July 2014


Job by Chris AshIf you search for “suffering” on Amazon in the books section you will find almost 11,800 results. If you search for “help for suffering” on Google there are 151 million entries to choose from. Indeed the world is a place full of suffering people looking for help. You cannot read more than four chapters into the book of Genesis without encountering suffering in the lives of the first two people God created and the first family they made. In reading through the pages of Scripture one encounters suffering at almost every turn. Ironically, it is Job, the oldest book in the Bible, which solely addresses the subject of suffering and how god relates to it and the sufferer.

Tackling this rich, long and sometimes puzzling book, Christopher Ash has written Job: The Wisdom of the Cross. This is the most recent installment in the Preaching the Word commentary series edited by R. Kent Hughes. Staying true to the series, Ash writes from the heart of a pastor as he seeks to show the reader the glory of God in Christ through suffering in the life of Job.

Job, Ash argues, is a book that reveals to us what kind of world we live in – a world full of suffering, and much of it is seemingly pointless. But Ash wants to focus the reader on a smaller aspect of the world – the church. In Job we see a man who endures all the suffering a person could imagine. In his friends we see responses that are detached from the reality of suffering and the God who has the answer to our suffering. Ash states, “The book of Job will force us to ask what kind of church we belong to” (19). This examination takes a look at the prosperity and therapeutic gospel. Both of these gospels are fake and threaten the church constantly. To Ash, Job is a corrective to these false gospels and outlooks on life before they gained their contemporary popularity.

The answer to these two false gospels is the gospel of Jesus Christ. While Job was a blameless man, he was not perfect. Concerning the foreshadowing of Christ in Job, Ash says that

The book ultimately makes no sense without the obedience of Jesus Christ, his obedience to death on a cross. Job is not everyman; he is not even every believer. There is something desperately extreme about Job. He foreshadows one man whose greatness exceeded even Job’s, whose suffering took him deeper than Job, and whose perfect obedience to his Father was only anticipated in faint outline by Job. The universe needed one man who would lovingly and perfectly obey his heavenly Father in the entirety of his life and death, by whose obedience the many would be made righteous (Rom. 5:19). (21)

Woven throughout the book, Ash demonstrates how the book of Job destroys the false message of the prosperity and therapeutic gospels and points us to Jesus as the true Savior. For example, in Job chapter three we see the brokenness of Job as he tries to articulate his response to his great loss. Job is in a dark place and so was Jesus when He hung on the cross and said, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me” (84). Though Job was a blameless man who greatly suffered, Jesus was a sinless man who suffered even greater because His suffering was wholly unjust.

But while Job addresses the subject of suffering, it is not primarily about suffering. Ash constantly points the reader to God who is in control of the suffering, who reveals Himself in the suffering and who carries Job through the suffering. Because Job is about God, it is about Jesus. Ash states,

Job is passionately and profoundly about Jesus, whom Job foreshadows both in his blamelesness and in his perseverance through undeserved suffering. As the blameless believer par excellence, Jesus fulfills Job. As a priestly figure who offers sacrifices for his children at the start and his friends at the end, Job foreshadows Jesus the great High Priest. (436).

Job: The Wisdom of the Cross is a wonderful and compelling commentary on Job. Ash ably explains the text, is attentive to the difficult issues it can present and faithfully presents the book as focusing on God and foreshadowing Christ. Ash has a gift of making a difficult book much easier to understand. This is a commentary on Job that every pastor should have in his library and any Christian should read for their personal Bible study.

I received this book for free from Crossway 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.”

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Chinas Reforming ChurchesIt is no secret that Christianity in China is growing. In a country that has been historically hostile to religious diversity, Christianity has been growing and making a mark on the whole of Chinese life. One of the factors that accounts for this growth is the infusion of Protestant missionaries from various denominational affiliations. What might come as a surprise to many is the growing and well documented influence of conservative Reformed missionary influence in various ways throughout China.

Through the efforts of a number of Reformed leaders who are involved in the spread of Reformed polity and theology in China, Bruce P. Baugus, professor at Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson, Mississippi, has edited China’s Reforming Churches: Mission, Polity, and Ministry in the Next Christendom. The contributors to this book include pastors, theologians and Chinese-Americans who believe that Reformed polity and theology possess what is necessary to sustain the future growth of the church in China.

China’s Reforming Churches provides a sketch of the history of the conservative Reformed missionary influence in China since the late 1800’s, an assessment of the present state of Christianity in China in general and the Reformed church specifically, and charts a vision for the future of Reformed missionary work in China. Additionally, this book provides theological justification for why the contributors believe that Reformed polity and theology are what Chinese churches needs in order to be grounded in the gospel so as to create a sustainable future for Christianity to grow in China.

Overview

The book is divided into four sections. The first section outlines the history of Reformed churches in China. The history of Protestant missions to China begins with Robert Morrison in 1807 who was also a member of the Presbyterian church (29). Since that time there has been a steady flow of Reformed theological influence through missionary presence in China. Not long after Morrison came John L. Nevius who is perhaps the most famous and influential Presbyterian missionary to China. He is credited with introducing the idea of planting churches that are self-supporting, self-governing and self-propagating (41). This is a development that still carries today among missionaries across denominational lines. What many readers, who are unfamiliar with Reformed missionary influence in China, will find interesting is the who’s-who of Reformed theologians who were actively involved in mission work in China directly or who played a major role in training Chinese nationals for missionary work. John L. Nevius and Walter M. Lowrie both studied under Charles Hodge (38, 45), J. Gresham Machen helped found the Independent Board of Foreign Missions from which Richard B. Gaffin would later be sent to do work in Qindgao(54) and Geerhardus Vos was the president of Yingkou Bible Institute in Yingkou, Liaoning (55).

Section two provides an assessment of the state of Presbyterianism in China today. Chapter four provides a fascinating look at the four narratives that outside observers tend to view the Chinese church.

  1. Persecuted Church – This view sees Christianity in China as always under persecution from political forces of China. However, this view has not been able to unshackle itself from China’s past dealings with religious diversity. Brent Fulton says that “it is not illegal to be a Christian in China,” and that “most Christians in China do not face daily persecution” (100).
  2. Needy Church – This view sees Christianity in China “as lacking Bibles, trained leaders, facilities, and finances” (100). What is more realistic is that as long as Christians both in and outside China have an unhealthy dependence on Western Christianity for the sustainability of the Chinese church then it’s needy perception will become a reality.
  3. Christian China – This view thinks that since China has more Christians than any other country that it will bring about cultural transformation such that China will become publicly Christian. This is not true since there is not a direct linear relationship to Christian growth and cultural change (101).
  4. Missionary Church – This view sees “China as potentially the greatest missionary-sending country in history” (102). Of the four narratives this might be the most exaggerated as there are not near as many Chinese missionaries going out of China and most of them that do leave do not stay for long.

As the contemporary Chinese Christian scene is laid out in the book, American Christians will be surprised to see that the situation is much like it is in the states: Christian leaders and laypeople are continually encouraging other Christians towards and warning them of the same things that dominate the Western church discussion. Brent Fulton notes that, despite the striking similarities, what separates the Chinese and American churches is that China “has experienced in thirty years what in most other nations has taken place over a century or more” (115).

Section three addresses the social and religious challenges in China for the growth of Christianity (Presbyterianism specifically) and what opportunities lie ahead as a result. While examining the social conditions, G. Wright Doyle notes that the fast paced change in China’s society is creating new problems for the Chinese but also providing new inroads for the spread of the gospel. For instance, China has always been known for having a strong committed family structure but this is changing. Husbands are taking jobs farther and farther away from home and the men are finding mistresses away from home. This, coupled China’s one-child policy, is wrecking havoc on Chinese families (160-61). Also, though more and more money is coming into China, the gap between the poor and wealthy is increasing causing discontent among the people (164-65). In addressing the opportunities these and other challenges bring to Christianity in China, David VanDrunen charts our a vision for the interplay between Reformed ecclesiology and Christians engagement in society as drawn from his book Living in God’s Two Kingdoms: A Biblical Vision for Christianity and Culture.

The final section deals with appropriating the Reformed tradition in China through legal publishing, theological education and the indigenization and contextualization. For publishing, it will come as a surprise to many Westerners that within the last ten years it has  become legal to publish limited types of Christian literature in mainland China (245). Phil Remmers lays out the highly controlled and expensive process (upwards of $20,000) it takes to have a book published in China. Remmers notes the pros and cons of unregistered underground Christian publishers and has some surprising thoughtful comments on the potential drawbacks of free digital literature available to Chinese Christians as made possible through ministries like Desiring God (264-66).  As far as theological education goes, China has a cultural history of valuing education that can benefit Christian education. What is challenging are the restrictions on seminaries that are not so with churches. There are other issues such as funding for the schools, limited resources and good faculty. There is much room for growth among Reformed seminaries and the future looks bright.

Conclusion

China’s Reforming Churches is a fascinating look at the past, present and future of Reformed missionary influence in China. The contributors show a familiarity with Christianity in China in general and the Reformed tradition specifically, and are knowledgeable about the current Chinese social factors and movements that Christians face. Those unfamiliar with the current state of Christianity in China will find a lot of helpful information and will be surprised by many things like the real issue concerning Christian persecution and the rise of Christian publication.

Though the title does not immediately give it away, this book is written from a decidedly Reformed perspective. All theological and practical (ecclesiological) evaluations and suggestions stem from this perspective. While this does not effect cultural and societal observation (at least in my mind) it does limit the scope for how to move forward in regards to theology and polity. I think there is definitely some overlap that would occur no matter what denominational stream the book was written in. What would be noticeably different is the suggested structure of polity. This limited scope of the book is in no way a fault of the book nor does it detract from its value for those committed to other denominations. This books will serve as a great benefit to any Christian interested in the current state of missions in China and will provide invaluable information for those invested in Chinese missions from both sides.

I received this book for free from Reformation Heritage Books 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.”