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A Review: Death by Love Part 6

Death By Love: Letters From the Cross

By Mark Driscoll & Gerry Breshears

Driscoll, Mark, and Gerry Breshears. Death By Love: Letters From the Cross. Wheaton , Ill.: Crossway Books, 2008.

Mark Driscoll is the founding pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, one of the fastest-growing churches in America. He is president of the Acts 29 Church Planting Network and leads the Resurgence Missional Theology Cooperative.

Gerry Breshears is professor of theology and chairman of the division of biblical and theological studies at Western Seminary. He and Driscoll also coauthored Vintage Jesus.”[1]

Review:

Chapter Eleven: Reconciliation

Kurt is a man lost to the world, delving into drugs and alcohol. Kurt as Driscoll notes does not understand how to reconcile with people but more importantly that Jesus Christ through the cross reconciled us to God.  This chapter I found to be the most personally written and least like a systematic theology of the doctrine at hand.  Driscoll compares the reconciliation needed between his brother and Kurt to Esau and Jacob being reconciled.[2] The cycle of bitterness as Driscoll describes is: “Bitterness, Wrath, Anger, Clamor, Slander, and Malice.”[3] In describing these, Driscoll has done the reader a service, showing how the barriers progress in the heart against reconciliation.  The words that Kurt needs to hear as we all do are, “You will see that not only does Jesus reconcile you to God in heaven, but he also takes away sin so that you can be reconciled to people on the earth.”[4] Reconciliation has two aspects to us as Driscoll notes the duality of the reconciliation through the cross.  Noticeably this chapter seems the most applicable for those that struggle with barriers between them and others.

Death by Love

Chapter Twelve: Revelation

Susan does not know what to think, or where to look for Jesus, for God.  She is searching for revelation when in fact Jesus is the revelation.  Driscoll makes a primary conclusion about Jesus Christ.  “Jesus is such an enormous figure in human history that he is the only person who appears in every major world religion.”[5] This is refreshing to see someone go out and say this, it has always been a mystery to me how Jesus is in every religion but is not exalted as being the son of God.  He is who he says he is.  Driscoll also gives eight truths learned through the cross and seven truths from the resurrection.[6] This chapter brings all the previous material together in defense of the cross and Christ being the revelation of God.  When reading this chapter the words of “In Christ Alone” come to mind.

“In Christ alone my hope is found…

‘Til on that cross as Jesus died

The wrath of God was satisfied

For every sin on Him was laid

Here in the death of Christ I live

There in the ground His body lay
Light of the world by darkness slain
Then bursting forth in glorious Day
Up from the grave He rose again
And as He stands in victory
Sin’s curse has lost its grip on me
For I am His and He is mine
Bought with the precious blood of Christ”

Jesus Christ alone can be: the victor, the redemption, the sacrifice, the righteousness, the justification, the propitiation, the expiation, the atonement, the ransom, the example, the reconciliation, and the revelation.  He is the ultimate champion of all time, reigning on high!  All glory goes to God!

This is the sixth and final post on this book.  Search Death by Love to see the other posts.


[1] From the back cover of the book.

[2] Driscoll, Mark, and Gerry Breshears. Death By Love: Letters From the Cross. (Wheaton , Ill.: Crossway Books, 2008), 224-225.

[3] Ibid. 223-224.

[4] Ibid. 229.

[5] Ibid. 238.

[6] This takes up a majority of the chapter and is a clear gospel presentation.

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A Review: Death by Love Part 5

Death By Love: Letters From the Cross

By Mark Driscoll & Gerry Breshears

Driscoll, Mark, and Gerry Breshears. Death By Love: Letters From the Cross. Wheaton , Ill.: Crossway Books, 2008.

Mark Driscoll is the founding pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, one of the fastest-growing churches in America. He is president of the Acts 29 Church Planting Network and leads the Resurgence Missional Theology Cooperative.

Gerry Breshears is professor of theology and chairman of the division of biblical and theological studies at Western Seminary. He and Driscoll also coauthored Vintage Jesus.”[1]

Review:

Chapter Nine: Ransom

First and foremost Hank is what many call a pervert, an abuser, and a violent man.  He believes that he is going to hell, because of all that he has done in his life.  Driscoll notes that Hank needs to hear about how Jesus was the ransom for him.[2] Hank knows that he has a debt before God; because of this debt he needs a mediator, a redeemer, and a ransom.[3] Driscoll makes hank aware of his depravity by saying, “You were made by God with dignity but have sunk so deep into depravity that your life is nothing short of a disgraceful tragedy.”[4] The corruption in Hank’s life is what has caused him to need a ransom like us all.  The good news is that “Jesus is willing to be your mediator, redeemer, and ransom.”[5] Driscoll correctly points to Christ alone being sufficient as a ransom for sinners.  “Jesus has paid your debt and by grace will apply that to your account if you pray the words of repentance in faith that Jesus taught you to pray – “Forgive me my debts” (see Matt. 6:12).”[6] Although this gospel truth is not given to a character in the book that I personally can identify with, it does not devalue the truth.  This chapter correctly addresses the depravity in all men.  If you are struggling with how sinful you are, or that you are beyond forgiveness read this chapter.[7]

