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Monday, August 5, 2013

"Grounded in the Faith" (Kenneth Erisman)

TITLE: Grounded in the Faith: An Essential Guide to Knowing What You Believe and Why
AUTHOR: Kenneth Erisman
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2013, (288 pages).

What exactly is the biggest challenge in modern Christianity? Echoing Dr J.I. Packer's word, it can be summed up in one word: "catechesis." Arguing that there is a tight correlation between "wise catechesis" and the health of the Church, this guide is written for Churches and believers to adopt a step by step curriculum that can be used for empowering the teachers, equipping the believers, and engaging the world. Is this a tall order?

Ken Erisman believes it is possible, and proposes a three stage learning paradigm. Firstly, he urges readers and learners to listen to the what for the message of truth in the Bible. Secondly, he encourages them to absorb the truth through thinking, pausing, reflecting, and integrate them. Thirdly, he exhorts them to let the truths they have learned, to help them interact with the world. Thus, there is a lot of learning as well as equipping going on. With this three-step paradigm, the author skillfully guides readers through three levels of biblical engagement.

Level One begins with very basic stuff: Justification; calling of the believers; Salvation; Regeneration; Doctrine of Man and Sin; Temptations; Sanctification; and Scripture. It goes back to the very beginning why we need God in the first place. For unless we all recognize the need, there is very little reason to get back to addressing any need at all! Putting things first, Erisman highlights that man by himself is never good enough. He cannot justify himself. Life is more than good works. We cannot be righteous in our own strength. Through the doctrine of justification by faith, we are reminded again that justification is by God and from God. Erisman goes through the Ten Commandments, Romans, Galatians, with frequent interjections by renowned believers such as Tim Keller, CS Lewis, Philip Graham Ryken and many more to shed farther perspectives on this topic. He talks about the five "incredible spiritual benefits" of calling, regeneration, conversion, salvation, and adoption as children of God. Understanding the significance of each helps us appreciate the immense gift of God in Christ Jesus for us. Then Erisman goes to the other end to show us how vulnerable we are even when we have been justified: Temptations of the devil, the flesh, and the world. For many of us, just to know the different ways temptations can come at us will help us be more spiritually vigilant. Having done the initial benefits and risks description, Erisman ups the stake by exhorting all toward sanctification in Christ. For when we become like Jesus, we will move to a realm where our natural tendency is not to sin, but to be holy. The way to cultivate this holiness is Scripture, which Erisman presents five reasons why Scripture is so critical to the life of the believer.

  1. Jesus held the Word highly, and so should we;
  2. Jesus's Word is eternal, and so too the Scriptures;
  3. Scripture is all inspired by God;
  4. Scripture inculcates faith in us;
  5. Scripture gives us hope and joy.

Level Two progresses into an intermediate level. Here, Erisman defends the reliability of the Bible; modes and models of prayer; God's will; and the Trinity. He puts forth four reasons for believing the Bible's divine sources; the Y.M.C.A way to understand the Bible as the Word of God; and affirms again the accuracy and trustworthiness of the Bible. He lists the Lord's Prayer as one of the most essential elements of the Christian life, highlighting six aspects of the prayer for readers to take note of. Prayer and the seeking of God's will go hand in hand. An interesting part is how Erisman describes the "seven specific ways" to discern God's will. He ends the chapter on the subject of the Trinity, and how the Christian needs to appreciate the Trinity as a mystery as well as learning what has been revealed in the Bible. He also highlights the erroneous claims of modalism, tritheism, arianism, and why they do not reflect the Trinity of the Bible.

Level Three is about Christ, the attributes and character of God, and the nature of God. Jesus is unique, fully divine as well as fully human. God preserves his children through perseverance, preservation, and assurance. Learning the attributes of God will show us exactly why God instructs the children of God to be. For instance, those who know God will be those who have great energy, great thoughts, great boldness, and great contentment in God. In knowing God better, we too will naturally grow to be better people too. Other questions are also dealt with such as,

  • Does God really need our glorifying of him?
  • Why does the Bible calls God as "jealous?"
  • What about the "wrath of God?"
  • If God created everything, it it then true that God is the author of sin?
  • ...
These and many more are covered in clear and poignant ways.

So What?

I remember a time when books by the late Paul E. Little were popular with my circle of friends. Books like "Know What You Believe," Know Why You Believe," and "How to Give Away Your Faith" are remain respectable on Amazon rankings to this day. Reading this book is like combining some of the best parts of those three books into one. More than that, this book is a book of theology made simple for the layperson. I find the book very light in terms of its delivery, but upon seeing the scope of coverage and the important issues it highlights, I have to constantly remind myself not to belittle the simple words. For the most profound truths can come forth through the simplest words.  In reading the book, readers will be encouraged that studying theology need not mean plowing through thick encyclopedia-sized textbooks or leafing through dated documents by dead theologians. Theology is very much ancient and contemporary, reverent and relevant, heaven-focused and earthly minded.

In trying to make the best sense of the book, let me offer a L.A.I.T.Y acronym to be used as a pedagogical handle. The first three is borrowed from Erisman's three-step paradigm for learning. The next two is my contribution to make the acronym work.

First, Listen for teaching moments. There is no need to jump through the pages just to find something that resonates with our heart. If readers find something interesting or troubling, just pause and listen through the words, asking God what it all means.

Second, Absorb the word of God. Let the Scripture references be the anchor for all the descriptions that Erisman have done. After all, any other text book or human authors can only try to shed light on the Main Deal: The Bible. Consider the Bible references and read this book with an open Bible. Absorb through memorizing the Word of God.

Third, Interact broadly and boldly. The Word of God is not meant to just paralyze us into a closed ended analytical exercise. There are contemporary moments in which what we learn can be put into practice in our daily lives. Perhaps, the interaction begins with saying out the Word of God from memory.

Fourth, be Teachable. In our day and age, it is easy to let knowledge and the accumulation of know-how puff us up. As we go forth to engage the world, to equip believers, and to exhort the Church to do more, we need to be reminded that we too are works in progress. We too need to be constantly learning. Being a disciple is essentially about being a learner too. Our humility is reflected through our teachability.

Fifth, Yield to the Spirit of God to guide us. There is no guarantee that whatever we have learned will have an immediate application. Sometimes, we just need to bide our time and wait for the right opportunity. This is where cultivating a sensitivity to the leading of the Holy Spirit is important. The ability to yield to God is an indication of our relationship with God in the first place.

Overall, I recommend this book for the equipping of the laity in Christian Education.

Rating: 5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me free by Baker Books and NetGalley without any obligation for a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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