Uniquely Holy

Before the Throne

A review by Stuart Brogden

The subtitle of this book is Reflections on God’s Holiness. Allen Nelson takes us a quick-paced tour of different aspects of God’s holiness, grounded in two passages from God’s Word: Isaiah 6:1-7 and Revelation 4:5-11. One recurring theme is the remedy for what ails the saints and their local fellowships is found in the proper view of the Lord Jesus, not in “new methods” that fleshly ears and eyes always demand. The bottom line is that satisfaction for the soul of man can only be had on the person of Christ Jesus, not in entertainment with a wrapping of pious words from a speaker who presents Creator and Judge of all flesh as familiar spirit that only wants to make people feel good.

God is holy – He does not merely behave holy. His holiness – being set apart from creation, being complete and perfect in His being – defines Him. Twelve chapters explore God’s undoubtable, unspeakable, untamable, unchanging, unapproachable  – and more! – holiness. Our author labors to help us see God as He is: glorious, pure, complete, just, joyful, compassionate, and AWESOME.

Reader – if you are a believer bored or disaffected with your Savior, you are a self-contradiction! Nobody who even partially comprehends Who saves sinners and what sin is cannot be bored or disaffected with the One Who took the cup of wrath due us. Nelson’s book is a ready remedy for dull eyes, weary ears, sullen souls; our author bids us to see Christ more clearly, to behold His glory and be joyfully satisfied in Him.

In the opening chapter, Allen impresses upon us the importance of knowing God rightly, telling us, “When we fail to take seriously the holiness of God it affects everything in our lives. God is holy. Theology matters.” (page 21) Building on the words of Peter, who tells us in 2 Peter 3:18 to be growing in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus, Nelson reminds us “We are still growing in our knowledge of who He is and we will do so for eternity.” He goes on to say, “I want you to hunger to know God better than you do now.” And, “We can’t understand God in an absolute way (He is infinite and we are finite). However, we can (and must) learn what He tells us about Himself in His Holy Bible.” (page 26). This idea is critical for everyone who names the name of Christ – satisfied with being in Him, never satisfied with our maturity as saints.

How should the holiness of God affect us? Our author has this: “The overwhelming concept of God’s holiness ought to lay a heavy weight on our souls. If you can meditate upon the unfathomable holiness of God without any occasions of fear and trembling in your core being, perhaps you’ve not understood it sufficiently.” (page 42). Recall the message from 2 Peter 3:18, and what he said in 2 Peter 1:12, that he intended to always remind us of what it means to be in Christ. Allen is a good friend, reminding us of something critical to our maturing in the Lord, pressing God’s truth upon us so that the reader will not easily be able to be self-satisfied. Contemplating on the response of Isaiah to seeing a vision of God’s holiness in chapter 6 of that gospel, Nelson observes, “The gospel changes “woe is me” to “worthy are You” because the penalty for transgressing God’s Holy Law has been atoned for in Christ. … Reflecting on God’s untamable holiness should ultimately drive us to Christ.” (pages 60 & 61) In a footnote on page 61 he says, “We can either distance ourselves from God through Moses, or draw near to God through Christ.” Works of the law take many forms, most of which are not directly connected to Moses or the law given through him to national Israel. The only way for a sinner to be reconciled to holy God is, as Allen quoted, to “draw near [to God through Christ] with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.” (Hebrews 10:22)

In chapter 5, Nelson explores how this characteristic of God ought to inform and shape our corporate worship. This is one of my favorite parts of this excellent work. While we should be thankful for skilled musicians and singers (being careful, in my opinion, that they do not overwhelm the congregation), Nelson implores us “to listen to an important truth from the passages we’ve seen above [in this section] about facilitating worship: get out of the way.” He bids us to be intentional “in singing hymns that glorify Him instead of focusing on our own experience. We must gear all facets of our singing – words, style, arrangement and content – toward magnifying the unmatchable holiness of God. Holy, holy, holy.” (page 89) Elders should oversee the musical portion of worship as well as the preaching – the people will benefit when the songs are theologically aligned with the sermon.

As for the preaching, Nelson says, “Show me the Holy, and He will suffice. Show me His worthiness in His Word. Show me how His holiness permeates the universe and is glorious enough to exact unceasing praise from all creation. You are not a match for the holiness of God. It’s wicked and foolish to attempt to be. Step out of the way by pointing us to a Holy God and the work of Christ.”(page 92) Application of a passage has its place – and it’s important. But application without the glorious weight of the holiness of God in Christ being held up is a way to legalism. “The greatness and the glory of God are relevant. It does not matter if the surveys turn up a list of perceived needs that does not include the supreme greatness of the sovereign God of grace. That is the deepest need. Our people are starving for God.” (page 94, quoting John Piper)

Beholding the Lord in spirit and truth (only spiritual being can see Him as He is) transforms us. “We become like what we behold. Let us then behold the Lord and not you.” (page 95, speaking to the preacher). “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18)

This is the drumbeat of this book: study to know Him; be bold in proclaiming Him; trust Him; exalt Him; hide behind Him. For YHWH alone is holy, all powerful, self-existent, and worthy of all praise, honor, and dominion. Whether in your personal walk, evangelism, or ministry in the local fellowship – Jesus is sufficient and nothing else will do.