Death by Love

Chapter Ten: Christus Exemplar

Caleb is going through a great trial; his wife has a brain tumor and is suffering right in front of his eyes.  Driscoll addresses the fact of Christ being our example.  In Caleb suffering he needs to take on the very mind of Christ in his wife’s suffering.  The contrast that Driscoll makes is between the theology of glory and the theology of the cross.  Theology of glory is “which the objective is to glorify self, the power to do so is self, and the means to do so are self-sufficiency, victorious living, pride, and comfort, which together commingle as a false gospel that is of no help when the dark season of life envelope you.”[8] What is clear is that the theology of glory is not followed by someone that realizes that Christ is our example.  “Theology of the cross celebrates what Jesus alone can accomplish for us, through us, with us, and in spite of us…The theology of the cross seeks Jesus, even if that should mean that experiencing pain and poverty like Jesus.”[9] Driscoll put some more meat on these bones but you get the point; Christ alone is the example of a follower of the gospel.  Christ is our example in suffering and in celebration.  To follow this understanding of Christ’s example Driscoll gives five points.  “1) You were made for God’s glory (Isa. 43:6-7).  2) Everything in your life is an opportunity to glorify God (1 Cor 10:31).  3) Rather than glorifying God, you will have a sinful tendency to do what you think will make you happy, and you will end up sinning (Rom. 3:23).  4) When you choose happiness over God’s glory, enduring joy is impossible.  You wind up pursuing things besides the glory of God (e.g., life, friends, comfort, pleasure—ironically, all gifts from God) rather that God himself.  5) Your pleasure is found in God alone; as God is glorified, your joy is satisfied.  My friend John Piper has stated it this way in his book Desiring God, …The chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying Him forever.”  Or “God is most glorified in me when I am most satisfied in Him.”[10] The theology of the cross exalts Jesus Christ above all others to the right hand of God.  The purpose of God sending Christ as an example, Driscoll concludes is for God to be glorified through us following the example of Christ.  “Indeed, the most perfectly Spirit-filled person who has ever lived, Jesus Christ, worked a simple job, lived a simple life, and died a painful death as a flat broke, homeless man by the power of the Holy Spirit and in so doing perfectly and fully glorified God the Father and tasted pure joy.”[11] To take this doctrinal assertion seriously means that whatever comes your way, you glorify Christ with exaltation of Him through all things.  To be honest this doctrine I have the most trouble living out.  This book makes a good explanation in practical terms of what the implications of this doctrine are on the life of the believer.  Christus Exemplar (Christ our example) needs to be understood as Driscoll presents rather than what the false gospel of Christ being our example but not God, just a social and political leader.  As C. S. Lewis says, either Christ was a liar, lunatic, or the son of God.[12] Driscoll presents Christ as the example of a Christian life lived out!

This is the fifth post of six, to see the other ones please search Death by Love.


[1] From the back cover of the book.

[2] Note: do not confuse this with the ransom theory of atonement.  This book clearly presents the Penal-Substitutionary view of atonement.

[3] Driscoll, Mark, and Gerry Breshears. Death By Love: Letters From the Cross. (Wheaton , Ill.: Crossway Books, 2008), 187.

[4] Ibid. 192.

[5] Ibid. 192.

[6] Ibid. 193.

[7] Grace is beautiful, in that we all are chosen by God.  No one has better standing before God than another except through Jesus Christ!  He was the ransom for sinners that repent!

[8] Driscoll, Mark, and Gerry Breshears. Death By Love: Letters From the Cross. (Wheaton , Ill.: Crossway Books, 2008), 202.

[9] Ibid. 202.

[10] Ibid. 204-205.

[11] Ibid. 211.

[12] This is from “Mere Christianity” his watershed apologetic book.  I cannot currently remember the page number.

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A Review: Death by Love Part 4

Death By Love: Letters From the Cross

By Mark Driscoll & Gerry Breshears

Driscoll, Mark, and Gerry Breshears. Death By Love: Letters From the Cross. Wheaton , Ill.: Crossway Books, 2008.

Mark Driscoll is the founding pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, one of the fastest-growing churches in America. He is president of the Acts 29 Church Planting Network and leads the Resurgence Missional Theology Cooperative.

Gerry Breshears is professor of theology and chairman of the division of biblical and theological studies at Western Seminary. He and Driscoll also coauthored Vintage Jesus.”[1]

Review:

Chapter Seven: Expiation

The character of this chapter is Mary a girl that over and over has been violated by predators.  Mary continually in many ways was abused by those that were supposed to love her.  She does not understand the doctrine of expiation that Christ fulfilled through dying on the cross.  Driscoll first makes a case for her defilement being caused by both active and passive sins.[2] He is speaking of both those sins that she committed and the ones that are committed against her.  Giving a further framework for understanding defilement Driscoll gives three categories of defilement, with the supporting scripture.  “First, places become defiled by sin…Second, things, such as the marriage bed, become defiled by sin…Third, people are defiled by sin.”[3] All the categories of defilement act in the same way, they bring a sense of shame.  Mary has both previously been sinned against defiled and now is struggling and sinning against others.  When we are defiled or defiling others we want to cover up our shame.  Driscoll uses the analogy of a fig leaf to cover up our shame.  To do this he gives four roles for the fig leaves.  “The first fig leaf is worn by the good girl…the second fig leaf is worn by the tough girl…the third leaf is worn by the party girl…the fourth leaf is worn by the church lady.”[4] All of these different ways of covering the shame of defilement lead one to believe that Christ has not expiated us through the cross.  Jesus Christ was the scapegoat; he took our shame upon himself.[5] Driscoll rightly gives word pictures about cleansing, for Mary to apply to her life; in order to actively live out an expiated life.  This chapter deals with something that definitely is timely in a world that has a high level of abuse to children and teens.  Mary’s situation is not that uncommon and I pray that God will use a book like this to bring people to himself.

Death by Love

Chapter Eight: Unlimited Limited Atonement

This chapter is of special importance to both Driscoll and I, for him he writes this as a letter to his son, for me it is the doctrine that I have struggled with the most.  I found this chapter most helpful to understand this complex doctrine.  On page one sixty eight there is an immensely useful chart on differing views on atonement.  Ranging from Universalism and Pelagianism (both heretical) to Unlimited Atonement, Limited Atonement, and Unlimited Limited Atonement.  This chapter although my favorite does not provide pithy quotes, but directly presents unlimited limited atonement as the most biblically supported.  He summarizes the approach he takes to Unlimited Limited Atonement by saying, “this both/and approach of unlimited limited atonement explains the biblical statements about Jesus’ dying to reconcile all things to the Father.”[6] The atonement has always been and always will a doctrine that will be attacked from both inside the church and outside the church.  Driscoll although the conclusion of this chapter is a modified Calvinist view, and presenting a somewhat progressive understanding of limited atonement, finds its grounding in the sovereignty of God through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.  Foundationally, I found this chapter to defend the middle ground that I always hoped to hear from a pastor, that does not forsake the authority of scripture for cultural authority.

This is the fourth post of six, to see the other ones please search Death by Love.


[1] From the back cover of the book.

