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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3) The importance of personal discipleship.

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

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

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

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

Tolle Lege!

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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.

BOOK REVIEWS · Philosophy

LOGIC: A GOD-CENTERED APPROACH TO THE FOUNDATION OF WESTERN THOUGHT – Vern Poythress (2013)

1433532298_lLogic is one of the last things one would expect to hear about in a church. I have found that some Christians even have an aversion to logic – a statement which interestingly enough is not very logical! We should be thankful to men like Very Poythress who share their gifts with the church as well as the academy. One such gift is his latest book, Logic: A God-Centered Approach to the Foundation of Western Thought.

The first thing readers will notice about this work is volume. It weighs in at over 700 pages which includes a large appendix that supplement the fine work that Poythress presents.

The author organizes his book into three parts, namely – Elementary Logic, Aspects of Propositional Logic, and Enriching Logic. Readers familiar with the discipline of logic will be very familiar with the terminology that is included in the table of contents. At first glance, the book seems to have much in common with a standard textbook on logic. But the real beauty of the book is found in the relationship of logic to God. Poythress rightly shows the logic comes directly from the hand of God. Indeed, he is “the source for logic.” The other demonstrates the rationality of logic and the personal nature of logic: “Logic in this sense is an aspect of the mind of God. All God’s attributes will therefore be manifested in the real laws of logic, in distinction from our human approximations to them.”

Poythress captures the essence of preuppositional apologetics and appears to pick up where Van Til left off: “We can praise God for what he has given us in our logic and our ability to reason.” Yet, sinners suppress the truth of God’s existence. “Everywhere we are confronted with the reality of God – and everywhere we flee from this reality.”

Logic helps us discern between truth and error. Logic on its own can not tell us what is true. But it will serve as a powerful aid in the discerning process. This work by Vern Poythress is a powerful anti-venom in a toxic world that is on a death-march away from logic. Sometimes people just don’t make any sense!

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The Vanishing American Adult – Ben Sasse (2017)

sasseBen Sasse, The Vanishing American Adult New York: St. Martins Press, 2017, 306 pp. $16.75

Senator Ben Sasse is concerned. He is concerned about the next generation. To put it bluntly, Sasse argues in so many words that we are experiencing a crisis of maturity. Young people are being raised to be lazy, self-indulgent, ungrateful, and unproductive citizens.

The Vanishing American Adult by Ben Sasse focusses on “rebuilding a culture comprised of resilient, literate, thoughtful individuals.” Tragically, many Americans fail to achieve this high standard. In a fascinating twist of irony, one of the first reviews I read on Amazon (which incidentally rated this book with one star) weighed in: “Did not hold my attention. I got very bored.” Such a comment only heightens the appeal that Sasse makes and should prompt this reviewer to reconsider.

After brilliantly articulating our propensity to be passive, Sasse proposes five character building habits:

  1. Discover the body its potential and its frailty, and the many diverse stages of life that lie ahead – by breaking free of the tyranny of one generation.
  2. Develop a work ethic.
  3. Embrace limited consumption.
  4. Learn how to travel and to travel light.
  5. Learn how to read and decide what to read.

The author develops each character building habits and provides “stepping stones” at the conclusion of each chapter. Readers who participate will no doubt be encouraged and will likely take great steps to repudiate the prevailing passivity that dominates American culture.

The Vanishing American Adult is a much-needed corrective and will benefit many readers. The crisis that Senator Sasse presents is real and dangerous. Left unchecked, this crisis will lead to the the steady erosion of American culture and the loss of virtue. Thankfully, Sasse offer workable solutions to “stop the bleeding.” My hope is that many will listen, learn, and change. The future generations will thank us.

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Think, Learn, Succeed – Caroline Leaf (2018)

tinkCaroline Leaf, Think, Learn, Succeed (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2018), 316 pp.

Think, Learn, Succeed is the latest offering from the pen of Dr. Caroline Leaf. Dr. Leaf’s chief objective is nicely summarized in the book’s subtitle: Understanding and Using Your Mind to Thrive at School, the Workplace, and Life.

