From Death to Life: How Salvation Works

Allen S. Nelson IV recently wrote and published “From Death to Life: How Salvation Works” through Free Grace Press. This book is written by a Baptist pastor form Arkansas as a primer to guide a reader into understanding biblically how salvation actually works. Nelson does not seek to present a technical soteriological work for the academic scholar. “From Death to Life” is written with the average church-goer or resident of the Bible Belt. As a Baptist pastor in Mississippi, I found myself either highlighting or nodding in agreement as I read each page.

I strongly endorse and recommend this book for several reasons:

Written from a Shepherds’ Heart

As you read this book, the shepherd’s heart within Allen comes across page after page. The Bible Belt contains many people who say they are saved, believe the gospel, yet they do not really have a biblical understanding of the gospel and salvation. This has been transferred into how the gospel is presented in many churches in the South. Allen rightly hits on the theme of how a misguided view of the gospel causes pastors, ministers, churches, and individuals to believe they must either water down the gospel or make the gospel more attractive. In one of the best statements in the book, Nelson writes: “The beautiful diamond of the gospel has been wrapped in toilet paper in the ridiculous attempt to make it more enticing” (10). As you read this book, it reads like a doctrinal exposition as Nelson moves from why we need to be saved, why we cannot save ourselves, why God must be the one who saves, what I must to do (repent and believe) to be saved, and how I live now that I am saved. Nelson writes in a way you can feel the emotion that would come forth from the preacher addressing the congregation.

Word-Centered in Content

This book contains in the body or the footnotes many Scripture references. Allen Nelson focuses in on the texts with precision explaining them in context. He does not isolate one verse out of context but rather makes the case with many passages to explain the great doctrines of the faith that are a part of the gospel message. The Bible is not a prop but provides the framework and substance for Allen’s arguments.

Demolishing Sacred Cows

As a pastor in the Deep South, I am all too familiar with the rotten fruit that comes forth from the altar call/sinner’s prayer methods of evangelism and conversion. Both at the beginning where Nelson presents a hypothetical man in the church (which is a real person in many places including my own extended family) to an appendix at the end, Nelson tackles forcefully, charitably, and admirably the sacred cows of the altar call and sinner’s prayer found in so many churches in the South. I urge anyone reading to consider the arguments presented by Nelson of how antithetical to the sovereign grace and sufficiency of the gospel these recent devices are. While Nelson deals with these issues straight-forward, he does so lovingly and with a heart for true conversions to take place.

Doctrinal Truth for the Layman

Nelson deals with systematic theology, historic theology, the doctrines of grace, and even some covenant theology all the while breaking it down for laymen and laywomen as well as the unconverted in a digestible fashion. This book does a fantastic job of presenting theology without using objectionable “buzzwords” that the reader can immediately dismiss. Nelson unpacks the rich truths concerning regeneration, effectual grace, and sovereign choice with references to the Scriptures and historic Baptist confessions of faith. This book is a must for pastors to use in teaching the people Soteriology 101 in a manner in which they will be able to comprehend systematic theology when it comes to how a dead sinner is made into a living saint.

There were only two negatives to me with this publication. First, there is no Scripture index in the back. Allen provides many Scripture references in the footnotes of each chapter. However, I think it would have been helpful to have a full index in the back. Second, along with the Scripture index, a resource page of books Allen would recommend in regards to different subjects like conversion, regeneration, church membership, etc. would be beneficial. Allen did recommend some resources within the book like Greg Gilbert’s “What is the Gospel?” but a resource page in the index could help both a pastor and layman.

Bottom line: you need to buy this book for yourself, church family, discipleship training, small group, and unconverted friends and family. I cannot strongly endorse this book enough especially if you are living and laboring in the context of cultural Christianity.

           

 

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Book Review: Augustine on the Christian Life

Continuing through our book review series we come to the next in the On the Christian Life Series put out by Crossway; Augustine. This edition is written by Gerald Bray a research professor at Beeson University who specializes in historical and theological studies. He spends a great deal of time working through Augustine’s life and theology attempting to connect us from the present backwards into an age and culture that is far removed from our present state. In this regard Bray sets the book up to first see Augustine; the Roman and from his Latin roots and citizenship in a dying Roman world allows us to better appreciate how he approaches the Christian faith. The results are mixed at times but overall eye opening. So let’s take some time and dive in to this text a little bit.

Augustine’s Life and World

Bray begins his work by laying the foundation of who Augustine was and how the culture around him shaped him. He explores the roots of Augustine classic text: Confessions. From here he is able to piece together the roots of Augustine’s history in the close 4th century North Africa and his many adventures searching for truth as a young adult. Bray doesn’t sugar coat Augustine’s history, but rather uses it to show how we are shaped by our past experiences when we come to Faith. Augustine’s past forays into random cults and philosophies greatly shaped his desire to write against such teachings and encourage those who he wrongly lead into those practices to abandon them for the truth of scripture and the hope of Christ. He reminds us in many ways not to forget who we were before Christ but that each of our past failures and journeys in sin is now an open door for us to clearly speak back through to those who are still there and by the grace of God show them the truth of God’s redemption.

Augustine as Person

Here is where Bray spends the majority of the book breaking Augustine down into three roles: believer, teacher, pastor. From each role Bray discusses the ways in which Augustine was influenced by the truth of scripture and as he grew in the knowledge of the Lord lived it out and encouraged others to do so as well. There were times throughout this section where things can seem repetitive as Bray will often bring back the same arguments and events from Augustine’s life to highlight new aspects of how he approached theology or family. This, however, is only a minor flaw and one that can be overcome as you see him put together a fuller picture of how these different aspects of Augustine’s life can fit together to help form a complete person, especially, in a day and age that we don’t completely comprehend.

One example of this comes in his continued reference to Augustine and his mistress. For many in our modern world we would have seen a clear solution to this problem in them getting married, since all evidence points to the fact that he had an overwhelming love for her. However, in their day and age this was out of the questions due to their different places in society, and as such we see Augustine throughout the text apply scripture to his situation and in the end choose a celibate life and ministry over the prospect of marriage to another. Now he does not make this a rule for anyone going into ministry as he will clearly articulate that many of his peers did get married. He will though repeatedly show how, in his life, the celibate life gave him more time to dedicate to the word of God and to the ministry of the Word. As such we are blessed to have a vast collection of his writings and a firm foundation on how he thought about life and godliness.

Thanks to his amazing collection of works Bray helps us to see some of the finer points of Augustine life and how they affect our own modern life. This is especially evident in his section on the preached Word.  Augustine preached sermons ranging in time from 20 minutes to over two hours at one point, continually pointing his listeners to hear the Word of the Lord and be transformed by it. He was a master at rhetoric a classic art form that is very rarely appreciated in today’s world, but one that was essential to preaching in the 5th century. His preaching was strictly biblical and meant to persuade his hears to trust in Christ. Bray stands out in this section as he makes Augustine’s art of preaching come alive and convicts us of our modern reliance on gimmicks rather than persuasion by the Words of God.

Conclusion

While not exhaustive of Augustine’s work, Bray does help to synthesize the importance of what Augustine can teach a modern audience on how best to live out the Christian life, and that ultimately this is found in obedience to scripture. Again, I commend Bray for not running away from Augustine’s faults, but rather helping to frame him as a man of his era, faults and all. This helps us in our own modern world to realize that we are not perfect nor were the great fathers who came before us, there is always room for us to grow and expand our understanding of the word of God, especially as we are challenged by outside forces to make a defense for it. With that in mind I believe this is another solid book in the On the Christian Life collection and one worth the read if you have the time to spare, especially if you are in pastoral ministry.

Bavinck on the Christian Life

Bavinck on the Christian Life: Following Jesus in Faithful Service by John Bolt

For the upcoming year I will be reading through the “On the Christian Life series.” If you have never heard of this series I would highly recommend you check it out as we begin 2018. Unlike many biographies these books deal more with the direct influences and theology of prominent figures in the history of the Church, rather than their life story. As such I will be taking time, hopefully, each month to highlight another one of these great texts and reflect on some of the important contribution they have made to life and theology.

The first book in the series which I picked up, was on one of probably the least likely to be read and that was John Bolt’s study on the life of Herman Bavinck and his theological impact on the 20th century.  Now Bavinck, for most, probably isn’t a household name like many others in the series such as Luther, Owen, or Calvin, but his contribution to the life of the church and especially the reformed branch in Holland and Europe was as shinning light of Christian orthodoxy in a world that was quickly being absorbed by liberalism and political accompaniments.

