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I believe I mentioned this already, but I’ve been teaching a spiritual disciplines class at church. We opted to call it Rhythms of The Christian Life, and at this point we’re 4/5 done. Because of that, I went back through my books on spiritual disciplines to prepare. Earlier this month, Habits of Grace:Enjoying Jesus Through The Spiritual Disciplines by David Mathis came out and its a book I wish I had from the beginning. But, thanks to Crossway, I was able to get a PDF to read and review.

Mathis provides an excellent, yet concise, foundation for the disciplines in the introduction (which you can read in full here). He reminds us that these can be means of grace, through which God works in our lives. He then divides would could be an unruly collection of practices into three headings:

  • Hear His Voice (Word)
  • Have His Ear (Prayer)
  • Belong to His Body (Fellowship)

There is a fourth part that serves as a coda, but this three-fold division does much to simplify the topic. John Frame makes several appearances in the book so I’m wondering if there’s a latent triperspectivalism.

For the class that I’m teaching we started with a week on Sabbath and then inserted a separate week on fasting/silence/solitude after prayer. Mathis includes fasting, silence, and solitude under his section on prayer. He also includes journaling there. This certainly makes sense, given that these are the most private disciplines and taking time away for silence and solitude gives space for journaling, fasting, and prayer.

I’m glad that Mathis included the final section on fellowship and there also discussed the typical means of grace (the preached word, communion, baptism). This underscores the overall framework he has placed the disciplines within. It is also helpful for people like me who might opt to stick with the private disciplines. I need to be reminded that just as I read my Bible expectantly, I should gather for corporate worship and community with similar expectations for God to show grace.

If you’re looking for a good intro book on the spiritual disciplines, I’d highly recommend starting here. It’s what I’ll be recommending to my class as our time together closes out next week. It might also be the suggested reading on the front end for this class when I teach it again, hopefully sooner rather than later.

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In a related vein, you might also want to check out Keith L. Johnson’s Theology as Discipleship. Thanks to IVP Academic, I was able to read this one toward the end of last year. In this book, Johnson argues that “the discipline of theology and a life of discipleship to Jesus Christ are integrally related because the practice of theology is one of the ways we participate in the life of the triune God.” He hopes to “show how the study of theology enriches Christian practice and how faithful obedience to Christ enables the learning of theology” (12).

This book arises out of an introductory course in theology Johnson teaches at Wheaton. As his argument proceeds, it is presented through close theological readings of Scripture (13). Before that, the opening chapter gives some background on how theological study fell on hard times. After talking about ways to move forward, the following chapters dig deeper into topics like union with Christ (chapters 2-3), the nature of the Word of God and our posture toward it (chapters 4-5), and the mind of Christ (chapter 6).

The final chapter lays out some principles for what “theology in Christ” looks like. Ultimately, we practice theology as disciples of Christ when:

  • We measure our thinking and speaking about God by the person and work of Jesus Christ as revealed in Scripture (156)
  • Our thinking stays within the limits of our faith in Jesus Christ (158)
  • We seek to live obediently in the pattern of the incarnate Jesus Christ’s obedience to God (161)
  • We do our theological work for the benefit of others (166)
  • We use our theological work to serve the church and its mission (171)
  • We pursue both truth and unity (176)
  • We display confidence while avoiding defensiveness (179)
  • We utilizing the insights of non-theological disciplines to enrich our thinking (182)
  • We pursue our theological work with joy (186)

While this is a fairly short book, it packs a punch. It is a good example of theological reading of Scripture being used to defend theology as a practice of Christian discipleship. At places, it can feel a bit dense. In terms of tone, style, and content, it’s a book for people like me primarily. But, in terms of argument, it is aimed at those who are questioning whether the study of theology is worth pursuing. That might make the book itself a hard sell, since I’m already convinced it’s worth pursuing, but I don’t think I could give this book to one of my college students who is questioning the pursuit of theology, because that usually goes hand in hand with an aversion to reading. If they liked reading, they’d already be an easy sell to do some theological reading. If they’re not, I wouldn’t see this book as convincing them, even though I think it has a strong argument. Not necessarily a reason to not check this book out, but a potential issue it might have in making an impact.

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Lastly, thanks to Zondervan I was able to read Julius Kim’s Preaching The Whole Counsel of God: Design and Deliver Gospel-Centered Sermons. I’m not typically a fan of things with “gospel-centered” in the title or subtitle. Not because I don’t like the gospel, or want things “centered” on it (whatever that might actually mean), but rather because it can be faddish. Kim’s book however, is not.

