The Gospel For Mormons Who Reject It

Starting at the Finish Line: The Gospel of Grace for Mormons Book Cover You’ve probably heard the polls that Mormonism is a fast growing religion in the United States (although the polls don’t say how many are leaving the Mormon ranks).  You’ve probably seen and/or talked to those well dressed, polite Mormon missionaries.  But you may not have read an account by a man who was a “by-the-book” Mormon for 20 years only to leave Mormonism because of its inconsistencies and because of its emphasis on good works for salvation.  This book, Starting at the Finish Line, was written by a man who has that story: John B. Wallace.  He was in many ways a devout Mormon who ended up getting “burned out” by Mormon doctrine and practice.

Wallace wrote this book mostly for Mormons who are questioning the religion, those who are leaving the Mormon ranks, or those who have already left.  He is quite blunt in the book, but in my reading he truly cares for Mormons who are trapped on a “grace plus works” religious treadmill.  Wallace clearly has a passion for the gospel of grace alone and a passion to share that gospel with Mormons who obscure, deny, and twist it.  Even though Wallace is blunt, I don’t think it is offensive because his care and concern also shine through.  I’ve read much of the Book of Mormon, discussed Mormonism with some of their missionaries, and read other Mormon writings; Wallace’s book rang true with what I’ve read and heard.

Starting at the Finish Line does not talk about all the ways Mormon doctrine differs from Christian doctrine (i.e. the doctrines of creation, theology proper, the Trinity, the church, and the end times, just to name a few).  Instead, Wallace focuses on two main points: The Bible and the gospel of grace.  In the first section, he defends the historicity and reliability of the Old and New Testaments in light of the Mormon denying those things and adding more books to their religion.  I appreciated this section since it did show how Mormons do not really hold closely to Scripture alone and Scripture itself.

The bulk of the book really talks about grace – the fact that Jesus came into the world to die for wicked sinners and give them the gift of eternal salvation by faith alone (not by works).  Time and time again Wallace explains how he was very works oriented in the Mormon religion.  He shows many quotes and examples of how the Mormon understanding of the gospel is very much at odds with the historic, biblical Christian teaching of free and full forgiveness in Christ alone by God’s grace alone through faith alone.  The gospel of free grace is a stumbling block for Mormons, and Wallace wrestles with that point in an excellent way throughout the book.

At times, the book did seem a bit repetitive.  However, that might be a good thing for someone who believes their works play a part in their justification and salvation.  Also, there are a few places I wished Wallace would have been clearer on a few issues, but he was very clear on imputation, faith alone, the sufficiency of the atonement, and justification by grace.  The historic Christian gospel shines through in this book – Jesus is truly front and center here.

I very much recommend this book to those who are in Mormon circles, who were in them, or who know people in Mormon circles.  Actually, I recommend this book for anyone who 1) wants to know more about Mormonism and 2) who wants a great reminder of the “amazing grace” of salvation through faith alone in Christ’s finished work alone.  I’m thankful Wallace took the time and energy to tackle this tough subject.  And I’m thankful he did it in a way that showed Christ is all we have, and all we need!

(Note: the Kindle version of this book is just $3.99 at the time of the post.)

John Wallace, Starting at the Finish Line (n.l., Pomona House Publishing, 2014).

*I received this book from Cross Focused Reviews for the purpose of giving an honest review.*

rev shane lems
hammond, wi

Circular Reasoning and KJV Only-ism

  (This is a slightly edited repost from February, 2013.)

One reason I do not buy into the KJV Only logic is because it is based on circular reasoning.  I appreciate James White’s discussion:

“Over and over again, KJV Only advocates accuse the new translations of changing this or altering that.  They say the NIV deletes this or adds that.  It is vitally important to make sure we see through this kind of argumentation before we begin the work of examining many specific differences between the KJV and modern translations.  We wish to think clearly and honestly about this topic, and to do this we must point out the most fundamental error of the KJV Only position.”

