Book Review: Exploring Christian Theology, Volume One: Revelation, Scripture, and the Triune God edited by Nathan Holsteen and Michael Svigel

Leave a comment

Exploring Christian Theology, Volume One  edited by Nathan Holsteen & Michael Svigel  More Info on  My Rating: 5 Stars

Exploring Christian Theology, Volume One

edited by Nathan Holsteen & Michael Svigel

More Info on

My Rating: 5 Stars

Accessible Study of Christian Theology for All – Even Those Who Don’t Think They Need It!

This work has so much to commend. In a sentence, this is popular-level theology at its best! What the authors hope to accomplish, they deliver. In their introduction, the authors Drs. Nathan Holsteen and Michael Svigel, who are Dallas Theological Seminary professors, promise the following:

Exploring Christian Theology will offer introductions, overviews, and reviews of key orthodox, protestant, evangelical tenents without belaboring details or broiling up debates. The three ECT volumes [this one is volume 1], compact but substantial, provide accessible and convenient summaries of major themes; they’re intended as guidebooks for a church that, overall, is starving for the very doctrine it has too long avoided” (page 9).

Along with these, this book features important biblical texts, helpful charts and diagrams, boxes of Bible verses to memorize written out, recommended books for further study along with their accessibility (beginner, intermediate, advanced), history of the main teachings, summaries of key ideas, a glossary of unusual and significant terms, practical implications, and more.

Think that doctrine and theology are irrelevant? Or that all you want is Jesus, not religion? Consider these words from the book:

“Have you ever talked with people, maybe even other Christians, who think theology doesn’t matter? ‘I want Christ, not Christianity!’ they might say. ‘Don’t give me doctrine, just give me Jesus.’ Yet no matter how right such sentiments might feel, they ultimately ring hollow, for the question arises, which Jesus do these people want? … The Jesus of Mormonism? Of Islam? Of Buddhism? Of rugged American individualism? … What distinguishes the actual Jesus from all counterfeits is that … He is ‘the Christ, the Son of the living God’ (Matt. 16:16). This truth is undeniably doctrinal, unmistakably theological. Not all supposed ‘Jesuses’ are equal…. To have a fruitful Christian life, we need an accurate Christian faith” (page 31).

These authors do a great service to the Church by providing solid meals that are aimed to feed God’s people and help them have fruitful Christian lives, motivated by right doctrine that leads to practical Christian living.

An example of a helpful summary box is below. These are dangers to avoid when studying the doctrines of Revelation and Scripture:

Seven Dangers to Avoid
1. Unnecessary Elective Surgery
2. Watered-Down Wine
3. Hearing Without Hearing
4. Cold, Dead Orthodoxy
5. Arrogant Reading
6. Doctrine-less Discipleship
7. Christian Pole-Sitting” (page 85).

The authors do a good job of explaining what each of these seven dangers are (with real-life examples) and how to practically avoid them. Clear, everyday language pervades this book, making it accessible to any Christian and many nonbelievers.

One additional feature that is worth mentioning is the chapter towards the beginning entitled “The Christian Story in Four Acts.” Picturing the Bible ‘s overall story as like a theatrical production, this is a helpful 10 page summary of the four main acts (think of a play) in Scripture: Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Restoration.

If you or your small group are looking for an enjoyable, faithful, and practical guide to the doctrines of Revelation, Scripture, and Triune God (Father, Son, Holy Spirit), then Exploring Christian Theology, Volume One is for you!

Disclaimer: I received this book for free from Bethany House Publishers in exchange for an honest review.

Does God’s Will Include How I Drive my Car? Yes!

Leave a comment

Ever thought that the Bible has nothing to say about cars and how we drive them? Well, it does! Prayerfully consider the following quote:

God’s plan to make us like Christ is more detailed and intricate than most of us ever imagine. It concerns every aspect of life. Let’s take a simple example—driving a car.

Most of the decisions I make while driving are so trivial that I am not aware of them. I just drive. What could God possibly be saying to me about driving a car? A great deal, as it turns out.

First of all, we must love our neighbors as ourselves (Mark 12:31). That tells us a lot about driving. The Bible tells us to be loving and kind to others, even if they treat us badly. What if the bloke in front suddenly cuts in, causing us to swerve and brake hard and giving us a shot of adrenalin? And what if we come across him broken down a few kilometres down the road? God has some guidance for us; he says that we should love our enemies and do good to those who wrong us (Matt 5:43). The Christian should stop and help.

The Bible also says that we are to obey those in authority over us (Rom 13:1f). Therefore, we should obey our government’s rules about how cars are to be driven, which side of the road to drive on, and at what speed. Even if there is no policeman watching, we should obey the rules because that’s how God wants us to live.

Add to this our concern for the safety and comfort of our passengers, and the potential for developing patience and self-control, and we can see that there is a very biblical, Christ-like way to drive a car. God has lots of detailed guidance about driving.

