Review: What is Biblical Theology from Crossway

91m5PXXgKRL._SL1500_“To do biblical theology is to think about the whole story of the bible.” James Hamilton Jr. makes this pretty clear statement for a book which explains the complex intricacies that even learned scholars debate over. What is Biblical Theology? A Guide to the Bible’s Story, Symbolism, and Patterns is a “Theology for dummies” version of a thicker, more scholarly work which Hamilton has produced, called God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment. Hamilton has condensed more than 400 pages of his previous volume in an attempt to bring a broader readership under the banner that is biblical theology (BT).

From the outset Hamilton lays out for us a primary aim of BT which is to, “understand and embrace the worldview of the biblical authors”. More easily spoken then grasped, though he does an excellent job of making the Bible come alive for those who may have had no previous handling of this aspect of theology. Hamilton walks the readers through 3 sections which encompass the Bible’s Big Story, The Bible’s Symbolic Universe, and the Bible’s Love Story. Throughout his explanation of what exactly BT is, Hamilton equates this practice with others found in theology like Apologetics and Historical Theology. He shows the reader that BT truly stands alone as a theology but it cannot be separated from other forms of theology which feed off each other.

In finding a point to anchor on, Hamilton mentions two separate sentences when, understood together, are very much the same thing. On page 39 he tells us, “The whole story of the Bible hinges on the death and resurrection of Jesus to accomplish redemption, and it will culminate in the return of Jesus in judgment to consummate his kingdom”. Merely two pages later he makes note that the central theme of the whole Bible can be found in the way God gets his glory in saving sinners through his judgment. He also notes that, “As God brings salvation through judgment, just serves as the dark cloth on which God will display the diamond of mercy”, which in itself is a statement which summarizes the rest of his short volume.

As he walks us through the text of the Bible from Moses to Revelation, Hamilton makes frequent stops to make sure the reader is able to take in the whole panorama which we have just taken photos of. He wants to make sure that the reader is aware of the interplay various texts play. He is always connecting the dots for us in a way that brings to light the deep truths of scripture with the practical applications they elicit. Hamilton breaks down the symbols for us in a way that we begin to see glimpses of Christ through every text and symbol which has been laid down for us in scripture.

As we come to the end of the trail we see the church as the Bride and Jesus as the all-sufficient Groom of the Church. We see our part in the storyline of the Bible, and it is glorious. We see a redemption planned for us before the foundations of the world and foreknown to God in such an intimate way that he gave us complete access to him through the sacrifice of his Son on the cross. In Christ we see the fullness of God dwelling bodily and we certainly glimpse the glory of God in the face of Christ. One thing I did notice in the epilogue was that most of the books Hamilton recommends for study are very Baptist and New Calvinist leaning. He leaves out guys like Geerhardus Vos whose work Biblical Theology helped transform the study of BT in the 20th century. I understand his intention of making such a short list. If he were to include the entire corpus of BT out there his book would have been twice the size. The study of BT is an essential part of any Christian believers life and I pray that this book would be used as a stepping stone to more in-depth study of not only BT, but of the whole bible as a center point for theology.

 What is Biblical Theology? A Guide to the Bible’s Story, Symbolism, and Patterns
James M. Hamilton Jr./Crossway, 2014
Review Copy Courtesy of Beyond the Page Review Program

Review: A Call to Resurgence from Mark Driscoll

A-Call-to-Resurgence-hi-resOnce again Mark Driscoll has found his way into headlines with, what is now old news. Whether he is at the top of the NY best-seller list or in the midst of giving away his books at the Strange Fire conference, Driscoll has a way of getting underneath people’s skin. Former lead dog for the Acts 29 network and pastor of Mars Hill, Mark Driscoll has written A Call to Resurgence: Will Christianity Have a Funeral or a Future? to battle the decline of Christianity in America. That may be the intention here, but this book feels more like a compilation of chapters from previous books than it does like a new one.

As i began this book most of what came to mind as I read was this vision of Driscoll, behind the pulpit, slamming his fist into the nice cherry wood top and yelling at the top of his lungs to his congregation that Christianity was being taken of life support. That’s how this book opens, with a clarion call to Christians everywhere to wake up and begin to see that we are in radical decline and will soon pass away unless something is done. The first three chapters sound like a railing against every issue that is wrong within the church. It ranges from issues like homosexuality to laziness, Barack Obama to abortion and beyond.

When we get to chapter 4 what happens is basically a synthesizing of his book Doctrine. Beyond this chapter most things seem like a cut and paste from his earlier work, though there is some original thought to be found in these latter chapters. Driscoll is clearly passionate about the gospel and that comes through in his preaching and the way he combats the false ideas of the day. I feel, however, that this book is a metaphor of the boy who cried wolf; We hear that the bad guy is coming, but we’ve been less than enamored with Driscoll for some time now and when the downfall comes I fear that we will have missed his heart for the true message of the gospel.

