Monthly Archives: December 2016

Review: Conscience: What It Is, How to Train It, and Loving Those Who Differ

conscience

Andrew David Naselli (PhD, Bob Jones University; PhD, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) is assistant professor of New Testament and biblical theology at Bethlehem College & Seminary in Minneapolis, Minnesota. J. D. Crowley (MA, Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary) has been doing missionary and linguistic work among the indigenous minorities of northeast Cambodia since 1994.

Buy One, Get Ten Free

Some subjects in Christianity are so fertile, so abundantly promising and useful on so many different levels, that studying them reaps a harvest far beyond expectations. It’s like buy one, get ten free. Conscience is one of those subjects. It touches on salvation, progressive sanctification, church unity, evangelism, missions, and apologetics. Yet hardly is a topic more neglected in the Christian church (Kindle 173-175).

What is a conscience and why do we have it? What are we meant to use it for? Can we sell it? Can we shape it, mold it? Should we, in the words of Jiminy Cricket, always let our conscience be our guide? Can it ever be wrong?

After we’ve answered those questions, the next test remains: since we aren’t like “Bubble Boy,” we shouldn’t keep only to ourselves, and we should live amongst other believers (and non-Christians), how ought we interact with others who have a different conscience than us? Split and form another church? How must we calibrate our conscience to how God desires us to live?

Naselli and Crowley have met a need by writing Conscience. If Paul spent whole sections on it in his letters (Rom 14.1–15.7; 1 Cor 8–10; Gal 2; Col 2), then we must consider our own consciences and the consciences of others more than we already do. It is a gift from God.

Outline

  • Chapters 1 and 2 ask what a conscience is and how we define it from the NT. Humans have consciences. Animals don’t. Our conscience reflects the moral aspect of God’s image. No one has the same conscience, your conscience doesn’t perfectly match God’s commands (thus you must always be growing), and you can damage your conscience. In chapter 2, all NT verses which speak of “conscience” are written out, and afterwards a definition is produced which tells us what the conscience can and cannot do and why it matters.

The following four chapters ask four critical questions:

  • Chapter 3, What should you do when your conscience condemns you?
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  • Chapter 4, How should you calibrate your conscience to match God’s will?
    “Martin Luther believed that maintaining a good conscience was worth going to prison for and even dying for. That great Reformer discovered in the Bible” (Kindle 774-775). Here the authors look at how reliable your conscience is on it’s own, and show you how you can calibrate your conscience according to what is pleasing to God. They give plenty of examples of third-level issues (issues which many will disagree over, but they are issues that nobody should split over), and reason over why no one should be dogmatic over all of his convictions.
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  • Chapter 5, How should you relate to fellow Christians when your consciences disagree? The authors give 12 principles from Romans 14.1-15.7 on how Christians can disagree with one another on disputable matters. They show Paul’s solution of love that emphasizes and “magnifies the gospel.”
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  • Chapter 6, How should you relate to people in other cultures when your consciences disagree? It can sometimes seem like people in other cultures don’t even have a conscience. They easily offend you, and, as it turns out, no matter how hard you try, you easily offend them too! How can we live together? And how can we bring the Gospel to other cultures without imposing our own cultural “laws” on to their lives? Chapter 6 pulls out another facet of Christian liberty and the freedom to disciple yourself to be flexible for the Gospel.

The book ends with two appendices:

  • Similarities Between Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8–10
  • Conscience Exercises For Cross-Cultural Effectiveness

The Chocolate Milk

Every chapter is important, and I found chapter 6 interesting, especially since Mari has a bachelor in intercultural communications, and we are an intercultural couple. Even though I’m American, I’ve been abroad for 5 years, and coming back to America I have to learn a few things over again (especially with being in a Southern Baptist context). It’s all fairly familiar to me, but it can be down right bizarre for Mari. This chapter is especially important:
…….(a) if you move to a new city/state/country.
…….(b) if someone else moves to your city.
…….(c) if you are a missionary to another country.
…….(d) because, with all the incoming refugees, you can’t just assume you know how they think, nor should you generalize.

More could be listed here, but it’s important to work toward understanding those who think differently than you (and I) do. In all of this we should seek unity with our family in Christ, and, as much as is possible, be peaceable among nonbelievers.

