Rolfing Unshelved

Books, news, and events from TIU's Rolfing Library


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Graham Cole on Christianity and Contemporary Sexualities: A Table Talk Prelude

On Wednesday, October 21st at noon, our very own Dr. Graham Cole will be facilitating a Table Talk discussion on homosexuality and the Bible and Christianity.

On Tuesday Cole delivered a “Dean’s Hour” lecture entitled “Following Christ in a LGBTIQQAAP’s World.” In many ways, this talk served as an introduction to the conversation that will continue at the Table Talk on October 21st.

In this post I’d like to relay some of the key points of this recent talk as a way to stimulate your thinking and prepare you for further conversation at our Table Talk.



First, Dr. Cole addressed the context in which we engage these matters.

(A) For many of us, these matters are extremely personal. Either we experience same-sex attraction ourselves or we know others–friends, family members–who do. We cannot engage this issue as a purely theoretical one.

(B) Furthermore, we engage this issue in a drastically changing culture, a culture of which the fast-past political changes are symptomatic. We live in a world in which these matters are cast as civil rights issues and opposition to them is addressed with a shaming rhetoric and ostracizing actions.

(C) And, finally, whereas in past times we may have engaged homosexuality and lesbianism, now we are aware of other identifiers and expressions of sexuality (and gender) such as the transgendered, bisexual, asexual, pansexual, etc.

(D) We are living in an ever-changing world. And this ever-changing world brings us to thinking about recent government decisions such as Obergefell. We are now also living in an ever-changing legal world where concerns arise over losing tax-exempt status and preserving religious liberty. But the political climate is such that even individuals such as queers opposed to marriage equality are silenced.

How does all of this effect the church? Cole supports Russell Moore’s statement that such changes in our culture may be “bad for America, but it’s good for the church.” These changes will likely result in the demise of ‘folk evangelicalism,’ in which ‘cultural Christianity’ thrives, and the rise of a church that is clearly distinguished from its society. That is a good thing, as bad as it may be for our society.

Cole noted that recent Supreme Court decisions raise questions regarding religious liberty. For many in our culture, religious liberty is shrunk down to worship. Noteworthy is the failure to consider religious practice, i.e., living Christianity outside of the home and church walls such as in the public square, as under the cover of religious liberty. Cole stated provocatively, Christians are essentially forced to practice atheism in the public square.

Cole argued that our Bibliology–our view of the Bible–ultimately must flow out of Christology, specifically how Christ viewed scripture. Scripture is the authority for what we ought to believe. And when we look at the key Biblical texts on same-sex sexual behavior, a rather consistently negative picture emerges. “There’s not a positive text of scripture on this subject,” Cole said.

However, as evangelicals, although we are often quick to stress the negative strands of scripture on these topics, we too often fail to emphasize the positive and beautiful strands of Biblical teaching on gender, sexuality, and marriage. Taking Christ seriously, we must take this testimony of scripture seriously as well.

But we must do more than merely hold to scripture with conviction. We must act wisely as we engage the church and society.

In our overly sexualized culture, “sex has replaced the soul”; and many things that are not inherently sexual are often times tied up with a sexual identity and orientation. As Christians, we need to practice discernment in order to sort out these cultural associations and clustered-attachments.

“God is not as interested in our happiness as in our holiness,” Cole stated, loosely citing C.S. Lewis. If we are going to be a people that “holds the line” on these issues, we need to become a community in which such convictions make sense, a community that strives after holiness no matter what the issue.

But, not only are we to be holy, we are to be loving. We are not out to offend. We are not to go out of our way to offend. Yet, at the end of the day, we can’t control whether or not people take offense. People will take offense. And following Christ in this world may mean facing shaming rhetoric. But, as much as we are able, we ought to be characterized by “convictional civility.”

In summary, Cole argued that the central issue at stake in the Christian relation to these controversial matters is loyalty. It all boils down to loyalty. Bearing the name “Christian” is a statement of our fundamental, primary loyalty–loyalty to Christ. If we believe in Christ, if we follow Christ, and if we come to grips with his view on scripture and scripture’s take on this topic, we will remain convictional on these matters. And being convictional, and facing all that means in our society (e.g., marginalization, shaming rhetoric, etc.), we would do well to re-read and give more attention to those parts of scripture that speak of the normal place of the Christian in society–marginalized, persecuted, etc.

