Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Book Review: Prayers for New Brides

In her book Prayers for New Brides: Putting on the Armor After the Wedding Dress, Jennifer White states that her book is what she would share with the reader if they could sit together and talk about marriage (Kindle location 173).  This book has 40 short chapters that conclude with prayer prompts and calls to action for the wife.

As Mrs. White looks back on her experiences with her first failed marriage and with the struggles in her current marriage, she realizes that the "union of marriage is God's design," (Kindle location 293).  She wants the reader to "allow this book to expose you to what God says about you, your spouse, and your marriage," (Kindle location 433).

The author identifies areas of conflict within a marriage and looks at the biblical duties of wife including respect of and submission to her husband found in Ephesians 5.  Her advice generally goes back to prayer and reading/studying God's Word.

While Mrs. White's general advice of prayer and Bible reading is good, I have concerns with her view of Satan.  I agree with her view that "[s]piritual warfare is a reality," (Kindle location 285).  Christians do wrestle against principalities, powers, and the rulers of darkness in this world," (Eph. 6:12).  However, the author sets up a false dichotomy between God and Satan.  Her writing portrays a dualistic philosophy that views good and evil as two equal forces.  This is seen in her book when she writes: "He [Satan] is a spiritual force that is in direct competition with God," (Kindle location 410) and "God has been very aware of Satan's plan to keep you away from the great life and marriage He designed for you," (Kindle location 522).

From the article "God's Devil" at ligioner.org, we read:

"Though He [God] created the Devil, God is not in any way culpable for evil... Still, we know our Creator cannot be tempted with evil, nor can He ever tempt anyone (James 1:13).  That Satan is a creature means he is subject to the Lord, who uses him to fulfill His good purposes (Rom. 8:28). In the final analysis, the Devil is God’s Devil (to summarize Martin Luther) and never operates outside the Lord’s decree."

Next, the author also presents a view of Open Theism (the unorthodox view that though God is omniscient, He does not know what man will freely do in the future).  She writes: "The Holy Spirit resides within you and can act as a force field to the ideas that could result in your missing God's well-planned good life for you," (Kindle location 658) and "Let's acknowledge that her [Eve's] choice to lead was outside the will of God.  It opened the door to a host of marital devastions that God did not intend for any of us," (Kindle location 1595).  God is sovereign.  He has declared the end from the beginning (Isa. 46:10-11) and His eternal purpose is unchangeable (Eph. 3:11).  Therefore, nothing that man does can thwart the will of God.

Finally, Mrs. White gives a false sense of hope that a marriage will be prosperous and full if her advice is followed.  She states:
  • "That is the God of your marriage.  Always victorious in the lives of those who show up, surrender, and salute Him as their authority," (Kindle location 603).
  • "But God, the designer of your life, created you with great plans to protect you," (Kindle location 616).
  • "He [God] will prepare you for every battle against division and divorce," (Kindle location 789).
  • "Sovereign God who planned an abundant life for you is still there to  help you enjoy it regardless of the evil around you.  He promises that choosing His way will make you prosperous and successful (Deuteronomy 29:9, Joshua 1:8)," (Kindle location 1978).
So if Mrs. White had just surrendered authority to God and choose His way rather than her own, she would not be divorced from her first marriage right now.  Obviously, that's not the case because providentially she's married to her second husband.  Regardless of the difficulties that the author has encountered, everything has happened according to God's will.  Even if she had 'surrendered to God as her authority' during her first marriage, she would still be divorced and remarried now because nothing that she might have done differently in the past would have changed the present reality that God ordained.  The Apostle Peter tells Christians that they will suffer trials in their lives (1 Peter 1:7, 4:12).  These trials may come even if the Christian prays, reads the Bible, and obeys God's commandments.  Jesus Christ Himself tells us that Christians will have trouble in this world, but we should still be of good cheer because He has overcome the world (John 6:33).

