The Vanishing American Adult – Ben Sasse (2017)

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

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.

Rejoice in God!

Open the morning newspaper. Watch the evening news. Pay careful attention to the culture that surrounds us. You will be prompted to protest. You will be cajoled to complain. You will feel the steady pull of pundits who invite you to join their campaign. Emotions will range from fear to frustration. Anger dominates much of the time. When anger doesn’t reign, anxiety is sure to take its place.

Followers of Jesus Christ have a higher calling. We must be discerning and live distinctly Christian lives (1 Pet. 1:14-17). A little phrase is tucked away in Romans 5:11 that helps refocus our attention on what really matters:

“More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.”

“We also rejoice in God.” This is exactly the opposite of what our culture demands. Rejoicing in God, then, is countercultural. It is also commanded!

Paul’s argument in this unit of thought in Romans chapter 5 ends on a high note. The guilty have been pardoned (v. 9). The condemned have been saved (v. 9). Enemies have been reconciled (v. 10). The posture of rebellion has turned to a posture of joy!

Do you want to impact lives? Do you want your life to be a reflection of God? Do you want to glorify the great God of the universe? Refuse to bow down to the idols of the age. Refuse to get caught up in the pettiness that characterizes our day. Choose today to rejoice in God!

Preaching: Communicating Faith in an Age of Skepticism – Tim Keller (2015)

kellrThe two words that immediately come to mind when considering Tim Keller’s new book is this: rocket fuel.  Keller’s book is a supercharged approach to expository preaching.

Preaching: Communicating Faith in an Age of Skepticism stands alone in book market that includes several approaches to preaching.  Some books provide preachers with the nuts and bolts or the mechanics of preaching.  Others focus on the rationale for expository preaching.  Keller’s work includes both and so much more.

Readers will be drawn to a few important items that stand out in this work:

The Centrality of the Gospel

First, Keller is relentless about the necessity of gospel preaching.  He stands with C.H. Spurgeon who famously admonished preachers to “preach a text and make a beeline to the cross of Christ.”  Keller repeatedly challenges preachers to preach “Christ crucified,” to “preach Christ through every theme of the Bible.”  Wherever the preacher finds himself in the biblical text, he must alert the listener to the person of Christ and the completed work of Christ.  It is this feature that makes Keller’s work unique and should propel his work to the required reading list of every Bible College and Seminary course that pertains to preaching.

The Importance of the Heart

Second, Keller focuses on the heart in biblical preaching: 

Preaching cannot simply be accurate and sound.  It must capture the listeners’ interest and imagination; it must be compelling and penetrate to their hearts.  It is possible to merely assert and confront and feel we have been very ‘valiant for truth,’ but if you are dry or tedious, people will not repent and believe the right doctrine you present.  We must preach so that, as in the first sermon on Pentecost, hearers are ‘cut to the heart.’

Dr. Keller walks readers through a critical discussion of the heart which is “the seat of the mind, will, and emotions, all together.”  Critical to this discussion is the idea that expository preaching must move the heart to action.  Keller notes, “It is all-important, then, that preaching move the heart to stop trusting and loving other things more than God … So the goal of the sermon cannot be merely to make the truth clear and understandable to the mind, but must also be to make it gripping and real to the heart.”  Thus, Keller highlights the primacy of both the heart and the mind.  To exclude the mind in the preaching endeavor will lead to contentless preaching.  But to exclude the heart will necessarily lead to preaching which is void of application.

The standout feature of this section is Keller’s treatment of Jonathan Edwards and his approach to the heart in preaching.  Edwards refuses to pit the heart against the mind and argues for a view of preaching that integrates both.  Keller does a terrific job of expounding Edwards’s work, Religious Affections and the impact such of view has on preaching.

There is much to commend in Keller’s work on preaching.  Readers are encouraged to dive in and benefit from this godly man who has mastered the preaching task.  May the rocket fuel in Keller’s work launch many sermons into the stratosphere for the glory of God!

Other titles that will serve preachers well include The Supremacy of God in Preaching by John Piper, He is Not Silent: Preaching in a Postmodern World by Al Mohler, The Kind of Preaching God Blesses by Steven Lawson, and Preaching and Preachers by Martyn Lloyd-Jones.