As Cole closed he said, “Friends, the Dean’s Hour is over; but Table Talk is coming.” Certainly it is!

I hope you benefited from this summary of the key points from Dr. Cole’s lecture. And I hope you are able to attend our Table Talk Wednesday, October 21st at noon.


* This Dean’s Hour was video recorded. So if you are interested, you should be able to track that video down eventually.

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The New Perspective on Paul: We’re Down with NPP

NewPerspectivesPaulComing up next week, Dr. Constantine Campbell will be leading this month’s Table Talk on the New Perspective on Paul (NPP). Now, if you study theology at Trinity or have come anywhere near Dr. Carson, you’re probably already pretty familiar with this school of thought. However, for those of you who may like an introduction (or a refresher), I’ll do my best in this blog post to get you up to speed with the major concepts. Now, let me state right off the bat, this is going to be an extremely quick and dirty analysis. As anyone who’s studied the issue can attest, it’s a gnarly one to try and wrap your head around — for two main reasons. First, it proposes a fundamentally different understanding of Christian faith and practice than the one most Protestants have espoused for half a millennium. Second, not even its three main proponents (E.P. Sanders, J.D.G. Dunn, and N.T. Wright — what is it with theologians and abbreviated first names?) totally agree with each other on how these ideas play out. But I get ahead of myself.

In order to understand this “New Perspective” on Paul’s theology, we first have to know what “Old Perspective” is being critiqued. And so, in good Protestant fashion, we turn to Martin Luther. In the early 16th century, “Uncle Marty” (as I like to call him) was battling the Spirit-crushing legalism of the late medieval Roman Catholic church — so that’s what he saw when he encountered Paul’s description of the Jewish “law” in the opening chapters of Romans. And for the most part, ensuing generations of Protestants have followed in his footsteps: pre-Jesus Judaism was largely understood to have been a legally-oriented system, in which salvation was based on an individual’s ability to follow the terms of the agreement God made with Abraham and his descendants.

Starting in the last quarter of the 20th century, however, the ocean liner (granted, some may consider it the Titanic) of Protestant scholarship on Paul began to change course. In 1977, E.P. Sanders published Paul and Palestinian Judaism, in which he argued that the Judaism that Paul knew was actually a religion founded on grace. In the book, he coined the term covenantal nomism to describe how Jewish law worked: according to Sanders, it’s “the view that one’s place in God’s plan is established on the basis of the covenant and that the covenant requires as the proper response of man his obedience to its commandments, while providing means of atonement for transgression…. Obedience maintains one’s position in the covenant, but it does not earn God’s grace as such…. Righteousness in Judaism is a term which implies the maintenance of status among the group of the elect” (p. 75ff). In other words, according to covenantal nomism, people’s acceptance into God’s covenant is entirely God’s call — but staying within the covenant is theirs. Keeping the law is about covenant faithfulness, not legalism; it’s about responding to the grace and glory of God and demonstrating God’s grace and glory to the world. However, according to James D.G. Dunn, another of the leading NPP scholars (and, incidentally, the one who came up with the term “New Perspective on Paul”), what Jews had done between the times of Father Abraham and Apostle Paul was to take these “covenantal boundary markers” and turn them into “nationalistic boundary markers” that differentiated and excluded non-Jews (i.e., Gentiles) from sharing in God’s promises. Thus, Sanders asserts that what Paul was really arguing against when he railed at the “works of the law” in writings like Romans were those Jewish cultural/religious practices (like circumcision or food prohibitions) that served to keep the rest of the world at arm’s length, and not the Jewish legal system itself.

Enter N.T. Wright onto the scene. Of the three big names in NPP, he’s the widest read (especially among evangelicals), and has taken Sanders’ and Dunn’s work in new — and different — directions. Key to Wright’s take on the NPP is a revised understanding of the concept of justification. Rather than putting it at the center of Paul’s thought, as most Protestants have done, Wright views justification a result of covenant relationship with God. In other words, for Wright (and, Wright would argue, for Paul) justification isn’t what gets believers into salvation — it’s simply a marker of membership in the covenant community, within which salvation is found.

