Review: Acts (EP Study Commentary)

Waters, Guy Prentiss. “Acts: EP Study Commentary,” Evangelical Press, Watchmead, UK: 2014. 614 pp. $44.99

Thanks to Cross Focused Reviews, I’ve had the opportunity to review another book. This time around, to my delight, it is a commentary. I own a few commentaries on Acts, so I was curious to see what this one might offer. The EPSC is a solid series that boasts a handful of renowned scholars and theologians, and it seems that it just keeps getting better. Guy Prentiss Waters’ volume on Acts is a welcome addition.

                                                                               The author dedicates this book to Richard Gaffin (author of “Perspectives on Pentecost”) and relies heavily on commentators such as F.F. Bruce and John Stott, which are good indicators as to where he is coming from. Waters is a confessional Presbyterian (a teaching elder in the PCA) and Professor of New Testament at Reformed Theological Seminary, which are appealing credentials.

The commentary begins with a useful outline and introduction that includes information about the author, date, title, genre, and purpose. Waters breaks the commentary up into 18 chapters, focusing on “a geographical progression—Jerusalem; Judea and Samaria; the end of the earth,” including a supporting role of Jewish and Gentile missions as documented by the respective ministries of the apostles Peter and Paul (pp. 22–23). This is helpful for the reader because it orients the narrative in salvation history—which is crucial for proper interpretation of the book of Acts.

One of things I appreciate the most about this commentary is the “Application”  at the end of each chapter. Waters uses these sections to drive home the practical aspect of the narrative. This is where we catch a glimpse of the authors’ pastoral heart. Though it is clear he has done the heavy exegetical work for the reader, he doesn’t bog the audience down with the intricacies of his scholarship. What we do see is the fruit of a masterful expositor rightly dividing the word of truth.

I would happily recommend this commentary to anyone who has the task of teaching the word of God, or even the lay person who just wants to dig deeper. A commentary on Acts written from a confessionally Reformed perspective is a great benefit to the Church, and Guy Waters’ volume in the EPSC holds a respectful position in the ever-increasing archive of biblical commentaries.

Recommended reading:

Effective December 1, 2009, Federal Trade Commission guidelines state that bloggers receiving any kind of compensation should disclose that information clearly on their blog when posting a review of the product… that being said: I RECEIVED A FREE COPY OF THE BOOK.

Review: China’s Reforming Chuches

120Baugus, Bruce P. “China’s Reforming Churches: Mission, Polity, and Ministry in the Next Christendom,” Reformation Heritage Books, Grand Rapids, MI: 2014. 320 pp. $20.00

As a relatively sheltered westerner with no missionary experience, I can safely say that my knowledge of Christianity in foreign contexts is extremely limited. Although I have read books and watched DVD’s on missions that have improved my understanding of global Christianity, there are still historical-cultural realities that are beyond my grasp. My perspective on Chinese Christianity, as this book informed me, has been quite skewed and I’ve been guilty of constructing  a naive caricature of the Church in China.

I am very grateful to Cross Focused Reviews for opportunity to review this book—it is an encouraging, and eye-opening read that has helped me to better understand and appreciate global Christianity. What this book offers is an orientation to the history of Christianity in the south Pacific, the presence of Presbyterian and Reformed churches in China today, and the shape of things to come with regard to Reformed/Presbyterianism in the far east.

In this book, you’ll find fascinating stories of missionary bravery as well as major mistakes that have occurred in the history of missions in China. You’ll learn about the sociopolitical issues throughout China’s history and how the gospel mission has been advanced and hindered. You’ll read of the great similarities between the Church in the west and east—the rise of postmodernism and the challenges of materialism in a post-industrial world.

Perhaps the most compelling section of the book is Part 3, in which the authors take a look at the challenges and opportunities for Presbyterianism in China. Here, readers will read of the multitude of social issues that pose difficulties for gospel ministry and the dichotomous relationship between the state-registered TSPM (Three-Self Patriotic Movement) churches and unregistered house churches. The section closes with an essay in which David VanDrunen offers a two-kingdoms approach to ministry in China (which is sure to cause a bit of a stir), and Guy Prentiss Waters offers an argument for global Presbyterian polity from Acts 15.

The book concludes by looking at the opportunity for Christian publishing in China, a report on Chinese theological education, and the indigenization (the use of Chinese language) and contextualization of the Reformed faith in the Chinese culture. The appendix includes Robert Morrison’s (the first Protestant missionary to arrive on Chinese soil) 19th century catechism that is based upon the Westminster Shorter Catechism of 1647.

Regardless of one’s views of soteriology or ecclesiology, this book should prove to be an encouragement for those interested in the gospel mission in China—which should be all who name Christ as their Savior. Baugus’ “China’s Reforming Churches” provides a captivating look into the past, present, and future of the gospel mission in China, which helps Christians understand the global impact of the gospel so they can minister effectively to those they come into contact with.

Recommended reading:

Effective December 1, 2009, Federal Trade Commission guidelines state that bloggers receiving any kind of compensation should disclose that information clearly on their blog when posting a review of the product… that being said: I RECEIVED A FREE COPY OF THE BOOK.

SALE: What is the Gospel?

Westminster Bookstore has an awesome deal on Greg Gilbert’s “What is the Gospel?”—up to 65% OFF (case quantity), or get single copies for 50% OFF! This book is a great for evangelism and outreach, as a gift for new believers, or even for mature Christians who want to bask in the glory of the gospel. Click the image or links for more information.

For more on this subject, please visit 9Marks.

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Review: Worshipping with Calvin

Johnson, Terry L. “Worshipping with Calvin: Recovering the Historic Ministry and Worship of Reformed Protestantism,” Darlington, England: 2014. 460 pp. $23.99

The recent resurgence of Calvinistic soteriology and Reformation theology has sparked many a conversation and produced quite a few popular-level books by the “Young, Restless, and Reformed” crowd. Although we’ve seen many responses to these works, typically addressing the theology and general ideology of the New Calvinism movement, Terry Johnson sets out to provide a scholarly work that focuses on the elements of Reformed worship.

