Greg Gilbert – Assured — A Review

Greg Gilbert. Assured: Discover Grace, Let Go of Guilt, and Rest in Your Salvation. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2019. 157 pp.

How do I know that I am saved? Should I question or even doubt my salvation? What do I do with my own fears about my salvation? Questions like these and others are what Greg Gilbert answers in a helpful and winsome way in his latest book, Assured.

What I enjoyed most about this work is Gilbert’s constant, clear focus on the gospel of the Lord Jesus. Unlike many authors who drive people only to check for good works to find salvation, Gilbert urges readers to focus strongly on the gospel first. The first question that a doubting person should ask is whether or not they believe the truth of the gospel. Do you believe in Christ? Do you know of your own sin? Do you believe that Jesus died to pay for your sin and rose again? Do you desire to surrender your life to Jesus in faith? Such questions are more important than other measures that often leave us doubting.

Gilbert is not at all promoting an easy believism in this work. On the contrary, he is quite clear that genuinely saved people will have lives that show that genuine faith. The point that Gilbert is strongly making, however, is that our focus should be far more on Christ than on self as we seek to be able to rest in God’s grace.

In this work, Gilbert will deal with the issue of assurance from a variety of angles. Gospel is first and foremost, but the author does not ignore the witness of the Spirit, good works, or the promises of God. He also addresses several mistakes that people often make that make assurance more difficult. Gilbert does not ignore the big problem of besetting sins but deals with the concept in a biblical and pastoral way.

I read through this book quite quickly, and I found it both helpful and enjoyable. This would be a great book to work through with a friend who is struggling with assurance, or even for you to read if you have your own doubts. It also might be a helpful tool for a short Sunday School series or home study.

Note: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for agreeing to post an honest review.

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D. A. Carson, Basics for Believers — A Review

D. A. Carson. Basics for Believers: The Core of Christian Faith and Life. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1996, 2018. 157 pp.

Balance in Christian training can be tough. Some books or sermon series can take up a great deal of one’s time without imparting anything beyond the simplest of truths. Other writings can go so deep into minutia that they discourage readers and offer next-to-nothing for our daily lives. Teachers and authors who have the gift of true teaching, a gift that both shares information and promotes transformation, they are a treasure to the church.

One such teacher and treasure to the church is D. A. Carson. Carson’s book Basics for Believers is an excellent example of teaching that is both easy-to-understand and certainly not shallow. Carson has a way of writing that is clear and helpful even as he opens our eyes to important truths from the word of God.

Basics for Believers is a book that arose from a series of 4 sermons that Carson preached through the book of Philippians. Carson’s messages have been adapted to make five chapters of helpful and enjoyable reading. This book walks verse-by-verse through Philippians. Carson is not here writing a scholarly commentary. Nor is he simply summarizing the text. But, as a good preacher would try from the pulpit, Carson is working to communicate important truths to believers in ways that will encourage, convict, and change them.

I would recommend the use of this book in a couple of ways. Basics for Believers would be a fine read for any growing Christian. This work would also be a helpful resource for a Sunday School teacher or group leader wanting to walk a group through Philippians. I believe that anyone who reads this book will walk away with an appreciation for the grace of God and a challenge to live to his glory in all things.

** Note: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for writing an honest review.

Andy Crouch – The Tech-Wise Family — A Review

Andy Crouch. The Tech-Wise Family: Everyday Steps for Putting Technology in Its Proper Place. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2017. 224 pp. $11.00.

Modern families who care about their children must consider how technology impacts their lives. Andy Crouch recognizes this truth, and shares with us some strategies that he and his family have tried to implement in order to manage the challenges of 21st century living.

I read this book upon my wife’s recommendation. She had heard Any Crouch on a podcast, and she thought that his book could offer our family some well-needed guidance. We have 3 little ones in our home, all of whom love their devices. How can we help to keep our house from becoming one of those places where a family communicates more through texts than through conversation?

Crouch offers some lovely and lively looks into his family and their decision-making process regarding technology. Perhaps the greatest benefit of this book is that Crouch suggests a God-centered approach to keeping all of the parts of life in their place. It is wise for a family to determine how, when, and where they wish to use technology. Once those decisions are made, it is helpful for a family to structure their home, even in its shape, so as to make this strategy more possible to pull off.

One example is that the Crouch family has made parts of their home sort of tech-free zones. In those places, the family makes sure to have other things available to occupy minds. Musical instruments, art supplies, and books to read help make certain parts of a home places where a child may not feel the immediate pull of a device on his or her young mind.

Another beauty of this book is that it is not a couple hundred pages of horror stories. Yes, there is a chapter on the dangers of sexually explicit content on the Internet. But even that chapter does a great job of pointing out that the heart behind being careful here is a heart of godliness.

The weakness in this book is a weakness that I find almost unavoidable in such a work. Crouch, as he shares his family’s standards, can tend toward a tone of legalism. For example, the book demonstrates a Sabbatarian shape, and the rules that he promotes regarding tech and the Sabbath are surely not for everybody. At the same time, as a non-Sabbatarian, I find Crouch’s handling of that theological topic unconvincing.

