Category Archives: Book notes

Does the Bible Advocate Genocide?

I’m really impressed with this new book by Michael J. Kruger. Through a series of letters to his daughter Emma, Kruger explores 15 big issues that can sometimes trip up Christian young people. Chapter 14 deals with this question: “Some Parts of the Bible Seem Morally Troubling — How Can a Book Be from God If It Advocates Oppression or Genocide?” Atheists and other skeptics love to hurl that one in the face of Christians. God tells the Israelites to slaughter all these Canaanite peoples — how can that be moral? Let me just share part of Kruger’s answer:

If we are going to rightly understand the destruction of the Canaanites, several principles must be remembered. First, every human being on the planet deserves God’s judgment, not just the Canaanites. Right now, all humans everywhere — from the kind old lady who lives next door to the hardened criminal on death row — are deeply sinful…

…So what does this mean? This means that, at any moment, God could take the life of any human as judgment for his or her sins. And he would be totally justified in doing so. God owes salvation to no one…

God uses a variety of instruments to accomplish his judgment. Sure, God could just miraculously take all the lives of the Canaanites in a single instance. But he has a history of using various means to bring judgment. Throughout Scripture, such means have included natural disasters, disease and pestilence, drought, economic collapse, and, yes, even human armies. At numerous times throughout biblical history, God “raises up” a human army to accomplish his purposes. And in the Canaanite conquest, God used the nation of Israel as his instrument of judgment.

It is here that we come to a key difference between the Canaanite conquest and modern-day genocide. Yes, both involve great loss of life. And both involve human armies. But the former is done as an instrument of God’s righteous judgment, whereas the latter is humans murdering others for their own purposes. On the surface, there may be similarities. But they are decidedly not the same act.

An example might help. Imagine a scenario in which one human injects another human with a deadly toxin, causing that person to die. Is that murder? Well, it depends. If this were done by a criminal who wanted to knock off a rival, then the answer would be yes. But if this were done by an official at a federal prison who was authorized by the state to administer lethal injection, then the answer would be no. On the surface, the two acts might look the same. But everything comes down to whether the taking of life is properly authorized. The issue is not whether a life is taken but how and why it is taken.

Surviving Religion 101, pp.211-213

I hope to write a proper review next week. But for now, I can highly recommend it!


I Recommend

This past week, I shared the following links on social media and I think they’re worth sharing here too:

When My Quadriplegia Ends

This beautifully-written article really sums up what’s most important in the hope Christians have.

Five Suggested Guidelines for Pastors and Church Staff on Social Media

Especially in this time when strong opinions are common fare, church leaders need to be careful.

Paxton Smith’s viral pro-abortion valedictorian speech wasn’t “brave”

Jonathon Van Maren: “Paxton Smith delivered a speech articulating a position held by nearly every Western head of state, the president of the United States, the vice president of the United States, the entire Democratic Party, nearly all of the corporate elites, Hollywood, the music industry, much of the media, and the majority of academia. How, exactly, is this speech “brave?””

New York High Court to Rule Whether Elephants Are “Persons”

What’s next? Marriage? Don’t laugh. If you can say it, someone is undoubtedly conjuring up a way to achieve it — no matter how ridiculous it sounds right now. The world has gone mad.

Pride Month shows: Christians must opt out of mainstream culture in America

Christians: who is going to catechize your children? Blues Clues? SpongeBob?

Turning it to our good – an excerpt from “Man of the First Hour”

This is a fantastic new book and Reformed Perspective offers a little taste. You can also read my review here.

Trans Mission: What’s the Rush to Reassign Gender?

This looks like a much-needed documentary.


Have Muslim Friends?

