Posted in tolle lege book reviews

Tolle Lege: Scientism and Secularism: Learning to Respond to a Dangerous Ideology by J.P. Moreland

It was a joy to hold in my hands this week a book that I think makes up for that evolutionary bit of nonsense Crossway published earlier this year called “God and Galileo” by David Block and Kenneth Freeman (you can read that review here).  What Block and Freeman claim Galileo’s 400-year-old letter teaches us about faith and science is that the one must bow to the other in matters of the physical universe.  “Science needs to be falsified using the scientific method, not by simply quoting the Scriptures…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 (80).”  Even though this quote lies within the chapter titled “The Fraud of Scientism,” the book itself as a whole is just one grand example of the very thing they weakly identify as fraudulent.  In fact, in rereading that chapter, I never was able to pinpoint a direct argument against scientism, other than their refutal of the current theory of a multiverse.  

God and Galileo” really serves to exemplify the kind of weak scientism that J. P. Moreland claims has crept into the church in his book “Scientism and Secularism” (Crossway, 2018).  According to his definition, “Scientism is the view that the hard sciences—like chemistry, biology, physics, astronomy—provide the only genuine knowledge of reality (26).”  Moreland further distinguishes between strong scientism, which “implies that something is true, rationally justified, or known if and only if it is a scientific claim that has been successfully tested and that is being used according to appropriate scientific methodology (29)” and weak scientism, which “acknowledges truths apart from science, granting them some minimal rational status even if they don’t have scientific support (30).”  Block and Freeman do this very thing by making  sharp distinctions between “the nature of truth and the truth of nature”(66),  “intellectual discernment and spiritual discernment”(97), and “material and spiritual” systems (104). There is  a book of Scripture and a book of nature (43) and “the book of nature can never be suppressed”(81).  I would argue that Romans 1:18-23 suggests otherwise but I’ll leave the arguing to Moreland who does a far superior job than I ever could.  Oh, and I must mention in speaking of Moreland’s superiority, that there are sections of his book I’ll have to go back and reread because they were honestly way over my head.  I’m thinking specifically of chapters 7-9 which dealt with non scientific knowledge and first philosophy (pretty pathetic of me since I was a philosophy major but clearly I need to review).

Moreland’s greatest strength, and the thing that I think makes this book a necessary read, is that he not only puts forth a clear and thorough examination of scientism but how in its weaker form it has infiltrated the church.  “Weak scientism, when believed and put into practice, leads to a constant revision of doctrines that the church has held for centuries under the pressure of scientistic political correctness (72).”  The implications reach far beyond the origins and age of the universe affecting the foundations of human identity, gender, the nature of sin etc…(73).  The effects of scientism have been marked and destructive and yet we’ve been practically incognizant of its presence, so subtle has been its infiltration.  Moreland contends that truth need not be compartmentalized with science always taking the superior position over theology.  There needs to be a reintegration of the Christian world view into every discipline.  For too long, “Christians compartmentalized their faith, kept it tucked away in a private compartment of their lives, and did not integrate their Christian ideas with their work” (185).  

This book serves as a huge encouragement for Christians who have been left grasping for reasons to have confidence in a Biblical worldview and courage in applying that worldview to all of life.  

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* Even though I was given a copy of this book by the publisher I am under no obligation to write a favorable review.

Posted in tolle lege book reviews

Tolle Lege: “A Company of Heroes” by Tim Keesee

I often say these five boys are going to be the death of me.  Every time I turn around one of them is doing something daring or dangerous or dumb.  It’s a fine line, right?  Especially with my second born, Joel, who has taken on “watch this!” as his middle name.  That’s when he wants witnesses to his feats.  Mostly I just hear about them after the fact.  Every now and then I catch him in the act.  Like when we lived in Hawaii and I was gazing across the room toward our third floor lanai and saw Joel’s 9-year-old head pop over the balcony railing.  He had scaled the 30 feet of drain pipe to get up and over.  Rarely, am I quick enough to snatch a picture of these exploits but here are a few recents.

Joel is the one on the far left of the rattlesnake which he and his brother, Titus, killed, skinned, cooked and ate.

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Can you spot Joel on a pole?  “Watch me turn hanging out with cousins in Oma and Opa’s suburban front yard into a dangerous activity!”

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Can you spot Joel in a hole?  Because who WOULDN’T want to spend the night burrowed into a snow bank with nothing but a sleeping bag on one of the coldest nights of the year?  

How does a mom channel that kind of thirst for thrills into more noble pursuits?  Lately, when I hear talk of going faster, or higher, or deeper (yes, they’ve discovered spelunking) I insert the suggestion that if they want to die doing something daring they should do it taking the gospel into a dangerous place.  Then I like to drive the point home by pulling out a missionary biography for them to read.  Joel seems to have developed a genuine interest in these more gospel-driven adventures.

Most recently, he read through Tim Keesee’s, “A Company of Heroes” (Crossway, 2019) and wrote up the following review:

I asked to read this book because I wanted to get a perspective on mission work around the world.  Tim Keesee does this by following missionaries and documenting the work they do sharing the gospel.  The book is actually a diary of these encounters so sometimes its not even in complete sentences.  But I really liked the format and the stories.  I learned about how the gospel is advancing globally and how men and women are risking their lives for the sake of Christ.  My favorite part took place in North Africa where this one couple is handing out hundreds of Bibles and so the police are always after them but they won’t stop because they know the gospel is worth more than their lives.  Overall, the book was really good.  I even liked how the Tim Keesee included quotes from other authors at the beginning of each chapter to go along with each story.  One of them by John Piper kind of sums up the whole book,

“So I say this very sobering word: God’s plan is that his saving purpose for the nations will triumph through the suffering of his people, especially his frontline forces who break through the darkness of Satan’s blinding hold on an unreached people” (23).  

I recommend this book for other people interested in mission work because it will encourage and inspire them to put the gospel first (by Joel, age 13).  

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(Even though I was given a copy of this book by the publisher I am not required to write a favorable review)

Posted in 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.)