Finding Truth (2015)

Finding Truth, by Nancy Pearcey is another fine contribution thataa deserves to be read.  The author maintains with Romans 1 that all people have access to general revelation. As such:

  • We all have access to evidence for God through creation.
  • We all suppress the evidence for God from creation.
  • We all create idols to take the place of God.
  • God gives us up to the consequences of our idols to a “debased” mind.
  • God gives us up to the consequences of our idols – to “dishonorable” behavior.

Pearcey builds upon her earlier works, both of which are best sellers.  Total Truth argued for a unified view of truth and the obliteration of sacred/secular split.   Saving Leonardo   sought to help people develop skills in critical thinking.  Finding Truth  introduces readers to five principles which help make sense of competing worldviews and make a positive case for historic Christianity.  The five strategic principles are summarized below:

  1. Identify the Idol.  Anything which is presented as eternal and unchanging is an idol.  This principle helps us get to the heart of mankind’s propensity to erect idols and bow down to them.  By way of contrast, Christianity refuses to begin with creation and an epistemological starting point.  Rather, the beginning of knowledge rests in a transcendent Creator who is sovereign over all things.
  2. Identify the Idol’s Reductionism.  Pearcey notes, “The link is that idols always lead to a lower view of human life … When one part of creation becomes deified, the other part will be denigrated.”  Reductionism, is therefore, a fool’s errand as the creation is elevated to a status that God never intends.
  3. Test the Idol: Does it Contradict What We Know About the World?  Since idols always fail to satisfy, people will begin to realize that they cannot live according to the logic of their presuppositions.  They are either forced to live in the real world – which is to oppose their worldview or they live in accordance with their worldview which contradicts reality.
  4. Test the Idol: Does it Contradict Itself?  The competing worldview, at this point becomes self-defeating.  The author notes, “Everyone who proposes a reductionist worldview must make a tacit exception for his own thinking – at least, at the moment he is stating his claims.  But that too, creates a logical inconsistency.”  Thus the worldview fails.
  5. Replace the Idol: Make a Case for Historic Christianity.  As it becomes apparent that a competing worldview fails, the apologist must make a strong case for the viability and truthfulness of the Christian worldview.  “By identifying the points where non-Christians are free-loading, we can be confident that we are addressing areas where they sense the need for something more.”

Finding Truth is an essential toolbox for thinking Christians.  Pearcey does a dual service for readers as she not only instructs them to analyze and demolish competing worldviews (2 Cor. 10:5); she encourages readers to go deeper in the Christian faith which is informed by biblical reality and rock-solid facts.   A more accurate description, however, would be a treasure chest.  This is required reading which will only enrich one’s Christian life and effectiveness in the marketplace of ideas!

5 stars

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

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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.”3Valenti 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 the his values 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, boardrooms, courtrooms, 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 Remarkable Ordinary – Frederick Buechner (2017)

bbFrederick Buechner, The Remarkable Ordinary Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2017, 121 pp. $11.59

Frederick Buechner is a popular author whose writing style gravitates with many people. He has an ability to be witty and irenic and as a result, he draws readers in from a variety of theological persuasions.

The Remarkable Ordinary is a series of unpublished articles that address faith, doubt, anxiety, and meaning. There is an existential tone that sweeps through the book which compels readers to listen and learn.

Buechner writes transparently about some of the painful events of his life and invites readers to join him in his march of authenticity. This transparent side of Buechner is refreshing and is a rarity among contemporary writers.

Despite some of these positive takeaways, The Remarkable Ordinary lacks the gospel punch that people need. The author nibbles around the edges of faith, hope, and meaning but fails to invite his readers into the most meaningful relationship in the universe – a relationship with God through his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.

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

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.

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.