Book Reviews, Guest Posts

Guest Post: A Review of Thomas Coutouzis’ “Agonizing for the Faith”

If your theology pretty much matches up with mine (as outlined in my “Welcome” and “Statement of Faith” tabs in the blue menu bar at the top of this page) and you’d like to contribute a guest post, drop me an e-mail at MichelleLesley1@yahoo.com, and let’s chat about it.

(In case anybody might be confused, a few weeks ago, the author of this book, Thomas Coutouzis, reviewed Jackie Hill-Perry’s “Bible” study on Jude for us. Today’s review is a review of Thomas’ book on Jude by my friend Jason.)


A Review of Thomas Coutouzis’
“Agonizing for the Faith:
A Biblical Exposition of Jude”

by: Jason Marianna

If there is any book of the Bible that speaks directly to most of the issues faced by the 21st century church, that book is Jude. The 21st century church faces a unique problem: The proliferation of media, primarily the internet, not only gives everyone a platform, but it gives the impression that all who have a platform deserve it. Christians are pulled in many directions and overwhelmed by the sheer volume of media – with each content creator doing his or her best to convince the Christian what they teach is worthy of their audience’s time. It is a perfect breeding ground for false teachers to slip into the church unnoticed and unquestioned. In this media environment, they thrive on the ability to communicate their message as effectively as true teachers. Many of the people bringing a dish to pass at your church’s potluck (or “love feast”, if you will) are under their influence in a variety of ways, both directly and indirectly.

Thankfully, God has given us the book of Jude. To read Jude is to understand the grave importance of recognizing false teachers and the subtle traps they lay for God’s people. Much like the elect, false teachers do not walk around with a stripe on their back so you can recognize them. They are instead the proverbial wolves in sheep’s clothing. They go to church, they smile, they even talk a lot about the Bible. Nonetheless, the things that should honor God instead, for them, become a lure to separate you from your money, your joy, your holiness, and (if it were possible) your God. Jude wants God’s people to know these “hidden reefs” are all glitter and no gold – clouds without water. More than that, Jude wants you know how to answer them. He wants you to wage war against them, and all the while maintain a love, concern, and affection for saints under their influence. Jude asks you for nothing less than to “agonize” for the faith.

Yet, in my experience, Jude may be the most overlooked book of the New Testament. Never once have I heard a Christian remark to me that it was his or her favorite book. I never see it in the list of books that new Christians must read first. It is not ignored, but it is certainly not emphasized. In light of the aforementioned pitfalls of the 21st century environment, the church needs to know about the hidden dangers that lie just below the surface. Christians need to know now more than ever about the “unreasoned animals” that prowl around them so readily in our time. Today, perhaps more than ever, God’s people need the book of Jude.

Thank God that Thomas Coutouzis understands this. In his excellent commentary, Agonizing for the Faith, Coutouzis takes Jude’s 25 verses and causes them to blossom into a robust and substantial weapon in the hands of the believer. More than that, Coutouzis sounds the alarm about false teachers which, at times, sounds as much like a battle cry as it does a warning. He pulls no punches and takes no prisoners when it comes to the enemies of the faith; naming names and directing sharp, effective attacks. Yet, Coutouzis knows when to put the sword away and encourage loving concern and gentleness for the elect confused and oppressed by false teaching.

Biblical commentaries usually fall into three categories. The first is purely technical. These are commentaries on language, history, context, and culture. They say less about what the text means and more about what the text says. For teachers, these commentaries are invaluable as they help us understand the dead languages and the ancient situations that inform the idioms and peculiarities within the text. For the average believer just trying to understand what the Bible means, these commentaries are usually more hazard than help. Coutouzis in no way ignores the technical aspects of Jude. In fact, he not only demonstrates competence with the Greek language but also possesses the rare ability to explain it in plain, down to earth ways without sounding like an English teacher. Additionally, Coutouzis shows great skill in explaining the extra-biblical references Jude makes in verses 9, 14, and 15. Yet, it cannot be said that Coutouzis has written merely a technical commentary. Agonizing for the Faith is too readable and accessible for that.

The second kind of commentary is a devotional. The focus of these commentaries are application and practicality. Matthew Henry is the prime example of this type. Commentaries of this sort are helpful to the common believer and teacher alike. For the common believer, they are easy to read and speak directly to living the Christian life. For the teacher, they help to focus our lessons on how the believer can carry out what we teach after they leave the class or sermon. Agonizing for the Faith offers plenty of application. Coutouzis speaks to our present age and the real situations it presents for many believers. He often walks his reader through the everyday practical implications of what Jude is saying. Yet, it would be an empty compliment to call Agonizing for the Faith merely a good devotional book. Make no mistake, every believer will be edified to read it, but for reasons that go far beyond that of a typical devotional.

