An accidental blog

"If God is sovereign, then his lordship must extend over all of life, and it cannot be restricted to the walls of the church or within the Christian orbit." Abraham Kuyper Common Grace 1.1.

Monday, 9 February 2009

Michael E. Wittmer's Don't Stop Believing - a review

Don't Stop Believing:
Why living like Jesus is not enough
Michael E. Wittmer
Zondervan 2008
ISBN-13: 9780310281160
240pp pbk

The search for a third way has almost become a cliche - but a third way is what Grand Rapid Theological Seminary's Mike Wittmer has provided. To every action there is an equal but opposite reaction. The emergence of emergent is in part a reaction to conservatism. Wittmer has provided us with an irenic book, that provides a third way between the extremes of fundamentalism and the liberalising influence of emergent.

Many controversial topics are addressed; these include: must we believe something to be saved? Are we generally good or bad? homosexuality; penal substitution; does the kingdom of God include non-Christians? hell, can we know anything at all? The inerrancy of the Bible.

Each chapter utilises the diagram of a pendulum illustrating the postmodern and conservative extremes and the third way that Wittmer proposes. He sees strengths in both sides and incorporates them into his triangulated third way.

Particularly helpful was his chapter on penal substitution. Something that is rapidly becominga shibboleth among conservative evangelicals. This chapter examines the question: Is the cross divine child abuse? He looks at some of the problems advanced with penal substitution: it is too individualistic, it is too limited and too soft on sin. He assesses strengths in the penal substitution view, but maintains that it does not explain everything (p 93). He then combines the penal view with the Christus Victor model, which alleviates the problems of a 'business transaction' view of the cross: Jesus purchases our life with his death. 'Penal substitution is the heart of the Christus Victor, for it explains how Jesus accomplished his misson' (p. 94). Both views are required to do understand the atonement.

Not all postmoderns or conservatives will agree with Wittmer's approach - he will either be too postmodern or too conservative for the extremes - but for the open-minded he has produced an excellent resource. It is well written and accessible.

Wittmer is a professor of systemtaic and historical theology this comes through in the copious footnotes (they account for almost 20 per cent of the book). Here Wittmer shows us how the debates are not new but have echoes in the past. He is able to draw upon Calvin, Kuyper, Augustine, Luther, Aquinas as well as contemporaries such as McLaren, Padgitt, Rollins, Plantinga and Warren.

A set of study questions and brief case studies make the book ideal for small group discussion. This is one of my books of the year for 2008; it deserves to be read widely.

Publisher's website

Available in the UK from:
Book depository
Wesley Owen

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