Probably one of Wright’s best-known arguments about justification centers on a phrase that has had theologians scratching their respective heads for nigh on 2,000 years: the righteousness of God. Now, if you’ve ever studied grammar, or if you’re a word nut like me, you’ll know that this is an example of the genitive case — a piling of one noun on top of another that can have a variety of meanings. (For example: “a can of Coke” means something different than “a friend of mine,” and they’re both different from “the group of students.”) The problem is, Paul didn’t give the Roman church a handy footnote to tell them which meaning he intended when he used this particular word construction — so today we’re more or less left guessing. From Luther until the NPPers got started, the predominant view has been that this “righteousness” referred to a characteristic of God that becomes ours (theologians use the word imputed) when we become believers. However, Wright argues that God’s “righteousness” and our “righteousness” are two different things, and can be understood best in a courtroom context. Wright asserts that God’s righteousness is measured by His proper judgments, our righteousness comes from the fact that we’re declared not guilty — and the only way those two can be reconciled is through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

OK. At this point, you now know just enough about NPP to be dangerous. I’ve barely scratched the surface, and I haven’t even gone near the various critiques of the movement. (I’ll try to cobble together another post later on this week addressing those issues, if I have enough time.) But if you’re fired up, or confused, or curious –or just a fan of Dr. Campbell –I encourage you to bring your lunch and join us next Monday at noon for what promises to be a rousing discussion!

*(Bonus points if you got the joke in the title. Yes, I’m a geek, and I’m proud of it.)


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Jonathan Edwards: A (Very) Brief Introduction to “America’s Theologian”

Jonathan EdwardsOn April 23, a guy named John Piper is coming to Trinity to talk about another guy named Jonathan Edwards. You may have seen one or two flyers hanging up about it.

In all seriousness, though, this is a great opportunity to learn about one of the most formative theological influences on America from one of today’s most well-known evangelical theologians. But in order to make the most of this opportunity, it might help to have a little background information on who Jonathan Edwards was and what he did. If you’re already familiar with him, this can help refresh your memory in time for the talk — and if you’re not, this saves you the awkwardness of having to ask.

Jonathan Edwards was born in East Windsor, Connecticut on October 5, 1703, the son and grandson (on his mother’s side) of New England ministers, and the only son of eleven children. Always an eager learner, Edwards entered Yale University in 1716 (yes — if you do the math, that means he was 13) and graduated as class valedictorian four years later. At school he dove into studies of philosophy, natural sciences, psychology, and theology, seeking to intertwine them into a comprehensive view of reality called metaphysics. Rather than allowing the “secular sciences” to pull him away from God (as many of his counterparts did), Edwards saw the study of the universe as providing further evidence of God’s master plan.

Fast forward about a decade: in 1727 he was ordained in Northampton, Massachusetts, as an assistant pastor to his grandfather Rev. Solomon Stoddard, and married Sarah Pierpont (incidentally, the daughter of Yale University’s founder). Two years later, he became senior pastor in Northampton when his grandfather died. He dove headfirst into the role, especially when it came to his preaching. He, like many other “young upstart” preachers of the time, firmly believed that for sermons to have the most effect on listeners, they needed to incorporate emotional content as well as intellectual — in other words, they needed to touch the heart as well as the mind. Perhaps the best-known example of his homiletic style is his 1741 sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” in which (among other images) he likens humans to spiders dangling by the thinnest thread over the fires of hell.

But I get ahead of myself. During the winter of 1734-1735, Edwards’ work with the young adults of the Northampton church sparked a revival that quickly spread to surrounding New England towns. By 1735 the fervor had died down and Edwards had gained a few critics, but in 1741 the fire was rekindled when he teamed up with George Whitefield, an English Anglican preacher who gained the nickname “The Grand Itinerant” from his numerous trips throughout the American colonies. (The nickname was well deserved: in one year’s time, Whitefield traveled more than 5,000 miles on horseback, preached over 350 times, and was personally seen by over one quarter of the colonial population of the time. Many scholars argue that he was the first American celebrity.) This time, the revival wasn’t just a local phenomenon; not only did revival sweep from Georgia to Maine, but it kicked off a spiritual revitalization back in England and other Protestant European countries, as well.

