Christian Bioethics: A Guide for Pastors, Health Care Professionals, and Families

C. Ben Mitchell and D. Joy Riley.Christian Bioethics: A Guide for Pastors, Health Care Professionals, and Families. Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2014. 224 pp. $24.99. Amazon | Barnes &

515zqopfEQL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_At the beginning of his Christian Personal Ethics, Carl Henry quips, “The question of right and wrong elbows itself into prominence wherever human beings exist.” (p. 21). Issues of morality intersect at every road of human life, including questions regarding medicine and the body. In Christian Bioethics: A Guide for Pastors, Health Care Professionals, and Families, C. Ben Mitchell and D. Joy Riley provide a road map for the the numerous intersections between morality and medicine, particularly from a Christian perspective. Theirs is a helpful and stimulating introduction to the main bioethical issues facing humanity, relating how Christians can enter the conversation from a biblical point of view. Every Christian reader will benefit from this text as it touches on issues every Christian must eventually face including death and dying, aging, infertility, abortion and more. The conversational tone will engage a multiplicity of readers, and the reliance upon recent research and case studies will make this book relevant for years to come.

The book takes a dialogical approach, with the authors engaging one another by asking questions and probing deeper into issues via dialogue. Many readers will appreciate this, though some may not. The authors confirm their commitments to Christian orthodoxy as a platform for ethical dialogue (p. 4–5).  Chapters 1 and 2 (Part 1) establish a Christian framework for bioethical discussion. Here the authors lament the decline of the Hippocratic oath as a foundation for modern medical practice. From this point, the authors provide three additional parts helpfully titled Taking Life (Part 2), Making Life (Part 3), and Remaking/Faking Life (Part 4). Each chapter begins with a relevant case study and questions for reflection before diving into the heart of the discussion. This allows readers to reflect on their own response to a given situation before hearing what the authors wish to say. This format also lends itself to small group discussion. Throughout the text, the authors reflect on recent medical research and provide a primer on the current consensus regarding the bioethical issues in question. Also helpful are basic biological explanations for certain procedures including IVF (in vitro fertilization) and the process of cloning. On this note, the graphs and illustrations could have used a professional touch, as they seem to come straight from a Power Point presentation. This is an aesthetic comment, however, and has nothing to do with the content.

The majority of the technical medical discussion comes from D. Joy Riley, while C. Ben Mitchell provides helpful Christian categories for thinking on these issues. Both are trained in the field of medical ethics, training which is evident throughout the text. That being said, both interact well across the entire spectrum of bioethical issues represented here from a Christian perspective. Biblical interaction is more generous in some chapters than others, and some may wish to see more. These authors provide readers with a launching pad to reflect on bioethical issues from a Christian perspective. Missing is a deeper reflection on Scripture, history and theology. With this in mind, the end of each chapter affords readers with a handful of texts and articles for those wanting deeper analysis. Mitchell and Riley champion the imago dei and a biblical anthropology. This position undergirds their commitment to humanity not simply for humanity’s sake, but as a unique creation from a unique Creator. The range of responses to bioethical issues demonstrates that theological considerations are rare among the crowd. Mitchell and Riley help readers to find a Christian voice amidst the modern cacophony of bioethics. They close by saying, “The cost of commodifying our humanity is losing our humanity.” (p. 187). If nothing else, this conclusion makes Christian Bioethics a worthy purchase for any Christian reader.

Thanks to B&H Publishers for a free review copy in exchange for an honest review!


The Foundation of Communion with God: The Trinitarian Piety of John Owen

Ryan M. McGraw. The Foundation of Communion with God: The Trinitarian Piety of John Owen. Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2014. 136 pp. $10.00. Amazon | Barnes & | Reformation Heritage Books

John Owen offers the world a prolific treasury of theological riches. This 17th century English non-conformist renaissance man provided a richly biblical and affectionate reply to the theological controversies of his day.[1] Recognizing that the work of John Owen is little known outside very compact theological circles, Carl Trueman remarks, “This is unfortunate, for Owen was without doubt the most significant theological intellect in England in the third quarter of the seventeenth century, and one of the two or three most impressive Protestant theologians in Europe at the time.”[2] Ryan M. McGraw, likewise, recognizes this paucity of Owen recognition. Therefore his book, The Foundation of Communion with God: The Trinitarian Piety of John Owen, seeks to introduce a wider audience to the theological brilliance and biblical spirituality of this most accomplished thinker. This accessible volume, published by Reformation Heritage Books in the Profiles in Reformed Spirituality series, gives readers an entry point into understanding and appreciating the theological mind of John Owen.

Divided into three sections and forty-one short chapters, McGraw draws from selections of Owen’s writings to demonstrate his rich Trinitarian piety. Missing in this text is a more robust engagement with Owen’s thought, so interested readers should look elsewhere for such a text. For that interested person, McGraw provides three brief but helpful appendices with a reading strategy for Owen, as well as timeline of his published works, and a starting place for secondary sources on Owen. The majority of the text is devoted to short edited chapters from Owen which speak to his richly affectionate language for the love of God. These short chapters read almost like a John Owen devotional, yet are more than just a helpful “thought for the day.” Owen moves from deep ruminations on our communion with Christ, to the necessity of the Spirit in the life of the believer, to profound reflections on the love of the Father. Regarding worship Owen maintains, “The proper and peculiar object of divine worship and invocation is the essence of God, in its infinite excellency, dignity, majesty, and its causality, as the first sovereign cause of all things” (58). Regarding the weightiness of the Lord’s Supper Owen remarks, “The principal design of the gospel is to declare to us the love and grace of Christ and our reconciliation to God by His blood. Howbeit, herein there is such an eminent representation of them as cannot be made by words.” (129).

