The Pastor Theologian, Resurrecting an Ancient Vision by Gerald Hiestand and Todd Wilson

There was a time, as Hiestand and Wilson document, when local pastors led the church theologically. They preached doctrinally solid sermons, wrote theological works and interacted with the scholarship of their day. But all that began to change with the rise of the university prior to the Reformation (p. 33). Ultimately the role of theological study and development shifted to the academy and to professors who devoted themselves to scholarly endeavors. Pastors gave ground to the seminary and professional theologians and contented themselves with the more practical details of church life. In many cases pastors stopped attending to theology altogether, except for the basics. As a result, in recent days, it has become rare to cite a pastor who devotes much of his attention to the study and teaching of theology. Almost nonexistent is the pastor who is engaged in current theological debate with academic scholars or who actually writes…

The Pastor as Public Theologian, Reclaiming a Lost Vision by Kevin J. Vanhoozer and Owen Strachan

The Pastor as Public Theologian is the latest in several recent books calling pastors back to their role as theologians.  This one, interestingly, is written by two academians, neither of whom is a pastor: Kevin Vanhoozer, Research Professor of Systematic Theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, and Owen Strachan, Professor of Christian Theology and Church History at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Boyce College.  Perhaps for this reason they wisely asked twelve pastors to make contributions to the book, each providing a short essay on a variety of pastoral related subjects. The burden of the book is that “theology is in exile and, as a result, the knowledge of God is in ecclesial eclipse” (loc. 168).  The solution is for pastors, churches and seminaries to reclaim a lost vision for the pastor ministering as theologian (loc. 174-186).  The claim that something is lost implies that something once existed.  To that…

Five Things Biblical Scholars Wish Theologians Knew

Scot McKnight’s companion book with Five Things Theologians Wished Biblical Scholars Knew is almost as disturbing as the first. Hans Boersma, the author of the volume mentioned above, comes fully equipped with Anglo-Catholic, mystical, and liberal credentials, but McKnight is a card-carrying evangelical. This renders the work under review even more disappointing than the latter book, if that’s possible. That said, there are features of Five Things Biblical Scholars Wish Theologians Knew that are of value. The “five things” on McKnight’s list are that theology needs a constant return to Scripture, needs to know its impact on biblical studies, needs historically shaped biblical studies, needs more narrative, and needs to be lived. The author set the agenda by writing, “The fundamental starting point is that we Bible folks think systematicians sometimes get a bit too far from Scripture” (p. 13). The rest of the book explores the five items mentioned…

Five Things Theologians Wish Biblical Scholars Knew

I purchased this volume and its companion, Five Things Biblical Scholars Wish Theologians Knew, looking for a lively interaction between biblical scholars and theologians, which would expose holes in each approach leading to a better comprehension of God’s truth. Unfortunately, such was not the case. The publishers chose not an evangelical theologian to represent theologians but a Catholic/Anglican mystic who thoroughly embraces the historical-critical method as well as higher criticism. Scot McKnight, who wrote the second book in this short series, captured the essence of Boersma’s thesis in his foreword: In the last two decades or so something has arisen that is call the theological interpretation of scripture, that reading the Bible isn’t simply about authorial intention… Boersma’s theology is at work in advocating for a kind of theological, christological reading of Scripture in a sacramental sense (p. xi) (emphasis his). Boersma structured his book around five themes, each given…

Hearers and Doers, a Pastor’s Guide to Making Disciples Through Scripture and Doctrine by Kevin J. Vanhoozer

In the opening words of the Preface, professor Kevin Vanhoozer lays out the intention of the book: “Hearers and Doers is intended to help pastors fulfill their Great Commission to make disciples, with emphasis on the importance of teaching disciples to read the Scriptures.”  Later he elaborates his thesis: To make disciples is to teach people how to become biblically literate so they can be effective inhabitants and representatives of the city of God, for the purpose of gospel citizenship.  Accordingly, this book is a guide for hearing and reading the Bible rightly, as well as a training manual for doing the Bible rightly. The goal is to train disciples to walk around in the strange new world of the Bible even as they live in the familiar old world of the present.  It is a pastor’s guide for training hearers and doers, faithful followers of Jesus Christ and faithful…

Does Doctrine Matter Anymore – To Pastors?

(Volume 22, Issue 4, July/August 2016) What comes to your mind when you think of pastors and, especially, pastoral responsibilities?  The range of response could be from that of shepherds, administrators, CEOs, promoters, organizers, evangelists, and Bible teachers, among other options. Without discussing any of these roles at this point, I would suggest that few would see pastors as theologians.  Theologians reside at seminaries and other academic settings, not at churches.  While some pastors might be known as adequate, even excellent, expositors of the Scriptures, they most likely are not seen as theologians today.  This has not always been the case. Some History Gerald Hiestand and Todd Wilson, in their fine little book The Pastor Theologian, Resurrecting an Ancient Vision, document that until the twelfth and thirteenth centuries it was pastors who were on the cutting edge theologically within Christianity.  Resisting the temptation to critique much of the theology prior…

The Pastor as Scholar and The Scholar as Pastor, Reflections on Life and Ministry by John Piper and D. A. Carson

More attention is being given of late to the value of theology and scholarship in the life of the pastor. Much of this apparently stemmed from a 2009 gathering by the same name as this book, and by the same men, at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, coming on the heels of the Gospel Coalition National Conference (p. 15). This meeting, along with the Society for the Advancement of Ecclesial Theology, has fueled renewed interest in the pastor-theologian concept that was far more common in the past. This little book contributes to the conversation. The two authors have had long and successful ministries. Both were born in 1946 and both received their doctorates from liberal European schools: Piper (university of Munich), Carson (Cambridge). Carson began his ministry as a pastor and shifted to the academy, while Piper originally was a Bible college professor who became a pastor. Both have spent their…

Can Fallen Pastors be Restored? by John H. Armstrong

It is doubtful that the true church of Christ has ever had to deal with anything quite like the recent moral failures of its Christian leaders. Some studies seem to indicate that one in eight ministers (who are still in their leadership position) have committed adultery, and up to 37% of ministers “have been involved in inappropriate behavior with someone in the church” (p.19). With statistics like that, it should not surprise us that churches are looking for ways of dealing with this onslaught. And while many issues surface at such times, none has proven to be more thorny than what to do with these fallen pastors. Resolutions seem to fall into three categories, assuming the fallen pastor has repented: 1) immediate restoration to church office (within 12 months of sexual failure); 2) future restoration; 3) personal restoration but with no possibility for restoration to office. What is the biblical…

The Enneagram Goes to Church, Wisdom for Leadership, Worship, and Congregational Life by Todd Wilson

Todd Wilson, former senior pastor of Calvary Memorial Church and currently president of the Center for Pastor Theologians, is perhaps best known for his book The Pastor Theologian, which he coauthored with Gerald Hiestand.  In that volume, (see my review here – https://tottministries.org/?s=the+pastor+theologian) Wilson emphasized the need for pastors to be serious theologians. The Center for Pastor Theologians was established to promote this emphasis and, while my review of the book reveals some differences, overall I applauded (and still do) the importance he places on the role of pastors as theologians. Therefore it was with considerable consternation that I discovered that a man who had placed so much stress on doctrine had written a book celebrating the trendy, pseudo-psychological, personality typing system – the Enneagram. I have written at length about the Enneagram exposing its cultic, even occultic, origin, lack of any scientific validity, its hopeless complexity, and its overall…

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…

Does Doctrine Matter Anymore?

(Volume 22, Issue 3, May/June 2016) A recent front page article featured in our local (Springfield, Illinois) newspaper was entitled “Mega-Growth.” The article described the phenomenal numerical increase of three of the largest churches in our area. What is it about these churches that have sparked their growth? Why are people flocking to these churches rather than to others? In response one of the pastors said, “Understanding budgets and balance sheets is as important as understanding church doctrine.” Another pastor said, “Church members are more interested in relational issues than doctrine. People care less about questions pertaining to what a church doctrine is and more about the question, ‘Does this church care for me?’”[i] We should not minimize the importance of fiscal responsibility, organizational needs and loving community, but not too many years ago Christians sought out churches that reflected what they believed the Bible taught. No longer. As is evident by what these pastors said,…

The Battle for God – Part 4

 Volume 28, Issue 4, May 2022 Since publishing the first three parts in “The God Debate” series, I have read Matthew Barrett’s Simply Trinity and the most recent issue of The Master’s Seminary Journal, both of which strongly defend Classical Theism and were critical of Eternal Functional Submission of the Son (EFS). In addition, two other current books have given me some insight that will necessitate another related paper.  These latter books are companions: Five Things Theologians Wish Biblical Scholars Knew by Hans Boersma and Five Things Biblical Scholars Wish Theologians Knew by Scot McKnight.  As a result, I want to offer two more papers on the current subject.  This one will bring some additional clarity to the debate by defining more precisely some critical words and terms and drawing a conclusion.  I will follow up with one more article offering a caution related to the hermeneutics interwoven throughout this…

Simply Trinity, the Unmanipulated Father, Son, and Spirit

Simply Trinity is the best book I have read in support of Classical Theism, what Matthew Barrett (Associate Professor of Christian Theology at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary) terms “The Great Tradition,” and the rule of faith (p. 35). The Great Tradition is grounded in the Nicene Creed (p. 37) and reinforced by the pro-Nicene Church fathers. Barrett turns to what he calls his “dream team” of pro-Nicene advocates as those who were the most influential in supporting and passing down the Great Tradition. The team consists of 12 theologians including: Athanasius, Augustine, Aquinas, John Owen, John Gill and the Cappadocian Fathers: Basil and the Gregorys. Barrett quotes from his dream team time and again to demonstrate that Classical Theism has deep roots and is biblical. The motivation undergirding Simply Trinity is Barrett’s belief that the Trinity has been manipulated and distorted beyond recognition, not only by liberals, but by evangelicals…

Beth Allison Barr’s Distortion of Biblical Womanhood

Volume 28, Issue 3, April 2022 Recently we published a book review of Beth Allison Barr’s book, The Making of Biblical Womanhood.  Since then a revised form of that review was published in The Journal of Dispensational Theology, and given the significance of the subject matter, and its challenge to the biblical concept of men and women, we thought it prudent to send it out as a Think on These Things article.  Accordingly, it will read a bit differently than most articles, following more carefully the format of a book review. The Making of Biblical Womanhood: How the Subjugation of Women Became Gospel Truth by Beth Allison Barr. Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2021. 245 pp. + xvii, paper, $19.99. Beth Allison Barr is a history professor at Baylor University who specializes in medieval studies. Admitting she is not a theologian, but rather a historian (p. 205) (a fact mentioned dozens…

