Thursday, July 31, 2008

Conrad Mbewe on "Christian Imperialism"

Conrad Mbewe is Pastor of Kabwata Baptist Church in Zambia and has been called the "Spurgeon of Africa." He spoke at the July 13-16 Missions Conference at Heritage Baptist Church in Owensboro, KY. You can listen to the audio from Mbewe and the other speakers (including Paul Washer) at that conference here.
Mbewe also did a radio interview that is worth listening to here in which he discusses "Christian Imperialism." He has some great observations on the futility of social ministry to the exclusion of gospel preaching. He also has started his own blog, A Letter from Kabwata, that is worth reading.


Numbers 3 and OT Family Size

One more lingering thought from Numbers 3:

In J. J. Owens' commentary he ponders the fact that there were 22,273 firstborn among the Israelites (Numbers 3:43) and what this indicates about the typical family size in OT Israel. If the population of Israel might be estimated at c. 2 million at this time, Owens concludes, "This would average approximately eight children per family, discounting the grandparents and childless couples. This figure, as an average, is high, but it is not unreasonable as a figure as it would seem when one considers the large families which are characteristic of the eastern world" (p. 93). This certainly fits the praise of fruitful families elsewhere in the Bible. Children are like "arrows in the hand of a warrior" and the blessed man "has a quiver full of them" (Psalm 127:4-5). The blessed man's wife is "like a fruitful vine" and his children pop up "like olive plants all around your table" (Psalm 128:3).

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Andy Davis: Ten Dangers of Local Church Reformation

Andy Davis is Pastor of FBC-Durham, NC and a former keynote speaker at the Evangelical Forum. At the 2008 Founders Conference he gave a message from Revelation 1:10-20 on "Danger in Reforming a Local Church." You can find the audio and video links for this and other messages from that conference here. Davis gives some powerful autobiographical accounts from his experiences of local church reformation at FBC-Durham in this talk that are really worth hearing (I am emailing a link to our JPBC Deacons). A lot of what he says made me think of the reformation experiences we've had at JPBC.
Here also are the notes from this talk (found here):
Ten Dangers I Have Learned from My Experience in Church Reformation:

1. Forgetting the centrality of God in church reform

The church is God’s, for He bought it with his own blood (Acts 20:28). The blood of God purchased the church. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit completely invested in the owning of the church–it is His alone. And He alone has been there throughout all of history. We need to keep central God’s interest in it, His power over it, and His right to command it. God is zealous over His church.

2. Self-reliance.

The core issue of salvation is this: in whom will you place your trust ultimately. The only two ways of salvation in this world–self-salvation and salvation by faith in Christ alone. This is such a core tendency of the human heart, and it will be to the day we die–we tend to rely on ourselves. The danger is that you are going to look inward to see if the resources are there to meet the challenges. The two sides of self-reliance: side one, you look inward for the resources which you don’t have and murmur and complain and get bitter against God; side two, you look inward for the resources and you find them and results in pride, arrogance, and boasting. You are not the answer, never have been, and never will.

3. Failure to rely on the Word alone.

Sola Scriptura is still true in the reformation in the local church. Put all your eggs in this basket. You will be blessed in everything you do because God will bless His Word. Martin Luther, “I did nothing; the Word did it all.” The sufficiency of Scripture–do you believe God’s Word is sufficient to reform a church, to revive a dying church? We don’t need any gimmicks, and reformation out of the box. Reformation does work with handouts and powerpoints. We need to resist pragmatism and gimmickry. Isaiah 55:10-11–God’s Word will not return empty, but will accomplish God’s purpose.

We need to avoid church conference and management techniques. That is not where it is at. 2 Cor. 4:2 - renounced secret and shameful ways . . .. It is not about marshaling enough people in your corner to accomplish reform.

4. Deficiency in prayer or prayerlessness.

Jonathan Edwards, “Hypocrites Deficient in Private Prayer”. That title is enough to bring conviction, doesn’t it? Deficiency is a big danger. We must beg that God would reform His Church. Prayer puts us in the humbling position as beggars, trusting in God’s power to reform the church. It is home base for the church. The most urgent need of the church is a deeper, intimate knowledge of God (Carson on Paul’s prayers). Don’t focus on technique and strategy; get on your knees and ask God to reform His church. Prayerlessness is arrogance, unbelief, and disobedience.

