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Living In God’s Two Kingdoms

6 Dec

Living in God’s Two Kingdoms: A Biblical Vision for Christianity and Culture by David VanDrunen was released recently by Crossway Books and presents a readable, comprehensive view of two-kingdom theology. I’m just a youngster in terms of theology, especially that of a reformed flavor, so I was excited to dive in with VanDrunen and stretch my brain.

The main premise is a counter to the “transformationalist” view of culture that seems to be pervasive with emergent theologians, those who ascribe to the New Perspective on Paul and neo-Calvinists (depending on your definition of neo-Calvinists). In transformational theologies, the church and Christians are about the work of restoration, as we march across creation and culture putting things back how they were meant to be before all this sin and death entered the world.

Whilst that can sound all well and good, the ramifications of that worldview are twofold:

1) When Scripture asserts that this world will be put away and a new heaven and a new earth will come, we have to reject any of the cataclysmic language that accompanies such claims. Instead, the new heaven and earth will come by a restoration to utopia.

2) VanDrunen states that when we embrace a transformationist view of culture, we cling to the work of Adam in the common kingdom rather than living in the grace of the redemptive kingdom which Christ has already won for us by living the life Adam, and each of us, should have lived.

This concept of resting in grace with regard to cultural activities was a refreshing exhortation, and one that could easily go unnoticed for many of us as we seek to understand the implications of the gospel in our everyday lives. Having been engaged with the idea of vocation recently on the blog, I was particularly keen to get to the end chapter wherein VanDrunen unpacks the theological foundations into meat for the daily life. But I will say that the book is best read from beginning to end.

As an attorney, he is skilled at building a case and it will provide more scope for discussion when approached in that linear fashion than if you were to pick and choose chapters. The defining of terms such as “church” and “Christian” are key to understanding his argument. Without these underpinnings, his passage on ministerial authority would be excessively contentious – and he knows already that some of his ideas will be met with opposition, especially when that final chapter deals with education and politics. Continue reading

Apologetics for the 21st Century – Louis Markos – a review

28 Nov

I have long been a fan of the works of C.S. Lewis, Francis Schaeffer, Norman Geisler and a multitude of other apologists who have worked hard to give a defense of the faith which we as Christians hold to. I was thus intrigued by Crossway’s recent release that acts as a primer on apologetics, both in terms of specific writers and specific arguments.

The book divides into two parts, focussing first on particular apologists and then in the second half moving to a broader view of the apologetics field. Markos is focussed on tracing out the evidentialist line of apologetics, as opposed to the presuppositionalist line. Evidentialists base their arguments on the evidence and build upwards towards a defense or reason, whilst presuppositionalists begin with the need for revelation and argue from the Scriptures.

I find myself to be most naturally in the presuppositional field, but with deep respect for and great love of the work of Christian evidentialists. At some point, in either camp, revelation is required. The arguments of the evidentialist apologist may convince a person that belief in God is not illogical, it may even satisfy that the testimony of the Bible to the person of Jesus is not fictitious, but it cannot cause a man to bend his knee to the Lord Jesus and repent of his own sins. Likewise, without revelation a person can follow the arguments of a presuppositionalist but they cannot receive them as really true unless some divine operation occurs.

That being said, I believe Markos has done a great service to the field of contemporary apologetics by drawing together what is essentially a brilliant introduction to the last 100 years of apologetics. Six chapters o the theology of Lewis are worth the asking price alone, as they provide a cohesive and insightful understanding of Lewis’ writing and thought. In amongst here is an outstanding chapter on the apologetics of myth, explaining the idea of True Myth and how it pertains to Lewis and his contemporaries. After this focus on C.S. Lewis comes a couple of chapters on G.K. Chesterton, one on the much overlooked Dorothy Sayers, an interesting one on Francis Schaeffer that is not all complementary (in fact it is here that Markos sounds a little put-out by presuppositionalists), and ends with a chapter on Josh McDowell.

Yes, Josh McDowell. I was somewhat surprised to find his name amongst such thinkers and writers. He is a man who has done much to spread the good news, but I’ve never considered him an apologist. Markos makes a good argument for his inclusion in the evidentialist tradition, and more so reveals my snobbery about apologetics.

