A Free Grace Response to Denny Burk

Denny Burk, Associate Professor of Biblical Studies at Boyce College recently wrote a piece where he references Free Grace thought on his blog.  His article is titled "Gagnon Calls on Exodus Leader to Resign."  You can read it here.

Burk writes:

As I noted two weeks ago, Chambers seems to be advocating the non-lordship view of salvation that was made popular by Zane Hodges back in the 1980′s. This so-called “free grace” view teaches that an ungodly lifestyle need not trouble the assurance of a true “Christian.” According to this view, a Christian can apostatize and still be considered a true Christian.

What concerns me here is Burk's mischaracterization of the Free Grace position which is so frequent among the Lordship movement.  Essentially what Burk, MacArthur and others argue is that their position is the true, biblical position of the Lordship of Christ.  This position maintains that in order for one to be saved, one must repent of their sins (defined as a turning away of sin), submit to Christ's Lordship and be willing to be obedient.  And because we in the grace movement, reject this as being incompatible with simple belief in Christ for salvation to occur we are referred to as the "no-lordship" theology folks.  So, they argue that if you truly believe in the Lordship of Christ you will be a Lordship Salvationist.

This is a common distortion of our position.  We believe in the Lordship of Christ.  Christ is Savior because He is Lord and King.  I have in the past privately corresponded with a pastor and graduate of Master's Seminary who is a staunch proponent of Lordship Salvation and interestingly enough he has agreed that this referring to our position as the "no-lordship view" is misrepresenting our view.  While those of us in the grace camp do not believe Lordship Salvation is consistent with the doctrine of grace, we do not refer to it as the "no-grace" position.

Burk further writes:

Those who continue in willful unrepentant sin will not inherit the kingdom of God. Those who say otherwise are simply contradicting the clear teaching of scripture (1 Cor. 6:9-10; Gal. 5:19-21; Eph. 5:5-6).

These texts have been addressed by numerous scholars within the Free Grace position (e.g. Jody Dillow in The Reign of the Servant Kings, of course Zane Hodges has addressed this, Dave Anderson, Bob Wilkin and René López to name a few).  While there are some theological differences among those who profess Free Grace, many believe these "inheritance" passages refer to a loss of rewards rather than salvation.

Speaking of Alan Chambers of Exodus Internation Burk writes:

He is leading a ministry whose mission is “to minister grace and truth” to homosexuals. Yet he’s embraced a view of salvation that would lead homosexuals to believe that all they need to do is believe in Christ momentarily. After that, they can apostatize without that having any negative impact on their assurance of salvation.

Burk and other Lordship advocates maintain that a person who professes Christ yet persists in homosexuality activity dogmatically cannot have assurance of salvation and subsequently would not be saved.  I like what Free Grace teacher Dave Anderson writes in his classical text, Free Grace Soteriology on assurance:

Often, in a discussion on assurance, I will ask a lordship salvationist if he thinks he will go to heaven when he dies. The answer is invariably yes.  When asked why or on what ground, the answer is usually something related to the evidence of the Holy Spirit working in the life. But when asked if it is possible for them to have a serious fall, they will usually answer yes, because they know 1 Cor. 10:12 cautions them against presuming they could not fall.  But what if they fall and produce rotten fruit for a long period of time? What would that prove?  They usually squirm here and say it would prove they never were Christians in the beginning.  Ah ha!  Then, what would we be forced to say about your good works today? The only answer is that these good works are being produced by someone who is not elect, by what manner of casuistry can they be construed to be a present ground of assurance that one is elect? Obviously, they cannot (p.217).

Obviously when one is in habitual sin, it can have a negative impact on one's assurance.  As Anderson points out in the Lordship Theology, one can only have assurance as long as they are not in a state of habitual sin or carnality.  One has to be in a present state of fellowship.  However, for those of us in the Free Grace camp, we contend that our assurance comes from the promise of God's Word and from the cross (e.g. 1 John 5:13).  We need not look to our fruit or perseverance but to Jesus.  Such a mentality often leads to legalism.

Free Grace Theology does not encourage homosexuals or anyone else to not worry about their sin since they are saved by grace.  We join with our Reformed brothers and sisters in exhorting believers to holy living and encouraging repentance for believers who are in sin.

Those of us in the grace camp do not view grace as an excuse for sin (Rom. 6:1-2).  Some are scared to preach the message of grace because they fear it will prompt ungodly and unholy living.  Rather, it is God's grace that ought to strive us to holy living.  That is the message Paul preached and it is our message today.  <><



Book Review: Invitation To Biblical Interpretation




Invitation to Biblical Interpretation by Andreas J. Köstenberger and Richard D. Patterson (Kregel Academic & Professional, 891 pages, 2011).