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

Called to Suffer

man wearing red crew-neck sweater with teal and black backpack outdoor during daytime

The “health and wealth” gospel continues to wield a powerful influence on many people around the world. This movement is fraught with theological danger and should be resisted and opposed by thoughtful Christians. Al Mohler addresses this troubling trend:

Prosperity theology is a false gospel. Its message is unbiblical and its promises fail. God never assures his people of material abundance or physical health. Instead, Christians are promised the riches of Christ, the gift of eternal life, and the assurance of glory in the eternal presence of the living God. In the end, the biggest problem with prosperity theology is not that it promises too much, but that it promises too little. The gospel of Jesus Christ offers salvation from sin, not a platform for earthly prosperity. While we should seek to understand what drives so many into this movement, we must never for a moment fail to see its message for what it is – a false and failed gospel.

In contrast to the “health and wealth” gospel, the Bible calls followers of Christ to suffer. We are called to suffer together (1 Cor. 12:26). We are called to patiently endure suffering (2 Cor. 1:6). We are called upon to suffer for Christ’s sake (Phil. 1:29). In 1 Thessalonians 3:1-5, we learn that God has ordained that we will suffer.

The fact that we are called to suffer is one of the clear themes of Scripture. The Bible says, “For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps” (1 Peter 2:20–21, ESV).

The apostle Paul challenges us to “rejoice in our sufferings …” (Rom. 5:3). This biblical mindset requires us to set our hope upon the risen Savior. It requires us to pay close attention to God’s revealed word. We know that suffering is not an end in itself. We know that God is using suffering for his purposes. And we know that suffering is ultimately for our good and for his glory. Listen to Paul’s God-centered perspective in his letter to the Corinthians:

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal (2 Cor. 4:16–18, ESV)

We are a people of unshakeable hope. Even in the midst of a global pandemic, we have much to rejoice in. Indeed, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.

The great Welsh pastor, Martyn Lloyd-Jones reminds us, “Faith produces hope, and the more clearly and consciously we have that hope, the more we shall know the love of God to us, and the more, in turn we shall love God.” Yes, we are called to suffer. Yes, we will experience adversity. But we cast our hope on a sovereign God who controls it all and will one day make all things new!

SONGS OF THE NATIVITY – John Calvin (1562)

Songs of the Nativity by John Calvin is a collection of sermons taken from Luke 1 and 2. These sermons providecalvin an inside look at the commitments of the great Protestant Reformer. The sermons demonstrate Calvin’s handle on Scripture and his exegetical skill. But above all, these sermons reflect the love that Calvin had for the Savior in his earthly life.

Selected Quotes

“So whenever we speak about what God has done, we should strive to show how much we depend on him alone, and how all we have comes freely from his bountiful hand.”

“Woe to us if, in men’s eyes, we outrank the angels and enjoy the world’s praise, but fail to trust God!”

“God declares that all is misery unless our minds are firmly fixed on his word, and unless we recognize that to be blessed is to know his favor and to become a child of his.”

“When we have learned to rejoice in God, we will be free to praise him with a willing spirit, a loosened tongue and an untrammeled mind. If we would be consecrated to God as priests whose sacrifice brings glory to his name, we must rejoice in him.”

“Just to feel joy is simplicity itself. That is what the children of this world do all the time. But to rejoice in God is impossible until we experience the love he has for us, and until we know that he will not desert us but will lead us on to the end.”

“So however many troubles and trials may beset us, whatever sorrows and vexations we may feel, God’s peace is bound to prevail. Nothing should stop us rejoicing in him.”

Summary

Songs of the Nativity is a fitting devotional tool for the Christmas season. Readers will be blessed by one of the greatest expositors in the history of the church. Soli Deo gloria!

