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Why should we study Scripture together?

It’s too easy to take for granted the blessings God has heaped on us, so let’s stop for a moment and think about several of them. We still have the blessing to freely worship. Not only on Sunday, but during the week too, we’re free to gather together for fellowship and study. We also have the blessing of God’s Word in our own language. Unlike so many believers in the history of the New Testament church, we have the Bible in a language we can understand – and these Bibles are cheap and readily available. Finally, we have the blessing of literacy. The fact that you’re reading this puts you at a far greater advantage than many believers in the history of the church. What incredible riches our God has lavished on us! Do we have a heart for searching out God’s Word? Yet it does seem that many church members take these things for granted. In every church I’ve served, there is always the mass problem of Bible study. Every consistory discussed it. It’s the problem of encouraging individual believers to study the Bible for themselves. It’s also the problem of encouraging believers to study the Bible together. I’d venture to guess that, on average, probably 25% of the communicant members in the churches I’ve served regularly studied Scripture together. Actually, 25% is on the generous side. What can consistories do about it? Here’s the problem: office bearers can badger members into Bible study groups for a time. But if their heart is not in it, typically they won’t persevere. The heart is the issue – and how do you change someone’s heart? You can’t. The Holy Spirit does that. He does it, however, through us. He says in 1 Thess. 5:14, “And we urge you brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.” We’re to do these things with the Word of God in our hand. In this article, I want to lay out the Bible’s answer for why believers should study Scripture together. There are two audiences I want to address. The first is the office bearer who wants to encourage Bible study in his congregation. The second is the believer who may be lagging in conviction about the value of this practice. Psalm 119 as a prayer for the way we want to be So, why study the Bible together? When our thoughts turn to Scripture and our attitude towards it, Psalm 119 is a frequent destination. This Psalm extols the Scriptures in exuberant terms. It also speaks of the believers’ emotions/affections about the Bible. For example, nine times the Psalmist speaks of his delight in God’s Word. Seven times he testifies of his love for the Scriptures. He witnesses to the joy that comes from the divine writings. It’s important to read all these things with our eyes on Jesus. He is the fulfillment of all these holy emotions – he exhibited them with an unparalleled depth and consistency. Moreover, Christ did that in the place of us who often sag in our feelings about God’s Word. His love and joy in the Word are credited to us by God. When we see Psalm 119 that way, it puts it in a new light for us. It speaks of our Saviour’s obedient life for us, but also his sanctifying power in us. We look at Psalm 119 as a prayer for the way we want to be. In our new nature, empowered by the Holy Spirit, we want to be like Christ. We want to reflect our union with him – we want to love the Scriptures like he does! When we do, we won’t have to be coaxed into Bible study. It’s something we will love to do because, being united to Christ, we love God and we love his Word. Personal Bible study will come from the heart, and so will group Bible study. Then the rest of what I’m going to write will sound perfectly persuasive. Getting to know our God The chief attraction of Bible study together is a better view of the glory of God. The Scriptures are all about revealing to us the glory of the Triune God, particularly in the gospel. I’m talking about his beauty, his splendor, his magnificence, his awesomeness. Scripture reveals God to us in all his transcendent excellence. When you study by yourself, you will see it. But when you study with others, you will see more and see further than you will by yourself. One person can only see so much. One person can have blind spots. But when several Christians gather together around God’s Word, they’ll find more to be amazed at about our God. He will receive more praise and honor. That’s what we want, isn’t it? Encouraging one another However, there is not only a vertical aspect here. It turns out that what brings more glory to God is also for our benefit. When we gather together with fellow believers around God’s Word, there’s encouragement to be found. We support one another. We pray together. We enjoy fellowship. When it’s going as it should, Bible study can feel like Psalm 133:1, “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!” We could also think of what Scripture says in Ephesians 4. There God speaks about how Christ has given the gift of office bearers to the church. He says their work is to “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.” They do that work with the Scriptures. Bible study together will likewise build up the body of Christ and with exactly the same blessings described in Ephesians 4:13. Bible study together will lead to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of Christ. It will enable us to grow together in maturity. It will help pull us into the “measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” Two objections Some church members have keenly developed reasons for not going to Bible study. They could go (they have the health and the time), but they refuse to. Let me briefly address two reasons I’ve heard over the years. One objection is that it’s all the same: “The same people talk and they always say the same thing. It makes for a boring hour or two. So it’s just not worth the time or effort.” I’m familiar with this one because I used it as a young man. I remember saying this at a friend’s house and his mom reamed me out. She said, “If you don’t like the way it is, then it’s up to you to make it different. You lead by example. You’ll only get out of it what you put into it.” She was exactly right. Another reason comes from a darker place: “Everyone at these Bible studies is so dull. They don’t have a good basic understanding of the Bible. It’s just frustrating listening to them ramble on in their ignorance. Their lack of knowledge about the Bible is exasperating.” The essential problem here is pride. One’s pride leads to impatience with other believers. Bible study presents an opportunity to share our insights with one another. One may have to pray for growth in holiness to do that humbly and judiciously, but rather than flee from that challenge, we should embrace it. Moreover, we need to be open to the possibility that there is something to learn from other believers – perhaps we don’t have the exceptional level of knowledge we thought we had (cf. Phil. 2:3). Conclusion The Bible has famously been compared to a love letter from God. Of course, love letters are mostly a thing of the past, but the idea is still current. If you were to receive a love letter, you would treasure it and read it carefully several times. The Bible is God’s love letter to his people. Why would any recipient not want to read and study that letter as often as possible, both on your own and with other believers? If you’re part of a Bible study, stay consistent with it. If you’re not part of a Bible study, go and find one in your local church. With your meaningful contribution, God will be praised and you’ll be blessed. Dr. Wes Bredenhof blogs at Yinkahdinay.wordpress.com....

