August 2011

I recently did a book review of the Trials of Theology for Christian Focus. This month they are giving away two copies of this encouraging and challenging book.

You can find out how to enter to win here.

There are a number of jobs that can accurately be described as dangerous. Jobs like crab fishing, coal mining, oil drilling and being a police officer. In fact there are jobs that are considered so dangerous that those who perform them receive ‘hazard’ pay. Certain positions in the military receive this as well as the linemen who hang and maintain electrical wires by means of a helicopter. But have you ever considered that signing up for a lifetime of biblical studies could be deemed dangerous?

This is the very idea put forth in the recently published book The Trials of Theology: Becoming a ‘Proven Worker’ in a Dangerous Business edited by Andrew J. B. Cameron and Brian S. Rosner. The Trials of Theology seeks to address some of the dangers that are inherent in the life of theological students. As the front cover indicates this book is a reader. The first section is a collection of chapters or essays from great theologians and Christian thinkers who have passed. It is here that the reader of this book gains wisdom from men as far back as Augustine and as recent as C.S. Lewis. The second section of the book compiles wisdom and direction from theologians of the present day. Men like D.A. Carson, Carl R. Trueman and Gerald L. Bray share with us what they have learned in their lifetime of theological studies.

Each chapter in this reader offers wisdom, insight and direction from godly men of the Christian faith in regards to areas of the theological students life that can prove to be spiritually challenging in light of the nature of their work. Space does not permit a chapter by chapter summary so I will highlight some of the chapters that stuck out to me the most.

In regards to the student/minister’s books both Spurgeon and Warfield had some fitting things to say. In the scope of two sections Spurgeon addresses the topic of books and the ministers tools or ‘equipment’ as he calls them. He warns that while our books are our tools and we must keep them “in a good state of repair”, we must also more so realize that “we are, in a certain sense, our own tools, and therefore we must keep ourselves in order (p. 35).” Too often the minister neglects themselves for the sake of their tools. We can readily spend more time and money into the investment of our tools and forget about the most important tool God has already given us – ourselves. Further, he warns us to be careful with how many books and tools we do acquire. He charges us to “master the books we do have” and that though there are many books we should read “make the Bible the man of your right hand, the companion of every hour, and you will have little reason to lament your slender equipment in inferior things (p. 39-40).” The mastery of our books about the Bible can never replace the mastery of the Bible itself.

Along the same lines but from a little different perspective Warfield offers some interesting advice when it comes to ones books, ability to teach and spiritual growth. Warfield believes that if one is to fulfill the requirement of being “apt to teach” then you must read books. When asked whether or not more time reading books or more time praying is more important Warfield famously replies, “What! is the appropriate response, than ten hours over your books, on your knees? (p. 51).” Warfield is fighting the notion that reading books somehow turns one away from God and therefore you must severely limit your time in them and in turn spend more time praying. Warfield rightly states, “Why should you turn from God when you turn to your books, or feel that you must turn from your books in order to turn to God? (p. 51).” Warfield wanted to point out that the totality of ones work, whether in prayer or books, contributed to their work and spiritual growth and that the two can be done together.

The chapter by C.S. Lewis, Inner Circles and True Inclusion, will strike at the heart of anyone who is bold enough to be honest about the desires of their own hearts. In this chapter Andrew Cameron lays out Lewis’ walk through his own desire to be accepted while at Oxford and draws some very penetrating application to the theological student. Lewis walks the reader through his desire to belong with the Oxford crowd during his journey as a Christian apologist. He desired to be accepted by those whom he worked with and yet felt the pain of being an outsider because of his Christianity. It is this desire to belong to certain groups just out of our reach that Cameron draws parallels to when it comes to biblical studies. There is always a temptation to identify those in a group that are just a step above ourselves, whether in experience or intellectual ability, with whom we want to belong. We want to work our way to the ‘next level’ or ‘circle’ of acceptance. This is a spiritual danger. Lewis warns, “Unless you take measure to prevent it, this desire is going to be one of the chief motives of your life, from the first day on which you enter your profession until the day you are to old to care (p. 85).”  It is not the desire for natural human relationships that are wrong but the desire for them to fulfill a void in your life that they cannot and only Christ can.

