Joseph Knowles

About Joseph Knowles

Joseph's Blog
Joseph Knowles lives and works in Southeastern Virginia. He and his wife, Amber, were married in 2006 and are committed, active members at Southside Baptist Church in Suffolk, Virginia. They have three children. Joseph graduated from Pensacola Christian College and went on to earn a law degree at Regent University. He enjoys reading (from space opera to Puritan classics and everything in between), spending time with his family, and long distance running.



Why the Reformation Still Matters Book Review

Why the Reformation Still Matters Book Review

Why the Reformation Still Matters

by Michael Reeves, Tim Chester
Length: Approximately 8 hours. To read (224 pages).
TCB Rating:
five-stars
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Book Overview

The 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s posting his ninety-five theses has come and gone, but Reeves and Chester convincingly demonstrate that the Protestant Reformation is so much more than a historical event to be commemorated.

Who should read this?

Each of chapters of this book gives an excellent summary of a key idea of the Reformation for those who might not be as familiar with what was at stake. Since the first century A.D., there has been, perhaps, no more important era in church history than the Reformation. Therefore, Protestant Christians ought to know what happened and why.

For others (those who can recite the Five Solas as easily as their phone number), this book does an excellent job of connecting the issues of the Reformation to the modern church. The Reformers, I think it would be fair to say, would not have viewed their work as something that could be perfectly completed prior to the return of Christ. For today’s church leaders as well as for members in the pew, this book serves as a clear and timely call to preserve the heritage of the Reformation.

SUMMARY

Co-authors Michael Reeves and Tim Chester helpfully organized their book into eleven chapters, each of which focuses on a single topic. For instance, the first chapter of the book is dedicated (appropriately) to the material principle of the Reformation, justification by faith alone. Other chapters cover such topics as Scripture, sin, the sacraments, the church, and union with Christ.

For those who might be less familiar with what the Reformation was all about, this way of setting up the book will help them get a big-picture view of why the Reformation was so important.

Reeves and Chester have definitely written this book for a general, Christian audience. There is a fair amount of historical information presented, but the presentation is geared toward the layman, not the academic or the seminarian. This book could prove useful for local churches who offer their members courses on church history: the scope is limited to a particular time period and it gives special attention to connecting past and present.

The reason the authors wrote this book is obvious from the title. In 2017, there was no shortage of events commemorating the date on which Martin Luther posted his ninety-five theses to the door of the Schlosskirche in Wittenberg. But how many of the billion or so Protestant Christians have a firm grasp on just exactly why their churches are Protestant rather than Roman Catholic or something else?

Does the average person in the Protestant pew know what difference it makes for them today that a German monk proposed a debate on the practice of selling indulgences?

An honest answer to those questions might not be encouraging. In 2016, Ligonier Ministries worked with LifeWay Research to poll the theological beliefs of Americans. That survey found that 36% of self-identified evangelicals agreed or somewhat agreed with this statement: “By the good deeds that I do, I partly contribute to earning my place in heaven.”

The idea that a person can “partly contribute to earning [a] place in heaven” was one of the very ideas that the Reformation repudiated. It was not the case that the Medieval Roman Catholic church did not teach salvation by grace.

In fact, as Reeves and Chester point out, it was before his conversion that Martin Luther himself taught that salvation “is not on the basis of our merits but on the pure promise of a merciful God.” The Roman Catholic doctrine of salvation, however, taught that “God does save by grace, but that grace is given to those who are ‘prepared’ for it, who ‘do what is in them’ to be fit for grace.” The similarity of that idea with what more than one-third of self-professing evangelicals claim to believe is striking.

If Reeves and Chester wrote out of concern that the truths that were rediscovered during the Reformation are now being forgotten, the data seem to back them up. The danger that Protestant Christians will unwittingly forfeit the heritage passed down to them from the 16th century is, sadly, all too real.

Whatever percentage of Christians it is that has a firm grasp on what the Reformation meant and continues to mean–and perhaps the picture is not so bleak after all–the church can always stand to be better educated on its history and on its doctrines. Reeves and Chester’s book seeks to help the church do exactly that.

Mere knowledge, however, is not the ultimate goal. In showing how the church became what it is today and how it clarified what it believes, the authors also urge the reader to understand “the difference between the zombie religiosity the West has grown so sick of and a living faith that can transform it.” The Reformers’ goal all those centuries ago was to see lives transformed by the power of the true Gospel. The authors of this book make clear that that is their goal as well.

Whether it is defending the doctrine of justification by faith alone, a proper understanding of sin, or the relationship between the believer and the Holy Spirit, the authors follow the example of the Reformers in building their case on the foundation of God’s Word. The sufficiency of Scripture was, of course, the other key principle of the Reformation (the formal principle), so it is only fitting that this book ultimately constructs its argument about the importance of the Reformation not on history and tradition, but on the firm foundation of the Bible itself.

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ANALYSIS

Personal Perspective:

Reeves and Chester have, with this book, created an accessible resource that effectively draws attention to a significant time in the history of the Christian church. One cannot truly grasp the significance of the Reformation without also seeing that the essential ideas the Reformers fought for remain crucial for the church today.

I’ve been fascinated by church history long before I started reading this book. I know that many of my brothers and sisters in the church do not share that same enthusiasm for history. In shying away from historical topics, however, they deprive themselves of the chance to develop a richer understanding of why the church is what it is today.

It’s become trite to say that those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat the same mistakes, but that doesn’t necessarily make it any less true. It’s certainly no less true for church history than it is for history in general. Indeed, perhaps many of the errors we see creeping into the church today would not be such problems if more Christians could quickly recognize those errors because they knew their own family history.

Strengths

Some of the topics covered in this book are deep and can be difficult to understand; the Reformers often wrote in styles that are foreign to modern ears. One of the best qualities of this book is how the authors distill a wealth of theological information to its essential points and package it to be both appealing and understandable.

Knowing facts about the past is relatively easy compared to understanding what we should learn from those facts about today. Reeves and Chester do an excellent job of showing Christians why these ideas still matter today and warning them about how false doctrines have begun making their way back into the church.

