Book Review: Word versus Deed, by Duane Liftin

Word versus Deed

Duane Liftin is president emeritus of Wheaton College where he served for seventeen years. In his new book, Dr. Liftin aims to strike the fine balance between words and deeds in the evangelical church. “Word versus Deed” (Crossway, 2012) is a timely book, written for a time of great controversy in today’s church because of over-emphasis of deeds ministries in certain streams of evangelicalism, at the expense of proclaiming the gospel with words.

his is a most important book of great significance, for Liftin strives to address the misunderstandings of this linchpin theological controversy of our age. He does so by examining first the communication theory behind the issues of not using words to seemingly convey the gospel, and then carefully analyzing some key biblical passages used in defense of deeds ministries.

Strengths

History

I was pleasantly surprised by how enlightening his section on the historical development of “word versus deed” (pgs 28–21). In a very concise manner, Liftin explains for even lay Christians how the last two centuries of American Church history has affected our balance of word ministry and deeds ministry. This is most helpful for those of us who need a firmer grasp of our place in church history.

Mercy ministries like Food Kitchens and Sandwich Runs did not come out of a vacuum. We must trace our church’s mission historically in order to see how far we have fallen in theological liberalism; we check back to see how the misguided over-emphasis of funadamentalists affect our grasp of the biblical fundamentals. What we do in our churches today can certainly be tempted by the ministry faux-pas of our forbears. Liftin graciously reminds us of our place at the table of words versus deeds, a place of grace responsibility.

Dividing the Word

I was also greatly helped by Ch.12 “Rightly Dividing the Word”. Liftin addresses the excessive priority that some give to the gospels over the epistles, and calls us to see the rightful balance that the gospels and epistles have in complementing each other. Further, Liftin confronts the Old Testament versus New Testament over-emphasis and demands that believers heed the biblical call of heightened obligation to brothers and sisters in Christ. If ever there is a “deeds ministry” that is biblically necessary, it is the acts of care and service to our fellow disciples.

Key Passages

Space does not allow for me to review every single one of Liftin’s helpful criticisms of various misuses of Scripture for the sake of deeds ministry (Ch.13) . Here’s a few highlights though.

  • For Jeremiah 29:4–7, Liftin argues that “the motive for God’s instruction to seek ‘the welfare of the city’ had little to do with improving things for Babylonians. The point of God’s word through Jeremiah was to instruct the exiles in how to make the best of their disciplinary experience”; thus the “focus of this passage is not the flourishing of Babylon but the well-being of God’s people” (170–171).
  • For Luke 4:16–21, Liftin asserts that the point of the passage is that the “poor” to whom the gospel is such good news in this passage “were not merely any who are materially lacking; they were members of the people of God who, because of their poverty, were especially open and responsive to God” (177). The passage speaks not of physical liberation, but of spiritual freedom. The promise of sight given to the blind is a profoundly spiritual promise in the passage’s context.
  • For Matthew 25:31–36, Liftin contends that the proper understanding of Jesus’s speaking about the least of these my brothers is not inclusive of just anyone who may be suffering. On the contrary, Jesus himself is “embodied in his followers (Col. 2:19), his brothers, his disciples, his little ones who believe, even ‘the least of them’ ” (192).

Conclusion

Our churches should be grateful for such a book by Duane Liftin that encourages us to strike a biblical balance between lovingly serving the needs of our Christian brethren, mercifully assisting those unbelieving sufferers as the Lord so calls us, and the gracious gospel proclaiming with words. Surely we ought to use the Nehemiah Principle in our practical ministry triage: while we cannot do everything, we certainly can do something. What are the needs around us? What are the most important needs? And what are the most urgent needs? Henceforth, the pinnacle concluding question: What is God calling you to do?

Liftin is careful to remind us of this simple axiom: A need is not a call. “The needs of the world, whether for our words or our deeds, will far outstrip our ability to meet them. It is therefore impossible for us to meet every need; only God can bear such a burden” (204).  We must continually strive to discern and serve God’s call on us for ministry–that we would not be falsely guilted into handing cash to a pan-handler or donating our moneys and time at every commercial of a starving child. There is a right way to serving those needs: by way of a personal calling from God to do so.

“Learning to respond to the call rather than need is not a technique for escaping costly service; it’s a plan for avoiding false guilt.”

*Buy Word Versus Deed on Paperback or Kindle.

