Discipleship isn’t easy. It’s not rocket science either, but teaching people to observe everything Jesus commanded is no small task. It can be intimidating, even when both people are committed to the process. In other words, it takes commitment, and we live in a culture that chafes at the idea of signing a 2 year contract for cell phone service.

Jeff Vanderstelt doesn’t shy away from these realities but presses into them in Saturate: Being Disciples of Jesus In The Everyday Stuff of Life. In a little over 250 pages he casts a vision for discipleship that is more mindset than method. He begins with his own story before presenting the story of Jesus’ life and ministry as the basis for why we try to make disciples. Jesus is better than anything this life has to offer and the goal of our discipleship is Jesus saturation first in our own lives and then in the lives of those we are ministering with and to.

After these two parts of the book, Vanderstelt turns to unpacking discipleship a bit further. He explains what he understands life on life discipleship to entail and illustrates it with numerous stories from his own ministry. This part serves as a bridge between the Christology of the second part of the book and the ecclesiology and vision for sanctification that comes in the fourth part of the book. He takes a Trinitarian approach here, explain in successive chapters what our baptism into each person of the Trinity entails. From this vantage point, the final part of the book gets more practical in explaining how this vision of discipleship can be enacted in the everyday stuff of life. A couple of helpful appendices serve leaders wanting to implement ideas and principles from the book into their own small group or missional contexts.

For me, this book wasn’t eye opening or mind blowing. Most books of this type aren’t anymore. I appreciate what Vanderstelt is doing, but you could more or less sum up the book by saying discipleship is about being grounded in the gospel yourself and then being intentional about spending time with other people. As you understand the gospel better yourself and see the glory of God in the face of Christ, you will naturally and organically share that with others if you’re intentional about fostering relationships and community.

So while there is a place for sitting down and doing one on one Bible studies as means of discipleship, that really isn’t life on life and really isn’t enough when it comes to really teaching others the ways of Christ. People need models to show them the ways of Christ. That means teaching others to observe all that Jesus commanded requires you seeking to do the same in your own life. As you do that, and invite others into your life, discipleship becomes less of something added into your schedule or more something that just flows out of your everyday rhythms of life. Saturate expands on this and captures the imagination better than pure didactic teaching will. But, if you’re already on-board with this vision, you probably don’t need to read the book.

Jeff Vanderstelt, Saturate: Being Disciples of Jesus In The Everyday Stuff of LifeWheaton: Crossway, April 2015. 256 pp. Hardcover, $19.99.

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I have a fairly long interest in apologetics. I’m not actually sure when it started, but the skeleton was taking shape by the time I left Bible school and was put to the test while I worked at Starbucks. The bones got meat put on them while I was in seminary, and I would eventually win the apologetics award for my Th.M thesis. All during this time I was reading books on the subject, either content or method. But, in all that reading I never really came across a book quite like this one.

I’ve read a few Os Guinness books in the past, one at the direct recommendation of Chuck Swindoll when I talked to him after chapel (he enthusiastically told me to read The Call). Neither was directly about apologetics though. This book, is not directly about it either, at least in the sense that most people would think of a book being about apologetics. There is a chapter explain why we shouldn’t be after the latest and greatest techniques (chapter 2), but that’s often a feature of works on apologetics. There is no extended presentation of the viable evidence for Christianity, yet that doesn’t mean arguments aren’t made for its validity. And while technique is eschewed, there are two chapters on general approaches to persuasively interacting with nonbelievers (chapters 6 and 7).

In a word, Fool’s Talk: Recovering The Art of Christian Persuasion re-frames the motive and aims of the apologist slash evangelist. In an age where most everyone says “I post, therefore I am” (15) Guinness seeks to remedy “a central and serious shortcoming in Christian communication today” (16). Specifically, “we have lost the art of Christian persuasion and we must recover it” (17). “Persuasion” in this sense being “the art of speaking to people who, for whatever reason, are indifferent or resistant to what we have to say” (18).

