Book Review: Ulrich Zwingli (Bitesize Biographies)

Zwingli

William Boekestein has written a much needed little biography of the important Swiss Reformer Ulrich Zwingli, part EP’s Bitesize Biography series. Zwingli is not nearly as well-known as Luther or Calvin. No churches directly trace their heritage to his legacy. Yet in many ways he was just as important as these larger than life figures of the Protestant Reformation. Boekestein’s biography is short (162 pages) but very satisfying. You come to know something of Zwingli that other accounts don’t capture. Zwingli’s reformation of the Swiss canton Zurich roughly coincided with Luther’s reforms in Wittenberg. In fact, Boekestein points out that Zwingli enacted many of the same reforms before knowing anything about Luther. This would indicate that needed reform was in the air and one cannot escape the providential nature of what took place in those heady years beginning around 1517.

Zwingli’s personal turning point began in 1516, one year before Luther’s. There is no evidence that Zwingli or Luther knew of one another before 1521. By 1519, Zwingli had already begun seriously questioning papal authority, the practice of indulgences and other Catholic abuses. Zwingli’s personal reformation began through his discovery of Augustine’s treatise on the gospel of John and his fellow humanist friend Erasmus’ Greek New Testament. When Zwingli was appointed as the pastor of the Great Minister church in Zurich he quickly abandoned the mass and replaced it with expository preaching. He managed to preach through the whole New Testament within 4 years. Like the other Reformers, Zwingli became convinced of the sole authority of Scripture and refused to embrace traditions he believed were linked to the Roman Church.

Just as Zwingli was the first to experience reform in his own ministry, he was also the first Reformer to write a systematic theology entitled, A Commentary on the True and False Religion. Boekestein believes the only reason this work has not had the lasting value that Calvin’s Institutes have had is because he never bothered to revise it as Calvin did his own work—numerous times in fact. Most of Zwingli’s writings were put together hastily and lack the rigor of other Reformed writings. However, I think Boekestein has underestimated the fact that Calvin was a far more innovative, astute and careful theologian than Zwingli ever could have hoped to be and that explains Calvin’s lasting impact. The same could be said for Luther. Continue reading

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Book Review: Living Without Worry

Lane Worry

Tim Lane is becoming better known in the Biblical Counseling movement and has written a workman-like book on the subject of worry and anxiety. In 11 short chapters, Lane’s book, Living Without Worry: How to Replace Anxiety with Peace, lays out the basic problems associated with worry and anxiety and how it should be addressed from a Biblical perspective. In this regard, Lane spends a good deal of time pointing the reader to Scripture instead of psychological remedies. He canvases a great deal of different passages from the Old Testament (particularly the Psalms) and New Testament, where he focuses equal time in Jesus’ teachings in the gospels along with Paul, James and Peter’s epistles. He even looks at the worry Paul suffered when ministering in Athens and Corinth from the book of Acts.

Lane defines the problem from several different angles throughout the book. For example, he says, “The essence of worry is attempting to find your ultimate hope, comfort and meaning in something that is temporal and fleeting” (p. 24-25). He says, “What you worry about is a good indicator of what you truly value and rely upon” (p.93). Essentially worry is turning our eyes off of Christ and upon things that consume us in this world. Lane points out that “worry is a sign that you believe that God is not good or that he is not in charge, and that he therefore cannot be trusted to care for you” (p. 138). Worry becomes a crisis of faith and doubting the character of God. Wrong thinking about God leads to wrong living. However, Lane helpfully points out that right thinking does not always lead to right living. In chapter 9 he says change in the Christian life can be elusive and we should not always expect instant results even when our focus is centered upon Biblical solutions.

The book has a very practical focus. Lane examines many different scenarios that can produce anxiety such as relationships, marriage, parenting, finances, suffering, and even past sins and traumatic experiences. He shows how anxiety relates to our perspective on the past, the present and the future.  Lane makes some helpful distinctions as well. For example, worry should be distinguished from concern. It is okay to be concerned about matters, but concern can become “over-concern” (p. 20) which degenerates into sinful worry. And worry simply reveals what our hearts really cling to. “Over-concerns reveal over-loves” (p. 30). On the other hand, there are legitimate reasons to worry, for example when we contemplate the destiny of our souls if we have not genuinely repented of sin and placed our faith in Christ. In chapter 5, he points out that the prospect of eternal hell should produce a great deal of fear and anxiety. In fact, no worrisome matter on this earth can compare to the fear hell generates. The remedy is to have a secure future in heaven. The assurance of salvation not only dissipates hell as the worst of fears, but it can dissipate all lesser fears. Continue reading

The Shattered Visage

Man is a god in ruins – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Broken mirror

What Are We?

What is man? The question has captivated this worldly existence no less today than it has in the current of history. The Greek philosophers saw man as rational. The Eastern religions saw man as mystical. The Scientific Revolution saw man as material. The Postmodern age sees man as existential. None of these has captured the essence of man. Is man a glorified animal? Is he a demythologized god? Or is he nothing more than a mystery? Christianity offers an answer to the question that remains un-assailed. It maintains that man is a creature of unique dignity, however marred he might be. The account of man’s creation in Genesis says he was created in the image of God. He and she bears the imago Dei. But Eden could not sustain the man and the woman for long. Soon after the forbidden fruit stained the lips of Adam, mankind saw his visage shattered, and God’s image was obscured. Emerson may be unwittingly accurate.

If man bears this unique resemblance to God, what is it? The Reformer John Calvin maintained that man cannot know himself until he has first looked into the face of God. Jonathan Edwards carefully pondered that the two most important kinds of knowledge are of God and of one’s self. To understand who man is most certainly entails knowing his Creator. The imago Dei in man is a reflection of what God is. The notion of “image” and “likeness” in the creation account is not merely the equation of God with the original and man with the copy. Man is not just a “Xerox” of God; a cheap imitation. Human beings in their very essence retain an authentic correspondence with the nature of God. But does this make them little gods?

Man is certainly not an animal, but neither is he divine. There will always be a remarkable distinction between the Creator and the creature. God is the supremely self-sufficient being in that He depends on nothing outside of Himself.  All things outside of God are in fact dependent on Him; they derive their existence from the creative power of God’s self-existence. God simply spoke and out of nothing all came into being. As a creature, man’s being is derivative, he is not his own. God has indelibly impressed upon the essence of mankind, including all of his innate capacities, a finite reflection of the infinite God Himself. Continue reading

The Grandeur of Grace

Grace. Amazing Grace. It is a theme richly woven within every fiber of the tapestry of the Christian faith. Yet, it has become so much a banal staple of the parlance of Christian discourse that the term has lost its luster. It no longer excites the passions of believers beleaguered by indifference. But, Oh! How glorious is that grace that set the captives free—the fountainhead of God’s love for a world trapped in its own destructive melee.

venusmoon_pascual

God’s grace in its simplest expression is unmerited favor. It speaks of a particular kind of love largely unrecognized in even the most compassionate enclaves of human kindness expressed in this world we inhabit. It is reserved for those who embrace it and thus become privileged to be named as His children. It is a moving display of affectionate passion that forms the very ground of God’s redemptive actions toward rebel souls. This grace is a gratuitous, ill-deserved reward; a prize conferred for no achievement. It issues forth from the incalculable benevolence of its heavenly source. God’s grace is unfettered and free, bounding forward into the hearts of receptive sinners like you and me.

This is to say no one is able by the strength of moral will to gain God’s favor. Virtually every religious system conceived by mankind is rooted in the ability accorded to ourselves. Religious man is transparently focused on the self. He thinks he is fully capable of appeasing what ever powers he imagines through his own self-inflated perception of success. However, God’s grace only extends toward those who recognize their utter failure in meeting the terms necessary to attain salvation.  Ironically, the force of grace is only apparent when such individuals recognize how unworthy they are of its benefits. Continue reading

Are We Alone in the Universe?

I recently read some interaction on a blog site in which some Christian responders were wondering if the discovery of life on other planets should cause our faith to be shaken since the Bible seems to assume that God created life only on earth. The consensus was that such a discovery would not be so earth shattering (!).

Andromeda_galaxy

This got me to thinking. Should we have any reason to expect that God created life elsewhere? Actually, I think the question needs to be more focused. Do we have any reasons to reject the idea that “intelligent” life exists elsewhere?

First, we must understand what is meant by “intelligent” life. What most people think of as intelligent life is some sort of beings that are human-like. We usually have in mind sentient beings with self-awareness, complex systems of language and communication, and the capacity to grow in wisdom and knowledge. Intelligence involves imagination and complex creative skills that are put to use in various aesthetic pursuits and technological advances.  Such intelligence requires the capacity for problem solving in a multitude of disciplines. Others of course would add that intelligent beings are moral beings, those who have a conscience and are endowed with some sort of free agency. It includes the ability to express a wide range of emotions. We expect such intelligent creatures to form intimate personal relationships on a small scale and complex societies and governing structures on a large scale. Other things could be added, but you get the picture. Continue reading

What About Free Will? (Part 9)

I am writing a book on the ever thorny, controversial, misunderstood topic of free will.  Over the course of several few weeks, I am blogging about the issue.  I invite your feedback, as this will help me fine tune the contents of my book.

time-bomb 

Libertarians say we are only held liable for our actions if we could have acted otherwise.  In some cases, this may be true, but that is not principally where liability lies. Compatibilism holds that we are held liable for our actions in direct proportion to the degree that we voluntarily (intentionally) engage in such actions. Let us consider this proposition. Continue reading

8 Truths about Marriage from 50 Words of Jesus

Many people assume that because Jesus had little to say on marriage during His ministry on earth that He was open to the flexibility of this institution including the acceptance of same sex marriage. But is this true?

While Jesus said little about marriage, what He did say is packed with such depth of insight that only Jesus could unfold so much in so few words. We need not consider what He said about the issue of divorce and remarriage. The substance of what Jesus said on marriage can be ascertained from His positive affirmation of the institution in Matthew 19:4-6. These 3 verses contain 50 words Jesus spoke on the subject. From these 50 words (in the Greek text) we discover 8 truths about marriage.

“Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female.” (vs. 4) Continue reading