5. Pride toward your people resulting in gossip and slander about you.

Consider the Pharisee and the tax collector. There is a tendency when you have experienced reformation to think that you are better than those who haven’t seen reformation. What do you have that you didn’t receive? (1 Cor. 4:7). God hates slander and gossip–check them in the lists of things detestable in the eyes of God. We should be praying that God would grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth.

6. Cowardice or fear of man.

I dealt with this every step of the way. Fear of what man thinks. What will _______ do? Will I be criticized again? What will the deacons think about this? What if I lose my job and can’t take care of my family? It makes a preacher shrink back from preaching the whole counsel of God’s Word. Jesus forces you to make choices–see Paul’s example in Gal. 1:10. One man said to me, “I will fight you every step of the way.” And he did. No matter what I did, he would hate me. The Lord showed me a Scripture, Isa. 51:12-13:

“I, I am he who comforts you;who are you that you are afraid of man who dies,of the son of man who is made like grass,13 and have forgotten the Lord, your Maker,who stretched out the heavensand laid the foundations of the earth,and you fear continually all the daybecause of the wrath of the oppressor,when he sets himself to destroy?

We have to be courageous; cowardice is an enemy to reformation in the church.

7. Mistaking non-essentials for essentials.

Dr. Mohler is concerned about young ministers turning churches upside down. Well, it is not the young people alone, but anyone who seeks to reform a church needs to be careful. You need to be careful where you put the line in the sand. In essentials unity; in nonessentials liberty; in all things, charity. The idea that there are not any “nonessentials” will get you in trouble. Not all doctrines are of equal weight. Not every fight is over doctrine; sometimes it is building programs, budgets, worship screens, etc. We need wisdom. Cowardice is fleeing when you should stand and fight; contentiousness is when you should be patient but act without wisdom.

8. Impatience

2 Tim. 4:2 is a key verse for reform. “With great patience and careful instruction . . .” Give God time to work. Give His Word time to work in the hearts of your people. It is arrogance to think that they must get it immediately. How did God work with you? Give it time. Know your people, and don’t go too fast. Jesus, “I have much to say to you, more than you can bear . . .”. Many agricultural illustrations point to patience. You don’t stick a seed in a soil and come back in an hour to see how it is doing. Martin Luther, “Take care of the idols in the heart, and the idols of the wall will take care of themselves.”

9. Discouragement

Satan is on every street corner selling poison to every minister telling them to “drink this.” Satan sells discouragement because our weapons are irresistible. If we get the full gospel array on us, with the Word of God in our hands, Satan will lose. So what does he do? He keeps you on the sidelines in discouragement. Every servant has fought discouragement and despair. Paul, “sorrowful and yet rejoicing” . . .. Martin Luther, “I am quitting preaching; I not preaching anymore . . .”. For 15 months, he did not preach. Why? Discouragement. Adoniram Judson, when his wife died, he dug his own grave and stared into it for weeks and said, “I believe in him, but I find him not.” (Other examples: Charles Spurgeon, David Brainerd, Martyn Lloyd-Jones). Lloyd-Jones in his book Spiritual Depression: “Stop listening to yourself and start preaching to yourself.”

10. Not developing men as leaders around you

Reformation is led by godly men. There were godly men who stood up for me and had enough of the way their pastor was being treated.

The Ten Dangers Turned Positive

1. Keep the glory of God central in all things.
2. Rely on God and God alone.
3. Unleash the power of the word of God through faithful exposition of Scripture.
4. Saturate your efforts through prevailing prayer.
5. Humble yourself continually before God and others; see the grace of God in your own life.
6. Be strong and courageous, fearing God more than men.
7. Keep clear on essential issues; spend your strength on them.
8. Be patient. Don’t expect reformation to come overnight.
9. Never be discouraged; Christ will most certainly build his church.
10. Build a strong group of godly men in your church who will encourage you in the work of reformation.

Join me in prayer for reformation of our churches.

Numbers 3:28, 39 and the Infallibility of Scripture

Preface: What is the issue?
I am preaching on Sunday evenings through the book of Numbers. Last Sunday the text was Numbers 3 and in preparation I started to examine a notorious numbering difficulty in the text.

The context is a census of the Levites: "Number the children of Levi by their families…. So Moses numbered them according to the word of the LORD, as he was commanded." (3:15-16).

