Apr 01

Nature’s Case for God: A Brief Biblical Argument, by John Frame ***

This is a very short book which I was able to start and finish on the train from Tacoma to Kelli (on the way to San Diego). The book is divided into three parts, the first being the witness of the physical world, the second the conscience and the third part a discussion of natural law by the use of several letters that Frame wrote. The case of the physical world argues for the vastness, the perceived unity, the goodness, the wisdom, and God’s presence in the world. Arguing from a presuppositional basis, his arguments are that the world gives strong support for a creator God of the description found in Scripture. Regarding the argument for conscience, Frame demonstrates how conscience in its various modes truly attests to God.
A book of this sort suffers from the problem of its briefness. None of the arguments were as well developed as they should of been. I didn’t find the book in toto to be a compelling case for God save for the person who believes and needs no case for God.


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Mar 23

Schaeffer on the Christian Life: Countercultural Spirituality, by William Edgar ★★★★

My dear friend Robert Case recommended that I read some William Edgar, and I’m most happy that I followed his advice, as I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this book. I not only learned much about Francis Schaeffer, but also a bit about Bill Edgar. I had no idea that Bill became a Christian under the ministry of Schaeffer. Dr. Edgar documents his encounters with Francis Schaeffer through the years, including his work at L’Abri.

The book is divided up into three segments. The first segment is a very brief and truncated biography of Francis and Edith Schaeffer, noting only some of the most important events in Schaeffer’s life. Edgar interestingly provides insights on how Francis’s image is as much that of Edith as him. I’ve not met Francis but have met his wife and spent a moderate amount of time with her when she came to Tacoma as an invited speaker at a Pierce County Crisis Pregnancy center when I was chairman of the board. Her personality is unforgettable, and precisely what I previously considered to be that of Francis, save that I presume him to be a bit more brooding and her more vivacious. It was great to get Edgar’s view of their life and personalities.

The second section is on true spirituality. In this, Edgar mostly summarizes several books of Schaeffer, most notably True Spirituality, and showed how what Schaeffer said and how he acted were very consistent. He was genuine to the core in his speech and behavior.

The third second was about trusting God for all of life. This segment mostly closely reflected on how the Schaeffers thought and how they lived. Edgar details in a chapter how Francis and Edith spent much time in prayer. This chapter was most convicting to me, a lesson on prayer tends to be the first thing neglected in our lives. Those that truly believe that God exists and is a personal God who listens to our prayers surely would wish to spend much time speaking with Him, yet we tend to ignore this admonition. Through affliction, God forms us into the people that He wishes us to be, and Edgar shows how affliction and the Schaeffers were constant companions. Schaeffer’s view of the church in light of the problems occurring in the Presbyterian church is discussed. There is then a lengthy chapter on Schaeffer’s thoughts and behavior regarding the cultural mandate, to be citizens of the world, and to react lovingly and as a testimony with all whom we encounter.

Anyone who has read my Memoirs will realize that Schaeffer and his writings has had a major impact on my life, as few others have had (my parents, Dr. DasGupta, Pastor Rob Rayburn, and JI Packer being the others that most quickly come to mind, though many many others also had a HUGE impact on my life—in case I just happened to not mention your name!). I had read and reread all of Schaeffer’s works many times. He more definitely than anybody else is why I am here writing as a Christian person. So, I am delighted to see what an impact Dr. Schaeffer has had on so many other people in this world. In this book, you get a small taste of the remarkable character of this man and his wife. Edgar creates a highly readable picture of the man, the legend, and the giant, of whom many owe their very faith to him. This is a delightful book to read, and I can soundly recommend this book as a quick image of why Schaeffer stands so strongly in so many people’s hearts and minds.

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Mar 19

In the Beginning: Genesis 1-3 and the Authority of Scripture, by EJ Young ★★★★★

EJ Young was one of the scholars that help define early Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He received his theological training at Westminster, then later joined the faculty, following Machen and many others in their split from the PCUSA denomination. Dr. Young was a Hebrew scholar whose most definitive work was the three volume commentary on the book of Isaiah. Dr. Young’s distinctive is his high view of Scripture, and his use of Scripture as the starting point for exegesis of the text.

