Book Review: Galatians For You – Tim Keller

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letter-gGalatians For You, as might be suspected, is a commentary on the book of Galatians. Timothy Keller’s aim with the book is to offer a bible centered, Christ glorifying, relevantly applicable, and easily readable look at the book in question.

The key point of Galatians for Keller is the fact that “the gospel is the A to Z of the Christian life. It is not only the way to enter the kingdom; it is the way to live as part of the kingdom. It is the way Christ transforms people, churches and communities” (p9). Paul is in essence calling his readers to live out the implications of the gospel, and Keller’s utmost goal is to point out to his readers how “It is not simply non-Christians but also believers who need continually to learn the gospel and apply it to their lives” (p11).

The commentary acts as a passage-by-passage (and to a degree verse-by-verse) breakdown of the book of Galatians. The chapters for each passage are then broken into two parts, with each part ending with a few “Questions for reflection.”

Throughout his commentary Keller lays out the uniqueness of the gospel and challenges the idolatrous habits in the lives of believers and nonbelievers alike. Keller brings out the fact that the gospel leads to both spiritual freedom, to cultural freedom, and to emotional freedom. The gospel offers freedom, and in a sense even freedom from the moral law, but – as Keller is keen to point out – “though not free from the moral law as a way to live, Christians are free from it as a system of salvation” (p42).

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FATQ: What Difference Does the Holy Spirit Make? Does It Matter?

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Letter FFor many of us it’s sometimes hard to understand just what difference the Holy Spirit makes. We unwittingly pare the Trinity down to two persons. We find ourselves asking, would our lives really look any different if the Holy Spirit didn’t exist? If so, how?

The question basically boils down to: What does the Holy Spirit do

To answer that we need to know three things: What is the core of Christianity? How does each member of the Trinity relate to that core? What would happen if the Holy Spirit’s contribution was taken away?

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Book Review: Captivating – By John & Stasi Eldredge

 

Eldredge Captivating.pngLetter IIn Wild at Heart the question of man’s soul, his design and his relation to God is analyzed; in Captivating the question is turned towards woman. With his wife as co-author the two set out to ‘unveil the mystery of a woman’s soul’.

As with man, woman is made in a certain image, and that image is struggling to be seen. It is an image of God being reflected as is only done through the feminine nature, as the authors state: “And she, too, bears the image of God, but in a way that only the feminine can speak.”

This image is reflected in how “every woman in her heart of hearts longs for three things: to be romanced, to play an irreplaceable role in a great adventure, and to unveil beauty.”

The problem comes when the woman (or man) seeks to find these things in places other than God, when validation is sought from created things rather than the creator. They become haunted by questions and doubts concerning their beauty and they become wounded. This can be seen in two primary ways (both for men and women), “When a man goes bad, as every man has in some way gone bad after the Fall, what is most deeply marred is his strength. He either becomes a passive, weak man – strength sundered – or he becomes a violent, driven man – strength unglued. When a woman falls from grace, what is most deeply marred is her tender vulnerability, beauty that invites to life. She becomes a dominating, controlling woman – or a desolate, needy, mousy woman.”

The goal of Captivating is to reveal the truth once more and to help in healing that wound and seeking ultimate validation through God.

Thus: “No man can tell you who you are as a woman. No man is the verdict on your soul… Only God can tell you who you are. Only God can speak the answer you need to hear. That is why we spoke of the Romance with him first… our core validation, our primary validation has to come from God.”

As with Wild at Heart, Captivating is built upon personal testimony coupled with Scriptural analysis and examples pulled from popular media so as to better relate to the reader. It is a call to women finding their true beauty, their true romance, in God, and at the same time to help mend her relationship with her fellow man.

I’m not sure how well I can give a true analysis of the heart of this book, simply for the fact that it is designed to speak to the soul of women rather than men, to confront their chief struggles rather than ours. I will say that I didn’t find it to have the passion or push which it’s counterpart did, it was a much quieter book. It might also be helpful for men who want to better understand the struggles of women in his life, but there are better books on the topic.

The text does well to lay out the human need of God, of not being able to rely upon ourselves or our fellows, and I think it is strong in this regard.

Memorable Quotes:

-“Nature is not primarily functional. It is primarily beautiful.”

-“A woman becomes beautiful when she knows she’s loved”

-“Strength is what the world longs to experience from a man… Beauty is what the world longs to experience from a woman.”

-“Jesus has to thwart us too – thwart our self-redemptive plans, our controlling and our hiding, thwart the ways we are seeking to fill the ache within us. Otherwise, we would never fully turn to him for our rescue.”

Specific Criticisms

While I haven’t the insight to address the heart of this book there are a few qualms that I have with it.

Perhaps the first issue I have with the book is that it is forgettable. The reason I read the book twice was because when I went to write a review I couldn’t remember anything it said.

On top of being forgettable, the book also seems to make the feminine role entirely reactionary (bordering on passive). I’ve talked to women who loved the book Wild at Heart, but who felt largely uninspired by Captivating, and I think it’s largely because the book doesn’t inspire women to go out and do anything in the same way that Wild at Heart does, it just tells them to not be domineering and to be romanced. Where is the thrill here for women?

Along with these problems are additional theological ones. One of these is the place that the text places Eve (and woman in general) at the peak of creation, as if woman were somehow slightly higher in the scale of being than man, saying “Given the way creation unfolds, how it builds to ever higher and higher works of art, can there be any doubt that Eve is the crown of creation?” While I think it is a flattering way to interpret the passage and I in no way want to downplay the glory that is woman, I don’t think there is any basis for this interpretation of the text or any support for it elsewhere in Scripture. In short it simply doesn’t serve to add anything of substance to the text to warrant such a shaky interpretation.

Another issue is in the idea that “healing never comes against our will.” Now this is quite true in and of itself, healing (or salvation) do not come against our will; but this is simply for the reason that God through Christ works a new heart and a new will into us. It doesn’t come against our will because our wills are changed through the work of Christ and the indwelling of the Spirit.

