My Top 5 Books for 2012
The new year has begun and everyone and their brother is posting their "Top..." list of 2012. Therefore, I thought I would venture into the fray and do the same. I would draw your attention to the title of this entry. It is "my" list. There is bound to be some disagreement and some omissions as many titles have come off the presses this year. However, with that being said, these are the top 5 books that were published in 2012 that I have personally read.
5. The Law of Christ by Charles Leiter.
Whether you adhere to "Covenant Theology," "Dispensational Theology," or "New Covenant Theology" this book will cause you to think well on what it means to serve Christ "in newness of the Spirit and not in the oldness of the letter." Leiter does not tow the party line according to any of these systems, but simply and profoundly unpacks the role of Christ's commands to his church in the life of the church and individual believers. Leiter attempts to look at this matter Christologically and biblically.
4. Transformed by God: New Covenant Life and Ministry by David G. Peterson.
Peterson looks at the New Covenant promise given in Jeremiah. He unpacks its significance in its original context and shows its significance for the New Testament as well as the life of the New Testament church. Peterson does a masterful job of looking at the biblical data regarding the New Covenant and makes clear exegetical conclusions for the life of the New Covenant believer.
3. Sacred Bond: Covenant Theology Explored by Michael G. Brown and Zach Keele.
As someone who believes Covenant Theology to be the architecture of God's unfolding of redemption, there are many times I find myself clarifying what adherents to Covenant Theology really believe. Typically, the follow up question I get is whether or not there is a good book that introduces Covenant Theology. Sacred Bond is my new "go to" book for introducing Covenant Theology. If you are looking for such a book, Brown and Keele write clearly and winsomely on the subject showing why Covenant Theology is important and how its central tenants fit together biblically.
2. The Creedal Imperative by Carl R. Trueman.
Trueman's book is, to be quite blunt, necessary. It is necessary because there is a want for understanding the role of creeds and confessions in the life of the church. It is Trueman's belief, and his burden for writing this book, "that creeds and confessions are vital to the present and future well-being of the church" (p. 12). He looks at the common cultural objection against creeds and looks historical at the development of creeds and confessions. He looks at their usefulness and shows how confessions and praise are intertwined. Whether you are part of a confessional church or not, you need to read this book and think well on its content.
1. Canon Revisited: Establishing the Origins and Authority of the New Testament Books by Michael J.
I don't think I am overstating my belief that this book is in the "Top 10" of my all-time reads. I cannot say enough good things about this book. I read it over vacation this last summer and could not put it down; much to the chagrin of my family at times. Where canonical studies tend to fall more in the category of historical studies, Kruger has given to the church the theological underpinnings of the New Testament canon along with historical matters. This is essential reading for the church. His burden is to show the church that they have a perfectly biblical rationale for accounting for its knowledge of the canon.
Kruger introduces and evaluates the typical models associated with the formation of the New Testament canon. He introduces his view, which happens to be quite biblical and much more satisfying that the other views. Furthermore, he counters many objections that could be leveled at the view Kruger introduces.
That is, my friends, is my Top 5. As I said, I am sure there are others that could be mentioned and probably should be mentioned. These, however, are from the pile of books that I have read this last year. There appears to be a number of excellent titles to be released this year as well.
Gentry-Wellum (KTC) vs. Carson-Schreiner
“Kingdom through Covenant” is a book which spends a great deal of its effort in critiquing traditional Covenant Theology and offering its alternative whole Bible system. As as been demonstrated in the previous article, it’s case against CT is largely a straw man. It builds its whole argument with the understanding that CT is “replacement” theology and that CT rejects any idea that there is a “qualitative progression in the manifestation of grace through redemptive history”. Since both of these ideas can easily be demonstrated to be false and make up the bulk of their argument against CT, then the entire thesis may be on shaky ground. If their whole argument has gone wrong at such a fundamental level of misrepresentation of the theological system they critique, then the most significant arguments of the book perhaps need to be re-thought through. It is reasonable to assume that to be really qualified to critique someones theology, you cannot misunderstand and/or misrepresent what that theology teaches. In this case, those who erroneously teach that Covenant Theology is "replacement" theology have not really understood it at its most basic level, and therefore their qualifications in critiquing it may be called into question, however educated they may otherwise be.
That does not mean we disagree with Gentry and Wellum entirely. We have posted their articles for years on various topics and we are very happy to agree with KTC in vital areas such as the active obedience of Christ, the covenant of creation (or works) which many other branches of NCT do not embrace. And we agree on many other crucial areas of christology and soteriology. So KTC is a vast improvement upon other forms of NCT. Nonetheless, we cannot actively promote a book which so misrepresents our view.
So why do we carry so many articles and books by folks within the Progressive Covenantal camp? Isn't this inconsistent? We have read and benefited by authors such as D.A. Carson and Tom Schreiner and they have seemingly been great deal more careful, as far as I could read. Instead of spending so much time making a negative case against CT with the obvious misrepresentations, they seem to spend a lot more time building a positive case for their understanding, a great deal of which we happen to agree with. So even if we disagree with a theological point or chapter, we still think there is much that one can benefit. Now, if anyone can find anything which resembles the same egregious errors and misrepresentations of traditional Covenant Theology that are found in KTC, then we will reconsider our promotion of them. But I have yet to encounter them. Until then, there is more positive to glean, than negative to withhold. And we are pretty sure that if a book misrepresented your system to that degree you would withhold and warn people against it as well.
Two Ways in Which Kingdom through Covenant Misrepresents Traditional Covenant Theology by J. W. Hendryx
Covenant Theology is Not Replacement Theology by R. Scott Clark
Progressive Covenantalism by Steve Hays
Progressive Covenantalism's View of the Visible/Invisible Church Distinction: A Biblical/Theological Problem by J,. W. Hendryx
Two Ways in Which Kingdom through Covenant Misrepresents Traditional Covenant Theology
For the most part, Gentry and Wellum, the brothers who wrote the new "alternative" (pg. 23) to Covenant Theology and Dispensationalism, really attempt to be fair in the characterizations of the two systems they critique. Their overall purpose seems genuine enough in trying to arbitrate between the two systems, and bring them together, however much we may disagree with their conclusions. Which is why I was truly suprised (no, stunned) to find them somehow associating Covenant Theology with "Replacement" theology throughout its pages. The first time I ran across this term (.pg 42) I was taken aback, but then I saw it again (pg. 125) and again (pg. 685). In fact it uses this term multiple times throughout the book and serves as as basis for one of their main points of contention with covenant theology regarding the distinction between the church and Israel and the progressive nature of grace in redemptive history.
A Sample Chapter on Justification
In Dr. R. C. Sproul's latest book "Are We Together? A Protestant Analyzes Roman Catholicism" he outlines six core doctrines in which Roman Catholicism is at odds with the clear teaching of the Bible; namely her view of Scripture, justification, the Church, the sacraments, the Papacy and the role of Mary. He also describes how Protestants should relate to Roman Catholics without minimizing the vital differences. The book is a clarion call to evangelicals to stand firm for the gospel, the precious good news of salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, all to the glory of God alone.
I encourage you to read the foreword (by Dr. Michael Horton) as well as the introduction and sample chapter on justification:
The book is available at a 25% discount from monergismbooks.com at this link.
JS - I continue to receive very encouraging feedback on the new book. Here's an e-mail I received today from Don Double, one of England's most prominent Christian Evangelists:
I want to thank you so very much for your book "Twelve What Abouts". I am reading it in depth right now and enjoying it tremedously and finding it really helpful too. I'd like to say that I very much like your style which what I is would term 'readable' (for one with my limited academic background). You may be aware that when [my wife] Heather died, the big issue for me was me clearly seeing that 'God is Sovereign', thus helping me deal effectively with grief amongst many other things.
Trust you are doing well.
Praise the Lord!
Book Review: Love, Freedom, and Evil, by Thaddeus J. Williams
All throughout Church history, arguments have been waged and books have been written on the topic of human freedom and divine sovereignty and grace. The conclusion that there remains little, therefore, to be said on the topic seems reasonable, but is belied by the still unabated stream of publications tackling that thorny issue from one angle or another. One thing that stands out about the plethora of modern works touching upon the subject is that it has become virtually axiomatic to assume that, if love is to be genuine, it must be sovereignly exercised by a free will. That is the platform upon which various positions are erected: books that are primarily philosophical or logical in nature tend to synthesize from this starting premise, and those primarily scriptural in nature tend to look for ways in which scripture can be interpreted in harmony with it, or else blow it away with brute force, never pausing to consider how or if its axiomatic status can survive a basic logical scrutiny.
I found Thaddeus Williams' contribution to the discussion, Love, Freedom, and Evil, to be helpful primarily because it addresses this axiom head-on, with a common-sensical, disarming manner. Can scriptural arguments be made against libertarian free will? Yes, they can be, as Williams himself illustrates, providing a very helpful discussion of the themes of divine love and sovereignty in John's gospel. But the problem is, it is an unnecessary obstacle to people's credulousness to leave an unsubverted axiom intact, when making the scriptural case for the sovereignty and irresistibility of divine grace. It's like telling people, if you would believe what the bible says, you can no longer believe that the sky is blue.
Does the premise that authentic love requires libertarian free will deserve its axiomatic status? Williams would argue, and very convincingly so, that the answer is a resounding “No!”. The self-evident nature of the argument for libertarian free will is pulled off only by a classic bait-and-switch, and when the terms are kept consistent, the argument for divine sovereignty is not only scripturally compelling, it is also common-sensical.
Williams is entering a scholarly philosophical discussion, he is not writing a popular or devotional book. It is helpful, therefore, that he constantly uses simple, adept metaphors and illustrations. This makes his argument easy to grasp and to follow. It lends a kind of ingenuousness to the work. He is not winning a philosophical argument by expert arguments beyond the ken of a common person. That can be done, but the downside is, it's not very convincing to a common person. On the contrary, he's simply showing that, when you define your terms properly, common sense is on the side of scriptures. The confidently assumed axioms of Rob Bell, Greg Boyd, and a whole host of other libertarians, are built upon a cunning sleight-of-hand.
The overarching metaphor of the book depicts human freedom in the realm of divine love and grace as a freedom with respect to machine, gunman, heart, and reformer. Must genuine love have freedom from the machine – that is, must it be more than the programmed response of an automaton? Both sides would answer, “Yes”. Must it be un-coerced, that is, must it have freedom from the gunman? Again, yes. So far so good, on both counts.
However, libertarian arguments assume more. They start out with the common-sense premise that true love cannot be mechanistic or coerced, and then change the substance of the premise so that it demands that it cannot be a necessary orientation of the heart. If my heart is so swayed by passion that I cannot help but love, then my love cannot be genuine; I must be able to make a volitional choice to love or not to love, regardless of what my heart desires.
But when this unspoken shift from freedom from the machine and gunman to freedom from the heart takes place, the common-sense, axiomatic nature of the premise is overturned. If a father's heart is so full of emotion at the sight of his newborn daughter that he simply cannot help but love her, does that mean his love is no longer genuine, that it is coerced or mechanistic? Any father with common sense would be able to answer this question; but common sense leads away from the assumed axiom of the libertarian free will camp. I cannot help but love my daughter, but my love for her is genuine – and not just in spite of that lack of freedom to choose not to love her, but rather, because of it. As Williams helpfully shows, at this point, it is rather the libertarian who runs athwart common sense; for he demands that, if love is to be genuine, an “indifferent agent may choose for desires, but must remain desireless when so choosing”. In other words, for love to be genuine, the lover must be desireless (could one read, loveless?). When the bait-and-switch is discovered, the common-sense nature of the libertarian argument is eviscerated.
But the problem with philosophical arguments for libertarian free will goes deeper than that. For the libertarian axiom to hold true, not only must any genuine lover have freedom from the machine, the gunman, and the heart – he must also have freedom from the Reformer (that is, from God who reforms the sinner's heart). This is the point upon which Williams' discussion of John's gospel is so helpful. The question is not ultimately whether men can resist God's sovereign power in the gospel – it is more fundamentally whether they can resist his infinite, intra-trinitarian love, by which the Father promised a people to the Son out of love for him, the Son undertook to win a people for the Father out of love for him, and the Spirit determined to bring those people into that eternal bond of love. The essence of this sovereign love of God for his people is not that they might be free from him, but that they might be one with him. The libertarian axiom that, if my love for God can be genuine, I must be free at any time to choose for or against loving him flies in the face of the kind of love God shows within the Trinity, the same kind of love to which and by which he unstoppably calls us.
Williams ends his argument by suggesting that a simple preposition change is necessary to straighten out the confused categories of the bait-and-switch axiom of libertarian free will, and turn it into both a common-sensical and a scriptural axiom. Instead of saying true love requires freedom from the machine, from the gunman, from the heart, and from the Reformer, try this: true love requires freedom from the machine, from the gunman, of the heart and of the Reformer. When God is free to set our hearts free from slavery to sin, then there is love indeed. When the Reformer freely works in the hearts he created and designed to respond to himself in love, what kind of freedom does he bring? To quote Williams, a freedom “from the burden of self, freedom from excessive rule-keeping, freedom from enslaving impulses, freedom from satanic principalities, from condemnation, from hopelessness, from alienation, from meaninglessness, from anti-love forces within, in short, Freedom from Sin. Such freedom moves us a considerable distance from libertarian free will.... With this new freedom we approach not only something like the freedom Jesus experienced, but also move closer to what He perhaps had in mind with the words, 'If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed' (John 8:36)”.
Love, Freedom, and Evil: Does Authentic Love Require Free Will? by Thaddeus J. Williams - Available now at Monergism Books
James and John
Dr. James White and I (lurking somewhere behind the microphone stands) had a great time yesterday discussing my new eBook and Reformed Theology on James' "Radio Free Geneva" Dividing Line Broadcast. Here's the youtube video of the interview segment.
FULL LENGTH AUDIO
Dr. James White writes: Today on a Mega Radio Free Geneva: John Samson and Emir Caner
"I bet John never expected to see himself mentioned quite like that before. But, we did have John Samson in studio today to talk about his new book from Monergism.com, Twelve What Abouts, which you can find here. We then went back to reviewing Emir Caner's sermon against Reformed theology, and then took calls on the topic for the last half hour." Here's the full 2 hour program.
Wordsmithy Douglas Wilson | Review by: John Starke
Douglas Wilson. Wordsmithy: Hot Tips for the Writing Life. Moscow, Idaho: Canon Press, 2011. 120 pages. $11.20 @Monergism Books.
In C. S. Lewisâ€™s fantasy world Perelandra, a place with no sin or evil, repetition is like â€œasking to hear the same symphony twice in a day.â€ Perfection has the concept of â€œenough,â€ where pleasure is complete and repetition is vulgar. For those of us who read and re-read writing how-to books like Harry Potter novels, we look for that sense of â€œenough,â€ where the formula works and weâ€™re satisfied.
Douglas Wilsonâ€™s Wordsmithy offers no such promise, since itâ€™s not his to give. Besides, it probably doesnâ€™t exist outside the world of Forms. But Wilson provides a guide to the â€œwriting lifeâ€ that doesnâ€™t simply excerpt good writing from classic literature to illustrate his principles but attempts to be the model of good writing itself.
For example, Wilson offers a real gem when warning against â€œwriting by rulesâ€ for fear coming up with something â€œlike verbal tapioca pudding made with skim milk. Our world already has too much verbiage in it that comes off like it was written by a committee or a computerâ€”or maybe a committee of computers.â€ Or when mocking aspiring writers who quote the right people so they can be known as someone who quotes the right people. â€œThey quote Austen like Mary quoted her 18th-century bromides, and were Austen here to see them do it, sheâ€™d slap them right into her next book, and it wouldnâ€™t be pretty.â€
To be clear, Wilson doesn't live in Greenwich Village and boast a contract with a New York publishing house. Heâ€™s a pastor in Moscow, Idaho, who started his own classical education movement and a college to follow. His periodical, Credenda Agenda, stirs up no small wrangles among Presbyterians. None of this slights Wilson. He has lived his own counsel: â€œLive an actual life, a full life, the kind that generates a surplus of stories.â€ He types with dirt under his fingernails.
