Whomever He Wills [Book Review]

Book Review of Whomever He Wills (edited by Matthew Barrett and Thomas Nettles)

This is a good book for convinced Calvinists but not for convincing non-Calvinists. That’s not a criticism; there’s a need for books like this that give a full-throated polemical defense of Calvinistic soteriology and demolish Arminian errors and misrepresentations. But its tone is probably too aggressive and its theological content too dense to win over many or any Arminians.

Much of that can be explained by the book’s immediate context, a full-on, all-out attack upon Calvinism by a group of Southern Baptist Arminian theologians in a recent book with a similar title, Whosoever Will.

Whomever He Wills is the response and riposte to that onslaught which explains the punchy tone, detailed exegesis, and theological density.

However you don’t need to be involved in that Southern Baptist controversy to benefit from this book. While the book itself may not persuade many Arminians, it will certainly give a great biblical, theological, and historical grounding for anyone who is involved in similar controversies or who is trying to provide an apologetic for Reformed theology to their friends.

For myself, I found it a welcome and vigorous refresher on the doctrines of grace and some of the quality exegetical work helped me to understand key scriptures better. The book also reminded me of the need to be motivated by a desire for the glory of God in all controversy. Although the book is argumentative, it’s obvious in all the chapters that none of the authors are simply out to win an argument, but rather are motivated by a jealous desire to advance the glory of God and clear away any aspersions upon it resulting from theological error.

Authors take on the common misrepresentations of Calvinism and try to put a number of red herrings in the waste disposal. Highlights for me included:

  • David Schrock’s demonstration of how limited atonement is compatible with a universal Gospel offer.
  • Andrew Davis’s list of the consequences of limiting election to simply God forseeing faith (see next blog post).
  • Matthew Barrett’s marshaling of the evidence for monergistic regeneration in both the Old and New Testaments.
  • Tom Schreiner’s explanation of the warnings against apostasy in Hebrews as one of the means God uses to keep his own.
  • Stephen Wellum’s brave biblical theodicy.
  • Tom Ascol’s convincing proof of Calvinism’s missionary heart and action
  • Ben Rogers’ survey of Sovereignty and Evangelism in John Bunyan’s preaching.

I hope you can see that there’s much more here than ammunition for Southern Baptist Calvinists. It’s a book I expect to be referring back to quite frequently in sermon preparation, but I’ll be hiding it from my Arminian friends!

Whomever He Wills by Matthew Barrett and Tom Nettles. Published by Founders.org and available at Amazon


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A Prayer for Pharisees of Grace and Gospel Scribes
A brave post and a brave prayer.

5 Reasons you Should Celebrate Black History Month
Must be honest, this is the first year I have.

Why I don’t watch Downtown Abbey
Like Rebecca, I was hopeful this might be a beautiful educational series. I think I got to about 10 minutes of Season 1, Episode 1 on Amazon Prime before I turned it off.

Am I too sinful to be married?
“The truth is: I am single because God loves me, not because He is punishing me.”

Reformed Church Witness in Texas Maximum Security Prison
This is a great story of God’s grace reaching across gender, race, and social chasms.

Spurgeon and Infant Salvation
“I know that there are those who think the Bible’s teaching on infant salvation is not clear, or at least is confined to children of the covenant, whatever that means. I don’t expect that this passage in isolation will be persuasive to those people. But when added to the list of the other 26 passages, I think the case is insurmountable. Every single verse (and I list now 27 of them) in the Bible that speaks to this issue, points to the fact that those who die at a young age simply lived their lives on the short road to glory.”


Relax! You’ll be more productive

Tony Schwartz took a year of 10-hour days to write each one of his first three books, but only six months of 4-hour days  to write his fourth and fifth. His secret? He took more time off!

In this New York Times piece, Schwartz collates the scientific evidence to confirm a pattern I’ve been increasingly recognizing in my own life.

Strategic renewal — including daytime workouts, short afternoon naps, longer sleep hours, more time away from the office and longer, more frequent vacations — boosts productivity, job performance and, of course, health.

But try persuading your boss or even yourself of this. It’s so counter-intuitive and, as Schwarz points out, at odds with the work ethic in most work places:

  • More than one-third of employees eat lunch at their desks on a regular basis.
  • More than 50 percent work during their vacations.
  • Long hours are usually the key to raises and promotions, even though hours worked are no indicator of productivity
  • Excess working hours result in sleep deprivation that is costing American companies $63.2 billion a year in lost productivity.
  • Americans left an average of 9.2 vacation days unused in 2012 — up from 6.2 days in 2011.

