Wednesday, September 26, 2007
Book Review: Free Indeed From Sorcery Bondage
"Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God" (Galatians 5:19-21). The Apostle Paul warns followers of Christ about the works of the flesh. In the West, we are familiar with most of these sins. But sorcery? What should we think of this evil?
For people living throughout Africa, this is not an abstract question. Sorcery is a part of their daily lives, and it does not simply disappear when one becomes a Christian. Marvin S. Wolford should know--he served as a missionary for 42 years in the Republic of Congo. And he brings the light of Scripture to bear on his experience and ministry in Free Indeed from Sorcery Bondage.
His book is divided into three parts. To begin, Wolford explains the reality of sorcery in Africa. For many throughout the continent, sorcery is more than a reality. It is a way of life. Next, the author turns to the Word of God. What does the Bible have to say about sorcery? Quite a bit, actually. But too many of us have never really taken the time to recognize the numerous passages dealing with sorcery or connected beliefs and practices. Wolford leaves no stone unturned, thoroughly explaining what God's truth has to say about this overlooked issue. Finally, he seeks to bring his insights down to a practical level. How can believers minister to sorcery-bound people? Practical steps and guidance is given to those seeking to work with individuals involved in sorcery.
I really appreciate Wolford's work. His explanation of sorcery in animistic contexts was enlightening. He also includes numerous examples of people throughout Africa, showing how central the sorcery cycle is to different cultures and people groups. Most importantly, he turns to Scripture for a true assessment of sorcery. This is the book's key strength. One may consult various anthropological or sociological materials to learn about sorcery. But only the Bible provides the examination necessary for faithful and fruitful ministry among those who live with sorcery. I enthusiastically agree with the author when he observes:
Preaching based on the scriptural facts, plus teaching the meaning and pertinence of the Scriptures, are the means of delivering people bound by sorcery. There is no human strength nor human wisdom that can deal with the situation. Spirit filled evangelistic preaching from the Bible, which regards sorcery as a sin, but a forgiveable sin, should direct people to a definite time of confession and repentance that will make a definite break with their past beliefs and practices. This is precisely the first work of the Holy Spirit in those who are in bondage (81).
At the same time, I must admit that Wolford and I come from different perspectives. He is a Wesleyan Arminian. Hence, in his rejection of fatalism, I have difficulties with his defense of personal free choices. He says, "Consequently, it is God's will for everyone to choose life; but the choice is up to each person" (134). Or, "When Jesus urges: 'Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness,' he is admonishing his hearers to make the choice to seek God's kingdom first before all other things, but he leaves that decision up to them" (137). Biblically, we simply do not have this kind of freedom. Our hearts, our minds, our wills, every part of us is depraved. We would never choose God if left to ourselves. It is only through God's sovereign work of grace that we repent, believe, and obey Him.
Additionally, I would disagree with his belief in a second work of grace. Wolford writes "there is a distinct experience of filling that is separate from the initial salvation which Christ accomplishes in the repentant sinner's heart. The Holy Spirit is sent by Christ himself (see John 15:26), and his work in the believer is to glorify Christ (see v. 14), to guide him into all truth, and to give power to his life" (179). Thus, he divides Christians into two groups: victorious Christians and nominal Christians. However, this is an artificial separation. All believers are filled with the Holy Spirit when we are saved. Our lives are a slow process of spiritual maturity as we become more like Christ.
Regardless, I would not let these differences stop a Christian from being richly blessed through the reading of Free Indeed From Sorcery Bondage. Wolford provides such a wealth of insight and biblical application that I believe all missionaries serving where sorcery is a challenge should read this book. As I prepare to serve my Savior in Africa, I am sure that I will be regularly referring back to Wolford's work.
Unfortunately, his book is no longer in print. However, you can still purchase copies through sending a check for $10 each plus $2 shipping per book to:
125 Lowry Lane
Wilmore, KY 40390
For those desiring to learn more about this vital subject, make sure to pick up a copy while you can.
