Risky Gospel: A Book Review

A Great Book for the Millenial Generation

Owen Strachan’s book, Risky Gospel, is written for a generation in the eye of today’s cultural hurricane. They are floating unattached to needed mooring points, being blown out to sea by the gale, all the while thinking it is merely a nice summer breeze to be enjoyed. While Strachan does call for unsettling risk in living out the gospel every day, it is not the kind of risk we hear from other authors. Instead of calling for “wild-eyed, John the baptist in camel hair clothes gnawing on locusts” radicalism, the author raises visibility to such radical ideas as living a faithful Christian life in obscurity while loving those around you through self-sacrificing service.

Risky Gospel’s focus audience is a few years removed from where I’m at in life.  It is strongly oriented towards the 30ish-and-under crowd. The life-choices Strachan explores are not what most empty-nesters, retirees, or senior-citizen-saints are considering. Nonetheless, for its intended audience, I see the author stretching in many ways to try to bring reality as it is and Christian life as it should be into view for the millenials. I found many surprising word-hooks that should find traction with a disconnected, vaguely-committed generation.  For example:

“A Christian is not some prettified spiritual contestant in the great pageant of Who Can Look the Most Religious.”

“John Owen, a Puritan teacher who wore one of those killer white wigs,…”

“Life as many evangelicals approach it isn’t supposed to be scary. … We want the Jesus of our best life now to give us a blanket and some hot cocoa, not send us out in a fearsome world.”

“We can see where we should be. We just don’t really have the oomph, the spiritual horsepower, to get there.”

But Discipline Takes So Much… Well… Discipline

In describing hurdles to discipline, Strachan’s somewhat sardonic sense of humor is on display:

“I remember the first time I tried to be disciplined in prayer. Maybe you had a similar experience. I saw that I needed to devote myself to prayer, so I set out to pray for half an hour. Target: set. Locked and loaded, I launched in.

 “I prayed up a storm. Everything I could think of. The wind howled; the earth shook. Moses and the saints interrupted their heavenly discussions to peer down through the filmy clouds at this fledgling mystic. This was serious prayer.

 “As I wound to a close, I let my words trail off. A prayer warrior had been forged. A lifetime of supplication had begun. I looked at the clock with a sense of pietistic triumph…

“… and saw that exactly nine minutes had elapsed. And–wince–my knees hurt from kneeling.”

Watch Where You Step

The author isn’t afraid to scatter some sanctification landmines across the countryside. He skewers the oft-repeated mantra, “I lack discipline.” Instead, Strachan rightly diagnoses our heroic, olympian, mis-directed discipline.  He writes:

“We have discipline, all right: discipline for hedonism, self-satisfaction, pleasure.

 “Call it self-driven discipline.

 “Our favorite TV shows? You couldn’t make us miss that must-watch reality program on fashion if you stole all five of the remotes it takes to DVR them. Our fantasy football league? We conduct more research on who to draft in round seven than paralegals working on billion-dollar settlements. Going to sports events or concerts of the artists we love? Of course we can postpone our studying or call in sick for work. You only live once, right? Buying the latest offerings from the technology gods? We’ll wear the same clothes for a month if it means we can access the cloud whenever we want. Getting the coffee and treats we want? You couldn’t stop us from that Starbucks run if you personally took hold hold of the wind, the rain, and the snow. Nothing keeps us from our $4.50 coffee–truly nothing.

 “You know what these patterns show us? You and I are serious about what we want to be serious about.”

Can Risky Gospel Christians Make Plans?

Risky Gospel hits on many areas of life, and some very specific challenges within the evangelical world. For example, many of our young people are fearful to embark on an active faith because they don’t have any solid footing biblically to stand on. More specifically, many are confused on how to turn faith into any specific concrete action due to a flavor of mysticism at work in the evangelical world. Waiting to hear “the still small voice”, a profound paralysis strikes our young people because they aren’t sure if they are hearing anything. Strachan writes:

“You may have been trained as many believers are in mystical, fearful Christianity. If so, the Bible has great news for you. Provided you are saturating your mind and your prayers with biblical wisdom in a Romans 12:1-2 sense–such that your heart and mind are being transformed by Scripture–it’s appropriate to strategize, and plan, and then to act.”

Could Ricky Gospel Launch You To a New Life?

