Smith on Ignorance and Going Astray

“Ignorant and going astray is one way of summing up the problem of the human race. It’s what gets in the way of knowing God because it clashes with his holiness. It gets in the way of relating to each other because one person’s ignorant waywardness sets them on a collision course with everyone else’s ignorant waywardness. And that’s true of every single person you’re going to talk to today. Each one has a tendency to be ignorant and going astray.

Your friends are ignorant and going astray. Your spouse is ignorant and going astray. Your neighbors are ignorant and going astray. Your coworkers are ignorant and going astray. You are ignorant and going astray. And your child is ignorant and going astray. That’s true, and it’s not what any of us wants to hear. We want relationships with people who are not ignorant or going astray. We want relationships where the other person does the right thing most of the time and we don’t have to say anything to him.”

William Smith in Parenting with Words of Grace

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Wilkin on Obedience and Fear of God

“Both the ideas of obedience and fear of God have fallen out of favor in many Christian circles. He is often celebrated as loving Father, but rarely as just judge. The God of our modern invention does not require obedience, nor does he require our reverence. He wants only our acceptance of his gracious invitation to relationship and our enjoyment of his love. He is a God who is near and approachable, but he has lost all traces of the transcendence ascribed to him in the Scriptures. Peter reminds his hearers that the God who has condescended to them through Christ is both a personal, loving Father and an impartial judge of the hearts of men (1:17). Such a God is worthy of not just our adoration but our reverent fear. We do not fear him as the pagan should, but we revere him as those who recognize we deserved what the pagan will receive and were spared because of no merit of our own. We do not cower as those who gathered at the foot of Mount Sinai, but we offer profound awe and respect as those who gather at the foot of Mount Zion.”

Jen Wilkin in Resurrection Life in a World of Suffering

Book Review: Start with the Heart

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In Start with the Heart, Kathy Koch urges parents to address their children’s hearts instead of focusing on mere behaviour modification. Koch argues that what motivates children to change is rooted in the heart of the child thus parents ought to concentrate on taking steps to help develop their children’s character. The author points out the many important implications of having strong character and places special emphasis on how character breeds resiliency in responding positively to failures. Koch then explains how the biblical commands to put off what is sinful and to put on what is righteous are the key elements of transforming one’s character. Furthermore, the author highlights how parenting involves shaping the five core needs of children namely identity, belonging, security, purpose, and competence. In Chapter 5, Koch focus on discovering what is important in the eyes of our children and steps to aiding the child in learning activities that resonates with those values. Chapter 6 concludes the first part of the book by reminding parents on how to use their various roles as coach, referee, teacher, and cheerleader at the right moments to journey with their children towards maturity. In the latter half of the book, the author provides practical advice on how to foster character in our daily interactions. Chapter 7 involves learning how to communicate with children in ways that are positive, enthusiastic, optimistic, and encouraging. Chapter 8 discusses the importance of listening carefully so that our responses trigger the child to change through their own words and actions. In the next chapter, Koch explains how to properly compliment and correct in ways that encourage children to continue progressing in exhibiting desirable traits and attitudes. At the end of the book, there are several appendixes with lengthy examples such as a list of complimenting words and a list of character traits.

I recommend this book to all parents who hope to raise their children to become God-honouring, responsible adults. Undoubtedly, it is the Spirit who works in our children to bring about lasting change that pleases God. However, Koch reminds parents of their responsibility to nurture their children’s hearts so that their God-given talents, gifts, and abilities are fully utilized for His glory. I appreciate how the author always asks parents to first examine their own hearts before trying to scrutinize their children’s hearts. The most fertile soil in which the hearts of our children develop is through the power of God’s Word, the supernatural work of His Spirit, and the tender, purposeful words and actions of God-loving parents. Although our parenting may sometimes seem ineffective and disappointing, we can have confidence that God always gives enough grace to parents and children so that both mature in greater godliness and love for God and between family members.

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

Book Review: Escaping Escapism

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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.

Book Review: Baptism

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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

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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.