“A circular argument is one that starts with its conclusion; that is, you assume the point you are arguing for right from the start, and then ‘prove’ it by using it as your basis.  …Circular arguments are, by nature, irrational.”

“KJV Only books, articles, and tracts share this common feature.  What is the writer’s bottom-line assumption?  That the KJV is the only true English Bible (maybe the only true Bible in any language!), the standard by which all others are to be judged.”

“This can be seen by looking at the terminology employed.  ‘See how the NIV deletes this passage….’ ‘Note how they have changed God’s Word here to say….’  ‘Here they have altered the text to say….’  In each case the KJV Only advocate is using circular argumentation.  How?  The assumed standard is the KJV.  Why is the KJV the standard?  Why not the Geneva Bible, or the Bishop’s Bible, or the Great Bible?  Could we not choose any one of these earlier English translations and then make up page after page of comparisons showing how the KJV altered this or changed that?  As long as we allow the AV defender to determine the grounds of the argument by assuming the KJV to be the standard of all others, we will get absolutely nowhere.”

“The KJV must stand up to the same standards as any other translation.  It cannot be made the standard by which all others are judged; it must take its place as one translation among many so that it can be tested just as the NIV or NASB or ESV.  In some places it may well excel; in others it may lag behind.”

“But we must be careful to avoid making the basic error of setting up one translation as the standard over all others.  Our standard must always be found in the question, ‘What did the original author of Scripture say at this point?’  We first must be concerned to know the words of Moses and David and Isaiah and Matthew and Paul; the words of the KJV translators may be important, but they cannot take precedence over the words that were the direct result of divine inspiration” (emphasis his; p. 167-169).

White is exactly right.  When it comes to Bible translations, we are being illogical if we start with the presupposition that a certain translation is the only perfect one.  Some KJV Only advocates carry this argument out to its ugly and logical end when they say the KJV is even superior to the Hebrew and Greek manuscripts(!).  And here’s another case where fundamentalism and liberalism end up holding hands: they say the Hebrew and Greek manuscripts are not trustworthy.  Obviously this is not a historic Christian belief!

I highly recommend White’s book for those of you who are “KJV Only” and for those of you who aren’t.  White is clear, kind, logical, biblical, and convincing in this outstanding resource.

James R. White, The King James Only Controversy 2nd ed. (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2009).

shane lems

Logos (5.2a) Reformed Platinum Package: A Review

Reformed Platinum Base Package I have to be honest; three months ago I didn’t know anything about Logos Bible software. I had been using the basic BibleWorks 6 package since 2004 solely for the purpose of helping me translate texts for preaching and teaching. So when the Logos Reformed team contacted me to do a review, I was happy to test another electronic resource for biblical and theological study.

Logos has quite a few different Bible software packages one can purchase – basic packages to extensive packages which include various books, lexicons, Bible dictionaries and much, much more. Scores of e-books from various traditions (Catholic to Charismatic to Calvinistic) are also available in various packages or purchased separately. I recommend visiting the website to view the different packages and books available for purchase. The amount of materials available is absolutely staggering! I’m happy to have Herman Bavinck’s Dogmatics, Thomas Boston’s Works, many of Augustine’s writings, and the Nicene/Post-Nicene Fathers collection, in my Logos library (just to name a few).

I use the Logos software on a PC that is a few years old (Logos runs on Mac as well), so it lags a bit. Further, it did take some time to download, but I appreciate the fact that I can use all the resources when I’m offline (though, of course, one must be online to receive the free updates). Also, Logos has a free app (I use Android but an iOS app is also available) that syncs with the desktop version. I hope to review the app at a later date.

If a person is familiar with other Bible software on PC, it will not be overly difficult to learn the basic commands and searches in Logos. The fonts (including Greek and Hebrew) are handsome and readable. Logos also has many different printable resources – charts, graphs, word studies, outlines, etc. The home screen is highly customizable; I use four different panels (one for the Bible, one for lexicons/dictionaries, one for definitions, and one for study resources).

