not leave them without hope.  He adds, “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36).

I would argue that when people are polarized, this can prove to be very helpful. When a truth claim is presented, one either accepts or rejects the claim.  If one accepts the claim but disagrees, thoughtful dialogue may continue.  So instead of “stunting progressive thought” and “stunting our ability to think and find truth” as Miller claims, black-and-white thinking can actually lead to the discovery of truth.

Black-and-White Thinking Assumes Arrogance

Miller continues in his diatribe against black-and-white thinking:  “It [black-and-white thinking] allows us to feel intelligent without understanding, and once we are intelligent, we feel superior.  People who don’t agree with us are just dumb.”  Honestly, Miller’s charge may prove quite accurate at times.  It is true that black-and-white thinking may lead to arrogant behavior and a haughty spirit.  But this does not have to be the case.  One can embrace and promote a dogmatic view and do so in a spirit of gentleness and humility.  This much is demanded in the Scripture.

Scripture instructs believers to “speak the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15) and demonstrate compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience with one another (Col. 3:12).  Additionally, God’s Word instructs believers to speak in a way that demonstrates gentleness and respect (1 Pet. 3:16).  Paul admonishes Timothy, “And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness …” (2 Tim. 2:24-25a).  In other words, there is a place for admonition (which by the way requires black-and-white thinking).  But the admonition must be laced with gentleness and kindness.

For instance, Jesus says, “I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12, ESV).  What is Jesus saying here?  He graciously tells his listeners that if they reject his lordship, they will walk in darkness.  Again, he polarizes his audience but speaks the truth in love.  There is no hint of arrogance.  Indeed, this is the sinless Son of God! Jesus adds, “I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins” (John 8:24, ESV).

It is simply naive to automatically assume that black-and-white thinking inevitably leads to arrogance.  Christ-followers, then, must make truth claims with boldness and humility.  Recognizing the danger of pride and arrogance, they must season their words with grace and gentleness.  They must be winsome in their approach to communicating the truth.

Black-and-White Thinking Discourages Open Dialogue

This point is implied when Miller encourages people to walk away from a conversation that becomes characterized as black-and-white.  He says, “When the conversation becomes about defending one’s identity, it’s time to politely move on.”  He goes on to say that “these discussions go nowhere and don’t help me find truth.”  Miller unfairly draws a conclusion that black-and-white arguments result in “defending one’s identity.”  This is certainly a possibility – but is not inevitable.

A few years ago, Whoopi Goldberg and Joy Behar walked off their own set on The View when the conversation got heated with Bill O’Reilly.  They walked away from a black-and-white conversation as Miller encourages.  O’Reilly who was and is usually unashamedly black-and-white was construed as an uncaring and insensitive person, based on some comments he made about the 911 attacks.  Some would argue that Miller’s prediction came to pass; that O’Reilly’s strong stand was tied to his identity.   The fact is that when Goldberg and Behar made their exit, the dialogue stopped – and became even more heated and controversial.  Moreover, O’Reilly was not the only person on the set who promoted black-and-white thinking!

Black-and-White Thinking Assumes the Impossibility of Certainty

Built into the framework of Miller’s argument is at the very least, an implicit suspicion of certainty.  Since Miller admits the existence of absolute truth and since he rejects relativism, he must embrace that some truth is certain.   But where will this suspicion of certainty lead in the long run?

Some progressive-types may be tempted to hop on the postmodern bandwagon and condemn “certainty” as a worn out product of the Enlightenment (a position that is amusing because it is dripping with so much certainty!)

I am less concerned with Don Miller at this point.  He’s too smart to make absolute statements against absolute truth.  What concerns me is what some will do with his antipathy to black-and-white thinking. What concerns me deeply are those who take the next step into uncertainty because they have not examined the logic (or irrationality) of their presuppositions.  What concerns me is that full-fledged relativism is just around the corner.

John Piper sums up the essence of relativism: “No one standard of true and false, right and wrong, good and bad, or beautiful and ugly, can preempt any other standard.  No standard is valid for everyone” (Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God, 98).  This relativistic way of thinking is knocking on the door of the church and in some cases has already barged in.

DISTURBING ELEMENTS OF FUZZY THINKING

Fuzzy Thinking Does Not Work in the Real World

Fuzzy thinking will not fly when it comes to raising children: “Please be home by 10:00 p.m. or feel free to do whatever you want.”  Fuzzy thinking will not fly when a police officer stops you for speeding.  Fuzzy thinking doesn’t work very well at the bank.  It doesn’t work on the basketball court. And it certainly does not fare well on the operating table.  Fuzzy thinking will always lead to a bad grade in philosophy class (and every other course).  Fuzzy thinking cannot stand up to the brutal reality of absolute truth.

Fuzzy thinking didn’t work for Jesus either.  Imagine the difficulty in pointing sinners to the Father in John 14 if Jesus had employed fuzzy thinking.  He would have been forced to say, “I am one of the many ways to the Father.  Everyone gets to heaven so long as their motives are right.”  But instead, Jesus speaks in absolute, black-and-white terms: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6, ESV).  He not only makes an absolute truth claim concerning his identity; he utilizes a universal negative and makes it clear that “no one comes to the Father except through me.”

Jesus utilizes black-and-white thinking throughout his ministry.  Notice his absolute truth claims:

“Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him” (John 3:36, ESV).

“But whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty forever.  The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:14, ESV).

“God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24, ESV).

“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life.  He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life” (John 5:24).

Fuzzy Thinking Does Not Work in the Pyre

If fuzzy thinking does not work in the real world, then it certainly does not work in the midst of persecution.  The martyrs of historic Christianity lived and died because of black-and-white thinking.

On his way to martyrdom, Ignatius wrote seven black-and-white letters that have proven to be very valuable documents to help our understanding of early Christianity.

When Polycarp faced execution for his Christian faith, the judge promised a quick release if Polycarp swore allegiance to the Emperor and vowed to curse Christ.  Polycarp responded, ““For eighty-six years I have served him, and he has done me no evil.  How could I curse my King, who saved me?”

