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August 21, 2012

Are We TogetherR.C. Sproul has a long history of making a stand for truth. He has an equal history of standing firm against error, using his ministry platform to refute errors that are seeping into the Evangelical church. On several occasions he has reacted to those who have sought to minimize the differences between Protestant theology and Roman Catholic theology. Faith Alone and Getting the Gospel Right are both insightful looks at the critical importance of affirming and protecting the Reformation gospel of justification by grace alone through faith alone. These books were largely a response to “Evangelicals and Catholics Together” and “The Gift of Salvation” (ECT 2). 

While ECT may seem like ancient history, there are many Protestants today who continue to minimize the differences between Protestantism and Catholicism, even going so far as to say that the Reformation is over and that it is time to reunite with Rome. Others may not go quite that far, but they still believe that the differences are not significant enough to prohibit a great deal of unity. “The Manhattan Declaration” was just one recent attempt to find common cause on issues such as abortion and traditional marriage. With such efforts in mind, Dr. Sproul returns to the fray with Are We Together? A Protestant Analyzes Roman Catholicism.

He makes his purpose clear in the book’s opening pages: “In this book, I have a simple goal. I want to look at Roman Catholic teaching in several significant areas and compare it with Protestant teaching. I hope to show, often using her own words, that the Roman Catholic Church has not changed from what it believed and taught at the time of the Reformation. That means that the Reformation is not over and we must continue to stand firm in proclaiming the biblical gospel.” He means to show that the gospel itself is at stake and to do this he looks at six core doctrines in which Catholicism varies from the clear teaching of Scripture: Scripture, justification, the Church, sacraments, the papacy and the role of Mary. He closes with a reflection on how Protestants should now relate to Roman Catholics without minimizing theological differences.

What I have long appreciated about Dr. Sproul’s books on Catholicism is that he is charitable and respectful in his tone, always careful to show where Protestants have erred in their understanding of Catholicism and ensuring that he properly represents even those positions that he does not hold to. Thus he looks at Catholic doctrine as it is explained by its foremost theologians and official documents. Having allowed Catholicism to explain itself, he goes to Scripture to show where it has strayed.

When discussing Roman Catholic theology, Protestants have too often been ignorant, careless, or unfair. The power of this book is that R. C. Sproul is fair, precise, and charitable as he proves that the errors of the Roman Catholic Church are both deep and significant, and that the Roman Catholic gospel is not the gospel of the Bible. Even as he calls for us to love our Roman Catholic friends, he warns that we cannot consider them brothers and sisters when the gospel itself is at stake. Are We Together? serves as a helpful primer on Roman Catholic theology and a powerful stand for the gospel. I highly recommend it.

Are We Together? is available at Amazon ($17 hardcover) or Ligonier Ministries ($13.60 hardcover, $7.20 ebook).

June 28, 2010

Doctrine by DriscollMark Driscoll must be a busy guy. As if his ministry at Mars Hill isn’t enough to keep him busy every hour of the day, he has also written a long line of books, the most recent of which is titled simply Doctrine: What Christians Should Believe. Like several of his previous volumes, this one is co-authored with his friend and theological mentor Gerry Breshears. While using the term “systematic theology” may not be entirely helpful in describing this book, it at least gives an idea of its contents. Doctrine exists to provide an overview of what Christians ought to believe.

As theological tomes go, this one is particularly interesting, particularly effective, in its structure. Each chapter introduces a topic through a single word and then shows how that topic is really all about God. The first chapter is “Trinity: God Is” while the second is “Revelation: God Speaks.” That sets that pattern that continues through each of the book’s thirteen chapters (the last of which, not surprisingly, is “Kingdom: God Reigns.” This beautifully takes doctrine out of the abstract and applies it directly to God himself. It takes a noun and matches it with a verb, showing for example how the doctrine of the church is not about us, but about God, about his desire to send his Word into all the world (the chapter is titled “Church: God Sends”).

