Lunde, Jonathan. Following Jesus, the Servant King: A Biblical Theology of Covenantal Discipleship. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011.
Jonathan Lunde expounds the biblical covenants, the Christian’s relation to the law, the Kingdom of God, and Christology in the service of laying the foundations for faithful Christian living. The themes that Lunde has selected to form the theological basis of this work are ones that theologians and biblical scholars have long recognized as among the most important in Scripture. Sadly very few lay-level books have approached these themes. Lunde’s work nicely fills this gap. What is more, despite the complexity and disagreements that surround these issues, Lunde, for the most part, arrives at what I believe to be the best interpretation. For instance, though he believes all of the biblical covenants are grounded in grace, he also recognizes that the Mosaic covenant differs from the others by providing stipulations with blessings and curses. The others are gift covenants. Lunde also does a good job handling the issue of the law’s relation to the believer and noting both the continuities and the discontinuities involved.
Throughout the whole, Lunde makes applications to the Christian life. He structures the book around three questions: (1) "Why should I be concerned to obey all of Jesus’ commands if I have been saved by grace?" (2) "What is it that Jesus demands of his disciples?" (3) How can the disciple obey Jesus’ high demand while experiencing his ‘yoke’ as ‘light’ and ‘easy’?"
In answer to his first question Lunde expounds the biblical covenants. He notes that they are all grounded in grace, that certain of the covenants are unconditional in nature, and yet that all the covenants maintain expectations for both parties. Thus even though Jesus has fulfilled the new covenant’s requirements, this does not relieve the Christian of his duties toward God. In answer to the second question Lunde primarily expounds the law as it had been transformed by the arrival of Jesus. He notes that while Jesus has fulfilled the law, the expectations on believers are now higher, not lower. In answer to the third question, Lunde focuses on the enabling grace given to believers in the new covenant.
Overall, Lunde does an excellent job of maintaining a grace focus and recognizing the responsibilities that are vital to Christian discipleship. As with any book, a few weaknesses do emerge. I’m not convinced of the idea that Genesis presents two Abrahamic covenants, one conditional and one unconditional. Nor was I convinced by his argument that the servant in Isaiah 53 is first Israel and then ultimately Christ; furthermore, this lengthy digression didn’t advance the point he was making in that section of the book. Finally, some of his mission talk, though brief, seemed loose.
The strengths of this work far outweigh its weaknesses. It deserves a wide reading since it will both inform lay readers of important but neglected aspects of biblical teaching while at the same time relating practically to their daily Christian walk.
Tripp, Paul David. What Did You Expect? Redeeming the Realities of Marriage. Wheaton: Crossway, 2010.
The strength of this book is that it offers no secrets to a happy marriage. Tripp instead presents basic biblical teaching about sanctification and applies it to marriage. Tripp is correct to present sanctification as something at which Christians must work, but he also rightly highlights the grace of God as that which enables Christians to progress in sanctification. If there is a weakness it is Tripp’s tendency to repeat himself. Sometimes this reinforces points; other times it does not seem as effective.
Forsythe, Clarke D. Politics for the Greatest Good: The Case for Prudence in the Public Square. Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2009.
The first chapter bears the weight of the subtitle. It is there that a case is argued philosophically/theologically for the role of prudence in politics. This is followed by three chapters of example: American founders, Wilberforce, and Lincoln. Chapter 5 responds to Colin Harte’s Changing Unjust Laws Justly, a book that stands in direct opposition to Forsythe’s proposal. The final two chapters apply his insights to abortion and related issues. I found the first chapter the most interesting (and convincing) and wish he had taken more space to make the argument he made there.
Aniol, Scott. Sound Worship: A Guide to Making Musical Choices in a Noisy World. Religious Affections Ministries, 2010.
