Batting With the Bereans

One of the most exciting elements of spring is the beginning of baseball season. The outfield is mowed, the infield freshly groomed and the players make their way on to the field. Some players come prepared to play; others have managed to let the training program go by the wayside. Eventually, all the players get back in shape and are ready to go, come opening day.

The Christian life, however, does not have the luxury of an off-season. Each day presents a new challenge. And each obstacle affords an opportunity for Christians to be God-centered in word and deed.

The Scriptures present a group of God-centered people called the Bereans. These folks were intent on learning and obeying God’s standard as set forth in the Scriptures. Acts 17:11 gives us an inside look at this impressive bunch. “Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.”

Notice a few things about these godly people:

First, take a look at their personality.  They were noble in character or “noble-minded” as translated in the New American Standard. The reason for their exemplary character is directly tied to their passion; namely, a burning desire to receive God’s message. They received the message with great eagerness, or literally with a readiness of mind. The Bereans approached God and his Word with a sense of expectation and would not settle for anything less.

Second, the Bereans were proactive. They diligently searched the Scriptures to see if the teaching they were receiving lined up with God’s revealed Word. Notice that this searching process which involved sifting everything they heard was a daily occurrence. These people were serious about God’s Word!

One of the greatest ways to emulate the example of the Bereans is to plug into a group of like-minded followers of Christ.  Here you have the opportunity to open the Word of God, commune with him, and develop relationships with people who have similar priorities.

Let me challenge you to “step up to the plate” and take some batting lessons from the Bereans. Let us hold the Word of God high and approach the Christian life with passion, zeal, and joyful anticipation.

This Momentary Marriage

Books on marriage are a dime-a-dozen these days, even from a Christian perspective. However, only a handful of books on marriage, pass the test of biblical fidelity. John Piper’s book, This Momentary Marriage passes both. In fact, it ranks among the best books I’ve read on marriage to date.

Readers familiar with Piper will be instantly drawn into his argument for marriage. Over and over Piper pounds the theme of the book into the ground for maximum effect: The ultimate purpose of marriage is “the display of Christ’s covenant-keeping grace.” To that end, the author develops several items worth mentioning.

Summary

  1. The author grounds his central argument in rich soil by reiterating that marriage is “the doing of God.”

And in a final sense, “marriage is the display of God.” He continues, “The ultimate things we can say about marriage is that it exists for God’s glory. That is, it exists to display God … Marriage is patterned after Christ’s covenant relationship to his redeemed people, the church. And therefore, the highest meaning and the most ultimate purpose of marriage is to put the covenant relationship of Christ and his church on display.” And this is the primary reason why divorce is so odious to God: “Therefore, what makes divorce and remarriage so horrific in God’s eyes is not merely that it involves covenant-breaking to the spouse, but that it involves misrepresenting Christ and his covenant” (emphasis mine).

  1. Piper focuses on the priority of covenant love.

The theme of the book is that marriage is meant to display Christ’s covenant-keeping grace. Therefore, the author argues that “staying married is not mainly about staying in love. It’s about covenant-keeping.” The foundation for this covenant-keeping is the rock-solid covenant between people and God. Therefore, Piper continues, “Marriage exists to display the merciful covenant-keeping love of Christ and the faithfulness of his bride.”

It is here that the book takes an important and decisive turn – for the author shows the relevance of the doctrine of justification by faith alone and how it relates to marriage. Piper adds, “God requires two things of us: punishment for our sins and perfection for our lives.” He continues to describe how the vertical reality of justification must be “bent horizontally to our spouses if marriage is to display the covenant-making, covenant-keeping grace of God.” The takeaway is profound: “Let the measure of God’s grace to you in the cross of Christ be the measure of your grace to your spouse.” This is a perfect example of the Christ-saturated wisdom that permeates the book.

Practical Biblical Wisdom

Piper continues to give practical advice to husbands and wives throughout the book; advice that is bathed in biblical wisdom; advice that is ultimately rooted in our God who keeps covenant with his people. Biblical headship is discussed – so husbands are encouraged to lead well: “Headship is the divine calling of a husband to take primary responsibility for Christlike, servant leadership, protection, and provision in the home.”  The husband’s leadership involves physical and spiritual protection and physical and spiritual provision. Biblical submission is explored: “Submission is the divine calling of a wife to honor and affirm her husband’s leadership and help carry it through according to her gifts.”  What strikes me about the section on headship and submission is this: in a few short pages, Piper delivers an exegetical bombshell that utterly destroys the prevailing notion of egalitarianism.  This God-dishonoring view that sees no distinction between male and female roles is left begging for mercy; tattered and torn in the shadow of Piper’s sound exposition.