Pick up this book and read. It will do your soul much good.

The Life and Theology of Paul

The Life and Theology of Paul

A review by Stuart Brogden

I was intrigued when I saw this book come available for review. I’ve reviewed this author’s commentary on Acts and was eager to see how he addressed Paul. This book will not disappoint the reader who truly wants to know the theology of Paul, which is to say, the theology of the Bible.  

Guy Water’s has organized this book into 12 chapters, covering Paul’s conversion and calling by God, his view of sin, justification, sanctification, the church, and the end of the age. In the introduction, Waters points out that Paul’s life stands as “a testimony to the gospel that he preached” – even while acknowledging what we can know about Paul’s life is found only in the Bible. But considering how much of the Bible Paul wrote, and what Luke wrote about him, we have more than enough material (inspired by God!) to know Paul very well. In summing up a nice, concise review of Paul’s life, our author tells us of two ways his life is still fundamental in the life of the church today. First, God prepared Paul “from the womb to be the “Apostle to the Gentiles.”” (page 10). We should consider our own lives as having been worked out by God for use to His people, trusting Him when we are not sure of our path. Secondly, although he was dramatically converted, the man was not transformed into someone else. Since God had prepared Saul for his role, it would overthrow all that preparation if the result was a different man. God’s preparation leads to His plans being fulfilled. When we look at ourselves, we should look unto the Lord, knowing He is faithful and trustworthy to equip us and keep us.

In his review of Saul’s conversion, Waters observes (page 15), “Saul, then, would serve as a pattern or model of what Jesus Christ would do in the lives of men and women who hear Saul’s witness to Christ.” He notes that not all who hear the gospel are saved, but that those who are saved are saved in the way Saul was. I’ve made note of this myself in much the same way and think people who claim man plays a role in his own conversion would benefit from chapter 2 and the biblical evidence our author marshals.

It has been said that the basis of the Reformation was the doctrine of justification. Waters quotes Martin Luther: “If the article of justification is lost, all Christian doctrine is lost at the same time.” (page 49) Without a clear understanding of Who saves whom – and from Whom – the Christian will tend to drift into thinking too highly of self too lowly of Christ. Waters’ two chapters on justification follow his two chapters on sin. And following justification, we have three chapters on sanctification. I have been severely grieved of late by the number of Christians I’ve encountered who consider sanctification a one-time thing that is finished upon redemption. While I disagree with Waters on his interpretation of the man in Romans 7, his teaching in these chapters is very good and concludes on the high note that the “Christian life is one of unceasing dependence upon Christ” (page 89) and “Our ultimate good is our glorification in and with Christ.” (page 99). If we keep these biblical truths in front of us, we will do well.

Since justification is the hinge point of our faith, I think it best if we make sure we understand it. Waters quotes Romans 3:21, reminding us that “Paul has labored to argue that sinners lack the righteousness that God requires of human beings. Now, for the first time in this letter, Paul begins to describe the righteousness that God has accomplished in Christ and that He freely gives in the gospel to sinners (see Rom. 1:16-17)” (page 50). He then tell us of three important words used by Paul to define and describe this gift of righteousness: redemption, propitiation, and justification.

Redemption, we are told, has a rich history in the biblical story. In Exodus 6:6 and 2 Sam 7:23 God describes “His deliverance of Israel from bondage in Egypt” with this word. “In Isaiah’s prophecy, God often speaks of Himself as the Redeemer of His people,” (page 50) laying the foundation that God is the initiator and author of man’s redemption. To redeem mean to buy back something, such as a slave, by paying a ransom. In redeeming sinners, Christ Jesus has purchased us from the slave market of sin; the purchase price was His life. Waters points out that Paul connects our redemption to the shedding of Jesus’ blood in Eph 1:7.

Secondly, propitiation “is the turning aside or averting of wrath.” (page 51) Our author declares, “those for whom Jesus died have not only had their sins atoned for, but they have also had the Father’s wrath averted from them. Jesus has turned aside the wrath of God from His people because He exhaustively bore the wrath of God on their behalf at the cross.” (page 51) It has been well said that we are saved from God by God. Those who are perishing will not be separated from God in the complete sense – only as regards His benevolence. They will be personally experiencing His unending wrath for eternity as their sinful human frame is unable to atone for their sin against an infinitely holy God. This is why Paul wrote that “there is, therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom 8:1) – God’s wrath was satisfied in the sacrifice of Jesus. There is no wrath left, no sin debt unpaid, for those who are in Christ!