Finally the book pushes the notion – popular during its day – of romancing God, perhaps well in line with the sort of books that try and set up a woman’s relationship to God as a dating one. Simply, this is a not a narrative native to Scripture.

A few minor technicalities might also point to the erroneous interpretation of Song of Solomon as an analogy between Christ and the Church rather than between a man and a women, as well as having a fairly low view of the work of Christ overall.

One other note is one that I can’t quite put into words yet. I’ve now read this book twice on separate occasions, and both times there is a general feeling that there is something amiss. Usually this feeling comes about when a text is focusing on works rather than faith and grace, however there is no one place that I can point to in this text as being indicative of this, therefore I’ll leave off for now.

Book Review: Echoes From Eden – By A.W. Tozer

AWTozer Echoes From Eden.pngLetter WWhenever I want to get deep into the theology of scripture and truly immerse myself within the glory that is the depth of God’s word, AW Tozer is not the writer I look to to satisfy my desire; he is however one of the writers I look to when I want some good light reading or am in the mood for a devotional study as opposed to a intellectual treatise. This is not to say that Tozer is not as intelligent or as gifted as other Christian writers, only that he approaches writing in a different manner, one meant to talk with you and challenge you rather than strictly educate you.

Echoes From Eden is a short book by Tozer which begins with the premise that man is lost but not abandoned and that the voice of God still echoes from the garden, reverberating throughout the generations the call of “Adam, where art thou?”

This premise made, Tozer goes on to discuss the particulars of his thesis: why God is calling out to us, how God is calling out to us, and what the Christian’s responsibility is in all of it as well as what they should be keeping in mind in the course of their Christian duty.

It is difficult to offer a concise synopsis of the book due to the often conversational style that Tozer employs. He does not move methodically from one point to the next as he expounds his thesis, rather he sets his premise and then addresses what comes along with that premise. Each chapter addresses the premise, but each chapter does not flow from the preceding one or lead into the next, which is why I find summary difficult as each chapter is a mini-devotional in itself. It may be that I simply lack the capability to summarize the book, it would be much easier to do a chapter by chapter analysis, though I don’t care for the monotony of that.

Overall there are various insights which Tozer presents with the book ending on the challenge that the Christian should be mindful of their accountability to God. Tozer’s goal here is to point out that in churches one doctrine may often come to overshadow all of the rest, in this case that of justification by faith. Tozer points out that while it “delivers us from the fruitless struggle to be good” it also results in a Christian life in which the individual ends their Christian venture with the turning to Christ rather than continuing to endeavor with Christ.

He goes on to point out that the Christian should ever be aware that though they will not face the judgment seat which leads to hell that they will still stand accountable before God for what they did with their gift of grace – that is his challenge.

Other topics discussed include the [hypothetically] amoral individual, the reality of the soul, the Christian being the true realist and the fact of the conscience. Each discussion has its own insights however since the book is only 120 pages long (and is a small book in size as well) I won’t bother discussing these, it’d be much more profitable to simply read the book.

Memorable Quotes:

“Spiritual victory comes only by the knowledge that we died.”

“As a result, justification as it is now understood and preached and emphasized and hammered on up and down the country, is causing believers to throw all responsibility over on God, and we conceive ourselves to be happy, satisfied Christians without a responsibility in the world except to give out a tract once in a while.”

-“But I do not wish myself in any other period of the world’s history. These times are God Almighty’s gift to me as a Christian and I consider myself on probation, sensing that God is really interested in what one of the least of His servants is going to do about the time in which he lives.”


Specific Criticisms

When I said I liked Tozer for a good light read, the term ‘light’ is used in reference to his theology. He’s not one to get bogged down picking through scripture to prove his point or to dwell on any various doctrine which might often come up for debate. It is by conscious effort that he does not take up the more intellectual pursuit in his writing, while this does allow for very enjoyable devotional writing it also results in tipping the scale too far to one side which can then result in bad theology.

In the third chapter of Tozer’s book he makes the statement that,

“God is able to do His mighty work in His own way and the Holy Spirit has come into this world to take polemics away from the scholar and give it back to the human heart. The believer’s faith in the deity and person of Jesus does not rest upon his ability to comb through history and arrive at logical conclusions concerning historical facts… It is no longer an intellectual problem – it is a moral problem!

…I repeat: that the use for [your Christian mind] will not be in the realm of divine evidences. The Holy Ghost takes care of that.”

In light of this quote it is quite easy to see why Tozer’s work should be directed more towards the devotional aspect of Christian writing than the theological. Now, I by no means mean to object to the statement that God is able to do His mighty work in His own way or that the Holy Spirit is the mode of that working – however, I do not think that the goal of the Holy Spirit entering the world is to take away polemics (‘the practice of theological controversy to refute errors of doctrine’) or to refute intellectual pursuit of the scriptures, apologetics, hermeneutics and the study of theology in general.

It is through the Holy Spirit working in the heart that one comes into faith and while Christianity is a moral problem it does bring forth many intellectual issues which serve to grow the believer in the faith and allow them to better understand that moral problem. The former is the milk, the latter the solid food that Paul speaks of in Corinthians.

It is the moral issue, the saving from sin, which brings the individual into faith, but that cannot be cut from the intellectual issue – the fact that there is a God, that he created the world and was made incarnate in the person of Jesus Christ in order to save those sinners facing that moral problem, that he died for that sin and rose again and did not potentially but effectually saved those the Father calls from that sin, once and for all, that he issued a sign of his covenant in baptism, set forth his supper and that he will return again; each of these areas has its own Biblical intricacies.

Furthermore, Tozer’s quote presumes that it was at some point not a moral problem, only becoming one with the coming of the Spirit – yet it has always been a moral problem, even since the garden, indeed it began in the garden.

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It is due to this shying away from intellectualism that Tozer may followup his statement in saying that, “I have refused to become involved in arguments and controversy over the matter of eternal security, because I want the Holy Spirit to help me and guide me and He will not help me if I insist on fooling around in those areas that are not the most important in Christian truth and proclamation.”