While it is important to remember that almost every commentary contains elements of all three types, it is the main thrust of the commentary that determines its category. Therefore, it is the third type of commentary where we must categorize Agonizing for the Faith. Coutouzis has written an expository commentary. An expository commentary is one that goes verse by verse and word by word to flesh out every aspect of the Biblical text. John MacArthur writes his commentaries in this way. The advantages of the expository method are on full display in Agonizing for the Faith. Coutouzis writes about every word and doesn’t allow himself to skip difficult passages. He goes where the text goes and allows it to speak for itself. Yet, Coutouzis’ perception and insight is on full display in the process. Jude is a densely packed seed of nutrition for the hungry believer. Under Coutouzis, it blossoms and grows.

While I have much good to say about Agonizing for the Faith, it was by no means a perfect book. On occasion, Coutouzis quoted from secondary sources when his text would have been bolstered by interacting with primary sources. While I don’t reject the usefulness of resources like CARM or the Encyclopedia Brittanica, citing them is beneath the high standard Coutouzis has set for himself. Once or twice I felt Coutouzis did not prove his point as thoroughly as he should have. On occasion, particularly chapter 4, it seemed he imposed upon his readers too much of his background research. Also, while I’m eternally grateful to every author that uses footnotes instead of end notes, Agonizing for the Faith has one glaring absence: A bibliography. Coutouzis misses an opportunity not only to give credence to the obvious great depth of his research but also to bless his reader with authors and books where they could learn more. It is my hope that subsequent printings will fix this – I consider it to be the book’s worst shortcoming.

Nonetheless, we should not expect every author to be perfect nor should we allow perfect to be the enemy of good – or in this case allow perfect to be the enemy of great! For while Coutouzis may have a few minor and forgivable shortcomings, he makes up for them several times over. Chapters 1 and 2 were exceedingly quotable. Chapters 5 and 6 were informative. I particularly found chapters 8 and 9 helpful in my own ministry, and chapter 10 was so rich that I made myself read it twice. In fact, as I flip through my copy, I find notes, highlights, and underlines on almost every page. This book blessed me, encouraged me, and just plain fired me up.

In particular, I want to point out one chapter that is the best display of Coutouzis’ excellence. Chapter 12 deals with verses 20-23 of Jude. When discussing verses 22-23, Coutouzis alerts us on page 142 “Every commentator that I have read believed that these groups are all unbelievers within the church…” and then goes on to make his most courageous and dangerous remark in the book “…while I don’t think that is the case for any of these three.” I remember pausing here to absorb what I had read. This is risky for an author, particularly in a book of this type. He was telling his reader “no one agrees with me”. He was asking his audience to trust him. Any author writing about Scripture who does this had better not only be right, he’d better prove it. It’s not as if “majority rules” when it comes to Scripture – truth rules – but a declaration that no one else agrees is to say that many intelligent and godly men who have gone before him are wrong.

What followed was not complicated nor elaborate. In fact, Coutouzis never once refuted the opposing viewpoints. Instead Coutouzis did what he had been doing the entire book: faithful exposition with rigorous exegesis offered with clever insight and humility. Step after step, word after word, idea by idea Coutouzis let Jude speak for itself; and in doing so he convinced me. He was right, and the cadre of commentators were wrong. Coutouzis does more than win an argument, he offers a convincing and consistent view that spurs his reader to love, concern, and caution for weaker brothers caught up in error. This master stroke of Coutouzis’ book should also be its legacy. We ought to rebuke false teachers, marking and avoiding them at all costs. Yet at the same time, our attitude toward Christians caught up in their error ought to be one that reflects our Lord’s: to love and endure much, and yet compromise nothing.

If my reader will indulge me, I wish to say a brief word about Christian literature and publishing. Agonizing for the Faith is a self-published book. What used to be called “vanity publishing” is typically exactly that – a vanity project. Most self-published books in the Christian world are not worth your time. While I’m glad there is an outlet for creative writers and other writers in niche interests, I also believe those in academic fields benefited from a vetting process that printers and publishers used to provide. Yet, Coutouzis serves as a reminder that the world of self-publishing is not entirely devoid of quality work. If the Christian publishing world can find time and money to publish garbage such as Joel Osteen and Beth Moore, some publisher somewhere should surely find the time to publish Coutouzis. Every Christian publisher that passes on him makes a mistake. He’s demonstrated through this book that he is worth their investment.

It ought to be your ambition to read material that edifies, books that feed your soul, authors that faithfully teach the Word of God. In every sense, Coutouzis’ book fits the bill. Agonizing for the Faith belongs in your library. As you soak up what it has to offer, you’ll be better informed, better equipped, and (God willing) eager to put its teachings into practice. Not only will it serve you well in your own spiritual growth, I also feel it would make an excellent book for a women’s/men’s study or a Sunday school class. It’s the best commentary I’ve ever read of Jude’s precious book. I enthusiastically recommend it to you and pray it will fire you up, as it did me, to agonize for the faith.