Regarding justification, Waters warns us about some who claim “justification carries the idea of inward transformation” (page 52), as the Roman Catholic Church does. To Paul we go to find out his view, as we see it as something brought to us once as a gift, and the alternative to condemnation (Rom 5:16; 8:33-34). “The opposite of justification is condemnation. This … confirms justification as a strictly forensic (that is, courtroom) reality.” (page 52) Justification, he says, “has in view two inseparable realities.” (page 52) Firstly, Rom 4:7-8 teaches that forgiveness is complete, none of the sins of the saints are unforgiven, as if the blood of Christ was not sufficient. Secondly, we are declared righteous. “In Justification, God does not clear our account of debt to Him and tell us to start over and do better this time. We are, rather, counted as righteous for Christ’s sake.” (page 53) This is a status that cannot be over turned – not by man, devil or God.

One point of strong disagreement I have with Waters comes to us on page 55 where read that the righteousness of Christ is “offered in the gospel and may be refused (see Rom. 9:30-10:4)” Nowhere in the Bible is the gospel an offer, something that can be refused. When a sovereign says, Come!, that is a command of a superior to an inferior, not a request. The grace that saves is a gift from God, but not a gift that CAN be refused. A proper understanding of redemption reveals that man is regenerated by the Holy Spirit and THEN given the faith needed to receive the grace to believe. John 6:44 sums up the actions and sequence: John 6:44 (HCSB) No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him, and I will raise him up on the last day. Note the first act – God draws, or drags, the person who is dead in sins (Eph 2:1-2) to Himself. Everything else, though it cannot be disconnected from this, follows it. Being regenerated, the sinner now wants God where he was unable to before. No one being so changed would be able to refuse God, just as one not changed is not able to want God nor discern spiritual things (John 8:43; 1 Cor 2:15). Further, nothing in the Scripture noted by Waters (Rom 9:30 – 10:4) supports his assertion that sinners are offered salvation and can refuse that offer.

Wanting to finish this review on a positive note, overall Waters does very good, indeed. His third chapter on justification rests on our “union with Christ.” The bond we saints have with Christ Jesus is essential to our salvation and our standing with God. He rightly asserts, “if we are in Christ, this relationship and all that it carries are due entirely to the gracious initiative of God. … Our unity rests on nothing in ourselves, but entirely on our Savior and what He has done to rescue us from sin and death and bring us to eternal life.” (page 68) Christ’s righteousness has been imputed to us just as our sin has been imputed to Christ. We have no righteousness or merit of our own; if not joined to Christ we have no hope. But we who are in Christ have security, we “have a certain glorious future and, therefore, hope for the present.” (page 68)

Reader – pick up this book and read. Your soul be edified.

The Almost Christian DIscovered

The Almost Christian Discovered

By Matthew Mead, 1661 

A review by Stuart Brogden

This is a review of the 20th century reprint of Mead’s book, with a foreword by John MacArthur. The second sentence in his forward tells us that this book “reveals the force and fervor of Puritan spirituality as vividly as any work” he knew. Ask the early settlers of New England about the “force and fervor of Puritan spirituality” and you may want to ask what was Mac thinking.

Mead’s goal in writing this book, which Mac and I agree with, is that it is far too easy for people to think they are Christians when they know nothing of Christ and exhibit no fruit of His Spirit within. As I heard a fella remark recently, when Jesus saves a person, He changes a person. Mead says he intends no anxiety for the saint; his intention is to cause the “almost Christian” to examine himself. He asks the Christian if the state of the world is grievous to you (page 20) and tells the hypocrite to “read and tremble; for thou are the man here pointed at.” (page 21)

Our author introduces Agrippa (page 27) as an almost Christian, as well as the foolish virgins (page 35) and the rich young ruler (page 33) and he tells us (page 29), the “saint may almost perish but certainly be saved; the hypocrite may almost be saved yet perish.” And he goes on to tell us (page 40) “there can be no grace without knowledge, yet there may be much knowledge without grace.” This contrast between two categories of people is found throughout Scripture and it is good for people in both categories to understand them.

Throughout the book, Mead sets up contrasts to show these things more clearly. We are reminded again and again that attitudes and behavior can be evidences of saving faith, but they are not proofs thereof. This is the central theme of the book. The almost Christian may: be trembling at the Word (page 74), delighting in the Word (page 75), belonging to a church (page 77), confessing sin (page 59), have hope in heaven (page 78), and engage in behavior modification (page 82) and not be a Christian! Would you not agree? Any concerned pagan can do these things and not be in Christ.

And yet this same author, in this same book, says (page 43) that people who preach, pray, and serve people in the church have spiritual gifts and not be a Christian; that a man can have the Holy Spirit within (page 100) and not be a Christian. Mead develops this idea, conflating the spirit coming upon or speaking to a person (such as Balaam) with the Spirit indwelling a person. He claims Judas was indwelt by the Spirit because he cast out demons and says a man may have the Spirit “transiently, not absolutely.” The Spirit may be in a man yet not dwell in the man. “The common work of the Spirit” doesn’t save (page 126). Is it proper to say that the spirit that moves a man to do religious things but does not save is the Holy Spirit? I think such false actions are the work of the spirit of the age!

