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Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview


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book reviews

Core ChristianityCore Christianity: Finding Yourself in God’s Story by Michael Horton. Zondervan. 192 pages. 2016

The purpose of this new book by Westminster Seminary California professor and theologian Michael Horton is to help the reader understand the reason for their hope as a Christian so that they can invite others into the conversation.  He wants believers to know what they believe and why, a phrase those familiar with Horton will have heard often on his long-running radio program The White Horse Inn. 

Horton, who has also written larger works of theology (The Christian Faith and Pilgrim Theology), offers an apologetic or defense, for the Christian faith, covering the essential and basic beliefs that all Christians share. It is written in an easily understandable manner, and as such, could be read by a relatively new believer. It is theologically spot-on, as you would expect from Horton.

Horton begins by asking the question why is doctrine important? Why can’t we just love Jesus? For the framework for the book, he uses the following “four “D’s”:

  • Drama
  • Doctrine
  • Doxology
  • Discipleship

He writes that oftentimes we hear Christians tell their story and how God is a part of it. But that’s an incorrect way of looking at things. It‘s not so much that He is a part of our stories, but that we are a part of His.

Horton writes that Jesus is God, not just a good teacher. He uses the famous C.S. Lewis quote about Jesus being either a liar, lunatic or Lord. He then tackles the difficult subject of the Trinity. As he discusses the character of God, he states that God is both good and great. He writes that we communicate with God in prayer and worship and He speaks to us in the Scriptures, which contains the Promise (Old Testament) and the Fulfillment (New Testament).

He writes about creation and Adam’s fall as our representative. He looks at covenants and the Gospel as he helps us make sense of God’s Story from Genesis to Revelation. He provides a helpful overview of the Old Testament leading up to Jesus, as the fulfillment of the promise of Genesis 3:15. He looks at what a disciple is, the new creation, judgement and resurrection. He ends with a practical section on what believers should be doing until Jesus returns. He tells us that we should be serving in our various callings – at church, in the family, and in our jobs/vocations.

The book is solidly biblically-based, practical and easy to read. It would be a good one to read and discuss with another in a mentoring/discipleship setting.

If I Should Die Before I WakeIf I Should Die Before I Wake: What’s Beyond this Life? By K. Scott Oliphint and Sinclair Ferguson. Christian Focus. 128 pages. 2014 Edition.  

This book was first published in 1995 and updated in 2004. This edition was published by Christian Focus in 2014. The book’s title comes from the two-hundred year old children’s prayer, a prayer for mercy and for grace at the time of death.

The book discusses the subject of death and asks the question: ‘Why do you expect to get to heaven?’ and looks at both true and false answers. The book helps explain what the Bible has to say about the future and about what heaven is like.

The authors state that the majority of people believe in heaven, and also believe they have a ‘good-to-excellent’ chance of going there.  However, some people may admit that they are rather vague about how God’s assessment will be made. After all, in our modern rights-oriented society it has become unthinkable that we might not go to heaven when we die. When asked why they expect to go to heaven after death, most people answer in such terms as: ‘Because of what I have been and done.’  The authors also tell us that a poll indicated that the most offensive teaching of the Christian faith is that Jesus Christ is the only way to the Father and therefore to heaven.

The fact that people feel at liberty to flaunt the laws of God as they do is itself an indication that the judgment of God has already begun. God’s response to our sin is appropriate to our response to Him. His judgments are completely righteous in this respect. The authors state that the New Testament is clear that each one of us will be judged by God on the basis of what we have done.

The authors state that Heaven is the presence of God and that being in heaven means living with Him forever.  Jesus said that He is the One through whom we must come in order to be with the Father. This is the essential condition for our going to heaven. The authors emphasize that those who hope that they can enter heaven in some other way than through His grace will be sorely disappointed (Matt. 7:21-23).

But some religions teach that the way to heaven is by our own efforts. Those efforts may take the form of personal discipline and sacrifice, humanitarian acts, sincerity or honesty in one’s beliefs, or even gifts to charity. But Jesus tells us that there is nothing we can contribute to our salvation. No matter what we offer to God it will never be adequate enough to compensate for our sins.

The Bible has much to say about heaven, one of the most basic being that God is present with his people.  In heaven Christians will experience a deepened relationship with Christ.

People wonder what our bodies will be like in heaven. The Apostle Paul tells us that our bodies will be spiritual, glorious, and unrecognizable.

Some people want to know if we will be able to recognize each other in the future.  The authors tells us that the resurrection of the body implies that we will be identifiably the very same persons we are now, even though we will not be constituted of precisely the same physical substance.

But what about those who do not belong to Christ, who do not trust him as the way, the truth, and the life? The authors tell us that the New Testament is clear that there will be those who will one day go to the left hand of Christ. They will be forever lost. Their destiny is described by Christ himself in a series of vivid, terrible pictures. Jesus also teaches that there are graduations of punishment for the lost. This is the final operation of God’s perfect justice.

Some, most notably the respected theologian John Stott, have believed that the lost simply cease to exist, usually referred to as annihilationism. The authors do not believe that the idea of annihilation is supported by the scriptures and include a detailed appendix on the subject to support their argument.

The authors ask how we can develop a Christian attitude toward death, and state that the Christian views death as a defeated enemy. They see death as the entrance to a yet-more-glorious life that gives a clearer vision of Jesus. The Christian also looks forward to a wonderful reunion with those who have already gone to be with Christ.

The authors communicate in a very readable manner on these important topics. This would be a good book to read and discuss with those who may have questions.

book news

Studies in the Sermon on the Mount BOOK CLUB– Won’t you read along with us?

Studies in the Sermon on the MountStudies in the Sermon on the Mount by Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones

This book made a significant impact on my wife Tammy when she read and discussed it with friends thirty years ago. When I picked up my diploma the day after graduation ceremonies from Covenant Seminary I was given a copy of this book. After enjoying Lloyd-Jones book Spiritual Depression (and the sermons the book was taken from), I couldn’t wait to read this book, which is the printed form of sermons preached for the most part on successive Sunday mornings at Westminster Chapel in London.  This week we look at

Chapter 28: Denying Self and Following Christ

  • Our Lord’s primary concern here is with what we are, rather than with what we do.
  • It is so essential that we should take the teaching of the Sermon on the Mount in the order in which it is given.
  • In this paragraph we have our attitude towards ourselves presented in a negative manner.
  • The Sermon on the Mount is full of doctrine.
  • The important thing is not so much that I turn the other cheek, as that I should be in a state in which I am ready to do so. The doctrine involves my whole view of myself.
  • We must not be concerned about ourselves at all. The whole trouble in life, as we have seen, is ultimately this concern about self, and what our Lord is inculcating here is that it is something of which we must rid ourselves entirely. We must rid ourselves of this constant tendency to be watching the interests of self, to be always on the look-out for insults or attacks or injuries, always in this defensive attitude.
  • The condition which our Lord is here describing is one in which a man simply cannot be hurt.
  • The most difficult thing is for a man to die to himself, to his own approval or censure of himself.
  • The next point is obviously that only the Christian can do this. That is where we find doctrine in this paragraph. No man can possibly attain to this except a Christian. It is the very opposite and antithesis of what is true of the natural man.
  • The first thing we must do is to face this whole problem of the self in an honest manner. We must cease to make excuses, cease trying to evade and circumvent it. It is to be faced honestly and squarely. We must hold all this teaching before us and examine ourselves in the light of it.
  • Such self-examination is essential if we are to conquer in this matter.
  • Another thing on the practical level which is of the very greatest importance is to realize the extent to which self controls your life.
  • It is an amazing and terrible discovery to note the extent to which self-interest and self-concern are involved,
  • If you analyze the whole of your life, not only your actions and conduct, but your dress, your appearance, everything, it will amaze you to discover the extent to which this unhealthy attitude towards self comes in.
  • I wonder whether we have ever realized the extent to which the misery and the unhappiness and the failure and the trouble in our lives is due to one thing only, namely self.
  • There is no question about it. Self is the main cause of unhappiness in life.
  • Most of the unhappiness and sorrow, and most of our troubles in life and in experience, arise from this ultimate origin and source, this self.
  • According to the teaching of Scripture, self was responsible for the fall. But for it, sin would never have entered into the world.
  • Self always means defiance of God; it always means that I put myself on the throne instead of God, and therefore it is always something that separates me from Him.
  • The ultimate cause of any misery or lack of joy is separation from God, and the one cause of separation from Him is self.
  • Any desire to glorify self or safeguard the interests of self is of necessity a sin, because I am looking at myself instead of looking at God and seeking His honor and glory.
  • Holiness eventually means this, deliverance from this self-centered life. Holiness, in other words, must not be thought of primarily in terms of actions, but in terms of an attitude towards self.
  • Why did the Lord Jesus Christ the Son of God ever come into this world? He came ultimately in order to deliver mankind from self.
  • If we say we believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and believe that He has died for our sins, it means that our greatest desire should be to die to self.
  • That is the life to which we are called. Not the life of self-defense or self-sensitivity, but such a life that, even if we are insulted, we do not retaliate; if we receive a blow on the right cheek we are ready to turn the other also; if a man sues us at the law and takes away our coat we are ready to give our cloak also; if we are compelled to go a mile, we go twain; if a man comes and asks something of me I do not say, `This is mine’; I say rather, `If this man is in need and I can help him, I will’.
  • If we are trying to live this kind of life in and of ourselves, we are doomed; we are damned before we start. But with the blessed promise and offer of the Spirit of God to come and dwell in us and work in us, there is hope for us. God has made this life possible.

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Author: Bill Pence

I’m Bill Pence – married to my best friend Tammy, a graduate of Covenant Seminary, St. Louis Cardinals fan, formerly a manager at a Fortune 50 organization, and in leadership at my local church. I am a life-long learner and have a passion to help people develop, and to use their strengths to their fullest potential. I am an INTJ on Myers-Briggs, 3 on the Enneagram, my top five Strengthsfinder themes are: Belief, Responsibility, Learner, Harmony, and Achiever, and my two StandOut strength roles are Creator and Equalizer. My favorite book is the Bible, with Romans my favorite book of the Bible, and Colossians 3:23 and 2 Corinthians 5:21 being my favorite verses. Some of my other favorite books are The Holiness of God and Chosen by God by R.C. Sproul, and Don’t Waste Your Life by John Piper. I enjoy music in a variety of genres, including modern hymns, Christian hip-hop and classic rock. My book Called to Lead: Living and Leading for Jesus in the Workplace and Tammy’s book Study, Savor and Share Scripture: Becoming What We Behold are available in paperback and Kindle editions on Amazon.

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