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theology

7 years 11 months ago
Depending on the perspective of the individual Christian, John Calvin may either be one of the greatest theologians or the worst charlatans who ever lived. For those who feel Calvin’s teachings accurately interpreted the Bible, he is a great teacher and one who rediscovered doctrines of grace that had lay largely dormant for centuries. For those who feel Calvin’s teachings are a gross misrepresentation of God’s sovereignty and human freedom, Calvin is a deceiver and one who has led countless Christians away from biblical truths.

I am among those who count Calvin as a great theologian and one who was used by God to restore to the church the wonders of the doctrines of grace. Yet for a man whose theology has so impacted my own, I know surprisingly little about the man. This is, at least in part, owing to the fact that less is known about Calvin than about many other great figures in church history. A man who was often private and secretive, much of his life, and his early years in particular (including his conversion), are known only by conjecture based on comments he made in his books.

John Calvin: His Life & Influence is a brief biography of Calvin that was first delivered by Robert Reymond at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, as a series of four hour-long lectures. These speeches, targeted at a general audience attending Wednesday evening programs, were drawn from lecture material for a course on “Calvin’s Institutes” taught by Reymond at Knox Theological Seminary. “I wrote the four lectures, taking my original audience on a journey through Calvin’s intellectual and spiritual development, first from his youth, then through young manhood, then to the brilliant, energetic young Reformer that he became during his first Geneva period. In connection with this last period I addressed head-on Calvin’s part in the most significant blight on Protestant Geneva’s reputation, namely, the burning of Michael Servetus.”

Through four chapters and approximately four hours of reading, Reymond leads the reader through a brief survey of Calvin’s life and most important teachings. He does this in the hope that “this remarkable Frenchman’s life and ministry will challenge Protestant Christians today to take more interest in their historical heritage and to read for themselves “the opus magnum of Christian theology” and the most influential systematic theology ever written, namely, John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion.”

Though necessarily short, this book serves as a useful and compelling introduction to Calvin. It focuses primarily on his life, but also expends some effort in summarizing his teachings. Following the biography are three useful appendices, the first discussing “opposing Calvin biographers,” the second discussing Calvin’s influence on western history, and the third listing other recommended biographies and resources.

All-in-all, this is a good little book and one that would be at home in any church or personal library. It is a great place to begin in understanding the life and influence of a man who continues to impact the church almost five hundred years after his birth.

8 years 2 months ago
I tend to agree with those who believe that liberalism is a mental disorder. I can think of no other explanation for those who hold steadfast to a system of beliefs that are self-contradictory, contrary to reason, and entirely Godless. Nor does Ann Coulter. In her latest book, Godless, she attempts to “throw open the doors of the church of liberalism” to expose the lunacy that exists within. “Liberals love to boast that they are not ‘religious,’” she begins, “which is what one would expect to hear from the state-sanctioned religion. It has its own cosmology, its own miracles, its own beliefs in the supernatural, its own churches, its own high priests, its own saints, its own total worldview, and its own explanation of the existence of the universe. In other words, liberalism contains all the attributes of what is generally known as ‘religion.’”

Coulter frames liberalism as the opposition party to God. “Liberalism is a comprehensive belief system denying the Christian belief in man’s immortal soul.” An important footnote explains her understanding of the term Christian. “Throughout this book, I often refer to Christians and Christianity because I am a Christian and I have a fairly good idea of what they believe, but the term is intended to include anyone who subscribes to the Bible of the God of Abraham, including Jews and others.” This rather inclusive understanding of Christian keeps Coulter focusing on the Old Testament rather than the New. She speaks often of God and of Creation, but rarely (if ever) of Jesus.

Based on the title of the book and on the opening sentences, I had assumed that Coulter’s thesis in this book would involve proving that liberalism is a religion. I did not find this to be the case. Rather, the book was a collection of sometimes insightful and sometimes outrageous facts about liberalism with little reference back to this thesis. The chapter titles (“The Martyr: Willie Horton,” “The Liberal Priesthood: Spare the Rod, Spoil the Teacher,” “The Creation Myth: On the Sixth Day, God Created Fruit Flies”) keep the theme alive, but only barely. Despite this incongruity, the book contains vast amounts of interesting facts and information. Coulter certainly has a way with words.

