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What is Reformed Theology?

whatisreformedtheologyWhat is Reformed Theology? is a classic work by R.C. Sproul, reprinted with a simple but attractive new cover by Baker Books.  Sproul wrote this work in 1997 and there really isn’t a need for a new edition of it.  The Scriptures have not changed. The arguments for and against have not changed.

Sproul develops the work around two ideas.  The first half of the book is laying the theological groundwork upon which the interpretational grid called Reformed Theology stands.  This is a commitment to basing understanding theology on the basis of Scripture alone and a commitment to salvation by faith alone.  These were the two most important arguments of the Protestant Reformation and therefore they must provide the framework for any understanding of Reformed Theology which emerged so forcefully from that crucible.

Having established those points, Sproul continues with his characteristic clarity to work through the five “doctrines of grace,” commonly referred to as the TULIP.  This acronym was coined in the 20th century but it stands for five foundational arguments in a Reformed understanding of salvation:  [T]otal depravity, [U]nconditional election, [L]imited atonement, [I]rresistible grace, and [P]erseverance of the saints Sproul devotes a chapter to each of these and explains why the traditional titles are often misleading.  For example, he suggests that instead of “Total depravity,” he suggests the term “radical corruption” which more accurately describes the doctrine.  Throughout the book, Sproul writes for the typical church goer.  While seminary students will appreciate the work, it is meant to be consumed by anybody.

I appreciated this book greatly, but I do have some complaints.  First, a very common criticism of Reformed Theology is that limited atonement and irresistible grace are logically necessary concepts, but they have little to no Biblical support.  Unfortunately, Sproul does nothing to ameliorate these concerns, as these chapters are very light on scripture and heavy on logic.  That’s not because of a lack of Scriptural support, however … it’s a choice of how Sproul chose to frame the discussion.  For a deep discussion of  the Scriptural basis of these articles, I suggest Matthew Barrett, Salvation by Grace: The Case for Effectual Calling and Regeneration (Phillipsburg: P&R, 2013).

My second complaint about this work is that Sproul equates Reformed Theology with Covenant Theology (chapter 5).  This really is not fair given the overall trajectory of the book.  What is Reformed Theology? aims to really answer the question “What are the doctrines of grace?” and Sproul answers that well.  But while Tom Schreiner and John MacArthur would both heartily agree with Sproul on the doctrines of grace, they would not agree that this obligates them to agree with Covenant Theology.  (Schreiner advocates New Covenant Theology while MacArthur is Dispensational.)  Sproul’s work also does not delineate all that Covenant Theology implies; for a fuller discussion of that I recommend Going Beyond the Five Points: Pursuing a More Comprehensive Reformation, edited by Ventura (CreateSpace, 2015).

Overall, this is a solid book and well worth the time of Christians to read.  If you are already convinced of the truth of the doctrines of grace, this will help you to be able to explain them more clearly.  If you are opposed to the doctrines, you will have a better understanding of what exactly those bloody Calvinists are claiming.  And if you’re on the fence, this lays out very clearly why so many see and embrace the doctrines of grace in the Bible.


America at the Crossroads

barnaIt’s no mystery that America is rapidly changing.  Things that would have been completely unimaginable just 20 years ago are now the law of the land. While many celebrate the changes that we have seen, others are distraught that America is so quickly throwing off her (at least nominal) Christian heritage.  Where is our nation heading and is there any hope of changing the course?

This is where George Barna steps in, with America at the Crossroads: Explosive Trends Shaping America’s Future and What You Can Do About It (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2016).  Barna is working through statistics comparing the attitudes of Christians today with Christians from even just 10 years ago, and doing the same with those outside of Christianity.  What he found should not be a surprise.

Christians are timid and withdrawn these days, afraid of engaging the culture (because their church is not willing to engage on serious cultural issues) and being content to live in a Christian sub-culture.  In the meantime, American culture has drifted far from any Christian roots it could once claim and when you look at the statistical trends, there is little reason for optimism that the culture is going to get better.