Yes. It is worth reading, considering, learning from. The author gives wise counsel, settles a few old debts and doubts, and keeps his eyes on the cross of Christ while moving towards it. I believe this book will prove to be a cornerstone work for the Millenial generation. To give a compliment that is truly a compliment, Strachan has written an impacting work akin to Jerry Bridges’ Pursuit of Holiness/Practice of Godliness for this generation. Risky Gospel is set on the bedrock of the cross-work of Christ and the real freedom that results from the concerted effort of the Trinitarian God in saving all who would come to Him. I leave you with the following extended quote to demonstrate Strachan’s commitment to the gospel as the bedrock of Christian freedom, upon which every encouragement to risk is built.

“Jesus triumphed over the grave, much to the shock of his followers. This is not an abstract fact, though. It’s not a magnet for your refrigerator, a key chain for your pocket. With the defeat of sin at the cross, the defeat of death through the resurrection means that now we can live righteous lives.

“This is a bonfire in your heart.

“The gospel message of Jesus’ saving work offers us the power to risk everything for him, and gain everything in him. When we come to Jesus, we are not merely punched through to the afterlife, though. We are redeemed–all of us. Heart, soul, and mind. The old has passed away. The new has come. This is precisely what Paul tells us: “From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation” (II Cor. 5:16-18).

“This passage is foundational for bold spirituality. If you’re going to pursue the Lord with zeal each day, you need to know the core DNA of your faith. Here it is. Bullet, meet powder. You are not a miserable wretch. You are not 50 percent saved/50 percent wicked. You are in Christ, and you are a “new creation.” The old is gone. The new is here.

“This isn’t your work or mine. God has done this through Christ. On the cross, Jesus bore our sin; through the cross, we gained his righteous standing. This is what his reconciliation means for us. We’re no longer outcasts. We’re reconciled to God. This is our fundamental identity.

“God loves us. We are his.” 

 

Book Review: The Life of God in the Soul of the Church by Thabiti Anyabwile

The full title of the work is The Life of God in the Soul of the Church: The Root and Fruit of Spiritual Fellowship. It is published by Christian Focus under the 9 Marks imprint.

Henry Scougal was a 17th century Scottish pastor who wrote a small book for a friend entitled The Life of God in the Soul of Man.  Although the book was small, it has proven to possess enduring quality and powerful insights even to this day.

Enter Thabiti Anyabwile, a 21st century pastor of First Baptist Church of Grand Cayman.  Pastor Anyabwile, inspired by Scougal’s original work has written a book designed to extend our understanding of the Life of God beyond the individual soul, to encompass the overall fellowship of the local church. 

Pastor Anyabwile’s book is offered as a corrective to over-emphasized individualism found in many evangelical churches. He seeks throughout the book to highlight discipleship pursued intentionally through relationships in the the local church, using the rich tapestry of fellowship found throughout the New Testament as the basis for this course correction.

The book is essentially a lightly edited sermon series that Pastor Anyabwile preached in his home church in 2008.  As expected from a sermon series, the book is not written in a heavily academic tone but rather carries a pastoral feel, with strong contextualization within the body of his local church.  Publishing a collection of thematic sermons has both strengths and weaknesses.  It is written at a very understandable level, avoiding unnecessary theological jargon. This makes it accessible to nearly every adult Christian. As expected of sermons, many illustrations and most applications are chosen and emphasized from within the congregational life of a pastor’s local church. Since this work is a collection of sermons, this means it requires some re-interpretation for your own local church context, with little instruction within the text itself in how to do this.

This book is a hard read.  Not hard to read.  Anyabwile challenges us across the spectrum of church life. There is a mix of ideas presented, from strongly exegetical to less binding personal preference. This is one of the reasons it is a hard read. A variety of Anyabwile’s examples could be directly applicable to your church.  Others may need to be applied as a concept and not necessarily using the explicit example offered in the book.  It takes effort to grasp these differences and thoughtfully mingle them with the character of your own individual local church.

The book has two major divisions. Part 1 builds the foundation for Christian fellowship as union with Christ.  Part 2 has specific examples of union with Christ expressed through fellowship in the local church.  The specific examples cover a broad range of fellowship, including: loving one another, spiritual gifts, restoration, suffering and comfort, giving, acceptance, and singing to one another among others.

A sample of quotations follows to whet your appetite.

“Membership in the local church is a biblical idea and an implicit requirement for the Christian life.”

