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Book Review: “Lewis on the Christian Life” by Joe Rigney

Lewis on the Christian Life is another installment in the “Theologians on the Christian Life” series from Crossway. This time, the subject is the extremely popular Christian thinker, C.S. Lewis.

It is clear from the start that Rigney has a monumental task. Lewis wrote a lot and clearly had development in his thought throughout his life. Some of this is briefly touched upon by Rigney, but other aspects of it are skipped over (especially Lewis’s development of thought on men and women). Rigney makes it clear early on that he intentionally draws from many of Lewis’s lesser known works in order to try to bring some balance on people’s thoughts regarding Lewis. Rigney divides his look at Lewis’s theology of Christian living up topically, including such things as Prayer, Christian Hedonics, Healthy Introspection, “The Choice,” “The Gospel,” and more (17 different topics worth!).

Of particular interest to me were the sections on prayer and choice. Lewis’s theology is worked through with the idea of choice for the Christian and the person–whether it is heaven or hell. As Rigney puts it, “This is the Choice: God or self. Happiness or misery. Heaven or hell” (Kindle Location 468). People’s choices lead to right (or wrong) living and play out into eternity. This idea of choosing doesn’t meld very well with some forms of theology, particularly a more Reformed or Calvinist one–which is typically what the publisher Crossway leans towards. Rigney touches on some parts of this notion showing how he thinks Lewis’s thought may be compatible with Reformed thought, while also offering some critique. Rigney draws heavily from The Screwtape Letters to discuss many aspects of Lewis’s theology of Christian living, including prayer. I find this work fascinating, and was edified by Rigney’s many looks at aspects of it.

One area I thought was odd was how much time Rigney spent on Lewis’s doctrine of atonement. Lewis was no systematic theologian, but RIgney seems quite concerned to make Lewis one when it comes to the doctrine of the atonement. Particularly, he is keen to show Lewis affirmed penal substitutionary atonement. I’ve been surprised by how frequently this view of the atonement is seen by its adherents as almost equivalent to the Gospel, and this is no exception. I’ve always seen the scene with Aslan in The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe as more of a ransom theory notion of atonement, but Rigney takes it penal substitutionary, with a slight nod to how it could be seen as ransom theory. For myself, I don’t see a huge gap between the two, and also honestly don’t understand much of the debate. It seems clear to me penal substitution is found in the Bible, but so are many, many other aspects of the various theories put forward. Is not a holistic view more preferable because it easily integrates everything? Why must we be mutually exclusive? More relevant for this book, why must Lewis become one who endorses penal substitution when it doesn’t actually seem that clear from his writings? Such questions remain unanswered.

Lewis’s idea of Christian living also allowed for pretty much anything not forbidden. This doesn’t go well with more Puritan-like aspects of thought, but it is, I think, generally correct. Rigney, oddly, takes this as a chance to try to explore what is allowed or forbidden in worship services (kindle loc 4612ff). I didn’t really get how this was relevant or why it mattered, but that might be my own theological background showing through (as a Lutheran, I believe much of this is adiaphora).

Lewis’s views of male and female are certainly a product of his time, and Rigney, apparently endorsing complementarian doctrine, seems to delight in some of the frankly silly things Lewis said in some of his works. Particularly silly was the idea of the oh-so-manly Mars in the Space Trilogy. Why is it manly? Because it has Mountains ‘n’ stuff! Yep, no distorted cultural expectations of masculinity and femininity reflected there, right? Wrong. Rigney seems particularly affirming of these aspects of Lewis’s theology, which frankly seem like the strangest aspects to affirm. Moreover, there is debate over whether Lewis actually maintained this kind of strong complementarian doctrine throughout his life. For example, Mary Stewart Van Leeuwan dedicated an entire book to the topic.

Perhaps my biggest complaint with the book, which I’ve already touched on, is how much space is dedicated to correcting Lewis’s theology, which most frequently means moving him more in line with the kind of Reformed Baptist theology that Crossway promotes. I’ve read numerous books in this series of theologians on the Christian life (see more here by scrolling down), and there are some (like the one on Luther) that seem to fulfill the series’ mission of expositing the various theologians’ views on the Christian Life. This one offers much more by way of analysis than some of the others, and I think I have gotten more out of those that focus almost entirely on showing what the titular thinker had to say than what the author wanted to correct.

