Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Book Review: Unlocking the Bible

Jeff Lasseigne, Unlocking the Bible: What It Is, How We Got It, and Why We Can Trust It. Baker Books, 2016. 315 Pages. 

Jeff Lasseigne has written a one volume introduction to the Bible. The book is arranged in two main parts: 

Part One: The Big Picture
This section really serves as a great overview of the Bible. Here, Lasseigne tells us the story of how we got the Bible and why we can trust it. This is simple, straightforward information that could be found in any reputable Bibliology. Lasseigne's targeted audience, though, isn't for scholars or pastors, but the laymen who probably won't be reading a systematic theology textbook.  Following this theology section, Lasseign shifts to surveying the Old and New Testaments and the period between the Testaments.  I was especially impressed with Lasseigne's ability to clearly and concisely explain the story line of the Bible.  One of the most helpful aspects of Unlocking the Bible is that Lasseigne will pause and explain pertinent, perennial issues that trouble believers.  For example, in his Old Testament survey, Lasseigne answers the question of how Old Testament believers were saved, or what role does the law have in the life of the believer. Following the survey, Lasseigne writes on how to study and teach the Scripture--hermeneutics and homiletics.

There are Seven Chapters in this first section:

1. How We Got the Bible
2. Why We Can Trust the Bible
3. Understanding the Old Testament
4. The Sounds of Silence
5. Understanding the New Testament
6. How to Study the Bible
7. How to Teach the Bible

Part Two: Books of the Bible 
This is exactly how it sounds. Every book of the Bible is treated covered with a few pages each. Each book is arranged the same way: 
  • Important Information (Author, Theme, Category)
  • Fascinating Facts (Unique facts about the book)
  • Quotable Quotes (From scholars, pastors and writers on the book covered)
  • Notable Notes (Additional information about the book)
  • Christ Connections (How Christ can be seen in the book). 
Jeff Lasseigne desired to write a introductory volume that gives us a sound big overview of the Bible. He has succeed. This book is excellent. It is especially helpful for new believers or believers who have no idea what the Bible is about, and how it fits together or where to start reading.  This is a very basic and effective one volume resource to unlocking the Bible. 

Rating: Five Hatch Green Chiles out of Five

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

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Book Review: Greek for Everyone

A. Chadwick Thornhill, Greek for Everyone: Introductory Greek for Bible Study and Application. Baker Books. 2016. 252 Pages.

In Elementary Greek, we were told that being able to read the New Testament in its original language,  Koine Greek, would be like going from watching TV in black and white to color. While I loved the idea of studying New Testament Greek, I soon discovered how little equipped I was to engage. Greek was extraordinarily difficult. I struggled. Reading a book like Greek for Everyone before I formally studied would have tremendously helpful.

A. Chadwick Thornhill has written Greek for Everyone to meet a real need not only for college students, but for every student of the New Testament who wants to enrich their study--a introductory volume to Koine Greek.  The book is written at a popular level. It is comprised of 18 short, readable chapters, two appendices and a glossary of key Greek Terms: 

1. Language, Learning, Koine Greek, and the Greek Alphabet
2. The Big Picture of Language
3. Phrases, Clauses, and Conjunctions
4. Resources for Navigating the Greek New Testament
5. Introduction to Greek Verbs and Nominals
6. Nominative, Accusative, and Vocative Cases
7. Genitive and Dative Cases
8. Articles, Pronouns, Adjectives, and Prepositions
9. (Independent) Indicative-Mood Verbs
10. (Independent) Imperative-Mood Verbs
11. (Dependent) Subjunctive-Mood Verbs
12. (Dependent) Greek Infinitives
13. (Dependent) Greek Participles
14. Back to the Big Picture
15. Comparing English Translations
16. Bridging Context
17. Word Studies
18. The Grammar of Theology (Putting it All Together)

Appendix 1: "Your Turn" Answers
Appendix 2: Greek Paradigms
Glossary of Select Greek Terms

Each chapter ends with vocabulary words to memorize. This makes learning key Greek words manageable--by the end of the book the reader may be surprised with how much vocabulary he has under his belt! As well as vocabulary, Thornhill includes a "Your Turn" section where he has the reader apply what he has learned, which is a very helpful exercise. 

