Category Archives: Book Reviews/Recommendations

Review: Four Views of Moving Beyond the Bible to Theology

Four Views of Moving Beyond the Bible to Theology is the 2008 addition to Zondervan’s Counterpoints series. The focus of this volume is to explore four models for taking the historically embedded revelation of Scripture and applying it to challenges, answer questions, and to instruct on issues never explicitly covered in the Bible itself. Veteran Old Testament scholar Walter Kaiser defends the Principalizing method. Theologian and pastor Daniel Doriani defends the Redemptive-Historical Method. Systematic Theologian Kevin J. Vanhoozer put forth his Drama-of-Redemption approach. Finally, William J. Webb represents the Redemptive-Movement model. In addition to the primary articles and their respective responses, this volume includes three additional essays of reflection from Mark Strauss, Albert Wolters, and Christopher J. H. Wright.


Dr. Walter Kaiser’s principalizing method argues that, strictly speaking, we do not have to move beyond the Bible in order to apply its teachings to contemporary challenges. Biblical authority comes to bear on modern questions by the application of its universal principles to new concrete situations. This is done by asking what is the general teaching behind specific biblical injunctions. He actually boils this down to a four-step method. First, we must determine the central point of any text we are studying. Second, we should exegetically determine the internal reasoning process of the passage (noting links between phrases, clauses, and sentences). Third, the interpreter moves to see how each “paragraph (in prose genres), scene (in narratives), or strophe (in poetical passages) can be expressed in propositional principles” (23). This means also removing all proper names/nouns in the process to make the principle truly universal. Fourth and finally, we should present our principles and imperatives in present tense verbs. He then applies this method to studies cases on euthanasia, gender roles in the church, homosexual, and several other ethical issues.

Doriani’s Redemptive-Historical approach is one that fits with the thought of Reformed thinkers such as Gerhardus Vos, Herman Ridderbos, and Richard Gaffin. Its emphasis is on the Bible as the unfolding redemptive story of God in Christ. It rightfully warns against an interpretive flattening of Scripture that ignores different redemptive periods. Doriani also advocates a sensitivity towards genre. How Scripture communicates is just as important as what Scripture communicates. Therefore, unlike some in the Redemptive-Historical camp, Doriani advocates receiving instruction from biblical portraits and character studies (where the actions of the character receive God’s blessing and implicit approval). Like Kaiser, he offers steps for implementation. Step one is close accurate interpretation of his text. Step two is a synthesis of biblical data, “paying close attention to it place in redemptive history” (85). Step three is application with a special emphasis on the principle of imitation of Christ. Finally, step four is “adjusting a tradition application” but focusing on narrative communication. How do we find a bridge to cross from text to application? Doriani advocates as return to casuistry, “the art of resolving particular cases of conscience through appeal to higher general principles” (100). His chapter closes with case studies on architecture, gambling, and the issue of woman in ministry.

Kevin Vanhoozer’s chapter on the Drama-of-Redemption model of interpretation six to bridge the divide between theology, ethics, and the pastoral application. His goal is to fundamentally reorient his reader’s perspective on the view task of “using” the Bible. God is the divine director, with the Bible as the chief script. We are performers of the text, and moving “beyond the Bible” is akin to improvisation. The goal is the development of godly wisdom, knowing how to live in a way that is “fitting” with God plan for creation in Jesus Christ.

Perhaps the most controversial contribution is the Redemptive Movement method set forth by Webb. According to this view, Scripture at times does not present to us God’s final or ultimate ethic. Webb’s chief case study is the issue of slavery. Christians rightly, Webb argues, embrace an abolitionist ethic – though Scripture does not finally command the abolition of the institution of slavery. So how do we rightly and biblically ground this conviction? Webb says Scripture points us there through “movement meeting.” We determine this movement by observing a twofold movement. First, how Scripture’s ethic moves (in a humanizing direction) from its Ancient Near Eastern context (in the Old Testament) or it’s Greco-Roman context (in the New Testament). The second movement is the intra-scriptural development from the Old to the New covenant. Returning to the subject the slavery, we find the great humanizing contrast between Old testament slavery and it’s Ancient Near Eastern counterpart, and likewise once we move to the New Testament we read “…there is neither slave nor free… in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28). Webb clarifies that this is not a meeting over in against God’s intention, but rather the meaning implicit in the Scripture itself.


As I read through each of the essays, I was struck by the fact that they were all so different and, as Wolters notes in his reflection essay, sometimes talking about very different things. In fact, I found it reassuring that nearly all of my questions, concerns, or critiques were voiced at one point or another by any one of the contributors. Furthermore, the reflection essays by Strauss, Wolters, and Wright were especially rich and added much to the discussion.