This movement, which came to be known as the First Great Awakening, dramatically transformed the way that Protestant Christian faith was and is understood and practiced. Until this point, religious involvement was largely considered to be a passive event; people would come to church, sit in the pew, and quietly listen to passionless, intellectual discourse (which would typically have little to no bearing on how they lived their lives the other six days of the week). Now, with these “new light” preachers inviting and encouraging them to take the messages of the Bible to heart, lay men and women began reading and discussing their Bibles at home and realizing that it had something to say to them when and where they were.

Evangelists during the Great Awakening emphasized personal spiritual conversion by God’s grace, rather than mere religious participation in the institutional church, as the defining mark of a true Christian. (Take a look at George Whitefield’s sermon “On Regeneration” if you’re interested in seeing how this theology is laid out.) This personal experience of faith led to a deeper understanding and appreciation of the role each individual person has to play in the life of the family, the community, and even the nation; while American history textbooks often say that the “democratic ideals” held by the Founding Fathers came from ancient Greece, these ideals were largely ushered in by the messages of individual responsibility and agency through God’s saving grace that were preached and received during the Great Awakening.

At this point in my blog entry I’ve just about hit my word limit, but I’ve barely scratched the surface of the fascinating story and powerful impact of Jonathan Edwards. Hopefully, though, I’ve whetted your appetite and you’d like to learn more. I encourage you to attend Dr. Piper’s April 23rd talks (at 11:00 and 1:00, both at ATO Chapel) — but you can also check out the following library resources:

Print Books:
Selected Writings of Jonathan Edwards prince Jonathan Edwards and the American Experience Formed for the Glory of God The Theology of Jonathan Edwards

E-Books:
God is a Communicative Being Jonathan Edwards and Justification by Faith The Excellency of Christ Jonathan Edwards' Theology Jonathan Edwards on Justification

See you in ATO on April 23rd!

Sources:

“Jonathan Edwards: Biography.” Available online at http://edwards.yale.edu/research/about-edwards/biography.

“People & Ideas: George Whitefield.” Available online at http://www.pbs.org/godinamerica/people/george-whitefield.html.

“People & Ideas: Jonathan Edwards.” Available online at http://www.pbs.org/godinamerica/people/jonathan-edwards.html.

Piper, John. “A God-Entranced Vision of All Things: Why We Need Jonathan Edwards 300 Years Later.” Available online at http://www.desiringgod.org/conference-messages/a-god-entranced-vision-of-all-things-why-we-need-jonathan-edwards-300-years-later.

Piper, John. “The Pastor as Theologian: Life and Ministry of Jonathan Edwards.” Available online at http://www.desiringgod.org/biographies/the-pastor-as-theologian.


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Book Review: The Suffering and Victorious Christ

Does American Christology suffer from cultural blinders?

I would imagine that there are a number of character-images of Jesus and theological perspectives that are informed by the multitude of cultural contexts that are present in America. Is this wrong? Are we short-handed by it? Are there deficiencies in our views which ought to be examined for a possibly better construction? I think that these are valid questions to be asking; some of our prominent evangelical thinkers have posed their own questions and have produced this impressive work as a result.

Brandon O’Brien wrote in a recent Christianity Today book review that “[m]ost Americans… like our Jesus triumphant and our Christianity muscular.” In the book he’s reviewing, The Suffering and Victorious Christ: Toward a More Compassionate Christology, Richard Mouw and our own Douglas Sweeney address this deficiency in American Christology. As O’Brien explains, the prevailing issue is how “we struggle to express how Christ stands in solidarity with the destitute, diseased, and disenfranchised because we fixate on the glorified Lord and forget the suffering Savior.”

Book PreviewO’Brien explains how the authors mine through their own traditions of Lutheranism and Calvinism, as well as a spectrum of minority 19th-century theological traditions, in search of a more compassionate Christology. He points out that Mouw and Sweeney model how to give a faithful critique of one’s own tradition, and still they identify where there are limits. Humble and constructive methods of critique allow for the sharing of certain strengths — found among Japanese and African-American Christian traditions — that rightly inform mainstream American Christology to be more compassionate.

