September 2011

Have you ever seen couple that has been married for many years? You may have one in your neighborhood or at church. You may see them take walks together in the park, hold hands and sit on a park bench while reminiscing about the past and what they would do if they had another 50 years together. You know the couple I am describing. You could characterize them as having a unified mind and spirit about their lives together. They are walking in step with one another. But it didn’t happen overnight. It took their entire marriage to get to this point.

This picture of a unified mind and spirit as the result of a long fruitful marriage is a good description of the kind of relationship Christians should have with God as they walk in the Spirit. In his new book, Walking in the Spirit, Kenneth Berding takes us through Romans 8:1-27 and helps us to gain a better understanding of what Paul means when he tells us to “walk according to the Spirit (Rom. 8:4).”

This is not a book offering 7 steps to a new walk with God by next week. Berding is quick to point out that a life of walking/living in the spirit is the result of a life of walking/living with the spirit. “There is no shortcut to learning how to keep in step with the Spirit (p. 19).” There is much to learn about walking in the Spirit but it must be learned as we actually do it. Walking in the Spirit is an active act of obedience. It is not a hands off approach to the Christian life.

In Walking in the Spirit, Berding presents seven principles of living life in the Spirit:

  1. Walk in the Spirit.
  2. Set your mind on the things of the Spirit.
  3. Put to death the deeds of the body by the Spirit.
  4. Be led by the Spirit.
  5. Know the fatherhood of God by the Spirit.
  6. Hope in the Spirit.
  7. Pray in the Spirit.

As a happy marriage of fifty years takes time so it is with the Christian life that is characterized by walking in the Spirit. “The Spirit-ual walk is the sum total of a lot of little steps taken in submission to God’s Holy Spirit (p. 23).” These many little steps over time help to build a strong walk in the Spirit. We must continually set our mind on the things of the Spirit. We must continually say no to sin when tempted. We must continually allow ourselves to be led by the Spirit by following the Spirit when He leads us in one direction or another. Our hope in the redeeming and sin freeing work of Christ as applied to us by the Spirit must remain daily in our hearts and minds. We must never give up on praying for steadfastness in our walk with the Spirit.

There is only one issue I would take with Berding. In his discussion on the leading of the Spirit and how God accomplishes that today he rightly argues that God leads all believers broadly in many of the same ways but also specifically according to His plan to each person. I agree with this 100%! However, he goes on to state that “the Holy Spirit sometimes puts forward more direct communication in various ways, as the Bible records again and again (p. 57).” Some examples he cites are God verbally calling Abraham in Gen. 12:1, Elijah in I Kings 18:1 or Cornelius in Acts 10:5. He also cites references “when God puts something into their hearts or minds to do something” like Nehemiah 2:12 or Paul in Acts 20:22 (p. 58). In response to those who believe that these are special cases for a certain time in redemptive history Berding states, “I believe that God can and does still lead in these ways today, though I don’t know of anywhere in the Bible where the claim is made that God will always do so for every decision we make (p. 58).” I think this is missing the point though and is arguing against a claim that someone like myself is not making. God’s verbally speaking to the saints of old the way He did was necessary in order to communicate His will for their lives because there was no written revelation from God to direct them in those cases. For the New Testament Christian, Hebrews 1:1-4 is clear that though God spoke to the prophets and fathers in many ways “in these last days he has spoken to us by His Son.” What I disagree with is that God still verbally speaks to us today (which seems to be what Berding is implying) as he did to Abraham in Ur, Moses in the wilderness and Paul on the road to Damascus. Christ is the final prophet and is the very word of God. He has given His word to us in Scripture which the Holy Spirit leads us into understanding (John 14:15-31). It is interesting that in all of the personal examples that Berding gives of the Spirit leading his decisions they all fit into the category of God directing his heart or mind and none in the category of God verbally speaking to him.

Despite this small quibble Walking in the Spirit is a good book for any Christian. Berding’s many personal examples as well as those of others he has worked with on this issue are very helpful towards seeing the concept of walking in the spirit more clearly. I would especially recommend this book to a new believer or a more seasoned Christian who is feeling discouraged about their walk with God because of sin in their lives. The book is written in a devotional style and has study questions at the end making itself easy to use in a small group setting.

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

We live in an American culture where it is fashionable to make Jesus everything you want Him to be. Unfortunately, the Jesus of too many American’s, and Christians none-the-less, is not the Jesus presented in the Bible. If the Burger King slogan “Have it Your Way” were to have a Christological bent, then the slogan for the Jesus of America would be “Jesus, Have Him Your Way.”

The Deity of Christ (Theology in Community Series) ed. by Christopher Morgan and Robert Peterson is a clear call amidst the often confusing voices claiming to present the Jesus of the Bible and history. Amidst the quagmire of the ‘everyone Jesus’ and in a world where Jesus has been reduced to my homey and ‘BFF’, this book brings us back to the center of Christology. This book draws us to one of the most foundational attributes of the Jesus Christ the Son of the living God – his deity.

In the opening chapter, The Deity of Christ Today, Stephen J. Nichols bounces off the work of Stephen Prothero and argues that we have gone from a creedal Jesus, to a human Jesus that is close and ended up with a Jesus that has liberated itself from Christianity and the Bible (p. 27). Stephen points out that there have been many attempts within our American culture to present Jesus. Movies like The Passion of Christ, consumerism and our nifty slogans and even politics where Jesus is somehow on everyone’s side, show us that our cultural attempts to display Jesus have left us with “personal Jesuses who look far more like their makers than like the Jesus of sacred Scripture and the historical creeds (p.31).”

So how do we save ourselves and our culture from the Jesus of our own making? Nichols suggests that we need to get back to the tradition of the creeds and the tradition of Scripture. We need the creeds because they have helped to solidify the teaching of Scripture pertaining to, of many things, the deity of Christ. While creedal tradition can help we must ultimately rest our understanding of Christ on Scripture. When we rest on Scripture we cannot help but conclude that Jesus is God.

In The Deity of Christ there is much that is to be commended. In his chapter, The Deity of Christ in the Synoptic Gospels, Stephen J. Wellum rightly points out that it is Scripture that gives us the material from which we formulate our articulation of Jesus and not the fashionable opinions of the day. Wellum states,

Scripture provides not only the raw data for understanding who the historical Jesus is but it also provides the God-given interpretive framework, structure, and categories by which we grasp his identity and thus construct an objectively grounded and warranted christology. In this way, Scripture serves as our epistemological norm for understanding who Jesus is apart from all historical-critical reconstructions of the text (p. 64).

Wellum’s no nonsense words set the foundation for the rest of the book. It is Scripture and not man’s culturally changing opinions that shape and inform our understanding and presentation of Jesus.

Of particular notice is Stephen J. Wellum’s chapter entitled The Deity of Christ on the Apostolic Witness. Among many things, Wellum does an excellent job explaining the christological aspects of Philippians 2:5-11. His explanation of the kenosis is spot on and even well informed readers will find it helpful.

Concerning Christology within church history, Gerald Bray presents an even handed description and explanation of the churches formation and articulation of the doctrine of the deity of Christ. Bray’s discussion is a dose of good medicine for those who want to cast doubt on whether the early church fathers ‘invented’ the deity of Christ. Bray rightly points out that their debates were not hinged on questioning the deity of Christ but rather they assumed and affirmed the deity of Christ. “The issues debated during the decades of classical creedal formation were more about how belief in his deity should be expressed and harmonized with monotheism then whether he was divine at all (p. 169).” Concerning the correlation between the churches formation and development of the doctrine of the deity of Christ Wellum’s words are worth quoting at length:

If human beings had invented the deity of Jesus, we would expect them to emphasize his miraculous deeds as the main evidence for this, and the more improbable the miracles were, the better. There would have been little reason for them to have added the more mundane details found in the Gospels if they had not been part of Jesus’ claims about himself. The conclusion must be that Jesus taught these things about himself, and it was for that reason that his disciples worshiped him as God. For all their reflection on the person and natures of Jesus Christ, none of the fathers of the church ever believed that, in confessing the deity of Christ, he was adding anything to the teaching of Jesus himself. Their aim was to explain the evidence that had been set before them in the historical events of the life, death and resurrection of the man whose claims they believed and whose teaching the followed.  What that explanation was is the substance of the development of the doctrine of Christ in the history of the church (p. 175-76).

The concluding chapter by J. Nelson Jennings tackles the ever timely issue of the preeminence of Christ among the religions of the world. Jennings challenges the church and the missionary abroad to proclaim Christ as God in the flesh and as the only God worthy of worship. Christ is not whoever each religion worships for this demolishes the necessity and imminent need of missions, not to mention the many aspects of the doctrine of Christ and salvation. “Rather, the relationship between Christ’s deity and Christian missions consists primarily in Jesus Christ the ascended God-man orchestrating, empowering, and intruding into people’s lives through his followers’ cross-/intercultural witness (p. 267).” In regards to religious pluralism, Jennings addresses its foremost contemporary proponent John Hicks. Hicks contends that there are many ways in which people can find a point of contact through which they can be saved and know God – not just Jesus. Hicks further believes that each religions communication of truth demonstrate the many ways in which divine truth can be believed and found (p. 278). Jennings rightly counters Hicks by reminding us that man does not have to search in his own for his own truth formation of God and salvation. The Bible clearly teaches us that God has come in the flesh for all through the incarnation of Jesus Christ (John 1 & I John 1). The counter claim to religious plurality is the incarnational reality that Jesus is God!

Overall, The Deity of Christ is an engaging, insightful and reader friendly guide through the multifaceted doctrine of the deity of Christ. This is not an esoteric work but rather a book that is aimed at the laymen, pastor, Sunday school teacher and student of the Bible. This book serves as both a refresher course on the deity of Christ as well as a timeless reference guide to explaining many of the great Christological passages and phrases of Scripture. As the third contribution to the Theology in Community series from Crossway, The Deity of Christ is a welcome addition to the much needed area of contemporary expressions of the doctrine of Christ. This book will serve the church well for years to come.

Other book in the Theology in Community series are:

  1. The Glory of God
  2. Suffering and the Goodness of God

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

“I believe the word gospel has been kijacked by what we believe about ‘personal salvation,’ and the gospel itself has been reshaped to facilitate making ‘decisions.’ The result of this hijacking is that the word gospel no longer means is our world what it originally meant to either Jesus or the apostles (pg. 26).”

This statement summarizes what Scot McKnight seeks to communicate in his new book The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited. As with his other books, McKnight pulls no punches as he seeks to expose the failures of evangelicalism when it comes to gospel preservation and presentation. Essentially, McKnight believes that the church has “(mistakenly) equated the word gospel with the word salvation (pg. 29).” What we have in evangelicalism is a salvation culture that is focused on decision making and not a gospel culture that should be focused on disciple making. Thus, we have earned the title of soterians because we have a Good-Friday-only gospel (pg. 55).

McKnight believes that our salvation culture has wrongly majored on the Plan of Salvation (how we get saved) and pushed aside the gospel which the Plan of Salvation fits into. We have preached the goal of the gospel (plan of salvation) as the gospel and thus forgotten the gospel all together.  In this presentation of the gospel many have made the goal of salvation about having our sins washed by the blood of Jesus and then getting to live with Jesus in heaven. All to often this is where it stops.  But McKnight contends that “the ‘gospel’ of the New Testament cannot be reduced to the Plan of Salvation (pg. 39).” This is a serious claim and one in which many will resonate with. I know that in my experience this has been the case and something I realized was wrong several years ago.

So if evangelicals have the gospel and the plan of salvation backwards where do we go to straighten them out? The answer McKnight provides is right under our noses. McKnight takes us back to I Corinthians 15:1-28. In it is these verses that we find the one gospel message of Jesus, Paul, Peter the and the Gospel writers. “The gospel is the story of the crucial events in the life of Jesus” as summarized in verses 3-5: (1) that Christ died, (2) that Christ was buried, (3) that Christ was raised and (4) that Christ appeared (p. 49). According to McKnight, these four events form the Story of Jesus which resolves and brings to completion the Story of Israel (pg. 36, 44 & 50). Thus, “the gospel is the Story of Jesus that fulfills, completes, and resolves Israel’s Story,” and therefore ” we dare not permit the gospel to collapse into the abstract, de-storified points in the Plan of Salvation (pg. 51).”

So if the gospel is how the Story of Jesus completes the Story of Israel and this has been right in front of us in I Corinthians 15, how did we get to what McKnight calls a soterian culture that majors on justification and making a decision so one can be justified before God? Surprisingly McKnight primarily sees it stemming from the Reformation. McKnight contends that up to the Reformation the church, through the creeds, continued to “articulate what is both implicit and explicit in Paul’s grand statement of the gospel in I Corinthians 15 (pg. 64).” That is, they continually affirmed the gospel as presented in I Cor. 15. The shift from this gospel articulation to a salvation message gospel came when the Reformers emphasized the goal of the gospel – personal salvation (pg. 71). This was not on purpose and they could not have foreseen the result this shift in focus would cause. “The Reformation did not deny the gospel story and it did not deny the creeds. Instead, it put everything into a new order and into a new place (pg. 72).” This shift can be seen in the Augusburg and Genevan Confessions. Before the Reformation, the creeds framed things through the lens of the trinity as derived from I Cor. 15. During the Reformation the established articles of the faith were converted into sections on salvation and justification by faith. In my estimation what McKnight is saying is that instead of retaining the gospel as found in I Cor. 15 and fleshing out its implications for the current situation, the new creeds re-ordered the content towards more timely needs. Unfortunately, this re-ordering controlled the discussion for the rest of church history.

Following Paul’s presentation of the gospel in I Cor. 15, McKnight fleshes out how Jesus, the Gospel writers (Matthew, Mark & Luke) and the sermon(s) of Peter in Acts (as well as sermons by others) all proclaimed this same gospel. McKnight shows how Jesus saw his life as the completion of Israel’s Story, how the gospel writers presented their account of Jesus’ life to prove the same thing and how Peter’s sermon in Acts 2 follows the same pattern as he presents the gospel through a sweeping overview of the life of Israel through the life of Christ.

So what is needed in order to save our salvation culture from itself and get back to the gospel culture of Jesus, the gospel writers and the apostles? McKnight suggests four things:

  1. Gospeling must summon listeners to confess Jesus as Messiah and Lord and not merely confess their sin and need for a Savior. Gospeling must be a declaration of something that leads to a decision (pg. 133-34).
  2. Gospeling is not driven by the atonement  but by the saving Story of Israel which the story of Jesus completes (pg. 134).
  3. Gospeling must include a declaration of final judgment so that people will see they will one day stand before God to account for their lives (pg. 135).
  4. Gospeling needs to present the need of salvation not just in personal terms for the individual but in corporate terms as well. God is working to restore a people (plural) not just people (individuals). This restored people is the church. (pg. 136).

Admittedly, some may accuse McKnight of downplaying the atonement. I think what KcKnight is trying to do is get our focus back on track. The atonement makes it possible for the Story of Jesus to complete the Story of Israel (the gospel) but McKnight does not think the atonement is the gospel itself or it in its totality. This improper focus “reduces the gospel to only personal salvation” and thus tears “the fabric out of the Story of the Bible and we cease needing the Bible (pg. 142).”

In addition to these four things, McKnight makes some practical suggestions in order to create a gospel culture.

  1. We have to become People of the Story – we must know ALL of Scripture (pg. 153).
  2. We mus immerse ourselves even more into the Story of Jesus – we must know the Gospels better (pg. 153).
  3. We need t see how the apostle’s writings take the Story of Israel and the Story of Jesus into the next generation and into a different culture, and how this generation led all the way to our generation – we must know church history (pg. 155).
  4. We need to counter the stories that bracket our story and that reframe our story – we need to counter the false gospels of our culture (pg. 157).
  5. We need to embrace this story so that we are saved and can be transformed by the gospel story – a lasting gospel culture can only be built by converted believers (pg. 159).

All in all this book is a great corrective to much of evangelical soteriology when it comes to the presentation of the gospel and salvation. They are not the same and that is McKnight’s basic premise. There is little to disagree with and the implications of what McKnight is saying are huge. The King Jesus Gospel has set the standard for the future of the discussion on the gospel. McKnight minces no words and makes many statements that some will recoil at but need to hear. This is a welcome and much needed book to add to the gospel discussion.

Credo Magazine is running another giveaway this week. They are giving away the following three books:

  1. Understanding the Times: New testament Studies in the 21st Century: Essays in Honor of D.A. Carson ed. by Kostenberger & Yarbrough
  2. Did Adam & Eve Really Exist?: Who They Were and Why You Should Care by John C. Collins
  3. Welcome the the Story: Reading, Loving and Living God’s Word by Stephen J. Nichols

You can sing up for the giveaway here!

Credo Magazine is running their own blog and in a effort to gain more interest they are running a series of book giveaways. They are giving away three books in the new Zondervan Exegetical Commentaries Series:

  1. Matthew by Grant Osborne
  2. Galatians by Thomas Schreiner
  3. Ephesians by Clinton Arnold

You can sing up for the giveaway here!

This month over @ Zack Nielsen’s blog he is giving away two new Crossway titles. You can enter to win here!