Though Wilson never says so, writers quickly realize there is such a thing as bad style. But to perfect your style, you donâ€™t spend all your time reading manuals. Wilson doesnâ€™t include sections on brevity, unity, or usage. Rather he instructs us to get a life, read until our brains creak, get to know how language works by reading dictionaries, and learn a foreign language. In other words, Wordsmithy isnâ€™t a manual on how to write a great novel so you can go home and write it this afternoon. Rather, if you want to be a writer, Wilson offers tips for what you do for the next 30 years.
The mindful reader will realize that to follow Wilson all the way will make you a certain kind of writer. He does not dispense generic tips. To be sure, any writer who wants to improve would need to follow the spirit of Wilsonâ€™s tips, but to be a Wilson-kind-of-writer means to value a certain rhetorical style. Maybe thereâ€™s a label for this school of writing, but if there is, I donâ€™t know its name. I only have a sense of it, a rhythmic prose that follows the Austen-Chesterton-Wodehouse-Lewis line of quick wit and belly-laughs. You probably know the kind.
If an author is going to give us tips for a writing life, he only knows one kind of life, his own. He only knows to suggest certain books, the ones he's read. So we need to choose our writing manuals wisely, just like we need to choose our teachers wisely.
Letâ€™s suppose, though, for a moment that you, like Mark Twain, despise writers like Jane Austen. â€œEvery time I read Pride and Prejudice, I want to dig her up and hit her over the skull with her own shin bone,â€ Twain said. I can imagine that Twain would be impatient with Wilson as well. Does it follow, then, that we should neglect a book like Wilsonâ€™s? There certainly are other books like Stephen Kingâ€™s On Writing, which gives writing lifestyle instructions without the Anglo-Saxon wit that Twain despised as flighty.
But hereâ€™s my case for Wilsonâ€™s Wordsmithy. Wilson doesnâ€™t give tips for taking command of Lewis or Wodehouse, but he shows us a lifestyle that takes command of the English language. He doesnâ€™t teach us to be mockers but to be deft wordsmiths.
You shouldnâ€™t be as cranky as Twain anyway. Austen will make your nose snort with laughter, and so does Wilson. Heâ€™ll spin your head with prose and make you wonder how he did it. He wonâ€™t tell you how he did it, but heâ€™ll write five more and then point to authors who do it all the time. He shows young writers still looking for their voice how to find one. Youâ€™ll read this book fast and go back to it again. Wilson has wisdom only a wise man knows.
John Starke is an editor for The Gospel Coalition and lead pastor of All Souls Church in the Upper West Side of Manhattan. You can follow him on Twitter.
Book Review: Family Shepherds: Calling and Equipping Men to Lead Their Homes
Voddie T. Baucham Jr. Family Shepherds: Calling and Equipping Men to Lead Their Homes. Wheaton: Crossway, 2011. 192 pp.
Until a few years ago, Voddie T. Baucham Jr. was known primarily as a cultural apologist and popular speaker at youth events. Much of that shifted in 2007 with the publication of Family Driven Faith: Doing What It Takes to Raise Sons and Daughters Who Walk with God. With Family Driven Faith, Baucham's name became associated with a growing family ministry movement. Most of this attention was positive, recognizing his strong call for intentional family discipleship. Other responses were more critical, choosing to focus almost exclusively on the viability of family-integrated ministryâ€”despite the fact that only one chapter in the book even raised the issue of family-integrated churches, and Baucham explicitly stated that he didn't intend this model to serve as a blueprint for every church (Family Driven Faith, 213).
In Family Shepherds: Calling and Equipping Men to Lead Their Homes, Baucham brings together his passion for family discipleship with his earlier emphasis on developing a gospel-centered worldview. He presents family as a primary context for worldview formation ("family is the cornerstone of society," 11) and then identifies the father as primarily responsible for cultivating gospel-centeredness in his family. Baucham does not propose in this book to promote any particular paradigm for family ministry. He briefly mentions family-integrated ministry in the book's opening pages, sets the issue aside, and plows forward without looking back (12-13). He aims to present â€œtranscendent truths that govern Christian fatherhoodâ€ with the goal of preparing Christian men for their God-ordained responsibility to lead families (11, 13).
Foundations Old and New
Particularly in the first chapter, Baucham draws heavily from Old Testament precepts as he develops biblical foundations for family discipleship. He brushes aside any concerns related to this approach by attributing such concerns to a "dispensational" bent or to an overemphasis on "discontinuity between Old and New Covenants" (20). To be fair, Baucham has done the necessary exegetical work to develop a hermeneutically sound framework for his use of the Old Testament in almost every instance. Still, in a work that includes so many references to the Old Testament, it might have been helpful to include a paragraph or two to help laypeople to understand how and why his applications of Old Covenant texts to New Covenant realities are warranted.
The second chapter of Family Shepherds develops a "three-pronged" approach to family discipleship through exegesis of Paul's letter to Titus, while chapter three compares the biblical expectations with the lifestyle of a fictitious "typical churchgoing" family (39).
Chapter four, "Heralding the Gospel at Home," is Baucham at his best. This chapter serves as a launching pad for the remainder of the book and grounds the husband's priestly and prophetic roles in the gospel. (The chapter also includes a true story from a family trip that involves a bidet. Any time you can include a bidet in a book for the church market, you know it's been a good writing day.) Baucham explains what the gospel is not before proceeding to define what the gospel is (55), then explains what the gospel requires and produces (59). His understanding of the gospel as eschatological becomes the foundation for seeing the family as a God-ordained means (rather than an end in itself) and for showing patience and grace toward one's wife and children. The next two chapters demonstrate that catechesis (63) and family worship (73) are effective means for the communication of the gospel in families.
To Have and to Hold
Baucham emphasizes the â€œprimacyâ€ of marriage among human relationships (91). According to Baucham, the husband's career relationships exist to serve his family, not the other way around. Children are the fruit of the marriage relationship, not the foundation. Bauchamâ€™s point of prioritizing marriage (97) strengthens his previous assertion that the goal is not merely to develop a healthy family but to rehearse the gospel together as a family (13). As a living picture of Christ's relationship with the church, marriage must take precedence over careers and children (98). When children see a husband love his wife as Christ loved the church, they see the gospel lived out in flesh and blood. Bauchamâ€™s final words on male headship in the home are brief and straightforward (101), providing a substantive primer on navigating secular and Christian feminism.
It did seem that one additional question might have been addressed in this section: How specifically should husbands disciple their wives? Baucham rightly declares that a husband must prioritize his wife. Yet beyond leading in catechesis and family worship (which seem to focus more on the man's children than on his wife), how does a husband lead his wife spiritually? I suspect that most men have no idea how to answer that question. A handful of practical suggestions might have strengthened this section.
Baucham draws a clear contrast between a biblical perspective on parenting and behaviorist approaches. To illustrate this contrast, he broadens the definition of Pelagianism to include a range of contemporary perspectives that treat children's nature as neutral rather than corrupted (115-117). To exemplify parental Pelagianism in action, Baucham appeals to a self-published book by Michael and Debi Pearl, To Train Up a Child. Baucham seems to assume that his readers will immediately recognize this book (117-118), though neither of us is aware of the Pearls' materials being used outside a few family-integrated congregations. Perhaps it would have been helpful to address a better-known book on Christian parentingâ€”and there are many from which to choose!â€”that exemplifies a Pelagian approach. That said, Baucham's central point regarding contemporary Pelagianism is presented clearly and memorably.
Baucham helpfully distinguishes between formative discipline and corrective discipline. The chapter on formative discipline summarizes and paraphrases Cotton Mather's A Family Well Ordered for contemporary audiencesâ€”this summation, in itself, provides a welcome tool for pastors and parents. The chapter on corrective discipline presents corporal punishment as "necessary," appealing to texts from Proverbs as if they are prescriptive commands rather than inspired observations regarding typical patterns of wise living (140-141). Spanking certainly stands within the range of appropriate responses for Christian parents; however, it seems that presenting corporal punishment as necessary may be pressing the proverbial texts too far. For some childrenâ€”particularly if they have been adopted from abusive backgroundsâ€”corporal punishment can be counterproductive.
The last section of Family Shepherds urges men to re-evaluate their lifestyles and includes clear recommendations regarding church membership, time use, and culture shaping. Less effective is the final word on â€œfatherless familiesâ€ (173). Ministering to single-parent families is a struggle in almost every church, especially when those single parents are mothers. Yet the recommendations for how family shepherds can serve these single-parent families seem vague compared with the rest of the book. And what about children who come to church with no parents at all? How should family shepherds minister to them?
All such questions aside, Family Shepherds is highly recommended for use in men's groups, one-on-one mentoring, and premarital counseling. Equipping and mobilizing men is a necessary foundation for cultivating gospel-centered families. Far too many men's ministry resources have relied on surface-level solutions instead of showing men what it looks like to guide their wives and children as Christ-imitating servant-leaders. This text centers equipping in the gospel and demonstrates how this functions in the home and church.
W. Ryan Steenburg (PhD, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is the founder and director of Daddy Discipleship and serves as the associate pastor of the Christian home at First Baptist Church in Prospect, Kentucky. Ryan lives in Louisville with his wife, Kristen; son, Wes; and daughters, Caitlyn, Anabelle, and Mikayla.
Timothy Paul Jones (PhD, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is associate professor of leadership and family ministry at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is the author of more than a dozen books and serves in the SojournKids ministry at Sojourn Community Church. He lives in St. Matthews, Kentucky, with his wife, Rayann, and daughters, Hannah and Skylar. For more information about Timothy, visit http://www.timothypauljones.com.
A Long Line of Godly Men
Dr. Steven Lawson is a wonderful brother and serves as senior pastor at Christ Fellowship Baptist Church in Mobile, Alabama. He has currently written two books in what, God willing, will be a three volume series called "A long Line of Godly Men." The first two books are fabulous and I eagerly await the third. The first book is available here, and the second here. - JS
The following four short videos are very helpful.
Here Dr. Lawson explains the concept behind each of the books in the series mentioned above:
In this second video, Dr. Lawson answers the question, "why are the Doctrines of Grace good for the Church?"
In this third video, Pastor Lawson articulates what the doctrines of grace are:
In this fourth video, Dr. Lawson tells us why these doctrines are often offensive and divisive.
Book Review: Robert Letham, Union with Christ: In Scripture, History, and Theology
Robert Letham, Union with Christ: In Scripture, History, and Theology. Phillipsburg, N.J.: P&R Publishing, 2011. 208 pages. $17.99 Retail -$12.13 at Monergism Books
Union with Christ is a terrifically significant theme in the Bible and in the theological expression of the reformational, evangelical traditionâ€”John Calvin, for example, accorded union with Christ â€œthe highest degree of importance.â€ It is no small wonder then that contemporary, accessible treatments on union with Christ are difficult to locate (although very fine scholarly treatments are becoming available: see esp. W.B. Evans, Imputation and Impartation: Union with Christ in American Reformed Theology; Mark Garcia, Life in Christ: Union with Christ and Twofold Grace in Calvinâ€™s Theology). We now have Robert Letham to thank for beginning to address this theological lacuna. His most recent work, Union with Christ: In Scripture, History, and Theology, although relatively succinct (141 pages of text), is still quite vast in scope and depth. Lethamâ€™s intention for this book is basically twofold: (i) to demonstrate the significance of union with Christ across the spectrum of Godâ€™s redemptive purposes, and (ii) to describe what it actually means to be united to Christ.
To accomplish the first task, Letham opens with chapters on creation, incarnation, and Pentecost. Each of these epochal events, he argues, show us that Godâ€™s ultimate redemptive purposes are bound up with, and achieved, as he unites us to himself in Christ. Thus, Godâ€™s creative purpose in designing us for himself in his image has the goal of uniting us to Jesus Christ, the true image of the invisible God. In the incarnation, the eternal Word of God assumed our human nature into personal union so that we might be joined to him. At Pentecost, the Spirit comes to realize Godâ€™s purposes by indwelling us and bringing us into union with Christ.
In the final three chapters Letham accomplishes the second, more daunting, task of articulating the meaning of union with Christ, which he does in terms of representation, transformation, and death and resurrection. The chapter on representation allows Letham to discuss union with Christ by way of covenant headship and substitution, highlighting the doctrines of atonement, election and especially justification, all of which are founded on our representative union with Christ. The chapter on transformation, the longest in the book, expounds union with Christ in terms of sanctification and theosis, or what it means to say that we are growing into conformity to Christ. The final chapter describes the eschatological nature of our union with Christ in his death and resurrection and its present effects in the lives of Christians.
Among the number of important insights found in this study, the following represent those that are, in my view, the most significant for the contemporary evangelical church. The first insight is Lethamâ€™s able demonstration that union with Christ lies at the heart of Christian salvationâ€”indeed, that union with Christ is central to biblical soteriology. Whether we speak of election, atonement, justification, or sanctification (or any other aspect of salvation), all are grounded in the determinative reality of being joined to the Savior. This is a needed reminder for the church, lest it lose sight of the fact that Jesus Christ is himself our salvation and that his benefits cannot be abstracted from his person.
The second insight is Lethamâ€™s much-appreciated stress on the soteriological import of the incarnation of the Word of God, reminding us that the very theo-logic of salvation is wrapped up in the mystery of the incarnate God-man. The incarnation shows us in the clearest possible way that Godâ€™s redemptive intention is to join us to himself through the life-giving humanity of Jesus Christ. The incarnation, in Lethamâ€™s words, â€œis the indispensable basis for our union with Christ. Since Christ has united himself to us in the incarnation, we can be united to him by the Holy Spiritâ€ (40). When evangelical theology loses sight of the saving significance of the incarnation, it is bound to myopically stress forensic, substitutionary understandings of salvation at the expense of the personal, participatory reality that undergirds them.
The third insight is Lethamâ€™s unfolding of the meaning of union with Christ. By focusing on the doctrine of theosis as it has been variously understood in the history of the church, Letham shows that there is a thoroughly Reformed and evangelical (not to mention patristic) pedigree for the assertion that the union believers have with Christ exceeds merely legal or symbolic notionsâ€”it is a union with the very person of Jesus Christ. This does not mean, he rightly insists, that we participate in Godâ€™s essence, that we become â€œdeifiedâ€ or something other than human. But it does mean thatâ€”through faith, by the power of the Holy Spirit, and through the preached and sacramental Word â€”we become authentically human by participating in the present Jesus Christ himself. I cannot help but wonder of the benefits that might accrue to our churches if we were to re-appropriate this crucial aspect of our evangelical heritage.
This book in an important contribution in a number of senses. Letham has provided us an affordable and generally accessible textâ€”not merely introductory, though also not pedanticâ€”on a highly significant theological topic that has been strangely neglected and misunderstood. As we have come to expect from Letham, this book is clearly written, profound without being obtuse, and rich with historical insight. His writing is suffused with a pastoral and doxological tone, a mark to which all theological works should aspire (and which honors the very purpose of theology). In my view, this present work does not attain the heights of his earlier and similarly titled work on the Trinity (The Holy Trinity: In Scripture, History, and Theology), but it most certainly serves the purpose of awakening us to the fundamental importance of union with Christ for a properly biblical, historical, and theological understanding of salvation. It is to be hoped that the reformational, evangelical church will reflect deeply on what Letham has written here.
When the church loses sight of the essential saving reality of being truly joined to Jesus Christ, it runs the risk of an (unintentional) subtle dichotomizing of the person and work of Christ in which salvation is portrayed in rather abstract, extrinsic, and impersonal terms. The effect is that salvation begins to be â€œobjectified,â€ viewed as the reception of various benefits or gifts of Christâ€™s work that can be received apart from a reception of the living, crucified, resurrected Christâ€”Christ for us apart from Christ in us. Without the proper emphasis on our union with Christ, our understanding of salvation can devolve into a gift that Christ gives rather than the gift that Christ is. My hope is that Lethamâ€™s book is a blessing to the church and that it calls us to a retrieval of a theme so deeply imbedded in our Christian heritage, to the â€œglorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of gloryâ€ (Col.1:27).
