Posts Tagged ‘Book Reviews’

I admit to being a bit surprised when I first saw a post about John Piper’s recent, small book Coronavirus and Christ. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Since the book was being offered as a free PDF to anyone wanting it, I downloaded it and read it over the past weekend. A slight majority of the book (Part 2) is given to answering the question, “What is God doing through the Coronavirus?” Piper gives six possible answers to that question, but he first deals in Part 1 of the book with the foundational concepts one needs to understand before addressing the question at hand.

The chapters of Part 1 – “The God Who Reigns Over the Coronavirus” – include:

  • Come to the Rock
  • A Solid Foundation
  • The Rock is Righteous
  • Sovereign over All
  • The Sweetness of His Reign

In Part 1, Piper seeks to draw people to the solid Rock, Jesus Christ, as the only sound place to stand in this world of uncertainty. This pandemic has rocked our world in many ways unimaginable just a few months ago. All of us have been impacted in some way, and most of us in significant ways. Piper shares from his personal experience of a cancer diagnosis about how he had to come to grips with the ground on which he stood during that time of physical uncertainty. Now in this pandemic, he writes that his aim is to “show why God in Christ is the Rock at this moment in history—in this pandemic of the coronavirus—and what it is like to stand on his mighty love.”

Reiterated through the book is the truth that “the same sovereignty that could stop the coronavirus, yet doesn’t, is the very sovereignty that sustains the soul in it.” Piper devotes nearly half the book leading up to answering the specific question of Part 2 because he wants the reader to be very clear on the holiness and righteousness and goodness and wisdom of God. In speaking about the sovereignty of God, he explains that God doesn’t just take seemingly bad things that happen (like a pandemic) and then turn them into good somewhere along the line. Rather, he shows how God has a purpose and meaning in them from the beginning. That’s important! This pandemic didn’t sneak up on God and surprise him.

After laying the foundation about God, Piper then offers in Part 2 six reasoned biblical answers to the question, “What is God doing through the Coronavirus?” He admits that God is always doing a billion things we do not know, but at least from the Scriptures we can be sure that God is up to a few specific things during this pandemic. The chapter titles and summary answers below give you the big picture of his answers about this “bitter providence,” but you need to read the entire text to fully understand them:

  • Picturing Moral Horror
    • “God is giving the world in the coronavirus outbreak, as in all other calamities, a physical picture of the moral horror and spiritual ugliness of God-belittling sin.”
  • Sending Specific Divine Judgments
    • “Some people will be infected with the coronavirus as a specific judgment from God because of their sinful attitudes and actions.”
  • Awakening Us for the Second Coming
    • “The coronavirus is a God-given wake-up call to be ready for the second coming of Christ.”
  • Realigning Us with the Infinite Worth of Christ
    • “The coronavirus is God’s thunderclap call for all of us to repent and realign our lives with the infinite worth of Christ.”
  • Creating Good Works in Danger
    • “The coronavirus is God’s call to his people to overcome self-pity and fear, and with courageous joy, to do the good works of love that glorify God.”
  • Loosening Roots to Reach the Nations
    • “In the coronavirus, God is loosening the roots of settled Christians all over the world to make them free for something new and radical and to send them with the gospel of Christ to the unreached peoples of the world.”

Piper closes the small (5″ x 7″ with 112 pages), quick read with a prayer. The back of the book also includes footnotes and a Scripture index which, being a John Piper book, is filled with many, many Scripture references used in the book.

Some people may see just the title of this book and assume his message is no more than the second answer above, “sending specific divine judgments” since that tends to be a common refrain heard from some pulpits when bad things happen in our world. That would be a wrong assumption. There is far more thought and biblical teaching put into this text than that simple, single, partially true answer.

The closing chapter’s prayer will bring home Piper’s passion on this subject. The final paragraph of that 2-page prayer says: “Stretch forth your hand in great awakening for the sake of this perishing world. Let the terrible words of Revelation not be spoken over this generation: ‘Yet still they did not repent.’ As you have stricken bodies, strike now the slumbering souls. Forbid that they would remain asleep in the darkness of pride and unbelief. In your great mercy, say to these bones, ‘Live!’ And bring the hearts and lives of millions into alignment with the infinite worth of Jesus.” Amen.

