COUNTERFEIT GODS – Timothy Keller (2009)

•April 27, 2015 • 1 Comment

kellrTim Keller has a special gift for digging below the surface.  He applies his unique gift in the pulpit and in many of his books.

In Counterfeit Gods, Dr. Keller tackles the thorny subject of idolatry.  John Calvin put his finger on this pernicious sin in the 16th century when he said, “Every person is an idol factory.”  Keller notes that anything can become an idol – especially good things.  Keller adds, “Anything that becomes more important and nonnegotiable to us than God becomes an enslaving idol.”

The idols of money, sex, and power are the central topics of this excellent volume.  Keller notes, “The secret to change is to identify and dismantle the counterfeit gods of your heart.”

Counterfeit Gods is a convicting read and will no doubt encourage many believers to demolish their idols and cast their hope and trust in the living God.

4.5 stars

JESUS SWAGGER – Jarrid Wilson (2015)

•April 20, 2015 • Leave a Comment

0718021991_bJesus Swagger: Break Free From Poser Christianity by Jarrid Wilson seeks to challenge Christ-followers to live authentic, Christian lives.  The author calls readers to be different; to “walk tall with a righteous swagger; a Jesus swagger.”  He adds, “Jesus swagger is all about your life being infected with the love of Christ.”

Jesus Swagger is clearly seeking to reach a high school/college audience.  The author has a way of communicating important truths in a way that will surely reel the target audience in.  It has a hipster feel and is laced with theological nuggets along the way.

Jesus Swagger calls readers to a Christian lifestyle which is genuine and in line with Scriptural mandates.  Yet some of the content comes off as irreverent and too casual.

Some of the doctrinal matters discussed fall short.  For instance, the author attempts to wrestle with the doctrine of the Holy Spirit but  wanting to play “both ends for the middle,” ends up leaving readers with more questions than answers.

Wilson’s work is written with the best intentions and includes some basic principles for living the Christian life.  Unfortunately, I could not get past the notion of “Jesus Swagger.”  While the author has authentic Christianity in mind, the very notion of “swagger” smells like the world’s system.  The swagger factor does not naturally lead one to think of humble,  loving, merciful, and God-centered Christianity.

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

3 stars

HIDDEN IN THE GOSPEL – William Farley (2014)

•April 13, 2015 • Leave a Comment

new farleyIt’s short and sweet.  It is an easy read.  It is also one of the best books you will read this year.  William Farley’s Hidden in the Gospel: Truths You Forget to Tell Yourself Every Day is a treasure trove filled with timeless principles that will enrich your Christian life.

Farley builds upon the dictum popularized by Jerry Bridges: “Preach the gospel to yourself.”  The author takes readers on a journey they should never forget.

The gospel of course is spelled out in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4.  Paul says,

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures …

William Farley presents the gospel in a series of eight movements which include:

  1. Election
  2. Incarnation
  3. Active Obedience
  4. Penal Substitutionary Atonement
  5. Resurrection
  6. Ascension
  7. Return and Final Judgment
  8. New Creation and Consummation

Each of these eight ingredients which make up the gospel are presented with biblical support and appropriate illustrations.  Farley is a master teacher who not only understands the redemptive plot line; he communicates the gospel with precision and skill.

After Pastor Farley unpacks each doctrinal reality, he helps readers preach the given gospel truth to themselves.  He presents the notion of preaching the gospel to oneself as an essential aspect of the Christian life:

“It is key to robust spiritual experience.  We can either listen to ourselves – our fears, doubts, insecurities, hurts, and failures – or we can preach to ourselves.”

Hidden in the Gospel is another home run by William Farley.  This author fails to disappoint.  He is locked and loaded onto the gospel message.  As a reader, you will no doubt walk away from reading his book a transformed person.

5 stars

 

DID GOD KILL JESUS? – Tony Jones (2015)

•April 6, 2015 • 1 Comment

It takes 234 pages for Tony Jones to answer the central question in hisjones new book, Did God Kill Jesus?  The author is a self-described “theological provocateur,” so the question posed in his book should not surprise anyone.  The answer that emerges on page 234 is crystal clear: “No, God did not kill Jesus,” says Dr. Jones.  Readers will find that the path to this answer is paved with doubt and skepticism.  Frankly, it is a path fraught with theological compromise.

