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Tim Challies

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gospel

7 years 5 months ago
The doctrine of penal substitution doesn’t, on the face of it, sound too glorious. It is a doctrine involving curse, punishment, blood and death. It is little wonder that people object to it so strenuously. Indeed, this teaching has been at the very center of a rift within the church—a rift that seems to be growing ever-wider and ever more visible. Once the realm of scholars cloistered away in the ivory towers of academia, the battle against this doctrine has recently reached the popular level and it has come under attack by influential and popular evangelical leaders. Needless to say, controversy has followed, and for good reason.

Pierced for our Transgressions: Rediscovering the Glory of Penal Substitution is the product of Steve Jeffery, Mike Ovey and Andrew Sach, all of whom are connected to Oak Hill Theological College in London, England. It carries a Foreword by John Piper. The book, published by Inter-Varsity Press, is currently available only in the U.K.(though rumors abound that it is available at a few stores in this part of the world). Crossway has secured the North American rights and will be releasing it on this side of the Atlantic in the fall.

The book is written for the serious and thoughtful general reader. Those who aspire to read nothing more complicated than Yancey or Lucado may find this a challenging, though surely enlightening, read. Those who tend towards works of serious theology will find it eminently readable. Those hoping for an exhaustive scholarly treatment of the subject will be disappointed.

The authors do not keep the reader waiting to learn what this doctrine entails. The first sentence of the first chapter is this: “The doctrine of penal substitution states that God gave himself in the person of his Son to suffer instead of us the death, punishment and curse due to fallen humanity as the penalty for sin.” They say, rightly, that this understanding of the cross stands at the very center of the gospel message as given us in the Bible. What may seem so coarse, so vulgar, so bloody is, must be seen to be beautiful by those whose lives have been transformed by the victory won at so great a cost. It is, as per the book’s subtitle, a glorious doctrine and one the church would do well to rediscover. While relatively few have renounced the doctrine, too few have even been explicitly aware of its existence.

The book’s content falls in two parts. In the first the authors make the case for penal substitution, looking to the Bible, to associated theology, to its pastoral importance and to its long historical pedigree in the Christian faith. In the second part they turn to the critics, answering the charges that have been lodged against the doctrine. While there is much value to be mined in the latter half, it is the former that is of most profound importance. It is here that the doctrine is laid out, it is here that it is defended. We see that this doctrine is found in both Testaments and that it is foundational to our understanding of Jesus’ mission, both in the way it was foreshadowed in the Old Testament through sacrifice and prophecy and in the way it was fulfilled and applied in the New. Though the authors are unable to provide an exhaustive treatment, something which could easily run to several volumes, they do provide a valuable overview of this doctrine’s biblical basis. They turn next to this doctrine’s place in the wider context of Christian theology, showing how it is inexorably connected to other Christian doctrine. After touching on the pastoral implications of maintaining the place of this doctrine, anticipating the charge that this theology is but a modern addition to Christianity, they defend it historically, showing how it has a historical pedigree that spans the two thousand years of church history. Finally, with the theology firmly in place, they move deliberately and confidently through objection after objection, charge after charge, responding to the critics of this doctrine. They are nothing if not thorough.

Endorsed by a veritable who’s who of conservative evangelicals, this book is sure to clearly delineate the divide between those who hold to the historic Protestant position on this doctrine and those who do not. It has already done this in the U.K. and we expect it to do the same on the other side of the Atlantic when it is released later this year. I pray that it is widely read, widely studied and widely influential. Jeffery, Ovey and Sach have done the church a service with this volume. I’m grateful for it and commend it to you.

You can buy it at Westminster Books or at Amazon:

8 years 8 months ago
When it comes to evangelism, it seems that Calvinists have quite a poor reputation in the church today. Most of the largest and seemingly most successful mission organizations were founded by Arminians and continue to be based around Arminian theology. Arminian churches seem to grow much faster than churches based on Calvinist principles. It seems that part of the reason for this is that Calvinists have such a high view of God’s sovereignty that it is easy for them to assume that there is no reason for Christians to evangelize. After all, if God truly is sovereign, if He does control absolutely everything, what reason is there to evangelize? If God has ordained someone will be saved, they reason, that person will be saved regardless of my efforts. Perhaps evangelism is even sinful, for is it possible that it actually denies God’s sovereignty?

