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The Challies Reading Challenge: 2018 Recap and the 2019 Plan

December 27, 2018 Leave a comment

Another year is ending — and the 2018 Challies Reading Challenge.  Last year’s year-end post is available here.  The 2019 Challies Christian Reading Challenge is now available, so it’s also time to compile next year’s reading list.

As with last year, I picked from many of the categories but skipping around, and completed more than 26 but fewer than 52 books; the range of 35 to 40 books per year works well.  During the year my actual reading list changed, as new books became available (and other books postponed into next year). So for 2019, my current plan/list is tentative, based again on the availability of books in various formats — Kindle sale deals, free monthly audio books from ChristianAudio.com,  free books from Logos’ free monthly offers, plus several hard-copy books (paperback and hardback) from free used books as well as several I’ve won from ReformedResources (Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals) offers.  I’ve also searched online for possible free books to fit a few of the Challies’ plan reading categories, and included these in my tentative 2019 reading plan.

Here, the links to posts about the books I read in 2018, in chronological order:

The 2019 reading list (so far) does not have as many audio books (just four so far – from Sermon Audio, Librivox, and Christian Audio free monthly offers); I may add from classic titles available from Librivox, or any future monthly offers from ChristianAudio.com.  Here, from several categories of the 2019 Challies Christian Reading Challenge, is my 2019 reading plan:

Planned for 2019:

 

 

The Fourfold State of Man: Overview of a Thomas Boston Classic

December 3, 2018 3 comments

Another year is coming to an end, and the Challies 2018 Reading Challenge along with it.  I just finished an audio re-read of The Lord of the Rings, and  an interesting worldview book (from previous Kindle deals), Understanding the Times: A Survey of Competing Worldviews, with interesting material for some future blog posts.  For this time, though, a brief look at an interesting topic highlighted by Dr. Philip Ryken in a four part series available from Reformed Resources (Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals): The Fourfold State.  In these four straightforward lectures, Ryken provides an overview of a classic early 18th century Reformed work from Thomas Boston, a book that in its day was “the” book to read for evangelical Christians, one read by the later 18th century preachers (the time of Whitefield and Wesley)–the equivalent of, for example, the late 20th century Knowing God, by J.I. Packer.  The original text of Boston’s work, over 500 pages, is now available in electronic format, such as at Amazon for 99 cents.

I first learned about Thomas Boston from reading Sinclair Ferguson’s The Marrow Controversy, a controversy in which Boston was a key player, followed by a section on him in Joel Beeke’s Taking Hold of God: Reformed and Puritan Perspectives on Prayer.  Ryken provides additional material on this great preacher who spanned the time between the end of the Puritans and the later Great Awakening of the mid-18th century.  These lectures from Ryken provide additional information beyond the Marrow Controversy–more about Boston’s life and teaching, including an overview of Boston’s personal life and suffering (including losing six out of ten children in infancy, and particularly regarding two infant sons both named Ebenezer, among those six), followed by two lectures on the fourfold teaching itself, and a last lecture with great application of the four stages to several Christian truths.

Boston’s approach with these four stages of human nature serve as a type of systematic theology:  1) creation, man before the fall; 2) nature; the unregenerate, fallen human nature; 3) grace, the experience of regenerate believers in this life; and 4) glory, including the condition of all humans after this life, the eternal condition of both believers and the lost.  This fourfold approach did not originate with Boston — actually going back to Augustine – but Boston exposited it in great detail, with some variations from Augustine’s teaching.

Of course, our actual human experience involves primarily the second and third states, with the fourth one to look forward to, the glorification and complete removal of sin that will not occur in this life.  Yet Boston developed all four of these points from an in-depth study of scripture, starting with the pre-fall condition of Adam and Eve.  These four states can also be applied to our experience in this life regarding important doctrinal truths and issues in the world today, such as our work/labor and gender roles—both of which involve creation ordinances.

Work itself is what God planned for us:  the original work of Adam and Eve in the garden; then corrupted into the drudgery of stress and never-ending work in this fallen world – the curse was on the ground, not on work itself, but sin makes work more difficult and a burden. Ecclesiastes well describes this situation: people toil, yet “all is meaningless” and the value ends when a person dies, for all the wealth to go to whoever comes after us.  Yet as Christians, we can now bring the concept of work into a redeemed, biblical view, as Paul described regarding Christian daily life roles and how we do all our work, including our secular vocation, to the glory of God.  Our fourth state (for believers) will also involve work, much of that the work of worship; the Bible also tells us that we will rule and reign with Christ in the age to come.  A similar approach can be taken with gender, and society’s fallen views (the second state), versus the renewed understanding (third state) and in the future state of glory.

This is a good summary series about an interesting topic, as well as a good sampling of Ryken’s preaching, part of the “Every Last Word” series, from the years that Ryken preached at Tenth Presbyterian Church (1995-2010); he was also James Boice’s successor, from 2000 to 2010.  A good follow-up to this series, which I’ve just started listening to, is Ryken’s 26 part series on the book of Ecclesiastes.  (Note: Ryken’s teaching on Ecclesiastes is also available in book form, Why Everything Matters: The Gospel in Ecclesiastes.)

Shame and Rejection, Interrupted (Ed Welch)

November 2, 2018 Leave a comment

My reading this year has included several Kindle deals, including two in the Christian counseling category, titles from author Ed Welch.  The latter of these, Shame Interrupted:  How God Lifts the Pain of Worthlessness and Rejection, is quite interesting and helpful, a book I wish would have been available in my early Christian years.