[2] Driscoll, Mark, and Gerry Breshears. Death By Love: Letters From the Cross. (Wheaton , Ill.: Crossway Books, 2008), 147.

[3] Ibid. 148-149.

[4] Ibid. 150-152.

[5] Hebrews 12:1-3

[6] Driscoll, Mark, and Gerry Breshears. Death By Love: Letters From the Cross. (Wheaton , Ill.: Crossway Books, 2008), 173-174.

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A Review: Death by Love Part 3

Death By Love: Letters From the Cross

By Mark Driscoll & Gerry Breshears

Driscoll, Mark, and Gerry Breshears. Death By Love: Letters From the Cross. Wheaton , Ill.: Crossway Books, 2008.

Mark Driscoll is the founding pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, one of the fastest-growing churches in America. He is president of the Acts 29 Church Planting Network and leads the Resurgence Missional Theology Cooperative.

Gerry Breshears is professor of theology and chairman of the division of biblical and theological studies at Western Seminary. He and Driscoll also coauthored Vintage Jesus.”[1]

Review:

Chapter Five: Justification

The character of this chapter is John, He has committed gross sin with the opposite sex.  He does not understand his justification through the cross of Christ.  Doctrinally Driscoll covers his bases with reviving a focus on the inability of man to fulfill the law.  The conclusion of this is “Total Depravity” and requires a sacrifice to atone for the gross violation of God’s law.  Driscoll points out the reality of Justification through Christ, “You are justified by grace alone, which means that there is absolutely nothing that you can do to contribute to your justification.  Rather, when Jesus said, “It is finished” on the cross, he was declaring that all that needed to be done for your justification was completed in him.”[2] John believes that he should die because of what he has done.  The affects of his sinful actions are clear by the ostracization of his close family, church, and general society.  Two passages that Driscoll illuminates for “John” to read are Romans 3:21-31, and Luke 18:9-14.[3] In response to his actions John has seen the physical and spiritual reality of the sin in his life.  Driscoll correctly responds with, “I know that you have given serious consideration to killing yourself in light of what you have done.  The truth is that what you have done is worthy of death.  But the good news is that Jesus has already died for your sins.  As a result, you can now put your sins to death by his power and live a new life as a new man.  Scripture further states that Jesus also rose from death for your justification and, as a result, is alive today and ready to hear from you, speak to you, and walk with you through the rest of your life and into eternity as not only your judge but also as your justifier (Rom 4:25)”[4] Jesus Christ, as Driscoll clearly shows is the only justifier for our sin.  We can only respond in humility and worship of a Holy God that would sacrifice His only Son, Jesus Christ, as the justification that allows us to attain eternal life in communion with God.  I appreciated this chapter but would suggest further study in the area of justification.[5]

Death by Love

Chapter Six: Propitiation

Bill the character portrayed in this chapter was beat as a child by his father.  He struggles with how Jesus Christ through the cross is the propitiation for our sins.  Propitiation is “How Jesus diverts the active wrath of our rightfully angry God from us so that we are loved and not hated.”[6] Driscoll, First, deals with the character of God the Father.  Second, he presents the wrath of God in Scripture.  The sheer amount of Scriptural references in this chapter show the high level of reverence and authority placed on Scripture by Driscoll.  This chapter does not shy away from discussing the wrath of God in detail.  When discussing 1 John 4:10 Driscoll says, “It states that rather than seeing the cross as the place where love was absent as God’s righteous wrath for sin was poured out on Jesus, the cross is precisely the place where God’s love is shown in the propitiation of Jesus Christ.”[7] Both God’s wrath and love were present through the sacrifice of Christ on the cross.  God’s attributes cannot be divided.[8] Driscoll masterfully presents the equality of man in our spiritual condition in this chapter, and rightly so, uses Old Testament illustrations of this reality.  In conclusion, this chapter was less theological than previous chapters I found, but not to its detriment, because of the personal response of Driscoll to Bill’s situation.


[1] From the back cover of the book.

[2] Driscoll, Mark, and Gerry Breshears. Death By Love: Letters From the Cross. (Wheaton , Ill.: Crossway Books, 2008), 115.

[3] Ibid 117.

[4] Ibid 118.

[5] I should make note that I understand that this chapter is introductory but still left so much out as far as the doctrine of justification.

[6] Driscoll, Mark, and Gerry Breshears. Death By Love: Letters From the Cross. (Wheaton , Ill.: Crossway Books, 2008), 131.

[7] Ibid. 132.

[8] See A.W. Tozer, Knowledge of the Holy Page 15.

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A Review: Death By Love Part 2

Death By Love: Letters From the Cross

By Mark Driscoll & Gerry Breshears

Driscoll, Mark, and Gerry Breshears. Death By Love: Letters From the Cross. Wheaton , Ill.: Crossway Books, 2008.

Mark Driscoll is the founding pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, one of the fastest-growing churches in America. He is president of the Acts 29 Church Planting Network and leads the Resurgence Missional Theology Cooperative.

Gerry Breshears is professor of theology and chairman of the division of biblical and theological studies at Western Seminary. He and Driscoll also coauthored Vintage Jesus.”[1]

Review:

Chapter Three: New Covenant Sacrifice

Luke is consumed with “rage, humiliation, and panic.”  His wife has just told him that she slept with his best friend.  But as Driscoll points out Jesus Christ is Luke’s New Covenant Sacrifice.  Driscoll masterfully redirects those emotions back on Luke’s own sinfulness, which parallels his wife’s sin. As the saying goes Luke is “out for blood” to pay for what he has been put through.  Blood is connected to sin in two ways Driscoll states, “First, shed blood reminds us that sin results in death.  Second, God is sickened by sin, which causes death, a connection first made in Genesis 2:17 and repeated throughout the Bible.”[2] The New Covenant Sacrifice of Jesus Christ fulfilled the death that we all deserve and offered a path to life.  Christ and Christ alone was the sacrifice that ushered in the New Covenant community of believers.  Luke as Driscoll points out needs to see that Christ has sacrificed Himself already for the sin’s that have been committed against him.  “As members of the new covenant, you and your wife are continually growing to be more like Jesus by the power of God the Holy Spirit working through your new heart, which is the center of your new identity and new desires.”[3] Both Luke and his wife are pictures of grace; Driscoll wisely notes that Christ is abundantly more through His sacrifice than any sin that they could commit.  “You understand that just as Jesus suffered to be in covenant with you, you too have suffered to be in covenant with your wife—because you love her and continually seek her best.  You also rightly understand that, as the covenant head, you bear a burden for humble service, love, care, protection, and provision so that Jesus can be experienced by your wife, in part through you.”[4] Overall this was one of my favorite chapters, the sacrifice in the New Testament often is misunderstood without the Old Testament background which Driscoll wisely brings into light.

