Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Most Influential Books: Chosen in Christ, Richard D. Phillips

If it was John Piper who showed me that the Bible teaches an utterly sovereign God (Desiring God has a lengthy appendix about how God ordaining evil and sin to accomplish his purpose in creation), it was Rick Phillips who taught me that God's complete control is a doctrine that affords rest for our souls.  As the title implies, Chosen in Christ: The Glory of Grace in Ephesians 1 (Presbyterian & Reformed, 2004) is a book about the doctrines of grace or the "five points of Calvinism."  But far from attempting to analytically prove a cold, lifeless doctrine, this book was a warmhearted host offering a rich meal to his guests.  Phillips walks through every verse and phrase of the first chapter of Ephesians and unpacks Paul's teaching, along with help from the hymns of the church and preachers within the Reformed tradition.

Chosen in Christ helped me to see that predestination, election, and the sovereign plan of God in salvation are not the calculating schemes of a heavenly accountant nor a Macchiavellian despot, but the expression of the joy-securing love God bestows in grace upon his sinful people.

There is no debate raging within the Godhead concerning our place in salvation, no tension; there are no awkward silences or heated conversations.  Rather there is a grand and cohesive conspiracy of love originating in the eternal and sovereign grace of the Father.  (p. 33)

The fixed purpose of such a God provides a bedrock for our lives far greater than our own faith and decisions.  Our faith is feeble, our wisdom wobbles, and our decisions often derail us.  Left to ourselves, we would never find our way home.  But because God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit has set his love upon us from eternity past and has destined us for adoption as his children and a future inheritance, our lives rest secure.

How many Christians lack the joy that ought to be theirs because they lack assurance?  How many stumble on in weakness, burdened with doubts that would be erased if only they knew their salvation rested not in themselves but in God.  Election speaks peace to trembling souls . . . . (p. 51)

We have hope because of God's resources and commitments, not because of ours.  And while this teaching belongs to the Bible and not to Phillips--and there have been many other authors who've ably guided the saints into these truths--it through this book that the Holy Spirit taught me his Word.

On top of this, Chosen in Christ also just "felt right" to read.  Phillips dove deep into doctrine, but he showed it to be affectional, humbling, practical, and devotional.  I grew to realize that this is how all effective teaching and preaching must be done: do not shy from clearly expositing Scripture, but make sure you teach why it's food for our souls and a guide for our lives.

Props also to John Murray's Redemption Accomplished and Applied and J. I. Packer's foreward to John Owen's The Death of Death in the Death of Christ for being amazing expositions of God's sovereign grace.

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