Review Grab Bag #7

THEOLOGY

Ashamed of the Gospel by John MacArthur

John MacArthur knocks this one out of the ballpark. In Ashamed of the Gospel, published in 1993, MacArthur discusses the market-driven church growth strategies that characterized the latter half of the 20th century. He shows that by having a pragmatic view of church growth, the church is placed on a slippery slope towards mushy doctrine and ineffectiveness in the world. I don’t know why I hadn’t read this book before, but I would say that it should be essential reading for today’s pastors. I would compare this book with J. Gresham Machen’s Christianity and Liberalism from the beginning of the 20th century. Though Machen was dealing with theological liberalism and MacArthur is dealing with methodological liberalism, the dangers of both are the same, and both books are as relevant today as they are when they were written.

5/5 stars

Paradox and Truth: Rethinking Van Til On the Trinity by Ralph Smith

I have mixed feelings about this book. This book is academic and intended to have a specific and narrow aim. Ralph Smith reflects on the current state of views on the Trinity within the Reformed world. He specifically deals with current critiques of Augustine’s classic conception of the Trinity and with Cornelius Plantinga’s social-Trinity formulation. He asks why the Trinitarian teachings of Cornelius Van Til have not received wider acknowledgment among theologians, and goes on to show how Van Til places the Trinity at the center of Christian thought as an answer to the philosophical question of the one and the many.

According to Smith, the Trinity is often seen as a true and important doctrine of Christian belief, but ultimately of no practical relevance to the Christian life. He goes on to show that Van Til’s conception of the Trinity, influenced by Kuyper and Bavink, affects every aspect of life for a Christian and marks a distinct difference in practice from non-Trinitarian religions.

The only complaint I have about this book it Smith’s use and abuse of logic. Many people have criticized Van Til for teaching that the Trinity is ultimately a contradiction. While Smith does not believe this to be the case, he does think that a reliance on Aristotelian logic is detrimental to thinking about the Trinity. Van Til, rather than using language that avoids the appearance of contradiction, uses language that exaggerates the seeming problem. Smith states out that syllogistic logic relies on the idea of fixed categories and a perfect language. As we cannot have perfect knowledge of God, our categories cannot be fully known and any attempt to apply this sort of logic to God ultimately fails.

I disagree on this point. Whether one has any knowledge of absolute categories is irrelevant to whether the law of non-contradiction works. If I were to say: “I am mad and I am not mad,” then I could avoid a true contradiction if in the first use of mad I mean “angry” and in the second use I mean “insane”. No contradiction here. However, if I mean the exact same thing by the word “mad” each time, then what I have said must be untrue because it is a contradiction.

There is a definite distinction between something that is illogical, i.e. contradictory, and something that is mysterious. I would never want to say that there is a true, unequivocal contradiction in the Godhead. This is why the doctrine of the Trinity is normally formulated as “One essence, three persons”. We don’t have an actual understanding of how this works, and in fact the people that think they understand it are usually the heretics. However this formulation does a good job of showing, though we cannot fully grasp this mysterious doctrine, it is ultimately resolved in the being of God and is not an absolute contradiction.

Now if Van Til says that God is one person and yet three persons, and then stipulates that these are not absolute Aristotelian categories but rather cannot be thought of apart from instantational and associational ideas, I am fine with that. We can say that the word “person” does not represent the same term with the exact same extension each time, because we are not dealing with absolute knowable categories. Let’s just not pretend that we have violated the law of non-contradiction somehow and that logic is therefore not useful. We have simply added stipulations that prevent this formulation from being truly contradictory, and left the mystery intact.

3/5 stars

From Silence to Song: The Davidic Liturgical Revolution by Peter Leithart

From Silence to Song is an excellent book. Leithart examines the Davidic Tabernacle as distinct from the earlier Mosaic Tabernacle and the later Temple of Solomon. David introduced various innovations into the worship of the tabernacle, including instruments and music, and he created a number of new offices for the Levites in the tabernacle service. However, all of these innovations can be seen as typological applications of previous commandments concerning the tabernacle worship. In the final chapter, Leithart argues against a wooden, literalistic application of the Regulative Principle of Worship often employed in conservative Presbyterian churches, and advocates a more Biblical idea of Bible-informed worship that he calls Regulation-by-Analogy.

5/5 stars

Loving the Little Years by Rachel Jankovic

This was a very short book, which constitutes a pep-talk for the down and out mom of little ones. Rachel Jankovic shares her parenting experiences while encouraging mothers to a parenting style full of grace rather than unattainable expectations. I can see this being a great help for many moms.

5/5 stars

Comments

Mom said…
YAY! Finally, a review of my favorite book! Everybody should read Ashamed of the Gospel...not just pastors. Thanks Rick. Love ya buddy.