Please take the few hours it will require and read the free book Coronavirus and Christ by John Piper. If I haven’t convinced you, perhaps the brief intro from John Piper in the video below will.

As the Sunday School Director at my church and as a Christian who wants to effectively help bring new believers into the body of Christ and new church members into our congregation, I read with great interest the book Fusion by Nelson Searcy and Jennifer Dykes Henson. I read the older 2007 version rather than the 2017 revised edition linked in this review. With thousands of churches implementing the system detailed in the book over more than a decade since the first edition’s publication, readers of the later edition will benefit from the experiences of many additional churches who have incorporated these methods into their regular practices.

The purpose of the book is captured in its subtitle: “Turning first-time guests into fully engaged members of your church.” That is something churches seek to do regularly as they strive to grow Christ’s church. But how does a church do that effectively in God-honoring ways? That is the challenge that this book seeks to answer not just from a theoretical basis, but from the proven experience of Searcy’s church The Journey and the thousands of additional churches who have implemented his assimilation system.

First, let me confess my juvenile and immature mental hurdle regarding the word “assimilation.” I can’t hear the word without connecting it to the Borg from Star Trek while hearing in my mind the phrase, “Resistance is futile. You will be assimilated.” As alien antagonists who forcefully take over other populations and turn them into drones, that is hardly the mental image I want of how we as churches are to assimilate newcomers into the church. But that’s my problem, not the book’s, so let’s move on…

You will be pleasantly surprised at the level of practical detail this book offers church leaders regarding assimilation, biblical hospitality, being intentional about making great first impressions, following up with first-time and second-time guests, creating opportunities to guide guests into gradual next steps through deeper relationships and commitment to service, faith and church membership. Specific examples are given of communication cards to be completed by worship participants, emails, letters and hand-written notes to send, schedules of what to do when for first-time and second-time guests, brief online surveys for guests to complete, checklists for the first-response team, an outline for a new members class, a membership covenant sample, and more. In fact, if you go to the website listed at the back of the book you can freely download a host of related resources for this assimilation system as well as a free e-book on The Eight Systems of a Healthy Church.

One simple outline that is easy to remember regarding the system is the three Rs of retention: Return, Relationships and Responsibility. Put simply, the church’s goal for the first-time guest is to get them to return. When they return, the goal shifts to one of guiding them into deeper relationships with others through various means, especially (but not exclusively) through small groups. And once relationships start to develop, leading them to deeper ownership and personal responsibility will be the next level of commitment that leads to a fuller commitment to faith and service through church membership. Return, Relationships, and Responsibility – an easy overview of the goals for assimilating guests into the life of the church.

The authors make a great point that you don’t have to buy into the entire system at once exactly as outlined (although it would probably be more effective if you did). If you choose, you can follow the suggested “seven small things you can do to get started right away” from the conclusion of the book to start tackling the beast of effective assimilation sooner rather than later. Chances are pretty good that many churches are already doing some such things to some degree now. Reading the book will help you recognize the things you’re doing right as well as a number of opportunities you may be missing. Some of these opportunities can be grasped quickly while others will take more planning, time and resources to do well.

I appreciate the note from Searcy and Henson that you need to give these efforts time to produce results. Don’t try these methods for a few weeks and then get discouraged and quit. Plan thoroughly and execute consistently for at least six months because it may well take that long for the church members and guests to adapt and respond positively to the efforts to a noticeable degree. The book reminds us of Galatians 6:9, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”

All churches aren’t alike and there may be a few things you’ll read in the book that you decide just don’t fit your style or church culture. That’s OK. However, I am reminded of one evangelist’s response to someone’s objection of his approach to evangelism: “I prefer my way of doing evangelism to your way of not doing evangelism.” Ouch! If you and your church are not currently effective and intentional at assimilating guests into the life of your church, then considering Fusion‘s approach is worth of your consideration. Thousands of churches have done so and have the positive results to prove it.

