Reformation Reading Roundup: Theologians, Scripture, Revelation, and The Solas

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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?

What Christians Ought to Believe and Analytic Christian Theology

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Well, Mike Bird has done it again. “It” meaning “written a book.” This time it is a primer on The Apostles’ Creed, aptly title What Christians Ought to Believe, and Zondervan was kind enough to send me a copy. In just over 200 pages Bird introduces readers to the creed, explains why you need it, and then devotes roughly a chapter per phrase of the creed. At the end of most chapters, he summarizes the story of the creed so far, and in every chapter he offers a few resources for further reading.

While focused on The Apostles’ Creed, this volume is a good companion to Bird’s larger systematic Evangelical Theology (which I still need to post a review summary for). There is similarity here to a previous Zondervan publication, Michael Horton’s The Christian Faith, and then later rewritten abridgment Pilgrim Theology (I’m more a fan of the latter rather than the former, although the price makes it less enticing). However, in that case, the small volume was covering more or less the same ground, just in a more accessible way. Here, Bird is writing about The Apostles’ Creed, but when a more in-depth discussion is warranted on certain points, he can merely direct readers to where he’s covered it in his larger volume.

As it stands, this would be a good volume to use to introduce readers to theology, but through a classic, catholic (little c!) creed. There is just enough here to get your feet wet, and then wade into the waist deep water of the beliefs that all Christians should share. It would make an excellent book for a small group that wants to study theology in an organized way, but doesn’t want to commit to a systematic. Plus, you have the advantage of Bird’s clear and at times humorous writing style. The result is an accessible engaging volume that effectively introduces readers to Christian doctrine.

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On the other end of the spectrum is Thomas McCall’s An Invitation to Analytic Christian Theology. While no less clear than Bird, this slim (less than 200pp) volume introduces readers to philosophical theology. Well, I suppose the two terms are not exactly interchangeable. Philosophical theology developed out of philosophy of religion as the tools of philosophy were applied to Christian theology.

Now, the preferred term is analytic theology. Quoting from William Abraham, McCall uses this definition: “it is systematic theology attuned to the skills, resources, and virtues of analytic philosophy” (16). This comes from the introduction where McCall helpfully lays out what analytic theology should be, and then clears up misconceptions about what it isn’t.

The remaining four chapters demonstrate analytic theology in practice. First, in relation to our understanding of Scripture. Second, McCall shows analytic theology’s virtues when it comes to the history of doctrine. The next chapter puts analytic theology to use in a case study concerning creation, evolution, and the historical Adam. The final, briefest chapter, is where the invitation in the title comes in, as McCall casts vision for what analytic theology can contribute and encourages readers to pursue it.

All in all, this is an excellent introduction to what could easily be an overwhelming field of study. It defines the topic clearly, puts it into practice in a variety of subjects, and shows that it has value for the church and world. Hard to ask for more than that.

The Whole Christ: Legalism, Antinomianism, & Gospel Assurance – Why The Marrow Controversy Still Matters

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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.

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Christological Anthropology In Historical Perspective

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An increasingly common mode of theology is retrieval. Maybe that’s not the right way to phrase it, but the idea is that we aren’t the first people to ask theological questions. Just maybe some important voices from the past can shed light on our contemporary questions. If one is merely explaining what the past voices said, it’s historical theology. If you’re drawing the historical sources into the present it’s retrieval.

Marc Cortez has done a masterful job of this in his recent Christological Anthropology In Historical Perspective: Ancient and Contemporary Approaches to Theological Anthropology. While Zondervan doesn’t want to own the fact they published this on their website, they sent me a review copy nonetheless. You’ll notice the word “anthropology” shows up in the title and the subtitle. If I were to take a stab at rewording the title to eliminate jargon, it would actually be longer than it already is. It might help though if you’re new to this type of terminology. Basically, Cortez book is a study of how past voices have understood the man Jesus Christ and how that helps us understand humanity in a theological sense.

