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Tim Challies

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7 years 8 months ago
You may experience a sense of deja vu when reading Preaching the Cross since this book is the product of last year’s Together for the Gospel conference. Several thousand men were in attendance and many have since read summaries of the sessions or have listened to the audio recordings. While the chapters are not mere transcriptions of the messages delivered at the conference, they are, as we would expect, very similar. Of course they are also more polished and are now nicely packaged in a hardcover book.

The task of overseeing the book, which is dedicated to “the next generation of preachers of the cross,” and of writing its introduction fell to Mark Dever. He explains the connection between the book and the conference in this way:

Every once in a while God uses a conference such as this in a strategic way to put new heart in his under-shepherds and so bless his people. We prayed that this would be such a conference, that through it God would tune our hearts and minds to him as we thought and talked together about preaching the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. We prayed that those who attended would know great blessing from it.

Now, long after the conclusion of that event, we want to give thanks to God for the encouragement many did indeed experience as a result of that gathering and for the instruction given and friendships made there. In introducing this volume, which is comprised of the conference addresses, I want to say a little bit more about the history of the conference, the “heroes” we invited to join us, and the hopes that we had for the conference attendees—and for you as you prepare to read these messages.

 

Dever goes on to share the history of the conference, explaining how the four men came to know each other and to share a common desire to put together this conference.

It was at one of those meetings that, during our typically long, enjoyable, question-then-anecdote-then-straight-into-argument and- then-into-passionate-agreement conversations, one of us (I think it was Al, but we all were making the same kind of noises) remarked on the edifying nature of our conversations, and we all expressed a desire for pastors to experience this same sort of fellowship. As we talked, we came up with the idea of holding a conference at which the four of us would speak and afterward sit around and talk about the talks in front of our audience. (We talk about the talks late at night anyway, whenever we find ourselves together at a conference, although we do it without the audience!) We weren’t sure what kind of audience we would get for our event, but we knew that we’d enjoy it no matter who came; any benefit accruing to others would be a bonus.

And just like that a conference was born. Though there were and still are several important theological disagreements between these men, they gladly laid aside these secondary issues for the sake of the gospel. “We thought that interest in the conference might be generated in part because of our differences, which actually serve to highlight our agreements,” he writes. Dever discusses how they decided to invite three of their preaching heroes to the conference. He then introduces each of the three men: John MacArthur, R.C. Sproul and John Piper and reflects on the impact each of them has had on this group of men. I particularly enjoyed his description of John Piper:

And then there is that current evangelical rock star, John Piper! What a gift John is to the church. While too many of us are saying a lot of things quickly and running on to the next, John stops and stands and stays and stares at God’s Word. Sometimes he stares at something that seems so obvious, but he keeps staring until it begins to expand and fill the horizon of his sight. It becomes rich and detailed and luscious and intricate and full and demanding and hope-giving and life-affirming and sin-denying and sacrifice-requiring—and adjective-adding. John prays and thinks until a part of God’s Word which seemed simple and obvious becomes fresh and powerful.

The remainder of the book simply provides the content of each of the conference’s seven keynote addresses. Mark Dever draws a contrast between a real minister of the gospel and a counterfeit one, showing that a real pastor preaches a cross-centered message, lives a cross-centered life and has cross-centered followers. Ligon Duncan provides eight exhortations to preach Christ from the Old Testament and not to fall prey to dwelling only on the New Testament, tacitly creating a canon with the canon. Al Mohler encourages pastors to preach with the culture in view and helps the reader understand the cultural context in which we find ourselves. R.C. Sproul writes of the center of Christian preaching in the great doctrine of justification by faith alone, first presenting the Roman Catholic view of justification and then introducing the biblical understanding. John Piper discusses preaching as expository exultation for the glory of God, first reflecting on preaching that is shaped by the glory of God, then portraying the glory of God that inspires this kind of preaching, then offering his understanding of how people awaken to this glory, and finally explaining how all of this calls for the kind of preaching he calls expository exultation. C.J. Mahaney encourages pastors to heed Paul’s exhortation to Timothy to “watch your life and doctrine,” explaining both the importance of this and showing practical ways of doing so. Finally, John MacArthur wraps things up with his ten-point explanation of why he still preaches the gospel, even (or, more rightly, especially) after forty years of gospel ministry. The Together for the Gospel statement of affirmations and denials is included as well.