The author presents a series of mindsets that set readers on a path to learning and effectiveness. These mindsets are practical and instructive and serve the reader well by revealing motivating factors that spark productivity and cultivate a climate of learning.

The heart of the book discusses the gift profile whose stated aim is to “customize thinking.” “Understanding our customized way of thinking,” writes Leaf, is, in fact, essential to understanding ourselves, our identities.” Seven modules are introduced along with gift profile that evaluates where a given person stands. Ultimately, understanding the so-called customized way of thinking enables one to develop workable strategies that enhance thinking, learning, and success.

There is much to commend about this book and will likely help and encourage many people. However, not everything is noteworthy as the author cites the well-known poem, “Invictus” by William Ernest Henley. The closing words of the poem are troublesome:

It matters not how strait the gate,

How charged with punishments the scroll,

I am the master of my fate,

I am the captain of my soul.

This spirit of autonomy that Henley promotes is also exalted in Leaf’s book: “You redesign your future because your future is in your hands.” Scripture presents are radically different portrait, however. God’s Word exalts the sovereignty of God, not the so-called autonomy of man. God’s Word affirms that God ordains all things. Indeed, he is the creator. Humans are creatures, not the “captains” of their souls.

Discerning readers will accept the valuable principles in Think, Learn, Succeed and benefit from Dr. Leaf’s research. But they will also discard anything that does not line up with Scripture.

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

BOOK REVIEWS · Calvinism · CHRISTIAN LIFE · Culture

The Lordship of Christ: Serving Our Savior All of the Time, In All of Life, With All of Our Heart – Vern Poythress (2016)

Vern Poythress. The Lordship of Christ: Serving Our Savior All of the Time, In All of Life, With All of Our Heart. Wheaton: Crosswaypoy
Books, 2016. 224 pp. $14.49

The Dutch statesman, Abraham Kuyper famously said, “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine.’” Such is the theme of the recent book by Vern Poythress, The Lordship of Christ: Serving Our Savior All of the Time, In All of Life, with All of Our Heart.

Poythress attempts to show readers that the Lordship of Christ extends to every area of life, including politics, science, art, the future, education, and work. Nothing is excluded.

The author sets the stage by making the crucial assertion that the lordship of Christ extends to believers and unbelievers alike. No one is excluded. Every atheist, agnostic, neo-pagan, gnostic, new ager, evolutionist, and every Christian is subject to the lordship of Christ. The general tone of the book is to help readers understand the implications of living in a world where Christ is Lord over all.

Poythress carefully establishes the basis for a Christian worldview which is grounded in absolute surrender to Jesus Christ: “To confess Jesus to be Lord is to confess him to be God, the same God who is the God of Israel and who created the world.” Poythress continues, “Jesus is therefore worthy of absolute allegiance. In giving allegiance to Jesus we are at the same time giving allegiance to God the Father and God the Holy Spirit, because the three persons are God.”

At the end of the day, every person who stands under Christ’s lordship also recognizes that glorifying him brings the highest measure of satisfaction. Poythress observes, “We find our deepest satisfaction and the deepest fulfillment of who we are – who we were created to be – when we serve God: ‘Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.’”

One of the most helpful aspects of this book is a basic repackaging of Cornelius Van Til’s apologetic method. Standing with Van Til, Poythress demonstrates the principle of antithesis (which was also popularized by Francis A. Schaeffer). The author demonstrates how knowledge is always derived from God and is therefore, never autonomous: “We must not seek knowledge autonomously, in independence from or isolation from God’s words. That is a form of rebellion, which dishonors God’s way of living. When there seems to be a tension between God’s word in Scripture and what we are learning from other sources, Scripture has the priority because it is the word of God.”

Some books are meant to be nibbled at; others are meant to be devoured. The Lordship of Christ is of the later sort. This is a serious book for anyone who is serious about pursuing Christ and glorifying him in every arena of life. College students and Seminarians should devour this wonderful book and find great freedom in living under the authority and lordship of Jesus.

