Book Review – Salvation by Grace: The Case for Effectual Calling and Regeneration (Matthew Barrett)

Matthew Barrett. Salvation by Grace: The Case for Effectual Calling and Regeneration. Philllipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2014. xxix+388 pp. $24.99.

monMonergistic versus synergistic regeneration is perhaps the key distinction between Calvinism and Arminiansm. Not only that, but the glory of God is very much at stake in this debate – it’s not just theoretical and academic. While monergistic regeneration (alternatively known as “effectual calling” or “irresistible grace”) is, in the words of B. B. Warfield, “the hinge of Calvinistic soteriology,” this doctrine seems to be significantly in the shadows of predestination/election in contemporary literature. I was therefore very eager to read Matthew Barrett’s book Salvation by Grace, an entire lengthy book dedicated to monergism. This book is an abridged version of Barrett’s doctoral dissertation completed at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary under Thomas Schreiner. The full dissertation is sold by P&R as an ebook entitled Reclaiming Mongergism: The Case for Sovereign Grace in Effectual Calling and Regeneration.

Overview

The thesis of this project will argue that the biblical view is that God’s saving grace is monergistic – meaning that God acts alone to effectually call and monergistically regenerate the depraved sinner from death to new life – and therefore effectual calling and regeneration causally precede conversion in the ordo salutis, thereby ensuring that all of the glory in salvation belongs to God not man. Stated negatively, God’s grace is not synergistic – meaning that God cooperates with man, giving man the final, determining power to either accept or resist God’s grace – which would result in an ordo salutis where regeneration is causally conditioned upon man’s free will in conversion and, in the Calvinist’s opinion, would rob God of all the glory in salvation.

(xxvi)

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Music Monday – Heaven Song (Phil Wickham)

Phil Wickham is one of my favorite contemporary worship artists, and I think Heaven Song is one of his most underrated songs. I absolutely love this song – when it first came out I played it on repeat every day for weeks. I honestly don’t know if it’s because this is truly that amazing of a song, or if my love for it has much to do with the fact that the subject matter is so neglected in contemporary Christian music. It’s no “Lo He Comes With Clouds Descending” lyrically, but I still think it’s a beautiful song. And it expresses in a simple way my heart’s longing for the return of Christ and the age to come.

Slapped by Mike Bird with a Soggy Fish

In the preface to his new book The Gospel of the Lord: How the Early Church Wrote the Story of Jesus, Michael Bird dedicates the book to N. T. Wright and recounts the significance of reading the following in Wright’s Jesus and the Victory of God: “For many conservative theologians it would have been sufficient if Jesus had been born of a virgin (at any time in human history, and perhaps from any race), lived a sinless life, died a sacrificial death, and risen again three days later.” Bird goes on to write,

Reading those words felt like being slapped in the face with a very soggy fish. That was exactly how I read the Gospels. They beheld Jesus, the Lord of Glory, the propitiatory sacrifice of Paul’s theology, but they were just the hors d’oeuvres to Paul’s meaty theology of atonement and justification.1

Well, call this soggy-fishception, or slapception, because reading Bird’s account of feeling slapped in the face with a soggy fish slapped me hard in the face with a soggy fish. The Gospels as the  hors d’oeuvres to Paul’s meaty theology of atonement and justification describes perfectly how I viewed the Gospels for the majority of my Christian life. Actually, I must confess that I am still trying to weed out this attitude. Prior to this year I was all about Paul, but this year I’ve focused my readings on Jesus and the Gospels. Check out the video below for the scoop on The Gospel of the Lord, straight from the Bird’s beak.

 

1. Michael F. Bird, The Gospel of the Lord: How the Early Church Wrote the Story of Jesus (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2014), x.