When the judge threatened him with burning him alive, Polycarp simply answered that the fire that was about to be lit would only last a moment, whereas the eternal fire would never go out.  After Polycarp was tied to the post in the pyre, he looked up and prayed out loud: “Lord Sovereign God . . . I thank you that you have deemed me worthy of this moment, so that, jointly with your martyrs, I may have a share in the cup of Christ . . . For this . . . I bless and glorify you” (Justo L. Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity – Volume I, 39-48).

And consider the example of William Tyndale.  Tyndale courageously opposed anyone who quenched the work of the Spirit or despised God’s Word.   Again, Spirit enabled black-and-white thinking fueled his resolve.

One time a clergyman told Tyndale, “We are better without God’s laws than the pope’s.”  Tyndale’s black-and-white thinking prompted a decisive response: “I defy the Pope and all his laws; and if God spares my life, I will cause the boy who drives the plow in England to know more of the Scriptures than the Pope himself.”

Ignatius, Polycarp, and Tyndale held fast to the good (1 Thes. 5:21).  John MacArthur describes this imperative as “a militant, defensive, protective stance against anything that undermines the truth or does violence to it in any way.  We must hold the true securely; defend it zealously; preserve it from all threats.  To placate the enemies of truth or lower our guard is to violate this command.”

Fuzzy Thinking Minimizes the Role of Reason and Logic

Miller argues that black-and-white thinking would never make it “through the door of an undergraduate course in logic.”  Much to the contrary, the law of non-contradiction teaches us that a statement and its opposite cannot both be true at the same time and in the same sense.

Ron Nash reminds us, “The presence of contradiction is always a sign of error.  Hence, we have a right to expect a conceptual system to be logically consistent, both in its parts (its individual propositions) and in the whole.  A conceptual system is in obvious trouble if it fails to hang together logically” (Worldviews in Conflict, 55).

In other words, every worldview needs to be subjected to the law of non-contradiction.  When a contradiction emerges, the worldview must be abandoned.  Without black-and-white thinking, this worldview test passes by the wayside and discernment vanishes.

The root of this discussion concerning black-and-white thinking is tied to the formation of a worldview.   And in order for a worldview to be plausible, it must be able to be lived out in the real world.  Francis Schaeffer reminds us, “We must be able to live consistently with our theory” (The God Who is There, 121).

So in the final analysis, black-and-white thinking is not problematic.  Indeed, black-and-white thinking is not only philosophically tenable; it is an essential part of living the Christian life.  Without black-and-white thinking, it would be impossible to choose between two competing alternatives.  Without black-and-white thinking, theological and philosophical assertions would all receive equal acclaim, which is to say that truth at the end of the day is a matter of personal preference.

Whenever someone begins to back away from absolutes, reason and logic suddenly become unwelcome in the house of irrationality; a house that is destined to collapse under its own weight.  Peter Kreeft demonstrates the importance of logic: “If an argument has nothing but clear terms, true premises, and valid logic, its conclusion must be true” (Socratic Logic, 32).  Fuzzy thinking, however, tends to minimize the role of reason and logic, which at the end of the day proves not only unrealistic, but irrational.

Additionally, fuzzy thinking militates against the Law of the Excluded Middle.  James Nance and Douglas Wilson define this law: “Any statement is either true or false … it excludes the possibility of a truth value falling somewhere in the middle of truth or false” (Introductory Logic, xi).

Here’s the funny thing.  I am quite certain that Miller embraces these philosophical laws.  The problem is when he discourages black-and-white thinking, he unwittingly begins to whittle away at laws of logic which flow from the nature of God.  The downhill descent eventually leads to full-blown relativism.  Again, I am not concerned so much with Miller.  I am convinced that he would never go this route.  I am concerned, however, with those who are convinced by his arguments against black-and-white thinking.

DETERMINING A PROPOSAL REGARDING  BLACK-AND-WHITE THINKING

Donald Miller focuses on the so-called problems of black-and-white thinking.  I argue that Christian testimony and gospel witness will begin to erode to the degree that black-and-white thinking deteriorates.  Indeed, the essence of the gospel will erode to the degree we embrace fuzzy thinking.  Therefore, I submit the following proposal:

1. Black-and-White Thinking Should be Encouraged – Not Discouraged

Black-and-white thinking should be encouraged on biblical, philosophical, and practical grounds.  Sometimes, such thinking is criticized as “hair-splitting.”  Yet this black-and-white “hair-splitting” was indispensable as Athanasius challenged the arch-heretic, Arius.  This kind of thinking was a necessary part of formulating the doctrine of the Trinity and affirming the two natures of Christ; i.e. fully God and fully man.

Black-and-white thinking led to the formation of the major creeds and catechisms including the Apostles’ Creed, Nicene Creed, Chalcedonian Creed, the Heidelberg Catechism, and the Westminster Confession of Faith.

Black-and-white thinking should be encouraged.  For whenever black-and-white thinking is discouraged, the net result is theological error and irrationality.

2. Black-and-White Thinking is Essential to Christian Epistemology

Francis Schaeffer warned the church in 1968:  “We are fundamentally affected by a new way of looking at truth.  This change in the concept of the way we come to knowledge and truth is the most crucial problem facing America today” (The God Who Is There, 6).  In other words, “absolutes imply antithesis.”  The working antithesis is that God exists objectively (in antithesis) to his not existing.

The loss of antithesis (or repudiating black-and-white thinking) in American culture led to what Dr. Schaeffer coined the “line of despair” or giving up all hope of achieving a rational unified answer to knowledge and life.

So Christians must rise above the level of despair and affirm a Christ-saturated epistemology.  They recognize that truth is a unified whole.  They understand that there is no disparity between faith and reason.  In other words, faith and reason are not out of contact with each other.  They embrace what Nancy Pearcey refers to as “total truth.”

3. Black-and-White Thinking is Essential to Healthy Christian Living

Christ-followers who recognize that truth is unified understand this fundamental reality:  They know that black-and-white thinking is essential to the Christian life.  They recognize real good and real evil: “Ponder the path of your feet; then all your ways will be sure.  Do not swerve to the right or to the left; turn your foot away from evil” (Prov. 4:26-27, ESV).

