Saved by Grace by Herman Bavinck

Bavinck, Herman. Saved by Grace: The Holy Spirit’s Work in Calling and Regeneration. Translated by Nelson D. Kloosterman. Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2008. $30.00.

Herman Bavinck was a Dutch theologian who lived from 1854-1921. He served as professor of systematic theology at Kampen Theological Seminary (Germany Netherlands) from 1882-1902. He then succeeded Abraham Kuyper, serving again as professor of systematic theology at Free University in Amsterdam. He is known today more for his 4 volume Reformed Dogmatics which is the customary text for anyone studying Reformed theology.

Having been translated by Nelson D. Kloosterman and edited by J. Mark Beach, Saved by Grace offers an excellent perspective on the means by which God brings sinful man to a saving faith found in Christ Jesus. Because this work is anachronistic (Bavinck writes to a specific audience), it is with much delight that Beach’s 50+ page introduction to the work sheds some much needed light on what was happening in The Reformed Churches of the Netherlands around the time Bavinck wrote this book. For most, the introductory essay is more important than the writing itself since one will better appreciate the heart and fervor in which Bavinck originally wrote this book.

As a Baptist, I heartily disagree with his understanding of why infants ought to be baptized, but given his theology and understanding of Scripture, Bavinck offers an excellent apologetic for infant baptism. Regardless of one’s theology, Bavinck succinctly explains that the God we serve is a God of means. The baptism of the child is one means by which God will work to save a soul. Ultimately; however, it is the work of the Holy Spirit that calls and regenerates the sinner unto salvation.

Saved by Grace ought to be read by all pastors who proclaim the Gospel. One will see the glory of God on each page as Bavick explains that it is God alone through faith in Christ alone that anyone may be saved. The biblical means by which the Triune God sets apart His elect is through the calling and regenerating work of the Holy Spirit. It is certainly a must read for any who claim Reformed theology.

Book Reviews

Reforming or Conforming? by Gary Johnson and Ronald Gleason

Reforming or Conforming: Post-Conservative Evangelicals and the Emerging Church, ed. Gary L.W. Johnson and Ronald N. Gleason. Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2008. 300 pp. $20.00.

Reforming or Conforming (RoC) takes a hard look at the emergent church movement that is running rampant within Christianity today. Edited by Johnson and Gleason, two senior pastors, RoC is a scholarly book written in order that Christendom may come to know the emergent church at its roots. With contributions from many scholars across the (conservative) theological spectrum, RoC presents a multi-faceted approach to understanding and dealing with the emergent church movement.

The reader will become well informed as to what lies at the core of the emergent church. You are presented with their doctrines at face value and then shown whether or not they stand or fall in light of the revelation of God as found in the Bible. This is a hard hitting expose of the emergent church that needs to be read by everyone. If you are interested in the emergent church, this book may shed light on some of the practices found therein. If you are involved in a local church, then you need to read this book because, undoubtedly, someone will bring this topic up for discussion and want to know if there are any problems with the emergent church.

What is more, many who think the emergent church 1) poses no real threat to Christianity and 2) is doing much more to reach the lost will want to check out this book. This is not a book to be read lightly. It demands to be chewed slowly and meditated upon. It is not a book about a movement as much as it is about the biblical gospel. If the contributors and editors of this book are correct, hundreds of thousands of souls are at stake. Read this book with much prayer and meditation and be sure to have your Bible nearby—you will need it.

Tactics by Gregory Koukl

Koukl, Gregory. Tactics: A Game Plan for Discussing your Christian Convictions. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009. $14.99.

Introduction

Gregory Koukl is no stranger to the world of apologetics (defending the Christian faith). His ministry, Stand to Reason, has proven invaluable to much of my dialogue with philosophical unbelievers. In Tactics, Dr. Koukl offers his experienced wisdom in dealing with other worldviews—especially New Atheism—by offering tips on how to show, with their own words, how their arguments are often times self-defeating and illogical.

Summary of Tactics

The book is divided into two parts. The first part introduces the game plan-the importance of having and being familiar with a tactic when engaging in a dialogue involving Christianity. The second part teaches the reader how to find the flaws in the argument. You must master the first part in order to better deploy the second part in discussion.

The tactics used in this book are designed to help one control the conversation when discussing matters of Christian faith. It is so easy to be put on the defensive and then remain there. The tactics are used to gain a footing in the conversation and are not meant to humiliate the other person. We must use these carefully and remember that we are representing the Kingdom whenever we engage in a battle like this. While our goal is always to be able to share the gospel, in some cases, especially in these types of dialogues, we may just want to plant a seed. Keep in mind that His Word does not return void!

Using what he calls “The Columbo” tactic, Dr. Koukl offers up advice on how to best use the 10-second window to respond to standard challenges to the faith. Basically, you have 10-seconds to answer the objection and move from the defensive to the offensive without being harsh. While using this tactic, you are gaining information for future reference—this helps to clarify any misunderstandings. It also forces the other person to think more critically about his or her beliefs which is always a good thing…even for Christians.

Once you have moved to the offensive and have gathered some information, you can now lead the conversation in a completely new direction. This is seen with the use of “leading questions” which enables the Christian to make his point more effectively. This particular element of the Columbo tactic requires some basic knowledge on your part. You need to be able to spot fallacies (illogical arguments) and gently show those weaknesses to the other person.

After you conversation has taken place, reflect back on what was said. You will begin to learn to anticipate future challenges as well as sharpening your own skills in simple discussions. You also learn how to defend against the Columbo tactic as well to recognize assertions disguised as questions.

Part two begins with teaching the reader how to recognize those views that self-destruct. A common statement heard today is that “there is no absolute truth.” If that statement is true, then there is absolute truth and therefore the statement defeats itself. Here, one must be conversant with logic and the fundamental law of logic: the Law of non-contradiction.

Chapter eight teaches you how to see when a statement, though not self-defeating, is practically untenable. The statement used here is “it is wrong to say people are wrong.” While not self-defeating per se, it cannot be spoken because it automatically violates the person’s own belief. This is especially helpful when dealing with moral relativists.

In concluding the section on recognizing fallacies, Dr. Koukl shows how some arguments cannot co-exist. For example, the statement that because evil exists God cannot is an illogical argument. Since the existence of God is necessary for evil to be a problem, you cannot use it as a proof that God does not exist. If anything, they are merely proving the point that God does exist.

The final few chapters offer other tactics when discussing matters of Christian faith. Chapter ten shows you how to “take the roof off” by reducing a point of view to its basic argument and then thinking it through to some absurd conclusions. Chapter eleven shows how to sidestep emotional reasons for resisting truth claims. Finally, chapter twelve teaches how to avoid the “fallacy of the expert witness” while chapter thirteen concludes the methods section by showing how many who argue against Christianity are doing so based upon ignorance or false information.

Critique

As I have said in other reviews on apologetic books, it is important to note that you cannot argue anyone into the kingdom. However, that does not mean you cannot be prepared to have an answer to those who do not believe for the hope you have in Jesus Christ. Dr. Koukl offers some very sound wisdom and draws immensely from his own experiences. There really is nothing to critique as it were unless you wanted to argue against a particular style of apologetics, but that is not the purview of this review. Suffice it to say that if you become conversant with this book, you will be able to better defend your faith as well as understand why you were at a loss for words when involved in a discussion.

Recommendation

I really like what Hank Hanegraaff had to say in his blurb when he compared this book to that of military training on tactics. The truth of the matter is that we are in a war and if we are to win the war (I am referring to the war of words we usually find ourselves in), we must be trained in the art of warfare both spiritual and mental while always relying on the Spirit of God to enable us to speak the Gospel with gentleness and love.

As one whose first love in academic Christianity was apologetics (it bothered me that while I was an unbeliever, no one who claimed to be a Christian could really tell me what they believed and why they believed it), I highly recommend this book. While much of it may be “over the head” of some, reading this book will better prepare the believer to engage in the war of words that often takes place in living rooms and classrooms and coffee houses. This book would make a perfect gift for a young Christian who is leaving for college.

Tactics offers an excellent and strategic battle plan to effectively engage the world where they are and on their terms. The only difference is that you do not get into a shouting match or a war of words. Rather, you ably show the other person the holes in his or her argument and that there is a worldview that holds together with the consistency and clarity they long for.

Living For God’s Glory by Joel R. Beeke

Beeke, Joel R. Living for God’s Glory: An Introduction to Calvinism. Orlando: Reformation Trust, 2008. 416 pp. $24.00. Buy at Reformation Heritage Books for $18.00 or at Westminster Bookstore for $15.84.

With his usual flair for meticulous research, Dr. Joel R. Beeke has written a masterpiece in Living for God’s Glory. The book was written for those who are interested in the basics of Calvinism in a simple, non-technical, yet scholarly style. Dr. Beeke sought contributions from eight other writers for ten of the twenty-eight chapters. Some of those contributors are Michael A.G. Haykin, Ray Pennings, and Sinclair B. Ferguson.

This book serves two purposes. First, it is a resource book that will be referenced quite often in a young, Reformed, Christian’s life. There is so much in this book that involves Calvinism as a lifestyle that it will need to be drank from slowly as if allowing it to soak in over time. Second, this book is a theology book that will be read over and over as one wrestles with (or against) the impact these beloved doctrines that have come to be known as Calvinism.

Dr. Beeke does a wonderful job of laying out the central tenants of biblical Calvinism while at the same time answering the common (and not so common) objections to these doctrines. The chapters on what we now call the T.U.L.I.P. does much to dispel the many mischaracterizations of Calvinism while showing the historic, and more importantly, biblical evidences. His chapters on sanctification are much needed today and should be mandatory reading for all believers.

Perhaps the one glaring problem with the book is found early on page six where Dr. Beeke explains the spread of the Reformed faith. In that section, he mentions that “the terms Reformed and Calvinism became virtually synonymous” (p.6). He continues to use “Reformed” throughout most of the chapter but jettisons that word for “Calvinism” throughout the rest of the book. I would have rather seen a more detailed explanation for the use of Calvinism instead of Reformed than that the two words “became virtually synonymous.” How and why did they become synonymous?

If you are among those who hold to Reformed theology, this book is a must own. It would be the perfect resource for those young Calvinists who are in the “cage-stage” because it shows what exactly these glorious doctrines entail and just how far-reaching they are in one’s life. If you are not a Calvinist but have wondered what exactly Calvinism is (i.e., without all of the assumptions and misunderstandings), then I would highly recommend this book. Dr. Beeke does a great job of not “shoving these doctrines down your throat” as some have claimed Calvinists do. Rather, he meticulously charts the historical understanding and how they impacted those who believed in them. More importantly, he explains how these doctrines should impact everything about your life.

Magazine Review: Bible Study Magazine

Introduction

Logos Bible Software has just released the first edition of Bible Study Magazine (BSM). At first I was a bit skeptical and thought the computer software company might be overstepping their boundaries. I was wrong. I must say that I was pleasantly surprised overall with the layout and “feel” to the magazine. The stated goal of the magazine is to provide readers “with tools and methods for Bible study.”

Inside the Magazine

The first thing I noticed was how colorful the magazine was. It seemed as though every page shouted for your attention. I use shouted not in a negative way. Rather, I say shouted because it was though each page said, “Hey, I have something important for you and you need to check it out!” Simply flipping through the magazine is not really possible because of the placement of comments in the margins and the use of pictures throughout. Your eye is regularly drawn to the page as you can’t help yourself from reading what is there.

Every addition of BSM includes

  • Bible Study Tips–explaining difficult passages
  • A Moment with God–everyday people sharing how they have quiet time amidst their crazy schedules.
  • Feature Story–Generally the face on the cover of the magazine
  • On the Cutting Edge–archaeological and historical findings
  • Not your Average Bible Study–maps out an 8-week Bible study to be used personally or in a group.
  • On Teaching–advice on teaching the Bible
  • D.I.Y. Bible Study–using Bible study tools effectively
  • In the News–the latest news concerning the Bible
  • Thoughts from the Church Fathers–quotes from the past
  • Greek Word Study w/o Greek–A 4-step process to studying the Greek text w/o going to seminary
  • If Only Someone Would Explain it to me–complex biblical concepts in layman terms
  • What They Don’t Tell You in Church–facts about the Bible that will
  • I Dare You Not to Bore Me with the Bible–pointing out what we usually do not see
  • Shelf Life–reviews on books and commentaries about the Bible
  • Bible Comics and Puzzles

Critique

The positives are many. The aesthetic appeal with the use of all the colorful pictures and ads bring life to the magazine. I really liked their use of bloggers in a print magazine. Bloggers have a noticeably different writing style than those who normally contribute to magazines and other forms of print media. In addition to bloggers, BSM used professors from various seminaries and bible colleges as well as other freelance writers. When you bring all of these various writing styles together in one magazine, you are presented with an eclectic publication that will find an audience with just about anyone from the newest believer to the oldest and from the layman to the scholar.

What is more, the scholarly articles are written with the layman in mind while the “not-so-scholarly” articles are written with the scholars in mind. For example, BSM makes use of the margins to explain words like “canon” and “Koine Greek” for those who are not familiar with those words. However, BSM also uses the margins to present some “deeper information” than what the article presents. In doing this, BSM does an excellent job of bridging the gap between the layman and the trained scholar.

Another postive was the way in which BSM attempts to keep everything interrelated. For example, in the “Greek word study without the Greek” section, the passage of Scripture that is being discussed is Luke 8:46. In the very next section, “Thoughts from the Church Fathers,” they quote Cyril of Alexandria on Luke 8:43-48. This is only one example, but it is obvious that the editorial team painstakingly made sure that there was a flow from cover to cover.

For all the many positives, there were some negatives. Perhaps the most glaring was the way they interspersed the ads throughout the magazine. Some of the ads were strategically placed on the same page that included an article about what was being sold. One example of this would be the inclusion of a sales add for Zondervan’s book How to Choose a Translation for All Its Worth by Fee and Strauss in the middle of an article entitled Choosing a Bible Translation.

While I recognize this as a strategic (and probably effective) advertising approach, I think it leads to unintentional confusion. On the very next page, opposite the Zondervan book ad, is another ad featuring Josh McDowell talking about how great the New Living Translation is. The fact that it immediately follows the article on choosing a translation seems to imply an endorsement of the NLT by BSM. In all fairness, though, there were ads for the ESV and the NASB as well.

I also got the feeling that the magazine came with a Logos salesman. I realize that this magazine is published by Logos and they are going to advertise their product everywhere, but I think this is a case where less could be more. Yes, I appreciate knowing that I can find more information on the Dead Sea Scrolls or how to defend my faith, but every URL they offer that begins with logos.com/ leads to a page where I have to purchase something. Perhaps instead of putting all of these links in the margin where they have provided other excellent information they could place it at the end of the article beneath the author’s short bio or reserve a section in the back of the magazine that explicitly states that Logos offers many resources on what has been presented in the current issue of the magazine. With everything else going on in the margins, this became more of a distraction than a help.

Recommendation

I believe the editorial staff did a wonderful job of sticking to their main purpose of “providing readers with tools and methods for Bible study.” The negatives mentioned above dealt only with the ads and not the content of the magazine. That is a significant point that should be made. Do I agree with everything that was said in the magazine? No. Do I ever agree with everything that was said in any magazine or book? No. While BSM does not try to bring about debate and disagreement, it is going to happen and that is fine. I found nothing in the content of the magazine that was heretical. What I did find was a lot of tips and advice to believers to delve further into God’s word and plumb the depths of His glory and mercy and love.

There is a lot of information about the Bible being published today. Bible Study Magazine is a much welcomed resource that will enhance anyone’s study of God’s word regardless of education and/or age. If you know a new believer who is wanting to learn how to study God’s word, this magazine would enable them to study deeper the Bible quicker. If you know an older believer who sometimes struggles with his study of God’s word, this magazine would help them see the Bible from a fresh set of eyes.

From the colorful pages to the content found within, I welcome the addition of this magazine into my home and church and believe that you would, too. It would make a great Christmas gift as well.

Heirs With Christ by Joel R. Beeke

Beeke, Joel R. Heirs with Christ: The Puritans on Adoption. Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2008. 134 pp. $13.00. Purchase direct from the publisher at Reformation Heritage Books or from Westminster Books.

Introduction

Dr. Joel R. Beeke is renowned for his writings on Puritan theology. He has written, edited, or co-authored over fifty books including Meet the Puritans, Reformation Heroes, Striving Against Satan, and Living for God’s Glory (my review is forthcoming). He serves as president and professor of systematic theology and homiletics at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, the editorial director of Reformation Heritage Books, and vice president of the Dutch Reformed Translation Society which is all located in Grand Rapids, Michigan. His PhD is in Reformation and post-Reformation History from Westminster Theological Seminary.

Obviously, Dr. Beeke is well-versed in Puritan theology and this book does not disappoint. Justin Taylor states it best in his blurb on the back: “In this short but spiritually substantive book…” What he lacks in length he makes up for with content and depth.

Summary of Heirs with Christ

The book was written as an apologetic for the Puritans and their writings on adoption. Many, thanks in part to J.I. Packer’s Knowing God, believe that the Puritans never dealt with the doctrine of adoption. Beeke spends the entire book showing that this is not the case and that the doctrine of adoption was foundational too much of their thinking.

Beeke first shows the comprehensiveness of adoption and its impact on soteriology (matters of salvation) and the Christian faith in general. He then states explicitly what adoption is not—regeneration, justification, and sanctification—and how you cannot have one without the other but they must be differentiated.

The chapters on the transforming power of, the transformed relationships in, and the privileges and benefits of adoption leave one breathless and wanting to plumb the deeps of the Puritan minds. Along the way throughout the book, Beeke offers a sneak peek into the thinking behind the Westminster Assembly Confession as well as adoption in both testaments of the Bible.

Critical Analysis

Beeke does a wonderful job of sticking to his thesis that the Puritans wrote extensively on the doctrine of adoption. As one reads Heirs with Christ, he feels as though he is part of a documentary. Dr. Beeke strives to let the Puritans speak in their own words. He merely provides guidance as we peer back in time and see how the Puritans emphasized the doctrine of adoption and how it was foundational too much of their teachings.

Recommendation

If you are a believer in Christ, then you need to read this book. To see the richness and glory of being adopted by God into His Family will have you shouting “Amen!” To be completely honest, the footnotes and the bibliography are worth the price of the book. Personally, I found the introduction to Cotton Mather (chapter nine) to be worth the read! Having only heard of him in passing, I was not prepared for his pastoral writings and the blessing they would be to my soul.

This book certainly deserves to be read over and over. For those who struggle with assurance—and many do—they can read about their adoption into the family of Christ and rejoice to know that their assurance rests solely on God and not themselves. What a joy to realize that all over again “for the first time.”

Worldliness by C.J. Mahaney

Mahaney, C.J. Worldliness: Resisting the Seduction of a Fallen World. Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2008. 191 pp. $12.99.

C.J. Mahaney has become one of the most beloved charismatics of our time. I say that tongue-in-cheek and as one who has greatly benefited from his ministry. This book illustrates why everyone runs to Mahaney to see what living a cross-centered life looks like in today’s marginalized Christianity. He does not disappoint with this little volume.

Mahaney is joined by Craig Cabaniss, Bob Kauflin, Dave Harvey, and Jeff Purswell in exhorting the believer to flee worldliness. C.J. introduces the book with a chapter that looks hard at how often we disregard certain verses in the Bible. He compares this to Thomas Jefferson who removed everything in his “bible” that conflicted with his own thinking. How much more do we do that today and not even realize it? If we are to believe the Bible to be God’s Word, then we must adhere to all of it and not just what we agree with.

The proceeding four chapters in the book are all titled “God, my Heart, and _______.” They include the media (television and computer), music, stuff, and clothing. In each of these four chapters, the reader will be shaking his head as if to say “Yes, that was me once” or “Wait a minute that is worldliness?” You will be both challenged and comforted in reading these pages.

The final chapter explains how to love the world without losing focus of Who we worship. Jeff Purswell shows, in essence, how to be in the world and not of the world as so many Christians claim they do. What many will see is that they are in fact living for the world rather than living for the glory of Christ.

There are two appendices that are worth reading. Both are directed at women and dressing modestly (something that seems to be foreign even in our churches today) daily, and perhaps more importantly, on her wedding day. Even though they are directed at women, husbands, fathers, and young men would do well to read them and use them as a guide when shopping with a daughter, wife or wife-to-be.

We all struggle from time to time with what kind of music we listen to or what media we allow in to our homes or how much stuff we own. We would all do well to heed the call to flee worldliness and to live a more Christ-centered and God-glorifying lives. This volume shows what that looks like and offers the encouragement to “go all in for Christ.”

Ligon Duncan offers this statement in his blurb on the back of the book: “I now know the first book I am going to reach for when a Christian is wrestling with worldliness—or isn’t but should be!” I include this statement because it best sums up my recommendation. This will be a book that you will want to purchase multiple copies of to loan out to those needing counsel on worldliness.

The Leadership Dynamic by Harry Reeder III and Rod Gragg

Reeder III, Harry L. and Rod Gragg. Reeder III, Harry L. and Rod Gragg. The Leadership Dynamic: A Biblical Model for Raising Effective Leaders. Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2008. 191 pp. $12.99.

Introduction

Perhaps one of the most oft-asked questions in the Christian blogosphere is where one should go to be trained in leadership. The arguments range from the seminary to the local church to the family. However, what is most notable is the “next generation” of preachers, of which I am one, cries out for training in this most important area of ministry and life. What is even more prominent is the reality that a quality biblical model of training the next generation of leaders is lacking in most churches.

Now, Harry Reeder, senior pastor of Briarwood Presbyterian Church in Birmingham, Alabama, has written a book that presents a biblical model for training this next generation of leaders. Along with Rod Gragg, a professor of history at Coastal Carolina University, Reeder shows from Scripture what it means to be a leader capable of changing the fabric of society.

Summary of The Leadership Dynamic

The first three chapters deal with what the Bible says about leadership. Chapter one shows how the biblical model of leadership is counter-cultural to what the world thinks a leader should be. Being a leader is supposed to be in the world but not of the world. It is something many Christians say, but do not apply to their lives. This is even truer when it comes to spiritual leadership.

The second section—arbitrarily called a section by me—helps to define what a leader is. After defining the leader, Reeder presents the marks of the effective Christian leader and then offers ways to become just that. Drawing from his own experiences, Reeder shows how the best leaders learn from their lives as well as others who have “been there, done that.”

The third section—again, arbitrarily—explains how to develop future leaders. This section needs to be read and understood by many of today’s pastors as well as that “next generation” so that we may pass the baton of faith that Paul talks about in 2 Timothy 2:2. Reeder places the role of leadership building squarely on the church where, if it is to be biblical, it should be.

The final chapter is perhaps the most important chapter in the book. In it, Reeder exhorts the leaders to know who the enemy is. The enemy is not that thick-headed deacon or the young seminarian who knows everything. The enemy is Satan and he is dangerous. If you are going to begin training leaders, you must prepare yourself for the war that will ensue.

Recommendation

This is a much needed resource. It should be in every pastor’s library. Any father who wants to train his children in the fear of the Lord would benefit from the information found within the pages of this book. As a young minister myself, I can recall feeling lost when it came to being thrusted into a position of leadership. Reading this book has helped to enlighten much of my ignorance. I would recommend this resource to anyone wanting to know what it means to be a godly leader.

Total Church by Tim Chester and Steve Timmis

Chester, Tim and Steve Timmis. Total Church: A Radical Reshaping around Gospel and Community. Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2008. 224 pp. $15.99. Purchase at Westminster for $10.55.

Introduction

The authors of this book are also cofounders of a church planting initiative in Sheffield, UK called The Crowded House. The name of that initiative might have doubled as the name of this book. Both men have experience in what they write. Timmis is a former director of Radstock Ministries. There he helped the local church engage in world missions. Chester was a church planter for 15 years. Currently they are serving together as the codirectors of the Porterbrook Network a training and mentoring ministry for church planters.

Summary of Total Church

The book is divided into two parts. The first part is the foundation for the entire book. In it, the authors set out the two key components to the thesis of Total Church. The subtitle of the book shows what these two components are: gospel and community. In this part, Timmis and Chester argue that for a church to be biblical, it must be centered first on the gospel (if Christ was not crucified, buried, raised and ascended, then we have no church). The second focus is that of community. All throughout the book of Acts and the epistles of Paul (as well as the general) we read of a community of believers.

This community is a must in a world that no longer views a Christian as someone who is trustworthy and retainer of the truths found on in “The Book.” Without community, it is so easy to see believers leave the church disenfranchised with fellow believers. Perhaps one of satan’s greatest victories is a lack of community in the local church.

Part two comprises the majority of the book and looks at eleven different areas of “doing church” and how they would be impacted if the gospel and community were central to the local church. Here we see what evangelism and social involvement would look like and how they go hand in hand. Church planting would no longer be a concept approved of but would become a way of life in the local church. Discipleship and Training would not be sought out by young Christians longing to be discipled; rather, they would automatically be discipled and trained without having to sign up for a class. Things like theology and apologetics (seminary or local church?) would be taught.

All of this, plus much more, would ultimately lead to a deeper passion for God. Instead of “doing church” in the form of meetings and administrative work (yes, those have their place in the local church but are not as central as many think), the local church would actually be involved in the community by default. In other words, the content of the local church is the gospel while the context is the community of believers.

Recommendation

While you may not agree with everything the authors have to say, I think the concepts in this book deserve to be looked at and judged in light of Scripture. I would contend that the precepts found in the pages of Total Church are in fact biblical. Thus, I would recommend this book as a mandatory read for any young aspiring pastor. It is even more recommended for those who have a heart for planting churches.

As a matter of church government, I think a third part would have been nice to see that dealt with how best to govern this local body of believers. It is hinted at all throughout the book but never really dealt with explicitly. I realize there are differing opinions on church government, and entering into that debate is not within the parameters of this book, it still would have been nice if they took a stab at showing the infrastructure (humanly speaking) of the local church and how it shapes the duties of the church.

While the subtitle claims “a radical reshaping” of the church, I believe what is at issue is not so much a reshaping as much as it is an issue of sola scriptura. Most churches need to do away with the business and pseudo-business models of church life that focus on administrative work and get back to the heart of what a community of gospel believing sinners should be. In other words, we need to stop doing church in our meetings and offices and be the church doing the work of the gospel in our communities.

Unpacking Forgiveness by Chris Brauns

Brauns, Chris. Unpacking Forgiveness: Biblical Answers for Complex Questions and Deep Wounds. Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2008. 235 pp. $17.99.

Chris Brauns, senior pastor at the Congregational Christian Church of Stillman Valley, Illinois has written a much needed exposition on a much maligned topic. In Unpacking Forgiveness, he offers a study of what Scripture says regarding the discipline of forgiveness. He then gives his readers some basic guidelines to begin what is the long journey to true forgiveness.

Every believer must forgive and ask for forgiveness daily whether they realize it or not. This book helps the Christian to see what exactly that looks like as well as what is entailed in forgiveness. Although it may be controversial, Brauns explains how forgiveness, according to the scriptures, is conditional. Most people want to claim that forgiveness is unconditional and must be handed out freely. This idea of “free forgiveness” is nothing less than a feel-good, therapeutic forgiveness that has nothing to do with the Bible and everything to do with the person who is doing the forgiving.

Brauns painstakingly shows how therapeutic forgiveness solves nothing and more often than not leads to bitterness. Biblical forgiveness is conditional upon repentance. Yes, you can offer forgiveness to someone, but if they are not repentant, then they cannot be forgiven. It may be tough for some to understand this concept, but it must be understood that forgiveness does not have as much to do with the people involved as much as it does with Who is ultimately offended—God.

Each chapter includes a list of discussion questions that can be done alone but is best suited for a group study. This becomes especially important when you are instructed to not forgive the unrepentant and allow for the wrath of God to have the final say (see chapter 12).

While I want to write so much more in this review, I fear I cannot. Because I was challenged in my own preconceived notions—however subconscious they were—of what forgiveness was, I want to share everything I learned. However, if I were to do that, I fear that I would in essence be plagiarizing the book in this review! This book is saturated with scripture and consequently, it is one of the more challenging volumes that has come across my desk in some time. If you are not challenged by this book, then you either did not read it or you are not a believer who has experienced true forgiveness at the foot of the cross.

Suffice it to say that this book belongs on the shelf of every believer. What is more is this book belongs in the libraries of every pastor or nouthetic counselor who really wants to deal with the issue of forgiveness with a member of your congregation or a counselee. For those who have been hurt by a spouse, or parent, or friend, this book is a must read. If you ever want to learn to truly forgive and be content with the person who offended you, then you need to read this book.

Short, introductory reviews of Christian Books