Category Archives: Reading

Book review: The Extent of the Atonement by David Allen

The Extent of the Atonement: A Historical and Critical Review (B&H Academic, 2016).

by David L. Allen

Genre: Biblical Reference / Christian Theology

Size: 820 pages (and weighs in at 1.7 kg!)

What’s the big idea: David Allen makes a comprehensive biblical, historical, theological case that the majority of Christians, even within those who are considered Reformed, affirm an “unlimited atonement” as the best understanding of the extent of Christ’s saving work.

Easy to read? It was OK. It’s certainly an extensive tome on the atonement’s extent, so I’ve read through about a third of it so far. The sheer size of the book will probably appeal to those interested in the topic, rather than general readers. That being said, B&H editors have helpfully indexed the book by subject, author and Scripture passage. If you know how to search through this book, it becomes easy to read and a goldmine of information.

What I appreciated:

  • It’s comprehensive. From Irenaeus to Al Mohler, Allen surveys what every well-known (and more unfamiliar) Christian leader has believed regarding the extent of the atonement. You’ll need to discern between the historical data and Allen’s own commentary and assessment interspersed throughout. But a lot of research has gone into this book, which we can be grateful for.
  • I appreciated the tone of Allen’s work. He doesn’t play the man but seeks only to critique the positions that they hold. This kind of writing style is often lacking in the intramural debates on this topic.
  • He provides two helpful charts (p.xxviii, 766) – one is a summary of four different views of the extent of the atonement. Another is a comprehensive list of theologians and their view on this matter.
  • Part 3 of the book comprises a chapter-by-chapter critique of Jonathan and David Gibson’s From Heaven He Came and Sought Her, the most comprehensive defence of definite atonement to date. Even for someone who’s persuaded by the arguments for definite atonement, I found it helpful to understand the objections from Allen’s side of the fence. He summarises each contributor’s arguments fairly, and offers thoughtful and persuasive rebuttals.

What I would have liked to see:

  • For an 800-plus “tour de force”, there was surprisingly little discussion on OT conceptions of the atonement. For example, the Day of Atonement is only referenced twice (p402 in a discussion of Robert Lightner, and when Allen critiques the article on definite atonement in the OT in From Heaven He Came And Sought Her).
  • A bit less of an inquisitionary tone. I understand that this is meant to be a comprehensive historical survey, but Allen seems to take aim at any and every author who’s ever published about the atonement’s extent. In some cases, he pulls apart their arguments in the kind of lengthy, meticulous manner one normally associates with blog posts you disagree with (e.g., poor Paul Jarvis in p.610-12). At times, it seemed like a meeting or phone conversation would have sufficed in place of the extended critique.
  • Some more trimming. I appreciate how extensive the data is out there, but there’s no reason why some of the historical surveys couldn’t have been abbreviated.
  • Allen sometimes adopts unclear labels to describe his and other viewpoints. He insists that no Baptists can be “Reformed” in the confessional sense (p.xv), and goes so far as to call his own view not Arminian, or Moderate Calvinist – but simply, a “Baptist” perspective (p.xviii).

Who I’d recommend it to: Anyone who is interested in the debates about the extent of the atonement. Carl Trueman (an advocate of definite atonement) offers a warm endorsement: “While David Allen and I disagree on the matter, this work is an irenic and learned contribution to the topic which carries the historical, and thus doctrinal, discussion forward in an extremely helpful way. I am thus happy to recommend this work of a friendly critic. It deserves wide readership and careful engagement.”

Verdict: Not for the faint-hearted, this extensive tome about the atonement’s extent serves as a thorough, critical companion to From Heaven He Came and Sought Her.

More info:

  • Jeff Johnson offers a detailed critique of Allen’s book from a definite atonement perspective.

(I’m grateful to B&H Academic who provided a review copy of this textbook, which has not influenced my opinion of the book.)

 

Book review: Amyraut on Predestination

Amyraut on Predestination: The First Published Translation from the French (Charenton Reformed Publishing, 2017).

by Matthew Harding, with a biographical sketch by Alan Clifford

Genre: Church History, Theology

Size: 190 pages – a 30 page biography, some translation notes, and then 100 pages of Amyraut’s own words from Brief Traitté de la Predestination et de ses principales dependances (Brief Treatise on Predestination and Its Dependent Principles).

What’s the big idea: Never heard of Amyraldianism? This English translation of his seminal work on predestination and the atonement (which sparked three heresy trials!) will help you understand where the idea of “4 Point Calvinism” or “Moderate Calvinism” originated from.