The previous quotations reveal one of the potential stumbling block in making the book accessible—Owen himself. The language, while not being overly abstract, is not a kind of English most of us encounter on an everyday basis. Additionally, this introduction to the writings of Owen may not be the first book you hand a new believer. It can, however, serve as a personal devotional piece or even a text for a discussion group or spiritual mentoring relationship. The richness of theological truth represented in Owen represents the fundamental facets of the Christian faith, therefore all readers should appreciate and seek to learn from this learned voice within Christian history. As such, Owen sets the bar high for readers, but McGraw does an admirable job of helping hoist readers up to that bar. This text is an impactful volume as McGraw lets Owen speak for himself, mining the depths of Owen’s thought to present a readable introduction to the piety of this still little known Christian sage of the seventeenth century.

Thanks to Reformation Heritage Books for providing a free review copy in exchange for an honest review!

[1]The title “renaissance man” comes from the title of Carl Trueman’s biography of Owen entitled John Owen: Reformed Catholic, Renaissance Man (Hampshire, England: Ashgate, 2007).

[2]Trueman, John Owen, 1.

The ESV Reader’s Bible

This review originally appeared on Family Ministry Today.

ESV Reader’s Bible. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2014. 1840 pp. $29.99. Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Westminster Books (Best price!)

ESVReadersBibleThe Bible is a story, a tale of redemption from creation, fall and recreation. There are developing characters , interweaving plot lines, and allusions. Readers are carried along the story page after page, era after era, author after author as as the grand tale of redemption is interwoven throughout the millennium-spanning text of Scripture. This story was meant to be read and told as such–a story. The problem for modern readers comes when they encounter the text of Scripture and are met with artificial brackets and divisions which make the Scripture a scientific specimen to be dissected rather than a story to be absorbed. Wishing to help readers better understand the narrative appeal of Scripture, Crossway has produced the ESV Reader’s Bible. As such, this bible serves a unique purpose for contemporary audiences.

While verses have served the church by providing markers to direct people to the text, they have had an unintended side-effect of stunting the narrative flow of the God’s word. The editors explain:

These structural component serve an important purpose and have become what we expect in every Bible. Yet none of them played a role in the original documents included in the Bible. ANORIGINALNEWTESTAMENTMANUSCRIPTLOOKEDLIKETHIS–virtually no headings, chapter numbers, verse numbers, footnotes, spaces, or punctuation….Each book of Scripture was therefore viewed as a unified whole and often read that way. (ix)

As such, when lectors would read the sacred text in worship, the story of the people of God would be told (and re-told) to those gathered. Just as Ezra read the Law of Moses to the gathered ones of God’s people, the communities of the new covenant would gather to hear entire epistles or portions of the gospel read out loud for their edification. While most inheritors of the Reformation have been called a “people of the book,” today in most evangelical church gatherings it looks and sounds more like a people of a few specific verses. OK, so perhaps its not that desperate, but certainly evangelicals have much to learn when it comes to Scripture reading in the church (see Carl Trueman’s indictment on taking Scripture seriously in evangelical churches, for example). The story of Scripture must once again dominate our churches. To this end, the ESV Reader’s Bible will be an invaluable tool.

While this may not be the Bible of the pastor preaching on a Sunday morning, it most certainly could be the Bible of the lector reading in service. If not that, then it should be a Bible owned by parents who wish to impress the story of God’s word on the hearts of their children, not to mention themselves. The look and feel of the ESV Reader’s Bible is that of a novel (see here for a video summary). It is constructed and shaped like a typical hardback book, but of course, its contents are anything by typical. This detail may seem tertiary, but picking up the ESV Reader’s Bible and sitting down with it feels like you preparing for an afternoon with coffee and your favorite book. Psychologically it is less hindering. Some may complain this style of construction mitigates the special nature of Scripture as THE book, however it actually helps readers more fully engage this book as THE story.

Apart from the unique way in which this Bible is made, the ESV Reader’s Bible reads well in the way it’s intended. The reader will feel as if they are sitting down to read a story rather than completing a spiritual task. Some places within Scripture which were truncated by the imposed verse structures now read much more smoothly. With the opening chapters of Genesis, the early story of God and his people comes alive. The parables of Christ are connected and fluid. Paul’s discourse in the epistles transform into a smooth flow of thought. There are other examples throughout the text where removing the verse numbers–chapter numbers still remain but are relegated to the margins–helps the reader appreciate the narrative flow of the text. For this reason, daily bible reading should feel much more relaxed and perhaps more meaningful. At a $30 (or less) price point for the hardback edition, this Bible is easily one of the best book investments you could make this year. As a tool for personal spiritual growth, the ESV Reader’s Bible will be invaluable. As a centerpiece for family devotions, the ESV Reader’s Bible will aid in helping children understand the great narrative of God’s word for years to come.