I recommend pastors read this book.  First, it will give you a bunch of compelling statistics that you can use as sermon illustrations.  But second, and perhaps more importantly, it shows where culture is heading and the pace at which it is doing so.  Living in the insulated environment of the local church, it’s very easy for a pastor to assume that these are problems elsewhere — not in my town, not in my church.

Some of Barna’s stats are very convicting (like only a third of evanglical Christians share their faith with an outsider in a given year).  Other stats seem frankly hard to believe. According to Barna (page 59), 29% of atheists/agnostics pray to God in a typical week and 17% read the Bible in a typical week.  Really?  3 out of 10 people are praying to a God they don’t believe in every week?  Almost as unbelievable on the same page is the claim that 100% of evangelical Christians pray in a typical week and 88% read their Bibles; I think those numbers are likely much higher than actual.

The book is crammed with statistics but Barna does a nice job of making the book more than just a long list of numbers. At the end of each short chapter, he gives his assessment of where the culture is heading.  Spoiler:  it’s continuing on the trajectory we’ve seen in recent years.

Probably the best part of the book was his closing chapter on “what you can do.”  His answer revolves around Christians living an authentic Christian life, fully broken before a mighty God, and fully committed to engagement with the people of our nation.  Surely that is the right track and I thought this discussion (much longer than the other chapters of the book) was right on.

My biggest complaint in this book is that Barna seems to have no grid for understanding the sovereignty of God in the moral demise of America.  He does not hold out divine initiative as a hope for transformation of the nation, spurring us on to prayer.  Nor does he consider the possibility that our godless drift might be the result of God’s judgment on America.  I appreciate his call for Christians to realize their place in helping to stem the decay of our nation, but I would have liked to have seen a greater emphasis on God’s role in this too.

Overall, this was a very interesting read and worth one’s time if you are a thinking Christian in America who wants to engage with his or her culture.


Unlocking the Bible

unlockingthebibleAs in every age, there is a lot of interest in the Bible.  Ask the average Christian and they will tell you that they know they should be reading the Bible more.  People who are curious about Christianity understand that this is the book on which the faith is based.  But for many people, wading into the Bible is a deep mystery.  Where do you even start?  Why are the different books in the Bible so different?  What is the difference between the Old Testament and the New Testament?

For people who ask these questions, Jeff Lasseigne has written Unlocking the Bible (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2016).  This book aims to give you an overview of the Bible, illustrating how the pieces fit together and giving some tools for how to understand where the Bible came from, where a given book fits into the Bible’s story, how to study a passage and get as much as you can out of it, and even how to effectively teach the Bible to others.  It’s an ambitious target, and the results are hit-and-miss.

It should be stated right up front that this is a book for somebody who is fairly new to the topic.  There are nuggets in here that are helpful, but if you are generally familiar with the Bible, you would probably do better looking at a book that specializes in the area that interests you.  The material is good, but it is definitely a beginner’s level. There is only so much you can cover.

Lasseigne writes from an unabashedly evangelical perspective (specifically dispensational premillennial, if those terms mean anything to you.)  He is absolutely convinced that this is the word of God and he wants you to love it like he does.  He does a solid job of bringing all of these ideas like where we got the Bible and can we trust that it has been transmitted through history accurately very well.  His overview of the Old Testament, the New Testament, and the often overlooked time between Malachi and Matthew is solid, but simple.

Fully half of the book is giving an overview of each of the books of the Bible, including its theme, a dozen or so interesting facts about the book, and some famous quotes from people who have appreciated the book.  It’s a little different from the overview you get in a good study Bible … this is more little nuggets designed to make you curious about the book, or little details you can bring up while you are teaching the book.