A Word-Centered Life

open pocket bible on green surface

God’s Word equips, encourages, challenges, teaches, and rebukes. It is an infallible light that illumines our path in this sin-stained world (Ps. 119:105). In order to benefit from God’s Word, we must read it and re-read it. We must savor it. We must delight in it. John Bunyan was a great lover of Scripture. Charles Haddon Spurgeon beautifully expresses the role that the Bible played in Bunyan’s life:

The Pilgrim's Progress | Summary, Legacy, & Facts | Britannica

Read anything of his, and you will see that it is almost like the reading the Bible itself. He had read it till his very soul was saturated with Scripture; and, though his writings are charmingly full of poetry, yet he cannot give us his Pilgrim’s Progress—that sweetest of all prose poems — without continually making us feel and say, “Why, this man is a living Bible!” Prick him anywhere—his blood is Bibline, the very essence of the Bible flows from him. He cannot speak without quoting a text, for his very soul is full of the Word of God. I commend his example to you, beloved.

J.C. Ryle reveals the importance of saturating ourselves in God’s Word:

A Bible reading laity may save a church from ruin. Let us read the Bible regularly, daily, and with fervent prayer, and become familiar with its contents. Let us receive nothing, believe nothing, follow nothing, which is not the Bible, nor can be proved by the Bible. Let our rule of faith, our touchstone of all teaching, be the written Word of God.

May we follow in the footsteps of these great stalwarts of the Christian faith. And may our lives be marked by an unwavering commitment to Scripture. May we lead a Word-centered life!

Everything is Spiritual – Rob Bell

Rob Bell, Everything is Spiritual (New York: St. Martin’s Publishing Group, 2020), 310 pp.

In 2011, I reviewed Love Wins, my first book by Rob Bell. The piece prompted praise by conservatives and vicious scorn by progressive Christians and liberals. Whatever anyone thinks about Bell, one thing is for sure: the guy can write. He is a master communicator. And whenever he writes or talks, people listen.

Anyone familiar with Rob Bell knows that he is somewhat of a gadfly among evangelicals. And “gadfly” is a massive understatement. But there is something endearing about Bell. Some point to his skill. Others are impressed with his intellect. For me, I’ve always been drawn to Bell’s ability to communicate what he’s truly feeling – including insecurity, childhood pain, or unfulfilled expectations. He identifies a “generational lack of grace,” a trait that is found too often in the church. His transparency is refreshing and his candor is something that is greatly needed in our day.

While I applaud Bell’s transparency, I have expressed deep concern with some of the theological and philosophical assertions that he has proposed. His most recent book, Everything Is Spiritual is no exception. Michael Eric Dyson’s endorsement of the book provides a revealing summary:

“In Everything Is Spiritual, Rob Bell updates Teilhard de Chardin’s Catholic mysticism, makes sexier Werner Heisenberg’s quantum physics, and baptizes Jewish Kabbalah in an exciting vision of the future of human evolution. Bell challenges the notion that science and belief are at war, with his sublime fusion of Christian faith and modern evolutionary science. Bell’s book is the perfect antidote to the plague of an evangelical worldview that is captive to imperial dreams and a literalism that kills the spirit of Christianity …”

I will argue in this review that while Michael Eric Dyson truly does capture the essence of Bell’s intentions in Everything Is Spiritual, the end result is unhelpful and spiritually dangerous. Instead of illumination, readers will be left in a quagmire – with more questions than answers. And they will wander aimlessly in a spiritual wasteland, armed with an inaccurate portrait of God that leaves them hopeless without the biblical gospel.

No Final Answer

One of the common themes in Bell’s writing is ambiguity. He extinguishes certitude and exalts mystery (both of which are fundamental tenets of postmodernism). Careful readers will notice that the author is quick to pay lip service to Christian theology but swiftly degenerates into a subtle (or not so subtle man-made philosophy). The Bible warns, “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (2 Tim. 4:3-4, ESV).

Tragically, many have been deceived by Bell’s “spirit myths” over the years. For instance, in Bell’s book, What We Talk About When We Talk About God, he argues that God is “with us, for us, and ahead of us – all of us.” The notion that God is “with us,” “for us,” and “ahead of us (every single one of us) may sound good initially but falls short of the biblical model. It is true that God is “with” his people. We see this especially in the incarnation of Jesus, the One who is named Immanuel – or God with us (Matt. 1:23). Yet God is not “with” the man who has rejected the revelation of God in Christ. God is not “with” the one who rejects the Lord Jesus Christ and his gospel. “… Whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him” (John 3:36).

It is true that God is “for us” – that is to say, he is for his people. “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:38–39, ESV). Yet, God is not “for” the man who repudiates the promises and purposes of God. The holy God opposes the proud (Jas. 4:6; 1 Pet. 5:5).

I referred to Paul’s warning in 2 Tim. 4:3-4 again and again as I read Everything is Spiritual. Indeed, doctrine is downplayed and orthodoxy is questioned. But not everything is ambiguous. As he did in Love Wins, Bell dogmatically casts aside the doctrine of hell: “Because some stories are better than others. Stories about a God who tortures people forever in hell shouldn’t be told. They’re terrible stories. They make people miserable. They make people want to kill themselves. Stories that insist that a few human beings are going to be okay and every other human being ever is doomed for eternity are horrible stories.”

In a magical twist, certitude suddenly reappears! Alas, the painful reality is obvious here: Anyone who bemoans doctrine is in fact, dogmatic themselves! It appears, then, that the dogmatic bark is worse than the bite.

No Final Authority

To make matters worse, no final authority is offered in Everything Is Spiritual. It is difficult to determine if Bell embraces pantheism, panentheism or some other theological construct. Whatever the case, the book makes much of God’s immanence and downplays his transcendence.

But what is missing here is a distinction between the Creator and the creature. Missing is a Creator who is sovereign over creation and rules over all. Bell’s account of God is noted in the biblical exchange with Moses who refers to himself as I AM. So far so good. But notice how Bell’s understanding of God undermines the Creator/creature distinction:

Moses wants to locate God, and what Moses gets is Everywhere. Moses wants something to wrap his mind around, and what he gets is All of it.

What an answer. Another way you could say I AM is Being Itself.

That’s past, that’s present, that’s future. All of it. Being Itself, the formless beyond any one form, animating all forms. The electricity the entire thing is plugged into. The water it’s all swimming in.

That’s every you that ever was and ever will be. All your yous.

Later, Bell refers once again to “Being Itself. I AM.” He writes, “You ground yourself in that, and you’re all of it. You root yourself in the source and Spirit beyond all these forms and categories and labels, you listen to that and follow that and you keep going.” Bell refers to this as the “collective unity of humanity,” or “the body of Christ.” He adds, “All of us humans ever, across time, all together, adding up to something. The body of Christ.”

Not only does this line of reasoning militate against the Creator/creature distinction; it misleads readers into believing that they are members of Christ’s body, when the unbelieving world is described as enemies of God and under his holy wrath.

Acts 17:22-31 reveals a Creator God who is the cosmos shaper, the kingdom shaker who lives above creation. He is the all-sufficient Ruler, Life-Giver, and Destiny Maker. And he is the righteous Judge who “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 …” (Acts 17:30-31, ESV).

And Scripture speaks of the creature who was created by God (Gen. 2:7). The creatures (Adam and Eve) were originally free from sin but fell and as a result became sinners by nature and by choice (Gen. 3:1-7). As such, these sinful creatures have no inherent righteousness, no desire for God (Rom. 3:10-11). Subsequently, all creatures are born with a hatred in their hearts for God (Rom. 8:7-8). They are dead in sin (Eph. 2:1-3), and they are enslaved in sin; totally unable to come to Christ apart from God’s empowerment (John 6:44). These creatures are dependent upon God for everything. While they have the ability to make free choices, these choices are determined in eternity past (Acts 17:26; Prov. 19:21; 21:1). And these creatures are accountable to a righteous and sovereign Judge (Rom. 2:5-11).

As such, there is no final authority in Everything is Spiritual. Bell writes, “God is not detached from the world, up there, or above, or somewhere else, that would make God a form like everything else.” So, we are left with the strange and unbiblical blending of the Creator and the creature.

No Exclusive Path

One of the reasons that people are drawn to Bell is because he refuses to be boxed in by a religious system or creed. He is quick to jettison the traditional path and proudly promotes another route:

And then there was soul. This deeper voice within me telling me another truth, coaxing me to rethink what success even is. I had my own path, and it wasn’t this, and what you do with a path is you walk it … But walking your path, when you’re surrounded by multiple voices with strong opinions about what you should be doing, that takes tremendous spinal fortitude.

“Spinal fortitude,” is to be commended. The problem is that Scripture points to one path – the path that Jesus describes as “narrow.” Jesus says, “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by 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).

One of the primary arguments in Bell’s book is that “everything is spiritual.” He refers to Christ, who holds all things together: “All of it. All of us. Everybody, everywhere, in Christ.” He rightly notes how every person is created with dignity and honor and possesses “infinite worth and value.” But things take a tragic turn for the worse. For the one who pursues his own path, according to Bell, is something of a radical. In a stunning admission, Bell acknowledges: “The radical is not the person who wandered off the path into the deep weeds. The radical is the one who went back to the origins, to the roots, to how it all began. Sometimes the tribe has lost its way, sometimes the ones claiming to be orthodox, correct, pure ones have gone off the rails, sometimes it’s the mother ship that has lost its bearing, and it’s the radical who’s actually rediscovering the true path.”

Radicals like Jan Hus and Martin Luther rediscovered the true path when they embraced biblical authority and the gospel of Jesus. But Bell is not referring to these stalwarts of the faith. Rather, he is referring to those who dare to break free from the chains of orthodoxy. After all, writes Bell, “You aren’t an object, you aren’t a pawn … you possess Spirit. Personal, intimate, infinite, knowing, Spirit. You reflect the divine, present in each of us. You’re in Christ.

No exclusive path is necessary since we are “in Christ,” according to Bell. This theme emerged clearly in Love Wins as Bell undercut sovereign grace by arguing that God draws all people to himself. He writes, “ … We see that Jesus himself, again and again, demonstrates how seriously he takes his role in saving and rescuing and redeeming not just everything, but everybody.”

But Scripture stands in opposition to this theme. The Bible never declares that all people are “in Christ” as Bell supposes. Rather, each person is born in Adam and experiences death as a result (Rom. 5:12-21). Jesus never promises to rescue and redeem all people. Rather, people are assured that they will receive eternal life and forgiveness if they turn from their sin and trust the Lord Jesus Christ (John 3:15-16; 6:37, 47; 7:38; 8:12; Acts 4:12; Rom. 10:9-13, 17). When a person trusts in Christ alone for their salvation, then and only then, are they truly “in Christ.”

Bell’s “gospel” is described as “the divine announcement that you are loved and accepted exactly as you are, that everything has been taken care of, that everything you’ve been striving to earn has been yours the entire time, that you belong, in exactly this condition that you are currently in, nothing additional required or needed.” Readers are left, then, with more ambiguity. Whose “gospel” is Bell describing? And does this “gospel” tolerate sin? Does this “gospel” lay down demands? Is surrender required? Belief? Repentance? Is this “gospel” inclusive or is it exclusive? Is this “gospel light?” Or is this the “gospel” that Scripture refers to as a “different gospel” (Gal. 1:6)?

The matter of the gospel has eternal implications. The apostle Paul warns the Christians in Galatia to beware of those who “distort the gospel of Christ” (Gal. 1:7). He continues, “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed” (Gal. 1:8-9, ESV).

The biblical gospel or the “good news” of God begins with God. It declares that God is sovereign and holy. It tells us that God created people for his glory (Isa. 43:7). It tells us that people are sinners by nature and by choice (Rom. 3:23; 5:12). The gospel warns us that God is just and that he has the right to punish sin and that unrepentant people will endure the wrath of God for eternity (Rom. 6:23; John 3:36). The gospel tells us about a Savior who will destroy death and rescue his creatures from the power of sin and the penalty of sin. And one day this gospel will rescue followers of Jesus from sin’s very presence.

The gospel distinguishes between the Creator and the creature. Peter Jones adds, “The Bible warns us not to worship the creation but to worship and serve only the Creator. The starting point of gospel truth is that God the Creator, in the three persons of the divine Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – is the one and only God and that all which is not God was created by him … The Christian faith maintains a separateness between God and His creation.”1 The gospel makes provision for sin, exalts the crucified and risen Savior, and reconciles sinners to a holy God.

