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April 10, 2015

I am in the enjoyable position of receiving copies of most of the latest and greatest Christian books, and, well, they just keep coming! In the last couple of weeks my mailbox has been very nearly flooded by books, many of which look just excellent. Here are a few of the highlights.

Rejoicing in Christ by Michael Reeves. I intend to give this one a read, simply because of how much I enjoyed Delighting in the Trinity. “If we want to know who God is, the best thing we can do is look at Christ. If we want to live the life to which God calls us, we look to Christ. In Jesus we see the true meaning of the love, power, wisdom, justice, peace, care and majesty of God. Michael Reeves, author of Delighting in the Trinity, opens to readers the glory and wonder of Christ, offering a bigger and more exciting picture than many have imagined. Jesus didn’t just bring us the good news. He is the good news. Reeves helps us celebrate who Christ is, his work on earth, his death and resurrection, his anticipated return and how we share in his life. This book, then, aims for something deeper than a new technique or a call to action. In an age that virtually compels us to look at ourselves, Michael Reeves calls us to look at Christ. As we focus our hearts on him, we see how he is our life, our righteousness, our holiness and our hope.” (Learn more or buy it at Amazon or Westminster Books)

The Quest for the Historical Adam: Genesis, Hermeneutics, and Human Origins by William Vandoodewaard. Here’s a work by a trusted author on an awfully important subject. “Was Adam really a historical person, and can we trust the biblical story of human origins? Or is the story of Eden simply a metaphor, leaving scientists the job to correctly reconstruct the truth of how humanity began? Although the church currently faces these pressing questions exacerbated as they are by scientific and philosophical developments of our age we must not think that they are completely new. In The Quest for the Historical Adam, William VanDoodewaard recovers and assesses the teaching of those who have gone before us, providing a historical survey of Genesis commentary on human origins from the patristic era to the present. Reacquainting the reader with a long line of theologians, exegetes, and thinkers, VanDoodewaard traces the roots, development, and, at times, disappearance of hermeneutical approaches and exegetical insights relevant to discussions on human origins. This survey not only informs us of how we came to this point in the conversation but also equips us to recognize the significance of the various alternatives on human origins.” (Learn more or buy it at Amazon or Westminster Books)

Song of Songs: A Biblical-Theological, Allegorical, Christological Interpretation by James Hamilton. I deeply respect both the author and the commentary series, so I suspect this must be a really good resource. “In the Song of Songs the son of David, King in Jerusalem, overcomes hostility and alienation to renew intimacy between himself and his Bride. This most sublime Song sings of a love sure as the seal of Yahweh, a flashing flame of fire many waters could never quench. James M. Hamilton Jr, in this latest addition to the popular Focus on the Bible series, pours fresh light on this inspiring and uplifting book.” (Learn more or buy it at Amazon or Westminster Books)

Perspectives on the Extent of the Atonement: 3 Views, edited by Andy Naselli & Mark Snoeberger. This is one of two new volumes in B&H’s “Perspectives” series. “Perspectives on the Extent of the Atonement presents a point-counterpoint exchange concerning God’s intention in sending Christ to die on the cross. All three contributors recognize a substitutionary element in the atoning work of Christ, but disagree over the nature and objects of that substitution. Carl Trueman (Westminster Theological Seminary) argues that Christ’s atoning work secured the redemption of his elect alone. While infinite in value, Christ’s death was intended for and applied strictly to those whom the Father had elected unconditionally in eternity past. John Hammett (Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary) argues that Christ’s atoning work had multiple intentions. Of these intentions two rise to the fore: (1) the intention to accomplish atonement for God’s elect and (2) the intention to provide atonement for all mankind. Grant Osborne (Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) argues that Christ’s atoning work provided atonement generally for all mankind. The application of that atoning work is conditioned, however, on each person’s willingness to receive it.” (Learn more or buy it at Amazon or Westminster Books)

Perspectives on IsraelPerspectives on Israel and the Church: 4 Views, edited by Chad Brand. And here’s the second new volume in the “Perspectives” series. “The relationship between Israel and the church is one of the most debated issues in the history of theology. Some hold the view that there is almost seamless continuity between Israel and the church, while others believe there is very little continuity. Additional perspectives lie between these two. This debate has contributed to the formation of denominations and produced a variety of political views about the state of Israel. To advance the conversation, Perspectives on Israel and the Church brings together respected theologians representing four positions: Traditional covenantal view by Robert L. Reymond; Traditional dispensational view by Robert L. Thomas; Progressive dispensational view by Robert L. Saucy; Progressive covenantal view by Chad Brand and Tom Pratt Jr.” (Learn more or buy it at Amazon)