Christianity and Social Justice, Religions in Conflict by Jon Harris

Jon Harris, who hosts the “Conversations That Matter” podcast, has written his second book on social justice issues, his first being Social Justice Goes to Church. The burden of this present volume is to demonstrate that “this woke gospel is a different gospel,” which confuses law and gospel, offers different ethics of sin, justice and righteousness, rests on standpoint epistemology and humanism, draws from Marxism, and “is another gospel contrary to the true gospel of Jesus Christ (p. ix).” To prove this thesis Harris begins by tracing the roots of Critical Race Theory and social justice to philosophers such as Jean–Jacques Rousseau and theologian Walter Rauschenbusch, the Frankfurt school and its cultural Marxism (pp. 12-18), and the social gospel of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries (p. 37). Evangelicals are adopting these ideologies with predictable results. But to the past faulty concepts have been added multiple layers of contemporary unsound ideas…

The Making of Biblical Womanhood, How the Subjugation of Women Became Gospel Truth by Beth Allison Barr

Beth Barr is a history professor at Baylor University who specializes in medieval studies. Admitting she is not a theologian, but rather a historian (p. 205) (a fact mentioned literally dozens of times and virtually in every chapter), nevertheless Barr believes her background in history places her in a position to clearly see what most Bible scholars and theologians have not, which is that biblical womanhood is not biblical at all, but a plot to suppress women. Biblical womanhood, Barr states has been built “stone by stone by stone throughout the centuries” (p. 205) and is a capitulation to culture and sin rather than a scriptural truth. Complementarianism is an interpretation of Scripture “that has been corrupted by our sinful human drive to dominate others and build hierarchies of power and oppression” (p. 7), or so is Barr’s contention. Some definitions are in order. As Barr uses the terms, biblical…

The Battle for God – Part 1

Volume 27, Issue 8, October 2021 While most conservative evangelicals were resting comfortably in the Trinitarian understanding of the Godhead, as stated in the Nicene Creed (AD 381), a storm was brewing on the theological horizon of others.  In just the last few years, a major war over the very nature of God has erupted with the potential of leaving in its wake much doctrinal and spiritual damage. For this reason, I want to discuss this debate, not necessarily with the hope of solving all the issues (after all, some of the greatest theological minds within Christianity are weighing in on this subject), but at least to bring some clarity to the discussion and perhaps to map a way forward. With these aspirations in mind, I will prepare three articles on the subject.  This first paper will lay the foundation by addressing the origin of the debate, as well as…

Forsaking Israel, How it Happens and Why it Matters, Second Edition Editor Larry Pettegrew

Professor Larry Pettegrew, the editor and primary author of this volume, is joined by Tim Sigler, David Burggraff, Douglas Bookman, William Nicholson, and Stephen Davey, to demonstrate how “the Christian church, down through the centuries, has forsaken Israel, and why this is a biblical and theological mistake” (p. 5).  The study answers two questions: (1) How is it that Israel has become so forsaken in the history of the church? and (2) why does forsaking Israel matter biblically and theologically” (p. 8)?  In seeking to provide answers to these questions the authors approach their subject historically and theologically, which provides a thorough understanding of how and why Israel has lost its biblical place among Christians. Pettegrew devotes and writes Part One, exploring the historical dynamics in which the premillennialism of the early Church Fathers slowly morphed into amillennialism that came to dominate church theology.  With this theological transition came a…

Gentle and Lowly, the Heart of Christ For Sinners and Sufferers

Using the Puritans, especially Thomas Goodwin, as his guiding interpretive model (p. 14), Dane Ortlund sets out to write a book about the heart of Christ—who He really is (p. 13). The target audience is: “. . . The discouraged, the frustrated, the weary, the disenchanted, the cynical, the empty. Those running on fumes. Those whose Christian lives feel like constantly running up a descending escalator” (p. 13). The strategy being employed is to “take either a Bible passage or a bit of teaching from the Puritans or others and consider what is being said about the heart of God and of Christ” (p. 15). The controlling text, however, is Matthew 11:28-30 in which Jesus describes Himself as gentle and lowly.” This is the one place, the author writes, where Jesus tells us His heart—what He truly is (pp. 17-19). The essence of Jesus is gentle, meek, humble and lowly,…

The Creedal Imperative by Carl R. Trueman

Carl Trueman, well-known Orthodox Presbyterian scholar and, at the time this book was written, a professor of church history at Westminster Theological Seminary, has authored as fine of a book supportive of using creeds and confessions in the local church as one will likely find.  Reacting to the slogan “No creed but the Bible,” Trueman defends the uses of creeds and confessions to provide guardrails for truth and as teaching instruments for the church.  He writes: The main burden of this book thus far has been to argue that creeds and confessions are not simply consistent with biblical teaching but that their existence and use are even strongly implied by the same; and also that the history of the church demonstrates that they have frequently been of great help in the maintenance and propagation of the Christian faith (p. 159). Trueman is arguing for a particular brand of Protestant confessionalism,…

Reading While Black, African American Biblical Interpretation as an Exercise in Hope by Esau McCaulley

The recipient of Christianity Today’s 2021 Book of the Year award, Reading While Black, enters the Social Justice/woke debates via hermeneutics. Esau McCaulley, a Black priest in the Anglican church and professor of New Testament at Wheaton College, contends that Black Christians often approach and interpret Scripture differently from others due to their lived experience. While the statements of faith found in Black denominations are largely orthodox in theology, nonetheless Black theologians often find themselves “thrust into the middle of a battle between white progressives and white evangelicals” and not fully at home in African American progressive circles (p. 5). McCaulley recognizes and promotes a fourth “thing” he calls, “Black ecclesial interpretation (BEI).” It is this fourth thing the author wants to explain and promote (p. 5). While acknowledging that the Word of God gets the final word, the author writes, “What makes Black interpretations Black, then, are the collective…

The Son Who Learned Disobedience

The Son Who Learned Obedience, a Theological Case Against the Eternal Submission of the Son by D. Glenn Butner, Jr. (Eugene, Oregon: Pickwick Publications, 2018) 224 + x pp., paper $28.00 The Son Who Learned Obedience is exactly what the subtitle claims—a heavy, intense, thorough and robust defense against the theological position held by many complementarians known formally as the Eternal Functional Submission (EFS) of the Son to the Father within the Godhead.  Intense debate concerning EFS surfaced after Liam Goligher, in 2016, accused those holding to eternal submission of constructing a new deity that verged on idolatry (p. 1).  Wayne Grudem and Bruce Ware, two key supporters of EFS, fired back defending their position and thus began a contentious evangelical war centered on the Trinity.  Throughout the book, Glenn Butner attempts to moderate extreme attacks from both camps, affirming, for instance, that EFS does not teach Arianism (p. 4),…

Recovering from Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, How the Church Needs to Rediscover Her Purpose by Aimee Byrd

Aime Byrd is known as the housewife theologian. She is popular conference speaker, a prolific author with several books to her credit and, until the publication of this book, co-host of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals podcast Mortification of Spin.  Her earlier work, No Little Women, made some valuable contributions concerning women and their ministries, but even there I registered some concerns in my review (http://tottministries.org/?s=little+women). Byrd takes several steps forward, or backward, depending on your perspective, in her understanding of women’s “role” (a word she detested and claims is unbiblical) in the church and within ministry. As a member of an Orthodox Presbyterian church, she still maintains that ordination and preaching within the local church is reserved for males (p. 121), but views virtually all other ministries, both within the church and through parachurch organizations, are accessible to qualified Christian women. As a matter of fact, Byrd’s primary focus…

Biblical Discernment in Christian Literature

Volume 26, Issue 4, August/September 2020 Biblical discernment today, if not at an all-time low, is surely bumping along at the bottom of the pond, and nowhere is that more evident than in Christian literature.  Most people, if a book or blog post is written by a credentialed Christian author, and published by at least a semi-respected Christian publishing house, let down their guard and accept unquestionably whatever is disseminated. This is true not only of the average believer but also of many in leadership. For example, Subversive Sabbath, the Surprising Power of Rest in a Nonstop World by A. J. Swoboda, won Christianity Today’s 2019 Book of the Year award in the spiritual formation category, and thus would presumably represent spirituality as understood by mainstream evangelicalism today. Written by a pastor/seminary professor, the book’s strength lies in its reminder that the believer needs rest as grounded in the Sabbath…

Reenchanting Humanity, A Theology of Mankind by Owen Strachan

Owen Strachan, Associate Professor of Theology at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, has written a contemporary study on the doctrine of anthropology. The book is written with theologians, seminarians, pastors, and serious Bible students in mind (p. 6), although most of this material is accessible to the non-scholastic believer. While Strachan describes Reenchanting Humanity as a work of systematic theology (p. 6), it is not a typical systematic. Rather, the author wraps his study of humanity around nine themes or subjects, devoting a chapter to each. He believes the “major issue of our time is that of anthropology. Does the human person live in an ordered cosmos and have an appointed identity, or does he make his own identity in a world without God?…. My task is to equip the church to give an answer for the hope that lies within all who are in Christ” (pp. 3-4). Strachan previews his…

What is Dispensationalism? Editor Paul Miles

Twenty-eight authors contributed to What is Dispensationalism? edited by Paul Miles, who established and directs Grace Abroad Ministries, the publishers of this book.  This multi-author volume accomplishes what it set out to do—explain dispensationalism, which is defined as “a school of thought that results from reading the Bible plainly and, therefore recognizes a distinction between Israel and the church and sees the glory of God as the main purpose of history” (p. 13). Said differently, “Dispensationalists consistently apply a grammatical-historical hermeneutic, reject supersessionism, and hold to a doxological centrality of history” (p. 13).  In the twelve chapters, four appendices, numerous side articles, and several “graceful debates,” many subjects are covered. These include the basic teachings and history of dispensationalism, the number of dispensations, and what they are, historical dispensational schemes, detailing and defending the three essentials of dispensationalism (as described in the definitions above). Other collateral issues such as Greek…

Music and Worship

(Volume 25, Issue 7, December 2019/January 2020) As a pastor, I have long been an interested observer of the ever-changing ebb and flow of music as related to the church and, specifically, worship.  As a Baby Boomer, I have personally experienced the birth of “rock and roll,” the “English invasion” spearheaded by the Beatles, and all that has followed.  This radical shift in secular music in the 1960s and 1970s was quickly mimicked by the Christian community in the late 1960s as believers attempted to reach a generation that was “turned-on and tuned-out” to the values and lifestyles of past generations.  It was assumed, first by a few but eventually by many, that the best way to engage this new, rebellious generation was to accept and adopt many of its philosophies, methods, and especially its music.  What would later be termed Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) was born on the streets…

For Whom Did Christ Die? Reconciling Unlimited Atonement and Limited Atonement by R. J. Arthur

It would be impossible to improve on the author’s given outline: The present author will provide a consistent and accurate biblical verse by verse exegetical commentary of Romans 5:12-21.  Following this exegesis, several scriptural proof texts from both the Unlimited Atonement and Limited Atonement proponents will be presented and correctly interpreted within the light of Romans 5:12-21.  Finally, in a summary conclusion, the present author will answer the following three fundamental questions and provide pragmatic implications with practical applications:   1. What is the nature of Atonement? Or in other words, for whom did Jesus die? 2. What is the efficacy of Jesus’ atonement? Or in other words, what effect does Jesus’ atonement have upon whom? 3. Monergism or Synergism? (sic) Or in other words, what cooperative or participatory role does mankind play in their own salvation (pp. xii-xiii)? In this self-published work, R. J. Arthur (I do not know…

