Sunday, December 30, 2007

2007 in Retrospect

1 Timothy 4:16 could be spread like a banner over my recollections of 2007:  "Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things, for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you" (NASB).  In the Biblical Spirituality class I took this past summer, Dr. Don Whitney reminded us that failure in ministry is inevitable - unless we obey this instruction.  One of the deepest sorrows of the year was the failure of a minister I knew - a sobering, real life illustration of what happens when one fails to pay close attention to one's life.
 
The year held several high points.  My wife and I celebrated 4 years of marriage.  Our third daughter was born.  I completed the phase 1 training of the CAPS program, and was privileged to give a brief message before our keynote speaker at the graduation banquet.  I was refreshed by the Power in the Pulpit conference in April.  I began seminary, finishing three classes (Baptist History with Dr. Tom Nettles, Biblical Spirituality, and Biblical Hermeneutics with Dr. Rob Plummer).  All were excellent, but the Biblical Spirituality class helped me examine my own heart and deepen my relationship with Christ.
 
It was a good year for reading.  I read (or, in the case of #'s 3 and 6, started) several books that were particularly thought-shaping for me.  Here are my "top ten":
 
1. Haggai (OT) - Persevering in our priorities was the message I gathered from it.  Worship is the priority, and we must keep looking to God our hope to continue.
 
2. Revelation (NT) - The focus on worship is amazing, and regardless of one's view on the timing of events, surely we can agree on this (although I've not heard it emphasized much in my life).  Worthy is the Lamb who was slain - and He is seen being worshiped.  God pours out His judgment - and He is worshiped. 
 
3. Why 27? How Can We Be Sure We Have the Right Books in the New Testament? by Brian Edwards - great for canon of Scripture
 
4. The Expository Genius of John Calvin by Steve Lawson - excellent book on preaching
 
5. Give Praise to God  (ed. Ryken, Duncan, Thomas) - great book on worship
 
6. The Faithful Preacher by Thabiti Anyabwile - good church history/biography and penetrating sermons
 
7. The Gospel and Personal Evangelism by Mark Dever - leaves us with no excuse to not evangelize and with many practical encouragements of how to share the Gospel
 
8. How to Worship Jesus Christ by Joseph Carroll - excellent look at Revelation 4 and 5 included in this book that leads us to worship; short, simple, easy to read; you will have done yourself a favor if you read this
 
9. Jesus' Blood and Righteousness by Brian Vickers - great defense of imputation of Christ's righteousness
 
10. Getting the Message by Dan Doriani - best single book on hermeneutics I've seen; simple, but one would need to learn more about genres and the big picture of the Bible than this book presents, but it's a great place to start!  Thanks to Dr. Brian Vickers at SBTS for recommending this.
 
I read several blogs this past year, but the following five were ones I probably learned the most from, and/or plan to visit regularly in the future:
 
1. Fearing God in a Hebel World (Detroit Seminary OT Prof. - Dr. Bob McCabe's blog)
 
2. Pure Church (Thabiti Anyabwile's blog - good practical ecclesiology)
 
3. Reforming My Mind (links to .mp3 files on the web, categorized by speaker)
 
4. TheoSource (book lists, book recommendations and reviews, author biographies)
 
5. Tony Kummer began the Said at Southern metablog.  In addition its own front page and podcasts, it has links to other seminary bloggers and a "well said" section that highlights particularly notable posts.
 
This was the year that I began blogging with some regularity.  Some of the more useful posts (in my opinion) were:
 
1. Selling Books in the Church by guest-blogger and friend, J. A. Ingold, was a six-part series about starting and maintaining a church book ministry.
 
2. I shared what I learned from Dr. Don Whitney about "Praying Through Scripture"
 
3. "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" - a review of the Weekender at Capitol Hill Baptist Church
 
4. I wrote about 5 ways pulpit plagiarism steals from pastors and churches.
 
5. The Danger of Getting Bored with the Gospel was my contribution to the 2007 Reformation Day Symposium hosted by Tim Challies (includes links to more Reformation Resources).
 
6. Three Ways God Spreads the Good News - a summary of a sermon from Acts 16
 
7. I wrote about why I am Thankful for My Local Church.
 
8. I posted a bibliography (with weblinks) of Resources for Study on the Canon of Scripture.
 
9. Dr. Sam Storms gave me permission to post his series on "Those Troubling Psalms of Imprecation"
 
10. In addition, I had the privilege to review several books.
 
I hope you had a profitable 2007 as well.  May God bless us in 2008 with a deeper knowledge of Him and more fervent love for Him.  Amen and Happy New Year!
 
Doug Smith

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Book Review-The Gospel and Personal Evangelism

Mark E. Dever, The Gospel and Personal Evangelism (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2007), 124 pp.

Reviewed by Doug Smith

What exactly is the Gospel? What exactly is evangelism? Whose job is evangelism? How should we evangelize? Why should we evangelize? Why don't we evangelize?

According to Mark Dever, the Gospel is such good news that Christians actually ought to share it. Of course, this idea is found in the Bible itself. This should be no surprise to us. Yet, it seems we find many excuses and reasons to neglect evangelism. At the seminary I'm taking courses through, we are required to take a course on personal evangelism. Doesn't it seem a bit odd that we are required to witness to people? Could that be because evangelism is done so little by many of us and that we also have difficulty knowing what kind of approach to take? Mark Dever is the senior pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D. C., and founder of 9Marks Ministries. His book is a welcome help to those of us who struggle with personal evangelism and who would like to make it a regular lifestyle. In seven short chapters, he labors to present an accurate understanding of the Gospel, to press upon us the obligation of Christians to evangelize, and to equip us with practical ideas to help us obey faithfully with joy.

