Archives For Book Reviews

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Well, at this point, I’m gonna have to concede that I won’t complete the challenge. However, I might get close to 200 for the year, which would be a new PR. I didn’t add anything to the challenge this month, but I did enjoy what I read. The first three below are favorite authors, and several others I actually gave 5 stars to. You’ll hear more about them in the coming weeks. Until then, here’s what I read:

If you’re keeping score at home, I’m up to 75 books in the lists below, but I’ve read 162 new books total this year.

Here’s the whole list, in case you’re curious (and even if you’re not):

THE LIGHT READER (9 BOOKS)

THE AVID READER (12 BOOKS)

THE COMMITTED READER (17 BOOKS)

THE OBSESSED READER (37 BOOKS)

(image via challies)

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You may have noticed over the last week I kept posting pictures of the new ESV Reader’s Bible Six-Volume Set from Crossway. They were gracious enough to send a review set my way, and pictures seemed more apt to capture this Bible than my descriptions.

I implied in my posts that I was working through a reading plan. The particular approach, the Bible Reading Plan for Shirkers and Slackers, was something I stumbled upon in Justin Taylor’s annual Bible reading post from last year. I modified it slightly by moving to a new volume each day and leaving Sunday open. Since we are talking about Bible reading rather than Bible study, Sunday might end up being a good study day. Or, Sunday could be a second round with a rotating volume each week.

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The first thing you notice when you crack open the Pentateuch volume is that there are periodic headings, but no chapter numbers. I was expecting no verse numbers and for the text to be laid out like a typical book. I wasn’t quite expecting uninterrupted text for page after page. Throughout Genesis at least, the toledot sections give you a good idea where the various headings show up in the text.

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This trend continues into the Historical Books. With both of these first two volumes, it really does feel like a more natural book reading experience. In the original version of the reading plan, you read back to back days in the Historical Books. However, I moved on to the next volume.

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In the poetry books, the Psalms are split up by actual psalm. There is also a move obvious division between the internal books of the Psalms. Job on the other hand is a little bit of a bear because the section with the friend’s dialogue runs without headings breaking it up. Both Ecclesiastes and Song of Solomon seem much more readable in a single sitting in this format. Because you don’t necessarily have to start with the first book in each volume as part of this reading plan, I actually began with Proverbs (see previous point about Job).

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You’ll notice I did something similar in the Prophets by skipping ahead to the minor prophets. I’m going to try to read each in a single sitting on the days I read this volume. Then I’ll go back and pick up with Isaiah or Jeremiah most likely. That is part of the beauty of this plan, in that you don’t have to stick to consecutive books, you just are trying to read in different genres each day of the week so you are taking in the whole counsel of God over time. And if you miss a day, you just move on to the next volume.

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The headings return in the Gospels and make this volume the most user friendly for short reading times. Given the missing chapters and verses, you may notice more connections in the layout. For instance, the “sandwiches” in Mark might stick out a bit more when you read through with typical paragraph headings disrupting the text.

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Finally, the main thing I noticed in the Epistle volume is that each is treated like a unit and so has no headings. This appears to suggest you should read each epistle in one sitting, which is honestly a great idea. Once again, you don’t necessarily have to start right off with Romans, but you certainly can.

In terms of an overall assessment, I think ESV Reader’s Bible Six-Volume Set ought to find its way under numerous Christmas trees in a month or so. The $100 price tag is obviously high, but because of the aesthetic appeal and potential impact to your Bible reading, for most people it might be worth it. I received this copy free from Crossway but if I hadn’t, this would probably be the only thing on my Christmas list.

You obviously don’t need this particular multi-volume Bible to do the reading plan I outlined above, but it certainly helps. If you’re looking to change things up in your daily (or semi-daily) reading, definitely check out (and by that I mean try) the plan. And then decide whether the multi-volume Bible is something you’d like to invest in. Or, you know what? Just decide whether to invest in this Bible for yourself or someone who you know would love it.