Some will wonder if there is any need for this book or may be disappointed that it offers little content that is different from the conference’s addresses. I think this book is a valuable addition to any library. While I was at the conference and now have access to the audio files, I found there was a great benefit to my soul in re-reading each of these chapters and in pausing, once again, to celebrate the gospel. Like the conference, this book provides a call for pastors to preach the gospel and to always keep the main thing the main thing. Where a million fads call pastors to do everything but preach the gospel, the authors of this book turn to Scripture to call us all back to a message that is immune to fads—a message that has stood unaltered for two thousand years. They call us to the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ. And there is nothing disappointing about that.

7 years 9 months ago
The Faithful Preacher is a book full of surprises and in the Foreword John Piper says this book serves as a blow against chronological snobbery and ethnocentricity. I would tend to agree. Despite having read a fair amount of church history and many biographies I had no idea that there were many “black puritans.” I had no idea that in the 18th century a black man could marry a white woman and pastor an all-white congregation for over three decades. I had no idea that the eminent theologian Charles Hodge had taught African Americans and prepared them for a life of ministry in Presbyterian and other Reformed churches. I suppose I had little idea that the early history of the Reformed church in the United States had many significant African American leaders. This book has tackled my ethnocentric view of this period of church history.

To do this, [the blogosphere’s own] Thabiti Anyabwile has turned to three prominent African American preachers of days past. He says “those who have gone before us, old friends with old ideas, have left us a proven track record of faithfulness and fruitfulness.” The old friends he turns to are Lemuel Haynes, Daniel Payne and Francis Grimké.

For each of the book’s three subjects, Anyabwile provides a brief biography, a reflection on some of the accomplishments of their lives, and a selection of some of their most important sermons. The biographies are somewhat reminiscent of what John Piper has done with his The Swans are Not Silent series, moving beyond mere biography and looking instead to meaning and church-wide impact. His first subject, Lemuel Haynes, who lived from 1753 to 1833. Anyabwile focuses on Haynes’ emphasis on viewing the pastoral ministry from the vantage point of eternity and the accounting that pastors will give to the Lord. For Payne (1811 to 1893) he shows how Payne instructs us on how importance of preparation and education, both in intellect and character, affect both the minister and his flock. And for Grimké (1850-1937), he describes the challenge this minister has left us to remember that the church and pastor, as they confront the world and the world’s problems, is first and foremost to teach and to live out the gospel.

In the lives and ministry of these men you will see men who model what it means to be faithful preachers. Anyabwile chose them principally because of “their consistently high and biblical view of the pastoral ministry. They greatly esteemed the privilege and responsibility of caring for God’s people, of cultivating and leading a ‘pure’ church, and of dedicating one’s self to representing Christ before a dying world. They were puritans. They committed themselves to sound theology in the pulpit, theologically informed practice in the church, and theologically reformed living in the world. They saw Christ in all things and endeavored to see Him glorified before all people.”

I thoroughly enjoyed reading The Faithful Preacher and am glad to recommend it. It is an interesting read and one that focuses some long-overdue attention on men who were faithful preachers and who have much to teach the church even today (and perhaps it would be better to say especially today).

7 years 10 months ago
Wayne Grudem has written a great deal about biblical manhood and womanhood. Besides articles in periodicals, he has written Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism which he co-authored with John Piper. He has written Evangelical Feminism and Biblical Truth: An Analysis of More Than 100 Disputed Questions and then two collections of essays he edited, Biblical Foundations for Manhood and Womanhood and Pastoral Leadership for Manhood and Womanhood.

The latest addition to this list is Evangelical Feminism: A New Path to Liberalism?. Grudem describes this book as “an expression of deep concern about a widespread undermining of the authority of Scripture in the arguments that are frequently used to support feminism. It is also a way of posing a question: can a movement that espouses this many ways of undermining the authority of Scripture possible be right?” The book’s argument, then, is that evangelical feminism sets those who affirm it on a slippery slope that will inevitably lead to liberalism.

It is important to define terms and Grudem, always a deliberate author, does just this. By theological liberalism he refers to “a system of thinking that denies the complete truthfulness of the Bible as the Word of God and denies the unique and absolute authority of the Bible in our lives.” And by evangelical feminism he means “a movement that claims there are no unique leadership roles for men in marriage or in the church.” Leadership in both the home and the church is to be shared equally between men and women according to their gifts and desires. He leads readers through five points:

  1. Liberal Protestant denominations pioneered evangelical feminism and now evangelical feminists have adopted many of the arguments earlier used by theological liberals to advocate women’s ordination and to reject male headship in marriage.
  2. Many prominent evangelical feminist writers advocate positions that either deny or undermine the authority of the Bible. Other egalitarians endorse books written by these people without taking a stance against those who deny Scripture’s authority.
  3. Recent trends show that evangelical feminists are heading towards the denial of anything uniquely masculine and some now even refer to God as “our Mother in heaven.”
  4. The history of others who have adopted these positions shows that the next step is the acceptance of homosexuality.
  5. The common thread running through these trends is a rejection of the authority of Scripture in people’s lives—the very bedrock principle of theological liberalism.

