Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Book Review: Theological Fitness

Theological Fitness: Why We Need a Fighting Faith. Aimee Byrd. 2015. P&R. 192 pages. [Source: Review copy]
Hebrews 10:23 says, "Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful." (ESV)
I definitely appreciated the premise behind Theological Fitness. In the book, Byrd argues that Christians need to know WHAT they believe and WHY they believe. That "holding fast" to a confession of faith will help them to persevere--remain steadfast--in the Christian life, in good times and bad. It's not an option to not be a theologian if you're a believer.  In other words, every believer should strive to be a good theologian. You should be a theologically fit believer. Being (or becoming) theologically fit requires effort, but, it's worth it.

Here's how Byrd defines theological fitness:
Theological fitness, then, refers to that persistent fight to exercise our faith by actively engaging in the gospel truth revealed in God's Word. It isn't just a remembering of some Bible verses about God, but a trust in his promises that motivates us in holy living. God's Word cannot be ignored. We must wrestle with it. 
Why is theology so important? Is it really, truly necessary? Byrd writes,
Our theology shapes the way we live. What we believe about who God is, who we are, and what he has done will affect our everyday thinking and behavior. 
We are all theologians and we all have a creed. The question is, are we good theologians or bad ones? Theology is simply the study of who God is, and that is something everyone wrestles with, even the atheist (as proven by the term atheism). As soon as you begin to answer the question of who he is, you are giving a creed. 
Why is it important to persevere? Because heaven is a prepared place for a prepared people. We are called to grow in faith, to persevere, to grow in holiness, to live holy lives. Perseverance takes action: striving, struggling, fighting, holding on, clinging, believing, hoping, praying, trusting, loving.  

Byrd asks her readers, Are you theologically healthy? Are you theologically fit? How well do you know God? Do you know what you believe? Do you know why you believe? How dusty is your Bible? What place does the Word of God have in your life? Are you willing to make the effort to get fit--theologically fit?

I love that this book is both a great exposition of Hebrews 10:23, and, a great book about what it means to be a Christian, what the Christian life looks like. I love that so much focuses on the content of the Christian faith, and that this discussion brings in yet another exposition, this time of Psalm 110:1-7, which she refers to as "David's Creed." What do I mean by "content of the Christian faith"? Simply the doctrines of the faith that are necessary for saving faith or fighting faith. These doctrines are clearly presented in chapters five and six. She writes, that these two chapters may serve as a "first workout" and in fact be a "gauge of your spiritual fitness level." She argues that in these seven verses, believers can find fourteen doctrines for their confession of faith!

I loved many things about this one. I think it's relevant and practical. I do believe that Christians need to be exhorted to know what they believe and why they believe; they need to be encouraged to be engaged with the Word of God.

When we say, "I am a Christian," what do we mean by this profession? This is a very important question. In fact, I would like to propose that our answer to this question, and our ability to proactively cling to a proper confession of what we believe, is directly connected to our perseverance in the Christian life. All Christians need to know what they're persevering for, whether it is through a fiery trial or the mundanity of everyday living. This entails a tenacity to grasp what is true about the person and work of Jesus Christ. I call it theological fitness. 
The words that God has carefully preserved about his plan of redemption, his sovereign holiness, goodness, love, justice, amazing mercy, and grace, are taken for granted. The average American owns more than three copies of the Bible, many of which are collecting enough dust to write the word damnation across the cover, as Charles Spurgeon so eloquently put it. Think about it: the authoritative Word of God, collecting dust. To persevere, we need to know the confession of our hope, and we can't do that with a dusty Bible. 
The trivial issues that we deal with on a daily basis give us training and conditioning for turning again and again to the gospel. 
Who is willing to suffer for a Savior they won't even trouble themselves to learn about? 
There is no plateau in the Christian life. We are either growing closer to Christ's likeness or we are falling away. 
The thing is, Jesus is already the center of everyone's life. For some of us it is a blessed center, and for some it is their greatest destruction. 

