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scripture

6 years 3 months ago
The most surprising thing about Culture Shift is that it is Dr. Albert Mohler’s first book. Though he has been a contributor to edited volumes and though he is a very prolific writer, this book represents his first solo effort. Published by Multnomah and set to his store shelves on January 15, Culture Shift is a book that engages current issues with Scripture’s timeless truths. It teaches Christians how they should think about such issues. Dr. Mohler is one of the church’s foremost cultural commentators and is well-qualified to write such a book. Through his blog, through his radio program and through his media appearances, he has proven that he can combine theological acumen with spiritual discernment as he addresses the issues that affect the church in our culture.

In the first four chapters, Mohler lays some important groundwork. He first addresses Christian faith and politics by using the case St. Augustine made in The City of God. Humanity, he says, is confronted by two cities—the City of God and the City of Man. While the City of God is eternal, the City of Man is only fleeting and temporal. However, it’s passing nature does not mean that the city is entirely unimportant. Christians are called to responsibility in both cities. “Even as we know that our ultimate citizenship is in heaven, and even as we set our sights on the glory of the City of God, we must work for good, justice, and righteousness in the City of Man.” As we seek to live between these two cities, Christians tend to swing between extremes, sometimes giving undue attention to one or sometimes looking too singularly to the other. This book seeks to help Christians understand how they can live in this tension. Having addressed the importance of engaging the City of Man, Mohler moves two three secular arguments, three secular myths and then five theses related to Christian morality and public law.

Having laid the groundwork, he turns to particular areas where Christian truth can speak to cultural issues. He looks at a Christian challenge to the culture of offendedness, the Supreme Court’s rulings on religion, terrorism, torture and public schooling. He looks to the God gene, American immaturity, abortion, natural disasters and other contemporary issues. In each case he addresses these topics by looking to the Bible’s timeless truths to show how God informs and directs our engagement with the culture. In each case he handles the issue with grace but also with truth. Those who are familiar with Mohler’s blog will be familiar with the way he sets about engaging with issues and will even recognize many of these essays as most of them began their lives in one form or another at his blog.

In his introduction to the book Dr. Mohler writes “We must first understand our culture and its challenges because we are to be faithful followers of Christ and faithful witnesses to the gospel. We are called to faithfulness, and faithfulness requires that we be ready to think as Christians when confronted with the crucial issues of the day. This is all rooted in our love of God.” An understanding of culture, then, is an evangelistic necessity if we are going to impact this culture with the good news of the gospel. The essays in this book will help equip Christians to understand the culture in which we find ourselves so that we can reach into it and engage with it for the glory of God. Dr. Mohler’s first book is an excellent one and I pray it is only the first of many.

6 years 4 months ago
I do not know too many serious students of the Bible who do not wish, at one time or another, that they were proficient at Greek (or more proficient at Greek). But few of us have had time or opportunity to study the language in a formal, academic setting. Basic Greek and Exegesis by Richard B. Ramsay and published by P&R Publishing is a newly-published attempt to increase the accessibility of the Greek language. It is “A practical manual that teaches the fundamentals of Greek and exegesis, including the use of linguistic software.” For those who are not familiar with the word, exegesis simply refers to the work of drawing out the meaning of a text. It is indispensable for a pastor or Bible study leader or serious student of the Bible who wishes to be faithful to what the Bible teaches (and stands in contrast to eisegesis, in which a person inserts his or her own meaning into a text—a practice that is far too common). Because some meaning is always and inevitably lost in translation, exegesis can best be done by looking to and understanding the original language. This book attempts to span the gap between the desire to do serious exegesis and the necessity of having some knowledge of the Greek language.

“This practical workbook fills a void in biblical and theological studies, because it prepares the student to do New Testament exegesis, using Greek, but without an extensive knowledge of the language. It integrates the study of Greek with every aspect of exegesis. As the student learns a new step, he also learns the corresponding fundamentals of Greek that enable him to do the exegesis properly. He becomes aware of the importance of using Greek to do serious Bible study, and learns how to use linguistic tools, including recent software. The student studies a biblical text of his or her own choice and prepares a written report on it. He will be surprised at the results of his own research!”

Ramsay offers three goals for the book and its fifteen lessons:

  1. The student will learn the steps of New Testament exegesis.
  2. The student will learn enough fundamentals of New Testament Greek to be able to use linguistic tools and do a serious exegesis.
  3. The student will gain confidence in doing exegesis in the Greek New Testament, and will grow in his or her desire to do serious exegetical study in the preparation of sermons or Bible studies.

The course has two objectives:

  1. The student will demonstrate he or she has reached these goals by writing a report of his or her own exegesis of a brief text selected from the New Testament and…

  2. …pass an exam on the fundamentals of New Testament Greek, writing the meaning of a list of vocabulary, explaining the meaning of important grammatical terms, identifying noun and verb forms, identifying the function of certain works within their sentences, and translating some Greek sentences into English.