Recommended?

At 160 pages, this is a seriously easy and important book for any and all Christians to read through. I tried scanning through Amazon for books on the Christian conscience, and found next to nothing (minus a book by Sproul which is free on Kindle). While I haven’t read any other books on the conscience, the lack of Christian books on conscience shows the need for more discussion on this topic. There are a number of books about the conscience on Amazon, most of them from a non-Christian perspective. If you’re going to spend your time reading a book, pick up one written by two biblically solid scholars who seek to glorify God in all that they do. Read this book, and put it into practice. You’ll need it.

Lagniappe

  • Authors: Andrew Naselli & J. D. Crowley
  • Paperback: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Crossway (April 30, 2016)
  • Read a Sample

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Buy from Crossway or on Amazon!

(Special thanks to Crossway for sending me this book to review!)

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Review: Representing Christ

rep-jc

Thank goodness that Luther guy came along and re-gave us the priesthood of believers (though not in those exact words). In his writings, Luther referred to believers as priests hundreds of times (18). “The doctrine, according to Luther, denotes the believer’s sharing in Christ’s royal priesthood through faith and baptism. It’s primary implications are every believer’s access to the Father through Christ and responsibility to minister to other believers, especially through the proclamation of the Word” (18).

Uche Anizor (PhD, Wheaton College) is associate professor of biblical and theological studies at Talbot School of Theology at Biola University and an instructor at Los Angeles Bible Training School. He is the author of Kings and Priests. Hank Voss (PhD, Wheaton College) is national director of church planting at World Impact and senior national staff with The Urban Ministry Institute (TUMI). He is the author of The Priesthood of All Believers and the Missio Dei. Anizor and Voss locate God’s calling of his people as a kingdom of priests (Exod 19.6; 1 Pet 2.5, 9) within the context of Scripture and show how those who are part of God’s royal priesthood are to respond to God as his witnesses in the world.

Outline

 

In Chapter 1 Anizor look at how the Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholics, and Protestants define the idea of the priesthood of believers. In this book they’ll seek to define what a priest is, and show that it is all who are in Christ. Speaking in terms of the Trinity, in Christ the baptized believer has access to the Father, we have the privilege of serving one another in Christ, and we have all received the Holy Spirit’s anointing for this service to one another and to the world (19).

The argument is developed in four stages:

  1. Biblical
  2. Historical
  3. Theological
  4. Practical

In Chapter 2, the biblical argument, Anizor outlines the story of the priesthood of believers as seen in the Scriptures. Beginning in Eden, our story ends at the New Jerusalem, the new creation. He gives a brief, pointed look at a few texts in the Pentateuch, in Psalm 110, Isaiah 52–66, the life if Jesus, 1 Peter 2, pieces of Pau’s letters, and Revelation.

In Chapter 3, the historical argument, Anizor “details Martin Luther’s theology … and presents it  as a fruitful  and concrete attempt to integrate and develop Scripture’s teaching on priesthood—both ordained and universal” (22). After looking at Cyprian and the Gregorian reforms, Anizor looks at the seven “priestly practices” Luther believed Christians had.

  1. Preaching and teaching the Word
  2. Baptizing
  3. Administering the Lord’s Supper
  4. Binding and loosing sins
  5. Prayer
  6. Sacrifice
  7. Judging doctrine

“Christians have access to God and his Word in order that they might minister the latter in its many forms to one another” (82).

We become like what we worship, and Christians worship the triune God. In Chapter 4, the theological argument, Voss shows “what it means for the royal priesthood to worship, work and witness with a Christocentric-Trinitarian vision” (86). This is important, for, as Fred Sanders’s Trinitarian axiom goes, “The more Trinity-centered we become, the more Christ-centered we become, and vice versa” (88). Voss examines what a Christocentric-Trinitarian royal priesthood is, what it looks like in real life, and a few inadequate versions of a Protestant priesthood of all believers. This chapter asks, “Who is the God the priesthood of all believers serves?”