In “Worshipping with Calvin,” Johnson presents extensive biblical and historical arguments for how a local church should conduct its worship services. He begins by looking at the contemporary evangelical landscape and the unfortunate historical and theological anemia that plagues it. After offering a comparison between the early Church and the current state of the western Church, and giving a brief historical survey of the 20th century “worship wars,” he provides strong exegetical, historical, and theological arguments in favor of a decidedly Reformed approach to worship and ministry.

Next, the author emphasizes the strengths of Reformed worship and ministry. He contends that this particular approach to liturgy is God-centered, Bible-filled, Gospel-structured, Church-aware, and Spirit-dependent.

This book was a great encouragement to me. I am in agreement with much of what is said within, but there are several arguments that the author gives that either changed my mind or solidified an existing position. For instance, Johnson has convinced me of the use of lectio continua (consecutive reading) Bible readings and singing Psalms in corporate worship. While previously, I have utilized lectio selecta (selective reading) Scripture readings to “reinforce” the passage preached, the author has convinced me of the wisdom in implementing a continuous reading of both the Old and New Testaments. Furthermore, while I have understood the importance of the Psalms for corporate worship, this book has convinced me of their necessity. Without dogmatically promoting a strict Psalms-only liturgical model, the author insists the inclusion of the Psalter and has convinced me that it is necessary to regularly and consistently involve Psalms in a worship service.

As a Reformed Baptist, I am in disagreement with the author’s views with regard to Covenant Theology and the sacrament of baptism (it is unfortunate that his treatment of credobaptism in chapter 6 only addresses the 16th century Anabaptists and not the 17th century Particular Baptists—though I acknowledge the book’s emphasis on John Calvin and the potential for anachronism), and while I have reservations with Johnson’s observations about ethnicity, his research is top-notch. Regardless of any covenantal differences I may have with Johnson, I strongly agree with the over-arching theme of this book—that our worship should be prescribed by Scripture and rooted in the historicity of the Church (and particularly that of the Reformation period). The cultural trends and encroachment of worldliness in contemporary American Christianity have spurned a new downgrade in the liturgical life of the Church, and my hope is that books like this will precipitate a doxological reformation in local evangelical churches.

Although this is a book primarily aimed at Presbyterians, I would recommend this book to any one who claims to be a Protestant Christian—particularly Pastors and Elders. Johnson offers a cogent exhortation for modern Christians to compare their liturgy with Scripture and Church history. He provides an abundance of Scriptural references, and quotes a multitude of well-known Pastors, theologians, and church historians (around 37% of the book is comprised of a bibliography and notes) to support his position. Terry Johnson’s “Worshipping with Calvin” is a helpful resource for Christians who want to glorify God in worship according to His Word.

For more on this subject, please visit the Historical Theology page.

Recommended reading:

Effective December 1, 2009, Federal Trade Commission guidelines state that bloggers receiving any kind of compensation should disclose that information clearly on their blog when posting a review of the product… that being said: I RECEIVED A FREE COPY OF THE BOOK.

SALE: The Pilgrim’s Progress

Crossway‘s 2009 edition of John Bunyan’s classic “The Pilgrim’s Progress” is now available for the excellent price of $15 at Westminster Bookstore. Even better, they’re throwing in a FREE copy of Leland Ryken’s “Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress” from the Christian Guides to the Classics series (valued at $5.99)!

For more on Bunyan and “The Pilgrim’s Progress,” please visit Chapel Library

Recommended reading:

Review: Life in Christ

The good folks at Cross Focused Reviews have blessed me with another book to review. I was really excited about the prospect of reviewing this book, as it deals with what I see as one of the most neglected aspects of the Christian life as represented in mainstream American evangelicalism: Discipleship. As the title implies, the book also covers the glorious doctrine of Union with Christ—which in its own right is a teaching that is largely overlooked. Jeremy Walker‘s “Life in Christ: Becoming and Being a Disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ” is a welcome addition to contemporary discipleship resources that is not only pastoral, but thoroughly biblical and theologically precise.

In the first chapter, “Looking to Jesus,” he instructs the reader as to how one comes to Christ for salvation. Walker examines the command and invitation of the gospel, as well as the purpose and promise of the gospel. Beginning with the contrast between human depravity and the necessity of regeneration, the author weaves biblical references in and through to help the reader understand the Bible’s teaching of conversion–repentance and faith–and the grace of being declared righteous according to the person and work of Jesus Christ.

In chapter two, Walker seeks to unpack the doctrine of Union with Christ. He points to the teachings of the apostle Paul to explain the Christian’s position “in Christ” and the Christian’s nature as a “new creation.” (pp. 22–27) The author continues by rightfully expounding upon 2 Corinthians 5:17. He explains that for the Christian, “the old has gone and is gone for good; the new has come and keeps on coming.” (p. 28) Walker then closes out the chapter with an evangelistic appeal: “Whoever comes to Christ in faith–repenting of his sins, seeing his misery without Christ, seeking grace to be in Christ–and earnestly desiring that one day he might see and be with Christ–will find Christ to be his Savior and Lord and will enter into the blessed realities of the new creation in himself now and look forward to a life in a new heaven and new earth with Christ in days to come, the very heaven of heaven.” (p. 34)

Walker speaks of “The Unsearchable Riches of Christ” in the third chapter, and described the glorious riches of Christ. Surveying the book of Ephesians, he shows the reader the “unsearchable” love, grace, forgiveness, wisdom, power, joy, truth, assurance, hope, and mercy in Christ (pp. 38–44). The glorious person of Christ is next to be considered, as the author gives a Christological overview regarding the deity, humanity, agony, and glory of the Savior. The chapter concludes with an explanation of the glorious mystery of the gospel and the revelation of Jesus Christ. “The unsearchable riches of Christ are proclaimed in order that they might be known and enjoyed, received by sinners who have come to rest in the boundless resources of Jesus Christ as their Deliverer, the One given for the very purpose of meeting the needs of fallen people. That in itself is unsearchable!” (p. 48) All other pursuits leave something to be desired, but the knowledge and loveliness of Christ, which is inexhaustible, is satisfying beyond measure.

Chapter four is about the blessed doctrine of adoption. Rooted in the writings of the apostle John, the author presents the breathtaking reality of God’s love towards His children: “This is indeed a love that comes from God the Father, the God who does abiding good to the utterly undeserving, establishing an intimate relation with them in giving, as a gift of love, His own beloved Son. This is a love without measure flowing from the infinite heart of a good and loving God, an ocean without shore, a realm without frontier.” (p. 58) The author shows how the love of God is everlasting and unchangeable, abounding and unlimited, and undeserved and overwhelming. (pp. 58–59) He has given us a new nature and calls us His sons, and Walker beckons us to behold this truth for wonder and encouragement, for trust and confidence, for obedience and fortitude, for joy and thankfulness, and finally, for joy. (pp. 60–65)

Continuing with his examination of the apostle John’s writings, Walker addresses eternal security in chapter nine: “The Jewel of Assurance.” He points to the pastoral mindset of John in his first epistle and how he wanted his readers to know Christ and have life in Him (cf. 1 John 5:13). We see that assurance of salvation is definable, desirable, and possible. (pp. 67–76) The author closes the chapter with the pneumatological reality of assurance: “It is the Spirit of adoption who works in us faith and its fruits, implanting and stimulating graces which are the evidence of new life and witnessing with our spirit to their presence and reality and owning us by His sweet influences and by these means as children of God. The good grounds of confidence in the life of a saved person produce, through the Spirit’s witness, their full gift in our minds and hearts.” (p.77)

In what I see as the most important chapter of the book, “The Marks of God’s Children” seeks to present a framework of the Christian life. The author begins by laying to rest some common “inconclusive indications” of assurance of salvation like visible morality, head knowledge, and external religion. (pp. 80–84). He then devotes the rest of the chapter to showcase the marks of a true Christian. These “indispensable indications” of biblical assurance are repentance and faith, devotion to God, growth in holiness, and love for the saints. (pp. 85–108) This section alone is worth the cost of the book and is a spiritual gem for the newly converted and veteran Christian alike. I will certainly be using this material for disciple-making in the future.

“A Work in Progress” is the title of chapter seven, in which the author surveys the apostle Paul’s writings on sanctification. It is a masterful call to persevere; to press on in the Christian life. We should strive to “work out our salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12) and not be passive in our pursuit of holiness. Walker rightly points out that Paul’s exhortation to put on the armor of God (Eph. 6:13–17) “is not a call to occasional endeavor but a command constantly and thoroughly to work at a task until the point of completion.” (p. 113) This is not works-righteousness… the indicatives of the gospel (what Christ has done) are prior to the imperatives of the gospel (what is expected of us). “Our joy and blessing as God’s children,” says Walker, “are bound up in God’s ultimate purpose for us, and he is sovereignly bringing it to pass.” (p. 125)

The final chapter focuses on the apostle Paul’s later writings, particularly those sections where we gain some insight into his impending death. “A Life in Review” is a heartfelt look at the apostle’s unending endurance in the fight and race of the faith. Paul looks around, looks back, and finally looks ahead to a great crown, a great Christ, and a great company of redeemed sinners in the consummation. (pp. 130–138)

Review

Jeremy Walker’s “Life in Christ” is a warm and encouraging explanation on what it means to be a Christian. With pastoral sensitivity and theological clarity, he presents a biblical faithful work on being a disciple and living life to the glory of God. Like a modern-day Puritan, Walker marries doctrine and practice to create a magnificent resource for instructing maturing disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ.

For more on this subject…

Jeremy Walker interviewed on the Janet Mefferd Show

Jeremy Walker interview with The Confessing Baptist

A Reader’s Review of “The New Calvinism Considered”

Recommended reading:

Effective December 1, 2009, Federal Trade Commission guidelines state that bloggers receiving any kind of compensation should disclose that information clearly on their blog when posting a review of the product… that being said: I RECEIVED A FREE COPY OF THE BOOK.

A Reader’s Review of The New Calvinism Considered

Jeremy Walker has been writing at Reformation21 (the online magazine of The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals) for three years, and I have enjoyed much of what he has shared. I own the book that he co-authored with Rob Ventura, “A Portrait of Paul: Identifying a True Minister of Christ,” and although I have not had the pleasure of reading it yet, I’ve heard nothing but positive reviews. I was excited when I heard about the release of “The New Calvinism Considered: A Personal and Pastoral Assessment,” as I have had my own concerns about the movement and had not read much about the topic. When Cross Focused Media and Evangelical Press offered me the opportunity to review the book, I jumped at the chance.

I confess at the outset that I share many of the same theological views with the author (both of us being confessionally Reformed Baptists who hold to the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith), so my expectations about the book were positive and my assumptions that we were in agreement about the content within were fairly accurate. One difference between myself and the author, however, is our nationality. Walker is a native of the United Kingdom, and I am a citizen of the Unites States. Given this distinction, his perception of the New Calvinism movement had the potential of being quite different than mine. Amidst all of the questions, concerns and criticism, the important thing to remember is that a majority of New Calvinists are brothers in Christ who love and preach the gospel.

The book is a relatively quick read, with just over 100 pages of material. Some of the theological terminology may be more difficult for new converts to Christianity, but the topic is not of interest to all who profess faith in Jesus. Those who are intimately involved with the subject matter (Calvinism, New Calvinism, etc.) will, however, find this a most important and timely book.

“The New Calvinism Considered” is divided up into five short chapters:

1. Comprehending the New Calvinism

2. Characteristics of the New Calvinism

3. Commendations

4. Cautions and Concerns

5. Conclusions and Counsels

Comprehending the New Calvinism

In this chapter, Walker shares his personal history and exposure to “New Calvinism,” which he briefly defines in the Preface as “the label applied to the resurgence of certain central aspects of Calvinistic doctrine within conservative evangelicalism” (pp. 8–9). He explains that while this movement has a large following in the United States, there has been a similar, albeit distinct manifestation in the United Kingdom as well. Walker points out that while there are elements to be valued, no movement is beyond critical examination. He then lays out the necessary approach for evaluation: Nature, Spirit, and Object.