The term shame includes many different types, and it turns out (not surprisingly) that scripture has a lot to say about this subject, beyond the surface level of the word appearing in various scripture verses.  Welch’s presentation starts in the Old Testament, going in chronological sequence from Genesis 3 through the rest of the Old Testament, the gospels and the New Testament epistles.  As with the first book I read from Welch (Running Scared: Fear, Worry, and the God of Rest), each chapter includes a modern day example of a person and their emotions and situation, along with a look at a particular Bible narrative story.  The first eleven books progress through the Old Testament, followed by several chapters that look at the gospel accounts and then the epistles.  The application/teaching regarding  shame — from the book of Leviticus (the holiness code) and the priestly garments used in the Tabernacle service – I found especially interesting.  The tedious sections in Leviticus convey great truths here, regarding shame and guilt, and the fact that shame is sometimes related to our sin and guilt, but often relates to things done to us and where no sin on our part is involved.  Leviticus presents three types of shame, of being considered “unpresentable”:

  • Unpresentable before God and others
  • Unpresentable because of what we’ve done
  • Unpresentable because of our allegiances and associations

Shame comes in many forms, and is illustrated through God’s dealings with real people in real difficulties, such as the account of God visiting Hagar the outcast (Genesis 16).  A later chapter also looks at the Old Testament concepts of clean and unclean, holy and common.  As Welch observes, clean and unclean were distinguished by anything related to death, idol worship and unclean animals, or violations of God’s order such as sexual sins or skin diseases.

It seems unfair that both perpetrators and victims should be placed in the same category, but God is making a point.  Both our actions and our associations make us unclean … That doesn’t mean the unclean are unwelcome, but it means God must do something for them before they can enter His presence. …. Unclean is not the same as sin.  It can come from our own sin but also from contact with something sinful.  The unclean might be guilty; they always experience shame.

Amidst all the details of the Mosaic cultural context and what made the people of Israel “unclean,” is the general precept with its hard-hitting application; all of this does relate to us and how we feel in our dealings with others in society:  If you are unclean, something is wrong with you.  You don’t fit in. You aren’t like other people.  You just aren’t normal.  You stick out and you are kicked out.

The title is “Shame Interrupted,” and the interrupted part is key – the good news of what God has done for us, the gospel.  God provides the means to bring His banished home, and He makes us holy:

But since holiness is so not-human, it always has an element of the unexpected. You never expected that God himself would, by his representatives, come close to unclean people and touch them.

The Holy One is not human.

The triune God is not human.

Don’t limit God’s character by your expectations of what a decent human king might do.

You expect God to reject; he accepts.

You expect Him to turn away; He turns toward.

The book includes many helpful diagrams, including one that branches ‘shame’ out into two categories:  1) From the sins of others and from our own weaknesses, and 2) From our own sin.  Each of these headings branches out into two sub-categories:  Before God, and Before the world.  Much of the content is focused on the first heading, the sins of others and our own weaknesses.  Here again is the important reminder, what it means to be saved from human opinion, to put our trust and confidence in the Lord, not in what we do or what others think of us.  From the chapter that considers the apostle Paul and his words in Philippians, and the category of shame from our own weaknesses:

Most failure is simply a consequence of being a creature and not the Creator.  We are limited and finite.  We make mistakes.  We can’t even do things as well as our friends and neighbors.  The fact that we don’t compare well to other people is not a sin.  It is a result of limitations we all experience.”

and

Accomplishments are just something else to trust in. If you trust in your accomplishments and the opinions of the world, you might as well trust in excrement.  Even worse, trust in your accomplishments and you become like the thing that holds your trust.  That truly is disgusting.  Human beings were never intended to find their reputations in their accomplishments.

I have enjoyed reading both of the Ed Welch books, especially this one, Shame Interrupted – helpful teaching and great Bible application to an important issue.

Edwards’ ‘Religious Affections’, and Our Love To God

August 27, 2018 3 comments

Christian Audio’s free download this month (for a few more days) is an audio recording of a classic work I had planned to read this year, so the audio book special was providential, good timing; I’m reading this one in audio format:  Jonathan Edwards’ “Religious Affections.”  It’s a more serious and careful read for audio format, sometimes requiring to rewind and re-listen to the last few sentences, but overall it reads well.  As noted elsewhere, Edwards wrote this after the time of great revival in New England, the Great Awakening.

Religious Affections first presents 12 signs that do not prove (or disprove) that affections are gracious, followed by 12 signs of truly gracious and holy affections, as summarized in this article.  Edwards’ writing at times can come across as hard and difficult, to a self-examination that wonders ‘am I then truly spiritual/saved?’, since the unbeliever’s versus believer’s affections are described in the full form without consideration of the partial, imperfect experience of the believer with still remaining sin; as noted in the above-linked review:  some of Edwards’ words may seem blunt and appear not to take into account that even the best Christians are very far from perfect.  We need to keep the full picture in mind, and as Edwards continues – especially in the second list of 12 signs, items 3, 4 and 5 (which I have just read) — additional descriptions of the true believer’s experience come through clearly.  As Arden Hodgins explained it in a 1689 Baptist Confession series, we don’t look within for sin or perfection in our heart, but we look for grace, realizing that yes, I now have a love for God and God’s word, that I once did not have.

