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Risking the Truth: Handling Error in the Church Paperback – May 20, 2009
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Serious. Thoughtful. Humble. Godly. Loving. Bracing. Encouraging. These interviews will be a blessing to anyone seeking to be faithful in Christian ministry. (James M. Hamilton Jr. ~ Professor of Biblical Theology, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Kentucky)
"I wasn't sure what to expect from Risking the Truth: Handling Error in the Church but Martin Downes' collection of interviews proved to be a wise and insightful read...there is a remarkable similarity in the general approach to truth and error given by these men: preach the Bible, don't neglect your own heart, don't spend all your time on controversy, test your theology against historic creeds and confessions, beware of pride. I really enjoyed this book. Pastors and scholars especially would do well to pick up a copy. (Kevin DeYoung ~ Senior Pastor, Christ Covenant Church, Matthews, North Carolina)
While Risking the Truth should be read by church leaders, it is nonetheless written in easy-to-grasp style, and is therefore accessible to laymen as well. Because of its rich content and pastoral wisdom, it will encourage many church leaders to maintain the fight against heresy. (Greg Hoadley in New Horizons magazine (OPC) December 2009 issue)
"Risking the Truth is one of the most innovative and interesting books I have come across this year. Structurally, I have never encountered a book quite the same: in addressing a unified question, that of heresy within the Church, it draws on the insights and contributions of many leading Christian pastors, teachers, and theologians across the world..It is not a collection of essays or chapters on assigned topics, but rather a series of one-on-one interviews, conducted by Downes, which make for a unique set of enjoyable benefits that I discovered to be consistently threefold at least: first is the benefit of a personal glimpse into the lives and ministries of humble and capable men of God; second, immense collective insight into how to discern and address heresy within the Church; and third, analyses and reflections upon specific modern errors and heresies by those who are leading experts in their particular fields." (Reformed.net)
"What I really appreciate is the repeated counsel not to focus on error. Heresy hunting seldom brings much positive fruit. Mark Dever counsels the pastor that it is 'far more important to know the truth that to learn all of the counterfeits.' The pastoral and relational emphasis that permeates the book makes dealing with a difficult topic a relatively encouraging task. As Joel Beeke states: 'Every minister must learn to defend the faith without being defensive and combative.' A generous amount of that spirit is evidenced throughout." (Gary Ware, Pastor, Mount Gambier Presbyterian Church, Mount Gambier, South Australia, Australia)
This work is important because it deals with contemporary trends, history, creeds and confessions, and doctrines that are currently under attack. There is personal reflection on these matters, lessons drawn from experience, and practical advice. Kim Riddlebarger, in a truly gripping chapter, describes how he was extricated from dispensationalism. Chapter twenty by Robert Peterson has the apt title, The annihilation of hell'. Ligon Duncan provides a brilliant explanation of the New Perspective on Paul. He refutes and buries it...Ligon's contribution is worth the price of the book. (Erroll Hulse, Editor of Reformation Today Magazine)
Martin Downes' book is very unusual. To be honest I had already seen it and decided its subject was so depressing that I didn't want to read it before reading the 'Exiled Preacher' interview led me to buy it. Martin has written the two introductory and two closing chapters and the rest of the book consists of twenty interviews with evangelical academics and pastors. There are some very sharp insights from some of the contributors but there are common emphases: 'the importance of biblical exposition in the life of the church, the value of well-tested and pastorally well-proven Confessions of the church, the importance of guarding the heart, the privilege of genuine friendships in which men seek to hold one another to a gospel life-style.' Well worth reading - I just read a chapter a day and gave time to thinking about what had been said. (Mike Plant, General Secretary EFCC)
"This is an unusual but helpful book on a neglected but vital subject. It consists of interviews with twenty leading evangelical pastors and seminary teachers on the issue of handling and refuting error in the local church...provides wise, godly and eminently pastoral advice that will help church leaders protect the flocks under their care. I commend it warmly to men in church leadership." (Evangelical Times)
About the Author
Until recently Martin Downes was Pastor of Christ Church, Deeside, North Wales, Martin blogs at against-heresies.blogspot.com. He has also contributed to Reforming or Conforming: Post-Conservative Evangelicals and the Emerging Church published by Crossway Books.
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While Downes bookends the work with the first and last chapters (particularly defining what his purpose is and what heresy and error are), he spends the other twenty chapters asking questions of men such as Michael Horton, Mark Dever, R. Scott Clark, Carl Trueman, Guy Waters, Joel Beeke, Greg Beale, etc. Some of the men he interviews were familiar to me at the beginning, others were not. One of the things I particularly enjoyed about this book was being introduced to a number of men that I had never heard of: Sean Micheal Lucas, Conrad Mbewe, Michael Ovey, and Ron Gleason to name a few.
Overall, I found this book to be a rather easy read, partly due to the interview style. While I have read other books that feature the same question/answer format, I have not enjoyed them nearly as much as I did this book. The interplay between Downes and the other men is rarely dull. Though many of the men repeat one another on key questions, this serves less as tedious repetition than a reinforcing of vital principles. One such example is that when the men were asked a question concerning how one might go about preventing error in one's own personal Christian life, the overwhelming answer points the reader to regular prayer and deep study of the Scriptures.
Although this book seems primarily aimed at pastors, anyone would benefit from the discussions found within. Some of the topics covered may not pique the interest of everyone, but there is enough variety to hold the interest of most Christians desiring to consider the subjects of error and heresy within the church. Personally, I found this variety to be refreshing, as each chapter brought something new to the table. Such issues ranged anywhere from the New Perspective on Paul and Federal Vision to eschatology to liberalism to annihilationism.
The tone set by most of the interviewees is one of irenic concern. The overwhelming desire seems to be for correction of error in a spirit of Christian love. For anyone who reads internet blogs and is aware of the swirl of polemic vitriol that is often spewed over many of these topics, this book is a breath of fresh air. The yearning that shines through from both Downes and the many men he interviews is that the church need only turn faithfully and prayerfully to the Word of God and the preaching of Christ crucified to find sufficient strength to withstand the errors of the day.
While I enjoyed the entire book, I found the chapter in which Carl Trueman is interviewed, "Sin in High Places", to be my favorite. It is both witty and insightful, abounding in truth and solid advice. One particular quote of Trueman's that I enjoyed is found on page 38, speaking of the abandoning of creeds and confessions by evangelicalism: "With no catechisms and confessions of any depth, you have few resources left in the face of a rising tide of theological illiteracy which leaves the way open for all manner of weird and wonderful stuff to fill the resulting vacuum." On the flip side, I was somewhat surprised to find Mark Dever's chapter, "The Faithful Pastor and the Faithful Church", to be my least favorite. I actually found myself wondering if Dever understood what the point of the interview was. His answers were pithy but often without needed explanation. I would like to have seen him flesh out his repeated statements concerning "real relationships," or "honest relationships." Perhaps he does so in other writings that I am unaware of.
I would recommend this book to anyone interested in the combating of error and heresy within the church. While it is not a comprehensive tome to be used as a proof-text for orthodoxy, it is a great place to begin, as many resources are recommended within. Because of the nature of the discussions, "Risking The Truth: Handling Error In The Church" is a great way to be exposed to a variety of issues that threaten the purity of the faith in a way that is both helpful and pastoral. Thanks to Martin Downes for bringing this work to the ecclesiastical table.