Monday, September 29, 2014

Why Church History Matters - Robert F. Rea

Seeking consensus across the centuries

Why Church History Matters: An Invitation to Love and Learn from Our Past
Author: Robert F. Rea
Publisher: InterVarsity Press (
Pages: 231

I came to Christ, or should I say, He revealed Himself to me, at the tail end of the Jesus Movement that swept California in the late 60s. It seems ironic that this historic move of God would give rise to a faith that in some expressions would overlook the importance of history. In one sense it was a break from Tradition. Tradition and traditions are explored in depth in Why Church History Matters by Robert F. Rea.

As a young believer, I grew up in churches that, to my knowledge, did not encourage the study of church history. Any references to traditions were negative. I am not pointing the finger; just stating how it was as best as I can remember it.

It was on my own that I discovered the value of reading about historical figures and events. I don’t need convincing from this book, even though it serves as a wonderful apologetic for why church history matters and the place for tradition. If you need persuading, you can’t go wrong by starting here.

Some might wonder, “How will this help me today?” A Christian couple that I have known for a long time now embraces a mindset that leans toward universalism. A family member now promotes a form of teaching known as hyper-dispensationalism. As Rea in this book repeatedly states, church history teaches us to “seek consensus across the centuries—consensus fidelium.” Though we may find individuals who embraced a form of universalism, can we say that this is what the Church through the centuries has believed? As hyper-dispensationalists assert, are there two gospels, one for the Jews and the other for the Gentiles? Are only the apostle Paul’s teachings considered formative for Christians?

What have Christians in the past believed about these matters? This is where the welcome thoughts of the author lead. What is the consensus? If there was none, what can we learn to help us evaluate troublesome doctrine?

Rea leads from the confusion of the aberrational to the quiet repose of the faith that has been believed and practiced since the time of Christ.

He reminds readers that our communion is not just with our immediate circle. The sphere of influence can extend to believers in the past, who can hold us accountable, just as we today hold them accountable by evaluating their teachings.

This takes us to the most fascinating section of the book, which deals with the subject of interpreting Scripture. It starts with an expert summary of how Christians from the early church to the present have sought to rightly divide the word of truth.

One point echoes a reoccurring theme, “(Moises) Silva contends that historic interpretation is God’s gift to the contemporary church” (149). In other words, taking time to read commentaries and to become familiar with church history is not a waste of time. It allows believers from the past to inform us.

Drawing from another referenced writer, Rea states, “we do not know what Scripture means until we have examined what Scripture has meant, that commitment to biblical authority ‘will actually drive us toward a deeper knowledge of Christian tradition and the history of interpretation, not away from it’” (149).

This leads to a discussion of textual criticism, where scholars, taking into consideration a multitude of factors, try to determine the “precise” text of the Bible. The author, through providing specific examples, makes the point “that historical theology helps the translator of Scripture make better, more informed choices about how to translate” (156). Does this seem dry? The author makes it highly readable, so that any Christian can become familiar with this material.

The last section deals with how knowledge of church history is helpful in a wide variety of ministry applications. It feels a little redundant but it is an accurate assessment.

What commends this volume more than anything is the author’s breadth of knowledge and wisdom pertaining to the subject matter. This might be most helpful to those who doubt the benefit of knowing church history and are skeptical of anything related to tradition. The author never advocates a non-discerning approach.

Most church history books give you narrative accounts of actual events. This book is unique in that it provides a framework for engaging historical thought and practices. It’s a convincing argument that Christians are the poorer when we limit our circles of influence.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

An Introduction to Biblical Ethics: Walking in the Way of Wisdom, Third Edition - Robertson McQuilkin and Paul Copan

A masterful application of Scripture to life

An Introduction to Biblical Ethics: Walking in the Way of Wisdom, Third Edition
Authors: Robertson McQuilkin and Paul Copan
Publisher: IVP Academic (
Pages: 667

Bob Dylan sang, “Someday, everything is gonna be diff’rent/When I paint my masterpiece.” “Masterpiece” is what comes to mind when I read the third edition of An Introduction to Biblical Ethics by Robertson McQuilkin and Paul Copan.

As close as this comes to such an ideal, one could argue that McQuilkin’s masterpiece is the care he gave to his late wife, Muriel, after she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. This moving story of love and sacrifice is told in A Promise Kept (1998). This was what I knew of McQuilkin, before discovering in this volume, that he is a scholar when it comes to discovering the ethics in Scriptures and how they relate to the issues of life.

This 28-year-old textbook, now updated, was used in a class taught by McQuilkin at Columbia International University, where he served as President from 1968 to 1990. Paul Copan, a former student in the class, and now an ethics professor, was eager to collaborate on revising a book that had been so influential in his life.

How appropriate, given McQuilkin’s background, that the opening section focuses on foundations such as love. The authors write in the hope that their examination of the Scriptures and its relationship to modern ethical dilemmas provokes right attitudes and affections, not merely outward conformity to behavior patterns. Repeatedly, they succeed in getting to the heart of the matter: “Love toward God will exhibit single-mindedness (“purity of heart”), obedience and worship. On the human level, love toward others means sacrificing for their well-being without the motivation of personal gain” (31).

I relish their simple descriptions of love: “The primary characteristic of biblical love is commitment to act for the well-being of another” (33). “Biblical love, then, is an affectionate disposition that motivates the lover to consistently act for the welfare of another, whether or not the other deserves it or reciprocates” (37).

Though this is a textbook it is far from being dry. The authors occasionally personalize the material with quotations and anecdotes. Though I highly recommend this for any Bible college or minister’s library, anyone wanting to lead a richer Christian life will benefit from reading this work. It contains a wealth of wisdom that is highly accessible.

Most of the time the authors are in agreement, but when they differ, the book offers both of their perspectives. A person might agree with McQuilkin’s complementarian view of marriage, and then have second thoughts after reading Copan’s egalitarian perspective. Regardless of where one stands, or who seems right, it’s helpful to have summaries of contrasting positions.

This book provides the heart of a biblical perspective on a vast array of subjects. It’s what makes this such a marvelous resource. Gay marriage, transgender issues, dating, abortion, suicide, medical ethics, war and peace, and just about any topic you can think of are covered here. This new edition updates the subjects, making them relevant for our day. Each chapter ends with suggestions for further reading.

The Ten Commandments provide the outline and basic framework for analysis. They are taken in order and each topic is examined and finds its place under the appropriate command. It’s a marvelous exposition from beginning to end.

What a far cry from my experience with the textbooks of my youth! Of course, much of the problem was an unconverted soul with no heart for learning. Even so, textbooks that leave out God are limited. Having Scripture as the source material, this volume comes alive with the breath of God. This takes God and His word as the starting point. It is true delight for the follower of Christ who rejoices in God’s commands.

Even if one may disagree on some points, it’s wonderful to be immersed in such holy perspectives. Our wrestling with complicated issues may help us to not only get closer to the truth but closer to the heart of God.

The regenerate, teachable heart will find living hope. 

Rock Gets Religion - Mark Joseph

Christians making music for the many rather than the few Rock Gets Religion: The Battle for the Soul of the Devil’s Music Auth...