I’m still reading it, but so far I do find one point of disagreement and a topic to further consider.  Edwards described gratitude as something that is not a Christian virtue but something that is present in natural (unregenerate) man.  He argues this conclusion at least partly from his own idea (presented as fact) that Nebuchadnezzar (after Daniel 4) was not a saved man but was only expressing thankfulness for deliverance from his physical circumstances.  Yet this assertion itself is not a proven fact, and many believers, past and present, have viewed the account as showing that Nebuchadnezzar did come to saving faith.  Consider the words of Nebuchadnezzar’s confession in the account in Daniel 4, as well as Daniel’s own attitude toward Nebuchadnezzar – and as contrasted with Daniel’s later words in Daniel 5 to Nebuchadnezzar’s successor Belshazzar; the point is especially made in Daniel 5:22-23, “And you his son, Belshazzar, have not humbled your heart, though you knew all this, 23 but you have lifted up yourself against the Lord of heaven.”  Thus, Edwards reasoned that an unregenerate man is actually capable of the type of understanding, praise, and humbling, that Nebuchadnezzar expressed, and yet still ‘miss the mark’ and not really be a spiritual person.

The section on gratitude comes across (at least in this first reading) as somewhat unclear.  On the one hand, unbelievers can have a natural type of gratitude to God.  Edwards grants that some unbelievers are without thankfulness and gratitude — and some people’s own experience of their before/after conversion makes it clear that in their pre-Christian life they really did not feel true gratitude to others or to God, that such feelings were really due to self-love — yet he maintains that “just because” some unsaved people were that unthankful, yet that does not mean that others in their natural state could not attain to true gratitude and thankfulness.  He also references Jesus’ words in Luke 6:32-34 — If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? —which is indeed scriptural truth regarding the feelings that unbelievers can have toward others.   However, as Edwards soon goes on to say, these unbelievers are actually thinking about God according to their own ideas, and worshiping and believing in a god of their own making, and not the true God.

Thus, the conclusion of these conflicting ideas is that unbelievers’ “gratitude” is actually directed not to the true God, but either in reference to their own self-interest or to some other notion, some other concept of god.  As is often mentioned in Christian teaching, a false concept of God, one that is not in keeping with the scripture-revealed true God, is a form of idolatry.

Edwards does writes in detail about self-love as contrasted with true love for God, and another interesting section explains the difference between natural and moral perfections.  Yet in presenting the highest perfection of the Christian, Edwards emphasizes that Christians should only have love for God in its highest motive:  without regard to self, or to any reward, but to love God for who He is in Himself, apart from our own interest in Him.  Yet we all know our own hearts, how often we fall short of this; though we do love God for who He is, our motives are often mixed, with lower motives as well as the highest motive present at various times in our Christian walk.  Here too, I am reminded of Arden Hodgins’ observations (from his 1689 Confession study) regarding our motives for sanctification;  each of us individually cannot compare ourselves to any other great saint and then conclude that “I must be lost” in comparison with another believer’s expressed higher level of devotion and love to God.  A specific example that Hodgins mentioned was the reading of David Brainerd’s biography – and here I find that reference interesting, due to the personal connection between Brainerd and Edwards.

It can also be argued that loving God only for who He is in Himself without regard to our own interest, is really not the highest type of love.  Horatius Bonar, writing in the next century in response to this “over-spiritualized” idea, well expressed it in God’s Way of Peace (page 171, shown at this link):

It is not wrong to love God for what He has done for us. Not to do so, would be the very baseness of ingratitude. To love God purely for what He is, is by some spoken of as the highest kind of love, into which enters no element of self. It is not so. For in that case, you are actuated by the pleasure of loving; and this pleasure of loving an infinitely lovable and glorious Being, of necessity introduces self. Besides, to say that we are to love God solely for what He is, and not for what he Has done, is to make ingratitude an essential element of pure love. David’s love showed itself in not forgetting God’s benefits. But this ‘pure love’ soars beyond David’s and finds it a duty to be unthankful, lest perchance some selfish element mingle itself with its superhuman, super-angelic purity.  Let not Satan then ensnare you with such foolish thoughts, the tendency of which is to quench every serious desire, under the pretext of its not being disinterested and perfect.

In spite of these areas of disagreement, Jonathan Edwards’ The Religious Affections is still a great theological work, a classic work on a timeless issue, discerning between true spiritual and carnally minded people.  It is not the easiest writing style, but worth reading (or listening to) at least once.  The MP3 audio book is still available for free for a few more days, the rest of this week.

Worldview Suppression: Romans 1 and Apologetics

July 6, 2018 8 comments

From my recent reading (Challies 2018 Reading Challenge) and Reformed theology conference lectures comes an apologetics study of Romans 1.  What do general revelation and suppression really look like, in our 21st century post-Christian world?  This question is addressed in Scott Oliphint’s lecture from the 2018 Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology (theme Spirit of the Age: Age of the Spirit), Workshop 4: The Anatomy of Unbelief.  Oliphint is always interesting to listen to; I enjoyed listening to his lectures last fall, in Reformed Forum’s conference on the Reformation and Apologetics.

This 2018 conference lecture provides commentary on Romans 1 and suppression, and what that involves — what truth is suppressed?  His invisible attributes; His eternal power and His divine nature – and the wrath, the judgment that comes as a result (Romans 1 verses 24 through 32).  Oliphint also recounts his recent experience with a graduate level Hegel philosophy course.  Throughout the course, until the very end, the students were kept in suspense: what is Hegel’s “absolute”?  The expert didn’t know, and the expert admitted that he thinks Hegel himself didn’t know what it was.