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

My Year with Spurgeon #21

Presumptuous Sins
Charles Spurgeon
Psalm 19:13
ALL sins are great sins, but yet some sins are greater than others. Every sin has in it the very venom of rebellion, and is full of the essential marrow of traitorous rejection of God. But there be some sins which have in them a greater development of the essential mischief of rebellion, and which wear upon their faces more of the brazen pride which defies the Most High. It is wrong to suppose that because all sins will condemn us, that therefore one sin is not greater than another.
I shall this morning first of all endeavor to describe presumptuous sins, then secondly, I shall try, if I can, to show by some illustrations why the presumptuous sin is more heinous than any other, and then thirdly, I shall try to press this prayer upon your notice — the prayer, mark you, of the holy man — the prayer of David. “Keep back thy servant also from presumptuous sins.”
First, then, WHAT IS A PRESUMPTOUS SIN? Now, I think there must be one of four things in a sin in order to make it presumptuous. It must either be a sin against light and knowledge, or a sin committed with deliberation, or a sin committed with a design of sinning, merely for sinning’s sake, or else it must be a sin committed through hardihood, from a man'’s rash confidence in his own strength. We will mark these points one by one.
A sin that is committed wilfully against manifest light and knowledge, is a presumptuous sin. A sin of ignorance is not presumptuous, unless that ignorance also be wilful, in which case the ignorance is itself a presumptuous sin. But when a man sins for want of knowing better — for want of knowing the law, for want of instruction, reproof, advice and admonition, we say that his sin, so committed, does not partake to any great extent of the nature of a presumptuous sin. But when a man knows better, and sins in the very teeth and face of his increased light and knowledge, then his sin deserves to be branded with this ignominious title of a presumptuous sin.
Again, when a man continues long in sin, and has time to deliberate about it, that also is a proof that it is a presumptuous sin. He that sins once, being overtaken in a fault, and then abhors the sin, has not sinned presumptuously; but he who transgresses to day, to-morrow and the next day, week after week and year after year until he has piled up a heap of sins that are high as a mountain, such a man, I say sins presumptuously, because in a continued habit of sin there must be a deliberation to sin; there must be at least such a force and strength of mind as could not have come upon any man if his sin were but the hasty effect of sudden passion.
Again: I said that a presumptuous sin must be a matter of design, and have been committed with the intention of sin.
The highest saints may sin the lowest sins, unless kept by divine grace.
There is enough corruption, depravity, and wickedness in the heart of the most holy man that is now alive to damn his soul to all eternity, if free and sovereign grace does not prevent. O Christian, thou hast need to pray this prayer.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Monday, May 25, 2015

Book Review: God's Love Compels Us

God's Love Compels Us: Taking the Gospel to the World. Edited by Kathleen Nielson and D.A. Carson. 2015. Crossway. 144 pages. [Source: Review copy]

God's Love Compels Us is a collection of seven messages on world missions. Contributors include D.A. Carson, David Platt, John Piper, J. Mack Stiles, Andrew Davis, Michael Oh, and Stephen Um. These presentations were given at a pre-Cross conference in April 2013.

(Earlier in the year, I reviewed Cross: Unrivaled Christ, Unstoppable Gospel, Unreached Peoples, Unending Joy, another essay collection about world missions. That book was based on the Cross conference in December 2013. Both books focus on reaching unreached and unengaged people groups. If you're interested in the subject, I'd definitely recommend reading both books.)


  • The Biblical Basis for Missions: Treasure in Jars of Clay (2 Corinthians 4:1-12) by D.A. Carson
  • Why the Great Commission is Great: Reaching More and More People (2 Corinthians 4:13-18) by David Platt
  • The Heart of God in the Call to Proclaim: A Joyfully Serious courage in the Cause of World Missions (2 Corinthians 5:1-10) by John Piper
  • Being Ambassadors for Christ: The Ministry of Reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:11-21) by J. Mack Stiles
  • Are People Without Christ Really Lost? by Andrew Davis
  • The Individual's Suffering and the Salvation of the World by Michael Oh (Psalm 22)
  • Jesus and Justice by Stephen Um
The first four messages are expositions of passages from 2 Corinthians. The last three messages are more thematic; they are equally saturated in the Word, but, discuss various scripture verses.

I enjoyed reading all the essays in this collection. I loved the passion and urgency of the messages, the desire to see people from all around the world come to faith in Christ. Do I have a favorite contribution? It would be hard to pick just one. It really would. But my favorites include Andrew Davis' "Are People Without Christ Really Lost," David Platt's "Why The Great Commission is Great," and John Piper's "The Heart of God in the Call to Proclaim."

