“Word-Centered Church” by Jonathan Leeman

The following is a sort of mixture, both a book review and a personal commentary on some particular applications of the book’s substance.             

In his book, Word-Centered Church, Jonathan Leeman argues for a church theology and practice inundated by Scripture… in other words, a Word-centeredor Scripture-centeredchurch. Leeman writes, “[A Word-centered church] is a church where the words and teachings of Scripture reverberate back and forth, from mouth to mouth and heart to heart” (93).

So, he is not merely calling pastors to preach the Bible, he is calling all the members of a local church to participate holistically in the reverberating word-centeredness of their particular body. In this book, Leeman contends for what he calls a “faith proposition.” He says, “trusting God’s Word to build our churches is an act of faith” (29).

And yet, as any contender should, Leeman notes that many church leaders and members today are not seeking to build Word-centered churches. Numerous evangelical leaders and parishioners (Maybe the vast majority?) are seeking to build their churches by catering to a particular demographic.

In my own Baptist association in East Texas there are several “cowboy churches” and even a “biker church”! I have often wondered why some pastors haven’t stopped hiding the fact that they are seeking to build “affluent churches” or “white-urban-professional churches” or “hipster churches.” If we are targeting these demographics, why pretend we are doing something innovative or clever?

I have personally (to my shame) been a part of a collaborative effort in local church ministry to target a certain demographic on many occasions. As a matter of fact, the evangelistic parachurch ministry I once helped lead was largely built on the supposition that non-Christians needed to be drawn to church services by something other than the Scriptures and the gospel.

In addition to this parachurch experience, I was also one of four pastors on staff at a Southern Baptist church in North Texas who openly employed the Rick Warren model of targeting Saddleback Sam. This is a way of building local church practices, buildings, ambiance, and programs that would suit the tastes of a majority demographic geographically near the local church building. Leeman admits, “in the short term, this will build churches. Demographic and cultural loyalty is genuinely, empirically, demonstrably powerful” (73). I’ve heard this phrased many times as the argument by church leaders advocating for such practices.

 But Leeman is interested in more than just pragmatic strategies, and he effectively brings the reader into the place where the important question can be asked. Leeman sets the scene, inviting the reader to envision himself/herself visiting a church for the first time. He helps picture the imaginary venture, bringing the reader right to a seat in the auditorium, immediately before the start of the service.

Then Leeman asks, “What’s most important to you as you consider whether you will come back to this church?” (84). Every Christian – especially church leaders – must ask this question.

What is the most important thing about a local church?

Borrowing language from the Reformers and the Puritans, the two marks of a true churchare (1) the right preaching of God’s word and (2) the right administration of the sacraments or ordinances. Therefore, the most important thing about a local church – if it seeks to be a true church– is that it faithfully preaches God’s word. God’s word must be preached, taught, explained, believed, and treasured. This is not merely referring to the Sunday sermon, but to the whole life and ministry of the entire congregation. Still, the centrality of Scripture among a congregation certainly starts with the preaching.

In what follows, I will focus on the role of expositional preaching in the local church. I will first observe the divine authority of expositional preaching, then the expected response to expositional preaching. In each of these areas, I will point out the distinctiveness of expositional preaching from other forms of preaching I have experienced and the effects I have seen of expositional preaching under my own pastoral efforts.

Divine Authority

Expositional preaching happens when the main point of the Scriptural text is the main point of the sermon. An expositional sermon helps the hearer understand the Bible better and apply biblical truth to his/her life. In this way, expositional preaching is driven by God’s word, causing some to understand that the preacher is (in effect) speaking on God’s behalf, even as he speaks with his own words on a Sunday.

Leeman asks an important question when he writes, “How can ‘our words’ be ‘His Word’?” Indeed! How can a preacher – especially a cessationist preacher who believes in the sufficiency of Scripture – think that he is preaching “a word from God” as he preaches with his own words from his own mouth? 

I think the answer Leeman gives is helpful. He says, “God speaks through us whenever we plainly and modestly relate whatever He has already said in the Bible” (100). Thus, the preacher engages in something Leeman calls “re-revelation” (Leeman attributed this jargon to D.A. Carson) when he reads and explains God’s singular special revelation (i.e. Scripture). And this is the only grounds for any preacher to claim divine authority when he speaks.

I have noted a bizarre dichotomy of feelings in my own heart as I stand to preach behind a pulpit each Sunday. On the one hand, I am terrified. I am fearful of God’s judgment against my own sin and shortcomings. Who am I to stand before God this day and speak on His behalf?! I am fearful of the people’s judgment against my lack of knowledge and skill. Who am I to speak commandingly to so many people, some far more knowledgeable and skilled than I am?!

On the other hand, I am overwhelmingly confident. I am confident in God’s trustworthiness, His wisdom, His justice, and His grace. I am confident of the people’s need for God’s truth, their need to understand it, to believe it, to submit it, and to be nourished by it. The reason for this dichotomy is that I feel the weight of my own ineptitude and the weight of God’s own majesty. As a preacher, I can speak with divine authority when (and only when) I faithfully read, explain, and apply God’s holy word.

Therefore, expositional preaching plays the role of giving divinely authoritative direction to a particular local church. Who are we? What shall we do? How shall we live? All of these questions are answered on the pages of Scripture, and it is the job of the preacher to expound the Scripture in the context of a particular church family so that they may be hearers and doers of God’s word.

A Right Response

Because expositional preaching is the kind of preaching that best displays divinely authoritative preaching, it is also the best kind of preaching for leading the hearer toward a biblical response. Preaching is not essentially guidelines for living, steps for improving, or suggestions for success. Preaching (when it is faithfully expositional) is a divine word from God that must be believed and heeded. Leeman notes that “the Bible does two things: It announces what God has done, and it confronts its hearers with this news and its implications” (110).

Expositional preaching, then, announces the indicatives and imperatives of God’s word and confronts the hearer in his/her error. The assumption here is that the hearer is in error, and Leeman addresses that in the book as well. But, for the sake of space, I want to focus on the response that expositional preaching expects from the hearer. It expects divine transformation.

Among my congregation in rural East Texas there may be a number of Christians who are struggling to hear expositional preaching. Their palates have been trained to lap up nutrient-sparse messages of moralism and self-improvement. Many churches within a 20-mile radius of our church building continue striving to package a better therapeutic or culturally-traditional model of doing church.

Because this is true, expositional preaching has been somewhat off-putting to some church members and many visitors. They do not like the emphasis upon propositional statements over motivational ones. They sometimes wonder why there isn’t the same stress upon southern and rural American values, and they chafe at some words of admonition against cultural conformity.

Some, however, have begun to see that it is life-transformation we are after. Some exhibit the fruit of the Spirit’s work in their lives through the reverberation of the Scriptures. Some have joyfully embraced the higher goal of transformation, leaving behind the worldly goal of self-affirming spiritual guidance.

I think of Steve, who read between the lines of my gentle admonition, now looking for ways to read Scripture together with his adult daughters who are grown and gone, all three seeming to be nominal Christians. I think of Kathy, who started reading Scripture together with her mother and three sisters one night each week. Kathy heard her mother pray for the first time about a year ago, and we baptized Wanda (Kathy’s 80-yr-old mom) into membership in 2018.

I think of David, who became a deacon about 2 years ago and joined a weekly study of systematic theology in order to understand the Bible better. I think of Donald, who seems like a 70-yr-old “cage-stage” Reformed guy because he has just begun to grasp what it means that God is truly sovereign and that sound doctrine is life-giving.


God’s word alone has the power to transform lives. In the local church, the role of expositional preaching is to unleash the beast of God’s word without any of the trappings we might try to place upon it in our effort to dress it up a bit or make it more desirable for our modern culture. Christ is King! His word of grace saves! And His Spirit works through His word to transform all those who love and trust Him.

May God raise up many more preachers who humbly believe the “faith proposition” Leeman calls for in this book, and may God glorify Himself through the ministry of many Word-centeredchurches.

Review: The Purpose Driven Life

In his book The Purpose Driven Life, Rick Warren has offered readers an easy-to-read volume of unreserved encouragement. Line after line seems designed for simplicity, inspiration, and warmth. Even the font and length of the book seem to be aimed at heartening the reader. The print was large and the pages many, meant to give the reader a sense of covering a lot of ground in just over a month. Warren obviously intended this book to be a pleasant and welcoming introduction to the purposefulChristian life.

Christians are likely to enjoy many features of this book – even theologically-minded and carefully-reading kinds of Christians. In fact, many people have read and celebrated The Purpose Driven Life, so I want to spend a little time highlighting some of the probable reasons it has been so highly acclaimed. However, there are also significant disappointments in this devotional book. Therefore, I’d like to ultimately present a couple of reasons why Christians should look elsewhere for quality Christian living material.[1]

The Book Tastes Good 

Warren began his book with the abrasive statement, “It’s not about you” (17). Such a statement is surely a good one for people to read and to think about. It is objectively true (and even intuitively true), but we do not naturally live as though we believe it is. American Evangelicals seem especially interested in accommodating self-centeredness within the Christian worldview. Because of this obvious dichotomy – either life is ultimately about me or God, it cannot be centered on both – Warren’s opening words are probably a little stinging and then undoubtedly quite refreshing for many Christian readers. And Christians are right to be glad that life is really and ultimately about God.