Jason Marianna was saved solely by God’s grace when he was 16 years old.  When he’s not leading Bible studies and teaching children in his church, he works as an automation engineer in Pittsburgh PA.  Jason is a father of 4 and is married to a woman he doesn’t deserve.  He and his wife have a heart for orphans, particularly foster children, and have adopted 3 of the 5 children they’ve fostered so far.  Jason is a freelance writer who wants to write for your blog or publication.  You can follow his opinionated and eclectic Twitter feed, or connect with him on Good Reads.


 

Book Reviews

Congratulations to the Winners!

Last week, I shared with you Thomas Coutouzis’ excellent guest post, A Review of Jackie Hill-Perry’s “Jude: Contending for the Faith in Today’s Culture”. Thomas graciously offered to give away two copies of his own book, Agonizing For The Faith: A Biblical Exposition of Jude. Congratulations to the two winners!

Book Reviews, Guest Posts

Guest Post: A Review of Jackie Hill-Perry’s “Jude: Contending for the Faith in Today’s Culture”

If your theology pretty much matches up with mine (as outlined in my “Welcome” and “Statement of Faith” tabs in the blue menu bar at the top of this page) and you’d like to contribute a guest post, drop me an e-mail at MichelleLesley1@yahoo.com, and let’s chat about it.


For more information on Jackie Hill-Perry, please click here.

A Review of Jackie Hill-Perry’s
“Jude: Contending for the Faith in Today’s Culture”

by: Thomas Coutouzis

There is an old adage that says, “You can’t judge a book by its cover”. The implication is that the outward appearance of a book is not a reliable indicator of the content. This can be true at times, however, I have found more often than not that you actually can judge a book by its cover, probably more today than ever. In the case of Jackie Hill-Perry’s study on Jude, you can indeed judge a book by its cover. I will tell you why shortly.

I was asked if I would read the Jackie Hill-Perry study on Jude and write a review since I have written a commentary on Jude. I have studied extensively in Jude and have a passion for defending the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints. Our Lord doesn’t need us to defend His truth or His name, but He chooses to use us and charges us to contend against false teaching.

I don’t know much about Ms. Perry. I saw her in the excellent documentary made by Brandon Kimber called, American Gospel: Christ Alone. In this documentary she and a multitude of other saints presented the tenets of the prosperity gospel and began to dismantle them piece by piece with Scripture until you could see the man-made anti-Christ teaching it really was. What was surprising is when she posted pictures on social media of her with a variety of false teachers. The first thought that immediately popped into my mind was, “How can you teach a study on Jude and then go and befriend those who preach a false gospel?” These two things cannot coexist together. After all, the apostle Paul said, “Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness?” 2 Corinthians 6:14. Not to mention that we should not even give a false teacher a greeting (2 John 10-11). My suspicion was that Ms. Perry didn’t fully understand the text and as I read and listened to our dear sister’s messages I found that this is most likely the case.

I started with looking over the cover first. As a person with an Ad Agency background I found that the cover missed the entire theme of Jude. Jude is a polemic epistle. Polemic comes from the Greek word πόλεμος (polemos), which means “war/battle/fight”. Thus Jude is a call to arms for the church to stand up and go to war with false teachers. In verse 3, Jude challenges the believer to contend for the faith earnestly (ἐπαγωνίζομαι – epagonizomai). It gives us our English word, “agonize”. The word denotes a struggle against a competitor or enemy. In this case, Jude is using the word figuratively to describe going to battle against an enemy. It is combat against a foe. The word is used in the present tense denoting that the believer is to constantly combat false teachers. False teachers will never rest spreading heresy, neither should we stop opposing them with the truth. With this said, the cover (image at the top of this article) was an intersection on a city street with three cross walks and various people making their way to and fro. This cover in no way encapsulates the theme of Jude. It is a misrepresentation of the message of this epistle. The theme of Jude is a fight against those wolves in sheep’s clothing who have sneaked into the church with the purpose of turning it away from God. My commentary has a shield with two swords on the cover. This sets the tone for what you are about to read. Unfortunately, the creative team at LifeWay and Ms. Perry missed the mark on the cover for this study.

In this study Ms. Perry did six teaching segments and one summary segment. That said, Her teaching segments skipped over verses 12-13 and 16-19 which are very significant to understanding the text. However, the book does cover these, but not in any depth. Ms. Perry is a godly woman who has a passion for her King. The Lord has saved her, like all of us, from a life of great rebellion. You can see the love and passion she has for Him as she presents each of her messages.

In listening to the first segment (Jude 1-2) Ms. Perry understands that Jude is starting off his letter gently for a reason. The words that follow are going to be strong so he wants to make sure that the elect understand that their faith is secure before he drops some hard words regarding apostates. She makes this point very clear. She also speaks to Jude reminding them that the elect’s faith is secure for all time.

What I believe was missing in her teaching and the book was the historical context for Jude. What ancient heresies were around when Jude wrote the book that would give insight to his remarks? How do we know Jude was Jesus’ brother and not Judas son of James? There are Scriptures that prove Jude was Jesus’ brother, but why were they not cited as proof to whom this was (Mark 6:3)? There are also Scriptures that point to Jude’s unbelief in Christ like John 7:5. These are all important not only in pointing to lineage and authorship, but that God redeemed him (Acts 1:14) from his unbelief and why he is so passionate to contend for the faith. How can we understand the book if we don’t understand the man’s roots?

