Exploring Christian Theology–a Fine New Volume

Are you intimidated by the ten-pound systematic theology volumes out there? Do you still want some real depth and genuine help? You should check out the first volume, then, of the projected three-volume series Exploring Christian Theology, edited by Nathan Holsteen and Michael Svigel, with this first volume written by the editors along with Douglas Blount and Glenn Krieder.

For some reason, I opened this volume with low expectations. I read those ten-pounders sometimes and enjoy it. Then in the first few pages I read language that I felt was trying too hard to engage modern readers. As I kept reading, however, I was own over. This volume is a treat.

The editors claim their perspective here “differs from other mini-theologies in that strives to present a broad consensus, not a condensed systematic model of one evangelical teacher or Protestant tradition.” To my mind, they succeeded. They may not have written from one narrow angle, but they stayed safely within the confines of conservative, Bible-believing parameters. Can you tell I liked it?

The first part covers Revelation, Scripture, and Truth. Their explanation of inspiration and inerrancy was choice. I might squabble over a detail here or there, but they provoked thought and explained the touchiest issues of our day well.

The next section on the Triune God was simply superb. The section on the kenosis of Christ and the debates of the Early Church on Christology was one of the best I have ever read. It rivals the ten-pound volumes!

Each section ends with quotes from all time periods of Christianity on the subject. You could see, for example, that full inspiration of Scripture has been the historic position. Newer positions are clearly deviations.

Get this book. Better yet, read it carefully. I highly recommend it.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

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Straining At Gnats and Swallowing Camels (IBTR #52)

There are things that go on in religion as if perfectly normal, rational, and spiritual that are, to Christ’s eyes, the most ludicrous of actions. Whether it be the Pharisees of Jesus’s day, or the super spiritual ones of Independent Baptists or any current group of Christians today, the perverse lunacy is the same.

When Jesus preached His most scathing recorded sermon, to whom was it addressed? The Pharisees, or the spiritual forebears of those who trouble us today. That sermon in Matthew 23 is scorching. Jesus spoke so lovingly to adulterers and thieves, but blasted those who claimed a spiritual authority that they used to manipulate and abuse.

In Matthew 23:23 Jesus laid bare the unacceptable dichotomy that had developed among the Pharisees:

Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.

Well, you could not accuse our Savior of mincing words! They had inverted priorities and missed by miles what was really important to the God they professed to love. The excelled where it was meaningless and grossly failed where it really mattered. That is not the life I want to live, how about you?

Then with an almost comic flair our Lord drew an unforgettable word picture. If you really can get the image in your mind, you will never forget it. In Matthew 23:24 He said:

Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel.

If the thought of a blind guide wasn’t shocking enough (it is odd, you know, when one blind feels competent to lead you over the rough terrain of life), then He gave us a scene of one easily swallowing a camel but choking on a gnat! Stop and visualize that….it is quite amusing and, of course, ludicrous.

Camels are bigger than you and swallowing is out of the question for sane people. At the same time, no one likes a gnat, but you will survive swallowing them with relative ease, unless, again you are not sane. We have never actually seen this attempted. I guess we are all at least that intelligent, but in spiritual matters there are things Christ finds just as ludicrous.

What does our Lord think when He sees us hammering some poor believer over some little standard while His proscribed call for love is completely absent? Hey look, they have camels and gnats mixed up again!

It is just as crazy in us as that mental picture Jesus drew. I say let’s give up straining at gnats and swallowing camels.

Find all articles in the series here.

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Persuasive Preaching by Overstreet (Books on the Ministry #16)

Have you ever given thought to the role persuasion plays, or should play, in preaching? What are its legitimate roles? You will, then, appreciate this new volume entitled Persuasive Preaching by R. Larry Overstreet and published by Weaver. The subtitle “A Biblical and Practical Guide to the Effective Use of Persuasion” aptly describes the author’s approach.

He feels persuasion is getting a bum rap these days and the quality of preaching suffers accordingly. With a scholar’s touch, he defines persuasion and what it has looked like in preaching in the past. God’s Word, to be sure, calls for a response. He had an excellent discussion on post-modernism and how that has negatively affected preaching. He was spot on.

He gives deep discussion on the Hebrew and Greek associated with preaching as found in Scripture. That may be heavy for some readers, but his point was surely proven–persuasion is part of preaching.

Chapter 6 on ethos with its vivid discussion of important passages was my favorite in the book. It was, can I say, the most persuasive.

