Category Archives: Book notes

Top Three Marriage Books

Over my years in the ministry, I’ve taught many marriage preparation classes.  From time to time, I’ve also counselled couples with marriage problems.  In my preaching, I’ve had many opportunities to speak about marriage.  Besides all that, I’ve been married myself for what’s going on to 23 years.  All these things give me a vested interest in good books about marriage.  I’ve read a few.  Almost all of them have something worthwhile, but there are some that really stand out.  Here are my top three, in order of importance:

When Sinners Say “I Do”: Discovering the Power of the Gospel for Marriage, Dave Harvey.

This one tops the list because of the author’s relentless focus on the gospel.  Written in a warm, personal style, Dave Harvey helps couples come to terms with the biggest problem that all marriages face and the solution to this problem.  Along with some of the other topics one would expect in a marriage book, he also discusses one you don’t often encounter:  death.  If you’re going to read just one book about marriage, make it this one.

Strengthening Your Marriage, Wayne Mack.

Are you ready to get to work on your marriage?  Then this is the book you’re looking for.  It’s not just a review of biblical teaching about marriage, but a very practical workbook.  It contains a variety of exercises for husbands and wives to complete.  The idea is that they would be done with a pastor or counsellor, but certainly couples could benefit from doing them on their own too.  I use Wayne Mack’s book Preparing for Marriage God’s Way for my marriage preparation classes and I appreciate his biblical approach.

Each for the Other: Marriage As It’s Meant To Be, Bryan Chapell with Kathy Chapell

I really like this one for three reasons.  One is that it includes the perspective of a woman.  Another is that it has great stories and illustrations to drive home the points of the authors.  Finally, I value the clear explanations and applications of biblical submission and headship.  This book also includes discussion questions to go with each chapter.


Contextualization in Scripture

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Whenever I read a book, I usually make notes afterwards for future reference.  I finished reading Keller’s Center Church a couple of months ago, but I’m only finally getting around to writing my notes on it today.  As I’m doing so, I’ve across something worth sharing about contextualization.  Keller defines contextualization like this:  “…it is giving people the Bible’s answers, which they may not at all want to hear, to questions about life that people in their particular time and place are asking, in language and forms they can comprehend, and through appeals and arguments with force they can feel, even if they reject them” (page 89).  A little further in that chapter, he gives this helpful sidebar:

Craig Blomberg points out that in Matthew’s parable of the mustard seed, the sower sows his seed in a “field” (agros, Matt. 13:31), while in Luke the sowing is in a “garden” (kepos, Luke 13:19).  Jews never grew mustard plants in gardens, but always out on farms, while Greeks in the Mediterranean basin did the opposite.  It appears that each gospel writer was changing the word that Jesus used in Mark — the word for “earth” or “ground” (ge, Mark 4:31) — for the sake of his hearers.  There is a technical contradiction between the Matthean and Lukan terms, states Blomberg, “but not a material one.  Luke changes the wording precisely so that his audience is not distracted from…the lesson by puzzling over an…improbable practice.”  The result is that Luke’s audience “receives his teaching with the same impact as the original audience.”  (page 95)

I looked into this a little bit and it seems to check out as correct.  Just one small point:  I would prefer “apparent discrepancy” to “technical contradiction” (after all, fields and gardens are not exactly polar opposites).  The main point is that contextualization is evident in Scripture — therefore, we need to take it seriously too.  For myself, as a Canadian living and ministering in Australia, I try to use the right words for my audience.  I try to avoid Canadian idioms and use Aussie ones.  However, I’m quite sure that I still have a long way to go in minimizing linguistic distractions when I preach and teach.


The Shack

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I try to stay positive and focus on what’s encouraging.  However, from time to time clear warnings need to be sounded about dangerous teachings.  I am not one to use the word heresy lightly (see here for why), but when it comes to The Shack, it is completely appropriate.  I read the book when it first came out in about 2007.  People from my church community were reading it and raving about it.  An uncle passed me a copy and asked me to read and review it.  It was appalling.  Not only was it really bad literature, it was even worse theology.  This led my co-pastor and I to write a warning for our congregation regarding the book.  This was published in our bulletin.  Now there’s a movie being released on March 3.  In view of that, I think it’s worthwhile to republish the warning that the Langley CanRC co-pastors issued in  2008 regarding the book.  Today, I would just add that portraying God in any way, let alone with female actresses portraying the Father and the Holy Spirit, is a violation of the Second Commandment.  As the Heidelberg Catechism says it in Lord’s Day 35, “We are not to make an image of God in any way…God cannot and may not be visibly portrayed in any way.”

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From the Pastors

In a recent edition of BC Christian News, there was a front-page article promoting a novel by William P. Young, The Shack.  It appears that this book is quite popular in broader Christian circles and has been making the rounds in our own circles as well.  As pastors who care for the flock, we must be honest with you:  this book is full of dangerous, erroneous teachings about God.  It contains a perversion of the gospel.

