Sunday, February 26, 2017

The Doctrine of the Believer’s Union with Christ as Source of All Spiritual Blessings

The Doctrine of the Believer’s Union with Christ as Source of All Spiritual Blessings
An Argument for Pneumatological-Realism as the Proper Framework for the Two-Fold Grace of Union with Christ 

“Union with Christ is the central truth of the whole doctrine of salvation.”-John Murray[1]
Some doctrines of Scripture are peripheral. That is not to say that they are in any way unimportant, but some theological issues must take a back seat to others. Of those issues that are not peripheral, there are a few that stand front and center. Without a proper understanding of those doctrines, much, if not all, of a person’s theology will become warped and weak. Those front-and-center, foundational doctrines are the ones that often create the most debate, dissension, and discussion. This is perfectly logical since they are the doctrines that the enemy is going to attack and the Spirit is going to promote. The doctrine of the believer’s union with Christ is one of these essential doctrines. It has been said that “(o)nce you have your eyes opened to this concept of union with Christ, you will find it almost everywhere in the New Testament,”[2] and this is undoubtedly true. Lane Tipton argues convincingly that “Jesus Christ, as crucified and resurrected, contains within himself—distinctly, inseparably, simultaneously and eschatologically—every soteriological benefit given to the church” and that “there are no benefits of the gospel apart from union with Christ.”[3] John Frame argues that union with Christ “is an exceedingly broad topic…[that] underlies all the works of God in our lives: election, calling, regeneration, faith, justification, adoption, sanctification, perseverance, and glorification. All of these blessings are “in Christ.”[4] It is imperative that believers come to the “climactic realization of the covenantal bond between God and his people, the Triune God and his church, that centers on union with Christ…a union with the exalted Christ.”[5] This “climactic realization” also takes into account the fact that there “is no gift that has not been earned by Him,”[6] including the believer’s salvation from beginning to end and in every sense of the word. That is why this paper will set forth an understanding of the doctrine of union as it relates to justification and sanctification that lines up with the Westminster Standards, the theology of Calvin, and, most importantly, the Scriptures themselves. Specifically, the thesis of this paper is as follows: The doctrine of the believer’s union with Christ, rightly understood as the source of all the believer’s spiritual blessings, has been argued in the history of Reformed Theology in a number of ways including the approach which sees union with Christ undergirding each soteriological benefit (e.g. justification, sanctification, glorification, etc.) directly, simultaneously yet distinctly, and, while other approaches have advocates from within Reformed Theology, the position of “unio Christi-duplex gratia”[7] is most consistent with that of Calvin and of Paul.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

90 Days in John, Romans, and James

The Good Book Company has released a series of devotionals that I believe are going to become a staple in both my spiritual life and my future gift-giving. Devotionals are typically hit and miss with me. Some are good, some are not-so-good. I enjoy prayer books (Valley of Vision is a favorite), but devotional books quite often are not what I am looking for.  

These “open Bible devotional(s)” are different. Requiring the reader to “keep your Bible open, on your lap or on your screen, as you use these studies” these are more prompts to greater study than they are standalone thoughts.  

The content is great. I expected that. Sam Alberry and Tim Keller are solid theologians and engaging writers, so that was not any sort of surprise. What I was not suspecting was such a nice format. The book is a solid hardback and includes a full page of lined space to record prayers or response thoughts. I am thinking about using it to record prayers and thoughts and then give the book to one of my kids as a gift. Even if I simply keep it for myself, it will be nice to have a record of my devotional life over a period, or to return to it a couple of years from now and go through the devotions again.

          Great content. Great format. I really cannot think of any reason that these volumes should not be at the top of any Christians to-be-read list.


Review copy provided.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

The Obedience of Christ

Last Adam: A Theology of the Obedient Life of Jesus in the GospelLast Adam: A Theology of the Obedient Life of Jesus in the Gospel by Brandon D Crowe
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

For the longest, my understanding of the Gospel did more than center on the cross. I had no concept of much beyond passion week and the resurrection and, for that reason, I really did not have much of an understanding the passion week or the resurrection. Some Reformed teachers were influential in my life regarding a greater understanding of the Gospel narrative as a whole, but it was McKnight's 'King Jesus Gospel' as well as some of N.T. Wright's essays that helped me understand the life of Jesus as more than a prologue to the passion. Brandon Crowe's new volume has taken my willingness and desire to see these truths and armed them with the exegesis and theology, particularly as it relates to Christ as the second Adam and the benefits of his perfect obedience.