After this we move to part two which we could essentially split into three sections. Section A deals with arguments for the existence of God, within the realms of logic, science and suffering. Section B looks at specific facets of the Christian faith and arguments in defense of those beliefs (the authority of the Scriptures, the historical Jesus, the resurrection) and then finally we turn to section C to look at contemporary issues (pluralism, postmodernity, neo-gnostics, creation and the new atheists). My favorite of this section was chapter 21, which deals with apologetics for postmoderns.

Markos writes well, is clearly widely read, and is able to present a huge amount of thought, argument and insight in a concise and understandable way. If you are just starting in your studies of apologetics, or you are looking for some clarification of the work of C.S. Lewis, or specific contemporary arguments, this book would be a great resource for your library.

 

A review copy was provided to me at no charge by Crossway Books. No attempt was made by the publisher to gain a favorable review, and all opinions and recommendations expressed are the author’s own.

 

The Bible Story Handbook by John and Kim Walton

10 Nov

The Bible Story Handbook by John and Kim Walton
Crossway Books, 2010

The Bible Story Handbook is a new resource for parents and Sunday School teachers wanting to clearly and correctly communicate the truth of the Bible to children. Unlike many such resources, this is not a curriculum or lesson plan, but is a rather unique tool that will assist and enrich all those who seek to communicate God’s timeless truth to young hearts and minds.

Beginning the collection off is an essay on the need for this book and the dangers of “dumbing down” Biblical stories. It is the danger of hermeneutics trumping exegesis, to use the language of Stuart and Fee’s “How to Read the Bible For All Its Worth.” Though the gray area theological points of the authors shines through a little too strongly at times (in particular their views on creation and the continuation of charismata), the introduction should be essential reading for all who minister to children and have the sacred duty of teaching them about God from the Scriptures. This includes ALL parents! To sum up the concept of the book, here’s a quote:

“Though we might be able to learn innumerable things from a passage, the passage is not teaching everything that anybody sees in it.” (p.22)

The books aims to help teachers understand both what the main point of a Bible story is, and what it specifically is not. This is a really useful thing to have, especially for people less well versed in the Scriptures who may not so quickly recall other areas of the Bible that help identify the meaning of the text being studied. John and Kim Walton have provided a quick reference guide to check context, and so it is a book that can be used whether following a curriculum, or creating your own lessons from scratch.
After the introduction, the book is broken into Old Testament and New Testament, covering a lot of the narrative of the Old Testament, and then providing lesson coverage for the Gospels, Acts and Revelation. The epistles are not covered since they do not meet the requirements of narrative story. Each lesson contains the following sections:

– Lesson Focus
– Lesson Application
– Biblical Context
– Interpretational Issues in the Story
– Background Information
– Mistakes to Avoid

The lessons take up around a couple of pages each, so the material is not particularly lengthy, but is written for adults to consult and consider prior to teaching. I daresay that there will be disagreements along the way. For instance, comparing the Walton’s take on the story of Jonah with Tullian Tchividjian’s brilliant Surprised By Grace, it is clear that they hold strong opinions about the use and abuse of the text that may differ with other writers and theologians. I do appreciate their strength of conviction, but it will have to be weighed against other sources too – no carte blanche for anyone but God, I’m afraid!

I do not foresee this being a book that is allowed to gather dust – with two young sons of my own, and regular ministry to children in our home church, I will be routinely consulting this volume for a quick checkup to see if the lesson is on point, and will likely employ it in personal study and sermon preparation too! This is a unique resource to add to your collection.

A review copy was provided to me at no charge by the publisher. No attempt was made to gain a favorable review, and all opinions and recommendations expressed are the author’s own.

Think! by John Piper

27 Oct

For so long it felt like there were two camps at war. The MindPeople and the HeartPeople both considered their way superior, and would critique each other at any given opportunity. I always had the inkling that something was not quite right with this division, and over the last few years have found allies in the works of Francis Schaeffer, Nancy Pearcey, D.A. Carson, John Calvin, Martin Luther and other great minds whose intellect is not divided from the work of their hands, their compassion towards people and, most importantly, the work of the gospel. Rather than divided, it is the operation of a redeemed intellect that will not stop at words and thoughts but is driven thereby to action.

Now, with more clarity of thought and ease of access than ever before, John Piper has delivered Think! by Crossway Books and it is the literary equivalent of love at first sight. Here is a theology of the mind and thought that drives hard, fast and passionately towards the glory of God. The basic premise is that thinking is the wood that fuels the fire of worship of God. By thinking well, we engage more deeply with the person of God as we consider His word, and the work and person of Jesus; thus we know and love God with more passion, and likewise love our fellow man more completely than before.