Marcus Johnson (Ph.D. St. Michaels College, University of Toronto) is assistant professor of theology at Moody Bible Institute, Chicago, IL.
Union with Christ: In Scripture, History, and Theology. Phillipsburg, N.J.: P&R Publishing, 2011. 208 pages. $17.99 Retail -$12.13 at Monergism Books
Best Books for Parenting & Best Children's Books
Best Books for Parenting
* Shepherding a Childâ€™s Heart by Tedd Tripp
* Instructing a Childâ€™s Heart by Tedd & Margie Tripp
* Big Truths for Young Hearts by Bruce Ware
*Â Long Story Short: Ten-Minute Devotions to Draw Your Family to God by Marty Machowski
* Give Them Grace: Dazzling Your Kids with the Love of Jesus by Elyse Fitzpatrick
Gospel-Powered Parenting: How the Gospel Shapes and Transforms Parenting by William P. Farley
* Disciple Like Jesus: For Parents by Alan Melton
* Age of Opportunity: A Biblical Guide to Parenting Teens by Paul David Tripp
* Family Driven Faith: Doing What It Takes to Raise Sons and Daughters Who Walk with God by Voddie Baucham
* The Family: God's Weapon for Victory by Robert Andrews
BEST BOOK FOR CHILDREN BY AGE GROUP
* The Toddlerâ€™s ABC Bible Storybook by Carolyn Larsen
* Our Home is like a Little Church by Lindsey Blair
* Most of All, Jesus Loves You by Noel Piper
* A Bible Alphabet Book by Alison Brown
Preschoolers (Age 3)
* My First Book of Bible Prayers
* My First Book of Christian Values
* My First Book of Memory Verses
* My First Book of Bible Promises
* My First Book About Jesus
* Jesus is Coming Back by Debbie Anderso
* I Love My Bible by Debbie Anderson
Youngsters (Ages 4-5)
* Big Thoughts for Little Thinkers Bundle
* Jesus Finds His People by Catherine Mackenzie
* Peter: The Apostle Carine MacKenzie
* Get Wisdom!: 23 Lessons for Children about Living for Jesus by Ruth Younts
* Thatâ€™s When I Talk to God by Dan & Alison Morrow
* Godâ€™s Little Guidebooks: Ten Commandments Box Set by Hazel Scrimshire
Early Years (Ages 6-7)
* The Jesus Storybook Bible: Every Story Whispers His Name by Sally Lloyd-Jones
* 365 Great Bible Stories: The Good News of Jesus from Genesis to Revelation by Carine Mackenzie
* The Big Picture Story Bible (Book and CD Set) by David Helm
* Mighty Acts of God: A Family Bible Story Book by Starr Meade
* Godâ€™s Mighty Acts in Creation & Salvation by Starr Meade
Elementary (Ages 8-9)
* Bible Doctrine for Younger Children: Book A & Book B by James W. Beeke
* Big Book of Questions and Answers by Sinclair Ferguson
* Big Book of Questions and Answers About Jesus by Sinclair Ferguson
* Building on the Rock Series (5-Volume Set) by Joel R. Beeke & Diana Kleyn
* Trailblazers Series Bundle (14 books)
* Guarding the Treasure: How Godâ€™s People Preserve Godâ€™s Word by Linda Finlayson
* Augustine of Hippo (Christian Biographies for Young Readers) by Simonetta Carr
* Peril and Peace: Chronicles of the Ancient Church (History Lives Series) by Brandon & Mindy Withrow
* Bible Doctrine for Older Children: Book A & Book B
* Light Keepers series (Ten Boys and Ten Girls) by Irene Howat
* Herein is Love Commentary Series: Genesis â€“ A Commentary for Children by Nancy E. Ganz
* The Pilgrimâ€™s Progress by John Bunyan
* Amazing Stories from Times Past: Devotions for Families and Children by Christine Farenhorst
* Crown & Covenant, 3 Volume Set by Douglas Bond
* In Godâ€™s School: Foundations for a Christian Life by Charles Pierre
Books for Teens
The Most Important Thing You'll Ever Study: A Survey of the Bible (5-Volume Set)
Growing Up Christian
Karl Graustein and Mark Jacobsen
Book Review: The Gospel Commission
By Michael Horton
Reviewed by Bobby Jamieson Print
Baker Books, 2011.
320 pages. $19.99
Are evangelicals being distracted by mission creep? That is, are we allowing lots of other good things to creep in and crowd out the central task Jesus sends the church into the world to do?
On the one hand, the rising groundswell of interest in social and cultural engagement among many evangelicals likely reflects the flowering of a robust biblical view of creation and the Bibleâ€™s command to love our neighbor. And many Christians are engaging these issues in a way that keeps the message of the gospel front and center in their lives and in the lives of local churches.
On the other hand, many voices insist that if the church as church is not engaging (insert favored social problem or cultural activity here), then itâ€™s not fulfilling its mission. Such critics assert that evangelical churches are too preoccupied with â€œmember maintenanceâ€ to pay attention to the real mission of Jesus among the poor, in the inner cities, and in the places where culture is made.
A whole lot of theological issues are wrapped up in this question: the definition of the gospel, the distinction between the church as a â€œgatheredâ€ institution and the church as a â€œscatteredâ€ organism, the nature of the inaugurated kingdom of God and its implications for the present age, and, not least, the contours and scope of the mission Jesus gives to his church.
AN EXPANSIVE THEOLOGICAL EXPOSITION OF THE GREAT COMMISSION
Driven by the concern that evangelicals are in fact being distracted by mission creep, Michael Horton has addressed these issues and more in his new book The Gospel Commission: Recovering Godâ€™s Strategy for Making Disciples. At its heart, this book is an expansive theological exposition of the â€œGreat Commissionâ€ of Matthew 28:18-20. Along the way, in addition to the issues mentioned above, Horton engages with cultural pluralism, theological inclusivism, and a number of influential facets of evangelical piety and practice which he finds to be troublesome.
Hortonâ€™s thesis is summed up in one sentence early on: â€œThe central point of this book is that there is no mission without the church and no church without the missionâ€ (14). Over against those who would denigrate the churchâ€™s regular ministry of â€œWord and sacramentâ€ as a hindrance to mission or as an irrelevant sideshow, Horton argues that the churchâ€™s regular means of grace are at the very heart of Jesusâ€™ missional mandate. Therefore, the church is a missionary institution by nature and calling.
A RADICALLY CHURCH-SHAPED VISION FOR DISCIPLE-MAKING
In other words, Horton argues for a radically church-shaped vision for disciple-making. In my estimation, this is a timely, biblical corrective to evangelicalsâ€™ general neglect of the institutional church and to the particular way that recent â€œmissionalâ€ emphases have sometimes tended to denigrate the institutional churchâ€™s ministry. This church-shaped vision comes to fruition in chapters six and seven, in which Horton unpacks how the churchâ€™s ministry of preaching, teaching, administering the sacraments, and practicing discipline fulfills Christâ€™s mandate to make disciples of all nations.
Further, Hortonâ€™s view of the churchâ€™s mission is grounded on a lush depiction of the Bibleâ€™s teaching on the kingdom of God. In chapter 2, â€œExodus and Conquest: the Gospel and the Kingdom,â€ Horton expounds the gospel as the eschatological exodus and conquest which secures our salvation and brings the age to come crashing into the present, opening up a â€œcreviceâ€ between the ages in which the gospel is proclaimed to all nations.
Thus, this book contains Hortonâ€™s answer to current debates about the relationship between gospel and kingdom, and itâ€™s a compelling one. Building upon careful exegetical and biblical-theological work, Horton argues that â€œJesusâ€™s proclamation of the kingdom is identical to Paulâ€™s proclamation of the gospel of justificationâ€ (75). Further, â€œThe kingdom of God in this present phase is primarily audible, not visible. We hear the opening and shutting of the kingdomâ€™s gates through the proclamation of the gospel, in the sacraments, and in disciplineâ€ (67). In the same vein, â€œOnly if we hold in slight esteem the forgiveness of sins, rebirth into the new creation, justification, sanctification, and the communion of saints can we fail to revel in these present realities of Christâ€™s reignâ€ (68).
Hortonâ€™s thesis that â€œthe kingdom is the gospel and the gospel is the kingdomâ€ (79) displays the many facets of the gospel in all their gleaming, soul-stirring radiance. Further, Horton offers a robustly biblical account of the kingdom of God that precisely details those aspects of the kingdom which are inaugurated in the present age and those which await the last day for their realization. With these theological convictions at its core, Hortonâ€™s blueprint for the churchâ€™s mission preserves the primacy of the proclamation of the gospel and the churchâ€™s mandate to make disciples.
Building on this work, in chapter eight Horton has a clarifying and, I would argue, largely satisfying discussion of the relationship between â€œthe Great Commission and the Great Commandmentâ€â€”that is, the relationship between evangelism and social justice. Horton proposes that the way to fulfill both mandates is for the church as an institution to devote itself to proclaiming the gospel and making disciples, which equips individual Christians to fulfill both commissions in their â€œmyriad callings in the worldâ€ (231). Then, in chapter nine, Horton addresses the touchy issue of mission creep, analyzing several â€œdichotomies that distort the Great Commission and distract us from the strategies that Christ gave usâ€ (252 ff.). Similar to his Westminster West colleague David VanDrunenâ€™s work in his recent book Living in Godâ€™s Two Kingdoms (Crossway, 2010), Horton carefully argues for the unique, biblically circumscribed role of the local church as an institution. This is a crucial theological guardrail for preserving the churchâ€™s faithfulness to our Masterâ€™s marching orders.
A VALUABLE, SUBSTANTIVE, AND CLARIFYING CONTRIBUTION
Iâ€™ve spent most of my time letting Horton do the talking because I think that this book makes a valuable, substantive, and clarifying contribution to the current evangelical discussion about mission, and I want his arguments to be heard.
Hortonâ€™s theological work on gospel and kingdom is clarifying and pointedly edifying. Moreover, he glories in the inauguration of the kingdom of God and the hope of the restoration of all things while carefully guarding against an over-realized eschatology. Further, his massive emphasis on the centrality of the institutional church in fulfilling the Great Commission is a much-needed rallying cry. He muscles out room for the church as institution and then points out that this is how we must fulfill the Great Commission because thisâ€”the local churchâ€”is the means Jesus established for carrying out his mission on earth. And Horton carefully deprograms several common misconceptions that keep evangelicals from rightly understanding and carrying out the Great Commission. Among these are a consumeristic understanding of contextualization (114-132), the idea that we â€œlive the gospelâ€ (266-285), the claim that the institutional dimensions of the church are inimical to mission (285-290), and a misconstrual of the relationship between the church and the kingdom (290-293).
I have to register a few representative disagreements for the sake of conscience, but these by no means vitiate the bookâ€™s value. At times, Hortonâ€™s claims about what is representatively â€œevangelicalâ€ strike me as somewhat tendentious. I was not persuaded by his polemic for infant baptism. I donâ€™t think he gets the Sabbath and the Lordâ€™s Day quite right. And Iâ€™d raise questions about some of his language about the sacraments.
But in all of this, I appreciate that Horton is fleshing out a biblical vision for mission in the muscles and ligaments of the institutional church. Horton is dead right that the local church is at the heart of the Great Commission, and that the Great Commission provides us with â€œthe message, mandate, and methods that Christ has ordained for his continuing mission in the worldâ€ (20). I hope that Hortonâ€™s example of fleshing out this churchly vision for mission within his own convictional and confessional framework will inspire many evangelicals to do the same.
This book is theologically rich, carefully critical, and it throbs with a missionary heartbeat. Reading it will both instruct and inspire you to go and make disciples of all nations.
Bobby Jamieson is assistant editor for 9Marks.
The Gospel Commission: Recovering God's Strategy for Making Disciples by Michael Horton - Available at Monergism Books for $12.95
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Run for your life!
A new book by Ann Voskamp called "One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are" has gained extreme popularity among many Christian women today. However, questions have arisen regarding the author's use of very explicit metaphor in which she describes union with God in carnal terms, specifically as a sexual affair.
One of the roles a true shepherd of the sheep has is to warn the flock of false doctrine, to help them steer clear of unhealthy or dangerous spiritual food. I do so here. My advice, for what its worth - when you see these concepts being taught, run for your life! More at this link. - JS
Ten Books That Every Christian Should Own and Read
is no new idea to suggest a â€œtop tenâ€ list of Christian books, which, when read carefully, will ground a new believer in the basics of what it means to be a part of the historic, orthodox Christian faith. I've seen several such lists in the past, and, as the beginning of a new year seems to be a popular time for composing such lists, I've recently come across a couple more. I've always felt it a little unbalanced that almost all such lists (at least composed by Protestants) are drawn exclusively from the past several hundred years of an almost two-thousand year history of orthodoxy. The occasional nod to Augustine is usually the only exception to this bias toward the relatively more recent â€“ and I think we are the poorer for it, and less able to sort through the plethora of doctrinal and practical woes which abound everywhere in these dark days. That said, I would like to throw my own â€œtop tenâ€ list out there, with a mind to take the whole history of Christian literature into account. It is, of course, a most difficult thing to boil down two thousand years of solid writings into a mere ten suggestions, and for every book I picked I could have picked ten others just like it. But, in the end, I had to make some hard decisions, which is simply the nature of the exercise. Here are the final selections:
Book Review: Always Reformed, edited by R. Scott Clark and Joel E. Kim
As the crisp, cool days of Autumn grow shorter and the blazing trees shrug off their fleeting glories to stand stark against the frozen sky, we may know with a sighing certainty that winter is indeed coming. Soon, the fresh-harvested fields will snuggle up beneath a blanket of white for a long, deep slumber, and the shopping malls will spring up everywhere with those interminably various â€œsampler packs,â€ enticing gift-seeking consumers with an assortment of the very best wares that can be had in dark chocolates, exotic coffees, hearty sausages and fine cheeses. Soon, those who are unfamiliar with these sophisticated luxuries, taking advantage of a cozy living room and a few days off work, will be introduced to a new world of pleasure, with time to prove all its best offerings and, if things go well, develop an appetite for further exploration in favorite specimens. Perhaps it is only the nostalgia associated with the time of year, but I can think of no better analogy for the recent publication of Always Reformed, a festschrift in honor of W. Robert Godfrey, with a remarkable array of contributors. If you want the â€œsampler packâ€ of the best the conservative, confessional Reformed community has to offer on a wide smattering of topics, then carve out some time this winter to digest this admirable assortment of essays.
Bob Godfrey is certainly a man of various passions, if this collection of writings in his honor has any semblance of authenticity. But even so, why would someone who is unacquainted with this man be willing to give up a couple afternoons of his life to figure out what those interests are? I would suggest this: it is because all of his interests tend toward tracing out the particulars of what he would call a comprehensive, consistent, Christocentric, and committed Calvinism. At a time in which Calvinism is merely a synonym for the five petals of the TULIP, and when the label Reformed is applied to virtually anyone who holds to this minimalistic set of doctrines, regardless of his broader doctrine, piety, and worship, it is refreshing to see a picture of what a Calvinism that extends to every area of life might look like. And that is just what this collection does. It is not just an introduction to the man Bob Godfrey, it is an introduction to a conservative, confessional Reformed theology, practice, piety, and worship â€“ a total package which is as desperately needed in today's Evangelicalism as it is neglected and misunderstood.
The sampling of essay topics in the collection really is diverse. The reader will find something scintillating for just about every taste. There is a strong representation of historical themes, ranging from biographies of some remarkable men of the past to exegetical traditions of difficult passages to the chronicles of Reformed fellowships and denominations. There are also excursions into various theological questions, critiques of much of the contemporary piety and worship in the American Church, apologies for a historic, Reformed practice in worship â€“ and even a little literary criticism.