There is no doubt that this is an academic volume, with its complex themes and scholastic vernacular. However, O’Brien states that this is the best kind of academic book because it deals with issues that are relevant and important to Christians outside of the academy. If you’re looking for a recent work that engages contemporary Christology critically and constructively, then I would encourage you to check this one out.

Editor’s Note: Two more copies of The Suffering and Victorious Christ will hit Rolfing’s shelves soon!


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CS Lewis: Beyond the Wardrobe

lewis_time

CS Lewis on the cover of Time Magazine
Sept. 8, 1947

At the end of this month, we’ll be commemorating the 50th anniversary of the death of a man who, I’m willing to argue, had a more substantial role in the shaping of Western Christianity in the 20th century than any other writer: Clive Staples (CS) Lewis.

For many Christians, myself included, tales of a giant tawny lion and the children who accompany him through his many adventures have captured a special place in our minds and hearts. On many an occasion, I’ve found myself fighting imaginary battles alongside the heroic mouse Reepicheep or plodding through the (melting!) snow with the stalwart Beavers. And I’m not alone — Aslan and his friends have helped millions of people, both young in age and young at heart, get to know in a new and creative way the God who loves them enough to send His son to die for them.

But what many readers may not know is that “Jack,” as his friends knew him, was much more prolific in publishing and wider in reach than merely these seven Chronicles of Narnia. Case in point: if you run a simple author search on “CS Lewis” in TrinCat, you’ll come up with over 100 results. So, what are these books? Of course, I’m not going to list them all here — I would like to keep from running off the blog fans we currently have — but I’ll give you a general idea of the kinds of genres he camped out in:

Fiction

  • Fantasy. No surprise here. Obviously, the Narnia books are in this category; if you like them, you may also want to check out The Great Divorce, in which Lewis describes what might just happen if the inhabitants of hell were allowed to take a field trip up beyond the pearly gates.
  • Science Fiction. Lewis’ Space Trilogy details the exploits of Elwin Ransom, an earthling philologist (language scholar), as he travels to various planets in our solar system. Perelandra, the second book in the series, is arguably the best — it’s a masterful retelling of the biblical Garden of Eden account.
  • Allegorical/Theological. Never one to separate his faith from his creativity, Lewis also wrote fiction with a decidedly “Christian Development” flavor. Notable among these are The Pilgrim’s Regress (a new spin on John Bunyan’s classic describing his own faith journey) and The Screwtape Letters (the correspondence of a high-ranking demon to his rookie nephew, who has just taken on a new “patient”).

Non-Fiction

  • Theology. Although Lewis claimed to be an “avowed atheist” at age 15, his conversion later in life led to arguably some of the most anointed writing on the person and character of God produced in the 20th century. One of his best-known works in this area is God in the Dock, a series of essays in which he argues that rather than be judged by God as we ought (the “dock” is where a British defendant stands in the courtroom), we all too often put God there and cross-examine Him ourselves.
  • Apologetics. As a celebrated orator and educator (he taught literature at the University of Cambridge), Lewis definitely knew how to make an argument. His mastery in defending the faith simply and compellingly is probably the biggest key to his huge influence. And it’s in this area that you can find the book that, if you read no other work of his in your life, you have to read: Mere Christianity. Within these pages Lewis takes a series of radio talks he gave across BBC Radio during the darkest days of World War II and molds them into one of the most straightforward, down-to-earth defenses of the existence of God and the primacy of the Christian faith that you’ll ever read. And once Mere Christianity whets your appetite for Lewis’ style, you’ll want to continue by reading The Four Loves, in which he explains the different ways that we humans can love (and which way is appropriate for which circumstance).
  • Everything Else but the Kitchen Sink. I could go on and describe countless others of Lewis’ books, but you’re probably going on recommendation overload at this point. So I’ll quickly wrap up by mentioning that he wrote multiple autobiographies (Surprised by Joy is especially good), poetry anthologies, treatises on literary criticism and educational theory, studies on other authors… I think you get the picture.

So, hopefully by this point you realize that there’s more to CS Lewis than four British children stumbling through a magical wardrobe. There’s a reason why he’s one of the most celebrated authors of our time — and there’s no better way to celebrate his memory than by checking out one of his many volumes. Happy reading!