Crowe's point that the life of Christ was vicarious and necessary for salvation was a truth I readily affirmed from my salvation on. However, the nuanced depth of this truth is that which I am still seeking to fully understand. Crowe highlights how:
* Jesus is identified as the second or last Adam whoe "obedience overcomes the disobedience of the first"
* "The Gospels present Jesus as the last Adam in various ways, including in the temptation narratives, by means of the role of the Holy Spirit, and through the Son of Man imagery"
* The Sonship of Jesus has "numerous implications" including: "Jesus’s filial identity relates Jesus to Israel, the typological son of God"; the Sonship of Jesus relates him to "the first covenantal son of God," Adam; and "in light of these canonical links, Jesus’s sonship strongly emphasizes his obedience."
* In the Gospel of John, Jesus is "portrayed as the obedient Son who was always working and always doing the will of his Father, accomplishing salvation for those who believe" and this work must be "viewed as a unity, which means his life and death are both necessary for the perfect completion of his work."
* Since the kingdom of God is one of righteousness, Crowe points out that the work of Jesus necessary to inaugurate that kingdom must be completed by a "righteous king." "Jesus’s power is corollary to his holiness and includes his binding of the strong man, by which he overcomes the sin of Adam."
* and more.
Crowe rightly points out that his volume cannot exhaust the topic he covers, and I will not try to exhaustively cover it (or his book even) here in a book review. I will have to return to this volume again, and the good thing is that I am looking forward to it. Crowe has contributed a great volume to the study of Christology that will be of benefit to pastors, scholars, and believers alike.

Review Copy provided.


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Saturday, February 4, 2017

A Biblical-Theological Introduction to the New Testament: The Gospel Realized

A Biblical-Theological Introduction to the New Testament: The Gospel RealizedA Biblical-Theological Introduction to the New Testament: The Gospel Realized by Michael J. Kruger


 RTS and Crossway have teamed up to provide a beautiful collection of essays that survey the entirety of the New Testament. Subtitled “The Gospel Realized,” this volume pairs well with the Old Testament volume, and contributions from Robert Cara, Guy Waters, Michael Kruger, Simon J. Kistemaker, and others provide the reader with a New Testament flyover that somehow manages to cover each book with significant depth while remaining relatively concise and quite approachable.

This volume is explicitly designed to “introduce the reader to the major historical, exegetical, and theological issues within each of the twenty-seven book “while meeting the self-set criteria of being accessible, theological, reformed, redemptive-historical, multi-authored, and pastoral. Each chapter is structured the same (introduction, background issues, structure and outline, message and theology, and select bibliography) in order to minimize the differences inherent in a work of multiple authors. For the most part, this is successful, and when differences show up, it is almost always a positive and does little to harm the continuity of the work as a whole.

In regards to the explicit criteria set forth in the introduction, this volume is immensely successful. This is not a work geared towards or limited to the realm of academia. Fully accessible, this volume does not shy away from the confessionally reformed lens through which it interprets the Scriptures and consistently points the reader to God’s working salvation throughout the history of his people and his world. Persistently pastoral, the theologians expounding Scripture throughout never lose sight of the fact that they are being used of God to build up his church rather than puff up academics. Knowledge for knowledge sake is not presented. Information geared towards a better understanding of Scripture and thus a greater love of God and neighbor is what this book is filled with, and why this book will be a long-standing blessing to the church at-large.

Review copy provided.


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Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Struck

Struck: One Christian's Reflections on Encountering DeathStruck: One Christian's Reflections on Encountering Death by Russ Ramsey
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Russ Ramsey made me cry. Multiple time, he made me borderline sob. And Lisa Ramsey doesn't get off the hook, either. She only wrote the afterword, and she still made me cry. But the emotions evoked by Ramsey's book were so necessary and so good. As he narrates some critical times in his own life, and the lives of others, Ramsey displays his pastoral abilities by constantly pointing to the overwhelming, all-consuming grace of God. What makes it that much more impactful is that he does this while maintaining a transparent humanity that equally affirms the desperate grief and clinging hope that defines all believers in the midst of tribulation. One of the endorsements compares this work to Lewis's A Grief Observed, and that is a pretty apt comparison. I already have a friend I will be giving a copy of Struck to and plan to come back to it myself on a semi-regular basis....basically anytime I need a good sob and an encouragement that God is worthy of my trust.

ARC provided for review.


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Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Silence and Beauty: A Review

Silence and Beauty: Hidden Faith Born of SufferingSilence and Beauty: Hidden Faith Born of Suffering by Makoto Fujimura
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is the sort of book that I hope begins to dominate Christian publishing. In the Bible Belt Christendom in which I was born and in which so much Christian publishing occurs, the arts are neglected, if not demonized. Tough topics are skirted, ignored, or answered with trite truisms and a call to blind faith. Differing voices are ostracized out of fear that differences will lead to divisions, or possibly reduce them. Fujimura does not succumb to any of these pitfalls (of course, it would be difficult to ping him as a Bible Belt Christian) and engages tough topics of culture, art, and the universal human experience through the lens of Endo's masterpiece novel, "Silence." And he does so in a manner that is clear and gracious. In addition to that, he does so in a manner that is beyond insightful. "Silence and Beauty" is literary and cultural commentary that does not settle for...it just does not settle. This book excels in every area and deserves to be read widely.

I cannot express how greatly I enjoyed this work. If you want to glean significant insight on a novel of great impact (and even greater now as a Scorsese film) as well as the universal issues addressed within, "Silence and Beauty" is the place to go.


Review copy.


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Faulkner’s Language of Loss in Absalom, Absalom!

Faulkner’s Language of Loss in Absalom, Absalom!
Absalom, Absalom! is a work that, in many ways, defies all conventional wisdom. The syntax is torturous; the narrative is disorienting and narrators utterly obtuse, and the story at the heart of the novel is rather simplistic. However, many critics wholeheartedly endorse William Faulkner’s 1936 novel as the greatest of his works, the greatest work of twentieth-century American Modernism, or even the “great American novel.” Any reader who takes the time and makes the, at times immense, effort to decipher the language and the narrative undoubtedly will find him or herself if not agreeing at least sympathetic to those now not-so-hyperbolic claims. Absalom, Absalom! is a novel that speaks to the heart of the reader. The unreliable narrators merely mirror the manner in which personal involvement, or lack thereof, shades recollection. The simplistic narrative only heightens the awareness that people are people and the common experience of fallible and often depraved humanity is simply that—common. Faulkner’s enigmatic syntax and non-standard diction (undiction, even) obscure the meaning of the text, but it does so in a manner that drives the reader below the surface and, in doing so, actually illuminates the real meaning of his work. In particular, Faulkner utilizes specific, language-based techniques to help the reader sympathize for and empathize with his characters and the narrative as a whole. By recognizing the role of language in communicating not only information but also experience, Faulker chooses to use unconventional linguistic choices to express the tangible, potential, and perpetual loss felt by the characters of Absalom, Absalom!, the Civil War South, and the South of Faulkner’s own time.

Adam and the Genome: A Review

Adam and the Genome: Reading Scripture After Genetic ScienceAdam and the Genome: Reading Scripture After Genetic Science by Scot McKnight
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Dennis Venema and Scot McKnight join together to provide an introductory examination of a topic that has become, and will only become more, critical as we scientifically progress as a people. The mapping of the human genome was a quantum leap for genetic science, and the repercussions reverberated far beyond laboratories and the hard sciences. With such a radical reorientation of how humans interpret the book of nature, it is only appropriate to consider the impact on how we interpret the book of God's special revelation. The need of a work like "Adam and the Genome" is undeniable, and McKnight and Venema are up to the task.

Venema spends the first half of the book examining genetic science and presenting a positive case for naturally guided human evolution. If you have been studying biology or genetics to any significant degree, there is nothing groundbreaking here. But it is a great summary of genetic science as it relates to evolution. Its greatest quality might be the manner in which Venema presents complex scientific data and theory so that it is accessible to any willing to put in the effort. More so, Venema presents the basis for the following section that investigates the epistemological and ontological implications of modern biology's greatest feat.

This is where McKnight jumps in. He is admittedly no scientist, but he is a theologian with significant insight and a manner of presentation saturated with grace. I significantly disagree with McKnight on a number of theological conclusions (denial of original sin being a big one!), but the manner in which he examines these issues in light of genetic science is profitable to emulate, whether the results mirror his conclusions or totally contradict them.

I have accused Dispensational theology of imposing itself with a hyper-literal reading that ignores the historical and culture context of the author and the text. I have been guilty of that myself in many ways with many Scriptural passages, and even if I remain unconvinced of the certainty of evolutionary theory, I am convinced of the necessity to remove as much as possible the cultural blinders that keep me from reading the Bible as it is intended to be read. if that is the totality of the impact this book has upon me, it will have been time well spent. But I have a feeling that its reverberations will be a bit more far-reaching.

ARC provided for review.


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