Monday, April 25, 2016

Diction, Syntax, and Community in the Writings of Wendell Berry

Diction, Syntax, and Community in the Writings of Wendell Berry
The manner in which people speak says much about them. Speech patterns can indicate everything from age to region of origin, level of education and socio-economic status to religious ideology, and much more. People’s choices of words are referred to as diction and how they order these words is known as syntax. Diction and syntax combine to give a person a unique voice. Authors utilize this fact to create literature that is incisive and lasting, and Wendell Berry is a perfect example. In his Port William writings, Berry utilizes the tools of diction and syntax in order to explore the inherent tensions in and vast opportunities of living in human community.

Friday, April 22, 2016


UnashamedUnashamed by Lecrae Moore
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Lecrae is an interesting person, and this is an interesting book. I have been ministered to greatly by the artists of Reach, including Lecrae. Contrary to the many who have seen his progression as a move away from faith, I have been encouraged by his evolution from youth group rapper to frontline missionary. I have also enjoyed listening to his music as it has progressed greatly from Rebel to CC3 (I wasn't around for Real Talk, I'm a band-wagoner).

In Unashamed, Lecrae tells his story. It is a story that many young, black men are living, but it is still a story to which all can relate. He tells of growing up fatherless, enduring physical, emotional, and sexual abuse. living in San Diego with gangs and north Dallas without many people who shared his color and culture. He tells about his struggles with drugs and alcohol, his pressuring a girl to have an abortion, and his desires to end his life. But through it all, he tells the story of a great God that had a plan and a purpose for Lecrae Moore.

And his struggles did not end when he became a believer. What I found most encouraging, probably because it was more relatable to me than being a fatherless black boy on the streets of San Diego, were his struggles after becoming a believer. His immature interactions with unbelievers, his legalistic and self-righteous deeds to improve his status with God, his difficulty in being a loving (see: gentle and respectful) husband, the persecution from within the visible church he endured when following the Lord in a manner that didn't match their expectations, etc., all are struggles to which I can relate to one degree or another. And seeing how he endured them, moved past them, and used them as means to love God more was a great encouragement.

Lecrae lays himself bare, and he does so to the glory of God. He doesn't glorify his sins or his struggles, as so many radical testimonies often do. He doesn't credit himself with his successes and salvation. He doesn't encourage people to follow him (seriously, there are more than enough Lecratians, already). Rather, he looks back and recognizes that he was chief of sinners and that sin cost the Lord his life; that he was saved and blessed by the glorious, unmerited, undeserved, immeasurable grace of God; and he points away from himself and towards the person of Christ and says, "Follow him! Honor him! Praise and glorify him!"

If you love hip-hop, pick this book up. If you love rags-to-riches success stories, pick this book up. If you love hearing someone extol the virtues of our great God from the first page to the last, definitely pick this book up. You'll be glad you did.

I received an ARC from the publisher through NetGalley.
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Monday, April 11, 2016

The Doctrine of the Trinity

The Doctrine of the Trinity

            There is a constant and persistent temptation in Christian circles to pine for the days gone by.  Whether this is an unhealthy yearning for the pure Christianity of the reign of the religious right, an overwhelming urge to sit in a pub with Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin while they wax poetic over proper and pure theology, or head back to the time of Augustine because those guys had everything down.  The most pervasive example of this is the longing to return to the time of Acts 2 church purity.  This misguided nostalgia misses the blemishes that have filled every age of church history and, in doing so, misses the consistent work of the Spirit of God in and on his people.  While this nostalgic position assumes that the early church enjoyed flawless and full theology, actual history highlights how difficult a road the brothers and sisters in the early church walked as they sought to properly understand the Scriptures and worship God.  The doctrine of the Trinity is a perfect example of this.  Rather than floating down from heaven engraved on stone shamrocks, this doctrine was formulated over many years and through much adversity. The doctrine of the Trinity has been under constant and consistent assault throughout the history of the church because of its status as proper representation of God and the blessing it is to believers.  

Friday, April 8, 2016

How I Changed my Mind About Evolution: Review

How I Changed My Mind about Evolution: Evangelicals Reflect on Faith and ScienceHow I Changed My Mind about Evolution: Evangelicals Reflect on Faith and Science by Kathryn Applegate
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

How I Changed my Mind About Evolution is not an apologetic for evolutionary theory. It is a collection of essays recounting the contributors' personal struggles in reconciling Christian faith and the natural sciences. For what it is, this book is as good as it is needed, and I lack the repertoire of superlatives necessary to properly convey how strongly I feel about how needed this book is.

The essays in this book range from pretty good to first-rate. I thought Smith's essay to open and Mouw's to close were the two best. Crisp's and Wright's were also especially helpful. I had a mixed reaction to some of the essays. I shook my head at some of the theological statements. I shook my head at some of the scientific statements. I shook my head at some of the things that made me shake my head. (I can get ramped up over peripherals much too quickly/often.) This book has contributions from a wide range of denominations, so if your one of those types who too rarely round the corner of his own personal, ideological ghetto (Me! Me!), then you should prepare to be annoyed at times. But it is a good annoyance...and a needed one.

I am swimming against the stream of my personal circle in daring to advocate something connected with Biologos...or even something that has the audacity to be any more nuanced than Darwin=Devil. But too many have been driven away from the Christian faith by a novel litmus test of orthodoxy that doesn't find its basis explicitly in the Scriptures or in the creeds for me to not offer some sort of pushback. This is a conversation worth having and one that deserves more light and less heat than it has been given. This book will not change minds. But it does shed a lot of light on the issue from the evolutionary creation position and will be a benefit to many, even if it just to let people know that science and faith are not mortal enemies and this conversation is not as closed as many would be led to believe.

My encouragement: if your immediate, visceral response to the idea of evolution is disgust, then you may be encountering a bogeyman that owes its existence to fear mongering rather than a genuine foe. Consider listening to the story of brothers and sisters who love Jesus, affirm the Scriptures, and hold to some sort of evolutionary theory. It will only benefit the Body to know why certain parts believe what they do.

I received an ARC from the publisher in exchange for a review.

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Monday, April 4, 2016

Diversity in Puritanism

Diversity in Puritanism

It is hard to overvalue the impact of Puritanism on Christian theology and living, as well as on western culture in general. However, Puritanism is not a monolithic brand of Reformed Christianity. Puritan scholar Randall Pederson notes that the fact “(t)hat there was vibrant diversity among the Reformed theologians of the seventeenth century on various aspects of their doctrine seems without question.”[1] There is great diversity and debate found within the realm of Puritanism that labelling it as an “ism” or speaking of the Puritans can be tricky and misleading. Far from being a detriment, part of what has caused the Puritans to be so beneficial is how widely applicable they are due to this diversity in secondary matters coupled with unanimity on core doctrines and Christian living. Puritanism, as a movement, held within it many diverse understandings of the nuances and peripherals of Christian theology and its application to Christian living, but there remained an overarching catholicity that included, more but not less than, an overwhelming emphasis on a Christian life marked by experiential piety.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Wendell Berry's Use of Language in Jayber Crow

Often, forgetting Uncle Othy’s instructions and warning, I would venture as far into the thick of it as I could go, dodging here and there for a better look, for I wanted to see everything; I wanted to penetrate the wonder. I would be in the way and sometimes in danger. And then Uncle Othy would see me, and under the eyes of the experienced and worldly men of the boat, he would be embarrassed by me. He would speak to me then as he never did at other times: “Damn it to hell, boy, get out of the way! I told you! Damned boy ain’t no more than half weaned, and here he is in the way of working men.” He would be trying to get me thoroughly cussed before the captain could get a chance to do it (Berry Kindle Locations 324-329).