Weaknesses
Being the lover of history that I am, I would have enjoyed a book that took a  deeper dive into the story of the Reformation. Not just the theology, but the lives of men like Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, and many others are interesting to study. The book didn’t set out to be a biography, of course, and what history it does relate is presented in a way that is sure to spark an interest to learn more.

CONCLUSION

Published in 2016, on the eve of a certain amount of “Reformation anniversary hysteria,” this book could not have come at a better time. Now that we have passed the big milestone that everyone was waiting for, it’s a book that is more important than ever. For whatever reason, the state of theological knowledge in Protestant churches is not what it ought to be.

Lest the Protestant church surrender the Gospel ground retaken by the Reformers five hundred years ago, Christians must understand what the Reformation was about and what it means for them today.

 

FAVORITE QUOTES

At its heart the Reformation was a dispute about how we know God and how we can be right with him. At stake was our eternal future, a choice between heaven and hell.

There are a few wild-eyed baddies out there, we concede, but most of us are good people muddling our way through. What Luther came to see, surprisingly, was that such sunny stories of how basically good we are, so attractive in their cheeriness, are actually terrible, enslaving lies.

We live in a culture where everything is about response and feeling. . . . We need to understand that the gospel is entirely outside us. The gospel is not my response. The gospel describes the objective reality to which I am to respond.

five-stars
By | 2018-06-06T09:08:39+00:00 June 9th, 2018|

The Gospel Comes with a House Key Book Review

The Gospel Comes with a House Key Book Review

The Gospel Comes with a House Key

by Rosaria Butterfield
Length: Approximately 8 hours. To read (240 pages).
TCB Rating:
five-stars
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Book Overview

In our “post-truth” society, living out the Gospel virtually requires Christians to form a sort of new “counter-culture.” Rosaria Butterfield shows how realizing that kind of culture looks not like street protests, but more like a pot of soup simmering in your kitchen.

Who should read this?

Judging by the full title of the book, The Gospel Comes with a House Key: Practicing Radically Ordinary Hospitality in Our Post-Christian World, one might think that this book is targeted at a narrow segment of the church. What Rosaria Butterfield shows, however, is that the kind of radical hospitality that her book describes is the calling of every Christian: men and women, young or old, married or single. This is not a book exclusively for stay-at-home moms, nor is it a book meant only for women (although it has much to say to Christian women). This book is for the church - the family to which all Christians belong.

Lists of spiritual gifts often include “hospitality” as a gift or category of gifts. Undoubtedly there are those whose personalities are more inclined toward a certain kind of hospitality; we can even say with confidence that God made them that way. This book shows, however, that hospitality is not merely a gift for some Christians, but an essential part of life for all Christians.

The Gospel Comes with a House Key Book Review 1SUMMARY

Butterfield’s former work as a university professor is evident in her style of writing, but even for all the skill with which she can turn a phrase, this book always seems to remain on the level of a heartfelt conversation in a friend’s living room. Each of the book’s ten chapters focuses on a different aspect of hospitality. Like turning a diamond to catch light from a different angle, Butterfield’s stories from her own life and the lives of her neighbors show the reader just how multi-faceted the topic of hospitality is.

The preface makes clear the author’s motivation for writing the book. Her prayer is that the book will help the reader see how God can use his or her “home, apartment, dorm room, front yard, community gymnasium, or garden for the purpose of making strangers into neighbors and neighbors into family.” The kind of regular, intentional fellowship urged by this book will, she hopes, grow the reader in union with Christ so that he or she “would no longer be that Christian with a pit of empty dreams competing madly with other reigning idols, wondering if this is all there is to the Christian life.” (p.14)

For those who are already familiar with Rosaria Butterfield it probably comes as no surprise that she has written a book like this one. Table fellowship in a Christian home played an integral role in her conversion, the chronicles of which she documents more fully in her first book, The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert. Parts of that story reappear here, and the book is full of stories of her life, family, friends, and neighbors.

The theme that drives the book – the main idea connecting what otherwise would seem like unrelated anecdotes – radically ordinary hospitality “brings glory to God, serves others, and lives out the gospel in word and deed.” (p. 32) Butterfield goes on to show just some of the many different ways that the daily discipline of hospitality does those things.

Perhaps American Christians are especially prone to diminishing (unconsciously or otherwise) the importance of the kind of hospitality described in this book. Fewer and fewer people seem to know their neighbors, let alone have meaningful conversations with them or invite them into their homes.

The idea of a standing invitation to most of the neighborhood, for that reason, will strike many as among the most radical ideas in this book. Yet, as Butterfield points out, despite our inclination toward an isolating kind of individualism “we are either hosts or guests. The Christian life makes no room for independent agents, onlookers, renters.” (p. 36)

What Butterfield proposes is not to set out a regimen for some kind of home-based social gospel. On the contrary, for the Christian, hospitality “is image-bearer driven, because Christ’s blood pumps [us] whole. It is not time, convenience, or calendar driven. If it were, none of it would happen.” (p. 64) Christian hospitality, then, is not a program to be run, but a life that overflows with grace, spilling into the lives of others.

ANALYSIS

Beyond being familiar with the author and being reasonably confident that I would enjoy almost anything she has written, I was not sure what to expect from this book. Hospitality is not a topic that has appeared on my reading list before. Nevertheless, I thoroughly enjoyed this book from the moment I started reading.

Most Christians probably don’t need convincing that hospitality ought to be an important part of their lives. Fewer (among whom I include myself) could have given as detailed and as Biblical an explanation for just why hospitality is important as the explanation given in this book.

Perhaps the most obvious strength of the book is the fact that Rosaria Butterfield is such a skilled storyteller. One hardly needs to read more than a few pages of this book for at least that much to be clear. Where God has given her a gift in crafting a story, she puts that talent to effective use here.

Anecdotes can often be enjoyable merely for their own sake. In this book, however, the stories work seamlessly to enhance the points Butterfield makes. Writing about the difficulty of living with her elderly mother could not have been easy, even if Butterfield hadn’t done so with the knowledge that what she wrote would be published for anyone in the world to read. The way that she cared for her mother in her last days demonstrated in moving detail just one of the many ways that Christians are called to show hospitality.

