Thursday, January 28, 2016

Book Review: Ready to Return

In Ready to Return: Bringing Back the Church's Lost Generation, Ken Ham prays that the "findings [in his book] will be a wakeup call to the Church."  His "heart is burdened because of the sad state of Christianity today," but he is also encouraged because "that with God's enablement, Bible-believing Christians can turn things around," (p.13).  Mr. Ham contends that: "In order to impact the world around them, God's people first need to seek God and be obedient to His Word...By returning to God's Word, beginning in Genesis, and by repenting of the rampant compromise that has spread throughout the Church and Christian institutions, we can reform the failing Church," (pp. 15-16).

First, Mr. Ham notes that young adults who regularly attended Sunday School in their youth have left the church behind.  He claims that this problem in the United Kingdom and the United States "began when the Church basically disconnected the Bible from the real world.  Churches in America are not places where people typically talk about dinosaurs, fossils, or the age of the earth--that is left up to the secular schools and colleges.  Effectively, the Church concentrates on the spiritual and moral aspects of Christianity," (pp. 24-25).  It's apparent that Mr. Ham's affiliation with Answers in Genesis, his para-church organization that supports a literal 6-day creation, is skewing his analysis.  If churches were concentrating on the moral aspects of Christianity, then the young adults leaving the church would not support abortion, gay marriage, and premarital sex, which he outlines on page 24 of his book.  In addition, we don't need to teach our children about dinosaurs or fossils to keep them in church.  Today's Christian church needs to properly evangelize the children in the church.  The young adults leaving are products of decisional regeneration when they attended Vacation Bible School in their pre-school years.  They are not true believers, and therefore, "they went out from us, but they were not of us," (1 John 2:19).

Next we see the bias of Mr. Ham (with his Answer in Genesis affiliation) in his call to action: "As stated in the previous chapter, it is time for a new Reformation in the Church--to call the body of Christ back to the authority of the Word of God, beginning with His first words in Genesis," (p. 26).  Yes, the Christian church today needs to get back to the Word of God and not to the word of man.  But this is not accomplished by defending the literal 6-day Creation found in Genesis 1.  All of God's Word is true (John 17:17); however, just getting people to believe in the Creation account is not going to save that person, nor will it reform the church.  We need to get back to the Gospel, not only to save the lost, but also to edify and sanctify the regenerate.  People who do not believe the Gospel, do not know God (2 Thess. 1:8).  If someone doesn't have saving faith in Jesus Christ, it really doesn't matter if they believe the Creation account or not; they will end up in hell either way.

The author's underlying presupposition that all children who attend church are saved is shown when he answers the question of what it takes to influence a generation so that they will continue to attend church: "You target the minds of young people--beginning from when they are born!...While their minds are still open and impressionable, you create a comprehensive campaign of indoctrination, both covert and overt in nature," (p. 50).  Mr. Ham rightly identifies that it is a problem that so many young people are leaving the church once they leave home, but the answer is not convincing them that the Bible is true.  The answer is preaching the Gospel and praying for their salvation.  Young people leave the church because they are not true believers in Jesus Christ, and teaching them that the Bible is a "real book of history that can be trusted" (p.51) will not make them believers in Him.  Parents cannot ensure that their children are saved either.  This is why preaching, teaching, and living the Gospel is imperative in the home and church.  Salvation is a work of God alone, but He uses the means of preaching to accomplish His will. 

Mr. Ham agrees that churches are teaching the Gospel (but he did not present any data or statistics on this); however, he contends that young people are being brought up in a culture that attacks the historical accuracy of Genesis.  In school, they are being taught that the Bible cannot be trusted.  Therefore, since they don't believe the Bible overall, they are skeptical of Jesus' message (p. 53).  Salvation is not an intellectual assent to the truths of the Bible alone.  Mr. Ham's remarks seem similar to Sandemanianism, which is the heretical belief that all you need to do to be saved is to give intellectual assent to the Gospel.  Saving faith is more than just intellectual assent; it also grasps the heart and the will, (Rom. 10:10).  It seems that the author is saying a person has to believe that the Bible is true before he can be saved.  The biblical truth is that the person is regenerated by the Holy Spirit, and then believes the Bible (Rom. 8:5-11).