Because Christians understand that “absolutes imply antithesis” they speak and live in terms of black-and-white:

“Whoever is steadfast in righteousness will live, but he who pursues evil will die.  Those of crooked heart are an abomination to the LORD, but those of blameless ways are his delight.  Be assured, an evil person will not go unpunished, but the offspring of the righteous will be delivered” (Prov. 11:19-21).

“Whoever speaks the truth gives honest evidence, but a false witness utters deceit” (Prov. 12:17).

4. There Should Be No Dichotomy Between Bold, Black-and-White Convictions and a Gracious Offering of Truth Claims

For instance, Jesus proclaims a series of woes on the Pharisees in Matthew 23.  His black-and-white thinking is actually stunning.  Yet at the end of chapter 23, we find him lamenting over Jerusalem: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it!  How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!” (v. 37).

5. Black-and-White Truth Claims Should be Set Forth With Decisive Humility

On the one hand, Christ-followers must maintain their commitment to absolute truth claims.  They must do so vigorously and decisively.  They must boldly proclaim the truth in the marketplace of ideas.  And they must point to Christ, who is the essence of truth, apart from whom, knowledge is impossible.

On the other hand, Christ-followers must believe, proclaim, and defend black-and-white truth with Spirit-enabled humility: “But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word” (Isa. 66:2b, ESV).  They must passionately proclaim truth “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love …” (Eph. 4:2, ESV).  And they must teach and defend the truth and embrace the framework of 2 Timothy 2:24.  “And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness …”

SUMMARY

I hear what Don Miller is saying and I suspect that he’s concerned with Christ-followers who demonstrate less than loving behavior.  He would be right to be concerned.  Indeed, Christ is the most loving person that ever existed or will ever exist.  But Christ was also a black-and-white thinker.  The prophets were black-and-white thinkers.  The apostles were black-and-white thinkers.  And the martyrs were black-and-white thinkers.

Miller’s position could be construed to mean something like this: “We need less truth and more love and grace.”  I am quite confident that this is not his intention.  Similarly, my position could be construed to promote the following: “We need less love and more truth.”  Of course, this is not my argument either.  Rather, as Christians, we are called to both!  We are called to speak the truth – and we are called to engage in this ministry of proclamation with love, gentleness, and humility.

The funny thing is that Miller uses black-and-white thinking to argue against black-and-white thinking.  So at worst, his argument is self-refuting.  At best, perhaps there is hope for the future because, in the final analysis, Miller embraces black-and-white thinking after all!

If Miller is concerned primarily with the promotion of personal opinions, fine.  If he is concerned with soliciting dogmatic statements in gray areas that concern cultural matters like music and one’s choice of the best Italian restaurant, I have no quarrel.  But when it comes to matters of eternal significance, black-and-white thinking is essential.

We live in a world of absolutes.  And absolutes demand humble and decisive proclamation.  May Christians continue to proclaim and defend black-and-white propositional truth to the glory of Jesus Christ.  My black-and-white proposal: Farewell to fuzzy thinking!

“I know that truth stands and is mighty forever, and abides eternally, with whom there is no respect of persons.” – John Hus, Czech reformer, black-and-white thinker and martyr (1412)

Veritas et Lux!

BOOK REVIEWS

Theophany: A Biblical Theology of God’s Appearing – Vern Poythress

theoVern Poythress, Theophany: A Biblical Theology of God’s Appearing Wheaton: Crossway, 2018, 463 pp. $26.79

“A theophany is a manifestation of divine presence accompanied by an extraordinary display mediating that presence.” This is the primary goal of Vern S. Poythress in his recent book, Theophany: A Biblical Theology of God’s Appearing.

Theophanies, according to the author have three primary functions: (1) They manifest God’s character and glory. (2) They remind us that God is with us. (3) They fill us with a sense of holy anticipation for the final coming and appearance of God.

“In short,” writes Poythress, “God is present everywhere and at all times in the created world that he has made.” Theophany is arranged in five sections as outlined below:

Part I: The Biblical Theme of God Appearing

Part II: The Mystery of God Appearing

Part III: A History of God Appearing in the Old Testament

Part IV: A History of God Appearing in the New Testament

Using this framework, the author guides readers on an enthralling journey that presents God from cover to cover. A threefold theme emerges throughout this book that alert readers to the promises of God, his covenants, and the presence of God. Ultimately, the appearances of God foreshadow the appearance of God in Christ, whom Poythress says is the “permanent and climactic theophany.”

I highly recommend Theophany and trust that many will be encouraged and edified as they come face-to-face with the God of the Bible.

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

Atheism · Biblical authority · Creation · God · Revelation

The End of Creation: Soli Deo Gloria

The first verse in the Bible is a monumental statement that reverberates with earth-shattering implications for the formation of a Christian worldview: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1, ESV). Do not miss the magnitude of this statement. Do not downplay the significance of this vital piece of revelation. And be careful to embrace what the Scriptures affirm. Ignoring the clear revelation of God’s truth, in the final analysis, proves to be a costly mistake that will have consequences that extend into eternity.

The German astronomer, Johannes Kepler, accepted biblical revelation and understood the importance of giving credit where credit is due: “The chief aim of all investigations of the external world should be to discover the rational order and harmony which has been imposed on it by God.”1To do any less would be tantamount to theological treason. So Kepler does not minimize God’s creative activity; he magnifies it. He does not marginalize the miracle of creation; he marvels at it!

Tragically, some thinkers have not followed Kepler’s lead. These skeptics have discounted Genesis 1:1 and cast the revelation of God into the cosmic rubbish bin. Charles Darwin, who popularized the notion of “natural selection” in his book, Origin of Species also rejected the clear account of creation. Ironically, he is buried in Westminster Abbey. Darwin may be gone but his atheistic ideology continues to dominate the thoughts of many minds, especially in the university.

Carl Sagan, who was a great champion of Darwinian evolutionary theory penned these well-known words: “The Cosmos is all that is or was or ever will be. Our feeblest contemplations of the Cosmos stir us – there is a tingling in the spine, a catch in the voice, a faint sensation, as if a distant memory, of falling from a height. We know we are approaching the greatest of mysteries.”2 He continues, “Evolution is a fact, not a theory.”3 Such banter may appeal to the itching ears of evolutionists but fails to hold up when scrutinized at the tribunal of truth.

