PROOF: FINDING FREEDOM THROUGH THE INTOXICATING JOY OF IRRESISTIBLE GRACE – Daniel Montgomery and Timothy Paul Jones (2014)

•September 15, 2014 • Leave a Comment

0310513898_bIntoxicating joy?  Irresistible grace?  The title is enough to draw the most lackluster reader in.  But once readers crack the massive door, they will be pleasantly surprised with what they find inside this elegantly decorated “castle.”

Proof: Finding Freedom Through the Intoxicating Joy of Irresistible Grace is a cleverly designed roadmap which underscores the importance of the doctrines of grace.  Yes, it’s true that Calvinists are charged all the time with hiding behind the moniker, “doctrines of grace” much like an Amway representative who hunkers behind the more palatable word, “business.”

Labels aside, the authors work hard to move past any preconceived notions about what Calvinism really is.  They resist the system as an end in itself for many good reasons.   But they fully embrace (and rightly so) the biblical framework of Reformed theology; the framework which was taught by Augustine, the Protestant Reformers, and the Puritans.  But these godly men merely built upon the Reformed theology which was originally taught by the prophets, apostles, and Jesus Christ himself.  In this historical context, one might argue that Jesus was the most famous Calvinist!

“Calvinism” the authors suggest, “for the sake of Calvinism is not worth fighting for – but grace is always worth fighting for.”  So with evangelical passion and strong biblical support, Montgomery and Jones build an alternative acronym which corresponds to the famous TULIP model to accurately defend the historic doctrines of grace.

The book is a beautiful summary of the key points which surfaced at the Synod of Dort in the 17th century.  The points are summarized below:

Planned Grace

  • “It was entirely free PLAN and very gracious will and intention of God the Father that the enlivening and saving effectiveness of his Son’s costly death should work itself out all the elect.”

Resurrecting Grace

  • “All people are conceived in sin and born children of wrath … Regeneration is a marvelous mysterious and inexpressible work, not less than or inferior power to that of creation or of the RESURRECTION of the dead.

Outrageous Grace

  • “Holy Scripture most especially highlights this eternal and UNDESERVED grace.”

Overcoming Grace

  • “Where before the rebellion and resistance of the flesh had dominated their hearts, now eager and sincere obedience from the Spirit begin to OVERCOME.”

Forever Grace

  • “God PRESERVES, CONTINUES, AND FINISHES this work” all to the praise of his glorious grace.

Each year, I am on the lookout for theological books which accurately reflect the doctrine of grace; books which are written for the laymen in mind and spur them to deeper reflection on God’s truth.  PROOF fits that bill perfectly.  The authors not only hit the doctrinal mark; they do so in a winsome way which is combined with a writing style that will appeal to a wide range of people.

Discover the truth of PROOF and become convinced of the grand theme of Reformed theology!

 

THE WAY FORWARD: RENEWING THE AMERICAN IDEA – Paul Ryan (2014)

•September 10, 2014 • Leave a Comment

ryanSeveral years ago, I set out to read about as many of the United States presidents as possible.  Reading about the great leaders in America’s history; leaders like George Washington, John Adams, Abraham Lincoln, and Ronald Reagan is an unforgettable experience that tends to leave a mark on each reader.

During this political season filled with failed policies and lackluster leadership, I set out to read about a few men who may one day occupy the Oval Office.  The first book is written by the Vice Presidential candidate, Paul Ryan.  His book, The Way Forward: Renewing the American Idea is a transparent look at the Wisconsin native and his vision for America.

Readers will be impressed with Ryan’s unassuming style.  He’s a small town boy with big dreams for America.  There’s no political pretense here; just well-thought out ideas that Ryan proposes in order to rescue our country from the clutches of the Obama administration.

Several reforms are proposed by Paul Ryan.  The first proposal he presents is entitlement and health-care reform.   The goal here, according to Ryan is to begin by repealing Obama care, the prized jewel of social progressives.   Ryan makes it clear that he intends to save social security, medicare, and medicaid.  But the current policies will, in the final analysis lead to economic disaster.  Ryan proposes commonsense solutions which promote competition among insurance companies and doctors which will ultimately drive down prices; not to mention put more money back into the pocketbook of Americans.

The second proposal includes an economic growth component.  Ryan addresses the growing national debt crisis which is over $17 trillion and rising.  He addresses the liberal proclivity to tax and spend.  Ryan adds, “The bottom line is that when you tax something , you get less of it.  So when we tax prosperity and success, we get less of each – and we need more of both so we can get the economy working for everyone again.”

Third, tax reform is on Ryan’s agenda.  He is in favor of a reduction of the corporate tax rate and argues in favor of a simpler tax code.  Ryan’s reforms would mean “that no business or family would pay more than 25 percent of their income to the federal government.”  And many Americans would pay considerable less under the Ryan plan.

Fourth, ending cronyism and corporate welfare.  Ryan notes, “Cronyism is integral to the progressive approach to governing.”  A brief look at the Obama policies only confirm this notion.  Ryan concludes, “Americans need to know that their government is on their side – encouraging robust competition that will best serve their interests and grow their economy – rather than on the side of big, established corporate players.  Capitalism and cronyism are not compatible, and it’s time Republicans made it much clear to voters that we are the party that stands for a competitive economy suitable for growth.”

Fifth, Ryan makes a good case for regulatory reform.  “Going forward,” he writes, “we should ease the regulatory  burden on the economy, and the best way to do that is to bring meaningful cost-benefit analysis back into the system, reconnect the law with the lawmakers, and restore the balance between the branches of the government.  True regulatory reform can restart economic growth – and produce the energy we need.”

Sixth, aggressive immigration reform should be a key plank in the GOP platform.  Ryan’s ideas are among the best I’ve read as a pathway for citizenship is offered and accountability required.

Seventh, sound monetary policy will guide our country into the future.

Finally, a twenty-first century national defense strategy and foreign policy.  Ryan refers to this final component of his plan as the “missed opportunity” of the Obama administration.  Moving forward will require a strong military and a foreign policy that builds bridges with our allies around the world.

There’s something strangely refreshing about Paul Ryan’s approach.  Readers will notice that this man is devoted to his family and country.  He just happens to be a politician.  Here is a man who has strong gifts  in the field of economics and understands how to apply a supply-side approach in the current climate.  Paul Ryan is a strong leader with strong values and a heart for the American ideal.  Whether he ever ends up in the Oval Office is anyone’s guess.  One thing is true: He knows the way forward.

PASTOR’S KID – Barbabas Piper (2014)

•September 8, 2014 • 1 Comment

pkSome write to entertain; some to educate.  Others write to amuse or inspire.  Barnabas Piper writes to encourage.  He writes to encourage both pastors and their children.

Piper writes from experience.  His dad is Dr. John Piper, former Senior pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Barnabas Piper is a Pastor’s Kid.  He, like every other PK understands the pressure and pain of living under the roof of a pastor.  Any doubters need only read a riveting sentence at the beginning the book: “The call of the father is not the call of the child, but the ministry of the father creates an anvil-like weight on the child … And it is this pressure, in part, that drives so many PK’s to break.”

Barnabas Piper performs a vital service for the Body of Christ in his book Pastor’s Kid: Finding Your Own Faith and Identity.  This is a candid inside look at the deep struggle which occurs in many PK’s.  Some PK’s rebel; others hide their emotions.  Some actually thrive.  But all will admit to living a life of sacrifice; a life that is something akin to living in a pressure cooker or a fishbowl.

Piper alerts readers to the kind of scrutiny that every PK faces: “It creates a tension in which it can be difficult to genuinely make ourselves known, and so PKs become both the best-known and the least-known people in the church.  In most cases there isn’t a single person or particular group of people doing the watching.  It’s a collective, disorganized, largely unintentional effort on the part of the church as a whole.  At best it is bothersome; at worst it is suffocating and warping.”

Piper writes from two angles in this excellent book.  First, he has plenty to say to PKs.  A lot of the advice comes through the backdoor as the author reminds every PK of this important reality: They are not alone.  It’s as if he says, “If John Piper’s son struggled in many ways, it should not come as a surprise if you struggle too.”  So Barnabas Piper not only writes from experience; he writes with great empathy and compassion.  There is a wealth of wisdom here that every PK should benefit from.

