Life Through Books (2016)

books
By Sean Perron and Spencer Harmon

The end of the year is closing, and many people are reflecting on the past and preparing  for the future. We’re not sure how you appraise your year, but we view life through the books that have impacted us. We don’t read just for the sake of “reading.” We read because we want to be changed.

We want to be better, more in love with God, more aware of reality, and more equipped to think wisely about life. We think through good books. If you are similar in this way, you might enjoy some recommendations for the next year. Below are five favorite books from each of us that we have read (or are still reading) in 2016.

Sean:

Animal Farm by George Orwell

I picked up this book because I never read it in middle school. I always wanted to read it because I have a small obsession with politics. The book is short, my copy is only 141 pages, and I found it captivating. I could have read it one sitting if time permitted. The book is a parable and never once mentions politics. Even if you are sick and tired of the 2016 election, you will still find this book enjoyable. Parts of it are creepy with relevance, and it is nothing less than sobering. I recommend reading it in order to make sure you have eyes to see when people are abusing power. You will realize that it isn’t just the animals on the farm who are saying: “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”

The Abolition of Man by C.S. Lewis

This is the shortest book on the list, 81 pages, but it is the most challenging. I guarantee that you won’t be able to mine all its depths with just one read. But don’t let that scare you. You should read it and wrestle with it before you realize that “you don’t have a chest” and are inhuman. This book is not necessarily an argument for the existence of God. It is an argument that Darwinism is essentially inhuman and incongruent with virtue.

This book will help you think critically about truth, virtue, and morality. It will increase your ability to think intellectually about the most significant issues in life.  To my surprise, I also found this book to be an interesting companion to Animal Farm because it discusses how the removal of objective virtue ensures an abuse of power and unhinged dominance.

Francis Schaeffer: An Authentic Life by Colin Duriez

There is a small list of people who influence me on a regular basis. Francis Schaeffer is one of them. His writings and ministry shape the way I think. I can’t get his books He is there and He is Not Silent or The God Who Is There out of my mind. It is a holy haunting in my head.

This biography by Colin Duriez is able to zoom into historical details to satisfy my inner nerd and also tell the broad story of the Schaeffer’s ministry. Pick up this book if you want to know more about the hospitality of the Schaeffer’s along with their deep convictions that have impacted innumerable people.

Standing Strong: How to Resist the Enemy of Your Soul by John MacArthur

This is a book about how to fight the devil. John MacArthur takes you through the spiritual armor of God in a way that is devotional, practical, and easy to understand. He argues that faith and repentance are the ways to combat demonic activity. If you pick up this book, I’m confident it will help you grow in your spiritual walk with Christ.

Everyday Talk: Talking Freely and Naturally about God with Your Children by John A. Younts

A friend at church recommended this book to me back in the summer. I ordered it then, but didn’t start reading it until this month. Jenny and I have reading a few pages each night before bed in order to help us with a couple of counseling cases involving children. This book is simple, practical, and full of the gospel.

It hits right at home because it addresses the most basic conversations we have on a hour-by-hour basis. Do you find it difficult to talk about God with your kids? Does it feel unnatural to talk about the Bible each day? This book will help oil the spiritual hinges of your house and enable you to have a long-term impact on your family.

Spencer:

A History of Western Philosophy and Theology by John Frame

Philosophy and theology impact almost everything in our culture.  Pop songs and Bible tracts stand on the shoulders of philosophers and theologians.  That’s why John Frame’s A History was so enlightening for me earlier this summer.  Frame is a seasoned teacher, and his simplicity and depth attest to it.  He gives helpful, clear, and deep overviews of the major players and ideas in philosophy and theology.  But what benefitted me the most was Frame’s ability to set each thinker in context, show how their ideas affect us today, and to biblically evaluate their ideas.  This isn’t a book to read from cover to cover, but is a helpful resource for any Christian to have on their shelf.  I’d particularly recommend it to any student getting ready to enter into college.  

