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While doing my short post on Facebook regarding the 10/40 Window, I googled articles that pertains to this topic and saw a link with an internationally recognized magazine. Of course, my first thoughts were, “hey this is a good source, this particular source is known for reliable journalism” – maybe….

The article has in its opening paragraph “the three Abrahamic faiths” and then another article writes “reconciling the three Abrahamic faiths”. At first instance, I am tempted to nod my head and give my approval to the term and the intention to reconcile.  However, a few moments later and after some thought it dawned on me that the term “three Abrahamic faiths” is some kind of an oxymoron (Merriam Webster definition: a combination of contradictory or incongruous words).  That’s it!  I find joining “three” and “Abrahamic faiths” contradictory.

The three groups referred here are Christianity, Judaism and Islam. Now, I do not profess to be an expert on the last two but I will try to put forward here how the Bible defines “Abrahamic faith”, in a briefest way possible, and then we will work out our conclusion from there.

Grammatically, we can understand the term “Abrahamic faith” as the “faith of Abraham”. It may also mean the content of faith which finds its root in Abraham. Let us therefore proceed with what the biblical Scriptures say:

The Promise: In Genesis 11, God called Abraham out of Ur of the Chaldea and made a unilateral covenant with him. By the time he reached 100 years old and with a wife, Sarah whose womb is past childbearing capability, it was an impossible for them to have a child.  God, with whom nothing is impossible, promised them a son. The Old Testament records that Abraham has 3 sets of children: Ishmael from Hagar their Egyptian servant, Isaac from his wife Sarah, and after Sarah’s death, six addtional boys (Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbak, and Shuah) from his last wife Keturah. Yet God calls Isaac as Abraham’s only son (Genesis 21:15). Each time God mentions the promise, it is always to “Abraham and his offspring” – not offsprings. Genesis 21:12 narrates to us what God spoke to Abraham, “…for through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” God then promised that from this offspring shall all the nations be blessed (Genesis 22:18).  Clearly, not all of the 3 sets of sons mentioned above  was the term “offspring” meant for. Neither was it meant exclusively to Isaac as the final fulfillment of the promise. History proves that not all the nations today were blessed through all of Abraham’s sons.  The “offspring” here must refer to someone coming in the future from the lineage of Abraham and Isaac.

Not by Genealogy: Now if it were a matter of genealogy beginning with Abraham then Isaac followed by Jacob, then at this point the forgone conclusion would be to point to the Jewish nation as blessed – that is hardly “all nations”.  During one of the confrontation of the prophet John the Baptist with the religious elders of Israel, he rebuked them, saying, “And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham.” (Matthew 3:9: Luke 3:8).  They presumed to be inheritors of the kingdom of God by virtue of genealogy and national identity while rejecting the call to repent and be baptized as John prepared the way of the coming of the Lord as prophesied in the Old Testament. By extension, neither was the religion of Judaism, with all its modifications done by the Pharisees, the kind of faith that connects a person to Abraham’s faith. This is not to negate Israel and Judaism altogether for still, it is through this nation and religious system shall the promised offspring come. However, national identity is not the means to be linked to Abraham’s faith.

Through this Offspring: By the time the Holy Spirit inspired the apostle Paul to write the Roman and Galatian epistles, the fulfilment of that promise to Abraham is revealed.  In his letter to the believers in Galatia, he wrote the following:

Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ…for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.  There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.” – (Galatians 3:16, 26-29)

The enscripturated Word of God in the Bible streamlines the Abrahim faith to Christianity.  I do not refer to “Christianity” as a generic term but the kind that adheres exclusively the centrality of Jesus Christ as expressed in the whole counsel of God. Although the message is exclusive, the message is universally proclaimed – it is intended for all nations to hear and believe. Jesus is the promised offspring and all those who put their faith in Him becomes spiritually connected to Abraham.

In order for the Gospel of Christ to travel beyond the borders of one nation, the historian Dr. Luke, as carried by the Holy Spirit, wrote in the New Testament concerning Jesus Christ:

Then He said to them, “These are My words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.”  Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His Name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” – (Luke 24:44-47)

Only One Way: Based on these, there are not three Abrahamic faiths nor are there three faiths that can trace their unity with Abraham. Rather, only the faith that comes through the gospel of Jesus Christ is the true Abrahamic faith.  The remaining two major religions cannot accurately make their claim to Abraham’s faith. Otherwise, we will end with “one God, different ways” – now that is another oxymoron!

 

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by Warren Smith (from A “Wonderful” Deception)

Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven movement has, in a relatively short period of time, become what TIME magazine has referred to as a “Purpose Driven empire.”1 The word empire is defined in the dictionary as “supreme rule; absolute power or authority; dominion.” It also means “an extensive social or economic organization under the control of a single person, family, or corporation.”2 For all intents and purposes, Rick Warren has become the titular head-the almost emperor-like CEO-of an increasingly apostate postmodern church. But while Warren continues to be embraced by much of the world and much of the church, it is not too late for people to reconsider their involvement with him and his Purpose Driven movement. Here are ten scripturally based reasons why people with any love of the truth should not involve themselves in Warren’s “Broad Way” Christianity:

Ten Basic Reasons

1) Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven movement offers a “Broad Way” Christianity. One of the mysteries of the Christian faith can be found in Jesus’ warning that the way to life is “narrow” and that “few” would actually find it. Jesus is telling us in advance that the “broad way”-no matter how well intentioned-is not from Him. With Rick Warren’s reformation movement based on deeds and not creeds, everyone is invited to partake in this global effort. But biblical principles are watered-down and often cast aside.

Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it. (Matthew 7:13-14)

2) Rick Warren’s “Broad Way” Christianity does not declare “all the counsel of God.” Rick Warren teaches only what he wants to teach from the Bible. As a result, there are many important teachings that he skips over, de-emphasizes, and leaves out-particularly in regard to prophecy and spiritual deception.

For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God. Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood. For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them. Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears. (Acts 20:27-31)

3) Rick Warren’s “Broad Way” Christianity does not discern the spiritual signs of the times. Just as the leaders in Jesus’ day discerned the weather but not the signs of the times, Warren discerns many of the social and economic problems, but not the spiritual signs of the times.

O ye hypocrites, ye can discern the face of the sky; but can ye not discern the signs of the times? (Matthew 16:3)

4) Rick Warren’s “Broad Way” Christianity is ignorant of Satan’s devices. Whereas the apostle Paul stated that he and other believers were “not ignorant of Satan’s devices,” Warren’s “Broad Way” Christianity states that Satan’s schemes are “entirely predictable.”3 By being ignorant of Satan’s devices, this “Broad Way” Christianity has fallen prey to Satan’s devices-particularly in the area of the New Age/New Spirituality/New Worldview.

