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Tim Challies

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12 years 1 month ago

Putting Amazing Back Into Grace is the first book I have read by Michael Horton. It will certainly not be my last. On the cover of the book J.I. Packer declares the book “a breaktaking workout” and his praise is justified. This book points us back to the Reformation and ultimately to the Bible itself as the source of an amazing grace that much of modern Christianity seems to have lost. He presents timeless truths as being as relevant to us today as they were when they were first discovered.

Horton redraws the standard TULIP acronym using modern terms. Total Depravity becomes Rebels Without A Cause, Unconditional Election becomes Grace Before Time, Limited Atonement becomes Mission Accomplished, Irresistible Grace becomes Intoxicating Grace and Perseverance of The Saints becomes No Lost Causes. While the terms may have changed, the truth behind each is defended and, perhaps best of all, made relevant to life. More than a theological treatise, this book contains an element of intense practicality where Horton shows how these doctrines are relevant to everyday life.

Among the other topics Horton covers are dispensationalism which he bravely attacks and the sacraments which he describes as being two keys to spiritual growth. I found the chapter of sacraments the weakest part of the book. While he has given me some food for thought, I do have to take issue with some of his statements. He takes a firm stance for paedo-baptism as well as a sacramental view of the “ordinances”, so be prepared for that. His comments about evangelical churches adding extra sacraments (ie recommitment) are well-taken.

Perhaps my greatest praise is that this book challenges so many assumptions and so many of the words and phrases Christians use all the time. Horton traces the evolution of many of these phrases and shows how they are unbiblical at best, and heretical at worst. Some examples of this are “let go and let God” and “the Spirit’s leading.” Common phrases, but ones we use without really examining their underlying theological implications.

I do not use the term life-changing easily, but I do not believe it would be unfair to say that this book can change a life. It is a stunning portrayal of the doctrines of grace and one I know I will return to often. I give it my wholehearted recommendation for all believers. If you do not know the doctrines of grace, read this book and discover them for yourself. If you do, read this book to rediscover their greatness. This book will leave you in awe before the greatness of our God.

12 years 1 month ago

While much has been written about the church growth movement and Purpose Driven principles, I believe that Who’s Driving The Purpose Driven Church is the first book-length treatment dealing specifically with this topic. The title is slightly deceptive, as this book deals particularly with Rick Warren’s best-selling book The Purpose Driven Life which has sold nearly 20 million copies in just two years. The book purports to be a “documentary on the teachings of Rick Warren.” Because of the overlap between The Purpose Driven Church (targeted at pastors and church officials) and The Purpose Driven Life (targeted at the wider church body as well as unbelievers), Who’s Driving is relevant to people who have concerns about either book.

I would like to thank James Sundquist for providing me access to the manuscript before the book was published. I asked him about his motivation for writing the book and he replied that he was not directly thinking of an intended audience but simply went through The Purpose Driven Life line by line, precept upon precept and compared each to Scripture. “My hope and prayer is that that the book will be a training manual to help and warn pastors who are considering The Purpose Driven Life, to equip the saints in churches already doing the program to remove themselves (and hopefully their church) from this snare, and finally to be a balm of Gilead to heal the broken and wounded saints who have been bludgeoned by this movement. The book is also a response to the SOS’s coming in from all over the country by people who want to confront their church leaders, but just need the documentation to do so.”

This book, then, was born of a desire to equip Christians with the information they need to properly examine Purpose Driven teachings; to give facts and proof about which of Warren’s teachings are unbiblical. “One of the most precious doctrines and resources of Christianity is truth! If we compromise truth, we will have lost the savor in our salt and will eventually and rightfully be trodden under foot.”

Among the topics the author confronts are:

  • The false premise of a 40 day journey.
  • The Scriptural support for requiring readers to sign a covenant with the author.
  • The accuracy of the Bible translations and paraphrases used throughout the book.
  • False teachings.
  • The importance of doctrine.
  • Promoting the teachings of false teachers.
  • God’s pattern for worship.
  • The Celebrate Recovery program.
  • Prophecy.
  • The SHAPE program and its ties to Carl Jung.
  • Judgment and separation.

