Category: tolle lege book reviews

Tolle Lege: “Christ Has Set Us Free: Preaching and Teaching Galatians”

I’ve always known there were drawbacks to not being on social media.  I often find myself out of the INTERPERSONAL loop but I learned recently that I was quite out of the INTERSECTIONAL loop as well.  Until a month or so ago I’d never even heard of intersectionality, was only vaguely aware of critical race theory and thought “progressive” was a type of insurance.  More than a few eye-opening blog posts and podcasts later and I’m way more aware than I ever wanted to be of the presence of these movements in the church and the tsunami of anti-social media shared/hurled between Christians I love and respect. 

I’m just old-fashioned enough to believe in one kind of Justice and one kind of Gospel.  So it was with alarm that my recent education revealed there has now spread throughout the church a new, if not IMPROVED, at least socially APPROVED, variety of both.  It was difficult enough to hear the bitter animosity from the lips of a beloved friend toward others who are resisting this wave of leaven– part of me wanted to excuse him on grounds of his own past hurts by the people he was attacking– but then I heard his same words echoed by other pastors and teachers that I had long held in high regard, some of them contributors of the volume I am reviewing right now.

As I sifted through the cacophony of intersections and theories, of justices and gospels, of posts and casts that seemed intent on convincing me that I stand condemned on the basis of skin-tone alone for the oppression of millions and the 50-year-old murder of one in particular, the words of Paul to the Galatians kept ringing in my ear.

“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ” (1:6,7).

“O foolish Galatians!  Who has bewitched you?  It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified” (3:1).

“Are you so foolish?  Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh (3:3)?”

“How can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more” (4:9)?

“I am perplexed about you” (4:20).

“You were running well.  Who hindered you from obeying the truth?  This persuasion is not from Him who calls you.  A little leaven leavens the whole lump” (5:7-9).

What was this bewitching new gospel the foolish Galatians were being troubled with and to which they were enslaving themselves?  The first hint is that it was “man’s gospel,” designed to “please man” and gain “the approval of man” (1:10,11). In other words it was a socially acceptable gospel foisted upon them by “false,” “influential” brothers intent on destroying the freedom of some and showing partiality to others” (2:4-6).  It’s here that we get to the main hot-button issue of that day: circumcision.  This might seem laughable to us who are so entrenched in more universal egalitarian issues like race relations and sexual ethics.  But circumcision it was and it was having a serious impact on the church and it’s adherence to the truth of the gospel.

The Gospel Coalition’s “Christ Has Set Us Free” (Crossway, 2019) is a beautifully written look at the book of Galatians with contributions by Thomas Schreiner, Gerald L. Bray, John Piper, Sandy Willson, Peter Adam, D.A. Carson (who co-edited the volume with Jeff Robinson Sr.), Thabiti Anyabwile, Timothy Keller, and Sinclair Ferguson.  I hadn’t planned on reviewing this book and was honestly a little disenchanted with The Gospel Coalition in general after reading certain articles and listening to podcasts from the MLK50 Conference.  But since it was Galatians that I thought spoke so clearly to the hot-button issues of our day, I felt I should at least see how they would interpret the epistle themselves.  

The biggest weakness in the book is that they seem to sidestep today’s issues all together.  Instead the authors juxtapose the issues Paul was addressing with those faced by Luther over 1000 years later during the Reformation.  This juxtaposition proves to be one of the book’s great strengths as it serves to maintain a point of focus throughout the text even though each chapter is written by a different author.  Several of these authors were new to me but I enjoyed all of them and was reminded over and over again why I had been so blessed by some of these guys in the past, including Luther.  It was fascinating to read about his take on Galatians and how he applied it to his own situation.  Bray examines this thoroughly in the second chapter.

“The late medieval church had the gospel, but it had added its own superstructure of penances, devotions, and works of different kinds, which Christians had to perform if they were to be properly reconciled to God.  To Luther this was blasphemy.  The cross of Christ had done all that was necessary, and to suggest that something more was required was to doubt the sufficiency of Christ’s saving work.  It was in this context that Luther’s doctrine fo justification by faith alone came to its full expression” (29).

Piper identifies this same doctrine along with the doctrine of the supreme authority of scripture as the material and formal principles of the Reformation and adds that they are also the focus of the book of Galatians.

“Chapters 1 and 2 deal mainly with the formal principle—Paul’s apostolic authority.  Chapters 3 and 4 deal mainly with the material principle—justification by faith apart from works of the law.  Chapters 5 and 6 deal mainly with what that looks like in life” (37).

The rest of the authors do a fantastic job in the remaining chapters fleshing out exactly what those principles mean, how Paul applies them to the Galatian situation, why their absence would be a direct assault on the gospel, and what their application would look like in the life of the believer both during Paul’s time and Luther’s.  Which brings me back to the book’s great weakness.

Piper begins his chapter with a serious and, I think, timely warning.  But it’s just left dangling out there and never picked up again.  