Notice how the Bible’s guidance reveals what God thinks is important. The things that matter in our automotive decisions are the minute-by-minute challenges to be kind, patient, loving and self-controlled. These are of tremendous and eternal importance in God’s eyes because they relate to his eternal plans for us.

Notice, too, how God has clear guidance for us even in decisions where we might think that the Bible has nothing to say. You won’t find a reference to ‘cars’ in your concordance, but God has plenty to say to us about how we should drive them.

—Jensen, Phillip D and Tony Payne. Guidance and the Voice of God (Australia: Matthias Media, 100-102), emphasis added.

These are convicting words for me. Let’s just say that sometimes I tend to think that speed limits aren’t that important. Like that going 60mph when I see a 55mph speed limit sign is just fine. But, according to Romans 13:1-2 and 1 Peter 2:13, it’s not fine, but sinful. And no, this is not an example of Acts 5:29.

May God humble me and give me the diligence to leave for places earlier so that I can avoid a strong temptation to speed.

Can you relate to this?

Book Review: The Vanishings (Left Behind: The Kids Book 1) by Jerry Jenkins and Tim LaHaye

1 Comment


The Vanishings (Left Behind: The Kids Book 1)
by Jerry Jenkins & Tim LaHaye
More Info on
My Rating: 4 Stars

Whether or Not Some Will Be “Left Behind” Someday, Live in Light of Christ’s Soon Return

When I was a teenager I did a fair amount of reading. I enjoyed fantasy and science fiction and when it came to novels rarely did I go beyond these two genres. Series such as Harry Potter, Artemis Fowl, The Chronicles of Narnia, Star Wars, and the like were ones I devoured. One of the few series (maybe the only one) that I read in its entirety was Left Behind: The Kids. Written for ages 10-14, this series of 40 books (based on the adult series with the same name) follows the adventures of four teenagers—Judd, Vicki, Lionel, and Ryan—who are “left behind” following the rapture as they seek to live for God during the seven-year tribulation period as the end draws near.

Left behind? Rapture? Seven-year tribulation period? These terms may be new to you, or perhaps you’ve heard them before in church but aren’t quite sure what they mean. All of them refer to a specific interpretation of the end times as spoken about in the book of Revelation. As told in the novel, here is a good description of what is meant by the term “rapture”:

As usual, Pastor Vernon Billings got off on his kick about what he called the Rapture. “Someday,” he said, “Jesus will return to take his followers to heaven. Those who have received him will disappear in the time it takes to blink your eye. We will disappear right in front of disbelieving people. Won’t that be a great day for us and a horrifying one for them?” (8-9)

The idea is that one day Christ will return for His bride, the Church, and secretly snatch them from the earth to be with Him in Heaven during a seven-year period of unprecedented tribulation that will occur on the earth as God pours out His wrath. This book (along with the rest in the series) portrays what life might be like for those “left behind,” a term referring to folks who thought they were Christians and who realize once the rapture happens that they were fakers all along.

As far as fiction goes, this book and the rest in the series are well-written. They are engaging and the authors do a good job of developing the four main characters and weaving their lives together as they fight for survival in earth’s last days. The issue I have is whether the whole notion of a secret rapture is biblical. And then, of course, there’s the speculatory nature of how such a rapture might occur. To begin with, I am not convinced that a secret rapture is mentioned anywhere in Scripture, not even in 1 Thessalonians 4:15-18. I encourage you to look up those verses and try to imagine how Paul could have been more clear that this was a public and loud event that all or most would see. After all, he describes that the event will include “a cry of command,” “the voice of the archangel,” and “the sound of the trumpet of God.” I’m not sure how he could have been clearer. My main point here is not a detailed refutation of the pre-tribulation rapture scheme, but to get you, my reader, to honestly consider the underlying assumptions that are inherent in the view.

Furthermore, I find it interesting how the rapture is portrayed on a global scale. A few quotes from the book describe it well:

A nurse vanished as a woman was about to give birth, and the baby disappeared before it was born. A groom disappeared as he was putting his bride’s ring on her finger. Pallbearers at a funeral disappeared while carrying a casket, which fell and popped open, revealing that the corpse had vanished too (89).

Over the backs of the seats ahead of him he saw blankets, pillows, and full sets of clothes. Glasses, jewelry, even a man’s wig lay on his seat (84).

every single little child on the plane had disappeared (88)

mass disappearances that occurred in every country at approximately midnight, Eastern Standard Time (97)

I give Jenkins and LaHaye credit for imaginatively coming up with—in a compelling way—how the world might be affected one day by a rapture (at 12:00am EST, no less), but I’m not sure that this sort of fanciful thinking is particularly helpful for the Church. It’s no surprise to me, at least, that hardly anyone outside of North America holds to this view of the end times.

Regardless of whether there will be someday a rapture akin to what is described in this novel, all readers can take from this book the importance of being ready for when God will wrap up all of history. Whether His church is secretly taken away to be with Him in Heaven for seven years or instead meets Him in the air to welcome His return to wage war on the earth and also rule with Him, we should all be reminded to live in light of His soon return.