It may be true that eschatology, modes of baptism, how best to perform the Eucharist, whether tongues are still valid and various other debated topics are not immediately vital for saving faith through the proclamation of the gospel, however that is not to say that there is not a truth in each area, that knowing that truth will not aide the Christian in their walk, and the Christian teacher should proclaim those truths

Besides, one can hardly say that perseverance of the saints (or it’s watered-down cousin, “once saved always saved”) is not one of the most important Christian truths, for what security and what hope does the believer have if they cannot even be sure that they will not fall right back into the pit should they lose concentration for a moment – especially when it can be summed up in the simple statement of Christ that “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out (John 6:37).” Frankly, I fail to see where there is room for debate.

There are many truths within Christianity that are not needed to be known in order for the individual to attain salvation, as Tozer says they need not comb through history or theology or philosophy to develop a systematic theology before they’re able to become a Christian, however that is not to say that theology is no longer relevant or that only the moral issue should be stood upon. Tozer falls into his own hole, for he states that “religious people are prone to select a favorite Bible doctrine or truth and to hold to that one truth at the expense of other basic tenets,” and this is exactly what Tozer does at this point, he creates a dichotomy and emphasizes the moral truth at the expense of the intellectual when in truth the two are bound more closely than the consummated marriage.

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A few final criticisms I’ll offer of Tozer is of his statement that “You live in that body of yours, sir, and you cannot properly blame your body for anything. Your body is what you make it to be. Your body is not a responsible being. It is guiltless and without blame.”

Correction: “I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Romans 7:21-25)”

Lastly is his statement that “I do not think you can make the Bible say that a man who is dead in sin is a completely dead man – one who can neither be persuaded nor convinced, pleaded with nor appealed to, convicted or frightened.”

I simply return Tozer’s own words to him, ‘the Holy Spirit takes care of that’; our words may only reach the dead man as the Spirit gives him life. Besides, since when is there such a thing as being partially dead? Dead is an all or nothing deal, completely or not at all.

But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.”–Ephesians 2:4-5

“When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross.”–Colossians 2:13-15

The main point being that its God that makes them alive, not us, not even themselves.

Book Review: The Great Divorce – By C.S. Lewis

cslewis the great divorce.pngletter-hHere we have before us one of the monoliths of Christian literature in the 20th Century, C.S. Lewis, whose impact through his writings no doubt rivals those of individuals we would consider much ‘greater’ than him. He wrote prolifically over every subject both in fiction and nonfiction and this book is one which tows the line between the two. While written in for the form of a story this is simply a form by which Lewis conveys his arguments and ideas.

The Great Divorce begins during the dreary hours of twilight where our narrator boards a bus which will take him on an odd trip to a land which is more real than the one he left, perhaps even too real. This land is the outskirts of heaven, where the rainy town which he has left is perhaps what one might call purgatory. Both lands lay in twilight, one awaiting a dreaded dusk, the other a glorious dawn.

Taking a step back from the fictional aspect of the text and what we see is an outline of human misconceptions regarding salvation and heaven. The characters which the narrator encounters in his journey each display a different misconception. One displays the works righteousness of attempting to merit heaven, the character demanding that his ‘rights’ be given to him, all the while ignoring that his ‘rights’ would gain him nothing more than damnation. Another displays the idea that if we are simply honest and sincere in our beliefs that this is all which can be asked of us, ignoring the sincerity doesn’t necessarily entail innocence or any sort of goodness. Another asserts that intolerance and stagnation which must occur if any final truth is to be reached, opting for endless skepticism, all the while ignoring that the chief point of asking questions is to find answers.

Other characters, rather than demonstrating misconceptions, demonstrate mindsets which may keep the individual from accepting the truth. Such mindsets include that of shame, of selfish love, and of lust.

Each of these misconceptions and mindsets serve as minor arcs within the greater arc of the story. This greater arc may be summed up in the words of the narrator’s teacher: “But ye can get some likeness of it if ye say that both good and evil, when they are full grown, become retrospective. Not only this valley but all this earthly past will have been Heaven to those who are saved. Not only the twilight in that town, but all their life on earth too, will then be seen by the damned to have been Hell.”

Even more pointed may be the statement that “There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’ All that are in Hell, choose it.” It is not a matter of merit or of rights, for if we got our ‘rights’ we would have no hope: “I haven’t got my rights, or I should not be here [heaven]. You will not get yours either. You’ll get something far better. Never fear.”

This is the outline of a great divorce between heaven and hell. It is meant as a contrast, a demonstration of the dichotomy present before us. There is no compromise but rather two distinct options divorced from one another, the good and the bad, where man must choose the one or the other, heaven or hell, where to choose earth is also to choose hell.

The text is at once entertaining and moving, as is to be expected by one who wrote both The Chronicles of Narnia as well as Mere Christianity. It is a book which anybody will profit from reading and at a mere 125pgs there is no reason not to.

Memorable Quotes:

-“You have gone far wrong. Thirst was made for water; inquiry for truth. What you now call the free play of inquiry has neither more nor less to do with the ends for which intelligence was given you than masturbation has to do with marriage.”

-“There have been men before now who got so interested in proving the existence of God that they came to care nothing for God himself… as if the good Lord had nothing to do but exist!”

-“The demand of the loveless and the self-imprisoned that they should be allowed to blackmail the universe: that till they consent to be happy (on their own terms) no one else shall taste joy: that their should be the final power; that Hell should be able to veto Heaven.”

-“That thing is Freedom: the gift whereby ye most resemble your Maker and are yourselves parts of eternal reality. But ye can see it only through the lens of Time, in a little clear picture, through the inverted telescope… For every attempt to see the shape of eternity except through the lens of Time destroys your knowledge of Freedom.”

Specific Criticisms

Perhaps the only thing which I might bring against Lewis, in a book which revolves so heavily around man’s path to heaven, is the distinct lack of grace – that is, the distinct lack of Christ. Individuals in heaven come out to meet those visiting heaven’s shores in attempt to persuade them to stay and journey inward, seeking ways to convince them to enter. After one such attempt the narrator’s teacher states that “Ye will have divined that he meant to frighten her; not that fear itself could make her less a Ghost, but if it took her mind a moment off herself, there might, in that moment, be a chance. I have seen them saved so.”