Lest Satan should get an advantage of us: for we are not ignorant of his devices. (2 Corinthians 2:11)

5) Rick Warren’s “Broad Way” Christianity does not expose spiritual evil. Warren’s version of Christianity does not sound a true warning about the deceptive spirit world and spiritual deception. There is much more to evil than the problems that Rick Warren is seeking to remedy with his Purpose Driven P.E.A.C.E. Plan. We are told to expose false prophets and false teachers, not to study under them, spiritually join with them, and further their plans.

For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. (Ephesians 6:12)

But evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived. (2 Timothy 3:13)

And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them. (Ephesians 5:11)

6) Rick Warren’s “Broad Way” Christianity does not “earnestly contend for the faith.” By not declaring all the counsel of God, by not discerning the signs of the times, by being ignorant of Satan’s devices, and by not exposing spiritual evil, Rick Warren’s “Broad Way” Christianity is not fighting “the good fight of faith.”

Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints. (Jude 3)

Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, whereunto thou art also called, and hast professed a good profession before many witnesses. (1 Timothy 6:12)

Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. (Ephesians 6:13)

7) Rick Warren and his “Broad Way” Christianity are loved by the world and it’s leaders. Jesus loved the world, but the world did not love Him. Jesus warned his followers they would be hated, persecuted, and even killed by the world-just as the world hated, persecuted, and killed Him. In his compromised effort to reach out to the world, Warren and his “Broad Way” Christianity have become the world.

They are of the world: therefore speak they of the world, and the world heareth them. (1 John 4:5)

Woe unto you, when all men shall speak well of you! for so did their fathers to the false prophets. (Luke 6:26)

Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution. (2 Timothy 3:12)

And ye shall be hated of all men for my name’s sake. (Matthew 10:22) If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more shall they call them of his household? (Matthew 10:25)

8.) Rick Warren’s “Broad Way” Christianity is engaged in a process of ungodly change. Rick Warren describes himself as a “change agent” but in his attempt to change the world, he and his Purpose Driven movement are actually changing biblical Christianity. The Bible warns about those who push for unbiblical and ungodly change.

My son, fear thou the LORD and the king: and meddle not with them that are given to change. (Proverbs 24:21)

Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever. (Hebrews 13:8)

For I am the LORD, I change not. (Malachi 3:6)

Behold, the days come, saith the Lord GOD, that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD. (Amos 8:11)

9) Rick Warren’s “Broad Way” Christianity is frequently “double-tongued” and “double-minded.” Rick Warren’s attempts to seemingly distance himself from the New Age/New Spirituality while simultaneously spiritually aligning himself with New Age sympathizers is “double-tongued,” “double-minded,” and deceptively self-serving. In the Psalms, David refers to those who speak with “flattering lips” and a “double heart.”

Help, LORD; for the godly man ceaseth; for the faithful fail from among the children of men. They speak vanity every one with his neighbor: with flattering lips and with a double heart do they speak. (Psalm 12:1-2)

Likewise must the deacons be grave, not doubletongued, not given to much wine, not greedy of filthy lucre; Holding the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience. (1 Timothy 3:8-9)

A double minded man is unstable in all his ways. (James 1:8)

10) Rick Warren’s “Broad Way” Christianity is “not valiant for the truth.” Warren has demonstrated, in numerous ways, that he is politically and spiritually expedient when it comes to the truth. His “Broad Way” Christianity plays to the world and embraces the world because it is the world. It does not hold fast to the truth because it is not “valiant for the truth.”

And they bend their tongues like their bow for lies: but they are not valiant for the truth upon the earth. (Jeremiah 9:3)

If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free. (John 8:31)

The Time is Here

The apostle Paul preached the importance of adhering to God’s Word. He warned that the time would come when believers would not endure sound doctrine but would find teachers who would tell them what they wanted to hear:

Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables. (2 Timothy 4:3-4)

As Rick Warren’s “broad way” Christianity seems to be headed down the “broad way” of the New Spirituality, it is very clear that his Purpose Driven movement is anything but the “narrow way” that Jesus Christ described in Matthew 7:14. It is important to understand what is at stake here-the centrality of the Cross as the one and only true Gospel-without which the hope of salvation is lost. Jesus Christ, dying on the Cross for our sins, is the central message of the Gospel. It is the plumb line for ultimately discerning truth from error. But in discerning truth from error, it is essential that we must adhere to all the counsel of God (Acts 20:27).

Jesus is the one and only Savior-the one and only true Christ. Science cannot and will not prove otherwise (1 Timothy 6:20). God is not “in” everything. We are not Christ, and we are not God. What is born of the flesh is flesh. What is born of the Spirit is spirit. Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 15:50). It is not “as above, so below.” The apostle John states:

He that cometh from above is above all: he that is of the earth is earthly, and speaketh of the earth: he that cometh from heaven is above all. (John 3:31)

Jesus Christ is Lord. His name is above all names (Philippians 2:9). He is not the “Jesus” of The Shack, and He is not the “Jesus” of the New Age/New Spirituality. Most assuredly, He is not the “quantum Christ” of a deceived world and an apostate church.

The apostle Paul describes the simplicity of Christ (2 Corinthians 11:3). According to many of today’s spiritual and religious leaders, it has taken humanity 2000 years to finally “get it.” They say we need quantum physicists, cellular biologists, Ph.D. mathematicians, New Age channelers, and emerging postmodern preachers to finally understand what Jesus was trying to tell us back in the first century. No, this is not the simplicity that Paul was describing. This is the deceptive work of our Adversary as he tries to transform the creation into the Creator and co-opt God’s creation to himself.

Unfortunately, many of today’s pastors have forgotten that Satan is the god of this world (2 Corinthians 4:4) and that we are to “stand against the wiles of the devil” (Ephesians 6:11). As a result, the church is now catapulting into great spiritual deception.

For those who still rightly divide and depend upon the Word of God, the Bible warns that the coming deception will be so great that most of the world will be deceived (Revelation 13:13-14). Jesus warned that His way is not the broad way but the “narrow way” of continuing in His Word (John 8:31). And it is His way that leads to eternal life. And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh. (Luke 21:28)

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Why We’re Not Emergent (By Two Guys Who Should Be)

 

By Kevin DeYoung & Ted Kluck

not emergentForeword by David F. Wells

Moody Press, 2008, 256 pp, $14.99

“They just don’t get it.”

I predict that’s what the naysayers of Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck’s new book Why We’re Not Emergent will say.

“They don’t understand me” is one of the slogans of post-moderns, Emergents, and teenagers everywhere. It’s built into their philosophical system. It may be the only solid plank their doctrinal platform has.

In one sense, of course, it’s true. No one but God understands all the way into the depths of every person’s heart (e.g. Prov. 20:24).

