John Piper, Five Points: Towards a Deeper Experience of God’s Grace (Ross-Shire, UK: Christian Focus Publications, 2013). Ppb, 94 pgs. $8.99.
Mark Dever, pastor of Capital Hill Baptist Church, recently articulated 12 sources God has used to reinvigorate Reformed theology among a younger generation in our day. Among them, he named John Piper. Piper, said Dever, is probably “the single most potent factor in the recent rise of Reformed theology.” As part of the young, restless, and Reformed movement myself, I concur.
Piper’s new book, Five Points, summarizes the basic doctrines of Reformed theology in a clear, accessible, and winsome way. If you’re wondering, “What are the ‘five points of Calvinism’ all about?” this book is for you.
John Piper served as Pastor for Preaching and Vision at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota for 33 years before stepping down earlier this year to devote his time to the ministry he founded, Desiring God. He is an award-winning author of a number of books including Desiring God, Don’t Waste Your Life, God’s Passion for His Glory, and Finally Alive.
Although the so-called “five points of Calvin” didn’t actually come from John Calvin in its present-day form—they find their roots in the Synod of Dort in 1618-1619—Calvin certainly affirmed all five in his famous Institutes of the Christian Religion (1559). The five points, known by the acronym TULIP, are:
- Total Depravity
- Unconditional Election
- Limited Atonement
- Irresistible Grace
- Perseverance of the Saints
After a pastoral introduction and some historical context, Piper goes through each of these, though not in this order. While he values the traditional order of TULIP, he says, “people grasp these points more easily if we go in the order in which we ourselves often experience them when we become Christians” (14). Thus, the order Piper outlines throughout the book is:
- Total Depravity
- Irresistible Grace
- Limited Atonement
- Unconditional Election
- Perseverance of the Saints
Like many pastors and theologians, Piper acknowledges that these labels have been and continue to be misunderstood. For example, “Perseverance of the Saints” might communicate to some that we are the ones who make it to the end by our own effort and works; that God starts us in the right direction, but it’s up to us to continue on to glory. This would be the opposite teaching of perseverance.
Piper also gives some rationale and defense for this book, placing his starting point with Scripture:
I do not begin as a Calvinist and defend a system. I begin as a Bible-believing Christian who wants to put the Bible above all systems of thought. But over the years—many years of struggle—I have deepened in my conviction that Calvinistic teachings on the five points are biblical and therefore true, and therefore a precious pathway into deeper experiences of God’s grace (9).
Two points from the book stood out particularly to me. First, the God-ness of God. I came away with a greater appreciation of the truth that God is self-sufficient, complete in Himself from all eternity. He does not need us, but loves us when there was no condition in us to love. In an age that is brimming with narcissism and self-help “guides,” we should be radically God-centered in our theology and worship.
The second point that I found particularly helpful in Five Points was the personal and historical testimonies at the end of the book on the “doctrines of grace,” as the five points are oftentimes called. Piper pulls back the curtain to his own life experience with these five points and this only gave the book a raw, down-to-earth, practical side—helping the reader experience these doctrines for himself. They are not ethereal ideologies, but concrete and living truths we can experience now.
I highly commend Five Points to those who have no idea what all the fuss is about, but also to the highly trained pastor, wanting to somehow communicate biblical doctrine in a clear and pastoral way.
Brimming with cultural analysis, historical perspective, and bold clarity, Kevin Swanson offers a refreshingly God-centered critique of the fall of Western civilization in his new book, Apostate.
The book touches on a number of themes, but centers around sixteen specific “apostates” who—though raised in Christian homes and environments—abandoned the faith for an anti-Christian worldview. Sadly, all of these men would cause disastrous consequences because of their ideas. Some of these men include: John Locke, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Karl Marx, Charles Darwin, Friedrich Nietzsche, John Dewey, William Shakespeare, and Mark Twain.
What began in the realm of “ideas” soon translated into the sphere of education and books and then to mass media (music, entertainment, internet, etc.). At the heart of this rejection of the historically Christian West was secular humanism, where man replaces God as the measure of all things. Man does what is right in his own eyes and sets the new normal of “morality” according to his latest whim.
Swanson—a homeschool father, pastor, and radio-show host—doesn’t miss the ample opportunities to decry the influence and role of secular government education in the West’s demise. Imagine the impact of anti-Christian, evolutionary-applauding, and sin-supporting education for millions and millions of malleable minds since the 1960s. Are we surprised, then, by the recent and fast-paced fall of the Christian West?
