Jul 10

18 Words: The most Important Words You Will Ever Know, by JI Packer ★★★★★

Those of you who have followed my posts and book reviews should be aware that I am a fan of the writings of JI Packer. I took a class in Systematic Theology from him, and have deeply appreciated his insights, style of teaching, and way that he writes. JI Packer, more than anybody that I know, writes exactly like he teaches, the same style, vocabulary, and manner of presentation. Exceptional about Packer is how he can tackle very complex theological topics, like that of election, and make it extremely simple. This book is an example of how Packer will take theological topics and turn those topics into a lengthy lesson in practical theology. That has been JI Packer’s first statement on teaching theology, that right theology (orthodoxy) should evoke right living (orthopraxy) and worship. Each of the 18 words above comprise the 17 chapters of this book, with a preface explaining in more technical language exactly what he is up to. Only 17 chapters? Well, sanctification and holiness are both from the exact root in both Hebrew and Greek. There is no verbal form “holiness”, but there is the word “sanctification”, just as there is no adjectival form of sanctification, but holiness is the word that fits that category. So, from a Greek and Hebrew point of view, they are just different forms of the same word. How do all these technical theological words have significance for the Christian? That is best explained by reading this book by Packer. I’ve read many of the books that Packer has written, and certainly this text is one of his best. He shows insights from a lifetime of living and walking and teaching the Christian faith that are true gems in this book. Do yourself a favor and pick up a copy to read. You won’t regret it.

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Apr 03

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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Apr 02

Pilgrim’s Progress, by John Bunyan, modern revision ****

I have read this book several times before on the original language, but decide to read this highly recommended edition in contemporary Sprache. This new edition reads very similar to Bunyan’s original text, and was a delight. Modern color illustrations were also added.

The story is that of the journey of pilgrims from the City of Destruction to the Celestial City. During the journey the main character, Christian, encounters multiple obstacles on the way, makes wrong turns to get him into trouble, but also encounters friendships, joys, and soft paths to help him on the way. Bunyan offers encouragement, advice, warnings, and admonition to the pilgrim, as relevant today as is was 400 years or so ago.

For many years, this book was the most read book Ever, outside of the Bible. Written while he was in prison for his faith, Bunyan bares his soul about the nature of the Christian faith from an allegorical perspective. It is a wonderful tale to be read while preparing to start a long journey. This was read on my iPhone on the train from between Eugene, Oregon and San Jose, California.

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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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