BOOK REVIEWS

Reenchanting Humanity: A Theology of Mankind – Owen Strachan (2019)

owenOwen Strachan, Reenchanting Humanity: A Theology of Mankind (Geanies House: Christian Focus Publications, 2019), 418 pp.

I was recently asked by a parishioner to evaluate a professing Christian author. My response was tenuous as the author under consideration is notoriously difficult to nail down. Is he a Calvinist or an Arminian? A Complementarian or an Egalitarian? Does he affirm the authority, inherency, and infallibility of Scripture? One may never know. Frankly, it would be easier to nail jello to a wall than decipher the theological commitment of the author in question!

One of the many reasons, I appreciate Owen Strachan so much is that he is the polar opposite of the author above. Agree or disagree, readers always know where Dr. Strachan stands. His latest book is no exception.

Reenchanting Humanity: A Theology of Mankind is a book that is desperately needed by the church in our day. Many in the church have lost their bearings (some appear to have lost their minds). The journey to the Celestial City has been sidetracked by compromise, theological error, and political correctness. Instead of sailing to our heavenly home with biblical fidelity, scores of people have surrendered their oars and are dog-paddling in a different direction. Rather than affirming what the Scripture affirms about mankind, they embrace the ideology of the zeitgeist. Instead of tethering their view of mankind to Christ, they cling to the flimsy and flawed view of culture.

A Theological Antidote to Compromise

Reenchanting Humanity is a theological antidote to the rampant compromise which is currently polluting the church and corroding the pillars of the Christian mind. But Reenchanting Humanity is more than an antidote. It is more than a defensive reaction to the godless ideology that infects the church. Rather, it is an offensive biblical bombshell that destroys error and bolsters the Christian worldview.

The lofty aim of Reenchanting Humanity is “to give future pastors of Christ’s church great confidence in the doctrine of man.” Strachan’s hope is that “those facing many challenges to this doctrine from inside and outside the church, will gain strength from or rigorously biblical and theological study of theocentric anthropology.”

Rooted in the Imago Dei

Dr. Strachan’s goal is achieved in the space of 418 pages. He anchors this tour in anthropology by demonstrating that creatures are made in the imago Dei. In other words, we have been created by God – for his glory. As such we have intrinsic value. He rightly notes, “Mankind is not an accident; mankind is the special creation of almighty God. By recapturing the biblical account of human origins, we recapture human dignity, human worth, and our own identities.”

But the Bible clearly describes how creatures sinned and fell far from God. Strachan skillfully shows readers the many consequences of the fall and helps them decipher where work, sexuality, race and ethnicity, technology, and justice fit in a fallen world.

The chapter entitled, Contingency is thought-provoking, challenging, and illuminating. The author writes, “Humanity was, is, and will be contingent. We are wholly dependent on God, wholly under divine control, and wholly and unalterably beings made by God.” He continues, “We need God. We depend on him for existence, but just as significantly, we depend on him for purpose, meaning, and the discovery of hope. Take away the Lord, and all is futile.” And so the fact of contingency weighs heavily on creatures. Tragically, however, many either refuse to acknowledge their contingent status or give up entirely. But Strachan reminds us, “The biblical portrait of man’s temporality drives us not to despair but to worship God. Once reconciled to the reality of our finitude on the earth, we may reverse our natural instincts and adopt a mind-set of savoring all the wonder, mystery, beauty, pain, promise, challenge, and purposefulness of our God-given days.”

Consistent, Compelling, and Countercultural

Reenchanting Humanity is clear, consistent, compelling, comprehensive, and countercultural. These important attributes will likely make the book vulnerable to criticism and mark out the book as a target for detractors. But readers who maintain their allegiance to Scripture will appreciate Strachan’s approach, which is relentlessly biblical and faithful to the truth.