In the section of the book that covered Jude 1-2 I was perplexed as to why there was teaching about how the ancients wrote letters. The book displayed a letter from a Roman soldier named Apion and wanted the reader to compare them to Paul’s greetings in Ephesians 1:1-2, 1 Corinthians 1:1-3, and John’s greeting in Revelation 1:4-5. It struck me more as a filler to take up space rather than to help the reader to understand what this letter means.

In verse 3, Ms. Perry does not define the Greek word for “contend earnestly” (ἐπαγωνίζομαι – epagonizomai), but she does speak to one aspect of its usage which was regarding a struggle in athletic contests. Fighting to win the wreath. Indeed, the people of this time would be familiar with the Olympic games and the struggle to win, but that is not how Jude is using this word. Epagonizomai” combines the preposition “epi” meaning, “focused on” and “agon” which means “a contest”. In Greek, a preposition intensifies the meaning of the word to show the ferocity of the fight. In this case, Jude is using it figuratively for military combat. A fight in which your very life hangs in the balance and you must fight until the last breath. This is your enemy, not a competitor. You shake hands after a contest with a competitor. In battle, your enemy will gloat over your dead body because he seeks your destruction. Such are false teachers. They seek your destruction. The term is in the present tense which indicates that challenging false teachers is a constant. The Christian is to do this until he breathes his last.

Jude 3 is the cornerstone of the epistle. If you incorrectly interpret this verse, then the meaning of the rest of the book will crumble to the ground. Ms. Perry misses the militaristic intent. This term would indeed be recognized by the hearer in the context of Rome and its gladiators who would “epagonizomai”. This misunderstanding might be why Ms. Perry has associated with apostates like Jenn Johnson. She doesn’t see them as a threat to her or Christ. If you don’t see your enemy as a threat he is going to lure you in and destroy you.

To further show where Ms. Perry misses the mark on this verse, she rightly posits in the accompanying teaching video (#2) that those who contend with hatred in their hearts are wrong. There are infamous discernment blogs out there that excoriate both apostate and brethren alike, attacking their character more than the error. There is no civility. She gives an example of people holding up picket signs “outside”. It struck me as a reference to the infamous Westboro Baptist Church. They certainly are filled with hatred, thus in need of redemption. Ms. Perry states, “It might be that these people have contended for the faith wrong because they have taken the imagery of contending and divorced it from love.” I believe she is referring to these people with picket signs who have hatred in their hearts and not to the church to which Jude wrote his epistle. It was hard to tell. Right after saying this she posits that because Jude called these Christians “beloved” and said “may love be multiplied to you” that Jude is telling them that they are to contend for the faith in love. She further explains, “So when he (Jude) tells them to contend for the faith, love is to be assumed as an active participant in how they do it.”

First, she is reading something into the text that is not there. This is eisegesis (reading one’s own bias into the text that is not the author’s original intent). There is no connection with Jude’s greeting regarding his love for them and love being multiplied to them that would imply that he is exhorting them to contend for the faith in love, especially with his gut punch to them in verse 3. When I first heard this it almost sounded as if she was suggesting that the recipients of this epistle were not contending for the faith in love, but as I listened to it for context a few more times I don’t believe that she was drawing this conclusion.

Regardless, the aforementioned eisegesis of Jude exhorting the church to contend for the faith in love stands. The believers in Jerusalem were passive toward sin. These Christians were allowing false teachers to be a part of the church, thereby allowing in heresy, and turning believers away to a different Christ. Jude is emphatically calling believers to arms to fight against these heretics who have sneaked in. They are going to need to start church discipline immediately because when Jude’s letter is read, they will recognize these wolves. Some of these apostates might be their friends with whom they must now have hard conversations. Relationships will be severed and hearts will be broken.

Ms. Perry didn’t really explain in depth what contending for the faith in love looks like. We certainly should contend for the faith without maligning the character of others or abusive speech. Ms. Perry didn’t distinguish the line other than hatred, cynicism, and cruelty. I was under the impression that there is no room for stern reproofs for apostates. I believe Titus 1:13 and some of Paul’s stern reproofs (See 1 Corinthians 5, 2 Corinthians 12-13, and Galatians) would not side with her. You can be loving and stern in a rebuke, especially when someone is extremely hard-hearted. Ultimately, we should care so much about others’ well being that they see our kindness and care for them, but this doesn’t negate that there might be a time when words need to be stronger in order to penetrate a heart hardened by sin.

This leads me to my next point. In terms of the depth of the study and application, I found this study to be severely lacking. The book’s subtitle is, “Contending for the Faith in Today’s Culture”, but there are no examples of modern day apostasy. Jude clearly points out the attributes of apostates. These were not taught in the teaching video, but the book did scratch the surface of some of these attributes. Many of the study questions asked, “What do you think…?” instead of “What does the text mean?” The “What do you think?” questions lead to subjective answers rather than objective. The line between truth and error is blurred with subjective questioning. When we read a text we want to discern what God actually means.

