Tag Archives | IVP Academic

Recovering the Full Mission of God | Dean Flemming

The cover of Flemming's Recovering the Full Mission of GodThis false dichotomy regarding mission is well worn:

  • We need to proclaim the good news. Faith comes by hearing!
  • We need to live the good news. As St. Francis (supposedly) said, “Preach the gospel at all times, and if necessary use words.”

In Recovering the Full Mission of God, Dean Flemming surveys the entire Bible with particular emphasis on the New Testament to see how these two positions are reflected in scripture. Spoiler alert: true gospel witness demands both words and actions.

From the start, the “search” for an answer to this false dichotomy felt like a forgone conclusion. It is analogous to surveying the architectural styles of the world to determine whether true houses require a foundation or a roof.

The most interesting part of the book is the conclusion where Flemming draws some more nuanced insights from his study. For example, the emphasis between the two poles shifts in different books. Acts is primarily about telling. 1 Peter is primarily about doing. From data like this he concludes that each scenario we encounter is unique and will require its own mix of telling and doing.

Another wise conclusion is his connection of being v. doing with gifts and calling:

Our mission priority may depend on our gifts and calling. … None of us can meet every kind of need on our own. (268)

Some people are gifted conversationalists while others rather slip in behind the scenes and serve. God uses every gift and ability to create the right mix of doing and telling to meet the need.

This book can feel repetitive at times. After all, Flemming is looking for the same thing in every area of scripture. That said, the conclusions make this book worth the read. In order to be Christ in a situation, the body needs to both proclaim and live the gospel.

—Dean Flemming, Recovering the Full Mission of God: A Biblical Perspective on Being, Doing and Telling (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2013).

Mermaid Marathons | Thomas Jay Oord

Thomas Jay OordMermaids cannot run marathons because a mermaid’s nature includes leglessness. God cannot create controllable creatures because God’s nature is uncontrolling love.

—Thomas Jay Oord, The Uncontrolling Love of God: An Open and Relational Account of Providence (Downer’s Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2015), 148.

Faith is Sight | T. F. Torrance

ThomasFTorranceFaith is God’s gift of sight to those blinded by sin.

—T. F. Torrance in Leonard J. Vander Zee, Christ, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper: Recovering the Sacraments for Evangelical Worship (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2004), 63.

Incarnation | Thomas F. Torrance

The cover of Torrance's IncarnationThe centre of the Christian faith is the Christ, Jesus of Nazareth. Who Jesus is (Christology) and what Jesus did (Soteriology) comprise the crux of Christianity.

Thomas F. Torrance taught these two classes at Edinburgh University from 1952 to 1978. This volume, Incarnation, contains the notes of Torrance’s Christology class as edited by Robert T. Walker. The book is dense and full of historical theological detail. Consuming Incarnation on the printed page was challenging enough—I can’t imagine having to grasp this material in lecture format alone!

Torrance begins with a careful description of his “scientific method” which is probably not what you’re assuming. For Torrance, a subject has to be studied according to its own internal logic. The Christ has given himself to be understood by scripture. Rather than import some modernist framework for understanding how Jesus is fully God and fully man, Torrance stays with the logic of scripture.

The most important theme of Incarnation is the atoning nature of the hypostatic union. Even though the second volume in this series is dedicated to Soteriology—Atonement, Torrance repeatedly emphasizes how the union of God and man in one person was a crucial element in the salvation of humanity. If your Christology is wrong, your Soteriology falls apart. The unassumed is the unredeemed.

Incarnation is full of detailed historical arguments, from Scripture to Patristics to the Reformation. Every view is carefully explained and evaluated. In order to better grasp this material, I have summarized and offered some reflections on each section.

In the end, Torrance’s theology leads to doxology. You can’t help but be inspired to worship the God-man who assumed our fallen human nature in order to redeem humanity.

—Thomas F. Torrance, Incarnation: The Person and Life of Christ, Robert T. Walker, Ed. (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2008).

God Must Love | Thomas Jay Oord

Thomas Jay OordGod must love. To put it as a double negative: God cannot not love. Kenotic love is an essential attribute of God’s eternal nature.

—Thomas Jay Oord, The Uncontrolling Love of God: An Open and Relational Account of Providence (Downer’s Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2015), 161.

The Uncontrolling Love of God | Thomas Jay Oord

The cover of Oord's The Uncontrolling Love of GodThe problem of pain plagues believers. Put most simply, if God is love then he would want to stop meaningless suffering. If God is all powerful, then he is able to stop meaningless suffering. Meaningless suffering still exists, so which premise is incorrect?

Thomas Jay Oord offers a new way through this theological quandary by leveraging the implications of open theism.

For Oord, Christians have misunderstood God by putting Greek-style omnipotence (unlimited power) ahead of God’s love. For Oord, love comes first. God is love. And love cannot coerce—it cannot “control entirely” (183).

Imagine a relationship between two humans. A loving person allows the partner freedom to make choices and respond in answering love. A controlling partner is the antithesis of love.