Book Review – And So To Bed…A Biblical View of Sleep (Adrian Reynolds)

Adrian Reynolds. And So To Bed…A Biblical View of Sleep. Scotland, UK: Christian Focus, 2014. 96 pp. $7.99.

sleepI rarely read “Christian Living” books because most of the time they just don’t interest me. But when And So To Bed…A Biblical View of Sleep first came across my radar, I knew I had to read it. But I was also afraid to read it. I knew it was a book I needed to read because, well, I suck at sleeping. I’m a recovering insomniac, and prior to reading this book my view of sleep was pretty distorted. When I was an atheist, I was pretty content sleeping as little as possible – when this life is all there is, of course it makes sense that one would want to maximize the time and “sleep” when you’re dead. But after becoming a Christian, my perspective on sleep didn’t really change – “there’s so much to do. I’ll catch up on sleep in the age to come, when I won’t even need it.” As you can see, though I don’t enjoy being tired all the time, I’ve never really minded being an insomniac. But….I knew my perspective on sleep wasn’t right. And that brings me to why I was afraid to read this book – I was afraid that reading this book would ruin my productivity (if you spend more time sleeping and trying to fall asleep, of course you have less time to get things done). But I knew I had a problem, and I knew that I needed to read this book.

Adrian Reynolds wrote And So To Bed…because he could not find a single Christian book on sleep; nor could he find an entry in the Dictionary of Pastoral Theology. This short, little book fills the lacuna and provides a brief yet robust popular-level look at what the Bible says about sleep. The central thesis of this book is that “Sleep is part of our created humanity, a good gift from God to be treasured and enjoyed; an earthly picture of a spiritual reality” (10). The first chapter takes a general look at sleep, pointing out physical and psychological effects of sleep deprivation. Chapter 2 dwells on sleep as part of our created humanity and a good gift from God. Chapters 3 and 4 are the heart of the book, taking us through many Scriptures to summarize a biblical picture of sleep. Chapter 3 shows that sleep is a sign of trust in God, and here the author also exhorts the reader to both pray for good sleep and to thank God for sleep. I do remember years ago praying for God to help me establish good sleep patterns, but I haven’t prayed for good sleep in years. I appreciated the reminder to both pray and thank God for sleep. Chapter 4 is very rich spiritually as well, looking at sleep as an earthly picture of a spiritual reality – sleeping and waking are symbolic of death and resurrection.

Chapter 5 is very practical, addressing what to do when sleep eludes us. Here, as Reynolds does several times in the book, he reminds the reader that though this book focuses on the spiritual, there may be other reasons why people can’t sleep well. I appreciate that Reynolds does not discount or ignore the “non-spiritual” aspects, reasons both practical and medical, physical and psychological. However, Reynolds notes well that we are holistic beings, and that you can’t easily separate the spiritual from the physical. He argues that sleep is not less than a spiritual issue, and makes a good case that I agree with. So this chapter addresses practical/environmental strategies for getting better sleep, takes a look at common physical and psychological causes of bad sleep, and of course, focuses on the spiritual aspect of sleep. The chapter presents 5 “solutions” to the problem of not getting good sleep. The book concludes with a chapter that reiterates the thesis, especially emphasizing sleep as pointing to death and being in the presence of Jesus. The chapter ends with a prayer about sleep from the Valley of Vision

And So To Bedis a quick and easy read and the only book I know of that presents a biblical view of sleep. It’s very short and very simple, and so my only criticism is that I wish it was longer and went deeper. However, this is a great introduction to the matter, and should be the go-to book for anyone looking for a quick read on a biblical perspective of sleep. I’d say this is a book every Christian should read, because we don’t really think about sleep; at least, not in spiritual terms. But it’s much more spiritual than we tend to realize, both in terms of the physical act and what the act ultimately points to.

Purchase: Amazon

Thanks to Christian Focus for the review copy!