The concluding chapters discuss the permanence of the marriage covenant.  In what may be one of the most important statements in the book, Piper suggests that, “if Christ ever abandons and discards his church, then a man may divorce his wife. And if the blood-bought church, under the new covenant, ever ceases to be the bride of Christ, then a wife may legitimately divorce her husband. But as long as Christ keeps his covenant with the church, by the omnipotent grace of God, remains the chosen people of Christ, then the very meaning of marriage will include: What God has joined, only God can separate.”

The author boldly goes where few pastors dare to go by suggesting that remarriage is prohibited so long as the previous spouse is still alive. His arguments are exegetically sound and compelling. Readers who disagree are encouraged to survey the case that Piper presents and prayerfully consider his arguments.

A Landmark Book on Marriage

This Momentary Marriage is a landmark book.  It is a theological landmine that will undoubtedly shatter many preconceived notions about marriage. It is solid food that Christians need to digest. And it is timely ointment that is designed to heal wounds and promote strong marriages in the difficult days ahead. I highly recommended it!

 

The Puritanical Genius of Mike Pence

A recent Washington Post article revealed some fascinating tidbits about Vice President Mike Pence and his wife, Karen. At the top of the list, was Pence’s proclamation in 2002 that, “he never eats alone with a woman other than his wife.”1 The article revealed what many Americans have learned in recent months about Mike and Karen Pence, namely, that these people fear God and take their wedding vows seriously.

One would think that such a story would not draw much press or criticism. Think again, as the liberal media pounced on Pence and sought to portray his views as Puritanical and out of step with the modern milieu. Such views are better relegated to the stone age, at least in the minds of “cultured” people.

For example, Jessica Valenti writes that Pence’s position is “all a part of his deeply retrograde worldview.”2 Writing with deep sarcasm, Valenti considers the values of Pence to militate against the tenor of the times: “It’s an insulting view of men, a limiting role for women – we’re there to either entice or domesticate – and an archaic take on gender roles more generally.”3

Valenti accuses Pence of being a “misogynist,” a truly bizarre accusation, especially in light of the honor that the Vice President pays to his wife. This egalitarian banter is both unfair and unproductive, putting words in Pence’s mouth and making judgments which are simply untrue. And these ridiculous accusations are light-years away from anything that resembles graciousness. So much for left-wing tolerance.

While the liberal media wastes precious time and ink, attacking the Vice President with straw man arguments, perhaps there are some lessons to learn for the rest of us. What kind of wisdom does Vice President Pence possess that other men could learn from? How can we learn from the Puritanical genius of Mike Pence?

He Understands the Power of the Flesh

The Vice President is well aware what Scripture says about the human heart. Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” The Bible clearly states that people of faith battle indwelling sin; this sin is smoldering in the heart of every person and will make the best of every opportunity. It will strike when we least expect it. The apostle Paul, a man who penned much of the New Testament, was aware of the diabolical nature and strategy of sin: “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me” (Rom. 7:18-20, ESV).

The Puritanical genius of Mike Pence is his keen awareness of the power of the flesh and the wisdom to steer clear from this ominous monster, no matter what the cost.

He Upholds the Sanctity of Marriage

The Vice President made a vow of faithfulness to his wife, Karen. Unlike some men in our culture, Mike Pence intends on making good on those vows. The standards that guide his life honor both his wife and honor his God. These standards demonstrate a rock-solid allegiance to Karen and help him love her in a sacrificial way, as Christ loved the church (Eph. 5:25). These standards place his marriage above the expectations of the world. Such a stance will no doubt draw the ire of his detractors but his aim is to please his Savior, not the attention of worldly people (Acts 5:29).

The Puritanical genius of Mike Pence is his deep understanding of his marriage vows and commitment to keep his word.

He Undermines Any Attempts to Question His Character

When the Vice President chooses to live above reproach, as we have recently learned, he short-circuits anyone who would seek to destroy him or cast a dark shadow on his life and reputation. Of course, anyone can cast stones and make spurious claims. But the wisdom of Pence helps protect him from any unsubstantiated claims. Such wise living is consistent with biblical principles and sound judgment, for “One who is wise is cautious and turns away from evil, but a fool is reckless and careless” (Proverbs 14:16, ESV).