Or consider Richard Dawkins, another defender of Darwin’s evolutionary theory. His rejection of the creation account leads him to a view of God which is blasphemous at best: “The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”4 The Word of God offers a stern rebuke to this kind of unbelieving thought.

It doesn’t take long to discern some of the catastrophic consequences of giving God’s revelation a vote of “no-confidence.” Francis Schaeffer understood the vast importance of Genesis 1:1. He understood that if we set aside the reality of creation, our worldview collapses. He writes, “Unless our epistemology is right, everything is going to be wrong.”5 The discipline of epistemology addresses the matter of knowledge. That is, it helps unpack what we know about what we know. Schaeffer continues, “The infinite-person God is there, but also he is not silent; that changes the whole world.”6Schaeffer helps us understand that God exists and he has revealed himself, that is, he has spoken. Or to use Schaeffer’s words, “He is not silent.”

That fact that God not only exists but has also revealed himself is a massive reality that every person must come to terms with. This stunning truth should find us on our knees with outstretched arms. It should prompt a humble offer thanksgiving to the living God. But there’s more – Jonathan Edwards understands the motive behind God’s act of creation. He argues that the end for which God created the world was self-communication: ”Seeing that Christ created the world only to communicate his excellency and happiness, hence we learn, that all the excellency, virtue and happiness of the godly is wrought in them by Jesus Christ.”7 The implication of this Edwardian vision of creation are far-reaching and have important practical implications.

So the end of creation is uniquely focused upon God. That is, creation is Godward. Creation is God-centered. In one of his greatest literary achievements, A Dissertation Concerning the End For Which God Created the World, Jonathan Edwards demonstrates this God-centeredness: “What God says in his word, naturally leads us to suppose, that the way in which he makes himself his end in his work or works, which he does for his own sake, is in making his glory his end … God communicates himself to the understanding of the creature, in giving him the knowledge of his glory; and to the will of the creature, in giving him holiness, consisting primarily in the love of God; and in giving the creature happiness, chiefly consisting in joy in God. These are the sum of that emanation of divine fulness called in Scripture, the glory of God.8

Consider three important implications of discounting the biblical creation account:

First, discounting the reality of biblical creation leads to a skewed epistemology. And a skewed epistemology, will by definition, influence the way we think about everything else. When God is taken out of the picture or removed from the marketplace, we are left wandering in a wasteland in search of answers. “If God does not exist,” writes Dostoevsky, “then everything is permitted.” The eclipse of God leaves us helpless, hopeless, and lost in a quagmire of meaninglessness.

Second, discounting the reality of biblical creation impugns the character and trustworthiness of God. Scripture is clear about the creation account:

“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.” (Colossians 1:16–17, ESV)

“When you send forth your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the ground.” (Psalm 104:30, ESV)

““Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements—surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone,” (Job 38:4–6, ESV)

“When you send forth your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the ground.” (Psalm 104:30, ESV)

Anyone who discards what God has made plain calls God’s character into question and heaps a great insult upon the worth of his name. Anyone who dares impugn the character of God stands on the precipice of eternal judgment.

Third, discounting the reality of biblical creation fails to glorify God, which is the end of creation. Isaiah 43:7 says, “Everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.” Think about the tragic irony of rejecting the creation account. The creature who was created to glorify God stands in defiance and mocks the One who gave him breath.

The glory of God is the end of creation. The heavens declare his glory (Ps. 19:1). Is it any wonder that sinful men seek to distort what God has made plain in Scripture?

Soli Deo Gloria!

  1. Johannes Kepler, Cited in Charles Colson and Nancy Pearcey, How Now Shall We Live? (Wheaton: Tyndale House, 1999), 51.
  2. Carl Sagan, Cosmos (New York: Ballantine Books Trade, 1980), 1.
  3. Ibid, 27.
  4. Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2006), 31.
  5. Francis A. Schaeffer, The Complete Works of Francis A. Schaeffer: A Christian Worldview, Volume One, A Christian View of Philosophy and Culture (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1982), 275-276.
  6. Ibid, 276.
  7. Jonathan Edwards, The Works of Jonathan Edwards, vol. 13, The “Miscellanies,” ed. Thomas A. Schaefer, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1994), 277.
  8. The Works of Jonathan Edwards, vol. 1, A Dissertation Concerning the End For Which God Created the World, ed. Edward Hickman (Carlisle: The Banner of Truth, 1834), 107, 119.
BOOK REVIEWS · Calvinism · JONATHAN EDWARDS · Jonathan Edwards

True Grace, Distinguished From the Experience of Devils – Jonathan Edwards (1752)

Jonathan_Edwards_engravingOn September 28, 1752, Jonathan Edwards was invited to preach a sermon before the Presbyterian Synod of New York.  His son-in-law, Aaron Burr (who had recently married his daughter Esther) was the president of the College of New Jersey and undoubtedly had an influence in the invitation that Edwards received.

James 2:19 is the text that Edwards utilizes – You believe that God is one; you do that well.  Even the demons believe – and shudder!

Doctrine

Nothing in the mind of man, that is of the same nature with what the devils experience, or are the subjects of, is any sure sign of saving grace.

Edwards essentially argues this: there is no sign of grace in demons.  Three propositions drive the doctrine which he presents.

  1. The devils have no degree of holiness: and therefore, those things, which are nothing beyond what they are the subjects of, cannot be holy experiences.
  2. The devils are not only absolutely without all true holiness, but they are not so much as the subjects of any common grace.
  3. It is unreasonable to suppose, that a person’s being in any respect as the devil is, should be a certain sign, that he is very unlike, and opposite to him; and hereafter, shall not have his part with him.

Edwards includes a series of improvements or inferences which assist his hearers and instruct them in the Christian faith.

First, Nothing that damned men do, or ever will experience, can be any sure sign of grace.

Second, No degree of speculative knowledge of things of religion, is any certain sign of saving grace.

Third, For persons merely to yield to a speculative assent to the doctrines of religion as true, is no certain evidence of a state of grace.

Fourth, [Converted men] have been the subjects of very great distress and terrors of mind, through apprehensions of God’s wrath, and fears of damnation.

