REVIEW: The Lord’s Supper as a Means of Grace

lord's supper as means of graceWhat is the Lord’s Supper? What is happening when we partake of the Lord’s Supper? Is it simply a solemn memorial service, where we examine our lives in the present and partake of something to remind us of event in the past? Or is there more to Communion, to the corporate partaking of the Lord’s Supper?

These are the questions that Richard Barcellos is seeking to answer in his new book: The Lord’s Supper as a Means of Grace: More than a Memory. Barcellos sets out in this book to convince the reader the the Lord’s supper is more than a solemn memorial service — it is more than a memory. Indeed, the Lord’s Supper actually serves as a means of grace in the present for the people of God.

The question, then, is what are ‘means of grace’? Barcellos says, “I define means of grace as the delivery systems God has instituted to bring grace — that is, spiritual power, spiritual change, spiritual help, spiritual fortitude, spiritual blessings — to needy souls on the earth” (23). So, Barcellos argues that the Lord’s Supper is a means of grace, as are the Word of God, prayer, and the ordinance of baptism. These are, he says, “the primary or ordinary means through which grace from heaven comes to souls on the earth” (24).

This book is not meant, in any way, to be a full treatment of the doctrine of the Lord’s Supper. Rather, the author has a very narrow purpose in mind in writing this book — it is to answer the questions: “How is the Lord’s Supper a means of grace?” His answer: “The Lord’s Supper is a means of grace because of what the Holy Spirit does in the souls of believers when local churches partake of it” (28).

To argue for this understanding of the sacrament, Barcellos first introduces the reader to the various terminology connected with the Lord’s Supper in the New Testament. These include “the giving of thanks,” “breaking bread,” “the cup and table of the Lord,” and “the Lord’s Supper.” In the second chapter, Barcellos looks at the most important text in the New Testament regarding the nature of the Lords Supper: 1 Corinthians 10:16. After offering a very detailed and careful exegesis of this passage, Barcellos summarized by saying,

“The point being made from this text is that bread and wine are signs which signify present participation or present communion in the present benefits procured by Christ’s body and blood” (52). 

He continues:

“Though it is not a converting ordinance, the Supper is a sanctifying ordinance. Like the Word of God and prayer, it is a means through which grace comes to us from Christ’ (53).

Next, in chapter 3, he answers the question: “But how do the benefits of his death become present for those that partake of the Supper?” The answer: The Holy Spirit. In this chapter, Barcellos offers a close look at Ephesians 1:3 and 1:14 and shows that the Holy Spirit is the means by which grace is brought from heaven to believers in the present. He says,

“Ephesians 1:3 supplies us with the theological mechanics which are assumed by 1 Corinthians 10:16. When we take the Supper, it is the Spirit of Christ who brings the benefits of Christ to the people of Christ” (71). 

Then, in chapter 4, he uses the example of prayer to illustrate the work of the Holy Spirit in this way, and illuminate His activity in the Supper. And in chapter 5, Barcellos looks at 3 historical confessions (The Belgic Confession of 1561, The Westminster Confession of 1647, and The Second London Confession of 1677/89) and four catechisms (Heidelberg, Westminster Shorter, Orthodox, and Baptist) in order to show that all of these understood the Supper to be a means of grace, and more than just a memory.

In the final chapter, Barcellos offers some final thoughts, including some theological musings and practical considerations. I found the practical and pastoral implications to be quite helpful in thinking through the nuts and bolts of some of this theology. He deals with issues such as the corporate attitude and climate during the Supper, the frequency of our partaking, the fencing of the table, and more.

Overall, I found this book to be helpful and illuminating. It helped me put into words some things that I’ve been thinking for a while, that there is more to the Lord’s Supper than just a simple remembrance of a past event. Barcellos did a great job of drawing out the Lord’s Supper’s links with the past, present, and future — the past in that it remembers the historical facts of the work of Christ; the present in that present, spiritual grace is brought to believers through partaking; and the future, in that the Supper looks forward to the return of Christ.

This book will not be for everyone. It is not an easy read; it is very technical and quite academic. But if you are interested in learning more about the nature of the Lord’s Supper, and are ready to think deeply and seriously about it, then I’d encourage you to grab a copy of this book. At just over 100 pages, it is certainly not unattainable for you to read through, and I am confident that if you do, you will walk away with a greater understanding of and appreciation for the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper.

In accordance with FTC regulations, I would like to thank Mentor Books for providing me with a review copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.

