Sunday, April 27, 2014

Book Review: Bible Revival

In Bible Revival:  Recommitting Ourselves to One Book, Kenneth Berding states that this book was written to answer "the question of why we need a revival of the Bible in our generation and what it will take to see it happen."  The author also notes that "this book can be used in a church context or as a way to draw in students who are taking an introductory class on the Bible."  Discussion questions are included at the end of each chapter.  However, I do not find the questions thought provoking; they are highly subjective and can be incorrectly answered without any guidance to the correct, biblical response.

In addition, I do not agree with Mr. Berding's definition of the Bible:  "The entire story of the Bible could legitimately be described as a message about God the King inviting his people to join the wedding of his Son Jesus Christ," (Kindle location 585).  Later, he restates his definition, but it is still incomplete:  "It [the Bible] was written first and foremost so that we might come to know God through Jesus Christ," (Kindle location 995).  The 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith (LBCF), Chapter 1, paragraph 6 states:  "The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man's salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down or necessarily contained in the Holy Scripture."  This statement makes it clear that the Bible is more than just a wedding invitation or a road map.

Overall, I am disappointed with  Bible Revival.  Early in his book, Mr. Berding writes:  "My paternal grandfather, who never came into personal relationship with Jesus Christ, read his Bible regularly and had many passages committed to memory," (Kindle location 115).  This statement begs the question as to why the author continues to promote a "Bible revival", when his personal experience clearly shows that more than just Bible reading is needed.

In Chapter 2, Mr. Berding starts off his section on the clarity of Scripture with two personal stories about his students.  One student was questioning his faith and contemplating moving to a "different church tradition" and the other student wasn't sure whether or not the Gospel was true, (Kindle location 327).  Instead of recognizing the fact that these two students were probably not saved and relating his interaction of sharing the Gospel with them, the author talks about how neither student "really valued the Bible."

The above scenario sums up the major error I see in this book.  Mr. Berding assumes that people who attend church or Bible class are Christians, regardless of whether or not good fruit is being produced in their lives, (Matt. 7:18-20).  I do want to acknowledge that in Chapter 5, Mr. Berding does recognize the fact that his reader may not be a Christian.  Unfortunately, a clear Gospel presentation is not given.  If a professing Christian is not hungering after God's word, then there's a deeper issue involved.  Ultimately, the person may not be saved.

Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God, (Rom. 10:17).  Therefore, it's important for that person to read the Bible and, if possible, to sit under sound teaching in a Bible-believing church.  However, saving faith is more than just intellectual assent; it also involves the heart and the will, (Rom. 10:10).  In addition, the LBCF also acknowledges "the inward illumination of the Spirit of God to be necessary for the saving understanding of such things as are revealed in the Word," (Chapter 1, paragraph 6).  Only those who have saving faith love God and keep His commandments, (1 John 2:3).  Therefore, a "Bible revival" happens when a person's heart is truly regenerated by the Holy Spirit.

At the end of Chapter 2, Mr. Berding states that "When we really and truly begin to believe that the Word of God is sufficient and clear regarding life and godliness, we will begin to act like it," (Kindle location 440).  But then in Chapter 3, he makes the following statement:  "In 2 Timothy 2:14-16, Paul challenges Timothy to 'do your best' or 'be diligent' (not 'study' as the King James Bible translated it)," (Kindle location 649).  Ironically, the author's biased implication, that the King James Bible is mistranslated, is inconsistent with the major point of his book that Christians should read the Bible because it is sufficient and clear.

According to Strong's Comprehensive Concordance of the Bible, the Greek word spoudazo in 2 Tim. 2:15 means "to use speed, i.e. to make effort, be prompt or earnest:--do (give) diligence, be diligent (forward), endeavor, labor, study."  Strong's clearly shows that 'study' is an acceptable translation for spoudazo; and therefore, the King James is correct in its usage.  By trying to discredit the King James Bible, the author implies its insufficiency; and then he wonders why no one reads their Bible, or if they do read it, they don't consider it authoritative.  The author's unwarranted display of scholarly arrogance reduces the Bible to "just another book" that is subject to textual criticism.

