Thursday, May 24, 2018

Book Write-Up: High King of Heaven

John MacArthur, ed.  High King of Heaven: Theological and Practical Perspectives on the Person and Work of Jesus.  Moody, Master’s Seminary Press, 2018.  See here to purchase the book.

John MacArthur is the pastor of Grace Community Church.  As the title indicates, this book reflects on Jesus Christ.  Its contributors include pastors and academics.  A number of them are affiliated with MacArthur’s Master’s Seminary, but not all of them are.

In this review, I will comment on each essay.  Some of the essays I will cluster together.  My comments will not be comprehensive, but hopefully they will provide you with a taste of what the book is like.

“Preface,” “Do You Love Me?: The Essential Response to the King of Heaven, John 21,” by John MacArthur

These were MacArthur’s own contributions to the book.  They offered a compelling picture of knowing and delighting in Christ, discussing how that has proved to be significant in MacArthur’s own Christian walk.  MacArthur talks about how he has grown in this area, moving past presuppositions of his earlier religious background.  In the second essay, MacArthur interacts with John 21.  MacArthur notes that Peter has gone back to fishing, even after knowing that Christ rose from the dead, and he speculates that this is because Peter feels like a spiritual failure.  Jesus asks Peter if Peter loves Jesus more than “these,” and scholars have debated about whether the “these” refers to the other disciples or Peter’s fish.  MacArthur defends the idea that the “these” refers to Peter’s fishing vocation.  While more than one Greek scholar has argued that the Greek words for love, phileo and agape, are synonymous and interchangeable, MacArthur assumes that the former describes affection, whereas the latter is self-giving.  He thoughtfully integrates this into his discussion of Jesus’ interaction with Peter over whether Peter loves him.  This is an insightful contribution, but it is also sympathetic to people in their weaknesses, more so than I would ordinarily expect from MacArthur.

“The Eternal Word: God the Son in Eternity Past, John 1:1-3,” by Michael Reeves

One argument that Reeves makes is that God the Father’s eternal generation of the Son is significant, for that establishes God the Father as an eternally loving Father.  Salvation, according to Reeves, is not simply about us failing to meet God’s holy demands, but it entails being adopted into God’s family by grace.  As Reeves says, “you simply cannot earn your way into a family.”  Reeves contends that Arianism, which holds that God created the Word who became Jesus Christ, undermines God’s grace and love: it depicts Jesus, not as God’s beloved Son, but as God’s workman, who earns God’s favor through performance.

“Son of God and Son of Man, Matthew 26:63-64,” by Paul Twiss

Twiss does not focus on Jesus’ Sonship within the Trinity, but rather states that Jesus was Son of God in the same way that Adam, Israel, and the Davidic king were sons of God: they mediate God to creation.  Twiss offers an intriguing reading of Daniel 7 in light of Genesis 3: in Genesis 3, a beast (the serpent) usurps human authority, but the beasts in Daniel 7 lose before the Son of Man.  Twiss struggles over why the Son of Man is not mentioned in the part of Daniel 7 that explains the vision, and he does not mention the scholarly view that the Most High’s saints are the ones whom the Son of Man symbolizes.  Still, he does offer a reasonable explanation.

“The Son’s Relationship with the Father, Isaiah 50,” by Mark Jones

This essay beautifully highlighted aspects of Jesus, as it drew primarily from Isaiah 50 while also looking at the Gospels.  One can read this essay and feel Jesus’ sensitivity towards people’s rejection of him, while admiring and desiring to emulate Jesus’ hunger and thirst for God’s instruction.

“The Virgin Birth, Matthew 1:18-25; Luke 1:26-38,” by Keith Essex

Like other essays in this book, Essex criticizes what he considers to be disturbing trends within evangelicalism.  More than one essay in this book laments that hip evangelicals are complaining about the doctrine of penal substitution, the idea that Christ paid the penalty for people’s sins on their behalf.  Essex mentions Andy Stanley’s statement that belief in the virgin birth is non-essential for salvation, and Tim Keller’s response that disbelief in the virgin birth places one outside of the Christian faith.  Essex does not seem to go so far as to suggest that disbelief in the virgin birth means a person is unsaved, but he does believe that Jesus was born of a virgin for a reason, and that those reasons are important.  He goes beyond the usual mantra that the virgin birth was necessary because otherwise Jesus would be born with original sin.  There was not much in this essay that particularly inspired me, and perhaps it would have been better had Essex engaged more the critiques of the virgin birth.  Still, Essex did a decent job in presenting the virgin birth as a reasonable course for God to pursue, in light of God’s goals.