REVIEW: Truth Matters

truth mattersReview by Jim Anderson

Very often my daughter will ask me a question that causes me to pause. Most often the pause is due to the depth and difficulty of the question. A simple two sentence explanation will not suffice for this one. I don’t mind the questions — in fact I relish them, for in the end both her faith and mine will be strengthened as we dig for the truth.  Truth never has to hide from the hard question. But what about the day and time when I’m not there, when the question is posed to her by those who do not hold a Christian worldview?  How will she hold up under the ever-increasing attacks on Christianity, the Bible, and the many truths we believe it expounds? How will your son or daughter fare when thrust into the secular world of public education and work?  What if your college freshman picks up one of Bart Ehrman’s many publications against Christianity and reads the following?

“The God I once believed in was a God who was active in the world. He saved Israelites from slavery; he sent Jesus for the salvation of the world; he answered prayer; he intervened on behalf of his people when they were in desperate need; he was actively involved in my life. But I cant believe in that God anymore, because from what I see around the world, he doesn’t intervene” (Bart D. Ehrman, God’s Problem, 16)

Attacks upon the truth of God’s word are inevitable in the world. But just as inevitable is the truth that if we fail to respond adequately our own faith and that of our children will weaken. How do we respond to such attacks in a biblical and intelligent way? A quote like this doesn’t have to be the last word on the subject. You or your child can benefit from a great resource in the form of this new book titled, Truth Matters: Confident Faith in a Confusing World.

Truth Matters is written by three men, each of whom possess a PhD in his particular field of expertise. They are Andreas J. Kostenberger, Darrell L. Brock and Josh Chatraw. Together they examine some of the common objections to Christianity by some of its leading opponents, opponents who themselves carry weighty academic credentials.

This book delves into some of the more difficult to defend attacks upon our faith — attacks that many lay persons may not be prepared to answer without help. As they wrote this book, they deliberately focused on some of the most outspoken critics and examined the arguments that they bring against the Christian faith, arguments that can often trouble a weak believer.

The book is easy to read, avoiding difficult terms or at least providing explanation where it is needed. It is laid out in 7 Chapters, with each chapter addressing a commonly brought objection to the Christian faith. The Chapters are laid out as follows:

  1. The Skeptical Mystique: What Makes Unbelief So Terribly Believable?
  2. Is God There? Does God Care? Then Why Can’t He Do Better than This?
  3. Let’s Make a Bible: Who Picked These Books, and Where’d They Come From?
  4. Contradictions, Contradictions: Why Does My Bible Have All These Mistakes?
  5. I’ll Need an Original: How Can Copies of Copies Be the Same as the Real Thing?
  6. And the Winner Is… Who Decided What Christianity Was Made Of?
  7. A Likely Story: How Do We Know Jesus Rose from the Dead?

Throughout this book there is an ongoing emphasis on the truth that we are never asked to believe something that’s not true just for the sake of believing. There is a huge difference between blind faith and reasoned faith. As the attacks upon our faith become more sophisticated, so we too must meet the challenge with an equal tenacity and sophistication. The answers in this book are clear and intelligible. You come away feeling better prepared to defend your faith. God has nothing to hide. Truth is truth and it will always be able to defend itself. This book provides much in the way of answering the challenges that we all will inevitably face in our day to day lives. We don’t have to run and hide from our opponents. We have answers to the difficult questions.

I would highly recommend this book for parents, college students, and biblical counselors. It’s full of those “gotcha” moments where you pull your eyes away from the page and think “what a powerful argument for my faith.” You realize in that instant that your faith has been strengthened. I’ll close this review with the words of dedication by one of its authors….

From Josh: For my children Addison and Hudson because one day you will need this book.

I have a copy for my family. I recommend that you get one too!

In accordance with FTC regulations, I would like to thank B&H Books for providing me with a review copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review

How Can You Know God’s Will?

Gods WillThe question of knowing God’s will for our life is one of the most common questions for the Christian. What college should I go to? What should I major in? What job should I take? Who should I date? Marry? These questions, along with thousands of others, are constantly in the Christian’s mind as they seek to make decisions that are honoring to God and within His will.

In trying to answer these questions, far too many of us are paralyzed by fear and frustration — fear that we would make a decision contrary to God’s will, and frustration because we feel like we can never “figure it out.”

TWO ASPECTS TO GOD’S WILL

When we come to the Bible, we find 2 different aspects to the will of God: His will of decree and His will of desire. God’s will of decree is simply how things are. This is what God ordains. So everything that comes to pass, from the biggest to the smallest detail, is in one way or another part of God’s sovereign, ordained will of decree (Eph 1:11; Ps 139:16; Acts 4:27-28). Then we see God’s will of desire, which is simply how things ought to be. Put another way, this is what God has commanded, what He desires from His creatures. We see many texts that speak of doing His will, with the understanding that you could also “not do His will.” This can’t be His will of decree, or what is ordained to happen, because we can’t thwart that. When the Bible speaks of “doing his will” in this sense, it’s referring to His will of desire, or what He has commanded that we do (1 John 2:15-17; Heb 13:20-21; Mt 7:21).

