Book Review: The Whole Christ: Legalism, Antinomianism, and Gospel Assurance–Why the Marrow Controversy Still Matters

The Whole Christ: Legalism, Antinomianism, and Gospel Assurance—Why the Marrow Controversy Still MattersThe Whole Christ: Legalism, Antinomianism, and Gospel Assurance—Why the Marrow Controversy Still Matters by Sinclair B. Ferguson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I had heard of the Marrow Controversy, though knew little about it before reading this book. Ferguson acknowledges that an eighteenth century controversy that arose among Scottish Presbyterians in an obscure village in rural Scotland hardly seems to arrest our attention today. He is right about that and he is also right about the fact this controversy should get our attention. He deals with some of the historical issues and persons involved, which was interesting and informative. However, he focus on the issues at stake in the controversy since the issues of legalism, antinomianism, and assurance of salvation are such issues as are common to all men.

Ferguson’s insights into the root of both legalism and antinomianism are keen. Both at root are a separating of Jesus Christ in the fullness of his person from the benefits received by faith in him. The point may seem subtle, but the issues are enormous. Failure to grasp them leads us into one or the other of the two errors mentioned, which ultimately obscure the person of Christ and, at best, hinder the Gospel of God’s free grace. We are often flippant in our thinking of both legalism and antinomianism, and consequently fail to grasp core issues and fail to see how they negatively affect the ministry of the word.

This book needs to be read carefully and thought through. Some of the history may fail to grip and there are also some issues of intramural Presbyterianism and covenant theology debates that weren’t unexpected. I think every Christian should read this book, though I know they won’t. I don’t say this often, but I believe every pastor, preacher, and teacher must read this book and grapple with the issues raised. If you are ministering the Word, then you have already dealt with these issues to some degree. Ferguson will help clarify and get to the root of the issues. I would also recommend reading The Gospel According to Jesus by John MacArthur and God is the Gospel by John Piper. Those two books deal more explicitly with the Gospel issues of separating Christ from his benefits.

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Book Review: No Quick Fix: Where Higher Life Theology Came From, What It Is, and Why It’s Harmful

No Quick Fix: Where Higher Life Theology Came From, What It Is, and Why It's HarmfulNo Quick Fix: Where Higher Life Theology Came From, What It Is, and Why It’s Harmful by Andrew David Naselli
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This excellent book is a clear, concise critique of higher life theology, or Keswick theology. You may have never heard of the Keswick conferences, which began in the 19th century. You may have never heard of higher life, deeper life, or victorious life theology, at least not openly under those names. You probably have heard the phrase, “Let go and let God.” But, if you’ve gone to church, listened to Christian radio or TV, or read any Christian books, then you have heard some of these erroneous teachings and you definitely should read this book.

To start with, the title is an appropriate nutshell of the pursuit of higher life, second blessing, or higher plane Christianity. It is the relentless pursuit of some experience or crisis whereby a believer is propelled to another level where they live above sin and with full Spirit power in their life. It that sense, it is seeking a quick fix. The title is also appropriate because emotionally high-charged atmospheres become an addiction where people are constantly seeking that high. Some think they experience it multiple and others think they must not have got it because it wears off and they need another fix. They try to create this weekly in services, in special meetings, and in special conferences or events. You can hear reports of consecrations, decisions, rededications, break throughs, deliverances, etc.

Naselli starts with the history of higher life theology. He traces some of the major proponents of the teaching and highlights some of their differences in approach to it. For instance, higher life theology is a form of perfectionism, but there have been different approaches and beliefs as to what that perfectionism is and how it works.

Naselli proceeds to objectively state what higher life theology is. As opposed to some forms of charismaticism, higher life theology bases its teaching on the Bible. Some other forms of charismatic teaching are nearly entirely experience based, with little thought or effort at reconciling the positions to Scripture. This makes the errors of higher life theology even more dangerous because it pretends to be based on Scripture, giving authority to the teaching.

The last part of the book lays out ten reasons why higher life theology is so dangerous. One of those reasons, obviously, being the misuse and misinterpretation of Scripture. The book ends with some recommendations for reading better books on the Christian life and sanctification.

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Review: Conversion: How God Creates a People

Conversion: How God Creates a People (9Marks: Building Healthy Churches)Conversion: How God Creates a People by Michael Lawrence
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is an excellent, brief treatment of the subject. Christians in general wobble between extremes on what conversion is and does in the life of a convert. Michael Lawrence speaks clearly on repentance, faith, change of life, holiness, etc. He treats conversion as the life and death matter it truly is. Lawrence also places conversion in the context of the local church, which is rarely done.

The author has called us to a clearer presentation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the cost of discipleship. It’s a book I would want every Christian to read and consider, but especially pastors.

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Review: The Trellis and the Vine

The Trellis and the VineThe Trellis and the Vine by Colin Marshall
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Disciples of Jesus make disciples of Jesus, who in turn make disciples of Jesus. I think you see where this is going. What is a church? A church is a called out assembly of disciples joined together in making other disciples. More could be said, but this is vital. Pastors make disciples but are also tasked with training disciples to make other disciples, and so on. This is the Gospel work churches are called to do. It’s so easy to get off point and begin to be about many other things.

I wish I had read this book years ago. I cannot recommend it strongly enough. This is what pastors and church members are to be about.

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Review: The Gospel: How the Church Portrays the Beauty of Christ

The Gospel: How the Church Portrays the Beauty of ChristThe Gospel: How the Church Portrays the Beauty of Christ by Raymond C. Ortlund Jr.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It sounds correct to speak of being Gospel centered. I wonder how well we understand what it actually means to be a Gospel centered church. The author makes a case for what it looks like to be Gospel centered in practice as well as profession. Every church has a culture, whether it is deliberately shaped or more organic. Having the Gospel correct in our doctrinal statement does not mean our church body is Gospel centered in practice. Ortlund brings out that Gospel centeredness can happen, but it doesn’t happen by a plan or program. A church must adorn the Gospel preached with a community of disciples who live out the Gospel in their lives.

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