It might be fair to say that it was unfair to put a chapter in here by D.A. Carson because everything he writes is good and, at least in this reviewers mind, will naturally rise above anything else put next to it. Carson’s chapter, The Trials of Biblical Studies, mimics the books title and brings out some of the most convicting statements in the entire book. There are a number of well-crafted statements that Carson makes which need no explanation for they carry their impact on their own:

Aim not only to be learned but also to be godly. There must be an integration of knowing what texts mean, and following them;…….What shall it profit biblical scholars to become experts on Greek aspect theory and on the relationship between Jude and 2 Peter, and lose their own soul (p. 112).

You are studying the Word of God, and unless your study is integrated with faith, obedience, godliness, prayer, conformity to Christ, rising love for God and for his image-bearers, you are horribly abusing the very texts you claim you are studying (p. 112-13).

If, then we are by temperament somewhat perfectionist, it is not difficult, with such a vast array of data-rich fields before us, to become workaholics. And a true workaholic is unlikely to be a good souse, and godly and wise parent, a faithful Christian. Work, intrinsically a good thing, easily becomes an idol (p. 115).

We do not always recognize that the mark of true growth in the study of Scripture is not so much that we become masters of the text as that we become mastered by the text (p. 117).

I find that last statement to be the most challenging in the entire book.

Each of the contributors in the Trails of Theology brings to the table their own gems of wisdom as hammered out in the context of a lifetime of theological studies. A common theme among each contributor is the importance of watching over ones spiritual life amidst the work aspect of their daily activities. One must fight the temptation to see a dualism within the work of theological studies. What each author wants the reader to see is that their work is a spiritual discipline that has dangers of its own. A life dedicated to the study of Scripture has job hazards of its own.

I readily recommend The Trials of Theology: Becoming a ‘Proven Worker’ in a Dangerous Business to anyone interested in entering into the study of the Bible as their life’s work. This book should be recommended reading for any first year theology student. It serves as an encouragement to push forward and a warning of what lies ahead from those who have been there.

NOTE: I received this book in return for a review but was under no obligation to provide a favorable one.

When it comes to discussing the relevance and continuity of the Ten Commandments for the Christian, the dividing line seems to rest on the application of the fifth commandment – the command to remember the Sabbath and keep it holy. If obedience to the Ten Commandments is still in effect for the Christian then we must keep the Sabbath. If it is not in effect for the Christian then we do not have to keep the Sabbath. This of course is tied to the NT teaching on the law which is the seedbed of much of the controversy.

Perspectives on the Sabbath: 4 Views presents four views on Sabbath keeping for the Christian. It covers from the Seventh-Day Adventist view which is the strictest view to the Fulfillment view which is the most lenient.

The first view presented is the Seventh-Day Adventist view by Skip McCarty. There is much that McCarty rightly uses in defense of the Sabbath-Day view. He rightly starts in Genesis 2:2 and utilizes the Ten Commandments as given in Exodus and Deuteronomy. McCarty clearly holds a continuationist view of the Ten Commandments so much so that he believes the Sabbath rest is still to be held on what our calendars still call Saturday. Texts like Isaiah 56:5-6 & 66:22-23 are used to claim that the Saturday Sabbath rest is universal for all time. However, as Pipa points out, McCarty does not follow his application through since he does not believe we need to obey the other ceremonial observances (p. 76). What makes the Seventh-Day view stand out is that it does not recognize the resurrection event as having any bearing on when the day in which the Sabbath is held – changing from Saturday to Sunday. McCarty concludes his defense with this statement:

For us, Jesus’ fulfillment of the Sabbath doesn’t make Sabbath observance obsolete; rather, it infuses it with even richer meaning than the most devout OT believer had the privilege of understanding or experiencing (p. 70).