Do More Better: A Practical Guide to Productivity by Tim Challies

I’m cheating here.  I read this book at the very end of last year.  However, it’s ideas shaped me in 2016, and so it deserves to be recommended here.  

I love productivity books and tools.  I haven’t read deeply in the literature, but I have read enough to know that productivity books are a dime a dozen.  Most of us don’t have time to wade through all the techniques, life hacks, and shortcuts most productivity gurus offer.  But Challies’ book is different because it offers a simple, short, practical approach to productivity that busy mom’s, overwhelmed students, and frazzled professionals can apply to their life.  This book shines because it’s both doable and devotional.  It’s my first recommendation for anyone wanting to grow in productivity.

America’s Pastor: Billy Graham and the Shaping of a Nation by Grant Wacker

I read (actually listened) to this book for two reasons.  

First, I’ve always been drawn to Billy Graham.   I have always admired Graham’s personal integrity, humility, character, and commitment to proclaiming Christ to those who are lost.  Reading this book gave me a closer look at the man, blemishes and all, and left me challenged and inspired.

Second, I just began pastoring a congregation made up of many elderly people whose understanding of what it means to be a Christian in America was shaped by the life and ministry of Billy Graham.  As I was reading this book and listening to Wacker’s observations of how Graham shaped the nation’s understanding of Christianity, I felt like  I was studying my people.  Wacker helped me grapple with, understand, and appreciate what was American Christianity in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s through the filter of Graham’s ministry.

All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

This book took my breathe away on several occasions.  Anthony Doerr’s metaphors bring a sense of awe at even the most common experiences of life.  Doerr’s sentences are like sweet serenades that you never want to end.  This book, set in World War II France and Germany, takes the people and places we call common and fills them with meaning.  The story is joyful yet tinged with sorrow, dark and yet filled with shafts of light.

Disclaimer, this book has brief language and a few disturbing scenes and descriptions as a result of its setting in World War II.  

Openness Unhindered: Further Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert on Sexual Identity and Union with Christ by Rosaria Butterfield

Butterfield’s follow-up book to Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert continues to speak to the toughest issues about sexual identity with tenderness and transparency.  The first three chapters on conversion, identity, and repentance are worth the price of the book.  Her final chapter on community and hospitality embody the type of warmth that the New Testament pictures when it calls the church the household of God (Eph. 2:19).  Read this book if you want to be equipped to speak into the complexities of our day with both biblical fidelity and warm compassion for the lost around you.  


 

Sean and Spencer are the authors of Letters to a Romantic: Biblical Guidance on Dating and Letters to a Romantic: Biblical Guidance on Engagement (P&R, 2017)

Some Clarification and Suggestions from a Theology of Biblical Counseling

Screen Shot 2016-04-04 at 11.38.27 PM
Post by Sean Perron
Yesterday I read David Murray’s blog post. Murray graciously asked for replies to his blog post and I hope these quotes are helpful.
Below are some of my suggestions and also some clarifications from Dr. Heath Lambert’s book A Theology of Biblical Counseling. My main suggestion is that Murray should have read the entirety of Lambert’s book before writing his post.
Murray Question 1: “Is there any revelation outside the Bible?”
Has God revealed any truth about these topics (information about obesity, nutrition, fetal alcohol syndrome, etc.) outside the Bible?
Lambert’s clarification: 
Rich Resources Outside Scripture
Some believe that embrace of the sufficiency of Scripture for counseling necessarily entails rejection of true information outside of the Bible. This is a fairly common objection to the kind of biblical sufficiency that I am discussing here…
…From the very beginning of the biblical counseling movement, leaders have made clear their belief in the legitimacy of sources of information outside of Scripture. Biblical counselors do not ignore or outright reject extra-biblical sources or counseling insights. In fact, I would argue that biblical counselors have demonstrated a high level of theological sophistication about the use of extra-biblical data, often greater than our brothers to the theological left. The biblical counseling position is that there is much true information that exists outside the Bible—that found in the sciences, for example. (53-54)
Murray’s Suggested Clarification: 
“Without the qualification of ‘special revelation’ (or spiritual truth), I think we risk being understood as saying that there is no general revelation, no truth, outside of Scripture on any topic.”
One of Lambert’s printed clarification in chapter two: 
The call to be compassionate counselors requires that a thoroughgoing theology of biblical counseling must not only address the sufficient resources for counseling within Scripture but must also address the relevance of resources that exist outside of Scripture. This is an issue that has the highest practical and personal implications for counselors. We must consider this matter very carefully if we are to be compassionate. Considering the matter in this way requires that we understand the doctrine of common grace. (66-67)
I began this chapter on the resources for counseling outside Scripture by asking what is necessary to help Rick, Wendy, Gail, Trenyan, Jenny, Scott, Drew, Amber, Sean, and Sarah. To answer that question, we examined common grace and saw that, indeed, God does allow unbelievers to come to know true principles that are helpful in counseling. (100)
The quotes that answer this question are too numerous for me to reproduce in this post.
I also want to point Murray and readers to
Appendix A: Statement from the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors  Regarding Mental Disorders, Medicine, and Counseling

