Category Archives: Book Reviews

Tullian Brings Reformed Gospel to TBN


The Daily Evangel: A subliminal reminder to preach the gospel to yourself every day.

I guess it had to happen someday. Turns out it did this past summer. Megachurch pastors tend to accept invitations to places where there are TV cameras, and that’s exactly what happened in this case. Tullian’s message of “radical grace” has reached the first family of the Trinity Broadcasting Network. While in many ways, this is an example of worlds colliding, I figure if Peter Lillback can accept an invitation to Glenn Beck’s TV show a few years ago with the intention of making sure the gospel is clearly communicated on his air, then why not Tullian on TBN? The world’s largest Christian television network could do a lot worse, and has built an empire on doing just that.

For those unaware, Tullian Tchividjian is the grandson of Billy Graham and the pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. He is a favorite among the New Calvinists and is notorious for his popularization of the Lutheranesque “law-gospel distinction” which is taken by many to his right, myself included, as repeating the mistakes of historic antinomianism in some of his rhetoric and in his application of the otherwise valid hermeneutic pioneered by the Protestant Reformer. Among Tullian’s influences are Steve Brown (RTS Orlando and Key Life) and the theologians associated with Modern Reformation magazine and The White Horse Inn radio show. While I believe Tullian when he says he affirms the Reformed teaching on the third use of the law , I also believe his critics when they say his rhetoric smacks too much of historic antinomianism (read about that here). Tullian’s intention is to minister to those burned by legalism, and I’m all for that, even if he may be pushing the envelope of Reformed theology further to the left than I think he should.

But I like Tullian in small doses. Few and far between. It has been a while since my last dose of Tullian, so I am prepared to have a good attitude about his appearance on TBN to promote his recent book One Way Love. Besides, it would be inconsistent of me to criticize him for accepting an invitation to speak on Word of Faith turf, since the seeds of Reformed theology were planted in my own mind when Michael Horton appeared on TBN to promote his very first book originally entitled Mission Accomplished (now Putting Amazing Back Into Grace) while still a student at the Bible Institute of Los Angeles (BIOLA). The difference between Horton’s and Tullian’s appearances is that the latter they post on YouTube, while the former they immediately erase, cancel the talk show that featured him, and have the host reassigned to a job behind the scenes. This reaction was due to the fact that Horton was a known critic of the Word of Faith heresy who would go on to edit The Agony of Deceit. My hope is that Tullian’s interview will likewise plant and water the seeds of Reformed theology and the true gospel of Christ among today’s regular TBN viewers.

While Tullian admits to being a one-sermon preacher, his message that Christ kept the law perfectly and earned eternal life for those who believe and so frees us to gratefully, though imperfectly, respond to his amazing grace with love toward our neighbors is one we need to be reminded of on a daily basis. In fact, it is this “preach the gospel to yourself daily” notion that motivated me to put “Daily Evangel” on the building in the background of my picture of Captain Headknowledge. We need the Evangel of the free grace of God in Christ every day, and may it spur us on to love and good works, though we’ll never do them as well as Jesus did them for us.


Substantive Wallace Outweighs Populist Ehrman

Wallace/Ehrman Debate Stage

Saturday night, my son, a few friends and I, attended the debate between Dr. Daniel B. Wallace of the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts (CSNTM) and Dr. Bart D. Ehrman, the best-selling rock star of unbelieving New Testament textual criticism at McFarlin Memorial Auditorium on the campus of Southern Methodist University (SMU). It was a very interesting and entertaining debate. Wallace has a much better sense of humor than the seemingly self-important Ehrman.

I’ve only got one observation about the debate. Just judging from the weightiness of each debater’s arguments, Wallace wins. Compared to Wallace’s informative presentation, Ehrman’s was much clearer, because he generally stayed on a much more simplistic level. While it’s easier to follow a simplistic presentation, it’s also easier to distort the truth in one. But you’d expect me to favor Wallace’s presentation. I agree with him on most of his defense of the New Testament.

But I won’t leave you completely without input from the debate. It turns out that the night of the debate was also the release date of Wallace’s latest book, Revisiting the Corruption of the New Testament: Manuscript, Patristic, and Apocryphal Evidence (2011, Kregel). This is a collection of academic essays by Wallace’s interns with an introductory chapter by Wallace which just happens to contain the information in Wallace’s arguments in Saturday night’s debate. I was able to purchase a pre-autographed copy, so I’ll share some of it with you.

McFarlin Memorial Auditorium

In chapter one, “Lost In Transmission: How Badly Did the Scribes Corrupt the New Testament?” Wallace discusses the number and nature of variant readings, the theological issues involved with the issue of the variants, and the essential reliability of the New Testament manuscripts. You’ll be able to read an excerpt from this chapter at the end of this post.

Chapter two is called “The Least Orthodox Reading is to be Preferred: A New Canon for New Testament Textual Criticism?” by Philip M. Miller. He discusses the historical backdrop of this seeming modern canon of textual criticism, demonstrates Ehrman’s use of this canon, then critiques it, and discusses its value and role.