Book Review: Warfield on the Christian Life by Fred G. Zaspel

Warfield on the Christian Life Fred Zaspel. Warfield on the Christian Life: Living in Light of the Gospel. Wheaton: Crossway, 2012. 240 pp. (Available in Paperback or Kindle

For those unfamiliar with Warfield

Fred Zaspel has written a very readable introduction to the theology of Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield (1851-1921). Especially for those who are unfamiliar with the significance of B.B. Warfield’s contribution to today’s church, Warfield on the Christian Life goes a long way in a concise form.

Warfield is known to be one of America’s greatest theologians, probably second to Jonathan Edwards in influence. As one of the “Old Princeton” theologians and a devout Presbyterian, Warfield is noted for his dogmatic defense of the doctrine of inspiration–having taught theology at Princeton Seminary from 1887 until his death in 1921.

Even for myself, having been seminary-trained in the Southern Baptist tradition, Zaspel’s presentation of Warfield’s theological writings was presented in well-written prose. At times, for those sections that are not explicit quotations, I was uncertain if what was written was Zaspel’s personal theological convictions, or if they were Warfield’s. Nevertheless, Zaspel’s condensation of Warfield’s theology on the different topics about the Christian life was especially digestible and enlightening.

Strengths

The Holy Spirit

I found Zaspel’s section on Warfield’s theology of the Holy Spirit especially helpful (chapter 7). In our day and age where this person of the Trinity has been described as the “forgotten God,” Warfield’s proclamation of the Holy Spirit is most needed. From Warfield, we are taught that we can be conservative theologically, contenders for the inerrant Scriptures and still have a strong dependence on the Holy Spirit.

Zaspel helpful writes of Warfield’s Spirit beliefs in terms of (1) the conviction of the Holy Spirit, (2) the sealing of the Spirit, (3) the Spirit’s testimony in our sonship, (4) the love of the Spirit, (5) the leading of the Spirit, (6) spiritual strengthening, and (7) the Spirit’s help in our praying. I don’t know if you could say that Warfield was “charismatic” in this theology, but you could certainly call him a super-natural cessationist, because it is evident that he has a high regard for the Holy Spirit.

Yet his emphasis on a correct understanding to the Spirit is not at the expense of his doctrine of inspiration: Zaspel grounds every point he makes about Warfield’s beliefs on the Spirit in Scripture. Even by way of example, Warfield shows us that the Spirit-filled Spirit-gifted Christian is a person wholly devoted to God’s Word.

Contra “Higher Life” Teachings

While we may find the recent “gospel-centered” movement to be a new development, Warfield had written and taught much from this perspective even a century ago. We can see this in Chapter 8 where Zaspel shows Warfield’s emphasis of the Christian life as an outworking of the gospel, holiness as an entailment of salvation. Because we have been united with Christ, Warfield aptly contends that it should be an experiential truth–that if we died with Christ, we also rose again with him. Such a resurrection has significant implications for our sanctification.

And so it is most appropriate that Warfield is adamant in writing against the heretical dogmas of the “higher life” teachers (cf. Keswick theology, “victorious life” teachers). My own church upbringing in the Christian and Missionary Alliance was wrought if this very Higher Life teachings–“Let go and let God!” theology–in a very hidden way. How often have we been taught that in our Christian life, all we need to do is “do your best, and God will do the rest!” ? I still know some who teach and proclaim such a thing–that it is possible to not sin on this side of eternity, if only we would surrender all of our life to God!

How could Christians be so skewed in their understanding of Christian life? Warfield would not be fazed by such aberrant teachings: he contended for a robust doctrine of sanctification that is not passive but aggressive, it is initial, progressive and yet also a final sanctification. To Warfield, Christians who’ve reached the “higher life” may be gaining victory of sinning, but they are certainly not gaining victory over sin–the old nature. When a Christian is made righteous, he is no longer under sin’s dominion. Period. There cannot be a Christian with a carnal nature! Zaspel thus writes succinctly,

Against all this Warfield expounds the doctrine of sanctification in terms of every believer’s progressive struggle against sin, a struggle marked, on the one hand, by a radical freedom from sin experienced in conversion and, on the other, by a final perfection in glory. For Warfield sanctification is a progressive experience growing out of an initial transformation of heart and life in regeneration by the Holy Spirit and culminating in the glory of the eschaton, when we will reach our goal, having been made like Christ. […] the believer’s sinfulness is more than matched by the grace of God in Christ and by the creative work of the Holy Spirit (104)

Intimate view into Warfield’s Heart

These are just a couple strengths I found to be personally notable in this short book on B.B. Warfield’s beliefs about the Christian life. As the first book I have read about Warfield and his theology, I was very much helped in gaining a more gospel-centered perspective on my own spiritual pilgrimage.

