Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Pastoral Burnout and the Neglect of Godly Living

Albert N. Martin, YouLift Me Up: Overcoming Ministry Challenges (Scotland: Christian Focus Publications, 2013). 143pp. Paperback.

Reviewed by Dr. Ryan McGraw

Who we are as Christians is the decisive factor in determining our usefulness to others as servants of Christ. Al Martin’s You Lift Me Up shows the connection between perseverance and usefulness in the ministry and a conscientious and consistent application of the principles of Christian living. This is one of the best books that I have ever read on the Christian ministry. The reason for this is that it grounds an effective ministry in the general contours and disciplines of the Christian life. Martin shows that lack of effectiveness and burnout in the ministry almost always stems from neglect of the basic components of godly living.

The title to this book is tragically misleading. Its might suggest that the author addresses depressed ministers or presents case studies of pastoral dilemmas. Instead, he treats the all-too-common problems of ministerial backsliding, burnout, and what he calls washout. Martin addresses vital topics and common pitfalls, such as being distracted in our devotions, neglecting “generic Christian duties,” maintaining a good conscience, isolating ourselves from the friendship of the congregation, becoming enslaved to people who are overly dependent on us, limiting our studies to sermon preparation, hiding our genuine humanity, obesity among ministers, and the neglect of exercise and proper diet. This reviewer wishes that every chapter of this book and virtually every line of its pages could be burned into the hearts of every seminary student and minister of the gospel. Almost all of these areas are commonly neglected, and all of them are essential to a healthy Christian life, let alone an effective Christian ministry.

People often want to know how to be good spouses, godly parents, faithful students, diligent employees, and many other special areas of interest the Christian life. While it is useful to target all kinds of people and to apply the word to them specifically, the secret of godly living lies in learning to apply one set of biblical principles to every area of life. A man’s character in relation to the Triune God determines how he will serve as a minister. This make this book profitable to everyone, and not to ministers only. There are many books on the market today. If all books were a “must read,” then none of them would be. Among modern works on pastoral theology, this reviewer must say of You Lift Me Up as David did of Goliath’s sword, “There is none like it, give it to me.” Read it and buy a copy for a friend in the ministry whom you care for and love dearly.

The preceding was published in New Horizons.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

How to Find a Godly Spouse

Rebecca Van Doodewaard, Your Future ‘Other Half:’ It Matters Who You Marry. Geanies House, UK: Christian Focus Publications, 2014. 96 pp. Paperback. $8.99.

Reviewed by Dr. Ryan McGraw

We tend easily to be imbalanced. The subject of marriage is no exception. Some people postpone marriage because they do not want to take responsibility in life. Others view marriage merely as a remedy to sexual temptation, and they fail to prepare spiritually for marriage. Rebecca Van Doodewaard’s recent book provides an alternative. She highlights what women should look for in a godly spouse in relation to every area of married life. Her counsel is wise and timely and desperately needed in our churches.

The author wrote this book as a woman addressing women. However, our young men desperately need her counsel. She provides a godly woman’s perspective on what to look for in a godly husband. He must minister to his wife spiritually, emotionally, mentally, physically, and relationally. This means that such a man is developing his own personal godliness in all areas. This alone will make him competent to lead a wife. There are no shortcuts here. Young men, a wife is not a concubine designed to fulfill your sexual needs. She is a co-heir of eternal life and the first object of your ministry and service to Christ on this side of glory.

One recurring theme in this book is that it is better to stay single than to marry someone who will not promote your growth in Christ above all things and in all things. This will be hard for some to take, but it reminds us that marriage is the most life-altering relationship that a Christian can enter into. It is one thing if you are married already, but if you still have a choice, then it is better to enter into heaven unhindered and unmarried than to have a spouse that constantly drags you back to earth and away from Christ – even if they profess to know and love Christ.

Some will say that Van Doodewaard sets the bar too high for a future spouse. This is both true and false. If you mean that there are few men who match the picture of personal holiness that she presents, then this is true. If, however, you mean that she has heaped up extra-biblical requirements for what it means to be a godly man, then this is false. He does not need to have perfected the areas listed, but he does need to be growing towards them all.

This book highlights the need in our churches for personal revival. We need men who love and serve Christ in every area of life. If the Lord grants us such men, then we will have an abundance of men who are prepared to be godly husbands. This is all that Van Doodewaard pleads for. Should we not plead with the Lord for it as well? Godly men and women in our churches should trust that if marriage is in God’s plan for them that He is more than able to provide what they need without compromising biblical ideals.

The preceding was published in New Horizons.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

How God Became Jesus: The Anti-Ehrman

Michael F. Bird, Craig A. Evans, Simon J. Gathercole, Charles E. Hill, and Chris Tilling, eds., How God Became Jesus: The Real Origins of Belief in Divine Nature. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2014. 236pp. Paperback.

Reviewed by Dr. Ryan McGraw

For the last two hundred years, Biblical scholarship has virtually been obsessed with finding “the historical Jesus.” The authors of this volume respond to a recent attempt by Barth Ehrman to find the Jesus in whom the first-century Christians believed. Ehrman’s conclusion [in How Jesus Became God] is that the early Christians did not believe that Jesus was God Almighty, but that he was an angelic being who received divine honor. He teaches that the church moved from an exaltation Christology to an incarnation Christology, and thus perverted the views of early Christians. After reading countless attempts of this kind to reinvent the historical Jesus, this reviewer gets the wearied feeling that he is running on a theological hamster wheel or watching the same old movie repeatedly. Yet such assaults against the New Testament witness must be answered, and the five scholars in this volume do an excellent job demonstrating that the early Christians did in fact believe in a transcendent divine Christ.

Two things make Ehrman’s approach to early Christology significant (though far from unique): first, he is a scholar who is reaching a popular audience, and second, he was once a “fundamentalist” Christian. His opponents in this book are likewise well-respected scholars from diverse institutions such as Cambridge University and Reformed Theological Seminary, and they aim with great effectiveness at a popular audience. They do so with a blend of robust humor and thorough historical and biblical scholarship. Charles Hill, in particular, treats the important way in which Ehrman’s rejection of his “fundamentalism” forms a presuppositional backdrop for his historical research (176). The authors (especially Michael Bird) include comical references to a red-knuckled Santa Claus, communist racist chess pieces, bad television shows, and many more. This makes the book both entertaining and informative. One downside is the strange abstract picture on the front cover that I think is supposed to be Jesus. (I guess Zondervan has not taken to heart my past complaint letters about violating the Second Commandment with book cover art, or at least being considerate to those of us who have conscientious objections to them).

If you are looking for a defense and presentation of the gospel, then this book will disappoint you. The authors’ defenses of the early Christian belief in the divine Christ could potentially gain the consent of such diverse readers as the Pope, N.T. Wright, and Bob Jones. However, Christ’s divine identity is essential to the Christian faith.

Many modern versions of evangelical Christianity have an alarming habit of downplaying the person of Christ in presenting the gospel. God in Christ is presented as helping people through cancer, giving solace in sorrow, coping with life, and giving hope after death. However, a person can find all of these things through New Age philosophy. Jesus tells us that eternal life is knowing the only true God and Jesus Christ whom he sent (Jn. 17:3). Just as sin is relational so salvation is relational. Instead of presenting a detached list of benefits (most of which are even accurate), Christians must take care to present Christ to sinners, and in him all the benefits of redemption. An orthodox Christology is not enough to present the gospel if it is not accompanied by an equally orthodox presentation of redemption as accomplished and applied. However, we must remember that we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord. The authors of How God Became Jesus at least defend the foundation on which we must do this.

Unfaithful scholars have typically shaped the faith of a generation of Christians by influencing their teachers via higher education. Ehrman aims at the people directly. This book meets Ehrman on a level playing field and disarms him successfully. Ehrman’s is not the first assault on the New Testament witness to Christ’s deity – and it will not be the last. But we must continue to contend for the faith once for all delivered to the saints. This book is part of Christ’s provision to enable his church to do so.

The preceding was published in New Horizons.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Catechism and Children: Lifetime Rewards

Terry L Johnson, Catechizing Our Children: The Whys and Hows of Teaching the Shorter Catechism Today, 2013. 87pp. Paperback.

Reviewed by Dr. Ryan McGraw

Catechizing is one of the great missing ingredients in the discipleship of covenant children today. Many parents reject catechizing by pitting it against Bible memorization. Yet those making this objection fail to realize that the catechism is often the best tool to help us understand the Bible. Our present generation has largely lost the knowledge of the vast benefits of the practice, which we can know by experience only. Terry Johnson’s Catechizing our Children shows us the blessing of catechizing in promoting a vibrant biblical Christian faith in our churches.

Johnson’s book is persuasive and clear. The greatest strength of his approach is that he sets catechizing in the “environment” of personal holiness in private life, in the family, and in a vibrant church (Chapter 1). He notes, “Without the daily domestic example of Christian lives being lived with integrity, we have little hope of catechetical usefulness” (4). He then addresses the history of catechizing in Protestant churches and the peculiar strengths and advantages of the Westminster Shorter Catechism as a culmination of the best of Reformed theology and catechesis (Chapters 2 & 3). His fourth chapter addresses the structure of this catechism in terms of an extended trinitarian gospel-tract. His last chapter (5) presents a suggested course of catechizing, both in the home and the church, followed by an appendix detailing how his congregation implements these suggestions. While recognizing that catechizing should neither replace the Bible nor automatically secure the salvation of covenant children, Johnson concludes rightly, “Given our commitment to the well-ordered family, the well-ordered church, and prayer, we think that with catechizing we have the best method of indoctrinating our children, and the best hope of transmitting our faith to our children” (72).

Johnson’s book has minor deficiencies, many of which are historical. He states that the Westminster Shorter Catechism “was not suitable for younger children” (11) and that Puritans, such as Thomas Vincent, recognized this by writing commentaries on the catechism. However, this assumption contradicts both the original preface to the catechism and the preface to Vincent’s “commentary,” which notes that while the younger children in his congregation memorized the Shorter Catechism, the older children memorized his “commentary” on it. Johnson also makes the common mistake of elevating Calvin to demigod-like status by acting as though he almost single-handedly developed doctrines such as Christ’s threefold office, the Reformed doctrine of the Spirit (34), and the Lord’s Supper (59). This neglects both the Medieval and Reformed precedents for such teachings. Yet these, and half a dozen or so other deficiencies, do not detract from the overarching purpose of his work.

A good catechism, such as the Westminster Shorter Catechism gives you the categories needed to understand the Bible in light of the work of the Triune God and Christ and His gospel. Catechizing our Children speaks to the need of the hour. Take the couple of hours needed to read this book and you may reap rewards for a lifetime.

The preceding was published in New Horizons.