Bavinck was a scholar born in Holland and was best known by many for writing the massive text: Reformed Dogmatic and being the right-hand man to Abraham Kuyper, but as you journey through the book you begin to see that he is so much more. He is a staunch defender of both the church and academics, putting out early on the that these two should not be seen as competitors but as companions. He believed that pastors are raised up both in the church and in the schools, both are necessary to form a godly leader framed by the best of theological knowledge and pastoral love for the flock. If you drift in either direction too far(especially in the 19th and 20th century) you create and imbalanced man. This is a battle that still rages on in the modern church as the drive to “free” it from academic’s theology has in some church created pastor who love the flock, but have no knowledge of the totality scripture, while on the other hand we can create seminarians who can parse the original text and explain some deep mysterious of the gospel, but lack care and compassion for the widow and the orphan. It is from this frame work that I feel the book does some of its best work instructing us on the importance of living the Christian life, but also engaging the brain in the why. So, for ministers and churchman the goals are to know the scriptures deeply and apply them to all aspect of our lives.

The other key point that jumped out was the overarching commitment, by the author John Bolt, to frame Bavinck in his original time and place, he didn’t sugar coat all his theology or make it palatable purely to our modern sensibilities but wrestled with the early 20th century views on things like the role of women in the world. He highlights the disagreement that arose between Bavinck and Kuyper over women’s suffrage, the role of women in the home and workplace, as well as issue surrounding families choosing not to have children. Issue’ swe would have seen as long since settled yet was a reality of the early 20th century. This situation highlighted how Bavinck spent much of his time writing about practical theology. He took theology out of pure academics and applied it to real life.

His ethical applications of the scripture can be seen in his teachings on the centrality of the family, and within that family the equality of it’s members. The Trinity becomes an overarching theme for him and as such the husband taking on the figure of the Father and the wife humbling submitting to her husband as Christ submits to he Father, and the children deriving from them both and loving doing their will as the overflow of who they are to be. From these trinitarian ideas he presents the function of each member and the responsibility of each member to lovingly care for the needs and purpose of the whole. He will point out the importance of children to the life of a married couple as a further extension of shinning Gods light to the world as His image becomes more clearly seen and experienced. He points to the role of the home as a center for instruction in the truth of God.

Bavinck may not be the most well-known of theologians, but he was an essential character in the life of the church, and this book helps to put him in a context that allows us to better appreciate his work and apply some of his work to our modern context. He deals with issues such as the role of Christianity in the state, how do we deal with the breakdown of sexual norms and ethics, where is the place for the family in the whole of civil life, and how do we as believers ultimately live faithful as aliens and strangers in this world, striving for the next.

Book Review: Zeal Without Burnout by Christopher Ash

If you have served in ministry, whether that is on the pastoral end or the nursery, you may have felt at time like Bilbo Baggins: “I feel thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread.” You have felt bogged down through a season, felt a little off every day, or just unseasonable irritable. These are some of the early warning signs of burnout, something that has become a more common occurrence in the church. That is why this little book (123 pgs) by Christopher is so important to the life of the church. In this book Ash begins to lay out for us some warning signs to look for and some ways in which we can be restored and revived in the midst of a hard season of life and ministry.

First, this book is not an academic study into the ins and outs of the physiological nature of burnout, rather it is a personal look at the lives that have been affected by burnout and how they got there. It takes us through the lives of different ministry leaders and works to reveal some of the warning signs that were missed and how they recovered after they stepped back and took stock of what was going on in their lives. Ash’s use of testimonials help to ground us in the reality of what he is talking about, and in some cases you may see your self reflected in them. Like Carrie who was a youth ministry worker who put in almost 14 hours a day in different youth related ministry activities until one day it began to physically break her body down, and she had to step back and look at what she was doing. She loved every aspect of what she was doing; the job was everything she ever wanted and she loved the impact she had on young women, but it took a hidden toll that she hadn’t calculated.[i]

Second, these testimonies are connected directly with practical and biblical advice on serving the Lord without losing your mind. Ash lays out for us 7 key principles that we need to be reminded of as we do lifelong ministry.

  1. We need sleep, God does not
  2. We need Sabbath Rest, God does not
  3. We need friends, God does not
  4. We need inward renewal, God does not

These opening four keys  remind us that we are human and not God and need to stop trying to be God and let him do His work. These are especially helpful as they remind us that in the work of the ministry there will always be more to do, but that in the end it is God who controls the means and way in which the work is to be done and that is through rest and faith in him and growing in fruitful communities that refresh and encourage our walks with God, not our busyness for Him.

The final three Keys force us to look at how we perceive our ministry and what our true goals are.

  1. We are warned not to seek Glory from man, but only that which comes from God
  2. An encouragement that the work is worth the sacrifice (not the burnout)
  3. Rejoice in the grace god has given to you not your giftedness

These three final bullets strike to the heart with what can begin to take root and bury us under our own ideals and pursuits. Sometimes we see our ministry through the giftedness God has given us, or the number of people being affected by our work, we forget that the reason we are sustained in ministry is that if all that were to fall away we would still be God’s children. His concluding focus on our nature as God’s and not our own was a healthy reminder to all of us that through the good and through the bad of ministry we are God’s, our identity in Him is the foundation of how we are to minister and how we are to move through the stress of sacrificial ministry.

Highly recommend this book to anyone struggling through ministry, or who are just starting out and what to run the race well.

Purchase: WTSBooks or Amazon

 

[i] Ash, Christopher. Zeal without Burnout: Seven Keys to a Lifelong Ministry of Sustainable Sacrifice. The Good Book Company, 2016.  Pg 54-55

The Art of Turning (Review & Download)

This past week Kevin DeYoung Released a new book looking at the purpose and role of the conscience in a Christian’s life. This short book is available free to download at WTS bookstore. The link is provide below.

http://www.wtsbooks.com/art-turning-kevin-deyoung-9781911272212?pop=sample

First, this book is very much a primer on the ideas of the human conscience along with it’s biblical roots and function. At just 40 pages DeYoung unpacks why we should take the role of our conscience seriously, as it is both used by the Holy Spirit to convict us of sin as well as to give us assurance in the midst of trials.

Second, this book deals with the influences of the reformation and puritans as to how we often misunderstand and think about our conscience.  He shows us briefly and succinctly that these movements main point was never about a never ending source of introspection that leaves you in a constant state of gloom over sin and wretchedness. Rather both groups end was for us to sleep with a clear conscience by seeing our sin and our selves for what we were, but to also see our savior for who He is. While we have sinned greatly He has saved even greater. Our conscience should not be bogged down continual by our sin, but rather as we see sin in our lives we must turn them over in obedience, repent and walk in the grace of God.

Seriously if you have an hour to spare hop on over to WTS Bookstore and download this amazing book today, or order a few for some friends.

The Person Of Christ

The Person of Christ authored by Donald Macleod is one book in a series of theological textbooks focused on the main themes of Christian theology. 

The Person Of Christ deals with the doctrines of Christology and Soteriology. Donald Macleod (MA, University of Glasgow; DD, Westminster Theological Seminary), is now retired, has served as professor and chair of systematic theology at the Free Church of Scotland College in Edinburgh and also as the school’s principal. He pastored at Kilmallie Free Church for six years and also served at Patrick Highland Free Church, a bilingual congregation in Glasgow, Scotland. He is well known as a previous editor of The Monthly Record of the Free Church and as a columnist in the West Highland Free Press and The Observer newspaper. He has written many other books on theology and particularly Christology more recently. Some of his other books include, Christ Crucified: Understanding the Atonement, A Faith to Live By: Understanding Christian Doctrine, and Jesus is Lord: Christology Yesterday and Today.

The Person of Christ with its ten chapters is broken into two parts. Part one “Very God of Very God”, from the Gospels to Nicea, deals with the development of Christology over the years and the many heresies that came along. The first five chapters give a defense of the Deity of Christ, while showing that the Gospels point to the real Jesus. “The Virgin Birth,” “The Pre-existence of Christ,” “Christ, the Son of God,” “The Jesus of History,” and “The Christ of Faith: ‘Very God of Very God.'”

The Second half titled “Very God, Very Man”, To Chalcedon & Beyond, conclude the last five chapters. “Very God, Very Man,” harking at Chalcedon, in chapters on “The Incarnation,” “Chalcedon: ‘Perfect in Godhead, Perfect in Manhood,'” “Kenosis: Making Himself Nothing,” “The Sinlessness of Christ,” and “No Other Name: The Uniqueness of Christ in Modern Times.” He then closes out with a short “Epilogue”.

Part two of the book tackles the incarnation and how Chalcedon defines and defends it against Docetism, Apollinarianism, and Arianism. While defending the incarnation he shows how the Chalcedon “affirmed the unipersonality of Christ and the Authenticity and perfection of both his natures, human and divine”, (184). He goes on to show how the Chalcedon doctrine refutes heresies like Nestorianism and Monophysitism.

In chapter five Macleod stresses, “The single most important statement was the declaration of the Council of Nicea (325) that Christ, as the Son of God, was homoousios (consubstantial) with the Father” (121). Jesus is God in essence, yet he is distinct from the Father and the Spirit. The purpose of the Council of Nicea was to combat Arianism. He goes on to say, “the future of Christianity as a religion was at stake. If Christ were not God, he could not be the revelation of God. If Christ were not God, men had not been redeemed by God. If Christ were not God, believers were not united to God. Above all, if Christ were not God, Christians had no right to worship him. Indeed, if they did so, they were reverting to pagan superstition and idolatry” (123).

Macleod gives a whole Chapter dedicated to the Kenotic theory. He sets out the arguments of the critics with responses to them. He then shows us True Kenosis. As he quotes Donald Mackinnion, “It is the notion of kenosis which more than any other single notion points to the deepest sense of the mystery of the incarnation” (212). He ends in his epilogue with a challenge to up hold and proclaim the words of Chalcedon in a world of new questions and different languages. The need for the “Chalcedon formula” (264) is of great importance in communicating Christology to the generations to come.

Macleod’s main theme through out the whole book is that the gospels show us the real Jesus. That the creeds are faithful to the gospels and that their main concern is to show that Jesus is the incarnate Son of God. Every generation has the task to uphold the purity and integrity of Christology. Through out the book Macleod in each chapter shows the reader in church history someone will always question the person of Christ. Not only does he show how the church fathers refuted heresies of the past but also he gives clear expositions of Scripture to uphold Christology.  

He is not too technical in his exegesis of Scripture but his thoughts are deep and sometimes lofty. The reader can get trapped into too much detail and does not read easily at times. Each chapter is polemical when he critiques those who attack historic Christian orthodoxy. 

Macleod gives his argument to his readers that Holy Scripture, and the gospel writers are most qualified to give us access to the real Jesus. His whole approach is, “I am starting from faith, convinced before I put my pen to paper (or finger to keyboard) that Jesus Christ is the eternal Son of God. This, it seems to me, is also where the gospels start” (16). Jesus is different and not just merely a man. As Macleod says, “He is different because he is God incarnate” (17).

Macleod argues that only the Jesus of the New Testament can explain the Christ of faith. Jesus’ own understanding of his divine status is central for the Church. How central is this? “Christianity, as a religion, depends on the deity of Christ as it does no other single doctrine” (117). He goes on further to drive home the point, “The central feature of Christianity is (and always has been) the worship of Jesus. Any credible account of its origins must explain the rise of such worship. Where can that be found except in Jesus’ understanding of himself as divine? To reject that is not only to deprive Christian worship of its legitimacy but to convict the church itself of self-deception and duplicity” (119).

The truth of this and its implications are vitally important: “The bottom line here is that Jesus of Nazareth saw himself as the Son of God. Whatever we do afterwards, we must first decide what to do with this. If he was correct, we must fall down and worship him. If he was not correct, we must crucify him” (118).

To reinforce his thesis he gives the readers the creeds such as the Nicea and Chalcedon, and insights from Church fathers such as Tertullian, Clement, and Ireanus. He gives many more references to people of Church history to uphold his thesis. He uses their own logic; gives clarity to their questions, gives ear to strong points while debating them, and even gives credit where credit is due. Macleod does a good Job at showing that the progression of Christology was an authentic progression. Councils were necessary for heresies, but the Christology of our day is biblical and historical. It is orthodoxy because it hinges on apostolic understanding.

Macleod introduces us to “Anglican Unitarians”, (241) as he calls the group. They include John A.T. Robinson, G. K. W. Lampe, Don Cupitt, John Knox, Norman Pittenger, Denis Nineham and Maurice Wiles. He argues that they deny key features of historic orthodoxy. There are five points he makes on how they fall from historic orthodoxy. Macleod says that they ultimately deny the incarnation, the pre-existence of Christ, and the post-existence of Christ, Traditional Trinitarian formulations, and the uniqueness of Christ. It is striking that most of all these theologians profess to be Christian yet deny historical orthodoxy.

He even admits that “The Logical path for such scholars to follow would be to renounce Christianity altogether since on their premises it is impossible to regard Jesus as Lord or to worship him as God” (242-243). Though the student of Christology learns much about Christ by understanding what Christ is not. As Macleod shows modern scholarship views that as negative and tries to develop more of a positive statement. Sadly, most attempts come from the camp of liberalism and are more or less detached from the Chalcedonian creed.

The Church will always need those that have gone before and paved the way for purity and clarity in doctrine. Scripture is always the foundation and authority we go by in our understanding of God. Having a low view of Scripture gives us no ground to stand on. Scripture is how we look face to face with Christ. Macleod makes the case that to departfrom Scripture brings dangerous consequences. He is strong at giving us that ground to stand on. Though nothing new is under the sun heresy is still the same heresy yet repacked and called new. It is our job to be good bereans of Scripture and to test the claims of theologians who claim they have something new.

Macleod shows us how important church history is and how we should let the creeds and confessions give us barriers. Looking back and studying them can give us the right starting point on discussing Christology. We need to get Christ right in order to get the gospel right. Christianity hinges on the person of Christ. We need not forget that everyone has a view of Christ but is it Christ of Scripture? I think Macleod in his book shows just how important that is.

The benefits of reading this book have given me a passion to read more in Christology. Not only has it given me more appreciation for the study on the doctrine of Christ. It has given me more appreciation for studying church history. To that I am truly grateful.

Though Macleod’s book may be dated on dealing with contemporary Christology it is a handy resource for the student and the pastor. Some areas in the book can be dull but every Christian needs a resource on Christology. I would also argue that ever Christian would benefit greatly in studying church history to which this book can give a good starting point. The student can benefit from a wealth of terminology and vocabulary from this book. Macleod’s book would be a good reference for reading alongside more modern reformed works on Christology. The book in itself is not a primer on Christology yet it is a solid read.

Book Review: Gospel Fluency

First, let me thank Crossway Publishing for gifting the Publicans with an advance copy of Gospel Fluency by Jeff Vanderstelt which released nationwide yesterday. It was one of the more unique books I have read on church ministry and how the gospel saturates our lives. If you are fan of the some of the books that use to be put out by Re:Lit then this is a book that will be right up your alley.So today I wanted to highlight some of the things about this book that stood out to me and why I would recommend this book to believers of all ages and spiritual maturities.

So, let’s dive into some of the content of this book and how it can be beneficial to us as we live out the Christian faith. First, Vanderstelt spends the opening chapter’s laying out the importance of understanding the concept of Gospel fluency before you even get into the meat of the text, and it is very helpful for his readers to be saturated by this new way of viewing a Gospel centered life. Basing the Gospel around the idea of fluency of language help to set it apart as the way one lives. If anyone saw the movie Arrival (which I highly recommend) language fluency as a transforming part of life is a central theme in that film leading to a total personal transformation. This is the case that Vanderstelt reminds us of about the Gospel. To be fluent is to be immersed, it is to think, speak, breath, dream in the words and ideas of this new language. Its not knowing a few words or being able to interpret, it is being transformed by it, to be fluent is in some ways to become consumed by it.

For believers the opening sections lays this foundation: do we strive to be fluent speakers of the gospel or are we content to come to class once a week and learn a few new words and hope to one day have put it all together. This is the central idea that flows through the text and why I think the book hits on all cylinders in the final two parts, not to discount the second section on the gospel, but for many this may actually be the weakest section, not because of the content, but simply because there begins to be a repetition that seems like a stretch to reach three chapters when one would have accomplished the task, But as a pastor myself I understand the desire to make sure that the point is solidly hitting home. For what it is worth thought these 50 pages are very helpful if you want a good section to walk through a new believer or to help you brush up on what the gospel is.

The concluding two sections make up the meat of the book and once I began reading it I wasn’t able to put it down, it does a fantastic job of pointing us to our need to become Gospel fluent not just as individuals but as a church body. The two things that stood out to me in these sections that I think most readers will find encouraging is that he is open and honest with his family’s  own struggles in this area throughout their lives and current places in ministry. He does an superb job of connecting with the reader and showing that the task is not a simple one that just happens, it is a lifestyle and one that can be a struggle, but also be amazingly rewarding as we struggle together. Which lead to the second point, the use of massive application points. Vanderstelt doesn’t just give us a book with great ideas he gives us helpful tips and advice on how to apply this in our homes, churches, community groups, and neighborhoods. While I may disagree with his stance on taking communion in a community group setting, seeing how he applied the message of the gospel to each member in that moment gave me a new perspective on what pastoral care can look like, and the deep intimacy that a community group can have when it is surrounded by the gospel.

In Conclusion, to be honest in my own church we just began a study in our small groups looking at living our Christian lives with a purpose and a mission to reach the lost, and had this book come out a few week earlier, this would probably have been the text we went with, because it points to a robust gospel that transforms our lives, not simply something we say to non-believers or hear from the pulpit. The Gospel is Jesus and as such it becomes us. To reach a lost and dying world involves more than platitudes and curriculum, it requires lives transformed by the gospel resting in the truth that Jesus is better. It requires people who will love and listen and in the end share Jesus. These are but a small bit of what made this book so enjoyable.

Who is Jesus?

9781433543500-2m‘Who is Jesus?’ is a question that has been asked by many down through the ages.  Here are a few answers:

“…an historical figure for me, and also the bridge between God and Man, for the Christian faith.”  President Obama

“…most venerated reformer of human errors.”  Thomas Jefferson

“…no more than a messenger.”  The Koran

“…is there a greater stumbling block than this one?”  The Mishneh

“…a holy fable.”  Nietzsche

“…no mere man.”  Napoleon

“…the first socialist, the first to seek a better life for mankind.”  Gorbachev

“…You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”  The Apostle Peter

Jesus draws for us a line here, and we must choose sides.  As C.S. Lewis famously wrote, “A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronising nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.” (Mere Christianity, 52)

Greg Gilbert (author of ‘What is the Gospel?’) has just written a new book that many will find useful.  It is called ‘Who is Jesus?’  Here is the publisher’s description: “A famed historian once noted that, regardless of what you think of him personally, Jesus Christ stands as the central figure in the history of Western civilization. A man violently rejected by some and passionately worshipped by others, Jesus remains as polarizing as ever. But most people still know very little about who he really was, why he was really here, or what he really claimed. Intended as a succinct introduction to Jesus’s life, words, and enduring significance, Who Is Jesus? offers non-Christians and new Christians alike a compelling portrait of Jesus Christ. Ultimately, this book encourages readers to carefully consider the history-shaping life and extraordinary teachings of the greatest man who ever lived.”

This is a book you need to get, and for a limited time Westminster Bookstore is having a sale on it to make it more easily accessible for more people.  You can buy in bulk to for your churches, this book would make a great gift to your congregation and it would be a great way to begin 2015 for your church.

Here are the endorsements:

“Jesus asked his disciples, ‘Who do you say I am?’ It’s a question each of us must answer. In a wonderfully readable and succinct manner, Greg Gilbert mines the pages of Scripture to consider the truth of Christ’s claims about himself. This is essential reading for the Christian and the seeker.”
– Jim Daly, President, Focus on the Family

“Greg’s greatest asset is his ability to make profound things simple. As his book What Is the Gospel? helps us distinguish the true gospel from the false, so Who Is Jesus? helps us distinguish Christ as he presents himself from how we have remade him.”
–J. D. Greear, Lead Pastor, The Summit Church, Durham, North Carolina; author, Jesus, Continued…Why the Spirit Inside You is Better than Jesus Beside You

“There is no more important question in the cosmos than ‘Who is Jesus?’ Greg Gilbert, with brilliant mind and pastoral heart, unpacks that question step by step with both insight and accessibility. Whether you’re a skeptic looking into these things for the first time or a long-time believer, this book will drive you right to where we all need to go: to the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”
–Russell D. Moore, President, The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission; author, Tempted and Tried

“Clearly Christian, but more than polite and respectful to the skeptic, this book helps you consider Jesus carefully. Gilbert throws fresh light upon familiar scenes, joining facts with their significance. It is artful, yet plain and full of beautiful biblical theology. Here is an invitation to you the reader to come to know Jesus yourself.”
–Mark Dever, Senior Pastor, Capitol Hill Baptist Church, Washington DC; President, 9Marks

“This book does two things at once. It credibly places Jesus in the context of his own times, and shows why he cannot responsibly be left there. It is for those who have never thought about Jesus as well as those who think they know him all too well.”
–Timothy George, Founding Dean, Beeson Divinity School; general editor, Reformation Commentary on Scripture

“The two most important questions for anyone to answer concern Jesus the Christ. Who exactly is he? And how do I relate properly to him? Gilbert addresses these questions effectively in this important book. From the moment at Caesarea Philippi when Jesus asked his disciples about the opinions concerning his identity until now, no other question has had such eternal consequences. This perceptive volume is written with the touch of the Spirit of God in revealing Jesus the Christ.”
–Paige Patterson, President, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary

“This little book will be a great tool for introducing people, including the athletes I coach, to the most amazing person who ever lived!”
–Ron Brown, University of Nebraska Cornhuskers

“I am always looking for a short and clear book on the life of Jesus that I can put into the hands of someone wanting to truly know who he is and what he did. I now have it in Who Is Jesus? Greg Gilbert is right: ‘The story of Jesus is not the story of a good man. It is the story of a claimant to the throne.’ Consider the evidence presented in this work and see where it takes you.”
–Daniel L. Akin, President, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary

“The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven” Recants Story, Rebukes Christian Retailers

Do you guys remember when a bunch of new books about people going to heaven came out last year?  Do you remember how many said I and many others were crazy and insensitive to think books like this were ridiculous-unbiblical-nonsense?  Well, Alex Malarkey has written a letter to Lifeway urging them stop selling his book because it is a lie.  You read that right, it was a lie.  Props to Alex for doing the hard thing here, it took courage and guts, and he rose to the occasion.  Read his letter and whole story below:
This just in over at The Pulpit & Pen:
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Lifeway has been selling The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven for many years now. It is part of the trifecta of books on “heavenly tourism” that Lifeway has sold and has promoted, along with 90 Minutes in Heaven and Heaven is for Real. The co-author of The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven – the boy himself – has written an open letter to Lifeway and admonished them for not holding to the sufficiency of Scripture, and has recanted his tale. For those who may not be familiar with of The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven, the publisher’s description is as follows:

“In 2004, Kevin Malarkey and his six-year-old son, Alex, suffered an horrific car accident. The impact from the crash paralyzed Alex–and medically speaking, it was unlikely that he could survive. ‘I think Alex has gone to be with Jesus,’ a friend told the stricken dad. But two months later, Alex awoke from a coma with an incredible story to share. Of events at the accident scene and in the hospital while he was unconscious. Of the angels that took him through the gates of heaven itself. Of the unearthly music that sounded just ‘terrible’ to a six-year-old. And, most amazing of all . . . Of meeting and talking to Jesus. ‘The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven’ is the true story of an ordinary boy’s most extraordinary journey. As you see heaven and earth through Alex’s eyes, you’ll come away with new insights on miracles, life beyond this world, and the power of a father’s love.”

It’s in this context- the context of Lifeway selling this book and making money off of it for years- that Alex Malarkey, the co-author of the book, has reached out to us.  Alex is well aware of the #the15 and supports the mission of those who are tired of being marginalized and written-off by those considered to be Christian leaders for bringing up legitimate concerns. We saw some seeds of this a bit over a month ago when Thom Rainer, president of Lifeway Christian Resources and one who has become the object of much exhorting and beseeching about these issues, was contacted by Alex Malarkey’s mother, Beth.  Alex’s mother communicated to Rainer that her son Alex was against the book that purported to be his story.

Unfortunately, Thom Rainer has taken no apparent action as result of Beth’s comments. Perhaps he plans to, I don’t know. I do know that, so far, due to the pressure and pleas from the Pulpit and Pen and others, that three of the books that we have taken aim at and labelled “the worst books Lifeway sells” have been pulled from their online store.  We’re going for a fourth…not because we’re upset and just want to cause a scene, but out of love and care for our neighbors who might read this. Sadly, messengers to the SBC in 2014 passed a resolution against such books, but Rainer continues to proudly display heavenly tourism on the shelves at the SBC-owned Lifeway bookstores.

Also, we are publishing this story because Christian publishers and retailers should have known better. They should have had the spiritual discernment, wisdom, compassion, and intestinal fortitude to not sell a book which contains, along with all books like it, deep theological problems. It also doesn’t help that in what is purported to be a “TRUE STORY”  that there are vivid descriptions like “The devil’s mouth is funny looking, with only a few moldy teeth. And I’ve never noticed any ears. His body has a human form, with two bony arms and two bony legs. He has no flesh on his body, only some moldy stuff. His robes are torn and dirty. I don’t know about the color of the skin or robes—it’s all just too scary to concentrate on these things!” 

With that said, we offer up Alex’s letter.  It is directed to the Christian bookstores that sell his book for profit. While I’ve no doubt that Lifeway will see this and will more than likely pull it off their shelves and online store, I would ask and pray that anyone reading this would contact other major large Christian bookstores and organizations and send them this link, so that they too would pull it down. We thank Alex for trusting Pulpit & Pen to release his letter.

From Alex:

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“An Open Letter to Lifeway and Other Sellers, Buyers, and Marketers of Heaven Tourism, by the Boy Who Did Not Come Back From Heaven.”