Tony Jones has a knack for asking questions.  He has an uncanny ability of questioning the theological status quo and forcing readers to decide, even re-evaluate their cherished views.  Unfortunately, some of the answers that Jones provides do not match the biblical record or pass the test of orthodoxy.

The author sets out to examine the various views of the atonement which have been offered up throughout church history.  The questions he fires at these theories are fair enough:

  • What does the model say about God?
  • What does it say about Jesus?
  • What does the model say about the relationship between God and Jesus?
  • How does it make sense of violence?
  • What does it mean for us spiritually?
  • Where’s the love?

Ultimately, none of the theories fully satisfy the author.  But the one he finds the most repugnant is penal substitutionary atonement.  Jones argues that this view, which he labels the payment model is currently in vogue “largely because it appeals to our sense of justice and our understanding of law and penalties.”  And he is not particularly bashful about how he feels about penal substitutionary atonement.  In his previous book, A Better Atonement: Beyond the Depraved Doctrine of Original Sin, Jones writes, “I’m on no quest to reject the penal substitutionary theory of the atonement (PSA).  (I merely intend to dethrone it).”  However, what he fails to see is this: when penal substitutionary atonement is dethroned, the gospel of Jesus Christ is thrown into the ash heap and the hope of every person perishes.

In his explanation of penal substitutionary atonement, the author assures readers that “God is holy, and we are less-than-holy.”  This appears to be a strange starting point since all who hold to penal substitutionary atonement embrace the biblical idea of total depravity – which is quite a leap from “less-than-holy.”  However, Jones’ starting point makes perfect sense (just not biblical sense) when one discovers that he has also discarded the doctrine of original sin:

“What I’ve come to realize is that the idea of original sin is not, in fact, God Eternal Truth.  It is, instead, like so many other items of faith, historically conditioned.”

To be fair Jones’ acknowledges the existence of sin.  However, he rejects the “notion that human beings are depraved from birth.”

Jones caricatures the doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement by placing God the Father in an untenable position by “sending his perfect Son to Earth, then letting him – or making him – die as a substitute for the billions of human beings past and future who are incapable of paying off the debt incurred by their sin.  That’s the Payment model” according to Tony Jones.

The biggest disappointment in this book is the repudiation of penal substitutionary atonement, the doctrine which contains the very core of the gospel message.  As noted above, the path which leads to the ultimate question in the book is riddled with “rocks” and “weeds” and “branches” that careful readers should navigate in order to understand the position the author takes. Two of these stumbling blocks are noted below.

1. Dishonoring God

A.W. Tozer was certainly on target when he wrote, “What we think about God is the most important thing about us.”  Yet what we find here is view that has much in common with process theology.  The author writes, “… We can surmise that in Jesus, God was learning.”  He continues, “But on the cross, something else happened altogether, possibly something that even God did not expect.”  The implication here appears to be a compromise of God’s comprehensive omniscience, a troubling turn of events to be sure.

Additionally, the author promotes what he refers to as the “weakness of God.”  He adds,

“Here is the guiding idea: God has forsaken power in order to give creation freedom.  In other words, God’s primary posture in the world is that of weakness, not strength.  This is a tough pill for many Christians to swallow – we’ve been taught to claim God’s power in our lives, to pray for power, and to trust God’s power and perfect plan for our lives …”

A “tough pill” to swallow?  You bet!  Discerning readers would do well to keep that “pill” out of their mouths, especially when the testimony of Scripture points to a God who is all-together sovereign and omnipotent over everything and everyone in the cosmos.  Swallow such a “pill” will leave readers spiritually sick.

2. Destroying the Heart of the Atonement

Jones makes it clear early in the book that he along with other liberals have “grown increasingly uncomfortable with the regnant interpretation of Jesus’ death as primarily the propitiation of a wrathful God.”

Yet, when one reduces the cross to a mere display of love and refuses to acknowledge that Jesus bore the wrath of God, the gospel is utterly stripped of its saving power.  Such a move is to destroy the very heart of the atonement.

Summary

In the final analysis, the answer to the question of this book is not a simply yes or no answer.  The Scripture makes it plain that both God and man killed Jesus Christ.

