Review of Rescuing the Gospel

Rescuing the Gospel is a history of the Protestant Reformation written by Erwin W. Lutzer. Lutzer is the long-term pastor of Moody Church in Chicago. His book is more than a history of the Reformation. It is as the subtitle suggests: it is “The Story and Significance of the Reformation.” The author explains the theological reasons behind the Reformation and why they remain significant today.

Strengths

I appreciate the fact that this book is accessible to most readers. The book would be an excellent supplement to readings on church history in a home school or a Christian school. The price for accessibility is that Lutzer oversimplifies some explanations (for example, his explanation of TULIP).

Lutzer does not whitewash the reformers. This book is not hagiography. He portrays them in all of their temperamental weakness. He also does not ignore the political intrigue and impetus behind their movement as well. Still, he argues convincingly that the main issues were theological and significant regarding the Bible’s teachings on salvation. He concludes that the Reformation was not a mistake, and that significant differences remain between the Roman Catholic Church and Protestants (particularly Evangelicals) today.

Weaknesses

If I have one complaint, it is the imbalance between the length of material regarding each of the reformers. Luther dominates the book. Zwingli’s work fills one chapter with his role in the martyrdom of Anabaptists covered in a second chapter. Calvin, whose influence on present-day Evangelicals is greater than that of Luther, receives much less attention than Luther. I would have also liked to have read more about the Anabaptists, the free church tradition, and the Radical Reformation.

Conclusion

I highly recommend Rescuing the Gospel for anyone who wants to understand the how and the why of the Protestant Reformation and to anyone who questions if its importance remains true today.

(Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book from Baker Books for review purposes. I was under no obligation to write a positive review.)

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Finding Jesus in the Book of Job

Recently, I completed a personal study of the Old Testament book of Job. I have read it many times, and studied it at least once, but this study, perhaps because of recent life experiences, was deeply meaningful.

In the final chapter, particularly Job 42:7-9, I see a picture of Jesus in Job. Like Jesus, Job, a righteous man suffered greatly. Like Jesus, Job’s suffering was God’s will. (That point may be controversial to some. After all, Satan was the direct cause of Job’s suffering. Still, God granted permission for it to happen. Throughout, Job saw God as sovereign over the circumstances, and in the end, God said nothing to deny Job’s view.) Like Jesus, those around Job saw him as being cursed by God. And like Jesus, in the end, the Father both vindicates and exalts Job.

God confronted the “friends” of Job and said it was they who had spoken wrong about Him. In fact, God said that he was angry with them. It was not Job who had a broken relationship with God, which had been their assumption. Rather, they were the ones with the sin. In order to be restored to their relationship with God, they needed an intermediary. In order to be right with God, had to offer sacrifice through Job, and he had to pray for them. In this priestly role, Job is a picture of Jesus.

Just as Job’s friends needed and intermediary, so do we. We must go to Jesus, the sacrifice in our place, and be converted, repenting of our sins and putting our faith in Him.

When Cliches Help

A habit that I wish I could do away with in writing is the one of using cliches. Cliches are a sign of lazy thinking. However, they communicate, and often very well, because most people know and understand their meaning.

For the past couple of years, along with my family, I have passed through a time of uncertainty. Many times it has seemed that God has been silent. Often, people want to encourage us and sometimes with cliches. Recently, as I was studying some Bible passages, a cliche came to mind that is a reminder of a Bible truth. “Count your blessings.”

Blessings are a reminder that God has not abandoned us. We may not have the answers to the big questions that we face but still can know that He is with us if we look at the good things that He gives. James 1:17 reminds us that every good gift comes from God. So the food on our table, the kind words of others, a wonderful church family, and the love we share as a family are all gifts from God’s hands. Most of all, we must remember the gift of Christ. He took our sins on the cross, died in our place, and now His righteousness has been given to us. If you have not received that gift, you can do so. Click on the page entitled, “How to Have a Relationship With God.”

The Christian and Good Works: They Really Matter

Apparently, and I do not know all the details, there is a great deal of debate about the role of the law in the Christian life. Not knowing precisely what the issue is, I do not want to discuss that. Perhaps it is all a matter of emphasis than real difference anyhow.

What should be abundantly clear to anyone reading the New Testament is that good works matter. The fact that they are not necessary for salvation does not deny their importance. Two passages, both written by Paul, highlight their importance.

Ephesians 2:8–10 (HCSB) 8 For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift— 9 not from works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are His creation, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time so that we should walk in them.

Paul says clearly that our salvation is not from works. However, once saved, there is clearly an expectation that good works will follow as a result of God’s saving work in our lives. This expectation is clear as Paul concludes his letter to Titus.

Titus 3:12–14 (HCSB) 12 When I send Artemas or Tychicus to you, make every effort to come to me in Nicopolis, for I have decided to spend the winter there. 13 Diligently help Zenas the lawyer and Apollos on their journey, so that they will lack nothing. 14 And our people must also learn to devote themselves to good works for cases of urgent need, so that they will not be unfruitful.

Paul says “our people”, Christians, must be devoted to good works. In this case, the good work he has in mind is making sure the Zenas and Apollos are able to make their trip. What is generally applicable from this verse is that Christians should seek to meet the urgent needs that are around them.

There are a number of other passages that I could refer to explaining the importance of good works in the Christian life. While we are saved by grace alone, our lives from that point forward are to be marked by good works that flow from God’s saving work in our lives. In the Christian life, good works matter.

God is a Hater: What He Hates Reveals How Much He Loves Us

If you read the comments on a YouTube video, a news or opinion piece on CNN’s website, or the blog of any hipster, in the heat of “conversation”, you will read the retort, “You’re just a hater.” I am revealing my age in writing the following: I do not know what that means exactly. If anyone would like to enlighten me in the comments, feel free to do so.

Anyhow, reading and hearing the term “hater” caused me to consider if “hater” is such an insulting team after all. Are there not certain things worthy of hate? I am not speaking of hating people. I am asking, “Are there ideas and actions that should be hated?”

God is a Hater

After all, there are things that God hates. Two passages that represent what God hates are Deuteronomy 18:9-13 and Proverbs 6:12-19.

In Deuteronomy, God through Moses warns the Israelites about the sins that they should avoid in Canaan. Deuteronomy 18:9-13 lists idolatrous and occult practices and it says that God hates all of them. His hatred of such things and His jealousy to be alone the object of worship do not flow from a flawed moral character. Rather, they flow from His desire to see humans fulfilled. He created us to worship Him, to glorify Him, and to enjoy Him forever. Anything that distracts us from that task and that becomes an object of our affection or trust is an idol. He wants us to worship Him alone and to depend upon Him alone. He hates what destroys our relationship with Him. He hates those things because He loves us.

Likewise God hates what destroys relationships between humans. Proverbs 6:12-19 list interpersonal actions and attitudes that alienate people from one another. God hates these actions because they divide those He created in His image from one another. He hates those attitudes and actions because He loves us.

The Bible calls all the actions listed in these two passages “sin”. Sin is any action that God hates. Sin is open rebellion to God’s will and His desire to see us fulfilled by living out the purpose for which He created us. The Bible teaches us that sin is the cause of death and that sin merits God’s wrath.

God Hates the Death of the Wicked

Ezekiel 33:10-11 says, “And you, son of man, say to the house of Israel, Thus have you said: ‘Surely our transgressions and our sins are upon us, and we rot away because of them. How then can we live?’ Say to them, As I live, declares the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel?” (ESV)

God does not take pleasure in sinners dying. He does not take pleasure in people experiencing His wrath. He desires something better for us. Holy Week, which we celebrate next week, is the week in which He demonstrated the better way. Through Jesus Christ, He has made a way for us to be reconciled to Him and to fulfill the purpose for which He created us.

God Is Love

God is a hater, but He is also love. The depth of His hatred of sin, that which separates us from Him and from one another, reveals the depth of His love for us. The Gospel, or Good News, is that He sent Jesus to make right all our sin destroyed.  “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3:16, 17; ESV)