Description

The Gospel and Personal Evangelism is a short book filled with Biblical foundations for and vivid illustrations of personal evangelism. Dever often writes from his own experience. Early in the book, he disarms us of some anti-evangelistic weapons we might be tempted to employ: excuses, many of which stem from selfishness, apathy, and fear of man. Dever does not neglect the relevant and controversial matter of the doctrine of God's sovereignty for evangelism. He is straightforward and to the point: "It was Paul who wrote one of the clearest biblical passages about God's sovereignty (Romans 9) and then went on to write one of the most pointed biblical passages about man's responsibility" (p. 28). God's sovereignty is actually an encouragement to evangelize and should never be used as an excuse to neglect this duty. Dever clarifies what the Gospel is and isn't. While the Gospel is not simply the idea that God is love, that Jesus wants to be our friend, nor the idea that we’re all okay, it is:

[T]he good news is that the one and only God, who is holy, made us in his image to know him. But we sinned and cut ourselves off from him. In his great love, God became a man in Jesus, lived a perfect life, and died on the cross, thus fulfilling the law himself and taking on himself the punishment for the sins of all those who would ever turn and trust in him. He rose again from the dead, showing that God accepted Christ's sacrifice and that God's wrath against us had been exhausted. He now calls us to repent of our sins and trust in Christ alone for our forgiveness. If we repent of our sins and trust in Christ, we are born again into a new life, an eternal life with God.(p. 43)

All Christians are called to share the Gospel. The local church should be viewed as having an important role in evangelism. Principles and methods of evangelism are shared in chapter four, while chapter five details what evangelism isn't, reminding us that personal testimony, social and political activism, apologetics, and the results of evangelism should never be confused with evangelism. Nor should imposition be confused with evangelism, as declaring the objective truth of God and the repentance and faith that He requires of all people is not the same as imposing our own ideas and opinions on someone else.

Dever discusses the types of responses to the Gospel (negative and positive), how we should view them, and how we should handle them. The book gives us reasons and encouragements to evangelize, including obedience to God and love for Him and others. The conclusion deals with the issue of "closing the sale," pointing out bad evangelistic assumptions that tend toward making false converts and encouraging us that if we have shared the Gospel clearly, we have faithfully evangelized, regardless of the person's response.

A brief annotated bibliography and a word to pastors rounds out the book, giving suggestions for further resources and practices to be faithful evangelists.

Evaluation

This book is short, simple, convicting, encouraging, and useful. It can be read in one sitting of a couple of hours. Dever communicates clearly with simple language and helpful illustrations, making for an easy and interesting read. The book should shock us out of our apathy, selfishness, and lack of love, but it should also provide encouragement in the joyful obedience of spreading the Gospel.

This book is useful for any Christian, but busy pastors and seminarians should especially take it to heart. The Gospel and Personal Evangelism would be an excellent resource to make available in a local church, and would be a helpful book for a study in a church setting or in personal discipleship. The practical suggestions, such as frequenting businesses to build relationships and intentionally provoking people to think about spiritual things, are quite clear and helpful.

Mark Dever leaves us with no excuse for neglecting evangelism, while encouraging us to be proactive, honest, urgent, and joyful in the spreading of this good news of Christ, the Gospel. Thank you, C. J. Mahaney, for encouraging Mark to write this book, and thank you Mark for writing it. May it bear much fruit for the sake of the Gospel.

--

This review first appeared at Said at Southern. A couple of other opinions to check out are Jesse Johnson’s review on the Pulpit Magazine blog and Jason Button's preliminary thoughts (I will post a link to his full review when it appears). I have posted a list of related resources here.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Book Review-God's Big Picture: Tracing the Storyline of the Bible

Vaughan Roberts, God's Big Picture: Tracing the Storyline of the Bible (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2002), 160pp. Paper.

One of the most helpful features of much modern technology is the "zoom" option. From cameras to word processors, the ability to see both small details and the big picture is helpful to understand more about what we are looking at. Vaughan Roberts' book, God's Big Picture: Tracing the Storyline of the Bible is one attempt to give students of God's Word "an overview of the main storyline of the Bible" to provide a helpful framework to keep in mind when studying its parts (20). Roberts helps readers "zoom out" to see what the forest of biblical theology looks like so we can better understand the purpose of the individual trees in the Bible and thus "get [our] bearings when [we] land in any part of it" (20).

DESCRIPTION

Roberts aims "to help Christians find their way around the Bible and to see how it all holds together and points us to Jesus" (14). Some have called this book "Goldsworthy lite," thinking of it as a simplified version of Graeme Goldsworthy's approach to biblical theology. Roberts admits as much, saying, "Anyone who has read Gospel and Kingdom [by Goldsworthy] will see its influence in these pages" (10). Both writers see Scripture as a unified and interconnected work. Roberts explains:

The Old Testament on its own is an unfinished story; a promise without a fulfillment. We must read on to the New Testament if we want to know what it really means. And the New Testament constantly looks back to the promise it fulfills. (19-20)

God's Big Picture sees the kingdom of God as the unifying theme that shows how the Bible fits together. This theme is not forced upon the Scripture but arises out it and it sufficiently encompasses the whole of Scripture in a way that allows "each part to make its own distinct contribution" (20-21). Furthermore, "God's kingdom was the dominant theme in Jesus' teaching" (21). The kingdom of God is understood to be presented throughout Scripture as "God's people in God's place under God's rule and blessing" (21).

In eight chapters, the book traces the kingdom motif throughout the Bible.

