Book Review: Escaping Escapism

BLOG Escaping Escapism

In Escaping Escapism, Dave Griffith-Jones hopes to motivate readers to move from fear to courage through the person and work of Jesus Christ. In Chapter 1, the author discusses how escapism is rooted in a divided heart that refuses to commit to God’s ways while seeking selfish solutions that exacerbates the issue even more. Furthermore, Chapter 2 explains how fear is the fuel of escapism so that all our decisions become subject to those fears instead of the only One we should fear which is God Himself. In the next chapter, Griffith-Jones points out that the solution to fighting escapism is through Jesus who lived a perfect life in accordance with God’s will. Through His life, death, and resurrection, we are now filled with His Spirit who changes us to become more like Christ. The author highlights in Scripture how God is the One who re-creates our divided hearts to be completely devoted to Him. Moreover, we need to constantly fix our eyes on Jesus instead of focusing on the idols of our escapism. The next chapters describe how seven aspects of who Jesus is to us can stir us to courageous action. Firstly, Jesus is our refuge so we find solace and security in Him against our fears. We also know that Jesus is our shepherd so He guides us through the ups and downs of life. Moreover, Jesus is our light that illuminates the darkness in our lives and helps us to see the truth that is in Him. Next, Jesus is our portion so we can be content with all the goodness and blessings that flow from Him. Jesus is also our rock giving us a firm foundation to stand against the pressures of life. Furthermore, Jesus is our strength so we do not need to try fixing life’s troubles in our own power. Lastly, Jesus is our salvation thus our identities are rooted in Him and do not need to fear failure. In the final chapter, Griffith-Jones concludes by using the analogy of mountain climbing to describe practical steps that one can take to begin the journey away from escapism.

I recommend this book to Christians who may be gripped with fear which often breeds apathy and indifference. Many of us experience great joy when we were first converted but difficulties and troubles eventually choke all joy out of our lives and we become dominated by fear. Griffith-Jones reminds us that we are not alone treading water in the storm but have Jesus as the One who carries us through every trial and tribulation when we feel weak and helpless. This does not mean that we sit idly waiting for God to remove our troubles but rather, we move forward by constantly meditating on God’s Word, submitting ourselves to Him in prayer, and encouraging each other to carry on. Every little step that we take allows us to pursue godly initiatives that grow our love for God and others instead of satisfying our own selfish desires. When we take enough of these steps, we find that we no longer take the easy way out through escapism but progress towards greater holiness and spiritual maturity.

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Book Review: Baptism

BLOG Baptism

In Baptism, Guy Richard provides a short overview of what baptism is and presents a case for infant baptism. Richard begins by first defining what baptism is, what it signifies, which modes of baptism is acceptable, and why we ought to be baptized. The author then moves on to outline his position on infant baptism based on biblical precedent, covenantal continuity, and connections between circumcision and baptism. Richard asserts that the household baptisms in the New Testament seem to indicate the entire household being baptized which would include children and servants. Moreover, Richard states that the new covenant Jesus establishes in the NT is the same covenant in essence as the Abrahamic covenant in the Old Testament (OT) but in an expanded, clearer form. As such, baptism serves a similar function to circumcision in the OT to mark out those who are the true children of Abraham. Since the Israelites were commanded to undergo circumcision, believers today should also baptize their children as recipients of God’s special blessings and privileges within the covenant community. At the end of the book, Richard discusses common objections by credobaptists and offers some practical applications in relation to baptism.

Although I agree with most of Richard’s points on baptism generally, there seems to be some weaknesses regarding the author’s arguments for infant baptism. I hope to examine what Richard posits as the meaning and significance of baptism and how these two fundamental elements are at odds with his position on infant baptism.

