Getting the Gospel Right – R.C. Sproul

gospR.C. Sproul, Getting the Gospel Right: The Tie That Binds Evangelicals Together Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2017, 235 pp. $10.70

There are many things in life that we “get wrong.” Some of the things we get wrong may cause temporary pain or inconvenience but usually do not pose a significant challenge to our daily lives. But getting the gospel right has eternal implications. R.C. Sproul addresses this matter in his book, Getting the Gospel Right. Originally published in 1999, Baker Books has repackaged this timely book for a new audience that probably never had the chance to read the original work.

The book includes three parts. Part One discusses the Controversy Concerning the Gospel. The debate reaches back to the sixteenth century when Luther boldly challenged the doctrinal underpinnings of the Roman Catholic church.

Dr. Sproul helps readers determine the marks of a true church which is distinguished by the faithful proclamation of the gospel, the administration of the sacraments (or ordinances for Baptist readers), and church discipline. Since the Roman Catholic church has jettisoned the gospel by abandoning sola fide, which is essential to the biblical gospel, one would rightly consider Rome to be an apostate church. To assign such a label to the Roman Catholic church does not automatically mean that certain individuals have not experienced personal salvation; it merely demonstrates how Rome has abandoned the biblical gospel. The author adds, “When an essential truth of the gospel is condemned, the gospel itself is condemned with it, and without the gospel, an institution is not a Christian church.”

The author presents the historical debate between evangelicals and Rome by clearly identifying the meaning of the term, evangelical. The term means “the gospel.” Sproul continues, “The Reformers used the term evangelical to define their movement as it related to the central theological issue of the day, the doctrine of justification by faith alone … the Reformers believed that sola fide is essential to the gospel, that without sola fide one does not have the gospel.”

Sproul continues by explaining the rise of liberalism and the ECT (Evangelicals and Catholics Together) document that “heralded another subtle but significant shift in the contribution of sola fide to evangelical unity.”

Part Two includes a critical analysis of The Gift of Salvation, the joint statement by Roman Catholics and evangelicals in October 1997. Sproul’s comments and critiques are straightforward and gracious. He affirms the points of agreement between Rome and evangelicals but he also identifies several doctrinal deficiencies. These deficiencies who prevent most evangelicals from endorsing such a document.

Part Three includes a detailed exposition of The Gospel of Jesus Christ: An Evangelical Celebration, a document that was drafted by notable evangelicals including D.A. Carson, J.I. Packer, R.C. Sproul, and others.

The document includes a series of affirmations and denials and is essentially an exposition of the document, which includes safeguards and doctrinal sideboards which help preserve the very essence and purity of the gospel.

We may get things many things wrong in life. Such decisions may prove painful in the short run, but in the final analysis, such decisions have little effect upon our lives. Failing to get the gospel right, however, has eternal implications.Getting the Gospel Right reminds readers of the importance maintaining our allegiance to the truth of God’s Word. Trifling with the gospel is simply not an option for followers of Jesus Christ.

Battling Discouragement in Pastoral Ministry – C.H. Spurgeon

spC.H. Spurgeon. Autobiography, Volume 2: The Full Harvest, 1860-1892. Carlisle: Banner of Truth, 1973. 524 pp. $36.00

In his excellent piece, 21 Maxims for Discouraged Pastors, Douglas Wilson reminds us that discouragement is part and parcel of pastoral ministry. Here is a piece of advice for men in pastoral ministry. Whenever you face the fires of adversity, unjust criticism, or swim in the sea of discouragement – pick up something by Charles Haddon Spurgeon. The Full Harvest: Volume 2 is no exception to this rule.

The second volume of C.H. Spurgeon’s autobiography chronicles his life and ministry from 1860-1892. This account is a revised edition which was originally compiled by the British pastor’s wife, Susannah and Joseph Harrald.

This volume contains the high’s and low’s of Spurgeon’s ministry and demonstrates that Spurgeon was no stranger to controversy and adversity. Here is a man who battled a myriad of maladies and was plagued by chronic depression. The book shows how the Prince of Preachers overcame these barriers and trusted in his Savior to carry him through.

Perhaps the most impressive feature is Spurgeon’s resilient mindset. He endured many hardships in his London pastorate. Yet his influence remains with us today – with thousands of sermons for us read and digest.

Spurgeon was deeply committed to the doctrines of grace:

I have my own private opinion that there is no such thing as preaching Christ and Him crucified unless we preach what nowadays is called Calvinism. It is a nickname to call it Calvinism; Calvinism is the gospel, and nothing else. I do not believe we can preach the gospel, if we do not preach justification by faith, without works; nor unless we preach the sovereignty of God in His dispensation of grace; nor unless we exalt the electing, unchangeable, eternal, immutable, conquering love of Jehovah; nor do I think we can preach the gospel, unless we base it upon the special and particular redemption of His elect and chosen people which Christ wrought out upon the cross; nor can I comprehend a gospel which lets saints fall away after they are called, and suffers the children of God to be burned in the fires of damnation after having once believed in Jesus. Such a gospel I abhor.

Spurgeon’s rock-solid belief in the doctrines of grace is a testimony to the power of the gospel and the joyful journey which is promised to God’s elect.

12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You – Tony Reinke

iphoneTony Reinke, 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You, Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2017, 224 pp. $11.51

12 Ways Your Phone Is Changing You is the title of Tony Reinke’s latest book. Anyone who owns a smartphone understands the power and productivity of such a device. But along with these gains come several shortcomings that Reinke addresses in his book.

After initially reviewing the table of contents, I automatically assumed that Reinke would encourage users to ditch their smartphones. The author writes, “Our joy in God is at stake. In our vanity, we feed on digital junk food, and our palates are reprogrammed and our affections atrophy.” But Reinke is merely alerting his readers to the implicit dangers of smartphones. Like anything else, a smartphone may be used for the glory of God or may be used for evil purposes.

Much of the book is devoted to surfacing idols of the heart and making necessary adjustments. For instance, the author challenges his readers to carefully evaluate every tweet and post online:

  • Will this ultimately glorify God?
  • Will this stir or muffle healthy affections for Christ?
  • Will this merely document that I know something that others don’t?
  • Will this misrepresent me or is it authentic?
  • Will this potentially breed jealousy in others?
  • Will this fortify unity or stir up unnecessary division?
  • Will this build up or tear down?
  • Will this heap guilt or relieve it?
  • Will this fuel lust for sin or warn against it?
  • Will this overpromise and instill false hopes in others?

The heart must be ruthlessly and relentlessly evaluated or the smartphone may render a given user a fool. Unfortunately, this clever device has made idolatrous inroads into the hearts of many people and the result is nothing less than tragic: “Submission to a created thing, such as a smartphone, is idolatry when that created tool or device determines the ends of our lives.”

Reinke encourages careful contemplation as well as disciplined restraint:

“So as Christians, we push back our phones in the morning – in order to protect our solitude so that we can know God and so that we can reflect him as his children. And we push back our phones during the day – in order to build authentic eye-to-eye trust with the people in our lives and in order to be sharpened by hard relationships …”

In the final analysis, Reinke neither condemns or condones smartphone use: “It is just as idolatrous to blaspheme a phone as it is to worship a phone,” writes the author. “The solution is for us to wisely enjoy the smartphone – imaginatively, transcendentally, as something that should deepen wonder.”

At the end of the day, we face a two-fold challenge in the digital world. Reinke asks readers to consider:

  1. On the external front: Are we safeguarding ourselves and practicing smartphone self-denial?
  2. On the internal front: Are we simultaneously seeking to satisfy our hearts with divine glory that is, for now, largely invisible?

I was personally moved and challenged by Reinke’s book and commend it to others to read and absorb.