Overall, I am not comfortable with the doctrinal errors in Prayers for New Brides.  I am also disappointed with Mrs. White's endorsement of Beth Moore's Bible studies and Joyce Meyer's TV programs (Kindle location 1031), as well as books written by Gary Thomas (Kindle location 1521) and Mark Batterson (Kindle location 1538).  While popular, these modern "Christian" writers do not convey sound, orthodox Christian doctrine.  Therefore, I do not recommend Prayers for New Brides for any Christian, but I would recommend William Gouge's Domestical Duties for anyone who wants to study the biblical roles of husband and wife.

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

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Handling the Charge of Hyper-Calvinism

Many of the books that I review on my blog come through crossfocusedreviews.com.  As part of receiving the free book, I agree to post my review on my blog as well as on amazon.com.  Occasionally, I will receive feedback from my blog readers, but most of the negative comments I receive are responses to my book reviews posted on the Amazon website.  Therefore, I have a series of blog posts that I've labeled Countering Criticism where I evaluate the validity of the negative feedback I receive.  Today, I would like to look at one comment from a poster named Macphile regarding my book review on Honest Evangelism.  You can read my original review here.

On August 18, 2015, Macphile says:
"Yours is an extreme view of soteriology that is basically hyper-calvinism. This is not the soteriology of Spurgeon and Whitfield.

This statement is indefensible from the Bible: "One of the problems with this book is how the author defines salvation. He says that God is sovereign in salvation (Kindle location 662 & 670), but then he uses language that also points to man's decision in salvation; which means that ultimately, God is not sovereign, man is."

The Bible uses both types of language. God's sovereignty never, ever eliminates man's responsibility to both proclaim and respond. Paul urged, pleaded, and wept for the lost to respond to the good news! The Great Commission is not simply for pastors but for the whole church as Acts 1:8 makes clear - all who are indwelt by the Holy Spirit are to be witnesses both at home and to the uttermost."
First, in my original review as quoted above, I stated that man does not have a decision in salvation.  Macphile's critique above is based on man's responsibility to proclaim and respond.  Decision and responsibility are not the same.  Macphile implies that because man is responsible to respond to the Gospel call, man also has the ability (decision) to respond to that call.  The biblical view is that man is responsible (Rom. 10:9), but does not have the ability, nor the desire, to repent and believe (Rom. 3:10-11).

In his Primer on Hyper-Calvinism from spurgeon.org, Charles Spurgeon gives the comprehensive definition of Hyper-Calvinism from a popular theological dictionary:
    "1. [Hyper-Calvinism] is a system of theology framed to exalt the honour and glory of God and does so by acutely minimizing the moral and spiritual responsibility of sinners . . . It emphasizes irresistible grace to such an extent that there appears to be no real need to evangelize; furthermore, Christ may be offered only to the elect. . . .
    2. It is that school of supralapsarian 'five-point' Calvinism [n.b.—a school of supralapsarianism, not supralapsarianism in general] which so stresses the sovereignty of God by over-emphasizing the secret over the revealed will of God and eternity over time, that it minimizes the responsibility of sinners, notably with respect to the denial of the use of the word "offer" in relation to the preaching of the gospel; thus it undermines the universal duty of sinners to believe savingly in the Lord Jesus with the assurance that Christ actually died for them; and it encourages introspection in the search to know whether or not one is elect. [Peter Toon, "Hyper-Calvinism," New Dictionary of Theology (Leicester: IVP, 1988), 324.]"
Macphile charges that my view of soteriology is Hyper-Calvinistic because he thinks that I have removed all of the responsibility of man from salvation.  That simply is not true.  Man is responsible, BUT because of his inherent fallen nature, he cannot respond to the offer of salvation in the Gospel on his own.  In Calvinism, Hyper-Calvinism, and Arminianism: Issues Shaping Our Identity as Southern Baptists, Tom Ascol writes: "The Bible teaches both that fallen man is without spiritual ability and that he is obligated to repent and believe.  Only by the powerful, regenerating work of the Holy Spirit is man given the ability to fulfill his duty to repent and believe.  And though this may seem unreasonable to rationalistic minds, there is no contradiction, and it is precisely the position the Bible teaches."