There is also a very powerful search engine with which one can search the Bible as well as any and every Logos e-book in one’s library. For example, when studying “the goodness of God,” my search gave me all the Bible references to goodness, illustrations about God’s goodness, cross references about goodness, lexicon/dictionary entries on goodness, and all the places my e-books mentioned God’s goodness (i.e. in Calvin’s commentaries, TDNT, Berkhof’s writings, Muller’s Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics, Aquinas’ Summa, the Westminster Standards, and other such e-resources). I appreciate the fact that my studies can be streamlined in this way!

I also appreciate the extensive “how to” lessons available at Logos’ website. There are many videos, articles, and discussion forums that help one learn more about using the software. I’ve had to look for help in a few areas already. There are so many different aspects of Logos; no doubt every user will have questions about the software. Thankfully, answers are relatively easy to find. If one might ask the question: “Can Logos do this or that?” the answer is most likely “Yes,” but it will take some effort and experimenting to get it done. To get the most out of Logos software, I recommend taking several days to watch the videos, read the tutorials, and spend some time working in Logos and trying out the various resources, tools, and settings.  (Note: I’ve had to contact customer software to ask a question, and the service was outstanding.)

I do wish the Reformed Platinum package came with BDAG and The Treasury of Scripture Knowledge, and I wish there were more English Bible translations in the package (it didn’t come with the NIV, the NLT, or the Tyndale Bible, for a few examples). I also wish there was a “simple” button that one could click for a basic, non-cluttered screen to study a passage, using only lexicons and commentaries. Of course, it is customizable enough to make a layout like this, but doing so takes some time and knowledge.

One more aspect of Logos that might make many pause is the price of the software (prices as of July, 2014). The prices range from under $100 to over $2,000. There are usually decent sales and discounts at Logos (and payment plans), but many full priced e-books on Logos are just as expensive as print versions. Although everyone differs, I’d rather read a print copy than an electronic version of a book, so spending significant money on e-books is something I typically don’t do. In fact, sadly many of the e-books I have on Logos are ones that I will never read since there are so many and since I dislike reading books on a screen. Alternatively, this Reformed package would be a great blessing for those on the mission field who cannot carry their libraries around.  Churches could perhaps “gift” this software to their missionaries and church planters.

One final point worth mentioning – and this is more aimed at the users – is the fact that Bible software must be used with caution and wisdom. Electronic resources save time, but they also take away some of the intellectual work that scholars have done in the past (i.e. reading through the pages of a lexicon to find the word, or reading many pages to find a single concept, etc.). Users of Bible software must not, for example, assume they are experts in patristics if they only read a paragraph or two of Augustine and Cyril for sermon prep. It is very tempting to take too many shortcuts when working with Bible software, so students and scholars must be aware of this in order to stay intellectually sharp and balanced. As with all useful tools, Logos must be used rightly.

In summary, Logos Bible software is a premium tool for Bible and theological studies as well as sermon preparation. Used rightly, this tool will help Bible students for years to come. I’ve made the switch from BibleWorks to Logos, since Logos, in my opinion, is superior (hands-down). It has already helped my studies in various ways!  Again, this review is too brief, and it is impossible to fully explain Logos in a review, so I recommend exploring the Logos website (www.logos.com) to learn more about this excellent resource. Finally, by following the link, our readers will receive a discount on Reformed packages.

Feel free to ask questions about the software; I’ll do my best to answer.

rev. shane lems
covenant presbyterian church (OPC)
hammond, wi

Radical(ly Normal)

“You don’t have to live crazy to follow Jesus.”  As the subtitle, that statement is a great summary of Josh Kelley’s new book, Radically NormalAs you may have already guessed, this book was written in response to some movements in American evangelicalism that lay a guilt trip on Christians for not following Jesus in radical ways (i.e. selling all and going on the mission field).  Kelley’s book is a fine complement to Matt Redmond’s The God of the Mundane (which I reviewed here).

