October 2015

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.”