Fifth, It may be further inferred from the doctrine, that no work of the law on men’s hearts, in conviction of guilt, and just desert of punishment, is a sure argument, that a person has been savingly converted. 

Sixth, It is no certain sign of grace, that persons have earnest desires and longings after salvation.

Seventh, Persons who have no grace may have a great apprehension of an external glory.

Edwards demonstrates in stroke after stroke how and why the devils lack saving grace.  He applies his thesis to the hearts of men as noted above.  Once again, the Puritan divine accurately diagnoses the human condition apart from grace.  But he concludes by contrasting the graceless state of devils with the gracious state of a person who trusts Christ: “By this, above all other things, do men glorify God.   By this, above all other things, do the saints shine as lights in the world, and are blessings to mankind.”    It is here where Edwards draws his readers and those who would listen to this sermon – to the fountain of grace which never ends!

 

Uncategorized

A SPECIAL SALE ON AMAZON!

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The paperback version of my book, Bold Reformer: Celebrating the Gospel-Centered Convictions of Martin Luther is now available on Amazon for $7.28, but only for a limited time.  The Kindle version is also available for $2.99.

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 ablaze 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.

Bold Reformer: Celebrating the Gospel-Centered Convictions of Martin Luther takes readers on a journey through a remarkable period of church history. It will challenge contemporary readers to learn the lessons of courage, and perseverance. It will inspire a new generation of people to follow Jesus, obey Jesus, and worship the Savior with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength. It invites a new generation of Christ-followers to recover the gospel in their generation and make their stand as a bold reformer.

Bold Reformer is born out of personal pastoral turmoil and inspired by the courage of Martin Luther.  My hope is that many pastors, Christian leaders, and Christ-followers will be encouraged as a result of reading this book; that God will propel them into the future by his grace and for his glory.

Endorsements:

“David Steele’s Bold Reformer is a book for our times! As we celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, how appropriate to look afresh at ways the bold faith and action of Martin Luther can inspire and instruct our own faith and work. Christians today need strength of character and boldness of conviction. Steele’s presentation of Luther’s life moves readers to live bold lives that adorn the gospel of grace alone, by faith alone, in Christ alone.”

Dr. Bruce A. Ware, T. Rupert and Lucille Coleman Professor of Christian Theology, Chairman of the Department of Christian Theology, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

“Pastoral ministry is often mingled with both blessing and despair. Many pastors experience seasons of opposition that result in discouragement and even depression. David Steele’s new work, Bold Reformer is an exploration into the gospel-centered convictions of the stalwart reformer, Martin Luther. Luther faced many pastoral hardships during his ministry, but emerged victorious because of his unwavering faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ. I encourage you to drink from the refreshing waters of this book and use the life of Luther as an example that emboldens you to stand strong in the midst of the fiery trial.”

Dr. Steven J. Lawson, President, OnePassion Ministries, Dallas, Texas

BOOK REVIEWS

Unshackled: The god of WM. Paul Young

liesWM. Paul Young, Lies We Believe About God, New York: Atria Books, 2017, 273 pp. $13.48

Lies We Believe About God is the latest book from the author of The Shack, WM. Paul Young. The author originally penned The Shack at the request of his wife as a Christmas gift to his six children. First published in 2007, this book has sold over 20 million copies and was recently unveiled as a feature film.

The Shack struck a central chord in people, many of whom confess that the storyline helped them overcome personal pain and tragedy, what the author refers to as, the Great Sadness. Wes Yoder, who endorses The Shack summarizes the ideas in this story. He writes, “The Shack is a beautiful story of how God comes to find us in the midst of our sorrows, trapped by disappointments, betrayed by our own presumptions.” Eugene Peterson adds, “This book has the potential to do for our generation what John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress did for his. It’s that good.”

But many reviewers of The Shack were less sympathetic. In the minds of some, the nature of God was compromised and the boundaries of orthodoxy were broached. But since The Shack is a novel, the line between fact and fiction became blurred and the theological intentions of the author were difficult to discern.

Young’s most recent offering, Lies We Believe About God, puts to rest any speculation about his views of God and Christian theology. The truly impressive feature about Young’s most recent offering is its transparency and honesty. The author presents twenty-eight “lies we believe about God” in terms that are unmistakable. Readers will no longer be able to sweep the theological statements in Young’s previous novels under the carpet. His views concerning God are set forth in plain terms, giving readers a better understanding of what was proposed in his previous novels.

The question for discerning readers to ask is whether or not Young’s views measure up to the scrutiny of God’s Word. Three critical areas of concern surface in the book, Lies We Believe About God.

A Flawed View of God

It is a great irony that a book which sets out to challenge the so-called “lies we believe about God,” does in fact, promote views of God that fail to match the biblical record. First, Young promotes a soft view of God. Specifically, he argues that God is not in control.

Instead of accepting God’s will of decree, which is settled in eternity past, the author questions God’s sovereign control: “Does God have a wonderful plan for our lives? Does God sit and draw up a perfect will for you and me on some cosmic drafting table, a perfect plan that requires a perfect response? If God then left to react to our stupidity or deafness or blindness or inability, as we constantly violate perfection through our own presumption?”1 John, one of the characters in Young’s novel, Eve concurs: “When it comes to plans and purposes, God is not a Draftsman but an Artist, and God will not be God apart from us.”2

Instead of accepting a sovereign God who ordains everything that comes to pass, Young posits a God who reigns by love and relationship alone. “The sovereignty of God is not about deterministic control … Love and relationship trump control every time. Forced love is no love at all,”3 writes the author.

Yet, Scripture contradicts what Young would have us believe. The Bible presents a God who exercises control in creation, providence, and miracles. Proverbs 21:1 illustrates the control of God in vivid terms: “The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever he will.” In Ezra 6:22, the LORD “turned the heart of the king of Assyria.” In Ecclesiastes 7:13-14, God’s providential control over all things is clearly illustrated: “Consider the work of God: who can make straight what he has made crooked? In the day of prosperity be joyful, and in the day of adversity consider: God has made the one as well as the other, so that man may not find out anything that will be after him.” And Ephesians 1:11 shows us the overarching purposes of our God: “In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will.” Indeed, God exercises sovereign control over all things.