Other categories of Crouch family rules could be made legalistic if readers are not discerning. The author tells us of their family standard of 1 hour per day, 1 day per week, and 1 week per year when technology is put away. This is a good practice, but readers will need to be careful not to receive it as a universal rule. Similarly, the Crouch family tries to avoid tech while in the car. Again, this is a good rule, but it may not work for every family.

If you can read this book without receiving recommendations as rules, The Tech-Wise Family will be of great help. The ideas are creative. The concept of having everything in its place is wise. And, for sure, Christian families need to do some very real thinking about how to manage their technology instead of letting their technology manage them.

Schreiner – Run to Win the Prize — A Review

Thomas R. Schreiner. Run to Win the Prize: Perseverance in the New Testament. Wheaton: Crossway, 2010. 128 pp. $10.61.

The doctrine of the perseverance of the saints is an important teaching in the word of God. At the same time, this doctrine is often misunderstood or caricatured to the detriment of those who misunderstand it. Thomas Schreiner, author and seminary professor, attempts to clarify this doctrine in a simple and accessible way in Run to Win the Prize.

Run to Win the Prize is a condensed and simplified version of a larger work entitled The Race Set Before Us: A Biblical Theology of Perseverance and Assurance by Schreiner and Caneday. At the same time, Run to Win the Prize is an attempt by Schreiner to respond to some misconceptions about the conclusions of the larger and more exhaustive work on the topic. But readers need not fear that this shorter version is unhelpful. Schreiner uses the smaller book size to great effect as he helps readers to consider some very important perspectives on perseverance.

First, Schreiner insists that the New Testament does teach perseverance. He argues that a person genuinely saved by God will remain saved. At no point does Schreiner allow for a view that holds that we keep ourselves saved by good works—a form of legalistic works righteousness. Nor does Schreiner ever offer a view that Christians who are genuine Christians can ever end up ultimately lost.

Sometimes, when people hear a strong message of eternal security for the saved, they will respond with a twisting caricature of the doctrine. Opponents will claim that a person can pray a prayer, be saved, and then live however sinfully they want without consequence. Schreiner’s work speaks boldly against this view by arguing that the warning passages in Scripture are very real, very serious, and intended for believers.

Many Christians interpret passages such as the opening verses of Hebrews 6 as passages intended for people considering Christianity, but who are not yet converted. They, if they turn from grace, will be lost. Others suggest that the warning texts teach that someone can lose their salvation by intentionally walking away. Schreiner offers a third option.

Schreiner suggests that the warning passages are genuinely for Christians. He argues that the passages say exactly what they want to say, warning that a believer who intentionally turns from Christ and walks away will be lost. But Schreiner adds the biblical perspective that no genuine believer actually will make such a turn against the Lord. Schreiner argues that the warnings, genuine warnings, are means that the Lord uses to keep genuine believers. Like warnings on bottles of poison that declare to a person, “If you drink this you will die,” the warnings in Scripture, Schreiner argues, tell believers that if they turn from Jesus they will die. And, Schreiner argues, just as you and I would never drink the poison because of the warning, neither will genuine Christians ever turn against Christ so as to fall away eternally.

Schreiner also addresses briefly the misconception that an understanding of the doctrine of perseverance of the saints leads to a Wesleyan doctrine of perfectionism. The author is clear that he is not in any way teaching any form of sinless perfection among saints before the eschaton. Instead, he argues that believers are warned by God and kept by God. Believers will grow and be sanctified. But Believers will not be perfected until they leave this life.

I found Run to Win the Prize to be thoughtful, encouraging, and helpful. Personally, I am not certain that I agree with Dr. Schreiner regarding the audience for all of the warning passages. I believe it is possible that some of the passages are for those who have been exposed to Christianity, are considering it, are understanding its truth, but who are tempted to reject Jesus and walk to the Jewish temple religion (obviously pre AD 70). But, even if I disagree there, I must be humble enough to allow Dr. Schreiner to cause me to think my conclusions through thoroughly.

For sure, this book is a great help for believers in showing us that a true understanding of eternal security, perseverance of the saints, does not do away with our call to obedience and sanctification. Schreiner’s book sounds a clear call for all saints to recognize that God warns us sternly to remain in the faith, and God works in us, even using those warnings, to keep us in the faith.

Carson — The Farewell Discourse of Jesus — A Review

D. A. Carson. The Farewell Discourse and Final Prayer of Jesus: An Evangelical Exposition of John 14-17. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2018. 242 pp. $13.89.

 

As a pastor, I have taught through the Gospel According to John at least twice, and of course have gone back to the text many times. Whenever I study this book, I eagerly refer back to D. A. Carson’s commentary in the Pillar set. So I am a fan. And thus I am a fan of this shorter work by Carson aimed at helping anyone in the church body to gain a greater understanding of John 14-17.

 

Carson is a brilliant writer. He can move from faithful exegesis and examination of Greek on the one hand to citing the lyrics of sweet old hymns on the next. He can go from heavy argument on more difficult verses on the one hand to talking us through what it means that Jesus calls us his friends on the next. Carson knows how to be the scholar and he knows how to right as a fellow believer with all the rest of us.

 

Carson’s work on the farewell discourse feels much like his commentaries, though the heavier lifting is not there. Unlike a scholarly commentary, when Carson runs across a debated point in the text in this work, he will not offer 4 or 5 alternative views before making his argument for his preference. Instead, he simply gives us the argument he believes is correct. This is no weakness to this book. Rather, it is a product of the purpose of the text. Carson is writing here for pastors and laypersons who want to go deeper in their study but who do not want to purchase a $50 commentary on the subject. He wants to be readable and understandable without bogging people down in minutia. And Carson, as always, does an excellent job of finding the balance between heavy scholarship and readability.

 

If you would like a solid book to help you to do an in-depth Bible study with other believers on the farewell discourse of Jesus, this would be a great tool for you. No, it is not a fluffy work. No, it does not offer you study questions and outlines for the study. This book simply takes you through the text, shows you its meaning, and draws for you helpful application. If you are interested in such things, this book is a good one.

 

** I received a free copy of this work from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Willing to Believe – A Review

R. C. Sproul. Willing to Believe: Understanding the Role of the Human Will in Salvation. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, (1997) 2018. 240 pp. $12.18.

 

What is the role of man’s will in his salvation? How fallen is fallen man? Has the fall ruined our ability to respond to God, or has the fall merely damaged that ability greatly? These questions have been asked throughout theological history, and the debate still carries on.

 

In Willing to Believe, R. C. Sproul does the scholar’s work of gathering for his readers the arguments of a set of theologians throughout the history of the church regarding the issue of the human will. Each chapter of this work summarizes the view of a different important figure in the development of theology. Some names are more familiar and some less so. But all the men mentioned in this work have brought something new to the table, for good or for ill.

 

Where this work is valuable is in the summary of the development of Christian doctrine. If a reader wants to see how people from as early as the 4th century or as late as the 20th century have thought about the issue of man’s will and the impact of the fall, this work is very helpful. Students needing to write about the issue of free will could not have a much more helpful volume. And any Christian who hears a name such as Edwards, Calvin, Augustine, or Pelagius, could quickly turn to the appropriate chapter in this book to find out how each figure contributed to the development or confusion regarding the issue of God’s sovereignty and our salvation.

 

This work could, however, leave readers disappointed. If a student wants to see how Sproul would interact with each scholar, she might find the treatments thin. While Sproul points out errors from time-to-time, he does not thoroughly critique each man’s view in such a way that the critique is simple, clear, and powerful. Other works by Sproul offer his own take on the issue of man’s will. And, yes, this book will let you in on Sproul’s view, but there is not, as one might have wanted, a nice summary chapter from Sproul to help his readers wade through the controversy to a simple and clear conclusion.

 

** I received a free copy of this work from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

50 Core Truths – A Review

Gregg R. Allison. 50 Core Truths of the Christian Faith: A Guide to Understanding and Teaching Theology. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2018. 448 pp. $19.36.

 

We do not often find a book that does something that other books are not also doing. This is especially true in the world of systematic theology. But Gregg Allison has given us something fairly unique in 50 Core Truths of the Christian Faith.

 

What makes this book different is not that it covers a variety of important theological truths. What makes it unique is that it prepares us to teach these truths to people in our churches. Allison did not intend to give us another twelve-hundred-page theology textbook or another abridged version of such a work. Instead, Allison gives us a teaching tool that is designed to prepare pastors, Sunday School teachers, and small group leaders to help learners make their way through the key truths of the Christian faith. This book is a springboard for teaching, not an attempt to be the end of any discussion.

 

In each chapter of the book, Allison introduces an important doctrine and gives a brief explanation of the concept. If there are differing views on the doctrine among orthodox believers, Allison offers explanations from each point of view. The author also gives his readers examples of major errors that Christians and cults sometimes fall into. He shares with readers ways to live out important truths of the doctrine in their lives, giving us practical implications of some pretty big truths. And Allison presents, in each chapter, an outline of how to teach the doctrine to others along with resources for further study.

 

What is best about this book is its potential to be useful to a great variety of folks. If you want to get a basic understanding of the issues being discussed in a particular doctrine, this book is for you. If you want to know how to communicate the components of a particular doctrine to others in an understandable way, this book is for you.

 

If you are looking for a book that solves for you the debated topics among evangelicals, this book is not for you. Allison will help you to see how different Christians make cases for issues such as baptism, charismatic gifts, election, or end times. But the author will, in the end, instruct you to teach the doctrine in accord with your church’s official stance.

 

I believe that Gregg Allison has done the church a service by writing50 Core Truths of the Christian Faith. This book is easy-to-read, easy-to-understand, easy-to-use, and sure to be helpful to those who want to learn or teach doctrine. I would recommend this to pastors, small group leaders, and students. It is a useful resource to pull off your shelf if you need a quick summary of a doctrine, arguments surrounding that doctrine, and further resources. The fact that Allison has given useful teaching outlines for each doctrine means that this book contains at least 50 solid small group sessions or discipleship classes.

 

** I received a free copy of this work from the publisher in exchange for writing an posting an honest review.