It is against this backdrop that J.I. Packer wrote Evangelism & The Sovereignty of God, a classic study on the relationship between God’s sovereignty and the necessity of evangelism. A short but exceedingly powerful book, Packer shows that rather than precluding evangelism, God’s sovereignty provides the most powerful incentive and support for it.

Packer begins by presenting the concept of antinomy, which he defines as “an appearance of contradiction between conclusions which seem equally logical, reasonable or necessary.” An antinomy we face as believers is that of God’s sovereignty and human responsibility. Somehow, although God is absolutely sovereign, He has ordained that we would be responsible for our involvement in His plans. Our obedient response to this antinomy is to accept it for what it is and learn to live with it. Any other response would be to minimize something God deems important and even necessary to a godly life. We cannot see Divine sovereignty and human responsible as opposites or principles that are in conflict with each other, but rather as principles that complement each other and are equally true.

The author turns to a lengthy discussion of evangelism where he defines what evangelism is and what it is not. He speaks of the message of evangelism as well as the motive and means for it. He concludes with an examination of how God’s sovereignty affects evangelism. Packer’s conclusion is that “We would not wish to say that man cannot evangelize at all without coming to terms with this doctrine [God’s sovereignty]; but we venture to think that, other things being equal, he will be able to evangelize better for believing it.”

For a book weighing in at a mere 126 pages, this one contains impressive depth and contains a thorough and satisfying treatment of the subject. I highly recommend this book for all believers and trust anyone will be able to learn and grow through it.

8 years 11 months ago
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1). Jesus, our Lord and our God, was and is full of grace and truth. We, his people, have far too often been anything but. It is this paradox, the paradox between grace and truth, that is the subject of a small book by Randy Alcorn (only 96 pages), part of the “Lifechange Books” series.

Alcorn says, “People had only to look at Jesus to see what God is like. People today should only have to look at us to see what Jesus is like. For better or worse, they’ll draw conclusions about Christ from what they see in us. If we fail the grace test, we fail to be Christlike. If we fail the truth test, we fail to be Christlike. If we pass both tests, we’re like Jesus.” And our world is in desperate need of Jesus, and the fullness of His grace and truth.

There sometimes seems to be a conflict between grace and truth. So many Christians appear to emphasize one or the other but so few seem to be able to maintain both. Alcorn teaches balance, but not a balance of 50 percent grace and 50 percent truth, but a Christlike balance of 100 percent grace and 100 percent truth. The Grace and Truth Paradox examines how we can resolve the apparent contradiction between these two ideals. The model is, of course, Jesus, who never sacrificed perfection in either grace or truth. He never emphasized one at the expense of the other.

The solution the author provides is biblically sound. He shows that we can be filled with grace while never compromising the truth. He shows that grace and truth are, in reality, inseparable, for often withholding truth is tantamount to withholding grace. He shows that, ultimately, the grace and truth paradox is also a paradigm - a way of looking at and understanding life. People need the direction of truth to know where to go and the empowerment of grace to get there. Anything less than both grace and truth is neither.

I enjoyed this book and found it challenging to my faith. In fact, the only real problem I had with the book was that Alcorn turned to the old, tired, sad cliché of contrasting Mother Teresa and Hitler as the pinnacles of good and evil. Surely we can do better than that! Still, this is a biblical and satisfying book and one I am glad to recommend.

9 years 1 month ago
Twelve Ordinary Men, John MacArthur’s book on the apostles, was a surprise hit. After the book stayed on the bestseller lists for over a year, Thomas Nelson suggested publishing a second volume, this one dealing with some of the best-known women of the Bible. MacArthur accepted the challenge and drew up a long list of possible subjects. “I admit that I chose the twelve women featured here by a completely unscientific process: I weighed their relative importance in biblical history alongside the amount of material I had already developed on each of them as I have taught through various passages of Scripture. Then I chose the twelve women who were most familiar to me.” Twelve Extraordinary Women is not exactly a sequel to MacArthur’s Twelve Ordinary Men, yet it bears many similarities. Like its predecessor (and unlike the majority of MacArthur’s books), Twelve Extraordinary Women is not primarily expository. Instead, it is a series of brief character studies. Like Twelve Ordinary Men, it is ideally suited for personal or group study, and is intensely practical.