The greatest strength of Kaiser’s approach is that, by direct or indirect admission from the other contributors, principalizing is unavoidable. Unless we have grown comfortable with the idea of imposing extra biblical commands on the consciences of God’s people, there is to one degree or another no alternative sent to the principalizing impulse. But a looming danger to Kaiser’s particular brand of principalizing is its emphasis on propositionalizing, its narrow focus on ethics, and the danger of devaluing the diverse genres of Scripture. In what is perhaps an overreaction to the excesses of some of his colleagues, Doriani devotes too much time to what his approach is against, almost as much is what it is for. Furthermore, Doriani’s seven-page discussion on the attributes of Scripture, while appreciated, was simply too long in an essay that missed opportunities to positively develop his approach and clarify how his model is distinct and superior to the others. At times I found myself asking, “how is his approach more than a mere nuancing of Kaiser’s approach?” The quality of Wright’s reflection essay what such that I found myself wondering why he didn’t right the Redemptive-Historical essay, since it was a richer positive presentation than Doriani’s.  The Drama-of-Redemption model was a reminder of what a fun read Vanhoozer can be, but I his essay was heavy on theory with little practical emphasis. His theological and moral applications (on a theology of Mary and a response to transgenderism) relied little on his model. His applications were generically Protestant and Evangelical with minor theatrical analogies almost ornamentally thrown in. If this were the time for Vanhoozer’s model to shine (when he is given an unlimited range of topics to demonstrate the applicability of his model), the examples he chose fell flat and worked against him. Furthermore, his approach is too dependent on the dramatic analogy. It runs the danger of implying that the fullest use of Scripture demands a mastery of the analogy itself, with all of its points of correspondence (a proposition I am confident Vanhoozer himself would strongly reject).

Finally, Webb’s article was both fascinating and stimulating, though a number of concerns still plague me. First, and this is hard to completely capture in words, but several times Webb’s comments sound a lot of like the liberal disparagement of the Protestant principle of sola Scriptura.   Second, Webb appears to be too dependent on the values of most Western democracy, functionally putting them close to God’s ideal ethic than the inscripturated words themselves. Lastly, there appears to be inconsistency within Webb’s model. That is to say, given his views of “movement meaning” it would seem that writings closer to the closing of the canon would be further along the ethical trajectory than earlier portions of revelation.  But Paul’s more egalitarian sound passage in Galatians 3:28, was written before his more gender restrictive language in 1 Tim. 2:12 (“I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet”). This is potentially devastating for his hermeneutic, but Webb leaves this objection untreated.

As many in the work note, this book is hardly the final work on the subject, and it is clear to me that each view would do well to heed the cautions and warning offered by the other camps. There is no clear “winner” is this kind of discussion, but the conversation itself is a rising tide that raises all ships.


Review: Do More Better

Do More Better: A Practical Guide to Producitivity is the latest release from well-known Reformed blogger and co-founder of Cruciform Press, Tim Challies. In response to the question of why he produced the book, Challies writes,

I wrote this short, fast-paced, practical guide to productivity to share what I have learned about getting things done in today’s digital world. Whether you are a student or a professional, a work-from-home dad or a stay-at-home mom, it will help you learn to structure your life to do the most good to the glory of God.

God has uniquely gifted each person with the ability, energy, calling, etc to do certain things with excellence. The quest for maximal productivity is all about recognizing, organizing, and streamlining your responsibilities in such a way as to free you up to throw yourself at the things you do best with maximum effort. “God calls you to productivity, but he calls you to the right kind of productivity. He calls you to be productive for his sake, not your own.”

After writing about stewardship and our responsibilities to God, Challies instructs his readers to reflect on all of their responsibilities in life and to aim to organize them into no more than 5 major categories (mine are personal, family, church, social, and work/influence). Within those major categories are sub-categories. So, for instance, under the major category of Personal, there are the sub-categories of spiritual development, health, finances, education, etc.), under the major category of Family there would be the sub-category of marriage, parenting, etc.)

Once you have those Areas of Responsibility determined, you can come up with a brief mission statement for each, a simple statement that gets to what you want to be doing in those areas. Challies himself believes a single mission statement for all of life can be too overwhelming to a person to put together. I would add that if we have something to spiritual it will be too vague to inform actionable steps. And that the point of the mission statement: to focus on precisely what you want to do and accomplish in a given area of responsibility in your life. Once you know what you’re shooting for, you can accept certain addition responsibilities or turn down others as they fit in with your overall vision.

