John_EGGNT by HarrisWriting the inaugural book on Colossians and Philemon for the Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament series, Murray J. Harris has recently written the next installment on John. This series has already made its mark as a standard Greek text commentary series for serious students of the Greek New Testament and Harris once again shows his ability and love for the text.

The commentary is solely based on the Greek of the New Testament primarily using the fifth edition of the United Bible Societies’ Greek New Testament. Harris divides John into pericopes by its Greek text, block diagrams and then exegetes phrase-by-phrase. A good grasp of New Testament Greek is required to benefit from this book as well as an ability to understand the grammatical abbreviations used in the book.

As a guide, the reader is presented with a number of helps in their own study of the Greek text. The purpose of the book is not to do all of the work for the reader, but, rather, to “provide all the necessary information for understanding the Greek text.” Having a lot of the time consuming work done for you helps the reader to focus more on interpreting the information and developing the sermon. By breaking the book up into pericopes the reader already has a good idea as to how to lay out their sermons. There are suggested homoletical outlines (often giving more than one) as well as suggested further reading based on the subject matter of each verse or group of verses examined. When more than one suggestion is offered by commentators Harris presents them along with his reasons for which one seems to fit the text best.

What shines through in this volume is Harris’ love for and deep knowledge of John’s gospel. This was a labor of love for Harris and as such it is more than a mere academic and scholarly exercise. He is able to allow the simplicity of the Greek and John’s divinely inspired message to shine through while pointing the reader to the depths of John’s simple message, “that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life through His name.” (Jn. 20:31)

I received this book for free from B&H for this review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Gospel Conversations by KellemenFor much of the history of the Christian counseling movement the professional counselor, who has spent hundreds of hours in class and in counseling sessions in order to be certified as a counselor, has been the go-to person for counseling. Whether it is a local church pastor, educated layman, or a counselor with an independent practice, a certain mindset about what makes one a qualified counselor and what qualifies as preparation has dominated the practice.

But is this the only way? Must one spend hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars on classroom and hands on training in order to be a qualified Biblical counselor? Has the professionalization of the Christian counselor taken counseling right out of the church? Who was competent to counsel before contemporary competencies were developed?

Robert W. Kellemen, executive director of the Biblical Counseling Coalition and author of and contributor to several biblical counseling books like Gospel-Centered Counseling and Scripture and Counseling, has written Gospel Conversations: How To Care Like Christ as part of the Equipping Biblical Counselors Series (Zondervan, 2015). This is a hands on manual for equipping members of local churches to be biblical counselors. Kellemen is trying to help churches move from being “a church with a biblical counselor to a church of biblical counseling.” (353)

Gospel Conversations is about equipping willing Christians with the tools necessary to become competent biblical counselors. These tools center on what Kellemen calls The Four Dimensions of Comprehensive Biblical Counseling Equipping as found in Romans 15:14:

  1. Christlike Character – This is the person who Paul says is “full of goodness” in heart and being.
  2. Biblical Content/Conviction – This is the person who Paul says is “complete in knowledge” in their head.
  3. Counseling Competence – This is the person who Paul says is “competent to instruct” with their hands.
  4. Christian Community – The “one another(s)” are the other Christians to whom Paul says biblical counselors are ministering to.

Essentially, Kellemen believes that competent biblical counselors can be developed in the context of the local church community without the need for hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars of professional training. This is the heart of this book. Citing the research study conclusions of J. Durlak comparing the effectiveness of professional counselors to that of paraprofessionals (laypeople), Kellemen believes that professional training is not the primary means for developing competent counselors. The primary means are the personal characteristics of the counselor themselves (83). As such, these personal characteristics can be taught and can be taught in the local church. “We learn to become competent biblical counselors by giving and receiving biblical counseling in the context of real and raw Christian community.” (17)

The way these character traits are taught is through a small group of people who are willing to develop and use them. That is what the structure of this book is centered on. It requires one person to lead a small group of laypeople who want to be Romans 15:14 counselors in their local church. At the heart of the book is the idea that equipping Christians to be counselors is best done relationally. This allows the trainees to be shaped by the very principles of counseling that they are seeking to help others with. They are shaped by what they are sharing.

Gospel Conversations is a go-to training manual by which church leaders can develop and equip Christians to do the work of the ministry through counseling. Kellemen is not trying to replace professional Christian counselors but, rather, enable the church to develop more counselors to work within the church. There will always be a need for professional counselors who can deal with trauma, severe depression, deep seeded addictions, etc. However, there is much that can be done by brothers and sisters in Christ who know the Word, know people, and are shaped by the counsel they seek to give. This is a must have tool to help pastors train lay-Christians to be competent to counsel.

I received this book for free from Zondervan through Cross Focused Reviews for this review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

History of Western Philosophy and Thelogy by Frame“We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take very thought captive to obey Christ.” (2 Cor. 10:5)

For too long Christians have had an uneasy mindset towards philosophy. Often quoting Paul’s instruction to Christians not to be taken “by philosophy and empty deceit,” (Col. 2:8) they carry a look of disdain towards Christians who find philosophy interesting and helpful. They claim sola scriptura and sound convincing doing it. But they miss a key element of Paul’s argument. He tells the Colossian believers to guard against philosophy that is “according to human tradition.” While they rightfully judge much of philosophy as not thinking God’s thoughts after Him, does this mean all of it is and, therefore, that is has not value for Christians?

Deep within the rhetoric and logic of anti-philosophy Christians is itself the basics of philosophy. Just as Greg Bahnsen said that atheists sit on God’s lap in order to slap Him in the face and use the air God created for them to breathe in order to denounce His existence with their words, so Christians who chastise philosophy have to use it in order to denounce it. They unwittingly sit on the lap of philosophy in order to poke its eyes out.

People, and Christians, cannot help but do philosophy – even if they do not want to. Philosophy is merely the love of wisdom and as Christians we ought to love it more than anyone else in the world. Christianity owns philosophy because Christianity has the true understanding of wisdom as found in Christ and the cross (1 Cor. 1:24). If Aristotle is right that “all men by nature desire to know,” Socrates that “the unexamined life is not worth living,” and the Apostle Paul that “In [Christ] are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge,” then Christians, not just should, but, ought to be the best philosophers the world has ever known.

One such Christian who has spent his life loving the wisdom of God is John Frame. Though he identifies primarily as a theologian, he has kept philosophy close in all he does. Having taught theology and philosophy for decades, Frame has now turned his classroom material into a new book A History of Western Philosophy and Theology (P&R, 2015). This is a masterful and engaging walk through the Western worlds most substantive and contributory philosophers from the Greeks to the present.

What is a History of Philosophy?

A history of philosophy, let alone Western philosophy, is a history of men attempting to think wisely about the big questions of life. Unfortunately, it is marked with unwise thinking. While seeking knowledge and wisdom “according to human tradition” they have tried to push the God of all wisdom and knowledge out of the picture. If “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” then philosophy done “against the knowledge of God” is a venture in foolishness.

In walking through the history of Western philosophy, Frame is doing two things: he is mapping out how philosophers have answered the questions of life and he is showing us how many of them have failed to answer them adequately. Just because people suppress the truth of God in their thought does not mean they stop thinking. Often times it is the very desire to suppress their knowledge of God that drives some philosophers to do what they do.

Throughout the book, as Frame clearly lays out each thinkers philosophy, he offers helpful critique of the many “wrong turns” man’s wisdom has taken him (36). Those familiar with Frame will anticipate that he does so from his presuppositional and triperspectival outlook on theology. This makes his work stand out from others who have charted the same historical waters. From Frame’s perspective, a history of philosophy and theology is a history of men suppressing the truth of God in unrighteousness in their attempt to answer the big questions of life apart from God and a history of the same for those who have tried to faithfully think God’s thoughts after Him.