Labels: Book Review, Missions
Tuesday, September 25, 2007
Yes, I am a Simpsons
fan. So when I heard that I could become a Simpson, well, what do you think I did? Here's the result:
Labels: Personal Life
Thursday, September 20, 2007
Book Review: Every Thought Captive
The Bible informs all Christians of our need to defend the faith: "always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect" (1 Peter 3:15). How are we to do so? Different methods have been advocated over the years, but many believers (including myself) have come to embrace presuppositional apologetics as the biblical way to defend the Christian worldview.
Nevertheless, presuppositionalism tends to remain far too difficult for most believers to understand. What in the world are presuppositions anyway? Too often, presuppositionalists remain content in using technical and philosophical jargon in explaining our view. We'll use phrases like "epistemological inconsistency" or "the preconditions of intelligibility." Our approach to defending the faith never gets down to the grass-roots level. But it should--and it must.
Answering this challenge is Richard Pratt and his book Every Thought Captive: A Study Manual for the Defense of Christian Truth
. Specifically written for the high school level and above, this work admirably popularizes presuppositional apologetics. The result is a helpful and easy read.
Pratt's writing really is this book's greatest strength. His is the first presuppositionalist book that I have read where ordinary language is used throughout. The chapters even include helpful pictures and diagrams to visually help readers understand the points being made. I have finally found a book that I am not afraid to recommend to sincere Christians desiring to learn how to defend their faith.
If there is a shortcoming that I find with the book, it is that this work is too short. Pratt takes care in laying down the foundation of our apologetic task, but he seems to rush through applying these biblical principles at the end. Since he intended it to be a practical manual, I would have liked to see a little more "how-to"ness.
Regardless, all Christians desiring to defend our faith will benefit by reading Every Thought Captive
. I pray that it will inspire and equip many believers to become apologists. I wholeheartedly agree with John Frame as he writes in his foreword:
Reformed people have been generally weak in training one another to do apologetics. Generally we have set forth the theory and have hoped that the practice would take care of itself. But this attitude has often kept Reformed apologetics in the status of a scholars' game. That ought not to be. Van Til's insights are life-transforming and world-transforming. It is time that gifted apologists be mobilized to press the claims of Scripture upon their friends and neighbors and upon the whole opinion-making process of our culture (vii-viii).
Labels: Apologetics, Book Review
Thursday, September 13, 2007
Book Review: Christian Apologetics by Cornelius Van Til
For Christians seeking to know how to defend our faith in today's world, Cornelius Van Til
is impossible to avoid. Some love him, others hate him, and still others try to ignore him altogether, but no one denies that he began a revolution in the field of apologetics. Believers should no longer defend our faith in the traditional way, Van Til insisted. Rather, we must reason by presupposition.
As a result, anyone wanting to learn more about the presuppositional method of apologetics needs to go back to the source--Van Til himself. And a great introduction to his approach is Christian Apologetics
At the same time, reading Van Til is not easy. He writes as a knowledgeable and sophisticated philosopher, and this work is essentially one of his syllabi for courses at Westminster Theological Seminary. I admittedly found myself reading over some paragraphs three or four times, and even then I only probably understood 3/4ths of his book. Nevertheless, this difficulty should not stop anyone from taking the time to digest Christian Apologetics. After all, how can one truly learn except by struggling through important and informative material? This book is well worth the effort.
There are a few reasons why I recommend this book so strongly. First, Van Til roots his method for defending the faith in theology. He begins his study of apologetics where any Christian should start--with our Triune God as He has revealed Himself in Scripture. The biblical worldview itself (including its truths about God, humanity, Christ, salvation, the church, and God's plan for His creation) leads us to understand how we are to defend our faith. We defend God's revealed worldview as a whole, confronting non-believers with their rejection and suppression of it.
Second, Van Til often uses helpful and memorable illustrations and analogies. From a fortress to a saw, from the sun to water, this book is filled with memorable insights as he explains his tightly-knit argumentation.
