Book Notice: “40 Questions About Baptism and the Lord’s Supper” by John S. Hammett

Hammett picSome theological topics remain on the front burner of discussion and debate in theological education. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are two of those topics. To address some of the most pressing theological and practical questions on these ordinances (or are they sacraments?), John Hammett, J. L. Dagg Chair and Senior Professor of Systematic Theology at Southeastern, has written 40 Questions About Baptism and the Lord’s Supper (Kregel, 2015). The 40 Questions series is edited Ben Merkle, professor of New Testament at Southeastern.

Following a helpful introduction in which he sketches the historical and recent interest in these marks of the church, Hammett organizes the book according to four main sections: general questions about baptism and the Lord’s Supper (part 1); questions about baptism (part 2); questions about the Lord’s Supper (part 3); and concluding questions about the importance of baptism and the Lord’s Supper for theology and the Christian life (part 4).

In part 1, Hammett explores the terminology for these sacraments/ordinances, who can administer them, and whether they can be practiced outside the church. In parts 2 and 3, after exploring introductory questions such as the origin of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, the ordinances (this is a Baptist blog after all) are considered from the perspective of denominational views, theological issues, and practical issues. Hammett considers the views of Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Reformed, Baptist, and other traditions before asking theological questions like, “Should Infants Be Baptized?” (chs. 16–17) and practical questions like, “How Often Should the Lord’s Supper Be Observed?” (ch. 36). Finally, in part 4, he reflects on the theological and practical significance of baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

Though deeply theological, then, the book has a practical feel, as is the design of the 40 Questions series. Each chapter, which answers one key question, contains reflection questions that prompt the reader to retain and integrate what they have just read. For instance, on the much-debated topic of infant baptism, Hammett offers historical and biblical arguments for infant baptism before providing his (Baptist) rejoinders (ch. 16). Yet, instead of leaving his points as the final word, Hammett asks the reader searching questions such as, “How might churches reflect the welcoming and positive attitude of Jesus toward children (as seen in Matt. 19:13–15; Mark 10:13–16; Luke 18:15–17) in their practices? If not by infant baptism, what would be appropriate ways?” (p. 137). This approach allows the reader to come to informed, not biased, judgments.

40 Questions About Baptism and the Lord’s Supper is also fairly and expertly balanced. After discussing the covenantal case for infant baptism (ch. 17), Hammett concludes, “Baptists think that their positive case for believer’s baptism from the teaching and example of the New Testament is sufficient to support their limitation to believers, and thus to rule infant baptism non-biblical. Nevertheless, the Baptist position is the minority position, historically and contemporarily. Thus, a consideration of the arguments offered in support of infant baptism seemed warranted” (p. 144). The balanced approach encourages readers to defend (charitably) their view while presenting other views of baptism and the Lord’s Supper in a fair-minded way. This feature, among many others, makes Hammett’s new book a sound and clear resource for pastors, teachers, students, and interested laymen in various denominations.

Book Notice: ‘Anger’ in “Killjoys: The Seven Deadly Sins”

51hq8bhDM7L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Jonah was an angry man. The reluctant prophet of Israel, sent to Nineveh, was so reluctant because he was so angry. Or, so says Jonathan Parnell who writes the chapter on anger in a new book, Killjoys: The Seven Deadly Sins (ed. Marshall Segal; Desiring God, 2015). As a way of highlighting the value of the book, I’ll take a few moments to highlight Parnell’s excellent essay.

After introducing the angry prophet, Parnell offers three descriptors of anger. 1) Anger is among the most widespread sins. It is so widespread because it was one of the first evidences of the fall in the world. Cain was angry before he killed his brother (see Gen 4:5). 2) Anger is the most deadly of the seven deadly sins. Jesus points to anger as murder for a good reason (see Matt 5:21–22). 3) Finally, anger is not always sin. God gets angry but never sins––he is slow to anger (see Ex 34:6). Therefore, there is such a thing as righteous anger.

With these descriptors in mind, especially the point that some anger is not sin, Parnell helps us diagnose the cause of anger. “What do you have to be angry about?” is the question that we must ask (p. 40). To this question, Parnell notes that love is the answer. That is, “What we have to be angry about can be reduced down to one issue: love.” (p. 41) We must analyze our loves if we want to understand and correct our anger. Parnell states well:

Anger is how we respond to whatever threatens someone or something we care about. How we perceive and respond to reality has to do with what we value. Anger is love in motion to protect the object of our love. If we want to know what we have to be angry about, we should look to the objects of our affection. And if we want to know when anger is sinful, we look for how our loves have become distorted (p. 41).

