Feb 19

The Church in Babylon: Heeding the Call to Be a Light in the Darkness, by Erwin Lutzer ★★★★★

This book is the last of three books by Erwin Lutzer that I have been reading, all three having been written recently, and addressing contemporary events. Lutzer, in this book, offers a Christian approach to the many challenges against our faith that we now face as individuals and as a society. The challenges are many. The city has become God’s enemy. Our work environment is hostile to the Christian faith. The state is increasingly mandating laws in direct opposition to faithful Christian living. Technology creates a giant sucking sound on our souls. Confused sexuality is a lie that directly opposes God’s word and destroys individuals and families. Islam and immigration are presenting false gods into our communities, yet offer a mission field for us. The church is being torn apart by false gospels and false beliefs. To all of this, Lutzer offers the challenge of Christians being faithful in loving their God, sharing their faith, and living true to God’s word. Reform must happen both in individuals, as well as in the church itself. Persecution is guaranteed to be increasingly prevalent, and we must greet it as the price of being faithful Christians.

Lutzer is skilled at not only opening up the problems that we face as Christians but also at offering Scriptural solutions to these problems. Lutzer shines his best as a pastor in this book, probably one of his best at addressing contemporary issues that are destroying the church. His call to faithfulness should be both acknowledged and heeded.

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Feb 18

Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers, by Dane Ortlund ★★★★★

This book was sent to me by Dr. Don Wood, an old professor of mine whom I worked under at Cook County Hospital and at the University of Illinois in the Department of Surgical Oncology. It was a delightful read. The book is short, consisting of 23 chapters, each of which averages 8.53 pages long. Technically, the book might be read in 2-4 evenings, but it would not really have been read under such circumstances. The book is not intended to be a tome that is consumed in a single setting. It is not a devotional, and definitely not styled like a devotional. Though the chapters are short, one would not read the book in the way one would read something like The Daily Bread. Neither is the book an exposition in theological terms on the heart of Christ. One cannot read the book as though they were reading out of Berkhof or Bavinck.

The heart of Christ is an often-neglected topic. There are several approaches offered regarding Christ’s love toward us. Many sermons today skim briefly over the love of Christ for us as sinful people and then challenge us to clean up our act and behave appropriately as good Christian folk. These preachers fear that we will adapt an antinomian theology if “law” is not emphasized. Many others, in touching on the heart of Christ, turn Christ into a limp, unopinionated, all-accepting being. This fictional world of the preacher has no need of a savior averting us from the wrath of an eternal omnipotent God. Both opposites are equally perilous. A diet of nothing but this book would also be highly imbalanced, yet, without this book, the normal American Christian “diet” is also unbalanced. Ortlund does a necessary service to the reader elaborating on an often unspoken topic of Christ’s love toward us, of his care for us, of his gentleness toward those he calls his own. To help Ortlund in this task, Ortlund draws on the wealth of a number of Puritan Divines, including Thomas Goodwin, John Bunyan, John Owen, Jonathan Edwards, Richard Sibbes, and others. Ortlund sets us straight in seeing that while our proclivity is toward being angry and not loving God and others, it is God’s natural inclination to love us, and will be angry only when persistently provoked. I know of many people who thought of the God of the Old (and New) Testament as a wrathful, angry, unloving God, until they read Scripture, only to have unveiled the wealth of mercy and love of God as displayed again and again throughout the pages of Scripture. In the New Testament, Jesus (though he is God) is often pitted against God the Father, Jesus manifesting the gentleness and compassion of the Godhead and God the father manifesting the stern judgemental wrath of the Godhead. Ortlund sets one straight in this regard, as such thinking could not be further from the truth, as plainly demonstrated in Scripture.

I highly recommend this book. It is real food for the soul. It is accurate to Scripture. It is a treasure chest of statements attesting to a neglected aspect of Christ’s character, Christ’s love for us sinners. The Existence and Attributes of God by Stephen Charnock is a more comprehensive wide-angle lens approach to God’s character. This present book is a microscopic description of a single one of God’s attributes, a chapter out of Charnock’s tome. Christ spoke of himself, saying, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30 (ESV)) This attribute of Christ must be near and dear to the heart of every Christian. Ortlund gently draws you into this heart of Christ.

There is another often overlooked aspect of this book worth mentioning. The typography and quality of printing are often overlooked. It is quite noticeable that this volume stands out above most books one would get on the market. The choice of typestyles, spacing, margin size, references, and printing are all far above the normal quality that one would expect. Thankfully, there are also no distracting call-outs. Does it really matter? Absolutely! The quality of typography determines the readability of a text and is often neglected. Crossway is to be commended.

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Jan 11

Pandemics, Plagues, and Natural Disasters: What Is God Saying to Us? by Erwin W. Lutzer ★★★★

This is a short text, easily read in 1-2 evenings, and addresses the issue of suffering from infectious or physical disasters as a Christian. Lutzer wisely doesn’t specifically delve into why we must experience so much suffering, but as a pastor, offers solace that our suffering is in God’s hands and for our best. He quotes frequently from Christians of the past and present that have commented on suffering, as well as offering comfort to the afflicted. It is a good book, and offers a wonderful example of the pastoral manner in which misfortune and grief might be dealt with on this side of glory.

