Christ and Covenant Theology by Cornelis P. Venema

Christ and Covenant TheologyChrist and Covenant Theology: Essays on Election, Republication, and the Covenants

by Cornelis P. Venema

eARC, 504 pg.
P&R Publishing, 2017
Read: July 23 – August 20, 2017


The doctrine of covenants is in many ways the heart of Reformed Theology, defining Reformed Christianity and marking the dividing line between it other forms of Protestantism. Which is not to say that after 400 years and change that we’ve managed to work out all the details. Even now controversies (of varying degrees of heat) over aspects of Covenant Theology keep blogs, twitter and theologians busy. This particular tome is a collection of essays by noted theologian and author, Cornelis P. Venema, on some of these issues. They’re all slightly re-worked articles originally published in various journals, books, etc. but in one handy collection for those who haven’t tracked them all down before.

Broken into three sections, the book covers the relationship between the Covenant of Works and the Covenant of Grace; the relation between Covenant and Election (particularly as applied to children of believers); and then “Covenant Theology in Recent Discussion,” which focuses on the Federal Vision and N. T. Wright’s view of justification.

In a nutshell — I found Part 1 to be the most intriguing, Part 2 to be the most helpful, and Part 3 didn’t do much at all for me. But that’s me, and I can’t imagine that my experience will be replicated. I’m not going to spend a lot of time summarizing his arguments — I couldn’t do a good job of that; it’s beyond the scope of this blog; and it’d take far too much time to read — he does a better job of it anyway (or just read Ferguson’s foreward, which gives an excellent overview).

Part 1, “The Covenant of Works and The Covenant of Grace” focuses on the a couple of problems surrounding the concept of the “Covenant of Works” — in chapter 1, he explores some criticisms of the concept, the history of its development and then defends it (at least in is Westminster Confessional form). Venema then moves on to look at the ways in which some contemporary Reformed theologians are seeing to find a “republication” of the Covenant of Works in the Mosaic covenant. He begins with building the case for Republication, drawn from some of the primary sources, and then critiques it. I won’t say I’ve read everything on this topic in print, but I’ve read enough to get the issues, and this is probably the fairest job I’ve seen describing the position. It’s also a pretty good critique, showing many of the problems inherent to it. This was very helpful to me, and I expect, for many.

Part 2 is wider in focus — he devotes two chapters to looking at Herman Bavinck’s understanding of Covenant, Election and the relationship between the two. Bavinck is becoming one of my favorite theologians and this study, pulling from many of his works, was useful focusing on these themes. Venema then spends two chapters on the teaching of the Canons of Dort about children of believers who die in infancy — there’s an overall pastoral tone to these chapters (and the Canons), with some good historical overviews of what lead to it and how the Canons have been used since their writing while dealing with grieving parents and others. These two chapters probably helped me more than any others in this book. Finally, leading from both of those, Venema applies the doctrine of the Covenant to the baptism of children. I read this in the original book it was published in, and it was one of the better chapters in that book — it’s still good now.

The third part dragged for me, I’ll admit. Venema does his characteristic thorough job laying out the issues with both the so-called “Federal Vision” and N. T. Wright’s ideas about justification as seen in his interpretation of Romans 5. I know better than to think that the issues surrounding the FV or NPP are dead, and I know that the issues are important enough that we need to keep exploring and expounding on them — but man, I devoted so much time and energy in the early 2000s to the FV in particular that unless he had something new to say, I just wasn’t going to get anything out of it. These chapters were a good overview and analysis, with some very good elements of critique. I do think that those who are newer to the topics, or haven’t spent a lot of time on them will profit from Venema’s work here.

What can I say about the writing? Venema’s very dry, very careful. When it comes to some of these topics, passions can flare, rhetoric can overtake even the more sanctified writers, getting them to say things more casually than they ought, even recklessly. Veneama avoid that, going out of his way to attempt to be fair to his opponents, while making it clear where he stands. This can be annoying if you’re looking for a quick answer to a controversy, but a great boon if you’re trying to understand it. It’s that care, that patience, that fairness that makes his critiques as effective. You don’t get the impression that he’s creating strawmen, or presenting the worst of his opponents, so the problems he points to are significant and deserving of your attention.

I know this book will not appeal to many — if the subtitle “Essays on Election, Republication, and the Covenants” doesn’t catch your interest, this book isn’t likely to do much for you. But if your ears perk up to just one of those areas, this is a very helpful book, a sure guide through some of the hotspots of the contemporary Reformed Church.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from P&R Publishing via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this.

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4 Stars

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The Christ of Wisdom by O. Palmer Robertson

The Christ of WisdomThe Christ of Wisdom: A Redemptive-Historical Exploration of the Wisdom Books of the Old Testament

by O. Palmer Robertson

eARC, 432 pg.
P&R Publishing, 2017

Read: May 7 – 21, 2017


Robertson’s preface laments the way that the Wisdom Literature of the Old Testament is usually ignored in Redemptive-Historical studies —

…how do you fit these wisdom books into the flow of redemptive history that consummates in the Christ? By letting them be what they are in their own distinctiveness. They are, it should be remembered, canonical, divinely revealed, and authoritative writings that tell the world how and what to think about the deeper mysteries of human life. Rather than submitting to the moldings and bendings of modernity, these books broaden our understanding of the nature of redemptive history. Divine progress in the complete restoration of reality does not merely move in a purely linear fashion like the flight of an arrow moving across time and space without deviation until it reaches its target. This “third dimension” of redemptive history moves in a cyclical pattern. For certain aspects of God’s salvation perform according to a pattern of regulated repetition.

To ignore this dimension of redemptive history is to exclude a major portion of the old covenant canon—and that you do not want to do.

So how do you discuss these books from a RH point of view? This is what Robertson seeks to do in this book — not as a final answer, but as the beginning of a search for wisdom along these paths.

In one sense, Robertson could’ve made this easier to talk about this book — there’s not one central argument developed throughout. There’s a general discussion (brief) of wisdom, wisdom Biblically defined, that is. And then using that discussion, Robertson looks at the Wisdom Literature of the Old Testament (and Lamentations, which is not usually considered Wisdom Literature, but can function as such), summarizing each book, looking at the various forms of wisdom described and passed on through it.

Simply,

Wisdom is the ability to understand the basic principles inherent in God’s created order, and to live by those principles. Wisdom enables a person to summarize these basic principles in a succinct and memorable fashion. Wisdom is living out the whole of life with a constant awareness of accountability before a loving, gracious, and just Creator and Redeemer.

The work he does to get to this summary is well worth the time and effort to work through. Actually, that goes for everything in the book, but I’ll hold off on saying that kind of thing for a few paragraphs.

The chapter on Proverbs is, fittingly, the longest and most developed. He discusses various approaches to the book, to understanding its construction and from there trying to understand it:

A much more accurate view of the theology of Proverbs may be gained from a covenantal perspective. The wise sayings of the book are not presented in a vacuum. They are not purely moralistic aphorisms. Instead, they are steeped in theistic assumptions. These wise observations about how the world works assume that God the Creator is none other than Yahweh, the Lord of the Covenant.

This, right here, would help so much of what I’ve read about Proverbs over the last few decades. To get into everything that Robertson says about the pursuit of Wisdom, passing it on and living by it from this book would make this post unbearably long — but it builds the foundation for everything that comes. Proverbs covers Wisdom as a whole — the rest of the book deals with it in specific areas.

While dealing with the personification of Wisdom in Proverbs 8, Robertson gives an excursus, “Athanasius as the Champion of the opponents of Arianism,” that is just gold. I’d love to see this developed into something longer.

Following Proverbs, he moves on to Job. Job doesn’t give us the answers to the puzzling circumstances of life, but for those who understand the book, they learn how to puzzle through the circumstances, how to think about them — how to ask God about them. Yes, there are answers given in the book — not easy answers, not the answers anyone necessarily wants, but answers — answers tied to the hope of the Resurrection. But wisdom knows to look for those answers in the difficulties of life, with a sure faith that is willing to look at dark circumstances and say, “I don’t know why this is happening, but I trust in Him Who does.”

Ecclesiastes, is, naturally, a tricky chapter — Robertson threw me a curveball when setting aside the usual discussion of authorship of the book to note

But a related question of some significance for understanding the book has been generally neglected. This neglected question is the identity of the “target audience”of Ecclesiastes.

Chewing on this a little helps get through some of the discussion of authorship. There are so many divergent readings of Ecclesiastes that your head can swim just trying to get a sense of them, Robertson is a pretty sure guide through them before landing on his conclusion that Ecclesiastes presents a “realistic picture of life” — one that is a precursor to Paul’s discussion in Romans 8, where creation is subjected to frustration, but that this is being renewed. I do think this chapter could’ve been organized in a more straight-forward way, but I appreciate the way that Robertson makes you work through various considerations and themes before leading to his conclusions — which are all very helpful.

His discussion of Lamentations, summed up in the subtitle “How to Weep,” was one of the best things I’ve read on the book (an admittedly too-short list). You may think that’s a pretty easy thing to learn — but there’s a wise way, a godly way to weep over the tragedies that will come into our lives. The book of Lamentations teaches us that — and, here’s the RH emphasis coming through — there’s a hope tied to the wise weeping. A hope tied to faith in God’s commitment to preserving a repentant people to Himself.

Lastly, we get to the wisdom of “How to Love” (in a marital sense) in the Song of Songs. The way he reads the book is a “Redemptive-Historical” way, in

terms of the redemptive work of God in restoring humanity to the situation prevailing at the time of creation . . . a restoration of the initial blessing of man and woman in their relation to each other, just as when they first stood in each other’s presence “both naked” but feeling “no shame” (Gen. 2:25). This Song rejoices in the fullness of God’s redemption of the marriage relationship.

He concludes this chapter uniquely, with a script for a Dramatic Reading of the Song of Songs — I think there could’ve been a bit more instruction on how to approach such a Reading — and why — than he gave. But I really appreciated that part.

He could’ve used a conclusion to wrap things up — returning to the closing admonition of the opening chapter. But that’s probably just a taste thing on my part.

There’s a focus on the literary/poetic forms in each book tying in the themes and teachings of them to the way the author presents them. This kind of discussion — no matter the type of literature (inspired or not) always stretches me. I imagine I’m not alone in that — in fact, I bet many people will skip those parts. This is to their own detriment. Robertson discusses these matters in a way that takes some effort to understand, but it’s effort that pays off.

This is a truly helpful book — not full-fledged commentaries on any of the books, but helpful summaries pointed towards seeing the wisdom passed down in each book, and tied into the Redemptive work going on in history all around us. I found it interesting that the recent A Biblical-Theological Introduction to the Old Testament doesn’t approach some of these books the same way as Robertson — in some ways flatly contradicting him. I’d hoped for more overlap between the two works approaching this material from the same framework — but none of the contradictions or differences change the overall message of the Biblical material, just shadings. Honestly, in each case, I think Robertson’s readings are easier to square with the texts in consideration (and not just because he has more pages to develop his points, either).

Robertson, as always, delivers the goods with this book. The reader has to think about what he says, has to drag out their Bible and use the two books together, but will ultimately come out the better for it. I found this book to be incredibly helpful, insightful and something that drove me back to the fullness and fulfillment of all the wisdom of God — Jesus the Messiah. Just where Robertson wants his readers to focus.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from P&R Publishing via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this.
N.B.: As this was an ARC, any quotations above may be changed in the published work — I will endeavor to verify them as soon as possible.

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4 Stars

Pub Day Repost: The Essential Trinity by Brandon D. Crowe and Carl R. Trueman, eds.

Slightly different Pub Day Repost than I usually do — I usually post something I read an advanced copy of, but this time it’s being published by a different publisher. Still, content is the same, just a new cover, etc. Hopefully, this helps it find a larger audience.

The Essential Trinity The Essential Trinity: New Testament Foundations and Practical Relevance

by Brandon D. Crowe and Carl R. Trueman, eds.

Paperback, 320 pg.
P&R Publishing, 2017

Read: July 31 – August 14, 2016

As far as consistency of quality amongst edited volumes goes, Crowe and Trueman have assembled one of the stronger line-ups I’ve read in a while — men from a spectrum of persuasions of Evangelical-ish thought have given the Church fourteen articles (approximately 20 pages each) to deepen our thinking about the Trinity. The aim was for a volume that “eschews overly technical discussion and focuses attention on the importance of the doctrine for every Christian.”

In Part 1, the articles look at the “trinitarian contours of every corpus of the New Testament, along with a chapter reflecting on the Old Testament roots of trinitarian doctrine.” If there are weak chapters in the volume, they’re in this part — but they aren’t that weak, either. Crowe’s chapter on Matthew is excellent, but the chapters on the Mark, Luke-Acts and John aren’t far off that Mark. Brian S. Rosner’s chapter on “Paul and the Trinity” is worth the price of the book. The chapters on the rest of the epistles are very helpful (particularity Hebrews). Mark S. Gignilliat’s article, “The Trinity and the Old Testament: real presence or imposition?” is very helpful and insightful — and as an added bonus, it’s the most stylistically entertaining and engaging piece in the book.

Benjamin Gladd’s chapter exploring Daniel’s influence on Revelation’s view of the Trinity is the biggest mental workout you’ll get in the book. I appreciated the material covered and the argument Gladd makes, but I’m going to have to read it a few more times before I think I have a good handle on it.

Part 2 addresses the importance of the Trinity for everyday living — many would say the doctrine is impractical and only belongs in Statements of Faith and academia. The authors here show the fallacy of that. It begins with a brief, but excellent, description of the doctrine by Scott R. Swain. Carl Trueman has the next chapter, “The Trinity and prayer,” which is probably as valuable as Rosner’s — it’s actually about more than prayer, but the material specifically on prayer is great — hugely indebted to John Owen (but not uncritically so). Robert Letham’s chapter on “The Trinity and worship” also draws deeply from Owen; if he doesn’t move you to worship as you understand the work of the Trinity in it, you aren’t paying attention (I probably have more problems with some of what he says than anything else in the book). Michael Reeves, typically, made me chuckle in his chapter on preaching — but he did more than that, too.

Timely, convicting, thoughtful and inspiring, this examination of the Trinity in Scripture and Life should be a great benefit to any believer ho reads it. It may not be the easiest thing read all year (but really, it’s not that difficult), but it’ll be one of the most rewarding.

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4 Stars

Sons in the Son by David B. Garner

Sons in the Son Sons in the Son: The Riches and Reach of Adoption in Christ

by David B. Garner

eARC, 400 pg.
P & R , 2017

Read: October 23 – December 11, 2016

At the heart of Pauline soteriology is the redemptive-historically charged concept of adoption (huiothesia). For Paul, the entirety of our redemption—from the mind of God before creation itself until its eschatological completion in our bodily resurrection—is expressed by filial reality, filial identity, and a filially framed union. As we will see in the following pages, this filial grace in Christ Jesus is expressly and implicitly, in Pauline theology, adoption.

I remember the first time I was really introduced to the doctrine of Adoption — sure, the idea had been mentioned throughout my Christian life, and using some material from an Ancient History class on Roman culture, I’d developed my understanding a bit, but it wasn’t until I’d been Reformed for a year or two that I heard someone seriously discuss the doctrine — the elder of the church I belonged to at the time walked us through the Westminster Confession’s teaching on it — the most robust development and explanation of the doctrine in Reformed Confessional history. I recall being struck by this teaching, how vital it was — and then hearing very little about it (on the whole) for the next couple of decades.

You see, despite being one of the three benefits the Westminster Shorter Catechism says that they who are effectually called partake of in this life (the other two being justification and sanctification, with several benefits that flow from or accompany these three), by and large, it’s been ignored in favor of the other two. Garner will describe it as a “deafening theological silence characterizing huiothesia [adoption] since the WCF.” It’s a slight exaggeration, but only slight.