This leads to the heart of the problem, which Guinness explains as a problem of the heart (18): “The fact is that much contemporary advocacy ignores the deeper understandings of the spiritual and philosophical ways in which people think through their faiths, change their faiths, and the impact of their cultures and their ways of life on their thinking and beliefs” (18). We won’t understand unbelief and so have difficulty persuasively explaining our beliefs. We also mistakenly assume people are open to what we have to say when increasingly that is not the case.

In the first two chapters, Guinness makes a case for creativity in our persuasion while also avoiding a reliance on techniques. In regards to the former, Guinness argues that our discourse must be cross-centered and cross-shaped. For the latter, Guinness suggests that “Technique is the devil’s bait for the Christian persuader today” (30). Because there is no such thing as “McApologetics” (32) we mustn’t offer a one-size fits all approach to our persuasion. Ultimately, persuasion is an art, not a science and in its creative form “is the art of truth, the art that truth inspires” (34). We need more cross talk than clever talk (39). Because creative presentation is spiritual and moral, in addition to being intellectual (43), we must avoid simple reliance on technique which is never neutral and “essentially soulless” (44).

Chapters 3 and 4 make a case for defending our faith and being willing to be seen as foolish in doing so. In this regard, Guinness states,

Apologetics (from apologia in Greek) is a “word back,” a reasoned defense mounted on behalf of the one we love who is innocent but has been falsely and unfairly accused. Faith desires to let God be God. Sin has framed God, whether by the ultimate insults that he, the creator of all things, does not exist, or that he, the white-hot holy One, is responsible for the evil and suffering that humans have introduced into his good creation. So God’s name must be cleared and his existence and character brought to the fore beyond question (54-55, emphasis original).

Because of this, “so long as sin frames God, those who love God have a job to do in the world” (55). In the course of making our defense, we may appear foolish, but this is the way of the “third fool.” There are fools proper (see Proverbs) and fools for Christ (see 1 Corinthians). Then there are fool-makers, those willing to be seen as foolish in order to “bounce back and play the jester, addressing truth to power, pricking the balloons of the high and mighty, and telling the emperor that he has no clothes” (72).

Chapter 5 presents an erudite explanation of unbelief. In biblical perspective, “the central core of the anatomy of unbelief stems from its willful abuse of truth” (85). It does this through suppression, exploitation, inversion, and ultimately self-deception (86-89). This all leads to a tension that will not quite go away. Because the truth is, well, the truth, a worldview that reacts the way unbelief does will always sit uneasily in a person’s conscience. Guinness explains this the “dilemma pole” and the “diversion pole”:

The dilemma pole expresses the logic of the fact that the more consistent people are to their own view of reality, the less close they are to God’s reality and the more likely they are to feel their dilemma. The diversion pole expresses the fact that the less consistent people are to their own view of reality, the closer they are to God’s reality so the more they must find a diversion. Neither pole is necessarily closer to God, because unbelief as unbelief will not bow to God either way, but the people at either pole are relating to God and to their own claims to truth in entirely different ways (96, emphasis original).

In our culture, people more often gravitate toward the diversion pole as a our technological society proliferates. However, the dilemma pole is more consistent and leads to biblical themes like becoming like what your worship and reaping what you sow (98).

Given this understanding of unbelief, Guinness offers two strategies for persuasion in chapters 6 and 7 respectively. The former discusses “turning the tables,” which is more suited to those near the dilemma pole while the latter discusses “triggering the signals,” which is more suited to the diversion pole. For those more consistent in rejecting God (dilemma), the tables being turned pushes their own argument back against them in a variety of ways. For those less consistent, but just as disinterested (diversion), the signals triggered point to something beyond their current belief system that can only make sense in God’s reality. It is a way of sometimes waking our conservation partner from their agnostic slumbers.

In the final chapters, touches on using questions well in conversation and other ways to spring load our persuasion (chapter 8). He also discusses how to not shy away but embrace the accusation of hypocrisy (chapter 10), while not claiming to always be right (chapter 9). He closes chapter about those in the church who have left and how they become formidable challengers to the Christian faith because of their inside perspective (chapter 11), and a general overview of the apologist’s journey (chapter 12).