These dire predictions aside, Grudem is careful to affirm that there are some egalitarians who continue to uphold the authority of Scripture (men like Roger Nicole, Walter Kaiser, Jack Hayford, etc) but warns that, while these men may remain orthodox, those who follow them will likely drift further and further from affirming the authority of Scripture, for this is a common pattern in the church. These men, despite their good intentions and their love for the Bible, may be inadvertently leading the next generation astray.

Grudem provides a short chapter liberalism and women’s ordination, showing that there is no theologically liberal denomination or seminary in the United States today that opposes women’s ordination. This proves that liberalism and the approval of women’s ordination go hand in hand.

The heart of the book is contained in two sections. The first, with fifteen short chapters, examines evangelical feminist views that undermine or deny the authority of Scripture. These range from saying that Paul’s teaching on women’s roles was just plain wrong, to suggesting that women may preach or teach men as long as they are under the authority of a pastor, to relying on experience as the arbiter of what is right and true. The second section, with ten short chapters, examines evangelical feminist views that are based on untruthful or unsubstantiated claims. These include those who teach that Paul told the women in Corinth to “keep silent” because they were disrupted church services, that the word “head” actually means “source,” and that the Son is not subordinate to the Father in the Trinity. Grudem concludes “I cannot say for sure. But I can think of no other viewpoint or movement within the whole history of the Christian church (except theological liberalism itself) that has generated so many novel and ultimately incorrect ways of interpreting the Bible.”

Having provided the facts and having provided brief analysis, Grudem finally seeks to understand where evangelical feminism is taking the church. He concludes that the next step is to deny anything distinctly masculine. At the foundation of evangelical feminism, he feels, is a dislike of manhood itself. This will lead to a denial that there is anything uniquely masculine about God and allow people to refer to God as Mother. The danger here, of course, is that calling God “Mother” “is changing God’s own description of himself in the Bible. It is calling God by a name that he has not taking for himself. Therefore it is changing the way the Bible teaches us to think of God. It is thus changing our doctrine of God.” The final step along this trajectory is the widespread acceptance of homosexuality. Those who advocate the morality of homosexuality within a biblical context are using the very same arguments used by evangelical feminists. Churches that accept the arguments of evangelical feminists will have very little ground to stand on when they attempt (or if they attempt) to uphold the biblical condemnation of homosexuality.

What is ultimately at stake in evangelical feminism is the Bible itself. I appreciated Grudem taking his argument to its fullest extent and showing what is truly at stake here. Too often arguments about issues like evangelical feminism can proceed no further than the doctrine itself. I think Grudem has done the church a great service in showing and proving that this discussion is not merely about how particular churches operate. Rather, based on this discussion we can see which churches can remain faithful in the future and which will inevitably drift further and further from the authority of Scripture and thus further and further from God himself. If evangelical feminism is, indeed, a new path to an old problem, Grudem has shown just how seriously we need to take it.

8 years 3 months ago
As Baptists go, I consider myself quite charitable when it comes to beliefs on baptism. I suppose this is due to my Presbyterian background and my ongoing struggles with fully committing myself to either infant or believer’s baptism. I have studied the arguments made by both camps and see beauty and biblical support in both. Unfortunately, though, they cannot both be true which means that one must be wrong. I have aligned myself with the Baptist camp, a move that was initially as much out of necessity as conviction. I guess at this point I wish I felt conviction that paedo-baptism was biblical, but at this point it is not quite there.

Jim Elliff feels no such confusion. His small book Going Under presents five discussions on baptism. He gives biblical insight into five issues:

  • Recipient: baby or believer?
  • Method: sprinkle or immerse?
  • Purpose: symbolize or save?
  • Origin: refashioned or new?
  • Authority: anyone or a church?

His answers to these questions reveal, as we would expect, his firm belief in the Baptist position. Drawing from Scripture and from the history of the church, he defends believer’s baptism, full immersion, the symbolism of baptism, the newness of baptism (as opposed to the refashioning of the Old Testament rite of circumcision) and the authority of the church in administering this ordinance. It is clear that he has sought to understand the various understandings of baptism and does not speak rashly or falsely of any. Having said that, I thought he was perhaps a tad simplistic in his explanations of paedo-baptism in a covenantalist context. Still, there is only so much ground that can be covered in sixty pages.