Adult non-fiction, Book Reviews

2 to help us understand the Muslim holy book

WHAT EVERY CHRISTIAN NEEDS TO KNOW ABOUT THE QUR'AN by James R. White 311 pages / 2013 More than ever, Christians need to be equipped to deal with the challenges posed by Islam.  We often live beside Muslims, work alongside them, and study with them.  It’s good to have helpful resources to inform our conversations with our Muslim neighbors.  Though it is now a couple of years old already, James White’s book on the Muslim sacred text is one of those valuable helps. White is the author of numerous non-fiction books.  He’s well-known as an author, speaker, and debater.  He is an elder in a Reformed Baptist church in Phoenix, Arizona, and the director of Alpha and Omega Ministries, an organization with a focus on apologetics (done in a Reformed, presuppositional manner). Rather than summarize everything in this book, let me just highlight two points which stood out for me. Qur-an’s caricature of the Trinity shows it isn’t perfect One has to do with what the Qur’an says about the Christian doctrine of the Trinity.  In chapter 4, White points out that the Qur’an says Christians believe the Trinity to consist of Allah, Jesus, and Mary. Christians are alleged to believe that Allah and Mary had relations to produce Jesus.  This is important because: Everyone affected would affirm that by the early decades of the seventh century, God Himself would have a perfect knowledge of what the doctrine of the Trinity actually says. And if that doctrine does not accurately represent His own self-revelation, He would be in the perfect position to refute its falsehoods with devastating precision.  But is this what we find in the Qur’an? The Qur’an doesn’t get the Trinity right, and so the Qur’an can’t be taken seriously as a revelation from God. Qur’an’s claim about itself is patently false In chapter 11, White has a penetrating discussion about the text of the Qur’an.  Muslims claim that it is a perfect, immutable text. Of course, that’s contrasted with the text of the Bible which, they allege, has been mutilated by Jews and Christians.  White gives a couple of examples from Muslim writers. This is one of them: Muslims and non-Muslims both agree that no change has ever occurred in the text of the Qur’an. The above prophecy for the eternal preservation and purity of the Qur’an came true not only for the text of the Qur’an, but also for the most minute details of its punctuation marks as well…It is a miracle of the Qur’an that no change has occurred in a single word, a single the alphabet, a single punctuation mark, or a single diacritical mark in the text of the Qur’an during the last fourteen centuries. White demonstrates that this claim is patently false. He notes that “even widely published editions of the Qur’an contain information indicating variations in the very text.”  He cites Yusuf Ali’s edition with its note on Surah 33:6.  In The Hidden Origins of Islam (ed. by Karl-Heinz Ohlig and Gerd-R. Puin), there is an essay by Alba Fedeli on variant readings in early Qur’anic manuscripts.  It is simply not true that there is a single immaculate Qur’an text preserved from the time of Muhammad. Conclusion One question I wish White would have addressed is whether these claims are made in ignorance or deliberately to deceive.  There is a doctrine in Islam known as al-Taqqiya.  This teaching says it is permissible to lie in order to advance the cause of Islam.  This is one of the things making Islam such a threat to western civilization in general, and Christianity in particular.  How can you tell when a Muslim is lying about Islam? I would recommend this book to anyone who has regular contact with Muslims.  Be aware though: most, if not all, of the points raised by White in the book have rebuttals by Muslim apologists somewhere online.  The rebuttals are weak, but if you are going to use White’s material in conversations it would be advisable to prepare yourself beforehand for what your Muslim neighbor may bring back in response. Dr. Wes Bredenhof blogs at Yinkahdinay.wordpress.com. ***** UNDERSTANDING THE KORAN by Mateen Elass 193 pages / 2009 If I were to offer a one-sentence review I'd describe this as the most readable and most loving Christian book on Islam I've yet read, and while it isn't a very big book, there is a lot packed in it. The advantage of this “Quick Christian guide to the Muslim Holy Book” is how much it packs into its small size. The author, Mateen Elass, wanted to craft an introduction to the Koran that anyone could pick up and read, and somehow he's managed to make it both easily digestible and 100% solid meat - there's no fluff here. Elass is a Presbyterian pastor who was raised in Saudi Arabia so he knows what he’s talking about it, and can offer a solid, biblically-grounded insight. He outlines how the Koran is a compilation of muddled Bible stories, Gnostic accounts, and Jewish folk tales, and compares and contrasts Christian views on our Bible with Muslim views about the Koran. The only caution I had regards Chapter 6 “Is Allah a False God?” where the author argues that, like the Samaritans in New Testament times (see John 4:22), Muslims worship the real God, but in ignorance. This is a controversial stance – Muslims insist that Allah has no Son – but it becomes less so when the author makes it clear he isn’t arguing for any sort of equivalence between Islam and Christianity or that Muslims can be saved apart from Jesus. Introductions to Islam can generally be divided into those that have nothing but good to say about Islam, and those that have nothing but bad. One strength of this title is that it takes a third approach – the author is Christian, but one knows and loves Muslims, so while he is direct, thorough, and quite devastating in his critique of the Koran, he always remains calm, and never resorts to rhetoric. Understanding the Koran is small and engaging enough to be read in a few evenings, but the depth of material, and the review questions for each chapter, make this one worth reading a second time at a slower more studious pace. Jon Dykstra and his siblings blog on books at ReallyGoodReads.com....