Philosophy & God

But this is not just a book on the history of philosophy. It is also a book on the history of theology. For Frame, the two are inseparably linked. To talk of one is to talk of the other. Philosophy is about wisdom and theology is about God and philosophy always makes its way to talking about God. Even atheists have a theology of God and it often comes to light in their philosophy.

What is often missed by naysayers of philosophy is that whenever they do theology they are using the language and provisions of theology to do so. We cannot talk of the trinity, the dual nature of Christ, the nature of the will, and so on without the language of philosophy. While Scripture gives us the theological grounding for talk of the trinity, it is philosophy that has given us the language of essence, being, and person-hood, all of which are essential to properly communicating orthodox teaching on the trinity.

This is ok. God has given us philosophy in order to communicate the Bible’s theology. Unfortunately, much of philosophy has not been done in the service of theology. Frame draws us into the minds of men who have not always thought God’s thoughts after Him and nor do they want to. They are either searching for God in all the wrong places or seeking to push Him out of the minds of others.

C.S. Lewis said that “good philosophy must exist, if for nor other reason, because bad philosophy needs to be answered.” This can be wrongly taken to mean that it is the only reason good philosophy should exist. Rather, it is one reason it should exist. Bad philosophy exists because men suppress God’s truth in unrighteousness in their thinking. Good philosophy is possible when men pattern their thoughts after God. Good philosophy should be the norm. To borrow from Augustine, we should not let the abuse of philosophy detract from its proper use.

Benefit for Christians

Christians should do philosophy in service to God but why should they study the philosophy of those who suppress the truth of God in their thinking? For the same reason, and others, that we teach each generation the history of civilizations; Christians need to be students of the history of philosophy in order to learn from it. The history of philosophy is as important for the church as is church history and historical theology.

Frame has made the history of philosophy readable for just about everyone. One does not have to be well acquainted with philosophy and its various systems in order to read this book. It is not dubbed down but it is written in a way as to serve the reader. Here are a number of aspects of the book to aid in learning:

  1. On the left side of two open pages is a running outline of where you are in each section.
  2. There are numerous quotes extracted from the body of the book highlighting important time periods, people, or thoughts that should not be missed.
  3. At the end of each chapter is a comprehensive list of key terms. At the end of the book is a 46 page glossary of terms used in the book.
  4. To aid the reader in content retention there is a list of study questions at the end of each chapter. The number of questions might overwhelm some but they follow the order of the content of each chapter for easy referencing. Reading them before reading each chapter will be beneficial.
  5. Each chapter also has a bibliography, a brief explanation of some related books to read, and online links to Frame’s lectures of the related material.
  6. One of the best features of the book are links to with lots of famous quotes by the philosophers.
  7. The end of the book has twenty appendixes covering philosophical ideas and reviews of important books and articles.

A History of Philosophy and Theology is a great achievement in historical philosophy and theology and critique from a master philosopher and theologian himself. Frame continues to provide the church with solid books that will have a shelf life for generations to come.

I received this book for free from P&R for this review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”



For those who have followed the NIV since its inception, you will be familiar with the controversy surrounding its translation changes with each new edition. Certain groups of Christians have taken this to mean they are changing God’s Word (as if a translation was inspired), while in reality showing they do not understand what a translation is.

Seeking to shed more light on the work of the NIV translation philosophy, the Committee for Bible Translation (CBT) has written a short history, with some examples, of how these changes came to be and what they actually meant for the final form of each new translation. Since the CBT’s philosophy was to be readable and reflect current English, changes had to be made periodically because the English language changes.