Going Under is a brief but biblical examination of baptism and is one worth distributing within Baptist churches, for it will serve to educate those who may be considering making their faith public in this way.

8 years 5 months ago
Despite being Baptist, I love and admire Presbyterianism. My parents are Presbyterians and raised me in that environment. Though I may not necessarily believe in them, I am at least sympathetic to many of the tenets of Presbyterianism, such as covenant theology, infant baptism and the Presbyterian system of church government. It was with some interest, then, that I began to read On Being Presbyterian by Sean Michael Lucas. This book, recently published by P&R Publishing, is intended to serve as a primer on all things Presbyterian. Lucas wants to show “how a particular type of identity is formed, as the confluence of beliefs, practices and stories.” He seeks to introduce the beliefs, practices and stories that have converged to create Presbyterianism as it exists today.

These three divisions form the structure for the book. In the section dealing with beliefs, Lucas looks at God’s sovereignty, the priority of grace, covenant and kingdom, the nature and purpose of the church and the signs and seals of God’s grace. When dealing with practices, he examines piety, worship and church government. The final section looks at the genesis of Presbyterianism through the leadership of Calvin and Knox, and then turns to an examination of Presbyterianism in America. The book wraps up with an epilogue entitled “On Becoming Presbyterian” where he suggests what would be expected of a person who wished to adopt this system of beliefs and how a person might set about finding such a church body.

This book often recalled memories from my youth, many of which were very good memories. It helped me realize that in many ways I continue to be Presbyterian at heart, for it was necessity rather than desire that drove us out of these churches (there are far more solid Baptist churches in Canada than Presbyterian ones). While I do love Baptist churches, there is a part of me that will probably always be Presbyterian.

Ultimately, as a Baptist, I suppose that my view of this book only counts for so much. Eventually we’ll need to ask other Presbyterians for their views on the book. They are, after all, more qualified to pass judgment on it. So let’s look at some of the men who have endorsed this book. Ligon Duncan endorsed it saying it is a “popular introduction to Presbyterianism that I can put in the hands of Bible-believing, gospel-loved Presbyterians and other evangelicals interested in this part of the Christian family.” Bryan Chapell, President of Covenant Seminary, says “The people who fill Bible-believing Presbyterian churches increasingly have little Presbyterian background. Lucas provides a terrific resource to get everyone up speed.” John Muether of Reformed Theological Seminary says it is “A compelling and coherent account of the distinctive features of Presbyterian identity that draws the vital connection between Reformed faith and practice. Pastors, elders, and Presbyterian laypeople will want to study this book and pass it on to their children.”

I enjoyed On Being Presbyterian and would recommend it either to those who are interested in learning about the distinctives of Presbyterianism, or those who are Presbyterian and would like to learn and understand more about their beliefs, practices and history. It is well-written and quite easy to understand and absorb.

8 years 7 months ago
With the volume of books I read and review, I’ve found it valuable to be intentional about reading. Before I begin a book, I generally skim the endorsements, chapter titles and, if possible, the chapter divisions. I also usually skim the endnotes and bibliography, for these elements of the book often speak volumes about the book’s content. They can help me understand the book even before I begin the first chapter. Of course a potential problem with this practice is that it can lead me to form judgments about a book before I have even begun reading it. In the case of Transformation, a new book by Bob Roberts, here are the elements that stuck out in my mind based on my initial screening:
  • Proprietary language. As soon as I see newly-created words and terms, I know that a book is going to introduce either a new program or a new model of something. In this case, two of the books three sections were headed by such a word: T-Life and T-World.
  • The bibliography reads like a who’s who of popular influencers among emerging, missional church leaders. Among those listed are Dallas Willard, George Barna, Richard Foster, Mother Teresa, Soren Kierkegaard and G.K. Chesterton.
  • The final chapter is entitled “What Do You Get When a Church Combines Billy Graham with Mother Teresa?.
  • The book is endorsed by many of the leaders of the more conservative wing of the emerging church and some who are far into all things emergent. Among the endorsers are Ed Young, Leighton Ford, Bub Buford, Mark Driscoll, Ed Stetzer, Andrew Jones and Brian McLaren.

Having skimmed the book, I buckled down and worked my way through it, doing plenty of underlining and jotting down all sorts of little notes. What Roberts is calling for is a transformation (in case you didn’t understand that from the title!) in two spheres that are different, yet intimately connected: what he calls T-Life and T-World, which together comprise the T-Model. Or, in laymen’s terms, a transformed life which leads to a transformed world. Sound familiar? It should, in many respects, as Roberts is not the first person to call for just this type of revolution. The bridge that connects a transformed life to a transformed world, in Roberts’ model, is a person’s vocation. The age of the vocational missionary has largely passed and it is now time for individuals to do the work of spreading the gospel within their vocational contexts both at home and abroad. These locations are equally the mission field.

