Archive | Book Reviews

God and the Transgender Debate

Andrew Walker’s important new book has just released today. It is titled God and the Transgender Debate, and it is a must-read. That is in fact what I wrote in my endorsement for the publisher:

The post-Christian West says that we are what we think we are, not what our bodies reveal us to be and this is one of the chief challenges to Christianity today. That is why God and the Transgender Debate is so important. It is a countercultural, compassionate, must-read book.
Denny Burk, President, the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood

The transgender challenge is at the leading edge of Christianity’s interface with secular culture. If you want to understand this challenge, then you need to read this book. Highly recommended.

As sweet as apple pie and as pure as Christmas

Somehow I’ve gone my whole life until now without reading Wilson Rawls’s classic Where the Red Fern Grows. My wife recently began reading it to our children, and that is what motivated me to get into it myself. Tonight I ended up finishing it well before they did, and I have to say that I really loved it. I’m sure I would have enjoyed this book as a boy. I certainly relished it as a man (although I think I have something in my eye).

In her introduction to the story, Clare Vanderpool describes the book this way:

Wilson Rawls’s beloved tale taps into the wellspring that runs deep in all of us—the desire for adventure, discovery, room to wander, and the “real love” that exists between a boy and his dogs…

Billy Colman is the kid we all wish we still were: aspiring, hopeful, steadfast. The kind who braves frigid temperatures on a nighttime hunt in the remote hills and river bottoms of Cherokee country, holds his own in a skirmish with the town kids, and takes on the challenge of treeing the elusive “ghost coon” in an all-night vigil. He is also that special kind of kid who is brought to tears by feeling that he has let his dogs down. Billy’s “dog-wanting disease” takes him on a journey of courage and discovery that beckons to the kid, the dreamer, and the dog-lover in all of us.

And what wonderful dogs they are. From the first time we lay eyes on the two floppy-eared pups at the train station in Tahlequah, we know these dogs. Little Ann is smart, playful, and sweet—”she could make friends with a tomcat.” And Old Dan—impulsive, friendly, and loyal—”would not hunt with another hound, other than Little Ann.”

This book is not for cynics. It’s as sweet as apple pie and as pure as Christmas. It is a book for someone who likes his stories good and true—which means your kids will love it. I am eager to share it with mine. Highly recommended.

A great little book on transgenderism

People often ask me for recommended reading on transgenderism. I always have trouble answering that question, not because there are no Christian books on the subject but because there isn’t very much written that is both pastorally and biblically faithful. I am happy to report, however, that my inability to make a recommendation has now ended.

Vaughan Roberts has written a really helpful little book titled Transgender. It is published by The Good Book Company, which also published Sam Allberry’s popular work on homosexuality Is God Anti-Gay? Just as Allberry’s book has been a must-read resource on homosexuality, so also now is Roberts book on transgenderism. This book will be the one I recommend when folks ask me for help with this issue.

This book is not intended to be a comprehensive treatment of the issue. Nor is it a clinical account of gender dysphoria. On the contrary, it is brief by design with a biblically-oriented, pastoral focus.

Roberts explains that the transgender experience is a feature of living in a fallen world. His basic contention is that that God created us with sexed bodies, and God’s intentions for us are revealed in part by the bodies he has given to us. Male and female bodies are not accidents but define our identity as created by God. Our bodily identity discloses God’s intention for our gender identity. To this end, Roberts writes:

Identity is not something we’ve somehow got to create for ourselves. Our identity is a given. We’re human beings, made in the image of God; we are creatures, not machines (p. 38).

Our bodies are an essential part of our true selves. So what I feel about myself can never be the whole picture, because God made us embodied souls. Our bodies are essential in determining and revealing who we truly are (p. 39).

We are created men and women, and our sex, in the Bible’s understanding, is fundamental to who we are (p. 41).

Because our bodies disclose God’s intention for us, there is an enormous practical implication for those who perceive a mismatch between their biological sex and their gender identity. It is not the body that needs to change but the mind. Roberts writes,

Each person’s biologically-determined sex is a good gift of God’s creation. We should accept it and live within it (p. 43).

Those who experience gender dysphoria should resist feelings that encourage them to see themselves as anything other than the sex of their birth (p. 61).

This means that attempts to “transition” to another gender through cross-dressing, renaming, hormone therapy, or surgery would be out step with following Christ. Following Christ means embracing what God made us to be even when fallen desires and impressions may be pulling in the opposite direction. Our identity is defined by God, not by us.