There is also a theme of perfectionism weaved through this book. In pointing out the dangers of what I would call false confessions, Mead (pages 62 & 63) seems to be saying that sinlessness is the mark a saint yet says (page 70) that Christians have regenerate and unregenerate parts in them. We are told (pages 131 & 132) that the one who loves God with his whole heart, soul, and strength is a Christian. Is it just me that has problems with truly being totally devoted to Christ? Mead would have me think so! He follows this thread, telling us (page 159) man must give all to God or not be saved. Pressuring people to confess these things makes them lie about their condition and makes them disciples of John Wesley rather than of Christ. Our ever present lack of perfection is meant to remind us of our ever present need of Christ – His mercy and grace that He freely gives the children of God. Isaiah was a godly man, but when he got a good glimpse of God, he was reminded how sinful he yet was. This is our condition – redeemed but not yet glorified.

Mead says (page 161) that none are excluded from the kingdom of God unless they exclude themselves. Does this mean people are in the Lamb’s Book unless they rub their own names out? He goes on to develop a works-based justification. This was noted early on as he said (page 43), “to know, to practice what we know – that is gospel-duty. This makes a man a complete Christian.” He tells us (page 207) that we must first show man his sin, then his Savior; calling this the “constant method of God.” I used to believe this, but a study of the effective call in Scripture shows some people are confronted with their sin (sometimes using the law to do so), but not all are. It’s simply incorrect to call it the “constant method of God.”

Our author gives us good counsel on what a Christian looks like, telling us (page 136) “the Christian disclaims self and Christ is most advanced.” Amen! Do we promote self or the Lord Jesus? And he leaves us (page 205-6) with another contrast that should settle down into our souls: “The saint’s peace is a peace with God, but not with sin; the sinner’s peace is a peace with sin, but not with God.” Let’s end with that – it’s so much better than some of the stuff this Puritan has written. It is needful for each of us to examine himself and see – with Whom or what do I have peace?

May the God of peace rule your life!

Salvation is of the Lord!

Authentic Evangelism and Its Counterfeit

Of all the charges we have been given by God, is there any more serious and important than the gospel? If we rightly believe that reconciliation of sinners with holy God is the most vital part of life, then the role given us by God in His grand redemptive plan must be worthy of our close attention. It is call to properly understanding and proclaiming that gospel our author strives to impress upon the reader in this fine book.

Seiver’s book is presented in 3 parts, focusing on the necessity of evangelism, the biblical pattern for evangelism, and the theological foundation for evangelism – which takes up the largest space in this book. This reflects what should be common knowledge among the children of God – our practice in all things related to our faith is informed and formed by what we think of ourselves and of God; our theology. This is why, for example, the first 11 chapters of Romans is a seminary in theology and the last 5 are how it works out in the lives of individuals and the local church.

One statement from the introduction that sticks out – the gospel “is not even primarily about sinners going to heaven when they die. It is about the manifestation of God’s glory in the contrivance and execution of the plan of redemption.” Being reconciled to God, being with Him in a state of being unable to sin, showing forth the glorious saving grace found only in Christ Jesus – that is the great prize. Since the Bible tells us (Mark 4 – parable of the seeds) that good soil will produce much fruit, and that the seed is the Word of God, we conclude two things that Randy puts before us: The Gospel is God’s message, not ours; and the fruit produced by our message will reflect its source. A false gospel will produce false converts – God promises to attend the proclamation of His Word, not the “wisdom of man”.

Part 1 defines Calvinism, Arminianism, and these views affect evangelism; about which he says, “We can define evangelism as the proclamation of the good news that God has universally published his terms of peace … this proffered pardon is not based in any sense on the sinner’s willingness to return to God or on his believing acceptance of the terms of peace. Pardon is based solely on Jesus’ redemptive accomplishments on the sinner’s behalf.” Our author bids us cast aside our traditions and concepts and jargon that is not found in the Bible; this should be solid ground but I have been amazed at how few people agree with the idea or with working it out to align with Scripture. This will be the rub for many who read this book. I would encourage anyone interested in the idea of biblical evangelism to take and read.

Bottom line from part 1: “People become effective evangelists when they are so filled with the knowledge of God’s glory and of his truth that they simply cannot be quiet.” That is what the Bible records and that is very good counsel.

