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.