Macphile's main argument is that my statement above on salvation (the fact that man does not make a decision regarding salvation) is indefensible from the Bible.  Let's see what the Bible says to determine if his statement is true (emphasis mine):

"But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God," (John 1:12-13).

These verses distinctly show that man has no part in salvation.  Who gave the power? God.  Whose will is it? God's.  Is salvation the will of man? NO.  Jesus gives every believer the power to become a son of God.  Salvation is accomplished through God's will.  There is NO decision on the believer's part because salvation is a monergistic work of God.

For additional biblical proof that salvation is accomplished by God alone, see the following verses (emphasis mine):
  • "No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day," (John 6:44).
  • "God is faithful, by whom ye were called unto the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord," (1 Cor. 1:9).
  • "But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;)," (Eph. 2:4-5).
  • "For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast," (Eph. 2:8-9).
  • "Be not thou therefore ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me his prisoner: but be thou partaker of the afflictions of the gospel according to the power of God; Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began," (2 Tim. 1:8-9).
There is a general call for all to repent and believe, but unregenerate man can not and will not respond, (Rom. 3:10-11).  It is the effectual call of God that accomplishes salvation.  The London Baptist Confession of Faith, Chapter 10, para. 1 states that "Those whom God hath predestinated unto life, He is pleased in His appointed, and accepted time, effectually to call, by His Word and Spirit, out of that state of sin and death in which they are by nature, to grace and salvation by Jesus Christ; enlightening their minds spiritually and savingly to understand the things of God; taking away their heart of stone, and giving to them a heart of flesh; renewing their wills, and by His almighty power determining them to that which is good, and effectually drawing them to Jesus Christ; yet so as they come most freely, being made willing by His grace."*

Next, Macphile appeals to Paul's example of urging, pleading, and weeping for the lost to respond to the good news, but he does not include a Bible reference to support his argument.  The word 'respond' NEVER occurs in my Bible.  Like the Apostle Paul, all Christians should be concerned for the salvation of others.  A Christian prays for an unbeliever's salvation because he doesn't know who God will and won't save; however, a Christian's prayer does not change the will of God.

Finally, Macphile made a non-sequitur assumption that because I believe salvation is a monergistic work of God alone, I also believe that there is no need for evangelism.  Men are called to preach the Word (2 Tim. 4:2) and believers are called to give an answer of the hope within them (1 Peter 3:15).  These evangelistic duties are part of a believer's responsibilities, but the power of salvation still remains with God.

It is the Apostle Paul himself who states that man is without strength (Rom. 5:6) and at enmity with God so that he cannot be subject to the law of God (Rom. 8:7).  Therefore, man has no will to do any spiritual good accompanying salvation (LBCF Ch. 9, para. 3).  But it is also Paul who tells us "For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.  For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.  Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?  For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe," (1 Cor. 1:18-21).

The London Baptist Confession of Faith, Chap. 20, para. 4, nicely sums up how the Gospel works with God's grace: "Although the gospel be the only outward means of revealing Christ and saving grace, and is, as such, abundantly sufficient thereunto; yet that men who are dead in trespasses may be born again, quickened or regenerated, there is moreover necessary an effectual insuperable work of the Holy Spirit upon the whole soul, for the producing in them a new spiritual life; without which no other means will effect their conversion unto God."**

Soli Deo Gloria!

*Scriptural support: Rom. 8:30, 11:7; Eph. 1:10,11; 2 Thess. 2:13,14; Eph. 2:1-6; Acts 26:18; Eph. 1:17,18; Ezek. 36:26; Deut. 30:6; Ezek. 36:27; Eph. 1:19; Psalm. 110:3; Song of Solomon 1:4.

**Scriptural support: Ps. 110:3; 1 Cor. 2:14; Eph. 1:19,20; John 6:44; 2 Cor. 4:4,6.

Friday, August 14, 2015

1689 Federalism

On the Confessing Baptist Podcast #91 dated June 16, 2015, Brandon Adams & Pascal Denault discussed 1689 Federalism (Confessional Baptist Covenant Theology) and how it differs from Presbyterian Covenant Theology.  Here are some of my notes from their interaction (I changed the order of the material presented to make the thoughts flow better in writing).  If my notes do not reflect the podcasters' beliefs, then it is from my misunderstanding of their discussion.

