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Tim Challies

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theology

9 years 3 months ago
Hook Line and Sinker is a book based on what the author, Michael Bresciani, calls “refutation preaching.” “Refutation preaching as its name implies serves to refute some doctrine or teaching that has previously been established and generally accepted. Often these previously established teachings have been based on the scriptures themselves. Still other teachings have gained acceptance through oral communication” (page 9). Refutation preaching, says the author, is as old as the Bible’s record of human history. The prophets of the Old Testament were called to refute what had become accepted theology, but went against God’s Word. In this book, Bresciani seeks to refute some of the cliches and theology that have become accepted within the church. He does so with mixed results.

Some of what the author refutes is far overdue. God is testing you. I claimed a verse of Scripture. God told me to tell you. These are all phrases we hear used in a way that is foreign to any Scriptural understanding of God’s work in our lives.

Unfortunately, I had many areas of concern with the author’s theology. He seems to be an eclectic mixture of Conservative Protestant and Charismatic theology. Obviously he does not believe, as I do, in cessationism. He believes that God may give me a message of prophecy for someone else or that I should seek the gift of tongues. The theological inconsistency left me bewildered at times.

The book also seemed to suffer from the spelling and grammatical issues that plague books that are self-published. It was far better than others I have read, but did not rise to the standards of books that have been professionally published.

In the end, I appreciated what the author attempted to do, but felt that the shortcomings outweighed the strengths. His theology and mine are too often too far apart to allow me to agree with him as much as I would have liked.

  Evaluation Support
Theology/Accuracy
Some good and some bad, but it seemed inconsistent throughout.
 
Readability
Quite easy-to-read, but with problems in spelling and grammar.
Uniqueness
An overdue attempt at refuting common errors.
Importance
Would be more important were it more consistent.
  Overall
A noble but flawed attempt to refute common errors.
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9 years 3 months ago
A couple of months ago I asked Crossway if there was a book in their catalog that they felt was an overlooked treasure - a book that deserved far more recognition than it had received. They suggested Father, Son & Holy Spirit by Bruce Ware. I know 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.

This book is being reviewed as part of the Diet of Bookworms. You can read more reviews of it, written by many of your favorite bloggers, right here.

  Evaluation Support
Theology/Accuracy
Very solid, biblical and relevant throughout.
 
Readability
Both easy and enjoyable to read and understand.
Uniqueness
Unique in its ability to practically apply difficult theology.
Importance
An important tool in understanding the character and persons of God.
  Overall
I unreservedly recommend this book. Buy one for yourself and one for your best friend. You won’t regret it.
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9 years 4 months ago

While much has been written about the Emerging Church (henceforth known as EC), D.A. Carson is, as far as I know, the first person to write a book-length treatment evaluating and leveling critiques at the movement. At any rate he is certainly the most widely-respected. And yes, I know the EC leaders prefer to call it a “conversation,” but since Carson does not shy from calling it a movement, nor will I. In Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church, subtitled “Understanding a Movement and its Implications,” Carson seeks to introduce the movement, assess it, and address several of the most glaring weaknesses. There are few men who are better suited to this task. Carson is a scholar and is known for his conservative, biblical theology as much as for his sound research and presentation skills. All of those admirable attributes are displayed throughout this book.

In the preface Carson writes, “Whenever a Christian movement comes along that presents itself as reformist, it should not be summarily dismissed. Even if one ultimately decides that the movement embraces a number of worrying weaknesses, it may also have some important things to say that the rest of the Christian world needs to hear. So I have tried to listen respectfully and carefully; I hope and pray that the leaders of this “movement” will similarly listen to what I have to say” (page 10). That spirit of love and charity pervades the book.

The book follows a logical format – introduction, admiration, criticism. The first chapter, “The Emerging Church Profile,” is an uncritical summary of the Emerging Church. Carson arrives at three conclusions. First, the EC must be evaluated as to its reading of contemporary culture. Second, the EC needs to be evaluated as to its beliefs regarding Scripture. Third, the EC’s proposals for moving forward in this postmodern culture need to be examined.