Lewis on the Christian Life is an uneven but interesting look at the breadth of C.S. Lewis’s theology of Christian living. Rigney opens up whole fields of investigation into Lewis’s thought, but spends a bit too much time on analysis relative to other books on the series. I recommend it for those interested in investigating what Lewis has to teach us about living life in Christ.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of the book for review by the publisher. I was not required to give any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Really Recommended Posts 9/16/16- Jesus as false prophet?, Irenaeus, ESV, and more!

geneva-bible-1581The latest round of Really Recommended Posts is in, dear readers, and is it a good batch, or what? We have a few posts on Crossway’s announcement of the “Permanent Text” of the ESV, a post addressing the claim that Jesus was a false prophet, insight into one of the earliest Christian apologists, and controversy over a citation of a scientist in regards to creationism. As always, let me know your thoughts.

The ESV: The New Inspired Version– A tongue-in-cheek look at the announcement of the “Permanent” ESV and the kind of reasoning it seems like is behind it.

A Permanent Text of the ESV Bible? They Must Be Joking– A more straightforward critique noting several difficulties with the concept of a permanent text or a “literal word-for-word” translation.

The New Stealth Translation: ESV– A post with some more in-depth look at specific aspects of the ESV changed in this “Permanent” text.

Was Jesus Really a False Prophet?– Thorough analysis of the argument that some have made that Jesus was, in fact, a false prophet.

A Crash Course on Irenaeus– Irenaeus offered one of the earliest defenses of the Christian faith. Check out this post with a wonderful infographic to learn the basics on Irenaeus.

Patterson Misquoted: A Tale of Two “Cites”– Some young earth creationists have been using a quote from Dr. Colin Patterson,  a paleontologist, to support their claims. Here is a detailed background of the quote and why it does not support young earth creationism.

Book Review: “Judges and Ruth: God in Chaos” by Barry Webb

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Barry Webb’s commentary, Judges and Ruth: God in Chaos is part of the “preaching the word” series and presents the books in a pastoral, conversational fashion.

Webb continually brings up details of the text that are overlooked, bringing to light wonderful insights where people may tend to skip over. Minor judges (like Shamgar) are at times given as much detailed discussion as those we might consider more important. There is a clear method to this, as Webb seems uninterested in sharing those things readers learned and re-learned since Sunday School. This is a book that feels fresh and exciting–and I’ve read one of Webb’s other commentaries on Judges!

These insights are not limited to the minor judges, however. The sections on Gideon, Ehud, and Samson (one of my favorite Bible personages) are particularly excellent. Each will make readers look with more depth even at stories they think they knew. For example, regarding Eglon, the king Ehud kills, Webb points out that readers of the story should reflect on the interplay between Ehud’s bringing a harvest tribute and the corpulence of Eglon. The fatness of Eglon is, ironically, in part due to his gleaning food from Israel! It is just this kind of deep look at the text that can be found throughout the book, time and again, regarding the judges and Ruth.

The tone of the book is quite pastoral. There are no sections of Hebrew painstakingly pored over word-by-word. Admittedly, I love that kind of commentary. That’s not the kind of commentary this is. Instead, it is presented in a kind of conversational style that takes you directly to the story. A good word to describe the style is “immersive”: reading the commentary makes one feel as though they are inside the Bible story themselves, experiencing it, and seeing the world anew as the contemporaries might have. It is a pretty thrilling experience.

The section on Deborah as a “maverick” is unfortunate, because it undercuts the importance of the woman Deborah (though calling her a “maverick” seems on-point). Webb has written elsewhere (his commentary in the New International Commentary on the Old Testament Series on Judges) about how “there is no hint in the narrative or elsewhere in Scripture that her [Deborah’s] exercise of such a role [as leader/judge/prophetess] was contrary to God’s purposes, or a breach of his declared will in the way that the irregular worship practices of the period were” (Webb, The Book of Judges,  (Eerdman’s, 2012) 188). Here, however, Webb qualifies this endorsement, carefully pointing to a pattern of male leadership throughout the Old Testament and arguing that Deborah is exceptional in her role here as prophetess/Judge. Yet in the same chapter, he also notes how the Old Testament is a patriarchal culture, which makes Deborah’s function as judge/prophetess even more exceptional! The exceptional nature, however, is not that it is improper–as Webb himself admits–but rather that her acting in this function, a prophetess called by God, challenges the very patriarchy that Webb has noted (and, at times, challenged himself) as the background for Old Testament practices. That is, Deborah functions as an attack on that paradigm, not a confirmation of it.