Reading through Greek for Everyone, I was impressed with Thornhill's ability to clearly instruct his readers in the basics of the language. I was also surprised to see the wide range of material covered in such a concise volume. Thornhill not only offers us suggestions as to how to study Greek, teaches us the mechanics of the language, but also show us how it applies with a discussion of English translation philosophies, interpretation, and exercises like word studies which help in the understanding of a text. 

A Chadwick Thornhil wrote Greek for Everyone for the purpose of teaching his readers how Greek works and how to use it for better Bible study. He has thoroughly succeeded. Greek for Everyone is a solid one volume introduction to Koine Greek. This work will not make someone a Greek expert but it will orient them to the language enough to understand Greek at a basic level. It lays a solid foundation for further study. Greek for Everyone is a volume I would recommend to anyone looking to further their biblical study skills by getting a taste of Greek. This volume would be especially helpful for undergraduate Greek students to read before formal study. Additionally, reading through it has helpfully freshened up my Greek. I highly recommend this fine work. 

Rating: Five Hatch Green Chiles out of Five 

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

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Book Review: What is Reformed Theology?

R.C. Sproul, What is Reformed Theology? Understanding the Basics. Baker Books. 2016.

Calvinism is making a comeback across the Christian landscape. There has been a resurgence of Calvinistic publications, as well as the emergence of large conferences like Together for the Gospel comprised of flagship Calvinist speakers with thousands in attendance.

Calvinism belongs to larger system of theology known as Reformed Theology. R.C. Sproul, founder and chairman of Ligonier Ministries, is especially qualified to write an introductory volume to reformed theology.

The book is made up of ten chapters and is arranged as following:

Part 1: Foundations of Reformed Theology
1. Centered on God
2. Based on God's Word Alone
3. Committed to Faith Alone
4. Devoted to the Prophet, Priest, and King
5. Nicknamed Covenant Theology

Part Two: Five Points of Reformed Theology
6. Humanity's Radical Corruption
7. God's Sovereign Choice
8. Christ's Purposeful Atonement
9. The Spirit's Effective Call
10. God's Preservation of the Saints

The book is arranged in two main sections. The first section deals with foundations of Reformed Theology, the second the five points of Reformed Theology. For theological novices, Sproul's introduction is especially helpful as he surveys the broad field of theology. Here, he moves past natural theology to the Scriptures, then to theology. In chapter one, Sproul narrows the discussion to Reformed Theology. The remaining chapters describe what Reformed Theology is centered on. These chapters are especially helpful in getting a broad understanding of what Reformed Theology is.  Sproul moves past the foundational elements before proceeding to the Five Points of Calvinism in section two.

While I found much material familiar, the reading itself did not drag.  Sproul's writing style is clear and compelling. He does well bringing theological concepts down to the layman's level. 

One question I've been contemplating lately, is what is my theological heritage? Being a Classical Arminian I disagree with the three middle points of Calvinism's TULIP: Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, and Irresistible grace.Those disagreements however do not, in my opinion disqualify me from being under the broad umbrella of Reformed Theology. I would consider Arminian Theology to be a subset of Reformed Theology, as Arminian Theology is essentially reformed, Reformed Theology. Sproul's book helped me reach this conclusion as I disagreed with very little of section one, the foundations of Reformed Theology.  R.C. Sproul's goal was to write a clear, simple introduction to Reformed Theology. He has succeed.What is Reformed Theology? is an excellent introductory volume to Reformed Theology!

Rating: Five Hatch Green Chiles out of Five 

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

Monday, September 26, 2016

Political Musings

Beyond quips on social media, I’ve never publicly written about politics. Religion is controversial enough, Christianity even more so. Theological discourse can devolve into intellectual nitpicking which borders on being unhelpful. As a pastor, the state of Christianity and the discussion of theology—even the nit picks—are passions of mine because both, in some way, fall under the cloak of shepherding. Dogmatism in political position, however,  does not. I have not publicly commented much on politics because as a pastor I don’t want people to be distracted from the Gospel by my political positions or the candidates I support.

This political season has been unlike any I’ve experienced before. It seems like the stakes have never been higher and the candidates never more divisive. Christians have fallen all across the political spectrum. Some, totally disgusted by the GOP’s nomination of Trump,  have decided to vote for what they see as a safer, centrist Clinton. Some disillusioned Cruz supports vow to sit out the election or vote third party. Others have resigned to voting for the “lesser of two evils.” And some are actually excited about the prospect of a Trump presidency.