“The Bread of Life, John 6,” by Ligon Duncan

Duncan offers a couple of edifying insights and observations.  First of all, he notes that Jesus claims to be bread and water that provide satisfaction to those who partake.  He contrasts this with the sinful human tendency to seek satisfaction outside of God, which the serpent in Genesis 3 encouraged when he tempted Adam and Eve.  Second, Duncan observes that the Psalmist in Psalm 119 expresses his love for God’s Torah, but also his spiritual wandering, vulnerability, and need for God to seek him.

“The Good Shepherd, John 10,” by Steven J. Lawson

This essay is Calvinistic, like a number of other essays in this book.  Lawson relays an interesting defense that the Puritan John Owen made for limited atonement, the idea that Christ died only for the elect whom God had chosen, not for everyone.  Owen argued that unlimited atonement placed the members of the Trinity on different pages: the Father wants to save the sheep (the elect), while the Son is trying to save everyone.  Limited atonement places the members of the Trinity on the same page: the Father chooses the elect, the Son atones for the elect’s sins, and the Holy Spirit regenerates the elect.

“The Way, the Truth, and the Life, John 14:6” by Miguel Nunez

What stood out to me in this essay was a story about two climbers, who were 8,000 meters high and were too exhausted to help two other climbers who were injured and endangered.  The climbers had enough provisions to share but did not do so.  Nunez attributes this to the climbers not knowing Christ and thus not recognizing the image of God in the injured climbers.  This story raises a lot of questions.  Would I be willing to help in that situation?  Is it fair or accurate to say that all Christians would help, whereas all non-Christians would not?

“The Head of the Church, Colossians 1:18,” by Mark Dever

A story that stood out to me in this essay concerned a picture of church interns whom Dever knows.  Almost all of them went on to do great things for God, except one, who does not believe in God anymore.  Dever used that as an opportunity to exhort Christians to be rooted in Christ.  I think, though, that Christians should reflect more on why people leave the faith, especially when those people seemed to have believed as earnestly and been as zealous as those who stayed.  Unfortunately, I question whether Christians have the resources within their faith to enable them to empathize with those who leave: they can chalk the apostasy up to rebellion against God or a desire to sin.

“He Emptied Himself: The Kenosis, Philippians 2:5-11,” by Mike Riccardi

Riccardi offered an intriguing explanation for why Jesus refused to turn stones into bread at his temptation (see Matthew 4:1-11).  Jesus used his divine powers to serve others, not to lessen his own experience of the human condition (in this case, hunger).

“In Our Place: The Atonement, 2 Corinthians 5:21,” by Matthew Barrett; “Up From the Grave: The Resurrection, 1 Corinthians 15:1-20,” by Tom Pennington

I am clustering these essays together.  Both authors believe in penal substitution.  Pennington seems to believe that it is explicit in the Scriptures, however, whereas Barrett appears to maintain that it is more implicit, coincides with other crucial doctrines, and is more reasonable than other atonement models.  Barrett also has a thoughtful discussion about the atonement and divine simplicity, as he decries those who assert that the atonement places God’s wrath in opposition to God’s mercy, or the Son in opposition to the Father.  Moreover, in a footnote, Barrett refers negatively to two Catholic thinkers who attempt to rethink original sin in light of evolution.  Sounds interesting!

“High Above the Heavens: The Ascension, Ephesians 1:15-23,” by H.B. Charles, Jr.; “The Return of the King: The Second Coming, 2 Thessalonians 1:5-10,” by Michael Vlach

I do not have much to say about these essays.  They were edifying, but there was not much in them that was new to me.  Vlach makes an interesting point about glorified Christians not resting on the “heavenly sofa” but being involved in activity (Luke 19:11-27; Revelation 20:4; 22:5).  What will that activity be?