Garner wants to push this doctrine to the forefront, to the limelight that it deserves, has pursued this in various forms throughout the years, and now brings it all into focus through this outstanding book.

He begins by describing various approaches to the topic — historically, linguistically, and so on — and sets out how he will proceed and build upon the best (primarily: Calvin and Westminster). This is a daunting section, but does well setting forth the landscape. It was interesting and thorough, I don’t know that it wowed me at any point, but it certainly whet my appetite for that which lay ahead.

Part 2 is where the major Biblical heavy lifting takes place — Garner goes for in-depth exegetical looks at each text that touches on the topic, building both a case for each text individually, as well as a Biblical-Theological whole. I will be honest, a lot of this went over my head — at least the details. But Garner writes in a way to ensure that even untrained laity can follow the his train of thought.

In part 3, Garner brings Adoption into Systematic Theology, primarily discussing its relation to Justification and Sanctification. He brushes up against some of the recent Justification controversies here, and demonstrates how a better understanding of Adoption, can (and should) play a significant role in resolving them. He does similar work with some Sanctification controversies — but not as much, partially because Justification has been a larger issue of late, and because historically Adoption has been (incorrectly) considered as forensically as Justification. This section probably takes more work to understand than the Exegetical section, but that could be just because I don’t try to get too much of a handle on the Greek, and I don’t have that hang up with English. Takes more work, sure, but doable.

Garner isn’t writing for laity explicitly, but he doesn’t write in a way that’s only accessible by theologians and scholars. Yeah, you sometimes there’s a lot of technical jargon to wade through, but it can be done (if nothing else, you feel smarter — and probably learn a couple of things). It was a bit weightier than most of what I’ve been reading lately, and I took my time with it to make sure it didn’t overwhelm me (it easily could have).

It’s absolutely worth the effort — this book is full of pastoral application, it will help you understand and appreciate the Pauline texts — and will deepen your assurance. This is quite possibly the best book I’ve read this year. Read this one. I will re-read it — I’m even going to buy a hard copy when this is released, you should, too.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from P & R Publishing via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this. I meant it, I’m buying a hard copy as soon as I can.
N.B.: As this was an ARC, any quotations above may be changed in the published work — I will endeavor to verify them as soon as possible.

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5 Stars

War Psalms of the Prince of Peace (2nd. Edition) by James E. Adams

War Psalms of the Prince of PeaceWar Psalms of the Prince of Peace: Lessons from the Imprecatory Psalms, Second Edition

by James E. Adams

eARC, 176 pg.
P & R Publishing, 2016

Read: December 18, 2016


This is the 25th Anniversary Edition of the book — revised and expanded, no less. I was so glad to get the opportunity to read this one — I’ve got a copy of the original edition, which I’ve read 3 or 4 times, and referred to often. So to get to read a new edition — and to have an excuse to revisit the book — I had to jump at the chance.

Adams begins by reassuring Twentieth Century Christians (and I assume those of us in the Twenty-First Century, too) that the Imprecatory Psalms do belong in Scripture, are just as inspired as the rest, and have a place in the life and piety of his readers. Imprecatory Psalms, I should probably mention, are those Psalms that call for the destruction or judgment of the psalmist’s enemies. From there, Adams argues that no only do they belong in our Bibles, but (like the other Psalms) they belong in Christ’s mouth. To prove this, he compares the Imprecatory Psalms to the Psalms of Repentance — if Jesus Christ can say/sing the latter properly, then it’s fitting for him to sing/pray the former. I’m not positive that’s the best argument he could make, but I tell you, Adams makes it work (it helps that he spent far more space than I just did).

Given that they’re part of the Bible, and that if they’re fitting to be used by Christ, then they have a place in the life of the New Testament saint — but what is that place? How are we to use them? Do we get to call down the wrath of God on our enemies? (Short answer: NO).

This here is the heart of the book, and where Adams is at his best. Yes, we are to pray these prayers, sing these psalms —

You may say, “This is the last thing my church needs! If our hearts are too lazy and cold to pray for those we love, how can we think of praying for enemies, as we find in the Psalms?” But I would challenge you, isn’t this the cause of our lack of prayer? We have not learned from the Lord Jesus how to pray!

Learning to pray these psalms is a theme he returns to time and again —

Without assistance how can we ever righteously pray this prayer? I answer this question unequivocally: We never can! We cannot pray this prayer on our own . . . not because we are too good, but rather because we are too prone to evil! Yet we must learn to pray it.

But why are we to pray these prayers?

Why are we taught to pray for God’s judgment on the enemy? So that they will be converted! Nothing could be clearer from this prayer [Ps. 83].

That’s the core of the book, right there — I’ll let you read his explanation, but that’s the ballgame.

On the whole, I can’t tell you what was revised, nor can I say exactly how it was expanded — and there’s just no way I’m going to break out my original and read them in parallel to give you the list. What this primarily tells me is that what he did to improve the book came in fairly seamlessly. So I’m guessing that means we’re talking about minor tweaks and clarifications — no major new sections or anything. Would I have preferred a new chapter or two? Some more in-depth explorations of particular psalms? Yes. But the book didn’t need a new chapter or two, and it wasn’t intended to be that narrow in focus, so that kind of material would’ve felt out of place.

This is an easy read — clear, crisp writing that is deep enough to make you think, but written in a way that you don’t notice that you’re dealing with weighty theology. Adams writes with conviction, passion, and care – which is always helpful but particularly so with a topic like this. You don’t want a dry dissertation here, you need heart to go with the thinking. There’s a sensitivity here, which is needed, but more than anything a desire to treat the Bible (and the Spirit who inspired it) as it ought to be.

This is a gem — it was a gem 25 years ago when it was published, and it’s a gem today.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from P & R Publishing via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this.
N.B.: As this was an ARC, any quotations above may be changed in the published work — I will endeavor to verify them as soon as possible.

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4 Stars

Prophet, Priest, and King by Richard P. Belcher, Jr.

Prophet, Priest, and KingProphet, Priest, and King: The Roles of Christ in the Bible and Our Roles Today

by Richard P. Belcher, Jr.

eARC, 224 pg.
P&R Publishing, 2016

Read: September 11 – 25, 2016

Throughout Church History, however varying in degree, theologians have focuses on the offices of Jesus Christ as Prophet, Priest and King. The present is probably one of those period that doesn’t emphasize them too much — at least, not the Prophet and King (even as Presbyterian and Reformed children recite them in their catechisms). It’s probably time for us to take another look at them in detail. This is Belcher’s aim, at least. As he says,

This book will address the work of Christ in light of the roles of Prophet, Priest, and King and will then draw out implications for the church.

(I’d originally spent 2 or 3 sentences saying that, when I spotted it in his opening paragraphs — always go with pithy).

That’s pretty much the book, after the introductory chapter, setting the stage, Belcher examines each office in turn, a chapter on the Old Testament definition, history and development of the office, followed by a chapter on Christ’s fulfillment of the office during his estate of humiliation, and then in his estate of exaltation.

A redemptive-historical approach— emphasizing Christ’s fulfillment of the Old Testament —naturally lends itself to connecting with the roles, not just for Christ but also for his body, the church. This approach also has implications for preaching Christ from the Old Testament.

The examinations of the offices are very thorough, but probably not exhaustive (although they sure seem exhaustive) — I’m not sure I learned a whole lot during these chapters, but I do think that reflecting on the offices in this manner has helped me understand them more and in a deeper way as leading to Christ. 

There are study questions at the end of each chapter that are a handy means of reviewing, but don’t encourage much further study and thought. But I can see where they’d be useful for a class or discussion group.

While examining the Old Testament office of King, Belcher Mention digresses for a while to examine the question “Is there a Royal Priesthood in Israel?” What does the OT mean when it talks about Kings offering sacrifices, if that’s the role of the priest. I’d wondered idly about that a time or two, but hadn’t realized how complex the question can be.

In the nation of Israel the roles of prophet, priest, and king are basically kept separate to define their meanings. But it is significant that these roles come together in both the description of Adam and Eve and the description of Israel’s mission. Thus it makes sense that the Old Testament would begin to describe the coming future ruler as carrying out the combined roles (Ps. 110; Zech. 6: 11–13). 26 These are fulfilled in Christ, who is Prophet, Priest, and King during his earthly ministry. He fulfills them in his work of salvation and continues in these roles on behalf of his people in his ascension. The work of Christ lays the basis for restoring these roles to human beings in their service to God, to the church, and to the world.

Therefore, the final chapter looks at how The Church can fulfill her mission via these roles. I found this chapter fascinating — easily the best in the book. It, too, is not exhaustive, but merely outlines the ways The Church (as a whole and as individuals) can function. I wish almost everything in this chapter had been more developed and explored.

This is sound, solid, careful writing. Sure, it could use some personality — but it doesn’t need it. It’s just not that engaging — but for those interested in the topic (or see a need to develop that interest), this is a good investment of time. For a careful examination of something too often ignored, this is a worthy read.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from P&R Publishing via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this.
N.B.: As this was an ARC, any quotations above may be changed in the published work — I will endeavor to verify them as soon as possible.

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3.5 Stars

Unshakable by K. Scott Oliphint and Rod Mays

UnshakableUnshakable: Standing Firm in a Shifting Culture

by K. Scott Oliphint and Rod Mays

eARC, 160 pg.
P & R Publishing, 2016
Read: June 12, 2016

In the preface, after a brief sketch of Newton’s life and his career as a hymn-writer, the authors talk about how they’re going to use one of his hymns as a framework for their discussions. Because older hymns help us remember that we’re not the first believers to have to deal with certain aspects of life — and they help us remember those things that are important and distinguish them from those that are fleeting. Now, why of all the Newton hymns one could choose, they picked “Glorious Things of Thee are Spoken,” I don’t know. I looked, and realize I may have missed their explanation (and will feel pretty embarrassed when it’s pointed out to me). I don’t think it’s a bad choice, I just don’t understand why this one.

Don’t get me wrong, this is not an interpretation of or meditation upon Newton’s words. But each chapter draws on the themes of the verses of the song, and shows some of the ways you could talk about those issues and themes today. I guess you could label this an application of Newton.

Thanks to the framework of the hymn, the book covers a range of issues – the foundation of knowledge/understanding, the nature of authority, technology’s effect on our thinking, cutting, God’s promises, sin — and from time to time, I stopped reading and wondered how they started at X and ended up at Y, but the transitions were all so seamless that the text flowed easily from one to the other — and honestly, it turns out that X was related to Y, after all. Not only do they address a wide range of topics, they do so using the whole of Scripture, so you get a range of Biblical perspectives.

The authors use illustrations that should be familiar to many — you don’t have to be steeped in Evangelicalism to follow their arguments — A Christmas Carol, Neil Postman, Shakespeare, The Man Who Wasn’t There, for example. Chapter 4’s discussion of redemption begins with an extended look at a portion of Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. I’m not sure I needed the close reading of the White Witch’s plot to kill Aslan in exchange of Edmund, I’m not sure anyone over the age of 6 needs it to see how it applies to Christian redemption. But that’s a minor complaint.

It is really a deceptively easy read. The prose is smooth enough that you can get through the text without noticing the deep thoughts you’re encountering. I remember looking down and wondering how I could be 25% with a Oliphint book so quickly. It has to be Mays’ influence.* But when you read closely (as you really ought), Mays and Oliphint are dealing with important topics that everyone needs to think about, and they don’t do so in a cavalier or surface-level manner. An easy-to-read manner, yes, but not surface-y.

I even liked the discussion questions – I almost never like them and wonder why authors/publishers bother. But, these were helpful and I think would be great fodder for discussion groups.

Unshakable is a very useful, thought-provoking work that’s pretty accessible for a wide-ranging of readers: believer, unbeliever, student, older-than-typical student. I heartily recommend it.

Disclaimer: In exchange for my honest thoughts, I received this book via NetGalley and P&R Publishing. Thanks very much!

*that’s not a criticism of Oliphint, just underlining how easy a read it was. My only criticism of Oliphint’s work is that there are so few of them.

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3.5 Stars