Adult non-fiction, Book Reviews, Theology

On the proper role of Government (and the footnoted Belgic Confession article 36)

A review of P.J. Hoedemaker’s Article 36 of the Belgic Confession Vindicated Against Dr. Abraham Kuyper  ***** Anyone who has ever studied the Belgic Confession, even on a superficial level, is aware of an oddity in article 36. This is the only place in the Three Forms of Unity where we find a footnote in most versions of the Confession. Whether it is the United Reformed, Canadian Reformed, or Protestant Reformed Churches in North America, or the Free Reformed Churches of Australia, all have an additional footnote. Article 36 is titled “The Civil Government” or sometimes “Of Magistrates” and addresses what we confess about the role of the government. The relevant text in the body of the confession originally read: task of restraining and sustaining is not limited to the public order but includes the protection of the church and its ministry in order that all idolatry and false worship may be removed and prevented, the kingdom of antichrist may be destroyed, the kingdom of Christ may come, the Word of the gospel may be preached everywhere, and God may be honoured and served by everyone, as he requires in his Word. (Italics added) But the clauses that I've italicized above were moved from the body and relegated to footnote status a century ago, as is explained in the Canadian Reformed edition here: The following words were deleted here by the General Synod 1905 of the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (Gereformeerde Kerken in Nederland): all idolatry and false worship may be removed and prevented, the kingdom of antichrist may be destroyed. I’ve been a pastor in both the Canadian Reformed Churches, and the Free Reformed Churches of Australia, and to my knowledge, neither federation has ever made an official decision about the status of this footnote. Do we confess this or not? It is an odd ambiguity in our Three Forms of Unity (the Belgic Confession, the Heidelberg Catechism and the Canons of Dort). FOOTNOTE'S BACKGROUND That’s why it was with great interest that I began reading a small book, recently translated, on this very topic. Article 36…vindicated against Dr. Abraham Kuyper comes from the controversy which led to the words being deleted in 1905. It provides some of the historical background, illustrating that the deletion was not without its opponents. This book also provides an occasion to reflect on whether it may be time to revisit the matter in an official, ecclesiastical way. The author, Philippus Jacobus Hoedemaker (1839-1910), was a curious figure. While he grew up in a family with roots in the 1834 Secession (in which a number of congregations split from the Dutch national church) he himself became a minister in the Dutch national church. However, unlike so many others in the State church, Hoedemaker was a conservative, and confessionally Reformed. This book is a response to a series of articles written by Dutch theologian and journalist (and future Dutch prime minister) Abraham Kuyper in his newspaper The Herald in 1899-1900. In these articles, Kuyper argued against the original wording of article 36 – he did not agree with the civil government being called on to address idolatry, false worship, and the kingdom of the antichrist. In 1896, Kuyper went a step further. Together with other notable theologians in his denomination (the Gereformeerde Kerkenor Reformed Churches), including Herman Bavinck, Kuyper put forward a gravamen against article 36. A “gravamen” is an official objection to a point of doctrine. These eight ministers alleged that article 36 did not conform to the Word of God and they asked the Synod of 1896 to make a judgment on the