The Almost Christian DIscovered

The Almost Christian Discovered

By Matthew Mead, 1661 

A review by Stuart Brogden

This is a review of the 20th century reprint of Mead’s book, with a foreword by John MacArthur. The second sentence in his forward tells us that this book “reveals the force and fervor of Puritan spirituality as vividly as any work” he knew. Ask the early settlers of New England about the “force and fervor of Puritan spirituality” and you may want to ask what was Mac thinking.

Mead’s goal in writing this book, which Mac and I agree with, is that it is far too easy for people to think they are Christians when they know nothing of Christ and exhibit no fruit of His Spirit within. As I heard a fella remark recently, when Jesus saves a person, He changes a person. Mead says he intends no anxiety for the saint; his intention is to cause the “almost Christian” to examine himself. He asks the Christian if the state of the world is grievous to you (page 20) and tells the hypocrite to “read and tremble; for thou are the man here pointed at.” (page 21)

Our author introduces Agrippa (page 27) as an almost Christian, as well as the foolish virgins (page 35) and the rich young ruler (page 33) and he tells us (page 29), the “saint may almost perish but certainly be saved; the hypocrite may almost be saved yet perish.” And he goes on to tell us (page 40) “there can be no grace without knowledge, yet there may be much knowledge without grace.” This contrast between two categories of people is found throughout Scripture and it is good for people in both categories to understand them.

Throughout the book, Mead sets up contrasts to show these things more clearly. We are reminded again and again that attitudes and behavior can be evidences of saving faith, but they are not proofs thereof. This is the central theme of the book. The almost Christian may: be trembling at the Word (page 74), delighting in the Word (page 75), belonging to a church (page 77), confessing sin (page 59), have hope in heaven (page 78), and engage in behavior modification (page 82) and not be a Christian! Would you not agree? Any concerned pagan can do these things and not be in Christ.

And yet this same author, in this same book, says (page 43) that people who preach, pray, and serve people in the church have spiritual gifts and not be a Christian; that a man can have the Holy Spirit within (page 100) and not be a Christian. Mead develops this idea, conflating the spirit coming upon or speaking to a person (such as Balaam) with the Spirit indwelling a person. He claims Judas was indwelt by the Spirit because he cast out demons and says a man may have the Spirit “transiently, not absolutely.” The Spirit may be in a man yet not dwell in the man. “The common work of the Spirit” doesn’t save (page 126). Is it proper to say that the spirit that moves a man to do religious things but does not save is the Holy Spirit? I think such false actions are the work of the spirit of the age!

There is also a theme of perfectionism weaved through this book. In pointing out the dangers of what I would call false confessions, Mead (pages 62 & 63) seems to be saying that sinlessness is the mark a saint yet says (page 70) that Christians have regenerate and unregenerate parts in them. We are told (pages 131 & 132) that the one who loves God with his whole heart, soul, and strength is a Christian. Is it just me that has problems with truly being totally devoted to Christ? Mead would have me think so! He follows this thread, telling us (page 159) man must give all to God or not be saved. Pressuring people to confess these things makes them lie about their condition and makes them disciples of John Wesley rather than of Christ. Our ever present lack of perfection is meant to remind us of our ever present need of Christ – His mercy and grace that He freely gives the children of God. Isaiah was a godly man, but when he got a good glimpse of God, he was reminded how sinful he yet was. This is our condition – redeemed but not yet glorified.

Mead says (page 161) that none are excluded from the kingdom of God unless they exclude themselves. Does this mean people are in the Lamb’s Book unless they rub their own names out? He goes on to develop a works-based justification. This was noted early on as he said (page 43), “to know, to practice what we know – that is gospel-duty. This makes a man a complete Christian.” He tells us (page 207) that we must first show man his sin, then his Savior; calling this the “constant method of God.” I used to believe this, but a study of the effective call in Scripture shows some people are confronted with their sin (sometimes using the law to do so), but not all are. It’s simply incorrect to call it the “constant method of God.”

Our author gives us good counsel on what a Christian looks like, telling us (page 136) “the Christian disclaims self and Christ is most advanced.” Amen! Do we promote self or the Lord Jesus? And he leaves us (page 205-6) with another contrast that should settle down into our souls: “The saint’s peace is a peace with God, but not with sin; the sinner’s peace is a peace with sin, but not with God.” Let’s end with that – it’s so much better than some of the stuff this Puritan has written. It is needful for each of us to examine himself and see – with Whom or what do I have peace?

May the God of peace rule your life!

Active Spirituality

Active Spirituality  Active-Spirituality

A review by Stuart Brogden

This is an uncommon book – the format is that of personal letters from the author, intended to provide pastoral guidance to the issue of sanctification. I was reminded of a couple of books I read in high school that were letters from a father, one to his son and the other to his daughter. I passed these along to my son and daughter as they grew into young adults. Brian Hedges’ belief is that this format will be more personal and effective – as our spiritual journey is not linear, but (as was the Exodus) “circuitous and roundabout, with lots of detours and obstacles, punctuated by backtracking, rest stops, and significant delays on the side of the road.” (page 14) I think the author succeeds in this regard, as each letter reads as a warm personal communication. I appreciated the author’s repeated reference to various works by John Bunyan, but was less enthused by his somewhat frequent use of quotes from C.S. Lewis and references to “the seven deadly sins” – a concept the Bible knows nothing about (sex outside of marriage and blasphemy of the Holy Spirit are more serious than other sins), taught by the Roman Catholic Church, based primarily on the list in Proverbs 6:16-19 but not taught therein as a special list of “deadly sins”. That being said, this book is a most excellent look at various aspects of everyone’s spiritual journey, with solid biblical counsel we can all benefit from.

Throughout this easy-to-read but thought provoking book, Hedges gives the reader biblical exhortations to walk in the light, to examine one’s self, to stay focused on Christ. He puts good works in their place (post-redemption works empowered by the Holy Spirit) and presses the doctrine of justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. Late in the book (page 94), he gives us a word picture of a stool with four legs, each leg being an essential part of what God gives as assurance of our standing with Him.

  1. Faith in the gospel promises of salvation
  2. Evidences of God’s grace in the transformation of the heart and life
  3. The testimony of the Holy Spirit
  4. The fruit of love in relationship with other believers

He cites the Westminster Confession of Faith, which is accurate in the doctrine of salvation, for the first three of these legs; pointing us to 1 John 3:14 for the fourth. Our author provides a concise paragraph for each leg, demonstrating from Scripture each one and urging us to know the Word of God that we be not deceived by emotions or lies or, as the next chapter puts it – self-trust.

I will leave you with a short excerpt from the last letter in this book. Throughout, Hedges has given us solid biblical counsel, with many examples from Scripture and theological tomes. He contrasts grace and law, justification and sanctification, lawlessness and true trust in Christ. And in this last letter, we are given a solid comparison between the perseverance of the saints and the preservation of the saints. Often, reformed folk are accused of relying on works for salvation or for perseverance. This is a contentious issue, but is helpfully summed up by the phrase, “We are saved by faith alone, but by faith that is alone.” One who has been spiritually raised from the dead by the same power (the Holy Spirit) that raised Christ from the tomb will exhibit signs of life. He has no life before being made alive by God, so there’s no way his works can contribute to his redemption. Yet once made alive, the child of God will naturally grow in grace and the fruit of the Spirit as He works in us.

And this leads to the right understanding of the perseverance of the saints. Hedges tells us that perseverance and preservation are “really talking about the same doctrine, but from two different perspectives. If perseverance has to do with our responsibility to continue in faith and holiness, preservation highlights God’s work in strengthening and sustaining our faith.” Scripture tells us the Christ intercedes for us with the Father and the Holy Spirit prays for us when we know not how to pray. We will persevere because God is faithful! Our Lord declared He would lose none of the sheep given to Him by the Father. We are told that His Spirit is at work in us to will and to do His good pleasure. Our author points us to Hebrews 7 to see how the Lord Jesus provides for us in His sacrifice and His intercession.

In His sacrifice, Christ our High Priest offered himself for us once and for all (Hebrews 7:27. This is his finished and completed work. But now, he continues to apply this work to us through his ongoing intercessory prayer. And this guarantees complete salvation!” (See Hebrews 7:24-25)

Dear saints, know this: you have died with Christ and are seated in the heavenly realm with him. How we can we go on living for the flesh, knowing it will perish like the grass? Our Lord is the faithful witness who has gone to prepare a place for us – where Abraham lives, in the city whose builder is God. Jesus will return to gather His sheep to Himself. Have faith in Christ! This book is a great help in reminding us He is sufficient.

Futureville – A Bridge Too Far

Futureville – A Bridge Too Far

A review by Stuart Brogden

The premise behind Skye Jethani’s book, Futureville, is a good one – “What we think Futurevilleabout tomorrow matters because our vision of the future is what determines how we understand the present.” (page 3) Chapters 3 and 4 serve to provide common, but flawed, views of the created order and how it will be in the next age. In each of these, roughly showing the unrealistic golden age embraced by post-millennials and the pessimistic end of the world embraced by dispensationalists, the author provides historical and biblical support for his view of the flaws in each. In chapter 5, Jethani tells us what, in his opinion, the proper view of tomorrow is, with the remainder of the book examining various aspects of our lives that are impacted by our world view.

 

Chapter 2 begins a scene describing the 1939 New York World’s Fair, describing the image of the future presented by the mythical community of Pleasantville. The author uses this as a springboard to call the Christian focus of “last things” Futureville. This term is the title of the book, of course, and it becomes – for me – a tiresome term that is over-used. He contrasts the end of the age with the beginning – the Garden. In doing so, Jethani does well to explore the nature and meaning of the Garden of Eden, making very credible and solid connections with the New Earth. He tends to stretch points too far and does so with this statement (page 25): “Scripture affirms that humans require beauty to thrive. Beauty nourishes our spirit the way food nourishes our bodies.” He provides no footnote, no Scripture reference. The Bible tells me music has value but that only Christ can satisfy and nourish our souls. There is no substitute.

 

In keeping with his pattern of coming up with unusual terms for well known biblical concepts, Jethani calls the post-millennial view evolution and dispensationalism is evacuation. His descriptions of the effects of each of these views are well presented. Of the evolutionary view, he says (page 46) “The belief that we are responsible for the creating Futureville fueled many ministries and Christian initiatives.” Indeed, if we think we are to bring in “the golden age of Christianity”, we will behave far differently than if we believe it will all burn and nothing is worth saving. Jethani’s thesis is that a solidly biblical view of end times – where the heavens and earth (all that God created) will die in God’s judgment as Peter describes it. But as the body of Christ lie in the grave for three days and was resurrected in far better shape, so will the created order. That which was cursed by God as a result of Adam’s sin groans in anticipation of this resurrection.

 

The balance of the book covers his view of the resurrection of the earth and what that means, as well as our vocations, the order of God’s creation, the beauty and abundance thereof, finishing up with our hope – which is rightly rooted in the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. Jethani’s case for the resurrection of the earth, rather than the total annihilation of it, is credible and convincing. The conclusions he draws in these last chapters are less so. He refers to the God-declared beauty of the Garden of Eden and the God-ordained beauty of the tabernacle and then extrapolates that to thinking what man does is likewise valuable. He agrees with Richard Mouw that of “the artifacts and creations of pagan cultures, God will instead purify and redeem them for use in Futureville for his glory.” (page 95), going so far as to say, “In Futureville, King David may someday admire Michelangelo’s status of himself” (page 96). He comes too close to a post-millennial view in telling us “We have a role to play in God’s plan to unite heaven and earth, to advance the story of of the world to culmination, and to see the earth cultivated into the garden city.” (page 97) Jethani’s case for thinking the work of the unredeemed will be purified and used by God in “Futureville” is contrary to what the Bible tells us about those people and their “righteous acts”. Not all the works of Christians will pass through God’s judgment – why would anyone think some of the works of reprobates will? The trees in the garden and the tabernacle in the wilderness were God’s handiwork – He caused the Egyptians to give their wealth to the Hebrews, He gave the plans for the tabernacle to Moses, He gave wisdom and skill to various workers to build it. No work of man has these critical attributes – it is a bridge too far to say pagan art can be pleasing to God; that art generated by those who hate Him and are the objects of His wrath.

 

In describing the importance of social work and relieving the suffering of people, Jethani tells us there should be no tension between social justice and gospel evangelism – they are both vital (pages 122 – 124). In his discussion of this concept, he falls into the same pit many others have – putting more emphasis on that which can be measured, while claiming to extol evangelism equally; apparently forgetting the biblical injunction that godliness is a higher priority for the Christian than physical wellness or fitness (1 Tim 4:6-16). His post-millennial view shows up again (page 131) when he says “The Communion table looked forward to the coming day when all injustice would be made right in the garden city of God.” While the Corinth church was a hot-bed of selfishness and other problems, the message in 1 Cor 11 about the Lord’s Supper is a reminder that they who are in Christ are equal, without social standing or rank differences; a reminder that Christ earned His standing as the Lamb of God and bought us with His blood; a reminder that He has gone to His Father and will return to take us home. Being with Jesus where there is no sin or temptation thereto – that is what the table declares to us. It puts the sacrifice of Christ and our eternity with Him in terms of human value to claim Communion is about injustice coming to an end.

 

All in all, this book has much to recommend. But there is just as much to be wary of. It is a good thing if one wants to be properly oriented to the future so he will live rightly today. A better, more biblical approach would be to study the Idealist or Optimistic Amillennial perspective, using a good guide to Revelation such as Dennis Johnson’s Triumph of the Lamb. God’s people need to better understand His Word – for in it alone He has given us what we need for godly life and true worship of Him. And to bring Him glory is our highest aim in life – as it is for all creation.

Why God Won’t Go Away

Why God Won’t Go Away by Alister McGrath

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 In his book, Why God Won’t Go Away, Alister McGrath acquaints his reader with “new atheism”, a term apparently coined in 2006. He identifies four well-known atheists (Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens) with this philosophy, telling us how it got started, what’s new about it, what characterizes it, and how we as Christians should respond to it. As we read through this book, we find that there’s about as much “new” in new atheism as there is in new age – it’s an age-old false view of creation that unrighteous men use to suppress the knowledge of Truth that our Creator has put into His creation (Romans 1:18). The common element in this view, advocated by these high profile professing atheists, is a condescending attitude toward Christianity. Much ink has been spilled by these men trying to dissuade people from believing in the One Who created all things and people. Books such as The God Delusion and The End of Faith, as if there could be a human that could live on this earth without having faith in something – even if only that the chair would hold up when sat upon. These men tend to lump all professed religions together in an effort to “prove” God cannot exist because He is full of contradictions. No matter that the Word of God reveals that man creates and worships and serves all sorts of false gods and calls some of by the name of the one true God.

Hitchens admits he is not merely unconvinced of God’s existence, but that he is more an anti-theist than an atheist. McGrath quotes a humanist chaplain from Harvard, who defines anti-theism this way: “While atheism is the lack of belief in any god, anti-theism means actively seeking out the worst aspects of faith in god and portraying them as representative of all religion. Anti-theism seeks to shame and embarrass people away from religion, browbeating them about the stupidity of belief in a bellicose god.” People whose focus is on tearing down their enemies tend to lose all sense of perspective and end up redefining who they are by their irrational inability to allow Christians to believe what they want to.

Chapter 3 is a provoking look at a history full of violence committed by professing Christians, which gives a high road of condescension to the anti-atheists. Ah, but we also get a look at the history of bloodshed at the hands of atheists – this proving what Christians know to be biblical truth: all men are capable of hideous acts. The Lord God of Heaven restrains sinful men so that very few are as bad as they might be and His Spirit leads the redeemed to desire holiness rather than the sinful desires of the flesh.

Next up, the enlightenment is still going strong, as our anti-atheists worship at the altar of human wisdom. We learn here why it is hopeless to try and argue an anti-atheist into the kingdom of God – it’s hopeless to try and argue anyone into the Kingdom of God. Men are born again, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. We should not be tempted to argue with lost people over facts related to the gospel – they are at war with God and He alone can give a man with a heart of stone understanding and love for Him. The intellect of the anti-atheists blinds them to the Truth, and only the Author of Truth can give him sight.

Where McGrath departs from his call as a gospel minister is in the last chapter. He heralds Mother Teresa and declares his desire to emulate her. This woman is held up by many as a model Christian, but she made it clear many times that she did not even try to convert anyone to Christ; she thought God would be pleased and save as many as tried to be good Hindus, Buddhists, or whatever false religion one was following. This is not the model for any Christian. McGrath talks around the gospel and then states that he “cannot pursue this matter further here.” He does, however, make note that “Christian beliefs, like those of the New Atheism or any other worldview, ultimately lie beyond final rational proof.” Amen! And this is why worldly wisdom is foolishness and why we must trust God and be unashamed of His gospel and willing to be thought of as fools for Christ because we will not retreat from His Word. This book would have ended much better if McGrath would have spent three pages explaining the biblical answer to the anti-atheists – those enemies of God have no other place to go if they want truthful answers to their questions.

Book Recommendation – Convert: From Adam to Christ

I was recently given the opportunity to read a copy of the book “Convert: From Adam to Christ” by Pastor Emilio Ramos with the request that I post a review online at Amazon.com. After spending a weekend pouring through this text, I must highly recommend this book to anyone who is striving to understand just what it means to become a born again follower of Jesus Christ. Pastor Ramos does a wonderful job of explaining what it means to be a child of Adam, born into a life of sin and why we can never escape the grip of it on our own accord. Additionally, he takes the reader through the theology of what it means to be born again by the sovereign hand of God into Christ. Through all of this, Pastor Ramos continually reinforces everything he writes with sound and contextual citations from scripture.

What truly surprised me with this book, was how much time and effort Pastor Ramos put into explaining throughout the chapters of just what it means to be “in Christ.” This was not just a theological treatise on how a person gets saved, but what being saved means in the life of a Christian. Not only does he address how we enter the new life through a new birth by the hand of God, but he expounds upon the changed heart and mind of one who has been made into a new creation. He takes the Christian through the theology of our separation from the world, our mission while we still live in this world, our responsibility to the local church and our command from Christ to make disciples throughout the nations.

It is my sincere desire that every Christian take the time to pour through this book and really learn what it means to go from being a wretched, foul sinner in Adam, to being a redeemed and new creation in Christ.

Book recommendation: “Primetime Propaganda” by Ben Shapiro.

I grew up on a steady diet of TV and have fond memories of such shows as CHiPs, the A-Team, Miami Vice, Facts of Life, Dukes of Hazzard, Diff’rent Strokes, Family Ties, Silver Spoons, Punky Brewster, Alf, the Cosby Show, BJ and the Bear, and Sheriff Lobo.

As I grew older my TV watching waned considerably, but it wasn’t until 2007 that my family and I completely cut TV out of our life and I haven’t regretted it one iota.

So since my TV watching days were long over, I would never have expected to be interested in or actually read a book about television, let alone one that was over 300 pages in length. But when Ben Shapiro’s book Primetime Propaganda was on sale at last year’s Border’s going out of business sale for a ridiculously low price, I couldn’t pass it up.

I must say that I was pleasantly surprised at what an engaging and thoroughly researched book it turned out to be. Shaprio has written a definitive work on the history, politics, and propaganda of television. He meticulously examples how so much of what has been broadcast on television leans left–far left–and how that came to be.

Here is Amazon.com’s description of the book:

The inside story of how the most powerful medium of mass communication in human history has become a propaganda tool for the Left

Primetime Propaganda is the story—told in their own words—of how television has been used over the past sixty years by Hollywood writers, producers, actors, and executives to promote their liberal ideals, to push the envelope on social and political issues, and to shape America in their own leftist image.

In this thoroughly researched and detailed history of the television industry, conservative columnist and author Ben Shapiro argues that left-leaning entertainment kingpins in Los Angeles and New York have leveraged—and continue to use—their positions and power to push liberal messages and promote the Democratic Party while actively discriminating against their opponents on the right. According to Shapiro, television isn’t just about entertainment—it’s an attempt to convince Americans that the social, economic, and foreign policy shaped by leftism is morally righteous.

But don’t take his word for it. Shapiro interviewed more than one hundred of the industry’s biggest players, including Larry Gelbart (M*A*S*H), Fred Silverman (former president of ABC Entertainment, NBC, and vice president of programming at CBS), Marta Kauffman (Friends), David Shore (House), and Mark Burnett (Survivor). Many of these insiders boast that not only is Hollywood biased against conservatives, but that many of the shows being broadcast have secret political messages. With this groundbreaking exposÉ, readers will never watch television the same way again.

Reading this book solidified for me what I already knew: That programs on television are intentionally liberal with the purpose of changing the hearts and minds of its viewers.

This book also furthered my bewilderment regarding Christians who use this medium as a form of entertainment. It simply boggles my mind at just how many Christians will not only willingly digest the steady stream of messages from television that are deliberately antithetical and hostile to their faith (and allow their children to do so as well), but also how so many Christians will defend and justify their consumption of this trash.

It’s amazing to me that they wouldn’t dare step foot in (and take their kids to) many places in this world because of the sin present there, yet they’re perfectly fine with allowing just about anything and everything the world has to offer to be piped into their home via a television set. What they shun in real life is happily digested as “entertainment” in the comfort of their living room.

I cannot recommend this book enough to those Christians who see little to no problem with regularly setting the images, messages, and “wisdom” of the world before their eyes, ears, heart, and soul through the medium of television. And the author of this book simply can’t be dismissed as a Legalist because he has no affiliation with the Christian faith and did not write the book from a theological point of view.

Shapiro reveals the covert and overt liberal, socialist messages in everything from All in the Family to Sesame Street and will cause you to never watch television the same way again.

See also:

The Stranger

The Stranger (Sermon)

The Marketing of Evil

Family Worship and the Use of TV (Sermon)

Book recommendation: “How Do You Kill 11 Million People?” by Andy Andrews.

So exactly how did the Nazis get so many people to cooperate with them in marching toward their deaths without resistance?

This book tells you.

This was an eye-opening read and my only criticism is that its extremely short in length. I felt the author could have gone on and provided more examples and more insight, but even for its short length (you can read it in less than an hour), I was still hit by the truths presented in it. 

Watching current events unfold, this book may not only be about history, but it may very well be a warning for what’s about to come to America; and the author does not hold back from suggesting that grave possibility.