May 31, 2010

Have you ever considered what it must have been like for Adam and Eve to walk and talk with God in the Garden of Eden? Have you thought of the things you might say to God if you were to hear his footsteps today? What Christian hasn’t experienced a pang of jealousy when he reads “they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day.” And what Christian hasn’t experienced a little pang of remorse when he reads how Adam and Eve squandered that unique privilege. There was God, walking in the garden as he had done before. Adam and Eve recognized the sound of his footsteps, for they knew their God. But this time, instead of rushing to him and rejoicing in his presence, they fled and they hid themselves. They had sinned and they knew that there were consequences for such tyranny. For the first time they feared their Maker.

March 25, 2010

This morning I’ve got Whitefield and Wesley on my mind. This morning I was thinking about John Wesley’s infamous and divisive sermon called Free Grace and went looking for what I had written on it in the past. This was the sermon that began a significant rift between Whitefield and the Wesleys, for not only did it set them at theological odds, but it also betrayed Whitefield’s trust in Wesley. Though the men continued to love one other, this sermon was a very significant force in the eventual separation between them. Wesley’s sermon, though still highly regarded by some, is hardly a fair, biblical or thorough treatment of the subject of free will, free grace or predestination. It relies far more on shock, bold claims, and outrageous exaggerations than it does on Scripture.

One of Wesley’s biographers, Julia Wedgwood, was harsh but fair when considering this sermon. She says,

March 02, 2010

Canada’s Bank of Nova Scotia must be one of the few banks in the world that allows you to order gold bullion online. Visit their web site, punch in your order along with your credit card information, and a couple days later FedEx will deliver your gold to the door, all sealed up in a plain and boring little envelope.

The gold comes in bars, though not those massive gold bars you see in the movies. For somewhere around $1200 you could purchase a 1 ounce gold bar and have it delivered to your home. It would be 22mm wide, 38mm high and 2.3mm thick. You’d soon find that your dollar does not go far when you are using it to buy precious metals. What you would do with it once you buy it is a bit trickier—maybe you’d put it in a safe deposit box or maybe you’d just bury it out in the backyard. You probably wouldn’t want to carry it around in your pocket.

February 25, 2010

Aileen and I were once members of a church that, after a few years of existence, began to de-emphasize doctrine. Some of the pastors seemed to reach the conclusion that “doctrine divides” and that the church really just needed to focus on evangelism and on “action.” They seemed to determine that a sound theological foundation held in common was unattainable and unrealistic. Therefore, doctrine should be laid aside and the church should rally around the things we had in common—a desire to reach others with the gospel and a desire to serve other people. It was a bit of a naive strategy, of course, and one that was bound to cause problems.

May 27, 2008

320px-Kindle2.gifA few weeks ago I cracked open the box for my new Kindle, Amazon’s wireless reading device. Since then I’ve had ample opportunity to use it and I’d like to provide a short review based on my experiences with it. I believe that reading reviews of this product will greatly enhance your enjoyment of it because you will know what to expect. I believe many of those who have been disappointed by their Kindles have been disappointed because they have expected it to be something it is not.

Because I read so much and because I read many books in manuscript format, I wanted to gauge the Kindle’s effectiveness in two broad areas. First, I wanted to determine how effective it is as medium for displaying e-books. Though I love to read printed books, I was eager to attempt reading paperless books as well. Second, I wanted to determine whether it is an effective medium for displaying books in manuscript format (which is typically an Adobe Acrobat or Microsoft Word file). While the Kindle’s functionality goes beyond these tasks, I had little interest in those other areas. For example, because I have near-constant access to my PC, there is no reason for me to read blogs or newspapers on this device. Neither did I wish to use it to play MP3’s or browse Wikipedia. The Kindle does all of these things, but I have not adequately tested its abilities in these areas.

The Reading Experience

Though it is difficult to explain the experience of using the Kindle, I will attempt it as best I can. The device is about the size and weight of a small paperback (it is 7.5” x 5.3” x 0.7” in size and 10.3 ounces in weight). Looking at it, it is clear that Amazon’s engineers invested more effort in functionality than in beauty; it is rather utilitarian and certainly would not be mistaken for an Apple product (though the packaging was rather snazzy and did evoke memories of unwrapping my first iPod). The screen is 6” in size (diagonally) with 600 x 800 resolution. It is grayscale and utilizes a groundbreaking e-ink technology that offers a couple of benefits over a standard LCD screen (like the screens on a laptop): it uses very little power which in turn preserves battery life; and it is not backlit, removing the difficulty with eye fatigue that can plague those who read on LCD screens. It amply mimics the “feel” of ink on paper.