Please forgive the brevity, but because of my limitations I have to keep this short.

I did not die. I did not go to Heaven.

I said I went to heaven because I thought it would get me attention. When I made the claims that I did, I had never read the Bible. People have profited from lies, and continue to. They should read the Bible, which is enough. The Bible is the only source of truth. Anything written by man cannot be infallible.

It is only through repentance of your sins and a belief in Jesus as the Son of God, who died for your sins (even though he committed none of his own) so that you can be forgiven may you learn of Heaven outside of what is written in the Bible…not by reading a work of man. I want the whole world to know that the Bible is sufficient. Those who market these materials must be called to repent and hold the Bible as enough. 

In Christ,

Alex Malarkey.”

 

The Bible is enough.

The Bible is sufficient.

Christ is enough.

Christ is sufficient.

We don’t need Christian bookstores to tell us otherwise. We pray that Thom Rainer, Ed Stetzer, other Lifeway executives and all Christian book retailers will take notice of this courageous and Gospel-centered 16 year-old young man.

[Contributed by Dustin Germain]

Note. For an excellent, concise and biblically spot-on analysis of heavenly tourism, please read Phil Johnson’s post The Burpo-Malarkey Doctrine

What’s It Like to be John Piper’s Son? “The Pastor’s Kid” is Here

Out today on Justin Taylor’s blog:

Barnabas Piper’s new book is on being The Pastor’s Kid: Finding Your Own Faith and Identity (David C. Cook, 2014)

You can find out more about the book here.

Barnabas’s father, John Piper, wrote the foreword to the book, and with permission I’ve reprinted it below:

* * *

PK-Cover-flatYou will ask, “Was it painful for me to read this book?”

The answer is yes. For at least three reasons.

First, it exposes sins and weaknesses and imperfections in me.

Second, it is not always clear which of its criticisms attach to me and the church I love.

Third, this is my son, and he is writing out of his own sorrows.

Writing this book has been hard. Maybe it’s more accurate to say that a lot of hardship went into writing this book, some of it in my own family and some of it through the pain of other PKs I connected with along the way. So many PKs carry so much pain and anger and sorrow with them. Some of them have fallen into bitterness, and others are rightly doing the hard work of trust in Jesus to help them through.

I am overwhelmingly thankful that Barnabas is in that last category. It took trust and courage to write this book. The road has been hard. And sometimes, as he says, “We need to pour out what is boiling in us.” When that happens, pressure is relieved and people get burned.

But Barnabas is not out to burn. Not me or any pastor. His aim is healing. “That is part of why I wrote this book,” he says, “to help PKs make sense of, sort through, and express those bottled-up frustrations and pains.” Frustrations built up from carrying an “anvil-like weight,” of being the most “watched”—”the best known and the least known people in the church.”

But the boiling over does burn. “I have been hard on pastors throughout this book. I have pointed out weaknesses and tendencies and failures. I have prodded and demanded and pushed them to be different, to change, to become aware.” My suggestion for the reader is that, if it gets too hot in the boiler room, you take a break from the heat and jump in the pool of chapter eight.

There is a stream of grace that runs through this book. You taste it along the way. But it becomes a pool at the end. A soothing. Barnabas is honest about his own struggles and failures. He has drunk deeply at the fountain of grace. He knows from experience the ultimate solution for all of us:

I desire to point to Jesus as the turner of hearts and the lifter of all burdens. . . . Grace, the undeserved favor of God, through Jesus, is the source of life and personhood and identity. . . . It is in the freedom of Jesus’ overwhelming love that the PK can break out of false expectations and see what it is that makes Jesus happy.

As it turns out, when the boiling is over, and the burns begin to heal, there is hope for PKs and pastors and churches.

“It’s not all bad news for PKs.” Through it all they have been unwitting, and sometimes unwilling, apprentices. They have seen—and many have benefited from—the bad and the good.

We have seen the pleasures of ministry. . . . Helping mend a broken marriage, praying with a heartbroken widow, serving the destitute man who knocks at the door . . . the close fellowship of a united church staff or . . . the deep, humbling satisfaction of seeing God use faithful ministry over time to right a sinking ship of a church.

Boiling over because of painful experiences may be unavoidable at some point, but Barnabas beckons his fellow PKs not to “wallow and bemoan them. Rather we must own what responsibilities are ours: to honor Jesus, to honor our fathers and mothers, to love and support the church, and to go about our lives not as victims but as the redeemed. Grace is here for all of us.”

And that includes the sinful and wounded pastors. “No man is adequate to be a pastor . . . That is a job no person is up for, not alone, not without profound grace. And that is the key to all this: grace.” And, of course, it is true for the wife and mother, watching, with tears, the drama play out between her son and husband, or bearing the weight of her daughter’s rejection.

And finally there is grace for the church. “The church is our family, it’s the family that God gave us, so don’t give up on it. There isn’t a better place out there to be restored.”

When I received the manuscript of this book and read it, I gave a copy to our seventeen year-old daughter. “Would you read this, and then talk to me about how I can be a better dad?” She did. It was a good talk. It’s not over. I suspect she will have ideas about that when she is 30 and I am 80. I hope she will be spared some sorrows because of her big brother’s book. Of course, most of that hangs on me. And, as we have seen, on grace. Which is why I appreciated Barnabas’s encouraging conclusion:

But now I want to express thanks. I want to say that PKs are blessed to have parents who devote their lives to serving Jesus. . . . So thank you, pastors (and spouses). You have given your lives to serving Jesus and His church , and that is a blessing.

Book Review: Break Out! (Joel Osteen)

For all my family and friends who are reading, learning from, and listening to Joel Osteen, pay attention.  I’m glad you are learning, but is what you’re learning good for you?  Read the review below to find out, it’s from Bob Johnson over at 9Marks, and it is good.

Detroit’s freeways are framed by dozens of billboards featuring happy, young, successful people enjoying a night of games and entertainment at one of the city’s casinos. The sleek, enticing images preach an alluring message: “Greatness awaits you in the casinos.” “You were born to be lucky.” On and on it goes. A closer look reveals the 1-800 number for Gambler’s Anonymous. And if you ever went to a casino, you would find that the reality does not quite match the billboard.

For years, potential casino operators attempted to get gambling legalized in Detroit. On three different occasions, they got an initiative on the ballot, but there was one pastor in the city who stood in their way. He knew what gambling would do to this city. He organized and educated, and each time the initiative was defeated. Then this pastor had a serious heart attack, and the initiative for casinos in Detroit was back in play. This time, the organizers did not have the pesky pastor to contend with. But they did something else. On this fourth attempt, the organizers gathered a number of pastors from Detroit together and offered them stock in the casinos in exchange for their support from the pulpits. They were told to sell this idea to the people as something that will be good for the economy and will save our city. The pastors did, and on the fourth try, the initiative passed.

Today you can visit the casinos. Go to the slot machines and watch the glazed-over faces of old people whose reverse mortgages freed up some money so they could buy tokens for the slot machines. Hour after hour, they pull the one-armed bandit, awaiting the glory the billboards promise. Fear sets in. They think, “If I get up from the machine, the next person will come and win.” So they sit, hour after hour, until their clothes are soiled and their tokens are gone. Next month, after the social security check arrives, some of them will be on the first bus back to try again.

And in case you haven’t heard, Detroit is bankrupt.

The promises of the prosperity gospel are like the billboards of Detroit’s casinos. It looks so good. It seems so appealing. One of its most influential voices is Joel Osteen, the pastor of Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas who recently released a new book called Break Out! If Disneyworld was a church, Joel Osteen would be the pastor. Break Out! is basically a combination of “When You Wish upon a Star” and “A Whole New World.”

The problem is, Joel is a pastor, and his sermons and books are presented as truth, not fairy tales, and thousands of people really believe what he says. Some may be in our churches.

THE MAIN MESSAGE

Break Out! is a collection of twenty-five chapters (presumably sermons) organized into five sections. I could not discern much difference between the first four sections: (1) Believe Bigger; (2) Consider God, Not Circumstances; (3) Pray God-sized Prayers; 4) Keep the Right Perspective. The chapters basically follow the formula of stating the principle, supporting it with a story, inserting a vague reference to the Bible, and closing with a few more stories and exhortations.

Joel’s message is clear: God helps those who help themselves. “Right now, something is looking for you. Something already has your name on it. As long as you’re doing your best to honor God and you have a heart to help others, an explosive blessing will find its way into your hands” (Ch. 4).[1] “If you stay on the high road and just keep being your best, you will see the hand of God at work in amazing ways” (Ch. 9). “But God is saying to you…If you only believe, I will turn the situation around. If you only believe, breakthroughs are headed your way. When you believe, the surpassing greatness of God’s power is released” (Ch. 13) “When God sees you do your part, He will do His part” (Ch. 16).