Death by Love

Chapter Four: Gift Righteousness

David is the consummate Christian, perfect in character, but does not understand the Gospel and because of his self righteousness, he cannot see the gift righteousness of Christ.  What seems to be more dangerous is that he cannot see his own sin.  When commenting on 1 Corinthians 15:1-4 Driscoll says, “Here we see that the gospel is continual, in that we must continually be reminded of it; proclaimational, in that it much be preached to us often, including preaching it to ourselves; personal, in that we must personally receive it in faith; essential, in that we must continually cling to it alone for the assurance of our salvation; central, in that it is the most important truth in all the world; eternal, in that it is passed on from one generation to the next without modification by religion; Christological, in that it is about the person and work of Jesus Christ alone; penal, in that the wage for sin—death—was paid; substitutional, in that Jesus’ death on the cross was literally in our place for our sins; biblical, in that it is in agreement with and the fulfillment of all Scripture; and eschatological, in that the resurrection of Jesus reveals to us our future hope of resurrected eternal life with him.”[5] This is the money quote of the entire book; foundationally the Gospel should be the center of all Christian activity in the world.  All of the presuppositions that Driscoll brings with this chapter are Christocentric, not anthropocentric; Theocentric, not anthropocentric; righteousness through Christ alone, not the false righteousness of man! Religion does not give the gift of righteousness through faith in Jesus Christ.  Driscoll outlines ten statements about religion that do have grounding in the self righteousness of many contemporary Christians and Jews over the span of history.  I will not take the time to outline them here, but it is a start to addressing the problem of works based theology.  The most important part of this chapter (or the take home points) are that gift righteousness: is through faith, not rule keeping, the righteousness God gives is a status that is imputed, reckoned, attributed, or granted to us, and righteousness is imparted to us at the time of faith, at the same time of justification.[6] This chapter essentially gives the foundation of the Gospel and surrounds the reader with a Christ-centered focus.  I greatly enjoyed this chapter and think that any member of the church should read this as a refresher on what Christ attained to through the cross.


[1] From the back cover of the book.

[2] Driscoll, Mark, and Gerry Breshears. Death By Love: Letters From the Cross. (Wheaton , Ill.: Crossway Books, 2008), 76.

[3] Ibid. 82.

[4] Ibid. 83.

[5] Ibid. 92.

[6] Ibid. 101-103. This section is summarized from these few pages of “death by love.”

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A Review: Death by Love Part 1

Death By Love: Letters From the Cross

By Mark Driscoll & Gerry Breshears

Driscoll, Mark, and Gerry Breshears. Death By Love: Letters From the Cross. Wheaton , Ill.: Crossway Books, 2008.

Mark Driscoll is the founding pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, one of the fastest-growing churches in America. He is president of the Acts 29 Church Planting Network and leads the Resurgence Missional Theology Cooperative.

Gerry Breshears is professor of theology and chairman of the division of biblical and theological studies at Western Seminary. He and Driscoll also coauthored Vintage Jesus.”[1]

Summary:

Driscoll and Breshears have written a treatise on the attributes of Christ that have been applied to followers of Christ through the sacrificial act on the cross. First, in each chapter they elaborate on the story of someone in the church.  Second, they write in letter form, how Christ is the answer to the person’s sin through a result of the cross.  Third, they offer answers to common questions about the doctrine of the cross covered in the chapter.  The doctrines of the cross that are covered in the book are: Substitutionary Atonement (this actually is what all the other chapters flow from), Christus Victor, Redemption, New Covenant Sacrifice, Righteousness, Justification, Propitiation, Expiation, Unlimited Limited Atonement, Ransom, Christus Exemplar, Reconciliation, and Revelation.

Review:

Most of the time one evaluates a book on the whole and not the individual chapters, but the structure of this book gives one a different topic to be evaluated in each chapter.  As so I am going to differentiate my review based on each individual chapter including the introduction.

Death by Love

Introduction:

In the introduction Driscoll and Breshears address the attack on the atonement of Christ by putting forth the view of substitutionary atonement.  The exposition of the last seven words that Jesus spoke is highly meaningful and elucidates profound doctrine to the everyday man.   In most situations I have been very complimentary to Mark Driscoll and his ministry, but in this case I found some of this introduction to be worded just for shock value.  Because of this Driscoll draws attention away from the person of Christ and His character, for the sake of provoking the reader.[2]

Chapter One Christus Victor:

The character that the letter is written to “Katie” is dealing with demons tormenting her after years of abuse at the hand of others.  Christ is victorious over Satan and all the demons, through the cross! “First, Satan and demons are your foes and not in any way friends (1 Pet. 5:8).  Second, Satan and demons are actively at war against you (Eph. 6:10-13).  Third, Satan and demons want you to die because Satan is a murderer; he wants to bring death to everything in your life, including your love, joy, marriage, and ministry (John 8:44).  Fourth, Satan and demons have no claim to you, because you have been delivered forever from Satan’s kingdom of darkness to Jesus’ kingdom of light (Col. 1:13).  Fifth, in Jesus there is for you personally protection from and authority over Satan and his demons (Luke 10:18-20).  Sixth, because you are in Jesus Christ positionally and all things are under his authority, you too can command Satan and demons to obey you by the authority delegated to you from Jesus (Eph. 1:18-2:8).”[3] In the case of Katie’s torment, Driscoll most vehemently presents the Gospel truth of Christ’s victory over Satan through the cross, in a pastoral and biblical way.  At the end of this chapter as with all the chapters he gives some practical conclusions as a result of the cross. Handling the doctrine of Christus Victor over the history of the church has sometimes landed a theologian outside of orthodoxy; Driscoll does not stray from the biblical text in his exposition of this important doctrine.

