Book Review – Jesus and Money (Ben Witherington III)

I have been following Ben Witherington III’s blog for some time, and although he is a prolific author, have not yet read any of his books. So when I noticed that were offering the Kindle edition of this book for free, I jumped at the chance.

The book is titled “Jesus and Money: A Guide for Times of Financial Crisis”. I don’t know if the publisher came up with this title, because in some ways it is misleading. The book itself covers more than just Jesus’ teaching on money – it actually surveys the entire Bible. And Witherington doesn’t particularly focus on the “financial crisis”, prefering to draw out Biblical teaching on money that is relevant whatever the state of your finances.

In his introduction, Witherington highlights the problem that Christian attitudes to money are rarely any different from the world’s. He is also eager to critique the prosperity gospel, which he believes is a severe distortion of the biblical message.

the self-justifying tendency of modern Christians to hoard wealth and live large have absolutely no basis whatsoever in the NT

The bulk of the book is then devoted to surveying the Biblical teaching on money and wealth. He organizes this into chapters on the OT in general, the Wisdom literature, Jesus’ teaching, James, Luke & Acts, Paul’s writings, and Revelation. It’s not an exhaustive study, but he picks out key representative passages from each portion of the Bible to discuss.

Along the way he is also keen to give instruction in hermeneutics (especially when dealing with Proverbs), and on historical background (especially on the economic situation in the time of Jesus). His chapters on James and Paul’s epistles read like commentaries in places as he goes into detail on some of the exegetical issues. Each chapter concludes with a “so what” section, that begins to explore what the teaching of that portion of the Bible means for us.

Amongst the key principles he touches on are the foundational concept that all things ultimately belong to God – our money is his even if we “earned” it. Tithing is not a New Testament command (he argues that those who insist on it should also refuse to lend money at interest). He is critical of the idea of saving up for a luxurious and idle “retirement”. The idea of “charity” too comes under criticism, since it forgets that Christians who are better off have an absolute obligation to help those who are less fortunate.

Jesus is all in favour of a person being rich – rich towards God that is, and generous towards one’s fellow human beings, especially the poor. What Jesus is not at all keen on is persons who are all about enhancing their own assets, portfolios, standards of living, or retirement accounts, which in one sense is what the rich fool envisioned.

He also raises the issue of reciprocity. Jesus explicitly taught that we should give with no though of return, an idea that seems almost nonsensical to our materialistic mindset. In his chapter on Revelation, he begins to explore the idea of “systemic economic evils”

Christians, like the culture around us, have become blind to the deadening effect of materialism.

Having surveyed the Bible’s teaching, Witherington devotes two chapters to some practical application. The first attempts to summarise a Biblical theology of money, stewardship and giving:

The Christian community must not allow any of its members to be in want.


Never once does Paul talk about a weekly collection for the local congregation. He just assumes that they know since they are brothers and sisters in Christ, they take care of their own.


If the purpose of making money now is so we can live in luxury and idleness later, it is not a biblical motivation

The second concluding chapter gives some practical suggestions on how to “deprogram ourselves from a lifestyle of conspicuous consumption and self-gratification”. These incude:

  • Develop a good sense of the difference between necessities and luxuries
  • Make a commitment to ministerial projects that require a sacrifice
  • If making money is no longer an issue, devote the rest of your life to ministry projects
  • Evaluate your budget, especially discretionary spending funds
  • Decrease the amount of waste in your life (“go green as rapidly as possible”)
  • Stop hanging out with those who live in luxury
  • Stop assuming that therre are no problems with capitalism
  • Declare a jubilee year, forgiving a debt and lending money interest free
  • Tear up credit cards

As can be seen from that list, not all of his suggestions will meet with universal approval from Christians, but I found them refreshingly direct. There is no question in my mind that Jesus’ teaching on money is deeply counter-cultural both in his own day and in ours, so we should expect a biblical theology of money to throw up some ideas we find uncomfortable.

Witherington also includes two appendices. The first deals with 10 myths about money, which are mainly countering verses that have been misinterpreted. The second is Wesley’s famous sermon on money, which I had often heard quoted but never read. His famous maxim of “gain all you can, save all you can, give all you can” makes more sense to me now I understand that the “save” part does not refer to savings accounts, but to reducing your expenditure.

