Book Review : Exploring Christian Theology

exploreWhen it comes to the word theology, images of dusty books, seminary classes, and Greek/Hebrew translation come to mind. Volumes upon volumes have been written in an attempt to explain and understand the nature of God. Dallas Theological Seminary professors Nathan Holsteen and Michael Svigel has offered a contribution with their joint effort, “Exploring Christian Theology; The Church, Spiritual Growth, and the End Times”. The goal of their book is to make the very basic tenets of theology available to everyone. Their choice of doctrine to explore includes the church, sanctification, and end times study.

Exploring Christian Theology is written in two parts: Spiritual Growth and the Church (Holsteen) and End Times (Svigel). Each part is subdivided the same way containing the following elements: High Altitude Survey, Passages to Master, Retrospect, Facts to Never Forget, Dangers to Avoid, Principles to Put into Practice, Voices from the Past, and Shelf Space. What I enjoyed most were the Retrospect, High Altitude Survey, and Passages to Master sections in each part. The authors did a nice job of laying the proper historical groundwork so that a modern application could be made. Holsteen and Svigel’s commentary on the most prominent and familiar scripture passages within the section of writing was very helpful. Although this is a theology book, the authors chose not to use difficult language which makes the books very readable. This is a plus.

I had some minor issues with the book. The format of the book is counterproductive. It appears the authors desired to include as much information on their material as possible. The inclusion of unnecessary peripheral material takes away from what they set out to do. For example, there are 31 pages of quotes from authors, scholars, and church leaders from the time periods of their writing. The section on recommended and further reading could have been left out as well.

My greatest issue with this book is the simply the choice of subjects to be covered. Their goal was to cover the basic tenets of theology. For the time, space, and length of work the authors chose, I believe the three that were chosen are not the most basic of tenets. Doctrines such as Theology Proper (God), Christology (Jesus Christ), Harmatology (Sin), Soteriology (Salvation), and Pneumatology (Holy Spirit) would have been preferable if the goal was to provide the basics. As a pastor, if I were asked to recommend a theology book, it would not be this one.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Baker Publishing as part of their Blogger Review Program. 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: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Book Review : Strange Fire; The Danger of Offending The Holy Spirit With Counterfeit Worship

strangefireAs a pastor, I am often asked a question similar to this one, “Why are there different denominations of churches today?” Most simply put, the interpretation of Scripture often draws denominational and tribal lines. For a person to say they are Baptist, Methodist, or Presbyterian means they subscribe to a particular interpretation of the Bible. Denominational lines are drawn around topics such as Bible translations, infant baptism, loss of salvation, election, priesthood of the believer, and the ministry of the Holy Spirit. It is this last area that John MacArthur deals with in his newest book, “Strange Fire; The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit With Counterfeit Worship”. Strange Fire serves as a theology proper study of Pneumatology, or study of the work and ministry of the Holy Spirit. Although MacArthur’s book has three parts, there are two major divisions within. First, MacArthur demonstrates how the Holy Spirit is falsely presented and maligned in the church today through fake healings, speaking in tongues, and false prophecy. Secondly, he sets out to give the reader an accurate picture of the work and ministry of the Holy Spirit according to the Bible itself. A setting of the record straight, if you will.

In Section One, Confronting a Counterfeit Revival, MacArthur places before the reader what he believes “the heart of the problem is”. MacArthur leans on John Ankerberg and John Weldon here “Pentecostals and charismatics elevate religious experience over biblical truth. Though many of them pay lip service to the authority of God’s Word, in practice they deny it.” It is here that we are introduced to the father of modern Pentecostalism, Charles Parham. Mac Arthur gives an in-depth history of the modern Pentecostal/Charismatic movement, providing the place and personalities in which the movement was founded. Due to the rise in popularity and growth of the Pentecostal/Charismatic movement, designations such as New Reformation, the Third Great Awakening, and New Pentecost have been assigned. MacArthur deals with and exposes the Word of Faith movement which is deeply embedded within the Pentecostal/Charismatic movement. It is also in this section that MacArthur deals with testing the spirits, an admonition from 1 John 4:1-8. In this passage, an outline is given for “assessing the true nature of any teaching”. Jonathan Edwards, eighteenth century preacher and theologian, placed this outline against revivals in his day. Edwards formed five questions related to the testing of spirits. MacArthur uses these five questions to test the legitimacy and truthfulness of the Pentecostal/Charismatic movement today. The five questions are: 1) Does the work exalt the true Christ? 2) Does it oppose worldliness? 3) Does it point people to the Scripture? 4) Does it elevate the truth? 5) Does it produce love for God and others? To put it lightly, the Pentecostal/Charismatic movement fails the test miserably.