The remainder of the book (thus far) is structuring three key tools to help keep yourselves organized in those major areas of responsibility. The first tool is a task management system (a scaled-up version of a to-do list), a calendar, and an information storage system (he strongly advocates Evernote). Getting these systems up and running can take a little investment, but the payoffs are huge.

Do More Better is a great read for several reasons. Challies speaks of productivity under the rubric of stewardship. This is very helpfully places time management and producitivity under biblical and theological categories. The time he spends on this isn’t much, but his foundation is helpful and solid. Likewise, at points, and I mean this in the best sense possible, the book reads like a manual, guiding the reader with concrete examples and suggestions. For someone like me who is just wadding into the ocean of literature on this subject, it was helpful to have a guide hold my hand. But, finally, Challies strong argues that the goal of productivity is not for the glorification and advancement of one’s own agenda. “Productivity is effectively stewarding your gifts, talents, time, energy, and enthusiasm for the good of others and the glory of God.

The Absurdity of Unbelief: Sale!

unnamedA few months ago Reformed pastor and theologian Jeffrey Johnson released his latest work, The Absurdity of Unbelief:  A Worldview Apologetic of the Christian Faith. Jeff was kind enough to send me an early edition for an honest review. What I found was a wonderful introduction to worldview apologetics in general and presuppositional thinking more specifically. As I wrote in my published endorsement for the book:

A major strength of Jeffrey Johnson’s Absurdity of Unbelief is its step-by-step systematic approach. He explains what faith is (and is not), what factors drive us to adopt our beliefs, how to test them, fatal difficulties on all systems of thought not built on the foundation of Christ, grounds for holding to Christian theism, and a passionate call to faith in Jesus. Along the way he examines Christian and non-Christian thinkers and movements both ancient and contemporary, demonstrating that the principles underlying a biblical apologetic equally apply to all forms of unbelief. I plan on coming back to this book again and again.

For those interested in its content, I’ve also included the table of contents below.

For a limited time you can purchase the digital edition of The Absurdity of Unbelief for a mere $0.99! Don’t miss out on this work.

Spread the word!

The Crucified King: Kingdom-Through-Cross

In his wonderful book The Crucified King, Jeremy Treat sees the theme of kingdom-through-the-cross reoccurring  throughout the Bible. For example he sees the theme show up in the book of Isaiah. He highlights of themes of suffering and victory throughout the prophetic book (while acknowledging the appropriate distinctions in emphasis in chapters 1-39, 40-55, and 56-66). The depiction of royal figure of the first half of Isaiah is expanding and nuanced by the suffering figure of the latter half of the book. This figure establishes God’s kingdom reign by means of his atoning death.  When we bring together these twin themes in Isaiah we should see them as mutually reinforcing, not at odds. The kingdom of God is presented both in new creation (emphasizing the cosmic), and as new exodus (emphasizing liberation from enslavement).  Isa 52:13–53:12, according to Treat, serves as a vivid demonstration of how this is accomplished.

The paradoxical nature of the servant-king’s suffering and exaltation is at the heart of his glorious accomplishment. He who was “lifted up”…and exalted. (Isaiah 52:13) is the very one who “has born… our griefs” (53:4) and “bore… the sin of many” (53:12). In English, one simply misses the wordplay, but the irony could not be any greater. The one who is “lifted up” in exaltation is the one who has “lifted up” our sins onto himself in order that we may be reconciled to God and share in his victory. Although exaltation and humiliation seem to be extreme opposites, the servant is exalted through humiliation and victorious through suffering. Re-placing the song of the Suffering Servant in its canonical context provides a kingdom framework for the sin-bearing, sorrow-carrying, punishment-averting, guilt-offering, place-taking, atoning death of the servant-king. The significance could not be more crucial: the servant-king brings about a kingdom of servants through his atoning and victorious suffering (86).

But Mark’s Gospel, Treat argues, is also developed along these lines. As chapter 3 begins, Treat contrasts his understanding of the kingdom and cross relation in Mark with the following six positions: Kingdom despite the cross (Jesus’ life and resurrection, not death, bring the kingdom), cross despite kingdom (Jesus’ death is what really matters), kingdom and then cross (Jesus’ kingdom mission cut short by death), cross and then kingdom (Jesus’ death as precursor to the kingdom), kingdom qualifies Cross (theology of glory corrects theology of suffering), and cross qualifies kingdom (theology of suffering corrects theology of glory, 87-88). To this Treats responds, “I propose that the proper relationship is defined as ‘kingdom by ‘way’ of the cross”” (88).  He then outlines Mark’s Gospel as follows (89-110),

  • The kingdom in the shadow of the cross (1:1-8:26)
  • The kingdom redefined by the cross (8:27-10:52)
  • The kingdom established by the cross (11:1-16:8)

Treat contends that the cross is “the means of the Messiah’s mission to establish the kingdom” (75), and that “the messianic mission culminates at Golgotha, where the crucified king establishes his kingdom by way of the cross” (110). In his crucifixion, the messianic king is exalted, and through his suffering is victorious  (86).