The women MacArthur chose as subjects for this book are: Eve, Sarah, Rahab, Ruth, Hannah, Mary, Anna, The Samaritan Woman, Martha and Mary, Mary Magdalene and Lydia. “My prayer for you is that as you read this book you will share their faith, imitate their faithfulness, and learn to love the Savior whose work in their lives made them truly extraordinary. Your life can be extraordinary, too, by His wonderful grace.”

The format of the book will be familiar to those who have read Twelve Ordinary Men. MacArthur spends a chapter discussing each of the women (though Martha and Mary share a single chapter) and shows that what made each of these women extraordinary was nothing they brought to God, but the work of the Savior in their lives. Each of them had a deep reverence towards God and trusted His promises, whether they looked forward to a time when the Savior would come, or whether they looked back at his death and resurrection. Some of them stood between the New and Old Testament eras, even witnessing with their own eyes the redemptive sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

By way of introduction, MacArthur writes about the high position given to women within Scripture. Women are never relegated to a secondary status and, unlike so many other religions, are never degraded and considered less important than men. From the beginning of the New Testament era to the close of the canon of Scripture we see God granting extraordinary privilege to women. There are countless women in the Bible who stand as examples of faithfulness, integrity, hospitality and every other admirable virtue. “The faithfulness of these women is their true, lasting legacy. I hope as you meet them in Scripture and get to know more about their lives and characters, they will challenge you, motivate you, encourage you, and inspire you with love for the God whom they trusted and served. May your heart be set ablaze with the very same faith, may your life be characterized by a similar faithfulness, and may your soul be overwhelmed with love for the extraordinary God they worshiped.”

Each of the subsequent eleven chapters is a study of a particular woman, with MacArthur shining light on the Scriptural accounts of each subject. Each chapter is practical, showing how the virtues exemplified in the lives of the women can be applied to the life of the reader. The reader is show how he, too, can be extraordinary through the power of God.

Twelve Extraordinary Women is a worthy successor to Twelve Ordinary Men. This book is both informative and inspiring. It will lead the reader to understand what each of these twelve women surely knew, that God was the truly extraordinary one, as He conformed such ordinary women to the likeness of their Savior. I highly recommend this book for both personal and group study.

9 years 5 months ago
Most Christians have heard of Reformed theology. Most think they have a good handle on it. But experience has shown me that few really know it as well as they think they do. And that goes for people who claim to be Reformed as much as those who do not. This cannot be said of R.C. Sproul. Not only does Sproul have an amazingly broad but detailed grasp of Reformed theology, but he has also been gifted with the ability to explain complex theology in a way that is both interesting and understandable. That is no common gift.

What Is Reformed Theology?, which was formerly published under the more obscure title Grace Unknown, is Sproul’s attempt to help others understand the basics of Reformed theology. Surprisingly, only fifty percent of the book is dedicated to a discussion of the Five Points. The first half provides the foundations for Reformed theology which so many similar books have overlooked. Without first understanding the foundations, the reader will have a much more difficult time understanding the Five Points. And so Sproul begins by discussing God’s sovereignty; the importance of Scripture as the only infallible rule for our faith; faith alone; Christ’s threefold office of Prophet, Priest and King; and Covenant Theology. Each of these is explained in detail, yet with sufficient precision that they are simple enough to understand.

The second half of the book is an examination of the Five Points of Calvinism: Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace and Perseverence of the Saints. Like many other theologians, Sproul has come to see that this acrostic, while helpful, does as much to obscure the points as it does to clarify them. Sproul prefers to speak of Radical Corruption, Sovereign Choice, Purposeful Atonement, Effective Calling and Preservation of the Saints. These terms do much to clarify common misunderstandings. For example, it is easy to assume from the term “Total Depravity” that Reformed Christians believe humans are exactly as evil and depraived as they could be - their depravity is total. Yet Reformed theology teaches that while humans are corrupt, and even radically corrupt, they are so in extent, not in degree. Depravity extends to every aspect of the person, but thanks to the grace of God the degree may be more or less.

I must note that as helpful as this book is, it is not one to give your unsaved friend. Sproul assumes knowledge of the Bible and of Christian theology. Even a young Christian may have a difficult time wrestling with some of the terms and concepts. It is ideal, though, for the Reformed believer who is seeking to clarify his beliefs or for the non-Reformed Christian who wants to understand what Reformed theology is all about.

Accessible, biblical and educational, this is one of the best books I have read on the subject, and it just so happens that I have read quite a few. Sproul has done Christianity a service by so clearly articulating the foundations and beliefs of Reformed theology. Needless to say, I give it my recommendation.

  Evaluation Support
Theology/Accuracy
You can’t do much better than R.C. Sproul.
 
Readability
Sproul does a good job at making the book accessible.
Uniqueness
While many books cover this subject, few pay attention to the foundations.
Importance
A book like this helps clarify the Gospel message.
  Overall
A great book that shows R.C. Sproul at his best, defending the purity of the Gospel.
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9 years 5 months ago

In this day and age we are presented with book after book telling Christians to embrace the mystery of God, and to emphasize narrative while downplaying exposition. Apparently John Stott never received the memo. Why I Am A Christian is not Blue Like Jazz or a story the Emergent crowd would support. Instead it is a logical, biblical examination of the claims of Christ and the reasons John Stott is a Christian.

The book was inspired by a public address delivered by Bertrand Russell’s in 1927 entitled “Why I Am Not A Christian.” While the book does not directly interact with Russell’s arguments, it does provide the opposite perspective. Through seven chapters Stott provides seven reasons that he is a Christian and an invitation for the reader to join him in the kingdom. Here are the six reasons Stott is a Christian:

  1. Because the Hound of Heaven relentlessly pursued him. He did not find Christ; rather, Christ found him.
  2. Because he is convinced that the claims of Christ are true.
  3. Because of the cross of Christ which gives Jesus His credibility.
  4. Because Christianity best explains the paradox of our humanity.
  5. Because Jesus Christ is the key to freedom.
  6. Because only Christ can fulfill many of the most basic human longings and aspirations.

The book concludes with “the greatest of all invitations” - an invitation for the reader to receive Jesus as Lord and Savior.

The book is well-written and generally theologically-sound. It is, on the whole, consistent with a Reformed understanding of the faith. The only real concern I had was with several references to Malcolm Muggeridge whom Stott refers to as an example of another man (along with himself, the apostle Paul, Augustine and C.S. Lewis) who was pursued by the Hound of Heaven. This choice seems inconsistent with much of the theology taught within the book, as Muggeridge was, of course, a devout Roman Catholic. I suppose this is consistent with Stott’s recent ecumenical leanings. It is too bad as it calls into question what Stott really believes.

Why I Am A Christian is a good book and one I can recommend with only a small amount of hesitation. It is well-suited to provide to a friend or family-member who is interested in learning more about the Christian faith. It is a good “giveaway” book. I can’t say that it would be my first choice, but you could certainly do far worse.

  Evaluation Support
Theology/Accuracy
Quite strong, biblical and relevant.
 
Readability
Both easy and enjoyable to read and understand.
Uniqueness
Not so unique. There are quite a few books along these lines.
Importance
I would choose other titles before this one.
  Overall
It’s not that it’s a bad book…it just didn’t really do much for me.
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9 years 6 months ago

Much has been written in recent years about marketing the church. Of all the books I’ve read, both for and against marketing the church, few have been as helpful or as biblical as Selling Out the Church. The authors set out to answer the question of whether the market-drive church can remain Christ’s church. While many proponents of church marketing consider this debate to be over, the authors of this book consider it wide open. “We hope to enable a more robust debate about the wisdom of employing church marketing by articulating as clearly as we can what we take to be its dangers” (page 16). They ask the reader to consider this book “a contribution to what we hope is a churchwide conversation about the identity, character, and mission of the church, and more specifically about the wisdom of employing marketing thinking and practices in the service of that church” (page 17).

Church marketers believe that marketing is a neutral force, in that it shapes only the form of the church while leaving the function alone. Kenneson and Street disagree, for they believe that the convictions that shape marketing are at cross purposes with the convictions of Christians.

Following an introduction to the history of marketing, where the reader sees how society has passed through three eras, the production era, the sales era and now the marketing era, the authors answer the church marketers who taught that Jesus and His apostles used marketing to further their ministry in New Testament times. While Jesus used components of marketing, they show that He did not subscribe to a marketing orientation as do the church marketers. In short, they show that there is no biblical basis to support such a marketing orientation. In fact, the marketing orientation is antithetical to Christianity because it presupposes an exchange mindset in which goods or services pass between parties. Yet the Gospel is a message of grace. There is no equal exchange. Instead, God gives us a gift of grace. A marketing mindset may lead us to feel that God has an obligation towards us (in which we exchange service for blessing) or may lead us to seek reciprocity in relationships, despite the biblical emphasis on self-denial.

“We believe that placing a marketing orientation at the center of the church’s life radically alters the shape and character of the Christian faith by redefining the character and mission of the church in terms of manageable exchanges between producers and consumers. Much that is central to the Christian life will not fit neatly into the management/marketing scheme, and, not surprisingly, these matters are neglected in a marketing paradigm.” (page 62).

The authors go on to examine the false understanding that the church is primarily a service agency that exists to meet the needs of the “consumer,” believer and unbeliever alike. This view teaches that a felt need is a legitimate need because in a marketing paradigm the customer is always right. At the heart of marketing is an assumption that theology has long denied - that people know what is best for them. Scripture teaches the exact opposite - that the church has something people need, but something these people do not want and do not know they need! The church has no business asking unbelievers (ie consumers) what they would like in a church, for the church already knows their deepest need.

A chapter entitled “The Baby Boomerang” examines the danger of the marketing practices of segmenting, targeting and positioning. While segmenting is a practice that comes naturally to humans, who naturally gravitate towards people like ourselves, we do so along “natural” lines that are in reality social constructs. We look to the population of a town and divide them along socio-economic lines and assume that God does too. When the church relies on marketing strategies that reach only a certain segment of the population, the church is excused from having to be genuinely transformed to reach the world. We need to change only a little in order to reach people who are just like us, but we need to change radically to reach people who are radically different. “The unspoken message of target marketing is that the church need not be different from the world; it simply needs to package itself differently, position itself properly, and enjoy the benefits that come from engaging in mutually beneficial exchanges with its target market” (page 93).

The authors begin to put all of these concepts together in the sixth chapter. They show that marketers understand that the appeal of the marketing approach is the fixation our society has on control, measurement and effectiveness. Marketing, at its core, is an attempt to control the future. Furthermore, marketing is premised upon the need to move towards the future with limited resources of time, manpower and finances. Yet Christ tells us that in Him we have abundance! We do not need to worry so much about where we are going or how we are going to get there. Rather we need to ensure that we are learning from God along the way as He shapes us into the men and women He wants us to be. Kenneson and Street question where church marketers leave room for God in the grand drama of the church. They also point out the danger in valuing measurable objectives because this tends to filter out theological objectives that cannot be neatly weighed and measured. Thus goals tend to be number-driven even though numbers are not a reliable indicator of theological depth and understanding.

The crux of the matter is this. The authors believe that the church is called to be a sign, foretaste and herald of the kingdom. This phrase is repeated often because it stands at odds with the understanding that the church is a service agency. Strangely, if there is a weakness in this book, it is that the authors did not do much to prove that this is the purpose of the church. If a person reads Selling Out the Church who is not convinced of this premise, the book may do little to change his mind.

Reading through my review I can see that I have done little to indicate just how thoroughly I enjoyed this book. What can I say, but that of the fifty plus books I have read thus far in 2005, this is one of the top two or three. I would recommend it to any pastor or person who ministers within a church.

  Evaluation
Theology/Accuracy
It is deeply theological, and right on target.
Readability
Written to be accessible to nearly anyone.
Uniqueness
One of the few books that approaches the topic from this perspective.
Importance
A profoundly important book that will help you rethink the purpose and function of the church.
  Overall
I absolutely recommend this book to any Christian, but in particular to those in positions of leadership.
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9 years 8 months ago
“More than at any time in the past, Roman Catholics and evangelicals are working together. They are standing shoulder to shoulder against social evils. They are joining across denominational boundaries in renewal movements. And many evangelicals are finding the history, tradition and grandeur of the Roman Catholic Church appealing.” While these words, taken from the back cover of The Roman Catholic Controversy were written nearly ten years ago, they are as true today as a decade ago. In the past couple of weeks, following the death of pope John Paul 2, we have seen new evidence of the softening of Protestant attitudes towards Rome. And while it once seemed that anyone who “crossed the Tiber” was turning his back on Rome, this is no longer the case, as many Protestants are turning (or returning, depending on perspective) to the Roman Church. Yet despite those who would downplay the differences between Catholic and Protestant doctrine, and who would seek to join on the common ground, there remain deep and troubling doctrinal divides. This is the topic of study for The Roman Catholic Controversy.

This is not a book that seeks to accuse Rome of being “the whore of Babylon” or to be disrespectful towards the men and women of the Church. It does not even mention, as do so many treatments of the subject, the horrors of the past committed by Rome against Protestants. Instead, White carefully, respectfully and methodically compares Catholic theology to the Scripture and shows where it falls short. He turns to Catholic theologians and apologists, and often to offical Catholic documents and Catechisms, to search the very heart of Catholic theology. He responds not to the theology of the “average Catholic” but to the church’s offical doctrine, deemed infallible and beyond correction. In this way the book is valuable to increase our understanding of Catholic theology, but also to increase our knowledge of biblical doctrine.

Among the issues the author examines are the Gospel, Sola Scriptura, Tradition, the claims of the papacy, justification, the Mass and the doctrine of purgatory. Each is defined using Catholic sources, examined using the Scripture, and where necessary, refuted and corrected. I was glad to see that where often authors spend undue time on the doctrines that are most easy to refute, in this book the doctrines that are most destructive to a biblical understanding of the Gospel receive the bulk of the attention. White does not shy away from the difficult topics.

White is careful to not only present information, but also to guide in the application of this information. “We come then to the “big question.” How shall we respond to the information we have here presented? I believe Christians committed to God’s truth must think long and hard on the issues presented by Rome: such things as the Sacraments, the state of grace, the Mass as a propitiatory sacrifice, Purgatory, merit, and indulgences. Should we share the Gospel with those who claim to already know it? While we are thankful God’s grace surpasses even the most stubborn human barriers, we must also begin with the basic truths and face the obvious conclusions. Rome’s official gospel is not the Apostle Paul’s Gospel…” (page 220-221).

Those who believe James White knows nothing of grace, and there are many, ought to consider his words on page 221. “I conclude that the official teachings of Rome have compromised the Gospel through both addition and subtraction. Not only are the central places of grace and faith replaced with a human-centered concept, but additions are made that likewise violate the spirit of the Gospel of grace. Does the Roman Catholic gospel save? I do not believe it can. Does it follow that all Roman Catholics are lost? Not unless we believe that all Roman Catholics walk in lock-step with the offical teachings of the Vatican. I am thankful there are those who know the freedom of grace even while maintaining a relationship with a Church that does not give place to that freedom in its official teachings” (page 221).

When it comes to evangelizing Catholics, White concludes that we are to evangelize everyone, believer and unbeliver, Protestant and Catholic. The Gospel is not a one-time presentation that serves only to bring people to the Lord. It does every person good to be reminded of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, taught in all it’s purity of grace. The Gospel is such joyous news, that we ought to rejoice every time we hear it.

White’s level of expertise in understanding Catholic doctrine, honed through much reading and through many formal debates, combined with his expert handling of Scripture, make this a must-read for anyone concerned with the softening of biblical distinctives and the confluence of Protestant and Roman doctrine. To echo the endorsement of Dr. John Armstrong, “Any renewal in our time must begin with a fresh confidence in the Word of God as our supreme authority in all matters of Christian faith and practice. It must be a movement rooted again in the Gospel of grace alone, received by faith alone. If you wish to discover or reaffirm these twin truths, read this book.” You will not be sorry.

9 years 9 months ago
Pursuing God - A Seeker’s Guide is a book for those who are drawn to God and yearn to understand more about Him. Intended as a tool for evangelism, it is written in a warn and conversational style. Over sixty pages, author Jim Elliff, president of Christian Communicators Worldwide, leads the reader through the all-important questions and answers in what is a clear and biblical presentation of the gospel.

I took me only a couple of pages to realize that I was going to like this book. On page seven Elliff asks, “What does God think of me?” So many Christians are afraid to address this question from a biblical perspective for fear of driving people away. But Elliff answers, “The answer to this question may surprise you - and disappoint you. But the disappointment is necessary. If you do not fully understand the awful predicament that sin puts you in, you may never appreciate Christ’s coming, death and resurrection enough to become a Christian.” Later he says, “Nobody was ever converted to Christ without knowing, and feeling deeply, the terribleness of sin and his or her desperate need for Christ.”

What follows is an, old-fashioned, out-of-style, non-seeker-friendly presentation of the gospel - the full gospel. Elliff follows Francis Schaeffer’s suggestion that if he had only one hour to share the gospel with someone, he would spend 45 minutes showing him the problem and 15 minutes showing him the solution. The final chapter, entitled “What Shall I Do” does not lead the seeker in a prayer, as we have come to expect from evangelistic materials, but instead suggests some affirmations of an authentic child of God and recommends ways in which the person can find spiritual mentorship. The book contains an appendix which outlines a twenty-one day reading plan through the book of John.

This book is intended to be an evangelistic tool. It clearly and unapologetically preaches the gospel, letting God speak for Himself through the words of Scripture. I enjoyed it and intend to keep a couple of copies on-hand for the times that I have opportunity to witness to others. Pursuing God is available from ccwonline.org for less than $4 a copy, so stock up!

9 years 10 months ago
Almost everyone who believes in the existence of heaven also believes he will be there. I cannot count the number of times I have heard the statistic that fully 99% of Americans believe they will be in heaven some day. However, the Bible certainly gives no reason to believe that 99% of people will be welcomed into heaven. Thus many people, and perhaps even the majority of people, live with false assurance of their eternal destination. How Can I Be Sure I’m A Christian by Don Whitney, is a book concerned with helping Christians understand how they be assured of their salvation and how to discern true from false assurance.

In the foreward, John MacArthur notes that assurance of salvation is the birthright and privilege of every true believer in Christ. Despite this, almost every believer wrestles with this at one time or another. “Knowing how to handle such doubts, understanding the self-examination that is required (2 Corinthians 13:5), discerning the evidences of Christ in us, and above all focusing our faith on the promises of Scripture and the character of God - those are the keys to maintaining true assurance.” (page 8) These are the topics the author examines in this book.

The book begins with an examination of whether assurance of salvation is possible. Though many Christians have been taught that it is not possible and may even be dangerous, the Bible presents assurance as something that is not only available, but is a crucial aspect of our Christian walk. In fact, an entire book of the Bible was written to address this very topic. “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life…” (1 John 5:13) After assuring the reader that assurance is possible and that doubts about our salvation are normal (and perhaps even healthy), Whitney examines the basis of our assurance. Far too many believers base their assurance on statements beginning with “because I…” but if our assurance is founded upon anything we have done, we have taken false assurance. Our assurance needs to be in the promises and character of God, not in decisions, baptisms, family or good deeds. The book then turns to a discussion of the confirmations and evidences of conversion. These include the Spirit’s inner confirmations as well as external evidences such as conscious obedience to God’s Word and a hatred of the ways of the world. There are several chapters dedicated to things that erode our confidence as well as false assurances of salvation. The book closes with a chapter on what to do if you are still not sure.

As with all of Whitney’s books, he quotes Scripture liberally and draws heavily upon the wisdom of Christians of days gone by, and especially the Puritans. He builds a convincing case that assurance is possible and provides many helpful pointers as to how we can have that assurance of salvation. This book is guaranteed to challenge any believer, both in his lifestyle and in his assumptions concerning assurance.

In conclusion, I will quote the glowing endorsement of James Boice, who writes “If you have questions about your assurance or even somebody else’s, you should read this book. Dr. Whitney’s illustrations are superb, and his borrowings from the great theologians of the past are wise, stimulating, and well-chosen. I commend his work highly.” To echo Boice, I unreservedly recommend this book.

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