A THIRD OPTION?

So those are the two different aspects of the will of God that we see in Scripture. The problem arises when we try to create a third category. Let’s call it “God’s will of direction.” We want to know the who, what, and when for everything we do. We have a fear of the future and think that God needs to miraculously give us a voice from heaven or some supernatural sign for everything we do. Too often we think of finding God’s will, in this sense, like it’s a horoscope or a divine magic 8-ball. Put bluntly, our fascination with the future and the need to figure out all of the possible scenarios before making a decision is sin — it’s a betrayal of a trust in God’s providence and provision.

A BETTER WAY

So instead of being paralyzed by fear and frustration in our quest for God’s will in every aspect of our life, let me suggest a better way for thinking about making choices in your life:

1. Find out what the Bible says

Does Scripture speak clearly on whatever the decision is that you face. Are you trying to decide whether or not you should date this girl who’s not a Christian? Well the answer is clearly NO (2 Cor 6:14). “Well, maybe by dating her I can lead her to Christ.” There is no such thing as “evangelistic dating.” God has spoken in His Word. It’s a clear-cut issue.

So the first step would be going to Scripture and finding out if it is addressed explicitly there. Does God forbid what you’re wanting to do? Does He command what you’re not wanting to do? If so, the issue is not, “What does God want me to do in this situation,” but “Am I going to obey God’s Word or not?”

2. Find out what others say

We see all throughout the Proverbs that it is wise to seek the counsel of others (Prov 1:5, 12:15; 15:22, 19:20). So maybe you’re trying to figure out whether or not to take this new job. You’ve searched Scripture, tested your heart and motives, and found that it is not a moral choice of right vs. wrong. The next step would be to ask those around you their advice. Ask your friends if they think you have the talents and gifts for this job. Ask your pastor if he thinks this is a wise move for you and your family. Seek advice from those around you.

Kevin DeYoung puts it well when he says,

“We spend all this time asking God, ‘What’s your will?’ when He’s probably thinking, ‘Make a friend, would you? Go talk to someone. There’s a reason I’ve redeemed a lot of you — because you do fewer dumb things when you talk to each other. Get some advice'” (Just Do Something, 93-94).

3. Just Do Something

If you have searched God’s Word, and choosing one way or another doesn’t go against God’s Word, and if you’ve sought godly advice from those around you, then just pick one. Choose. And trust that He is in control, even when you have no idea what the future holds.

If you are drinking deeply of godliness in the Word and from others and in your prayer life, then you’ll probably make God-honoring decisions.

’50 Shades of Grey’ Movie

50 Shades of GreyAfter watching the trailer for the upcoming theatrical version of the popular “50 Shades of Grey” movie, I wish I could say that I’m shocked by what I saw — but sadly, I’m not. What we see coming to the big screen is an accurate representation of what the book is: pornography.

Sadly, the book swept the nation by storm and was a bestseller for quite some time. Now while that is sad, it shouldn’t surprise us that such filth is so popular in the world. But what should surprise us, and devastate us, is that professing Christians (especially women), were caught up in the hype along with the rest of the world.

Again…the book, and now the movie, is nothing short of pornography. Argue whatever you want, it is what it is. Even Forbes magazine calls it what it is in a recent article on the “Too Hot For TV” trailer that was released for the movie. In the article, Scott Mendelson says:

“Of course, the big question is whether or not adult moviegoers, female or male, will venture out to a theater and watch what is basically (and I say this without moral judgment) pornography amid other moviegoers.”

Though the release of this movie is a while away (set to release Valentine’s day, 2015), I hope and pray that professing Christians think seriously about this movie and identify it for what it is: pornography. No matter the guise it is released under — whether it be a seemingly harmless paperback novel at your local bookstore, or a big-screen, blockbuster hit — as Christians we must be discerning about what we are putting in our minds and finding pleasure and entertainment in. And let me be clear: I do not think that anyone will be able to watch this movie without sinning. This is not one of those questionable, follow your conscience decisions about watching a movie. This is a clear-cut, black and white decision: Will you watch this pornography or not.

I hope and pray that you will not.