The number of males one month and older is given for each of the three Levitical clans: the Gershonites: 7,500 (v. 22); the Kohathites: 8,600 (v. 28); the Merarites: 6,200 (v. 34). Then the total is given in Numbers 3:39: "All who were numbered of the Levites, whom Moses and Aaron numbered at the commandment of the LORD, by their families, all the males from a month old and above, were twenty-two thousand." And here is the difficulty. If we add up the previous figures (7,500 plus 8,600 plus 6,200) we arrive at 22,300. Why does this number not equal the 22,000 figure in Numbers 3:39? Certainly the number is not insignificant. The Levites will take the place of the firstborn of Israel (v. 12), but when the number of the firstborn is reckoned, it is 22, 273 (v. 43). This is 273 more than the 22,000 Levites of 3:39, so the Lord allows the Israelites to pay a redemption price of 5 shekels for each of the 273 surplus firstborns (see vv. 46-51).

Back to our difficulty. How do we reconcile the totals of 22,300 (vv. 22, 28, 34) and 22,000 (v. 39)?

I. Here are some explanations:

1. Textual variant in v. 28.

Some point to a textual variant in some texts of the Septuagint. The NKJV note in v. 28 before the "six" reads, "Some LXX mss three." Indeed, the Hebrew word for "six" is sh-sh and the word for "three" is sh-l-sh. If the number of Kohathites was 8,300 rather than 8,600, then the total would be 22,000 equaling the number in 3:39.

John MacArthur takes this view in his Study Bible note on v. 28: "The Kohathites probably numbered 8,300 males (See the marginal note on 3:28; the addition of one Hebrew letter changes the ‘six’ to a ‘three.’ This letter was dropped very early in the copying of the text)" (p. 201).

2. The use of round numbers.

Another explanation is that the author of Numbers is using round numbers. The 7,500, 8,600, and 6,200 are all even numbers. Could it be that the 22,000 in 3:39 is a rounding off of the 22,300? Are we seeking more precision than the text demands?
3. Exclusion of 300 firstborn among Levites.

The number of 22,300 Levites is maintained, but 300 are excluded as firstborns themselves.
This is apparently the approach taken by the Talmud. J. J. Owens in his Numbers commentary writes: "Since there were firstborn themselves among the Levites, they could not release a corresponding 300 firstborn of the non-Levites" (p. 93). Matthew Henry also takes this view: "but it is supposed that the 300 which were struck off from the account when the exchange was to be made were the first-born of the Levites themselves, born since their coming out of Egypt, which could not be put into the exchange, because they were already sanctified to God."

II. Evaluation of explanations:

The textual variant explanation must be rejected. The LXX should not be used here to correct the Hebrew which consistently has the number of Kohathites as 8,600 and not 8,300. We must remember that the scribes who maintained the received text saw no conflict in preserving the figures as they are present in the current text. They knew math, but they saw no contradiction.

The round number explanation must also be rejected. The key consideration here is the exactness given in the discussion of the redemption of the firstborn in Israel. Their number is the very clearly not-round 22,273, and the 273 surplus is clearly given.

The Talmud explanation is more tenable, but this explanation is also not clearly stated within the text itself.

III. Conclusion:

We must conclude that for some unexplained reason, 300 of the 22,300 Levites were excluded from consideration in the redemption of the 22,273 firstborn Israelites. One possible explanation is that these were the firstborn of the Levites themselves.

Does this challenge our understanding of Scripture’s infallibility? No. It simply reveals that though Scripture itself is always clear, our ability to understand it is not always sufficient.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Sermon of the Week: "Open Air Gospel Preaching"

Our JPBC interns read Walter Chantry's little classic Today's Gospel: Authentic or Synthetic? (Banner of Truth, 1970) last week and we discussed it in our staff meeting on Monday. We had a good discussion of how to do evangelism with integrity and what it means to share the gospel. Not long afterwards I watched this video sermon of Robert McCurely of Greenville Presbyterian Church preaching the gospel to what looks like mostly disinterested passers-by (of course, that's probably because everyone in Greenville is already a Christian--right?). McCurely does not hold back from winsomely preaching the reality of sin, the judgement of God, and the grace of Christ.


Man Accepts Christ After Killing Deacon

I usually glance at the newsfeed on Baptist Press most days when I get online. The headline "Man Accepts Christ After Killing Deacon" has that "man bites dog" quality about it that caught my attention.


Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Exposition of Jude: Part 10 of 25

Jude 1:10 But these speak evil of whatever they do not know; and whatever they know naturally, like brute beasts, in these things they corrupt themselves.

Jude continues to denounced false teachers in Jude 1:10. He seems never to tire of denouncing those who spoil the purity and integrity of the gospel. His zeal in rejecting false teachers is born of his zeal for right doctrine. The more we know what is right, the less tolerance we have for what we know to be wrong.