But the scientific evidence in favor of rest and renewal is mounting:

  • When male basketball players slept 10 hours a night, free-throw and three-point shooting each increased by an average of 9 percent.
  • When night shift air traffic controllers were given 40 minutes to nap, they performed much better on tests that measured vigilance and reaction time.
  • A 60- to 90-minute nap improved memory test results as fully as did eight hours of sleep.
  • For each additional 10 hours of vacation employees took, their year-end performance ratings improved by 8 percent.
  • Frequent vacationers were also significantly less likely to leave the firm.

Schwartz argues that if we follow our natural daily body cycle, we will end up with a daily routine of three 90-minute cycles of intense and uninterrupted work in the morning, each followed by a break to renew and refresh. The rest of the day can then be spent on less demanding tasks.

Read the rest of the article to find out how Schwartz’s own company puts renewal breaks at the centre of their daily work. He concludes:

Our basic idea is that the energy employees bring to their jobs is far more important in terms of the value of their work than is the number of hours they work. By managing energy more skillfully, it’s possible to get more done, in less time, more sustainably. In a decade, no one has ever chosen to leave the company. Our secret is simple — and generally applicable. When we’re renewing, we’re truly renewing, so when we’re working, we can really work.

You can read the whole article here, as long as you haven’t used up all your 20 NYT paywall credits this month!


Meeting Jesus at the Feast [Book Review]

Book review of Meeting Jesus at the Feast: Israel’s Festivals and the Gospel by John Sittema

Old Testament typology has many pitfalls awaiting the intrepid student:

  • Assuming that coincidental analogy = divinely ordained typology.
  • Assuming that every detail of a type is typological.
  • Assuming that the Old Testament believer had the benefit of New Testament light.
  • Assuming that the Old Testament believer had no Gospel light.
  • Assuming that only explicitly identified types are types.
  • Assuming that everything is a type.
  • Assuming that the Old Testament believer was saved by the types apart from what they pointed to.

What a minefield! No wonder so few venture in there. And no wonder so few come back out in one piece.

The good news is that in Meeting Jesus at the Feast we have a new and reliable guidebook to the typology of the Old Testament festivals (although the principles and practices of interpretation you will discover in it can be applied to many more Old Testament types).

John Sittema, the Senior Pastor of Christ Church (PCA) in Jacksonville, Florida, covers nine Old Testament feasts in nine chapters of about 15 readable pages each. A sampling of the titles should give you a flavor of what he is serving up:

  • Rehearsing the Rest: The Sabbaths
  • Behold the Lamb: The Passover
  • Cleaning House: The Feast of Unleavened Bread
  • Awake the Dawn: The Feast of Firstfruits
  • On Earth, as it is in Heaven: The Year of Jubilee

John skilfully mines the Old Testament text and brings these festivals alive on the page – you can see them, smell them, and even taste them – giving wonderful insight into what the original festival-goers understood about what they were doing. He then quickly traces how they developed through the Old Testament and inter-testamental period before introducing us to how the feasts were observed at the time of Christ. You’ll be amazed at how a background knowledge of these feasts opens up new vistas on the life of Christ and the New Testament text. It’s stunning how all the major events in Christ’s ministry revolved around these feasts. As John writes: “You cannot really comprehend what it means that Jesus is the Messiah without knowing something about the feasts.”

But John doesn’t leave us back in 1st century Judaism. He weaves a number of moving stories from his own life into the text, demonstrating how these ancient feasts can still feed the hungry 21st century soul. Lots of edible theology and plenty appetizing application.

The material in this book would form the basis for a fascinating sermon series, or a group Bible study (questions are provided at the end of each chapter). But for myself the book was simply a nourishing and refreshing experience for my own soul. It brought Jesus to me and me to Jesus. As a bonus, I learned a bit more about typology, enough to steer me safely round a few more of the mineholes that put off so many from discovering the beautiful Gospel treasure God has hidden in His older testament.

Meeting Jesus at the Feast by John Sittema. You can read John’s introduction to the book here. You can buy at at Amazon or at RHB.


