Here they are as separate videos:



It’s probably no secret that I’m a fan of systematic theology. Not everyone shares my enthusiasm, but luckily, part of my job is to figure out how to pass on the excitement. One of the roadblocks that crowds the path is how inaccessible many systematic theologies are. Especially if they are multi-volume works.

Usually, you are stuck picking two from the following list:

  • Covers the material well
  • Enjoyable/interesting to read
  • Concise/accessible

Fortunately, thanks to the faculty at Dallas Seminary and Bethany House we are currently two thirds of the way toward a small multi-volume exploration of systematic theology that covers all of three of these bases. In addition, it covers all three additional bases:

  • Biblically rooted
  • Historically sensible
  • Practically applicable

Usually you find systematics that major in one, or at best two of these, but rarely all three (while also nailing the above trio as well).

I am speaking of course about Exploring Christian Theology, a three volume work edited by two of my former professors, Nathan D. Holsteen & Michael J. Svigel. I actually never took a Holsteen class, but he read my thesis and didn’t make me re-write a bunch of stuff, so that still counts. With Dr. Svigel, I actually took the Sanctification/Ecclesiology class with him, and that is the first part of this volume in the series.

The series is divided into six parts:

  • Revelation/Scripture
  • The Triune God
  • Creation/Fall
  • Salvation
  • Church/Spiritual Growth
  • End Times

Each volume is composed of two parts. The last was published first, and that’s what I’m reviewing right now. The first has also been published, and the middle two are coming later this spring. If you happen to go to Dallas Seminary, you will take a 3 credit class on each of these topics. If you want a preview of what that’s like, you should read these books.

As Holsteen and Svigel explain their mission in the introduction:

Exploring Christian Theology will offer introductions, overviews, and reviews of key orthodox, protestant, evangelical tenets without belaboring details or boiling up debates. The three ECT volumes, compact but substantial, provide accessible and convenient summaries of major themes; they’re intended as guidebooks for a church that, overall, is starting for the very doctrine it’s too long avoided (9).

They go on to say that “Exploring Christian Theology differs from other mini-theologies in that it strives to present a broad consensus, not a condensed systematic model of one evangelical teacher or protestant tradition. Though I don’t think it is specifically stated, there is a lot of inspiration from Thomas Oden and his idea of “paleo-orthodoxy.” That is to say, you’re getting a lot of old school doctrinal meat without the added carbs 1

In terms of what this actually looks like book to book, each part of each volume follows the same general format:

  • High-Altitude Survey (3-4 page general overview of the topic)
  • Passages to Master (key Scriptures with concise exegesis)
  • Retrospect (brief historical survey of the doctrine)
  • Facts to Never Forget (general doctrinal statements)
  • Dangers to Avoid (ways one can get off track doctrinally)
  • Principles to Put Into Practice (Practical implications)
  • Voices from the Past and Present (money quotes from church history)
  • Shelf Space: Recommendations for Your Library
  • Glossary of Terms (at the end of the entire volume)

This particular volume contains the part on Church/Spiritual Growth (written by Holsteen) and End Times (written by Svigel). In future volumes, some of the parts are actually team written, but Holsteen and Svigel serve as the general editors for the whole project.

Having said quite a bit about the structure and focus of the project, I’ll keep my comments about the actual content of this volume fairly brief. Actually, I’m just going to focus on the one question I think many readers may have about a systematic theology put together by faculty of Dallas Seminary: “How hardcore dispensational is it?”

The answer in part depends on how you define “dispensational.” But, to answer indirectly, consider the section of the book on the End Times. The Passages to Master would be applicable regardless of your eschatological orientation. That is to say, it isn’t just a list of dispensational prooftexts. And, in the course of the 40 or so pages this section takes up, all the various positions on the rapture, kingdom, and return of Christ are briefly explained in a way that people who hold the positions would recognize.

When it comes to the Facts to Never Forget, they transcend eschatological divides and should be readily affirmed by premillennial and amillennial thinkers alike. The same kind of spirit is true of the Dangers to Avoid and Principles to Put Into Practice section. All of which is to say the focus is on broadly evangelical agreement when it comes to the End Times while also acknowledging there are different positions on the structuring of the timeline.