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

Spurgeon’s Sorrows – Zack Eswine

spurgeonI have a friend who was born in 1834.  That would make him 183 years old.  He went home to be with Jesus in 1892 – at the peak of his ministry and in the prime of his life.  I have often asked why God takes the heroes of the faith so soon – Jonathan Edwards, John Bunyan, and John Calvin all died in their 50’s.  David Brainerd and Jim Elliot died before they reached the age of 30.  While the question is interesting to ponder, the question is not ours to ask.  Enter the Creator —

“Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?” (Job 38:2, ESV).

“You know, for you were born then, and the number of your days is great” (Job 38:21, ESV).

“And the LORD said to Job: ‘Shall a faultfinder contend with the Almighty?  He who argues with God, let him answer it’” (Job 40:2, ESV).

I have been learning from my friend, C.H. Spurgeon for nearly 25 years now.  He has taught me many lessons.  He introduced me to Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan, a book he read over 100 times in his short life.  Spurgeon has taught me the importance of expositional preaching.  On many occasions, he has reminded me about the importance of the role of the Holy Spirit in preaching, not to mention living the Christian life.  He has inspired courage and conviction and prompted me to be unwavering, even in the darkest of days.

But one of the greatest lessons I’ve learned from my British friend is how to deal with melancholy.  Zack Eswine helps highlight some of those lessons in his book, Spurgeon’s Sorrows.  The subtitle accurately reflects the basic theme of the book, Realistic Hope for those who Suffer from Depression.  

Spurgeon’s Sorrows is arranged in three parts.  Part One walks readers through the basics of depression.  What is it?  How can one recognize it?  What is spiritual depression?  Part Two presents a path for helping people who suffer from depression.  And Part Three is a practical section that offers practical assistance for dealing with depression.

Chapter nine is worth the price of the book as the author directs readers to the promises of God and shows how Spurgeon utilized this habit of claiming the promises of Jesus in his daily walk with God.

Spurgeon’s Sorrows is a short book filled with biblical counsel for people who battle depression and provides help for anyone who is reaching out to folks who are wading through the Slough of Despondence.  In the final analysis, readers are encouraged to cling to their Savior who promises to walk with them through every valley.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters.” (Psalm 23:1–2, ESV)

4 stars

Slave – John MacArthur (2010)

John MacArthur has been churning out quality Christian books and resources for over thirty-five years.  He has been defining and defending the biblical gospel in books like The Gospel According to Jesus, Faith Works, Ashamed of the Gospel, Hard to Believe, and The Truth War. Each of these books, beginning especially with The Gospel According to Jesus has had a profound effect on my life and pastoral ministry.

MacArthur’s book, Slave continues to articulate the biblical gospel, the very same gospel that was preached by the apostles, Reformers, and Puritans.   The uniqueness of this book is that the author seeks to “pull the hidden jewel” as he says, “all the way into the sunlight.”

MacArthur’s concern is that what is means to be a Christian has been and is being redefined by many evangelicals.  But the New Testament clearly delineates the meaning of what is means to be a Christian, namely, a “wholehearted follower of Christ.”  MacArthur picks up the same theme he began in The Gospel According to Jesus when he argues that Christian discipleship “demands a deep affection for Him, allegiance to Him, and submission to His Word.”

The Greek term doulos is at the heart of MacArthur’s concern.  While English translations have been notorious for mistranslating this term as “servant,” the proper translation is “slave.”  He notes this glaring error and insists that while many Greek words can be translated “servant,” doulos is certainly not one of them!  The author highlights the key distinction between a servant and a slave, namely, “servants are hired; slaves are owned.”

Therefore, Christian disciples are defined in a biblical sense as slaves of God.  MacArthur adds, “He [Christ] is the Master and Owner.  We are His possession.  He is the King, and the Lord, and the Son of God.  We are His subjects and His subordinates … True Christianity is not about adding Jesus to my life.  Instead, it is about devoting myself completely to Him – submitting wholly to His will and seeking to please Him above all else.”