Lastly, at least for our purposes, he also the theme popping up in the book of Revelation:

These passages from Revelation enlighten the relationship between the kingdom of Christ and the blood of his cross in three ways. First, Christ atoning work on the cross results in the people of God being made a kingdom (Rev. 1:5B-6). Second, the Lion-like victory was achieved through a Lamb-like means (5:5–6). By the blood of Christ, people of all nations have been ransomed from sin and made to be kings and priests (5:9–10) in the pattern and fulfillment of the Exodus (Exod. 19:6). Third, the establishment of Gods kingdom entails the defeat of Satan by Christ and his followers (Rev.12:10–11). In what is primarily a legal battle, Christ, by shedding his blood, paid the penalty for sin and therefore defeated Satan by disarming him of his accusatory force. Though the final defeat is yet to come, Christians continue to conquer Satan, exposing his deception but witnessing to Christs obedient life and a true efficacy of his death (126-127) 

Treat’s point here is that Kingdom and cross presuppose one another and work in tandem. The proper view, the author persuasively argues, is exaltation in humiliation within a broader progression of exaltation through humiliation (156). As in Marks Gospel, the cross is where the messianic king rules. It is the scepter by which he exercises his dominion and defeats the enemy of the people of God. 

New Book Announcement: Apologetics: A Justification of Christian Belief

9781596389380-300x450I proudly submit for your consideration the 20 anniversary edition of John Frame’s Apologetics to the Glory of God, now renamed Apologetics: A Justification of Christian Belief. It was a pleasure to work with Dr. Frame on this dream project, and I put in a year’s worth of work into the editing. It is a substantial update and expansion of Apologetics to the Glory of God with two new introductions (one by myself, and the other by Dr. Vern Poythress of Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia), explanatory footnotes found throughout, and multiple additional appendices, two I which I wrote. That all equals approximately 100 new pages.

And now you all know why there’s been so little activity on the blog this year. 🙂


“If I were asked to list the top three books that have had the greatest impact on me as a Christian thinker, John Frame’s Apologetics to the Glory of God would undoubtedly be one of them. It brought about a paradigm shift—one might even say a ‘Copernican revolution’—in my understanding not only of apologetics but of all other intellectual endeavors as a Christian. Ever since then, it has been the first book I recommend to those looking for an introduction to Christian apologetics, and it is required reading in my apologetics classes. I’m therefore delighted to recommend this updated and expanded twentieth- anniversary edition, which incorporates additional material by Dr. Frame, as well as many helpful annotations by Joseph Torres.
Soli Deo Gloria!”
James N. Anderson, Associate Professor of
Theology and Philosophy, Reformed Theological Seminary, Charlotte
“Over the last several decades, few books have been as helpful to so many for so long as Apologetics to the Glory of God by John Frame. I eagerly welcome the twentieth-anniversary edition of this important book. As apologetics takes on an even greater significance for every believer, I can only hope that the influence and impact of this book will spread far beyond even its original publication. This is a book that, twenty years after its initial publication, is even more timely—and that is a rare achievement.”
—R. Albert Mohler Jr., President, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
The book is listed on Amazon, Westminster Online Bookstore, CBD, and directly through P&R Publishing’s website.

2014: The Year of Beale

Gregory K. Beale, Professor of New Testament and Biblical Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, has been quite busy. His recent publications include:

But he’s not done. In 2014 he has another 5 books (that’s right, FIVE) to be released.

Anyone interested in the New Testament’s use of the Old Testament, New Testament studies , and Biblical Theology should seriously consider anything by Beale. Thankfully two of these forthcoming works are summarizations of his larger more technical works.

For those interested in diving into Beale’s approach, Westminster Theological Seminary has posted Beale’s 22 lecture seminary course on Biblical Theology.

Resources for the Study of Typology

Some time ago I wrote an entry on What is Typology? There I introduced the subject and explained what I was up to in a series of previous posts (see that article for the links). But I’m frequently asked what resources I would recommend for those looking to explore the topic further. Here’s a list I threw together with titles listed in no particular order.  


Reference Works 

For those in the “know,” what other books, lectures, or articles would you recommend?

Review: Living in God’s Two Kingdoms by David VanDrunen

In 2010 Crossway released David VanDrunen’s Living in God’s Two Kingdoms: A Biblical Vision for Christianity and Culture. VanDrunen is the Robert B. Strimple Professor of Systematic Theology and Christian Ethics at Westminster Theological Seminary in Escondido, CA. In this work, VanDrunen aims to unpack what’s come to be known as Reformed Two Kingdoms Theology (R2K hereafter). Living in God’s Two Kingdoms offers an alternative to the view that’s become quite popular among young Reformed thinkers: Christ is king over all creation and therefore Christians are to influence their cultures for the cause of the gospel. This means, according to what I will refer to as the Kuyperian (or neo-Calvinist) view, that Christians are to aim for distinctively Christian approaches to economics, politics, law. Vandrunen fears this approach to the Christ and culture question will lead to a misapplication of Scripture and a triumphalistic attitude toward non-Christians.

Content. VanDrunen affirms the Lordship of Christ, though R2K theology teaches that God rules over his creation in two distinct, yet complimentary ways. Each of these ways represents a sphere, a kingdom, of God’s providential agency. Early on VanDrunen clearly develops what each kingdom entails and how God has chosen to rule through it. Whether one agrees or disagrees with VanDrunen’s proposal, we should certainly appreciate his clear exposition of a doctrine that hasn’t always been (to my mind, at least) the easiest to pin down.

The Two Kingdoms. The two kingdoms are the common kingdom and the redemptive kingdom, respectively. The redemptive kingdom, VanDrunen explains, was established with the call of Abram in Genesis 15. Its distinguishing characteristics are the establishment of a chosen people who are provided the means through which they can inherit eternal life. Likewise, as God’s people called out of the world, citizens of the redemptive kingdom maintains a spiritual antithesis with the world. The Israel of God is in union with God in Christ, while unbelievers are under the dominion of Satan. In contrast, the common kingdom was established back in Genesis 9 in God’s covenant with Noah. According to R2K theology, cultural development, the family, and the cause of justice mark the common kingdom. This means at least two things: First, the spheres of the family, economics, civil government, and cultural institutions fall under the rubric of the common kingdom. Second, as a part of this kingdom, they will pass away at Christ’s second coming.  Third, while the citizens of the redemptive kingdom maintain a spiritual antithesis with unbelievers, they nonetheless share a cultural commonality with them via the common kingdom.

The Cultural Mandate. One of the most central disputes between Kuyperians and proponents of R2K theology is the application of the cultural mandate found in Gen. 1:28 (“Be fruitful and multiply…”). Was this a uniquely Adamic task? Is this something that applies to humanity more generally? According to VanDrunen Adam served as both a king and priest before God. The Fall was the result of Adam’s infidelity to protecting Yahweh’s sacred sanctuary (the Garden) from the intrusion of the (morally and ceremonially) unclean serpent. If Adam had obeyed he and his seed would have been rewarded with the age-to-come and (and this is the hotly debated point) all cultural activity would have ceased. In contradistinction from Adam, Christ in his perfect obedience as king and priest fulfills Adam’s original task on behalf of his people, thus winning the age-to-come for them. Because of Christ’s victory, the cultural mandate does not directly apply to Christians. As VanDrunen puts it:

Redemption does not consist in restoring people to fulfill Adam’s original task, but consists in the Lord Jesus Christ himself fulfilling Adam’s original task once and for all, on our behalf. Thus redemption is not “creation regained” but “re-creation gained.”

Implications. Several implications follow from VanDrunen’s exposition. First, the redemptive kingdom is to be found in the church and in no other cultural institution. ‘Kingdom work” is accomplished in the church and in the church only. From this starting point Vandrunen emphasizes both the spirituality and ministerial authority of the church. The spirituality of the church is specifically anti-nationalistic. Since the redemptive kingdom is comprised of believers from the Church Catholic, no nation can claim to be the “hub.” We aren’t to confuse the common good of our respective countries for the advance of the kingdom of God. Likewise, since the minister of the gospel is not called to be a statesmen, politician, poet, or social activist, his authority is linked solely to the preaching of the word and the administration of the sacraments. This is merely an application of the regulative principle. The minister’s authority lies in expounding God’s word. If it does not carry the authority of “thus says The Lord” it should not be spoken from the pulpit.

Commendation. As I noted earlier, VanDrunen is an excellent communicator of his position. He not only provides you with his theological conclusions, but also presents you with the scriptural passages that he is persuaded get you there. For Reformed thinkers who are interested in the kind of biblical theology and thinking found in the works of the late Meredith Kline this book certainly speaks your language. And this is a good thing, considering just how much Kline has contributed to Reformed redemptive-historical thinking over the last 50 years.

