How Does Sanctification Work?: A Review

How does Sanctification Work? by David Powlison

In this latest title from David Powlison he  addresses one area of the Christian life that is often deeply misunderstood with the clarity and biblical insight that mark his previous books.

Powlison in the early portions of the book ably addresses the careful balance between the biblical promise of sanctification and the biblical commands concerning our pursuit of sanctification. As Powlsion notes often we can become unbalanced in our view of sanctification and must seek to re-balance it in light of Scripture. Powlison helpfully reminds readers that there are multiples avenues by which God brings about sanctification in our lives. Powlison provides multiples case studies including his own personal experience demonstrating how sanctification practically works in the life of a believer.

I do think in addressing the subject of sanctification attention to distorted views such as Keswick theology and Christian Perfectionism would have greatly contributed to the value of the book. Those understandings of sanctification are still prevalent in evangelicalism and have demonstrably caused great harm driving believers to dispair rather than a hopeful pursuit of conformity to Christ. With that aside I do think this is one of the most helpful resources on sanctification I have come across. This book is greatly helped by the fact that Powlison provides personal examples to help readers better see and understanding the process of sanctification.

Disclosure: I received a review ecopy of the book from the publisher for the purpose of reviewing it. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review.


Eats With Sinners: A Review

Eats with Sinners by Arron Chambers

Arron Chambers in this book, that arose from a sermon series that made a great impact on the church he pastors, draws on the example of Christ in the gospels in pointing readers in how to practically engage the lost.

In this book Chambers draws out thirteen characteristics that marked Jesus and his outreach to sinners. In his chapter on urgency Chambers makes the argument that the church in America largely lacks a sense of urgency to reach out to the lost, whereas Jesus instilled a sense of urgency in his disciples in pointing out the harvest is ready. This also ties into his last chapter on vision, too often we don’t see or care to see the lost around us which in turn kills our sense of urgency.

More than a book on evangelism and outreach this book gives us a reminder of what Christ’s character was like in his earthly ministry. I think far too often our evangelism is stifled by the simple fact that we are not striving to be like the one who saved us by His grace. This book has far greater implications than simply evangelism as it touches upon qualities that are essential for us to be fruitful believers.

Disclosure: I received a review copy of the book from the publisher for the purpose of reviewing it. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review.

Never Settle for Normal -A Review


Never Settle for Normal

Jonathan Parnell addresses the core desires of the human heart and faithfully shows how Christ is the answer to the longings of the heart.

In the early chapters of this book begins with the basics of God our fallen condition. Drawing from Romans, Parnell shows how we as fallen sinners have suppressed, stolen and supplanted the truth of God’s glory for lies. Lies that we are all to quick to accept and spread. In the following chapters  Parnell points us to Jesus, who he is an what he has done to rescue us from the penalty of sin and death and in exchange calling us to life of joy and significance.

Parnell’s writing is thoroughly biblical and Augustinian in its outlook. Reading it one cannot help remember Augustine’s famous quote from Confessions “Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in thee.” As Parnell demonstrates there is no rest, no joy, and no significance outside of life in and with Christ, a life that proves to be anything but normal.

If you know someone trying to better understand Christianity this would be a great book to put in their hands.

Disclosure: I received a review copy of the book from the publisher for the purpose of reviewing it. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review.

Review of The Heart of the Church

The Heart of the Gospel, part of Joe Thorn’s three part series on the church, focuses in on  the most important aspect of the church the gospel. Thorn in his introduction demonstrates the fact that one of the primary problems the church has is the fact that it is not driven by the gospel which should be the central driving force of the church.

This book is comprised of three parts divided into twelve short and easy to read chapters. In the first section of this book Thorn addresses the gospel as the central theme running from Old to New Testament. In the closing two chapters of the first part the life, death and resurrection of Jesus are addressed. The third part of this book addresses the doctrinal truths of the gospel beginning with justification and its consequences and ending with sanctification and good works. The final section addresses the character and nature of God as revealed in the gospel.