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Book Displays: Poverty Minstry

Hole in our gospelWhat is the gospel? Is it something we do? Is it something Christ does? Or maybe a combination of both?  Richard Stearns’s book, The Hole in our Gospel, has gained a lot of attention since its publication in 2009. In his book, Stearns argues that the American church has lost a piece of the gospel message. He urges Christians to look beyond their own churches and work to win the world for God’s kingdom. He challenges Christians to move from simply having a private faith to experiencing their faith in a public way, mainly through reducing poverty and caring the the sick, underprivileged, and the hurting throughout the world. Stearns delves into realms of missions, self-denial, and caring for “the least of these” in hopes of encouraging Christians to see the hole in their gospel.

His tone is gentle yet firm, and it is difficult not to feel sympathy for his cause. There is no debating that his argument is valiant and beneficial. Poverty is a crisis that needs to be addressed. Yet some argue that there is something missing from Stearns’s argument. In a review from the Christian Research Institute, author and pastor Kevin DeYoung gives three criticisms of Stearns’s book.

First, DeYoung resists Stearns’s method of turning Christians from apathy. He agrees that Christians are often apathetic to needs outside their own daily life and community, but he does not agree with Stearns’s method of motivation. Stearns asks believers to move away from valuing those in their own circles over those around the world. After all, God values all his people equally, so why don’t we? DeYoung finds this method of motivation ineffective and responsible for producing unnecessary guilt.

Second, DeYoung disagrees with Stearns’s use of economics to prove his point. These facts are no doubt motivating, but somewhat misleading as well. His use of statistics creates a dissidence regarding who is responsible for world poverty. In some places, he says that western Christians are not to blame for world poverty, and in others, his facts and statistics seem to argue the opposite.

Third, and arguably most important, is the question, What is the gospel? Stearns focuses on a gospel based on the actions of believers. DeYoung argues that this focus is a disservice to the true gospel message. Although Stearns would no doubt agree that Christ atoned for our sins so we could be reconciled with God, his book does not make it clear. When viewed as a whole, it seems Stearns’s gospel is primarily focused on something that we do.

Undoubtedly, this is an interesting read and a valuable perspective to explore. We are interested in your thoughts on this subject! Please comment below and check out our display relating to poverty ministry!

What do you believe is the balance between words and deeds associated with the gospel?

Have you read The Hole in our Gospel? What is your reaction to Stearns’s premise?


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Book Displays: Soteriology

Getting Saved: The Whole Story of Salvation in the New Testament

This month, Rolfing is highlighting resources on soteriology, the theology of salvation. In a work entitled Getting “Saved”: The Whole Story of Salvation in the New Testament, by Charles H. Talbert and Jason A. Whitlark, the authors explore what the New Testament says about salvation and what it means for believers. This collection of twelve essays by six authors focuses on the process of salvation in the context of the post-conversion experience.

The book was reviewed by John Frederick of St. Mary’s College for The Gospel Coalition. The reviewer had mainly positive things to say about the book. He recommended it as a valuable resource for Protestants and Evangelicals. The reviewer viewed the emphasis on  the inner renewal involved in the salvation process as a move in the right direction, as opposed to the sometimes lax view of inner change that plagues some evangelical circles. He also promoted the book as a great resource for people who do not agree with the authors’ premise. He suggests that people from any tradition can benefit from the results of these articles and the thoughts of the authors.

The reviewer argues that the title of the book is somewhat misleading. The title, Getting “Saved”: The Whole Story of Salvation in the New Testament, implies a comprehensive view of salvation; the process of conversion, sanctification, justification, and final salvation; past, present, and future.  The essays that make up this book mainly focus on the period after conversion, the “progressive element of salvation.”  The reviewer also felt that the booked lacked a clear declaration of the fact that salvation is only accomplished through faith in Christ alone . It is clear that the authors believe this is the way to salvation, but the reviewer counted it as a weakness that it was not stated as clearly and as often as one might hope in a book about “getting saved.”

Check out this and other valuable resources from Rolfing on our display about soteriology!

Have you read Getting “Saved”: The Whole Story of Salvation in the New Testament? What are your thoughts on the book? We want to hear your thoughts!