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Tim Challies

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gospel

9 years 7 months ago
I admire John Piper and have grown tremedously through his ministry. He is a gifted teacher and one I deeply respect. Yet for some strange reason I do not enjoy his books. I have tried reading several of his books several times and have never enjoyed doing so. I don’t know why this is, but I suspect it may be his style of writing. He employs many short sentences and writes in flowery prose I usually find only in the writing of Victorian authors. Maybe there is another reason that is hidden to me. What I do know is that, as tragic as this may be, it will probably be a long time before I read one of his books again. I feel guilty about this, especially when I read other reviews where people praise this as being one of their favorite books and one that has done so much for their spiritual formation. Perhaps I will pick one up and try again next year.

Now despite my difficulty in reading this book, there is much of value within it. Piper has many good things to say about living a life that is sold out to God. He gives a lot of useful, practical guidance on living a life passionately devoted to displaying God’s excellence in every area of our lives. As you would expect if you have read any of Piper’s previous books or articles, the teaching that “He is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him” appears frequently. The standout chapter for me was the one dedicated to risk. The author teaches that to avoid risking it all for Christ is to waste one’s life. Of course this is not foolish, irrational financial or physical risk, but a calculated, spiritual risk that may expose one to the risk of injury or suffering. He supports this claim with many examples from the Bible - Joab, Esther, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, and of course, Paul. To become a Christian was a risk, but the risk must continue through the believer’s life.

Other topics the book covers include: the goal of life, living to prove Christ is precious, the majesty of Christ in missions and magnifying Christ through pain and death.

So what can I say? While I benefitted from the teaching of this book and know many others have as well, I simply did not enjoy reading it. However, I know that the fault for that lies with me. Therefore, I will recommend this book, knowing that so many have benefitted from it.

10 years 2 days ago

“Getting The Gospel Right” is R.C. Sproul’s sequel to the popular book “Faith Alone: The Evangelical Doctrine of Justification” and is a thorough treatment of the subject of Christian unity. It is essentially a response to a document that tested the boundaries of unity between Roman Catholics and Evangelical Protestants: “The Gift of Salvation” (also known as ECT II) which was released subsequently to the original “Evangelicals and Catholics Together.” These documents were both written and signed by leading members of Evangelical and Catholic churches as a means to promote unity between the churches. They chose to find common ground and unite on that basis rather than focus on the differences that separated them. Sproul and several other prominent Reformed Christians stood against this document, insisting that it did not form an adequate basis for unity with the Roman Catholic Church.

The book is divided into three sections. The first is entitled Controversy Concerning The Gospel and provides background to the importance of Christian unity in traditional Evangelicalism. The section functions almost as an introductory course to Christian doctrine regarding unity. Among other topics it discusses the distinction between the visible and invisible church, the marks of a true church and Christ’s desire for unity.

In the second section Sproul provides the complete text to “The Gift of Salvation” and then provides a thorough examination of each paragraph. His amazing depth of knowledge allows him to delve deeply into the document and point out many problems with it. He shows where the language is ambiguous and goes into lengthy explanation about the differences between the Catholic and Protestant views on soteriology. His conclusion is that the two systems of theology are so far removed that they cannot be brought into harmony. “The Gift of Salvation” does nothing to remove the doctrinal chasm created by the simple word “alone.” Until Rome concedes on the “solas” of the Reformation, there can be no unity. Further, unity on such terms as outlined in this document is damaging to the Evangelical churches as it undermines critical theology. There can be no unity without unity in the gospel, which means there certainly cannot be unity at the expense of the gospel. The unity expressed by the signatories of “The Gift of Salvation” is empty since it denies the importance of obvious and insurmountable differences in doctrine.

The final section is an examination of a document drafted by Sproul and other leading theologians entitled “The Gospel of Jesus Christ.” They feel this document should provide the basis for unity among Evangelicals. “The Gospel of Jesus Christ” carefully and consistently lays out the foundations of Protestant theology, leaving absolutely no room for ambiguity. As with the previous document, Sproul examines it paragraph by paragraph, explaining the meaning and importance of each of the affirmations and denials. Sproul says that “[the affirmations and denials they list] are the foundation that expresses the mission of the church. For the church to be faithful to the Great Commission, we must get the gospel right. When we do, we will both energize the church’s activity and encourage deep and abiding unity among Evangelicals.”

