Between the time I write this and you read it, I will have voted in the Florida primary. Kind of seems like an exercise in futility at this point, but since I could walk to the polling place (or drive by it on the way to gym) it also seems wrong to not exercise my civic duty before I exercise by upper body and quads. Also, since the polling place is a Unitarian Universalist church, it will be nice to see that location being used for something productive (just kidding, although not really, I’m just being ironic given what I said just a few sentences ago).

Anyway, let’s talk politics.

Recently, IVP Academic sent me a couple of books on the subject, as did Zondervan. The first I’ll mention is Francis Beckwith’s Politics for Christians: Statecraft as Soulcraft. It is part of the Christian Worldview Integration Series, which I’ve commended previously (here, here, here, and here). Along with J. P. Moreland, Beckwith served as a series editor, and this gave him a chance to put the vision in the series preface into practice.

Over the course of 5 chapters, Beckwith covers topics like separation of church and state, secular liberalism, natural rights and natural moral law, and the Christian’s relationship to liberal democracy. The opening chapter gives a taxonomy of the branches of study within politics. All of this takes place in about 130 or so pages. While this makes it seems like a primer on the topics addressed (and it is), Beckwith offers sophisticated analysis of the issues he discusses and I found it particularly thought provoking. This is especially so for the final chapter on natural rights and moral law and whether one can ground either of those in God’s absence (short answer is no).

I think this book should be a if not the starting point for Christians who want to think more deeply about politics. Other books may be more comprehensive, but this one is more foundational (especially the opening chapter charting the lay of the land) and sets better groundwork (especially if you value philosophy). As there is a need for Christians to be more political savvy (not just more involved), this book is the place to start.


The next place to stop off might be Zondervan’s Five Views on The Church and Politics. I’ve mentioned my fondness for multi-view books many times before. This one is no exception, although I felt that the contributors could have duked it out a bit more in the responses (especially for a book on politics). Whereas Beckwith’s book is more about thinking through the nature of political science and a Christian’s place in relationship to it, this book is focused more on the church’s relationship to political life. In other words, it is one thing for Christians to have certain expectations for private political involvement. It is another to try to dictate what the church at large should be doing in regards to political life.

Taking cues from Niebuhr’s typology in Christ and Culture, the contributors here are plotted along a similar spectrum:

  • Anabaptist (Separationist): Thomas Heilke
  • Lutheran (Paradoxical): Robert Benne
  • Black Church (Prophetic): Bruce Fields
  • Reformed (Transformationist): James K. A. Smith
  • Catholic (Synthetic): J. Brian Benestad

Each author was responsible to trace the historical development of their position. Then they were to consider their tradition’s view on the role of government, as well as also addressing the extent to which an individual Christians and churches should be involved. The goal is to lay out the theory underlying each tradition’s view, which is then applied to the practical situation of policy debates about domestic poverty (17). The authors for the most part complete their task well and in concise fashion. I found myself agreeing in part with each in one way or another, but found the most agreement with Smith’s Kuyperian vision.

What tends to emerge as you read is that each tradition is variegated such that each author is part of a spectrum within their own label. I think Smith is the most self-aware of this, but other authors either comment on themselves or others in the response sections. Speaking of the response sections, they tended to be a little more agreeable than most books like this that I’ve read. I think this might further illustrate politics can be messy. In other words, while the authors could be agreeable in their responses, they can’t all be fully on the same page regarding how involved the church should be in political life or even which kind of policies flow from “the” Christian position. For reasons why this is, one would need to jump back up and read Beckwith’s book.


Finally, for a book that is not on politics per se, but definitely details some of the influences in American political life, you should read John Wilsey’s American Exceptionalism and Civil Religion. In a nutshell, here’s the argument of the book:

Exceptionalism is an aspect of American civil religion. Closed American exceptionalism entails the five theological commitments I listed above [chosen nation, divine commission, innocence, sacred land, glory], each conflicting with the Christian gospel and potentially leading to idolatry, so it must be discarded. But open American exceptionalism – while it remains a part of civil religion – serves as a benefit to the nation, to religion and to the world by fostering a civic engagement informed by freedom, equality, and justice. (20)

The first two chapters of the book explain the historical roots of American exceptionalism. It is kind of like the new patriotism and entails a web of beliefs and moods about the status of the nation (“we’re different”), it’s mission (global peacekeeper, model for others, etc), and its character (“we’re better and everyone should be like us”). Wilsey makes a distinction between open and closed exceptionalism, which is important to keep in mind:

Closed exceptionalism is unrealistic and unchristian because it locates life’s ultimate purpose and meaning in America itself as the millennial fulfillment of human experience. But open exceptionalism find its expression in the American creed of individual freedom, natural rights, justice and equality (32).

Exceptionalism is not the problem per se, but rather how it is construed in relationship to the American story can be problematic. Thinking of America as a chosen nation that has a right to the land it inhabits and is on a divine mission to save the world is closed American exceptionalism. This plays itself out when one views immigrants (who make up the nation to begin with) are problematic because they intrude and wants to build higher and higher walls to keep them out. On the other hand, one could have a view American as exceptional, but see this land as a beacon of hope to the oppressed and offering unique opportunities for the advancement of human flourishing. The question is whether your view of exceptionalism leads to a wagon circling mentality or to offer a helping hand knowing you come from a place of privilege.

With this in mind, the rest of the chapters tackle the theological commitments that go with closed exceptionalism. The roots and development of each receive their own chapter length treatment. The final chapter reiterates the point that the closed version of American exceptionalism is not compatible with Christian faith, either theologically or practically. On the other hand, a model of open exceptionalism is good for civic engagement and human flourishing.

This is an important read for anyone who has believed or was taught that America is (or was) a Christian nation. Certain strains of that teaching are highly problematic (and Wilsey examines several that appear in homeschool curricula in the final chapter) and do more harm than good when comes to our perception of our nation. To help correct our view of our nation, while still maintaining a high view of it, I’d recommend working through Wilsey’s book this political season.

In terms of modern theology, it is hard to name a more influential theologian than John Webster. I tend to find theologians named John both helpful and formative, so I’ve been trying to dip into John Webster’s catalog of writings. That had been difficult until just recently. While I could get my hands on Holiness and Holy Scripture: A Dogmatic Sketch, other titles were on the pricey side and the cheaper collection of essays in the bunch were out of print. Now they’ve been reissued by Bloomsbury T&T Clark as part of the Cornerstones series. For under $30 you can now get both Word and Church and Confessing God.


Word and Church is divided into three sections of essays. They are Scripture, Christ and the Church, and Ethics. Of interest in the first section is Webster’s thoughts on reading Scripture, using the example of Barth and Bonhoeffer, and his exploration of how hermeneutics function in modern theology. The lead essay in the second section is on the Incarnation, while he introduces the final section with a discussion of God and conscience. Given the flow of thought, these essays follow the contours of a mini-systematic.


Confessing God is similar in having a tri-fold structure, but here the overall focus is more on the nature of theology. The sections are Theology, Dogmatics, and Church and Christian Life. Included in this collection is Webster’s essay Theological Theology, which is the title of the recently published festschrift in his honor. Also included are essays on the clarity of Scripture, confessions, holiness, and hope, to name a few topics.

I would say given the scope of Webster’s writings, these collections might be a good place to start if you’re interested in his thought. I’d probably recommend the second collection, since it covers themes that can be explored in more detail through the monographs I mentioned above. Bloomsbury T&T Clark was kind enough to send me PDF’s of both sets and while I would have loved physical copies, I was still able to browse enough to say these are worth picking up. While Webster is an academic theologian, he has a clarity of writing and thought that is worth paying close attention to. It might take a bit of effort to enter into the realm of the discussion, but once you’re there, you should be able to follow him further up and further in.


I know I said I don’t post about this often, but I was thinking of writing this long before I received Preston Sprinkle’s book to review. If you’re lost, “this” is a reference to the topic of homosexuality. Along these lines, I’d recommend reading Alan Chambers’ recently released memoir My Exodus: From Fear to Grace. Alan was formerly the president of Exodus International, and ex-gay ministry that he shut down in 2013. He is co-writing with his wife Leslie who gives her perspective through three chapters on how they met, fell in love, and were married.

While Alan is internationally known, he’s also someone I’ve had coffee with and whose kids go to my school. Not only that, but I know Leslie because she works at the school. She oversees P.E. and so we end up watching the gym every now and then during lunch to make sure the high school boys don’t inadvertently (or advertently) nail each other in the head while sportsing too hard. In other words, Alan and Leslie may be widely known, but to me they are members of my everyday community. They are real people that I know outside of their wider acclaim.

With that in mind, I’m not necessarily saying “go read My Exodus because everything Alan Chambers says is gospel.” There is certainly gospel in there, but I do not completely agree with the way grace is explained and presented in the book. It is similar to the disagreements I might have with Tullian Tchividjian, but we still need to have a follow up lunch to hammer that out. To see more where I’m coming from, maybe you should pick up and read Sinclair Ferguson’s The Whole Christ (but to explain why is another post entirely).

That’s probably enough ground clearing. Now for some background.

I grew up in East Tennessee in the late 90’s. I was homeschooled. I went from that to working at Lowe’s to a super conservative (and small) Bible college for two years. Then I started working at Starbucks, at which point I actually met and interacted with gay people for extended periods of time. I was pretty sure I knew what the Bible said about that lifestyle. But that’s different than knowing flesh and blood people who live it. And that’s different than knowing people who also claim to be Christians and seem serious about being part of their church with their lesbian partner.

Did I mention my aunt is a lesbian? Like an aggressive type and has been that way since the 60’s? I grew up thinking she was kind of manly, and even innocently commented as much at one point. Years later I found out she was gay and it was something the entire family knew but wouldn’t particularly acknowledge. Pretty typical don’t ask and don’t tell.

More recently, I’ve had a close friend from college lose his wife and become a single dad because the love of his life decided she wanted to pursue the desires for other women she’s had since she can’t remember. The dad of one of my best friends growing up left his mom for another man. One of my best friends told me last spring that he struggles with same sex attraction and we’ve been walking through ever since.

I say all this because I think it’s important for those of us that hold a traditional view of biblical sexual ethics to be aware of the complexities of real life stories. Not so we’ll change our mind, but so we’ll know that what we say about what Scripture says affects real people with real struggles.

This is the reason I think many people ought to read Alan’s memoir. There is a level of detail and vulnerability that allows you to see inside what a struggle with same sex attraction looks like (and Alan paints it as a struggle, not a celebration). Because I naturally struggle with empathy, I need stories like this to let me see and experience what someone else has gone through to get where they are. It’s not because reading about the struggle should change your mind one way or another. Rather, it’s because, to borrow Preston Sprinkle’s book title, gay people are people to be loved by the church. There’s a way to do that without affirming the lifestyle, but it requires actually knowing people to be loved. Those who hold the traditional view can often come across as not having ever had a close friend or family confide in them that they’re gay. Having someone come out to you doesn’t so much change your perspective as nuance it in a way that can’t be entirely predicted.

Alan represents an example of someone who is, in one sense gay, but in another sense straight. He is married. He is a father. He is also predominantly attracted to other men. He’s a sinner saved by grace, who lives by grace day in and day out. He is seeking to live a faithful Christian life, and is calling others to a live of purity. By reading his story, you are able to feel the weight of the pain and suffering that brought him to the place he is today. His story offers an opportunity to grow in empathy and so better participate in the conversation about how the church should relate to the gay community. It’s not designed to change your mind about what you think Scripture teaches about the topic. But it lets you inside someone’s life that is more radically affected by the biblical teaching than one who is straight.

I realize that his choice to shut down Exodus was controversial and that he can be appear to affirm same sex relationships and/or behavior in a way that those holding the traditional view cannot condone. However, I think his story is worth reading and listening to closely. And I’m not just saying that because I know him, but because it was eye-opening for me to read it and made me appreciate even more how God can work in mysterious ways.


Although I don’t blog about the topic very often, I have had a research and personal interest in the church’s relationship with the gay community for quite some time now. Notice I didn’t say “what the Bible says about homosexuality.” Despite some revisionist attempts to re-read certain passages, I think a traditional understanding of sexual ethics is correct. I realize that claim itself is open to interpretation. However, I think the intention for sexual relationships set forward in Scripture entails typical heterosexual monogamous unions.

Having said that, I still think it’s a different story when it comes to moving from what Scripture teaches to how we should apply that teaching to our contemporary situation. While homosexual behavior is soundly rejected in Scripture, certain other issues like transgender and intersex are not even mentioned. Much less is the question of how to care for and love those who either openly live a gay lifestyle, or are struggling not to do so.

Often in conversations like this, there is a divide between Biblical teaching and personal experience. What I mean by that is that some proudly proclaim what the Bible says but don’t have any experience with the gay community. Others have the experience, and so have a difficult time taking Scripture at face value. As an example, the strongest book offering a revisionist account of Scripture so that it is open to affirming homosexual relationships is James Brownson’s Bible, Gender, and Sexuality. However, the author tells readers in the introduction that he began to re-think things when his son came out to him as gay. Once I read that, it was no surprise where he landed by the end of his reconsideration of the relevant New Testament passages.

When I was reading Preston Sprinkle’s People to Be Loved: Why Homosexuality is Not Just An Issue, I could tell he was up to something different. After an opening chapter that orients readers to Sprinkle’s experience with both the people and the issue, he spends 6 chapters working through all of the main Biblical passages related to homosexuality. He is well acquainted with both the traditional arguments and revisionist accounts and is not afraid to critique either. While his tone makes you feel as if he is going to land in an affirming position toward homosexual relationships, he instead offers a well nuanced traditional understanding of sexual relationships.

This helps illustrate the two different audiences Sprinkle is writing to. On the one hand, he is writing to those who hold a traditional (non-affirming as he calls it) position on homosexuality. To them, he encourages a stance of sympathy and love that lacks the the moral hypocrisy that can creep in. He also takes away some less than sound arguments that can be used to condemn homosexuality from Scripture. On the other hand, he is writing to those who might hold an affirming position and pleads with them to reconsider what Scripture says. He gently critiques affirming arguments, while also writing as someone who is acquainted with those who live a gay lifestyle and those that affirm those who do.

While I don’t fit neatly into either of these categories, I benefited from reading Sprinkle’s book and would strongly recommend it. It is hard to imagine a more pressing discussion about what faithful Christian living and response involves. The final three chapters of this book dig more deeply into that, and Sprinkle offers some wisdom for a way forward. His style throughout is very conversational (in a way that may annoy some), and so for many may serve as a gentle corrective to their current views. For those it doesn’t convince, it still represents a viewpoint to be reckoned with. If this is something you wrestle with (either theoretically or existentially), you should pick up a copy of Sprinkle’s book.

Preston Sprinkle, People To Be Loved: Why Homosexuality Is Not Just An IssueGrand Rapids: Zondervan, December 2015. 224 pp. Paperback, $16.99.

Buy itAmazon

Visit the publisher’s page

Thanks to Zondervan for the review copy!


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.


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.


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.


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.



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.


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.


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.


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.


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.





(image via challies)


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Thanks to Baker Academic for the review copy!