Category Archives: Book Reviews
ESSENTIAL BELIEFS AND COMMON MYTHS
Book Review by David P. Craig
Michael Vlach (who wrote his doctoral dissertation on the relationship between Israel and the Church in 2004) has written a very helpful overview of what dispensationalism is, and is not, in this short book. In four chapters Vlach clearly articulates the history, essential beliefs of, and common myths regarding dispensationalism. Vlach not only does a great job of defining and explaining dispensationalism, but also answers some of its most outspoken modern critics such as John Gerstner, Keith Mathison, R.C. Sproul, and Hank Hanegraaf.
In Chapter One there is a general overview of the development of dispensationalism as a system of Theology. Dispensationalism is linked with John Nelson Darby who lived from 1800-1882. Vlach traces the development of dispensationalism from Darby to C.I. Scofield to Lewis Sperry Chafer. There is also a discussion of, and distinctions made between Classical, Revised (Modified) and Progressive Dispensationalism. Some of the key theological views of the aforementioned theologians along with Charles Ryrie, John Walvoord, Charles Feinberg, Alva J. McClain, Craig Blaising, Darrell Bock, and Robert Saucy and several others are briefly discussed.
In Chapter Two Vlach highlights the essentials or sine qua non of dispensationalism that have been suggested by representatives such as Charles Ryrie, John Feinberg, Darrel Bock, and Craig Blaising. After his discussion of these “essentials” Vlach believes there are six common essential beliefs that make one a dispensationalist. These six beliefs are articulated along with substantial quotes from leading dispensational Theologians along with helpful commentary by Vlach.
Here are the six essentials according to Vlach: (1) Progressive revelation from the New Testament does not interpret or reinterpret Old Testament passages in a way that changes or cancels the original meaning of the Old Testament writers as determined by historical grammatical hermeneutics. (2) Types exist but national Israel is not a type that is superseded by the church. (3) Israel and the church are distinct, thus, the church cannot be identified as the new or true Israel. (4) There is both spiritual unity in salvation between Jews and Gentiles and a future role for Israel as a nation. (5) The nation of Israel will be both saved and restored with a unique identity and function in a future millennial kingdom upon the earth. (6) There are multiple senses of “seed of Abraham,” thus, the church’s identification as “seed of Abraham” does not cancel God’s promises to the believing Jewish “seed of Abraham.”
In chapter three Vlach evaluates and provides biblical and theological insight on five common myth’s about Dispensationalism: (1) Dispensationalism teaches multiple ways of salvation. (2) Dispensationalism is inherently linked with Arminianism. (3) Dispensationalism is inherently Antinomian. (4) Dispensationalism leads to Non-Lordship Salvation. (5) Dispensationalism is primarily about believing in seven dispensations.
In the fourth and final chapter of the book Vlach clearly and cogently answers some great questions he has been asked by his students about Dispensationalism: (1) You have been critical of how dispensationalism is often defined. What do you think is a good short definition of dispensationalism? (He defines dispensationalism as “a system of theology primarily concerned with doctrines of ecclesiology and eschatology that emphasizes the historical-grammatical meaning of the Old Testament prophetic passages and covenants, a distinction between Israel and the church, and a future salvation and restoration of the nation Israel in a future earthly kingdom). (2) Why are you a dispensationalist and how did you become a dispensationalist? (3) What is the main mistake that nondispensationalists make when evaluating dispensationalism? (4) Any other common mistakes? (5) Do you think dispensationalists could do a better job of explaining dispensationalism? If so, how? (6) Many like to point out that dispensationalism began with John Nelson Darby around 1830, thus dispensationalism is a new theology. How do you respond to the charge that dispensationalism should be rejected since it is a new theology? (7) What is the relationship between the pre-tribulation rapture position and dispensationalism? (8) What is your perspective on the internal debates and discussions within dispensationalism? (9) What is the future of dispensationalism?
Michael Vlach’s book is the new “go to” introduction on dispensationalism today. He has provided a readable, non-technical, concise, and helpful articulation of the essentials of dispensationalism and defended its essence well. I highly recommend this primer as an excellent introduction to anyone who desires to understand the eschatological/ecclesiological system known as dispensationalism.