The “nature” of his assessment is both personal and pastoral. He acknowledges the speed and variety of the development of such movements, and so the potentiality of erring in judgment is present. With humility, the author welcomes correction and instruction for any misconceptions and incorrect conclusions.

The “spirit” of the evaluation is “balanced and appropriately irenic appreciation” (p. 15). Walker recognizes that while he perceives concerns and possible dangers in the movement, most within the boundaries of New Calvinism are brothers (some even friends) in Christ. Nonetheless, neglecting to converse and warn others about faulty doctrine is not an option… but it requires wisdom. He writes, “I have no hesitation in affirming that it is not right to deal in a brotherly fashion with some who are increasingly dabbling with a Christianity that Is not merely on the fringes of the historic stream of orthodox faith but has pushed outside the envelope… while I have a desire for genuine understanding, true unity and gospel peace, we must remember that unity and peace at the expense of truth and righteousness is a wicked trade-off… a gentle and gracious approach is not the same as an endorsement of error, and is entirely consistent with a vigorously-held and ardently-promoted orthodoxy (see 2 Timothy 2:24–26)” (p. 16).

The “object” pertains to the fact that the movement is not a singular entity of uniformity. Walker explains: “there are degrees of association in this movement, and–working along the spectrum and through the various groupings–there are some who would fight shy of any sort of formal union or cooperation with certain others… we must be wary of assuming that this is some great and absolute theological or religious bloc that stands and falls together” (pp. 18–19). Given that the New Calvinism is not monolithic, the author acknowledges that his book is necessarily dealing with generalities and prefers not to be misunderstood by the reader.

Characteristics of the New Calvinism

The second chapter is quite obviously about the definitions and general properties of the New Calvinist movement. Walker claims that it is qualified by Calvinist doctrine, characterized by figureheads, marked by conglomeration, and in the process of consolidation (or transition).

Calvinism

As can be expected, the movement aligns itself with the five-points of Calvinism (commonly referred to by the T.U.L.I.P. acrostic—Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, and Perseverance of the Saints) and the biblical doctrine of divine sovereignty, but the author rightly points out that this over-simplification of Calvinism is not quite Calvinism (though it is to be commended). Furthermore, a number of proponents of New Calvinism reject the “L” in the acrostic, which is not Calvinism at all (though many refer to themselves as “4-Pointers”). This perspective has been historically recognized as Amyraldianism, which does not recognize the “classical Calvinist’s conviction… that the death of Jesus was intended only for the elect and therefore did not fail or fall short in any point or degree” (p. 22).

Characters

The New Calvinist movement is also influenced by personalities or even “celebrities” (within the American subculture of Evangelicalism). In some sense, any group or subculture will have figureheads who are admired and perhaps looked to for guidance and vision. It should be remembered, however, that we are dealing with categories in the context of Christianity. There are a number of popular Calvinistic pastors, theologians, authors, and bloggers who are the role models and “heavy hitters” in this movement, and Walker impresses upon the reader the potential dangers with this aspect of the movement: “The cult of celebrity in the modern West has infiltrated the church, so much so that we can seem to be presuming that the Lord is obliged to work or invariably will work when the right person or persons are present: get someone prominent to preach and people are bound to listen… this leads to at least three related dangers: the danger of slavish capitulation, the danger of mere imitation and the danger of unintended disconnection” (pp. 26–27).

Conglomeration

The third characteristic Walker points to is a fascination with networks and conferences. While parachurch ministries and Christian conventions are not dangers in and of themselves, they have the potential of confusing and blurring the roles and responsibilities of the local church. Unbridled ecumenism and a lack of antithesis are common issues that are a result of preoccupation with coalitions and seminars. I know many people (including myself) that have benefited from some of the ministries and conferences mentioned in the book, so I cannot say there is an objective and universal risk. While many people who frequent them are mature Christians (often pastors and ministry leaders) who are discerning and critically evaluate all they read and hear, this is not always the case. Furthermore, spiritual maturity and theological acumen are not vaccines that prevent potentially defective doctrine and practice from impacting leadership and the life of the local church.

Consolidation

Lastly, the author explains that the New Calvinism is decelerating: “The whole machine is slowing down. There is not the same buzz, the same energy, the same drive as once there was. The river is broader and it is slower. The enthusiasm has shifted slightly and the issues and arguments have developed… this is not the rushing mountain stream it once was, with the dynamism simply to carry light things before it” (p. 38). Walker points out that by and large, the movement is in a period of transition and succession.

Commendations

Chapter three points to many of the honorable aspects of New Calvinism. I am in hearty agreement with these features and God has used many within the movement to bring these truths to home in my heart and mind. I do not regret these emphases and I am grateful for those men who labor to promote many of these respectable properties.

Christ-Oriented and God-Honouring

The first and most important distinctive of New Calvinism is its orientation in christocentrism (the person and work of Jesus Christ being the central point). Walker offers his heartfelt approval of this tenet: “…this movement is substantially and explicitly galvanized by concern for the supremacy of God in Christ and that the Lord of Glory be magnified in all things. That is a good thing–it might even be properly described as being at the very core of what it means to be a Calvinist–and something we should embrace as giving us common ground with any man who holds truly to that conviction and its necessary corollaries” (p. 41). Amen! He continues, “There are men individually and churches corporately whose entire notions of what it means to be genuinely Christian have been healthily revolutionized or revitalized by this emphasis. Many have been set on a more biblical track as a result” (p. 41). This is something that I can personally attest to and I praise God for this fruit of New Calvinism.

Grace-Soaked

The second commendation offered by Walker is a commitment to the gospel and the practice of grace as a necessary result. Again, this is an element of the movement that has had a profound impact on my life; it is something that has helped my thinking and reminds me of my responsibility to God and neighbor. The author rightly points out the emotional vigor and evangelical zeal that is common amongst New Calvinists—something that any and all Christians should be thankful for.

Missional

Building from the previous two points–and closely related–is a preoccupation with the mission of God to save sinners. “The new Calvinism tends to be passionately and sacrificially missional. There is a desire that the glory of God be known in all the earth and so most of those involved seek to preach the gospel and to make disciples (there is a good and healthy emphasis on discipleship in many circles). They want to plant churches and to train preachers…It is, in many respects, a reflection of New Testament Christianity, and obviously that it is to be heartily commended. It is a model that too many churches have lost sight of, both in their prayers and in their practices and pursuits” (pp. 44–45). While “missional” has been (and largely remains) a vague buzzword that has wide application, the general principle here addressed by Walker is a radical servanthood characterized by self-sacrifice and love of others.

Complementarian

Another common thread amongst the New Calvinists is the biblical teaching of complimentarianism. This is essentially an understanding of the equal value, but unique roles and responsibilities of men and women as ordained by God. With a spectrum analysis there are bound to be exceptions and variations, but by and large, this is a movement marked by complementarianism. It is an interesting distinctive when one considers the whole of biblical revelation, for there are any number of doctrines that can be championed as pillars of a ministry. Walker explains, “I find it rather amusing that–given all the things about the new Calvinism seems determined not to be about–complementarianism in the realm of gender and male/female relationships is such a significant issue, so much so that I could almost put this in the list of defining qualities” (p. 47). While this position is a necessary response to much of the unbiblical teachings on sexuality, the author sees cause for concern. “…in some circles there seems to be an obsession with sex and sexuality–often excused on the basis of the hypsersexuality of the Western culture–which is, at best out of kilter with the biblical treatment of the topic, and at worst, a gross example of darkness masquerading as light” (p. 48).

Immersed and Inventive

Of the many interests that are characteristic of this movement, Walker focuses on two—theology and technology. Many New Calvinists are biblically informed and technologically savvy. These are two qualities that I personally admire… I am grateful for (and sometimes jealous of) the theological prowess and technological creativity of many of my New Calvinist brothers. I have learned much from them and appreciated much of the risk and ingenuity involved in investigating new apps and software and introducing Christians to the potential usefulness of such technology. This is not to say that others outside the movement are not immersed and inventive, but it seems as though a majority of the New Calvinists have a lasting interest in reading ministry-related books and investing in technology for the glory of God.

Preaching

Preaching–particularly expository preaching–is also a favorable component. There is a great deal of promise here as there is a correlation with the “character” and “conglomeration” features that were presented earlier in chapter two. Walker observes: “Many of the leading lights of the movement are pastors and preachers, committed either to systematic expository preaching series or to some other form of expository ministry. The conferences have been, by and large, preaching conferences. Discussions often revolve around what the Bible says and what it means. Books are written expounding the Word of God. There are and there will continue to be discussions about whether or not the expositions, conclusions and applications are accurate—the same sort of often-healthy discussions as happen within, across and between other circles” (p. 53). When the leading personalities and ministries truly subject themselves to biblical fidelity (and in so doing, avoid worldliness and renounce what Walker calls “slavish capitulation”) there is an auspicious potential for a lasting positive impact.

Summary

As Walker closes the chapter, he points out that this is not an exhaustive list and that variety within the movement demands wisdom and discernment on a case by case basis. Above all things, the author rightly exhorts us to “recognise the grace of God and to be glad when we see it” (p. 55), rejoice when God uses New Calvinism to redeem sinners (p. 56), and “stand together on matters of first importance and shared interest” with mutual affection (p. 56).

Cautions and Concerns

Although the New Calvinism has many commendable attributes, like other movements, it is not beyond criticism. Using pastoral care and analytical precision, Walker sets forth his concerns about this compelling camp.

Pragmatism and Commercialism

“In many new Calvinists,” says Walker, “there is a tendency to pragmatism and commercialism… in some parts of the new Calvinism the entrepreneurial spirit has run amok” (p. 59). While this is largely true of American evangelicalism, the author gives specific examples of “celebrity pastors” within New Calvinism who employ pragmatism and corporate strategy in their ecclesiastical endeavors. He also points out the common obsession with numerical growth, recognition, and cultural adaptation among many as well: “There is more than a hint of performance, often something overly dramatic or slickly cultured in some of the preaching and presentation… in some circles, there is explicit encouragement to study the methods and mannerisms of worldly entertainers and to employ them for the kingdom…There are times in which men in and around this movement run the church more like a commercial enterprise than they minister to it as the body of Christ” (p. 63).

Culture

Another difficulty with the movement is over-contextualization. Walker claims that to some in new Calvinism, the sovereignty of God translates to the world being “neutral territory” (p. 67). Since God is in control, “culture is all up for grabs: no distinction is permitted between the sacred and the secular, or even the profane—for some, such distinctions are part of evangelicalism’s anti-intellectualism. We are conquering culture for King Jesus, therefore nothing is out of bounds. We can take anything this world produces and we can Christianize it” (p. 67). Sadly, this can often result in an obsession with relevance, or as Walker says, “Some new Calvinists can be so concerned to be relevant and accessible that they become slaves to hipness” (pp. 68–69). There is some to be commended here, for it is important for us to understand the environment we minister in and seek to address issues in an effective way. Nonetheless, we should not become engrossed in the culture to the detriment of the church.

Holiness

There is also, in this group, “a troubling approach to holiness” according to the author. He claims that there is both an “incipient antinomianism” (anti = against; nomos = law) and a “false dichotomy… between faith and duty” which is the result of an improper understanding of sanctification. “The focus,” writes Walker, “has ended up on self-satisfaction rather than God-glorification” (p. 78). While some over-react against obedience out of fear of legalism, he points out that their worry is unfounded. He correctly asserts that “the Christian is liberated in order to be holy! Principled obedience is not legalism” (p. 79). Walker is worried (with good cause) that “the focus on gospel indicatives has blinded some to their connection to gospel imperatives” (p. 80). It is not an either-or, but a both-and.

Ecumenism

The pursuit of unity is not necessarily a bad thing. There is, however, a danger in doing so at the expense of truth. In his book, Walker gives the example of the Elephant Room fiasco involving mega-church pastors Mark Driscoll, James MacDonald (both council members of The Gospel Coalition at the time), and “Bishop” T.D. Jakes (who is a Modalist and word-faith prosperity preacher). While the Elephant Room (both of them) was a ridiculous spectacle of rampant ecumenism,  Walker also points out the lack of accountability towards those involved. He suggests that “this ecumenism is not that Scriptural communion and cooperation which any right-minded believer would pursue, but rather a watering down of that crisp and clear definition which serves the church of Christ best” (p. 91).

Spiritual Gifts

Pneumatology (the study of spiritual things) is also a challenging area for some in the movement. Besides the disparity between cessationists and continuationists in New Calvinism, there is a third group who refuses to address the issue. For instance, one will hear the term “open, but cautious” used in these discussions. Though Walker warns the cessationist of becoming so jaded and worried about the abuses of some charismatics that they “give up” the Holy Spirit, he also points to the real issue: “the whole nature of authority in its relation to divine revelation” (p. 98). One point especially is worth comtemplating: “You will hear the phrase ‘Reformed Charismatic.’ Some would suggest, with credibility, that those two things are mutually exclusive, precisely because of this issue of authority and revelation” (p. 98).

Triumphalism

Those who deal in absolutes and hold to the truth of Scriptures have a susceptibility to theological and/or intellectual elitism. This is not unique to New Calvinism. In fact, Walker admits his own inclination to pride and arrogance, and all of us should too—we would not make claims about the truth if we believed we were wrong. But with the New Calvinism, the combination of celebrity culture, theological rigor, cultutral relevance, and commercial pragmatism creates a hotbed for triumphalism. There is also a prevailing sense of what C.S. Lewis (another darling of New Calvinism) called “chronological snobbery.” Walker asserts, “This is true especially of some of those who are coming in around and just behind some of the figureheads. You can read assertions from fairly prominent individuals that in the past something similar to this movement has happened, but it all fell apart… but this time it’s different, this time it’s better, this time we’ve got it right, this time it’s here to stay, this time it will last, this time the onward march will not falter” (p. 99). There is an overconfidence here that is characteristic of a young and relatively successful endeavor.

Summary

In closing the chapter, the author shares a fascinating observation. Although the New Calvinism seeks to be christocentric and God-honoring, at it’s worst it can be very anthropocentric (man-centered). “There are sometimes prominent indications of concern for human approval, reliance on worldly means and principles, embrace of worldly models, and subsequent departure from or wooliness on historic orthodox Christianity at various important points” he says (p. 102). Certainly, this is a worst-case scenario. We should be thankful for the good fruit produced by the movement, but seek to identify and prune that which causes decay. “On the one hand,” says Walker, “we must not throw the baby out with the bathwater; on the other hand, if the baby has swallowed all the bathwater, we may not have a great deal of choice” (p. 103). At its best, New Calvinism is a commendable effort at practical Christianity; but at its worst, it is the product of egotistical worldliness.

Conclusions and Counsels

Walker concludes the book with a bold exhortation and plea for biblical Christianity: “Be Calvinists. Don’t be new Calvinists or any other particular brand or stripe of Calvinists, whatever those distinctions may presently mean, or may come to mean. Fundamentally, I would urge you to live before God rather than before men. This means that we should consider what it means to serve the Lord in our particular circumstances and follow that course humbly and faithfully, individually and corporately, regardless of the pleasures or pains which that course seems to hold out” (p. 104). In responding to the New Calvinism, “we should avoid knee-jerk reactions, thoughtlessly dismissing or embracing something or someone, or everything and everyone, without proper consideration,” “avoid blanket judgments,” and “show discernment as believers,” says Walker (p. 105). He closes with a plea for unity with true believers in the movement, and an argument for the submission to Scripture for the sake of the church. This, says Walker, is best displayed in confessionalism: “An intelligent and wholehearted commitment to a more comprehensive, tried-and-tested expression of Scriptural truth provides a buffer against the kind of shocks that drive men and churches off their feet… we need to set our feet upon a doctrinal rock where others have proved that a saint can safely stand when buffeted by the winds and waves of falsehood” (pp. 111–112).

Review

For such a small book, there is certainly a lot to digest. I am impressed with the author’s ability to be concise, for while this is a generalization, the book could easily be a few hundred pages longer if some of the issues and themes were teased out. This book has a limited target audience, so I would not recommend it to everyone—but I would recommend it to any pastor (particularly Calvinist or New Calvinist) who has been involved with or has questions about this popular movement in contemporary Christianity. At the risk of criticizing this work for something it did not intend to do, I would have liked to see more Scripture references in the book (I counted just over a dozen). This will be a problem for some readers—especially those who disagree with the author and seek to discredit him. Nevertheless, the book is full of biblical wisdom and the principles within are the result of a minister critically assessing the New Calvinism with Scriptural lenses after much rumination and meditation on God’s Word. I believe that Jeremy Walker has succeeded in what he set out to do: give an honest and balanced evaluation of the New Calvinism and encourage Christians to think biblically and critically about it; to be grateful for the good qualities, but vocal about the potential dangers.

For more on this subject…

Jeremy Walker interview with The Confessing Baptist

Jeremy Walker interview with Shaun Tabatt of Author Talks

Kevin DeYoung on the New Calvinism

Recommended reading:

 

Effective December 1, 2009, Federal Trade Commission guidelines state that bloggers receiving any kind of compensation should disclose that information clearly on their blog when posting a review of the product… that being said: I RECEIVED A FREE COPY OF THE BOOK.

 

A Reader’s Review of The Gospel Call and True Conversion

Approximately eight years ago, I was travelling from Atlanta to Chattanooga to do some street evangelism with some friends from church. I had never been involved with evangelism (and quite frankly, I am not fully convinced that I was truly converted at this time), but I thought it would be a good opportunity to serve the church and assist my friends in their ministry. On the way to the church camp in North Georgia that we were partnering with, we listened to a conference message by Paul Washer that has been dubbed “Shocking Youth Message”. I don’t remember the specific details of the car ride, but I do recall experiencing an acute sense of my own depravity and conviction of sin. This was my introduction to the ministry of Paul Washer and since then I have listened to many of his sermons and even read a book or two that he wrote.

Cross Focused Reviews has once again provided me with the opportunity to review a book by one of my favorite authors/preachers… “The Gospel Call & True Conversion” by Paul Washer.

This particular book is the second in the “Recovering the Gospel” series (the first being “The Gospel’s Power and Message”) and it aims to do just that. The gospel has been assumed, neglected, and even forgotten in our time and the purpose of this series is to restore a biblical understanding of the good news and “recover” it from contemporary mutations and distortions. Here is the series description:

“Although the Recovering the Gospel Series does not represent an entirely systematic presentation of the gospel, it does address most of the essential elements, especially those that are most neglected in contemporary Christianity. It is the hope of the author that these words might be a guide to help you rediscover the gospel in all its beauty, scandal, and saving power. It is his prayer that such a rediscovery might transform your life, strengthen your proclamation, and bring the greatest glory to God.”

The book has three parts: “The Gospel Call”, “New Hearts and the Nature of True Conversion”, and “New People and the Nature of True Conversion”. These units are comprised of a selection of Washer’s sermons.

In the first section, the author describes the biblical teaching on the “double-sided coin” of conversion… repentance and faith. He properly explains repentance as a “change of mind” (pp. 5–8), points out that it involves “sorrow for sin” (pp. 8–10) and a “personal acknowledgment and confession of sin” (pp. 10–11) as well as a “turning away from sin” (pp. 11–13), the “renunciation of works” (pp. 13–16), and “turning to God in obedient submission” (pp. 16–18). Biblical repentance also includes a life marked by “practical obedience” (pp. 18–19), and a “continuing and deepening work of repentance” (pp. 19–21). Next, Washer explains what true saving faith is. He explains that it is essentially trusting in the finished work of Christ alone, by the grace of God alone (to exclude boasting), to the glory of God alone. The author takes to task the modern evangelical traditions of “the sinner’s prayer” and “making a decision for Christ” (ch. 3–4) and finishes the unit by deconstructing a common misinterpretation of Revelation 3:20 (ch. 5).

Washer dedicates the second part to the biblical doctrine of regeneration. He explains the motive (the love of God) and end (the glory of God) in salvation (ch. 6), shows that God is both the author, sustainer, and perfecter of saving faith (ch. 7), and that sanctification (separation and cleansing) is a necessary result of justification (the legal declaration of righteousness by God upon a sinner through faith in Jesus) for those who have been adopted by the heavenly Father (ch. 8). If there is one thing about this book that I am most grateful for… it is this section. Regeneration (i.e. the new birth… being “born again”) is one of the most distorted elements of salvation that is in dire need of being “recovered”. Building upon the previous unit where he refutes the unbiblical teaching of “decisionism” (in which a person is “saved” by making a “decision” for Christ), he explains the Scriptural doctrine of divine monergism. The Bible clearly teaches that because of his sinful nature, man is separated from God and his will is in bondage to sin. Because of this depravity and enmity towards God, man is not able or willing to come to God on His terms and will not seek Him or submit to His will. Salvation is of the Lord, and the only way a sinner comes to salvation by faith in Christ is by the grace of God alone… in drawing them by His Spirit and giving them new life. One cannot seek God or believe in Christ for salvation unless they have been “born from above” by the Spirit (ch. 9–10).

Part three is about the new covenant community of God. The author devotes this section to helping the reader understand some differences between the old covenant and the new covenant. He writes:

“In the old covenant, God called a physical nation descended from Abraham to be His people, but within that great multitude of individuals, only a small number of them were truly regenerate and believing. The rest were unregenerate and carnal, and are now suffering eternal perdition. In the new covenant, God is calling forth a spiritual nation made up of Jews and Gentiles, and all of them are regenerate and believing. There is not a godly remnant in the true church; that true church is the godly remnant.” (p. 121)

Washer continues by describing the new covenant prophecies of the Old Testament and their fulfillment in Jesus Christ:

“Through the atoning work of Christ and the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit, God has made for Himself a new people. He has taken out their heart of stone and replaced it with a heart of living flesh. He has recreated them to be a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession; a people who will proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called them out of darkness into His marvelous light.” (p. 129)

The author seeks to correct unbiblical notions of ecclesiology (the doctrine of the church) and dispels contemporary accusations against the body of Christ (ch. 12), he addresses the importance of the knowledge of God in the revelation of Jesus (ch. 13), and explains division and unity within the visible church (ch. 14). Washer closes out the book by teaching about God’s covenant faithfulness and the unrelenting lovingkindness He has towards His covenant people (ch. 15)… the covenant He has with the saints is everlasting and as a perfectly faithful God, His promises to them will and must come to pass. Believers stand on the covenant promises of our Lord and trust that all things work together for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose… He has begun a good work in each one of us, and He will continue to work effectually in us until the return of Christ when we will be made like Him (ch. 16).

Overall, I thought this was a pretty good book. Since it is a compilation of sermons, there are times when the book does not necessarily flow from one thought to the next, but the content is great. I would have liked to see an index with references, but nonetheless, this book is saturated with Scripture throughout and along with presenting sound biblical doctrine, it accurately defends orthodox Christianity while dismissing common contemporary misconceptions and false teachings.

For more on this subject, visit HeartCry Missionary Society.

Recommended reading:

Effective December 1, 2009, Federal Trade Commission guidelines state that bloggers receiving any kind of compensation should disclose that information clearly on their blog when posting a review of the product… that being said: I RECEIVED A FREE COPY OF THE BOOK.

The Biblical Doctrine of the Family

THE BIBLICAL DOCTRINE OF THE FAMILY

“Churches committed to ‘church growth’ are often tempted to ignore family ministry. It seems easier to minister to rootless individuals as individuals and to push the children aside as distractions. But that mentality is short-sighted in my view. Besides neglecting important biblical priorities, it loses one substantial opportunity for church growth. Many families today are hungry for counsel. Having bought into the dominant modern thinking, and having seen its failure, they are looking for something better. They watch with broken hearts as their children are eaten alive spiritually by the public schools, the media, the peer-pressure. To these the message of Christ can come as the best news imaginable. Churches that minister effectively to families and children often experience substantial growth as more and more families seek their help.” (John Frame)

For more on this subject, please visit the Pastoral Theology page.

 

Recommended reading:

A Reader’s Review of “Prepared by Grace for Grace”

The kind people at Cross Focused Media have asked me to do another book review. I am grateful for the pulpit and pen ministry of Joel Beeke, so I jumped at the opportunity to read and review “Prepared by Grace, for Grace: The Puritans on God’s Ordinary Way of Leading Sinners to Christ”, which is co-authored with Paul Smalley. I must admit that I had no prior knowledge about the Puritan doctrine of “preparation” before encountering this book, so I was a bit intimidated knowing I would have to review it.

The concept of “preparation” is summed up in the subtitle: “God’s ordinary way of leading Sinners to Christ”. In other words, preparation is the means God uses to draw sinners to Himself prior to regeneration and faith. The authors of this book aim to defend the Puritan practice of preparation from those who argue that it is a departure from the theology of the Reformers.

The book consists of fourteen chapters, wherein Beeke and Smalley take the reader on a historical and theological tour of notable Puritan preparatory proponents. It begins by presenting the contemporary challenges to preparation in modern scholarship, which are claims the authors seek to undo throughout the rest of the book. Next, we read about the “Precedents to Puritan Preparation”… the men who paved the way for puritan theology (Augustine, Luther, Calvin). From here, we learn of a number Puritans who, while teaching the doctrine of preparation, maintain the sovereignty of God in salvation and monergistic regeneration. The authors clearly show that they have done the necessary work with primary source material and take pains to refute the claims of modern scholars. The Puritans featured in the book clearly held to the God-centered orthodoxy of Reformed soteriology while keeping in tension the truth of man’s responsibility.

The Puritans featured in this book are:

William Perkins (1558–1602)

Richard Sibbes (1577–1635)

John Preston (1587–1628)

William Ames (1576–1633)

Thomas Hooker (1586–1647)

Thomas Shepard (1605–1649)

William Pemble (1591–1623)

John Cotton (1585–1652)

Jeremiah Burroughs (1600–1646)

William Guthrie (1620–1665)

John Norton (1606–1663)

Thomas Goodwin (1600–1680)

Giles Firmin (1614–1697)

John Flavel (1627–1691)

John Bunyan (1628–1688)

Jonathan Edwards (1703–1758)

After presenting a long trail of evidence supporting the consistency between the preparatory theology of the magisterial reformers and that of the Puritans, the authors then compare Puritan preparation with the doctrine of the “continental divines” (some of them also belonging to the “magisterial” group): Ulrich Zwingli (1484–1531); Heinrich Bullinger (1504–1575); Theodore Beza (1519–1605); Peter van Mastricht (1630–1706); Zacharias Ursinus (1534–1583); Francis Turretin (1623–1687); WIlhelmus à Brakel (1635–1711); Herman Witsius (1636–1708); and Arthur Dent (1553–1607). Beeke and Smalley show repeatedly that the ordinary means of preparing sinners for salvation (i.e. the preaching of the Law) is a practice that the entire Reformed tradition has in common.

The book closes with a reprise of the contemporary criticism of Puritan preparation and the summation of the investigative work of the authors to refute such claims. They point out that while some Puritan concepts with regard to preparation were erroneous (for instance, Thomas Shepard and Thomas Hooker taught that one must necessarily be content with being damned prior to conversion, which many in the Reformed tradition rightfully deny), the majority views amongst those who hold to the ordinary means of preaching the Law with a view toward preparatory humiliation are consistent with Reformed theology and practice. The appendix contains William Ames’ “Praeparatione Peccatoris ad Conversionem” (On the Preparation of the Sinner for Conversion).

While this book is not necessarily a leisurely read and therefore one that I would broadly recommend, it would nonetheless benefit a great number and variety of people if they were to read it. For the preacher, teacher, and evangelist, it presses upon them the importance of preaching the Law as the necessary means of God in bringing about conviction in the sinner. This book would also be especially valuable to those who have been recently convinced of the truth of Reformed theology. Often times when one is confronted with biblical doctrines such as predestination, election, and monergistic regeneration, they experience a brand of zeal commonly referred to as “the cage stage” (in which they are overcome with a strong urge to vehemently proclaim these grand truths to anyone and everyone with little tact or wisdom). This book, when read with discernment, reminds the reader of the responsibility of man within the framework of God’s sovereignty in salvation. We must remember that the Law is the pedagogical means in which God drives men to His Gospel and He employs men to preach this Law in the power of the Holy Spirit, so that the Spirit may give new life and grant repentance and faith in them. While God is sovereign in His electing grace, it is our responsibility to preach the Law and Gospel to all and rely on the effectual work of the Holy Spirit to regenerate those who are predestined for salvation. The authors do a masterful job of maintaining the balance (for a lack of a better word) of God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility while refuting the claims of critics who say that the Puritan doctrine of preparation is antithetical to Reformation theology.

For more on this subject, visit Meet the Puritans.

Recommended reading:

Effective December 1, 2009, Federal Trade Commission guidelines state that bloggers receiving any kind of compensation should disclose that information clearly on their blog when posting a review of the product… that being said: I RECEIVED A FREE COPY OF THE BOOK.