People don’t necessarily go to the church that is nearest to them. They go to the one that is dearest to them. Your intentional efforts at assimilation can be a huge factor in making your church the dearest for your guests so that they choose to come back and eventually fully invest in with their lives.

Fusion is not an impersonal set of actions to implement like a cookie cutter to make drones like Star Trek’s Borg. In fact, the conclusion of the book says “The Kingdom only grows one person at a time. So focus on the one, and the one will turn into many.”

I heartily recommend the book if you are genuinely interested in reaching and keeping newcomers to your church. Do what it suggests for the glory of God and I believe you will see positive results. I look forward to being more intentional, organized and effective in my own efforts going forward as a result of reading Fusion.

Praying-the-BibleHaving read the book Praying the Bible earlier this month, and having attended a conference last weekend at my church on the subject led by the book’s author, Dr. Don Whitney, and having practiced this method of Bible meditation and prayer since the beginning of the year, I’m eager to share this post which will be more than just a book review. It will be a personal testimony as well.

First, some background…

There are a number of spiritual disciplines which Christians encourage in the practice of their faith. (Dr. Whitney has a book on that subject as well.) Prayer and Bible study are among the most practiced and encouraged. While no day goes by without me engaging in some degree of prayer and Bible study, I sensed in 2015 that of all the spiritual disciplines, prayer was where I was most lacking. I prayed daily, but I knew I needed more both in quality and quantity.

When my church in Louisville, Kentucky – Walnut Street Baptist Church – announced late in 2015 that Dr. Whitney would be leading a weekend conference on praying the Bible at our church in mid January, I was immediately interested. It was also good timing because I finished my latest reading of the Bible and was interested in choosing a different method for my next reading of it. So I purchased Dr. Whitney’s book and read it over a couple of evenings at the beginning of the year and immediately put its teachings into practice. Two weeks later was the conference led by Dr. Whitney which greatly reinforced the teaching and provided a shared experience with many others on the practice.

Dr. Don Whitney is a Professor of Biblical Spirituality at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is the founder and president of The Center for Biblical Spirituality. He travels nearly every weekend speaking and holding conferences on praying the bible, scripture meditation and biblical spirituality. He is a godly man, a great communicator, and a person whose obvious passion is for the people of God to more closely experience God in their daily lives. His writing and teaching clearly demonstrate that passion.

The book Praying the Bible is a small, 106-page book easily digested in a few hours. The concept is simple, but the impact of practicing what it teaches is quite profound.

Dr. Whitney begins the book by stating the problem many Christians have with prayer – that they don’t enjoy prayer as much as they wish they did, and that this leads to not praying as much as they think they should or as they really wish they would. Numerous times in the book and during the conference he reiterated that we tend to pray the same old things about the same old things, so we get bored and we just don’t choose to spend much time doing what we think is going to bore us.

Assuming, though, that the person really does have the Spirit of God living inside, Dr. Whitney proposes that the problem may not be the person, but the method of prayer that is boring and unsatisfying, and that a different method – praying the Bible – can be a solution to the problem. The problem isn’t so much that we pray about the same old things because our lives are made up of pretty much the same old concerns from one year to the next. The problem is more in our pattern of how and what we pray about those same old things that bores us.

If there is to be a solution to this problem, Dr. Whitney explains that it must be very simple because it must work for all Christians of all cultures and backgrounds worldwide. What is the solution? “When you pray, pray through a passage of Scripture, particularly a psalm” (p. 27). How do you do that? Simply go through a Scripture passage line by line and stop whenever a word or phrase stands out or a thought comes to mind that you can turn into a prayer to God. Take God’s word and turn it back to Him as a prayer. When you’ve prayed all that comes to mind about a line or verse or passage, read some more and then stop to pray again whenever a thought comes to mind that can be expressed to God as a prayer. Keep doing that until you run out of Biblical text or out of time.