The second chapter examines the strengths of the Emerging Church. Carson praises four aspects of the EC. First, they are adept at reading the times and are able to think through the implications for our witness, our grasp of theology and our self-understanding. Second, they value authenticity. Third, they recognize the social location of the church, and know that the church is within a cultural context and cannot be removed from it. Fourth, they place high value on evangelism. Fifth, that they probe tradition and seek to build a faith that is rooted in the past while still being relevant to the present.

Having shown the strengths of the EC, Carson turns to several weaknesses in the third chapter. He critiques their evaluation and denigration of modernism, their condemnation of confessional Christianity and accuses them of having a view of Christianity under modernism that is both theologically shallow and intellectually incoherent.

The fourth chapter serves as an introduction to postmodernism and the postmodern mindset. For those who are unfamiliar with the changing times, and our society’s emerging epistemology, this chapter is a valuable introduction.

Carson goes on, in chapters five, six and seven to critique the Emerging Church’s response to postmodernism. He is especially critical of the EC’s handling of truth, and frustrated by their refusal to deal with the tough questions. He finds that more often than not, the EC leaders refuse to deal with the tough questions related to claims of absolute truth. He is also concerned with the EC’s stubborn refusal to use Scripture as the norming norm against appeals to tradition, as well as the EC’s emphasis on “belonging before believing.” He deals with two books in some depth – Brian McLaren’s A Generous Orthodoxy as well as Steve Chalke’s The Lost Message of Jesus, thus representing leaders of the Emerging Church on both sides of the Atlantic. Carson arrives at a chilling conclusion. “I have to say, as kindly but as forcefully as I can, that to my mind, if words mean anything, both McLaren and Chalke have largely abandoned the Gospel…I cannot see how their own words constitute anything less than a drift toward abandoning the gospel itself” (page 186-187).

The book concludes with a list of relevant Bible passages and “A Biblical Meditation on Truth and Experience.” He closes with a challenge. “So which shall we choose? Experience or truth? Damn all false antitheses to hell, for they generate false gods, they perpetuate idols, they twist and distort our souls, they launch the church into violent pendulum swings whose oscillations succeed only in dividing brothers and sisters in Christ…If emerging church leaders wish to become a long-term prophetic voice that produces enduring fruit and that does not drift off toward progressive sectarianism and even, in the worst instances, outright heresy, they must listen at least as carefully to criticisms of their movement as they transparently want others to listen to them…If they manage this self-correction and worry less about who is or who is not emergent and rather more about learning simultaneously to be faithful to the Bible and effective in evangelizing the rising number of alienated biblical illiterates in our culture, they may end up preserving the gains of their movement while helping brothers and sisters who are more culturally conservative than they are learn to reconnect with the culture.” (page 234).

Carson faced a great difficulty in this book. How does one fairly and adequately critique a movement as eclectic as the Emerging Church? Many have criticized this movement for being so hard to pin down. Carson admits that not every critique he makes will be valid for every person who considers himself a part of this “conversation.” Yet I feel that Carson did as well as could be expected, focusing the majority of his attention on those who have the majority of the influence.

My concerns with the book are twofold. First, while the Emerging Church is emerging at the popular level, this book is written to appeal more to scholars and to those who are well-versed in theology than to the neophyte. If it is true, as Carson claims, that most Emerging leaders come from a fundamentalist background, then perhaps this is appropriate. But I am not sure that this book offers a lot by way of popular appeal. If your teenage son has become enamored with an Emerging Church while at college, I do not know that this book will interest him or convince him to re-examine his church. That being said, he was not Carson’s target audience for Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church. I have little doubt that the majority of the major players leading the Emergent conversation will read and absorb this book. I pray that the Spirit works in their hearts to humble themselves before the Word, that they can test what Carson says in the light of Scripture.

My second concern is that Carson does not address in any depth some of the major concerns of believers who examine this movement from the outside. Among these are the mysticism and ecumenism that seem foundational to the Emerging Church.