In line with this kind of thinking, Warren pressed his readers to “begin with God” and to discover “[God’s] purpose” for their lives (17). Warren also tried to help the reader understand that “God’s purpose took into account human error, and even sin.” Assuring the reader, Warren wrote, “God never does anything accidentally, and he never makes mistakes” (23). Again, the Christian reader is likely to enjoy and even benefit from such words. Christians know that God is the starting point (Gen. 1:1), and they also know that God’s purposes stand behind all things, even bad and sinful things (Ps. 135:5-12). Warren’s words here are likely welcomed truths for many Christian readers who may benefit from the reminder that God is always at work in our lives, even during hard and bitter times.

Throughout the book, Warren repeatedly wrote of the need to believe in Jesus, to obey Him as Lord, and to demonstrate love for God by acting on love for others. Christian readers are probably happy to see such calls to know and follow Jesus in meaningful ways. I know I appreciated these calls as I read the book. Warren also wrote about the importance of Christian fellowship, the value of genuine community, and the intentional effort needed to participate in a local church. Being a pastor, I thought Warren’s statements were often full of good admonishing words, useful for some of my own church members.

It was easy to see why many Christians find The Purpose Driven Lifeto be a great resource for their own spiritual growth and development. As a matter of fact, just as I was finishing the book, I met a Christian young man who said that this book was the most impactful book he’d read on Christians living. And yet, there were also some very troubling and disappointing features of Warren’s book. Let me mention a couple of the biggest reasons I think this book is actually quite bad.

But the Book is Poisonous

There are more than a few reasons to place this book in the category of “bad books.” I don’t mean it should never be read, and I’m no book-burning fanatic, but I want to sound a word of warning to those who might be interested in thinking sensibly about this book. We should be level-headed about all that we read, and this book is no exception. As a matter of fact, I have some readers especially in mind as I write these words of warning. I imagine young and immature Christians reading this book, not realizing the juice is mixed with cyanide. Worse yet, I imagine non-Christians reading this book, not realizing they’re being inoculated against the gospel of Jesus Christ, their only hope in life and death.

Let me outline two overwhelmingly bad features of The Purpose Driven Life. I hope you’ll consider my warning and then spend a little time thinking about the validity of such arguments. I also hope that you’ll consider the state of your own soul, and that you’ll give effort to knowing the gospel and the God who saves. Warren’s book is bad, first, because the gospel is absent. Second, Warren assumes his reader is a Christian from the beginning. These two combined qualities make this book awfully poisonous. Ingesting either one is dangerous, but the combination is eternally lethal. Let me explain.

Nonexistent gospel. Not every book should be expected to include the gospel of Jesus Christ. I want to be clear on this point. But any book on Christian living, especially one that targets non-Christians, and even more particularly one that aims to define the “Good News” of Christianity, should absolutely include the substance of the Christian gospel. The gospel is the “Good News” after all. The gospel is the message of God’s plan to save sinners through the person and work of Jesus Christ.[2]

On day three of his forty-day devotional, Warren finished his brief chapter by telling the reader that God will one day “do an audit of your life, a final exam, before you enter eternity” (34). It was at this point that Warren seemed to begin his appeal for the reader to become a Christian. He wrote, “From the Bible we can surmise that God will ask us two crucial questions: First, ‘What did you do with my Son, Jesus Christ?’ …Second, ‘What did you do with what I gave you?’” Warren went on to say, “The first question will determine where you spend eternity. The second question will determine what you do in eternity.” It was later, on day seven, when Warren seemed to urge his reader toward an evangelical response to the gospel. 

Employing his language of the purposeful life, Warren wrote, “Real life begins by committing yourself completely to Jesus Christ. If you are not sure you have done this, all you need to do is receiveand believe” (58). Warren explained belief by writing, “Believe God loves you and made you for his purposes… Believe God has chosen you to have a relationship with Jesus, who died on the cross for you.” Then Warren went on to describe the meaning of “receive” by saying, “Receive Jesus into your life as you Lord and Savior. Receive his forgiveness… [and] his Spirit, who will give you the power to fulfill your life purpose.” Then Warren invited the reader to “bow your head and quietly whisper the prayer that will change your eternity.” And then he recommended a brief, innocuous prayer.

Later still, on day thirty-seven, Warren finally sought to define the “Good News” of the gospel. Urging his reader to share the gospel with others, Warren spent a couple of lines explaining the substance of the gospel message. He wrote, “The Good News is that when we trust God’s grace to save us through what Jesus did, our sins are forgiven, we get a purpose for living, and we are promised a future home in heaven” (294). That’s it… No explanation of sin, no clarification about who Jesus is at all, and no description of what Jesus did. Obviously, a Christian could expound on this anemic content and make the gospel clear. But throughout the full content of Warren’s book, these several lines are the whole of his supposedly gospel substance, and this is simply a non-gospel. 

Who is God? What is sin? Who is Jesus? Why did Christ die? For whom did Christ die? What does Christ’s death have to do with the reader? How is Christ’s work applied to the sinner? What relationship does God’s saving work have with my effort to live for Him? These are the crucial questions of the Christian life, and Warren answers none of them. He gives no substance to a message he calls “the Good News,” and this is poisonous to the non-Christian reader. He or she may think the gospel is a vacuous message, and he or she may even think the gospel has been received and applied by reading this book. He or she may believe that heaven is assured, simply because he or she has read this book. But this would be an eternally costly presumption. A gospel message with no substance is poison to those who receive it. 

Christianity assumed. A hollow gospel is bad enough, but Warren did not leave the reader to his or her own thoughts about the state of his or her soul. Warren offered complete and unreserved assurance to his reader, and this even before his hollow gospel was presented. Warren wrote his book as though every reader is objectively on their way to paradise and glory.

Ten pages and one day before Warren asked his reader “What did you do with Jesus Christ?” and five days before Warren lead his reader to “believe” and “receive” the blessings of salvation (without defining or explaining the gospel at all), Warren assured his reader of God’s special love. He wrote, “You were created as a special object of God’s love! God made you so he could love you” (24). 

The Bible is clear that God’s does love the world (Jn. 3:16), and God even loves sinners (Rom. 5:8), but God’s special love is only for those He saves in Christ (Eph. 1:4-6, 2:4-10; 1 Jn. 4:10). To say that everyone on the planet (at least every one of those who will read Warren’s book) is a “special object of God’s love” is to declare a universal application of God’s special love. How, then, is the reader to understand this assured promise? Is this not a promised assurance of God’s saving love?

Warren’s book is filled with this same kind of presumptuous assurance, giving the reader every reason to believe he or she is perfectly right before God and on his or her way to eternal blessings rather than cursing. Warren wrote, “God wants a family, and he created you to be a part of it” (117). Soon after, he wrote, “The moment you were spiritually born into God’s family, you were given some astounding birthday gifts: the family name, the family likeness, family privileges, family intimate access, and the family inheritance” (119). On what basis does Warren make such family promises? On the basis that the reader is simply reading his book, I suppose?

Warren made his presumption explicit when gave an unequivocal assurance of salvation immediately after his nebulous non-gospel presentation on day seven. After urging his reader to pray an innocuous prayer, he wrote, “If you sincerely meant that prayer, congratulations! Welcome to the family of God!” (59). Warren bypassed the affirmation of the local church, supplanted any critical assessment of genuine conversion, and simply assured and congratulated his reader.

Far and away, the worst poison in this book is Warren’s intention that his reader to think that he or she has read, understood, and embraced the gospel. He intends his reader to embrace every promise God has made to those who are in Christ, without the substance of the gospel and without the benefit of critically thinking through whether or not the reader has actually understood and embraced the message of Christ.For these two reasons, I caution the reader. This book is poisonous. It could be quite lethal to the soul.

[1]For the interested reader, I suggest the following resources as superior Christian living and devotional materials. A Little Book on the Christian Lifeby John Calvin, Mornings and Eveningsby Charles Spurgeon, Thoughts for Young Menby J.C. Ryle, and Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Lifeby Donald Whitney.

[2]Lest I be accused of doing the same thing I am accusing Warren of, allow me to briefly layout the essence of the gospel message. God is the creator, holy and just. One day He will distribute perfect justice on all creation. Man was created in the image of God, the apex of God’s creation, but man rebelled against (sinned) God’s good authority. Humanity became God’s enemy, and people continue in rebellion by continually sinning against God in their thought and words and deeds. Despite God’s right to judge everyone for their rebellion, God showed love for sinners by sending Jesus – the Son of God who became a human – to live perfectly under God’s law and to die as the substitute for all who would trust and love Him. Through Jesus, God reconciled guilty sinners with Himself, no longer counting them as guilty but counting them as adopted and beloved children. To this glorious news, God calls everyone everywhere to repent (turn from sin and disbelief) and believe (trust and love and submit to) Jesus Christ. This is, in brief, the gospel. The whole Christian life is lived out by understanding this message more deeply and applying it more broadly and thoroughly to every area of life, normally in community with other believers (i.e. the local church) who are doing the same.

“Going Public” by Bobby Jamieson

Jamieson’s writing style and authorial posture make this book an enjoyable read for anyone interested in studying a biblical argument for the historic Baptist view of believer’s baptism and the relationship of Christian baptism to church membership.

I found this book to be a likable, direct argument for believer’s baptism as the theological and public signal of someone becoming a Christian. Jamieson’s repeated obeisance to Paedobaptist comrades throughout the book makes him hard to disregard as a rabid sectarian of sorts. He simply and amiably asserts the biblical explanation and defense for believer’s baptism. He then works through the logical implications of this doctrine is such as way so as to present believer’s baptism as essential to the structure of church membership.