Here is a short video and  excerpt about the changes:

A Unified NIV

Having two editions in print of what was essentially one Bible translation was intended to satisfy the concerns of those who did not understand or accept that masculine nouns and pronouns were no longer universally understood as referring to both men and women as well as those who wanted a translation that accurately reflected contemporary usage. Though there were good intentions behind having two different editions (the 1984 NIV and the TNIV), this made it impossible for the CBT to fulfill its mandate that the NIV would be updated to reflect contemporary English usage.

By 2009, it was time for a reunion.

Biblica, Zondervan and the CBT announced that a new NIV revision would be released in 2011, and at that time, publication of the TNIV and 1984 NIV would cease. There would only be one NIV, and it would include all of the CBT’s approved changes. The CBT had only two years to conduct a major review and issue a revision. The pressure was on.

Because the CBT had continued its work throughout the years of controversy, many revisions reflecting advances in biblical scholarship were already ready to go. But, knowing that the matter was controversial, the CBT dedicated itself to reviewing every single gender revision introduced since the 1978 edition. To get an unbiased view of how contemporary English referred to both men and women inclusively, the CBT commissioned a study by Collins Dictionaries to study the Collins Bank of English, a database of more than 4.4 billion words taken from recordings and publications throughout the English-speaking world.


CollinsData2The Collins data helped the CBT understand word usage by modern English-speakers worldwide.

The data showed that the use of “man” to refer to the human race as whole was less frequent but still quite common. Words such as “people” and “humans” were also being widely used. The study also demonstrated, as CBT had suspected, that “he,” “his,” him,” etc., had a strongly masculine meaning. In place of these traditionally neutral pronouns, modern English speakers were using the pronouns “they,” “them” and “their,” e.g., “Every person who attended received their own prize.”

It also demonstrated that gender-inclusive plural pronouns (“they,” “them,” “their,” etc.) were used far more than masculine pronouns (“he,” “his,” “him,” “himself”) when either an individual male or female was the intended meaning.

“With that data,” said Doug Moo, “we were then able as translators to say, ‘Despite our own personal preferences, this is the English that most people are speaking, and that’s what we need to use in our translation.’”


If you love the NIV already and want to get an updated one, or have been skeptical about it, but want to give it a chance, use this guide to pick the best NIV Bible for you.

Faith Alone by Schreiner“We are talking about standing before God on the last day, on the day of judgment, and sola fide answers that question: How will we stand before the Holy One of Israel?”

With the Pope’s recent visit to the US, the differences between Catholic and Protestant theology on a number of key issues has come to the forefront of the internet. It is occasions like this that bring to remembrance those important doctrines that divide us. Doctrines that cut to the heart of the Gospel and our understanding of God’s work in Christ in salvation.

Once such doctrine is justification. The doctrine of justification was the foundational match with which Luther sparked the fire of the Reformation. “Justification by faith alone!,” was the battle cry of the Reformation. But while the Reformation may have popularized and brought to the forefront of Christian’s minds this important aspect of justification, the Reformational mantra of sola fide (justification by faith alone) was not born with Luther. It was already a part of orthodox theology because it was a part of Scripture.

Sola fide is one of five Reformation slogans which form the basis for a new series of books titled The 5 Solas Series from Zondervan and is edited by Matthew Barrett. The first book in this series is Faith Alone: The Doctrine of Justification by Thomas Schreiner. In the span of just over 250 pages, Schreiner carefully unpacks the historical development of sola fide, the biblical and theological grounds for the doctrine, and the continuing contemporary challenges to the doctrine.

From an historical perspective it would be easy to see the birth of sola fide within the Reformation period. But this would be wrong. The roots of the churches belief in this doctrine runs back much further – to the first century. Schreiner charts a path from the first century church fathers all the way to Edwards and Wesley. While sola fide may not have been the major focus of the church until the Reformation, it was by no means tucked away in a closet.

What will be quite shocking for some readers is to see the diversity of belief, especially among those of the Reformed tradition, on the relationship between justification and faith. For example, Richard Baxter, while believing in single imputation (that there is forgiveness of sins in Christ) did not believe in the imputation whereby Christ’s righteousness is credited to the believer (76-77). Further, after surveying Edwards position on the issue, Schreiner concludes that his “writings on justification lack clarity, and hence he is interpreted in different ways.” (89)

From a biblical and theological perspective, Schreiner goes to work in the second section succinctly hammering out the various aspects of sola fide. He makes a convincing cumulative case that the biblical authors clearly taught justification by faith alone. He shows the reader that justification is needed because of sin (our inability to keep the law), that it is by faith alone and not by works (though works are the fruit of true faith), that, while justification is ultimately eschatological, “the end-time declaration has been pronounced in advance by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ,” and the “future is revealed and announced in the present.” (156)

In addition to laying out the biblical and theological basis for sola fide, Schreiner takes the time to address a number of challenges to the doctrine. For one, the work of N. T. Wright on justification has forever shaped and permeated the discussion, and will so for generations to come. Schreiner ably responds to Wright’s rejection of imputed righteousness as found in texts like Romans 5:12-19 (see chap. 15). An entire chapter is spent addressing the “faith in Christ” vs. “faithfulness of Christ” controversy. While I think he overstates the significance of the issue and his defense of the “faith in Christ” reading, he fairly presents those who hold to the “faithfulness of Christ” reading.

Closing out the book is a section on the contemporary challenges to sola fide. Here, Schreiner returns again to respond to some of the challenges by Roman Catholics, N. T. Wright, and others to sola fide. While he gave a defense for justification as forensic in chapter thirteen (over against the transformative view), Schreiner returns to this in chapter seventeen with a greater focus on the Roman Catholic documents. The RC church sees it as (like Augustine) an act of sanctification rather than an event and declaration about ones current position before God in Christ. In regards to Wright, Schreiner further parses out the problems with his rejection of imputed righteousness and why it is not enough to locate justification within ecclesiology but must also be tied to (and more primarily so) soteriology. Reading Schreiner list a number of things he agrees with Wright on, it further confirmed for me my thoughts towards Wright – I either really like what he says or really disagree with him; there is almost no middle ground when it comes to Wright.

While recognizing that the doctrine of justification is complex, Faith Alone manages to succinctly lay out a convincing historical, biblical and theological case for justification by faith alone. This is a mid-range level book that will require thoughtful reflection. Schreiner is thoroughly biblical and his confidence in his position shines through as he does not shy away from presenting alternative views to his.

This is an enjoyable book to read that will deepen your faith in sola fide. I look forward to the rest of the books in this series.

I received this book for free from Zondervan for this review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”


New Pastors HandbookIf 35-40% of men leave the ministry in the first five years and 60-80% are out after ten, then saying “seminary didn’t teach you everything” is more than a trite observation – it is a sobering reality. Not intended as a dig towards seminary, this observation tells us not of the failings of formal education (its intent is not to do for the church what the church is to do itself) but of the failure of churches to prepare their own ministers for ministry itself.

Everyone in ministry can look back to their college and seminary days and think of at least one person who left the ministry soon after entering. Ministry is hard and “perseverance in the ministry is a struggle.” How does the church, and other pastors specifically, help to come along side new ministers of the gospel so as to better prepare them for the road ahead? How can we prepare men to serve and persevere in ministry who have just spent years persevering through seminary in order to serve the church?

Associate pastor of University Reformed Church Jason Helopoulos has sought to do just this in his new book The New Pastor’s Handbook: Help and Encouragement for the First Years of Ministry (2015, Baker Books). In 49 short chapters, Jason draws on ten years of pastoral ministry from three ministries and shares with new and to-be-new pastors the nuts and bolts to surviving the early years of pastoral ministry.

Not every new pastor has had someone to come along side of them during their educational years and prepare them for the challenges of ministry that lay ahead. Not every Titus has a Paul in ministry. While a book can never replace a Paul in ones life, Jason’s words of wisdom can bring guidance and clarity to a hard calling.

In the span of 200 pages, Jason scratches the surface on a multitude of ministry issues and challenges that new pastors are either unaware of or do not know how to handle on their own. In the shortness of each chapter Jason gets to the heart of each issues he addresses. Covering everything from how to handle your first position as a youth or senior pastor, fulfilling the Biblical requirements of a pastor, thinking through the various aspects of how to minister to people, and how to think biblically about ones calling, Jason opens the readers mind to the demanding and joyful responsibility every pastor has to Christ and His body.

To give readers a sense of the wisdom Jason offers, here are some words of wisdom from the book:

  1. On candidating for a church – “If you are married, be sure to state your own view regarding the role of your wife in the congregation.” (35)
  2. On men fresh out of seminary thinking of taking a senior pastor position – “Young pastors need to heavily weigh their ability to handle these responsibilities when deciding whether to take such a call.” (40)
  3. On the simplicity of ministry – “It is nothing more than Christ, loving his people, and loving the Word.” (58)
  4. On knowing Scripture for ministry – “If you don’t know the Word and aren’t willing to work at it, then you should find another vocation.” (63)
  5. On your wife in your ministry – “Everyone should know – and your wife first of all – that you expect nothing more from her in the service of the church than you would expect from any other woman in the congregation.” (69
  6. On the pastor and personal holiness – “There are few things more important in the life of the church then the holiness of its pastors.” (79)
  7. On equipping the saints – “We are failing if our ministry does not equip the saints and provide them with the opportunity to use their gifts.” (88)
  8. On vacations – “Not taking your vacation days isn’t a sign of godliness; it is a sign of foolishness.” (109)
  9. On ‘interruptions’ – “There are no interruptions in ministry, only God-ordained providential opportunities.” (126)
  10. On discontentment – “When discontentment takes hold, faithfulness usually fades.” (162)

The New Pastor’s Handbook is a great place to start for new ministry leaders in all sorts of positions but it will especially bring guidance and wisdom to those in the pastorate. This is a book that needs to be handed out to every aspiring pastor along with diploma their diploma as they walk the graduation stage. We need more books like this!

I received this book for free from Baker Books for this review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Missiology“The canon of Scripture has not changed, but missions changes every day.”

Though the message of missions does not change, the methods do. Because so, books on missions strategies require updating. Originally published in 1998, Missiology: An Introduction to the Foundations, History, and Strategies of World Missions (B&H) has now a second edition under the same title. This second edition reflects the changing tides in missions needs, both biblically and culturally, and the strategies developed to meet those needs in light of the changing missions culture(s).

The vast majority of content of the book has stayed the same. Almost one third of the chapters have remained untouched in both content and contributor (though I cannot tell without seeing the 1st edition if any of these chapters were revised). Almost half of the other chapters have stayed the same in content but the contributor is new. These new contributors include Christopher J. H. Wright, Eckhard Schnabel, Ed Stetzer, Benjamin Merkle, and J. D. Greear. Seven chapters from the first edition have been completely replaced (like the chapter on music and one of the chapters on education and missions) with seven new chapters. These new chapters reflect the changes in missions over the past nearly twenty years that this second edition seeks to be current on. Some of these new chapters address issues like women in missions, business and missions, and missions in China.

Designed as a textbook, I can only see this book continuing and expanding its use, especially in light of the new contributors. While there are five sections, this book has the three main components of teaching missions: theology, history, and practice. As such, this book offers a broad look at missions. It is rooted in Scripture and seeks continuity with that in its practical chapters.

As with a book like this, it is up to the teacher and reader to expand on the content of the chapters. What is said here is not the end of the discussion but rather a window into the various issues involved. With the addition of some of the new contributors this book will no doubt receive wider use across denominational and theological lines. This book would also be good for pastors seeking to strengthen their missions mindset as well as those within our churches who are heads of missions ministries.

I received this book for free from B&H for this review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 887 other followers