His writing is often hard-hitting and that sense falls equally among churched and unchurched alike. He leaves no stone unturned and fails to stand for a nominal Christianity. I believe he is unfairly criticized for his view on the Holy Spirit and the operation he performs on every believer. He is criticized in other ways which I tend to agree with, for example, his being a 4-point Calvinist, which is clearly an oxymoron. He offers a trumpet blast in this call for resurgence, but if I may be so bold, is anyone listening anymore?

A Call to Resurgence: Will Christianity Have a Funeral or a Future?
Mark Driscoll/Tyndale House Publishers 
Review Copy Courtesy of the Tyndale Blog Network

Review: Daughters in Danger from Nelson Books

81y5gTa86yL._SL1500_The issue of gender roles has been dumped on the American public and many are at a loss of what to do and how to handle the current situations facing the family. Our daughters face an uncertain future unless there are those who are willing to step in and put in some effort to end the bleakness that looms on the horizon. Daughters in Danger was written as a humble attempt by Elayne Bennett, M.ED., for the purpose of allowing our sons and daughters to realize that their dreams do not have to fit in this culture we live in. They don’t have to stifle their dreams in order to become something they are not. This is Elayne’s attempt to shed some light on a story which has dwelt behind the curtains and has crept in the darkness for far too long.

The pages of this volume are filled with first hand experiences of women all over the country who face a waterfall of moral depravity which surrounds them daily. Elayne begins by describing the context we stand in and how we got to this place. She uncovers the feminist misdirection and the, almost religion-like, new sexual regime. She then transitions from who we can blame to who we turn to for help. She nails the home life down as the main component in turning the corner. She asks questions of brothers and sisters, moms and dads, universities and peer groups, that you don’t find floating around in these very different contexts.

This book plays out like an independent film documenting the decline of women and then, somewhere near the middle, begins to build up a case of how we can pull back on the yoke and correct this fatal nose dive. Her writing is clear and concise, filled with scripture and sound advice. She includes statistics from a program she developed called Best Friends, which at times sounds more like an advertisement than a helpful anecdote. The information is more along the lines of a self-help manual laying out steps to healing than it does like a narrative of the depravity of humanity, though at times it does include very helpful information regarding daughters today.  It’s books like this that show that the home is truly the best environment for growth and safety for our young daughters and I’m appreciative of Elayne for pointing that out, even in a culture who largely does not.

Daughters in Danger: Helping Our Girls Thrive in Today's Culture
Elayne Bennett, M.ED./Nelson Books, 2014
Review Copy Courtesy of the BookLook Bloggers Review Program

Review: Titus for You from The Good Book Company

When you think of a commentary on any particular book of the bible, images of large volumes written in mostly unspoken languages begin to stir something of a bad taste in your mouth.  That’s the way it’s been for a while now. High and lofty scholars sitting in prestigious academic offices have written on the scriptures, ideas often far beyond the understanding of the normal everyday Christian. There is some hope out there, however, which brings the basic truths of God’s word into the hands of the Christian who doesn’t know Greek, Hebrew, or Aramaic. Enter the Good Book Company and its new set of commentaries, Gods Word for You.

Tim Chester, part of the church-planting initiative The Crowded House, has compiled a small and easily understandable on a crucial epistle, Titus. Titus for You. In more of a devotional style than a commentary, this series brings the truths of the bible into bite-sized chunks which are great for personal study or a group setting. fytitus_hb_large.wdf4j3nwwrwswtopwuqvtkcmop27vjeyThis particular volume on Titus gathers the storyline of Titus to include it in the larger story of the New Testament and even reaches to that of the Old Testament. Chester gives us a broad fly over view of the epistle which one could glean from a couple of readings of the Epistle itself.

The language in this volume is clear and concise, not leading the reader astray with complex theological terms or a Greek diagram of the text. Chester writes in such a way that new believers will greatly benefit from this material and small group leaders would be well-instructed in the basics of Paul’s letter to young Titus. Along with the other volumes currently in circulation and those yet to come from The Good Book Company, this set is an extremely useful set for churches and individuals alike. It’s hard to read one of the volumes without the context of the other volumes but a good reading of this short volume would certainly not hurt.

With big names like Tim Keller and Tim Chester, who currently have published volumes, and Mark Dever and Thabiti Anyabwile, who have volumes on the way, this set is surely set to rise above other commentary sets. These bible expositors have taught many over the fruitful years of their ministry, not by making the text overly complicated but by presenting the text in such a way so that the whole church is built up from the greatest to the least.

I have enjoyed reading through this volume, along with all the other published volumes I own, and reliving the storyline of the epistles. I think sometimes we try to make the text too far beyond the reach of ordinary guys like me and so I appreciate it when great PH.D’s can bring the text into my home so that I can share it with my children and friends in an understandable manner. I commend this book for new believers and small groups everywhere.

Titus For You
Tim Chester/The Good Book Company, 2014
Review Copy Courtesy of Cross Focused Reviews

Review: Worshipping with Calvin, New from Evangelical Press.

81pxoMH98fLIn 2009 David Van Biema wrote an article for Time Magazine which included The New Calvinism as one of the “10 Ideas Changing the World Right Now”. In it, Van Biema, writes, “If you want to follow the development of conservative Christianity, track its musical hits”. If he only knew the power that statement would contain in a new age of Christian music. On the one hand we have the Christian Rap scene which includes fan favorites like Andy Mineo and Lecrae, and on the other hand we have music which elevates the experience more than the Christ we worship.

In Worshipping with Calvin, Terry Johnson lays out for the reader a historical view of the ministry and worship of Reformed Protestantism. In seeking to provide a good amount of contextual material, Johnson shows us some of the ideas which sparked the reformation. It is in these early chapters that the views of the Lord’s Supper come into play. Johnson compares the view of “the big three” denominations on the issue. He discusses the eucharist among the Romanists and the view Luther took on the subject.

He not only includes names like Bucer and Beza but we find Calvin commenting on the issue as well. Even where these men differ among themselves they are heartily agreed to the view that the Eucharist is, “a most unbearable blasphemy”. He makes good use of Calvin when he quotes from the Institutes. “The Lord has given us a Table at which to feast, not an altar upon to offer a victim; he has not consecrated priests to offer sacrifice, but ministers to distribute the sacred banquet.” Johnson follows up the quote with a synthesis of his own words. “The eucharist is a meal not a mass, a supper not a sacrifice, administered by a pastor, not a priest, on a table not an altar, and served to those who are seated (for a meal) not kneeling (in adoration). It is a gift received from God not a work offered to God”.

It is clearly set out from the beginning book that Reformed Protestantism has taken a stark stance over against the Roman Church. I’m all for these chapters and I heartily agree with the differences between the two views. Where Johnson lost me was when he related the story of modern worship services. While I don’t think Johnson goes this far, it seems as if he is saying that those who worship God with guitars and fancy lights are not really experiencing Christ but are really experiencing a sensory overload which can, at times, produce a sense of euphoria. While he doesn’t explicitly say that modern worship is sinful he does have to ask the question, “What are we missing?”

Johnson moves on from the contrasting of worship styles to a simple overview of how the Solas of the reformation impacted the worship found among Protestant Churches. He notes that the Continental Reformed Churches and the Protestant churches were in general agreement as to the type of worship which was to happen in their churches. They settled on what is called the regulative principle. The basic overview of the regulative principle is that we only worship according to what the Bible has prescribed to the church as a regular form or worship.

We move on from there into a section which shows us how Reformed Protestantism has distanced itself from the rest of the worshipping world. He shows the reader that a Protestant worship includes the singing of the Word, the preaching of the Word and a reading of the Word. He also notes those books on the back of the pews which are mostly for collecting dust over the week, a hymnal. While I see the importance in using the hymnal and singing the Psalms, I notice that, in an attempt not to sound heretical, culture no longer is moved towards Christ by the archaic language often found in the pages of those books. I personally love the beauty of the hymns and can see the benefit of them, but we no longer live in an age where a bare-walled church with a massive pipe organ and a robed choir does anything in the heart of the congregation.  Dare I say, Johnson makes the case for historical Protestantism in the same way John MacArthur has made the same case against anyone who thinks the Spirit still pours out gifts upon the people of God to this day.

This book is well written and contains a ton of historical latin references which are easily figured out from the context they are placed in. I appreciate the mention of the Common Book of Prayer and the lectio continua, but the new generations of Christians aren’t captivated in the same ways the old church was.  That’s not to say that the same God who worked back then is not the same God working today, I’m simply saying we must find new tactics to reach a new world of believers and non-believers alike. This book is an extremely helpful tool in understanding the various factors which the giants in the early church operated as far as worship and ministry are concerned. With that said, I also find in this book a cause for division among the Pentecostal tradition and the Reformed. Do we really need another issue to come and divide us when we are already so far apart?

 

Worshipping with Calvin: Recover the Historic Ministry and Worship of Reformed Protestantism
Terry Johnson/Evangelical Press, 2014
Review Copy Courtesy of Cross Focused Reviews