Of the books in this series I think this one stands as the most important as it reminds pastors and church leaders of the central place the gospel is to have in the church, a place that it does not have in many churches. Without the gospel being central the aspects of character and life will never be what they need to be. In a day where there is increasing abandonment of the biblical gospel Thorn has given the church a wake up call to the supreme importance of the gospel, the whole gospel, for the very existence of the church.

Disclosure: I received a review copy of the book from the publisher for the purpose of reviewing it. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review.

Review of The Resurrection Fact


The Resurrection Fact edited by John Bombaro and Adam Fransisco, released in time for Easter this year, provides an excellent defense of the resurrection of Christ against some of the more recent challengers.

A wide range of contributors address key objections to the resurrection, for example Mark Pierson provides excellent insight in historical matters surrounding the death and resurrection of Christ. Contrary to many skeptics the best historical evidence does demonstrate that it would be unlikely for Jesus body to have been left for scavengers. He did die and He was buried. Many of the chapters a list of recommended resources to dig deeper. Reading the modern ideas put forward in challenge to the resurrection of Christ it becomes clearly that the alternative explanations such as the swoon theory, mass hallucination, etc. all require a blind faith that ignores the clear historical evidence surrounding Christ.

Overall this book provides a good defense of the resurrection with each contributors demonstrating attention to details. I think this book would be a good one to place in the hands of students today as many will be confronted with objections that parallel those dealt with in this book.

Disclosure: I received an advanced review copy of the book from the publisher for the purpose of reviewing it. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review.

Review: Christ All Sufficient

A great frustration I have with many modern commentaries is the amount of space given to interacting with secondary sources as opposed to the text itself. Brian Hedges in Christ All Sufficient: An Exposition of Colossians avoids that and addresses the text first and foremost.

In ten chapters Hedges expounds the text of Colossians balancing doctrinal insight with an eye towards application. As Hedges notes while this is not a technical commentary, at the same time it isn’t what one would could consider a devotional commentary. This is commentary that is readily accessible to the everyday believer as well as a useful for any pastor working through this epistle. Hedges work is not overly dependent on secondary sources. Hedges makes clear the day to day implications this epistle has, especially the believers responsibility to live under Christ’s lordship as He is the all sufficient Lord of the Church who has reconciled the Church to himself through his shed blood.

I believe there is a great need for more resources like the one Hedges has provided here. There is in this exposition a laser focus on the text, which as I noted is rare to find in commentaries. Hedges also helps the reader think through issues of application while taking into account the cultural differences between our contemporary society and that of the Colossians. If you’re looking for a resource on Colossians that isn’t overly technical or a fluff commentary I would commend this resource to you.

Disclosure: I received a copy of the book from the publisher for the purpose of reviewing it. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review.

3 Thoughts for Thursday


This morning as I  saw some of the feedback concerning the debate and the election. Three thoughts occurred to me in regards to evangelical fears/concerns in regards to this election. Here they are:

1) What if we lose our religious liberty?

There is a great amount of fear among evangelicals regarding the issue of religious liberty in light of the presidential candidates. I think those most afraid are probably those least aware of the origins of Christianity. Just for reminder being a Christian means you claim to be a follower of the crucified Christ. We follow the Jesus who said this, “Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours(John 15:20).” The Christian religion is the only one that is practiced best in situations of persecution. If religious protections are removed we just might get to see in America what authentic New Testament Christianity looks like. A simple survey of the Bible would demonstrate the only way to avoid persecution in this age is to compromise our faith, as Paul says “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived (2 Ti 3:12–13).” If we have Jesus we stand to lose nothing, no prison, no fine, no death sentence can separate us from the love of God in Christ. Fear not we have a God whose strength is made perfect in our weakness and religion the beauty of which is not clouded by persecution.

2) What about abortion?