Easy to read? Definitely. Harding’s translation is lucid and clear, and even sounds like a “French” person is saying it. I found the book easy to use when preparing a theology essay on Amyraldianism.

What I appreciated? A few things:

  • The fact that this work now exists. A lack of primary sources has been a longstanding barrier to evaluating Amyraut’s teachings accurately – for example, if you want to know what Calvin himself taught you can read his Institutes. Matthew Harding and Alan Clifford have done a service to the church by publishing the first English translation of Amyraut’s most well-known work, This will hopefully provide clearer insight into Amyraut’s teachings.
  • The biographical sketch by Alan Clifford reads well. While he comes across as very adoring of Amyraut (complete with photos of the archway he used to walk under!), it doesn’t seem to seep into hagiography.
  • Harding is a careful guide – his explanatory notes are helpful, particularly when Amyraut seems to his metaphors or says confusing things, e.g. a “predestination unto salvation” and a “predestination unto faith” in Chapter 13.
  • Amyraut’s words exude a warm and pastoral tone. It certainly helped me to gain a fuller picture of his teachings, not just as an abstract theology, but motivated by real issues from real people. It’s much harder to see Amyraldianism in this way if you’re reading him through the lens of secondary authors who seem more interested in dissecting his theology rather than listening to his words.
  • While I don’t agree with Amyraldianism myself, reading his words directly helped me to appreciate his view as a legitimate view of the atonement within the Reformed evangelical tradition.

Who I’d recommend it to: Two kinds of people – those who call themselves Amyraldians (e.g. Sydney Anglicans) but have never read Amyraut’s own teachings; and those who are wrestling with the idea of the “L” in “TULIP” (limited atonement). Don’t discount Amyraut’s views before studying him first-hand.

Verdict: Lisez-le s’il vous plaît! (Please read it!)

Get the book from Amazon or Book Depository.


(I’m grateful to Dr Alan Clifford who provided a review copy of this book, which has not influenced my opinion of the book.)

Book review: Going Deeper with New Testament Greek

 

Going Deeper with New Testament Greek: An Intermediate Study of the Grammar and Syntax of the New Testament (B&H Academic, 2016).

by Andreas Köstenberger, Benjamin Merkle and Robert Plummer

Genre: Biblical Reference / Language Study

Size: 550 pages.

What’s the big idea: The book aims to “stir in you a passion, and to provide you with the necessary tools, to ‘go deeper’ in your pursuit of your master of NT Greek” (p.1).

There’s a quip in New Testament Greek circles that, for every 9 Greek lecturers, there are 10 Greek grammars. The most recent contribution to the scene is Going Deeper with New Testament Greek: An Intermediate Study of the Grammar and Syntax of the New Testament (B&H Academic, 2016). I first heard about this volume through Rob Plummer’s Daily Dose of Greek videos, and thought it would be a good complement ahead of my second year of learning biblical Greek.

Easy to read? Surprisingly enough, yes. It’s certainly more readable than Daniel Wallace’s grammar (as excellent as it is). I think part of the charm of Deeper Greek is that it’s organised in a way that blends the traditional grammar with other helpful content (like a Swiss Army knife). Each chapter ends with practice exercises, a vocab list and tables summarising the content just covered. I came away enjoying, rather than enduring each chapter I read.

What I appreciated? Several things.

  • I loved how every chapter features a short introduction where the author takes an example from the Bible to illustrate the practical relevance of the content to follow. For example, Chapter 2 on The Genitive Case begins with a translation issue in the Bible: should Luke 2:14 read “Peace on earth, good will towards men” (KJV) or “Peace on earth to those whom his favour rests” (NIV)? Lo and behold, it all hangs on whether there’s a genitive noun, and I’m hooked into going deeper into the rest of the chapter. Contrast this with Wallace, who writes assuming that you’re motivated to plow through 33 types of genitives without being convinced of its usefulness.
  • I found the first chapter on the history of Greek and textual criticism very helpful to kick things off and bolster my confidence that in 99.9% of cases, we have in our Bibles God’s authoritative Word preserved for us.
  • There’s a very interesting and informative chapter on verbal aspect, an area of debate among NT Greek scholars today.
  • The last chapter gives practical tips to keep up your Greek. You really feel like the three authors are encouraging you to keep studying and mastering Greek.
  • The book contains charts summarising each chapter. These are fantastic and would be worth the price of the book alone, though seems like you can purchase them separately.

What I would have liked to see:

  • Section numbers. The lack of them throughout the textbook. It made it more difficult to find specific concepts more easily and to cite them.
  • Less derivative content. Some chapters on noun cases seemed to lean on Wallace quite heavily, where it would have been nice to see the authors just present their own study of NT grammar and syntax
  • An answer key for the Practice Exercises would have been helpful for students.

Who I’d recommend it to: Any Greek student with a year of Greek behind their belt, or a pastor who’s “apostasised” from their Greek in seminary and wants to get back on the saddle. If you’re a whizz at Greek and love getting into the details, the thoroughness of Wallace’s grammar might be more suitable.

Verdict: This book will help you to understand the language of the New Testament better, and to become excited about studying God’s Word more deeply.

More info:

  • Deeper Greek website – coming soon, a website that will hopefully dive into some of the topics covered in this textbook. A video discussion on verbal aspect would be very helpful.

(I’m grateful to B&H Academic who provided a review copy of this textbook, which has not influenced my opinion of the book.)

Thinking about Christian books I’ve read

“What Christian books have you read?”

That was one of the questions on my application form for bible college (more on that here). I scanned the rest of the form and decided that the two lines provided wouldn’t be enough space.

So one night, I sat down, trawled through my memory, our library catalogue, e-book purchase history, and typed out a 3-page list of books I’ve read (book nerds go here).*

Upon reflecting on the last 13 years of reading Christian books, here are some observations:

  • Lots of books on worship, service planning and music ministry
  • A few authors are recurring favourites: for example, Mark Dever, Tim Keller and Vaughan Roberts
  • I’ve only read two books on parenting (either I’m deficient in this area, or parenting isn’t learned in theory but in practice)
  • I’ve read two Rob Bell books (and found both frustrating and concerning)
  • I’ve read three biographies (I’m keen to read more)
  • I haven’t read many books by dead people (I’m keen to read more)
  • I tend to read according to immediate needs and interests rather than looking further ahead
  • For every book I read, there’s another one that I haven’t started. I’m rebuked of my wastefulness, for sucking in literary oxygen from social media feeds instead of the books in front of me.

More importantly, however, reviewing my reading list makes me thankful:

  • I’m thankful for the opportunity to read. What a privilege it is to live in a generation and society where books are freely available.
  • I’m thankful for how certain books have shaped my thinking on important issues: the gospel, marriage, family, worship, music, preaching, and so on. I’ve rarely changed my mind about something over a Facebook discussion. But time and time again, I’ve changed my convictions on something upon reaching the back page of a good book.
  • Finally, I’m thankful that reading books has helped me to love God and neighbour better, by understanding his Word (the Good Book) better.

I know I’m not able to read everything out there (certainly not as much as 500 books a year like Don Carson). But I do want to love God with my heart, soul, strength and mind, as a child who delights in His world and in His Son. And one of the ways I can do that is to read more.

Right – off to read something new.


* This list is just for Christian books – I haven’t made up a list of all the other books that I’ve read.

“The reading of all good books is like a conversation with the finest men of past centuries.”
René Descartes

Who am I? What is my ‘self’?

I_dont_know__Who_Am_I__by_madazulu

In our young adults group on Tuesdays we have been working through the book of Romans. When we were in chapters 6 and 7 there were some great discussions about our true identity as Christians.

In chapter 11 of The Cross of Christ, John Stott explains how a Christian’s identity cannot be recognised accurately without reference to the cross.

Who am I? What is my “self”? The answer is that I am a Jekyll and Hyde, a mixed-up kid, having both dignity, because I was created and have been re-created in the image of God, and depravity, because I still have a fallen and rebellious nature. I am both noble and ignoble, beautiful and ugly, good and bad, upright and twisted, image and child of God, and yet sometimes yielding homage to the devil from whose clutches Christ has rescued me. My true self is what I am by creation, which Christ came to redeem, and by calling. My false self is what I am by the Fall, which Christ came to destroy.

Only when we have discerned which is which within us, shall we know what attitude to adopt towards each. We must be true to our true self and false to our false self. We must be fearless in affirming all that we are by creation, redemption and calling, and ruthless in disowning all that we are by the Fall.

Moreover, the cross of Christ teaches us both attitudes. On the one hand, the cross is the God-given measure of the value of our true self, since Christ loved us and died for us. On the other hand, it is uthe God-given model for the denial of our false self, since we are to nail it to the cross and so put it to death.

Or, more simply, standing before the Cross we see simultaneously our worth and our unworthiness, since we perceive both the greatness of his love in dying and the greatness of our sin in causing him to die.

– John Stott, The Cross of Christ: 20th Anniversary Edition (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1989), 329-30.