BOOK REVIEWS

Systematic Theology – Robert Letham (2019)

lethamRobert Letham, Systematic Theology (Wheaton: Crossway, 2019), 1005 pp.

Systematic Theology by Robert Letham is a solid work designed to fit within the framework of Reformed confessionalism. This volume is unique in that is begins with a treatment on the triune God. Dr. Letham begins by offered the dominant arguments for God’s existence and proceeds to show how the doctrine of the Trinity unfolding in church history and redemptive history, respectively.

The remaining sections appear as one might expect – the doctrine of the Word of God, the works of God, the image of God, the covenant of God, Christ, the Son of God, the Spirit of God and the People of God, and the Ultimate Purposes of God.

Letham draws on a wide range of evangelical writers as he articulates each doctrine – biblically, historical, and always in the conservative evangelical stream. This work is unusually objective. That is, while the author does not hide his doctrinal pre-commitments, he is eager to fairly represent his opponents.

As with any work of systematic theology, readers will likely not agree with everything. Some readers, like me, will need to look elsewhere on matters that pertain to baptism and eschatology.

Nonetheless, Systematic Theology makes a noteworthy contribution to a growing list of solid offerings. I will turn to this volume often and use it as a solid resource for theological study and reflection.

Dr. Letham is director of research and senior lecturer in Systematic Theology and historical theology at Wales Evangelical School of Theology.

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

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

Emblems of the Infinite King – J. Ryan Lister (2019)

eemJ. Ryan Lister, Emblems of the Infinite King: Enter the Knowledge of the Living God (Wheaton: Crossway, 2019), 181 pp.

From time to time, I enjoy a good children’s book. There’s something about taking a break from my usual theologically robust reading schedule and immersing myself into a book designed to inspire and educate kids. J. Ryan Lister’s book is targeted to pre-teens and teens but I won’t be shelving this book with other notable children’s books by C.S. Lewis and Douglas Bond. Emblems of the Infinite King: Enter the Knowledge of the Living God will be strategically placed in my section devoted to biblical theology. Lister’s book will stand proudly next to works of biblical theology penned by Thomas Schreiner, Patrick Schreiner, Peter Gentry, Stephen Wellum, George Eldon Ladd, and James Hamilton.

Emblems of the Infinite King invites young readers into God’s redemptive drama and presents the definitive pillars of the Christian worldview – creation, fall, redemption, and consummation in a compelling story. The introduction sets the necessary tone as readers are presented with a series of life-changing keys:

“His strong and wise command cut through the empty silence as he reached out of the shadows to offer an ancient key … Those who turn this key will never be the same.”

“It will show your deepest guilt and display your darkest shame.”

“You’ll see who you were made to be and what you’ve really become.”

“ … The way ahead is the path that leads into the throne room of the Son, this one they call the Death Killer, who gives his life to pay your ransom.”

A brief note about the underlying story that undergirds the book. One reviewer questioned the validity of the imaginative elements of Emblems of the Infinite King. This critique is perplexing, especially in light of the stunning efforts of C.S. Lewis (The Chronicles of Narnia) and J.R. Tolkien (The Lord of the Rings). And who can argue with the effectiveness of John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, one of the best-selling books of all time? One of the great needs in the church is a Christ-saturated imagination which is theologically robust and Reformed, one that captures the heart and makes the human spirit soar. Tragically, much theological writing is aimed squarely at the mind but bypasses the heart altogether. Emblems of the Infinite King strikes a biblical balance that celebrates orthodoxy but also warms the heart with imaginative prose and a compelling story.

Each chapter describes a particular key that explains a doctrinal reality that ultimately leads to the throne of God. Dr. Lister presents each branch of systematic theology in the framework of the story and guides pilgrims on a journey that glorifies the King, the Death Killer – the central figure of the redemptive drama.

Make no mistake – this is a serious book. And serious books have life-changing implications. The author writes clearly and creatively. But even more important, he writes with biblical precision. It is obvious that Lister has thought through each turn in the story and has a passion to either introduce readers to the King or help strengthen their relationship with him.

