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.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Great offer from Ligonier

From the Ligonier Blog


Get 160+ Hours of Trusted Teaching for a Gift of Any Amount

FROM  May 14, 2015 Category: Ministry News

Do you want to help make as many disciples of Christ as possible? I do.
Why is this my passion and, indeed, the passion of Ligonier Ministries? It’s because we love Christ, who commands us to make disciples of all nations.
The nations can’t be discipled if God’s people don’t know what they believe and why they believe it. That’s why I’m also committed to helping equip believers in the faith. We know firsthand that understanding the “what” and “why” we believe blesses us in all of life. Our worship is enriched, our zeal for Christ is enflamed, our love for His people is strengthened, and our growth in godly wisdom is advanced.
I’m excited about the digital outreach of Ligonier Ministries because it enables us to reach the nations. With our digital outreach, we are assisting the church in making disciples around the world, even in places that are closed to traditional missions work. Our digital outreach is also reaching many people who have never heard of Christ.
And we need your support to continue and expand this critical work.
When I look at the growth of our digital ministries, I’m encouraged by the impact Ligonier friends like you are having on the world. Last year alone, for example, more than 3.3 million people visited and accessed 26 million pages of trusted content, much of it for free.
This isn’t about extending Ligonier’s influence—it’s about raising up disciples who will themselves disciple others. It’s about calling the church to fidelity in her mission to reach the world with the unchanging gospel.
That’s why we have an aggressive plan to increase our already substantial kingdom outreach through digital media. In addition to our existing social media presence, RefNet online Christian radio, and podcasts, we’re developing a new online version of Tabletalk with content above and beyond the print magazine. We’re also working on Portuguese and Spanish versions of our resources and social media initiatives to help bring about a new Reformation among those whose first language isn’t English.
Digital outreach is particularly important for making disciples in those parts of the world where access to theological education and resources is limited. Christian pastors and leaders in other countries who lack theological training, as well as laypeople who want to grow deeply in their faith, can engage in focused study through Ligonier Connect.
Your support enables this, and as thanks for your gift of any amount to Ligonier’s outreach this month, we will send you a 64 GB USB drive loaded with more than 160 hours and 10,000 pages of Ligonier teaching content (500 pages in Spanish). We’re also distributing these free of charge to pastors around the world to aid them in making disciples.
Note: Offer expires 6/30/2015. Please allow up to 6 weeks for delivery after your gift is processed. Contributions are tax-deductible as allowed by law. For federal income tax purposes, the deductible portion of your charitable contribution is limited to the excess of the money contributed over the value of the goods provided. Our good faith estimate of the value of these resources is $13. Offer valid in U.S. and Canada only. Thank you for your support.

Hammer of the Huguenots

Douglas Bond writes books I like.  That seems straightforward enough.  I have found it consistently true, that time I spend with a work of his is time well spent.  Whether it is a biography, a work of practical theology, or a novel; I have yet to be disappointed by one of his works.  His newest novel, Hammer of the Huguenots, is the third volume of his Heroes and History series. I bought the other two when P&R had a sale a few months back, but I have not had a chance to read them.  That is a truth that must quickly change.

Hammer of the Huguenots is a work of historical fiction that follows Phillippe; a young, Roman Catholic man, as he witnesses the French Catholic persecution of Reformed Christians around him and the effects of the Gospel ministry of Pierre Viret.  What drew me to this book, beyond enjoying how Bond writes, is its historical context.  I am still a novice to the genre of fiction, and I am still highly selective on those works with which I will spend time.  If you are not a book about a quest for a ring, hopping through a wardrobe, or solving crimes with your buddy named Watson, I have had little time for you.  But historical fiction I can justify.  Sure, the stories are not “history,” but the truths they convey are historical.  And the context and many of the characters and many of the events are all historical.  So, I can tell myself that I am not reading for entertainment or fun or any of those silly reasons.  Nope, I am learning!

But then here is the kicker.  Hammer of the Huguenots is a work that engages the reader.  I can tell myself I am not reading for entertainment, but then I have to deal with the fact that I am being entertained.  And I can tell myself that I am not reading to enjoy the catharsis of vicarious experience, but then I have to acknowledge how this book causes such a visceral, emotional, personal reaction.  Bond writes in a way that causes an emotional response.  You find yourself feeling the anxiety, fear, and sadness; relief, peace, and joy.

History is good.  Storytelling is good.  Better than anything is the Gospel.  And Douglas Bond would agree.  Hammer of the Huguenots makes that clear.  Bond focuses on the Gospel throughout this book.  The Gospel is presented in many ways and in multiple contexts.  We see the true Gospel presented in contrast to Rome’s doctrine of “faith +.”  We see the Gospel of Christ’s all-sufficiency and vicarious atonement through preaching, teaching, and the response of the characters.  Watching Phillippe confronted with the Gospel time and again and watching him struggle with the implications of his beliefs is more than good literature; it is convicting, challenging, and encouraging.