“I pray that you would see how indispensable you are to everyone in your church according to God’s design.”

“There are not two classes of Christians— super-spiritual and ordinary. Because every Christian possesses the Spirit of God through faith, every Christian is spiritual. In that sense, the gospel flattens the world for us. We are all equal; we all live on the same plane.”

“It’s really remarkable to see how Trinitarian the Christian life is from beginning to end.”

“To see and experience this joy, we must commit to carrying ‘each other’s burdens’ (Gal. 6: 2). Restoration cannot be achieved a hundred yards away from the burdened. We cannot restore people by shouting across a football field, ‘Hey! Get it together! Get it right!’ The idea of carrying burdens requires proximity, intimacy, and teamwork.”

“The Christian church is an astounding thing. It is the bodily presence of Christ in the world. Where is God in suffering? He’s in His people administering comfort. Christian, you’re not just you. You’re you— with God working and flowing through you! You’re an utterly strange being, and the only lasting source of compassion in a world gone mad with suffering.”

“The stubborn pride of man that clings to self-reliance may be so strong God may sit death before us in order to shake us from it.”

Finally, one quote surprised me quite a bit, considering it is coming from a baptist pastor.

“People often ask why the church is not flowing in the gifts the way the early church was in Acts— or like the church at Corinth which had every spiritual gift (1 Cor. 1: 7). They ask, ‘Why are we not seeing miracles and things like that?’ Just reading through 1 Corinthians 12– 14, I think the answer can be boiled down to this one problem— churches are not flowing in the miraculous because the commitment to love is so weak and partial in very many churches. Congregations are not bent on loving one another so that equal concern is shown for every member (12: 25) and so that the common good is the main goal (12: 7).”

In my thought, this is a less-than-helpful explanation why God does not move through miracles displayed commonly in the church today.  I fear that this statement could be taken to extremes by many readers, laying a deep burden of guilt on the church as a whole. Perhaps my fear is unfounded, but it is my conviction that there is danger lurking here.  It could easily cause burnout in most churches as the people attempt to love one another enough so that their church is flowing in the miraculous.  When the miraculous fails to materialize, where will the church turn?  Will they speed up the love treadmill and try even harder, or pull the ripcord and float away in exhaustion?

To summarize, I recommend that this book be read broadly but with care, as should be our approach with all theological writing.

Full disclosure: I received a free review ebook from Christian Focus to prepare this review.  This has not unduly influenced me and I offer this review with a clear conscience.

Challenging, Helpful, Insightful, and Life-Changing

I just finished reading Tim Challies’ book The Next Story. I believe this book will have a huge impact, not so much for any final analysis that Tim provides, but rather because he has started the discussion with very insightful and penetrating questions. Over the next few years, I believe the seeds he plants with this book will grow and bear fruit in the writings of many. In a nutshell, Christian lives will be changed for the better through a ripple effect springing from the ideas the author presents in these 200 pages.

How well will we live the Christian life in the 21st century? However we choose to do it, technology will undoubtedly play a large role. The Next Story will help you see behind the curtain and will coax, if not literally force, you to examine your use of digital tools (and their use of you).

I am 45 years old and do not simply recognize many of the shifts that Tim writes about. No, not simple recognition… it is a resonance that runs through my mind and is working its way out through my actions. I am not a little ashamed of my unquestioning embrace of things digital, which has been accompanied by innumerable failures and shifts in perception on my part. This is an eye-opening work. It almost makes me feel like Saul when the scales fell from his eyes and he could see again.

My heart-felt advice and urging for you – read The Next Story.

Book Review: Putting Jesus in His Place by Bowman and Komoszewski

Book Review: Putting Jesus in His Place – The Case for the Deity of Christ

by Robert M. Bowman and J. Ed Komoszewski

Introduction

I have had the privilege in recent weeks to spend time examining Bowman’s and Komoszewski’s new book on the Deity of Christ. These two evangelical men have poured their hearts, minds, and lives into this work; exalting their Savior as few ever have. They embrace and synthesize the biblical data with full, intentional commitment to the inspired text – a commitment I find refreshing, given the abandonment of an inspired text in many modern “Christian” works. I firmly believe this book has the potential to impact future generations of readers in the way Bickersteth’s work The Trinity strengthened decades of readers concerning its subject matter. I am pleased to commend this work for your consideration and grateful to the authors for their efforts at producing this incredible work.