Philosophers are nothing new, and Paul in Romans 1 was dealing with the same type of thing from the Greek philosophers of his day.  Yet their ideas about reality are only theoretical and do not work in the real world.  Objective truth is there, facing us every day in the external world.  We cannot arbitrarily ignore and re-interpret reality to decide that a red light means ‘go’ and a green light means ‘stop’.  A chair lifted up and about to hit your face is a real threat that cannot be ignored.

Another interesting point Oliphint noted, was observed by Jonathan Edwards.  We often hear that hell is the absence of God.  Yet this cannot be; by His very nature, God is everywhere, omnipresent–including in hell itself.  Instead, hell is the ever-continuous presence, in wrath, of the God that the people there despise and hate.

My recent reading includes a past Kindle deal that also addresses this subject of Romans 1, suppression, and the limitations of non-Christian worldviews which don’t work in the real world: Finding Truth: 5 Principles for Unmasking Atheism, Secularism, and Other God Substitutes , by Nancy Pearcey.  Suppression involves focusing on one part of reality and making it the full truth – and ignoring the parts of reality that don’t “fit” within the box.  Following an outline of Romans 1, Pearcey presents five points to help Christians identify and respond to worldview suppression, with examples from Hegel, materialism and other philosophies.

  1. Identify the idol.
  2. Identify the idol’s reductionism
  3. Test the idol: does it contradict what we know about the world?
  4. Test the idol: does it contradict itself?
  5. Replace the idol: make the case for Christianity.

Many examples are provided (with the actual quotes) from secular scientists and philosophers who admit that they really can’t live with the ideas they come up with about reality, such as this section about materialism:

When it reduces humans to complex biochemical machines, what sticks out of the box? Free will. The power of choice. The ability to make decisions.  These are dismissed as illusions. Yet in practice, we cannot live without making choices from the moment we wake up every morning.  Free will is part of undeniable, inescapable human experience—which means it is part of general revelation.  Therefore the materialist view of humanity does not fit reality as we experience it.

When we see statements about how “we cannot live with” a view, that is worldview suppression.  Through the five principles, we can identify the specific type of suppression – and respond to it, to those who present such ideas, with the truth of Christianity.

Oliphint’s lecture is an excellent summary overview of apologetics related to Romans 1.  Pearcey’s book provides more details and examples, with special emphasis on the experience of college students who leave home as Christians and “lose their faith” when challenged by anti-Christians in the academic university setting.

Spurgeon on the Christian Life (2018 Release)

May 31, 2018 2 comments

The topic of Charles Spurgeon — books published by him, and about him — continues to hold great interest, from the renewed interest begun in the second half of the 20th century and increased especially in our day via the Internet.  The distant future (from Spurgeon’s day) has arrived, and it has vindicated Spurgeon:

I am quite willing to be eaten by dogs for the next fifty years,” Spurgeon said, “but the more distant future shall vindicate me.”

Crossway’s “Theologians on the Christian Life” series includes an offering, published this spring (2018), about Spurgeon’s theology:  Spurgeon on the Christian Life: Alive in Christ — a book I received from a free book giveaway (from the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals; Meet the Puritans blog).  With a series preface by Stephen J. Nichols and Justin Taylor, this book considers Spurgeon as a theologian.  True, Spurgeon is known best as a preacher, with great evangelistic zeal and pastoral concern; he never wrote a systematic theology, and shunned speculation and peripheral matters.  Yet for all that, his many writings cover theology in its many aspects and its relevance and application to Christian living.

… Spurgeon was, quite self-consciously, a theologian.  Avid in his biblical, theological, and linguistic study, he believed that every preacher should be a theologian, because it is only robust and meaty theology that has nutritional value to feed and grow robust Christians and robust churches. … That combination of concerns, for theological depth with plainness of speech, made Spurgeon a preeminently pastorally minded theologian.  He wanted to be both faithful to God and understood by people.  That, surely, is a healthy and Christlike perspective for any theologian.

After a basic overview of Spurgeon’s character and personality (biographies have already been done on Spurgeon’s life), the focus soon comes to actual points of theology (on the Christian life), and Spurgeon’s views are described with numerous quotes from him, making this book also a great source for Spurgeon quotes on various doctrinal topics.    Spurgeon’s theology is presented in three parts: Christ the Center (the Bible; Puritanism, Calvinism; Preaching), the New Birth, and the New Life.  These sections include chapters on topics including the new birth and baptism, sin and grace, the Holy Spirit and sanctification, prayer, pilgrim army (the Christian as a soldier), suffering and depression, and final glory.

Much of the material was already familiar to me, from my ongoing chronological reading through Spurgeon’s sermons over the last several years (starting in volume 1, 1855, and now I’m currently in the 1868 volume) – presented in summary fashion rather than a complete exhaustive concordance of everything Spurgeon said on every topic.  Spurgeon’s textual preaching style is also well described.

