Crossway’s Book Reviews – Beyond the Page

gtb_banner_ad_homeToday Crossway launched, Beyond the Page, their new book review program. Go check it out and get yourself some ebook titles from Crossway!

An Infinite Journey – at a great price

41JoIR10VHL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA278_PIkin4,BottomRight,-60,22_AA300_SH20_OU01_Andy Davis’, An Infinite Journey: Growing Toward Christlikeness (Ambassador International, 2013), is on sale for $4.99 in the Kindle version. Get it! It is worth every penny when it is full price. Davis does a masterful job of discussing Christian maturity in all aspects of our being.

 

From the Publisher

After we’ve come to faith in Christ, God leaves us in this world for a very clear purpose: his own glory. But how are we to glorify God for the rest of our lives? The Bible reveals that God has laid before every Christian two infinite journeys which we are to travel every day: the internal journey of growth into Christlike maturity, and the external journey of worldwide evangelism and missions. This book is a road map for the internal journey, laying out how we are to grow in four major areas: knowledge, faith, character, and action. In this book, we’ll learn how God grows us in knowledge, faith, character, and action. We’ll also discover that spiritual knowledge constantly feeds our growing faith, faith will transform our character, our transformed character will result in an array of actions more and more glorifying to God, and our actions will feed our spiritual knowledge. This upward spiral will lead us to become more and more like Jesus Christ in holiness. And not only will this book help us understand Christian growth in detail, it will also give us a passion to grow every day for his glory.

Endorsement

Rarely have I read a book on sanctification that is simultaneously serious and fresh, at once reflective and accessible. Andy Davis combines analytical astuteness with pastoral passion. Those who think of themselves as Christians but who have no desire to grow in holiness need this book; Christians who want to be increasingly conformed to Christ will cherish this book. – Dr. D. A. Carson Research Professor of New Testament Trinity Evangelical Divinity School

Spurgeon’s Standards for Conversion and Membership

From the Reformation 21 blog (and I couldn’t agree more):

POSTED BY JEREMY WALKER
I hope that I will be able at some point to provide a review of Tom Nettles’ excellent volume, Living for Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles Haddon Spurgeon (pastors and preachers, you need this book, and can get it at Amazon.com,Amazon.co.ukWestminster).

In the meantime, there are a couple of threads from the book that it is profitable to weave together. Spurgeon was adamant that the door to the church be well-guarded, and had a carefully-developed system whereby converts applying for membership were graciously but robustly assessed by elders, himself, and the whole congregation. He did not rush people into professions of faith, baptism and church membership (indeed, he had some distaste for the inquiry room as potentially exerting a pressure beyond that of the Holy Spirit’s work on the heart of a sinner).

At two separate points in the book, Nettles shows how – at times of particular evangelistic endeavour, as well as during the more regular procedures of church life – the saints were encouraged to make a thoughtful and scriptural assessment of a man’s standing with God and prospective relationship with the local church.

With regard to conversion,

counselors of inquirers looked for three pivotal evidences of true conversion. One focused on the nature of the individual’s perception of his sin and dependence on the work of Christ. Did the inquirer seem to have a clear and distinct and abiding sense of the seriousness of his offense toward God, a healthy remorse for that sin, a desire to turn from it and cease such offensive behavior toward God; did he also recognize that God was willing to receive him through the atonement made by Christ and through that alone? Second, did the present determination of the person’s soul indicate a clear intention to live for Christ and overcome the opposing forces of the world; did he feel the urgency of seeing others escape from the wrath to come? Three, with a full knowledge of his own unworthiness and his full dependence on God, did the person have some knowledge of the doctrines of grace and that mercy was the fountain from which his salvation flowed? (310-11)

Then, with a great deal of common ground, here is the expectation for church membership:

Arnold Dallimore’s examination of this book [called the Inquirers {sic} Books, in which interviewing elders recorded their comments] showed that the entire interview process centered on the determination of three things. One, is there clear evidence of dependence on Christ for salvation? This involved a clear and felt knowledge of sin and a deep sense of the necessity of the cross. Two, does the candidate exhibit a noticeable change of character including a desire for pleasing God and a desire for others to believe the gospel? Three, is there some understanding of, with a submission to, the doctrines of grace? The only effective antithesis to merit salvation, in Spurgeon’s view, was a knowledge of utter dependence on divine mercy. (248)

Perhaps, in our day, we are not always sure what we should be looking for in the heart and life of men and women who profess faith in the Lord Jesus. Far too many churches, perhaps feeling the pressure of numbers or some other force, are inclined to drop their standards or blur their distinctions, if they have them in the first place. In the face of that, these standards seem to me to be thoroughly biblical, genuinely gracious, and appropriately robust. They combine doctrinal understanding, experimental religion, and principled obedience – a religion of head, heart and hand, if you will. If more congregations embraced a righteous assessment of this sort with regard to professing converts and applicants for membership, I am persuaded that they would be spiritually healthier places than they too often are.