This is one of those books were someone meets with God in person.  In this case, two persons of the Trinity are represented as women.  “Papa” is a large African-American woman.  The Spirit is Sarayu, an Asian woman (Sarayu is a river in India invoked and venerated by Hindus).  Jesus is represented as a Middle-Eastern man.  However, there is also Sophia, an off-shoot of Sarayu.  This book revives ancient heresies regarding the Trinity.  One of those heresies is patripassionism, the teaching that the Father suffered with the Son on the cross.  Another false teaching is found when “Papa” says, “I am truly human, in Jesus, but I am a totally separate other in my nature.” (p.201).  God the Father did not become human in Jesus.  That is the sort of mixing of the persons that the Athanasian Creed stands against.  Next, we might also point out that the “God” of The Shack does not send people to hell – he/she has no concept of justice or wrath.  Consequently, the grace offered in this book is cheap.  Finally, the novel is explicitly Arminian (or Pelagian, which is even worse) throughout.  For example, Young promotes unbiblical notions about the freedom of the human will.  We also find the false teaching that the atonement of Christ was intended to save all (and going one step further, does in fact, save all).  On page 225, we read “In Jesus, I have forgiven all humans for their sin against me, but only some choose relationship.”  All these erroneous teachings are not incidental to the book but pervade it – and we could add several more.

Some have argued that this book is a work of fiction, that it is allegorical and is not meant to be taken literally.  However, when the author was recently at Regent College for a book talk, it became very clear that William P. Young is not an orthodox Christian and his book was not written to convey orthodox Christian theology, but rather the opposite.  Brothers and sisters, because the gospel is at stake, we are obligated to warn you:  please do not waste your time and money on books such as this and please do not encourage others to read it.

You can also find a full review of this book at this helpful website.

Rev. George VanPopta has also reviewed The Shack here.


Luther: Baptizatus sum (I am baptized)

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I have heard and read it several times:  when Luther was tempted by the devil, he would look at the words written in chalk on his desk: “baptizatus sum” (Latin for “I am baptized”).  In connection with my upcoming catechism sermon on Lord’s Day 26, I decided to look into this a little more.  I have been unable to find an exact reference for the words being written in chalk on his desk.  However, I did find several other references which I find rather interesting.

In his biography, Luther: Man Between God and the Devil, Heiko Oberman quotes Luther:  “The only way to drive away the Devil is through faith in Christ, by saying: ‘I have been baptized, I am a Christian.”  The endnote refers to the source of this as WAT 6. no.6830; 217, 26f.

A blog entitled Liber locorum communium provides a few relevant quotes from Luther, including this one:  “I am a child of God, I am baptized, I believe in Jesus Christ crucified for me” (translation mine).  The source is given as  TR 5658a, WA TR 5, p. 295, ll. 27-30.

Finally, there is Because of Christ, the memoirs of the Lutheran theologian Carl Braaten.  In a footnote, he says that the full quote from Luther is:  “Behold, I am baptized, and I believe in Christ crucifed” (translation mine).  Unfortunately, he does not provide the source.

The intriguing thing about each of these quotes is that baptism does not stand alone — it is joined to faith.  Was Luther always consistent in maintaining the appropriate connection between baptism and faith?  Patrick Ramsey says no.

 


The Glorious Gospel of Imputation

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I love Starr Meade’s book of family devotions based on the Westminster Shorter Catechism.  To catechize our children during family worship, we’ve been using Training Hearts, Teaching Minds for many years.  In fact, we’re on our second copy of it — the first one just fell apart after some years of heavy daily use.

Tonight at our church catechism class, I have the joy of teaching Lord’s Day 23 again.  Lord’s Day 23 deals with justification, God’s declaration that we are right with him on account of Christ’s righteousness.  Included in justification is the crucial notion of imputation.  Our sins are imputed or accounted to Christ, and his righteousness is imputed or accounted to us.  This goes to the basis of our justification.  Starr Meade has an excellent illustration that explains the imputation of Christ’s active and passive obedience, his obedience to the law and his suffering obedience.  I plan to use this illustration tonight with my catechism students:

Imagine that you need a great deal of money for something important.  However, not only do you not have a great deal of money; you are deeply in debt.  Along comes your friend who has worked hard for years to build a big savings account in the bank.  He feels sorry for you and offers to pay your bills.  Now you are no longer in debt.  This is something like Jesus paying for our sin by his death on the cross.  Now we no longer owe God anything for all our sins against him.

However, just because your friend paid your debt does not mean that you have solved your problem.  You still need a great deal of money and you have absolutely none.  So now your friend does something else for you.  He has your name added to his bank account so that now you can use all his money.  This is something like Jesus living a life of perfect obedience to God in our place.  He is the One who is righteous.  He is the One who did the obeying, but all his righteousness is credited to us.  God counts the righteousness of Christ as ours. (Training Hearts, Teaching Minds, 111-112)

To put it another way, through Christ we don’t merely have our slates wiped clean of all our sins.  We also have our slates filled with all of his God-pleasing obedience in our place.  This, and this alone, makes us acceptable in God’s sight.