Quoting Robert Stein, Jamieson describes “faith going public” by pointing to five “integrally related components” of conversion. “Repentance, faith, and confession by the individual, regeneration… and baptism by representatives of the Christian community.”[1] This last phrase carries quite a bit of freight, but this is the basic idea Jamieson explicates throughout the book.

Baptism is integrally related to conversion (necessarily post-dating punctiliar conversion and serving as the public oath-sign), it is the affirmation of Christian representatives, and it is normally carried out in the context of formal Christian communities (i.e. local churches). Jamieson’s book attempts (I think successfully so) to unpack this freight and examine the substance of it.

Baptism, Jamieson argues, is the initiating oath-sign of the New Covenant. It is the formal and public commitment of the new believer to associate him or herself with Christ and Christ’s people. Baptism is also the passport of the kingdom of Christ on earth. It is the affirmation of the new believer by those Christians who are already part of Christ’s visible kingdom on earth.

Jamieson also argues that baptism and the Lord’s Supper are the effective signs of what and who a local church is, thereby making church membership structurally visible. All of this collectively forms the basis for arguing the logical implication that baptism (i.e. believer’s baptism) is necessary for church membership. Anyone who neglects this necessary ordinance (even for reasons of conscience and/or conviction) cannot avoid the charge of inconsistency and, ultimately, theological error.

Honestly, I found this book to be a refreshing articulation of what I have been trying to practice among my own church family. It is hard for me to interact very critically with it. I thought Jamieson did a good job of laying out his case, and I believe he also stayed within the boundaries of Scripture and suitable deductions from the diligent and faithful study of it.

I also thought that Jamieson’s book would be quite accessible to the unstudied Christian. I think most Christians would be able to understand the overall argument of this book, and I think the bite-sized chapters and sections would not be too difficult to swallow and digest.

If I might make one negative comment about this book, it would be related to the compliment I gave it above. While the chapters and sections were arranged in a simple and easy-to-follow fashion, I think there was a little too much redundant content. Each chapter began by “putting his cards on the table” with lengthy introductions that essentially presented the chapter’s content in brief. Jamieson offered the reader an option to omit an entire chapter so as to avoid too much repetition, but I wonder if this doesn’t merely make my point that the re-packaged content could have simply been omitted in the final publication.

Overall, I think this book was great. I unreservedly commend it to the reading list of every Christian and curious non-Christian. This book will help the reader better understand the biblical importance of baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and church membership.

[1]Jamieson, 38.

“Elders” by Jeramie Rinne

I think this is a great resource for both aspiring elders/pastors and formally recognized ones. This book was an honest and biblical introduction to what an elder is and what an elder does, applicable to every Christian.

If a man is considering becoming an elder himself, or if he is currently serving as an elder and considering his affirmation of other elders, this book will be a great help. Also, if a church member is considering what his/her expectations ought to be regarding his/her elders, this book will be exceedingly beneficial.

Rinne doesn’t assume anything (one of the great things about this book), and he asserts early on that one of the first “elder-related” duties is to “investigate whether you should in fact be an elder, based on the Bible’s qualifications.”

He goes on to say, “Don’t assume. Even if you have served as an elder before, allow God’s Word to vet your candidacy” (pg. 18). These are shocking and (hopefully) sobering words for anyone who is considering what it means to be an elder. The Bible lays out various character qualifications (1 Tim. 3; Titus 1) for those who would serve or are serving as elders, and Rinne walks through them all.

There is a conspicuous qualification for elders that is not necessarily related to a man’s character, namely the ability to teach. There is much more that an elder/pastor must do and even more that he can do, but the central focus of his task is teaching.

Summarizing the charge of pastoring (being an elder), Rinne says,

“Overseers [or elders] teach, pray, and serve so that their brothers and sisters might know Jesus more intimately, obey him more faithfully, and reflect his character more clearly, both individually and as a church family” (pg. 40).

This is the biblical job description and heartfelt desire of every godly elder/pastor who serves among a local congregation.

Rinne’s candid and biblical approach is commendable and refreshing. So much of what passes for Christian literature today is hardly recognizable as Christian. Church growth resources are pragmatic, concerned nearly entirely with strategy and systems. Against this backdrop, Rinne is a bright and beautiful light. He begins with the biblical definition and description of an elder, he continues by challenging elders to function according to the biblical mandate, and he ends with a biblical call to glorious service in Christ’s name.

In my own local church (as of July 2018), I am the only officially recognized elder. Other men are informally doing the work of elders, shepherding fellow church members, but the biblical office of elder is not clearly recognized among my congregation.

By God’s grace, we are seeing some significant growth in this area, and there are many church members who are beginning to understand the biblical teaching of what an elder is and what an elder does. I believe it may not be too much longer before we will be able to formally recognize at least a couple of other men among us as elders.

For now, I am prayerfully seeking to live out the call Rinne gives to elders throughout his book. I am teaching my people what qualifies a man to be an elder, and I am calling them to settle for nothing less (especially in me). I am seeking to know and be known by members of my congregation, though I am simply not able to know all of them as well as I can know some of them. I am striving to serve the word of God throughout the weekly activities of our congregational life, especially on Sunday mornings and Wednesday evenings (we do not currently have a Sunday night service).

Additionally, I am trying to call absentee members back into the fold, trying to lead with patience and kindness, and trying to be an example among the flock over which God has placed me. I do feel both the burden of pastoring and the weight of such a glorious task.

May God help me, and may He raise up many godly men to serve as elders/pastors among local churches.

See this book on Amazon by CLICKING HERE

“Evangelism” by Mack Stiles

This book was refreshing and simple, and the average reader can read it in less than 2 hours. It was as though Mack had observed all the ways evangelical churches often misunderstand the church’s role in evangelism and then measured these against the biblical emphasis on what the local church actually is and does. Mack’s simple layout and explanations of evangelistic methodology from the Scriptures was very easy to follow.

Anyone reading the book would have difficulty disagreeing with Mack’s direct and sensible statements about the local church. Additionally, I found Mack’s examples and stories compelling. I am not normally a story-guy, usually skipping past these in order to get straight to an author’s arguments, but I found myself celebrating God’s grace in each of these accounts of regular church members living in step with the gospel.

Mack’s basic premise might be highlighted by his statement,

“In a culture of evangelism, people understand that the main task of the church is to be the church. We’ve already seen that church practices are a witness in and of themselves. Certainly the church supports and prays for outreach and evangelistic opportunities, but the church’s role is not to run programs. The church should cultivate a culture of evangelism. The members are sent out from the church to do evangelism (pg. 65-66).”

Mack articulates elsewhere what the church is and does (p. 70), and I think this might be the very backbone of the book and the culture of evangelism Mack urges throughout. The humble approach Mack took with this book and the sincere application of biblical concepts (church, evangelism, discipleship, etc.) makes this resource fantastic for church leaders and members alike.

I have absolutely no negative critique for this book. It was to the point, heartfelt, thoroughly biblical, compelling, and inspiring. I appreciated Mack’s no-assumption policy with Christianity and his exemplary-ambassador model of evangelistic efforts.

As I mentioned above, Mack’s definition of a local church was extremely helpful. No matter what someone believes about this definition, often the practices of local churches convey something much different. One question Mack forces the reader to consider is, “What is the biblical definition of a local church, and how does this argue for the inclusion of certain practices and the exclusion of others?”

Many churches seem to think that the local church is responsible to create a whole slew of programs and structures by which the members of a given church can feel a sense of engaging their community for the sake of Christ. In effect, however, these programs are much more likely to insulate Christians from the community around them rather than facilitate evangelistic efforts.

Vacation Bible School, outreach events, church excursions, concerts, campus expansions, gymnasiums, coffee shops, community groups, home groups, upward sports programs, and a host of other things seem much more likely to segregate Christians from the outside world rather than create inroads to meet the world with the gospel. Obviously, there can be some examples of things like these encouraging Christian engagement with the world, but a broader observation is what I am making here.

In my own local church context, I have tried to simply let dying programs die and avoid putting anything else in their place. I have also urged my congregation to see themselves as ambassadors for Christ, and I have tried to model gospel conversations for those with whom I spend time during the week. I haven’t done as good of a job at some of the things Mack mentioned, but I plan to remedy this as best as I can.

May God create a culture of evangelism among FBC Diana, and may God help me to be a better example among my church family and in my community.

See this book on Amazon by CLICKING HERE

Southern Baptist Identity | A Book Review

One of the most recent books I have read is “Southern Baptist Identity: An Evangelical Denomination Faces the Future.” It was highly informative, candidly thought-provoking, and engagingly eclectic. I am thankful for the book form of these many essays from varying leadership among the Southern Baptist Convention.

You’ll read my full commendation at the end of this article, but I will go ahead and tell you that I believe every Christian would benefit from reading this book. Furthermore, I believe every Southern Baptist should read this book in order to contribute to the necessary discussion about the future of the Southern Baptist Convention.



David Dockery, a proven unifier in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), edited essays from several leaders and thinkers in the SBC. The content is well introduced by Dockery himself.

He opens the book by writing,

“The SBC is the largest evangelical denomination in the country, with over 44,000 churches in all fifty states. Southern Baptists have often functioned separately from the rest of American Christianity because of their sectionalism, their inability to separate from Southern culture, their parochialism, and their self-sufficiency, though there are some indicators that these things are beginning to change. For almost three decades the Convention has been embroiled in controversy regarding theological issues and denominational polity. We now find ourselves asking important questions about the future and identity of the SBC” (p. 13).