Firstly, in terms of definition, Richard defines baptism as a physical sign of the internal reality of a believer who has been regenerated through faith. In a similar way, circumcision was to be the outward symbol of the internal heart circumcision that God required of the Israelites. Richards acknowledges that in both circumcision and baptism, there certainly are individuals who do not exhibit regenerate hearts such as Esau and Ishmael. In both infant baptism and circumcision then, the objective would seem to be inclusion in the covenantal community which would be at odds with Richard’s definition of baptism as being the outward sign of the internal washing and cleansing of sin. This would mean then that infant baptism would not meet the definition of baptism as defined by Richards since there is no regeneration in the infant.

Secondly, in terms of meaning, Richard asserts that baptism primarily signifies the washing away of sin of which I fully agree. However, my question is: what does baptism signify for infants? Surely it cannot signify the washing of sin as all children are born sinners. This would then seem to imply that the baptism of children and adults are similar in form but different in substance. If so, then how do we reconcile this with baptism as described by Richard as a sign and seal of a believer who put their faith in Jesus? I understand those who undergo infant baptism often go through confirmation, but would this not further solidify the argument that infant baptism and adult baptism are different in nature?

Richard does clarify later in the book that infant baptism is the hope that the child will exercise saving faith in the future, the solemn promise of the parents to raise their children in the Lord, and the inclusion of the child in the covenantal community including its spiritual blessings and privileges. If that is the case, none of those three objectives would fit the definition of baptism that Richard himself puts forward at the beginning of the book.

Richard also argues based on OT precedent of Abraham circumcising all the males in his entire household that we should take this as example that we should baptize our children. It is apparent that not only the children but all males including servants of various ages were also circumcised. Does this mean that those servants also exercised saving faith in God like Abraham or were they baptized only because their master was? Assuming some of these males were adults such as Abraham’s trusted servant in Genesis 24, should it not be based on their own faith that circumcision is applied? If not based on their own faith, their circumcision would seem more a matter of their affiliation with Abraham and his household rather than a sign of spiritual regeneration which again would mean their “baptisms” would not fit Richard’s definition and meaning. Moreover, if based on Richard’s argument that infant baptism is for covenantal inclusion and spiritual inheritance, what spiritual privileges and blessings do these household servants inherit since they are not the biological children of Abraham and of which some were pagan foreigners?

Based upon my observations above, it would seem difficult to argue the case for infant baptism if it does not meet the definition and meaning that the author himself presents.

I recommend this book to all who are unfamiliar with the subject of baptism in general and infant baptism in specific. Despite my objections to the author’s arguments as stated above, I greatly appreciate Richard’s efforts to make this book accessible to a wide audience and his charitable approach to those who support believer’s baptism. As this book is introductory in nature, it is apparent that many of the arguments and counterarguments for both supporters and their opponents have not been fully fleshed out. As such, I encourage readers to increase their familiarity of this subject through reading the Bible, engaging the works of seasoned preachers and scholars, and praying for the Spirit to provide greater wisdom and enlightenment as this critical subject has immense significance to the Christian life.

In compliance with Federal Trade Commission regulations, I was provided a review copy of this book from Reformation Trust.

Book Review: Sipping Saltwater

BLOG Saipping Saltwater

In Sipping Saltwater, Steve Hoppe urges readers to stop ingesting the saltwater of the world, flesh, and devil and to start drinking the living water of Jesus Christ. Hoppe uses saltwater as an analogy primarily through the story of Louie Zamperini who survived floating in the Pacific for forty-seven days. Just like how Zamperini was able to survive by resisting the temptation to drink from the abundant ocean water, the author points out how we need to break from the cycle of being lured by our desires, participating in the sin, and feeling guilty afterwards. The author states that the only way to solve our incessant thirst is to drink generously from the living water of Jesus Christ who offers Himself to anyone who puts their faith in Him. To keep our parched souls hydrated, we also need to regularly intake streams of living water such as reading the Bible, communicating with God through prayer, communing with other Christians, sharing our faith with non-believers, being generous with our resources, and praising God with every breath we take. In addition to positive reinforcement through these means of grace, Hoppe discusses how the battle to quit drinking saltwater also requires us to use wisdom and discernment in enjoying God’s gifts in a godly way. He uses a pendulum to describe the opposite dangers of treating God’s good gifts to us as god or garbage. Instead, we should strive for the middle ground in which we embrace these gifts as God intended by focusing on how these gifts point us to wanting more of Jesus as the ultimate satisfaction of our deepest desires. Although Hoppe’s treatment of these issues may not be comprehensive, his analysis provides a helpful starting point to navigating the balance of the pendulum.