MacArthur argues convincingly that Christ is Lord and Master over his church (Eph. 5:23; Col. 1:18).  Indeed, Christ is sovereign over every person and everything in the universe.  John Hus is cited as a model of one who fully gave his life “to the sovereign lordship of Christ and the supremacy of His Word …”

The author demonstrates the folly of a watered-down version of Christianity: “To diminish the dominating role of Scripture in the life of the church is to treat the Lord of the church as if His revelation were optional … Nonbiblical ministry, non-expository preaching, and non-doctrinal teaching usurp Christ’s headship, silencing His voice to His sheep.”

MacArthur presents the biblical portrait of man apart from Christ, namely, “bound, blind, and dead.”  The backdrop of depravity sets the stage for grace to rule and reign in the hearts and minds of sinners.  For “it is from slavery to sin that God saves His elect, rescuing them from the domain of darkness and transferring them as His own slaves into the kingdom of His Son” (Col 1:13).  The author continues, “Freedom in Christ, then, is not freedom to sin but freedom from sin – freedom to live as God intends, in truth and holiness.”

MacArthur presents an excellent summary of particular redemption, a doctrine that has been neglected for years in the church.  He argues, “Christ’s death on the cross actually pays the penalty for the elect sinner, redeeming him from sin and rescuing him from God’s wrath … the saving benefits of Christ’s redemptive work are applied only to those whom God has chosen for Himself.”

The author sets forth the biblical teaching concerning adoption.  The historical precedent for adoption is shown in the Old Testament.  And the New Testament reality of adoption is explained in detail.  All of God’s elect are thus “simultaneously sons and slaves.”  MacArthur adds, “Like justification, adoption rests on the loving purpose and grace of God.”

Finally, the author presents four compelling paradoxes that relate to the overall theme of the book:

1. Slavery brings freedom.

2. Slavery ends prejudice.

3. Slavery magnifies grace.

4. Slavery pictures salvation.

John MacArthur just keeps getting the gospel right.  Ever since he wrote The Gospel According to Jesus, he has been warning the church to define the gospel biblically and keep Christ at the center of the gospel.  He continues to remind the church to steer clear from the no-lordship position that is promoted by the Free Grace Movement, which is, in the final analysis, a different gospel.

MacArthur hits the Christological target with this book.  With the skill of a theologian-marksman, he exalts and magnifies Christ.  In the final analysis, Slave is a primer on Reformed theology and is written with humility and great erudition.  It should receive a wide reading for years to come and make a significant difference in the body of Christ.

I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze.com <http://BookSneeze.com> book review bloggers program.

 

 

When Fish Fly: Lessons For Creating a Vital and Energized Workplace (2004)

when fish flyJohn Yokoyama and Joseph Michelli. When Fish Fly: Lessons For Creating a Vital and Energized Workplace. New York: Hyperion Books, 2004. 158 pp. $14.63

Whenever I have the chance to take a guest to Seattle, one of the first places on the list is Pike Place Market. Anyone that knows anything about Pike Place knows that the tour would be incomplete without visiting the World Famous Pike Place Fish Market. Each guest has a chance to see fresh salmon flying through the air. The seafood acrobatics are matched by an enthusiastic team committed to fulfilling the vision of the market. But there’s nothing fishy about this Seattle-based company. Everything that unfolds before the guests is carefully thought out. The details are revealed in the book When Fish Fly: Lessons For Creating a Vital and Energized Workplace by John Yokoyama and Joseph Michelli.

When Fish Fly is an inside look at the success of the Pike Place Fish Market. The authors work through eight foundational pillars which drive the business plan:

  1. Creating a vision of power and possibility as a team.
  2. Enrolling and formalizing individual commitment and team alignment to the vision.
  3. Helping team members distinguish between the state of being and the state of doing.
  4. Having the leadership redefine themselves as effective agents of change.
  5. Assisting team members in letting go of internal and external conversations that rob them of their personal power.
  6. Guiding team members to listen to make a difference instead of listening to defend or blame.
  7. Helping the crew live their commitment to one another through effective coaching.
  8. Assisting crew members as they turn snags into breakthroughs.