A GUIDE TO THE BIBLE’S STORY, SYMBOLISM, AND PATTERNS
Book Review by David P. Craig
My wife and I have a tradition that we have practiced over our 21 years of marriage. Once every two to three years we plan a trip somewhere in the United States we’ve never been to before. We have gone to Boston, Washington D.C., New York, Seattle, Honolulu, Minneapolis, Orlando, Austin, San Diego, and several others. Before we go to the city we buy a really good map that gives us the lay of the land. Once we are there the first thing we do is go on a city-wide bus tour. In doing these two things it helps us to appreciate the history of the city, landmarks, and highlights we don’t want to miss during our stay. We get an overview and the big picture of the city before we enjoy its constituent parts.
Hamiton’s book is like a map or tour of the Bible. He helps you not to miss the most important stories, symbols, and patterns that are featured in the Scriptures. All of the biblical authors do “biblical theology.” They have a framework or world-view through which they interpret and describe the events, stories, and principles through this lens. All of the authors interpret Scripture in three ways (1) They interpret the words or accounts of God’s words and deeds that have been passed down to him; (2) They interpret world history from its creation to its final consummation; and (3) They interpret events and statements that they describe. According to Hamilton biblical theology in essence “means the interpretive perspective reflected in the way the biblical authors have presented their understanding of earlier Scripture, redemptive history, and the events they are describing, recounting, celebrating, or addressing in narratives, poems, proverbs, letters, and apocalypses.”
By taking into account the different genres of Scripture and their various themes, Hamilton helps the reader appreciate the biblical “lay of the land” in it’s varied history, and its consummation centered around the gospel and the glory of God in Christ. I think the thesis of this book is wonderfully expressed by Hamilton in the second chapter: “Our aim is to trace out the contours of the network of assumptions reflected in the writings of the biblical authors. If we can see what the biblical authors assumed about story, symbol, and church, we will glimpse the world as they saw it. To catch a glimpse of the world as they saw it is to see the real world.”
I believe this book is indeed a fantastic guide in helping all Bible students to understand, appreciate, and enjoy the biblical message intended by the author of the word – the Word – Jesus himself. We learn how to read, understand, and interpret the Bible from the perspective of the biblical authors, which is to learn a divinely inspired perspective. I believe that Hamilton achieves his hope and desired purpose for everyone who reads this book: “My hope is that you cross the bridge into their [the biblical authors] thought-world and never come back. I hope you will breathe the air of the Bible’s world, recognize it as the real Narnia, and never want to leave.”
DEFINITE ATONEMENT in HISTORICAL, BIBLICAL, THEOLOGICAL, and PASTORAL PERSPECTIVE
Book Review by David P. Craig
When I was a student in Bible college and in seminary there were many students who called themselves “4-Point Calvinists.” The doctrine they were repulsed by was the “L” in the acronym TULIP standing for “Limited atonement.” As I talked with my comrades in ministry they had a genuine love for the lost and couldn’t reconcile God’s love for the “world” and how Christ’s death on the cross could in any way be “limited” only to the elect. “Sufficient for all, efficient for the elect” was the mantra of many of the “five-pointers.” In discussions with those who hold to unlimited atonement over the years I have found much of the disagreements not so much over doctrine, but over semantics. The reality is very few students of the Scriptures have taken the time to study (outside of John 3:16) what the Bible has to say about the specific intent of Christ’s death on the cross from Genesis to Revelation.
Seldom have I ever read such a balanced treatment on a subject by multiple authors – 23 of them! I learned something new in each chapter, gleaned wise insights, and appreciated the reverence for Christ and the irenic spirit maintained throughout this book. Clear, comprehensive, pastoral, convincing, thought-provoking, and adoration are the words that came to mind frequently in my reading.
Whether you have wrestled with the atonement (limited vs. unlimited) for years, have landed on a position, or are undecided – this book is definitely worth wrestling with – primarily because it’s teaching is so biblically saturated and cogently argued. All of the author’s have done their homework – their pens ooze theology and adoration.
I can’t recommend it highly enough. It’s sumptuous theological food for the soul of those who glory in the Person and work of our Lord and Savior who sought and bought us with his precious blood.
DAILY REFLECTIONS FOR CHANGING HEARTS AND LIVES
Book Review By David P. Craig
How would you like to spend every day of the year with a wise biblical counselor to encourage you and help you apply the gospel to your life? In this daily devotional that’s exactly what you get. From the writings of Paul David Tripp, Edwin T. Welch, Timothy S. Lane, William P. Smith, Michael R. Emlet, David Powlison, Robert D. Jones, and James C. Petty you will get advice, encouragement, direction, and plenty of gospel centered grace for each day.
The topical meditations in this devotional are all based on passages of Scripture and include a suggested daily reading from the Scriptures to illuminate the subject of the day. All of the authors of this book are a part of the Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation which “exists to teach people how to explore the wisdom and depth of the Bible and apply its grace centered message to the problems of daily living.”
One of the nice features of this devotional is that there is a Scripture index in the back, as well as a source index so you can go to any one of the author’s writings for more study or advice on the particular subjects that are of interest to you. All of the sources include the page numbers from which the meditations are derived so you can track them down easily.
If you are looking for more grace in your life and want to go deeper in your understanding of, and application of the gospel – look no further than this devotional gem. I highly recommend this outstanding devotional as one that will help you grow in intimacy with our awesome God and change you to become more like Him as you daily center your thinking on who He is and what He has done for you in Christ Jesus.
A GREAT WAY TO INTERACT WITH THE BIBLE
Book Review by David P. Craig
The Bible is without question the best selling book of all-time. However, it’s also perhaps the most un-read or neglected book of all time as well. J.H. Smith has said, “If all the Christians were to dust their Bibles at the same time, we would have the greatest dust storm in history.” In my opinion nothing is more important than daily intake and interaction with the Bible. As Vance Havner has stated, “If you see a Bible that is falling apart, it probably belongs to someone who isn’t!”
The problem for many people when coming to the Scriptures is they get bogged down with names they can’t pronounce, places they are unfamiliar with, and concepts that are sometimes obtuse and abstract. What Ellis has provided in this very helpful book is a question for every single verse in the New Testament. In other words, he has provided a way for the reader to interact and dialogue with God. He has provided a resource that keeps your mind, heart, and will focused because it is a means of studying the Scriptures relationally by asking great questions of the text.
Ellis has structured the book in several helpful ways:
(1) Each chapter has a question for each verse of the New Testament. For example for Matthew 1:1 the question asked is “Who is Jesus identified as?” There are either “What?”, “Why?”, “Whose?”, “When?”, “How?”, or “Where?” questions for each verse and for every chapter of the New Testament. There is ample room provided for you to write your answer down for each question in the space provided.
(2) The actual verses aren’t included so you can read from whatever translation you prefer and answer the questions accordingly.
(3) At the end of each chapter there is a place to write answers to the following 4 questions: (a) What does the chapter reveal to you about God? (b) What does the chapter reveal to you about yourself? (c) What does the chapter reveal to you about your relationship with others? (d) What difference does it make?
There are several great strengths to studying the Bible in this manner of asking questions:
(1) It is more like a dialogue than a monologue. You are actually interacting and connecting with God in your reading of the Scriptures. It is as though you are sitting across the table from Jesus Himself – listening, asking questions, in relationship with Him through the text.
(2) It helps your mind not to wander off. You are constantly thinking about what the text is saying – making observations; interpreting; and applying the text to your life.
(3) It’s a great way to read the Bible with your family, friends, or in a group Bible study. It allows you to discuss what the Bible is actually saying in the context of community, fellowship, and getting different perspectives on the questions being asked of the text.
(4) It teaches you how to ask good questions and how to become a more observant and obedient student of the Scriptures.
(5) It will bring to the forefront of your life the deepest and profoundest questions and answers of eternal importance: Why did God create humanity? Why am I here? How can I know God personally? And many others.
(6) Simply by learning to ask good questions you will become a better student in all the great subjects of life. It will help you to become a better reader so that your reading and comprehension will improve in whatever subject you take on.
(7) It will remind you daily of how relevant the Scriptures are to your own life and those you work, study, live, and recreate with.
(8) You will become more like Jesus in your thinking and speech – because one of the most brilliant things about Jesus was He was a master of asking great questions. The more you read this book the better you will become at wisely asking questions of Scripture, of others, and of life itself.
(9) My mentor Bobb Biehl has said, “If you ask shallow questions you get shallow answers, if you ask profound questions you get profound answers.” Therefore, this book does a great job of helping you ask profoundly great questions so that you will get profoundly great answers to your questions of the most profound book in the Universe.
(10) Perhaps the greatest aspect of this book is that it helps you to listen to what God has to say to you through the text. So many studies today focus on the question: “What does this mean to me?” rather than focusing on “What does God mean by saying this to me?” It helps us to listen to what God is actually saying, not what we want Him to say. I think that’s the most important aspect of this practical book.
I highly recommend this resource for students, teachers, pastors, and anyone who wants to have a deeper intimacy with God, understanding of His Word, and greater desire to obey Him in all aspects of life. Ellis has provided an outstanding resource that will only enhance and enrich your experience with God through His Word as revealed in the New Testament.
*B. Tyler Ellis is a College Minister in Newark, DE and you can follow him on Twitter @BTylerEllis and has a website: btylerellis.com/tyler-3/
BOOK REVIEW: “A Love Worth Finding” – The Life of Adrian Rogers And His Philosophy of Preaching by Joyce Rogers
ONE PASTOR’S UTOPIA
Book Review By David P. Craig
As a pastor I enjoy reading biographies and auto-biographies of other pastors. I especially can identify with the struggles that other pastors face. Unfortunately this book is written a lot like a Eulogy – even though it was written before Rogers passed away. It is full of Adrian Rogers’ accomplishments and highlights from a very gifted pastor’s life. It’s almost comparable to reading the life of Joseph in the Bible – without the hardships. Rogers almost comes across as a “perfect pastor” – which obviously doesn’t exist. A life full of nothing but successes, victories, grand tributes, and accolades. It reads a lot like a fairy tale – A Pastoral Utopia.
There is one major hardship that Joyce writes about early in the book – the loss of one of their children to SIDS. This was actually the one time in the book where I could identify with this couple. I could identify with their pain, loss, and suffering. But even this episode was glossed over. One almost gets the feeling that 99% of Adrian’s and Joyce’s life together was Camelot. I just don’t think this is reality.
In my own experience of the pastorate with real men and women life consists of hills and valleys – and there are usually more valleys to go through than hills – this book has one valley and the rest is about all the hills. This may be encouraging to some who read it. But I’m concerned for young pastors or young men and women who may read this book and think that ministry is all roses with no thorns.
I would have liked to have read a biography that was less on the surface of reality and went a little deeper into some of the basic daily realities and hardships of life. It wouldn’t even make a good movie, because there is simply not enough conflict and resolution. It is a book piled with grace on top of grace – and I just don’t think it’s transparent or authentic enough. Honestly, there was precious little to help the average pastor in this book. It read more like the highlights of the greatest pastor of the 20th Century. There were very few things that most pastors could actually relate to. It would be the equivalent of a struggling baseball player trying to figure out how to be a better baseball player and reading a biography of Babe Ruth which only highlighted and focused on all his home runs – without ever talking about any of his strike outs – and how he handled his hitting slumps.
The best part of the book for preachers starts with about 30% of the book left. It’s an extended interview with Adrian Rogers on his homiletical philosophy and sermon preparation. I think this section is very helpful and worth the price of the book. It’s very thorough and yet concise and has many helpful tips in answering some very important questions for sermon preparation like: What is the role of the Holy Spirit in preaching? What is the difference between preaching and unction? What is the nature and central place of preaching? Is Jesus Christ central to preaching? And many others.
I think this book will be especially interesting for pastors (or would-be pastors). It reminds me a lot of “A Man Called Peter” by Catherine Marshall. The difference is that Marshall’s book was more transparent and dealt with more of the tough issues that pastors face. This book may bring a lot of encouragement and inspire many young pastors, but in all honesty – 99% of the pastorates I know of are nothing like the one described in this book.
TRUSTING GOD TO TRUMP EVIL
Oftentimes when we are going through tough times we need some short and quick reminders that everything is going to be okay. In this short treatment of the life of Joseph from the Old Testament Lucado reminds us: “”You’ll get through this. It won’t be painless. It won’t be quick. But God will use this mess for good. In the meantime don’t be foolish or naive. But don’t despair either. With God’s help you will get through this.”
In retelling the story of Joseph the author takes time to provide ample applications (contemporary and ancient) to bring forth the principles that help us as we wait for God to bring forth good out of the messes in our lives whether we made them, inherited them, or we were the object of someone’s evil plans. Ultimately nothing can thwart the plans that God has for us, and that means that all things will work out for our good and God’s glory. The main idea brought out by Lucado in this book is that “in God’s hands intended evil becomes eventual good.”
This short book would make a good gift or recommendation for Christians that are currently going through a rough time. Lucado’s story telling connects well with readers by continually making connections between the biblical subject and the relevant points to our own lives. Lucado has written a helpful manual for believers who need guidance in their pain by helping us trust in the God who always trumps evil for our own good.