There is also a large Question and Answers section where the author addresses questions and criticisms that have been sent to him from a variety of sources. The book closes with several appendices which provide Biblical comparisons of psychology to the Bible, comparisons of the Purpose Driven Church to the Bible and the close ties between Carl Jung, Myers-Briggs and Rick Warren’s SHAPE test.

Time would fail me to discuss any of these in depth as the author covers each one in depth with the book weighing in at 270 pages. Suffice it to say that he does exactly what he claims to do, examining each aspect of the Purpose Driven program in the light of Scripture. While he finds that some is acceptable, the vast majority of the program fails under the light of the Word. This conclusion is unavoidable when one comes to realize that the program is built on a variety of false premises.

I will address a couple of weaknesses I found in the book. Many subjects, while covered thoroughly, where neither introduced nor concluded. The author waded immediately into the topic at-hand without first introducing it. While that did not affect my enjoyment of the book it may hinder and even confuse some who are not familiar with The Purpose Driven Life. The book seems to presuppose a certain level of familiarity with Warren’s book. But perhaps when this book is viewed as a documentary or commentary the approach makes sense. Similarly, the book had no conclusion; it just ended. I was anticipating some closing thoughts and exhortations, but there were none to be found. And finally, the book seemed to be inconsistently formatted so that some chapters contained questions and comments while others did not. The formatting varied from chapter to chapter, sometimes using subheadings and sometimes not. However, none of those complaints detract from the usefulness of the book.

The book will be available beginning in October of 2004 at Southwest Radio Church Ministries. I give it my recommendation, especially to those who are uncertain about whether they or their churches should begin a 40 Days of Purpose program.

12 years 1 month ago
It takes a brave man to write another book geared towards convincing unbelievers that being good simply isn’t enough to earn God’s favor. There are so many similar books available and most unbelievers have heard the arguments so many times that they simply fall on deaf ears. Andy Stanley, though, wrote How Good Is Good Enough? to cover this topic one more time and he covers it admirably.

The book is based around the premise that every religion other than Christianity is based on the premise that good deeds can earn us a favorable place in the afterlife. This, the world’s most popular theory about heaven, falls flat when examined in depth, and Stanley examines it thoroughly. He asks the usual questions (“if you were to stand before God and He were to ask why He should let you get into heaven, what would you say?”) and uses the familiar arguments (“Jesus was either a liar, a lunatic or exactly who He said He was”) yet somehow avoids making the book fell like it is filled with nothing but cliché. Perhaps the fact that it is written conversationally, almost as if Stanley was sitting in a room with you and just sharing his faith, makes it feel different. It is filled with examples from his own life and ministry, giving it a sense of genuineness.

The book is divided into two sections. The first speaks about common understandings of God, the afterlife and how we can secure a place in heaven. The second section presents the Christian alternative to the arguments of other religions. Stanley shows, for example, how a common objection to the reality of heaven and hell is that sending people to hell is not fair. To counter this, he presents God as merciful rather than fair, for fairness would condemn us all to hell.

How Good Is Good Enough? concludes with a prayer and the author is careful to point out that faith, not a prayer, is what saves. The prayer covers sin, the fact that we deserve punishment and the reality of Jesus’ substitution.

Theologically this book was solid, and examining it from my Calvinist viewpoint I found no significant shortcomings. Especially noteworthy was that the author used a solid Bible translation throughout and did not “dumb down” the message of the gospel and neither did he rob it of its power by giving only half the story. This is the good ol’ fashioned gospel presented honestly and powerfully.

I was pleasantly surprised by this book and recommend it as a gift for a friend or family member who does not believe. It is easy to read, short (a mere 92 pages) and covers the topic as well as any similar book I’ve read.

12 years 4 months ago

Brian McLaren is a pastor and author who is leading the church’s charge into postmodernism and is one of the foremost voices of the emerging church movement. His book More Ready Than You Realize was recommended to me by several people. One called it “the best book I’ve ever read on evangelism” and another went almost as far, calling it “one of the best books” he had read on the subject. In my discussion of the book I am going to avoid speaking about the emerging church, since evangelism is the true focus of this volume. Though it is difficult to separate the emerging church from McLaren’s approach to evangelism, I will seek to do so.

