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Archive for the ‘Book Reviews’ Category

Dan Phillips. The World-Tilting Gospel: Embracing a Biblical Worldview and Holding on Tight. Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2011, 320 pages.

Dan Phillips will likely be known to most readers of this humble blog.  For years he’s been writing at Pyromaniacs as well as at his own blog, Biblical Christianity. He earned the M.Div. at Talbot Theological Seminary and has served as a pastor, teacher, seminar speaker, newspaper columnist, and radio talk show host.  The World-Tilting Gospel (hereafter TWTG) is his first book.

As those with a passing familiarity with the New Testament will (hopefully) be aware, the title of TWTG is a reference to Acts 17:6-7:  “These who have turned the world upside down have come here too. Jason has harbored them, and these are all acting contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying there is another king—Jesus.

Could this be said of professing Christianity as a whole today?  Specifically, can this be said of evangelical Christianity, particularly in the United States?  (Overwrought left-wing commentators might think so, but what they usually have in mind isn’t what the text has in view here.)  No, the sad fact is that most professing Christians don’t live much differently than those who do not profess Christ. In a day in which “Christianity” is still dominant in culture, the truth in this verse and passage should be reckoned with more soberly than it often is.

On page 164 Phillips diagnoses the problem:

Frankly, it boggles my mind how many…won’t even admit that Jesus in fact taught differently than what they believe, or that the Bible doesn’t go where they want to go. They’ve made up a Cheerleader Jesus, or a Bobblehead Buddy Jesus, who’s okay with their pet sin or perversion. They have yet to come to Square A–and that’s the square where we realize what Jesus actually taught and was, and how radically different that is from where we’ve been.

TWTG isn’t merely a meditation or an exposition of one passage. Instead, Phillips gives us a summary of  Biblical teaching about the Gospel in a clear, comprehensive and succinct way. In the preface he writes “I love compressed truth.” In TWTG he has given us a gem of compressed truth.

Phillips begins by stating that we must grasp:

  • who we really are
  • what kind of world we are really living in
  • how the world really operates and where it is really going
  • who God really is
  • what His eternal plan really was
  • why we really needed Him and His plan so desperately
  • what His terms—the Gospel—really were
  • what difference the Gospel will really make on every day of our lives

These vital questions are answered here better than in any other recent book that I am aware of. Here we find thorough explanations of creation, the fall, and man’s inherited sinful condition. Then Phillips provides us with an overview of God’s attributes, how the Gospel meets our need and how it was executed in space and time. Next are a couple of chapters on imputed righteousness and regeneration. This is followed by some very helpful chapters on sanctification and living the Christian life, including examination of several harmful yet widely popular views of the Christian life.  The Bible’s teaching on the flesh is also helpfully expounded upon, something that the author had previously blogged about under the title of Sarkicophobia! I found this section to be very helpful as I labored under a similar malady for many years. (Maybe I’ll come up with a fancy name for it one day.)

However, despite covering all of these monumental topics, this is no dry academic treatise. Phillips explains deep truths in a way that can be understood by many who are not used to reading weighty theological tomes.

There is nothing really new here, as I’m sure the author would gladly admit. As Dr. Jay Adams noted in his review of the book, TWTG sets forth the standard Calvinistic view of the Gospel. But this fresh restatement is vitally needed in a day in which there seems to be some confusion even in the Calvinistic camp over the relationship between justification and sanctification, spiritual growth, and other issues.

While there have been many excellent books in recent years, I know of no better gospel handbook or primer that is this thorough yet accessible. It will prove to be very useful for use in discipleship. It will reinforce and clarify things for the believer. It is also a good book to hand to an unbeliever, as it sets forth a whole-Bible worldview. TWTG will bear periodic re-reading.  I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Here’s hoping that this is only the first of many books from the pen (or keyboard) of Dan Phillips!

For a limited time, the Kindle edition of TWTG is available at no charge.

Disclaimer:  Kregel Publications graciously provided this book for review purposes. I was under no obligation to provide a positive review.

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Review of the NIV Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible, Richard L. Pratt, ed., Zondervan, 2003, xiv + 2240 pages.

As I’ve noted previously, I hope to start reviewing more books. Since I have used many study Bibles through the years, I’m hoping to review most of them here, with the reviews likely coming in no particular order.

In my opinion, the NIV Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible (NIV SRSB) is the best modern Reformed study Bible.   Unfortunately for Third Millennium Ministries, which produced the NIV SRSB, it was published at a time in which Reformed people were deserting the NIV in droves, usually in favor of the ESV. I’ve never been a fan of the NIV and I have some differences from the doctrinal position espoused in the SRSB, but that doesn’t stop me from profiting from it.

The NIV SRSB is a revision and expansion of the New Geneva Study Bible, (NGSB) which was later renamed the Reformation Study Bible (RSB). It was originally published in the NKJV in the mid 1990’s and is now available in the ESV. The NKJV New Geneva/Reformation Study Bible didn’t seem to have much circulation outside of confessional Reformed churches. However, with the “Young, Restless and Reformed” coming of age in the mid 2000’s, the ESV version seems to have a much wider appeal.

The translation issue aside, the advantages the NIV SRSB has over the NKJV/ESV Reformation Study Bible (RSB) include more extensive study notes and the inclusion of the Reformed confessions. The proof texts of the confessions are also reverse indexed in the study notes. While many of the notes are the same as the RSB’s, others are different or more detailed. Due to the inclusion of the confessions, some of J.I. Packer’s original articles were deleted in favor of new ones. (Those articles by Packer can also be found in his “Concise Theology.”) Unfortunately, when the ESV version of the Reformation Study Bible was issued a couple of years after the NIV SRSB, the study notes and articles were not revised or enhanced from the original NKJV version and no additional material was included.

Even if you don’t like the 1984 NIV, if you are primarily looking for a reference work instead of a Bible for general use, this is the Reformed Study Bible to get if you have a choice. (In general, it’s best not to use a Study Bible as your primary Bible regardless.) For those who do not adhere to Reformed theology, this is still an excellent resource if you’re interested in learning about Reformed theology.

Another feature is that the text is single-column with references on the outside of the page instead of the more familiar double-column used in most Bibles today. Single-column can sometimes make for a difficult read if the print is small. The print here is probably large enough for my eyes, but I don’t read the NIV text for long periods of time either. It’s not a red letter edition, which is a plus in my book.  I have the hardcover edition. The quality of the paper is perhaps somewhat better than average by today’s standards. There is a little ghosting, but I don’t find it to be distracting at all, in contrast to some other Bibles.

The binding is glued instead of sewn, as is the case with many recent Bibles.  It seems that nearly all of the Bibles published by Zondervan and Nelson have glued bindings.  But if the SRSB is used primarily in the study, that shouldn’t be much of an issue.  In my experience, hardcover bindings seem to hold up better than glued bonded leather bindings as well. (EDIT: After obtaining a bonded leather copy, despite being glued, it appears to me that it will hold up reasonably well if handled with care. The binding has some give to it. The glued bindings that I’ve had problems with have had practically no flexibility at all.)

Unfortunately this Study Bible appears to be out of print and is now difficult to find at a reasonable price. Hopefully it will be reprinted at some point, but that would be somewhat unlikely in the near future given the current hegemony of the ESV and the ESV Reformation Study Bible. (The website for Third Millennium Ministries does show a Chinese version.) Since Zondervan is a publisher for the NASB, it’s theoretically possible (albeit unlikely) that it could be issued in that translation.

I was just thinking that it would be great if this work were to be made available for the Kindle and/or some other e-reader. Then I noticed that a Kindle edition is set for release in August. The SRSB page on the Zondervan website notes other dealers from which the ebook will be able to be obtained.  This is a welcome development for those who are interested in an obtaining this in the Kindle format, and perhaps especially for those who were unable to obtain a print copy of this excellent resource.

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dispensationalism-vlachMichael J. Vlach.  Dispensationalism:  Essential Beliefs and Common Myths. Los Angeles: Theological Studies Press, 2008. $8.45

In my opinion, this 73 page book by Dr. Michael Vlach of the Masters Seminary is an excellent resource.

The book consists of four parts.  The first is a history of dispensationalism.  Dr. Vlach surveys variations within dispensationalism, including Classical Dispensationalism, Revised or Modified Dispensationalism and Progressive Dispensationalism.

The second part of the book is an exploration of what Dr. Vlach identifies as the six essential beliefs of dispensationalism:

1.  Progesssive revelation from the New Testament does not interpret or reinterpret Old Testament passages in a way that changes or cancels the original meaning of the Old Testament writers as determined by historical-grammatical hermeneutics.

2.  Types exist but national Israel is not a type that is superseded by the church.

3.  Israel and the church are distinct, thus, the church cannot be identified as the new or true Israel.

4.  There is both spiritual unity in salvation between Jews and Gentiles and a future role for Israel as a nation.

5.  The nation Israel will be both saved and restored with a unique identity and function in a future millennial kingdom upon the earth.

6.  There are multiple senses of “seed of Abraham,” thus, the church’s identification as “seed of Abraham” does not cancel God’s promises to the believing Jewish “seed of Abraham.”

In the third part of the book, Dr. Vlach also identifies and dispels five myths about dispensationalism:

Myth 1:  Dispensationalism teaches multiple ways of salvation.

Myth 2:  Dispensationalism is inherently linked with Arminianism.

Myth 3:  Dispensationalism is inherently Antinomian.

Myth 4:  Dispensationalism leads to non-lordship salvation

Myth 5:  Dispensationalism is primarily about believing in seven dispensations.

The fourth part of the book consists of a series of questions and answers about dispensationalism.

No matter what eschatological view you may hold, in my opinion this book deserves a wide reading if for no other reason to learn what one articulate theologian’s views are with regard to what dispensationalism is and what it is not.

Matt Waymeyer has reviewed Dr. Vlach’s book here.

Dennis Swanson has reviewed it here.

Andy Naselli blogged about the five myths here.

You can order the book directly from Dr. Vlach here.

Dr. Vlach’s 2004 Ph.D. dissertation at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, The Church as a Replacement of Israel: An Analysis of Supersessionism can be ordered here.

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