More than any other election cycle, I’ve been thinking through the Christian’s role in politics. This, in part, is due to my frustration and growing disillusionment with the Republican party. They aren’t all that different from the democrats and aren’t delivering for the conservative base that elects them. With conservative social values continuing to decline, I’ve been contemplating how we much we should expect an unsaved world to adopt Christian ethics through governmental legislation.

Of course, I believe Christians should vote their consciences. Christianity is a comprehensive worldview that pervades every aspect of the believer’s life because all of life is to be lived under the lordship of Jesus. What, then, do Christians do in a situation like we have now where the party nominee doesn’t promote Christian values? Do we bind our consciences as tightly to our political philosophy as we would our theological principles or our Christian ethics? Is there any give in our political positions or at least in our candidate? Do we become politically pragmatic and seek a candidate that will accomplish some of what we want but actually has a shot at being elected? Below are some musings on politics, specifically the General Election. I don’t pretend to have the answers—and these musings are simply that—musings. They aren’t refined arguments meant to convince. They are simply some reflections I am having in the midst of an exciting, divisive, and confusing political season.

Purity and Pragmatism
While all Christians desire, I think, a world that is black an white, we live in a fallen, broken world. Many things are not black or white but different shades of gray. Part of my own maturing has been realizing that while there are some things that are black and white, there are many things that are not. This world, its people, myself—all are complicated.  Living with this reality, of course, creates tension.  Politics provides many tensions because things that may appear on the surface level to be clear, are upon further inspection much more complicated. An example would be someone who is conservative in theology but not conservative in their politics.  To be conservative in theology is to believe that the Bible is the word of God, Jesus was fully divine and fully human, the resurrection really happened, etc. One’s affirmation of a conservative credo does not necessitate his affirmation in political conservatism. He may be a committed liberal and prefer a more socialistic government because of his genuine concern about the poor. Now it clearly can be debated if liberal policies are actually more beneficial to the poor than conservative ones—but therein is this described political tension. Two people can both unflinchingly affirm the essentials of Christianity, they can be purists in theology and yet be on opposite ends of the political spectrum. And Christians can be purists in theology and fall all along the spectrum not just camping at the ends.   This troubles the Christian conscience because Christians by and large are rightly people with dogmatic convictions. We are purists in theology and its only natural to desire to be a purists in our politics as well.
But Theological convictions have the weight of eternal consequence, political philosophy does not. Purity in theology does not necessitate purity in politics.

Christians desire the right candidate, most Christians are conservative politically and desire a candidate who is Bible believing, God fearing, morally upright, kind, strong, and a champion of Reagan conservatism. We can strive for this candidate, but eventually we have to face reality, that is a rare candidate. Our political party is a two party system, in name at least (and it often feels like a one party system as there is increasingly little lived out differences between the two parties). Political reality is not black and white because politics is all about the art of compromise--it is all about shades of gray. In 2012, Mitt Romney was not what most Christians wanted. In 2008, John McCain was as lack luster a candidate as the GOP has put forward in a long time. Yet Christians held their noses and voted for moderate McCain in 2008, and Mormon, moderate Romney in 2012 because pragmatism, “the lesser of two evils” ultimately won out. Just as recently as last week, the Conservative, Constitutionalist, Christian Knight in Shining Armor Ted Cruz endorsed Donald Trump—much to the dismay of the political purists. Cruz did it because maintaining political purism is nearly impossible. Of course, it is possible to remain a political pursuit, but at what cost? It’s impossible to maintain political purity and actually win elections and actually get your political platform instated. It's better to get some of what you want than nothing at all.

Moving Past the Conservative/Liberal Divide
Christians have long been fighting in the culture wars, but I don't think there is a culture war because the conservative side has lost. Abortion, thankfully, seems to be stalling—but this isn’t because people have become convinced of life beginning at conception. It’s stalled because we now have the ability to see a baby inside a womb more clearly than we ever have, which is causing some to pause. Marriage, on the other hand is totally past turning around. With the legalization of same sex marriage in the United States, conservatives felt a stinging, crushing defeat. But conservatives didn’t lose that battle on June 26, 2015. Conservatives and Christians lost that fight when they themselves failed to maintain their marriages and  opted for divorces. The failure of Christians to pursue holiness ultimately led to a defeat in the culture wars, because Christians have failed to foster their walk with God which would cause Christ to illuminate their lives, families, churches, and finally their communities.

As far back as I can remember I’ve been a conservative political purist—up to a point. I settled for McCain in '08 and voted for Romney in '12. But this election cycle I’m not being a purist in the sense that I’m not interested in voting for a candidate who some the litmus test for conservatism. And who decides what the litmus test is? W? Paul Ryan? Rush Limbaugh? Glenn Beck? “Conservative” is a term that has lost all meaning. How can this word describe Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, John Kasich, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul and Donald Trump?  In addition to not seeking the conservative litmus test, I no longer have any faith in the Republican party. They have catered to evangelical Christians and promised us that they would spend money responsibly, guard marriage and end abortion. But its all been a lie. Christians often chide minorities for being exploited by the Democratic party but fail to see that the Republican party has done the same thing to them—again and again and again.

This election cycle I’m not at all interested in looking at who the conservative candidate and who the liberal candidate is. America is demoralized and economically broken. This election I’m interested in the candidate who is going to prioritize the American citizen—the candidate who is going to protect us and put us back to work and undo the years of globalistic policies that have crushed the working man. This election, I’ve moved past the conservative/ liberal divide entirely to American nationalism. 

The Trump Factor
Donald Trump is the most fascinating presidential candidate running in the modern era. He is a billionaire with bad hair, failed marriages, a foul mouth, and has a penchant to smash his opponents with quick, sharp, insults. He is not exactly the picture of political correctness.

I don’t think its any secret to anyone that I’m not only a supporter of Donald Trump, but also an ardent admirer. I’ve wanted him to run for years before this election season. I celebrated his rise to the political forefront in 2011-12 with his championing of the birther issue. He excited me not so much for the content of the claim that Barack Obama was born outside of the United States, but because he was a figure of opposition. The Republican party had and continues to be abysmally, tragically, laughably weak.  When Donald Trump stood against the Obama administration through news interviews, speeches, flirtation with running and even writing Time to Get Tough: Making America #1 Again it felt like we finally had a strong champion on our side.

And while he didn’t pull the trigger on running in 2012, Trump took the nation by storm when he announced his long awaited bid for the presidency on June 16, 2015. Shortly thereafter he took first place in the polls and never went back. He then knocked out 16 opponents and earned the most votes ever in any GOP primary.  Donald Trump passes the usual bullet point litmus test for being a conservative:

  • Anti Obamacare 
  • For a smaller government with fiscal responsibility
  • Cut Taxes
  • Has a tough immigration/ border policy
  • Pro-gun rights
  • Pro-military
  • Pro-life
  • Pro traditional marriage. 
While his being a conservative has not always been the case, Trump has over the years  evolved to more conservative positions in every way—like Ronald Reagan before him. This is something he readily admits.  But I’m not supporting Trump because he is a conservative. I’m supporting Trump because he is an American nationalist. He is campaigning on an America First platform. Fighting for and protecting the American citizen is his driving mantra. 

Donald Trump is a great political enigma—he is a man who decisively, and uncontestedly won a primary election having no governmental experience whatsoever. He is a man who breaks all political rules and simply speaks his mind. He doesn’t talk like a lawyer with precision and total consistency. He talks like the people you talk to every single day, sometimes contradicting what he said earlier. He a billionaire populist crying out at the injustices inflicted on the little man by political supremacists like the Clintons and their disastrous decisions like NAFTA. At times, he even sounds like Bernie Sanders, fighting for the economically oppressed. He is the outside candidate that the Establishment fears because he is controlled by no one. He is for the most part self financing his campaign. He is the most populist presidential candidate we’ve had in a long, long time.

Sometimes people are perplexed how I, as a Christian pastor, can no only vote for Trump, but be an enthusiastic supporter. It's not that I believe that he is a Christian. He isn't one, that's clear. He bears no fruit of a regenerated heart. I do not excuse or celebrate his glaring moral failings. Nor do I pretend like they don't exist. Because I love my country and see it declining on a global stage, and because I hate seeing so many people losing their jobs I do not have the luxury to allow my reservations about his personal life stand in the way. The stakes are too high, people's well being is on the line. Both conservatives and liberals need to get on board the Trump Train because nationalism, an America First platform, is what can turn our country around.


I believe with all my heart Donald Trump is also what America needs right now. He's a bull dog. He's gruff. He's a scrapper. He is the anti-Obama. I enthusiastically support Donald Trump because he is the nationalist, populist, anti-establishment candidate who will be aggressive and fight for the American people. He doesn't need to be running. He's a successful billionaire. He's placing his personal life and prosperity on the line because he genuinely loves his country. He desires to see America returned to economic prosperity, with a rejuvenated military and world wide respect.

Barack Obama's policies continued under Hillary Clinton is not something the common man can survive for another four or eight years. We've all seen people or ourselves experienced pay cuts, loss of jobs and homes because of Obama's economic incompetence. Hillary only represents more of the same. America desperately needs leadership change and I think that the man for the job is Donald J. Trump. I'm voting for him because I'm past the conservative/liberal divide. I want someone who will put America first and fight for the common man. He has promised to make America great again and I'm willing to give him that chance.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Book Recommendation: "Free Grace Theology" Five Ways it Diminishes the Gospel

Wayne Grudem is best known for his prolific Systematic Theology. It has helped make theology accessible and enjoyable for the Christian layman. With his "Free Grace Theology" 5 Ways it Diminishes the Gospel, Grudem intends to demonstrate that the claims of Free Grace Theology are not faithful to the Bible’s teaching on saving faith. The book is short, only being 160 pages. It is made up of an introduction, five chapters, and a conclusion.

    1: Not the “Faith Alone” of the Reformation
    2: No Call to Repent from Sin
    3: False Assurance
    4: Under-emphasis on Trust in the Person of Christ
    5: Unlikely Interpretations

In his introduction, Grudem helpfully defines the debate as being around the issues of utmost importance. He is not interested in fighting for the label of “lordship salvation” as this is a loaded term used by Free Grace Theologians against the historic protestant position. The debate should not revolve around loaded terms, instead both theological positions should be examined with Scripture on two major points: 1) Whether repentance is necessary for saving faith, and 2) the nature of good works in the Christian life.

Following the introduction, Grudem lays out his case against Free Grace Theology in five ways (as the book title reveals). First, he begins with historical theology—reciting what has been the classic Christian consensus regarding saving faith. Free Grace Advocates, Grudem reveals, fundamentally misunderstand sola fide—faith alone. For them, this means faith is all that is required for salvation. Christian consensus, however, has always taught that we are justified by faith alone, but the faith that justifies is never alone. In other words, saving faith must have accompanying works and fruit that demonstrate a changed life or that faith is a dead faith (James 2:14-26). In his survey, Grudem cites John Calvin (1509-1564), the Formula of Concord (1576), the 39 Articles of the Church of England (1571), the Westminster Confession of Faith(1646), the New Hampshire Baptist Confession (1833), John Wesley (1703-1791), and the Assemblies of God Statement of Fundamental Truths (1916). Historically, the consensus among different significant figures, denominations and time is undeniable—the historic protestant position is at odds with Free Grace Theology. Second, Grudem challenges the errant definition of repentance as being only a change of mind. Third, he summarizes the dangerous consequences of teaching a salvation invitation that does not include the need to repent--it creates false converts. These individuals have an intellectual knowledge of Christ, but nothing more. Fourth,  Grudem identifies Free Grace Theology's tendency to actually diminish the person of Christ. Finally, Grudem closes his work by exposing and countering the exegetically unwarranted interpretations offered by Free Grace Theologians on texts which counter their position.

Free Grace Theology has profoundly, negatively, impacted many individual's understanding of the nature of saving faith. Most damaging (in my opinion) is its enabling of individuals to to have assurance that they are truly saved while they continue to live in their sin. Free Grace Theology has no doubt created the "converts" of the chilling text Matthew 7:21-23

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’
Wayne Grudem set out to write a critique of Free Grace Theology and demonstrate how it diminishes the Gospel. He has succeeded. He writes clearly, and kindly while not compromising the Gospel. My own experience with Free Grace Theology began in my teens with theological controversy in my youth group. I have been surprised to see easy believism continue to surface throughout my life at revival meetings, teen camps, Christian college, seminary, and in local churches. I am grateful for Grudem’s work and intend to recommend it along with John MacArthur’s classic The Gospel According to Jesus to those struggling with understanding the nature of saving faith. Grudem has once again enriched the church with another timely volume. 

Rating: Five Hatch Green Chiles out of Five

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Book Recommendation: Rescuing the Gospel

Erwin W. Lutzer, Rescuing the Gospel: The Story and Significance of the Reformation. Baker Books, 2016. 206 pages.

2017 will mark the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. Erwin Luzter’s Rescuing the Gospel  is one among many promising publications to be released throughout this year and next year to commemorate this significant event. Lutzer’s work is made up of an introduction and 17 Chapters:

1: Power, Scandals, and Corruption
2: A Morning Star and a Goose Swan
3: The Wittenberg Door
4: Who Was Martin Luther?
5: The Great Discovery
6: The Dominoes Begin to Fall
7: The Wild Boar in the Vineyard of the Lord
8: Here I Stand
9: We Are Protestants Now
10: Disputes, Disunity, and Destiny
11: Luther and the Bible
12: Luther, Katie, Children and Death
13: Zwingli: Reforming Zurich
14: The Anabaptists: Promise and Persecution
15: Calvin: Reforming Geneva
16: Calvinism’s Lasting Influence
17: Is the Reformation Over?

“Christianity can survive without the gospel,” Lutzer provocatively begins his work. He then continues, “Let me clarify. There is a form of Christianity that developed in medieval times that has survived to this day without the gospel. It is, of course, a powerless Christianity that cannot give people the assurance of salvation, nor does it lead to lives of holiness—but it is called Christianity” (1).  Of course, the Christianity that Lutzer has in mind is Roman Catholicism in its fragmented, pre-reformation state. He does a fair job exposing the rampant corruption of the Catholic Church leading up to the Reformation.

No movement or people exist within a vacuum and history is not simple. There were many factors that led up to Martin Luther’s nailing of the 95 Thesis on the church door in Wittenberg. John Wycliffe and John Hus are two pre-reformers upon whose shoulders Luther stood. Lutzer tells their story in chapter two.

Chapters 3 through 12 tell the story of Martin Luther. Here is the real meat of the book and Lutzer does an admirable job telling us Luther's life, theology, and contributions that are still with us to the present day. Luther was a brilliant theologian with a spine of steel. We can admire his opposition to a corrupt church. But he was also a flawed man whose writings were used by Nazi Germany to justify persecution of the Jews. Lutzer tells us both about him.

Chapters 13-16 deal with the Reformation across Europe. Chapter 13 tells the story of Zwingli a man whom Luther ultimately did not agree with in the view of the music in worship, the nature of communion, and the Christian’s relationship to the state. In Chapter 14, Lutzer tells us about the Anabaptists—who they were, what they believed, and who their true heirs are (and its not Baptists). Chapters 15-16 tells us about John Calvin, a towering figure. Lutzer recounts his life and his theology. He also demonstrates Calvin’s lasting legacy for all Protestant Christians.

Finally in chapter 17, Lutzer ends the book by asking the reader whether or not the reformation is over. Here he notes the the unity of Evangelicals with Catholics and the present doctrinal divergences between the two groups: the nature of saving faith, the role of the sacraments, indulgences, superstitions, and the priesthood of believers. His conclusion is that while the Reformation is over in the political-historical sense, the issues the fractured Christendom then are still present. Therefore, the reformation is not over. Every generation of Christians must fight to preserve the purity of salvation and accurate doctrine.

Lutzer has serviced the church with this great introduction to the Protestant Reformation. Rescuing the Gospel is a highlight reel of the Protestant Reformation—the overall narrative is communicated and the key personalities described. Where appropriate, Lutzer briefly explains theology. He does a great job describing the present, glaring differences between Roman Catholicism and Evangelical Christianity. The chasm between the two is still wide and unity between the two isn't warranted. Overall, this is an excellent work. It will be my go to recommendation to those wanting to learn about  the Protestant Reformation.  

Rating: Five Hatch Green Chiles out of Five

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

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Reflections After One Year

Today marks my one year anniversary being the Associate Pastor of Desert Heights Church. It also marks my one year anniversary of working in Christian ministry vocationally. Truly, it has been an incredible year—one in which time really has seemed to fly. I still can’t believe I get paid for it. I’ve learned some new things, through experience, and have also rediscovered forgotten loves. Below are some reflections on God, pastoral ministry, and my personal life after one year in ministry.

Providence is the theological word used to describe God’s preservation and governing of the world. God is actively sustaining the universe (Heb. 1:3), the earth (Ps. 104), and his people ( Matt. 6:25-33). His governing reach extends over the natural world (Ps. 135:5-7), kings and kingdoms (Isa. 10:5-19), and even the lives of individual people (Gal. 1:15-16).

These are truths I have readily acknowledged my entire life—belief of God’s providence is proper theology, after all. In this year of ministry, however, my knowledge of God’s providence has greatly deepened because I’ve experienced it. Intellectual acknowledgement of God’s providence is one thing, experiencing it is another.

In ministry, I’ve seen God’s directing events and people with perfect timing to accomplish his means. I’ve seen God’s leading in the direction of the church, the training of elders, and furthering of ministerial vision and philosophy. On a personal level, I've seen God’s providence at work in my coming to DHC—a story that was years in the making. I continue to see his provision in his meeting the needs of DHC. In all, I’ve seen God’s perfect, gracious guiding hand. My view of God’s providential direction has magnified greatly in this year. I have no doubt it will only increase in the years to come.

“Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers,” writes James before giving his reason why, “for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness” (James 3:1). Being a pastor is a call to shepherd God’s people. That is a weighty responsibility, one people should not be cavalier about.  My last Sunday not being a pastor I had a frightening realization.  I pulled up to the church building and sat in my Jeep watching as people entered. The reality struck me that caring, feeding, and protecting the people of Desert Heights Church was going to be my responsibility soon.

From a teaching standpoint, I need to make every effort to study and make sure I’m communicating to people the truth of God’s Word. From a pastoral care standpoint, it’s easy to ascend into the heights of philosophy and theology and forget about the sheep. Good shepherds have the smell of sheep on them, and if they don’t they aren’t fulfilling their pastoral charge.  After a year in ministry, I’ve come to realize (though obvious it may be) that if I’m not being intentional in spending time with the flock, it’s not going to happen. The realization that I’m not sufficient for the task, am weak, and am totally dependent upon God’s grace (2 Cor. 12:9-10) has been liberating to me. I must strive to do my best and trust the Spirit to make the work happen.

Numerical growth can be a sign of God’s blessing (just read Acts), but it is not a definitive sign. A recurring temptation for those in ministry is to look to the numbers as a guide. Much contemporary ministry defaults to a secular model for growth—accommodation to the “customer’s” wishes and whims. It is semi-pelagian in nature with pastors and music leaders striving to create responses within people.

God is the initiator of relationships. “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” Jesus taught (John 6:44). He then goes on to say, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all” (John 6:63). Clearly, no one is saved apart from God’s drawing, but God’s working in people’s lives doesn’t stop there. Paul commands the Philippians to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” He then tells them why, “for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:12-13). I can’t change people. I can’t make them do anything. Only God can convict people of their sin and break their will. This is one reason why I’m a firm believer in expository preaching. My job as God’s steward (1 Cor. 4:1-2) is to explain his Word (2 Tim. 4:2). He will do the rest. Both the power and even the desire to become more like Christ comes from God’s hand. In salvation and sanctification God is the power, he is the one making things happen. Genuine growth, then, only happens at his bidding. Often his choice is the slow road. We shouldn't strive for fast growth, but should trust his way, his process, his timing.

I’m ecstatic that Desert Heights Church has as its foundation for everything it does the centrality of the Scripture. It safeguards us from pragmatism and keeps us grounded in the essentials of genuine growth: Bible reading/teaching/preaching, prayer, personal holiness, and discipleship. Desert Heights is a growing church.

One of my roles is overseeing DHC Youth. Starting a youth group can be an tough task, and often you experience growing pains. The temptation of pragmatism can surface in youth ministry by making the goal numerical and not spiritual growth. Teens are often thought of  as being obnoxious, proud, and immature. Youth Groups are then usually superficial and silly because the bar is often set low for teenagers. We have done a great disservice to them, the church, and the world by setting the bar so low.  Teenagers can and should be taught the deep riches of God's Word. They need to know that Christianity is an all encompassing worldview that pervades their entire life. Teenagers need to know that Christianity is serious, and it should change everything about them because they should be living under the lordship of Christ. They need to be taught theology, because they are already having questions about God, his ways, and the world around us.

DHC Youth has emphasized the teaching of God's Word over activities and silly trivialities that disservice our teens. Since August, we have been working through John's Gospel paragraph by paragraph. Because of this, we've dipped into deep theology and had conversations about election, predestination, lordship salvation, God's drawing, God's pursuit of his own glory, and the problem of evil. The teenagers can handle it. Their view of God is lifted and they are led to adoration in worship. 
I’ve heard John Piper speak about who his theological mentors are and they are usually old, dead guys—men like Jonathan Edwards and C.S. Lewis. Prominent theologian J.I. Packer points often to the Puritans as being both relevant and needed today. One of my professors from seminary, Mark Minnick often encouraged us students to read the Puritans. 

