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Every now and then, I meet with some guys here at LifeWay and we discuss the books we’ve been reading. Our sixth meeting took place a couple weeks ago with Jed Coppenger, Michael Kelley,  Devin Maddox, and myself. Here’s what we discussed:

Nine Marks of a Healthy Church
Mark Dever
Crossway, 2004

Michael Kelley kicked off the discussion by telling us he had (finally!) read Mark Dever’s signature work, Nine Marks of a Healthy Church. Michael found the book to be immersed in biblical teaching. In a postmodern era in which doubt is celebrated, it is is refreshing to read an author who believes that truth matters and that God has clearly revealed His will in His Word concerning His church. This is a book of answers, not questions.

Michael had a couple of quibbles with the book. First, he said the writing style felt a bit textbookish at times, which may keep it from reaching more people who could benefit from it. Secondly, he thought Dever drew the lines too narrowly at times. For example, is it true that a church must close its small groups to unbelievers and leave corporate worship as the only open door to the lost in order to be “healthy?”

Using Dever’s book as a springboard, our group discussed the 9Marks movement and the benefits that have come with it. We all agreed that the greatest contribution of 9Marks  has been the emphasis on meaningful membership. The 9Marks view of church membership provides a healthy corrective to the lackadaisical approach to membership in many evangelical churches today. Not all of the guys in our group are convinced that every church must have a plurality of elders, or that church discipline must be exercised in the precise manner laid out in this book. Still, we all appreciate the overall vision of 9Marks and the efforts of men like Mark Dever to put important ecclesiological issues back on the table.

Forged: Writing in the Name of God
Why the Bible’s Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are

Bart Ehrman
HarperOne, 2011

Why read a book by Bart Ehrman? Here’s a former evangelical who attended Moody and Princeton before becoming the apologist against the Christian faith in our day. Every book Ehrman writes is intended to diminish a Christian’s trust in the reliability of the New Testament documents. Forged is no exception. But surprisingly, there are aspects of this book that are helpful to conservative evangelicals.

First off, it should be said that Ehrman owes his outlook to his fundamentalist upbringing. He is relentlessly committed to the notion of objective truth. No wishy-washy, “truth can mean contradictory things.” Ehrman isn’t anything if not logical. That’s the reason he is so provocative.

Secondly, Ehrman is absolutely right to castigate post-conservative scholars for claiming that “pseudonymous (i.e., falsely named) writing in the ancient world was not thought to be lying and was not meant to be deceitful.” A forgery is a forgery. What’s the point of saying that 2 Peter was written by someone other than Peter, but that the true author wasn’t lying or deceiving? Ehrman convincingly shows the intellectual bankruptcy of such a view.

But that’s all I can commend about this book. Ehrman is right to show that the Gnostic Gospels and later letters were forgeries. He’s wrong when he tries to read forgeries back into the New Testament. He takes a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” approach. If there aren’t enough personal anecdotes, then it can’t be a letter from Paul, who was always personal. If there are too many personal anecdotes, then it proves it’s a forgery, since the forger is just trying to fool the reader.

The suspicion with which Ehrman approaches the biblical text is detrimental to his case and shows how one-sided his view is. He flattens out theological distinctions into easy-to-spot contradictions, when simple concepts like “already/not yet” theology could clear up a lot of the mess he sees. When he goes on the rampage against fabrications within the canonical stories (like the details surrounding Jesus’ birth), he presupposes the Bible can’t be trusted as history before making his case.

Him We Proclaim:
Preaching Christ from All the Scriptures

Dennis Johnson
P&R, 2007

Jed Coppenger brought a book on Christ-centered preaching. Him We Proclaim enables us see Christ as the center of all Scripture. This book includes a helpful interview with Tim Keller, and it also examines the preaching method of the apostles, primarily in Hebrews, and the sermons of Peter and Paul.

Overall, Jed agrees with the theory of this book. He believes that Johnson persuasively makes the case for seeing Christ at the center of all of the Scriptures. But he wished the book provided more focus on how Christ-centered preaching is effectively connected to hearers. Good preaching does more than just point to Christ. It takes that Christ-connection to the person in the pews in a memorable and effective way. Preaching Christ from all the Scriptures in a way that connects well with listeners is a subject that needs further exploration.

Love Wins:
A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived

Rob Bell
HarperOne, 2011

This book deserves a post of its own. Devin began by pointing out the gifted, talented communication skills of Rob Bell. There is an attraction to Rob’s style, which makes the book all the more dangerous. As far as the argumentation goes, inconsistencies abound in Love Wins. Rob sums up his view of the afterlife by appealing to omnipotence. God can and will win everyone. But Devin thought his appeal to omnipotence is self-defeating. Why can’t God do something other than what Rob says? Furthermore, Bell also isn’t very loving toward religious people. He doesn’t seem to mind if love were to not win over his theological opponents.

Love Wins turned our conversation toward the need for beautiful truth. Bell’s vision of Christianity is appealing, not only because it is more palatable to our culture today, but also because it’s presented in a way that goes for the heart. Most of the reviews of Bell’s book take apart his argumentation and show its logical contradictions. Good and well. But it’s not the strength of Bell’s intellectual argumentation that wins over his readers; it’s the artful way he presents his point of view. Bell goes for the heart, while many of us Baptist and Reformed types go only for the mind. We need to develop a vibrant, orthodox Christian imagination – the kind of imagination that demonstrates not only the truthfulness of truth, but the inherent beauty of truth.


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6 thoughts on “9Marks, Forged, Him We Proclaim, Love Wins: Book Discussion #6”

  1. Derek says:

    In what way are you using “post-conservative” in Ehrmans review? I only know the phrase as I believe it was coined by Roger Olson to communicate the concept that even our protestant traditions (Baptist, Reformed, whatever) need to remain open to changes in light of further biblical reflection. It’s another way to say sola scriptura essentually. It sounds like you’re using it in another specialized way?

  2. Trevin Wax says:

    Derek,

    I used the term here as a synonym with “progressive evangelical” scholar. Perhaps the “progressive” term would have been better, so as to avoid confusion with Olson’s definition.

  3. Jared Moore says:

    Trevin,
    What alternative was suggested for biblical discipline as compared to Dever’s 9 Marks approach?

  4. Trevin Wax says:

    Jared,

    We didn’t get into the specifics about alternative ways. The only comments made were that not every church exercises discipline in the same way. But all agreed that church discipline is necessary.

  5. David Beirne says:

    Re: Him We Proclaim

    Trevin, have you read/reviewed Graham Goldsworthy’s Preaching The Whole Bible As Christian Scripture? Was wondering how it might compare.

  6. Trevin Wax says:

    David,

    Jed actually brought Goldsworthy’s book to this discussion, but I didn’t have room to talk about it in this blog post.

    Both books certainly complement one another!

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Trevin Wax


​Trevin Wax is Bible and Reference Publisher at LifeWay Christian Resources and managing editor of The Gospel Project. You can follow him on Twitter or receive blog posts via email. Click here for Trevin’s full bio.

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