But if there is one thread that runs through the whole book, in spite of its variety, it has to be the centrality of the Church in all areas of life. I could repeat about this collection the words of David VanDrunen, a former student of Bob Godfrey: â€œBob had communicated â€“ as much informally as formally, as much in practice as in word â€“ the centrality of the church for Christian faith and life. Being a Reformed Christian was about much more than a few key doctrines, excellence at work, or personal devotions. Bob has helped to teach me, and many others, that the church's worship, preaching, sacraments, education, and discipline are central, not peripheral, to Christian pietyâ€. I find this sentiment to be as valid as it is un-American.
The highlights of the book are numerous. Scott Clark's fascinating history of Sister Aimee Semple McPherson was as much a true page-turner as you'll ever come across in a theological tome â€“ and what's more, it contained a moral of tremendous importance for today's church, which has derived so much of her piety and worship practices from Sister's influence, oftentimes, I would suspect, unwittingly. Kim Riddlebarger's appeal for a frequent use of the Lord's Supper is impeccably reasoned and soul-stirring in implication. Hywel Jones offers important, practical wisdom to pastors on the manner in which to preach and teach on the foundational Reformed doctrine of monergistic regeneration. Michael Horton explores the heart of what it really is to be Reformed and â€œalways reformingâ€ in a manner that is both confessional and vibrant, neither denigrating nor idolizing the great documents of the Reformation. D. G. Hart's brief biography of truth-warrior J. Gresham Machen was both fascinating and relevant to battles for the truth that still rage on today. A comprehensive look at the church of the twentieth-century all but demands an evaluation of Karl Barth, which Ryan Glomsrud has capably provided.
These and many other stimulating essays are waiting only for a quiet afternoon and a thoughtful reader to serve up an illustrious platter of delectable wares, a wide-ranging sampling of what it means to be a comprehensive, consistent, Christocentric, and committed Calvinist. By all means, carve out that afternoon sometime this winter, settle down in your favorite chair, and dig in.
Book Review: A Portrait of Paul, by Rob Ventura and Jeremy Walker
In the modern Evangelical world of incessant novelties and pastoral pop-stardom, how can a church discern between a glitzy, charismatic, flash-in-the-pan pulpiteer and a faithful, humble, minister of the gospel? The question is perhaps more difficult than most Christians appreciate â€“ and answering it correctly can have immense consequences for the health of a church. If this matter is currently on the front burner of any church or pastoral search committee today â€“ and I suspect it must be â€“ then I can say this to you without reservation: before you take another step, read A Portrait of Paul, by Rob Ventura and Jeremy Walker. The portrait that these men draw out faithfully from the text of Colossians will prove to be invaluable for showing in a full-orbed way just what a faithful and worthy (even if not perfect!) gospel minister should be striving for â€“ imitating Paul even as he imitated Christ.
Colossians 1:24 through 2:5 â€“ the passage forming the basis of this book â€“ is one of those passages which, when you start to examine it in detail, cannot fail to surprise you in the depths and expansiveness with which it treats of its subject. How manifold and daunting are the roles and attitudes and actions that a true gospel minister must be characterized by as he pursues his work! And how easy to lose balance and perspective! What a daunting array of tasks to perform: warning against false doctrine without losing gentleness and humility; admonishing and rebuking those who err without failing to display a genuine, soul-deep love and compassion for them; pleading in prayer, leading in the pursuit of holiness, showing patience and compassion to the weak, preaching God's word faithfully, shedding the light of doctrine and the heat of practical application, and most of all, bringing every passage to bear on the Person and work of Christ, who is the sum and substance of divine revelation. Where can a minister find all of these various elements brought out and made to co-exist, not at variance with each other but in a mutually-supportive whole? The portrait of Paul in Colossians is one outstanding such case, and Ventura and Walker's book is an outstanding treatment of that passage.
It is difficult to highlight a few chapters from the book, because every chapter, in its way, is worthy of spotlighting; but if I had to pick a favorite, after a few moments of waffling, I would probably settle on the sixth chapter, which describes in detail what an effective preaching ministry looks like. After all, as the book suggests, the â€œdeclaration of Jesus is the central duty of the true servant of the Lordâ€. Faithful pastors â€œnever proclaim a mere system, nor a set of rules...They do not preach positive thinking. They do not preach themselves...[they] declare a person, a living person who is the source of all true life, in whom lies the hope of glory, the only fulfillment of the deepest needs of sinful men... This matter reveals the crucial difference between a true servant of Christ and a false oneâ€. After thus emphasizing the importance of a scriptural, Christ-centered preaching ministry, the chapter then goes on in very practical terms to describe just what that means and does not mean. This segment of the book should be required reading for any preacher or aspiring preacher.
As I previously suggested, this book is a must-read for anyone involved in searching for a pastor; but it is also geared for a much wider audience than that â€“ it is not simply a â€œhow toâ€ manual for pastoral search committees. Its nature as a book describing in detail what a faithful minister looks like makes it an obvious choice for present or aspiring pastors; and one structural feature both underscores that use and effectively extends the target audience to virtually any believer in Christ: after the bulk of each chapter deals at a very practical and expositional level with a portion of the passage in Colossians, there are concluding segments addressed first of all to fellow-believers, and then to fellow-pastors of the authors. These segments are always suffused with intentional, practical wisdom appropriate both for the sheep and the shepherds. Not only will the pastor gain much insight into how to fulfill his ministry well, but the sheep will gain much insight into how to benefit from the labors of the pastor most fully, and how to support and uphold him, not just for his own good, but also for their own. I cannot think of any class of believer that does not stand to benefit by this marvelous book. It really is, as John MacArthur expresses it, â€œa wonderful, powerful, soul-stirring examinationâ€.
Book Review: My Almost for His Highest, by John Barber
Anyone who is familiar with John Barber's magisterial The Road from Eden could use a disclaimer from the outset concerning his new book, My Almost for His Highest: this is an entirely different sort of book, accessible to an entirely different kind of audience. The former work was lengthy, scholarly, and sweeping in its historical survey and analyses. This one is brief, easy to read, and touches only upon that which is of immediate and central concern to today's western Church. Is it hard-hitting? Yes. Will it make you uncomfortable? Probably, at points. But is that a bad thing? Absolutely not. If you are a Christian in America today, I cannot imagine that you could read this book and not profit. It is a passionate appeal, driven by a strong conviction that the Church is presently in dire need of a sobering, yet hopeful message. And that this is truly the case is made firm beyond argument in the crystal clear and insightful comments that lace the book from cover to cover.
Of course, it is no secret that contemporary Evangelicalism has suffered a great decline in doctrinal stability, true gospel holiness, and influence in the broader culture. Several excellent books have come out rather recently to speak to that fact. So what is it about Barber's contribution that makes it different from these? I would suggest two characteristics:
First, it is one of the most accessible books you will find on the topic. Perhaps the outstanding literary feature of Barber's book is its economy with words, its pithy, forthright sentences that hit hard and forcefully confront hidden attitudes and presuppositions. Although examples could be drawn from almost every page, I've culled a few specimens to give a taste of his style and blunt wisdom:
â€œFundamentally, people aren't products of culture. They're products of Adamâ€ (p. 13).
â€œ...overly sophisticated churches of today see little to no benefit in articulating their oneness with other churches. In reality, when it comes to the historic creeds and confessions of the Church their attitude tends to be wholly dismissiveâ€ (p. 24).
"Innovation is not a sign of the Church" (p. 24).
"Jesus doesn't call us to attract people to our churches. He calls us to minister the gospel through which He attracts people to Himself. This is what men have forgotten today: the inherent power of the cross to draw people to Jesus!â€ (p. 26).
â€œWhy have many evangelical pastors abandoned the message of the cross in favor of innovation in the ministry? They no longer believe in the power of the gospel!" (p. 28).
â€œ...there's a world of difference between talking about Jesus and preaching Christ. To preach Christ is not to talk about how Jesus is the answer for your mid-life crisis. To preach Christ is to preach the realities of sin, salvation, heaven, hell, His passion, the glorious grace of God to sinners as repentance from sin, trust alone on Christ for the forgiveness of sins, and holiness of livingâ€ (p. 28).
â€œTruth be told, we have already arrived at a time when those that still wish to live radical lives for Jesus are perceived as a greater threat to the life of the Church than those who live in open sinâ€ (p. 37).
â€œThe person and work of Christ is the central message of every passage of scripture. Christ is the Bible's subject and objectâ€ (p. 37).
â€œThe problem people have with biblically prescribed church discipline flows from their deeper problem with God's justiceâ€ (p. 44).
â€œThe evangelical movement is no longer a threat to the world systemâ€ (p. 69).
Second, Barber's work stands out in its hope-filled tenor and confident expectation of the swiftly-hastening triumph of Christ's Church, regardless of how bad the current malaise has become. Drawing from examples in the bible and throughout Church history, Barber's enthusiastic prognosis is that revival, change, and reformation will certainly come again. God's Spirit will soon begin to stir the hearts of God's people, granting them anew a true sense of their utter depravity and helplessness, and causing them to cry out from the depths of their hearts for the sovereign mercy of Christ in his unchanging gospel. When the Church has become exceedingly corrupt in times past, God has done this very thing; and to the end of the age, he will continue to work in like manner, until the world is full of the knowledge of the glory of the Lord.
Now, if there is one quibble I have with the book, it has to do with the largely positive (although brief) treatment Barber gives of the Second Great Awakening in particular, which, in my opinion, has much more to do with the contemporary problems that he so forcefully argues against throughout the book than he lets on, being a movement, as I suppose, which inherently contained some of the seed ideas and doctrines which could not but have brought forth the devastating fruit we have experienced in our generation. But whether or not I am right on this point, I am at least confident that Barber both diagnoses the current problems accurately, and basically offers the way forward with unerring skill â€“ with the only possible exception, in my mind, being a hint of a more Keswickian-leaning flavor of sanctification than I am comfortable with, in the last chapter, and which, I suspect, has something to do with a too positive view of the second awakening which gave it so much impetus. But that is a minor point of disagreement from a book that otherwise I very enthusiastically recommend for its deep and desperately-needed wisdom on so many points of vital concern.
In the final few chapters of the book, Barber gives a scriptural explanation of the largely forgotten and misunderstood doctrines of gospel repentance and faith that it would do well for any Christian at all to read and consider very seriously. In those brief chapters, there is much helpful medicine for today's ailing Church, that has been very wanting in Evangelicalism at large since the days of the Puritans. If anyone purchases the book for nothing else but to read those chapters carefully and in a spirit of self-searching, Spirit-assisted reflection, he will doubtless find the time and money so invested to be very richly rewarded in spiritual gain.
Update: I have been personally assured by John Barber that he is thoroughly opposed to Keswick theology, esp. as seen in Henrietta Mears, Bill Bright, et al, and that, although he appreciates some more Reformed elements of the Second Great Awakening, he also recognizes the deviant doctrine integral to much of it. My difficulties with some of his teaching on sanctification may lie, in part, with the lack of any sustained argumentation and clarification on his part, given the brevity of the book, as well as with an unfortunate coincidence of terminology (but not necessarily of actual doctrine) in some of the Keswickian/Revivalistic experiences of my own past.
Book Review: One or Two, by Peter Jones
It is no difficult task to discern that great cultural changes are afoot in the Western world, and that these changes are not friendly to Christianity. But just where are these cultural changes coming from, what is driving them, what are their real implications for the unique message of biblical Christianity, and how should Christians respond? Peter Jones' perceptive analysis of the new paganism contains invaluable information that all who claim the Name of Christ would be foolish to disregard, and a sobering prognosis that calls for much serious reflection. I would recommend this book both to non-Christians, who might be surprised where so many of the current cultural and political trends really originated, and what the alternative to them is; and also to Christians, who will doubtless be enabled by it to explain the differences between true Christianity and every other option in much more detail.
Anyone who is familiar with Tolkien's masterpiece will appreciate the analogy Jones employs at one point in his book:
"A scene in the movie, The Lord of the Rings, shows the band of heroes hopelessly surrounded by thousands of orcs in the Mines of Moriah. Then, miraculously, the ugly crowd, in a squealing frenzy, dissolves into the shadows. Relief registers on the travelers until... a far more fearsome enemy emerges from the depths of the earthâ€”a Balrog, demon from the beginning of time.
Christians were relieved when secular humanism, long-time enemy of biblical supernaturalism, scurried off into the shadows. Little did we realize that a demon from the beginning of time threatens our â€œFellowship of the King.â€ That demon comes in disguise, offering spiritual help from the one place where it cannot be found: within the human soul."
So what, in Jones' analogy, is this â€œdemon from the beginning of time? The bad news is that it is a system that has been in existence from the beginning, and has served as the foundational basis for all the great religions of the world. It is the â€œOne-istâ€ view of the world â€“ that all creation is essentially the same, that we all partake of it, and that we are to derive all our own answers and beliefs from it. In a word, whether Buddhist, Hindu, or any of the old pagan systems of old, it is â€œThe Lie,â€ which exchanges the glory of the invisible God for the lesser glory of his created things. The good news is that the Lie has already been exposed by the Truth â€“ the â€œTwo-istâ€ view of reality, which recognizes that all creation is utterly distinct from the Creator, and that who we are and what we ought to think and do and be must come from outside ourselves and outside all of creation.
This â€œTwo-istâ€ worldview overcame the old paganism many centuries ago, after Julian the Apostate failingly attempted to reinstate it in the stead of Christianity, and ended his attempt with his death-bed cry of defeat, â€œYou have conquered, Galilean!â€. But have the forces behind the modern cultural revolution succeeded where Julian failed? Is there really a new rebirth of the old paganism afoot? Is that what the revolution of the sixties was all about? And if so, what does it mean for the future of Christianity in the Western world?
Jones has obviously thought about these issues very carefully, for a very long time. He has gathered together piles of examples and documented immense changes. And what he has found is that the beliefs of the new culture, which is rising up to replace the old â€œsecular humanismâ€ of the past generation, is precisely in line with what Paul argued against in Romans chapter one: instead of the truth about God, the Creator of all things, there is a renewed emphasis on the supremacy and divinity of nature and the environment. Instead of the true worship of God by offering up our bodies as living, holy sacrifices, there is a renewed emphasis on a false spirituality, which seeks enlightenment by discovering the truth within, or being freed from the bonds of the physical body. Mystical meditation, ancient shamanic practices, and many other such false spiritualities are rapidly gaining ground as legitimate religious practices. Finally, instead of heterosexuality, which by God's design represents the â€œtwo-istâ€ nature of reality and the union of Christ with his Church, where â€œOneâ€ and â€œTwoâ€ are finally joined, there is a widespread push for â€œpansexualityâ€ â€“ accepting as legitimate every form of sexual expression, including homosexuality, which is clearly against the commandments of the Creator, but which is in full harmony with the â€œOne-istâ€ view of the supremacy of creation.
Jones summed up the point of his book when he said, â€œYou will never understand cultural conflict, debates in the Church, or your own questions about life if you do not understand that the world is divided over Truth. A timeless antithesis exists: Is everything God (One-ism), or is reality divided into the Creator and everything else (Two-ism)?â€ As a broad, â€œbig-pictureâ€ overview, One or Two provides a helpful foundation for recognizing just how deep-seated and important the differences really are between true Christianity and everything else, which, in spite of the great variety, is at heart fundamentally the same in its opposition to the Truth that Paul so clearly proclaims in his letter to the Romans.
The Second London Baptist Confession of 1689 & The Baptist Catechism
The Second London Baptist Confession of 1689 & The Baptist Catechism
This volume uses the accepted editions of both the Confession and Catechism along with the Scripture Proofs for both. Also included is a brief Introduction by Dr. Jim Renihan, and the original Appendix on Baptism. Aside from the differences on Baptism, almost identical to the Presbyterian Westminster Confession of Faith.
Finally the Reformed Baptists will have their most important doctrinal statements in a form that will endure for generations to come. This beautiful edition will send the right message to the watching world about the enduring value of these documents.