Chapter Two Redemption:

Thomas is consumed by lust, and through the cross he has been redeemed.  Driscoll gives five steps[4] to understanding and living out a redeemed life.  The five steps he gives are: Conviction, Confession, Repentance, Restitution, and Reconciliation.[5] Pastorally, Driscoll ends this letter with “Thomas, as I heard your story some weeks ago, as I have prayed for you since, and as I write this letter today, I have to confess that it has really troubled me that, apart from Jesus, I think we’re basically the exact same guy.  I don’t like to admit it, but we are pretty much the same except for the one difference that makes all the difference—Jesus has redeemed me.  So, I’m praying that you turn from sin to him so that he can redeem you as well.  If you do, let me know.  Until then, I will pray.  It all comes down to you and Jesus.  You are more evil than you have ever feared, and more loved than you have ever hoped.[6] The pastoral transparency I greatly appreciated, and was overcome with the reality of this paragraph.  This chapter was not enjoyable in the present cultural understanding,[7] but was convicting and consumed with Gospel centered living.


[1] From the back cover of the book.

[2] This was brought to my attention after careful reading by a colleague of mine, Nate McLaurin.

[3] Driscoll, Mark, and Gerry Breshears. Death By Love: Letters From the Cross. (Wheaton , Ill.: Crossway Books, 2008), 48.

[4] A good amount of Christian literature at the popular level has steps that are just capriciously driven.  In the case of this book the steps do not follow whims but biblical evidences.

[5] Driscoll, Mark, and Gerry Breshears. Death By Love: Letters From the Cross. (Wheaton , Ill.: Crossway Books, 2008), 68.

[6] Ibid. 65-66.

[7] The humanistic proposals in the current theological spectrum are disturbed by the fact,  that the only thing that separates the believer from the unbeliever is redemption.  We were pre-redemption the same wretches that the “worst sinner” that we can imagine.

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A Review: Why We Love the Church

Why We Love The Church: In Praise of Institutions and Organized Religion

By Kevin DeYoung & Ted Kluck

DeYoung, Kevin, and Ted Kluck. Why We Love The Church: in Praise of Institutions and Organized Religion. Chicago: Moody Press, 2009.

Kevin DeYoung is coauthor of Why We’re Not Emergent and author Just Do Something. He serves as senior pastor of University Reformed Church in East Lansing, Michigan, across the street from Michigan State University.  He and his wife, Trisha, have four children.

Ted Kluck is coauthor of Why We’re not Emergent, author of The Reason for Sports, and an award-winning sportswriter.  He and his wife, Kirsten, have two sons and live in Michigan, where they attend University Reformed Church.”[1]

Summary:

This book has the purpose of addressing the disillusionment of those that have left the church, those that have redefined church,[2] and encouraging those that are discouraged about the local church.  More specifically it is written for: the Committed, the Disgruntled, the Waffling, and the disconnected.[3] DeYoung defines the church as: “I mean the local church that meets—wherever you want it to meet—but exults in the cross of Christ; sings songs to a holy and loving God; has church officers, good preaching, celebrates the sacraments, exercises discipline; and takes an offering.”[4] DeYoung gives four reasons that people do not love the church, they are, missiological, personal, historical, and theological.[5] The chapters are first, DeYoung, and then Kluck, both covering the same topic.  So there are two chapters on each of the four reasons.

Review:

At first glance the title of this book makes my postmodern instincts cringe.  Institutions?  Organized religion? I have found myself at times as part of the disillusioned camp that they are discussing in the book.  Even with my current seminary education I find that the illusion of a perfect local church still can creep up as an idol from time to time.[6] “These days, spirituality is hot; religion is not. Community is hip, but the church is lame.  Both inside and out, organized religion is seen as oppressive, irrelevant, and a waste of time.  Outsiders like Jesus but not the church.  Insiders have been told they can do just fine with God apart from the church.”[7]

At times DeYoung uses historical primary sources[8] and scriptural evidences, whereas the authors and theologians that he responds to use only cultural or secondary sources.[9] Much of DeYoung’s responses are filled with a high number of footnotes, whereas Kluck has few footnotes and writes from a narrative perspective. DeYoung uses a pastor-scholar level of writing on the other hand Kluck writes from a lay-person’s perspective.  The combination of this helps the reader to assimilate the content on two levels.

DeYoung quotes Richard Baxter saying, “some of our churches are pastored by unregenerate men. Even more have preachers who are either confused about the gospel or simply cold to it.”[10] It is clear that DeYoung and Kluck see most of the disillusionment is a gospel issue.  It is a misunderstanding of what the Gospel is by people in the church.

Why We Love the Church

Why We Love the Church

In approaching Gospel-centered social justice DeYoung states,  “The vision behind words like “missional” and “kingdom” often ends up reducing the church to a doer of good, noncontroversial deeds (e.g., no mention of pro-life concerns as important to community transformation) like every other humanitarian organization…There’s also the danger that we only champion issues that win us cool points.  Let’s be honest, no one we run into is for genocide or for sex trafficking or for malnutrition.  It takes no courage to speak out against these things…Some may be drawn to pro-life issues and others to addressing global hunger, but let’s makes sure as Christians that our missional concerns go farther than those shared by Brangelina and the United Way…It seems to me that proclaiming this message of redemption is the main mission of the church, even more than partnering with God to change the world through humanitarian relief and global activism.”[11]

While being proactively advocates for the church, both are realistic with their description of the church.  Statements about the church show this throughout the book. “In our self-esteem-oriented, easily offended, suffering-averse world, I fear that the church is too eager to be liked.”[12] This is the man fearing church.  “We’ve lusted after academic recognition and cultural validation.  We’ve fancied ourselves fashionable and looked around for the world to take notice.”[13] This is the academic, intellectual church.  “We need to get on our faces before God and ask Him to show us our sin. Where there is sin, we need to repent.  Where there isn’t, we need to keep doing church whether it makes us popular or not.”[14] This is the true reality of the Gospel-centered church.  Again DeYoung makes it clear that we all have imperfect churches.  “We all have things to learn and areas in which we need to grow.  The one constant is that we all need Christ, His word, His Spirit, and, not least of all, His bride.  If we are to make it in the world as a people and make a difference in the world as his people, we need the church.  We need the church in visible manifest and sometimes hidden beauty.  We need the church of individuals and of institutions.  Most of all, we ought to love the church—in all her organic and organizational mess and glory.”[15]