A real danger in pastoral ministry is the subtle exchange of the meal of Bible reading and prayer for the work of Bible study and teaching. Those in ministry spend their study time in the Bible, commentaries, and theological volumes in their attempt to get at the meaning of a text. What can happen in ministry is what often happens to seminary students, the walk with God suffers for the work for God. Pastoral ministry apart from the nurturing presence of God is uniquely dangerous ground. It is offering people a fine a meal while you yourself are starving. It is passing water to others while you are rotting in the desert. It is detrimental to your health.

The Puritans have reoriented my heart towards the primacy of pastoral ministry, namely, my relationship with Jesus Christ. During this year of ministry I’ve begun reading the Puritans. So far my reading has been pretty light, having only tasted the writings of John Owen, John Bunyan, and Richard Baxter. The experience has been rewarding. I cannot wait to plunge more deeply into the wealthy waters of Puritanism.

This year I fulfilled a dream of mine and 

attended Together for the Gospel for the first time. Hearing men like John MacArthur, John Piper, and Mark Dever preach in person was an amazing experience. These are men who have been mentoring me from a distance for years. Hearing them in person was enriching and rewarding. Additionally, singing robust hymns both ancient and modern with only a piano and ten thousand other voices was beyond description.

Conferences like T4G or Shepherd’s Conference are refreshing for pastors. They allow us to get away from the familiar, be fed by some of the best preachers alive, sing with other men, and talk theology with friends. Just being able to worship without thinking about teachers, attendance, announcements, visitors, the status of the coffee pots, and every other detail about Sunday morning is itself refreshing. Pastors should attend conferences like this. It gives them rest and keeps them sharp with ongoing theological instruction. Most pastors are book men, and these conferences give away plenty of free books as well as offer great discounts on quality books in their bookstores. Attending at least one of these conferences annually is going to be routine for me from now on.

A pastor’s tools are his books. Over this last year I’ve read some incredible books. Seminary required me to be constantly reading, but these were not delightful for the mere fact that I was required to read them! During this first year, I narrowed my reading to works dealing with pastoral ministry.   These works were outstanding and have shaped my understanding of my role as a pastor—as well as prevented me from doing stupid things in my first year.

  • The Reformed Pastor by Richard Baxter. Baxter’s book is a classic for a reason. I found Baxter to be surprisingly accessible (more so than Puritan giant John Owen). Baxter’s book is a challenge and gives me pastoral goals to strive for. 
  • Pastoral Theology by Thomas C. Oden. Oden is a favorite theologian of mine. His driving mantra is classic Christian consensus and his approach is often more historical theology oriented. While I don’t agree with all that Oden writes, his work is a stand against the pragmatism of contemporary pastoral ministry and as such is worth reading.
  • Pastoral Ministry edited by John MacArthur. This work is a diverse work including biblical, theological, and historical essays on ministry. I have found the topics helpful in my understanding of doing ministry the biblical way.  
  • The Prodigal Church by Jared C. Wilson and Ashamed of the Gospel by John MacArthur. I’ve included both of these under the same bullet because I read them simultaneously and they both concern the same topic: pragmatism in ministry. Both of these works are excellent critiques of the shortcomings of so much of contemporary ministry. Both of these works spurn the reader to returning to the God ordained means of growth.  
  • The New Pastor’s Handbook by Jason Helopoulos is a small, VERY practical book. It’s the “hey kid, here’s what to do as a new pastor and here’s what not to do. Don’t be an idiot!” book. I’ve found Helopoulos as distant mentor showing me the way. Highly recommend this work! 
  • The Pastor’s Book by R. Kent Hughes and Douglas Sean O’Donnell is a big volume dealing with different facets of ministry. It is an incredible resource volume covering topics like weddings, funerals, special services, preaching, worship, etc. It is both philosophical and practical. I turn to it often. 
I've only been in ministry for a year now. It's been one of the most rewarding years I've ever experienced. I don't want to ever lose the wonder of God, his Word, or his redemption of the cosmos. It is my prayer that will allow me many more years and many more reflections.