Book Review: The Pursuit of Holiness

The Pursuit of HolinessThe Pursuit of Holiness by Jerry Bridges

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A fantastic book on Christian holiness. Avoids both being too general to be any good and being so specific that it becomes legalism. Bridges book is quite the contrast to much current teaching on sanctification. He is clear and plain and therefore hits the target, unlike many today whose teaching is like a soft nerf bullet. He does not qualify things to death constantly saying things like, “Well I don’t mean that.” He says simply we must be holy. We must lead righteous lives. He does not talk about brokenness, weakness, defeat, etc. He talks about disobedience. The sappy sentimentality of evangelical Christianity is missing. The constant focus on grace to the exclusion of faithful, consistent obedience is also missing. He talks about obeying God with our whole self, body, mind, emotions, and will. He talks about how we make excuses for our sins and give up too easily. The book was convicting in a way I did not expect. Bridges recently died. We need more men like him.

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Premarital Sex in Calvin’s Geneva

lydiaandherwickham
I am continuing to work through Kingdon and Witte’s book on marriage in Geneva. 
 

Chapter 12 addresses how Geneva approached the period of time between engagement and marriage, including how premarital sex was handled, as well as desertion during the engagement. This post will only address premarital sex.

This time included heightened sexual tension therefore the “Genevan authorities regulated this perilous interval in some detail.” One of the difficulties Geneva ran into was that they treated this period like a marriage except you could not have sex. For example, if an engaged woman slept with someone who was not her spouse to be, it was adultery, not fornication. To get out of an engagement was like getting a divorce. Yet despite all these trappings of marriage, a couple was still supposed to refrain from sex until the wedding day.  Continue reading

The Economics of Marriage in Calvin’s Geneva

 
Peasant House
I am continuing to work through Kingdon and Witte’s book on marriage in Geneva. 

Chapter 11 of the book is devoted to the economics of marriage in Geneva. It is tempting to think this is an area of similarity to 21st century America. However the opening paragraph of the chapter shows that, while there are some similarities, there are also substantial differences.

In sixteenth-century Geneva, as much as today, marriage is not only a union of persons. It was also a merger of properties-land, money, jewelry, clothing, household commodities, social titles, property rents, business interests, and sundry other “real” and “personal” property. When the parties were members of aristocracy or of the ruling class, a marriage could be the occasion for a massive exchange of power, property, and prerogatives that distilled into lengthy written contracts. But even paupers who intended marriage generally made at least token exchanges of property and oral agreements about future transactions.

Today the rich and wealthy probably do something similar to what is described here. However, the lower and middle classes rarely have anything like a written contract concerning financial obligations, etc. before marriage. The reasons are many, but one would be that most of us have little wealth that we bring into marriage. Continue reading

Six Arguments for Pacifism Answered

Jesus Cleanses the TempleAndrew Fulford in his excellent little book Jesus and Pacifism gives six common arguments pacifists use for “absolute non-violence.”

  1. The Cycle of violence: violence always provokes further violence and never really solves anything.
  2. The Limits of human knowledge: human beings can never truly determine the guilt of another person, and so coercive judgment can never be verified as just.
  3. The Immorality of punishment and vengefulness: the very idea of retribution and vengeance are immoral and barbaric.
  4. The Unloving character of violence: violence is inconsistent with the virtue of love.
  5. The Utopian character of violence: violence can never truly achieve real justice or common good, even while claiming that it can.
  6. Hierarchy as intrinsically dominative: any sort of hierarchy is unjust intrinsically, and thus so too for one person to punish someone under his or her authority.

Fulford writes that all these arguments do not assume that at one point violence was okay, but now it is wrong. Instead they “imply that non-violence has always been ethically obligatory.” The value of this list is that it helps the reader easily spot which argument is being used by a pacifist. Next time you are arguing a pacifist try to decide which argument is being used. He also does a good job of keeping these arguments before the reader as he unfolds his own argument that pacifism is wrong.  Continue reading

Book Review: Single, Gay, Christian

Single, Gay, Christian: A Personal Journey of Faith and Sexual IdentitySingle, Gay, Christian: A Personal Journey of Faith and Sexual Identity by Gregory Coles

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This type of book is becoming more common: a professing Christian struggles with gay/homosexual desires, etc. He comes to realize after some study that gay sex is wrong (for them), but gay desires are not. They chose to remain celibate, but admit that others might disagree and pursue homosexual/lesbian relationships and even marriage in some cases.

Several things stuck out as I read.

First, gay, celibate Christians regularly discount the homosexual agenda in the world as not worth worrying about and even downplay same-sex relations in general. Reading them it is difficult to believe they take I Corinthians 6:9-11, the threat homosexuality presents to Biblical sexuality, or the threat it presents to society seriously. Preston Sprinkle tries in his book, but qualifies it to death so that it is hard to imagine he would ever say a gay (not-celibate) Christian is outside the Kingdom.

Second, they often create two ways when there are more than two. For example this author gives the illustration of two lesbians who love Jesus and get married and a straight Christian girl who struggles with fornication, as if these are the only two options. He says while his theology might line up with latter he believes the lesbians are actually loving Jesus better. He also brings up hetero porn as proof that heterosexual desires are twisted. But this is like saying drunkenness makes the desire for wine twisted. The idea that “we are all sinners” and therefore we needn’t be too hard on gay folks is an underlying assumption

Third, I know this is not intentional, but these guys come off condescending. Sprinkle’s book gave me the same vibe. For example the author basically says that gay Christians have to struggle while hetero Christians can get married, “join a country club,” go to a church that welcomes them, and live a comfortable middle-class life. Really? All of us hetero Christians are just out here living the dream? There is a subtle sense you get reading these guys that they have unique insight into following Christ that us “normal” Christians don’t and that their path is more difficult than the path others have to take.

Fourth, they live in the land of “unanswered questions,” “we can’t really know,” and “there are no easy answers.” It is all so vague. For some reason Christians for 2,000 years knew exactly what the Bible taught, but now we don’t anymore. It hard to see this as anything other than a capitulation to post-modern thinking.

Fifth, another assumption in these books is that gay desires are not sinful. This is at the center of the whole debate and I don’t have time to go into it now. But the idea that gay desires are neutral while gay lust and gay sex is sinful must be challenged.

Finally, the story is really what matters. There is little discussion of what the Bible, natural law, or the Church teaches. Instead the focus is on his journey, how he felt, who helped him, who didn’t, and what God said to him when he prayed. In other words, it is highly subjective. He says at one point, “If you really love someone you would find a way of expressing that love that they would recognize as love.” In other words, “I must feel loved in order for it to be love.” An action is not either loving or unloving. It loving or unloving based on how I feel about it. Autobiography of course is not inherently bad. But when it is used to shape truth and emotional stories are used to tip you one direction or the other without reference to Truth then it becomes deadly. Of course, it is hard to fault Coles for this. Christians have been doing this for quite some time.

I am sure this review makes me sound mean and cruel. However, I have sympathy for his struggle. It is the struggle we all have against indwelling sin and God not answering all our prayers. But that is nothing special to those who struggle with gay desires. It is what all faithful Christians should be doing.

I got this book free from Netgalley for an honest review.

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Book Review: Jesus and Pacifism

Jesus and Pacifism: An Exegetical and Historical InvestigationJesus and Pacifism: An Exegetical and Historical Investigation by Andrew a Fulford

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I rate a book based on its stated aim. I do not expect a book of 100 pages to accomplish what a book of 500 pages will. If the book is about Calvin, I do not critique it for failing to adequately discuss Luther or the Westminster Assembly. Fulford’s brief, but clear and precise critique of pacifism is excellent and accomplishes perfectly its stated aim. Three things stick out.

First, the initial chapter is a brief lesson on hermeneutics or how to read the Bible charitably. So many authors refuse to look at the Biblical, historical, and social context thus they end up reading Paul, Moses, and Jesus in ways that are directly at odds with how their contemporaries would have read them. Fulford begins by laying out the context in which Jesus spoke. Once this is done pacifistic readings of the Sermon on the Mount become less plausible.