"The Pattern of the Kingdom" introduces us to elements of this unifying them by looking at Genesis 1:1-2:25. "The Perished Kingdom" (Gen. 3) shows the results of man's rejection of God's kingdom. "The Promised Kingdom" (Gen. 17:1-8; Gal. 3:6-14) focuses on God's promises of salvation. It particularly emphasizes God's covenant with Abraham, which promised a people, a land, and blessing, and shows that, from the start, the kingdom of God was intended to include Gentiles as well as Jews. "The Partial Kingdom" (a lengthy chapter in comparison with the others) covers passages ranging from Genesis 12 to 2 Samuel 7:1-17 to trace the kingdom through the history of Israel and highlights the promise of a king. "The Prophesied Kingdom" focuses on the role of the prophets in announcing the coming fulfillment of the promises of the kingdom of God.

The kingdom of God "sums up the prophetic hope" (108), according to Roberts. As the book turns to the New Testament in "The Present Kingdom," the author states:

At first sight we may feel that a genealogy is an uninspiring way to start the New Testament, but, if we remember God's promises, we will be on the edge of our seats as soon as we read the words: 'A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ the son of David, the son of Abraham' (Matthew 1:1). He is the one who fulfills the promises to Abraham in Genesis 12 and to David in 2 Samuel 7. The apostle Paul expresses it clearly: 'no matter how many promises God has made, they are "yes" in Christ' (2 Corinthians 1:20). (107)

The chapter shows how Jesus brings the kingdom of God. As for God's people, Jesus did what Adam and Israel failed to do. Jesus is the place of God's kingdom, fulfilling the purposes of the tabernacle and temple. God's rule and blessing come about through the new covenant Jesus establishes and the blessing that flows from His kingship. These things came about through the "triumphant success" of the cross (114). There was no other way for Christ to bring God's kingdom apart from His obedience to the Father and death as a substitute for sinners. His resurrection inaugurates a new age of God's blessing.

Roberts' bite-size overview of the Gospels culminates in his assertion that the kingdom has come, although it has not yet come in its fullness (119). He compares Jesus to a conductor who has returned to offer salvation to those who have refused to play God's tune. While some submit to this redeemer, they will continue to play some wrong notes and produce discord, since there is still a future aspect to the kingdom (118-119).

In "The Proclaimed Kingdom," the author says, "The promises of the kingdom will not be completely fulfilled until [Christ's] second coming" (123). He gives 2 Timothy 3:1 and James 5:3 as reasons for viewing "the last days" as the time between the first and second comings of Jesus, meaning that, according to New Testament usage, we have been in the last days for the last two millennia. God has delayed Jesus' return "so that more people will have a chance to hear the gospel and repent before it is too late" (125). Right now, God is working by His Spirit through the proclamation of the gospel to extend His kingdom. The Spirit is reversing the judgment of Babel (separation of nations along linguistic lines) and, in a way peculiar to this age, He indwells and empowers believers to bear witness to the truth before those who do not believe. The return of Jesus takes place after the gospel is preached to all nations.

The church is God's people (131). God's place is this holy people who trust Christ. God's Spirit dwells in us individually and as a Christian community (131), and helps us to enjoy God's rule and blessing by living according to His standards (132).

The present age leaves us longing for "The Perfected Kingdom." In this chapter, Roberts surveys the book of Revelation to show what God has told us about the complete fulfillment all His promises, particularly as His people are with Him in the new creation, in the new temple, enjoying His rule and blessing forever.

EVALUATION

The book has several advantages. Its brevity and ease of reading make it accessible to a wide audience, even as young as high school. Most of the chapters are short and include questions for discussion and application, making it ideal for Sunday school, classroom use, or personal study. It contains many helpful charts. It whets the appetite for further Bible study and is useful even for students advanced in their hermeneutics that may be familiar with the minutiae of Scripture but have forgotten what the view of the whole thing looks like. It is common to hear that we should interpret a text in light of its immediate context, the book that it is in, and the whole Bible, but sometimes it is difficult to see how it fits in with the rest of the canon. Vaughan Roberts has given us a resource that helps in this area.

As useful as the book is, the reader should be aware of Robert's views of the interpretation of the days in Genesis 1, the nation Israel, and eschatology. These particular concerns would keep me from recommending the book for private study to those without a good grounding in the Scriptures and Christian theology.

Roberts states the following about God's creation of the world:

Whether he completed the job in six literal twenty-four hours days or over a longer period does not really matter (Christian opinions differ over how we should interpret Genesis 1). What is important is the fact that God is the creator of all things. (27)

However, such an issue may well matter a great deal, as one's view of the days of Genesis could impact one's view of the historicity of Adam and Eve, the origin of sin, and even the events of the gospel itself. Some spiritualize the days of Genesis into long ages simply to accommodate a supposed body of scientific evidence that would render the literal interpretation nonsensical. These interpreters may well be guilty of compromising the very foundations of the gospel (albeit unintentionally).

Dispensational readers may quickly notice that Roberts' does not share their views on the nature of Israel and predictive prophecy. His amillennial eschatology surfaces frequently in the last half of the book (I write as a premillennialist).

Roberts plainly states, "The new Israel is the church" (131). As far as a future for Israel, he discourages readers from looking for fulfillment of the Old Testament promises "in the State of Israel" and says not "to expect a new temple to be build there" (108). He writes:

God made his promises to Israel in ways they could understand. He used categories they were familiar with, such as the nation, the temple and material prosperity in the land. But the fulfillment breaks the boundaries of those categories. To expect a literal fulfillment is to miss the point. (109)

It would have been helpful to see his analysis of Romans chapters 9-11 (especially chapter 11) in regard to these points.

Neither the 1,000 years of Christ's reign nor the 144,000 should be understood in terms of literal numbers, according to Roberts (145, 148). The lake of fire is seen to represent eternal death; Roberts does not clearly indicate whether he thinks this means there is an eternal conscious torment of the damned or not (144).