Not only, then, does anger reveal the disorder in our hearts, our “disordered loves” as Augustine called them, but it also reveals the stupidity in our hearts. Parnell comments,

Sinful anger, therefore, is inherently stupid. It happens when we misperceive reality as unacceptable, when we are so blinded by our self-consumed loves that we want to annihilate anything that doesn’t serve us. Sinful anger happens when, instead of imitating God we try to play God by assuming the right to draw the lines, defining what should or should not be. In sinful anger, we respond in a manner disproportionate to the facts, forcing everyone around us to interpret the world on our terms, based upon what we love most––which is too often the object in the mirror (p. 42).

For Christians anger must not only be understood but also healed. As Parnell states, “The end of our anger only comes by shalom in our souls––a recalibration of our greatest love and devotion.” In order to achieve this recalibration, Parnell gives three wise steps: analyze your anger early, feel ridiculous for your ridiculousness, and remember and imitate the (righteous) anger of God (pp. 43–47). As you can see, Jonathan Parnell proves a wise guide for us into the unseemly places of our hearts so that we might truly repent of our anger and find the “shalom in our souls” that only Christ can bring.

Parnell’s chapter is one of seven in Killjoys, a book highly recommended for its devotional and pastoral value.

Book Notice: “Ordinary” by Tony Merida

Ordinary picYou, Christian, have been redeemed, reconciled, and renewed to change the world. You, Christian, must conquer your family, neighborhood, workplace, and even the world for the Kingdom. You must be radical, extreme, on the edge, extraordinary. Or not.

Tony Merida, Associate Professor of Preaching at Southeastern and Pastor of Imago Dei Church in Raleigh, NC, thinks that Christians are called to be extraordinary. That’s right, Christians are called to live ordinary lives for the King who created and saved them. But ordinary living as a Christian in this world means the world may well be turned upside down. Thus, Tony wrote the book, Ordinary: How to Turn the World Upside Down (B&H).

In Ordinary, Tony displays the concern God has for the ordinary, or especially the outcasts, of the world. God, he claims, is a God of justice, one whose heart beats for the poor such that he became a poor man, Jesus Christ, and died a rejected criminal. The Bible is replete with evidence that God cares for the poor, orphans, widows, and other outcasts. This truth struck Tony earlier in his life and it has griped him ever since. His family tries to live out a PEACE plan that incorporates evangelism and social justice into a seamless whole. He is a good teacher and model for us on this way of integrated living before God and people.

So Tony wrote Ordinary in order to “identify some ‘ordinary things’ that ordinary people like us can do, and if we do them with gospel intentionality (speaking and showing the gospel), then we can make an extraordinary impact.” (p. 9) The introduction addresses the Bible’s testimony on the gospel-social justice nexus and the tendency we evangelical Christians have to sensationalize everything we do in the name of Jesus. The book then unfolds in five concise, easy-to-read chapters that address the key topics of ordinary living as a Christian: neighbor love, hospitality, orphan care, advocacy for the voiceless, and humility. In the conclusion, Tony exhorts us to take up this way of life, which is consistent with God’s character and plan for history.

The chapter titles indicate the clear, ordinary path Tony walks for us:

Introduction – Confessions: Trading Sensationalism for Ordinary Christianity

Chapter 1 –     Neighbor Love: How Justified Sinners Show Compassion in Word and Deed

Chapter 2 –     Kingdom Hospitality: How the King’s People Welcome Others

Chapter 3 –     Care for the Vulnerable: How the Father’s Children Love the Fatherless

Chapter 4 –     Courageous Advocacy: How God’s People Speak Up for the Voiceless (with Kimberly Merida)

Chapter 5 –     God-Centered Humility: How an Ordinary Christian Walked with His Extraordinary God

Conclusion –  Longing for a Just World

Some of us will (or do) live lives on the edge––serving Christ and his church in dangerous, far-off places––and such living glorifies God. But most of us live lives in the normal––serving Christ and his church in 9-5 jobs, coming home to our plain homes that our average families inhabit––and such living, when lived in grace-filled obedience to Christ, glorifies God. Tony Merida has reminded us all of what this life looks like. Students, teachers, small groups, and Sunday school classes––basically any Christian––will benefit from reading this book.