“Paul says, ‘Cursed!’—damned—be those who lead people away from the curse-removing gospel of Christ…This is happening to people in your church and your family.  They are being exposed to kinds of “gospels”—which are no gospel—every day.  They are being lured away from Christ as their supreme treasure and away from grace.  And they need to hear a very serious word from you” (36).

It’s almost as though Piper knows there’s an elephant in the room but he’s not willing to identify it or give the rebuke himself.  Why is that?  Why not point out the false gospel right then and there and offer that serious word against it?  

So as not to be guilty of the same.  Let me do the dirty work.  Because Piper’s right.  I have seen this yoke of slavery taken up by family and friends, other brothers and sisters in Christ, and yes, even members of The Gospel Coalition.

In Paul’s day the Judaizers were insisting that Gentile believers be circumcised, or be justified by their FLESH.  That’s a false gospel.

In Luther’s day Rome was insisting that people pay indulgences, or be justified by their FUNDS.  That’s a false gospel.

In our day the whole world is insisting that white heterosexual males feel guilt simply for being born and not experiencing the same forms of oppression that a million other categories of people have felt, imagined to have felt, identify with someone who has felt, or imagine that they identify with someone who has felt, are declared justified for having felt.  In other words, we are now to be justified by our FEELINGS.  That’s a false gospel. And it’s a bewitchingly, socially acceptable gospel to be sure—man centered, man pleasing, man approved—destroying the freedom of some, showing partiality to others…it’s like Galatians played on repeat.

Yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law [i.e. flesh, funds, feelings etc] but through FAITH in Jesus Christ, so also we have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by FAITH in Christ and not by works of the law [i.e. flesh, funds, feelings etc], because by works of the law [i.e. flesh, funds, feelings etc…] no one will be justified” (Gal. 2:16).  

That’s the only Gospel.  And I’m pretty sure Paul just stated the same thing three different ways just to be clear.  Just in case though, he repeats himself several more times in 3:11, 3:24, and 5:4, just to name a few.  Paul also points out that where you have the true gospel, you are led by the Spirit in freedom.  But where you have a false gospel, you will have evidence of the flesh and the law, “sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies and things like these.”  But “those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Gal. 5:19-24).

Yes, in response to an article written by one of the authors of this excellent book, I am guilty of the murder of one man.  But that man was not Martin Luther King Jr.  That man was Jesus Christ, the Messiah.  And of that murder I have been declared justified through FAITH in God’s justice poured out on His Son on my behalf.

“I have been crucified with Christ.  It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.  And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20).

Christ Has Set Us Free” is an excellent book.  But it doesn’t address the false gospel of our day.  I would encourage Christians everywhere to pick up another short book instead.  It’s called “Galatians.”  You’ll find it in the Bible.  

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(I was provided with a free copy of this book by the publisher but am not obligated to write a favorable review.)

Tolle Lege: The ESV Prayer Bible

I grew up in an environment opposed to all things liturgical.  There was practically a liturgy developed out of being non-liturgical.  It was like, “Look, we’re so non-liturgical we do this other thing in this order every time we get together at this time instead, just to show how non-liturgical we are.”  Corporate prayers, confessions of faith, and the sacraments were viewed as remnants of Roman Catholicism and thus to be avoided at all costs.  Later in my mid-20’s my husband and I spent 7 years in a small inter-city Reformed Presbyterian Church and my eyes were opened to the value of liturgy through the confessions of faith and the singing of Psalms. The ancient beauty of the Psalter stood in such contrast to the filth and chaos all around us.  When we moved to Hawaii it was really hard to find a doctrinally sound church but the Lord led us to an aging congregation in the first and oldest church in the islands.  In general, the preaching was pretty bad, but at least we knew that the truth of the gospel would be proclaimed each Lord’s Day through the liturgy.  There would be hymns, the Apostles creed, the Lord’s Prayer, the benediction and then the doxology and the Queen’s Prayer sung in Hawaiian.  I learned to love liturgy there because I knew that my kids were learning great doctrinal truths through those repetitious means.  There is just something so Psalm 148:12 about your kids’ young voices joined with the elderly in these historical forms of worship.

But I still had a hang-up about written prayers.  Two things recently changed the way I viewed the value of composed prayers.  The first was in my thirst for understanding the Word of God.  I started praying segments of Psalm 119 each time I sat down to read scripture and then transposing them into the plural form when we’d gather as a group to study.  The second, was in reading the book of Revelation and the corporate worship of the living creatures, the elders,  the angels, and all the saints and wanting my own worship to be in accord with what was already and will be taking place around the throne.  Why are we so willing to sing lyrics written by another in worship but so opposed to repeating words written by another in prayer?  

The ESV Prayer Bible (Crossway, 2018) arrived at my door in the middle of these contemplations.  Here’s how it’s different from other Bibles.  It’s in single column format, which I love, and has prayers inserted throughout which correspond to the text.  These are written by a variety of Christians from the first century all the way into the 20th.  I think the most contemporary was Henry Wotherspoon of Scotland who died in 1930.  There are several index’s in the back including an author index and an index of the 400+ scripture passages that include a corresponding prayer.  My favorite index is a list of every passage of scripture that either is a prayer or references the subject. THAT is a feature I have already put to good use as I explore this topic further.

If you already have a rich and plentiful prayer life this Bible will only enhance that by reading these prayers in a Biblical context.  If, like me, you are wanting to grow your prayer life, this could be an invaluable resource.  The disciples themselves knew their own deficiencies in this area and asked Jesus in Luke 11:1, “Lord, teach us to pray.”  Paul confirms this in Romans 8:26, “We do not know what to pray for as we aught, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groaning too deep for words.”  This friends, is NOT given as an excuse not to pray.  Rather it should encourage us to participate more fully through the work of the Spirit in our own hearts teaching us to pray more in accordance with God’s will, just as Jesus modeled for us.  Paul says, “we aught” to know how to pray!  This book contains many examples worthy of our emulation. 

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A final point.  Prayers like the ones included in this Bible are a fantastic tool for training up our children in the faith.  They, like the confessions, creeds, and historical hymns, can be great instructors in right doctrine.  For that reason, I think children can be the greatest benefactors of our liturgies and yet most have sadly been robbed of this instructive form of worship.  I highly recommend this Bible for use in family devotions.  Take an extra minute when you come across a prayer to read the short author’s bio in the back.  It will add a historical continuity to the faith you are instructing your children in.  And while you’re at it, why not throw in a Psalm or hymn or a little catechesis?  

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(Although I was provided with a free copy of this book from the publisher I am under no obligation to write a favorable review)

Tolle lege: God and Galileo by Block and Freeman

Well, it’s a fine quandary I’ve been put in.  I was so excited to do a book review of God and Galileo by David Block and Kenneth Freeman (Crossway, 2019) because it seemed to combine two of my favorite subjects, theology and science.

Sadly, this book was neither a responsible treatment of either God or Galileo.  Rather, it was a thinly veiled attempt to justify the authors deeply rooted evolutionary beliefs.  By evolutionary, I don’t just mean the “a day is like a thousand years and a thousand years is like a day” variety.  I mean the whole “big-bang produced stars produced carbon-based people” variety.  Here’s an exact quote in case I got the order mixed up.

“For many different reasons, we could not live in a universe that was much smaller (or much hotter).  First, enough time is needed for the hot big-bang universe to cool off, for matter to form, and then for the matter and radiation to decouple.  Next, we are carbon-based human beings.  Carbon is manufactured deep in the interiors of stars.  Galaxies must first form, then stars within those galaxies must be born and complete their life cycles; the end products of the more massive stars are the exploding supernovae.  It is these explosions that unlock carbon and heavier elements from stellar interiors into space, from which new stars are formed.  As best we can understand it, this process—from the birth of the universe to us being here, orbiting a star that is enriched in carbon—takes billions of years (106).”

Now here’s my quandary.  The authors have cleverly inserted a shield of defense within the text to prevent anyone outside of the field of science from criticizing their statements.  The very first chapter contains this warning to any potential critics.

“Serious prejudices against the book of nature often stem from those whose exposure to the scientific method is limited.  To be ‘well grounded in astronomical and physical science’ requires as much training as does psychiatry or neuroscience in the medical world.  Astronomers would be foolish to pronounce on discoveries in neuroscience or psychiatry;  we have not been trained in those specialties.  Galileo’s letter demonstrates how crucial it is to be thoroughly grounded in astronomy before pronouncing on scientific discoveries.  Paraphrasing Augustine’s message rather bluntly, don’t pontificate about matters that you do not understand 32-33).”

Should I, the reader, heed such a warning?  Must I accept their statements as a matter of course based on the simple fact that they were made by experts in the field of astronomy?  After all, I wouldn’t want to fall into the camp they describe here:

“Some with theological or political authority and no experience in science are ready to make judgments on the goals, methods, and conclusions of science.  Instead, such individuals would be wise to adorn themselves with caution and humility in matters outside their realm of expertise (68-69).”

They continue,

“Science needs to be falsified by using the scientific method, not by simply quoting scriptures.  This is indeed the thrust of Galileo’s entire letter to the Duchess, that it is the domain of scientists to verify or disprove scientific theories.  It is not the place of theologians to falsify scientific ideas using bare scriptural arguments (79-80).”

Well there you have it.  Only a bonafide scientist can dare question another scientist.  This book contains a boatload of scientific theory, and I don’t just mean Galileo’s then-controversial heliocentric model.  It is laden with current evolutionary cosmology.  But it is not the job of the reader nor I dare say the publisher to question its content which is why, I suppose, Crossway did its humble duty in publishing it.

But it also contains a boatload of historical narrative, philosophical posturing, poetic waxing, and yes, theological pontificating.  Sadly, I am an expert in none of those fields.  So even though this book appeared to me oozing with logical fallacies, epistemological garbling, literary chatachresis, and theological error, I’ll humbly leave it to the experts in those fields to point it out to the authors.