This book is not for specialists or scholars. It is introductory and written at a level that any person can read and comprehend. Nor is it designed to answer every question one might have about this transgenderism. Nevertheless, the book does cover all of the basics. Highly recommended.

The Trinity and the Covenant of Redemption

Book Notice: For those of you following recent discussions about the Trinity, you may remember that I have been pointing to the covenant of redemption (a.k.a. pactum salutis) as a potential rallying point for those on opposite sides of the trinity debate. In that connection, I recently recommended J. V. Fesko’s 2016 book: The Covenant of Redemption: Origins, Development, and Reception, Reformed Historical Theology. In addition to that book, I would also recommend Fesko’s newest work:

J. V. Fesko, The Trinity and the Covenant of Redemption, Mentor (Fearn, Ross-shire, Great Britain: Christian Focus, 2016).

Whereas Fesko’s earlier book is a scholarly history of the doctrine, this most recent book is a work of constructive dogmatics. Fesko is attempting to reassert and expound a long-neglected biblical doctrine. Fesko defines the pactum this way: Continue Reading →

Hillbilly Elegy lives up to the hype

Today, J. D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis officially earned the top rank on The New York Times bestseller list, and deservedly so. I finished this book yesterday, and I think it lived up to the hype. There are already many capable reviews out there, so I won’t offer a full review here. Nevertheless, I would offer a handful of brief reflections.

It would be misleading to say that the book is about the plight of the working poor in America. It is not nearly so abstract. The book is actually a searching, introspective look at the author’s own troubled childhood in the Appalachian region of Kentucky and southern Ohio. Vance tells the story of his life. He is the son of a drug-addicted mother and of a family-deserting father. His mother’s dissolution pressed him and his sister into an endless parade of temporary live-in boyfriends and husbands. He was surrounded by drugs, alcohol, violence, and emotional abuse. The picture he draws of his own childhood is nothing short of heart-breaking. Nevertheless, some key influences “saved” him from repeating the mistakes of his parents.

The book demonstrates in spades that there is no simple statist solution to the so-called “plight of the working poor.” Vance’s experience shows that the problems in these communities lie far beyond the reach of the nanny state. Rather, broken people produce broken cultures and social pathologies. The only way to fix the culture and eliminate the pathologies is to fix the people. And that is the primary conflict of the book. Can people really change? Indeed, Vance’s own doubt about whether he himself could truly escape the demons of his past is one of the most poignant aspects of this story. It is clear that the problems he describes are primarily moral/spiritual in nature, and therefore so are the solutions.

This book is salty. Big time. But I hope that doesn’t turn readers away from this story. It is a story that all of us need to hear and understand. Why? Because it is the story of our neighbors. It is the story of us. That is why reviewers like Rod Dreher have had such high praise for Hillbilly Elegy. Dreher writes:

It’s one of the best books I’ve ever read… For Americans who care about politics and the future of our country, Hillbilly Elegy is the most important book of 2016. You cannot understand what’s happening now without first reading J.D. Vance. His book does for poor white people what Ta-Nehisi Coates’s book did for poor black people: give them voice and presence in the public square.

This is no exaggeration. The book is really that good and that important. Highly recommended.

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Is disagreement about homosexuality an “intra-evangelical” discussion?

Zondervan will be releasing later this year a new book on homosexuality in their Counterpoints series—a series I appreciate and have recently contributed to. This new volume features two writers who believe homosexuality is not sinful and two writers who do. I have not read this book yet, but I am eager to see it as soon as it is available. Having said that, here are a few things to be watching for:

1. Framing Sexual Immorality as an Evangelical Option – The publisher’s description has a section that caught my eye:

Until recently most books fit neatly into two camps: non-affirming books were written by evangelicals and affirming books by non-evangelicals. Today, this divide no longer exists. Recent books written by evangelicals appeal to the authority and inspiration of Scripture as they argue for an affirming view. The question of what the Bible says about homosexuality is now an intra-evangelical discussion.

Again, I have not read this book yet. But the publisher says this book frames the discussion as an intra-evangelical dialog. This seems to suggest that one can be an evangelical Christian while affirming sexual immorality as a moral good. It seems to suggest that homosexuality is an issue over which faithful evangelicals can have disagreement and nevertheless still be considered evangelical. If the publisher’s copy is indeed borne-out in the book, that would be a whole new departure in evangelical works on this topic. It would not be a middle-of-the-road view. Framing the issue that way would give the “affirming” side what they always wanted. If not total agreement, it at least acknowledges that their views are within the pale. Such an impression would be quite misleading, but it is the impression left by the publisher’s description.