Overall I would say this was a very helpful and provocative book (and great value for money given Amazon’s deal!). Some readers may get bogged down in places, but if you do, just skip to the “so what” section. The historical background material is very valuable for better understanding Jesus’ teaching. The book covers very similar ground to Craig Blomberg’s excellent book “Neither Poverty nor Riches“. Blomberg’s survey is perhaps more complete, but Witherington gives more space to exploring the implications. I found it very helpful to let myself be challenged afresh as to whether my thinking about money is shaped more by my culture than the Word of God.

The Five Forgotten Solas

Most reformed folk are familiar with the famous five “solas” of the Reformation – sola scriptura (“by Scripture alone”), sola fide (“by faith alone”), sola gratia (“by grace alone”), solus Christus (“through Christ alone”), and soli Deo gloria (“glory to God alone”)

What is less well known is that there were in fact originally ten solas, five of which have sadly fallen into disuse. The forgotten five are as follows:

Sola powa

At the heart of the reformation lay the conviction that the Pope was exercising unwarranted power over the church. The reformers countered this with the cry of “sola powa” – Christ’s power alone.

Sola systema

By “sola systema”, the reformers meant that they believed there was one, and only one, true systematic theology. For both Calvin and Luther, this was Wayne Grudem’s “Systematic Theology”. Hence this sola also became known as “Sola Grudema”

Sola plexus

In modern western evangelicalism, we speak of inviting Jesus into your “heart”, and having an “undivided heart”. But in the days of the reformation, it was the gut or abdomen that was considered the centre of a person’s being, and thus exclusive devotion to the Lord was described as having a “sola plexus”.

Sola tido

This sola comes from a line in Luther’s famous hymn “do re me fa sola tido”, which is also notable for his unconventional description of the communion meal as “a drink with jam and bread”. He actually wrote several hymns that celebrated the solas, another favourite being “solang, farewell, auf wiedersen goodbye”.

Sola Surviva

Sola Surviva” was a youth camp run by jointly Luther and Calvin during the time of the Reformation, until sadly it was halted over a dispute over whether alcohol should be allowed on site.

For more helpful theological definitions, be sure to check out my theological words of the day.

Together at Plumpton 2012

I have made a habit of writing short reviews of Bible weeks I attend on this blog, so I’ll give a brief account of Together at Plumpton 2012. If I were to summarise it in one word, it would be “windy”.

The conference began on Wednesday evening, with a talk from Dave Devenish on the parable of the great banquet. Then on the Thursday, he gave a two part series on the biblical metanarrative, surveying the OT in the morning, before going on to the NT in the evening. I seem to remember a lot of discussion in blogs several years ago on the way evangelicals have failed to tell the story of the whole Bible, preferring to extract out ‘principles’ and ‘doctrines’, and teaching those directly. But Dave Devenish has been something of an advocate in newfrontiers for a return to telling stories as a significant part of our teaching, and it was interesting to see him use this technique to good effect.

Unfortunately, Thursday night I was on babysitting duty, and with very strong winds, ended up spending most of the evening helping people whose tents were broken. Several people left there and then, and after a sleepless night of gale force winds, even more people packed up their broken tents and left in the morning.

There was more drama to follow on the Friday as the violent rushing winds continued, and the main marquee had to be evacuated before Julian Adams got to speak. Our church marquee was next to fall, and by lunchtime with the wind unabating, most people with tents were fleeing the site.

Sadly, although our family tent was still standing at this point, our small tent for our two oldest children had been flattened, and as we were reliant on lifts from other campers to get all our family home, we reluctantly decided to go home too. It was the first time we have actually had to abandon a Bible week midway through. The closest we previously came was Stoneleigh 99 when severe flooding meant we had to spend a night on a friend’s floor in Birmingham.

The speaker we missed hearing due to going home early was, ironically, our own pastor, Martyn Dunsford. Hopefully he can work some of the material he brought into his sermons back at KCC.

It is interesting the way that these “together at” conferences have mirrored the structural changes to newfrontiers. Back in 2001, Terry Virgo was the figurehead of the movement, and there was one big central Bible week called Stoneleigh. Now, we have multiple “apostolic spheres”, each with its own smaller scale conference. Although these may feel less “impressive” than a huge event like Stoneleigh, they have a bit more of a missional feel to them – a small band of churches who are working together to see the kingdom expanding through growth in our own churches and through planting into the UK and the nations. In this sense these conferences are a good example of the “creative destruction” Matt Hosier blogged about recently.