Josh Kelley is the pastor of a smaller evangelical church in Washington State.  Having been raised in conservative evangelical circles, he had met Christians who were overly zealous (“Radical Randy”) and Christians who were too lazy.  These are two extremes: obsessive Christians and complacent Christians.  In this book, Kelley refutes both of these extremes and argues for a more biblical way: following Jesus in “normal” ways.  This is how he states his case – and what he unpacks in the book:

“[Many Christians] look at missionaries, street preachers, and pastors and feel certain they just aren’t on the same level as professional Christians.  Too many Christians feel guilty for their normal, everyday lives, which doesn’t involve performing miracles, standing behind a pulpit, or sharing the gospel in a distant jungle. …They live under the burden of believing that God would have been a little happier if they had sold everything and become missionaries….  I’ve come to believe that the entire system is absolute nonsense, a trap of the enemy that puffs up a few Christians and deflates the rest” (p. 35, 46).

From a different angle, Radically Normal might be viewed as a book that discusses (in a positive way) everyday Christian spirituality.  Kelley discusses evangelism, money, holiness, legalism, worldliness, suffering, and other such aspects of the Christian life.  I appreciated how he tried to stay balanced and level-headed throughout the book.  Using many personal stories, Kelley calls the reader to follow Jesus in a serious way, but he focuses on the Scriptures that talk about living “ordinary” lives while following Jesus.

I did put a few question marks in the margins as I read.  I’m not wild about giving up something for Lent or holding a Passover meal, as Kelley explained.  I also wish he would have spoken more about the church – he did, to be sure, in a positive way, but without much detail.  More emphasis on preaching and the sacraments would also have been nice, since God’s ordinary means of grace have everything to do with living ordinary Christian lives.

All in all, this book, Radically Normal, is a helpful evangelical counterpoint to the “radical” American evangelical emphases and movements (emphases and movements which have been around for more than 30 years).  It’s well written, not too difficult to read, and provides a good remedy for those Christians who feel guilty for not being radical.  Thankfully, you (usually) don’t have to quit your day job to follow the Lord Jesus in a biblical, God-glorifying way.

Josh Kelley, Radically Normal (Eugene: Harvest House Publishers, 2014).

*Note: this book was given to me by the author (thanks Josh!) and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

shane lems
hammond, wi

God Owes Us A Good Life?

Walking with God through Pain and Suffering Many people today assume that God owes them a life of health, wealth, and happiness.  Since God is good, they say, he should bless us in many ways and keep us from all harm and danger.  I appreciate Timothy Keller’s answer to this false belief.

“When we stand back to consider the premise – that God owes us a good life – it is clearly unwarranted.  If there really is an infinitely glorious God, why should the universe revolve around us rather than around him?  If we look at the biblical God’ standards for our behavior – the Golden Rule, the Ten Commandments, and the Sermon on the Mount – and then consider humanity’s record against these norms, it may occur to us that the real riddle of evil is not what we thought.  Perhaps the real puzzle is this: Why, in light of our behavior as a human race, does God allow so much happiness?  The teaching of creation and fall removes the self-pity that afflicts people with the deistic view of life.  It strengthens the soul, preparing it to be unsurprised when life is hard.”

Timothy Keller, Walking With God Through Pain and Suffering, p. 115.

shane lems
hammond, wi

Walking On The Sea In Royal Freedom

Product Details In III.1 of Church Dogmatics Karl Barth spends quite a bit of time discussing the text of Genesis 1 and the days of creation.  In his discussion of day 3 and the separating of the waters from land (Gen. 1:9-10), Barth elaborates on the “waters” in a fascinating (sort of) redemptive historical way (III.i.IX.41.1).  Notice how he goes from Genesis 1 to Paul’s ministry, back to Genesis 1, and then to Revelation.