Here are more examples:

Regarding Jude 6 and the angels that were having sex with women and spawning a super race: “Do you think God should have judged them? Why or Why not?”

Why would you ask that question? Of course they should have been judged!

What was so surprising is that there was no application as to how this relates to identifying an apostate. The study showed the demons in the abyss as a clear judgment from God, but did not relate it to the coming judgment of apostates who are like these demons. The book and teaching didn’t make the correlation that these demons went outside of God’s sexual boundaries that he established in Genesis 2:24. One of the easiest things to discern is that apostates live to go outside the boundaries that God sets with His Law. In this case, and in the case of Sodom, Jude is showing that apostates are the foremost of the sexually immoral. Where there is a sex scandal in the church, you will find an apostate. They will break every one of God’s sexual boundaries, whether heterosexual sex outside of marriage, homosexuality, polyamory, pedophilia, incest, rape, etc. Sexual sin is a judgment from God, but that is never discussed, nor pointing out that men and women in the church venturing outside of God’s sexual boundaries are most likely unregenerate.

Regarding Jude 8 when Jude refers to apostates as dreamers, Ms. Perry gives the transliterated word “enupniazomai”, but doesn’t define it. Why would you give the Greek word that Jude uses and no definition? It means “in a dream state/in a dream while asleep.” Jude is obviously using this term figuratively to denote that apostates are daydreamers. They daydream about sex, money, fame, luxury, and even revenge. Daydreams are a form of self-exaltation. Apostates will go to whatever end to get these things that they lust after; thus they defile their flesh. False teachers do declare divine revelation through dreams, but that is not what they are doing here because these dreams that Jude speaks of lead them to defile their flesh.

Regarding Jude 12-13, questions were asked like:

“What four elements of nature did Jude use to describe the ungodly teachers?” Questions like this will not aid the reader in understanding what Jude means when he says apostates are “autumn trees without fruit, doubly dead, uprooted;”.

There are many more examples that I could give, but it is not necessary. I don’t believe this study will thoroughly equip you for battle against apostates, not all of which are infamous false teachers like Steven Furtick or TD Jakes. Many are small town church pastors or congregants in our own churches that are either dormant or actively working to lead people away from God. They are regular church attenders like you and me.

With this study we can judge a book by its cover. It is not that the study is heresy, rather it barely scratches the surface of a potent book. I can only speculate as to why Ms. Perry after teaching a study on Jude would associate with those who meet all the criteria Jude gives for apostasy. This epistle should aid in our discernment of counterfeit Christians. If it doesn’t, then we are not heeding the necessity with which Jude wrote this book and commands us to contend earnestly for the faith until we are called home.


Thomas Coutouzis is the author of Agonizing For The Faith: A Biblical Exposition of Jude as well as an epic fantasy series that is partial allegory called Athanasia (The Great Insurrection (part 1) and The Unknown Lands (part 2)). Thomas resides in North Carolina with his wife and two children, is an expositional Bible teacher at his church. He welcomes you to follow him on Twitter.


Book Giveaway: Thomas would like to bless two readers with a copy of his book Agonizing For The Faith: A Biblical Exposition of Jude. To enter the giveaway, drop Thomas an e-mail at thomascoutouzis@gmail.com before 11:59 p.m., Friday, April 24 and let him know something you liked or learned from his review of Jackie Hill-Perry’s book. Thomas will choose the winners and notify them by e-mail.

Book Reviews

Guest Post: A Review of “Before the Throne”

If your theology pretty much matches up with mine (as outlined in the “Welcome” and “Statement of Faith” tabs) and you’d like to contribute a guest post, drop me an e-mail at MichelleLesley1@yahoo.com,
and let’s chat about it.

A Review of Allen S. Nelson IV’s
Before the Throne
by Melissa Googe

Each day, I become increasingly grieved by our world. We are surrounded by conflict over issues that, if we were to abide by Scripture, would be quickly settled. How can those saved by God’s grace be so divided over the answers to today’s controversies?

As a long-time Christian and the wife of a pastor, I am blessed to have spent many years in my faith. I grew up in a Christian home. I have many Christian friends. I teach in a public school system where our motto is JOY (Jesus, Others, Yourself). I am surrounded by Christians, yet I find myself so frustrated with family members, friends, or colleagues that I strongly consider unfollowing them on social media or want to avoid being around them.