Those who expect a step-by-step guide to hospitality probably will be disappointed. Although Butterfield describes what her family does in some detail, readers will find no list of activities or detailed planning tips. This book makes a compelling case, I think, that that is not a good way to think about the kind of hospitality that Butterfield desires to see growing in the church.

It’s clear that there is a schedule in the Butterfield household (no homeschooling family could survive without one!), but the sometimes messy, often unexpected opportunities to practice and show hospitality require adaptability. If there’s anything that we should be willing to be flexible for or make sacrifices for it should be the kind of hospitality that God often chooses as His means for bringing our neighbors into His family.

CONCLUSION

The Gospel Comes with a House Key is by no means the first book written on the topic of Christian hospitality. Indeed, the author gives a substantial list of books for recommended reading, many of which cover the same topic as hers. With her unique life story and superlative storytelling, however, Rosaria Butterfield’s book deserves its place among the best books on how to live the Christian life from day to day.

FAVORITE QUOTES

Radically ordinary hospitality is this: using your Christian home in a daily way that seeks to make strangers neighbors, and neighbors family of God. It brings glory to God, serves others, and lives out the gospel in word and deed. (p.32)

Are Christians victims of this post-Christian world? No. Sadly, Christians are coconspirators. We embrace modernism’s perks when they serve our own lusts and selfish ambitions. We despise modernism when it crosses lines of our precious moralism. (p.61)

Hospitality is necessary whether you have cat hair on the couch or not. People will die of chronic loneliness sooner than they will cat hair in the soup. (p. 111)

five-stars
By | 2018-05-31T20:33:45+00:00 May 25th, 2018|

Moses and the Burning Bush Book Review

Moses and the Burning Bush Book Review

Moses and the Burning Bush

by R.C. Sproul
Length: Approximately 4 hours. To read (103 pages)
TCB Rating:
five-stars
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Book Overview

With his signature teaching and writing style, R.C. Sproul succinctly but emphatically demonstrates the significance of Moses’ wilderness encounter with God at the burning bush.

Who Should Read This Book?

Those who have been blessed by the teaching ministry of R.C. Sproul will not want to miss this relatively short work, published in March 2018 a few months after Dr. Sproul went home to be with the Lord. For those who are not yet familiar with Sproul, this book could serve as an accessible introduction to his writing on a topic, the holiness of God, that was clearly of great importance to him over the course of his ministry.

Moses and the Burning Bush Book Review 1

SUMMARY

I’m certainly not among those most qualified to say what kind of legacy R.C. Sproul has left here on earth. It takes no giant of the faith, however, to know that Dr. Sproul always wrote and spoke in a way that took even the most difficult theological or philosophical topics and made them understandable for the layman. This book is no exception.

The book begins by outlining Moses’ life leading up to the burning bush encounter. From there, Sproul walks through the story, drawing out the full implications of what happened, what it meant for Moses, and what it means for us.

If you haven’t recently thought deeply about the story of Moses’ meeting God at the burning bush, you might gloss over the full implications of that event. Adults are sometimes prone to subconsciously treat Bible stories like the burning bush encounter as ones that can safely be relegated to coloring pages for children’s Sunday School activities. Dr. Sproul’s book destroys any such lingering notions.

The theological significance of God’s manifesting himself to Moses is far greater than many Christians may have realized. As Sproul puts it, “That moment in biblical history when Moses encountered the presence of God in the burning bush is a watershed episode, not only for the life of Moses, or even for the history of Israel, but for the history of the entire world.”

Sproul sets the stage in the first chapter by making the case that Moses is the most important person in the Old Testament. This is so, he writes, not least because Moses was “the mediator of the old covenant, just as Jesus is the Mediator of the new covenant.” What happens in Moses’ life, then, is well worth our careful study.

Recalling a conversation from his college days with a philosophy professor, Dr. Sproul highlights the reality of God’s transcendence and immanence as displayed in the burning bush. “God is above and beyond the created order,” he recalls his professor saying, yet He “is not a remote deity who exists east of the sind and west of the moon”. Rather, Sproul writes, it was in the burning bush that “God made himself known by manifesting His presence in this world.”

Perhaps one of the more familiar parts of the story is God’s instructing Moses to stop and take off his shoes before coming closer. In contrast to the French existentialist Sartre who maintained that human beings cannot escape from hellishness because they are cut off from all things sacred, Dr. Sproul maintains that the sacred is inescapable, intruding everywhere in the world. Yet, in Moses’ case, it was not the particular patch of dirt that was holy in itself. “Rather, what made that ground holy was the presence of God.”

It would, perhaps, be easy to pass over God’s revealing His name to Moses without too much thought. Aside from the significance that names had in the Ancient Near East, Dr. Sproul points out that the name by which God chose to be identified is significant. As the one who calls Himself “I am who I am,” God “introduced himself in terms of the eternal present.” The very name of God emphasizes that “the real difference between God and humankind is being. He alone has being in and of Himself; He alone has eternal being.”

The concept of a self-existent being is crucial for Christian apologetics in particular because if, as some secular humanists claim “there was ever a time when there was purely nothing” then there could only be nothing now. However, the importance of the self-existent “I am who I am,” Dr. Sproul argues is this: ”If anything exists, then something somewhere, somehow must have the power of being in itself.” Of course, that something  is not a “something” at all, but rather the personal God who revealed His name to Moses.

Finally, Dr. Sproul shows the reader how the story of Moses and God’s calling on his life foreshadow the Mediator of the new covenant. God revealed Himself to Moses as part of His plan to deliver His people out of slavery in Egypt. By contrast, after God revealed Himself once again through His son “the greatest exodus in human history took place when Christ freed his saints from the bondage of sin.” Jesus was like Moses, but so much greater, “because His work of salvation was the ultimate liberation.”

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ANALYSIS

R.C. Sproul’s teaching has played an indispensable role in my own spiritual development. I wanted to enjoy this book, but I have no doubt that I would have been just as richly blessed by it even if I had not already been so familiar with Dr. Sproul’s teaching.