Though he is swimming against the flow in many areas, I believe Scott is absolutely correct on his main points. His treatment of the sufficiency of Scripture is especially well done. He corrects some common misapprehensions about the doctrine that have become popular despite lacking biblical support, let alone a informed understanding of the doctrine’s history. His chapter on evaluating musical communication also provides an excellent paradigm that works not only for making music choices but also for guiding choices in every area of the Christian life. I also find myself inclined toward his view that beauty is not simply subjective, but that was one part of the book where I desired more argumentation. I look forward to reading Scott’s larger book as well as Roger Scruton’s book on beauty. In all, this is an edifying book on a controversial topic because it generates more light than heat. Even if there were no controversy (and may that be so in the future), Scott’s book would remain a useful guide for applying the Scripture to music, worship, and life.
Carson, D. A. Christ and Culture Revisited. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008.
Niebuhr’s typology is reductionistic: this is Carson’s primary point in Christ and Culture Revisited. Since most of Niebuhr’s types are grounded in some part of revelation, Carson argues that it is wrong to force people to choose between them. Rather, insofar as they are biblical, each type contributes to an overall biblical view. Carson also critiques several other approaches to the Christianity and culture debate and addresses related issues like democracy or church and state relations at greater depth. Again in these discussions Carson’s goal seems to be to combat reductionisms.
Two critiques: In his final chapter Carson lists "fundamentalism" as one response to culture. However, the fundamentalism he described sounded to my ears more like a certain strand of evangelicalism. Some fundamentalists may have fit in that category, but many others would better fit in some of the other options listed in that chapter. Since both fundamentalism and evangelicalism are "big tent" movements, neither is monolithic on these issues.
More significantly, as much as I benefited from Carson’s incisive critiques, I think the book would have benefited from a positive vision. This appeared at places, but it was never brought together. As a result Carson’s careful critiques could lead merely to the conclusion that this situation is complex and multifaceted.
Neither of these critiques vitiate the real value of the book. The reductionisms that Carson combats need combatting. His careful discussions of the biblical storyline, democracy, church and state, postmodernism, etc. are tremendously helpful.
Hiebert, Paul G. The Gospel in Human Contexts: Anthropological Explorations for Contemporary Missions. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2009.
This book provides an introductory-level view to contextualization and anthropology. It is helpful when read discerningly. Negatively, it seemed to be a collection of articles without a unifying argument.
Wickham, Chris. The Inheritance of Rome: Illuminating the Dark Ages 400-1000. New York: Viking, 2009.
Wickham’s work on the early middle ages does an excellent job of presenting the reader with the political, cultural, and religious history of the period. He covers a wide geographical range that includes the Middle East and North Africa. At the beginning of the book he does an excellent job of showing the continuities and discontinuities that existed after the Roman Empire. In many ways culture did not drastically change since the barbarians were Romanized, but politically the state fragmented and the tax and trade structure fell apart, which did affect aspects of culture such as architecture. Wickham’s coverage of religion, especially the iconoclastic controversy, was also well done. His weakness, as others have pointed out, is a large amount of detail with little summarization that attempts to bring things together. Though this is, in his view, a strength that maintains the purity of the history, it does make it difficult to retain all the information provided.
McPherson, James. Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.
According to the cover the Washington Post Book World declared The Battle Cry of Freedom, "The finest single volume on the [Civil] war and its background." This strikes me as an accurate assessment. McPherson covered equally well the political, cultural, and military aspects of this decisive period in American history.
Saucy, Robert L. The Case for Progressive Dispensationalism. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1993.
The title of this work may obscure the extent of what Saucy covers in this book. The first chapter does deal with the differences between dispensational theologies and between dispensational and non-dispensational theologies. But the rest of the book is not so much a cumulative case as studies of key biblical issues from Saucy’s dispensational perspective. One part of the book looks at several of the biblical covenants as well as the theme of the kingdom in Scripture. Another part of the book examines aspects of ecclesiology. The final section of the book looks at the purpose of Israel in God’s plan, prophecies about Israel in the OT and NT, and the fulfillment of those prophecies. A book that covers this range is difficult to summarize. Suffice it to say that I found the book full of exegetical and theological insights and that I took more notes from this book than any other that I’ve recently read.
Budziszewski, J. Evangelicals in the Public Square: Four Formative Voices on Political Thought and Action. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2006.
Budziszewski here provides a review of four evangelical thinkers (Henry, Kuyper, Schaeffer, and Yoder) with the conclusion that natural law theory is the missing element of Evangelical political interaction. I’m not convinced of the thesis, but Budziszewski is always enjoyable to read, and I found myself gleaning a good amount of helpful information along the way.