Monday, March 28, 2016

Calvin and Union

Calvin and the Development of the Doctrine of Union with Christ

The lack of a consensus on an issue does not mean that it is unimportant or that it should remain unexplored. The modern Christian tendency to sweep discussion and debate under the rug of unity is not the least bit healthy or helpful. While unanimity on crucial issues is desirable, it is rarely achieved. This is especially the case when a doctrine is derived from Scriptural truths rather than explicitly set forth. These important issues become the subject of intense debate and divergent positions even amongst people who are relatively in step with one another on most issues. The interpreter of Scripture desires to open the word of God to the people of God in a clear and lucid manner, but different interpreters interpret different issues in different ways. The doctrine of union with Christ is an example of one of these ever-important and ever-debated issues. Lane Tipton succinctly described the importance of this doctrine when he said that “there are no benefits of the gospel apart from union with Christ.”[1] And it would be far from anachronistic to put these words, or at least the sentiments behind them, into the mouth of John Calvin. Calvin placed a great importance upon the doctrine of union, as did many before and after him. Union with Christ was a pivotal doctrine for John Calvin and those that followed him up until this very day.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

The Heart of Darkness

Psychoanalysis and Deconstruction of The Heart of Darkness
Joseph Conrad’s novella, The Heart of Darkness, is an arresting tale of the horror that resides inside of individuals and the situations that allow this depravity to reveal itself.  The depth of Conrad’s work presents the opportunity to read it from many angles, but Freudian psychoanalysis and the deconstruction of Derrida seem like the most profitable approaches.

Friday, March 25, 2016

The Garden, the Curtain and the Cross by Carl Laferton

The Garden, the Curtain and the CrossThe Garden, the Curtain and the Cross by Carl Laferton
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

"Because of your sin, you can't come in."

The Garden, the Curtain, and the Cross tells the biblical story of what was lost in the garden, why the "keep out curtain" existed, and what the Cross accomplished. This book is a treasure. It tells a facet of the story that is not addressed in most kids books, most books in general, and does so in a compelling way. The illustrations are what you would expect from Catalina Echeverri: beautiful, unique, and pairing perfectly with the text and overall theme.

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I received a review copy from the publisher.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Atticus Finch in Go Set a Watchman: Evolution, Devolution, or Revelation

Atticus Finch in Go Set a Watchman: Evolution, Devolution, or Revelation
Some works should never have been. It could be argued that Go Set a Watchman is such a work. Controversy surrounded the 2015 release of this novel, and many different views on its quality have been passionately presented.  While the dubious circumstances of its release and the significant dip in quality in comparison to its predecessor have filled newsfeeds, what should not be overshadowed is the furor created over a new take on a beloved (idolized) character.  The theme of the coming of age of Jean Louise Finch that began in To Kill a Mockingbird is continued in Go Set a Watchman. Whereas To Kill a Mockingbird is told through the eyes of young Scout as she is exposed to the failures of the world around her, Go Set a Watchman bears the voice of Jean Louise and the struggle of knowing that the evil she opposes can even be found in the idol she has constructed. On display is the traumatic event of a child coming to grips with the fact that the parent she has adored and worshiped is merely a man: flawed, fallen, and far from perfect.  The reader is likewise deflated and infuriated by the revelation of a man where a god once resided.  As disconcerting as this crash to reality threatens to be, readers are also given an Atticus Finch that is a significantly more character and much less caricature and a story that is significantly more compelling as a whole than To Kill a Mockingbird on its own.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Total Truth

Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity (Study Guide Edition)Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity by Nancy Pearcey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Nancey Pearcey’s book on worldview is a classic in recent Christian publishing and is a must read for all who seek to understand our culture and the place of the mind in the Christian religion.  There is plenty to “amen” in this work and will be plenty for most people to pause and think about, even if you do not come to same conclusions that Pearcey does.

Pearcey sets out to help the reader do much.  Pearcey wants to help the reader “identify the secular/sacred divide that keeps your faith locked into the private sphere of ‘religious truth.’”, begin to craft “a Christian worldview in your own life and work,” and to “teach you how to apply a worldview grid to cut through the bewildering maze of ideas and ideologies we encounter in a postmodern world.”

She does this by “weaving together insights from three strands”: creation, fall, and redemption.  The work has four sections. “Part 1 sheds light on the secular/sacred dichotomy that restricts Christianity to the realm of religious truth, creating double minds and fragmented lives.”  Part 2 focuses on creation and refuting the “reigning creation myth” of Darwinian evolution and making a positive case for Intelligent Design.  Part 3 “peers into the looking glass of history to ask why evangelicals do not have a strong worldview tradition…Here we step back from the present to take a tour of the history and heritage of evangelicalism in America.”  Pearcey then closes with a reminder that “the heart of worldview thinking lies in its practical and personal application.”

Pearcey does a great job of assaulting the “the divided concepts of truth characteristic of Western culture: secular/sacred, fact/value, public/private,” and her lament on the absence of a “Christian mind” is appropriate and urgent.  She addresses how this affects believers in “common” professions, though her use of Veggietales as a positive example of a believer shunning the sacred/secular divide to become a quality filmmaker might be a bit of a stretch.

Pearcey uses the creation, fall, redemption matrix to guide worldview formation and critique.  She does this with Marx, Rousseau, Sanger, New Age Pantheism, and then moves on to a long section on Darwinism.

The section on Darwinism is extensive and, at times, devolves (see what I did there) into a bit of Darwinism-causes-all-evils, You-can’t-be-a-Christian-and-hold-to-evolution, bogeyman talk.  Christians debating the intricacies of evolutionary theory from a theological perspective were just allowing the secularists to “conquer”.  Those who would hold to theistic evolution are just putting “theological gloss” on atheistic science.  The only right response is to outright reject evolutionary theory…you know, the same way the church engaged the heresy of heliocentrism.  For a work that looks at the creation mandate it seems to have a low view of common grace and general revelation in the area of science.  It is impossible not to agree that Christians are embracing a facts/value dichotomy, but why is ID the way to fix this?  Couldn’t the outright rejection of any type of evolutionary theory cause this fact/value dichotomy?  Terming theistic evolution as “methodological naturalism” is helpful if you desire to poison the well, but it is not helpful if you actually want to present the position fairly.  However, the argumentation against atheistic evolution (even though it is presented as an argument against any type of evolution) is intriguing and rather convincing from a scientific and philosophical perspectives.  It is definitely worth a read and a re-read.

Pearcey’s critique of pragmatism was strong and quite applicable.  The historical survey on sacred/secular divide from the time of Plato on was fascinating.  I am not sure on her encouragements on how to deal with unbelievers (“pre-evangelism” of seemingly engaging the rational mind before engaging with Scripture).  I would be interested in her take on the sensus divinitatus and presuppositional apologetics.

And I think there is an overemphasis on the ability of “apologetics”.  Using Peter’s admonition to be ready to give a reason of the hope as being able to offer credibility to the Gospel through argumentation is a common position, but the “reason for hope” in Peter IS the Gospel, not argumentation that supports the Gospel.  The survey of the history of evangelicalism was interesting and, at times, quite sad but certainly helps to “understand why so much of the Christian world finds itself trapped in a two-story view of truth today.”

This is a book worth reading.  There were times I “amen”d out loud and there were times I wanted to bang my head on something more solid than the sheetrock that surrounded me.  Whether my approval means anything or my consternation was due more to my limitations than those of the book, the jury is still out.  What is not up for debate is that this is a book that should be read by most everyone because it addresses a conversation that needs to be engaged by all.

I received a review copy from the publisher.

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Thursday, February 11, 2016

Wittenberg vs Geneva

Wittenberg vs. Geneva: A Biblical Bout in Seven Rounds on the Doctrines that DivideWittenberg vs. Geneva: A Biblical Bout in Seven Rounds on the Doctrines that Divide by Brian W. Thomas

I almost bailed on this book early on. I was excited to see this book appear. The topic is interesting and deserves more attention than has been given. I was encouraged by Rod Rosenbladt’s preface. After the introduction touting an ecumenical, charitable spirit, I was looking forward to an honest, careful, forthright debate. But the first chapter was rocky!

In the first page of the debate, Thomas accuses R.C. Sproul of erecting a straw man, but he does not explain how or why Sproul’s argumentation is flawed. He simply dismisses it without support. Almost immediately after, he accuses John Owen of “adding to the Word” of God because Owen retranslated a verse to add clarity to it (in a commentary). He quotes Owen’s “addition to the Word” but leaves out the context. Owen writes that, “So that the sense [of John 3:16 based on the entirety of John’s writing and the Scriptures as a whole] is, ‘God so loved his elect throughout the world, that he gave his Son with this intention, that by him believers might be saved ’”(Owen, Works Vol 10). Some people (most people, actually) would call this what it is—teaching. To claim that Owen is sinning (that is what an accusation of “adding to the word” is) is ridiculous and is used, to quote Thomas, “either to purposefully mislead unsuspecting readers to gain rhetorical advantage or through sheer incompetence. Either one (is) inexcusable in a book purporting to teach the truth.” Someone writing a commentary and attempting to help illuminate a verse by using different language is not unheard of or improper. To accuse that person of sin for doing so is both.

Thomas’s then argues that the Reformed position of exegesis is poor or inconsistent for qualifying the word “all” in texts but not doing so in Romans 3:23. This is ridiculous in its own right. Romans 1:1-3:22 make the context for the “all” of Romans 3:23 explicitly universal. Other passages, even from Paul, are clearly used in other ways. It reminded me of a Virginia pastor ranting that he was going to handstand on a tree stump and proclaim that “’all’ means ‘all’ and that’s all that it means,” ignoring the fact that this is not how language works….at all. Recognizing that people use words differently to convey different meanings is not “inconsistent;” it is proper. This is true of “all” and Johannine “world” as well.

Thomas argues that the doctrine of limited atonement precludes assurance makes it clear that he does not (and has not) ever understood the doctrine of definite atonement. “If you interpret the universal passages as the Reformed do, then you cannot ultimately believe your sins are forgiven on the basis of the objective promises revealed in texts like the ever-popular John 3:16.” What? Every Reformed author I have read has drawn great encouragement from the fact that Christ’s death accomplished exactly what it was meant to do.
For you, little child, Jesus Christ has come, he has fought, he has suffered. For you he entered the shadow of Gethsemane and the horror of Calvary. For you he uttered the cry, “It is finished!” For you he rose from the dead and ascended into heaven and there he intercedes—for you, little child, even though you do not know it. But in this way the word of the Gospel becomes true. “We love him, because he first loved us.”—French Reformed Baptismal Liturgy
The Shepherd laid down his life for the sheep. What could be more assuring than knowing that?

But, like I said, I almost bailed on this book. And I am quite glad that I did not. Objections aside, this is a much-needed, well-argued (for the overwhelming majority of the time), and helpful book. The Lutheran position of objective and subjective justification is presented well and is much more convincing than a typical synergism argument. I remain unconvinced, but it will lead me to study the topic more. So will many more of Thomas’s arguments. There is a great interaction with Romans 9-11; I remain unconvinced in regards to his conclusion, but I am convinced that it warrants more study. The same is true with the sacramental word. His chapters on baptism and the Supper are quite good and well-worth consideration. I have always used “transubstantiation” as a description of the Lutheran position. Now I know that is misleading. “(The sacraments) simply do not factor into the Reformed ordo saludis”—True. “The difference in how Lutherans and Calvinists understand the relationship between word and sacrament has been one of the leading causes of controversy”—Agreed. And I am becoming convinced that this is the number one area where Lutheran theology can contribute greatly to the Reformed framework.

Thomas points out some significant misunderstandings that the Reformed hold about Lutheran theology. The book suffers a bit because he also demonstrates some significant misunderstandings that Lutherans have about Reformed teaching. All-in-all, this is a work where the beauty outshines the warts, even if the warts surface early on. I almost bailed on this book. I am glad I did not. I would encourage you to read it and read it to the end. You’ll be blessed and encouraged for doing so.

I received a review copy of this book.

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About The Book:
What are the differences between Lutherans and Calvinists, and do they really matter? InWittenberg vs. Geneva, Brian Thomas provides a biblical defense of the key doctrines that have divided the Lutheran and Reformed traditions for nearly five centuries. It is especially written to help those who may have an interest in the Lutheran church, but are concerned that her stance on doctrines like predestination or the sacraments may not have biblical support. To get to the heart of the matter, Pastor Thomas focuses solely upon those crucial scriptural texts that have led Lutheran and Reformed scholars down different paths to disparate conclusions as he spars with popular Calvinist theologians from the past and the present.
Brian W. ThomasAbout the Author:
Brian W. Thomas is a Lutheran pastor, writer, and speaker from the Pacific Northwest. He has had the privilege of serving churches in California and Washington, lecturing at the University of San Diego, and teaching the Bible all over the world. He is the pastor of Faith Lutheran Church in Kingston, Washington.
Connect with Brian:

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

From the Pen of Pastor Paul

From the Pen of Pastor PaulFrom the Pen of Pastor Paul by Daniel R. Hyde
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

From the Pen of Pastor Paul is a gift to the church. Daniel Hyde has given the church a resource that is simple, clear, and immensely practical. This commentary of 1-2 Thessalonians is not an academic exercise to impress other academics. It is not encumbered by footnotes and convoluted, ivory tower argumentation. It is simple and clear; confrontational and comforting. In a word, it is pastoral. Hyde uses the Word of God in this series of sermons to exhort and encourage the people of God to faithful living and to urge unbelievers to repent and believe.

Since this is a series of sermons, there are some sections that are repetitive. In fact, some sections appear repeated almost verbatim. This is an understandable aspect of sermons week-to-week, but it would have been beneficial to the book and helpful for the reader for it to have been edited more strictly. Also, the use of cliché in spoken dialogue is not as glaring as it is in writing – especially when they show up multiple times. It is not that “people don’t care what you know until they know that you care” is untrue, clichés become cliché because they speak to truths. But their use can distract from greater points because it can cause the reader to check out a bit. Again, this is not an issue in a sermon from week-to-week, but when you are sitting down with a book and it comes up every other chapter, it is noticeable.

However, that is not to say that repetition is not warranted or necessary. Most of the repetitive aspects of the book are incredibly helpful. Hyde has a particular cadence that makes reading his words feel like you are hear a sermon, and that is very enjoyable. It is important to recognize that we all need to hear the same, simple truths time and again, whether it is from the pulpit or from a pen.

One area that Hyde emphasizes is the necessity of a member praying for his pastor. With (very helpful) repetition, Hyde exhorts his hearer to give his pastor the gift of persistent, consistent prayer. He also addresses the need of the believer to prepare for worship. Also preaching as a means of grace, and the seriousness of the Sabbath, and understanding eschatology’s relationship with Christian living, and so many other issues are addressed forcefully, graciously, simply,…in a word, pastorally.

So I guess that would be my one word description of this book: pastoral. In that way, it will serve pastors in demonstrating how to handle a text in a pastoral manner and believers of all occupations in being faithfully shepherded though 1 and 2 Thessalonians. And, if you are able to get an unbeliever to spend time with a few of these sermons, they will hear the Gospel presented and an urgent, loving, forceful call to repentance and faith. This is a good book for any who would take up and read.

I received a review copy of this book.

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Friday, February 5, 2016

The Story of Indelible Grace

The Sands of Time are Sinking

1. The sands of time are sinking, 
The dawn of heaven breaks; 
The summer morn I’ve sighed for - 
The fair, sweet morn awakes: 
Dark, dark had been the midnight 
But dayspring is at hand, 
And glory, glory dwelleth 
In Emmanuel’s land.
2. The king there in His beauty, 
Without a veil is seen: 
It were a well-spent journey, 
Though seven deaths lay between: 
The Lamb with His fair army, 
Doth on Mount Zion stand, 
And glory, glory dwelleth 
In Emmanuel’s land
3. O Christ, He is the fountain, 
The deep, sweet well of love! 
The streams on earth I’ve tasted 
More deep I’ll drink above: 
There to an ocean fullness 
His mercy doth expand, 
And glory, glory dwelleth 
In Emmanuel’s land.
4. The bride eyes not her garment, 
But her dear Bridegroom’s face; 
I will not gaze at glory 
But on my King of grace. 
Not at the crown He giveth 
But on His pierced hand; 
The Lamb is all the glory 
Of Emmanuel’s land.
5. O I am my Beloved’s 
And my Beloved is mine! 
He brings a poor vile sinner 
Into His house of wine 
I stand upon His merit - 
I know no other stand, 
Not e’en where glory dwelleth 
In Emmanuel’s land.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Visual Latin Review

You may be asking yourself, “Why should I have my children (or myself) study Latin?”   It may seem like a daunting waste of time and resources to tackle a language that is deader than a shivved Caesar.  But while you may not be using classical Latin to find a restaurant on your next vacation, Latin is a key to a storehouse of wisdom and languages.  Latin is a foundation for learning in a wide variety of areas.  Simply put, it is an investment that yields great dividends. 
So that shifts the question from why to how.  And this is a significantly tougher question.  Selling a homeschooler on the benefits of Latin is not the most difficult of tasks, but helping them sort through all of the options and methodologies certainly is.  I am nowhere near skilled or educated enough to comment on what is the best of the best.  I am a 34-year-old, Latin novice.  The majority of my Latin experience is having debate opponents yell Latin phrases at me followed by “fallacy” and watching my teacher frown disapprovingly.  So, while I would risk an ad overestimatium of my skills if I were to speak with any authority on the wide spectrum of available products, I am confident in recommending Visual Latin with Dwane Thomas for a number of reasons.
The videos are engaging.  My three sons (7-11) laughed audibly throughout the videos.  After watching the first video, my youngest responded to the fact of future videos with a “Yippeee!”  It is a blessing when your kids are asking to do their lessons and actually look forward to them.  Dwane is silly enough to be engaging, but he is not primarily an entertainer.  These videos and supplemental materials are helping the kids (and me!) build a firm foundation of Latin.  To summarize, I would have to say these videos are entertaining, engaging, and edifying (and not just because we have been focusing on alliterations the last few weeks in our writing curriculum).
And then there is the subscription service!  If you are like me, you are not too keen on dropping significant money on anything (“significant” meaning anything where counting out nickels at the checkout line would be embarrassing…so anything north of $37).  That is why I was thrilled to see a subscription service for Visual Latin.  The trial subscription was a dollar.  Seriously, just 20 nickels.  After that it is $7 a month (I’ll let you calculate the nickels), or you can just order the DVD set.  But you have the opportunity to put them to the test -- have your kids (and yourself) try them, enjoy them, and learn from them -- for an entire month.  I think if you do, you will benefit from them as much as I have (and am) and as much as my kids are.  I would encourage you to consider blessing yourself and your kids with the study of Latin and to consider Visual Latin as a great resource in doing so.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

For a Continuing Church

What has happened in history never stays in the past. It echos and ripples and reverberates throughout time.  That sounds cliche for two, legitimate reasons. 1) I am an average writer who is being somewhat lazy  and, more importantly, 2) it is just plain true.  History repeats itself and we are doomed to repeat our past if we don't learn from it and etc, etc.

     Our history is important. And before you look at a work about the foundation of the PCA and think it has no edifying benefit outside of that denomination, do not forget how universally sinful we humans are and how hopelessly unoriginal we tend to be. The failures and flaws that led to the formation of the PCA (as well as the failures and flaws within the process of formation and the years since) can be found in many (if not all) Christian denominations, churches, individual lives.

     The evolution of the Protestant liberal, a regression to a virtually Scripture-less, authority-less, Gospel-less, authority-less, Christ-less, "do good and be good"ianity, is a danger to be guarded againstt by all Christians.  The emergence of the PCA is an example of a rejection of this regression.  In that sense, Lucas's history of the PCA offers a service to the church at-large.

     But the primary ministry of this book will be to Christians more closely associated with the PCA. As someone brand-new to the PCA (and presbyterianism in general), I benefitted greatly from this work. This is a detailed historical work that was not necessarily written for a PCA-novice like me.  But, purposely or providentially, Lucas writes in a way that has great depth but does not leave the uninitiated gasping in the wake.

     History texts, for me, are generally vegetables.  You consume them more out of necessity than for pleasure. They are not as pleasant to the pallette as a sweet dessert or as fun to chew on as a perfectly grilled steak.  And sometimes you get a turnip. :-(  But a good cook can present vegetables in a way that makes them the star of a meal.  "Yes, banana pudding sounds great, but is there anymore broccoli?"  Ok, so maybe that doesn't happen all that often at the supper table, but For a Continuing Church is a history book that provides nutrion and pleasure.  It deserves a spot in seminary, church, and personal libraries (and it deserves a printing in hardback!). I would have loved to see a full timeline included of the key events.

     If you are a history buff or PCA minister, grabbing a copy of this is a nobrainer.  But I would encourage all PCA members and people interested in the ebb and flow of Christian life at a macro level to give this a read as well.

Double Disclaimer

1. I received a review copy of this book - standard fair.

2. I went into this work with just north of 0% knowledge of the history of PCA. I am certain, as with any history text, that there are many who will criticize the content of this work.  I am not in a position to do that. As far as this volume goes, I commend it for a number if reason. First, the presentation.  It is immensely approachable. Second, Lucas's credentials as an historian and the preponderance of citations make me have a good bit of faith in the content. Third, Lucas,from all indications, is a man of character who loves the Lord and desires to serve the church. I have no reservations taking For a Continuing Church to be an accurate assessment of the formation of the PCA and feel comfortable encouraging others to do likewise

Monday, November 16, 2015

Frame's History of Western Thought

Woo-hoo! I finished (minus an appendix or 12).  Frame ' s work on the history of Western thought is immense, but I finished!  That is exciting to me, and it should be to you for multiple reasons:
1. I am not well read in philosophy,
2. I am not formally trained in theology, and
3. I was able to read, understand,  and enjoy this great book!

There are plenty of reviews and endorsements by people much better equipped to offer an opinion than I am. I can, however, give a layman's plan of action of how to get the most out of (and not get lost within) this massive work.

First, I suggest to make use of Frame ' s RTS lectures. They pair beautifully with the book and listening to the lecture(s) before or after the chapter is incredibly beneficial.

Second, a good prereading makes this work more approachable.  Look over the table of contents and go through the glossary to familiarize yourself with any new terms.  I would also read the timeline of important events before to have a bit of a map as you jump in.

One thing a preread will do is make this massive work seem much more appoachable.  Frame gives an extensive bibliography, index, glossary, and 1700(rough estimate) pages of appendices where Frame interacts with recent thought.  If you are anything like me, a 550 page book seems much less daunting than a 900 page book.

This book is heavily slanted to the last 300 years or so. Strength or weakness? I am not sure. I would have preferred a bit more on the earlier philosophers, but I enjoyed what he did cover so it's hard to complain.

I preordered the Logos version, so I look forward to going through this at least one more time (if not more!).  For someone like me, it will take either a very slow, intentional trip through this book (with visits to other suggested readings) or multiple trips through to get a firm grasp of all the content. For those familiar with major schools of philosophy,  this should be a relatively easy and enjoyable look at how Western thought has developed over the past 2500 years.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

J. I. Packer

J. I. Packer: An Evangelical LifeJ. I. Packer: An Evangelical Life by Leland Ryken
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

J. I. Packer is one of the most intriguing and influential figures in 20th-century Evangelicalism. I did not realize how intriguing or how influential he is until I spent some time with Leland Ryken's new biography of him. Ryken gives the reader a thematic look at Packer's life, touching on most everything you would expect or want. I love bios; I love Ryken's writing; I love Packer: his life, his influence, his legacy. Ryken writes as a sympathetic voice, but it seems to be a rather fair assessment of Packer's life, controversy, failures, and all.
Definitely a volume worth reading.

I received a review copy from Crossway.

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Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Douglas Bond's Poem on Job

God's Servant Job: A Poem with a PromiseGod's Servant Job: A Poem with a Promise by Douglas Bond
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Douglas Bond consistently writes books that are blessings to me and to my family. I have enjoyed his historical fiction and his non-fiction books, and now I get to say that I have had the opportunity to enjoy his poetry. God’s Servant Job is a beautiful poem that is a blessing to read. Now before any poetry purists protest, I realize that Douglas Bond is no William Wordsworth (and by that I mean that Bond’s poem is not a convoluted piece of nature worship that makes me want to swiftly and repeatedly pass my head through a plate-glass window….sorry, Romantic Lit class has me on edge!), but it is a simple, memorable poem meant to bless children and parents alike.

And that is what it does. God’s Servant Job is a nice, simple, memorable poem for kids and (bonus!) for parents and teachers as well. It is illustrated beautifully, but not in a way that removes the focus from the story itself. Bond shepherds the reader beyond the trope-ridden desert of “Job was a good guy who got a raw deal and then, because of his good-guyness, got extra blessings at the end” into a land flowing with grace, Gospel, and “My-ways-are-higher-than-your-ways”/”Who-are-you-oh-man” humility - the promised land of healthy, beneficial, God-honoring biblical interpretation where Christians are called to reside.

One criticism I have (I’ll let the reader decide if it is big or small, genuine or nit-picky…also if I am just a big baby) is about the drawings of Satan. I think, in the beginning for sure, that the Satan character is too attractive. He looks cool, really. I know that Satan masquerades as an angel of light and manifests himself in ways that are attractive in order to tempt and lure us feeble, sinful creatures into rebellion. But, God does not, nor do the angels, see him through any sort of veil. When he approaches the throne, we as readers should see him through the eyes of holy beings, and he should be as vile and disgusting as he truly is. And why the pipe?!? “We have to show that the devil is sinful….I know, give him some tobacco!” I guess that is easier than having him dance in carrying a glass of wine after seeing a movie. :-\ I don’t think that the medieval cliché of the pointy-tailed and horned evil one is the route to go, but I am not sure that a fundamentalist cliché of evil is the route to go either.

So, while I pack a bowl of Dunhill Elizabethan blend into my beautiful briar and finish this review, I will stop being unnecessarily thin-skinned long enough to point out that I have no hesitation recommending this book to anyone and that I look forward to sharing it time and again with my boys. It is a beautiful presentation of a story that, in all honesty, gives many of us trouble. I praise God again for a Douglas Bond book that will be a repeated source of encouragement, comfort, and edification in my home and beyond.

*Side note-I saw ISBNs in the book for epub, mobi, and paperback formats. I am interested to see how this transfers to a digital format. Also, I am a little disappointed that it doesn’t look like this is coming out with a hard cover. I think a board book of this would be a blessing and a really good Christmas gift this upcoming holiday season. This is a book to return to, so I hope that hardback is an option in the near future. Either way, it would make a great gift!

I received a review copy of this book in pdf format from the publisher.

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Friday, September 4, 2015

Writers to Read

Writers to Read: Nine Names That Belong on Your BookshelfWriters to Read: Nine Names That Belong on Your Bookshelf by Douglas Wilson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

P.G. Wodehouse and H. L. Mencken. If this were Jeopardy,  you would get some $$ for offering the answer in the form of "Who are two authors that Josh is now reading as a direct result of Doug Wilson's Writers to Read?"

Wilson covers nine influential authors in only the way that Doug Wilson can. My choices to adoringly invest time into Tolkien, Chesterton, Lewis, and Robinson were all reaffirmed. And I learned more about each of them as well.  My curiosity about the works of T.S. Eliot was fanned, and I was surprised at how convinced I was that N.D. Wilson might end up one day in serious conversations about the great authors of the 20th century.

The greatest impact of this work was in regards to the new names. Wodehouse, Mencken, and Capon were all foreign to me. I had read none and heard of none (at least to the point I could remember). Wilson quickly convinced me that time with Wodehouse and Mencken would yield an exceptional return.

As far as it concerns Capon, I remain unconvinced that I could (or would want to) make it through a volume of his. But I'll make a deal. As soon as I exhaust the works of Tolkien, Lewis, Chesterton, Robinson,  Eliot, Wilson, Mencken, and Wodehouse,  then I will take the time and make the effort to dive into something by Capon!...maybe. :-)

This is a great book. I always love how Wilson writes, even if I don't agree with(or care about) what he is writing.  It is a special treat when the how and the what are both excellent and combine to give me such an edifying and enjoyable reading experience. Writers to Read provided me with just that experience.