And I urge you to join me in prayer for the many, many professing Christians who will be tempted to watch this with their friends or family. Pray that they would resist this temptation and would seek godliness

Against The Church

Doug Wilson has done it again — he’s written another provocative, pithy, and fun-to-read-while-frustrating-to-read book. This one deals with the church. Believe it or not, it’s actually a case for the church (a regenerated church…a reformed church), though the title of the book would never lead the passer-by to conclude as such. Why, then, does he title his book “Against the Church”? Wilson says that “it is only possible to be for the church…if you begin by mastering the case against the church” (1).

Against the churchLet me just say up front: this book was incredibly frustrating for me. I like a book to have a discernible structure, one that makes an argument and moves along in a logical flow of thought to make that argument. That is not at all this book. Rather, it reminded me more of a series of loosely connected Facebook statues, blog posts, and journal articles, all put together to try to form a book. Not only did the book not seem to have a discernible structure, neither did the different parts, and worse yet, neither did the individual chapters themselves. The chapters were broken up into randomly connected paragraphs and flows of thought. And just when I thought I was sensing a structure, there he went again…into some random aside for the fifteenth time.

Such is the case with the Wilson’s, I guess. I’m talking, of course, about Doug Wilson, and his son, N.D. Wilson — both of whom are prolific and engaging authors. My first (and only) experience with Doug’s son, N.D., was a few months ago when I read his newest book, Death By Living. His writing style is much like is father’s, though a little more arranged.

Anyway, I will give you the structure of the book that Doug Wilson lays out in his introduction, though the normal reader would have a hard time picking this structure out on his own.

  1. Part One: Against the Church – In this section, Wilson lays out the case against the church, both generally and specifically. Again, his reasoning for doing so is that he says one must master the case against the church before being able to be adequately for the church. Why is this so? It seems to me that what Wilson means by this is that one must be able to spot the areas in the church today that do not match up with Scripture’s description of the church. He does this in a variety of ways, by attacking everything from liturgies, the sacraments, tradition, and a whole host of other things.
  2. Part Two: Background Assumptions – This section addresses all sorts of different background assumptions that go into the discussions on the previous matters addressed.
  3. Part Three: The Father Principle – The third section is where Wilson discusses “the source of life in the heart, the family, the church, and the world” (1).
  4. Part Four: Doctrinal Leftovers – Finally, in this last part Wilson lays out his case for the church.

With that structure laid out, let me share with you just a few quotes that I found insightful and helpful:

“Many modern knostics have wanted to learn how to appreciate the arts of narrative. As far as that goes, nothing is wrong with it, but whether writing about novels, or movies, or stage-plays, they have found ‘redemptive’ or ‘death and resurrection’ themes in all kinds of grimy stories. It turns out that Dawn of the Dead has resurrection themes. In other words, an abstract thing, the structure of the story, is mysteriously able to sanctify the actual content of the story. By means of this amazing magic trick, any amount of Tarantino sludge can be made edifying. Now . . . three cheers for structure, but CONTENT MATTERS. CONTENT IS DETERMINATIVE” [Emphasis mine] (13).

Amen!

And this one…

“Systematic theology is nothing less than remembering what you read in other passages while you are reading this passage. The kind of thing that gives systematic theology a bad name is remembering what you thought other passages said, privileging them in some form of special pleading, and making the verse in front of you do little poodle tricks. Illegitimate systematics is done by the kind of people who put together jigsaw puzzles with a pair of scissors and a mallet handy. The solution is not to abandon systematics, which is not possible anyway” (53-54).

And finally…

“Moralism is just a three-dollar flashlight to light the pathway to Hell…Overt immorality is the fifty-dollar flashlight” (85).

So, would I recommend this book to someone to read? No, I probably wouldn’t. There are many other great books laying out the case for the church, and in a much better way. Wilson makes some astute observations, to be fair, and does so in his characteristically humorous and pithy way. And I enjoyed quite a few of those. But overall, I thought that the book was confusing, disorganized, and flat-out wrong and misleading in a few sections, including infant baptism, children taking communion in order to make them feel like they are “part of the family,” and sentences like this: “We trash the sacraments, if and when we do, because we are ministers of the Word. We trash the Word, if and when we do, because we are ministers of the sacraments” (24). What does that even mean —  for a minister to “trash the Word?”

In accordance with FTC regulations, I would like to thank Canon Press for providing me with a review copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review

REVIEW: Titus For You

Titus for youThe landscape of Bible commentaries seems to be endless. There are great ones, there are terrible ones, and there are a lot that are in the middle. There are pastoral ones. There are technical ones. There are devotional ones. Really, when you go to look for a commentary on a particular book of Scripture, it can be overwhelming (As a side note…let me suggest http://www.bestcommentaries.com as a place for you to go to help you sort through the wide array of options out there…).