And in another sense it’s helpful. For instance, my wife, recognizing that my experience and brain-wiring are quite different than hers, loves and serves obtuse and arrogant me when she says in exasperation, “You’re not understanding me!” When she says this, she’s not referring so much to logical differences as to categorical or perspectival differences, as if a cat were trying to explain its view of the world to a dog. So it is with the Emergents. They are potentially serving and loving non-Emergent evangelicals by insisting, “You’re not getting it,” because it forces us non-Emergents to work harder at getting outside of ourselves and seeking to understand.

CONVERSATION STOPPER

The problem is that this same phrase “You don’t understand me” can be used dismissively, immaturely, impudently. It can be thrown out as a conversation-stopper in order to avoid correction. And it’s my impression that some Emergents, like some teenagers, do just this.

Michigan pastor DeYoung and his church member Kluck, who write alternating chapters in this excellent book, are under no illusions that Why We’re Not Emergent won’t run into these kinds of conversation stoppers. The last page of the penultimate chapter reads, “Those who aren’t inclined to the emergent/emerging thing will probably support most of what we’ve written, and those who call themselves emergent will find a million reasons to find fault with it. The idea that people read much of anything and have their minds changed by it is less and less realistic to me. People, usually, just dig in” (235).

I hope they are wrong. I hope my snarky teenager comparisons are wrong. I hope that those inclined to the “emergent/emerging thing” will themselves at least try to understand what these two men are saying, because it’s the closest thing that I’ve read so far that both “gets” where the Emergents are coming from while at the same time offering a very good critique of the movement’s deficiencies.

PULLING BACK THE CURTAIN

In fact, that’s probably the book’s greatest strength. In addition to describing some of the philosophical and doctrinal deficiencies of the movement, they capture something of its cultural flavor, aroma, texture. DeYoung and Kluck pull the emerging curtain back and point out, “Look, a lot of what you guys are doing is dressing up your cultural preferences with highfalutin language. C’mon.”

Here’s their reaction to pastor and Emergent leader Dan Kimball’s side-by-side comparison charts of the modern church and postmodern church:

Kimball says that preaching in the emerging church “teaches how the ancient wisdom of Scripture applies to kingdom living as a disciple of Christ” while the modern preacher “serves as a dispenser of biblical truths to help solve personal problems in modern life.” Those two sentences would say the same thing if not for Kimball’s choice of language, employing uninspiring words like “dispenser, ” and “solve” for the modern church instead of cool words like “ancient wisdom” and “kingdom living.” Similarly, in the modern church “the Bible is a book to help solve problems and a means to know God,” and “discipleship is based on modern methodology and helps.” Conversely, in the emerging church, “The Bible is a compass for direction and means to experience God,” and “Discipleship is based on ancient disciplines.” Well, who wants problem solving and methodology when you can experience God and use ancient disciplines?

DeYoung and Kluck don’t mean to suggest that the differences between Emergents and non-Emergents is merely terminological. In fact, every other chapter, authored by Pastor DeYoung, is devoted to explaining the significant philosophical and doctrinal differences behind the word groups contrasted in the quote above (to be fair, Dan Kimball describes himself as “Emerging” not “Emergent,” meaning that he doesn’t embrace all those doctrinal differences). Still, non-Emergent readers like me will probably find themselves grateful that these two authors finally return the stereotyping favor that Emergents have used to bless us non-Emergents from the get-go. As they put it, “the emergent critique of the modern church suffers from an over-population of straw men.”

And Emergents, well, I hope that the ever-earnest Emergents will receive the stereotyping—accurate, in my opinion—with good humor, with the ability to not take themselves so seriously, and with the gentle correction that, yes, some of their sacred cows like “authenticity,” “sincerity,” “inconsistency,” “spiritual journey,” and “idiosyncracy” are cultural clichés, too. Like all of us, Emergents have their own set of culturally conforming non-conformities.

REAL AUTHENTICITY

By seeking to understand several of Why Were Not Emergent’s critiques, Emergents might even gain some of what they’re after—like authenticity—as illustrated in a story Kluck tells about attending a funeral at his old church. He describes the building as a place with “folding tables, a drop ceiling, bad carpet, and a potluck lunch” which would “give Dan Kimball a heart attack.” Kluck writes,

This church, like many in America, has survived a great deal. Car wrecks, cancer, extramarital affairs, some bad theology, and the like. But, much like the small town that it’s in, it has taken care of its own. It has mourned with those who mourn. It has delivered meals. It has made countless hospital visits. It has, for the most part, spoken truth and preached the gospel of Christ crucified…Those here [for the funeral] today came to honor the life of a man who lived largely because of a proposition—that sometimes outmoded belief that Christ paid the penalty for our sins, and that we are, because of that, compelled to live for Him, and like Him.

Reflecting on this experience, Kluck continues,

I am reminded that there are still churches and places in this country where one doesn’t have to work at being “authentic.” Authentic isn’t a look you put on in the morning, or a new and snappy way to bathe the sanctuary in “mystery’ through the strategic arrangement of candles and projected images. Authentic is bearing one another’s burdens. Authentic is people coming to a funeral in their work clothes—Carhartts, hospital scrubs, etc.—on a Friday morning.

One of the most downright beautiful aspects of this book is its repeated presentations of this kind of authentic church life together (see especially the chapter “Why I Don’t Want a Cool Pastor”).

NO, WE DON’T GET IT

The trouble with teenagers, of course, is that they think they know it all already. And the trouble with reform movements like the Emergent church is that they assume, by their very nature, they “get” whatever they are trying to reform. They have a “been there, done that” attitude that permeates every conversation. Which makes them somewhat impervious to counter-correction. In their very passion to reform, they can become unreformable.

Emergents might be right about some of the things they want to reform; and they might be right about the majority’s inability to understand. No matter how many times my wife explains to me what it’s like to be my wife, there’s a sense in which I just don’t get it. And sometimes I think that I never will. So let me say to the Emergents, “On behalf of all non-Emergent evangelicals everywhere, no, we don’t understand. We don’t get it.”

That’s unofficial, of course. No ETS or SBC or PCA or CT or DG or T4G or TGC or DAC signature at the bottom of that. Take it for what it’s worth.

So one weakness of DeYoung and Kluck’s book is that there’s a sense in which they may not get it. I don’t say that because I do get it. I already told you that I don’t. But I think that I get what I don’t get which, if you get, you’re getting it just enough to say what you’re not getting. Get it? And I think that DeYoung and Kluck just might back me up on this. But I’m not sure. Also, both of my parents are professional musicians and I grew up surrounded by musicians. If you did as well, you’ll know what I mean in a second.

So with these impressive credentials, let me propose that there’s something of a nineteenth century Romantic impulse dwelling in the heart of the Emergent church—a drive to experience mystery, beauty, majesty, and the heroism that can only follow a profound grappling with all that’s dark in the world. This impulse can never be satisfied with just rational formulations.