The back cover begins with a warning. It says “This is not just another book on evangelism. This book contains fresh, encouraging, challenging, groundbreaking and doable ideas you’ll want to share with your pastor, your small group or class, your board, or your parachurch organization.” The next heading is Out. Under Out it lists: evangelism as sales pitch, as conquest, as warfare, as ultimatum, as threat, as proof, as argument, as entertainment, as show, as monologue, as something you have to do. As what is In the book lists: disciple-making as conversation, as friendship, as influence, as invitation, as companionship, as challenge, as opportunity, as conversation, as dance, as something you get to do. Clearly this book is trying to bring a fresh perspective to a topic many Christians regard as stale.

McLaren uses the term “spiritual friendship” to describe evangelism that will be effective in our postmodern society. Where in the past people have, with varied degrees of success, used many other methods, today we need to rely on friendships and relationships. We need to change our way of thinking so that we no longer regard unbelievers as “the lost” by instead see them as “the precious ones” that God is seeking. When we regard them as lost, we necessarily place ourselves in a superior position to them and this impacts our attempts to evangelize them. We also need to stop speaking about “winning” people for the Lord, as postmoderns hate the old-fashioned terms of conquest and warfare. We need to regard evangelism as a dance where the believer and the unbeliever move in harmony, first one taking the lead and then the other.

The book is based on a spiritual friendship the author shared with a young woman he calls Alice. Their relationship was carried on almost entirely via email and went on for some two years (at which point the book was published). McLaren holds this relationship as a model for spiritual friendship. He shows how initially Alice is filled with questions and with disgust for traditional Christianity. By the end of the book she has just as many questions but has respect for God and claims to have developed some sort of faith. Interestingly, the author makes no claim that Alice ever became a believer.

McLaren’s theology is poor at best. At one point he is faced with the question of “why did Jesus have to die?” He realizes that all his standard answers to this question would make no impact on a postmodern mind, so he asks for two weeks to come up with an answer. He pulled out his theological volumes by Stott, Packer and Boice and found no answers. Fortunately his brother provided the answer he needed. His brother told him that we do not really know why Jesus died and that even Jesus didn’t know, hence His question to God in the Garden of Gethsemane where he asked God if there wasn’t some other way He could accomplish His mission! This revelation opened McLaren’s eyes and also made a great impact on the person who originally asked him the question. Of course this is terrible theology that shows McLaren (and his brother) are open theists.

The book is filled with other strange and theologically erroneous quotes.

At the very beginning of the book we find this strange quote: “If you are not a committed Christian yourself, I am sure you will understand that since Christian commitment is where I’m coming from, it is the approach of this book. This is not to say there isn’t a place for Buddhist or Hindu or Jewish evangelism, but someone else will be better suited to write on those topics.” (page 15)

On page 142 we read “This is not to say that questions of heaven and hell are unimportant. It is that they are not as exclusively important as modern Christians have tended to proclaim them to be.” I have to wonder what could possibly be more important. Without heaven or hell there is no gospel and no need for a gospel!

These are just a few of multitudes of examples. At the back of the book he lists movies that are great (and recommended) for group discussion. One of these is The Big Kahuna.” He writes “brace yourself for some tough language…” (page 187). It would seem that sinning by watching and endorsing such films is an effective evangelistic technique for postmoderns.

In the final analysis there are two major issues with McLaren’s evangelistic technique. Traditional evangelism has always regarded relationship as the absolute best way to reach unbelievers. McLaren’s approach has no sense of urgency. He was content to allow Alice to go two years without ever challenging her with the heart of the gospel. He allowed her to fumble her way through, often leaving her for weeks or months without guidance as she tried to piece it all together herself. So the first issue I take is the lack of urgency. Though I have little doubt that many evangelistic opportunities have been ruined by moving too quickly, I believe you can also move far too slowly. The second issue is that McLaren’s technique does not teach the gospel. There is never a mention of sin or repentance, of heaven or hell. Why should people want to be saved if we never share with them what they need to be saved from? His approach is destined to produce many shallow, ignorant “Christians” who really do not know the gospel.