I greatly enjoyed this work.  If you want to read some good fiction, get a dose of history, and be overwhelmed by the Gospel and its implications, Hammer of the Huguenots will prove to be an investment that pays great dividends.

I received a review copy from the publisher.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Blind Spots

I think I am right…on most everything…most of the time (if not all the time).  However, the Scriptures coupled with a lot of experience are beginning to convince me that this might not be 100% accurate.  I am willing to make a concession that on rare occasions I might be ever-so-slightly mistaken on things of the most trivial nature.  Of course, by “rare” I mean “often” and by “ever-so-slightly mistaken” I mean “plumb wrong” and by “most trivial” I mean “some of the most important things there are.”

I have blind spots.  I have ways that I think and ways that I look at things and ways that I earnestly believe that things should be.  And, for the longest, if someone dared to think differently from me on these things, my attitude was, “Bless their hearts.  I’ll pray for them.  Maybe the Lord will grant them repentance so that they can understand and believe and think just like me.”  I am on the mend from that attitude.  I still have to guard against it and still slip into it far too often, but I am on the mend.  I have always had blind spots in my thinking.  I have just come to the point where I am willing to admit it and act as if this were true, because it is!

I might have been an extreme example.  But, if we go by the internet comments sections, then maybe not so much.  The “I am right, you are wrong” virus afflicts humans pretty indiscriminately, Christians included.  Colin Hansen has offered a short book that encourages readers to recognize our own blind spots and to be gracious towards those of others. 

Hansen wants us to “see our differences as opportunity.”  He argues that, “(b)ecause of these blind spots, neither you nor I see everything clearly. We need each other.”  He groups Christians into one of three camps; the compassionate, the courageous, and the commissioned.  This isn’t an exhaustive list of categories and there is considerable cross-over, but the distinctions made are accurate and helpful.  Hansen shows how these groups can end up in conflict, especially when their agendas do not line up and especially when people become “sole-issue Christians.” 

While there is still much to be concerned about, we do not have to be as concerned with a person who is a “single-issue Christian” as we are with someone who is an “only-issue Christian.”  A single-issue Christian has a passion and is utterly focused on it (pro-life, street-evangelism, homeless ministry, etc…) A sole-issue Christian is like a single-issue Christian, except for one key difference.  This person’s issue of interest is the only issue.  And that is true not just for them, but also for you.  If you oppose their issue, either actively or simply by it not being your only issue, then you are an enemy.  And you are not just an enemy of them, you are in sin.  You are opposing God.  Single-issue Christians get much done for their cause.  Sole-issue Christians get much done in dividing the Body.     
Hansen writes to help us see our own blind spots, and he writes to keep us from devolving into sole-issue Christians.  He shows that “unless we can both step outside ourselves to hear our arguments from another vantage point, we won’t enjoy church unity and an effective gospel witness in the world.”  Hansen shows how the Body of Christ needs all these different types of Christians and how we keep each other accountable and balanced.

Hansen is writing to Christians.  He recognizes that we love the Lord.  He knows that we, even in our blindest of moments, are in some sense operating out of a desire to honor God--as misguided as it might be.  Hansen points out that we often have the tendency to emphasize one aspect of Christ over others, and then use that to hurt the ones we are called to love the most.  “We often seize on one aspect of (Christ’s) character and ministry and brandish it as a weapon against other believers. And we rope our partial Jesus into some of the nastiest conflicts.”

Hansen goes beyond diagnosing.  There is much practical wisdom scattered throughout the book, but I especially enjoy his admonition to all of us towards the end.  Hansen sees one main solution to these problems, and it is being united to and abiding in Christ.

Abiding in Christ is the best defense against the blind spots that destroy our joy in following Jesus and set us against other believers with different gifts and callings. Abiding in Christ will protect you from growing discouraged and getting sidetracked in trying to obey Jesus’s commandments. Some people you try to love will reject you because they have rejected him. Some Christians and churches suffering from blind spots will fault you for not caving to their pressure. You see this discord where the world presses for conformity from the church. Western culture’s idol of sexuality tempts churches to respond in limited, even self-destructive ways when beset by blind spots. Some withdraw in fear from the world and call it courage. Or they mute the clear teaching of Scripture and the call to discipleship and call it compassion. Or they ignore the problem altogether for the sake of false unity and call it obedience to the Great Commission.

Abiding in Christ does not allow us to veer off in only one of these directions. Jesus intends for us to follow him down a path that only he knows. The Spirit is our guide, because Jesus sent him to us as a witness (vv. 26–27). As we follow the teaching of the apostles who walked and talked with Jesus, we can hear clearly the voice of Jesus calling us through the cacophony of the world. (pg 111)

Blind Spots is a necessary book.  It addresses a persistent and pernicious issue, but it is not the answer.  We need more than 100+ pages from Collin Hansen, as good as they might be.  We need discussions and worship and cooperation and grace.  And we need a lot of those and more.  But, Blind Spots is a great little primer on a great big issue and, hopefully it will encourage us all to love our neighbor in the church down the road just a bit more.

I received a review copy from the publisher.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

John Newton

Newton on the Christian Life: To Live Is Christ (Theologians on the Christian Life)Newton on the Christian Life: To Live Is Christ by Tony Reinke
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is another great book in a great series.  Theologians on the Christian Life has fast become a go to series for me.  If you have any interest in history and the Christian faith, these are some nice non-biographies.  I have read a couple and they have consistently been quite good.  Newton would be the theologian I am least familiar with that I have read about in this series, so I was pretty interested to get started with it.

Reinke does a great job of outlining Newton’s thought, primarily through his letters, and really encouraging the reader to dig deeper to learn more about this interesting life.  I always enjoy how Reinke writes and this subject matter.  My one criticism would be that I thought it was a bit long.  Not that the last chapters should have been cut, but I think the whole could have been condensed a bit.  This work in 180-200 pages would have been my ideal.  That being said, this is a great volume that the reader will not regret investing time and money in.

I received a review copy from the publisher.      

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Monday, May 4, 2015


Crossway is releasing a new booklet by Russell Moore based on his book, Adopted for Life.  In it, Moore makes the same case that he does in his earlier work but presents in in 60 pages as opposed to a couple of hundred, making this important work on this important topic that much more accessible.

Moore does a great job of giving a reasoned and forceful plea for Christians to care for the fatherless.  Moore is not naïve enough to believe that everyone is called or capable of adoption, but he definitely encourages all believers to follow the mandate of Scripture in making the care for orphans a priority in our ministries and in our lives.  Moore presents a forceful case that rightly appeals to the heart of the reader.  However, to his credit and to the great benefit of the reader and the cause, Moore does not stoop to guilt-trip or manipulation.  He encourages, he pleads, he reasons from Scripture, he educates, he leads by example, and he pours out his heart.  And the result is a challenging, encouraging, and convicting little booklet that will, hopefully, find its way into the hands of many people who will be prompted to make a difference in the lives of those who are most vulnerable, most fragile, and most in need.

I received a review copy of this book.

From the publisher:

The Bible depicts Joseph of Nazareth as a good and honorable man. The adoptive father of Jesus, he stood by his wife when it appeared that she had betrayed him, raising Jesus as his own son. In doing so, Joseph provided all Christians with a beautiful picture of what fatherhood is meant to look like: steadfast, loving, protective. But such love stands in stark contrast to what we see in our world today: on-demand abortion, unreported abuse, and widespread neglect. Calling Christians to take a stand for children—born and unborn—this short booklet, adapted from Adopted for Life, makes a passionate plea for Christians to view adoption as a way to value and protect every human life.

God, Adam, and You: Biblical Creation Defended and Applied

God, Adam, and You: Biblical Creation Defended and AppliedGod, Adam, and You: Biblical Creation Defended and Applied by Richard D. Phillips
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

P&R Publishing has put out a collection of essays on a topic that remains incredibly relevant to our culture in general and ever-increasingly relevant to me personally.  The compatibility/incompatibility of evolutionary theory and the Bible has been a personal issue of interest for quite some time.  This new volume, edited by Richard Phillips, will be one that I return to time and again.

The list of contributors gives the reader confidence that this will be a work filled with theological precision and fidelity.  Derek Thomas, Joel Beeke, Kevin DeYoung, Liam Goligher,  Richard Phillips, and Carl Trueman all contribute one or two essays from their confessional, Reformed perspectives.  It goes without saying that these men respect the Scriptures as the revealed Word of God and seek to submit all other forms of knowledge to God’s Word.

The subtitle of the work is Biblical Creation Defended and Applied.  I was guilty of not reading the subtitle well and was half-expecting this volume to be a simple apologetic for creation and polemic against evolution.  While the reader will definitely find positive arguments for Biblical creation and negative arguments against atheistic and theistic evolution, this work shines most brightly when the contributors venture into the application of these competing truth claims.

I am accustomed to the simple, slippery-slope type arguments where the reader is warned that a rejection of a literal Adam inevitably leads to a rejection of inspiration, inerrancy, the authority of Scripture, the historicity of any of the Old Testament, original sin, substitutionary atonement and leads to an embrace of an allegorical reading of Scripture, egalitarianism, abortion, homosexuality, and anY/every form of licentiousness one dare to even think of.   While there is a bit of that argument to be found scattered throughout these pages, the contributors move beyond simple bogeyman language and lead the reader through the necessary consequences and implications of rejecting a literal Adam.  To say the least, these consequences are far reaching and paradigm shifting.

The interaction between science and faith, specifically in the realm of evolutionary theory and conservative Christianity, is a persistent topic of debate and dissension.  This subject proves worthy of substantial and sustained scholarship, study, and conversation.  I feel confident in saying that God, Adam, and You will show itself to be a commendable and lasting contribution to that important conversation.

I received a review copy from P&R Publishing.

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