Book Review of “Beyond Opinion”

Posted: April 17, 2011 by Rick Hogaboam in Book Reviews
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Zacharias, Ravi (editor). 2007. Beyond Opinion: Living the Faith We Defend. Thomas Nelson: Nashville, TN

I want to thank the fine folks at Thomas Nelson for providing this review copy. Ravi compiles a great group of folks to author the various chapters in this volume and they all represent their assigned topics quite well. While all of the contributors and chapters were great in content, I wish to briefly review 5 chapters that I found to be the most helpful personally.

Dr. Alister McGrath does a tremendous job in his chapter, “Challenges From Atheism”. McGrath has quite the reputation for his ability to dialogue with the new aggressive atheism that is represented by the likes of Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, and others.  This chapter provides a nice brief history of the debate, documenting the rise of atheism in the west with the likes of Karl Marx, Bertrand Russell and others. McGrath notes the irony of how atheism has historically bound people into oppression while it was peddled under the pretense of its liberating power from the opium of religion. The thought was that if you could get rid of God, then life would be much happier and rid of guilt and shame. Well, we all are made to worship, so the new idols in atheism usually became the leader of the state. The oppressive regimes of atheistic communism revealed the odious nature of a Godless culture. McGrath notes the falling of the Berlin wall as the people’s revolt against oppressive atheism.

McGrath theorizes that 9/11 was instrumental for the new atheism as many atheists made their case that religion “poisons everything”. There was a proliferation of books that followed 9/11, given rise to the new era of aggressive unapologetic atheism.

McGrath spends the rest of his chapter responding to what he labels as 4 of the “fundamental atheist challenges”. He cites them as follows: 1) Christianity, like all religions, leads to violence, 2)God is just an invention designed to console losers, 3) Christian faith is a leap in the dark without an reliable basis, and 4) The natural sciences have disproved God. McGrath’s response are brief, but yet effective. This chapter serves a great little primer for any who wishes to understand the history of atheism and its resurgence in the past decade.

Dr. John Lennox pens another wonderful chapter in this compilation, “Challenges from Science”. Lennox catalogues the main Christian doctrines that are under attack from the scientific community, namely creation and other associated doctrines like providence. Lennox dispels the myth that Christianity and the discipline of science are mutually exclusive enemies. Lennox lists a who’s who of the scientific community that were theists (most of them Christian). Lennox vindicates Galileo as a Christian, who was challenging the prevailing notions of the Aristotelian scientific paradigm more than seeking to defy the church. It just so happened that everyone held the same general scientific convictions at the time.

Lennox deals with a whole host of issues that the reader would find pertinent in light of what’s going on in modern Evangelicalism and science. He also is quite persuasive in noting the limitations of science. Many scientists don’t even claim the discipline of science to have a totalizing answer to all things. If the sum of all things is matter, then one would actually be consistent in claiming science as totalizing, however it usually ends up saying more about things than evidence warrants. Lennox is not advocating a dichotomy between science and philosophy as much as he is simply noting the limitations of one discipline without the other. In this sense, he views science and faith as allies and commends many wonderful scientists who conducted their work for the glory of God. Such a motive didn’t interfere with or disrupt their scientific enquiry, but actually made sense of it in a way that was liberating and awe-inspiring. Oh that we would have more scientists with such a frame of mind and heart.

Joe Boot explores “Broader Cultural and Philosophical Challenges” and essentially commends the role of faith in believing. You must want to believe in order to believe or all the evidence in the world will do nothing. Boot examines the spiritual nature of doubt in apologetics, as well as “the clear sight of faith”. He reminds us of the following (166):

The great problem facing a skeptic, then, is him- or herself, not a lack of evidence or adequacy of reasons to believe. We tend to find only what we want to find and to see only what we want to see. The fallen human desire to escape the reality of God is very strong.

Boot subsequently provides helpful information to keep in mind when dialoging with skeptics. He commends “stealth” apologetics, which requires a much more savvy approach than mere dictation of facts. One must acknowledge that a skeptic is dealing with deeply spiritual doubts and speak to that person with some level of empathy of seek to woo them to Christ, hopefully seeing faith arise with the desire to know the truth.

