Nathan Weis

About Nathan Weis

Nate's Blog
Nathan Weis is a Worship Leader at Coastal Community Church in Yorktown, Virginia. He holds an undergraduate degree in Theological Studies from The North American Reformed Seminary, and is pursuing his Masters of Divinity at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. His interests include reading good books, drinking good coffee, watching 49ers football, and spending time with his wife, Megan.



Expository Exultation Book Review

Expository Exultation Book Review

Expository Exultation

by John Piper
Length: Approximately 12 hours.
TCB Rating:
four-half-stars
Buy on Amazon

Book Overview

In Expository Exultation, John Piper closes his trilogy on the Bible with a powerful explanation of and call to biblical preaching. Piper reminds us that preaching is worship that calls for worship.

Who should read this?

This book is a must-read for preachers and aspiring preachers. This book gave me a richer view of what preaching is and what preachers are called to do, and I believe that anyone that is actively engaged in preaching would benefit from this book.

Expository Exultation Book Review 1

SUMMARY

We live in a day when preaching has been minimized. Church growth experts encourage us to keep sermons short and practical to avoid losing people’s attention. Preachers are more and more afraid of preaching on controversial subjects for fear of offending their congregations. Some churches have done away with preaching from the Bible altogether.

This is part of what makes Expository Exultation such a breath of fresh air. In this masterful work, John Piper, one of the most influential preachers of the last half-century, calls on preachers to recover a biblical vision of what preaching is. According to Piper, “One of the primary burdens of this book is to show that preaching not only assists worship, but also is worship.”

This sentence means a great deal to me personally. I’m a worship music leader at my local church, and I’m burdened by the terminology that we use surrounding worship. We don’t “worship” and then listen to a sermon; we worship though music and then worship through the preaching of God’s Word. I’m so incredibly grateful to John Piper for advocating this view of preaching.

This book is the third in a trilogy of books by Piper on the Bible. The first two are A Peculiar Glory and Reading the Bible Supernaturally. This book is divided into 7 parts and 21 chapters. Part 1 examines the setting for preaching. Taking nothing for granted, Piper argues from Scripture that corporate worship is “fitting.” It is what we are called to do. In part 2, Piper argues that preaching, what he calls “expository exultation,” is designed to be central to corporate worship.

In part 3, Piper shows how preaching is supernatural and must rely on the power of the Holy Spirit to be effective in any ultimate way. He devotes a chapter in this part to how he does this in his own preaching. Part 4 is about how preaching is also natural and must exhibit clear logic and good speaking ability on the part of the preaching.

Parts 3 and 4 of the book are ultimately about the act of preaching, and they are a tension that must be managed well by every preacher. It is ultimately the Holy Spirit’s work to convict our hearers, so we must rely on His supernatural strength. Nevertheless, we must still seek to craft excellent sermons and deliver them as best we can.

Parts 5-7 focus on the content of sermons. Part 5 addresses how preachers are to make the connection between the actual text and the reality behind the text clear. Part 6 looks at the three pervasive emphases that are behind expository exultation. These three are the glory of God, the Gospel of Christ, and the path of love that leads to life and the obedience of faith. Finally, Chapter 7 is an examination on how to do expository exultation in the Old Testament.

Expository Exultation: Christian Preaching as Worship
List Price: $29.99
Price: $16.89
You Save: $13.10
Price Disclaimer

ANALYSIS

This is an important book that I hope every preacher or aspiring preacher will consider reading. There are nuggets of pure gold all over these pages. It was written by one of the greatest preachers in my generation. John Piper has for decades preached God’s Word in a passionate, biblical, and clear way that has made an incalculable impact for the Kingdom of God. In a very real sense, this book is a distillation of his life and ministry as it relates to preaching.

Strengths

First and foremost, as can be expected in any of Piper’s books, this book is thoroughly biblical. John takes absolutely nothing for granted, which explains why the first chapter is a biblical argument for why we should engage in corporate worship at all. Chapter 3, “How Paul Brought Heralding into the House of God,” was absolutely thrilling.

I sat on a park bench reading that chapter with goosebumps on my arms and a burning in my bones to jump up and preach. In this chapter, Piper appeals to Paul’s letters to show the setting, content, and nature of preaching. His analysis of 2nd Timothy 3:14-4:2 on pages 61-68 was breathtaking. The connection that he made between the nature of Scripture as “God-breathed” in 3:16 and the command to “herald the Word” in 4:2 gave me a renewed sense of confidence in the power of the Word and the need of the preacher to herald it with boldness.

Second, I loved the tension between parts 3-4 in regard to the preacher being dependent on the power of the Spirit and also working his hardest in the delivery of sermons. Piper wrote, “The chief and ultimate aims of preaching are impossible apart from the miraculous working of the Holy Spirit.” He also said, “God’s ordinary way of revealing His glory to the hearts of His people is not by circumventing their natural powers but by making those powers the means of supernatural discovery.”