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With Reformation Day upon us, I thought I’d do a reading roundup on several relevant books. As promised, I’m keeping to 7 at a time. For more explanation, see last week’s post. Unlike last week, 2 of these books (the bottom two pictured) are my purchases. The rest, I have to thank Zondervan, IVP Academic, Crossway, and Baker Academic for the hookup!

God’s Word Alone: The Authority of Scripture (Zondervan)

First off, I was able to read the next volume in The 5 Solas Series (I also enjoyed this one). Matthew Barrett is not only the author of this volume, but the editor of the series as a whole. So far, this is the largest entry by far, and that’s because Barrett covers quite a bit of ground. The first part offers a historical survey of the attacks on the doctrine of Scripture from the Reformation to now. Then, in the second part of the book he presents a biblical theology of Scripture, from a mostly covenantal point of view. This might be the most distinctive part of the book. In the final section he takes up the typical topics related to the doctrine of Scripture (authority, inerrancy, clarity, and sufficiency) and clarifies what they mean and don’t mean, and then also deals with a modern objection (or two). Having just covered this section a few weeks back in our systematic class, I found this a useful read and look forward to the final two entries in this particular series.

Saving The Bible From Ourselves: Learning to Read & Live the Bible Well (IVP Academic)

Glenn Paauw’s book turns from doctrine to practice. Here, he is specifically interested in how we go about reading the Bible, and takes a publisher’s eye to it as well. The chapters are paired up to present, first a problem, and second, his vision for a solution. The chapters as a whole are arranged chiastically, which let me tell you, makes it attractive before you even start reading. To give one example of an issue Paauw sees, his opening chapters deal with how our published Bible tend to make the actual process of reading more difficult. There is quite a bit of clutter on a typical page of Scripture, especially in a study Bible. He proposes we give more attention to how this influences reading, something I’ll have more to say about later this week or next. To give an idea how the chiasm works, his final two chapters get even more focused on how the print within the Bible is laid out, so that it’s beauty is more evident.

This was a thought provoking and engaging read. My only complaint is that his underlying doctrine of Scripture seemed a little too friendly with Christian Smith, N. T. Wright, and Pete Enns. Might not be a problem for you, and overall doesn’t take too much away from his proposals. But if you’ve seen Smith’s Bible Made Impossible devastated in a review, you don’t necessarily like seeing anyone rely on it too heavily.

Theologians You Should Know: An Introduction: From The Apostolic Fathers to the 21st Century (Crossway)

This was a great beach read over the summer from Michael Reeves. It is also an excellent introduction to key theologians in a readable and semi-concise format. The first half of the book begins a brief overview of the Apostolic Fathers, and then chapters on Justin Martyr/Irenaeus, Athanasius, Augustine, Anselm, and Aquinas. One almost suspects a theme towards the end there. The second half starts with Luther, then moves to Calvin, Owen, Edwards, Schleiermacher, Barth, and J. I. Packer. In each chapter, Reeves offers a mini biography and background for each theologian. He then touches on their theology, which he says will “amount to a fast job through each theologian’s major work(s)” (16). So, not only to get a idea of the context of each of these theologians, you are better prepared to read at least some of their most important writings, which is something you should certainly do.

The Voice of God in The Text of Scripture: Explorations in Constructive Dogmatics (Zondervan)

Once again, you can have the privilege of reading the papers presented at the annual Los Angeles Theology Conference. This time, it’s from the Fourth Annual installment and the topic is the doctrine of Scripture. Previously, topics were Christology, the Trinity, and Atonement. Once again, a solid lineup of speakers with papers in hand. Daniel Treier kicks it off with an essay on an evangelical dogmatics of Scripture before Stephen Fowl does some theological interpretation of Scripture about Scripture in Hebrews. Elsewhere, Hebrews plays a key part in Myk Habets essay about reading retroactively. A pair of essays deal with historical biblical criticism, asking whether the voice of God can be found there in one, and a response to Plantinga’s critique of Troeltsch in another. All in all, I worked through this one pretty quickly the last two weekends and enjoyed myself immensely.

Engaging the Doctrine of Revelation: The Mediation of The Gospel through Church and Scripture (Baker Academic)

This volume by Matthew Levering is something I’ll need to come back to in due time. While this is a Reformation themed post, notice that in Levering’s subtitle, he speaks of revelation mediated through the church as well as Scripture. And well he should since he’s Catholic (of the capital C variety). As such, he and I would disagree here and there, but he seems to be reading all my favorite authors (including the two mentioned below) and writing copious footnotes interacting with their works so as to not clutter up the main text too much. I include it hear with the hearty recommendation that it is the work to engage (no pun intended) if you want to see a Catholic writer working with the fruits of evangelical scholarship, agreeing for the most part, but then putting their work in dialogue with Dei Verbum. I wasn’t able to critically interact with it at the depth I think the book deserves, but should a dissertation topic go this way, I know this will come in handy.

The End of Protestantism: Pursuing Unity in a Fragmented Church (Brazos Press)

This most recent book by Peter Leithart, as well as the following by Kevin Vanhoozer and two books I’m currently reading and enjoy. I have tried to read pretty much everything I can by both authors. With Leithart, I’m sure I’ll be provoked to deeper though, but if I’m reading well, will also not quite agree with everything. As I’m starting to gather more intersted in ecclesiology (for reasons I’ll explain later), this will hopefully prove to be a key conversation partner.

Biblical Authority After Babel: Retrieving the Solas in the Spirit of Mere Protestant Christianity (Brazos Press)

This latest by Kevin Vanhoozer is based on a set of lectures given at Moore Theological College last year. It’s Vanhoozer offering a chapter on each sola, giving historical context and contemporary expression. He sprinkles in theses on what a mere protestant Christianity should look like. What more could you ask for?

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April 13th was a big night for sports. Just ask Anna, she’ll tell you. It was also the night before our last full day in California. The following night would mark a week, as well as the end of the trip.

I had been before. Twice actually, both times when I was in high school myself. Now, I’m married and all grown up and chaperoning a senior class trip. My wife and I, along with 4 of the other 7 chaperones, have a van full of kids to keep track of. You might think this was no easy task, but surprisingly, you’d be wrong.

By April 13th, we were neither worn out, nor entirely ready to fly back across the country and resume normalcy. Instead, we were watching Kobe Bryant play his last game against the Washington Generals (deftly played by the Utah Jazz) and rack up 60 points in the process (which you can easily do if you take 50 shots in a game). On an iPad, thanks to Watch ESPN, we were also watching the Golden State Warriors beat the Chicago Bulls’ single season win total.

Like I said, big night for sports.

We’re in Monterrey, in a Hampton Inn just off Pacific Coast 1. We’re within walking distance of Monterrey State Beach, a Starbucks, and more importantly, an In-n-Out Burger. I would take advantage of this shortly after the games ended. I am, how you say, a fan of burgers. They put an In-n-Out in Dallas right before we moved. It was my last lunch in Texas. It was my first lunch on this trip to California. And it was glorious.

It seemed like we were always eating. Lunches happened later in the day. Dinners had fixed reservations. Continental breakfasts were at almost every stop. And yet, no weight was gained, though far too many sodas were consumed. It was probably due to walking 5-9 miles every day. Love will find a way.

Earlier that day I had logged just under 9 miles. This was conveniently split up between a walk to Starbucks, up and down Cannery Row, inside the Monterrey Bay Aquarium, and then all over Point Lobos State Natural Reserve. Don’t be deceived by the name, there are no actual “Lobos.” Rather, there are seals (lobos marinos in Spanish) and in our case, a very active couple of otters in a cove. For the better part of an hour, and realistically their entire life, they were busy doing otter stuff. You know, diving for a clam or something similar, and then using a rock to crush it on your belly before eating it. Enjoy. Repeat.