The human will is weak when it comes to doing the will of God. ~ John Piper

It is pretty hard to say nothing about hell and be faithful to Jesus. ~ D.A. Carson
Privatized Christianity is a profound curse across our culture and our churches. Multitudes of professing Christians live as if they believe the following: "Jesus has saved me. Jesus’s teachings work for me and my family. But who am I to tell my neighbor or my coworker what he or she should believe? Who am I to go and tell other people in other nations that their beliefs are wrong and my belief is right? And even more, who am I to tell anyone that if they don’t believe in what I believe, they’ll spend eternity damned in hell?" ~ David Platt
All of us— church members, church leaders, and pastors— need to ask ourselves this question: Do we really believe this gospel? Do we really believe this good news, that the sovereign, holy, just, and gracious Creator of the universe has looked upon hopelessly sinful men and women in their rebellion and has sent his Son, God in the flesh, to bear his wrath against sin on the cross and to show his power over sin in the resurrection? He has risen from the dead! We’re not talking resuscitation or reincarnation. It wasn’t as if Jesus was unconscious before getting a vision of heaven, and then he came back to write a best-selling book about it. We’re talking about being killed by crucifixion, wrapped in graveclothes, and put in a tomb, but three days later, the tomb was empty and Jesus was alive. He rose from the dead, and anyone and everyone who repents and believes in him will be reconciled to God forever. Do we believe this? If we do believe this gospel of the resurrected Christ, then we cannot sit quietly by in our churches while six thousand people groups in the world comprising 2 billion people have never even heard it. We cannot be content to spend our time, our money, and our resources in our lives and in our churches on comfortable plans and temporal possessions when hundreds upon hundreds of millions of people have never even heard the news of the resurrected Christ. We believe, and so we are compelled to proclaim the resurrected Christ to unreached peoples, knowing that as we speak this gospel to them, we will face suffering and affliction. These six thousand people groups are unreached for a reason— they’re hard to reach. All the easy ones have already been evangelized. These people groups are dangerous to reach. These people groups don’t want to be reached, and anyone who tries to reach them with the gospel will most certainly be met with suffering and affliction. ~ David Platt

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Week in Review: May 17-24

You have led in your steadfast love the people whom you have redeemed; you have guided them by your strength to your holy abode. Exodus 15:13
You will bring them in and plant them on your own mountain, the place, O LORD, which you have made for your abode, the sanctuary, O Lord, which your hands have established. The LORD will reign forever and ever. Exodus 15:17-18
After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.” Revelation 7:9-12

NKJV Evidence Bible
  • Genesis 12-50
  • Exodus 1-25
  • Mark 11-16
  • Romans 1-7
  • James 
  • 1 Peter
  • 2 Peter
ESV Gospel Transformation Bible

  • Psalm 1-10
  • Jonah
  • James
  • 1 Chronicles
  • 2 Chronicles
  • James
New English Bible
  • James
  • James
  • James
  • James
  • James
  • James

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Friday, May 22, 2015

Book Review: Christy

Christy. Catherine Marshall. 1967. 512 pages. [Source: Bought]

Only my father saw me to the Asheville station that Sunday morning in 1912. 

Christy Huddleston is the heroine of Catherine Marshall's historical novel, Christy. It is set in a small community in the Smoky Mountains. Christy is the new school teacher hired by the local mission. She'll be working alongside, Miss Alice Henderson, and David Grantland. (Miss Alice Henderson runs the mission. David Grantland is the new minister, the oh-so-young, just-fresh-from-seminary minister.)

How to describe Christy? Well, she's young, spirited, enthusiastic, optimistic, naive, and well-intentioned. She's got a lot to learn, but, she's the type who's eager to learn. She comes to idolize (deeply respect and admire) Miss Alice. She sees Miss Alice as being the wisest woman ever, essentially. Miss Alice, to her credit, sees how loved she is by Christy, and seeks to show Christy how very human she is. Miss Alice would be the last person to say she had it all together and had all the answers. (She just knows who has the answers: God, and she trusts him and his providence.)