Appendix B: Biblical Counseling, General Revelation, and Common Grace

Murray writes: “I’m hopeful that Heath will go on to add such qualifications in subsequent chapters, but it’s unqualified generalizations like these that confuse people and have created justifiable resistance to the biblical counseling movement over the years. With just a couple of extra words, the potential confusion is avoided and understandable reasons to resist are removed.”
My Suggestion for Murray’s Post:
I’m hopeful that Murray will go on to add such qualifications in subsequent blog posts, but it’s blog posts like his review of first chapter of Lambert’s book that confuse people and have created resistance to the biblical counseling movement over the years. By waiting just a couple of extra pages, the potential confusion is avoided and reasons to resist are removed. I wish Murray had refrained from blogging before he finished A Theology of Biblical Counseling.
What Counseling Requires 
Murray’s Question 2: “Does ‘problems’ here mean all problems (such as autism, or those Heath mentioned earlier – employment problems or choosing a college)?”
One Quote of Lambert’s Clarification: 
Biblical counselors shall encourage the use of physical examinations and testing by physicians for diagnosis of medical problems, the treatment of these problems, and the relief of symptoms, which might cause, contribute to, or complicate counseling issues. (324)
Murray’s Question 3: “Is God’s prescribed solution (singular) to our problems (plural) always simply ‘faith in Christ’?”
One Quote of Lambert’s Clarification:
Biblical counselors shall encourage the use of physical examinations and testing by physicians for diagnosis of medical problems, the treatment of these problems, and the relief of symptoms, which might cause, contribute to, or complicate counseling issues. (324)
Murray’s Question 4: “Is this the only solution to all our problems?”
One Quote with Lambert’s Clarification:
Biblical counselors shall encourage the use of physical examinations and testing by physicians for diagnosis of medical problems, the treatment of these problems, and the relief of symptoms, which might cause, contribute to, or complicate counseling issues. (324)
My Suggestion: Murray may consider being slow to blog and quick to read. Murray may consider if he is answering a matter before he hears all of the facts. I also pray that Murray would be more open to changing his position on counseling.
Other Minor Suggestions: 
  • Murray suggests Lambert should use the word “necessitates” instead of “requires.” We should not quibble over words that mean the same thing. Requires and necessitates are the same thing. These words are synonymous.
I close with this quote from Murray which I apply to this post and my suggestions:
I offer these questions and clarifications in the spirit of iron sharpening iron (Prov. 27:17), and in the hope that my biblical counseling colleagues will see the need for much greater clarity, carefulness, and consistency, if we are to have a hope of building the credibility of our discipline and expanding the availability and usefulness of biblical counseling throughout the world. I’m looking forward to learning from any responses to the questions, further questions to me, and hopefully clearer and more consistent definitions at the foundational level. If I have misunderstood or misrepresented anything, please let me know as this was not my intention.
Sean Perron

Four Years Later: 25 Reasons

IMG_3501
by Sean Perron
Four years ago I wrote out a list of 25 reasons why I was thrilled to marry Jennifer Whiteaker. This year I wanted to revise the list.
.
Marrying Jenny is the best thing that has ever happened to me. She stunned me with her life and love four years ago and that has only continued.
.
Here are just a few of the reasons why I love you Jenny Perron: 
.
  1. You desire to be found faithful before God
  2. Your submission is a sweet aroma
  3. You squeeze me tightly and hold me loosely
  4. You hide yourself in the shadow of God
  5. Your Spirit is lovely beyond compare
  6. You smirk at the storms ahead
  7. You are planted by streams of water and bloom in every season
  8. Your joy is brighter than a tulip farm and your stem is strong to serve the world his beauty
  9. You are radiant and reverent in your worship
  10. Adventure is your middle name… and your first name… and now your last name
  11. Your brown eyes are unparalleled in beauty
  12. You are confident in his image
  13. You care about the rights of all who are destitute
  14. You open your mouth for the mute
  15. You open your hand to the poor
  16. You inherit the earth
  17. Your heart is soft to conviction and committed to a clear conscience
  18. You call evil evil and good good
  19. Your well is filled with songs, hymns, and spiritual hums
  20. Your gold is giving
  21. People want more of your pleasant presence
  22. Thoughtfulness flows from you like a waterfall
  23. Your smile has a domino effect
  24. You pray more than there are minutes in an hour
  25. Your hope is built on nothing less than Jesus blood and righteousness

Sorrowful Yet Always Rejoicing: Cultivating Joy In Singleness

by Spencer Harmon
by Spencer Harmon

Marriage celebrations aren’t always joyful.  

There are certainly those overflowing with joy:  the older couple reminiscing on their wedding joy, the newly engaged couple dreaming of their own wedding day, the parents of the bride and groom beaming with pride.  However, marriage celebrations can also be painful reminders of a persistent suffering – the suffering of singleness.  To be sure, there are singles who are not suffering.  They are content with their season of life, enjoying the freedom that singleness brings.  For others, however, singleness is a burden that they struggle to carry.  They long for the companionship of a spouse, to come home to a friend,  and the intimacy of love.  

You may know exactly what I’m talking about.  You enjoy weddings, engagement parties, and celebrating the excitement of matrimony with friends.  Yet, there is a tinge of pain – perhaps felt on the drive home or as you hear another couple make vows – that reverberates in your heart.  You long to rejoice with your friends, but struggle with this unmet desire.  

On top of this, you hear the call of the Bible to rejoice with those who rejoice, but your heart does not feel it.  How am I supposed to rejoice while suffering?  Can this sorrow and joy exist within the same heart?

The Composite Joy of the Body of Christ

If we are honest, many of us hear the call to rejoice with those who rejoice (Romans 12:15) as a call to force a crooked smile on your face at an engagement party.  We think: “Good for them!”, and may genuinely mean it.  However, the dominant tone of our hearts is a deep groan of “How long, O Lord?”

But rejoicing with those who rejoice is not like a forced smile on a family photo.  It is an ownership of the joy of another because it sees God at work.  The joy you are called to experience at your friend’s’ engagement party or marriage ceremony is not some blind naivete  that ignores your own desires to be married.  Instead, it is a celebration of God’s good plans in the life of someone who is deeply connected to you.

This means that your joy is meant to be a composite joy. The joy of the Christian is equally composed of the work of God in their own life and the work of God in the lives of fellow Christians.  This is what Paul means when he writes that “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together” (1 Corinthians 12:26).  The joy of the Christian is a many-membered tapestry that interweaves the threads of our lives with one another.

So then, the engagement party or marriage ceremony of your friend is actually an opportunity to experience real, warm-hearted joy.  Most of the time when we find it difficult to celebrate with another Christian, it is not because it is not possible.  Rather, it’s because we are not willing to experience joy in this way.  We limit the potential moments of rejoicing in our lives to those times when things align to our preferences.  The world transforms into the size of a clenched fist that holds its plans, rather than the big world where our happy God is busy blessing his children (Jeremiah 32:41).

How do you see other believers?  Are they only a catalyst of despair anytime they get something you don’t have?  Or are they a member of the same body as you so that their joy is your joy?  Are you soaking yourself in the picture of the church as your family so that the metaphor becomes reality?  The key to rejoicing with those who rejoice is to see the victories of others as your own.

Joy and Sorrow Under the Same Roof

But most of us are not dominated by only despair at the engagement party or marriage ceremony.  Instead, we often experience a tangled web of rejoicing and sorrow, pleasure and frustration, contentment and restlessness.  We rejoice to see God at work, but the desire for marriage aches like a tender bruise being pressed.  This isn’t selfishness – it’s a reminder of a unwanted suffering.

Singles often experience unnecessary guilt because they don’t understand the idea of earnest waiting.  Earnest waiting happens when the truths of God’s sovereignty and our responsibility meet in some suffering in our lives.  When Christians suffer, two responses are to exist in their hearts.  First, they are to wait on the Lord.  The posture of our hearts is to be one of a weaned child trusting its parent (Ps. 131:2).  We are to not take matters into our own hands, but hope fully in our God (Psalm 37:34, 62:5, Proverbs 20:22).  For many Christian singles, this is the primary battleground.  However, Christians are also to be persistent with the Lord.  A wrong application of the sovereignty of God is to assume that we are not to pray for relief from suffering.  Although the heroes of our faith trusted God, Hannah prayed for a child (1 Samuel 1:9-18), the church in Acts prayed for Peter to be released from prison (Acts 12:5), and Jesus honors the persistent widow (Luke 18:1-8).

It is not sinful to feel the sting of unwanted singleness at a marriage ceremony.  It is sinful to allow this sting to translate into a grumbling heart towards the Lord and others.  You can be sorrowful and yet rejoice at the same time.  You cannot grumble and rejoice at the same time.  Do your sorrows roll up into prayer toward the God who knows your needs?  Or do your sorrow’s knot up your soul with a complaining heart?

Sorrowful, Yet Always Rejoicing

The pendulum could currently be swinging to either extreme for you.  You may be sorrowful, rejoicing, or both.  Either way, God calls you to take steps of faith now.  Are you sorrowful?  Call on friends to partner with you in your prayer for a spouse and for a heart that waits on the Lord.  Are you rejoicing?  Cultivate a lifestyle that loses itself in the joy of others.  Go all out to celebrate the work of God in the lives of others through attending parties, serving on the day of the wedding, and giving your life away for the good of others.  In other words: live the Christian life – weeping and laughing, repenting and believing, grateful while groaning.

These truths are not to be exclusively applied to singleness and marriage.  The Christian life is full of trials, and yet we are called to rejoice in them (1 Peter 4:12-13).  We are not called to merely rejoice with those who rejoice; we are called to rejoice in God (Habakkuk 3:18, Philippians 4:4).  This rejoicing in God is the bedrock to rejoicing with others.  In singleness, and a million other sufferings, our hearts must be confident that he does not withhold good things from those who walk uprightly (Psalm 84:11).

 

The content for this post has been expanded into Letters to a Romantic: On Engagement which will be released in 2017 by P&R Publishing. 

An Open Letter To My New Born Daughter

baby-feet-bw
by Spencer Harmon

“Welcome to the world, MJ!”

Those were some of your mother’s first words to you when she first held you in her arms. We stared at you, half-delirious from staying up all night, in awe that you would be given to us. In those moments, joy and responsibility compounded. I realized I was a father.

I want you to know that this world is wonderful place. You will slowly come awake to the world around you, and you will discover magnificent things. Here there is potential for friendships so precious that your heart aches with love. Here you will be paralyzed by beauty because you fear you will lose that phantom sense of wonder if you move. Here you will experience the joy of self-forgetfulness as you play sports, or read a book, or stare at a night sky. There is adventure to be had here, mysteries to explore here – we have a beautiful Creator, and this world is a beautiful creation.

As you wake up to the beauty of this world, you will experience a parallel reality: this world is broken. Soon, you are going to feel the sting of sin and the pain of the curse. You are going to get hurt here, MJ. Pain will be an unwanted escort during your pilgrimage on earth. This world is full of sorrow, shame, and deception – and although I am going to do my best to protect you from the jagged teeth of this cursed world, I know that you will feel its bite.

There is an even more distressing facet of the brokenness of the world: you are broken, too. Soon, the seed of rebellion planted in your nature will bloom into a dark rose of twisted motivations, attitudes, and actions. You see, all of us are born slaves to sin. You have been born into a race of rebels. You have inherited a nature bent on rebellion against the God who created you and gave you to your mother and I. You will not only feel the effects of this curse on yourself, you will spread its effects to others – whether you like it or not. Defiance is your native tongue, a language as old as Adam.

You might be fearful as you hear about this cursed world, and your sinful nature. But there’s hope on the far horizon. You see, although this world is broken, it will be restored. This world is pregnant with hope, and the suffering you see in nature and in yourself are the labor pains. Although this world is stained with brokenness, our rebellion has been met with redemption. God has started a rescue plan to recreate this world, and to recreate people. The plan has already started.

MJ, this world will be made new, and you can be made new with it. This newness comes through death and resurrection. As you see yourself as part of the rebellion, you must surrender – yourself, your rights, your very life. You must die. But as you die, you will be reborn. The very God who made this world and you, gave his Son over to death for you so that you can rise to new life.

This world is a mist that is quickly fading. Many will tell you in the years to come that this is all that there is, and so you should take on their identity and sing their anthem. But there is a country that is coming that has an eternal foundation, and whose citizens live forever. I’m praying its anthem drowns our all songs but it’s own.

I love you, MJ. My prayer is that your life is full, and your heart is made new. I’m praying we will sing the song of the better country together – forever.

An Invitation to Renew

by Sean Perron
by Sean Perron

     
    The Book of Revelation can intimidate many Christians. The Apostle John intended the book to propel us forward in godliness instead of paralyzing us. I pray these short messages (approximately 25 min each) will peak your interest in the final book of the Bible.

     

    Eight Reasons to Renew Your Heart | Revelation 16 | A sermon on conversion 

    Powerful Pictures to Renew Your Mind | Revelation 17-19 | A sermon on sexual immorality 

    New Worlds to Renew Your Strength | Revelation 21 | A sermon on suffering 

    Imagery to Ignite Your Soul | Revelation 4 | A sermon on spiritual apathy 

     
     

    These messages where given at First Baptist Church in Versailles, Kentucky at a Disciple-Now Retreat.

    Apocrawho?

    Image
    by Sean Perron

    Apocrawho?

    For all those who are curious about the Apocrypha (Perhaps you don’t care about the apocrypha. No worries – you will live and should skip this post) I recently read the book of Enoch and 4 Ezra (often called 2 Esdras) which are not a part of the Protestant Scriptures. This was my first time reading through these books and will probably be my last. My assessment of these Apocryphal books is that they are unnecessary and ultimately dangerous. As I read, I jotted down notes and here are my conclusions.

    How many Ezras are there?

    There is only one Ezra and he didn’t write this book. Nevertheless, the book of 4 Ezra is an attempt to use the clout behind Ezra’s name to answer profound religious and philosophical questions. The author is portrayed as Ezra and the story is comprised of visions which answer questions posed by the inquisitive prophet. The setting of the book is during the time of Ezra despite the fact that the book was composed sometime between A.D. 70 and the third century.

    While I do not address the issue of using a pseudonym (This author is using another person’s name to establish your credibility) in this post, it cannot be fully ignored in the final assessment. Given the reality that so much material is dependent upon the book of Revelation and that 4 Ezra was written after the death of the apostles, there appears to be insurmountable evidence making this book unconvincing and dubious in its message and motivation. Will the real Ezra please stand up?

    Pros:

    Before giving a critical evaluation of 4 Ezra, it is important to point out several commendable and noteworthy aspects of the book.

    1) Literary Features

    4 Ezra has several passages that offer vivid imagery and memorable phrases. The book includes well written parables and intricate visions that engage the mind and cause the reader to think critically. Examples of well crafted writing include phrases such as “blood shall trickle out of the wood” (7:19) and “a wave is greater than a drop of water.” (9:16) Perhaps one of the most memorable visions is in chapter 13 which describes the powerful return of the Messiah. The Messiah effortlessly destroys his enemies and the gathers his people by his side. He consumes his foes with fire and lightning and them warmly welcomes all those who have obeyed his commands. This imagery draws the reader in and can make a lasting impression.

    2) Real Questions

    The book of 4 Ezra is not for shallow thinkers. The narrative is carried along by questions that Ezra asks of God and the angelic beings. Each question is intense and laden with emotion. These questions are helpful in that they relate to real inquiries posed by countless people throughout history. He is concerned about why so many people go to hell and the problem of evil appears to be heavy upon Ezra’s mind. Another one of the most pervasive questions concerns the destruction of the Jewish temple and the concern that God has forsaken his chosen people. These questions are near to the human heart and will continue to exist until the end of time. But the real question is does 4 Ezra answer them correctly?

    3) Some Accuracy

    4 Ezra contains a handful of theological nuggets that should be commended. In 7:98, the angel states that the highlight of heaven will be beholding the face of God. “The seventh order, which is greater than all those what have been mentioned, is that they will exult boldly, and that they will trust confidently, and rejoice fearlessly, for they hasten to see the face of him who they served in life…” This resonates accurately with the Christian experience and is confirmed by 1 Peter 1:18 and Revelation 22:4. Consequently, the worst aspect of hell will be the glory of God in wrathful judgment. This is pointed out in 7:87 which reads, “they will waste away in shame and be consumed in disgrace, and wither with fear, at seeing the glory of the Most High before whom they sinned while they lived…” 4 Ezra rightly places the emphasis on God’s presence in heaven and hell. Heaven is wonderful because God’s glorious joy is always present and hell is terrible because God’s glorious wrath never leaves.

    Related to this issue is the correct teaching that God’s judgment is final. In 7:105 it says, “The Day of Judgment is final and shows to all the stamp of truth.” 4 Ezra does not teach a third afterlife destination or holding place such as purgatory. This aligns correctly with Hebrews 9:27 which teaches that judgment immediately follows death.

    Cons:

    1) Depends on the Bible

    For the avid reader of the Protestant Scriptures, it does not take long to realize that 4 Ezra borrows a lot from the Bible. Verse after verse alludes to the Torah and the book of Job (6:49; 10:33). There are multiple allusions to the Apocalypse of John and the book of Daniel. Several passages in 4 Ezra appear to be snapshots of the book of Revelation with only minute modifications. It was sort of like looking at familiar photos through a sepia filter. Phrases from Revelation such as “Sovereign Lord” and “How Long?” are used repeatedly in the book of Ezra (4:33, 38; 5:23; 6:11, 59; 7:17). Images such as multitudes sealed by God with white robes around the presence of the Lord singing songs with crowns on their heads are clearly adapted straight from Revelation chapters 4-6 (3:36-48). There are also allusions to Jesus’ words from the Olivet Discourse in Matthew 24.

    It is curious that 4 Ezra never directly references any of these biblical authors. Only on one occasion in 12:11 is the writer Daniel mentioned but it is not in relation to a quotation. While many biblical authors make allusions to other biblical passages, 4 Ezra is markedly different. 4 Ezra borrows but never gives back. The New Testament authors make allusions while also repeatedly referencing other biblical authors.

    2) Differs from the Bible

    4 Ezra differs from the Bible in several ways. For instance, the interactions between Ezra and the divine beings are unusual when compared to inspired apocalyptic literature. 4 Ezra focuses on the names of angels and limits Ezra’s interaction with God (4:36). The angels are commanding, harsh and abrasive (7:19). They rebuke Ezra and even deem him worthy or unworthy of revelation. This seems to give them more authority to angels than is appropriate (7:103). It is also concerning that the divine beings make Ezra work for special revelation. On multiple occasions throughout the narrative, the divine beings withhold information from Ezra until he fasts for a certain amount of time or until he completes a task they have requested (6:30; 9:23). These factors are not characteristic of either Old Testament or New Testament apocalyptic literature within the Protestant Scriptures. These factors lend a substantial amount of evidence showing that 4 Ezra does not align with inspired writings.

    3) Distorts the Bible

    The fact that 4 Ezra borrows from the Bible is not necessarily a flaw by itself. Yet problems arise when 4 Ezra goes beyond what the Bible teaches and even misrepresents historic Christian doctrines. In addition to the unusual interaction with angelic beings, the issue of salvation is very unclear in the book of Ezra.

    It appears that the major focus of the book is salvation by works. There are references to the mercy of God and to fearing the Lord, but these are heavily overshadowed by commands and statements of righteousness by works. For instance, the angelic being encourages Ezra that he will be saved “for you have a treasure of works laid up with the Most High, but it will not be shown to you until the last times.” (7:77). Again in the same chapter, the angel says those will be saved who have “carefully served the Most High, though they were in danger every hour, so as to keep the Law of the Lawgiver perfectly.” (7:90) These statements are not balanced out by the saving grace of God (7:167-70; 9:8; 14:34).

    An important exchange takes place between Ezra and a being (unknown entity which is either God or an angel). Ezra eventually pleads with the Lord for grace for mankind. In 8:35-36, he states, “For in truth there is no one among those who have grown up who has not sinned. For in this, Lord, your uprightness and goodness will be declared, if you have mercy on those who have no stock of good deeds.” He truly understands the truth of Romans 3:23 that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.

    This is part of a deep seated plea for grace and forgiveness for sin. However the response from God is calloused and cold. God responds by saying, “For indeed I will not think about the forming of those who have sinned, or their death or judgment or destruction, but I will rejoice over the fashioning of the upright, over their pilgrimage also, and their salvation and the reward they will receive.” (8:37-40). This response from the divine being in 4 Ezra is not the response of the God from the true Scriptures.

    God is just but he also shows unfathomable grace to sinners. There is no salvation apart from his grace alone. 4 Ezra is markedly different than the apocalyptic literature found in the book of Revelation. Revelation 22:17 offers the water of eternal life without price. The multitudes in Revelation gather around the one who has freed them by his own blood and was slain before the foundation of the world. Those who endure to the end in the Revelation 12:11 are only those who place total confidence in the finished work of Jesus.

    Final Remarks:

    An astute reader will soon realize that 4 Ezra really has nothing to offer. There is nothing groundbreaking that is not found in other passages in the protestant canon. There is nothing new under the sun and there is certainly nothing new in the book of 4 Ezra. This shows the unoriginality of the author and his need to build off inspired Scripture.

    The places 4 Ezra deviates from the Scriptures are in more detailed descriptions, intricate visions and distorted doctrine. While there are some positive aspects of 4 Ezra, the ultimate verdict is that it is dangerous. The theology found in this work is unclear at best and heretical at worst.

    4 Ezra has some commendable passages that engage the reader to think critically but it has several significant flaws. To put it mildly, the book is unnecessary. To put it bluntly, the book is blasphemous. Renee Jarrett helpfully pointed this out and brought to my mind the passage in Revelation 22:18. “I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book…” Although unintentional by the mysterious author, the benefit of reading 4 Ezra is seeing its shortcomings and realizing the sufficiency of the Scripture.