matter. The Synod decided to appoint a committee to study the matter, a committee which bizarrely included Bavinck and Kuyper (!). It was the work of this committee which would later result in Synod 1905 deleting the allegedly unbiblical words. GOING BACK TO THE ORIGINAL? Let me make a few comments about the translation. There are a few idiosyncrasies that readers should be aware of. When Hoedemaker refers to "Lord's Days" in the Heidelberg Catechism the translator literally renders them “Sundays” instead. And instead of the Secession of 1834 (Afscheiding), he uses the term “Separation.” Elsewhere he uses the term “Nonconformity,” and I believe he is translating the term "Doleantie." Aside from those sorts of minor things, the book reads quite well in English. In his book, Hoedemaker argues for the original form of article 36. Or, more accurately, he argues against Kuyper’s objections to the original form of article 36. He maintains that Kuyper was inconsistent. On the one hand, Kuyper wanted to honor King Jesus as the Lord of all of life. But on the other hand, Kuyper was arguing that King Jesus has no crown rights over the responsibility of the civil government with regard to idolatry, false worship, and the kingdom of antichrist. Hoedemaker alleged that this inconsistency was owing to political expediency. Abraham Kuyper was getting into politics and article 36 was an embarrassment in trying to build bridges with Roman Catholic politicians. Early on Hoedemaker makes a point I find especially compelling. He alleges that the discovery of “the fatal defect” in article 36 is “not the result of the ongoing investigation of the Scripture; but exclusively causes which lie in the times, and in apostasy from the living God.” He states repeatedly that Kuyper and others were not arguing from exegesis, but from pragmatic considerations and false inferences. The pragmatic considerations had to do with Dutch politics. The false inferences were along the lines of the Confession requiring the civil magistrate to persecute unbelievers and false believers. Hoedemaker is especially persuasive in addressing that notion. CONCLUSION I should note that this book is not exclusively about Belgic Confession article 36 – it also serves as something of a polemic against the 1886 Doleantie (another church split). Hoedemaker writes, “The first step on the road to Reformation is the recovery of the normal relations of church and state.” But in wanting to undo the 1886 Doleantie, he’s arguing that all Reformed believers should have gone back to the national church despite its waywardness! So who should read this book? I would especially commend it to those with an interest in politics. When we have so little in our Three Forms of Unity about politics, what little there is should get our attention. Is it time to revisit the formulation of article 36? This is where I believe office bearers and especially ministers would do well to give this book a read too. Perhaps we need a proposal to a synod to clarify the status of the footnote and perhaps even to restore it. Note well: we are not talking about changing the Confession or adding something to the Confession that was never there to begin with. This is something completely different. In a 1979 article for Clarion, the Canadian Reformed Churches’ Dr. J. Faber argued for completely rewriting that part of article 36. That is a possibility. But if the footnote can be re-examined from a biblical standpoint, perhaps it would be as simple as cutting and pasting the text back into place. Dr. Bredenhof blogs at yinkahdinay.wordpress.com where a slightly longer version of this review is available here. He is the pastor of the Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania....