Among the interesting points brought out — from previous sermons I had come across Spurgeon’s variation on trichotomy: that the believer has a soul, spirit and body, contrasted with the unbeliever having only two parts, soul and body.  Spurgeon on the Christian Life adds that Spurgeon’s view here, a unique one, is similar (probably unintentionally so) to that of Irenaeus of Lyon; Michael Reeves also briefly deals with the actual theology, noting the problem with Spurgeon’s idea here:

Yet, in order to underline human inability and God’s grace, he [Spurgeon] also developed a more peculiar opinion with greater similarities (almost certainly wholly unintended) to the theology of Irenaeus of Lyons.  As Spurgeon saw it, man naturally consists only of a body and soul, but when he is regenerated, there is created in him a third and wholly new nature: the spirit.  This is a higher nature, beyond anything in creation; it is a supernatural, heavenly, and immortal nature… Such a spiritual nature must be the gift of God.  Yet is this redemption?… To be sure, we gain more in Christ than ever we lost in Adam, but Spurgeon seems to overstate his case here, temporarily losing something of the restorative and reconciliatory aspects of salvation.

I especially appreciated the chapter on Spurgeon and “Suffering and Depression,” a feature of Spurgeon that has often been observed and discussed (reference, for example, this recent post and also this post).  This chapter includes a good summary of Spurgeon’s personal suffering, his seeking to understand theologically the reasons for his suffering —  along with explanation of the reasons for suffering, replete with many excellent Spurgeon quotes about suffering, including this selection (from sermon #692):

In your most depressed seasons you are to get joy and peace through believing. “Ah!” says one, “but suppose you have fallen into some great sin—what then?” Why then the more reason that you should cast yourself upon Him. Do you think Jesus Christ is only for little sinners? Is He a doctor who only heals finger-aches? Beloved, it is not faith to trust Christ when I have no sin, but it is true faith when I am foul, and black, and filthy; when during the day I have tripped up and fallen, and done serious damage to my joy and peace—to go back again to that dear fountain and say, “Lord, I never loved washing as much before as I do tonight, for today I have made a fool of myself; I have said and done what I ought not to have done, and I am ashamed and full of confusion, but I believe Christ can save me, even me, and by His grace I will rest in Him still.

The last chapter, “Final Glory,” touches on Spurgeon’s eschatological views, correctly noting that Spurgeon held to historic premillennialism and that he did not value the time spent on speculative matters of prophecy.  Here I would only add, from my observations of actual Spurgeon sermons, that Spurgeon did not consider premillennialism itself to be a matter of speculation.  It was his frequent practice (within the textual style sermon) to first speak to the literal, plain meaning of a text before turning aside to his own exploration of the words of a text.  So here, too, Spurgeon’s sermon introductions — to texts such as Revelation 20, and Old Testament prophecies about the regathering of national Israel — included very strong affirmations of his beliefs: a future millennial age, Christ’s premillennial return, and a regathering of national, ethnic Israel, to be saved at the time of Christ’s return.

Spurgeon on the Christian Life is another great addition to the collection of material about Charles Spurgeon, a good reference for quotes from Spurgeon as well as to showcase Spurgeon’s theology on Christian living.

Hermeneutics: Understanding Genesis (and all of Scripture)

March 22, 2018 4 comments

From the Kindle deals in my 2018 Challies Reading Challenge, Jason Lisle’s Understanding Genesis: How to Analyze, Interpret, and Defend Scripture (currently $2.99) is a great resource for Bible interpretation, with detailed explanations of many different hermeneutical principles and the many textual and logical fallacies.  The first several chapters lay the groundwork, of how we approach any written text to understand it – the genre understanding of various types of literature – along with many examples from English language usage for correct understanding as well as fallacies and logical reasoning errors.  The features of Hebrew poetry are also covered – a topic dealt with in greater depth in books specifically about the poetic OT books, such as Dan Phillips’ God’s Wisdom in Proverbs, yet well summarized here.  Indeed, it is yet another wondrous point in God’s great plan, that Hebrew poetry has features that translate well into other languages:  parallelism of thought, rather than our English meter and rhyme of specific English words.

This book is also a good addition to the genre of Young Earth Creation books, as a good introduction and summary of the issues dealt with in more detail elsewhere.    Lisle applies hermeneutical principles to several errors concerning the early chapters of Genesis: old-earth progressive creation (two of Hugh Ross’ books), theistic evolution, and the Noahic flood as only a local flood (Hugh Ross again).  Several chapters include detailed interaction with the actual words from several Hugh Ross books plus one by a theistic evolution–a fascinating look at the flawed reasoning and ideas that actually border on heresy.

As with other creation science books, science is referenced, though primarily from the logical, reasoning perspective: pointing out the difference between operational, observable and repeatable science and that which is not really science but history: the one-time act of creation that by its very nature is not observable and not repeatable.  Related to this is the two books fallacy referenced in this previous post, that nature itself is a “67th book of the Bible” on the same level of authority as scripture itself.

Another interesting point developed by Lisle – and an area in which he differs from at least some other creation scientists – is the problem with thinking of the earth in terms of “apparent age.”  As he points out, we come up with ideas about age based on relative comparisons.  Due to observations of many people we know, for instance, we can conclude that a particular individual appears to be about 40 years old.  Yet people take such ideas and try to say that the earth “looks old” and “appears to be billions of years old”; yet we have no other planets for any relative comparison, to make such a claim:

People at the wedding in Cana may have assumed that the wine came about in the ordinary way, and probably believed that the wine was well-aged due to its taste. But Jesus did not create the wine with appearance of age. Rather, He made it good. Likewise, God did not create the earth with appearance of age. He made it to work. If people apply unbiblical, naturalistic assumptions to how the earth formed, and then come away thinking it ‘looks’ billions of years old, well, it’s not God’s fault

The hermeneutical principles and fallacies explained are not limited to use for the early chapters of Genesis, but apply to all other doctrinal subjects.  One such example, provided in Appendix B (about propositions and formal fallacies), concerns the error of baptismal regeneration:

Baptismal regenerationists commit the fallacy of denying the antecedent when arguing that water baptism is a requirement for salvation.