This book is as good a treatment of the subject of unity as I have read. While deeply theological, it is also very readable. Sproul has a gift for presenting deep truths in a way that is easy to understand. I recommend this book to anyone interested in learning what the Bible says about unity, and further to people interested in an overview of the doctrinal differences between Protestants and Catholics.

10 years 4 days ago

“Hard to Believe” is another hard-hitting, no-holds-barred strike against the modern church. Much as he did years ago in “Ashamed of the Gospel”, MacArthur takes aim at easy-believism and a watered-down, seeker-friendly gospel. In particular, he criticizes the influence of those who preach self-esteem, a health and wealth gospel and aim to be overly seeker-friendly. This book forceful – so much so that there were several places where the force of his words and his anger at the perversion of the gospel shocked me and stopped me short. MacArthur’s righteous indignation reminded me of Spurgeon who wrote many similar books and essays in his day. In case you are wondering more specifically who he is writing about, the only person he mentions by name is Robert Schuller and his infamously antibiblical book “Self Esteem: The New Reformation.” However, it is easy to see shades of many popular Bible teachers if one reads between the lines.

While I have utmost respect for MacArthur and regard him as one of my most trusted Bible teachers, I often find that he speaks out against a caricature of a movement rather than a more accurate portrayal. He tends to speak in generalities and criticize a worst-case scenario. I suppose this is necessary lest he speak out against a specific person or church, yet it does cause his words to lose some of their impact. I have been heavily exposed to the seeker-friendly movement and have found that much of it is not as badly corrupted as he would indicate. Despite that small complaint, this book is powerful and contains a clear depiction of the gospel. And even more important, it contains a clear call to maintain the purity of the gospel and to ensure that the church continues to focus on preaching the pure gospel. To allow unbelievers to influence our churches to such an extent that we replace the gospel with something friendlier to the unregenerate is to deviate from God’s plan and further, is to lead the church into inevitable decay. The gospel is not meant to be kind to unbelievers; it is meant to either convict or offend. As with all MacArthur’s books, he quotes liberally from Scripture and exposits God’s word to the reader. Few men are more gifted in that task than he is.

I did find one particularly troubling statement in the book. One page 93 MacArthur writes, “Salvation isn’t the result of an intellectual exercise. It comes from a life lived in obedience and service to Christ as revealed in the Scripture; it’s the fruit of actions, not intentions. There’s no room for passive spectators: words without actions are empty and futile… The life we live, not the words we speak, determines our eternal destiny.” While I agree that faith and actions can not be separated, to say “salvation…comes from a life lived in obedience and service to Christ” is dangerous ground. I know enough about MacArthur to understand he is not preaching salvation by works, but one could easily understand his words to mean that. In his eagerness to criticize the seeker-friendly gospel, it seems he almost begins to advocate works-righteousness.

“Hard to Believe” presents the gospel as it is – as something that is more than hard, but actually impossible to believe without the Spirit’s help. Watering it down - making it easy to believe - can never succeed. When we tamper with the gospel we tamper with the very wisdom of God, who saw fit to share news that is so foolish that none can believe it without His illumination. Our job is to preach the gospel, and full gospel, and leave the results to God. “Then, instead of being unbelievable and foolish, these words that are so hard to believe become the only balm that soothes a sinful heart…Those hard words become precious and welcome and treasured. ‘All that the Father gives to Christ, they will come.’ They will come. Our calling is to reach them with the truth.” (page 215) That very truth is the foundation of this book.

I am happy to recommend this book. I believe it would make an interesting companion to “Ashamed of the Gospel” which covers much of the same material but from an earlier perspective. While “Ashamed of the Gospel” serves as a warning, “Hard to Believe” serves as a wake-up call. And truly the church needs to wake up and return to the clear, forceful preaching of the Good News of Jesus Christ!

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