With this introduction in mind, the rest of the book seeks to explain and propose how Southern Baptist might rediscover their identity and forge ahead into the future.

Summary and Interaction

The book has two larger perspectival sections: Theological and Historical Perspectives and Ministry and Convention Perspectives. I will provide a brief overview of each section below.

Theological and Historical Perspectives: Chs 1 – 7

Albert Mohler (ch. 1) begins the theological and historical section by asking the question, “Is there a future?” This is a good question. It seems that many Southern Baptists have simply assumed the answer is, “Yes, of course there is a future for the SBC!” This assumption would be foolish, however, given the changing culture around us and the declining numbers (statistically speaking) among us.

Mohler points to the historic roots of Southern Baptist identity in three theological principles with practical implications. First, one essential mark of Baptist churches has been the understanding that only genuine Christians should be embraced members of a local church (regenerate membership). Second, believer’s baptism has marked the affirmation of a Christian profession of faith and one’s entry into the visible membership of the local church. Third, covenanted church members of a local church are responsible for ordering the mission and function of the church according to Scripture.

Mohler, like all the authors in this first section, celebrated the “Conservative Resurgence” among the SBC and the positive results that have come from it. One should certainly read this book and others on the matter (Wills provides an excellent overview of the history and context of the Conservative Resurgence in chapter 3), but the Conservative Resurgence was essentially a massive shift in the SBC (1979-2000) away from liberal and moderate theological positions toward conservative ones.

Obviously, the history may be perceived through differing lenses, but there is no doubt that what Mohler says here is true. “Southern Baptists are now exceptional in the broader theological world” (p. 29). Marriage, abortion, and gender identity are all issues upon which Southern Baptists generally stand against the rest of the Western world (including other Christians). But, Mohler concludes his essay by reminding us, “Baptists are always better when we are outsiders. When Baptists are forced to be nonconformists, we are forced to go back home” (p. 40).

R. Stanton Norman (ch. 2) asks another crucial question in the discussion, “What makes a Baptist a Baptist?” Surveying the vast landscape of Baptist writings, Norman isolates what he calls “constituent elements of Baptist distinctives.” These are the essential or fundamental legs upholding the proverbial stool of Baptist identity.

First, the sufficiency and authority of Scripture is the starting block for any discussion of Baptist distinctives. While other Christian denominations also affirm the Reformed doctrine of Sola Scriptura, Norman says, “Baptists distance themselves from other denominations… by claiming a complete dependence upon Scripture as the principal foundation for their beliefs and practices” (p. 44).

Second, Baptists are intentionally polemical. This is not to say that Baptists must be cantankerous (though some have earned the moniker deservedly), but it is to say that Baptists consistently “highlight the supremacy and uniqueness of the Baptist position in contrast to the theological deficiencies of other positions” (p. 46).

Third, Baptists are very interested in the way church is done. Ecclesiology (especially regenerate membership, believer’s baptism, and congregational polity) is essential to the identity of Baptists. Fourth, Baptists are blatantly volitional. From the necessity of an individual commitment to follow Christ to the liberty of all people to freely believe and practice religion without coercion, Baptists place personal responsibility on the individual.

Norman concludes his essay by naming two major challenges for Baptists today. One, Baptists must be “faithful to the heritage that is uniquely Baptist;” and two, Baptists must take on the “task of articulating our distinctive identity to our contemporary culture” (p. 62).

Russell Moore (ch. 5) highlights a 19th-century Baptist figure to draw out some lessons we might learn from those who have gone before us. Moore says,

“T.T. Eaton is not a hero; nor is he a villain. He was a hell-deserving sinner who often gave the world empirical proof of his theology of total depravity. He was also, however, a man of the church – who… ‘stood athwart history, yelling, Stop! with a Bible in his hands’” (p. 106).

Some of Eaton’s concerns are Moore’s concerns today. Moore claims that we have generally lost the faithful witness of past Baptists in the areas of (1) regenerate membership and believer’s baptism, (2) celebrating the Lord’s Supper, (3) practicing church discipline (led by pastors, and practiced by faithful congregations), and (4) the centrality of the local church (rather than parachurch ministries). With piercing words, Moore says,

“The decline of Baptist identity is not the fault of Joyce Meyer or Joel Osteen, Wheaton or Colorado Springs. It is the fault of local congregations who refuse to teach and mentor. If more churches taught Titus 2 women’s discipleship, there would be less need for Beth Moore DVDs. If more churches taught men to keep their promises, there would be less need to rent stadiums. If more pastors preached the Bible with passion and insight, if more churches actually crusaded for Christ on the campuses in their community, there would be less need for Campus Crusade for Christ” (p. 111).

Moore advocates for a return to essential Baptist principles. His candid and biting transparency may be offensive to some, but his voice merely echoes the thoughts and words of many younger Southern Baptists – at least many of those who have not yet given up on the SBC.

Paige Patterson (ch. 6) traces these same themes of Baptist identity from those common among the dissenting Anabaptists. While there in no direct line of heritage, there are many similar identifying marks. James Leo Garrett Jr. (ch. 7) looks back even further to the earliest councils, creeds, and church fathers for the themes and marks which Baptists hold dear today. Only the Landmark Baptists would see a need for a unique Baptist line all the way back to the 1st century, but Garrett shows us that Baptists may indeed claim a long Christian legacy.

Baptists have been around a long time, and we share the Christian heritage of those who came before the time when anyone was claiming to be a ‘Baptist.’ The essential and common practices of those who came before us did not arise from societal pressures or mere preference. These practices were built on theological foundations, and Baptists today must rediscover and recommit themselves to the essential doctrines that have made Baptists what they are. It should go without saying, but Baptists of today (and tomorrow) should not think, speak, and act out of step with the Baptists of yesterday.


Ministry and Convention Perspectives: Chs 8 – 14

This second section deals more pointedly with the current activities and structures of the SBC, including the national and state conventions, the various SBC entities, local associations, and local churches. The first section was focused on “Who we are,” though there were significant implications for activity, and the second section focuses on “What we do and how we do it.” Both sections contain a strong call for reform, but this second one will likely be perceived as the greater assault on the status quo.

Morris Chapman (ch. 8) lays out some axioms of cooperation among Southern Baptists. He provides six in all – a theological, a societal, an ethical, an ecclesiastical, an attitudinal, and a political – but first Chapman sets the stage and lists some problems. Tracing the formation and methods of associations in the past, Chapman ably demonstrates that cooperation is a precarious thing.

So many things lead to the decay of cooperation, and he lists three worldviews that we may recognize among Southern Baptists today. One is “perfunctory performance” (p. 162). Chapman says, “Hundreds of our contemporary churches have fallen into this pattern. They value their human traditions over the movement of God” (p. 162). The second is “pragmatism” (p. 163). This is a methodology based on a single question: “Does it work?” Chapman identifies the third problematic worldview by calling it “politics” (p. 163). This is the worldview that confuses Southern Baptist (even Christian) identity with partisan political affiliation.

Chapman offers six axioms as solutions. One, the theological axiom of Confession. Chapman argues that we must, as Southern Baptists, cooperate with one another based on a common confession of faith. He says, “If we must choose between heresy and schism, we always, always, chose schism” (p.166). Two, the societal axiom of Courage. Chapman says, “God honors the man who has not only convictions but also the courage of his convictions” (p. 168). Three, the ethical axiom of Character. Chapman says, “Consistent character is a necessary component of the Christian life. No admonition is more useful to those of us who highly value sound doctrine than the phrase ‘practice what you preach’” (p. 168).

Four, the ecclesiastical axiom of Collaboration. Chapman says, “We can do more together than separately. We, as Great Commission Christians, elevate cooperation of Christians as a core value” (p. 169). Five, the attitudinal axiom of Charity. Chapman says, “Cooperating conservatives believe it is entirely possible, in fact necessary, to maintain an irenic (peaceful and reconciling) spirit without bending one iota on basic doctrine” (p. 170).

Six, the political axiom of Co-belligerency. Chapman says, “Cooperating conservatives cooperate where it is possible… we can join together with folks whose theology we do not share in order to accomplish good works, as long as we do not compromise our theology. Simply working with them is not a compromise itself” (p. 170). These axioms form basic principles for moving ahead. As Chapman also acknowledges, the SBC is certainly in need of some intentional work.

Ed Stetzer (ch. 9) and Thom Rainer (ch. 11) both advocate for much the same thing, but regarding different aspects of Southern Baptist life. Both of these men hope for and invite others to act on a spirit of fundamental solidarity and gracious liberty. Solidarity among Southern Baptists should be found on the goal (missional living – evangelism), and liberty should be enjoyed and granted as to the precise methods we use to achieve it.

Stetzer, the quintessential SBC missiologist, urges all Southern Baptists to understand their role in this world as missional. Stetzer says, “’Missional’ is used in most Southern Baptist contexts to describe the attitude of obedience to sharing the Gospel around the world that all believers should possess” (p. 175). He goes on to say, “’missional’ does not refer to an activity or a program, but rather to the very nature of true, God-honoring, biblical, missions-focused, contextualized church” (p. 181).