Likewise, Vandrunen has an excellent discussion of the role of kingly and priestly work of Adam in the Garden of Eden (somewhat building from the thought of G. K. Beale).  I don’t agree with all of it (even all of what I wrote above) but he’s provided excellent food for thought. But the thing I appreciate most is his love for the local church and his concern for its purity. This comes out clearly on nearly every page. Again, this is a very good thing. VanDrunen is not leveling a strawman when he warns of the dangers of neo-Calvinism. Often Kuyperians do (functionally, at least) downplay the importance of the local church, along with the ministry of the word and sacrament.  This breaks my heart, as I’m sure it does his, though I do not believe this error is inherent in the Kuyperian view. Far from it. All that to say, VanDrunen is right to remind us that whatever position we hold, we must keep the local church front and center in the advance of God’s kingdom work.

Concerns. There are a number of things that concern me about the book’s proposal. I’ll summarize them as 1) misrepresentation, 2) the “new-new creation” view, 3) sources of authority, and 4) a lack of interaction with alternative positions.

Misrepresentation. One thing that aids a reader ‘s comprehension is knowing an author’s audience. Living in God’s Two Kingdom’s is published by Crossway, an evangelical publishing house. While Crossway publishes broadly evangelical works of theology (along with works of devotion and Christian living), over the last 10 years or so it has discernably shifted it gears in catering to what I will call the TGC (The Gospel Coalition) demographic. This point is almost indisputable. This means a large percentage of Crossway readers are Reformed males ranging from the ages of 25-45. I state all of this for this reason: early on Vandrunen links his concerns for Kuyperian/neo-Calvinist theology (what he refers to as ‘transformationalism’) along with his concerns regarding the Emergent Church and the New Perspective on Paul (by which the discerning reader understands as N.T. Wright). But, in truth, there is almost nothing to link these groups other than the shared conviction that there is continuity between this present creation and the New Creation and that our Christian worldview should inform all of life. Outside of these points, linking Kuyperianism with the New Perspective and the Emergent Church (theologies largely perceived as rivals to the TGC demographic) borders on guilt by association. This is unfortunate considering that in the early sections of the book VanDrunen is quite fair in his presentations of neo-Calvinism. But that too is short-lived.

My primary concern with his misrepresentation is in his discussions of the doctrine of justification by faith (central to the thought of the apostle Paul and the theology of the Reformation). VanDrunen rightly links justification to the obedience of Christ as the second Adam (obeying and trusting God where Adam did not trust and disobeyed God). The problem is found when he repeatedly (either directly or by implication) says that the ‘transformationalist’ position that he opposes affirms a kind of salvation/justification by cultural engagement. If this charge seems a bit harsh, I urge my reader to see his comments on pages 28, 46 (twice), 47, 50, 51 (twice), 56-57, 62, 71, 139, 165, and 204-205. This is no mere slip of the pen. Yet it simply cannot be demonstrated that any bona fide neo-Calvinist has ever taught that we achieve our forgiveness and acceptance with God by means of our obedience to the cultural mandate. This is positively inflammatory.

The ‘New-new’ creation. VanDrunen also advocates the view that upon the return of Christ and his exercise of final judgment God will create a new heavens and earth. But before you think to yourself, “Isn’t that what Scripture itself teaches?” you should know that within the Reformed tradition it has been affirmed that the new creation spoken of in Scripture is in fact this present creation liberated from it’s “bondage to decay.” Herman Bavinck—a fountainhead of Reformed theology— says as much (here as well). I will not spend much time dealing with what I think is the biblical alternative to VanDrunen’s position because I’ve address it elsewhere. The position put forward in the book strikes me as confusing the metaphysical and the ethical (a danger Cornelius Van Til frequently warned us about). VanDrunen teaches that if Adam obeyed in the Garden and crushed the head of the serpent upon its challenge to the authority of the word of God, God would have ushered in the new creation. Traditionally it has been affirmed that if Adam obeyed his probation would have ended and his nature would have been fixed or made permanently obedient to the will of God (as redeemed saints will be in the New Creation). But there will not be a “swapping out” of this material world for another ex nihilo creation.

The New Creation will be a renewed creation, purged of the presence of sin and under the righteous and godly rule of God’s redeemed vice-regents.

Sources of authority. While not addressed directly in this work, VanDrunen has defended the R2K view that there are 2 sources of authority, each related to it’s specific kingdom. Natural law governs the common kingdom, while special revelation (specifically Scripture) governs the redemptive kingdom. John Frame has helpfully addressed this subject in his piece Is Natural Revelation Sufficient To Govern Culture?

 A lack of interaction with alternative positions. Other than his brief summary of neo-Calvinism early on, there is hardly any critical interaction with neo-Calvinists.  Thinkers like Cornelius Plantinga, Albert Wolters, Tim Keller, or Nancy Pearcey are absent from the discussion in VanDrunen’s work. Also, VanDrunen doesn’t interact with alternative exegesis of the passages he references to support R2K theology. This makes his exegesis feel forced when there are perfectly plausible alternative interpretations than the ones he sets forth.

Conclusion. As I’ve noted earlier, David VanDrunen’s Living in God’s Two Kingdoms is to be commended as a clear and accessible introduction to Reformed Two Kingdoms Theology. He pulls from Reformed resources and helpfully explains Adams’ role in the Garden and rightly defends justification by faith alone. Finally, he has a passion for the local church and his love is crystal clear. All these things are wonderful and we need more of it.

Sadly I cannot recommend this work as a helpful proposal for the development and implementation of a biblical worldview. It unfairly misrepresents neo-calvinists as advocating a kind of salvation by works, doesn’t engage with rival exegesis or thinkers, and defends a view that teaches that God will replace this present fallen creation with another. It presents a religious version of the sacred/secular split that I reject and can—though to be charitable, it need not necessarily— lead to a theology of cultural disengagement and Christian ghetto-ism.

Evidences and Apologetics

One of the most helpful works in Christian apologetics on the market is Nathan Busenitz’s Reasons We Believe: 50 Lines of Evidence That Confirm the Christian Faith. In this work he tackles reasons to believe in God, the Bible, and Jesus. The strength of his work is its brevity, or as John Frame puts it in his endorsement, it is both “comprehensive and concise.” Busenitz demonstrates that we can present a compelling case for Christianity without have to present technical, and highly philosophical, arguments (though, of course, I certainly believe there’s a place for that).

Early on in the book Busenitz spells out his approach to presenting evidence for the faith within the Bible’s own framework of thought. I think he’s right on the money. In his introduction he says:

Once we have developed each reason from Scripture, we can then show how extra- Biblical evidence corresponds with, and thereby attests to, what the Bible claims. To be clear, this external evidence does not establish the truthfulness of the Christian faith. If Christianity is true, it is because there really is a God, and He has revealed Himself to us through His Son and in His Word. Nonetheless, external evidence does corroborate the claims of Christianity. Because the God of the Bible is also the God of creation, time, and truth (cf. Psalm 19:1–6; Acts 17:26–28; John 17:17)—the facts of science, history, and logic will necessarily correspond to what the Bible reveals.

Here Busenitz adds the helpful footnote:

This is not to say that science, history, or human reason should be considered of greater or equal authority to the Scriptures. Rather, we are noting that when the Bible is rightly interpreted, and when the facts of science, history, or logic are fully known, the two will not be in contradiction to each other. Rather, the general revelation of the world around us testifies to the truthfulness of the special revelation found in Scripture (cf. Psalm 19:1–11).

So the presentation of evidences “corroborate,” “confirm” and “testify” to the truth already provided in Scripture. They do not act as an independent source of authority. Returning to his line of thought:

Such evidence therefore provides wonderful confirmation for believers, because it bears witness to both the reliability of Scripture and the authenticity of Jesus Christ.

We’ll end with Busenitz’s comments on the relationship of evidence and the role of the Holy Spirit in providing  the certainty of Christian conviction.

… Nonetheless, it is the Holy Spirit who ultimately makes the truth of Christianity certain in the hearts of believers (1 Corinthians 2:10–15). He gives us absolute confidence in both God’s Word and God’s Son—assuring us of our salvation and our heavenly hope (Romans 8:14–17)… But when a person becomes a Christian, the ‘assurance’ or ‘certainty’ becomes a reality. Christianity from a ‘morally certain’ standpoint becomes as undeniable as one’s own existence.” For Christians, then, the reasons surveyed in this book only confirm what they already know to be true.

With this approach to evidences, couching them in the Bible’s own “philosophy of fact” (to use Van Til’s term), I would encourage all who are interested in apologetics to pick up this book.