Book Log: September 2014

  1. The Deep Things of God: How the Trinity Changes Everything – Fred Sanders. In this book, a sytematic theologian specializing in Trinitarian theology brings his excellent scholarship to the masses in a popular-level introduction to Trinitarianism. Sanders shows how the Trinity is the Gospel and how Christ-centeredness and Trinity-centeredness go hand-in-hand, even though evangelicals tend to emphasize the former and neglect the latter. Through it all, and with specific chapters devoted to Bible study and prayer, Sanders demonstrates how the Trinity changes everything for the Christian. Full review here.
  2. From Messiah to Preexistent Son – Aquila Lee. This is a more affordable republishing by Wipf & Stock of a WUNT II monograph from Mohr Siebeck. From Messiah to Preexistent Son is a revised version of Aquila Lee’s doctoral dissertation at the University of Aberdeen under I. Howard Marshall. With a conviction of strict Jewish monotheism and timing that’s basically in agreement with the “Early High Christology Club,” Lee’s thesis in this study is that “at the root of the pre-existent Son Christology lies the early Christian exegesis of Ps 110:1 and Ps 2:7 (the catalyst) in the light of Jesus’ self-consciousness of divine sonship and divine mission (the foundation)” (34). This is a must-read for any with interest in the origin and development of Christology, especially those who identify with the EHCC. Full review here.
  3. Making Sense of the Bible: Rediscovering the Power of Scripture Today – Adam Hamilton. Adam Hamilton, founding pastor of the largest United Methodist Church in the U.S., has written Making Sense of the Bible – Rediscovering the Power of Scripture Today to help the average person in the pew make sense of the Bible. However, I would not at all recommend this book to the target audience. Troubling assertions about the nature of the Bible abound (such as its inspiration being no different than how a pastor today might be inspired in the writing of a sermon), all leading up to the practical issues in the second part (such as a case for homosexual “marriage).” For those familiar with mainline thought, this book presents nothing new. For those unaware, this book is confusing at best and dangerous at worst. Full review at Grace for Sinners.
  4. What’s Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done – Matt Perman.  This is a productivity book that every Christian needs to read, whether one is unconcerned about maximizing productivity or one has read tons of productivity books. That is because there is very little Christian teaching on productivity, and all the productivity books are from a secular perspective. Perman does offer a GTD system in part 2, drawing from the best of the world’s teaching, research, and methodology, but grounded in a robust theology with gospel at the center, to which the first part is devoted. Full review here.
  5. A Theology for the Church – Daniel Akin, ed. The distinguishing feature of this introductory theology is that it’s integrative. One-volume introductions to systematic theology abound, and publication is not stopping; but integrative theologies are rare, especially ones that are lay-accessible and geared toward the church. Such is this theology – written by some of the finest Baptist theologians of our day, all with passion for God and passion for the Church, examining the core doctrines of the Christian faith from biblical, historical, systematic, and practical perspectives. A must-have introductory theology text for pastors and laymen alike. Full-review here.

Many thanks to Crossway, Wipf&Stock, HarperOne, Zondervan, and B&H Academic for these review books!

 

Book Review – A Theology for the Church (Daniel Akin ed.)

Daniel L. Akin, ed. A Theology for the Church, Revised Edition. Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2014. 770 pp. $54.99.

theologyEvery time I say I’m not going to read another introductory systematic theology I read another one; and I have never regretted it. Last year it was Michael Bird’s Evangelical Theology, this year it was A Theology for the Church edited by Daniel Akin. There are several distinguishing features of A Theology for the Church. One is the length – at 728 pages not including backmatter, this volume is considerably shorter than typical one-volume systematic theologies (which are over 1,000 pages), making this volume more accessible – less daunting and easier to get through for those not accustomed to reading such tomes. Another is that every chapter is written by a different person and the whole book is from a Baptist perspective (though competing views are always presented fairly).

Thirdly, this volume was written by churchmen for the Church. Systematic theology is often perceived as dry, academic, and irrelevant by those without an affinity for the discipline. But many systematic theologies by evangelicals who love the Church and see doctrine as fuel for doxology and orthopraxy do convey that in their tomes (e.g. Grudem ends each of his chapters with a memory verse and a hymn). However, in this volume implications on the Christian life and mission are much more explicit than is typical, and recur much more frequently. In the midst of teaching on the various doctrines, authors frequently exhort the reader to know and love God more and to participate in His mission. This unique emphasis can be explicitly seen in the fact that every chapter ends with a section entitled “How Does This Doctrine Impact the Church Today?

Perhaps the most significant distinguishing feature/strength of A Theology for the Church is that it’s not actually a systematic theology as I had expected: it’s an integrative theology. “The present volume is born out of the conviction that a theology for the church should integrate the historical, biblical, philosophical, systematic, and practical aspects of theology as it seeks to achieve a unified, coherent, contextual, and compelling account of the Christian message” (46). Integrative theologies are much rarer than volumes that treat a specific discipline, and typically one must read a different book on each discipline (e.g. many read Grudem’s Systematic Theology at over 1000 pages and Allison’s Historical  Theology at over 700 pages, and that leaves several other facets unexplored). To have a one-volume integrative theology at just over 700 pages that is so accessibly written and geared toward the Church is truly a blessing.

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Book Review – What’s Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done (Matt Perman)

Matt Perman. What’s Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014. 352 pp. $19.99.

WBN

“It is odd that there is so little Christian teaching on productivity because, as Christians, we believe the gospel changes everything – how we go about our home life, work life, church life, community life, everything. Yet there has been little Christian reflection on how the gospel changes the way we get things done – something that affects all of us every day. In fact, good productivity practices are often downplayed in the church at the altar of overspiritualization” (Perman 18, emphasis original).

Matt Perman calls his approach to productivity “Gospel-Driven Productivity” (GDP). GDP is “centered on what the Bible has to say about getting things done while at the same time learning from the best secular thinking out there – and seeking to do this with excellence and original thought, rather than simply taking over secular ideas and adding out-of-context Bible verses” (28).

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Overcoming Sin and Temptation: Three Classic Works by John Owen (Kelly Kapic & Justin Taylor, ed.)

Kelly M. Kapic and Justin Taylor, ed. Overcoming Sin and Temptation: Three Classic Works by John Owen. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2006. 464 pp. $24.00

overcoming“Be killing sin or it will be killing you.” This is perhaps the most famous sentence ever penned by John Owen; you hear it in sermons, you see it on Reformed t-shirts…but probably most in our day who have heard this quote have never read any of Owens’s works. Owens is notoriously difficult to read and understand, and yet virtually all who have done the hard work to read through any of his writings attest to significant impact of his thought.

In the forward to Overcoming Sin and Temptation: Three Classic Works by John Owen edited by Kelly Kapic and Justin Taylor, John Piper writes:

Owen is especially worthy of our attention because he is shocking in his insights. That is my impression again and again. He shocks me out of my platitudinous ways of thinking about God and man…Owen loves the cross and knows what happened there better than anyone I have read. The battle with sin that you are about to read about is no superficial technique of behavior modification. It is a profound dealing with what was accomplished on the cross in relation to the supernatural working of the Holy Spirit through the deep and wonderful mysteries of faith.

(Kapic & Taylor 13)

This volume was published in order to reintroduce John Owen to the contemporary church and brings together three of Owens’s classic works on sin and temptation: Of the Mortification of Sin in Believers, Of Temptation: The Nature and Power of It, and Indwelling Sin. Besides reading these works as originally written, the main prior options were abridgements or paraphrases. This volume is therefore unique, offering an unabridged version that is slightly updated in order to make these classic works more accessible to the modern reader. The editing work does not in any way take away from Owens’s original prose, but offers many additional helps in footnotes, parentheses, etc. In the preface, Justin Taylor notes the following changes:

  • provided overviews of the thesis and arguments for all three books
  • footnoted difficult vocabulary words or phrases (at their first occurrence in each book) and collected them into a glossary
  • Americanized the British spelling (e.g., behaviour to behavior)
  • updated archaic pronouns (e.g., thou to you)
  • updated other archaic spellings (e.g., hath to have; requireth to requires)
  • updated some archaic word forms (e.g., concernments to concerns, surprisals to surprises)
  • corrected the text in places where the nineteenth-century edition incorrectly deviated from the original
  • modernized some of the punctuation
  • placed Owen’s Scripture references in parentheses
  • added our own Scripture references in brackets when Owen quotes or alludes to a passage but does not provide a reference
  • transliterated all Hebrew and Greek words, and provided a translation if Owen didn’t provide one
  • translated all Latin phrases that Owen leaves untranslated
  • provided sources for quotations and allusions where possible
  • removed Owen’s intricate numbering system, which functioned as an extensive outline
  • added headings and italics throughout this volume, and extensive outlines of our own at the end, to aid the reader in following the flow of Owen’s thought

(Kapic & Taylor 17-18)

This volume is truly a gift to the modern church and should be read and re-read by every Christian who has not read these three classic works or struggles in reading the originals. Especially in our day of easy-believism, these compelling and insightful writings on sin, temptation, and the believer’s call to holiness need to be widely read.

Purchase: Westminster | Amazon

One-Year Blogiversary (Of Sorts)

I’ve noticed that many bloggers write posts for their blogiversary, and I wanted to do the same. However, I had no idea how to determine when my blogiversary was. Like many in my generation, my first foray into blogging was as an angsty teen (and I was a heathen, I might add!) through the medium of Xanga (if you had a Xanga, comment and tell me about it!). Well, about halfway through undergrad I got saved. And I continued to blog on and off in essentially the same way. But I never blogged very regularly – sometimes I’d write a few posts a months, and sometimes I’d blog pretty regularly for a few months and then not post at all for many months.

That all changed exactly one year ago – the day on which I posted my first book review. In this past year, I’ve posted 60 book reviews and published 154 posts in total. And so, I’ve decided to commemorate September 21 as my blogiversary. Since my blogging in this past year has been mainly driven by book reviews, it’s also a perfect time to reflect on the “life” of book reviewing.

A year ago I had no idea that publishers send bloggers free books to simply review them on their blogs. My introduction to the world of reviewing for free books was actually through an email from Westminster Books announcing that Crossway had given them advanced electronic copies of Kevin DeYoung’s then forthcoming book, Crazy Busy, to pass on to some who would be willing to review it. Having no idea that bloggers can get free (print) review books, I thought I had received a windfall of a good fortune (I mean, providence. of course.). A few weeks later, Zondervan Academic announced a blog tour for Michael Bird’s then forthcoming Evangelical Theology and I was chosen. I couldn’t believe it – a big, print, systematic theology book.

Through these two experiences I connected to a few “big time” reviewers and discovered that this was a thing – that there were bloggers who could get pretty much any book they wanted for free (at the end of this post I’ll link to some helpful posts for those who want to get started in book reviewing, or current reviewers who would like to write better reviews). Well, being the bibliophile that I am, this was one of the most exciting revelations of my life and I jumped right on the reviewing boat. It took a few months to build my “cred” a bit – initially I mainly joined blog tours, signed up for official blogging programs, and suffered some digital review copies. I didn’t even try direct requests because I knew they’d get rejected without a decent history of reviews and subscribers/traffic.

And so, my pickins were slim – and this is almost always the case when you first get started. Though most of the books I reviewed in the early days were good books, a lot of them I would not have reviewed if it wasn’t for the fact that I was jumping on every review book I could get – like I said, when you first start out you usually don’t have a lot of options, and you need to build up your review history and blog stats. But within just a few months, I hit a turning point – 1) I started sending direct requests to publishers for books I really wanted and was actually getting some of them; and 2) I found myself with way more books than I could comfortably handle in a timely manner. And so, I got pickier about what books I requested and accepted for review. Whereas I started out pretty much reviewing every book I could get for free, I now only review books I really want to read – if it’s a book I wouldn’t purchase or at least try to procure from the library, I’m not going to review it.