Quite frankly, I found Reenchangting Humanity enthralling. Strachan never backs away from controversy and he is unafraid of telling the truth about the condition of mankind. But the book concludes with a majestic crescendo as the author guides readers to the Lord Jesus Christ and the story of the second Adam: “Truly, he is the new humanity, and he is leading a new exodus to the new heavens and the new earth. He is the salvation and ontological restoration we so desperately need; his new covenant blood washes us clean, makes us new creations, and gives us new names.”

Reenchanting Humanity: A Theology of Mankind is not only highly recommended; it is one of the best books of 2019!

BOOK REVIEWS

Always in God’s Hands: Day by Day in the Company of Jonathan Edwards – Owen Strachan (2018)

owenOwen Strachan, Always in God’s Hands: Day By Day in the Company of Jonathan Edwards (Carol Stream: Tyndale House Publishers, 2018), 415 pp.

I don’t usually get too excited about devotional books. They are typically too short and far too shallow. Such books gain a wide readership, which only adds fuel to my frustration. But when I learned about Dr. Owen Strachan’s new book, Always in God’s Hands: Day By Day in the Company of Jonathan Edwards, I eagerly secured a copy to review.

The book contains a short devotional for each day of the year. Readers are greeted by a short citation by America’s greatest intellectual and pastor, Jonathan Edwards. Strachan follows with an insightful devotion which is laced with Bible-centered wisdom and practical lessons that apply to the Christian life. Topics include the doctrine of the Trinity, justification, sanctification, battling temptation and worldliness, work ethic, faith, biblical authority, and many more. Each devotion concludes with a short Scripture that relates to the daily content.

Observant readers will notice several things about Strachan’s work. First, it is not short and it is not shallow. These are meaty, soul-stirring devotionals that ignite the affections and draw the attention of readers to the triune God. For instance, listen to how the author describes the promise of a Redeemer:

“It was foretold that Jesus would come as a holy warrior to face down his foe. Genesis 3:15 charts what the New Testament Gospels show us. Christ, Jonathan Edwards says, ‘went before us.’ He suffered ‘execution,’ dying to honor the justice of God, represented so vividly as a ‘sword,’ a great and terrible weapon. But the way of Christ is not a way of defeat. In dying, the Son of God crushed the serpent’s head. He rose from the dead. For believers, ‘there is no sword now,’ and eternal life awaits. The conquering hero will one day welcome us home, a liberated nation and a set-apart people.”

Second, it is a stellar introduction to the Christ-saturated worldview of Jonathan Edwards (approximately 30,000 words from the pen of Edwards are presented in this volume). Too many people unfairly caricature Edwards as a fire-breathing preacher, preoccupied with judgment and damnation. Edwards does indeed warn people to flee from the wrath to come. But this is not his only focus. The Puritan divine is fixated on the glory of God. He is consumed with the supremacy of Christ. His writing is saturated with gospel-centered joy.

Third, it provides practical help for believers at different maturity levels. This volume is certainly a great encouragement to seasoned believers. But it will also help strengthen the faith of believers who are just getting started. After completing Always in His Hands, I ordered an additional copy for my sixteen-year-old son. Inscribed in the opening pages are these words – from a father to his son:

“Jonathan Edwards life and writing have deeply shaped my views of God, the gospel, and the Christian life. No other writer outside of sacred Scripture has influenced me more. When you get to know this man, you get better acquainted with his Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. And his Savior is our Savior!”

I’m looking forward to reading these short devotions together. Each is inspired by Jonathan Edwards but the real joy will be treasuring the Lord Jesus and finding our satisfaction in him. As John Piper says, “God is most glorified when we are most satisfied in him.”

Always in His Hands: Day By Day in the Company of Jonathan Edwards is a landmark book. It is a captivating introduction to America’s greatest thinker and invites readers to biblical spirituality that is truly unmatched. I highly recommend this work and trust that it will receive a wide reading in the evangelical world. Always in His Hands is among the best books of 2018!

