Christianity is Jewish

by the late Edith Schaeffer is timeless, accessible, and well worth reading.
The author draws you in by painting a picture of her many interactions with Jews, and of the questions they asked her. “Is this [Christianity] a new religion?” one Israeli reporter asked. On another occasion a weary Jewish father asks, “What is a Jew anyways?” Schaefer would often reply with a question of her own, namely are you looking for a superficial answer, or for the real one? The real answer, the bird’s eye view of scripture that she would walk someone through, is what makes up Christianity is Jewish.
Her survey of scripture begins where every good story should, at the beginning. In Genesis, we are introduced to an active, personal God communicating with his creation. Schaeffer then touches upon key moments throughout the Old Testament, which point ever more clearly to the coming Messiah. From God providing a sacrifice for Abraham, to the blood of the first Passover lamb, and to the sacrificial system in Leviticus, the author connects-the-dots for her Jewish audience, showing them that the long-awaited Messiah, whom they should have recognized, is Jesus.
Shadow and type give way to reality, as the Christ celebrates the last Passover meal with his disciples, the spotless lamb offers himself sacrificially at Calvary, and the temple curtain is torn in two. “Why hasn’t someone told me this before?” asked someone patient enough to listen to all that she had to say. Connecting the dots changes everything. Faithfulness to God and to the scriptures now means embracing the unity shares with all believers in the singular church, rather than in keeping traditions that pointed towards things now fulfilled in Christ.
At this point, you might be thinking, but I’m not Jewish. What does this have to do with me? Christianity is Jewish is one of the most succinct surveys of God’s unfolding plan of redemption, that I have read. It is also a book written for gentile believers, just as much as for those coming from Judaism. For, Schaeffer was not only anxious to share the gospel with her Jewish neighbours, but was also eager for gentiles to recognize that they are a wild olive shoot grafted into a deeply rooted, and very Jewish, tree. Taking the time to see scripture through Jewish eyes helps us better understand the flow of redemptive history. It should also stir us up to earnestly pray that the natural olive shoots, which have been torn off because of their unbelief, might, through faith in Christ, be grafted back into the people of God.
Christianity is Jewish is one of hundreds of engaging and edifying books to be found in your Church Library. Submitted by Eric Stobbart

Free Grace Theology,

5 Ways It Diminishes the Gospel by Wayne Grudem

What is Free Grace Theology, and how is it a threat to the gospel?

On the surface, Free Grace Theology, and the Free Grace Movement (FGM), might sound orthodox in that they claim to uphold the reformed doctrine that we are justified by faith alone. However, in claiming that justifying faith need not be accompanied by repentance from sins, and that good works are unnecessary in the life of the believer, the FGM negatively impacts evangelism and is a threat to the gospel. The FGM is dangerous because it:

  1. misunderstands the word alone in the historical Protestant insistence on “justification by faith alone.”
  2. weakens the gospel message by avoiding any call to unbelievers to repent of their sins.
  3. gives false assurance of eternal life to many people who profess faith in Christ, but then show no evidence of fruit in their pattern of life. False teachings can have eternal consequences.
  4. Leads its supporters to overemphasize one necessary component of genuine faith (mental assent) while underemphasizing another necessary component of genuine faith (heartfelt trust). While they might intellectually agree with the right doctrines, trust in Christ, as a person, is lacking.
  5. necessitates numerous highly unlikely and unusual interpretations elsewhere in scripture to support their erroneous understanding of the word alone in the phrase “faith alone”

Let us be like the Bereans (Acts 17:11), always searching the scriptures and developing discernment, so that we can avoid false teachings, like the FGM in our personal lives and in the life of the church, and grow in true grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18).

Gokhan Kaya (January, 2017)

Knowing Christ

We’ll all affirm, no doubt, that Jesus Christ is fully human as well as being fully God. Scripture speaks of Jesus’ humanity clearly, our creeds and confessions teach this carefully, and we sing of the incarnation in our hymns.