Of course it would be rather absurd to pick apart the theological ramifications of it being up to the efforts of heavenly individuals to save souls, but there is a bigger issue at hand. This issue is simply the idea that the narrator has “seen them saved so.” No word is said concerning the fact that is Christ who saves, and Christ alone, yet these individuals are said to be ‘saved’ by the efforts of these individuals. One might be able to write this off as the individuals simply acting as the means by which Christ is saving them but such a view is presented nowhere in the book (and given Lewis’ denominational background it is unlikely that this was his intention).

Book Review: Every Man’s Battle – By Stephen Arterburn & Fred Stoeker

Every Mans Battle Arterburn.pngLetter TThe title Every Man’s Battle does well to summarize the issue being dealt with in the book. Every man (and woman, but they have their own book) faces the battle of sexual sin, and here authors Stephen Arterburn and Fred Stoeker attempt to outline a plan for winning that war, for freeing men from the shackles of sexual sin and temptation through a combination of personal testimony and practical steps.

The layout of the book is very straightforward. It begins by defining the problem, explaining where it is that men stand in this battle: that is, assaulted on every side by every form of media and through our bodies themselves. It then goes on to point out how we came to this point (mixing standards, settling for less than perfection, by simply being male) and calls for a return to true manhood, to choose victory, and then explains how the authors believe this victory can be achieved. Their outline is to establish victory on three fronts, through the eyes, the mind, and the heart.

To put it in the author’s words: “That means our objective in the war against lust is to build three perimeters of defense into your life: 1. with your eyes. 2. In your mind. 3. In your heart… So there’s your battle plan. That’s it. Nothing more, nothing less. Setting up defense perimeters and choosing not to sin. You’ll have freedom from sexual impurity as soon as those defense perimeters are in place.” As the authors state, “We must choose to be more than male. We must choose manhood.”

Their primary tool for this is by utilizing the Job’s tactic of having made a covenant with his eyes. The idea is to get in a habit of ‘bouncing’ the eyes, of gaining motivation by remembering what it is that you have to gain (a closer relationship with your wife, children, ministry and God) and what you have to lose through sexual sin (true intimacy and possibly your wife herself), that you don’t have the right to think about women in certain ways, of starving the mind of tempting images so and eventually allowing the hormones to dry up; simply, allowing no sexual images to enter the mind (save for those of the wife in regards to married men). According to the authors, this war can be won within six weeks as you starve your mind, your hormones kick back and you defeat sexual temptation as any bad habit is defeated.

All in all, the book is a very practical minded approach to overcoming the war on sexual sin utilizing every means necessary to try and motivate the reader to enter the battle. This often makes the book appear eclectic, at one moment pointing out how men are thieves by entertaining sexual images of women who aren’t their own, at another pointing out what God requires of true manhood (implying they are a sissy if they won’t man up), at one moment stating that the goal is to stop cold turkey and then that the process takes six weeks, explaining the biological and psychological process behind temptations, at others pointing out that we simply lack a perception of the urgency needed in the battle. The problem is that we’re mixing our standards with God’s, that we’re settling for less than perfection, that we’re men and we’re just wired this way; at one moment the authors portray the issue as dire, at the next they acknowledge most men as having only a ‘fractional addiction’ or a ‘low-grade sexual fever’.

The authors present each case in a much more orderly fashion than that, but the pattern is the same, the throw everything they can at the reader in hopes that it will push the right buttons, whether that be guilt, desire for their spouse, desire for God, manhood, etc.

What it all boils down to is a handful of strategies for a fallen man to try and defeat sin on his own, by treating it as just some biological or psychological disorder which can be remedied by following these certain steps. In the 209 pages of the book there are about 2 which briefly give an outline of the gospel in passing. When speaking of “How we got here” the authors mention that it is by being male, and make a short tie in to the Fall, but fail to dwell on the true state of the human condition.

In short, the problem with this book is that it treats sexual sin and the addiction to it as something chiefly physical rather than spiritual. For them, sexual sin isn’t tied to any doctrine (such as total depravity) or chiefly to the event of the Fall or a sinful nature that needs to remedied by Christ, but is simply “a series of bad decisions on our part.” They acknowledge that Christ has freed us from the power of sexual immorality, but then go on to claim that it is simply the habit of it which plagues us, as if there were a dichotomy between the power of sin in our lives and the habit of sin in our lives. The problem is that this book could just as easily have been written by a nonChristian, it’s secular psychology given a Christian overlay.

Every Man’s Battle is a decent text for understanding the magnitude of the struggle which we face and does have a few good ideas and quotes, but overall it amounts to an attempt to treat the symptoms while leaving the disease uncured; furthermore, it is an attempt to fix ourselves while Christ stands with cure in hand. And who knows, perhaps they may succeed in minimizing or even eliminating many of the symptoms for some individuals, but this is far the freedom offered by trusting in Christ’s promises to remove the disease and the symptoms.

Memorable Quotes:

-“You want to honor and cherish every date, just as you hope every guy is honoring and cherishing your future wife when he goes out with her.”

-“God always knew marriages would wither when rooted in contracts, which is why He established unconditional covenants. He knew that conditions change.”

-“When challenged by His higher standards, we’re comforted that we don’t look too different from these around us. Trouble is, we don’t look too much different from the non-Christian either.”

-“At Calvary, He purchased for you the freedom and authority to live in purity. That freedom and that authority are His gift to you through the presence of His Spirit, who took up residence within you when you gave your life to Christ.”

Specific Criticisms

Not only is the book simply secular psychology given a Christian overlay, but the authors actively work against a true Christian mindset of the gospel and freedom from sin through Christ through their works centered strategy. Sure, the author notes at one point that he had no power to achieve victory on his own but this is quickly brushed aside to talk of the ways that Satan tempts us and then to continue talk of psychology.