In this very brief and non-technical text, and in 13 quite brief chapters, he summarizes his thoughts on Genesis 1-3, while offering commentary on the new (at that time) liberal trends in the interpretation of Scripture. He does not view Genesis 1-3 as allegory or myth or Geschicte, but rather, as a definite history. He is very careful not to take a young earth or old earth stance and is frequent in claiming that there is only so much that is knowable from the text itself. Thus, idle controversies as to precisely how God created the world remains (for Dr. Young) outside of the realm of authoritative speculation. Young is very adamant in defining Adam (and Eve) as real people, and as the first people of the human race. Scripture to him is quite clear that Adam did NOT evolve, but was created de novo (probably based on animal models already in existence) from scratch by God. The fall was accompanied by a real snake and the fruit (we have no clue what fruit it might have been) from a real tree.

I enjoyed reading this book, as I am in complete agreement with Young’s approach to Scripture. It is sad that so many academic theologians are leaning away from Young’s approach to Scripture, and using Scripture as something that can be analyzed, inspected, disassembled and reassembled, and critiqued. Young would be horrified to see this attitude coming even from very conservative schools of thought, and bewildered as to why scholars of a conservative bent would have a problem with starting with Scripture as the veritable God-breathed word.

There is perhaps another way of stating Young’s approach to Scripture which is not in the book itself. Modern scholarship would rate God as a flunky in the realm of being able to communicate to man. God, in contemporary minds, had a serious problem identifying the challenges that His Word might present to the modern intellectual scientific mind, and did a terrible job at making clear that His word really is not history, but just allegory, or to be interpreted in some other mystical way. Countless generations through thousands of years have wrongly identified His word as history, if you buy the new “think” on Biblical interpretation. One “out” for theologians is to simply claim that God is so transcendent that any communication would have been impossible in verbal form. Yet, if such were true, we should not pretend that we could know anything at all about God. Young’s approach is to consider Scripture as perfect, timeless communication between the timeless-infinite God and finite (space-time contained) man. Young is excellent at identifying passages that give us a problem, such as the heavenly bodies being created on the fourth day. In my view, it’s better to simply say you don’t know than to try to offer an explanation that does travesty to the words of God in Scripture.

So, this book is excellent. I have sitting on my reading list a more technical version of this book by Dr. Young (Studies in Genesis 1) but it may take me a while to get to that text. Also, it has much Hebrew in it, meaning that it would be a very slow read for me. This book is more for the layman, and I highly recommend it to anybody interested.

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Mar 16

Christ Among Other Gods: A Defense of Christ in an Age of Tolerance ★★★★★

This book is a set of 12 sermons that Lutzer delivered at Moody Church a few years ago. The reading of this book is very easy as the writing is in a relaxed narrative style. Though the book is 246 pages long, it can be read in several nights sitting.

The forward by JI Packer is most interesting, in that Packer is most deeply a Reformed theologian, and yet Lutzer is dispensational and elaborates dispensational thinking in one chapter of the book, chapter 10 on the return of Christ. Yet, Lutzer also heavily quotes recent Reformed thinkers that are distinctly outside of his camp, such as BB Warfield and JG Machen, showing that both Packer and Lutzer don’t have restrictive eschatologies. In the course of this book, Lutzer tends to suggest a drift away from strict dispensational soteriology and towards a more Reformed understanding of the nature of salvation from an infralapsarian perspective (which I also hold).

This book is not a book on comparative religion, as is offered by JND Anderson. Lutzer does not detail the various religions of the world, such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Animism, etc., but speaks in general terms about those religions in comparison to Christianity. Lutzer is correct that there is a very distinct gulf between all other religions and the Christian faith, making it imperative that the Christian religion be examined for its worth. Lutzer spends a chapter covering the issue of “tolerance” and the Christian perspective on tolerance. He discusses relativism—can Christians truly make absolute truth claims? The majority of chapters then delve into Christian claims, most centered around the Christ event, including his birth, his life, his authority and claims, his death, his resurrection, and ultimately, his return. In chapter 11, he addresses the claim that Christianity is unique, arguing that challenges to that uniqueness ultimately fail. In chapter 12, he calls on Christians to share the good news. We have a set of truth claims that neither Muslim, nor Buddhist, nor atheist, nor any other religion can ultimately challenge since it is based on the true creator God of the universe.

I enjoyed reading this book much because it reads so easily and provides a non-technical rational for our Christian stance in the forum of multiple religions. Also, the book was a wonderful reminder of sitting under the pulpit of Erwin Lutzer during our Chicago years. The book is a spiritual challenge to me to be bold in presenting a real, true faith to an ever more pagan world. So, I highly recommend the book to all, Christian and non-Christian alike.

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Mar 11

When A Nation Forgets God, by Erwin Lutzer ★★★★

This is a very short book of seven chapters, that can be read easily in 1-2 evenings, and represents sermons that Lutzer preached at Moody Church in Chicago. Lutzer has frequently spoken of the theme of lessons from Nazi Germany in his sermons, but in this book, the focus is entirely on how the USA is paralleling Nazi Germany in forgetting our Christian roots and marching after other drummers. The seven chapters address how our freedom of religion is slowly lost, how compromise to the Christian faith is accomplished through economic concerns, how evil laws can somehow allow moral permissiveness, how propaganda from the state tends to affect the evils we become inured to, how the state becomes the educator of our children much to both our own and our children’s detriment, and how political correctness is killing us. As a solution, Lutzer calls for ordinary heroes to stand up for the faith, and how the cross of Christ needs to be our all and total focus in life.

I had mentioned elsewhere how we enjoyed sitting under the pulpit of Erwin Lutzer, and in this review (and the next), find that reading his books brings back many memories of our time at Moody Church. Lutzer is not an expository preacher but is excellent at confronting our culture in a cry for returning to Christ and Scripture for our guidance in life. This book is recommended as an easy and enjoyable reading experience.

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Mar 08

God’s Will: Finding Guidance for Everyday Decisions, by JI Packer with help from Carolyn Nystrom ★★★★★

As a young man, I worried a lot about receiving guidance from God and was offered a potpourri of bad advice as to how to achieve that guidance. As an older man, I now am in a position of giving younger people advice as to how they might receive guidance from above. I had mentioned quite briefly in my Memoirs the modus operandi that I have used over the years in getting guidance from God which has set the course for my life. It is mostly in accordance to that found in this book. I have also reviewed a similar book on guidance written by Bruce Waltke (see 02JUL2009). His text tended to be more technical, showing that many of the ways in which Christians seek guidance from the Lord are more akin to witchcraft than to honest inquiry as to the will of God. It also is an excellent book and most worthy one’s attention.

Packer approaches finding God’s will in a similar fashion to Dr. Waltke and also John Newton, for which he has a lengthy quote at the end of his book. Starting with the 23rd Psalm, Packer acknowledges that simply by being one of God’s sheep necessitates him being your shepherd and directing your path. Packer then works through a number of issues on a chapter by chapter basis, including 1) maintaining good spiritual health, 2) paying attention to commands in Scripture as to how to live, how to walk, and how to think, 3) seeking maturity and wisdom of the Solomonic type, learning how to think wisely through problems, 4) seeking Godly counsel, consulting friends and family, 5) looking to people that model the Christian life and living accordingly. The Lord Jesus Christ stands primary as our model. 6) when it comes to major life commitments, such as a job, school, marriage, moving, etc., trusting in the Lord’s guidance knowing that God will direct your heart and mind in the way that you should go, 7) when ethical concerns cloud the situation and ethical dilemmas arise, trusting in God for wise leanings and taking care regarding the many temptations that will assault you, and 8) relying on the Holy Spirit. Packer spends careful time on speaking about the Holy Spirit, correcting mistaken ideas such as hearing a voice in your ear or seeing a vision that will direct you. As an example of how the Spirit really works, Packer suggests that the Holy Spirit has a “floodlight” ministry in illuminating a narrow segment of the “stage” that directs you in the way that you should go. Specifically, Packer notes mistakes made by “superspiritual” Christians, including a) undervaluing God’s gift of reason to you (i.e, just think things out!), b) overvaluing the role of patience and waiting on the Lord (when action should be taken), and c) programming, or putting limits, on the Holy Spirit’s work by demanding or expecting exactly how the Holy Spirit should act. Contrariwise, Packer also labors intensely in condemning the opposite extreme, which he calls the sub-spiritual extreme, where a Christian does just the opposite of the three points above, with point c) being that of expecting nothing from the Holy Spirit.