My initial feeling while reading was fear, hopelessness, and a disheartening angst. However, Swanson provides pastoral balm in the promises of our sovereign God. Interestingly, too, he prophetically speaks to the result of current cultural trends as they play out over the next 20 or so years.
The only two negatives I have about the book are that (1) Swanson seems redundant at times, even using the same phrases, and (2) the book has several typographical errors scattered throughout. Be that as it may, Apostate is an eye opening, insightful, and worthwhile read, especially if you are concerned about the state of Western civilization and wondering, “How did we get here?”
Title: Apostate – The Men Who Destroyed the Christian West
Author: Kevin Swanson
Publisher: Generations with Vision; 1ST edition (2013)
I received this for free from Generations With Vision through the CrossFocused Review program for this review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
Joel R. Beeke and Paul M. Smalley, Prepared by Grace, for Grace: The Puritans on God’s Ordinary Way of Leading Sinners to Christ (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2013). 297 pages, paperback.
That God “prepares” people to be saved probably isn’t on most people’s theological radar screen. But, as Beeke and Smalley ably contend, it bears a profound effect upon your approach to evangelism, preaching, and the role of the law in Christian conversion. If you are a Christian reading this, you probably have spoken about your conversion as being either a specific event or a gradual process. Which was it? The doctrine of preparation has been a thoroughly Reformed answer to this often-confusing issue.
Joel Beeke is president and professor of systematic theology at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary and pastor of the Heritage Netherlands Reformed Congregation in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Paul Smalley is Dr. Beeke’s teacher’s assistant. Beeke is the author of numerous books on the subject of Puritanism; most notably his recent tome, A Puritan Theology: Doctrine for Life (2012), co-authored with Mark Jones.
Prepared by Grace, For Grace is a historical-theological investigation into the thought of various Continental, English, and early New England Puritans in how God prepares sinners for conversion. The book takes a semi-critical approach as the authors weigh various scholars’ assessments against the primary-source documents. They graciously disagree at a number of places and thus this book presents groundbreaking, historical-theological, and analytical thought.
As Beeke and Smalley consistently point out that, in no way, does the doctrine of preparation (not preparationism!) contradict a robust Reformed orthodoxy. Rather, it dovetails with God’s absolute sovereignty over salvation. God uses various means by which he saves and sanctifies his people; the means of grace. He alone is sovereign and he saves his elect when and how he sees fit.
The law of God plays a central element in this book’s presentation because it is the law—as the Puritans argued—that God uses to convict people of sin. This is one of the reasons why the Puritans stressed the law of God in their sermons and treatises. Beeke and Smalley meticulously labor to show that the Puritans understood that God’s law convicts both the reprobate and the elect of sin. While such conviction is but a “miscarriage” for the reprobate (as the Puritans put it), it bears to full fruition and “complete delivery” for the elect. Thus, some of God’s operations with regard to the law are common to all men, not just to the elect. Furthermore, the law of God does not have the power to justify, but—by the Spirit—to convict and so prepare the elect for Christ.
The preaching of God’s holy law sets the standard whereby the sinner is able to see himself in light of God’s holiness and righteousness. When this happens, the sinner moves from complacency in sin to conviction of sin. By God’s Spirit, the elect are either then or eventually converted to Christ. There may be a series of convictions throughout a person’s life before he or she embraces Christ by saving faith. This is God’s preparing him or her for conversion.
I found this book particularly helpful in clarifying how God works in a person’s life to prepare him or her for conversion. In particular, I have come to a newfound appreciation for preaching God’s law and have come to see more clearly why the Puritans so stressed the law of God—they wanted sinners to be saved! My only criticism of the book is that, at times, it seemed a bit disjointed and lacked a natural flow. It read more like a collection of essays on the topic. Be that as it may, Prepared by Grace, For Grace is an extremely helpful guide to this often confusing issue. I’m heartedly commend this timely and practical gift to the church!
I’ll close with a quote from the book by John Flavel (c.1630-1691):
Souls are the soil, conviction is the plow,
God’s workmen draw, the Spirit shows them how.
He guides the work, and in good ground doth bless
His workmen’s pains, with sweet and fair success.
“Flee sexual immorality. Every sin that a man does is outside the body, but he who commits sexual immorality sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.” (I Cor. 6:18-20)
The Apostle Paul in the above passage admonishes the believer to at all costs flee from sexual immorality. In an age where all manner of sexual perversion has inundated our society and where access to sexually explicit material can be had from your cell phone to the internet to movies, fleeing sexually immoral behavior and its rabid hold on many even within the church is admittedly difficult. How are we supposed to flee something that is seemingly everywhere around us?
Counselor, author, and sexual addiction expert Dr. Douglas Weiss, in his book Clean: A Proven Plan for Men Committed to Sexual Integrity presents a number of helpful steps focused specifically on helping men address addiction to sin through a sound and tested biblically focused model.
Weiss begins his book with some rather disturbing statistics concerning the vast influence and hold pornography and sexually explicit materials has on adults and teenagers, male and female alike. Perhaps most disturbing are the statistics regarding the influence of pornography on church leaders. While such statistics are rather disheartening, facing the facts of the matter is one of the first steps to identify the problem. As Weiss correctly notes, not facing this harmful and destructive issue could cause Christian men to “grow coldhearted and believe that viewing pornography is not even a sin.”
A tactic often utilized by Satan is the temptation of sexual sin. Weiss appropriately avers a number of examples presented in Scripture where the response of the one tempted had a direct impact on their life. He notes the response of Joseph to sexual temptation, namely Joseph literally fleeing from Potipher’s wife comparing that with the life of Samson, a man who more often than not, chose to succumb to the wiles of sexual immorality. Thus, understanding the grave impact sexual sin can have on your life is vital. This is not something to treat lightly. Weiss aptly notes “God does not tolerate sexual sin. He never has and he never will…Tolerance of this type of sin in our lives and in the local church is unacceptable.”
Building upon the reality of this war of sexual immorality that is being waged on men, Weiss reminds the believer that God has provided us with weapons to fight back in order to regain the spiritual ground so many have given up in this area of their life. He rightly avers that we “need to aim our protective gear and weapons against the enemy’s plan for our lives, so we don’t one day become the perpetrator of this crime of lying, cheating, and hurting those we love.” Stopping the cycle of sexual temptation and its horrific impacts on not just your own life, but the lives of everyone around you is vitally important. This battle against what Scripture calls a war fought in heavenly places (Eph. 6:12), can only be won by getting at the root of the problem through the power of the Holy Spirit working in our lives. A foundational element for rooting out the entangling snares of sexual sin is that of repentance. Identifying we have a problem and repenting of that problem involves humbling oneself before God. Weiss correctly states “If a man doesn’t humble himself before God and others during this season of sin, he will be faced with the seed of lust reaching its final fruit, death.”
Weiss provides a rather salient formula that all men should memorize: U+P=D. This stands for U (you) plus P (pornography or any other sexual sin) equals D (destruction). Essentially playing around with sexual issues such as lust, pornography, masturbation or other deviant and perverse behaviors is playing with fire. When used in its proper context and situation, fire is beneficial. For example, a campfire on a cold night provides warmth. A fire in a charcoal grill will properly cook a delicious steak. Those are examples of a fire that provides usefulness to the user within a contained environment or situation for a specific purpose. However, as Weiss notes “Fire in an uncontained situation, however, can wreak significant damage…The only containment for sex and sexual appreciation of a woman is marriage.” Thus anything outside of that proper containment is playing with fire that will rage and that will only serve to destroy many areas of one’s life to include all manner of relationships, possibly for many years in the future and many succeeding generations.
So how does one obtain freedom from sexual sin? Weiss avers the place to start, once repentance has begun is with what he calls a “clean brain.” He provides a number of practical and scientific examples that are quite fascinating in regards to how the brain is wired and more specifically how what we view or focus on cements itself into our brain. A rather helpful example Weiss provides is this: “Step one: you create a high chemical reward when you release sexually. Step two: you bond or connect to that image or person. The bond is long term, not just immediate. Step three: your body stores this bond, and you are attracted to that person and image in reality or fantasy. You create a landmine. Step four: your environment or fantasy world can recreate this landmine and, whamo, you are flooded with feelings towards an innocent person or image.” This is why sexual immorality has such a significant impact on so many people, especially considering the flood of sexually perverse imagery that floods our eyes on a daily basis.
Weiss provides some rather interesting tips he has found successful in his experience as a counselor for obtaining a clean brain including placing a rubber band on your wrist and snapping it against your skin every time you are tempted with sexually improper behavior. Another is what he calls “Braindar” or using your brain in the opposite manner it has been trained, namely looking the opposite direction when sexual temptation is calling or rather yelling out your name. Yet another tip is the “brain covenant” in keeping with 2 Cor. 10:5. This involves covenanting with God to “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”
Taking every thought captive also must translate into our physical bodies coming under the Lordship of Christ as well. The Apostle Paul, in Weiss reminds the reader there are three owners of our sexuality, God, your wife, and yourself. God having ownership means that as the Apostle Paul notes in Romans 12:1 reminds us that we are, “in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God–this is your true and proper worship.” This includes our sexual organs as after all they are part of our body and part of what is to be continually offered up to God as a living sacrifice. For those who are married, those two words “I Do” mean you made a commitment to your wife, a covenant relationship, a marriage bond of loyalty and sexual fidelity. Many married men perhaps forget something Weiss aptly notes and that is “Your wife owns your sexuality. She has authority over this area, and that is God’s way of protecting and providing for you sexually.” This begs the question as to what single men should do. Since they do not have a wife to protect them, does that get them off the proverbial hook? In no way, shape, or form! Weiss brilliantly reminds the reader “No person is single if he or she is a Christian. You are married to Christ. Your spiritual Facebook status is married without a spouse. Single denotes an idea of freedom that slaves to Christ do not have. You will most likely be married one day. Honor your future wife with your life.”
The Apostle Paul notes in Galatians 5:16-25 of the importance of not walking in the flesh and of the need to walk in the Spirit. One aspect of our sinful nature is that of sexual immorality. Notice, however, which fruit of the Spirit is the opposite of sexual immorality or lust. It is the fruit of love. Lust and love are polar opposites and cannot truly exist in the same setting. A vital tip Weiss provides for moving from an attitude of lust to that of love is the need to view members of the opposite sex in an appropriate relational construct. He comments “It is doubtful you will lust after your mom or your sisters. You see them as complete, three-dimensional people. You see them as mothers, sisters, believers, parents, and so on. You see them in a relational context.” This is vitally important. When you are tempted to lust after another woman, view them as a sister in the Lord and focus on praying for that person. This essentially puts the spiritual brakes on lust instead moving you into exercising righteousness and growing the fruit of the Spirit in your life instead of allowing a root of lust to grow.
A final important element on the road to becoming clean in the area of sexual addiction is the need for accountability. Those suffering from sexual sin need people to keep them accountable. The Christian walk was never meant to be lived in a Lone Ranger approach as God created us to live in community with fellow believers. Other forms of accountability, especially in an age where sexually explicit material is available on anything from computers to cell phones, installing software such as http://www.covenanteyes.com/ may be appropriate. Weiss comments “As silly as it sounds, I like Covenant Eyes’ little icon that pops up on my computer and phone. I haven’t looked at porn for more than twenty-five years, but that icon reminds me that God is watching.”
Clean by Dr. Douglas Weiss is an excellent book for anyone either facing issues in their life with sexual addiction or those who have family members or friends struggling with this most deviant of sins. He provides a plethora of biblical counsel based on years of both personal and professional experience that will assist the reader in understanding how to identify this issue within their own life or the life of someone they care for and more importantly, through the power of God ways to slay this dragon. God is calling His people to holiness, and Clean by Dr. Doug Weiss is a powerful tool and a wonderful book on the subject of sexual integrity.
I received this for free from Thomas Nelson Publishers via BookSneeze for this review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
The American dream is to have a white picket fence, a couple kids and a large bank account. People go to school for years and work even longer to achieve this dream. Sadly, the American dream leaves people searching for everything, but pursuing a relationship with God. If ever there was a book that addressed a great need for all people it is Contentment, Prosperity, and God’s Glory by the great Puritan Jeremiah Burroughs.
When Christians think of doctrine they think that if they believe the right things, they will be okay. This approach to doctrine dismisses the important truth that what we believe helps ground how we live out our daily lives. Paul told Timothy to keep a close watch his life and doctrine (1st Timothy 4:16). The purpose of this was to, “Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Timothy 4:16). This means that what we believe about God, His Word and His Gospel not only informs our identity in Christ, but helps to shape it.
Christians need to understand our identity in Christ is not derived by the things we do but rather by who we believe in—Jesus Christ. It is through Jesus death, burial, and resurrection that the Christian now stands in the grace of God. Any problems with our identity in Christ (whether this is a struggle with a difficult person, situation, and so on) are ultimately doctrinal issues. Our doctrine may be firmly planted in the Word of God, and yet if what we believe isn’t informing how we live we will have significant issues in our walk with the Lord. Christians need to continue to grow deep and wide in the Word of God by reading, and studying the Bible in order to gain deeper understanding and insight into what we believe from the Bible. This is why I was thrilled to read Jeremiah Burroughs book, Contentment, Prosperity, and God’s Glory, because he was a man (like all the Puritans) who was affected by what he learned from the Word of God.
Jeremiah Burroughs experienced a great deal of hardship in his ministry and through it God taught him how to be content. Burroughs believed that a Christian could find contentment in any circumstance if Christ Himself was his cherished possession. He said, “A Christian should be satisfied with what God has made the object of his faith (i.e., Christ). The object of his faith is high enough to satisfy his soul, were it capable of a thousand times more than it is. Now if you have the object of your faith you have enough to content your soul.”