Coulter is nothing if not witty (and reminds me of Mark Driscoll in that way). The book is replete with statements like this: “Throughout the 2004 campaign, the Democrats were looking for a Democrat who believed in God—a pursuit similar to a woman searching for a boyfriend in a room full of choreographers.” “In fourth grade Americans are in the 92nd percentile in science literacy…Eight years later, American twelfth-graders’ science scores have fallen to the 29th percentile. (For those of you who learned math in the U.S. public schools, going from the 92nd to the 29th means it went down.)” “This is why we need the death penalty. Without it, you always run the risk that a Democrat will come to power and start releasing all the prisoners sentenced to life in prison.” “While gays were being decimated by the AIDS virus, Koop was more interested in not ‘stigmatizing’ them than in saving their lives. See, where I come from being dead also carries a certain type of stigma. Instead of distributing condoms in gay bars and at Madonna concerts where they might have done some good, Koop insisted on distributing condoms in kindergarten classes, in order to emphasize the point that AIDS does not discriminate, which it does.” Similar statements can be found ad infinitum and ad nauseum.

Despite an obnoxious thread of sarcasm throughout the book, Coulter does a good job of exposing the lunacy of liberalism. She shows how it constantly contradicts itself; she shows how it celebrates death and destruction; she shows how it is fundamentally opposed to human life and to the God who created life. She affirms the truth of truth and the unchanging rules of life and morality given to us in Scripture. Though she does so with little of Christian love and compassion, she certainly does so convincingly. Her view of the world is clearly very black and white and perhaps a little too much so. Still, as she says, “truth is truth whether we like it or not.”

It does seem that liberalism is a mental disorder. But as a Christian, I can see that it goes even deeper than this and, like many mental disorders, must be caused by spiritual infirmity. Liberalism is opposed to human life because it is opposed to God. Liberalism is proof of the truths of Romans l: “God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! … since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them” (Romans 1:24-25, 28-32, emphasis mine). They are, in short, Godless.

I did not find Godless a particularly good read; neither was it a bad read. Its strengths were too often offset by its weaknesses, leaving me someone ambivalent about it. If you read only a few books each year, I would not recommend making this one of them. But if the subject matter is of particular interest to you, at least Godless won’t take long to read and, regardless of your perspective on the issues, you’ll find yourself both amused and infuriated.

8 years 3 months ago
The Gospel of Judas has had its fifteen minutes of fame. It is but another in an endlessly long line of stories or documents meant to shake the foundations of the Christian faith. Like its many predecessors, it gave National Geographic and anti-Christian authors an opportunity to voice their dissension with the biblical story of Jesus. A book titled The Gospel of Judas shot to near the top of the bestsellers lists and nearly as quickly, shot straight back down. Still, while its popularity was short-lived, it allowed Bart Ehrman and other revisionists a chance to laud the epistle for its new insights into the life of Christ. Surely Ehrman forever cast doubt upon his credibility as a historian when he blathered, “(The Gospel of Judas) is one of the greatest historical discoveries of the twentieth century. It rivals the finding of the Dead Sea Scrolls or the Gnostic Gospels of Nag Hammadi.”

National Geographic describes the importance of the document in this way: “The Gospel of Judas gives a different view of the relationship between Jesus and Judas, offering new insights into the disciple who betrayed Jesus. Unlike the accounts in the canonical Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, in which Judas is portrayed as a reviled traitor, this newly discovered Gospel portrays Judas as acting at Jesus’ request when he hands Jesus over to the authorities.” A classically dualistic, gnostic document, The Gospel of Judas presents a Jesus who is seeking to escape from the corruption of this physical world and asks Judas to betray Him so He can be free of this wickedness. Judas complies and shows himself to be a hero, rather than a villain. No longer the betrayer, He is a faithful friend to Jesus Christ.

Renowned New Testament scholar N.T. Wright is the first Christian to my knowledge to write a thorough refutation of the teachings of The Gospel of Judas. Judas and the Gospel of Jesus is due for publication in October of 2006 and will be published by Baker Books. It is a short book, weighing in at only 144 pages, but provides a thorough treatment of the subject matter.

Wright is fair to this newly published document. He does not say that there is no value in The Gospel of Judas for surely there is, for it tells us much about the gnosticism that was a great opponent of early Christianity. It gives historians access to an authentic, original document. But it tells us nothing about the real Jesus and the real Judas. Those who would have us believe that this letter provides details about the real life of the real Jesus can be little more than revisionists. Wright shows that such people believe in what he calls “the new myth of Christian origins.” This myth, popularized by men such as Bart Ehrman, has three main teachings: first, Jesus was not as the canonical gospels portray Him; second, there were a great many different varieties of early Christianity, and they produced a large number of different “gospels,” all of which circulated among Christians more or less unchecked; third, when Christianity became consolidated in the fourth century, many teachings about the “true” Christian faith were rejected.

“Classic Christianity,” he says, “has a lot more life and promise than have ever been imagined by those who propose the new Myth, or by those who offer newly discovered gnostic texts as the panacea for our ills. It is a shame that the churches have been so muzzled, so often self-blinded to the full dimensions of the gospel they profess, the gospel of Jesus himself.”