The Presbyterian view of the Mosaic Covenant is that this covenant does not have a works principle; it is the Covenant of Grace.  People were saved through faith alone in Christ alone through the Mosaic Covenant, which revealed aspects of the original Covenant of Works.  Under Presbyterian Covenant Theology, Lev. 18:5 is a Spirit-wrought sanctification and the fruit of faith.  It is obedience that flows from faith rather than referring to a works principle (an earning or meriting that is opposed to faith).  Therefore, Lev. 18:5 is a statement of the Moral Law (an abstraction); it shows a perfect rule of righteousness and not a covenant of works. 

The 1689 Federalism view of the Mosaic Covenant is that it was a covenant of works (but not THE Covenant of Works given to Adam) for life in the land.  It revealed information about the Covenant of Grace; therefore, people were saved by understanding the revelation of the Gospel represented in the covenant.  They were not saved by the Mosaic Covenant, but by virtue of the New Covenant.  Anyone who is ever saved is saved by the New Covenant.  In Rom. 10:4-8, the Apostle Paul quotes Lev. 18:5 in contrast to a faith principle.

After the Fall, it is impossible to obtain life by the Law (this is plain in Paul's teaching).  The Mosaic Covenant was conditional and breakable; it was Spirit-wrought obedience and not faith alone.  Therefore, it cannot be the Covenant of Grace.  The Mosaic Law sets forth a works principle, but the reward offered was not eternal life, only life in the land of Canaan.  In Deut. 30:1-14 we have the prophecy of the future New Covenant, a revelation of the grace that is to come (see v.6 and Ezek. 11:19, 36:26).

In Lev. 18:5 the Mosaic Covenant did not offer eternal life to the Israelites, but it is a repetition of the Covenant of Works.  The Mosaic Covenant does not reestablish the Covenant of Works with the reward of eternal life, but when the Israelites hear this phrase, given in a new context and for a different reward, they are reminded of what was true under Adam--that is, the possibility of eternal life for perfect obedience that was offered to Adam.

The Mosaic Covenant is not an administration of the Covenant of Grace (which is the Presbyterian Covenantal view), but it is related to it by showing us what Christ was to accomplish in order that we could have all the benefits of the Covenant and obtain eternal life.  It teaches us about the Covenant of Grace by showing the Israelites their sinfulness and the foreshadowing of Christ's death upon the cross through the sacrificial system.  It talked about Christ and the Covenant of Grace, but it was NOT the Covenant of Grace.

Under 1689 Federalism, the Moral Law says "do this" (a command).  When a works principle is added to the Moral Law, then it becomes a covenant of works (i.e. "do this and live").  The 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith 7.1 shows that all reasonable creatures (image bearers) owe obedience according to the law which says "do this".  But God adds the reward of eternal life to the law, and thus, He gave Adam the law as a Covenant of Works which says "do this and live".  This is the distinction between law proper and law as a covenant of works.

The Decalogue (or Ten Commandments) is the Moral Law (commands to "do this").  Lev. 18:5 is not just a command, but an expansion of the command "do" and the reward "live" (it is a proposition).  When a reward is added to the law, it becomes a covenant of works.  This is why the Mosaic Covenant is not the Covenant of Grace.

"Ye shall therefore keep my statutes, and my judgments: which if a man do, he shall live in them: I am the LORD," (Lev. 18:5).

"For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth. For Moses describeth the righteousness which is of the law, That the man which doeth those things shall live by them. But the righteousness which is of faith speaketh on this wise, Say not in thine heart, Who shall ascend into heaven? (that is, to bring Christ down from above:) Or, Who shall descend into the deep? (that is, to bring up Christ again from the dead.) But what saith it? The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart: that is, the word of faith, which we preach," (Rom. 10:4-8).

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Petty Objections or Precision?

