Book Review: Is the Bible True…Really? by McDowell and Sterrett

Title: Is the Bible True . . . Really?
Authors: Josh McDowell & Dave Sterrett
Publisher: Moody Publishers (2011)

Meet Nick. Nick grew up going to church, believed the Bible, and was generally a pretty good kid.

Then he went to college and met Dr. Peterson, his Religious Studies professor, a critical scholar of the New Testament who rocked his confidence in what he (Nick) had been taught about the Scriptures.

Is the Bible reliable? How can we really know that what we have today is really what was originally written? What do we do with all the variances in the manuscripts that exist?

Is the Bible true… really?

These are the questions that Nick was left facing. And they’re the same ones faced by all Christians today, especially those heading off to college where their faith will be severely tested. Without good answers to these questions—and many others—their faith will not stand.

That’s what inspired Josh McDowell and Dave Sterrett to write Is the Bible True . . . Really? In this book, the first in their Coffee House Chronicles series, the authors seek to equip and encourage readers as they follow Nick on his quest for the answers to the questions surrounding the reliability of the Bible.

By late January of his freshman year, Nick was a professing agnostic who put a lot of stock in the ideas popularized by the Zeitgeist movie that’s been making the rounds on YouTube for the last couple years and in books by Dan Brown and Bart Erhman.

So convinced is he that he decides to write a twenty-one page paper entitled The Plagiarism of the Bible: How the Bible Stole from Pagan Mythology. Hoping to get his teacher’s input, he instead meets Jamal Washington, Dr. Peterson’s new teaching assistant, a graduate from Dallas Theological Seminary (and former college football star). As he begins a friendship with Jamal, he finds his new-found agnosticism shattered as Jamal details the real facts surrounding the reliability of the Bible.

So what does Nick (and readers along with him) learn? [Read more...]

What Could Unravel the Gospel-Centered Movement?

A couple years back, Piper was asked, “what could unravel the gospel-centered movement?”

His answer was insightful: The disconnect between the majesty of God and the way we entertain ourselves.

“There’s an awakening to the majesty of God around the country, a filling of hearts with God-centered, Christ-exalted, Bible-saturated songs . . . a zeal for truth and biblical doctrine . . . and I’m concerned that there’s a disconnect between the big thoughts of God and how we live our daily lives.”

I’ve been thinking hard about this for the last few days. Am I inconsistent in how I entertain myself? Probably. Am I seeking to be more consistent? I hope so.

If anything is going to be offensive about how I live, I want it to be the gospel.

How about you?

HT: Justin Taylor

Fear of Man vs. Fear of God

I really appreciated this reminder from Driscoll in his recent sermon, Jesus vs. Fear.

The transcript follows:

See, if we believe that God loves us, then we believe that even if what’s happening to us isn’t good and holy and just, it’ll be used by a good, holy, and just God to teach us more about Jesus and to make us more like him. So we overcome fear of man with the love of God. God loves me. One way or another, he’s going to get me through.

And then Jesus closes with sort of the culminating big idea, that you overcome fear of man with the fear of God.

Luke 12:8–12, “And I tell you, everyone who acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man,” that’s a title of himself from Daniel. He uses it about eighty times. It means God become a man. “Also will acknowledge before the angels of God,” who will serve as the witnesses, “but the one who denies me before men will be denied before the angels of God. And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but the one who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven. And when they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities,” the bullies are going to get you, you’re going to suffer at some point.

“Do not be anxious,” fear, fear, fear, fear, fear.

“Do not be anxious about how you should defend yourself or what you should say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.”

Here’s the big idea: fear of man or fear of God. Those are your options. There is no alternative.

Someone is the most important person. Someone is the biggest dominant personality in your life. Okay, if it’s someone other than Jesus, you have fear of man. You’re worshiping them. They’re your functional lord even if Jesus is your theological Lord.

Proverbs 29:25 again, “The fear of man is a trap or a snare.” It won’t work for them, it doesn’t work for you, it doesn’t work at all. The alternative is the fear of the Lord. Proverbs 1:7, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” Before you can get anything straight in your life, you have to get straight who the Lord is. Jesus is Lord. The shortest confession of Christian belief is, has always been, Jesus is Lord.

