Moving the Ministry of Women from Theology to Practice | Influence Podcast

This podcast begins with a paradox: On the one hand, the Assemblies of God recognizes the credentialed ministry of women at whatever level God has called and empowered them. On the other hand, AG women often face barriers to ministry leadership simply because they are women.

In this podcast, I’m talking with Beth Grant and Crystal Martin about how to resolve this paradox, that is, about how to move the ministry of women from something we affirm theologically to something we practice routinely.

I’m George P. Wood, executive editor of Influence magazine and your host. Beth Grant is co-founder and executive director of Project Rescue, an international ministry to survivors of sex trafficking; an executive presbyter of the Assemblies of God; and author of Courageous Compassion: Confronting Social Injustice God’s Way. Crystal Martin is director of the Assemblies of God’s Network of Women Ministers, director of Cross-Cultural Missions for Chi Alphacampus ministry, and associate pastor of Central Assembly in Springfield, Missouri. Both women are ordained Assemblies of God ministers.

God, Trump, and COVID-19 | Book Review

I am working on a review essay about Christian responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. My research largely focuses on books written by, marketed to, or likely to be read by evangelical Christians, where evangelical is defined broadly. Stephen E. Strang’s God, Trump, and COVID-19 is one of those books. (The others were written by Walter Brueggemann, Mark Hitchcock, John C. Lennox, Kristi Mair and Luke Cawley, John Piper, and N. T. Wright.)

Strang is a charismatic Christian with roots in the Assemblies of God. I was interested in reading his perspective because I am a Pentecostal minister, ordained by the Assemblies of God, and currently serving as executive editor of its leadership perspective.

(I should quickly add that this review states my personal opinion only and should not be understood as a denominational evaluation. I should also acknowledge that Strang is a friend of my father’s and has always been kind to my family, and on the couple of occasions where I have met him, to me.)

Unfortunately, despite theological and spiritual affinity with Strang on a number of issues, I cannot recommend this book. There are several reasons for this:

First, Strang does not grapple in a serious way the wisdom the Bible brings to bear on current situation. He does not draw from the well of systematic theology or apologetics to illuminate the pandemic’s meaning. And he does not offer an extended reflection on the ethical dimensions of the pandemic. The other authors I am reading do what Strang does not. He writes, “I want the reader to understand where God is in the midst of a historically tense, intense time” (xv). The desire is good, but the execution is not.

What Strang does instead of grappling with the Bible, theology, and ethics is focus on politics and prophecy. My second and third criticisms have to do with these two issues.

Let me start with politics. Throughout the book, Strang tells readers that God, Trump, and COVID-19 is a follow-up book to God, Trump, and the 2020 Election, published in late 2019. In these books, Strang offers a full-throated defense of President Trump’s action specifically with regard to the pandemic and generally on public policy, respectively. Throughout the COVID-19 book—I have not read the 2020 election book—Strang portrays Trump as the decisive, farsighted leader Christians need to support, all the while castigating Democrats, the Left, and mainstream media. Whatever you may think of Strang’s arguments, his focus is on the political dimensions of the crisis, which is perhaps why he doesn’t deal in any in-depth way with biblical, theological, and ethical issues.

Third, Strang gives too much attention to modern-day prophets such as David Wilkerson, Shawn Bolz, Chuck D. Pierce, and the like. Chapter 1 opens with a 1986 prophecy allegedly given by David Wilkerson:

I see a plague coming on the world and the bars, church, and government shut down. The plague will hit New York City and shake it like it has never been shaken. The plague is going to force prayerless believers into radical prayer, into their Bibles and repentance will be the cry from true men of God in the pulpit. And out of it will come a third Great Awakening that will sweep America and the world (1; cf. 69–71)

I use the term allegedly because the authenticity of the quote has been disputed by fact-checkers. Strang defends the authenticity of the prophecy by attributing it to a hand-written note by Mike Evans based on a conversation the latter had with Wilkerson in 1986. Evans stuck the note in the Bible he was using at the time, and when recently going through that Bible, he claims that the note fell out.