In Section Two, Exposing the Counterfeit Gifts, MacArthur devotes individual chapters to each of the sign gifts of the early church (tongues, healing, miracles, prophecy, and the apostolic office). MacArthur writes from a cessationist viewpoint, believing these gifts have ceased. In his chapter on apostles, he argues that there can be no modern day apostles because the biblical criteria cannot be met. The criteria: an apostle had to be a physical eyewitness of the resurrection of Christ, an apostle had to be personally appointed by Christ, and an apostle had to be able to authenticate his apostolic appointment with miraculous signs. His chapter on tongues is especially strong and helpful. Many of the Pentecostal/Charismatic movement use the speaking in tongues as an evidence of salvation. MacArthur exposes this teaching for the lie that it is. He provides a thorough teaching of the tongue gift of Acts 2. He shows that the disciples were speaking in known languages that they did not know for the purpose of gospel advancement. He writes, “In short, the glossolalia practiced by today’s charismatics is a counterfeit that by every measure falls short of the gift of tongues described in the New Testament. Today’s tongue-speakers claim to have received the biblical gift, but ultimately they have no acknowledgement that the gibberish they are speaking has none of the characteristics of real language.” Finally, MacArthur deals with “healings”. He introduces the reader to the modern-day father of faith-healing, Oral Roberts and his protégé’ Benny Hinn. As MacArthur deals with Hinn’s “healing ministry”, he concludes these “healings” are not biblical. In his section, “Benny Hinn Versus the Bible”, MacArthur places Hinn’s “healings” alongside the six differences between New Testament healing and the counterfeit “healings” of the Pentecostal/Charismatic movement.

In Section Three, rediscovering the Spirit’s True Work, MacArthur, after dealing with the false and counterfeit views put forward by Pentecostals and Charismatics, gives a solid biblical teaching on the role of the Holy Spirit in salvation, sanctification, and the Scriptures. He deals solidly with subjects such as regeneration, fellowship, conviction, repentance, illumination, and inspiration. MacArthur concludes with an open letter to his Continuationist friends who believe the sign gifts of the early church must still be present today. He shares, in his own words, eight “dangerous manifestations of the continuationist position. MacArthur then challenges the New Testament church to guard against the strange fire of the Pentecostal/Charismatic movement.

“Strange Fire” is a hard-hitting; no holds barred, honest, not for the weak of heart, “call it for what it is” type of book. He pulls no punches. I am glad that he didn’t. In his own words, he describes the Pentecostal/Charismatic movement with such terms such “fraud”, “hoax”, “counterfeit”, “sham”, and “con-artists”. Although this may sound harsh, unfair, bigoted, and cruel, MacArthur takes a balanced approach to his writing. He utilizes some of the leading voices, authorities, and historians of the Pentecostal/Charismatic movement in order to be fair to both sides. This book will encourage some and anger others. It will strike a chord of truthfulness with some and strike a nerve of disapproval with others. This is a much-needed work on the subject on the danger of offending the Holy Spirit with counterfeit worship.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their Blogger Review Program. 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: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Book Review : Unashamed To Bear His Name

Prior to reading Unashamed To Bear His Name; Embracing The Stigma of Being a Christian, I had never heard of former pastor and author R.T. Kendall. The premise of his new book is to better understand the stigma and shame that comes from being a Christ-follower and learn to appreciate and embrace the negativity that comes from being a Christian in the modern era. Kendall uses the Greek definition of scandal and stigma to give the reader a proper word picture by which to frame how we are called to live as Christians. “Scandal” in the original language means to be caught in a trap or snare. Today, scandal refers to that which offer the moral sensibilities. “Stigma” in the original language meant marked with a reproach. Kendall’s use of the these words show that being a Christian is offensive to many and that we are marked people today.

Kendall begins the book with a brief history of his early life, including his 25 years as pastor of Westminster Chapel in London. The following chapters explain why the gospel of Christ is so offensive to many. He writes, “What is so offensive about the Christian faith can be briefly summed up: Jesus Christ is the only way to God and faith in the blood that He shed on the cross fits a person for heaven when they die”. Kendall uses the lives of the Old Testament saints such as Noah, David, Joseph, and others to show how far back this stigma has applied. Chapters nine and ten, “The Reason the Jews Missed Their Messiah” and “The Stigma of No Vindication” are the best in the book. Kendall then goes on to point out how scandalous the ministry and work of the Holy Spirit is in the world today.

I cannot agree theologically with everything Kendall wrote. That being said, I enjoyed and appreciated the way Kendall puts for the gospel and our proper response to it. I can recommend this book with great enthusiasm. Kendall’s quote from the beginning of the book gives a proper summation. He writes, “I write this book basically for one reason: that you will be unashamed to accept the scandal that arises from following Jesus Christ. More than that, you should become willing to embrace that scandal, to take it with both hands and rejoice in the privilege that you are a part of the greatest enterprise on the planet – namely, to be associated with the name Jesus Christ.”

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Baker Books as part of their Blogger Review Program. 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: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Book Review : Wild Goose Chase

Wild Goose Chase by Mark Batterson is the prequel to his other great work In a Pit With a Lion on a Snowy Day. This book is about adventure. It is about excitement. It is about passion. It is about pursuit. All of which Batterson says is lacking in the life of institutional Christianity. The title of this book was borrowed from the Celtic Christians. They had a word for the Holy Spirit, “An Geadh-Glas”, or “The Wild Goose”. Their word hints at the untrackable and untamable nature of a wild goose, which is also true of the Holy Spirit. Batterson declares that the Christian life should not be boring because we don’t serve a boring God.

As he begins his book, he speaks of cages that we find ourselves in. He says Christians were not meant to live cages lives. Batterson writes, “Sure, you can choose the safety and predictability of the cage, forfeiting the adventure God has destined for you. But you won’t be the only one missing out or losing out. When you lack the courage to chase the Wild Goose, the opportunity costs are staggering.” The bulk of the book (six chapters) centers around six cages that, as Batterson says, “keep us from roaming free with the Wild Goose and living the spiritual adventure God destined us to.” He also introduces us to six “goose-chasers” from the scriptures.

Cage One is the cage of responsibility – the story of Nehemiah. We learn here that our main responsibility as Christians is to pursue what God is passionate about. Cage Two is the cage of routine – the story of Moses. Routines lead to rut and ritual and quench the adventurous spirit. Cage Three is the cage of assumption – the story of Abraham. Excuses and assumptions abound. God can use anyone, anywhere, anytime. Cage Four is the cage of guilt – the story of Peter. If you allow your past ways to chart your future course, it will always be safe. Cage Five is the cage of failure – the story of Paul. Failure is often the beginning of our pursuit of the unknown. Cage Six is the cage of fear – the story of Jonathan. No guts, no glory.

Batterson has a great book here. His style of writing is unique and entertaining. He has the ability to communicate a difficult truth in a practical way, much like Andy Stanley. You will enjoy this book and find it challenging and capable of rekindling lost dreams.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Waterbrook Multnomah Publishers as part of their Blogger Review Program. 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: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising

Book Review : The God I Never Knew

In his most recent work, “The God I Never Knew; How Real Friendship with the Holy Spirit Can Change Your Life”, Robert Morris sets out to help the reader understand the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit that he feels has been seen by many as “mysterious, confounding, and even controversial.” When I saw the title and subject of this book, I was immediately interested. I believe the person of the Holy Spirit is vitally important in the life of a believer. An opportunity to know more about His nature would be welcome. The beginning of the book was the best part. Morris starts out by re-stating commonly known attributes of the Holy Spirit and His function: to convict, to comfort, to guide, and to enable. The book went downhill from there.

The section of his book dealing with the three baptisms I found to be convoluted and confusing. A great deal of scripture reference was given in dealing with the three baptisms. He leads the reader to believe that there is a need to receive Holy Spirit sometime after conversion and that you must pray to receive Him. In his attempt to make the work and ministry of the Holy Spirit simple to understand, he buries the reader in examples and analogies that do anything but simplify. Morris spends a great deal of time discussing the Holy Spirit’s role in speaking in tongues, private prayer language, and healing. This section seemed to be a teaching on charismatic gifts rather than a teaching on the Hoy Spirit. I believe this book did not go far enough in answering the more difficult questions related to the ministry of the Holy Spirit. I was very disappointed in this book and cannot recommend it.

Summer Reading 2011

Just thought I would share what I am reading over the summer.

How Should We Then Live?: The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture

The late Francis Schaeffer was one of the foremost evangelical thinkers of the twentieth century. He wrote and studied the decline of western culture. Schaeffer gives a personal analysis of the key moments throughout history which have formed our present culture, and the thoughts of the men who brought those moments to pass.

God, Marriage, and Family: Rebuilding the Biblical Foundation

Dr. Andreas Kostenberger serves as professor of New Testament at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.  This book tackles the latest debates and cultural challenges to God’s plan for marriage and the family and urges a return to the original biblical foundation.

Futurecast: What Today’s Trends Mean for Tomorrow’s World

George Barna serves as president of the Barna Research  Group. Barna presents a timely look at the world in which we are creating every day and offers solid data to show the path and direction country is heading.

Be the People: A Call to Reclaim America’s Faith and Promise

Dr. Carol Swain is a college-professor, award-winning author, and regular contributor to FOX and CNN News. Dr. Swain thoughtfully examines the religious significance of the founding of our nation and the deceptions that have infiltrated our daily lives and now threaten traditional families, as well as our government.

Real-Life Discipleship: Building Churches That Make Disciples

Jim Putman is the Senior Pastor of Real Life Ministries in Post Falls, Idaho. Real-Life Discipleship explains what should happen in the life of every Christian and in every small group so that the church becomes an army of believers dedicated to seeing the world saved.

The God I Never Knew: How Real Friendship with the Holy Spirit Can Change Your Life

Robert Morris is the founding pastor of Gateway Church in the Dallas/Ft Worth metroplex. Morris clearly explains that the Holy Spirit’s chief desire is for relationship–to offer us the encouragement and guidance of a trusted friend.

What are you reading?

Worth Repeating

The church can, at times, communicate the need for change in peoples’ lives, and it ends up understood as some low-level therapeutic moralistic deism where a faraway God makes your life better and makes you a better person. But that is not the gospel. We don’t want to produce good religious people. We see what becomes of good religious people from the encounters Jesus had with the Pharisees. God wants–as should we–to see people transformed at a spiritual level rather than a behavioral level. Though often thought of in the same sense as a New Year’s resolution, transformation does not come from decisions made on January 1. Instead, it comes from re-creation, the re-creation that comes from new life in Christ. The change people need most is not in their circumstances, but in themselves. It is not the ability to try harder, but it is a life entrusted to Jesus. So, when you hear change, translate it to mean “gospel change.” It is not the same thing as trying harder; in fact, there is no trying involved. Transformation occurs not because we “do,” but because Christ has “done.” “

Ed Stetzer, President of Lifeway Research