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

BOOK REVIEWS

Scientism and Secularism – J.P. Moreland (2018)

scJ.P. Moreland, Scientism and Secularism (Wheaton: Crossway, 2018), 210 pp.

When Charles Darwin published On the Origin of Species in 1859, the intellectual tectonic plates shifted with a force that continues to reverberate to this day. One of the tragic consequences (among many) that the book helped spawn was the philosophical notion of scientism. While this trendy worldview looks and sounds scientific, it is anything but. On the contrary, scientism aggressively advances the idea “that the hard sciences alone have the intellectual authority to give us knowledge of reality.” Stated another way, the other disciplines (theology and philosophy, for example) which have long sought to provide epistemological answers are no longer valid and offer no new insight when it comes to truth claims.

Scientism and Secularism by J.P. Moreland explores the themes of scientism in particular and helps readers uncover the diabolic implications of this school of thought. Dr. Moreland offers a comprehensive explanation of scientism and provides several examples of how it is influencing students in a postmodern age. He pulls the curtain back on scientism and helps the unsuspecting see that it is, in the final analysis, the enemy of science and as a result, is at odds with the historic Christian faith.

Moreland is typically fair and even-handed in his treatment of scientism. but ultimately argues that scientism has nothing in the way of explanatory power and should be rejected.

Science and Secularism is a readable and winsome book. It should be carefully read by university students, Christian and non-Christian alike. Christians will be better equipped to respond to typical arguments posited by scientism and non-Christians will be challenged to reconsider their presuppositions.

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

BOOK REVIEWS · Calvinism · Gospel · Theology

Grace Works – Douglas Bond (2014)

2014-06-18 18.19.31

Several months ago, I titled a sermon  Grace Works, based on Titus 2:11-14.   Verse 11  reminds us that grace has appeared in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ.  This grace has saved us.  This grace has transported every believer from death to life.    This grace saves us, sanctifies us, and secures our future with Christ.  Indeed, grace works!  So when I learned about the new book by Douglas Bond, entitled Grace Works I requested a copy from a company I write reviews for.  It was a great decision!

Douglas Bond is concerned; deeply concerned.  He along with a handful of evangelicals including R.C. Sproul, J.I. Packer, Jerry Bridges, John Piper, and Tim Keller are concerned that the gospel is being eclipsed by works-based righteousness.  John Calvin had a similar concern in the 16th century: “We must exercise the utmost caution lest we allow any counterfeit to be substituted for the pure doctrine of the gospel.”

Douglas Bond alerts Christ-followers to this gospel counterfeit in his latest book, Grace Works.  The author shows how this counterfeit gospel has emerged throughout church history.  He demonstrates the subtle shift that took place in European churches that once glowed with Reformation fervor.  He cites several examples of how the gospel has been distorted and continues to be distorted in the contemporary church.

At the heart of the book lies a concern that many believers appear to be confused about the biblical gospel.  While many give lip-service to the doctrine of justification by faith alone, many continue to add requirements which muddy the “waters of grace” in the final analysis.

The author cites Tim Keller approvingly who says, “It is only in the gospel of Jesus Christ that you get the verdict before the performance.”  Bond adds, “Every other religion requires performance before the verdict.  But in the gospel, Christ has stooped down and perfectly obeyed for us, as our substitute.  Jesus the righteous one was righteous in our place.  By the grace of the gospel, performance will follow, but in justification the verdict is already in: we are forever righteous in Christ.  That is immeasurably good news!”

Yet, a stunning number of professing evangelicals are repudiating justification by faith alone by adding requirements which is tantamount to a works-based approach.  The road back to Rome may be paved with good intentions, but thoughtful observers can hear the gnashing of teeth.

Bond warns readers of the subtle ways that law creeps into the gospel, especially when pastors and Christian leaders make obedience a requirement for justifying grace.    Bond adds, “Serious error arises when trusting and obeying are required as concurrent actions the sinner must do in the context of his justification.  Trusting is not sufficient – which is the same as saying that faith alone is not sufficient; you must also obey the law to win God’s final favor.”  Several examples are cited and once again readers are warned to flee from the works-based system of Rome.

Douglas Bond is to be commended for writing a book that is timely, especially in light of the so-called New Perspective on Paul movement.  The gospel shines brightly in Grace Works.  The doctrines which were rediscovered by the Protestant Reformers are put on display.  The law is put in its proper place as a tutor which leads us to Christ.  Readers are reminded that the law cannot justify; nor can the law sanctify.

My hope is that Grace Works receives a wide readership and that thousands of people will be equipped in gospel-centered reality.  My hope is that many will see the errors of the Roman road; that they will turn back and swim in the waters of free grace and be refreshed by the sola’s of the Reformation!

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

Highly recommended!

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Suffering: Gospel Hope When Life Doesn’t Make Sense – Paul David Tripp (2018)

tripp 2Paul David Tripp, Suffering (Wheaton: Crossway, 2018), 210 pp.

C.S. wrote, “If I knew a way of escape I would crawl through the sewers to escape the pain.” Whether a person agrees with Lewis’s radical conclusion or not is a matter of personal opinion. However, the problem of suffering is a universal dilemma that every person must face. How we respond to suffering reveals the strength of our Christian resolve and character.

Paul David Tripp’s recent book, Suffering explores a weighty subject and invites readers onto a personal journey that will encourage deep humility and personal growth. Speaking personally, Dr. Tripp’s book took my breath away. The author’s transparency and humble approach spoke deeply to my heart and lifted my spirit.

In the final analysis, this book has less to do with coping with suffering and more to do with how suffering can supernaturally transform the lives of God’s people. Listen to Tripp’s meditations and allow his words to sink in deeply:

“Suffering has the power to turn your timidity into courage and your doubt into surety. Hardship can turn envy into contentment and complaint into praise. It has the power to make you tender and approachable, to replace subtle rebellion with joyful surrender. Suffering has the power to form beautiful things in your heart that reform the way you live your life. It has incredible power to be a tool of transforming grace.”

Suffering in many ways is like pouring ice-cold water on an unsuspecting victim; a battering ram that brings even the most powerful to a place of humility and surrender. This volume is quick to remind us that all those who suffer are in desperate need of grace. Tripp adds, “This physical travail, in the hands of my Savior, is a tool used to drive me away from self-sufficiency and into a deeper dependency on God and his people.” Therefore, suffering is greatly used by God to propel his people to a place they never would have reached apart from suffering.

This fundamental message of transformation stands at the heart of Tripp’s book and has the power in itself to encourage and equip a lot of people in God’s kingdom.

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

BOOK REVIEWS

This is the Day – Tim Tebow

tebowTim Tebow, This is the Day (New York: Waterbrook, 2018), 209 pp.

I’ve been a sports fan my entire life. I’ve seen athletes come and go. I’ve seen well-respected athletes like Lance Armstrong disappoint their fans.  And I’ve seen athletes who have been misunderstood and misrepresented. But I cannot think of an athlete who has been more unfairly treated than Tim Tebow in recent years.

Tebow is a two-time national champion, first-round NFL draft pick, and Heisman Trophy winner. The Tim Tebow Foundation has encouraged and enriched countless lives and brought hope to the hopeless. Yet this man continues to misrepresented in the media.

Somehow, Tebow rises above the finger pointing and banter and continues to make a difference in the lives of people. His most recent book, This is the Day, is a testament to this reality.

Twelve chapters inspire readers to reclaim their dreams, live with passion, and live for a higher purpose. The messages crystalize around the person and work of Jesus Christ and provide hope and direction in a world that is filled with confusion and broken dreams.

This is the Day is especially geared for student-athletes and young people. Some readers may not agree with all of Tim’s theology but they will walk away motivated and encouraged to live a meaningful life which glorifies the Lord!

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