This brings up one of my two major complaints about the book.  Of the seven regular chapters of the book, one of them is dedicated to how to teach the Bible.  What he says is true and good, but in general this book is a lot more basic than I would hope somebody who is looking to be a Bible teacher would be reading.  That chapter felt a little out of place for the overall target audience of the book.

My second complaint is the humor and stories included throughout.  Now, I don’t mind humor at all … for example, I think Matt Chandler and Alistair Begg are brilliant in including reverent humor in their messages.  I think that is where Lasseigne is trying to go, but it misses.  It’s just trying to be funny for the sake of being funny.  He has a two page illustration of funny quotes by flight attendants which was genuinely funny, but it served no purpose.  This happens a lot in the book.  It’s a shame because he says himself:

When it comes to using stories and illustrations as seasonings, we don’t want to overdo it by substituting stories for sermons or illustrations for illumination!  Too much seasoning spoils the meal.  I’ve heard messages made up of stories and silly jokes and very little Bible study.  That dishonoring to the Lord and is a dereliction of duty (140).

I don’t think his stories go to the extent of replacing content, but it was clear after a while that he was simply including these stories to lighten to the tone of the book rather than to advance the material, for the most part.  After a while I was groaning as I came to another.

Overall, I think this is a valuable book to somebody who is a new believer and who is trying to get an understanding of what all of these books in the Bible are.  I think for that audience, this book succeeds very well.   If you already have a basic understanding of that, I would suggest looking at other book that deal with the topics in more depth.


Book Review: Resolved: 10 Ways to Stand Strong and Live What You Believe


I highly recommend this book. If you are in a dark season in your walk with God, this book will encourage and rebuild you. If you are in a season of great spiritual health, read this as a tool to recommend to others who might need encouragement, as well as to remind you as to why things are going so well for you right now.

I wanted to read this book because I got the impression from the subtitle and summary that it was going to encourage me in the face of spiritual persecution. That is not the focus of this book. The first chapter, Believe When it Looks Ridiculous, does address that aspect of being resolved in your faith. But the main focus of the book is to stand resolved when the challenge comes from within, when the temptation to forego your faith is because the sin within you or circumstances surrounding you lead you to doubt God’s promises, His power, and His presence. Despite being quite different in content and direction than I initially thought, I was very pleased and encouraged as I read this book. While Ms Abujamra writes in a very conversational style that is easy to read, Resolved is full of meaty truths and powerful Scripture references that build the believer up.

Resolved addresses 10 life situations that can make faith weak. They are: Believe When it Looks Ridiculous, Love when It’s Inconvenient, Obey When It’s not Popular, Yield When It’s my Right, Speak Up When It’s Easier Not To, Give When I Barely Have Enough, Be in Community When I’d Rather Be Alone, Have Joy When Life is Depressing, Hope When it Hurts Too Much, and Rest in the Midst of Chaos. Each chapter has many personal examples from Ms. Abujamra’s life, practical suggestions and approaches to aid the reader in putting the topic into practice in their life, and each ends with a formal resolution that the reader can make going forward.

I appreciated this book as I was in a dark season when I read it, and the final chapter on Rest in the Midst of Chaos was a great balm to my spirit. It is very encouraging to know we are not the only ones going through hard times, and Ms. Abujamra is very open and honest in her writing.

I received a copy of this book from Baker Books for the purpose of reviewing, but I was under no obligation to give a positive review. All opinions are my own.


book review: 5 Things Every Parent Needs to Know About Their Kids & Sex

Cover ArtAs a mom of 4 daughters, I chose to read this book to review because I hoped to find a resource to equip me in talking with them about sex. I was not disappointed by Miller’s book; it is candid, honest, and useful.

Ms. Miller is very open about her qualifications for writing on this topic. She shares about growing up as a pastor’s daughter and the sheltered life that didn’t prepare her for the real world of sex. She endured sexual abuse at the hands of a youth pastor in high school, which led her to turn to pornography and have an unfaithful relationship with a young man she was engaged to before finally breaking free by God’s grace. She is now a speaker at colleges and churches on the topic of sex, and is happily married. Her story is heartbreaking yet encouraging, as she shares how God has healed her and is using her to bring light and hope to a subject that can be intimidating and even terrifying for parents.

Ms. Miller’s 5 points center around one thing: your child is not the exception. In talking to our kids about sex, the ineffectiveness of sheltering, mainstream media offerings, pornography, and sexual abuse, she underlines the fact that avoiding talking with them in hopes of not “spoiling” our kids’ innocence will only backfire. They will learn about all these topics from someone, and don’t we want it to be us, their parents?

She explains that the best approach is not just one big conversation at some predetermined age, but a lifetime of open, respectful discussions that are age-appropriate and that can and should be initiated by both parent and child. Families should determine their values and then cover these topics in light of that. The best way to protect our children is to educate them and to prove ourselves trustworthy listeners and information givers. Ms. Miller gives very thoughtful information based on her most up-to-date research, as well as providing updates via her website

Each chapter ends with very practical tips (“The Bottom Line”) as well as a written interview with an expert on the topic covered within. I feel well-equipped to have meaningful conversations with my daughters, and am not intimidated by issues that may arise. I am thankful for this book and highly recommend it to parents who want to have honest, real conversations with their kids on a hard but beautiful subject.

I received a free copy of this book from Baker Books, and was under no obligation to provide a favorable review.


book review: liberating king: breaking free from the tyranny of sin

Cover ArtThis book was enjoyable and encouraging, written in a very conversational style that is easy and quick to read. Stephen Miller is a worship leader at his church, and understandably uses song lyrics to illustrate and support his points. He has many examples of people who have suffered and struggled yet held fast to the Lord who liberates.

I am personally in a valley season spiritually right now, so I was greatly excited to read this book. It was very encouraging to read about the hard times that a worship leader has had, seeing that I am not alone in my struggles. Miller is quite relatable and transparent, and I admire and respect him for that. I will be honest though, that the book didn’t leave a deep impression on me, in that I have not been left meditating on the truths he reminds of or the methods he proposes to aid the reader in breaking free.

Overall, it is worth reading and I hope to revisit it at some point. I’m thankful that there are spiritually mature people who are courageous enough to share their struggles without glossing over the fact that walking with Christ does not equal a trouble-free life.

I received a free copy of this book from Baker Books that I might review it. All opinions are my own.


Book review: It’s Not Too Late, The Essential Part You Play in Shaping Your Teen’s Faith

dupee.inddThis is one of those rare books that is able to teach and exhort the reader to do what is best, without browbeating him about his failures. I so appreciate books I can start with excited anticipation and finish with satisfied expectations, and It’s Not Too Late is one of the best I’ve read in a while. Dan Dupee speaks candidly, of both his own and others’ experiences with the faith journeys of teens and young adults, and he presents his information in a very readable and helpful manual.

This book is a compilation of Dupee’s findings from surveying 300 plus parents and their kids, through personal meetings and internet communications. He boils down his findings into a concise definition of success: The young Christian adult owns his or her faith in Jesus Christ, reflects it in priorities and decisions, and lives it in community with other believers, seeking to influence the watching world. And as he unpacks this, he consistently (and encouragingly) proves that parents are the most influential forces in their kids’ lives, no matter their age. He debunks social myths such as the irrelevance of parents and the inevitability of college kids to walk away from their faith, while providing practical approaches and do-able tips to parents to give their young kids a strong foundation, foster maturing relationships with their teens, and grace in times of going prodigal.

I so highly recommend this book-while reading it I used chapter 9 Christian Kids Can Thrive in College with a college student I am mentoring, and I am also excited to apply the truths within as our 4 daughters grow up.

I received a free copy of this book from Baker Books for review purposes. All statements are my own and I was not obligated to give a favorable review.