Samuel Green’s Where to Start With Islam: A New Approach to Engaging with Muslim Friends (Sydney: Matthias Media, 2019) is a great resource for Christians wanting to share the gospel with followers of Islam. He proposes that Christians not only start with a better grasp of their own beliefs, but also with an understanding of common assumptions and misconceptions held by Muslims. The chapter titles give you an idea of the ground covered:

  1. Where do we start?
  2. Learning about Islam
  3. Sharing the gospel with a Muslim
  4. Is Jesus God?
  5. The Trinity
  6. Salvation
  7. The death of Jesus
  8. Who is Muhammad?
  9. Muslims and the Bible
  10. History

The book is supported by online resources at Engaging with Islam. The author has also written a number of articles at Answering Islam.

One of the endorsements is from J. Mack Stiles, a pastor in Iraq:

I have lived in the Middle East for 20 years. I don’t know of anyone who has done better work in understanding and answering the challenges of Islam than Samuel Green. Any Christian who wants to respond to Muslims with love and truth needs this book.

Whether you have Muslim friends with whom you might be able to share the gospel, or if you’re just interested in learning more about Islam, this one will be worth your while.


Mission and Reformed Covenant Theology

I don’t normally review multi-author collections of essays and this isn’t going to be an exception to that. I just want to draw your attention to this volume published in 2020 by P & R and Westminster Seminary Press, A Covenantal Vision for Global Mission. It’s a collection of academic papers that were delivered at a Reformed missions conference in South Africa in 2015. According to the Foreword, the papers “seek to ground the growing interest in the missional character of Christian outreach in the classic biblical and historic Reformed theological understanding of God’s covenantal relationship with mankind.”

The reason I don’t write reviews of multi-author volumes is because they tend to be a mixed bag. This one is no different. Some of the contributions are stellar. Chapter 7, “Christ’s Dominion over Creation and Spiritual Warfare in Mission” by Henk Stoker stands out — it’s a great critique of ideas like territorial spirits and spiritual mapping. Flip Buys contributed two papers that are also worthwhile, “Mission and Gathering God’s New Covenant People” (ch. 4), and “Missions in the Fear of God’ (ch.6). Some of the other contributions are good, some mediocre, and a couple are disappointing. But overall, I do think the book is worth a read if you’ve got an interest in mission and missiology. There’s a lot of thought-provoking missiological reflection related to covenant theology — and I’m not sure anything like it has yet been published in English (in Dutch there is Barend Wielenga’s dissertation Verbond en zending).

I end with a few choice quotes to pique your interest:

“The Reformed faith is missional, or it is not Reformed.” (from A Missions Declaration, p.xi)

“I believe that a revitalization of our understanding of the concepts of the covenant of redemption…and the covenant of grace is vital for developing a Reformed approach to global missions…” (Flip Buys, quoted on pp.14-15)

“When a missionary does not really do his work in the fear of God, converts are trained to depend on him, rather than becoming responsible to Christ.” (Flip Buys, p.142)

“The new-wave thinking concerning territorial spirits and their power over areas takes the focus away from the victory of Christ…” (Henk Stoker, p.157)

“Reformed theology has tended to have the best product, but the worst sales technique, and it is too often pushed by intellectually arrogant representatives.” (Paul Wells, p.291)

“The source and origin of world missions is the pactum salutis, God’s own covenant with himself.” (Kent Hughes, p.307)

“To be Reformed was, and is, to have a missionary heart.” (Kent Hughes, p.315)


Smoking

Let me share one more little bit of this highly recommended book on living a holy life. Chapter 5 is entitled “Conflict Zone” and it’s about the inner struggle that all Christians experience. On page 98, Ferguson writes:

A friend who in earlier life had smoked cigarettes, and found pleasure in doing so, once explained to me that every time he sensed the aroma of smoke from someone’s cigarette he felt the old instincts and attractions surround and invade him, and pull at his desires. It was a battle to resist. His addiction had been broken. Otherwise there would not have been a battle. But it was a struggle. This is but a hint and pale reflection of the nature and magnitude of the conflict between flesh and Spirit. The world is full of smoke.

That would be a great sermon illustration!