Ironically, Mr. Ham's stand on whether or not a Christian needs to believe in a literal Genesis is not clear.  He has multiple statements that contradict themselves.  First, he states: "They [children] are not trained and equipped to answer skeptical attacks [evolutionary ideas] on the Bible.  So ultimately, even when the message of Jesus is taught to them, they don't really believe it," (p. 53).  Next he says that "believing in a literal Genesis account is not a salvation issue," (p. 72).  But then he says: "So to believe in millions of years is a gospel issue," (p. 79), and he reverses again: "Many Christians believe in millions of year and are truly born again," (p. 85).

Ready to Return continues with more research statistics about the sad state of today's Christian church.  The information is helpful, but also discouraging.  The scare tactic that "skeptics are becoming more blatant in aggressively going after the coming generations to indoctrinate them [our children] in an atheistic worldview," (p. 62) is not biblical.  Every person born has an inherent sin nature that rejects God (Rom. 3:10-12); no skeptic has to teach our sinful children to reject God's Truth because they are born that way (the author does finally admit this on page 165).  Therefore, Christian parents should diligently teach their children biblical truths and preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ to them day in and day out.  Unfortunately, this book does not adequately address the fact that those who leave the church are not true believers.  Mr. Ham briefly comments that casting aside faith "could indicate that they have never truly come into a saving relationship with Jesus.  Only God really knows," (p. 98).  True, only God knows, but 1 John 2:19 is clear that those who leave the church and cast aside their faith were not Christians to begin with; those with true saving faith are preserved by God and persevere to the end (1 Thess. 5:23; 1 Peter 1:3-5).  Even though, Mr. Ham continues to contend that "the acceptance of millions of years (old earth) by the majority of church leaders, the lack of teaching of apologetics in churches and Christian homes, and the effects of public school education are hands down the major reasons the 20-somethings are leaving the church," (p. 145).  Believing this might help his ministry prosper, but it will not result in true church growth.

In conclusion, the underlying problem with Ready to Return is apparent when Mr. Ham agrees that "it's not a matter of lack of evidence to convince people that the Bible is true; the problem is that they do not want to to believe the Bible, and thus have closed their minds to truth," (p. 124).  But sadly his solution is "to convince people like Isaac Asimov that Jesus Christ is Creator.  Why?...because we know that those who do not trust the Lord will spend eternity separated from Him," (p. 125).  This is NOT the Gospel (1 Cor. 15:3-4).  Convincing someone of the general revelation that there is a Creator will not bring them into saving faith.   Mr. Ham talks about the need for Christians to share the gospel to our dying culture (p. 135), but he still ties it in with convincing them first that the Bible is true.  Biblical apologetics is not the crucial answer for the problems in today's Christian church.  Therefore, I cautiously recommend reading Ready to Return.  Mr. Ham unashamedly promotes his books and para-church resources without giving consistent biblical analysis of the information presented.  The survey results are eye-opening, but the answer given is not properly focused on the Gospel of Jesus Christ first and foremost; and therefore, it will not bring results in this generation or the next.

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


***
"For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God," (1 Corinthians 1:18).
"Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth," (John 17:17).
"Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it," (Matt. 7:14).

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Book Review: How Do Preaching and Corporate Prayer Work Together?

How Do Preaching and Corporate Prayer Work Together? by Ryan McGraw is part of the 12-booklet Cultivating Biblical Godliness series published by Reformation Heritage Books.  This booklet is very short at just 26 pages and looks at John 14:12-14 as a "theological platform for the work of the church of Christ in every age."  The author contends that "[t]hese verses teach that the primary concern of the church should be fervent corporate prayer for the Spirit of God to make the preaching of God's Word effective for salvation of many souls," (p. 2).

First, Mr. McGraw rightly points out that "[f]aith in Christ is always the foundation of the work of the church," (p.4).  However, he goes on to say that "[i]n the Greek text the term works is not included in the second part of the verse.  The text reads more literally that the one who believes in Christ will do greater things than the miraculous works that Jesus did.  These 'greater things' cannot refer to miracles...The 'greater things' in John 14:12 are connected to prayer," (p. 7).

Mr. McGraw did not specify what Greek Text he is referring to, but I only found one Modern Critical Text translation, the NIV, that uses the phrase 'these things' rather than 'works'.  The majority of mainstream Bible translations uses the word 'works'.