Well, here comes one more. Actually, here comes a whole new series of Bible commentaries. The Good Book Company has started a new series of commentaries called “The Bible For You.” Check out the trailer for the series below.

The first in this series came out early last year (Feb, 2013) on Galatians, written by Tim Keller. In fact, the first 3 in the series were by Keller (Galatians, Judges, and Romans 1-7). Now enters Tim Chester, writing on Titus. Below is a trailer for Chester’s volume on Titus

The goal of these commentaries is to not just be a technical commentary, discussing the ins and outs of Greek and Hebrew grammar, the various debates swirling around individual texts and doctrines and so forth. Rather, they aim to lay out, clear and succinctly, the teaching of the passages of the book in question, and then show how these truths apply to people’s lives.

Each title in the series aims to be 4 things:

  1. Bible Centered
  2. Christ Glorifying
  3. Relevantly Applied
  4. Easily Readable

And this volume by Chester on Titus is all of these things. As I was reading through various sections of this commentary, I found each of these 4 aims to be present. Will you agree with everything in the commentary? I doubt it. But my guess is that you’re never going to find a commentary that you agree with everything in it.

Should this be your primary commentary if you’re preaching/teaching through the book of Titus? Probably not. As a pastor/teacher, you need to delve into some of the more technical issues of the grammar and some of the debates and opinions that are discussed in the more technical commentaries. Your job is to rightly handle and divide the Word of Truth, and you must arm yourself and prepare yourself with the necessary tools to do just that.

However, though this probably shouldn’t be your primary commentary, I do think that it should be on your list of commentaries that you consult. This volume will give you practical insights into the text and how to apply the text, and will do so in a language and a way that your everyday person will understand. I am thankful for this new volume in this series, and think that this series will serve a valuable purpose for every Christian — pastor, teacher, or not — to gain a better understanding of biblical books, while being written in a clear, concise, and practical manner.

If you’re interested in learning more about this series, and seeing what volumes are in the works now and will be coming in the years to come, check out this page

In accordance with FTC regulations, I would like to thank The Good Book Company and Cross Focused Reviews for providing me with a review copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review

An Infinite Journey

“God has set before the Church of Jesus Christ two infinite journeys. These two journeys have one destination, one ultimate goal, and in the end will prove to have been one and the same journey after all.”

This is how Andy Davis, pastor of First Baptist Church or Durham, NC, starts his new book on sanctification called, An Infinite Journey: Growing Toward Christlikeness. Now you are probably asking, and rightly so, “What are these two journeys?” Well here they are: (1) The external journey of the worldwide advance of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ to all nations; and (2) The internal journey of an individual Christian from being dead in sin to gloriously perfect in Christ. Davis shows how Paul displays both of these journeys in the first chapter of his letter to the Philippians — in v.12, he speaks of “advancing the Gospel” (Journey #1) and in v.25 he talks about our “progress and joy in the faith” (Journey #2). In both verses, the verb used is the same Greek word, and speaks of “progressing” or “advancing” toward a specific goal.

Now the ultimate end goal of each of these is the same, as said in the quote above. And what isan infinite journey this ultimate end goal? The glory of God in the final perfection of the Church. On earth, in our finite existence, these two journeys exist as two distinct things. However, they will become one when every single individual elected by God comes to personal faith in Christ and is perfectly glorified in Christ. In the end, when it’s all said and done, these to journeys will become one and will accomplish their one, unified goal: “the praise of his glory” (Eph 1:12, 14).

This book is about the second journey, the journey of sanctification, or Christian growth. This internal journey of sanctification is the personal, internal struggle and battle that each Christian has daily with the world, the flesh, and the devil. Every single one of us struggles against these three things as we fight the fight of godliness and holiness, seeking to become more and more like Jesus, and being made by God more and more like Jesus. Davis argues that Evangelicalism has done much in the previous decades and centuries to focus on the first journey of evangelism and missions, but has largely neglected the second journey of sanctification and discipleship. Davis says,

“It is impossible for the Church to make progress externally to the ends of the earth if there are no Christians mature enough to pay the price to go as missionaries and martyrs” (24).

So to correct this neglect of the journey of sanctification in Evangelicalism, Andy Davis has decided to write this book and provide a full-scope, comprehensive look at the sanctification journey that every Christian is a part of. In the book, he argues that “all of Christian maturity can be found under four major headings: Knowledge, Faith, Character, and Action” (29). Using these 4 headings, Davis develops a map, or a pathway, to Christian maturity.

The pathway starts with KNOWLEDGE. This is factual and experiential spiritual information. This factual information is gained from Scripture, and the experiential information is gained from living in God’s world. The knowledge then leads to FAITH (Rom 10:17). Faith is the assurance and commitment to spiritual truth. Under this heading of faith are things like certainty that certain specific invisible spiritual realities are true, conviction of sin, and reliance on Christ as the all-sufficient savior, refuge, provider, and shield. Progressing in this pathway to Christian maturity, faith leads to CHARACTER (Eph 3:16-17). This is where the believer’s internal nature is conformed to Christ. In this section of the book, Davis discusses affection (what you love/hate), desire (what you seek), will (what you choose/reject), thought (what you think about), and emotions (what you feel). All of these things are encompassed in the believer’s virtues, who the believer is. Finally, this character leads to ACTION (Matthew 12:23). This is the believer’s external lifestyle of habitual obedience. Davis discusses here a 7-fold obedience to God’s commands (1. Worship; 2. Spiritual Disciplines; 3. Family; 4. Ministry to Believers; 5. Mission to Non-Believers; 6. Stewardship; and 7. Work). And finally, this action leads to more knowledge (Psalm 119:100) and the process continues.

The book is split into 4 major sections, each discussing one aspect of this pathway to Christian maturity, with each chapter in the section discussing a various aspect of that step in the path.

Honestly, this book surprised me. I got the book to review without having a clue who “Andrew M. Davis” was (this is how the author’s name is on the book. I later discovered this is the same “Andy Davis” that I knew of, particularly in relation to his help in my life on memorizing large chunks of Scripture). Not only did I not know who the author was, I wasn’t quite sure what the book was about. However, it had glowing reviews from people like Don Whitney, D.A. Carson, and Tom Schreiner, so I decided to give it ago. And let me tell you: I sure am glad I did.

This is the best comprehensive look at the sanctification and discipleship process that I have ever read. We all talk about wanting to “encourage discipleship” more, and how everyone should be discipling someone, but oftentimes we are left wondering where in the world we should start. Different people are at different points in their Christian growth, and I am often left wondering where I should start — How can I diagnose where this person is in their spiritual growth in order to better understand where I should focus with them? And how can I track spiritual growth not only in myself, but in those I am discipling? These are questions that I’ve had for some time now, and this book really helped me answer those question. I can assure you, this will be a book that I turn to repeatedly in my ministry, and one that I will recommend to others. I think it is the best comprehensive resource out there dealing with the topic of Christian growth. I’d 100% encourage you to get this book!

In accordance with FTC regulations, I would like to thank Ambassador International for providing me with a review copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review

REVIEW: Encounters with Jesus

encounters with jesusTim Keller has established himself as one of the top evangelical writers of today, especially in writing to an audience of skeptics and unbelievers. He has been given a unique gift and ability to interact with the intelligent skeptics on their level, which is most clearly seen in his bestseller, The Reason for God. Because of his church’s placement in the middle of Manhattan, surrounded by the young, intellectual-type, Keller has honed his ability to interact on their level with the truths of Scripture and Christianity.

In his new book, Encounters with Jesus: Unexpected Answers to Life’s Biggest Questions, Keller is at it again. The book comes out of two series of lectures that Keller presented a couple of years ago. The first series of lectures was given at an Oxford Town Hall in Oxford, England in 2012. Over 5 nights, Keller spoke to a group of students — most of them skeptics — on the various encounters that individuals had with Jesus in the Gospel of John (xii). These make up the first 5 chapters of the book, where in each chapter Keller looks at a different interaction that Jesus had with people in John. These include the conversation (1) with Nathaniel in John 1; (2) with Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman in John 3-4; (3) with Mary and Martha in John 11; (4) with Mary, Jesus’ mother, in John 2; and (5) with Mary Magdalene in John 20.

In each of the five conversations, Keller looks at a different fundamental life-question that Jesus is addressing in his conversation with the individual.

  • Chapter 1 – Where should we look for answers to the big questions of life? Where shouldn’t we look for answers?
  • Chapter 2 – What is wrong with the world the way it is?
  • Chapter 3 – What, or Who, can put it right?
  • Chapter 4 – How can He put things right in the world?
  • Chapter 5 – How should we respond to what He has done?

As you read each chapter, Keller exegetes the passage at hand in the clear and concise way that we have all come to expect from Keller, which is what makes reading his books so profitable and enjoyable.