Both are true. The preacher must work, but it is God who works through him (Philippians 2:12-13).

Third, Piper’s insistence that “preaching is worship seeking worship” gives preaching a totally different character and emphasis than what we see in the contemporary church. Preaching is worship for the preacher because, as Piper said, “as he preaches the treasure, he is treasuring. As he holds up the pearl, he is prizing. As he invites to the banquet, he is savoring the feast.”

Preaching also calls on the hearers to worship. Paul said in Galatians 3:1 that in the preaching that they had heard, “Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified.” In 2nd Corinthians 4:4-6, it is through “proclaiming Jesus Christ as Lord” that God removes the blindness of unbelievers and shines in their hearts “to give the light of the knowledge of God’s glory in the face of Jesus Christ.” Preaching is worship that holds Jesus Christ before the people and calls upon them to behold Him in all of His power and beauty. This is expository exultation.

Weaknesses

This really is a great book. There aren’t many weaknesses in the actual content. My main critique has to do with the writing. In many ways, this is a typical Piper book. My critiques of this book would probably the same as my critiques of many of his other books. In general, I felt that this book could have been shorter without sacrificing any of the essential content. John loves to repeat himself to make a point, and this is effective in preaching, but in writing, it makes for a laborious read.

Also, a reader that has read a lot of John Piper’s books will begin to notice that many of the same themes, stories, and ideas are repeated in many of his books. I almost skipped over the section where he looks at Jonathan Edwards Essay on the Trinity, not because it’s not an absolutely brilliant essay and not because John’s analysis of it isn’t good, but because I’ve read it before in about 3 of his other books.

It’s okay for an author with a body of work like John Piper to refer readers to his other works rather than repeating yourself in every book. It makes the read more difficult and laborious for readers that have read the other material, and if I wanted a refresher in that material, I can just go read the other book. This is the reason why I can only give this book 4 and a half stars and not 5.

CONCLUSION

Expository Exultation is a must-read for preachers of the gospel. This book casts a massive and powerful vision of what preaching is, and it’s absolutely essential that preachers in our day recapture the biblical vision of Christian preaching as worship that calls for worship. Buy this book and read deeply for the good of your preaching and the good of your people.

four-half-stars
By | 2018-05-31T02:08:46+00:00 June 1st, 2018|

10 Tips on How to Disagree Well

My generation isn’t very good at arguing. 

Don’t get me wrong-we do it all the time. We’re just not very good at it. Unfortunately, this lack of skill in disagreement has made its way into the church. Many Christians today have the unfortunate tendency to adopt the mindset and attitude of the world when disagreeing about politics or theology rather than having their minds renewed by Scripture. 

Having been in my fair share of disagreements and made plenty of these mistakes myself, I’ve compiled a list of tips on how we as believers can disagree well.

10 Tips on How to Disagree Well

Most of this list is simply an application of the “golden rule.” If both parties were to treat one another as they would want to be treated, they will have a fruitful conversation that won’t descend into name-calling and bitterness. It’s my prayer that these tips can be beneficial to you and lead to more fruitful conversations. 

 

  1. Avoid unfair straw-men of views that you disagree with.

A straw-man argument occurs when you misrepresent your opponent’s argument to make it look silly. Straw-men don’t contribute to a helpful conversation, but rather just lead to misunderstanding and frustration. Not to mention that it is dishonest, and as believers, we are called to speak the truth (Ephesians 4:15). When you articulate a view that you disagree with, you should represent it so accurately that someone on the other side would totally agree with your summary of their view.

 

  1. Avoid labels and buzzwords

Even when they are true, they typically aren’t helpful. Here’s an example. When in a conversation about theological matters with someone who isn’t as well versed in theology, I avoid using terms like “Calvinism.” I have no problem with that term, and I’m quite proud to consider myself a Calvinist, but that label has been so caricatured and misunderstood that many people will drown me out with ridicule and scorn before I can even explain what I mean.

The same applies to labeling your opponents position before they can articulate it. Don’t just jump to label someone “liberal” or “bigot” or whatever else without giving them a fair hearing. People’s views are almost always more nuanced than what you learned about it from a Facebook meme. Let them define what they believe for themselves rather than imposing your own label on it. 

 

  1. Don’t argue in comments sections on major Facebook pages.

Seriously. As an adult, there are better ways to spend your time than arguing with a stranger on a comments section. In my many years of using social media, I have never seen a single person change a deeply held political or theological view based on an argument with a stranger on a comments section. It’s a waste of time and it looks silly. 

 

  1. Read good, primary sources of the other side, not just biased sources written from your perspective on the issue.

Learn to be a good listener. You can’t understand another point of view if you never listen to what that point of view has to say. You won’t listen to what they have to say well if you only read it from sources in which the authors agree with you and are trying to prove the other side wrong. 