“It is self-evident that in this submission and limitation the roaring of the sea must also have a part in the triumphant song: ‘The Lord reigneth” (1 Chron. 16:32).  On the other hand, it is certainly no coincidence that according to the Old Testament the Israelites were not a seafaring people like the Phoenicians, although the tribes of Zebulun, Asher, and Dan had lived by the seashore and in havens for ships (Jud. 5:17, Gen. 49:13, cf. Deut. 33:18).  Of an expedition such as that ascribed to Solomon in 1 King. 19:28ff, we can say only that (like his new and positive attitude to the horse) it is one of the extraordinary and even – we must say – Messianic features of this immediate son of  David.”

“We are told in 1 Kings 22:49ff that a similar venture on the part of Jehoshaphat immediately came to grief.  And in view of its starting point and disastrous end, Jonah’s voyage is no exception to the rule.  The Old Testament ranks a sea voyage (Ps. 107:22ff) with desert-wandering, captivity, and sickness as one of the forms of extreme human misery; of the misery from which it is the gracious and mighty will of God, which we cannot extol too highly, to redeem us.”

“It is thus the more noteworthy that the most striking Messianic deeds of Jesus are his walking on the sea in royal freedom, and his commanding the waves and storm to be still by his Word.  And when we are finally given in Acts 27-28 an accurate description, down to the last nautical details, of Paul’s stormy but ultimately successful voyage from Caesarea through Crete and Malta to Puteoli, it is certainly not done merely for the sake of historical completeness or out of curiosity, but because the New Testament author, too, knows the sign of the sea and sees in this occurrence an emulation of Solomon, Jehoshophat, and Jonah, a confirmation of the hymn of praise in Psalm 107:13ff, and finally, in connection with the miracles of Jesus himself on the sea, the fulfillment of all Old Testament prophecy concerning God’s lordship over the dangerous sea, and therefore a confirmation of Genesis 1:9-10.”

“In the new heaven and the new earth, as we learn from Rev. 21:1, there will be no more sea; i.e., man will be fully and finally freed from each and every threat to his salvation, and God from each and every threat to his glory.”

K. Barth, Church Dogmatics III.I, p. 148-9.

shane lems

Revelation: Acts and Speech

Fundamentalism and the Word of God If you haven’t read Packer’s Fundamentalism and the Word of God, I’d suggest putting it on your “to read” list.  Here’s a section from it that explains how God reveals himself in his acts (i.e. the Exodus) and also in speech (i.e. the Prophets) – and these go together, as Packer notes.  Packer’s helpful argument also has to do with the necessity of Scripture.

“…According to Scripture, God reveals himself to men both by exercising power for them and by teaching truth to them.  The two activities are not antithetical, but complementary.  …Leave man to guess God’s mind and purpose, and he will guess wrong; he can know it only by being told it.  Moreover, the whole purpose of God’s mighty acts is to bring man to know him by faith; and Scripture knows no foundation for faith but the spoken word of God, inviting our trust in him on the basis of what he has done for us.  Where there is no word from God, faith cannot be.  Therefore, verbal revelation – that is to say, propositional revelation, the disclosure by God of truths about himself – is no mere appendage to his redemptive activity, but a necessary part of it.  This being so, the inspiring of an authoritative exposition of his redemptive acts in history ought to be seen as itself one of those redemptive acts, as necessary a link in the chain of his saving purposes as any of the events with which the exposition deals.”

“The need for verbal revelation appears most clearly when we consider the person and work of Christ.  His life and death was the clearest and fullest revelation of God that ever was or could be made.  Yet it could never have been understood without explanation.  Whoever could have guessed, without being told, that the man Jesus was God incarnate, that he created the world in which he was crucified, that by dying a criminal’s death he put away the sins of mankind, and that now, though gone from our sight, he lives forever to bring penitent sinners to his Father?  And who can come to faith in Christ if he knows none of this?  No considerations could show more plainly the complete inability of man to ‘make do’ in his religion without a spoken word from God (p. 92).”

J. I. Packer, Fundamentalism and the Word of God (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1962).

shane lems