The first Christians lived in a culture where the prevailing pagan mindset believed it was entirely acceptable to leave unwanted infants to die of exposure. They did not just complain of the evil and compromise of the world, they did something. Many of the early Christian apologists pointed to how Christians rescued those left to die of exposure as a proof of the genuineness of their faith. If all we do is talk about abortion and vote for candidates that profess to be pro-life we aren’t doing anything. Abortion was widespread even when illegal. We need to follow the example of the church and do something in addition to voting. We need to support our local crisis pregnancy, not just verbally but with our time and resources. We need to do everything we can to support those who seek to adopt babies that would be aborted. Talk is cheap. Let us love the unborn not in word alone but in deed and in truth.

3)You say you want a revolution…

It seems like a lot of people feel if ______ wins we should revolt. That’s not a Christian response. The only commands I see written in the context of corrupt tyrants is that the people of God are to pray for them and be subject to them. You want a revolution? Share the gospel, it will turn the world upside down. Be different, be holy, don’t be angry, don’t afraid. I close with Peter’s admonition to a church about to enter a fiery trial:

 Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good?  But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled,  but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect,  having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.  For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil(1 Pe 3:13–17).”

Spurgeon: A Model of Faithful Ministry

Charles Spurgeon stands above most other preachers in church history  and is still remembered today as the Prince of Preachers. Therefore it would be foolish for any minister to ignore the example and model of Spurgeon as a preacher of the gospel. Misconceptions have also surrounded the pulpit ministry of Spurgeon. Some have thought Spurgeon to be a lighthearted huckster in the pulpit, the truth is far from that. Dalimore says of Spurgeon:

In his regular Sunday work, he spent some time before the beginning of the services alone with God, feeling the awesome responsibility of preaching the gospel to lost mankind and pouring out his soul in prayer. On some occasions he seemed unable to go out and stand before the people, and the deacons found it necessary almost to lift him from his knees as the moment for commencing the service drew near…He preached with confidence, with clear instruction and heart-felt pleading, but as soon as the service was concluded he hastened away to his vestry, there to groan out before God his sense of failure (Arnold Dalmore, Spurgeon: A New Biography, p. 77)

We ought to emulate Spurgeon in how we view preaching. So often we are tempted in the ministry to be flippant and lighthearted when it ought not be so. Rather then trying to defuse the seriousness of the gospel and all that it entails we should embrace it as Spurgeon did. Our demeanor must reflect the weightiness of the gospel and the great value of the souls of the men and women to whom we are preaching the unsearchable riches of God in the person of Christ. Another area in preaching that we must emulate Spurgeon is in his Christ-centered preaching. It is easy to begin with a text that does not mention Christ by name and to do the same or tack Christ and the gospel on to the end of the message, this should not be so because all Scripture is a testimony to Him. In his work The Soul Winner Spurgeon says:

I believe that those sermons which are fullest of Christ are the most likely to be blessed to the conversion of the hearers. Let your sermons be full of Christ, from beginning to end crammed full of the gospel. As for myself, brethren, I cannot preach anything else but Christ and His cross, for I know nothing else, and long ago, like the apostle Paul, I determined not to know anything else save Jesus Christ and Him crucified. People have often asked me, “What is the secret of your success?” I always answer that I have no other secret but this, that I have preached the gospel,—not about the gospel, but the gospel,—the full, free, glorious gospel of the living Christ who is the incarnation of the good news (Charles Spurgeon, The Soul Winner, p. 106).

There is much ministerial wisdom in what Spurgeon says here about the content of a sermon. For Spurgeon the call to make sermons full of Christ was not rhetoric but the life blood of his ministry. One can read any of his sermons and find it filled with reference to the saving work of Christ. If we are to see spiritual health in our church, and see change wrought by the message then we must imitate Spurgeon’s faithfulness in lifting up and exalting Christ in every sermon.

