2000 Years of Christ’s Power Part One: The Age Of The Early Church Fathers

Posted by on Oct 31, 2014 in Book Reviews, Church History, Featured

2000 Years of Christ’s Power Part One: The Age Of The Early Church Fathers

Few issues are as important and as neglected as church history. God’s people need to understand how their faith is not something new but rather something old, and rooted in the history of God’s redeeming purposes. Church history helps God’s people not only understand what they believe and why it matters but also what the Church has taught throughout its history. This is important since we live in an age where biblical illiteracy is the norm rather than the exception. By studying the Bible and church history, God’s people can begin to understand some about how God has worked throughout the story of history which is His story. In the first volume of 2000 Years of Christ’s Power The Age Of The Early Church Fathers, N.R. Needham writes to help Christians to help Christians learn what God has done in past.

The book covers all the usual territory you would expect a church history volume to cover. Since the scope of this particular book is the early church and the early church fathers the author explains the significant events and beliefs that shaped the early church. Along the way the author also examines what I think is the most unique aspect of this volume and that is the theological significance of particular movements in the church. While other church history books do this I enjoyed how Needham explained crucial events in the history of the Church.

This volume is part one of a four part series which aim to cover the history of the church from the earliest days to modern times. Those who enjoy church history will enjoy these well-written volumes. Those who haven’t studied church history will find this volume very accessible and easy to understand. Pastors and preachers in particular will gain from this series and want to add the other volumes in this series to the library. Every Christian will benefit from reading this book. This particular volume examines the early church father and includes the stories of martyrs such as Polycarp, theologians like Athanasius and Augustine of Hippo and preachers like John Chrysostom.

Whether you’re well-read on the topic of church history or you’re brand new, this series of volumes on church history will help you gain further insight into what the Church has taught throughout its 2014 years. I enjoyed the theological reflection of the author and the insight he provided even to someone whose read and owns quite a few church history books. I highly recommend this volume and can’t wait to read and share my thoughts on the other books in this series in future reviews.

Title: 2000 Years of Christ’s Power Part One The Age Of The Early Church Fathers

Author: N.R. Needham

Publisher: EP Books (1997)

I received this book for free from EP Books 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.”

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Is the Reformation Still Relevant Today?

Posted by on Oct 31, 2014 in Church History, Featured

Is the Reformation Still Relevant Today?

Is Reformation theology still relevant today? Absolutely! It reminds us that we have a big God and that salvation is found in Him alone. We are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, for God’s glory alone. And we know this because Scripture alone is our highest standard for truth. We don’t determine what is good and true about God. God does.

I would argue that the biggest problem in the church today is that many of us have too small a view of who God is. We have shrunk an infinite being. We have diminished His glory and put Him into very small and manageable boxes. This ignores the objectively there God altogether to the point that He becomes (to us) just a projection of what we think He is like, what we feel He should be like.

We need a new reformation—a re-reformation.

We, as the church in the 21st century, need to recapture a sense of the grandeur of God—how vast and awesome He is. We need a biblical view of His glory. We need a biblical view of His sovereignty. We need a biblical view of what it means to say He’s both transcendently holy and imminently relational. We need a biblical vision of His love, His mercy, His justice, His grace. If we start there, awestruck by the infinite God at the center of our worldview, then many other issues in our church world will sort of self-fix. As true worship is happening, our marriages will get better, our churches will have less scandals, and our joy will be maximized in Jesus Christ.

Allow me to give a few historical examples of this.

Way back in the first century, we find Jesus Christ championing a big view of God. Meanwhile, there are these Pharisees who had shrunk their view of God by essentially saying, “At the end of the day, our rule-keeping and our mile-long lists of dos and don’ts, that is where we get our righteousness.” Jesus confronts this man-centered view of salvation (which, by the way, is no good news at all). He reminds the Pharisees that they are not the point. The glory of God is!

The same debate breaks out later in the first century. Only this time, you have the apostle Paul on one side and the Judaizers on the other. The Judaizers were a group of Jews who were telling all the Gentiles (non-Jews) that if you want to get saved, you’ve got to supplement God’s grace with circumcision and adherence to all kinds of rituals within the Jewish culture. The apostle Paul boldly rose to the challenge, confronted the Judaizers, and revealed that their message of salvation is a different gospel altogether. After all, if salvation is a man-centered endeavor that comes down to us jumping through religious hoops, then what’s so good about that news? Paul contended for a radically God-centered view of reality.