I recommend this book to anyone who is feeling tired, depressed, or unsatisfied with sipping poor substitutes in place of the refreshing living water that Jesus offers. Even for mature Christians, the temptations to fall into either idolizing God’s gifts or refusing to embrace those gifts as being good is a constant struggle. Although thoughtful introspection and intentional living is beneficial and helpful to this cause, there is also a danger that we spend so much time on trying to get things perfectly right that we fall into the trap of trying to gain our own righteousness. The best solution to avoid doing so is to drink constantly the fresh waters that God uses to reinvigorate our souls so that the choices we make flow naturally from what we immerse our hearts, souls, and minds with. Furthermore, we can rest on the person and work of Jesus who paid for all our sins on the cross and lives forever to make intercession for us. Moreover, we have the Holy Spirit who indwells and empowers us to live godly lives that are pleasing to God. Hoppe reminds us that we need look no further than to Jesus as the only answer to quench the thirst that our soul craves for.

Book Review: Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy

BLOG Dark Clouds

In Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy, Mark Vroegop invites readers to learn how lament can be a pathway to God’s grace in the midst of life’s troubles. The author argues that lament is hardly discussed in Christian circles but this valuable tool can be vital to our spiritual growth if we use it wisely. Using laments found in the Bible along with his personal and ministry experience, Vroegop provides a roadmap of how lament can be redemptive and transforming. In the first part, the author explains how lament consists of four actions: turning to God, bringing your complaints to God, asking God boldly to intervene, and choosing to trust God. In illustrating how these four steps work, Vroegop analyzes each aspect through four different laments from the Psalter. In the second part, the author moves on to explain how we can learn from lament by focusing on four key lessons that can be drawn by viewing the entire book of Lamentations as one grand lament. The first lesson we learn is that sorrows are directly or indirectly the product of fallen creation tarnished by sin. When we lament, we are groaning with creation the tragic effects of the Fall and yearn for God to make things right. The second lesson is that hope is available because of what we know is true about God as found in the Bible. When the ground is shaky and despair grips our hearts, we find assurance in the one true God whose steadfast love never ceases. Moreover, the third lesson we learn from lament is how much we treasure our idols. Spiritual idolatry comes in a myriad of different forms, but tragedy often exposes how useless and fleeting are the pursuit of pleasures without God. The final lesson in Lamentations is finding grace in God alone as we pray for restoration and renewal in difficult circumstances. Lament points us to the gospel message of hope and victory in Christ as the One who took on our sins and made us right with God through His work on the cross. The third and final part of the book offers practical applications for how the language of lament can be rehearsed both personally and corporately. As a whole, the book is fairly practical as each chapter ends with reflection questions along with four appendixes that provide more material for the reader to engage lament in a biblical way.

I greatly recommend this book to all Christians as the language of lament is woefully absent in our vocabulary. Many of us are all too eager to nervously change the subject or offer shallow advice to sufferers around us so that any trace of sorrow is quickly dispelled. On the contrary, Vroegop suggests that lament can be a means of grace to guide us through the dark clouds that never seem to lift. In fact, the author points out that lament is useful even in the daily disappointments and challenges we face. When lament becomes part of the regular rhythm of our spiritual lives, we grow in maturity as we learn to adopt an eternal perspective to interpret unfavourable circumstances. Instead of allowing fear, anger, and worry to dominate our lives, our laments bring us to our Father whose love and mercy never ends. Moreover, our laments are testimonies of our hope in Jesus who showed His love for us by living through our difficulties and ultimately giving His life for our sake. Lament is not hopeless sorrow of what is wrong with life but hopeful proclamation of how God will one day make all grief, sorrow, and pain disappear when He returns to bring us home.