In addition, I read many commentaries on John 14:12-14 by John Gill, John Calvin, Albert Barnes, Matthew Henry and Matthew Poole.  None of these well-established and highly recommended commentaries state that the greater works of the apostles do not refer to miracles, but to prayer.  Here is an example from Albert Barnes's Notes on the Bible:

"Greater works than these shall he do. Interpreters have been at a loss in what way to understand this. The most probable meaning of the passage is the following: The word "greater" cannot refer to the miracles themselves, for the works of the apostles did not exceed those of Jesus in power. No higher exertion of power was put forth, or could be, than raising the dead. But, though not greater in themselves considered, yet they were greater in their effects. They made a deeper impression on mankind. They were attended with more extensive results. They were the means of the conversion of more sinners. The works of Jesus were confined to Judea. They were seen by few. The works of the apostles were witnessed by many nations, and the effect of their miracles and preaching was that thousands from among the Jews and Gentiles were converted to the Christian faith. The word greater here is used, therefore, not to denote the absolute exertion of power, but the effect which the miracles would have on mankind. The word "works" here probably denotes not merely miracles, but all things that the apostles did that made an impression on mankind, including their travels, their labours, their doctrine, &c."

It is clear that that the verses cited by Mr. McGraw do not support his contention that the primary concern for the church should be fervent corporate prayer.  This is a private interpretation of the author which is warned against in 2 Peter 1:20.  I have other areas of disagreement, but this error is the most egregious.  Therefore, I do not recommend this book as a sound exegetical treatment of John 14:12-14.


***
"Verily, verily, I [Jesus] say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father.  And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.  If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it," (John 14:12-14).

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Book Review: How Do I Kill Remaining Sin?

How Do I Kill Remaining Sin? by Geoffrey Thomas is part of the 12-booklet Cultivating Biblical Godliness series published by Reformation Heritage Books.  This booklet is very short at just 30 pages and looks at the word 'mortify' from Romans 8:13.  Mr. Thomas states that "[w]e all need to understand this subject of mortification and to put ourselves under the sanctifying power of God's truth to help us become more mature Christians," (p. 2).  His goal is to "consider some biblical propositions that lay a foundation for practical ways of putting to death indwelling sin," (p. 2).

First, Mr. Thomas makes the biblical case that the true believer is dead to the dominion of sin in his life.  Even though a Christian is a new creature, Scripture shows that he still struggles with the flesh or remaining sin in his life.  The author then looks at three specific areas of sin that the Christian may struggle with: drunkenness, adultery, and pornography.

Mr. Thomas expounds not only the mortification of sin, but also its counterpart of vivification, or bringing to life the new man.  This book is a solid primer for mortifying sin in a Christian's life.  I recommend it for all Christians, but especially those who are new to the Christian faith.  For a more thorough look at mortifying sin, I recommend John Owen's Mortification of Sin.

***
"Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh.  For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live.  For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God," (Romans 8:12-14).

Saturday, January 9, 2016

The Fallacy of Baptismal Regeneration

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 a comment from a poster named 'A customer' regarding my book review on The Christian Life. You can read my original review here.

On January 8, 2016 A customer says:
"Why would Jesus institute Holy Baptism if it didn't accomplish anything? According to Scripture Baptism saves and forgives sins. 1 Peter 3; 20-22. Titus 3:5-8. Mark 16:16. How does God begin new life? By water and spirit. Starting in Genesis."

Let's read the verses cited by A customer:
  • 1 Peter 3:20-22--"Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water.  The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ: Who is gone into heaven, and is on the right hand of God; angels and authorities and powers being made subject unto him."
  • Titus 3: 5-8--"Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; Which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour; That being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.  This is a faithful saying, and these things I will that thou affirm constantly, that they which have believed in God might be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable unto men.
  • "Mark 16:16--"He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned."
Do these verse teach baptismal regeneration?  No.  Does baptism forgive sins?  No.  Orthodox Christianity has never held to either of these teachings.
 
In a recent sermon Pastor Jeff Riddle notes that there are four types of baptism (Heb. 6:2) shown in the New Testament.  First is the baptism of the Holy Spirit.  All Christians experience this baptism when they come to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit indwells their lives.  Salvation is a monergistic work of God when the Holy Spirit regenerates the believer's heart.
  • "I [John the Baptist] indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire," (Matt. 3:11).
  • "And as I began to speak, the Holy Ghost fell on them, as on us at the beginning.  Then remembered I the word of the Lord, how that he said, John indeed baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost," (Acts 11:15-16).
  • "But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his," (Rom. 8:9).
Second is the water baptism in the name of Jesus upon profession of faith in Him.
  • "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost," (Matt. 28:19).
  • "But when they believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women," (Acts 8:12).
Third is the baptism of suffering.  Following Christ requires that Christians die to themselves and that they would be willing to lay down their life for Christ.
  • "But Jesus said unto them, Ye know not what ye ask: can ye drink of the cup that I drink of? and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?  And they said unto him, We can. And Jesus said unto them, Ye shall indeed drink of the cup that I drink of; and with the baptism that I am baptized withal shall ye be baptized," (Mark 10:38-39).
Fourth is the baptism of unity with Christ and unity with fellow believers.
  • "For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.  There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus," (Gal. 3:27-28).
  • "Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death?" (Rom. 6:3).
If you look at 1 Peter 3:20-22, the baptism referenced here, has to be the baptism of the Holy Spirit.  It's the parenthetical information that makes sure the believer does not equate baptism with salvation.  Albert Barnes' Commentary Notes on the Bible addresses 1 Peter 3:21--
"Not the putting away of the filth of the flesh. Not a mere external washing, however solemnly done. No outward ablution or purifying saves us, but that which pertains to the conscience. This important clause is thrown in to guard the statement from the abuse to which it would otherwise be liable, the supposition that baptism has of itself a purifying and saving power. To guard against this, the apostle expressly declares that he means much more than a mere outward application of water."

Titus 3:5-8 is also referring to the baptism of the Holy Spirit.  Again, 'A customer' has ignored the clarifying parenthetical in the sentence.  From Barnes' Commentary on Titus 3:5--
"And renewing of the Holy Ghost. This is an important clause, added by Paul apparently to save from the possibility of falling into error. If the former expression, "the washing of regeneration," had been left to stand by itself, it might have been supposed possibly that all the regeneration which would be needed would be that which would accompany baptism. But he avoids the possibility of this error, by saying that the "renewing of the Holy Ghost" is an indispensable part of that by which we are saved. It is necessary that this should exist in addition to that which is the mere emblem of it--the washing of regeneration --for without this the former would be unmeaning and unavailing."

In Mark 16:16, belief precedes water baptism.  This is the model that orthodox Christianity follows.  Water baptism is an outward profession of faith and is done because it is commanded in Scripture.  From Barnes' Commentary on Mark 16:16--
"Is baptized. Is initiated into the church by the application of water, as significant that he is a sinner, and needs the purifying influences of the Holy Ghost. It is worthy of remark, that Jesus has made baptism of so much importance, he did not say, indeed, that a man could not be saved without baptism, but he has strongly implied that where this is neglected, knowing it to be a command of the Saviour, it endangers the salvation of the soul. Faith and baptism are the beginnings of a Christian life: the one the beginning of piety in the soul, the other of its manifestation before men, or of a profession of religion. And every man endangers his eternal interest by being ashamed of Christ before men."

In his comment above, 'A customer' partially quotes John 3:5 when he answers his own question of how God begins new life.  Let's look at that in its entirety; I'll add verse 6 as well:
  • "Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.  That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit," (John 3:5-6).
Again, this is a picture of the baptism of the Holy Spirit.  Born of water is the first birth of every man, our natural birth.  Born of the Spirit is the baptism of the Holy Spirit, the second birth of the "born-again" believer in Jesus Christ.  Every person is born of natural descent with an inherent sin nature, but only God's chosen (1 Peter 2:9) are saved by Him from the wrath to come.

Finally, in Genesis 2:7, God formed man out of the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils and man became a living soul.  No water was used to create man in the beginning.  If water baptism saved, then the goal of God's Church would be to make sure that everyone was baptized.  However, faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God (Rom. 10:17), which is why the Church evangelizes the world by preaching the Gospel, not baptizing (1 Cor. 1:18).

Orthodox Christianity has never held to the doctrine of baptismal regeneration because it is not found or taught in the Word of God.

***
"This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, saith the Lord, I will put my laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them; And their sins and iniquities will I remember no more," (Heb. 10:16-17).