Faith is the dream in your heart. “God did not create you to be average….He created you to do something amazing. He’s put the seeds of greatness on the inside” (Ch. 25). But Osteen consistently portrays greatness as success in business, wealth, health, and overcoming addictions. Rarely, if ever, is “looking like Jesus” even mentioned.

If you listen carefully, Osteen is telling you that you can be your own Savior. Like the little engine that could, you can do it. You can do it. But the message of the Bible is that you cannot do it. That is why Christ came to this earth. He did what we could not do, dying on the cross to pay for your sins and rising from the grave to give you life if you repent and believe in him. If you keep telling people that they can do something they really can’t, you are not helping people. You are putting them in bondage.

In the fifth section, “Don’t Settle for Good Enough” there are some moments where Joel says some things that could have some value. The problem is that they not only sit in a context of other errors but they blatantly contradict what he says earlier in the book.

THE MAIN PROBLEMS

The chief problem of this book is that Osteen centers life on achieving the American Dream—success, prosperity and health. But the Bible never presents the Christian life like this. Instead, our lives are centered upon Christ and the gospel. This chief problem is reflected in these other serious problems.

1. Break Out! constantly distorts the Bible at a basic, factual level.

First, Break Out! constantly distorts the Bible at a basic, factual level. In chapter 7, Osteen recounts the story of Moses leading the children of Israel out of Egypt, through the desert, in order to get to the Promised Land. He claims that when Moses became discouraged along the way, God asked him what he was holding in his hand. He goes on to tell the story of how Moses threw down his rod, which God turned into a snake. The problem is, this did not happen when Moses was leading the children of Israel out of Egypt, but in Exodus 4 when Moses was at the burning bush.

Also in chapter 7, Osteen retells the story of the lepers who went in search of food from the Syrians in 2 Kings 7. He claims that the Bible says (and he puts this in quotes), “As they marched toward the enemy, God multiplied the sound of their footsteps and caused them to sound like a vast army.”  The text simply does not say this. This twisting of the facts fits Joel’s point of believing in yourself and seeing God do amazing things. But how can you trust Osteen to interpret the text correctly if he cannot get the simple facts of the story right?

There’s plenty more of this, but one of the most egregious examples of twisting Scripture is in chapter 10. Osteen claims that when Job was in the midst of his adversity he said, “God, I know You have granted me favor.” He presents this as a bold declaration of faith in the favor of God upon his life in the midst of a trial. But in Job 10, Job is bitterly complaining to God. Yes, Job does say in verse 12 that, “You have granted me life and steadfast love, and your care has preserved my spirit.” But Job was talking about what God had previously done for him, only to now crush him and destroy him. Job was not declaring a word of faith, he was screaming out at the seeming injustice of God for giving him life and blessing, only to take it all away. In verses 18-19 Job says, “Why did you bring me out from the womb? Would that I had died before any eye had seen me and were as though I had not been, carried from the womb to the grave.” At that moment, Job was not exactly feeling the X-factor.

2. Break Out! is full of bad theology.

Second, Break Out! is full of bad theology. Osteen presents the stories in the Bible as being all about us, instead of about Christ. The great hope of the Bible is in what Christ has done, but in Break Out! the great hope is in all that we can do. If you speak it, it will happen. The still small voice in you is God giving you insider information (Ch. 10).

Additionally, problems are never in our hearts. Instead, our problems come from our failure to believe in ourselves (see Chs. 13 and 15). “You have the seeds of greatness on the inside” (Ch. 20). Fighting the good fight of faith is believing in yourself. Osteen claims in chapter 22 that “these present sufferings” that Paul speaks about in Romans 8:18 are not “accidents, tragedy, cancer, injustice or abuse.” He offers no support for this claim, but just says it. According to Osteen, the good work that God is doing in your life and has promised to complete is seeing your visions of greatness come true. However, in the Bible, God’s good work in us is progressively forming the character of Christ in the life of every one of his children.

Osteen’s theology has no room for sin. In fact, in twenty five chapters, the word “sin” is not even mentioned. Therefore, you should not be surprised that “the cross” of Christ, “gospel,” and “repent” are nowhere to be found either. At the very end of the book, Osteen does encourage his readers to pray a prayer of faith in order to establish a relationship with God through Christ. The prayer that he writes out does mention “sins” and does have the concept of repentance in it. The problem is that for twenty five chapters, we are led to believe that all our problems either are outside of us or result from our failure to believe in our own greatness.

3. Break Out! is marked by blatant contradictions.

Third, Break Out! is marked by blatant contradictions. In chapter 12, “Remind God of What He Said,” Osteen says that prayer is “Not nagging God, not begging God, but in faith going to God and reminding him over and over what He promised you.” But a few lines later, he says “You have to be a pest when it comes to reminding God what he promised you.” So, we are not supposed to be a nag, but we are supposed to be a pest?

In chapter 13, “Power of Believing,” Osteen talks about all of the great things that will happen if you only believe. According to Osteen, God says, “If you only believe I will turn the situation around. If you only believe, breakthroughs are headed your way.” But in chapter 24 Osteen claims that believing is not enough. You have to “put actions behind your faith.” For example, “…when He sees you bypass the cookie jar because you’ve been believing you’ll lose weight—that is when extraordinary things will happen.” But then in chapter 25 Osteen claims that if we give up on a dream, that does not mean God gives up on it. In fact, “You will not go to your grave without seeing your dreams come to pass—even the secret petitions of your heart.”

So let’s get this straight. All we have to do is believe. Everything happens when you believe. Except that you have to put action to your belief. But, don’t worry, if you stop believing, God won’t stop believing in you, and he will make it all happen anyway. So, does the “break out” happen because of my faith, my action, or neither, because God was going to do it anyway?

WHY THIS MATTERS

In Break Out!, God is not glorious in majesty; he is your personal genie and your voice inside. The real power belongs to you. When you speak, things happen. When you believe, things come true.

Osteen’s twisting of Scripture to encourage and inspire greatness comes at a great cost, the cost of truth. The truth is, I cannot be my best. If I cannot be my best, and therefore do my part, what hope can I have that God will do his part?

These present sufferings do include abuse, rape, terminal disease, tragedy, accidents, personal bankruptcy, miscarriages, corrupt officials, and being persecuted for the faith. Joel has no message of hope or comfort for people in these. His principles and exhortations create more laws and commands that are rooted in our determination, but have nothing to do with the gospel of grace. In the end, we are left to save ourselves from our unfulfilled dreams.

For the faithful pastor who does not have an audience the size of a stadium, or the believer who never makes it to CEO, Osteen’s message of “hope” is actually one of condemnation. Either you do not dream enough or something is wrong with your faith.

While his message is popular because you are your own savior, it simply is not true. Pastor, some of your people may like what he has to say and may feel that he is a nice guy with a positive message in a negative world. The problem is, when we accept his horrible theology, our entire understanding of Scripture is warped.

Joel probably is America’s pastor. Sadly, Break Out! pastors people to be narcissistic, biblically illiterate, and theologically confused. In other words, Break Out! tells you to suspend biblical discernment and enjoy your day at Disneyworld.

So just keep putting in your tokens. Keep believing and declaring that you have already won. The machine just hasn’t realized it yet.

Bob Johnson is senior pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Roseville, Michigan.

Review of Reza Aslan’s “Zealot”

Zealot%20cover_quarterRecently Reza Aslan, was interviewed on TV and to be nice about it, it went awful.  His new book is stirring a nest of controversy that seems to have already been addressed in the history of the Church.  Anywho, if you have not watched the interview (go here) please do as it is a showcase of how not to behave on TV as well as a lesson on how unaware people, even scholars, are of their own bias.  But for his book, Gary Manning Jr. has written a wonderful response and it is worth your time.  Here is the ending below:

Finally, despite his generally good understanding of the field, Aslan makes a number of significant errors. I took pages of notes just on historical and linguistic errors in Zealot. Here are only a few examples of significant scholarly errors: use of Greek definitions not found in any standard Greek lexicon; using the wrong Greek lexicon for the New Testament; incorrect definition of the targumim; unawareness of the evidence for high literacy in ancient Israel; unawareness of literary approaches to the gospels; claims that violence against foreigners was the only faithful Jewish response; claims that Pilate crucified “thousands upon thousands” without trial; very late, unlikely dates for the writing of the four gospels; claims that ancient people did not understand the concept of history; claims that Luke was knowingly writing fiction, not history; claims that Mark does not describe Jesus’ resurrection; and on and on. In many cases, I had to come to the conclusion that Aslan was just not familiar enough with modern scholarship related to the New Testament.

There are numerous other problems with Zealot, too numerous to address in an already-too-long blog post. Aslan repeatedly presents highly unlikely interpretations of passages in the New Testament, makes little effort to defend those interpretations, then moves on as if he has made his case. Suffice to say this, as others have said before: there is something a little bizarre about using our only historical documents about Jesus (the New Testament) to come to conclusions quite in opposition to those documents. There is a good reason to believe that Jesus claimed to be a divine king and savior who would die and rise again, and would one day return to judge the world: All four gospels, and indeed the entire New Testament make this claim. You can deny that this claim is true, but it is scholarly folly to deny that Jesus and the early Christians believed it.

To read the whole thing, click here.

Book Review: Falling in Love With God

Falling in Love With GodAgain, my wonderful friends over at Leafwood Publishing have sent me another book to read and review.  When I opened the package and saw the book, two things happened.  First, I read the title “Falling in Love With God” and thought, “Oh no, I hope this book is not a fluffly, lovey dovey, ooey gooey, Jesus is my boyfriend type of book.”  Second, I looked down at the author, saw it was another book by Bob Hostetler, and was immediately concerned.  You see, Bob Hostetler has written one other book which Leafwood has published (Quit Going to Church) that I wrote an unfavorable review of.  Spoiler alert: “Falling in Love With God” is much better than “Quit Going to Church”, I loved it and I think you will too.  Why?  Read below.

In brief, Hostetler wants to ask the question, if love between human beings is deeply intoxicating, how much more is falling in love with God?  How much greater is this love if we do what Jesus says and “Love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind?”  How would one go about doing this?  How would one begin the venture of falling in love with the God of the universe?  The very God who seems so distant to some and so close to others?  The very God who made all that we see and don’t see in this world?  God, Hostetler says, is the most radical lover, and he proves this over and over throughout the pages of his latest book, and I was helped by it.

Now, I will tell you a bit more about this book, not just my reaction to it.  Hostetler answers the question of “How to fall in love with God” by writing this book, which is about another book.  “Falling in Love with God” is a verse by verse walk-through of the Bible book of Hosea.  Hosea is often one of those books you don’t read because it’s tucked away back there in that awkward small section called the minor prophets.  As Hostetler makes plain, there is nothing small about the small book of  Hosea, nor is there anything small about the God of Hosea.  You see, Hosea was called by God to do something no one did in that time, and something people do not do today.  Hosea was called by God to marry a woman named Gomer.  Not bad so far except the name right?  Wrong, Gomer was a prostitute.  Why then did God call one of His own holy and upright men to betroth her?  Because, as Hostetler will tell you throughout the pages of the book, God is putting Himself on display, and by this Hostetler means to tell us that God is putting His love for His adulterous people on display to them and to us in a very real manner.

Why write a book on Hosea?  To show us that God will not only love messed up, sinful people like us, but to show us that God will do what Hosea did to Gomer, pursue us even when we sinfully refuse Him, intoxicate ourselves with all else but Him, bring us to Himself, and reveal His beauty and glory to us.  Which, will satisfy us in the deepest way humanly possible.  God glorifies Himself by pursuing the praise of His name in the hearts of His people.  We are satisfied, He is made much of.  He pursues, we are found, He loves, we are intoxicated with Him, stunned by His Fatherly care of us.  He is love, and if we are to know what love is like, Hostetler’s book will surely light this path.

Listen to Hostetler himself tell you about his book, enjoy!

Book Review: What We Talk About When We Talk About God, My Review of Rob Bell’s Latest

download (1)Thanks to my friends over at HarperOne publishing, I have just finished Rob Bell’s new book entitled “What We Talk About When We Talk About God.” Rather than beating around the bush with nice and pleasant introductory comments I’ll get straight to the point. Bell’s new book is interesting to say the least, but in the end, harmful. Why? Let me explain.

It was interesting.

Two years have past since Bell published his controversial book “Love Wins” and I must admit I was eagerly interested to open this new book simply to see what Bell would have to say. After having finished this one it was not a shock to read what he wrote but I can say with confidence that this book will not cause as many uproars as “Love Wins” did. If anything, Bell’s audience will think he has made a step closer toward orthodox Christian belief in this new book. Don’t hear me wrong. When I say a “step” I mean it, I do not mean a “leap.” You see, Bell still has done what he is best at, writing in such a way that draws you in, without leaving you much to hold onto, raising questions without giving clear answers, and leaving enough unspoken so as to speak volumes by what he has not included here. It would be a leap if Bell were to write a book clearly defining orthodox Christian belief, but he didn’t and I don’t think he ever will. What We Talk About When We Talk About God is a “step” in the right direction for Bell because though he was not theologically tight and correct, he did give an argument for Christianity directed at non-Christians that proves to be engaging, which does provide itself to be fodder for good conversation.

It was harmful

What We Talk About When We Talk About God was helpful to a small degree. But, (here we go) Bell ruined any fraction of helpfulness by again and again never taking the time to explain what he just said in depth. Which in turn leaves the reader with all sorts of wild imaginations of what Bell really meant to tell us. To do this, to leave the reader with unanswered questions and a sense of knowing what you mean but not really knowing what you mean, is like taking someone to the grand canyon and leaving them in the hotel room the whole weekend. But I think this is what Bell is after. In my opinion, he does not want to sound like a person with all out authority, speaking to people who are out of the know. Rather, Bell wants to be portrayed as a man on a journey along with us who doesn’t have all the answers but does have a few helpful pieces of information to share with us.

Bell had five main points to get across, I’ll take them briefly one at a time.

First, Bell asks us to be OPEN. To help us come to the point of opening up a bit Bell traces through scientific facts about the nature of the universe, our body, and numerous subatomic particles. Bell, in view of all this amazing creation, than poses the statement to us: “…when I’m talking about God, I’m talking about the source of all truth, whatever labels it wears, whoever says it, and wherever it’s found-from a lab to a cathedral to a pub to mars.” (page 75) Yes he is right to say God is the source of all truth, in fact all truth is Gods truth wherever it’s found regardless of who it is that is speaking, and this reality does bring us to open our eyes to see all that is going on this world, which is good for us. But this fact demands deeper treatment. Does that therefore mean that God could be equally and convincingly described to me in truthful ways from a drunk or a Taoist? From a Catholic priest or a Hindu pilgrim? Bell needs to say that all truth in the world will never contradict what God has already given us in His Word. All truth is Gods truth means that all truth comes from the God of the Bible, and everything that comes from Him is glorious and in perfect harmony, so much so that anything we find out of accord with the Bible we can claim as not true. By not giving his statement guard rails Bell leaves the reader to embrace things that simply aren’t as true as Bell wants them to be. This is a perfect example of Bell’s harmful blow to solid thinking. He explains just enough to leave the reader in a dangerous spot.

Secon, Bell asks us to be alright with living comfortably in paradox. To do this he uses the word BOTH. He goes on to say that when we talk about God we use words and language to “…describe a reality that is beyond words and phrases.” (page 87) Again I say amen. The Bible is full of words, language, sentences all aiming at one thing, describing the infinite by using finite language. This is hard. To describe the infinite with finite forms will always fall short of that very thing which is infinite. But we ask Bell at this point, should we therefore discount the Bible and believe the Bible to be a tool lacking in its ability to show what God is really like because it uses finite language? Bell never says we should discount the Bible, but he also never says we should trust it as a reliable (not to mention inspired, infallible, inerrant) source of information about what God is like. In an effort to open our minds up to the bigness of God, Bell should and does tell us meaning and mystery, knowing and unknowing, conviction and doubt are all dance partners dancing side by side. But Bell should leave us standing on the firm foundation of the authoritative collection of inspired writings called the Bible rather than aiding us to broaden our understanding of God by describing indescribable-ness with paradox after paradox.

By far the most frustrating chapter in Bell’s book was the third chapter. In the third chapter Bell seeks to describe the “God who is with us” and he miserably and fantastically falls short. A Christian author writing a christian book should instantly jump to describing how God is now “with us” because He became one of us through the incarnation of the Son of God Jesus Christ. Does Bell mention this? Not once. What?! I was shocked at this. Bell’s idea of “God with us” is more similar to the vague, spiritual, eastern religious idea of a divine presence behind and directing all of life instead of anything at all resembling the Biblical idea of the gloriousness of the incarnation. To not mention this, in a book trying to describe Christianity is, whether he means to be or not, a heretical travesty. Bell says that because this divine presence is always with us, we should see that every moment of our lives is divine, and that all of life’s experiences are a window into another world, teaching us that everything really matters. To which I respond with a stunned, “c’mon man!” Bell should have done better. Bell should have helped out the reader more by being Biblical. To not mention the incarnation leaves the reader, even the non-Christian reader feeling as if God is already with you, when the reality of wrath and displeasure are all that God “feels” toward those who reject Him. Not only does this third chapter harm man by misrepresenting God, it gives false hope and assurance to people who reject God. Yes, this is comforting to the Christian, but Bell does not say this feeling of God’s continued presence is something you have once you’ve repented and embraced Christ as your treasure. Hurtful to man, dishonoring to God, this third chapter is. This third chapter resembles some of the writings of famous false teachers throughout history. Is Bell coming out and revealing who he is?