Sadly, there is a movement among Christians to “modernize” our faith to make it more “relevant.” To accomplish this, churches have adopted popular worldly ideas instead of expecting the lost to embrace Biblical views upon salvation. In Nelson’s preface, when I was beginning to know that I had found a kindred soul, he wrote that the answer to the church’s compulsion to be relevant is “to look downward so as to look upward.” He continued on to say that “the church that looks long into the face of God in Scripture will find that the question for “relevancy” is no longer all that relevant.” (2)

Oversimplification of all that is involved in living a Christian life and reaching others for Christ has led to churches full of lost people who falsely believe they are saved. How do we know this? Just take an honest look around. Many who claim to be Christians today actually hold to a form of “practical atheism.” (19) Nelson describes a practical atheist as one who “acknowledges the existence of God in his or her mind but lives as though He either doesn’t exist, or that He actually doesn’t care how we live or how He is to be worshiped.” Wow! This description really brings some people to mind, doesn’t it?

I sat down with Nelson’s Before the Throne: Reflections on God’s Holiness with an expectation of encountering complex theology about God’s holiness that would require me to stop reading and research information to be able to make my way through the text. While God’s holiness is not a simple subject, instead of having to stop because of running into something I didn’t understand, I had to stop because I was being humbled. This book, while it is about God’s holiness, is guaranteed to cause you not only to reflect upon God’s holiness, but to realize how truly unworthy and lost we are without Him and the sacrifice of His son.

Sin. Such a small word, but what word carries more weight? Humans try to minimize sin, but there is nothing of greater cost to us as the dividing line between us and holiness of God. Acknowledging God but then living as though He doesn’t exist, as though He doesn’t care how we live, or as though He doesn’t care about how we worship Him is completely sinful. If we are honest, no one reading this would dare to claim to have never sinned in such a way. Like Paul said in Romans 7: 15, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.”

Nelson’s Before the Throne helps readers understand what holiness is, how God and holiness are synonymous, and what referring to God’s holiness really means. While God’s holiness is anything but simple, Nelson has done an exemplary job of detailed explanations and examples of God’s undoubtable, unspeakable, untamable, unblemishable, unmatchable, unquestionable, uncontainable, unchangeable, unapproachable, uncompromising, unborable, and unquenchable holiness.

I will not attempt to touch upon each of Nelson’s points; read his book and find for yourself the “excitement, woe, conviction, awe, and gladness” of God’s holiness that Nelson shares with readers! (1) Instead, I will share how reading Nelson’s book helped me to immediately recognize God’s holiness in action. God’s holiness isn’t something that we should only think about during the preaching hour on Sunday; we should spend time each day “intentionally contemplating the holiness of God.” (209) I propose that reading Nelson’s book will help to clarify attributes of God’s holiness that are described and present in His Word, and you will then be able to apply your improved understanding of God’s holiness to life’s many different circumstances.

Last week, our small, rural county lost a pillar of our community. I could never put into words what he meant to many in the area, as he, the owner of the only funeral home in the county, was the one who ministered to us when we lost family members and friends. One response to his passing on social media was to share an excerpt from The Shack by William P. Young. In this excerpt, “the Lord” states, “…because I work incredible good out of unspeakable tragedies doesn’t mean I orchestrate the tragedies. Don’t ever assume that my using something means I caused it or that I needed it to accomplish my purposes.” I know this was shared with the intention of comforting those grieving, but exactly how is reading about how the Lord has nothing to do with “unspeakable tragedies” going to comfort the bereaved?

I am sure we have all experienced the deep grief that comes with the passing of a loved one. Four years ago, my best friend’s battle with cancer ended. I believe He has a plan. I believe in God’s holiness. Yet it is hard to hold onto those truths in such times. Today, I could still allow myself to be drawn into the heartbreak of losing Katherine’s tangible presence, of missing our laughter, of seeing her children grow up without her. Instead, I choose, and let us all choose, to be comforted by these truths about God’s unquestionable holiness. “We don’t judge events and conditions and then question whether God was holy in His actions. Rather, we begin with the premise that God is holy and then we filter all these through this truth – even the events and circumstances we cannot fully explain.” (102) “For today, we only know in part, but part of what we do know is that all God decides, decrees, and demands is holy.” (103)

Yesterday, a friend shared a Steven Furtick video from Elevation Church dated April 4th in which Furtick seeks to illustrate God’s grace between the gaps of where you have been and where He is taking you. However, Furtick’s illustration shows that in walking with God, “When you take a step, when you make a move, God moves too.” According to Furtick, God will not let you reach Him because you would become arrogant; “So what God is gonna do, God is going to make sure that as you grow, the gap stays.” Essentially, Furtick’s illustration teaches that you can strive to live a holy and obedient life, but you will never grow any closer to God.

I am thankful for God’s unchangeable holiness and for His unapproachable holiness. Nelson cites A.W. Tozer who wrote, “For He, being unchanging and unchangeable, can never become holier than He is.” (132) God is not going to become any holier, so He is not going to continuously move away from us. As Nelson states, “The fact that God is unchanging is unquestionable upon any honest reading of the Scriptures,” and he references verses from James, Malachi, and Hebrews. (132-33)

Furtick’s illustration missed the mark. It communicated that you can walk in God’s grace, and you can grow from where you were, but you are not ever going to be able to reach God. The people in Furtick’s church cheered his message. Dear Christian brothers and sisters, this is a perfect example of why we need to know His Word, of why we need to be able to recognize false teachings, and of why we need a much better grasp of His holiness. “Grace doesn’t minimize our sin. It exposes it for what it really is and then covers it with the blood of Jesus.” (158) Christians should desire sanctification (an important word missing from Furtick’s illustration), at the same time knowing that “In and of ourselves, we cannot approach the God of unapproachable holiness. But the son can. And in Him, we can draw near to God.” (157) Praise be to God!