Perspectives on the Extent of the Atonement, Three Views Edited by Andrew David Naselli and Mark A. Snoeberger

While the extent of the atonement has been debated since the Reformation it has taken on new energy recently.  One of the best ways to get a handle on any difficult theological subject is to allow opposing views to be expressed by scholars who truly know, and can clearly represent their position.  Hence the value of books such as this one.  While there are a number of variations not covered in Perspectives, such as the commercial, eternal application, Amyraldism, and hypothetical universalism views, the editors chose to zero in on three that represent well the present theological landscape.  Reformed scholar Carl Trueman presents and defends definite (or limited) atonement; Grant Osborne, the well-known Arminian theologian, lays out the general or unlimited atonement understanding; and John Hammett offers a multiple-intention view which seeks to demonstrate that Christ’s atonement had more than one intention.  That is, it is both definite and universal…

The Unseen Realm, A Critique

(Volume 25, Issue 4, July/August 2019) Michael Heiser’s view of Scripture and the supernatural realm has generated much attention within evangelical circles recently.  His concepts have generated a wave of speculation that some are now riding.  What does he teach and how concerned should the discerning Christian be?  This critique will provide some answers. It all began when Heiser was examining Psalm 82:1, which reads in the NASB “God takes His stand in His own congregation; He judges in the midst of the rulers. “Michael Heiser, currently Executive Director of the School of Ministry at Celebration Church in Jacksonville, Florida, came to believe that he had discovered the key to understanding God and Scripture which had long been buried by the western world and the evangelical community. That key was:  “The God of the Old Testament was part of an assembly – a pantheon – of other gods” (p. 11).…

The Lord’s Supper Part 2

(Volume 25, Issue 3, May/June 2019) The Supper in Practice If you visited a variety of local churches of various denominational stripes, you will find that the Lord’s Table is practiced in many different ways. In some congregations, believers remain seated while the elements are brought to them. In other assemblies, believers come forward to receive the elements from the pastors or priests, or serve themselves, and then return to their seats.  In a service I attended a few years ago, the congregants stood up during the Lord’s Supper while the elements were rapidly dispensed and consumed.  The service presented the feel that the Breaking of Bread was a necessary ritual that should be celebrated as quickly as possible so that they could get to the “praise music.”  These are just some of the ways in which the Table is practiced by Christians. Also, different traditions observe communion at various…

Subversive Sabbath, the Surprising Power of Rest in a Nonstop World by A.J. Swoboda

Subversive Sabbath won Christianity Today’s 2019 Book of the Year award in the spiritual formation category, and thus represents well spirituality as understood by mainstream evangelicalism today. Written by a pastor and seminary professor, the book’s strength lies in its reminder of the believer’s need for rest as grounded in the Sabbath principle and modeled by the Lord Himself in the creation account. If the Lord rested after His work of creation, the author insists, so should we (pp. 5, 7, 15).  Taking Sabbath rest seriously will result in better health, more productivity and freedom from a messiah complex in which many Christians seem to believe they are essential to the continuation of the universe (pp. 46, 58).  God has embedded Sabbath rest into the rhythm of life so that we recognize only the Lord is necessary and therefore we can learn to trust in Him, rather than ourselves (pp.…

Called to Be Saints, An Invitation to Christian Maturity by Gordon T. Smith

Called to Be Saints seeks answers to three substantive questions: What is the beginning of the Christian life? What is the character of Christian maturity? What is the approach and means of formation so that we may grow up in our salvation (p. 9)? In response to the first question, Smith, who is president and professor of systematic and spiritual theology at Ambrose University College and Seminary, writes, “What makes a Christian a Christian is participation in the life of Christ Jesus, or union with Christ. One is a Christian because one is ‘in Christ’” (p. 37 cf pp 38-61). The remainder of the book addresses the final two questions developing what the author sees as the four essentials of Christian maturity (pp. 36, 184-185, 221-222).  Holy people: Are wise (chapter three; pp. 63-87) Do good work (chapter four; pp. 89-125) Love others (chapter five; pp. 127-152) Have joy or…

For Thou Art With Me, Biblical Help For The Terminally Ill and Those Who Love Them by Bruce A. Baker

Bruce Baker is a pastor, theologian, author and a personal friend of mine.  In August of 2017 he was told he has ALS and only a short time to live.  So far he has lived longer than expected and continues to minister as he can.  For Thou Art With Me is a product of his life and ministry during this time of illness. Baker is a man of the Word.  He studies and teaches it with accuracy.  When he comes to the subject of death I am not surprised that he provides biblical insight and sound teaching.  Couple this with the fact that he is facing death himself and is personally seeking answers to many related questions, and the expectation is an excellent, helpful, practical and theologically sound treatise for those who are terminally ill and those who love them.  Baker does not disappoint. He covers, in readable fashion, many…

Social Justice: Modern Roots and Promoters

(Volume 25, Issue 1, February 2019/March 2019) As we attempt to evaluate the social justice movement,[1] especially in light of the debates within evangelicalism surrounding the publication of The Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel, it would be helpful to trace its roots.  The emphasis on social justice that is now all but omnipresent within Christianity did not appear out of thin air; there are predecessors and forerunners who have paved the way for comingling of the biblical gospel with a social agenda producing a hybrid gospel and mission for the church.  In two earlier TOTT papers, “The Social Gospel” Parts 1&2,[2] the development of the 19th century Social Gospel movement which led to theological liberalism was detailed. In those articles, it was documented that German rationalism, higher criticism, Enlightenment and Romanticist thought were interlaced and embraced by first European and later American Protestantism. When the dust had settled,…

The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism by Carl F. H. Henry

Written in 1947 by new-evangelism’s most influential theologian, The Uneasy Conscience was a watershed book pushing evangelicals toward social engagement.  Henry believed that Fundamentalists (used interchangeably with evangelicals at the time) had withdrawn from challenging and leading culture. Fundamentalists were concerned, he complained, almost exclusively with individual sins, not social evils (pp. 3, 7, 39). What evangelicals lacked was a developed organized campaign against injustice (p. 11). They needed to reclaim their seat at the table dealing with cultural ills and not leave the efforts to non-evangelicals, and whenever possible, Fundamentalists should unite with non-evangelicals for social betterment (pp. 78-80).  Henry admits that for the most part the non-evangelical had already dismissed the Fundamental voice and reacted with either denunciation or silence (pp. 21, 34).  However, it is time, he thought, to get back in the game and take a front row seat in the battle for justice. To Henry’s…

Redemptive-Historical Hermeneutics – Part 2

(Volume 24, Issue 5, October/November 2018) As stated in Part One of this series, redemptive-historical (RH), or Christocentric hermeneutics, is becoming increasingly popular, especially within Reformed and Covenantal theological circles. In short, RH is the idea that all of Scripture speaks of Christ.  This does not mean that Christ is found under every rock but that all Scripture concerns Christ. The Bible should be read through the lens of Jesus and Christ should be preached from every text.  Christ and His redemption plan, therefore, become the rubric through which all Scripture is to be interpreted and preached. In the previous paper I challenged these assertions, pointing out that once we accept this hermeneutical system the exegete no longer uncovers the meaning of the original authors (both human and Divine), but now imposes upon the text a forced meaning that is often not there and not intended.  To be sure, a…

The Hermeneutics of the Biblical Writers, Learning to Interpret Scripture from the Prophets and Apostles by Abner Chou

Abner Chou, professor at The Master’s University, has written an important book concerning biblical hermeneutics.  But Chou’s book is not covering standard interpretation issues, rather its focus is on how the human authors of the Bible handled and understood Scripture even as they wrote it. A key concern among Bible expositors is how the NT writers quoted and interpreted the OT.  Did they randomly rip certain scriptures from their context and use them for their own purposes?  Or did they, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, reinterpret OT texts to reveal their true or deeper meaning (Sensus Plenior)? Chou believes neither and offers this study to show that the apostles did not change the meaning of previous revelation but fleshed out its implications (p. 22).  Let’s follow Chou’s reasoning. First, the author champions literal-grammatical-historical hermeneutics (pp. 13-14). This approach lets the Bible speak for itself and therefore is a…

Seeing Christ in All of Scripture, Hermeneutics at Westminster Theological Seminary Edited by Peter A. Lillback

Westminster Theological Seminary (WTS) is at the heart of the so-called Christocentric hermeneutical approach to Scripture in which Christ is found in every text, Old and New Testament.  This short and general book written by five professors at the seminary, documents what WTS now teaches concerning Scripture and its interpretation, especially since 2006 when distinctive lines were drawn (p. 80).  As Kevin Vanhoozer writes in his endorsement, “This is as clear a statement of the ‘Westminster way’ of reading Scripture of which I am aware.”  It should be noted that Vanhoozer is not necessarily in agreement with the “Westminster way”, he is merely stating that this little volume explains it well. Much of what Seeking Christ in All of Scripture outlines would be accepted and appreciated by any who take a conservative view of inspiration and inerrancy.  Also, most of the hermeneutical principles mentioned are agreed upon by all who…

Redemptive-Historical Hermeneutics Part 1

(Volume 24, Issue 4, August/September 2018) Redemptive-historical hermeneutics (RH), sometimes called Christocentric hermeneutics, has gained a lot of traction in recent years, almost exclusively within Reformed circles. It is the interpretive system used by those embracing Liberate Sanctification and is important to understand in light of recent TOTT papers on that subject.  RH is also accepted by a broader spectrum of theologians, many of whom reject Liberate Theology, but to my knowledge virtually all would be adherents of Covenantal Theology.  It seems to have emerged, in its modern form, from Reformed churches in the Netherlands in the 1940s in an attempt to understand how the narrative and historical sections of the Old Testament should be understood and preached. It appears to be a reaction to those who viewed the stories and individuals within Scripture as merely examples to imitate or shun.  Instead the RH founders saw these narratives, and in…

God’s Word Alone, the Authority of Scripture by Matthew Barrett

God’s Word Alone is part of the 5 Solas series published by Zondervan and edited by Matthew Barrett. This work is dedicated to Sola Scriptura often called the formal principle of the Reformation (whereas Sola Fide is known as the material principle).  Barrett defines Sola Scriptura as “only Scripture, because it is God’s inspired Word, is our inerrant, sufficient, and final authority for the church” (p. 23).  He is careful to distinguish it from Nada Scriptura, meaning no other authority, except Scripture exists which unfortunately some have confused with Sola Scriptura. In order to better understand the origins, development, and contemporary relevance of the doctrine of Scripture alone the book is organized around three steps: First is a look at church history and the development of this doctrine prior to the Reformation in which the primary challenge to Scripture alone was the claims of Roman Catholicism. Rome, historically as well…