As harmful as chapter three was, chapter four was a welcome home to my soul. Bell in chapter four takes “the God who is FOR us” to task, and he does a good job by stating at the beginning, “God, according to Jesus, is for us because God loves us.” (page 128) Afterwards Bell describes that the meaning of the incarnation of Jesus was to show us what God is really like. That Jesus came here means no one is too far out of reach or too deep in sin to rescue. Shame is covered, hurts are healed, failings are corrected, because God, in Jesus, is for us. Bell even says that to embrace the God who is for us we must come to the end of ourselves first. Amen! Pause now, am I reading a Rob Bell book? Then, in normal Bell fashion, he went all unbiblical on us with two comments. On page 137 he says we must see that God has been on our side the whole time, and see that we must stop trying to earn favor from God because its already ours. Now, Bell reveals his need for a theological friend to clear up his confusing comments about Christ. Yes, God is for us, on our side, and we can indeed stop trying to earn Gods favor and just accept it. But there is a positional item needing to be addressed in this. There are two kinds of people in this world, those who know Jesus and those who don’t know Jesus. Those who know Jesus do have God on their side, God is for them, and what Bell is not saying is that those who don’t know Jesus, those who have not repented of their sin and trusted in Jesus not only do not have God on their side, God is against them. Bell speaks in such a way as to teach that all people, regardless of theology, religion, or creed have God on their side, and this is simply, wrong. Again, Bell’s propensity to ignore plain Bible truth makes him too harmful for me.

Lastly, in chapter five Bell describes the God who is pulling us “ahead.” This also is a very healthy and biblical concept to bring to light, describing the full and rich detail of the fulfilling work of Christ upon the law through His coming to dwell among us. But, the reader is left wondering with lingering questions as he has in the previous chapters as to the continuing nature of God work to pull us “ahead.” For example, Bell just made recent news by publicly giving his support to homosexual marriage. Is this also God at work pulling us ahead? Or is there a point in which this pulling ahead work of God stops? It would have very biblical of Bell to point out the last verse of Revelation which limits the progression of divine revelation by warning to not add any further to God’s revelation. Yes divine revelation did progress for a time, but that time is over because Christ is no longer here teaching us in boldily form. As soon as He ascended into heaven to send us the Holy Spirit, revelation once again stopped, and what we have in the New Testament is all we have. I feel like I am repeating myself here. Bell says a lot by what he doesn’t say, and he should have been kinder to say more, rather than leaving the reader with too many unanswered questions about the limits and grandness of divine revelation

After bringing us along with him in this journey Bell sums up in the final chapter by talking about the word “so.” In this chapter you find illustration upon illustration of normal people being drawn up and out of mundane existence into the grandness of the work of God in the world leading us to see mundane existence as grand. Leaving you at last with a story of a surfer saved by grace who now “sees God everywhere.” (page 211) This, I think was Bell’s aim, to get us to see God everywhere. Did he achieve it?

Not in the least.

Why? Because in a spiritual manner Bell vaguely described the Christian idea of God, without clarity and theological care which therefore leaves the reader with no real footing and more questions unanswered now than before we opened this book. Was this book helpful? No. no sane person would eat anything mixed with rat feces. Bells helpful tiny pieces in this book are massively over shadowed by the errors throughout. Thus, I don’t recommend it.

I’m afraid that the weight of the evidence of this book was more harmful than good by not giving clarity and praise to the God who is. It is my opinion that in talking about What We Talk About When We Talk About God, Bell has muddied clear waters. Where this happens, God is dishonored, and man is hurt.

Book Review: Wild at Heart

Do some of you remember Wild At Heart by John Eldredge? As with most popular books, this one received praise and reproof from all sorts of Christian circles. I chose to review this book because too often the reading of Church leaders is different from the Church itself. If pastors are to be aware of what their people are reading and who their learning from, they need to be reading the same. Because of this, I thought it would be a good endeavor to read this book; in order to better minister truth to those around me.

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The first thing that caught my eye when reading the book is a quote from Matthew 11:12, right at the beginning, “The kingdom of God suffers violence, and violent men take it by force.” As the first couple of chapters lead out you discover that Eldredge is going to explain how he thinks men (and women – although to a lesser degree) should live out this verse. He does so by making three points throughout the whole book. Men need a battle to fight, men need a beauty to rescue, and men need an adventure to live. It is these three points Eldredge aims to explain throughout his book.

Every little boy and every man, Eldredge says, has “something fierce” in their hearts. This is why every boy and man has a battle to fight. That is to say that every male has a God-given warrior heart that seeks to express itself through conquering the enemy; no matter if the enemy is as big as the devil or as little as a white ball on a tee. Next, Eldredge says that every male is born with a God-given desire to seek, save, and rescue the beautiful woman in his life. This is why men will go to such lengths to be with a woman. Then, he says every male is born with a God-given desire to live in an adventure, to be adventurous, and to explore to his hearts content. If we suppress these desires, Eldredge says, that we are not being who we were made to be. This is where he encourages women to let men do these things, rather than trying to “tame” them. Throughout the book Eldredge describes these 3 God-given desires by giving his own life experiences, Bible verses, and most of all, through movie illustrations. Not just any movie though, Eldredge has a few that he refers to a lot, and you’ll know why as soon as I name them. Indiana Jones, Braveheart, Legends of the Fall, and Saving Private Ryan. Each of these movies has the ideal image of man in them that we should look to for example, and wonder why we inherently want to be like them. One of the biggest points as to why males have these desires within them, according to Eldredge, is that we are wild because we bear the image of the ultimate Wild One, God. Men are wild, simply because God is wild.

Now, I really do like the concepts of manhood written in these pages, they are very appealing to me and I would say the same on many points. But there are three concerns I have with this book. First, Eldredge needs a good theological friend that goes after him to clear up his writing. Men, he says, are made the image of the Wild One, God. Everything in me wants to affirm this, but not what he says next. “We take risks, therefore, because were made in the image of the One who takes immense risks, God” (see pages 30-32). I know that Eldredge does not believe in Open Theism because he states it on page 32, but to say that God takes risks is just wrong and unhelpful. Why? Risk implies ignorance. If someone takes a risk, it means that they are doing something in which they do not know the outcome. God is omniscient, He knows all things; therefore He can never take a risk. You wonder if Eldredge really means what he says here and there with statements like this, or if he is just so wrapped in the Wild Man talk that he overstates his case a bit. I think it’s the latter. Do not get me wrong, he makes some very good theological points, he quotes John Owen for goodness sake (see page 143), but it would still be very helpful if a theologically wise friend went after him and edited statements like this to avoid confusion.

Second, I fear that Eldredge has gotten much of his theology from American Macho Man Movies. All the talk of William Wallace, Tristan from Legends of the Falls, and Indiana Jones is great, but it is so plentiful that it seems to be the foundation of all he is saying. I wonder also if men outside western culture feel this way. The Japanese would with the Samurai Warrior, but do all? I’m not sure they do. True Scripture calls all men to be strong (Eph. 6:12) and to violently press into the kingdom of God (Matt. 11:12), but that will look different in every culture. While Eldredge is making his points, he tells a story where his son was getting picked on by a bully. Eldredge counsels his son to punch the bully in the face as hard as he can because he does not want his son to lose his courage this early in his life by not standing up to the bully (see pages 78-79). This sounds more like James Bond, Jack Bauer, or Jason Bourne than Jesus Christ. The Christian response is to be courageous by being the bigger man and not fighting back, as Jesus did (Phil. 2:1-11).

Third, the gospel is unclear. On page 122 he says, “The true essence of strength is passed to us from God through our union with him.” Amen! But nowhere will you find an explanation of how a man gets into that union with God. An un-Christian man reading this will not be told to repent of his sins and trust in Jesus to be in union with God, thus the un-Christian man may think all he must do is seek God in our union with Him to be right, whatever that means. The one thing that all Christian authors ought to be clear on is the gospel. Eldredge especially should be so, because turning from sin and believing on Jesus for your salvation (and not ourselves!) is the most “manly” and “wild” thing a man can do.

If you’re going to read this or have read this, take caution. There are many good things to be learned in this book and many things you should never digest. I only ask you to do one thing, test it all by Scripture, as you should do with everything you read. Take what is good, and leave the rest. Overall, I do think that John Eldredge has uncritically accepted too much of our current culture, and therefore his writing reflects more of our current culture than Biblical Manhood.