Part 2 opens with this jewel: “Whenever we search for a biblical pattern for any aspect of the church’s life and ministry we need to understand that such a pattern is established in the didactic passages of the New Testament Scriptures, not in the historical and hortatory passages.” I dare say that many of the errors so prevalent in church life today are the result of normalizing narratives.  Combine that with the long ending of Mark and you have people handling snakes and drinking poison as if commanded to do so by God to demonstrate faith in Him.  As you read the chapters in this part, your thoughts of evangelism will likely be shaken, as many of the practices in our churches are not found in the Bible, but are established only as traditions of men.  Randy sums much of this section up with this: “the message preached to the unconverted included no call for them to believe that Jesus died for them. It simply demands that sinners leave their sin and their wicked and misguided thoughts about God and return to his way. It assures them that when they account God to be faithful to keep his promise, he will pardon them in Jesus’ name (by his authority and through his merit).”

Part 3 is the longest, focused on the proper theology behind evangelism. He spends time presenting a biblical view of God and tells us, “It is never right to conclude that God is unfair [unrighteous] because he did not act in a way that meets our standard of right and wrong.” It is OK for the Christian to admit he doesn’t understand something; it is flat out wrong to say something clearly taught as God’s will is not right. We are reminded of our main goal in life – the glorify our God, and our author highlights how ur gospel proclamation fits into this: “We preach the gospel because it is in line with God’s great purpose—that is, to make his glory known in the earth.” What can be more glorious than the displayed mercy of holy God as He redeems sinners and makes them fit for His house? If some do not hear our message, we do not lose heart – our goal is to be pleasing to our Savior. He bids us to sow the seed He has given to us, not to presume to know or determine the nature of the soil into which we sow.

This section of the book covers other topics, such as the authority of Scripture, the nature and purpose of salvation, God’s eternal purpose, repentance and faith, and conferring assurance.

You are likely to disagree with some of Mr. Seiver’s conclusions or the details of this or that. But unless you want to sit in judgment on God, you will find yourself in vigorous agreement with his over-arching thrust – salvation is of the Lord!

You can buy this book here.

The Dangers of Drifting

A review by Stuart Brogden   Evangelicals-Adrift-94x150

We must, therefore, pay even more attention to what we have heard, so that we will not drift away. – Hebrews 2:1 (HCSB)

Matthew E. Ferris’ book, Evangelicals Adrift – Supplanting Scripture with Sacramentalism, is a fairly comprehensive examination of the differences between biblical Christianity and that which is based on sacramental rituals. He also provides examples of people who have crossed the Tiber River from both sides. For the evangelical who drifts into sacramentalism, the dangers are pointed out with the concern of one manning a lighthouse in treacherous waters, where sailing vessels are bound to be broken on the rocks if they drift away from the narrow channel.

In ten concise chapters, our author covers the theological crises in evangelicalism, the nature and authority of the church and Scripture, and the various departures from biblical truth posed by sacramentalism. In the first chapter, Ferris tells us, “My task is to the show that the definition of the bride of Christ put forth by sacramentalism is an erroneous one, and that Scripture is the only sure guide for the way forward in the Christian life. … I am not writing as “anti-Catholic” or “anti-Orthodox”, but rather as pro-Scripture.” (page 25) This is an important point that evangelicals need to keep in mind, as it is far too easy to drift into being against error instead of in favor of truth; and our mission is to be ambassadors of reconciliation (2 Cor 5:20).

In his discussion about the nature of the church, Ferris contrasts the Apostles’ teaching found in God’s Word with the progressively developed extra-biblical traditions of the sacramental church, concluding, “The final arbiter for sacramentalism returns once more, not to the Scriptures, but to the church.” (page 35), giving us quotes from Roman Catholics that explicitly confirm this. He then asks, “in what sense can the Church be apostolic if it runs counter to the model the apostles themselves left us?” (page 37) Ferris supports the plurality and equality of elders and the priesthood of all believers in the local church, pointing out the word “clergy” is applied in Scripture to the entire church, not only the elders (page 42). Anticipating the claim that there is unanimity amongst the Church Fathers, our author provides a few quotes to show they had as much variation on issues as do any group of Christians, observing that anyone who wants a clean and supporting historical record to support their view must pick and choose which bits of history to rest on, ignoring those which do not line up with their case. “The Church is the pillar and ground of the truth only in that she upholds and defends it; she does not originate truth.” (page 74)

One way that Christians fail to stay on the narrow road is to neglect church history and conclude that their traditions are biblical. Ferris bemoans the fact that many research or know church history only as far back as the Reformation (page 84), leaving them adrift in the historical influences left unexamined. In commenting on how tradition overshadows Scripture in sacramental churches, he sums up a good quote from Oscar Cullman by saying, “there is no need for a canon at all if the ultimate arbiter of truth is the Church and its magisterium.” (page 86) “Roman Catholic doctrine claims to affirm the inspiration of Scripture and that the Bible is authored by God, yet in practice it severely undermines both of these positions.” (page 102) The Roman Catholic Church demands its dogma be accepted as authoritative, while denying the self-attestation of Scripture. Rather than holding to a proper understanding of Sola Scriptura, the Roman Catholic Church is shown to truly hold to sola ecclesia (page 103). This is compounded by the long-standing position of Rome that only its select clergy can interpret the Scripture, which undermines the authority of the Bible. If the Bible is God’s Word to His people, all of whom are indwelt by His Spirit, does it make sense that only a small number of people selected by a small number of religious leaders would be able to rightly comprehend the essentials of the Christian faith? History records that these select leaders, charged with interpreting the Scriptures for the common folk often disagreed with one another and many changed their minds on topics over time. Heretics and false sons have been in the temporal church since the apostolic era and it flies in the face of history, human nature, and the Bible for Rome to claim immunity from the frailties that each son of Adam faces.