His goal with this book was one that would probably seem ambitious to some people. Taking a story that some Christians might only dimly recall from Sunday lessons as a child and elevating it to one of the watershed moments in all of human history is no small task. By the end of this short book, however, I think there will be relatively few honest readers who could remain skeptical of Dr. Sproul’s assessment of this event’s importance.

As pointed out above, one of the hallmarks of Dr. Sproul’s ministry over the years has been his unique ability to teach on a level that is both accessible and engaging. Readers who are already familiar with Dr. Sproul will not be disappointed in that regard. He also sprinkles personal anecdotes and knowledge of prominent philosophers throughout the book in his signature way, integrating them seamlessly into the flow of his discussion and argument.

Those who have some prior experience with Sproul’s teaching ministry will likely find that some of the material in early portions of the book seems familiar. Granted, no author writing a book for a general Christian audience can assume any particular level of familiarity with his or her other writing. In any event, even for someone who asks “Haven’t I heard this before?” there is more than enough new material in this book to make it worth reading.

CONCLUSION

Sproul writes that “One of the church’s biggest problems is that we don’t understand who God is.” This book is no comprehensive treatise on theology proper (clocking in at barely 100 pages in the hardcover version), but the passion that Dr. Sproul always brought to his teaching–especially when teaching on the topic of God Himself–is evident on every page of this book.

The theme of God’s revelation of Himself and His holiness to humanity is one that runs throughout Scripture and Dr. Sproul’s book will prove helpful to any Christian who desires to see the “big picture” of God’s Word.

 

FAVORITE QUOTES

“Ultimately, it’s not that there is no access to God, but rather there is no escape from the sacred, because everywhere the sacred intrudes upon our culture and our world.”

 

“We don’t come to church just to have our attendance taken; we come to church because the Lord has redeemed us, and the people of God should have their hearts filled with reverence and adoration and should come into the corporate assembly of the people of God to worship Him.”

five-stars
By | 2018-04-22T00:24:43+00:00 April 23rd, 2018|

Authorized Book Review

Authorized Book Review

Authorized

by Mark Ward
Length: Approximately 5 hours. To read (145 pages)
TCB Rating:
five-stars
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Book Overview

What is the “best” Bible translation? In Authorized Mark Ward explains why that’s the wrong question to ask and what 21st century Christians should do with the King James version.

Who should read this?

This book initially attracted my attention because of my earlier experiences with KJV Only groups. Mark Ward’s book, however, is certainly not that narrow in its scope or its usefulness for the church. From the outset, the author is clear that his book is for the “regular, English-speaking, Bible-reading public.” Scholars of Greek and Hebrew will be disappointed if they expect a deep analysis of original-language Bible manuscripts. Authorized is unapologetically written for the modern-day equivalent of William Tyndale’s “boy who drives the plough” and it succeeds in being accessible on that level.

Authorized Book Review 1

SUMMARY

The How:

Perhaps Mark Ward’s doctorate in New Testament Interpretation is a major reason that a reference to Master Yoda of the Star Wars franchise (to make a point about readability scores and word order) was somewhat unexpected. That quirky sense of humor, however, goes a long way toward bringing the subject of this book out of the ivory tower and to “the man in the hotel” (explained below).

When the topic is Bible translation it would have been all too easy for the author to overwhelm the average reader with lengthy Hebrew word studies or technical comparisons between different manuscript families. Mark Ward would undoubtedly be up to those kinds of scholarly tasks, but that was not his goal. Instead, this book is sprinkled with the personal experiences of the author and a surprising  (but entirely welcome) amount of humor.

The book is divided into seven, topically-organized chapters discussing such topics as dead words, readability scores, and what the church loses as use of the KJV declines. The topical organization makes it a practical resource for anyone who might want to discuss the use of the KJV and other Bible translations with family, friends, or members of his church.

The Why:

The King James Version of the Bible is the translation that I grew up reading. In fact, I don’t recall having anything but the slightest awareness of other English translations until my last few years of high school.

The experience for many other Christians is almost the exact opposite of mine. They are almost certainly aware of the KJV (as Ward points out, even within the last few years 55% of Christians report reading the KJV), but they may never have seriously considered actually reading it on a regular basis.

Authorized has something for readers that fall on both ends of that spectrum and for everyone in between. Mark Ward says of the KJV “We need to discover its proper place.” Indeed, the point of this book is to show both those who cherish the KJV with its Elizabethan English and those who may struggle to see the continued relevance of a 400 year old translation, how to answer the question “So what do we do with the KJV?”

The What:

Authorized starts off on a strong note in Chapter 1, titled “What We Lose as the Church Stops Using the KJV.” The book’s introduction shows that Ward will have much to say about the problems the KJV poses for modern readers, but in his first chapter, he makes it abundantly clear that he will not be tearing down the KJV in the process.

“Parents who teach their kids the KJV rendition of the Lord’s Prayer,” Ward writes “are tying one little string between them and our rich English Christian history–a history that has much to teach us.” The intergenerational ties created by a Bible translation such as the KJV and the broader cultural touchstones that it has created are not things that should be lightly tossed away.

Many Christians might decide that those benefits (and others, such as an implicit trust that Christians and non-Christians have in Scripture) are ultimately outweighed by the hurdles the KJV can create for understanding for the average, modern-day reader. Even if the vast majority of Christians reach that conclusion, however, they should do so only after carefully considering the points raised in the first chapter of this book.

In the second chapter, Ward introduces the theme that runs throughout the rest of his work. He relates a story told by Christians businessman, Howard Long, about how he tried to share the Gospel with a man in a hotel lobby, reading verses from the KJV. The man “grew red-faced and then simply burst out laughing.” The Elizabethan English Long had read to him was unlike anything he had ever heard; it might as well have been a different language. Long determined to see the Bible translated into English that people could immediately understand. We now have the New International Version as a result of his hotel lobby experience.