His chosen conversation partners are:

  • Gregory of Nyssa
  • Julian of Norwich
  • Martin Luther
  • Friedrich Schleiermacher
  • Karl Barth
  • John Zizioulas
  • James Cone

The last two names are actually consider modern, and I suppose Barth is as well. Luther gives us a Reformer’s perspective and Schleiermacher and Enlightenment tinted one. Julian of Norwich gives us a medieval and mystical point of view, and Gregory of Nyssa represents the Church Fathers well.

These historical perspectives are bracketed by an introduction that explains what it means to use a Christ-centered lens for the study and a conclusion that points toward how this study can help our understanding of ourselves. For the former, Cortez explains,

In its most basic form, the fundamental intuition of a christological anthropology is that beliefs about the human person (anthropology) must be warranted in some way by beliefs about Jesus (christological). We will explore more deeply what this “in some way” actually means through these various studies. Even without a more precise explanation, through, the distinctive nature of a christological anthropology is that Christology warrants at least some anthropological claims in such a way that those claims are only true in virtue off the truth of their christological ground (20).

The two questions that then frame the study are “what does is mean to say that Christology somehow grounds anthropological claims?” And second, what issues in anthropology can such christologically oriented anthropologies meaningfully address?” (23) In the conclusion, Cortez makes a distinction between minimal and comprehensive christological anthropologies (225):

  • A minimally christological anthropology is one in which (1) Christology warrants important claims about what it means to be human and (2) the scope of those claims goes beyond issues like the image of God and ethics
  • A comprehensively christological anthropology is one in which (1) Christology warrants ultimate claims about true humanity such that (2) the scope of those claims applies to all anthropological data

He then notes that all of the case studies he worked through are the latter. Ultimately, each case study Cortez presents is from a perspective that is “convinced that a christological vision is necessary for a theologically adequate understanding of the human person,” yet also demonstrates “continued diversity within this common conviction” (232). In other words, they share a philosophical base even if they reach some varied theological conclusions. The authors are asking different questions and responding to different challenges. What Cortez suggests is that bringing these different perspectives to bear in our modern (and/or postmodern) context can be a fruitful theological project. These past theologians provide a kind of methodology that we can and should utilize in the present.

While not long, this book is fairly dense and it’s not something you’ll want to take the beach for light reading (unless you’re weird). The individual chapters can be read out of order (if you’re into that) but it is a commitment to really sit down and read a single chapter at once. I wouldn’t recommend pausing in the middle. It’s not actually that bad, I just want you prepared.

If you or someone you love is interested in studying the human person in light of theology and more importantly, Jesus Christ, this book is worth procuring. You don’t need a seminary degree to read and benefit from it, but you probably do need to be used to academic theological writing. If you are, you’ll benefit from listening to key voices from the past in order to have the tools to better understand the present (I think I said that before).

Miracles, Reformation Readings of Paul, How to Preach and Teach the OT, and Revelation

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Vern Poythress can’t seem to stop publishing books. Since In The Beginning Was The Word came out in 2009, he’s published 10 books, with an 11th coming out later this year (making it the third this calendar year). On the upside, he’s applying his unique triperspectivalistic vantage point to variety of topics (math, philosophy, biblical interpretation, sociology, etc.). On the downside, many of these books are fairly boring to read and often seem like Van Tillian class syllabi prepared for publication rather than individual works in their own right.

Such is the case with The Miracles of Jesus, which after a useful template for analyzing miracles in the first part of the book, proceeds to analyze each and every miracle in the gospel of Matthew in successive short chapters. It is repetitive and dull when read straight through (e.g. chapters 11, 21, 23, 34 are all called Many Healings, and chapters 27 and 29 are variants called Healing Many). It would however serve as an excellent resource to anyone preaching through Matthew who would like to consult Poythress’ analysis of the various miracles that occur. It is also useful for the template in the first part of the book discussing how to think about miracles typologically and within the history of redemption. Beyond that, it is, like several other Poythress releases, not riveting chapter by chapter reading. Nonetheless, I value the way Poythress approaches the issues and will continue to try to get my hands on each and every new book he pumps out (even if sometimes I’m doing so as a collector).

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On a different note, It is fashionable among contemporary New Testament studies to suggest that the Reformers were less than adept when it comes to reading Paul. I’ve suggested a recent monograph on the topic, but now there’s a volume of direct readings of Paul from various New Testament scholars and systematic theologians. Reformation Readings of Paul: Explorations in History and Exegesis is edited by Michael Allen and Jonathan Linebaugh. In it, they curate paired chapters in which the first examines a Reformer’s reading of a Pauline text (Galatians, Romans, Ephesians, Corinthians, and other Pauline letters are the categories) and the second compares the text of that letter and the theology of that Reformer (and they are Luther, Melanchthon, Bucer, Calvin, and Cranmer). The former comes from the pen of a theologian and the latter from a New Testament scholar. The paired essays are finished off with a concluding essay from Gerald Bray that is rather devastating to anyone suggesting the Reformers mis-read Paul.

If something like that is your cup of tea, you will most likely want to grab a copy of this book. I personally was not that drawn in, but I think it may come in handy later on. While I have a recurring interest in Paul, my local church and school context doesn’t generate a lot of buzz around this issue. There are a handful of guys that I hang out with at church that are aware of the discussion in Pauline in studies. Some have even read N. T. Wright. But, none of them are asking questions about whether the Reformers read Paul well. I realize that question has more bite/teeth in the larger online world that I participate in. And because of that, I’d recommend this book if those questions perplex you.

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In a different vein, you might be interested in checking out Christopher J. H. Wright’s How to Preach & Teach the Old Testament for All Its Worth. It is presented as a follow up to How to Read The Bible For All Its Worth (and visually looks like it, as well as How To Read The Bible Book by Book). Like the previous books, it is very user friendly, but unlike them, has a more niche audience. While I’d recommend the previous two volumes to pretty much everyone (especially older high school and college students), this volume is mainly for pastors, and others like myself who teach from the Old Testament.

The first part of the book explains why we should preach and teach from the Old Testament, while the second half explains how we can preach and teach from the Old Testament. The first part is very helpful when it comes to typology and preaching Christ from the OT. The second part is likewise helpful, as it goes genre by genre in paired chapter explaining first the nature of the genre and second, how to preach and teach from it. Wright is a seasoned OT scholar, and if you spend time preaching and teaching from the Old Testament, you’ll probably benefit from his insights. While it might not be a one-stop handbook for understanding the Old Testament better, it does collate the basics you need to know to handle the different Old Testament genres effectively.

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Lastly, let’s say you were interested in getting a better grasp on the book of Revelation. There’s many ways you could go about this, but a helpful thematic way would be to pick up J. Scott Duvall’s The Heart of Revelation. After a brief introduction and a glossary that introduces the “cast of characters,” Duval proceeds to trace 10 key themes through the book of Revelation:

  • God
  • Worship
  • The People of God
  • The Holy Spirit
  • Our Enemies
  • The Mission
  • Jesus Christ
  • Judgment
  • The New Creation
  • Perseverance

Read in tandem with a commentary to answer your further questions as they arise, I can’t think of a better way to get a big picture understanding of one of the most bewildering books of the Bible. While Vern Poythress’ The Returning King goes section by section (and provides a good companion to this volume), I think Duvall is on to something with his thematic overview. Sometimes, in a complex book like Revelation, the forest gets lost as you try to examine each and every tree. Not the case with this book. If you’ve frequently been mystified by Revelation, this book might not answer all your questions, but it will give you a better framework for making sense of the book as a whole.

I’ve actually since passed it along to a student of mine who has been interested in the book. I’ve tried tackling it in class at various times (and in vain promised a forthcoming Revelation Bible study), but to no avail. Part of this because, hey, it’s hard to teach Revelation. The other part is that it doesn’t neatly fit with the subjects I currently teach (Old Testament, Systematic, Biblical and Practical Theology). In any case, if I give it another go, I’d like to be able to utilize the thematic approach here. Maybe that’s even the basis of a good summer Bible study. Who’s to say?

Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics: An Introduction and Reader

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I have long been perplexed by Karl Barth. I had only vague ideas about anything he said before going to seminary. There, I didn’t study anything he wrote directly, and unfortunately had mostly indirect contact through Cornelius Van Til. It took a few years to recover from that and then start to figure out what do to next.

On the one hand, I’d rather just ignore Barth. He’s notoriously difficult to understand, but unlike Van Til, he has more than a few interpreters willing to help you out. He is probably the most influential and/or important 20th century theologian. Yet, he has had an uneasy relationship with evangelicals. As a case in point, Crossway’s Theologians on The Christian Life series features three 20th century theologians, one of whom is still living and none of whom are named Karl Barth. When one thinks of solid evangelical Reformed theology, most non-scholars don’t really think of Barth.

On the other hand, I’d like to get a better handle on what’s useful and insightful from Barth. However, I don’t want to pull a Brandon Smith and read the entire 8000+ page Church Dogmatics in a year (or more). One might hope Derek Rishmawy would do a read and blog through like he did for Bavinck, but Ph.D studies are probably too time consuming. Beyond that, it could be hard to know where to start with Barth, mainly because there are so many options (Hunsinger’s How to Read Karl Barth is waiting on my shelf)

The best bet I think at this point is to pick up Michael Allen’s Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics: An Introduction and Reader. You probably knew I was going to say that because the picture of the book is at the top of this blog post. I’ve been able to grab coffee with Dr. Allen several times since he came to RTS Orlando and he is exactly the kind of person you’d want to explain Barth to you.

However, that’s not exactly what’s going on here. In this volume, Allen provides readers with key passages from the Church Dogmatics. Before each, Allen offers a few paragraphs of introduction and orientation and a short bibliography of further reading. In the excerpts themselves, he offers explanatory footnotes to give insight along the way. The result is an entry point into Barth’s Dogmatics that allows you to get the feel of Barth’s thought and style. If you have the Dogmatics in full you could look up the excerpts and read before and after for further context. Or, you could just read straight through Allen’s volume and then check out something like Hunsinger before trying to tackle the Dogmatics in full.

I found my own read thru to be helpful. I’ve started and stopped CD I.1 several times, and maybe one day I’ll get through them all. In the mean time, I benefited from the readings that Allen offers and would highly recommend this volume as the place to start if you want to wrestle with Barth.


R. Michael Allen, Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics: An Introduction and ReaderNew York: T&T Clark International, May 2012. 256 pp. Paperback, $39.95.

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The Gospel According to Heretics: Discovering Orthodoxy through Early Christological Conflicts

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When you think of the early church, you may very well picture a dry and dusty time. Or, perhaps it is dry and dusty books about a time that might otherwise be intriguing. Maybe I’m being unfair. But, I don’t know a lot of people who get psyched to study the early church, and if I do, they’re in Ph.D programs somewhere. The average theological reader might not be so stoked.

Hopefully, a new volume by David Wilhite can change that. In The Gospel According to Heretics: Discovering Orthodoxy through Early Christological Conflicts, Wilhite takes readers on the ins and outs of all the major heresies from the early church. The twist is that he offers a fairly sympathetic reading of the heretics themselves. By doing so, Wilhite is not trying to rehabilitate them as theological role models for the 21st century. Rather, he is trying to surface their motivations for making the theological formulations that they did in order that we might understand orthodox Christology better in the process.

Or, as Wilhite says, “In the present book, we would like to hear how orthodoxy was defined by ‘the losers'” (13).