Stetzer sobers his reader by saying,

“Day after day, as the culture around us becomes more unfamiliar and even hostile toward Christianity, many Southern Baptist churches separate themselves further from the culture they are called to reach, with a self-affirming and predictable comfortable denominational subculture contributing to this widening distance. This chasm of cultural understanding makes it increasingly difficult for our ‘church culture’ to relate to ‘prevailing culture’” (p. 185).

Stetzer argues that churches must intentionally resist becoming communal silos, but instead plan and train themselves to be missional. Missional churches, Stetzer says, must “(1) contend for the faith, (2) contextualize their ministries, and (3) cooperate with other churches for the kingdom of God” (p. 190). As churches seek to be missional, he says, “our task is not to listen to those who love church culture more than they love Christ’s commands” (p. 197).

Jim Shaddix (ch. 10) does a masterful job of conveying the predicament and the possibilities of the ‘traditional’ church. I believe any attempt I make to summarize his chapter would diminish the very potent work he has produced there. I urge the reader to read Shaddix’s essay in full.

As mentioned above, Stetzer and Rainer have much the same goals in mind, but Thom Rainer (ch. 11) focuses especially on evangelism and church growth. His statistics are heartbreaking, citing the number of baptisms as having decreased in 2005 when compared with 1950. While baptisms are not the only measurement by which we gauge our success as a church, as Rainer acknowledges, there is certainly cause for concern when we are seeing less conversions among a growing population. Rainer says that the lacking evangelistic zeal and activity among Southern Baptists might be due to a few things, but he boils it down to a matter of personal responsibility. Rainer says, “when evangelism is not my responsibility, it does not happen” (p. 220). This is certainly worth our time and consideration, and Southern Baptists must change course on the matter of personal evangelism.

Michael Day (ch. 12) gets down to the nitty-gritty of Southern Baptist structure in his essay on the nature and future of associations and conventions. This content will likely only be of interest to those who are in leadership in the SBC (including pastors of local churches), but I strongly encourage the laity to at least engage with these matters on an elementary level.

Day first points to the foundation of associations before there was a Southern Baptist Convention. It is informative, to say the least, to know how the structure we have today developed, and this will certainly help us to make a wise assessment about how we bring about positive change for the future. Day explains that associations were originally formed around common faith and practices, and they understood themselves to be responsible for defending their unity in such matters. In the early 1900s, however, there was a redefinition of associations, when state conventions and other cooperative entities were formed. Quoting Glynn Ford, Day wrote about the shift among associations. He wrote,

“The changes involved shifting from a doctrinally based fellowship of churches to an implementing agency of the denomination; shifting from a guardian of the fellowship to a denominational promoter; and shifting the initiative for mission from the churches to the state convention and national convention” (p. 227).

Day helpfully summarizes the history as follows:

We were birthed by biblical Baptists who embraced biblical models of the church and the mission of God in the world;

We were nurtured by believing Baptists who were certain the mission of God in the world was too large for a single body and demanded cooperation among the many;

We were shaped by bureaucratic Baptists who have worked long and hard to guide and administer what have become large and often bulky organizations;

We have been defined by battling Baptists who have fought most often for the right things, occasionally for the wrong things, but always toward producing the refinement and redefinition necessary in cooperative bodies; and,

We are questioned by befuddled Baptists who are confused and concerned about the future of our cooperative efforts. As Frank Page (past president of the Southern Baptist Convention) said at a chapel address at Union University, “There is a lot of what we have been practicing for a long time that needs to be questioned” (p. 230).

Day candidly admits that a new operational model for state conventions and local associations is still emerging and not yet fully developed. The new paradigm, Day says, is developing as church-driven, priority-based, resource-focused, institutionally free, strategically managed, geographically unfettered, and Kingdom-conscious. Day also makes clear the fact that local churches and pastors are the driving force and strategists behind the development and implementation of the new paradigm. This is certainly an interesting chapter that deserves close reading and much discussion.

Richard Land (ch. 13) articulates what many Southern Baptists seem to know, but do not want to concede. We are no longer living as cultural drivers, and we are often not even welcome in the vehicle. Southern Baptists must learn to engage the American (and Western) culture as it is, rather than simply lament what it has become. Indeed, our ability to do this will have a huge impact on our very existence in the future.

Nathan Finn (ch.14) helpfully lays out three priorities for Southern Baptists as we move into the future from here. He also lists some specifics under each. First, we must renew our Baptist Identity. This includes an uncompromising view of the authority and sufficiency of Scripture, a renewal of our unity with Baptists and non-Baptists alike regarding the Gospel, and a renewal of our distinctive Baptist commitment to regenerate church membership (which has an implied commitment to believer’s baptism).

Second, we must renew our commitment to the Great Commission. This includes recovering a “robust understanding of the Gospel.” Finn says, “In too many of our churches, the Gospel is being downplayed, confused, dumbed-down, or redefined” (p. 265). With a renewed understanding of the Gospel message, Finn writes, “Southern Baptists must believe that the Lord is a missional God and that His church is a missional people” (p. 268). This, of course, will motivate us to be personally evangelistic and engaged in church planting efforts as well.

Third, we must renew our commitment to Confessional Cooperation. As of today, there is no confessional statement of any kind to which a church must adhere to be a Southern Baptist church. Cooperative Program giving is the only requirement.[1] Finn leans on suggestions from other Southern Baptists (David Dockery and Jim Richards) and proposes a way forward. He writes,

“I would propose that post-resurgence Southern Baptists adopt a brief abstract of the Baptist Faith and Message that affirms a high view of Scripture, an orthodox statement of the Trinity and Christology, an evangelical understanding of salvation, and a basic Baptist understanding of ecclesiology. This would form an adequate confessional basis for churches cooperating with the SBC” (pp. 274-275).

I believe that this proposal is a wonderful idea, but it will be interesting to see how other Southern Baptists perceive this same proposal.

These three priorities do indeed provide thought-provoking substance for a discussion about how the SBC meets the future as a post-Conservative Resurgence denomination. Only time will tell where we will go from here.


Danny Akin (Concluding chapter), desiring to send us off with marching orders, lists ten mandates for Southern Baptists in the 21st century. These are as follows:

1) Regenerate Church Membership. Southern Baptists must understand church membership is a privilege (not a right), guard against easy ‘believism,’ and cautiously baptize professing believers.

2) Believer’s Baptism. Southern Baptists must desire evidence of regeneration before one is baptized, cautiously baptize younger children, emphasize baptism as obedience to Christ, refuse admission into church membership without believer’s baptism, and uphold baptism as the public profession of one’s faith (not merely walking an aisle or saying a prayer).

3) Church Discipline and Disciple-Making. Southern Baptists must know and teach what the Bible says about church discipline, lovingly and wisely implement church discipline, and apply discipline to areas like absentee membership as well as the specific list provided in 1 Corinthians 5.

4) Genuine Word-Based Ministry. Southern Baptists must preach and teach the content of the Bible (not psychology, felt-needs, self-help, or any other popular content).

5) Faithful and Biblical Ecclesiology. Southern Baptists must guard the membership of the local church, expect the marks of (1) the Word, (2) ordinances, and (3) church discipline to be visible and practiced, and apply the biblical model of elder/pastor led and congregationally governed local church bodies.

6) Missions and Evangelism with Healthy Theology. Southern Baptists must live missionally in their own contexts, give charitably to missions abroad, and ground all missions and evangelism in a healthy theology that will guard against compromising truth for the sake of partnership or methods.

7) Church Planting. Southern Baptists must focus prayer, planning, money, and resources on densely populated areas to apply the 1st century Christian model of church planting.

8) Biblical Marriage. Southern Baptists must understand the divine covenant of marriage, affirm the value and necessity of premarital counseling and mentoring, acknowledge the gift of singleness that God gives to some, and affirm the gift of children as a ‘heritage from the Lord’ (Ps. 127:3).

9) Seminaries and Churches. Southern Baptists must view seminaries as servants of the churches, hold seminaries to a serious confession of the faith, and seek to form partnerships between seminaries and churches for a more well-rounded educational experience.

10) Remembering as we move Forward. Southern Baptists must remember who we have been, understand who we are now, and fervently seek to live authentically as Southern Baptists in the future.


My Commendation

This book, more than any other I have read thus far, has renewed my own hope for the future of the SBC. Whether all Southern Baptists agree with the proposals and conclusions found within, I am encouraged by the fact that such things are being discussed among those with platforms as influential as these authors.

I commend this book to any Christian who wants to know what it looks like to thoughtfully consider your place in the world and the right way forward.

I especially commend this book to Southern Baptists. I look forward to the conversations that must take place over these topics, and I pray that God will help us to be faithful on those matters that are essential to our survival as a people of the Book.

God does not need Southern Baptists to accomplish His work of redeeming a people for His glory, but I am glad He has used Southern Baptists in the past, and I long for Him to revive us as useful tools again.



Dockery, David S., R. Albert Mohler, Jr., Gregory A. Wills, Timothy George, Russell Moore, Daniel L. Akin, Nathan A. Finn, R. Stanton Norman, Paige Patterson, James Leo Garrett, Jr., Morris H. Chapman, Ed Stetzer, Jim Shaddix, Thom Rainer, Michael Day, and Richard Land. Southern Baptist Identity: An Evangelical Denomination Faces the Future. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2009.

Get it HERE at Amazon


[1] Recent cultural controversies have caused the open acceptance of homosexuality to disqualify a church’s participation in the SBC, but this is much more indicative of our remaining conservative values and not necessarily our strong theological convictions. There is simply no clear theological standard by which the SBC admits or dismisses churches. We may claim the Bible all day long, but so did Marcion, Arius, Joseph Smith, and nearly every other heretic.