- 60# paper (360 ppi for long-lasting durability)
- Gold stamping on both spine and front cover
- 1/4" marker ribbon, black, bound into the book
-Historical Introduction by Jim Renihan
-Original Letter to the Reader
-The Second London Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689
-Original Appendix on Baptism
-The Baptist Catechism with Scripture Proofs
This is not a modernized version of the Confession or the Catechism.
Book Review: Burning Down the Shack, by James B. De Young
â€œThe number one error of The Shack,â€ James De Young summarizes in an appendix to his critique of that influential bestseller, â€œis that Paul Young commits the great evil that he faults the human race for committing from the beginning onward. Paul Young makes the number one evil in the world...to be the independence from God that Adam and Eve exercised in the Garden of Eden.... Yet Paul Young himself indulges the great sin of independence. By embracing the basics of universal reconciliation, Young creates his own view of how love and holiness or justice relate but does not reflect all those texts that talk about the judgment of God on the unbelievers who reject himâ€. This analysis, which I find indubitably correct, goes far toward explaining the root error that has sprung up in many bitter fruits, which, elsewhere, De Young enumerates: â€œPaul Young improperly redefines the meaning of the Trinity and the special roles of God the Father, Christ the Son, and the Holy Spirit. He distorts the nature of Christ's crucifixion, the nature of sin and punishment, the wrath and judgment of God, and the nature of God's love and having a relationship with him. He has no place for the devil, the enemy of every Christian. He has corrupted the nature of forgiveness, the nature of faith and reconciliation, the nature of salvation, the very meaning of the gospel, who the children of God are, what the bible is, and the role of the institutions of the church, the state, and marriage. Indeed, he rejects the latter, twice calling them a 'trinity of terrors'â€.
These accusations are supported with a multiplicity of troubling quotations taken directly from The Shack; and they serve as evidence of what great errors God in his righteous wrath is often well-pleased to plunge them into who have rejected the sole sufficiency of his own self-revelation in the inspired scriptures, and have turned instead to fashioning God after their own imaginations and the councils of their own hearts. This bestseller has sadly influenced the spiritual perceptions of countless persons. I ardently urge you, if you are one of that number, to take a moment to consider very soberly and seriously if the picture of God that Paul Young has painted in The Shack is in accordance with the God who has condescended to reveal himself in the bible.
De Young's book may help you to undertake that sober consideration. Because of his previous, personal acquaintance with Paul Young, the author of The Shack, he is aware of the latter's spiritual journey, which resulted in a wholesale acceptance of the false teaching of universal reconciliation, and the life-changing effects that this error had upon him. The telltale signs of universalism, as De Young points out, are suffused throughout the entire novel; but his personal knowledge of the author vindicates one's finding of such elements, and serves to assure the uncertain reader that they really are there and they really are of a destructive nature, and attended by devastating consequences.
Of course, the false teachings of The Shack are not so hidden that they must be brought to light by long, laborious trains of logic, but they often lie right on the surface. De Young has helpfully collated many of these heretical sentiments, and deals at length with all of them, often in a clear and helpful manner. Some of the novel's false doctrines, which he treats of at length, I will reproduce here: God the Father says, â€œWhen we three spoke ourself into human existence as the Son of God, we became fully humanâ€; â€œAlthough Jesus is fully God, he has never drawn upon his nature as God to do anythingâ€; â€œI don't need to punish people for sin. Sin is its own punishment, devouring you from the inside. It's not my purpose to punish it; it's my joy to cure itâ€; â€œIn Jesus, I have forgiven all humans for their sins against me, but only some choose relationshipâ€. Jesus says, â€œI don't create institutions â€“ never have, never willâ€; â€œI have no desire to make [people] Christiansâ€. The Holy Spirit says, â€œI have a great fondness for uncertaintyâ€. These and many other direct quotations show a great multitude of errors, many of them serious enough that they have been condemned as heresy by the Church throughout its history (e.g. the heresy of â€œPatripassianism,â€ which says that God the Father suffered on the cross, and which Young clearly teaches, making his imagined character of God the Father to have nail prints on his [her!] wrists, among other things).
Book Review: This Is My Body, by Thomas J. Davis
If there is one symptom that serves better than any other to reveal the discrepancy between the first Reformers and their Protestant heirs today, when it comes to their respective theological emphases, practical piety, and just what is of central concern to the Christian faith, it may well be the question of the Eucharist. In very few Protestant circles today could it be said of the Lord's Supper that it obviously stands at the very heart of what it means to be a Christian and pursue a Christian life; in it's stead, all sorts of other, peripheral means of grace are sought, which usually involve a sort of individualism, and a personal, subjective element quite out of keeping with the objective reality of Christ's authoritative pronouncement, â€œThis is my bodyâ€. The famous (or infamous) unyielding severity with which the Eucharistic wars were waged among the magisterial Reformers, and the fact that the papal mass unexceptionally drew some of the sternest denouncements from all of them, tells us at least this, that the matter was absolutely vital to them, to a degree that the average Evangelical would not understand today. But the question is, Why? What did they see in the Eucharist that was of such vast importance to all of them, regardless of how differently they may have viewed the matter?
In his examination of the Reformer's eucharistic thought, This Is My Body, Thomas J. Davis has done an excellent job of analyzing what Luther, Zwingli, and especially Calvin really had to say about the presence of Christ in the Lord's Supper; and along the way, he has uncovered just why it was so crucial a topic to them. What he has to say about Calvin's understanding in particular (to whom he devotes the bulk of the book) is meticulously-researched, well-reasoned and certain to shake up the common conception. His somewhat surprising, but probably right, assessment is that Calvin's doctrine of the presence of Christ in the Eucharist actually had more in common, and on more important points, with Luther's doctrine than it did with Zwingli's. In fact, it would perhaps not be too much to say that the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist was as vital a point for Calvin as it was for Luther. And in addition, the bodily presence of Christ, although explained differently and fiercely rejecting any idea of ubiquity, had an immensely important role in Calvin's thought.
Undergirding much of Davis's analysis is his research into the importance of sign and thing-signified in sixteenth-century Europe (his concluding chapter is a penetrating discussion of sign and reality in Renaissance art, and the effects that this cultural paradigm may have had on the hermeneutics of the Reformers); and this information is helpful in unpacking Calvin's treatment of the Eucharist. Although Calvin, against Luther, was willing to talk of the Eucharistic elements as â€œsigns,â€ the meaning of which must be made plain by the Word of institution, properly understood, he nevertheless considered the signs utterly necessary for the communication of grace. Against those who argued that the signs are unnecessary, since they build up the believer's mind through the Word, which in terms of mere understanding could be just as easily done by the Word alone (a fairly common perception today, as well!), Davis argues that â€œCalvin, however, considered the signs essential....it is the special function of the signs to imprint on the believer's heart one's communion with Christ. The imprinting process requires that physical signs accompany the word for two reasons: the necessity of God's condescension because of human weakness and the requirement that Christians follow God's commands.â€ In fact, in a later discussion, Davis suggests that, to Calvin, â€œsacraments convey a better understanding of salvation to the Christian than the Word alone, because the sacraments appeal to all of the bodily senses: taste, feel, smell, sight, and (with the adding of the Word to the sacramental sign) hearingâ€ (emphasis added).
The importance of signs as instruments of grace reaches all the way to Calvin's Christology. God is never unmediated in our sight of him; and the ultimate instrument by which he revealed himself is the truly human body of Christ. Therefore, â€œSince Calvin's theology of God is instrumental, to speak of things as instruments is not to denigrate them: it is to put them in their proper place in relation to God. God remains the efficient cause of all good things, but those good things are carried by instruments of grace. As such, to say that Christ's body is instrumental in conferring salvation on the Christian and that the body and its senses are instrumental in appropriating knowledge and understanding of that salvation is not to denigrate the instruments but to understand their roleâ€ (emphasis added).
But even so, is not the fact that Calvin spoke of the elements as signs, in and of itself an indication of the great divide between himself and Luther? Without minimizing the differences, the two perspectives were perhaps not quite so antagonistic to each other as has often been made out. Although Calvin could never agree to the ubiquity of Christ's human body, simply because he clung so tenaciously to the ongoing fullness of Christ's humanity, including that physical element of a human body localized in space, he nevertheless attached a vital significance to the Christian's being made to partake of the human body of Christ â€“ although, true to Calvin's custom, he was willing to let the mechanics of that union remain shrouded in a divine mystery beyond which he did not dare to penetrate â€“ â€œCalvin was never able to fully comprehend, much less explain to others, the details of the mode of unionâ€.
But he did consider the union essential: â€œThe body of Christ is the sine qua non of Christian life. The Christian experience is nothing more and nothing less than participation in that body. And that, for John Calvin, is how God is to be known. Scripture, Sacrament, and preaching point to that body and present it; the Holy Spirit joins the Christian to it.â€ In this, to substantiate Davis's suggestion, Calvin really does seem closer to Luther than to Zwingli.
Davis hits upon a helpful truth when he is analyzing Calvin's hermeneutics, and particularly, his frequent use of (as well as finding of) the literary device of â€œsynecdocheâ€ (using a part for the whole), which enables him to give a compelling, brief description of Calvin's Eucharistic thought, which shows both the essential similarity and the greatest discontinuity with Luther's:
Calvin's insistence that we are saved by our participation in Christ's body and that we are fed by Christ's body can be read as drawing life from Christ's humanity. This is not to dispel the notion that when Calvin spoke of Christ's body he did not mean only Christ's body: he meant at least that. Did he mean more? I think so. Being human demands having a human body; we see Calvin as insistent on this in his eucharistic teaching, and one can read at length about this in his commentary on the ascension in Acts. But the reason Calvin demanded that Christ's body remain in heaven, even in the eucharistic celebrationâ€”hence the requirement of the Christian being lifted up to heaven in mind and spirit to be joined with Christ thereâ€”was because he thought the body, with its limitations, to be requisite for true humanity. And for Calvin, Christ must retain full humanity even after resurrection because the humanity of Christ is the mediatorial principle in Calvin's theology. In the humanity of Christ, the Christian sees incarnated the will of God. It is the humanity of Christ to which the Christian has access.
As the foregoing excerpts demonstrate, Davis exhibits both a detailed knowledge of Calvin's thought, not just from the Institutes, but from the entire body of his writings; and he is exceptionally adept at bringing all the various emphases and motifs of the great Genevan into a coherent and self-interpreting whole, which has some eye-opening effects on just how he really viewed the sacrament of communication with the body of Christ. This fresh understanding may well prove fruitful in the coming years in paving the way for a greater recognition of commonality between Lutheran and Reformed Eucharistic doctrine.
Book Review: God's Lyrics, by Douglas Sean O'Donnell
There are many books available on the specific question of music in worship, some focusing on lyrical content and others on musical style, with positions ranging from psalter-only, a capella singing to arguments for the superiority of the modern praise and worship genre to classic hymnody; but I'm not aware of any of them that do precisely what O'Donnell's new book, God's Lyrics, has done. He has not touched upon many of the pertinent issues: the application of the Regulative Principle of Worship, the question of musical style, and so on, are left untouched. But what he has put together is certainly an important contribution to the discussion, which may prove to be eye-opening at least, and even paradigm-shifting in some respects.
The basic concept of the book is simple enough: before we can properly evaluate the lyrics we sing in church, we must know what appropriate lyrics should look like. And if we would know what fitting lyrics should look like, we can do no better than to examine the inspired lyrics of God's people throughout the whole course of their history, see what they have sung about, and compare our songs against that standard. When we do so, however, the conclusion may be a little unexpected, whether we prefer classic hymnody or contemporary praise and worship!
In order to provide this evaluation, O'Donnell has done two things: first, he has given an exposition of the songs of God's people at the key junctures in their redemptive history â€“ the two songs of Moses and the songs of Deborah, Hannah, David and Habakkuk (with some additional thoughts on Mary's Magnificat, Simeon's Nunc Dimittis, and the songs of Revelation). Second, he has drawn out all the major themes from those songs, and made a scientific comparison between those themes and the themes both of the most popular classic hymns and the most popular contemporary praise songs.
What O'Donnell has discovered, in this process, is a definite disconnect between biblical emphases and the emphases in our own singing, both in contemporary worship songs (unsurprisingly!) and also, to a lesser extent, in much classic hymnody. Although in a generally winsome way, he is very direct in pointing out our widespread failure to make our own singing thematically similar to the singing of God's people in scripture. Speaking of the Song of Moses, for instance, he suggests, â€œWe can sing verses 13 and 17 and 18, which speak of the Lord's leading his people out of Egypt and into the Promised Land: 'You have led in your steadfast love the people whom you have redeemed; you have guided them by your strength to your holy abode' (v. 13). But can we sing what falls between those verses, of the 'terror and dread' that will fall upon 'the inhabitants of Canaan'...?â€
O'Donnell continues, â€œMaybe we should cut and paste our bibles, making them a collage of our culture, a mirror of our worldly minds and its conceptions of God and justice and salvation.... Or maybe we should just cut out all this cutting out and hear what God has to sayâ€!
Hearing what God has to say is in fact what O'Donnell has striven to do in the first part of his book; and in the second part, he has compared what we customarily sing against that standard. His careful comparison of the fifty most popular modern praise songs has discovered several problems, the most serious of which is an overwhelming emphasis on the experiential, subjective element of the one worshiping, and a corresponding de-emphasis on the objective truths of the great works of God in history. Even the â€œGod-centered languageâ€ of these songs â€œis often confused, if not nullified, by the language of selfâ€.
But classic hymnody, as well, although not to the same degree, has some disparity of emphasis. Of the twenty-five most commonly sung pre-1800 hymns, the major discrepancy is the lack of rejoicing in God's righteous judgment against his enemies, which is such a dominant theme in biblical songs of redemption.
So where does all this leave us? Some would say, â€œpsalter only (or inspired-text only) singing is the answer, of course!â€ I certainly wouldn't argue against drastically increasing the amount of divinely-inspired songs that the modern church sings in worship â€“ and O'Donnell's appendix, in which he has put the six key songs of redemptive history in meter, and set them to some common hymn tunes, may prove a very valuable way to do that very thing. But without getting into Regulative Principle arguments (as that was not the burden of the book anyway), it must be admitted, even by those of us who believe that there is good warrant for composing and singing songs that accord with the scriptures, that what we present to our congregations to lift up to the Almighty God in worship is of utmost importance. If we do not give the matter serious attention â€“ just as serious as the evaluation that O'Donnell has provided for us â€“ then we are derelict. Without over-reacting and expelling good, biblically-sound songs, we need to ensure that we are only singing songs that fully agree with the biblical example and testimony; and also, that we are not singing a repertoire of songs which, when considered as a whole, fails to evince the balance and range of doctrines that the inspired text of scriptures portrays the church as singing. It is that latter principle that was eye-opening to me; and for providing ample evidence to work with in addressing the widespread failure in that regard, I am very grateful for O'Donnell's work.
Book Review: From the Resurrection to His Return, by Don Carson
I love it when real scholars can write so simply and practically that someone who doesn't know it would never suspect that they're academicians. This is a trait that Carson has displayed from time-to-time â€“ and his recent book on â€œLiving Faithfully in the Last Daysâ€ in light of the soon return of Christ is a perfect example of that.
What is the book (or booklet) all about? It's just a practical exposition of a practical portion of scripture: 2 Timothy 3:1â€”4:8. Walking paragraph through paragraph, Carson explains what the Apostle Paul has to say about living in the last days; holding the right mentors in high regard; holding few illusions about the world; holding on to the Bible; and holding out the Bible to others. Very practical stuff, that cuts to the heart of certain widespread errors in the modern Church.
It's too bad that, of the immense body of writings available on the topic of â€œeschatology,â€ or the study of things and events surrounding the coming return of Christ, 99.9% of it is on the â€œwhat,â€ and only an infinitesimal fraction on the â€œso whatâ€. But in the Bible, the â€œwhatâ€ of Christ's soon and certain return is always used to fuel the â€œso whatâ€ of how to live in these last days. And Carson's book reflects that biblical emphasis that is so lacking elsewhere.
Even if you're wary of theological titles as slow-going, hard-to-read books, this is not a book to be intimidated by. It will take you an hour to read if you're a fast reader, two if you're slow; and that will be an hour or two well-spent. You will learn something, and it will be something very practical and of foundational importance for what really is the best way to spend this fleeting life on earth.
Book Review: Before God, by Mike Sarkissian
It struck me, this week, that if you really want a litmus test of true saintliness, it won't do to look for sacrificial acts of charity, passion-filled preaching or writing, frenetic occupation with ministry-related works and endeavors, success in filling churches, sending out missionaries, becoming a â€œpop starâ€ in the world of Evangelicalism. If you want a litmus test of true saintliness, all you really have to know about is a person's prayer life. There is no truer sign of a genuine, humbled, God-loving follower of Christ than one who, whether in public or private, cannot refrain from pouring out his soul to God continually, because he knows his sinfulness and inability for anything good, yes â€“ but he also knows God as a Father and Jesus Christ as a faithful and sympathetic High Priest. That was one of many things that struck me while I was reading Mike Sarkissian's book, Before God: The Biblical Doctrine of Prayer; and I would strongly encourage anyone else to give it a careful reading.
The subject matter of the book makes it thoroughly practical, from cover-to-cover; and the way in which the subject matter is approached is commensurate with its importance. Prayer is coming to God on his own terms, at his invitation, in accordance with who he is, what he has done for us, and what he invites and commands us to do. From page one, Sarkissian's work is suffused with that perspective. Before he says a word about prayer, he spends some vital time discussing authority â€“ and comes to the conclusion that it is only God's Word to us that provides any basis for what we believe or how we approach him. If we really want to pray, we must ask with the disciples, â€œLord, teach us to prayâ€. This is such a foundational point to make, for if we approach God in any other way, then it won't matter what or how we pray after that. God cannot be approached on our terms; and that is the first and non-negotiable lesson of prayer.
It is upon this firm foundation that Sarkissian builds his book; and fittingly, he undertakes to do nothing but explain what God himself, through his infallible word, has taught us about prayer. In this, he has done a tremendous job of giving a comprehensive overview of the complex treatment the scriptures give of prayer. A significant portion of the book is spent in a helpful and practical exposition of the Lord's Prayer, which is good; but he does not just account for Jesus' teaching on the nature of prayer, he also gives some time explaining his own example of a prayerful life, from his wilderness devotions to Gethsemane, as well as the foundational necessity of his intercessory and mediatory prayer for all the saints. Finally, he brings together the biblical witness to a whole plexus of related questions, touching on everything from posture in prayer to the questions of fasting and laying on hands, with many other such questions in between. Through it all, his writing remains characterized by three things: commitment to the scriptures alone as the ultimate authority to answer any of our questions; emphasis on simple explanation and practical application; and warm devotion.
I don't think Mike Sarkissian would take offense (or even contradict me) if I say that this book is not primarily valuable because he is a great scholar or expert in his field; he has been humble enough to recognize the valuable works of many saints and scholars before him, and has been more than ready to stand on their shoulders. The book is filled with quotes and information gleaned from dozens of well-selected sources, including Reformation greats such as John Calvin, many of the Puritans, and modern conservative scholars. This serves to make the book a treasure house of helpful information, from trusted sources, on a vital topic.
And really, Sarkissian just seems a down-to-earth guy with a pastoral heart and a love for Christ. Which is so much the better if you also happen to be a down-to-earth Christian who loves the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ and desires to grow into a more intimate fellowship with him. If you're of that sort (as I am), then I'm confident this book will help you.
Book Review: The Good News We Almost Forgot, by Kevin DeYoung
What thoughts usually come to mind when the word â€œcatechismâ€ comes up in conversation? Hopelessly outdated? Long, tedious, and abstract? A divisive and uncharitable word-club, wielded to the dread and consternation of poor, stodgy children, who have grown interminably pale and listless by reason of forced exclusion from fresh air and exercise, and over-exposure to sixteenth-century archaisms? True, I may be describing the impression in a bit of an overdone fashion, but I think there's enough truth in the portrayal to strike a nerve. Catechizing our children is simply not in vogue these days, at least in much of the Western Church; and the perception of catechizing is largely negative. Why is this? Is the skepticism warranted? Kevin DeYoung is to be thanked for doing a tremendous job of answering that question in the negative; and he is to be thanked all the more heartily for choosing to do so with that most precious, gospel-rich catechism of them all (with a couple close contenders!), the Heidelberg.
Really, where in two-thousand years of church history may one encounter a more beautiful, compelling, and succinct summation of the gospel and the Christian life than the Heidelberg Catechism? They who look askance at catechisms either have no eye for beauty and truth, or have not looked closely enough at the Heidelberg. And in either case, a fresh dose of this catechism may prove a very healthy corrective.
Kevin DeYoung has done a good job in providing this fresh look at the Heidelberg; and he has done so in such a way as to bring out the fact that this sixteenth-century catechism is not outdated, but eminently practical and relevant to many controversies peculiar to our own time and society. It is not abstract, dull, or hard-to-follow, but surprisingly simple, profound in an easy-to-comprehend sort of way, and full of that intuitive and surprising beauty which characterize truly great expressions of the pure, unadorned truth. It is not uncharitable, nor excessively divisive and polemic, but rather a warm, pastoral, and tenderly loving guide to the great truths of the bible. All of the common, largely negative stereotypes melt away in the down-to-earth and up-to-date meditations in DeYoung's book.
But wasn't the catechism written to address such questions as transubstantiation versus memorialism versus spiritual presence in the Eucharist? Justification by an external righteousness imputed versus an internal righteousness infused? All of those questions were hammered out centuries ago, weren't they? What can the catechism teach me about the hot-button items of today? Does it address political agendas, environmental concerns, the question of homosexual behavior in the Church, contemporary versus traditional forms of worship, the â€œdeeds not creedsâ€ mindset of the â€œemerging churchâ€ and other such movements? Surprisingly enough, in these and many other such issues, DeYoung brings the truths of the Catechism to bear in surprisingly helpful and relevant ways. And he always does so in a style that is very straightforward, engaging, charitable, winsome â€“ if there is anyone who does not come across in the academic, stodgy manner with which so many people acquaint the old catechisms, it is DeYoung. And yet, as he makes very clear, he himself loves the catechism immensely and finds it anything but old, boring, or out-of-date.
Will everyone agree with every opinion he gives on the plethora of practical issues that come up in the course of his walk through the catechism? No, it is only to be expected that a person may have a quibble here with his application of the second commandment to the question of portraits of Jesus, or a raised eyebrow there over his â€œvivacious baby-baptizingâ€ [!] â€“ but his secondary opinions are all framed quite charitably, and the essence of his theology is so soundly gospel-centered that I can't foresee any true believers coming away from the book scowling. Helped in many ways? Yes. Made to think more deeply about practical matters? Yes. Just a little miffed over a minor point made here and there? Perhaps, if there are any readers out there who have strong opinions on certain theological matters (and don't we all, to some degree?). But disappointed with the book as a whole? I can't imagine that anyone would come away with that impression â€“ unless, of course, he is a little upset by the true Gospel of God's grace itself.
Because, really, when you get right down to it, that's what the Heidelberg Catechism is: a faithful portrayal of the Gospel of God's grace; and DeYoung's book is a faithful explanation of what the Heidelberg Catechism says, rounded out with specific applications of it to every topic under the sun. Which is just to say that this really is a book about the good news of the Gospel; and if we really have â€œalmost forgottenâ€ this good news (and in some cases, I'm afraid to say, we largely have), then nothing can be a more pressing issue than â€œrediscovering the gospel in a 16th century catechismâ€.
â€œThis has been a book about theology,â€ DeYoung candidly admits in the epilogue; â€œabout knowing theology and loving theology. But if we've really paid attention to the Heidelberg Catechism, this should also be a book about warmhearted experiential faith. In fact, knowing and loving theological truth is what produces the warmhearted experiential faith.â€ Kevin, I concur.
The Good News We Almost Forgot: available at Monergism Books.
Book Review: This Is For You, by Jimmy Hopper, Tim Lien, and Eric Venable
This Is For You is something of a unique book, that I believe could be put to a very profitable use by a great many Christians. It's similar to a daily devotional â€“ each chapter is very brief, but contains much food-for-thought that could be ruminated upon throughout the day â€“ but all of the meditations are on the sacrament of communion. Hence, rather than reading it daily, it seems geared toward a weekly use: every Lord's Day, before approaching the table, believers would do quite well to read one of the meditations, to assist them in reflecting upon the vastly important significance of what is taking place in the breaking of the bread.
I immediately hit it off with these authors, and felt that I had taken a journey quite similar to theirs. Previously, in their broadly Evangelical backgrounds, they had seen communion as something that they primarily were doing â€“ it was a time for them to remember the Lord's death, symbolize their faith in him, search their hearts for sin and failures, and ask forgiveness. What was missing was any thought at all that the sacrament was a means of grace â€“ something that in reality was primarily the work of God, signifying and sealing his covenant promise to be merciful to us, and mysteriously but really nourishing our hearts with his spiritual presence.
This radical shift in understanding may be illustrated by a couple of quotes. First, Tim Lien reflects on his practice of communion before his thinking shifted to a more Reformed perspective (and his words could just as easily be mine!): â€œBread in hand, I would hold it and try to get myself into a focused spiritual sobriety. Concentrate, concentrate, bread lifted, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, bread at lips, please forgive me, please forgive me, bread in mouth. Commence juice sequence. I'm sorry, I'm sorry, think about the dying bleeding Christ, forgive me, forgive me, try to imagine the physical horror, help me to do better, gulp the Welch's. It is finished.â€ I can definitely relate to that way of doing communion. The problem with it is, it's all about what I'm doing, how I'm repenting â€“ but doesn't the whole concept of being fed at the Lord's table indicate the exact opposite?
So what, then, is the proper approach to the sacrament? In a different place, Eric Venable describes a different way of thinking: â€œThere are many things I love about the Reformed understanding of the sacraments, but near the top of the list is the understanding of the sacraments as a means of grace....at the hearts of this phrase is the idea, that the Christian life is not a self-sustaining enterprise.... God's biblical prescription for a weak, susceptible, and failing faith is not for us to redouble our efforts, do more Christian things, and attend more Christian activities. Instead, it involves humbling ourselves to recognize our own inability within ourselves for spiritual vitality. It is then that we open the mouths and ears of our souls to humbly receive the help that God gives. The Reformed tradition believes that the primary and most vitally important way that God strengthens and grows our faith is through the means he has prescribed, specifically, through his Word, his sacraments, and prayer.â€ I would concur most heartily â€“ and when the Lord's table is approached in this way, what a time of wonder and joy it becomes, to realize that, in spite of my weakness and inability to continue in the faith, God is richly supplying me with his own presence, his own body and blood, to nourish my heart for the long journey home!
Of course, the sacrament of communion has many wonderful nuances, meanings, and applications, which I cannot get into here. But in this little book, many of them are brought out and reflected upon in a very helpful way. I think the authors' perspectives are quite consonant with historic Reformed thought, and would be very beneficial for many Evangelical Christians today who may not be familiar with this perspective on the sacraments, and in particular, the sacrament of communion.
Rescuing Ambition by Dave Harvey
One of 2010s most helpful books is Dave Harveyâ€™s Rescuing Ambition.Here's Harvey's explanation of his book's purpose in six short video clips.
Q: “Why did you write ‘Rescuing Ambition?’”
Q: “Why is ambition important?”
Book Review: Indwelling Sin in Believers, by John Owen
John Owen is perhaps the most worthy author of being read in the English language; and the doctrine of indwelling sin in a Christian â€“ what it is and how to fight against it without slipping into legalism or antinomianism â€“ is one of the most crucial topics in practical, twenty-first century Christianity. So then, what would hinder any Christian, young or old, from reading such a helpful-sounding title as Indwelling Sin in Believers, by John Owen? Until recently, the argument could perhaps have been made that Owen's style is just a little too obscure and prolix to be readily accessible to simple believers without a high education or theological training; but with the advent of the new Puritan Paperback, which abridges Owen's classic work and makes it easy to read, the last potential obstacle has fallen away. Christian, if you struggle with sin (and make no doubt, if you don't then you're not a Christian after all), read this book! You may just find it to be one of the most useful books you've read in a good, long while.
Owen, for those of you who may not have read him, has an ability to probe his subject, whatever it is, to its limits. After finishing one of his works, you get the distinct feeling that there is not one angle he has neglected to view the topic from, not one facet that he has left unexamined. But it is equally true, especially in his works on the Christian life, sanctification, the fight against sin, that he is eminently practical. Page after page of helpful, down-to-earth suggestions make this book one of the most applicational you'll ever read; but page after page of incisive, scriptural diagnosis ensure that the applications are firmly rooted in gospel truth. This is no â€œten steps to a better youâ€ kind of book â€“ but neither is it an abstract theological treatise. It is real Christian living founded upon real Christian truth.
I only wish to leave a couple of very brief excerpts from Indwelling Sin, to give the reader the merest hint of how the book deals with what indwelling sin is; why it is important to understand the doctrine; and how the Christian can go about fighting against it. The problem with excerpting Owen, however, is that every sentence is so pithy and full of wisdom that one could judicially excerpt just about the entire work! But if you're going to do that, you might as well just buy the book and be done with it â€“ a solution I hope quite a few of you come to!
What is indwelling sin like? â€œThrow it off â€“ it will come back. Rebuke it by the power of grace â€“ it withdraws for a while, and then returns. Set the cross of Christ before it â€“ it does as those that came to take him: at the sight of him they went backwards and fell to the ground, but then they rose again and laid hands on him. It gives way for a while, but it soon returns and presses on the soul again. Remind it of the love of God in Christ â€“ though it is stricken, it does not give up. Present hell-fire to it â€“ it rushes into the midst of the flames. Reproach it with its folly and madness â€“ it knows no shame, but presses on still. Let the thoughts of the mind struggle to flee from it â€“ it follows, as though on the wings of the wind. And by this importunity it wearies and wears out the soul, and if the great remedy, Romans 8:3, does not come in time, it gains the victory.â€
Why is it important to understand this? â€œThe one who understands the evil of his own heart is the only useful fruitful, solid believer. Others are fit only to delude themselves, and to disquiet families, churches, and every association. Let us wisely consider our hearts, and then see if we can be proud of our gifts and graces, and whether we can go and judge, condemn, and reproach others that have been tempted.â€
How can the Christian fight against it? â€œSet your affections on the cross of Christ. This is eminently effective in frustrating the whole work of indwelling sin. The apostle gloried and rejoiced in the cross of Christ. His heart was set on it. It crucified the world to him, making it a dead and undesirable thing (Gal. 6:14). The baits and pleasures of sin are all things of the world, 'the lusts of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life'. By these sin entices and entangles our souls. If the heart is filled with the cross of Christ, it casts death and undesirability on them all, leaving no seeming beauty, pleasure or comeliness in them.â€
Book Review: The Shepherd Leader, by Timothy Z. Witmer
For any preacher or elder, one of the most sobering truths in all the bible must be that which is taught in Hebrews 13:17 â€“ that one day he will have to give an account for all the souls he is watching over, to the Lord who made them and redeemed them. If this is really true (and of course it is), then how urgent is the need for every elder, whether a full time pastor or an unpaid â€œruling elder,â€ to come to a firm, biblical understanding of just what this office is all about, and what it means to carry out its responsibilities effectively! Are a church's elders predominantly a board of directors, responsible for vision-casting and steering the congregation through all the major decisions that face it? Timothy Witmer, with very good biblical warrant, would give a resounding â€œNo!â€. â€œThe simple thesis of this book,â€ he states, â€œis, 'The fundamental responsibility of church leaders is to shepherd God's flock'â€ (emphasis added).
Of course, this verdict makes the sobering weight of the task all the more poignant. Christ himself is the Good Shepherd, who lays down his life for the sheep (John 10); and in the Old Testament prophecies of Ezekiel and Jeremiah, God had promised to send, not just this Chief Shepherd, but other shepherds as well, after his own heart, to feed his sheep with knowledge and understanding. If, then, the shepherds who neglect their task receive the fierce condemnation expressed, for instance, in Ezekiel 34; and if the standard for fulfilling the task is to be after God's own heart; then how earnestly ought all elders to seek the heart of God in the scriptures for the shepherding of his flock, and labor intensely, ardently, and practically to follow his example!
