Saturday, February 28, 2009

BOOK REVIEW: Unpacking Forgiveness

You can read my latest review over at the Christian Bookshelf.

Unpacking Forgiveness: Biblical Answers for Complex Questions and Deep Wounds by Chris Brauns.

Josh Gelatt’s Review: When I receive books to review I place them in one of three piles. The first stack are books I highly value and the second are works that are trite, silly, and insignificant (a sheer waste of good paper). I take my time as I read through the first, and generally only scan the latter. The third category are books that seem important but are ones that I expect I will have profound disagreements with the content...[read more by clicking here].


Missio Dei

Missio Dei
"The Mission of God"

A Christian, by definition, is one who joins Christ in His mission. To be Christian is essentially to be Christ-like. That is, the individual lives, thinks, and acts in the way that Jesus would live, think, and act. Too often believers regulate the idea of Christ-likeness to the arena of ethical living. While morality and ethics are certainly key aspects of the Christian life, nothing was more central to the life of Christ than his mission.

Christ was very clear about his mission. He didn't leave the issue to guesswork, but instead spelled out for us plainly what it is he came to do. In Luke 19:10 Jesus says "the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost." The great act of redemption--redemption of lost humanity and ultimately redemption of the created order--is the very heartbeat of Christianity.

Far too many individuals think it is possible to accept Christ's salvation without joining his mission. Scripture does not allow us to divide these two ideas. It is like trying to divide a drop of water into hydrogen and oxygen. Perhaps it is possible but when we do this something is lost in the process. Yet when we survey our churches we find this monstrous reality over and over. Tens of thousands of believers, in thousands of congregations, live as if there is no great mission for them to join. The missiologist George W. Peters once noted that "an unfortunate and abnormal historic development has produced autonomous, missionless churches on the one hand and autonomous churchless missionary societies on the other." Like trying to divide oxygen and hydrogen, we cease to be living water when divide Christ' mission from Christ's people.

Perhaps someone may respond by saying "big deal". "So what if I don't join this mission, I'm still going to heaven." Scripture provides an answer by letting us know the reason for Christ's mission. The ultimate reason Christ came to seek and save the lost is found in Isaiah 43:7. It says, "Everyone who is called by My name, And whom I have created for My glory, Whom I have formed, even whom I have made." God created us, just as He did the whole universe, to bring glory to Himself. By failing to join Christ' mission we are ultimate failing to bring God glory. No true lover of God can ever be content with a life that fails to bring Him glory.

Friday, February 27, 2009

BOOK REVIEW: Philippians: A Greek Student's Reader

You can read my latest review over at the Christian Bookshelf.

Philippians: A Greek Student's Intermediate Reader
, by Jerry L. Sumney.

Josh Gelatt’s Review: For those in active ministry, maintaining proficiency in Greek after seminary can be difficult. Hectic schedules and impossible work loads keep ministers struggling just to study for sermons, much less have time to work directly with the Greek text...[read more]

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Win a Free Calfskin ESV

David Porter, over at A Boomer in the Pew blog, is giving away a free calfskin ESV Bible (value exceeds $230).

Visit his website here, and register for the drawing.


Who is really pro-life?

I want to draw your attention to a new blog called Moral [see their website]. This blog highlights the actions and attitudes of the Obama administration on the issue of abortion.

Recently, Francis Beckwith wrote an article titled "Why Reducing the Number of Abortions is Not Necessarily Prolife". He offers the following analogy:

Imagine if someone told you in 19th century America that he was not interested in giving slaves full citizenship, but merely reducing the number of people brought to this country to be slaves. But suppose another person told you that he too wanted to reduce the number of slaves, but proposed to do it by granting them the full citizenship to which they are entitled as a matter of natural justice. Which of the two is really “against slavery” in a full-orbed principled sense? The first wants to reduce the number of slaves, but only while retaining a regime of law that treats an entire class of human beings as subhuman property. The second believes that the juridical infrastructure should reflect the moral truth about enslaved people, namely, that they are in fact human beings made in the image of their Maker who by being held in bondage are denied their fundamental rights.

Just as calling for the reduction of the slave population is not the same as believing that slaves are full members of the moral community and are entitled to protection by the state, calling for a reduction in the number of abortions is not the same as calling for the state to reflect in its laws and policies the true inclusiveness of the human family, that it consists of all those who share the same nature regardless of size, level of development, environment or dependency.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Five Questions for Calvinists

Over at Justin Taylor's blog (Between Two Worlds), a discussion recently raged regarding Calvinist and Emergent Christians. In the comments section someone asked five questions of Calvinists. Sadly, this individual held to the myth that to read broadly is somehow superior to reading deeply within one tradition (I don't think our contemporary problem within Evangelicalism is because we don't understand other viewpoints, but rather because we don't understand the tradition and viewpoint we claim to hold).

But with that said, I want to take a jab at answering these five questions.

Five Questions for Calvinist Christians

1. Can you name an Arminian writer/thinker who has written a book that you consider to be a helpful and worthwhile read?

C.S. Lewis
A.W. Tozer
John Wesley
Charles Wesley
Richard Foster
Dallas Willard
Thomas Oden
N.T. Wright

I could go on, and on, and on...

2. Can you name an egalitarian writer/thinker who you consider to be a faithful evangelical Christian?

er...well faithful to most of scripture, anyway (their not too faithful to Scripture's teachings on male spiritual leadership; but after all, it's just the apostle Paul, what does he know?).

Craig S. Keener is a great example. He is a fantastic New Testament scholar who has a high view of Scripture (despite his logical gymnastics on the gender issue). Gordon Fee is perhaps an even better example, since he is a giant in New Testament scholarship. Ruth Tucker is another example. I've sat through some of her lectures and witnessed a woman who appeared to deeply and truly love the Lord. All three, by the way, are on the Board of Reference of Christians for Biblical Equality--so I guess that qualifies them as 'card-carrying' Egalitarians.

3. Can you name a public policy issue on which your views are at odds with the Republican Party's general platform?

- The environment: Can we please stop raping planet earth in order to earn a quick buck?

- Tax policy: Yes, let's not overtax the wealthy. After all, they are the ones who create jobs. With that said, with wealth comes responsibility. My position is probably somewhere between the 'love the rich' Republicans and 'hate the rich' Democrats.

- Half-hearted support of the sanctity of life: My beef with the Republicans on this issue is actually their refusal to truly support the party's platform. Most say they are pro-life...few actually do anything worthwhile about the issue.

- Isolationism (regarding diplomacy): McCain's view of foreign diplomatic relations was a terrifying prospect. While Bush did much to protect this country, he perhaps destablized the world in the process. We need greater dialogue, and must begin to view ourselves as a partner with the other world nations.

- Race relations and poverty: The Republican party has turned a blind eye to the issues of race and poverty. We have become--intentionally or unintentionally, the 'rich white man's party'.

4. Can you name something you appreciate about either Dallas Willard or Eugene Peterson?

Eugene Peterson's work in biblical paraphrase has been tremendously influential. This is a valuable tool from which I continue to profit. Also, his lectures and teachings (and books) on pastoring have greatly shaped my approach to ministry.

5. Can you name something that concerns you about either John MacArthur or Mark Driscoll?

Neither operate within what I see as a biblical (New Testament) church structure. MacArthur has no board of Elders, even though he preaches that this is the biblical model. His church is organized like a corporation. Much the same with Driscoll (though perhaps he fairs slightly better here).

Monday, February 23, 2009

Quote from Betty Stam

When we consecrate ourselves to God,
we think we are making a great sacrifice,
and doing lots for Him,
when really we are only letting go some little, bitsie trinkets we have been grabbing,
and when our hands are empty,
He fills them full of His treasures.

