Review & Reflection: Irenaeus


I have written about Simonetta Carr’s wonderful books for young adults before.  Reformation Heritage Books has been faithfully publishing titles in a wonderful series called Christian Biographies for Young Readers which introduce older children and young teens to some of the giants of the faith.  The text is always well written and well illustrated.  One of the things that I have appreciated about the series is that Carr doesn’t just write about the popular figures like Augustine or Luther but also draws our attention to lesser-known, but no less significant, figures like Marie Durand or Peter Martyr Vermigli.  This newest title in the series continues that trajectory by introducing modern readers to a figure that may not be familiar: the early Church Father Irenaeus.  Irenaeus was a bishop in the early church who both discipled and defended God’s people.  He was the leader of the church in Lyon, France during a time of intense persecution.  He also wrote extensively in response to the early heresy of Gnosticism (a teaching which is ably and simply explained by Carr’s book).  As with her previous work, Carr does an admirable job of making ancient figures accessible and of providing gripping narrative without sacrificing historical nuance.  This title is a worth-while addition to the series and I hope that there will be more to come!

I would like to thank the good folks over at Cross Focused Reviews for providing me with a free review copy of this book.  I was not obligated to provide a positive review.


Review & Reflection: Beyond Calvin

The Reformed51enbd-dhyl-_sx331_bo1204203200_ tradition has endured many stereotypes over the years.  Perhaps one of the most common in our own day is that of the angry Calvinist (what some jokingly call a “cage-stage Calvinist”) who is always on the lookout for theological dissension and debate.  As W. Bradford Littlejohn of the Davenant Institute writes in the introduction to the book Beyond Calvin: Essays on the Diversity of the Reformed Tradition:

“If Reformed theology is associated with anything nowadays, it is often with a factiousness and dogmaticism that seems ready to leave a church or denomination (or better yet, kick your opponents out of one) over almost any offense, real or imagined.  But it was not always so.”

Part of the burden of this book is to show another way forward for the Reformed tradition.  By hearkening back to the irenic theology of leading Reformers the authors seek to explore and model the kind of theology we should pursue in our own day.  They do this without postulating a golden age or pretending that our forefathers always attained to peace in their own day.  As Carl Trueman writes in the forward to the book:

“[T]he past is the church’s past and something from which we need to draw help for the present in an appreciative, thoughtful, and critical manner.  These papers individually, and this collection as a whole, exemplify how this can be done.  Read, learn and go and do likewise.”

As Truman mentions, Beyond Calvin, is a collection of papers each of which explore the topic of diversity in the Reformed Tradition.  Some (such as Andre Gazal’s essay George Carleton’s Reformed Doctrine of Episcopal Authority at the Synod of Dordt, and Michael Lynch’s essay Confessional Orthodoxy and Hypothetical Universalism: Another Look at the Westminster Confession of Faith) explore the theological diversity of the Reformed tradition.  Other essays (such as E.J. Hutchinson’s excellent essay Written Monuments: Beza’s Icones as a Testament to and Program for Reformed Humanism) explore the diverse mediums in which Reformed Theology was discussed and disseminated.  Still other essays (such as Stephen Wolfe’s Pagan Civil Virtue in the Thought of Francis Turretin) consider how traditional Reformed theology can differ from it’s contemporary expressions.  Each of the essays in the book are scholarly and stimulating.  Not all were convincing (to me) but all were constructive examples of sound historical and theological reflection.

There is little doubt that the issue of defining the limits and boundaries of the Reformed tradition will continue to be a pressing task.  With so many applying the term “Reformed” to their churches, ministries, and theologies there will no doubt be rigorous ongoing discussion about what can, and cannot, rightly be known by that name.  This book falls short of resolving such weighty questions, but it does point us towards some productive paths in search of an answer.


Review & Reflection: Reformation Women

785329_f450The 500th anniversary of the Reformation has prompted a publishing bonanza of all things related to the Protestant Reformation.  Many of these books have understandably focused on the life and legacy of towering figures such as Martin Luther.  Others have traced the broader themes and trajectories of the various reformations which swept across Europe in the 16th century.  Relatively few books, however, have offered the kind of accessible, interesting, and unique writing found in Rebecca VanDoodewaard’s new book Reformation Women: Sixteenth-Century Figures Who Shaped Christianity’s Rebirth.