POSTED JANUARY 9, 2014 @ 6:12 AM BY JEREMY WALKER

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Highly recommended additional resources on church membership:

Clinton Arnold, “EARLY CHURCH CATECHESIS AND NEW CHRISTIANS’ CLASSES IN CONTEMPORARY EVANGELICALISM,” JETS 47/1 (March 2004): 39–54.

Jonathan Leeman, The Church and the Surprising Offense of God’s Love (Crossway).

J. I. Packer, Taking God Seriously: Vita Things We Need to Know (Crossway). Packer provides the basics we need to teach to every new member who enters the church. This work is very enjoyable and easy to read. Packer’s small work can take the guesswork out of a New Members course.

 

President Obama’s Less Visible Faith

altCHURCH-popupIn considering Ashley Parker’s, “As the Obamas Celebrate Christmas, Rituals of Faith Become Less Visible,” (NYT, December 28, 2013), I really can’t say that I’m surprised about President Obama’s meager public expression of a Christian faith.  Yes, his job is different from any other job in the country. But let’s not be disingenuous: A daily “devotional” reading, an annual prayer call, and the infrequent paraphrasing of one Old Testament verse (or even a few verses) are not reflective of any depth of faith at all, especially when such a devotion (to God?) only leads one to corporate worship 18 times in five years, and when given a choice, college basketball (on TV, no less!) is a more attractive option. Saying that the President’s practical piety and Sunday church attendance mirror a trend in the country is to say that the President is no different from your average religious, American sinner. It is a backhanded way of saying he is not a man of Christian faith.

How to Change Your Mind

From The Gospel Coalition Blog: How to Change Your Mind.

JOE CARTER|1:41 PM CT

How to Change Your Mind

The beginning of a New Year is an an excellent time to try something new. As you make your list of resolutions and goals I want to recommend adding a simple four step process that could transform your life by, quite literally, changing your mind.

change-your-mindAfter reading the entire post the vast majority of readers will snicker at such a hyperbolic claim and never implement the method I outline. A smaller number will consider the advice intriguing, my assertion only a slight exaggeration, but will also never implement the method. A tiny minority, however, will recognize the genius behind the process and apply it to their own life. This group will later say that my claim was an understatement.

This post is written for those people.

A few years ago I stumbled across a variation of the four steps in an article by theologian Fred Sanders and implemented his recommendation that day. I later had the pleasure of meeting Sanders in person and telling him how his post had transformed my life. My hope is that at least one other person will follow this advice and experience the same transformative effect.

Before I reveal the four steps I want to reiterate that while the advice could transform your life, it likely will not. As with most life-altering advice, it is simple, easy to implement, and even easier to ignore. Statistically speaking, the odds are great that you’ll ignore this advice. But a handful of you will try it so for the one or two people who will find this useful, the four steps that will transform your worldview are:

1. Choose a book of the Bible.

2. Read it in its entirety.

3. Repeat step #2 twenty times.

4. Repeat this process for all books of the Bible.

Christians often talk about having a Biblical worldview yet most have only a rudimentary knowledge of the Bible. They attempt to build a framework without first gathering the lumber and cement needed to create a solid foundation. The benefits of following this process should therefore be obvious. By fully immersing yourself into the text you’ll come to truly know the text. You’ll deepen your understanding of each book and knowledge of the Bible as a whole.

Since this method is adapted from a book by James M. Gray (1851-1935), How to Master the English Bible I’ll let him explain in his own words:

The first practical help I ever received in the mastery of the English Bible was from a layman. We were fellow-attendants at a certain Christian conference or convention and thrown together a good deal for several days, and I saw something in his Christian life to which I was a comparative stranger—peace, a rest, a joy, a kind of spiritual poise I knew little about. One day I ventured to ask him how he had become possessed of the experience, when he replied, “By reading the epistle to the Ephesians.” I was surprised, for I had read it without such results, and therefore asked him to explain the manner of his reading, when he related the following: He had gone into the country to spend the Sabbath with his family on one occasion, taking with him a pocket copy of Ephesians, and in the afternoon, going out into the woods and lying down under a tree, he began to read it; he read it through at a single reading, and finding his interest aroused, read it through again in the same way, and, his interest increasing, again and again. I think he added that he read it some twelve or fifteen times, “and when I arose to go into the house,” said he, “I was in possession of Ephesians, or better yet, it was in possession of me, and I had been ‘lifted up to sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus‚’ in an experimental sense in which that had not been true in me before, and will never cease to be true in me again.”