One mark of the folly of these false teachers is that they "speak evil" (the Greek verb is blasphemeo, the root of the English verb "to blaspheme") of "whatever they do not know." Perhaps Jude is referring to their ignorant rejection of cardinal Christian doctrines like the Incarnation, the sinless perfection of Christ, or his bodily resurrection. Truly, one mark of the fool is that he rejects things he does not understand without ever giving the matter thoughtful consideration.

On the other hand, "these dreamers" (v. 8) gladly embrace the falsehoods that they "know naturally." Jude implies here that the things they know and do according to their unregenerate sin nature they take to be the standard for what is normal and right. In Ephesians 2:3 Paul says that before their conversion the saints too were "by nature children of wrath." Before we are saved what is wrong seems right, and what is right seems wrong. The delusions of these false teachers have brought them into a sub-human state. They behave as "brute beasts." Only those who are in Christ know what it means to be fully human. The things these unregenerate men pursue do not bring them life and health, but "in these things they corrupt themselves."

Jude may sound harsh in his condemnation, but his purpose is gracious. He wants his readers to understand the stark difference between the saved and unsaved, between the sweetness of orthodoxy and the poison of heterodoxy.

  • Are you as zealous as Jude both to embrace truth and to reject error?
  • Is there any doctrine or practice you have questioned without really making the effort to understand it?
  • How does sin make unregenerate men like "brute beasts"?
Note: Previous commentaries can be found under the label "Jude Exposition" below.

Monday, July 21, 2008

JPBC July Church Family Fellowship in Staunton

We have a summer tradition of JPBC of having one Sunday evening Church Family Fellowship each month in June, July, August. Yesterday we had our July meeting at the Gypsy Hill Park in Staunton. The meeting was hosted by the Dick family, our lone JPBC-ers who live in Staunton.
Here are some folk eating:
And some of the children eating:

After the picnic, we had a spiritual discussion, mostly centering on the importance of fellowship in the life of the church, and had prayer together. Afterwards folk were off to walk to the duckpond, toss the football or baseball, and fellowship.
Next month (August 10) we will meet in Scottsville.


Thursday, July 17, 2008

On Regenerate Church Membership and Church Member Restoration

One of the most significant things that happened at the June 2008 Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Indianapolis was the overwhelming adoption of a resolution on regenerate church membership. Such resolutions are, of course, non-binding on local churches, but they do reflect current moods and movements. This resolution reflects the growing passion among many SBC churches—including Jefferson Park— to reclaim the practice of church discipline. Here is the full text of the resolution:

WHEREAS, The ideal of a regenerate church membership has long been and remains a cherished Baptist principle, with Article VI of the Baptist Faith and Message describing the church as a "local congregation of baptized believers"; and

WHEREAS, A New Testament church is composed only of those who have been born again by the Holy Spirit through the preaching of the Word, becoming disciples of Jesus Christ, the local church’s only Lord, by grace through faith (John 3:5; Ephesians 2:8-9), which church practices believers’ only baptism by immersion (Matthew 28:16-20), and the Lord’s supper (Matthew 26:26-30); and

WHEREAS, Local associations, state conventions, and the Southern Baptist Convention compile statistics reported by the churches to make decisions for the future; and

WHEREAS, the 2007 Southern Baptist Convention annual Church Profiles indicate that there are 16,266,920 members in Southern Baptist churches; and

WHEREAS, Those same profiles indicate that only 6,148,868 of those members attend a primary worship service of their church in a typical week; and

WHEREAS, The Scriptures admonish us to exercise church discipline as we seek to restore any professed brother or sister in Christ who has strayed from the truth and is in sin (Matthew 18:15-35; Galatians 6:1); and now, therefore, be it

RESOLVED, That the messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Indianapolis, Indiana, June 10-11, 2008, urge churches to maintain a regenerate membership by acknowledging the necessity of spiritual regeneration and Christ’s lordship for all members; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we humbly urge our churches to maintain accurate membership rolls for the purpose of fostering ministry and accountability among all members of the congregation; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we urge the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention to repent of the failure among us to live up to our professed commitment to regenerate church membership and any failure to obey Jesus Christ in the practice of lovingly correcting wayward church members (Matthew 18:15-18); and be it further

RESOLVED, That we humbly encourage denominational servants to support and encourage churches that seek to recover and implement our Savior’s teachings on church discipline, even if such efforts result in the reduction in the number of members that are reported in those churches, and be it finally

RESOLVED, That we humbly urge the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention and their pastors to implement a plan to minister to, counsel, and restore wayward church members based upon the commands and principles given in Scripture (Matthew 18:15-35; 2 Thessalonians 3:6-15; Galatians 6:1; James 5:19-20).