There’s also a deep-in-the-gut dissatisfaction with the world as it now is, a dissatisfaction so viscerally intense that it can easily overwhelm one’s better theological judgment and yield a kind of utopianism.

Now I think, although I’m not certain, that DeYoung and Kluck understand all this, but I’m not sure they understand it as well as Emergents want to be understood. And that’s understandable. I don’t understand either. Their ability to write well demonstrates that they are creative men, Kluck especially. But the book still reads like two men who think with their heads. Again, me too. Like all Romantics, Emergents think—and I can only put this vaguely—with their guts, or maybe it’s their hearts. And praise God that some people in this world think with their guts or hearts! I’m grateful that some people don’t want to simply work out mathematical physics equations in classrooms but want to escape into the night and feel the grandeur of the stars. I’m grateful that some people aren’t content only with books of theology but want to enjoy and live even the slightest hints of God’s transformative compassion in song and service. I’m grateful that the injustices of this world weigh more heavily on some than they do on the rest of us.

In short, I believe us proposition-loving types could do a better job of listening to the heart passions of the Emergent church (and if you’re response to words like “heart passions” is anything like mine, then you and me are the ones who could do a little more listening).

Of course, right now any Emergents who made it through the last four paragraphs are probably thinking that I don’t get it at all. What can you do.

BUT PLEASE DON’T JUST SAY…

But even if they—or we—don’t understand you entirely, Emergents, please don’t just say, “These guys don’t get it” and chuck the book on the pile. That’s a conversation stopper; and these two authors get a lot. I’m vain enough to wish I had written their book!

DeYoung and Kluck’s arguments, I believe, are compelling, and their cultural characterizations are revealing. Emergents, I plead with you, please read those aspects of the book carefully and with open hearts. Yes, the Phariseeism that can afflict proposition-loving personalities like mine can send people to hell. But wrong propositions will also send people to hell.

Finally, Emergents and non-Emergents alike should be convicted by DeYoung’s remarkable epilogue, which meditates on Jesus’ words to several of the churches in John’s Revelation. Jesus has words for the doctrinally sound but loveless Ephesians. Jesus has words for the faithful but doctrinally undiscerning Pergamums. Jesus has words for the loving but overly tolerant Thyatirans. Jesus has words for each of us, and Why We’re Not Emergent concludes by wonderfully reminding us of that fact.

Jonathan Leeman is the director of communications for 9Marks and is grateful for both of his Romantic and doctrinally discerning parents.March/April 2008, ©9Marks

Permissions©9Marks. Website: http://www.9Marks.org. Email: info@9marks.org. Toll Free: (888) 543-1030.

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Book Review: The Truth About Man, by Paul Washer


At the beginning of his classic Institutes of the Christian Religion, John Calvin heads his very first paragraph thus: “Without knowledge of self there is no knowledge of God”. This observation is strikingly true, and if one would take the time to discuss the gospel in depth with the definite majority of American citizens living today, he would doubtless find that the one great obstacle preventing them from prizing and embracing the gospel of God’s grace is a faulty view of self. The gospel is not for people who are basically pretty good, but just need to believe in themselves, build up their self-esteem, and pick themselves up by their bootstraps. If there is one problem that consistently hinders my attempts at gospel-witnessing, it is that. Oh, for a tool that would give the true picture of man in his sin and helplessness, and so pave the way for a true picture of God in his holy justice and limitless grace! Paul David Washer’s biblical study, The Truth About Man, is just that tool, and I enthusiastically recommend it.

The Truth About Man, many of you may already know, is a sequel to another excellent biblical study, The One True God; the two of them are laid out in much the same way, not so much as doctrinal treatises but as guides driving the students to encounter and interact with God’s own testimony from the scriptures. But more than this, the two of them are complementary, each causing the truth of the other to shine forth with a more brilliant and stunning clarity. Without the biblical knowledge of the immense holiness and majesty of God, we cannot know the loathsome horror of our reprehensible rebellion; and without the knowledge of our immense sinfulness, we cannot appreciate the depths of God’s grace and the perfection of his justice in his response to sin, whether shown in Christ our substitute or upon Christ-less sinners in hell.

That is not to say, however, that The Truth About Man may only be used effectively with Washer’s other study. Anyone may benefit from The Truth About Man, from the seasoned and well-rooted Christian who wants to be overwhelmed once again by the staggering greatness of God’s grace to the average person who knows nothing of the content of the gospel, and needs to be made a sinner before he can be forgiven. This isn’t a book to be handed out on the street corner to anyone who passes along – it demands too much from the reader, its profitableness will be lost upon someone not willing to study, to think, to wrestle with the hard truths of the bible. It is designed that way intentionally, which in my estimation is a good thing. But for anyone who is genuinely willing to search for the truth, even if it means hard work and humility, the reward will be great. And that includes believers who long for a better glimpse of the gospel, as well as unbelievers who are willing to consider at length just what Christianity proclaims.

What scope of material exactly is covered in the book? Well, it is basically about man in his state of sinfulness – the “non posse non peccare” (“not able not to sin”) of Augustine. Beginning with God’s creation of man and his blessed estate in the Garden, it moves quickly to the devastating first sin, and the vast and universal consequences of that first sin for all humankind. The rest of the study lays out fallen man’s estate very biblically and accurately, ending with his final, certain destiny in hell. The topic of man in his redeemed or glorified state is beyond the scope of the book.

Reviewed by Nathan Pitchford

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THE WELL-READ CHRISTIAN: Why Bible Lovers Should Be Bibliophiles

by Rick Ritchie

 

Modern Reformation archive issue 1994-4-smallHis accusing questions to the Pharisees begin with the words “Have you not read…?”, suggesting that his hearers were readers who should have read with more diligence.

The well-read life was the aspiration of bygone saints. No, not the life that was read by everyone (That was usually fantastical and morbid!), but the life that was spent reading everything.

For these old saints, heaven on earth was a scriptorium, where illuminated manuscripts and scrolls containing the collected knowledge, wisdom, and misinformation of the ages were available to the literate for their use, enjoyment, and befuddlement. With the rise of printing, we are no longer confined to the viewing of books in a library; we can purchase them for ourselves, in forms that would once have sent many a monk to confession for book lust. From cheap pulp novels to costly full-color encyclopedias, the possibilities are endless. And so are the accessories, from laminated bookmarks to clip-on reading lamps. The reader’s world is a true hedonistic wonderland open to the enjoyment of all.

But for the serious Christian questions will arise at some point. If we do not ask them ourselves, concerned brethren will.

The miserly sun of a winter’s afternoon sinks over the horizon. We set aside our dogmatics book, having made small progress. Youth and eyesight have limits. Jaded, we ask ourselves why we should sacrifice our days to print.