Ravi Zacharias pens what I found to be the most useful chapter, “Existential Challenges of Evil and Suffering”. It is simply one of the best treatments I have seen on the issue of evil and suffering in chapter form…I will leave it at that.

There was one other chapter that I found very helpful. Danielle DuRant’s chapter, “Idolatry, Denial, and Self-Deception: Hearts on Pilgrimage through the Valleys”, explored some common challenges for the believer throughout their journey. What we assent to as believers may at times be challenged, and certainly at other times we may feel dry in the heart in regards to the truths that ought to bring us joy and comfort.

All in all, I would commend this book. There are a total of 14 chapters beyond the 5 I especially enjoyed and all of them are educational, edifying, and useful for Christian witness. I suspect I will reference this book again and again throughout pastoral ministry.

Endued is moving to Tota Scriptura

Posted: January 10, 2011 by Rick Hogaboam in Uncategorized

I will no longer be posting on Endued, but have set up a new personally dedicated blog at the website www.totascriptura.com.

The Tota Scriptura site will be dedicated to the following:

This blog is dedicated to the totality of Scripture and how it informs our understanding of God, the world, and mankind. The Bible has sadly become something of a book of quotations, a collection of helpful prooftexts for many Christians today. Preachers are increasingly ignoring the totality of Scripture and instead emphasizing a redacted version of Scripture in the name of relevance.

Christians have long been considered “people of the Book”. It’s critical in this age that we live up to that honorable reputation of being people of the “Good Book”. For those Christians who only think that the New Testament is relevant, the New Testament itself bears witness to the full witness of Scripture.

Jesus, the incarnate Word Himself, says (John 5:39):

John 5:39 (ESV) — 39 You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me,

The resurrected Lord gave what must have been the Bible study of all Bible studies (emphasis mine):

Luke 24:25–27 (ESV) — 25 And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.

In the discharge of Paul’s apostolic ministry, he also applied the “tota Scriptura” principle during his time in Ephesus (emphasis mine):

Acts 20:26–27 (ESV) — 26 Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all of you, 27 for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.

Paul told Timothy the following (emphasis mine):

2 Timothy 3:16–17 (ESV) — 16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.

Most of the community bloggers on Endued feature their own personal blog which you can continue to follow. You can find their links by clicking on the “Who are the Community Bloggers” tab and reading their bios.

I look forward to hearing from you on the new site.

Book Review of Jon Walker’s Costly Grace: A Contemporary View of Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship”  

I am working on making my book reviews more concise and to the point. I have a way of writing books about books.

Lowdown: Jon Walker does a great job in examining the issue of discipleship and summoning the voice of Bonhoeffer in response to many of the contemporary struggles of the church, particularly the church in America.  

Summary: Walker devotes 25 of the 28 chapters specifically to “being like Jesus…” He touches on areas of prayer, vocation, and loving one’s enemies among many other pertinent concerns for discipleship. In many ways this book is similar to John Piper’s classic, “Desiring God”, in that the primary focus is on Spiritual formation within the more common categories of our life’s concerns.

My Thoughts (Good and Bad): I enjoyed reading the book and think that this may very well rank with one of the better modern books on Spiritual formation. Walker is redundant, but only so far as Scripture is redundant in saying the same thing over and over again so that we can be absolutely clear of what a disciple of Jesus looks like.

Walker sounds like an Ana-Baptist, very similar to Richard Foster, but offers the necessary qualifications on certain issues–like loving one’s enemies not requiring absolute restriction of self-defense when necessary. There are times, however, when Walker sounds anti-credal, anti-liturgical, and almost anti-ecclesiastical. My concerns are that one can walk away from this book thinking that discipleship is pretty much between Jesus and I, and therefore renders the church as a useless appendage in ones pursuit of being a true disciple.

I’m sure that Walker has no intentions of leading people away from the church, but I suspect that his ecclesiology leaves something to be desired. If anything, giving Walker the benefit of the doubt, I am thinking that he only intends to accentuate the fact that discipleship does in fact consist more in how we actually live our life moment by moment and less to do with an hour on Sunday. If that’s the case, I can yield an “Amen”. Even so, we must not make everything sacred to the point where we simply view the administration of the Word and Sacraments on the Lord’s day has having no more significance that personal prayer during the week.