Is God anti-gay? | A Book Review

I recently read “Is God anti-gay?” by Sam Allberry. This book, I believe, is a very helpful contribution to the ongoing discussion among Christians about homosexuality, gender, and the Christian community. Of course, there are numerous related issues in the discussion, and this book does not address them all. However, in my view, this book’s greatest help comes from its candor and brevity. Sam Allberry seems to have intentionally written something that is easy to read and something that gets straight to the point.


Sexual activity, marriage, gender, the Gospel, and Gospel-formed community (the local church) are all interwoven subjects. Each one not only impacts the other, they are inseparably part of the same fabric. A discussion on any of these topics will inevitably be a discussion that must include the others.

Sam Allberry, in this short book, made an effort to discuss these related matters with just such an understanding in mind. Furthermore, the author introduces the book and himself in a fashion that allows the reader to see this complex tapestry in living color. Allberry strikes at the heart of nominal and superficial Christianity (which often separates these subjects) when he says,

“If someone thinks the gospel has somehow slotted into their life quite easily, without causing any major adjustments to their lifestyle or aspirations, it is likely that they have not really started following Jesus at all” (12).


Allberry begins the book by doing the groundwork of looking to the Bible for a view of God’s design for gender and sexuality. Indeed, this is the place one must begin when questions of human activity arise. If we are asking about what we can do, then we must ask at least something of what God says we ought to do.

The author affirms the freedom of expression but not the freedom of definition when he says, “[Gender] is something we humans interpret and lend cultural expression to, but it is not something that we invent or fully define” (19). This challenging statement must be weighed and considered by the honest participant in our culture today.

Allberry also addresses some specific objections that sometimes arise in the discussion of homosexuality and Christianity. One might claim that homosexuality, especially the kind of monogamous same-sex partnerships promoted today, is not a major focus of the Bible. And, therefore, it may also be demanded that Christians at least stop being so dogmatic about this issue, or possibly even acknowledge that the traditional view of homosexuality is harmful and dangerous.

However, Allberry points out that this type of thinking is in error for at least a couple of reasons. The Bible is not about homosexuality specifically, or even sex or sexuality generally. The Bible is focused intently on God’s promise of and activity in the redemption of guilty humans. Because this is true, Christians would do well to understand Allberry’s point when he writes,

“Christians who want to explain the Christian faith to gay friends need to know that what the Bible says about homosexuality is not the only thing they need to explain, and it is probably not the first thing, or even the main thing, they need to focus on” (26).

This is not to say that homosexuality is unimportant, but as the author writes elsewhere, “We need to love [the homosexual] more than they love their homosexuality” (81). In our love for others, regardless of their sexuality, we must make the priority of our focus align with the priorities of the Bible. As our perspective is shaped by the Bible, rather than social norms and confusion, we will discover that Christianity calls all people to deny themselves and follow Christ as a Lord. Allberry says, “We will want gay friends to know that allegiance to Christ for a gay person is as costly and glorious as it is for anyone else” (82-83).

The author concludes his book with a call to the local church to live as a truth-teller from the platform of life-transformation. Allberry says, “For the church to be an effective pillar, it needs to be an effective family” (84). Indeed, credibility does and will hinge on the local church’s ability to practice what it preaches.

While some would look at the moral decay around us with a fearful inclination to withdraw, Allberry challenges Christians to see a great opportunity instead. He writes,

“This is no time for pessimism, and as society moves further and further away from its Christian moorings, the church is getting more and more of an opportunity to model a countercultural alternative… We might not have the best celebrities, the most attractive spokes people, the most impressive resources for the most acclaimed thinkers, but we should have the most wonderful and attractive relationships” (83, 85).

So, is God anti-gay? It seems that Sam Allberry would say that God is not “anti” anyone who will acknowledge and pursue Christ as the deepest satisfaction of the soul.


I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. I believe that Sam Allberry provides both a unique and a truly biblical perspective. I also believe that he and I have the same understanding of the value of the local church and the opportunity it has to be a beacon of shining light in our culture today.

In my estimation, this book would be one of the most helpful on this subject for many Christians. It is short, easy to read, and quite pointed in its approach. There are even several specific questions addressed in easily noted sections throughout the book.

Christians interested in thinking more biblically on matters of sexuality, the Gospel, and the posture of the local church would do well to read this book.



Allberry, Sam. Is God Anti-gay?: And Other Questions about Homosexuality, the Bible and Same-sex Attraction. Questions Christians Ask. Good Book Company, 2015.

Mission in the Old Testament | A Book Review 

Mission in the Old Testament” is a fascinating read. From my perspective, dispensational theology, and its necessarily corresponding hermeneutic, has colored the lenses of American evangelicalism to such a degree that many Christians in America have become unable to see much at all in the direction Kaiser calls his reader to look in this volume. I am not a dispensationalist, and yet I still found myself surprised to learn that so much of the Old Testament reveals a gracious God who has been reaching out to Gentiles long before the days of the Apostle Paul. Kaiser points to the Great Commission of Matthew 28 as an appropriate and expanded restatement of something God had already been saying.Kaiser states his these in the introduction when he says, “It is my hope that the formative theology of Genesis 12: 3 may once again be seen for what it is and has always been in the discussion of mission: a divine program to glorify the Lord by bringing salvation to all on planet earth.” Kaiser believes Genesis 12:3 is the “formal” statement of the “Commission mandate” in Scripture. 


Below I have provided a brief summary and overview of the book. I have placed the eight chapters of the book into four sections – Foundation, Design, Examples, and Instruments.

Foundation – Chapters 1 and 2

Kaiser began to make his case by trying to demonstrate the foundational and integral nature of God’s promise to Abram/Abraham in Genesis 12. However, before he did that, Kaiser showed how the first eleven chapters of Genesis lead the reader to such a crucial and articulate promise. In these chapters, the Genesis record tells of three major crises – the fall, the flood, and failure at the Tower of Babel – and three subsequent promises of blessing from God (2). Immediately after the fall, God promised a seed or offspring that would right the wrong that had been done. After the flood, God promised to once again make His dwelling with man. After the failure at the Tower of Babel, God promised to give Abram a “great name.”

In Genesis 12:1-3, Kaiser claimed, we may find the succinct statement of promise that encompasses all three of these and more. He argues that the promise of Genesis 12 is the height of the universal promises God had already made. Rather than thinning the previously wide promises of blessing, Kaiser believes that God was designating Abram as the one through whom He would ultimately bring these wide promises to fulfillment. Kaiser stated that the key purpose of the blessing Abram enjoyed was (according to Genesis 12:3) “so that all the peoples on earth may be blessed through you (through Abram).”

Kaiser summarized his conclusion by saying:

“The whole purpose of God was to bless one people so that they might be the channel through which all the nations of the earth might receive a blessing. Israel was to be God’s missionary to the world— and thereby so were all who believed in this same gospel” (12).

Kaiser said that Israel (the people of God) were to be a “treasured” people, a “kingdom of priests,” and a “holy” people (14-15). In this way, with these designations, Israel would serve as a “light to the Gentiles” or “agents of God’s blessing to all on earth” (16). Of course, Kaiser points out that the Scriptures place Christ as the apex agent of such blessing, but this is not to separate Christ’s ministry from the ministry of the people of God. The two are interrelated – distinct, but not separate.

Design – Chapters 3 and 4

Chapter three builds upon the idea that Christ is the ultimate fulfillment of God’s promise to bring blessing to all peoples of earth, and Chapter four runs to the end or purpose of God’s promise in order to bring the full picture into view. Climbing toward the ultimate Messianic “seed,” Kaiser demonstrates incredible similarities between the Abrahamic and Davidic Covenants, and argues that such things draw the two together (23). In fact, Kaiser claims that David himself understood the significance of God’s covenantal language in His promise to David in 2 Samuel 7:18-19 (25). God had promised a “seed” through Abraham that would be a blessing to all peoples, and God was reiterating that promise to David. In conclusion at the end of chapter 3, Kaiser says, “The plan of God had from the very beginning the central figure of the ‘Seed’ who was to come in the person of the Man of Promise, the Messiah” (26).

The purpose for such marvelous blessing from God is His glory. In fact, Kaiser notes that the worship of God is as compelling to unbelievers as it is informative. His claim is that the Psalms are a hymnbook with a missional perspective. The psalmists call for proclamation and singing of the deeds and nature of God, and the psalmists themselves “offer to sing God’s praises among the nations” (35). Kaiser said that the inevitable result would be that Gentiles would join in celebratory song when they were exposed to such a thing, and this is exactly the form of missional approach Kaiser argues that the Old Testament calls for.

Examples – Chapter 5

In this section, Kaiser sought to show that the plan of God was the same from the beginning by demonstrating that God has been active among the “Gentiles” all along. He phrased it this way, “The ‘nations’ and ‘Gentiles’ were envisioned as equal recipients of that same good news from the very beginning of time along with Israel itself” (pp. 37-38).

Melchizedek was a “priest of God Most High” and a king (Genesis 14:18), and yet he was also a Canaanite or Gentile. This is compelling, because it not only informs the reader of Gentile believers during Abram’s day, but it also strongly implies that there were a number of believers represented by this singular (though admittedly enigmatic) character. Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, was a “priest of Midian” (Exodus 18:1). Jethro praises the name of Yahweh (the covenant name of God) and offers a burnt offering to God, both of which were specific things that only believers in the promised blessing of God actually did. This too is a demonstration that Gentile believers were in existence outside of the focus of the Old Testament narrative.