From what I can tell, this holds true for the series as a whole. I’ve read two of the volumes and imagine the third to be published (but second in sequence) will continue the trend. My only complaints at this point are logistical and aesthetic. To the former, I think it hurt the series as a whole for the third volume to be published first. While that won’t matter once they are all in circulation, I think this particular volume flew under the radar, as did the next to be published. To the latter, I’m never a fan of end notes, and even less end notes that are in two columns and in the middle of the book. Because each volume is two separate stand alone parts, the end notes for the first part are in the middle, so are not even really end notes. And they are split into columns, which to me, makes them less readable and slightly more annoying.

Now, neither of my issues are content related, and in the end, that’s the most important part of the book. This volume, in conjunction with the other two in the series, would work great as Sunday School textbooks, small group studies, high school curriculum, or just readable systematics you could give to someone who wouldn’t tackle a big volume. I’m looking forward to integrating the approach outlined above into my 11th grade Bible class over the course of this year and next. This would also be the books I would recommend to someone just wanting to get their feet wet in theology. I would then use the Shelf Space recommendations at the end of section would allow for further exploration now that the individual has their bearings from reading these volumes. In short, if you want to explore Christian theology in a very accessible and fruitful way, these are the volumes for you!

Nathan D. Holsteen & Michael J. Svigel, eds., Exploring Christian Theology: The Church, Spiritual Growth, and The End TimesGrand Rapids: Bethany House, January 2014. 256 pp. Paperback, $16.99.

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Thanks to Bethany House for the review copy!



  1. Note: Paleo orthodoxy really refers to what the earliest church agreed on doctrinally. For a more exhaustive systematic exploring this, see Oden’s Classic Christianity. It is though in some ways similar to the “paleo” diet in that the “carbs” of doctrine (which are good and enjoyable but somewhat vary by ecclesiastical and traditional “taste”) are stripped away to focus on essentials that pretty much any serious Christian who treats the Bible as an apostolic and authoritative word of God can agree upon.


Earlier this fall, Tim Challies went through John Owen’s Mortification of Sin, one of three works collected together in Overcoming Sin & Temptation recently updated and published by Crossway. If you missed out, here’s his list of posts:

You Must Put Sin to Death

Owen says that Christians—the choicest Christians—hate sin and pursue it to its death. Could there be a conclusion that is farther from the world around us? The world, the flesh, and the devil tell us to pursue our sin, to enjoy our sin, to go deeper and deeper into our sin, to identify ourselves by our sin, to become our sin. God’s Word tells us to identify our sin, to hate our sin, to destroy our sin. And by God’s grace we can do that very thing. He can give us a revulsion toward our sin, and then empower us to kill it. Praise God!

Christian, Do You Make It Your Daily Work?

Here is Owen’s thesis for the chapter: “The choicest believers, who are assuredly freed from the condemning power of sin, ought yet to make it their business all their days to mortify [“kill” or “put to death”] the indwelling power of sin.” In other words, Christians battle sin and put it to death. They battle sin every day until the day they die. They never stop. They never let up.

You Need The Power of The Holy Spirit

Owen’s purpose in this chapter is both simple and clear: He wants his reader to know that sin is put to death only by the power of the Holy Spirit. There may be other ways we suppress sinful behavior, but true mortification always depends upon the Holy Spirit.

6 Evil Effects of Sin

In chapter four of his book, Owen wants the reader to think about this: A God-honoring life is one in which we constantly wage war against sin. He says it like this: “The life, vigor and comfort of our spiritual life depend much upon our mortification of sin.” I take life to be the existence of spiritual life, vigor to be the extent of it, and comfort to be the Holy Spirit’s assurance of its existence. All of these are imperiled by the existence of sin. He will give six consequences of sin in our lives, but first he has a couple of foundational points to make.

5 Ways to Lose The Battle Against Sin

The heart is deceitful and desperately wicked. One of the ways such deceit manifests itself is through convincing us that we have battled a sin and put that sin to death when really we have done nothing of the sort. John Owen is a steady guide in the battle against sin, and in chapter 5 of his great work Overcoming Sin and Temptation he deals with misconceptions about what it means to put sin to death.

What To Expect When Battling Sin

Owen says that putting sin to death consists of “a habitual weakening of sin,” and I take this to mean that over time and through our habits we chip away at our sin bit-by-bit and day-by-day. Rather than expecting sin to be destroyed in a moment, we expect that it will take time and focused effort. In this way putting sin to death is relative to our maturity as Christians and to the amount of time we have dedicated to battling a particular sin.

Don’t Expect Unbelievers to Act Like Believers

So often I see Christians acting surprised that their non-Christian friends or family members are acting like non-Christians. John Owen addresses this in his great work Overcoming Sin and Temptation. The book deals with the subject of mortification, of putting sin to death, and Owen dedicates one chapter to explaining why only Christians can behave like Christians.

A Deeper and Wider Obedience

It is an experience every Christian knows. You become aware of a sin and come to fear and hate it. You focus all kinds of attention on that sin and on putting it to death. You ask friends to pray for you, and you cry out to God for deliverance. Well and good, right? Well, not necessarily. John Owen has something to say to you: You will not be delivered from this sin until you pursue a much deeper and wider obedience.

7 Marks of a Deeply Deadly Sin

In chapter 9 of his work Overcoming Sin and Temptation, John Owen wants you to think about that besetting sin in your life to consider if it is an “ordinary” sin, or if it is one that is particularly deadly and that, therefore, requires something more than the usual pattern of putting sin to death. The deadliness of a sin is not related so much to the category of that sin, but to how deeply-rooted it is in your life, and to how you have responded to God as he has revealed it to you.

3 Things to Consider Before That Next Big Sin

Sin promises so much but delivers so little. Sin always amplifies its benefits and minimizes its cost. Sin always aims at the uttermost, always nudging toward utter death and destruction. And yet we love our sin, and secretly harbor it, and grieve to turn aside from it.

John Owen has a challenge for you. Before that next big sin you are pondering, he wants you to simply consider three things.

9 Steps to Putting Sin to Death

All throughout the New Testament we are told to put our sin to death. For example, in Colossians 3 Paul says, “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.” How do you do that? How do you stop a sin, and how do you stop an especially stubborn and deep-rooted sin? Is there any hope? I want to track with John Owen here (via his great work Overcoming Sin and Temptation) and give a list of 9 things you need to do to overcome sin. Consider that sin that is prevalent in your life and then consider each of these 9 steps.

A Debate I Would Watch

I would pay good money to watch a debate between John Owen and Joel Osteen. Wouldn’t you? I have read John Owen’s Overcoming Sin and Temptation many times now, and have benefited with every reading. It just never gets old and it just never stops sounding so counter-cultural, countering both the wider culture and even the going Christian culture.

This week I read a chapter that teaches the value of self-examination and self-abasement. I was immediately struck by the difference between the heart of Owen’s understanding of the Christian life and what passes for Christian living today. I don’t mean to pick on an easy target, but it makes a fascinating contrast to compare Owen’s books with, say, Joel Osteen’s. I am not exaggerating when I say that they really are polar opposites in just about every way. Though both pass as Christian books, they could hardly be more different.

True Peace With God Comes on God’s Terms

We all long for peace. We all want to be at peace with God and men. The problem is that we usually want that peace to be on our terms. So we strive against men and battle against God until we feel that we have achieved what feels to us like peace.

John Owen knows this temptation and in his great book Overcoming Sin and Temptation he includes an entire chapter on the theme. He gives his reader this charge: “Do not speak peace to yourself before God speaks it, but hearken to what God says to your soul.”

The Theory, The Practice

Putting sin to death is at once so simple and so excruciatingly difficult. The theory of it is simple enough, but the practice takes a lifetime. It is fascinating to me that in John Owen’s Overcoming Sin and Temptation he dedicates thirteen chapters to the preparatory work of putting sin to death, but just one chapter to the actual practice of it. That fact alone is worth pondering.

As he comes to that one chapter, Owen has only two broad instructions: Put your faith in Christ, and rely on the power of the Holy Spirit.

A resource that will prove helpful if you’d like to apply some of the wisdom from Owen’s work to your life is this Battle Plan chart.



For this past year, I’ve been teaching a psychology elective at the Christian school that employs me. Knowing roughly this time last year I’d be teaching it, I began looking for potential textbooks. Because it is a class that meets just once a week and is for a half credit, a standard college psychology textbook isn’t really the best option. I had compromised on that the first time I taught the class, and with mixed results. This time around, I wanted to try something a little different.

I noticed sometime late last spring that Baker Academic had a book titled Exploring Psychology and Christian Faith: An Introductory Guide slated to release late summer. It is written by Paul Moes and Donald Tellinghuisen, both professors at Calvin College. Together they’ve written an insightful look at psychological study in Christian perspective. While there were some other options I had looked at, just judging from the table of contents, I thought it might be a useful text for the first semester of the class. Baker Academic graciously sent me a review copy that arrived in time for me to read ahead and prep a bit. I’ve now worked my way through it on my own, and we’ve done about 12 chapters together in class.