The book is an excellent read, and worthy of any Christian interested in walking according to God’s will. Packer writes in a very pastoral fashion, and reading his books is almost identical to listening to him. I believe that many of his books are exactly that, lectures or talks that have been transcribed. Packer has the ability to take the most complex theological ideas and make them simple. In addition, Packer never ceases from emphasizing that theology demands both praise and practice, walking joyfully and thankfully in His ways. I would recommend this book to any interested reader.

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Mar 06

The True Story of Fake News: How Mainstream Media Manipulates Millions, by Mark Dice ★★★★

Mark Dice is best known for his documentation of the Illuminati and the Bohemian Grove, and thus is often accused of being a “conspiracy theorist”. I’m not sure such accusations logically follow and consider the accusation that Hillary Clinton is a conspiracy theorist holds more credibility than such accusations against Mark Dice.

In this book, Mark Dice attacks mainstream media. By that is meant not only the standard media channels like CNN, ABC, MSNBC, CBC, etc., but also the internet social media and reference sites, such as Wikipedia.

Dice first goes after social media. I would have thought that social media would have been fairly free of bias, but the contrary is mostly true. Google has the ability to manipulate how searches are performed in order to favor a liberal bias. Facebook tends to have a horrid bias in how it censures conservative vs. liberal media. Dice’s complaint about U-tube is in how it manipulates advertising revenues based on the “offensiveness” of content, and offensive is often deemed as anything of a conservative nature. Since Dice depended heavily on revenues acquired with U-tube, it has affected him most heavily.

The attack then rages against the standard media channels. Step-wise through the various media channels, Dice documents many incidents where the media either created the news or manipulated the recording of the news (for instance, editing out segments of comments to make them say exactly the opposite of what was said) in order to provide a strong liberal bias. Sadly, he does not include Fox News, which has also manipulated how it reports the news in order to force a bias in the direction that Fox News wished. I am sure that the examples provided by Dice are just the tip of the iceberg in how our news is manipulated to heavily biased ends.

The book is slightly tedious to read. His short last chapter provides a brief overview summary of the problems in fake news. This is where I know Mark Dice could have used his book as a springboard to discuss the problem of news bias and what to do about it. 1. What alternatives do we have in attempting to gain news without a distorted slant? 2. How do we live with the news swamp that is currently given to us? 3. What other sources of news are available? 4. What ways can we protest social media in an effective fashion? Is boycotting social media the best action? 5. What grass-roots efforts are available that seem to be effective at forcing more responsibility with the news media?

Since news will always be biased, we cannot simply demand news without “bias”. The reporter holding a world view similar to our own would be helpful. The only effort that I am aware of to provide more conservative newsagents has been the World Journalism Institute, though even it has had somewhat of a neo-conservative bias reflected by the parent news magazine, World Magazine. Reporters of a conservative bent have found it overwhelmingly challenging to live in the liberal shark tanks of the liberal press. Too often, like Ross Douthat, they have caved and showed themselves mostly as liberals in sheep’s clothing, perhaps having a pro-life stance, but otherwise being rottenly liberal to the core. Hopefully, Mark Dice will think through and provide a better scheme that conservatives could use to confront the liberal (and lying) press.

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Feb 24

The Everlasting Way: A Study in Psalm 139, by E.J. Young ★★★★★

This book is a short Banner of Truth publication authored by Ed Young, who provides each chapter with a verse by verse interpretation and elaboration on Psalm 139. As stated in the back cover review, Young is the prince of conservative Old Testament scholars. He was one of the giants in academic theology that left Princeton Theological Seminary to found Westminster Theology Seminary, which also included J. Gresham Machen and Cornelius VanTil, all of whom are heroes of mine. Using both his skills in Hebrew and Aramaic languages, Young provides not only insightful but a greatly devotional reflection on the greatness of God in this Psalm.

Many use Psalm 139 as an anti-abortion statement, or as a ponderous statement about predestination. While it is both of those, neither abortion or predestination is a theme of this Psalm. Rather, it is a reflection on the complete transcendence and yet immanence of our God. It is a God who is wholly other, yet is imminentely with us, with His hand on us. We never can escape His presence, and we can never know something that God doesn’t already know.