While I have not had opportunity to make my way through the book’s lessons, I’ll definitely be giving it a good look. With the book retailing for only $22, the only real expense would be your time. If learning some Greek is on your list of things to do, or on the list of things you wish you could do, you might like to give it a try. Don’t expect to be able to begin a career in Bible translation, but do expect that it will give you tools you need to do better and more sound exegesis.

6 years 4 months ago

I was raised as part of a Christian tradition that did not place a lot of emphasis on the religious component of the Christmas season. Christmas was a time for family and for friends and for being grateful for all the blessings given us by God, but did not include a lot of distinctly Christian traditions. It is with some interest, then, that I read of advent and the traditions of other people around the Christmas season.

Ray Rhodes has given us a valuable guide in his small book Family Worship for the Christmas Season. Published recently by Solid Ground Books, this little volume provides a guide to thirty-one ideas for family worship during the advent season. According to the author, it is “designed to help you and your family focus on Christ during the Christmas season.” It is not a devotional, in which case it might provide a Bible verse and a reflection on that verse, but instead provides ideas for family worship during each of the days from December 1 to December 31. It opens with a Scripture reading and then provides a suggestion for what a family may wish to discuss or do during that day. It provides some pointers for family worship and a brief prayer relevant to the day.

Easy to read and filled with some good suggestions, I think this book could be a valuable component to a family’s times of worship during the family season. Jim Elliff says, “Make December different this year by trying them out with your family. This book can make a significant difference in your family’s understanding of the incarnation.” If you’d like to give it a try, you can find it at Amazon and other book sellers.

6 years 8 months ago

Timothy Paul Jones responds to the fallacies of Bart Ehrman’s “Misquoting Jesus.”

Bart Ehrman’s Misquoting Jesus was a surprise bestseller. Released in late 2005, it quickly climbed its way onto the bestseller lists—an interesting feat for a book dealing with textual criticism. Ehrman is a renowned New Testament scholar and chairs the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He has both an M.Div. and Ph.D. from Princeton Theological Seminary where he studied under Bruce Metzger, one of the pioneers of textual criticism. Though he once claimed to be a Christian and even attended Moody Bible Institute, he has since renounced the faith and is now agnostic. Much of Ehrman’s career has been dedicated to proving a rather unorthodox thesis: that history has been incorrect in suggesting that it was heretics such as Marcion who were responsible for tampering with the texts of the Bible. Rather, he suggests and attempts to prove, it was those who professed faith in Christ who sought to change the Scripture to force it to adapt to their beliefs. In the past decade he was written extensively, though the bulk of his work has been directed at the academy, as shown by such intimidating titles as The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture: The Effect of Early Christological Controversies on the Text of the New Testament. It is somewhat surprising, then, to note that in the past year his named has adorned the covers of no less than three books on the New York Times bestseller’s list.

The book that has sold the most copies, Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why, is Ehrman’s recent attempt to popularize his thesis, as it is written at a popular level, attemping to engage a person with no prior knowledge of the history of the Bible. He seeks to show that a combination of scribal mistakes and deliberate tampering shaped the Bible we read today. This book is written, he says, “for people who know nothing about textual criticism but who might like to learn something about how scribes were changing scripture and about how we can recognize where they did so.” By the close of his book Ehrman leaves the reader with a Bible that is only a human book, written by and for humans without the intervention of God. There is no inspiration and certainly no inerrancy. It is an important historical text, but little more than that. This hardly a radical conclusion for our day, of course, and it is one that many readers are only too eager to believe. But it is a conclusion that is at odds with Scripture itself and which makes Christianity a religion based upon a lie. It leaves Christians as people of a book that does not deserve our attention or affection.

Ehrman’s book and the claims he makes are the subject of Timothy Paul Jones’ Misquoting Truth: A Guide to the Fallacies of Bart Ehrman’s Misquoting Jesus. The stakes are high. “If Ehrman’s conclusions about the biblical text are correct, there is little (if any) reason to believe that my copy of the New Testament accurately describes anything Jesus said or did.”

Jones does not respond to every charge Ehrman makes, but instead focuses in on the two main arguments. In the first part of the book he shows why the texts can be trusted and in the second he looks at why the lost Christianities were lost (which is to say that the theology of the New Testament is the theology of Jesus and His Apostles). He shows that what Ehrman says is really nothing new, but simply old scholarly arguments rehashed in a fresh format. “Despite the description of Bart Ehrman as ‘a new breed of biblical scholar,’ most of what Ehrman has to say isn’t new at all. The concepts in his books have been current among scholars for decades. What Ehrman and his editors have done is rework these scholarly conclusions for mass consumption, simplifying the concepts and sensationalizing the titles.”

While textual criticism is generally a subject for scholars, Jones matches Ehrman’s tone and style, keeping the book informal and at a level that will appeal to a more casual reader. He interjects serious discussion with anecdotes, humor and words of personal testimony (and quite a few references to Star Wars). Yet he answers thoroughly and in a way that will show that so many of Ehrman’s charges are spurious at best, malicious and infeasible at worst.