But what exactly does this mean? How did Jesus, as a man, have to rely upon the power of the Holy Spirit in his ministry? How are we to understand scripture when it tells us that the creator of all things “increased in wisdom and in stature and in favour with God?” What did Jesus mean when, speaking of his second coming, he said that no one knows when this will occur, “not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only?” Now that Christ is exalted in heaven, is he still fully human, and if so, how does that matter?


These aren’t trivial questions, and Dr. Mark Jones acknowledges that his twenty-six chapter devotional book, Knowing Christ, cannot address all there is to say about the humanity of our prophet, priest, and king. What it can do, however, is awaken in us a hunger to know more about Jesus, and knowing more about him, to love and honour him better.
Knowing Christ might have been written as a “book for God’s people, not the academy,” as the author states, but it is also not a book to pick up when one’s eyelids are droopy with sleep, or to turn to in order to kill some time on a noisy train or in a crowded waiting room. Although the chapters are short, there is meat in here that requires concentration and contemplation to grasp and appreciate. The effort, however, is worth it.


Sound interesting? The good news is that if someone beats you to taking Knowing Christ out from the church library, the author will be here at Woodgreen on Friday, April 15th and Saturday, April 16th, speaking on this same topic. For further information visit www.calgaryreformedconference.com.


Reviewed by Eric Stobbart

Ordinary

Ordinary – Michael Horton

Who wants to be ordinary?  We want our Facebook profiles to sell us as radical, exciting – anything but ordinary.   To many steeped in this restless culture that craves novelty, the church can also seem, well, ordinary.

If only my church would embrace the Next Big Thing, whether that’s the latest church growth program or an edgy youth ministry, then we could make a difference.

If only I were involved in uncompromising mission work, rather than spending my days changing diapers or working in an office, then perhaps my life would have meaning.

Michael Horton takes aim at such disillusionment, both in our lives and in the church, in Ordinary. Sustainable Faith in a Radical, Restless World.

The preaching of the full council of God’s Word, the proper administration of the sacraments, and a deep reliance on prayer.   These are the means by which God ordinarily, and powerfully, works in the life of the church.  Finding contentment in these ordinary means of grace, the author argues, is the antidote to the quick fixes, never-ending programs, and man-made revivals that hinder sustainable church growth and inevitably lead to burn out and disappointment.

The author argues that the antidote to a similar restlessness in our personal lives is the gospel.  The gospel has power, not just to save, but also to keep us on track by reminding us of our place in His story.  God does not need us to be radical.  He does not need us at all.  Rather, God has graciously allowed us to be part of His plan for the church.  His plan might involve dramatic work the mission field, but it is much more likely that it involves you living a quiet, ordinary, life of integrity right where God has placed you.  Our meaning in life doesn’t come through making hundreds of Facebook friends envious over our radical lives, it comes through being children of God, and the gospel reminds us of that truth.

This isn’t a perfect book.   Like the reviewer from Christianity Today, I felt at times that Ordinary showed “the weaknesses of a book written too quickly by someone who writes too many books.”  Don’t, however, let the occasional lack of focus deter you from reading this much needed work.

        Ordinary is one of 2693 books and DVDs available in our well-stocked church library.

Reviewed by:  Eric Stobbart,  January 2016

 

The Heart of an Executive

The dramatic highs and lows of David’s life make for good story telling.  Even those of us raised outside of the church were told of his underdog battle with Goliath.  In The Heart of An Executive, however, Richard Phillips takes a fresh look at these familiar biblical accounts, from the perspective of what we can learn about leadership from the life of David.

 The author emphasizes David’s leadership style by first recounting the story of the people’s demand to be like the nations surrounding them, with a king to rule over them.  God punished their lack of faith by giving them what they wanted, in King Saul.  Where David introduced us to the concept of the leader as a self-sacrificing shepherd, Saul exhibited a self-serving and arrogant leadership style.  Where David was guided by a compelling vision for his people, Saul thought only of the moment.

 Even more convicting, the author reminds us that “there is a Saul within each of our breasts, a Saul even within the anti-Saul David,” and so the low moments in David’s life, where he is motivated by impulse and far from being a man of prayer, are also used to teach valuable lessons about what godly leadership doesn’t look like.