I confess that as I listened to this simple recital my heart was going up in thanksgiving to God for answered prayer, the prayer really of months, if not years, that I might come to know how to master His Word. And yet, side by side with the thanksgiving was humiliation that I had not discovered so simple a principle before, which a boy of ten or twelve might have known. And to think that an “ordained” minister must sit at the feet of a layman to learn the most important secret of his trade!

Rather than wasting time attempting to defend the wisdom of applying this method, I’ll close with a few helpful suggestions for putting it into practice:

1. Choose shorter books and work up to longer ones. Since you’ll be reading an entire book of the Bible and not just a chapter or two, you’ll want to work your way up to more extensive readings. When beginning this program you may want to start with a short book that has only a few chapters that can be read several times in one sitting. This will give you a sense of accomplishment and help develop the reading habit. For example, a short book like John or Jude can be read four or five times in one sitting allowing you to finish the entire twenty readings in less than a week. [NT books, shortest to longest: 3 John, 2 John, Phlm, Jude, Titus, 2Thess, Rev, 2 Peter, 2 Tim, 1Thess, Col, 1 Tim, Phil, 1 Peter, James, 1 John, Gal, Eph, 2 Cor, Heb, 1 Cor, Rom, Mark, John, Matt, Acts, Luke; OT books, shortest to longest: See this chart.]

2. Read at your normal pace. Treating the material reverently does not require reading at a slower than normal speed. Read for comprehension, ignoring the division of chapters and verses and treating each book as one coherent unit.

3. Skip the commentaries (for now). Don’t get bogged down by referring to commentaries or other outside sources. Commentaries are for your Bible study, rather than for this synthetic reading. Read each book in its entirety and then attempt to summarize in your own words its theme and major points.

4. Stick with the process. After the eighth or ninth reading you’ll hit a wall that is similar to what runners face in marathons. The text will become dry and lose its flavor. You’ll want to move on to the next book or abandon the program altogether. Stick with it. Persevere and you’ll discover the treasures that repeated readings can provide. Keep in mind that not every book will be equally rewarding. It doesn’t mean that you’re a heretic if during one of your readings you find 2 John a bit redundant or Jude just plain boring. Keep in mind the words of 2 Timothy 3:16-17: “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” Stick with it and you’ll fully understand the truth of that verse.

5. Choose an appropriate version. A modern language paraphrase is not an appropriate version for synthetic reading. Likewise, the familiar rhythms and cadences of the KJV can, upon repeated readings, get in the way of comprehension. I personally recommend the ESV, though the NIV can be a suitable alternative.

6. Pray. Ask God to open your heart to his Word. Trust the Holy Spirit to illuminate the text and provide guidance and understanding.

7. Begin today. Don’t put it off another day. Don’t say you’ll start tomorrow, or next week, or next New Year’s. You won’t. Start with the only time that you are guaranteed — today. Use some of the time you’d normally spend  reading blogs to begin this program. Start now and then tomorrow, next week, or next New Year’s Day — after your mind has become saturated with God’s Holy Word — you can tell me my claim was an understatement.

Joe Carter is an editor for The Gospel Coalition and the co-author of How to Argue Like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History’s Greatest Communicator. You can follow him onTwitter.

Care About Your Deceived Friend and Do Not Buy the Kwanzaa Hype: Morrow’s Book Now on Kindle

71IcU+dYNML._SL1500_Carlotta Morrow’s, Kwanzaa: Contrary to Christianity, is available on Kindle. With Morrow’s help, you can use the Kwanzaa celebration to reach someone with the truth about Christ.

Previously I posted on Morrow’s work here.

Did Jesus Die to Save Everyone?

Did Jesus Die to Save Everyone? Reposted from The Gospel Coalition

MATT SMETHURST|12:02 AM CT

Did Jesus Die to Save Everyone?

The doctrine of definite atonement is nothing if not controversial. That Jesus died to rescue his bride is a precious truth, one all Christians embrace. But the suggestion he didn’t die to rescue everyone—well, that doesn’t prompt so many hugs. TULIP’s middle petal has a particular tendency to provoke muted embarrassment or yawning indifference, if not visceral rejection. Some say it’s more logical than biblical. Others say it’s too esoteric to be important, or too unloving to be true.

