Two Rival Religions?

On November 3, 1921, J. Gresham Machen presented an address entitled, “Liberalism or Christianity?” In that famous address, later expanded into the book, Christianity &…

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Love in a Time of Swine Flu

“A man‘s spirit will endure sickness, but a crushed spirit who can bear?” Proverbs 18:14 The history of humanity is the history of sickness, disease,…

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The Evolution of Catholicism

One cannot understand the theology of the Reformers without first understanding the theology of the Catholic Church in the sixteenth century.  Similarly, an understanding of contemporary Catholicism is necessary for any comprehensive understanding of evangelical identity.  While Catholic identity is a contested issue among Roman Catholic theologians and historians (as is true also within evangelicalism), the issues and controversies of modern Catholicism are extremely instructive.

In The Church: The Evolution of Catholicism [HarperOne] Professor Richard McBrien of the University of Notre Dame offers a very helpful guide to these controversies and to the evolution of Catholicism in the modern era.  He directs his primary attention to issues of ecclesiology with his church, and he offers a well-written guide that should be of interest to evangelicals seeking to understand what the Roman Catholic Church now teaches on a number of crucial issues.

McBrien is himself no stranger to controversy, and he is often criticized by more conservative Catholics.  His more liberal reading of recent Catholic history (see especially his analysis of Vatican II) is most interesting.  On several points of his analysis, I found him to be very insightful and helpful in summarizing.  As is so often the case, understanding the Catholic arguments helps in the task of sharpening evangelical arguments.  As in the sixteenth century, the issue of the Gospel remains central.

This excerpt serves to illustrate:

Ecclesiology has already begun to respond to this new situation.  There is a greater effort now to relate Christianity to the other great religions of the world and to develop new understandings of the availability of salvation, not only outside the Catholic Church, but outside the Body of Christ as a whole.  Ecclesiology has begun to assume an interfaith as well as an ecumenical character.  This development, of course, has not been without controversy thus far, as the many debates about Dominus Iesus, the document issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in September 2000, dramatically illustrate.  But this is the way the world and the Church are moving–in a global and multicultural direction–and so inevitably are the Church’s ecclesiologies.

John Calvin at 500: A Good Resource

The 500th anniversary of the birth of John Calvin has prompted numerous conferences, special observances, and books — and rightly so.  For some, the anniversary offers a first opportunity for an introduction to the great Genevan Reformer and his legacy.

Among the books released in honor of the Calvin anniversary is John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine, and Doxology, edited by Burk Parsons [Reformation Trust].  The book is a compilation of essays by well-known pastors and theologians.  Contributors include Sinclair Ferguson, John MacArthur, Philip Ryken, Steven Lawson, Jerry Bridges, and Eric Alexander, among others.  The essays are insightful, and will be particularly helpful to those who need a good introduction to Calvin the man, the preacher, the Reformer, the theologian, and the follower of Christ.

This is among the best introductory volumes on Calvin yet released for the 500th anniversary celebration. Multi-author works can be ungainly, but this work allows each of the contributors to write with his own style and on a subject that makes sense for his expertise.  John Calvin:  A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine, and Doxology is a good place to start an anniversary reading project.

An exerpt:

On September 16, 1541, Calvin returned to the pulpit of St. Peter’s after his three-year exile in Strasbourg.  An expectant and overflowing congregation assembled.  What would he say?  How would he address through this first sermon the injustices that had been perpetrated upon him, the lessons God had taught him, and the contemporary issues of Geneva?  Ascending the newly constructed high pulpit, he opened the Word of God and began expounding the next verse in the text he had been preaching prior to his banishment.  This extraordinary action clearly announced to all assembled that the church was to forget what lay in the past and press ahead.  But it simultaneously affirmed Calvin’s pastoral commitment to the primacy of preaching in general and the importance of expository preaching in particular.

From “The Churchman of the Reformation” by Harry L. Reeder.

Five Who Changed the World — Heroism in Service to the Gospel

“Real heroes are in short supply in our day,” says Daniel L. Akin.  In a world fascinated with celebrities and disenchanted with greatness, true heroism is hard to define, much less to find.  But Dr. Akin is certain that true heroes do appear in this generation as missionaries, pastors, and church planters.  In Five Who Changed the World, he looks back to the lives of five Christian missionaries as guides to true greatness and heroism today.

This short book is filled with insight and inspiration.  Dr. Akin, who serves as President of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina, offers biographical portraits of William Carey, Adoniram (and Ann) Judson, Bill Wallace, Lottie Moon, and Jim Elliot.  Of these, Dr. Akin writes:  “All of them suffered and experienced trials and the testing of their faith.  Some were even martyred.  Yet they persevered.”

The world really was changed by the service and witness of these Christian missionaries, and readers will risk a changed perspective and a challenged heart by reading this book.  It’s a risk you ought to take — and to pass along.

The Transcendentalists and the Making of the Modern Mind

Transcendentalism constitutes one of the most significant moments and movements in the making of the American mind.  As a matter of fact, we cannot understand the contours of American thought without reference to this formative period and intellectual movement.  Now, we have a book that serves as a truly useful introduction to the Transcendentalists and their ideas.  In American Transcendentalism: A History, Philip F. Gura takes us into the minds and times of the Transcendentalists.

Gura, who teaches at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, offers a pleasing and stimulating combination of historical analysis and the study of ideas.  In addition, he is a good writer whose style will keep readers attentive and interested.

In essence, Transcendentalism was a movement that transformed American individualism from a reflex into a religion.  As Gura explains, “Transcendentalism thus was another in a long line of attempts to redirect the still incomplete American experiment, in this case by anchoring it in the sanctity of each individual’s heart.”

The Transcendentalists included, most famously, Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson, along with Margaret Fuller.  They were associated with Unitarianism, Harvard University, Boston, and the early history of the American republic.  They were eccentrics — but eccentrics with vast influence, then and now.

Gura adds spice to his narrative, citing Annie Russell Marble (who knew the Transcendentalists first-hand) as “a race who dove into the infinite, soared into the illimitable, and never paid cash.”  Nevertheless, the movement was hugely influential in moving the center of meaning into the realm of the individual consciousness.  Traditional theism gave way to panentheism and a vague spirituality. The path was set for the development of individualism as a total worldview — and for the shaping of the American mind.

Gura’s American Transcendentalism is a book that helps to explain the present, as well as the past.

The Best Analysis of the “Gospel of Judas”

The controversy surrounding the “Gospel of Judas” raises significant and important questions for intelligent Christians.  How are we to understand this document?  What does this text suggest in terms of theology?  How do we put the entire question into context?

An excellent guide to these questions is Simon Gathercole, a bright young scholar who serves as Lecturer in New Testament Studies at Cambridge University.  In The Gospel of Judas (Oxford University Press) Gathercole offers the best available analysis of the Gospel of Judas and its significance.

The book is scholarly but accessible to any educated reader.  Gathercole addresses all the significant questions head-on and teaches his readers a good bit about the New Testament as he goes along.

His book is a needed corrective to the misleading media hype about the “Gospel of Judas” and his theological focus is greatly appreciated.

From the book:

The four Gospels in the New Testament are the only surviving Gospels which derive from the time period of the eyewitnesses to Jesus’ ministry.  Unsurprisingly, as the documents which most closely reflect the time and life-setting of Jesus, they present him as he had really been remembered–as someone who lived and breathed the Old Testament and knew himself to be playing a special role in its fulfillment, rather than as a thoroughly un-Jewish figure: disembodied, detached from the world, offering not hope but knowledge.

What Happened to African-American Theology?

The history of African-American theology raises one key question — What happened? Thabiti M. Anyabwile, now senior pastor of the First Baptist Church, Grand Cayman Islands, answers this question in The Decline of African American Theology: From Biblical Faith to Cultural Captivity [InterVarsity Press]. Anyabwile traces a road from biblical orthodoxy to theological liberalism in the mainstream of African-American theology.

Here are two paragraphs that tell the story very well, and in a very moving way:

Rather than denounce the Bible as fraudulent along with its white adherents, the slaves recognized that learning to read the Bible and to possess its contents for themselves was real spiritual power, whose potency was made all the more alluring by efforts to prohibit its access. So, slaves vowed to learn to read before they died so that they could read the Bible. They took advantage of every clandestine opportunity to secure lessons from favorable masters or their children, often risking legally sanctioned retribution, severe beatings and death.

By the end of slavery’s reign in America, African American doctrines of revelation were beginning to widen and make room for sources of revelation other then the Scriptures, including God continuing to reveal himself through supernatural means and interventions. This expansion of the doctrine of revelation would weaken the centrality of the Scriptures in the practice and thought of African American Christianity.

The Decline of African American Theology is a really important book — and for all evangelical Christians.

Readers will also want to know of Thabiti Anyabwile’s other book, The Faithful Preacher: Recapturing the Vision of Three Pioneering African-American Pastors [Crossway].

Thabiti Anyabwile was my guest on Monday’s edition of The Albert Mohler Program [listen here].

Can a Christian Deny the Virgin Birth?

Can a true Christian deny the virgin birth? This question would perplex
the vast majority of Christians throughout the centuries, but modern
denials of biblical truth make the question tragically significant. Of
all biblical doctrines, the doctrine of Christ’s virginal conception
has often been the specific target of modern denial and attack.

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