So the book is about Christy's experiences as a teacher, as a young woman. It's about the children she teaches, the families she meets, the women she befriends, the men she comes to know, namely David and Doc Neil MacNeill. It's a coming-of-age story, a spiritual coming-of-age story. How Christy came to the mountains believing certain things about God, but, during her time away from home and family, those beliefs were tested and questioned. She came out of her experiences KNOWING God instead of knowing about God.

I love the teaching aspect of this one. I like books about teachers: Anne of Avonlea, Anne of Windy Poplars, Good Morning, Miss Dove, Up A Road Slowly, When Calls the Heart, etc.

I like the spiritual aspects of this one as well. So many characters are in so many different places spiritually speaking. You do have to weigh all the statements about faith and God and Christianity while you're reading. Not all end up being true theologically. (I didn't necessarily like what the book said about Calvinism, at one point, Calvinism is blamed for their believing only in a God of wrath and their unwillingness to see him as a compassionate, forgiving, gracious God. It was a very generalized statement. It's on page 68.)

There is David, the minister, who came out of seminary knowing a lot of big words, but not knowing anything of the faith for certain. His conversations are heartbreaking, in my opinion. For example, when he and Christy go to visit a dying woman, she asks him to read from the Bible, and to talk to her of heaven. And he's hesitant. Oh, he reads the Bible fine. But when it comes to talk about the afterlife, about heaven, about dying. He stumbles a lot. Even Christy sees this as a weakness. He seems so uncertain of so many things we can be certain about. The old lady ends up giving him quite a speech. She knows God, David, well, it seems he may not even know about God. Not the God of the Bible.  (chapter sixteen)

Doctor MacNeill also comes to mind. He and Christy have quite a discussion. He has been shaken in his faith by a tragedy, and, he's in a place where he's doubting God's goodness and faithfulness. He doesn't necessarily trust or love this God who permits such suffering. The discussion they have, the questions he asks of Christy, are good for her, good for her spiritual journey. (chapter twenty-five) And I love the ending.

I love the romance of this one. It's a very understated romance novel though. David proposes to Christy, relatively early on, after six or seven months of working together. He'd never expressed any interest in her before the proposal. And even after the proposal, he doesn't really ever say that he loves her. Just that he needs her. And at times he seems most interested in having her body than anything else. Doctor MacNeill, well, it might take a few rereads before their scenes start to have an effect on you. (For example, chapter thirty-five). But once you do, it's hard not to love them as a couple.

I love, love, LOVE, LOVE, LOVE Doctor MacNeill. I do.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Quotes from the Cloud #20

This year, I hope share weekly posts of quotes. These quotes are from authors I'm reading and enjoying from the Clouds of Witnesses Reading Challenge

For fellow participants, what I would LOVE, LOVE, LOVE to see is for people to share quotes from what they're reading. I'd love for you to share quotes occasionally with your readers and let me know about it. If you don't have a blog, you could always leave quotes in the comments here.
Grant us grace to bear willingly all sorts of sickness, poverty, disgrace, suffering, and adversity and to recognize that in this your divine will is crucifying our will. ~ Martin Luther
To feed the soul we must toil at prayer. ~ P.T. Forsyth
Meditation is the affecting of our own hearts and minds with love, delight, and humility. ~ John Owen
Almighty God, unto whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid, cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of thy Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love thee, and worthily magnify thy holy name, through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen. ~ Thomas Cranmer.
I spend half my time telling Christians to study doctrine and the other half telling them doctrine is not enough. ~ Martyn Lloyd-Jones
Reading Ecclesiastes tends to have the same effect on foolish people that preaching the gospel has on unbelieving people. When unbelievers hear about freedom in Christ and about God’s approval coming from faith instead of what they do, they conclude that they don’t need to perform any good works. They think they can go on sinning because faith is enough. On the other hand, when we preach that good works are the fruit of faith, they think this is how they are saved. Then they try to earn their salvation by doing these works. So hearing God’s Word often leads to either arrogance or despair. It’s very difficult to avoid either extreme and find the middle way. ~ Martin Luther, Faith Alone, May 13
Faith teaches and holds to the truth. Faith simply clings to the Scripture, which never deceives us or lies to us. ~ Martin Luther, Faith Alone, May 19
© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Book Review: God, Adam, and You