But what if, when properly understood, this difficult doctrine turns out to be not a source of embarrassment but a resource for joy? From Heaven He Came and Sought Her: Definite Atonement in Historical, Biblical, Theological, and Pastoral Perspective (Crossway) [Website | Twitter] is a towering new tome making the case that definite atonement is not only historically reputable and biblically faithful, but also practically and pastorally glorious. With contributions (and endorsements) from a sterling array of pastors and scholars, this is a volume that deserves serious engagement—regardless of where you lean or land.

I talked with editors David and Jonathan Gibson about “4-pointers,” evangelism, whether they oversell their case, and more. Also, be on the lookout for reviews from Jason Duesing (tomorrow) and Robert Yarbrough (Monday).

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Why should ordinary Christians invest this much time and money into studying this doctrine right now?

Sometimes we only invest in current controversies. Evangelicalism seems adept at publishing into a storm. And often that’s right and necessary. But perhaps some of our best thinking happens in the study of old truths with a calm mind in order to restate them for a new day.

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Definite atonement might be a controversial doctrine, but there isn’t, so far as we’re aware, a massive contemporary controversy about it in the way there was several years ago over penal substitution. So it seems the time is ripe for a fresh contribution on the nature of the atonement that may gain a hearing without battle lines already entrenched and minds resolutely made up.

Perhaps this is too idealistic. The doctrine itself found confessional status as part of a controversy (the Synod of Dort was responding to the Remonstrance of 1610), and debate has followed in its wake ever since. Yet the synod lasted for six months. Is that enough in itself to model the sort of patience with and depth to theological discussion we rarely encounter in our tweet-sized, RSS-feeding frenzied attention spans?

That’s kind of a wide-angle lens answer to your question. A close-up answer might be: because definite atonement penetrates the meaning of the cross in the most profound way possible and displays its beauty and power.

What is the most common evangelical misunderstanding related to definite atonement?

The biggest misconception is probably connected to the foreboding landscape that comes into view when the doctrine is referred to as “limited” atonement. When cast this way either God’s love is portrayed as limited (so Mark Driscoll and Gerry Breshears in Death by Love); or the emphasis falls on the number of the redeemed being limited; or the gospel’s universal offer is viewed as limited. The biggest misunderstanding might be that “limited” atonement seems to proclaim what God doesn’t do when in fact it should spotlight what he does do: God saves sinners.

But then again, from a different angle it could be argued that many who hold to penal substitution without holding to definite atonement fail to see how denying the atonement’s definite intent redraws its penal nature. Our book contends that believing in penal substitution while rejecting definite atonement is a common misunderstanding of penal substitution.

Many Amyraldians or “4-point Calvinists,” while espousing a particular election (by the Father) and a particular application (by the Spirit), hold to a universal atonement (by the Son). What’s problematic about emphasizing particularity at the stage of application but not at the stage of atonement?

The Amyraldian view of the atonement leads to disharmony or dissonance in the triune God: the Father elects some, the Son dies for all, but the Spirit only draws some (those whom the Father elected). The same problem attends semi-Pelagianism and Arminianism. Hypothetical universalists seek to get around the problem by positing “two levels” in the atonement: a universal intent and a particular intent (see, for example, Curt Daniel and Norman Douty). According to this scheme, the Trinity is united at each level of intent. However, this position lacks scriptural support despite attempts based on a certain (and, we believe, superficial) reading of 1 Timothy 4:10.

Hypothetical universalism also leads to a confusion within the will of the Son. How can Christ on the cross, in his one act of propitiation, will both to die for the non-elect and not to die for them? This distorts orthodox Christology. Christ is presented in the Bible as King, Shepherd, Bridegroom, Head, Master, Firstborn, Cosmic Savior, and Last Adam. This is who the incarnate Son is, and therefore when he dies for sinners he cannot fail to be for them who he is. The person and work of Christ cannot be separated. In short, both trinitarianism and union with Christ point toward a definite intent in the atonement, as both ensure its efficacy.

Why might it be more helpful to speak of the “intent” of the atonement rather than the “extent” of the atonement? 

The word intent provides greater precision in discussions on the atonement, though the word extent can qualify different aspects of the atonement: its design, accomplishment, and application. The classic Reformed line on definite atonement is that all aspects of the atonement possess the same extent (design, accomplishment, application), whereas in Arminianism and Amyraldianism the extent is limited only at the point of application.

However, since all sides agree on the limited extent at application, we need to define the issue more precisely. For example, the well-known Lombardian maxim “sufficient for all, efficient for some” is not, contrary to popular opinion, the summary of the Reformed view of definite atonement. Arminians can agree with that statement. The whole discussion turns on the issue of the intent of Christ’s atonement. Louis Berkhof helps us here: “Did the Father in sending Christ, and did Christ in coming into the world, to make atonement for sin, do this with the design or for the purpose of saving only the elect or all men? That is the question, and that only is the question.” Focusing on the intent rather than the extent of the atonement also steers us away from trying to “quantify” the atonement in commercial or mathematical terms and instead brings the purposes of our triune God front and center.

How can proponents of definite atonement sincerely offer salvation to every person?

Particularity of grace in election or atonement does not mitigate a universal gospel offer. We should follow Christ’s example.

In Matthew 11, Jesus explains that no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him (v. 27). The particularity is explicit. Yet in the very next verse, Jesus gives a universal offer to everyone to come to him and find rest (v. 28). In John 6, Jesus claims he has come from heaven to do his Father’s will, which is to lose none of those given to him but to raise them up on the last day (v. 39). This is actually the reason why (“For”) whoever comes to him will never be turned away (v. 38). The Father’s will is that “everyone” who looks to the Son and believes will have eternal life (v. 40). Christ’s purpose in coming was particular; the work he performed in his life, death, resurrection, and ascension was particular (cf. John 17); and yet his invitation was universal. It was also sincere. Did Christ know all those whom the Father had given him as he encountered the many crowds during his ministry? Of course. Did he still offer himself to everyone in the crowd? Yes.

But here’s the take-home value in definite atonement. When we offer Christ to sinners, we aren’t offering them the mere opportunity or possibility of salvation (as semi-Pelagians, Arminians, Amyraldians and Hypothetical Universalists can only do if they’re consistent); rather, we’re offering them a Christ whose first name really means “Savior” (Matt. 1:21). And this is only so because God presented him as a propitiation for sinners—not potentially or possibly or hypothetically, but actually. 

Though Christians throughout history have frequently spoken of the atonement in definite terms, the number of Christians worldwide who agree with this doctrine as expressed in its classical Reformed sense is relatively small. How would you respond to a universal atonement advocate who is concerned you oversell the doctrine by elevating it to a position at “the heart of family life” (p. 15) and “the nerve center of the glory of God” (p. 53)?

Is the number relatively small? We’re not sure we could confidently pronounce on that. Either way, we’re with Athanasius: number of proponents isn’t much of an indicator of anything other than number of proponents.

That said, you’re right these are strong claims. Let us give one qualification to help explain the first, and one reason to help validate the second.

First, when we say the doctrine belongs at the heart of family life we are talking about the Reformed family. We agree with J. I. Packer that particular redemption is the “true intellectual center” of the Reformed faith, with that faith itself the “true intellectual mainstream of Christianity” (see foreword). By implication, then, we think the doctrine should be part of every Christian theological tradition. But the claim we’re making here is more narrowly focused on those coming to embrace Reformed theology yet wishing to leave definite atonement out in the rain. Only four seats at the table means we should cancel the party.

Second, many things could be said here, but take the issue of penal substitution again. How can the execution of an innocent man, punished in the place of the guilty, be a revelation of divine glory? It can only be so when we see that the Bible nowhere speaks ofmere substitution but instead of representative substitution. One person cannot substitute for another unless there is some kind of bond between them—above and beyond their shared humanity—which allows one to take responsibility for the other. There needs to be a legitimate judicial transfer. Jesus did not die as Anyone for others. He died in his relational offices (King, Shepherd, Bridegroom, Head, Master, Firstborn, Cosmic Savior, and Last Adam) as a public, covenanted man for his chosen, covenantal people. His death was an in-union-with kind of death; the “for us” cannot be separated from the “with us.” Henri Blocher’s chapter in the book argues eloquently for this: substitution under capital punishment is anemic if no precise class is in view.

So the glory of God displayed in the cross is the glory of a sin-bearing death on behalf of people bound to the One offering himself. All the majestic beauty and poetic drama of the cross is here. Without it, the cross is an immoral miscarriage of justice.

John Piper on Definite Atonement in Pastoral Practice from Crossway on Vimeo.

Matt Smethurst serves as associate editor for The Gospel Coalition and lives in Louisville, Kentucky. You can follow him on Twitter.