Gospel Powered Humility by William P Farley: a review

17/12/2012

Pride is a major problem in the contemporary Church. It is blindness. Farley contends that pride has become an infatuation for American Christians because they assume a low view of God and a high view of self. The Gospel of God addresses this problem, and is designed to humble the sinner before a holy God. If the Church is to fulfil its God-given purpose, then it must preach this gospel, and we need to recover the humility that comes from the Gospel. This sounds more like ‘humility powered gospel’ than the other way around: once the main arguments are underway it becomes clear that the title of the volume under review is indeed accurate. The heart of the book is an extended exposition of Romans 1-3, where Paul defends his gospel and shows why he is not ashamed of it. Paul’s gospel is not the popular message that ‘God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life’: no-one gets persecuted for holding to that message! The message that Paul defends reveals the wrath of God before it can unveil the salvation of God in Christ Jesus. This is the message to bring about ‘Gospel powered humility’, and it is rehearsed with clarity and plenty of illustrations.

Some very quotable phrases pepper the text, including the following: ‘God saves those who believe, not those who work’; ‘Because the pride [of the monsters of the twentieth century] was completely unchecked by fear of eternal accounting, they created the closest thing to hell on earth that history has to date witnessed’; ‘The sure way to forfeit the benefits of Christ’s atonement is to deliberately work for them’; ‘Pragmatism occurs when the lust for church growth trumps the fear of God’.

Farley’s intended readership is ‘all doing ministry’. He writes primarily with the American context in view without excluding the rest of us. Those who are already convinced of his reformed message will be refreshed; those needing courage to be faithful will be encouraged, not least by the historical review that shows ‘A quick survey of church experience since the Reformation confirms one thing: the power of the Gospel rides in a chariot that humbles sinners’ (135). All leaders will be helped by the final chapters on the fear of man, and the humble leader. What of the advocates of the false message of self-esteem? If they find their way to this book, it may well be because it has been commended to them by the humility of a brother pastor. Both will be of benefit.

Review submitted for Churchman

Gospel Powered Humility William P Farley

Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing 2011 pb 224 pp ISBN 978-1596382404 $12.99

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The Case for Enlargement Theology by Alex Jacob

13/10/2011

The two main contenders in Jewish-Christian relations are Replacement Theology and Two Covenant Theology. Both have their inherent weaknesses, and Alex Jacob’s thesis is that a third way exists that remains faithful to the teaching to Romans 9-11. He works for CMJ (UK), a Christian Ministry to Jews.

The author writes from a clearly evangelical perspective which he sets out in the first section. He goes on to examine Romans 9-11 in detail with each section consisting of a commentary and some remarks on what he terms Enlargement theology. I confess that I have skimmed this book as I prepare preaching Romans 9-11, and have not therefore followed the exegesis in detail. The main points are summarised as follows (pp 171-3)

  1. Romans 9-11 is an integral part of the ‘Gospel of God’ outlined in Paul’s letter to the Romans. This is a helpful argument for the unity of the letter and the consequence importance of the context for understanding the place of Israel with regard to the church.
  2. Paul shows unswerving passion for and commitment to Israel. Israel is central to God’s purposes, where Israel here refers to the physical descent from Abraham.
  3. Paul shows a clear rejection of Two Covenant theology. Contemporary two covenant theology emerged as a response to the Holocaust. While it is an emotionally attractive position for those engaged in Jewish-Christian dialogue, it cannot be supported from Romans 9-11. Christians who hold a high view of Scripture must therefore find another paradigm for conducting Jewish-Christian dialogue.
  4. Paul shows a clear rejection of Replacement Theology. Paul consistently argues against the idea that God has rejected Israel, or that he has transferred the promises of Israel to the (Gentile) church. Israel has stumbled but not beyond recovery.
  5. God’s purposes are being worked out through a threefold understanding of God’s people. There is ‘unity within diversity’ and three distinct groups within God’s calling: unbelieving Israel, believing Israel, and the Gentile believers in Jesus.

He also offers a ‘beginners guide’ on the CMJ website here. As I don’t support either Replacement or Two Covenant theology, I agreed with Jacob’s reasons for rejecting them. It would have been good to see more engagement with the standard Reformed option, One Covenant or Remnant theology. While that may be because it is not a significant voice in Jewish-Christian Dialogue, it leaves a theologically coherent position absent from the debate. With the caveat that I have not followed the close exegesis, I have to say that find the ‘three people’ solution to be hard to swallow given the time and attention given in the NT letters to getting the church to act as one body. As I did not have time to look at the section that justifies this take on ‘unity’ from the doctrine of the Trinity, I cannot comment on whether it is persuasive.

In the end I suspect the sticking point between us comes down to what answers are given to this question: to what extent should a Jewish believer in Jesus Christ leave behind his or her Jewish identity? Are they a Messianic Jew, or a Jewish Christian?

The Case for Enlargement Theology
by Alex Jacob
ISBN: 978 0 955179 08 2
Publisher: GLORY TO GLORY 272pp