As a Language Arts teacher, I speak often of the vast number of words we have that fall short in the most important moments of life. Sometimes all we can do to express our meaning is to repeat our words. I leave you with a note from Nelson on God’s unquestionable holiness. “Language buckles under the pressure to satisfactorily describe God. The threefold repetition of holy is the best our words can do to show that God is holy to the maximum.” (100) There is nothing of any greater importance than God’s holiness, and no better example of when one word alone is not enough. May Before the Throne deepen your understanding of God’s holiness and leads you to desire to know His Word and our holy, holy, holy God evermore.


Allen “Cuatro” Nelson, IV, author of Before the Throne, is the pastor of Perryville Second Baptist Church in Perryville, Arkansas. Contact Allen directly via Twitter to order Before the Throne or his first book, From Death to Life. You can also order from Amazon.

Melissa Googe came to know Christ at a young age and is thankful for each day she has had to spend with Him. Being raised in a Christian home, being the wife of a pastor, and being the mother of three are just a few of the other blessings God has given her. Melissa’s primary ministry has been to serve as a middle school teacher for eighteen years in public schools. She enjoys sharing her love of reading with students and friends and fulfilling the call to minister to others.


ALTHOUGH I DO MY BEST TO THOROUGHLY VET THE THEOLOGY OF THOSE WHO SUBMIT GUEST POSTS, IT IS ALWAYS POSSIBLE FOR THINGS TO SLIP THROUGH THE CRACKS. PLEASE MAKE SURE ANYONE YOU FOLLOW, INCLUDING ME, RIGHTLY AND FAITHFULLY HANDLES GOD’S WORD AND HOLDS TO SOUND BIBLICAL DOCTRINE
Book Reviews, Guest Posts, Salvation

Guest Post: A Review of “From Death to Life: How Salvation Works”

If your theology pretty much matches up with mine (as outlined in the “Welcome” and “Statement of Faith” tabs) and you’d like to contribute a guest post, drop me an e-mail at MichelleLesley1@yahoo.com,
and let’s chat about it.

photo credit: Stephen J. Melniszyn

A Review of Allen S. Nelson IV’s
From Death to Life: How Salvation Works
by Katy B.

The most agonizing, frustrating experience in my ministry to women is the woman who claims to be “saved” but gives no evidence of it. No interest in talking about Jesus, no interest in holiness, reading the Bible, going to church, serving God’s people. She has a salvation testimony (often dramatic and self-glorifying) that is superficial, shallow, and devoid of any real repentance for her sin. I suspect she’s a false convert. And I find it exceptionally difficult to talk to false converts.

In From Death to Life, Pastor Allen Nelson confronts the disaster of false conversions, linking them to a false understanding of salvation: what it is, what it does, and how it works. He writes, “Ask fifteen people what it takes to be saved and it’s not out of the realm of possibility that you’ll get twenty different answers.” (Loc 173

He makes the bold statement that “there is no spiritual life in many who claim to be Christians in America.(Loc 247) He calls them the “walking dead”.

How does that happen? What would cause a person to wrongly believe he or she is a Christian? He lays some of the responsibility at the feet of churches that use methods such as external manipulation, diluted gospel presentations, the altar call, and the sinner’s prayer to lead the walking dead to their false professions of faith and their false assurances of salvation. He blisters easy-believism practices that, even if well-intentioned, have done damage to churches more influenced by a fallen culture than by God’s own Word.

So how does salvation work? The author has narrowed the answer down to five main points:

1. The gospel must be proclaimed.

2. God must move.

3. The sinner must respond in faith and repentance.

4. God justifies the sinner.

5. The sinner grows in the Lord over a lifetime.

Pastor Nelson not only unpacks, but folds, hangs up, and neatly puts away each of these main points in a few short chapters. In doing so, he poses and then answers questions such as, “What is the true gospel?”, “What is biblical repentance?”, “What is saving faith?”, and “What exactly is justification?” His answers are delivered in a direct, engaging, accessible style with plenty of biblical illustrations and scriptural references. No theological dictionary needed.

The book includes “howto’s” but doesn’t read like a “howto” manual. The tone is pastoral, sometimes comfortable, sometimes convicting, but never harsh. At times, the reading felt like sitting over coffee with Pastor Nelson, asking questions about various evangelistic situations, and receiving useful advice on how to respond.

