June 2010

Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount

Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, by DA Carson ★★★
This is actually a combination of two books, the first being a treatise on the sermon on the mount, and the second “Jesus Confrontation with the World” on Matt. 8-10. The latter were derived from sermons that DA Carson preached early on in his life, and the former is an exposition that we also wrote many years ago, though in a sermon-type format. It is Carson in the “easy-read” mode, speaking in admonitions and encouragement towards a full Christian life. Carson is repetitive with other writings of his and doesn’t offer critical insights that one is accustomed to in his more academic writings. This is a book that offers a good read of a “devotional” type.

Practical Religion

Practical Religion, by J.C. Ryle ★★★★
This book is a series of 21 papers written by J.C. Ryle, former bishop of Liverpool, on aspects of practical Christianity. In it, J.C. Ryle accounts for the necessity for regular Bible reading, prayer, and other aspects of life which maintain the health of a Christian person. There was a moderate amount of repetition of examples, and the papers were more like sermons than expository articles. They provided good reading for self-examination and contemplation on how to live the Christian life in a better manner, focusing on the things that are most important in life.

Above All Earthly Powers

Above All Earthly Powers, Christ in a Postmodern World, by David Wells ★★★★★
This is the fourth in a series of books written by David Wells on the status of the church in the last 20 years. In all of the books in the series, he offers insights into how the church has drifted away from its doctrinal moorings and yielded to the Zeitgeist of pluralism, commercialism, and materialism while turning the focus of worship from God to self. In this book, Wells takes a particular aim at the influences of postmodern thinking on the nature and behavior of the church. In the first several chapters, he defines postmodernism. I tend to agree with his assessment that postmodernism is really just another form of modernism, a form that has run the experiment of the Enlightenment to its bitter deadly end. He then addresses how America has gone from a uniform white European Protestant community to being a multicultural hodgepodge, and how that has affected the way we think and act, as well as the way we “do” church. The next chapter addresses how Americans have actually become much more spiritual across the board, yet much less religious. This is a result of a lost basis for religion, especially the grounding of the authority of Scripture while enhancing the authority of the inner self, and how one feels about god. Next, Wells discusses how the entirety of “meaning” has found a new home. Whereas the older philosophers such as Sartre and Camus spoke of our existential despair, the new think is almost a sense of giddy irrational joy regarding our meaninglessness. Unfortunately, the Christian response has been sociological rather than soteriological, i.e., has tried to answer man’s quest for meaning in terms of help groups rather than giving the gospel. Wells brushes with how the new thinking about Paul has contributed to the evangelical problem by diminishing the work of Christ on the cross. Next, Wells speaks of how our current age has lost its “centeredness”, attacking the openness theology of Clark Pinnock as contributing to the meaninglessness of events in the world where even God has lost control. Wells does a devastating rebuke of openness thinking. In the end, Wells ends with his characteristic theme of showing how all of these postmodern thought patterns have led to the behaviors that we now see in the church, including the Willow Creek phenomenon, church marketing, and the church as the focus of every sort of commercial enterprise. While Willow Creek style pastors have a true desire to help the church to grow, they have sacrificed truth in the process. Thus, they ultimately have nothing to offer the post-modern man, longing for true truth. Church must “preserve its cognitive identity and distinction from the culture” in order to truly flourish. Christians are not to incorporate into or conquer post-modernity, but rather stand for Christ, as post-modernity will die as all other philosophies have died. This book is a must-read for Christians who truly wish to make an impact on post-modern man.

By Faith Alone

By Faith Alone, by Gary L.W. Johnson, and Guy P. Waters ★★
I did not completely read this book and skimmed many sections. It is edited texts of a number of talks given by Presbyterian Reformed people, mostly addressing issues of the new thinking on Paul, as now promoted by N.T. Wright, and on the Auburn Theology. The new thinking sections have been more clearly and better handled by others, such as DA Carson, and so little new is offered. The Auburn Theology issue is the creation of a straw man, attacking it as the view as a Romish deviation of theology, as first suggested by John Murray from Westminster Theological Seminary. Their complaint is the tendency of Auburn Theology, that is, Federal Vision, to speak of a single Covenant, rather than multiple covenants that God has given to man. They offer no clarification as to exactly what they are contesting except for perhaps the different terminology being used, and I am left bewildered as to exactly where they view the problem with Federal Vision to be. Essentially, they resemble a group of academic Presbyterians with a severe case of constipation. Unfortunately, such name-calling has led to potential divisions within the PCA denomination, and we are none the better for the sloppy theology that this book provides. They offer more name-calling rather than arguments to defend or contest the statements of the Federal Theologians. Please understand, while I do not support the theological orientation of federal theology, it is mostly because I am having such a hard time defining what it exactly is, and how it is so seriously deviant from covenantal reformed theology to lead to such rancor and discussion. My advice is to not waste your time with this book.