Implicit in Howard Long’s story is the weightiest reason Mark Ward can think of for giving up the KJV: “I can’t understand this.” In a sense “God’s Word is precisely foreign and ancient,” having been “written by and about people far, far away . . . [and] long, long ago.” Christianity, however, is God’s truth for all humanity at all times, including for believers today. Therefore, Ward writes, “if the KJV is indeed too difficult to understand for modern readers, we’ve got a significant problem.” He puts the question pointedly: “What’s the point in using a translation in old English that people can’t understand anymore?”

Even for people who have grown up with the KJV (among which group Ward places himself), their level of understanding might not be quite as good as they think it is. This is because of the way that English has changed over the four centuries since the KJV was first published. Many words have simply fallen out of usage, words like “collop” (Job 15:27) or “trow” (Luke 17:9) or “bruit” (Jer. 10:22). It is possible to look up definitions for archaic or obsolete words, but because “people simply don’t do it, even from common words in very common passages–like firmament in Genesis 1” expecting them to look up hundreds of words (provided they have the right dictionary in the first place) is not terribly realistic.

A greater barrier to understanding the KJV are “words that are still in common use but have changed meaning in ways that modern readers are highly unlikely to recognize.” Ward refers to such words as “false friends.” We know to look up words like “emerod” or “pate,” but modern readers can easily be misled due to their own “ignorance of the subtleties of an English no one speaks any more,” something Ward acknowledges is no one’s fault.

He takes the examples of words like “halt,” “commendeth,” “remove,” and “convenient” to show how the inevitable evolution of language can stand in the way of understanding. The issue “is not words you know you don’t know; it’s words (and phrases and syntax and punctuation) you don’t know you don’t know.”

“But,” someone will object (as I have done in the past, in fact), “it has been shown that the KJV is actually on a relatively low reading level compared to other translations.” Readability analyses do show that the KJV scores better than some modern translations. What is often left unasked, is just how relevant those computer readability analytics are when it comes to the English of the KJV. As Ward points out, the relevance is minimal.

Flesch-Kincaid and other tools measure a word’s complexity by syllable count. So, for instance, an easily-understood, modern word like “asparagus,” with four syllables, is considered more complex than the antiquated phrase “to wit,” which consist of two one-syllable words. This, Ward says is “not reading; it’s counting.” In addition, “the major computerized tests don’t take [word order] into account.” Yet, as the aforementioned Yoda reference points out, word order and sentence structure play just as significant a role in readability as vocabulary.

Reading level analyses are not worthless, but they were never intended to analyze the English of 400 years ago. Given that fact, perhaps a reader’s unscientific impression means more than a computer analysis. “In fact,” Ward points out, “it’s a little odd that some would presume to tell numerous Bible readers, ‘No, you can read the KJV just fine. My computer says so.’”

Ward concludes the book with a chapter entitled “Which Bible Translation is Best?” The “best” translation of the Bible into English is something that just doesn’t exist, something that God never promised us in the first place. Asking which translation is “best,” then, is the wrong question. Rather, Christians should be asking whether a particular translation is useful for the various tasks Christians face.

One translation might be useful for preaching and another more useful for reading to children. One might be useful for reading through in a year while another is more useful for memorization. The fact that we English-speaking Christians have access to such a broad array of good Bible translations can be a tremendous blessing to us if only we will let it.

ANALYSIS

This book not only met my expectations, but exceeded them. I confess that at least some small part of me wanted Ward to bludgeon the “KJV Onlyists” into submission, but he did not do that. In fact, the charity with which he treated that issue and the respect he gave to those who might disagree with some of his conclusions served as a gentle but firm rebuke to me.

The author’s use of humor is one of the book’s strengths. Bible translation is a topic that some readers might find dry or obscure, but the occasional bit of humor (coupled with the overall style) gives the book a conversational feel.

The primary success of this book is in emphasizing the importance of these questions for the average Christian. Ward makes a convincing case that although we all will have to rely on outside authorities to some extent, Bible translation issues are important for everyone, not just for seminary professors or other academics.

Most of us will probably choose to use the translation our pastor uses in the pulpit on Sundays, but there might be other translations that would prove useful for personal study, family devotions, or evangelism. It is for that reason, Ward argues, that Christians can rightly view the wide variety of English Bible translations not as troubling or confusing, but rather as blessing and a means for better understanding God’s message to his church.

Authorized: The Use and Misuse of the King James Bible
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CONCLUSION

Someone scrolling past this book online might be forgiven for asking “Why should I care?” As a well-known, historic church documents puts it: “The Word of God . . .  is the only rule to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him.” The Bible, then, is of paramount importance in the life of the Christian; there would little sense in talking about Christians having the Bible if they cannot read and understand it in their own language. That Mark Ward is so passionate about the translation of the Bible into the common language of Christians everywhere (particularly to his fellow English-speakers), should come as no surprise.

The KJV has held the unofficial position of “translation of choice” for the Protestant, English-speaking church for so long that the church can neither lightly cast it aside nor continue to use it as if nothing has changed in the past four centuries. This book brings into sharp relief the importance of these issues and gives Christians a solid foundation for understanding what to make of the KJV and the many other English versions of God’s Word that are available to us today.

FAVORITE QUOTES

  • Bible reading is a difficult spiritual discipline for many Christians to develop; giving readers a translation containing unnecessary difficulties provides them a temptation not to read at all, a hurdle they simply don’t need to overcome.

  • The existence of multiple English translations is a benefit to us all, not a justification for banner-hoisting and wagon-circling. I hate to see Bibles becoming symbols of division: “I am of Crossway!” “I am of Zondervan!” “I am of B&H!”

  • Stop looking for the “best” English Bible. It doesn’t exist. God never said it would. Take up the embarrassment of riches we now have. Make the best of our multi-translation situation, because it’s truly a great problem to have.
five-stars
By | 2018-03-16T02:01:56+00:00 March 22nd, 2018|

Kiss the Wave Book Review

Kiss the Wave Book Review

Kiss the Wave

by Dave Furman
Length: Approximately 6 hours. To read (160 pages)
TCB Rating:
five-stars
Buy on Amazon

Book Overview

Few people can claim to have the same kind of experiences with trials and suffering as Dave Furman. Rather than simply recounting his personal struggles, however, Furman has given Christians a marvelous resource for preparing themselves for the trials we know will come.

