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Contemporary Issues

Book Reviews by
Fred G. Zaspel

Someone has to do it. We do no favor to the church today or tomorrow by ignoring issues that arise. Throughout the church's history issues have come, and our heroes today are those who yesterday addressed those issues for us. Thankfully, there are men today who will do just that, and here's a listing of some of the more significant works they have produced. Really, all of these should be read widely it would be a help to the church of our generation.

Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church, by D.A. Carson (Zondervan)
Sometimes the Christian church seems all-too-ready to ride the next faddish band wagon sent in from the world around it. It's both embarrassing and frustrating to observe, but each generation seems to witness it more. You cannot have missed the noise caused by the Emergent Church movement, and you may have yourself had to face the unbelief it has brought with it. Whatever there is about the movement that is commendable is more than out-weighed by its departure from the truth demands of Scripture. Thank God for clear thinking, Biblically grounded men such as Dr. Carson who will give their attention to exposing the movement for us. Carson reflects a thorough acquaintance with the movement's leading spokesmen and with the larger philosophical mileu which has given it rise. He is careful to represent the movement fairly and kindly, but he is also careful to measure it by the Word of God. This book is must read if you want to understand the Emerging Church.

True For You, But Not For Me, by Paul Copan (Bethany House)
The book's subtitle identifies its specific purpose -- "Deflating the Slogans that Leave Christians Speechless." Copan provides a very helpful service to Christian laymen who want better to understand the thinking of our increasingly anti-Christian society. He provides an excellent overview of contemporary pluralistic thinking and, by contrast, the competing claims of Christ. A very helpful resource for your church library.

Answering Islam: The Crescent in the Light of the Cross by Norman Geisler and Abdul Saleeb (Baker)
Noted apologist Norman Geisler and former Muslim Abdul Saleeb combine forces here to produce what is probably the best analysis of Islam you've had the opportunity to read. Analyzes well the theology of Islam and contrasts it with the basics of the Christian faith. With the growing influence of Islam today, this is a most helpful resource to have in your library. R. C. Sproul says, "This book is a theological masterpiece. . . . It is invaluable as a tool for understanding the most serious religious challenge to Christianity in the modern world."

Chris Chrisman Goes to College by James Sire (IVP)
A good "prep" for high school or college students. Analyzes and answers relativism, individualism, and pluralism as it appears on today's college campus. Written in story form, clearly, and interestingly. Very useful.

Choosing My Religion by R. C. Sproul (Baker)
R. C. Sproul evaluates the only two foundations for belief: favorite-flavor-ice-cream truth (one religion is as good as another, so pick one that works for you) and jell-bean-total truth (only one ultimate truth can fit you into the reality that really is real). These are the options -- R.C. provides good help at arriving at sound answers to life's big questions. Very popular with high schoolers.

The Coming Evangelical Crisis: Current Challenges to the Authority of Scripture and the Gospel, John Armstrong, ed. (Moody Press)
This book is born out of the conviction that contemporary Evangelicalism is ill and shows symptoms of a disease that could have devastating effects. I concur with this diagnosis, and I also concur with the remedy that is offered. John Armstrong has assembled a fine group of men here (R. C. Sproul, John MacArthur, S. Lewis Johnson, Robert Godfrey, and others) to reaffirm Christian fundamentals as over against contemporary substitutions. At the heart of the issue are the Reformation themes of sola scriptura and sola fide. Whether we speak of Clark Pinnock's God Who just doesn't know or Jack Deere's extra-Biblical revelation or Evangelicalism's apathy toward theology in general, it is clear that we have problems serious problems. This book is a healthy examination of such trends; it is timely and needed. Important for understanding the issues that affect us today and tomorrow. Recommended.

The Evangelical Forfeit by John Seel (Baker Books)
An insightful--even if distressing--analysis of contemporary evangelicalism. After surveying the evidence Seel concludes that we are too political, too modern, and too ineffective. We have lost focus and have become irrelevant. His call for a return to Christian fundamentals -- in the words of C. S. Lewis, to be "merely Christian" -- is a welcome note. He surveys the contemporary evangelical scene well, analyzes it accurately, and offers the right solution. Good reading.