Update: For a concise summary of biblical reasons for why Christians won’t be raptured before the tribulation, go here.

The Joys of Heaven Will Far Outweigh the Sufferings of Earth

1 Comment

Suffering has a way of messing with our hope. In the midst of experiencing pain, loss, or hardship, we as Christians can easily lose our focus on what matters most and on our certain future. I was reminded of this reality recently and encouraged as I read the following story from David Jeremiah’s book What Are You Afraid Of?: Facing Down Your Fears with Faith (see my review):pilot_flying_airplane

Suppose you won a free trip around the world for you and a loved one. It included first-class accommodations at five-star hotels, private planes, lavish gifts, and personal tours. (See how powerful the imagination is?) But suppose as you opened the envelope containing the tickets, you suffered a paper cut on the end of your finger. You might say to your companion, “Oh, I cut my finger!” You’d grimace for about half a second before grinning from ear to ear and saying, “Who cares? We’re about to take the trip of a lifetime!” I would say nothing to trivialize disease [or other intense suffering]; I know the misery of it firsthand. But according to Paul, and from the perspective of our eternal God, the sufferings of this present world are less than a paper cut in relation to the glory yet to be revealed to us (p. 56).person-flying

The Apostle Paul’s perspective that David Jeremiah mentions comes from Romans 8:18:

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.

Paul was no stranger to suffering. Later in Romans 8, Paul gives a long list of potential sufferings that some might think separate us from God: tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, sword, death, angels, rulers, powers, etc. The truth is that for the Christian, none of those things mentioned or “anything else in all creation” can separate him or her from the Lord! Paul himself faced many of these sufferings:

24 Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; 26 on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; 27 in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. 28 And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. 29 Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant? (2 Corinthians 11:24-29)

So when Paul said that the “sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us,” this glory must be great to outweigh all of the intense sufferings that he faced. Indeed, this glory did outweigh Paul’s sufferings and it does outweigh ours!

Meditate on Heaven and the joy to be found there deeply, so that you can be of great earthly good and endure whatever may come in this life!

Let the example of Paul and the truth that even your hardest sufferings cannot separate you from God be an encouragement when you face suffering of any kind, whether small or great. If you know Christ, you have hope beyond measure and a certain joyous future in Heaven with Him!

Book Review: What Are You Afraid Of?: Facing Down Your Fears with Faith by David Jeremiah

1 Comment


What Are You Afraid Of?: Facing Down Your Fears With Faith
by David Jeremiah
More Info on
My Rating: 4 Stars

Overcoming Fears with Faith in the Goodness and Power of God

I have to admit it—often when I read a nonfiction book I am hoping for fresh insights and fresh perspectives. I want to learn something new, or at least hear something in a new way that strikes me. As I began reading David Jeremiah’s What Are You Afraid Of?: Facing Down Your Fears with Faith, this was my desire. While I found fresh material throughout—especially three of his chapters—the rest sounded like what I’ve heard before. Don’t get me wrong. There was little I disagreed with. It’s just that most of the book wasn’t exceptional. It was standard fare—things I have heard numerous times from numerous speakers. This isn’t all bad, for there is a place for reminders (cf. 2 Peter 1:12). I just prefer my reminders stated in fresh ways, I guess.

For a sampling of which fears Jeremiah addresses, go ahead and peruse the table of contents:

  1. Disaster: The Fear of Natural Calamity
  2. Disease: The Fear of Serious Illness
  3. Debt: The Fear of Financial Collapse
  4. Defeat: The Fear of Failure
  5. Disconnection: The Fear of Being Alone
  6. Disapproval: The Fear of Rejection
  7. Danger: The Fear of Sudden Trouble
  8. Depression: The Fear of Mental Breakdown
  9. Death: The Fear of Dying
  10. Deity: The Fear of God

As can be seen, Jeremiah addresses a wide range of fears. I think it’s fairly safe to say that all of us have feared at least something on this list, so for that reason alone, this book would be worth looking at. Honestly, while much of the book is ordinary as I mentioned above, the one chapter worth reading is the very first. In fact, it alone is worth the price of the book in my opinion. It is a great summary of the fear of natural calamities stated in ways that are fresh and engaging. Here’s an example:

Those who define God solely by the evil He allows overlook the flip side of their complaint. Yes, there is evil in the world, but there is also an enormous amount of good. If God is not good, as they claim, how do they account for all the good we experience? Is it fair to judge Him for the evil and not credit Him with the good? […] In a world that contains tragedies, we must realize that they’re vastly outnumbered by blessings (16).

Here’s another familiar reminder that’s worth hearing again:

The one way to walk boldly and confidently into an unknown future is to stake everything on the power and goodness and faithfulness of God (xiii-xiv).

Maybe I’m being too hard and unfair on Jeremiah in calling most of his book “familiar” and “standard fare.” I just don’t find his writing all that more engaging than most. Therefore, I give this book 4 stars because of solid content, yet not 5 because of its average delivery.

Older Entries

%d bloggers like this: