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Book Review – Salvation Applied by the Spirit: Union with Christ (Robert Peterson)

Robert A. Peterson. Salvation Applied by the Spirit: Union with Christ. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2014. 464 pp. $35.00.

Salvation Applied by the Spirit

Union with Christ was integral in the soteriology of the Reformers, and especially that of Calvin. As Marcus Peter Johnson notes in One With Christ, “when Calvin wrote of being united to Christ, he meant that believers are personally joined to the living, incarnate, crucified, resurrected Jesus…this union with Christ, which Calvin described in strikingly graphic and intimate terms, constituted for him the very essence of salvation. To be saved by Christ, Calvin kept insisting, means to be included in the person of Christ. That is what salvation is” (Johnson 12, emphasis original). And it wasn’t just a heady doctrine, either; for the Reformers, union with Christ had multifaceted implications for the life of the believer and the life of the Church. Many, myself included, can attest to a fundamental change in personal spirituality as well as approach to life and ministry upon discovering and plunging the depths of the doctrine of union with Christ. I’ve therefore been delighted by the steady stream of excellent books on the topic in recent years (e.g. R. Letham, J. Billings, M. Johnson, C. Campbell, G. Macaskill, etc), many written from a Reformed perspective. Naturally, I was very eager to read the latest offering from Robert Peterson, Salvation Applied by the Spirit: Union with Christ.

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Roman Catholic Theology and Practice: An Evangelical Assessment

Gregg R. Allison. Roman Catholic Theology and Practice: An Evangelical Assessment. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2014. 496 pp. $28.00.

AllisonA few weeks ago a friend asked me whether there were important theological distinctions between Protestantism and Roman Catholicism. After explaining some of the core differences, I recommended Dr. Allison’s latest book, Roman Catholic Theology and Practice. This is the first time I’ve ever had a book to recommend on this issue, for prior to Allison’s volume, there had not been a thorough, book-length evangelical treatment of Roman Catholic theology for decades.

Prior to this book I had known of Allison as a (historical) theologian (I purchased his Historical Theology years ago and highly recommend it as a supplement for those who study Grudem’s Systematic Theology), but I was not aware of his evangelistic passion for Roman Catholics and his ministry experience among them. I love the anecdote he recounts at the beginning of Roman Catholic Theology and Practice, of how he and his wife, shortly before getting married, had felt called to serve with Cru (formerly known as Campus Crusade for Christ) at Notre Dame; how they had struck out three times in trying to get placed there; and how they still ended up getting assigned there as their first campus. But beyond doing ministry at the most Catholic college campus in this country, the Allisons also served in Rome. One thing their story makes clear is that this book isn’t just a theoretical exercise; it’s not just the product of a theologian synthesizing research. Rather, this book is the product of the diligent research of an excellent theologian who, in addition, actually has direct experience with the subject matter and the people. Allison has two purposes for Roman Catholic Theology and Practice:

One purpose is to highlight the commonalities between Catholic and evangelical theology, agreements or similarities that prompt intrigue. These shared doctrines and practices—e.g., the Trinity; the full deity and full humanity of Jesus Christ; worship and prayer—need to be recognized and appreciated, and they lead to thanksgiving for a limited yet real unity between Catholicism and evangelicalism. The other purpose is to underscore the divergences between Catholic and evangelical theology—disagreements or dissimilarities that require critique. These doctrinal and practical disparities—e.g., apostolic succession, transubstantiation, the immaculate conception of Mary, praying for the dead in purgatory—are serious points of division that must be faced honestly and sorrowfully, yet with a humble conviction that avoids minimizing the substantive distance between Catholicism and evangelicalism.

(Allison 27)

This book walks through the Catechism of the Catholic Church section by section, first offering a summary and then an assessment from Scripture and evangelical theology. There is a concluding chapter dealing with ministry to Roman Catholics, showing, again, that this isn’t just theoretical; that ultimately, the purpose is the glory of God and the salvation of souls. Roman Catholic Theology and Practice is a valuable resource for the Church and is likely to become the definitive contemporary introductory guide for evangelicals desiring to understand what Roman Catholicism teaches, where key divergences with evangelical theology lie, and why it matters.

Purchase: Westminster | Amazon

I received a free digital copy of the book without obligation for providing a positive assessment.

Book Review – The Man Christ Jesus: Theological Reflections on the Humanity of Christ (Bruce Ware)

Bruce A. Ware. The Man Christ Jesus: Theological Reflections on the Humanity of Christ. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012. 288 pp. $15.99.

WareIn a rightful zeal for defending the full deity of Christ, evangelicals can be susceptible to the danger of downplaying His full humanity. The average Christian probably understands the meaning and significance of Christ’s deity much more than His humanity. But the latter is just as integral as the former to the mission Christ accomplished on the earth, and in The Man Christ Jesus, Ware demonstrates this biblically and theologically in a lay-accessible introduction to the humanity of Christ that is at the same time devotional, doxological, and practical.

Ware begins in Chapter 1 by focusing on the Christ-hymn of Philippians 2 to explain the kenosis. Then, in Chapter 2, he argues (while stressing Christ’s deity and Him living on earth as the God-man) that it is the humanity of Christ that was His primary reality in His day-to-day life on the earth. Chapters 3 and 4 flesh this out by exploring how Jesus increased in wisdom and grew in faith, respectively. While in His divine nature Christ had perfect wisdom and faith, in His human nature He grew in these areas through the Spirit working through “ordinary” means available to all of us. “He learned to obey increasingly difficult demands with their accompanying increasingly difficult opposition and affliction through the whole of his life, which prepared him for the greatest of all divine demands upon him and the greatest attending suffering he would or could ever experience” (p. 64, emphasis original).

In Chapter 5, Ware explores the question of how we can account for the genuineness of Christ’s temptations while holding to divine impeccability. Chapter 6 looks at the issue of why Christ had to come as a man and gives twelve theological reasons why His male gender was essential to His incarnational identity and mission. This chapter will likely ruffle egalitarian feathers. Chapter 7 expounds upon why Jesus had to be a human being in order to die the atoning death for our sins. This chapter goes into the issue of Christus Victor versus penal substitution and demonstrates how the latter is the grounds for the former. Finally, chapter 8 covers how the resurrection, reign, and return of Christ are all tied to His humanity, focusing especially on His reign because this is the area typically thought of in relation to His deity rather than humanity.

The Man Christ Jesus is an excellent book for the average person in the pew. Ware expounds upon deep, profound biblical truths in a lay-accessible way. There is also a devotional flavor, as Ware frequently exhorts the reader to marvel at the magnificent truths he is illuminating. This is refreshing and welcome, since devotional books tend to lack substance and theological books tend to lack doxology and exhortation. Furthermore, each chapter ends with practical points and discussion questions, making this a great book for small group study.

Purchase: Westminster | Amazon

I received a free digital copy of this book from Crossway in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review – Heaven (Christopher Morgan & Robert Peterson, ed.)

Christopher W. Morgan and Robert A. Peterson, ed. Heaven (Theology in Community). Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2014. 288 pp. $18.99.

HeavenHow often do you think about heaven? What comes to mind when you do think about the subject? Popular Christian conceptions of heaven range from misguided to bizarre. Many see heaven exclusively or mainly as the place Christians go when they die, and/or as a “boring” place of perpetual harp-playing on clouds and church services. Books on heaven that line the shelves of Christian bookstores are mainly stories of those who claim to have visited heaven (whether in a vision or in a story of dying and being brought back to life), but these depictions are often starkly different from the biblical picture. There is a great need for the average Christian to have a robust theology of heaven informed by the Bible as opposed to these popular but unbiblical books, and Heaven, the latest in Crossway’s Theology in Community Series, is the perfect resource for this need.

Like the other volumes in the series, Heaven brings together an all-star team of evangelical biblical scholars and theologians who love the church and are involved in various forms of ministry. This series offers one of the best examples of scholarship for the church, bridging the academy and the church. Top-rate scholarship is presented in an accessible package, providing robust content without much technical jargon. In the place of academic tangents that would seem irrelevant to the average person in the pew is practical content for the typical lay Christian.

After an introductory chapter, the next five chapters of Heaven surveys what the Bible says about the subject. “We need not wait until Revelation 21–22 to start seeing the heights of heaven. The whole Bible is the story of heaven above coming down to earth, deity coming down to humanity, grace coming down to the unde­serving, to lift them up” (43). Several of these chapters touch on inaugurated eschatology and correct the common misconception of a disembodied existence in heaven being the end goal of redemption.

After the biblical survey, Chapter 7, “Pictures of Heaven, traces five of Scripture’s most impor­tant pictures of heaven (heaven and earth, Sabbath rest, the kingdom of God, the presence of God, and the glory of God) through the four stages of the biblical storyline of creation, fall, redemption, and consummation. Next Chapter 8 presents an overview of how God’s people have historically understood the doctrine of heaven and chapter 9 addresses angels. Chapter 10 addresses an issue that tends to be far from our minds and hearts here in the west – persecution. This chapter draws out important connections between persecution and heaven, for “the primary pur­pose of biblical eschatology is neither to pander to our inquisitiveness about what will happen in the last days nor to inflame our greed for treasures in heaven but to encourage the faithful to persevere along the costly path of obedience” (227). The concluding chapter addresses the hope of heaven.

Heaven in the Theology in Community series is a book for all lay-Christians serious about their faith. It’s a book pastors, bible study leaders, and all involved in ministry and leadership should read and recommend to those they teach and lead. This book is an excellent introduction to the subject of heaven that is at once biblically/theologically profound and yet practical and accessible.

Purchase: Westminster | Amazon

I received a free digital copy of this book from Crossway in exchange for an honest review.

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

Book Review – The Deep Things of God: How the Trinity Changes Everything (Fred Sanders)

Fred Sanders. The Deep Things of God: How the Trinity Changes Everything. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010. 256 pp. $18.99.

sandersEvangelicalism is inherently Trinitarian and has robustly Trinitarian roots and history; yet the contemporary expression is marked by a tacit unawareness of God as Trinity and the Trinitarian nature of our great salvation. There’s both a conscious aversion (rooted in thinking that the doctrine is too complicated to understand and that the finer details are irrelevant) and a subconscious neglect (in the rightful evangelical focus on the saving work of Christ, we wrongly forget about the Father who elects believers and sends Christ, and the Spirit who applies redemption to the believer and unites him to Christ).

In The Deep Things of God: How the Trinity Changes Everything, Dr. Fred Sanders convincingly demonstrates that “the doctrine of the Trinity inherently belongs to the gospel itself” (9), and that the Trinity changes everything because the Trinity and the gospel are connected. A systematic theologian specializing in Trinitarian theology, Sanders brings his scholarly expertise to the masses in this accessible, popular-level book.

Because the gospel is Trinitarian, evangelicals as gospel people are by definition Trinity people, whether or not they think so. It only makes sense that if the gospel is inherently Trinitarian, the most consistently and self-consciously Trinitarian movement of Christians would be the movement that has named itself after the gospel, the evangel: evangelicalism.

(Sanders 10)

 

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Book Review – From Heaven He Came and Sought Her: Definite Atonement in Historical, Biblical, Theological, and Pastoral Perspective

David Gibson and Jonathan Gibson, ed. From Heaven He Came and Sought Her: Definite Atonement in Historical, Biblical, Theological, and Pastoral Perspective. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2013. 704 pp. $50.00.

fhAs the doctrines of grace (more commonly known as the “five points of Calvinism”) are being discovered, embraced, and cherished by scores of YRRs (or neo-Puritans, neo-Calvinists, neo-Dortians, or whatever your preferred designation/stripe), they are still generally disliked (and often misunderstood) by a majority of Christians. And perhaps all the other four doctrines combined don’t cause as much trouble as the middle petal – “limited atonement.” This no doubt has at least a little to do with the misleading designation, and as the subtext of From Heaven He Came and Sought Her implies and several of the contributors explicitly state, perhaps it’s time to call this flower (or at least the middle petal) by another name.

Overview
Long before its release this book was anticipated to become the definitive resource on definite atonement, and now, almost a year after its release, From Heaven He Came and Sought Her is living up to the hype. Boasting a veritable who’s who of contributors (e.g. Haykin, Trueman, Motyer, Schreiner, MacLeod, Letham, Piper, etc.), this volume consists of 23 chapters in four parts addressing definite atonement from the historical, biblical, theological, and pastoral perspectives.

By beginning with church history, we recognize that all contemporary reading of the Bible on the atonement is historically located. We are not hostages to past interpretations, nor do we need to pretend there is such a thing as tabula rasa (blank slate) exegesis. By carefully attending to Scripture, we seek to submit ourselves to what God has said. By moving from exegesis to theology, we claim that the diverse biblical parts demand the patient work of synthesis to portray the theological whole. By concluding with pastoral practice, we aim to show the implications of the Bible’s teaching for the church’s ministry and mission. So while the discipline of doctrinal thinking is never less than the ordering of all that the Bible has to say on a given subject, it is also much more.

(Gibson & Gibson, 38)

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A Biblico-Systematic Approach to Overcoming the Definite Atonement Impasse

I’m almost finished with From Heaven He Came and Sought Her: Definite Atonement in Historical, Biblical, Theological, and Pastoral Perspective. Jonathan Gibson’s chapters (Part II, Definite Atonement in the Bible) were among my favorite. In the first of his two chapters (Chapter 12: For Whom Did Christ Die? Particularism and Universalism in the Pauline Epistles), Gibson argues that Paul’s atonement theology consists of at least four groups of biblical texts: particularistic texts, universalistic texts, “perishing” texts (which concern Christ’s death for those who may finally perish), and “doctrinal loci” texts (which concern doctrines that directly impinge upon the intent and nature of the atonement). Chapter 12 addresses the first three of these groups of texts. In Chapter 13 (The Glorious, Indivisible, Trinitarian Work of God in Christ: Definite Atonement in Paul’s Theology of Salvation) Gibson points out that while robust exegesis of the particularistic, universalistic, and perishing texts are surely important to discussions on the intent and scope of the atonement, employing these texts alone most often results in an impasse in the discussion.

And so, in Chapter 13 Gibson proposes a new way forward – a biblico-systematic approach. I was immediately excited when I read those words – I love biblico-systematic takes. The below is from the introduction of chapter 13. The quote is perhaps longer than typical blog quotes, but it is very, very good.

Definite atonement, carefully and properly understood, is not a biblical doctrine per se, nor even a systematic doctrine per se; rather, definite atonement is a biblico-systematic doctrine. That is to say, the doctrine of definite atonement emerges from holding together various soteriological texts while at the same time synthesizing internally related doctrines, such as es­chatology, election, union with Christ, christology, Trinitarianism, doxology, covenant, ecclesiology, and sacramentology. Definite atonement is a theo­logical conclusion reached on the other side of comprehensive synthesis. When exegesis serves the domain of constructive theology—or put better, when there is a symbiotic relationship between exegesis and constructive theology—one may argue not only that Paul’s theology allows for a definite atonement but that it can point in no other direction. My approach under­stands Paul’s doctrine of the atonement through the lens of his soteriology, that is, through the wider framework of the saving work of God in Christ. As R. A. Morey has rightly commented, “The confusion surrounding this doctrine [of the extent of the atonement] often results from the failure to view it in the light of the whole plan of salvation.”

This is not to impose a “systematic” grid over the universalistic or “perishing” texts, one that “dominates” or “minimizes” the universalistic elements of Paul’s atonement theology while privileging the particularistic texts. An accurate and comprehensive formulation of Paul’s soteriology will include his universalistic and “perishing” texts as significant components in that lens. Nevertheless, these texts are but two of several constituents in Paul’s soteriological framework, and should be neither privileged nor preju­diced as they sit alongside particularistic texts and “doctrinal loci” texts, the latter of which concern various doctrines which directly impinge upon his atonement theology, such as eschatology, election, union with Christ, chris­tology, Trinitarianism, doxology, covenant, ecclesiology, and sacramentol­ogy. It is these latter loci that are often neglected, and the aim of this chapter is to let their voice be heard in the debate over the intent and nature of the atonement. Indeed, I would argue that the doctrinal loci texts may serve a mediating role in the textual quid pro quo: on the one hand, they keep us from bland and reductionistic interpretations of the particularistic texts; on the other hand, they restrain us from naïve and simplistic interpretations of the universalistic and “perishing” texts.

(332-333)

Purchase: Westminster | Amazon

 

Book Review: God in the Whirlwind (David Wells)

David F. Wells. God in the Whirlwind: How the Holy-love of God Reorients our WorldWheaton, IL: Crossway, 2014. 272 pp. $24.99.

Introduction
whirlI know generalizations can sometimes be unhelpful and someone can always point out an exception, but I think it’s fair to say that the expression of Christianity in the West in this day and age is often shallow; moralistic therapeutic deism commonly masquerades as the Christian faith, and God is seen as a cosmic Santa Clause and/or “buddy Jesus.” David Wells firmly believes that what has been principally lost in the evangelical Church is a biblical understanding of God’s character – a character that has weight; a character Wells sums up in his latest book as “holy-love.” In five previous interconnected volumes (1. No Place for Truth: Or Whatever Happened to Evangelical Theology?2. God in the Wasteland: The Reality of Truth in a World of Fading Dreams3. Losing Our Virtue: Why The Church Must Recover Its Moral Vision; 4. Above All Earthly Pow’rs: Christ in a Postmodern World5. The Courage to be Protestant: Truth-Lovers, Marketers, and Emergents in the Postmodern World), Wells answered from a cultural perspective the question of what accounts for the loss of the Church’s theological character. In this new book, God in the Whirlwind, he has shifted his focus to the “Christ” part of the Christ-and-culture issue.

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Book Review: What Is Biblical Theology? (Jim Hamilton)

James M. Hamilton Jr. What Is Biblical Theology?: A Guide to the Bible’s Story, Symbolism, and Patterns. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2013. 128 pp. $12.99

wibtThis book is an accessible, readable, engaging, and pastoral “guide to the Bible’s story, symbolism, and patterns.” It is not just a great book for those interested in (biblical) theology, but a stellar book for any Christian who wants to read the Bible better. This is not an academic book written for the scholars and “wannabe-scholars,” even though “theology” is in the title. This is for the “average joe” sitting in the pew. I highly recommend this book to any Christian wanting to read the Bible better and understand more of the Bible’s big picture, as well as any Christian looking for an introduction to biblical theology. See my full review over at The Brave Reviews.