“… let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by him this man is standing before you well.” (Acts 4:10, ESV)

“… for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.” (Acts 4:27–28, ESV)

This is a book that should upset a lot of people.  Frankly, I’m glad Jones wrote the book because it will rally conservatives around the truth of the gospel.  This book should motivate pastors and scholars to go deeper into the reality of the gospel and prompt God-centered reverence and worship as they glory in the beauty of penal substitutionary atonement.

Evangelicals need to pay careful attention to books like this that grow more and more popular.  Jones urges readers to participate in what he calls, “the smell test.”  Unfortunately, something doesn’t smell right about this book.

Admittedly, Tony Jones stands in a theological stream that is more liberal-minded.  One important distinction between Jones and many other liberals is that he actually affirms the bodily resurrection of Jesus.  For this we can be thankful.  However, since he rejects penal substitution and as a result softens (or even eliminates) the wrath that Jesus bore on the cross, the scandal of the cross is blurred and even obscured.  Indeed, as Jeffery, Ovey, and Sach have rightly written, “If we blunt the sharp edges of the cross, we dull the glittering diamond of God’s love.”

Whenever wrath is removed from the cross, something crucial is missing, which is to say, the gospel is at stake.  For this reason, the view promoted here does not pass the “smell test.”

Readers are encouraged to explore the God-honoring doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement in three powerful and provocative books which include: The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross – Leon Morris, Pierced For Our Transgressions – Steve Jeffery, Michael Ovey, Andrew Sach, and It is Well: Expositions on Substitutionary Atonement – Mark Dever and Michael Lawrence.

 

 

DEATH AND JUDGMENT – Jonathan Edwards (1752)

•March 30, 2015 • 1 Comment

Jonathan_Edwards_engraving“All men of all nations all over the world must die,” writes Jonathan Edwards.  He strikes an immediate chord as he preaches the Word of God to the Stockbridge Indians in March, 1752.  Edwards not only appeals to commonsense experience; he appeals to his text, Hebrews 9:27.

Doctrine

After death comes the judgment: when men die, they go to appear before God to be judged.

Edwards makes it clear that God will call all men to account as the text indicates: “God is a just and righteous and holy God; and therefore, there certainly is another world where God will do right and will make good men happy, and will destroy the wicked … He will [hold] them to an account that have heard the gospel preached; [he will ask] whether or no they have repented of their sins and have in their hearts accepted of Jesus Christ as their Savior.”

The postmodern notion of annihilation is the farthest thing for Edwards mind: “And when men are thrown into that fire, there they must be forever and ever.  They must never come out any more; they shall never die.  The fire will torment ’em and [they] will always be all over full of pain, and they will wish for death, but shall never die.”

Those who turn to Christ, on the other hand, will go to heaven: “There they shall live in a world of light and happiness with God and Jesus Christ.”

Application

Once the doctrine is established, Edwards turns immediately to the application.  There is no transition to speak of.  He urges the indians to trust in Christ for their eternal salvation: “Now, therefore, this is the counsel I give you: receive instruction, forsake all your sins, and turn from sin to God.”

There is a strong emphasis on repentance here that is missing from the modern pulpit: “And you must repent and be sorry for your sins … God is willing to save sinners no other way than by Christ.  You must pray to God to take away your wicked hearts and give you new hearts that you may have clean hearts … Make haste; don’t put off religion, but now  – without delay – forsake your sins and turn to God.”

WHAT DOES THE BIBLE TEACH ABOUT HOMOSEXUALITY? – Kevin DeYoung (2015)

•March 26, 2015 • Leave a Comment

aI read an important book today.  It is not a weighty theological treatise.  It is not a book about spiritual formation.  And it certainly is not written to inspire.  This book is about homosexuality.  Like it or not, in our culture, the topic of homosexuality has moved from stage left to center stage.  Everyone is talking about it.  Many people are affirming homosexual relationships – liberals and conservatives alike.

I recently read Steve Chalke’s booklet, A Matter of Integrity.  The author, who happens to be a Baptist pastor, seeks to legitimize and normalize homosexuality.  The booklet is written with tones of grace and the author appears very kind.  The only problem – the book is dead wrong.  The book opposes Scripture.  And the book fails to glorify God.

Kevin DeYoung’s new book, What Does the Bible Really Teach About Homosexuality addresses a controversial topic with grace but never at the expense of truth.