2. Are there enough views represented? – In the book Heath Lambert and I recently wrote, we identify at least four different “views” on the question of homosexuality: liberal, revisionist, neo-traditional, and traditional. This classification is important in our view because the Bible’s teaching is the central issue, not whether one is construed as “affirming” or “non-affirming” according to some non-biblical standard. Differences on this issue revolve around biblical authority and willingness to adopt revisionist readings. Additionally, the Bible’s teaching on sexual orientation is also at the center of this conflict. Both sides of the “intra-evangelical” debate affirm the Bible’s authority and its prohibition on homosexual behavior. The “intra-evangelical” debate between neo-traditionalists and traditionalists concerns the ethics of sexual orientation. Neither the liberal nor the revisionist approach can be in any way labelled as faithfully Christian, much less evangelical. The former denies the authority of scripture outright, and the latter denies it by distorting its message beyond recognition. In any case, these are meaningful distinctions, and as far as I can tell there is no one representing the “traditional” view in this volume.

3. “Affirming” vs. “Non-Affirming” – Related to the above, I am persuaded that the labels “affirming” and “non-affirming” frame the issue in a way that is already biased against what the church has always believed about homosexuality. When the labels are applied to questions of human identity, they sound as if one group likes gay people and the other doesn’t. The label “non-affirming” seems to imply animus against same-sex attracted people, while “affirming” seems to suggest openness and grace. This is an unfair and misleading way to frame this discussion, and it certainly is not a framing that originates with this book. Maybe this book will make better use of the terms than I have seen elsewhere, but I am obviously skeptical about that.

In any case, the book releases in November. Stay tuned.

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An unseemly troll but a fine review

Several weeks (months?) ago I received a package in my faculty mailbox at work. I was so taken aback by it that I snapped a photo of it (at right). It was obviously a book mailer, but the label on the outside said this:

“Are Conservative Evangelical Men More Likely To Abuse Their Wives?”

I didn’t even know what was inside the package, but I already knew that this was a transparent troll—a marketing ploy. They send out a book to a bunch of conservative evangelical men, and then they put a label on the outside of the package with an ugly insinuation about conservative evangelical men. The publisher wasn’t merely trying to get me to read the book. They were trying to provoke me. Continue Reading →

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A must-read about the evangelical gender debate

Without question, 1 Timothy 2:12 is the most contested verse in the wider debate among evangelicals about women in ministry. The most contested clause within this most contested verse is “I do not allow a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man.” And the most contested word within this most contested clause is without a doubt authentein (often translated as “exercise authority”).

The meaning of this term and even of its syntax has been the subject of no little dispute. And it has long been a crux interpretum among those engaged in the debate between complementarians and egalitarians.

For two decades now, the most important book on this crucial text is Women in the Church: An Interpretation & Application of 1 Timothy 2:9-15, edited by Andreas Köstenberger and Tom Schreiner. The entire volume is devoted to explaining in rigorous exegetical detail what these words mean in their historical and literary context. The first edition appeared in 1995, the second in 2005, and now the third has come out just a few weeks ago. Continue Reading →

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Held in Honor: Wisdom for Your Marriage from Voices of the Past

Matt Haste and Rob Plummer have put together a little gem of a book on marriage titled Held in Honor: Wisdom for Your Marriage from Voices of the Past. I’ve never seen a book like this. It is an anthology of statements on marriage from major figures of church history. Some of the material is theological (like the entry from John Calvin). Some of it is deeply personal (like the poem Anne Bradstreet wrote for her husband). The book is formatted as a devotional and has a practical orientation. These voices from the past are marshalled to help marriages in the present.

Each reading has three parts: (1) a brief introduction from the authors, (2) the reading, and (3) devotional. I will include will include the first two parts from the Jonathan Edwards section below. This is a delightful little book that I am pleased to have received. Continue Reading →

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Boycotting gay weddings? A distorted take on an important book

Albert Mohler appeared on the front page of The Louisville Courier Journal yesterday next to the headline “Mohler: Christians should boycott gay weddings.” The story was later picked up by USA Today which ran a similar headline Baptist leader: Christians should boycott gay weddings. Since then, it has been featured in news outlets across the country.

It turns out that the report is about Mohler’s new book We Cannot Be Silent: Speaking Truth to a Culture Redefining Sex, Marriage, and the Very Meaning of Right and Wrong. This book tells the story of our particular moment in American life in the aftermath of the sexual revolution. And yet if all you had were the headlines, you might conclude that he just wrote a book-length treatise on how to boycott gay weddings. Nothing could be further from the truth. Continue Reading →

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