About the Authors

Andreas J. Köstenberger (PhD, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) is Senior Professor of New Testament and Biblical Theology and Director of PhD Studies at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is also editor of the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society.

Richard D. Patterson (PhD, University of California Los Angeles) is Distinguished Professor Emeritus at Liberty University.

Introduction and Preface

The authors note, "Writing a hermeneutics text is not an easy task (p.21)." This point is difficult to disagree with. There is so much involved in the study of God's Word. In fact, I have found that the more one studies the difficult task of hermeneutics, the more one finds out how more there is to study. One of my professors in Bible college told us, "The most important classes you will take here are your hermeneutical classes." He was right for the simple reason that everything else we would learn as students is built upon the foundation of hermeneutics. How one approaches the interpretation of Scripture determines evangelical orthodoxy, theology, ministry and Christian living. For example, I was once approached by a professing Bible believing church for a pastoral position their church. During the interviewing process it was discovered that this church believed homosexuality was appropriate for professing believers in Christ. They had a homosexual worship leader. When I confronted them and shared with them from the Word of God that this was sin, I was lambasted for "interpreting the Bible literally."

Hermeneutics and its significance

The authors define hermeneutics as... "the study of the methodological principles of interpretation, in particular, in the Bible." This study is ever needed as how our society views and interprets the Bible is one of ongoing discussion and debate as pointed out in the above illustration. There are many people who do not think the Bible should be interpreted literally, taken that seriously or that it is even historically accurate or reliable. The prevalent mindset of a postmodern world often approaches the study of Scripture with the attitude of, "what does the text mean to you?" I was once told by one professing evangelical, "The Bible means different things to different people." The study of hermeneutics seeks to address these types of issues when approaching the text as outlined in this book. When we look at the history of the Bible, some of the greatest travesties, crimes and leading cults all have had Bible verses attached to them. In short, if we do not follow sound principles of hermeneutics, we can get the Bible to say anything we want.

The Hermeneutical Triad

The authors preface their entire study and approach to hermeneutics on a triangle consisting of theology, history and literature.  The authors view this triangle as a diagram and a grid for biblical interpretation.  Within it is their proposed method for hermeneutics.

History

The authors note that, "In order for the interpretation of Scripture to be properly grounded, it is vital to explore the historical setting of a scriptural passage, including any cultural background features (p. 93)."

Why is this important?  One important reason is that Christianity is a historical religion.  The resurrection of Christ (1 Cor. 15) is historical for without it our faith is in vain.  Furthermore, we are living in a moment of time in history.  If one wants to analyze, study and assess our culture in America, one has to properly know and understand the cultural context in which we live, write and think.  Correlating to this point, if we were to pick up a letter from someone written during 1776, it would be vitally important to understand historically what was going on during that period in history to properly understand the context that the writer was writing within. 

When we study Scripture, it is helpful to understand the historical -cultural background of the text we are seeking to interpret.  Köstenberger and Patterson provide a very helpful chronology of both the Old Testament and the New Testament.  Readers will find these sections especially helpful in understanding the key historical events throughout the Bible.

The authors write:

Without the historical-cultural background lying behind a given book of Scripture, its study will often be insufficient and superficial.  For this reason it is important that students are familiar with the vast array of primary and secondary sources that are available for the exploration of the historical-cultural background of the Old and New Testaments (p.117).

This is especially important as we seek to understand the religious customs and beliefs of Israel and the Jews. It is often the temptation of the interpreter to interpret God's Word from within his own time period within his own historical context.  In order to properly interpret God's Word we have to understand the customs, beliefs, and the history that the author of Scripture was writing from within.  Köstenberger and Patterson provide great examples in Scripture of how this helps in understanding key stories and events in the Bible.  One must interpret the parts in light of the whole.

Literature

The Bible is a piece of literature.  It is the greatest piece of literature ever written.  Every good teacher and professor of literature knows that when studying literature, one has to properly understand the features of that piece of literature.  When studying the Bible, it is imperative to understand the genre and features that characterizes it.  The authors divide this section into three parts consisting of canon, genre and language.

Canon

When we talk about the canon of Scripture, we are referring to the unique 66 books of the Bible.  Canon as the authors note comes from the word "reed" and carries the idea of measurement or standard.

Foundational for understanding the canon of Scripture is knowing and understanding how the books of the Bible were collected, arranged and understood to be inspired by the Holy Spirit.  There are three primary themes that form the focal points of the OT that the authors write about: God's law, the exodus, and covenant (p. 162).

This is vitally important to understand for the interpreter as we face the question of, "What in the Old Testament, if anything applies to the New Testament Christian?"  For example, does Leviticus apply to us today as Christans?  Understanding both the canon and genre help answer this question.

I particularly liked in this section, the authors' discussion on the law.  They highlighted the concept of "covenant" in understanding OT law.  Furthermore, the authors appropriately explained the types of covenants that appear in Scripture with the culmination of the New Covenant.

Genre

Like with every other piece of literature, the Bible has within it, genre.  This is vitally important to understand as Scripture has various categories that the authors point out.  For example, we have in the Bible the OT Historical Narrative, Poetry and Wisdom, Prophecy, NT Historical Narrative, Parables, Epistles and Apocalyptic (Revelation).  Each genre presents itself with guidelines for interpretation and the authors did an excellent job of explaining this in detail.  When reading and studying the Bible, if we are to appropriately do so, we have to recognize the genre the biblical author is writing within.

For example, when we look at Acts, do we interpret the events in Acts (specifically tongues, miracles and the baptism of the Spirit) as normative to the church today or unique in church history?  I think understanding the genre will lead to a proper interpretation and subsequent theological conclusions.

The reader will find extended discussions with the appropriate view points in this section.

Language

There are three main features in this section relating to language.  The authors provide extensive discussion and treatment on discourse context, word meanings and figurative language.

When we study Scripture the authors rightly point out the importance of grammar, syntax and discourse when interpreting Scripture.  Contained in this section were helpful discussions and explanations of how and why this is significant in the study of hermeneutics.

Bible students must recognize that Scripture was originally written in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek.  Each of these languages are strikingly different than English.  As good and accurate as our English translations are, some interpretative qualities can get "lost in translation."  The authors do an excellent job of pointing out some of the key characteristics of the original languages (such as inflection) and how understanding this aids in properly interpreting the text.

The authors make a great point in writing, "Unless we become students of language and literature as well as (italics theirs) theology we will always be limited in our ability to 'accurately handle the word of truth (p.624).'"  This point is expounded on and is a constant theme throughout this work.  And this is precisely what the authors are attempting to do as well--to prompt us to be students in the above areas as they directly affect our ability to be serious students of God's Word.

Readers of this work will also benefit from the discussion on word studies and exegetical fallacies.  It is vitally important that every serious student of God's Word understands how to properly do word studies in any given context.  A correct use of word studies within a semantic range will lead to a correct understanding of the text.  I enjoyed this section, especially as the authors point out common exegetical fallacies.  An overall guide on how to do proper exegesis is included while a discussion on the most common mistakes is explained.

Readers and students will also find what Köstenberger and Patterson offer of much help in offering and explaining what language tools are of the most significance in any serious study of God's Word.  All language tools for both the OT and NT are discussed and reviewed.

The Goal: Theology

I like what Köstenberger and Patterson note about doctrine and theology:

"Just give me Jesus," some say, but spare me doctrine and theology.  Rather than viewing theology as nurturing and stabilizing elements in their journey of faith, many today view it as the enemy, or are skeptical at best if not indifferent or outright antagonistic.  For reasons such as these, it is vital that we make sure that we derive our theology from the Bible rather than imposing our own preferred viewpoints onto Scripture (p. 694).

I was once teaching a class on Hebrews when I received a complaint that I was teaching "too much theology."  I was told "just teach Hebrews, not theology."  How is that possible?  Yet, that is the mindset of far too many evangelicals today. 

The authors fully address this issue in the book while highlighting the important role theology has in the life of the evangelical and the church.  Proper hermeneutics leads to proper theology and of course proper application.

The various types of theology are properly defined and explained.

Other Features

There were other features in the book that students and professors will especially find helpful.  At the end of every chapter contains guidelines summing up the content for what was just discussed.  Also helpful are the key words that were mentioned with a definition.  The end of the book in the Appendix contains a comprehensive glossary of terms.  Further helpful were study questions stemming from the chapter along with assignments for students to do.

Students, teaches and pastors will find especially helpful in the Appendix, "Building a Biblical Studies Library."  This is one of the most comprehensive tools available with all the resources a serious student of God's Word needs for a good library with solid tools for serious study and research.  I also liked their discussion on the electronic tools, Bible software and websites made available for serious study.  Strengths and weaknesses were accurately discussed with good balance.

Conclusion

To date, this is the best and most exhaustive book and work ever written on hermeneutics.  I highly recommend this book to every student, professor and pastor.  I think that this should be the standard text for every hermeneutics class in every Bible college and seminary.  This book builds on the previous works out there but also contains contemporary discussions and paradigms. 

Köstenberger and Patterson have hit a "home run" with this text.  It is a heavy read but well worth reading, studying and applying.  This book contains valuable teaching tools that are gems with additional links to more resources (such as power point slides) that the teacher can use to teach this material.

I would have liked to see more commentaries mentioned in their recommendations for commentaries on the books of the Bible.  I also would have liked to see the authors mention Lewis Sperry Chafer's Systematic Theology set mentioned along with Norman Geisler's Systematic Theology set.  Neither of these sets were mentioned which are both a huge contribution to the field of systematic theology.

I think that the church will benefit from this book.  The authors do a great job of breaking down key concepts and wording the material in a way that is accessible to the modern reader.

Special thanks to the kind and gracious folks at Kregel for this review copy.

A Note From a Father

This post is a belated Father's Day reflection.  Originally, I didn't think that I would do one but as I reflected more on the importance of fatherhood, I decided to go ahead and post some thoughts below as I believe living in today's society, we all need an ongoing reminder of the importance and significance of fatherhood.

Living in postmodern America: the absenteeism of fatherhood

We can see the affects of postmodernism every day in America.  We do not need to look any further than the home.  Today, the statistics show that more and more people are not even getting married.  They are simply living with each other and having children out of wedlock.  There was a time in my own life when I saw a couple or a family living together under the same roof, I naturally assumed the mom and dad were married.  When we first moved in our neighborhood and got to know one particular family, I thought the mom and dad were married as they were living with each other, had kids and acted as if they were.  It was only a year later that I discovered they were not married.  I have another neighbor living with a woman who professes Christ.  I thought the woman he was living with was his wife and later found after several years that it was not.There was a time in my own life when I saw a couple or a family living together under the same roof, I naturally assumed the mom and dad were married.  I no longer assume that couples living together or who have kids are married.  Our postmodern society is one that no longer values marriage or family.

I live in Wisconsin which to date has the highest rate of single moms in the country.  Recently, our girls were invited to a friend's birthday party from pre-school.  At the party, the little girl's father was not there.  When I inquired as to the whereabouts of the father the answer was that the father is not in the picture at all and this little girl "does not even know who her father is."  Unfortunately, stories like this are common across the land.

What are the consequences?

I once heard the single mom of another young single mom who at the time recently had a baby remark, "Single moms don't need fathers."  Really?  This is the unfortunate lie that permeates through our culture in the midst of fathers who do not want to take on the responsibility of being a parent.

We do not have to look far to see the devastating peril of what happens when fathers abandon their children.  Take a look at the prisons.  When one surveys the prisons, many of the convicts were ones where there was no father present.  The absence of the father is leading to ongoing dysfunction in the family and in the lives of children which in turn has far reaching consequences in society and the church.



There are numerous men who turn to homosexuality desperate for the male affection they did not receive from having a father.  And there are plenty of girls who seduce older men in an effort to appease an emotional state they have from not being able to connect with a father in their life.

The consequences on our society from there not being a father in the picture in many families cannot be overstated.

We were made to be courageous

I really enjoyed last year's movie from Sherwood Pictures, Courageous as it hit a nerve by addressing this issue.  The movie did an accurate job of portraying what can happen and does happen when there is no father present in the life of a child.  And it contains a powerful message to fathers to stand up and be the men God has called us to be (Joshua 1:9).

Ephesians 6:4 says, "“Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.”   We are not to provoke our children in a way that is mean or harsh.  Contrary we are to provide them with wise and godly counsel from the Word of God all the while modeling Christ.

What an amazing responsibility we have before the Lord.  Being a present father, showing and displaying the love of Christ to our children produces spiritually and emotionally healthy children which in turn produces godly churches which in turn contributes to a healthy society.  The impact that we as fathers have on our children is profound.

Single moms need fathers now, more than ever.  May we be ever reminded of the ongoing responsibility we have with our children as we seek to mirror the face of our Heavenly Father.

Book Review: These Last Days




These Last Days is a publication from P & R Publishing (2011, 193 pages).

Introduction & Background

These Last Days is written with the subtitle, A Christian View of History and is edited by Richard D. Phillips and Gabriel N.E. Fluhrer. Richard Phillips is senior pastor of Second Presbyterian Church in Greenville, SC. Gabriel N.E. Fluhrer is coordinator of public relations and publishing at the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals.

This book stems from themes that were shared and expounded on at the Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology in 2010. In recent years, most eschatology conferences have been popularized by those in the dispensational camp. Those within the Reformed movement have recognized this and have sought to address eschatology from a Reformed perspective with is essentially the backdrop of this book. The intent was to work through a Reformed eschatology forum in chronological order.

Overview and Impression


The contributors of this book include an impressive lineup of Reformed scholars and thinkers. Included in the book are chapters by Sinclair Ferguson, D.A. Carson, Alistair Begg, Michael Horton, J. Ligon Duncan, Cornelis Venema, Richard Phillips, Jeffrey Jue and Paul Tripp.

I think that what will readers will enjoy the most is that this book combines theological and biblical truth along with pastoral warmth. The book starts out with Christology, "The Christ of History." Ferguson points out in this essay that Christ is Lord over history. As such He is the meaning of history. I especially like Ferguson's exposition on the temptation narratives of Christ. The first chapter is the Christological foundation and is strategic as it serves as the cornerstone for the rest of the book.

Carson provides readers with a thoughtful and stimulating chapter on evil in our present age. Carson thoughtfully writes about the wiles of the evil one, Satan. He expounds on Satan's strategies and how believers are victorious in Christ and how Satan is defeated.

What I further enjoyed about this book is what while I disagree with Reformed eschatology, I agree with the authors that eschatology should enhance our worship as we focus our minds on the eternal glory of Jesus Christ. J. Ligon Duncan III writes:

The last two chapters of the Bible, Revelation 21 and 22, form one of the great passages that God gives to us to meditate on the eternal glory. Jonathan Edwards made it a practice to medidate on the new heavens and the new earth--the eternal glory--every day. But today, very often we hear people say that a person is "so heavenly minded that he is no earthly good." The biblical way of thinking is the direct opposite of this. The Bible insists that you cannot be earthly good unless you are heavenly minded. Heavenly mindendness actually promotes our discipleship here on earth, and it gives us the assurance that we do not labor in vain (p.72).

I think that Duncan nailed it. The study of eschatology really is a component of discipleship. All of Revelation should drive us to worship the Lord of history, Jesus Christ.

The authors have a chapter on the four main millennial views. Thought not comprehensive, it does a balanced job of explaining the various view points.

Conclusion


This book does a tremendous job of providing biblical motivation to evangelicals in helping us have an eternal perspective in the Christian life and in history.

The book closes with a worldview challenge: are you living for eternity? Many of us do not act and behave with an eternal perspective in mind yet alone a heavenly one. It is easy to get caught up with the "here and now" and how quickly we can lose sight of our Lord and of the gospel.

You don't have to be Reformed to read this book. It is an easy read and meant for all believers to have and cherish. Theological concepts are easily broken down and made accessible.

Special thanks to the kind and gracious folks at P & R Publishing for this review copy.

The Demise of Reading in the Church




I wanted to offer some commentary and reaction to a recent piece Reformed scholar, Derek Thomas wrote. Please read this article before reading this post.

The Decline of Reading

Note what Thomas says about books. He writes:

Books are essential to Christian growth. And, if there is one disappointment I have as I reflect on over three decades of Christian ministry, it is the declining appetite among Christians for good Christian literature. As a consequence, today's Christianity is less robust.

Thomas has made an astute and accurate observation here. One would have to agree with what he says.

Years ago I used to be able to read books and be able to have in depth discussions about the books I was reading along with a discussion about the authors with other like-minded evangelicals. It was refreshing to be able to share how what I was reading was ministering to me and I was eager to share with other believers what I was learning. Now, it is not uncommon to get blank stares from other believers at any mention of books I am reading or at the mention of evangelical authors. Most Christians I know who are regularly reading are those in ministry but even that is declining.

Not too long ago I preached at a church where during my sermon I quoted both from David Jeremiah and from John Piper. Both of these pastors and authors are two of the most prolific and widely read in the past century of the church. Some had puzzled looks on their faces when I quoted from them. At the end of the service my wife said, "I don't know think those people had ever heard of the authors you were quoting." Before we left town, one of the elders said to me, "I really enjoyed your preaching...but I never heard of those authors." And this was a church here in America that was well within reach of Christian radio and with access to Christian literature.

I have already met believers who have been saved for many years who had no clue as to who John Calvin or Martin Luther were much less could name any of the most well known authors who God has used throughout the history of our faith. The amount of evangelicals who are not reading is staggering--even among those within church leadership.

"Today's Christianity is less robust"

This is of enormous concern to me. In an age of digital media, one with lots of entertainment and media, the appetite and desire among evangelicals to read as Thomas has pointed out is declining.

I think that for some, they do not even know how to read much less see the value of it. Some are more concerned about who their favorite football team is playing on Sunday than they are about any new books that publishers have coming out. Some Christians rely on their pastors to do all the reading and study for them.

What is unfortunate is that now we have more books and Christians resources now than we have had at any point in the history of the church. We have so many evangelical publishers that is hard to keep up with all of them (I am constantly finding out about ones I never heard of before!). Many of these publishers have godly and wise leadership that are out to not to make a profit but to provide the church with godly and biblical books and resources to foster spiritual growth. We have a plethora of tools, blogs, journals and magazines at our disposal. We have so much here in North America and there are so many believers in other countries just begging for a handful of books to read.

Books are essential to Christian growth


I like what Thomas says also in the article, "Books are essential to Christian growth." Simple enough. There are so many godly books that contain biblical wisdom that God can use to help us grow in our faith and in our understanding of the Bible. Wisdom can be gleaned from reading (Prov. 11:14). Numerous men and women of God over the history of the church have poured out their souls and have shared their turmoils and burdens with us through their writings. God has used books in my own life as a source of spiritual growth and encouragement. My books have become my companions and mentors over the years. They have been an indispensable component of my growth.

I agree with Thomas that today's Christianity has become less robust as a result of not being well read. Many Christians are not well rounded. They can hold good conversations about their jobs, their careers and fields but when it comes to being able to articulate their faith, they struggle. The evangelical church has become stagnant and weak in so many areas and I believe that in part this due to the decline in reading good literature. There are an abundance of books out there, a treasure trove of spiritual wealth waiting to be devoured. God has supplied the church with books written by godly Spirit-filled saints that would equip their leadership for ministry, foster spiritual growth, aid in having godly marriages and homes and so forth and yet so many are not availing themselves to these blessings.

Reading good books is a blessing. I can't encourage you enough to grab a good Christian book and discipline yourself to read. It can change your life.

Book Review: If You Bite & Devour One Another by Alexander Strauch




If You Bite & Devour One Another is the new title by Alexander Strauch (Lewis & Roth Publishing, 2011, 173 pages).

About the Author

For the past forty years Alexander Strauch has served as a teaching elder at the Littleton Bible Chapel in Littleton, Colorado. He has also taught philosophy and New Testament literature at Colorado Christian University. He has written of more than a dozen books and is the best selling author of Biblical Eldership which is a recognized authority on the topic of biblical eldership by Bible colleges and seminaries around the world.

Introduction


The title of the book comes from Gal. 5:15, "But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another."

Church conflict is all around us. How many times do we hear accounts of church members suing their pastor and church over church discipline? Or how often do we hear reports of church's splitting right down the middle over trivial matters while the world sits and laughs at us? Countless pastors, church leaders and godly saints and their families have been wounded and scarred by the turmoil and agony of church conflict. In fact, the pain from the conflict can be so agonizing that it can take years to heal.

Unquestionably, the most toxic and poisonous churches that I have ever seen have been ones riddled with believers biting and devouring each other with bursts of gossip and slander.

I was eager to read this latest book by Strauch as he addresses an issue that all of us as believers will encounter sooner or later.

Overview


Strauch's aim is to help believers have a better understanding of the Biblical teachings on conflict and subsequently help us learn how to respond to that conflict using Biblical principles.

His first three chapters focus on 1. Act in the Spirit 2. Act in Love and 3. Act in Humility

The remainder of the book, Strauch focuses in on specific principles for handling that conflict.

Our new life in Christ

Strauch writes, "When conflict arises, our attitudes and behaviors should reflect our new life in Christ given by the Holy Spirit who lives within us (p. 9)." This seems simple enough. It easy when everything is going well, when people are being nice and loving to then be nice and loving back. Often is the case, when a person's true stripes are revealed occurs when we are confronted, when strong disagreement occurs and a conflict arises. And then we can react in the flesh rather than in the Spirit which in turns escalates the problem and then the problem usually snowballs from there.

Our new life in Christ should resemble the gospel in our lives. Strauch writes, "If only we would recognize that every conflict is a test as to whether or not we will display Christlike character, the wisdom from above, and the reality of the gospel in our lives (p.18)."

Life in the Spirit

As part of our new life in Christ as Christians we are supposed to reflect the gospel in our lives, Strauch emphasizes that to have unity and resolve conflict Biblically, we must walk by the Spirit (Gal. 5:16, 18, 25). Strauch's exposition on this topic is excellent. He does an excellent job of explaining what this means, how we are to walk in the Spirit and how the ministry of the Spirit helps us resolve conflict. The Holy Spirit is necessary in order to resolve church conflict.

When we walk in the Spirit, we are seeking to have the fruit of the Spirit evident in our lives (Gal. 5:22-23). We bear His fruit as we walk and abide in Christ.

If we want to resolve conflict within the church, we must be walking in the Spirit and not in the flesh.

Resolving Conflict with Love and Humility

Strauch points out how we as believers are called to act in love (cf. 1 Cor. 13:4-7). Acting out in love and graciousness can help resolve conflict and heal wounds. Strauch also points out the biblical admonitions for a call to act in humility (cf. Rom. 12:3; Gal. 6:3). This will also be evident in how we talk to one another and about one another.

In order to effectively resolve conflict, we must be willing to admit our own faults with love and express gracious humility. Strauch notes, "Conceit produces vain boasting and feelings of superiority that hinder conflict resolution. Conceit causes us to be defensive, self-righteous, and stubborn. It blinds us to our own errors and glaring faults (p.43)."

At the root of many conflicts often lurks pride. Therefore Strauch spends a great deal of time discussing pride and the antidote of humility and how it affects conflict as the Bible has a great deal to say about pride and the necessity of having genuine humility.

We are called to be peacemakers

Strauch's section and discussion on the imperative of pursuing peace is also commendable. Believers are called to pursue peace (Mark 9:50; Rom. 12:18; 2 Cor. 13:11; 1 Thess. 5:13; Rom. 14:19; Heb. 12:14; 1 Pet. 3:11; 2 Tim. 2:22; Col. 3:15).

To not pursue peace is sin. We are called to have harmony with one another not acrimony. Strauch's exposition on this topic was an excellent reminder of the high calling we have to be peacemakers.

Conclusion and Final Thoughts

I thought this book was an excellent read! I highly recommend this book and resource. It was well researched, contained excellent and detailed exposition of key Scripture passages related to matters of dealing and handling conflict. Strauch's decades of ministry experience was also an invaluable contribution to this book. This book contained a wealth of practical wisdom.

I think this book should be read by every elder and pastor as elders should be setting an example how to be peacemakers in the church and resolving conflict biblically. I think that this is also an excellent resource for elders and church leaders to read and study together.

I am one who has been in numerous settings as well involving church conflict. It can be nasty. The poison from believers, especially those in church leadership can leave others with scars for many years. The damage done as a result of church conflict not being handled appropriately can be colossal. I am thankful for this helpful book by Strauch as it gives the Body of Christ practical and helpful instructions on how to resolve church conflict in the power of the Holy Spirit.


Special thanks to Lewis & Roth Publishing for this review copy.

Book Review: Grounded in the Gospel by J.I. Packer and Gary A. Parrett




Grounded in the Gospel (Baker Books, 2010) is a release by J.I. Packer and Gary A. Parrett.

J.I. Packer is the well known and well respected Reformed theologian from Regent College and senior editor for Christianity Today. He is the author or editor of more than fifty books.

Gary A. Parrett is professor of educational ministries and worship at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and the coauthor of A Many Colored Kingdom and Teaching the Faith, Forming the Faithful.

Overview

From the Back Cover:

Recovering an Ancient Practice for Modern Evangelicals


Historically, the church's ministry of grounding new believers in the essentials of the faith has been known as catechesis--systematic instruction in faith foundations, including what we believe, how we pray and worship, and how we conduct our lives. For most evangelicals today, however, this very idea is an alien concept. Packer and Parrett, concerned for the state of the church, seek to inspire a much--needed evangelical course correction. This new book makes the case for a recovery of significant catechesis as a nonnegotionable practice, urging evangelical churches to undertake this biblical ministry for the sake of their spiritual health and vitality.

What is Catechesis?

In order to understand catechesis, we need to first understand what it is. The authors define it as the following: Catechesis is the church's ministry of grounding and growing God's people in the Gospel and its implications for doctrine, devotion, duty, and delight (p.29).

It is as the authors point out derived from the New Testament word for teaching--the Greek verb katecheo.

A Historical Background


The authors being from the Reformed tradition are concerned that catechesis which has historically been used by the church as a discipleship tool has now largely disappeared from the evangelical church. The Reformers saw value in it along with others such as Richard Baxter, John Owen, Charles Spurgeon and others. The authors point out that they and other pastors saw this as a tool to provide sound instruction to their flocks.

Catechesis Today

The authors point that catechesis has largely waned in the modern evangelical church. They point out that it is "largely an alien concept" (p.24). Many today view it as something Roman Catholics do but not evangelicals.

The authors spend several chapters arguing very compellingly that catechesis is a biblical idea (cf. Gal. 6:6).

Packer and Parrett are correct in noting that outside of the Westminster Shorter and the Heidelberg Catechisms, catechesis is foreign to the local evangelical church.

I think that their contentions are simple. The church is commanded to teach the Word of God and one method and tool to do that is found in catechesis. Throughout the church's history, many pastors have used this with much fruit and blessing in many churches. Today the evangelical church has become largely stagnant and weak in a postmodern era. And it is the belief of Packer and Parrett that the church has become so spiritually weak is because of the abandonment of catechesis.

I found myself reading their exposition and agreeing with many of their conclusions. I do think there is a biblical basis for catechesis and I don't think there is anything wrong with memorizing a catechism that reflects sound doctrine.

How They View the Gospel and the Church

The authors are heavily Reformed and Lordship Salvationists. They are also highly ecumenical and Packer is a member of ECT (Evangelicals and Catholics Together).

Their Lordship views are evident here is this quote: By our faith--let us be clear--we not only receive from him pardon for the past; we also enroll ourselves as his disciples, commit ourselves to follow his leading wherever it takes us, and enter upon a new life of permanent union and communion with him and with his Father, who now through him becomes our Father too (p. 99).

Another quote that numerous evangelicals, particularly those within Free Grace Theology will disagree with is found here:

In particular, many are persuaded that evangelicalism has often been guilty of promoting an "easy believism" and a cheap grace. The idea of "once saved, always saved" has often led to apathy and laziness among those who call themselves Christians. The place of good works has not been adequately addressed or properly emphasized in much evangelical preaching and teaching (p.104).

Free Grace readers will also take exception to the authors writing, "We ought to envision true saving faith as manifesting itself always in love and obedience (p.104)."

I could not more vehemently disagree with the above quotes. What is interesting to note here is that these quotes are coming from staunchly Reformed thinkers and writers. Reformed Theology emphasizes the role of fruit and works in the life of believers. They emphasize works as being proof of one's salvation and there has been much debate over this in evangelical circles.

Furthermore, the authors did not offer any support or examples of how "the idea of '"once saved, always saved"' has often led to apathy and laziness among those who call themselves Christians." I think the opposite is true. I think that in Reformed thought, the strong emphasis and over emphasis on fruit & works has led many who are genuinely saved to look at their works for the hope of their salvation rather than the cross. There are many have had doubts about their eternal security because of a distorted view of their assurance based on works.

"Catholic Christians?"

While this book is about catechesis, readers will also recognize the ecumenical background of these authors. Throughout the book, the authors refer to Roman Catholics as "Christians" and repeatedly affirm the validity of their faith and religion.

Ironically, the authors recognize the various doctrines that divide Protestants and Catholics (p.159) yet at the same time, they still believe they are part of the true church, one in which evangelicals should partner and seek "pastoral cooperation" with.

The authors also seem to not be consistent with their own theology on this as they write:

Our focus instead should be on how the message of the Gospel is so very different from all the false gospels of the culture that surrounds us. This will mean that we also distinguish the Christian vision from the message of other major religions (p.164)."

What about Catholicism then? What about their view on justification which demands works are a necessary component of forensic justification? Is this not a "false gospel?" The authors leave this issue unearthed.

Conclusion

I thought this book did a sound job of explaining catechesis and its historical and present usage of it within the church. I agree with the authors that their is biblical warrant for it and that if properly used can be a discipleship tool. This was the strongest point of the book. Obviously, whatever churches use for catechesis must be biblically based and doctrinally sound and believers have liberty in this area.

I found several quotes in the book of great value about the weak and lethargic state of the modern evangelical church. I disagreed with the authors that this is dogmatically due to the lack of catechesis within the church. Discipleship--yes, but dogmatically catechesis, not necessarily.

The ecumencial background of Pakcer and Parrett is found "weighed and wanting." I believe they are way off on this issue and I believe they were not consistent in their theology in trying to convince readers that the Roman Catholic church is one in which evangelicals should partner with rather than separate from. This movement is of concern to me and clearly not all readers will agree with them on these matters.


Disclaimer: special thanks to the kind and gracious folks of Baker Books for this free review copy.