A destitute woman in a homeless shelter, eyes pallid, needle tracks running down her arms, naturally incites my heart instinct to put my arms around her, tell her Jesus loves her, and give her some money. But Pastor Nelson reminds us:

“People need to hear more than “Jesus loves you,” What they need to hear today is what they’ve always needed: to know that they are sinners, that they need a Savior, that Jesus is that Savior, and until and unless they come to Him in faith, they will justly spend an eternity facing the punishment of their sins.” (Loc 2413)

He points out that it is vital that we all (not just the “trained professionals”) know what to say when the time comes to share the gospel of Christ. And while there is no formula, it is essential that the facts of the gospel are understood. The book helpfully guides the reader in a biblical understanding of how salvation happens and presents realistic examples of responses that can be used with unbelievers/false converts in evangelistic conversations.

The chapter “Plant, Water, Trust God, Repeat” is a compelling warning to stick to a biblical approach to evangelizing the lost. (Throughout the book he gives examples of unbiblical approaches.) In this encouraging chapter, he discusses applying how salvation works in real life scenarios, acknowledging that it is not always easy. He doesn’t present himself as a superhero evangelist.

This is a serious book, but the author can also be funny. I got a laugh out of his response to the command to “ask Jesus into your heart”. His tone, however, is utterly serious when discussing repentance:

“God doesn’t beg people to repent so they can be the star player on His team. He demands repentance. He owes mankind nothing. What a fearful and insolent game we play by making repentance an optional feature to becoming a Christian, refusing to properly define it in hopes of sneaking people into the kingdom, or by flat out dismissing it altogether.” (Loc 1164)

He spends a good bit of time parked on repentance, emphasizing that biblical repentance is necessary for any person to become a Christian. He asserts, “Remorse does not equal repentance” and goes on to give what he calls the bare necessities of repentance.

Is it possible to know if a person has actually been converted? In the chapter on sanctification, the author acknowledges that while we can’t see the heart, we can use the discernment God gives us to see evidence of true conversion. He provides a practical alliteration method to assist in discerning whether or not the gospel has actually taken root in a person’s heart and the changes we would expect to see in a truly converted person.

He warns the church against haphazardly affirming people as Christians without exercising grace-filled discernment:

“Often, we claim that the problem in our churches is that too many people are immature believers when the real problem is that many we call immature, actually have no life in Christ at all. They aren’t growing because they aren’t living.” (Loc 1878)

The sanctification chapter, my favorite, thrust me to a fresh examination of my own life using his alliteration template. What evidence of salvation would others see in me? What would they discern as my motivation for life? There is plenty of self-application for the reader.

The book has three appendices. Appendix 1: The Sinner’s Prayer, Appendix 2: Acts 2 is Not an Altar Call, Appendix 3: Putting “Baptist” Back in Your Church. In these appendices, the author makes some “say whaaaat?!? observations that will rock your world if your church endorses these practices.

This is a short book. Although the print version is only 200 pages, there is nothing shallow about the content. The reader will step into a deep pool. Did I know how salvation works before I read the book? Yes. Have I been guilty of using unbiblical methods to try to bring about a conversion? Yes. I finished the book with an unanticipated, heart wrenching reorientation to the gospel as the power of God unto salvation. I bet I’m not the only reader who closed the book and repented.

I began by saying I find it exceptionally difficult to talk to false converts. What do you say to someone who believes she is saved when it is clear that she is not? Pastor Nelson is immeasurably supportive in reinforcing that “we must proclaim the gospel. Without it, people will go to hell. It’s as simple as that.” (Loc 441)

The book left me feeling hopeful, energized, looking forward to my next evangelistic encounter. God saves sinners. God saves sinners. And he uses sinners like me to do so.

Pastor Nelson writes, “Every single one of us is charged with sharing the gospel with those God providentially places in our life.” What a calling, what a staggering privilege. God could sovereignly call His own to Himself without us, but He has chosen to work through us. This book will certainly help us in our evangelism. I recommend it for everyone.

¹Katy reviewed the Kindle edition of the book and used Kindle location numbers rather than page numbers.


Allen “Cuatro” Nelson, IV, author of From Death to Life, is the pastor of Perryville Second Baptist Church in Perryville, Arkansas, and co-host of The Rural Church Podcast. Contact Him directly via Twitter to receive a free study guide with your order of From Death to Life or a discount on bulk orders. You can also order from Amazon.

Katy can’t remember when she became a Christian but is assured that, by the grace of God alone, she is a Christian. She ministers to women in her OPC church, in homeless shelters, in a prison, and sometimes at the grocery store. She is an executive with a United States health care corporation and enjoys her work, although she would rather be reading. You can find Katy on Twitter at @KatyvonBora.

ALTHOUGH I DO MY BEST TO THOROUGHLY VET THE THEOLOGY OF THOSE WHO SUBMIT GUEST POSTS, IT IS ALWAYS POSSIBLE FOR THINGS TO SLIP THROUGH THE CRACKS. PLEASE MAKE SURE ANYONE YOU FOLLOW, INCLUDING ME, RIGHTLY AND FAITHFULLY HANDLES GOD’S WORD AND HOLDS TO SOUND BIBLICAL DOCTRINE.