In compliance with Federal Trade Commission regulations, I was provided a review copy of this book from Crossway.

Book Review: Christ Has Set Us Free

BLOG Christ has set us free

In Christ Has Set Us Free, a group of notable pastor-scholars tackle the gospel issues that the apostle Paul presents in the book of Galatians. The book material is based on a series of messages delivered by most of the contributors along with some additional supplementary material to help provide greater context and cohesiveness. The first two chapters provide a framework for interpreting the epistle with a general introduction by Thomas Schreiner and a survey of how Reformers interpreted Galatians by Gerald Bray. The ensuing six chapters exposit the contents of the epistle in sequential order. John Piper begins in Galatians 1 in which Paul explains how his gospel is the one true gospel as given to him by Jesus Himself and that any other gospel is false. Next, Sandy Willson delves into Paul’s arguments in Galatians 2 on the sufficiency of Christ as our only means of salvation and how justification is by faith alone. The next chapter by Peter Adam focuses on Galatians 3 where Paul helps the believers recognize the deeper significance of the Old Testament laws and how it relates to God’s promises of a future new covenant that includes all peoples regardless of race, gender, or any other distinction. In addition, D.A. Carson further expounds how Paul in Galatians 4 urges believers to be free from slavery under sin by becoming slaves of Christ and righteousness. Next, Thabiti Anyabwile develops the topic of Christian freedom as found in Galatians 5 in which Paul warns against returning to the Mosaic law as a means of justification and encourages the believers to lay hold of Christian liberty through the work of the Spirit. For the last chapter of Galatians, Tim Keller examines how Paul urges the Galatians to not boast in themselves but to boast in Christ as the One who redeems and liberates us to enjoy true freedom in Christ. The final chapter of the book is by Sinclair Ferguson who gives a summary of how the epistle helps us navigate between legalism and antinomianism.

I gladly recommend this book to anyone who hopes to grasp the core messages of the book of Galatians. The contributors concentrate on explaining the most essential themes of the epistle without being entangled by scholarly arguments or hypothetical conjectures. The book of Galatians played a central role in shaping the Reformers’ rallying cry for believers to return to the true gospel and the authority of the Scriptures. The temptations to believe in alternate gospels, obey our fleshly desires, and earn our own justification are alive and well to believers today. When we fall into these temptations, we are re-enslaving ourselves when Christ has already set us free. Galatians reminds us that true freedom comes from putting on Christ and living in the power of the Spirit. When we do so, we are living according to the law of love which fulfills the entire law of God as summarized by Jesus in the first and second great commandments to love God and others.

In compliance with Federal Trade Commission regulations, I was provided a review copy of this book from Crossway.

Book Review: The Hand of God

BLOG The Hand of God

In The Hand of God, Alistair Begg walks readers through the events of Joseph’s life as a prime example of how God works all things for good despite the most difficult circumstances. Instead of delving into the contents of each chapter, three pertinent overarching lessons will be highlighted here. Firstly, Begg emphasizes the importance of godly character formation at an early age that gradually matures over the course of a lifetime. Despite being mistreated and sold as a young teenager, Joseph was undergirded by the theological heritage passed on down from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob so that he could respond with grace, perseverance, and integrity to adverse situations. For those of us who are parents and grandparents, we ought to focus our energies on teaching our posterity to walk in God’s ways so that they have a firm foundation to ground themselves in times of trouble. Secondly, godly patience and endurance are critical virtues of Christian maturity. Joseph’s life went through a series of ups and downs, but he never gave up hope that God would rescue him and waited patiently for that moment to arrive. We may also be subject to trials and tribulations that make us want to give up or find a convenient shortcut. However, just like Joseph, our assurance comes from our everlasting God who will carry us through each dark valley in His way and time. Thirdly, our earthly lives are pilgrimages of which heaven is our ultimate destination. Joseph made sure his descendants understood that God was going to fulfill His promises to their forefathers by asking that his body be brought with the Israelites out of Egypt when God eventually delivers them. Our short lifetimes here on earth are fleeting compared to the endless moments of eternity that we can look forward to spending before the presence of God. As such, we ought not be entangled by the cares of this world but to focus our eyes on the rich promises of God made available through Christ. As the book’s material is based on a series of sermons that the author preached, Begg expertly intertwines the gospel message in this study of Joseph’s life. Throughout the book, the author states how Joseph is a type of Christ as displayed in many instances of his life such as his suffering as a slave and prisoner, his triumph over temptations, and his forgiveness despite his brothers’ malice.

