Archive for the ‘Discipleship/Sanctification’ Category

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:

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.

Here it is:

The following quote is from Scot McKnight’s commentary on Galatians in The NIV Application Commentary series:

McKnight (1995:272):

I know of no Christian parents or youth leaders, or for that matter any pastors who seriously believe what Paul teaches in verses 16-26 (of Galatians 5), that the sole foundation of Christian ethics is dependency on the Spirit and a life of freedom in the Spirit….I have met only one person who ever expressed this view of Paul in a definitive and, to him, practical way. That person was F.F. Bruce…

I would add Gordon Fee to that list in my own experience as I also shared this same conviction in my study of the reality of Spirit-fullness in the New Covenant. McKnight continues:

To be sure, Paul knew that when a person was controlled by the Spirit, that person was holy. He also knew that a person who lived in the Spirit lived in a loving way. Thus, he knew that the Old Testament moral guidelines and the teachings of Jesus on holiness, righteousness, and compassion would be confirmed by anyone who lived in the Spirit (1995:273).

Needless to say that we can be accused, just like the early Galatians, of wanting to derive our ethic from the law or traditions of men. I am not opposed to the “3rd use of the Law” in relation to our sanctification, but if such is taught in a way that doesn’t necessitate the presence of the Spirit, then we may very well be acting like the early Judaizers.

It is sometimes said that the Holy Spirit is the neglected members of the Godhead. Study of Scripture, however, will make clear that the Spirit is the one who regenerates our hearts, accompanies the inward call, adopts us into our relational standing as children of God, seals the believer as an objective member of the New Covenant, empowers and guides our sanctification, as well as gifting the Church for ministry. I’m sure that there are pastors out there emphasizing this dynamic, however I resonate with McKnight when he claims F.F. Bruce as the first scholar which emphasized these points in Pauline Pneumatology. For me, it was the pages of Gordon Fee’s, “God’s Empowering Presence”, that had confirmed all that I had believed from my own study of Paul’s theology of the Spirit.

Andrew Sandlin wrote a good post this week on the same subject that I keep seeing – Christians who use grace as a cover for antinomianism. Sandlin says:

We ourselves are required to rebuke evil and have no company with it (Eph. 5:11–13).

What many of today’s grace-talking non-judgmentalists actually want is a grandfatherly God who overlooks their rebellion and favors them despite their gross, unrepentant sin.  They want to fornicate, despise God’s church and its ordinances, observe pornography, abuse prescription (and illegal) drugs, profane God’s name, revel in lewdness, spurn the godly counsel of parents and pastors and teachers, eschew hard work, and otherwise lust to be accepted by an apostate, pagan culture — all while assuming the pious protection of God’s grace.

I recently read Justin Taylor’s brief interview with Michael Haykin from Southern Seminary.  Haykin, whose book on the Church Fathers is forthcoming, recommended Cyprian’s “Letter to Donatus.” I finally read it in full today and found it quite remarkable.  According to short introduction to the document, Cyprian had promised Donatus to write to him about spiritual matters.  Cyprian expresses his doubt that he is up to the task, but offers “things, not clever but weighty, words, not decked up to charm a popular audience with cultivated rhetoric, but simple and fitted by their unvarnished truthfulness for the proclamation of the divine mercy.”  He follows with beautiful description of his marvel at the new birth:

While I was still lying in darkness and gloomy night, wavering hither and there, tossed about on the foam of this boastful age, and uncertain of my wandering steps, knowing nothing of my real life, and remote from truth and light, I used to regard it as a difficult matter, and especially as difficult in respect of my character at that time, that a man should be capable of being born again — a truth which the divine mercy had announced for my salvation—and that a man quickened to a new life in the layer of saving water should be able to put off what he had previously been; and, although retaining all his bodily structure, should be himself changed in heart and soul. How, said I, is such a conversion possible, that there should be a sudden and rapid divestment of all which, either innate in us has hardened in the corruption of our material nature, or acquired by us has become inveterate by long accustomed use? These things have become deeply and radically engrained within us. When does he learn thrift who has been used to liberal banquets and sumptuous feasts? And he who has been glittering in gold and purple, and has been celebrated for his costly attire, when does he reduce himself to ordinary and simple clothing? One who has felt the charm of the fasces and of civic honours shrinks from becoming a mere private and inglorious citizen. The man who is attended by crowds of clients, and dignified by the numerous association of an officious train, regards it as a punishment when he is alone. It is inevitable, as it ever has been, that the love of wine should entice, pride inflate, anger inflame, covetousness disquiet, cruelty stimulate, ambition delight, lust hasten to ruin, with allurements that will not let go their hold. (more…)

Ed Stetzer offers 6 problems with Porn based on a recent study conducted by Patrick Faban (link).

Some of the findings are as follows (quoting Stetzer):

  • Pornography is addictive, and neuroscientists are beginning to map the biological substrate of this addiction.
  • Users tend to become desensitized to the type of pornography they use, become bored with it, and then seek more perverse forms of pornography.
  • Married men who are involved in pornography feel less satisfied with their conjugal relations and less emotionally attached to their wives. Wives notice and are upset by the difference.
  • Pornography use is a pathway to infidelity and divorce, and is frequently a major factor in these family disasters.
  • Among couples affected by one spouse’s addiction, two-thirds experience a loss of interest in sexual intercourse.
  • Many adolescents who view pornography initially feel shame, diminished self-confidence, and sexual uncertainty, but these feelings quickly shift to unadulterated enjoyment with regular viewing.
  • The main defenses against pornography are close family life, a good marriage and good relations between parents and children, coupled with deliberate parental monitoring of Internet use. Traditionally, government has kept a tight lid on sexual traffic and businesses, but in matters of pornography that has waned almost completely, except where child pornography is concerned. Given the massive, deleterious individual, marital, family, and social effects of pornography, it is time for citizens, communities, and government to reconsider their laissez-faire approach.

It’s not as if we Christians are lacking in conviction over the wrongness of pornography; it poisons everything. Pornography is like a drug. It is intoxicating and stimulating and offers ever diminishing returns, thus leading to more pronounced excursions into more vile forms, while also breeding a discontent with our spouses.

Mark Driscoll offers a resource that may be helpful for those of you in the battle. Here is a link to the book, “Porn Again Christian: A Frank Discussion on Pornography and Masturbation“.

We are reponsible for exerting all sexual desire towards our spouses or future spouses. Pornography is a sign of selfishness and laziness. There is always hope because God’s grace is always present, but let us never presume God’s grace in such a way that we can take a detour into such sin and will return home safely. Our hope must also include a trembling fear over the wrath that our lust incites in God’s character. God reserves the right to make your life miserable and even to take your life for sexual sin.

1 Corinthians 10:1–8 (ESV) — 1 For I want you to know, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, 2 and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, 3 and all ate the same spiritual food, 4 and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ. 5 Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness. 6 Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did. 7 Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.” 8 We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day.

In otherwards, a single act of sexual sin desrves this same punishment of the 23,000 who fell dead. This account speaks of how God truly feels about things. If you are alive and breathing, there is hope, because God has already been gracious to you. God, however, won’t be mocked and won’t contend with rebellion forever and will inevitably give you over. The study confirms the death that porn brings about. You reap what you sow, so stop sowing to the flesh…it will kill you.