I was interested in picking this up since I joined the preaching planning team at our church this past fall. I had been helping with research for a couple of years off and on. Recently, our church transitioned from being a campus of a larger church movement to an independent church. As that was happening, our pastor setup up a weekly preaching meeting to collaborate and plan the sermons and series. The mechanics of it all, might make for another interesting post. Here, I’ll just note that although I don’t preach often (outside of chapel at school really, and even that is not usually a “sermon”) I am interested in the design and delivery of sermons.

The first two parts of the book cover the basics of Christ-centered preaching. The final two parts of the book are devoted to the delivery and design of sermons so that they might not only be true and good, but also beautiful. This latter focus is what sets Kim’s book apart. Having sermons that are true and good are common goals among preaching books. The latter, while not ignored, is not usually as explicit as Kim makes it. In the last part specifically, Kim incorporates insights from recent studies in neuroscience in order to unpack how to design and deliver the sermon. He also deals with verbal and non-verbal communication as it pertains to the delivery.

All in all, this makes Kim’s book worth checking out if you preach regularly. It is concise (just over 220 pp), but covers quite a bit of ground. In some ways, it might be a better book for people who are already familiar with the techniques of Christ-centered preaching and have either been practicing it for a while or are well read in these kinds of books. It is introductory enough to work well as a class textbook, but maybe not as a stand alone read. Because of what Kim includes about design and delivery though, I think it definitely deserves to be in the mix of books that provide good instruction for preaching.

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In our small group at church we’ve been doing a Hebrews Bible study. Not a Hebrew Bible study mind you, but a study covering the book of Hebrews. This past week, we looked at 5:11-6:12, with a bit of 6:13-20 toward the end. As we were engaged in discussion and study, I noticed a connection between 5:11 and 3:12-14 that got me thinking.

In case you don’t have it memorized, here’s Hebrews 5:11-14:

About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.

We tend to construe “dull of hearing” as pertaining to gaining knowledge. But from context, both here and earlier in the book, I think it has more to do with obedience. Part of that is because the two words are closely related, especially in the context of Hebrews. This connection also features prominently in a recent book on listening. Ultimately, to “obey” is to “hyper-listen” or to listen deeply.

On this understanding, someone is “dull of hearing” if they are “slow to obey.” While it could be construed as not listening well on Sunday mornings, I think it has more to do with listening to God in general, specifically through his Word, and evidencing that you’ve heard by how you live. This comes out more in 5:14 as the contrasting position is called “mature” and that is defined as having “powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.” This more or less describes the wise person in the book of Proverbs, and implies that you distinguish good from evil in order to practice the former instead of the latter. We could say then that listening closely leads to living wisely.

With this in mind, think back to 3:12-14, which again if you don’t have it memorized is:

Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.

Notice how important the community is for helping each other avoid sin’s deceitfulness. The word for “exhort” is parakaleo, which is the same word underlying “Paraclete”, the title Jesus gives the Holy Spirit. If the Spirit indwells believers, then they are able to function as a mouthpiece for the Spirit, doing his job (in part) in the context of Christian community. By being part of an active church body, you are “partaking of the Holy Spirit” if others are exhorting you toward living a godly life (cf. 6:4 and what this might mean in that context).

I tend to think that the way this should work is similar to an aspect of the way I teach piano. Often, I find myself listening very closely as a student plays through a song that they practiced during the previous week. It is rare that a song is played completely mistake free. However, as I’m listening closely and paying attention, I can discern the intentionality behind many of the notes. What I’m looking for is evidence of correct thinking behind the playing.

One thing that is difficult in being a piano teacher is that I’m essentially listening to someone play a song so I can point out their mistakes. I’ve had to think through how to do this well so that it’s not a drudgery to sit through lessons (for me and the student). I’m sure many of you had that teacher growing up. You know, the one that pointed out every single mistake, quickly saying “Wrong!” as soon as your finger touched that F that should have been an F# because you forget you were playing in the key of G.

What I try to do is to either wait for the student to correct the error themselves, or even wait until the end of the piece and ask, “What did you forget?” at which point they remember themselves that all the F’s were supposed to be sharp. Other times, when I wrong note is played, I’ll say “close” letting them know it wasn’t quite right, but in a way encouraging them that they’re right there and then they have the opportunity to move to the correct note on their own.

