Why Definitions Matter

It was Mark Twain who famously said, “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug.” Used by Twain, the distinction between being a mediocre author and great one, such as himself, was the choice of words.  If this is important to a novelist, how much more important it is to the Christian attempting to communicate timeless truths given to us by our Creator God. Words and their meanings matter.  Unfortunately, in our Christian lingo, we tend to use sloppily thrown out words and terms which can mislead others and, in time, some of these terms take on lives of their own.   While often harmless in their intent, I would contend that when we do so we unknowingly miscommunicate important truths that our Lord has revealed to us, and/or mislead ourselves and others as a result.  We need to give…

The Benedict Option, A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation by Rod Dreher

Rod Dreher believes that the culture war which began with the sexual revolution in the 1960s, has ended in defeat for Christian conservatives (pp. 3, 79) and there is no hope of being reversed (p. 89).  Ultimately all faith among European and North American Christians will disappear (pp. 8, 12, 46, 202) and the only hope for them is a strategic withdrawal from business-as-usual in America (p. 2).  In search for a model of survival Dreher turns to the sixth century monk St. Benedict.  During a time of similar societal corruption Benedict withdrew to a cave for three years, eventually emerging to found 12 monasteries (pp. 14-18) and create a Rule (The Benedictine Rule) which showed the monks (and now us, by extension) how to order one’s life to be receptive to God’s grace (pp. 15, 47, 50-54).  It was this monastic system, best exemplified by Benedict, that kept the…

Understanding Gender Dysphoria, Navigating Transgender Issues in a Changing Culture by Mark A. Yarhouse

What the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Fourth Edition (DSM-4) called gender identity disorder, the DSM-5 now calls gender dysphoria.  Gender dysphoria is not a synonym for terms such as transgender, transsexual, genderfluid, gender bending, transvestism or intersex.  Instead it refers to “experiences of gender identity in which a person’s psychological and emotional sense of themselves does not match or align with their birth sex” (p 19).  The psychological world has no concern about those with gender dysphoria unless it causes significant stress.  At that point it is considered a condition needing treatment and is capitalized as gender dysphoria (pp 19, 85-100). The author, Mark Yarhouse, has his PsyD from Wheaton College and is now a professor of psychology at Regent University and represents the Christian psychological approach that, at best, could be described as integrationalist.   Yarhouse’s views depend primarily on research and psychological analysis rather than Scripture,…

Facing Leviathan, Leadership, Influence, and Creating in a Cultural Storm by Mark Sayers

Mark Sayers is a pastor, author, and “cultural commentator” living in Melbourne, Australia.   In the earlier days of his ministry he was well-known as a leader in the counter-cultural, organic, “hipster” style of Christianity until he began to realize that such ministries have little longevity due to lack of structure (pp 19-24).   As a matter of fact, churches of the type he was planting last on average of only three years (p 23).  Facing a personal crisis of faith along with growing chaos in his ministry, Sayers began to analyze competing models of church leadership.  As the church at large attempted to minister to the rapidly changing culture he identified two general responses: to let the culture determine the church and skepticism (pp 7-9).   Facing Leviathan offers a third approach in which the task of leadership is taken “out of the hands of the alpha male and the creative genius,…

The Invisible Hand, Do All Things Really Work For Good? by R.C. Sproul

The subject addressed in The Invisible Hand is the providence of God, a favorite theme of the author and minister, R.C. Sproul.  This particular book is an unusual mixture (for anyone but Sproul) of historical accounts, philosophy, Scripture, personal stories and references to novels.   He borrows the Westminster Confession’s definition of providence as his basis: God the great Creator of all things doth uphold, direct, dispose, and govern all creatures, actions, and things, from the greatest even to the least, by his most wise and holy providence, according to his infallible foreknowledge, and the free and immutable counsel of his own will, to the praise of the glory of his wisdom, power, justice, goodness, and mercy (p 19). Sproul tackles the sticky issues of sovereignty vs. free will (pp 80-86), the problem of evil and pain (pp 159-168) and the point of prayer in light of God’s providence (pp 201-207),…

The Eight Great Debates of Bible Prophecy Understanding the Ongoing Controversies by Ron Rhodes

Biblical prophecy is often the subject of discussion and sometimes intense and contentious debate.  Author Ron Rhodes seeks in this volume to reveal the basis for these debates, graciously explain various views and defend his understanding, which could be defined as a Revised Dispensational position.  Rhodes’s writing style is readable, interesting and informative.   By covering such a huge subject, the book obviously cannot be comprehensive yet it provides solid exegesis and excellent answers for the debates addressed.   As a thorough overview and primer of eschatological issues, The Eight Great Debates would be hard to beat. The book is organized around the major end time positions found within the evangelical community today.  Each “debate” section is subdivided into 27 short chapters, addressing particular issues related to that subject, plus a postscript reminding the reader that Christians should unite over essential doctrines, give liberty over the non-essentials, and be charitable in all…

A Cloud of Witnesses, Calvinistic Baptists in the 18th Century by Michael Haykin

In a day in which Christian celebritism is rampant, and almost all biographies are written about the big names of the past, it is encouraging to read about a few “normal” Christians who served the Lord as faithfully as those we emulate today.  Michael Haykin has chosen in this little volume to highlight the lives of ten such individuals who ministered in England between the period of the “Great Ejection” of 1662 and the Great Awakening of the 1730s.  All of these short biographies are of people (eight men and two women) who were Calvinistic Baptists.   Each served faithfully for many years, had an impact on their time, but have been largely forgotten by church history.  An outstanding characteristic of the pastors showcased was that rather than seek personal fame they saw themselves as belonging to their church family, and it was to the local assembly (as well as the…

2000 Years of Charismatic Christianity, A 21st Century look at Church History from a Pentecostal/charismatic Perspective by Eddie L. Hyatt

Eddie Hyatt writes a very fine overview of the history of Pentecostal/charismatic beliefs and practices throughout church history. As a historical account this volume is accurate and helpful to anyone desiring to understand the roots and developments as well as the present manifestations of charismatic Christianity. But the reader needs to understand that Hyatt is extremely sympathetic to the movement. As a result, his interpretation of historical events, rather than the events themselves, is often questionable and could be challenged by anyone knowledgeable of the issues. He writes in glowing praise concerning prophecies, miracles, tongues, leaders, and happenings, but leaves out the “rest of the story” including the destruction often found in their wake. Nor does the author interact with Scripture. To Hyatt virtually any Pentecostal phenomenon recorded in church history is legitimate and of the Spirit, no matter how bizarre, unbiblical or destructive. Even though the book is supposed…

Biblical Authority after Babel by Kevin J. Vanhoozer

It has become popular among many modern theologians to disparage the Reformation and blame the Reformers for the “hermeneutical havoc” that has been unleashed upon the modern world (p x, see pp 10, 18-19). Vanhoozer wants to refute this idea by reclaiming “elements for a normative Protestantism from the ruins of present day by revisiting historical Protestantism (the Reformation solas)” (p xi).  This present volume devotes a chapter to each of the solas, however VanHoozer spends little time explaining the solas in a normative sense. His concern is to show that when rightly understood the solas are both biblical and helpful. They have not thrown the church into a theological and ecclesial freefall, but rather have restored to God’s people truths that had been slowly abandoned throughout the first 14 centuries of church history: The priesthood of the believer solved the problem of unbiblical church authority and abuse; Scripture alone…

Biblical Literacy

(Volume 23, Issue 2, March/April 2017) I concluded my article titled “Biblical Illiteracy” with these words: “Biblical illiteracy is well recognized today.  There are many reasons why not only the general population but also the evangelical church has little understanding and knowledge of Scripture, and I have tried to identify some of these in the body of this article. With all of the attacks on the trustworthiness of Scripture, coupled with general lack of biblical knowledge and apathy toward what it proclaims, it would be easy to despair for the future of the Scriptures.  But God’s Word always accomplishes that which it is sent forth by the Lord to accomplish (Isa 55:1) which is to teach, reprove, correct and train His people in righteousness (2 Tim 3:16).  We have the promise of Jesus that His Word will never pass away (Matt 24:35).  Rather than despair we should make every effort…