The Westminster Catechism argues, “The decrees of God are his eternal purpose, according to the counsel of his will, whereby for his own glory he hath foreordained whatsoever comes to pass.” That is, God is the sovereign king who does as he pleases (Ps. 115:3). God reigns (Ps. 99:1-5). His control knows no boundaries. God acts in order to advance his glory (Exod. 14:4). And we rest in the infinite wisdom of God’s plan, knowing that his purposes can never be thwarted (Isa. 46:9-10; Job 42:2).

Charles Hodge has a sharp disagreement with the soft view of God presented in Lies We Believe About God. Hodge writes,

“This is the end which our Lord proposed to himself. He did everything for the glory of God; and for this end, all his followers are required to live and act … If we make the good of the creature the ultimate object of all God’s works, then we subordinate God to the creature, and endless confusion and unavoidable error are the consequence. It is characteristic of the Bible that it places God first, and the good of the creation second.”4

The errors which result from promoting a God who is not fully in control, as Hodge maintains, will have serious consequences and have tragic consequences on one’s perception of God.

Second, Young presents a God who submits to people. The notion that God submits to the creature emerges in The Shack as well. The Holy Spirit figure, Sarayu, tells Mack, “We have limited ourselves out of respect for you … Relationships are never about power, and one way to avoid the will to power is to choose to limit oneself.”5 And Papa sympathetically responds to Mack who is reluctant to demonstrate emotion: “That’s okay, we’ll do things on your terms and time.”6

The Jesus of The Shack confesses to Mack, “Submission is not about authority and it is not obedience; it is all about relationships of love and respect. In fact, we are submitted to you in the same way.”7

In Young’s novel, Eve, Adonai says to Adam, “Our Love will not withhold from you the consequences of your choices. We honor and respect you, so We consent and submit to you” (emphasis mine).8 Later in the story, Adonai makes a similar remark to Lily: “Look up and into My face. I am here and will never leave you. In any dance you sometimes lead, but always both submit. So now, dear Lilly, you must choose, and I submit to you.”9

In Lies We Believe About God, the author maintains that the word control is not a part of God’s vocabulary: “God submits,” writes Young “rather than controls and joins us in the resulting mess of relationship, to participate in co-creating the possibility of life, even in the face of death.”10

Yet, we never find God submitting to the creature in Scripture. To the contrary, the creature submits to the Creator. Job learned a quick lesson when he tried to turn the tables on God. He learned the importance of submitting to God, not the other way around (Job 38-41).

John Frame helps us understand the importance of God’s authority and the proper response of the creature: “The first thing, and in one sense the only thing, we need to know about God is that he is Lord …This is a confession of lordship: that Yahweh, the Lord, is the one and only true God, and that therefore he deserves all of our love and allegiance.”11

The soft view of God who submits to the creature must be rejected as it fails to stand the test of biblical faithfulness.

A Fallacious View of Humanity

Young rightly holds that humans are created by God in the imago Dei. Since humans are created in God’s image, they have inherent worth and significance. The author should be commended for highlighting this important aspect of anthropology, which admittedly, is neglected by some Christians.

Additionally, the author believes that humans are sinners. However, sin is redefined and fails to measure up to the biblical test. “Blind, not depraved, is our condition,”12 writes Young. He continues, “Sin, then, is anything that negates or diminishes or misrepresents the truth of who you are, no matter how pretty or ugly that is.”13 Such a view find no biblical support and is a foreign concept in Christian theology.

Young acknowledges that sin involves “missing the mark.” But he adds, “The mark is not perfect moral behavior. The ‘mark’ is the Truth of your being.”14 But Young goes one step further in his redefinition of sin: “And what does the truth of your being look like? God. You are made in the image of God, and the truth of your being looks like God.”15

Now that Young has redefined sin, he is in a position to pose an additional question: Does sin separate us from God? Young argues that the notion of sinners being separated from God is a lie: “A lot of ‘my people’ will believe that the following statement is in the Bible, but it isn’t: ’You have sinned, and you are separated from God.’” 16 The biblical proof he offers is Romans 8:38-39, that is, “nothing can separate us from the love of God.” Such an explanation, however, fails to consider the context of Romans 8 which is a clear promise to the elect of God, not the entirety of the human race.

Two responses are in order. First, Young’s reformulation of sin is inadequate as the Bible clearly teaches that all people are sinners by nature and choice. John MacArthur sheds light on the real meaning of sin:

“Sin must be understood from a theocentric or God-centered standpoint. At its core, sin is a violation of the Creator-creature relationship. Man only exists because God made him, and man is in every sense obligated to serve his Creator. Sin causes man to assume the role of God and to assert autonomy for himself apart from the Creator. The most all-encompassing view of sin’s mainspring, therefore, is the demand for autonomy.”17

When sin is redefined from a man-centered viewpoint, this only strengthens the resolve of his quest for autonomy. Yet this is exactly what we find in Young’s version of sin – a Creator catering to the needs of the creature and satisfying his autonomous bent.

The Scriptures paint a portrait of sinful creatures which is undeniable and devastating: “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” (Gen. 6:5, ESV) Indeed, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jer. 17:9, ESV) Edwin Palmer writes, “Total depravity means that natural man is never able to do any good that is fundamentally pleasing to God, and, in fact, does evil all the time.”18 The biblical evidence for total depravity is overwhelming and conclusive (Ps. 51:5; Isa. 53:6; 64:6; Eph. 2:1-3; Rom. 3:23; 5:12).

Second, the Bible clearly teaches that sinners are separated from God. Apart from grace, sinners are without hope and are utterly cut off and separated from God. Isaiah 59:2 says, “But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear.” In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul demonstrates that sinners are separated from Christ. He refers to them as “having no hope and without God in the world” (Eph. 2:12). Our only hope, then, is found in Christ alone who came to forgive us and reconcile us to a holy God (Eph. 2:13-22).