The book begins, as many do, with a chapter explaining the trouble with the contemporary church. Roberts seems to believe that the church has utterly failed in its mission. “Where is the church today speaking to justice and mercy? Where is the church today serving the poor and hurting? Where is the church today serving as a prophet to society?” (18). He feels that we cannot expect people to respond to the gospel if we don’t deal with issues at this level. Beside this section I wrote “Oh, come on!” That view is patently unfair. Sure the church may not be doing all she could do and we certainly fail in many ways, but to pretend that the church is doing so little for justice and mercy and poverty is to deny the work of many, if not most good churches. Roberts goes on to suggest that the church in the East is far more healthy and biblical than the church of the West. This is a view that is commonly touted, but one which I have never had proven to my satisfaction. Still, on the whole he does a fair job of assessing the church and of suggesting how she lost her way. He discusses pragmatism, consumerism, worldly standards of success and endless bureaucracies. He quickly shows, though, his Arminian understanding of the gospel. He also begins to slip into a problem that continues throughout the book: he makes sweeping statements without providing any sources or proof. He says, for example, that people who desire to be leaders are dangerous. This is his understanding based on the fact that Moses didn’t want to be a leader while Pharaoh did and that David didn’t want to be a leader while Saul did. That is not convincing proof as it is entirely possible that a man can desire to be a leader and not be at all dangerous! He also makes a potentially troubling statement when he begins to discount theological knowledge. “Merely believing the right things does not ensure Christlike behavior” (32). I don’t know of anyone who would hold such a view, but it could be equally dangerous to deny that beliefs inform behavior.

Roberts then asks how the church fits into God’s plan for the world. “The church is at is best when we are not a force outside the culture but when we are entrenched within the culture” (47). He presents a model based on concentric circles which shows how people are to be brought into the church and into relationship with God and then sent out again into kingdom service. He introduces the importance of missional service. Next up is a discussion of evangelism which focuses not on the message (and actually, the message is assumed in this book and never explicitly stated) but on making the gospel clear in our practice of evangelism. In other words, we need to appear as transformed people if our message is to be heard.

This brings us to the heart of the book, first a section discussing T-Life and then T-World. The T-Life model has three core elements: interactive relationship with God (reading the Bible, praying, journaling), transparent connections (authentic fellowship with other believers) and glocal impact (the bridge between a person’s vocation and ministry that spans community development locally and globally). He discusses the importance of community to the Christian life and shows that, while personal, this life can never be private, for connecting in community allows us to serve together. He asks “what if the church were the missionary?” What if it was the local church that understood itself to be responsible for missions? This, he feels, is the ultimate convergence between a person’s vocation and his ministry. He then introduces T-World, a vision of “every believer and every church engaging the world with the purpose of making a lasting difference” (122). It has three components: community development, church multiplication and nation building. As I indicated earlier, the book culminates in the question of “What Do You Get When a Church Combines Billy Graham with Mother Teresa?” T-World is “a marriage between the two. It is serving and boldly proclaiming. It is loving for love’s sake, whether they follow Christ or not, not using the gospel as some sort of religious bait. It is the unrestrained outward expression of the kingdom inside of us” (157). Of course this seems to present the gospel as action more than declaration, something I’m not sure the Scripture supports. Roberts feels, though, that this is how missions must be done in the twenty-first century. “It’s not about preaching; it’s about his kingdom. We’re primarily there to sweep floors and find connections for our laypeople to use their gifts and contacts with corporations” (156).

Woven throughout the book is a biographical thread of information which tells Roberts’ story and how he came from a typical Southern Baptist family and church and arrived at this new understanding of the church’s mission and there is much we can learn from his journey. His passion for this topic and his love of God is evident on almost every page. Thankfully, the book introduces a model more than a program or structure, for the last thing the church needs is another cookie-cutter program. While the book has much to offer, Roberts sometimes shows a lack of discernment that is cause for concern, sometimes turning to other undiscerning sources and expressing that he has enjoyed Roman Catholic worship. The book is premised on an understanding of the mission of the church and a non-proclamatory gospel that I simply don’t feel the Scriptures can support. There is much wisdom to glean, but the premise of the book simply doesn’t hold.