Chapell, Bryan. Why Do We Baptize Infants? Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2006.
Foundational to Chapell’s argument for infant baptism is an equation between the Abrahamic covenant and the Covenant of Grace (interestingly, Chapell did not use the Covenant of Grace language, but his argument ran along the same lines in that he concluded that believers are under the Abrahamic covenant). While Christians today participate in many aspects of the Abrahamic covenant, and while we can truly be called sons of Abraham, it does not follow that the Abrahamic covenant in its entirety is our covenant or is equated to a Covenant of Grace. The Abrahamic covenant includes national aspects that relate to the nation of Israel and not to the church. It seems patent, then, that the Abrahamic covenant in its entirety is not applicable to the church.
This being so, Chappell cannot assume, as he does, that baptism replaces circumcision as the covenant sign of a Covenant of Grace. This misunderstands the movement from a national covenant that included a mixture of regenerate and unregenerate people within the same covenant to the new covenant which is not a national covenant but is a covenant for the regenerate alone. Thus the NT brings about the end of circumcision while not ever equating it with baptism.
The best treatment of these issues that I’ve read is Stephen J. Wellum, "Relationship between the Covenants,” in Believer’s Baptism: Sign of the New Covenant in Christ , ed. Thomas R. Schreiner and Shawn Wright (Nashville: B&H, 2007), 154-55. [This chapter is available for free here.]
The first book bound in this volume, "The Mortification of Sin in Believers," is probably the best book written on how to war war against sin. It is worthy of being read often. The other books bound with it, "Of Temptation," "The Nature, Power, Deceit, and Prevalency of the Remainders of Indwelling Sin in Believers," and "A Practical Exposition upon Psalm CXXX," do not rise to the same level, but they too are worth reading. The latter, on one of my favorite Psalms, is a classic Puritan exposition, moving form detailed work on the words of the passage in Hebrew through to doctrine and practical application given at length under multiple subheadings.
Grudem, Wayne. "Pleasing God by Our Obedience: A Neglected New Testament Teaching." In For the Fame of God’s Name: Essays in Honor of John Piper. Edited by Sam Storms and Justin Taylor. Wheaton: Crossway, 2010.
Grudem says, "This topic seems important to me because I think that evangelicals today are generally afraid of teaching about ‘pleasing God by obedience,’ for fear of sounding as if they disagree with justification by faith alone. But when the need to please God by obedience is neglected, we have millions of Christians in our churches who fail to see the importance of obedience in their daily lives" (273). Grudem surveys the NT to show that pleasing God by obedience is a significant theme in the NT and that it is not contradictory to justification by faith alone. He rightly argues that sanctification, unlike justification, involves not only God’s enabling grace but also our working. Grudem demonstrates from the NT that our obedience pleases God and our disobedience displeases him (though displeasure and discipline do not remove God’s love for his children). Grudem faithfully captures the full balance of the NT’s teaching by noting that obedience to God brings great blessing but also may lead us down paths of suffering.
Kuyper, Abraham. "Calvinism and Politics." In Lectures on Calvinism. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1931.
In this lecture Kuyper expounds his view of sphere sovereignty. The government, social institutions, and the church each gain their authority directly from God and therefore government should not seek to usurp the rights of society or church. It does police the boundaries between the various spheres. Kuyper’s view of sphere sovereignty commits him to the ideal of a free church. He also condemns earlier Calvinists for advocating state-enforced adherence to their confession. Kuyper’s theorizing is interesting, but he does not seem to have firm exegetical support for his major concepts.
Michael J. McClymond and Gerald R. McDermott, "Public Theology, Society, and America." In The Theology of Jonathan Edwards. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012.
Helpfully outlines Edwards view of the roles of government (1. "secure property," 2. "protect citizens’ rights," 3. "maintain order," 4. "ensure justice," 5. "national defense," 6. "make good laws against immorality," 7. "help the poor," 8. give "support to true religion."), his views of good and bad patriotism, and his views on slavery, the slave trade, and race