Reading a book like Misquoting Jesus it is easy to follow the author’s argument and to begin to believe it. Because the book is written “for people who know nothing about textual criticism,” most readers can quickly be swept away. I’m grateful that men like Timothy Paul Jones take the time to respond to these charges, showing conclusively that not only are Ehrman’s arguments far from original, they are also, quite simply fallacious. They can be satisfactory refuted and we can have full confidence that the Bible we know and love today is the Bible as God intended us to have it. If you’ve read Misquoting Jesus (and perhaps even if you haven’t) you’ll want to read Misquoting Truth as well.

7 years 2 months ago
Guidance and the Voice of God is one of several books I have read that discusses the way God speaks to and guides His children. I initially turned to these books in response to the words I hear all around me in modern Christianity. People continually ask God to speak to us in circumstances and situations. Likewise, I am often asked how God spoke to me during a period of time or perhaps during a specific event. The terms people use would seem to indicate that many of them hear audibly from God on an ongoing basis and that such revelation from God is normative for the Christian life. Yet I have been a Christian for many years and have never knowingly received a “word from the Lord” and have never had a vision, dream or whispering that I can conclusively attribute to God. Is this a matter of theology or a matter of simply not listening?

Phillip Jensen and Tony Payne, authors of Guidance and the Voice of God believe that God has spoken to us fully and finally through the Bible and that this is the only way we should expect for Him to speak to us. They make five propositions about how God guides us:

  1. God, in His sovereignty, uses everything to guide us “behind the scenes.”
  2. In many and varied ways, God can speak to his people, and guide them with their conscious cooperation.
  3. In these last days, God has spoken to us by His Son.
  4. God speaks to us today by His Son through His Spirit in the Scriptures.
  5. Apart from His Spirit working through Scripture, God does not promise to use any other means to guide us, nor should we expect Him to.

While God has often used many supernatural means to speak to His people in former times, these are relegated to the past now that He has given us the Scriptures. While He is still capable of revealing Himself however He wishes, the way He has chosen to do so is by the Spirit working through the Scriptures. This argument is based primarily in the writings of Hebrews which provides ample support.

A good part of the book is dedicated to decision making, and the authors propose a three-fold means of determining what to do when “matters matter.” First, they speak of matters of righteousness. If the Scripture tells us explicitly what to do or what not to do, we should instantly and joyfully obey. This is a simple matter of obedience and we must realize that God will never ask us to disobey Him, for He is not the author of confusion. Second, there are matters of good judgment. When we have already determined that an action is not expressly forbidden, we may have to choose between two “right” options. The example they use is marriage - we are told that celibacy is honorable and that marriage is also part of God’s plan. So when it comes to the choice of whether or not to marry, we must evaluate ourselves, our sexual appetites and determine what the Bible tells us. These decisions rely on Biblical wisdom which can be gained only through diligently studying the Word. Finally, there are matters of triviality, which are minor matters that are not worth worrying about. Either do them or don’t, but do not concern yourself with them. Where some people become obsessed with trivialities, the authors encourage us to focus instead on the greater matters.

One important aspect of the authors’ argument involves the idea of God’s will for our lives. While many Christians today seem to believe that God has a specific plan for us that we may well miss out on if we make poor decisions, the authors show that this is not the case. God has mapped out our lives so that all our decisions will lead to the ultimate goal, which is becoming increasingly conformed to the image of Christ. We do not need to fear that one wrong decision will relegate us to a life of second best - to God’s backup plan for those who do not obey. In this view they teach that the Scripture is not to be treated like a map that will tell us when to turn left and when to turn right, but as a compass which will continually guide us in the direction of godliness.

The book concludes with three case studies which take the theory the authors have taught and seek to put it into practice. This is quite helpful as it makes the theoretical practical in at least a fictional setting.

I have a couple of concerns with the book. While the authors clearly state that other means of revelation, such as dreams, feelings, desires and external affirmations are not God’s way of guiding us, they do not take a stance on what they might be. Are these Satan’s ways of trying to lead us astray, or merely circumstances? I would have liked to have some teaching on what I have often heard referred to as “spiritual impressions.” Are we to interpret desires as coming from our own hearts, or does the Spirit begin to change our goals and desires as part of His guidance.

Guidance and the Voice of God is well-written and easy to understand, even for a young believer. The authors provide godly wisdom and what they share will surely allow many Christians to escape the snares inherent in thinking that we can miss out on God’s will simply by laboring over decisions, but making wrong ones. I highly recommend this book which can be purchased through Matthias Media. In the same vein, I also recommend Decisions, Decisions by Dave Swavely.

7 years 3 months ago
Those with an interest in the theology of Scripture may be intrigued by a book published this year by New York University Press.

“All religious traditions that ground themselves in texts must grapple with certain questions concerning the texts’ authority. Yet there has been much debate within Christianity concerning the nature of scripture and how it should be understood—a debate that has gone on for centuries. Christian Theologies of Scripture traces what the theological giants, including Origen, Luther, and Barth, have said about scripture from the early days of Christianity until today. It incorporates diverse discussions about the nature of scripture, its authority, and its interpretation, providing a guide to the variety of views about the Bible throughout the Christian tradition.”

Edited by Justin Holcomb, a lecturer in Religious Studies and Sociology at the University of Virginia, and a lecturer in theology at Reformed Theological Seminary, the book includes contributions by eighteen experts. Justin also blogs at Common Grounds Online.

Justin was interviewed by Glenn Lucke about the book and in the blogosphere his book was reviewed by Jollyblogger, In the Agora and iMonk. There is also a review available at The Other Journal.

If you are interested, you can read the book’s introduction and table of contents at NYU Press. 

8 years 5 months ago
Translating Truth is a collection of essays on the subject of Bible translation written by leading Evangelical scholars. The essays were first presented as papers at the annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society in November 2004. The publishers notes that “the purpose of publishing these papers now as a collection is to encourage the ongoing, careful reflection on methodology and issues in Bible translation—that necessary work, which the Christian church is called to undertake, with fear and trembling before our sovereign, holy God, for the sake of the gospel and the truth of God’s Word.” It should be noted that each of the authors was also a member of the Translation Oversight Committee for the English Standard Version. Thus while the thrust of this book is to examine the theory and practice of translating Scripture and to propose the superiority of an essentially literal translation over a dynamic equivalent translation, the book focuses primarily on the ESV. While, thankfully, it does not read as advertising for the ESV, it is clear that the authors feel it to be a superior translation.

The master of forewords himself, J.I. Packer, begins the book with a short foreword. Packer gets right to the point, suggesting three ways that dynamic equivalent translations fail through under-translating. First, he says, the focus of the text is blurred. “One begins to imagine wordsmiths like Ecclesiastes himself, and Isaiah, and Paul, looking down from heaven at our array of translations, and groaning again and again, “But that’s not what I wrote!” If translation means serving authors by making what they wrote fully available in other languages (and surely Bible translation, whatever more it is, is at least that), what is being done here is under-translating.” Second, fidelity is restricted. “If translating means expressing in another language the full meaning and character of the original as exactly as possible, this is under-translating.” And finally, cultural foreshortening is imposed. “Cutting corners here [in providing distance from the original culture to our own], in rendering literature from the past—the Judeo-Christian past no less than any other—is always under-translating.”

Packer concludes that “the true verdict seems to be that for beginners in Bible exploration and study, the merits of the best dynamic equivalent versions outweigh their real limitations. But for lifelong personal reading, with meditation and memorization, just as for public reading and pulpit exposition in church, the better option will unquestionably be one of the essentially literal translations; and I hope I may without offense mention here the English Standard Version, which was deliberately crafted to fulfill all these purposes together and, I believe, does so.”

The five essays that follow attempt to prove the verdict to be true. Largely, I believe, they do so. The five essays are as follows:

Are Only Some Words of Scripture Breathed Out by God?: Why Plenary Inspiration Favors “Essentially Literal” Bible Translations by Wayne Grudem. Dr. Grudem argues that an understanding of God’s plenary (full) inspiration of the Bible extends to the very words of Scripture. It is incumbent on the translator to realize the value of words and to translate each word whenever possible. Grudem does not propose a clunky translation that is literally word-for-word, but instead a translation that is essentially literal, capturing the meaning of each word. He provides several examples of good translating compared to poor translating, showing where words and concepts have been added, changed or omitted.

Five Myths About Essentially Literal Bible Translations by Leland Ryken. Leland Ryken received quite a lot of harsh criticism for his book The Word of God in English (my review) in which he argued for the superiority of essentially literal translations against the deficincies of dynamic equivalent translations. In this essay he answers his detractors by examining five common charges which he considers the myths of essentially literal translations. The five myths are: Advocates of essentially literal translations are guilty of word worship and idolatry; Essentially literal translation theory and practice are naive; Essentially literal translation is no more than transcription or transliteration; Essentially literal translators fail to understand that all translation is interpretation; Essentially literal translations are obscure and opaque. He responds to each one of these in brief but well-formed responses of a few pages each.

What The Readers Wants and the Translators Can Give 1 John as a Test Case by C. John Collins. Collins shows that a translation philosophy is directly related to how the translator understands what a translation is. He suggests a model of communication that clarifies some of the challenges faced in translation. He feels that before one can ask “what is the best approach to translation?” he must first settle the purpose for that translation. Collins suggests that an essentially literal translation is the kind of translation that best suits ecclesiastical study and both personal and family study. It may be wise to provide a less-literal translation for our outreach activities. So what is it that the reader wants and the translator can provide? “An opportunity to listen in on the original foreign language communication, without prejudging what to do with that communication.”

Truth and Fullness of Meaning: Fullness versus Reductionistic Semantics in Biblical Interpretation by Vern Sheridan Poythress. In this chapter the author discusses complexity and richness in meaning. This is quite a technical essay in which he examines the development of structural linguistics. This leads into the translation theory of Eugene Nida, the man who pioneered dynamic equivalency.