Ferris also discusses how the various sacraments within many churches claim to impart grace, robbing the gift YHWH gives of its meaning. Baptism is one of these, with infant “baptism” having its basis in the false belief that it is needed for salvation. “Sacramentalism practices infant baptism as both an entrance into the new covenant with God and as that which cleanses from sin.” (page 160). If this were true, why was the Apostle Paul’s priority on gospel proclamation (1 Cor 1:14 – 17 & 9:22)? Further, he asks, “If baptism is indeed effective in imparting new life, in washing away sin, in putting one into the church, how is it that so many people who have undergone infant baptism manifest no signs of divine life whatsoever?” (page 166)

Chapters 7 and 8 are excellent reviews of the unbiblical view that sacraments convey grace and that mystical doctrine of Mary worship and veneration. Chapter 9 explores the spurious notion that there is theological and doctrinal unity within the Roman Catholic Church – pointing out there is as much variety within that religion as they claim there is amongst evangelicals.

The final chapter asks, “To Whom Shall We Go?” – and points out that “By insisting on the mediation of the Church in every aspect of the believer’s interaction with God, sacramentalism replaces the role of the Holy Spirit in the life of a Christian.” (page 223) Ferris gives the reader an excellent, concise review of the difference between the Roman view of infused grace and the biblical view of imputed grace as the means of saving sinners. The catechism of the Roman Catholic Church declares that the sacraments are necessary for salvation. Our author observes, “There is no experience of God, no conversion, and indeed no final salvation apart from engaging in the ritual acts defined by the Church. This is diametrically opposed to justification by faith in Christ alone. It is the system, rather than the Savior that assumes the importance in sacramentalism.” (page 225) In light of these dangers that we can drift into, to whom shall we go? As Peter rightly understood, we must flee to Christ Jesus – He has the words of eternal life (John 6:68). And so our faithful author points us to the Word Himself. “Every problem, every shortcoming, every doctrinal aberration with evangelicalism, and indeed with any branch of the church, is solved only by an intentional and sustained engagement with scripture. … Embracing sacramentalism will only lead believers further away from the truth that a relationship, not a ritual, is the scripturally ordained way of growth in Christ. Those who drift away can only regain their moorings by once again submitting to the Bible for everything in their Christian live.” (pages 228 & 229)

This book is a most excellent encouragement to the saints of God and, I pray, a wakeup call to those who are drifting into dangerous waters in the Tiber River. To God alone be the glory and honor and dominion and power – now and forever!

The Trouble with Trivial Faith

A review by Stuart Brogden     Tinker

 

The title of Melvin Tinker’s book is designed to catch your attention: A Lost GOD in a LOST WORLD, subtitled From deception to deliverance; a plea for authentic Christianity. That lengthy title conveys the idea that something is terribly wrong and change is desperately needed. If we survey the current offering from professing Christians, we cannot but agree that something is not right. While not addressing everything one might want changed, Tinker’s book is a welcome work that should cause every child of God to examine his own church and life, seeking to be biblical and honorable in the sight of YHWH. Tinker says, “The modest aim of this book is to present those key truths about the lostless of man, the greatness of God and the glory of the future which will correct much wrong thinking and behavior within the church and so enable the church to effectively confront the world by holding out the Gospel.” (page 22) He explores these issues in good measure over nine very readable chapters.

In this short book our author examines the weightlessness of God in our culture and what happens when people turn to idols. In these first two chapters Tinker observes “the West is made up of believers alright, but not Christian believers. It is composed of what the Bible calls idolaters” (page 26), further noting idolatry as “the besetting sin of the human race” (page 27). He describes what he means by God being lost: “Not that God has been lost as when we misplace a set of keys, but rather that the truth about the real God is disappearing fast.” (page29) When professing Christians take God for granted, being thoughtless in how He is worshiped (is celebrating birthdays and wedding anniversaries worshipful?), with shallow prayers (are physical healing and income our most pressing needs?), and absent from our daily conversations He has lost weight in our lives. And something has filled that space, weighing heavily on our minds and our prayers. That something, no matter what it is or where it came from, is an idol. Two short paragraphs sum up the cause and danger of this condition (pages 51 & 52):

The predominate view abroad is that with the right knowledge, the right resources, and the right will, crime on our streets will be reduced, terrorists will be hunted down and brought to account, poverty will be abolished and our environment made safe.

Undoubtedly as human beings we have achieved so much. But herein lies the danger, namely, that of being seduced into thinking that it is by our achievements that we measure our self-worth and thus bolster our self-confidence.

It is the myth of self-achievement, self-sufficiency, and self-aggrandizement. The trap is that such thinking invariably excludes God because our focus is on self.

Do you find these thoughts dominating your mind? Christian – examine yourself to see if you be in the faith! “We cannot really understand why the world is in such a mess, together with the mess of our individual lives, unless we see it as part of the bigger and much more tragic picture of humankind’s devastating fall away from its Maker.” (page 61)

From examining the train-wreck of our natural condition, our author takes the rest of this short book explaining the necessity of various aspects of biblical Christianity (‘tis a pity one needs to use that adjective, but there are so many professing Christian who are not biblical) and how they impact our lives. Chapter 3 addresses The need for the grandeur of God, based on Isaiah 40:1 – 31. Christians know God, but often we hang around the milk cooler rather than spend time and effort at the grill for juicy meats (Hebrews 5:11 – 14). “The highest science, the mightiest philosophy, which can ever engage the attention of a child of God, is the name, nature, the person, the work, the doings, and the existence of the great God whom he calls his Father.” (page 65) “And it is the smallness of man set against the grandeur of God which makes God’s tender kindness towards us all the more remarkable and moving.” (page 81) Chapter 4 brings us to The necessity of the Cross, based on Philippians 2:5 – 11. In becoming a man, creator God revealed part of His character; “this God, the true God, chooses not to exploit his divinity, but to display it differently … he exercise a different divine right – the right to be humble, the right to change his form whilst not ceasing to be God.” (page 86) Augustine wrote of this wonder:

He emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, not losing the form of God. The form of a servant was added; the form of God did not pass away. He lies in a manger, but contains the world. He feeds at the breast, but also feeds the angels. He is wrapped in swaddling clothes, but vests us with immortality. He found no place in the inn, but made for Himself a temple in the hearts of believers. In order that weakness might become strong, strength become weak. (page 90)

The mystery of God in Christ – who gave Himself to save sinners. How can a mere mortal truly comprehend this? The cross, an inhumane tool for the torture of humans, stands as the narrow gate to the path that leads to eternal life. Contrary to men pleasers who care not for the Gospel, we who have been bought with the blood of Christ must line up with Paul, whose “primary concern is not with the niceties of literature (or fancy words, my addition) but with the wonder of the Gospel.” (page 91) One of the wonders that Philippians presses on us is the truth that the eternal and divine Son of God put on flesh and became a human. He kept this form of a human (one of His created beings) after His resurrection, forever identifying with those ransomed sinners. Tinker tells us, “it would be a mistake to so emphasize the divinity of Jesus at this point that we neglect his humanity. In ascending back to the Father he did not shed his human flash as a butterfly might shed its chrysalis. The person of the Son of God is forever united to our human nature.” (page 98) Our high priest intercedes for us in this age, the God-man who reconciled sinful men to holy God. Jesus will walk among us in the age to come, His body then perfected as the eternal temple in which He is pleased to dwell. Brothers and sister – do you wonder at Christ? Is He not marvelous beyond words?

Buy the book and read about the work of the Holy Spirit, the necessity of the Gospel, the need for effective grace, the necessity of the second coming, and the need to be heavenly minded. It’s less than 200 pages and, aside from unqualified quotes from some questionable men, a solid work that will cause the child of God to humble himself before his Savior and King. And that’s about all we can expect from a book – a reminder of who YHWH is and who we are.

Titus – a Fresh Look at an Old Letter

A review by Stuart Brogden

Aldred Genade has written a very thought provoking guide to Titus (The Letter To Titus: TitusBecoming a Persuasive Leader and Preacher), with the aim of showing how the Apostle intended Christian leaders to be persuasive. Which preacher does not want to be persuasive? The first chapter provides us a review of the various ways pastoral epistles and Titus in particular have been addressed by theologians and gives us this author’s thesis: “This book is an attempt to advance the dialogue concerning the macrostructural coherence of Titus in a meaningful way. The instrument that will be employed toward this end is a modified rhetorical critical method.” 1 He explains that rhetorical reading entails seeking to truly understand the meaning intended by the author by exploring the bits of the letter and the letter as a whole. This intentional endeavor to grab hold of the author’s intended meaning is a wonderful alternative to the inherent post-modernist view so pervasive and unexamined in our world.