I must add that this is a beautiful book. Frankly, it is stunning. First, the cover is majestic and begs prospective readers to turn to the first page. The book is illustrated by Anthony M. Benedetto. Young people will be instantly drawn to his breathtaking illustrations that add so much to this volume.

2019 has been a great year for Christian publishing. Of the 170 books that I’ve read this year, Emblems of the Infinite King is among the best of them! Emblems of the Infinite King is a modern-day Pilgrim’s Progress that is sure to encourage many young people and will be a strategic tool for parents and grandparents to help disciple children for God’s glory.

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

BOOK REVIEWS

Reformed Systematic Theology – Volume 1: God and Revelation – Joel Beeke and Paul Smalley

beekJoel R. Beeke & Paul M. Smalley, Reformed Systematic Theology – Volume 1: God and Revelation (Wheaton: Crossway, 2019), 1213 pp.

Our generation is fraught with challenges that militate against the Christian faith. We are constantly battling heresy, both inside and outside the church. The propagation of lies is commonplace and the repudiation of truth is part of the fabric of contemporary culture.

Thankfully, we are blessed with many resources that help encourage and equip us for living the Christian life, even in the midst of the rising tide of apostasy. The past twenty years, we have been blessed with an impressive array of systematic theology texts, which include the likes of John Frame, John MacArthur, Wayne Grudem, and Michael Horton.

The latest work is a labor of love from Joel Beeke and Paul Smalley. Reformed Systematic Theology: Revelation and God is the first volume and includes an extended prolegomena, the doctrine of revelation, and the doctrine of God. Each major section introduces readers to the biblical fundamentals and critical areas of concern.

What makes this work special is the emphasis on what key thinkers in church history have said about a given doctrinal reality. The authors have done their homework and have done the “heavy lifting,” which enable students to focus in on the subject at hand. But make no mistake: While the authors lean on writers from another generation, it is never done in a way that overshadows the authority of Scripture. Sacred Scripture has the first and last word on every subject.

Frankly, I found this volume enthralling. While it weighs in at over 1,200 pages, I found the reading to be engaging, illuminating, and educational. But more than anything, Reformed Systematic Theology points readers to the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ and his life, death, resurrection, ascension, and exaltation. This work succeeds in leading readers to the cross of Christ. It is here that we are humbled and challenged to worship before his majesty.

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

BOOK REVIEWS · Calvinism · Theology

Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Christian Belief – John Frame (2013)

a frameHow does one review a systematic theology by one of the leading minds of the evangelical world?  How does one summarize the thoughts of a 1,100-page book that towers with truth; a book that takes readers to the top of the theological mountain?  Anyone who attempts to read and devour Systematic Theology by John Frame will be faced with such questions.  Indeed, while the oxygen is scarce at the top of this theological peak, readers will be delighted to enjoy the view that Dr. Frame presents.  As one might expect, every branch of systematic theology is explored.  The author invites readers on a journey which introduces them to God who relates to creatures as their covenant Lord.  The three lordship attributes are articulated throughout the book – control, authority, and presence.

Several thoughts help capture the essence of this incredible book.  While some will be put off by such thoughts, my hope is that a majority of readers will be motivated and inspired to pick up Dr. Frame’s work.  This powerful book is marked by at least ten features:

  1. It is God-Centered
  2. It is Scripture-soaked
  3. It is unashamedly Calvinistic
  4. It is conservative
  5. It exposes liberal scholarship and lays bare its erroneous presuppositions
  6. It is biblical
  7. It is mind-penetrating
  8. It is heart-softening
  9. It is personal
  10. It leads readers to worship God

Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Christian Belief by John Frame is a theological tour de force.   This weighty volume is drenched with Scripture and is drowning with biblical wisdom.  I cannot think of any other writer who has influenced my thinking, outside of Jonathan Edwards himself.  This work is a true labor of love, a gift to the church, and a tool that will sharpen the minds of Christ-followers and serve as a heart-tenderizer for many years to come!

Highly recommended

5 stars

BOOK REVIEWS

50 Core Truths of the Christian Faith – Gregg Allison (2018)

alGregg R. Allison, 50 Core Truths of the Christian Faith: A Guide to Understanding and Teaching Theology, Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2018, 426 pp. $19.36

I have been teaching theology for over twenty-five years. During that time span, I have been privileged to use some of the finest theological resources available. Contemporary books like Wayne Grudem’s, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine or John Frame’s Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Christian Belief have been a never-ending source of theological wisdom, and have instructed and encouraged my soul. Books geared to laymen like J.I. Packer’s, Concise Theology: A Guide to Historic Christian Beliefs and R.C. Sproul’s, Essential Truths of the Christian Faith have also proven themselves to be faithful friends.

But despite the wealth of resources for pastors and teachers, very few provide insight for actually teaching theology. For this reason, Gregg Allison’s new book will be a welcome addition to many personal libraries. 50 Core Truths of the Christian Faith: A Guide to Understanding and Teaching Theology is part systematic theology and part pedagogy. Indeed, it is a tool to be reckoned with.

A brief look at the table of contents reveals what initially looks like a traditional systematic theology text. Eight branches of systematic theology are arranged from the doctrine of the Word of God (Bibliology) to the doctrine of future things (Eschatology), respectively. Each branch is subsequently arranged into bite-sized pieces which are designed to be easily digested by the reader.

Each of the fifty chapters contains a one-page snapshot of the content, which includes a summary, main themes, and key Scriptures. Three main sections may also be found in each chapter including:

  1. Understanding Doctrine – Major affirmations, biblical support, and major errors associated with a particular doctrine.
  2. Enacting Doctrine – The case for teaching the stakes for minimizing, marginalizing, or repudiating a particular doctrine.
  3. Teaching the Doctrine – Practical pointers and help with teaching a particular doctrine.

“Christian doctrine is Christian belief based on Scripture,” writes Greg Allison. “The church bears the primary responsibility for constructing and transmitting good theology, with an essential assist from the theological wisdom of the ages. The sound doctrine is believed, practiced, confessed, and taught.”

50 Core Truths of the Christian Faith: A Guide to Understanding and Teaching Theology succeeds in carrying out the aims of the author. It is a treasure chest of biblical wisdom that will encourage and educate. Many pastors, teachers, and professors will benefit from this well-sharpened tool which will lead to the edification of the saints and glorify the Triune God!

Highly recommended.

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

BOOK REVIEWS

The Life and Theology of Paul – Guy Prentiss Waters

paulGuy Prentiss Waters, The Life and Theology of Paul Orlando: Reformation Trust, 2018, 132 pp. $15.00

It was one of the most dramatic conversion experiences in redemptive history. The apostle Paul, formerly Saul of Tarsus was miraculously transformed into a man who found his delight in God. Guy Prentiss Waters tells the story of Paul’s conversion in his latest book. The Life and Theology of Paul not only unpacks some basic biographical details about the apostle Paul – it explores the basics of Pauline theology.

In some ways, this work is a mini-systematic theology. While the author does not cover every branch of theology, he does present Paul’s hamartiology, soteriology, and the ecclesiology. Also, included is a brief discussion of personal eschatology.

Each chapter concludes with a section of practical application. Here, the author presents real-life principles that readers should wrestle with and apply to their lives.

The Life and Theology of Paul is accessible to a wide range of readers and is a faithful treatment of Reformed theology that will provide deep encouragement for many people. It is my privilege to commend this new volume and trust that it will receive a wide reading.

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

BOOK REVIEWS · Calvinism · Theology

Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Christian Belief – John Frame (2013)

a frameHow does one review a systematic theology by one of the leading minds of the evangelical world?  How does one summarize the thoughts of a 1,100-page book that towers with truth; a book that takes readers to the top of the theological mountain?  Anyone who attempts to read and devour Systematic Theology by John Frame will be faced with such questions.  Indeed, while the oxygen is scarce at the top of this theological peak, readers will be delighted to enjoy the view that Dr. Frame presents.  As one might expect, every branch of systematic theology is explored.  The author invites readers on a journey which introduces them to God who relates to creatures as their covenant Lord.  The three lordship attributes are articulated throughout the book – control, authority, and presence.

Several thoughts help capture the essence of this incredible book.  While some will be put off by such thoughts, my hope is that a majority of readers will be motivated and inspired to pick up Dr. Frame’s work.  This powerful book is marked by at least ten features:

  1. It is God-Centered
  2. It is Scripture-soaked
  3. It is unashamedly Calvinistic
  4. It is conservative
  5. It exposes liberal scholarship and lays bare its erroneous presuppositions
  6. It is biblical
  7. It is mind-penetrating
  8. It is heart-softening
  9. It is personal
  10. It leads readers to worship God

Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Christian Belief by John Frame is a theological tour de force.   This weighty volume is drenched with Scripture and is drowning with biblical wisdom.  I cannot think of any other writer who has influenced my thinking, outside of Jonathan Edwards himself.  This work is a true labor of love, a gift to the church, and a tool that will sharpen the minds of Christ-followers and serve as a heart-tenderizer for many years to come!

Highly recommended

5 stars

BOOK REVIEWS · Calvinism · Theology

Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Christian Belief – John Frame (2013)

a frameHow does one review a systematic theology by one of the leading minds of the evangelical world?  How does one summarize the thoughts of a 1,100-page book that towers with truth; a book that takes readers to the top of the theological mountain?  Anyone who attempts to read and devour Systematic Theology by John Frame will be faced with such questions.  Indeed, while the oxygen is scarce at the top of this theological peak, readers will be delighted to enjoy the view that Dr. Frame presents.  As one might expect, every branch of systematic theology is explored.  The author invites readers on a journey which introduces them to God who relates to creatures as their covenant Lord.  The three lordship attributes are articulated throughout the book – control, authority, and presence.

Several thoughts help capture the essence of this incredible book.  While some will be put off by such thoughts, my hope is that a majority of readers will be motivated and inspired to pick up Dr. Frame’s work.  This powerful book is marked by at least ten features:

  1. It is God-Centered
  2. It is Scripture-soaked
  3. It is unashamedly Calvinistic
  4. It is conservative
  5. It exposes liberal scholarship and lays bare its erroneous presuppositions
  6. It is biblical
  7. It is mind-penetrating
  8. It is heart-softening
  9. It is personal
  10. It leads readers to worship God

Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Christian Belief by John Frame is a theological tour de force.   This weighty volume is drenched with Scripture and is drowning with biblical wisdom.  I cannot think of any other writer who has influenced my thinking, outside of Jonathan Edwards himself.  This work is a true labor of love, a gift to the church, and a tool that will sharpen the minds of Christ-followers and serve as a heart-tenderizer for many years to come!

Highly recommended

5 stars

BOOK REVIEWS · Calvinism · Theology

Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Christian Belief – John Frame (2013)

a frameHow does one review a systematic theology by one of the leading minds of the evangelical world?  How does one summarize the thoughts of a 1,100-page book that towers with truth; a book that takes readers to the top of the theological mountain?  Anyone who attempts to read and devour Systematic Theology by John Frame will be faced with such questions.  Indeed, while the oxygen is scarce at the top of this theological peak, readers will be delighted to enjoy the view that Dr. Frame presents.  As one might expect, every branch of systematic theology is explored.  The author invites readers on a journey which introduces them to God who relates to creatures as their covenant Lord.  The three lordship attributes are articulated throughout the book – control, authority, and presence.

Several thoughts help capture the essence of this incredible book.  While some will be put off by such thoughts, my hope is that a majority of readers will be motivated and inspired to pick up Dr. Frame’s work.  This powerful book is marked by at least ten features:

  1. It is God-Centered
  2. It is Scripture-soaked
  3. It is unashamedly Calvinistic
  4. It is conservative
  5. It exposes liberal scholarship and lays bare its erroneous presuppositions
  6. It is biblical
  7. It is mind-penetrating
  8. It is heart-softening
  9. It is personal
  10. It leads readers to worship God

Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Christian Belief by John Frame is a theological tour de force.   This weighty volume is drenched with Scripture and is drowning with biblical wisdom.  I cannot think of any other writer who has influenced my thinking, outside of Jonathan Edwards himself.  This work is a true labor of love, a gift to the church, and a tool that will sharpen the minds of Christ-followers and serve as a heart-tenderizer for many years to come!

Highly recommended

5 stars