Update: The talks from Plumpton 2012 are available to listen to here.

The Unbreakability of Scripture

Andrew Wilson raised the issue of the “inerrancy” of Scripture recently, and questioned whether the term itself was a helpful one. Some people complained in the comments that it wasn’t even a term that the Bible uses of itself. It left me wondering if there was a better word we could use and John 10:35 came to mind, where Jesus says that the “Scriptures cannot be broken”. That would certainly be a cool name for a doctrine: “the unbreakability of Scripture”, but what did Jesus mean by it?

If you had asked me to speculate what Jesus meant by “Scripture cannot be broken”, my initial guess would be that Jesus is using the language of promises: Scripture can be thought of as a promise from God that cannot be broken. But that just goes to show how a translation of the Bible can cause you to read meanings into the text that are not present in the original language, since none of the commentators I consulted consider this a viable option (although apparently Jungkuntz argued that it meant the passage from Psalms that Jesus had just quoted must be fulfilled).

It seems this is a tricky phrase to translate, as the majority of versions simply leave it as “Scripture cannot be broken” without giving us any clues as to exactly what that means. However, there are some versions who attempt to interpret this tricky phrase for us. Here’s a summary of various interpretations:

NIV84, ESV, KJV, NASB, HCSB, JBP, NET: “Scripture cannot be broken”
NLT: “the Scriptures cannot be altered”
ISV: “Scripture cannot be disregarded”
GNT: “what the scripture says is true forever”
AMP:  “the Scripture cannot be set aside or cancelled or broken or annulled”
CEV: “You can’t argue with the Scriptures”
MSG: “Scripture doesn’t lie”
NIV2011: “Scripture cannot be set aside”
Tom Wright: “you can’t set the Bible aside”
Don Carson: “Scripture cannot be annulled or set aside or proved false”

The Greek word for “broken” is λυθῆναι, which actually crops up in several places in John’s writing, and is typically translated “break” or “destroy”. For example breaking the Sabbath (Jn 5:18), destroying the temple (Jn 2:19), breaking the law (Jn 7:23), destroying the devil’s work (1 Jn 3:8).

So Scripture is unbreakable, or “indestructible” even. Not in a physical sense – plenty of Bibles have been successfully destroyed by fire. But in the sense that Jesus uses in Matt 24:35 “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.” The doctrine of the unbreakability of Scripture means that God’s words never lose their truth, relevance or power. We never move beyond Scripture, and we never argue with Scripture. Or as J C Ryle explains it:

“Wherever the Scripture speaks plainly on any subject, there can be no more question about it. The case is settled and decided. Every jot and tittle of Scripture is true, and must be received as conclusive.”

My favourite Bible versions

I’m doing some study on hermeneutics and the doctrine of Scripture at the moment, in preparation for a training course, and hopefully will find the time along the way to do some blogging. Today I want to touch on my three favourite versions of the Bible.

I’ve read right through the Bible in several different versions. As I child I used the Good News Bible (which I now read every night with my children), and the (sadly out of print) Revised Authorised Version which I did most of my Scripture memorisation in. In my teenage and university years I mainly used the New International Version (1984 edition). I spent a year using the New Living Translation, another using Today’s New International Version, and am currently reading the 2011 edition of the NIV. But my main Bible for the last 7 or 8 years has been the English Standard Version.

My feelings are that every Christian serious about studying the Scriptures would benefit from having at least three translations of the Bible, one from each of the three broad translation philosophies – literal, dynamic equivalence, and paraphrase. I won’t make this post ridiculously long by going into the pros and cons of each type, but I’ll briefly describe their benefits and mention my favourite version in the category.

1. Literal Translation

Literal translations attempt to provide one English word for each word in the original language. They try to keep the word order the same as much as is possible without producing nonsense. This can make for slightly awkward phrasing, but has the benefits of connecting you as closely as possible to the words and phrases used by the original authors. Where a term has special meaning (e.g. the way Paul uses “flesh”), it is up to you to learn what is meant by that. But the benefit is that you are not thrown off the scent by the translators attempt to explain it for you.

My choice of literal translation is the ESV. It’s not perfect, and I have written previously on this blog about some of my criticisms of it, as well as my disappointment that its supporters often seem to have an adversarial attitude towards other translations, but overall it is excellent, and I think special commendation should be given to Crossway for the way they have allowed electronic editions of the text to be available completely free of charge.

2. Dynamic Equivalence

Dynamic equivalence is what I would call the “normal” way of translating something into another language. You take it phrase by phrase and try to say the same thing that the original author was saying, but you say it in a way in which that idea would normally be communicated in the target language. This can mean some changes of idioms, or single words becoming phrases, but on the whole it still sticks closely to the sentence structure of the originals. This translation philosophy makes for good readability, while usually managing to avoid too many interpretive decisions being forced into the text.

The NIV stands out as a shining example of this translation technique. It became mired in controversy when the TNIV came out with its “brothers and sisters” leading some to see a hidden egalitarian agenda at play. I think that is a little unfair to the outstanding team of translators. The new 2011 version has retained gender neutral language, while making lots of improvements over the original NIV and TNIV, and I see no reason not to use it in preference to both. The 1984 NIV Study Bible was an outstanding resource, and I’m looking forward to getting hold of an updated version although from what I’ve heard, the notes haven’t been substantially revised.

I normally quote from the NIV when preaching, and it would be the version I would recommend to a new Christian.

3. Paraphrase

My final category is that of paraphrase. This philosophy gives a lot more freedom to the translators to rephrase things. They may even insert small phrases not present in the original if they think it would help the reader understand. It allows them to be creative so a pun in the original language might translated into different but equivalent pun in English.

These are often the work of a single author. For example Eugene Peterson’s The Message, or JB Phillips New Testament. More recently Tom Wright has created the Kingdom New Testament.

The big criticism of paraphrases is that they are most susceptible to importing the theology of the translator. So they have to be read with caution, and checked against other translations. But they can also do a brilliant job of shedding fresh light on familiar texts, and opening up some of the hard to understand parts of the Bible such as the Old Testament prophetic books.

For me, the New Living Translation is the best of the paraphrases. It is a mature translation, having undergone a thorough revision from the original Living Bible. And it is the work of a team of first-rate Bible scholars rather than just the work of one person which safeguards it from some of the eccentricities of other paraphrases (I confess to not being a big fan of the Message).

Anyway, that’s my three: ESV, NIV, NLT. What about you?

Thoughts on Limited Atonement

I unfortunately didn’t get to attend, but the recent “think” conference on Calvinism hosted by newfrontiers has generated some interesting debate on the What You Think Matters blog. Matthew Hosier posted to encourage us to read the Canons of Dort for ourselves, while Andrew Wilson responded with his misgivings about “limited atonement”. I attempted to interact with him in the comments, but I think I failed miserably to explain myself adequately. So here’s another brief (and doubtless unsuccessful) attempt.

To answer the question “is the atonement limited”, requires us first to define what we mean by the atonement. Is it just shorthand for “Jesus’ death on the cross”? Does it include some, or all of the accomplishments of Jesus’ death? Did it actually procure my forgiveness, or did it just make forgiveness available to me?

Similarly the question is sometimes rephrased as “did Jesus die for everyone”? But what does it mean that Jesus died “for” a particular person? Did his death achieve their salvation? Or did it merely open up the possibility of their salvation?

My opinion on “limited atonement” is that it is a logical deduction based on two premises. First is particular election, where God specificially elects certain people to be saved. The second is penal substitution, where on the cross Jesus takes the punishment in the place of someone.

In a system of penal substitution, it is often argued that on the cross, Jesus was on the cross in my place and bearing my punishment. That is to say that God designed the cross with me personally in mind, and Jesus bore the penalty for the exact sins God foreknew that I would commit. The logic behind limited atonement thus argues that if Jesus has paid the specific penalty for me personally on the cross, then it would be unjust of God to require that penalty to be paid a second time. But that would mean that for those who are not saved in the end, their penalty could not have been paid on the cross. So we might say that though the death of Jesus would have been sufficient to cover the sins of the entire world (or a hundred worlds for that matter), it in actual fact was only a substitution for the sins of the elect.

Is that indeed the correct biblical understanding of the atonement? I think it has a lot to be said for it, although I am aware that there are alternative interpretations of the biblical data. It seems to rely very heavily on a debt metaphor in which some kind of exact “price” can be put on everyone’s sin and then the cross becomes the settlement of a debt of the exact total. I think the sin as debt metaphor is a Scriptural one, but it is possible that too much has been read into it.

As opponents of limited atonement often and correctly point out, the writers of Scripture are happy to speak of Jesus dying for the sins of the world, and taking away the sins of the world (e.g. 1 John 2:2; 2 Cor 5:14). So to say that Jesus didn’t die for all, strikes me as being in danger of flatly contradicting Scripture, and is something that those who accept “lmited atonement” should be careful to avoid.

Maybe Paul hints at a resolution to this debate in 1 Tim 4:10:

That is why we labour and strive, because we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Saviour of all people, and especially of those who believe.

He’s saying there is one sense in which God is the Saviour of all people, but another sense in which he is the Saviour just of those who believe. In other words, it boils down to what exactly you mean by “Saviour” as to whether it is “limited” or not. So whenever someone asks me if I believe in “limited atonement” or not, I ask what they mean by atonement. And depending on their definition, I may say “yes” or “no”.

1 John 2:2

Book Review – The Pursuit of God (A W Tozer)

I suspect that many readers of this blog will at least have come across the name A W Tozer, even if they have not read any of his books. I have encountered a lot of quotes by him, but this is the first book of his I have read. Several of his books are still in print, and recently republished as a series of “classics”.

The Pursuit of God consists of 10 short chapters, making it very accessible even to those who are not big readers. The key idea is to challenge believers to ask whether we really hunger after God. He asks us how serious we are about wanting God, and whether we, like Abraham are willing to give up everything.

“The world is perishing for lack of the knowledge of God and the church is famished for want of his presence.”

He warns that it is possible to believe in God without knowing him in personal experience, and insists that we are able to experience his presence. God is of course present everywhere, but our problem is a lack of receptivity toward him.

There are chapters on what faith is, the importance of determining to exalt God, and how we can avoid a sacred-secular divide by honouring God in all things. Each chapter closes with an earnest prayer asking God to change us and meet with us.

There is much wise and insightful material in this short book, but its chief strength lies in its challenge to take seriously the pursuit of God. You might not need a lot of time to read it, but there is no point if you are not also willing to devote some time to self-examination and time alone with God in prayer.

Book Review – Planet Narnia (Michael Ward)

Planet NarniaI distinctly remember as a young boy, perhaps 8 or 9 years old, having an earnest discussion with my best friend about the way biblical themes were woven into storyline of the Narnia series. These are of course most obvious in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, but are to be found in all seven. There is something enthralling about finding a deeper meaning in a story, and I suspect most Christians who read the Narnia series smile to themselves regularly as they sense they are “in on the secret”. Lewis’ portrayal of Christ as “Aslan” has been a profoundly helpful image for many Christians, and remains a favourite sermon illustration for many preachers.

So the suggestion that there might be yet another level of meaning to the books, seems at first to be completely unnecessary. And for that meaning to revolve around the seven planets of medieval cosmology seems quite frankly ridiculous. But that is exactly what Michael Ward claims to have found, and his evidence is compelling.

I first came across his theory in a documentary called The Narnia Code, which was shown on BBC. Then I was able to hear him in person at New Wine giving seminar that summarised his thesis. But it left me wanting to know more about the evidence linking each planet to its corresponding book, so I jumped at the chance to hear his argument in full.

He starts off by giving some important background on Lewis, such as the way he could sometimes be secretive and how he felt that this was important in literature. Lewis felt it important that a good story to have an “atmosphere” – something that didn’t need to be explained or pointed out, but was felt and enjoyed nonetheless by the reader.

He notes the fact that despite its tremendous success, the Narnia series has often been criticised for some odd and out of place elements in the story, that has led some literary critics to suggest that its composition was rushed.

Ward then moves to focus on Lewis’ fascination with the planets, and in particular, medieval cosmology and astrology. He wrote academically about it, he wrote poems about them, and he even incorporated them into other works of fiction, most notably his cosmic trilogy. Whilst he recognised this ancient cosmology to be scientifically untrue, he believed it to have great beauty and a lasting worth. He believed that the heavens declare the glory of God, but that science had made people think of a silent, empty “space”.