This working against the gospel can be seen in such statements as “Consider the example of Eleazar, one of David’s ‘three mighty men,’ in this brief record of a tough battle against the Philistines: ‘Then the men of Israel retreated, but he stood his ground and struck down he Philistines till his hand grew tired and froze to the sword. The LORD brought about a great victory that day. (2 Samuel 23:9-10)’ Eleazar refused to be ensnared by anyone.” The author praises Eleazar, but says nothing of the fact that the Lord brought the victory.

Again the authors state “[People in society] believe if we can only teach people the ‘right’ feelings, they’ll act correctly. In the Bible, however, God tells us the opposite: We’re to first act correctly, and then right feelings will follow.” Now, it may be very true that one cannot simply teach right feelings, however it is the express theme of the entire Old Testament that the statement “we’re first to act correctly, and then right feelings will follow” is untrue. That is Law, and the Law may only kill; what’s more, it is reliance on the self rather than God.

And that is the point, the authors preach self-reliance, actively arguing against relying on God in all aspects of our lives. They say “You see, sexual impurity isn’t like a tumor growing out of control inside us. We treat it that way when our prayers focus on deliverance, as we plead for someone to come remove it. Actually, sexual impurity is a series of bad decisions on our part – a result of immature character – and deliverance won’t deliver you into instant maturity.” It may be quite true that we do not gain instant maturity, sanctification is a lifelong process, but we can be delivered instantly from our enslavement to sexual sin, to habits of masturbation and pornography, and this is “not of the blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God”(John 1:12-13).

The most damning statement made by the authors is that “God will run with you, but He won’t run for you.” Just as the express message of the Old Testament against the idea that right feelings follow right actions (or even more pointedly, that we cannot perform right actions on our own), the express message of the New Testament is that right feelings and right actions may be obtained, but not through any work or actions on our part but rather through the finished work of Christ on the Cross.

God has run for us, he has run for us in the person of Jesus Christ. Christ’s work does not bring salvation alone, but also works sanctification in us, that is, the freedom from sin: “But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God (1 Corinthians 6:11)“…how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God. (Hebrews 9:14)” “But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. (Romans 6:22)”

The New Testament constantly admonishes us to stop sinning, but you’ll notice that it never gives any ‘practical’ steps on how to do this; the reason for this is simply because just as it is God’s work which saves us from our sins, which removes the power of sin from our lives, so it is his power which removes the presence of sin – it is only by belief in the power of that truth that sin is put to death, not by ‘bouncing’ our eyes or waiting for temptation to ‘dry up’.

As Spurgeon says in his book All of Grace:

We want to be purified as well as pardoned. Justification without sanctification would not be salvation at all. It would call the leper clean, and leave him to die of his disease; it would forgive the rebellion and allow the rebel to remain an enemy to his king. It would remove the consequences but overlook the cause, and this would leave an endless and hopeless task before us… Remember that the Lord Jesus came to take away sin in three ways; He came to remove the penalty of sin, the power of sin, and, at last, the presence of sin…

“I cannot make this change,” says one. Who said you could? The Scripture which we have quoted speaks not of what man will do, but of what God will do. It is God’s promise, and it is for Him to fulfill His own engagements. Trust in Him to fulfill His Word to you, and it will be done…

You must quit sin or quit hope. Do you reply, “Yes, I am willing enough. To will is present with me, but how to perform that which l would I find not. Sin masters me, and I have no strength.” Come, then, if you have no strength, this text is still true, “When we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. (Romans 5:6)” Can you still believe that? However other things may seem to contradict it, will you believe it? God has said it, and it is a fact; therefore, hold on to it like grim death, for your only hope lies there.”

Or as the Westminster Confession of Faith puts it: “They whom God hath accepted in his Beloved, effectually called and sanctified by his Spirit, can neither totally nor finally fall away from the state of grace; but shall certainly persevere therein to the end, and be eternally saved.

This perseverance of the saints depends, not upon their own freewill, but upon the immutability of the decree of election, flowing from the free and unchangeable love of God the Father; upon the efficacy of the merit and intercession of Jesus Christ; the abiding of the Spirit and of the seed of God within them; and the nature of the covenant of grace; from all which ariseth also the certainty and infallibility thereof.”

Book Review: The Pursuit of God – By A.W. Tozer

Tozer The Pursuit of God.pngLetter IIn his book The Knowledge of the Holy A.W. Tozer outlines what it is we mean when we speak of God, in The Pursuit of God he outlines what our response should be once we have found him. The Christian endeavor doesn’t end with salvation, with discovering God (or as it were, with God discovering us); even after God is acknowledged we are still to strive after him, indeed, because of this acknowledgment we strive after him. As Tozer says: “To have found God and still pursue Him is the soul’s paradox of love…”

And yet the problem for many Christians according to Tozer is that they may have come to a ‘right’ understanding of God and yet aren’t experiencing Him in their lives, “To most people God is an inference, not a reality. He is a deduction from evidence which they consider adequate; but He remains personally unknown to the individual.” Furthermore “Everything is made to center upon the initial act of ‘accepting’ Christ (a term, incidentally, which is never found in the Bible) and we are not expected thereafter to crave any further revelation of God to our souls.”

This the problem which Tozer confronts, this loss of pursuit which hits Christians who settle for a simply intellectual knowledge of God or who believe that the work of Christ ceases to affect their lives after salvation. If they do continue their work they do so by turning to programs, methods, organizations, and activities, believing that the pursuit has ended; yet God is speaking and the Christian must strive for experience with him. We must continue to pursue him and experience him, despite obstacles which stand in our way such as the fear of being found out as inadequate, complacency, or perhaps worst of all, the dividing of the Christian life into various spheres and being content to confine our religious life, our pursuit after God, into simply one of these spheres.

As Tozer notes: “One of the greatest hindrances to internal peace which the Christian encounters is the common habit of dividing our lives into two areas, the sacred and secular… Its deadliest effect is the complete cleavage it introduces between religion and life… Let every man abide in the calling wherein he is called and his work will be as sacred as the work of the ministry. It is not what a man does that determines whether his work is sacred or secular, it is why he does it. The motive is everything.” The outplay of this is often spoken of as the doctrine of vocation.

This the goal after which Tozer is striving, that we make God the Lord of our entire lives. Not just the lord of a certain moment to which we attribute our salvation. Not just to that hour or two a week we spend in church. Not just to a sphere of religion, apart from our work and our family and our hobbies. Rather for Tozer the pursuit of God is to indwell our entire life and we are to continue to strive to not only know of God but to experience him as well.

Overall this is a solid devotional book by Tozer. At just over 100 pages it is a fairly short (and easy) read which will no doubt serve the reader well in their desire to pursue God.

Memorable Quotes:

-“[Abraham] has everything, but he possessed nothing.”

-“Social religion is perfected when private religion is purified.”

-“Obedience to the word of Christ will bring inward revelation of the Godhead.”

-“Rest is simply release from that burden. It is not something we do, it is what comes to us when we cease to do.”

-“The whole course of life is upset by failure to put God where he belongs. We exalt ourselves instead of God and the curse follows.”

-“In the Scriptures there is practically no effort made to define faith… It assumes the presence of faith and shows what it results in, rather than what it is.”

Specific Criticisms

Despite the overall good review of this book there are a few criticisms which I have of it. One of the most prominent comes from this statement: “God made us for Himself: that is the only explanation that satisfies the heart of the a thinking man, whatever his wild reason may say. Should faulty education and perverse reasoning lead a man to conclude otherwise, there is little that any Christian can do for him. For such a man I have no message.

While it may be perfectly true that there is nothing any Christian can do for them (and even that is a stretch), to say that you have no message for such a man while proclaiming the Christian message is patently absurd. The statement is to say “If you are already seeking God then I have a message for you, otherwise sorry bub, you’re on your own.” The Gospel message is expressly for the person which Tozer notes here, to dismiss them on such brittle ground as “faulty education” is to do a disservice to the message being given. One might argue that this Gospel message isn’t the express concern of this book, but I disagree, for any book concerned with Christianity the Gospel is the only concern it may have – it is simply expressed in different forms and at different stages.

A more minor issue comes in the statement that “Self is the opaque veil that hides the Face of God from us. It can be removed only in spiritual experience, never by mere instruction.” While this may be true Tozer fails to elaborate exactly by what means this experience comes about, how it is removed (that is, by the work of Christ).

A final issue which I take with Tozer in this text is his statement that “Before a sinful man can think a right thought of God, there must have been a work of enlightenment done within him; imperfect it may be, but a true work nonetheless, and the secret cause of all desiring and seeking and praying which may follow.” This comes following Tozer’s introduction of prevenient grace (that said, this issue is one general theological theory, Tozer is more Arminian that I). I believe it is a vast disservice to call the enlightening work of God in man “imperfect.” A more correct term may be ‘immature’, in the sense the sanctification has only just begun and will grow to maturity throughout the Christian’s life. I will grant that it may be perfectly possible that Tozer has the same idea in mind with the term ‘imperfect’, that it will be ‘perfected’ over time through sanctification, however this isn’t the impression which is given.

Book Review: Wild at Heart – By John Eldredge

Eldredge Wild at Heart.pngLetter IIt is very rare that an author comes along who can pierce straight to the heart of an issue, who can state just what needs to be stated in just the way in which it needs to be said.

Yet this is just what John Eldredge does with his analysis into the soul of man. Man is made in a certain image, and that image is struggling to be seen. It is an image often clouded by the noxious smoke of secular psychology and is often subdued by a society which wants to neuter its men; it is this image which Eldredge desires to bring forth and to drive men to seek after, simultaneously dealing with the many problems which often accompany such a task.

“Eve was created within the lush beauty of Eden’s garden. But Adam; if you’ll remember; was created outside the Garden, in the wilderness… Only afterward is he brought to Eden. And ever since then boys have never been at home indoors, and men have had an insatiable longing to explore.”

This is the idea which Eldredge begins with; this call to reality. Immediately he dives into what it is that drives a man and it is around this which Eldredge forms the structure of his book: “… in the heart of every man is a desperate desire for a battle to fight, an adventure to live, and a beauty to rescue.”

Through a brilliant weaving of personal experience, social commentary and analysis of Scripture Eldredge brings forth the image of God in man, outlining just what this image is (through the heroic figure of Christ), how we have lost it, and it may be regained (and perhaps most importantly, the false ways in which we try and achieve it).

Man has fallen, he has been wounded, and the one of the most noticeable results of this is the fear of failure and the false persona which we now put forth – the question being begged by men is “do I have what it takes.” We seek validation through means other than God (chiefly through women) and in doing so set ourselves up for failure in the battle which is at hand. It requires an intervention by men to bestow masculinity; on the lower levels this requires action by the father, on the higher levels this requires action by God. As Eldredge notes: “Masculinity is bestowed. A boy learns who he is and what he’s got from a man, or the company of men. He cannot learn it any other place. He cannot learn it from other boys, and he cannot learn it from the world of women… Femininity can never bestow masculinity.

Yet there is still a wound, a wound which may only be healed through union with God and through sin being dealt with, through the realization that through salvation God has made the heart good. It is to him that man must go for affirmation and to get his strength, a strength which may then be given to those around him – thus, “A man does not go to a woman to get his strength; he goes to her to offer it.”

And yet so often (that is, always) we get it backwards: ” When a man takes his question to the woman what happens is either addiction or emasculation. Usually both… A man needs a much bigger orbit that a woman. He needs a mission, a life purpose, and he needs to know his name.

This mission, this purpose, and this name come from God, it can come from nowhere else; yet first we must be broken. We must first have a false persona shattered, we must first be made to see the truth. When our self fails, God comes through: “The true test of a man, the beginning of his redemption, actually starts when he can no longer rely on what he’s used all his life. The real journey begins when the false self fails… God thwarts us to save us.”

—————

While this is a book delving into the soul of man, it is not a book solely about man, for man only expresses part of the image of God in mankind. It is also a book about the soul of the woman: that women yearn to be fought for, for an adventure to share and a beauty to unveil (that is, to be delighted in). “…the deep cry of a little girl’s heart is ‘am I lovely’? Every woman needs to know that she is exquisite and exotic and chosen.”

