Epic: The Storyline of the Bible
By James Nicodem
Epic: The Storyline of the Bible (Moody Publishers, 2013) simultaneously addresses and reflects a problem in contemporary American Christianity. The problem is that so few Christians understand how the whole Bible hangs together. The overwhelming diversity of an anthology of 66 books, combined with the deafening insistence of centuries of critical scholarship that the Bible lacks unity entirely, has produced a generation of believers who simply don’t know how to put the pieces together.
Chicago-area pastor James Nicodem addresses the problem by summarizing the Bible’s storyline under the overarching theme of redemption. This redemption was prompted by the fall of man in Genesis 3, prepared and prophesied under the Old Testament economy, purchased by Christ in the Gospels, proclaimed in the rest of the New Testament, and will be perfected according to the vision of Revelation. So far, so good. But Nicodem also appears to suffer from an overly fragmentary vision of Scripture. He states that only 2 percent of the prophets’ predictions dealt with the first coming of Christ, and another 1 percent with His second coming. But such an insistence seems to miss the place and function of larger units of text. Isaiah 7–11 only mentions “Immanuel” and the “Rod of Jesse” a few times—but all five chapters are an extended meditation on the meaning of the promise of the Incarnation.
What’s missing from Nicodem’s treatment is the Bible’s own word for the nature of its unity: “covenant.” This does not militate against an understanding that God dispensed His promises in various ways, but enhances it. God promised redemption before the world began (Titus 1:2)—and He promised it to Christ, and to those who identify with Him as His seed (Galatians 3:16, 29). This is the Bible’s own summary of its structure—and Nicodem’s account would be greatly strengthened by following it.
A Heavenly Directory: Trinitarian Piety, Public Worship, and a Reassessment of John Owen’s Theology
By Ryan McGraw
A Heavenly Directory: Trinitarian Piety, Public Worship, and a Reassessment of John Owen’s Theology (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2014) sounds terrifying, but it’s actually both devotional and practical. The argument of the book is essentially that the Puritan theologian John Owen (1616–1683) focused histheology on personal communion with each of the three Persons of the Godhead. Believers, in order to be believers, must commune with the Father in love, with the Son in grace, and with the Spirit in comfort. Though this takes place in private, as previous Owen scholars have noted, the preeminent locus of this communion is in the public worship of the church (as previous Owen scholars have missed—hence the “reassessment” promised in the title).
The author, Ryan McGraw, is a pastor, and the value of his thesis for pastors is obvious. Many Christians do not understand the practical relevance of the Triune nature of God to their everyday Christian life. Many others undervalue public worship, apparently not understanding the clear biblical case (see Ephesians 4:7–16) for public worship as the place where God most abundantly supplies grace to His people. McGraw’s chapter headings summarize arguments taken from Owen, which explain “The Benedictory Nature of the Christian Ministry,” “Ministers as Christ’s Gift to the Church,” and “The Ministry, the Spirit’s Gifts, and Christ’s Presence” in public worship. In short, an authoritative benediction, which only an ordained minister can dispense, carries with it God’s promise of blessing (Numbers 6:24–27)—and so do all the elements of worship, when rightly used. Meanwhile, just as our redemption is intimately tied to the Father’s giving a people to His Son by His Spirit, so our daily walk is empowered by the Spirit’s presence and the Son’s grace to obey the Father’s commands.
Do you want to know the Triune God? Go to church.
The Pastor’s Kid: Finding Your Own Faith and Identity
By Barnabas Piper
A friend once told me, “My heart is so bitter that if you licked it, you’d die.” While WORLD News Group columnist Barnabas Piper is not quite that bad, his book is still acrid. If bitterness is harbored hurt, The Pastor’s Kid: Finding Your Own Faith and Identity (David C Cook, 2014) contains enough pain to power a three-volume memoir. The son of Minneapolis pastor John Piper, Barnabas Piper is not interested in blaming his dad, who wrote the foreword—but he does want to expose the systemic problems that plague pastor’s kids, or “PKs.” Dozens of quotes from PKs describe the kind of rotten upbringings that Piper wants to attack.
Though the tone is hard to take, it is easy to explain. PKs are the subjects of a lot of unfair expectations. They are supposed to be “practically perfect in every way,” to know all the answers, to walk with Jesus and inherit the leadership mantle of their fathers. Congregants watch them, expect more from them than from other kids, feel entitled to lecture them, and delight in their misbehavior. On top of it, parents can often be fake, caught up in being perfect. A PK doesn’t talk to his father; he gets sermons from him. No wonder PKs either pretend to be perfect or actively rebel.
Piper’s solution is not surprising. Pastors, like all parents, need to admit real faults and show real grace. If they don’t play with their kids and never apologize for their own sins, then their kids walk away confused. Who is this Jesus, anyway? His message must be for those who can brazen through their failures, rather than for those who, with broken hearts, ask grace from God and liberally dispense it in life-giving streams to those around them. Piper has begun to understand this. It’s a hard truth, but necessary: Perfection is found not by being good, but by being forgiven. And it’s only that forgiveness that can kill the root of bitterness.
Editor’s note: The quote at the beginning of this review originally was not attributed. We apologize for any confusion the lack of attribution caused.