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Jan 09

We Will Not Be Silenced, by Erwin Lutzer ★★★★★

We sat under the pulpit of Erwin Lutzer for 7 years, between the years 1983 and 1990. Those years were wonderful years for us, with great preaching. Though Lutzer is dispensationalist in origin, rarely does he preach in a manner that demands a dispensational context. Lutzer is now retired, and as emeritus pastor, has continued to produce book after book with contemporary cultural relevance. The joy of reading his books is that he writes exactly as he preaches, and one is able to hear his voice as his books are being read. During our time at Moody Church with pastor Lutzer, not only did we hear great expository preaching, but noted that Lutzer was exceptionally skilled at taking critical contemporary issues and placing them in the lens of Scripture. This book is yet another example of that. The book references events that have happened within the last 6-12 months, and is relevant at trying to gain an interpretation to the insanity that is occurring in our government and society. The cover appeals that this book should be read by all Christians in America, and to that I heartily agree.

The book is only 263 pages long of large print type, meaning that it may be easily read in the space of 2-3 evenings for those who do not have television-trained short attention spans. At worst, a chapter an evening for 10 evenings should have the book easily finished off. Each chapter has the same format, with starting introductions to the topic, a full discussion, and then an analysis of a proper Christian response. Lutzer then ends each chapter with a suggested prayer that we should be offering. The chapter topics are, in order, 1) How did we get here?, i.e, what is the problem that this book needs to address? 2) How do we deal with the modern attempt to erase our historical past? 3) How do we approach the contemporary attempt to use diversity to divide and destroy the church. 4) The aggressive removal of freedom of speech, especially if it calls on Christian moral issues is addressed as well as our response. 5) How the propaganda of the left attempts to replace Christian values and morality by stating an even higher noble cause. 6) The attempt of progressives to destroy the youth through a highly sexualized environment. 7) The attempt of the radicals to condemn capitalism and provide socialism as its cure, all in the context of suggesting that it is Biblical to do so. 8) The movement of radical Islam in trying to destroy America. 9) Disagreements are no longer discussable issues, but the radical left uses shaming and ad hominem personal destruction to win an argument. 10) The church in Scripture is being warned to repent and clean up its own act as a best response to an increasingly decedent society.

Pastor Lutzer is most skilled at not only touching the reader’s mind, but also his heart in the issues discussed. This book draws the reader in, and is difficult to put down. Lutzer demonstrates his perceptive insights into what is going on in our society, as well as sensitive, Biblical advice as to how to lovingly challenge and confront the society that wishes to destroy Christianity. After reading the book, I can heartily advise others to read it, as well as to take it to heart.

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Jan 05

The Unseen Realm: Recovering the supernatural worldview of the Bible, by Michael S. Heiser ★★

This book was given to be by a friend from church, and highly recommended by him and another friend at church. My oldest brother had also referred me to the writings and webpage of the author. It was a fairly easy book to read, and the book was heavily referenced. Appreciated was that the references ran on the same page as the text, thus encouraging review of his referenced material.

Heiser has the main theme and then a few minor themes in this book. The main theme is Heiser’s raison d’être. Psalm 82 introduces the idea of the divine counsel, and Heiser runs from there, first building up the idea of the divine counsel, and then working from Genesis to Revelation to build his case how the divine counsel seems to be the main operative system that drives this world. Sub-themes include the identity of the Nephelim and their instances throughout Scripture, and discussion of the nature of God. There is a moderate amount to be learned from this book, and my low rating of the book doesn’t mean that it is devoid of value. Au contraire. I think that Heiser frequently tends toward imaginative theology. He has an idea, and then explores how he could explore that idea with Scripture. I will mostly discuss a few major criticisms of this book.

Heiser begins by declaring that he will be introducing truths that mainstream Christians had previously totally missed in the reading of Scripture. Based on Psalm 82, the divine council is developed as a missed truth of Scripture. Heiser then proceeds to read the council of God into the entirety of Scripture. Any mention of God on His throne, or a coming judgment, is obviously referring to the Psalm 82 divine council. God (Yahweh) operates mostly via the agency of His divine council; whenever He declares in Scripture “Let us…”, Heiser notes that God is clearly speaking to the other gods of the divine council of an action that He (Yahweh) would like carried out. The heavenly conversation in Job 1 is obviously an official proceeding of the divine council. God in the garden of Eden was a divine council event. God meeting Moses and the elders at Mt. Sinai was a divine council function. Isaiah’s vision of God on his throne was an invasion into proceedings of the divine council. The divine council, according to Heiser, has a strong and prevailing status throughout Scripture which explains many passages of Scripture that are not clear. Yet, to do so is to do injustice to other Scripture.