Many of the books that I review on my blog come through crossfocusedreviews.com.  As part of receiving the free book, I agree to post my review on my blog as well as on amazon.com.  Occasionally, I will receive feedback from my blog readers, but most of the negative comments I receive are responses to my book reviews posted on the Amazon website.  Therefore, I have a series of blog posts that I've labeled Countering Criticism where I evaluate the validity of the negative feedback I receive.  Today, I would like to look at one comment from a poster named Dan regarding my book review on A Well-Ordered Church.  You can read my original review here.

On August 10, 2015, Dan says:
"Excessively nit-picky review, in fact I cannot call this a review so much as I can call it an advancement of the reviewer's own doctrinal beliefs. I don't care if the author is Reformed, Reformed Baptist, or whatever - first meet them at their own writing perspective and evaluate the book first and foremost on those terms, before contrasting with one's own doctrinal convictions."

In my review, my chief complaint with A Well-Ordered Church was the authors' inconsistent use of the term 'church'.  I specifically pointed out that they did not differentiate between the visible and invisible church in their book.  Dan is very happy and eager to criticize my review without any supporting evidence as to how I did not meet the authors on their own terms.  Even though my review was full of evaluations based on the authors' own words, Dan chose to ignore that because he has his opinion on how I should review a book.  Like Dan, most critics don't like my negative reviews, not because I fail to logically support my position, but because I disagree with their assessment of the book.  I didn't review the book the way Dan would have liked; therefore, somehow he has a right to post a rather vague and highly unfounded critique of my review for a book he didn't even write and maybe hasn't even read.  If my review had been positive, Dan probably wouldn't have cared what I said or how I said it.    

It is because of my different view of Covenant Theology that I did not recommend this book to non-Presbyterian readers.  As a reviewer I don't have to conform blindly to the authors' definition of terms, but I can compare and contrast with what others have written regarding the same subject.  Therefore, to limit my recommendation, I had to show how the authors'  beliefs differed from a Reformed Baptist perspective.  I guess Dan would have been happier if I had just written a one sentence review stating that I didn't agree with the book and move on.  The details were just too tedious for him.

I did meet the authors on their own terms when I quoted their work as defined by their Confession, then I contrasted it to Reformed Baptist Covenant Theology and the London Baptist Confession of Faith.  This discussion of the differences between the two Confessions was only one paragraph in my review.  I very intentionally showed the difference in how the Confessions define the church in order to make it clear to non-Presbyterian readers that there is a distinction.  In the remaining paragraphs, I continued to quote the authors, in light of their confessional stance, and made assessments based on what God's Word says.

Dan took exception that I stood firm on my Reformed Baptist beliefs, and that I didn't suppress those beliefs to accommodate the authors.  Critics like Dan think that I should be "fair" and read A Well-Ordered Church like I am a Presbyterian.  Then I should base my review and recommendation on how a Presbyterian would view this book.  Apparently, as an afterthought, I am allowed to compare it my Reformed Baptist beliefs, but that should not change my review or recommendation.  This process is called assimilation, and it is not biblical.

As a Christian, I am not to be conformed to this world, but to be transformed by the renewing of my mind (Rom. 12:1).  The biblical model for how I do book reviews is found in Acts when the Berean Christians "received the word with readiness of mind and searched the scriptures," (Acts 17:11).  Therefore, I read Christian books through the lens of God's Word.  If what I read from an author does not line up with what I read in the Bible, then I cannot in good conscience give the book a good review.

In all actuality, I was being gracious in my review of A Well-Ordered Church by recognizing that Presbyterians would probably agree with it.  However, I still don't think that it completely lines up with God's Word due to differences in Covenant Theology.  Do I think that Presbyterians are Christians?  Certainly!  But that does not mean that I have to accept or support their differing beliefs.

The charge that my review is nit-picky is not accurate because when it comes to the Bible, all Christians should be overly concerned with the details, and none of the details are insignificant.  Clarifying my objections to A Well-Ordered Church were crucial, not petty, to my partial recommendation; I would call my review precise instead.

"All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness," (2 Tim. 3:16).