Thinking back to Hebrews 3 passage, it involves a similar kind of listening. Rather than pointing out every mistake individuals in our community make, we should listen closely to the overall melody their life is making. We should encourage them when the notes they are playing are close to the mark, and perhaps not rush to calling out every error along the way. If we are truly living in community together, we have more than passing interaction with one another and can discern patterns in others’ behavior that might need to be addressed. 

Like a piano teacher that generally sees his students for a concentrate amount of timing weekly, we should seek to spend concentrated time with close community weekly. Doing so allows us to really listen to one another and even better exhort and encourage more melodic living in harmony with the Spirit within us.

 

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Hard to believe it’s been a month since the last On the Blog post. That’s because it has only been a little over 3 weeks thanks to a short month and a late post. Looking ahead to the rest of the month, I’ve got plenty more reviews to post. So much so that I decided to follow the format of this past Monday’s post 3 Books on The Trinity.

Often I’ll find after I’ve read or browsed a book for review I don’t want to do a full critical review. In the past, these titles usually end up in a New Books of Note post. However, I’ve decided these sorts of posts will be reserved for digital copies, or books that really just didn’t grab me. My general policy is to mention in 200-300 words any book that I request and receive. I’ve found though that there’s a type of book that I’d like to say more about, but not necessarily to the level of 1000-1200 words. Instead, I’ve like to post about these books in tandem with other similar books. This places them in conversation with other recently published works and I think adds value to the shorter review.

With that in mind, here’s the topics coming up this month:

  • Politics
  • Modern Theology
  • Jesus
  • Philosophy

Looking at the books pictured, I think you can figure out which three go in which week. There are a few outliers though. One is Sammy Rhodes book This is Awkward. I might give it a stand alone review, or write something about it elsewhere. Another, not pictured, is Ruth Tucker’s Black and White Bible, Black and Blue Wife, which might get its own review post. Also not pictured (because it was digital) is David Mathis’ Habits of Grace, which might end up getting its own post as well.

I was going to do a Reformation themed week later in the month, but decided against it. Instead, I’m going to pick up and continue the Theologians on The Christian Life series later this month and try to do one a week for the rest of the spring.

There are some series I’d like to pick up and continue. This includes the What Are/Is ______________? Some Recommend Reading. I really need to do a post on Biblical Theology and Systematic Theology. This month might be the month.

I also don’t want to fully abandon writing about book reviews or seminary study. My next two seminary posts will be Where Should I Go? and What Should I Learn? My next post for the book reviewing is probably going to be about reading and marking books.

All of this is to say that I’m trying to implement a principle from my devotional life into blogging. I’ve been teaching a spiritual disciplines class at church and we talked through this briefly this past Sunday. Basically, the idea is that you should have something fixed and something fluid (HT: David Mathis’ quote of William Law for this idea). With my devotions, I have a fixed reading plan (two actually) but I have flexibility to study more any given day. I’m working to implement that into my prayer life as well.

When it comes to blogging, I’ve tended to be one or the other. Over the spring and into the summer, I’m working toward having a fixed posting schedule at the beginning of the month, but being flexible about changing it up or adding to it as things come to mind. Or, as life provides opportunities to get out of the office and do stuff. I tend to make decisions based on what I’d regret not doing later and so that leads to things like driving to Tampa to hang out with your best friends for 24 hours before they move back to Tennessee instead of writing three separate blog posts on books related to the Trinity. Nothing wrong with either course of action, but I’d rather look back and say I took the trip and squeezed the writing down than vice versa. In the end, I think I accomplished both goals, so hopefully I can continue that trend into the coming months!

On of my abiding reading interests is books on the Trinity. Ever since I took Trinitarianism as a course at Dallas, I keep coming back to try to understand the biblical teaching on God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Recently, I finished three (of course) new volumes that each engage in theological exegesis to some extent. They are rooted in a close reading of the New Testament, but for the purpose of enhancing our understanding of doctrine. Each contributes to the advance in understanding in significant ways.

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Matthew Bates’ monograph The Birth of The Trinity: Jesus, God, and Spirit in New Testament & Early Christian Interpretation of the Old Testament was until recently cost-prohibitive. Thanks to Oxford University Press, I got my copy for free. You can now get the hardcover for just over $40 on Amazon and you can pre-order the paperback edition for less than $25. I say that because were this a $90 book, I imagine that most of you reading this would pass regardless of what I tell you about it.

While not a long book (just over 200 pp), it will surely be significant. It is a book for “general readers of theology, history, and religion, as well as professional scholars and students.” The argument of the book, as Bates explains, is that “a specific reading technique, best termed prosopological exegesis, that is evidenced in the New Testament and other early Christian writings was irreducibly essential to the birth of the Trinity.” He goes on to say that, so far as he knows, no one has “ever systematically explored Trinitarian inner dynamics of Christology  in the New Testament and second-century Christianity from this angle” (2).

At this point, you are probably wondering two things: (1) what is prosopological exegesis and (2) what does Bates mean by “birth of the Trinity”? To the latter, Bates means “the arrival and initial sociolinguistic framing of this doctrine in human history by the nascent church” (4). To the former, Bates spends the better part of the opening chapter explaining the nature of prosopological exegesis. It is borrowing from a Greek theater called “prosopopoeia” (“character-making”) to then read the Old Testament theodramtically. While many people acknowledge Paul’s use of prosopopoeia, Bates’ significant contribution is to argue that latter part about how New Testament authors read the Old Testament.

As such, this study not only studies the development of Trinitarian doctrine, but uncovers a hermenuetical practice through the study of the New Testament’s use and reading of the Old. Like a good extended argument that is worth your time, it can’t be neatly summarized in a short post like this. Rather, I would encourage anyone seriously interested in the study of the Trinity or New Testament interpretation (or both) to get a hold of this volume. It might need to wait until the more accessible paperback is available, but the dip in hardcover price certainly helps.

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The next book worth noting is Wesley Hill’s Paul and the Trinity: Persons, Relations, and the Pauline Letters. I received this one thanks to Eerdmans and it was the first book I finished in this new year. It is similar to Bates in that it overlaps study of Trinitarian doctrine and New Testament interpretation. However, Hill is focused closely on Paul (you might have known that from the title) and restructuring the understanding of Jesus’ divinity in relational terms rather than the typical “low” or “high” polarities. Ultimately Hill’s study is more Christological focused throughout as we seeks to construe our understanding of Jesus in terms of his relation to the Father, not necessarily how high or low he is on the vertical axis toward divinity.

The opening chapter charts the general lay of the land, both in terms of Pauline Christologies and Trinitarian theologies. Since Hill’s work intersects the two, this makes perfect sense. He is writing to theologians and exegetes, and that is no easy task. But, Hill shows he is grounded in both worlds before his study proceeds. As a caveat, he concludes the first chapter saying “Although my argument is largely aimed at the guild of biblical and Pauline interpreters, the conviction underlying the argument – and, it is hoped vindicated (in part) by the argument – is that theology and exegesis are, or ought to be, mutually dependent” (46-47).

In chapter 2, Hill looks first at God in relation to Jesus, particularly focusing on Romans 4:24; 8:11, and Galatians 1:1. In the following two chapters, Hill turns to Jesus in relation to God. The first focuses primarily on Philippians 2:6-11, the second on 1 Corinthians 8:6, and 15:24-28. The final chapter turns to the Spirit in relation to God and Jesus, looking closely at 1 Corinthians 12:3, Galatians 4:4-7, 2 Corinthians 3:17, Romans 1:3-4, and 8:11 among others.

In his conclusions Hill, referring to other interpretive efforts argues that,

Instead of starting with God and attempting to fit Jesus and the Spirit in alongside or underneath him somewhere on an axis of nearness, it is better – these interpreters have posited – to see neither God, Jesus, nor the Spirit as enjoying primacy on their own but to see them as all equally primal, mutually determinative, relationally constitued (168).

Hill suggests this was the “perspective of the mainstream of mature fourth century (and later) trinitarian doctrine” (169). His work as a whole seeks to defend this approach, while also showing that “exegesis of Paul does not reach its full potential without trinitarian theology” and “trinitarian theology is impoverished if it neglects biblical exegesis in general and exegesis of Paul in particular” (171). He concludes by saying that “Theology and the reading of Scripture belong together. And that belonging is both a description of the history of Pauline and trinitarian studies and a summons to practice those disciplines in a renewed form today” (172). If that is something that intrigues you, or something you are already pursuing, then you need to grab a copy of Hill’s book sooner rather than later.

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Lastly, Rodrick Durst’s Reordering The Trinity: Six Movements of God in The New Testament is worth checking out. Durst argues that we should pay closer attention to the “ordering” of the persons of God when they are mentioned together in the New Testament. There are, obviously six potential combinations:

  • Father-Son-Spirit (18x)
  • Son-Spirit-Father (11x)
  • Son-Father-Spirit (15x)
  • Spirit-Father-Son (14x)
  • Father-Spirit-Son (9x)
  • Spirit-Son-Father (8x)

Each of these orders gets its own chapter of exposition where Durst looks at each occurrence briefly. Before getting to those chapters, there are 4 chapters of background dealing with the status of Trinitarian doctrine in modern theology, basic issues in New Testament interpretation as it relates to the Trinity, triadic presences in the Old Testament, and the traditional development of Trinitarian doctrine.

When it comes to unpacking the orders, Durst sees a theological significance to each:

  • Missional sending
  • Formational shaping
  • Evangelical saving
  • Christological indwelling
  • Liturgical standing
  • Ecclesial uniting

In other words, Durst suggests and argues that the order of the divine persons relates to the function the particular New Testament author is highlighting. He supports this with exposition, numerous charts and diagrams, and concludes with the practical significance this might have for one’s prayer life or preaching.

I found the argument intriguing, and I think well-defended. The strongest counter-argument might be that there is not the level of intentionality on the NT author’s part that Durst suggests. However, he has gone to great lengths to demonstrate the patterning, and if one believes in an over-arching divine author, it’s not really that much of a stretch. Instead, it is a practical strategy for reading the New Testament more closely so that you come to understand the Triune God better.

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Around this time last month, I posted my January Update as part of Tim Challies Reading Challenge. Actually, I’m a little early at this point, but I know going into the weekend what I’ll finish up. Also, I was having trouble getting my thoughts together for a review post. I have a slightly more annotated list this time around. Key word is slightly. I’ve also truncated the checklist to just include books I’ve finished at this point. If you want the whole list, see either my January Update or Challies original post.

Anyway, here’s what I read in February:

  • The Ultimate Star Wars and Philosophy
    • Like most essay collection on philosophy and pop culture, this was hit or miss (pun intended?)
  • The Scandal of The Evangelical Mind
    • This is a classic book, some of it dated, but most of it still very relevant for diagnosing issues with how (some) evangelicals approach intellectual issues
  • The Pastor: A Memoir
    • I loved this book, and as I said before, am on a Peterson kick at the moment. Highly recommend reading this if you’re involved in ministry.
  • Philosophy in Seven Sentences
    • This was a great overview of important thinkers in philosophy. I’ll say more in my review
  • Five Views on The Church and Politics
    • This book correlates the five views in Niebuhr’s Christ & Culture to approaches to politics. Different views, but not a lot of sparks in the responses.
  • The Birth of The Trinity
    • This book is cost prohibitive for many, but important in terms of explaining the early church’s hermeneutical moves that helped shape our understanding of the doctrine of the Trinity.
  • American Exceptionalism and Civil Religion
    • Very important in light of the upcoming political season. You can be patriotic without being an idolater, but it is apparently really difficult.
  • Politics for Christians
    • This ended up being more philosophical than I expected, and it made be want to read more of Beckwith
  • The Miracles of Jesus
    • I like the charts, but it wasn’t a very engaging read. It is thorough and exhaustive, but also kind of flat.
  • This is Awkward
    • Really enjoyed this one because it made me feel slightly more normal (but not less awkward).
  • Happiness
    • Turns out there isn’t a substantial difference between happiness and joy according to the way the biblical authors used the word. Also hashtag blessed can also be hashtag happy.
  • How to Be an Atheist
    • Excellent dismantling of atheistic approaches to science, reason, and morality, showing their skepticism toward religion needs to be applied more rigorously to their own views
  • Habits of Grace
    • Great introduction to the spiritual disciplines in three fold form (Frame would be proud)
  • Black and White Bible, Black and Blue Wife
    • Horrible marketing with this one. It came unsolicited with a sticker that said “Are evangelical men more likely to abuse their wives?” Not cool Zondervan. However, an important book that was engaging and got me thinking. I’ll post more later.

THE LIGHT READER (7/13 BOOKS)

THE AVID READER (1/26 BOOKS)

THE COMMITTED READER (4/52 BOOKS)

THE OBSESSED READER (12/104 BOOKS)

(image via challies)

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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.

Buy itAmazon

Read an excerpt

Visit the publisher’s page

Thanks to Baker Academic for the review copy!

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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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Thanks to Crossway for the review copy!

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Everyone who reads a good bit has favorite authors. When another author uses many of your favorite authors in writing their book, it usually catches your attention. That was my experience in reading through Daniel Strange’s Their Rock Is Not Like Our Rock: A Theology of Religions. I made most of my way through it back in the fall while I was teaching a section on world religions in my senior Bible class (senior as in 12th graders). I was delighted to see numerous uses of Reformed authors like Van Til, Frame, and Bavinck (although often a different Bavinck than Herman). Even Greg Bahnsen makes several appearances (although mostly because of his book on Van Til). What this means is that Strange is writing a theology of world religions that is relying heavily on insights from presuppositional apologetics, and for that we should be glad.

After an autobiographical prologue that helps set the context for Strange’s study, his opening chapter lays out the task of explaining the religious Other from a Christian worldview. Here he gives the theology of religions that he will defend:

From the presupposition of an epistemologically authoritative biblical revelation, non-Christian religions are sovereignly directed, variegated and dynamic, collective human idolatrous responses to divine revelation behind which stand deceiving demonic forces. Being antithetically against yet parasitically dependent upon the truth of the Christian worldview, non-Christian religions are ‘subversively fulfilled’ in the gospel of Jesus Christ (42).

This dense statement gives the rough outline of the book that follows. Chapter 2 lays out the case for man as homo adorans. Moving from the foundation of the creature Creator distinction in Genesis, Strange works out a theology of man inherently religious. This then leads to a chapter on how people respond to the “remnantal” revelation available because of God’s common grace. The following chapter picks up the story of Babel and shows its importance for religious diversity. From here, Strange offers a theology of religions from the rest of the Old Testament in chapter 5 and then does the same for the New in chapter 6. The next chapter details Strange’s understanding of “subversive fulfillment” in order to then lay out some missiological implications in the following chapter. The final chapter offers pastoral perspective and insight in light of the preceding study.

This book is a significant contribution to understanding and explaining world religions from a Reformed perspective. It is a resource I will return to and utilize in my own study. I found some of the material too academic for high school introductions, but I used some of the main ideas (everyone knows there is a God and everyone worships). If I had more time to ruminate, I would have liked to trace out how Buddhism and Hinduism are subversively fulfilled by the gospel. Strange applies his insight to Islam and that makes this book all the more valuable in the current cultural situation.

A downside I found is that the book is perhaps longer than it needed to be. Part of this is the thoroughness of Strange’s argument (which I suppose is not a bad thing). The other part is excessive and lengthy block quotes. The tend to clutter the text and make it harder to follow the argument. In many cases it was easier to visually skip over the block quote and read Strange’s concluding summary sentence that lead into the next paragraph. This is mainly a stylistic consideration though, and shouldn’t detract from the overall value of the resource. An upside would be that Strange provides many extended excerpts from his primary sources. A downside is that his thoughts can get lost in the shuffle at times.

In the end, I would highly recommend this book if you are interested in apologetics in general and world religions in particular. I had thought this before reading, but now I have a good argument that the resources from Reformed writers like Van Til, Frame, and Bavinck (Herman and J. H.) provide the best explanation for world religions. If you can get through the block quotes, this is a resource you’ll want to spend some time working through.


Daniel Strange, Their Rock Is Not Like Our Rock: A Theology of Religions. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, February, 2015. 384 pp. Paperback, $24.99.

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Thanks Zondervan to for the review copy!

New Books of Note

February 10, 2016 — Leave a comment

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There are a handful of books that every seminary student should have on writing. Michael Kibbe’s From Topic to Thesis is one of them. Thanks to IVP Academic, I was able to get a copy and read it rather quickly. While short, small, and new, it provides a concise and step by step overview from moving from an idea to a finished paper. Or as the title suggests, from a topic (like one assigned in a seminary class) to a thesis (what you’ll actually argue in your paper). The introduction is the longest chapter in the book and orients readers to how theological research is like as well as unlike other types of research. In addition, readers are introduced to the distinction between primary, secondary, and tertiary sources. Each of the following chapters explain one step in the method of research:

  • Finding direction
  • Gathering sources
  • Understanding issues
  • Entering discussion
  • Establishing a position

Along the way, the author gives real life examples using a biblical studies paper as well as a theological studies one. The last third of the book is appendices covering topics like what to never do in a research paper, research and writing tools, scholarly resources, how to navigate ATLA, how to use Zotero, and a suggested timeline for your research.

I found the book to be very helpful for my own rusty thinking on paper writing. I tend to have difficulty moving from topic to thesis so this book was exactly what I needed to prod me along and I think I’ll plan to utilize it for an upcoming paper proposal. As I do, I fill you more in on the guidance the book offers.


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As a follow up to his Dude’s Guide to Manhood, Darrin Patrick teamed up with his wife Amie to write The Dude’s Guide to Marriage. Thanks to Thomas Nelson I was able to get a copy and see what I thought. In some ways, much of the advice here should be basic common sense. However, as someone who went through pre-marital counseling and still ended up clueless about certain things, I’d say common sense isn’t initially all that common. If you look at the chapter titles, you’ll notice there is nothing that revolutionary:

  • Listen
  • Talk
  • Fight
  • Grow
  • Provide
  • Rest
  • Serve
  • Submit
  • Pursue
  • Worship

Well, maybe the submit part (and maybe the fight part). On the whole though, I think most dude’s would at least tacitly understand they should listen, talk, fight (argue), grow, provide, rest, etc. There is a gap though between knowing what you should hypothetically do and knowing how to actually do it well. That is where this book can be a valuable resource. In a way it is basic. But, dudes tend to need basic (even if they won’t admit it). I found the value not so much in the exposition but in the discussion questions provided at the end for talking with your wife. This isn’t to say that the Patricks honesty and vulnerability in letting us in our their marriage isn’t helpful. It’s more to note that if I only read their exposition, it might help my own self-understanding, but I need to take the topics and discussion questions to talk things through with my wife. My biggest problem, and probably most guys problem is to read something like this and just assume I’m nailing all of it and then move on. I have to take the extra step of actually seeing what my wife thinks and the Patricks have a provide a good discussion starter for doing just that.


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A couple of summers ago I enjoyed reading Zack Eswine’s Sensing Jesus: Life and Ministry as a Human Being. This was both because of content and style. In terms of the former, it is a very reassuring and realistic encouragement to those of us in ministry that we don’t have to be perfect. This focus pairs well with Eswine’s meditative and reflective writing style. Having also benefited from his preaching book, I thought I’d use Crossway’s Beyond the Page program to read The Imperfect Pastor.

Upon getting it though, I was a bit disappointed. Maybe not as much as Mike Leake, but close (read his review of Sensing Jesus). As Eswine explains in the introduction:

The book you hold in your hands is, in some measure, an updated— and shortened— rewrite of my earlier work Sensing Jesus. I hesitated when I was invited to rewrite the earlier volume. Like any writer, I contemplated the loss of prized sentences, and I flinched. But now I give thanks for the opportunity and the effort. This new work, The Imperfect Pastor, is half the size of Sensing Jesus; nevertheless, one-third of the content is brand-new. Sensing Jesus will find its place in used bookstores and academic libraries, while The Imperfect Pastor will stand on its own with distinct language, size, content, and purpose. I hope that in its pages you will find the grace of Jesus for your life and ministry. (Kindle Loc., 117-122)

In other words, if you’ve read Sensing Jesus, there’s nothing particularly new here. And the downside is that you can’t tell that until you read the introduction since there’s nothing about the book or endorsements on say Amazon that suggest this is an updated, shortened rewrite of an earlier book. On the plus side, Sensing Jesus is out of print and not readily available. So while it is a great book and probably one every pastor should read, they can now read this instead. And to be honest, that might be for the better. One of the downsides of Sensing Jesus is that the chapters seemed much too long for the content being discussed. Now, that’s not really a problem. This is a leaner, meaner version of the book and will probably end up more widely read than its predecessor. So, on the one hand, it’s unfortunate it wasn’t more obvious this is a re-write. On the other, it is a needed re-write and this is probably a better go-to recommendation than Eswine’s previous work.


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Lastly, Zondervan sent me an advanced reading copy of Todd Wilson’s More: Find Your Personal Calling and Live Life to The Fullest Measure. Generally speaking, I hate advanced reading copies because they are step below eBooks in that they are not actual flesh and blood books and also are a slight step beyond a rough draft of the final book. Perhaps it is for the best since I mistakenly thought this was a book on life calling by Todd Wilson, as in the the co-author of The Pastor Theologian and solo author of Real Christian: Bearing the Marks of Authentic Faith. It is however, a book by an entirely different Todd Wilson, one who is the founder of Exponential.

The book looks promising. The first part explains what a calling is and the second part helps you find yours. Giving it the brief flip through that an ARC deserves, I’d say it would be a helpful book to work through if you’re feeling stuck where you’re at in life. Or, if you’re a college student and not sure what to do after graduation. Or, if you’ve graduated but are not enjoying your current or previous jobs (and aren’t sure about the future either). For any of these reasons, you might still need clarification on what your calling in life is. Wilson appears to help readers ground their personal life calling in the larger story of what God is doing in the world and then discover what they should be doing regardless of their ultimate role (i.e. be a disciple and make disciples). I might give this to a friend who is asking these questions and get back to you and what they think. The book itself comes out in April, so keep an eye out for it if anything I’ve said piqued your interest.

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Usually, I am very high on any volume in the New Studies in Biblical Theology series. You can probably tell already that I might feel differently about Richard Lints’ Identity and Idolatry: The Image of God and Its Inversion (NSBT). Given that my interest in this subject reaches back to mid-seminary and my discovery of G. K. Beale, I had high hopes for this volume. For whatever reason, I found it less engaging to read than I expected and almost immediately forgettable.

Perhaps that is too strong. Let’s start again.

Richard Lints latest addition to the New Studies in Biblical Theology series, Identity and Idolatry: The Image of God and Its Inversion traces out our understanding of Genesis 1:26-27 for a biblical theology of the image of God. The inversion of this image leads to idolatry, conceptually speaking. The opening chapter provides a conceptual and somewhat sociological orientation to the subject. In chapter 2, Lints turns to the foundation of our creation in God’s image in Genesis 1:26-27. This additionally opens up discussion about the nature of human identity and human nature itself. In chapter 3, Lints makes note of the liturgical nature of creation and explains briefly the cosmic temple idea. This leads to a deepening of this motif in chapter 4 where Lints discusses how man was intended to image the Creator King in his cosmic temple.

Chapter 5 presents a turning point for here Lints notes the post fall origins of idolatry. Special attention is paid to the golden calf incident, as well as the prophetic foundation laid in Deuteronomy for invectives against idolatrous practices. In chapter 6, Lints moves to the New Testament, specifically Romans 1, 1 Corinthian 10, Acts 7 and 17, and Colossians 1. From here, chapter 7 turns an interesting analysis of the masters of suspicion (Marx, Freud, Nietzsche) and their “religious” critique of religion (Feuerbach makes an appearance as well). Here the focus is on idolatry as the key issue driving some of the critics of religion. That is to say, not necessarily their idolatry, but their recognition of idolatries that have found a home in religious practices. There is a sense in which their criticisms are valid, but their target is not Christianity in its truest, intended form. The final chapter brings the insights into the present cultural situation and draws some interesting applications.

On the whole, there is much of interest in Lints’ work. Perhaps the best criticism is that it doesn’t seem quite at home in this series. Given the nature of the series, one would expect more extended exegetical analysis than is offered. It is however still offering a biblical theology of the image of God and its inversion by tracing the story from Genesis 1 into the New Testament and noting the developments along the way. On the other hand, this volume is bit more philosophical (not a bad thing) than others and perhaps reflects that it is written by a theologian with philosophical and anthropological interests rather than lexical or exegetical ones (though obviously these are not mutually exclusive interests).

Depending on what you think a book in this series should do, you might find this a welcome change of pace, or a frustrating read. It didn’t stick that well with me as I read it, and that may be more due to how I was reading it than a defect in the volume itself. As I went back through to prepare this review, I found myself wanting to go back and give it a closer read for whatever that is worth. Will I actually do that? Probably not until I need to for some research project, but that tempers my opening comments a bit. If nothing else, this book clocks in under 200 pages and if you are at all interested in understanding the image of God in theological and philosophical context, you’ll probably want to at least check this out.


Richard Lints, Identity and Idolatry: The Image of God and Its Inversion (NSBT)Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, August 2015. 192  pp. Paperback, $22.00.

Buy itAmazon | Westminster

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Thanks to IVP Academic for the review copy!