None other than Thomas Watson noted that Burroughs believed what he preached. To put that another way, Burroughs practiced what he preached. For, Burroughs doctrine was not just a matter of knowing the right answers but rather having those answers affect how he lived. To put it more precisely sound doctrine for Burroughs lead to sound (or right) living. Thomas Watson noted this about for his close friend (Burroughs) when he (Watson) wrote a commendation of one of his teachings said, “So, now, reader, you have these sermons twice printed: once in the practice of this holy man and once again in these papers which we present to you (xvi). Burroughs knowledge of God was rooted in the Word of God, which he then applied to his daily experience of his daily life.
Burroughs’ book Contentment, Prosperity, and God’s Glory teaches us what a life centered on God looks like—it looks like looking to Jesus and saturating our lives in the jewel of His grace. The Church today desperately needs men and women like Burroughs who are committed to not just studying biblical doctrine but applying what they believe into their lives. It is not enough to be able to recite biblical answers, as Christians. Christians have been given a new identity by God and this new identity is rooted in what we believe about Who Jesus is and what He has done. If we fail to live from our identity in Christ we, either have a deficient understanding of a particular doctrine or we don’t know what we believe. Either way there is a remedy to this problem, which is found in reading, studying and meditating on the Word of God.
Whether you are a brand new Christian or you’ve been a Christian a long time Contentment, Prosperity, and God’s Glory has something for you. As Burroughs digs deep from God’s Word, he exposes a great need for our own time, which is rather than having a low view of God’s comfort, and guidance, Christians need to have a high view of God’s active role in their lives so they can press in and march forward in the midst of life’s difficulties towards Jesus, the author and perfector of their faith.
This book will help Christians to gain a biblical view of God which will in turn help them to understand the nature of contentment in good and bad times. If ever there was a book that spoke to a our times, it is this one, which is why I pray that every Christian will pick up Contentment, Prosperity and God’s Glory and learn from the godly Burroughs.
While every generation needs godly men and women, our need in this hour has never been greater in the Church, which is why I pray that God would raise up many more Burroughs, and others like him in our own generation who will commit to knowing, loving and making much of Jesus by proclaiming and modeling what they believe and teach from the Word of God to the people of God.
Title: Contentment, Prosperity, and God’s Glory
Author: Jeremiah Burroughs
Publisher: Reformation Heritage (2013)
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Cross Focused Reviews via the publisher Reformation Heritage. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
Following in the footsteps of his book, Inerrancy and Worldview, Dr. Poythress wrote Inerrancy and The Gospels. Serious Bible readers all recognize that there are differences between accounts of the same events in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, and no responsible reader can simply sweep the differences under the rug. The question Dr. Poythress addresses in this book is, “How can each unique account recorded in the Gospels be reconciled with a belief in biblical inerrancy?”
Responding to the questions surrounding the Gospel narratives, New Testament scholar Vern Poythress provides an informed case for inerrancy in the Gospels by helping his readers understand basic principles for harmonization. He also tackles some of the most complicated exegetical problems, showing the way forward on passages that have perplexed many, including the centurion’s servant, the cursing of the fig tree. Like with Inerrancy and Worldview Poythress goal in Inerrancy and the Gospels is not to provide an in depth explanation of what inerrancy is, but rather the effects of inerrancy on our worldview.
The part of the book I liked the most was Dr. Poythress discussion on an impersonal and personalistic worldview. The author notes, “If we reckon with the fact that God is personal and that He rules the world personally, we have a personalistic worldview that has notable contrast with the impersonalism that characterizes a lot of modern thinking. The robust personalism of the Bible helps to dissolve some difficulties that trouble modern people if they read the Bible against the backdrop of modern impersonalism. This contrast between personalism and impersonalism is important when we deal with the Gospels” (16).
All those interested in the authority of Scripture will find this volume filled with great encouragement and insight. Dr. Poythress in Inerrancy and the Gospels provides an arresting case for inerrancy designed to stem the tide of skepticism. Whether you’re new to the issue of inerrancy or a veteran to the topic, I encourage you to read this wise, insightful and clearly written book, as it will help strengthen your faith in the trustworthiness’ of the Bible as the very words of God. This would be a great book for Bible college students and Pastors to read and then recommend to others on the issue of Gospel harmonization.
Title: Inerrancy and the Gospels: A God-Centered Approach to the Challenges of Harmonization
Author: Vern Poythress
Publisher: Crossway Books (2012)
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the Crossway book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”