Zaspel’s summaries gave me an intimate view into Warfield’s heart for his seminary students and for his church, and the larger body of Christ. His love for God and His Word was especially evident, pulsating through every knick and cranny of his life and ministry. One significant part of Warfield’s ministry was his wife, Annie Kinkead. She was apparently at about 17 years into their marriage when she fell sickly ill and became an invalid for the rest of her life and marriage. In this, we find evidence of Warfield’s personal life having been greatly impacted by the gospel of Christ. He is wonderful example of a husband-theologian, and rightfully so:

by all accounts Warfield was a devoted husband in a very happy marriage. The Warfields had no children, and for many years he left his home only for the classroom. He was otherwise home nearly always in the company of his wife. And in the providence of God, without doubt, this contributed to his time in writing so extensively on so many subjects. It was reported by those who knew him that “he has had only two interests in his life–his work, and Mrs. Warfield.” (28-29)

Now that…is a gospel-centered man. I look forward to meeting him in the age to come.


Fred Zaspel. Warfield on the Christian Life: Living in Light of the Gospel. Wheaton: Crossway, 2012. 240 pp. (Available in Paperback or Kindle)
Part of the new Crossway series of books, “Theologians on the Christian Life”.

Deviations from Christianity: Seventh-Day Advetists

Gerald Bray (DLitt, University of Paris-Sorbonne) is Research Professor at Beeson Divinity School. His massive new book, God Is Love: A Biblical and Systematic Theology (Crossway, 2012) traces the common theme of God’s love through the Bible categorically. It is a systematic theology, yet it reads unlike any other, revealing Bray’s strength of writing theology through prose. From God’s love for himself and his creation to the cross as the ultimate expression of God’s love, the centrality of God’s love in Bray’s theology reflects a deep conviction that the Bible shows us God for who he really is.

In Part Four: The Rejection of God’s Love, Chapter 22: Deviations from Christianity, Bray masterfully summarizes the concern of evangelicals with Seventh-Day Adventists:

Once regarded as a cult, Seventh-day Adventists are now more widely recognized as a genuinely Christian denomination, though there are still points of controversy concerning their beliefs that have not been fully resolved. The church began in mid-nineteenth-century America and was undoubtedly more extreme and eccentric than it is now. Over the years its edges have softened and it has become more like a conservative Protestant church, though one with special emphases of its own, such as the foot-washing ceremony which is an integral part of their celebration of Communion. The main barrier to their full acceptance as a Christian denomination is their insistence on Saturday as their day of worship. For Adventists this is not a matter of indifference, but an essential part of their faith, which they claim brings them particularly close to the love of Christ. Most Christians do not worry too much about which day is set aside for worship, although Sunday has been all but universal since ancient times and it seems odd to change it deliberately, particularly when it means falling out of step with the rest of the Christian world. The deeper objection to Saturday worship is not to the observance but to the significance attached to it, particularly because this was evidently a problem in the early church, when Jewish Christians tried to insist on keeping the law of Moses even when it had been superseded by the coming of Christ. Paul mentioned the Sabbath specifically as something that was not to be imposed on Christians. Seventh-day Adventists have made a minor issue primary and a mark of their identity, and for this reason other Christians hesitate to accept them as fully orthodox.

In recent years there has been a tendency among some Adventists to move into mainstream Protestant evangelicalism, but other members of the church remain more closely wedded to its legalistic origins. Which of these two will triumph, or whether there will be a split, is not yet clear, but it seems safe to say that the closer the church moves toward other Christians, the less likely it is to stress or even to practice the distinctive traits that brought it into being in the first place.

Gerald Bray (2012-03-31). God Is Love (Kindle Locations 9671-9688). Good News Publishers/Crossway Books. Kindle Edition.

The Gospel in Judges & Moralistic Therapeutic Deism

Dear friends,

Though I have much to write to you, I would rather not use paper and ink. Instead I hope to come to you and talk face to face, so that our joy may be complete (2 John 1:12 ESV).
It has come to my attention that a lot of the Christianity we experience in our church is not Christianity at all. It seems to be, rather, a moralistic therapeutic deism. A Christ-less Christianity, with zero regard at all for the how the whole Bible fits together in redemptive history.
  • Here’s a short video with Michael Horton, explaining Moralistic Therapuetic Deism: 
Judge is a difficult book to preach. Yet, here is a helpful article at The Gospel Coalition, explaining how the gospel can be preached from the book of Judges: http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tgc/2011/02/27/preaching-the-gospel-in-judges/

While Christ may not be explicitly present in the book of Judges or our sermons from this OT text, I hope & pray that we can arrive at the gospel somehow, whether Christ is named implicitly or explicitly as our source of hope.

And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he [Jesus] interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.
(Luke 24:27 ESV)
For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.
(Romans 15:4 ESV)
We all need gospel encouragement, week in and week out, and we need the hope of our Messiah-King daily. May we find such hope in the Scriptures through the Spirit Christ.

With brotherly affection in Christ,
Alex S. Leung

February Update: Visa Petition Approved!

Dear family & friends, 

Thanks y’all for your kind prayers and thoughts over the past months. Vivian and I (Alex) cherish your friendship, wherever you may be. 

As brothers and sisters in Christ, from coast to coast, we are together for the gospel, no matter where we are, knit into his church by our Holy Spirit. Thank you for reading our updates & we hope u’d let us know how u’re doing too!

Praises:
  • Vivian’s petition for I-129F fiancé visa for Alex has been approved!!! We received the official letter from USCIS this past Friday! We are so grateful and overwhelmed by God’s mercy over this process so far. :).
  • Vivian is off probation at work! She’s now an official full-time employee now at Asian Network 🙂 God has been so gracious in giving her the opportunity to expand her role at work the past month. Her role is now more focus on Care Transition, coordinating care for patients as they discharge from the hospital and either go home or into a skilled nursing facility.
  • I (Alex) was given the opportunity to administer the Lord’s Supper this past month at Community Bible Church. He’ll also be preaching 2 times in March! 
  • Alex was able to surprise his family for “Family Day” (Feb.20) and spend a few days at home with his parents and sister, Jacqueline.
The Next Steps:
  1. Now that the petition for the visa has been approved, our case has been mailed to National Visa Center (NVC) in New Hampshire for review and processing. This should take anywhere from 2 – 4 weeks. Pray for a speedy and efficient processing time. Also pray for the mercy of the officer who will receive and handle our case.
  2. After our case gets clear with the NVC, it will be forwarded to the US Embassy in Montreal, Canada. This should only take 3 – 5 business days. Pray for all the documents to be delivered safely to the Embassy.
  3. Once the Embassy process our case, they will then send Alex a package which will include a list of items he will need to complete and paperwork to be submitted. It will also include details for Alex to schedule his interview at the Embassy. This typically takes 2 – 4 weeks. 
    • Pray for wisdom that we may complete the remaining paperwork correctly. 
    • Pray for Alex’s diligence in completing all the items required by the Embassy. 
    • Pray for an earlier availability in scheduling Alex’s interview. 
Continue to Pray…
  • that come the end of March, Alex may finish strong in his internship at Community Bible Church.
  • that we may find joy and be content in whatever stage God has put us in.
  • that we will continue to wait upon the Lord during these next steps. 
  • that we continue to remember His faithfulness, goodness and mercy to us!
  • for the health of our relationship as we are apart, that we may know how to better love and serve one another. 
I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you so that, if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth. Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness:
He was manifested in the flesh,
vindicated by the Spirit,
seen by angels,
proclaimed among the nations,
believed on in the world,
taken up in glory.
(1 Timothy 3:14-16 ESV)

With brotherly affection in Christ,
Vivian & Alex

Finding Faithful Elders and Deacons: A Book Review

Finding_elders_deacons

I am convinced that there are men in our congregations who have never thought about becoming leaders in the church. Maybe it is because no one  has asked them to serve in some teaching/leading capacity. Or maybe they have avoided it altogether because they are too busy. In the worse case scenario, they may have good reason to avoid taking upon themselves leadership in the church, seeing how their church’s own leadership is nothing honorable or noble to aspire to. At the least, it could simply be that the church is run by a CEO at the top, with programs, structures, schedules, advertising, and a Board of Directors that resemble Starbucks more than a church.

This is why Thabiti Anyabwile‘s new book would be very helpful to church members, pastors, and churches. After reading through Finding Faithful Elders and Deacons, I find that the issues addressed and questions posed by Anyabwile confront us for such a time as this: when many evangelical churches all over our country are in decline and in desperate need of a restoration in biblical church government.

This short book is far from purely theoretical, but rather very practical. I shall refrain from summarizing it’s content or a thorough review, but I shall mention a few areas of practical application.

You could take the questions in every chapter and use them for your Pastoral Search Interviews. Yes, rip them straight out of the book; you can do that! You can surely use this book in a Men’s Ministry study to simply poke and prod the men in your church to man up, to think deeply about their spiritual maturity, to reflect personally about their own and callings in the ministry of the church. It is possible that some men have simply not thought anything of leadership in their church. Leading a ministry in the church, being an elder or deacon, these things may not have come up on their radar, since they may not have ever thought themselves to be gifted or qualified.