In Chapter 5, the theological argument, Voss asks, “How do we as members of the royal priesthood faithfully and fruitfully respond to the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit?” Voss lays out seven central practices (which are basically the same as the list in ch 3 but in a different order):

  1. Baptism
  2. Prayer
  3. Lectio divina (divine reading)
  4. Ministry
  5. Church discipline
  6. Proclamation
  7. The Lord’s Supper

To give one example, lectio divina means to listen for God’s voice as it speaks through Scripture. Looking at Psalm 119, four markers of covenant loyalty are:

  1. Fear of the Lord – the living God, the maker of heaven and earth, speaks through Scripture. Not us.
  2. Humility – We are not Christ. We are polluted by sin.
  3. Delight – God’s priests delight in God’s word more than a pile of gold. It is wisdom, it is joy, ir brings us closer to the living God who has made us his “sons and daughters” (2 Cor 6:18).
  4. Holy obedience – lectio divina is dangerous (134). We will suffer and we will grow if we listen to God’s voice. We will continually learn how to be unselfish and to care for and love others as Christ has loved us.

In Chapter 6, Voss wraps up, summarizes the book, and asks, “So what?” If believers (myself included) took our ministries before God seriously, what difference would this doctrine make? How could Christians transform society? There will always be unbelievers, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t work to make the world better, to use wisdom to implement new ideas, technologies, and care and concern for our next-door neighbor and our third world neighbor. We do it all to the glory of the beautiful Lord who adorns his bride with jewels (Is 61:10).

Recommended?

Anizor and Voss have done excellent work in writing Representing Christ. It’s clear and easy to read. I hope to see more books out on this particular topic, along with more by these two authors. Some parts will be more difficult to read, not because of the style of language used, but because of subject matter. My favorite chapter was chapter 2 as it dealt with the biblical argument for the priesthood of all believers and took me through pivotal texts in the Bible. The historical argument (ch 3), though good and important, was more difficult for me to read. Regardless, the authors write in such a way that they don’t load you down with details, but they only give you what you need to know. It’s easier to read through some parts because you know it’s going to be important to the argument. This is a book that all believers should read, with the hopes that we will be humbled and will see our responsibility before the triune God who rules from heaven and has bestowed his people with great honor.

Lagniappe

  • Authors: Uche Anizor and Hank Voss
  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: IVP Academic (June 6, 2016)

Buy it on Amazon or from IVP Academic!

(Special thanks to IVP Academic for sending me this review copy!)

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Review: Progressive Covenantalism

prog-cov

If you missed the boat, or didn’t even know there was a boat, back in 2012 SBTS professors Peter Gentry and Stephen Wellum write the massive Kingdom Through Covenant (KTC), a slightly different way of putting together Bible’s storyline from how both Dispensationalism and Covenant Theology view it. Progressive covenantalism (don’t let that title scare you away) seeks to answer questions about how the Mosaic law applies to Christians, what the relationship between Israel and the Church is, and how these work out in the life of God’s people. 

Progressive seeks to underscore the unfolding nature of God’s revelation over time, while covenantalism emphasizes that God’s plan unfolds through the covenants and that all of the covenants find their fulfillment … and terminus in Christ” (2). The way to properly determine how God’s plan is fulfilled in Christ is to place each covenant “in its own covenantal location … in terms of what covenant(s) preceded it and follow it” (2).

As massive as KTC is, one volume can’t cover everything. Progressive Covenantalism was written to unpack certain points that weren’t given much space (if any at all). Those specific points will briefly be laid out below.

Outline

Chapters 1–4

These essays develop topics usually brought up in discussions between DT and CT.

  • In chapter 1, Jason DeRouchie provides exegetical warrant for NCT in the OT by examining texts that deal with the “seed” of Abraham. His descendants are those who physically come through his line, but his true descendants are those who place their loyalty in Christ. As DeRouchie states, “It is those who are in Christ who are ‘sons of God,’ those who have put on Christ who are baptized, and those who are Christ’s who are counted ‘Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise’” (38).
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  • In chapter 2, Brent Parker examines “how Jesus typologically fulfills Israel and how the Church, through Christ, inherits the promises of Israel” (47). Israel is not displaced by the Church. Rather, Parker puts forth that the church is the “new covenant community that Israel looked forward to” (47).
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  • In chapter 3, Jason Meyer, who wrote The End of the Law, works through how DT and CT influence the way we think about the Mosaic law, how PC understands the Mosaic law, saying that “love for neighbor is the primary lens through which the Christian views the law of Moses” (87). The lens every Christian should read the Mosaic covenant through is love because the varied instructions given to us in the law give concrete examples of what love should look like.
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  • In chapter 4, Ardel Caneday disagrees with the idea put forth that the Bible is split between law (“God’s commands”) and gospel (“God’s gracious giving”). Instead, covenant stipulations remain the same across covenants while the content of those stipulations change. While God unconditionally established his covenants with people, “each covenant entails provisions with stipulations that both promise blessings to all who obey … and announce curses upon the disobedient” (103).

Chapters 5–8

These essays target issues that arise in CT.

  • In chapter 5, John Meade examines circumcision of the flesh to that of the heart. After briefly looking at the Ancient Near Eastern view of circumcision, he explains the development of circumcision through the Bible as it moves from external circumcision to “internal heart (un)circumcision” and its relation to baptism (128).
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  • In chapter 6, Tom Schreiner looks at the Sabbath in the OT and NT and it’s place in the believers’ life.
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  • In chapter 7, Chris Cowan presents an “alternate … paradigm for understanding the warning passages” that are given to the NC community in Hebrews and responds to some objections to this view from those in the DT and CT camps.
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  • In chapter 8, Stephen Wellum asks, “How should Christians apply the whole Bible as our ethical standard?” He says that “the entire OT, including the law covenant, functions for us as the basis for our doctrine and ethics. Although the Christians are not ‘under the law’ as a covenant, it still functions as Scripture and demands our complete obedience” (217). Wellum ends his chapter with a few illustrations on ethics under the New Covenant with the whole Bible.

Chapters 9–10

These essays target issues that arise in PD.

  • In chapter 9, Richard Lucas argues against the dispensational understanding that Israel will be “restored” in the millennium as a nation which is separate and distinct from Gentiles. Lucas argues that these “implications” are not found in Romans 11:26–27, especially when viewed within the larger canon of Scripture.
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  • In chapter 10, Oren Martin, having written Bound for the Promised Land, looks through the OT and NT and shows, contra to DT and CT, how PC says the OT land promises will be fulfilled in Christ.

As a whole, this is a fantastic resource that draws out the implications of the larger work of KTC (see also the concise work God’s Kingdom Through God’s Covenants). No chapter is worthless; they all take on issues that arise between CT and DT, although the best chapter in my opinion was that by Jason DeRouchie. DeRouchie (along with the end of Meade’s chapter) argues exegetically against the long-standing and widely held belief of infant baptism. Those who disagree will have to work closely through his chapter to disprove his exegesis of Scriptures.

Unfortunately, Cowen’s chapter didn’t add much more to the discussion of the warning passages in Hebrews besides what Schreiner argues for in his Hebrews commentary, and what Schreiner and Caneday have argued for. And while much of Martin’s chapter could be found in his book, he brings out many good points (such the use of Psalm 37.3, 9, 11 and more in Matthew 5.5) and gives those readers who haven’t read his book a taste of how the land promise is fulfilled in Christ (it’s also a more succinct reading than if you read through Beale’s New Testament Biblical Theology as well).

Recommended?

Why does this matter? Why nitpick so much? We should never become stagnant in our faith and think that we now know enough. God is infinite, and his Word has more depth than we can ever plumb. A book that seeks to tie Scripture together is worth reading, especially for the student and the pastor, and you can use this (and KTC) so show the glory of God’s plan in Christ to your people. When it comes to ethics, as Wellum says, “Most Christians, regardless of their commitment to covenant or dispensational theology, will arrive at similar conclusions. But, as noted above, where the important difference lies is in how we get there” (233). Our doctrines and beliefs have consequences. They have meaning. They affect how we will. Because we have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, let us strive to know him more that we may be like him and awaiting Christ’s return when we will be transformed. 

Lagniappe

  • Editors: Stephen Wellum and Brent Parker
  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: B&H Academic (April 15, 2016)

Buy it on Amazon or from B&H Academic!

(Special thanks to B&H Academic for sending me this review copy!)

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