Essential Kenosis

There are many models of God’s providence (Oord lists seven) which run the spectrum from God as the all-controlling “omnicause” (83) to God as the completely incomprehensible wholly other. Oord locates his view, essential kenosis, in the middle of this spectrum.

Here is the one paragraph form of his model:

God’s eternal nature is uncontrolling love. Because of love, God necessarily provides freedom/agency to creatures, and God works by empowering and inspiring creation toward well-being. God also necessarily upholds the regularities of the universe because those regularities derive from God’s eternal nature of love. Randomness in the world and creaturely free will are genuine, and God is not a dictator mysteriously pulling the strings. God never controls others. But God sometimes acts miraculously, in noncoercive ways. God providentially guides and calls all creation toward love and beauty. (94)

This view of providence is jarring to Christians raised on classic systematic theologies. To understand this requires a massive shift that prioritizes love over power. Is this not what the cross emphasizes?


Let’s return to the syllogism we started with:

  • God is all-powerful
  • God is love
  • Therefore God should prevent meaningless suffering

At first glance, essential kenosis appears to deny the first premise. Essential Kenosis states that God cannot utterly control his creation. How, then, can God be called Almighty in any meaningful sense? How do we deal with miracles?

An essentially kenotic God is still Almighty in at least three ways (189):

  1. God is “mightier than all others.”
  2. God is “the only One who exerts might upon all that exists.”
  3. God is “the ultimate source of might for all others.

This Almighty God can still work miracles, albeit in cooperation with creation. God does not arbitrarily break eternal laws that he set in order. God works from the inside, persuading his creation at all levels of existence to work towards shalom.

I struggle with this understanding of miracle. Oord’s description of God “calling upon free agents to act in ways that fit well with what God foreknows with a high probability will occur among systems of nature or inanimate objects” (210) feels like a semantic distinction. How does a “free agent” resist the persuading love of God? Does God have a scale gauged to the creature in question which tells him just how far he is able to persuade before persuasion becomes control?

The radical outbreak of God’s power in the life of Jesus—the confirming signs and wonders that accompanied the last days—also call the persuasive model of miracles into question. Do we attribute the increase of divine activity in and around the life of Jesus and the early church to an increasing of God’s persuasive power? If God is at times more or less persuasive in reducing suffering then we are back to the same issue essential kenosis avoids: God picks and chooses when to relieve suffering.

I enjoy struggling with these ideas. The Uncontrolling Love of God has wormed its way into my mind. Its greatest strength is how it recentralizes love as the defining characteristic of God. As Amos Yong wrote on the back cover, “this book secures Oord’s legacy as the theologian of love.” I find myself reflecting on Oord’s arguments often as I pray and minister.

I’ll close this review with Oords most memorable analogy:

Mermaids cannot run marathons, and a kenotic God cannot coerce. A controlling God of love is fictional. (181)

—Thomas Jay Oord, The Uncontrolling Love of God: An Open and Relational Account of Providence (Downer’s Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2015).

Christ, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper | Leonard J. Vander Zee

The cover of Vander Zee's Christ, Baptism and the Lord's SupperEvangelicals have an uneasy relationship with the sacraments. Having tossed five of the Catholic’s seven, the Protestant church has doubled-down on the value and importance of baptism and the Lord’s supper. My own fellowship, the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada, refers to these two sacraments as “Ordinances.”

Vander Zee’s book is an attempt to take sacramental theology seriously and to renew evangelical interest in these two Biblically-based traditions. His approach is firmly rooted in the theology of John Calvin whom he quotes liberally throughout the book.

The sacraments physical signs graciously given to us by God whereby the believer is united to Christ through the Holy Spirit. Baptism is that once-in-a-lifetime moment where the believer is brought into the Christian community. The Lord’s Supper is a regular time where the physical signs of bread and wine bring us to God through faith.

Although this is a valuable book for the evangelical church at large, it’s more directly applicable to Reformed congregations. This is clear in the chapter on infant baptism which Vander Zee supports and encourages despite no scriptural basis for the practice. Here’s the line that made me shake my head in disbelief:

The primary objection to the baptism of infants, beside the lack of clear biblical evidence, is the fact that in infant baptism one of the most important aspects of New Testament baptism is missing: confession and the profession of faith in Jesus Christ. (122)

I found it hard to believe that in the midst of such a biblically reasoned book, “lack of clear biblical evidence” is relegated to a sub-clause! Despite my disagreements with his theology, I was encouraged by his call for “respect and tolerance” (133) between traditions. (I would go further, however. If we’re going to be biblical, “love” is called for, not mere “respect and tolerance”.)

Christ, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper is a thoughtful book on the importance of the sacraments (or ordinances!) whereby believers are united to Christ by the Holy Spirit in faith.

—Leonard J. Vander Zee, Christ, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper: Recovering the Sacraments for Evangelical Worship (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2004).

Corporate Image | John H. Walton

John WaltonAll human beings must be considered as participating in the divine image. It is something that is more corporate than individual.

—John H. Walton, The Lost World of Adam and Eve (Downer’s Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2015) 196.

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