  1. If you repent and are baptized, then you are saved (Mark 16:16)

2. It is not that case that you have repented and are baptized (because you have only repented and have not yet been baptized).

3. Therefore, you are not saved.

Similarly, the meaning of words in their context, including general terms in the Bible that can mean many different things, is another area where people err, with superficial and out-of-context understanding.  The word ‘law’ in the Bible has many different meanings, as noted in this previous post; another term is the biblical definition of death, in its context for Genesis 3 and Romans 5.  The biblical definition of death does not include plant life, or anything other than animate (human and animal) life.

Understanding Genesis is an excellent reference for language comprehension / hermeneutics, and a useful guide for how to interpret all scripture.  It includes good application of these concepts to the specific issues of creation and the flood, yet the hermeneutics extend to all of our understanding.

Christian Living and ‘Self-Help’ Reading

March 6, 2018 2 comments

Over the last year and a half, my reading journey, and especially in the yearly Challies Reading Challenge, has included several books in the category of Christian living, and specifically the area of counseling and what could be called ‘Christian self-help.’ Beginning with Martyn Lloyd Jones’ classic work, Spiritual Depression and a David Murray conference series, additional lectures, articles and books have explained and expanded on the topic: the Christian identity, and proper handling of our emotions and dealing with the trials of life.

Recent books in my Challies’ Reading Challenge include Ken Sande’s The Peacemaker,  Twelve Ways Your Phone is Changing You (a past free offer from ChristianAudio), and Running Scared: Fear, Worry, and the God of Rest by Ed Welch.  Some recent helpful online articles include these:
• From TableTalk Magazine February issue, Who Defines Your Joy?
10 types of thinking that undergird depression-anxiety
In defense (somewhat) of self-help

Twelve Ways Your Phone is Changing You looks to the underlying heart issues behind phone use, including our tendency to distraction, and our need to feel accepted and to be part of the “in” crowd and not left behind. Though the main point has to do with the current technology (smart phones), the broader issue is how we use technology. Technology itself is not bad, and has been around since the early chapters of the Bible. Also, distraction is a tendency of our fallen nature, regardless of time and technology, as seen in the story of Mary and Martha, and Martha’s being distracted with the work of serving. Distraction is a way to avoid quiet and silence, the time needed to think about our soul and eternity, time to spend with God, for deep meditation.

Running Scared also provides good insights, to what is really behind our fears. What we’re afraid of reveals what we hold dear, such as money and what it provides, or fear of man (desire to not be persecuted; to be liked and loved). Such fears show that we are seeking this world and kingdom, not God’s kingdom. Welch points to the root behind many fears, and notes the answer; logical reasoning, or simply not thinking about the fear, does not really work. Instead, we replace the fears by focusing on what is more important—the fear of the Lord:

They [fears and anxieties] topple from their lofty perch and are replaced by what is more important. Whatever is most important is the thing that rules us. …You treat worries by pursuing what is even more important. Fear still reveals our allegiances, this time in a positive way. If we have a mature fear of the Lord, it means that we value and revere Him above all else. That’s how we fight fear with fear.

Regarding the transformation needed, to rely on the God of Rest:

Your task is not to transform into a superficial, sunny optimist. It is to grow to be an optimist by faith…. As for me, I want to watch and endure, not worry. I want to be like the night watchmen who are waiting to see first light. God is the God of suspense, but it is a suspense that teaches us peace. He is the God of surprises, but the surprises are always better than we could have dreamed. I can’t put Him in a box and assume that He should act according to my time schedule and according to my less sophisticated version of what is good. I need the mind of Christ. I can do with nothing less.

Wisdom often mentioned in these books, to continually remember—especially in response to the world’s way of reasoning: the Christian life is not about results, about seeing and achieving (what we think is) the right outcome.  The Christian life is about being faithful to God in the situation He has put each of us in; God is the one who determines the outcome. David Murray’s lectures about the LER (legitimate emotional response) versus SER (sinful emotional response) expand on this as well, explaining the importance of how we respond to disappointing life events.

These books (and articles) are helpful, providing good reminders along with great Bible application (such as from the lives of Bible characters) for dealing with the trials and discouragements of daily life.  My 2018 Challies Reading list includes two more books that should also prove interesting:  Scripture and Counseling: God’s Word for Life in a Broken World, by Bob Kellemen, and Speaking Truth in Love: Counsel in Community, by David Powlison, both oft-recommended Reformed Biblical counseling authors.

Christian Theology and Classics: Augustine, William Perkins, and Millennial Views

February 13, 2018 3 comments

In the 2018 Challies Reading Challenge, my recent reading has included writings from the 4th and the 16th centuries:  Augustine’s Confessions as a book about the early church, and Volume 1 of the Works of William Perkins, as a book by a Puritan.