Yet sadly without men who have been made alive there are too few women being fought for, and thus they reside in the tower still.

Wild at Heart is an adventure in describing the soul of man through the image of God where each attribute ties back into how God relates to mankind. As regards man he fights for us, adventures with us, rescues us; as regards woman he desires to be fought for, to share in our life and to be delighted in. It is a penetrating analysis into the nature of man, both practically and psychologically (as well as scripturally).

I highly recommend this book to both men and women alike, it is perhaps the most practical and insightful book on Christian living (or simply living in general) that I have ever had the pleasure of reading.

Memorable Quotes:

-“Desire reveals design, and design reveals destiny.”

-“Life is not a problem to be solved, it is an adventure to be lived.” (this actually just a modification of a statement attributed to Kierkegaard that “Life is not a problem to be solved, but a reality to be experienced” but which can only be definitively traced to Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan‘s statement that “Spiritual life is not a problem to be solved but a reality to be experienced.”)

-“‘Where are all the real men?’ is regular fare for talk shows and new book. You asked them to be women…”

-“It’s not enough to be a hero; it’s that he is a hero to someone in particular, to the woman he loves.”

-“A violent man destroys with his words; a silent man starves his wife.”

-“The Big Lie in the church today is that you are nothing more than ‘a sinner saved by grace.’ You are a lot more than that. You are a new creation in Christ.”

-“So many men make the mistake of thinking that the woman is the adventure. But that is where the relationship immediately goes downhill. A woman doesn’t want to be the adventure; she wants to be caught up in something greater than herself.”

-“God is fiercely committed to you, to the restoration and release of your masculine heart. But a wound that goes unacknowledged and unwept is a wound that cannot heal. A wound you’ve embraced is a wound that cannot heal. A wound you think you deserved is a wound that cannot heal.”

Specific Criticisms

Despite my high regard for the insight of Mr. Eldredge I do have a few criticisms of the text. For instance if we take the line “So long as man remains no real threat to the Enemy, Satan’s line to him is ‘You’re fine’. But after you do take sides, it becomes ‘Your heart is bad and you know it’.” The point being, as natural man our heart is bad, and it is only once we acknowledge this that Christ may begin his work and make it good – the corruption of our hearts is a past truth which we find it difficult to move past. I think Eldredge would have done well to specify that this dynamic, that ‘Your heart is bad and you know it’ is not just some lie which Satan might tell, but it is rather a past state/truth which Satan might try and drag us back into – the mindset of our old selves which we are meant to move past once reborn (all the while acknowledging that it was not on our own merit but exactly because our heart was bad that Christ came to make it new).

As Martin Luther says: “Therefore, when you begin to believe, you learn at the same time that all that is in you is utterly guilty, sinful, and damnable… When you have learnt this, you will know that Christ is necessary for you, since He has suffered and risen again for you, that, believing on Him, you might by this faith become another man, all your sins being remitted, and you being justified by the merits of another, namely of Christ alone.” The message that ‘your heart is bad’ cannot be one attributed solely to Satan when that very realization is one essential to salvation, rather, it is only a message which he may try and drag the believe back into.

A related issue comes with the line that “Knowing that my heart is good allowed me to block it, right then and there” (where ‘it’ is temptation/sin). It is simply insufficient to say that we look to our own good heart for this strength rather than the work of Christ (that is, that thing on which this good heart depends). It is the knowledge that Christ has put our sins away that allows us to find this strength. Yes, having a good heart is the result of this, but to look to our good heart for our strength is to look to the effect rather than the cause, it is only a superficial strength which need not necessarily be dependent upon the gospel. Perhaps this dynamic is present at the back of Eldredge’s thought, but it does the reader no good if it stays there.

A final little criticism which is worth pointing out is Eldredge seemingly placing Eve on a higher level of being than Adam, with Eve as pinnacle of creation, almost as if she were made of a higher quality than Adam. This is simply an idea which is not presented in scripture and is based by Eldredge upon a loose analogy concerning the sequence of creation. He argues that creation works from the most lowly up to the most exalted, therefore Eve – being the last thing made – must also be the best. This isn’t an interpretation of the text based upon any real exegesis on Eldredge’s part, rather it is an outside pattern that he puts on top of the Scripture, a pattern rooted more in Greek thought – Aristotle’s great chain of being – than it is in Scripture.

This conclusion by Eldredge is, then, an unScriptural assertion based on reading pagan thought into the Bible.

Book Review: Concerning Christian Liberty – By Martin Luther

Luther  Christian Liberty.png

Letter WWritten by the iconic figure of the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther, Concerning Christian Liberty is a treatise on the nature of the Christian’s life; or as Luther puts it, “a summary of the Christian life put together in small compass.”

The treatise itself is an attachment to a letter written by Luther to Pope Leo X in which he attempts to point out various corruptions within Rome. The treatise, apart from serving the purpose of summarizing the Christian life, is also meant as a gift to the Pope “By this you may perceive in what pursuits I should prefer and be able to occupy myself to more profit, if I were allowed, or had been hitherto allowed, by your impious flatterers.” It is meant as an example of the work to which Luther would pursue if not under attack by others within the church.

The goal of the treatise is to address the question of Christian liberty. During the time which Luther wrote the church was filled with those teaching a works righteousness, that one must observe the precepts of the church in order to gain salvation and thereby placing the believer in a sort of bondage. Luther makes it his task to refute this idea and to proclaim the wonders of salvation by faith alone and putting works into the proper place in the Christian life.

The treatise is divided into three parts. The first is regarding “the subject of the inward man, that we may see by what means a man becomes justified, free, and a true Christian.” The second “[Giving] an answer to all those who, taking offence at the word of faith and at what I have asserted, say, “If faith does everything, and by itself suffices for justification, why then are good works commanded? Are we then to take our ease and do no works, content with faith?” The third answering the objection of from those who “when they hear of this liberty of faith, straightway turn it into an occasion of licence.”