This book is surely the most valuable contribution available to us in challenging the Emerging Church. Carson evaluates the EC in the light of Scripture, showing where it falls far short and providing suggestions for appropriate remedies. This book succeeds in its task and I highly recommend it.

  Evaluation Support
Theology/Accuracy
Solid throughout, not that we’d expect any less of Carson.
 
Readability
Assumes a fair amount of knowledge of Christian theology.
Uniqueness
While there will surely be more to come, this is the first real critique of the Emerging Church.
Importance
An exceedingly important contribution to the “conversation.”
  Overall
I recommend this book to anyone interested in or concerned about the Emerging Church.
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9 years 4 months ago

There are many companies today that allow anyone with a few thousand dollars (sometimes less) to publish a book. There are few requirements other than a manuscript and money. This is a mixed blessing. On one hand it allows people to publish books who arouse little interest in the handful of major publishers. On the other hand, it allows books to be printed that are sloppily-written, or at times, clearly not deserving of being printed.

The Passion of Job by Dr. Richard Spillman is published by Xulon Press, just such a company that caters to the Christian market. In fact, Xulon publicizes the claim (without substantiation) that it is the world’s largest Christian publisher. This book is not the type that would gain interest from a major publisher, yet is well-worth reading. Unfortunately, it succumbs to the stylistic sloppiness self-publishing is known for.

Dr. Spillman is a professor of computer science and engineering at Pacific Lutheran University - hardly the average job description of the kind of author published by a major publishing company. Through his twenty years of teaching Sunday school at his local church, he gained a deep appreciation for the book of Job. He came to see that his initial impression of the book was wrong. It is not a book, as many think, about God’s arbitrary nature in allowing suffering or the story of a God who cannot turn down a bet, but “a story about a man who had lost his sense of wonder about God and the lengths that God went to in order to restore Job’s awe” (page 12). The book is an examination of the theme of God’s awesomeness throughout the book of Job, and encouragement to Christians to recover a sense of awe before their Creator.

As I read the book I was struck with the parallels between my research and writing and that of Dr. Spillman. It seems to me to be no coincidence that this book arrived as I was writing a series about our tendency to put God in a box and our need to recover a sense of awe before Him.

I did, however, have a few concerns with the book. First, I am not entirely convinced of the author’s premise that the book centers on Job’s need to recover a sense of awe. It seems to me that such a premise may almost undermine the author’s intent. However, such a teaching is only very narrowly removed from a more traditional understanding. For example, John MacArthur, in The Bible Handbook, writes that a theme of Job is “Job simply commits his ordeal with a devout heart of worship and humility to a sovereign and perfectly wise Creator - and that was what God wanted him to learn in this conflict with Satan” (page 145). We could paraphrase MacArthur’s statement by saying “Job recovered a sense of awe before God - and that was what God wanted him to learn in this conflict with Satan.” So perhaps there is not a great difference between the two.

Second, as I mentioned earlier, there were some significant issues with sloppiness. There were plenty of spelling and grammatical errors, many of which could have been corrected by a program with only basic spell-checker capabilities (such as Microsoft Word), and all of which could have been caught by an editor.

And third, there were a few references to God speaking to the author. Some of this was beautiful, as when he described how the Lord gave him a passage to speak about at His Father’s funeral, for this is completely consistent with how the Spirit works. Other references were a little more confusing.

In the end, I found the book a tad difficult to analyze. I truly enjoyed it from beginning ton end, and I learned a lot. I suppose the primary problem is my own ignorance when it comes to the deepest meanings of the book of Job. I simply do not know enough about the book to know if Dr. Spillman is right or wrong in his analysis of the text, for I have never done a thorough study of it. However, I still learned much about the importance of having and maintaining an awe of God that is very valuable and precious to me. I recommend this book and hope I can read reviews by others who know more about Job than I do.