Tragically, the biblical gospel is jettisoned in Everything is Spiritual. The gospel is reduced to a “divine announcement” of acceptance. This soft, inclusive “gospel” is a different gospel that Scripture condemns (Gal. 1:6, 9).

Summary

“Everything is spiritual.” The very idea sounds so very, well … spiritual. And people who flock to read the musings of Bell continue in a trancelike state like they’ve been doing for years. But the author makes a very revealing statement near the end of the book. He writes, “I want to help people rediscover the wonder and awe of their existence.” Yet, no final answer is given. No final authority is offered. And no exclusive path is revealed. Instead of rediscovering “the wonder and awe of their existence,” readers are left wandering in an existential fog, unaware of the Creator God who made all things for his glory; the transcendent God who sovereignly rules and reigns; the God who sent his Son to rescue sinners, redeem them, and bless them with eternal life.

Michael Eric Dyson refers to Bell’s book as “a perfect spiritual antidote to the plague of an evangelical worldview that is captive to imperial dreams and a literalism that kills the spirit of Christianity.” Nothing could be further from the truth. The message that Rob Bell presents in this book is anything but spiritual. Instead, it offers a syncretistic concoction of worldly philosophy that leads the unsuspecting on a path to divine judgment. That’s a far cry from an antidote. Poison doesn’t cure disease. Poison kills the unsuspecting.

  1. Peter Jones, Gospel Truth, Pagan Lies: Can You Tell the Difference? (Enumclaw: Winepress Publishing, 1999), 23-24.

The Puritan Plunge

40 Quotes from J. I. Packer (1926–2020)

On July 17, 2020 J.I. Packer went to be with the Lord. Dr. Packer was an unassuming man, yet he was a towering figure of evangelicalism. He was one of the key men who helped restore Reformed theology in North America. The publication of Knowing God in 1973 was a foundational book that reacquainted thousands upon thousands of people with a Reformed understanding of Scripture.

I was first introduced to Dr. Packer in 1986 as a freshman at Multnomah University before a packed chapel service at Central Bible Church. I would have to wait another twenty years to see him again, this time at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis. He preached for nearly two hours that day. I was utterly transfixed by his knowledge of Scripture and his ability to preach God’s Word. Those moments are permanently etched into my soul.

Meet the Puritans

Packer not only helped restore Reformed theology in our day; he also introduced a new generation to the Puritans. His book, A Quest for Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life is among my favorites. One of the many lessons in A Quest for Godliness is that the Puritans teach us to “feel the transitoriness of this life, to think of it, with all its richness, as essentially the gymnasium and dressing-room where we are prepared for heaven, and to regard readiness to die as the first step in learning to live.” Packer is convinced that we need to learn from the great heroes of the Christian faith. He writes, “The great Puritans, though dead, still speak to us through their writings, and say things to us that we badly need to hear at this present time.” Now, more than ever, we need to wisdom and godliness of the Puritans.

The Puritan movement developed in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in England and sought further reformation and renewal in the Church of England. In short, they wanted to purify their national church by removing every influence of Roman Catholicism.

The Puritans were deeply committed to being God-centered in every area of life. God saturated their families, their work, play, and relationships. J.I. Packer says this about these great men and women of God: “All awareness, activity, and enjoyment . . . and development of personal powers and creativity, was integrated in the single purpose of honoring God by appreciating all his gifts and making everything ‘holiness to the Lord.’”

Compelled by Scripture

The Puritans were compelled to proclaim, promote and defend biblical truth. They tirelessly preached God’s Word in all its splendor and scrupulously fought error as it slithered through the church walls. The Puritans not only defended the faith in word but through their actions as well. Their daily lives were a powerful apologetic and testimony to the life changing power of Christ.

Consumed by God’s Grace

The Puritans were consumed by God’s grace. They realized the sinfulness of the human heart and the desperate need for forgiveness and grace. The often quoted Thomas Watson writes, “Behold, distinguishing grace. Let your hearts melt in love to God. Admire his royal bounty. Celebrate the memorial of his goodness. Set the crown of all your praises upon the head of free grace.”

I encourage you to heed the counsel of J.I.Packer by taking the plunge and swimming with the Puritans. Let their deep love of God and passion to please him refresh your soul and deepen your commitment to growing as a disciple of Jesus Christ!

One in Christ: Growing in Christian Maturity – James W. Walraven

James W. Walraven, One in Christ: Growing Toward Christian Maturity (Enumclaw: Redemption Press, 2020), 124 pp.

Jesus prays for the unity of all believers in his well-known high priestly prayer. He prays “that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:21, ESV). Tragically, the church is anything but united in our day. James W. Walraven addresses this concern in his most recent book, One in Christ.

One in Christ is a clear call to unity that is tethered to the truth of Scripture. The author appeals to followers of Christ to obey the mandate to pursue unity, even in the midst of a fractured church. Several examples of disunity are cited which serves as a springboard for the main theme of the book – Christian maturity.

The basis of Christian unity is explained in basic terms that are easily understood. Finally, Dr. Walraven explores several ways to pursue maturity. One in Christ is an excellent introduction to new believers and will be of great help to seasoned believers as well.

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

Sharp Eyes, Soft Hearts, and Sanctified Minds: Evaluating Christian Books

I review books – a lot of books. Some people have expressed an interest in how I evaluate them. A few specific criteria govern the way I evaluate the overall effectiveness of Christian books, in particular.

First and most important, is the book biblical? That is, does the content reflect the teaching of the infallible, authoritative, inerrant Word of God? The label “Christian” does not automatically mean that a given book is a faithful representation of orthodoxy. Does it accurately unpack doctrines that are in step with the Reformed faith and exalts the Lord Jesus Christ? Any deviation from from the truth results in a sharp critique and swift relegation to the “heresy shelf.” Tragically, my heresy shelf has steadily grown over the years.

Second, is the writing clear and compelling? Does the book address important questions? And does it offer answers that genuinely help readers? Does it posit suggestions that encourage their Christian growth? Is the book coherent or does it violate the laws of logic? Is the writing organized and systematic? Tragically, logic and a systematic approach to theology is viewed with suspicion and even disdain in some Christian circles. The very act of repudiating the laws of logic that God has established is a foolish act and is by definition, illogical!

Third, does the book impact lives and promote progressive sanctification? Many Christian books (or books that are at least categorized as “Christian”) offer little in the area of practical help. Instead of helping readers become conformed to the image of Christ, they foster pride and build upon on edifice of shifting sand. A worthy Christian book should alert readers to the problem of sin and reveal the remedy, which is found exclusively in Jesus Christ.

A good Christian book should guide the reader to the Celestial City. It should lead them in a Godward direction and inspire them to live hopeful lives and holy lives.

Finally, does the book magnify the gospel of Jesus Christ? Is the gospel at the heart of the book or is it a mere tack on? Is the gospel the primary fuel that drives the arguments in the book or is the gospel more like “fumes” that emerge from the tailpipe of worldliness or pragmatism? Such an approach may be appealing in the short run, but will lead readers to a path of destruction.

These are only a few of the special areas of concern that I consider when I place a Christian book under the microscope. Such a pursuit involves having a sharp eye, a soft heart, and a sanctified mind. Having a sharp eye involves God-centered discipline to read everything through the lens of a Christian worldview. A sharp eye will not only pinpoint doctrinal error; it will pay tribute to doctrinal purity. A soft heart avoids the extremes of a hyper-critical spirit and a pietistic free-for-all. And a sanctified mind requires complete submission to Scripture and surrender to the Spirit of God. This approach is undergirded by a commitment to be transformed by the renewal of our minds (Rom. 12:2).

May the Lord grant much discernment as you dig deeper and grow stronger in the Christian faith. May you echo the prayer of Solomon who cried out to God, “So give your servant a receptive heart to judge your people and to discern between good and evil. For who is able to judge this great people of yours?”” (1 Kings 3:9, CSB)

Tolle lege!