Who should read this?

Every Christian ought to develop a strong, Biblical understanding of the purposes of trials in the lives of God’s children. It is because of the Biblical foundation of this book, that it can be treasured by Christians in all walks of life, regardless of their present circumstances. Those who have yet to face significant trials in their lives can equip themselves to face future hardships. Those who have endured trials in the past can empathize with the author’s struggles and see how his successes and failures might mirror their own or bring them into sharper focus.

The book would also be a valuable resource for pastors and Christian counselors. Some church leaders might have only limited personal experience with suffering and trials. With this book, however, they can draw on Dave Furman’s admonitions and words of encouragement to help those who are experiencing times of struggle.

Kiss the Wave Book Review 1

SUMMARY

**Note: I received a review copy of this book from the publisher.**

The How:
Perhaps a fair number of Christians are familiar with the quote attributed to Charles Spurgeon from which this book takes its title: “I have learned to kiss the wave that throws me against the Rock of Ages.” Dave Furman points out that (at least as far as we can document) Spurgeon might never have said those exact words.

Nevertheless, Spurgeon’s life makes for an excellent jumping off point for a book on how the Christian should understand and deal with trials. Spurgeon suffered throughout his life not only from various physical ailments, but he also carried with him the mental anguish of a tragic stampede during one of his sermons that resulted in the deaths of seven people. He struggled with depression throughout his life, until God called him home at the relatively young age of fifty-seven.

Given the details of Dave Furman’s life, it’s plain to see how Spurgeon’s quote inspired the title of the book. Furman, who is currently the pastor of Redeemer Church of Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, developed a nerve disorder which has caused him to lose almost all use of his arms and because of which he has “suffered constant burning sensations in both arms.” Everyday tasks that we take for granted, such as getting into a vehicle and securing our own seatbelts, have been virtually impossible for him due to his symptoms.

Ultimately, however, what gives this book the power to comfort those who are enduring trials is not Dave Furman’s personal experiences, as difficult as those have been and presumably still are for him. It’s power to comfort, rather, comes from the author’s deep commitment to the Gospel truth that “When you have heaven in view, you don’t need a more comfortable and easier ‘now’ to bring you joy.”

Furman’s writing style is decidedly pastoral; he addresses the reader directly on a regular basis. However, his tone is much more like a conversation over a cup of coffee than what might be expected from a sermon. Kiss the Wave undoubtedly preaches to the reader, but it does so in a way that makes the teaching a joy to receive.

The Why:

As Christians, we know that facing trials is not a matter of “if” but rather “when” (see James 1:2). The need to develop a Biblical approach to facing trials could not be more clear.

With as many books as there are on that topic, Furman’s goal for this book is both realistic and straightforward. His book, Furman writes, “is not a magic formula to give [the reader] joy.” Rather, what Furman wants is to point readers to the truths of the Gospel, to direct the reader to “the greatness of our God and all that he has done for us in Christ.”

The What:

The persistent theme throughout this book is to point readers to God and the work that he has done for his children through Jesus Christ. As humans, our innate tendency in times of difficulty tends to be to focus inwardly, shutting out everything but our own problems (real or perceived).

What this book points out, however, is that it is “only when we take our eyes off ourselves and our circumstances and we gaze upon [God] and his work that we can keep our heads above water when the high tide of our trials comes.”

As pointed out in the first chapter, much like the disciples on the stormy Sea of Galilee, we Christians too often fail to see Jesus (in Mark 6 the disciples mistook him for a ghost) and we fail to see him for who he truly is. He is the “loving and sovereign God who sent the storm and holds you fast in the middle of it.”

In similar fashion, Furman walks through other passages that should form the Christian’s thoughts on trials, hardship, and suffering. Perhaps most powerful of all are the insights that are drawn out of the account of Jesus’ trial and crucifixion, in the chapter “The Great Exchange.” The crowd that clamored for Jesus’ death “chose evil over the one who loves perfectly.” Jesus carried his cross to his own execution while Barabbas “who was basically a terrorist” was set free.

Like Barabbas was physically imprisoned for his crimes against the state, we sinners are held in spiritual bondage because of our sin against God. We await helplessly the righteous judgment of a holy God. The good news of the Gospel is that “Jesus goes off to the cross in your place. He gets what you deserve; you get what he deserves. It is the greatest exchange in all of history. Jesus gives up his life so you can have life.”

What does that have to do with facing trials and suffering in the here and now? When we begin to understand just how gracious and amazing God’s grace is then “[j]oy in our trials can begin to take root in our hearts.” Reminding ourselves that we have been redeemed and saved from our sins should be a daily source of strength and encouragement.

As human beings we are always prone to becoming self-centered, focusing our attention inwardly, and dwelling on our circumstances. “When struggling through trials,” Furman writes, “allow everything in your life to point you to the cross. When you are downcast, go on the offensive and preach to yourself.” Drawing on advice given by Welsh minister Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Furman goes on to exhort Christians that even for those of us who will never step into a pulpit to preach the gospel “all of us are called to preach truth to our own hearts each day.”

ANALYSIS

I cannot lay claim to anything resembling the sort of trials that Dave Furman has experienced. In hindsight, however, I would have been greatly blessed had this book been available to me a little over four years ago when I unexpectedly lost my job and found myself without permanent employment for a year. Aside from the financial hardships that imposed on my family (and no doubt, in part, because of them), I went through times of depression.

I am blessed to be able to say that God not only brought me through those trials and times of depression, but used them to strengthen my faith. Sadly, I know that not every Christian has had that same experience. What I had to learn the hard way and what some seem to struggle to learn at all, are the very truths that Furman has distilled in his book.

It is overflowing with Biblical truths that can serve as a great source of encouragement for the church. Even though, in my own life, I had already grappled with some of the ideas in this book, being reminded of them–even though it also brought back memories of my own trials–was refreshing and uplifting. In my case, Furman’s prayer was answered: his book did indeed direct me “to the source of all hope.”

One of the obvious strengths of the book is the way in which Dave Furman can draw from his own experiences with trials and suffering. Most readers can probably only imagine the kind of persistent physical pain he has gone through. Thus, there really can be no complaint that the author of this book does not know what he’s talking about.

Not only his trials, but his personal testimony about how he has faced those trials are a significant part of what makes Furman’s book compelling. He never fails to connect his own trials with the Biblical truths from which he drew encouragement during those times of suffering. Nevertheless, he admits that at times he failed to follow his own advice. His human frailty is not limited to the physical, but extends to the spiritual.

That humble acknowledgement of his failures only serves to strengthen the advice and words of encouragement that he gives throughout the book. As he said at the outset, his book contains no magic formula; seeing that fact demonstrated in the author’s own experience reassures the reader that they too can hold fast to the same God that upheld the author in his hard times.

The book includes an appendix with recommended resources (some very old and some relatively new) that are organized according to each chapter in the book. Although Furman successfully packed a wealth of information into this book, there are many points that could have been developed further. For those wanting to study those points in more depth, the list of books that are supplied will prove very helpful.

Kiss the Wave: Embracing God in Your Trials
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CONCLUSION

I doubt that Dave Furman set out to write “the” definitive work on how Christian should face their trials. He often acknowledged the extent to which he is indebted to others for certain insights. However, even if this book never becomes a Christian best seller (although it would not surprise me if it did), the church should be grateful to have this work.

Furman’s personal circumstances, trials, failures, and successes all give his writing an undeniable sense of authority. It is, however, his utter reliance on the ultimate authority of Scripture and its truths that gives his book value for any Christian who takes the time to read it, whether they are presently experiencing trials or want to be able to more effectively minister to others.

FAVORITE QUOTES

  • We can kiss the wave of our trials because God is doing a million things for our good and his glory, and we can barely scratch the surface at all he is accomplishing in us in that moment. 
  • When you have heaven in view, you don’t need a more comfortable and easier “now” to bring you joy. What you need is a forever to reshape your here and now. Living in light of eternity doesn’t remove our pain, but it allows us to have hope in our moments of pain. 
  • Being unhealthy or struggling with some trial shouldn’t cause you to stop your church involvement. You shouldn’t think that you’ll get involved once you’re healthy. The church needs you now. 
  • [Y]our circumstances don’t create what’s in your heart; your situation is just the stage on which the heart’s condition is revealed.
five-stars
By | 2018-03-02T07:59:28+00:00 March 2nd, 2018|

Church Discipline Book Review

Church Discipline Book Review

Church Discipline

by Jonathan Leeman
Length: 4.5 - 5 hrs. To read (144 pages)
TCB Rating:
five-stars
Buy on Amazon

Book Overview

Defining church discipline and explaining how it should be practiced can be difficult. Jonathan Leeman’s book, Church Discipline, draws from Scripture to help Christians understand church discipline so they can protect “the name and reputation of Jesus Christ on earth.”

Who Should Read This Book?

Some portions of this book are specifically geared toward pastors. However, as Leeman points out, church discipline is not the exclusive responsibility of church leaders. Any Christian will benefit from reading this book and developing a gospel-centered understanding of church discipline.

Given that church discipline has fallen to the wayside in many congregations, the health of the Church would be greatly improved if many non-pastors were to educate themselves about church discipline through this book. It is one volume in the ever-growing 9Marks: Building Healthy Churches series and is indispensable reading for anyone who appreciated the other volumes on discipling and church membership.

 

SUMMARY

The How:
Jonathan Leeman’s’ conversational writing style is well-tuned for a general audience. A pastor with seminary training or an average church member will find the book equally accessible. Leeman’s pastoral concern that more Christians and churches grasp what the Bible has to say about church discipline is apparent throughout the book.

Church Discipline is structured in three parts. In the first part, which constitutes the majority of the book, Leeman carefully establishes a Gospel framework for understanding and applying church discipline. The second part consists of various “case studies” through which the author shows how the framework may be applied in particular situations.

Finally, in the third part, which is geared most directly toward pastors, Leeman gives practical and helpful cautions to consider before practicing church discipline. A short conclusion and appendix give pastors a checklist for church discipline as well as a list of mistakes pastors make in practicing discipline.

The Why:

Church Discipline sets out to do far more than merely define church discipline and offer some case examples. Equally important to Leeman is helping Christians understand why the church should accept such a practice in the first place and what should be the motivating factor behind putting it into operation. In both cases, Leeman’s answer is the same: the Gospel.

The subtitle makes Leeman’s goal for this book clear: that the Church would protect the name of Jesus on earth. Of course, the church will never carry out that task perfectly. However, Leeman makes a compelling case that the church cannot even claim to be doing that job to the best of its ability when it neglects to discipline its members.

Church discipline is something that has fallen out of use (and out of fashion) and this book is clearly aimed at reviving a practice that Leeman sees as being vital to the health of the church.

The What:

Starting with the basics of the Gospel, Leeman develops a framework for understanding and practicing church discipline that is infused with Scripture from start to finish. Defining the Gospel might seem like a point too basic to make in a book that is clearly targeted at those who are already followers of Christ. Yet as Leeman shows, there is a kind of thinned-out gospel that prevails in many churches that will poison a Christian’s understanding of church discipline if it is not exposed and corrected.

The book goes on to briefly answer questions like “What is a Christian?” and “What is church membership?” Without a clear, Biblical understanding of concepts such as these, it would do little good (and potentially cause considerable frustration and disagreement) to embark on a discussion of church discipline. Confusion about what the church is or about the nature of the individual Christian’s commitment to the local church must be resolved before coming to a right understanding of church discipline.

Practicing church discipline requires a Biblically-sound framework because churches will be faced with many situations for which there is no clear, Scriptural case study. Leeman offers a sampling of questions he received on the topic of church discipline, including “What should we do if one of our members completely abandons the faith and stops calling himself a Christian?” and “Is pursuing marriage with a non-Christian a disciplinable offense?” and “What should we do about a longtime attending nonmember who’s being divisive?”

Those are questions that do not have easy answers, but they are ones that churches should be prepared to address. They are the kinds of questions for which having a solid, Gospel-centered framework for practicing church discipline is essential.

According to this book, a lot of Christians are probably already doing more church discipline than they may realize. That is because most discipline happens informally and on a personal level, what Leeman calls formative discipline (in contrast to corrective church discipline).

Each Sunday when we hear the preaching of the Word we are getting a form of church discipline. When Christians encourage one another throughout the week to pray and have their time of personal devotions, that is also a form of church discipline.

Ultimately, much church discipline will be bound up in another closely-related Biblical concept: discipling. As this book puts it: “To be discipled is, among other things, to be disciplined.” If Christians are discipling each other as they should–helping each other to follow Jesus–church discipline of the formative kind is already taking place and the need for corrective church discipline will tend to diminish.

“Corrective discipline,” as Leeman defines it, is probably what most people think of when they hear the phrase “church discipline.” It is the process that could, at the end, result in a person’s being removed from church membership, i.e., excommunication. The process of corrective church discipline, however, is to be reserved for those sins that are outward, serious, and unrepentant. That last factor is the most important in Leeman’s framework. Repentance must always be the motive of any act of church discipline, with restoration being the ultimate goal.

Although there are many passages undergirding Leeman’s case for church discipline, he focuses heavily on two familiar passages: Matthew 18:15-20 and I Corinthians 5-6. Other writers on the topic of church discipline have seen in those two passages, two differing approaches to church discipline in the words of Jesus and the writings of Paul.

Leeman convincingly synthesizes those two passages and demonstrates that, in fact, Jesus and the Apostle Paul are in complete agreement with one another, despite the fact that they are describing different stages in the process of discipline.

There are five principles that form the core of this book’s church discipline framework. Churches should involve the smallest number of people possible to lead to repentance. Those who are older and wiser in the faith (including church leaders) should be the ones to lead the later stages of the process. There can be no set timeline for church discipline; the process must continue until the church is convinced that the person is characteristically unrepentant.

Heeding the admonition of James 1:19 (“let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger”), individuals should be given the benefit of the doubt. Finally, church leaders should bring the entire congregation into the process and instruct them as appropriate (although the timing and form of that involvement could vary significantly depending on the church’s form of governance).

What if the process of discipline yields the desired repentance? The church extends the person forgiveness and he or she is restored to church membership, which is an occasion for joy. There is no Scriptural basis for anything like a trial period. Rather, as Paul instructed the church at Corinth the church is to “comfort him” and “reaffirm your love for him.”

Again, however, Leeman emphasizes that the question of when restoration should occur will not always be immediately clear. Discerning whether there is sufficient evidence of repentance requires Christians to plead with God for His wisdom and to proceed carefully.

With a collection of nine case studies (constructed with elements of real-life situations he has encountered), Leeman goes on to demonstrate how the framework is applied. Each case study describes the situation, assesses the sin, assesses the repentance, notes any other factors, and describes the decision that the church reached.

It may be, Leeman admits, that some of the decisions were mistaken; he makes no claim that these decisions are the “final word.” However, the case studies are good examples of what it looks like when a church makes a well-meaning effort to apply the gospel to the area of church discipline as described in the first chapters of the book.

ANALYSIS

Personal Perspective:

Before reading this book, I had only a basic understanding of what church discipline was and how it was supposed to work. How superficial that understanding really was became clear to me the more I read. I certainly could have pointed to Matthew 18 and named the general steps there, but that was about the extent of my knowledge.

The reason Leeman started by defining the Gospel quickly came into sharp focus and I am thankful that he wrote that portion of the book. In fact, the sections that define the Gospel, the church, and what it means to be a Christian are worth reading for their own sake, even for someone who is not currently interested in the topic of church discipline.

Strengths

When Leeman goes to the words of the Bible he does not skate across the surface, but dives deep and picks passages apart to be sure that readers grasp the full meaning and all of its implications. For a book as relatively thin as this one (a mere 144 pages), its Scriptural interpretation is meaty.

Leeman makes clear on numerous occasions that church discipline cannot be boiled down to a set of rules, e.g., if someone commits this sin, then do that as an act of church discipline. Nevertheless, the case examples (based on real situations) are extremely helpful in understanding how the framework that is laid out in the first part of the book can be applied to specific circumstances.

Weaknesses
If there is any weakness in Church Discipline–and believe me, I had to wrack my brain to come up with one–I think it would be that it is tilted toward those churches that have an elder-led, congregational form of government. Leeman writes on the topic of church discipline generally (and he acknowledges differences in church governance), but those from churches with different structures might have specific questions about the application of church discipline that were not treated fully in this short work.

CONCLUSION

A number of other books have been written on this topic. However, I think readers would be hard-pressed to find one that succeeds in so succinctly and so clearly building a Biblical foundation for church discipline and laying out a framework for applying it.

Leeman cautions pastors not to dive head first into practicing church discipline without first teaching on the subject. It is not enough for the pastor himself to have a firm grasp on the concept of church discipline. Without a clear understanding of these topics in the congregation, a pastor trying to put these truths into practice is setting himself up for frustration.

In writing this book, however, Leeman has given pastors just the kind of tool they need to lay that foundation for their own local church. This is exactly the kind of book that could be distributed to a board of elders (or deacons or other non-staff church leaders, as the case may be in any particular church) to spark fruitful discussions on the topic of church discipline.

FAVORITE QUOTES

  • “Why would God ever leave things unclear? My guess is that, among other things, he means for us to cry out for wisdom, because crying out for wisdom requires naturally self-sufficient people like us to lean on him. All those gray areas in life function as training grounds for trust.” (pages 21-22)
  • “Broadly speaking, discipline is necessary whenever a disciple departs from the way of Christ by sinning. It’s necessary whenever a gap opens up between a Christian’s profession and life, and the so-called representative of Jesus fails to represent Jesus.” (page 48)
  • “Churches must not practice discipline for the sake of retribution, but for the sake of gospel love.” (page 130)
five-stars
By | 2018-02-03T10:39:00+00:00 February 2nd, 2018|

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