Revelation versus Rhetoric: Paul and the First-century Corinthian Fad by Bruce Winter. In quite an interesting essay, Bruce Winter discusses the style of rhetoric that was popular during the first-century. He shows that the apostle Paul deliberately avoided this trend in order to write epistles that were clear and understandable. “While the ‘grand style’ and rhetorical flourishes were the fad of his day and his generation, he used plain style in all its simplicity and a word order that gave forcefulness as he conveyed the living oracles of God. That deliberate decision on his part to pursue clarity means that translating his letters demands a comparable plain style such as John Wycliffe and William Tyndale so effective achieved in their rendering of his letters. It is beholden to their successors to do nothing more and nothing less.” Do note that this chapter contained a small amount of Greek, much of which was not transliterated. This may make it moderately more difficult to understand than some of the other chapters.

The translation of Scripture is a hot topic in the Evangelical community, especially in the wake of the publication of Today’s New International Version. Christians would do well to make themselves aware of the issues and understand the differences between an essentially literal translation, a dynamic equivalent translation and a paraphrase. Authors, pastors, teachers and leaders need to be sure that they know the issues and are committed to teaching the great truths of Scripture in a way that is faithful to the words of God. While few people would argue that there is a perfect translation of Scripture available to us, even fewer would argue that all translations are equal. Reading a book like Translating Truth will help people understand what is at stake and aid them in finding a translation of Scripture that gives them confidence that what they are reading are the very words of God.

  Evaluation Support
Theology/Accuracy
There really isn’t a lot of theology in this book.
Readability
Generally quite readable for what can be a difficult and technical subject.
Uniqueness
There are many similar books available today, some of which are written by these authors.
Importance
It is very important that we have an understanding of the issues at stake with translating the Bible.
  Overall
A good though not thorough treatment of the topic, but one I’m glad to recommend.
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8 years 5 months ago
There is a certain irony in the pursuit of humility. We see a glimpse of that in the title of this book, Humility: True Greatness. Humility is true greatness. The pursuit of humility and the pursuit of greatness are one and the same, provided that we seek greatness as defined by the Creator. I have never met C.J. Mahaney (though hope to some day), but from all accounts he is well-qualified to write a book on such a difficult subject. And this is a difficult topic. After all, how can a person write a book on humility without sounding like he feels he is most qualified? The truth is he can, provided he uses the Scripture as the foundation for his teaching. And that is exactly what Mahaney does.

The book is divided into three sections. Part one deals with the battle of humility versus pride, part two with our Savior and the secret of true greatness and part three with the practice of true humility.

In the first part, Mahaney defines humility and shows how true humility is nothing less than a battle against the pride that lives deep within every heart. “Humility is honestly assessing ourselves in the light of God’s holiness and our sinfulness.” These two realities must be the foundation of any definition of humility: our sinfulness and God’s holiness. This is precisely why true greatness can only be achieved by followers of Jesus Christ, for only they have had their eyes opened by the Holy Spirit to see the depth of their own depravity and the overwhelming holiness of God.

Mahaney teaches, rightly I believe, that God hates the sin of pride above all other sin. This is a sin that plagues all humans, though it manifests itself in different ways. So the issue facing the believer is he examines his life is not if pride is present, but where it is present. For most of us it is deeply ingrained in our lives and only a great amount of Spirit-guided self-examination can draw it to the surface.

In the second part, Mahaney defines greatness as Jesus did, showing that being great means being a servant to everyone. Just as Jesus came to serve, so must we serve with our lives. Christ lived as the perfect example of humble service. As in all his books, Mahaney leads the reader to the cross, stating that apart from Christ’s sacrifice, there is no serving. We can only attain true greatness by emulating Christ’s example - the example that led him to the cross where He made the greatest sacrifice.

In the third and final part of the book Mahaney builds on the foundation he has built through Scripture to provide advice on the practice of humility. This is far more than a bullet list of do’s and don’ts. It is far more than a false, monastic humility that is really no humility at all. Instead, he examines several different areas of life and shows how humility can be applied to all of them. From the moment we wake up to the moment we fall asleep (and even while we are asleep) we can practice humility. Whether we experience joy or pain, whether we are correcting or being corrected, we all have opportunities to practice humility every day.

Humility: True Greatness is a truly great book. I do not know of a person who shows no pride in his life, and thus I do not know of a person who would not benefit from reading it. I highly and unreservedly recommend this book. I pray that it will be widely-read, that humility may be widely-practiced.

  Evaluation Support
Theology/Accuracy
Strong and biblical from cover to cover.
Readability
Should make for enjoyable reading for any Christian.
Uniqueness
A convicting take on what is (thankfully) becoming a widely-discussed topic in Christianity.
Importance
The pursuit of humility really is the pursuit of greatness as the Lord defines it.
  Overall
Highly recommended. One of my favorite books of the year.
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8 years 6 months ago

The concept of repentance seems to be in full-fledged retreat in today’s church. Evangelical Christians love to stress decisions, worship, faith and growth, but seem to leave out one rather critical aspect of the Christian faith. We need not look far to find people who confess Christ, yet continue to live in ways that would call their confession into question. More than simply committing sins, so many are living truly sinful lifestyles. One has legitimate grounds to wonder if they have show genuine repentance before God.

Repentance is a concept that causes our human natures to rebel, for we hate to think that we are really sinful enough that we need to repent before God. We also hate to give up our autonomy and admit that God’s ways our superior to ours. The idea of expressing faith seems wonderful and so does the idea of being followers of Jesus, but admitting our sinful natures and confessing our unworthiness before God flies in the face of what our society teaches us. We are taught that right and wrong are subjective and that what is good for me may be bad for you – and frankly that’s just fine as long as you don’t force your views on me. Repentance is an admission that our ways our wrong and God’s are right. Repentance is admitting that we are willing to suppress our desires in favor of God’s.

Because our society so hates the idea of repentance, many churches, out of a so-called “seeker-sensitivity,” have stopped speaking about it, choosing instead to teach about sorrow and brokenness. Instead of portraying Jesus as the one who died to remove the stench of our sin from before God, Jesus is portrayed as one who died to meet our needs and to help us live a better life. Jesus died to give us purpose and to give us the power to change our minds. There need not be true, biblical repentance in this watered-down gospel. The true gospel, the gospel which has the power to transform lives, cannot be preached without repentance. An example of an incomplete understanding of repentance was forwarded to me last week by a reader of this site. He provided an excerpt from an interview with Rick Warren. Here is Warren’s definition of repentance:

“The sixth principle is that the biblical word for changing your mind is repentance, metanoia. Now when most people think of the word of repentance, they think of sandwich signs, turn or burn, or they think repentance means stopping all my bad actions.

That is not what repentance is. There is not a lexicon in the world that will tell you that repentance means stop your bad action.

Repentance, metanoia, simply means changing your mind. And we are in the mind-changing business. Preaching is about mind changing. Society’s word for repentance, by the way, is “paradigm shift.”

Repentance is the ultimate paradigm shift, where I go from darkness to light, from guilt to forgiveness, from no hope to hope, from no purpose to purpose, from living for myself to living for Christ. It’s the ultimate paradigm shift.

And repentance is changing your mind at the deepest level of beliefs and values.”

The Bible is not a dictionary, so we will not find a clear-cut, dictionary-like definition of “repent” within its pages. Yet by examining Scripture and historical Christianity we can arrive at a satisfactory definition that captures the biblical essence of the term.

Defining Repentance

Repentance follows the Spirit’s regeneration of a person. Once the Spirit has regenerated us, we are able to do two things. First, we can express faith in God. Second, and inseparable from this expression of faith, we are able to repent before God. These are really two sides of a coin, for as we turn towards God in faith we must necessarily turn away from something at the same time. As we turn towards God we turn away from the way we used to live. This is repentance.

Repentance comes from the Latin word meaning “think” so in reality repentance is “re-thinking.” Repentance is changing one’s mind, but there is more to it than that. The change of mind is so deep and so important that it influences all areas of life – values, goals, affections, actions, plans, motives and lifestyle. More than a change of mind it is a complete reversal of the way a person lives.

The Westminster Confession says the following about repenting:

A sinner, out of the sight and sense, not only of the danger, but also the filthiness and odiousness of his sins, as contrary to the holy nature and righteous law of God, and upon the apprehension of His mercy in Christ to such as are penitent, so grieves for and hates his sins as to turn from them all unto God, purposing and endeavoring to walk with Him in all the ways of His commandments. (15.2)

The Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms, as we might expect, provides a similar definition, defining repentance as “The act of expressing contrition and penitence for sin. Its linguistic roots point to its theological meaning of a change of mind and life direction as a beginning step of expressing Christian faith (Acts 26:20).”

Repentance, then, is born of a comprehension of how odious our sins are in the sight of God. When we begin to understand just how terrible our sins are and how deeply and completely they have offended God, we are able also to begin to comprehend how deep God’s mercy is that He would choose to save us. Understanding our sin and His mercy, we are driven to repent, turning our backs on our sinful ways and choosing to follow God’s ways.

It is important to note that repentance is much more than simply feelings of sorrow or self-hatred. Though these may be part of our reactions to repenting, they are not enough. True repentance expresses itself in action and in a changed life. In Psalm 51 David pours out his heart to God in a beautiful prayer of repentance – one we would all do well to make our own. We see him acknowledging his sinfulness before God (“my sin is always before me. Again You, You only have I sinned”), asking God for forgiveness (“wash me and I shall be whiter than snow”) and expressing a changed life (“deliver me from the guilt…and my tongue shall sing aloud of Your righteousness…my mouth shall show forth Your praise.”). More than simply feeling guilt or sorrow, David showed that he was willing to change. Just as faith without works is dead, so repentance without change is dead.

Warren goes on to tell how he feels that preaching for repentance is the deepest kind of preaching. While I agree on the importance of preaching repentance, I wonder how much the repentance he preaches is mere change of mind and how much is an apprehension of our terrible sinfulness. What we see in Warren’s understanding of repentance (which typifies a modern, evangelical definition) is that many definitions of repentance show a startling absence of any type of mention of sin. Gone are the terms or concepts so integral to Scripture and historic Christianity, terms like “filthiness” and “odiousness.” Gone is a sense of absolute undeservedness. In its place is a changed mind, a decision to turn from bad action to good.

With God’s help we begin to express our repentance with a turning away from our sinful natures. No definition of repentance can be complete without an understanding of my great offense towards God which leads us to turn away from sin. Our wills become subject to His. Our desires become His desires and our goals His goals. Though we continue to express sorrow when we sin, we also express joy when we see how God has helped us change our lives, allowing us to become more and more conformed to the image of His Son.

8 years 7 months ago
Yesterday I provided the first part of a critical review of Is The Reformation Over? by Mark Noll and Carolyn Nystrom (read it here. I wrote a summary of each chapter, allowing the reader to understand the author’s arguments as they reached the conclusion that the Reformation is, indeed, over. Noll and Nystrom feel that the most important differences between Catholic and Protestant theology are no longer based on issues of soteriology (how people can be saved) but now primarily concern issues of ecclesiology (the nature of the church). Today I would like to provide some analysis of the book and the author’s arguments.

Analysis

I would like to preface my analysis by expressing that the authors displayed a clear bias throughout the book. Mark Noll is an evangelical, and I believe Carolyn Nystrom is as well, and in this book they spend a great deal of time expressing harsh criticism of evangelicalism. While I am Protestant and am perhaps being sensitive, it seems that they did not return the harsh rhetoric towards the Roman Catholic Church. We can see this bias displayed in the chapter discussing conversion from one tradition to another. In this section the authors provided several examples of evangelicals who converted to Catholicism, but no examples of conversion from Catholicism to Protestantism. This type of conversion is, in my experience, far more common and my church stands as an example. It is probably safe to say that our church is primarily composed of former Roman Catholics who left their church and then became believers. The bias is also clear in the chapter discussing ecumenical dialogues. The authors blame evangelicals for expressing anti-Catholic beliefs, but they provide no similar evidence for anti-Protestantism. They also provide no historical framework of persecution and Inquisition to show why Protestants expressed such distrust of the Catholic Church. Thus the reader needs to understand that this book expresses harsh attitudes towards Protestantism without corresponding harshness towards Roman Catholicism.

Minimizing Theological Considerations

Throughout the book the reader will note that the authors continually minimize theological considerations. Their overarching argument, as I expressed in the introduction to this review, is that the core disagreement between evangelicals and Roman Catholics is ecclesiology. This allows Noll and Nystrom to minimize theological disagreements as being of secondary importance. The authors’ main strategy is not to thoroughly examine each point of doctrine where evangelicals disagree with Catholics (and sometimes vice versa), but to prove that issues over which Protestants often express concern are merely minor considerations in the larger area of the nature of the church. “In sum,” they say, “the central difference that continues to seperate evangelicals and Catholics is not Scripture, justification by faith, the pope, Mary, the sacraments or clerical celibacy - though the central difference is reflected in differences on these matters - but the nature of the church” (page 237). If the reader does not agree with that premise, he will likely not agree with most of the author’s major conclusions.

Issues Not Addressed

It is clear that in a book of this size the authors cannot address every theological issue that seperates Protestant from Catholic. Yet there were at least two major disagreements that received no attention. The first of these is purgatory. The Catechism, which the authors often quote favorably, has this to say about purgatory: “All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.” Needless to say, purgatory is a view that cannot be supported by a Protestant, biblical understanding of salvation. Purgatory calls into question the sufficiency of Jesus’ suffering, for how effective was Christ’s death if it needs to be supplemented by our own suffering? Did not Jesus die so that we did not need to suffer this type of torment?

A second issue, and one that is perhaps even more important, has to do with the Eucharist. The authors deal in some depth with transubstatiation in which the bread and wine become the real presence of Christ. Yet this is not the most significant concern posed by the mass. Of far more importance is the understanding of the mass being a propitiation for sin. Protestants, having searched the Scriptures, believe that Christ’s sacrifice was made once and had perfect, total efficacy. It does not need to be further supplemented or repeated in any way. Yet the Roman Catholic Church teaches that each celebration of the mass is a new, propitiatory sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

These two issues are of critical importance, for they call into question the efficacy of Christ’s sacrifice. Despite this, the authors overlook them altogether.

The Fundamentals

Phil Johnson recently posted an article written by John MacArthur entitled “Essential Christianity, not ‘Mere Christianity’.” This article discussed the fundamentals of Christianity. MacArthur summarizes a Protestant understanding of the difficulties involved in attaining ecumenical unity. “Certainly any list of fundamentals would have to begin with these doctrines Scripture explicitly identifies as nonnegotiable: the absolute authority of Scripture over tradition (sola Scriptura), justification by faith alone (sola fide), the deity of Christ, and the Trinity.” While Roman Catholics and Protestants are able to agree on some of these issues, such as the deity of Christ and the Trinity, there are others where a vast chasm remains (justification by faith alone and the absolute authority of Scripture over tradition).

There are several places in the book where the authors examine these issues in general, and justification in particular, and declare that there is no longer any critical difference between the Catholic and Protestant understandings of these pivotal issues. “If it is true, as once was repeated frequently by Protestants conscious of their anchorage in Martin Luther or John Calvin that iustificatio articulus stantis vel cadentis ecclesiae (justification is the article on which the church stands or falls), then the Reformation is over” (page 232). Time and space fail me to provide a detailed apologetic for the Protestant understanding of justification, but suffice it to say that the authors do nothing - absolutely nothing - to prove that an informed understanding of the biblical view of justification is now shared between Protestant and Catholic. In fact, the discerning reader will wonder whether the authors even truly understand the Protestant view of justification. Clever wording and ambiguous statements in ecumenical dialogue does not constitute change within the Catholic Church. Perhaps a repeal of the anathemas of the Council of Trent, anathemas which were affirmed at Vatican II, would prove that change had occured. But as it stands in official Roman Catholic statements of theology, the crucial differences remain.

What of Scripture?

Conspicuous by its absence is any real examination of Catholic or Protestant theology in light of the Scripture. There are very few quotes from the Bible and certainly very few attempts to examine either system of doctrine through the Bible. Page 248 finds the authors defending Catholicism by showing that the traditional complaints against Catholicism now exist in Protestantism. But what of Scripture, our guide? Writing, as they are, for a Protestant audience, it seems that proving all things from Scripture would advance their argument. Yet, it appears, they are unable to do so. We see this also in the discussion of justification. “The Roman Catholic Church now [post-Vatican II] articulates positions on salvation - even on justification by faith - that are closer to the main teachings of the sixteenth-century Protestant Reformation than are the beliefs of many Protestants, indeed, of many evangelical Protestants. Strange as it may seem to put it this way, the ECT documents present what can only be called a classically orthodox depiction of Christian salvation, primarily because they empahsize and build upon these official Catholic teachings” (page 180). But again, what of Scripture? Should we not allow Scripture to be our guide as we examine these issues?

The Arguments

The endorsements for this book would lead the reader to believe that it represents a high level of scholarship. J.I. Packer says, “Here is superb thelogical journalism.” David Wells writes that “This book offers a superbly researched, documented and engagingly argued case…” While the book does represent interesting research, I found the argumentation unconvincing. At the beginning of the fifth chapter the authors write, “Comments such as the following are heard frequently when evangelical Protestants talk about Catholicism” (page 115). They go on to list six comments, including “There is much I admire about the Catholic faith. But Catholics think Mary is a god, and the pope is their dictator - and then there is the whole question of celibacy;” “The people in my Baptist Sunday school class think that the Catholic Church is a cult. Should I argue about that?;” “Do Catholics believe they Bible? Are they allowed to read it?;” “I wish Catholics believed in grace. How can you be a Christian if you don’t believe in salvation by grace through faith?” It seems to me that people who ask such basic, uneducated questions may be convinced by this book. Protestants who have created a mere caricature of Roman Catholic theology and practice may well be convinced. But those who have researched the issues and know the heart of the disagreement will remain unswayed.

Is the Reformation Over?

In the final analysis, the authors have failed to understand the core disagreement between Protestants and the Roman Catholic Church. There are clearly important disagreements about ecclesiology, and these are disagreements that are unlikely to be reconciled until Protestants are willing to accept the papacy. But there is a far deeper disagreement. At the heart of the Reformation was the gospel, which, incidentally, is a word and concept the authors use only rarely. The gospel message of justification by grace alone through faith alone, despite the authors’ insistence to the contrary, is not present in official Roman Catholic doctrine. I have little doubt that there are some, perhaps many, within the Church who are truly saved. But Roman doctrine is as opposed to biblical theology today as it was during the Reformation.

Is the Reformation Over? proves that Protestants and Catholics can, indeed, enjoy unity. But this unity must be at the expense of the gospel. We can embrace Roman Catholicism as a faithful expression of biblical faith, and enjoy ecumenical unity, but it will cost us the very thing Jesus Christ entrusted to us - the Good News that we are justified by grace alone and through faith alone. It is left to the reader to decide if the benefits outweigh the cost.

Whether or not you are interested in reading Is the Reformation Over?, I would highly recommend reading R.C. Sproul’s Getting the Gospel Right, a thorough examination of the issues surrounding the gospel and ecumenism.

  Evaluation Support
Theology/Accuracy
Poor, caricatured understanding of much of Protestant theology.
Readability
Well-written but lacking in argumentation.
Uniqueness
Quite a unique perspective on the issue.
Importance
Important to understand as this book will be widely-read.
  Overall
Well-written but poorly-argued and unconvincing to the discerning reader.
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