The Puritanical genius of Mike Pence is his wisdom to avoid any situations that might do harm to his personal life or marriage.

He Underscores the Value of Integrity

The former congressman, J.C. Watts once opined, “Character is doing the right thing when nobody’s looking. There are too many people who think that the only thing that’s right is to get by, and the only thing that’s wrong is to get caught.” Vice President Pence understands the importance of integrity and demonstrates this valuable virtue in the way he lives his daily life and in the way he leads. He understands that integrity takes a lifetime to build but can be destroyed in a moment.

The Bible unveils the importance of integrity which supports the values that Mr. Pence embraces:

“May integrity and uprightness preserve me, for I wait for you.” (Psalm 25:21, ESV)

“He stores up sound wisdom for the upright; he is a shield to those who walk in integrity,” (Proverbs 2:7, ESV)

“Whoever walks in integrity walks securely, but he who makes his ways crooked will be found out.” (Proverbs 10:9, ESV)

“The integrity of the upright guides them, but the crookedness of the treacherous destroys them.” (Proverbs 11:3, ESV)

“Whoever walks in integrity will be delivered, but he who is crooked in his ways will suddenly fall.” (Proverbs 28:18, ESV)

The Puritanical genius of Mike Pence involves living a life that is marked by integrity.

Final Thoughts

We have seen that some people consider the worldview of Mike Pence to be “retrograde.” Such criticism argues that his values are a negative influence on our culture and that his views move us in the wrong direction. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. The worldview that Pence promotes helps advance a cause that all Americans should cherish – one that values faithfulness, honesty, and integrity.

J.I. Packer compares the New England Puritans to “California’s Redwoods”4 which tower above the earth and demand the attention of onlookers. Packer says, “The Puritans made me aware that all theology is also spirituality, in the sense that it has an influence, good or bad, positive or negative, on its recipients’ relationship or lack of relationship to God.”5Mike Pence is not a Puritan in the strict sense and never claimed to be one. Yet the Puritans would be proud of his values as he cherishes. They would commend Pence for his influence on people in the executive branch. And they would compliment him for the example he sets forth for the American people

God made a promise to Solomon that we would do well to remember: “And as for you, if you will walk before me, as David your father walked, with integrity of heart and uprightness, doing according to all that I have commanded you, and keeping my statutes and my rules,” (1 Kings 9:4, ESV)

The wisdom that the Vice President displays in maintaining proper relationships and boundaries is consistent with 1 Kings 9:4. This kind of wisdom is desperately needed at the highest levels of the federal government. But it is also needed across America – in our classrooms, board rooms, court rooms, sanctuaries, and media outlets.

When the dust settles, the Vice President may be battered and bruised by the liberal press.  He may bear the marks of unjust persecution.  But his strong values and commitment to purity will help preserve a strong marriage.  He will stand side-by-side with his treasured bride and enjoy the benefits of a clean conscience.

Americans should pray for Mr. Pence and ask God to enable him to walk with integrity before his God. We should pray that God protects his marriage and family. We should pray for God to grant much wisdom as he serves our nation in the days ahead. We as Americans should be thankful for the Puritanical genius of Vice President Mike Pence.

  1. See Ashley Parker, Karen Pence is the Vice President’s “Prayer Warrior,” Gut Check and Shield (Washington Post, 28 March, 2017).
  2. Jessica Valenti, The Real Reason Mike Pence Refuses to Dine Alone with Women (Alternet, 31 March, 2017).
  3. Ibid.
  4. J.I. Packer, A Quest For Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life(Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1990), 11.
  5. Ibid, 15.

The Heart of the Church – Joe Thorn (2017)

a heartJoe Thorn, The Heart of the Church, Chicago: Moody Press, 2017, 108 pp. $11.95

The first review I read of Joe Thorn’s new book, The Heart of the Church was decisively negative. This specific reviewer awarded the book with a dreaded “two stars,” which in the land of book reviews is something akin to wandering through a barren wasteland without water. But nothing could be further from the truth. My aim, therefore, is to set the record straight and give Thorn’s work the credit it deserves.

The Heart of the Church is the first in a series of three, which were all recently released. The first book guides readers on a fascinating journey – the history of the gospel, the doctrine of the gospel, and the God of the gospel.

Part 1: The History of the Gospel

The author anchors some of the key themes of Scripture by pointing to creation, covenant, sin, and salvation. The covenants point to the great arrival of the Savior, Jesus Christ, the One who “came to take away sin, fulfill all righteousness, establish a kingdom, and conquer the devil.”

Thorn presents the gospel simply and biblically alerting readers to the great reality of the life, death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ. Jesus is not only set forth as our example. Indeed, he is our substitute and righteousness as well. Thorn’s insistence on the substitutionary atonement is refreshing in the face of recent denials of this crucial doctrine. “All of this is the gospel,” argues Thorn. “It is history, and it is foundation for our doctrine.”

Part 2: The Doctrine of the Gospel

Part two is the “meat and potatoes” of this excellent book. Here, the author unfolds the crucial gospel doctrines of justification, forgiveness, faith and repentance, reconciliation, sanctification, and good works. These short chapters are basic enough for new believers but also contains substantial spiritual food for more experienced believers.

Each doctrine is explained and defended with basic biblical rationale. Readers will appreciate Thorn’s ability to articulate these weighty doctrines with great precision and profundity. While each treatment is short, there is a theological fuel here that will help feed the “spiritual fire” of growing Christians.

Part 3: The God of the Gospel

The final section builds upon the previous section and explores the important subjects of God’s justice, sovereignty, the atonement, irresistible grace, and particular redemption. Again, the author provides short explanations with strong biblical support.

Summary

The Heart of the Church is written for new believers but should be devoured by all believers. Joe Thorn has a unique gift of teaching which is warm, relational, and theologically rigorous. Pastor Thorn has a passion for the doctrines of grace that is apparent throughout the book. Readers will be deeply encouraged by Thorn’s labor – for the gospel is at the very center of this outstanding work. May this gospel continue to transform lives as people pour over this excellent work. Highly recommended!

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

Biblical Doctrine: A Systematic Summary of Bible Truth (2017)

big-mac

John F. MacArthur and Richard Mayhue, Biblical Doctrine: A Systematic Summary of Bible Truth Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2017, 1,024 pp. $41.43

A theological tour de force. A magnum opus. A breath-taking panorama that leaves the reader in awe. These are only a few descriptions of Biblical Doctrine: A Systematic Summary of Bible Truth. by John MacArthur and Richard Mayhue.

The book is arranged as one might expect, according to the various branches of systematic theology:

  1. Prolegomena
  2. God’s Word: Bibliology
  3. God the Father: Theology Proper
  4. God the Son: Christology
  5. God the Holy Spirit: Pneumatology
  6. Man and Sin: Anthropology and Hamartiology
  7. Salvation: Soteriology
  8. Angels: Angelology
  9. The Church: Ecclesiology
  10. The Future: Eschatology

A comprehensive glossary is included which helps beginning students with cumbersome theological language. Also included is an excellent topical and Scriptural index for instant access to this treasure trove.

Each branch of theology is carefully explained and biblically defended. Opposing views are highlighted and refuted with grace and tact. MacArthur and Mayhue never leave the reader guessing. As such, there is never a hint of ambiguity here.

Several terms characterize Biblical Doctrine. These terms will either attract or repel readers, but will nonetheless provide a helpful template for evaluating the prospect of plopping down almost $50.00 for a book!

  1. Biblical – This book is literally drowning in Scripture. Anyone familiar with MacArthur’s writing, in particular, will not be surprised to find a dogmatic edge. But dogmatism undergirded by humility and informed by Scripture is surely a path worth tracing out.
  2. Evangelical – This book is guided by a commitment to the gospel. Look elsewhere for a pragmatic approach. Readers will be blessed by the relentless pursuit of Jesus and his resplendent glory.
  3. Orthodox – This book is committed to historic orthodoxy, which is grounded by a literal, grammatical hermeneutic. Liberalism is soundly defeated and relegated to the ash heap.
  4. Reformed– This book is informed by the infrastructure of the Reformers of the sixteenth century. Weaving throughout this volume is a commitment to grace alone, faith alone, Christ alone, Scripture alone, and to God alone be the glory.

John MacArthur helpfully sums up the essence of the Reformed faith:

“It is the marvel of marvels that the King of kings, whose glory is exalted above the heavens, should lift a finger to rescue even one of such vile traitors as the sons of Adam.  Then to learn that this infinitely worthy King has purposed to redeem not one but countless multitudes at the cost of the life of his own dear Son bows the sinner’s heart in humble wonder.”

I cannot recommend Biblical Doctrine highly enough. It is an outstanding addition to the growing number of books committed to teaching systematic theology. Students will be challenged and stretched; spiritual growth will no doubt occur as they pour over the many pages of this tome. But most significantly, their hearts and minds will be drawn to worship and glorify the Triune God. Soli Deo Gloria!

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

Katharina & Martin (2017)

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Michelle DeRusha, Katharina and Martin Luther: The Radical Marriage of a Runaway Nun and a Renegade Monk Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2017, 314 pp. $14.79

When Baker Publishing gave me an opportunity to read and review Katharina & Martin Luther by Michelle DeRusha, I hesitated. For almost twenty-five years, I have studied the life of Luther and researched the finer points of the Protestant Reformation. In 2015, I began a period of research and writing which led to the publication of my book, Bold Reformer: Celebrating the Gospel Centered Convictions of Martin Luther. So my original hesitation had nothing to do with a lack of interest. Indeed, my interest in Luther has never waned. My only question was this: Would this book add any new insight or reveal aspects of Luther’s life that were previously unknown to me?

Thankfully, I decided to read the book. After only a few pages, I knew that my decision to devour this new book about Luther’s life would pay rich dividends.

First, Michelle DeRusha is an excellent writer. Her writing is clearly linked to the historical data concerning Luther’s life and is informed by a wealth of scholarship that she is quick to utilize.

Second, Katharina and Martin Luther is not your standard fare history book. The book reads like a novel but never sacrifices any of the historical content that readers expect. DeRusha has a gift for making history come alive and draws the reader into the setting she seeks to expose. I often found myself mysteriously transported to the Wittenberg landscape, smelling the fragrance of the countryside, or experiencing the unique tension of the Reformation. The author nicely captures the zeitgeist of the 16th century and strategically guides readers through its hallowed halls.

Finally, DeRusha skillfully presents the blossoming relationship between Martin Luther and Katharina. Despite the many challenges that this family encountered, one thing remains certain: “The Protestant Reformation would have happened without the marriage of Luther and Katharine. But Luther would not have been the same Reformer without Katharina.”

Katharina and Martin is thoroughly researched and presented in a winsome way that will no doubt attract a wide range of readers. Highly recommended!

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

A Harvest of Thorns (2017)

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Corban Addison, A Harvest of Thorns, Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2017, 368 pp. $18.32

I have been reading Corban Addison from the beginning. Even though titles like A Walk Across the Son and The Garden of Burning Sand are difficult to read, he has become one of my favorite authors. To be clear, the writing is not difficult. His writing is impeccable. But the content in each book is challenging and heart-wrenching. Each of his books contain ethical storylines that beg readers to wrestle with matters of justice, morality, destiny, and freedom.

A Harvest of Thorns is no exception. The author presents a narrative that explores the underbelly of the fashion industry. No stone is left unturned. Addison urges readers to seriously contemplate the reality of sweatshops, forced labor, and abuse in the workplace.

The heart of the story involves a lawyer, Cameron Alexander, who battles his own ethical demons and a journalist, Josh Griswold who attempts to do the right thing but struggles with deep inner turmoil in his own life, which includes infidelity.

Addison beautifully weaves a chilling tale that will horrify readers and force them to face reality, even though much of what takes place is in a far away place – in this case, the nation of Bangladesh. While pain, suffering, and injustice stare the reader in the face, the author brings the story full circle and makes room for justice and redemption.

One concern is worth noting, however.  And the concern has more to do with the publisher than the author.  Thomas Nelson Publishing House which is affiliated with HarperCollins Christian Publishing sets forth a decisive mission that is clearly stated on the company website.  The mission says, “We inspire the world by meeting the needs of people with content that promotes biblical principles and honors Jesus Christ.”  Corban Addison chooses to use profanity in his novel, which is a judgment call on his part.  Some will no doubt come to Addison’s defense by arguing that people in the world use such vulgar language.  However, Christian authors like Randy Singer, Joel Rosenberg, and Ted Dekker have shown in a persuasive way that good writing, even in the thriller genre can work well without profanity.  In this case, the publisher does a disservice to its reading audience by allowing such language to pass the final editing process.

Notwithstanding the concerns above,  A Harvest of Thorns is another literary slam dunk. No one who reads this excellent work will walk away without being changed in some way.

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