Conclusion:

I heartily enjoyed reading this book.  Over the span of three days I could not put it down.  In this day and age there are many authors “reinvisioning” or “revolutionizing”[16] ecclesiology.  If anything these authors are ending up with an unbiblical, sociocultural perspective, relying heavily on culture and not scriptural evidences.  If anything the answer to the question is not an “either or” but a “both and” in matters of ecclesiastical differences.  DeYoung and Kluck respond to these perspectives with a biblically grounded ecclesiology.  This book is clearly written with the pastor or layperson in mind and does well at reaching that audience.  I would recommend laypeople and pastors read this book.


[1] From the about the author section on the back of the book.

[2] DeYoung and Kluck tackle the unbiblical perceptions of the church, given by current trendy Christian authors.  Many of these books are popular with both the college and disillusioned crowd.

[3] DeYoung, Kevin, and Ted Kluck. Why We Love The Church: in Praise of Institutions and Organized Religion. (Chicago: Moody Press, 2009), 15.

[4] Ibid. 19.

[5] Ibid. 16-18.

[6] I am and will continue to be part of the local church wherever I live and am proud to be a member of a local church.  Everything in the church I have grown up in says membership (the people of my age group in the church) does not matter; association with a corporation regulates freedom.  This constricts the person and with all the “bad” things that the corporation does (but in the case of the church does not stand for such “bad” things) there becomes no point for association.

[7] DeYoung, and  Kluck. 13.

[8] Such as the Didache, Clement’s Epistle to the Corinthians, Ignatius’ Epistle to the Smyrnaeans, The First Apology of Justin Martyr, The Apostolic Traditions of Hippolytus, and The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles.

[9] Case and point of this would be Viola’s “Pagan Christianity” that uses a majority of secondary sources not primary sources.

[10] DeYoung, and Kluck. 34.

[11] Ibid. 44-45.

[12] Ibid. 80-81.

[13] Ibid. 81.

[14] Ibid. 81.

[15] Ibid. 182.

[16] Barna, George. Revolution: Finding Vibrant Faith Beyond the Walls of the Sanctuary (Carol Stream, Ill.: Tyndale, 2005), 36.

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Knowing and Living the Gospel

The week of July 13th I went to Pittsburgh PA.  I took some of the students from the church that I serve at to a youth conference called Momentum.  The week is an opportunity to not just receive mental stimulation and growth, but serve the community where the conference is held.  It is not just about understanding mentally the gospel but living it with our lives.  You can only do (live) if you first know (understand). The theme for the week was 1 Thessalonians 2:8 “So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.”  We shared the Gospel verbally and shared the living Gospel.

On Saturday God did something magnificent in my heart.  I listened to the Spirit of the Lord in ways that I never had before.  The entire conference 2000 students and leaders went out into communities in the area and served the community.  We were at a park, cleaning it up and playing with kids from inner-city Pittsburgh.  I noticed this kid in the park; he was about 12 years old.  At this point I decided that I was going to start talking to him, with the intention of discussing Christ.  Though my motives were pure and God-centered there was barriers to the Spirit moving in me.  My heart was cynical because of past manipulations and abuses of the Gospel.  Despite this, quickly God left opportunity after opportunity to share with Him the Gospel.  He (Jay was the kid’s name) had heard a false Gospel of works, and was trying to live it but even as he admitted he was falling short.  The irony of this interaction I had, was that I listened to the Spirit.  Previously either from fear of men or a lack of faith would have responded differently.  In the end I trust that God was faithful and now there is one more person that Heaven is rejoicing about.

Me and Jay

The lesson I learned was that living the Gospel starts with knowing the Gospel, but does not end there.  The Gospel of Jesus Christ is one meant to be lived with our everything, not just part of us.  Romans 1:16-17 says, “16For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”  Both know unashamedly and live unashamedly the Gospel.  If you do not know the Gospel I encourage you to read the “What is the Gospel?” tab on this blog.  For those that know the Gospel I encourage you to challenge yourself to live it!  Read the word of God and listen to the Spirit!  Search for needs in your neighborhood, community, and city.

Questions to Ponder:

How can I live the good news of Jesus Christ?  Do I know needs in my neighborhood, community, and city?  Am I seeking to help those in need (Spiritually, Emotionally, Physically)?

Have I listened to the Spirit sharing the Gospel by confessing before men (Romans 10:9-10) and with my actions (James 1:22-25)?

In Christ Alone, Mueller

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Going Through The Motions

Many of us go through the motions in life.  Let me explain what I mean.  We go to work/school, and then we finish all the related activities (TV, Sports, reading, Etc…), (if you are a follower of Christ) pray some, read God’s word some.  Then we just repeat.  It’s like living in a clothes washer.  You just spin round and round aimlessly waiting for the cycle to stop.

Clothes Washer

The monotony of daily life can only be satisfied by a God that is truly dangerous, yet secure, yet good.   In the classic Narnia series by C. S. Lewis, the character of Aslan symbolizes God/Jesus.  One of the characters of the book Lucy asks a Beaver, (Don’t ask) “is Aslan safe?”  He responds with,”‘Safe?’  ‘Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. but he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.'”[1] God is not safe, he is secure as the foundational ground[2] of all that this universe is, the creator God.

2nd Corinthians 13:4-8

4For he was crucified in weakness, but lives by the power of God.  For we also are weak in him, but in dealing with you we will live with him by the power of God. 5Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test! 6I hope you will find out that we have not failed the test. 7But we pray to God that you may not do wrong—not that we may appear to have met the test, but that you may do what is right, though we may seem to have failed. 8For we cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth.”