Rahab the prostitute is also added to the list of Old Testament Gentile believers, but she provides us with both a Scripturally supported example (she is listed in the Hebrews “chapter of faith”) and a more general example (many people, like Rahab, would have likely come to “fear” God in light of His demonstration of power during the days of Joshua). Ruth is another unlikely and seemingly quite unimportant convert to belief in the covenantal God of promise. While Ruth enjoys the benefit of being grafted into the physical line of king David and the Messiah, she also serves as a simple example of Gentile exposure to Yahweh’s missionary people and subsequent trust in Yahweh. It is impossible to deny that there would have been at least some number of others like Ruth and Rahab (probably many), and it is likely that there were even others like Jethro.

Instruments – Chapters 6, 7, and 8

This last section, and nearly the second half of the book, delves into the various individuals and groups God has used in the Scriptures as witnesses or missionaries to the peoples of the earth. Kaiser argues that Israel, generally, was to be God’s missionaries to the world. He includes both a plural and a singular object of focus in the “Servant songs” of Isaiah (especially 42 and 49). On the one hand, Kaiser notes (along with the majority interpretation) that the Servant songs of Isaiah are speaking of the Messiah. However, Kaiser also shows that there is a relationship between the Messiah and Israel (God’s people) that cannot be brushed aside. The Messiah does not replace Israel, Kaiser argues, but the Messiah brings the missionary task originally given to the people of God to its ultimate fulfillment.

Next, Kaiser points to Jonah as an example of God’s instrumental use of an individual to bring His message to Gentiles. God’s message was reluctantly delivered by Jonah, and the Gentile people of Nineveh were repentant. These Gentiles stood in stark contrast to the people of Israel of that day, for they heeded the word of the Lord and submitted themselves to Him. Additionally, the prophets Joel, Amos, Micah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Zechariah all speak of God’s extended blessing to the Gentiles (the peoples of earth) as well as Israel. Therefore, not only were God’s people (Israel) supposed to be “lights to the peoples of the earth,” but God also sent prophets from among them to the “peoples” in order that they would “hear the good news of the coming Man of Promise and the blessing that God intended for all to hear” (74).

Lastly, Kaiser looks to the Apostle Paul as a case study in both missional efforts as well as a missionary with Old Testament grounding for such efforts. Kaiser said that Paul believed himself to be no innovator of missionary strategy or targets. He said, 

“The case for evangelizing the Gentiles had not been a recently devised switch in the plan of God but had always been the long-term commitment of the living God who is a missionary God. This is the same case that is consistently, even if at times only rudimentarily, found in the entire corpus of the Old Testament” (81-82).

In this concluding statement, for both the last chapter and the entire book, Kaiser summarizes his main point throughout. He did indeed work to demonstrate a divine program, spanning from Genesis to Revelation, to glorify the Lord by bringing salvation to all peoples on planet earth.

Critical Interaction

This book was an eye-opening and interesting read. I believe that the author successfully argued his case, and I believe that his thesis is accurate. I was impressed and humbled by the sweeping and deep knowledge of the Scriptures (especially the Old Testament) the author demonstrated. I was also quite surprised by the significant scholarship interaction that the author made available in the pages of this book. 

The walk through the various covenantal promises of God and the plethora of Old Testament examples of God’s active work to bless “to the ends of the earth” was great. I believe the grand narrative of the Scriptures was mapped out well. The numerous citations of the biblical text, and the detailed interaction with them was marvelous. No reader could argue that the author merely invented a system to superimpose upon the text. The author’s mention and critique of scholarly deviations from his own view were interesting and important to the discussion of the topics at hand.

However, I have one negative to mention here. In my opinion, the book is not easily accessible for the average reader. There were a number of instances that the author went into greater scholarly depth than necessary to argue his point. On the authorship and dating of Jonah, for example, the author did not need to prove the historicity of this prophetic book in order to argue the remainder of his point. Jonah was a prophet to Gentiles, and this is evident from the text presented by the author. Another example is the discussion on “justice” and “judgment” (59). It was quite technical, but that was not necessary in my view.


I am glad to have read this book, and glad to review it. It has been an enlightening walk through the promises of God and the reality that God is a missional Savior for all peoples from the beginning. I believe this subject needs more time and investigation, but I may simply be unaware of the greater body of work available. I hope to read and think more on the topic in the future.

The Grand Design | A Book Review

No matter what your view of gender identity or gender roles might be, this book is a must read for anyone who wants to think seriously about the biblical view of such things. The authors take a direct approach, and their candid posture is refreshing. I wholeheartedly recommend this book!

I recently read “The Grand Design” by Owen Strachan and Gavin Peacock. This little book was a fast and profitable read. No matter what your view of gender identity or gender roles might be, this book is a must read for anyone who wants to think seriously about the biblical view of such things. The authors take a direct approach, and their candid posture is refreshing. I wholeheartedly recommend this book!


The Grand Design” is what it claims to be: an “unfurling of the beauty of God’s creative work” and a “savoring of the grand design of God.” If these claims sound ambitious, they are; but they are even loftier when one considers the cuisine through which the authors intend to “unfurl” and “savor” such things. If anything can be said of American society today, it is that distinctly defined gender identity (ontological binary peculiarities) and distinctly defined roles (dualistically matched functionality) is unpalatable (nauseating and inedible). Yet, the authors directly confront the contemporary and standard approach to common cultural consumption.

This book does indeed speak several words of truth amidst the confusion of our age. It offers the reader a chance at a real meal, something better than the unsubstantial and unsatisfying pre-packaged dinners to which we have sadly grown accustomed.


In the introduction of this book, the authors fire booming mortars at the confusion of the day. “Ask a male friend,” the authors challenge, “’What is your manhood for?’” (13). Or, similarly, you might ask a young female, “’What meaning does womanhood have?’ ‘Does it matter at all?’” (14). These questions demonstrate, if the reader is honest, the incredible muddled mess that manhood and womanhood have become in American culture (and likely for much of the ‘developed’ world).

From this starting point, the authors seek to answer such questions, along with some others, from a biblically honest and faithful perspective. In fact, the repeated refrain of this book is that manhood and womanhood are directly related to the Gospel itself, and the distinct maleness and distinct femaleness of human creatures should be lived out as doxology (worshipful expression toward God) among creation. The book travels along a plotted course: (1) explaining biblical Complementarity; (2) explaining biblical manhood; (3) explaining biblical womanhood; (4) applying these ideas to the family, the Church, and the culture; and (5) answering some common criticisms.

As the label suggests, Complementarity is the teaching that the sexes (male and female) are complementary, neither confused nor conflicting. Citing Genesis 2, the authors point out what many other Christians do as well: namely that God has distinctly created man and woman to be the same in value, and God has commissioned man and woman to have unique functions as God’s image bearers. This is expressed in all of life and in every relationship, but especially in the marital union.

The apex of Genesis chapter 2 is the divinely solemnized marriage ceremony. Adam and Eve are united to each other in the prototype marriage relationship and the standard for all such relationships thereafter. Beauty and function are both on display here, and the union establishes a pattern for understanding some things about manhood and womanhood. Particularly (the authors assert), manhood is marked by leadership, protection, and provision; and womanhood is marked by suitable help, respect, and nurturing. Each of these descriptions are kneaded out in chapters two and three.

However, the harmony of Genesis 2 is flipped on its head in Genesis 3. “Adam should have protected his wife, rebuked the serpent, and exercised his God-given dominion over a beast that creeps on the ground.” Instead, Satan, in the form of a serpent, “takes dominion of mankind, and then Eve leads Adam” (39). In this reversal, the disruption of complementary roles begins, and this disruption continues through our own day. Man is inclined towards an abdication of his God-given leadership, appropriate protection, and selfless provision; and woman is disinclined to provide suitable help, submissive respect, and proper nurture.

This abysmal reality is evidenced around us, but the promise of God to rectify what has been ruined shines a bright beam into the darkness. God has promised to send a Savior, who will make all things right, and He did so in Jesus Christ. Jesus is the God-man who perfectly represents all those who love and trust Him. In Christ, all believers are promised a future and perfect recreation, and all believers are presently and progressively transformed into more accurate image bearers. While the image of God in humanity has been marred by sin, and we see this exemplified in both male and female distortions, God is in the business of making things new.

The authors present a biblical case for God’s Grand Design in maleness and femaleness, which extends from the individual to the family, from the home to the church, and from the church to the world. The authors conclude with a challenge to the reader, a challenge to live in light of God’s Grand Design. They write, “Our lives may be required of us in this grand pursuit. The cost of loving and proclaiming the truth may be great. But we must go. We have seen the grand design, and it impels us to go, preach, and celebrate the glory of God in the world of men” (172).


Throughout my reading of this book, I was struck by the direct and honest approach the authors take. This book felt odd to read at times, not because it was hard to understand or that I disagreed with the assertion necessarily. It was odd because the content of the book is such a stark contrast to the very air we breathe today in American culture. Many of the Bible passages cited were themselves a direct assault on commonly held views and practices among many evangelicals today. I often thought to myself, “Saying that out loud would be pulling the pin and dropping the grenade!”