To further clarify the aims, it is important to note that “gospel” in the title is “the intersection of Christology and soteriology” (3) rather than a clear proclamation. Also, because you were somewhat curious, Wilhite says “at the end of the day, I see the heresies as heresies because the teachings are inadequate and unconvincing” (3). So, while he may take the scholarly reassessment of the heretics seriously (rather than strictly sympathetically), he thinks the heretics were ultimately wrong (but not “evil, wicked deviants,” 3).

This becomes important as the book proceeds. As Wilhite notes in the introduction, just because “one of the orthodox made a claim about a certain heretic does not mean we can dismiss said claim and assert the opposite” (4). In other words, while we ultimately disagree with the heretics, we should take the orthodox charges against them with a grain of salt since it was not exactly an age of nuance when it came to denouncing false teaching.

Wilhite wraps up the introduction by opting to not strictly define “orthodoxy” or “heresy.” Instead, he offers some brief characteristics of each and then proceed to show how each heretical teaching came to be considered unorthodox in the chapters that follow. The heretics and teachings he covers are:

  • Marcion: Supersessionism
  • Ebion: Adoptionism
  • Gnostics: Docetism
  • Sabellius: Modalism
  • Arius: Subordinationism
  • Apollinaris: Subhumanism
  • Nestorius: Dyoprosopitism
  • Eutyches: Monophysitism
  • Iconoclasts: Antirepresentationalism
  • Muslims: Reductionism

If you could see things on my end, you’d immediately noticed all the red squiggles. What might jump out more so is the final two items in the list. The first, might not make many Presbyterian’s list of early Christological controversies. The latter wouldn’t make anyone’s list of Christian theological controversies, but Wilhite makes an interesting case for how Muslim Christology developed in context. Given many recent discussions about whether Christians and Muslims worship the same God, this final chapter might be worth the price of the book just on its own.

As far as the earlier chapters, Wilhite does an excellent job of presenting the teaching of each heretic from the point of view of that particular individual (as much as that is possible). He explains his approach earlier in the introduction:

Each chapter begins with a simple summary. This is usually the view expressed about the heretic by the orthodox opponents. Each summary is then supplemented with a closer investigation into the accused heretic and alleged heresy. The heretic in most cases probably did not actually teach the heresy named after him. For example, Nestorius most likely did not teach “Nestorianism.” An alternate name is given, therefore for the actual teaching in order to differentiate what Nestorius himself said (according to our best sources) from the Nestorian heresy (known from the hostile sources) (17-18).

He continues, clarifying his distinction between heretic (and “ism” derived from their name) and heretical teaching:

Again, every case is different: Arius probably taught the heretical doctrine of subordinationism, but even then the term needs to be used instead of “Arianism” because many, if not most, of those deemed “Arians” never read anything by Arius. The heretical doctrine is the main issue, even if it was attached to a certain “arch-heretic” (as the founders of heresy were called), and even if historians doubt the credibility of the accusation against the accused heretic (18).

Having a good general foundation in early Christological conflicts from both my time at Dallas and my reading since, I found Wilhite’s approach intriguing. At times you feel like he’s going to say that someone like Arius really wasn’t wrong. But, he never comes to a conclusion like that, even as he recasts several figures in more sympathetic light. They end up being misunderstood, but never quite orthodox.

This re-reading of the heretics, to me, is a mark of good scholarship on Wilhite’s part. He ultimately doesn’t agree with them, but presents them in the best possible light before pointing the way to orthodoxy. His writing style is also refreshing. He’s done his homework and offers a well researched volume, yet presents his findings in a very conversational and engaging tone. Having never heard of him, or read anything else by him, this was a good introduction to his scholarship.

On the whole, I’d highly recommend this book. For a church history type class, it would make a good textbook because of the design layout (sidebars and whatnot). It is probably a mid-level introduction for someone to get into the early Christological conflicts. That is to say, if you’ve never heard of the many or all of the “isms” listed above, this might not be the best place to start (try Holcomb’s Know the Heretics instead). If however, like me, you’ve interacted a bit with the early church conflicts that led to many of the church councils. This is a very intriguing read. It is also worthy grabbing for the final chapter on Muslim Christological developments as well. It follows the same trajectory as the other heretics, which as you can imagine, would make for interesting reading.


David E. Wilhite, The Gospel According to Heretics: Discovering Orthodoxy through Early Christological Conflicts. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, October, 2015. 304 pp. Paperback, $22.99.

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Augustine on The Christian Life: Transformed By The Power of God

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If one were to put together a list of influential theologians in the history of the church, Augustine would certainly be near the top. In terms of sheer literary output, not to mention kick-starting a genre (autobiography), Augustine towers over other theologians. Yet, he was primarily a pastor (bishop) for his day job. As such, he had much to say when it came to living the Christian life. Thanks to Crossway’s Theologians on The Christian Life series, you can read many of those insights in one place.

When compared to the other authors in the series, Augustine may seem out of place. The book itself is a bit out of place in terms of style. Gerald Bray chose to divide up the nearly 200 pages into only 5 chapters. Those five chapters give readers a window into Augustine’s life and background, his Christian faith, his influence as a teacher, his role as a pastor, and his impact on today. These chapters are bookended by a rundown on the Latin titles of Augustine’s works (and their English translations) and suggestions for further reading.

So far, you could have gathered much of this yourself by an attentive reading of the table of contents (which is the first step of good book reviewing mind you). You may still be wondering why Augustine made the list for this particular series. He is the oldest author by far, and the only pre-Reformation selection. Toward the end of Bray’s book I think he gives a good reason:

Augustine had the good fortune, if we can call it that, to have lived in the last generation of antiquity. After his death, it was still possible for some people in the Latin West to get a good classical education, as the careers of Boethius, Cassiodorus, and Gregory the Great remind us, but the were exceptions. The old Roman world no longer has urban centers where a large educated public eagerly debated philosophy and theology. Classical allusions fell on increasingly deaf ears as fewer and fewer people were brought up on the literary treasures of pre-Christian times. For many, Augustine – and especially The City of God – became the lens through which they read about what had gone before. He was the source, the encyclopedia of knowledge, through which the whole of antiquity, pagan and Christian, was distilled (192).

In the opening chapter, after his biographical sketch of Augustine, and before his short description of basic beliefs, Bray breaks down all the categories of writing Augustine left us:

  • Autobiographical
  • Philosophical
  • Exegetical
  • Doctrinal
  • Apologetical
  • Pastoral and Monastic
  • Polemical
  • Letters and Sermons

As he notes, “No ancient Christian writer has left us a larger corpus of writings than Augustine” (29). He left over 100 books, 307 known letters, and 583 sermons. If you math, you could figure out that Augustine averaged 3 books a year during his writing career.

With all this in mind, Augustine becomes the obvious candidate for inclusion in this series. He “was the greatest of the Latin (Western) church fathers” (191) and is the window in what came before him for much of the Western world. As far as influential Christian writers of his stature, perhaps Aquinas deserves inclusion in a series like this, but I can’t see him making the cut for various reasons.

Turning back to the book itself, the second chapter begins the exposition proper when it comes to Augustine’s understanding of the Christian life. Here, Bray guides readers through Augustine’s conversion, devotional life, family life and personal values, his choice of lifestyle (celibate), and his general life of faith. In chapter 3, the focus shifts to Augustine as a teacher of the Bible, as well as philosophy (briefly in regards to things and signs) and theology. Chapter 4 turns to his pastoral work, particularly the trials of parish life and his preaching.