Part One – Understanding God’s Word

The author guides readers through a maze of texts and helps them unravel what Scripture really says about homosexuality.  His tone is gracious.  Yet he is unafraid to proclaim what God proclaims – homosexuality is a sin to be repented of.  Everyone who turns from their sin may find peace and forgiveness that flow freely from Jesus who paid to set sinners free.  DeYoung is quick to demonstrate that homosexuality is not acceptable in God’s economy.  But he is even more eager to point people to a God who forgives:

The God we worship is indeed a God of love.  Which does not, according to any verse in the Bible, make sexual sin acceptable.  But it does, by the witness of a thousand verses all over the Bible, make every one of our sexual sins changeable, redeemable, and wondrously forgiveable.  

Part Two – Answering Objections

DeYoung has left no stone unturned here.  In part two, he answers typical objections and responds with grace and truth.  All his answers are supported by the weight of Scripture.

There is much to commend here; more than one review can cover.  However, Kevin DeYoung helps readers understand what is at stake in this debate and uncovers four vital issues that every Christian should be concerned with.  I urge readers to purchase the book and study these powerful warnings:

  1. The moral logic of monogamy is at stake.
  2. The integrity of Christian sexual ethics is at stake.
  3. The authority of Scripture is at stake.
  4. The grand narrative of Scripture is at stake.

What Does the Bible Really Teach About Homosexuality will not be the most inspiring book you’ll read all year.  However, it may be the most important book you read.  It is a book that may cause you discomfort.  It is a book that will certainly cause you to reevaluate your position on homosexuality.    Ultimately, this book will point you to the Book.  And sacred Scripture clearly reveals God’s position on homosexuality.  Homosexual behavior, like any other ungodly behavior is sin; sin which must be repented of and forgiven.

May readers approach this subject with minds and hearts that are open to God’s revelation.  May they be challenged and moved to obedience.  And may the gospel open doors of hope so that many will find their rest in Christ the Savior!

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

 

LUTHER AND THE CHRISTIAN LIFE – Carl R. Trueman (2015)

•March 23, 2015 • Leave a Comment

lutherMartin Luther was one of the bright shining stars of the 16th centuries who God used to restore reason to the church and recover the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Carl R. Trueman unpacks the Protestant Reformer in his latest work, Luther on the Christian Life.

The book is a balanced blend of biography, Reformation history, and theology.  Beginners and seasoned students of Luther will all benefit from Trueman’s work.

While each chapter is a worthy read, the fifth chapter, Living By the Word will be the focus of this review.  The author does a magnificent job of drawing Luther’s love for the Bible in these pages.  But he demonstrates how important the Holy Spirit was in Luther’s life and theological framework: “For Luther, the Spirit is only given with the external word.”  Indeed, the Spirit of God uses the Word of God to transform the people of God.  Eliminate the Spirit and the result is a dry rationalism.  Remove the Word and the result is a subjective train wreck.  Luther stressed the importance of both the Word and the Spirit.

Luther’s devotional life and approach to the Christian life is explored, leaving readers with much to contemplate and weight out.  The author contrasts Luther’s emphasis on being a theologian of the cross (as opposed to a theologian of glory):

The very essence of being a theologian of the cross is that one sees God’s strength as manifested in weakness.  The primary significance of that is the incarnation and the cross.  God’s means for overcoming sin and crushing death are the humiliation of his Son, hidden in human flesh.  Nevertheless, the cross also has a certain paradigmatic aspect to it, for it indicates that God does his proper work through his alien work.

Additionally, Luther’s approach to spiritual warfare is reviewed.  Anyone who battles melancholy stands in good company, for Luther battled the same throughout his adult life.  Truman adds, “Luther certainly regards the cultivation of despair as one of the primary tasks of the Devil … Everything hangs on this, from confidence before God to ethical conduct before neighbors, to the ability to look death in the face and not despair.”

Luther’s struggles are always held captive to the Word of God.  Ultimately, Luther’s relief comes when he rests in the promises of the gospel.  Luther says,

And so when I feel the terrors of death, I say: ‘Death, you have nothing on me.  For I have another death, one that kills you, my death.  And the death that kills is stronger than the death that is killed.’

Carl Trueman offers a carefully thought out treatment of Luther, which includes both triumphs and tragedies.  The reader can determine which issues merit further studies.  Luther and the Christian Life is a fine contribution to the growing work on the German Reformer.

Highly recommended!

 
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