One of the things I most loved about the book was it’s commitment to introducing the reader to new faces and figures.  As VanDoodewaard says in the preface:

The subjects of this book are limited to women who are not household names in modern evangelicalism.  Today, many Christian women are familiar with figures like Lady Jane Grey, but few know about Louise de Coligny.  One of the goals of this book is to introduce today’s Christians to believing women who helped form our Reformed faith but who are largely unknown now.  Biographies of women like Katherine Luther are available, but biographies of equally influential and godly women are not, and the church needs them; these women form a large section in the cloud of witnesses.  Women from this seminal century of Protestantism have much to teach us.

In pursuit of this goal, VanDoodewaard offers us brief biographies of the lives of twelve women of the Reformation.  Some were the wives of famous reformers while others were scholars and theologians in their own right.  Many were members of the aristocracy who used their influence to further the cause of the Reformation and protect the persecuted.  These women hailed from different places – France, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, the Netherlands – yet they shared a common love for Christ and His church.  Each biography is short but all of them left me with a desire to learn more about these great women who lived through grave times.

VanDoodewaard’s study helps to fill the gap which exists at a popular level regarding the role of women in the Reformation.  Her study is helpful and engaging and I found each chapter to be better than the last (the chapters on the Frenchwomen Jeanne d’ Albret & Luise de Coligny were particularly riveting).  Hopefully this book will help to provide the church today (and perhaps especially the daughters of the church) with models of feminine faithfulness.

I would like to thank the good folks over at Cross Focused Reviews for providing me with a free review copy of this book.  I was not obligated to provide a positive review.

Review & Reflection: Hope for the Same-Sex Attracted

414hrgouosl-_sx322_bo1204203200_One can hardly open a newspaper or scroll through a blog without seeing someone’s opinion about sexuality and gender.  For the Christian, the challenge is to find solid resources that actually reflect the Bible’s teaching on the subject.  Fortunately there are a number of helpful books that have been written which explore the rights and wrongs of hot topics such as homosexuality.  However, there has been a shortage of good resources which dive into the practical nuts and bolts of how to live with same-sex attraction in a way that is faithful.  Ron Citlau’s book: Hope for the Same-Sex Attracted goes a long way towards meeting that need.  Ron writes as a Pastor who has struggled with same-sex attraction himself.  He brings this experience to bear in his book to help guide struggling readers to know what obedience looks like in this context.  As he puts it in the introduction:

“We need to be able to show same-sex-attracted Christians how they can live out their sexual and relational lives in ways that honor Jesus and fulfill the deep aches of the heart.  If we believe that same-sex strugglers must refuse to act on their same-sex desires for the sake of following Jesus, then I think it is up to the church to show the ways they can find relational fulfillment in Jesus and his church.  Until we do this, the good news will not be very good to the same-sex struggler” (pg. 14).

Ron does this by first considering three dead-ends (or what he calls “obstacles”) to living a fulfilling Christian life with same-sex desires.  First, he challenges the proponents of Gay Christian identity.  Second, he considers the false hope of Gay marriage, and thirdly he offers a helpful critique of the “Spiritual friendship movement” as advocated by figures such as Wesley Hill.

Having shown why these paths don’t lead to happiness or holiness Ron seeks to guide his readers towards patterns of obedience that will bring fulfillment.  He starts by discussing the gift of the Church, followed by chapters on the gifts of healing communities and Christian therapy, the gift of singleness or Marriage, and a striking chapter on the gift of prayerful lament.  The book concludes with some final words to Church leaders and to the Christian who is struggling with same-sex desires.

Considering the lack of resource which cover this terrain, I found Citlau’s book to be a helpful guide.  The book is not without its defects.  There were places where his reasoning seemed rushed and Citlau reflects an eclectic theological diet (quoting positively from figures as diverse as Herman Bavinck, Pope Benedict, and the IHOP movement).  I’m uncomfortable with the way he used the doctrine of the Trinity to undergird the Bible’s rejection of gay marriage and I think he overemphasizes the centrality of testimonies for faithful church life.  Nevertheless the book really is very helpful in thinking through these issues.  It is certainly a resources that I will both use and recommend to those either wrestling with these issues or looking to come alongside those who struggle.  May there be more books like it in the years to come!