Each of the business principles is explained and explored in greater detail. Yokoyama’s tale is sure to inspire new entrepreneurs and veteran business people alike. There are many nuggets here to mull over ruminate on. But the one thing that stands above all is the commitment the author to people. The author is more concerned with influencing people than a financial payout. Yokoyama writes,

“All of us can come together and benefit from generating bold visions of the future. You have an opportunity to positively empower people … I invite you to create a powerful vision for yourself and others in your community.”

When Fish Fly is a worthy read for anyone who has a passion to make a difference in the lives of people. Well done, Mr. Yokoyama!

The New Reagan Revolution – Michael Reagan (2010)

Michael Reagan has captured the essence of President Reagan’s values, fiscal policy, 031264454X_band tough-minded leadership in his book, The New Reagan Revolution.  The sub-title should jolt any thinking American – “How Ronald Reagan’s Principles Can Restore America’s Greatness.”  Clearly, we have drifted far from President Reagan’s vision for America.  The city of the hill that he so loved has descended into the swamp of relativism and pragmatism that tolerates abortion on demand, celebrates homosexual marriage, and applauds big government and out-of-control spending.

The author walks readers on a path that traces Reagan from his days as a Democrat to his final days in the White House.  Readers learn that Reagan was a man of unwavering conviction.  He believed in a “banner of bold, unmistakable colors, with no pale pastel shades.”  The author adds, “Every leader who waves a banner of bold colors has plenty of critics.  If no one is criticizing you, you’re not being bold enough.  Ronald Reagan never worried about his critics.  He didn’t care what other people thought of him or said about him or wrote about him.”  Reagan’s son continues, “Pale pastel people try to straddle both sides of every issue in an attempt to get everyone to like them.  They try not to be too bold because they fear offending others or drawing criticism … Ronald Reagan knew he would never please everybody, so he staked out bold positions on the issues – then he proved he was right.”  This is the kind of leadership that brought the former Soviet Union to its knees.  This is the kind of bold leadership America needs now – bold, decisive, and unwavering in the face of adversity!

The author rightly portrays his father as the great communicator.  “Every leader,” writes the younger Reagan, “must communicate his vision in a way that persuades and inspires.”  And while Reagan truly inspired America in his two terms as president, he did not compromise his cherished values.  Nor did he play both sides for the middle in order to gain the loyalty of special interest groups.  The great communicator spoke with clarity and conviction.  He knew how to capture the heart of America.  He knew the power of the spoken word.

Additionally, the author portrays President Reagan as the great unifier.  The president once said, “We’ve got to quit talking to each other and about each other and go out and communicate to the world … We must go forth from here united, determined.”  Reagan worked to find common ground with his political opponents and even forged a friendship with his nemesis, Tip O’Neal.  America is in search of a leader who unifies like Ronald Reagan.

Finally, the author demonstrates the love that his father had for freedom.    Reagan was fond of saying, “Freedom is never more than a generation away from extinction.”  One wonders what he would say today.  One wonders what the former president would say about excessive regulation and a socialized health care system.  The author encourages readers to advance the New Reagan Revolution by “boldly standing up for the original Reagan Revolution.  Let everyone around you know the truth about Ronald Reagan, the Founding Fathers, the Declaration of Independence, and the U.S. Constitution.”

The New Reagan Revolution is a book that should be devoured by every American.  President Reagan is an inspiration for anyone who loves freedom, limited government, a strong military, and lower taxes.  The younger Ronald Reagan is on target when he says, “There will never be another Ronald Reagan.”  But we can certainly return to a day where the principles that President Reagan believed in are weaved into the fabric of American culture.

4.5 stars