The Providence of God

The Providence of God, by Paul Helm ★★★★★
This was a hard book to rate, in that it was not an easy book to read. A few sections had to be re-read a number of times, and still pretty much passed me by. I have reviewed other books in the past by Paul Helm. Dr. Helm is noted as one of the premier conservative Christian philosophers alive today and currently teaches at Regent College in Vancouver, B.C. In this text, Helm tackles the hardest of all possible problems, the issue of God’s providence. This book, as I understand from other sources, was written as the philosophical response to Openness theology. What does “providence” mean? How does providence fit philosophically with the thought of human freedom, with the idea of petitionary or intercessory prayer, with the idea of human responsibility, or with the idea of the existence of evil. Helm efficiently shows how all of these concepts relate to the same issue. He shows that if one believes in a situation where God is not knowledgeable of the precise future or has not determined all future decisions that one will make (God taking “risks”), it does not lend to easier solutions to the problem of evil, the problem of freedom, etc., than if one believes in a God who ordains all that will come to pass (God in a no-risk situation). So, Helm concludes with a strong “Calvinistic” approach to free will and providence, though remaining very gracious to disagreement. In the end, Helm does a laudable job at showing the consistency of one’s free will and a God who has determined all that is, was and will be. Helm shows that not only is a no-risk God the most logical (as well as Scriptural) conclusion, but also the conclusion that offers the Christian the greatest comfort, knowing that the future is not in our hands, but in His. Thus, he provides a rational basis for life and obedience as a Christian person, not in “immobility” of feeling that there is no point in acting since the fates will be what they will be, but, since we remain ignorant of the future, living out our lives as responsible moral agents under a God who will make all things, evil or good, work out for our best. This is not a book for everybody. Perhaps one needs to possess certain insanity to even think about the philosophical implications of providence. If you are one of those tormented souls that troubles over philosophical details of good, evil, determinism, and the fates in a theistic context, this is a must-read book.

Praying the Lord’s Prayer

Praying the Lord’s Prayer, by JI Packer ★★★★★
I’ve always enjoyed reading Packer, and have had a special affinity for his writings since I took a class from him. He writes exactly the way he speaks, so one can read him and hear him talking to you. Packer has a distinction of being not only one of the most brilliant people alive today but also a most personable character. This short book must not be read in a single sitting, though it could be easily read in 1-2 hours. Packer provides a gold mine, with every sentence and phrase loaded with gems to ponder. He skillfully brings new life to the prayer we have recited so often at home and at church, and yet really never considered the implications of what we are saying. From the rich manifestations of what it means to have God as our father, and how the prayer is more fitting of a child speaking to a parent, there remain glorious logical products of that relationship that few could ever boast. This book is a must-read- but read it slowly, no speed reading, and let Packer help you grasp the Lord’s prayer in a new and fresh way.


Scandalous-The Cross and Resurrection of Jesus, by DA Carson ★★★★
This book is the product of five sermons given by DA Carson to the Mars Hill Church in Seattle. It is a set of loosely organized sermons oriented around the cross, with a focus on the events that occurred at the time of Christ’s crucifixion, including Jesus being mocked, the raising of Lazarus, and the story of Thomas. It also had a sermon on Rom. 3 related to the atonement, as well as a sermon from Revelation about Christ reigning through the cross. I liked this book because Carson provided some fresh insights into the meaning of Christ’s death, spoken in a manner that is not just a theological rehash. Carson tends to always provide practical advice on living based on the theology of the cross. I do find reading sermons to be a bit tedious, since they would be better off listening to, yet Carson manages to hold one’s attention in a delightful fashion, making the book a worthy read.