 

  1. Listen to understand, not just to respond.

If you find yourself just waiting for the other person to finish talking so you can jump in with your rebuttal, you need to learn to stop and listen. You won’t be able to respond well if you haven’t been paying attention to what they’re really saying. Also, the other person will feel disrespected by your lack of attentiveness and will be less receptive to what you have to say. 

 

  1. When you offer your critique, critique the view, not the person holding the view.

Seek to understand their position, listen to them carefully and patiently, and then respectfully critique their view. Don’t patronize them by trying to play psychologist and assume why they hold that view.

Focus on the argument itself and logically explain why you differ. If you can’t logically explain why you differ, then you need to have the humility to postpone the discussion rather than descending into emotionally-charged defense mechanisms. 

 

  1. A rude and abrasive tone doesn’t mean necessarily mean you’re “standing up for the truth.”

This one is aimed directly at my theological camp. We reformed guys like to think that our brashness means that we are being bold and Apostle-Paul-in-Galatians-ish. There is a time to be that way, but it isn’t all the time. You don’t have to do your best Paul Washer impression every time someone disagrees with you about tongues. You can disagree without being a jerk. 

 

  1. Never assume another person’s motives.

You’re not God, so you can’t read their heart. There could be a million complex reasons why they believe what they believe, so don’t try to point at one reason and blame it on that when you have no way of possibly knowing every reason why. They might not even know. 

 

  1. Be willing to be proven wrong.

Believing a falsehood is worse than losing an argument. As believers in Jesus, who is Himself the Truth (John 14:6), we should love the truth so much that we’d rather lose an argument if it can be proven that we’re wrong rather than win at any cost. We must value truth above our ego. 

 

  1. Don’t think of the person you’re disagreeing with as an enemy.

Because they’re not. “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places (Ephesians 6:12).” Christian, your enemy is not the Democratic Party.

Young Calvinist, your enemy is not your Arminian friend. An “Us vs. Them” mentality dehumanizes our opponents and compels us to treat them as enemies to be shouted down rather than neighbors to be loved. 

 

We must be able to engage with others in the defense of the faith, but we can’t forget to do that with gentleness and respect (1st Peter 3:15). The way we do this matters. Christian, don’t adopt the tactics of the world in your conversations with others. Instead, “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person (Colossians 4:6).”

By | 2018-05-25T03:01:15+00:00 May 30th, 2018|

The Sermon on the Mount and Human Flourishing Book Review

The Sermon on the Mount and Human Flourishing Book Review

The Sermon on the Mount and Human Flourishing

by Jonathan Pennington
Length: Approximately 12 hours.
TCB Rating:
five-stars
Buy on Amazon

Book Overview

In The Sermon on the Mount and Human Flourishing, New Testament Scholar Jonathan Pennington provides an illuminating and powerful theological commentary on the most famous teaching of our Lord.

Who should read this?

This book would be an incredibly valuable resource to anyone interested in studying the Sermon on the Mount on a deeper level. I would highly recommend that pastors who intend to preach on these passages buy this commentary.

The Sermon on the Mount and Human Flourishing Book Review 1

SUMMARY

The Sermon on the Mount is one of the most familiar sections in the Bible. Even those who have no background in church have heard phrases such as “turn the other cheek” and “go the extra mile,” likely without knowing where they come from. However, familiarity does not equal understanding. Even many believers today are perplexed about what to do with the strict moral teachings of the Sermon. Many are troubled by sayings such as, “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48, ESV). What are we to do with this?

Jonathan Pennington has done an incredible service to the church with this work. As a person that was raised in church and has heard this Sermon a gazillion times, I must confess that certain verses in the Sermon have perplexed me for a long time. This book really served to bring it all together in my mind and provide me with a much deeper understanding of the major themes and purposes of the Sermon.

First, I must emphasize here that this book, as the subtitle indicates, is a theological commentary. It’s not verse by verse exposition, but rather a commentary on the major theological themes contained in the Sermon and an examination of the major themes in it. A verse by verse exposition would be more helpful in understanding particular verses, but this commentary is incredibly helpful in that it helps the reader to see the big picture of the Sermon on the Mount and how the particular verses fit into the unified whole. This book is divided into 3 major sections. The first is called “orientation,” in which Dr. Pennington provides the basic context, themes, and structure for the Sermon. The second section is the passage by passage commentary on the text. Finally, section three is a brief theological reflection.

The two chapters in this book that serve as the anchor to the theological picture painted by Dr. Pennington are chapters 2 and 3, in which he argues that there are two Greek words that are absolutely crucial to understanding the central message of the Sermon. Dr. Pennington argues in a convincing fashion that these two words are translated in a not-so-helpful way in most English translations. The first word is makarios, which is discussed at length in chapter 2. This is the word that is translated as “blessed” in the beatitudes.