 At times, the parallels between the dramatic events of David’s life and the relatively mundane drama of the boardroom seem a little stretched and awkward.  However, Richard Phillips is an engaging story-teller who manages to avoid the shallowness of many other Old Testament biographies.

Who should read it?  This isn’t a book written for academics, but is an accessible quick read for anyone who in the church, in the workplace, or in the home finds themselves in a position of responsibility. 

Review by Eric Stobbart

GOD IN THE WHIRLWIND

God in the Whirlwind by David F. Wells


This book represents the final book in a series from David Wells, the Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary professor, which started in 1993 with his landmark release “No Room for Truth”. This book is partly a follow up to that series and partly a response to his critics that bemoaned his identification of a problem but failure to offer a solution. While I don’t know how correct that criticism was, the bottom line result of it was the writing of this book and in that regard I am thankful for their critique.

The problem with modern day Evangelicalism, as Wells puts it, is that we are in the world and there is precious little to distinguish us from the world. Our churches have been infiltrated by worldly values and it has changed the way that we see, serve, and worship God. One particular point that he dwells on is the way that secular psychological thinking has moved us from being outwardly focused on the God who is there to being inwardly searching for the God who is inside of us. One of the resulting effects is the loss of Christianity as objective and external and a much more subjective Christianity that is molded and fashioned to meet our felt needs above Christ’s demands of righteousness.

So what is the solution to this dilemma facing Christendom in the west? In the words of the author, we must rediscover the truth of scripture and look to the Holy-Love of God as it is defined and described in the Bible. This is the shorthand that Wells has coined to capture the essential nature of our God as being all loving, with the hyphenated corrective of His righteousness attached to make sure that we don’t mistake God’s love for the sappy sentimentality of our culture. It’s a basic message really but it’s so foundational to our faith that it is one that never gets worn out by repetition.

The book is very well written and the author is able to write in such an engaging way that I really got a lot out of it. His criticisms of modern culture are fair and well-rounded enough that nobody should be able to read it without being convicted of their own sin (I had a few wincing moments) whether it be in the areas of media consumption, self-absorbed worship, consumerism, you name it and he will probably mention your area of weakness. I would recommend the book to just about anyone. It’s written in a readable style and would be accessible even to those who don’t fancy themselves to be readers or who may be intimidated by a book on theology.

 

Reviewed by David Peterson

 

Jesus > Religon

Jesus > Religon by Jefferson Bethke

Jefferson Bethke is young, brash, and not afraid to say what’s on his mind. He grew up in the church and was a strong adherent of American Evangelical “churchianity”, but it wasn’t until he became an adult that he recognized that although he had done all the things he was expected to do, he did not set apart Christ as Lord in his heart and he was missing the one thing that all Christians need to have: Jesus.
The approach of Bethke is not a soft touch and I found that at times he was a bit heavy handed in using hyperbole to get his point across. Having said that, I doubt very much that he wrote it for someone like me. Rather he is after young people that have probably spent their entire life living in the shadow of their parents faith and have grown tired of thinking that being Christian is a list of do’s and don’ts, membership in the Republican party, lame music on Christian radio, and Hallmark made for TV movies. He uses this tactic to show that Christianity is ultimately about following Jesus and we have traded the radical commands of our Savior for the cultural mores of American Evangelicalism. Where the modern day Christians may say, “we don’t associate with those people”, we find Jesus eating and welcoming those people into his closest circle. Where modern day Christians may be excusing the moral failings (read sin) of our church friends and excoriating the sins of immoral unbelievers, we find Jesus flipping it around and ripping the religious leaders of his day while showing grace and compassion to the lowest of low. One thing that I did appreciate about the author’s work is that he does hold the mirror up to us (both the church collectively and Christians individually) but he resists the temptation to throw the baby out with the bath water. That is to say that he does not ever give license to saying the church is to be discarded or neglected. He takes the commands of Jesus too seriously and when Jesus says the church is his bride, he believes Him. He also avoids the temptation to excuse sinful behaviors that many young people would want him to excuse, but he urges us to show compassion while disagreeing with that way of life in the same way our Lord did in his ministry. Lastly, he is quite candid about his own failings and misbehavior, sharing the ways in which he lived in active disobedience while claiming to be a Christian. He shares it plainly but does not attempt to glorify it or use it to give himself street cred with his readers, only to show that he knows all too well what many have been through. In all, I would say that this book would be a good read for someone who has grown up close to the church but have grown tired of a church culture that sees the world in terms of “us and them”. It can also be an effective evangelistic tool to share with a friend who has judged Christ on the way that He has been portrayed in the media and by those critical of the church. Lastly, if you are a parent (or know of one) who has an older child that fits into either of the categories mentioned, this may be a good book to read and gain some insight to their world. Who knows, it may be a first step towards bringing someone you love closer to Jesus.

Review by David Peterson

The Loving Samaritan: A Response to Tullian Tchividjian

Recently Pastor Tullian Tchividjian published an article reinterpreting the parable of the Good Samaritan. Others have written critiques of Tullian’s interpretation and I do not intend to merely repeat what they have already said. Instead, I hope to encourage the church to consider: what is missing from Tullian’s interpretation of the parable, and I fear, may be underrepresented in Tullian’s brand of Reformed theology? I believe what is missing from Tullian’s interpretation is Love.
Perhaps we need to remind ourselves of the importance of Love. After all, the Bible tells us “God is love” (1 John 4:8,16). Elsewhere we are told, “the greatest is love” (1 Cor 13:13). Yes, love is greater even than faith! Jesus especially desires that His disciples “love one another” (John 15:17).
In an almost identical story, Jesus encountered another man who asked “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Mark 10:17). Notice how Jesus responded: “Then, looking at him, Jesus loved him and said to him, “You lack one thing: Go, sell all you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow Me.” (Mark 10:29). Mark carefully tells us that Jesus loved him before Jesus says “You lack one thing.” Did you catch the clue? I suggest the man lacked love (except perhaps love for money). In any case the man was self-centered. Jesus’ prescription was to encourage him to love the poor more than himself or his money. In the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus gives the same prescription to the same problem: Love as the antidote to self-centeredness.
I am not saying that Pastor Tullian is himself unloving; rather, his interpretation of the parable and the underlying theology of the Christian life strikes me as somewhat loveless.Let’s consider this parable told by Jesus in Luke 10 and Tullian’s interpretation of it. Not without reason, Tullian believes that with the parable Jesus is addressing the matter of justification. That allows Tullian to conclude that the parable is in response to the question “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (v.25), when in fact the parable is an answer to a second question, “and who is my neighbor”? (v.29). The second question and the parable in response to it seem more naturally to clarify the law, rather than merely addressing the matter of justification in the same way as the first question. But what if Jesus wasn’t primarily answering the lawyer’s questions about justification, at least not the way the lawyer wanted? What if Jesus was faulting the lawyer for misusing the law in an ironically similar fashion to the way Tullian is handling it?
I believe the gut reaction that many of us feel when reading Tullian’s interpretation is caused by the eerie similarity of Tullian’s approach to the parable and the lawyer’s approach to the law. Let me explain. The lawyer comes and asks, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” The pronoun “I” is italicized to help show what Jesus immediately picked up on: this lawyer was self-centered. Jesus cleverly asked the man to tell Him what is in the law. Jesus knows a thing or two about the law, after all, it is a reflection of His own character and desires. Thus Jesus knew the answer before He asked the question–Jesus was setting him up.
The lawyer rightly summarizes the law as: “Love the Lord your God” and “Love your neighbor as yourself” (v.27). In the presence of Jesus, the words must have stung the lawyer as they come out of his mouth because the law is about loving others (God and neighbour), whereas the lawyer was focused on himself. Hence the lawyer continued his self-centeredness as again emphasized by the italics, “wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’” (v.29). The lawyer is self-centered. The lawyer is unloving. Worst of all, the lawyer sees God’s law merely as a means for his own personal gain, which in this case is self-justification and eternal life.
The lawyer had started with the wrong question and the wrong motives, so we shouldn’t be surprised if Jesus wasn’t primarily interested in answering the lawyer’s selfish questions. Instead Jesus tried to correct his misunderstanding of the law. The lawyer thought the law was about himself, whereas Jesus revealed that the law is about love, loving God and loving others. Is Tullian making the same error as the lawyer? Tullian seems to think the law is only about earning justification for one’s self; however, knowing better than the lawyer that self-justification is impossible, Tullian dismisses the law and the parable by asserting that when Jesus says “Go and do likewise” Jesus can’t possibly actually mean it! At least the lawyer only wanted to narrow the definition of neighbour–Tullian wants us to forget about trying to be a neighbour to anyone!
But what if God really cared about the needs of the people around you, not just you? What if Jesus actually cared about beaten, bleeding men lying on the side of the road? What if God actually cared about the poor, and didn’t just say that all throughout the Bible? What if God had bigger plans than your justification? What if God actually loved what is good, and wanted to see His will done on earth, as it is in heaven? What if Jesus Christ didn’t expect us to merely receive His mercy and kindness, but to share it with others (cf. Matt 18:23 and the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant)?
It may sound “humble” to argue, as Tullian does, that we should see ourselves as the lowly, beaten traveler rather than as the Samaritan; however, it is self-centered to assume that, of course, the parable is about God helping me! If only we weren’t too busy humbly looking at ourselves to notice that we live in a world filled with other people who actually are beaten, bloodied, oppressed, poor, helpless, needy, hurting, ostracized, and victimized. Sadly, in the age of Facebook a self-centered Christianity is sure to have a lot of traction, but it is loveless. In this case, I am concerned that Tullian is encouraging Christians to blatantly ignore Jesus’ Lordship (“go and do likewise”) and to feel comfortably justified while walking by the beaten traveler lying in the ditch.
Perhaps part of what tripped Tullian up is the classical title for this parable “The Good Samaritan”. I can’t figure out why it was ever titled that. The word “good” is nowhere in the text. Why not title it as it should be: either “The Loving Samaritan” or “The Merciful Samaritan”. Being “good” can be a self-centered enterprise. I can be “good” without anyone else even being around. However, being “loving” or being “merciful” implies and requires focusing on someone else.
Jesus’ purpose was anything but to encourage this self-centered lawyer to focus even more on himself by seeing himself as the beaten traveler. Jesus called him to love others and to show mercy, acts that would necessarily draw the lawyer’s focus away from himself. Perhaps our Reformed theology, not just Tullian’s imbalanced version, is at times guilty of the same self-centered focus on personal justification. At times it is good to ask “what must I do to inherit eternal life”, but we must be careful not to do that too often. We must look beyond ourselves. We must love God and love our neighbours.

The Hole in Our Holiness

The Hole in Our Holiness by Kevin DeYoung

Kevin DeYoung’s latest book has an intriguing title: “The Hole in our Holiness”. It is well-written and very practical. My one regret was that the book did not belong to me. I like to read with a pen in my hand; and there was much I would like to have underlined. It is a book that would be easy to read again and again; and it would be beneficial to do so. It sets out the Biblical basis for holiness as something God requires. All who have gone through our recent church history would benefit from reading it carefully. It is a clear declaration of why our character and our conduct are so important. There are questions following each chapter, but they are more appropriate for personal study rather than for group consideration. It is a great book!

Reviewed by Gary Simpson

The Pursuit of Holiness

The Pursuit of Holiness by Jerry Bridges

What do you do when you are asked to review a book that you have read before, and didn’t particularly like when you read it?  Of course, you read it again and hope you were wrong the first time.  What is the book?  It is “The Pursuit of Holiness” by Jerry Bridges.  This is a classic book on our responsibility to lead holy lives. The first half or the book sets out the Biblical basis for holiness, and the last half makes some good and profitable applications.  Our lives are to be different because of the indwelling Holy Spirit.  We are God’s children and there must be a family resemblance.  Bridges emphasizes that holiness is not an option, but it is an opportunity to let the world see what the Lord Jesus Christ can do with our lives.

reviewed by Gary Simpson