The second section of the book transitions from the conversations Jesus had with individuals in the Gospel of John and moves to how we, today, can encounter Christ — how we can encounter Him as savior. The basis for these chapters was a series of talks that Keller gave at the Harvard Club of New York City, where he “spoke at regular breakfast meetings to business, government, and cultural leaders over the period of several years” (xv). In these final five chapters, Keller looks at some of the pivotal events in the life of Jesus as they are presented in the Gospels.

  • Chapter 6 – He overcomes evil for us
  • Chapter 7 – He intercedes for us
  • Chapter 8 – He obeys perfectly for us
  • Chapter 9 - He leaves earth to reign for us
  • Chapter 10 – He leaves heaven to die for us

Now, you may be thinking, “Why didn’t Keller include the 3 best-known event in Jesus’ life — His birth, death and resurrection??” Keller addresses this on page 104, saying that these events are more familiar to us, and generally more clearer to us. It is not, by any means, that he does not view these as “pivotal events” in the life of Jesus. Rather, he focuses on 5 pivotal events that are less known to us, and because they are less known to us, their significance to the Christian faith is less clear to us.

Not really knowing what the book was all about when I first got a copy of it, I have to say that I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. It was written, as I’ve already said, in a very clear and concise manner, as well as in a very engaging manner. As with many of Keller’s other books, I think I could use this for a variety of contexts. I could use it with a believer to think more deeply about the truths of Christ, who He was, and what He has done. But I could also use it with an unbeliever. Because of Keller’s writing and teaching style, I think that the book would not be, on the surface, intimidating and threatening to an unbeliever. But I think that as an unbeliever worked through the book, he would come face to face with the Jesus of the Scriptures and the truths of the Gospel. Keller says, as he ends the introduction, that his hope is that “whether you are looking at these accounts for the first time or the hundredth, you will be struck again by the person of Christ and what he has done for us” (xvii). His hope certainly became a reality for me as I read the book, and I trust it will for you as well. I would definitely recommend you getting a copy for yourself, and if you have an unbelieving friend who would be willing to read this with you, get them a copy too. You’ll be glad you did.

In accordance with FTC regulations, I would like to thank Dutton Publishers for providing me with a review copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.

REVIEW: Gospel Assurance & Warnings

Gospel Assurance and WarningsPaul Washer has long been on of my favorite preachers. As a new Christian in college, Paul Washer’s and John Piper’s preaching were what shaped my theology and saved me from heretical teachers like Rob Bell, whom I began to read immediately after being saved. Because of Washer’s role in the development of my theology as a baby Christian, I am forever thankful for him and his ministry (though I have never personally met him). So when I found out that many of Washer’s sermons were being recast and reformatted for books in this series, “Recovering the Gospel,” I was beyond excited. Not only did this put Washer’s preaching in a book format for me to use and refer to as needed, I also think that it will allow more people to learn from him who have maybe thus far not even heard of him.

This new book, Gospel Assurance & Warnings, is the 3rd volume in the “Recovering the Gospel” series (The first being The Gospel’s Power and Message, and the second, The Gospel Call and True Conversion). In this 3rd volume, Washer is dealing with the issue of assurance in salvation: How does one know they are saved? Is it simply by saying a prayer? Absolutely not! The pseudo-gospel of “easy-believism” that has so pervaded the evangelical church in America has led countless thousands (maybe millions) to believe they are saved because of a prayer they prayed 20-years ago, even if there is no evidence of the Gospel bearing fruit in their life today. This is exactly the thing that Washer writes to address.

In the preface to the book, Washer says,

“Each generation of Christians is a steward of the gospel message, and through the power of the Holy Spirit, God calls upon us to guard this treasure that has been entrusted to us. If we are to be faithful stewards, we must be absorbed in the study of the gospel, take great pains to understand its truths, and pledge ourselves to guard its contents…This stewardship drives me to write these books” (vii).

The book contains two parts. The first part looks at biblical assurance, and has 14 chapters dealing with different topics related to assurance, from false assurance to practicing righteousness. The second part looks at Gospel warnings, or warnings in Scripture to empty confessors. This part consists of 5 chapters, each dealing with a different aspect of Gospel warnings to empty confessors. The book is written with great clarity and conviction, as you would expect from Paul washer if you’ve heard him preach.

If you are a pastor, teacher, elder, deacon, or a lay-member who knows someone who is either (a) struggling with assurance and figuring out whether they really are saved or not, or (b) blinded by a false assurance, then this book will be a great resource for you to help you as you minister to that brother or sister. I pray that the Lord would use this book, and the others in this series, to help all Christians gain a greater understanding of the one, true, saving Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Listen to the sobering words of Paul Washer as he concludes the book:

“For the sake of Christ and for the countless multitudes that sit at ease in Zion, not knowing that their judgment draws near, we must repent of what we have done to the gospel and the church. We must throw off the contemporary distortions that have wrecked the greater part of a generation and return to the gospel of Jesus Christ. We must preach with such clarity and earnestness that we who stand in the pulpit might be exonerated on the day of judgment and those who hear us might be without excuse” (251-252).