Sanctification Debates Part 3

(Volume 24, Issue 3, June/July 2018) In this concluding article on sanctification debates centered around what is often termed Liberate Theology (LT), and at other times the “grace model” or “monergistic” sanctification, the goal is to evaluate the basic teachings behind this model through the lens of Scripture. That is, are the teachings of LT consistent with NT Scriptures or do they present a view of sanctification that is out of balance?  Have the key leaders of the movement overreacted to perceived views of Christian growth found within evangelicalism leading to legalism and pietism?  Are the common theological views held by most evangelicals throughout the church age, which understand that spiritual maturity is made possible through the energy and power of the Holy Spirit, as the believer cooperates through use of means given by the Lord, application of truth and obedience to the directives found in the Scriptures, in error?…

Perspectives on the Doctrine of God, Four Views Ed. by Bruce A. Ware

Perspectives follows the pattern of similar books presenting contrasting views on doctrinal issues.  In this case, the all-important doctrine of God is in focus with Paul Helm presenting the Classical Calvinistic position, Bruce Ware a modified Calvinism, Roger Olson the Classical Free-Will stance, and John Sanders Open Theism.  Following each article the other three offer their critiques.  The approach has value in fairly, if briefly, describing a theological position and having qualified scholars challenge those positions, giving a fuller understanding of what is being taught and what is at stake. Paul Helm leads off but apparently missed the memo concerning the direction this volume was headed.  Instead of explaining Classical Theism as intended, he spent his time discussing the more narrow doctrine of predestination and attacking the other three views.  Helm’s major contribution to the designed subject matter is found in his responses to the other essays.  This is unfortunate…

Sanctification Debates Part 1

(Volume 24, Issue 1, January-March 2018) Throughout church history the issue of sanctification, how Christians change, grow and mature, has been hotly debated.  Those who cling to the Reformed position on salvation, that is, salvation is a gift of God based completely on His grace (sola gratia), received entirely by faith in Christ alone (sola Christos), totally apart from our merits (sola fide) have not always agreed on how the saved, regenerated individual “work[s] out [their] salvation” (Phil 2:12).  Until recently most have concurred that spiritual growth, or fruitfulness, is an inevitable result of our new nature and the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit.  Certainly, such maturity was uneven and depended on many factors, but regeneration was sure to produce some evidence of spiritual change.  But today this commonly held belief has been challenged on two fronts.  Before we delve into these, a short review of other positions on…

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…

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…

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…

No Little Women, Equipping All Women in the Household of God by Aimee Byrd

Aimee Byrd, author and co-host of the Mortification of Spin podcast, is on a mission.  She declares that everyone is a theologian, whether they know it or not, so “everyone in the church needs to be a good theologian” (p. 34).  As the title implies Byrd is particularly desirous that women be equipped theologically so that they are not easy marks for false teachers who often target poorly taught women in the church (2 Timothy 3:6-7). Her exhortation is timely because a plethora of women’s ministries and books exist which are mere fluff (see pp. 116-120, 127-129), appeal to the desire to extrabiblically hear God’s voice (pp. 59, 145, 150) and teach false and even heretical doctrines.  The antidote to these concerns is not to create women’s ministries as a separate entity (pp. 13, 19, 22, 48, 50-52, 91, 96-97, 104-106); nor to focus all women’s Bible studies on women’s…

Solid Ground by Gabriel N.E. Fluhrer

Reviewed by Kurt Goedelman, Director of Personal Freedom Outreach Efforts to undermine God’s Word are nothing new, but today’s assaults have become so refined and widespread that even some who claim to be Evangelicals have joined the campaign. This is why Gabriel Fluhrer, in his editor’s preface of Solid Ground, writes, “Each generation must own for itself the cardinal truths of the faith once for all delivered to the saints, and ours is no exception. Indeed, in my own estimation, our generation is in danger of seeing what is perhaps the most central doctrine of the Christian faith — the doctrine of the inspired and concomitant inerrancy of Scripture — eclipsed to a degree previously unknown in the modern era” (pg. x, italic in original). Solid Ground is an excellent collection of essays by eight prominent authors, pastors, and teachers who are committed to the “vital conviction that the Bible…

The New Apostolic Reformation An Examination of the Five-Fold Ministries Part 1

(Volume 23, Issue 4, July/August 2017) The New Apostolic Reformation (NAR) is one of the largest, broadest and most powerful movements within Christianity today, yet it flies largely under the radar.  Even those involved often do not understand the movement to the extent that they may even deny they are part of it. This confusion is due to the fact that NAR does not have official membership or even leadership.  Rather, NAR is a loose coalition of mostly Pentecostal and charismatic Christians, organizations and churches that are united over a particular understanding and interpretation of certain portions of Scripture.  The interpretation of these New Testament texts are widely held by those connected with NAR and focus mainly on the miraculous sign gifts. Some have equated NAR with the so-called Third Wave of Pentecostalism (the first wave started with the birth of the Pentecostal movement in 1901, the second wave is…

Biblical Illiteracy: Its Tragedy and Remedy

(Volume 23, Issue 1, January/February 2017) Both statistical research and anecdotal observation come to the same conclusion – America, a nation once steeped in Scripture if not always living in obedience to God, has joined the ranks of the biblically illiterate from around the globe.  Theologians and sociologists both speak of our “post-Christian” culture, while to some extent is still being fueled by the capital of Christianity, which is now all but coasting on empty. Albert Mohler, in a short article entitled “The Scandal of Biblical Illiteracy: It’s Our Problem,” quotes pollsters George Gallup and Jim Castelli as saying, “Americans revere the Bible—but, by and large, they don’t read it.  And because they don’t read it, they have become a nation of biblical illiterates.”[1] As a result Mohler documents that fewer than half of all adults can name the four Gospels, identify more than 3 disciples or name even five of…

Rejoicing in Lament by J. Todd Billings

Todd Billings, professor of Reformed Theology at Western Theological Seminary, was in his late thirties when he was diagnosed with incurable cancer in 2012.  Rejoicing in Lament chronicles his journey through chemotherapy, a stem cell transplant, suffering, and uncertainty about his future.  From the time of his diagnosis Billings immersed himself in the study of Scriptures, especially the Psalms (p. ix).  His insights from Scripture, forged in the furnace of pain and anxiety, make up the heart of this book.  Billings offers no pious platitudes but rather tackles the hard questions with clarity and boldness.  His conclusions will benefit both those suffering similar illnesses and those attempting to show compassion and understanding to people who are ill. I wondered as I read the book, however, if Billings’ strength as an author and theologian might also be his weakness. His strength lies in his deep insights and in wrestling thoroughly with…

The Coming Kingdom, What Is the Kingdom and How Is Kingdom Now Theology Changing the Focus of the Church? by Andy Woods

The kingdom of God has been at the forefront of Christian thinking since the day Jesus walked the earth, and in fact is dominant in the Old Testament as well.  Get the kingdom of God right and you will comprehend the Lord’s plan for humanity.  Get it wrong and you will inevitably go astray.  With this in mind Andy Woods wants to challenge and correct the common teaching that the kingdom of God is presently on earth in the form of the church.   This view, often called “Kingdom Now Theology,” is well represented by Southern Baptist leader Russell Moore, “The locus of the kingdom of God in this age is within the church, where Jesus rules as king.  As we live our lives together, we see the transforming power of the gospel and the in breaking of the future kingdom” (p. 1).  And Rick Warren calls for Christians to “establish…

Him We Proclaim by Dennis E. Johnson

Reviewed by Shaun D. Lewis, Director of Civil Servant Ministries, Springfield, IL It is humbling that the sovereign God of the universe chose to redeem sinners with the precious blood of His Son. Adam’s fall was not the end of man, but the beginning thread of a rich redemptive tapestry that would reveal the Messiah. Christ must be proclaimed from the Gospels and Epistles, but the Law and Prophets look forward to His coming and proclaim Him as well (Lk 24:27). What does it mean to preach Christ from these? Him We Proclaim by Dennis Johnson seeks to answer this question by drawing from the insights and disciplines of the apostles (2). Rather than focus on homiletics, the author provides a theology of preaching. Since God is sovereign over history and His Word is an inspired unity, the author contends that preachers should emulate the apostles’ doctrine and hermeneutics (often…

Biblical Fundamentalism*

(Volume 22, Issue 2, Mar/Apr 2016) I am a Fundamentalist. There I said it. And yet, although I inherited a few guns I don’t know where the bullets are. I don’t hate anyone, not even my neighbor whose cat keeps my songbird population thinned out. Knowing my own weaknesses and sinfulness I refrain from being particularly judgmental of others. Some might call me a “Bible-thumper” but I have not actually thumped anyone with a Bible since junior high when I was trying to impress the girls (I learned many years later that punching girls did not impress them nearly as much as I originally thought). I have some strong preferences and opinions about everything from politics to entertainment (just ask me), but I recognize that not everyone shares all my views and I am at peace with that. I believe in separation from sinful practices and compromising associations, but I…

Faith Speaking Understanding, Performing the Drama of Doctrine by Kevin J. Vanhoozer

In 2005 highly regarded theologian Kevin Vanhoozer wrote an intense scholarly tome entitled The Drama of Doctrine. The present volume was written to make his unique approach to the understanding of Scripture, which he calls theodrama, more assessable to pastors and serious lay students of the Bible. But make no mistake; this work is a difficult read that only the adventurous should attempt, but if they do they will be rewarded for their effort. Vanhoozer’s thesis is that true discipleship cannot take place apart from theology, defined repeated as both knowing and doing truth (e.g. pp. xii, e, 20). He writes, “Desire for God without doctrine is blind, doctrine without desire is empty” (p. xiv). The uniqueness of Vanhoozer’s approach is the use of the theodramatic model (apparently gleaned from Kierkegaard — p. 18), which he believes articulates theology (by his definition) better than standard propositional, narrative or story methods…

He That Is Spiritual by Lewis Sperry Chafer

He That Is Spiritual is a classic book on spirituality that has shaped the Christian community’s thinking for almost 100 years. Much solid teaching on the ministry of the Holy Spirit and how it applies to the believer is found on its pages. Chafer devotes a chapter each to the filling of the Spirit, not grieving the Spirit, not quenching the Spirit, and walking in the Spirit. He concludes with a chapter detailing issues surrounding salvation and practical steps to take in applying all that has been taught. However, Chafer’s teachings are not without controversy. The three principle ones are: The existence of a carnal Christian. Drawing principally from I Corinthians 3, Chafer sees three clear classes of humanity: The natural, the spiritual and the carnal. The natural man is the unbeliever, the spiritual person is the one who is filled and walking in the Spirit. The carnal Christian is…

Surprised By Hope Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church by N.T. Wright