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A Trip to Murrayfield and the Shiny Bubbles of Fame
Andy Murray takes his boys to their first game of international rugby, and then bumps into one of the Scotland players at church the next day.

Pastor, know thyself
John Piper describes how he attacks his besetting sins with an “anthem.”

Winston Churchill and his “Black Dog” that helped win World War II
“Only a man who knew what it was to discern a gleam of hope in a hopeless situation . . . could have given emotional reality to the words of defiance which rallied and sustained us in the menacing summer of 1940″

15 Rules for Expectant Parents
Didn’t think I’d be needing these again, but thanks to Brian Najapfour for reminding me of them. Some are a bit quaint, but there’s much wisdom too.

Eating Disorders: A Scientific and Spiritual Disorder
Great to see qualified Christians taking on the difficult task of distinguishing physical from spiritual issues in extremely complex problems.

What God’s Teaching me through Epilepsy
So thankful for honest Christians who are willing to write about how their faith helps them through great struggles.


10 Foolish Obstacles to the Foolishness of Preaching

God chose the foolishness of Gospel preaching to save them that believe (1 Cor. 1:21). The Gospel message is foolishness to the world. But so is the Gospel medium – preaching. Who in their right mind would choose a regular 30-45 minute monologue from one sinful man to many sinful hearers to communicate the most important message in the world?

God would and did.

And he did it knowing that this method of communication would upset many people and cause them to find many foolish reasons for not listening. Some of the foolish obstacles I’ve come across (in myself and others) are:

1. Patchy grammar: Thankfully most people’s English education was as bad as mine and don’t notice too many of my grammatical faux pas, but there are always a few Grammar Girls (and boys) in every congregation. One misplaced preposition and down come the shutters.

2. Boring voice: Drone, groan, mumble, stumble, yawn. Is he trying to send us to sleep? Yet even the most attractive and varied voices eventually sound “meh” to regular hearers. Wouldn’t it make more sense to have a different voice every week?

3. Pastoral mistakes: Sometimes we can make a blunder in a personal relationship, an email communication, or at a social occasion which prejudices a hearer’s mind against us for a long time or even forever. We could be preaching the best truth in the best way but we’re still the worst preacher they’ve ever heard because we stood on their toes somewhere along the line.

4. Text choices: Why does the preacher never pick my favorite texts? Why does he never preach from my favorite book? Why does he always preach from such simple texts? Why does he always preach from such difficult texts? I’m not going to listen until he preaches on…

5. Preaching style: There are probably hundreds of preaching styles: fast, slow, loud, quiet, teachy, preachy, passionate, reasonable, sad, happy, smooth, jerky, etc. We all have our peculiar preferences and rarely do we find such a peculiar preacher.

6. Pulpit mannerisms: Why does he keep fiddling with his glasses? Does he think spinning his wedding ring will help spin this terrible sermon? Why doesn’t he look at us? Why does he keep staring at us? Has he only got one arm? Hands in his pockets again! Why does he grip the pulpit – is he about to faint or something? I wish he’d quit sniffing/coughing/frowning/grinning…

7. Verbal ticks: How many times did he say “in other words” today? Or “as I was saying” or “literally” or  ”finally.”

8. Christian Cliches: Can he not find another way of saying that? Does he have to use the same phraseology as every other time he preached on this? He says that in every sermon. Where’s his imagination?

9. Too young/old: Yes, before the preacher even opens his mouth, the old people might close him down because he’s so young, or the young people might tune him out because he’s too old.

10. Personality clash: I just don’t like him. He rubs me up the wrong way. He’s too cocky. He’s too defensive. He’s too apologetic. He’s too aggressive, etc.

It’s amazing what obstacles preachers have to overcome.  One slip-up in any of these areas and some people won’t give a minute of attention to the sermon that took you 10-15 hours to prepare. Although we pray every time we preach, that God would prevent anything we say or do getting in the way of the message, yet it will inevitably happen. It’s amazing anyone at all gets saved.

Why did God choose this method? Why not send a perfect angel with a perfect message delivered in a perfect manner? Wouldn’t that have been wiser? More effective?

God chose this method to demonstrate that the Gospel, not the preacher or his preaching, is the power of God unto salvation. He chose one of the most foolish methods and some of the most foolish creatures to reach multitudes of foolish sinners with a “foolish” message. And he did it this way in order to magnify His wisdom and power (1 Cor. 1:22-31).

We get grace. He gets glory.