While the Wilkerson prophecy portends a severe plague, prophecies by Bolz and Pierce point to something less. Strang writes, “I believe God’s prophets [i.e., Bolz and Pierce] were saying it [the pandemic] wouldn’t be as bad as the politicians, medical experts, and liberal media were saying” (75). In favor of that interpretation, he notes that the virus seems to have peaked in mid- to late-April in the most affected areas of the country (especially New York City). However, the book was written and published prior to the summer outbreak that has pushed COVID-19 cases and related deaths higher. With another outbreak expected in the fall, those numbers could go higher still.

Fourth, Strang displays throughout the book a penchant for relying on spiritual leaders for accurate information about the pandemic and its effects, even as he seems to downplay expert testimony. (In the quote above, note how he throws “medical experts” under the bus alongside “politicians” and “liberal media.”) This penchant gives Strang’s analysis a patina of journalism, even as his sources are passing along second- and third-hand information.

The most egregious example of this comes in Chapter 3, “China’s Role in the Pandemic.” Strang tells how he received a text message from his friend Frank Amedia. Strang writes that Amedia “had new information from one of his Chinese friends that on the surface sounded like a major conspiracy theory.” Rather than emerging from a Wuhan wet market, the text claimed the virus came “from a Wuhan virology lab that collected hundreds of viruses with the idea of finding vaccines or learning enough to prevent another SARS or swine flu outbreak” (18). Strang tracked down Amedia’s source, whom he names “Jay.” Jay was “a Chinese American Christian who was getting his information from the ‘grass roots’ in China via the internet, and much of it contradicting what we were hearing in the media at the time” (20).

In other words, Strang received a tip from a non-medical expert (Amedia) based on information from another non-medical expert who was not in-country (Jay) who was passing along information received from non-medical sources within China. Given the malfeasance of the Chinese government in its handling of the outbreak in Wuhan, we may never know the truth about the pandemic’s origin. And even mainstream sources and commentators acknowledge the potential of an accidental release of the virus from a Wuhan lab. So, maybe there are elements of truth in Strang’s reportage. My point is that its provenance is suspect. Much of what he reports as insider knowledge was being speculated about on the internet at the same time he received this tip from Amedia. (I know because I was reading all sorts of speculation at that time on the internet.) Public speculation does not become insider knowledge just because you heard it from a guy, who heard it from a guy, who heard it from several other guys, which is literally what the Amedia-Jay-grass-roots chain of testimony is.

My fifth and final criticism is the dark conspiratorial tone with which Strang ends the book. Strang writes:

What if I were to tell you that these events were planned? [In context, these “events” were long-term social trends such as family breakdown that preceded the pandemic.]  What if I were to tell you that powerful ungodly groups actually control/own much of the ‘mainstream’ media, the central banks, and many of the world’s largest corporations and that they all were working in tandem toward an agenda? I know, it sounds crazy, but I believe it’s actually true! Even the UN was founded by some of those very same elites. Look up its history. Now the UN Agenda 2020 and Agenda 2030 clearly lay out this go-forward plan for us all to see. It is slowly pushing us toward globalization. The UN wants people to be all mixed with no borders or national identities. This is their strategy (94).

Strang goes on to describe this as “the ‘beast system’ being finalized and prepared for the next phase” (94). It would’ve been one step closer to reality had Hilary Clinton become president in 2016. However, “God intervened,” writes Strang. “Just when the cabal was about to complete the globalist plan, further give up our rights and sovereignty, and solidify Agenda 2030 through various trade deals, treaties, and laws—just when the nail was about to be driven into the coffin, God heard the prayers of the saints and gave us a last-minute reprieve! He gave us a billionaire who was able to align with the patriots inside the government who wanted to stop the cabal and its sinister plan for our nation and world” (95).

Earlier, Strang acknowledge that Jay’s story seemed like a “major conspiracy theory.” But Jay’s account of the virus’ origin pales as a major conspiracy theory compared to the one Strang closes the book with: the eight-decade globalist cabal that began with the founding of the United Nations. Strang tosses off this conspiracy theory in the final pages of the book without providing any evidence for it whatsoever.

So, for these reasons, I cannot recommend this book as a serious Christian analysis of the COVID-19 pandemic. It is too light biblically and theologically, too reliant on contemporary prophesies, and too strong on conspiracism. Pentecostals and charismatics need to speak into the current situation, showing where God is in the midst of our intense, tense reality. God, Trump, and COVID-19 is not the word we need, however.

Book Review
Stephen E. Strang, God, Trump, and COVID-19: How the Pandemic Is Affecting Christians, the World, and America’s 2020 Election (Lake Mary, FL: FrontLine, 2020).

P.S. If you liked my review, please click “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

Resilient Faith | Book Review

Christianity in the United States is a mile wide but an inch deep.

The faith, especially its Protestant variety, has exerted considerable influence on the nation’s history and culture. A supermajority of citizens continue to identify themselves as believers. On the whole, evangelical churches — where evangelical serves as a theological descriptor, not a political one — are holding steady even as liberal Protestant congregations and Roman Catholic parishes shed adherents.

Despite these things, many Christians feel that their influence on the broader culture is slipping away. A partial explanation comes from the last two decades’ rapid rise of the “Nones,” that share of the populace that picks “None of the above” when asked by pollsters to select their religious affiliation. Radical shifts in public opinion about moral issues such as same-sex marriage, drug use, and voluntary euthanasia constitute an additional explanation. And the once unheard-of criticism of Christian charities, such as the Salvation Army, for continuing to uphold biblical standards of sexual morality offers still another explanation.

None of these explanations, it should be noted, entail that America has entered a post-Christian phase. They do indicate that the nation is trending that way, however. If that trend worries you, I encourage you to read Gerald L. Sittser’s Resilient Faith: How the Early Christian “Third Way” Changed the World.

Sittser is professor of theology at Whitworth University in Spokane, Washington, where he also serves as a senior fellow and researcher in the Office of Church Engagement. In Resilient Faith, he offers an account of how the Early Church forged a “Third Way” between accommodation to the surrounding idolatrous culture and isolation from it. He states his thesis at the outset of the book:

[T]he early Christian movement became known as the Third Way because Jesus himself was a new way, which in turn spawned a new movement — new in theology, in story, in authority, in community, in worship, and in behavior. Christian belief was so new, in fact, that it required Christians to develop a process of formation in the Third Way to move new believers from conversion to discipleship. … Rejecting both accommodation and isolation, early Christians immersed themselves in the culture as followers of Jesus and servants of the kingdom of God.

Over time, this third-way approach gained followers, and with increased followership, increasing influence. By the time Constantine converted to Christianity in A.D. 312, Christians already constituted a significant, though occasionally persecuted, minority within the Roman empire. Over the next century, they became the only legal imperial religion. The once powerless Church became powerful.

Ironically and tragically, this power began to deform the Church. The Third Way became the First Way, integrity giving way to accommodation. Whereas the early Christian movement assumed that idolaters needed a rigorous form of discipleship, the so-called catechumenate, to mold converts into the faith and life of Jesus Christ, the post-Constantinian Church began to assume that everyone under the sway of a Christian emperor was Christian by default. The real faith of early Christians became the nominal faith of Christendom.

And that tension between the real and the nominal brings us back to the feeling so many American Christians have that our cultural influence is slipping away. If it is — and I believe that it is — how should we respond?

One response is simply for American Christians to engage in cultural and political warfare. While I am a proponent of informed Christian engagement in politics and culture, I worry that this response, however effective it may be in the short term, is ineffective in the long term. Sittser captures the gist of the dilemma when he writes:

If anything, the harder Christians fight, the more precipitous the decline will be, for cultural power and privilege will come at an increasingly high price. Christians will either accommodate until the faith becomes almost unrecognizable, or they will isolate until their faith becomes virtually invisible.

The better response — the one called for by Jesus Christ himself — is the way of discipleship, “baptizing [the nations] in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19–20). According to that way, success is not defined in terms of the accrual of political power or cultural influence, though they may come, but by fidelity to the Lord Jesus Christ regardless of whether they come. He is the Way, so His way must become our way too.

Until American Christians decide that fidelity is more important than power and privilege, their Christianity will continue to be a mile wide and an inch deep, though getting narrower and shallower every day.

Book Reviewed
Gerald L. Sittser, Resilient Faith: How the Early Christian “Third Way” Changed the World (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2019).

P.S. If you liked my review, please click “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

P.P.S. This review is cross-posted from with permission.

Shepherding God’s People | Book Review

Dr. Siang-Yang Tan is professor of psychology at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California, and senior pastor of First Evangelical Church in nearby Glendale. In Shepherding God’s People, he examines “biblical and theological foundations for pastoral ministry” (Part 1) and “areas of pastoral ministry” (Part 2). The author himself describes the book this way in the Preface:

The book presents a biblical perspective on pastoral and church ministry that emphasizes faithfulness and fruitfulness in Christ (John 15:5), through the presence and power of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8; Eph. 5:18; 6:10–18), made perfect in weakness, brokenness, and humility (2 Cor. 12:9–10) rather than in success or excellence of the wrong kind … . Each chapter includes a substantial review of the literature available on the topic as well as my own biblical, theological, psychological, cultural, and personal reflections.

Baker Academic published the book, and I imagine its intended readers are seminarians preparing for ministry. Although it is well, clearly, and simply written, it at times feels like an introductory survey rather than a how-to guide. Being nearly 25 years out of seminary — I attended Fuller but did not have Dr. Tan as a professor — I found this off-putting at first.

But as I kept reading, I realized that I was benefitting from the author’s extensive reading of the relevant literature, especially as it was focused through the lens of his own pastoral ministry. I came to regard the book as the equivalent of a refresher course on the theology and practice of pastoral ministry. An added bonus is that each chapter includes an extensive list of recommended readings. You can use the book as an introduction to best practices and the recommended readings as a guide to what you should read next, should a specific topic interest you.

As a Pentecostal minister, I appreciated Chapter 2 especially. It is titled, “The Person and Work of the Holy Spirit as Crucial and Essential for Pastoral Ministry.” Though Dr. Tan does not write from a classical Pentecostal perspective, this chapter reminded me of the breadth of the Holy Spirit’s work as well as the many points in common between Pentecostal and evangelical theologies of the Spirit.

Book Reviewed
Siang-Yang Tan, Shepherding God’s People: A Guide to Faithful and Fruitful Pastoral Ministry (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2019).

P.S. If you like my review, please click “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

P.P.S. I wrote this review for It is posted here by permission.

Is Contemplative Spirituality Christian? | Influence Podcast

If Christian book publishing trends are any indication, contemplative spirituality is a hot topic among Christian readers — hotin the dual sense that it arouses intense interest as well as intense opposition. Proponents claim it is an ancient Christian practice capable of deepening a person’s love for God and neighbor. Opponents counterclaim that it is biblically subpar, smacks of medieval Catholicism, and opens the door to New Age mysticism.

In this episode of the Influence Podcast, I’m talking to John Coe and Kyle Strobel about whether contemplative spirituality is Christian, and if so, how. Coe and Strobel are professors at Biola University in La Mirada, California. Both are active in the university’s Institute for Spiritual Formation, Coe as the director and Strobel as a teacher. They are the editors of Embracing Contemplation: Reclaiming a Christian Spiritual Practice, published by IVP Academic earlier this year.


P.S. This episode of the Influence Podcast is cross-posted from with permission.

Islam and Christian Mission | Influence Podcast

What should Christians believe about Islam? And how should Christians treat their Muslim neighbors? Contemporary events both abroad and in the U.S. require thoughtful Christians to answer these questions.

In Episode 173 of the Influence Podcast, George P. Wood, Influencemagazine’s executive editor, interviews Mark Brink, Mark Hausfeld, and Mark Refroe about Islam and Christian mission. All three are veteran Assemblies of God missionaries to Muslim-majority nations.

Mark Brink is international director of Global Initiative, a ministry of Assemblies of God World Missionswhose mission statement is “To equip the global church to reach Muslims because every Muslim must know the truth about Jesus.” Mark Hausfeld is professor of Urban and Islamic Studiesat the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary. And Mark Renfroe is director of Reaching Africa’s Muslims, an AGWM initiative to plant the Church among Africa’s 806 Muslim unreached people groups.

Additional Resources

P.S. This podcast is cross-posted from with permission.