In chapter three, “The Legacy of a Letter: Sabellianism or Scribal Blunder in John 1.1c?” Matthew P. Morgan presents scribal habits as a “historical lens” on theological development in the early church. He focuses on the roots and rise of Sabellianism, the reactions of the Chruch  Fathers to it. Then Morgan analyzes scribal habits in codices Regius and Freerianus, and finishes with a presentation on the grammatical viability of the textual variant in John 1.1c.

Adam G. Messer writes chapter four, “Patristic Theology and Recension in Matthew 24:36: An Evaluation of Ehrman’s Text-Critical Methodology.” According to Messer, those who discern ulterior motives in variants judged to have been purposely made by orthodox scribes, may be assuming too much. “Although any change is a deviation from the original, the difference in a clarification is that it typically better preserves the meaning and buttresses it against heretical counterfesance.”

Tim Ricchuiti has us “Tracking Thomas” in chapter five. In his chapter, Ricchuiti takes “A Text-Critical Look at the Transmission of the Gospel of Thomas.” This chapter provides the “Apocryphal Evidence” in Wallace’s subtitle. Ricchuiti’s “purpose [in this chapter is] (1) to conduct a comparison of the Greek fragments of the Gospel of Thomas to the full Coptic manuscript, (2) to assess the merit of the four manuscripts containing Thomas with respet to their originality, and (3) should the assessment yield fruit, to draw a few conclusions on the scholarly consensus regarding both the character of the Greek fragments versus the Coptic text and the amount of theological alteration present, particularly in Thomas, but more generally in noncanonical works as a whole” (page 226).

Finally, in chapter six, Brian Wright examines several New Testament texts which explicitly call Jesus “theos” or God, attempting to demonstrate that this was not a theological development, as many skeptics claim, but rather began with the first century New Testament writings.

This book looks very satisfying. Pick up a copy for yourself, if you’re inclined to this sort of reading. Now, with all of this in mind, the following is how Dr. Wallace not only introduces his book, but also his argument in the debate. With these words, he gives us sage advice.

The Debate Spectators (L-R): Victor "I love you, man!" Loredo, Mike Bangs (great last name for a barber, right?), Daniel "Deep Ellum" Garlow (nephew of notorious Dominionist, Jim Garlow, but that's another post), John Brian "J.B." Chitty (lead singer of Denton Drive--click the pic to hear his "Upbeat Thrash Punk"--he says it's positive stuff), and your humble blogger who really needs to stand in back in future group photos.

Two Attitudes to Avoid

To begin with, there are two attitudes that we should try to avoid: absolute certainty and total despair. On the one side are King James Only advocates; they are absolutely certain that the KJV, in every place, exactly represents the original text. To be frank, the quest for certainty often overshadows the quest for truth in conservative theological circles and is a temptation that we need to resist. It is fundamentally the temptation of modernism. To our shame, evangelicals have too often been more concerned to protect our presuppositions than to pursue truth at all costs.

On the other side are a few radical scholars who are so skeptical that no piece of data, no hard fact, is safe in their hands. It all turns to putty because all views are created equal. If everything is equally possible, then no view is more probable than any other view. In Starbucks and on the street, in college classrooms and on the airwaves, you can hear the line “We really don’t know what the NT originally said since we no longer possess the originals and since there could have been tremendous tampering with the text before our existing copies were produced.”

But are any biblical scholars this skeptical? Robert Funk, the head of the Jesus Seminar, seemed to be. In The Five Gospels he said,

Even careful copyists make mistakes, as every proofreader knows. So we will never be able to claim certain knowledge of exactly what the original text of any biblical writing was.

The temporal gap that separates Jesus from the first surviving copies of the gospels—about one hundred and seventy-five years—corresponds to the lapse in time from 1776—the writing of the Declaration of Independence—to 1950. What if the oldest copies of the founding document dated only from 1950?

Funk’s attitude is easy to see: rampant skepticism over recovering the original wording of any part of the NT. This is the temptation of postmodernism. The only certainty is uncertainty itself. It is the one absolute that denies all the others. Concomitant with this is an intellectual pride—pride that one “knows” enough to be skeptical about all positions.

Where does Ehrman stand on this spectrum? I do not know. On the one hand, he has said such things as the following:

If the primary purpose of this discipline is to get back to the original text, we may as well admit either defeat or victory, depending on how one chooses to look at it, because we’re not going to get much closer to the original text than we already are.

… [A]t this stage, our work on the original amounts to little more than tinkering. There’s something about historical scholarship that refuses to concede that a major task has been accomplished, but there it is.

In spite of these remarkable [textual differences, scholars are convinced that we can reconstruct the original words of the New Testament with reasonable (although probably not 100 percent) accuracy.

The first statements were made at the Society of Biblical Literature in an address to text-critical scholars. The last is in a college textbook. All of this sounds as if Ehrman would align himself more with those who are fairly sure about what the wording of the autographic text is.

