Christian Ethics: An Introduction to Biblical Moral Reasoning

grudemWayne Grudem, Christian Ethics: An Introduction to Biblical Moral Reasoning (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2018), 1212 pp.

Wayne Grudem has become a household name in evangelical circles over the years. His landmark book, Systematic Theology, is used in Bible Colleges and Seminaries around the world. I have personally taught through his excellent book at least six times. As a result, hundreds of men and women have been equipped and edified in the Christian faith.

Dr. Grudem’s newest offering, Christian Ethics: An Introduction to Biblical Moral Reasoning is a wonderful companion to Systematic Theology. The book weighs in at over 1,200 pages and will likely turn some readers away. But walking away from Grudem’s book would be like gazing at a massive treasure chest and refusing to open it for lack of time or desire. Both responses would be tantamount to foolishness.

The introduction alone is worth the price of the book as the author establishes the foundation for Christian ethics by grounding his discussion in the holy character of God and sacred Scripture. Indeed, the essence of Christian ethics is living Coram Deo, and to the glory of God.

The remainder of the book is organized around the Ten Commandments. The basic outline is as follows:

  • Protecting God’s Honor
  • Protecting Human Authority
  • Protecting Human Life
  • Protecting Life
  • Protecting Property
  • Protecting Purity of Heart

Grudem does not leave any stone unturned here. Every ethical topic imaginable is explored. Each topic, of course, is subjected to uncompromising biblical standards.

Christian Ethics is a breath of fresh air that will embolden followers of Jesus Christ and challenge them to live with God-centered resolve in a postmodern ethos that has forgotten God. It is not only a response to the zeitgeist that surrounds us; it is a rally-cry for faithful Christians to live in a way that pleases the triune God!

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

Abortion, Euthanasia, and End-of-Life Medical Decisions – Wayne Grudem (2020)

Wayne Grudem, Abortion, Euthanasia, and End-of-Life Medical Decisions (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2020), 79 pp.

Wayne Grudem has never steered clear from controversial subjects. Instead of avoiding controversy, he addresses with biblical wisdom and clear argumentation. Such is the case in his new book, What the Bible Says About Abortion, Euthanasia, and End-of-Life Medical Decisions.

The book tackles with each subject in a forthright and sensitive way. Grudem presents biblical and practical arguments to each topic in a way that generates more light than heat. Readers who oppose his viewpoint will be impressed with the measure of humility and graciousness that he offers. The arguments that the author presents are winsome and accurately reflect the teaching of Scripture.

The great strength of this book is its brevity. This is a tool that nearly anyone could pick up and devour in less than two hours. Certainly, other more comprehensive resources are available but Grudem’s accessible work is solid, short, and packs a powerful punch!

Highly recommended!

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

The Leadership Challenge – James Kouzes and Barry Posner (2007 Revised)

The Leadership Challenge by James Kouzes and Barry Posner assists people in furthering their abilities to lead others in order to get extraordinary things done.  Every person has the capacity to develop the necessary skills and character qualities to reach a level of measurable leadership effectiveness.  Leadership is defined at the outset as “the art of mobilizing others to want to struggle for shared aspirations.”

The central thesis of the book is that leaders are at their best when they participate at a heart level in five key areas.  Each chapter deals with these areas on a philosophical level and proceed to give practical suggestions on how to implement these principles.  Further, embedded in the five fundamental practices of effective leadership are behaviors that serve as the basis for learning to lead.  The authors call these the Ten Commitments.  These five fundamental areas of effective leaders as well as the Ten Commitments are spelled out below.

First, leaders are at their best when they challenge the process.  Kouzes and Posner suggest that effective leaders constantly challenge the status quo.  They are never satisfied and consistently monitor progress; they push for excellence.  Leaders are change agents who do not change merely for the sake of change but for the purpose of propelling the organization into the future.  “So leaders must challenge the process precisely because any system will unconsciously conspire to maintain the status quo and prevent change” write Kouzes and Posner.