Both of these were featured in Puritan Reformed Seminary’s 2017 conference:  Carl Trueman’s talk about Augustine’s Confessions  and Joel Beeke’s summary of William Perkins.  Augustine’s Confessions was an interesting read, my first such reading of early church writings, and I noted the parts mentioned by Trueman:  Augustine as a youth stealing figs from a fig tree; and a much later event that happened to one of Augustine’s friends (who resolved to never go to the gladiatorial games, was taken there by force by his friends; he kept his eyes closed, determined not to look; but the sounds aroused his curiosity so that he looked –and was then ensnared again in the games).  Trueman had noted here, the power of the visual image.  Other interesting parts included references to the other Christian leaders of the time including Ambrose of Milan and his role in Augustine’s later conversion, as well as descriptions about worship services including the singing of hymns.

As others who have read Augustine’s Confessions have noted, the last few chapters are strange, getting into Augustine’s Platonic philosophy, with a lot of repetitive thought as Augustine considered the meaning of time, memory and forgetfulness.  In this tedious reading, I also observed that the Librivox volunteer readers must have had similar difficulty; the majority of the recording, through Augustine’s conversion, was read by one or two authors. Then, for each ‘track’ section of the last few (weird) chapters, it was a different reader for each segment.

William Perkins

Volume one of Perkins is over 800 pages and three treatises. I read a little of the first treatise, all of the second one, and about a third of the last and very lengthy treatise (the Sermon on the Mount).  The first treatise was about biblical chronology and dating of early Bible events; after a while it was too detailed and tedious.  Here I first learned the idea that the Israelite stay in Egypt may have been only 215 years instead of 430 years—the 430 years starting from the time of Abraham instead of the actual time in Egypt.  I have always thought that the stay was 400 years in Egypt, from the narrative reading and my old NIV Study Bible dates.  From checking online articles, though, apparently this is an area of differing views, and some do take the 215 years view regarding the Egypt stay.  At this point, the 430 years in Egypt seems more reasonable to me, given the large population at the time of the Exodus and allowing for gaps in the genealogies, which occurs often even in later Old Testament genealogies.  For further reading and study on this, are these two articles:

The second treatise was of a manageable length and more interesting:  Perkins’ exposition of Matthew 4:1-11 and the parallel account in Luke, the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness.  Good points brought out here include Perkins’ look at the scientific understanding of the human ability to live without food and water, that the human body has a limit of about 14 days­.  This event was supernatural, and necessary for Christ to experience, in similar fashion to the previous 40 days and 40 nights fastings of both Moses and Elijah.  Perkins adds, to any who might reason that ‘why did Christ not do double the length of time, 80 days?’, that Christ also must be shown to be human, and a fast of 80 days would have us question His humanity.  Another of Perkins’ ideas, though, seemed rather strange (again, the first time to hear this idea, for me):  the temptation of Jesus standing on the top of the temple in Jerusalem, was accomplished by Satan’s moving Christ’s body, slowly through the air, from the desert to the actual temple location.  Here again Perkins considers the known natural laws, and reasons that a human body could not physically withstand such flight movement through the air at very high speeds, but that Satan certainly could physically carry Christ a short distance at a slow speed.  I haven’t read other commentaries on this matter, but have always thought of this temptation as done in a vision, not actually there; if Christ were actually there, surely there would have been other people around to notice a man standing up on the top of the temple structure.   But Perkins reasoned that a temptation by vision would not be a real temptation.

The third work in volume one is a detailed exposition, with many excurses, of the Sermon on the Mount.  The reading is straightforward enough to follow, and similar in style to the later Puritans (who held Perkins in great esteem and were greatly influenced by him), with the outline format of different observations and ‘uses’ for application – as noted by J.I. Packer in his summary lecture series on the Puritans .  Throughout the reading, though, at several points I was turned-off by one particular aspect of Perkins’ views: his anti-millennial interpretations.  This comes out in such places as his exposition of Matt. 5:5 (the meek shall inherit the earth), in which he cites four ways in which the meek are said to inherit the earth.  The last two of these, Perkins considered as the primary ones:  3) inheritance in Christ in which ‘all things are yours, whether it be Paul or Cephas, or the world, things present or things to come’ (1 Cor. 3:21-22) and 4) that the meek will be made kings and ‘rule and reign’ (Rev. 5).  Before that, however, he considers that “if it fall out that meek persons die in want or banishment, yet God gives them contentation, which is fully answerable to the inheritance of the earth.”  As a premillennialist (and here I recall Spurgeon’s strong words about this text) such an idea misses the mark:  to say that a poor person being contented with what God gives him or her in this life “is fully answerable to the inheritance of the earth” is to seriously underrate and misrepresent the wonderful future promise of really inheriting the earth.  Elsewhere in the exposition, Isaiah texts about the millennial era are applied to what we have spiritually here and now.  At a point about various views regarding our neighbors and revenge, Perkins writes:  “Now the devil perceiving this to be their [the Jews’] natural disposition, makes God’s doctrine of salvation seem to them a doctrine of earthly benefits, for he caused them to dream of an earthly king for their Messiah, and of an earthly flourishing kingdom under him.”  Such statements reveal the standard European anti-Semitism along with an apparent hatred of the premillennial doctrine itself, implied in the idea that an earthly kingdom is somehow evil, carnal and unspiritual.  Premillennialists recognize the both/and of a future literal, earthly kingdom that is also spiritual in character, and that both physical and spiritual can co-exist, as in us believers today; and that the Old Testament did promise a future literal, earthly kingdom. The Jews had the basic idea correct; their error was in failing to recognize the two-stage purpose of God, the cross and then the crown, what is described in 1 Peter 1:10-11: the prophets who prophesied of the grace that would come to you made careful searches and inquiries, 11 seeking to know what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating as He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow.”