Holiday Deals on Digital Books

Right now there are tons of sales are great Christian e-books:  Topics range from parenting, theology, preaching, Culture, Bible studies, prayer, and church development and a host of others. Following the arrangement of Tim Challies, they are alphabetically ordered:

Zondervan has also discounted their Counterpoints Series:

Thoughts on Systematic Theology by John Frame

Recently a friend from P&R publishing asked me what I thought of John M. Frame’s new Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Christian Belief. Here are my thoughts:

“Frame’s ST is a cleansing breath of fresh theological air! I’ve shared this with John before, but I’m always impressed at how much better he gets at streamlining and sharpening his theological ideas to a fine point each time he repeats them. This struck me when DCL was first released. In the opening chapters of the book there’s a decent amount of review of concepts from DKG (written in the mid 1980s) but they were clearer and as a result more cogent and powerfully presented. Well, in ST Frame has done it again! I’m also glad that there are so many more visuals in ST. As both a former student and TA of John’s I can testify to the great help that comes from charts and visual summaries. As John himself would have us recognize, each ST comes from its own perspective. Sometimes these perspectives can hide truths that ought to be seen, but many times they enable the theologian to shed light on the truth they’re writing about. John’s theological acumen, philosophical subtly, and apologetic concerns allow his ST to see things that others miss.”

If you can only pick up  a single systematic theology and are looking for clarity, cogency, and profundity this is the book for you!

Book Review: The End of Apologetics

Myron Penner’s The End of Apologetics argues that much (if not most) of the practice of contemporary apologetics is hopelessly wedded to Enlightenment assumptions that undermine the very enterprise of apologetics (to commend the Christian faith). Penner is an priest in the Anglican Diocese of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. As he states in one online interview, “I no longer see how modern apologetics (and by that I mean the attempt to give reasons for Christian belief that are objective, universal, and neutral) is really all that helpful – for me or anyone else.”

On the upside, he does present some stinging criticisms of apologetic neutrality and provides helpful reminders that apologetics should aim at more than mere acceptance of a few additional propositions like “God exists.” The kind of faith we hope to lead a person to is full blooded and thrives in community and is aimed at the flourishing of other image bearers.

This was also quite the frustrating read. In some parts I really agree with Penner’s thesis (that much of the modern apologetic project is in bed with modernism), but even in the places where I tend to be sympathetic, I still think he erects strawmen to make his debate partners looks more naive and un-nuanced than they really are. He writes as if [what we could call] evidentialists reduce the faith to a mere acceptance of propositions. I’m a Van TIlian of the Framean stripe, but even as I disagree with their method, Christian charity demands that I fairly present their position. Contrary to their representation in the book,  apologists such as William Lane Craig and J. P. Moreland believe that true Christian faith flourishes (and needs) discipleship, community, etc. Instead Penner tends to present them as bald rationalists. Also, his (brief) discussion of presuppositionalism is superficial at best, downright uninformed at worst. If he paid closer attention to Van Tillian apologetics he wouldn’t (essentially) condemn the entire modern apologetic enterprise.

With the exception of one short section toward the end of the book Penner seemed more concerned with kierkegaardian categories of analysis than biblical and theological ones. And his painting of his debate partners in the worst light was a put-off. This is a helpful book in terms of presenting a contemporary argument against apologetics, but the book’s weaknesses  outweighed its strengths.

Tons of Kindle Deals on Theology, Mission, and Ministry

Over the last week Amazon has listed a host of fantastic theological titles for $3.99 or less. This is a great way of pulling together a theological library without spending a fortune (or taking up precious space in your home). My favorites are in bold.

Notables (2/16/2013)

Here are noteworthy articles and blogs from the last 2 weeks:

From Eden to the Ends of the Earth

2940015733624_p0_v1_s260x420I just became aware that my friend Duane Griffin has released a book, and with a fantastic title no less, From Eden to the Ends of the Earth: God’s Master Plan for the Ages.

Here’s the official description:

God has one primary purpose in this world, to build a worldwide kingdom. The people of God have an amazing future. They were made to be partners with the Lord in a marvelous kingdom building program. Here Duane Griffin traces the development of God’s kingdom from the Garden of Eden to the new heaven and new earth. He begins with a bird’s eye view of God’s grand scheme, and from there examines the strategy God employs to take over the world making it the absolute realm of his kingdom.

And a pretty swank endorsement:

Wow! I’ve been walking with Christ for a whole lot of years and rejoice in the glimpses I get of God’s kingdom, the plan he has for his people and the love he has shown. But there is a major difference between seeing bits and pieces of a beautiful painting and stepping back and seeing the entire masterpiece in all of its power, majesty and beauty. That’s the gift Duane Griffin has given to the church… an incredible view of the masterpiece in all of its power and glory. Read this book! Your heart and mind will sing The Hallelujah Chorus to our great King. -Dr. Steve Brown, Key Life Network

One thing I can say is that Duane knows his Bible, and he knows how it all hangs together. For those discipling others in understanding Scripture I can’t think of a better book to give away. And at $5.99 for the ebook, it’s a steal.