In discussing the salutation found in Titus, Genade observes it is meant “to emphasize the divine basis of legitimate ministry.” 2 (emphasis in original) We see in several places in his letters how Paul emphasized his appointment as Christ’s Apostle as a means of impressing on Christians the truth of his message (Romans 1:1; 1 Corinthians 1:1; 2 Corinthians 1:1; Galatians 1:1; Ephesians 1:1; Colossians 1:1; 1 Timothy 1:1; and 2 Timothy 1:1). I think this is an example of being unashamed of the calling; something we could all learn from. Staking our identity in Christ (not as an Apostle, but as an ambassador of the gospel – 2 Corinthians 5:20) is the proper way for every one of us to establish authority; not our own, which every man can claim, but that which comes from the Creator and Judge of all people. This is the basis of Paul’s authority and that’s what makes his – and ours – legitimate ministry. False teachers and false converts have no such solid foundation (Matthew 7:24 – 27). Our author points out the focus of Paul’s ministry (and, by extension, that of the local church) is with the elect of God: Titus, his true son in the faith in Christ they have in common. As we will see later in this book, much of Paul’s message to Titus is meant for the entire church located in Crete.

So as not write a book about this book, I will highlight a few points that I think will serve the reader best. Genade’s book is heavily end-noted; this is good news as a careful writer will always let his readers know his sources. He also uses Greek words “in the open” as part of his dialogue with the reader. If you are like me, ignorant of Greek, the letters and words will make no sense; but the paragraphs in which these appear give us excellent context and explanation so as not to left in the dark. Our author also provides a brief summary and some excellent questions at the end of each chapter. If you have ever tried to formulate questions that require some thought and more than a one-word answer, you will recognize hard work here; and it pays off for those who pay attention.

Each of the twelve chapters covers a different aspect of persuasion, as Genade works through the epistle. Chapter 4 is Persuade by Exposing the Opposition, 5 is by Affirming the ministry of Others. Chapter 7 is Knowing Why You Obey, and is where we will dig in a bit before I sum up. In the previous chapter the lesson was on right behavior, based on Titus 2:5 & 10. This brings us to chapter 7 (Titus 2:11 – 15) and the importance of knowing why we obey. To do good one must have the right goal, the right method, and the right motive. Saints want to do good and we know obedience is better than sacrifice, so know our motives is critical! Genade claims, “Paul is now arguing that God is the one teaching the doctrine, making the doctrine and the behavior inseparable. The teaching as well as the Teacher are transcendent and must therefore be obeyed because they are not of human origin. This line of reasoning stresses the obligatory nature of sound doctrine upon the minds of the Cretans. In other words, sound doctrine must be obeyed because it is the exact opposite of “the commandments of men” (1: 14). Not to obey the doctrine and therefore not to manifest these particular behavioral characteristics is tantamount to disobedience to God.”3 The Christian who cares not about obeying God is testing God: a double bad place to be.

We are further instructed, “Obedience to the instruction becomes obedience to “someone,” rather than something. This is a very persuasive angle. Grace offers the complete opposite of what the false teachers have to offer. By formulating the proposition in this way, the appeal of sound doctrine is highlighted, making the argument for compliance to it even more persuasive. Furthermore, the personification of grace reinforces the notion of accountability.”4 This builds on the same foundation as noted in the opening chapter – Christ Jesus is our righteousness and if one has been made a new creature (2 Corinthians 5:17), he will be humbled to be so clothed, knowing how filthy his own righteousness is apart from Christ (Isaiah 64:6) and this makes each of us who have been born again willing and able to obey our Lord. Again, the false teachers have no foundation and the false convert has no clothes (Matthew 22:11 – 14). As our author tells us a bit later,

They have become in Jesus Christ the objects of divine interest, when he gave himself for them (ὃς ἔδωκεν ἐαυτὸν ὑπὲρ ἡμῶν). The inclusive language in this part is also emphatic. They are no longer mere Cretans, but the people of God— God’s own peculiar people (ἑαυτῷ λαός περιούσιος). Their identity and consequently their natures have been changed. They have been made God’s own “unique people.” This expression reinforces the communal sense prevalent in this section. Thus, when Cretan believers perform good deeds, in other words, when they obey the instructions of divine grace, they are acting consistently with their new character.5

So it ought to be in each local church, this sense of unity in Christ and the desire to honor Him and encourage one another to do so. A church that does not embrace this “communal sense” nor recognize their identity as God’s “peculiar people” is adrift in humanism and the Lord Jesus bids them to return to their first love.

While this book is mostly academic in style and content, it is engaging and provocative, a book I intend to return to time and again when the Lord brings this epistle to mind. We need such books if we are to renew our minds and test what we believe to see if these things be so. For the child of God will seek to be aligned with Holy Writ, not content with the mere words of men. Our brother has written a book that will help us examine our thoughts and God’s Word, and submit the former to the latter.

Footnotes:

1 Genade, Aldred (2015-09-21). The Letter To Titus: Becoming a Persuasive Leader and Preacher (Rhetorical Bible Commentary Book 1) (Kindle Locations 126-128). Africa Scholars Press. Kindle Edition.

2 ibid; Kindle Locations 267-268

3 ibid; Kindle Locations 1057-1061

4 ibid; Kindle Locations 1106-1109

5 ibid; Kindle Locations 1205-1210