So far, I would say it has gone very well. The book really is a look at the study of psychology from a Christian standpoint. By that I mean it’s not a psychology textbook, but is an exercise in thinking theologically about many of the subject areas that are covered in a standard psychology textbook. That means there are chapters on research methodology (chapter 2), the mind body connection (3-4), consciousness and sensation (5-6), learning (7), memory (8), decision making (9), growth and development (10), social psychology (11-12), personality (13), disorders (14), and therapy (15). Some of the chapters could have been subdivided (the sensation chapter could easily be multiple chapters), but given what I imagine were tight space constraints, I was satisfied with the layout.

As readers are guided through each of these dimensions of psychological study, the authors utilize five themes from Scripture concerning humans to think theologically. Those themes are (ix, also explained in detail in chapter 1):

  • Relational persons (we are made in the image of God, meant for relationship with him and meant to steward his creation)
  • Broken, in need of redemption (we are sinners in need of salvation through Christ, living in and part of creation that suffers the consequences of all humanity’s sin)
  • Embodied (we bear God’s image in real bodies in a real world)
  • Responsible limited agents (we make choices, within constraints, that result in actions for which we are both individually and corporately responsible)
  • Meaning seekers (we seek to make sense of our surroundings, our experience, and our purpose through perceiving patterns, creative meaning making, and desire for a deity)

Helpfully I think, the authors parenthetically note when they are drawing on these themes later in the book. Rather than simply telling you these themes are the backbone of their analysis and letting you pick up on it, they draw your attention to their use throughout. Also helpfully, the authors draw on up-to-date psychological study that has made popular impact. For instance, they draw on Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow in the chapter on decision making, John Gottman’s work in the chapter on research methodology, and Steven Pinker makes several appearances. And just easily they reference classic studies like those of Pavlov, Stanley Milgram, and the strange story of Phineas Gage.

On the whole, I’d say this book works well in the venue I’m using it. The discussion questions help us personalize and develop the material from the standpoint of our Christian faith. Outside of the classroom, this could be a good book for someone interested in psychology, especially if they are considering majoring in it in college. Post-college, this could be a helpful look at psychology for those in minister who lack a background in psychological study. It’s certainly not as extensive as actually majoring in psychology or capable of replacing extensive reading, but it does provide a good general orientation for further study. In the end, I think it is ideally suited for the classroom as either a primary text in smaller class like I’m teaching, or as a supplemental text for a full psychology class at the college level.

Paul Moes & Donald J. Tellinghuisen, Exploring Psychology and Christian Faith: An Introductory GuideGrand Rapids: Baker Academic, August 2014. 304 pp. Paperback, $21.99.

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Thanks to Baker Academic for the review copy!

New Books of Note

January 6, 2015 — 2 Comments


When it comes to teaching or preaching a book of the Bible, there are plenty of resource and commentaries one could choose from. Recently, I’ve had the opportunity check out several volumes from Baker BooksTeach The Text series. If you’re not familiar, each of the volumes in the series offers the following units for each section of Scripture commented upon:

  • Big Idea
  • Key Themes
  • Understanding the Text (traditional outline, context, background, exegetical and theological insights)
  • Teaching the Text (connection of big idea and themes aimed toward teaching context)
  • Illustrating the Text (pointers to potential illustrations of the particular text)

This specific volume by the late R. T. France is both the first volume published on a Gospel and France’s last commentary. France is a particularly noted expositor when it comes to the Gospels (he is known for his Matthew and Mark commentaries) so it is fortunate that he was able to contribute to this series. While this volume won’t replace more established volumes on Luke, it is helpful to consult because of the format of the series.

Along those lines, my most significant complaint is that the illustrating the text suggestions seemed repetitive. That is to say, several resources or persons kept coming up as illustration ideas over and over. Some of this might be due to the fact that certain themes and applications continually come up within the Luke. That being said, it is still a generally useful feature if you’re planning to preach or teach the text.

Another issue to keep in mind is that as a trade off for having sections like “Illustrating the Text,” the actual verse by verse comments can be sparser than one would expect given the size of the book. It is probably best to think of the commentaries in this series along the lines of those in the Tyndale series, but with added sections aimed at making the text easier to teach. If you approach this volume from that perspective, and use it in tandem with other more extensive commentaries, it should prove useful in your particular teaching ministry.

R. T. France, Luke (Teach The Text Commentary Series)Grand Rapids: Baker Books, October 2013. 416 pp. Hardcover, $39.99.

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Thanks to Baker Books for the review copy!


While you are probably already aware of Tim Keller’s Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God, there is a perhaps lesser known book on prayer that you should notice. Released about a month before Keller’s, Jamin Goggin and Kyle Strobel’s Beloved Dust: Drawing Close to God By Discovering the Truth About Yourself is a different sort of book on the topic. While it is equally personal as Keller’s, Goggin and Strobel’s book is focused more on unpacking our creaturely dependence on God, as well as our status as beloved sons and daughters in our relationship to our heavenly Father. Together, these serve as the basis for prayer. If you are not dependent on God, there is no need to pray. Yet, if you recognize your dependence but not your status as beloved, you might not want to pray. Therefore, the twin emphases of the book are that we are humble creatures who are broken and in need of rescue and we are met in our brokenness by Jesus who then enables us to be in loving relationship with God.

Unpacking these emphases takes readers on a journey back to the original intentions of God in creating us (chapter 1). From there we explore our creatureliness from the vantage point of being time bound (chapter 2), as well as our general finitude and frailty (chapter 3). This can be compounded by our brokenness and our desire to hide within it (chapter 4), but the good needs of the gospel is that Christ has taken on our dust and dustiness and this changes everything (chapter 5). Chapter 6-9 make the turn toward re-thinking prayer in this light and focusing on our relationship as beloved dust in the sight of our Creator.

In reading this book, you won’t find quick tips on a better prayer life. Instead, you are taken on a journey to reorient your basic understanding of your relationship with God and your experience of his presence. It is an attempt to rebuild from the ground up how you conceive of who you are, who God is, and how your are related in Christ. As such, it seems like an excellent book for someone frustrated with their spiritual growth or lack thereof. Likewise, if you’re feeling distant and alienated from God but don’t know where to start, this book will hopefully offer insight. While not a quick solution, it is a necessary corrective for establishing an understanding of our relationship with God in a biblical theological perspective. It is a book I will revisit in the months ahead and hope to pass along to others as well.

Jamin Goggin and Kyle Strobel, Beloved Dust: Drawing Close to God By Discovering the Truth About YourselfNashville: Thomas Nelson, October 2014. 240 pp. Paperback,$16.99.

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Thanks to Thomas Nelson for the review copy!


As noted by authors G. K. Beale and Mitchell Kim in the preface, “the substance and basic thesis of the book is distilled from G. K. Beale, The Temple and The Church’s Mission: A Biblical Theology of the Dwelling Place of God” (7). That basic thesis was developed into a 7 week sermon series by Kim, who was a Ph.D student of Beale’s at Wheaton. That material was then translated back into written format and expanded slightly (this book has 11 chapters instead of 7). As a result, “Some material has been lifted verbatim from the original book; most has been reworked to communicate more concisely and clearly” (8). Thematically, this book is tracing the development of Eden through Scripture. Starting with Eden as a temple (chapter 1), on to the call to expand Eden (chapter 2), Eden potentially lost (chapter 3), and Eden remixed (chapter 4, the tabernacle/temple) and restored (chapter 5, promises in the prophets). Then it moves to the New Testament where we see Eden rebuilt (chapter 6, on Jesus), expanding (chapter 7, through the church), it’s ministry (chapter 8, our priestly role), and it’s eventually complete expansion (chapter 9, the New Heavens and New Earth). The final chapters explain why this theme has been obscured, as well as offer some practical reflections.

After I noted all this from the preface and table of contents, my first thought was, “Do I even need to read this book?” Having read the bigger book on which it is based, it didn’t seem like it was totally necessary. But, because it is Beale, I ended up giving it a quick read/skim through. Another reader who really has the time and energy could probably give you a better idea how specifically this book relates to the bigger one. My take away was that this is a much more accessible version of the main ideas in Beale’s bigger book and so more likely to get a wider reading. I could recommend this book to a variety of people and they could read and profit from it. Only a really dedicated reader is going to wrestle through the The Temple and The Church’s Mission (but they’ll be glad they did).

Because I had already read Beale’s larger volume, this one wasn’t as mind-blowing as it could have been. However, I’m glad it is published because I think readers unfamiliar with Beale now have a better entry point to his biblical theological ways. Interested readers should pick this up, and if they want more, move on to the larger volume or some of Beale’s other biblical theological works (like this one).

G. K. Beale & Mitchell Kim, God Dwells Among Us: Expanding Eden to The Ends of The EarthDowners Grove, IL: IVP Books, October 2014. 215 pp. Paperback, $17.00.

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Thanks to IVP Books for the review copy!


Much to my surprise, a copy of Studies in The Pauline Epistles: Essays in Honor of Douglas J. Moo showed up on my door step a few weeks back. I don’t think I actually requested it, but it is the type of book I certainly might have. If you are familiar with the landscape of Pauline studies, you are certainly familiar with Douglas Moo. Whether it’s his Romans commentary, his Colossians and Philemon volume, or most recently, his work on Galatians, Moo is a Pauline scholar par excellence. I’ve also profited from his work on James, as well as his New Testament Introduction co-authored with D. A. Carson.

Here, two former students, Matthew Harmon and Jay Smith (who taught several of my friends at Dallas), have edited a collection of essays in his honor. The essays are split into three categories. First, there are those dealing with exegetical questions in Paul (featuring contributions by D. A. Carson, Moo’s son Jonathan, and others). Second, there are those dealing with Paul’s use of Scripture (featuring contributions by Craig Blomberg and Grant Osborne). Lastly, and most interesting to me, are the essays on contemporary Pauline scholarship. Here we have essays from G. K. Beale (“The Eschatology of Paul”), Tom Schreiner (“Understanding Truth According to Paul”), and N. T. Wright (“A New Perspective on Kasemann? Apocalyptic, Covenant, and the Righteousness of God”). Also worth noting are the essays by James Dunn (“What’s Right About the Old Perspective on Paul”) and Stephen Westerholm (“What’s Right About the New Perspective on Paul”).

After reading through several of these and perusing the book as a whole, I don’t think I would buy it if I had to pay full price. It is a great resource if you’re really into Pauline studies. But for me, only the final part of the book was of real interest and the essays there, while interesting, wouldn’t be enough to warrant spending the full price on the book. On the other hand, now that it’s in my possession, I’ll definitely hold onto it. I doubt I’ll ever read it cover to cover, but as I continue to wrestle with Paul, I’m sure I’ll come back to it from time to time.

Matthew S. Harmon and Jay E. Smith, ed., Studies in The Pauline Epistles: Essays in Honor of Douglas J. MooGrand Rapids: Zondervan, December 2014. 320 pp. Hardcover, $49.99.

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There is also a part II:

9780310516132 (1)

On the one hand, I’m kind of tired of the whole “gospel-centered” usage. On the other hand, I believe in the gospel and am generally for the things that the adjective gets attached to. Counseling is one of those things and I am all for counseling that is gospel-centered, or Christ-centered. I’m also all for “gospel-centered” when it is an accurate description instead of a gimmicky buzzword. Thankfully, the former is exactly what Bob Kellemen offers readers in Gospel-Centered Counseling: How Christ Changes Lives (and he even deals with the whole buzzword problem in his introduction).

In many ways, the book is a kind of systematic theology, but applied to counseling. Kellemen follows a general outline of Word, Trinity, creation, fall, redemption, church, consummation, sanctification to organize the chapters. These chapters are answering the following questions:

  • Where do we find wisdom for life in a broken world?
  • What comes into our mind when we think about God? Whose view of God will be believe – Christ’s or Satan’s?
  • Whose are we? In what story do we find ourselves?
  • What’s the root source of our problem? What went wrong?
  • How does Christ bring us peace with God? How does Christ change people?
  • Where can we find a place to belong and become?
  • How does our future destiny with Christ make a difference in our lives today as saints who struggle against suffering and sin?
  • Why are we here? How do we become like Jesus? How can our inner life increasingly reflect the inner life of Christ?