David longs to identify with the morality of God, to hate what God hates, to love what God loves, to have the same enemies as God, and to cherish what God cherishes. Since God is intimate with us, knowing our thoughts before we know them, David desires God to search his thoughts, and lead him on an everlasting way.

Young skillfully offers many alternative interpretations to the text, especially where the Hebrew language is not so certain in its translation. Young, as a true Biblical scholar, is able to quickly demolish any liberal thinking, such as the idea that Psalm 139 was actually written long after King David since there are Aramaicisms in the Psalm. Truly, Young’s desire is to be first and foremost a Biblical scholar, holding the Scripture up as infallible and its own best interpreter, and demonstrates what is so often missing in the new generation of conservative Bible scholarship.

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Feb 22

Donald Drains the Swamp!, by Eric Metaxas and Tim Raglin ★★★★★

This is a children’s book and can be read in under five minutes. It is very funny, and like many of the comics of the past (Roger Ramjet, Rocky and Bullwinkle), were meant for adults as much as for children. It is quite funny, and I only wish it were completely true, that is, that Donald really did drain the swamp. His caricatures are priceless, like the name of one of the dinosaurs in the swamp is the George-o-saurus. Whether or not you like Donald Trump, most will agree that there is a horrid swamp in Washington DC which prevents the common man from really having a voice in his government. Eric makes a very good point in this book about the swamp. Maybe some day the swamp draining will become true.

Regarding the author Eric Metaxas, he spoke at our church once, and I found him to very courteous, humble, and listened well to what others had to say. I disagree with some of his interpretations of history but appreciate the way he interacts in a non-defensive manner when challenged. He is witty, bright, and very engaging, a wonderful person to have representing the Christian faith in today’s toxic culture. He signed the Bonhoeffer book for me which I promptly gave to Dr. King. His biographies of Bonhoeffer and William Wilberforce are worth reading though at times I challenge some of his interpretations. His book on Martin Luther is probably his best biography to date, a book that brings the life of Luther into crisp focus and brings out Luther’s temperament and personality, his boldness, and faith, like no other prior Luther biography; it is a must read.

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Feb 14


Reading Genesis Well: Navigating History, Poetry, Science, and Truth in Genesis 1-11, by C. John Collins ★★★★

I had purchased this book from Amazon last November when it just came out, but finally have found the time to read it. I know Jack Collins, and have enjoyed the other books that he has written. Thus, my interest in reading this text.

The title strikes me as a bit offensive. Reading Genesis well? Haven’t we read it well in the past? Is this book offering us the new definitive manner of “reading” Genesis? Is there some novel hermeneutic technique that we will be discovering in the course of this book? Do we read the book of Genesis differently than we read the remainder of Scripture? Is this book a rebuttal of liberal scholarship? Is it a caving in to liberal scholarship? Has Dr. Collins discovered a new version of Joseph Smith’s Urim and Thummin, a translation stone which some angel dude gave to him? Collins answers most of my more critical questions in the text of this book.

Dr. Collins starts his text in full speed. The initial discussion centers around historical literary criticism of the text. I’ve not heard of either Jowett or the 19th century literalists, and know about James Barr but unfamiliar with his attempts at literary theory. Neither does Dr. Collins give a summary of the issues at stake, so I’m left in the dark. In the subsequent chapters, Collins takes a literary critical approach to the first 11 chapters of Genesis, discussing how different literary approaches might lead to different ends in the interpretation of Genesis. Collins avoids the strict approaches which have been taken in the past, such as defining the genre of a literary piece (is a segment of Scripture poetry, strict history, allegory, etc., etc.). As a take-off of CS Lewis, he asks questions regarding the text audience, how they would have seen the world and what they would have taken the text to mean, and how the author might have intended his text to be interpreted by the reader.

In later chapters, Collins works through the pericopes of early Genesis, offering solutions to their interpretation. He then discusses issues of competing thoughts, such as, whether the formation of man was by strict evolution, theistic evolutionism, young earth creationism, and the many variants that fall between. Helpful is Collin’s insistence on differentiating one’s world view (the overall concept of God creating the world) vs one’s world picture (the notion of how we picture the world in our mind at this time). In ancient times, the world was pictured phenomenologically, but then, don’t we still describe our world in mostly phenomenologic terms?