Review of ‘Doubt, Faith, and Certainty’ by Anthony C. Thiselton

Anthony C. Thiselton’s Doubt, Faith, and Certainty is not a practical book. It does not teach Christians how to overcome their doubts, increase their faith and achieve certainty. Instead, it examines the definitions of each of those three terms, painting a complex, nuanced portrait of them using the colors of Scripture, theology and philosophy.

The author is professor emeritus of Christian theology at the University of Nottingham, England. He is best known for his books on hermeneutics or interpretation, especially The Two Horizons. In addition to his hermeneutics books, he has published New Testament commentaries and several volumes on theological topics.

Thiselton opens the book by noting, “It is a practical disaster that in popular thought some view all doubt as a sign of weakness and lack of faith; while others, by contrast, extol doubt as always a sign of mature, sophisticated reflection.” Something similar could be said of the terms faith and certainty. By contrast, Thiselton’s “simple message” in this book is that “none of these terms has a uniform meaning, or has a uniform function in life. They have a variety of meanings.”

Doubt, Faith, and Certainty’s purpose is to tease out their various meanings and functions. While defining terms is not, in and of itself, a practical enterprise, Thiselton states that it nevertheless constitutes “an immensely practical and potentially liberating pastoral and intellectual issue.” Read the book for yourself to see whether and how that’s true.

Book Reviewed: Anthony C. Thiselton, Doubt, Faith, and Certainty (Grand Rapids MI: Eerdmans, 2017).

P.S. If you found this review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon review page.

P.P.S. This review was written for and appears here by permission.

Review of ‘A Missional Orthodoxy’ by Gary Tyra

Unknown Gary Tyra, A Missional Orthodoxy: Theology and Ministry in a Post-Christian Context (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2013). Paperback / Kindle 

According to research by The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life in 2012, from 2007 to 2012, the percentage of Americans identifying themselves as Christians declined by 5 points, from 78 to 73. By contrast, the percentage of Americans identifying themselves as having no religious affiliation increased by 4.3 points, from 15.3 to 19.6. The so-called “nones” described their religious preference as atheist, agnostic, or “nothing in particular.” In contrast to “Christian” America, American “nones” are tend to be younger and more political liberal.

The decline of Christian affiliation, the rise of religious non-affiliation, and the attendant shift in political values constitutes a missiological challenge for evangelical Christians. How do we evangelize and disciple in a culture that is increasingly post-Christian? Gary Tyra sets out to answer precisely that question in his new book, A Missional Orthodoxy: Theology and Ministry in a Post-Christian Context.

Tyra is associate professor of biblical and practical theology at Vanguard University in Costa Mesa, California, and an Assemblies of God minister. (Full disclosure: He is also a personal friend and an occasional contributor to Enrichment, a journal for AG ministers that I edit.) His previous books include The Holy Spirit in Mission, Christ’s Empowering Presence, and Defeating Pharisaism.

For Tyra, answering the missiological challenge of post-Christian America requires fidelity to two biblical imperatives: (1) “to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people” (Jude 3) and (2) to “become all things too people so that by all possible means I might save some” (1 Corinthians 9:22). These imperatives are reflected in the words orthodoxy and missional in the book’s title.

Although a Pentecostal, Tyra argues that fidelity to these imperatives ought to characterize evangelical Christianity generally, not just Pentecostalism. He develops this argument in dialogue with the writings of liberal Protestant Marcus Born and emerging evangelical Brian McLaren. He surveys their proposals on eight theological topics—Bible, God, Jesus Christ, Holy Spirit, human beings, salvation, church, and eschatology—and concludes that they, in varying degrees, sacrifice the orthodox imperative to the missional imperative. In other words, so concerned are they to make Christianity relevant to a postmodern generation, that they—especially Borg–reformulate doctrines in ways that conflict with both the Bible and the Great Tradition of Nicene orthodoxy.

This doesn’t mean that Tyra is unsympathetic to their critiques, however. Indeed, Tyra concedes that they are correct in arguing that evangelical Christianity has sometimes sacrificed missional relevance to the demands of an arid orthodoxy. What makes Tyra’s missional orthodoxy such an attractive proposal is that it balances the imperatives of orthodoxy and mission in a way that steers between the Scylla of liberalism and Charybdis of fundamentalism.

Take, for example, the topic of Christology. Whereas liberalism tends to emphasize the humanity of Christ at the expense of (even in the rejection of) his divinity, fundamentalism tends to emphasize the divinity of Christ at the expense of his humanity. According to Tyra, missional orthodoxy exposes this as a false antithesis, for the Bible teaches and the Great Tradition codifies that Jesus is fully divine and fully human in one person.

Or take the topic of salvation. Whereas fundamentalism tends to emphasize the cross as the atoning sacrifice by which God forgives our sins, liberalism tends to emphasize the cross as a moral example of self-giving love. Again, this is a false antithesis, for the cross is both of these things. The implication of this is that Christian mission includes both evangelism and social action.

Though I have simplified Tyra’s well-thought-out argument on these two topics for illustrative purposes, I think Tyra is basically correct in identifying the false antitheses that so often plague discussions of Christian mission generally and post-Christian mission specifically. Missional orthodoxy has the capacity “to be faithful to both the biblical text and the missional task,” as Tyra puts it.

In a book of this size, covering as much theological ground as it does, it is inevitable that readers will disagree with this or that conclusion drawn by Tyra. Nonetheless, on the whole, the proposal is so well-grounded in the Bible that evangelicals of many stripes can unite under the banner of missional orthodoxy, which I take it was part of Tyra’s hope for the book.

I only wish that Tyra had dialogued with representatives of the other side of the spectrum than Borg and McLaren. If, as Tyra contends, liberalism and fundamentalism are equal but opposite errors, it would be helpful to line them up side by side for purposes of contrast and comparison. My guess is that Tyra didn’t do this because at nearly 400 pages, A Missional Orthodoxy is already a long book, and because he had previously criticized fundamentalism in Defeating Pharisaism.

(For members of my Assemblies of God tribe, I should note that what Tyra and I mean by the word fundamentalism is different from what the word fundamental means in our Statement of Fundamental Truths.)

I heartily recommend A Missional Orthodoxy to evangelical pastors—especially younger colleagues—who are struggling with the challenge of ministering within an increasingly post-Christian society. I think it would make an excellent textbook in an undergraduate Christian theology class. And while I would love to see it read by laypersons in Sunday school classes and small groups, my fear is that its length will be daunting for the average parishioner. Nevertheless, as Jesus said in an entirely different context, they who endure to the end will be saved. Or at least rendered more missionally orthodox.

P.S. If you found this review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my review page.

Grace and Peace to You (1 Thessalonians 1:1c)

Letters typically begin with a greeting.

In New Testament times, Greek-speaking writers began their letters with the word chairein, “Greetings!” (e.g., Acts 15:23, 23:26; James 1:1). Paul, who wrote his letters in Greek, transformed this epistolary convention by replacing chairein with the similar looking and sounding charis in the greeting of all his letters, and by adding eirēnē. So, this is the standard greeting in Paul’s letters: “Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.”[1]

Paul’s standard greeting is a wonderful way for Christians to begin their letters (or emails) to other people.

For one thing, it perpetrates a little theology by defining who God is. He is “our Father,” that is, the Creator of the cosmos (Acts 17:28), the First Person of the Trinity (John 5:18), and the Adoptive Parent of all who believe in him (Eph. 1:5). Paul further describes God using the phrase, “Lord Jesus Christ.” The word Lord names Jesus’s divinity. He is the Second Person of the Trinity (Phil. 2:9-11, cf. Isa. 45:23). The word Christ names Jesus’s purpose. He is “the Messiah, the Lord”—the one whose coming into the world brings “good news of great joy to all people” (Luke  2:10,11). And finally, this Divine Person, this Promised Messiah is simple Jesus of Nazareth, who “died for our sins according to the Scriptures, …was buried, …was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and … appeared to [Peter], and then to the Twelve” (1 Cor. 15:3–5).

For another thing, Paul’s standard greeting perpetrates a little soteriology—i.e., the doctrine of salvation—by identifying the source (grace) and result (peace) of God’s saving work in our lives. Charis means “favor,” and grace is God’s unmerited favor, his decision to love, redeem, forgive, and bless sinners who don’t deserve any of those things. “It is by grace you have been saved,” Paul writes in Ephesians 2:8. Peace has three dimensions: We have peace with God (Rom. 5:1), with one another (Eph. 2:14–18), and within ourselves (Rom. 8:6).