God, Adam, and You: Biblical Creation Defended and Applied. Richard D. Phillips, editor. 2015. P&R. 256 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Have you considered how significant the opening chapters of Genesis are? Significant in what way, you might ask?! Significant in many ways! Significant in understanding who we are as human beings, in understanding what sin is, in understanding what we've lost and why we so desperately need a Savior, in understanding the incarnation--why Jesus had to become one of us--in understanding what salvation or redemption means, in understanding our standing with God. The opening chapters of Genesis are not non-essential, we don't have the option of saying, well, the Bible starts out with these mythological, symbolic characters, but, at some point--perhaps closer to the New Testament--the Bible starts being true, something we can depend on.

God, Adam, and You is a collection of essays, a WONDERFUL collection of ten essays. Each essay seeks to answer the question, "What difference does Adam make?"

  • The Bible's First Word by Derek W.H. Thomas
  • The Case For Adam by Joel R. Beeke
  • Two Views of the Human Person by Kevin DeYoung
  • Adam, Lord, of the Garden by Liam Goligher
  • The Bible and Evolution by Richard D. Phillips
  • God's Design for Gender, Marriage, and Sex by Richard D. Phillips
  • Differing Views on the Days of Creation by Derek W.H. Thomas
  • Christ, The Second Adam by Joel R. Beeke
  • From God's Garden to God's City by Richard D. Phillips
  • Original Sin and Modern Theology by Carl R. Trueman

Overall, I found the book to be excellent. Each essay approaches the subject a little differently, from a slightly different angle or approach. Readers may naturally be interested in one more than the other, but, all are worthy of inclusion.

It is tricky to review a collection of essays. Each essay has enough substance, enough value for attention within my review! But can I do equal justice for all ten essays?! Probably not!

In "The Bible's First Word," Thomas focuses on what Genesis 1 tells us about God and ourselves. He points out the creation exalts God, that biblical creation makes a BIG distinction between the Creator and creation/creatures, that the Bible points out the original GOODNESS of creation, that creation is the basis for ethics and morality, and creation is the ground of worship.

In "The Case for Adam," Beeke focuses on Genesis 2 and 3. He presents ten arguments for a historical (biblical) Adam. Four of these arguments are based on history. Six of these arguments are based on theology. This is an EXCELLENT essay.

In "Two Views of the Human Person" DeYoung talks the meaning of life, of what it means to be human, of who we are, and why we're here.
"According to the world, we are (1) here by chance, (2) free to create our own selves, (3) basically good, (4) ethically excusable, and (5) destined for a happy heaven or a blessed extinction.
According to Scripture, we are (1) here by design, (2) created to reflect God's image, (3) fundamentally flawed, (4) morally culpable, and (5) destined to worship God in heaven or face his just wrath in hell." 
In "Adam, Lord, of the Garden," Goligher discusses Adam's roles as a prophet, a priest, and a king. Plenty of talk about covenants in this one.

In "The Bible and Evolution" Phillips discusses evolution. He follows through with ideas, statements of belief, to see where they lead. This essay is fundamental to the collection.
"Does the theory of evolution expose errors in our interpretation of Genesis? Is it possible to maintain a high view of biblical authority and embrace evolution? Most important, what kind of theology, and what kind of Christianity, do we end up with after we have incorporated evolutionary teaching into our theology?"
Other essays by Phillips include, "God's Design for Gender, Marriage, and Sex," and "From God's Garden to God's City."

"Differing Views on the Days of Creation" is an overview of the subject by Derek Thomas.

"Christ the Second Adam" is a great article by Beeke focusing on Christ's works. I'm not doing justice to this one, but it is really worth reading.

"Original Sin and Modern Theology" by Carl Trueman is the most academic essay in the collection. He presents the perspectives of six different theologians. (Not all are "modern" or "contemporary" theologians. Some lived centuries ago.) All take a wrong view of original sin. His choices are: Friedrich Schleiermacher, Walter Rauschenbusch, Karl Barth, Rudolf Bultmann, Reinhold Niebuhr, and Wolfhart Pannenberg.

I loved reading this book! I found it to be thought-provoking and substantive!

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible