Worldview: Seeking Grace and Truth In Our Common Life

wolrdMarvin Olasky, Worldview: Seeking Grace and Truth in Our Common Life, Greensboro: New Growth Press, 2017, 200 pp. $17.55

“Fight or flight? Ride or hide?  Sometimes, it’s beneficial to be a Benedict, creating a community in which Christians can grow stronger and prepare to venture forth when the tide seems ready to turn.  Sometimes, we should dare to be Daniels, risking our lives in the centers of power by speaking and living truth before those who probably won’t listen.”

This is how Marvin Olasky begins his new book, Worldview: Seeking Grace and Truth In Our Common Time.

Olasky’s work is a series of articles that originally appeared in World Magazine. Readers of World will be familiar with the author’s pithy writing that is biblically informed and culturally sensitive. My hope is that a new batch of truth seekers will be introduced to this man who is driven by biblical conviction and captivated by the gospel of Jesus Christ.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review.

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The Satisfied Soul – John Piper

piperChristian devotionals are “a dime a dozen” these days. Many of these books are nothing more than warmed over self-help guides that prop up self-esteem and pulverize biblical authority. Like a tasty bowl of sugary cereal, they promise nutrition, but in the final analysis, they neglect the truth and leave readers starving.

John Piper’s devotional, The Satisfied Soul takes a different path. In typical fashion, Piper offers readers 120 daily meditations that strengthen, nourish, and challenge. These meditations are packed with Scriptural imperatives, warnings, and encouragements. Piper never skirts the truth – he celebrates it! Piper has a unique gift of blending pastoral admonition with prophetic proclamation. And at the center of his pastoral pleas is the rich message of the gospel.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review.

Scary Close – Donald Miller

aI admire Donald Miller.  I admire his courage.  I admire his tenacity.  And I admire his ability to tell a story.  Make no mistake – this guy can write!  Admiring Don Miller, however, does not mean I agree with everything he believes.  There’s a good deal I disagree with.  Yet, I appreciate his gifts and insight.  Such appreciation is expressed in an earlier review on Miller’s book, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years.  For me, reviewing a Don Miller book is like walking a tightrope.  On one hand, I have conservative friends who question why I even read the guy.  But Miller fans label my critique as “narrow” or “too evangelical.”

Scary Close addresses the subject of relational intimacy.  The book includes some ideas that are commendable and will be of help to many people.

STRENGTHS

1. It is filled with a stunning degree of transparency.

Miller opens up like never before.  He is quick to confess some of his previous relational blunders.  He admits his propensity to generate applause.  Yet in a moment of unfettered honesty, he admits that “applause is a quick fix.  And love is an acquired taste.”  This kind of openness and honesty sets the stage for the book and never lets up.  Miller shares his heart in a way that is noteworthy and encouraging.

2. It cherishes authenticity and rejects hypocrisy.

Scary Close is packed with moments of authenticity which help readers get to the very heart of the story.  The subtitle accurately conveys what Miller is after, namely – “dropping the act and finding true intimacy.”

At an important juncture, Miller discusses the toxic nature of judgment, that is, being judged unfairly by other people – for being ourselves.  The author suggests that this poisonous habit has invaded many relationships which “keeps us from connecting with other people.”  Ultimately, Miller does a good job at identifying some of the relational land mines the hinder genuine intimacy.

3. It celebrates human relationships.

The most memorable thing about Scary Close is that it celebrates human relationships.  The author discusses his most important relationships, the chief of which is his wife and shows how true intimacy develops.  Miller is to be commended for his willingness to share from the heart and allow readers to see how his heart operates.

WEAKNESSES

Strengths considered, there is a missing ingredient in Scary Close.  That ingredient is the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Yes, the author confesses his allegiance to Jesus.  And the author refers to God and finding rest in him.  This much is true.  But the road to authentic intimacy (which is a necessary path to travel) is paved with psychological tips and therapy which is not grounded in Scripture. Such a critique is bound to draw fire from Miller fans.  Yet Miller himself urges readers to avoid being careful, a practice which led to a temporary bout with “writer’s block.”  I apply that well-placed advice when offering critique.

So while there is much to commend in this book, in the final analysis, it falls short by jettisoning the gospel.  Since the essence of the book is about reconciliation, it is disappointing to bypass the promises of the gospel which offers reconciliation with people and reconciliation with God through his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.  Indeed, resting in one’s relationship with God through Jesus is the key to wholeness which leads to relationships which are known for authenticity, health, and intimacy.

I received this book free from the publisher.   I was not required to write a positive review. 

Favor: Finding Life at the Center of God’s Affection

favorGreg Gilbert, Favor: Finding Life at the Center of God’s Affection Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2017, 172 pp. $9.47

The prosperity gospel has been an influential force within the ranks of evangelicalism for some time. This God-dishonoring approach to the Christian life misinterprets Scripture and misrepresents the gospel. Tragically, many people are led astray by the idea that God’s gifts may be earned and that financial remuneration is at the center of God’s kingdom.

Greg Gilbert’s book, Favor: Finding Life at the Center of God’s Affection takes a different approach, one that is steeped in Scripture and offers people an eternal hope.

Part One: The Favor of God and How to Get It

Part one lays the theological foundation. The author defines his terms clearly by describing the essence of favor which means that you please someone or bring them joy or gladness. Therefore, “to be favored by God,” writes Gilbert, “is to be pleasing to him, to bring him joy … This is not a question of whether you’ll live your best life now; it’s a matter of whether you’ll live at all.”

The author wrestles with the idea of “earned favor.” In other words, humans have a built-in propensity to earn what they receive. For example, a worker receives wages for his hard work. A student receives a diploma for diligent study.

At the core of this study is the reality that most people are unwilling to admit: They do not deserve the favor of God. “You deserve to be condemned, to die, and to spend eternity under God’s wrath …” Gilbert writes. When creatures fail to glorify the living God, they commit cosmic treason against the throne of heaven. Gilbert adds, “It is rebellion and insurrection against the throne and crown and authority of God.”

Simply put, God’s favor must be earned. Yet it is not earned in the way that most people imagine. God’s favor must be earned for us and the only Person qualified to carry this out is the Lord Jesus Christ. He perfectly fulfilled the law of God and thus earned his favor. But then he died. The author explains,

But the fact that Jesus died, the fact that the One who actually earned life submitted to death, tells us that something more was happening. And that something more is the whole glory and joy of the Christian gospel. When Jesus won the favor of God and all its rewards, he wasn’t doing it just for himself. He was doing it for others too. He was acting as a representative, a substitute, a champion.

Gilbert’s winsome presentation of penal substitutionary atonement is stunning, to say the least. This breathtaking portrayal of the atonement leads to an important discussion that concerns union with Christ, a doctrine that is underemphasized in many churches. Gilbert goes so far to say, “Union with Christ … is the most under-appreciated, underemphasized, and overlooked doctrine in all of Christian theology.” Gilbert does his part to put a proper biblical emphasis on this crucial doctrine.

Part Two: The Blessings of God’s Favor

Part two focuses on the blessings of God’s favor by alerting readers to four important topics, namely, the blessing of contentment, peace with God, new life, and fighting as favored sons and daughters in the kingdom. These blessings are obviously practical and multi-faceted. Gilbert does a good job linking these blessings to real-life examples. But more importantly, he shows where these blessings appear in the Bible.

Favor: Finding Life at the Center of God’s Affection is perfect for new believers but will also benefit seasoned Christians as well. It wonderfully articulates the gospel and causes readers to rejoice in the blessings which are theirs in Christ!

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review.

Long Before Luther

longNathan Busenitz, Long Before Luther: Tracing the Heart of the Gospel From Christ to the Reformation Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2017, 243 pp. $10.49

Long Before Luther: Tracing the Heart of the Gospel From Christ to the Reformation by Nathan Busenitz recently hit the shelves. Busentiz sets out to discover whether or not the doctrine of justification by faith alone was taught and stressed prior to the days of the Protestant Reformation. Anyone familiar with the Reformers understands the motto, post tenabras lux (after darkness light). This little Latin phrase suggests that there was a darkness in the land in the days preceding the Reformation. Such an assertion is true. However, Busentiz asks whether or not any light existed at all. The answer is a resounding “yes!” Indeed, the author discovers that the doctrine of justification by faith alone is not an invention of the Reformers. Rather, they unearthed and recovered this doctrine which can be traced back to the apostles.

Dr. Busentiz utilizes Alistair McGrath’s book, Iustitia Dei, which he admits is “widely regarded as one of the most comprehensive treatments of the subject.” But comprehensive does not necessarily mean accurate as we shall see. For McGrath essentially argues that Luther and his Reformation buddies concocted what we understand now as justification by faith alone. Busentiz adds, “Because the doctrine of justification lies at the heart of the gospel, the implications of this charge are serious.”

McGrath delineates the three pillars of the Reformers’ view of justification which include 1) Forensic Justification, 2) Justification Distinguished from Regeneration, and 3) The Imputed Righteousness of Jesus Christ. McGrath argues that these distinct doctrines are missing in the first fifteen hundred years of church history. Thus, as Busentiz notes, the doctrine of justification by faith alone was “a theological innovation introduced in the sixteenth century,” at least according to McGrath.

With this vexing concern before his readers, Dr. Busentiz carefully guides them on a journey where they discover that sola fide was taught by Augustine and the church fathers. The three pillars the McGrath identifies are used as a sort of litmus test which Busentiz uses to his advantage and I might add, with great skill.

In the final analysis, Busentiz argues that justification by faith alone is not an invention of the Reformers, nor is it a theological novelty. Indeed, this doctrine was taught by the apostles and the church fathers. While it was largely neglected for the first fifteen hundred years of church history, it was, nonetheless a part of the warp and woof of Christian orthodoxy.

While McGrath’s assertions concerning justification are troubling, the three pillars he identifies in Iustitia Dei actually serve Busentiz quite well as he looks backward and ultimately makes a compelling case for the historic doctrine of justification. Busenitz should be commended for his work as he settles the score on this crucial matter that concerns the gospel.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review.

Martin Luther: A Spiritual Biography

sledHerman Selderhuis, Martin Luther: A Spiritual BiographyWheaton: Crossway, 2017, 347 pp. $23.12

Herman Selderhuis, professor of church history at the Theological University Apeldoorn needs little introduction. His book, John Calvin: A Pilgrim’s Life was warmly received by many as he unpacked the Reformer’s life and legacy.

Now the author makes his contribution to a growing list of books with Martin Luther: A Spiritual Biography. As we celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, Selderhuis’s work is a fitting tribute to Luther and the many men and women who made a contribution in the sixteenth century.

Selderhuis examines ten movements in Luther’s life including Child, Student, Monk, Exegete, Theologian, Architect, Reformer, Father, Professor, and Prophet. Each movement is an opportunity for the author to present historical details and relay the massive contribution that Luther made.

The author carefully traces the spiritual history of Luther – from an unconverted monk who struggled with God and even hated him to a man who passionately embraced the doctrines of grace. Selderhuis does not gloss over the negative details of Luther’s life. Luther’s brashness and vulgarity are explored as well as some of Luther’s racist proclivities.

Luther: A Spiritual Biography is an illuminating look at a man whose influence continues to captivate and inspire people around the world. It beautifully complements classic works such as Bainton’s, Here I Stand and should receive a wide reading.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review.

Freedom Movement: 500 Years of Reformation

freeFreedom Movement: 500 Years of Reformation by Michael Reeves is a short, yet powerful look at the story that helped shape the Protestant Reformation. Reeves has done a splendid job at surveying the history behind the Reformation and alerting readers to the theological tension and truth that emerged. The author includes just enough biographical information on Martin Luther to gain the attention of readers and draw them into the drama of the 16th century.

Freedom Movement should be devoured by Christians, especially as we approach the quincentennial celebration of the Protestant Reformation. Studying the Reformation should revive our affection for the Savior and refresh our love for the doctrines of grace. It should refuel our resolve to stand obediently before our sovereign God.