Throughout this effort Martin Luther masterfully lays out the right relationship of the Law to the work of Christ, and in turn the right relationship of works to faith. “[The precepts] show us what we ought to do, but do not give us the power to do it. They were ordained, however, for the purpose of showing man to himself, that through them he may learn his own impotence for good and may despair of his own strength…Then comes in that other part of Scripture, the promises of God, which declare the glory of God, and say, ‘If you wish to fulfill the law, and, as the law requires, not to covet, lo! believe in Christ, in whom are promised to you grace, justification, peace, and liberty.'”

Yet this freedom is not a freedom from works nor a license to sin, for “It is not from works that we are set free by the faith of Christ, but from the belief in works, that is from foolishly presuming to seek justification through works.”

There is nothing more which can be said, to restate the words of Luther are the best service which can be done. The treatise may serve not only as a deep devotional message, but a deep theological one as well; it is the message presented here which reformed the Christian faith and is indeed the heart of that faith.

Memorable Quotes:

“A Christian man is the most free lord of all, and subject to none; a Christian man is the most dutiful servant of all, and subject to every one.”

-“Thus the promises of God give that which the precepts exact, and fulfil what the law commands; so that all is of God alone, both the precepts and their fulfilment. He alone commands; He alone also fulfils.”

-“It is certainly true that, in the sight of men, a man becomes good or evil by his works; but here “becoming” means that it is thus shown and recognised who is good or evil, as Christ says, “By their fruits ye shall know them” (Matt. vii. 20).”

-“It is the part of a Christian to take care of his own body for the very purpose that, by its soundness and well-being, he may be enabled to labour, and to acquire and preserve property, for the aid of those who are in want, that thus the stronger member may serve the weaker member, and we may be children of God, thoughtful and busy one for another, bearing one another’s burdens, and so fulfilling the law of Christ.”

“Here is the truly Christian life, here is faith really working by love, when a man applies himself with joy and love to the works of that freest servitude in which he serves others voluntarily and for nought, himself abundantly satisfied in the fulness and riches of his own faith.

Specific Criticisms

I have no criticisms of this text to offer, instead I’ll simply point out something which I find noteworthy, which is the passage stating: “Returning to the subject which we had begun, I think it is made clear by these considerations that it is not sufficient, nor a Christian course, to preach the works, life, and words of Christ in a historic manner, as facts which it suffices to know as an example how to frame our life, as do those who are now held the best preachers, and much less so to keep silence altogether on these things and to teach in their stead the laws of men and the decrees of the Fathers. There are now not a few persons who preach and read about Christ with the object of moving the human affections to sympathise with Christ, to indignation against the Jews, and other childish and womanish absurdities of that kind… But alas! it is at this day unknown throughout the world; it is neither preached nor sought after, so that we are quite ignorant about our own name, why we are and are called Christians.”

Here Luther addresses the dominant messages of his day as regards Christianity, including: work-righteousness, using Christ as merely an example for good living, or as merely an individual to sympathize with. It is these same fallacies which ever crop up, these same heresies against which Machen and Chesterton fought under the guise of Liberalism and Modernism, which we fight today under some manifestations of Postmodernism and the Emergent Church.

Even further there is the statement that the truth is being neither preached nor sought after in his day such that individuals are ignorant to what Christianity even is; indeed, this is the same problem which the church has always faced, which the church fathers faced, which Spurgeon lamented, which Machen up through those today continue to fight against.

We like to make it a point of pointing towards the past and asking for a revival in spirit as what was seen in those days, and yet in the days of Luther, in the days of Spurgeon, in the days of Machen, all were facing these same issues.

Book Review: The Religious Life of Theological Students – By B.B. Warfield

Warfield Religious Life of Theological Students.pngLetter TThe Religious Life of Theological Students was originally given as an address by B.B. Warfield at Princeton Theological Seminary in 1911, in which Warfield talks about the great task set before seminary students.

Warfield begins his talk with a defense of seminary learning as a whole, pointing out that “Say what you will, do what you will, the ministry is a ‘learned profession’; and the man without learning, no matter with what other gifts he may be endowed, is unfit for its duties” and that in turn “Paul, in other words, requires of you, as we are perhaps learning not very felicitously to phrase it, ‘instructional,’ not merely ‘inspirational,’ service.”

However, the chief point of Warfield’s talk is not merely that the student – as future minister – must be studious. Rather, “A minister must be learned, on pain of being utterly incompetent for his work. But before and above being learned, a minister must be godly.”

The advice given by Warfield in order to achieve this is to be an active member of your church, and more pointedly to “… make all your theological studies ‘religious exercises.’ This is the great rule for a rich and wholesome religious life in a theological student.” Thus, the goal is – as with any vocation – to do it to the Lord.

On the whole, this is a wonderful little read, and quite inspirational for one engaged in such study.

Memorable Quotes:

– “‘Vocation’ – it is the call of God, addressed to every man, whoever he may be, to lay upon him a particular work, no matter what. And the calls, and therefore also the called, stand on a complete equality with one another… Here is the divine right of every workman, no one of whom needs to be ashamed, if only he is an honest and good workman.”-4

– “… if you do not find Christ in the conference room it is because you do not take him there with you…”-10

– “… to do all this you must keep the fires of religious life burning brightly in your heart; in the inmost core of your being, you must be men of God… One hint I may give you, particularly adapted to you as students for the ministry: Keep always before your mind the greatness of your calling, that is to say, these two things: the immensity of the task before you, the infinitude of the resources at your disposal.”-12

– “I am sure that if you once get a true glimpse of what the ministry of the cross is, for which you are preparing, and of what you, as men preparing for this ministry, should be, you will pray, Lord, who is sufficient for these things, your heart will cry; and your whole soul will be wrung with the petition: Lord, make me sufficient for these things.”-15

Specific Criticisms

The only criticism that might be put forth is to question Warfield’s assertion that one who is not ‘learned’ – if by this he means ‘seminary trained’ – is unfit for ministry. If he merely means that they should be studied in Bible and the things of it, then I don’t suppose anybody could disagree.