In the final chapter, Bray kind of summarizes all that came before, but in the context of how it relates to our world today. He notes two emphases of Augustine’s that are relevant, especially in our modern world:

  • His emphasis on the relationship of the individual to God (198)
  • His adherence to the church (200)

We can tend to opt for one of the other, yet Augustine held both strongly. In addition Bray notes several teaching emphases that continue to have impact:

  • The human race is united in sin and rebellion against God and cannot save itself (201)
  • The Word of God is to be found in the Bible and nowhere else (203)
  • God is a Trinity of love (206)
  • God created the world for a purpose (208)
  • The Christian’s life is a journey that we walk by faith (210)
  • The Christian mission is important wherever it is exercised (212)

Taking all of these together provides a good snapshot of Augustine’s teaching as it related to the Christian life. I would say after reading this that there is much for modern evangelicals to learn from Augustine, even if we might disagree with some of his theological leanings. But, that’s probably true of pretty much every author featured in this series. Bray does an excellent job of presenting Augustine sympathetically, but without overshadowing that Augustine comes from a very different time and place and saw the world much differently than we do.

As a minor criticism, I would have liked to have the chapters laid out in a more digestible form. The chapters are long compared to other volumes in this series and the headings are not numerous. I found that it was hard to read in spurts. Bray can obviously divide up the material however he likes, and I do like his conceptual layout. Perhaps if I had not read nearly all the other volumes already, I wouldn’t have had a chapter length expectation in play. As I’ll say though for pretty much all the volumes in this series, it is one you should take, read, and hopefully grow in your walk with Christ as a result.


Gerald Bray, Augustine on The Christian Life: Transformed by The Power of God. Wheaton: Crossway, October, 2015. 232 pp. Paperback, $18.99.

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Theologians on The Christian Life Review Series

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Thanks to the generosity of Crossway, I will be posting reviews of the Theologians on The Christian Life series over the next several months. I have one more to finish reading, but since I just recently finished Augustine on The Christian Life, I’m ready to get started.

Recently, I’ve wanted to refocus my attention on the basic of living the Christian life. Some of that is because of teaching commitments (at school and soon at church). Some of that is because of just feeling rusty myself in terms of basic spiritual disciplines. Another part of it is my fairly longstanding interest in the relationship of good works to the life of faith in Christ. When you add all these together, it should make for a good spring series.

I thought it might be interesting to do the series chronologically by theologian rather than book release date. This particularly series unfortunately only has Augustine before the Reformation, but given some of Bray’s comments, it is probably a justified choice (more on that in the actual review). There are more 20th century theologians than I think any other single century. Also, were it not for Wesley, it would be a fairly monochrome sample of Reformed authors (the Germans being mild outliers).

Regardless, in this stack you have some of the most influential Christian theologians and their thoughts on the Christian life. I thought it might be interesting to move through them in a way that gives a brief overview of each book, notes which ones are stronger contributions than others, and over time, note what themes are held in common by each of these writers. With only one title left to read (Bonhoeffer), I have a pretty good idea what these themes might look like, but it will be clearly as I actually start writing the reviews. By next week, I’ll hopefully have Augustine ready to go and then we’ll see how it goes from there!

Old Books of Note: New Studies in Biblical Theology Edition

Thanks to the generosity of IVP Academic, I recently got not only several new releases, but a few old ones as well. Four of those are in the outstanding New Studies in Biblical Theology series.

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First, I requested Peter Adam’s Hearing God’s Words: Exploring Biblical Spirituality, forgetting I already had that in my collection (read the sample here). You can tell the subject from the subtitle, however Adam unfolds it in a way that is not strictly biblical theology. The opening chapter nails down the shape and structure of biblical spirituality, the gist of which you can discern from the book’s title. Chapters 2 and 3 then trace this theme through the Old and New Testaments respectively. Chapter 4 then focuses on a key historical figure, in this case Calvin, and what can learned from his take on the subject. Chapter 5 looks at issues in the study of spirituality and the final chapter offers examples, drawing on the Puritans and in particular Richard Baxter. Like most volumes in this series, this is worth your time, especially if you’re interested in digging into the basis of Christian spirituality.

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Next, I was able to read Mark D. Thompson’s A Clear and Present Word: The Clarity of Scripture (read a sample here). Unlike many other titles in this series, this volume is more historical and/or systematic theology than biblical theology. The clarity of Scripture is a fairly hot button contemporary issue, so it’s still worth checking out. The opening chapter sets the issue in context. Chapter 2 presents God as the foundation of Scripture’s clarity. From here, Thompson turns to the phenomena of Scripture itself in chapter 3, which does a fair share of biblical theology. Chapter 4 then turns to the hermeneutical challenge. In other words, if we claim Scripture is clear, why are there so many interpretations? Thompson then closes with a chapter that takes some of his doctoral work on Luther’s doctrine of Scripture to help us better explain the clarity of Scripture today. While certainly not definitive, this is still a valuable resource on the topic, showing that there is precedent for the clarity of Scripture in Scripture’s own teaching and in the history of the church’s witness.

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Shortly before Christmas, I read through Paul W. Barnett’s Jesus and The Logic of History (read a sample here). This is one of the earliest volumes in the series and as a byproduct, the typesetting is not easy on the eyes. However, in a culture that questions the historical existence of Jesus, this is a handy volume to pick up. Barnett’s opening chapter talks briefly of historiography how to approach the evidence for Jesus’ existence. The second chapter establishes a link between the historical Jesus and the proclaimed Christ of faith. The next chapter surveys the New Testament letters’ proclamations about Jesus. Chapter 4 looks at Jesus in historical context, primarily in relationship to Herod. From here, Barnett looks at the Gospels as historical records. Chapter 6 moves to the early Christian movement and its relationship to Jesus. Chapter 7 is perhaps the longest and is somewhat summarizing of the ground covered so far. Here, Barnett ties all the previous threads together, solidifying his case for the historical Jesus. Chapter 8 and the conclusion are a combined 6 pages, so this is the pinnacle of the argument more or less. While this volume is one of the shorter in the series, I found it very profitable to read and post a bit more about in the coming days.

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Lastly, while I up in Tennessee I finished Andreas Köstenberger and Scott Swain’s Father, Son, and Spirit (read a sample here). I would say of the volumes I’ve mentioned, this one is the most in-line with what you’d expect from a series called New Studies in Biblical Theology. And the two subjects, the Trinity and the Gospel of John, make it worth your time. The first part of the book, which is just one chapter, establishes the historical context for John’s gospel within Jewish monotheism. The second part is in-depth biblical reflections on the Scriptural data of John’s Gospel. The chapters focus on God, the Father, the Son, and the Spirit in turn. Each chapter covers a similar outline, starting with an introduction and then looking at the relevant passages in the prologue, the Book of Signs (1-12), and the Book of Glory (13-21). The chapter on the Son deviates from this slightly. A short concluding chapter synthesizes the findings.

The third and final part of the book then turns to theological reflections. Chapter 7 is Christological, examining Jesus’ identity as Son in the Gospel. Chapter 8 is pneumatological, exploring the relationship of the Spirit to Christ and believers. Chapter 9 is Trinitarian, unpacking the one divine mission of Father, Son, and Spirit. The final chapter looks in detail at John 17 (the high priestly prayer) and the link between the immanent and economic Trinity.

Given all that, this is definitely a volume for your library if you want to study either the Gospel of John or the doctrine of the Trinity more deeply. Having an author that is a biblical scholar (Köstenberger) working alongside a theologian (Swain) makes for a good combination. I would like to see more volumes in this series try something similar (Köstenberger co-authored another volume, but with Peter O’Brien, another biblical scholar). The tag-teaming I think works well, as does the resulting organization of the material. I know Swain has been co-authoring up a storm with Michael Allen, so maybe there’s another volume like this in the works on the horizon. I guess I could always ask!