Second, Fulford lists the six key arguments pacifists use and refers to these throughout the book. This is helpful in keeping up with the various arguments as well as his own refutation of them.

Third, he does a good job with his analogies between war, police work, excommunication, and even parenting. In other words, coercive force of various kinds is necessary and commanded by God in a world of sin. Once this premise is granted pacifism becomes untenable.

For a book of so few pages it does the job. The foundations on which pacifism are built slowly erode through careful exegesis and logical thought. I would highly recommend the book for those who are looking for a short introduction to the subject. He said he is writing a full length treatment. I am looking forward to that.

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Joel Beeke on Homosexuality & Same Sex Relations

Gay MarriageJoel Beeke’s little book One Man and One Woman: Marriage and Same-Sex Relations is an excellent, short (96 pages) introduction to the classic, Christian perspective on marriage and homosexuality. Here is his final summary statement on sodomy. It does not say all that needs to be said, but it is a solid list of what the Bible teaches on the subject. He addresses homosexual acts, same-sex desires, and transgenderism.

Being committed to the Bible as the Word of Christ, we and our churches must confess that the Holy Scriptures teach the following:

• God created mankind in His image, with two distinct and equally valuable genders, male and female, in accordance with their biological sex (Gen. 1:27). It is against God’s will to identify one’s gender in a manner contrary to biology (Deut. 22:5).

• God instituted marriage as the union of one man and one woman (Gen. 2:24), outside of which all other sexual activity is condemned by God (Ex. 20:14; Eph. 5:5–6).

• God condemns homosexuality as a sin that offends Him. This is evident in the destruction of Sodom (Gen. 19; Jude 7), the Old Testament law of holiness (Lev. 18:22; 20:13), and the New Testament affirmation of that law (1 Tim. 1:9–10).

• God’s condemnation extends to all homosexual desires and acts, by males or females, for it is against God’s created order (Rom. 1:26–27).

• Spontaneous attractions or perceived sexual orientation in any way contrary to God’s Word are sinful, for the inclinations or first motions of original corruption in the soul are sin and evil, even apart from a conscious choice (Gen. 6:5; 8:21; Rom. 7:20–21).

• Unrepentant sinners, including fornicators, adulterers, and those who practice homosexuality, have no place in God’s kingdom (1 Cor. 6:9–10). All who refuse to repent will face the righteous judgment of God on the day of His wrath (Rom. 2:5).

• In His sovereign, electing love, God loves sinners of all kinds, including those who practice homosexuality (Matt. 5:45; John 3:16). He forgives and changes those whom He saves so that they have a new identity in Christ as saints sanctified to God by His amazing grace (1 Cor. 1:2, 30; 6:11).

• True Christians experience an inner conflict between sinful and holy desires (Gal. 5:17), but sin no longer defines who they are, nor does it rule them (Rom. 6:11, 14). Their calling is to hope in Christ and fight against every evil desire (Col. 3:1, 5).

In making this statement, we do not endorse any injustice, violence, or self-righteousness toward people regardless of their identity or manner of life. We highly value all human beings, and are committed to treating them with honor and kindness even if they persist in sin (1 Peter 2:17; 3:9–11). We commit ourselves to welcoming all who are willing to hear the preaching of God’s Word, to embracing as brothers and sisters in Christ all who repent and trust in Jesus Christ alone for salvation, and to enfolding in our compassionate spiritual care all who join us in seeking grace and strength to flee from lust, pursue peace and holiness, and live as pilgrims on the way to Christ’s kingdom.

Christ comes with grace and truth for sinners (Luke 5:32; John 1:14). Homosexual desires and acts are not the only sins, nor the worst sin, for it is not the unpardonable sin. Since it can be repented of by grace, it need not inevitably lead to damnation. We confess our own sinfulness and worthiness of hell. Christ died for sinners and rose again—and He is our only hope. Our call to men and women who rejoice in same-sex erotic desires or who participate in same-sex erotic activity is the same as our call to all sinners: repent of your sins and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved (Mark 1:15; Acts 16:31).