Thursday, February 26, 2015

The Thrill of Hope

The Thrill of Hope by Bruce Green

Pastor Bruce Green has given his readers an accessible and hope-filled look at the sometimes puzzling Book of Revelation.  Bruce writes, “In the same way, Revelation was written to show Christians there’s no power like hope.  As John will demonstrate, Satan is the ultimate evil and force behind Rome (14).”  There is both a historical rootedness concerning John’s Epistle and a spiritual battle taking place that John sees in his vision that Bruce seeks to capture. 

Speaking of the “testimony of Jesus” in Revelation 1:9, Bruce remarks that, “Revelation is a bugle call breaking through the haze and chaos of battle urging them not to retreat from the front lines, but to keep their banners raised high for Jesus (29).”  Bruce takes the description of John’s presence on Patmos “on account of the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus” to be indicative of John’s faithful witness to God by which he has been exiled to Patmos (28).  This kind of battle ready witness for the faith is evident throughout the epistle as John gives warning to his readers to stand ready.

What I also really enjoyed about this book is Bruce’s interpretive strategy in interpreting Revelation.  He writes, “John is telling us that God made the message known by signifying it through His angel by John.  This is of critical importance because we’re entering a book of pictures, symbols, and representations.  To try to literalize them is to disregard what we’ve been told; its’ to ignore the instructions we’ve been given (36).”  Understanding the apocalyptic nature of Revelation is to see that John had in mind symbols that pointed to concrete realities in his ministry but also figures that pointed beyond him to the futre. 

Overall, I think this was a very good resource on the book of Revelation.  With research backed by the work of Bauckham, Gorman, Aune, and others, you can tell that Bruce has done his research.

Thanks to Book Crash and Start 2 Finish Books for the copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Cosmos Reborn

Cosmos Reborn by John Crowder

At the outset I was impressed by John’s Trinitarian focus, his insistence on the love of God, and his interaction with such theologians as Barth, Torrance, and C. Robert Capon.  There is true sense that John is seeking to focus our attention on the who (Jesus Christ) rather than the explaining the “how,” or how it all works out in a nice an neat theological system.  I also appreciate John’s insistence, though somewhat misguided due to his criticism on law, that God’s love is what compelled him to send his Son to the Cross for us.

Yet, there are some major problems with this book regarding the areas of penal substitution, hell, and God’s love.

One, John excoriates and hates the idea of penal substitution, something that he calls theological garbage (52).  Why?  Because he does not believe that God the Father abandoned the Son on the cross and that sin has deafened our ears and hearts to God but not separated us from him, rather separation from God is just an illusion (58).  John then goes on to set up this torturous relationship between Jesus and the angry, legalistic Father as portraying penal substitution.  I don’t know of a single evangelical author who sees this dualistic relationship between God the Father and the Son as portraying penal substitution.  Rather, the main problem with this chapter on penal substitution is John’s scant references to the OT and his failure to understand Leviticus as providing the background to this teaching.  Also, most evangelical authors would agree that God’s wrath is an extension of his love and yet there is room to understand this being wrath being poured out on the Son.

Further, John sees the Old Covenant, particularly the law as a system of sin management (210).  There are rules and prescriptions for life, worship, and family, but the main emphasis was on holiness that was to be followed out of praise for what God had done.  Look at the Ten Commandments, before God ever gets into the nitty gritty of their prescriptions he declares first that, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery (Exodus 20.2).”   The redemption is mentioned, the saving work of God is noted and then he gives commandments on how to live.  John is right in pointing out that Christ is the substance and fulfillment of the OT laws but goes too far in labeling the legal system a sin management system. 

I was lifted up by John’s view of Jesus but overall I think the book is a reimagining of the faith that leaves out too much faithful teaching. 

Thanks to Speak Easy and Sons of Thunder Ministries and Publication for the review copy of this book.

Samuel Rutherford

Samuel Rutherford by Richard M. Hannula

The great Reformer Samuel Rutherford displayed a remarkable theological vision for Scotland that many could not handle or control.  Principal Richard M. Hannula in his new bitesize biography of Rutherford outlines the major events and fiery personality of Rutherford that commends readers to see him as a gospel believing man seeking to defend the purity of the church.

 After being appointed as Professor of Humanities in 1623, Rutherford was right in the midst of a squabble with King James who sought to alight the Church of Scotland with more Anglican practices (Five Articles of Perth), for these practices were deemed unbiblical by the more Presbyterian group in the church.  He fought tirelessly against King James and his bishops who forced non-biblical tradition upon them.  At one point, Bishop Sydserff summoned Rutherford to his side and demanded that he conform to episcopacy and renounce his Presbyterian forms of worship and governance (53).  The commission that Rutherford faced at Edinburgh was not happy with attack on Arminianism and his failure to adhere to the worship ceremonies of the episcopacy.  His was thus exiled to Aberdeen with no hopes of returning to the church that he loved.

Yet, his loss was only temporary, after two years of petitioning Scottish leaders and Presbyterian who defied episcopacy and the king’s control of the church, there was at last victory through the National Covenant, a document signed by over 1,000 Scottish ministers.  This document was to ensure that the king would not take over the church and outlined what these Scottish faithful believed and what were errors (72-74).  The gauntlet had been thrown down as Rutherford traveled from exile to Edinburgh to see what was happening amongst his people.