The main reasons that I do not recommend Bible Revival are because Mr. Berding uses inconsistent argumentation as noted above, and he does not clearly define his audience.  If he is writing to mature believers, then his advice is not needed because a true seasoned Christian already reads and properly studies the Bible.  If he is writing to new believers, then I think Living by the Book by Howard & William Hendricks is a better how-to guide for reading the Bible.  If he is writing to unbelievers, then his advice will fall on deaf ears.  As his personal experience clearly shows:  "But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned," (1 Cor. 2:14). 

Full Disclosure:  I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

NB:  Please see my follow-up post to this review.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Saving Faith

On March 23, 2014, Pastor Jeff Riddle of Christ Reformed Baptist Church taught on Spurgeon's Catechism Question #69, 'What is Faith in Jesus Christ?'  Before answering the current question, Pastor Riddle recapped the answer to Question #68 on how we escape the wrath and curse of God due to us for sin through:  (1) faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, (2) repentance, or turning away from our sin, and (3) sanctification, or living a life of holiness.

Faith is a saving grace whereby we receive and rest upon Christ alone for salvation as He is set forth in the Gospel.  Salvation is God-centered.  Therefore, faith is not a work because it is not the cause of our salvation, (Eph. 2:8-9).  We are justified by or through faith, not because of faith.  Faith is the means of our salvation, not the cause of our salvation.  The Author of our salvation is God alone.  It is a free gift; He uses our faith as an instrument.

God works this grace of faith in our souls by the ordinary hearing of the word preached, (Rom. 10:17, 1 Cor. 15:11).  The word is preached and God uses that to affect faith, which is the instrument of salvation.

The proper object of biblical faith is the Lord Jesus Christ, His righteousness, and the promises which are made through Him in the Covenant of Grace.  The proper subject of biblical faith is the elect of God, (Acts 13:48).

Saving faith is more than just intellectual assent; it also grasps the heart and the will, (Rom. 10:10).  Sandemanianism is the heretical belief that all you need to do to be saved is to give intellectual assent to the Gospel.  It is the underlying belief in the "carnal Christian" mentality, which says that you can be saved, but still live carnally (not adhering to the commandments of God).  It also underlies the Quick Prayerism evangelical methodology which says that if you believe you are a sinner and you believe that Jesus died for you, then all you need to do is to say a prayer to become a Christian.  However, the Bible teaches that salvation is not merely a matter of the mind and of the tongue, but of the heart and of the will.  We should give intellectual assent to the Gospel, but we should also have a change of heart and of the will.

Becoming a Christian means receiving Christ as a gift and believing on His name, (John 1:12).  You enter into the Sabbath rest of God, (Heb. 4:3), because you realize you are unable, but Christ is able and He is willing. Jesus is revealed to us in the Scriptures alone.

"Now the just shall live by faith: but if any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him," (Heb. 10:38).

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Book Review: Gospel Assurance and Warnings

Gospel Assurance and Warnings by Paul Washer is the third book in the Recovering the Gospel series.  Driven by his stewardship to spread the Gospel, Mr. Washer states that he wrote this book to combat the watered-down Gospel prevalent in today's evangelical world.  He gives a clear Gospel presentation and identifies the errors propounded by preachers that produce false converts.

Mr. Washer is very well-versed in biblical doctrine and profusely cites Scripture to support his statements.  His writing style is easy to read, and he correctly looks to the Bible as his main source.  I found his work refreshingly sound and applicable to the Christian life.  The author rightly points out that "the Scriptures call upon us to test ourselves to determine whether we are truly Christian."  In order to help the Christians examine themselves, Mr. Washer expounds the book of 1 John which was written so that "those who believe in Jesus Christ might possess a great assurance that they have eternal life."