Through this short book, Wright asks good questions and insightfully shows where The Gospel of Judas simply cannot be held as equal in any way to Scripture. He shows himself to be a New Testament scholar the equal of any involved in promoting this new gospel. While the document appears to be genuine, it is little different and little more significant than the multitudes of other gnostic writings which have come down to us, even two millenia later.

It is perhaps somewhat ironic that N.T. Wright, who has reimagined and reinvented many of the teachings of Paul (and thus Jesus), would be the first to make a stand for the truth against others who would seek to reinvent Jesus. Unfortunately, Wright’s New Perspectives are glimpsed, even if only dimly, through much of the text of this book. Still, he offers a compelling response to Ehrman and others and one well worth reading. I would tend to believe that, for most people, The Gospel of Judas is best ignored. It offers little that would be of interest to the average person. For those who do have interest in it, Judas and the Gospel of Jesus will no doubt prove an interesting response to the irrational views espoused by those who wish to reinvent Christianity and to cast doubt upon Scripture.

* Please do not consider my positive statements about this book to be an endorsement of N.T. Wright’s entire body of work, and especially of his New Perspective on Paul. Don’t accuse me of any of those charges of Guilt By Association!

 

8 years 3 months ago
In an uncertain world, there are at least six things we can always count on. These six are the focus of J.D. Wetterling’s new book, No One…. Quoting Jesus’ words from the book of John we know that:
  • No One can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.
  • No One can come to me unless the Father Who sent me draws him.
  • No One comes to the Father except through me.
  • No One takes it [life] from me, but I lay it down of my own accord.
  • No One can snatch them [true Christians] out of my hand.
  • No One will take away your joy.

These six “no one” statements form the framework for the book. Each one receives thorough, Gospel-centered treatment. Each chapter concludes with the promise that “these are unshakable certainties in an uncertain world.”

No One is the first book which has featured my endorsement on the back cover, and I consider this quite an honor. My endorsement reads as follows: “J.D. Wetterling has given us nothing less than the gospel in all its simplicity, beauty and glory. If this message is news to you, read this book and let God speak to your soul. If this is news you have heard a thousand times, allow yourself to hear it again, and let your faith be strengthened and renewed.” It has also been endorsed by men such as Marvin Olasky, Bryan Chapell and Joey Pipa. Their opinion surely counts for far more than mine!

Well worth reading, I have little doubt that No One will challenge you and draw your gaze to the cross of Christ. I recommend it.

8 years 4 months ago
Twenty five years after its release, I finally read Jerry Bridges’ classic The Pursuit of Holiness (you can read my review here). I am glad to say that it only took me twelve to read The Discipline of Grace which has recently been republished by NavPress. A former ECPA Gold Medallion Book Award winner, this is a title I’m sure I will read again before another twelve years have elapsed.

The Discipline of Grace is, in many ways, a continuation of the teaching in two of Bridge’s previous titles, The Pursuit of Holiness and Transforming Grace. “As I sought to relate the biblical principal of living by grace to the equally biblical principle of personal discipline, I realized that it would be helpful to bring these two truths together in one book. That is the purpose of this volume.” The product of much meditation upon Scripture and much self-examination, this book challenges the Christian with the simple but profound truth that “your worst days are never so bad that you are beyond the reach of God’s grace. And your best days are never so good that you are beyond the need of God’s grace.”

At its heart, The Discipline of Grace is a book examining the shared responsibility of God and the believer in the pursuit of holiness or the process of sanctification. Being transformed into the image of Christ is a long and difficult process and is not one that is done by God alone. Rather, God enables us to pursue holiness and helps us achieve it. The grace of God and personal discipline must go hand-in-hand. Where “discipline without direction is drudgery,” so also we cannot depend only on God to sanctify us as if sanctification were an act rather than a process. There must be a balance.

Bridges continually takes issue with the unbiblical view that the gospel is solely or even primarily for unbelievers. Rather, he says, the gospel must be the foundation not only of justification but also sanctification. The believer must preach the gospel to himself every day. “To preach the gospel to yourself, then, means that you continually face up to your own sinfulness and then flee to Jesus through faith in His shed blood and righteous life. It means that you appropriate, again by faith, the fact that Jesus fully satisfied the law of God, that He is your propitiation, and that God’s holy wrath is no longer directed toward you.” He later says, “This is the gospel by which we were saved, and it is the gospel by which we must live every day of our Christian lives…If you are not firmly rooted in the gospel and have not learned to preach it to yourself every day, you will soon become discouraged and will slack off in your pursuit of holiness.”

The heart of the book, chapters seven through thirteen, discusses how God matures us through obedience, dependence, commitment, convictions, choices, watching and adversity. Each topic is examined in light of Scripture. Bridges depends often on some of the church’s greatest teachers, quoting often from John Owen, Charles Hodge, John Murray and others. He clearly has a particular affection for the Puritans and often relies on their understanding of sin, repentance and mortification.