Afraid to Come Clean

William Cowper begins his famous hymn “There is a Fountain Filled with Blood” with the words, “There is a fountain filled with blood drawn from Emmanuel’s veins; And sinners plunged beneath that flood lose all their guilty stains.” This week I’ve realized something about my two toddlers that I think applies to people in general. What I’ve realized is that they have an aversion to coming clean. To elaborate the normal routine for a diaper change is first to track down the culprit creating noxious fumes, second comes the high speed chase through the house, and finally when the criminal toddler is cornered comes the screams of denial and usually accusations of the other sibling. For some strange reason they don’t want to be in a clean diaper. They don’t want to be clean. Jesus promises us in the gospel cleansing and forgiveness. In 1 John 1:9 we are told “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” We don’t want to be clean. For some reason either because of our pride, shame, or love of darkness we run from the light when cleanness is promised. There’s joy in being made clean though C.S. Lewis in The Voyage of the Dawntreader illustrates this through Eustace who is cleansed of his dragon scales. Eustace describes his experience:

The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart.
And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt.
The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off. . . .

Sin stinks worse then a dirty diaper, sin will drive others away from you quicker then a soiled diaper, cuteness can make the stink of a diaper a little more bearable, there’s nothing cute about sin. The question for you is what makes you afraid of coming clean?

Cheap grace and a theology of glory


I have several heroes from church history. Two of them happen to be Martin Luther and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. If you could ask them what was wrong with evangelicalism, particularly in America, I am confident they would respond cheap grace and a theology of glory. We’ve bought into the lies of the world and fallen in line with the old Adam, thinking we know better then God. At the same time we’ve made grace, religion, and Christ something to market and sell rather then exult in and receive. Bonhoeffer begins his masterwork The Cost of Discipleship with an explanation of cheap grace. The following are some particularly pointed insights:

Cheap grace means grace sold on the market like cheapjacks’ wares…Cheap grace means grace as a doctrine, a principle, a system…Cheap grace means the justification of sin without the justification of the sinner…Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.(pages 43-44)

What is called evangelicalism has for the most part lost the evangel. In many churches messages are preached with little or no mention of the saving work of Christ. Men and women are given an invitation to follow a Jesus they do not know and never warned to count the cost of discipleship. H. Richard Niebuhr put it well when he said, “A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross.” He said that of the liberal social gospel, but now it is true of evangelicalism for the most part. We have bought into what Luther called long ago a theology of glory. Luther explains the theology of glory in the following:

Now it is not sufficient for anyone, and it does him no good to recognize God in his glory and majesty, unless he recognizes him in the humility and shame of the cross. Thus God destroys the wisdom of the wise, as Isa. [45:15] says, “Truly, thou art a God who hidest thyself.”

So, also, in John 14[:8], where Philip spoke according to the theology of glory: “Show us the Father.” Christ forthwith set aside his flighty thought about seeing God elsewhere and led him to himself, saying, “Philip, he who has seen me has seen the Father” [John 14:9]. For this reason true theology and recognition of God are in the crucified Christ, as it is also stated in John [14:6 and] 10[:9] “No one comes to the Father, but by me.” “I am the door,” and so forth (Thesis 20).

We want to know God only in his glory and majesty, we don’t want to know him in suffering and in the shadow of the cross. We want a Christ without a cross, at least without the cross of the New Testament world. We’ll take the cross as an ornament and a decoration but not as the instrument of death and suffering that it is. For today I’ll close with Luther’s observation regarding the rejection of the cross by a theology of glory. Luther says:

This is clear: He who does not know Christ does not know God hidden in suffering. Therefore he prefers works to suffering, glory to the cross, strength to weakness, wisdom to folly, and, in general, good to evil. These are the people whom the apostle calls “enemies of the cross of Christ” [Phil. 3:18], for they hate the cross and suffering and love works and the glory of works. Thus they call the good of the cross evil and the evil of a deed good. God can be found only in suffering and the cross, as has already been said. Therefore the friends of the cross say that the cross is good and works are evil, for through the cross works are destroyed and the old Adam, who is especially edified by works, is crucified. It is impossible for a person not to be puffed up by his good works unless he has first been deflated and destroyed by suffering and evil until he knows that he is worthless and that his works are not his but God’s.                    (Thesis 21)