I would like to thank the good folks over at Cross Focused Reviews for providing me with a free review copy of this book.  I was not obligated to provide a positive review.

Review & Reflection: Man of the House

PrintThere are many different types of books which one might read. For example: if you’re reading a book that talks about things like covenants and the church then you’re probably reading a book on theology. If you’re reading a book that talks about family life, fatherhood, and children you’re probably reading a book on parenting. If you’re reading a book that quotes regularly from Aristotle, Plato, and the Western intellectual tradition you’re probably reading a book on philosophy. If you’re reading a book that talks about economics, property, and using tax structures to increase your prosperity you’re probably reading a book on business or entrepreneurship. If, however, you’re reading a book that does all of the above, chances are that you’re reading C.R. Wiley’s new book Man of the House: A Handbook For Building a Shelter That Will Last In a World That is Falling Apart.

Man of the House is a unique book. In some ways, Wiley’s project is remarkably simple. As Leon Podles says in his foreward to the book: “Chris Wiley provides practical advice for a man to live up to his role as father. […] Wiley helps us see what is necessary to manage a household and its economy well, to provide and protect for a family and to ensure its stability generation after generation.” The idea of “the household” is vital to Wiley’s project. While we tend to water down the concept to reflect some benign image of family life as pictured in The Cosby Show or Leave it to Beaver, Wiley is thinking about something more robust. To comprehend how Wiley uses the term we have to understand how the household has changed over the last 200 years. To quote the book: “We don’t think of our households as centers of productive work. That’s because the economy has largely moved out of the house. During the Industrial Revolution steady work in factories replaced the home economy, and many people were forced to leave home to make a living. In the process the household was reduced to what we think of today – a haven in a heartless world – a place to sleep and eat and maybe watch television” (pg. 30-31).

As he explains elsewhere in the book: “To the old way of thinking, a house was more than a physical building. It’s bricks and sticks were a metaphor for something immaterial, but still very real. […] We don’t think of houses that way any more, largely because the economy has moved out of the house. One thing we can say for modern life is that it has a way of cutting things up. We work downtown, we get our food a the grocery store, we go down the block to learn at school, and we get on a plane to go somewhere and relax. Our lives are divded up among highly specialized institutions. But a household is a general-purpose institution. Before we segregated everything in the interest of efficiency, houses were not only economically productive; they were schools, and nursing homes, and dozens of other things. This is a book about building an old-fashioned, general purpose shelter – a real house – not a house made out of sticks and bricks. This is a good time to build one too; the conditions haven’t been this favorable in a long time” (pg. Xvi-xvii).

Wiley’s book is as much prescription as it is description. He goes beyond mere analysis to provide a road-map for action. This is a paradigm-shifting book. It provides an entirely new (though actually very old) way of looking at households, fatherhood, family life, and work. Though short the book is packed full of solid content. Wiley’s writing is pointed and persuasive. Each chapter is brief but profound. Few will agree with everything Wiley says, but few will be able to walk away from the book without having their ideas challenged and changed by what they read.

Man of the House is a book I want to give to every young man I know who is transitioning into manhood. I’ve never read a book like it, but if Wiley’s ideas can be picked up by a new generation perhaps they won’t seem so unique after all.

Review & Reflection: The Resurrection Fact

51x5ck9kbal-_sx331_bo1204203200_The Resurrection Fact: Responding to Modern Critics is a useful volume.  Published just in time for the Easter season, this book contains contributions from a number of Lutheran Pastors and scholars seeking to respond to contemporary critics of the Gospel narrative who doubt or deny the resurrection of Christ.  The books editors open the book with a stirring quote from Martin Luther:

“He who would preach the Gospel must go directly to preaching the resurrection of Christ.  He who does not preach the resurrection is no apostle, for this is the chief part of our faith…The greatest importance attaches to this article of faith.  For were there no resurrection, we would have neither comfort nor hope, and everything else Christ did and suffered would be in vain.”