Amen, brother Paul

In accordance with FTC regulations, I would like to thank Reformation Heritage Books and Cross Focused Reviews for providing me with a review copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.

The “For-Real” Heaven Is For Real

heaven is for realIt’s a sad day when CNN exerts better discernment than much of American Christianity. But that’s exactly what has happened with this Op-Ed article published today by Drew Dyck on CNN’s website in response to the latest “hollywood religious” movie, “Heaven Is For Real.”

It’s about impossible to get away from discussion about “Heaven Is For Real” — The movie took in $21.5 million this opening Easter weekend, which is an awful lot of religious folk going out to their local theater to soak in this latest fairy-tale depiction of heaven. So what are we to make of this movie? Of the book? Really, of this whole genre, that Tim Challies has coined as “heaven tourism” books?

Drew Dyck, writing for CNN, says that we should be aware of, and be shocked by, how different these pop-culture depictions are from the biblical depictions of heaven. He says,

Some may be surprised that the Bible contains not one story of a person going to heaven and coming back…Scripture does contain several visions of heaven or encounters with celestial beings, but they’re a far cry from the feel-good fare of the to-heaven-and-back genre. In Scripture, when mortals catch a premature glimpse of God’s glory, they react in remarkably similar ways. They tremble. They cower. They go mute. The ones who can manage speech express despair (or ‘woe” to use the King James English) and become convinced they are about to die.”

Well said.

I have been utterly shocked at how much stock, how much authority, we put in the visions (dreams) of people who say they have been to heaven and back and are going to write a book telling us all about it (and in the process, maybe they’ll make a dollar or two). How much stock do you put in your dreams, visions, whatever you want to call them? I don’t put much in mine. My dreams are crazy. They often make no sense. If I were to base reality and my hope upon my dreams, I’d be in trouble. Yet, when a four year old has a vision, Christians go crazy about it. They buy out the book store and pack out the movie theater. Even when it in no way resembles the pictures of heaven that we see in Scripture. Yes, the Bible absolutely teaches that heaven is a wonderfully beautiful place and a place of ultimate comfort, as we see in Revelation 21:4; however, as Dyck notes, “it is also a place where the reality of God’s unbridled majesty reigns supreme — and that’s scary.”

As he finishes the article, Dyck has a very insightful and much-lost perspective on this whole “heaven tourism” genre. He says:

Did a 4-year-old boy from Nebraska really visit heaven? I don’t know. My hunch is that the popularity of such stories tells us more about our view of God than the place in which he dwells. Ultimately I believe we flock to gauzy, feel-good depictions of heaven and tiptoe around the biblical passages mentioned above because we’ve lost sight of God’s holiness…We can’t truly appreciate God’s grace until we glimpse his greatness. We won’t be lifted by his love until we’re humbled by his holiness. The affection of a cosmic buddy is one thing. But the love of the Lord of heaven and earth, the one who Isaiah says ‘dwells in unapproachable light,’ means something else entirely.”

AMEN! Oh that the Lord would help American Christianity not to lose sight of God’s holiness. Oh, that we would see afresh the biblical depiction of who God is as the righteous, holy, just creator! He is not our cosmic buddy, whom we receive our warm and fuzzies from whenever we’re down and in need of a quick lift. He is our Righteous, Holy, Perfectly-Just Heavenly Creator who has shown us love and grace and mercy perfectly through the atoning work of Christ on the cross. I pray that we would get excited about these truths — and about our future, heavenly hope where we will be rescued from His wrath and saved to live and reign with Him, worshipping Him forever — to the same degree that we get excited about a 4-year-old’s vision of heaven.

Here’s my challenge to you (which is the same challenge I’ve issued many family members and friends planning to go see this movie): Ask yourself, are you more excited about going to see this movie (or reading the book) than you are about reading the biblical accounts of heaven? Are you more pumped about seeing the movie than reading Isaiah 6 or Revelation? If so, that’s a problem. A big problem! Repent of that attitude, save your money, go sit down with your Bible in hand (and maybe some coffee) and spend an hour or so reading the book of revelation. I can promise you that John’s depiction of heaven is a far more glorious (and accurate) version than the one Hollywood is portraying! His Word is truth! Let’s get excited about this for-real heaven! It is for real!