Book Reviews

Shepherd and Murray

Ian Hewitson’s book is a fascinating, detailed account of the situation as it unfolded in the Shepherd trial. One footnote that appears on page 50 concerns a letter from Stanford Reid to Arthur Kuschke on July 22, 1977, where he writes:

…Norman lacks theological insight…he has a strong tendency towards a legalism which also affected John Murray (FT.130).

Reid asserts that Shepherd has a tendency believed to be similar to one of the fathers of Presbyterianism. Since Murray is considered to be a paradigm of Reformed orthodoxy, then why was the treatment of Shepherd so severe, since Shepherd claimed to be following in the footsteps of Murray (Murray, of course, appointed Shepherd to take his place at WTS)? Perhaps the answer lies in an observation made by Hewitson on page 37 that there was already prior to Shepherd’s trial a “judicial atmosphere.” This atmosphere emerged from a previous debate over Professor Knudsen’s philosophical methodology. It was during the Knudsen controversy (see pgs. 35-37) that the controversy over the doctrine of justification began at WTS. It appears Hewitson was correct that the Shepherd controversy did not occur in a vacuum (35).

Trust and Obey: The Norman Shepherd Controversy

I have begun reading through Ian Hewitson’s Trust and Obey, which is a full treatment of the Norman Shepherd controversy at Westminster Theological Seminary. The point of the book is that WTS “did not have the necessary grounds on which to remove Professor Shepherd from his teaching post (19).” The book considers vast amount of reports and faculty minutes of those long years of trial.

John Frame writes that this is an “accurate and clear account of the matter (9).” Those who have long watched the Federal Vision controversy unfold over the years will realize that Shepherd’s name is one mentioned quite often in denominational reports. Perhaps this book and the research will add greater clarity to a discussion often misunderstood.

Book Review: Lent

The Lenten Season is now behind us, but just this morning I finished a book I started in the beginning of Lent. The book is conspicuously titled Lent (Free PDF of Book). The book published in 1902 is composed of 30 short articles by 30 Protestant Episcopal Bishops.

These are fairly conservative Bishops, unlike what one may find in the modern Episcopal landscape.

The book deals with a variety of Lenten themes. Among them is the consistent themes of preparation and discipline. Lent is a time of testing. A testing–though not equally–like unto the testing of Jesus in the wilderness for 40 days. Lent requires a sacred desire to examine oneself in light of God’s Word.

The 40 days of Lent serve as a time of self-control. The Lenten man is purposeful about those sins that have overtaken him. It is not as if he has not considered his sins outside the season of Lent, but that the season provides greater opportunities to look deeply into one’s walk in the gospel.

The book also offered warnings. Some may treat Lent as the only period of self-examination and good works, thereby acting carelessly throughout the rest of the Church year, but as St. Paul so clearly states: “God forbid that we continue to live in sin!”

The Church also provides with its various liturgical services extra opportunities for repentance and sacred living. “Repentance,” as Luther observed in his 95 theses, “is the life of the Christian” (paraphrase).

Lent is a necessary season for the Christian. If all is feasting then feasting is mundane. But Lent teaches us that the reason feasting is such a fundamental part of Christian existence is because fasting exists. There can be no glory without cross. There can be no empty tomb without the crown of thorns. So too, there can be no rejoicing without repentance.

A Reformed Response to Rob Bell’s Hell

My good friend Luke Welch and I have just finished our review of Rob Bell’s Love Wins. I hope it proves to be helpful.

Here is our paper as PDF: He Has Fixed A Day: A Reformed Response to Rob Bell’s Hell

About Luke:

Luke Welch is a Reformed and Presbyterian thinker, and serves as a lay preacher at Saint Andrews Anglican Fellowship (AMIA) in Baltimore, MD. He is married to Krista, and is the father of Anastasia, Evangeline, Evensong, Ephiphany and Phinehas. Luke is graduating from Covenant Theological Seminary (St Louis) in May of 2011 with a Master of Arts in Theological Studies. Luke’s blog, Polish the Brass, ( ), is decidedly optimistic about God’s plan for the future of the world. His favorite moment of the week is walking with his wife and children to the table of the Lord, and celebrating the resurrection of his Great King.

Video Book Review #11: Parenting in the Pew by Robbie Castleman

Book Review: Jehovah’s Witnesses Answered by David Reed

Ratings: 5 of 5

I have had consistent visits from two Jehovah’s Witnesses (JW) in the last four months. They keep coming back despite my collection of Celtic crosses in my home and the providential middle name of my son, Athanasius. Our conversations have been quite pleasant. To their surprise, I am not favorable towards youth groups, I find homeschooling quite an appealing concept, and I try to be respectful of their ideas without disrespectfully bombarding them with mine.

My strategy is simple: ask them questions. Force them to look within their own system for contradictions and incoherence with their anti-Trinitarian beliefs. It is then with great eagerness that I read David Reed’s Jehovah’s Witnesses Answered (Verse by Verse). Reed speaks as a former JW; as one who is deeply grounded in JW beliefs. In this book, he travels through the pages of Scriptures and provides us with helpful answers to JW’s while using their own translation (New World Translation) as a source.[1]

Reed runs through crucial passages used by JW’s to make their case for the non-Trinitarian god and the non-deity of Jesus and takes the reader through helpful responses to these questions.

As an example, concerning the deity of the Holy Spirit, Reed asks that we read Acts 5:3-5 with them. He writes:

You may have to read this passage a couple of times with the Witness before he even begins to grasp the point. JW’s are so accustomed to thinking of the Holy Spirit as an “it”—“Jehovah’s active force”—that their minds have difficulty even formulating the thought of the Holy Spirit as a person.” (87)

These types of observations also give us a glimpse into the psychology of JW’s.

He also observes the tremendous lack of translational accuracy in the NWT and provides numerous examples. Beyond the very careful detail given to these passages, David Reed also provides quotations and references to Watchtower prophecies and blatant disregard for those within the organization who begin to question the society.

The reader will also gain from the definition of key words in the beginning of the book and the techniques offered at the end of the book for how to share the truth of God’s Word with JW’s. The last chapter is the author’s testimony of how he became involved with the JW’s and what eventually led him to re-consider his loyalty, and his present faithfulness to Jesus Christ as His Lord.

[1] There are situations in which he explains the utter fallacy of the NWT and provides quotations from modern evangelical translations.

Evangelicals vs. Liberals in the Pacific Northwest

In a very fascinating review of James Wellman’s Evangelical vs. Liberal, Matthew Sutton describes the powerful influence of evangelicals in the Pacific Northwest. He even makes references to our good friends in Moscow, ID. He concludes his review with these words:

Evangelical vs. Liberal is a balanced and engaging exploration of religious difference in the most unchurched region of the country. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this study was Wellman’s reflection on how his research had influenced him as a Presbyterian minister and professor of religion. “I began by sharing some of the biases of liberals toward evangelicals,” he writes. “But through my research I have come not to agree with evangelicals but to respect the power of their convictions and the perseverance by which they serve one another, their communities, and their world. Evangelicals, in this study, put their feet and their resources where their mouth is.” This is not to say that liberals don’t. However, evangelicals have a far clearer sense of community and mission. And in Moscow, Idaho, they also serve good coffee and know how to make really tasty French food. For all of these reasons, evangelicals are winning the clash of Christian civilizations, not just across the nation, but even in the Pacific Northwest.

Video Book Review #10: Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton

G.K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy is a masterpiece. It is also a dictionary for brilliant quotations. I regret that it has taken me so long to read this gem. But I am grateful and more equipped after having read it.

Chesterton is poet. Orthodoxy at times sounds like ramblings, but they are ultimately poetic reflections on his own journey to embracing the Christian faith. He is in love with the gospel; orthodoxy, for Chesterton, is romance. It’s a dangerous and lively view of life; it is far from monotonous.

One great theme of Chesterton’s work is this idea of a mystic. To be a mystic is to be satisfied with mystery and actually delight in it. The materialist lacks humility presumably because everything needs to be scientifically explained, but the mystic, the Christian finds the romance of orthodoxy that which connects him to eternal truth. Orthodoxy is not embracing a lifeless faith, but a faith with so much life that our lifetimes will not be enough to fully understand it.  Yet, Chesterton says that the things we do believe, like the Apostle’s Creed must be affirmed and embraced. Concerning the deity of Christ he writes:

For orthodox theology has specially insisted that Christ was not a being apart from God and man, like an elf, nor yet a being half human and half not, like a centaur, but both things at once and both things thoroughly, very man and very God.

Chesterton has read the great doubters of the Christian faith and concludes that all their attempts to make Christianity more “liberal” or “free” actually made the world more tyrannical. Rather, in the gospel, Chesterton has found the great dance of redemption; the dance of heaven.

The arguments in this book are not always easy to follow and this is why I will probably read this again next year. One author said that Orthodoxy is the thinker’s paradise; I concur, and I encourage you to enter this paradise by picking up this book.

Book Review: The 7th Victim by Alan Jacobson

I have just finished my first novel of 2011. Kindle has offered several free books over the past few months and among them was The 7th Victim by Alan Jacobson. The book is one of three best-selling novels about an FBI profiler named Karen Vail. Vail is one of the first female profilers.[1] The story is about a series of murders done by the Dead Eyes Killer. The Dead Eyes killer is notoriously skillful in the art of death. He is an organized serial killer who has perplexed Karen’s FBI unit.

The book also centers on the complex personality of Karen Vail who was domestically abused and is now fighting to begin a new life with her son, Jonathan. But nothing is ever that easy. Karen’s vicious fight for the custody of Jonathan; her personal conflicts within the unit, the ever mysterious nature of the killer, and the dramatic deaths of the victims, build up to a remarkable crescendo in the end of the book.

Alan Jacobson is a remarkable writer not only because of his ability to keep your attention, but for his gift of bringing the reader directly into the drama of the story. Further, Jacobson is a researcher of first rate. He has dedicated many years to the study of serial killers by interviewing FBI profilers and digging deep into the criminal mind. All of this makes for a compelling story.

Christians reading this book will get a profound sense of the depravity of man and that if it were not for the common grace of God restraining the monstrosity of sins the world would be saturated with Dead Eyes Killers.

Cautions and Considerations:

a)      The novel uses strong language and describes strong scenes.

b)      Romantic relationships are developed in a context of unbelief.

c)      What role does biblical femininity play?

d)     Should women be involved in such dangerous and violent professions?

e)      How are husbands protecting and loving their wives?

Miscellaneous Details:

Both Velocity and Crush are follow ups to the trilogy. The 7th victim is being considered a motion picture.

[1] If you are familiar with the TV series Criminal Minds you will have an idea of the type of work involved in profiling units; or the BAU (Behavioral Analysis Unit).

Video Book Review #9: Calvinism in a Las Vegas Airport

Disclaimer: Mouw’s recent attempts of ecumenicism are not endorsed by this blog, though I am thankful that he has introduced the discussion in this book.

The first book I have read this year was Richard Mouw’s Calvinism in the Las Vegas Airport. I read the book in preparation for a study on the doctrines of grace. Of course, over the last ten years I have read most of the major biblical and systematic studies on Calvinism, but this one, in my estimation was a happy addition to the ever-growing market for Calvinistic literature. More