He also makes his amillennial views clear when he speaks about other passages in Revelation in an endnote, writing:

Revelation 20:2-3 speaks of Satan being bound and then thrown into the Abyss at the start of the thousand-year period. There is good reason to believe that those events have taken place in the past. Revelation 12:10 makes it clear that Satan has already been hurled down from heaven. He was defeated by the death and resurrection of Christ and has been bound ever since. He is powerless to stop God calling his elect into his kingdom, but he has still not admitted defeat and continues to attack God's people. Revelation 11:7 describes him coming up from the Abyss to attack the witnessing church. He could not have come up from the bottomless pit if he had not already been thrown down into it. I believe that occurred when Christ died and rose. That is when the millennium began. It will continue until just before the return of Christ.

These concerns should not result in a dismissal of Roberts' book, but they need to be pointed out. Because of them, I think the book would be most useful in a classroom setting or a discipleship/mentoring relationship where a more competent teacher can help the student when these issues arise.

CONCLUSION

Vaughan Roberts' small volume of biblical theology is useful to help us "zoom out" and see the big picture of the Bible. Despite the caveats given above, the book is still valuable to help us see what the Bible is all about so we can interpret its parts in light of it as a whole. God's Big Picture is a great starting point for encouragement to be better students of God's Word, clear proclaimers of His truth, more obedient children of God, and more faithful evangelists in spreading the good news of King Jesus.

UPDATE (12/27/07): Jason Button has posted links to some other reviews of this book, including a triple book review at 9Marks (this book and Goldsworthy's Gospel & Kingdom and According to Plan)

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Free Audio on the Spiritual Disciplines (Biblical Spirituality)

These lectures are by Dr. Don Whitney from SBTS. I highly commend this man's ministry to you. I was privileged to take his Biblical Spirituality class this past summer in a modular format and it is probably the most profitable and refreshing five days I have ever had (the assignments preceding and following the in-class time were also great). His material on praying Scripture was especially helpful to me. Listen, and let us discipline ourselves for the purpose of godliness (1 Tim. 4:7). From Omaha Bible Church:

HT: Tony Kummer, Paul Schafer

Monday, December 17, 2007

Bible Intake in 2008

Here are some resources to help us profit from God's Word in the new year:






If you want to get on a fast track, check out the plan at Said at Southern to read through the Bible in a month.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Book Review at SharperIron: What Is a Healthy Church?

SharperIron has published my book review of What Is a Healthy Church? here.
New Attitude has made part of the book available online and plans to offer more: see here. UPDATE: Click here for the helpful list of things to think about if you're thinking of leaving a church (another excerpt from the book). (HT: Justin Taylor)

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Finding Good Books: TheoSource

From the website description: "TheoSource is a place to find information on Theological Sources (i.e. bibliographical sources and recommendations). TheoSource book lists are an attempt to compile as many reputable recommendations into one place as is possible. Here you will find recommended books on theology, Christian biography, Bible commentaries (OT & NT), Bible study, church history, and more." I highly recommend this site. You can download .pdf's of recommended book lists obtained from reputable seminaries and categorized in various ways. The biographical sketches, often posted on the subject's birthday or death date, are a favorite feature. Tim Ashcraft and Jason Button (the book review editor for SharperIron - check out the book review website here) also keep readers informed about new releases and important theological issues and provide helpful links to resources from other sites (such as book reviews, tips on reading, etc.). In addition to their site being syndicated, one can also subscribe by email (a helpful feature I have taken advantage of). Click here to check out the site: TheoSource.

Christmas Carol Resources

Soundforth has one of the best caroling books I've seen, and as long as I've known about it they have kept it in print (in fact, our school ordered some this year; in addition, they shipped very quickly!).

It includes the following carols: "Angels from the Realms of Glory," "Angels We Have Heard on High," "As with Gladness, Men of Old," "Away in a Manger," "The Birthday of a King," "The First Noel," "God Rest You Merry Gentlemen," "Good Christian Men, Rejoice," "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing," "How Great Our Joy," "It Came Upon the Midnight Clear," "Joy to the World," "O Come, All Ye Faithful," "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel," "O Little Town of Bethlehem," "Silent Night," "There's a Song in the Air," "Thou Didst Leave Thy Throne," "We Three Kings," "We Wish You a Merry Christmas," "What Child Is This?," and "While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks."

FREE RESOURCES:

From Christmas Carols for a Kid's Heart by Bobbie Wolgemuth and Joni Eareckson Tada

From http://www.christmascarolmusic.org/ - They claim that "no other web site offers all of these features":

  • All of it is free! No hidden costs, no teasers, no bait-and-switch.
  • Sheet music for every carol, in standard PDF (Adobe Acrobat) format. No need to purchase or download special software!
  • Sheet music in 4 parts (SATB) for most carols. Just the thing for caroling!
  • Lead sheets (melody, chords & lyrics) for most carols.
  • Additional guitar lead sheets in easy keys, when the piano lead sheet is in a horrible key for novice guitarists.
  • Instrumental parts for C, F, Bb, and Eb instruments. Play in 4 parts with any combination of instruments!
  • MIDI files for every carol (so you can hear what they sound like), with both 4-part (SATB) and melody-only versions.
  • A list of CD's where you can hear each carol, with easy links to buy them from Amazon.com, and (in most cases) a sound clip of a sample of the carol from the CD.
  • Background music only when you ask for it, instead of playing automatically whether you want it or not!
  • Lyric sheets for every carol. (Okay, so this is no big deal, but this site wouldn't be complete without them.)
  • Credits (author, composer, translator, arranger) for every carol.
  • No obnoxious animations or pop-up ads.
  • And did we mention that all of it is free?

Bibles for Children - Some Advice from Al Mohler

Dr. Albert Mohler recently gave some helpful suggestion for children’s Bibles and for reading to children:

HT: The Reformed Parishioner, Theosource

Friday, December 07, 2007

Book Thoughts: Gospel-Centered Hermeneutics

I have written a review of Graeme Goldsworthy's Gospel-Centered Hermeneutics: Foundations and Principles of Evangelical Biblical Interpretation (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2006) for www.sharperiron.org that should probably appear on their website sometime next year. I will not post the full review here until it's published there, but I did want to share a few brief thoughts.
The book has several strengths. It is strong in focusing on Christ as the hermeneutical key of Scripture (Luke 24:27, 44), and even reality. "The principles of hermeneutics are to be found within the Scriptures themselves," the author writes (22). These matters are often not considered enough in standard hermeneutics texts, and we certainly need to pay attention to these areas. In addition, proper hermeneutics are part of our sanctification. A good overview detailing the eclipse of the Gospel in hermeneutics is given. The Gospel can be obscured by alien influences and wrong presuppositions in our hermeneutics, so we should be careful to know what our foundation is.
However, the book is not a handbook on hermeneutics for the average person. (The title could mislead some to assume it is a comprehensive text on hermeneutics.) It would not be a good choice for a stand-alone guide to interpreting the Bible. It is helpful in thinking through some theory, but the reader will not find much in the way of hands-on use of that theory (although the book does have some practical helps in it, such as a chart of the macro-typology of the Bible). One won't find a comprehensive help for genres here, and for a work on the big picture of Scripture, the author's According to Plan or Vaughan Roberts' God's Big Picture would serve better. The reader should also be aware of the author's view on literal interpretation. He does not see support for a literal fulfillment of the promises of restoration of Israel and even asserts that this was an error in those to whom Jesus spoke (170). Related to this is Goldsworthy's amillennial eschatology (224-225, cf. 82). (Vaughan Roberts shares this viewpoint, as well as thinking that the interpretation of the days in Genesis as literal twenty-four hour days or long ages is inconsequential, a point I must take issue with!) Despite these caveats, the book is still a worthwhile read, but I would not recommend it for everyone. The trained pastor or scholar will be challenged and benefit from Goldsworthy's ideas. Whether or not one agrees with everything, this is a useful book for thinking through hermeneutical theory. Certainly we need to come to grips with a Scriptural philosophy of hermeneutics and a way to rightly see the relation of the Bible's unity to its diversity. However, Gospel-Centered Hermeneutics would not make a great hermeneutics textbook by itself. For other opinions on the book, check out:

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Book Review at SharperIron: The Expository Genius of John Calvin

SharperIron has published my book review of The Expository Genius of John Calvin by Steve Lawson (excellent book; click here to read it there).

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Fearing God in a Hebel World: Dr. Bob McCabe

Dr. Bob McCabe is a scholar who teaches Old Testament at Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary, which is, from all I've seen, the finest self-identified fundamentalist seminary out there. Dr. McCabe staunchly supports (and rightly, I believe) a literal interpretation of the days of Genesis 1 as normal 24-hour days, and believes in a young earth (again, rightly, I believe). His excellent blog, Fearing God in a Hebel World, has some very helpful posts and links to more in-depth writings. I particularly commend the following two which have caught my eye recently: "Critique of the Framework Interpretation" "Evidence Incompatible with an Old Earth" See also his journal articles critiquing the framework hypothesis here, and check out "Defending the Foundation of the Gospel: Literal Days in the Creation Week"

Thursday, November 15, 2007

What to Look for in a Pastor

A survey conducted in Scotland revealed that the following are the qualities considered to be of prime importance in a pastor:

1. Leadership skills
2. Developing Abilities
3. Recognising Abilities
4. Knowledge of denominational principles
5. Good communicator
6. People focused
7. Knowledge of church structure
8. Practical work experience
9. Management skills
10. Active participant in the community

I do not suppose an American list would be much different.  But what kind of requirements does God have for men who would serve the church as a bishop/elder/pastor (in my understanding and study, different terms that refer to the same office, highlighting different aspects of it)?  One thing that strikes me as odd in this list is that one can be and do all the things in it and have a rotten character.

Thabiti Anyabwile has completed a study of this question in a series called "Finding Reliable Men."  It is based on 1 Timothy 3:1-7 – an inspired list of qualifications – and can be accessed by the links below.   It is time that churches started looking for and training up men who meet God's standards, rather than looking for CEOs and civic leaders.  I highly recommend this series: 1) for pastors - keep fighting the good fight and stay pure; 2) for aspiring pastors - this is a high calling; and 3) for church members - God calls us all to cultivate the same qualities with the exception of "able to teach" and we should not lower the standard for those who we call as pastors.  These are the qualities we ought to focus on seeing in future elders and candidates for pastoral positions.

Introduction: Finding Reliable Men
Above Reproach
One-Woman Man
Temperate, Self-Controlled, Respectable
Hospitable
Able to Teach
Sober, Gentle, Peacemaking
Not Lovers of Money
Leaders at Home
Mature and Humble
Finding Reliable Men: Well Thought of by Outsiders

(HT:  Mike Gilbart-Smith)

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The Gospel and Personal Evangelism: Related Resources

Said at Southern has posted my review of Mark Dever's recent book, The Gospel and Personal Evangelism.
Thanks to Crossway for providing a review copy.
Endorsements for the book are here.
Free sample: Foreword, Introduction, and Chapter 1 (free .pdf) Another excerpt: "What Evangelism Isn't"
Below are some resources for further study.
Books & Resources Dever refers to in The Gospel and Personal Evangelism:
Especially for pastors:
Related resources by Dever:
In February 2006 Dever delivered a number of messages on evangelism at Sovereign Grace Ministries' Pastors' College Evangelism Conference. These four talks are available as free MP3 downloads.

Free download of the message that the book is based on: The Gospel and Evangelism.

Evangelism: What It Is and What It Isn't (Noah Braymen's summary of Dever's talk from the 2007 Gospel Growth Conference) - there is a chapter quite similar in the book.

In this Adrian Warnock interview with Dever, they talk about his book on evangelism.

The book is also referenced briefly in this interview with Gary Shavey. "Election, the Gospel and Evangelism" Founders Breakfast 2006 (CD: $3 plus $1.50 S&H; Download: $1.50 - and worth it!) - Dever points to Romans 9 and 10 of proof that God's sovereignty motivated Paul to evangelize and it should move us as well.

Update (1/30/08):

Al Mohler’s review of the book

Al Mohler interviews Dever on personal evangelism

(HT: Justin Taylor, Said at Southern)

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Book Review-Give Praise to God

Philip Graham Ryken, Derek W. H. Thomas, and J. Ligon Duncan III, eds., Give Praise to God: a Vision for Reforming Worship (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P&R, 2003), 516pp. Indices: Scripture, and Subject and Names.
reviewed by Doug Smith
Give Praise to God celebrates the legacy of James Montgomery Boice, late pastor of Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia. While not a book about Boice, this book honors his commitment to the glory of God by considering various dimensions of worship. The editors present a foreword, introduction, eighteen chapters, and an afterword from eighteen respected church leaders primarily from Presbyterian and Baptist backgrounds. In addition to the editors themselves, R. C. Sproul, Edmund P. Clowney, R. Albert Mohler Jr., Mark Dever, Terry L. Johnson, D. Marion Clark, Richard D. Phillips, Paul S. Jones, Donald S. Whitney, William Edgar, W. Robert Godfrey, Nick R. Needham, Hughes Oliphant Old, and Michael S. Horton contribute to this tome. Most chapters are so helpful as to deserve their own review, but space will only permit a brief survey in comparison to what this work deserves.
This book is the fruit of much research, experience, and zeal to help Christians think more biblically about how we are to worship God. It is divided into four sections.
Part one, "The Bible and Worship," begins with a helpful consideration by Ligon Duncan of what God says about how we ought to worship. Derek Thomas defends the regulative principle of worship, concluding that it frees us from the whims of men to worship God according to the Bible. Edmund Clowney writes on "Corporate Worship As a Means of Grace," but seems to skate over the surface and not really explore exactly what he means by "means of grace."
Part two covers the "Elements of Biblical Worship" in detail. Al Mohler makes a compelling case for expository preaching and Mark Dever shows how it ought to proclaim the Gospel, no matter what text the preacher is covering. Duncan and Terry Johnson urge the public reading and praying of the Bible, something that many "Bible-believing" Christians have sadly neglected. Marion Clark's chapter on the meaning and practice of baptism is helpful and thought-provoking even to those of us who reject infant baptism. Richard Phillips thinks deeply about the Lord's Supper and the practical considerations that attend it. Paul Jones persuasively defends the use of "hymnody in a post-hymnody world," while Terry Johnson invites us to the riches of Psalm-singing, arguing for inclusive psalmody (as opposed to exclusive psalmody, which permits no hymns of human composition).
Part three focuses on "Preparing for Biblical Worship." Don Whitney calls us to worship God daily in private, while Duncan and Johnson cry for a return to family worship, both chapters providing practical suggestions for including Scripture, prayer, and song in those times. William Edgar reminds us that we are to renew our minds in order to worship God in all of life. Robert Godfrey looks at the role of the emotions in worship, briefly critiquing Jonathan Edwards while upholding the legitimacy and necessity of emotions that issue from faith in Christ.
"Worship, History, and Culture" is the fourth and final part of the book. Nick Needham gives a very helpful and fascinating overview of "Worship Through the Ages" that covers a wide spectrum of time periods and church traditions. Hughes Oliphant Old explores "Calvin's Theology of Worship." Michael Horton proposes that the answer to the "Challenges and Opportunities for Ministry Today" is a countercultural faithfulness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which is so contrary and offensive to this present evil age.
This book is a refreshing and relevant contribution to the literature of the church and worship. It is refreshing and relevant for the same reason: it prescribes faithfulness to the Bible, not a desire to cater to the whims of culture and marketing gurus, as the driving force in defining our philosophy and practices. It reminds us that worship is centered on God, not man, and that this God has spoken and made matters very clear about how He is and is not to be worshiped. Expositional preaching, substantive Scripture readings and prayers, biblically based songs, and obedient observance of baptism and the Lord's Supper should characterize our local churches. We should be regularly engaged in worshiping God as individuals and families. We need to apply His Word to all of life, loving Him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. Attention to the issues discussed in this book should deepen our sense of awe and wonder at the majesty of God. It serves to instruct our minds with truth so glorious that reverence, joy, and praise should be the inevitable results.
This book certainly belongs in the hands of church leaders, particularly pastors and music ministers. Church members would also profit from considering the material in many of these chapters, because this book calls us all to think rightly about how we approach and interact with God. It reminds to look to God's Word for instruction on worshiping Him, helping us to avoid the idolatry we are so prone to. A welcome antidote to the man-centered, market-driven ideas that masquerade as wisdom on worship, this book shows us why and how we should Give Praise to God.
This review has been submitted to www.discerningreader.com. RELATED RESOURCES: Robert G. Spinney wrote a booklet (free .pdf) to "highlight the key points" of Give Praise to God: “Looking for God in All the Wrong Places: an Appeal for Word-Based Corporate Worship.” Hartsville, TN: Tulip Books, 2006. An adaptation of the chapter by Ligon Duncan and Terry Johnson, "A Call to Family Worship" (free .pdf download accessible from the link) A lesson from Don Whitney: "How to Pray Through Scripture"

Monday, November 12, 2007

The Pragmatism of Party Politics

Lately, there has been a bit of hullabaloo about the endorsement of presidential candidates by major Christian leaders. Related to this is a meeting of Mitt Romney with various faculty, staff, and alumni of Bob Jones University . My point here is not to criticize one particular decision but to think out loud about the mindset that we're locked into a two-party system where we seemingly always have to choose between the lesser of two evils. It seems to me that this is symptomatic of an overly pragmatic mindset.

Pragmatism is nothing new. From Machiavelli to much of the modern church growth movement, people have defended questionable choices by "the end justifies the means" or "never criticize what God is blessing." Of course, doing what works is not bad in and of itself. The problem is when we do "what works" to accomplish our goals in a way that violates biblical principles. To adapt one illustration I've heard, of course it's right to feed your family, but if you kill a man to rob him of his money so you can go buy food, you've obviously crossed a line.

Certainly, when we survey the landscape of the candidates, there is not much that appeals to those of us who are Christians. For many, a worst case scenario would be if we were left with Rudy and Hillary as the final candidates for the two major parties. If this happens, will many of the Christians who have assumed or defended voting either Republican or Democrat still do so? Will they still cast a vote for someone who supports abortion just because that candidate is considered the lesser of two evils?

Pragmatism may often utilize questionable methods to obtain a good goal. But I must wonder if many of us have the right goal. For many, the goal is to "beat Hillary" [unspoken implication, at least for some: at any cost]. But, why not vote with principle for a good reason? Why should we even consider compromise on a basic issue like abortion? Why not see the goal of our voting not as to beat Hillary but to honor the Lord? I have not done enough research to tentatively know who I will likely vote for in 2008. But one way I have tried to vote with principle is by voting for a third party in the last two presidential elections. I was not sufficiently satisfied with certain stands taken by the candidate many Christians voted for, but I was satisfied with the platform advanced by the Constitution Party (their website details some serious concerns about this upcoming election's major candidates). Did I think this would result in a win for them? No. Did I realize this might increase Al Gore's chances? Yes. But I could not cast my vote on those considerations alone. I had to ask myself if I could go to sleep with a clear conscience, believing I had pleased God with my vote. I had to be willing to lose to make the decision I thought would best honor Christ, who God has set up as the true King of all (Psalm 2:6).

While many of us have no desire to see Hillary in office, we must remember, that even if this happens, Christ still reigns. I do not pretend to have all these things figured out in how everyone should cast their vote. But, I think this much is clear: in our thinking about who holds the executive office of this country, let us submit in all things to the One God has set up as Lawgiver, Judge, and King. And that submission may mean forsaking pragmatism and being willing to lose an election in 2008 for the sake of acting as citizens of a heavenly kingdom.

HT: Ben Wright

Friday, November 09, 2007

Book Review-What Is a Healthy Church?

Mark Dever, What Is a Healthy Church? (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2007), 126pp.

Reviewed by Doug Smith

This book is new, but it's not really new. What Is a Healthy Church? first appeared in public as a series of articles in a church newsletter. It then became a booklet ("9 Marks of a Healthy Church" – free .pdf), and later a full-size book ( Nine Marks of a Healthy Church). Now it is a small book. And it seems to get better each time. So, what is a healthy church?

Summary

Mark Dever is the senior pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D. C., and founder of 9Marks Ministries. His prescription for a healthy church is provided here in a very useful format. The book is divided into three sections: 1) What Is a Healthy Church?; 2) Essential Marks of a Healthy Church; and 3) Important Marks of a Healthy Church. In part 1, he explains how Christians are to relate to a church and how the church's purpose is to display the glory of God. Parts 2 and 3 give the nine marks, with the first three considered essential (expositional preaching, biblical theology, and a biblical understanding of the good news) and the last six designated as important (a biblical understanding of conversion, evangelism, and church membership; biblical church discipline, discipleship and growth, and church leadership). One should probably not be a part of a church that is defective in the essential marks, whereas more patience, love, and instruction may be what are needed to develop the other six marks.

The book challenges us to think seriously about the church, and not consider it an "option" for Christians, but part of who we are. It reminds us that the diet of a healthy church is faithful expositional preaching, where God's Word is exposed constantly, so that hearers are not limited by a proclamation of what the preacher already knows. Biblical theology helps us in knowing the full counsel of God and not avoiding controversial yet important teachings such as election, man's depravity, and the nature of the atonement. The Gospel message is clear, as is the nature of true conversion and faithful evangelism, which proclaims the good news and calls for repentance and faith in the Savior. Church membership is a serious matter, as it entails commitment and responsibility on the part of members and an affirmation of their salvation by the church to which they belong. Church discipline is important to protect the purity of the church and its testimony. While discipline "is fraught with problems of wisdom and pastoral application," that is no excuse for its neglect, as the message sent by a lack of discipline is that the unrepentant church member is okay, when, in reality, the church should not be able to honestly affirm their salvation. Discipleship and growth lead to increasing self-denial and personal holiness in believers. Church leadership should be modeled after the plurality of elders seen in the New Testament, while the final authority lies in the congregation. Church leaders are to be mature men who have the ability to teach God's Word.

Dever gives caveats to church members and pastors encouraged by this material: don't try to see change happen too fast; pray, wait, set a good example, and love the people of your church. Extras include tips for those thinking of leaving a church, how to find a good church, and what a typical church covenant of a healthy church could look like.