How Evil Works

How Evil Works, by David Kupelian ★★★★★
This book is the sequel to The Marketing of Evil, also recently reviewed by me, by the same author and published by World Net Daily Books. Kupelian systematically attacks the many cultural fixtures of our society, showing how their abandonment of the Christian ethic and ethos has led to the current morass that we are in. Chapters include discussions as to why and how politicians lie to us, the rise of sexual anarchy, the grip of terrorism, the cult of celebrity and Hollywoodism, the rash of “mental illness”, the turn to vulgar religions, feminism, and its destructiveness, and finally the acceptance of hate in society. Kupelian not only discusses how these traits are seated in our society but also suggests a solution, which is returning to the Christian base from whence we came. His is a harsh but accurate reflection on our society, which is typically not found in modern print as well thought out as Kupelian has done in this book. Thus, a book highly to be recommended.

Telling the Truth

Telling the Truth, edited by DA Carson ★★★
This book is written as a compendium of a series of talks given at a conference held at Trinity Theological Seminary in Chicagoland. The subtitle suggests that the focus is on addressing the gospel to the post-modern world. The first few talks help to define in a very cursory fashion the nature of post-modernism, with a focus on the writings of Richard Rorty and Michel Foucault. Subsequent chapters deal with the issues of evangelism in the community. The book does a poor job of developing the thought structures of post-modernism. The development of evangelism specifically to the post-modern mindset was really not discussed well. The use of various post-modern terms, such as “metanarrative” was used in just about every chapter to make it post-modern oriented, though dealing with a post-modernist seemed similar to dealing with the pre-modernist or modernist, i.e., speaking and living the truth. The book is written almost entirely by either academic or college evangelists, such as Campus Crusade or Inter-varsity personnel, with emphasis on how to reach students. It leaves the assumption that students and academics are the only post-modernists, and not necessarily the man on the street. The book thrives on the discussion of techniques, failing a Reformed perspective of God’s work in evangelism. Several chapters simply should have been omitted completely, such as a chapter emphasizing Christ-centeredness in all Biblical reading which does violence to best Biblical hermeneutic. Worst, as mentioned before, the lengthy advice given for evangelism is true regardless of whether one is witnessing Christ to a post-modern, modern, pre-modern or normal person. There was no connection on how to specifically engage a person devoid of truth concepts, outside of the normal engagement of the person. I don’t wish to be too hard on this book. There was much good thought and discussion about engaging the culture which I found relevant to my own personal life. I think that Francis Schaeffer, though writing 30-40 years ago but definitely not dated, offers still the best advice about the engagement of the culture. A Teaching Company series by Louis Markos is excellent at exploring (in the last three lectures) the modernist and post-modernist mindset from a Christian perspective. With Markos, the Modernist is a person who rejects the ability to communicate or know the truth but will never deny the existence of truth. With post-modernism, communication may occur, though you are communicating nothing relevant since truth simply does not exist. Yet, as Schaeffer insists, the modernist (and post-modernist) cannot live by his own assumptions. Penetrating those inconsistencies in a clear and loving way was not discussed in this book. We live in a society which one would love to escape. The moral turpitude, the despair and mindlessness of even the academic elites, the wonton materialism and narcissistic hedonism which governs our culture make it challenging to survive let alone thrive. Yet, God calls us, and this book challenges each of us to creativity at the task of preaching the gospel in an intelligent yet winsome fashion. Lord help us.

An Inconvenient Book

An Inconvenient Book, by Glenn Beck ★★
This is Glenn Beck’s latest publication, and hopefully his last. Glenn Beck has a lot about him to like. He tends toward economic conservatism, as well as moral conservatism. He is quite humorous in his presentation, though also profoundly arrogant. He is not a person that I would wish to engage in a discussion, as I don’t find him a person capable of thinking out challenging issues. Yet this would also be true of most liberals. I’ve read several of Al Franken’s books in the past and found them to be remarkable brain-dead thoughtless drivel, which is why Europeans, as well as American elites, devoured Al Franken. The only saving grace of Glenn Beck is his ability to back his statements with statistics and facts that support his arguments. Beck is sometimes quite nauseating in his narcissism, frequently modeling himself as the Phoenix of debauchery who rose from the dead to true wisdom, though found in an equally befuddling form of untruth, that of Mormonism, the co-religion of the likes of Reid and Romney. It is most annoying when he keeps talking about his marriage as eternal, not that I dislike it as a notion, save that it is entirely unscriptural.  Until Beck finds the true truth, his moral and economic dicta will only take us from a liberal cesspool to a conservative cesspool. I wish better for the US of A.