Working For Justice without Undermining Evangelism


It seems like everywhere you turn, people are asking the same question:

How do you work for justice without undermining evangelism?

Typically there are a couple of ways to answer the question. One camp suggests that we don’t need to evangelize until after the need has been met, if at all; that our focus should be eliminating extreme poverty or ending human trafficking. A cause is at the center instead of Christ.

The other tends to run to the opposite extreme, seeing any sort of social action as anathema to the Christian life.

Both extremes, obviously, are wrong. How, then, do you find a healthy, biblical middle-ground?

I’ve written about this a few times (here and here for example), but over at the Gospel Coalition last week, they examined the issue by posing the question to a number of wise pastors and theologians. Here’s a look at their insights:

Don Carson:

1. By doing evangelism. I know numerous groups that claim to be engaging in “holistic” ministry because they are helping the poor in Chicago or because they are digging wells in the Sahel, even though few if any of the workers have taken the time to explain to anyone who Jesus is and what he has done to reconcile us to God. Their ministry isn’t holistic; it’s halfistic, or quarteristic.

2. By being careful not to malign believers of an earlier generation. The popular buzz is that evangelicals before this generation focused all their energies on proclamation and little or nothing on deeds of mercy. Doubtless one can find sad examples of such reductionism, but the sweeping condescension toward our evangelical forbears is neither true nor kind…

3. By learning, with careful study of Scripture, just what the gospel is, becoming passionately excited about this gospel, and then distinguishing between the gospel and its entailments. The gospel is the good news of what God has done, especially in Christ Jesus, especially in his cross and resurrection; it is not what we do. Because it is news, it is to be proclaimed. But because it is powerful, it not only reconciles us to God, but transforms us, and that necessarily shapes our behavior, priorities, values, relationships with people, and much more. These are not optional extras for the extremely sanctified, but entailments of the gospel. To preach moral duty without the underlying power of the gospel is moralism that is both pathetic and powerless; to preach a watered-down gospel as that which tips us into the kingdom, to be followed by discipleship and deeds of mercy, is an anemic shadow of the robust gospel of the Bible; to preach the gospel and social justice as equivalent demands is to misunderstand how the Bible hangs together.

4. By truly loving people in Jesus’ name—our neighbors as ourselves, doing good to all people, especially those of the household of faith. That necessarily includes the alleviation of suffering, both temporal and eternal. Christians interested in alleviating only eternal suffering implicitly deny the place of love here and now; Christians who [fail] to proclaim the Christ of the gospel of the kingdom while they treat . . . suffering here and now show themselves not really to believe all that the Bible says about fleeing the wrath to come. In the end, it is a practical atheism and a failure in love.

Ray Ortlund: [Read more...]

Book Review: One or Two by Peter Jones

When it comes to worldviews, belief systems and religious practice, we live in an age of seemingly unparalleled and unlimited options. North Americans today enjoy meditation, practice yoga, and dabble in a variety of different religious practices as they seek to find something that brings meaning, purpose and fulfillment to their lives.

But according to Peter Jones, the choice is really much more simple: There’s the Truth and the Lie. And in One or Two: Seeing a World of Difference, Jones explains how our worldview affects our understanding of God, what we worship and our sexuality.

One or Two is an incredibly challenging read, especially in an age when it’s controversial to be anything but affirming of all beliefs and religions. Tolerance is seen as the highest of values in culture, and increasingly in the Church as well. So doctrinal distinction is downplayed; gender distinction is eliminated; social causes become the new mission of the Church… and eventually Christianity looks no different than anyone or anything else.

But according to Jones, this should not be. He writes, “Western culture . . . is being hijacked by a spiritual ideology that I call Neopaganism.” (p. 11) Neopaganism is at the heart of radical environmentalism, the more extreme elements of the social justice movement, and theological liberalism.

However, Jones writes, “If there is any hope for us in the twenty-first century, gorged as we are on materialism, One-ist pagan spiritualities, endless sensual fantasies and cock-eyed global utopian illusions, the old rabbi [the Apostle Paul] must speak to us again.” (pp. 13-14)

Jones builds his argument by carefully examining culture through the lens of Paul’s writing in Romans 1:24-25:

Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

What we learn is that these words have, perhaps, rarely been more relevant than today. [Read more...]

Always Get to the Gospel: Dever, Driscoll and MacDonald on the Pastor and Personal Evangelism

In the above video, Pastors Mark Driscoll, Mark Dever and James MacDonald speak of the challenge of engaging in personal evangelism as pastors who spend a great deal of time with Christians. The dialogue is quite intriguing and well worth spending a few minutes watching.

After you’ve watched the video, consider the following questions:

  1. Does the gospel need to be shared in the every sermon? If so, why? If not, why not?
  2. Are you, whether you’re in vocational ministry or not, being proactive in seeking out non-Christians for the purpose of evangelism?

HT: Colin Hansen

An Epic Beatdown

In this video excerpt from his message at the recent 9Marks conference held at Southeastern Seminary, Matt Chandler describes “an epic beatdown”:

Here’s the story from Acts 19:11-20:

And God was doing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, so that even handkerchiefs or aprons that had touched his skin were carried away to the sick, and their diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them. Then some of the itinerant Jewish exorcists undertook to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying, “I adjure you by the Jesus whom Paul proclaims.” Seven sons of a Jewish high priest named Sceva were doing this. But the evil spirit answered them, “Jesus I know, and Paul I recognize, but who are you?” And the man in whom was the evil spirit leaped on them, mastered all of them and overpowered them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded. And this became known to all the residents of Ephesus, both Jews and Greeks. And fear fell upon them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was extolled. Also many of those who were now believers came, confessing and divulging their practices. And a number of those who had practiced magic arts brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all. And they counted the value of them and found it came to fifty thousand pieces of silver. So the word of the Lord continued to increase and prevail mightily.

As Chandler notes, it’s interesting that the demon responds to the sons of Sceva, “Jesus I know, and Paul I recognize, but who are you?”

The question is revealing. Demons know Jesus—and shudder (cf. James 2:19). They know He is the Sovereign one who will, on the day of judgement, cast them all into hell.

They also recognize Paul. As Christ’s chosen instrument to reach the gentiles (cf. Acts 9:15), he is a known entity in the spiritual realm. He has power—because He believes.

But these guys…

They are sons of a Jewish high priest and itinerant exorcists.

Who don’t believe.

“I adjure you by the Jesus whom Paul proclaims,” they declare; they treat the power of Christ in the life of a believer like a magic spell.

And the demons, instead of turning tail, turned on them.

And after that, by God’s grace, the gospel exploded in Ephesus.

When you look at a passage like this, it can be challenging to see what application we can make. As I’ve been reading it, one clear, practical application jumps to mind:

In our pursuits, in our passions, are we really, truly all about Jesus—His glory, His fame, His majesty, His gospel—or do we use His name like an incantation?

Do you want to use His name to further your agenda…

Or is He your agenda?

The challenge here is that the answer reveals something of our hearts. If we’re using Christ’s name to further our agenda—even for a great cause like helping people who live in poverty, freeing young girls from the sex trade or setting up an after-school program for kids in inner-city neighborhoods—and the agenda is not, clearly, overtly that we want people to love and serve Jesus… we might wind up no better off than the sons of Sceva.

It’s scary to think about, but we can pursue God-honoring things in a way that is insulting to Him. When we rely on our own ability, when we make our cause, our movement, our agenda the main thing. When we pursue our glory instead of God’s.

So, today as you go through the day, rely on Christ, not on your own ability.

Glory in Christ, not in your own cause.

You never know, you could see the gospel explode where you are.

The Bold and Indignant Christ: Charles Haddon Spurgeon

photo: iStock

Brethren, the Savior’s character has all goodness in all perfection; he is full of grace and truth. Some men, nowadays, talk of him as if he were simply incarnate benevolence. It is not so. No lip ever spoke with such thundering indignation against sin as the lips of the Messiah.

“He is like a refiner’s fire, and like fuller’s soap. His fan is in his hand, and he will throughly purge his floor.” While in tenderness he prays for his tempted disciple, that his faith may not fail, yet with awful sternness he winnows the heap, and drives away the chaff into unquenchable fire.

We speak of Christ as being meek and lowly in spirit, and so he was. A bruised reed he did not break, and the smoking flax he did not quench; but his meekness was balanced by his courage, and by the boldness with which he denounced hypocrisy. “Woe unto you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites; ye fools and blind, ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?”

These are not the words of the milksop some authors represent Christ to have been.

He is a man—a thorough man—throughout—a God-like man—gentle as a woman, but yet stern as a warrior in the midst of the day of battle. The character is balanced; as much of one virtue as of another. As in Deity every attribute is full orbed; justice never eclipses mercy, nor mercy justice, nor justice faithfulness; so in the character of Christ you have all the excellent things.

Charles Haddon Spurgeon, “Sweet Saviour” (as quoted in The Jesus You Can’t Ignore by John MacArthur p. 99 [paragraph breaks mine])

Salt, Light and Everything in Between

You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

Matthew 5:13-16

Over the last few weeks I’ve read a number of books that have, in various ways, touched on the issue of being salt & light in our communities and the world, whether it’s overseas missions, supporting NGOs that are assisting the poor, or serving your community in practical ways. This is great stuff to be thinking about.

We, in all honesty, need to be thinking about how we can be a faithful witness for Christ every day—and then finding ways to do it.

Without losing our saltiness in the process.

One of the things that’s been particularly interesting as I’ve been reading books like Outlive Your Life, The Hole in Our Gospel, stuff by Francis Chan and even Radical by David Platt is the real challenge that exists in not turning caring for the poor or overseas missions or having more greater explosive spiritual experiences into a means of justification.

In other words, it’s really, really hard for us to keep straight the gospel and it’s ramifications.

This is, to some degree, what we see when we’re warned about losing our saltiness.

In social justice circles, there’s a lot of work that’s motivated by faith in Christ—but that’s the only place Christ has. Motivation.

His name is not spoken. His greatness is not proclaimed.

Preach the gospel always, if necessary use words” is the rallying cry.

And we are, ultimately, only left having done good deeds.

I know how hard this is.

I write for a Christian charity that partners with the local church in the developing world to meet the practical and spiritual needs of children. And it’s always difficult to keep the message on track—to keep the gospel the focus, rather than making supporters superheroes or turning children into statistics because that might “sell” better than saying, “we do what we do because we want kids to meet Jesus.”

And I don’t want to sound like I’m slagging other folks who are doing tremendous work, but we have to remember: doing good things is not the gospel. And it’s not being a witness to the gospel, either.

We witness to the gospel when we share the good news of Christ’s death, burial and resurrection—and let our good works serve as a response to that.

Then, people may “see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matt 5:16).

But that’s the goal. If we are to be salt and light, then we have to know the gospel.

We have to embrace the gospel.

We need to be transformed by the gospel.

And we need to proclaim the gospel.

Good works aren’t bad, but they’re not the gospel.

When we get the gospel wrong, everything else goes wrong with it. But if we get the gospel right, it’s a glorious thing indeed.

The Inflammatory Christ: Dorothy Sayers

photo: iStock

I believe it is a grave mistake to present Christianity as something charming and popular with no offence in it. Seeing that Christ went about the world giving the most violent offense to all kinds of people, it would seem absurd to expect that the doctrine of his person can be so presented at to offend nobody. We cannot blink at the fact that gentle Jesus, meek and mild, was so stiff in His opinions and so inflammatory in His language that He was thrown out of church, stoned, hunted from place to place, and finally gibbeted as a firebrand and a public danger. Whatever His peace was, it was not the peace of an amiable indifference.

Dorothy Sayers, Letters to a Diminished Church: Passionate Arguments for the Relevance of Christian Doctrine (as quoted in The Jesus You Can’t Ignore by John MacArthur p. 163)

The Stern and Holy Christ: R. C. H. Lenski

photo: iStock

The stern and holy Christ, the indignant, mighty Messiah, the Messenger of the Covenant of whom it is written: “He shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the Lord an offering of righteousness,” is not agreeable to those who want only a soft and sweet Christ. [What we see instead is] the fiery zeal of Jesus which came with such sudden and tremendous effectiveness that before this unknown man, who had no further authority than his own person and word, this crowd of traders and changers, who thought they were fully within their right when conducting their business in the Temple court, fled pellmell like a lot of naughty boys.

R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. John’s Gospel, p. 207 (as quoted in The Jesus You Can’t Ignore by John MacArthur p. 23)

Evangelistically Challenged

Something I’ve been praying for, fairly consistently, is the opportunity to share our faith with our family. A while back, we used to hope for kind of an “afterschool special” moment; that one day, Emily’s parents or my parents would sit us down and say, “Gee, you’re really different. Why is that?” And then we could share our story, present the gospel and see them get saved. That day.

Too lofty a goal? Maybe.

Anyway, as I’ve been praying, occasionally little opportunities to put something out there pop up. Sometimes I end up taking them, but… a lot of the time, I hesitate or I misread the situation.

Sunday afternoon, for example, I realized in hindsight that there was a prime opportunity and I dropped the ball. My mother-in-law asked me how my preaching went last weekend, which gave me an opening that—I didn’t take.

But I should have, I realized as we were driving home.

I talked a  bit about how it went, but didn’t get into the content of the message too much. While she might not have been all that interested (and even though I’ve sent a link to the audio), I totally blew that opportunity.

What I’m realizing in this is that I’m kind of evangelistically challenged, at least when it comes to family.

I think there’s still a part of me that wants to think that pure “relational evangelism”—that somehow, people are going to ask, “Gee, Aaron, I’ve noticed you don’t drink; could you tell me how to get saved?”—that that’s actually going to work.

But I’m sure, if we’re being honest with ourselves, we know that it just doesn’t.

Paul writes in Romans 10:14-17:

How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.

Getting over being evangelistically challenged means being willing to speak up, even at the risk of offending someone with the truth.

I guess the question for me is, am I willing to get over myself to do it?

Truth and Lies: Kevin DeYoung on the Contemporary Church

Kevin DeYoung, pastor of University Reformed Church and author of Just Do Something, and Why We’re Not Emergent & Why We Love the Church (with coauthor Ted Kluck), was the second speaker at The Exchange. His message addressed the Truth and the Lie in the Contemporary Church.

In his message, DeYoung asserts that there are four lies we’re told about the gospel, the Church, divine revelation and discipleship.

The Gospel

The lie: The gospel is not about doctrine, it is simply an invitation into a way of life.

The truth: The gospel is a message of historical fact plus theological interpretation.

DeYoung cites one popular author who says, “The gospel is an event to be proclaimed, not a doctrine.” Another says that orthodoxy is about how you live; that it’s a vision for a new way of living.

“You may have heard this quote from St. Francis of Assisi, ‘Preach the gospel, use words if necessary,’” says DeYoung. “This has a number of problems—first, there’s no record that he said it, second, there’s no indication that he lived by it, and third it’s a confusion of categories.”

“We want to adorn the gospel with good deed, but without the proclamation we have not shared the gospel.”

In other words, lifestyle evangelism should not be code for “I don’t evangelize.”

“I really don’t think my neighbors are going to come to me and say, ‘Kevin, you don’t swear, can you tell me about Jesus?’ or ‘You have a fair trade coffee; tell me how to go to heaven?’”

People want to emphasize the gospel as a way of life because of a veneer of cultural Christianity. It’s more than getting a doctrinal formulation correct, but it’s no excuse for turning the good news into “good advice.”

“Without doctrine, ‘It’s about Jesus,’ becomes a meaningless mantra,” says DeYoung. As Paul wrote in 1 Cor. 15:1-11: [Read more...]