The English term “blessed” usually refers to the active divine favor that one passively receives. However, based on arguments from the usage of this word in other sources, Dr. Pennington shows that makarios is more of a descriptive term. “Makarios clearly refers to human flourishing or fullness of earthly life.”1Jonathan T. Pennington, The Sermon on the Mount and Human Flourishing: a Theological Commentary. Baker Academic, a Division of Baker Publishing Group, 2018. 46-47. Therefore, the beatitudes are not describing the way they receive God’s favor, but rather are describing the sort of person that is living a life that leads to human flourishing.

The second word is teleios, which is translated as “perfect” in Matthew 5:48. The word “perfect” in English refers to the absence of moral impurity of any kind. However, Dr. Pennington argues that teleios communicates the idea of wholeness or singular devotion. It is “not moral perfection but wholehearted orientation toward God.”2Ibid, 46-47. This is the central point of the first major section of the Sermon. Jesus contrasts the wholehearted righteousness that He requires of His disciples rather than the purely external righteousness of the Pharisees. This teleios righteousness is that righteousness that “exceeds the scribes and Pharisees” (Matthew 5:20). Therefore, Matthew 5:48 is not an exhortation to moral perfection that is impossible for believers to keep, but rather an exhortation to be whole and complete, just as our Heavenly Father is.

Dr. Pennington argues that this theme of “greater righteousness” that is wholehearted and singular in its devotion to God is the “meta-category that makes sense of the whole Sermon.”3Ibid, 89. Many interpreters have seen the moral exhortations in the Sermon as an intentionally high moral standard that is impossible for us to reach, which should lead us to despair of our own righteousness and seek the imputed righteousness of Christ. I believe, as does Dr. Pennington, in imputed righteousness as necessary for justification.

However, this concept should not be read into the Sermon. The Sermon should be allowed to speak for itself. The moral standards contained in the Sermon are essential elements to living the Christian life that God enables and empowers His people to keep by the power of the Spirit.

ANALYSIS

What a wonderful book. Honestly, it is the finest I’ve ever read on the Sermon on the Mount, and one of the finest books I’ve read this year thus far. It is scholarly without being obnoxiously boring. It is readable and personable. It is pastoral and challenging. It is faithful to the text of Scripture, and it engages with recent scholarship with honesty and integrity. I will refer to this book whenever I teach, preach, or write on the Sermon, and I’m eager to read more by Dr. Pennington.

Strengths

The analysis of makarios and teleios mentioned above is a major strength of this work. Those two chapters changed the way I think about the Sermon as a whole, and I believe that if most readers of the Sermon were to internalize those two concepts, it would greatly improve their understanding of the message of the Sermon.

The eschatological dimension of the Sermon that is frequently referenced in this book is also a major strength. In the Sermon, Jesus is teaching his disciples what life is to look like for his followers in the inaugurated Kingdom of God. This is not a manifesto for a Kingdom that will come in a future millennial period as in the classical dispensational interpretation, but rather is a Kingdom that has broken into time and space through the advent of the King Himself. These are the ethical standards for the followers of the King in the here and now.

Weaknesses

I’m normally a very critical, difficult to please reader. That is what makes it all the more pleasant for me to say that I’m hard-pressed to find weaknesses for this commentary. It truly does accomplish its intended purpose. If I could find one weakness, it would simply be that it doesn’t give much attention to individual verses, so I would be forced to consult another commentary to learn more about a particular verse. In this way, the commentary isn’t as comprehensive as it could be. However, like the subtitle says, this is a theological commentary, so it can’t exactly be faulted for not being what it wasn’t intended to be.

CONCLUSION

This book is truly a must-read for studies in the Sermon on the Mount. Dr. Pennington has written a wonderful work that I expect to turn to again and again in my life and ministry. Buy this book and read deeply. If your pastor is preparing to preach on these texts, buy him a copy. I can’t recommend this fine book highly enough.

 

FAVORITE QUOTES

“True human flourishing is only available through communion with the Father God through His revealed Son, Jesus, as we are empowered by the Holy Spirit.”

“Christianity is not just a set of doctrines added onto or even fundamentally altering Judaism. It is the revelation of God Himself in a person.”

“Jesus is being presented here as the Messiah who fulfills God’s ancient and promised purposes. While the Sermon will cast a vision of how disciples should live, it is first of all a Christological statement.”

five-stars
By | 2018-04-26T20:36:26+00:00 April 26th, 2018|

Biblical Doctrine Book Review

Biblical Doctrine Book Review

Biblical Doctrine

by John Macarthur, Richard Mayhue
Length: Approximately 30 hours.
TCB Rating:
three-half-stars
Buy on Amazon

Book Overview

In Biblical Doctrine, John Macarthur wrote a systematic theology for the no-nonsense reader that just wants to know what the Bible says. It is biblical, comprehensive, and written for the man in the pew and the student in the classroom.

Who should read this?

This book is written primarily for bible college/seminary students, but it is accessible enough and for the layperson that is interested in diving deeper into theology. This book would be ideally suited as an entry-level systematic theology.

Biblical Doctrine Book Review 1

SUMMARY

Biblical Doctrine: A Systematic Summary of Bible Truth is a systematic theology written by John Macarthur and Richard Mayhue. John Macarthur’s ministry has been incredibly fruitful and influential over the course of many decades, so his systematic theology is truly a compendium of his work and thought over a lifetime of faithful ministry of the Word. This book is supplemented with content from the Macarthur Study Bible, the Macarthur Topical Bible, and the Macarthur New Testament Commentary Series.

This systematic theology seeks to be self-consciously biblical, even to the point at which the authors call themselves “biblicists.”1MacArthur, John. Biblical Doctrine: a Systematic Summary of Bible Truth. Crossway, 2017. 26. It has very minimal footnotes, interaction with other scholars, and interaction with church history. Indeed, if the reader is looking for those things, other systematic theology books would probably be of better use than this one. This book is for the no-nonsense reader that just wants to know what the Bible says about a particular subject.

This book is divided into 10 chapters. All of the major divisions that are traditionally covered in systematic theology texts are covered in this book. It is interesting that this systematic theology has 10 chapters, whereas others that are around the same size have many more. Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology has 57 chapters.2 I’m resisting the temptation in this review to simply compare this book with Grudem’s point by point. Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology has been so influential and widely used that it is hard to read a newer systematic theology without comparing them.

These chapters, however, are divided into many smaller sub-sections that cover other topics. Personally, I find this method of dividing the text a bit more frustrating, because it takes longer to find a specific point. However, this method of division in no way changes the actual content of the book. Each chapter ends with a prayer and a hymn. This is done to emphasize that theology is not just to inform the mind, but to engage the heart. According to Macarthur, “Theology is not fully finished until it has warmed the heart (affections) and prompted the volition (will) to act in obedience to its content.”3Ibid, 37.

The subjects covered in this volume include the prolegomena, bibliology, theology proper, Christology, pneumatology, anthropology and hamartiology (man and sin), soteriology, angelology, ecclesiology, and eschatology. Each chapter is a systematic summary of what the Bible teaches on these particular topics, with several subsections discussing the various points in each doctrine.

ANALYSIS

This systematic theology will be extremely helpful for a particular group of people. This particular group would include bible college students, laypersons that haven’t read much systematic theology but want to grow deeper in their understanding, or those who have been deeply influenced by John Macarthur.

Personally, I found this book to be very useful and enlightening in many ways, and disappointing in other ways. All in all, I believe that this is a very good systematic theology, but not the best that I’ve read. To be perfectly honest, after reading this, I think that I enjoy John Macarthur much more as a preacher and commentator than a theologian. I find his sermons and his commentaries to be his strongest work.

Strengths

The first and most obvious strength of this book is that it is thoroughly biblical. Nearly every sentence has Scripture references in parentheses. This is very refreshing, because systematic theology has a reputation for being overly philosophical and wandering beyond Scripture into speculation. This book truly seeks to answer the simple question of “what does the Bible say about this?”

This book is very easy to read. Many systematic theologies are clunky and difficult to read, but this one typically avoids using academic language, referencing the original languages, and excessive footnotes. This is what makes this so suitable for a layperson that wants to read their first serious book on theology.

I also found the chapter on Theology Proper to be a massive strength. Theology proper tends to be a weak point in newer reformed systematic theologies, especially considering the recent controversies about EFS (Eternal Functional Subordination) and divine simplicity surrounding James Dolezal’s All that is in God. The chapter on the doctrine of God in this book is refreshingly biblical without compromising essential attributes of God that are often brought into question in these recent controversies.

Weaknesses

The first weakness I’d like to highlight is, ironically enough, something that I listed as a strength in the previous section. Yes, this book is thoroughly biblical, but I think that an explicitly Biblicist perspective is limiting to a good systematic theology. I think this volume would have been stronger if it did engage with church history, other scholars, etc. We have much to learn from others, and it can be arrogant and short-sighted to think that we can figure everything about theology out on our own.

Second, the tone and style of argument in this book can be frustrating. Macarthur has never been shy about being controversial, and he’s about as subtle as a machine gun. But gentleness is a fruit of the Spirit, and I would’ve appreciated some of that in places in this book. There are places in this book, particularly in the eschatology section, where a very controversial and disputed text will be cited as a single proof text for a point without any defense.4For example, on page 856, Macarthur cites Galatians 6:16 when saying, “Sometimes the term Israel is used of believing Jews only,” when many, if not most, commentators on Galatians see this as a reference to gentiles as well. Macarthur simply cites this as a proof without any defense or justification. Also, on page 863, Macarthur states that there are “nonglorified saints who bore children with nonglorified bodies during the millennial kingdom” and cites Isaiah 65:20,23 as a proof. Again, that is a controversial interpretation that many scholars would disagree with, and no defense for this interpretation is given.

Also, in the eschatology section, Macarthur repeatedly refers to the amillenial view of the relationship between the church and Israel as “replacement theology” even though this is an unfortunate straw-man that most amllienialists would reject. I knew before reading this book that I would disagree with Macarthur on eschatology. I can’t criticize him for writing what he believes that I disagree with. However, I don’t feel like my position (amillenialism) was treated fairly and represented accurately.

Also, the section on “Inadequacy of the natural proofs” (148-150) for the existence of God is a glaring example of the genetic fallacy. The genetic fallacy essentially says that an argument is wrong because its source is bad. In this section, Macarthur goes through the famous “proofs” and discredits them solely on the grounds that others who were not orthodox Christians have used variations of these arguments. As a presuppositionalist, I agree with Macarthur that the natural proofs are insufficient in themselves to prove the existence of God, but I think his reasoning that leads to this conclusion is very faulty.

The final weakness of this book isn’t really a weakness, but more of a limiting factor. I think this book is limited in its appeal to those who are newer or less experienced with systematic theology because of the limited nature of the content. More experienced readers could use this book for teaching, but would probably find themselves more edified by something else.

Biblical Doctrine: A Systematic Summary of Bible Truth
List Price: $60.00
Price: $43.42
You Save: $16.58
Price Disclaimer

CONCLUSION

This book is a welcome addition to the already wonderful reformed systematic theologies that have been written recently. It is a crowning achievement for a man of God that has been used so profoundly as John Macarthur has. I would gladly recommend this fine volume to any reader of theology that is interested in growing in their knowledge of our great God and His Word. However, as much as I feel that I should avoid unfair comparisons, I can’t help but tell the reader of this review that if you’re looking to read your first systematic theology book, read Grudem’s first. I think that it is just as readable and comprehensive, yet without many of the weaknesses that were mentioned in the review above.

I’d like to thank Crossway for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

FAVORITE QUOTES

  • Theology is not fully finished until it has warmed the heart (affections) and prompted the volition (will) to act in obedience to its content.”

  • “God is absolutely sovereign, and man is entirely responsible for his actions.”

  • “In His death, the Lord Jesus Christ paid the penalty that our sins incurred by suffering vicariously as our substitute.”
three-half-stars
By | 2018-03-16T01:38:41+00:00 March 20th, 2018|

The Problem of Pain Book Review

The Problem of Pain Book Review

The Problem of Pain

by C.S. Lewis
Length: 6-7 hours. To read (148 pages)
TCB Rating:
four-stars
Buy on Amazon

Book Overview

In The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lewis sought to provide an answer to the problem of evil. In philosophy, the “problem of evil” refers to the question of why an omnipotent and loving God would allow evil to co-exist with His creation. The problem of evil is one of the most common objections to Christianity on both an intellectual and emotional level. C.S. Lewis examines the nature of pain, the theological reasons behind it, and gives penetrating insights into the nature of pain in the life of the believer.

Who should read this Book?

This book is a must-read for any Christian that is interested in apologetics. It is classic C.S. Lewis: witty, powerful, deep, yet accessible. It would also be deeply useful for the believer that is struggling with finding purpose in the midst of pain in their life. The insights of Lewis in this book are incredibly helpful.

Problem of Pain Book Review

 

Summary

The first chapter lays the foundation for the argument that Lewis will be making throughout the rest of the book. Lewis makes the startling assertion that Christianity “creates, rather than solves, the problem of pain, for pain would be no problem unless, side by side with our own daily experience of this painful world, we had received what we think a good assurance that the ultimate reality is righteous and loving”.1 C.S. Lewis. The Complete C.S. Lewis Signature Classics, “The Problem of Pain” (549-646) HarperCollins Publishers, 2002.

In the next chapter, Lewis states the problem of pain that he is seeking to solve. “If God were good, He would wish to make His creatures perfectly happy, and if God were almighty, He would be able to do what He wished. But the creatures are not happy. Therefore, God lacks either goodness, or power, or both. This is the problem of pain” (Lewis, Problem of Pain, 560). Lewis presupposes what is often referred to as a “free will theodicy”. Proponents of this view claim that God is justified in allowing evil to exist because He gave His creatures a libertarian free will, and they used their freedom to rebel against Him and create evil.

Lewis devotes chapters two and three to defining and defending God’s omnipotence and goodness. He defines God’s omnipotence as His “power to do all that is intrinsically possible” (Lewis, Problem of Pain, 561). When considering God’s goodness in chapter three, Lewis said “lovingness” is what most people mean when they speak of God’s goodness.

In the next several pages, Lewis asserts that God’s idea of love is quite different from the popular conception of love. “Love may, indeed, love the beloved when her beauty is lost: but not because it is lost. Love may forgive all infirmities and love in spite of them: But love cannot cease to will their removal” (Lewis, Problem of Pain, 573). Lewis believed that God’s love has the purposes of making men holy and drawing them to Himself. He wrote in chapter six that God “whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: It is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world” (Lewis, Problem of Pain, 604). In my opinion, this is the central theme of The Problem of Pain.

Chapters four and five are focused on human wickedness and the fall of man. Lewis emphasizes in chapter four that “a recovery of the old sense of sin is essential to Christianity” (Lewis, Problem of Pain, 580). In order to understand why evil exists, one must understand that human beings are sinners that have rebelled against their Creator. Lewis devotes chapter five to articulating his view of the fall of man which includes his affirmation of an evolutionary view of the origin of the world.

Lewis concludes the book with chapters that are focused on eternal destinations, namely, heaven and hell. Lewis did not believe that these two places were truly opposites. He said that hell “was not made for men. It is in no sense parallel to heaven. It is the darkness outside” (Lewis, Problem of Pain, 626). He believed that “to enter heaven is to become more human than you ever succeeded in being on earth; to enter hell is to be banished from humanity” (Lewis, Problem of Pain, 625). For Lewis, the joy of heaven is the ultimate consolation for all pain experienced on earth. He knew that the present sufferings that God’s people experience “are not worth comparing to the glory that is to be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18).

Analysis

This is one of my favorite books written by C.S. Lewis. Some of his insights into the nature and purpose of pain are remarkable. However, I believe that Lewis’s theodicy is ultimately not the best solution to the problem of evil. The real use and strength of Problem of Pain is its insights into the purpose of pain and the ways that God uses it to sanctify believers.

I believe that a more appropriate title for this book would be “The Purpose of Pain” because one of the major themes in The Problem of Pain is the way in which God uses pain to accomplish His purpose of drawing people to Himself. One way that Lewis says that God uses pain to draw men unto Himself is by destroying a person’s sense of self-sufficiency. Lewis wrote that “we regard God as an airman regards his parachute; it’s there for emergencies but he hopes he’ll never have to use it” (Lewis, Problem of Pain, 606). God knows that as long as people believe that their lives are fine without Him, they will continue to ignore Him. That is why God uses pain as His “megaphone” to rouse apathetic people from their slumber and reveal to them their need for God. In this way, pain and suffering is not an expression of God’s judgement but rather God’s grace. 

Another way in which Lewis says that God uses pain for a higher purpose is in how He uses pain to make believers holy. This is the primary thesis of chapter three, and my favorite section in the book. “If God is love” Lewis writes, “He is, by definition, something more than mere kindness” (Lewis, Problem of Pain, 570). Many people in Lewis’ day, and in the current evangelical culture, regard the love of God as a vague sentimentalism. As Lewis put it, “we want, in fact, not so much a Father in heaven but a grandfather in heaven- a senile benevolence who, as they say, ‘liked to see young people enjoying themselves” (Lewis, Problem of Pain, 569).

True love is committed to obtaining the highest possible good for its object. If God is holy and loving, sin is evil and harmful, and God loves a man, then God will stop at nothing to make that man holy and remove his sinfulness. Lewis wrote that “love, in its own nature, demands the perfecting of the beloved” (Lewis, Problem of Pain, 573). This process is undeniably painful. Yet Christ calls His followers to take up their cross and follow Him because He loves them. The pain that Christians experience in becoming like Christ is like Eustace’s experience in Lewis’ Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Aslan’s removal of his dragon skin “hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt”.2 Lewis, C. S. The Chronicles of Narnia: Including an Essay on Writing by C.S. Lewis. HarperCollins, 2004. 474

It was only through this painful experience that Aslan made Eustace into the person He intended him to be. Likewise, it is in the furnace of pain that Christ sanctifies His people and makes them into the people He intends for them to be. This is the ultimate purpose of pain. This is, in my view, the highlight of The Problem of Pain and the profound insight that makes the book worth reading.

Nonetheless, there are significant theological problems in The Problem of Pain that cannot be ignored. It is tempting to overlook these because of Lewis’ insistence that he is not a theologian. Even so, it would be irresponsible not to correct the theological errors of a Christian thinker as influential as C.S. Lewis. This part of the critical analysis of The Problem of Pain will identify two areas that were concerning on a theological level.

First, Lewis denied the Reformed doctrine of “Total Depravity” at two places in this book. He startlingly said that the consequence of believing this doctrine “may thus turn Christianity into a form of devil-worship”3Lewis, C.S. The Complete C.S. Lewis Signature Classics, The Problem of Pain (549-646). HarperCollins Publishers, 2002. 568 It is not within the scope of this review to articulate and defend the doctrine of total depravity. However, Lewis’ statements regarding the doctrine in The Problem of Pain lead me to believe that perhaps Lewis did not fully understand this doctrine, and it caused him to misrepresent it in a disappointing manner.