This policy has worked well thus far, but I’ll have to get even pickier soon. I’ve averaged 5 reviews a month in this my first year, but I’m going to taper off big time as I get ready for formal education. While I initially started reviewing to get free books (which is pretty much why we all start, but it’s still not a good idea), I came to appreciate it for the way it forces me to read slower, think harder, and interact more with what I read. But it still doesn’t change the fact that reviewing takes time and is not always easy if you want to review well. But besides the personal benefits mentioned above, another reason why I will continue writing book reviews is that I find great satisfaction when my reviews help those who are considering whether to read/buy a book.

While I will continue to blog book reviews, I anticipate that this next year will see less reviews and hopefully more interactions with books and more original content.

Resources for Reviewing (these are from some of my favorite bloggers that regularly write book reviews. When I’m trying to decide whether to read a book, I always look to see whether these guys have reviewed it.)

  • Obtaining Review Books” by Nick Norelli. I call Nick the “Grandaddy of book reviewing,” and I always refer people to this post when they ask me how they can get review books.
  • How to Write a Great Book Review” by Aaron Armstrong. Aaron’s Canadian. His reviews and articles are a great example of common grace :P
  • Reviewing the Life of Book Reviewing” by Nate Claiborne. This is a series Nate just started, and with the way it’s planned, it’s going to be very comprehensive and very helpful, covering in detail how to obtain review books, how to read, interact, and write good reviews, as well as lessons Nate has learned throughout his years of prolific reviewing.

Book Review – From Messiah to Preexistent Son (Aquila Lee)

Aquila H. I. Lee. From Messiah to Preexistent Son (Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen Zum Neuen Testament). Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2009. 388 pp. $40.00.

AILeeThis book is a revised version of Aquila Lee’s doctoral dissertation at the University of Aberdeen under I. Howard Marshall. Originally published in 2005 by Mohr Siebeck in the prestigious monograph series WUNT II and retailing at $147.50, this reprint by Wipf & Stock at a much more accessible price is a blessing to all who have a scholarly interest in early Christology.

With a conviction of strict Jewish monotheism and timing that’s basically in agreement with the “Early High Christology Club,” Lee’s thesis in this study is that “at the root of the pre-existent Son Christology lies the early Christian exegesis of Ps 110:1 and Ps 2:7 (the catalyst) in the light of Jesus’ self-consciousness of divine sonship and divine mission (the foundation)” (34). Lee’s study pays attention not just to Jewish precedents for early Christology but also to contributions by members of the early Christian community because of the overemphasis on the former in recent scholarship, thereby offering a more balanced account of the origin and development of early Christology.

After an introductory chapter, Chapters 2 and 3 looks at Jewish traditions concerning intermediary figures, examining whether these traditions provided the real precedent in the early church for viewing Jesus as a divine, pre-existent being alongside God. Chapter 2 concerns “personified divine attributes” and investigates how the Wisdom of God, the Word of God, and the Name of God were understood in the Old Testament and Second Temple Judaism. Here Lee helpfully points out the ambiguity and lack of scholarly consensus concerning the term “divine hypostasis” – whereas some (like Ehrman in his recent book How Jesus Became God) use it to designate a semi-divine being separate from God, others use the term to mean nothing more than a literary personification of an attribute of God. Lee pleads for a clear distinction to be kept between “personified divine attribute” and “divine hypostasis” and cogently argues that Wisdom, Word, and Name were understood as the former and not the latter in the Old Testament and Second Temple Judaism.

Chapter 3 deals with Jewish speculations about exalted angels and a pre-existent messiah and argues that these beings did not blur the distinction between God and intermediary beings, but that like personified divine attributes, they “offered the Second Temple Jews a variety of religious language to speak about God’s presence, manifestation, and action in the world without calling into question his transcendence and uniqueness” (85). Therefore, it’s most likely that there was not a concept of a pre-existent messiah prior to Christianity for the early church to readily apply to Jesus. Both these chapters demonstrate that Second Temple Judaism was strongly monotheistic.

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