Book Review: Tempted and Tried

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Tempted and Tried: Temptation and the Triumph of Christ is written by Russell Moore, the dean of the School of Theology and senior vice president  for academic administration at the Southern Baptist Theological  Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.  Moore is a well known Christian thinker modeled after his close friend and mentor Albert Mohler.

I really hate to give this book a less than stellar review, but it was quite disappointing to me. I choose to use the book for a men’s group largely based on the reputation of Russell Moore and the overwhelming 5 star reviews on Amazon. I have not read any of Moore’s other books, but I have heard him speak and have read some of his shorter articles on the internet with profit. How could I go wrong? Unfortunately, I made the mistake of not reading the book in full before proceeding to use it for our men’s group.

The fact is, the book contains some real substance but is marred by several things. First of all, the chapters are way too long. Furthermore, they were not divided up into manageable reading chunks. Some kind of discernible outline for each chapter would have been helpful. It made it difficult to wade through page after page with no break. Secondly and related to the first point, the organization of the book did not seem well thought out. I realize that it is supposed to be an exposition of sorts of the temptation of Christ in the wilderness. However, the themes Moore covered meandered throughout the book so that it was hard to keep track of where he was going. Much of the content was haphazard and it was often unclear what his point was. Once you begin to start seeing what a particular point was then he suddenly seemed to shift gears without driving the point home. Thirdly, much of what he says seemed obtuse and esoteric. It was simply unclear what it is he was trying to say. I found myself reading many paragraphs 3 or 4 times before I think I understood what he was trying to say. I also found it hard to connect many of his illustrations to the point he was making. I am an avid reader of all sorts of literature including dense theological volumes, but I had trouble getting through this book and so did everyone in our men’s group.

Having said all that, occasionally Moore said some brilliant things with real clarity and power. For several pages he writes with simplicity, pointedness and passion unfortunately only to be followed by more fogginess a few pages later. The book contains some real gems that challenge one’s thinking and encourages the believer in dealing with sin and temptation. His focus on the centrality of the gospel is commendable when there is so much clap-trap from Christian writers these days. When his points were clear there was nothing I disagreed with. He obviously has tried to remain faithful to the truth of Scripture and that was important in my decision to choose this book for our men’s group.

Unfortunately, while others have clearly profited from this book, aside from places here and there, I found it a rather frustrating reading experience. This is not a book I will probably read again and I think there are other books on sin and temptation that are more profitable for the believer.

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Review: Blood Work

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Anthony Carter’s book, Blood Work: How the Blood of Christ Accomplishes Our Salvation, is a simple and straightforward exposition of the principal passages of the New Testament that mention the blood of Christ in connection to the believer’s salvation. The 13 chapters are short, clearly written and chock full of Scriptural supports for the themes he covers. While the title and the principal passages focused on might seem to suggest a narrowly focused study, in reality the book is a wide ranging survey of key doctrines of salvation. As such, the book would serve as an good primer for new believers who would like to understand the gospel better.

I was surprised at how many passages in the New Testament treat the death of Christ by appealing to the image of the shed blood of the cross. Carter points out that the word “blood” is used 3 times as much as the word “cross” and 5 times as much as the word “death” in the New Testament. Clearly it is a powerful term employed to speak of the work of Christ – the blood work if you will. These passages connect the shedding of Christ’s blood to themes such as purchase, propitiation, justification, redemption, drawing near, peace, cleansed consciences, sanctification, ransom, and freedom. Of course these represent the main chapters of Carter’s book. Carter writes from a solidly Reformed perspective as you would expect from the Reformation Trust (i.e. the publishing arm of R. C. Sproul’s ministry). Subsequently, from my perspective, Carter’s soteriology is dead on and sorely needed in a day when the gospel has been watered down so much.

I loved how Carter interspersed stanzas from new and classic hymns in the text of the book that all contained refrains about the blood of Christ. You often hear about the “blood hymns” especially if you grew up in a Baptist church, but I never paid attention to how many hymns and songs of the Church use this imagery to convey the truths of the gospel. The book has an appendix listing 18 such classics.

The only disappointment I had with this book was that I was expecting more depth to the discussion of Christ’s blood. The book is really geared more as a primer than an in depth discussion of any one topic. I think Carter missed an opportunity to investigate more thorough going reasons for the blood imagery that is obviously so present and important in the New Testament (and of course the whole tenure of Scripture). For example, why is Christ’s blood mentioned more than “cross” or “death” when describing Christ’s atoning sacrifice? Clearly it is a stand in for these more straightforward descriptions, but why “blood”? That never seemed to be teased out. At the very least the spilling of Christ’s blood speaks of the violence of his death and that seems significant. Jesus’ death was not the result of an accident, or natural causes or some other fatal demise. Rather His blood was violently extracted from his body and that seems to speak of the horrific nature of what he accomplished. Furthermore, it was a death specifically as a result of severe punishment not only from the human perspective, but more importantly from the divine. To think Christ served as a substitute for believers due to the violent penalty they deserved is a sobering reality that needs teasing out in a book about Christ’s blood. I was hoping to see more of that here.

I recently viewed the latest film in the series known as Dispatches from the Front, entitled, “The Rising of His Power” (Episode 6). These films are documentaries chronicling gospel work currently being done around the world. They are worth every minute of your viewing time. The latest episode tracks missionaries in Bangladesh. In a very powerful and graphic scene, the film makers capture a yearly ritual in which Muslims in the city of Dhaka sacrifice multitudes of cows in the middle of the city by pinning them down and then slitting their throats. You can’t help but cringe as the blood spurts out and the cows are thrown into a violent death struggle as their captors try to keep them pinned down. In the aftermath of this ritual atonement, which ironically is only for the righteous not sinners, blood flows everywhere down the already dirty streets making it hard to avoid stepping in the coagulating mess. The narrator is saddened by the amazing picture of Christ’s death this could allude to and yet so many Muslims miss the connection, believing that Christ was never crucified. Yet if they began to understand and embrace the true blood work of Jesus who is far more than a prophet, they would be freed from the fear-ridden and hopeless lie that Islam so relentless promotes to its adherents.

That sort of real life picture makes the blood of Christ so much more powerful and precious. I am glad Carter picked up on the implications of this amazing truth, but I wish he would have driven it home with more poignant illustrations and deeper probing of the powerful word “blood.”

I receive a copy of this book from the publisher as compensation for my review.

Review: Church and State in America

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I have read a number of books on America’s religious history particularly in the Colonial and Revolutionary periods, however, Church and State in America by James H. Hutson is one of the best by far. Even though it is brief, it is comprehensive in scope, giving just enough details to give a full picture of the issues without being superficial. The book is scholarly (Hutson is the Chief of the Manuscripts Division at the Library of Congress), yet very readable and in fact enjoyable. I could not put the book down. He covers a number of fascinating details I had not encountered elsewhere in the debate on church and state. For example, Hutson was involved in the recovery of a blackened out portion of Jefferson’s letter to the Danbury Baptist Association in which the famous phrase “Wall of separation between church and state” appears. With the help of the FBI, in 1998, they uncovered deleted portions of Jefferson’s letter that casts a whole new light on what he meant by this phrase. The portion was struck out before being published upon advice of his attorney general for fear that it might have political repercusions. It appears Jefferson limited his understanding of the phrase to the function the president serves in matters of religion, not the government as a whole.

Hutson makes a good case that the Supreme Court cases in the late 19th century and mid-20th century have misread the issue employing Jefferson’s phrase in a way that ignores contrary evidence. The fact that states like Connecticut, New Hampshire and Massachusetts maintained state sponsored church establishments through the early 19th century clearly indicates that the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment did not rule out religious establishments in the individual states. Had that been the understanding, few states would have ratified the Constitution. Furthermore, Congress funded the publishing of Bibles as well as the proselytizing of Indians in the early Republic. Regular church services were held in the House chambers until after the Civil War. In fact, Jefferson himself, no friend of orthodox Protestantism, regularly attended these services. Furthermore, church services were also held in the chambers of the Supreme Court. Those who espouse “strict” separation often ignore these facts. Hutson points them out as well as many others.

This book changed my thinking on some key issues in this debate. I highly recommend it.

Review: Starlight, Time and the New Physics

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Starlight, Time and the New Physics by John Hartnett is an important book in the world of Creation Science literature.  Hartnett is an avowed Young Earth Creationist who believes the creation account in Genesis is to be taken at face value.  As such, he seeks to deal with the thorny problem of distant starlight in a young universe. Hartnett earned his B.Sc. and his Ph.D. from the Department of Physics at the University of Western Australia. He works with the Frequency Standards and Meteorology research group, and is a tenured Research Professor at his Alma Mater.

As far as the intriguing and fascinating concepts of this book, it is superb. However, as far as readability and clarity, it is a bit tough going. Unless you have some familiarity with concepts in cosmology and astrophysics you will have trouble reading this book, and I am not talking about the technical appendices. Furthermore, it is not always clear how Hartnett is making his case for solving the problem of distant starlight in a young universe.

The first 2 chapters are easy enough and do a good job of explaining some background to the book. Hartnett was inspired by the more well known work by Russell Humphreys and his book of 1994 entitled, “Starlight and Time.” Humphreys was the first YECer to propose a theory for the starlight problem using a time-dilation model. Hartnett points out that most YECers have been reluctant to use such models because they have historically preferred theories that assume time is absolute. However, I think Hartnett is right that time-dilation models are profitable for pursuing answers to the problem of distant starlight. His book takes this approach.

My problem with the book started in chapter 3 and continued through the end to chapter 7 before the technical appendices. It was never clear how the concepts presented in chapters 3-7 connected together to answering the basic question of how we see distant starlight in a young universe. Chapter 3 deals with debunking dark matter as a sort of ‘god of the gaps’ for the naturalist scientist. Fair enough, but how does this contribute to the basic question? It is not clear.

Chapter 4 deals with the implications of Moshe Carmeli’s application of Einstein’s laws of relativity. Hartnett’s model seeks to employ Carmeli’s theories and apply them to the distant starlight question. Carmeli holds that relativity theory applies to the grand cosmic scale and introduces what he calls “Cosmological Special Relativity” and “Cosmological General Relativity.” Somehow I missed how these theories apply to the question.

Chapter 5 made the case that our galaxy lies close to the center of a bounded universe surrounded by a set of concentric spheres of other galaxies. Convincing observational evidence was given for this and I found it to be one of the more fascinating parts of the book. However, it only later became clear how it contributed to the problem in chapter 7. It would have been nice to see a hint of that though in this chapter.

Chapter 6 deals with the scriptures that indicates God stretched out the heavens. Here we get a more direct indication of Hartnett’s solution. He states that on day 4 of creation, “God stretched out space, by some enormous factor, and spread out the parent galaxies that he then caused to eject more galaxies as quasars in ongoing creation episodes during the course of day 4” (p. 95). He then explained this using the analogy of a firework explosion that sends out smaller sub-explosions. He then supplies evidence from the studies Halton Arp conducted indicating that quasars are associated with active galaxies nearby that have have ejected these quasars from parent galaxies. He contends that this ejection mechanism is where new galaxies were formed. Harnett interprets the visual evidence of Arp’s work as what actually happened on day 4 as we can see it now. This is all very fascinating, but I was unable to follow his arguments for making the case.

Finally in chapter 7 he seeks to make the case that earth clocks on day 4 ran slower than clocks in the cosmos (running normally) using Carmeli’s theories again. This took place apparently when the galaxies were moving rapidly outward from the ‘central’ location of the Milky Way galaxy (thus the reason for chapter 5). I saw 2 problems here. I still am unclear about Carmeli’s theories and how they actually apply to Hartnett’s time-dilation theory. I just felt he had not explained it very well. Secondly, I wondered about his interpretation of the clock issue. He indicates that the earth clocks ran slower than the cosmic clocks on day 4 which ran normally; and then later they both ran at the same normal time (if I understand correctly). If this is the case, then is he saying that day 4 was not a normal 24 hour period from the perspective of earth time? There was no clarification here, but it sounds something like what Gerald Shroeder (A Jewish Physicist from MIT) has proposed. Shroeder accepts Torah (i.e. including the Genesis account of creation). However, he also accepts the standard billions of years history for earth, but suggests that the cosmic clocks amounted to six 24 hour days during creation while the earth clocks ran in the billions.

I would like for Hartnett to bring greater clarity to these issues. I think what would have made this book much easier to digest would have been a chapter summarizing Hartnett’s basic argument without appeal to the evidences and detailed scientific explanations. Even though the chapters were not as full of as many equations as the technical appendices, they were technical enough that I believe the average intelligent reader with a basic science education will still have a hard time following contrary to what other reviewers have said.

I like the fact that Hartnett is seeking to supply us with an explanation of the current problem without appealing to an instance of extraordinary providence (i.e. a miracle, such as the light in transit model). Although it is clear that any understanding of the creation week must employ extraordinary providence, the aftermath of the creation week begins a pattern of ordinary providence (i.e. a normal pattern of governing laws) that is only occasionally interrupted by instances of extraordinary providential events. This means that however we understand the billions of light year distances of the stars, it should require some appeal to a natural explanation using the laws of physics we either already know or hopefully will sometime discover. This is obviously a critical issue for YECers and there is not a credible theory yet that has garnered widespread acceptance. If Hartnett’s theory is plausible (and I think it might be) then it would behoove someone to help us neophytes understand it better.

Welcome!

Welcome to my new blog where I will post things of interest like book reviews, thoughts on the state of Christianity and culture, and my musings on Biblical truth.

I am a pastor of a rural church in southwest Colorado.  I graduated from The Master’s Seminary with an M Div. degree in 2001. I love my wife of nearly 20 years and 4 boys who keep me busy.  And I love the church God has graciously afforded me to serve – Summit Lake Community Church.  http://www.summitlakechurch.org/

Thanks for dropping by!