Piper does a wonderful job of showing the correlation between real thinking and Holy Spirit dependence. We cannot truly know and understand the Scriptures unless He first illuminates them to us, but we are also called to think – it is not a mystical experience in the sense of overwhelming revelation that is imparted to the mind without the mind being involved. We think because God has made us to think, and in our thinking we ask the Holy Spirit to help us understand and so our thinking becomes a work of devotion and adoration – theology turns to doxology, as Piper puts it several times.

Equally compelling to the whole-person theology that Piper proposes is his great handling of texts that have been abused by anti-intellectuals across the ages. Most notably, there is correction to a misunderstanding of what is meant by being as a “little child” in order to know God. I don’t want to give it all way, because I really must compel you to read this book! For me, it is a tall, cool glass of water in the midst of a desert of oft well-meaning but ill-consequenced ideas that abandon either the mind or the heart in the pursuit of God. Let us have both, for He has made us such creatures that enjoy the benefit of both intellect and emotion!

A review copy was provided to me at no charge by the publisher. No attempt was made to gain a favorable review, and all opinions and recommendations expressed are the author’s own.

Venom & Song by Batson and Hopper

8 Oct

Venom and Song is the second book in The Berinfell Prophecies Series, coauthored by Wayne Thomas Batson and Christopher Hopper. I received a review copy from publisher Thomas Nelson as part of their BookSneeze blogger review program.

I actually received this book back in the summer, and decided to try and read book one first. Alas, 9 weeks of waiting for the library to deliver from out of network and still nothing, I gave up and figured I would dive into this new work. The authors do a pretty good job of retelling the key aspects of the first story, so I was at least familiar with the cast of characters’ situation. But what a cast of characters!

The series is a work of fantasy fiction, featuring elves, spiders, gwars, orcs and many other staples of this genre. The central characters are elven lords who had been secreted away on Earth but have since been brought back to Allyron, the Elven land. Each of these teenagers has an English name and an elven name and to honest, with the amount of characters around this gets horrendously confusing at times.

The book begins with a series of action sequences (e.g. a fiery battle then a white-water river ride) and connects the dots with backstory, shadows of future events and some attempts at character development. But I found it hard to really engage with the characters in a way that would draw me back to the story consistently.

Honestly, at around 400 pages long, the writing just isn’t compelling enough for me and I wonder how teenagers would fair, being as they are the intended audience?

I would say the book is adequate, and for fans of fantasy fiction this series may provide another opportunity to relay Biblical truths in fictional settings. But I shan’t be recommending this to people anytime soon. Though they’re big fans of Tolkien and Lewis, Batson & Hopper have not lived up to their standards.

Not recommended.

Church Planter: The Man, The Mission, The Message

28 Sep

Church Planter by Darrin Patrick

Church Planter: The Man, the Message, The Mission is the latest book from the Re:Lit branch of Crossway Books. Written by Darrin Patrick, VP of the Acts 29 church planting network, it is essentially a church planting primer, or a boot camp in a book, or a field manual for those already deployed, depending on your current situation.As the subtitle suggests, the book is broken down into three parts that focus on what Patrick considers to be the key elements of planting and leading a church.

Before we even get into the main material, it is worth mentioning the introduction to the book. Here, the culturally sensitive issue of gender exclusivity in church leadership is raised and handled, in my opinion, very well. Though it would be nice if everyone agreed on all matters of Christian practice, that is not going to happen any time soon short of Jesus returning. As such, we need to handle our differences with grace. Darrin holds to a complimentarian stance, whereby the office of elder is held exclusively by biblically qualified men. He has existed both literally and intellectually on both sides of the debate and offers his position with grace and conviction – no easy task! Unlike some who hold similar positions, he does not exclude women from acts of ministry themselves, only from the office of elder. Women are free to prophecy, pray, serve, even teach, but not to lead as elder:

There is absolutely no indication in Scripture that gender plays any role in God’s sovereign distribution of spiritual gifts. (p.15)

I believe women can use any gift that God has given them in the church and that only the office of elder is reserved for men. This may seem paradoxical, but I think it is biblical. (p. 15)

The argument on teaching, briefly, is that the majority of teaching will be done by elders, therefore men, and that all elders are meant to be capable of teaching, but not all teaching must be done by elders. Elders are to oversee, shepherd and guard, so non-elders can do the same ministry actions (e.g. teach), but elders are responsible and ultimately accountable.

