Sanctification by Michael Allen

Sanctification is one of the volumes in the “New Studies in Dogmatics” series edited by Michael Allen and Scott R. Swain.  Two other volumes have been published so far:   The Triune God and The Holy Spirit.  The series is a serious, scholarly interaction with Scripture, doctrine, and key theologians past and present.  In this book Allen engages principally with John Calvin, John Owen, Edward Fisher, G. C. Berkouwer, Oliver O’Donovan, John Webster, Thomas Aquinas, Karth Barth, Augustine and a host of others.  Allen is deeply invested in federal, or covenantal, theology (p. 34) and discusses the Covenant of Works (pp. 100-113) and the Covenant of Grace (pp. 124-143) at great lengths and uses redemptive-historical hermeneutics (pp. 97, 127).   Allen offers some helpful discussions concerning the image of God (pp. 78-85) and union with Christ (pp. 143-168).  And he engages several times with Radical Lutheranism, which sees law and grace at…

The Hole in Our Holiness Filling the Gap between Gospel Passion and the Pursuit of Godliness by Kevin DeYoung

Having recently read several tomes on the subject of sanctification, as well as some popular but misguided books on the same topic, it was refreshing to turn to DeYoung’s little book dealing with the same doctrine.  The Hole in Our Holiness is gracious, readable, full of scriptural engagement and, most importantly, biblical.  Written to balance Tulian Tchividjian’s liberate theology (although Tchividjian is never mentioned by name), DeYoung both addresses the errors in Tchividjian’s Radical Lutheran view on sanctification and clearly presents scriptural support for the classical understanding of growth in holiness. Liberate theology has pitted gospel against obedience, seeing gospel as grace-based and injunctions to obedience as law-based.  The idea is that, as we preach the indicatives of the gospel and what Christ has accomplished for us, preaching the imperatives are unnecessary and force believers back under the law.   By preaching the finished work of Christ, and placing little emphasis…

The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert, an English professor’s journey into Christian faith by Rosaria Champagne Butterfield

The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert is a multi-layered book.  First, and most likely the reason most read it in the first place, is that it chronicles the story of a former lesbian feminist scholar whose specialty was “queer theory” (p. 2), who has radically turned to Christ and from her former life style.  While Butterfield does not want to be used as a representative of coming out (p. 171), or as a “poster-child for gay conversion” (p. 81), her account nevertheless richly contributes to the discussion of the possibility of sexual-orientation change.  While stopping short of promising similar changes in other homosexuals who come to Christ, nevertheless the author firmly believes that God can transform our sexuality (pp. 24-25).  More pointedly, she declares it is homophobic to believe God cannot change homosexual orientation (pp. 169-170).  In Butterfield’s case transformation was slow, imperfect, messy and difficult, but it began…

The Battle Belongs to the Lord, the Power of Scripture for Defending Our Faith by K. Scott Oliphint

As a professor of apologetics and systematic theology, and an authority on the works of Cornelius Van Til, we would expect K. Scott Oliphint to be a strong promoter of presuppositional apologetics.  He is that and more.  The stated purpose for the book is “to get us to open our Bibles again when we think about apologetics” (p. 4), and in our defense and proclamation of the faith we “must use the weapons, not of this world, but of the Lord” (p. 8).  The primary resource for contending for “the faith” (which is the body of truth – pp. 58-59), is to expound the truth of the Bible (p. 67).  The Bible, Oliphint correctly concludes, is a closed book; that is, nothing needs to be nor will be added to it (p. 184).  He writes, “With the finished work of Christ came the finished work of Christ’s Word (see Hebrews…

All That Is In God Evangelical Theology and the Challenge of Classical Christian Theism by James E. Dolezal

An intermural debate of recent vintage among mostly Calvinistic/Reformed theologians centers on the Godhead.  On the one side sits classical theism, which James Dolezal, assistant professor of theology in the School of Divinity at Cairn University, champions.  On the other side sits theistic mutualism, backed to various degrees by Bruce Ware, Wayne Grudem, John Frame, Al Plantinga, John Feinberg, Scott Oliphant, J. I. Packer, D. A. Carson and Cornelius Plantinga, among others.  Dolezal makes a case that classical theism has been the historic view of the church and has been taught by everyone from Augustine to the Puritans to John Gill.  At risk, the author believes, is the very nature and essence of God.  The stakes could not be higher. Classical theism teaches that God “does not derive any aspect of His being from outside Himself and is not in any way caused to be” (p. 1).  Theistic mutualism would…

The Cure What if God Isn’t Who You Think He Is and Neither Are You? by John Lynch, Bruce McNicol and Bill Thrall

The Cure, written by three men in leadership at the Truefaced Mission, is structured like most books of this genre.    The authors try to convince readers that their lives are a mess, but the remedy for their messiness is found within the covers of their book.  In this case The Cure pigeonholes Christians into two categories:  those living in the room of good intentions and those living in the room of grace.  Those in the first room are misguided legalists, hard-hearted and judgmental, mean-spirited, pretenders hiding behind masks (p. 14) that keep them imprisoned in their moralism and performance (p. 16), which they have mistaken for Christianity.  Those residing in the room of good intentions are living in fear of exposure, hopelessly enslaved to good intentions but not to Christ.  They live by self-effort (pp. 13-14) and are conscious that God is constantly disappointed with them (p. 15).   As a…

Jesus + Nothing = Everything by Tullian Tchividjian

Tullian Tchividjian has been the recognized leader within the liberate theology movement which places strong emphasis on grace and the finished work of Christ in the sanctification process.  More of that in a moment, but for now it is important to note that the particular volume under review is seen as one of the most important books supporting this view of sanctification. Written in 2011, in the wake of deep struggles involving Tchividjian’s ministry in 2009, this 30-something pastor was looking for answers in the midst of the greatest crisis of his life.  In an ill-fated attempt to merge a new and trendy church plant with an older and formal church, none other than Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, Tchividjian found himself almost immediately engulfed in a battle for survival.  Of a positive nature, he discovered that he lived far too much for the approval of others (pp. 22-23).  Through a…

Hand in Hand, the Beauty of God’s Sovereignty and Meaningful Human Choice by Randy Alcorn

There is perhaps no more controversial subject within Christianity than that of divine sovereignty and human choices.  How can God truly control all things but let people be able to make meaningful decisions for which they are responsible?  As this subject bleeds over into soteriology it leads to the great Calvinistic/Arminian divide.  Calvinists, on the one hand, based on their understanding of total depravity, see the necessity for unconditional election and irresistible grace.  Arminians, conversely, view total depravity differently and believe God elects on the basis of His foreknowledge of human choices.  Grace is not irresistible, so says the Arminian, it is prevenient; that is, all people are given enough grace to make free will choices for or against salvation (pp. 14, 132).  Alcorn has lived on both sides of these debates, having been saved and nurtured for ten years in a biblically-sound Arminian church.  Eventually he moved into the…

My Favorite Books Part V

(Volume 23, Issue 6, November/December 2017) Since I began writing book reviews a number of years ago, it seemed to some that the majority of these reviews dealt with books that were either errant or at best mixed in their biblical accuracy.  So in August 2004 I began listing, by category, the better books that I have reviewed to encourage the reading of quality Christian literature.  Approximately two years ago the fourth volume of “My Favorite Books” was published to which I would like to add another 30 books or so. In addition, for clarity sake I thought it might be helpful to pull all the lists together and mention the titles of books previously identified.  Hopefully our readers will recall that just because a book is cited as a favorite does not mean that it is without some problems. Complete reviews of each volume can be found on our…

Grace Alone, Salvation as a Gift of God by Carl R. Trueman

Grace Alone is part of the “Five Solas Series” edited by Matthew Barrett.  Each sola is given its individual volume, with Grace Alone written by well-respected Reformed theologian and professor at Westminster Theological Seminary Carl Trueman.  As a church historian, Trueman is well-equipped to cover and explain the events and theologies surrounding the Reformation.  The author agrees with B. B. Warfield’s view that the Reformation was the triumph of Augustine’s view of grace over his view of the church (pp. 18, 52).  Trueman wants to distance himself from the modern antinomianism movement flying under the guise of grace, because it misses the point of why grace is needed (p. 17).  Grace is needed because sin is real.  He writes, “Sin is violent, lethal rebellion against God, and biblical grace is God’s violent, raw, and bloody response” (p. 31).  As a result of sin our need is not spiritual healing but…