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This may well be the oldest book I’ve reviewed, to date at least. But, I wondered if IVP Academic would send me for review the volumes I lacked in the Spectrum Multiview series and they graciously did!

Predestination & Free Will: Four Views of Divine Sovereignty & Human Freedom is edited by David and Randall Basinger and covers a topic that directly bears on how Christians respond to many issues in life (8). Although most Christians will affirm both divine sovereignty and human freedom, in real life situations, we tend to emphasize one to the exclusion of the other (8). In fact, we can even swing back and forth between the two depending on the issue in question (9). What often happens is that there is a discrepancy between the theoretical and practical levels of our belief (10).

In order to hash all this out, the Basingers marshal four scholars representing four views on the subject. The first two, John Feinberg and Norman Geisler, affirm God’s specific sovereignty, with Feinberg arguing a moderate Calvinist position and Geisler trying to bridge the gap with Arminian thought. The second two contributors, Bruce Reichenbach and Clark Pinnock affirm general sovereignty and then say either that God limits his power (Reichenbach) or his knowledge (Pinnock) in order to make more space for human freedom.

I was curious to check this book out because the relationship of divine sovereignty and human responsibility is a question that comes up often in Bible class. It has often been asked to me whether I believe in predestination or free will, illustrating that the general concern is soteriology. It also shows that some of the more polarizing positions have given the impression that it is an either/or belief. Either you affirm predestination or your affirm free will. Instead, everybody, if dealing with all the biblical data, has to opt for some kind of harmonization that invariably leaves some bit of tension.

Although I have my own view on the subject, I wondered if this book might be useful for explaining the different options available. After reading through it, I doubt I will make much use of it. The reason for that might be due to the selection of contributors, but it could also likely be because of how the discussion has advanced since this book was published. Though theologically speaking, 30 years isn’t quite that long (it’s my lifetime after all), alert readers will probably remember Clark Pinnock as the one of the main advocates/architects of the open theism position on God’s omniscience.

If you’re not familiar, this was the hot theological topic of the of the 90’s into the early 2000’s. While it was slightly before my time, it was still on the radar of theology classes when I was in seminary. While there are some legitimate concerns brought up by open theist’s exegesis of some passages, the solution they proposed was ultimately not helpful. For more background on this, you can read a recent article over at TGC.

From that vantage point, is interesting to read Pinnock’s position in this book. Pinnock’s language is rather caustic towards the traditional view of sovereignty he has grown to despise. In reading his position, it is hard to avoid the general impression that is a denial of sovereignty in favor of making God’s love the ultimate controlling attribute for all interpretations of other revelation in Scripture. Likewise, Reichenbach’s view seems like an anomaly at this point in time and I don’t know of any major theologian who holds to it (thought my own knowledge may be a bit limited).

Personally, I’m not a fan of Norman Geisler’s Thomistic theology or his attempts to blend Calvinism and Arminianism. Attempts to bridge the gap, I think, are ill-fated, and Geisler’s position outlined in this book generally upholds that opinion. Feinberg is probably the best argued case in the book, but it would have been better to have a confessionally Reformed scholar argue for a traditional Calvinistic perspective on the issue.

All of this is to say that an updated version of this book would be welcome. It would be ideal to have a strong Reformed point of view contrasted with a kind of Arminian Baptist view and someone like Greg Boyd who more winsomely argues for the open theist position. I realize he is one of the contributors to the Divine Foreknowledge book in this series, and as a whole, it looks like a more promising contribution to the discussion.

In the end, because the landscape has changed since this book was published, and the contributors could have been better selected, I don’t particularly recommend this book. It is not completely without merit, but I didn’t find any of positions outlined viable. If you are wanting to do a thorough study of the topic, this book might be worth consulting. But, if you’re hoping for a teaching resource to use in the classroom, a better discussion can be found elsewhere.

David Basinger & Randall Basinger eds., Predestination & Free Will: Four Views of Divine Sovereignty & Human Freedom. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, January 1986. 180 pp. $18.00.

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When I first started seminary, I had to take a class on research methods. It was only a credit hour, and in addition to the Turabian style manual, one of our textbooks was Nancy Vyhmeister’s  Quality Research Papers: For Students of Religion and Theology. There may have been a second edition available at that point, but my original copy is the first edition. I barely remember reading it, but judging from the internal highlights, I pretty clearly did.

Now, roughly 7 years later, there is a 3rd edition of the book that is about 60 pages longer. The basic material is more or less the same, though the structure is updated. In the newest edition, the opening chapter lays out a definition of research and is then followed by the first formal part of the book which is comprised of 9 chapters on 9 different kinds of theological research:

  • Biblical exegesis and interpretation
  • Literary research
  • Descriptive research
  • Program development
  • Case studies
  • Action research
  • Writing for publication
  • Academic theses and dissertations
  • The D.Min project

New to this edition are the chapters on literary research and writing for publication, the latter of which I found particularly helpful. Also, compared to the first edition that I read in seminary, it is much more helpful to have the different kinds of research laid out and explained at the beginning of the book rather than the end like the original edition (which also did not separate the material of the book out into separate parts).

Having gone through some basics to differentiate these different kinds of research, the following section, which is the heart of the book, is about actually carrying out the research. Here, readers are guided through the entire process, beginning with developing research thinking and choosing a topic, through gathering and evaluating resources, and eventually to organizing and writing the actual paper. New to this edition is a very needed chapter on evaluating on using internet sources. The final section of the book focuses on formatting and explains briefly the ends and outs of presenting the final product of the research project.

Though not an exhaustive word on the topic, this book is fairly standard for seminary preparation. I had to read it at Dallas starting the Th.M program and it is also part of the opening Ph.D seminary on research methods at Southern. If you are considering seminary or are already planning on attending in the near future, you could get a jump start by reading this book now.

That being said, the book is not the final word and so shouldn’t be treated as definitive. At Southern for instance, several other resources on research methods are required reading (books like How To Write A Lot, They Say / I Say:  The Moves That Matter in Academic Writing, Research Strategies: Finding Your Way Through The Information Fog, and Stylish Academic Writing). While Vyhmeister provides a good general overview of the process, other more detailed works should be consulted to round out your research abilities.


 

Nancy Jean Vyhmeister &Terry Dwain Robertson, Quality Research Papers: For Students of Religion and TheologyGrand Rapids: Zondervan, February 2014. 304 pp. Paperback, $19.99.

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One of my favorite instrumental bands is actually just one guy (probably why I like him) who writes and records under the name Cloudkicker. This is the first track of a 3 song EP, which you can probably stream either on YouTube or the bandcamp site I just linked to. If you like it, consider actually buying it even though you can continue to stream for free as long as you like.

Be sure and check out the most recent album, Little Histories, that was released today!

Sad to say, once again I’ll be missing ETS this year. If you’re not familiar, ETS is the Evangelical Theological Society, and their yearly meeting is every November, the week before Thanksgiving. I became a member of the society my final year at Dallas and was actually able to present part of my thesis at the Southwest Regional meeting that year. Earlier this year, I presented another paper at the Southeast Regional meeting in Birmingham.

Much like two years ago, I was actually planning on going. In 2012, I had submitted a paper and was approved to present at the meeting in Milwaukee, but then couldn’t afford to go. Last year, I hadn’t really planned on it, but this year I was planning to go until I found out my paper wasn’t approved and then I had to re-think my plans. Ultimately, it is hard to justify the expense when you are not a salaried employee and making the trip requires a week off work, plus airfare, plus hotel, plus rental car. And I didn’t even mention getting books!

Hopefully I’ll be able to make it next year when it is once again in Atlanta (Maybe I should start saving now).

Even though I’m not going to be there, I did receive my program earlier this month. Just for fun, I plotted out the sessions I would probably attend if I were going to be there.

For the Wednesday morning sessions, I’d probably head over to the Theological Aesthetics: The Arts, Aesthetics, and Ecclesiology section:

  • Fred Sanders – What the Icons Say and Do for the Gospel: The Place of the Ancient Christian Iconographic Tradition in Evangelical Churches
  • Tim Basselin – Unlimited Beauty: Disability and Vulnerability for the Church
  • Robert Covolo – The Church and Visual Art: Did Calvin Overreact?
  • Mark Coppenger – Spiritual Skepticism Over Art in the Local Church

For the afternoon session, I’d probably drift back and forth between God and God Incarnate: God and The Future:

  • Gerald Bray – The Mind of God and the Destiny of Man
  • Douglas Blount – God, the Future, and Inerrancy
  • Jonathan Yates – Augustine’s Vision of the Future
  • R. Albert Mohler – Contemporary Challenges and the Doctrine of the Future
  • Paige Patterson – God, Salvation, and the Future in John’s Revelation
  • Panel Discussion

And the review panel for Michael Bird’s Evangelical Theology: A Biblical and Systematic Introduction.

On Wednesday morning, I’d head over to the Models of God: The Jealousy of God section:

  • Paul Maxwell – In What Sense is the God of Christians a Jealous God?
  • Matthew Barrett – He Hardens Whomever He Wills: The Exodus, God’s Fame, and the Manifestation of God’s Jealousy through Divine Sovereignty
  • Dennis Jowers – Divine Jealousy and The Problem of Evil
  • K. Erik Thoennes – Divine Jealousy and the Christian Life

In the afternoon, I’d probably head toTheology For Counseling and Pastoral Care: Theodramatic Anthropology:

  • Kevin Vanhoozer – Role-playing: Personal Identity, and “Putting On” Christ: The Drama of Discipleship
  • Robert L. Saucy – The Biblical Heart and the Way of it’s Transformation: Growing Into Christ
  • Stephen P. Greggo – Theodramatic Anthropology & the “Significant” Self: Implications for Therapeutic Relating
  • Robert Kellemen – Theo-Drama and Gospel-Centered Counseling: God’s Redemptive Drama and Our Ultimate Life Questions

Or, I’d be at Biblical Theology: Defining Biblical Theology:

  • James Hamilton Jr. – Reflections on What is Biblical Theology? A Guide to the Bible’s Story, Symbolism, and Patterns
  • Greg Beale – Response to James Hamilton Jr.’s What is Biblical Theology? A Guide to the Bible’s Story, Symbolism, and Patterns
  • Edward Klink III and Darian Lockett – Reflections on Understanding Biblical Theology: A Comparison of Theory and Practice
  • Paul House – Response to  Edward Klink III and Darian Lockett’s Understanding Biblical Theology: A Comparison of Theory and Practice
  • Panel Discussion

Tempting at this same time would be the Hermeneutics: Hermeneutics and the Historicity of Adam set of papers, but I’d have to play it by ear after starting at the above two sections.

On Friday afternoon, I’m not sure if this is possible, but I’d try to catch three papers in three different sections:

  • D. A. Carson – Why the Local Church Is More Important than TGC, White Horse Inn, 9Marks, and Maybe Even ETS (from 1:00-1:40)
  • Keith Plummer – John Owen, the Self-Attestation of Biblical Authority, and its Significance for Christian Apologetics (1:50-2:30)
  • Wayne Grudem – Salvation without Repentance from Sin? A Critique of the “Free Grace” Gospel

There are maybe a few other outlying papers I’d try to catch, but this is the gist of the schedule I’d follow. Perhaps more importantly, I was really looking forward to meeting some authors/scholars for the first time, as well as connecting with others that I’ve already met either in person or online. I haven’t even mentioned how nice San Diego would be, but at the same time, I live in Florida which nice as well (though you could probably argue San Diego is nicer, but at least my rent is cheaper). All in all, I’m sure I would have had a great week there, and I’m bummed I couldn’t be there. I’m also bummed I couldn’t take Michael Bird up on any of his offers, especially the one to help him out during the Bart Ehrman review session. Maybe next year will hold similar challenges. Until then, I guess I better start saving!

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Several weeks back, I requested a review copy of Exploring Psychology and Christian Faith, mainly because I wanted to use it as a textbook in my psychology class. I was granted the review copy, and am using it and enjoying it.

As a by product of my request, I also received a copy of Hans Schwarz’s The Christian Faith: A Creedal Account. 1 Schwarz is a rather prolific author and theological educator, but I had never heard of him. However, I was intrigued by this Lutheran’ account of theology and it ended up being a rather quick read.

Schwarz orders his discussion into four parts: (1) Presuppositions of the Faith (theology, revelation, Scripture); (2) God The Creator (God, creation, humanity, sin); (3) Christ the Redeemer (Jesus in history and as Savior); (4) The Holy Spirit as God’s Effacacious Power (The Holy Spirit, The Church, The Means of Grace, The Christian Hope). All of this takes place in right around 200 pages.

For the most part, Schwarz keeps footnotes to a minimum. In the notes there are, Luther is most frequently referenced, though Augustine and Barth make quite a few appearances as well. The focus is more on Schwarz’s exposition of Christian doctrine, as well as his desire that Christ remain central. In the end, he hope that readers will take away a deeper understanding of the Christian faith (vi).

Because of the nature of the book, many theological questions will remain un-answered. It is probably best to keep in mind that Schwarz is following Luther in seeing the central tenet of the Christian faith as “God in Christ, who is both sovereign and compassionate, who accepts us without any precondition, and to whom we respond with a faith active in love” (10). His doctrinal exposition is therefore not aimed at answering all typical theological questions in a systematic theology, but rather to systematically explain the core of Christian doctrine in light of Christ and in a Lutheran key.

As a result, I found the book an interesting, but not particularly profitable read. I’m not a big fan of Luther peronally, and less so when it comes to Lutheran theology, especially as it concerns sanctification (but more on that later). Coupled with Schwarz’s semi-Barthian approach to theology, revelation, and Scripture (the first three chapters), I was not a fan. The book does what it sets out to do, so in that sense it is a success. If you’d like a post-Barthian Lutheran account of the core doctrines of the Christian faith, then this book is for you. If that’s not what you’re into (I’m not), then this still might prove an interesting read (it was), but not necessarily something you’d want to carve time out to pursue.

Hans Schwarz, The Christian Faith: A Creedal Account. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, September 2014. 224 pp. Paperback, $21.99.

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Notes:

  1. I had worded by request “Exploring Psychology and THE Christian Faith” so it apparently looked like two separate requests.

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See a rundown of the individual fallacies here.

9781433542404Kevin Deyoung is senior pastor at University Reformed Church in East Lansing Michigan (home of Michigan St.). He blogs at The Gospel Coalition and has written several books in addition to Taking God At His Word (e.g. Crazy Busy and The Hole in Our Holiness). Here, he presents readers a brief primer on the doctrine of Scripture, which is more than adequately outlined in the subtitle of the book.

DeYoung explains his purpose in writing in the opening chapter of the book:

I want all that is in Psalm 119 to be an expression of all that is in our heads and in our hearts. In effect, I’m starting this book with the conclusion. Psalm 119 is the goal. I want to convince you (and make sure I’m convinced myself ) that the Bible makes no mistakes, can be understood, cannot be overturned, and is the most important word in your life, the most relevant thing you can read each day. Only when we are convinced of all this can we give a full-throated “Yes! Yes! Yes!” every time we read the Bible’s longest chapter. (Kindle Locations 145-149).

Having set out his goal, DeYoung explains using Psalm 119 what he thinks we should believe, how we should feel, and what we should do when it comes to Scripture. Toward this end he says,

While I hope this volume will motivate you to read the Bible, this is not a book on personal Bible study or principles for interpretation. Nor do I attempt an apologetic defense of Scripture, though I hope you will trust the Bible more for having read these eight chapters. This is not an exhaustive book, covering all the philosophical , theological, and methodological territory you might see in a fat, multivolume textbook . This is not an academic book with lots of footnotes. This is not a “take down” book where I name names and cite “chapter and verse” for current errors. This is not a groundbreaking work in exegetical, biblical, historical, or systematic theology. (Kindle Locations 239-244)

He realizes this might make it seem like it’s not worth reading, so he clarifies that all he is doing is offering a doctrine of Scripture from Scripture, and I would add, doing so in a highly readable way for the average person.

DeYoung takes different facets of the traditional doctrine of Scripture and devotes a chapter to each. The core of this is chapters 2-6 which cover the Bible’s trustworthiness, sufficiency, clarity, authority, and necessity respectively (the last four of which can be remember with the acronym SCAN). Chapter 7 looks at how Jesus viewed the Bible, while the final chapter offers encouragement to “stick with Scripture.” Ultimately,

Scripture doesn’t tell us everything we may want to know about everything. But it tells us everything we need to know about the most important things. It gives us something the Internet, with all its terabytes of information, never could: wisdom. The purpose of Holy Scripture is not ultimately to make you smart, or make you relevant, or make you rich, or get you a job, or get you married, or take all your problems away, or tell you where to live. The aim is that you might be wise enough to put your faith in Christ and be saved. (Kindle Locations 1453-1457)

The book closes with an appendix with 30 books DeYoung recommends on the doctrine of Scripture. Given the brief nature of this volume, readers who want to dig deeper into different aspects of the doctrine of Scripture have their work cut out for them. This may also help more skeptical readers find more of their questions answered. This isn’t to say DeYoung breezes over genuine difficulties (thought some might feel that way). Rather, he avoids some of the more technical issues when it comes to things like inerrancy and readers aware of those issues and wanting a more in-depth response will do well to look elsewhere. Though classifying this book as “preaching to the choir” is probably an unfair characterization, there is a certain sense in which DeYoung is writing to readers more or less on the same page as he is.

On the whole, DeYoung is right. There is nothing particularly groundbreaking about his book. But, that’s ok. Not every book needs to reinvent the wheel or offer new and groundbreaking insights that will shatter the minds of theologians young and old alike. Sometimes, it’s nice to have a book that reminds readers of a long held doctrine, but does so in a fresh way. Or, it’s nice to have a book that you can give to someone who doesn’t particularly like to read but is interested in learning more about why the Bible is important.

For the most part, that’s the category I would file this volume into. I didn’t particularly geek out about it back at T4G when it first came out since I thought I could probably guess the way most of the arguments within would flow. After finally getting the eBook for review from Crossway, my initial assessment was more or less right, but that doesn’t diminish the general value of a volume like this. If you’re look for a book you could give a new Christian or a questioning Christian when it comes to the doctrine of Scripture, this is a great place to start. You may even have some questions yourself when it comes to words like “inerrancy,” and wonder if the Bible really is authoritative. DeYoung’s volume is a great weekend read on the subject and will deftly guide you through what Scripture really says about itself. And, unlike some more recent volumes on the doctrine of Scripture, this one won’t leave you on the wrong side of history.


Kevin DeYoung, Taking God At His Word: Why The Bible is Knowable, Necessary, and Enough, and What That Means For You and MeWheaton: Crossway, April 2014. 144  pp. Hardcover, $17.99.

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Many people have found their introduction to hermeneutics in How to Read The Bible for All Its Worth. I was not one of them. However, when I saw a new edition of the book (the 4th) was being released earlier this year, I thought it might be a good time to check it out. I was able to get a hold of a copy, as well as the companion volume, How to Read The Bible Book by Book.

This edition was prompted by a need to update the bibliography, but that in turn led to other updates. Specifically, all of the verse references are now parenthetical at the end of sentences and the translations have been updated. Also, commentary recommendations are up to date (for now).

The flow of the book is till more or less the same (since the 3rd edition). The opening chapter explains the need to interpret. Then, readers are guided through selecting a good translation of the Bible for personal study. With the basic tools in place, the remaining chapters each tackle a specific genre of the Bible. This starts with two chapters on the epistles. One covers background issues of history and literary context, while the other introduces the basic hermeneutical questions. Since the epistles are probably the easiest entry point, this seems like a good strategy. The chapters that follow go from Old Testament narrative, Acts, and Gospels (chapters 5-7) to parables (chapter 8), law (chapter 9), the prophets (chapter 10), the Psalms (chapter 11), wisdom literature (chapter 12), and finally Revelation (chapter 13). An appendix explains how to evaluate and use commentaries properly.

After reading through this, I wish I had come across it sooner. I had certainly heard of it, but this was after taking Bible study methods classes in college and seminary. As a single, accessible resource, I think this might become my go-to recommendation to get you grounded. There are other books I like as well, but especially if you couple this book with its companion volume, which is essentially a book by book survey of the entire Bible (that gives an overview, reading advice, and section by section walk-thru for each book), it gives readers a great foundation in reading and studying the Bible for themselves. More advanced books should certainly follow, but these two volumes are an excellent starting point.

If I could make one adjustment though, I would have liked to have either a more extended opening chapter, or perhaps a closing chapter that integrated the insights for studying the Bible into a step by step method. Maybe this could have been a chart, but it was touched on to some extent in the opening chapter. Going genre by genre is incredibly helpful, but I would have liked an integrating chapter. As part of this, I think more could have been said about studying Scripture at the level of words and phrases. I realize this is done in the context of specific genres, so maybe that’s why the integrating chapter would work better at the end after you’ve read all the specific insights you need to keep in mind moving genre to genre.

In the end, I doubt it is worth making a 5th edition to accommodate something like this. Instead, it probably illustrates that even a great introduction to studying the Bible works well with other resources. There is really no stand-alone go-to resource for hermeneutics. But there is wisdom in a multitude of teachers and counselors, and this resource is definitely worth consulting on its own or with its companion volume. If you really want to read the Bible for all of its worth, this is a great place to start.


Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart, How To Read The Bible For All Its WorthGrand Rapids: Zondervan, June 2014, 304 pp. Paperback, $18.99.

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Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart, How To Read The Bible Book By BookGrand Rapids: Zondervan, June 2014, 448 pp. Paperback, $18.99.

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