Now, I could go chapter by chapter and show how Kellemen answers these question. But, Gospel-Centered Counseling is probably the first book I’ve gotten for review that offers its own Tweet-sized summary. Rather than try to re-summarize the book for you, here are 20 Tweet-sized summaries provided by Kellemen. They roughly move chapter to chapter (the first one is from chapter 1 and the last is from chapter 16):

  1. To view the Bible accurately and use the Bible competently we must understand the Bible’s story the way God tells it—as a gospel victory narrative.
  2. The supremacy of Christ’s gospel, the sufficiency of Christ’s wisdom, and the superiority of Christ’s Church provide the wisdom we need for counseling in a broken world.
  3. We discover wisdom for how to live life in a broken world from the wisest person who ever lived—Christ!
  4. We must know the Trinitarian Soul Physician personally to be a powerful soul physician.
  5. To know the God of peace and the peace of God we must know our Triune God in the fullness of His holy love demonstrated in the cross of Christ
  6. Because Satan attempts to plant seeds of doubt about God’s good heart, God calls us to crop the Christ of the cross back into the picture.
  7. The whole, healthy, holy person’s inner life increasingly reflects the inner life of Christ—relationally, rationally, volitionally, and emotionally.
  8. Biblical counselors pursue compassionate and wise counseling where our love abounds in depth of knowledge about the heart in the world 
  9. The essence of sin is spiritual adultery—choosing to love anyone or anything more than God.
  10. Sin is not just a thief caught in a crime; sin is an adulterer caught in the act.
  11. Apart from Christ we’re condemned as adulterous spouses, dead in sin, separated from the life of God with depraved heart capacities enslaved to sin.
  12. Sin is what personal beings imagine, think, choose, do, and feel as they desire and love anything or anyone more than Christ.
  13. Fully biblical gospel-centered counseling deals thoroughly both with the sins we have committed and with the evils we have suffered.
  14. We must build our biblical counseling models of change on Christ’s gospel applied to Christians—justified, reconciled, regenerated, and redeemed people.
  15. Through regeneration our new heart has a new want to; through redemption our new heart has a new can do.
  16. Together with all the saints the church is the place to belong to Christ and the Body of Christ and to become like Christ.
  17. Sanctification is a community journey.
  18. As saints who struggle with suffering and sin, we must crop back into the picture our future purity (the wedding) and future victory (the final war).
  19. Sanctification is the art of applying our complete salvation by God’s grace, Spirit, Word, people, and future hope so we increasingly reflect Christ.
  20. Gospel-motivated and empowered heart change puts off and puts on affections, mindsets, purposes, and mood states so we increasingly reflect the heart of Christ.

Reading through these will give a general snapshot of the main propositions of the book. One hallmark of Kellemen’s writing style is his clarity of expression and organizational prowess. This book is tightly organized and very clearly thought through. Some readers may be put off by some turns of phrase by Kellemen (like talking about “soul-u-tions”), but it is clear they always have a pedagogical goal in mind. Kellemen doesn’t just want to present truth from Scripture for informed biblical counseling. He wants to present truth in a way that is understandable and that sticks. I think he succeeds on both counts.

I think this is a book that every pastor should read. While the book I talked about yesterday deals with a single, but still multifaceted issue, Gospel-Centered Counseling gives a foundational and broad understanding of theology for a sound personal ministry of the Word. It shows how the truths from a systematic theology have practical application in the lives of everyday believers. In fact, it might be good reading for someone who is interested in systematic theology but put off by the breadth and dryness of many actual systematic theologies. It would also serve well for someone who wonders if theology is actually practical. Because Kellemen’s writing style is conversational and engaging, it makes the book ideal for a wide audience. And when it comes down to it, we all counsel each other to some extent as we give advice and listen to each other. We would do well then to make sure our advice grow from a biblical foundation and taking the time to read a book like this can help ensure that happens.

Robert W. Kellemen, Gospel-Centered Counseling: How Christ Changes Lives (Equipping Biblical Counselors Series)Grand Rapids: Zondervan, October 2014. 320 pp. Paperback, $18.99.

Buy itAmazon | Westminster

Visit the publisher’s page

Thanks to Zondervan for the review copy!

9780310516835 (1)

When it comes to counseling and the local church, the role of the Bible figures prominently. For some people, Scripture is sufficient for many problems in life, but not necessarily some of the major issues counselors face. For others, Scripture’s sufficiency is applied more broadly, but questions remain. Addressing many of those questions is Scripture and Counseling: God’s Word for Life in a Broken World, a generous collection of essays on the topic. As Bob Kellemen explains, “Scripture and Counseling encourages these individuals – people like you – to regain their confidence in God’s Word for real-life issues and equips them to grow in their competence in using God’s Word to tackle the complex issues of life” (13).

The italicized words in the previous quote help outline the two major parts of the book. The first, “How We View The Bible for Life in a Broken World,” is aimed at building confidence in the mind of the reader. The second, “How We Use The Bible for Life in a Broken World,” is clearly competence focused. Each part contains 10 essays, written by contributors asking themselves, “How can my chapter encourage and equip pastors, small group leaders, biblical counselors, one-another ministers, and spiritual friends to trust God’s Word and to use God’s Word to minister to broken people?” (14). The result, I think, is a solid work that helps to alleviate concerns that biblical counseling amounts to throwing a Bible verse at whatever problems a person might have.

The major concerns I would have when looking through a book like this is how they deal with the question of truth from other sources (like psychology) and the role of the body. Thankfully, there are chapters on both. For the former, there are actually two chapters, both written by Jeffery Forrey. Presented in the frame of a fictional dialogue, in chapters 3 and 4, Forrey tackles the question of how mainstream psychological research relates to revelation and truth. In short, truth may be found in these sources, but that is not the same as treating psychological research as general revelation. As one of the characters in the dialogue says, “Scientific research – even research done within the boundaries of biblical truth – is not itself revelation, and therefore, it must not be viewed as having the same purpose or authority as revelation” (71-72).

From this point of view, one could return to the question of how to integrate psychology and theology. In the perspective articulated in this book, scientific/psychological research is not on the same footing as the special revelation we have in Scripture. The latter takes precedence and is used as an interpretive grid for evaluating the former. They are not two streams of thought to be integrated as equals. Granted, when I speak of “theology” that is not synonymous with “special revelation.” But, the point remains that truth is to be found in scientific research, but it is evaluated from a biblical perspective and will ultimately not conflict with anything clearly taught in Scripture. Unpacking how this might work is the focus of the second chapter in Forrey’s dialogical analysis.

When it comes to the question of the body, Sam Williams offers a chapter answering just that question. His basic guidelines to help determine whether to refer a counselee to get medically evaluated are worth noting (157):

  • When non-medication approaches have not resulted in the remission of significant symptoms
  • When these symptoms are impairing the person’s capacity to function and fulfill their primary roles and responsibilities
  • Or symptoms are so severe the person cannot cognitively process biblical truth
  • Or symptoms are so severe that the functioning of the body is significantly impaired
  • Or when symptoms result from organic/medical causes and safe non-medication approaches have not result in sufficient symptom remission

As you can see, much of this advice is driven by the idea that people need non-medicated approaches no matter what, but there are also serious bodily malfunctions that should be taken into account. Williams notes that “Medicine can facilitate cognitive, emotional, and behavioral change – which is good – but can’t change the human heart – which is eternally significant” (158). It would seem then that the perspective offered here is not anti-medication nor loathe to make medical referrals. Rather, it takes seriously the role of the body without treating medication as a wonder cure for psychological ailments.

Other highlights of the book include Ernie Baker and Howard Eyrich’s chapter reminding us that counseling systems are also belief systems; Kellemen’s several chapters (reminding us of the Bible’s relevance as the end of part 1 and beginning of part 2); and the closing chapters that unpack using different parts of Scripture in personal ministry of the Word (using biblical narrative, wisdom literature, the Gospels, and the Epistles). The several appendices that follow the essays give a thorough overview of the mission, vision, passion, and beliefs of the The Biblical Counseling Coalition.

In the end, I would say this book is good for any pastor to consider adding to his library. I can’t imagine being a pastor and not doing some level of counseling on a regular basis. Since most seminary curricula do not adequately prepare pastors for a counseling ministry, there will often be a need for remedial reading. This book provides both perspective on the sufficiency of Scripture in real life counseling situations as well as guidance for being a better counselor of the Word. The theoretical essays always retain a practical focal point and the more applicational essays grow out of a good theoretical base. That base, in Kellemen’s view, is the robust biblical approach to personal ministry of the Word that is a hallmark of the Biblical Counseling Coalition and is now being articulated well in resources like this. If you’re heavily involved in personal ministry, this is a resource you’ll likely want to explore.

Bob Kellemen (General Ed.) & Jeff Forrey (Managing Ed.), Scripture and Counseling: God’s Word for Life in a Broken WorldGrand Rapids: Zondervan, October 2014. 480 pp. Hardcover, $32.99.

Buy itAmazon | Westminster

Visit the publisher’s page

Thanks to Zondervan for the review copy!

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