A Faulty View of Salvation

Two major problems can be summarized here. First, Young promotes universal reconciliation. In The Shack, Papa answers Mack’s questions concerning the efficacy of the cross. Papa says, “Honey, you asked me what Jesus accomplished on the cross; so now listen to me carefully: through his death and resurrection, I am now fully reconciled to the world.”19 Mack asks, “The whole world? You mean those who believe in you, right?”20 Papa answers resolutely, “The whole world, Mack. All I am telling you is that reconciliation is a two-way street, and I have done my part, totally, completely, finally.”21

In a stunning admission, Young says,

“The Good News is not that Jesus opened up the possibility of salvation and you have been invited to receive Jesus into your life. The Gospel is that Jesus has already included you into His life, into His relationship with God the Father, and into His anointing in the Holy Spirit … God has acted decisively and universally for all humankind.”22

If there is any question about the universalism here, the author removes any cause for doubt: “Are you suggesting that everyone is saved? That you believe in universal salvation? That is exactly what I am saying?”23 He continues, “Here’s the truth: every person who has ever been conceived was included in the death, burial, and resurrection, and ascension of Jesus. When Jesus was lifted up, God ‘dragged’ all human beings to Himself.24

The Bible paints a very different portrait. The Bible speaks of people apart from grace who are enemies of God (Col. 1:21; Rom. 5:10) and children of wrath (Eph. 2:1-3). Only the redeemed are reconciled to God.

Appealing to passages like John 12:32 is insufficient and fails to build the case for universal reconciliation. Jesus says, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” All people must either mean “all without exception” or “all without distinction.” As we compare Scripture with Scripture, clearly the later is in view.

Jesus proclaims, “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Matt. 7:13-14). ). Jesus speaks of two trees, the healthy and the diseased. Speaking of the diseased tree, Jesus says, “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire” (Matt. 7:19). Moreover, Jesus teaches about two kinds of houses, the one that is built on the rock and one that is built on the sand. “And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it tell, and great was the fall of it” (Matt. 7:26-27). Indeed, every person who refuses to build his “house” on the rock and build his or her life on the promises of God; every person who rejects the Son and his work on the cross will endure an eternity of wrath (John 3:36; Rom. 2:8; 2 Thes. 1:9). “At the end of the day, there are only two ways – the way of the kingdom or the way of death.” Scripture is clear: not everyone will pursue the way of the kingdom. Universal reconciliation is a lie.

Second, Young argues that the cross was not God’s idea. The author poses the question, “Who originated the Cross?” Young’s answer is disturbing, to say the least: “If God did, then we worship a cosmic abuser, who in Divine wisdom created a means to torture human beings in the most painful and abhorrent manner … Better no god at all, than this one.”25 In a few words, the author not only repudiates the reality of God’s involvement in the cross of Christ; he casts aside penal substitutionary atonement.

The apostle Paul speaks of the power of the cross (1 Cor. 1:17-18), “making peace by the blood of his cross (Col. 1:20) and even boasts in the cross (Gal. 6:14). However, Young says, “Nothing not even the salvation of the entire cosmos, could ever justify a horrific torture device called a cross.”26

When we contrast the Bible with Young’s view, we find that the cross was God’s idea after all. Two passages in the book of Acts show the sovereignty of God in salvation and demonstrate God’s involvement in the cross from start to finish:

“this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.” (Acts 2:23–24, 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)

The faulty view of salvation which is promoted in Lies We Believe About God is deeply troubling and must be rejected by discerning Christians.

Conclusion

Paul Young has shared openly and honestly about some of the hurts in his life. Pain and suffering, while inevitable in this life are regrettable realities. The dark night of the soul will likely affect most of us. And so we sympathize with Young and his Great Sadness and pray that God will minister in deep and abiding ways. But no amount of personal tragedy or loss can excuse the propagation of false views of God.

It is a great tragedy when an author writes a book that minimizes God or misrepresents God. A.W. Tozer helps us understand the importance of understanding God rightly: “Worship is pure or base as the worshipper entertains high or low thoughts of God.”27 How we think about God matters! For “there is nothing more important than knowing God.”28 Our view concerning his essence and attributes is not a mere academic debate among theologians. Our view of God affects how we approach him and how we worship him. Tozer continues, “For this reason the gravest question before the Church is always God himself, and the most portentous fact about any man is not what he at a given time may say or do, but what he in his deep heart conceives God to be like.”29

“God does not lower his standards to accommodate us.”30 Therefore, our responsibility is to view God rightly, worship God rightly, and approach God rightly and reverently. Indeed, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.”31

The chief problem in Lies We Believe About God is an undermining of biblical authority.  It ultimately caters to the creature and encourages the autonomy that he craves. When the authority of the Bible is compromised the people of God always pay a price. It’s not too late to get unshackled.  True freedom is found in submitting to Scripture, trusting and obeying Jesus Christ who loves sinners, and worshipping God in the way that he demands!

  1. WM. Paul Young, Lies We Believe About God  (New York: Atria Books, 2017), Loc. 329.
  2. WM. Paul Young, Eve (New York: Howard Books, 2015), 181.
  3. Ibid, Loc. 347.
  4. Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology – Volume I (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Company, reprint 1995), 536.
  5. Young, The Shack, (Newbury Park: Windblown Media, 2007)106.
  6. Ibid, 83.
  7. Ibid, 145.
  8. WM. Paul Young, Eve (New York: Howard Books, 2015), 239.
  9. Ibid, 258.
  10. Young, Lies We Believe About God, Loc. 355.
  11. John Frame, The Doctrine of God (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed, 2002), 21-22.
  12. WM. Paul Young, Lies We Believe About God, Loc. 296.
  13. Ibid, Loc. 1645.
  14. Ibid, Loc. 1643.
  15. Ibid, Loc. 1645.
  16. Ibid, Loc. 1663.
  17. John MacArthur and Richard Mayhue, Biblical Doctrine: A Systematic Summary of Bible Truth (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2017), 453.
  18. Edwin H. Palmer, The Five Points of Calvinism (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1972), 13.
  19. William P. Young, The Shack, 82.
  20. Ibid.
  21. Ibid.
  22. Young, Lies We Believe About God, Loc. 889.
  23. Ibid, Loc. 898.
  24. Ibid.
  25. Ibid, Loc. 1101.
  26. Ibid, 329.
  27. A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy (San Francisco: HarperCollins Publishers, 1961), 1.
  28. John Frame, The Doctrine of God (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed, 2002), 1.
  29. A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy, 1.
  30. R.C. Sproul, The Holiness of God (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, 1995), 88.
  31. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy, 1.
BOOK REVIEWS

Unified – Tim Scott & Trey Gowdy

unifiedTim Scott & Trey Gowdy, Unified Carol Stream: Tyndale, 2018, 220 pp. $16.50

We may live in one of the most divided times in American history. The cultural climate is rising without any hope of resolution in sight. Senator Tim Scott and Congressman, Trey Goudy recognize the problems in our land. Yet, they both have a realistic outlook, which is laced with optimism. Their book, Unified invites readers to pursue racial reconciliation and restoration, which will strengthen the fabric of our fractured nation.