A Personal Note About the Authors

Robert M. Bowman, Jr.

I have “known” Rob for many years, first through his printed works, then through online interaction. Rob is the author of several apologetics books. His efforts through the years have touched on many religions and topics. He has focused primarily on responding to the Jehovah’s Witnesses, both organizationally and individually. Rob has been active on the internet for several years, interacting with Jehovah’s Witness apologists in extended discussions on a host of topics. He has poured his life into serving Christ, strengthening the body of Christ in his writings, and reaching out to a people group that requires a personal investment which, I am certain, encompasses a large part of his adult life. He has performed his service through honest research, demonstrating tremendous patience and understanding towards those he labors to reach with the gospel of Christ.

J. Ed Komoszewski

I “met” Ed many years ago, while he was a graduate student at Dallas Seminary. Ed has intellectual capacity and acumen that few approach. Even so, this does not surpass his heart for serving Christ, the church, and his fellow man. Ed was instrumental in motivating me personally to pursue studies that I never would have attempted without his encouragement. I remain indebted to him and his fellow grad student Don Hartley for taking the time to encourage an uneducated layman to grow in his studies through a lifetime commitment to the truth. Ed strives to communicate eternal truths in meaningful and memorable ways. He is a unique individual who combines passion and compassion to reach broken people living in a broken world with Christ’s message of hope.

Review

Organized around five major themes, the authors have created a unique and helpful work. It is a combination of fervent devotion and intellectual rigor, written to engage and challenge the reader. Helpfully, the authors document their assumptions:

  • New Testament Christology
  • Inspired Bible
  • The humanity, death, and resurrection of Christ are established historical facts
  • Jesus remains human to this day, and will everlastingly
  • Jesus is not the Father

It is refreshing to have sound conservative scholarship marshaled in defense of the Deity of Christ without being too academic. In this sense, the book reminds me of James White’s The Forgotten Trinity; academically responsible but executed to reach a far greater audience. Do not underestimate the scholarship underpinning this work. Although the primary text is written at a popular level (albeit a very committed popular level), the footnotes reveal years of research which the authors have performed. They are very familiar with nuanced arguments offered today by skeptics of every stripe. This is no careless work. In many cases it is founded upon the authors’ direct and extended interactions with critics in both academic and informal settings.

Bowman and Komoszewski take the time to explore both the explicit and implicit conclusions to be drawn from the biblical text. In fact, you will find that, in 400 pages, the authors have packed in an incredible amount of information. Considering the sheer number of exegetical insights, reading this book raises the questions, “Have we only just begun? Is Christ an inexhaustible fountain, always supplying more for his thirsty sheep?” The happy answer to both is the same, an enthusiastic “Yes!”

The clear message of Christ’s Deity revolves around five major themes, represented by the acronym HANDS.

  • Honors of God
  • Attributes of God
  • Names of God
  • Deeds of God
  • Seat of God

Bowman and Komoszewski clearly demonstrate that Christ receives the honors that only God receives, possesses the attributes that only God possesses, is known by the names that only God is known by, performs the deeds that only God performs, and shares the seat that is alone God’s sovereign rule. They accomplish all of this biblically, relying on the text to lead us on the path.

There is much to be gained by reading this book. It will take effort to fully grasp the argumentation that Bowman and Komoszewski present. Through the use of modern teaching tools the authors endeavor to engage the modern reader, to spur their pursuit of lasting truth about the person of Christ. Helpful charts and diagrams are sprinkled throughout the book. Acknowledging the pervasive impact the internet has had on religious dialogue and debate, several footnotes point to online resources where particularly helpful. Some grammatical terms may be unfamiliar to the popular reader, such as: substantival, adjectival, apposition, nominative, and vocative. The use of these terms is mostly confined to the footnotes. Some of the counter-arguments the authors explore are robust and nuanced. They have chosen to engage these issues directly and candidly, rather than pretend they do not exist or dismiss them with bluff and bluster. Engaging these arguments adds to the long-term benefits this work will deliver to the attentive reader. Oh that the Lord would be pleased to move many seminary students, pastors, and laymen to emulate the example demonstrated by Bowman and Komoszewski.

Some Tasty Samples

In chapter 2, Bowman and Komoszewski examine the worship of the carpenter. One of the discussion points hinges on the uniqueness of Jewish thought concerning worship of angelic creatures. “The idea that even powerful, supernatural beings such as angels were not appropriate objects of worship would have struck almost everyone in the ancient world as peculiar – except Jews. The prevailing view of Judaism across the various parties or schools of thought (Pharisee, Sadducee, Qumran, etc.) was that the Lord God was the only supernatural power whom humans ought to worship.”

In chapter 3, we examine prayers to Jesus. First, attention is drawn to the first recorded prayer to Jesus, concerning the replacement of Judas Iscariot in the rank of the apostles. Who is the Lord choosing the replacement apostle? Second, the final prayer of the first Christian martyr is given an extended look. How did Stephen’s prayer affect the young eyewitness Pharisee Saul? “The apostle Paul, as a young man named Saul, had stood by and watched in support as Stephen was stoned to death (Acts 7:58; 8:1). He had heard Stephen ‘call on’ the Lord Jesus to receive his spirit. Saul evidently was incensed by Stephen’s devotion to Jesus and by what Saul considered Stephen’s disrespect for the tradition of the Jews, and he got himself a commission to go to Damascus to arrest Christians there and take them to Jerusalem. … ‘to arrest all who call on your name’.”

In chapter 4, time is spent examining New Testament evidence of the earliest Christian hymns. The authors discuss the strengths and weaknesses of apparent remnants of songs honoring Jesus. They bring out the fact that evidence for the earliest Christian hymns “extends beyond the pages of the New Testament – and not just from other early Christian writers, but from non-Christian observers as well.” References are provided.

In chapter 7, they highlight Jesus’ use of language concerning “sending” and “coming”. They analyze it in comparison with language concerning John the Baptist and angels.

In Chapter 9, Bowman and Komoszewski interact with several of the arguments of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. They interact with Greg Stafford’s use of the “partitive genitive” argument, the “wisdom creation” of the JWs, use of Rev 3:14 as a unitarian proof text, explicating immutability, etc. The authors are conscious of and respond to more than the official publications of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. While apologetics purists may ignore these unofficial arguments, our writers decide to plow this ground intentionally. They do so in a helpful fashion, indicating their willingness to engage in discussions for the benefit of the public and church at large, not simply because it fits a certain apologetic or academic school of thought.

In other chapters, B&K interact with Gordon Fee’s recent position on Titus 2:13. They whet the appetite to pursue studies concerning the transmission and preservation of the biblical text. They interact summarily with arguments surrounding John 1:1, while providing a research bibliography for those who want to go beyond the summary presented. They provide impressive evidence for a sound interpretation of Thomas’s declaration, “My Lord and my God”. Interaction with Sharp’s Rule is included. They analyze Stafford‘s use of argumentation that presumes stylistic writing in an area outside of presumption. Christ’s “Amen, amen” formula sets him apart from all other rabbis, priests, and prophets. And much, much more.

Finally

I sincerely believe this book will impact multitudes of Christians and skeptics alike. Its engagement of truth, coupled with a systematic and reasoned reliance upon the biblical text will profoundly affect the Theology, Christology, and Apology of the church in the 21st century.

What is the case for the Deity of Christ? Read this book and you will have a glimpse of the Christian’s occupation for eternity. I highly recommend this work.

Book Review: Father, Son, & Holy Spirit by Bruce Ware

Father, Son, & Holy Spirit:
Relationships, Roles, & Relevance

Bruce Ware authored a book on the Trinity, published through Crossway Books in 2005 titled Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. It is a focused examination of certain aspects of the Trinity. The subtitle reveals the focal points: “Relationships, Roles, & Relevance“. In other words, Ware is going to explore the interactions of the persons of the Trinity, the roles they play in several areas, and the relevance the doctrine has for us today. The work is unique in both its content and length. Doctrinal works on the Trinity are relatively rare. Given the acedemic air that Ware breathes one could easily expect a voluminous treatment. This book is a short read. Not a quick read. Short.

Dr. Ware is briefly biographed on the back cover as the Senior Associate Dean and Professor of Christian Theology at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY. I have read a couple of his other works and listened to some of his lectures responding to the Open Theism heresy. His has been helpful in understanding the issues with Open Theism from a conservative evangelical point of view. So, how about this book? It has proven to be a mixed bag. Some good, some bad. Let’s look at the good first.

The Good

Wonder

Ware reflects with amazement that the Father involves us in his kingdom work. I identify with the author when he roots his amazement in his own personality flaw of perfectionism. It is very hard for a perfectionist to let go of the reigns and allow someone else to do the work. I had to nod my head in agreement with Ware. The Father’s generosity of opportunity in labor that is everlasting in its fruits (namely sharing the gospel in many forms) is truly wonderful and can rightly bring wonder to our hearts as part of our vocabulary of worship.

True Fatherhood

Ware asserts that we can learn what true fatherhood is by looking to God the Father as our great exemplar. He raises distinct but complementary aspects for our consideration:

“God as Father insists on our respect and obedience.”

“God fathers us by being lavish, generous, even extravagant in his care, love, provision, and protection for his children.”

I love the way Ware builds both our awareness of God’s care and our worship vocabulary simultaneously. He has hit the true mark of theology – this is theology that issues forth in doxology, theology that leads to worship. It is not an easy mark to hit

Radical Feminism

Ware spends a full paragraph defending God’s self-revelation as Father and strongly denouncing the radical feminist pursuit to eradicate masculine language of God in Scripture. Given the heart-commitment that some have to the feminist viewpoint, it is unlikely (humanly speaking) that the arguments presented will sway their thinking. Their ears are stuffed full with zeal. Even so, I thought Ware wrote with appropriate strength about the unbiblical nature of the feminist view. If we are to take the Scriptures as God-breathed we must make sense of them as they stand, not by tinkering with the wording to make it more palatable to modern tastes (so much for my poker-face in gender-neutral translations and the egalitarian debate).

Reciprocal Honor

Ware highlights the need for reciprocal honor of those in authority and those under authority. He asserts that the inter-relationships of the Trinity are the model and basis for this mutual honor. He does not demand one-way honor directed towards authority. He calls for reciprocal honor, all based on observed relationships within the Trinity. There is a healthy balance that is all too easily thrown off-kilter by our lusts and love of idolatry (especially when we are the idol).

One clarification could be raised here. Ware designates the inter-relationships of the Trinity as the model for reciprocal honor between the one in authority and the one under authority and he intends us to apply it on our plane of human inter-relationships. That is where the reciprocal honor applies. Honor does not apply reciprocally between God and us. Perhaps I am naive in thinking this way, but I do not presume to expect God to honor me mutually in my relationship with Him. I may pray for His blessing, but honor flows one direction in this relationship… from me to Him.

Jesus and the Spirit

Ware examines an aspect of Jesus’ human life that I’ve rarely seen explored. He makes the case that Jesus’ sinless human life is grounded in his submission to the Spirit rather than his divine nature. In doing so, Ware is exerting himself to bring Jesus’ humanity to the forefront in the single most challenging area of the Christian faith – our daily walk. How many times have you felt disconnected from the perfection of Jesus’ life because of the easy excuse, “He was God in the flesh. What do you expect of me?” This life of submission to and reliance upon the Holy Spirit is a good point that needs to be explored more widely in modern evangelical circles. Holiness continues to be a challenge to the modern soul, at times disappearing from mention concerning the daily walk of the Christian. This is one of the points that Ware makes which could benefit from much more treatment. He cannot explore it adequately in the brevity of this work.

Real Humanity – Interconnected and Interdependent

Ware notes our American cultural autonomy and its appeal to the power of the individual. In contrast, he places Trinitarian inter-relationships as the pattern for real, authentic humanity – interconnected and interdependent. Anticipating potential reactions to what I’ve written here, I want to highlight that Ware is speaking of the influence of our cultural autonomy. Ware is not proposing a socialist political identity or some other nonsense as a corrective to our cultural autonomy.

Relationships and Essential Being Within the Trinity

Ware correctly attributes simultaneous worship of the Father and Son. He discusses equality of the essential nature of the persons of the Trinity (the ontological trinity, theologically speaking). He emphasizes and re-emphasizes the authority structure of the functional relationships of the Trinity (the economic Trinity).


Counsel for Christian Husbands

Ware writes forcefully and pointedly of the example set before Christian husbands in the care of their wives. His thought is founded upon the demonstrated interplay between the persons of the Trinity. I appreciate him including this section of the book. The way he presents the material is helpful and will make a difference in the way I care for my own dear wife.

Having noted all of the above points as good and profitable portions of Ware’s book, let’s move on to a couple of problematic propositions.

The Bad

I was surprised to find what Ware has written concerning Christian prayer and Christian worship as it relates to the Trinity. Prayer and worship sit squarely in the practice of the daily Christian walk. Several other areas Ware explores in the book are experiential, but none of them have the kind of deep impact that prayer and worship have in the life of the believer.

Prayer

Ware is deeply committed to the form of prayer prescribed by Jesus for the disciples in Matt 6/Luke 11. He emphasizes this form early in the work and repeats it often throughout the book. The repetition makes it obvious that this is a strong current in Ware’s theology. In a nutshell, Ware believes Christian prayer is directed to the Father, through the Son, in the power of the Spirit. Period.

Ware recognizes the radical nature of his position, identifying it as such in his first mention on page 18. Even though this is his initial presentation, it is phrased in very strong language. He exerts himself to bring home the controversial nature of his position. He writes the following:

“The Christian’s life of prayer must rightly acknowledge the roles of the Father, Son, and Spirit as we pray to the Father, through the Son, in the power of the Spirit. … May I suggest something both clear and radical? If Jesus taught us to pray to the Father, then we ought to do this. … So prayer rightly understood – Christian prayer – is prayer to the Father, through the Son, in the power of the Spirit. To pray aright, we need a deep appreciation for the doctrine of the Trinity.” p.18

I agree with Ware on two points. His position is both clear and radical. In the face of such radical clarity, should we adapt our devotional life to fit Ware’s definition of Christian prayer? After all, he is an established Christian scholar and seminary professor. It is obvious that he possesses the training and credentials to form a powerful case for his position. Nonetheless, in my years of research and observation of pseudo-Christian cults, I have constantly encountered hundreds of clear, radical beliefs. We clearly must ask the question, “Is this biblical?” Clear? Yes. Radical? Absolutely. Biblical? (spoiler alert) Absolutely not.

Ware understands well enough that he is setting himself in opposition to the devotional instruction and example that many (probably most) evangelicals have received. He writes, “We may encourage our children, especially, to open their prayers with, ‘Dear Jesus,’ despite the fact that Jesus said to pray ‘Our Father in heaven . . .'”. Let’s be clear about this. Ware isn’t suggesting a slight modification to the prayer life of the evangelical Christian, where we address the Father or the Son. He rejects prayer to Christ as Christian prayer; as praying aright; and as meaningful, biblical prayer. He explicitly states that addressing our prayers to the Father alone is to pray aright. If adherence to this position is to pray aright, then stepping outside of it is to pray awrong. Ware indicts modern evangelical piety head-on. In doing so, has he indicted biblical prayer as well?

Stephen – The First Christian Martyr

And they went on stoning Stephen as he called upon the Lord and said, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!” And falling on his knees, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” And having said this, he fell asleep. (Acts 7:59-60, NASB)

The Disciples When Replacing Judas Iscariot

And they prayed, and said, “Thou, Lord, who knowest the hearts of all men, show which one of these two Thou hast chosen to occupy this ministry and apostleship
from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place. ” (Acts 1:24-25, NASB)

Saul’s Thorn in the Flesh

Concerning this I entreated the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may dwell in me. (2 Corinthians 12:8-9, NASB)

Christ Answers Prayer Directed to Him

“And whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. “If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it. (John 14:13-14, NASB)

Paul Entreats Jesus

Now may our God and Father Himself and Jesus our Lord direct our way to you; and may the Lord cause you to increase and abound in love for one another, and for all men, just as we also do for you; (1 Thessalonians 3:11-12, NASB)

Now may our Lord Jesus Christ Himself and God our Father, who has loved us and given us eternal comfort and good hope by grace, comfort and strengthen your hearts in every good work and word. (2 Thessalonians 2:16-17, NASB)

The Last Prayer in the Bible

He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming quickly.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus. (Revelation 22:20, NASB)

A Biblical View

The above is a sample of the examples. They provide ample biblical evidence that Christian prayer may be directed to Christ and not solely to the Father in Christ’s name. Ware’s view is clear, radical, and unbiblical. There is a sense in which Ware’s rebuke of evangelical practice is proper. By and large, evangelical Christians appear to function as ‘Jesus only’ unitarians. We overemphasize Jesus and hold the Father at arms’ length. As a corrective to this imbalanced piety, Ware is on target that a faulty understanding of the Trinity drives us away from the Father in our devotional life. It would be a much easier pill to swallow if Ware did not employ such stark language contrasting typical practice with his radical suggestion. If his goal was to encourage us to return to addressing the Father in concert with the Son, there was no need for the extreme contrast. Due to the fact he uses such contrast, this was obviously not his simple goal. He is intentional enough in what he has said to make it clear he is proposing a complete reformation of evangelical prayer.

James White addresses the evangelical ‘Jesus only’ prayer life in his book The Forgotten Trinity with as much clarity as Ware but without adopting the radical position Ware has taken up. I heartily recommend White’s book on the Trinity as a fine starting point to understanding the Trinity and its necessary impact on all aspects of our life, faith, piety, and practice. It is a fuller treatment of the Trinity than Ware’s book. Granted, Ware is focusing on specific aspects of the Trinity, which again indicates that his book is not the place for the committed reader to begin studying the Trinity.

The Normal Pattern
When you survey the pattern of prayer demonstrated in the New Testament, you will find that most prayers are directed to the Father. Ware pushes us towards this biblical model of prayer, but he does so too forcefully. We would all benefit from cultivating our devotional relationship with the Father but this does not justify making a case appear stronger than it is. If only Ware would have approached this imbalance in a balanced manner, he may have had a much more positive and wide ranging impact. Imbalance is not corrected by another imbalance.

Concerning Worship
Ware states:

“Hence, Christian worship must be worship of the Son, by the power of the Spirit, to the ultimate glory of the Father. Worship is deeply satisfying and correctly expressed to the glory of this triune God only as it is exercised within this trinitarian framework” (p.155)

In approaching the topic of worship, Ware again falls into language that is too strong and imbalanced. “Christian worship must be worship of the Son”? I believe Ware is less than coherent on this point. Jesus gave explicit instruction in Luke 4:8 concerning worship of God that is unreconcilable with his instruction to the woman at the well in John 4:21-24 if we adopt Ware’s position. It feels as if Ware has made a similar error in thinking as he made with prayer. In offering a corrective to an imbalance in current practice, he goes too far and ends up out on a theological limb.

Worship and prayer are related. Many theologians consider prayer to be an act of worship. If Christian prayer (a form of worship) is to be directed to the Father alone and Christian worship (which would include prayer) is to be directed to the Son alone, we are stuck in a theological conundrum. Can we do either in a Christian fashion in the construct Ware has built? This is not theology that leads to doxology. It is theology that leads to paralysis. Other sections of the book do bring us to live as we should. The intermingled doctrines of prayer and worship as presented do not lead us to the same destination.

Not only have I been surprised at Ware’s position on prayer/worship, I am perplexed at the unqualified recommendations that internet reviewers have given the book. Brothers and sisters, are you reading carefully? While I agree that Ware has many profitable things to say, they pale in comparison to the potential damage caused by his unbalanced and contradictory positions on prayer and worship. This error is the kind of minefield that could blow apart a local church. Has anyone become convinced by Ware’s argument that prayer must be offered to the Father alone through Christ? If so, a balanced biblically-based worship service would be akin to scraping your forehead with a cheese grater. If the church has been protected wholesale by God’s grace from falling into this error, I am thankful for His outpoured mercy.

So what is my overall opinion of the book? Although Ware presents several helpful points which will make a difference in my life, the deep impact of his position on prayer/worship gives me great concern.

For Further Study Concerning Prayer to Christ

Millard Erickson
God in Three Persons

The Word Became Flesh

H. R. Mackintosh
The Doctrine of the Person of Jesus Christ

Robert Morey
The Trinity: Evidence and Issues

Simon Kistemaker
New Testament Commentary – Acts, I Corinthians

Gordon Fee
New International Commentary on the New Testament, I Corinthians

John Calvin
Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles


Robert Reymond
A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith

B. B. Warfield
The Lord of Glory

John Owen
Christologia

Wayne Grudem
Systematic Theology

Charles Hodge
Systematic Theology, vol II

Bruce Milne
Know the Truth

Robert Dabney
Lectures in Systematic Theology

Leon Morris
Reflections on the Gospel of John
Jesus is the Christ

Jerome Smith
The New Treasury of Scripture Knowledge, Acts 7:58-59