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

BOOK REVIEWS · CHRISTIAN LIFE · Discipleship · Men

Designed for Joy – Owen Strachan and Jonathan Parnell, Ed

joyOwen Strachan and Jonathan Parnell, Ed. Designed For Joy: How the Gospel Impacts Men and Women, Identity and Practice. Wheaton: Crossway, 2015. 144 pp. $10.92

Designed For Joy: How the Gospel Impacts Men and Women, Identity and Practice is an important book with a message for our generation. The editors, Jonathan Parnell and Owen Strachan team up with a well-seasoned team of writers that address the matter of gender from several different angles.

Topics range from masculinity and femininity to singleness and marriage. The subjects of parenting and purity are dealt with along with matters of gender and maturity. In one sense, this is a broad book designed to reach many people. In another sense, the book is very targeted as it subjects each subject to the gospel message.

The writing is clear and biblical. Each chapter hits the bullseye dead on, with stunning biblical accuracy. Each of the writers bring a perspective of complementarianism which views men and women as equals with specific roles to carry out to the glory of God.

It never ceases to amaze me that the most important books these days receive reviews that are critical and mean-spirited. One reviewer says this about the book: “This book is well-intentioned, but I feel it’s worth noting that the scholarship, particularly in the women’s sections, is very sloppy. There is little reference to biblical principles for the assertions they make around women’s roles …” To the contrary, the scholarship is commendable and designed to reach a popular audience.

Designed For Joy is a book for our day. May God raise up a new generation of Christian writers who bring a depth of clarity and God-centered wisdom to bear on these matters.

BOOK REVIEWS · Culture · Theology

AWAKENING THE EVANGELICAL MIND – Owen Strachan (2015)

mindIn the late 1940’s, V.W. Steele resigned as the Senior pastor at Bethel Baptist in Everett, Washington. He stepped away from his pulpit at the height of a revival as he felt prompted by God to move to another ministry. He loaded up the car with his young family made the long journey to Los Angeles. Providentially, he was commissioned by Charles Fuller to partner together and preach the gospel in Idaho, Montana and North Dakota. Pastor Steele was my grandfather, so I have a particular interest in his venture with Charles Fuller, the popular preacher on the Old Fashioned Revival Hour radio broadcast.

My grandfather pastored churches in a day where the battle lines were drawn. He lived in a day when men were willing to lose life and limb for the sake of doctrinal convictions. But he also lived in a day when the church was in a titanic struggle against the cultural monster of modernism.

Dr. Owen Strachan’s book, Awakening the Evangelical Mind provides an invaluable service for the church as he explores where the battle lines were drawn and introduces readers to the key players. These neo-evangelicals, including Harold Ockenga, Carl Henry, Billy Graham, and others helped establish the Christian mind in a culture awash in a sea of modernism.

Strachan traces the evangelical trajectory of these seminal thinkers by guiding readers through key historical turning points and decisions that were decisive for the establishment of the Christian mind in America. The author demonstrates how select Christian colleges and Seminaries were launched and the men who envisioned them. These are important historical details that the author skillfully tells; stories that have either been forgotten or worse yet, never heard!

R.C. Sproul and Mark Noll have both lamented about the decline of the Christian mind. Strachan’s excellent work is a much-needed corrective and salve for the soul. Strachan is eager to prop up the long history of the evangelical mind and optimistic about its future: “If the evangelical mind is not always appreciated, this simply cannot be because it does not exist. It does exist, and its contributions over two millennia are monumental.”

The author argues that evangelicals face some important decisions in the days ahead:

The church faces a profound choice: it can retreat and huddle, nursing its wounds as it accepts its intellectual marginalization. Or, it can learn once more from Ockenga, Henry, Graham, and the Cambridge evangelicals, and promote outstanding education that not only engages the questing heart but freshly awakens the evangelical mind.

Awakening the Evangelical Mind is a call to the next generation of Christian leaders to lead with biblical conviction and bold courage; to continue the legacy that was established by some great men of the faith.

 

BOOK REVIEWS · Ecclesiology · Leadership · Theology

THE PASTOR AS PUBLIC THEOLOGIAN – Kevin VanHoozer and Owen Strachan (2015)

pastorAfter serving in pastoral ministry for nearly twenty-five years, I can testify that the most discouraging moments occurred when the people of God failed to look favorably on theology.  R.C. Sproul rightly laments, “We live in the most anti-intellectual period in all of church history.”  Frankly, many pastors have the battle scars to prove it.  I know I do.

Kevin VanHoozer and Owen Strachan serve up a timely antidote to this troubling, anti-theology age we find ourselves in.  The Pastor as Public Theologian presents a fresh vision; a vision for “reclaiming the vocation of the pastor-theologian.”  But the authors have a larger vision that unfolds throughout the book.  Their vision extends to local congregations.  They too need to reclaim the vision and vocation of the pastor theologian.

Part one explores biblical theology and historical theology.  Part two explores systematic theology and practical theology.  Each chapter is drenched in biblical wisdom with an eye on kingdom priorities.

This book stands in the same stream as David Well’s excellent works, No Place For Truth, God in the Wasteland, and The Courage to Be Protestant – to name a few.  The great strengths lie not only in setting forth a description of the problems in the church but in the prescription for moving forward.  Such a move entails  pastors who are theologically motivated and theologically driven.  These pastors offer up theologically rich sermons which equip, edify, and send the people of God to the nations.

The Pastor as Public Theologian is a sweeping book.  It is, in many ways an epic accomplishment. Indeed, VanHoozer and Strachan achieve their goal in setting forth the biblical case for recovering the biblical portrait of the pastor-theologian.

The Pastor as Public Theologian is a profoundly encouraging book.  Pastors who are serious about their call should read and devour this excellent material.  Some pastors will find themselves repenting for embracing a secularized model of the pastorate.  Others will be re-energized to boldly proclaim the truth for God’s glory and the good of God’s people

Highly recommended!

4.5 stars

Biography · BOOK REVIEWS · Culture

The Colson Way – Owen Strachan (2015)

colsonGospel-spreading, Jesus-loving, and worldview-shaping.  These short phrases describe a special man.  This man was bold, unafraid, and merciful.   He was filled with compassion for people and longed to see social justice in America and around the globe.  These are only a few brief descriptions of the former hatchet-man.  This man served under President Richard M. Nixon.  This man served time in a federal penitentiary.  His name – Charles Colson.

Owen Strachan provides an invaluable service to the church in his latest book, The Colson Way.  While the primary target is American millennial evangelicals, the author’s message should reach all age groups and is destined to not only inspire a new generation of leaders but also warn against moral decay and worldview erosion.  The book is a primer on the importance of loving one another and making a mark for the gospel – a gospel which is characterized by truth, grace, forgiveness, love, and mercy.

Strachan explores the formative years of Mr. Colson and walks readers through his days in the White House which ultimately led to a short stay in the “Big House.”  The Providential path of pain that Colson traveled led him to a relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.  As a result, his life was transformed by Jesus which resulted in a series of unexpected events that would have an effect on people around him and thousands of people who never met him.

The author chronicles the various ministries of Chuck Colson, especially Prison Fellowship which spans around the world and offers hope, peace, and forgiveness to prisoners.

Strachan summarizes the Colson life creed:

“His God-given role in the kingdom was to go to the needy, the suffering, and the forgotten, and to minister grace to them … As a former prisoner, disgraced in the public eye, he never lost sight of just how freeing the gospel truly was.  He knew what it was to have lost everything, to be at the mercy of routines and regulations that were not of his choosing, and to taste shame and guilt that left only to return.”

This fascinating book not only introduces readers to the life and legacy of Charles Colson; it also serves as a primer for living with a bold faith in the public square.  It is a clarion call to young evangelical leaders.  It is an invitation to proclaim, defend, and live the truth in a world which is hostile to the truth of the gospel.

This much-needed book will serve the church well and prompt much discussion and debate.  Better yet, it will lead a new generation of leaders to the front lines where the battle is fought, and where our Commanding Officer beckons us to heed His sovereign call.

Highly recommended – 4.5 stars

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