Gospel-Centered Teaching

Gospel-Centered Teaching by Trevin Wax is a practical book that waxadmonishes readers to put Jesus at the center of every lesson and sermon.  Indeed, Spurgeon’s plea in the 19th century to preach the text and then “make a bee-line to the cross” is at the core of this work.  The author adds, “Unless you understand the power of life transformation is in the gospel, you’ll run after anything and everything else trying to manufacture life change.”  So we make it our aim to return again and again to Jesus and his gospel.

Gospel-Centered Teaching is a powerful book that reminds readers that the gospel is not merely for the unconverted.  Indeed, it not only saves us; it also sustains us in the Christian life.  I am reminded of the gentlemen who left a church I served in.  The accusation went something like this: “I left the xyz church because all I ever heard from the pulpit was the gospel.”  This person failed to see that the gospel is not only for salvation; it is life itself and propels Christ-followers into the future by his grace and for his glory.

Wax further elaborates another reason why we must place the gospel at the centered of every lesson and sermon:

“We progress in holiness the more we immerse ourselves in the truth that Jesus Christ bled and died to save helpless sinners like you and me.  The more we see the depth of our sin, the more we understand the depth of God’s grace.  Going deep means we must remember there is nothing we can do to make ourselves more acceptable to God … The gospel-centered teacher understands that the unsaved need the gospel in order to come to know Christ, while the saved need the gospel in order to become more like Christ.”

Gospel-Centered Teaching is a necessary antidote in a culture awash in moralism.  This little book is sure to encourage pastors and teachers to not only maintain fidelity to the gospel; but to keep it at the center of all ministry.

4.5 stars

Gospel Reformation

bold

The excommunicated monk sits alone in silence. Beads of sweat accumulate on his brow as he reads from the pages of the Greek text. A dark cloud casts a shadow over his homeland as the grace of the gospel is obscured by a church that cares more about tradition than truth.

For the next ten months, Luther will pour over every word, translating the Greek into the heart language of the German people. When his work is complete, the German people will be able to read the Bible for themselves. They will no longer be dependent upon a priest who has misrepresented God, mangled the truth of his Word, and maligned the gospel of Jesus Christ.

For hundreds of years, the gospel had been buried and replaced by a system of “man-made righteousness.” The Roman Catholic Church exchanged truth for tradition. The power-brokers of tradition maintained a chokehold on people who didn’t know any better.  Confessing sin to a priest replaced confessing sin to a holy God.

Yet, Luther unearthed the precious jewel of the gospel, a reality which is unveiled in my new book, Bold Reformer:Celebrating the Gospel-Centered Convictions of Martin Luther. Only $0.99 for a limited time on Amazon.com.

THE UNFINISHED REFORMATION

Gregg Allison & Chris Cataldo, The Unfinished Reformation. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2016, 171 pp. $16.99

The book market is beginning to see a rise of titles that deal with the Protestant Reformation as we move closer to the 500th anniversary of Luther’s bold move at Wittenberg. Gregg Allison and Chris Castaldo collaborate on a creative work that poses a critical question: “What unites and divides Catholics and Protestants after 500 years?” The authors are clear about the core of this controversy: “To whom did God give authority to define Christian faith? Did it belong to the institution of the Roman Catholic Church? Or was Scripture its own interpreter?” These questions serve as a sort of litmus test which will eventually help readers discover the truth.

Before discussing the most essential differences between the two traditions, The Unfinished Reformationhelps readers understand that there is, in fact, much that is shared in common. For instance there is essential agreement on the Trinity, the nature and revelation of God, the person and work of Christ, and the Holy Spirit, among other things.

But there are several distinct differences between Roman Catholics and Protestants; differences that have caused a serious rift between the two traditions. These differences are sharp and have prompted much debate throughout church history. The fundamental matters of authority and salvation are the key drivers which have led to severe disagreements between Catholics and Evangelicals. A brief summary of these differences includes the role of Scripture and tradition, the Roman Catholic belief of purgatory, prayer for the dead, penance, Mary’s role in the Christian life, and the role of the sacraments.

The difference that carries the most weight and theological controversy is Rome’s repudiation of justification by faith alone. The authors present the view of justification which was rediscovered by the Reformers and contrast it with the view that Rome embraced during the days of the Reformation; a view that is still maintained to this day. Allison and Castaldo state:

Unlike Catholic theology, in which the decisive verdict of God’s acceptance comes at the end of life following the accumulation of sacramental grace and merits, Protestants emphasize the decisive moment when people believe in the gospel apart from works. They are justified by faith alone, and their perfect standing before God results in new life as children of God, a life that then blossoms with virtuous fruit by the internal renewal of the Holy Spirit through the Word of God.

Allison and Castaldo conclude that the Reformation is finished in some respects. The historical accomplishment of the Reformation is undeniable and have charted a specific trajectory that will never be altered.

But more importantly, the authors note that the Reformation is still not complete. Theological differences remain intact: “From our perspective, unless the Catholic Church undergoes radical reform according to Scripture, the Reformation will necessarily continue.”

The Unfinished Reformation is a much-needed book as we move closer to the 500th anniversary of the original Protest. Both Roman Catholics and Protestants will benefit from Allison and Castaldo’s work. Their research is meticulous and they present their findings with grace and humility. My hope is this work will receive a wide readership and that the labors of the Reformers will carry on and lives will be enriched and transformed by the gospel of Jesus.

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

COUNTERFEIT GODS – Timothy Keller (2009)

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

HIDDEN IN THE GOSPEL – William Farley (2014)

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

 

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

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!

MEN’S INHUMANITY TO GOD – Jonathan Edwards (1750)

jonathan-edwardsJonathan Edwards never minced words.  In his sermon, Men’s Inhumanity to God he reminds sinners that their general bent is to turn away from God, curse God, and live independent of his authority.

Doctrine

Men are wont to offer such treatment to God as they will not take one of another.

Edwards draws his text from Malachi 1:8 and develops nine points to support the doctrine above.  His argument may be summed up as he describes the natural bent of sinners:

The meanest object of their lusts is  set higher than he: he has less respect show him than a few shillings of money, or than a morsel of meat or a draught of strong drink, or a little brutish pleasure with a harlot.  The vilest of their wicked companions is more regarded, more feared and honored than the Lord of heaven and earth … They plainly show that they condemn his awful and infinite majesty and greatness, [his] spotless holiness, his justice; [they] contemn [both] his threatenings [and his] mercy.

Application

The specific application is straightforward and penetrating.  The Puritan divine encourages his listeners to make good use of the text by engaging in self-reflection, by turning to the Savior with a repentant heart, and praising God for his patience and mercy.

The sermons of Jonathan Edwards are a wake-up call for preachers in this generation to preach bold, gospel-centered messages.