Toward the end the book turned more toward how to practically put persuasion in our preaching. Particularly helpful was the the discussion on persuasion versus manipulation. Finally, he points out the necessity of the Holy Spirit in our preaching.

We preachers should wrestle with this subject and this book is likely the best we have on this specific point. I recommend it.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

Other books in this series

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A Recently Discovered Gem–Acts by Lightfoot

We have a potpourri of good things here. There is the commentary itself, an interesting story of how it was found after so long, and insight into J. B. Lightfoot the prodigious scholar.

Many of us have had Lightfoot’s commentaries on our shelves for years. I thought I had all of them. I did have all that was in print. Then Ben Witherington, a modern scholar and Lightfoot admirer, went digging around the dusty corners of the Durham Cathedral Library and found unpublished commentary material. Here we have Acts 1-21 and volumes on John and II Corinthians/ I Peter are forthcoming. The story, with accompanying photos, was fascinating. It is surprising to have a new volume by a guy who died in 1889.

The commentary is of his high standards. If you are like me, you will need an interlinear handy because the Greek is untranslated. I am glad to have this commentary.

The biographical sketch and the homage at the end give us a intimate view of the famous scholar. He never married and had an incredible output of work. He spoke several languages fluently. He had encyclopedic knowledge of Greek–Classical, Koine, and the Greek of the Fathers. I might not agree with all his doctrinal views, and I certainly do not agree with him on which underlying texts are best, but when he speaks on language I him him worthy of my attention. I will never have his language gift, but I am glad I can glean from his.

The Appendixes have more goodies including an article on Acts in Smith’s Dictionary of the Bible. My edition of that dictionary did not have his article, so I was glad to see it.

Thanks IVP for printing this unique work. I recommend it.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

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Psalms by Tremper Longman (TOTC)

The venerable Tyndale commentary series is in the process of updating the OT volumes. Coming up to the Psalms volume, IVP had a dilemma. Derek Kidner’s volume in the series is one of the best succinct commentaries written on a book of the Bible ever. How do you retire such an author with his winning entry in your commentary set?

So what did IVP do? Some staffer came up with the masterstroke publishing idea for the quandary. Reprint the Kidner’s titles as “Classic Commentaries” (a quick search on IVP and you can find them as they are available now) and pull out one of the most prolific commentators on Wisdom Literature today, Tremper Longman, and let him do the new Tyndale volume. I may not always agree with Mr. Longman, but I have always been impressed by his prodigious output. Does he ever lay down his pen?

He gives us a near 500 page offering on the 150 Psalms. His introduction is short, but sufficiently overviews the issues involved in studying the Psalms. Then he gives a short paragraph on context to help orient us followed by commentary in chunks that make sense. He ends with a “meaning” section that helps us think about directions for application. He does a fine job.

I checked some on the Psalms in this volume against the new massive volumes by Allen Ross and the old Kidner volumes. I feel Longman well addresses, in a more compressed format as called for in this series, issues that Mr. Ross handles deeply and masterfully. Did he excel Mr. Kidner? Probably not, but the solution for me is to possess them both and use them often.

I have loved and used the entire Tyndale Commentarty for years. We need commentaries of this style to go along with our larger exegetical ones to help not lose sight of the forest in looking at the trees. This volume lives up to its high standards and I highly recommend it.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

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The Greatest Motivation To Be A Pharisee (IBTR# 51)

They were an ugly group. They fought Jesus at every turn. Their hearts had run so amok that Christ reserved the harshest words He ever spoke for them. Strangely enough, they thought they followed God better than anyone ever did. The irony that they thought God’s Own Son was a devil jumps off page after page of the Gospel records. As you might imagine, to be called a Pharisee for anyone who thinks themselves a solid Christian will arouse a blood-boiling reaction. Though this pharisaical attitude rears its hideous head in all corners of Christianity, and although I know there is a little Pharisee in both you and me, I call on those in the Independent Baptist world to give careful thought to just how much the spirit of Pharisaism is entrenched in some places.

Don’t make the error of thinking that Pharisees sprang from evil and only ever had bad motives. Just because Jesus called them hypocrites, don’t assume there was never any sincerity. After the Captivity and its corresponding trials rendered its chastening to the point that it became difficult to reboot and sustain their OT worship, it appeared to some well-meaning believers that something ought to be done. In that idolatry was at the core of the offense that brought on the agonizing judgments, it seemed, quite reasonably, that steps ought to be taken that it never happen again. From those ashes rose a patriotic, zealous group of sincere men who made their lives about restoring what they thought they lost from God.

So it wasn’t the original aims or goals that were a problem. No, these “separated ones” likely were as sincere as any believers have ever been. I have no reason whatsoever to believe that they did what they did for any other motivation than love of God. Still, I must know well the one I love for my love to accomplish an end worthy of love.

With a zeal that puts our halfhearted efforts to shame they went relentlessly after their goals. As time went along, it occurred to them that fences were the only safety net to avoid another round of horrors as they had experienced in the bondage of oppression. So they took the things God had said and added many regulations to it to ensure that they did not stumble across the line God had drawn. They saw breaking God’s Law as the cliff and so they built fences father and farther back until they were hundreds of feet away. By Christ’s day they were so far back that they could not even see the cliff. And they felt really good about it.

What never occurred to them was that in backing away from the cliff they had somehow backed far away from God Himself. They were too far away to hear His voice, but in the cacophony of their own voices they did not even notice. Hearing your own voice standing in the place of the Lord’s, however, will do a number on you, especially if you have convinced yourself that you did it for Him!

Plus when you only know someone from a distance you tend to get a warped view of who they really are. They knew about the fear of the Lord. They did not just know it, they lived it. That the fear of the Lord might be more appropriate when we are purposely running from Him, not when we are treading watchfully, never crossed their minds. That the fear of the Lord when we are in an appropriate relationship with Him might have more to do with reverential awe never occurred to them either. Had they taken the time to actually listen to Jesus they might have learned what intimate fellowship our Lord has in mind for us.

Is it clear to you now what was the great motivation to be a Pharisee? Fear. It was then and it is now. Never mind that Jesus told us that He had not given us the spirit of fear; some still design their entire Christian experience on it. Sadly, it will make a Pharisee of you every time. Fear is the basis of idolatrous religions and has no place in Christianity. Our God in not a pagan god to be feared and appeased, but a real God to be known and loved. In that light you can see that a Pharisee is the last thing you would ever want to be.

Find all articles in the series here.

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Dictionary Of Daily Life: Volume 1–A Review

Are you looking for a resource to add some real spice to your Bible study? You need to check out Dictionary of Daily Life in Biblical & Post-Biblical Antiquity edited by Edwin M. Yamauchi and Marvin R. Wilson and published by Hendrickson. This first release of a planned three-volume set covers A-Da.

This attractive volume has two special features. It focuses more on subjects that might occur to you and I rather than just Bible terms. Things like “Barbers and Beards” and “Bellows and Furnaces” would be a little harder to track down in a typical Bible encyclopedia set. The other distinction is price. Many Bible students never get down to purchasing Bible encyclopedia sets because of the full-frontal assault upon their wallets. This volume is more within financial reach.

Besides being enlightening, and a real aid in sermon or lesson preparation, these articles are fun. They at times tell about things you want to know but whose information you never quite came across. Subjects like abortion, animal husbandry, bathing, and clothing are just a few of those that make fascinating reading.

As with any such work, you may wonder how the choice of entries was arrived at, and at times you may not buy into the evidence presented, but overall the work is outstanding. Looking at every subject in the chronological order of OT, NT, the Near Eastern World, the Greco-Roman, the Jewish World, and the Christian World is especially ideal.

I recommend this volume and eagerly await the other two volumes to complete the set.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

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Preventing Suicide: A Handbook For Pastors, Chaplains, And Pastoral Counselors

This is, of course, an unpleasant subject, yet in reading this volume I realized how poorly prepared I am as a pastor to deal with this crisis in my ministry should it, God forbid, happen. As I thought about it, I recalled pastor friends who have faced this very trial. I can only imagine the anguish of soul of these shepherds, not to mention the families whose world is suddenly turned upside down.

This volume by Karen Mason and published by IVP is astonishingly effective in its goal of bridging the gap between theology and psychology in addressing this timely issue. The psychology was restrained and effective while the theology was quite good from the author whose experience ran a little more in psychology.

The book is practical in its emphasis on prevention, ministering, and the role of churches and pastors. We get a good overview of what suicide is and who most often dies by suicide (she tells us not to say “commit suicide”).

The chapter on “Shattering Myths About Suicide” embarrassed me because I held to most of them! She well described the common positions of those who hold suicide is not a sin as well as those who do including those who wrongly say a true Christian cannot die by suicide. There are real aids to families who fear this erroneous doctrine to be gleaned here.

There is detailed help in dealing with a suicidal feelings as well as ministering to those struggling after being left behind. The ever present issue of an unfair stigma on a grieving family is well presented here too.

I recommend all my pastor friends, as well as those who have need to deal with issue, grab a copy of this fine resource.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

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A Cult? (IBTR #50)

It may be the worst label of all. It is the first word that comes to mind for one severely hurt in religious circles and the last one anyone wants to hear hurled at them. While many in the Independent Baptist world are appalled at any hints of cultish behavior, others in it deserve no less than to be called members of a cult.

I suppose cultish behavior is more easily spotted from a distance. There is, apparently, a blinding effect when you are in the middle of it. Looking over into some other group you would say they are whacky, but if you are in it you often feel these abnormalities obvious to everyone but your group are the very essence of Christianity.

May I suggest a few alarming signs that you might want to consider in determining where you are today?

1. An only-we-are-right mentality

It is our obligation to attempt to understand our Lord’s heart as shared in His Word on all important matters, but this mentality is much more than that. We are right because we are the right group. When that subtle line is crossed it is often accompanied by intellectual suicide and a replacement of God’s voice by political pronouncements. You should study God’s Word until you feel confident about your position, but the day you are right because you line up so well with some group is the day you betrayed Christianity (and Christ) and started grazing in cultish pastures.

2. Your group turns inward and becomes closed minded to any discussion

Perhaps you could make a biblical argument for fencing out sin, but fencing in your own people as if they were both too stupid and too unspiritual to be trusted to follow the Lord becomes the day you allowed cultish behavior to control you. Whether you are the fence builder or the one fenced in, you breathe cultish air.

3. Your allegiance is to a man or group

Christ is The Lord! I can hardly believe more would ever need to be said on this subject, but many preachers rise up and usurp the loyalty that should only be Christ’s. I mean only He purchased it with His Own blood! How many times can a phone call from some big-shot preacher totally alter the course someone is on. This is the one thing that grows until we have someone like Jim Jones leading a whole group to drink the poison-laced Koolaid. That is a cult in full blown, and though it may not be this far, any transference of the Lordship of a Christ is putrid and evil.

4. The distinction between the law of God and the law of man is blurred

Cults thrive where men can say “Thus saith The Lord” when He actually did not and people can not even tell the difference. It becomes fertile soil for cultish errors to grow.

5. Man made rules start defining us

A holiness that springs from God’s clear Word is always positive, but a pseudo-holiness based on extra-biblical rules always corrupts. We had better check and see if what we vociferously proclaim actually can be found on the pages of the Bible. To be known as the group that doesn’t allow ____ may mean we are already a card-carrying member of a cult.

6. We overlook abusive behavior

There are things I have knowledge of (many email and Facebook messages by this 50th article) that are absurd and should be seen instantly as unacceptable and unchristian, yet they go on day after day. Some folks are chewed up and spit out on the ground, but the abusers just turn to a new victim without ever being held accountable.

7. Our Christianity doesn’t resemble Christ

There are many who would define for us exactly what Christianity ought to look like, but does it resemble what Jesus did those 3 1/2 years He ministered on this earth? If it doesn’t, I think you have your answer!

There may be other items that could be added to this list, and readers may very well add them in the comments section, but these seven alone would probably be enough to tell you if you have drifted into a cult.

Find all articles in the series here.

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The Radical Disciple by John Stott

I love a simple, yet profound, challenge for my Christian life. I love a devotional work with enough bite to deliver that challenge. John Stott’s final volume is just such a work.

He covers eight areas that he feels are “some neglected aspects of our calling”. Short, sweet, and inspiring, these chapters carry more punch than their size suggested.

His first chapter entitled “Noncormity” was extraordinary. In only eleven pages he wove the ideas of escapism and conformism being forbidden, the failure of pluralism, materialism, and relativism, and ugliness of narcissism in a meaningful way. He explained how self-love is a sign of the last days. The next chapter on Christlikeness was moving in that he wrote from the perspective that “God wants his people to become like Christ, for Christlikeness is the will of God for the people of God.

In the chapter on maturity he answers the question about what is the best description of Christianity today. What is that answer? “Growth without depth.” Wow! Could it be better stated? That whole chapter was memorable.

I really couldn’t connect on the next two chapters, but the rest of the chapter more than compensated for the two I felt of little worth. After these two, he got back on track.

The final two on dependence and death were as compelling as any I have read. Dependence, even in a declining health situation, can be a good thing. His own suffering punctuated the words that made sense even if we must begrudgingly admit it. His chapter on death would not have meant as much written by a young man. He would die within two years of writing this chapter. He stared down death as one safe in Jesus and I was moved as I read it.

Reasonably priced, not too long, but a real spiritual treat–I recommend this as a treasure.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

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