Testing and trials are the result of pursuing God.[3] Following Christ is neither safe nor easy.  When we are tested and found faithful we have something worth more than anything else in this world.  Faithfulness as the result, gives us more than we could ever ask for; eternal life with the one and only creator of the universe.  When you wander and think that God does not test us in love ponder what A.W. Tozer says about the attributes of God, “All of God does all that God does; He does not divide Himself to perform a work, but works in the total unity of His being.”[4] God works with all that he is to love us, care for us, to see us become what we were always intended to be – Faithful servants of the creator God.  Obedience is the new rebellion!

When God puts trials and tests of faith in our path what is our response?  Are we exalting His supremacy over creation and our lives?  Or casting off our true calling finding hope in false idols?  Will you stand the test of faith that God has prepared for you?  What tests of faith are you in right now?

In Christ Alone, John


[1] God called many men to be martyrs for the Gospel. He truly is dangerous (as defined by this world) as seen in the narratives of the Old and New Testaments.  Servants of God, met their death, as we all do, due to their obedient service.  Many times they were killed because of serving God, above all men.

[2] Christ is the cornerstone, the foundation of the church.

[3] See James 1:2-4 for encouragement in midst of testing.

[4] Tozer, Aiden W. The Knowledge of the Holy. (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1961) 15.

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A Review: Picking Cotton: Our Memoir of Injustice and Redemption

Picking Cotton: Our Memoir of Injustice and Redemption

By Jennifer Thompson-Cannino, Ronald Cotton , and Erin Torneo.

Thompson-Cannino, Jennifer, Ronald Cotton , and Erin Torneo. Picking Cotton: Our Memoir of Injustice and Redemption. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2009. 282 Pages.

About the Authors:

Jennifer Thompson-Cannino lives in North Carolina with her family.  She is an advocate for judicial reform, and is a member of the North Carolina Actual Innocence Commission, the advisory committee for Active Voices, and the Constitution Project.  Her op-eds have appeared in The New York Times, the Durham Herald-Sun, and the Tallahassee Democrat.

Ronald Cotton lives in North Carolina with his family.  He has spoken at various schools and conferences, including Washington and Lee University, the University of Nevada Las Vegas, Georgetown Law School, and the Community March for Justice for Troy Anthony Davis in Savannah, Georgia.

Erin Torneo lives in Los Angeles and Brooklyn.  She was a 2007 New York Foundation for the Arts Nonfiction Fellow.”[1]

Disclaimer:  This book contains depictions of rape (in almost no detail), and prison life (which includes swearing).

Summary:

The story line of this book came from the events of the case against Ronald Cotton.  He was accused with eye witness testimony of the rape of Jennifer Thompson.  Although he was in fact innocent he spent 11 years in jail.  The only evidence that was brought against him was from the testimony of Jennifer Thompson.  While he was in Jail he found the man that did commit the rape of Jennifer and another woman.  Eventually he gets convicted of both of their rapes.  This book is the story of his reconciliation with Jennifer.  He finds redemption through his release and reconciliation with his accusers.  Justice is served as he is acquitted of all crimes.

Review:

Major Themes: Redemption, Reconciliation, Justice, and Forgiveness.

I read this book as I was traveling to visit a friend.  It has a flowing story with starting part of the book written from Jennifer’s perspective with the next section written by Ronald Cotton.  After that they flow back and forth chapter by chapter.  Upon receiving the book I was skeptical of the theological or redemptive quality of the book.  But upon reading it is one of the most fluid true stories that I have read on redemption.

WARNING SPOILER:

When Ronald is getting tried for another crime (during his appeal) that he did not commit he prays this prayer, “Dear heavenly father, you know and I know that I’m an innocent man.  Please reveal this miscarriage of justice during the new trial. Please protect me and give me strength to endure, and please protect my loved ones.” [2] Even after he is convicted of more crimes he did not commit, he seeks redemption and justice.  He reads the psalms seeking for God’s word to be true in his life.  “Flipping to the dog-eared pages of my Bible, I read from the Book of Psalms to ease my mind.

In thee, O LORD, do I put my trust: let me never be put to confusion.  Deliver me in thy righteousness, and cause me to escape: incline thine ear unto me, and save me.  Deliver me, O my God, out of the hand of the wicked, out of the hand of unrighteousness and cruel man.”[3] As Ronald has one last chance to be found innocent, and with the help of DNA testing he is found innocent and freed after 11 years of jail time.

The guilt of putting Ronald in jail for that period of time, reverberates in Jennifer’s soul and the guilt kills her inside.  “I looked around the den, at the photos of my three children smiling back at me from the walls, and a picture of Vinny and me on our wedding day.  Eleven years.  How do eleven years pass when you are locked up for a crime you didn’t commit? I couldn’t begin to imagine.  For me, they were eleven years measured in birthdays, first days of school, Christmas morning.  Ronald Cotton and I were exactly the same age, and he had none of those things because I’d picked him.  He’d lost eleven years of time with his family, eleven years of falling in love, getting married, having kids.  He looked forlorn on the television, hurt and bewildered.  The guilt suffocated me.”[4] Jennifer makes a bold decision to meet the person that she sent to jail as a criminal that was in fact innocent.

“Jennifer asked me questions about life in prison, how I had survived.  She also asked me how my life had been since I had gotten out, how I was getting along.  I had to believe God had a plan,” I said, “and that this miscarriage of justice would one day be revealed.  I used to read the Book of Psalms a lot.”[5] God is mighty and just, this book gives one of the most contemporary true stories of redemption and justice.  Upon meeting Ronald, Jennifer embraces him.  “All I could think was: Had I really just been in the arms of the man I had accused of raping me?”[6]

Theological Reflection:

I will let Scripture speak:

Exodus 23:1-3, 6-7

1 “Do not spread false reports. Do not help a wicked man by being a malicious witness.  2 Do not follow the crowd in doing wrong. When you give testimony in a lawsuit, do not pervert justice by siding with the crowd, 3 and do not show favoritism to a poor man in his lawsuit… 6 “Do not deny justice to your poor people in their lawsuits. 7 Have nothing to do with a false charge and do not put an innocent or honest person to death, for I will not acquit the guilty.”