At the end of the day, Darrin makes a good case that, even if you disagree with his position about gender and church leadership, statistics are showing we have a problem to face about men in general and men in the church specifically.

The key points are that men are staying boys longer in both their actions and attitudes, and that older men are not mentoring these “Bans” (boy/man) to raise them into godly men quickly. As such, we have a dearth of biblically minded, gospel-orientated men and something must be done. So whether you’re in agreement with Darrin, or whether you think he’s wrong, the reality is that something must be done to not only retain, but to train men to lead effectively in the church. It’s a pretty compelling argument for reading the book regardless of doctrinal position on this point. For the sake of this review, I will be sticking with the use of ‘he’ when referring to the elder/pastor/undershepherd.

The Man Ministry is more than hard. Ministry is impossible. And unless we have a fire inside our bones compelling us, we simply will not survive. (p.30)

The first section of the book deals with the church planter himself, and the kind of person he needs to be both in terms of qualification and potential success. If balance between theology and practicality is highly favored, this first section is the most likely to please you (theology gets the main drive in The Message and The Mission gives it all some legs, though none of the book is lacking in both elements). Patrick deals with the type of man, the confirmation and testing of his calling, his character and his ability to lead/shepherd well. It is a high standard that Patrick holds to and a thoroughly Biblical one at that. For anyone considering their calling to pastoral ministry, stare long and hard in this mirror and make sure that you are really called!

The MessageHe went from the God of heaven out there to being the Lord of earth right here. God took the theory of his love for his people and wrapped it in skin and blood and gristle and bone. (p.107)

In the second section, the central message of the gospel is unpacked and its implications for pastoring the church are explained. In an age when preaching and teaching is sometimes akin to a friendly chat about feelings, or the best way to achieve happiness right now, or some such thing, Darrin makes it clear what the message is – historical, salvation-accomplishing, Christ-centered, sin exposing, idol shattering, to take from the chapter headings. As an introduction to the core of the Gospel message, this is a solid work and a great reminder to stay on track with the message. We must not make it about anything else than Jesus and what He has done and is doing. Sin must be dealt with boldly, our own idols exposed and the glory of Christ exclaimed!

The MissionMen who are qualified, called, and armed with the gospel message are on a mission with Jesus, who came to seek and save the lost. (p.174)

The final section was one of the most engaging for me, dealing with the mission of the church, cultural context and compassionate evangelism. It is obvious that not only does Darrin have a heart for city transformation through the preaching of the Gospel and the life of the church, but that he has been in the trenches and is someone worth listening to with a humble heart. As I read through this final section, my own vision and dreams for God’s glory in the city I live in (Nampa, ID) was stirred up deeply and powerfully. Mission is more than social justice, but not less than compassion and care for those in need. We cannot get out of balance or we end up either with humanism, or a secluded church unwilling to fulfill her work here on earth.

Ultimately, I am so pleased to have this book in my library as a tool for myself and a resource for training other men for the work of leading and planting churches. If, like me, you would love to attend an Acts 29 conference but are restrained by budget and time, this is a great book to meet the need right now. Darrin asks pointed questions, sets the bar high and achieves the purpose of his work:

I think it wholly appropriate to take the opportunity this book affords to directly address men, to “call them out” for their sin and “call them up” to be more than just males. (p.13)

Grab a copy and let me know what you think. If you’re interested in doing a roundtable on this book, leave your name in the comments and a link to your blog and we’ll see what we can do.

I received this book as a review copy from Crossway. Like all good companies, no pressure was exerted by them to secure a favorable review.

GRACENOMICS – Mike Foster – a review

20 Sep

GRACENOMICS by Mike Foster

Format: Digital PDF – review copy

Mike Foster is a nice dude. Mike Foster is a humble dude too. I’ve been enjoying his writing since Deadly Viper first emerged, and watched as he and Jud Wilhite closed down that format of their ministry in response to concerns from some fellow Christians that their use of asian culture was misrepresentative and offensive.

At the time, I was angry that they had been “forced” to close it down, but over time I have seen the beauty of their actions. But having read Mike’s latest book, I’m going even further and seeing the point of view of those offended and am even more grateful for the example of grace that these two guys embodied. GRACENOMICS is about the economy of grace, and the great blessing it is when we live as “the Red Cross relief team for the disasters in people’s personal lives. We’re setting out to be the living, breathing PEZ dispensers of grace for our world.” (p.12) Continue reading