I received a copy of this book from Crossway in exchange for an honest review.

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Monday, August 31, 2015

Roman Catholic Theology: An Assessment

Roman Catholic Theology and Practice: An Evangelical AssessmentRoman Catholic Theology and Practice: An Evangelical Assessment by Gregg R. Allison
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

One of the great faults we often have when dealing with others who hold to different beliefs is to not understand their position properly.  Sometimes the misunderstanding is due to simple ignorance.  Sometimes the misunderstanding is willful and malicious.  If we are going to hold to the position that all truths is God’s truth, then we do not have to succumb to the fear that often sparks  the clear violations of the 9th commandment that often plague discussion and debate.  “Straw man” is just a fancy way to say “a lie” and Christians especially have no reason or right to engage in this type of rhetoric.

One of the persistent areas of debate where Christians can be found slinging handfuls of half-truths is when Protestants discuss Catholicism(or Catholics discuss Protestantism, I am sure…I just have much more experience from this side of Wittenburg).

That is why a book like Gregg Allison’s Roman Catholic Theology and Practice: An Evangelical Assessment is so needed and so helpful.  Allison does not stoop to conjecture and caricature.  He does not play a he-said/she-said game either.  Allison presents Roman Catholic theology in its own words and in its best light.  He also presents a forceful case against Roman Catholic theology from an Evangelical perspective.  He does all this while keeping the tone, if not irenic, at least civil and never sinking to the depths that conversations like this often fall.  Allison’s approach should be mimicked by Christians in many areas(when interacting with people of other faiths, dealing with hot-button issues like abortion, evolution, gay marriage, race relations, etc…).

Archibald Alexander had a great rule about when we engage in debate.  He said to, “(a)ttribute to an antagonist no opinion he does not own, though it be a necessary consequence.”  Basically his point was that when debating, we should present the case that our opponent would make.  Allison does this nicely.

Allison’s approach, beyond his respectful tone and honesty, is another positive of this volume.  Instead of approaching Roman Catholic theology in an atomistic, let’s-talk-about-Mary….now-let’s-talk-about-transubstantiation approach, Allison critiques the theological system of Roman Catholicism.  He deals with topics of course, but the topics are not dealt with as divorced from the framework from which they arise.

Allison provides the church with a great resource.  He dives into some deep waters at times, but this work remains immensely readable and quite helpful.

I received a review copy of this book from the publisher.

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Saturday, July 18, 2015

Marie Durand

Marie DurandMarie Durand by Simonetta Carr
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I had never heard of Marie Durand. That did not stop me from grabbing this biography of her for one simple reason. This series from Simonetta Carr is wonderful. The writing is great, the format is engaging, and the end product is beautiful.  Add to that the fact that Marie Durand is a fascinating and encouraging character from church history and this book is easily five stars. I loved it and, more importantly for me, my boys loved it and will return to it to read for themselves. This is another excellent book in an excellent series.

I received a review copy from the publisher.

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Friday, July 17, 2015

Passing Through: Pilgrim Life in the Wilderness

Passing Through: Pilgrim Life in the WildernessPassing Through: Pilgrim Life in the Wilderness by Jeremy    Walker
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Jeremy Walker has written a new book that is quite timely.  For too long, Christianity reigned supreme in the west.  This caused many of us to become comfortable and begin to treat this world as if it were our home.  But with the west becoming more openly hostile to biblical Christianity, many of us are reassessing just what it means to be a pilgrim in a foreign land.  As we try to learn how to deal with a world that rejects us (because it rejects Christ), we often err one way or another.  Sometimes the temptation is to disengage and sometimes the temptation is to assimilate.  Neither of these are the proper way to be in this foreign world and remain not of it.  Walker sets out to help guide the reader as pilgrims passing through.

Any book that can, in the span of 10 pages, quote Bunyan, Lloyd-Jones, and Sun Tzu is going to be a fun read.  And it is.  Walker starts off by encouraging the reader to embrace their status as resident aliens and recognize that our stay in this world is just the precursor for something greater to come.  He then sets out to help the reader prepare for how to live as a pilgrim.  A pilgrim must do certain things to live properly.

We must Know the Environment—Recognize the world in which we live and understand the times.  We must know that we cannot follow the Lord and be friends with/be accepted by the world.  We do not need to flee or hide from the world.  But we need to be aware that there will be opposition, unless we desert.   It is dangerous to not be aware that the world, apart from the saving work of Christ, sees us as enemies if we bear the light of Christ.
We must Know the Enemy— We have to not simply know what is going on around us, we have to be mindful that we are being actively opposed in our efforts to live a faithful life of worship and witness.

We must Fight the Battles—The Christian life is a battle.  We are in hostile territory and are actively opposed by an enemy who would destroy us if he had the ability.  We need to know that there will be constant and consistent battles, and we must engage in them, or we will suffer loss.

We must Pursue the Mission—This is an important aspect for many of us living in the security of the west.  The enemy’s attack are much more subversive than they are in a world of active tribulation.  One of the greatest temptations and struggles we can face is the apathy that arises out of spiritual stagnation.  We aren’t actively turning from the Lord, but we are not pursuing him and his work either.  And this lukewarmness can destroy our faith and our witness.

We must Respect the Authorities—Walker makes the case that Christianity is not a subversive, rebellious cultural coup.  Respect of authority is a sign of a Spirit-filled believer.  That one is hard for many of us to deal with.  Walker does not address the responsibility of those in authority.  He focuses on those of us who are under authority and how we are called to be obedient.  Walker does not argue that there is no place for civil disobedience, but it is significantly less of an option than we are prone to believe (using Daniel as a great example) and prayer is a much better option that we often forsake.  This is the best chapter of the book, far better than I am conveying.  It is worth the price of the book on its own.

We must Relieve the suffering—We overreact when we flee so far from the bogeyman of “social gospel” that we see no need to bear the present burdens of those around us.  We are commanded to love our neighbor, visit the widow and orphan in their distress, and to do unto others as we would have them do unto us.  It is part of our jobs as Christians to meet needs.  It is one of the reasons we are still here.  God may not need our good works, but our neighbors most certainly do(I think I am stealing from Luther here).

We must Appreciate the beauty—God made all that is.  It may be broken, it may be marred, but there are the fingerprints of God all over creation.  We are created to be worshipers and we should worship when we see things that are beautiful.

We must Anticipate the destiny—We are to set our minds on things above.  If we are to be pilgrims, there is a type of discontentment that we should passionately embrace.  We act different and think different when we realize that this world is not our home, it is not the end, and there is something significantly better awaiting those who persevere to the end.

We must Cultivate the Identity—This section was basically a “make your calling and election sure” charge to the reader.  If you are a believer, a child of God, a new creation; recognize that this is the Lord’s doing.  And recognize that you are responsible to grow in that godliness and be conformed to the image of the Son.

We must Serve the King—It is what we were created to do.  It is what we are called to do.  It is what we will do for eternity.  It is not a burden; it is a blessing.

Walker begins each chapter by offering the Scriptural framework for the position he is taking.  He then offers some summary thoughts and adds a section of specific counsels to these issues.  It is not enough to simply be aware of your environment or that we have an enemy or that we must engage in battle.  How are we to respond to these truths?  Walker includes some helpful counsel on how to live in light of these facts.  Walker doesn't limit the scope of the book by offering specific imperatives beyond scripture.  Some would, erroneously, see this as a weakness and lament that he didn't address specific, cultural issues.  In approaching it the way he has, he does well to not bind the conscience beyond the word of God by giving biblically derived counsel, not man-made hedges.

This is a good book and worth the time and effort.  I thought it was a bit long and had a hard time getting into it at first.  But I believe that anyone who spends some time and makes the effort will benefit from these pages.

I received a review copy from the publisher.

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Wednesday, July 15, 2015

The Biggest Story: How the Snake Crusher Brings Us Back to the Garden

The Biggest Story: How the Snake Crusher Brings Us Back to the GardenThe Biggest Story: How the Snake Crusher Brings Us Back to the Garden by Kevin DeYoung
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I love Kevin DeYoung and have been looking forward to this book since I heard about it earlier in the year.  It was what I expected.  Though in some ways, I was surprised.

I was not surprised with the text.  DeYoung has been a favorite write of mine for quite some time.  I was expecting excellent, deep theology distilled in a manner that would allow me to share the great truths of Scripture with my boys of various ages and various spiritual and intellectual levels.  This is what Pastor DeYoung has provided, and it is great!  I love teaching the big picture of Scripture to my kids.  It was such an aha moment for me when I realized that the Bible tells one, unified story.  I had to wait until I was in my late twenties and was exposed to the works of Graeme Goldsworthy, via Vaughn Roberts, to see that the Scriptures are a unified whole.  I am more than thankful that publishers and writers are making resources available with this truth in mind.  I loved James Hamilton’s The Bible’s Big Story, but DeYoung’s work will replace it as my go to on this topic with my kids (in part because this book is really good and in large part because DeYoung’s work is aimed at an older reader, of which my kids qualify).

So, I was expecting an excellent overview of the Bible’s grand narrative and I received that.  What I was not expecting was to be wowed, time and again, by the illustrations.  I tire of kids book illustrations often and pay them little attention for the most part.  Don Clark’s illustrations made me audibly gasp on a couple of occasions.  Beyond being beautiful (which should not be minimized), these illustrations complement the text beautifully.  They aid in the telling of the story and improve the reading experience exponentially.  I am interested to see these in printed form (I am working off of a pdf review copy from the publisher) when this book releases.  I can only imagine that I will look even better.

DeYoung and Clark take the reader through The Biggest Story to show us How the Snake Crusher Brings Us Back to the Garden.  It is a beautiful book telling the most beautiful story that there is; that what was corrupted will be made right, that what was broken will be fixed, that what was lost will be redeemed by the victorious One who reigns forever.

Go check out some pages here:

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Friday, June 26, 2015

Passing Through

I walk as one who knows that he is treading
A stranger soil;
As one round whom a serpent-world is spreading
Its subtle coil.

I walk as one but yesterday delivered
From a sharp chain;
Who trembles lest the bond so newly severed
Be bound again.

I walk as one who feels that he is breathing
Ungenial air;
For whom as wiles, the tempter still is wreathing
The bright and fair.

My steps, I know, are on the plains of danger,
For sin is near;
But looking up, I pass along, a stranger,
In haste and fear.

This earth has lost its power to drag me downward;
Its spell is gone;
My course is now right upward, and right onward,
To yonder throne.

Hour after hour of time’s dark night is stealing
In gloom away;
Speed thy fair dawn of light, and joy, and healing
Thou Star of day!

For thee its God, its King, the long-rejected,
Earth groans and cries;
For thee the long-beloved, the long-expected,
Thy bride still sighs!--
Horatius Bonar

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Walking with Jesus Through His Word:Discovering Christ in all the Scripture

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
For the longest time in my Christian life, I had little use for much of the Bible.  That sounds terrible, but it was how I functioned and, sadly, how many others do as well.  It is too easy to become a “red-letter” Christian and, in doing so, to discount or discredit large sections of God’s inspired Word.  Walking with Jesus through His Word by Dennis Johnson is a great new release from P&R Publishing that will rewards all who spend time in its pages.  Actually, it will reward all who spend time using it to help them navigate through the pages of Scripture. Because that is exactly what it is intended to do.

Johnson serves as guide to help the reader in “Discovering Christ in All the Scriptures.”  As poor bible teaching and infrequent bible reading has increased, the great truths of the Scriptures find themselves farther and farther off the beaten path.  It is helpful to have a Christian teacher to guide us pilgrims as we progress through the Scriptures (sorry, that was bad…but I am going to leave it!)  Johnson leads the way in opening God’s Word and showing the reader how to find Christ on these pages; not just in the Gospels or the New Testament but from cover to cover.

Johnson recounts a famous story from C. H. Spurgeon’s life where Spurgeon was encouraged to “climb hedges and ford ditches” to travel from any text in the Scriptures to the resurrected and reigning Messiah.  A large benefit of this volume is that Johnson shows that, while the heart behind that admonition is laudable, it is not necessary to blaze paths through Scripture to find the Messiah.  Some paths may be more difficult to traverse, but all of the Bible leads to the Christ.  Johnson follows this travel/journey motif throughout the volume.  “I am suggesting that learning to trace the lines, to follow the paths, that link passages throughout the Scriptures to Jesus at the center is comparable to a traveler’s task of finding the way to a destined location.”  He helps the reader to recognize where we are, to learn how to read the “road signs,” get the lay of the land, and recognize the landmarks.  It is essentially a bible-overview with a focus on seeing how the Scriptures all pertain to the Christ (Luke 24:27).

The Bible helps us understand the Bible.  It is hard to read the New Testament and understand without the Old Testament, and it is hard to read the Old Testament without the aid of the New.  “We have reason to read the whole New Testament as the commentary given to us by Jesus, our risen Lord, to help us grasp the message of the Old Testament as it leads us to him.”

This book is perfectly written for small groups or a discipling relationship.  It is clear and engaging.  It is quite enjoyable.  Where it shines in reference to small groups is in the format.  Johnson offers a clear explanation of where the chapter is going and a great closing summary before helpful study questions.  Each chapter also recaps, succinctly but sufficiently, the material that has already been covered.  It is incredibly helpful to have a refresher each time you jump into a chapter, even if it is a bird’s eye paragraph or three.  Chapters discuss techniques for reading and interpreting Scripture, and they have a “putting it into practice” section that allows the reader some guided practice.

This is a great book, and it deserves to be used widely.  I am excited to use this book with my family and with others.  One of my great desires is to see many people, myself included, come to a greater understanding and enjoyment of God’s revealed Word.  Walking with Jesus through His Word will go far in fulfilling that desire.

I received a review copy from P&R Publishing.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Why We Left the SBC for the PCA

     I have spent my entire Christian life as a Southern Baptist. When I was a teenager, caring friends invited me to a Southern Baptist Church.  I heard the Gospel of God’s saving provision of his sinless Son.  I heard the truth of Jesus Christ as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, and I received the Lord and believed in his name. I then became a youth intern and children’s minister at an FBC, worked my way up to assistant manager at Lifeway Christian Store, and did a semester of study at Criswell College.  I was Baptist with a capital “B”, and I was Southern Baptist to be more precise. 

     But then something happened.  I was challenged.  I began to read widely and converse with people of different backgrounds.  My monolithic-Christian world began to be infiltrated by infidels bearing challenges.  Wesleyans, Bible Churchers, Lutherans, Presbyterians, and Anglicans; Calvinists, Molinists, and Arminians; Charismatics and Cessasionists; 5-pointers, 4-pointers, 3-pointers, and Free Throws all converged to assault me with an overdose of perspective. Of greater effect than these assaults was the fact that I had become enamored with the Scriptures. I was spending more time than ever studying and praying, and this caused me to question what I truly believed.  I had become rather familiar with what Southern Baptist doctrine was, but I was finally to the point of needing to decide whether I believed these doctrines or just indiscriminately received them. As I studied and came to systematize many of my seemingly random beliefs and struggles, I began to feel like a man with no home.  But, to my relief and delight, confessionalism in the form of conservative Presbyterianism offered my family a home.

     What would lead a family to leave an SBC congregation and unite with a church in the PCA (Presbyterian Church in America)?  What distinguishes a PCA (not to be confused with the PCUSA) church from an SBC church in such a manner that it warrants the always-painful and inherently-risky effort of leaving one body to unite to another?  Some key differences between the SBC and the PCA can be summarized under the headings of doctrine and practice.

     The PCA is a denomination that affirms the Doctrines of Grace and the sovereignty of God.  The SBC has a long and tumultuous history with “Calvinism”, which in SBC-language is simply an affirmation of the Doctrines of Grace (TULIP).  Many SBC churches find themselves battling over these doctrines and end up either excommunicating (“Why don’t you go try this church?”) or silencing (“You can believe that…just don’t talk about it.”) those who affirm them.  In the PCA, these doctrines are not seen as blasphemies or dirty little secrets. The doctrines of God’s sovereign grace are truths in which we can rejoice. These doctrines are unapologetically and openly proclaimed.  Preaching and prayer is in the active voice.  People do not “get saved.”  God saves sinners. Prayers are made for God to perform the miracle of raising the spiritually dead to eternal life and granting them repentance and faith to believe and receive the Lord Jesus.  While it is possible to embrace these doctrines in the SBC, it proves exceedingly difficult to sit and hear truths you adore be actively attacked or passively dismissed.

     The PCA is a confessional church.  This means “that Presbyterian churches summarize their beliefs in confessions of faith,” and “require their pastors, ruling elders, and deacons to subscribe to the WestminsterStandards.” (Lucas, On Being PresbyterianAs a Southern Baptist, I was always troubled by the fact that we had no overarching, binding documents.  I would appeal to Scripture only to be rebuked by a “that’s just your interpretation.”  I would appeal to the Baptist Faith and Message, but any appeal to that document would require 1) someone to know about it, and 2) it to have some sort of authority.  I longed for the stability offered by uniform (to a degree) interpretation.  While there is still some variation and even some deviation found within a confessional body, what the church believes and teaches is not left to the whim and caprice of individuals or “autonomous” local bodies.

     The PCA is a denomination that is covenantal and sacramental.  PCA churches understand the story of God as revealed in the Scriptures to be one, continuous, unfolding story.  There are no parenthetical ages or times of gross discord.   The PCA has a sacramental understanding of what the SBC would refer to as ordinances.  The Lord’s Supper is more than simply a memorial; it is a covenantal meal in which we receive the grace of God by feasting spiritually on the body and blood of the Lamb of God.  Reformed Presbyterianism avoids the error of Rome (and, to a lesser degree, Luther) on one end and Zwingli on the other by recognizing the actual, spiritual presence of Christ in the Supper.  PCA churches find precedent for their position, among other places, in the words of Paul to the Corinthians.  Paul writes, “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?”(1 Cor 10:16)
     In the same way, baptism is a sign and seal of God’s promises to believers.  It is not seen as an “outward expression of an inward change” or a “first step of obedience.”  It is also not seen as an act that grants salvation in any way or in any sense, contrary to Rome, Wittenburg, and (to a degree) Auburn Avenue. Baptism is seen as the sign of the new covenant, given to believers and their children as a testimony of God's covenant faithfulness.  It is a symbol of God's promise to his people, not our promise to him. (WCF 28)

     Practice demonstrates belief.  This is true of people, and it is also true of churches.  Practices and traditions are not random.  They are based on an understanding of the Scriptures and of God as revealed in them.  When I began to look at the practical implications of my theology, there was much with which to deal. If I believed that the worship service was for God, then he should be the one to direct it.  If I believed that the Scriptures were sufficient to teach me how to live a life that was pleasing to God, including how to worship him, then the Scriptures should direct how we approach him in corporate worship.  The PCA holds to the regulative principle of worship, though this seems to be an issue on a spectrum.  Basically, this principle is that God directs the worship of him and he does so by his word. 
The light of nature showeth that there is a God, who hath lordship and sovereignty over all . . . the acceptable way of worshipping the true God is instituted by himself, and so limited by his own revealed will, that he may not be worshipped according to the imaginations and devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible re presentation, or any other way not prescribed in the holy scripture.(WCF:Edinburgh Edition, page 111)

     One issue that always concerned me in my time in the SBC was the idea of “autonomy” in the local body.  To me, this always seemed to be an overreaction to the ecclesiastical abuses of Rome and left churches in precarious situations.  Many SBC churches operate under a sole-elder setup.  That coupled with an autonomous-local-body mindset seemed ripe for spiritual abuse, moral failure, and theological error.  PCA churches are ruled by a plurality of elders that submit, essentially, to a plurality of churches.
The PCA maintains the historic polity of Presbyterian governance set forth in The Book of Church Order, namely rule by presbyters (or elders) and the graded assemblies or courts. These courts are the session, governing the local church; the presbytery, for regional matters; and the general assembly, at the national level. It has taken seriously the position of the parity of elders, making a distinction between the two classes of elders, teaching and ruling. It has self-consciously taken a more democratic position (rule from the grass roots up) on presbyterian governance in contrast to a more prelatical form (rule from the top assemblies down).(  
     It is hard to be a rogue PCA church; although I am sure it can be done.  If a pastor is in error, he is corrected by his brothers who are serving the local body with him.  If not, then there are other brothers in other local bodies who can hold him and that entire church accountable.  Greater accountability inevitably leads to greater spiritual health and greater maturity. 

     My brother moved to Alabama a while back.  He went there because he believed doing so would be the best for him.  He went there to go to school and be with the woman to whom he would eventually be married.  He didn’t leave his family in Texas because he hated his family or despised the state.  My brother and I used to share a room, and then we found ourselves not even sharing a state.  But we did not cease to be brothers when the U-Haul crossed the state line.  In fact, petty conflict and simmering angst were actually relieved by the distance and the new direction.  My family leaving the SBC for the PCA should not be seen as a severing of the tie that binds.  Southern Baptists are my brothers and sisters in Christ, and I will always have an affection for that denomination for the mighty works that God has done through it, not the least of which to me is being the vessel through which I heard the Gospel and believed.  It is time for my family and me to move on, but that in no way diminishes how thankful we remain, and will remain, for the believers who have taught us, loved us, and discipled us for so many years, and it does not negate the fact that we will one day be united beyond divisions to worship our Lord together, forever.