But what if we study 1 Timothy 3 and 4 with them, along with Anyabwile’s book here? We can surely encourage and inspire such men for growth in biblical manhood. We can sow seeds of desire for church leadership. Or better yet, we could unveil before our own eyes a man who only lacked confidence in his abilities, who does have good and godly desires to humbly serve and lead others in the church, whose aspirations could rise from overseeing the home and farm, to the office of elder or deacon. Maybe all he needed was other men who could lead him along this path of spiritual growth and leadership nurturing. Maybe he always wished one his pastors would disciple him, and groom him up for ministry, like a Timothy hoping for a Paul to show him the ropes.

This being said, Finding Faithful Elders and Deacons is a book I highly recommend. It accomplishes the goal by being a concise resource that many churches need. It even includes Sample Elder Ordination Vows in the Appendix. I plan on using this very book in the coming months for a study with the men in our church. We have young guys who should be stirred on towards leadership in the church. And we have older guys who need to be steered that their gifts at home could be used for the church. In the midst of this pool of men who aspire to the office of elder, and men who have never desired to serve in any church office, we have great hope that our task of finding faithful elders and deacons is not in vain. For our church is founded upon Christ, the solid rock upon which we stand, the Lamb of God who was slain for our sins, the Chief Shepherd of our flock.

Available from Amazon: Finding Faithful Elders and Deacons (Ixmarks)

Singalong Sundays: I Asked the Lord

My apologies for the hiatus that this “Singalong Sundays” has taken. The Christmas holidays was a busy one, along with a busy time post-Christmas. I’ve been trying to read more, and thus I have not been able to devote enough time to writing about hymns and worship songs.

Blogger Justin Taylor recently posted about John Newton and why God almost drove Newton to despair. Taylor posted this old hymn from Newton, titled, “I Asked the Lord“. I remembered that I had this on the Indelible Grace live The Hymn Sing album and so I went back listened to the explanation-introduction of the hymn again, as well as the hymn itself. And boy… is it a convicting hymn that honestly addresses human struggles and despair.

Newton in the preface of the hymnbook, writing of the purpose of it was in part because of his friendship with hymnwriter William Cowper:

A desire of promoting the faith and comfort of sincere christians, though the principal, was not the only motive to this undertaking. It was likewise intended as a monument, to perpetuate the remembrance of an intimate and endeared friendship [that is, Cowper’s friendship]. With this pleasing view I entered upon my part, which would have been smaller than it is, and the book would have appeared much sooner, and in a very different form, if the wise, though mysterious providence of GOD, had not seen fit to cross my wishes. We had not proceeded far upon our proposed plan, before my dear friend was prevented, by a long and affecting indisposition, from affording me any farther assistance. My grief and disappointment were great; I hung my harp upon the willows, and for some time thought myself determined to proceed no farther without him [Cowper].

Indeed, the path through struggle and despair is through faith in Christ, faith in our Lord that is often accompanied by heartache and tears.

Listen to Indelible Grace‘s introduction to this hymn:

And here’s the hymn itself:

 

I Asked the Lord

John Newton.
Olney Hymns, Hymn 36, Prayer answered by crosses.
Lead Sheet / Chord Chart

1. I asked the Lord that I might grow
In faith and love and every grace
Might more of His salvation know
And seek more earnestly His face

2. Twas He who taught me thus to pray
And He I trust has answered prayer
But it has been in such a way
As almost drove me to despair

3. I hoped that in some favored hour
At once He’d answer my request
And by His love’s constraining power
Subdue my sins and give me rest

4. Instead of this He made me feel
The hidden evils of my heart
And let the angry powers of Hell
Assault my soul in every part

5. Yea more with His own hand He seemed
Intent to aggravate my woe
Crossed all the fair designs I schemed,
Cast out my feelings, laid me low *

6. Lord why is this, I trembling cried
Wilt Thou pursue thy worm to death?
“Tis in this way” The Lord replied
“I answer prayer for grace and faith”

7. “These inward trials I employ
From self and pride to set thee free
And break thy schemes of earthly joy
That thou mayest seek thy all in me,
That thou mayest seek thy all in me.”

*The last line of the original verse 5 reads, “Blasted my gourds, and laid me low.” I reckon most of us do not understand the old English of God blasting my gourds, so the edit into “Cast out my feelings, laid me low” is helpful.