Beeke, Joel. Developing Healthy Spiritual Growth: Knowledge, Practice, and Experience. Grand Rapids: Evangelical Press, 2013.
This brief book of three sermons on Colossians 1:9-14 has been the most spiritually nourishing book that I have recently read. It led me to desire to know Christ more, to follow him better, and to grow in my experience of the Spirit’s sanctifying work.
Gouge, William. Building a Godly Home: Volume 1, A Holy Vision for Family Life. Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage, 2013. | Gouge, William. Building a Godly Home. Volume 2. Reformation Heritage, 2013.
This is one of the best expositions of Ephesians 5:21-6:4 that I’ve encountered. Gouge does an excellent job of explaining the text, explaining difficulties, and reconciling apparent contradictions. His seventeenth century perspective is an advantage rather than a liability because it enables us to see this text through different cultural eyes. In this regard his comments on equality were especially insightful. Reformation Heritage has done an excellent job in laying out the text, inserting headings and footnotes, and making the text readable for a contemporary audience.
Volume 2 provides practical application of the husband and wife’s mutual duties to each other, the wife’s duties toward her husband, and a husband’s duties toward his wife. According to the editors this book was the most influential Puritan book on marriage and family. It is easy to see why. It is full of careful, biblical guidance. Hermeneutically, Gouge is sometimes over-reliant on biblical examples that should not be taken as normative. Overall, however, his counsel is biblically grounded.
As expected, Gouge presents the biblical teaching of a husband’s leadership in the home and the wife’s submission to her husband. Gouge also sees the wife as holding an exalted position in the home, and his counsel repeatedly calls on the husband to lovingly treat her in way that honors her station. Egalitarian caricatures of what life in a biblically ordered home fall flat here as would any attempts to misuse the biblical teaching about the husband’s authority in order to demean the wife.
The overall effect of this volume is to challenge husbands and wives in their daily life to reflect Christ and the church. Gouge writes in a way that is direct and challenging while also being inspiring. These volumes by Gouge may still be the best books on marriage and the family on the market. They certainly are worthy of being as widely read today as they were in Puritan times.
Rosner, Brian S. Paul and the Law: Keeping the Commandments of God. New Studies in Biblical Theology, ed. D. A. Carson. Downers Grove, InterVarsity, 2013.
The issue of the Christian’s relation to the law of God is one of the most complicated issues in theology. Some New Testament passages seem to teach that the Christian is not under the law while others seem to demand obedience to the law. Rosner addresses this seeming contradiction by noting four ways in which the Christian relates to the law. First, the Christian is not under the Mosaic Law as his covenant. Second, the Christian is under the Law of Christ (or the law of faith or the law of the Spirit of life) instead of the Law of Moses. The Christian does not walk according to the law; he walks in the Spirit. Third, the Law is prophetic and the Christian uses the law as such. Fourth, the Christian should use the law as wisdom. Even the commands that are not repeated in the New Testament have a bearing for how the Christian lives his life.
Rosner’s approach accounts for the New Testament’s negative and positive statements about the law in a coherent manner. Other scholars, such as Frank Theilman, Douglas Moo, and Thomas Schreiner have written with similar perspectives. But Rosner’s book is longer than Moo’s brief article in the Four Views book on the law. It is less comprehensive than Theilman or Schreiner’s books. Rosner’s selectivity leads to clarity. This may now be the best book for the interested layperson on the topic of the Christian and the Law.
Denault, Pascal. The Distinctiveness of Baptist Covenant Theology: A Comparison Between Seventeenth-Century Particular Baptist and Paedobaptist Federalism. Solid Ground Christian Books, 2013.
Denault proposes that the root of the difference between Particular Baptists and Paedobaptists of the Seventeenth Century was their different covenant theologies. Both held to similar views of the Covenant of Works, but they differed regarding the Covenant of Grace. Paedobaptists argued that the Covenant of Grace had a single substance but different administrations. The New Covenant was simply a different administration of the Covenant of Grace. The Baptists, on the other hand, held that the New Covenant was indeed something new and distinct from the Old Covenant. Regarding the Mosaic Covenant, Paedobaptists disagreed about whether it was part of the Covenant of Grace and unconditional in nature or whether it was akin to the Covenant of Works and distinct from the Covenant of Grace. The Baptists held that all the Old Testament Covenants were part of Old Covenant. This is why circumcision, a sign of the Abrahamic Covenant, is so closely connected with the Law. In this view Abraham was given the promises of the Covenant of Grace, but the Covenant of Grace, though progressively revealed in the Old Testament, was not enacted until Christ. The New Covenant is the Covenant of Grace. Thus Abraham stands at the head of two seeds, a physical and a spiritual. Once Christ comes the purposes of the physical seed and its covenant are finished. Unlike the Old Covenant, which was mixed, the New Covenant is unconditional, entirely effective, and made up entirely of those who know Christ.