Evaluation

What Is a Healthy Church? is an easy, fast read that challenges much modern thinking about the church (even among conservative Christians). It is simple, helpfully provocative, and to the point. Church members as well as pastors and seminarians would profit from this resource, which has fertile soil for further reflection. Whether you have Dever's materials already or have never read him, this little book is well worth picking up (only $5 from 9Marks). It is recast in such a way that I find it helpful to have along with the more detailed Nine Marks of a Healthy Church book.

While substantive, the book is an introduction to these ideas, and not a handbook for fleshing them out in great detail (Paul Alexander and Dever wrote The Deliberate Church for that purpose). By no means a full ecclesiology, this book deals briefly with matters such as baptism and the Lord's Supper as they relate to the nine marks set forth. It is written with the understanding that a healthy church will celebrate the ordinances, and live out other normal practices of the church, such as praying together.

The book reminds us of the importance of the church as God's vehicle for displaying His glory to the nations. His Word is central from creation to consummation, and ought to be preached faithfully, not neglecting any part of the Bible. Therefore, preachers ought to, in some way, preach systematically and regularly through the Bible. It is a necessity for a healthy church.

It is important for the health of the church to understand what a true Christian is. Therefore, we should not idolize numbers. Regularly having attendance far below a church's membership should be a scandal and shame to us. We should not simply see the praying of a prayer as the evidence of "successful evangelism." Rather, we should proclaim the Gospel and its demands clearly and pray that the lost will come to Christ in faith and follow Him. We certainly need to be obedient in evangelism, but we also need to trust God for the results as we share the good news as He has revealed it in His Word. We should make the true nature and value of membership known, both in taking in new members and disciplining those who refuse to repent of known sin. We ought not to give testimony, even implicit affirmation, that people are Christians when their lives loudly and consistently proclaim otherwise.

The view of biblical eldership set forth in the book may be hard to swallow for some. But Dever makes a convincing case by the usage of the word in the Scriptures. He also shares personal benefits he has derived from being one of a group of elders. A plurality of qualified, godly leaders would do much toward improving and maintaining a healthy church, particularly in circles where churches often center around a strong personality. It can be a protection for the preaching pastor as well as for his people. Dever writes of biblical eldership, "If implemented in our churches, it could help pastors immensely by removing weight from their shoulders and even removing their own petty tyrannies from their churches."

This book presents old truths in a fresh way. These are foundations that are easily assumed or neglected. What Is a Healthy Church? confronts us lovingly and clearly with the meat and potatoes of what it takes to begin displaying God's glory to the world as His church.

Read the Table of Contents, the Introduction, and Chapter 1 (.pdf files) online for free.

For more on discipline and church government, see Polity, edited by Mark Dever, and available as a free download here.

Here is another review (Trevin Wax).

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Defining Key Words in the Lordship Debate: Discipleship and Conclusion (Part 7 of 7)

 

by Doug Smith

 

A disciple is a student – one who is a learner.  This learner is a follower of a teacher.   Inherent in the concept of a disciple is that the student is in a position of subjection to a higher authority, the teacher.   The student is to learn from that teacher, and such learning involves listening and obedience.   Failure to fulfill one's duties as a student rightly results in discipline.  Jesus said, "If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed" (John 8:31). There could hardly be any controversy that a true disciple is a follower of Jesus.

 

The controversy lies in the identity of a disciple.  Are all believers disciples?   Or is discipleship a second-stage, advanced level for those who want to go deeper in their relationship with Christ?

 

To be sure, being called a disciple does not ensure salvation.   But, on the other hand, to be saved is to a disciple, contrary to assertions by teachers who deny the necessity of trusting Christ as Savior and Lord.

 

Jesus recognized the fact that some [so-called] disciples were not true believers.   Notice his words in John 6:64-66 and how some of these disciples reacted:

 

But there are some of you that believe not. For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were that believed not, and who should betray him.   And he said, Therefore said I unto you, that no man can come unto me, except it were given unto him of my Father.    From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him.

 

Although Jesus recognized that some who were called disciples were not true believers, other statements of His indicate that true believers will truly be disciples.   In commenting on John 10:27, "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow

me," D. L. Moody observed:  

Christ's sheep have two marks: –

(1.)   In their ears,            "They hear my voice;"

(2.)   In their feet,             "They follow me."

 

When Jesus invited people to come to Him, it was not first to believe and at some later time become disciples, but to believe and become disciples:

 

Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.   Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.   For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.   (Matthew 11:28-30)

 

Notice also the Great Commission:

 

And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.   Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:   Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen. (Matthew 28:18-20)

 

Here Jesus says that discipleship is an integral part of evangelism.   In the English Standard Version, the rendering of the KJV "teach all nations" in Matthew 28:10 is given this way:   " make disciples of all nations."  Christ could have said, "Make believers," but said, "make disciples."   These disciples are to be taught by the followers of Him who has all power (authority) to keep all His commandments.   Is discipleship an option for advanced Christians?  Is it an extra credit track?   No.   Discipleship is part and parcel of what it means to be a true believer in Jesus Christ.

 

Conclusion

 

The issue of what role faith and works play in salvation is a matter of eternal consequence.   It is not a game of words in Wonderland.   What we mean by these important terms and how we interpret the Bible will inform our understanding of salvation, how we live our own lives, and how we communicate the Gospel to others.   It is about the Gospel – the good news of Jesus Christ.   We need to know its meaning.  That meaning is not determined by teachers who act like theological Humpty Dumpties from the fantasy land of Alice.  We gain understanding by a thorough reading of the Scriptures, whose source is the God of the Word.   This God has the right to determine meaning, and has spoken clearly and revealed that meaning in regard to the role of faith and works in salvation.   He is not playing word games with us.

 

[1] D. L. Moody, Moody's Notes From My Bible (Chicago:   The Bible Institute Colportage Association, 1895), 139.