I recommend this book to all Christians who are in prolonged suffering and struggle to comprehend how God is working all things for their good. Begg encourages readers to find comfort and encouragement in the story of Joseph. In every moment of Joseph’s life, he was able to experience how God’s hands were always upon him in both the highs and the lows. What allowed Joseph to remain steadfast was his unswerving faith in God’s power and promises. Just like Joseph, we can be confident that every specific detail of our lives is within the sovereign will of our Father who cares for even sparrows. As those who are blessed with the complete revelation of God’s written Word, we have even greater assurance in knowing that God’s love and care for us is so great that He sent His Son to die for us. When the dark clouds of tribulation obstruct our vision, let us grasp the pierced hands of Jesus who will never let us go.

In compliance with Federal Trade Commission guidelines, I received a review copy from Moody Press in exchange for a book review.

Book Review: Parenting with Words of Grace

BLOG Parenting with Words

In Parenting with Words of Grace, William Smith urges parents to use words wisely to grow their relationships with their children. Smith explains how our mouth is the primary instrument by which we interact with God and those around us. As such, the words we choose to utter need to be carefully balanced with truth and love. Furthermore, Smith reminds parents that their role is to represent God in responding to their children when they walk in godliness or fall into sinfulness. Each conversation’s aim is to enable our kids to recognize their sinful hearts and their need for a Saviour. The author agrees that using our words intentionally to build up our children is hard work that takes much effort and time. However, our motivation and encouragement come from God who never grows weary in seeking us and giving us more grace when we ourselves fail. Moreover, the author warns parents against simply pursuing behavioural change as such change is not enduring. Rather, we should look to guide our children in experiencing and responding to God’s grace which is truly transformational. Parents ought to be quick in dispensing encouragement by identifying God’s work in their children’s lives and purposefully aiding their children to grow in areas where they are lacking. Conversely, parents ought not to speak hurtful, demeaning words that tear down the child’s spirit and cast God in a negative light. This does not mean that parents should avoid confronting their children’s disobedience. However, this is done not by using harsh words to guilt or shame the child but by acting as a mirror to help the child perceive the situation accurately. In doing so, we are not trying to impose our own selfish ways on how we think the child should act but to shed light on the situation and provide guidance on how to respond in a God-honouring way. In speaking honestly with our children, we are showing them that we care about them and that we ourselves also need the Spirit’s power to grow in godliness.

I gladly recommend this book to Christian parents who feel challenged in using their words to build up their children. Indeed, the same principles that Smith offers to parents would be applicable to all Christian who want to grow in the gospel. As much as we feel that we are more spiritually advanced than our children, our shared need for Jesus to help us defeat sin and live in holiness is identical. Smith reminds us that parents are not trying to grow miniature versions of themselves but to nurture their children into becoming godly image-bearers who will eventually become their spiritual peers. Thus, parents and their children are walking together to experience the forgiveness, grace, mercy, and love that God bountifully lavishes upon us through His Son. Our daily conversations with our kids are invitations for them to run to our Saviour who always speaks truth to us through His Spirit and His Word.

In compliance with Federal Trade Commission regulations, I was provided a review copy of this book from Crossway.