While the book was stinging in this way, it was also quite refreshing to read an honest and Scriptural argument for a biblically faithful theology and practice of gender identity. This alone made it worth the read. Even if I totally disagreed with the authors’ positions, I would still have appreciated the attempt to form a doctrine of gender identity from Scripture rather than societal preference or popular culture.

Overall, I did not disagree with the authors. In fact, I was both convicted and encouraged by this book. I believe that the authors have done a fantastic job of presenting a biblical case that is accessible to any reader, and it is helpful to anyone who seeks to actually consider what grand design the Creator must have in mind for males and females. I would encourage all Christians to read this book, at least to interact with the case made within. Whatever one’s view on maleness and femaleness is, this book is a smart and formidable contribution to the discussion.



Strachan, Owen, and Gavin Peacock. The Grand Design. Great Britain: Christian Focus Publications, 2016.

From Eden to New Jerusalem | A Book Review

I recently read T.D. Alexander’s “From Eden to New Jerusalem.” It was a wonderful introductory book on Biblical Theology. Every Christian would benefit from this book and its content.


Alexander makes no difficult task of discovering his thesis in this book. He states at the outset that he seeks to answer two of the biggest questions of all time, namely “Why does the earth exist?” and “What is the purpose of human life?” The author provides answers to these questions by walking through the metanarrative of holy Scripture and helping his reader see the major themes that run straight through the entire story. In my own estimation, Alexander’s work was a delight; I believe he was successful at proposing a biblical and interesting answer to each of these questions. The purpose for human existence is a familiar question and answer to me, but the divine intent in creating planet earth is a concept that hasn’t been given much time in my own mind. This book added quality and content to both of these concepts for me. Alexander’s book is a marvelous and accessible text that brings the reader from Eden to the New Jerusalem by briskly walking through the Scriptures in a remarkable way.


The tall task of seeking to answer huge questions is matched by the author’s panoramic view of the Scriptures, as well as his firm grasp of the major themes in the overarching story. He demonstrates a keen familiarity with the Bible’s story-like composition as he calls the reader’s attention to the opening and closing of the canonical collection. Alexander points out the similarities found in the biblical accounts of creation at the beginning and re-creation at the end. Alexander says:

By providing a closely matched beginning and end, the opening chapters of Genesis and the final chapters of Revelation undoubtedly frame the biblical meta-story… Whereas Genesis presents the earth as a potential building site, Revelation describes a finished city. Underlying the construction of this city is the expectation that God will reside within it, sharing its facilities with people from every nation.[1]

In this way, the author sets the stage for how he intends to answer those two big questions. Genesis and Revelation do indeed provide a marvelous frame for the picturesque story of God’s purposes for earth and humanity. Alexander nearly repeats himself in his conclusion when he makes a more direct statement, offering answers to the original questions. He says:

As we move from Genesis to Revelation, a consistent and coherent pattern emerges, centered on the idea that God created this earth with the intention of constructing an arboreal temple-city. This unique metropolis, as God’s abode, will be inhabited by people who display the holy nature of God himself.[2]

Here, the author provides concise answers to the two questions: (1) the earth exists to be a dwelling place for God with humanity, and (2) humans exist to be appropriate image-bearers of God. Alexander’s arguments display designs that are introduced at creation and climax at recreation. He traced more than the two following concepts in this book, but these seemed to me to be the convergence of all streams.

The Temple-city. It seems clear that the purpose for earth’s existence (according to Alexander) is to be one massive “arboreal temple-city,” and this is what it will one day be. Alexander seeks to demonstrate this idea is not only how God intends the earth to be eventually, but that this is God’s intention from the very beginning. The author highlights the coherence and order found in the Garden of Eden. He also shows how God commissioned the apex of His creation (humanity) to cultivate the same characteristics throughout the earth. Of course, Adam failed in this task, but God’s purposes were not thwarted.

The Tabernacle and Temple were miniature replicas of the cosmic temple-city in which God dwelt with humanity. Alexander provides some parallels between Eden and the Tabernacle, when he says, “As divine sanctuaries, both are entered from the east and cherubim guard their entrances. The golden menorah that stood in the Holy Place may have been designed specifically to resemble the tree of life” (34). Such resemblance is also found in the later Temple, but these both point to a greater demonstration of God making His “tabernacle” or dwelling among humanity. Of course, Jesus Christ is a clear touch-point for humanity; He is “God with us.” Alexander points out, however, that this incredible condescension is not the last step in the progression of God dwelling among humanity.

The Church is metaphorically presented in the New Testament as the temple of God. In Ephesians 2:19-22, 1 Corinthians 3:16-17, and elsewhere the author points to the imagery of the temple-city as used to describe the assembly of God’s people in Christ. Of course, the Church is also presented as the “body of Christ” (Eph. 4:12; Rom. 12:5; 1 Cor. 12:27), and Alexander argues for a logical progression. “Since Christ’s body is the temple of God and since… Christians are those who are ‘in Christ’, it naturally follows that the church, as the body of Christ, is also the temple of God” (71).

Still, the author makes clear that the temple-city to come is yet to be enjoyed, even by those who are counted among the church in the here and now. Citing the author of Hebrews, Alexander reminds his readers that the city we await is a “city that is to come” (Heb. 13:14). Therefore, Alexander argues that the temple-city, of which God is the architect, will one day cover all the earth. In the new creation there shall be no chaos or disorder, but all shall be as God intended from the beginning. God will dwell with humanity in the worldwide temple-city called in Scripture “the new Jerusalem” (Rev. 21:2). This divinely prepared city will undoubtedly be a marvelous dwelling, in which image-bearing humans will enjoy communion with their God.

Holy Priest-Kings. Alexander, in the concluding statements of his book (cited above), asserts that the purpose or end of humanity is to “display the holy nature of God” (188). God created humanity as image-bearers, and Alexander says, “To be made in the ‘image of God’ is to be given regal status” (77). He traces royal attributes in Adam, Melchizedek (the mysterious priest-king), Abraham, and the nation of Israel. Adam, who was the first vice regent of God on earth, failed to fulfill his role of image-bearer well, and the same is the case for those humans who followed him. The need for a more perfect representative is repeated again and again, and Alexander points out the issue when he says that no image-bearers can “be genuine priest-kings and simultaneously disregard God’s instructions” (84). The role of image-bearing can only be filled appropriately by humans who are reflecting the nature of the supreme King accurately.

Jesus is the key figure who reinstitutes God’s kingdom on earth, and Alexander recalls, “The establishment of this kingdom, one of the central ideas of the Gospels, is intimately associated with who Jesus is and what he does” (89). Jesus is the God-man, and His right representation of God’s holy nature brings the human purpose into marvelous focus. Like the concept of temple-city, the concept of image-bearing priest-kings narrows at Christ and also expands from Him.

The Church enjoys this image-bearing priest-king status in the same way that the Church enjoys the status of being the “body of Christ.” Therefore, Alexander argues, the Church is now the visible kingdom of God on earth. However, the fullness of what the image-bearing priest-kings will be is yet to come in the new heavens and the new earth. The author describes a future time, as presented in Scripture and brought about by God Himself, when humanity will appropriately display the holy nature of God. As Alexander says, “Then, and only then, shall we know life as God intends it to be” (192).

Marc’s Review

There was so much to enjoy about this concise book. I appreciated Alexander’s ability to trace concepts and themes from one end of the Scriptures to the other. I was thrilled to see the end result of God’s masterpiece as Alexander helped his own readers understand how to focus in on the overarching story of the Bible. In my judgment, Alexander did meet his own stated goal of answering the two big questions of life. The purpose for the earth is to be an “arboreal temple-city,” and the purpose of humanity is to “display the holy nature of God himself.” Of course, the two answers are more fully developed in this book and even more so throughout the Scriptures.

Alexander was able, I believe, to demonstrate the biblical view that God intended something like a temple-city from the beginning. The correlations between Genesis 1-3 and Revelation 21-22 are tremendously striking indeed. Alexander highlighted continuity and further development of this concept throughout the biblical text, and it was not forced or manipulated. I would even argue that the emphasis Alexander placed on certain key elements, such as the detailed décor of the Temple and the building metaphor in association to the New Testament Church, helped open my own eyes to be better able to see more of the same semblance elsewhere.

The theme of image-bearing priest-kings was also strongly communicated. I was familiar with the ‘Image of God’ in the creation of Adam and Eve, and I was familiar with the notion that God commissioned Adam and Eve as something like ambassadors or delegates to rule as extensions of the supreme King. What I did not know so well was that this same concept was repeated in others before the coming of Christ. I was fascinated to see that the delegation of God’s vice regents was actually quite a staple of the Old Testament storyline. Alexander has helped me to understand that Christ’s role as the ultimate Priest-King is and was more expected than surprising. This too has expanded my understanding of who the Church is today and what she is to do. The implications of Alexander’s highlighted themes are many, to be sure.


Overall, I found Alexander’s arguments to be clear, biblical and compelling. Each of the concepts mentioned above were thoroughly outlined from the Scriptures themselves, and logically sound. God from intentionally established the purpose for earth and humanity before creation, and God has been moving these purposes forward throughout history. The Bible’s overarching story is a spectacular display of God’s wisdom and power, as He has been building a city in which to dwell with a holy people. Both the people and the city are the products of God’s intentional and affectionate attention.
I would recommend this book to every adult Christian. It will help the reader understand how the Bible tells the story of God’s redeeming work from creation to re-creation.
Alexander, T. Desmond. From Eden to the New Jerusalem. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic, 2008.



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