Surprised By Hope attempts to “recapture the Christian answer to death and beyond and the nature of our task as we wait” (pp. XII-XIII). Said differently the book addresses two questions: “What is the ultimate Christian hope?” and, “What hope is there for change, rescue, transformation, new possibilities within the world in the present?” (p. 5). Wright sees hope for the first question in the resurrection of Christ, which guarantees the resurrection of the believer. He provides strong arguments for the historical resurrection of Jesus (pp. 53-76), and repeatedly affirms that, while Christians enter the presence of God at death, their ultimate destiny lies in their bodily resurrection and life on the new earth (pp. 28, 41, 171-172). These discussions are the strongest features of the book. Wright stumbles, however, when he attempts to resolve his second question – what hope does the resurrection give for present transformation of the…

The Jesus I Never Knew by Philip Yancey

In typical Yancey fashion the author uses his journalistic skills to question and dig deeper into a subject that perplexes him. This time it is Jesus. He is convinced that his fundamentalist upbringing clouds the real Jesus in his thinking. Over and over he makes derogatory comments about his boyhood church and hot beds of fundamentalism (in his opinion) such as Moody Bible Institute (pp. 14, 80, 85, 148, 187, 239, 252). Given this backdrop he sets out to discover the real Jesus. On the positive side, one of his key sources is the four Gospels which he has studied intently. Unfortunately, he has read the Gospels through various lenses which have skewed his view. Avoiding the rest of the New Testament—a serious error (p. 261)—he has attempted to discover Jesus through 15 Hollywood films (pp. 21-22, 85-86, 88, 193) and numerous novelists such as Dostoevsky, Tolstoy (pp. 74, 121,…

Praying Circles

(Volume 21, Issue 5 Sep/Oct 2015) Prayer is surely one of the most blessed of all privileges afforded the child of God. Just to think that sinners, even forgiven sinners, are invited to approach the throne of grace where we will receive mercy and grace in our time of need (Heb 4:14-16) is nothing short of astounding. In prayer we worship and praise our Lord (Psalm 34:1-3); in prayer we call on God to fulfill His great purposes (Matt 6:10), ask for our daily provisions (Matt 6:11), request forgiveness (Matt 6:12), and plea for protection from temptation (Matt 6:13). In prayer we ask for deliverance from the wickedness of others (Psalm 31:1-2), make our requests known (Phil 4:6), cast all our anxiety on the Lord (1 Pet 5:7), and much more. Christians love prayer, even when they foolishly do not take time for it. No believer is against prayer and…

Liberation Theology by Emilio A. Núñez C.

This book deals with the biblical, theological and sociological issues concerning liberation theology (p. 12). Liberation theology is a new way of doing theology (pp. 8, 17, 35, 74, 81, 122-124, 131-171), born out of the Latin American social context. It discards capitalism (pp. 29-31, 56-57, 95, 119, 156-157, 215), is a theology of action (praxis) rather than doctrine (pp. 136-138, 147-148, 188), rejects the reliability of Scripture (pp. 143-146, 216, 233-235) and when interpreting Scripture uses a hermeneutic of the kingdom of God as its guide (pp. 145, 155, 167, 189, 198-202, 226, 264). Liberation theology is concerned with social salvation, or the transformation of society, rather than spiritual salvation (pp. 176-206). Utopia is the goal (pp. 195-197, 200-201, 254) and it is achieved often through revolution and violence (p. 267). Even the person of Christ is changed: since the liberation theologians do not believe we can rely upon…

My Favorite Books – Part 4

(Volume 21, Issue 3 May/June 2015) Introduction: This is the fourth time I have attempted to list books that I find are of considerable value. This is an important endeavor for a number of reasons. First, thousands of Christian books are published every year, yet the majority of these are superficial at best and often counterproductive to spiritual maturity, and many others are heretical. With the limited time that each of us has we need to be exposed to materials which enhance growth, draw us to Christ and are biblically sound. This list aims to offer just such books in a variety of areas. Secondly, as I critique and review books on a regular basis I find that many volumes combine some excellent teaching and insights with unbiblical concepts. My reviews attempt to reveal “the good, the bad and the ugly” within these works. And while no book except the…

The Sacred Text, Biblical Authority in Nineteenth-Century America by Ronald F. Satta

It is commonly taught in evangelical scholarship that the doctrine of inerrancy was invented and developed by A. A. Hodge and B. B. Warfield in 1881 with publication of their paper “Inspiration” (see pp. XI, 33). Ronald Satta proves in this small work that such was not the case—that, in fact, conservative theologians going back to the Reformation (pp. 2-3,9), and indeed to the Church Fathers (p. 54) have held to a well-defined view of both the authority of the Scripture and inerrancy of the Bible in the original autographs. Satta carefully surveys the commonly held views by conservative Christians during the nineteenth-century in America and concludes that “the assertion that inerrancy is a novelty is exposed as incorrect. Rather than innovators, fundamentalists are cast as the standard-bearers of the ascendant theory of biblical authority commonly endorsed among many of the leading Protestant elite in nineteenth-century America” (p. XV). As…

Warfield on the Christian Life, Living in the Light of the Gospel by Fred G. Zaspel

Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield was among the greatest theological minds ever produced in America (some compare him favorably with Jonathan Edwards), yet he has lost favor in our postmodern era. He was one of the famous “old Princeton” theologians, along with Charles Hodge, A. A. Hodge and J. Gresham Machen, and taught at Princeton from 1873-1921, during some of the most tumultuous times in modern church history. He published massive amounts of indepth doctrinal material, taught more than a generation of pastors and Christian leaders, and was one of the most influential evangelicals of his day. Nevertheless, during his lifetime liberals were slowly gaining dominance in the West and in 1929 Princeton itself officially repudiated the fundamentals of Scripture, which Warfield had devoted his life to teach and defend. Today, despite his great efforts, Warfield is largely ignored except by some in the Reformed camp who recognize his contribution to our…

New Calvinism – Part II

(Volume 21, Issue 2 March/April 2015) In the first paper on the subject of New Calvinism we explored some definitions and examined the essential ingredient of the movement which is the co-mingling of Calvinistic theology with at least openness to charismatic practices. I believe this to be the unique and defining characteristic of New Calvinism. It is the one feature that all involved have in common. However, there are other traits that are shared by many of those immersed in the system. To these we will now turn. It should be remembered that those promoting neo-Calvinism are not monolithic in every aspect, and some of the features mentioned below would be true of any number of evangelicals who are neither Calvinistic nor charismatic. Nevertheless, it is not uncommon to find these identifying marks embraced by adherents of the movement. Serious about theology and Christian living This is the most commendable…

New Calvinism

(January/February – 2015, Volume 21, Issue 1) There is a great deal of interest and confusion about a movement within conservative evangelicalism sometimes called “New Calvinism” or Neo-Calvinism. As with many movements it is not monolithic and therefore describing its teachings is not always easy. Some have labeled virtually everyone who is a member of the Gospel Coalition or speaks at Together for the Gospel conferences as a New-Calvinist but that is surely painting with too broad a brush. Some hail Neo-Calvinism as a breath of fresh air that has united the passionate ministry of the Holy Spirit with the solid doctrines of the Reformation. Others see it as a dangerous departure from the faith which opens the door to aberrant teachings of extreme Pentecostalism. While some fear the movement, others cheer it. Therefore it is important to take a careful look at what New Calvinism is and what it…

Recovering Classic Evangelicalism, Applying the Wisdom and Vision of Carl F. H. Henry by Gregory Alan Thornbury (Wheaton: Crossway, 2013) 223 pp., paper $7.99

Gregory Thornbury, former professor of philosophy at Union University and now president of the King’s College, believes that the era of classical evangelicalism, represented by Francis Schaeffer, J. I. Packer, John R. W. Stott and most pronounced, Carl Henry, is quickly slipping away. He fears that “perhaps the evangelicalism I ‘signed up for’ is gone forever. Worse yet, perhaps it never even existed” (p. 32). In fact, many leading theologians today see classical evangelicalism and Henry, its main intellectual promoter, as relics of a bygone era (pp. 11, 21, 30). Thornbury hopes to reverse this view by reintroducing Henry to a generation that has marginalized him. This is necessary partly because even Henry’s fans find him almost incomprehensible. As Millard Erickson quipped about Henry’s work, “I hope someday that it is translated into English” (p. 24). The author attempts to do just that by, in essence, paraphrasing his second and…

The Uniqueness of Jesus Christ,by Yusufu Turaki, (Nairobi, Kenya: WordAlive Publishers Limited, 2006), 127 pp., paper $8.99

I was first introduced to Turaki via his marvelous little book, Foundations of African Traditional Religion and Worldview, a book that is a must read for anyone engaged in African ministry. Turaki, an African theologian and professor of theology and social ethics, in The Uniqueness of Jesus Christ has written a concise, compact Christology applicable for anyone, but especially geared for the African church. Turaki states that the purpose of his book “is to develop a biblical basis and foundation for presenting and proclaiming Jesus the Messiah as the only valid, authentic and unique Saviour of the whole world and the Mediator between God and man” (p. 5). Turaki then organizes his book by chapter around Jesus as the Messiah, as the Christ, as Mediator and as Redeemer. He also writes concerning the ingredients of salvation, the mission of the church, Christianity in the midst of cultural and religious plurality,…

Engaging with Keller, Thinking Through the Theology of an Influential Evangelical,Ed. By Iain D. Campbell and William M. Schweitzer (Darington, England: Evangelical Press, 2013), 240 pp., paper $14.39

One of the most creative and influential pastors, theologians and thinkers in the evangelical church today is Timothy Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City and a prolific author. The six contributors to this volume all admire Keller, share his Presbyterian background and theology, yet believe some of Keller’s doctrines and practices fall short of biblical teachings. Keller is trying to package Christianity for the “contemporary unchurched and largely postmodern audience” (p. 21), yet at the same time maintain orthodoxy. This is a different endeavor and these men believe that Keller often falls short of his goal. One general concern is that Keller adopts a twofold answer to many questions. For the traditional modernist he provides standard orthodox theology, but for the postmodern audience he supplies a different approach and set of answers (p. 21). It is the second set of answers that have these authors concerned.…

The New Calvinism Considered by Jeremy Walker (Darlington, England: Evangelical Press, 2013) 126 pp., paper $7.99

In barely over 100 pages of reading text, Jeremy Walker, a particular (Calvinistic) Baptist pastor from England, has provided an excellent, irenic, but critical, overview of New Calvinism. The author defines New Calvinism as “the resurgence of certain central aspects of Calvinistic doctrine within conservative evangelicalism, though it is usually associated with other convictions and actions that do not immediately derive from the teaching and example of John Calvin and others of similar faith and life” (pp. 8-9). Others have described the New Calvinists as Reformed Charismatics or “Young Restless and Reformed.” It is a highly influential movement, especially among young adults. Walker is trying to demonstrate both the positive and the concerning aspects of this movement, and he does an excellent job at both. While admitting that new Calvinism is not monolithic (p. 17), Walker nevertheless offers five characteristics that are typical: a belief in the sovereignty of God…

The Fallible Prophets of New Calvinism by Michael John Beasley, (The Armory Ministries: 2013), e-book available from Amazon, 198 pp., $.99.

It has been well over two decades since Wayne Grudem wrote his ground breaking book, The Gift of Prophecy in the New Testament and Today, which attempted to give theological legitimacy to common practices found especially in Pentecostal and charismatic circles. Those practices had to do with the so-called “sign gifts” of miracles, healings, tongues and prophecy. Grudem’s burden focused almost entirely on prophecy and words of knowledge. Pentecostals and charismatics have long claimed extrabiblical words, visions and prophecies that came via direct communication from the Holy Spirit. But it was common knowledge that many, if not most, of those supposed revelations were inaccurate in whole or in part. The Old Testament had condemned fallible prophets to death (Deut 13, 18) so obviously this was a serious issue to God. If this seriousness was carried over to the New Testament era what was to be done with those who claimed…

Revelation, by Alun Ebenezer (Darlington England: Evangelical Press, 2012) 224 pp., paper $15.29

In a back cover endorsement, Alistair Begg recommends first reading the introduction and the conclusion of this little commentary on Revelation. Good advice for, by doing so the reader will understand the author’s approach to interpreting this important New Testament book. Ebenezer clearly lays out the four major approaches to its interpretation: preterist, futurist, historicist and idealist (pp. 215-218). He also offers a short overview of positions held by postmillennial, premillennial and amillennial theologians (pp. 218-221). Ebenezer identifies himself as an amillennialist (p. 221) and, thus, aligns himself most closely to the idealist method which sees Revelation dealing with principles in which God has governed the earth throughout history. However, he believes elements of all four approaches are necessary. He writes: Revelation was written to seven specific churches at a specific time in history to help them in their situation, but is also intended for the church throughout time. The…

The Old Evangelicalism, Old Truth for a New Awakening, by Iain H. Murray (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust), 2005, 226 pp., $19.50

Iain Murray is one of the finest conservative church historians and theologians writing today. He warns early of the danger of romanticizing some period in church history (p. 3). But without question he sees a time, from the Puritans to Spurgeon, in which truth and holiness play a far more dominate role in the church. For Murray “old evangelicalism” is early Reformed Christianity, with the Puritans at the zenith. As such, this book is filled with many excellent quotes and insights from this particular era and theological emphasis. Murray is clear about his Reformed views, championing limited atonement (pp. 106-107, 132), regeneration before faith (pp. 18, 45, 56-57, 62), election (pp. 126) and the necessity of the Law for sanctification (pp. 52-54, 91). Yet he brings balance to these views by curbing the extreme ideas often found in some forms of Calvinism. For example, Murray makes clear that God does…

Zealot, the Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, by Reza Aslan (New York: Random House, 2013), 216 pp. plus xxxiv, cloth $27.00

For some inexplicable reason Zealot has become a best-selling sensation, yet there is absolutely nothing new or profound revealed in the book. Zealot is merely warmed up, liberal theology that has been around since German rationalism and higher criticism of the 18th century. It is the same poor scholarship and skepticism that infiltrated the major American denominations toward the end of the 19th century and resulted in the doctrinal deconstruction of much of Protestant Christianity in the early 20th century. Today such denominations, no longer having a unique reason to exist, are in deep decline, although with the appearance of the emergent church in the early 21st century some of its doctrine and emphasis have become fashionable again. The thesis driving Zealot is that there is a massive divide between the Jesus of the Gospels (the Christ) and the historic Jesus (Jesus of Nazareth). The Jesus of the New Testament…

The Jewish Gospels, the Story of the Jewish Christ by Daniel Boyarin (New York: The New Press, 2012), 160 pp., cloth $21.95.

Daniel Boyarin is the Taubman Professor of Talmudic Culture and Rhetoric at the University of California, Berkeley, and one of the world’s leading Talmud scholars. In The Jewish Gospels Boyarin challenges how most modern Jewish theologians have interpreted the New Testament Gospels and Jesus Himself. He examines the Old Testament prophecies, New Testament narratives and Jewish extra-biblical literature such as First Enoch and Fourth Ezra and reaches some startling conclusions, considering they come from a highly respected Jewish rabbical scholar. Boyarin concludes: · The idea of a Trinity or at least a second member of the Godhead has been present among Jewish believers long before the coming of Jesus (pp. XVII, 5, 44, 56, 72, 102, 128, 132, 142, 158-160). · The big distinction between Judaism and Christianity did not take place until the Council of Nicaea (pp. 1, 13-15). Some Old Testament Jews believed that the Messiah, who would…

The Man Christ Jesus: Theological Reflections on the Humanity of Christ, by Bruce Ware (Wheaton: Crossway, 2013). 156 PP., Paper $15.99

Dr. Bruce Ware, professor of Christian Theology at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, has written a doctrinally solid yet thoroughly readable treatise on the humanity of Jesus Christ. While Jesus’ divine and human natures cannot actually be separated, nor does Ware try to do so, nevertheless he does attempt to show how Jesus’ humanity functioned within the person of Christ and why it was/is necessary for our Lord to possess both divine and human natures in one person. As might be imagined this is no easy task and few theologians could have pulled off what Ware has done. And he does so exceptionally well. Ware states his thesis as such, “I want to present here some of the evidence from Old and New Testaments that the human life of Jesus is real and to show how important it is that He lived our life in order to die our death…

An Introduction to the New Covenant, General Editor, Christopher Cone (Hurst, TX: Tyndale Seminary Press, 2013) 375 pp., paper, $27.00.

This volume, authored by six theologians, is an excellent and important entry into the debate concerning the extent and application of the New Covenant. Depending on how it is approached there are up to five views on the church’s relationship to the New Covenant (see pp. 83, 89, 101, and 204). · Replacement—The church is entirely fulfilling the New Covenant. · Partial —The church is partially fulfilling the New Covenant, but complete fulfillment awaits the millennium. · Participation—The church does not even partially fulfill the New Covenant, but does participate in its spiritual blessings now. · Two New Covenants—God has made one New Covenant with Israel and another with the church. · No relationship—The New Covenant was made exclusively with Israel and the church is not directly related to it and is experiencing no spiritual benefits from the New Covenant now. This book defends the “no relationship” position, even though…

Well-Driven Nails, the Power of Finding Your Own Voice, by Byron Forrest Yawn (Greenville, SC: Ambassador International, 2010) 124 pp., cloth $16.99

Byron Yawn, pastor of Community Bible Church in Nashville, TN, wrote this little volume to deal with a common struggle for all pastors—delivery (p. 13). Believing that the root problem for most preachers lies in the areas of clarity, simplicity and passion or a combination of all three, Yawn sets out not only to discuss these three obstacles to great preaching, but to provide examples of those who have overcome them and who excel in delivery. Yet Yawn rightly warns that his readers should not attempt to become clones of great preachers. We can learn much from them, but we must find our own voice, that is be ourselves (pp. 28, 37-39). The author selects John MacArthur as his example of clarity. Here is a man who studies at the level of a scholar and communicates at the level of a friend (p. 56). For simplicity Yawn chooses R. C.…

Short-Term Mission, An Ethnography of Christian Travel Narrative and Experience,by Brian M. Howell (Downer Grove: IVP Academic: 2012) 256 pp. paper, $12.00

Short-term missions (STM) is all the rage in Christian, and even secular, environments. The author suggests that over two million Americans per year, many of those teens, take a STM trip, with over 50 percent of Christian college and seminary students having gone on such trips (p. 27). While STM trips can be longer most are “designed to fit into the windows of time North Americans (particularly U.S. Americans) have for vacation travel…typically…a maximum of two weeks” (p. 47). Such trips involve construction projects, medical aid, temporary relief of poverty, work in orphanages, evangelism and discipleship, or a combination of these elements (p. 38). Given the popularity of STM there has been relatively little research and analysis on its effectiveness and value (p. 9). Howell seeks to address this void with this volume. Howell writes from the perspective of a trained anthropologist (he is a professor of anthropology at Wheaton…

Freely By His Grace, Classical Free Grace Theology, Edited by J. B. Hixson, Rick Whitmire, and Roy B. Zuck (Duluth, Minn: Grace Gospel Press, 2012) Hardback, 615 pp., $29.00.

Freely By His Grace is an effort by sixteen pastors and theologians to defend and explain what is commonly called “free grace” soteriology (p. xiii) and related themes. As with any multi-authored volume, this one is uneven in both content and style but is a good representation of the positions taken by the majority within the Free Grace Alliance (p. 343). Still, as Michael Stallard points out, the Free Grace movement is not monolithic and its “members disagree on the nature and role of repentance, the elements necessary for a gospel presentation, how to view good works as evidence of regeneration, and how to interpret various passages about rewards to name a few areas” (p. 343). The authors are universally opposed to the more extreme Free Grace teachings sometimes referred to as the “crossless gospel” (pp. 12-13, 59, 66, 145). This crossless gospel now appears to be the understanding of…

Fasting and Spiritual Direction

April/May 2013,Volume 19, Issue 2 The list of spiritual disciplines that has been adopted within the Spiritual Formation Movement is almost endless. We could analyze the divine office, Benedict’s Rule, use of the Rosary and prayer ropes, monasticism, journaling, the Eucharist, and pilgrimage, among many others. But we will conclude our study of the disciplines with fasting and spiritual direction. Fasting Of course fasting is not a practice unique to spiritual formation. Christians of all theological stripes have fasted since the inception of the church, and the Old Testament saints, not to mention those of pagan religions, made fasting part of their religious life. In order to get a handle on fasting it would be good to break our study into three parts: what spiritual formation leaders teach about fasting, how fasting is understood within more evangelical circles, and what the Bible says on the subject. Spiritual Formation and Fasting Dallas…

Discernment and Revelation

February/March 2013 – Volume 19, Issue 1 Discernment, one would think, is an extremely positive quality. In a world in which there are incalculable numbers of voices calling us to travel many different directions, discernment is invaluable. However, when used by those involved in spiritual formation, discernment is defined as the discipline that enables one to know when a person has supposedly heard the voice of God. Spiritual formation leaders do not question that God speaks to us today apart from Scripture, but they do believe that since God is speaking there has to be a means whereby we can discern the voice of God from our own thoughts. Adele Ahlberg Calhoun writes in her Spiritual Disciplines Handbook, “Discernment opens us up to listen to and recognize the voice and patterns of God’s direction in our lives.” [1] Ruth Barton further explains, Discernment is a quality of attentiveness to God…

Spiritual Formation

(February/March 2012 – Volume 18, Issue 1) Almost everyone on the cutting edge of Christianity is talking about spiritual formation.  From books to magazine articles to sermons to seminary courses, spiritual formation is a hot topic.  What is spiritual formation?  What does it teach?  Is it something to embrace, ignore or fight?  With this edition of Think on These Things I want to begin an examination of these questions and more.  Lord willing, all of the TOTTs articles in 2012 will be devoted to detailing and evaluating some aspect of what some have called the “Spiritual Formation Movement.”  In this lead article I intend to offer a definition of spiritual formation, trace its origins, mention a few of its practices, illustrate its recent popularity, and briefly identify its strengths and dangers. In Search of a Definition When the average person speaks of spiritual formation they assume that it is a…

John MacArthur, Servant of the Word and Flock,by Iain H. Murray (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2011), 246 pp., Hardcover, $17.49

It is a bit unusual to write biographies about the living, a fact the author recognizes, but Murray apparently wanted to be the first to make such an endeavor for John MacArthur.  Iain Murray is a well-respected church historian and biographer and co-founder of The Banner of Truth Trust.  He has written a relatively brief but faithful account of the high points of John MacArthur’s ministry.  Very little concerning MacArthur’s personal life or family is found in these pages (one small exception being a chapter on his wife Patricia).  Virtually nothing is recounted about his children, either while young or now.  Nothing about family life, socializing with friends or other personal notes of interest are detailed.  This book, therefore, is not so much about MacArthur’s life as an account of his ministry.  In this regard we are given insights into his philosophy of ministry, preaching style, theology and personal convictions. …

The Judgment Seat of Christ by Samuel L. Hoyt (Milwaukee: Grace Gospel Press, 2011, revised 2015), 236 pp., paper $19.95

Dr. Hoyt has provided an excellent, comprehensive understanding of the judgment seat of Christ.  He states that the purpose of this study is “to carefully establish the limits of this judgment in regard to its nature and results” (p. 179).  The thesis is “that the judgment seat of Christ is a most solemn evaluation at which there will be no judicial punishment for the believer’s sins, whether confessed or unconfessed, but rather commendation according to the faithfulness of the Christian’s life” (p. 15).   Hoyt rejects the prominent view of only one general judgment (pp. 17-22) espousing the understanding of most premillenialists that there are five major eschatological judgments (pp. 22-23).  The judgment seat of Christ is specific to the church-age believer and occurs between the rapture and the second-coming of Christ (pp. 47-54).  In describing the judgment seat of Christ the author provides individual chapters on the setting, nature,…

The Social Gospel, Yesterday and Today – Part 1

(October/November 2011 – Volume 17, Issue 5) One of the important issues which the church has always had to address is that of its role in society. In the Old Testament, the Lord chose Abraham to be the father of a called-out race of people. Years later, the Lord would establish the nation of Israel under the Mosaic Covenant. Detailed laws and regulations were given to Israel at the time including how that nation was to be governed, how poverty was to be dealt with, how widows and orphans were to be helped and how injustices were to be corrected. All of these matters were addressed almost exclusively within the context of the nation of Israel, with relatively minor concern for the surrounding nations. The Old Covenant would continue to be in force throughout Old Testament history until finally superseded at the dawning of the church age in Acts 2…

Love Wins – Universalism’s New Champion

(June/July 2011 – Volume 17, Issue 3) There was so much hype surrounding the publication of Rob Bells new book Love Wins that even before it was released emotional critiques were flooding the Internet and the bloggers were in full swing. When John Piper, who had not yet read the book, tweeted three little words, “Farewell Rob Bell,” the blogosphere exploded and the war was on. Bell, who claims credentials within the evangelical camp, was purported to be teaching universalism. When the book was finally on the market it immediately rose to the top of everybody’s bestsellers list. Bell was featured on the cover of Time magazine, interviewed on both secular and Christian television and radio programs and perhaps became the “rock star” that Time claimed he was some years ago. When I reluctantly determined I needed to read what everybody was talking about I was speaking at a conference…

Important Books

(June/July 2010 – Volume 16, Issue 3) The evangelical press is pouring out hundreds of new books every year, most are forgettable but a few leave a valuable imprint upon the Christian community.  Given the limited amount of time that even a serious student has to read it is important that attention is given to books that make a difference.  I would like to devote this edition of Think on These Things to a few recent volumes that have caught the attention of many today.  These are books that I am being asked about via e-mail or as I travel to conferences.  Some are most helpful, others are of a serious concern, and others are mixed bag. Crazy Love by Francis Chan The basic thesis of Crazy Love is sound.  Since God loves us with a crazy, inexplicable love, our love for Him should be just as crazy and our…

Edinburgh 2010

(April/May 2010 – Volume 16, Issue 2) Those knowledgeable of current church history and missiology in particular are probably familiar with Edinburgh 1910.  It was considered to be the greatest missionary conference to that date and subsequently has proven to be the most influential.  In honor of its centennial, four major conferences are planned for 2010, having been in development since 2005[1] (along with many smaller venues), all connected with and under the umbrella of Edinburgh 2010.  The first will be in Tokyo, May 11-15.  Edinburgh is next up on June 2-6, followed by Cape Town, October 16-25 and finally Boston, November 4-7.  Each conference is somewhat independent, with different rosters of speakers, papers and agendas; however they are working in cooperation and will be sharing their research and attempting to set directives and initiatives for future world outreach. Edinburgh 1910 It is significant for our analysis of these conferences…

My Favorite Books – Part 3

(December 2009/January 2010 – Volume 15, Issue 7) A little over five years ago I wrote two papers identifying my favorite books in various categories.  At this time I want to supplement that list for a couple of reasons.  First, as readers of my articles and book reviews know, Think on These Things is largely a discernment ministry and, as such, many of our reviews are of a warning nature.  Some have even asked if I am in agreement with any book.  My standard answer is that I certainly am, as long as, and to the extent that, the book is faithful to Scripture.  Realizing that all human efforts fall short at some point, it is important that we endeavor to be Bereans and examine books, not for the purpose of criticism, but for their compliance to the revealed Word of God.  With that in mind, listed below are numerous…

Discernment Ministry – A Biblical Defense

(October/November 2009 – Volume 15, Issue 6) We live in an environment in which it is most difficult to stand for the faith.  Not only will those who attempt to be on the front lines of discernment face the guns of those in opposition, but they may be hit by “friendly fire” as well.  For example:  I recently wrote what I thought was a rather innocuous article expressing a high view of Scripture including a belief in its sufficiency.  I was nevertheless surprised to receive a quick e-mail rebuke by a pastor who also claimed to believe in the inerrancy, authority and sufficiency of the Bible and who ultimately accused me of taking what he called a “biblical charismatic” view.  When I inquired as to how that could be since I believe God speaks to us today only through Scripture and charismatics believe God speaks through means beyond the written…

The Challenge of Pragmatism – Part 2

(May 2009 – Volume 15, Issue 3) A Blast from the Past Brian McLaren, Rob Bell, and others from the Emergent camp write and speak winsomely about what they are offering, but history, not to mention Scripture, suggests great caution must be exercised at this point.  Church historian Iain Murray reminds us that 19th century “liberal theology very rarely presented itself as being in opposition to Scripture.  On the contrary, its exponents claimed the authority of the New Testament for the view that Christianity is life, not doctrine.”[1]  Some using this line of reasoning, like the eventual Archbishop of Canterbury William Temple, could say, “An atheist who lives by love is saved by his faith in the God whose existence (under that Name) he denies.”[2]  It was living by love that mattered, not what one believed about God. Nineteenth century liberal theologian Schleiermacher went so far as to bar doctrinal…

The Challenge of Pragmatism – Part 1

(April 2009 – Volume 15, Issue 3)  If there is a common religion to be found within the Western world it surely is pragmatism – the religion of “what works?”  Pragmatism has no cathedrals; it follows no liturgy, hires no pastors and cannot be found in any listing of denominations, yet it is woven into the very fabric of the Western church.  Whether we are talking about mainline, Pentecostal, Fundamentalist, Emergent or Orthodox, it does not take much observation to realize that pragmatism is interlaced throughout each tradition.  To attempt to remove pragmatism is to pull a thread which could very well unravel the whole structure of Christianity and church life as we know it today, yet to pull on that thread we must.  The problem is that far too many of us are willing to use any approach available to accomplish our goals, even if those approaches and/or goals…

The Sufficiency of Scripture – Part 2

(September 1995 – Volume 1, Issue 11) In our last paper, we attempted to demonstrate that through the influence of neo-Gnosticism, in the form of the Charismatic Movement, even many in the conservative/fundamental ranks are subtly adjusting their view of the Scriptures. These individuals would defend to the death their belief in the inerrancy and infallibility of the Word, but have softened, as we will see, in the area of sufficiency. When we speak of the sufficiency of the Bible, we mean that it alone is adequate to train us in godliness. Only the Word reveals God’s truth for living. On the negative side, this naturally implies that nothing needs to be added to the Scriptures for us to know truth. Therefore, when anything, whether it is man’s wisdom, personal experience, pragmatism, tradition, or direct revelation is touted as a means of knowing God’s truth, then Biblical sufficiency has been…

The Role of Women in Ministry – Part 2

(October 1998 – Volume 4, Issue 9) First Community Church is in turmoil. Michael and Jane Gregory are one of the five founding couples of the church and have believed since the church was started three years ago that they should have an equal part in its ministry. Recently Jane has expressed an interest in becoming a member of the pastoral staff, and is taking every fourth Sunday morning sermon in order to show the community that their church is on the cutting edge of relevant ministry. Michael, who is a co-pastor of the 150-member church, is in favor of the move. Several of the elders, however, are opposed to it on what they call “biblical grounds.” Several women in the church have said they will leave the church if it “promotes sexism” by barring Jane from the pulpit. A few members have presented to the elders a plan for…

The Role of Women in Ministry – Part 1

(September 1998 – Volume 4, Issue 8) Someone has said that there are two views of the creation of women, one held by women, the other by men. Women say that God made man, looked at him, and said, “I can do better than that!” So He made woman. Men hold that after God made beasts and man, He rested, then He created woman, and neither beast, nor man, nor God has rested since. All joking aside, few subjects are more controversial today than the role of women in society, ministry and the home. This is true even, maybe especially, among evangelical Christians. Views that were considered unquestionably true a few decades ago are now disputed. Even the interpretation of pertinent scriptural passages, long considered settled, is now being challenged. It is our intention to develop a careful overview of this important and volatile subject. We will start with a…

The Problem With Leaven

(October 2000 – Volume 6, Issue 10) The author of Underserving, Yet Unconditionally Loved writes: To many people, grace is nothing more than something to be said with heads bowed before dinner. But that idea, simple and beautiful as it may be, is light-years removed from the depth of meaning presented in Scripture regarding grace. This biblical concept of grace is profound, and its tentacles are both far-reaching and life-changing. Were we to study it for a full decade we would not come close to plumbing its depths. I never knew Lewis Sperry Chafer, the founder of the seminary I attended. He had died a few years before I began my theological studies in 1959. Some of my mentors and professors, however, knew him well. Without exception they still remember him as a man of great grace. He was an articulate defender of the doctrine and an authentic model of…

