Thursday, May 30, 2013

Book Review: The Man Christ Jesus


As Evangelicals we are committed to the deity of Jesus Christ.  It is one of the fundamentals of the faith, and for the first 20 years of my Christian life I was happy affirming the full deity and humanity of the God-man, but actually thought little about what His humanity actually meant.  Then about fifteen years ago a friend of mine challenged me to think more seriously about the humanity of Christ, and in particular how Jesus lived out His humanity as the perfect man walking in dependence upon the Spirit.  He contended that all too often we Evangelicals think about Jesus as having, as a consequence of His deity, resources that allowed Him to sort of float through hardships, “hitting the God button” and leaping over obstacles rather than having to slug it out like you and me.  Often this kind of thinking revealed itself in discussions regarding His peccability vs. impeccability. 

When I began to give this idea of Jesus living in complete dependence upon the Spirit more serious attention I found that my understanding of the Gospels grew immensely, and exhortations like the one in 1 Peter 2:21-23 took on fresh significance.

For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.  He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth.  When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. 1 Peter 2:21-23 ESV

 Captivated by this new understanding I looked around for books that explored the issue and found that there were not very many good ones available.  Well, that void has been partially filled.  Bruce Ware, professor of Christian Theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary has produced a theologically rich, yet eminently readable little book entitled “The Man Christ Jesus” (ISBN 978-1-43351305-3).  At 156 pages including Scripture indices and priced under $13 this book is a bargain.

Throughout the book the author makes a number of statements which caused me to pause, put the book down and meditate upon the glories of our great Savior.  For example, he writes in reflecting upon Jesus being the Spirit anointed Messiah:

“…the Spirit will remain on him and empower the work that he has yet to accomplish in his second coming.  Indeed, the incarnate Jesus, since he is forever human from the moment of his conception in the womb of Mary, forever has the Spirit upon him working through him to accomplish the work the Father has given him to do.” (pg. 41).

And in regard to the necessity of His bodily resurrection:

“If Christ died for our sin, and sin is to us both a penalty we cannot pay and a power we cannot overcome, then Christ’s death for our sin must both pay sin’s penalty and conquer sin’s power.  But since sin’s penalty is death, if it is true that Christ has “died for our sin,” [1 Cor. 15:3] what is the necessary expression that Christ has paid the penalty for sin fully?  He must rise from the dead.  If he remains in a grave dead, then the penalty of sin is still being paid, and thus its payment has not been made fully.” (pg. 131-2).

In terms of layout, the book has eight chapters, each of which covers a different aspect of Jesus humanity, beginning with the incarnation (includes a helpful discussion of Phil. 2) and ending with His present reign and future return.  At the end of every chapter the author has an application section as well as a series of discussion questions.  This format makes this book perfect for a home study group.  In fact I am using it this summer in our Young Professionals book club.  Summer is upon us.  Pick up this book.  Read it.  And sense a renewed passion for worship.  It is that good!

Monday, February 25, 2013

Every Good Endeavor: A Book Review


I have recently begun a series at church on A Biblical Theology of Work.  In preparation for that series, I read four books specifically addressing the topic; of the four, the book by Timothy Keller “Every Good Endeavor” (ISBN 978-0-525-95270-1; 286 pages including endnotes) was the best.  The book is laid out in three parts: God’s Plan for Work, Our Problems with Work, and The Gospel and Work; each of these sections is composed of four chapters.  Co-authoring the book is Katherine Leary Alsdorf, the Executive Director of Redeemer’s Center for Faith & Work – a ministry of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in NYC where Keller is the pastor.

The strength of the book is its theological commitment to the historic reformed faith, presented in a clear writing style liberally sprinkled with illustrations drawn from the lives of various people, historic and contemporary.  In particular I was stimulated in my thinking about this topic by the emphasis on breaking down the “clergy/laity” divide which communicates a defective understanding of divine calling, resulting in the creation of two classes of Christians.  When this artificial barrier is allowed to exist we end up with a few individuals “in ministry” and everybody else who is forced to slog it out in their workplace – at best “doing ministry” a couple of hours a week.  The result of this way of thinking is that the majority of most peoples’ lives is spent doing something which they assume has no eternal value – how depressing and demotivating!

Keller shatters this false dichotomy in his introduction and then proceeds in section one with a very robust presentation of the glory of work drawn from the creation account of Genesis 1&2.  For example, my heart soared when I read statements like this: “Work is as much a basic human need as food, beauty, rest, friendship, prayer and sexuality; it is not simply medicine but food for our soul.  Without meaningful work we sense significant inner loss and emptiness…Work is so foundational to our makeup, in fact, that it is one of the few things we can take in significant doses without harm” (pg. 37).   And again, “Work is our design and our dignity; it is also a way to serve God through creativity, particularly in the creation of culture” (pg. 55).  By showing the reader how his daily work connects to and imitates the creative work of God Himself, Keller provides great motivation to pursue our work with excellence.     

In the second section dealing with the problems of work, Keller does a good job explaining the effects of Adam’s fall upon our work.  He quotes philosopher Al Wolters who writes: “Do you find the two great tasks in life – love and work – to be excruciatingly hard?  This explains why”.  In tracing the outworking of the fall Keller not only explains its consequences for work, but spends a couple of chapters explaining its negative impact on the worker.  It is in this section that the sin of making work an idol is brought forward for the reader’s contemplation.

Finally, in the third section, Keller introduces the effect of the Gospel upon how the Christian is to think about and engage in work.  Helpful little subsections dealing with topics like “The Gospel and Business, The Gospel and Journalism, The Gospel and Higher Education, the Arts, and Medicine” set the stage for a helpful section of developing a Christian worldview.  Throughout this final section Keller repeatedly notes that Christian conversion does not change the work, but it does change the worker – and that change makes all the difference.

This book was not a difficult read and I recommend it to those who are struggling to find meaning in their work, as well as to those just entering the working world.  Understanding and internalizing the sound theology presented here will go a long way toward removing some of the sting of those thorns and thistles.     

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Delighting in the Trinity: a book review


“Christianity is not primarily about lifestyle change; it is about knowing God.  To know and grow to enjoy him is what we are saved for…Thus to read this book is not to play an intellectual game.  In fact, we will see that the triune nature of God affects everything from how we listen to music to how we pray: it makes for happier marriages, warmer dealings with others, better church life; it gives Christians assurance, shapes holiness and transforms the very way we look at the world around us.  No exaggeration: the knowledge of this God turns lives around.” So begins Michael Reeves engaging new book Delighting in the Trinity (135 pages from IVP; ISBN 978-0-8308-3983-4).  In this book the author sets out to both explain the Trinity and perhaps most significantly, explain why the triune nature of God is essential to the Christian faith – “the governing center of all Christian belief” (pg. 16).

For many the Trinity is like your weird uncle that shows up at the family gatherings – you have to acknowledge him as family, but you would just as soon not introduce him to your friends.  In my early years as a Christian, well-meaning people used various analogies to try and “explain” the doctrine of the Trinity.  Things like: an egg, a shamrock, three states of water, even streaky bacon.  I found them all to be very unsatisfying - not to mention bizarre.  Later I retreated into the position of thinking and speaking of the Trinity in terms of what it is not – parroting the ancient creeds.  But this left the whole issue somewhat dry and academic – lacking in day-to-day personal connection.  The power and benefit of this little book is that the author steers clear of both academic dryness and evangelical silliness. 

As to the layout of the book, it tackles in chapter form the importance of the tri-unity of God under the following topics:
1.      What was God doing Before Creation?
2.      Creation: The Father’s Love Overflows
3.      Salvation: The Son Shares What is His
4.      The Christian Life: The Spirit Beautifies
5.      “Who Among the Gods Is Like You, O LORD?”
6.      Conclusion: No Other Choice
Woven throughout are pictures and text boxes which briefly address and explain the issues and the people who have shaped our understanding of the triune nature of God through the centuries.  Early in the book Reeves is very clear that Scripture reveals God to be triune and robustly refutes the idea that the trinity is a fabrication of 4th century theologians. 

Another interesting and helpful feature of the book is that as the author unfolds the beauty of the Trinity he takes the time to compare it to the solitary monotheism of Islam – clearly pointing out along the way that Allah is not identical to the Christian God.  Loving relationships is something inherent in the Godhead (Jn. 17) and it is those loving relationships that explain why God both created and redeems humanity – this is a profound idea and when internalized it will become a powerful motivation for our evangelistic endeavors. 

Michael Reeves is the theological adviser for the Universities and Colleges Christian Fellowship in the UK and thus experienced in speaking and writing for that age group.  This results in a writing style that is both witty and practical, making the book accessible for both young and old.  I would recommend this book to those high school aged and above who desire to grow in their understanding of their triune God – for the doctrine of the Trinity has profound implications for both life and ministry.  This would also be a good book for reading together with others and then periodically getting together to discuss.    

Monday, September 17, 2012

Practical Help for Disciple-making


“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”  We all know this familiar passage of Scripture as “The Great Commission” and as earnest followers of Jesus Christ we desire to do our part in helping to fulfill it - But how?  Many of us feel a little like Moses who protested when called by God to speak to Pharaoh…”Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither recently nor in time past, nor since You have spoken to Your servant; for I am slow of speech and slow of tongue" (Ex. 4:10). 

Well I have good news for you.  It comes in the form of a little (103 pages) book entitled “One to One Bible Reading” (ISBN 978-1-921441-981).  In this book David Helm, pastor of Holy Trinity Church in Chicago, provides instructions for implementing a simple method of discipleship that can easily be used by young believer and seasoned saint alike.  Since God through His Holy Spirit has inspired the writing of His inerrant and authoritative word, He has also through that same Spirit empowered that work to be the means by which He brings about spiritual life and growth (Jam. 1:21; 1 Pet. 1:23; 2 Tim. 3:16-17).  Therefore, it is an essentially Christian activity to read that word on a regular basis (1 Pet. 2:2; 1 Tim. 4:13).   Helm takes that idea of regular Bible reading, lifts it out of the realm of “private devotions” and applies it to a context of personal discipleship.  The method he outlines in the book has application evangelistically in addition to working with those who have already made a personal faith commitment to Christ. 

Practically speaking, how does it all work?  Pastor Helm outlines a simple 3-step method on how to get started (chapter 4), followed by chapters specifically devoted to the actual planning and organization of the regular meetings.  To get started we are encouraged to pray for God to prepare both us and the person we intend to invite.  The second step is probably the scariest, in that we actually have to open our mouths and invite someone to join us for a time of Bible reading.  It is here that we are called upon to exercise faith in God that He will honor our desire to honor Him and will place it within the heart of those we invite to take us up on the invitation.  The third and final step is to plan when and where you will meet; coffee shops to – living rooms and everything in between provide an ideal setting.

In addressing the subject of: “What will a typical meeting look like?” (chapter 5) Pastor Helm lays out the process:  pray, read out loud (alternating sections of verses), talk about what you have just read and how to apply it to your lives, set a date for the next meeting.  It really is as simple as that.  By utilizing this simple format we are trusting in the power of the Word rather than our own Bible knowledge or eloquence to bring about real change.  If in your reading you encounter a concept or word that you don’t understand, talk about it and then promise you will ask your pastor and get back to them the following week.  Whatever you do, do not turn your meetings into a soapbox for personal agendas, pet theological discussions, or arguments.  Pray, and let the Word do it work.

Beginning on page 43 and finishing out the book pastor Helm gives practical helps in how to build upon this simple method, as well as choosing what to read with different types of people.  He also provides an extensive section of passages and helpful discussion questions for those passages, which will stimulate your creative juices for adding questions of your own.  I find the brilliance of this book lies in its simplicity and accessibility to believers of all stripes and highly recommend it.  May God empower us to start a movement of Bible reading that will turn our world upside down.              

Friday, June 22, 2012

What Did You Expect?


Through the years I have read a number of books relating to the topic of marriage, and after a while they begin to sound pretty much the same.  How pleasantly surprised I was to read the book from Paul David Tripp entitled “What Did You Expect?” (ISBN 978-1-4335-1176-9).  This 287 page book is the fruit of Tripp’s countless hours spent counseling couples through very difficult marriage situations, supplemented by the lessons he has learned from his own marriage.

The theme of the book is that marriage is the union of two sinners who do not realize how sinful they really are, and that marriage is one of God’s powerful tools to bring about His great purpose of conforming those sinners to the glorious image of Christ (Rom. 8:28-29).  Therefore, problems in marriage should be expected, and even welcomed, as a gift from the good hand of God who is determined not to leave us in our sinful bliss, thinking that the world exists to serve us.  But instead, in marriage we come face-to-face with the reality that the way of the Master is humble service and sacrifice (Mk. 10:45).  Thus, marriage is a training ground for sanctification.

Tripp builds the book around six commitments rooted in his understanding that every “marriage needs the regular rescue of grace” (pg. 20) because every marriage that is not growing in Christ-likeness is giving in to the corrosive effects of sin – there is no middle ground – no standing still.  Tripp writes “you will never become a graduate of grace” (pg. 230).  

The six commitments are:
1.      We will give ourselves to a regular lifestyle of confession and forgiveness
2.      We will make growth and change our daily agenda
3.      We will work together to build a sturdy bond of trust
4.      We will commit to building a relationship of love
5.      We will deal with our differences with appreciation and grace
6.      We will work to protect our marriage
Each of these commitments is explained and applied as the book progresses in logical sequence. 

Through the liberal use of illustrations from his own life as well as many real life counseling situations Tripp draws you in.  By doing so he produces a certain sobriety on the part of the reader as he reflects on his own marriage and how easily it could become derailed through misunderstandings, inattention, selfishness and temporal fleshly priorities. As I read it, I was forced on occasion to put it down, pray for God’s grace and repent of sinful attitudes and actions that like barnacles had accumulated in my own marriage of almost 33 years. 

Tripp rightly notes “In every marriage either giddy romance wanes and is replaced with a sturdier and more mature love, or the selfishness of sin reduces the marriage to a state of relational d├ętente” (pg. 32).  Therefore we need to abandon as soon as possible the wedding day illusions of a fairy tale marriage and recognize that “a marriage of love, unity, and understanding is not rooted in romance; it is rooted in worship” (pg. 33). 

In developing this important truth about marriage and worship Tripp correctly notes “When the Bible says that we are worshippers, it means that every human being lives for something.  All of us are digging for treasure.  All of us are in pursuit of some kind of dream…[therefore]…no marriage will be unaffected when the people in the marriage are seeking to get from the creation what they were only ever meant to get from the Creator” (pg. 34) – this is powerful and life-changing truth.   

One final quote: “You will only respond in a way that is right, good, and helpful to your spouse’s sin, weakness, and struggle when you are celebrating the transforming grace of an ever-present, always faithful Redeemer” (pg. 39).  To which I say a hearty Amen!

This book is Biblical, practical, convicting, encouraging, and gospel saturated.  I cannot recommend it highly enough both to those who are just starting out and those who have decades of experience in what Peter calls “joint heirs of the grace of life.” 

Monday, February 27, 2012

Just Do Something

I just finished teaching a two month series to our college ministry on the topic of “The Will of God.” For many in the group this was their first exposure to this critical topic and the process of biblical decision making. This age group is facing many important life decisions as they transition out from under their parent’s authority and unfortunately many lack a framework to intelligently face the decisions that they are being called on to make. But college students are not alone in this quandary – through my years of pastoral ministry I have taught on this subject a number of times, having found that it holds wide interest for the church at large – particularly as the winds and waves of subjectivity, mysticism, and biblical illiteracy toss people to and fro.

In preparing to teach the material this time, I read a good little book (128 pages including endnotes) from Moody Publishers entitled “Just Do Something: A Liberating Approach to Finding God’s Will” (ISBN 978-0-8024-5838-4) by pastor Kevin DeYoung. Pastor DeYoung has been the senior pastor of University Reformed Church in Ann Arbor, MI, since 2004. Although he is young, God has given him a breadth to his ministry through writing and conference speaking. I have profited from a number of the things he has written.

In this book DeYoung includes an important statistic which sets the foundation for the entire book (and the reason for my recent series in our college ministry). He writes “In 1960, 77 percent of women and 65 percent of men completed all the major transitions into adulthood by age thirty. These transitions include leaving home, finishing school, becoming financially independent, getting married, and having a child. By 2000, only 46 percent of women completed these transitions by age thirty, and only 31 percent of men….”Adultolescense” is the new norm” (pg. 13).

In order to address this problem DeYoung introduces a presentation of the two aspect of God’s will, which he entitles God’s will of decree and God’s will of desire. He notes that God’s will of decree is secret (Deut 29:29), while His will of desire is plain and abundant in the pages of Scripture. In chapter three, DeYoung introduces five reasons why people fret over finding God’s will for their lives, and in reason four he hits upon one that is very pertinent to those of us living in the prosperous West – “We have too many choices” (pg. 32ff.). Later on in addressing some of the weaknesess of the mystical view he writes, “Just because you pray [it] doesn’t mean your decisions are beyond objection…if we say that ‘God told me to do this’ or ‘God’s leading me here,’ this puts our decisions out of the reach from criticism or concerns” (pg. 49).

In his chapter entitled “A Better Way?” DeYoung introduces the discussion with a quote from Matthew 6:25-34 in which Jesus rebukes anxiety for the future and commands a pursuit of the kingdom of God and His righteousness, elaborating the meaning by looking at examples in the life of the apostle Paul. Flowing out of that discussion, DeYoung introduces the doctrine of God’s providence and guidance through the clear statements contained in the Scriptures (Chapter six). The book closes out with a chapter entitled “Work, Wedlock, and God’s Will” in which the principles taught in the book are specifically applied to these two important and potentially scary situations.

I recommend this book for a number of reasons. It is short and readable – thus making it accessible to those wanting help in this area of the Christian life but who are not disciplined in their reading and would be turned off by some of the longer works on this topic. I also appreciate the practical examples that DeYoung has salted throughout the book which help the reader grasp the meaning of his teaching. But perhaps most of all I appreciate the book’s subtitle which in and of itself makes this a book that is well worth the price: “A Liberating Approach to finding God’s Will, OR How to make a decision without dreams, visions, fleeces, impressions, open doors, random Bible verses, casting lots, liver shivers, writing in the sky etc.”

Friday, December 23, 2011

Pagans in the Keep

“Your best friend is turning to Buddhism; your young nephew is confused about his sexuality; your wife is learning new spiritual techniques from a spiritual guide; you are beginning to wonder if Christianity is too restrictive. If these and other such issues are a concern for you, your friends or loved ones, then this book is for you.”

So writes Dr. Peter Jones in the preface to his latest book entitled One or Two: Seeing a World of Difference (ISBN 978-0-9746895-2-4). Dr. Jones is well qualified to write this book, holding an MDiv from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, a ThM from Harvard Divinity School, and a PhD from Princeton Theological Seminary. He is an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church in America, and Adjunct Professor of New Testament at Westminster Seminary California. Dr Jones formerly taught seminary for seventeen years in France, returning to the US in 1991. Along with his seminary work and writing ministry, Dr. Jones maintains a busy schedule as director of truthXchange (www.truthxchange.com), a ministry devoted to researching, warning, and educating the church with regard to the growth of ancient paganism and how to conduct worldview evangelism.

The title of the book refers to the competing worldviews which Dr. Jones has named “One-ism” and “Two-ism.” “One-ism believes that ‘all is one’ and shares the same essential nature…everything is a piece of the divine. Two-ism believes that while all of creation shares a certain essence (everything apart from God is created), the Creator of nature, namely God, is a completely different being, whose will determines the nature and function of all created things” (17).

The book is divided into three sections each of which is organized around a different aspect of Rom. 1:18-32. Section One establishes the need for the church to hear Paul’s ancient words afresh – pointing out through numerous examples and supporting documentation the major inroads paganism has and is making into the culture, and consequently into the church. The militancy of the spiritual/political powers behind the rise of paganism have in many cases forced believers from public discourse and are succeeding in redefining true and acceptable “spirituality as a combination of social justice and mysticism” (13).

Dr. Jones writes that the two issues over which the church is being intimidated into silence are “Christian uniqueness” (basic theology) and “homosexuality” (basic anthropology – humans as male and female) (58). Among young Evangelicals a growing commitment to mystical experience and deeds of social justice are replacing the gospel’s claim that Jesus is the only way of salvation, and absent a Biblical worldview, many eighteen-to thirty-year-olds think homosexuality is a valid lifestyle.

Section Two of the book is by far the longest and is devoted to an exposition of Romans 1, with particular emphasis upon “The Lie” of paganism (Rom. 1:25). In this section Dr. Jones traces the outworking of that lie in three areas: First, the overturning of sane thinking by making nature its own creator. Second, the overturning of sane worship by the abandonment of the Creator God and the substitution of created images, and thirdly, the overturning of sane sexuality by the embrace of unnatural sodomy (80). Dr. Jones provides an interesting and insightful subsection on homosexuality, paganism and the new spirituality (173-183) – shedding light on the driving politicalization of the gay agenda both nationally and internationally.

In Section Three Dr. Jones deals with the application of the truths of Romans 1 for both individuals and the church at large, noting that it is only in the mystery of the god-man Jesus Christ that a Transcendent Creator and his creation meet. “The ultimate pagan declaration is “Man becomes God,” but the Christian declaration is: “God became man” (241). It is this message that has the power to transform sinners and has been the church’s answer to paganism for the past 2000 years. May God grant us the grace to live and speak to our world in light of this reality regardless of whether the message is welcomed or not.

If you read only one book in 2012 this may well be the most important you can select. The infiltration of ancient paganism into our culture and churches present us with a scenario that would be easily recognized by the NT Apostles. In the last century the threat to Biblical Christianity came from atheistic humanism. In this new century the threat is not secular but spiritual - the pantheistic spirituality characteristic of the "Age of Aquarius"