Few books have challenged me as deeply as The Discipline of Grace. Few have provided so much fodder for meditation and journaling. I would recommend this book to any Christian as I cannot conceive of a believer who will not be edified by Bridges’ clear, pastoral, biblical teaching. I commend it to you and trust it will prove as beneficial to you as it has to me.

8 years 4 months ago
For the past couple of months I have been using Sunday postings on this site to feature reviews of books I wrote a while ago, probably before most of you began reading the site. I reviewed some awfully good books while I was the only person who bothered reading this site and thought it might be a valuable exercise to share some of those reviews. I believe I have just about reache the end of these archived reviews. I’ll wrap it up today with a review of an excellent book I reviewed just about a year ago. I was attempting to work my way through Crossway’s recent publications and asked my contact at the publisher if there was a book in their catalog that he felt was an overlooked treasure - a book that deserved far more recognition than it had received. He suggested Father, Son & Holy Spirit by Bruce Ware. I knew of Bruce Ware from his excellent critique of Open Theism in Their God is Too Small (which was a condensed version of a larger work on the same subject, God’s Lesser Glory). A quick look at Amazon showed only one reader review which seems to prove that this book was, indeed, overlooked.

Having read the book I agree with Crossway’s assessment. This book is a treasure and one that deserves to be read, absorbed and appreciated. It is a thorough but readable study of the Trinity, their Relationships, Roles and Relevance. The final word of that, the book’s subtitle, is what sets this book apart. Ware does more than merely provide a defense of the doctrine of the Trinity. Each aspect of the doctrine is accompanied by an explanation of why this doctrine is relevant and how the reader can apply this to his life. This is a perfect example of practical theology - taking theology out of the realm of knowledge and making it a part of our lives.

Like many books on theological subject matters, this one began as a series of sessions delivered at a conference. The five one-hour speeches have been adapted into a 167-page, six-chapter book. The first chapter deals with the importance of the doctrine of the Trinity. Ware correctly asserts that few things can be more important than studying and understanding, in so far as we are able, the character and persons of God. “It is my hope and prayer that, through this study, we will be able to hear the voice of the Lord helping us to understand the beauty and glory of the God whom we already know as God. But do we know him as we should? Do we know him as he truly is?” (page 14). The second chapter provides an overview of the historical development of the doctrine as Christians came to a deeper understanding of biblical truths through the history of the church.

The heart of the book is in chapters three, four and five. There is one chapter dedicated to each of the three persons of God. In particular, Ware examines the relationships of the members to each other. While each member of the Trinity is fully God, what defines one from the other is their particular roles and relationships. For example, the way in which the Son relates to the Father is presented in clear contrast to the Son’s relationship with the Holy Spirit. In each chapter the reader is led to marvel at the wonder that is our God. Each chapter concludes with a section where the author provides application of all that he has taught about the relationships within the Trinity.

The final chapter encourages the believer to behold the wonder of the triune persons in relational community. The chapter is composed of ten “lessons for our lives and ministries from the relationships and roles of the triune God.” Each lesson is practical, understandable and biblical.

What can I say? Taking theology to the masses does not get much better than this. Bruce Ware has taken his extensive knowledge of this doctrine and provided it to the church in a format that anyone can enjoy and understand. There is enough content to challenge any believer, but it is simple enough that none need be intimidated by it. This is the best book I’ve read on the Trinity and I simply can’t recommend it highly enough.

8 years 4 months ago
The Bible teaches that it is not historical or archaeological evidence lies at the heart of Christianity, but a childlike faith. Neither is it signs, wonders or miracles. The Scripture tells us that “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign.” A generation that serves the Lord will be content with a faith that God is who He says He is and that He has done what He says He has done. Nevertheless, because Scripture claims it is true, we should believe it to be so and should expect that we would find it to be so. “Faith in Jesus rests upon the truth of the events narrated in the New Testament. Faith in Christ is inseparable from the belief that certain events occurred and that the record of those events is true. The life of Jesus is more than just a spiritual event, it is an event in history. Thus Christians are faced with the problem of evidence.”

In Evidence & Paul’s Journeys, Jefferson White, an independent scholar, tackles this problem head-on, providing an historical investigation into the travels of the Apostle Paul. Structuring the book around Paul’s missionary journeys, he seeks evidence that the people, places and events recounted in Scripture are genuine and historically accurate. “Most books written for the general reader tend to be superficial in their examination of that evidence. Even the best of such studies barely scratch the surface. In part, this is due to an assumption that the evidence is too technical, or too involved, for the average reader to follow. In part it is due to a bias that regards scholarly specialists as being the only people who can properly understand and weigh the evidence. Neither of these propositions is true.”

This book is founded upon two rational assumptions. First, the biblical record is assumed to be true unless it can be shown to be false. Second, if a contradiction is alleged to exist between the biblical record and other historical evidence and there is a reasonable explanation to account for it, the contradiction is not proved. In other words, we can assume that the authors of Scripture were honest, well-intentioned men who, at the very least, believed that they were accurately recording historical events.

On this basis, White launches his investigation into Paul’s journeys. The evidence he presents is compelling, and for one who affirms the inerrancy of Scripture, hardly surprising. He finds that time and again, the record of Scripture can be reconciled with the evidence that has been left behind. While he covers a vast amount of territory, among the pieces of evidence that I found most interesting were those dealing with the sea voyages recounted in the book of Acts. White’s research led him to conclude that, contrary to many skeptics, the information provided by Luke is accurate, both in terms of the route the ships must have taken and in the time the voyages would have taken to complete. In fact, Luke’s scant knowledge of maritime travel makes his descriptions doubly interesting, for he provides a perspective that is naive and unlikely to be exaggerated or fictionalized.

In the end, the reader, as White did, will have to conclude that Scripture is accurate. While the purpose of the Bible is not to communicate history, but rather to communicate the story of God’s purposes in redeeming a people unto Himself, it cannot help but provide history through the larger story. And when it does so, Scripture records it accurately, both providing a fascinating glimpse into life in the first century and testifying to its own inerrancy.

8 years 5 months ago

I have a good selection of systematic theologies on my bookshelf. They range from the very readable to the almost hopelessly complex. Some of the authors are clearly very knowledgeable but have not been blessed with the ability to easily communicate that wealth of knowledge. Others are great communicators but, unfortunately, do not have as great an understanding of theology. Sometimes, though, these gifts come together in the form of a person who both knows a great deal about theology and is able to communicate his knowledge in a clear, understandable way. The latest addition to these volumes is Salvation Belongs To The Lord, written by John Frame. While smaller than most systematics, at only 360 pages, it is, to borrow the words of William Edgar, both “vigorously orthodox and sweetly pastoral.”

Frame is a professor at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida where he teaches Systematic Theology and Philosophy. He previously served several decades on the faculty of Westminster Theological Seminary. A number of years ago, Frame began to write a multivolume series of studies that examine major biblical concepts from the perspective of the Lordship of God (The Theology of Lordship series). Since that work had begun, he had often been asked if he would compile this series into a complete systematic theology and had always answered “no.” But then, in 2003, he was asked to teach a survey course in systematics for the Institute for Theological Studies in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He delivered the lectures in 2004 and they formed the basis for Salvation Belongs To The Lord. The systematic theology came into being despite his best efforts to the contrary. This book is related to his ongoing Theology of Lordship Series but is not part of it. “This book will not be part of the Theology of the Lordship series, but readers of those books will find here the same approach: exegetical, Reformed, and focused on the lordship of God and of Jesus Christ.”

Frame wrote Salvation Belongs To The Lord to be an introduction to systematic theology. And an introduction it is, as evidenced by its small size compared to other systematics. By way of comparison, Grudem’s Systematic Theology weighs in at almost 1300 pages and Hodge’s is far larger still, extending through three very dense volumes. Frame’s book “is not directed primarily to readers of the Lordship series but to beginners in theology, people who are seeking a basic introduction.” To target this audience, he has endeavoured to define all technical terms and has adopted a conversational, pastoral tone. He considers this work to be college or seminary level in its difficulty, though I suspect even a high school student who was sufficiently dedicated would be able to benefit from reading it.

One of the hooks Frame employs throughout this book is “a system of threes,…lordship triads, which runs through the whole book. This system is mainly a pedagogical device, but I hope it will show you some important ways in which everything in the Bible is tied together. As you will see, the Bible is not a miscellaneous collection of ideas but a coherent, consistent system of truth in which the major doctrines depend one on another.” While I appreciated this pedagogical device, I did not find that it contributed a whole lot to my reading of the book, though it also did not prove burdensome. I can see that it would, for some people, prove a valuable addition and it does accomplish what Frame hopes it will. It points quite clearly to a unity within Scripture.

The book is divided into two sections, the first dealing primarily with objective truths such as: “The nature of God, the Trinity, the person and work of Christ, the person and work of the Holy Spirit.” It deals largely with truths and events that are once-for-all and will never be repeated. The second section discusses events that are more subjective and repeatable, such as justification and sanctification—events that happen in the life of each believer. In this second section, Frame follows closely in the path of John Murray and his book Redemption Accomplished and Applied. After discussing the ordo salutis (or order of salvation) he discusses the nature and task of the church, the means of grace, the sacraments, heaven and hell and the last days. Fittingly, he closes with a chapter asking “how then shall we live?”

Frame quotes liberally from Grudem’s Systematic Theology and there is a fair resemblance in much of their theology. He agrees with Grudem in most points, the most notable exception being a differing understanding of the miraculous gifts. The connection between Grudem and Frame is explained in the dedication of Grumdem’s book. He writes, “This book is dedicated to eight people.” Among these are “Edmund Clowney, John Frame, and Vern Poythress, Westminster Seminary professors and friends, who influenced my theological understanding more than anyone else, and who taught me Reformed theology in humble submission to every word of Scripture.” It is little wonder, then, that the two men share so much common ground.

Here is a brief summary of some of the more important positions Frame has adopted: In soteriology, he is Calvinistic. In eschatology he is, when backed into a corner, reluctantly post-millennial. In his understanding of ecclesiology he is Presbyterian (and thus, sacramental and paedo-baptistic) and when considering the miraculous gifts of the Spirit, he is cessationist. I was somewhat surprised to see that, when discussing the task of the church, he teaches that the church must be missional, and he thus places greater emphasis on the Great Commission than would many Reformed and Presbyterian believers. Despite this long list of labels, he is charitable, willing and able to discern between first-order and second-order doctrines. He draws firm lines only where they need to be drawn, affirming his appreciation for all who are committed to the gospel.

Salvation Belongs To The Lord is not an exhaustive systematic theology, for it is, and is intended to be, only an introduction. And as an introduction it succeeds admirably. Clearly the result of much study and much thoughtful meditation, this book is clear and understandable, while at the same time expressing many of the deepest truths of the Christian faith. The reader would be remiss to skip over the lists of recommended reading at the end of this book, for Frame lists many excellent resources in “systematic theology and theological method” as well as many solid “introductions to the Reformed faith.” I trust that, for many, this book will prove to be only the beginning of a lifelong, fruitful study of the Christian faith. I eagerly recommend Salvation Belongs To The Lord to anyone who seeks to know more about the great God we serve. This book is sure to edify all who study it, whether they be long-time believers or recent converts. It will prove to be a delight to read.

The book is set to be released sometime in the next couple of days. It is available for pre-order from Amazon and will ship shortly.

8 years 6 months ago
Reformed Christians are increasingly divided over how they ought to worship God. For many Reformed believers, this is an issue of great urgency. D.G. Hart and John R. Muether wrote With Reverence And Awe (Returning to the Basics of Reformed Worship) to address this topic. They call the book a primer on worship, “a brief overview of how Reformed theology informs the way we think about, put together, and participate in the worship service. Our aim is to help church officers and members gather corporately for worship and do so in ways appropriate to the God who has revealed himself in Christ Jesus” (page 13). The authors believe that good theology must produce good worship, while poor theology necessarily produces poor worship. This is something the church has understood in the past, but has lost sight of in recent years. Reformed worship, because of its distinctiveness, will worship God in ways that are distinct from other theological traditions.

The first topic the authors address is the relationship of the church to the world. This is a logical place to begin, for many churches today take their cues in worship from unbelievers, deliberately providing a service that will make unbelievers comfortable. But the authors conclude that true worship “will be odd and perhaps even weird to the watching world. This oddness is not lamentable but essential to the church’s faithfulness and witness” (page 34). In fact, the church must take a posture that is antithetical to the world if she is to resist worldliness and idolatry. The clash with church growth principles is further enforced in the next chapter where the authors discuss the purpose of the church. They list three prevailing beliefs about this: the first, that the church is a means of social reform; the second that the church exists primarily to exalt God; and the third that the church exists primarily to evangelize. After examining The Great Commission, Hart and Muether teach that Christ’s primary command to the church is to disciple. A literal rendering of the Great Commission might read, “as you go, disciple, by teaching and baptizing.” Thus the church is primarily a worshipping community. While the authors do not downplay the importance of evangelism and taking the Gospel to the world, they believe that we can only properly understand the church by seeing her as a body meant for worship and discipleship. Worship constitutes the church and the very purpose for which God saves us, is to become worshippers.

There are two principles critical to the author’s argument that must be understood. The first is the Regulative Principle. This principle teaches that we may only worship God in ways expressly stated in Scripture. What is left unstated is as equally forbidden as what God expressly prohibits. The second principle is the Dialogical Principle which teaches that the covenantal pattern of Christian worship takes the form of a dialogue between God and His people. Thus there are two broad categories of elements within worship: those where we speak to God and those where He speaks to us. These principles inform everything that happens in worship, from the elements we allow, to the order the elements appear.

A further important discussion regards the priesthood of believers. This understanding of the laity arose during the Reformation, but has since been extended far beyond the original meaning. The authors believe that the priesthood of believers does not extend to the worship services. Instead, all parts of the worship service should be led by a rightly-ordained and appointed minister of the Word.

As the book nears the conclusion, the authors turn to the subject of reverence, arguing that the proper attitude for worship is reverence, but that this does not preclude emotions such as joy, grief or even anger. We can learn much about this from the Old Testament patterns of worship, which while they have been abolished, are still instructive for us today. Perhaps one of the most shocking statements in the book is this: “Indeed, we do not believe that it is putting it too strongly to suggest that Christians come to worship with the same attitude and demeanor they take to a funeral service for a professing Christian. Such funerals are times of reverence and joy” (page 127).

Surpringly, yet wisely, it is not until the final chapter that the authors contemplate music. They believe that music should inspire reverence, and like the Sabbath day of rest, should be unlike what we hear other days. This, once again, flies in the face of most modern teachings about music which teach that church music should sound similar to what people listen to every day. The songs we sing in church should be as distinctive as the theology we hold dear. Based on the writings of Terry L. Johnson, the authors suggest four criteria for music appropriate for the worship service. First, is it singable? Second, is it biblically and theologically sound? Third, is it biblically and theologically mature? Fourth, is it emotionally balanced? “It is crucial that the church’s songs be substantial enough to express accurately mature Christian belief as well as the subtlety of Christian experience….Simplistic, sentimental, repetitious songs by their very nature cannot carry the weight of Reformed doctrine and will leave the people of God ill-equipped on occasions of great moment” (page 173).

In the end, the authors conclude, “As attractive as contemporary forms of worship might appear, the logic by which they have entered Reformed circles is destructive of the Reformed tradition because it makes theology powerless. It seperates belief from practice” (page 177). And later they say, “In the end, Reformed theology is only as good, only as compelling, only as binding, as Reformed worship. And that is what the fuss is all about” (page 187).

Clearly Hart and Muether represent a conservative tradition, even within Reformed circles. Both are, I believe, members of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and their Presbyterian theology forms the basis for this book. There is little doubt that this book will alienate many readers for that very reason, and that is a pity, for it has much to say that is of great value. One of the things I appeciated most in this book was the authors’ desire to be deliberate in examining and structuring worship to remove all horizontal elements, allowing the worship service to be a time of deep, beautiful communion between God and His people. I found myself wishing that I shared their convictions towards the Regulative and Dialogical Principles, for surely the acceptance of these principles makes deciding the “what’s and how’s” of worship much easier. I also appreciated the theme that God-honoring worship must be built on God-honoring theology. But primarily, I appreciated the assertion that much of contemporary worship has entered Reformed circles in a way that is destructive to Reformed worship. Regardless of whether the worship is right or wrong, we have allowed these forms to enter our churches for the wrong reasons. There is much for me to ponder.

While I do not agree with all of the author’s conclusions, I found this a fascinating and challenging book and I highly recommend it for anyone who wishes to examine biblical principles for worshipping God.

8 years 6 months ago
Bart Ehrman is a highly-regarded 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. 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 see that at this very moment his name adorns 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, for 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” (15).

The book begins on an unexpected note with an autobiographical section in which Ehrman traces his conversion to Christianity, his training at Moody Bible Institute and Wheaton College and his growing concerns with the doctrines of the infallibility and inerrancy of Scripture. During his studied he developed a particular interest in the manuscripts that preserve the New Testament for us and the reconstruction of the original text. The question he continually asked of himself was a fair one: “how does it help us to say that the Bible is inerrant word of God if in fact we don’t have the words that God inerrantly inspired, but only the words copied by the scribes—sometimes correctly but sometimes (many times!) incorrectly? What good is it to say that the autographs (i.e., the originals) were inspired? We don’t have the originals!” (7). A turning point came in a post-graduate study of Mark. Attempting to reconcile a passage that seems to display a contradiction, his professor provided a simple one-line critique: “Maybe Mark just made a mistake” (9). Having opened his mind to mistakes within Scripture, the floodgates opened and the seeds of his eventual thesis were planted. The Bible suddenly seemed to be a very human book.

Through the first two chapters, Ehrman attempts to undermine the reader’s confidence in Scripture because of the inability of the early scribes to accurately transmit the texts. He shows that Christians, as the Jews before them, were people of the book and that “books were completely central to the life of early Christians” (29). Yet, while Christianity was a highly literate religion, it was composed primarily of illiterate people. This leads to a discussion of the copyists who labored to duplicate and disseminate the Scriptures in the first fifteen hundred years of the church’s history. He presents the scribes as being people who were mostly honest, but very often made unintentional but still significant mistakes. He suggests also that many scribes were only too willing to make changes to their texts in order to make the reading more clear or to make it conform to their understanding. Ehrman even suggests that Christian scribes were more likely to do poor work than their secular counterparts because they were mere amateurs.

Having attempted to undermine the reader’s confidence in the transmission of Scripture because of the problems inherent with scribes, Ehrman continues his argument by casting doubt on the manuscripts themselves. The manuscripts that exist today are so filled with scribal errors that we cannot trust them to lead us back to the original text of scripture. He appeals to the great number of variances in the existing manuscripts (somewhere between 200,000 and 400,000) but without properly qualifying these numbers. After all, we have such a vast array of manuscripts available to us that we have to expect there will be a great number of variances. Additionally, the great majority of these variances are simple and easy to reconstruct: changed word order, misspellings and the like. By the time this class of error has been accounted for, there are not nearly as many difficulties as he would have the reader believe.

After discussing some of the notable scholars in the area of textual criticism, Ehrman continues his argument to show that “in my judgment the translations available to most English readers are based on the wrong text, and having the wrong text makes a real difference for the interpretation of these books” (128). He presents several passages that he feels have been corrupted from the time they were first written, showing that we cannot inherently trust the Bible we have in our hands today.

The sixth chapter is pivotal and does much to advance Ehrman’s thesis. In this chapter he suggests that “sometimes the texts of the New Testament were modified for theological reasons” (151). His argument moves in an almost-ridiculous direction as he seems to believe that anytime a passage was used by the Church Fathers in order to counter the false theology of a heretic, it necessarily indicates that they tampered with that text to first make it say what they felt it needed to say in order to prove their version of orthodoxy. It is an absurd and frustrating conclusion that lacks any convincing proof.

The book then moves to its inevitable conclusion when Ehrman attempts to show that much of Christian theology is built not upon the original scriptures, but upon later scribal additions or deliberate subtractions. He singles out three issues: the role of women, the relationship of Christianity with Judaism, and the relationship between pagans and Christians. In each case he seeks to show that “a number of passages in our surviving manuscripts appear to embody the apologetic concerns of the early Christians, especially as these relate to the founder of their faith, Jesus himself…all of these controversies came to affect the texts that were eventually to become part of the book that we now call the New Testament, as this book—or rather this set of books—was copied by nonprofessional scribes in the second and third centuries, and occasionally came to be altered in light of the contexts of their day” (205).

Like the book’s introduction, the conclusion is more personal and autobiographical than the body of the text. Ehrman explains his belief that the Bible is merely an uninspired, error-filled human book. “Given the circumstance that he [God] didn’t preserve the words, the conclusion seemed inescapable to me that he hadn’t gone to the trouble of inspiring them” (211). Inevitably, then, the authors were only men who were much like the scribes he presents throughout the book. They were Christians who had inherited traditions about Jesus and his teaching and who had come to believe certain truths about God and Jesus. They passed along these traditions in their writings. If each of these authors was different, it is “not appropriate to think that any one of them meant the same thing as some other author meant” (212). Thus we have no need to compare the words of one author to another and to attempt to reconcile and harmonize them. The four gospels do not present four emphases about Jesus’ life, but tell four different stories, each changed to fit the beliefs and presuppositions of the author. The great irony of this discussion, as Ehrman points out, is that “the scribes were changing scripture much less radically than the authors of the New Testament themselves were” (215).

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.

Before I conclude, I would like to point out a couple of annoyances with the book that should be of concern to any reader, whether or not he agrees with the author’s thesis. First, much of the author’s thesis is based upon statements such as “we have reason to think” or “scholars believe” or “studies have shown.” These statements may move his argument along quickly and logically, but they are hardly convicting or satisfying. There are very few citations for a book of this depth and potential magnitude. This may be necessary simply because of the intended audience who may be intimidated by a dense bibliography and by many pages of endnotes, but it becomes difficult to truly believe in Ehrman’s thesis when he seems so unwilling to offer convincing proof. Finally, the book is filled with statements presented as fact that are, in reality, hotly disputed. Ehrman believes, for example, in the existence of the document known as “Q” and that Luke and Matthew both copied liberally from the book of Mark. He believes that the book of 1 Timothy was not written by Paul and that several important passages throughout the gospels and epistles were not original but appended to the documents at a later date by people with a specific agenda. If the reader does not agree with these presuppositions, much of the book’s argument disolves.

Needless to say, I found the book disappointing and unconvincing. Throughout the book, I was continually struck by one nagging thought. If we cannot know with any certitude what parts of the Bible are original, how can we know which parts were changed? If we have no confidence in the original text, how can we have confidence that a particular passage has been tampered with? Ehrman’s thesis seems to hinge on the belief that we can know which passages were changed, even while we have no confidence in the original text. This is, quite simply, untenable. His thesis also casts doubt on all of ancient history, for surely the problems with transmission of documents is not unique to Christianity (even if, as he suggests, it is particularly pronounced among those who used amateur scribes).

Ehrman is a skilled writer and creates an argument that has already proven convincing to many people. However, should those who read it choose to dig deeper and to find knowledgeable scholars who reject his thesis, they will soon realize that there is much more to the story than this author is presenting.

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