~Betty Stam

Sunday, February 22, 2009

John & Betty Stam

Perhaps one of the most vivid examples of people who had a view of the world that was transformed by Christ was John and Betty Stam. The Stam’s were missionaries in pre-communist China. One day, during the initial stages of the communist revolution, John, Betty and their infant daughter Helen were arrested for being Christians, and were taken to the local prison. They wanted to arrest these missionaries so badly that they even released some of the other prisoners to make room for the Stams. In the midst of hustle and bustle, the little baby Helen started crying, and a soldier suggested that they kill her, since she was only, "in their way." Then one of the prisoners, one who had just been released and was literally walking out the door to freedom, asked why they should kill the innocent baby. The soldiers turned to him asked if he was willing to die for the foreign baby. The man was hacked to pieces for Helen in front of the Stams' eyes.

The next morning, the Stams were fo
rced to march 12 miles with the soldiers to a neighboring town. The group stopped for a night, and Betty was allowed to tend to Helen; but in fact, Betty instead hid her daughter in the room inside a sleeping bag. The very next morning, they were taken into the town and were forced to march down the streets to meet their death. Curious onlookers lined both sides of the streets. A Chinese shopkeeper stepped out of the crowd and talked to the Communists, trying to persuade them not to kill the Stams. The soldiers ordered the man back into the crowd, but he wouldn't step back. The soldiers then invaded his house where they found a Chinese copy of the Bible and a Christian hymnbook. He was then led alongside the Stams to be killed as well, for being a Christian. After marching for a short while longer, John was ordered to kneel, and he was beheaded. Betty and the shopkeeper were killed moments later.

One can only imagine John’s thoughts as he was being led through the street. Just before his execution, he was given the opportunity of denying Jesus. Certainly his thoughts would have went to his daughter. He wanted to get back to her…he needed to get back to her. Deny Jesus and save Helen. Would the soldiers find her? Or worse yet, perhaps no one would find her and she would die in misery smothered under those blankets. Certainly his thoughts went t
o his wife, who would be killed if he didn’t deny Christ. That was the old self talking. It was that destructive pattern of thinking he was used to before he gave his life to Christ—a pattern of thinking that says Christ should be secondary.

But John Stam had been transforming his mind—he cherished the truth of Jesus and these truths, over time, had created new ways of thinking about the Jesus and the world around him. I believe in that moment John and Betty Stam understood the bigger view of God’s reality. They new the truth of Jesus, and therefore saw the world differently. Something bigger was at work—and he recognized the joy of being part of it.

After the murder, Chinese believers found baby Helen and smuggled her to safety. They also found a note written by John. He wrote a note to his mission board describing their arrest. At the end of his letter he wrote: "Philippians 1:20: 'May Christ be glorified whether by life or death.'" That is transformational thinking!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Peter Van Mastricht to be translated

Those interested in good theology have been blessed with the translation and publication of Herman Bavinck's Reformed Dogmatics (4 vols). Though published by Baker Books, the project was actually produced by the Dutch Reformed Translation Society.

While this is a remarkable achievement, for some time I have longed for other theological works to be translated into English. For those who are not aware, up until recent times it was standard practice to write theological books in Latin, the universal language of scholarship. For years I have yearned for a translation of Peter Van Mastricht's Theoretico-Practica Theologia (literally "Theoretical and Practical Theology"). This theologian greatly influenced Jonathan Edwards, who said this was his favorite book, next to the bible.

Back in 2008 I bumped into a staff member from Reformation Heritage Books while attending the Together for the Gospel conference in Louisville, KY. We began talking about all the wonderful gems that have never been translated, and then I mentioned that the top of my wish list was Van Mastricht. I was delighted when he told me that such a project was being planned.

Now it's official. The Dutch Reformed Translation Society has just begun the task of translating this massive work. James DeJong, the President of the Society, estimates it will take at least 5 years. No official word on how many volumes this will comprise, but DeJong has said that it is "as massive as Bavinck's dogmatics", indicating this is larger than a single-volume work.

So, start saving your pennies...