While I could probably continue on for another 500-1000 words about how excellent this book is, I think you get the idea. Guinness helps readers go a long way toward recovering the art of persuasion which often fails to be on many would be apologist’s radar. He takes elements from many schools of thought and threads them together in a way that will help readers integrate the best insights those schools have to offer. What might have been helpful is to chart some of this more clearly in the endnotes (which are unfortunately not footnotes). Having read widely in apologetics, I’m aware when he is being presuppositional, but that’s not always clear. The target audience might be why this kind of conceptual architecture wasn’t laid bare. It seems geared toward a general audience (this isn’t IVP Academic), but it is a very sophisticated read, and so may shoot over many lay reader’s heads. Needless to say, this all points to the challenge involved in writing this sort of book. At the end of the day, I think Guinness did a fine job and you’ll definitely want to pick up a copy of this book.

Os Guinness, Fool’s Talk: Recovering The Art of Christian PersuasionDowners Grove, IL: IVP Books, July 2015. 270 pp. Hardcover, $22.00.

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I’m a big ESV guy. Or at least that’s been the case since the mid-2000’s. My first actual Bible was probably NIV. My first real study Bible was MacArthur Study Bible in NKJV that my mom got me during my first year of college. The next study Bible was a Reformation Study Bible in ESV, although during my time in seminary it didn’t figure prominently into my reading. My most recent study Bible has been a leather ESV, but that was until Zondervan sent along their newest offering.

The NIV Zondervan Study Bible is kind of a big deal. It’s been in the works for quite a while and none other than D. A. Carson is the general editor. As a rule of thumb, if he edits something, either a book, or a series of books, it is probably worth checking out. Up until recently I hadn’t been very high on the NIV, but I’ve come around. Since being sent this earlier this month, I’ve been using it for daily devotions. So far, I’ve enjoyed switching first back to print instead of Logos on my iPad, and second to reading the NIV instead of ESV. Right now I’m in 1 Samuel, Psalms, Jeremiah, and Romans, so I’m getting a good feel for the different feel of the NIV.

On the website for the study Bible, you can find out about the contributors, as well as an overview of what makes this study Bible distinctive. In many respects, it is very similar to the ESV Study Bible. It has fairly extensive articles introducing each section of Scripture as well as each book. It also has numerous articles in the back matter. The key difference is that these articles in the NIV Zondervan Study Bible are covering the main biblical-theological themes in Scripture. The goal is to give readers some basic tools in order to be better equipped to read the story of Scripture. While the ESV seemed to be going for comprehensive resourcing in its articles, the focus here is biblical theology, both in the articles and study notes.

Because of that, it is a nice compliment to an ESV Study Bible. You’ll get a different focus in the study notes, but you’ll also be reading a different translation (and it is actually a translation, not a paraphrase as some suggest). While you may not need a multiplicity of study Bibles, having two or three really solid ones is a good idea. If you only have an ESV, this is the next one you need to get. I round out my trio with a new Reformation Study Bible, but I’ll talk more about that later.

So far, I’ve been very pleased with this study Bible and would recommend you check it out, whether you’re an NIV fan or are looking to understand biblical theology better. If you’re looking to do both then this study Bible was basically made just for you. I may have more to say later, but for now, you might want to jump on pre-order deals with Amazon, or you could wait and see if somewhere like Westminster runs a release special in the next few weeks.


In my one of my classes this year, I’m planning on working through the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF). It’s 11th grade Bible, and it has been a systematic theology class since I started teaching it. I’ve used a variety of textbooks, just trying to find what works well. Last year, I settled on utilizing Grudem’s Bible Doctrine as a textbook since it had good review questions built in, and thanks to one of my TA’s, I have now have answer keys.

As far as the structure of the lectures go, while I have PowerPoints keyed to Grudem (thanks to Zondervan’s Textbooks Plus program), I didn’t particularly like them. Also, it seemed a bit redundant asking students to read the book and then sit through a PowerPoint that was built on the headings of what they had already read. I decided I wanted to do something different this year, and so settled on using the weekly lectures as an opportunity to go through the WCF.

To help with that, I’m reading along through Chad Van Dixhoorn’s Confessing The Faith: A Reader’s Guide to the Westminster Confession of FaithThe 33 chapters of the book follow the 33 sections of the WCF. However, each chapter is split into smaller readable portions, suitable for a daily read through. These sections each reproduce the historic text of the WCF, as well as a modern version for each section.

As an example, here’s the historic text of WCF 2.1:

There is but one only, living, and true God: who is infinite in being and perfection, a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions, immutable, immense, eternal, incomprehensible, almighty, most wise, most holy, most free, most absolute, working all things according to the counsel of his own immutable and most righteous will, for his own glory; most loving, gracious, merciful, long-suffering, abundant in goodness and truth, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin; the rewarder of them that diligently seek him; and withal, most just and terrible in his judgments, hating all sin, and who will by no means clear the guilty.

And here is in the modern version:

There is only one living and true God, who is infinite in being and perfection. He is a most pure spirit, invisible, with neither body, parts, nor passive properties. He is unchangeable, boundless, eternal, and incomprehensible. He is almighty, most wise, most holy, most free, and most absolute. He works all things according to the counsel of his own unchangeable and most righteous will, for his own glory. He is most loving, gracious, merciful, long-suffering, abundant in goodness and truth, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin, and he is the rewarder of those who diligently seek him. He is also most just and terrifying in his judgments, hating all sin, and will by no means acquit the guilty.

Stylistically, I find modern a bit smoother, but it is helpful to be able to compare it against the historic text. Along with each section’s statement, Van Dixhoorn includes the necessary Scriptural proofs, keyed to the historic text via alphabetic footnotes. Then, he offers brief commentary on the particular section. Sometimes he groups several sections together, since the goal is to have the sections on commentary comprise what could be a single day’s reading for 10 minutes or so.

All in all, from what I’ve read it has been a helpful exposition. I got through about the first 6 sections before pausing back in the spring. Now, I’m starting up a reading plan to go along with my lecture schedule. As questions arise, I’m hopeful that having read Van Dixhoorn’s analysis, I’ll be better prepared to clarify. Even you’re not in the position of teaching theology like I am, I imagine you’d find this resource useful for understanding this important historic confession of faith better.

Chad Van Dixhoorn, Confessing The Faith: A Reader’s Guide to the Westminster Confession of Faith. Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, August 2014. 512 pp. Hardcover, $30.00.

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For the sixth time, I saw mewithoutYou live last night. It was actually full circle last time I saw them because it was in St. Pete were I saw them for the first time on the Tooth & Nail tour in 2004. Last time I saw them was at the last ever Underoath show, but that was a couple of years ago, so I was due for another. They played songs from their latest an album as well as songs from 4 of their older ones, including classics like Torches Together, A Glass Can Only Spill What It Contains, and Four Word Letter (Pt. 2). They also played the spider trio from Brother, Sister.

Over at Christ and Pop Culture I wrote an article last week on the band, and frontman Aaron Weiss specifically:

The band’s most recent album, Pale Horses, continues the evolution. In some ways, Pale Horses represents mewithoutYou come full circle, which is fitting for band that once sang “all circles begin with an end, they come back around, they come back around again.” Lyrically, this is their most biblical album, as far as imagery goes. Musically, it’s a nice blend of all previous mewithoutYou incarnations. Spiritually, it draws from Islam, Judaism, and Christianity, but without a commitment to any one of them. Instead, the commitment is to a worldview of a different sort.

In addition to seeing them live last night, I was able to interview frontman Weiss before their set. I think we could have kept talking for a few more hours, but he had a show to put on. We talked about a wide range of ideas and experiences (speech act theory, perichoresis, spirit animals, marriage, to name a few), and I hope we’ll be able to have another conversation in the future. As for the one last night, I’ll tell you more about it in an upcoming article for Christ and Pop Culture, hopefully by the end of the month.


A couple of months ago, I wrote about how Carl Trueman changed my mind about Martin Luther. It is only fitting since he was partially responsible for my original disinterest in Luther. Although I might have been aware before I read Histories and Fallacies, that was the first extended discussion I came across related to Luther’s anti-Semitism.

For those that aren’t aware, the key writing is Luther’s 1543 treatise, On The Jews and Their Lies. There, he says things like this:

God has struck [the Jews] with “madness and blindness and confusion of mind.” So we are even at fault in not avenging all this innocent blood of our Lord and of the Christians which they shed for three hundred years after the destruction of Jerusalem, and the blood of the children they have shed since then (which still shines forth from their eyes and their skin). We are at fault in not slaying them. Rather we allow them to live freely in our midst despite all their murdering, cursing, blaspheming, lying, and defaming…. (in Luther’s Works, vol. 47, ed. Franklin Sherman (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1971), 267).

When he mentions “the blood of the children they have shed,” he is referencing the so called “blood libel.” Trueman explains, that, “This was the claim that Jews kidnapped Christian children and offered them in ritual sacrifice, and it is clearly part of a culture that treated Jews with deep suspicion and fear” (Histories and Fallacies, 133). As Trueman goes on to explain Luther’s anti-Semitism, it clearly emerges that there was nothing particularly remarkable about the fact that Luther hated the Jews. That was fairly common in medieval Europe.

What is more interesting is the reason why the Jews were so hated. We tend to infer, based in large part on the Holocaust, that the motivations were primarily racial. Trueman says not so fast, and explains that our categories of race applied to the medieval context are anachronistic. If we remember that this was the height of Christendom, you can see how the Jews would be ostracized for primarily religious reasons rather than racial ones. So long as the Jews remained outside the church, they would arouse suspicion and fear. 1

While this was the case for most people, it was surprisingly not Luther’s original position. The historically remarkable thing is not that Luther hated the Jews. Rather, it’s that in 1523 he would write a book called Jesus Was Born A Jew and say things like this:

If we really want to help them, we must be guided in our dealings with them not by papal law but by the law of Christian love. We must receive them cordially, and permit them to trade and work with us, that they may have occasion and opportunity to associate with us, hear our Christian teaching, and witness our Christian life. If some of them should prove stiff-necked, what of it? After all, we ourselves are not all good Christians either (from vol. 45 of Luther’s Works, ed. Jaroslav Pelikan and Helmut T. Lehmann; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1962, 229).

Go back and read the first quote again. Granted, these quotes are 20 years apart, but one could hardly imagine a more complete 180. As Trueman explains in Histories and Fallacies, and I think reinforces indirectly in Luther on The Christian Life, the reason Luther changed his mind about the Jews is because they didn’t convert like he expected them to. As he points out,

Luther thinks that the Reformation will carry all before it; and, like many Christian before and since, he thinks he is living at the end of time where the return of Christ will be heralded by a mass conversion of the Jews. Indeed, there can be no doubt that Luther desired to see the Jews converted to Christianity because he was convinced that he was living at the end of time when the eschatological conversion was imminent” (Histories and Fallacies, 136).

In a similar way, Luther would eventually realize that you couldn’t just preach the gospel and call it a day. When there wasn’t a mass influx of Jews in the wake of the Reformation, Luther not only resorted to traditional anti-Semitic writing, he kicked it up a notch. The reception and use of his writings by later Germans would prove disastrous to say the least. This is the Luther that no one wants to be. We might want to emulate his commitment to the gospel in the face of rivals, but wouldn’t admire his condemnation of the Jews when they didn’t come to Christ.

Though not exact, I see a parallel with those today who are ministering in, with, and to the gay community. It is perhaps tempting to think that all one needs to do is preach the gospel and the converts will come. Or, to think that once converted, one can simply “pray the gay away.” In reality, neither of these things are guaranteed. This is not to say neither happens, but unrealized expectation can lead one to re-think the viability of the power of God to change lives. Or, cause one to categorize a group of people as hostile to the gospel in a way that forecloses future ministry. I would imagine that some of the animosity from Christians toward the gay community could be traced to attempts at ministry that didn’t go so well. That’s not true in each and every case, but it is easy to write off and stereotype a group of people when representatives of that group aren’t responsive.

When our involvement in Christian ministry doesn’t lead to the results we were expecting, it is certainly frustrating. But, that frustration can quickly turn dangerous and in Luther’s case proved deadly. What we say and do in the wake of our frustrations can have a lasting impact. And while we want to have a lasting impact if we’re involved in ministry in the first place, this isn’t the kind we’d want to be remembered for. Luther helps serve as a reminder to be faithful to our calling over the long haul even if doesn’t prove to be as fruitful as we might have liked.


  1. Here’s the quote from Trueman: “For Luther, the problem with Jews is a fundamentally religious one, as it was for all western European societies during the late Middle Ages. Luther had no real concept of race in the way that we do today. His world was one of religious categories, not biological or pseudo-biological ones. For him the problem was thus one of ideological commitment, connected to the issue of social assimilation. To put it bluntly: how does a society where the state and the church are essentially two sides of the same coin assimilate those who, by their very definition, are not members of the latter? The answer is simple: either it does not assimilate them and instead persecutes them, or it tries to convert them (either by persuasion or by force) and thus make them part of the church. Once converted, the problem ceases because it is an issue of religious conviction, not one of race. A Jew who becomes a Christian is easy to fit into a society, all good members of which are baptized and respect the church” (Histories and Fallacies, 136).

New Books of Note

June 30, 2015 — 1 Comment


I don’t read many of Simon Gathercole’s books, but when I do, they are short. Around this time last year I read Justification Reconsidered. There, he was rethinking a Pauline theme, and in some ways, that’s also what he is doing in his recent book Defending Substitution: An Essay on Atonement in Paul. In both books, he is defending a classical understanding of Paul’s soteriology in light of recent objections and/or recalibrations. Though the titles frame it differently, these books work well in tandem and demonstrate fine Pauline scholarship in relatively bite size form. [NOTE: A graceful commenter pointed out that Justification Reconsidered is by Stephen Westerholm, an author who I’ve also only read one book by and I guess have had been confusing with Simon Gathercole for some reason]

This book has four chapters, though the first is simply an introduction framing the discussion. Once framed, Gathercole highlights three recent challenges to the traditional understanding of substitutionary atonement and their underlying connection. Then, he defends the classical view in light of these objections. First, he focuses on 1 Corinthians 15:3 and Paul’s claim that Christ’s dead for us was “according to the Scriptures.” Second, he focuses on Romans 5:6-8 and Paul’s use of vicarious death traditions widely known in his first century context. A conclusion recapitulates this all briefly and next thing you know, you’ve just read a book.

Readers who are interested in either Paul’s theology or soteriology (or ideally both) will want to check this book out. Gathercole is interacting with the frontlines so to speak of critical scholarship. In doing so, he models a careful reading of an opposing position and then a gracious response that digs deeply into the Scriptures as well as background historical context in order to defend the traditional understanding of Christ’s death being for us in a substitutionary sense. Because of that, one can learn not only from the content of Gathercole’s argument, but it’s character as well.

Simon Gathercole, Defending Substitution: An Essay on Atonement in PaulGrand Rapids: Baker Academic, May 2015. 128 pp. Paperback, $19.99.

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9780281074082_reading backwards

You might have seen Richard Hays’ Reading Backwards: Figural Christology and the Fourfold Gospel Witness with a different cover. Originally published by Baylor University Press, there is now a paperback edition courtesy of SPCK and they graciously sent me a copy. I hadn’t read any of Hays’ works, but I see his name frequently and N. T. Wright did dedicate PFG to him. Sometimes I get bored with regular reading so the opportunity to learn a new skill intrigued me.

The book itself is derived from a series of lectures Hays delivered at Cambridge in 2013 and 2014. It is a preview of a Gospel focused sequel he is working on to Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul. In his preface, Hays mentions several forerunners to the type of work he is doing (Dodd, Wright, Hurtado, Bauckham, to name a few). He then offers an introductory chapter on figural reading, which as you might have figured, is the backwards reading the title refers to. There then follows a short chapter on each Gospel writer’s strategy of doing this. The final chapter offers summary thoughts on retrospective readings and the challenge and benefit of Gospel-shaped hermeneutics.

If you leave out the front and back matter, the body of this book (chapters 1-6) is just over 100 pages. As such, it is quick read but a slow digest on reading the Old Testament in light of Christ. It is thought provoking and nowhere near a final word on the method of reading this way. After reading it, I’d like to go back and dig into some of Hays other works and I’ll look forward to the full length title that this book previews.