“No Other Gospel: The True Gospel of Christ, Galatians 1:6-7,” by Phil Johnson; “Salt and Light: The Believer’s Witness to Christ in an Ungodly Society, Matthew 5:14-16,” by Albert Mohler; “Counted Worthy: Suffering for Christ in a World That Hates Him, Acts 5:41,” by Paul Washer

These were “tell it like it is” essays: stand firm with the Word, even when it is unpopular, and it will be!  Still, God will bless your faithfulness.  I enjoyed reading the Johnson and Washer essays.  Johnson talked about the Galatians and how the Judaizers actually overlapped with Paul on key doctrines, such as Christ dying for people’s sins; still, they were importing an innovation, which asserted that people could take some credit for their salvation, and Paul deemed that to be intolerable.  Johnson also critiqued churches that seek truth from movies, as well as past Christian trends (Jabez, Passion, etc.).  I disagree with Johnson on the movies part, but his critique was still enjoyable to read.  “Oh yeah,” I thought, “I remember Jabez!”  The Washer essay could be blunt and obnoxious.  Still, it made some interesting points.  For instance, pastors are encouraged to say “we” sin rather than “you” sin in sermons, but Washer defends the latter, pointing to examples in Scripture of the latter.  He believes the latter is more convicting.  I still see value in the former: it highlights that we are all flawed, none is better than the other, we are on this journey together, and we all need a Savior.

“Christ and the Completion of the Canon, John 14-16,” by Brad Klassen

Klassen argues that Jesus anticipated the New Testament and the books of the New Testament canon. This essay does address a significant question.  I agree with Klassen that the apostles in the New Testament believe that they are custodians of the Word of God.  Whether that means that Jesus or Paul anticipated or explicitly predicted the New Testament canon, I do not know.  Maybe that goes too far.

“Seeing Christ in the Old Testament, Luke 24:25-27,” by Abner Chou; “Christ, the Culmination of the Old Testament, Luke 24:27, 44,” by Michael Grisanti; “Beginning with Moses: The OT Witness to the Suffering Messiah,” by Iosif J. Zhakevich

Chou and Grisanti both speak against a Christian approach to the Old Testament that sees virtually every line and story as a type or allegory about Christ.  They still believe that Christ is predicted in the Old Testament, though.  Chou situates themes and books within the Old Testament within a larger Christian context: Proverbs, for example, “explains royal court wisdom that the Messiah will fulfill as the ultimate king.”  Maybe not originally, but perhaps it can, within a larger canonical context.  Something that I appreciated about Grisanti’s essay was that Grisanti interpreted Micah 5:2, not in reference to Christ’s eternity, but rather in reference to God’s restoration of the ancient Davidic kingdom; Grisanti cites Amos 9:11 as a parallel.  Zhakevich thinks that David in II Samuel 7 anticipates the Messiah, even though the chapter mentions a Davidic son who will need to be chastened for sin, whereas Jesus was sinless.  Zhakevich also assumes that Isaiah 53 is Messianic, without engagement of other interpretations.  Still, Zhakevich’s citation of Psalm 22 can get one at least to contemplate the possibility that Psalm 22 is about something large and grand in scale: it predicts that all families will worship God, and Christianity has come close to bringing that about.

“Jesus Is Better: The Final Word, Hebrews 1:1-3,” by Austin Duncan

Duncan takes Hebrews 1:1-3 in a cessationist direction: Jesus is God’s ultimate word, so we do not need any new words from God.  Is that necessarily the case?  Cannot God guide Christians within the context of a relationship, in light of Jesus’ revelation?  Duncan made some compelling points, though.  He referred to Christians in Hebrews losing their property (10:34), and allowed that to illuminate Hebrews’ statement about Jesus being the owner of all things.  Duncan also painted a vivid picture of how the Old Testament system continually sacrificed animals, and how that contrasted with Jesus’ single sacrifice taking away sin.

“Around the Throne: The Heavenly Witness of the Redeemed to the Work of the Lamb, Revelation 4-5,” by Conrad Mbewe

What was most interesting in this essay was how Mbewe appealed to his African culture to illuminate biblical themes, such as the majesty of God.  Approaching a chief in Africa is not done lightly.

This book is a fairly deep read.  Some things in it were not new, but even those parts were edifying.  The book also offered interpretations that were fresh and insightful.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher.  My review is honest.

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