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Tim Challies

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11 years 1 month ago
“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:20-21).

Jesus’ High Priestly prayer, clearly shows the emphasis Jesus places on unity within the church. His desire is that the church show forth the same unity expressed in the relationship between the members of the Trinity - a unity that is perfect and beautiful to behold. This prayer has two dimensions to it: a future fulfillment where the unity among believers will be as perfect as that displayed among the members of the Trinity, and a present fulfillment where believers enjoy unity, albiet imperfect unity, with one another. To be faithful to our Lord we must work towards that present unity while looking forward to the final unity, that the body of Christ may not be fractured.

An important consideration, though, is the cost of unity. In Ephesians 4:5 we read of “one Lord, one faith, one baptism.” This forms a framework for unity. We cannot have unity with people or groups who deny the absolute essentials of the faith. We must have unity on the foundation of the essentials of the faith, not despite the essentials. In the sixteenth century Protestantism emerged from the Roman Catholic Church. Protestants had tried and failed to bring change to the Roman Church and had seen the necessity of breaking fellowship. The early Reformers did so only with heavy hearts, for they desired unity in the body. Yet they saw that the Catholic Church denied the essentials of the faith. The Reformation has since been viewed by some as a necessary evil, by others as the re-emergence of the true, biblical church, and by still others a terrible tragedy that split the church asunder.

Today, five centuries later, many of the differences between Protestants and Catholics seem to be rapidly disappearing. Protestants and Catholics alike are beginning to ask, “Is the Reformation Over?” Among those asking this question are Mark Noll, Professor of Christian Thought at Wheaton College, and Carolyn Nystrom, who is a freelance writer and journalist. They subtitle their book, Is The Reformation Over?, “An Evangelical Assessment of Contemporary Roman Catholicism.” They are clear on their purposes for this book, which is formal and scholarly in tone. First, “it is intended as an evangelical assessment of contemporary Roman Catholicism, with special attention given to the dramatic changes that have taken place since the Second Vatican Council. It deals primarily with conditions in the United States but not to the exclusion of evidence from Canada, Latin America, Europe, and elsewhere in the world…we do not propose a final, universal, or dogmatic assessment of Roman Catholicism” (page 13). Second, they “to provide evangelical interpretations, grounded in both classical Christian theology and the broad history of Christianity, of what we see in the contemporary Catholic Church” (page 14).


I will begin this review by providing an overview of each of the nine chapters.

The first chapter, entitled “Things Are Not The Way They Used To Be,” surveys the changes in Catholic-Protestant relations over the past few decades. They detail a variety of Protestant leaders who have been instrumental in forging closer ties with Rome. Among these are Billy Graham and Nicky Gumbel (of Alpha Course fame). While the emphasis in this chapter (and indeed, throughout the book) is on Evangelicals who have extended a hand towards Catholicism, there are a few examples of Catholics who have worked to forge closer ties with Protestants.

Chapter two, “Historic Standoff,” provides a brief history of the relationship between Catholics and Protestants since the time of the Reformation. The authors detail some of the anti-Catholic thought that dominated American politics and religion for many years.

The third chapter, “Why Did Things Change?,” attempts to answer the question of why the situation has changed so rapidly over the past few decades. Why have so many Protestants reversed their position on Catholicism? They cite several reasons: changes in the Catholic Church, changes in world Christianity, changes in American politics and society, changes in the exercise of personal agency, and changes within Evangelicalism. As we might expect, the authors place great emphasis on the Second Vatican Council as the main instrument of change, agreeing with David Wells that “the council opened Catholicism to greater influence from Scripture and more concentration on Christ-centered faith” (page 60).

In the fourth chapter, “Ecumenical Dialogues,” the authors provide summaries and assessments of some of the most notable ecumenical dialogues since the 1960’s. Among those who have dialogued with the Roman Catholic Church are Anglicans, Methodists, Pentecostals, the Disciples of Christ, Reformed, Lutherans, and Baptists. The primary discovery in all these discussions, say Noll and Nystrom, is that “the most serious differences were rooted in ecclesiology, contrasting versions of what the church is and how it functions” (page 113). While they groups were able to agree in many areas, only the Anglicans would begin to bend on the issue of ecclesiastic authority. “No other Protestant body would accept the infallibility of the pope, even after Catholics carefully qualified that papal infallibility is limited to when the pope speaks ex cathedra” (page 113). At the close of the chapter they ask, “On the basis of ecumenical dialogues, can it be said that the Reformation is over? Probably not. But a once-yawning chasm has certainly narrowed” (page 114). And, indeed, this must be the case if, as the authors suggest, it is true that mere ecclesiology forms that chasm.

Chapter five, “The Catholic Catechism,” examines the Catholic Catechism, about which the authors correctly note, “If you are a Catholic, this is your doctrinal statement - whether or not you are fully aware of its contents. This point bears repeating. It is one thing to conclude that many Catholics do not live up to their church’s official teaching or to argue that the Catholic hierarchy tolerates too much latitude in promoting official Catholic beliefs. It is an entirely different thing to make mistakes concerning the church’s official standard of doctrine. The Catechism, as it was published in the mid-1990’s, is the official teaching of the Roman Catholic Church” (page 116). The authors go on to say that “Evangelicals or confessional Protestants who pick up the Catechism are in for a treat. Sentences, paragraphs, whole pages sound as if they come from evangelical pulpits…” (page 116). The chapter goes on to show many of the areas of agreement, where the Catechism can be easily reconciled with Protestant theology. Among them, according to the authors, are common orthodoxy, common devotion to God, and a common understanding of holy living. There is also an examination of the differences, which include questions of authority, Mary’s role in the life of believers, baptism, salvation by works or grace, celibacy and saints, and sacraments and worship. In general the authors do not simply list the differences, but also attempt to minimize them. For example, when discussing salvation, they indicate, “If…both groups can agree (as they appear to) that salvation is by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, evangelicals and Catholics can welcome each other as brothers and sisters of the family created by God’s grace, regardless of whatever else either may want to say” (page 142). They conclude that “The Catechism proclaims a deeply Christian faith, and is does so with grace” (page 150). The chapter closes with a non-answer to the question posed by the book’s title. “Is the Reformation over? Maybe a better question we evangelicals should ask ourselves is, Why do we not possess such a thorough, clear, and God-centered account of our faith as the Catechism offers to Roman Catholics” (page 150)?

The sixth chapter, “Evangelicals and Catholics Together,” examines the content and the impact of the ECT dialogues and documents, begun by Charles Colson and Richard John Neuhaus. Each of the four ECT documents is examined and some attention is paid to the evangelicals who reacted strongly in opposition to them, including men like John MacArthur, James Boice and Michael Horton. In a discussion of the ramifications of the ECT dialogues the authors correctly understand that at the heart of disagreement is the issue of justification. But, taking their cue from J.I. Packer, they write, “Debate on the exact definition of justification may not be as important as it seems” (page 180). They quote Packer’s assertion that Catholics and Protestants have sufficient agreements on the nature of the gospel that they can and should engage in shared evangelistic ministry. Noll and Nystrom also suggest that “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). The chapter concludes with the authors stating their conviction that ECT is a work of the Holy Spirit and one that began far before ECT and will continue long after.

Chapter seven, titled “Reactions From Antagonism to Conversion,” describe some of the strong reactions to Catholicism. They discuss the writings, among others, of Jack Chick, Donald Barnhouse, John MacArthur and R.C. Sproul. They go on to detail the stories of several evangelicals, such as Peter Kreeft, Dennis Martin and Thomas Howard, who converted from Protestantism to Catholicism, showing what each of these people gained and lost through their conversion. Notable by their absence are corresponding stories of conversion away from Rome.

The eighth chapter represents the low-point of the book and could (and perhaps should) have been omitted by a discerning editor. “This chapter represents an exercise in prudential reasoning. It is an effort to sort out the current situation by analyzing the position of evangelicals and Catholics with respect to main themes in American history” (page 209). They discuss political antagonism and the sex scandals of recent years, but do so in a terse and unsatisfying manner.

The final chapter returns to the central theme of the book, asking once more, “Is the Reformation Over?” The authors divide the chapter into several unequal sections. “Questions of Belief” turns again to the beliefs the authors feel are shared between Protestant and Catholic. Discerning readers will notice an argument build on a classic red herring: “Whatever differences may still exist between such Catholics and evangelicals with respect to the foundations of Christianity are infinitesimal when compared to differences between traditional Christianity as described above and modernist Christianity of all sorts. Differences on basic Christian convictions between Catholics and evangelicals fade away as if to nothing when compared to secular affirmations about the nature of humanity and the world” (page 230). They repeat their belief that Catholics and evangelicals believe approximately the same thing about justification when they affirm together that salvation is a free gift from God and that there is no Christian salvation that is not manifest in good works. “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).

The second section reitterates the authors’ belief that the church is the crux of Catholic-Evangelical disagreement. Issues surrounding the papacy and the magisterum, Mary, the sacraments and mandatory clerical celibacy are the very heart of the disagreement. “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).

The authors turn to a section attempting to explain why these differences exist. They use the well-travelled metaphor, popular among missiologists, which shows that Christian traditions are like languages to explain much of this. “What can we make of multiple tongues?” they ask. “Continuing differences between Catholics and evangelicals should be regarded both as a problem and a gift…The gift in this realization is to see that God has always been bigger than our own group’s grasp of God, that he has been manifesting himself at times, in places, and through venues where others have not expected him to be present at all” (page 246). They go on to say that “What we see today may be described as an incarnation of Christ in Catholic form and an incarnation of Christ in evangelical form” (page 246).

So “Where Are We Now?” Quoting Jesus’ prayer from John 17, the authors affirm the importance of unity. They quote favorably the contributions made to the life and faith of Protestants by Catholics such as Waugh, Muggeridge, Mother Teresa, Nouwen and Vanier. “What in these circumstances, can be concluded?” The conclusion of the authors is that Protestants need to imitate Nathaneal (John 1) and “come and see.” We need to study papal encyclicals, read ecumenical dialogues, ponder the Catechism and so on. The authors clearly assume that this will lead Protestants to reach the same conclusions they have. The Reformation is over. “Yet asking whether the Reformation is over may not even be the most pertinent question. It may be more to the point to ask other questions: Is God truly going to draw people from every tribe and tongue and people and nation - and major Christian tradition - to worship together the Lamb who was slain? Can he really make of them - all these tongues and peoples and traditions - a single kingdom united in the body of his Son Jesus Christ? Should believers in an all-powerful, all-merciful God doubt that such signs and wonders might still take place” (page 251)?

In the second part of this review I will provide what I hope will be some helpful analysis of Is The Reformation Over?.

11 years 1 month ago
As I closed the cover on this book, having read it over the course of several days, I felt a strange disappointment. This book has no 10-step path to success! It has no baseball diamond model for ministry and no acronym-driven program planning guidebook. Nope. It’s just old-fashioned Bible-driven, Spirit-led Christianity. And somehow I let myself feel disappointed by that. I guess I’ve just read too many market-driven, church growth books that make church into a program, defining it in sexy terms and slick marketing. I should have paid more attention to the final page where the authors summarize the book. “The message of this book isn’t about flow charts and outlines. It’s not about fresh metaphors or new growth graphs. It’s about a vision of a whole church deliberately ordered and led so as to facilitate its own edication and ministry…The Deliberate Church is designed to help liberate both leaders and members from the tyranny of popular growth models and church fads” (page 202).

The authors, Mark Dever and Paul Alexander, are honest about what they are proposing through The Deliberate Church. “Before you start reading in earnest, let us clarify what The Deliberate Church is not, just for truth in advertising. First, it’s not new. It’s old … really old. … Second, it’s not a program. It’s not something you can just plug into your church and press PLAY. … Third, it’s not a quick fix. In other words, don’t expect to read this book, implement its suggestions, and see immediate, observable results” (page 20). So what, then, is this book all about? “Simply put, it’s the Word building the church” (page 20). This could be called a model of ministry, but in reality it’s merely an attempt to be deliberate about putting the gospel at the very center of all the church is and does, allowing that Good News to feed the church’s growth, progress and ministries.

Lying at the heart of the deliberate church are four key principles. First, theology drives method; second, God’s methods determine ours; third, the gospel both enables and informs our participation in God’s purposes; and fourth, faithfulness to the gospel must be our measure of success, not results. Already, only thirty pages in to this book, we see a clear contradiction between TDC and the methods advocated in the church growth movement. This book has a clear focus on deriving all method from the Scriptures.

What builds upon that foundation is a host of short chapters, discussing one of four themes: “gathering the church,” which discusses preaching, praying, discipleship and evangelism; “when the church gathers,” which examines the regulative principle and its practical application to the worship service; “gathering elders,” which discusses the importance and role of elders; and “when the elders gather,” which provides biblical wisdom on the priorities of elders.

I can think of no better book than this to provide a biblical framework for a new church. A church planted on the principles laid out in The Deliberate Church would necessarily be planted on the foundation of the Bible. But it is not only new churches that can benefit from this book. A church looking to refine its worship or government will benefit as well. While I recommend reading it from cover-to-cover, the short chapters make it a useful reference volume as well, as in only a few minutes a person can receive practical, biblical guidance on almost any area of the church.

If I had the ability to put a copy of this book in the hands of every pastor I know, I would do just that. The Deliberate Church begins and ends with the gospel, and thus it begins and ends with the perfect, unchanging Word of God. It is challenging, practical and biblical. I highly recommend it to pastors and laypeople alike.

This book was reviewed as part of the Diet of Bookworms program. You can read other reviews of the book here.

  Evaluation Support
Strong and biblical throughout.
Easy to read, considering the depth of theology.
Unique in the author’s refusal to make this a program.
This book contains the antidote to so much church growth nonsense.
A wonderful, biblical, gospel-focused book that is a must-read for church leaders.
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11 years 2 months ago
It was the late, great Francis Shaeffer who spoke of a group of people “who have both feet firmly planted in mid-air.” This phrase brilliantly describes people in our society who adhere, as much as anyone can adhere to such a system, to moral relativism. For one can only be planted so firmly on a system that has no foundation. Relativism, written by Greg Koukl and Francis Beckwith, critiques moral relativism and explores the myriad inconsistencies inherent in this position.

The authors launch a five-pronged attack on relativism. In the first part they help the reader understand relativism and see the three different types: “society says,” “society does” and “I say” relativism. In the second part they critique relativism, exposing seven of its most fatal flaws before turning in the third part to an exposure of the impact of relativism on education. In the fourth part they examine relativism in public policy, and specifically its application to homosexual marriage, abortion and euthenasia - three of the pressing issues of our time. The final part provides some tools to refute relativism.

The final part was the one I found most helpful. Having explained the background and dangers of relativism, the authors suggest some tactics that are helpful in arguing against relativism. First, they suggest showing the contradictions inherent in relativism, for in practice, this position is self-refuting. One effective tactic, then, is to show people that many of their positions depend on some type of absolute stance. They suggest the best way of dealing with the charge of “don’t force your morality on me,” is to simply ask “why not?” What gives him the right to impose his morality on you when you are not able to do the same to him? Second, they suggest pressing the person’s hot button. Find that person’s pet issue and relativize it to undermine his position. Third, force the tolerance issue. Force the person to examine why he cannot tolerate what he perceives as your intolerance. And fourth, have a ready defense. Know the issues and know the best ways to defend your position while casting doubts on the relativist’s position.

While a book on this topic could easily become deeply philosophical and difficult to understand, Beckwith and Koukl do a good job of making it accessible. There are a few parts I had to read a few times to thoroughly understand them, but on the whole they write in such a way that they make their points clear without requiring extensive background in philosophy. Several points could have received more attention, but I understand the need to keep the book short enough to be attractive to a wide array of readers. In fact, my only real complaint with the book would be their use of the tiresome cliche of Adolf Hitler representing all that is evil in humans and Mother Teresa representing all that is good. The authors might plead that they use Mother Teresa only because people immediately understand what she represents, but I think it is time we stop using such a poor example of all that is virtuous. Koukl and Beckwith know better.

Relativism is a solid introduction to a topic with which we are all far too familiar simply because it pervades our society. Yet few positions do more to undermine the truth, the “true truth,” of Scripture. It is critical that we have a ready defense of the absolutes that underly the truth of Christianity. This is not the type of book that is likely to change the minds of those who are already firmly-entrenched in their position, but neither is that the book’s primary purpose. This book is a helpful tool to equip Christians in that which we know to be true.

  Evaluation Support
Solid and biblical throughout.
As good as we could hope for with such a tough topic.
A modern take in the tradition of C.S. Lewis and Francis Schaeffer.
We need to be equipped to deal with this issue.
A commonsense approach to understanding and dealing with relativism.
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11 years 6 months ago

The authority of Scripture is, as this book indicates, a critical issue for the body of Christ. Much of the ground that was gained during the Protestant Reformation has been lost in the past few decades. There has been a dramatic shift among Protestants away from biblical authority. James Draper and Kenneth Keathley, both Southern Baptists, have seen this fight up close and personally from within the Southern Baptist Convention, so are well-versed in the arguments and in what is at stake.

Through eight chapters and 144 pages, the authors provide the background for the fight to maintain the authority of Scripture, both in church history and Baptist history. They then turn to the Scripture itself and teach what the Scriptures says about itself. They close by predicting the next major battle that will be fought after the issue of authority is settled and provide a challenge for all believers, but for Southern Baptists in particular.

While dealing with the authority of Scripture, the authors also write about other topics important to the doctrines of Scripture: inspiration, infallibility, inerrancy and sufficiency. While they cover each topic only briefly, they provide all the information necessary for anyone to understand the issues and the importance of this doctrine.

Biblical Authority is a short but thorough book, and one that is clearly geared towards the layperson more than the scholar. This is a book that any Christian would do well to read. For the church to thrive and to fulfill it’s God-given task, we must affirm that the Bible is our full and final authority. This truly is a critical issue for the body of Christ to face.

11 years 12 months ago

James White is a Reformed apologist who specializes in defending the faith against the doctrines of Roman Catholics and Mormons – two groups which deny the doctrine of sola scriptura or Scripture Alone. He is uniquely qualified to write such a book as he is intimately familiar with the arguments against the Bible’s sufficiency. The book comes at a time when much of Protestantism has lost sight of this doctrine and has been slowly denying it. White defines this doctrine as “Scripture alone as the sole infallible rule of faith for the church.” Thus he teaches that Scripture has been given to govern and guide what we believe and why we believe it and is the only guide that can do so infallibly. He has written this book to “lay a foundation for all Christians who desire a deeper understanding of biblical sufficiency” (from the back cover). The book is targeted not at theologians and apologists, but at laypeople who are interested in being able to defend their faith and have firm convictions regarding the Scriptures.

The book explores the themes of the Bible’s accuracy, authority and authenticity. Interestingly, much of the book takes the form of dialogues between a Protestant believer and a Catholic or Mormon apologist. That should go to prove that this book is not targeted at intellectuals and theologians, though I have little doubt White has the knowledge to write such a book. I found the dialogues a very helpful way of explaining difficult issues in a “could happen” type of environment. While the dialogue itself is sometimes almost comical (when was the last time you spoke to someone on the subway and said “Ever considered that the primitive Christian church was hardly in a position to be chasing down copies of pseudepigraphical gospels penned by their enemies?”) the content is helpful. I may not use “pseudepigraphical” in conversation, but I can certainly apply the content of that conversation to someone who believes that The Da Vinci Code is a legitimate historical work.

Among the issues White discusses are: the nature of God’s Word, Inerrancy and exegesis, the canon of Scripture, apocryphal books, corruption and contradiction and scriptural sufficiency. He also includes a short section on “the Lord spoke to me” where he shows how people who believe God continues to speak to them apart from Scripture deny scriptural sufficiency. While none of the topics is covered in great detail, they all receive enough attention to explain what they are and how they relate to the defense of sola scriptura. There were not any chapters that became bogged down in detail and theological nuances – they were all straightforward and easy to read.

White has written a passionate introduction to the doctrine of the Bible’s sufficiency. This is a book that any Christian, even one with little theological background, should be able to read and enjoy. The doctrines of sola scriptura are under attack from both outside the church and within. As believers we must arm ourselves with the knowledge of the issues and the ability to defend these issues which are of foundational importance to the continuance of the faith. I recommend this book as an excellent introduction to biblical sufficiency.

12 years 21 hours ago

Guidance and the Voice of God is one of several books I have read recently that discusses the way God speaks to and guides His children. I have 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. 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 received a “word from the Lord” and have never had a vision, dream or whispering that I can attribute to God.

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 my pastor calls “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. In the same vein, I also recommend Decisions, Decisions by Dave Swavely.

12 years 3 months ago

Life is made up of seemingly endless decisions. We face decisions every day of our lives – some are as minor as what to wear or what to eat, while others may be huge, impacting our lives or the lives of hundreds or even millions of others. As Christians it is crucial that we understand Biblical principles on how to make decisions that will honor and glorify God. It is to this subject that the book Decisions, Decisions is dedicated.

The book approaches the subject matter first from the perspective of how not to make decisions. To illustrate how not to make decisions the author, Dave Swavely, uses several phrases and ideas that are in common use in Christian circles and shows how they do not follow Biblical foundations for decision-making. Among the ones he discusses are: “I flipped a coin,” “God gave me a sign,” “God told me,” and “God opened all the doors.”

To begin the discussion he examines revelation and shows how God’s revelation to us is sufficient and complete in the Scripture. To seek God’s will in certain ways, such as through signs and wonders, is futile, for God no longer operates in such ways. Similarly, to put our faith in random verses of the Bible or flips of a coin are to deny our responsibility to make decisions on our own. After several chapters outlining how not to make decisions, all of them based on things you have heard from Christian friends or may have said yourself, he turns to an examination of the Biblical principles of making godly decisions.

He first examines the prerequisites of making Biblical decisions. These are walking in the Spirit, recognizing God’s sovereignty and praying for wisdom and providence. Without these prerequisites we cannot expect to be able to make godly decisions. When these prerequisites are in place he outlines four aspects of decision-making. The first key to making Biblical decisions is Scripture. Scripture rules supreme over any of the other principles. The Bible bears on every decision we make, either directly or indirectly. For example, any decision relies on motive, and the Bible has much to say about motives. Also, the other three principles of decision-making are drawn from the Bible. While the Bible does not describe exactly what to do in any given situation, it does tell us everything was absolutely need to know in order to make a proper decision. Scripture points us in the direction of the right decision, even if it does not tell us exactly what we must do.

At this point the author teaches that provided an option is not absolutely forbidden by Scripture, we would not sin by taking that option. We are given freedom in Christ to decide whether or not to proceed. So we may now be faced with two decisions: first, should we or should we not do it and second which of the options should we take.

The second key to making Biblical decisions is wisdom. He defines wisdom as “a knowledge of Scripture and the ability to apply that knowledge in your life.” Wisdom is tied to Scripture since Scripture is the source of God’s wisdom to us. The words are often used interchangeably in the Bible.

The third key is desire. If we are living by the Spirit and immersing ourselves in the Word of God, we see that God will plant desires in our hearts. It is good and proper, then, to do what we desire.

The fourth key is counsel. The counsel of other believers who meet the prerequisites of Biblical decision-making should play a part in each of the other aspects. Other believers can share their knowledge of Scripture, can share their godly wisdom and can interpret our desire.

These four principles, each backed with ample Scriptural support, provide the author’s framework for making Biblical decisions. He presents his case well and his words are convicting. As one who has often struggled in this area, I highly recommend this book.

12 years 7 months ago
There are few things I like less than Christian books and programs that offer easy answers, for nowhere does God promise that living for Him will be easy. It seems, though, that the Christian world just laps these books up. Those dealing with Christian living seem to be particularly prone to “easy-answerism.” Fortunately bestselling author Bill Perkins avoids this concern in his new book entitled Six Battles Every Man Must Win. Based on the Biblical account of King David’s mighty men, this book seeks to address the cultural bullies that continually attempt to steal men’s hearts. Perkins offers insight on how men can set their sights on God’s will for their lives and escape the destructive behavior that is keeping them from being warriors for Him.

“This book was written for men who…are tired of living like spiritual weaklings. It’s for men who believe they were created to be warriors but aren’t sure how to fight or what they should be fighting for. It’s for men who want to lock on their purpose for living. And it’s for men who want to learn ancient secrets from some of the greatest warriors of the Bible: David’s special fighting force, the mighty men.” (page 2)

For many years our society has told men to cultivate their gentler side and to suppress masculine distinctives. After many years this influence has begun to shape men’s identities. Satan builds on this doubt, this disillusion, doing all he can to convince men that they are not warriors at all and that they can play no part in the spiritual battle that rages in this world. Six Battles Every Man Must Win serves as a wake-up call to men who cannot or will not see this conflict.

“We must wake up. We can no longer deny the reality of the angelic conflict in which we’re combatants. We have an enemy who hates us and seeks our destruction. As God’s warriors we must live as though nothing else matters compared with knowing him and fighting at his side. We must discover the secret of masculine strength that’s rooted in Christ.” (page 14)

Churches, rather than combating the emasculation of men, has contributed by molding the church to create an atmosphere that appeals to women more than men. This process began when men started to forsake their role as the spiritual leaders in the homes and it soon spread to the church. Even Jesus has been given an “extreme makeover” so that those characteristics he no-doubt possessed that women object to have been downplayed in favor of His gentleness and compassion. As this has happened, the church has ceased teaching godly masculinity so men are unable to resist our society’s misconceptions about manliness. The two greatest deceptions are that you are what you own and that you medicate pain with sex. When men lose sight of God’s standards for manliness and adopt the world’s standards, they give Satan exactly what he is looking for – their hearts. So what are men to do? They are to stand their ground! “Recognizing you are engaged in a spiritual battle and deciding to stand your ground are crucial first steps.” (page 35)

The subsequent six chapters outline six battles every man needs to face in order to win this spiritual battle. The battles are: Fight for your identity, fight for personal holiness, fight for your family, fight through pain, fight for your friends and fight for a strong faith. Each chapter is based around the struggle and triumph faced by one of David’s mighty men. Perkins draws practical, Biblically-sound application from each of their victories. The author avoids attempting to provide easy answers. Like any battle, the battle for holiness of character can be won only through great effort. Instead of easy answers, he provides a solid base of application the reader can build on as he acknowledges and then joins the fight.

The book closes not with final answers, but with a final challenge. “…enlist right now to fight in the six battles and discover firsthand how God can transform you and use you to strengthen your family and other men. The battle is raging as you read these words…Grab your sword and enter the fight.” The book ends with a challenge to begin living a life of greater holiness before God; a challenge to commit my life, my time and my efforts to His cause. It ends with a call for me to be the warrior God intended me to be so that with His help and for His glory I can win the battle that rages all around me and defeat the one who seeks to steal my heart.

If I had to find a complaint about this book I would say that I was a bit disappointed that it was merely 140 pages long. Several of the chapters provided only an introduction to a topic that I would have liked the author to examine in greater detail. Of course many of the chapters could (and sometimes have been) books of their own so this is probably not practical. I would also have liked to see more exposition of the passage the book is based on. Though most believers have some level of knowledge about David’s life, I’m sure many of the references will be lost to readers. Before reading the book I would recommend reading at least 2 Samuel 23: 8-23. For the full story one would have to read most of 1 and 2 Samuel.

Two things that initially drew me to Perkins’ books are his honesty and passion. He draws on many incidents from his own life, being sufficiently honest to use his experiences as examples of behavior others should avoid. He writes with such passion that I could feel the genuine desire he has to see men emerge as the warriors God intended them to be. His passion is contagious.

A book that provides many “aha” moments (as promised on the cover) as well as many opportunities for reflection and discussion, I would recommend this book to men who are seeking to honor God with their lives and are willing to accompany Him into battle.

The book will be available online and in Christian bookstores in April of this year.

Title: Six Battles Every Man Must Win
Author: Bill Perkins
Published: 2004

Learn More: www.millionmightymen.com or www.billperkins.net

12 years 9 months ago

There are some books I can read in an evening or two and feel like I have a good grasp of what the book is all about. There are others that I can pour over hour after hour and still feel like I am only scratching the surface of the book. Evangelical Hermeneutics falls into the latter category. Though not an easy read, this book is rewarding.

Hermeneutics is one of the steps used in interpreting and studying the Bible. Specifically, the author defines it as “a set of principles for interpreting the Bible.” Once a passage has been properly interpreted, meaning and application can be drawn from it. It stands to reason that if the principles of interpretation are wrong, the meaning and application are likely to be wrong as well. What the author seeks to show is how these principles have changed over the past decades and the effect that is having on Christianity today.

The author’s goal for this book is fourfold:

  • To discuss the recent changes in recent hermeneutics
  • To show new meanings being attached to grammatical-historical interpretation
  • To compare traditional grammatical-historical interpretation with new evangelical hermeneutics
  • To identify the dominant principles of new evangelical hermeneutics

Robert Thomas believes strongly in the value of the traditional form of hermeneutics, known as the grammatical-historical method. Throughout the books he cites examples of modern theologians who have either wrongly applied grammatical-historical principles or have invented new methods of hermeneutics. More importantly, he shows the effects these people have had on the Christian world. He focuses specifically on several issues: feminism, open theism, missiology, theonomy and a few others. One of the more fascinating chapters deals with dynamic equivalence (which is a method of Bible translation) and how it is not as much a method of translation as a set of hermeneutical principles. Some of the other topics that caught my attention were preunderstanding and the New Testament use of the Old Testament.

There are several applications to my life and my faith that I have taken from this book. First, it has solidified my understanding of the principle of single meaning, which states that each passage in the Bible has one and only one meaning. Second, it has helped me see the value of the grammatical-historical method. Though this is the system I have adhered to in the past, I am now more confident that it is the most Scriptural method. Third, I see the importance of removing all possible preunderstanding before I examine a text. What I mean by this, is if I am going to examine what the Bible says about the role of women in ministry, I need to look at the passages to determine what they mean, not what they say about women’s roles. It is a subtle but important difference. Finally, I have come to understand more clearly the Holy Spirit’s role in helping me understand the Bible.

I can’t deny that at times I felt lost in this book, primarily because the book presupposes a greater grasp of hermeneutics than I currently have. The other reason is that it spends a lot of time discussing the end-times and that is not a topic I have studied in great depth. The author also tends to use words without fully defining them. An example is the word “meaning” which he defines as “the author’s truth intention.” “Truth intention” is not a phrase I am familiar with, though perhaps if I was more familiar with hermeneutics I would be.

I would recommend this book to anyone seeking to understand how Scripture is supposed to be used. Realize, though, that it does help to have a solid understanding of hermeneutics before reading it. I suspect I will be returning to this book often as I study the Word.

Title: Evangelical Hermeneutics: The New Versus the Old
Author: Robert L Thomas
Published: 2002

13 years 3 months ago

Before I began to read The Upside Down Church I had already decided I was not going to like it. I’m not sure if it was the picture of Greg Laurie sitting on his Harley that turned me off (to my shame) or if it was that I had just read The Purpose Driven Church and I didn’t much want to hear another theory on church growth. My first two minutes of reading only confirmed my irrational preconceptions. Laurie begins his book by listing the accomplishments of his church (Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside, California). Over fifteen thousand attend the church every week; three to four thousand come to Christ every year through those services and so on. This all seemed a little self-serving to me. He then describes the unusual way he was thrust into the ministry.

Laurie spends the next 200 pages laying out the principles he used to grow his church from a small Bible study of 30 converted hippies to a thriving fellowship of over fifteen thousand. What is shocking about the book is not the success of his church or that God could take a man from such humble beginnings and grant him great success. What is shocking is that the church exploded in growth and continues to grow without applying any of the principles deemed so important by today’s church growth experts. Harvest Fellowship has never advertised in any way. They have never done community surveys, have never sent flyers out to the homes around their church and have never even placed an advertisement in the local newspaper. Their growth has come entirely from the people within the church living out the Great Commission.

The title of the book reveals a truth about the Christian life and a truth about Harvest Fellowship. Christians are called to live their lives in a way that appears to the world to be upside down. Only an upside down heart could love an enemy and turn the other cheek. The other truth contained in the title is that Greg Laurie’s church has used church growth methods that are upside down when compared to today’s church grown models (The Purpose Driven model would be an example). Where these models insist that the only way to be relevant to a culture is to study it, interview the people and then meet their felt needs, Harvest Fellowship’s approach has simply been to live out the Great Commission.

What I undoubtedly appreciated most about The Upside Down Church is that every point the author makes is drawn from Scripture. His method of church growth is based very simply on a keen understanding of the early church and an emphasis on studying and applying Scripture. This compares favorably with a book like The Purpose Driven Church, which draws heavily on marketing and business models, at least as heavily as it draws on the Bible. Laurie spends a entire chapter of the book discussing the problems with treating the unbelievers a church hopes to reach as “consumers” rather than “communers.” Laurie also turns to prominent preachers of the past such as Tozer and Spurgeon, whom he quotes extensively, to lend support to his methods.

The only real disappointment in the book was that Laurie did not spend more time giving specific tips for growing and mobilizing a church. He provides many underlying principles but is somewhat short on specifics. But maybe it is better that way, as no two churches will ever be the same and the specifics of Harvest Fellowship may not apply outside of that congregation.

In the final analysis The Upside Down Church is a book I would highly recommend to any believer, especially pastors or aspiring pastors. I can not say if his church growth model is any more or less effective than the more popular models, the fact that it draws entirely on Scripture gives me confidence that God will bless it. It is well worth the read, and weighing in at only 219 pages it is an easy read.

Title: The Upside Down Church
Author: Greg Laurie
Published: 1999

Also Recommended:

  • The Purpose Driven Church by Rick Warren
  • Surprising Insights From The Unchurched by Thom Rainer

Key Words:

  • Church growth movement
  • Purpose Driven
  • Evangelism