Mr. Washer boldly proclaims that "assurance of salvation is not merely based upon what a person says or feels but upon the practical evidence of a changed and changing life."  He also provokes the Christian with the truth of God's word:  "As it is impossible for the unconverted to live a life that is pleasing unto God, it is equally impossible for a Christian to live a life of unbroken rebellion and fruitlessness before God."  The Christian who has "found a way to hold onto enough of the world to satisfy their flesh and to embrace enough Christianity to soothe their conscience" needs to read this book.

I highly, highly recommend this book and encourage all who profess faith in Jesus Christ to read it.  Paul Washer justifiably notes that in 1 John, "John's boldness is a bit overwhelming to the modern ear that has grown accustomed to smoother speech."  But even so, we are further admonished by the Apostle:  "He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches," (Rev. 3:22).  This book will help all Christians rightly divide God's word to test whether or not they are of the Christian faith.

Full Disclosure:  I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Decrying the Charge of Legalism

I'm participating in a free course through Ligonier Connect called The Person and Work of Christ.  On April 1st, I completed Lesson 9 on Christ's crucifixion.  After reading the Scripture references and watching the video, I answered a question on whether or not paintings of Christ's crucifixion where accurate or appropriate.  I left a comment that any depiction of Christ is a sin because it violates Scripture, (Exod. 20:3-4; Deut. 4:15-19; Acts 17:29).

Today, April 18th, JR left a follow-up remark to my comment:
"Your viewpoint is reasonable, though I do not agree. God commanded the making of the ark of the covenant for the purpose of worship. It is true that then the people came to think of this ark as a "magic box" when they trotted it out thinking it would win them a battle against the Philistines. Clearly it is a violation of the letter of the law to make ANY graven image. In this your stance is similar to the strictest interpretations of the Muslims. So, to be consistent, you would have to also be against any statue of any creature anywhere because of the potential danger of idolatry.

Again, this is a reasonable stance, but I think one too close to a legalistic interpretation. You are in some very good company in your viewpoint. This is why traditional Protestant crosses do not have an image of Christ.

God looks on the heart. When a person is kneeling in front of a statue of Christ, or clutches a tiny gold cross hanging from their neck (with or without an image of Christ) they might be indeed committing idolatry. However, their heart may indeed be acting of a pure motive as their mind understands this is but a symbol, and they are indeed worshiping God directly.

There are examples where a statue of Christ has become an idol to many people, and detracts for true worship. More commonly we make idols of other things, like our health, children or money. We do not need a statue to become, in the words of Calvin, idol factories. Yet there is also a danger of substituting mechanical rules and stumbling someone who sincerely worships rightly with the aid of an image.

Two of my children have come to Christ very young with the help of looking and meditating on images of Christ. I will take the danger of idolatry over the danger of legalism, but that is a choice. I respect your choice and it is quite possible that in Heaven Christ will say that your answer is correct and mine is not.

JR, may the Lord bless you for seeking to think clearly on His Word."

Here's my response:

"JR, Thank you for taking the time to read and respond to my comment.

However, theologically speaking, legalism is the doctrine that salvation is gained through good works. My response was that any picture or likeness of God (in all 3 persons) is sinful because it violates God's moral law. I did not say or imply that obeying the 2nd commandment merited salvation in any way; therefore, by definition my statement is not legalistic.

In John 14:15, Jesus clearly states that: " If ye love me, keep my commandments." The Apostle John further writes in 1 John 2:3-4: "And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him." God's word says that keeping His commandments is a mark of a true believer.

I think that this is an area where a lot of Christians err. As referenced above, keeping God's commandments is not being legalistic. Adding rules & guidelines to God's word and then requiring obedience for salvation is being legalistic.

Also, I would like to respectfully express my concern with the notion that you can come to Christ or be helped in coming to Christ by meditating on pictures of Him. I don't find this practice in Scripture. I would caution anyone against using this as an aid for children or unbelievers. It sounds very mystical and does not follow Romans 10:17, "So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God."