Witmer's book, more than any other I am aware of, is designed to help elders do just that. It begins with the biblical foundations of the office of elder as being primarily a shepherding role â€“ from the time of Moses to the time of Peter, a fellow-elder hoping for the crown of glory from the Chief Shepherd himself. But this excellent biblical theology is not where Witmer ends â€“ he fleshes out these truths in intensely practical and proactive suggestions, which it would do all elders everywhere well to consider.
Take, for example, just one aspect of the shepherding ministry of Christ that Witmer develops and applies to elders in the church today: that of knowing the sheep by name. On a macro level, Witmer insists, this responsibility involves knowing every sheep for whom an elder is personally responsible â€“ but how many churches have membership roles full of members who have drifted away and disappeared inexplicably? How many members are lost through the â€œback doorâ€ of churches, without a trace? If an elder is to give an account for these sheep, what will he say when he doesn't know who or where they are, and has never gone out seeking them? An up-to-date, accurate listing of every sheep in a local congregation and the elder who is personally responsible for watching over them is an absolute must, if elders would know the sheep after the heart of the Great Shepherd who knows by name all who are his.
But beyond this macro level, elders should be very intentional about knowing closely and personally all those who have been entrusted to them. At the least, this involves frequent times of interaction, taking prayer requests, asking after welfare, making themselves available. Will this involve planning an annual or semi-annual house meeting with every single sheep under one's care, after the example of the great Puritan shepherd, Richard Baxter? Will it require a monthly shepherding phone call, to check up on prayer requests and discern the state of welfare? Will it require a close attention to attendance patterns? Likely, all of these things would be involved â€“ but at the least, it is necessary to have some systematic, comprehensive, biblical plan in place to ensure that no sheep will ever drift away without notice. As those who must give account, elders must take every precaution necessary to see that they know every one of their sheep and are always attentive to the state of their welfare at any given time.
With great practical wisdom, founded upon solid biblical principles, Witmer works through other such shepherding responsibilities â€“ what feeding, leading, and protecting the sheep looks like in day-to-day life, after the example and pattern of Christ. In the manner of the Puritans, there is much light and heat to be found here â€“ truth and application, insight and exhortation.
Really, I can't recommend this book too highly. I would be glad to see every elder in America own a well-worn copy. They would certainly benefit by it, as those who will one day give an account for the souls under their care â€“ and so also (immensely so!) would the sheep that the Chief Shepherd has committed to their watch.
Book Review: The Trials of Theology, edited by Andrew J. B. Cameron and Brian S. Rosner
Is the study of theology dangerous? To anyone who has seriously studied theology, the first answer likely to pop into his mind may well come from a memory of some well-meaning old saint with an anti-intellectual bent, earnestly cautioning him about the deadening effects of seminary, which turns simple, impassioned believers into cold, â€œivory towerâ€ theologians. Yes, there is some possibility of that danger, as Gerald Bray reflects upon in his chapter on the trials of systematic theology: it is frighteningly possible to lose one's love for God amid theology's abstraction. But I like what John Piper said on the back cover: â€œIs studying theology perilous? Yes. But less perilous than ignoranceâ€. God is a God of unspeakable glory and immense terror; searching out the mysteries of his self-revelation is a sobering and weighty pursuit; but ignoring him, refusing to see in him sufficient worth to motivate one to abandon himself â€“ mind, heart, and soul â€“ to pursuing the personal knowledge that he has vouchsafed to unworthy creatures in his own image, is the most dangerous attitude of all.
I fear that much of Christianity today has lost any sense of fear and danger at all before the holy God â€“ whether among academics or blue collar workers, pastors or laity. That loss is a problem especially widespread in our own day; at other times in church history, it was much less so. Every age has its own peculiar difficulties and blind spots, and the casual, â€œtake-it-or-leave-itâ€ approach to theology is certainly one of our own. That is why I am thankful for two things about this book: first, that someone has seen the need to caution Christians in pursuit of a theological education concerning its many snares, trials, temptations, and dangers; and second, that in doing so, he has provided ample material from many periods of Church history besides our own. The â€œVoices Pastâ€ portion is approximately the same size as the â€œVoices Presentâ€. I think that is wise.
For all the differences current Protestant theologians may legitimately have with some of the Church Fathers, there is much that we have forgotten, which we would do well to relearn from them. That is why the brief selection from Augustine, the only representative of the early Church, was one of my favorite parts of the whole book. How he trembled at the thought of entering the high calling of the ministry, and with what earnest words he begged of his superior leave to pursue a greater understanding of the sacred scriptures! The work that he had to do was nothing to him if not frighteningly and eternally weighty, he had so great a fear of the Shepherd that he was terrified to feed his sheep with anything but the truth of the bible. â€œFor what shall I say to the Lord my Judge,â€ he wonders, if he should not be able to set aside time to pursue his theological education; â€œShall I say, 'I was not able to acquire what I needed, because I was engrossed wholly with the affairs of the Church'? What if he replies, 'You wicked servant! â€¦ How do you allege that you had no time to learn how to cultivate my field?'â€. If many pastors only had that same perspective today, I suspect that â€œfelt needs,â€ ten-step plans, how-to-be-successful-in-this-life strategies, self-esteem pep talks, etc. ad nauseum, would not dominate the pulpits of so many â€œministriesâ€ and churches. The sober, careful exegesis of the scriptures would not be viewed as irrelevant, boring, or inadequate, if the majesty of God and the fearful danger of acting presumptuously in his Name were as pressing a concern today as they have been at times in the past.
There is much more to be gleaned from the following chapters as well â€“ Luther's thoughtful (and always colorful!) treatment of the necessary role of suffering and trials in the formation of a true theologian, C. S. Lewis's poignant description of the psychological urge to belong to an â€œinner circle,â€ and the temptations that urge creates in particular for aspiring theologians and pastors, Don Carson's excellent cautions to anyone pursuing an academic career in theology, and many other helpful insights. Not all chapters will be equally meritorious, but there is much fodder for careful reflection, and I would recommend it to any Christian at all; to those who are not pursuing a profession in some theological domain (as a pastor, professor, etc.), so that they might not forget how important theological study is, even for him who pushes a plow or waits on tables, all to the glory of a fearful God who has made himself known and placed each in his own vocation; and certainly, for those who are pursuing some profession involving the study and teaching of the bible; it is a high calling fraught with many subtle and eternally-consequential temptations and dangers, and the one who is wise enough to think long and hard on these dangers from the outset will be in just that sort of humble, self-distrustful place of desperately needing to lean on God's condescending grace which will enable him to pursue a terrifying task in safety.
The Trials of Theology: Available at Monergism Books
Book Review: Roots: Let the Old Testament Speak, by Alec Motyer
The problem of attempting to write a midsize book surveying the entire Old Testament is obvious from the outset â€“ there is simply too much information that could be put into it profitably, but that will simply not fit. Is it best to deal at length with the historic culture and context of the original writings, taking into account archeological discoveries and ancient near eastern scholarship? Would it be better to interact with the various approaches to Old Testament exegesis in Church history? Does one give a basic survey of each book in chronological order, or else in the order in which they exist either in our bible or the original Hebrew arrangement? Would it be better to provide a more detailed exegesis of the most significant passages, or an analysis of the different structural elements and over-arching motifs of the various writings? Alec Motyer has clearly wrestled with these issues, and the result has been a fairly balanced mixture of all of the above, although he gives more emphasis to certain elements than to others. The result is a survey that gives the briefest introduction to a plethora of OT related studies, while providing a much fuller treatment of the Old Testament writings themselves, with an eye for overarching structure and a fine sensitivity to the differences between authors and genres within the OT.
Motyer loves to talk about the OT, and his enthusiasm spills over on just about every page â€“ but at the same time, his intimate knowledge of the OT as a whole and his mastery of the Hebrew language provide a scholarly depth beyond that which many one-volume surveys or introductions might evince. This combination of sensitivity to the richness of the Hebrew language and a comprehensive knowledge of his material make for (in my opinion) Motyer's greatest strength: an ability to analyze the various books according to their literary structure, original intent, and distinctive emphases. And nowhere is he better at this than in the prophets. The array of prophetic writings that have been left to us in the OT is dazzlingly diverse. It is remarkable that such deep and masterful writings, all bound together by the same great subject and theme, can be so amazingly different from each other â€“ and it takes one of Motyer's caliber to paint those fundamental and yet harmonious differences within an overarching, Messianic unity. To Motyer, the prophets are real, living personalities, utterly different from each other, and yet transformed even within the confines of their own personalities and idiosyncrasies to the larger-than-life figures that we cannot help but love. But not only are the prophets real and vibrant â€“ so also their writings are alive with a thousand marvels and intricacies. Motyer has a knack for seeing patterns, themes, intentional structures that make texts come alive, but that are easy to miss even in the original, and sometimes virtually impossible to pick up on in translation.
I love Motyer's theological conservatism on such vital doctrines as justification by faith alone, the penal, substitutionary atonement, the imputation of Christ's righteousness, and other such things. â€œThe blood of the lamb is propitiatory because it is substitutionary,â€ he affirms; â€œThis is a truth intrinsic to the way the story is toldâ€. But even more important than this is his conviction that all of those things looked ahead to Christ. â€œJesus is the 'end grain' of the prophetic scriptures. He is what was there and intended from the start,â€ Motyer explains elsewhere. â€œIt will be one of the most fascinating aspects of our study of the Old Testament to see this probing and deepening at work, always moving forward to the climactic flowering in Jesusâ€.
Most Influential Books
For the Christian, the most important book to read is the God breathed Scriptures - the Bible. Apart from this, there are a number of very important books that should be read. Many are books I would wish my children to read.
From the Ligonier Ministries website, there is a blog entry that reads as follows:
"Dr. R. C. Sproul has read many books in his lifetime. The following titles are some of the most influential books that have helped to shape his thinking and ministry:
1. The Freedom of the Will, Edwards
2. The Bondage of the Will, Luther
3. Institutes of the Christian Religion, Calvin
4. God in Modern Philosophy, Collins
5. A Time for Truth, Simons
6. Charity and Its Fruits, Edwards
7. The Person of Christ, Berkhouwer
8. Gospel Fear, Burroughs
9. Gospel Worship, Burroughs
10. Institutes of Elenctic Theology (3 Vol.), Turretin
11. Principles of Conduct, Murray
12. A Christian View of Men & Things, Clark
13. Thales to Dewey, Clark
14. Here I Stand, Bainton
15. A Simple Way to Pray, Luther
16. The Coming of the Kingdom, Ridderbos"
Book Review: Small Things, Big Things, by Michael A. Milton
Good theology that begins and ends in the classroom is not good theology at all. Right doctrine by its very nature is broad enough to give sense and meaning to every facet of life, whether of the intellect or the affections of the heart, whether in the seminary or the cornfields of Kansas. Unfortunately, this truth is not always recognized; and when it is recognized, it is not always intentionally applied in practice. Michael A. Milton is one who cannot seem to forget the truth of God's sovereign grace and active providence no matter what he's doing. The realm of the unimportant, the tyranny of â€œsmall things,â€ doesn't seem to exist for him â€“ because in the smallest things, there are pointers to and reminders of the very big things of God's eternal love for his children in Christ Jesus. Small Things, Big Things is a book that will probably help you start to see things the same way; and if it does it will be well worth your while to read.
To be up front with everyone, I am pretty leery of the whole genre of spiritual/religious meditations on everyday events. More often than not, this kind of book is plagued with at least two problems: first, man-centered theology seems to thrive on that sort of fare; and even if not man-centered theology per se, there is usually a fuzziness and general lack of substance at best. And second, there is often the tendency to try to fix problems and heal wounds that are very deep and very real with trite, â€œfeel-goodâ€ kinds of stories that simply do not pose true solutions to the vast extent of fallen man's need. Try telling someone, â€œYour wife is leaving you, your kid is on drugs and in and out of prison, every day is a struggle to believe or even to survive â€“ I know what you need! Read this â€œchicken soupâ€ story about how a poor little boy got the toy he wanted for Christmas; that will fix all your problems!â€ But too often, this kind of book tries to accomplish that impossible task. They heal the wounds of God's people lightly.
Milton's book has largely succeeded in avoiding these errors, however. Has he done it perfectly? Perhaps not; but what he has done is to tackle a difficult and much-needed topic for the Reformed world today, that of the immanence of God in the everyday affairs of his people, in a manner that has not trivialized the extent of their need, nor cast them upon some sort of positive-thinking, â€œlook on the bright side of lifeâ€ mentality. He has a shepherd's heart for the people of God, he is willing to give of himself as a person who has hurt deeply but has overcome by God's grace, and who is confident that God's grace will prevail in the lives of every last little lamb for whom Christ died. â€œI dare not trivialize deep waters with little droplets of axioms,â€ he says. â€œThe gospel is deep enough, Christ is savior enough, and God's patience and love are long enough and wide enough to hold you while you pray and hope and waitâ€. Hurting sheep do not need to hear feel-good stories, they need to hear that. And while Milton does see surprising testimonies of God's grace in the most mundane of affairs, it is never the stories themselves that he emphasizes, but the gracious God who gives glimpses of himself in all those things.
Book Review: Our Secure Salvation, by Robert A. Peterson
One of the most central questions related to the daily, practical living out of the Christian life, in any age, is that of preservation and apostasy â€“ May I be sure of final victory over sin, the flesh, and the devil? If so, for what reasons and upon what basis? What can I do today to increase my assurance of final salvation? And what if I apostasize? If I have come to Christ with genuine faith, can I fall away later and lose my salvation? These and similar other questions have plagued (and sometimes paralyzed!) believers in Christ throughout Church history. Beliefs about the security of salvation in Christ and the reasons for that security (or lack of it) have a greater impact upon the everyday experience of Christians all across the world than just about any other theological topic. Wrong beliefs may lead to a lifetime of fear and frantic, works-based endeavors, on the one hand, or a casual flippancy and carelessness, on the other â€“ but right beliefs are certainly one great means of energizing humble, faithful, joyful perseverance in the truth of the gospel and the fruit of good works. Robert Peterson's biblical-theological treatment of the themes of preservation and apostasy, Our Secure Salvation, has found just the right balance: in this substantial and yet accessible volume, Peterson deals competently with the many strong preservation texts and the sobering apostasy texts alike, and brings them all together in a coherent and mutually-supportive whole.
Dealing with four basic blocks of text: the Old Testament, the Gospels and Acts, the Pauline Epistles, and the General Epistles and Revelation, Peterson first moves in clear, logical progression through the multitude of texts dealing with preservation; then, through the equally numerous texts dealing with apostasy and its certain end of eternal torment; and finally, he ties all the data together in a unified overview. The discussion and exegesis throughout is brief, to the point, and easy to follow, but it is also up to date, deals fairly and extensively with opposing viewpoints, and is not loath to quote from sources friendly to his thesis. The balance of academics and forthright, non-technical presentation is a perfect fit for any serious-minded Christian who struggles with assurance of salvation, regardless of his level of theological training.
The capstone of Peterson's book is his last chapter, entitled, â€œConnecting the Dotsâ€. This chapter contains a summary of his findings, for one thing; but more than that, it also brings together all of the seemingly-contradictory bits of information in a way that they can be understood in their manifold and consistent inter-relationships, and then applies that full-orbed understanding to the Christian's psyche. Sin, Satan, fears, doubts, sorrow over failures, anxiety over future temptations â€“ these all afflict the soul of Christians in many ways. How can such an afflicted believer gain hope and peace in the gospel? Well, Peterson's analysis seems directed specifically toward answering those questions. His conclusions are not just abstract, they are experimental (in the old, Puritan sense of the word).