Second, leaders are at their best when they inspire a shared vision.  Vision is defined as “an ideal and unique image of the future.”  The two Commitments that help leaders accomplish the above are envisioning an uplifting and ennobling future and enlisting others in a common vision by appealing to their values, interests, hopes, and dreams.

The third essential quality of leadership is enabling others to act.  The central idea is to promote cooperative goals, seek integrative solutions and build trusting relationships.  It follows then, that the two Commitments that enhance this quality is fostering collaboration by promoting cooperative goals and building trust. as well as strengthening people by empowering them.

The fourth plank in the book is modeling the way.  DWYSYWD is an essential step in this process: “Do What You Say You Will Do.”  Three ideas saturate this section.  They include, 1) Clarify personal values and beliefs and those of others, 2) Unify constituents around shared values and 3) Pay attention constantly to how self and others are living the values.  The two Commitments that drive this important aspect of the leadership challenge include setting the example by behaving in ways that are consistent with shared values and achieving small wins that promote consistent progress which builds commitment.

Fifth, effective leaders encourage the heart of constituents.  These leaders make a practice of building self-confidence through high expectations, connect performance and rewards and carry a positive attitude throughout the day.  The last two Commitments that enhance this process include recognizing individual contributions and regularly celebrating team accomplishments.

The final chapter crystallizes the content of the book by reviewing the central propositions and by proposing practical application.  While the first twelve chapters make for excellent reading, chapter thirteen is worth the price of the book.  Kouzes and Posner present a matrix that serves to help leaders grow in their abilities.  The matrix suggests that leaders grow in three significant ways:  First, they grow through a process of trial and error.  They experience hardships, job experience and job assignments that help them develop as leaders.   Here they learn new skill sets in the school of hard knocks.  Second, they grow educationally.  Effective leaders engage in formal training and education to enhance their leadership abilities.  It is recommended that leaders spend a minimum of fifty hours annually on personal and professional development.  Third, they grow by observation.  They develop key relationships and learn from personal mentors.  They also learn by observing bad examples, i.e. other people in the organization that exhibit poor behavior, a lack of integrity, etc.

The Leadership Challenge is a tremendous book.  Every pastor pursuing kingdom purposes should read this book.  While the material is written from a secular perspective, many of the principles are transferable to the local church context.  The book is highly readable, practical and encouraging.  The broad research base that is utilized in the book add to its credibility.

I plan on visiting The Leadership Challenge again and again.  I anticipate utilizing the principles in ministry and sharing them with other leaders and pastors.  My ministry will only be stronger by studying this book!

Maturity: Growing Up and Going on in the Christian Life – Sinclair Ferguson

matSinclair B. Ferguson, Maturity: Growing Up and Going On in the Christian Life (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2019), 231 pp.

In a style that Christians have grown fond of, Sinclair Ferguson gifts the church with Maturity: Growing Up and Going On in the Christian Life. Originally penned in 1980 and distributed with the title, Add to Your Faith, and in 1981 as Taking the Christian Life Seriously in the United States. To refer to this short work as a treasure would be an understatement as Dr. Ferguson presents the high points of the Christian life.

The high points are set forth in five sections, namely, growing up, standing firm, facing difficulties, pressing on, and maturity. At the heart of Ferguson’s work is the Pauline mandate for Christ-followers to be mature in Christ: “Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ” (Col. 1:28). Ferguson adds, “The mature Christian has been finely shaped by the Holy Spirit and has been ‘filled out’ in a character which showed the fruit of the Spirit. Mature Christians possess the qualities which only Jesus Christ can produce, because he alone has exhibited them perfectly. This is maturity.” As such, we are not only “bound to the example of Christ, we are under the lordship of Christ.”

Each of the five sections assumes that readers desire to grow in Christian maturity. With the divine standard in place, the author carefully explains how maturity develops throughout the course of our lives. The various themes that emerge in these sections are deeply biblical and profoundly practical. Christians at all stages of maturity will benefit from Ferguson’s sound exegesis and practical application.

Maturity: Growing Up and Going On in the Christian Life truly lives up to its calling and invites readers to press and continue the sanctification process that was initiated at the point of conversion.

Highly recommended.

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

For more information in Banner of Truth titles, please visit https://banneroftruth.org/us/

The Christian Mind – Harry Blamires (1963)

My uncle Dwight gave me this book almost twenty years ago.  I’ll never forget what he said when he handed it to me: “Only real men can read this book.”  Whether it was meant to motivate or amuse, I read it with a vengeance.  This is my third time through.

Blamires thesis is clear throughout the book: “There is no longer a  Christian mind.”  An interesting proposal, given the original publishing date of 1963.  But the facts outweigh any contrary argument.  The author notes, “And we have emptied our brains of Christian vocabulary, Christian concepts, in advance, just to make sure that we should get fully into touch.  Thus we have stepped mentally into secularism.”  We live in a post-Christian era.  This much is certain.  The frightening reality is that some Christians understood this in the 1960’s.  Many Christians today simply have no comprehension of the Christian mind.

In part two, the author suggests  what the Christian mind should look like.  He delineates six marks of the Christian mind which include:

1. A supernatural orientation.

2. An awareness of evil.

3. A conception of truth

4. Accepts the notion of authority

5. Has a concern for the person

6. Has a passion to live life to the glory of God.

The Christian Mind should be celebrated for its analysis of culture and its allegiance to the Word of God.  Like Francis Schaeffer, Blamires is in touch with the barriers to Christian thinking.  While his concerns originated in 1963, they continue to reverberate almost fifty years later.

The point my Uncle was trying to make is this: Real men think Christianly.  Real men live according to truth.

“The Christian mind is the prerequisite of Christian thinking.  And Christian thinking is the prerequisite of Christian action.”

Harry Blamires

Finding Truth – Nancy Pearcey (2015)

Finding Truth, by Nancy Pearcey is another fine contribution thataa deserves to be read.  The author maintains with Romans 1 that all people have access to general revelation. As such:

  • We all have access to evidence for God through creation.
  • We all suppress the evidence for God from creation.
  • We all create idols to take the place of God.
  • God gives us up to the consequences of our idols to a “debased” mind.
  • God gives us up to the consequences of our idols – to “dishonorable” behavior.

Pearcey builds upon her earlier works, both of which are best sellers.  Total Truth argued for a unified view of truth and the obliteration of sacred/secular split.   Saving Leonardo   sought to help people develop skills in critical thinking.  Finding Truth introduces readers to five principles that help make sense of competing worldviews and make a positive case for historic Christianity.  The five strategic principles are summarized below:

  1. Identify the Idol.  Anything which is presented as eternal and unchanging is an idol.  This principle helps us get to the heart of mankind’s propensity to erect idols and bow down to them.  By way of contrast, Christianity refuses to begin with creation and an epistemological starting point.  Rather, the beginning of knowledge rests in a transcendent Creator who is sovereign over all things.
  2. Identify the Idol’s Reductionism.  Pearcey notes, “The link is that idols always lead to a lower view of human life … When one part of creation becomes deified, the other part will be denigrated.”  Reductionism, is, therefore, a fool’s errand as the creation is elevated to a status that God never intends.
  3. Test the Idol: Does it Contradict What We Know About the World?  Since idols always fail to satisfy, people will begin to realize that they cannot live according to the logic of their presuppositions.  They are either forced to live in the real world – which is to oppose their worldview or they live in accordance with their worldview which contradicts reality.
  4. Test the Idol: Does it Contradict Itself?  The competing worldview, at this point, becomes self-defeating.  The author notes, “Everyone who proposes a reductionist worldview must make a tacit exception for his own thinking – at least, at the moment he is stating his claims.  But that too creates a logical inconsistency.”  Thus the worldview fails.
  5. Replace the Idol: Make a Case for Historic Christianity.  As it becomes apparent that a competing worldview fails, the apologist must make a strong case for the viability and truthfulness of the Christian worldview.  “By identifying the points where non-Christians are free-loading, we can be confident that we are addressing areas where they sense the need for something more.”

Finding Truth is an essential toolbox for thinking Christians.  Pearcey does a dual service for readers as she not only instructs them to analyze and demolish competing worldviews (2 Cor. 10:5); she encourages readers to go deeper in the Christian faith which is informed by biblical reality and rock-solid facts.   A more accurate description, however, would be a treasure chest.  This is required reading which will only enrich one’s Christian life and effectiveness in the marketplace of ideas!

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

A Godward Gaze: The Holy Pursuit of John Calvin

calMy recent book, A Godward Gaze: The Holy Pursuit of John Calvin is available now! Here’s a brief synopsis.

“… But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word” (Isaiah 66:2).

A Godward Gaze is a snapshot of a man on a mission. It is about one man who set his sights on the Celestial City and never looked back. His name is John Calvin. He was a pious man, driven by God’s glory and a love for Scripture. His holy pursuit was rare among men and a model for followers of Christ. David Steele points readers to a truly remarkable man – a biblical expositor, a theologian, and a courageous reformer. Calvin changed a city and helped changed the world. His godly example may change your life.

Pick up your copy today. https://www.amazon.com/Godward-Gaze-Holy-Pursuit-Calvin/dp/1095816462/ref=sr_1_fkmr0_1?keywords=a+godward+gauze+david+steele&qid=1559651630&s=gateway&sr=8-1-fkmr0

Notes From the Tilt-A-Whirl – N.D. Wilson

tilt

N.D. Wilson, Notes From the Tilt-A-Whirl, Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2009, 197 pp.

Notes From the Tilt-a-Whirl, by N.D. Wilson is a fascinating look at God’s creation from a creative perspective.

Several features are worth noting.  First, Wilson reminds readers of the importance of a personal Creator: “For those who believe in ex nihilo creation, the world is inevitably art, and it is inevitably art from top to bottom, in every time and in every place.  The world cannot exist apart from the voice of God.  It is the voicings of God.”  The author demonstrates the absurdity of a creation devoid of a personal Creator.

Second, Wilson demonstrates the utter foolishness of atheism, relativism, and Darwinian natural selection.  He chides the evolutionist and sets his eyes on God’s good creation.  He makes it clear (and rightly so) that he will enjoy God’s good creation.

Third, I appreciate Wilson’s interaction with philosophers like Hume and Kant.  But especially noteworthy is his interaction with the German philosopher, Nietzsche.  I sense he respects Nietzsche and would have savored the opportunity to sit and visit with him in a German tavern.  But Wilson admits a frustration with Nietzsche: “I want to ruffle his hair.  I want to take the poor Lutheran boy’s head in my hands and kiss his creased forehead.  It is all I can do.  I cannot set a bone, let alone a soul.”  Wilson continues with an unforgettable line: “He [Nietzsche] moves on, preaching unbelief to an empty street.”

Finally, the author effectively reminds readers of an eternal hell: “Heaven or Hell is about love and hate.  Do you love God or do you hate him?  Is He foul in your nostrils?  Do you see His art and wish your arm was long enough to reach His face?  Do you spit and curse like Nietzsche?  Would you trade places with the damned thief so that you might see Him die and know that God Himself heard your challenges?”  Wilson continues, “Then Hell is for you.  Hell is for you because God is kind and reserves a place for those who loathe Him to the end, an eternal exile, a joyless haven for those who would eternally add to their guilt, a place where blasphemy will be new every morning … If you displease Him, He will displease you.  He will put you away and remove the grace you have experienced in this world.  With the crutches of His goodness gone, He will leave people to themselves, leave them to their own corrupt desires and devices.”

Thankfully, the author does not leave the reader groveling in hopelessness at the prospect of an eternal hell: “If you want to love Him, then He has already begun giving you change.  He has already begun unclenching your fists, taking your filth to be laundered on the cross.”

Wilson demonstrates that he is well-read and tuned in theologically and philosophically.  For instance, one of my favorite lines in the book is directed Godward: “An infinite God is I AM, and all else must be measured in terms of His nature, His loves, and His loathings.”  This is heady, creative writing.  In fact, some of this stuff is pure genius!  The writing is a strange mixture of Don Miller, Dennis Miller, C.S. Lewis, and G.K Chesterton.

The goodness in Wilson’s work, however, is overshadowed at times by his insistence on using profanity.    For instance, the author skillfully demonstrates the foolishness of rejecting transcendent absolute standards and argues against a relativistic worldview:  “I look in the atheist’s mirror.  I look at his faith in the nonexistence of meaning.  I look at his preaching and painting.  I see nothing but a shi*-storm.”  This kind of banter is totally unnecessary and undercuts the weight of the otherwise legitimate argument.

This growing trend toward the glorification of the profane is an alarming trend in the church, one that needlessly offends and accomplishes absolutely nothing.  This kind of writing is clearly not consistent with the Scriptural mandate, especially Paul’s warning to the Ephesian church: “Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking which are out-of-place, but instead let there be thanksgiving” (Eph. 5:4, ESV).  Colossians 3:8 makes it clear that Christ-followers are to put away “obscene talk.”  For we have been “renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator” (Col. 3:10, ESV).  I can already anticipate the quick response I will receive from postmodern pastors, emergent sympathizers, and enthusiastic bloggers.  But I stand with Scripture on my side.  For “my conscience is held captive by the Word of God.  To go against conscience is neither right nor safe.”  Indeed, it is ironic to lay claim to Luther’s words, given his propensity to use vulgarity.  However, I argue that Luther should have taken the scrub brush to his mouth as well.

I know some Christ-followers who would toss this book into the ash heap because of the vulgarity.  I am not prepared to go that far.  I am not ready to toss the baby out with the bathwater.  There is too much good in Notes From the Tilt-a-Whirl to justify such a knee-jerk reaction.

Notes From the Tilt-a-Whirl made me dizzy.  But it also made me think.  Sometimes it angered me.  At the end of the day, I am glad I came to the “carnival.”  I am glad I decided to jump on the ride.  At times, I felt as if I’d eaten too much cotton candy.  But other times, I felt like buying another “ticket” and riding again – and again!

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.

Truth We Can Touch: How Baptism and Communion Shape Our Lives

Tim Chester, Truth We Can Touch: How Baptism and Communion Shape Our Lives (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2020), 174 pp.

Two lessons I learned early in my Christian life concern the ordinances of baptism and communion. Over the years, my understanding of these “gospel portraits” has grown and expanded. Tim Chester’s latest work, Truth We Can Touch is the most recent tool that the Lord has used to add deep insight into baptism and communion.

Chester makes his aim clear at the outset: “Above all, I want us to learn to appreciate baptism and communion.” In less than 200 pages, Chester succeeds at every level. The author unveils baptism and communion through the authoritative lens of Scripture. He also alerts readers to the controversies that have arisen in church history.

One highlight that summarizes this excellent book is the distinction between the two ordinances:

  • Baptism is the embodiment of our union with Christ.
  • The Lord’s Supper is the embodiment of our communion with Christ.

Chester adds, “Along with the preaching of the word, it is the chief means God has given us to enable us to understand who we are in Christ.”

But the most helpful aspect of Truth We Can Touch is the way that Chester navigates between the various views of Luther, Zwingli, and Aquinas. Since we live hundreds of years later, worldviews have morphed, leading to a wide range of emphasis in local churches. The closed universe model has affected believers in our generation, even solid believers. Chester includes this insight that beautifully summarizes the arguments in the book:

But what we as Christians need to emphasize is that we still live in a world in which God actively and routinely intervenes. He intervenes through natural causes (and occasionally apart from natural causes through miracles). We need to see natural causes as the instruments of God. We need to see the world as a providential cosmos. That allows us to re-enchant the world.

I encourage readers to explore Chester’s arguments in Truths We Can Touch. But greater still, I encourage readers to revisit the great gifts of baptism and communion and allow them to shape their lives. May we daily delight in the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.

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