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle
Note: Evangel article for 7/16/08.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Book Review: Alister McGrath's "Twilight of Atheism"

Below is a book review I did on Alister McGrath's The Twilight of Atheism. A revised version appears in the journal American Theological Inquiry, Vol. 1, No. 2 (July 2008): pp. 157-60. You can read that version and the entire issue of the journal here.
Book Review
Alister McGrath, The Twilight of Atheism: The Rise and Fall of Disbelief in the Modern World (New York: Doubleday, 2004): 306 pp.

This book is a survey of the intellectual history of atheism in the world of Western ideas. The author’s thesis is that atheism as an "empire of the mind" has passed its zenith and is in a state of rapid decline as a satisfying intellectual understanding of reality. McGrath at one time considered himself a hard-core atheist but came to embrace Christianity. He describes himself "as a wounded yet still respectful lover of the great revolt against God" (p. 175).


The first line of the book reads, "The remarkable rise and subsequent decline of atheism is framed by two pivotal events, separated by precisely two hundred years: the fall of the Bastille in 1789 and that of the Berlin Wall in 1989" (p. 1). Indeed, McGrath puts forward a compelling argument that the "high noon" or "golden age" of atheism began with the French Revolution and set with the collapse of Soviet communism.

McGrath traces the intellectual foundations of atheism in modern Europe to the ideas of Feuerbach, Marx, and Freud. He also outlines the alleged "warfare" between science and religion "that has come to dominate the corporate consciousness of Western culture" (p. 79). Atheists would like to view science (Darwinian evolution, in particular) as the Prometheus that delivers humanity from the primitive clutches of religion. McGrath undermines the myth by arguing that science and faith are not incompatible, albeit "the stereotype of the necessarily atheist scientist lingers on in Western culture at the dawn of the third millennium" (p. 111).

McGrath places a good bit of the blame for atheism’s rise in the Western world on the shoulder of the Christian church itself for its "failure of religious imagination" (p. 113), particularly during the Victorian era. He traces the rise of "intentional atheism" in the mystical romantic poets like Percy Shelley and the novelist George Elliot (Mary Ann Evans). The alleged weakness of Christianity in this era led intellectuals to see it as unappealing and spent. From here McGrath moves on to trace "the death of God" in the West from the novels of Dostoyevsky, to the philosophy of Nietzsche, to the plays of Camus, to the "suicide" of liberal Christianity, as exemplified in Thomas J. J. Altizer’s death of God theology and best remembered by the October 22, 1965 Time magazine cover which pronounced, "God is dead." In its typical quest to be relevant, adapting itself to the spirit of the modern age, liberal Christianity embraced the godlessness of culture but found its secular "manifesto" turn into a "suicide note" (p. 164) . The apex of atheism in the West came in its institution in the atheistic communist state following the Russian revolution of 1917. The atheistic state would attempt to eliminate belief in God both intellectually and culturally. Many, like Harvard theologian Harvey Cox, believed that the world would fast become a "secular city."

The collapse of faith and the triumph of atheism, however, did not happen as some expected. Having traced the rise of atheism, McGrath turns to outline its contemporary decline. He begins with a narrative testimony of his own exodus from atheism as a university student (pp. 175-79). McGrath argues that "it is increasingly recognized that philosophical argument about the existence of God has ground to a halt" (p. 179). The best the skeptic can do with the God question is plead agnosticism. On the other hand, it is becoming increasingly evident that, "The belief that there is no God is just as much a matter of faith as the belief that there is a God" (p. 180). The arguments against God’s existence are just as circular as the Thomistic ones presented in favor of God’s existence. Furthermore, in the post-World War era McGrath claims that Christian thinkers and writers like G. K. Chesterton, C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, Dorothy Sayers and Flannery O’Connor have brought about "something of a re-birth of the ‘baptized imagination’" which makes contemporary atheism appear unimaginative and uninteresting in comparison (p. 186). He also notes that "interest in religion has grown globally since the high-water mark of secularism in the 1970s, even in the heartlands of the West" (p. 190), seen in everything from recent Star Trek episodes to the international explosion of Pentecostalism.

McGrath points out the rise of atheism during the modern era but anticipates its decline in the post-modern era. He describes postmodernism as "a cultural mood that celebrates diversity and seeks to undermine those who offer rigid, restrictive, and oppressive views of the world" (p. 227). Far from favoring atheism, this works against it, since atheism tends to be "strident" contending that "Belief in God is evil, and must be eliminated" (p. 229). Atheism is intolerant. An interesting and effective illustration of the disarray and weakness of contemporary atheism is offered by McGrath in the sad narrative of American atheist Madalyn Murray O’Hair and the ironic anecdote that her son William became a Christian (see pp. 238-56). Atheism is no longer seen as a liberator of the human mind but as an oppressor.

He concludes that the abiding influence of atheism may be the fact that it unwittingly aided in the reformation of Christianity:

"The rise of atheism in the West was undoubtedly a protest against a corrupted and complacent church; yet paradoxically, it has energized Christianity to reform itself, in ways that seriously erode the credibility of those earlier criticisms. Where atheism criticizes, wise Christians move to reform their ways" (p. 277).

McGrath concludes by noting that atheism is "in something of a twilight zone" (p. 279); however, in the book’s final words, he asks: "But is this the twilight of a sun that has sunk beneath the horizon, to be followed by the darkness and coldness of the night? Or is it the twilight of a rising sun, which will bring a new day of new hope, new possibilities—and new influences? We shall have to wait and see" (p. 279). The implication is that the future of atheism, in part, depends on the nature of religion (Christianity in particular). Repressive religion will evoke the resurrection of atheism; tolerant religion will keep it in the dark.


McGrath is to be commended for this helpful survey of the intellectual history of atheism in Western culture. His analysis of the current crisis within atheism and its precipitous contemporary decline is compelling. This work places the "new atheism" currently being promoted by the likes of Richard Dawkins and Will Harris in proper perspective. This book makes their attack on faith appear to be less the battle cry of a resurgent movement and more the last gasps of a failed cause.

There are several aspects of McGrath’s analysis, however, that conservative evangelicals will find less than attractive.

First, McGrath argues that Protestantism is in part responsible for the rise of atheism. In developing this supposed link between the Reformation and atheism, he accuses the leading reformers like Zwingli and Calvin of divorcing the sacred from the secular (p. 200). He suggests that the reformation’s emphasis on the sovereignty (distance) of God and its emphasis on preaching and teaching, including its stark architecture, engendered atheism. For McGrath, Protestantism "has impoverished the Christian imagination, and by doing so, made atheism appear imaginatively attractive" (p. 206). On the other hand, McGrath is free in his praise of Pentecostalism, Catholicism, and Orthodoxy, which he argues more successfully combine the sacred and secular, promote dynamic experiential faith, and, thus, resist atheism. McGrath is critical of any form of Protestantism "that is obsessed by theological correctness" or that commends "a purely ‘text-centered’ understanding of the Christian faith, seeing preaching as nothing more than teaching the contents of the Bible and spirituality as a deepened understanding and internalization of its message" (p. 213). This might make one "rigorously grounded in theological principles" yet fail in leading to "an encounter with the living God" (pp. 213-14). McGrath’s reasoning on this point is questionable. First, his argument that doctrinal precision and "text-centered" Christian faith somehow results in a less vibrant encounter with God is open to serious question. For a counter argument, just examine the rich experiential faith of the Puritans. Second, he does not examine the dangers of a lack of confessional precision, particularly in some Pentecostal circles.

Second, McGrath at points advocates a level of tolerance within Christianity—in the name of staving off atheism—that would permit compromise of a firm stand for Biblical truth. As one example, McGrath argues that Christians should not strongly contend for the Biblical doctrine of eternal damnation: "Christian apologists cannot hope simply to assert such doctrines as eternal damnation and expect Western culture to nod approvingly" (p. 275). Should we not, however, proclaim Biblical truth, whether the world approves of it or not? Will not the gospel always be offensive to the unregenerate? Along these lines, one might ask if McGrath’s analysis of the rise and fall of atheism is based more on sociology or the history of ideas than theology. Is the existence of atheism a result of human intellectual activity alone, or is it also rooted in the humanity’s sinful rejection of God’s sovereignty (see Psalms 14, 53)? Is atheism a reflection of the head or the heart?

Jeffrey T. Riddle, Pastor, Jefferson Park Baptist Church, Charlottesville, Virginia 22903