Mike Wittmer of Grand Rapids Theological Seminary has recently released Christ Alone: An Evangelical Response to Rob Bell’s Love Wins (Edenridge, 2011, lively foreword by Michael Horton). I commend it to you. This is the only book-length treatment of Bell’s Love Wins, a book that stirs up so much trouble it needs a book-length refutation. Written by one of our best and most engaging systematic theologians, Christ Alone is worth reading on its own terms apart from its thorough scriptural and theological counter to Bell’s arguments and sloppy exegesis.
Here’s a snatch:
[T]he adjectival form of aion is the way the Greeks expressed our concept of “forever.” Jesus said that those who believe in him with have zoen ainion–a life that never ends (John 3:16). Jesus is not telling us that we will transcend time or be taken up into some higher, supernatural realm, for as bodily creatures we will always live within the boundaries of space and time. We will never step outside of time into God’s realm, but we will live forever in our redeemed creation. Scripture describes this as everlasting life, a life that begins in this age (aion) and continues through every age to come. Thus, the biblical writers do understand “forever” as “a uniform measurement of time, like days and years, marching endlessly into the future,” and they describe this passing of time with the adjectival form of the term aion. (37-38)
This kind of clear, compelling, richly informed answer is littered throughout Christ Alone. Buy the book, and buy one for a confused friend. And hope that in the future, Wittmer picks back up with his practice of titling his books according to eighties pop songs, which is one of the strongest commendations of his work I can think of (great blog, too).
Next up, with Phil Newton, Brian Croft has published Conduct Gospel-Centered Funerals: Applying the Gospel at the Unique Challenges of Death (DayOne, 2011). This is another practical text written by Croft that handles a needful matter of ministry: funerals. Think about it. Pastors will do many over the course of a career. But what resources cover how to do them from a Christocentric perspective? This is a needed and rich book.
Consider this excellent section on logistics of the service:
Depending on the situation, arrive at the location of the funeral service fifteen to thirty minutes before the funeral starts. This allows you time to greet the family, check in with the funeral director, and ensure that plans haven’t changed since the director last talked with you (because they often do change). This will also prevent what would be one of the most embarrassing moments of your ministry–being late to conduct a funeral (trust me–I know). Inform the funeral director at this time whether you will ride with him to the gravesite or drive on your own in the procession. Make sure that all those involved in the service are accounted for and have prepared what you have asked of them. It is ideal to gather together others involved in the service a few minutes before starting in order to talk through the service, praying for the Lord to awaken souls to the gospel and comfort his hurting people. (71)
Do you preach to yourself? You should. Joe Thorn wants to help you do just that. His Note to Self: The Discipline of Preaching to Yourself (Crossway/RE:LIT, 2011, foreword by Sam Storms) will guide you in this discipline that the Puritans championed. The short, easy-to-read book packs a powerful punch in its 48 short chapters, each of which tackles a certain sin or struggle that requires self-exhortation to defeat. Joe is a faithful pastor of Redeemer Fellowship in Saint Charles, Illinois; his gifts show through in this book.
You should be sowing more grace. You should be more generous with your time, money, and gifts. The people around you, especially those who are unfriendly or even cross, need grace. Consider how you often give what you think is justice–that is, what you think people deserve. You tip less for bad service, ignore people who have snubbed you, or sigh and roll your eyes at the person taking up too much space at the coffeehouse. You may not be doing evil, but you are not doing good. (75)
You see how helpful this book is (as is Joe’s blog). It avoids the mistake of thinking that because we prize the gospel, we don’t need direct, specific engagement with sin. We desperately do. In general, the perspective of the book challenges us to take dominion of our sins, not to wallow in them. Everywhere we have a weakness, that is where God desires to work. All the things that Satan intends to discourage us by, God intends to encourage us as through the power of his Spirit he kills our sin.
If you’re lazy, if you’re lustful, if you’re angry, if you’re gluttonous, if you’re a liar, if you’re critical, if you find it easy to hate and grow jealous, if you are passive, if you don’t read the Bible or pray, if you don’t serve the church–in these and 100,000 other areas, God desires to perform surgery. Everywhere there is sin, there is an opportunity for Christocentric dominion over that sin. Joe helps us to see this truth, and that in itself is more than enough to commend the book.