Third, actually reading Van Til will correct misunderstandings surrounding him and his views. For example, how many times have you heard that Van Til didn't believe in using evidences? Anybody who will take the time to read his work knows that such a claim is simply in error. Here is one example:
This does not imply that it will be possible to bring the whole debate about Christian theism to full expression in every discussion of individual historical fact. Nor does it imply that the debate about historical detail is unimportant. It means that no Christian apologist can afford to forget the claim of his system with respect to any particular fact. . . . It is only as manifestations of that system that they are what they are. If the apologist does not present them as such, he does not present them for what they are (153-154).
Van Til was not opposed to using facts. He was opposed to using "brute" facts--facts used on their own, divorced from the Christian worldview that gives them meaning.
Fourth, the second edition of this book is even more valuable. Edited by William Edgar, it includes a helpful introduction as well as explanatory notes throughout (while never distracting from Van Til's actual writing). Latin terms are translated and philosophical concepts are explained. His notes are brief but tremendously beneficial.
What can I say? Take up the difficult but rewarding challenge of reading Van Til. If you stick with it, you won't be disappointed. Once we understand how God wants us to defend our faith, we can confidently confront non-believers with their rebellion against their Creator. By God's grace, they will be reconciled to Him through Jesus Christ.
Labels: Apologetics, Book Review
Monday, September 10, 2007
Announcement: ACFAR is Now Online!
I have a major announcement: the Africa Center for Apologetics Research
now has its own web site. While it is definitely a work in progress, be sure to check it out!
I appreciate all of the hard work that has gone into this site and pray that God will use it to raise awareness as well as the needed support to bring biblical discernment to East Africa.
Feel free to send me
your thoughts, comments, and questions. I am especially humbled by the endorsements that have begun to come in. Here is one by my spiritual mentor, Dr. Tom Nettles
I have known John Divito and his family for several years now in our relation through Southern Seminary and local church life together. He is a highly gifted man, with powerful gifts of analysis and teaching, with deep motivation for service to Christ and preserving gospel purity. His particular calling in helping indigenous pastors and churches resist the invasion of the cults and consequent gospel corruption fits his abilities and his background wonderfully. I commend him, his family, and his labor to the churches for he is giving himself to do an urgent Great Commission task, "teaching them to observe all things, whatsoever I have commanded you."
Labels: ACFAR, Personal Ministry
Friday, September 07, 2007
Book Review: Pushing the Antithesis
As one who appreciates Bahnsen's insight in defending the Christian faith, I welcome this work's intent. A college-age handbook on presuppositional apologetics with attention to application, it is a unique and needed treatment for young Christians bombarded with challenges to their faith.
Unfortunately, I finished the book disappointed. First, it claims to be a distillation of a series of presentations by Bahnsen to high school and college age students. By this, I expected the book to be essentially a textual version of these lectures. After all, the book never mentions an editor or indicates a different author. Nevertheless, I cannot see how the bulk of this material came from Bahnsen's lectures. It regularly includes excerpts from Bahnsen's books (Always Ready, Van Til's Apologetic, etc.), something I doubt he would have done in his speaking engagements. Additionally, many quotes are from contemporary sources that were published after Bahnsen's untimely death in 1995. I really had no idea throughout the book whether I was actually reading Bahnsen or another (unnamed) writer.
Second, the book was overly reliant on the internet for its sources. Not only does this lead to a short shelf life, but it indicates a lack of substantial scholarship. Should one really turn to the online version of Encarta for outlining the scientific method (p. 119)? Wikipedia is even used several times as a source, a basic no-no for serious research and writing. A college student would never get away with something like this!
Third, its practical usefulness is limited. The book spends a lot of its time showing how one can refute atheism. While it effectively demonstrates the shortcomings of naturalism and materialism, our shifting culture forces us to interact with other kinds of challenges. How does one use the transcendental argument with a Muslim? With New Age spirituality? With cultists? A reliable handbook for Christian students must treat such issues much more thoroughly to be helpful.
I do not mean to say that Pushing the Antithesis
has no value. It is a decent introduction to presuppositional apologetics. Nevertheless, with the problems given above, if I wanted somebody to learn more about Greg Bahnsen's apologetic methodology, I'd probably just suggest that he reads Always Ready
Labels: Apologetics, Book Review