People we should know

J.I. PACKER – Another person we should know better

James Innell Packer is a rather well-known author in Reformed circles. In fact, many people assume that Packer himself must belong to a Reformed, or at least a Presbyterian, church. Instead, Packer has been an Anglican his entire life, first in England (the land of his birth) and then later in Canada. The son of working-class parents, Packer was born on July 22, 1926 in Gloucester, England. He became a Christian during his education at Oxford University. Through exposure to Puritan authors like John Owen, Packer also became a convinced Calvinist with regard to the doctrine of salvation. At several points in his life he was tempted away from the Church of England, but he has always remained a member. He was ordained in the Church of England, but only served in parish ministry for a short while before discovering his real vocation as a teacher of theology. In England, he taught at Tyndale Hall, Latimer House, and Trinity College. Finally, in 1979, he skipped over the pond to take up a professorship at Regent College in Vancouver, BC. WRITER AND EDITOR Packer has been well known as a conference speaker and writer, but probably less so as an editor. Notably, he’s been the general editor of the English Standard Version Bible, as well as the theological editor of the ESV Study Bible. He’s also served as an editor and advisor for Christianity Today. One of Packer’s most well-known books has been Knowing God, first published in 1973. By 2001, this book has sold more than 1.5 million copies and been translated into more than 20 languages. It’s a book that puts the doctrine of God in simple language. Even when Packer tackles difficult subjects like propitiation (the turning away of God’s wrath through the cross), he communicates winsomely. It’s really not surprising that some Canadian Reformed pastors have even used Knowing God for their pre-confession instruction. It’s a solid book! BACK AND FORTH AND BACK AGAIN While there are many ways in which we can appreciate what God has done through this man, we also have to honestly acknowledge some of his weaknesses and failings. There was, for example, his involvement with a 1994 statement entitled Evangelicals and Catholics Together (ECT). This was an effort to unite Roman Catholics and evangelicals on a common theological basis with a view to taking a stand against societal evils like abortion. Unfortunately, this common basis resulted in the lowest-common-denominator form of essential doctrines like justification. Packer was a key player in the events leading to ECT and a signer. Subsequently, Packer teamed with up with URC pastor Michael Horton to produce another document, Resolutions for Roman Catholic and Evangelical Dialogue. Now this statement, also from 1994, was soundly orthodox on the issues highlighted by ECT. But then, what one hand gave, the other took away (again!). In 1998, Packer was involved with yet another ecumenical statement along with Roman Catholics, The Gift of Salvation. This statement again compromised on the doctrine of justification by faith alone. It’s regrettable that Packer has been rather inconsistent on some key biblical teachings. As just mentioned, he claims in some places to maintain justification by faith alone as a foundational doctrine, yet he readily gives this up when working with Roman Catholics. As another example, he claims to hold to the ultimate authority of the Bible, yet is lenient when it comes to evolution. In his 2015 biography, Leland Ryken writes that he cannot understand why some people get so angry at Packer. It’s no mystery: it’s because of his inconsistency. STANDING ON SCRIPTURE However, one of Packer’s greatest controversies did see him taking a very bold stand. In 2008, Packer was pushed out of the Anglican Church of Canada because he refused to endorse same-sex marriage. This came at a great cost – he was defrocked as an Anglican clergyman. We can certainly commend him for his courage. Incidentally, soon afterwards, he was relicensed as clergy and admitted into the Anglican Church of North America. Thus, he continues to be an Anglican, though not in the “mainstream.” TWO MORE GREAT TITLES On a personal note, I’ve benefitted from especially two of Packer’s writings. The first I came across was his volume on the Puritans, A Quest for Godliness. This had a huge impact on shaping my attitude towards those saints of old. For many people, this book has been instrumental in overturning misconceptions of the Puritans. Later, when I pursued further studies in missiology, one of my required readings was one of Packer’s first books, Evangelism & the Sovereignty of God. I loved it! This slender book powerfully argued that a Calvinistic belief in God’s sovereignty is anything but a death knell for outreach – quite the opposite. Armed with what I’ve said about some of his inconsistencies, I’d say that this is one author with whom Reformed Perspective readers should definitely get acquainted. Dr. Bredenhof blogs at yinkahdinay.wordpress.com. This article first appeared in the May 2016 issue. THE QUOTABLE PACKER The Gospel in 3 words “ere I asked to focus the New Testament message in three words, my proposal would be adoption through propitiation, and I do not expect ever to meet a richer or more pregnant summary of the gospel than that.” – Knowing God Real repentance “Repentance, as we know, is basically not moaning and remorse, but turning and change.” – on Twitter Human responsibility and God's sovereignty “God’s sovereignty is a reality, and man’s responsibility is a reality too.... To our finite minds, of course, the thing is inexplicable. It sounds like a contradiction, and our first reaction is to complain that it is absurd....We ought not, in any case, to be surprised when we find mysteries of this sort in God’s Word. For the Creator is incomprehensible to his creatures. A God whom we could understand exhaustively, and whose revelation of Himself confronted us with no mysteries whatsoever, would be a God in man’s image, and therefore an imaginary God, not the God of the Bible at all.” – Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God Wretched man that I am “A deepening sense of one’s sinfulness remains a touchstone of the genuine Christian life.” – Rediscovering Holiness Faith and works “Historical Exegesis is only the preliminary part of interpretation; application is its essence. Exegesis without application should not be called interpretation at all.” – Engaging the Written Word of God...

Adult non-fiction, Book Reviews, Children’s non-fiction

Visual theology for young and old

VISUAL THEOLOGY: Seeing and understanding the truth about God by Tim Challies and Josh Byers 2016 / 155 pages I’ve read and reviewed several systematic theologies. These books were geared towards pastors, theologians, or theological students. They follow the same basic structure and, because they’re Reformed, they tend to say the same things in mostly the same way. Visual Theology has “theology” in the title, and it generally steers in the Reformed direction, but that’s where the similarities end. Visual Theology is decidedly not directed at the ivory tower – though scholars will certainly reap spiritual benefits if they read it. Instead, it’s for regular people in the pew. It also recognizes that some of those regular people are more visual in their learning style. So, Tim Challies delivers clear prose and Josh Byers illumines with effective infographics. All up, it’s not only a beautiful book, but also pedagogically powerful. Conventional systematic theologies cover such topics as God, creation, salvation, and the last things. Visual Theology is different; it has four parts: grow close to Christ understand the work of Christ become like Christ live for Christ. It’s Christ-centered and relationally oriented. It’s theology that, as Challies says, “is about growing in godliness.” You can only grow in godliness in a healthy relationship with Christ. Visual Theology shows why and how. I found valuable insights new to me (especially in the third section on hating and fighting sin), but also many familiar truths expressed or illustrated freshly. As I mentioned, generally this book leans Reformed. For example, the use of creeds is affirmed; the Westminster Shorter Catechism’s definition of sin is quoted; the real spiritual presence of Christ in the Lord’s Supper is affirmed; and justification is properly defined as a declaration of righteousness. Commendably, Visual Theology teaches a monergistic view of salvation which includes unconditional election. By the authors’ own admission, the book “is not a thorough introduction to Christian doctrine.” Some readers will detect gaps. Allowing for the intent of the authors, but also for full disclosure to readers of this review, let me mention two. Visual Theology is almost completely positive in its presentation of biblical teachings. That means there’s not much, if anything, in the way of exposure or addressing of errors. Next, its relational framework is a plus, but it is surprising that the biblical framework for a healthy relationship between God and humanity is missing. There’s no explicit mention of the covenant of grace. I have one noteworthy concern: the authors are Baptists and this becomes evident in the description of baptism: “The water of baptism represents the washing away of sin, while going into the water and coming back out represents death and new life.” The first part of that sentence is true, and the second part can be true, but more needs to be said. The authors assume immersion of the believer as the norm for baptism. As one would expect from Baptists, the sprinkling of babies is not even in the picture, nor is the relationship between baptism and the covenant of grace. However, this is one short paragraph in an otherwise great book and it is far from being a polemic for the Baptist position. This book could be useful as edifying reading for a Sunday afternoon. Perhaps it could also be used as a textbook for an adult education class. For those who might use it in an educational setting, there’s also a website with the infographics available as PowerPoint slides and more: visualtheology.church. Visual Theology is innovative in its approach, almost entirely reliable in its content, and attractive in its presentation. You’ll find it both enjoyable and edifying! And you can view dozens of samples of what's in the book on Tim Challies' Pinterest page here. – Wes Bredenhof ***** GOD'S TIMELINE: The big book of Church history by Linda Finlayson 80 pages / 2018 This book will be a well-used treasure for Christian families and classrooms. It combines text, color, symbols, visuals, infographic timelines and photographs to illustrate how Christ has been building His Church since AD 33. Finlayson divides the time from AD 33 to 2010 into five periods: Early (33-500), Medieval (497-1500), Reforming (1500-1685), Missionary (1700-1900), and Modern (1900-2010). These are further divided into sub-periods on the timelines. This book is intended for ages 9-15, but it is helpful for any learner including adults. Within each chapter there are definitions of special terms: heresy, council, creed, canon, Islam, crusade, the five “solas,” ecumenical, etc. The history ranges over all the major denominations and leading personalities of each of the smaller timelines. Some minor criticisms: The maps could be a little larger, and there is little or no mention of the Black Church, Martin Luther King Jr., etc – the ending of the slave trade is there but not their churches or history. The Missionary and Modern chapters need to be expanded to reflect the building of the church of Christ in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Overall, the book covers all the major events, issues, and personages that are always recounted. This is helpful for the intended audience. And the bibliography gives great resources for further study. You can find a couple sample pages here. – Dennis A. Bratcher   ***** JUST THINKING: 95 doodles to noodle over by Jason Bouwman 2017 / 188 pages If you’re a regular reader of Reformed Perspective you may recall some of the Just Thinking “cartoons that have appeared in our pages over the last few years. Author Jason Bouwman, a graphic designer by trade, and a theologian by inclination, has collected 95 of these “theological doodles” and paired each with an appropriate quote, or a few words of explanation, and made the most remarkable book out of them all. Every two-page is a complete though – doodle on one side, reflection on the other, and together they grab the readers’ attention and then hold it. This is a book that can’t be read through quickly – each spread is worth contemplating. To put it another way, this is theology with an artistic flair, and a devotional of sorts. This is that rare book that would make the perfect high school grad gift, as well as a fantastic birthday present for a seminary professor; we’ve given copies to our teenage nephews as well as to our 80-year-old aunt. Bouwman has crafted something remarkable here, somehow managing to package “insightful and challenging” with “accessible and creative.” I can’t recommend it enough. You can order a copy and see sample pages at JustThinkingBook.com. – Jon Dykstra *****...

Adult non-fiction

BOOK REVIEW: Greg Koukl's "The Story of Reality"

The Story of Reality: How the World Began, How It Ends, and Everything Important That Happens in Between by Gregory Koukl 2017 / 198 pages There are two types of apologetics books: there are the ones that tell you about defending the faith and then there are the ones that show you how to defend the faith. Greg Koukl’s new book falls into the latter category. It’s a book written with two main types of readers in mind. It’s for Christians who are struggling for answers to the big questions that come with the Christian faith. It’s also written for unbelievers who are open to considering the claims of the Christian faith. For both readers (and others), I think Koukl has something powerful to offer. The Story of Reality is a basic overview of most of the key elements of a Christian worldview. When I say it’s basic, I mean that it’s not written at a highly academic level. A high school or college student should be able to manage it. However, behind the basic level of communication, one familiar with the issues will recognize that Koukl is no slouch. The deeper stuff is in his grasp, but he has distilled it into something readily understood. A story but not fiction The concept of “worldview” is increasingly being criticized in Christian circles as something created by modern philosophy. Perhaps it’s for this reason that Koukl recasts the notion in terms of a story. In this story, there are characters and there is a plot. The main characters are God and man. The plot involves creation, fall, redemption, and restoration. But unlike other stories, the Christian story (laid out in the Bible) is objectively true — it is reality. Koukl addresses other competing “stories” such as: materialism mysticism/pantheism Islam He critiques these stories and shows how they’re inadequate for explaining the state of things as we see them. He then also provides ample argumentation to illustrate that it’s only the Christian story (or worldview) that can be true. Christianity is true because of the impossibility of the contrary. Readers familiar with Reformed presuppositional apologetics will recognize what Koukl is doing. His method is generally in that school. As I’ve noted before (in my review of his previous book Tactics), Koukl is a student of Francis Schaeffer, who in turn had been a student of Cornelius Van Til. Van Til was one of the pioneers of Reformed presuppositional apologetics. One of the key features of that school is a commitment to the place of Scripture in apologetics, not only as a foundation, but also as part of the actual method. Similarly, throughout The Story of Reality, Koukl is constantly either quoting or, more often, paraphrasing the Bible. This is highly commendable! Couple of cautions This is not to say that Koukl is always consistently in the Reformed school of apologetics. There are a couple of places where I put some question marks. In chapter 21, he discusses faith. He correctly notes that faith, in itself, does not save. Rather, faith is the instrument through which we are saved. Then he writes this: "This is why reason and evidence matter in the story. It is critical to get certain facts right. Put simply — reason assesses, faith trusts. That is the relationship of reason to faith. Reason helps us know what is actually true, leading to accurate belief. Faith is our step of trust to rely on what we have good reason to believe is so." There is some truth in this. You can say that faith needs and uses reason as a tool. However, there are also important limits to this. Above all, the unregenerate mind misuses and abuses reason because of sin. Unregenerate reasoning is not going to assess facts correctly. Deadened by sin, reason does not help you know what is actually true. Moreover, even when regeneration comes into the picture, human reason is going to run stuck with certain pieces of the Christian worldview (or story). Think of the Trinity. Reason assesses that doctrine and says, “Sorry, it doesn’t make sense.” Does faith then stop trusting? Faith has reasons for believing in the Trinity, but those reasons come down to the faithfulness and reliability of the One who revealed it to us, not the logical self-evidence of it. There were a few other questionable statements. In this blog post, I interacted with his suggestion on page 51 that the Big Bang is compatible with Genesis. In chapter 11, he opines that the Bible teaches that animals have souls. The biblical evidence offered for this is debatable. One addition would have been good I also want to draw attention to an omission. The subtitle tells us that the book will tell us “everything important that happens in between” the beginning and the end. But in Koukl’s story, an important part is missing. It’s the part where the lives of believers are transformed by the gospel. It’s the part where the Holy Spirit works to change us and make us into new people who take every thought captive for Christ in every area of life. I was hoping to read at least a paragraph, preferably a chapter, about that vital and wonderful part of the Story. It’s incomplete without it. A book worth buying for – and reading with – a friend Despite my criticisms, overall this is a well-written and well-argued book. Koukl deftly anticipates questions and objections. He uses helpful illustrations. The chapters are of such a length as not to be intimidating. If you know an unbeliever who is showing interest in the faith, I’d suggest buying two copies — one for yourself, and one for her or him. Offer to read it together and discuss it. You’d for sure find yourself enriched and, who knows, perhaps it would be God’s instrument to work faith in the heart of your friend too. For 5 great quotes from "The Story of Reality" click here. Dr. Bredenhof blogs at Creation Without Compromise and Yinkahdinay where this article first appeared. It is reprinted here with permission....

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Good habits help us minimize trouble...

Though his name has long escaped me, I will never forget his rage.  We had just moved to a new city and my mom was looking for a family dentist. Why a relative recommended this fellow, I'll never understand – he was the angriest dentist I’ve ever encountered.  His patience for children was non-existent.  Once the door was closed and I was cut off from my mother, if my mouth didn’t open wide enough, his mouth opened wide with the most foul cursing I’d ever heard, all directed at me.  Thankfully, Mom only took us there a couple of times. While our next dentist was a far kinder man, his dental hygienist was another story. I called her “Carol the Butcher” as there was a butcher shop next door and I was quite convinced she went back and forth. These two forever put the fear of dentistry (ondontophobia) in my blood. It can be hard to get past traumatic childhood experiences.  As a result, I’ve always hated going to the dentist: the blood, the pain, the way my body seizes up in the chair.  I come away sore and worn right out. Minimizing trouble Eventually it dawned on me that I could minimize some of my trouble through regular dental hygiene.  Other, more friendly, dental hygienists down the track taught me some helpful disciplines.  I learned that regular brushing with a soft toothbrush was a key.  I couldn’t really floss because I have sensitive gums (and I’m a bit clumsy), but a hygienist recommended some soft inter-dental brushes that could help in cleaning between my teeth.  Regularly using these would make my visits to the dentist a bit less traumatic.  As I developed better habits in dental hygiene (with some helpful tips), I was experiencing far less grief in the dental chair. So much of our grief in life can be alleviated through developing good habits.  Sometimes we just need to be taught.  At other times, we need to become teachable and it can take some time.  This is true when it comes to dental hygiene, but also when it comes to spiritual hygiene. I’ve learned that developing good spiritual habits or disciplines is just as valuable to our spiritual health as good habits are to our dental hygiene.  When you ignore your spiritual hygiene, you oftentimes bring grief on yourself.  For example, if you think that you can be spiritually healthy while seldom going to church to be under the Word, you’re just deceiving yourself.  It’d be like thinking that you’re going to have healthy teeth while seldom brushing.  Or if you think that you can be spiritually sound without reading and studying the Bible for yourself on a regular basis, you’re in a dream-world.  It’d be like thinking that your next dental visit will go fine without you having regularly flossed, or using something like an inter-dental brush.  Good hygiene is essential to good health — and it always requires effort and discipline. A good habit for my soul My lowest points, spiritually speaking, have always come when I’ve been neglecting discipline in my spiritual life, especially the reading and study of God’s Word.  I will always be thankful for an elder who challenged me on this point about five years ago.  You may think it odd for a pastor to admit this.  It’s true that I’m always busy with the Bible, but usually I’m busy with it for the benefit of others.  Yes, I’ve always gotten some benefit from it too.  But this elder challenged me to be busy with Scripture on a daily basis for my own benefit.  He said, “Have you ever tried reading through the Bible in a year?”  I hadn’t up to that point, but he really got me thinking.  I was getting into good habits for my dental health, but what about good habits for my spiritual health?  And which is more important?  The Lord worked through that elder to introduce me to the habit of reading Scripture every day, two or three chapters, for my own benefit.  Good dental hygienists introduced me to good habits for my teeth; a good elder introduced me to a good habit for my soul.  For both, I’m forever grateful. Looking for a Bible reading plan to start on a good habit for your spiritual health?  Here’s a place to start. Dr. Wes Bredenhof is the pastor of Free Reformed Church, Launceston, Tasmania, and blogs at Yinkahdinay where a version of this article first appeared....