Christ proclaimed to us a simple message of good news, while today’s books confront us with complex and confusing messages of sadness and despair. Did Christ purchase our lives at such a high cost, our brethren ask, only to see them invested in vicariously living the lives of fictitious reprobates?

I make no claim to offer the one definitive reason why Christians do or should read. Any single reason offered would either be so broad as to tell us nothing about reading, or so narrow as to leave out most of the real reasons we read. Most of you who read what follows are Christian readers already. I am thankful that you read. You read for many different reasons and I want to give you more. I also want to add to your arsenal so that you can defend your libraries against the attacks of morbid conscience and narrow-minded brethren.

Why Past Saints Read

There are three stages in the history of God’s people which can be used to show three ways Christians can benefit from reading. Tradition itself is no infallible standard which can be imposed on the consciences of Christians, but if past practice can be shown to be reasonable, we may miss something worthwhile if we ignore it.

The first stage in the history of God’s people with books came with the writing of the Scriptures. Unlike an oral tradition, written Scriptures required literacy in order to be understood, so the people became literate. The second stage came with the confrontation of Christian teaching with pagan learning. When learned pagans argued that Christianity was unreasonable, Christian teachers had to know how to refute, reinterpret, or assimilate the teachings of their opponents. Critics of paganism became literary critics. The beginning of the third stage cannot be located with any precision, but this stage begins for any Christian reader when the ability of a book to set forth possibilities is exploited to a Christian end, allowing the Christian reader to explore the feasibility of other forms of Christian life. In each of these stages, a new reason was given for the Christian to take up books and read them. I wish to explore each stage and see what it has to offer as an incentive to today’s reader.

People of the Book Become People of Books

Some argue that what we know as historic Christianity is a late development. Primitive Christianity, they say, was an undogmatic, private experience-until basilica-building bishops, seeing that laymen with direct access to God couldn’t be controlled, foisted upon the church a collection of politically useful documents. The church has been chained to the Scriptures ever since.

Contrary to these revisionists, Christianity has always derived its very life from the written text. In the Bible itself, the words of Scripture are so identified with the words of God that the words “God” and “Scripture” are used interchangeably. The Apostle Paul even uses the expression “Scripture says to Pharaoh”(Rom 9:17) of an occasion where Moses speaks God’s words to Pharaoh (Ex 9:13-19). (1) A high view of Scripture is no late invention of second-century clergy, it is the view of St. Paul himself.

But what about Jesus? Our revisionist friends often accuse Paul of complicating Jesus’ simple gospel, but they are wrong on this count, too. Certainly Jesus is the center of Christianity, but we know of him only through his words. Jesus himself says that his words are spirit and life (Jn 6:63), and promises his disciples that the Holy Spirit will remind them of his words (Jn 14:26) and guide them into all truth (Jn 16:13). One of these disciples, Peter, refers to Paul’s writings as Scripture (2 Pt 3:16). There is therefore no possibility of driving a wedge between Jesus and Scripture, or Jesus and Paul.

But the connection between Jesus and Scripture is even stronger. Jesus says to his followers: “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (NRSV Jn 8:31-32). Since Jesus is God, and Scripture is God’s word, anytime we say “Scripture says,” we can say “Jesus says.” The whole Bible, in this sense, ought to be in red letter text! This should lead those who wish to know Jesus into the study of all of Scripture.

Biblical religion’s focus on the written word of God has always led naturally to literacy among God’s people. It is common when arguing the authority of the Bible with an unbeliever to be asked the question “But wasn’t this believed by primitive people who didn’t even know how to read or write?” The answer is that a written revelation led to a literate society. The synagogue was an educational institution which required literacy, as in it the Scriptures were read. According to Scripture, Jesus read (Lk 4:16) and wrote (Jn 8:6). His accusing questions to the Pharisees begin with the words “Have you not read…?” (Matt 12:3,5; 19:4; 21:16,42; 22:31; Mk 2:25; 12:10,26), suggesting that his hearers were readers who should have read with more diligence. People of the book were always a literate people.

Not only does a religion of a book require literacy, it raises the level of literacy among the already literate. Most people I meet are literate adults whose public school instruction taught them to read to the point where they can understand what is written in the newspaper. For many, what Christianity provides beyond this is an interest in reading.

I have met countless people whose interest in learning began as a result of their coming to the Reformation faith. The world became more interesting to them. In the Reformation worldview, although our fallen world cannot bring us lasting happiness, it is a purposeful place in which God is active, both supernaturally and through providence. Books are a way of exploring this world more deeply. Since God has used language in communicating about the world to us, we believe that the written word is capable of embodying truth about the world. Our studies in theology naturally lead us to an interest in the world and trust that we can learn about it through print. I had this experience myself. Early in my college years, before I had discovered the Reformation, I remember observing one of the lecturers at my university in dialog with some students. He was a pale man who probably spent a good portion of his time in a cramped faculty office poring over some old book or other-a book written by a non-evangelical, no doubt. I felt sorry for the man. Assuming that he was probably an atheist or agnostic, I thought, “How sad that this man who has no share in eternity cannot even enjoy the present.”

I later discovered that the man was a Christian, but that was not the only thing to change my opinion of him. I sat under him for a course reading some of the old classics of Western culture. When he taught on Homer, memorized passages in ancient Greek tumbled from his lips. The same was true of medieval Italian with Dante. The man was an intellectual traveler to worlds beyond my reach.

A couple of years later, I saw this professor in the university bookstore. He now appeared to me as an aristocrat. Books were to him as airplane tickets were to others, only he could traverse time as well as space. He could visit not merely Florence, but the Florence of Machiavelli and Dante. Now I was the wretch. I only hoped that if my professor could have seen the music and the books that I was purchasing, he would have approved.

What an advantage for a Christian to be able to understand how the world of the past developed into the present world! Without this perspective, we see our own environment as inevitable, gray, vanilla. We long for something more exotic. Feeling powerless to change the world, we look to stimulation to distract us from our boredom. Access to the past through books changes this. It shows us how the current structure of our lives-our architecture, government, entertainment, technology-is the result of the ideas of many people in the past. One idea suppressed, or another introduced at a different time, and the whole landscape would be different. As sinful and frustrating as our world can be, it is not an inevitability, but a surprise.

It is only when we understand the world that we can transform it. If our present world is the result of ideas, this puts the spotlight on the Biblical injunction to take every thought captive to Christ. It also poses the question “How are we to take modern thoughts captive if we don’t recognize them as thoughts?” In many cases the modern world is lost to the gospel, not on account of blatant anti-Christian propaganda, but because of the acceptance of hidden assumptions which render the gospel implausible.

We have seen how a focus on Scripture leads to an interest in books in general, and how this is advantageous to the cause of Christ. Unfortunately, there is an opposite dynamic at work in our culture. As the culture drifts away from writing as the chief medium of communication, and toward television, people become harder to reach with the gospel because their concept of truth is altered. The shift from print to television has already had devastating consequences.