But the younger Piper has much to say to pastors as well.  He pulls no punches and shares his wisdom with candor and humility.  Most readers will no doubt wonder, “I wonder what his dad thinks about that sentence?”  Piper’s advice to pastors will cut deep but will in the final analysis prove helpful.

Like Piper, I write from experience.  I write as one who has served as a pastor for nearly twenty-five years.   But I’m also a PK.  So I’ve seen both sides of the fence.   Both sides have challenges but both sides are filled with opportunities for growth and sanctification.  Pastor’s Kid loaded with practical advice for pastors and their children!

One of my life goals is to teach in Bible College or Seminary; to train and equip the next generation of pastors and theologians.  If God opens that door in the future, Pastor’s Kid by Barnabas Piper will be required reading for every student.  It’s that good.  I am confident that Piper’s work will travel far and encourage many people.  May we heed his words, hear his heart, and respond with God-centered resolve.

4.5 stars

 

 

ROW FOR FREEDOM – Julia Immonen (2014)

•September 2, 2014 • Leave a Comment

ROWYou will never find me bungy-jumping, surfing, skydiving, or dangling from the face of the Half Dome in California.  However, I do enjoy reading about the adventures of other people who put their necks on the line for a thrill.  Row For Freedom by Julia Immonen is a classic example of adventure, courage, and sacrifice.  But the “thrill” of the row is secondary.  The author has a greater purpose in mind.  This purpose is in fact, the grand theme of the book.

Immonen recounts the true tale of her journey across the Atlantic with four other brave women.  What would motivate these women to risk their lives by rowing across the Atlantic?  First, they were shooting for a world record.  But what really grabbed my attention was the second goal, namely, to raise money to fight the horrible sin of human trafficking.

The author provides some biographical detail which concerns her life as  a child in Finland and her subsequent move to the UK.  Her dream to row the Atlantic is met with several challenges along the way but she and her sisters succeed.

The story is gripping, fast-moving, and begs readers to finish in one sitting.  The book is raw, emotion-filled, and challenging.

While the story is moving in many ways, I must confess that the most disappointing part was the gospel which is barely recognizable.  While the author is quick to give God credit, the gospel is never articulated in a clear terms.

Row For Freedom is a gripping book.  The real beauty of Row For Freedom, however, is Immonen’s obvious hatred for human trafficking.  It is her antipathy for this vile practice that motivated her to keep rowing, an antipathy that needs to spread to people of influence and conviction; people willing to make a difference one person at a time.  My hope is that the book will receive a wide reading and alert millions of people to the evil of human trafficking – a wicked industry that enslaves 30 million slaves around the world.  To that end, the Row For Freedom will not be in vain.  Slaves will be liberated and the world will be a better place.

I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLookbloggers®.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. 

REPENTANCE – J.C. Ryle

•September 1, 2014 • Leave a Comment

J.C. Ryle was a man who would have been hated in this generation.  This cannot be jc-ryle_5
stated too  strongly.  For instance, consider a man such as Mark Driscoll, a man who makes mistakes like anyone.  But Driscoll is a bold preacher.  He calls sin for what it is and urges sinners to repent.  That bold message is met with stiff resistance by cold-hearted pagans and embittered people who name the name of Christ.  So like Driscoll, Ryle was man who was unafraid of speaking in plain terms, biblical terms.

J.C. Ryle (1816-1900) was best known for serving as the first Anglican bishop of Liverpool.  He was a prolific writer and a faithful pastor.  His book Repentance is representative of his work.  It is clear, biblical, and aims straight for the heart.  The basis of Ryle’s work is found in Luke 13:3 – “Except you repent, you shall all likewise perish.”  Ryle notes that Christ’s words may seem “stern and severe.  But they are words of love, and may be the means of delivering precious souls from hell.”

The Nature of Repentance

The author reminds his readers that repentance was the first doctrine that came out of our Lord’s mouth.  He defines repentance as “a thorough change of man’s natural heart, upon the subject of sin.”  With the theological groundwork in place, Ryle continues by noting several marks of the penitent man.

  • True repentance begins with knowledge of sin.
  • True repentance goes on to work sorrow for sin.
  • True repentance produces confession of sin.
  • True repentance shows itself in a thorough breaking off from sin.
  • True repentance shows itself by producing in the heart a settled habit of deep hatred of all sin.

Ryle remarks, “Wherever faith is, there is repentance; wherever repentance is, there is always faith.”

The Necessity of Repentance

Ryle makes it painfully clear that every creature is required to repent.  Indeed, there are no exceptions: “The queen upon her throne and the pauper in the workhouse, the rich man in his drawing-room, the servant maid in the kitchen, the professor of sciences at the University, the poor ignorant boy who follows the plough – all by nature need repentance.”  The author does the reader a great service by setting forth this critical requirement before God.

Three concrete reasons are offered for each creature to repent:

  1. Without repentance, there is no forgiveness of sins.
  2. Without repentance there is no happiness in the life that now is.
  3. Without repentance there can be no fitness in the world that is yet to come.

The Encouragements to Repentance

Ryle recognizes that sinners are generally slow in coming to Christ and repenting of their sins.  He offers five encouragements for sinners who stand at the crossroads before a holy God:

  1. Hear for one thing, what a gracious Savior the Lord Jesus Christ is.
  2. What glorious promises the Word of God contains.
  3. What gracious declarations the Word of God contains.
  4. What marvelous parables our Lord Jesus spoke upon this subject.
  5. What wonderful examples there are in the Word of God, of God’s mercy and kindness to penitent people.

My hope is that this short review will entice many to devour Repentance by J.C. Ryle.  This short book is devotional, practical, and is food for the soul.  May Christ’s words in Luke 13:3 take root in your heart today – “Except you repent, you shall all likewise perish.”

TWO CONTENTS, TWO REALITIES – Francis Schaeffer (1974)

•August 25, 2014 • 1 Comment

Francis-Schaeffer-560x328Sometimes the best things come in small packages.  Case in point: Two Contents, Two Realities by Francis Schaeffer.  To call it a booklet would be inaccurate.  To call it a pamphlet would be insulting.  The worst accusation one could hurl at this work is irrelevant or outdated.  Originally published in 1974 as a position paper that was presented at the International Congress on World Evangelization in Lausanne, Switzerland, Schaeffer’s work (as usual) is prophetic, timely, and challenging.  His writing aims squarely at the Christian mind but always impacts the heart.  And whenever the mind and heart are enflamed by Christian truth, the hands and feet are quick to follow.

Schaeffer’s proposition in this piece is simple.  The culture is getting increasingly more secular and ungodly.  There are two contents and two realities:

Content # 1: Sound Doctrine

Content # 2: Honest Answers to Honest Questions

Reality # 1: True Spirituality

Reality # 2: The Beauty of Human Realtionships

The First Content: Sound Doctrine

Schaeffer argues, “We must have the courage to make no compromise with liberal theology and especially neo-orthodox existential theology.”  He argues strenuously against any system that abandons the role of the intellect which is tantamount to rejecting propositional revelation.  In regards to the doctrinal content, Schaeffer maintains there are three things we must recognize:

1) There must be a strong emphasis on content.

2) There must be a strong emphasis on the propositional nature of the Bible, especially the early chapters of Genesis.

3) There must be a strong emphasis on the practice of truth.

Anyone who takes a serious look at the church in the 21st century must admit that we have clearly moved away from these important components in Schaeffer’s system.  Theology is marginalized in most churches.  Propositional truth is relegated to modernity and cast aside in favor of mysticism and existentialism.  And while practicing the truth may be in vogue, one wonders which truth is being practiced given the shaky epistemological groundwork.

The Second Content: Honest Answers to Honest Questions

Schaeffer identifies the strong Platonic worldview that has been embraced by mainstream evangelicals – a view that divides man into two parts, namely, spiritual and physical.  He rightly adds, “We must consciously reject the Platonic element which has been added to Christianity.  God made the whole man; the whole man is redeemed in Christ.  And after we are Christians, the Lordship of Christ covers the whole man.”

Herein lies the rub.  Since historic Christianity is the truth (what Schaeffer calls elsewhere, “true truth),  it must therefore “touch every aspect of life.”  Difficult questions may be challenging, but answers must be given nonetheless.  Forever gone are the days when one answers, “You must just believe.”  Such a mindset is tantamount to blind faith – which in all reality is no faith at all!

Schaeffer adds, “Answers are not salvation.  Salvation is bowing and accepting God as Creator and Christ as Savior.  I must bow twice to become a Christian.  I must bow and acknowledge that I am not autonomous; I am a creature created by the Creator.  And I must bow and acknowledge that I am a guilty sinner who needs the finished work of Christ for my salvation.”

The church must address cultural questions as well as questions that come from within.  Schaeffer maintains that in order for this to take place, there must be sufficient training in both the church as well as the academy.

The First Reality: True Spirituality

Behind true spirituality is a commitment to truth which is stated in propositions.  Schaeffer spoke to the liberals in his day and echoes that same reality to emergent types and neo-liberals with this bold challenge: Anybody who diminishes the concept of the propositionalness of the Word of God is playing into … non-Christian hands.” He proceeds to encourage readers to grasp propositional truth by making truth come alive in the streets and in the marketplace of ideas.  He reacts strongly to any system that is a mere end in itself: “A dead, ugly orthodoxy with no real spiritual reality must be rejected as sub-Christian.”

The Second Reality: The Beauty of Human Relationships

Schaeffer observes, “We are to show something to the watching world on the basis of the human relationships we have with other people, not just other Christians.”  Schaeffer illustrates how we are called to love people without compromise.  He uses the liberal theologian as an example.  He adds, “Yes, we are to stand against his theology.  We are to practice truth, and we are not to compromise.  We are to stand in antithesis to his theology.  But even though we cannot cooperate with him in religious things, we are to treat the liberal theologian in such a way that we try from our side to bring our discussion into the circle of truly human relationships … We can have the beauty of human relationships even when we must say no.”

Francis Schaeffer’s understanding and exposition of two contents and two realities is very helpful as one seeks to make inroads with secular people.  I commend it and trust that this excellent work will be read and digested by many.

HEAVEN’S DRAGNET – Jonathan Edwards (1751)

•August 21, 2014 • Leave a Comment

The text is Matthew 13:47-50.  The missionary to the Stockbridge Indians sets hisjonathan-edwards
doctrine
up in advance:

The fisherman that cast the net are ministers of the gospel whom Christ appoints to gather men into his church.

Edwards draws an immediate contrast between the righteous and the unrighteous: “So God will save his saints and make much of them as precious to him, and as those that he dearly loves … But the bad fish men cast away, as those that were good for nothing.”

The judgment of the unrighteous is presented in vivid terms which are familiar to readers of Jonathan Edwards: “The fire shall be exceeding great and dreadful, for it will [be] the fire that God will enkindle by his great power, and in the fierceness of his great wrath for the wickedness of men, and therefore doubtless vastly more terrible than any fire ever seen in this world.”

Edwards describes what Jesus refers to as the “wailing and gnashing of teeth.”  He adds, “They will wail because their misery will be very dreadful and what they cannot bear; and also because they never shall have any hope of being delivered,  will know that there will be no end to their misery.”

Application

Edwards continues to utilize the metaphor drawn from the world of fishing, a metaphor that his hearers could certainly relate to: “The net has been let down and many of you have been gathered in it and brought in among the people of Christ, into the kingdom of Christ.”  He challenges his audience, “You can deceive men with a good outside when your hearts are rotten, but you can’t deceive God.”

He draws the sermon to a close by challenging the hearts of his hearers: “Therefore, take heed to yourselves that you ben’t at last found some of the bad fish that be cast away.  See to it that your hearts are right with God … Don’t rest in outward show but get a clean heart: a holy heart that hates all sin and loves Christ, and loves all the people of Christ, and loves all the ways of God … Unless you have a new heart, you never will be good.  Though you may be good in some things, yet if you han’t right hearts you will live wickedly in other things … That is the reason that some men reform their lives for a while only, and then never again.  Their hearts were never changed.”

 

 
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