Denault does a good job of introducing the reader to significant seventeenth century figures from both sides of the debate. Nehemiah Coxe is introduced as the Baptist who most clearly developed this version of Covenant Theology, though other Baptists, such as Benjamin Keach, are also drawn on. Interestingly, though not a Baptist, John Owen is also claimed to have held the Baptist Covenant position. This is especially clear from his Hebrews commentaries.
Overall Denault seems to have presented the historical information clearly and accurately. This is not merely a historical monograph, however. Denault wishes to recover Baptist Covenant Theology for the present day. I found this position most convincing when critiquing the Paedobaptist one-covenant-under-many-administrations approach. I think the case for a disjunction between the New Covenant and Old is clear. And I am in full agreement that the New Covenant is a unconditional, effective, and unmixed covenant. The equation of the Covenant of Grace with the New Covenant is more convincing than the Paedobaptist construct of a Covenant of Grace made up of many different biblical covenants. However, this Baptist Covenant Theology has its own construct: the Old Covenant. In Scripture it seems clear that the Old Covenant and First Covenant are the Mosaic Covenant. Despite providing an explanation for the connection of circumcision and the Law, I’m not convinced exegetically that the Abrahamic, Mosaic, and Davidic Covenants can all be subsumed under one Old Covenant.
Geertsema, J. Always Obedient: Essays on the Teachings of Dr. Klass Schilder. P&R, 1995.
Klass Schilder (1890-1952) was a Dutch pastor and professor in the generation following Kuyper and Bavinck. He is notable for standing within the tradition developed by Kuyper and Bavinck while also dissenting from Kuyper at key points. He is also notable for his opposition to dialectical theology (Barthianism) and to the Nazi occupation of Holland. The book provides a brief biography of Schilder and includes essays on several aspects of his thought: Scripture, covenant, the church, culture, and heaven. Fundamentalists will appreciate Schilder’s resistance to Barthian approaches to Scripture and his resistance to ecumenical unity with Barthians and other unorthodox groups. At the same time he strongly held that Reformed Christians ought to be more united. Those from the free church tradition will disagree with the way he maps out this unity institutionally, but should appreciate his emphasis on both unity and purity. Baptists will also disagree on his thoughts regarding the covenant, since he includes children in the covenant. Yet we would appreciate his opposition to Kuyper’s views of presumptive regeneration and eternal justification. Regarding Christ and Culture, Schilder strongly believed in the importance of Christians participation in cultural pursuits. However, he saw dangers in Kuyper’s formulation of common grace. He placed greater emphasis on the antithesis, and he emphasized the needs for Christian cultural involvement to be truly Christian.
Kidner, Derek. The Message of Jeremiah: Against Wind and Tide. The Bible Speaks Today, ed. J. A. Motyer. Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1987.
Derek Kinder has the rare talent of packing a great deal of pertinent observation into a small space. This commentary on Jeremiah succinctly captures the message of the book in a running exposition that is meant to be read through from cover to cover. Throughout Kidner makes brief but pointed applications to the present. In this way the book lives up to both its title—it gives us the message of Jeremiah—and its series title—it speaks that message to us today.
Nagel, Thomas. Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo Darwinian Is Almost Certainly False. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012.
The gist of Nagel’s argument is that Neo-Darwinism cannot provide a materialist explanation for consciousness, cognition, and values. The explanations they do offer actually undermine our ability to have confidence in our reason―including the reasoning for Neo Darwinism. Nagel rejects theism and intelligent design (while appreciating their work and defending their critique of Neo Darwinism) for what seems to be a teleological evolutionary approach that embraces panpsychism rather than materialism. I found the critique compelling (aside from some spots that I had difficulty following). The positive vision was left underdeveloped because a paradigm shift in science would be necessary to develop it, Nagel says. Christian theism would provide answers to the questions that Nagel raises, but Nagel doesn’t consider theism in the book because he is “strongly averse” to the idea of God.
Cooper, John W. Body, Soul, and Life Everlasting: Biblical Anthropology and the Monism-Dualism Debate. Updated Edition. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000.
When Christians think of conflicts between prevailing scientific theories of science and the Bible, the creation-evolution debate comes readily to mind. But other areas of conflict exist as well, including whether the humans have a soul or not. For many the soul seems to be unneeded as scientists can map the functions of the mind to the brain, reducing the mental to the physical. Cooper defends the traditional Christian position that humans have distinguishable souls and bodies. He grants, however, that Scripture tends to speak of people holistically. In contrast to monists (who deny that humans have a soul), Cooper identifies his position as “holistic dualism” or “dualistic holism.”
The heart of Cooper’s argument is that the Bible teaches that humans exist and interact in an intermediate state between death and the resurrection of the body. The fact of the intermediate state indicates soul and body must be separable. He considers alternative approaches such as “soul-sleep” or immediate resurrection and finds them exegetically lacking. Prior to making this argument, Cooper surveys Scripture and finds that it emphasizes holism but presupposes a dualism. In other words, the emphasis of Scripture is on the whole person though it can distinguish body and soul. After making his argument that the intermediate state requires a distinction between soul and body, Cooper examines theological, philosophical, and scientific objections. For instance one theological objection is that the Bible portrays the dead as bodily beings. In response, Cooper notes a number of responses are possible that harmonize with holistic dualuism: the language in those instances is not intended to be metaphysical, that souls maintain a bodily from, as Thomas Aquinas taught, or that the dead are “quasi-bodily” beings. The primary scientific objection is that states of mind and emotions can be mapped to the brain; indeed that these states of mind are not even possible when certain areas of the brain are damaged. Cooper responds on a number of levels: (1) The correlation between mind and brain is more complex than direct correlation. (2) He denies that even exact mind-brain correlation would not prove that it is the brain the causes all mental activity. While granting that the brain can affect the mind (something Cooper says has been known since people began to drink alcohol), there is no reason to deny that the mind affects the brain. (3) Cooper highlights the importance of distinguishing between empirical data from brain studies and the interpretation of that data. Materialism would be one interpretation, idealism another, and body-soul interaction another.
In all Cooper tackles a complex subject in an understandable fashion and with compelling argumentation.
Marsden, George. The Twilight of the American Enlightenment: The 1950s and the Crisis of Liberal Belief. New York: Basic Books, 2014.
This brief book of 200 pages looks back to the 1950s and the changes that emerged from that decade in order to better understand our present situation, particularly as it relates to religion and public life.
In his first two chapters Marsden looks at the concerns that intellectuals of the 1950s had about American culture. One of the chief concerns was that mediums such as TV were not meditating high culture to a broader audience. Instead a new mass culture was created that was culturally degrading. Serious thought was needed in the modern world but was lacking in popular magazines and television shows. Another major concern was the preservation and expansion of freedom. This theme was, of course, developed against the backdrop of the totalitarianism that arose prior to World War II and continued as a threat in the Cold War. The danger to freedom that the public intellectuals focused on, however, was the danger posed by conformity to business procedure, suburban housing, and even child-raising methods. The themes of freedom and nonconformity were stated in moderate, academic tones in the 1950s but lived out by the counter-culture of the 1960s.
In chapter three Marsden focuses on the great public intellectual of the time, Walter Lippmann. Marsden notes that the intellectuals of the 1950s could champion freedom because they had a shared consensus about the common goods that freedom should be oriented towards. Lippmann pointed out that these intellectuals valued the consensus but “had dynamited the foundations on which those principles had been first established.” Lippmann proposed that natural law be the needed foundation for the common good. His proposal was roundly rejected. Most intellectuals saw no need for these foundations; they saw natural law as a threat to human autonomy. Lippmann’s proposal was roundly rejected. Ironically, Marsden notes, out was the Christian-based rhetoric of Martin Luther King, Jr. that best exemplified the consensus ideals of the 1950s liberals: liberty, justice, equality.
In chapter four Marsden argues that the two actual authorities in American life were the individual (existentialism) and science. These two came together in psychology. Marsden traces the debates between Skinner and Rogers as well as the influence of Dr. Spock. The result of this unstable dual authority was the 1960s.
In chapter five Marsden looks at the the influence of Henry Luce and Reinhold Niebuhr as exemplifying the surface religiosity of the 1950s. Luce promoted a civil religion. Niebuhr gave profound evaluations of the American situation but lacked in providing a way forward, in part because there was no shared authority.
In chapter six Marsden looks at how the consensus of the 1950s collapsed in the 1960s, and eventually gave rise to the Evangelical Right/Moral Majority of the 1980s. Marsden holds that the Christian right wanted the 1950s back with its embrace of a Christian civil religion. His major critique is that they set up a binary opposition between themselves and “secular humanism.” Secularists likewise claimed to be the heirs of the 1950s consensus with its emphasis on personal freedom and science. Thus the culture wars.
In his conclusion Marsden looks to Abraham Kuyper as pointing the way forward. He notes that Kuyper rightly recognized that there is ultimately no neutral, objective ground. Thus attempts since the 1960s to move religion to a purely private sphere will fail. Nor is it possible to make a religiously plural nation Christian. What is needed, Marsden argues, is a principled pluralism that gives all religious views a voice.
Baker, Hunter. Political Thought: A Students Guide. Reclaiming the Christian Intellectual Tradition. Edited by David Dockery. Wheaton: Crossway, 2012.
Hunter Baker does a good job in a brief space of describing different approaches to government, key themes such as order, freedom, justice, and the Christian’s role in the political process. This is a good introduction to political thought from a Christian perspective.