There weren’t as many seals as we had seen earlier in the trip. Our first encounter was on Pier 39 in San Fransisco. Then at Moonstone Beach. Then again just up the road at San Simeon. And now here. Although, it was baby seal season, or something like that and so you couldn’t get too close (according to Federal Law at least).

This had not stopped me back at Moonstone Beach when I noticed a mom and baby seal out on a rock and realized I could get within 20 feet. I successfully made my way out there and took several pictures and videos before promptly falling in the water on my trek back.

I imagine the Pacific Ocean is pretty cold when it’s only about 65 degrees outside. I don’t know for sure though because I didn’t feel much of anything during the 15 seconds I was in the water before clamoring out to begin resuscitating my phone. All the bottom ports had been sucked dry before I made it back to the beach to retrieve my flip flops where I was told I was bleeding profusely from the knee by some observant high school girls. I said “oh,” followed quickly by a “can you dry my phone off?”

The upside was that we didn’t really have cell service at that point of the trip anyway (AT&T users at least). The downside was that the sunset that evening was amazing and my phone was stuck in a bag of rice. It is the one gap in my fastidious chronicling of the trip from start to finish. Guess I’ll have to go back next year.

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I wouldn’t necessarily say I’m a study Bible connoisseur, but I’m in the neighborhood. I’ve used and profited from several different ones over the years, mainly the MacArthur Study Bible, the ESV Study Bible, the Reformation Study Bible, and more recently the NIV Zondervan Study Bible.

Even more recently, I had the opportunity to check out the newest Zondervan study Bible, the NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible. You can find a good deal of insights on it at the book’s website. The project is headed up by John Walton and Craig Keener, the former of whom was highly influential in my own understanding of Old Testament contexts. While there is an editorial team involved, those two scholars are responsible for the bulk of the study notes found throughout this Bible.

One particular book of the Bible where these kinds of notes are handy is Job. Notoriously one of the hardest books to translate from Hebrews, it also has the distinction of being enigmatic even after translation. It is one of the few books in the Old Testament than mention Satan, and he also has dialogue with God in the early chapters. The end of Job is just as curious and open to a range of interpretations.

If you’re utilizing the NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible as you’re reading, you not only have notes throughout the text, there are numerous sidebars that go into detail on key issues. Here are some that you’ll find in Job:

  • Satan
  • Innocent Suffering in Ancient Near Eastern Texts
  • Retribution Principle
  • How the Book of Job Differs from Ancient Near Eastern Thinking
  • Ways in Which Job Still Thinks Like an Israelite
  • Mourning
  • Death and Sheol
  • Cosmic Geography

Those are all within the first 10 chapters. After that, they are a little more sparse, but thankfully, there’s an entry for the Identification of Behemoth and Leviathan. Many of these may eclipse what the average person wonders when reading Job, but they hit all the hot-button topics that tend to come up in a seminary classroom (or at least in some of mine).

Drawing on some of these sidebars, you would learn that Job most likely takes place before Moses, or is at least set in that time period. You’d also learn that throughout Job, “Satan” has a definite article before it (“the satan”) and in Hebrew that is something that is not done. In all likelihood, “the Satan” character who appears in Job is not the same as the devil of later parts of Scripture, specifically the character who tempts Jesus in the New Testament (you’ll need to read the sidebar for yourself to see the whole argument).

You’d also learn that there are many different versions of a story like Job throughout the ancient Near East. They do not however have a prologue quite like Job. Along those lines, you’d see in detail how Job presents a much different take on the problem of righteous suffering than its ancient Near East counterparts. Even though set before Moses, you’d see some evidence that Job thinks like you’d expect an Israelite to do.

You’d read about the connection between death and Sheol in the OT and ancient Near East (and that the latter is not necessarily “hell”). This ties into what you’ll find out about ancient understandings of cosmic geography and how they differ dramatically from modern scientific understandings (but still have their own logic based in observational evidence). You’ll also find out why it is extremely unlikely that either Behemoth or Leviathan refer to current or past zoological specimens (i.e. they aren’t real animals).

All in all, just within Job there is much to glean from this study Bible. The insights don’t necessarily change any major doctrinal understanding of the book, but they certainly enhances one’s understanding of what’s going on. In my experience, that is often the best of what cultural studies have to offer. They give insight into context and the thinking of the original audience but they don’t need to lead to major revisions (although they might). If that’s something you’d find interesting to explore further, I’d highly recommend picking up your own copy of this next study Bible.

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Crossway let me get a hold of an eBook version of John Piper’s latest, A Peculiar Glory: How the Christian Scriptures Reveal Their Complete Truthfulness (see this sample). If you’ve ever read a book by John Piper, I’m not sure this much here that would surprise you. However, if you happen to be looking for an accessible overview of why we can trust the Bible, this could be a good place to start.

The book has 5 parts that span almost 300 pages. In the first, Piper gives his personal story of coming to trust the Bible. The next part of the book takes three chapters to discuss the basics of canon and original manuscripts. As I heard Michael Kruger frame it recently, the basic questions are, “do we have the right books?” and “do these books have the right words?” Piper takes two chapters to answer the first (one for Old Testament and one for New, obviously) and one to answer the second. While not overly technical, Piper does give a good overview of the same kind of material I studies on these questions in seminary.

The next part of the book asks what these books claim for themselves. Without spoiling too much, the consistent witness across Old and New Testaments is that the Bible claims to be the word of God. Most people tend to feel like this is circular, to which I usually say, “yes.” I’ll then explain that your ultimate authority needs to be self-attesting (verifies itself) if it’s really your ultimate authority.

When we discussed this recently in my 11th grade Bible class, I pointed out that if someone claims reason is the ultimate authority for determining truth, they have to use reason to prove their point. Same problem of circularity, different ultimate authority. Much to Neil deGrasse Tyson’s chagrin, it’s even worse if you claim science as ultimate authority.Since you can’t use the scientific method to prove science is or should be the ultimate authority, you’ll have to provide a logical argument instead, and now we all know that reason is your ultimate authority and that your worldview is just as circular as the Christianity that you like to pick on.

All of that is a roundabout way to point out that it is not a problem, logically speaking, for your ultimate authority to prove itself. That’s kind of what makes it ultimate. It’s the end of the road. The Bible is the Word of God because it says so. Believe it, obey it, and it will prove itself true in your life. To further support that, Piper’s next part of the book take an historical turn and visits Jonathan Edwards, John Calvin, and Pascal’s wager. I thought this was helpful after looking at what Scripture claimed for itself.

In the final part of the book, Piper continues to tease out how the glory of God is seen in Scripture and also the means by which it is confirmed for us as the Word of God. Having started with his own story, moved through Scripture’s claims for itself, and what great theological minds have made of it, this is a great way to draw the book to a close (and mention that it has a sequel in the works). It is also the part of the book that is perhaps most distinctive to Piper, since earlier parts are mostly summarizing and translating available scholarship into a more lay accessible format.

Overall, I found this book to be classic Piper, and a helpful refresher on an important topic. I’m still a bit more partial to John Frame’s Doctrine of The Word of God for a stand alone volume on the topic, but I appreciate Piper’s angle on it. I will be interested to see how Piper lays out his thinking further in the planned follow up to this volume, which I think comes out next spring.

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I realize the title is a bit clickbaity. But, it is the name of an actual book from IVP Academic that I actually read. How I Changed My Mind About Evolution: Evangelicals Reflect on Faith and Science is a collection of essays edited by Kathryn Applegate and J. B. Stump. The former is the program director at BioLogos and the later is senior editor there. This volume is the first in a new series from IVP in tandem with BioLogos called, not surprisingly, BioLogos Books on Science and Christianity.

As far as the book itself, it is clearly aimed at the lay level. The essays are short and mostly non-technical. Most all were written specifically for this volume, with the exception of the excerpts from larger works by N. T. Wright and Francis Collins, and an adaptation from a sermon by John Ortberg. There is a wide range of contributors, some are scientists, some are pastors, some are theologians, some are biblical scholars. Each lends an authoritative voice to give credibility to a divisive topic. To me, the interesting inclusions are:

  • James K. A. Smith
  • Scot McKnight
  • Tremper Longman III
  • Oliver Crisp
  • Richard Mouw

None of these are particularly surprising, but they were the essays I was immediately interested in reading. The rest are people, generally associated with BioLogos, that I hadn’t heard of, and were mostly scientists, pastors, and some evolution apologists I was already familiar with (e.g. Denis Lamoureux).

In reading through the various perspectives here, I tend to doubt whether someone heavily committed to young earth creationism (to give one alternative position) would be swayed. It does have the virtue though of humanizing people who believe in evolution and had someone kind of change of heart. While perhaps not persuasive, it is at least illuminating when it comes to the reasons why a person might change their mind about evolution, whatever that entails in a given story.

What is less transparent though is what is meant in all cases by “evolution.” I’m not talking about the distinction between micro and macro (which is fuzzier than you might imagine). Rather, if I tell you I changed my mind about evolution, I would need to qualify what all aspects of it I have actually changed my mind about. So, if for instance I think that Genesis 1 doesn’t specify the time the universe was created but only discusses, at best, the formation of our solar system, I can affirm a literal (meaning according to the exalted prose literary sense of the passage) reading of Genesis 1 as well as current Big Bang Cosmology. If I previously didn’t, I have now changed my mind about the evolution of the universe. This would be a legitimate change in regards to an aspect of evolution, but should hardly be controversial.

However, this type of change is not really the focus of many of these essays. For several, it is clear that a mind changed about evolution is now a mind that is comfortable with common descent. In other words, for some, evolution mainly means a belief that we share a common ancestry with less complex life forms and through millions of years, life has evolved into what we have before us now. I should also note in passing that this is a reduction of the definition of evolution given by Jerry Coyne in his popular Why Evolution is True (which is interesting, but undermines itself at points). Anyway, common descent is the idea, not so much that I evolved from an ape, but that for an ape and myself, there is, far enough back in time, a common ancestor that will give rise to both of us. The evidence for this, to me at least, is more problematic than Big Bang cosmology and has the side effects of theological issues (though some authors here would deny that).

As a result, not everyone in this collection of essays is changing their mind about the same aspects of evolutionary thought. Some are more clear about the details than others. But, everyone did have some kind of shift in their thinking on the matter. This gives the book a certain apologetic flavor. I think the main audience will be people on the fence trying to decide what they think is true after they’ve been confronted with unfamiliar scientific paradigms.

I was personally less convinced, although I benefited from understanding the underlying thought processes for many of the authors. In my case though, I think I’m a bit too familiar with the exegetical and cultural background of Genesis 1-11 to think it could be used to substantiate an age of the earth. But, I see no reason to not affirm what Christians throughout history have affirmed, which is that God is the creator of the universe as well as life itself.

Given that, I would hardly want to take the title of theistic evolutionist. Mainly because this is a pejorative term, but also because I would rather be defined by my belief that God created life and the universe, and not by what I think the mechanism of change throughout history has been. Depending on what you mean when you say “evolution” I might have changed my mind about it and I might not have not. I’m a creationist first, and tend to be agnostic about mechanisms, if for no other reason than Alvin Plantinga’s brilliant book that demonstrates evolution, particularly the natural selection part of it, doesn’t withstand logical scrutiny and actually undermines the philosophical position of naturalism it is often built on.

At the end of the day, this book will be particularly interesting for people who are engaged in the larger debate. If you are Christian heavily involved in the sciences, you’ll probably want to read this. But, it certainly is only giving one side of the story, so it is best read alongside other books on the topic. I enjoyed the similar book The Adam Quest, and it provides both sides of the spectrum with longer profiles on each person included. I’d also recommend reading Mapping The Origins Debate since it lays out the actual range of options available.

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One thing I tell people about movies and TV is that I’m not into post-apocalyptic stuff. Given the chance, I’d rather not spend time in a future dystopian wasteland. This reality is rough enough, I don’t need to inhabit someone else’s living hell.

So, it was with some trepidation that I asked Eerdmans to send along a copy of How To Survive The Apocalypse: Zombies, Cylons, Faith, and Politics at the End of The World. Turns out though, Robert Joustra and Alissa Wilkinson are using the word “apocalyptic” more in line with the idea of “revelation” instead of “end of the world.” In other words, apocalypse is more “about the revelation of the meaning, purpose, and end (and new beginning) of things” (35). As such, apocalyptic stories “expose hidden truths, wipe away the veneer, push past the superficial and simulacra, and get to the reality of things” (35).

Now that’s something I can get into. It helps as well that philosopher Charles Taylor figures prominently. I just finished James K. A. Smith’s exposition of him, and Joustra and Wilkinson reference that frequently. A brief overview of Taylor’s work and his notions of the secular occupies the second chapter of this particular book. He becomes a frequent ally in pop cultural commentary as the book progresses.

The aforementioned clarifications of the apocalypse is the subject of chapter 3. Here also, the authors take readers on a brief historical tour of the development of apocalyptic thought in the more traditional sense. It provides helpful background for how the traditional conception relates to the root word’s meaning. I would have like more interaction with the type of sources a theologian might reference, but it was interesting to get a different perspective.

Starting in chapter 4, each chapter tackles a different pop cultural artifact, bringing it into conversation with the apocalypse and Charles Taylor. First off, it’s Battlestar Galactica how it unmasks our understandings of what it means to be human. The next focuses on anti-heros, as represented in Breaking Bad, Mad Men, and House of Cards. The following chapter is an extended interaction with the social commentary in the movie Her. As one might hope, chapter 7 takes us to Westeros and the power play slide to subjectivism in Game of Thrones. The following two chapters were the least interesting to me because I don’t watch The Walking Dead (see first sentence) or Scandal. Chapter 10 takes us to Panem and before a concluding chapter that ties everything together, concluding with a discussion of the politics of the apocalypse.

On the whole, this is a great book, if like me, you like most of the TV shows used and want sophisticated analysis of them. Charles Taylor’s work provides a good unifying reference point. And the general idea of shows being a way to “unmask” and “reveal” the meaning, purpose, and end of things is spot on. If you’d like to think more deeply about some really great TV shows, this book is for you.

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I grew up listening to Steve Brown, but this is the first book that I’ve read by him. Actually, that’s not entirely accurate. I grew up hearing Steve Brown’s voice on syndicated Christian radio and remembered it for its distinctive bourbon infused depths.

After marrying my native Orlandoan wife, I heard more about Steve, and then actually heard him speak in person at an Acts 29 Pastor’s Conference here. He chose Matthew 23 and then let loose. It was amazing.

Anyway, the book Hidden Agendas: Dropping The Masks That Keep Us Apart is quite helpful. Thanks to New Growth Press, I was able to read through it earlier this summer. It is quite enjoyable because of Steve’s tone and conversational style (I hope he doesn’t mind me calling him by first name). It is also not a book you can set down and walk away from without some reflection.

The short essence of the book is that we all wear masks that keep us from living in closer community with each other and ultimately color the way we try to relate to God. But, while counterintuitive, there is freedom is putting down our masks and being honest with one another and resting in God’s grace that is presented to us in the gospel.