For all the amazing things that happened in the life of Samuel Rutherford, Hannula points to the beauty of his love for the people in his ministry.  He writes, “Through tireless visitation, Rutherford grew intimately acquainted with his people, learning their strengths and failings and the challenges of their daily lives.  He discovered how to best minister to them in the pulpit and in private conversation.  Soon a deep bond of love formed between the pastor and his congregation (31).”  This bond of love would lead him back to Anwoth after his exile in Aberdeen.  He was a man who called people to believe in Christ, to lay down their lives for him.

This was an amazing short biography of Scottish Reformer Samuel Rutherford.

Thanks to EP Books and Cross Focused Reviews for the copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Salt, Light and Cities on Hills

Salt, Light and Cities on Hills: Evangelism, Social Action and the Church by Melvin Tinker

The uneasy relationship between social justice and evangelism has troubled evangelicals for some time.  The desire to focus on social justice issues as primary puts evangelicals in a bind because they often feel that evangelism and gospel believing proclamation is lost.  Yet, as Pastor Melvin Tinker points out that there should not be a strong division between the two if we rightly understand the good news of Jesus Christ.

Broadening the landscape of social action and evangelism, Tinker gives us a historical snapshot in the first chapter surrounding these issues in Britain in the 19th and 20th centuries.  With some groups, social action was carried out with little or no biblical basis (24), yet others such as D. Marty-Lloyd Jones were convinced that the Kingdom of God, the salvation of souls was primary and Christian witness in the halls of justice were second (24-26).  There is an uneasiness in the history of evangelical thought regarding social action from Stott to Jones, and this is no more apparent in their writings. 

In chapter 3, Tinker looks at Reformers and Radicals with special attention to John Wesley and William Wilberforce.  As for Wesley, Tinker writes,

“…Wesley’s impressive endeavours in promoting social action, working towards slavery abolition, 
ameliorating the effects of liquor and gambling abuse, promoting literacy and education amongst the poor,…arose from a Spirit-fired application of the following fundamental Christian doctrines: (1) Our unity and responsibilities as creatures before the Creator, (2) The corruption of the will by sin, so that all social problems are fundamentally spiritual, (3) the principle of stewardship and the future judgment to come.  At no point did Wesley conceive social action as possessing the same theological weight or primacy as Gospel proclamation, although the latter entailed the former (39).”

We know from Wesley’s itinerant ministry that he preached as much as 4 times a day and ceaselessly went from town to town telling all people about Jesus Christ.  Yet, he did not deny that people needed to read, that alcohol wrecked lives, and that slavery should be abolished.  In fact, his gospel proclamation undergirded his social action activity.

Dr. Tinker shares of his personal experience in church at how social action and gospel truth go hand in hand.  He speak of both debt counselling and ESL, especially for people from Easter European countries (112).  Melvin makes a point to mention that this work is long term work, work that takes much time and much effort from many volunteers.  Yet, Melvin never mixes up the priorities of gospel proclamation and social activity in the church. 

Thanks to Cross Focused Reviews and EP Books for the copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Romans 8-16 For You by Tim Keller

Romans 8-16 For You Edited From the Study by Timothy Keller

This second installment on Romans from the pen of Pastor and Author Timothy J. Keller is a winsome and careful reflection on Paul’s Epistle to the Romans.  Adding to his wise comments on Romans 8-16 is an excellent appendix on God’s Sovereignty and Election, which in a few pages covers objections to election but focuses also on the free actions of human beings.  By giving us a short snippet of election from a whole Bible perspective, Keller helps us see this grand doctrine through the story of Scripture. 

In the opening lines of commenting on Romans 8.4, Keller singles out what Christ’s work does for us by writing, “Everything Christ did for us was in order that we might live a holy life” (15).  Therefore, the aim and purpose of Jesus’ entire life, death, and ministry was to push us toward a holy life, one that would live not under the weight of condemnation but under the guidance of the life-giving Holy Spirit.  How does this take place?  In the next few pages Keller bears mentioning that as we set our minds upon the Spirit, we are able fight sin and temptation from a renewed mind, and as we do so this frees us from the feeling that mustering up more courage is the answer.

Taking up the weak and strong believers in Romans 14.1-23 up for discussion, Keller points out the real significance of the debate in the church.   He writes, “The “weak” are any Christians who tend to promote and regard non-essential cultural and ceremonial customs as being critical for Christian maturity and effectiveness.  For example, the older generation in a particular church might feel very superior to the younger folk who like contemporary music in their worship….Thus they have taken the issue of taste, custom, or culture and elevated it to an abiding, trans-cultural mark of spiritual maturity” (149).  Spiritual maturity based upon non-essential customs generally pushes division and dissension in the church and rarely points to the unity that Christ died for among believers.

Lastly, you won’t want to miss the appendix on God’s sovereignty and election.  Rejecting fatalism, the Islam notion on “kismet” and any other philosophy that would deem human actions wholly insignificant, Keller writes, “Our choices have consequences and we are never forced by God to do anything other than what we want.  Yet God works out his will perfectly through our willing actions.  It is a marvel” (201)! This concept of compatibilism is common in the ranks of evangelical authors from D.A. Carson and others.  Keller goes onto to point out a most interesting thing, that, “The doctrine of election is necessary to preserve the doctrine of justification” (209).  In other words, without election we open up ourselves to all kinds of interpretations that find our humility or goodness as a reason for God’s choosing, rather than resting in God’s unmerited free grace in salvation.

This is an essential book in understanding Romans 8-16.  Though not technical or academic, the truth of God’s Word shines through as you read through these pages.

Thanks to the good book company and Cross Focused Reviews for the copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.