Lewis wrote in the outset of chapter three that “the doctrine of Total Depravity- when the consequence is drawn that, since we are totally depraved, our idea of good is worth simply nothing- may thus turn Christianity into a form of devil-worship” (Lewis, Problem of Pain, 567-568). Those who affirm this doctrine do not believe that unregenerate people do not have the intellectual capacity to understand right and wrong. Proponents of Total Depravity affirm the clear teaching of Paul in Romans 2:14-15 that Gentiles know what is right and wrong by nature, and they are a “law to themselves”. The doctrine of total depravity does not teach that the natural man is ignorant of what good and evil are; it teaches that he knows exactly what they are and gladly and freely chooses evil (John 3:19).

Calvin wrote that “we are all sinners by nature, therefore we are held under the yoke of sin. But if the whole man is subject to the dominion of sin, surely the will, which is its principal seat, must be bound with the closest chains.”4Calvin, John. Institutes of the Christian Religion. Hendrickson Publishers, 2008. 175 The emphasis of the doctrine of total depravity is not on the intellect but on the will. If Lewis understood this, perhaps he would not have criticized the doctrine as he did in The Problem of Pain.  

Finally, Lewis presupposes the concept of libertarian free will throughout The Problem of Pain without ever articulating or defending it. Near the beginning of the book, Lewis used the phrase, “lose the exercise of your free will” (Lewis, Problem of Pain, 564) without ever defining free will or explaining how or why a person would have it to begin with. In his chapter on hell, Lewis wrote that, “In creating beings with free will, omnipotence from the outset submits to the possibility of such defeat” (Lewis, Problem of Pain, 626). Essentially, Lewis was saying that the reason people finally go to hell is because they do not desire God, and God will not intervene to cause them to desire Him because doing so would violate their free will. However, the Bible is clear that unregenerate people do not desire God or seek after Him (Romans 3:10, 1st Corinthians 2:14) and they are hostile towards Him (Romans 8:7).

Unless God miraculously intervenes to draw them to Himself (Ephesians 2:4), they will remain dead in their sin (Ephesians 2:1-3). Lewis never attempts to defend his view or deals with clear biblical passages that contradict it. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity, his famous book based on talks that he gave on radio a few years after The Problem of Pain was published, that “free will, though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having.”5Lewis, C.S. Mere Christianity . Harper One, An Imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers, 2017. 48 If this is the case, then God must not be free. If true freedom requires the possibility of evil, and God is not capable of committing evil acts, then God must be less free than His creatures.

This is a far cry from the declaration of the psalmist that “our God is in the heavens; He does all that He pleases” (Psalm 115:3). Therefore, a compatibilist view of the relationship of human freedom to divine sovereignty seems to do more justice to the biblical text. The arguments in The Problem of Pain might have been stronger if Lewis had this understanding.

The Problem of Pain
List Price: $13.99
Price: $10.06
You Save: $3.93
Price Disclaimer

Conclusion

Does C.S. Lewis solve the problem of pain in his book? No. It is not possible that any finite mind could exhaustively understand the purposes of God for creating the world as He has. However, the value of this book lies in the encouragement that it offers to sufferers that their suffering is not meaningless. Despite the significant theological problems with this book, I believe that The Problem of Pain is worthy of being read and pondered by all Christians. Lewis’ rhetorical ability and mastery of the English language shines forth in this beautifully written work. True to his vintage style, it is readable, clear, and filled with memorable quotes. There is a reason why this book is still being read over 75 years since its publication. Lewis’ insights in the nature and purpose of pain and suffering are relevant to Christians in every generation.

Favorite Quotes

  • “Love may, indeed, love the beloved when her beauty is lost: but not because it is lost. Love may forgive all infirmities and love in spite of them: But love cannot cease to will their removal.”
  • “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: It is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
  • “We regard God as an airman regards his parachute; it’s there for emergencies but he hopes he’ll never have to use it.”
  • “Love, in its own nature, demands the perfecting of the beloved.”
  • “We were made not primarily that we may love God (though we were made for that too) but that God may love us, that we may become objects in which the Divine love may rest ‘well pleased.’ To ask that God’s love should be content with us as we are is to ask that God should cease to be God; because He is what He is, His love must, in the nature of things, be impeded and repelled by certain stains in our present character, and because He already loves us He must labour to make us lovable.”
four-stars
By | 2018-02-01T22:46:22+00:00 February 4th, 2018|

Oops!

Hi, thanks for dropping by! Looks like you caught us changing … our site design. Please excuse our mess! If you find any bugs or have an suggestions, email us at info@topchristianbooks.online. We’ll definitely reply.

Pin It on Pinterest