Using this perspective as a starting point the authors carefully set out to defend the fact of the resurrection.  This is not an issue that is presented as expendable or negotiable – for the contributors the resurrection is “the Christian assertion” (pg. 1).  The book offers many helpful responses to those who would challenge this assertion.  The book offers positive content (explaining the historical reliability of the Gospel accounts) and negative content (challenging the faulty scholarship of popularizers such as Bart Ehrman).  Each chapter contains meticulous footnotes as well as a Recommended Reading list at the end.  The writing isn’t difficult and as a whole the book does a good job of bridging the gap between the pew and the academy.  Thoughtful Christians (or non-Christians) will find here a thorough, scholarly, yet accessible explanation for why Christians believe in the fact of the resurrection.

I would like to thank the good folks over at Cross Focused Reviews for providing me with a free review copy of this book.  I was not obligated to provide a positive review.

What She Said, What He Heard: Seeking Clarity from the Hosts of Truth’s Table

16789247_252016845245779_3788875330823913472_nDear sisters in Christ,

Quite a controversy has emerged over the last week or so.  Ever since your podcast “Gender Apartheid” dropped on March 25th the Reformed social media world has been embroiled in discussion and debate about what was said, what was meant, and how we ought to respond to it all.  Considering the fact that this episode has garnered over 8,000 listeners in less than two weeks I’d say you’ve succeeded in beginning a discussion about these issues of race and gender in the church!

It seems to me, however, that before we can move forward in discussion and debate in any profitable way we need to seek clarity on a few points.  The (very public and polarized) responses which emerged in the wake of your podcast demonstrated how different people were able to listen to the same episode and walk away having heard very different things.  We seem to have a classic “What she said/what he heard” situation and clarity is needed if we are to pursue purity and peace.

So this letter is not an attempt to respond to anything you’ve said nor is it an attempt to heresy-hunt.  This letter is simply a brother in Christ seeking to understand the positions and concerns of his sisters in Christ on some important issues.  In that same spirit, would you be able to offer some clarifying comments on the following ten points and questions?

  1. You said that our churches are filled with “toxic masculinity” and “patriarchy”.  Are there some specific features or examples of these things that commonly manifest themselves in our churches?
  2. What are the specific changes you would like to see instituted in our churches to overcome what you call “gender apartheid”?
  3. Could you talk a bit more about which specific roles or tasks that women do not commonly perform in our churches in which you would like to see women serving?
  4. Could you unpack what you mean when you assert that “gender is a social construct”?
  5. Many have been unsure of what was meant by the comment at the end of the podcast about “transgender perspectives”.  Could you unpack what was intended by that comment?
  6. Your comments about “ordainability” have prompted a lot of discussion.  Do you think you struck a healthy tone in the section where you discussed “ordainability” purely in terms of male anatomy?  Do you think you accurately and even-handedly represented the views of your “opponents” on this and other issues?
  7. Do you believe that the men in our churches are commonly restricting women from biblically accessible roles simply because they want “power”, or only see women as “sex objects” or “work-horses” as some have taken your comments on the podcast to suggest?  If so, do you see this as a wide-spread issue?
  8. A lot of the discussions and response which have taken place about the podcast have centered on whether or not y’all were arguing for the ordination of women.  Could you clarify your position on the issue of women’s ordination (whether as Pastors, Elders, or Deacons)?
  9. Many of your critics heard echoes of various streams of thought which have become popular in the liberal academy over the last few decades and are concerned by this potential influence.  Do you think the categories and perspectives of Critical Race Theory, Liberation Theology, or Intersectionality are helpful for Christians discussing issues of race and gender?* To what extent do you see the work of these schools of thought as overlapping with or reinforcing your own work with Truth’s Table?
  10. Now that the podcast has prompted such a wide discussion is there anything you wish you had (or had not) said in the podcast that could offer additional clarity?

I hope these questions open the door for some much needed clarity on these important questions.  It is my prayer that all involved will be able to move forward in faithfulness and unity!

Your brother in Christ,

Ben Franks

*Since I originally published this letter the brothers over at “Pass the Mic” did a podcast which addressed this question in part.  I would still love to hear any additional thoughts that y’all would add to their comments. 

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