Richard B Hays, Reading Backwards: Figural Christology and the Fourfold Gospel Witness. London: SPCK, May 2015. 155 + xxii pp. Paperback,  $26.73.

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Modern theology and I have an uneasy relationship. That’s another way of saying I’m not sure what I think of Karl Barth yet, but I find him intriguing. As part of that intrigue, I thought it worth exploring a new collection of essays from Kimlyn Bender, Confessing Christ for Church and World: Studies in Modern Theology. As he himself explains in the introduction,

The following chapters, some previously published, attempt to reflect on what it means to confess that Jesus Christ is Lord in our day. They explore issues of ecclesiological conversation in ecumenical encounter, scriptural authority in relation to tradition and confession, and christological determination of creation and covenant. This exploration is undertaken by examining two of the most significant theologians of the modern period, Karl Barth and Friedrich Schleiermacher, and by placing them in dialogue with Catholic, mainline Protestant, evangelical and Free Church traditions – key traditions of the current American religious landscape. (11, emphasis added)

Barth is more of a focus than Scheleirmacher, hence my interest in getting a copy. The above quote gives the three main divisions of the book, which I bolded for your pleasure. Bender notes that in his essays, the arguments “do not lend themselves well to abridgement and are best experienced in their exposition and aggregate effect” (13). Later he invokes Lewis to explain that the essays are in some sense “looking at” Schleiermacher and Barth, but in another sense are more “looking along” them at the reality of God’s revelation in Christ and applying that to the issues we face in the current American religious landscape. If that is something you find intriguing, this is a book you should probably pick up and look along for yourself.

Kimlyn Bender, Confessing Christ for Church and World: Studies in Modern Theology. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, November 2014. 391 pp. Paperback, $40.00.

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From a slightly different angle, this is also a book on modern theology. Here, the focus more on the topic, in this case, the economic Trinity. However, as you can tell from the subtitle, Barth figures prominently in Faith, Freedom, and the Spirit: The Economic Trinity in Barth, Torrance and Contemporary TheologyAlso clearly significant is T. F. Torrance, who along with Barth, is probably one of the two most influential theologians in the 20th century (at least as far as that influence carries over into the Reformed world).

This work, author Paul Molnar explains,

This book is intended as a discussion of just how a properly conceived pneumatology would assist theologians speaking of the economic Trinity to think more accurately about divine and human interaction in the sphere of faith and knowledge within history. Toward that end I being with an extensive discussion of the role of faith in knowing God and in relating with God in and through his incarnate Word and thus through the Holy Spirit. I then move to a discussion of how and why a properly functioning pneumatology will lead to an appropriately theological understanding of God’s actions within the economy, and of why natural theology can never be seen as the ground for a theology of revelation. Rather, natural theology is seen as an approach to God that bypasses God’s revelation and thus diverts attention away from the action of the Holy Spirit enabling knowledge of God acting for us within history (7).

Molnar notes from this that it is important for theology to begin and end with faith (7). Barth and Torrance then serves as paradigmatic examples of theologians who begin and end in faith, not our experience of faith, but of the God experienced in faith. Their views are compared and contrasted throughout, making this work significant for understanding modern theology better. Readers who would like to see an important study of Trinitarian theology with Barth and Torrance key conversation partners would do well to check this volume out.

Paul D. Molnar, Faith, Freedom, and the Spirit: The Economic Trinity in Barth, Torrance and Contemporary Theology. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, January 2015. 448 pp. Paperback, $40.00.

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Thanks to IVP Academic for the review copy!

I’ve posted about CHON before, but here they are being legit live. If you can stand some swearing, you should watch this video where they play Fall of Troy songs with Thomas Erak. It might seem a little messy, but they just met the Fall of Troy frontman that day and in the video, you’re watching them play the songs for the first time.

I actually ended up watching this movie in high school because I had a Bible teacher that pointed out some of this imagery. I remember being slightly disturbed and wondering if it was possible that the Matrix was real. But then I remembered if Christianity is true then it’s not possible. The anxiety soon dissipated.


On the surface, this might seem like a post about Tullian Tchividjian’s recent resignation from his pastorate at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church. In reality, it was motivated by a pastor in our network of churches (CrossPointe) that was disqualified from ministry a couple of months ago. He had been the pastoral apprentice at our congregation the second year we were there before planting his own church in another part of the city. I am tempted to say I knew him well, but we basically talked here and there on Sundays and had coffee once or twice. My brother in law knew him better since he was part of the core group that planted the other congregation. Although he was no longer at that congregation, it still hit very close to home.

It also seems to be a trend here in Florida. Though the pastor closest to us didn’t make the news, another pastor from last year, who subsequently committed suicide, did. In that case, I didn’t know him, but my wife did since she grew up in his dad’s church and he was a big reason she started taking her faith seriously and wanted to go into ministry. There was another high profile case as well at a mega church in south Florida. And now Tullian.

I realize in some sense that each case is unique. I also realize that the first impulse shouldn’t be analysis, which is why I felt like I should preface this as analysis unrelated to Tchividjian. My initial response when I heard about the pastor at our sister church was to examine my own heart. The areas in which he was disqualified were the same areas you would guess if I told you to think stereotypically. I know things like that don’t happen overnight, so I wanted to know what led him to where he ended up and see if any of those trajectories are present in my own life.

Very similar to suicide, you always feel like you should have known a moral failing was imminent after it happens. In the case of a pastor’s moral failing, this is even more acute because they are still around to help you see what you were missing. Predicatably, there is usually a lack of accountability. But saying that a pastor’s fall could have been prevented by more accountability isn’t necessarily true. Any guy who has been in an accountability group because of porn consumption knows this is true. Accountability doesn’t solve problems in and of itself. If that were the case, I’m in pretty good shape since I meet with a couple of older men regularly who will ask me difficult questions.

As I was wrestling through how to process this pastor’s fall, my hunch was that there seeds of his destruction in his everyday rhythms and habits and accountability may or may not have uncovered them. It seemed likely that these seeds could easily be there without setting off any accountability checkpoints. I hadn’t really come to a complete explanation other than to note that I was not immune to a similar fate.

Then last week, I started reading Tim Keller’s latest book, Preaching: Communicating Faith in an Age of Skepticism. While it might seem unrelated to the topic at hand, that’s the beauty of Keller’s books. In the final chapter, which I read first, Keller discusses “Preaching and The Spirit.” Early on, he makes a distinction between gifts and graces:

Gifts are things we do, but spiritual fruit or graces are things we are.

Gifts and talents can operate when the speaker is spiritually immature or even when the preacher’s heart is far from God. If you have a gift of teaching, for example, the classroom situation draws out your gift, and you may be very effective. But that can happen in the absence of a strong walk with God. (194)

Having experienced this first hand a couple of years ago, I can confirm this is dead-on. From here, Keller, drawing on Edwards, expounds the difference between gift operation and grace operations:

Gifts will usually be mistaken for spiritual maturity, not just by the audience but even by the speaker. If you find people attending eagerly to your address, you will take this as evidence that God is pleased with your heart and your level of intimacy with him – when he may not be at all. If anything, we Christians living today are in greater danger of this misperception than at any other time in history, for our era has been called the “age of technique.” No civilized society has put more emphasis on results, skills, and charisma – or less emphasis on character, reflection, and depth. This is a major reason why so many of the most successful ministers have a moral failure or lapse. Their prodigious gifts have masked the lack of grace operations at work in their lives (195-196).

This is both humbling and helpful. Humbling in that it means the only difference between a faithful and failed pastor is grace. That means when I see any pastor with a moral failure, my first response should be, “There but for the grace of God, go I.” On the other hand, it is helpful because it actually explains what I can and can’t do in order to avoid a similar tragedy in my own life. These “grace operations” can come through a variety of means, but chiefly it means having a vital devotional life that is centered on the Word and dependent on God in prayer. Coupling this with accountability and you’re in good hands. Remove both, and you have the pattern for disaster.

To be clear, I can’t just approach either as something to check off a list, but I need to check the status of my heart in the process. It means that I also need to be attentive to pursuing holiness and godliness and close enough with other people that they can attest to fruit in my life that isn’t the result of giftings. That is certainly much harder to do, but to stay faithful for the long haul requires it.

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