The criticisms aside, both works — Augustine and William Perkins — are good for overall reading of classic and Reformation-era thought, as both provide interesting ideas and points for further thought.  They both serve the purpose of reading “the classics” of Christian theological works, and variety in reading, to go beyond the comparatively shallow and superficial nature of many modern-day books.

Challies’ 2018 Reading Challenge: Autobiography (Steven Curtis Chapman)

January 30, 2018 4 comments

In my ongoing Challies’ 2018 Reading Challenge, I’ve enjoyed some “freebies” and sale books, including ChristianAudio.com’s free monthly audio book deal, which has offered several good books, including two I read last year–Kevin DeYoung’s Taking God at His Word and Steven Lawson’s The Passionate Preaching of Martyn Lloyd Jones (reference this blog post).

One recent free Christian Audio monthly offers, Steven Curtis Chapman’s autobiography – Between Heaven and the Real World: My Story – is well-written and quite interesting.  In my early Christian years I bought a few of his albums, and saw him in concert twice (in Denver, CO):  his first New Years Eve concert there, and then, two years later, a concert on the first Tuesday night in November, Presidential Election day 1992; we learned on the radio while driving home afterward, that Clinton had won the election.  Among the trivia from those years, I recall one time that he paused to tune his guitar; he remarked that his wife had said that Phil Keaggy tuned his guitar while he played, and that ‘I tried to explain to my wife that Phil Keaggy is not human.’  Some time later I also saw Phil Keaggy in concert, and noticed that, sure enough, Keaggy was adjusting the guitar tuning pegs while very animated, playing and jumping around on the stage.  In later years I did not follow CCM as much, though I recall the local church (Memphis area) youth group in ’96 doing a music program that included Chapman’s then-hit song ‘King of the Jungle.’  And I remember hearing in the news, almost ten years ago now, about the tragic accident in which his adopted 5 year old daughter was killed, hit by a vehicle driven by their teenage son.

Chapman’s autobiography is lengthy and detailed, almost 450 pages, yet reads well as an audio book (and rates close to 5.0 on Amazon user ratings).  It includes interesting history about the 1980s Christian music scene, the time I can relate to from my conversion in 1989 and the music CDs then available in the local Christian bookstore.  Over the years my theology and Christian music tastes have changed, such that I have come to prefer Michael Card, Steve Camp and other more Reformed music, and I probably would not have chosen to read this, but that it was a free Christian audio offering.  This book exceeded my expectations, and I have not regretted the time spent reading it.  Covering his full life since early childhood, Chapman’s auto-biography brings out and agrees with my recollections and impressions from his early concerts: basic evangelical Christianity and a love for Jesus, the importance of his family, and a tendency to self-righteousness.  He was saved at age eight, and was one of those people who get their act together (the Lord working in them since childhood) while young (thus a successful career), married with young children by his late twenties; it wasn’t exactly what us singles in our mid-to-late 20s could relate to, but we still enjoyed the music.  His autobiography includes interesting background related to some of the songs from those years; I liked the story where he performed “His Eyes” for others in the Nashville CCM group, and Michael Card gave him a standing ovation; Chapman as a young performer in the business appreciated that, noting Michael Card’s standing in the business as ‘a song craftsman.’

Chapman’s theology is general evangelical, non-Reformed, noted in his references to his friends and Christian-teacher influences.  One family conflict (from his early career and marriage days) he relates, soon turned into a heated argument—which ended when he suddenly shouted aloud to Satan, declaring to Satan that ‘you will not have my family’; a less mature response, as contrasted with the Christian growth and sanctification process, learning God’s preceptive will including how to resolved conflict viz Ken Sande’s The Peacemaker approach.

Where Between Heaven and the Real World gets more interesting, and more spiritually in-depth, is the later years–the full story concerning the family’s adoption of Chinese orphans, the details of the terrible accident, and the consequent effects of that great affliction.  As with all of us, great trial and affliction brought about the Christian growth and sanctification, the growth that God will accomplish in His ways in His people.  Through the grieving process and counseling, Chapman relates his new appreciation for the Psalms, with reference to some of the very same things I’ve learned through reading books and articles on the overall topic of spiritual depression and biblical counseling and coping with my own trials, including Psalm 13, and David’s talking to himself in Psalm 42, ‘Why are you cast down, O my soul?’; also the great need to study and work out one’s theology, expressing emotions to God instead of the stoical approach, and relying on God day by day through the emotional pain.

It is easy to be a Christian and love God when everything is going well in your life.  Chapman’s story, along with other biographies and autobiographies of believers, brings home the truth of our very different personalities and experiences, and that God perfectly measures out the particular trials and problems we will have, fitted to each of us individually.  Some people may have more relational problems early in life – resulting in other types of trial later in life.  Chapman did not have a perfect, ideal upbringing but overall a life with fewer difficulties, financial success, and a strong, close family life, with that family very important to him; thus the great God-ordained trial for him and the family, came in the tragic loss of one of the children, five year old Maria.

This book demonstrates the truth behind the Challies’ reading challenge, the value of reading a variety of different types of books.  I would not read Steven Curtis Chapman’s story for its theological value within the normal scope of ‘Reformed’ Christian reading, yet it is an interesting story to broaden the perspective of the lives of other Christians.