If we move forward in church history to the 4th century, we find the same scenario. Same question, new century. Pelagius was a monk who said that man had the power in and of himself to choose salvation. Augustine contended against him, claiming that Pelagius had strayed off a biblical course and down the dead-end road of works-based salvation. Augustine fought to bring the popular theology of the day back to the Bible alone—back to a God who does the saving. What’s interesting is that at this point, the fourth century Roman Catholic Church actually sides with Augustine and deems Pelagianism heretical.

In the 16th century, however, the Roman Catholic Church had slid from a God-centered view back into a man-centered view of salvation. Under their teachings, one could buy a plenary indulgence—a little sheet of paper that was basically a sure-shot passport to heaven. One could also visit a number of sacred sites and gaze upon the relics of Saint Peter and others. It was a man-centered movement about trying to reach God by the power of human volition. Then, Martin Luther shows up on the scene standing in the same shoes that Augustine stood in the 4th century, the same shoes that Paul stood in during the 1st century. Luther contended for a biblical view of salvation in which all credit goes to amazing grace of God. Thus, Luther helped start the Protestant Reformation: protesting what had become a man-centered institution.

Now, here we are in the 21st century.

A recent survey asked a large number of professing Christians how we get to heaven: Is it by good works or as an act of grace? An alarming 73% of Protestants in mainline denominations said that God let’s us into heaven based on our good works. Many of today’s Protestants have embraced the very anti-gospel doctrine that Protestantism originated to protest! It is the same pattern we’ve seen throughout history. We get pulled downward into our self-powered salvation attempts with an almost gravitational force.

So, this raises the question: Who are the Luthers, the Augustines, the Pauls of the 21st century? In other words, who are the people willing to stand up for the good news that we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, for the glory of God alone? Where are the people willing to stand in those shoes?

How desperately we need God at the center!

God is salvation’s author.

He alone gets the glory.

This is reformation thinking, and we will need it always.

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Jesus, the Truer and Greater Moses

Posted by on Oct 30, 2014 in Featured, Jesus Greater Than Moses

Jesus, the Truer and Greater Moses

In this article, we introduce a new blog series called Jesus, the Truer and Greater Moses.

Some people treat the Old Testament and New Testament as the Bible before Jesus and the Bible after Jesus, respectively. But to say this is to miss the point of the whole Book. The Old Testament is much more than just the “before Jesus” stuff. It’s more than just the story of Israel’s history. It’s the story of God preserving the seed of Christ which would come from Adam and Eve, on through Abraham, on through David, and would continue passing along until the proper time (or “fullness of time”) that Jesus would finally come to walk the ground He created (Gal. 4:4). It all points to Him. Thus, both the Old and New Testaments are about Jesus—the Old Testament is about the Messiah who is promised to come and the New Testament tells of the Messiah who has already come.

The whole Bible points to Jesus.

German Bible scholar Gerhard Von Rad says it this way: “The same God who revealed Himself in Christ has also left his footprints in the history of the Old Testament covenant people.” So, the whole Bible is about Jesus. Yes, even “the law and the prophets” are about Jesus. After all, Jesus Himself made that claim:

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.”
(Mat. 5:17-18)

So the whole Old Testament—every jot, dot, and tittle—is about Christ. Do you see it? That is our hope for this blog series: that you will see that and stand in awe at God’s sovereign purposes as we look at Christ through one Old Testament example: the life of Moses. See, God’s amazing plan was always about Jesus. Jesus wasn’t the Father’s plan B. He was plan A all along. The Story and the Law have always been pointing to Him.

What does this have to do with Moses?

Moses. Who is he? In this blog series, we’re going to pick away and examine who Moses was, what was the role he played, and what did his ministry look like. And when we examine his life, we will see a picture of Jesus. Or to put it another way: Moses will be the lens through which we’ll look at Christ.

Moses is a type of Christ.

Moses is a type of Christ. We could also say he is a shadow of Christ. But what does that mean?

Basically, a “shadow” or “type” is a picture of a greater reality that is yet to come. It is something or someone intended by God to prefigure Jesus and give His people a taste so that will anticipate and appreciate what God is going to do through Jesus Christ. Think about the tasting samples they pass out at Costco or food courts. Everybody loves those! Sure, those samples are free and typically delicious, but they alone will never satisfy your hunger. As scrumptious as they might be, they don’t even come close to feasting on the actual meal! That’s what Moses is to Jesus. Moses is the taster to wet your appetite. Jesus is the feast that satisfies.

Jesus is truer and greater than Moses.

If you were to ask an ancient Jew who their spiritual hero was, they might say the same thing: Moses. For them, he was the hero of the Old Testament. The author of Hebrews says, “Moses was faithful in all God’s house” (Heb. 3:5). He was also Israel’s greatest prophet. Even still, because we now have the New Testament and the testimony of Jesus, we know that Moses, great as he was, was just a shadow pointing forward to Christ.

Consider the author of Hebrews:

“Therefore, holy brothers, you who share in a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession, who was faithful to him who appointed him, just as Moses also was faithful in all God’s house. For Jesus has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses—as much more glory as the builder of a house has more honor than the house itself. (For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God.) Now Moses was faithful in all God’s house as a servant, to testify to the things that were to be spoken later, but Christ is faithful over God’s house as a son. And we are his house if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope.”
(Heb. 3:1-6)

So we see that Moses prefigures Christ. Jesus is the one who is truer and greater Moses—the one who is “worthy of more glory than Moses.”

To understand what this means, we should consider: Who was Moses? Or, more specifically, what were the roles he played? Throughout this series, we will look at five different roles Moses fulfilled: prophet, law giver, mediator, deliverer, and servant. An in depth study of each of these will help us further understand what we mean when we say that “Jesus is the truer and greater Moses.”

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The Storytelling God: Seeing the Glory of Jesus in His Parables

Posted by on Oct 30, 2014 in Book Reviews, Christian Living, Featured, Theology

The Storytelling God: Seeing the Glory of Jesus in His Parables

The parables of Jesus have long been beloved portions of Scripture. From the Parable of the Good Samaritan to the Parable of the Prodigal Son, these stories have provided believers with object lessons on the Kingdom of God and the Christian life. Unfortunately, many have viewed the parables as little more than moral stories with a good message, a heartwarming tale of how to be good. Jared Wilson in his book The Storytelling God: Seeing the Glory of Jesus in His Parables, seeks to correct that notion declaring the parables are far more than nice stories with a happy ending.

Wilson rightly urges the reader to “Throw away your Flannelgraphs. They are flat and soft, and the story of Jesus is neither.” The parables of Jesus are more than moralistic tales. Conversely, as Wilson notes, “the parables don’t just tell us about the true ways of life but shine into darkened hearts the way, the truth, and the life.” They are stories whose purpose and intent is to direct the reader to Jesus. They bring to life the kingdom of God and its purpose.

Beginning with a discussion on the Gospel of the Kingdom and walking through most of the more well known parables, Wilson clearly establishes his overarching premise that the parables are a declaration of the reality of the Kingdom of God and the tension that exists in this life between a world fraught with sin and the life that is found in Jesus. To a people filled with messianic fervor, Wilson aptly notes “The gospel of the kingdom is the announcement that Jesus the Messiah has arrived and has begun restoring God’s will on earth in and through himself.” This declaration is rooted in Genesis 3:15 and weaves its way through the entire biblical corpus. In the parables, Jesus outlined just what this kingdom looks like, essentially what your kingdom come and your will be done on earth as it is in heaven is truly all about.

Wilson has a great gift of extrapolating the underlying message found in the parables, a gift that is clearly evident throughout this book. For instance, in his discussion of the Parable of the Good Samaritan, he avers “The story of the good Samaritan is a parable about justice and anthropology. It relocates a person’s “center of the universe” by jostling his dearly held assumptions about the people in it.” Those who affirm this particular parable is simply a call to help our neighbor are correct but only in part. In reality, it is a commentary on social justice, what Wilson calls a rebuke “to the idea that the gospel of the kingdom has nothing to do with taking care of the poor, sick, naked, or hungry.” Taking care of those in need has long been something God has called His people to be about doing and something He chastised them for neglecting. In the life of Jesus we find one who demonstrated his love by dying on the cross. There is no greater love than that. Loving our neighbor as noted in the Parable of the Good Samaritan means we must love our friends and enemies.

For those desiring to have a more holistic understanding of the parables, this is a book I highly recommend. Wilson does a masterful job of engaging the parables as a whole as well as the specific parables he discusses in this book. His constant focus is driving home the reality that the parables are more than nice childish stories that tell a neat moral lesson. They are far more than that given they are “smart bombs, full of explosive life to those who would embrace the power behind them.” For those who are willing to embrace their powerful message, Wilson’s book is a helpful guide to that end and is well worth your time reading and including as part of your Bible study when you encounter the parables.

This book is available for purchase from Crossway Books by clicking here.

I received this book for free from Crossway Books 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.”

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Life in Christ: Studies in 1 John

Posted by on Oct 29, 2014 in Apologetics, Book Reviews, Christian Living, Featured

Life in Christ: Studies in 1 John

The overarching theme of 1 John is that of how the believer relates to the world in light of being a child of God. It is an epistle replete with calls to stand firm on the fundamentals of the faith in a world that increasingly rejects that message and in response to individuals even within the church that seek to alter the truth of Scripture. Adherence to sound doctrine brings life to the believer. It is this message that Martyn Lloyd-Jones addresses in his compendium of sermons on 1 John titled Life in Christ: Studies in 1 John.

This book is a compilation of five volumes of sermons by Lloyd-Jones rolled into a single volume. In true Lloyd-Jones style, the approach taken in this book is supremely biblical while being of the utmost in practical application for the reader. He covers all the major elements of 1 John with the heart of a pastor, honing in and expounding on the issues presented by the Apostle John that continue to remain relevant and important for believers today. Since the chapters contained in this book comprise sermons of Lloyd-Jones, they are short yet powerfully written, allowing the reader to dig deep into the text without getting overwhelmed with scholarly points of emphasis.

Some examples of the superb explication provided by Lloyd-Jones in this book can be found in his exposition of I John 1:6-10. Lloyd-Jones aptly comments “If we say that we are walking with him and yet in the meantime are walking in darkness, then we lie. It is not true, it is a false claim, we misinterpret ourselves to our fellow men and women and to the world, and it is all wrong.” In a world where so many try and claim they are of the household of faith yet continue to walk in blatant opposition to God’s commands, such as statement as that made by Lloyd-Jones is sorely needed. He further declares “unless I realize I am a sinner and must repent, and if my only hope is not in Christ and His death for me on the cross and His resurrection for my justification, I not only have no fellowship with God, but I am dwelling still in utter darkness.” The answer of course is found in the blood of Jesus, a point Lloyd-Jones brings to bear as the solution to the sin problem.

Another outstanding portion of this sermon collection is Lloyd-Jones’ comments on 1 John 3:11-15. To be a child of God demands obedience to the Father’s commands provided in Scripture. Therefore, to live this thing called the Christian life requires the believer to be like Christ in our words and deeds, essentially what is known as our faith in action. Lloyd-Jones aptly describes the example set by Christ by commenting “His life was a life full of perfect obedience; as a son He rendered perfect obedience of God’s holy will and law. And, secondly, the great characteristic which we see in Him is this quality of love.” After all, Jesus did tell us that all the commands of God can be boiled down to loving God and loving others. A fruit of the believer should be that of love towards others. We love our fellow believers according to Lloyd-Jones because “we share the same interests; we have been brought out of darkness into light, separated from the world into this new kingdom. We are sharing and are interested in the same thing, in this glorious Word, in this praise of God.” The Body of Christ marching towards the beat of the same drum in love for God and for each other is a powerful thing indeed.

One final chapter of this book that is worthy of note is Lloyd-Jones’ explanation of 1 John 4:18. In this verse, the Apostle John declares that perfect love casts out fear. Lloyd-Jones avers the Apostle John is speaking of fear in relation to the Day of Judgment noting the believer should not fear that day because we are assured of our eternal destiny. Those who do live in fear of that day are the individuals who have failed to grasp the immensity of eternity for “they just enjoy life as it comes along, with the latest excitement and craze. They never stop to say, ‘What is the meaning of my life? What is to be my ultimate destiny?’ They are not afraid of the Day of Judgment just because they have never realized there is such a day.” Having confidence in one’s eternal destiny should produce love towards your fellow believer and also towards those who are walking in darkness. We should declare to those in darkness the solution to their problem. Such confidence should produce boldness in our lives to declare the gospel. Lloyd-Jones notes the need for such boldness stating “You will find yourself loving someone who is hateful, and you will draw the correct deduction and will say, ‘It must be that Christ is in me.”

1 John is a powerful book and Lloyd-Jones is a powerful preacher who is skilled at elaborating the truths found in Scripture in a way that is biblical, scholarly, yet truly accessible to all believers. Life in Christ is a collection of sermons on 1 John that I highly recommend everyone take the time to sit down and read and more importantly take to hear and apply in their daily life. Lloyd-Jones was a truly gifted preacher and this collection captures the preacher’s heart for which he was known. This collection of sermons would be a great tool for both personal Bible study or even in a small group setting as part of a study on 1 John. It certainly is a welcome volume to my personal library to which I will return many times in the future.

This book is available for purchase from Crossway Books by clicking here.

I received this book for free from Crossway Books 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.”

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Jewish Life and Thought Among Greeks and Romans

Posted by on Oct 28, 2014 in Book Reviews, Featured, Theology

Jewish Life and Thought Among Greeks and Romans

When we read Scripture, an important element of engaging the Word of God includes the historical context of the events recorded in its pages. This includes matters of history, geography, culture, political structures, religious beliefs, and philosophical constructs. This involves a bit more than referring to the maps in the back of your Bible. While useful for identifying locations of cities mentioned for instance in the Book of Acts, there is the added necessity to dig deeper in order to understand for instance why Paul chose to go to the Areopagus in Athens or how the influence of Greek thought on the known world called Hellenization had an impact even on Jewish perceptions of the day. Louis Feldman and Meyer Reinhold have provided a collection of primary readings in this book Jewish Life and Thought Among Greeks and Romans that will assist the diligent student of Scripture.

As noted in the preface, the authors endeavor to “present representative selections from Greek and Latin literature, the Apocrypha, the New Testament, Dead Sea Scrolls, Graeco-Jewish writers (notably Philo and Josephus), Roman imperial legislation, the rabbinic corpus, inscriptions, papyri, and coins.” Furthermore, their effort at providing such a compendium of works is to “illustrate the political (with special attention to the revolts against Rome), religious (with special attention given to the various movements within Judaism and the degree of Hellenization), economic, social, and cultural life of the Jews in both Palestine and the various countries of the Diaspora for the period of approximately a thousand years from the time of Alexander the Great in the fourth century BCE to the sixth century BCE.” The greatest focus of this collection of readings is on how the Jewish people during this period related on all of the aforementioned areas with the Greeks and Romans that so greatly shaped the world at that time.

Being able to access and assess primary source readings for instance on who the “God-Fearers” were helps the reader understand who these individuals were and why individuals such as Cornelius practiced certain Jewish oriented religious observances. Feldman and Reinhold share a notation from Josephus about the “God-Fearers” that mentions “The masses have long since shown a keen desire to adopt out religious observances; and there is not one city, Greek or barbarian, nor a single nation, to which our custom of abstaining from work on the seventh day has not spread, and where the fasts and the lighting of lamps and many of our prohibitions in the matter of food are not observed.” This reveals that while the Jews were being influenced by the Greeks and Romans, the customs and religious practices of the Jews were also a source of influence to those same nations. Thus, having an understanding from a primary source perspective helps to better understand the “God-fearers” and why God chose to send Peter to Cornelius. Furthermore, these multifarious primary source readings and inscriptions from this period serve to affirm the biblical record and its historical veracity.

Also of interest is the section that discusses the life and times of Herod, a truly influential figure during the time of Jesus. The historical accounts provided by Feldman and Reinhold shine an interesting light into who Herod was, the influence he had on certain segments of Jewish society and why he had such influence, his relationship with the Romans, and his seeming obsession with rooting out plots against his life and authority. Interestingly, as noted by Josephus in Jewish Antiquities 16.60-1 and shared by Feldman and Reinhold, “Herod’s close connections with influential circles in Rome (notably Antony, Augustus, and the general Agrippa) were highly useful to the Jews of the Diaspora. Indeed, he turned out to be a champion of those Jews, as we see in the case of the Jews of Asia Minor, who had been prevented by the non-Jewish inhabitants from observing their ancestral customs.” So while Herod was certainly a rather vile character, he was nevertheless mindful of taking care of some segments of the Jewish population, even though his reasons were likely to continue his base of power.

One final aspect of this book that is of note is the discussion of the Messianic expectation that is found not only in the biblical corpus, but also in numerous other writings of this period. It was long anticipated that an anointed one (a Messiah) would come who as prophesied long ago, would come from the house of David to assume King David’s throne. In the Pseudepigraphal writing known as Psalms of Solomon, it was noted this Messiah would come to defeat the enemies of the Jews, restoring Jerusalem in the process. This concept is also found in other writings such as 1 Enoch and the Manual of Discipline which was an important set of writings for the Essene community. Thus, being able to dissect the writings of the time period, one is better able to more fully grasp the messianic fervor that was building prior to and during the time of Christ, a fervor that expected something different to take place than what Christ had actually come to earth to accomplish.

Jewish Life and Thought Among Greeks and Romans is a truly valuable compendium of primary source readings that will greatly assist the reader in having a more developed and holistic understanding of the period. It is a highly scholarly work that is nonetheless very accessible to all believers who desire to better understand the influence of the Greek and Romans and for that matter, the influence of the Jews on the same. I will certainly refer to this volume for many years to come in my personal studies of history and Scripture, and I highly recommend this as a resource tool.

This book is available for purchase from Fortress Press by clicking here.

I received this book for free from Fortress Press 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.”

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