  Evaluation
Theology/Accuracy
My ignorance of the subject matter prohibits a detailed analysis. But on the whole I found it strong.
Readability
Written in a conversational tone, but filled with errors in grammar and spelling.
Uniqueness
I don’t know of any titles quite like it.
Importance
The importance lies in recovering a sense of awe before God.
  Overall
A book I thoroughly enjoyed and can recommend.
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9 years 5 months ago

A few weeks ago Jason Boyett wrote me to ask if he could send along a copy of his latest book, A Pocket Guide to the Apocalypse. I rarely turn down a book, so told him I would be glad to read and review this one. He encouraged me to review it honestly and to pan it if I felt that was necessary. He must believe in the old adage that “no press is bad press.”

The Pocket Guide, which is written in a style reminiscent of Douglas Adams’ famous five-part trilogy The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, is a “comprehensive guide to the last days, a must-have for apocalypse watchers, readers of Revelation and all-around Armageddon obsessives” (from the back cover). To translate, it is a book that pokes fun at those who think they have the end-times all figured out and who like to claim they know when the end is coming. It also seeks to bring just a little bit of clarity to the concepts and terminology surrounding the end-times.

Inside you’ll find all kinds of interesting information. The book kicks off with an apocalyptionary (let me assure you that Microsoft Word does not have that book in its dictionary) which defines many of the terms one needs to know to undertake a study of eschatology. It includes words like eschatology. To understand the author’s writing style, which is clearly meant to appeal to a younger audience, here is an excerpt from his definition of Antichrist. “The Antichrist is akin to a devious evil twin of Jesus, in that his hidden agenda is not just the world domination thing but also to oppose Christianity by torturing and destroying all those who refuse to lick his proverbial boots. But not for long, as Jesus also has an agenda - to expose the Antichrist as a fraud, go medieval on his pointy satanic tail during the battle of Armageddon, and reign for a thousand years in his stead. According to dispensationalist theology, the Antichrist is scheduled to appear halfway through the Tribulation. There will be a parade.” Later in the book is a chapter that lists and evaluates many of the favored choices of Antichrist among end-times prognosticators such as Nero, the pope, Hitler, Bill Gates, and so on.

The heart of the book is two chapters that detail the hundreds of times a person has declared that “the end is near.” These doomsdayers, ranging from Romulus (founder of Rome) to Martin Luther to Pat Robertson and beyond, have often gathered immense following, but so far their success rate is approximately zero percent. The book wraps up with a discussion of the various eschatological beliefs (where amillennialism seems to fare quite well) and then with a grab-bag of topics that did not rate a chapter of their own. A highlight in this final section is an interview with end-times expert Paul Meier.

There were a few times in reading this book where I would laugh out loud, and then catch myself and question if the ends times are really a topic we should make light of. There were other times where I wondered if Boyett had crossed the line between humor and blasphemy. At best I would say there are a few places where he may be towing the line. Another concern (though one unrelated to theology) is that he teaches that the early church leaders were nearly unanimous in their belief in premillenniallism. That is a common belief, but one that is inaccurate as recent studies show that there was a variety of beliefs in the ancient church. And finally, Boyett uses the “millions and billions of years ago” language that does not sit so well with those of us who believe in a young earth. Beyond those concerns I found this book tremendously enjoyable and I can’t deny that I learned quite a bit through reading it.

The Pocket Guide is the anti-Left Behind. Boyett writes with humor and insight, and accomplishes what must have been one of his main goals - to show that we just cannot know exactly how or when this world is going to end. Some things are hidden from us, and we need to believe that God has good reason in this. This book will help convince you that we sometimes need to leave well enough alone.

  Evaluation
Theology/Accuracy
There isn’t a whole lot of theology in the book. The bit you’ll find is a mixed bag of good and bad.
Readability
Written to appeal to a younger audience, so is easy to read.
Uniqueness
I can’t say I’ve ever read anything quite like it.
Importance
It’s fun to read, but you won’t miss much if you skip it.
  Overall
A fun book, but not one you are likely to benefit much from reading.
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9 years 5 months ago

A Journey in Grace, by Richard Belcher, is billed as being “A Theological Novel.” So intrigued was I at the prospect of reading a theological novel that I left this book sitting on my shelf for seven years before I ever thought to read it. And now I can’t help but wish I had read it sooner.

I believe the order of the words in “theological novel” is important. This book is definitely better theology than fiction. In fact, as fiction goes, it is quite poor. But as theology it is exceptional. I chose to read and examine it as theology rather than fiction, since that is clearly its primary purpose.

A Journey in Grace tells the story of Ira Pointer, a young man who is studying for the ministry in a fictitious Bible college. While being interviewed for the position of pastor at a nearby church he is asked the question, “Young man, are you a Calvinist.” The story then unfolds around Ira trying to define and understand Calvinism. Being the methodical sort, he examines Calvinist beliefs point-by-point, holding them up before Scripture to allow the light of the Word to shine through. And he is sure to study not only the points, but also the counter-points. What emerges is a strong defense of the doctrines of grace, that while set in a fictitious setting, is still remarkably instructive. In terms of usefulness as a defense of the doctrines, I would rate it higher than many non-fiction books I have read that cover the same topic.

I admit that this book sounds dry. But while it may sound that way, it actually flows quite naturally. It could be that I am biased towards any novel that features a hyper-Calvinist and a convinced Arminian as the antagonists, but I think there is more to it than that. I found it an enjoyable read and learned a lot about a topic I thought I had mastered. I recommend this one. In fact, I so enjoyed it that I have immediately begun to read the sequel, A Journey in Purity.

  Evaluation
Theology
Strong, Bible-based theology throughout.
Readability
It is theological fiction, combining theology with a story. Even teens should enjoy it.
Uniqueness
I don’t know of any other theological novels, and certainly none like these.
Importance
Not a must-read unless you’ve never met the doctrines of grace.
  Overall
It’s not great fiction, but it’s strong theology. I highly recommend it!
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9 years 5 months ago

I have often admired authors who have written the great biographies of Christian heroes of the past. Arnold Dallimore, Iain Murray and others, who have invested thousands of hours in reading about and seeking to understand their subject. With enough study the biographer can eventually reach a point where he really understands the person he intends to write about. When he understands him, he can share what he knows of the person with others through the written word.

James White, in The Forgotten Trinity has taken on a more difficult task. He has written a book about One who is beyond human comprehension. While there is much we can know about God, we can only know what He has chosen to reveal about Himself. There is so much more to God that our finite minds can ever comprehend. White seeks to explain what the Bible tells us of the Trinity and to answer the question of why the Trinity has “become a theological appendage that is more often misunderstood than rightly known” (page 16). This book is an outpouring of the love White has for God as He exists in three persons.

“Most Christian people, while remembering the term “Trinity,” have forgotten the central place the doctrine is to hold in the Christian life. It is rarely the topic of sermons and Bible studies, rarely the object of adoration and worship - at least worship in truth, which is what the Lord Jesus said the Father desires. Instead, the doctrine is misunderstood as well as ignored. It is so misunderstood that a majority of Christians, when asked, give incorrect and at times downright heretical definitions of the Trinity. For others, it is ignored in such a way that even among those who correctly understand the doctrine, it does not hold the place it should in the proclamation of the Gospel message, nor in the life of the individual believer in prayer, worship and service” (page 16).

Over 200 pages, White provides an introduction to the Trinity - an introduction targeted at the layperson, not the scholar. It is concise, balanced and understandable. He is careful to define terms as he proceeds, and to always answer the question of why this is all so important. While White is known as being a theologian, and one who perhaps writes for other theologians, this book is understandable for any believer. Far more than mere doctrine, this book is an expression of the author’s affection for God.

To mimic the endorsement of this book written by John MacArthur, the Trinity is a doctrine where error is especially deadly. The Forgotten Trinity brings urgent clarity to a difficult and often-overlooked doctrine. I recommend it.

9 years 5 months ago

Until I read this book I never would have considered that God’s love was a difficult doctrine. The Trinity is a difficult doctrine to understand - impossible even. The eternal nature of God - that is another difficult or impossible one. But the love of God? I wouldn’t have believed it. But having read this book I believe it now.

The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God by D.A. Carson is just a short book (96 pages) that is drawn from four lectures Carson delivered in 1998. There was a small amount of editing performed, but the conversational nature of the speech carries through the text. It makes for an easy read, despite some deep theology.

Carson begins by outlining five reasons why this is a difficult doctrine. First, he suggests that while most people believe that God is a loving Being, this belief is set within a foundation other than Scripture. Second, many complementary truths about God are disbelieved by many within our culture (and our churches). Third, postmodernism reinforces a sentimental, syncretistic and pluralistic view of God. Fourth, the church has fallen into believing a sentimentalized version of God’s love that is not consistent with God as presented in Scripture. And fifth, the church portrays this as a simple doctrine and overlooks certain important distinctions that prove this to be a difficult doctrine.

From this foundation, Carson builds the book around four themes: the distortion of the love of God; the fact that God is love; God’s love and God’s sovereignty; and God’s love and God’s wrath. As we would expect from Carson, he goes straight to the source - to God’s revelation of Himself in Scripture - to correct false assumptions and provide a deep discussion of what God’s love entails. He defends the compatibility of seemingly-opposite characteristics of God (that God can be perfectly loving and yet perfectly just in His wrath) and examines how God’s love interacts with His sovereignty in human affairs.

The only caveat I would provide with this book is that it does assume some knowledge of Christian theology since it was initially targeted at seminary students. For example, Carson discusses distinctions between Calvinism and Arminianism without first defining his terms. A basic knowledge of Greek would not hurt either, though it certainly is not necessary.

It is rare to find so much depth in such a short book. At the same time it is also nice to be able to learn so much without having to wade through hundreds of pages of text - this book could as easily have been hundreds or thousands of pages long. Carson does a wonderful job of highlighting the most important issues while confining himself to a limited word count. I highly recommend this book.

9 years 6 months ago

The Passion of Jesus Christ was rushed to press in time to be available for the release of Mel Gibson’s blockbuster The Passion of the Christ. The book sold some two million copies, though many of these were through a promotion that provided the book at cost when purchased in bulk. Many churches gave the book to those who expressed interest in learning more about Jesus in the aftermath of the movie. Those who are familiar with my book reviews will know that I have struggled with Piper’s books in the past - not on the basis of content, but on the basis of Piper’s writing style. These people may be glad to know that this is the first book by Piper that I have enjoyed from cover-to-cover.

The Passion of Jesus Christ provides fifty reasons why Jesus suffered and died. Piper is careful to look beyond the cause to see the purpose in Jesus’ death. Where the movie focused on how Jesus died, and the media frenzy examined who killed Him, this book looks past the controversy to show the purposes behind His death. The author lists fifty reasons, each backed by Scripture and explained in some detail.

I was unsure as to how to read this book. Usually a book begins with an introduction and then works toward proving a thesis. In this book Piper provides fifty equal points with no real progression from one to the next. There seems to be little rhyme or reason to the order of their presentation and there is no sense of moving towards a dramatic conclusion. I believe it would make an excellent basis for a devotional book. Reading all fifty chapters, one after the other, did not provide a lot of time to ponder each of the purposes behind Christ’s death. In fact, with the addition of a short meditation to each chapter, and perhaps a prayer, it would be a devotional book.

Doctrinally (or perhaps editorially), there were a few small concerns. For example, the title of chapter thirteen is “To Abolish Circumcision and All Rituals as the Basis of Salvation” but of course the rituals and circumcision were never the basis for salvation. There is also an odd statement on page 79 where Piper writes, “Becoming a Christian means death to sin. The old self that loved sin died with Jesus. Sin is like a prostitute that no longer looks beautiful. She is the murderer of my King and myself…Sin, the prostitute who killed my friend, has no appeal, she has become an enemy.” While becoming a Christian does, indeed, bring death to sin, to say that sin no longer has any appeal is to deny what every person’s nature begs for every day. We have been saved, and we are dying to sin, but it still lives within us, constantly trying to draw us back to our old ways. If only sin did not look so appealing! There were a few more minor concerns, including a rather odd view of “the futility of our ancestry” in chapter 28.

Generally this is a good book and one I can recommend to Christians. I am not sure that it makes a very useful resource to give to unbelievers or those who are interested in learning more about Jesus. The doctrine is heavy (which is not a bad thing), and as I indicated before, there is little progression through the book. I doubt many unbelievers would read past the first few chapters. Still, buy it for yourself, read it, and enjoy it. It is well worth your time.

9 years 6 months ago

Reformed: What it Means, Why it Matters is a concise, entry-level introduction to the distinctives of Reformed Christianity. It is intended to be a guide for inquirers who are seeking direction for which church to attend, for new Christians who are surveying the different traditions within Christianity and anyone else who has questions about the Reformed faith. In just four chapters and 71 pages, Robert De Moor seeks to introduce these Reformed distinctives.

Unfortunately, the book takes a misstep right from the outset. On page 7, only the third page of the first chapter, the author writes, “We’re part of a family that includes Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Anglican, Evangelical, and a host of other churches that confess and practice the Christian faith.” The book’s ecumenical leanings are further revealed later in the text where we read, “And to the best of our ability we’ll need to work … right along with our Roman Catholic, Pentecostal and Baptist sisters and brothers” (page 17). Later still he writes, “We preach the same gospel of Jesus Christ [as Catholics] and him crucified and risen. We share in the same Spirit and celebrate two of the same sacraments. … So we know that we’re called to work together even if we can’t always worship together. And we long, pray and work for the wonderful day when we can do that too” (page 57). It becomes clear that the author is sympathetic towards Catholicism and regards Rome and Protestantism as holding to the same gospel. At the same time he correctly affirms that we do not currently have enough unity to worship together and affirms that the Reformation, from which Reformed Christianity was birthed, was necessary. It is a strange mix, wherein he seems to understand the truth, but not the falsehood. It makes me wonder how fully he understands the Gospel if he is willing to say that the Reformed and Roman Catholic Gospel are the same.

Another shortcoming in the book is that it makes no room for Reformed Baptists, as infant baptism is listed as a Reformed distinctive without any mention that many who consider themselves Reformed believe only in believer’s baptism. Strangely, De Moor is careful to mention that there are both charismatic and non-charismatic Reformed believers, though surely those who are both Reformed and charismatic are much smaller in number than those who are Reformed and Baptist.

Finally, the author makes a serious error in his discussion of baptism where he writes about grieving parents who wanted their child, who had just died, to be baptized so the parents could have assurance that he would go to heaven. “But baptism would not have washed away the sin of their child. Only Jesus Christ, who died on the cross two thousand years ago, could do that. Through Jesus’ death God saved their child. And through their faith God applied the cleansing merit of Christ’s death to their baby” (page 37). This smacks of the “covenantal regeneration” that dwells primarily within the Dutch Reformed Church tradition.

These three concerns impact only a small area of the book, the rest of which is quite solid. The author does a good job of introducing Reformed doctrine in an accessible way, often turning to acronyms or alliteration. For example, he teaches that Reformed Christianity understands God to do five things for us: Control, Communicate, Confirm, Cleanse and Claim. He shows, and proves, that the teachings Reformed types hold dear “are nothing more and nothing less than the key teachings of the Bible itself” (page 21).

Throughout the book are sidebars which contain factoids, word definitions, fast forwards (if you wish to skip over a section), “so what’s” and so on. These are often helpful tidbits that do not fit the flow of the main text.

De Moor concludes with a parting thought where he writes, “Undoubtedly I’ve left a lot of material out. I’ve oversimplified and even misrepresented. But that’s inevitable when we try to reduce into print the riches and variability of a living, breathing, growing, dynamic tradition” (page 62). I am less concerned with his oversimplifications than with his misrepresentations. This book has several that are serious enough that I cannot recommend it, at least as a book to give to the target audience. Rather than providing a glance into the Reformed tradition, it seems instead to provide an alarming glance into one particular denomination (The Christian Reformed Church) - one that does not accurately represent “Reformed.”

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