Heiser has problems with his theology, and these problems evolve in two areas. One is that his thesis demands a strict Arminian theology. Calvin and Reformed folk are excluded. Yahweh is just one of many participants in the drama of life. Yahweh, as seen in Scofield-like thinking, demands that Yahweh correct His course once in a while based on the unanticipated actions of man or lesser gods. Throughout the text, his Arminian theology is forced out. Free-will is vital to grasping Heiser’s thesis. A truly providential god is out. Heiser, in the process of developing his free-will thinking, makes a total mess of theodicy, the question of why there is evil in this world. Oddly, Heiser also seems to be an adherent to dispensational premillennialism, an eschatology that has been excluded from serious thought, though taught with zeal by Hal Lindsey and others.

A second theological tragedy in this text is confusion over the nature of God. Heiser desperately wishes to be seen as orthodox, yet he is anything but that. He NEVER mentions a triune God. He will speak of Jesus as God and the Holy Spirit as God and doesn’t lapse into modalism, yet his thinking is muddled. He will frequently speak of two-Jahwehs, one Jahweh with the capability of physical manifestations. His zeal to discuss the Elohim, or other gods, forces confusion regarding him being a polytheist versus a monotheist. Part of his confusion possibly stems from his free use of the word “divine” without clarifying exactly what it means. He will even suggest that saved humans eventually become “divine”, or part of the Elohim. He will mention (based on Psalm 82) that some Elohim will die. Such confusion is more fitting a fantasy or science fiction novel than it is a serious reading of Scripture.

Heiser is not being careful as to where his theology might lead. It should strike the reader how close Heiser’s theology is to that of contemporary Mormon thinking. The reader that is familiar with Mormon doctrine will be quite amused at the polytheistic nature that is shared between Mormonism and Heiserism. The Catholic notion of “holy places”, such as the birthplace of Christ, is quite consistent with Heiserism and thinking regarding the evil abodes of Bashan and the mountains of Sinai and Zion. Heiser does not present a worshipful theology that brings honor to God. His is a theology that provides a feast for budding novelists and creative thinking theologians. One area of creative thinking is that of UFO theories, which are easily the product of Heiser’s thinking. I am not writing to make an opinion on UFOs—that is not my intention with these comments. On Heiser’s website, he will deny a belief in aliens and UFOs. Yet, he is noted to be among the top 100 people who are UFO authorities, and people have used his writings frequently in defense of UFOs as being a part of his unseen realm. Such thinking has its own dangers.

Reading into the text of Scripture—We all have wondered about the Nephelim, debating whether real gods came down and mated with humans. This remains debatable among top scholars who have pondered over this, so I highly doubt that Heiser will provide us an answer with no level of uncertainty. Yet, that is what he does. He then ties the pre-flood Nephelim with all Scripture giants, past, present, and future. Goliath was such a person, a product of mating of humans and gods, since Goliath was an Anakim—one of the Nephelim. If gods and men mated before and after the flood, surely they must still be mating? Are basketball players descendants of the Nephelim? Heiser also attacks the region of Bashan. He repeatedly associates the city of Dan and tribe of Dan with Bashan, which geographically, they are not. The illustration of the bulls of Bashan are interpreted to denote the evil gods that reside in this perpetually evil region of Israel. After visiting Bashan, I’ve realized that it is very hilly country with rocky soil, not conducive to farming, but excellent for cattle grazing. And, that is what has occurred in Bashan in the past, and up to today, where one can visit large fields of cattle, the bulls of Bashan. Heiser seems to be reading way too much into Scripture.

Heiser claims an in-depth knowledge as to what the ancients were thinking. He frequently remarks on the ability to know how an ancient person might have read into the text of Scripture things that we would otherwise have not seen. There is truth to that, but that can be carried too far. He has a heavy reliance on ANE texts and 1 Enoch, which for various reasons were not incorporated into Scripture even during the time of Christ. That Peter and Jude happen to quote one verse from 1 Enoch is not sufficient to hold 1 Enoch as inspired text. If we were to think like one of the ancients, Heiser’s reading on Scripture sounds more like Greek mythology than a serious attempt at understanding the Spiritual realm.

My biggest problem with Dr. Heiser is his arrogance. Though it doesn’t come out strongly in his texts, it is easily noted on his webpage. Disagreement with Heiser’s thesis is akin to careless thinking, intentional deception as to the text, or stupidity. He speaks with a condescending tone that doesn’t tolerate variant interpretations. Worst, he just can’t admit that there are some things he just doesn’t know or understand. I’m not the only person that picked this up, but others that have reviewed his book made this note.

Heiser presents sloppy theology. I presume that Heiser would certainly disagree. Did Heiser actually recover the supernatural view of Scripture, as is noted in the title of this book? Is what he is saying revolutionary in its approach to the unseen realm? Or, is what he says a mixture of what mainstream Biblical scholars have always believed regarding the Spiritual world, combined with erroneous doctrine? I believe that he has confused the supernatural view, and muddied the view of traditional theologians.

This book has value, but also has the potential for seriously misleading unguarded readers. A Mormon devotee would probably read this book with eagerness, as it confirms much of their doctrine. For those who write fantasy fiction, this book would provide a goldmine of ideas, so long as they also include Conan in the story. The potential for error negates much of the value and worth of this text. Thus, I give it 2 stars.

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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 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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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 have 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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