Bottom Line: Overall, I would heartily commend Walker’s book, along with Piper’s “Desiring God”, and some other classics from the likes of Jerry Bridges. I prefer this book over Dallas Willard and Richard Foster’s writings. Paul anguished for the Galatians that Christ would be formed in them and Walker seeks the same in resurrecting some powerful insights from Bonhoeffer. I think that Bonhoeffer would be happy with Walker’s treatment. I certainly agree with Walker’s premise that grace is costly and not cheap. Too many churches are peddling cheap grace and thus not stimulating the body to true discipleship. This book will be a kick in the butt for most and hopefully cause you to pause at times for some introspection and prayer. To that end I pray that God will use this book.

For an interview with Walker about the book, I recommend: http://www.edstetzer.com/2010/11/book-interview-jon-walker-on-c.html

Question and Answer (in a page or less)

What does “patristic” mean?

“Patristic” refers to the first centuries in the history of the church. This refers roughly to the period between the completion of the last of the New Testament writings (100) and the Council of Chalcedon (451). This term is also interchangeable in reference to “Early Church Fathers” and “Apostolic Fathers”. A good link for further study is found here.

Question and Answer (in a page or less)

Where and When did the Church Begin?

The Church began in the eternal counsel of the triune God as the Father determined to give His beloved Son a bride who would be regenerated by the Holy Spirit.

In redemptive history, Adam was given the ordinance to beget a holy seed that would inhabit the earth. Adam failed in this charge. He failed as prophet, priest, and king. Everything that follows in the way of covenants is part of God’s reclamation project of Adam’s failures. The promises of God find their culminating “amen” in Christ, who was born in the fullness of time.

Jesus founded disciples who were given the mandate to preach the gospel to all the nations. This task took place during Jesus’ ministry, but really finds its origin on Pentecost in Jerusalem as the ascended Christ poured out the Holy Spirit upon the “called out” assembly who were then charged with bringing the Gospel to Jerusalem, Judea, and the ends of the earth:

Acts 1:8 (ESV) — 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

Acts shows us how the apostles completed this task through missionary efforts, church planting, and training a future generation of leaders. The Pastoral Epistles (1 & 2 Timothy and Titus), and selected material from other epistles give us a clearer picture of the Apostolic Church as a lasting institution. God ordains that the Church be supplied with particular servants/leaders and also supplies the description and requisites for such positions.

A properly constituted Church will function within the defined ecclesiology of the Scriptures. There are many disagreements about what constitutes a valid sanctioned Church.  These matters must be resolved from further study.

Suffice it to say that God purposed an elect body of people who would belong to Him for all eternity. This is according to the mysterious eternal counsel of God from which He set His love upon a community who would be set apart by way of covenant. The Father chose a people > Jesus consented to win the bride by redeeming them at the cost of His own sacrificial love (read Hosea) > The Holy Spirit is the “matchmaker” who wins over our hearts for Christ through the work of “new birth” and therefore makes us a “bride of Christ”. This is all revealed throughout redemptive history and culminates in the fullness of time with Christ. The NT defines the Church in the current era of redemptive history, which shall continue until the second coming of Christ.

There is a great book that I read some time back, titled “Believer’s Baptism: The Sign of the New Covenant in Christ”. There is a chapter titled, “Baptism and the Relationship Between the Covenants” by Stephen Wellum, which is a response to some recent works such as Gregg Strawbridge’s, “The Case for Covenantal Infant Baptism”.

Wellum’s chapter summarizes well the whole idea of how baptism relates to the covenant and why covenantal paedo-baptists and credo-baptists disagree. You will want to read both Strawbridge and this book. They represent two of the better current books from both perspectives. Wellum’s chapter is available for free via pdf at this link: http://kingdomresources.files.wordpress.com/2007/08/wellum_baptindd.pdf

James Davison Hunter says that, “…Christianity in North America…is a weak culture; weak insofar as it is fragmented in it’s core beliefs and organization, without a coherent collective identity and mission, and often divided within itself, often with unabated hostility.”

My question: “what’s the solution?”