The Evangelical Left: Encountering Postconservative Evangelical Theology by Millard Erickson (Baker Books, 1997)
The leftward movement of much of Evangelical theology (a la Pinnock, Grenz, Boyd) is or at least, should be disturbing, to say the least. Christianity's Bible, God, and salvation are being understood in ways that scarcely resemble that of classical and Biblical Christianity. Erickson has done a nice job of surveying these trends, teachings, and teachers. Along the way, the novice will find at times that this book is not written for him, but overall Erickson has placed these postmoderns within the reach of most who are theologically inclined and informed. In his final chapter he is something of a seer, theorizing on the future of such trends; and in the main his prognostications are justifiable, even if unpleasant. If you're one who has "heard" of these new trends but you have little time for reading them yourself, then this book will serve as a good survey and introduction.

Freud vs. God: How Psychiatry Lost Its Soul and Christianity Lost Its Mind by Dan Blazer (IVP)
A great title. But not such a great book. Blazer holds out the notion that there is needed remedy for the christian's emotional problems beyond what is found in Scripture. He chastizes Jay Adams -- but in doing so illustrates why Adams' approach was and is so needful.

The Gift of Grace: Roman Catholic Teaching in the Light of the Bible by T. Vanhuysse (Evangelical Press)
The issues that divide Roman Catholics from Protestants have again come to the fore in our generation, and it is imperative that Christians understand these issues well. Vanhuysse is a former Roman Catholic, and he not only understands but also teaches clearly here the essential gospel issues that are at stake -- the meaning of Jesus' death, the way to obtain forgiveness of sins, the value of human merit, indulgences, and so on. An easy and helpful book. Useful also for distribution to your Catholic friends.

How the News Makes Us Dumb: The Death of Wisdom in an Information Society by C. John Sommerville (IVP)
This eye-opening book is for everyone dissatisfied with the state of the news media, because it will help explain to you why you are so dissatisfied. But, more importantly, this book is particularly for those who think the news actually does inform them about the real world. Refreshingly discerning.

Justification by Faith Alone edited by Don Kistler (Soli Deo Gloria, 1995)
A series of timely essays by John MacArthur, R.C. Sproul, Joel Beeke, John Gerstner, and John Armstrong in affirmation of this cardinal tenet of the Christian faith and in response to the infamous Evangelicals and Catholics Together. The strongest chapters are by Beeke and Armstrong, although all throughout there could have been more exegetical work for such a definitive book particularly from the key passage of Romans 3:21ff . Also, it was ironic that while arguing the contrary (and correct) position the disappointing NASB translation was used throughout: "reckoned as (eis) righteousness." The theology of justification, however, is clearly presented and enthusiastically affirmed. Overall, a very helpful and relevant book.

Our Sufficiency in Christ: Three Deadly Influences that Undermine Your Spiritual Life may well be John MacArthur's best work. It at the very least strikes a most needful chord for contemporary American Evangelicalism. The sub-title suggests a negative tone, and the book's warning against modern psychology and philosophies as they have crept into the church is a much needed one. But the book is more a positive affirmation of the sufficiency of what every Christian already has in Christ we have in Him all we need, and we err to look to secular alternatives for help and pleasure. A good book for clearing up the muddled thinking of today's Evangelical world. Highly recommended. 

Pop Goes the Gospel by John Blanchard (Evangelical Press)
Rock music in the church. A highly provocative and hard-hitting examination of the pop scene and the use of rock music in evangelism. A calm, balanced, thorough, and biblical look at the subject. Extremely relevant and highly recommended!

Power Religion: the Selling Out of the Evangelical Church?, Michael Horton, ed. (Moody Press)
Power healings, power politics, power evangelism, power growth, power within, power preachers and with it all today, there is a seductive distraction away from the essentials of the Christian faith. Instead of proclamation we have protests, instead of gospel preaching we have "miracles," instead of genuine, personal revival of the individual heart we have church growth mechanisms, instead of the worship of Christ we have the worship of self and on and on go the fads of contemporary evangelicalism. It all is so different from the apostolic church one wonders where is the connection! These kinds of exposes are needed, and Horton, Armstrong, Boice, Carson, Nettles, Packer, et al have done a good job of it. Important reading. Recommended.

Recovering Biblical Manhood & Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism edited by John Piper and Wayne Grudem (Crossway Books)
This is the answer to egalitarian evangelicals, the classic exposition of the major Biblical passages and topics that bear on the issue, demonstrating well the Biblical basis of the "complementarian" view. Contributers include D. A. Carson, S. Lewis Johnson, Ray Ortland, James Borland, George W. Knight III, Douglas Moo, John Frame, Vern Poythress, Paige Patterson, the editors, and many more. A compendium of information -- the number one resource for the study.