I end up with an ultimate question—how has Collins helped our understanding of early Genesis? Is this a radical new approach to interpretation that Collins offers in this book, or is it a new cloak for traditional means of Genesis interpretation? Several concerns come to mind. Most contemporary authors offer interpretations of early Genesis that are overly concerned with maintaining concordance with the current state of science. Perhaps this approach is brutally chronologically arrogant, offering “science” to high of place in our thinking of Scripture. Do we really think that science has given us a substantive grasp on the nature of the universe, when all of our past ancestors lived in darkness? When science changes, will our hermeneutic change? I don’t say this critical of science, because I am myself a scientist and have a respect for what we’ve learned about the world, yet I also have a cautionary approach for the certain-to-be scientific paradigm shifts that will alter our “view” of Genesis.

Collins is correct that we must not read Genesis from a scientific perspective, especially since the ancient Hebrews did not think with the scientific context that we think. He is also correct that the various pericopes of early Genesis cannot be labeled as strictly poetry or history. Even if they were labeled as history, the Hebrews would have viewed history in a different fashion from the Greeks. So, what do we do with the stories of early Genesis? Is it even necessary to provide a contemporary answer to every story in Genesis that seems to clash with “modern” science? My personal approach tends to be more VanTilian, in that our approach to Scripture must allow that God’s word provides the interpretive framework for seeing the world, rather than our own framework as forming the structure for interpreting Scripture.

I provide a simple example of where I’m left swimming, in terms of interpreting Scripture. Using the first chapter of Genesis, I agree with Collins that the primary intention of the author was to offer the reader a world view, that of God being the creator ex nihilo of all things. Yet, I can’t leave it at that. Is Genesis 1 poetry? It doesn’t read like poetry! Is it history? It doesn’t read perfectly like history! Is it allegory? Perhaps, but then I can’t explain why the author structured the creation narrative in the manner that he did, giving a deception of some sort of historical event. Other events provide very similar questions. God forming Adam out of the dust of the earth; the fall; Adam and Eve being cast out of the garden; the garden????; civilization during the time of Cain and Abel; the flood; the tower of Babel; all of these offer questions as to the nature and extent of what really took place, that only imperfect solutions are available. If readers up to the contemporary epoch had it totally wrong and we’ve just now figured that out, that seems to do discredit God as being a terrible communicator, yet He is the ultimate author of Scripture. Perhaps God messed up???? Do we need to be specialized in literary criticism and ancient languages to grasp the new principles of interpretation of Genesis? If so, then we are trashing the doctrine of the perspicuity of Scripture. Maybe the Pope was right, that only he and a few of his closest buddies had a grasp on interpreting Scripture—except that Protestants have exchanged the pope for people in academia. I don’t know what to think here in terms of where Collins is eventually taking us. I don’t think that Collins would be willing to offer an ultimate statement on precisely what happened in space/time during the accounts delineated in Genesis 1-11. It is not that Collins has failed, it is that nobody will probably be able to generate a true final statement while we spend our time on earth.

I have enjoyed reading Jack’s book. He writes well. He is very provocative to the thought processes, and I appreciate that. Not being a literary theorist, or even a theologian, I might have missed a bit of Dr. Collins thesis, and he might read this review wondering what kind of bozo missed some of the fundamental points of his text. Oh well. I will persist in remaining somewhat of a creation agnostic, clinging mostly to the emphasis that Genesis provides a Weltanschauung. When I encounter young earthers, I acknowledge that perhaps they are correct. When I encounter old earthers (which I tend to prescribe to), I acknowledge that they might be correct. When I encounter theistic evolutionists, I pray to God that He would forgive their heresy and unbelief in Scripture.

Which brings me to a point. Perhaps more time needs to be spent at “fencing” in orthodoxy, and defining the boundaries from which a person might go “off the edge” in terms of believing Scripture. Where do we draw the line on the interpretation of Genesis where we accuse the interpreter of unbelief in the text? I’m not a theologian, and will leave that to Dr. Collins to work on.

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