Review of Biblical Doctrine

This book belongs on the shelf or ereader of anyone who has benefited from the preaching and writing ministry of John MacArthur. Biblical Doctrine is a book that truly lives up to its name.

This systematic theology covers all the major categories that would be expected. In every doctrine that is explored and expounded one sees MacArthur’s pastoral heart and eye for application. From the very beginning of this work the importance of doctrine for spiritual growth is emphasized as it says , “Spirituality involves God’s Spirit taking God’s Word and maturing God’s people through the ministry of God’s servant for the spiritual growth of individual believers, which results in the growth of Christ’s body.” The second chapter of the book is in my opinion of the greatest in this work. In this chapter on sees the high view of Scripture that has been the bedrock of MacArthur’s ministry explored and defended.

Whether you agree with MacArthur on every point of doctrine or not you will find this a valuable resource. Each chapter begins with a hymn related to the doctrine addressed and closes with a prayer and recommended resources. The charts found throughout the chapters also add to the usefulness of this work.  I would say if you’re a pastor or student of the Word you can’t go wrong in adding Biblical Doctrine to your library.

Disclosure: I received an 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.

Review of The Resurrection Fact

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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 of Finding Forgiveness

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Finding Forgiveness by author Stanley Gale is a concise and helpful work on the issue of forgiveness. The topic of forgiveness is one of the most important themes in Scripture touching upon the promise of forgiveness in the gospel and extending to our responsibility to forgive others.

In five chapters the author is able to bring much needed clarity to important aspects of forgiveness. In the first chapter addresses the gospel and the joy found in knowing the forgiveness of sin made possible by Christ and his work. In the second chapter the importance of forgiveness in the Christian life is highlighted. Chapter three addresses the actual how of forgiveness addressing how forgiveness is to be practiced in relationships. Chapter four addresses the issue of what makes forgiveness real and genuine. The final chapter addresses the new concept of self-forgiveness.

This book stands out in how the author is able to draw out the principals of forgiveness clearly and concisely while also addressing important misconceptions that have crept into the church. This book would help anyone seeking to understand what biblical forgiveness is.

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.

Review of The Family Life of a Christian Leader

The Family Life of a Christian Leader by Ajith Fernando is a resource that provides a biblical understanding of every aspect family life. While the title may direct it towards Christian leaders, it should be beneficial for any Christian whether they view themselves as a leader or not.

Fernando begins with the foundational truths of family life as they are built on the reality of God. He reminds that family is not a human institution but one divinely ordained. This truth and the fact that God desires to uphold our families is a good incentive to prayer. In the second chapter points to the importance of dying to self in our family relationships. Chapter three provides a biblical understanding of the love we are to have in our families, not the love of the world which is self-serving but the others-focused love which the New Testament calls us to. Chapters four and five focus in on the nature of marriage and the marriage bed. He moves on to address the fact that there is both joy in the family as well as pain and disappointment in the family. The importance of unity and the how to handle conflict in a way that promotes unity is explored. The closing chapters of the book address children in the life of the family.

There are some aspects of this book that are geared specifically for Christian leaders, however most of the instruction found is applicable and needed in the larger Christian culture. Fernando is able to address a wide range of issues in the family in a way that is both encouraging and convicting at times. In my reading I can’t remember a single book that addresses all the areas of family life as well as this one does. I would commend this book to any Christian seeking to understand what the Bible says about our family life as this work reflect a depth of biblical wisdom needed in order to address the issues facing families today.

Disclosure: I received an 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.

Review: Resolving Conflict

Last year was a year that brought many great resources in the field of biblical counseling. One that I was excited  to receive and have been greatly helped by is Resolving Conflict by Lou Priolo.

Lou Priolo’s introduction itself provides as a helpful corrective to current attitudes surrounding conflict. In my experience as a pastor I have seen what Priolo addresses in regards to viewing all conflict as inherently negative. This attitude leads to an unhealthy conflict avoidance which almost always makes problems worse. Rather than be avoided conflicts should be resolved in a biblical manner.

Priolo’s first section addresses the key characteristics that should exist for conflicts to be resolved in a biblical manner those being; humility, gentleness, patience, and loving forbearance. With that foundation laid Priolo looks at the biblical understanding of conflict. He addresses types of conflicts that can occur, the importance of communicating. Priolo examines the unbiblical ways we often handle conflict both in how we internally and externally respond. Priolo makes clear that biblical conflict resolution is hard work which is why it calls for diligence.

If you are a living breathing person you have had to deal with conflict in your life. Much as we try to avoid conflict it still happens. The question is not if conflict will occur at home, work, or in the church the question is how will it be handled. Priolo’s work provides a resource that gets to the heart of how to address conflict in a biblical manner with a desire for unity and peace.

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.

 

Review: The Historical Reliability of the New Testament

In The Historical Reliability of the New Testament scholar and author Craig L. Blomberg has provided a resource that should be in every pastor’s library. Building on his earlier work in defending the historicity of the gospels in The Historical Reliability of the Gospels Blomberg explores the origins and the evidence for the historicity of the books of the New Testament.

Blomberg’s work begins with the Synoptic gospels addressing their formation. Blomberg makes a solid defense of the use of oral traditions by the gospel writers, demonstrating that in the Middle Eastern world in which the gospels were written oral transmission was a reliable way of passing on information. He moves from addressing the supposed contradictions in the gospels showing how they can easily be reconciled if understood properly to addressing the Acts and the ministry of Paul. Blomberg presents a strong defense in favor of Pauline authorship for all of his epistles. Blomberg also addresses the argument that would see a division between Pauline Christianity and the teaching of Jesus, demonstrating Paul’s dependence on the teaching Jesus showing clearly that Paul built on the foundation already laid by Christ himself and was not some religious innovator. I highly recommend the 13th chapter addressing the transmission of the New Testament. In this chapter Blomberg clearly addresses the challenges put forward by Bart Ehrman and shows how weak the claims of Bart Ehrman really are when they use textual variants as a reason to discount the reliability of the Bible.

This isn’t a book you’ll normally read cover to cover, maybe it should be though. Every Christmas and Easter people are inundated with documentaries claiming that the gospels and the New Testaments are suspect in their reliability. As a pastor I believe it is my responsibility to address challenges to the Bible and its truthfulness that might undermine the confidence my hearers have in the Bible. This book is a tool that every pastor should make use if in teaching in preaching. If I were to provide a complaint about this book it would be in regard to binding, I mean who thought it was a good idea to print a reference work of this size as a paperback, hopefully in future printings the publishers will print a version in hardcover.

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.

Review: After 50 Years of Ministry

After 50 Years of Ministry  by Bob Russell is helpful resource drawing from a wealth of pastoral experience. In a day when it seems so many pastors are stumbling and spotlight Bob Russell and the example of his ministry is a refreshing exception.

This book is born out of a reflection upon 50 years of pastoral ministry. Bob Russell in addressing the things he would do differently hits upon important challenges those in ministry face. I would highly commend his chapter on watching less TV to other pastors. It seems that many pastors in my generation want to argue for the liberty they have to watch programs like Game of Thrones, Bob Russell provides a compelling argument why we should not allow that and other content like it to fill our minds and homes. In  addressing the things he would do the same he draws out principals which demonstrate the roots of his pastoral longevity and effectiveness.

Nothing Bob Russell addresses in this book is unique to the reality of ministry in a megachurch. If you’re a pastor of a normative sized church, that is under 200, this book has pastoral wisdom for you. If you pastor a megachurch this is a book for you as well. While I have never sat under his preaching during my time in Louisville I could see the difference Southeast Christian and the ministry of Bob Russell made in the city. Our communities and churches would be blessed greatly by pastors who took seriously the things said in this book.

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.

Review: Becoming a Pastor Theologian

The past two years have brought with them a call to  returning to the historic precedent of the pastor as a theologian. Editors of Becoming a Pastor Theologian, Todd Wilson and Gerald Hiestand,   also released The Pastor Theologian last year which was reviewed here as well. The essays contained in this work are the product of The Center for Pastor Theologians first annual conference which met last year.

The first section of this work has a broad focus on the identities of the pastor theologian, many of which are complimentary and overlapping. Rightly the first identity addressed is that of the pastor theologian as biblical theologian. Leithart demonstrates the importance of being rooted in the Scriptures and provides three horizons for the pastor theologian in biblical theology those being the hermeneutical,   homiletical, and  liturgical. Also of note ,and this is illustrative of the movement of those seeking a resurgence of the role of the pastor-theologian, is the practicality of it all in that pastor-theologians are called to be generalists in human suffering and specialists in death. James K.A. Smith draws on Augustine of what it means for a pastor theologian to be a political theologian, Smith’s understanding of this is a helpful correction to many pastors in his addressing the need for political theologies to shape habit and desire. Vanhoozer’s essay draws on his previous work in focusing on the role of the pastor as public theologian. Hiestand’s chapter draws on the previous title he and Wilson published in calling for the pastor as an ecclesial theologian who does theology not just with the church or the larger public in mind but as with the intention of interacting with other theologians. Wilson’s chapter should be recommended reading for every pastor and every seminary student. I believe there is no greater need for the Church today than for the pastors of churches to cruciform theologians.

The second section of this work draws in historical examples of the pastor theologian. First with Manetch’s work on Calvin. It is easy to forget that Calvin was no ivory tower intellectual, he was one who did his theology in the midst of and for the church. I think most of us will benefit from Philip Graham Ryken’s treatment of Thomas Boston. Boston was an ordinary pastor in a small church, his theological contributions arose from his pastoral ministry. Castaldo highlights the importance of mentoring by drawing from the example of John Henry Newman. A final look is given to Bonhoeffer and his role as a case study of the ecclesial theologian.

The final section addresses the pastor theologian and the Bible and there are three chapters in this section that stand out. Jason Nicholls provides an important look at the pastoral epistles and draws five mandates for the pastor theologian from them. Eric Redmond focuses on the pastor theologian as giver of wisdom, something greatly needed in the realm of theology and the absence of which he clearly highlights. The final chapter looks at John the apostle and what can be learned from his second epistle in regards to creativity in writing theology.

This is a rich resource which compliments previous works in regard to the pastor as theologian. In a  day and age when pastors are encouraged to sell there birthright as theologians for a bowl of pragmatism this book is sorely needed. If you’re a pastor you might fear that expressing a greater interest in theology is impractical, the contributors of this volume prove the contrary that theology essential to the vitality of your ministry. Get this book and read it. I plan on interacting further with several of the chapters further on this blog at a later point in time.

I thank InterVarsity Press for sending me this book and hope it reaches a wide audience.

Review: Saving Calvinism

In Saving Calvinism Oliver Crisp provides an exploration into the diversity of thought in the tradition of Calvinism. This work first and foremost serves as a major correction to anyone who assumes that Calvinism is a monolithic theological system. As a Baptist I am appreciative of other theological traditions be they Calvinist, Wesleyan, and others. Other traditions help us examine theological issues from another perspective and help open our eyes to how our own tradition might bias our interpretation of Scripture.

Crisp begins his work by defining what it means to be Reformed and in what ways Calvinism extends beyond the Reformed tradition. Regarding Calvinism he states, “It is a theological tradition that is broad and deep and that encompasses a range of different views within the bounds of a confessional approach to the Christian life, not all of which are commensurate with all of these five points, or theological emphases, though they are representative of much in that tradition.” One cannot make sense of church history without making some allowance for diversity within the tradition of Calvinism. In the following chapters Crisp explores issues ranging from election, free will, universalism, and the nature and extent of the atonement.

I think the most helpful chapters in this work are chapters three, four, and six. In his third chapter he contrasts Jonathan Edwards understanding of the will, which is the one most often adopted by those espousing Calvinism, with that of John Giradeau who held that in some areas of life human beings do have the power of contrary choice. Giradeau’s view of the will seems to parallel that found in confessional Lutheranism.  In chapter three Crisp contrasts hopeful universalism and optimistic particularism. He cites Warfield and Shedd as examples of those who held to optimistic particularism as seen in their belief that all who are incapable of making a rational choice about faith in Christ will be saved, which I should note is distinct the Westminster Confession of Faith which argues only for the salvation of elect infants. Chapter six provides a cogent look into the long history hypothetical universalism has had within Calvinism, hypothetical universalism being the position that accepts the death of Christ being sufficient for all.

Whether Calvinist or not Crisp provides a look at the history of some key doctrines with which every Christian tradition must address at some point and the implications that possible responses have. I think one of Crisp’s greatest strengths is his appeal to mystery. What many Calvinists and nonCalvinists do not make allowance for is the fact that some things are still a mystery to us and are not fully explained in Scripture. I do believe the greatest weakness of the work is his unwillingness to declare some beliefs beyond orthodoxy such as universalism.

Disclosure: I received an egalley 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.

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Review: When Trouble Comes

When Trouble Comes

Suffering is not optional in life and because of that we should be prepared to walk through suffering and to minister to those who are suffering. In When Trouble Comes Phil Ryken walks through some of the most important examples of those who went through suffering in the pages of Scripture drawing out application for today from the accounts.

Ryken in his prologue addresses a particularly dark period in his life in which he battled despair.This is helpful in that often times it easy to in a way dehumanize those who are looked up to as leaders and seeing them as being immune to the sufferings common people go through. In considering the individuals examined it becomes clear that Ryken has a purpose in the variety, and that purpose is to explore the broadness of suffering. People don’t suffer in just one way and in one set of circumstances. We see the suffering that comes through addressing  sin and guilt in awareness of the holiness of God as reflected in Isaiah’s experience. We are minded that those areas we might think ourselves most gifted and faithful in might be the place where sin and guilt are most present. We see the crushing reality of discouragement and despair as well as the comfort and patience of God in Elijah’s life. From David, Job, Mary, Jesus and to Paul we are driven to a greater understanding of suffering and what God might be doing in the midst of our suffering. Most importantly Ryken leaves readers with hope as they prepare for suffering.

Suffering has come. In your church there are people walking through suffering. Suffering will come. Your life might seem like it is going smoothly but that doesn’t change the fact someday you will suffer. You might hear devastating news from your doctor, stand at the grave of a spouse or child, or be confronted by the true depths of your sinfulness before a holy and righteous God. When it comes you don’t want to find yourself to either walk through suffering or to walk alongside those who are suffering. Read and reflect on the realities of God and suffering in this book.

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. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html