The next seven chapters deal one by one with the seven books of the Narnia series, and the planet Ward believes each is associated with. His method is first to look at where the planet in question appears in Lewis’ other writings. Here it will help massively if you have read the cosmic trilogy as much material is drawn from that series, but also Lewis’ poetry features regularly here. These give a feel for the particular characteristics, atmosphere, virtues or vices he felt were associated with each planet. Then Ward goes on to show how each planet asserts its “influence” over the story, by first examining the poiema (how the influence of that planet affects the atmosphere of the story) and then onto the logos (how the influence of that planet affects the message of the story). He also believes that Lewis has portrayed Aslan in ways that relate to the planet in question in each story.

I can only briefly summarise some of the points that strike me as interesting. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is associated with Jupiter (also known as Jove). The influence of this kingly, “jovial” planet is seen in many aspects of the story (and explains the somewhat incongruous appearance of Father Christmas). Ward shows that Lewis associated Jupiter with “winter past and guilt forgiven” – almost a plot summary of the story.

Prince Caspian is associated with Mars. Mars was the god of war, but his influence was neutral in Lewis’ mind – military force can be used in the cause of justice (chivalry) as well as for evil.

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is associated with the Sun, or Sol as given away by its title. Both the sun and its associated metal gold are recurring themes throughout the story.

The Silver Chair also gives us a clue in its title, as the metal of the Moon (or Luna) is silver. The moon is associated with lunacy and doubt – clearly to be found in the plotline of the story.

The Horse and His Boy is linked to Mercury, perhaps the hardest of planets to define in terms of its influence. Mercury is “lord of language” and “patron of pilferers”, and the metal is known for the way it divides and reunites. Ward does a convincing job of showing how Lewis incorporates these ideas into the story, with lots of twins and pairs, and even an allusion to the doctrine of the Trinity.

The Magician’s Nephew then is connected with Venus. This is a potential problem for Lewis – how does he as a devout Christian write a children’s story around a goddess of sex? And can he portray Aslan in feminine form? Ward shows how Lewis incorporates themes of love, marriage and fertility into the story and explains why he thinks Lewis did not want to make Aslan a female character in this story.

The Last Battle finally is linked to Saturn. This is also a tricky one for Lewis as Saturn is associated with death and misfortune. And they certainly feature prominently in this story, which has often been criticised for killing off all its major characters. One interesting bit of evidence is that the character “Old Father Time” was in an early unpublished manuscript explicity named by Lewis as Saturn, but he later removed this rather overt clue.

After wading through this evidence, it is hard not to be convinced. Even if you are only persuaded by three or four of the seven, it is impossible to imagine Lewis only partially going through with such an ingenious scheme. Ward suggests that the Narnia series was a deliberate attempt by Lewis to put the argument he made in Miracles into “imaginative” form.

He devotes a chapter to asking some questions of his thesis. Why is the scheme not more perfect? Why did Lewis not reveal the secret? Is the secret best left undiscovered? He offers brief but interesting responses to these questions and potential objections. Finally he rounds the book off with the story of how he came to discover this secret of the Narnia series.

In summary I have to say this is a fascinating book for anyone who has read the Narnia series, and I find his argument convincing. It is not for the faint-hearted though. This was I believe a PhD thesis, and it reads like one. It is quite academic in places, and if the only writings of Lewis you are familiar with are the Narnia series, you may find yourself lost in places. Apparently he has written a more popular level version called the Narnia Code which would be more appropriate for some readers. He has a website dedicated to the book here.

Book Review–Your Jesus is too Safe (Jared Wilson)

I first heard of Jared Wilson through his excellent blog, the Gospel Driven Church which I have followed for a few years now, and so have been looking forward to reading my first book by him. He is an excellent communicator, and, as his blog title implies, brings a gospel-centred approach to all the subjects he addresses.

This is a book about Jesus – a subject that is well deserving of our attention. The blurb and preface led me to expect that this would be a deconstruction of various popular misconceptions of Jesus such as “hippie Jesus, Grammy Award Jesus, Role Model Jesus, Buddy Jesus” etc. But his approach is instead to go to the Scriptures and highlight twelve aspects of who Jesus is.

Each chapter deals with a title or role of Jesus. For example, Jesus the Prophet, Jesus the Shepherd, Jesus the Sacrifice, Jesus the Lord. The book is theologically and biblically rich. With each topic he weaves in some helpful historical and Old Testament background information to help illuminate the already familiar stories of and teachings of Jesus from the gospels.

As might be expected from someone who blogs for the Gospel Coalition, he draws from the likes of John Piper, Tim Keller and Mark Driscoll. But he also brings in insights from NT Wright and Dallas Willard which brings a greater breadth to the overall message of the book.

His sense of humour is infused throughout the book, with plenty of quips and gags which give it a light-hearted feel. It made for an enjoyable read, although it felt a little incongruous in places as he juxtaposes a wise-crack with a profound thought.

This isn’t a book of radically new insights, but its chief value is in focusing us in on the person of Jesus, and allowing his own radical and challenging message and identity to be impressed on us again. It would be helpful for a Christian who finds the gospels to have become over-familiar and uninspiring to see Jesus from some fresh perspectives.

Book Review – Theology with Spirit (Henry Lederle)

Word & Spirit Press were kind enough to send me a copy of Theology with Spirit: The Future of the Pentecostal-Charismatic Movements in the 21st Century, by Henry I. Lederle to review. Readers of this blog will know that I have an interest in the history of the charismatic movement, and have previously reviewed Andrew Walker’s Restoring the Kingdom and John Fleming’s Bind Us Together.

This book takes a broader perspective, and attempts to trace the Pentecostal and Charismatic movements right through to the present day. Obviously this is a huge task, but Lederle has managed to compress the story down very effectively to highlight the main characters, movements and theological ideas, and it makes for a fascinating read. Of particular interest is the way he seeks to link in the theological developments with the transition from modernity to post-modernity. He sees the initial opposition from cessationists as evidence of a modernist worldview infiltrating the church.

I already knew a bit about the Asuza street revival, but there is much in this book that was new to me. It is interesting to read his analysis of the effect of Pentecostalism on Roman Catholocism, Orthodoxy, along with other “communions”. Especially helpful is his concise explanations of the theology of different key groups such as the Wesleyan holiness movement, the oneness Pentecostals and the Latter Rain movement.

Following on from the roots of Pentecostalism, he moves onto the “second wave”, or denominational charismatic renewal. He includes a helpful analysis of the broad range of views on Spirit baptism, that departed from the initial Pentecostal positions.

Under the heading the “third wave”, he differs slightly from Wagner, and defines the third wave as independent charismatic churches. He considers several groupings, including “Restorationist”, “Dominion”, “Empowered Evangelicals” (e.g. Wimber), before finally moving on to “Word of Faith”.

This is where it gets interesting, since although Lederle has been very even-handed throughout, he does have an affinity with the Word of Faith movement, and was a lecturer for many years at Oral Roberts University. While he accepts the movement has come in for some deserved criticism, he feels it has now self-corrected its exesses, and identifies and defends four theological contributions the movement makes.

The latter part of the book explores the future of Spirit movements, including a review of various new papers published by young charismatic and pentecostal scholars, many from ORU. He also takes some time to explain his own unique take on Spirit baptism (a “dimension” with “events”), which I must confess to not fully understanding (probably need to re-read this a few times).

He concludes the book with the claim that he believes the Word of Faith churches will be at the forefront of the spread of the charismatic movement in the coming years, and interestingly, does not predict much success for the apostolic networks Peter Wagner has identified as being so significant (see my recent review of Dave Devenish’s book on apostles). I have no idea whether he is right, but I am sure he is correct when he identifies several countries in the global south that have been deeply influenced by Word of Faith theology.

He argues that the four Word of Faith disctinctives (1. the Believer’s Inheritance; 2. the Authority of the Believer; 3. Positive Confession; and 4. Prosperity), when articulated correctly, are all perfectly biblical ideas, and when properly understood are not the heresies they are often accused of being. And indeed, his carefully nuanced explanations of these four ideas are not as objectionable as the more bluntly stated versions I am more used to hearing.

In summary, I would say that the first half of this book is superb and will be enjoyed by anyone who has an interest in the history of the Pentecostal and charismatic movements. He has clearly done his research well and his analysis is very interesting. This part of the book would perhaps have benefitted from footnotes, but there is a good bibliography at the end.

The second part of the book caught me off guard. As someone from the more reformed end of the charismatic spectrum, I have grave concerns about the teaching I hear coming from the Word of Faith movement, and do not have a positive opinion about the “prosperity gospel”. It certainly is possible that some critics have misunderstood or misrepresened them – that has happened to almost every group within the church at some point. If Lederle is right about the future prominence of this movement, then it would perhaps benefit us to be more aware of what they are actually teaching, in order that we can make an accurate and biblical evaluation and critique of their contribution to Christian thought.