Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Book Review: A Handful of Pebbles

Banner of Truth asked me to write a more detailed review of this book, so I’m posting it here.

Publisher: Banner of Truth Trust
Publication Date: 2008
Rating (1-10 scale): 7+

Anytime I hear the term "liberal" these days, I'm not sure what to think. On the one hand, the word can mean a number of things that are threatening to orthodoxy, or it can mean some things that are actually very good. On the other hand, I wonder if the term has served its purpose, and no longer is the broad-sweeping inclusive category that it once was. So when I received my copy of A Handful of Pebbles and saw that it was subtitled, "theological liberalism and the church," I wondered which of these it would be.

Fortunately, author Peter Barnes is quick to define what he means by liberalism, even granting that it can sometimes have good associations-- yet qualifying how the liberalism he intends is that which is a threat and challenge to biblical orthodoxy. What follows is Barnes's summary of what liberalism is, how it came to find its way into the church, and how an orthodox Christian ought to respond.

This small book offers a brief history of the rise of liberalism in the church, and it does a fair job of that. The first half could be an outline to a historical theology class, if that class focused exclusively on the rise of heresy and philosophical departure from orthodoxy. I appreciated some of the discussion about key doctrines, especially, and thought the content in the couple of chapters given to the problem of "what do we do about it?" were helpful, at least in a limited way, to give the reader some idea about why theological liberalism is at odds with orthodox Christian beliefs.

However, at the end I was left with a nagging question about who the intended audience for the book is. If it is for pastors or professors, it is far too thin on history and foundations to be of great use; It clearly is not intended as an academic reference. If, on the other hand, it is intended as an apologetic for liberal thinkers, it is likely too thin on refutation and discussion of problems; only the most willing and self-skeptical liberal would be convinced by this little tome.

The best audience I can think of for this book is the average church member in an evangelical church, who is himself/herself already committed to orthodoxy; for this person, it would be a good introduction to the indicators of liberal theology and their problems. I could see it being especially useful to put in the hands of a "liberal church refugee," stepping into an orthodox church after years of having the edge taken off of his or her beliefs. Or perhaps it might be a good tool for church officers, who may at times encounter mild or vague questions along the lines of what this book answers.

At times the tone of the book is a bit too defensive or even aggressive. While this may be justifiable given the subject matter, it undermines the brief urging at one point of approaching those in error with love and forbearance. I would have liked a bit more gracious attitude in a book like this.

Overall, I appreciated A Handful of Pebbles, even if I felt it was appropriate for only a limited audience.

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