The doctrine of God and the doctrine of salvation in the simple greeting of a letter!

But here’s the kicker: In 1 Thessalonians 1:1—and there alone in the greeting of all his letters—Paul simply wrote, “Grace and peace to you.” He left out “from God the Father and from our Lord Jesus Christ.” Paul assumed the Thessalonians knew the ultimate source and result of God’s saving work. He had founded their church, after all (Acts 17:1–9).

So why did he leave out the rich bits of theology and soteriology? Because it is one thing to wish God would give people his grace and peace, and another thing to give them your own grace and peace. Paul wants us to be Christians who don’t talk about God one way and then act toward people another way. He wants us to imitate God’s way of doing things in everything we do.

So, grace and peace to you…from me. Please pass them along to others!

A Review of “God’s Grand Design: The Theological Vision of Jonathan Edwards” by Sean Michael Lewis

Sean Michael Lucas, God’s Grand Design: The Theological Vision of Jonathan Edwards (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2011). $17.99, 224 pages.

My doctrine of salvation is Arminian, so you may wonder why I think highly of Sean Michael Lucas’s study of Jonathan Edwards, whose soteriology was Calvinist. The answer is twofold:

First, Lucas has written an accessible introduction to the biblical theology and pastoral practice of “America’s greatest theologian”—as Robert Jenson described Edwards. Whatever their theological stripes may be, interested students of theology are in Lucas’s debt for this service. Edwards’s literary corpus is large and his thought complex, but Lucas ably guides his readers through Edwards’s theology, showing its narrative unity, comprehensive scope, and direct connection to pastoral practice. He illustrates this theology with well-chosen quotations from Edwards works, situating Edwards’s writings in their historical context. And Lucas appends an “Annotated Bibliography” of the best primary sources by and secondary sources about Edwards, so that readers new to Edwards can know what to read first.

Second—and to my mind, most important—by offering this accessible introduction, Lucas offers contemporary pastors an Edwardsian model for how to integrate biblical theology into their own pastoral practice. This offer comes across explicitly in the appendix, “‘A Man Just Like Us’: Jonathan Edwards and Spiritual Formation for Ministerial Candidates.” But it is implicit throughout the rest of the book. Lucas’s intent for this book, in other words, is not merely historical. Rather, the history serves a larger purpose: namely, helping ministers better understand and practice their divine vocation.

Lucas demonstrates the connection in Edwards’s ministry between what today we might call message and method. The message of the gospel is the desire of the Holy Trinity to take up creation into its own glory, a desire accomplished by the redeeming work of Jesus Christ and reflected by how Christians live. That life is characterized not merely by right beliefs or right actions but most important by right “affections” or “virtue.” The methods by which we promulgate this message must be appropriate to the end God seeks. Ministers, therefore, must call people to faith in Jesus Christ, a faith that produces an all-encompassing love for God and neighbor. The “means of grace” Edwards considered appropriate to this end were preaching, the sacraments (baptism and communion), and prayer.

Obviously, as an Arminian, I have concrete objections to aspects of Edwards’s soteriology, for example, his anti-Arminianism. Lucas (quoting Gerald McDermott) notes that “Edwards’s struggle with Arminianism was but a battle in a life-long war with deism.” Edwards, it seems to me, routinely collapsed Arminianism into deism, even though no less than the evangelical Arminian John Wesley published an edited version of his Religious Affections. So, I must demur from many of Edwards’s conclusions. Nonetheless, and following Wesley’s example, it seems to me that religious affections might be a point of rapprochement between evangelical Calvinists and Arminians. Didn’t Wesley also speak of “heart religion,” after all?

Perhaps it is time that we Arminians stopped thinking of Edwards as a Calvinist only and started thinking of him as a teacher of the entire Church, including us. Obviously, we can’t accept everything Edwards teaches. (Even Calvinists don’t do that!) But we can learn much and benefit greatly from his manifold insights. (Who knows, maybe Calvinists will start treating Wesley in the same way…)

I doubt Lucas intended his book to produce such thoughts in Arminians, but it produced such thoughts in this Arminian. So, I affectionately recommend God’s Grand Design.

P.S. If you found this review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my review page.

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