Open Theism – Part 1

(April/May 2002 – Volume 8, Issue 3)  Any war is composed of major battles and minor skirmishes. The skirmishes, while often little more than irritants in the big picture, nevertheless cannot be ignored. True casualties are often the result of such conflict and the military ignores them at its own peril. Still, the war is won or lost on the front lines where the primary clash is taking place. So it is on the Christian battlefield. Relatively minor challenges to truth are constant. Overemphasis on this doctrine, ignorance of another, inordinate attention on emotions here, encroachment of the world’s mindset there. Such altercations are disregarded at the high price of casualties among believers and churches alike. While we agree with the Puritan Richard Baxter that “charity should be practiced in all things”, we must also recognize that minor attacks on our flank, left unchallenged and uncorrected, tend to evolve into full-blown…

Mysticism – Part 4

(April 2005 – Volume 11, Issue 4)  Mysticism’s Inroads Most evangelical Christians probably would not recognize themselves in the previous discussion of mysticism (as found in our last three papers), but there are subtle influences at work drawing believers in this direction even without their knowledge. While firmly denying any part in classical mysticism many are actually participating in time-honored mystical practices. It must be recognized that many are doing this unintentionally for new opportunities are turning up that seem to defy recognized categories. Some are innocently adopting ancient mystical practices because they are being endorsed by trusted Christian leaders, or even the medical community. The danger is that involvement in some of these things; no matter how pure the motive, may easily lead the participant away from a biblical faith and into the quagmire of subjectivism and mysticism, or at times even into the occult. I will only take time…

Jonathan Edwards, the Younger: 1745-1801 by Robert L. Ferm

While almost everyone knows of Jonathan Edwards, very few have heard of his son Jonathan Edwards Junior, although he was an influential theologian and pastor in his own right. His life began as the embers of the First Great Awakening were dying and ended as the flames of the Second Great Awakening were igniting. More importantly, he was a key player during a theologically volatile time, as Calvinism split into old Calvinist and New Divinity camps and the surge of Arminianism changed evangelicalism. Edwards was constantly in the mix of these theological debates attempting to defend his father’s New Divinity position, even as he altered it to a more legalistic stance. Like his father, Edwards also served many years as a pastor and for a short time as a seminary president, but his legacy lies in his contributions to the changing face of the American theological landscape during the second…

The Kingdom of Emergent Theology – Part 1

(September 2007 – Volume 13, Issue 9)  It has been claimed that Sigmund Freud enjoyed telling his followers a story of a pastor who visited an atheist insurance agent who was on his death bed. The family had asked the pastor to share the gospel with their dying loved one as they waited in another room. As the conversation continued longer than expected there was hope that the pastor was being successful in his mission. When the pastor finally emerged from the bedroom it was discovered that the agent had not converted to Christ but he had been able to sell the pastor an insurance policy. While Freud used the illustration to warn his fellow psychoanalysts to stay true to their beliefs, Richard Mouw, president of Fuller Seminary, from whom I obtained this account, has another application to offer. While a most unlikely source (in my opinion) to offer the following…

Revival

(January 2001 – Volume 7, Issue 1)  Revival is hot right now. If you read any Christian literature, especially magazines, listen to Christian radio or watch Christian TV, you know this is a subject that is on the front burner of evangelicalism. In doing research on this topic I turned to the web site of Christian Book Distributors to run down a couple of books on the subject that I had been wanting to purchase. I was a bit surprised to discover that CBD listed 156 books on revival. These are books that are currently in print, and are being sold by this one outlet. This does not include many books that they do not carry nor the many hundreds that are out of print. Revival is hot and it is easy. Who could say a word against fit? It is like putting down motherhood. Go into any Christian circle and…

Promise Keepers (an update) – Part 6

(August 1997 – Volume 3, Issue 6) Even though its goals are commendable and its efforts to create godly men are herculean, it would appear that many others, besides ourselves, are uncomfortable with Promise Keepers. We are concerned because of the methods used, the ecumenical nature, the Charismatic influence, the constant psychobabble and Promise Keepers’ legalistic nature. These are grave and important issues that cannot and must not be easily dismissed, either by Promise Keepers or by individual believers. We must ever strive to follow the example of the noble Bereans (Acts 17:11). Within this paper on the men’s movement known as Promise Keepers, we desire to discuss some final (if somewhat less important) concerns: The Promise Keepers Small Group System One of the primary ways that Promise Keepers hopes to reinforce their views and to develop godly men is through the use of small group “Bible” studies, known as “task-forces.”…

Promise Keepers (an update) – Part 5

(June/July 1997 – Volume 3, Issue 5) The Teachings of Psychobabble Promise Keepers appears to have two primary goals: 1. To develop godly men — “Promise Keepers is a Christ-centered ministry dedicated to uniting men through vital relationships to become godly men who influence their world” (Men of Action, Fall 1993, p4). 2. To unify Christians and churches — “We believe that we have a God-given mission to unite men who are separated by race, geography, culture, denomination and economics” (Ibid). In an earlier study (Promise Keepers an update, Part II) we examined in detail the ecumenical nature of Promise Keepers and found its stance in this area to be unbiblical. It is the subject of developing godly men that we wish to address at this time. We applaud Promise Keepers’ stated desire in this area and we do not wish to question their motives. Our concern is with the “how-to.”…

Promise Keepers (an update) – Part 3

(April 1997 – Volume 3, Issue 3)  Progressive Sanctification In our first paper on the Promise Keepers’ movement, we examined the areas in which we believe that Promise Keepers are doing a good job.Then, in our last paper, we began to point out some areas of concern, the first of which is Promise Keepers’ ecumenical nature. The leaders of Promise Keepers either do not understand, or have purposely chosen to ignore the biblical doctrine of separation.As we have seen, the Scriptures clearly teach that the child of God is to note those who teach error, refute them, reject them, remove them, and stay away from them — depending on the circumstances. We are not to cozy up to false teachers, yet Promise Keepers has chosen to disobey this crystalline teaching of the Word of God and invite those who believe in rank heresy to join them. There would be no complaint…

Above All Earthly Pow’rs by David F. Wells

Above All Earthly Pow’rs is the fourth and final volume in a series that includes No Place for Truth, God in the Wasteland and Losing Our Virtue. Each of these books deals with a theological issue in light of the times. Above All Earthly Pow’rs follows the same format, this time addressing Christology and how it “is to be preached, in a postmodern, multiethnic, multireligious society” (pp. 7-8). As in the earlier works, Wells ably sounds the alarm, warning of the inward seeds of destruction now present in evangelicalism. He deals with relevant issues as diverse as the Enlightenment, psychotherapy, immigration, the new spirituality, nihilism, postmodernity, the resurrection of Christ, self-help programs, debates over substitionary atonement, justification, open theism, the seeker-sensitive church growth movement, and more. All of these issues are examined in light of what Christology has become in a postmodern world and what must be done to re-establish…

When I Don’t Desire God by John Piper

Almost all of John Piper’s popular books (as opposed to his more theological works) have developed the same theme—desiring God. Piper works from his oft repeated premise, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.” In one form or the other Piper has unpacked this statement in many books, articles, his website and numerous conference engagements. This emphasis on desiring God, or experiencing joy in the Lord, now characterizes an army of Christians who follow Piper’s teaching. Some of these followers have interpreted Piper to mean that joy is the defining identity of the believer: that joy in Christ and a passionate desire for God is what assures a person that He is truly born again and that if one lacks such joy one is not a Christian; additionally, this joy must be spontaneous and obeying God while lacking spontaneous joy is tantamount to legalism.…

In the Grip of Grace by Max Lucado

Max Lucado is an excellent writer, using simple prose, masterful word pictures, and an uncanny ability to engage the emotions of his readers. Lucado claims this to be his most theological book to date. If more theologians wrote like this, more people would read theology. Unfortunately they would be little the wiser for it. That is not to say that the author does not handle some biblical truth in a useful way. He writes much that is worth reading, for instance, on his main subject of grace. But when a Church of Christ pastor (official doctrine of his church: baptismal regeneration and the believer can lose his salvation) writes as if he believes in eternal security and only vaguely mentions baptism (pp.114-115) the reader has to wonder what Lucado really believes on these important doctrinal issues. I think Lucado needs to sharpen his pencil a bit. If he believes the…

The Lord Told Me – I Think!

(September 2005 – Volume 11, Issue 9)  In a newsletter published by a conservative Baptist denomination, a story is presented concerning one of its members. Deployed in Iraq , this middle aged soldier revealed that often, as he wrestles with problems of various types, “God just reveals the answer to me.” A leader from his church back home also claims to have heard from the Lord. “The Lord told me,” he says, “That this young man is going to be known as a builder, not a destroyer in Iraq .” So far his prophecy seems to have come true for, although the soldier has been involved in combat, his “day job” is to rebuild schools and water treatment plants. Just this week I received an e-mail from a gentleman who wrote, “Jesus has commanded me through the Holy Spirit to teach people how to pray, teach them the truth about their…

My Favorite Books – Part 2

(September 2004 – Volume 10, Issue 9) Last month’s Think on These Things article listed a number of my favorite books in the categories of biography, fiction and Christian living. In this edition we will pick up where we left off, beginning with theology. THEOLOGY David Wells has written three marvelous books that might be defined as practical theology. No Place for Truth is a call for the evangelical church to return to the serious study of theology. God in the Wasteland is centered on the doctrine of God and Losing Our Virtue is Wells’ examination of anthropology. I hope he writes another dozen books in the series. John MacArthur opened a can of worms when he wrote The Gospel According to Jesus and Faith Works. It is my opinion that he somewhat overreacted to easy believism and occasionally overstates his case. However, his position is fundamentally sound and worth studying…

My Favorite Books – Part 1

(August 2004 – Volume 10, Issue 8) I entered the ministry 31 years ago at the age of 22 with many dreams and goals, most of which were of a nebulous and general nature (e.g. to remain faithful, teach the Word, be devoted to prayer, build a church). I desired to be a diligent student of Scripture, Christian living and the world in which we live. The one specific, measurable goal that I set for myself was to read on average one book per week for the rest of my life. I have made it my habit to spend the first 2 to 3 hours of every day in serious reading, and I seldom go anywhere without a book tucked under my arm. It is surprising how much a person can read while they wait for doctors and such. As a result, by God’s grace, I have been able to come…

A Biblical Screening of Jim Cymbala’s Book, ‘Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire’

(December 1998 – Volume 4, Issue 11) The motivation behind reading this book was both a rave review from an IFCA (Independent Fundamental Churches of America) communiqué (written by Steve Johnson, member of the publication committee), which was also published by the IFCA bulletin service; and an equally positive book review in Voice (the IFCA magazine) by Richard McCarrell. I will quote McCarrell’s review in total, for context: Vance Havner loved telling of two Indians watching the construction of a lighthouse. It was finally completed, and the big day arrived for its opening. As dignitaries gathered, the worst fog of the season blew in. One Indian turned to the other and said, “Light shine, bell ring, horn blow, fog come in just the same.” Vance Havner would then say, “We’ve never had more lights shining, bells ringing, and horns blowing than we have today within the church. Yet, we’ve never had…