Though Webb notes that Deborah was praised in her function, he nowhere points out how this very act of praising Deborah for her role as leader and prophetess of Israel entails a theological truth of the gifting of God for women in such positions. I was disappointed to see this subtle shift in Webb’s affirmations about Deborah from his other commentary. This makes the section on Deborah less insightful than it could have been, however, particularly given her importance in the book of Judges.

Judges and Ruth: God in Chaos is a beautiful, pastoral book full of insights that will have you scrambling to grab your Bible and make notes. Although it isn’t perfect, it is a worthwhile read that will open the pages of the books covered in new ways. It is recommended.

The Good

+Full of intriguing details
+Immersive, engaging writing style
+Continually takes readers back to the text
+Plenty of background information

The Bad

-Inserts complementarian language into discussion of Deborah

Disclaimer: I received a copy of the book for review from the publisher. I was not required to provide any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.

Source

Barry Webb, Judges and Ruth: God in Chaos (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2015).

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

Eclectic Theist– Check out my other blog for my writings on science fiction, history, fantasy movies, and more!

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Book Review: “Augustine on the Christian Life” by Gerald Bray

acl-brayGerald Bray’s Augustine on the Christian Life is written in a very different style from previous entries in the “Theologians on the Christian Life” series–at least those that I have read. It is organized around a mere five chapters, each focusing on an aspect of Augustine’s own life: life and times of Augustine, Augustine as believer, teacher, pastor, and for today. What makes the presentation so unique is that a good portion of the first few chapters follow Augustine’s own series of thoughts from pagan to Christian, derived from his Confessions.

The focus on Augustine as Augustine makes the book quite readable, as it presents his theology in ways that are directly applied to the subject of each chapter. It reads as though it is the life story of Augustine, punctuated with his theological insights, which are themselves applied back onto Christian life in general.

The way the book is presented, however, often means that Bray spends a significant amount of time focusing on the general theology of Augustine rather than on his specific theology of the Christian life. Large portions of the book are spent outlining Augustine’s theology, without any clear application to the theology of the Christian life. Thus, there is lengthy discussion over predestination, original sin, and the like. Each gets developed in great detail, with Augustine’s thoughts laced throughout. Each is also related back to Augustine’s own life and shows how his thought was developing over time.

A good portion of the book is also spent showing Augustine’s specific exegesis of various passages, and how his holistic view of Scripture allowed him to make good points despite having often subpar manuscripts with which to work. These sections are intriguing, because they introduce readers to Augustine’s hermeneutics as specific passages demonstrate the care with which he worked with the text. Moreover, Bray notes that the influence of the allegorical method upon Augustine can be overstated, and that the method itself should not be completely ignored when it comes to reading the Bible.

The final chapter, “Augustine for Today” does much to draw all the threads together into a coherent picture of Augustine’s theology of the Christian life. Indeed, the last chapter is the one that is most similar to other books in the series. Yet it is built upon the foundation of the previous chapters, turning the work into a kind of biographical, narrative theology similar to Augustine’s Confessions themselves. It is an intriguing way to have written the book. Readers may have to work harder to gain the specific insights on the Christian life from within the book, but doing so is a pleasurable journey into the mind and heart of one of Christianity’s most important thinkers. It is as though readers are discovering the hows and whys of the Christian life right alongside Augustine, and exploring the same issues he has in drawing out the faith.

Augustine on the Christian Life is a fresh read that provides readers with insight into the whole of Augustine’s theology. Its style is different from other books in the series, but the presentation is interesting and accessible. It is well worth the time spent reading it.

The Good

+Takes advantage of the mass of personal reflection by Augustine
+Unique presentation of theology of Christian life
+Many applicable insights

The Bad

-Overly focused on Augustine’s general theology

Disclaimer: I was provided with a review copy of the book by the publisher. I was not required to provide any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.

Source

Gerald Bray, Augustine on the Christian Life (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2015).

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Book Review: “Owen on the Christian Life” by Matthew Barrett and Michael Haykin

ocl-bhOwen on the Christian Life provides a broad-spectrum approach to John Owen’s theological insights into the Christian life. It is part of the “Theologians on the Christian Life” series from Crossway (see my other reviews in this series here).

John Owen was a Puritan. Yes, one of “those people.” The word “puritan” has something of a bad connotation nowadays, but the theological movement was actually remarkably broad. Moreover, many insights can be gleaned from reading through the works of these theologians who emphasized a Christian life lived.

The authors outline Owen’s theology through a number of chapters that build on each other, including chapters on the Trinity, penal substitution, justification, and more. Readers also learn about Owen’s transition towards congregationalism, discussions about church and state, and more.

Central to Owen’s theology are the Trinitarian relations, which can help us to learn about divine-human and human-relations as well. Owen emphasized the importance of religious experience for the Christian life. This experience was never taken to trump the authority of the Bible–far from it. Instead, it was taken to be a bulwark in times of doubt and need. Justification in Owen’s view provides a way to be assured of one’s salvation, for God completes that which God has set out to do. Sanctification is where I believe Owen’s main contributions might be found, though I will outline that more below.

The primary critique I have of the book is that it doesn’t seem to focus on Owen’s specific views of the Christian life as the other works in the series have. As I outlined above, there are chapters emphasizing various aspects of Owen’s theology, but these only get tied into the Christian life in what seems like offhand fashion at times. This makes the book read more like an exposition of Owen’s broader (largely Calvinistic) theology than a specific look at his doctrine of the Christian life. Particularly surprising to me was how Owen’s insights on sanctification and overcoming sin and temptation were lumped in with discussions of the power of prayer and the indwelling Spirit. Perhaps this is at least partially my own bias, having been edified greatly by his works on sin and temptation, but I think that more space dedicated to his work in this area would have been on point in a book on the Christian life.

That said, the authors do a good job summarizing Owen’s approach to overcoming sin and putting it to death in our lives. Owen argues for several steps a Christian can take to battle sin and temptation in their lives. This is a proactive approach which views the Christian life as a Spirit-empowered battle against the temptations we face. Steps Owen describes include the envisioning of the consequences of sin, reflection on the Bible, and realizing the fact of the suffering our sin causes Christ.

Owen on the Christian Life provides insight into the whole of Owen’s theology, with a focus on his theology of Christian living. It’s not necessarily as focused on the topic at hand as some other books in the series, but it is a worthy read that provides an introduction into the thought of this theological giant.

The Good

+Excellent insights into the Christian life
+Provides broad overview of Owen’s work
+Great insights into doctrine of the Holy Spirit, sanctification, and more

The Bad

-Doesn’t seem to focus entirely on the Christian Life

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

Book Review: “Overcoming Sin and Temptation” by John Owen– I review a book from John Owen which has positively impacted my spiritual life in many ways.

Source

Matthew Barrett and Michael Haykin Owen on the Christian Life (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2015).

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Book Review: “The Bible Story Handbook” by John Walton and Kim Walton

bsh-walton

John Walton and Kim Walton’s The Bible Story Handbook is a resource for teaching 175 Bible stories and their meanings. I want to say at the outset that this wide range and its being written towards a general audience (with teaching to children as a special focus) in no way means this is an easy or unchallenging book.

The book has a great introduction that argues that we need to be teaching the actual point of the Bible stories we use in lessons in Sunday School, sermons, and the like rather than abstracting the stories and chopping them apart to draw out specific illustrations we’d like to have. This is a very challenging introduction, not because it is technical, but because we so often do see this done in teaching the Bible and we so often do it ourselves. For example, we might see the story of Jonathan and David as about friendship rather than about what God was doing through the people acting in the story. A more extreme example is from the authors: one of their children came home and had been taught the story of Cain and Abel in Sunday School. But the point of the story–which was told sans violence because of the age of the children–they were told was that Cain and Abel had bodies. That’s it.

It is this level of abstraction that John Walton and Kim Walton work against in the book, consistently arguing story-by-story that the point of the Bible is to teach us about God and God’s action in human history. The stories are each outlined in the same fashion. There is a subheading listing the passage that has what the Bible story is (i.e. Samson and Delilah) followed by the verses that will be discussed (i.e. Judges 16). Then, there is a “Lesson Focus” that outlines key parts of the lesson in a sentence or two, then has main focal points of the lesson in bullet points. After that there is a Lesson Application which hones the Lesson Focus in to what we might take from the lesson. Then, the biblical context of the lesson is highlighted (this section often begins the same if there are multiple lessons in the same book). After that, Interpretational Issues are addressed (such as Samson’s hair and his strength). Background information related to the text is given (such as looms and their usage at the time of the story). Finally, “Mistakes to Avoid” puts forward the key meaning of the text and highlights some errors related to interpretation that people often make related to the specific text.

These sections each have vital information and are certainly of great value for those who want to preach, teach, or explore God’s Word.

There are a few downsides to the book. At times, it seems the “Mistakes to Avoid” might not fully explain why certain interpretations are “mistakes” or why the preferred interpretation ought to be put forward. The book has very broad application but does focus on teaching the Bible stories to children. It would perhaps have been nice to have similar notes about how to direct the lesson towards adults. These are both largely just nitpicks about what is an otherwise phenomenal book.

The Good

+Extremely challenging to many presupposed ideas about how to tell and teach Bible stories
+Great selection of Bible stories
+A constant stream of firm exegesis yielding sometimes surprising insights
+Applicable immediately to teaching settings

The Bad

-Would have been nice to have more focus on teaching Bible stories to adults as well
-Some of the “mistakes to avoid” do not seem like mistakes after all

Conclusion

John Walton and Kim Walton have done a great service with The Bible Story Handbook. I would recommend it for the shelf of the pastor, teacher, and laity. Anyone can benefit from reading the book, whether they are just learning the Bible or coming back to stories that have grown familiar with time. Highly recommended.

Disclaimer: Crossway provided me with a copy of the book for review. I was not obligated to provide any specific kind of feedback whatsoever, nor did they request changes or edit this review in any way. 

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

Source

John Walton and Kim Walton, The Bible Story Handbook (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010).

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Book Review: “Total Church” by Tim Chester and Steve Timmis

total-churchTim Chester and Steve Timmis aim to present a gospel-centered vision of the local church as a fellowship community oriented towards missions in  Total Church: A Radical Reshaping around Gospel and Community

The notion that the church must be community- and gospel- oriented is absolutely central to the whole book. Time and again examples are put forward towards how the house church can make a huge impact on individuals. The authors rightly emphasize the notion that sometimes measuring success by pure numbers is misleading and, yes, misguided. Throughout the book, a commendable call is issued to seek using the gospel of Christ and making missions a priority in church.

Many stories are provided throughout the book to help make these insights into a practical application. They are appreciated because it gives readers some hands-on ways to deal with situations. I also enjoyed much of the discussion on youth groups and “children’s church.” Basically, it was argued that we cannot simply make the kids a separate unit from the rest of the church. Youth groups cannot just be a game night, because once the youths get past that, “real, adult” church is so vastly different. We need to emphasize the truths of Christianity throughout our children’s lives from the very earliest stages.

The book, however, has some deeply problematic elements. First, the view put forward of counseling and psychology was, frankly, disturbing. There’s a lot going on in this chapter, but it really seems to come down to the authors saying that “secular” psychological treatment doesn’t help, only the gospel can. We just need to embrace the truths of the gospel and all will be well. One representative quote: “The Bible addresses the entire range of problems we experience in living in this world… It addresses all the basic and essential issues of what it means to be human, both in our sin and in our salvation” (Kindle location 1802; all references are to Kindle locations hereafter). Later, this is made into an application that if we just focus on Christ, our sufferings won’t seem significant. At the end of all of this, there is a vague reference to how some kind of counseling outside of church might also be needed, but it is too little, too late, too vaguely stated.

I think this is a deeply misguided attempt to describe a “Christian” view of counseling which simply is–ironically–not outlined in the Bible. Choosing a couple quotes about how our present suffering can be alleviated or overcome by God does not mean that going to “secular” [whatever that means–and in exclusion of the reality of Christian] psychologists and therapists is a poor decision. Yes, we should try to deal with and help with these issues in the context of a community of faith. But God forbid that we approach someone who self-harms [one example they used] and just tell them that their problem is reducible to a spiritual problem, as the authors do: “The term ‘spiritual’ is not simply another category alongside biological, physical, environmental, upbringing, or relationships. Each of those forms of suffering, passive or active, is always and at some point a spiritual and theological issue” (1881). This seems clearly reductionistic and potentially damaging. I felt this whole section was quite disturbing.

Second, there is a very dim view of academic theology put forward. The authors complain that academic theology is often just for academics and compare the probably legendary story of medieval debates over the number of angels on the head of a pin to modern evangelical theological journals as “no less obscure” (2159)! This is another huge difficulty in the book because it ignores the wide implications of “obscure” theology being done in academia for the church at large. By reducing theology to the task merely of the local church (2148), it seems there is something of a denial of the Holy Spirit’s work in guiding the church at large, and, yes, a danger of local churches simply deciding that soul-destroying heresy is sound theology without any support from those “obscure” academics. A blithe dismissal of this enterprise relegates authors like Augustine, Aquinas, Calvin, and more into the scrap heap of obscurity.

Third, the book largely dismisses the enterprise of apologetics as dealing with issues of the mind and instead argues that “The problem is not that we cannot know God. The problem is that we will not know God. It is a problem of the heart rather than the head” (2344). Later, this leads the authors to the claim that the goal of apologetics must be to “demonstrate that unbelief is a problem of the heart rather than a problem with the head” (2419). Apologetics is envisioned as not being intellectually engage but rather engaged with trying to show people the relational problems they have with God (2467). Not only does this reduce apologetics quite a bit in scope, but it also performs some serious psychoanalysis of those who do not believe by saying that the ultimate problem with every non-Christian is that they somehow have some passionate anger against God.

Now, unless we are to assume that all of these people are lying to us, plenty of atheists throughout history have grounded their rejection quite clearly in intellectual issues. Numerous modern studies have shown that the people leaving the church often do so because of perceived anti-intellectualism or a failure to engage the mind. The task of apologetics can not, and dare not do this, be reduced to vague exploration of the heart rather than the mind. We must engage with the intellectual attacks on Christianity and put forward our position in a winsome manner.

Fourth, the Chester and Timmis often say they are not saying their position is the only way to do something, but then continually pound the notion that their way is the only biblical or gospel-oriented way so often that one wonders whether they do believe other approaches might work. The discussion of the biblical warrant for house churches is but one example, where, after asserting that there is nothing inherently wrong with larger churches, the authors compares them to pagan temples founded due to Constantine’s making Christianity the civil religion of the Roman Empire [a historical reality that should be questioned, as it was not the official or exclusive religion until Theodosius I, though this is a complex topic not worth getting deeply into here] (1255). If one approach is “biblical” and other other is merely capitulation to replicate paganism, which one is acceptable? Speaking inclusive approaches but following up with things like this makes me wonder whether there is much generosity happening towards those with whom the authors disagree.

The kindle edition of the book also has some typos, such as replacing “initially” with “Initial” (yes, capitalized in the middle of sentences) at several places in the text. Another one is this portion: “I have used the Initial person, but not to trumpet my experience… I have used the Initial person to show that what I am describing is not impossible rhetoric or unrealistic idealism… At Initial they expressed concern that we did not have an accountability structure over and outside us…” (2782). Looking at the print edition on Amazon, I find that it says “first” in all these places. I don’t know if this is the same with all Kindle editions or just the one I received for review.

The Good

+Several good insights into how we might build communities in church
+Emphasis on holistic approach to youths and children

The Bad

-Extremely problematic discussion of counseling
-Often paints an inclusive picture, but then contradicts it with exclusion
-Some questionable exegesis
-Largely dismisses academic theology
-Largely undermines the majority of Christian apologetics

Conclusion

Total Church: A Radical Reshaping around Gospel and Community was, unfortunately, not what I had hoped for. Will readers get insights into founding house churches and making communities therefrom? Yes. But unfortunately there is an awful lot of baggage to go along with those insights, including, but not limited to, rejection of massive amounts of Christian academic theology, undercutting Christian apologetics, distorting a Christian view of therapy and psychological treatment, sometimes questionable exegesis, and more.

Crossway provided me with a copy of the book for review purposes. I was not obligated by the publisher to write any kind of review whatsoever.

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Source

Tim Chester and Steve Timmis, Total Church: A Radical Reshaping around Gospel and Community (Wheaton, IL: Crossway).

SDG.

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