The purpose of praying the Bible is not to study the Bible and intake its meaning as intended for the original hearers or readers. The purpose is not to concentrate on biblical interpretation. This practice is intended to focus on prayer, but uses God’s Word as the starting point to keep us focused on what God has already said to us. It enables us to keep from going off on tangents that surely all of us have done many times praying. It provides a biblical vocabulary and basis for what God’s Spirit will then bring to mind for us to pray back to Him. It doesn’t matter how many verses or passages you get through in a session. You just keep going until you run out of passage or you run out of time. Then you stop.

It is a remarkably simple and profound process.

Dr. Whitney highly encourages praying through one psalm daily and he provides a simple method of determining which psalm that should be in a way that exposes you over time to all 150 of the psalms. You can read a recent article he wrote on five benefits of praying the psalms here. The psalms are especially suited to use in prayers, but all of Scripture can be used this way because it is all God’s Word that can be turned Godward in prayer by any of His children anytime. In fact, I’m going through the latest edition of the Reformation Study Bible using this method and simply started at the beginning of Genesis with a goal of averaging one chapter per day praying my way through the whole Bible. It’s January 23 and I’m on Genesis 23. At this rate it will take me about 3.5 years to work my way through, but that’s OK. My desire is for the experience and not to force a condensed time frame on the experience as I have in previous annual or biennial readings that were focused more on learning the Bible.

Dr. Whitney’s book contains plenty of samples of what one might pray while reading various passages of Scripture – both from the psalms and from other types of Scripture. The chapter called “The Most Important Part of This Book” forces the reader to stop and actually do it rather than just keep reading (as much as a book can force someone to do anything). This was the practice in the conference as well when Dr. Whitney pleaded with us to be present for the first 10 minutes after a break because it would be the most important part of the conference. It was during this time that we paused to choose a psalm and privately pray through it. Our shared experience in the conference mimicked the testimonies discussed in the book. Dr. Whitney could have told us what our many reactions would be before we practiced it at the conference because he hears the same reactions everywhere he teaches the method. He shares these common reactions in the book.

One of the key takeaways from the book, the conference, and the experience of praying the Bible the past few weeks is stated succinctly in the book when it says “if you have the Bible and the Holy Spirit, you have all the equipment necessary to profit satisfyingly from the Word of God and to experience a meaningful prayer life” (pp. 72-73).

The book contains other informative teachings about people who have prayed the Bible with tremendous spiritual results and even explains how Jesus must have prayed the Bible. It gives suggestions for praying the Bible with a group as well as alone.

In my personal practice of this discipline since the first of the year, I have learned and experienced several things:

  • I find myself praying about so many more topics, situations and concerns than ever would have made it to a prayer list I would otherwise go by in praying.
  • Some passages require a lot of time in prayer, meaning I may only pray through a partial chapter in a full hour, while other times a narrative story may not provoke many prayers at all and I’ll keep reading perhaps through multiple chapters in an hour.
  • The void I felt in 2015 regarding my prayer life has vanished. This is a wonderfully satisfying time of communion and conversation with God daily.
  • I still want to pray about the same old things and it’s OK to do so because they are the concerns of my heart and my loving God cares about them.
  • Remembering my usual prayer concerns through a fresh method that is never the same from one day to the next is exciting and different and satisfies me far more than my previous habit of “saying the same old things about the same old things.”

I guess I’ve read through the Bible 30+ times in my life, but I’ve never prayed through it until now. This may be the most meaningful pass through God’s Word of my life to date. I am eager to continue the practice and to cherish those times daily of communication back and forth with God. He is talking to me through His Word and I am turning those words back to Him in prayers of the heart. What could be more meaningful?

If you have never read Whitney’s short, little book Praying the Bible, I plead with you to do so. You can finish it in an evening. Then practice what it says. You may just discover that your prayer life has elevated to a deeper, more meaningful level that you ever imagined.

While you’re at it, check out Whitney’s website and follow him on Twitter. If you have the chance, attend his conference or take his seminary class on the subject. This is the kind of teaching where afterward you’ll wonder “How is it that I’ve been a Christian ___ years and this is the first time I’m hearing of this?”

May God bless you in your path of following and daily communicating with Him in prayer.

ReformationStudyBible2012It has been my practice for about 40 years to take a different edition or translation of the Bible each 1-2 years and read all of it. I suppose I’ve done so about 30 or more times now, although I haven’t kept track so I can’t say for sure. Most times I read it through within a year’s time. Sometimes I’ll take two years to read it. I recall one that I spent three years reading. It’s a great practice of exposing myself to nearly all of the translations of the Bible available and to the wealth of commentary and notes available in study Bibles that are filled with articles and nearly as many notes from scholars as Bible text itself. As long as one remembers that the primary content is the Bible text itself and the eternal Author behind that text, it never hurts to glean from the insights and wisdom of others who have spent far more years studying particular books of the Bible and periods of history than you or I ever will.

For 2015 my goal was to read through The Reformation Study Bible for the first time. At the time of purchase in late 2014, the latest edition available was a 2012 printing, so that’s what I got. I chose to go with one that uses the English Standard Version (ESV) translation since it is one of my personal favorites. It has over 1950 pages of content, so reading 3-4 Bible chapters a day along with the corresponding study notes and commentary accomplishes the year-long goal on schedule. (OK, I confess I finished it on January 1 and not December 31.)

It did not take long into my 2015 reading before I knew I had finally found a study Bible that I was very much at home with in terms of its theological outlook and commentary – one I was inclined to settle in with for multiple readings over many years. I’ve read several other study Bibles and benefited from each, but this one stood out as… well… outstanding to me. With the general editor being R. C. Sproul – pastor, theologian, author, and founder/chairman of Ligonier Ministries – I already trusted as biblically sound the general editor and looked forward to reading the work of the 50+ additional editors and contributors.

The introduction to The Reformation Study Bible explains why it is so named:

The Reformation Study Bible contains a modern restatement of Reformation truth in its comments and theological notes. Its purpose is to present the light of the Reformation afresh. The Reformed accept the Christian faith as expressed in the ecumenical creeds and believed by Christians everywhere. The distinctive ideas of the Reformed are the result of accepting the Bible as the supreme authority for faith and practice. The words of the Bible are true and its message is powerful. It conveys the infallible promise of God, its Author, that it will not return to Him empty, but will certainly accomplish His intended purpose.”

Since some of my personal study in recent years has been about the Reformation and Reformed theology, this study Bible seemed a perfect match for me at this particular time, and it was.

Let me provide two caveats up front before I discuss more of the specifics of this study Bible, especially as a warning to my fellow Southern Baptists and like-minded folk:

  1. If you can’t handle what the Bible says about election, then you may want to avoid The Reformation Study Bible. Of course, if you claim to be one who loves and cherishes what the Word of God teaches, then you ought to be open to what it says regardless of how much your church or denomination may avoid the topic. It’s a soundly biblical subject and this study Bible isn’t afraid to point that out and remind the reader of it regularly.
  2. You may need to agree to disagree with the study note contributors on the subject of baptism, particularly infant baptism. While they fairly treat the traditional Baptist view of baptism as a believers-only act, you will be exposed to another view within these pages. Being exposed to other views, though, is not a bad thing. Perhaps it will help us understand one another better. With general editor Sproul being a member of the Presbyterian Church in America (the largest conservative Reformed denomination in the United States), one would expect some denominational differences between them and their Baptist (or many other) brethren on the subject.

Now, on to more about this study Bible…

In addition to the Bible text of the ESV, you’ll find the following as listed in the Table of Contents of The Reformation Study Bible:

  • Introduction by R. C. Sproul;
  • List of 50+ contributors from around the world along with their place of employment;
  • An explanation of features (cross-references, footnotes);
  • A preface to the ESV;
  • Nearly 100 brief articles (called theological notes) inserted as appropriate near relevant Bible passages from Genesis to Revelation;
  • 19 in-text maps and a dozen in-text charts also scattered throughout the biblical text from Genesis to Acts;
  • A list of the Old and New Testament books;
  • Old Testament introductions to the Pentateuch, Historical Books, Hebrew Poetry, Wisdom Literature, Prophets, and the Intertestamental Period;
  • New Testament introductions to the Gospels and Acts, and the Epistles;
  • 72-page concordance;
  • Bible reading schedule;
  • Six full-color maps.

Each Bible book contains its own introduction with sections discussing author, date and occasion, interpretive difficulties, characteristics and themes, title, and outline (although not all books will contain all sections). The introductions are fairly brief – usually 2-3 pages.

The text on each page is split into two columns (something that has changed with the 2015 Reformation Study Bible) with a center column for the ESV cross references and footnotes at the bottom of the second column. Study notes are at the bottom of each page except for the theological notes (brief articles) mentioned earlier that are inserted into the main text as needed.

I purchased the brown imitation leather binding and find it attractive with a good feel and very sturdy. After a year of daily handling, it hardly looks used at all from the outside. On the inside, my only complaint is that the pages are so thin that the simple task of underlining with a mechanical pencil would with some regularity start to punch a hole in the page – nothing really noticeable and something I easily stopped each time before doing any damage, but still annoying. It may just be the size and sharpness of the lead I use, but I don’t recall experiencing that with other Bibles I’ve read through in recent years using the same pencil.

One minor content annoyance relates to the ESV footnotes and not the unique writings of this study Bible’s contributors. I’m referring to the repetition of some ESV footnotes in full countless times as you read through books. It seems like there is an unnecessary quantity of notes repeated in full in each chapter of the same book or at least once per book where relevant. That’s an ESV decision, though, and not a decision of the editors of The Reformation Study Bible.

Saving the most important unique quality for last, the content of the introductions and study notes from The Reformation Study Bible contributors are superb. They are informative, helpful, consistent across the books of Old and New Testaments, and a pleasure to read – a great source of knowledge and inspiration. I did not read any Bible book’s notes or supplemental material where I thought there was a noticeable and unwanted difference in the quality of scholarship as I did in 2014 reading through The Apologetics Study Bible. Any reader will learn much about the biblical text by taking the time to read these notes along with the related biblical text. It is a spiritual exercise well worth the time.

I’ve read several study Bibles – ESV Study Bible, MacArthur Study Bible, Apologetics Study Bible, Evidence Bible, and maybe a few I’ve forgotten after too many years – and I can say without reservation that The Reformation Study Bible is at the top of my list of preferred ones. I suspect that is because it came at a time where its theological foundations and mine converged around the Reformed tradition.

For 2016 and beyond I have purchased the newest Reformation Study Bible that was released in 2015. It has about 500 more pages of notes and resources such as the text of numerous historical confessions of faith and more. I look forward to tackling this version over the next 1-2 years. I won’t commit to reading it all in one year because I’m taking a different approach in 2016 of Praying the Bible rather than trying to read it all in a specific time frame, so however long it takes me this time is fine with me.

It’s important for Bible readers to focus on the primary text of scripture and not on what others say about that text. Only one Author is perfect and infallible and He has arranged it so that all who read His word seeking to know Him and His will can understand what He has written through the inspired human authors. It’s also helpful, though, to continually learn new insights that come from the shared research and writings of others who have devoted their lives to such study and scholarship.

If you are looking for a new Bible to read or just a great one to add to your shelf of Bible study resources, I heartily recommend The Reformation Study Bible. Why let it just sit on your shelf, though, for special studies? If you get it, read it all. You’ll be glad you did.

ChristianBeliefs-GrudemOne of my modern heroes of theological writing is Wayne Grudem, Research Professor of Theology and Biblical Studies at Phoenix Seminary. I recently read one of the several books he has written and which his son, Elliot Grudem, edited – Christian Beliefs: Twenty Basics Every Christian Should Know. I read it because my pastor and I are team teaching a class using the book as our guide over the next four months. It’s a small, 159-page paperback that is quickly read and digested.

On the other end of the depth spectrum is Grudem’s 1290-page Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine which has kept many seminarians and pastors occupied for countless hours of study (myself included). I’m nearly finished reading the monster and will write another review soon this month when I complete it.

In between the small paperback and the large volume is yet another middle-sized book, Bible Doctrine: Essential Teachings of the Christian Faith, a 528-page condensed version of the larger Systematic Theology written by Grudem and edited by Jeff Purswell. So, the reader can certainly pick the size and depth of study he wishes to undertake from tackling the original, massive Systematic Theology, to the subsequent half-sized but still meaty Bible Doctrine, or the latest and much simpler Christian Beliefs. And for those not even inclined to invest the few hours it takes to read Christian Beliefs, you can cut right to the 6-page laminated book summary of either Systematic Theology or Bible Doctrine. Hopefully, though, your interest in biblical theology warrants more than a 6-page cheat sheet – nice to have around, but not all you need to know on the subject.

So, given that background of relevant Grudem texts, let’s get back to the subject of this review – Christian Beliefs: Twenty Basics Every Christian Should Know

As the subtitle suggests, this book focuses on 20 Christian doctrines (or teachings) considered basic to the Christian faith. To include 20 topics as well as a few historic confessions of faith and a list of recommended reading in 159 pages demands that only a few pages be written per doctrine. Because of this, the book is appropriate for someone new to the faith or wanting a refresher across the spectrum of doctrines included. It will not (nor is it intended to) provide an in-depth look at any of the 20 doctrines included. By comparison, Systematic Theology has 57 chapters of about 20 pages length each in addition to the confessions of faith and other appendices in its nearly 1300 pages. You get what you pay for.

Still, as a guide for further exploration of what the Bible teaches, the book serves a valuable purpose of pointing the reader to a variety of biblical texts for each of the topics discussed. As Grudem does so well in all of his writings, he presents a faithful explanation of what each doctrine is and a sound, biblical basis for all conclusions drawn. He never shies away from presenting dissenting opinions by those in various faith traditions, being careful in the appendix listing further reading to provide some background about each author’s theological tradition and perspective. The book is not intended to present biblical teachings from any one particular denominational perspective; it intends to answer the question of what the Bible teaches on the subjects – a healthy approach that ought to cross denominational biases.

Like his other texts, the starting point of Christian Beliefs is Grudem’s discussion of the Bible as the word of God. If the Bible is the authoritative basis for beliefs, then its authority and reliability is crucial to establish up front before using biblical texts as the basis for additional doctrinal positions. The full list of 20 doctrines covered is as follows:

  • What Is the Bible?
  • What Is God Like?
  • What Is the Trinity?
  • What Is Creation?
  • What Is Prayer?
  • What Are Angels, Satan, and Demons?
  • What Is Man?
  • What Is Sin?
  • Who Is Christ?
  • What Is the Atonement?
  • What Is the Resurrection?
  • What Is Election?
  • What Does It Mean to Become a Christian?
  • What Are Justification and Adoption?
  • What Are Sanctification and Perseverance?
  • What Is Death?
  • What Is the Church?
  • What Will Happen When Christ Returns?
  • What Is the Final Judgment?
  • What Is Heaven.

In addition are the appendices that include a few historic Christian confessions of faith and Grudem’s recommended reading list, plus an index. Each chapter concludes with a few questions for review and application that are good for personal reflection or for group discussion.

I suspect that most churches have members who are differently inclined to tackle the three Grudem’s works mentioned above, from the quick Christian Beliefs to the weighty Systematic Theology. I still have a desire to take about a year to walk through Systematic Theology with a small group at some point in the future. Laymen can handle it. We need not “dumb down” theology as though the preaching class are able to understand things that the people in the pews cannot. We are all led by the same Spirit of God into the truth of His word, and God can surely speak to whomever He pleases regardless of position or formal theological education. In fact, if I had the benefit of a few current study Bibles and works like Systematic Theology when I attended two seminaries decades ago, I may have been just as well off studying those on my own as spending five or more years in the classroom, but I digress…

As for recommending Christian Beliefs, I do recommend it to those new to the Christian faith, those new to Protestant faith (as opposed to Roman Catholic), those interested in the faith, or to those wanting a quick refresher on important biblical doctrines. Then, assuming your appetite is whetted, advance to either Bible Doctrine or, better yet, Systematic Theology for an incredible, long-term, more in-depth study of what the Bible teaches on the above and many additional topics.

For further reading:

BibleDoctrine-Grudem     SystematicTheology-Grudem