Anyone attentive to recent discussions about grace, the law, and antinomianism, knows this is a tricky topic. Steve has been accused of being an antinomian, but I think this book does a good job of vindicating him of that charge. He doesn’t think you should abandon obedience, but rather that you should be honest about how much of a sinner you actually are. And in doing so, know that if the gospel is true, then God still forgives and accepts you.

I’ve found the book particularly helpful and noticed that it seems designed for a small group to use. Each chapter includes several background Scriptures and some questions designed to get “behind the mask.” I could see it being an excellent resource as a small group begins to get to really know one another. And this could be especially so in a context where many people have some legalistic baggage from earlier church experiences.

Given all that, I’d really recommend this quick read. While it may be quick and easy (at my pace) to read this book, it offers a view of gospel truth that is not necessarily appropriated quickly and easily. But, I think the effort is well worth it to live more authentically and to bask in the grace of the gospel more freely.

And if reading is not really your thing, you should check out Steve’s podcast, Key Life. I subscribed shortly after finishing the book and noticed he was working through much of the content on there. I’m not sure if there will be complete overlap, or if you can go back far enough to get the earlier episodes, but you can get the gist by listening to a few episodes.

9781433548000

As a general rule, if Sinclair Ferguson has written a book, you should probably look into it. Even more so if it touches on hot button issues like legalism and antinomianism. While it might surprise some readers, there is much to be learned from a theological controversy from the 1700’s.

His most recent book, The Whole Christ: Legalism, Antinomianism, & Gospel Assurance – Why The Marrow Controversy Still Matters, as the subtitle suggests, introduces readers to the “marrow” controversy. If you’re not familiar, this controversy relates to the book The Marrow of Modern Divinity by Edward Fisher. As Ferguson clarifies in the introduction,

[This] is not a study of The Marrow of Modern Divinity as such, although reference will be made to it. It is not an historical analysis of the often heated Marrow Controversy, although that serves as the background to it. Nor is it a study of the theology of Thomas Boston, although his name regularly appears in it.

Perhaps the best way to describe it is by borrowing from the world of classical music: The Whole Christ might well be subtitled, “Variations on themes from The Marrow Controversy.” It is an extended reflection on theological and pastoral issues that arose in the early eighteenth century, view from the framework of the present day. (19)

The first chapter proper is mostly historical background for the study. Starting in chapter 2, Ferguson tackles several theological topics. He begins with grace, which in a sense, is the topic of the whole study. He explains that the chapters that follow will focus on four topics (37):

  1. The gospel of the grace of God and its offer to all (chapters 2-3)
  2. The gospel and legalism (chapter 4-6)
  3. The gospel and antinomianism (chapter 7-8)
  4. The gospel and assurance of salvation (chapter 9-11)

Through it all, Ferguson does a much need job of distinguishing real legalism from the call to obedience, real antinomianism from the free offer of grace and Christ, and how the assurance of salvation truly works (sorry). With a general culture that is prone to extremes and a Christian culture that is often not much different, it is helpful to have a nuanced book on the topic of sanctification like this. For anyone working in pastoral ministry, this book is worth grabbing. Even if you’re not a pastor, your church background may have left you with some legalistic baggage. Ferguson’s book can offer a much needed remedy.

The one difficulty readers might have is the jumps back to the 18th century. There are a fair amount of lengthy block quotes, meaning the book requires a bit of patience. But then again, what book doesn’t? I suppose some of this could have been smoothed out, but on the other hand, you could be trying to read John Owen.

At the end of the day, this book is something I’ll probably give a second read. It covers issues pertinent to discipleship and Christian growth. It unmasks legalism and antinomianism alike, and clarifies the gospel. What more could you want?


Sinclair Ferguson, The Whole Christ: Legalism, Antinomianism, & Gospel Assurance – Why The Marrow Controversy Still MattersWheaton: Crossway, Januaray 2016. 256 pp. Hardcover, $24.99.

Buy itAmazon | Westminster

Read an excerpt

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Thanks to Crossway for the review copy!