Finally, I find no scriptural support that God commanded Israel to worship the ark of the covenant. The ark was created in the wilderness, and it is where God spoke to Moses between the two cherubim. The ark did not contain an image of God. The fact that Israel worshiped the ark later (violating the 3rd Commandment) is just evidence of their sinful and rebellious nature, which is why God judged them by sending Israel and Judah into captivity."
Ironically, JR has become legalistic through his experience of allowing his children to add to God's word by looking and meditating on pictures of Christ to aid in their salvation.  In his comment, he does not cite Scripture, but relies on his personal feelings and incites emotional support for his argument by lumping together Bible believing Christians and Muslims.

He also commits the Fallacy of Composition by stating that to be consistent, I would have to be against all statues of creatures because of the potential for idolatry.  First of all, statues do not cause people to be idolaters.  We sin because we are sinners.  But just because people idolize some statues of creatures does not mean that all statues of creatures will be idolized.  Again, he is adding to God's word.  In addition, there are two distinct and separate actions forbidden within the 2nd Commandment:  (1) making an image and (2) bowing down to it.  Just because someone does not idolize an image of God does not mean that the image is acceptable; both the image and the idolatry are offensive to God.

We are told that God does look upon the heart, (1 Sam. 16:7), but Jeremiah 17:9 also tells us that the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked.  I'm so thankful that God views my heart through the shed blood of Jesus Christ who is my Lord and Savior, (2 Cor. 5:21).  And as I've said before, heart motivation is not enough.

Some Christians rely on experience or private interpretation to guide their Christian walk.  This practice is not scriptural, and its influence is very dangerous to the individual, as well as to fellow believers and the church as a whole.  The Body of Christ is weakened when definitions become relativistic and calling out sin becomes taboo.

[Jesus]:  "If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father's commandments, and abide in his love," (John 15:10).

Friday, April 11, 2014

Christian Strength

From Jeremiah Burroughs' Contentment, Prosperity, and God's Glory, (p. 20):
"The strength of a Christian is to enjoy God's gifts, to make use of whatever God allows, to take the sweetness from it, and yet to avoid temptation--in other words, to take away that which is good and to cast away that which is not good."
This book is the original appendix to Burroughs' Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment.  I highly recommend both books to the Christian reader.

 ***
"I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where in and in all things i am instructed both to be fulfilled and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need," (Phil. 4:12).

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Book Review: Guiltless Living

In her book Guiltless Living, Ginger Hubbard starts off by citing a portion of James 5:16 to support the premise of her book:  "The Bible teaches us to 'confess your sins to each other.'"  The whole verse says:  "Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed.  The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much."  Matthew Henry in his commentary on James says the following about this verse:
"Where crimes are of a public nature, and have done any public mischief, there they ought to be more publicly confessed, so as may best reach to all who are concerned.  And sometimes it may be well to confess our faults to some prudent minister or praying friend, that he may help to plead with God for mercy and pardon.  But then we are not to think that James puts us upon telling every thing that we are conscious is amiss in ourselves or in one another; but so far as confession is necessary to our reconciliation with such as are at variance with us, or for gaining information in any point of conscience and making our own spirits quiet and easy, so far we should be ready to confess our faults."
I quote Mr. Henry at length because the author's stated purpose is to spur Christians to be "willing to be open and honest about our own struggles" so that "God uses that openness to encourage others to do the same".  However, conviction is the role of the Holy Spirit, not the author.  As Mr. Henry clearly states, Christians are not to confess all of their faults to an earthly confessor.  The confession of all sin to an earthly priest is a Sacrament of Penance in the Roman Catholic Church, which is not commanded in the Bible.  Therefore, I disagree with the underlying premise of this book that Christians should confess all sin to someone else.  If a confession to another person is necessary, as cited by Mr. Henry, then that confession should be specifically directed to the offended party.