The second view is that of the Christian Sabbath as defended by Joseph A. Pipa. Like McCarty, Pipa begins in Genesis and uses some of the same texts to ground the nature of the Sabbath command. As a continuationist for the Ten Commandments, Pipa sees a moral grounding, as opposed to ceremonial grounding, for the Sabbath command and therefore believes it is binding on the NT believer. Pipa holds that since the Ten Commandments are not ceremonial law, having their grounding in creation and the law, provide the basis for the rest of the Mosaic law and are repeated in the NT they are still applicable for the NT believer. Pipa believes that the command to the keep the Sabbath is about the seventh day of the week and not necessarily tied to Saturday. Since the Ten Commandments are not ceremonial or judicial they are not fulfilled in the sense of abrogating their use or applicability for the Christian. Christ does fulfill them but does not end them. Pipa rightly contends that the resurrection of Christ is the defining event that the NT church recognized as shifting the Sabbath rest from Saturday to Sunday. Before the resurrection the basis for Saturday Sabbath was creation and the Exodus. Since the resurrection, Sabbath is remembered in celebration of and on the day of the resurrection event – Sunday. When it comes to observing the Sabbath Pipa argues that the believer is to rest short of works of necessity (preparing food or feeding animals) and mercy (tending to medical emergencies, helping a neighbor fix their car so they can get to work the next day or certain types of businesses that cannot shut down on Sunday). Admittedly, this leaves room for much “work” to be done in Sunday. I personally find this view to be the most convincing.

The third view is the Lutheran view as presented by Charles Arand and the fourth is the Fulfillment view as defended by Craig Blomberg. Though Blomberg believes there is enough difference between the two to separate them, readers will have a hard time seeing the net difference. The most notable difference is the evidence and method of defense each uses to support their view. Arand depends heavily on Luther’s works while Blomberg rests more on Scripture and history. In the end they both come to the same conclusion that the NT believer is not bound to the Ten Commandments the same way the OT Jew was. Therefore, we are not bound to the Sabbath command with the same guidelines. Yes we are to observe the Sabbath but we are free in Christ to do with our time as we see fit once we have worshiped with God’s people in our local church.

There is much to commend this perspectives book for. Overall it is clear. The challenging remarks are respectful. It was good to see that each contributor had the opportunity to respond to the criticisms of the others. Each contributor had a deep respect for the authority of Scripture and sought to show how their view supported that belief the best. Three of the four chapters presenting the respective view were a bit long and I think some could have been cut out and still been satisfying to the reader and the writer.

Perspectives on the Sabbath: 4 Views is a great place to start in mapping out the various views of the Sabbath command.

You can find Perspectives on the Sabbath at these retailers: WTS Books and Amazon.

NOTE: I did not receive and compensation for reviewing this book nor was I under any obligation to provide a favorable review.

Depending on who you talk to you will receive mixed responses when mentioning the name John Calvin. He is a menace to some and hero to others. It seems that you either like him or are against him and there is no one riding the fence. To hear some talk about him you wonder if they have ever read anything he wrote. To hear others talk about him you wonder if they had just had lunch with him and read everything he wrote. Robert L. Reymond is one such man.

In his new book, John Calvin: His Life & Influence, Robert L. Reymond gives us a very informative, short and honest presentation of the life and ministry of John Calvin. Reymond provides a timeline as well as description of the life of Calvin without the boring nature typically associated with listing names and dates.

Chapter one deals with the providential way in which God prepared Calvin for his life and ministry. Calvin enjoyed some of the best schooling under some of the best teachers of his time. Though he was trained in humanism it certainly did not hinder him coming to the faith and Reymond argues that it later aided him in his writing. In 1532 Calvin wrote his first and only humanist book at the age of twenty three which is the same year he came to faith in Jesus Christ.

Chapter two deals with Calvin and his famous Institutes. Here Reymond charts Calvin’s expulsion from Geneva and the events that led him to begin his work on the Institutes which was only two years after his conversion. Reymond points out that though Calvin’s Institutes is a theological work, it was written with political motives as well as he sought to defend his Protestant friends from persecution by King Francis I (p. 48). It was the persecution brought on by the Placard Incident that caused Calvin to rush his first of a number of editions of the Institutes.

Chapter three gives us a survey and context for Calvin’s many published works including his commentaries, further editions of the Institutes, sermons and various writings against the Catholic church and others. Interestingly enough, though Calvin was expelled from Geneva, he was later asked to return in an effort to bring moral and spiritual reformation to the city. After a year of deliberation and prayer he returned to Geneva where he would turn the city around. During his time in Geneva Calvin reformed the city, started a school and helped to write the Geneva Bible. What is very interesting about Calvin’s second time in Geneva is that we see a man who, though very scholarly, was very pastoral. Concerning Calvin’s work on the Institutes Reymond rightly states,

It is evident that where the Bible took him, there he went; where its declarations ceased, there he stopped to, but always giving benefit of the doubt to Scripture as God’s inspired and therefore inerrant Word (p. 93).

As one who has read the entirety of the McNeill translation of the Institutes I concur with Reymonds summation.

Chapter four addresses what unfortunately is the only event of Calvin’s life that his critics want to remember him for – the burning of Servetus. Despite the fact that Reymond favors Calvin’s theology and work he is not supportive of Calvin’s involvement in the situation. There are a number of aspects to the Servetus situation that Reymond brings to light that seem to have been lost in the darkness of Calvin criticism. Citing William Cunningham, Reymond notes that the putting to death of heretics was a law and duty held by Protestants and Catholics alike during Calvin’s day. Though this does not excuse the act (similar to not excusing Christians from having slaves a few centuries ago though they used Scripture to support it) it is not right to unfairly single out Calvin above the rest for his part in this. Also, it is not commonly known that though Calvin did support Servetus’ death, he did not support death by burning but rather some other means like decapitation. Further, though Calvin was in favor of Servetus’ death, he was only one among many who made the decision. Even if he had totally rejected the idea it was still going to happen. Reymond concludes his discussion of the Servetus incident with the following statement,

It is simply unfair to single Calvin out as if he were the originator of the practice of burning heretics of as if he were a particularly violent supporter of the practice at a time when a vast majority of the European continent’s enlightened populace would have wished it otherwise (p. 119).

In reflecting on the Servetus incident, Reymond makes one point of application that I find very helpful for our day:

But clearly in the sixteenth century the sense of order of both Catholics and Protestants was horrified by something else – something quite sobering and something to which few in our day heed anymore at all – namely, the thought of immortal souls being destroyed by false doctrine, of churches being rent asunder by heretical parties, and of God’s vengeance being poured out upon cities and nations that tolerate and endorse immorality by means of war, pestilence, and famine (p. 124).

Though death for heresy is not tolerated, nor should have been, we can learn this from these sixteenth century men – that the death of the soul to false doctrine is worse than the death of the body.

At the end of his life Calvin died at age 54 after battling numerous physical ailments but having accomplished so much for God, his church, the city of Geneva and having unknowingly effected the course of the future of the Protestant church worldwide.

John Calvin: His Life and Influence is a must read if you do not know much about Calvin or are looking for a good short Calvin biography. The chapter on Servetus alone is worth purchasing this great little book.

You can purchase this book from the following retailers: Christian Focus Publications, Amazon, WTS Books and Monergism .

NOTE: I received this book for free and was under no obligation to provide a favorable review.

P&R Publishing blog is hosting a great book giveaway. They are giving away 5 copies of Growing Up Christian by Karl Graustein.

You can enter to win here!