While I approve of the idea of spiritual friendships, I have to conclude that McLaren’s approach is faulty. An approach that regards the gospel message as outdated and unnecessary simply cannot please the Lord. I believe we still need to preach the gospel in all its power and force – as much now as at any other point in history. While it may be necessary to abandon some techniques while creating new ones, we can never lose the central focus of the gospel which is sin, death, forgiveness and life!

12 years 7 months ago
While I admire John MacArthur for his doctrinal orthodoxy and his willingness to stand for Biblical truth, however unpopular that may make him, what I most admire about him is his remarkable ability to teach from the Scriptures. I have found few people who are better able to carefully and accurately exposit God’s Word. Because of this ee has become one of my most trusted teachers.

The Murder of Jesus showcases exactly what I most admire about MacArthur. The Murder of Jesus is a fascinating study of last hours of Jesus’ life, beginning with the Last Supper and concluding with his death. It is no coincidence that I decided to read this book around the time that The Passion of the Christ was released for it covers the same period of time, though in far greater detail and with superior accuracy. The book is filled with interesting insights concerning the plot to kill Jesus and the way the story unfolded. The author’s research leads us through all of the gospels, many of the prophecies concerning Jesus’ death and even into the writings of early historians. While he covers the events, he also shows the theological importance of each of them, whether there were in fulfillment of prophecies or because they supported Jesus’ claim to divinity.

I would unreservedly recommend this book to anyone who is seeking a deeper understanding of the meaning of Jesus’ death. If you have seen The Passion of the Christ and are looking for answers to your questions about the movie, you could not do much better than this book - it is the best treatment of the subject I have found outside of the Bible.

Title: The Murder of Jesus
Author: John MacArthur
Published: 2000

12 years 9 months ago

Whatever Happened To The Gospel of Grace?” is exactly the sort of book you might expect a traditional, Reformed pastor and theologian to leave as his final message to the world, for before this book was published, James Boice, long-time pastor of Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia went to be with the Lord. This book stands as a call to the church to rediscover the principles upon which the Protestant church was built. It was Boice’s conviction that much of what passes as Christianity today is anything but. The church will only be able to be an effective witness for God when it returns to the foundation of the five solas that defined the Reformation (Scripture alone, Christ alone, grace alone, faith alone, glory to God alone).

The book begins with a critical examination of the modern evangelical church. The author shows that where the evangelical church was once known for and defined by what it believed, today it is increasingly defined by its style. He is especially critical of the church growth movement, saying that this movement adjusts Christianity to the desires of our culture. The modern church does not understand that Christianity can only thrive by offering people not what “they already have, but what they so desperately lack – namely, the Word of God and salvation through Jesus Christ.” His thesis (found on page 36) is that “the chief problem [with the church] is that we have forgotten God and are not really living for His glory…the reason we do not think about Him is that we have forgotten the meaning and importance of these essential doctrines.” The doctrines he refers to are, of course, the five solas.

He turns to an examination of the pattern of this age. He shows how the world’s patterns of secularism, humanism, relativism, materialism and pragmatism have infiltrated the church. Perhaps even worse is the onset of mindlessness where people in the world and in the church no longer use their minds, deliberately choosing ignorance as a way of life. Set against these principles are the absolutes of the Reformation which need to be related to our culture in a new and relevant way.

The bulk of the book is dedicated to an examination of each of the five principles. Each section is a fascinating, Scriptural study. Though he is a theologian, Boice was primarily a pastor and thus a great communicator. He relates difficult principles in a way that the laity can understand and not become overwhelmed.

Having related the principles, Boice spends the final section discussing their application to our worship and to our lives. I found this section disappointing and for a time was almost convinced that it had been written by a different author. Where the first part of the book praised the Reformers, this section lauded the pope and Brother Lawrence. It also seemed to end very suddenly without tying the ideas together and providing a satisfactory conclusion.

Regardless of my annoyances with final section I highly recommend this book. Boice left behind a thought-provoking study of the principles upon which the Protestant church was founded. He provides a respectful but at times necessarily harsh call for churches to re-examine their principles and determine if they truly are living for God’s glory alone.