Social critic Neil Postman has argued that television’s very nature as a medium changes the way people think. He complains not so much about the drivel that is aired, but what happens to discourse on serious issues. What becomes of seriousness, he asks, when one minute top experts are discussing the possibility of nuclear war in hushed tones only to be followed by the words “And now this from Burger King!” (2) Could television’s ability to place anything subsequent to anything be what has made relativism so plausible to so many?

Television seems oblivious to the law of non-contradiction. In the world of the novel, plot and character development rule. People who die stay dead. If not, there is a brilliant explanation. Not so on a soap opera, where Marissabel can be killed off as a result of a contract dispute, and later be re-inserted into the story without apology. It used to be that writers needed to come up with ingenious twists of plot to account for a supposedly dead character’s reappearance. Now they have found that no explanation is necessary. Everyone is so happy to see Marissabel back they don’t ask questions.

A return to print is crucial. People of the book should not only be people of books, they should be people of print. While we could not say that print itself has a bias towards truth-it is obvious that one can tell a lie quite splendidly in print-it does have a bias towards the conditions of truth: continuity, non-contradiction, precision. A well-written fantasy novel may portray a world where the laws are different from our world, but a commitment to the laws of reason will be manifest on every page. (3) If certain things happen, certain things must follow. This type of connection is absent on television in general. I may not be overstating it to suggest that a mind for truth would be better cultivated by reading fantasy novels than watching the evening news.

Critics of Culture Become Cultured

A commitment to reading and knowing Scripture was not enough to prepare the early church to take the world for Christ. Early on, Christianity was besieged by well-educated unbelievers and heretics. In many cases, top-notch argumentation was not needed to keep Titus and Claudia from abandoning the faith. For a while any argument might do. Besides, pastors had enough to do persuading their hearers to avoid the arena. Over time, however, arguments had to be met, and this meant that someone had to do the hard work of coming to grips with pagan thought.

One example of this, documented in George Grant’s Heresy and Criticism, is the way the early church responded to the ancient practice of literary criticism. Pagan literary critics threatened to undermine the validity of the Christian writings by attacking their internal consistency on the one hand (displaying alleged contradictions), and their origin on the other (claiming they were written by someone other than was traditionally claimed, or claiming they had been altered). Christian apologists responded by learning literary criticism and either critiquing their opponents’ methods, or using the critics’ techniques to prove Scripture’s logical consistency and apostolic authorship. Christians were drawn into the pursuit of pagan learning to combat paganism, and became more cultured in the process.

In the Middle Ages it happened again when the universities encountered Aristotle through his Islamic commentators. The result was a breathtaking synthesis of Christian and secular learning which commanded the respect of the learned and still finds adherents in our time.

This can happen today as well. In many cases it is the Christian apologists who are our best guides for broadening our mental horizons. Many will pick up a book by C. S. Lewis, G. K. Chesterton, or John Warwick Montgomery to learn how to defend their faith against unbelief only to have those authors interest them in any number of other subjects.

These were men of broad interest. C. S. Lewis was a poet, a medievalist, and a philosopher. G. K. Chesterton was a journalist. J. W. Montgomery is a lawyer and a theologian. These men are capable of illustrating the correspondence of Christianity to the known world using knowledge from many fields because they studied all subjects asking the question, “How does this relate to what Christianity teaches?”

They present not merely a unified field of knowledge, but unlike many Christians today, they present a broad field of knowledge. Many Christian teachers will present a unified field of knowledge by narrowing their field to theology. A parishioner leaves one of their churches convinced that what they have heard on Sunday is the truth about the world, and upon seeing the real world during the drive home wonders how it relates to what the teacher said earlier.

How much better for a teacher to be able to show how fields other than theology can be integrated with Christian teaching. How wonderful it is to pick up a Christian book and be able to say “Here is God’s plenty!” When a Christian author engages with a broader slice of the world, Christianity becomes more plausible to his readers, for it can be shown to be compatible with other known truth.

Engaging with truth outside of theology is not only attractive, it is necessary. If we neglect it, what is to prevent parishioners from sliding into unbelief because they fear that what their pastors teach cannot really stand up against the real world? Those who present Christianity must be able to relate it to the world their parishioners face and defend it against unbelief.

Paul tells us that it would be a strange thing if the evangelist who brought the good news to others should himself end up in hell on account of carnal weakness (1 Cor 9:27). But what about intellectual weakness? What about those times where a pastor’s grip on the gospel is sufficient to save himself, but not strong enough that he can communicate it clearly to others? A shepherd must be able to defend not only himself, but his sheep against wolves. Would it not be odd if a pastor’s failure to master the communication of Christian doctrine became the ruin of all of his parishioners but himself? We could paraphrase the Apostle and say, I pummel falsehood and subdue it, so that after accepting the gospel myself, my hearers should not be lost to the truth.

This is not only true of pastors, it is true of academics. Many are the teachings in the universities today which directly and indirectly undermine Christianity. Christian teachers and professors are in a wonderful position to oppose these teachings. In many cases it is not necessary to oppose them in the name of Christianity. When the very possibility of objective truth is attacked, it is the duty of an academic as an academic to defend it. The advantage of the Christian academic is that he or she knows that the fight for truth is God-pleasing.

I think that the eleventh chapter of the epistle to the Hebrews will some day be found to apply to academics. From the roll call of the faithful, I expect to hear the names of college professors read. “By faith Dr. So-and-so left his English faculty and their idols of deconstructionism to teach students how to understand the meaning of an old text…” For if students do not believe that an old text could possibly reveal truth, what chance do we have of getting a hearing for Scripture?

Past Lives Become Present Options

Many of my readers have seen for themselves that an interest in Scripture made them more interested in other books. Some have probably also been led to a broader interest in God’s world through the writings of Christian apologists. There is a third service which reading can provide the Christian which is often overlooked, and that is broadening our narrow view of what the Christian life can look like. For this purpose I suggest old Christian books. Even when we have weeded out those deviants who espoused damnable heresies or held to grossly deficient views of grace, the remainder is a surprising lot.

Christians of the past who would have confessed the faith as well as we do, or better, often lived very different Christian lives from our own. Their lists of Christian virtues and pagan vices, if they made such lists, would not match ours. They would wink at behavior which would shock us and condemn as sinful actions we didn’t know were sins.

How cock-sure was Jesus’ generation of its own moral code? Certainly many, even of the Pharisees, would have confessed to failing to live up to the code perfectly. That there might be something amiss with the code itself, however, was unthinkable. And the same is true with us. After Jesus’ lectures to the Pharisees, few of us would claim perfection. But everyone is confident knowing right from wrong and the relative gravity of one offense compared to another.

Aside from a re-reading of the New Testament, a reading of old Christian authors is probably the best way of challenging our own complacency with our understanding of the good Christian life. In fact, sometimes it is better.

Jesus was able to point out the specific holes in his contemporaries’ ethics. The inspired writings of the prophets were certainly sufficient to prove the points Jesus made if anyone would make the application.

The problem is that we seldom do. And like those who failed to see how the prophets’ words applied to new first-century conditions, we seldom make the application of Jesus’ words to our own situation with any ease. Many applications are strained, the most tenuous becoming the favorites of retreat speakers and youth leaders. We believe we are teaching Scripture when we present stale recipes for victorious Christian living, but this has not led to a better understanding of the Christian life. The problem is not with the clarity of Scripture, but with our own perspective on our lives. We take the environment in which we have grown up for granted. It is difficult to criticize precisely because we cannot see it for what it is. Does the fish criticize the ocean for being salty?

A comparison with past ages shows the behavioral codes in our church gatherings to be both prissy and flippant. Would Martin Luther or C. S. Lewis be able to enter our church gatherings comfortably? Luther would shock everyone with his free use of vulgarity, while C. S. Lewis would scandalize coffee hour by lighting up a cigarette (and can’t the man wait until we find him an ashtray? What is to become of the new carpet in the fellowship hall?)-and yet both of these men were committed Christians.

In fact, I imagine that when those who wished to criticize these men calmed down a little, it would be the late twentieth-century churchmen who would have explaining to do. What has happened to the historic liturgy? Why do we spend so much time singing about how we feel instead of about what God has done? Why are we so preoccupied about how others use their leisure time, while so little attention is given to their work (aside from the injunction not to steal)?

These are just a couple of examples of the way looking into the past can relativize twentieth-century standards. The point of this type of perspective is not just to topple false standards, while this is important in itself (Christian liberty is a necessity, not a frill!). It brings the forgotten wisdom of older standards back into view. Perhaps C. S. Lewis’s smoking shows a bad use of the gifts God had given him. This might be sinful, but no more so than the eating habits of other well-respected churchmen. And it is a trifle compared to the mean-spiritedness, the lack of reverence, and the ignorance which we put up with on a regular basis.

Another of the benefits of reading is its ability to combat what C. S. Lewis’s friend Owen Barfield referred to as “chronological snobbery,” which is the assumption that the present age is to be held superior to the past merely because it came later, that history is a record of uninterrupted progress.

It is truly a wonder to pick up an old document only to discover that an idea you thought modern could be found stated, and stated clearly, many centuries ago. For instance, when do you suppose the following words were written?

Perceiving long ago that religious liberty ought not to be denied, but that it ought to be granted to the judgment and desire of each individual to perform his religious duties according to his own choice, we had given orders that every man, Christians as well as others, should preserve the faith of his own sect and religion. (4)

Does this come from one of the writings of our American founding fathers, or is it perhaps an article from the old constitution of the Commonwealth of Virginia? No! It is a line from the Edict of Milan, written by the Roman Emperor Constantine in the year AD 312.

My point is that some of us are fortunate enough to be well-traveled in the present world. This does something to combat our cramped prejudices. But there is a world of the past available to us which can do more for us in this area for less.

A Prescription

There is so much to be gained from reading, but my call is not merely for Christians to read, but to read more, to read more broadly, to read more broadly together.

Reading more makes reading easier. The more material you have been exposed to, the more you will be capable of reading. We need a grid on which to hang facts and perceptions. Reading gives us categories, and the more categories we have, and (what is more important) the more solidly these categories are fixed in our minds, the more we will be able to glean from what we read and experience.

Reading more broadly keeps us from getting into ruts. Narrow reading makes the world itself seem narrow. Broad reading reminds us that the world is enormous. It also allows us to see the same thing from different points of view.

Perhaps a new worship service format is adopted at church, causing controversy. My reading of psychology will induce me to examine motives. I will wonder where the people on the wrong side of the quarrel (those bothersome people who won’t worship my way!) derived their need to control others. A reading of sociology will make me ask whether people want to worship one way rather than another because of secular trends. A reading of missionary biographies might remind me that worship is a privilege which not all have, so I should be thankful that I can worship either the old or new way. A reading of theology and liturgical history will have me wondering if our worship has become more man-centered or God-centered.

My reading might sway me to react now one way, now another. Broad reading is a corrective to our tendency see one narrow aspect of a situation neglecting other ramifications. Perhaps what we do matters in ways we cannot guess.

Reading broadly together will keep me from always being on a new crusade to the bewilderment of Christian friends. The Christian purpose of all of this reading is to glorify God. Reading alone may do this, but when we become passionate about an issue, it is nice to have company. When we have seen things rightly, others can support us. When we have missed the mark, they can correct us. It is gratifying, however, when the new viewpoint which seemed so exciting to me is adopted by the others. When I make a new discovery, it will often seem implausible for the simple fact that no one around me sees what I now see. If friends travel the same road, all is different. Those of my readers who have come to Reformation convictions understand this, if they have been lucky enough to have fellow travelers.

If you decide to take my advice, I have a warning for you. While “of the making of books there is no end” (Ecc 12:12), of the printing of a particular book there is an end. Not all of the good books that have been written are currently available at your local bookstore; consequently, used book stores are a wonderful thing. Not all books will be cheap, but the point is that out-of-print books can be found. The other piece of advice is to buy in-print books while they are in print, especially in fields of narrow interest. You will be thankful for heeding this advice-or sorrowful for neglecting it-sooner than you think.

As far as books go, we live in the best of times and the worst of times. On the one hand, the culture at large is abandoning print. On the other, there is more available to the one who will hunt for it than there ever has been. I wish you a well-read life, and hope that as time goes on we will have more fellow-travelers to bump into. It makes the journey more enjoyable.

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1 For a detailed analysis of this and other ways in which God and Scripture are identified, see B. B. Warfield, The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible, ed. by Samuel S. Craig (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company 1948) pp. 299-348.

2 Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business (New York: Penguin Books, 1985) pp. 104-105. Postman’s book is as profound a piece of social criticism as I have read. His criticism of television news forms chapter 7 of the book.

3 For an extended treatment of this phenomenon in a Christian apologetic, read chapter 4 “The Ethics of Elfland” in Orthodoxy by G. K. Chesterton.

4 From the Church History of Eusebius, volume I of the Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), p. 379.

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Rick Ritchie resides in Southern California and is a long-time contributor to Modern Reformation. He is a graduate of Christ College Irvine and Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary.

Issue: “Wanted: Thinking Christians” July/August Vol. 3 No. 4 1994 Pages 18-23

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Book Review*: THE GOSPEL-DRIVEN LIFE by Michael Horton

Reviewed by Nathan Pitchford

gospeldrivenlifeWhat exactly is Christianity, and what are its proper and necessary effects on our daily lives? According to Horton, Christianity is not pietism, social activism, personal transformation, or religious experience, it is first and fundamentally gospel – “good news”. And really grasping that dramatically changes how we pursue the life of a Christian. What do people do when confronted with real news, that is really good? When the front page headlines announced “Victory in Europe” on May 8, 1945, people forgot themselves, embraced strangers for sheer joy, danced in the streets. They had been confronted by objectively true and external good news, and the effects were immediate and obvious. But Christianity, bringing the objectively true announcement of a historically-verifiable triumph over sin and Satan, is usually met with no such response. Why is this?

Horton’s response to this dilemma is sagacious, clear-sighted, and foundationally remedial. The basic problem of contemporary Christianity is that it is no longer defined by the objective gospel, which turns us away from ourselves to the Christ who really saves, but instead, in a myriad of ways, facilitates our natural bent to be “curved in on ourselves”. While touching upon the problems, which he has already diagnosed in more detail in his earlier book, Christless Christianity, he goes far beyond mere fault-finding, and serves up a well-thought-out and gospel-saturated cure.

The Gospel-Driven Life is divided into two major portions. The first, “Looking Up, Looking Out: Breaking News,” deals with just what the gospel is; and the second, “Looking Around, Looking Ahead: A Cross-Cultural Community,” deals with the impact of the gospel on the culture of the Church, as a Kingdom not of this world, but composed of citizens who are in this world and its kingdoms.

Throughout the book, Horton liberally employs the metaphor of the stories of the news media for the nature of the good news of Christianity; but the problem, as he makes clear from the beginning, is that today even the news media is not primarily conditioned upon what events are objectively true and important, but about “what I and a decent market share of my fellow consumers feel is important for our own lives today”. And this subjective, individualistic mentality is mirrored in the church as well as society at large. But Christianity is much bigger than individual perspectives and problems. It is a headline story that makes sense of all of world history, it is bigger than my own felt needs; when really grasped, it makes me forget my own troubles and rejoice with strangers over a victory much greater than the defeat of Hitler. Fixing our personal crises won’t be a big enough accomplishment to turn me away from myself, to where I can find true joy; and in fact, it won’t even be enough to fix my real problem, which is God and his wrath against sin. “We may have problems in our marriage, child-rearing, stress at work, low self-esteem, and worries about our health or the financial market. However,” Horton reminds us, “the ultimate crisis facing us is summarized in Romans 1:18: ‘For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of those who by their wickedness suppress the truth’” (Chap. 2, pg. 39). But without a real understanding of the problem, we will not respond appropriately to the announcement of the good news. “When the righteousness of God no longer disturbs (much less terrifies) us, we feel no need to cry out for the righteousness from God that is a gift in Christ Jesus” (Chap. 2).

In response to this real crisis of God’s judgment on the basis of our works, which is engrained upon everyone’s conscience but suppressed in unrighteousness, the gospel comes as an utterly unexpected word of good news “that is odd and far from familiar to our moral consciousness” (Chap. 2). This unexpected word is the heart of Christianity; and yet, “Protestants are just as likely today to assume that the gospel gives us something to do rather than an announcement of something that has already been fully, finally, and objectively accomplished for us by God in Jesus Christ” (Chap. 3).

In his fourth chapter, “Getting the Story Straight, Horton gives a stunning overview of the redemptive-historical accomplishment of the gospel, as the vicarious sacrifice of the Lamb of God, which was the means by which he triumphed over the devil, undid Adam’s transgression, displayed God’s righteousness and moral government, etc. But then, he goes on to say, “Although there are allusions to this remarkable story in popular preaching and evangelism today, one wonders if it can even be said that it forms the central content. Even in conservative Protestant circles today, the gospel is popularly summarized with formulas, definitions, and phrases that are not even implied in the New Testament. In fact, these phrases shift the focus from Christ back to us” (Chap. 4). Some of these phrases – “a personal relationship with God,” “asking Jesus into your heart,” and “making Jesus your personal Lord and Savior,” do much to minimize the objective, external accomplishment of the gospel – and yet they (and the mindset behind them) are nearly ubiquitous in Evangelicalism today.

Horton also has some very incisive things to say about the nature of saving faith, which looks away from oneself to Christ, and its common misapprehension as the one thing we do for salvation, or the power we unleash for our own subjective good. “Faith is therefore not a generic optimism; a positive outlook on life,” he explains. “It is not even a general trust in God and his promises to care for us. Saving faith is not merely ‘believing God for big things.’ Saving faith is very specific: clinging to God’s saving mercy in Jesus Christ as he is given to us in the gospel” (Chap. 5). “The gospel changes lives precisely because it is not about us – even our changed lives – but about Christ” (Chap. 5). “Faith does not create; it receives” (Chap. 6). But “our bent toward ‘law logic’ (ascending and attaining) encourages us to turn faith itself into the ‘one thing’ we do to achieve God’s blessings. If we could just believe enough, we could please God, or maybe claim healing or financial prosperity, fix our family, or really do something great for the Kingdom of God” (Chap. 6).

Of course, Horton does not condone antinomianism, nor suggest that faith does not work itself out in acts of love and godliness. But the pursuit of these works cannot be mere imitation of Christ, it cannot be striving to lead a “purpose-driven life”; on the contrary it is all about pursuing a promise-driven life, which rests on what Christ’s purpose-driven life objectively accomplished for us. The bottom line is, “Being in Christ is the perpetual source of our becoming like Christ, not vice versa” (Chap. 6).

Understanding the good-news character of Christianity has drastic and necessary implications for the life and culture of the Church, which Horton spends the entire second section of his book detailing. Church is not about creating an emotional experience of “worship”, it is where the community of those who live in this world but have their citizenship in another world yet to come gather together to hear the objective announcement of forgiveness and life in Christ, to partake of the firstfruits of the Feast that Christ has prepared for us, to be nourished and sustained by his grace in this time of our exile, and filled with hope at the triumphant announcement of the good news of his already accomplishment of our redemption and the soon-to-be consummation of his coming again. In a compelling argument, he contends that much of the problem of contemporary Evangelicalism comes from a commingling of two Kingdoms, the one of this world and the other a cross-cultural community of the inhabitants of Zion. Yes, this is a time of exile for God’s Kingdom, he concludes his work; but “the Mountain of Zion trumps all other hills, towers, and high places. No temporal government, cultural movement, or market niche can bring together a remnant ‘from every tribe, kindred, tongue, people, and nation’ and make them into a ‘kingdom of priests to our God’ who ‘will reign forever and ever’ (Rev. 5:9). We are building our earthly kingdoms, but Zion is the city that God is building” (Chap. 10). And in that kingdom-building work of God, my friends, is our only life-changing hope for today and forever.

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(*) Original post of this book review can be accessed at Monergism.com

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