Psalm 9:7-9

7 The LORD reigns forever;
he has established his throne for judgment.

8 He will judge the world in righteousness;
he will govern the peoples with justice.

9 The LORD is a refuge for the oppressed,
a stronghold in times of trouble.

Psalm 11:7

For the LORD is righteous,
he loves justice;
upright men will see his face.

Ephesians 1:7-8

7In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, 8which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight

My prayer is this in light of this book:

Jeremiah 10:23-24

23 I know, O LORD, that a man’s life is not his own;
it is not for man to direct his steps.

24 Correct me, LORD, but only with justice—
not in your anger,
lest you reduce me to nothing.

Conclusions:

Despite the disclaimer about the content of this book, I highly recommend this book as a contemporary story of redemption.[7] Since it is both through the eyes of the accused and the accuser that adds merit to the story.  We all stand accused of the sin that so easily entangles our souls, but Christ has redeemed us through the power of the cross and His resurrection.  Much like Ronald, Christ was accused although innocent.  Much unlike Ronald though Christ died an innocent man, for the sins of the world to redeem sinners of which I am the foremost.  Ronald was proven innocent and freed by the acts of a just God.  This story is a rousing tale of Redemption, Reconciliation, Justice, and Forgiveness; that parallels how God has redeemed us through Christ.

In Christ alone, John


[1] From the “about the authors” section from the book.

[2] Thompson-Cannino, Jennifer, Ronald Cotton , and Erin Torneo. Picking Cotton: Our Memoir of Injustice and Redemption. (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2009) 122.

[3] Ibid. 176-177.

[4] Ibid. 237-238.

[5] Ibid. 245.

[6] Ibid. 250.

[7] If you have a problem with reading about prison, and mild details about rape, then do not read this book.

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A Review: The Prodigal God by Timothy Keller

The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith

By Timothy Keller


Keller, Timothy. The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith. New York: Penguin Group, 2008. 133 pages.


Timothy Keller


He “was born and raised in Pennsylvania, and educated at Bucknell University, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and Westminster Theological Seminary. He was first a pastor in Hopewell, Virginia. In 1989, he started Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan with his wife, Kathy, and their three sons. Today, Redeemer has nearly six thousand regular attendees at five services, a host of daughter churches, and is planting churches in large cities throughout the world.”1


Summary:


Keller addresses the well known parable of the prodigal son in this new book “The Prodigal God.” Naturally he comes across as a very logical intellectual that consistently makes valid conclusions about the text. He addresses the younger and older sons with a fresh approach deriving meaning from the text. Keller uses illustrations and cultural and historical background to support his points about this well known parable. The chapters are telling as three, four, and six, all start with the word “redefining.” The focus of the parable in his argumentation is both brothers but primarily the older brother due to the audience. Both are lost and need to be found in Christ alone. The thesis of the book is that both brothers are lost and need to find righteousness and salvation in Jesus Christ the true older brother.


Main Supporting Arguments:


Keller elucidates the parable commonly known as the parable of the prodigal son. From the audience and the context Keller derives that the primary intended audience was the “religious elite.” “The crucial point here is that, in general, religiously observant people were offended by Jesus, but those estranged from religious and moral observance were intrigued and attracted to him.”2 With the context and audience of the parable would be best titled “the parable of the two sons.” The audience was both sinners (that he was commonly seen with) and the religious elite that looked down on Jesus.3

According to Keller there are two lost brothers in this parable but one of them does not know that they are lost. Clearly from the text and the audience he concludes that it is the older brother—the religious elite. “…the younger brother knew he was alienated from the father, but the elder brother did not.”4 Even further he makes this emphatic by saying, “If you know you are sick you may go to a doctor; if you don’t know you’re sick you won’t—you’ll just die.”5 The resulting conclusion is that being “the elder brother” is much more dangerous than being “the younger brother.”

Clearly Keller defends that there are two wrong ways to attain salvation and both brothers have a mistaken relationship with God. They have misconceptions of what is a right relationship with God. “Jesus uses the younger and elder brothers to portray the two basic ways people try to find happiness and fulfillment: the way of moral conformity and the way of self-discovery.”6


Logical Reflection:


Keller uses logic when he makes conclusions about the primary audience and uses the previous and following passages. With his understanding of the near-east culture of the first century, he easily supports his conclusions. Even the most generous of conclusions that Keller makes has the intellectual and logical fortitude to stand up to criticism.


Theological Reflection:


I will let Keller speak for himself.

“The message of the Bible is that the human race is a band of exiles trying to come home. The parable of the prodigal son is about every one of us.”7

“Jesus did not come to simply deliver one nation from political oppression, but to save all of us from sin, evil, and death itself. He came to bring the human race home. Therefore he did not comes in strength but in weakness. He came and experienced the exile that we deserved. He was expelled from the presence of the Father, he was thrust into the darkness, the uttermost despair of spiritual alienation—in our place. He took upon himself the full curse of human rebellion, cosmic homelessness, so that we could not be welcomed into our true home.”8

“We habitually and instinctively look to other things besides God and his grace as our justification, hope, significance, and security.”9

Conclusions:


Keller makes a delightful contribution to the study of the parable of the prodigal son. He concludes that Jesus is the ultimate older brother, and that the older brother in the parable (not Jesus but the “religious elite”) is truly lost. Keller brings all of this back to Gospel living. “We can only change permanently as we take the Gospel more deeply into our understanding and into our hearts. We must feed on the Gospel, as it were, digesting it and making it part of ourselves.”10 The Gospel is central to the two sons and the father’s response to them. Bravo, Timothy Keller for a lifelong study of a commonly misaccentuated passage. I would recommend this to the pastor and layperson in the church as well as the biblical scholar.

In Christ alone, John

___________________________________________________________________________________

[1] This is from the “about the author” section in the book.

[2] Keller, Timothy. The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith. (New York: Penguin Group, 2008), 14-15. See also Ibid. 28. “It is because the real audience for this story is the Pharisees, the elder brothers.”

[3] Luke 15:1-2

[4]  Keller, Timothy. The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith. (New York: Penguin Group, 2008), 66.

[5] Ibid. 66.

[6] Ibid. 29.

[7] Ibid. 97-98.

[8] Ibid. 101-102.

[9] Ibid. 115.

[10] Ibid. 115.

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