8 years 7 months ago
Mark Driscoll is one of those guys I just cannot figure out. Despite being only thirty-six years old, he pastors a church of over 3,000 people, is President of a major church-planting network and is considered one of the fifty most influential pastors in America. I am not the only one confused by Driscoll who is varyingly described as emerging, missional, Reformed, sarcastic and vulgar (all of which are true of him). He is immortalized in Don Miller’s Blue Like Jazz as Mark the Cussing Pastor (a title Mark seems to feel is both funny and well-deserved), but is increasingly being asked to speak at events alongside people I simply cannot imagine either cussing or delighting in such a reputation (he will, for example, appear along with John Piper, D.A. Carson and others at the 2006 Desiring God National Conference).

It was with great interest, then, that I began Confessions of a Reformission Rev., a book which is partly autobiographical and partly a biography of Mars Hill Church. And indeed Driscoll and his church are, in many ways, inseparable. The book begins with “Ten Questions,” a chapter which defines various important terms and introduces the concepts Driscoll wrote about in his first book, Radical Reformission. The remainder of the book follows the growth of the church from 0 people to the future where Driscoll hopes to have at least 10,000 people attending each Sunday. The chapter titles and structure are as follows:

  1. Jesus, Our Offering Was $137 and I Want to Use it to Buy Bullets - 0-45 People
  2. Jesus, If Anyone Else Calls My House, I May Be Seeing You Real Soon - 45-75 People
  3. Jesus, Satan Showed Up and I Can’t Find My Cup - 75-150 People
  4. Jesus, Could You Please Rapture the Charismaniac Lady Who Brings Her Tambourine to Church? - 150-350 People
  5. Jesus, Why Am I Getting Fatter and Meaner? - 350-1,000 People
  6. Jesus, Today We Voted to Take a Jackhammer to Your Big Church - 1,000-4,000 People
  7. Jesus, We’re Loading Our Squirt Guns to Charge Hell Again - 4,000-10,000 People

As is suggested by the title, the book is confessional. Driscoll is transparent in discussing his own shortcomings and failures and in accepting blame for many of the problems the church encountered through the years. He was, after all, immature and unprepared for the task that lay before him. In many ways the church grew through trial and error. Often Driscoll encountered a particular question or problem and wrestled with Scripture to understand what the Bible taught on that subject. He shares many of these in this book. Among the issues he discusses are ecclesiology (the organizational structure of a church), reformed theology, expository preaching, and the role of women in the leadership of the church. On the whole it seems that, when faced with such challenges, he was faithful to Scripture. These times of seeking after God’s will for his church shows that he truly does seek to honor God.

Mark Driscoll was one of the early leaders in what has come to be known as the emerging or emergent church. He is careful to define both terms, suggesting that he still believes in the principles upon which the emerging church was founded, but deliberately separates himself from the emergent crowd and such men as Brian McLaren. On pages 21 and 22 he says that “the emergent church is the latest version of liberalism. The only difference is that old liberalism accomodated modernity and the new liberalism accomodates postmodernity.” As for Driscoll, he “swim[s] in the theologically conservative stream of the emerging church.”

He also discusses issues of cessationism and continuationism, though not in those terms. He comes out clearly in favor of the continuing gifts. “Up to this point,” he says, “I had been basically a theological cessationist and a fan of fundamentalist straw-man attacks on charismatic Christians. It wasn’t until some years later, however, that I came to see the cessationists’ interpretation of 1 Corinthians 12-14 as the second worst exegesis I have ever read, next to that of a Canadian nudist arsonist cult I once did some research one” (121). He often speaks of visions, dreams, healings and prophetic words which continue to guide him to this day.

There is much in this book that is very good. Driscoll has some very good insights into culture, Scripture and human nature. These are just a few of the many quotes I marked as being particularly interesting, thought-provoking or insightful:

  • “I’m still not sure if most pastors are aware that their churches are comprised of people they don’t yet know. Those people will never come to the churches, so the pastors need to go to those people” (61).
  • “The professor wound up getting divorced a few times, which just proved to me that often people who mess with the Bible want to sin instead of repent, which explains why they bury Scripture under philosophical fads (Rom 1:18)” (78).
  • “I was wrestling through some theological issues, such as election, predestination, and other matters generally known as reformed theology. So I taught through the book of Romans on Sunday nights, which helped to clarify our doctrinal convictions as a church and cemented us as a church with a reformed view of God and salvation. If you don’t know what that means, the gist is that you people suck and God saves us from ourselves. For more details, you can read the book I’ll write on it in the future or just accept a plain, literal reading of Romans, particular Romans 9-11” (85).
  • “I feared that if we did not put our marriage and children above the demands of the church, we would end up with the lukewarm, distant marriage that so many pastors have because they treat their churches as mistresses that they are more passionate about than their brides” (102).
  • “As I studied the Bible, I found more warrant for a church led by unicorns than by majority vote” (103).

Despite the many great quotes, there were a couple which I felt showed lack of discernment in theology, and equally troubling, several that which I felt were in poor taste, displaying the vulgarity for which Driscoll has formed something of a reputation. There are a few that are similar to this, using a pejorative term where a more tasteful one would have been, in my opinion, more appropriate: “Every one of them was older than me, a chronic masturbator, a porn addict, and banging weak-willed girls like a screen door in a stiff breeze…” (128). I also found this one quite disturbing:

This was drilled home for me one night when the church phone in our house rang at some godforsaken hour when I’m not even a Christian, like 3:00 a.m. I answered it in a stupor, and on the other end was some college guy who was crying. I asked him what was wrong, and he said it was an emergency and he really need to talk to me. Trying to muster up my inner pastor, I sat down and tried to pretend I was concerned. I asked him what was wrong, and he rambled for a while about nothing, which usually means that a guy has sinned and is wasting time with dumb chitchat because he’s ashamed to just get to the point and confess. So I interrupted him blurting out, “It’s three a.m., so stop jerking me around. What you have done?”

“I masturbated,” he said.

“That’s it?” I said.

“Yes,” he replied. “Tonight I watched a porno and I masturbated.”

“Is the porno over?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said.

“Was it a good porno?” I asked.

He did not reply.

“Well, you’ve already watched the whole porno and tugged your tool, so what am I supposed to do?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” he said. “You are my pastor, so I thought that maybe you could pray for me.”

To be honest, I did not want to pray, so I just said the first thing that came to mind. “Jesus, thank you for not killing him for being a pervert. Amen,” I prayed.

“Alright, well you should sleep good now, so go to bed and don’t call me again tonight because I’m sleeping and you are making me angry,” I said.

“Well, what am I supposed to do now?” he asked.

“You need to stop watching porno and crying like a baby afterward and grow up, man. I don’t have time to be your accountability partner, so you need to be a man and nut up and take care of this yourself. A naked lady is good to look at, so get a job, get a wife, ask her to get naked, and look at her instead. Alright?” I said.

 

I cannot understand why he feels this type of quote is necessary. While this book is filled with confession, the one thing Driscoll does not seem to regret is his reputation as a loose canon and a man whose mouth is often filthy. I wonder if this will be the subject of another of his biblical studies. I hope it will be, for whatever he may feel he gains through this crudeness, it simply cannot be God-honoring. Scripture affirms many times that what comes out of the mouth is a sure indication of what is in the heart. Thus we have good reason to examine what we say and how we say it, for words are merely symptoms of what lies inside.

In the end analysis, I really did enjoy Confessions of a Reformission Rev.. There is much in this book that is edifying. It helped me understand Mark Driscoll and showed how he grew a megachurch in a largely unchurched city in only eight years. He is clearly a passionate, focused man who is genuinely seeking hard after God. He has much to offer the church. I wonder, though, how long his message will be heard as long as it is wrapped in a sometimes vulgar, always sarcastic, package. It may endear him to some, but it will surely alienate him from far more.

8 years 7 months ago
Though I have never met him, Gary Gilley has had a signficant impact on my life. He was one of two people who was most influential in my decision to begin blogging and to use this site to review books. His many book reviews were very helpful to me and made me realize that if he could review books and post them on the web, I could too. I was honored when he agreed to participate in the Discerning Reader review program as I trust his book reviews almost implicitly.

Gilley wrote This Little Church Went To Market to address and answer the question of whether the modern church, through the myriad marketing programs it uses, is reaching out or selling out. Initially self-published, the book has since been expanded and re-released by Evangelical Press. This book is a damning indictment of the market-driven churches that are so popular today. Having extensively studied the issues Gilley writes about in this book, I am comfortable saying that this is the best introduction to “the church in the age of entertainment” that I have read. Gilley contends that the church has sold out to our culture so that the influences of the culture have become the influences in the church. The most significant forces pressing against the church are entertainment, market driven philosophies and psychology. These three are largely absent from the Bible, yet are startlingly prevalent in evangelical churches. The leaders and issues he concentrates on most are Rick Warren and his book The Purpose Driven Church, Bill Hybels and Lee Strobel.

Having discussed the forces that are impacting the church, Gilley spends several chapters examining how these forces have impacted evangelical churches. He quotes extensively throughout the book from other believers who have covered this topic such as John MacArthur, Os Guinness and Michael Horton as well as from unbelievers such as Neal Postman. Finally he concludes that churches built on seeker sensitive model will be built on the wrong foundation, will teach the wrong message, will focus on the wrong need and will misunderstand preaching and worship. In other words, these churches will bear little resemblance to a New Testament, Bible-based church.

Through this book Gilley manages to approach the topics in a rational manner and never comes across as being obnoxious or blinded to the heart of the issues. He truly does understand both the New Testament model and the new evangelical model and is able to adequately compare them. The back cover tells us that the book “is a call for the Church to return to its scriptural roots” and that is right on the mark. This book examines contemporary issues and calls the church to return to the Source to discover what God would have us be. I highly recommend this one.

8 years 7 months ago
Last year I had the great privilege of attending the Shepherd’s Conference held at Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California. I was blessed to be able to sit under the teaching of such well known teachers as John MacArthur, R.C. Sproul, Al Mohler, J. Ligon Duncan and Mark Dever. I benefitted greatly from being challenged by the messages these men delivered. Yet I believe that the greatest blessing of the week spent in California was not in hearing these speakers, wonderful though they were, but in being in the presence of thousands of pastors. There is no vocation I hold in higher esteem than the gospel ministry and it was a profound blessing to be able to spent a week with so many of these ordinary men who have dedicated their lives to sharing and preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ.

The Gospel Ministry, edited by Philip Eveson, is a book whose contents were originally messages delivered at a symposium on the gospel ministry in the present day at the John Owen Centre for Theological Study in London, England. Like the men I was privileged to sit among in California, the men who contributed to this book are primarily men who have devoted their lives to the ministry. Each of the seven chapters deals with a particular aspect of the ministry. Topics range from the biblical and historical basis of the gospel ministry to examinations of the role of minister as evangelist and pastor. Particularly convicting chapters deal with “The gospel minister as preacher” and “The training of the gospel minister.”

Perhaps the aspect of the book that most appealed to me was the fact that the authors are, by and large, ordinary pastors. These are not world-renowned scholars, but men who have had their understanding of the ministry shaped by being in the trenches. They are, first and foremost, ministers. This is not a book that has originated from academia or that deals with generalities. Rather, it is a book that comes from the hearts of pastors and that deals with what ought to be of great importance to other pastors.

The Gospel Ministry is a practical, accessible book. I am sure that it would prove a blessing to any pastor who chose to read it. I am glad to recommend it to pastors and laypersons alike.

8 years 11 months ago
It was just over one hundred years ago that the great preacher Charles Spurgeon began the long battle that would ultimately cost him his life. He saw in the church of that era a trend away from the preaching of the gospel and towards entertainment. The church began to focus on pleasing people rather than preaching the gospel in all its offense and power. The battle Spurgeon waged became known as The Downgrade Controversy.

Now, a full century later, John MacArthur is sounding the alarm to warn discerning believers that the crisis the church faced in the late 19th century has come to the modern-day church. The church is, once again, on the downgrade. While Spurgeon fought against the influence of liberalism in the church, today we need to fight against the influx of pragmatism. Believing that those who ignore history are dooming themselves to repeat it, he has written Ashamed of the Gospel to show that the alarms Spurgeon sounded are equally relevant in the 21st century church. To prove this point he precedes each chapter with a relevant quote from Spurgeon.

MacArthur believes that the root cause of the downgrade of our day is a deep-rooted shame for the gospel. The church has grown ashamed of the purity and simplicity of the gospel. In place of traditional “old-time religion” the church has begun to substitute a “show-time religion” that focuses on entertainment more than the preaching of the Word. Pleasing the goats has taken precedent over feeding the sheep - glitter over the gospel. Doctrinal purity has been replaced by pragmatism, what God commands by what works.

The themes of the book are easy to discern from an overview of the chapter titles. Some of the chapter titles are: Christianity on the Down-Grade, The User-Friendly Church, Gimme That Showtime Religion, All Things To All Men, The Foolishness of God, and I Will Build My Church.

Equally fascinating as the book are the appendices. The first is a history of the Downgrade Controversy, the second an examination of Charles Finney’s contribution to pragmatism in the church, the third an essay by the puritan preacher Thomas Boston entitled Carnal vs Spiritual wisdom and the fourth an update on Evangelicals and Catholics Together. The final appendix is especially interesting as it allows MacArthur a forum to explain how ECT came together and why he stood strong against it.

A courageous book that has likely earned MacArthur far more enemies than friends, I highly recommend this book to all believers, both clergy and laity, but especially those who are discontent with much of the modern church-growth movement. If you have read books like The Purpose Driven Church you owe it to yourself to balance that book with this one. You will not regret it.

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