The box includes the Kindle, a power cord used to recharge the battery, a USB cable for connecting the Kindle to a computer and a leather cover or folder that is used to protect it.

KindleReading books is as simple as clicking the Next Page and Previous Page buttons. It involves no scrolling through pages—text never waits “below” the viewable area as it often does on a web page. Instead, a click of the Next Page button will refresh the screen (which takes about one second) and display the next page of text. Text is very easy to read and there is more than adequate contrast between the text and the background. Any pictures or diagrams within the text will display in grayscale. The device includes a full QWERTY keyboard and using this keyboard you can take notes on any portion of a book. You can also “highlight” portions of the text (the highlighting appears as a box around the selected text). Notes can be easily exported to your PC (though highlighted portions cannot). And, of course, you can bookmark your last page to return to it quickly and easily.

Buying and Adding Books

There are two ways of adding books to the Kindle. The first way involves purchasing books directly from Amazon (this can be done through the Kindle or through Amazon’s site). There are already more than 120,000 books available in Kindle format and they are priced significantly lower than their printed counterparts. By way of comparison, my book is priced at $11.89 for the printed version and at $7.99 for the Kindle version. Bestsellers are all available for $9.99 or less. Purchasing through Amazon uses their 1-Click method. As soon as you purchase, the book is sent wirelessly to your device through cellular networks and should arrive in less than one minute. Alternatively, you can download the file to your PC and move it to your Kindle using the USB cable provided for that purpose. Because I am outside of the United States I cannot take advantage of the wireless method, but find purchasing quick and easy nonetheless.

The second way of adding books to the Kindle involves adding books that are in some kind of file format—Adobe Acrobat, Microsoft Word, and so on. In such cases the files need to first be converted to the e-book format. Amazon will do this for you and either deliver the file via email (free) or send it wirelessly to your device for a small fee ($0.10). There are also downloadable free programs available that will do this conversion should you wish to do it yourself.

My Experience

The Kindle met or exceeded all of my expectations as a reading device. I have found it a pleasure to use. It took me a little while to grow accustomed to the speed with which I’d have to click the “Next Page” button but I caught on quickly. I can now read as quickly as I do with regular books. My eyes do not grow tired as I read and it’s a pleasure to be able to take an entire library of books with me in one very small package. My Kindle travels with me!

v2-all._V4948253_.jpgI have found it an effective means of reading books purchased from Amazon and have also enjoyed it as a way of reading manuscripts. Having said that, I do think it has its limitations and those limitations revolve primarily around interacting with a book. These are not so much limitations with the Kindle as they are inevitable with any reading device. I am an interactive reader, always making notes and using my highlighter. While the Kindle does support both notes and highlighting, it is not easy to run back and skim the book looking for notes and highlights—or certainly not as easy as it is with a book. While I love the Kindle for lighter reading, I do not think it would be as effective for me when it comes to more dense reading; for those situations I would still want to have my book, my pencils and my highlighter. Then again, I can sit on an airplane with an entire library at my disposal on my Kindle, even if I cannot adequately highlight. It becomes a matter of weighing pro’s and con’s.


My conclusion, then, is that the Amazon is very good at its primary function and, as long as the prospective buyer ensures that he knows what it does (and what it doesn’t do) he should be well pleased with it. It is exceptionally effective at displaying e-books and at providing a medium to read books on something other than dead trees. It is a far better option than reading on a computer screen, on a PDA or on other similar devices. The secondary functionality is, well, secondary. Though it may be useful functionality for some, it does not much interest me. I love my Kindle and have no regrets about buying it.

NOTE: If you plan on buying a Kindle, make sure you find your way to Amazon by clicking on the banner or link from a blog you enjoy (not necessarily this blog!). Amazon pays out an affiliate reward of $40 to sites that refer a person who actually purchases a Kindle. You can make someone’s day with your purchase.