Roman Catholicism: Evangelical Protestants Analyze What Divides and Unites Us, John Armstrong, ed. (Moody Press)
This is the first generation since the Reformation in which we are being told on a large scale by so many Evangelical leaders that we are not so far from Rome that we cannot unite. This is frankly amazing (actually, I have much stronger words than that which may not go well in print!). In the wake of ECT, John Armstrong always one to keep his eye on these things for us has put together a good collection of articles by various outstanding theologians addressing the issues at the heart of the discussion. It would be a pleasant life if we all could just join together and proceed in the same direction, but, frankly, it would be a betrayal of the gospel to join so with Roman Catholicism. The nature and authority of the Scriptures, the nature of justification, the role of the sacraments, the role of the "priest" these are all issues that really do divide us, and until Rome's position on these changes they must continue to divide us. Such is the contention of these men, and while it may seem unpleasant to say such things it is refreshing to hear men reaffirm the historic Christian gospel. To compromise it will do no one any favor. Important reading. Recommended. 

The Roman Catholic Controversy by James White (Bethany House Publishers, 1996)
A View of Rome by John Armstrong (Moody Press, 1995)
Both of these books proved very helpful analyses of the issues that still divide Evangelicalism from Roman Catholicism, something especially useful in this confusing age of ETC. Both the analyses of the issues and the Biblical expositions are accurate and clear. If you need a more precise understanding of this subject, both of these books are highly recommended.

Ultimate Issues by R. C. Sproul (Baker)
Defend your view of ultimate reality and truth. Do you have one? You do, whether you have carefully thought about it or not. But will your philosophy stand up to logic and lifew's ultimate questions satisfactorily? Sit down with philosopher R. C. Sproul and a group of college students and listen to them share their ideas about: the relative value of human and animal life, a standard for decisions about rightness, the origin and "purpose" of everything, being acceptable to God. Thoughtful, stimulating dialogue! Popular with youth.

Welfare Reformed: A Compassionate Approach edited by David Hall (P&R)
Richard Neuhaus, David Hall, Doug Bandow, Michael Bauman, R. C. Sproul, R. C. Sproul Jr, George Grant, E. Calvin Beisner, and F. Edward Payne join forces to expose today's welfare system but only to demonstrate the more helpful Biblical alternative. Contemporary, insightful, relevant, and much needed.

What's With the Dudes at the Door? by Kevin Johnson & James White (Bethany House)
Here apologist James White joins up with Kevin Johnson, teen author from Bethany House, to "cult-proof your brain." The book, written in a style reflective of the title itself, seems aimed primarily at youth and would be easy reading for adults as well. The authors lay brief yet solid groundwork on vital issues such as the Bible, the gospel, the trinity, and so on, and they also provide some basic information regarding the major cults. A very good introduction to the subject which will go a long way toward "cult-proofing your brain."

Who Is My Mother? The Role and Status of the Mother of Jesus in the New Testament and in Roman Catholicism by Eric D. Svendsen (Calvary Press)
Today, as much as ever, Christians need to understand the difference between Roman Catholicism and Biblical Christianity, and in this discussion the Biblical teaching regarding the person and role of Mary looms large. Indeed, I have found that in the minds of many sincere Roman Catholics, this is the issue that divides them from the Evangelical faith of their friends. For this discussion, Svendsen has given us more information than is available in any other single book and has provided a reliable reference on the subject. His exegetical work is thorough, his conclusions are objective, and his writing is clear, helpful, and non-offensive. It is a pleasure to commend this most timely book.

Willow Creek Services: Evaluating a New Way of Doing Church by G. A. Pritchard (Baker Books)
A helpful analysis and assessment of the Willow Creek pheonomenon. Pritchard does a thorough job of analyzing how Bill Hybels and other Creeker types "do church." He draws on extended interviews with Hybels and his large staff, first-hand acquaintance with the church services, and analysis of many of Hybels' sermon tapes. His presentation of the Willow Creek model is thorough and precise and accurate. The final section of the book is his analysis which is largely very good and very reliable. He points out a few lessons which more traditionalist critics can learn from Hybels, and he points out many errors bound up with his approach. Apart from conducting the research yourself, this is probably the best resource for learning what the Willow Creek movement is all about.