Everyday Grace: Infusing All Your Relationships with the Love of Jesus by Jessica Thompson. “It’s hard, sometimes, to get over that thing your husband said weeks ago; or to resolve that tension with your colleague at work; or to fix a lifelong friendship that’s taken a bad turn. The biggest problem with relationships is they always seem to involve sinners—including ourselves. So how can we form strong, resilient bonds with people who, like us, are bound to mess up? Thankfully, it’s not all on us. Through stories and biblical teaching, Jessica Thompson helps us move beyond trying to “fix” the people we interact with, and shows us a better way. Though our relationships may be marred by tension and frustration, because we are welcomed and known by Christ, they don’t have to stay that way.” (Learn more or buy it at Amazon or Westminster Books)

April 10, 2015

Twenty-Two Years - Here’s another strong article from Greg Lucas: “My son turns twenty-two tomorrow, and his mom and I will grieve—deeply, silently, secretly, and personally.”

Help Us Make Indelible Grace 7 - “A new Indelible Grace project is underway. Old hymns set to new music. Join us on the journey to record our new project.”

Naive Young Evangelicals and the Illiberal DNA of the Gay Rights Movement - Block off a few minutes, pour yourself a coffee, and read this one. They payoff is at the end.

Fear in the Cockpit - “The tragic plane crash in Taipei was the result of mechanical and psychological failures.” This article is quite interesting and very useful for illustrations. (The closing line is dumb, unfortunately.)

Winston Churchill Day - “To mark the anniversary of Churchill’s honorary US citizenship, Hillsdale College and RosettaBooks are offering free Kindle downloads of all 8 volumes of the official biography on April 9-11 – An $80 value, absolutely free!”

No Babies Please - It’s amazing to see what is happening in parts of Europe where the birth rate has completely collapsed. In a similar vein, here’s what the world’s religious population may look like in 2050.

We cannot embrace the doctrines of grace without embracing the disciplines of grace. —Curtis Woods


April 09, 2015

I grew up in a church culture, a catechizing culture, and a family worship culture. Each of these was a tremendous, immeasurable blessing, I am sure. I am convinced that twice-each-Sunday services, and memorizing the catechisms, and worshipping as a family marked me deeply. I doubt I will ever forget that my only comfort in life and death is that I am not my own, but belong in body and soul, both in life and death, to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ, or that the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. I can still sing many of the psalms and hymns of my youth, and I have precious memories of my family bowing our heads around the kitchen table.

What was true of my family was true of many of my friends’ families. They, too, grew up around churches and catechisms and rigid family devotions. In fact, in all the times I visited their homes, I don’t think I ever witnessed a family skip over their devotions. It was the custom, it was the expectation, and it was good. Our church had near 100% attendance on Sunday morning and near 100% attendance on Sunday evening. It was just what we did.

But despite all of the advantages, many of the people I befriended as a child have since left the faith. Some have sprinted away, but many more have simply meandered away, so that an occasionally missed Sunday eventually became a missed month and a missed year. Not all of them, of course. Many are now fine believers, who are serving in their churches and even leading them. But a lot—too many—are gone.

Why? I ask the question from time-to-time. Why are all five of my parents’ kids following the Lord, while so many of our friends and their families are not? Obviously I have no ability to peer into God’s sovereignty and come to any firm conclusions. But as I think back, I can think of one great difference between my home and my friends’ homes—at least the homes of my friends who have since walked away from the Lord and his church. Though it is not universally true, it is generally true. Here’s the difference: I saw my parents living out their faith even when I wasn’t supposed to be watching.

When I tiptoed down the stairs in the morning, I would find my dad in the family room with his Bible open on his lap. Every time I picked up my mom’s old NIV Study Bible it was a little more wrecked than the time before, I would find a little more ink on the pages, and a few more pieces of tape trying desperately to hold together the worn binding. When life was tough, I heard my parents reason from the Bible and I saw them pray together. They weren’t doing these things for us. They weren’t doing them to be seen. They were doing these things because they loved the Lord and loved to spend time with him, and that spoke volumes to me. I had the rock-solid assurance that my parents believed and practiced what they preached. I knew they actually considered God’s Word trustworthy, because they began every day with it. I knew that they believed God was really there and really listening, because they got alone with him each morning to pray for themselves and for their kids. I saw that their faith was not only formal and public, but also intimate and private.

Here is one thing I learned from my parents: Nothing can take the place of simply living as a Christian in view of my children. No amount of formal theological training, church attendance, or family devotions will make up for a general apathy about the things of the Lord. I can catechize my children all day and every day, but if I have no joy and no delight in the Lord, and if I am not living out my faith, my children will see it and know it.

For all the good things my parents did for me, I believe that the most important was simply living as Christians before me. I don’t think anything shaped or challenged me more than that.

April 09, 2015

Today’s Kindle deals: A Simple Christianity by John MacArthur ($2.99); Exalting Jesus in 1&2 Timothy and Titus ($2.99); Payne Stewart by Tracey Stewart ($0.99).

Baseball Is Life - An oldie but a goodie from Tim Siedell. “Just like life itself, baseball is boring. Amazingly, stupendously boring.” Which is why we love it so…

What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality? - You’d do well to read this new book from Kevin DeYoung. And, as it happens, it’s on sale right now…

iOS Reading Hack for Efficiency - Here’s a helpful little iOS hack for those who love to read.

In Her Shoes - Christine Hoover: “I ask you today, as I’ve done before, to take a walk in another woman’s shoes: a Christian woman who’s had an abortion.”

The Trinity, The Assembly, and Sweet Potatoes - Does God still speak propositionally today outside of Scripture?

Thanks for Raising the Man of My Dreams - “Your mother-in-law responds to love, she desires appreciation, and she loves her son with every bit of fierceness with which you love him.”

There is no theme more central to the message of Scripture than the glory of God. —Gerald Bray


April 08, 2015

The story of the early church is the story of God working in incredible ways through a group of people known as his apostles. These are the people he had specially chosen and called to serve as his emissaries, to take the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ all through the known world. Again and again we read about these apostles in the book of Acts and in the various epistles, but what happened to all of those characters once the book of Acts was complete and the biblical canon was closed? This is the question Brian Litfin means to answer in his new book After Acts: Exploring the Lives and Legends of the Apostles.

What a great idea for a book! Church history is packed full of accounts of the lives and deaths of the apostles, but a shocking number of these accounts are obviously fictional and legendary. Is there a way to cut through the noise and to construct a realistic history of the major biblical characters? Litfin believes that it many cases it is possible to at least weight the evidence and to come to reasonable conclusions.

Litfin dedicates a chapter each to Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Mary, Thomas, James, Peter, and Paul. Mary makes the list not because she was an apostle but because of her unexpected importance in church history, and especially in Roman Catholic history. Other than her own son, there are more legends about Mary than about any other character! In every case Litfin describes the commonly accepted view of what happened to the character after Acts, what he accomplished, and where he died. Then he looks at all the available evidence to show what appears to be based on fact and what is far more likely to be based on legend. And in most cases his conclusions are quite compelling. At the end of each chapter he puts together a report card to assign grades to the commonly-accepted facts. So, for example, when it comes to Luke he assigns the following grades:

  • Traveled with Paul on missionary journeys - A
  • Remained with Paul until the very end - A
  • Wrote Luke and Acts based on eyewitness sources and personal experiences - A-
  • Wrote his two volumes in the early 60s from Rome - B+
  • Used Mark as a source for his gospel - B
  • Went to the region of Thebes and died there - B-
  • Is now buried in Padua, Prague, and Thiva - D

It makes for quite an interesting and effective format.

Now before I conclude, I need to own my ignorance when it comes to early church history and even to the means by which historians weight the evidence before them. This is a highly specialized field and one that is far beyond my area of expertise. That said, I found Litfin’s methodology compelling. He is obviously and unashamedly Evangelical in his approach to the Bible and the Christian faith, but still always does his due diligence. When he looks at Liberal claims about the authorship of books, he never mocks, but always grants them the dignity of examining their position. Not only that, but he is also honest. Sometimes we believe a certain man authored a book or that a particular event took place, but the evidence may be more circumstantial than we would like.

It seems noteworthy that Litfin believes in the infamous “Q” source document for the gospels. However, he does so in such a way as to still affirm the inerrancy and infallibility of any of those books that may have used it as one of their sources. I am not well-enough versed to comment too much on the implications, but his view seems similar to CARM’s view: “If Q is an actual source, it does not invalidate the validity of the Gospels. … If anything, the existence of Q would mean that the time between the actual events and their written record is lessened.”

After Acts is written to be fast-paced and reader-friendly, and Litfin has succeeded well. I found it an engaging and enjoyable book that served to strengthen my confidence in the authority and the truthfulness of the Bible.

April 08, 2015

Here are some new Kindle deals: The Lion and the Lamb by Andreas Kostenberger ($0.99); A Christ-Centered Wedding by Catherine Parks ($2.99); Brothers, We Are Not Professionals by John Piper ($2.99); Preach by Mark Dever ($2.99).

How It All Started - “My parents are passionate about prayer, and the prayers of my parents have shaped my life. Sometimes even when they didn’t realize that the subject of their prayers was me.” That’s a promising start to a neat article.

What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality? - You may be interested in this video featuring Kevin DeYoung. And this article: Why is a Wedding Any Different?

Pray for Marriage - Russell Moore suggests how you ought to pray about the Supreme Court’s pending decision.

Radical - The audio of David Platt’s Radical is a free download for the next couple of days.

Galatians - R.J. Grune has a resource that might appeal to you—a reader-friendly adaptation of Luther’s commentary on Galatians.

Craving Spiritual Milk and Spiritual Growth - Steve DeWitt talks about some of the soul’s toxins.

When people praise you, don’t let it go to your head. When they criticize you, don’t let it go to your heart. —C.J. Rhodes


April 07, 2015

A clean house is a sign of a wasted life. Kind of. That’s what I said last week when I looked at Proverbs 14:4: “Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean, but abundant crops come by the strength of the ox.” I said then that there are two broad streams of interpretation for this proverb, and that my preferred one says that it speaks to the messiness of a life well-lived. A productive life is a messy life. I think that is a perfectly valid and accurate interpretation of the text. But there is a second explanation for the proverb that is [almost] equally intriguing.

Whatever else we believe about the proverb, we know that Solomon meant to tell us that having oxen is better than not having oxen. We can extend this to say that having the appropriate tools for a task is better than having inappropriate tools. Here’s the thing: You can have a full feed-trough if you’ve got a small animal or no animal at all. But it is far wiser to let a big ol’ ox eat the feed and use it as fuel for some hard work. “A farmer persuades himself that if he doesn’t buy any oxen he will save himself both the initial outlay and the cost of feeding and the labour of maintaining them. But this is the fool’s economics. The wise man realizes he himself cannot do the work the ox can do; he will always be scraping a living, whereas if he buys some oxen and fodder, their work will bring a harvest which will feed him and them, with some over.” In other words, a stingy investment in tools earns a stingy return, and a substantial investment in tools earns a substantial return. (see Eric Lane’s excellent little commentary.)

When I interpret the proverb this way, I see it as a call to obtain good tools, even when those tools involve a greater cost. As Lane says, “Investment in the appropriate equipment will more than pay for itself, and the effort put into maintaining it will be saved in its efficiency.” The fact is, not all tools are created equal. We have many options for most of our tools, and we typically need to choose from a spectrum of qualities and prices. We are not surprised to find that better tools cost more money. Solomon’s farmer found the same. He could plow the field himself, or he could use a donkey—both of these would be economical options. But by investing in the ox, he will soon see abundance. Why? Because the ox is the best tool for the job. The ox is the wisest investment.

Now there is a movement afoot in the Christian world that elevates thrift as one of the great virtues. According to this movement, we are to be thrifty people who use our resources carefully instead of wastefully. Well and good, and especially so in an age of instant indulgence. We should not be wasteful! But the danger of thriftiness is that it can easily tip into stinginess. (Of course, in the same way, free spending can tip into a profligacy.) We can elevate the joy of finding an item at a low cost, while overlooking that this low cost may necessitate low quality. However, when we do this we may be settling for lesser tools which subsequently provide a lesser return.

The farmer, like you and me, is completely dependent upon his tools. If he wants abundance, if he wants to be the best farmer he can be, he will need good tools—he will need to buy and feed an ox, the best tool for the job. And if you want to succeed in whatever it is that the Lord calls you to, you will need tools as well. You will need good tools. Expensive tools, even. But take heart. You do not have to feel guilty for spending on your tools. The bigger expense may just be the wisest stewardship.

(And that, my friends, is how I defend my use of Apple products.)

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