But here is what Ehrman wrote in his immensely popular book  Misquoting Jesus:

Not only do we not have the originals, we don’t have the first copies of the originals. We don’t even have copies of the copies of the originals, or copies of the copies of the copies of the originals. What we have are copies made later—much later….And these copies all differ from one another, in many thousands of places….[T]hese copies differ from one another in so many places that we don’t even known (sic) how many differences there are.

We could go on nearly forever talking about specific places in which the texts of the New Testament came to be changed, either accidentally or intentionally. . . .  [T]he examples are not just in the hundreds but in the thousands.

And here is what he wrote in another popular book, Lost Christianities:

The fact that we have thousands of New Testament manuscripts does not in itself mean that we can rest assured that we know what the original text said. If we have very few early copies—in fact, scarcely any—how can we know that the text was not changed significantly before the New Testament began to be reproduced in such large quantities?

The cumulative effect of these latter statements seems to be not only that we have no certainty about the wording of the original but that, even where we are sure of the wording, the core theology is not nearly as “orthodox” as we had thought. According to this line of thinking, the message of whole books has been corrupted in the hands of the scribes; and the church, in later centuries, adopted the doctrine of the winners—those who corrupted the text and conformed it to their own notion of orthodoxy.

So you can see my dilemma. I am not sure what Ehrman believes. Is the task done? Have we essentially recovered the wording of the original text? Or should we be hyperskeptical about the whole enterprise? It seems that Ehrman puts a far more skeptical spin on things when speaking in the public square than he does when speaking to professional colleagues.

These two attitudes—total despair and absolute certainty—are the Scylla and Charybdis that we must steer between.

(Daniel B. Wallace, ed. Revisiting the Corruption of the New Testament: Manuscript, Patristic, and Apocryphal Evidence, ©2011, Kregel. Pages 23-26)

This Is No Texas Tall Tale

“J. Frank Norris Week” continues! Last night I joined David R. Stokes, author of The Shooting Salvationist: J. Frank Norris and the Murder Trial that Captivated America at the Fort Worth Sundance Square Barnes & Noble Bookstore, where he spoke for a few minutes before sitting down to sign books. The pictures in this post are from last night’s signing. The text is my semi-formal, though concise, review of the book, which has also been posted at the book’s page. As emotionally dependent as I have become on this book, it was hard for me to step back and write an objective review that is comparable to a professional, or at least experienced, reviewer’s work until I decided to recommend the book in an email to another writer, who shall remain nameless. I gave him the following summary, and decided that this is about as good a review as anyone’s ever going to get out of me. Hope you find it helpful, and feel free to help us spread the word about this story that has been gratefully recovered from historical obscurity.

David R. Stokes speaks before his book signing at the Fort Worth Sundance Square Barnes& Noble two blocks from the site of Norris' shooting of Chipps

David R. Stokes is a columnist for He is also a pastor of a non-denominational church in Fairfax, VA. He studied for the ministry at the same Missouri Bible College from which the late Jerry Falwell got his Bachelors degree before he moved on to bigger and better things. This Bible College, Baptist Bible College, to be precise, has its roots in the ministry of the man who is the subject of the book he is now promoting, The Shooting Salvationist: J. Frank Norris and the Murder Trial That Captivated America (2011 Steerforth Press).

Norris was the pastor of the First Baptist Church of Fort Worth Texas between the years 1909 and 1952 (the year of his death). In the early years of his ministry, he ditched the tame, sane, responsible approach to ministry in which one makes an effort to get along with everyone, for an approach that would generate so much heat it would draw huge crowds to him so he could introduce them to the Light, if you know what I mean. In the process, he was a self-appointed thorn in the side of the underground liquor and gambling interests in Texas, the budding theological liberalism in his alma mater, Baylor, the mayor of Ft. Worth and Star-Telegram founder and all-around entrepreneur Amon G. Carter. This got Norris in hot water with one of the mayor’s friends, another Ft. Worth business leader, Dexter Elliot Chipps, who stormed into Norris’ office one day, threatened to kill him, then walked out. Chipps’ mistake was that he didn’t keep going. He turned for some unknown reason and attempted to reenter the pastor’s office and was met with three or four bullets in the chest. The resulting 1926 murder trial was as big of a media circus as Norris’ hero, William Jennings Bryan’s, recent Skopes Monkey Trial had been, or for those of us in the 21st century, Casey Anthony’s.

Yours truly (left); David R. Stokes (right)

The book is a narrative non-fiction work. It reads somewhat like a novel, but all the dialogue, and much of the narration, even, is directly lifted from his sources which include not only older bios of Norris (pro and con), but much of the most prominent journalistic accounts, legal transcripts and records, as well as personal archives of Norris, Meacham and Carter. The outrageous tactics of Norris in his early ministry make for quite a train wreck, and the history is fascinating, but for folks like myself who grew up in Fort Worth, it gives a lot of new information to an old legend that has lingered in the background of all of our lives, and provides quite a bit of closure as well. I’d like to share with you this fascinating tale that we could only wish were nothing more than a “Texas Tall Tale.”

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