Nevertheless, Mrs. Hubbard airs her sins (as well as others' sins) publicly to people that she has not offended.  This action is not biblically warranted and even causes other Christians to think on things that are not pure and lovely, (Phil. 4:8).  In addition, she anticipates this negative reaction to her book in the introduction and clearly states that she wrote her book anyway knowing that there would be opposition.  She judges those who question her motive as harboring an "attitude of condemnation" (Kindle location 67) and challenges them to consider their reactions; implying that they are wrong and she is right.  Mrs. Hubbard does say that she doesn't want to focus on her sin, but on Christ.  Still, a book written to "confess" personal sin automatically focuses on the sinner, regardless of the author's stated intention.

Throughout the book, Mrs. Hubbard uses the incorrect hermeneutical approach of explaining Scripture by looking at herself first and then looking to Scripture for support.  Her focus on self is wrong because God's word is the standard, not her experience.  Without proper exegesis of a Scripture in context, she easily twists verses to say what she wants them to say.

Although the author's writing is very engaging, and she uses Christian terminology, she does not give clear, consistent biblical guidance on how to fight sin.  All Christians sin, (1 John 1:8), and we should mortify all sin the same way; however, Mrs. Hubbard gives differing, faulty advice to conquer the sins that she experiences in her life.  She adds and subtracts from the biblical standard as her experience dictates.

From the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith, Chapter 11, paragraph 5:
"God continues to forgive the sins of those that are justified, and although they can never fall from the state of justification, yet they may, by their sin, fall under God's fatherly displeasure; and in that condition they usually do not have the light of His countenance restored to them, until they humble themselves, confess their sins, beg pardon, and renew their faith and repentance."
We can clearly see the author manipulating biblical doctrine in her final paragraph when she concludes (Kindle location 1584):  "As attention transfers from self to God, the pull of sin will lose its attraction and die."  This statement contradicts the word of God.  The Apostle Paul describes the on-going war within all Christians between the law of God and the law of sin in Romans 7:14-25.  The pull of sin will lose its attraction and die only when a Christian dies and is glorified, or when Christ returns.  We will not win this battle and completely overcome sin here on earth in our corruptible bodies.

Because of her incorrect approach to Scripture and her lack of perspicuity in battling sin, Mrs. Hubbard distorts the work of Christ done on earth and simplifies His life as a good example to be followed, (see Chapter 6).  Jesus fulfilled the Covenant of Redemption by coming to earth in the likeness of man and being sacrificed as an atonement and propitiation for the sins of God's elect.  However, the author sums up Christ's work on the cross:  "Well, he [sic] did zap sin.  He zapped it at Calvary," (Kindle location 1573).  This trite summary clearly shows that Mrs. Hubbard misses the true meaning of the cross of Jesus Christ.

Finally, I find the author's positive reference to Richard J. Foster very concerning (Kindle location 1559).  Mr. Foster is a Christian theologian and proponent of the Spiritual Formation Movement, which promotes the reintroduction of ancient extra-biblical practices into Christianity.

Overall, I am disappointed with the author's poor handling of Scripture and her apparent lack of knowledge of key biblical doctrines; therefore, I can not recommend reading Guiltless Living.  As a Christian, I can never be sin-free on this side of glory because my flesh is at war with my spirit, (Gal. 5:17), but through the Holy Spirit I can confess, repent, and look to the accomplished work of Jesus on the cross to atone and propitiate for my past, present, and future sins.  I am conformed to the image of Christ not to bring about freedom from self-scrutiny (Kindle location 520), but to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.

Full Disclosure:  I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Storing Up Treasure

From Matthew Henry's commentary on Daniel 7:
"Note, It [sic] concerns God's prophets and ministers to treasure up the things of God in their minds, and there to digest them well.  If we would have God's word ready in our mouths when we have occasion for it, we must keep it in our hearts at all times."

"Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasure in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also," (Matt. 6:19-21).