Title: Whatever Happened To The Gospel of Grace?
Author: James Boice
Published: 2001

13 years 3 months ago

Before I begin a review of Charismatic Chaos it is only fair to point out that I have really come to appreciate John MacArthur Jr. I cannot think of many contemporary authors whose beliefs and theology line up so closely with my own. So having been challenged to discern what the Bible says about speaking in tongues, signs and wonders and other marks of the charismatic movement, it only made sense that I would read Charismatic Chaos. Though written over twenty years ago, this book is as relevant to the Christian world today as it was then. The edition I read is the second edition, which was updated and published in 1992.

In recent years the Charismatic movement has completely infiltrated the church. Aspects of the movement are visible in almost every denomination. And as the movement grows in strength and acceptance it becomes more and more bizarre. It is not unusual to hear about flat tires being healed, fillings in teeth being turned to gold and other baffling (and unproven) phenomena. Almost any time of day or night there is a channel showing a faith healer healing with a touch or knocking people to the ground. Left unchecked, the movement will continue to grow and spread, becoming ever more strange.

The main issues MacArthur focuses on are modern day prophecies, ongoing revelation, Biblical interpretation, miracles, healings, tongues, and the “health and wealth” gospel. Ultimately, his arguments against these are based on a few points of doctrine.

First and foundationally, MacArthur teaches that experience cannot be accepted as a valid test of truth. Experience is only valid if it conforms to God’s word. This is hardly groundbreaking theology, yet is theology that has been forsaken by many Christian churches. Experiences can never be held as co-equal in importance to the Bible. Where there is a conflict the Bible must always prevail.

Second, he teaches that God’s inspired revelation ended with the closing of Scripture. Though God still reveals Himself, He no longer does so in an inspired way. Therefore, no other revelation can be held equal to the Bible. This puts all other revelation in subjection to Biblical principles.

Third, he teaches that the signs and wonders done by the apostles ended with the end of the apostolic era. These were signs given by God to achieve a specific purpose. They were given to prove that the apostles were God’s messengers on earth and that they were trustworthy sources of teaching. MacArthur shows how even through the Bible we see the signs disappearing so that even before the close of Scripture with the writing of the book of Revelation, these signs and miracles had ceased. This does not mean that God can no longer perform miraculous deeds. It does mean, though, that God no longer uses men to initiate these miracles as he did in Biblical times. Speaking in tongues also falls into the category of gifts that were given by God for a short time and a specific purpose.

MacArthur deals lovingly yet necessarily harshly with the Charismatic movement. He pulls no punches in rooting out the teachings that he considers dangerous. He does this all from a very simple, Biblical viewpoint. He does not waver in his view that the Charismatic teachings go directly against the pure simplicity of the gospel.

A fantastic Biblical examination of the Charismatic movement, this book comes with my emphatic recommendation.

Title: Charismatic Chaos
Author: John MacArthur Jr.
Published: 1992

Key Words:

  • Charismatic movement
  • Speaking In Tongues
  • Miracles
  • Signs And Wonders
13 years 4 months ago

John MacArthur wrote Battle For The Beginning primarily to address the world’s origins from a Biblical viewpoint. The book is aimed at a Christian audience and is not so much a defense of creationism as it is a defense of a literal six-day creation. This is not a book that primarily focuses on convincing unbelieving evolutionists of creationism, but rather it focuses on convincing Christians who believe that in some form of evolution (such as old-earth creationism or the Gap Theory) that the only valid reading of Genesis one and two is a literal reading. MacArthur bases much of the book on the view that Evolution is itself a religion that is completely opposed to Christianity. Creationism and Evolution, therefore, can never be mixed. We must believe in either one or the other.

After giving many reasons why Evolutionism is antithetical to God and His design, the book spends a chapter on each of the days of creation. In each chapter the author shows why anything other than a literal six-day creation is impossible. In so doing he gives many wonderful examples of the wonders and marvels of creation. Much of the book is focused on refuting the arguments of Hugh Ross, the most prominent of the theistic evolutionists.

I would highly recommend this book to any believer that is struggling with the conflict between creationism and evolutionism. MacArthur’s ability to accurately draw teaching from scripture and using God’s word as the ultimate teaching tool makes this one of the best books I have read on the subject.

Title: Battle For The Beginning
Author: John MacArthur Jr
Published: 2001

Key Words:

  • Creationism
  • Naturalism
  • Evolutionism
  • Hugh Ross
  • Six Day Creation