Unified is a very basic book that reads like a conversation between two lawmakers. These conservative thinkers, who have become the best of friends, bring their unique conservative perspectives to the table. Their mutual love and respect for one another are apparent from the outset. These two men, who are both committed Christ-followers model what friendship can and should look like.

Senator Scott and Congressman Goudy steer clear of politics, however. Their aim is to promote an optimistic vision of hope for the future of our nation:

“We believe that our nation can be united and transformed by conversations and friendships that lead to reconciliation and understanding. As Americans, we must uphold the ideals of freedom, equality, justice, and opportunity, even as we continue to work together to make those ideals a reality for all. We must come together, find solutions, and get to a point where we can see that our strength as a nation is rooted in all that is good in our world.”

There are no quick fixes here. The authors understand and acknowledge that legislation will not cure the illness in American culture. True and lasting change must take place in the lives of people. In what may prove to be the most important insight in the book, Senator Scott writes, “We will change the nation only by changing the condition of the human heart.” This change, undergirded by the gospel of grace has the power to change individuals and families. Then and only then, will our nation see a renewal.

Unified is a worthy read by two men of integrity; men who are striving to make America a better place. This is the first of many steps but it is a step in the right direction.

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

BOOK REVIEWS · Marriage

THE MARRIAGE COVENANT: An Indissoluble Union

Books on marriage are a dime-a-dozen these days, even from a Christian perspective.  However, only a handful of books on marriage pass the test of biblical fidelity.  John Piper’s book, This Momentary Marriage passes both tests..  In fact, it ranks among the best books I’ve read on marriage to date.

Readers familiar with Piper will instantly drawn in to his argument for marriage.  Over and over Piper pounds the theme of the book into the ground for maximum effect: The ultimate purpose of marriage is “the display of Christ’s covenant keeping grace.”  To that end, the author develops several items worth mentioning.

1. The author grounds his central argument in rich soil by reiterating that marriage is “the doing of God.”

And in a final sense, “marriage is the display of God.”  He continues, “The ultimate things we can say about marriage is that it exists for God’s glory.  That is, it exists to display God … Marriage is patterned after Christ’s covenant relationship to his redeemed people, the church.  And therefore, the highest meaning and the most ultimate purpose of marriage is to put the covenant relationship of Christ and his church on display.”  And this is the primary reason why divorce is so odious to God: “Therefore, what makes divorce and remarriage so horrific in God’s eyes is not merely that it involves covenant-breaking to the spouse, but that it involves misrepresenting Christ and his covenant” (emphasis mine).

2. Piper focuses on the priority of covenant love.

Remember the theme of the book that marriage is means to display Christ’s covenant keeping grace.  Therefore, the author argues that “staying married is not mainly about staying in love.  It’s about covenant-keeping.”  The foundation for this covenant-keeping is the rock-solid covenant between people and God.  Therefore, Piper continues, “Marriage exists to display the merciful covenant-keeping love of Christ and the faithfulness of his bride.”

It is here that the book takes an important and decisive turn – for the author shows the relevance of the doctrine of justification by faith alone and how it relates to marriage.  Piper adds, ” God requires two thing of us: punishment for our sins and perfection for our lives.”  He continues to describe how the vertical reality of justification must be “bent horizontally to our spouses if marriage is to display the covenant-making, covenant-keeping grace of God.”  The takeaway is profound: “Let the measure of God’s grace to you in the cross of Christ be the measure of your grace to your spouse.”  This is a perfect example of the Christ-saturated wisdom that permeates the book.

Piper continues to give practical advice to husbands and wives throughout the book; advice that is bathed in biblical wisdom; advice that is ultimately rooted in our God who keeps covenant with his people.  Biblical headship is discussed – so husbands are encouraged to lead well: “Headship is the divine calling of a husband to take primary responsibility for Christlike, servant leadership, protection, and provision in the home.”  The husband’s leadership involves physical and spiritual protection and physical and spiritual provision.Biblical submission is explored: “Submission is the divine calling of a wife to honor and affirm her husband’s leadership and help carry it through according to her gifts.”   What strikes me about the section on headship and submission is this: in a few short pages, Piper delivers an exegetical bombshell that utterly destroys the prevailing notion of egalitarianism.  This God-dishonoring view that sees no distinction between male and female roles is left begging for mercy; tattered and torn in the shadow of Piper’s sound exposition.

The concluding chapters discuss the permanence of the marriage covenant.   In what may be one of the most important statements in the book, Piper suggests that “if Christ ever abandons and discards his church, then a man may divorce his wife.  And if the blood-bought church, under the new covenant, ever ceases to be the bride of Christ, then a wife may legitimately divorce her husband.  But as long as Christ keeps his covenant with the church, by the omnipotent grace of God, remains the chosen people of Christ, then the very meaning of marriage will include: What God has joined, only God can separate.”

The author boldly goes where few pastors dare to go by suggesting that remarriage is prohibited so long as the previous spouse is still alive.  His arguments are exegetically sound and compelling.  Readers who disagree are encouraged to survey the case that Piper presents and prayerfully consider his arguments.

This Momentary Marriage is a landmark book.  It is a theological landmine that will undoubtedly shatter many preconceived notions about marriage.  It is solid food that Christians need to digest.  And it is timely ointment that is designed to heal wounds and promote strong marriages in the difficult days ahead.

Highly recommended!