Peterson gives four reasons to vindicate his attention to his themes: 1) the Bible often speaks of preservation and apostasy; 2) God uses preservation to assure his children; 3) God teaches his children the need to persevere to the end; 4) God warns his children of the danger of apostasy. These are the conclusions that he has spent the better part of his book laboring to establish. But at the end of his book, he takes another step, and traces out in brief the relationships between these themes â€“ how does God use the doctrine of preservation to assure his children, for instance? By basing that doctrine, not on our lives of fruitfulness, but upon the roles of the Trinity in salvation, the attributes of the godhead, the saving acts of Christ, the faithfulness of God's promise. This foundation paves the way for understanding the nature of our need to persevere, and the complex relationship between perseverance as a fruit of divine preservation, on the one hand, and a necessary means of divine preservation, on the other. The apostasy warnings, given in the light of this basic paradigm, have several vital functions and purposes as well, which Peterson draws out â€“ in sum, all the parts of a complex whole are given an appropriate place, and the result is a solid foundation for pursuing a godly life that is serious and sober, but also joyfully and assuredly rooted in the certain truths of the gospel.
Peterson ends with a reference to what was perhaps the most compelling chapter of the book â€“ his treatment of the Hebrews warning passages, and in particular the warning found in 5:11 â€“ 6:12. In this justly famous passage, Peterson finds not just one of the strongest warnings against apostasy, but also (although not quite so well known!) one of the strongest assurances of preservation. In fact, the four joint themes of perseverance, apostasy, assurance, and preservation are all found in full and harmonious expression in this one passage. Just this one chapter on the warnings in Hebrews would be well worth the reading.
The Church is full of Christians who are growing dull of hearing, and need to be woken up by the serious apostasy texts of scripture; it is also full of insecure, struggling, and doubting Christians who desperately need their faith in the immutable nature, promises, and saving acts of God to increase. Peterson's book deals fairly and in context with both of these widespread biblical themes; and therefore, it is a recommended book for believers whose personality, background, and theological underpinnings tend to cast them into either one of these dangerous and potentially deadly errors.
Book Review: Calvin and the Sabbath, by Richard Gaffin
â€œIf Sunday is the Sabbath then part of the Christian Church is living in wholesale disregard to the will of God and is under his condemnation,â€ begins the provocative back cover of Richard Gaffin's analysis and critique of Calvin's understanding of the fourth commandment; and then, to round out the sober contention, it continues, â€œIf the Sabbath is no longer binding on the Christian then sections of the Church are guilty of Pharisaism and are adding extra rules to Christ's teachingâ€. It may not actually be the case that every dispute over the nature of the fourth commandment and its specific application to the Church today necessarily implies as serious an error as this blanket statement suggests â€“ after all, Gaffin sees fit to disagree with Calvin on many pertinent points, but with a respect and demeanor that would be loathe to charge the Reformer with either â€œwholesale disregard to the will of God,â€ or â€œPharisaismâ€ â€“ and yet in this assessment the importance of the discussion is at least underscored by drawing out the seriousness implicit in adhering too tenaciously to either extreme edge of what may be a wrong understanding of the Sabbath question. And furthermore, even in cases of rather more mild disagreements, the concrete effects on the actual practice of the Church may be very significant. It is indisputably the case, therefore, that this question is worth a great deal of sober reflection, especially at a time in which the visible Church is clearly fragmented over the issue.
A careful, full-orbed examination of what the great Genevan Reformer really had to say about the fourth commandment is a very valuable starting point in any discussion of the topic, for several reasons: first of all, the degree of respect accorded to Calvin in the Protestant, Reformed tradition needs no apology; simply by virtue of his towering intellect, exegetical acumen, and personal piety, he deserves a very careful hearing, and when his rank as one of the acknowledged pillars of the Protestant Reformation and his place among the greatest theologians of Church history is added to the mix, his opinion becomes very weighty indeed. But on this specific question, what he has to say becomes even more interesting to discover, simply because adherents to all angles of the Sabbath question have attempted to wrest his words in support of their own understandings. The most ardent Sabbatarians have sought succor from his exegetical writings, particularly his commentaries on Genesis; and those who have gone to the opposite extreme of denying that the fourth commandment applies to the Church today in any sense whatsoever have found much ammunition in the anti-Sabbatarian tenor of his theological and confessional writings, particularly his Institutes. Compounding the problem, certain respectable theologians have gone so far as to assert that on this point, Calvin is hopelessly self-contradictory, and that his commentaries flatly contradict his Institutes â€“ a theoretically possible contingency, but given Calvin's usual consistency and intellect, quite unlikely.
Gaffin proceeds on the reasonable assumption that, unless utterly impossible, every effort ought to be made to understand all of Calvin's writings as consistent with each other on this point â€“ after all, from the very earliest to the latest of his confessional writings, during which time he was writing his various commentaries, there seems to be no major change of opinion, just some minor development. In fact, Calvin appeared to have died with the same basic interpretation of the Sabbath that he first gave expression to in his (earliest) 1536 edition of the Institutes. That he would have contradicted himself at so many points along the way, without ever revising his opinion, seems incredible. And with that basic assumption in mind, along with the aid of an approach that seeks to understand the historical context of the Reformer, and refuses anachronistically to read into him the later Sabbatarian debates of the Puritans, et al, he does come to a convincingly consistent interpretation.
In Gaffin's opinion, Calvin's view follows a via media between the Roman sabbatarians and the Anabaptist antinomians. In his Institutes, â€œTwice Calvin departs from the narrow course of exposition to deal with views he deems false, the propositions first of the 'restless spirits' and then of the 'false prophets'. Each is the polar opposite of the other on the Sabbath question. The 'false prophets,' reflecting a Roman Catholic viewpoint, held that the Lord's Day is a strict continuation of the Jewish Sabbath. The 'restless spirits,' representing an Anabaptist outlook, opposed any distinction of days.â€
So what did this via media look like in concrete terms? In Gaffin's analysis, Calvin's positive interpretation of the fourth commandment and its application to the Church today may be summed up in three points: â€œ1. Christians must practice a perpetual Sabbath through the whole of life, resting from their sinful works, so that God, through his Spirit, may work in them. 2. Christians must observe the lawful order of the church, constituted for preaching, for administering the sacraments, and for public prayers. 3. Christians must not inhumanly oppress those subject to their authorityâ€. After demonstrating this basic approach from Calvin's theological writings, Gaffin then attempts to show how, when read in their historical context, the exegetical writings are fully compatible with that general framework.
So then, Calvin adhered to a middle ground, of sorts, in which the most basic application of the fourth commandment pertained to the Christians' resting from sin every day of the week, and in which the applications related to specific days of rest had only to do with humane employer/employee relationships and order and consistency in the worship of the Church; but mattered nothing either with regard to a particular day of the week or even the ratio of one day in seven. But this begs the further questions, â€œHow does this understanding fit in with the contemporary Reformed creeds and confessions?â€; and in particular, â€œIs Calvin reconcilable with the development expressed in the later Westminster Confession?â€. Although he points out along the way that the disparity between Calvin and the Westminster Confession of Faith is not so stark as has often been made out, it is to Gaffin's credit that he resists the urge to force a compatibility between them where a full reconciliation is not in fact possible. Recognizing the essential discrepancy, he spends the last portion of his book evaluating Calvin's thought in a way that respectfully disagrees with some of his foundational tenets. Whether the reader will finally side with Calvin or Gaffin on this particular point (I for one, tend to sympathize with the Reformer on the key points), at least the issues are made clear, and the arguments for either side are given without distortion â€“ a huge boon in an often abrasive discussion.
Available at Monergism Books
Book Review: Sola Scriptura, edited by Don Kistler
Anyone who has even the most basic awareness of Reformation history will know that the Latin phrase sola scriptura means â€œscripture alone,â€ and that it is a foundational dividing point between Roman Catholic and Protestant theologies. But what exactly did the Reformers understand sola scriptura to mean, in what ways is it different from the Roman understanding of authority, and more importantly, how is the doctrine of the Reformers faring in modern Protestantism? The cast of Protestant contributors to Reformation Trust's recent reprint, Sola Scriptura: The Protestant Position on the Bible, have done a tremendous job of answering those questions. The result is not just a book that Roman Catholics would do well to read if they sincerely want to understand where Protestants are coming from â€“ it is also, and perhaps even more fundamentally, a book that modern Protestants would do well to read if they sincerely want to know whether or not they may appropriately consider themselves the heirs of the Protestant Reformation at all. The excellent selection of contributors â€“ Joel Beeke, R. C. Sproul, Sinclair Ferguson, James White, among others â€“ is enough to warrant a presupposition of capable and stimulating writing, and in this expectation they have not failed to disappoint.
In his foreword, Michael Horton immediately affirms a point which will be well substantiated throughout the remainder of the book: â€œWhile this book has the Roman Catholic Church's view of scripture in mind when it asserts Protestantism's position, it is Protestantism that this book is trying to reach as much as Rome. We contributors lament that Rome is so aggressive in its error, yes, but we equally lament that Protestantism is so passive in its capitulation.... But this book is not simply a lamentation; it is a way forwardâ€. Perhaps, more than any other characteristic, that is what makes the book valuable. As an apologetic aid to Rome, it will doubtless have some value; but as a way forward for unknowingly errant Protestants, its value is apt to be much, much greater.
As there are only seven chapters in the book, and each contributes to the topic in a unique and vital way, it will perhaps not be out of place to give a brief summary to potential readers: the first chapter, by W. Robert Godfrey, is a foundational overview of what is meant by sola scriptura and how it differs from Roman teaching, together with a helpful analysis of some of the ways in which Catholics and Protestants may inadvertently talk past one another, and a cursory description of the testimony of the scriptures about themselves.
In the second chapter, James White gives a hugely helpful overview of the doctrine of sola scriptura in early Church history, providing along the way some clarification and context for a few of the mis-contextualized quotes from the fathers that are often slung about on both sides of the debate.
Next, R. C. Sproul takes on the whole topic of canonicity, refuting the claim of the Roman Church to have authoritatively determined the canon and addressing the question of the Apocrypha.
Derek H. W. Thomas then examines the nature of divine authority, and makes a solid case for grounding all spiritual authority in the very Word of God, above any other power.
John MacArthur contributes a chapter focused on the sufficiency and perspicuity of scriptures, dealing specifically with Catholic teaching on the inherent insufficiency of the unmediated Word, but producing along the way some material very germane to many modern Protestants whose practice likewise implies some essential insufficiency in the Word of God.
Sinclair Ferguson then delves into a discussion of the interplay between tradition and scripture in the Roman Church which is very notable for tracing out recent but little-known developments within the attitudes and perspectives of some of her outstanding thinkers and scholars.
And finally, in the Puritan-like fashion that I've come to expect from him, Joel R. Beeke, together with Ray B. Lanning, makes all of the sound theology developed throughout the book richly devotional and intensely practical. This chapter, above all others, is geared specifically toward modern Protestants, and should be read by everyone claiming the legacy of the Reformers. These two contributors do not just show what sola scriptura is intellectually, they also trace out minutely and accurately the appropriate way to respond to that doctrine, and motivate the believer to follow those instructions with a rich array of immense spiritual blessings doubtless to follow.
That overview should give any potential reader a basic feel for the focus and emphases of the book which may serve to set it apart from other similar publications. For anyone feeling the need or confronted with the opportunity to engage Roman Catholics in dialogue on the topic, it will doubtless prove to be very helpful in providing some instruction as to what the issues really are, how the points may be argued from scripture, and thanks to James White, how the Church fathers may be brought into the mix (an area in which the average Protestant will likely feel much more poorly equipped than many Catholics); and for any Protestant feeling the emptiness inherent in so much of Protestantism today, in spite of the schmoozy productions and slick entertainment within the Evangelical Church at large, the immoveable and certain foundation of the holy scriptures alone for all of life and worship, faith and practice, will be driven home with what I trust will be a liberating and soberly joyful forcefulness.
Sola Scriptura: Available at Monergism Books
Book Review: The Elder, by Cornelis Van Dam
I just finished my first volume in P&R's new series, Explorations in Biblical Theology, which happened to be The Elder, by Cornelis Van Dam. If this volume is representative of the quality and characteristics of the whole series, it should prove to be a very helpful undertaking. Van Dam seeks to see â€œtoday's ministry rooted in all of Scriptureâ€; and the step he has taken to help provide that scriptural rootedness is stimulating and considerable. I, for one, came away with a much greater understanding of and appreciation for the ancient and honorable office of the elder; and I suspect my experience would be shared by persons of all sorts of backgrounds and levels of theological education. I would strongly recommend the book to congregations, to the end that they might be more appreciative of the tremendous gift that God has given them in his gracious supply of elders, and more inclined to show them the honor and gratitude befitting the dignity of their office; but much more strongly would I recommend it to all current or potential elders â€“ the gravity of the office will be very deeply impressed upon you, but the vast blessings that God has interwoven into this high calling will doubtless be a constant source of strength and motivation.
The basic presupposition of the book (in keeping with the thrust of the whole series) is that, in order properly to understand the New Testament office of the elder, one must be well acquainted with its Old Testament roots and development. The eldership did not begin with the New Testament Church; elders were first given to help Moses carry out his tremendous task of leadership, and they continued to be a very significant force in God's Church from that day forward. The first congregations of believers after the resurrection of Christ would have been quite familiar, to varying degrees, with this history, and would have used their common knowledge as an interpretive background to the instructions that Paul and the other apostles gave them on this topic in their epistles.
Van Dam sees the office of the elder as comprising two distinct divisions: first, the office of the teaching elder, which has much functional commonality with the Old Testament priesthood, and indeed serves in one (typological) sense as a New Testament priesthood, in accordance with the prophecy in Isaiah 66; and second, the office of the ruling elder, which is built upon the role of those customarily designated as â€œeldersâ€ all throughout Israel's history. With an encyclopedic knowledge of the whole bible, he describes the functions of these offices, using the picture of a shepherd as an overarching interpretive image. When he arrives at the New Testament, he already has a very considerable framework in place, from which he competently deals with the power of the keys, the nature of the apostolic office and its relationship with the office of the elder, and the interplay and mutual responsibilities and privileges between the elders and the congregations.
Although it is not the burden of the volume, Van Dam addresses briefly but adequately two currently much-debated questions pertaining to the eldership: temporary or indefinite tenure, and female ordination. Finally, he concludes by detailing the privileges of the eldership, together with their attendant responsibilities, both with respect to elders and congregations. In this, there is much practical wisdom and fodder for deep and sober gratitude.
The tenor of the book is overall quite down-to-earth and applicational, notwithstanding its academic awareness. As Van Dam says in his preface, â€œAll of this has real-life implicationsâ€. Even as he often opined that the absolute necessity of the elder to have a very thorough knowledge of scriptures was inextricably linked to the need for a practical, heartfelt, and life-changing use of those scriptures, so he models that basic idea in his own writing. He is not just an academic speaking to academics â€“ he is speaking to real sheep with real and varied needs, who are really loved by the One Great Shepherd of the flock. And because of that, it is all the more imperative that his academic knowledge be extensive, but likewise that it be more than just academic. â€œElders do their work in the light of eternity,â€ he says in the concluding paragraphs of the book. â€œTheir shepherding work affects the eternal destiny of those in their charge. This breathtaking fact not only urges them to do their work as well as possible, but it also determines the manner in which the congregation receives their work.â€ In other words, the very magnitude and seriousness of this most precious gift of the Great Shepherd to his Church has very definite and eternal consequences both for elders and congregation. It would be a shame for either party to despise this tremendous gift because of a lack of knowledge and a cultural bent to egalitarianism. â€œCertain gifts need to be constantly rediscovered, lest they be taken for granted and neglected,â€ as Van Dam notes from the outset; and â€œthe eldership is one of those giftsâ€ â€“ a most beneficial gift indeed.
The Elder: available at Monergism Books
Book Review: Singleness of Heart, by Clifford Williams
We always have reasons for doing what we do. This is true whether we think consciously about those reasons or not. In fact, most of the time we just feel our reasons, acting intuitively and without deliberation. In other words, our motives often fly under the radar of our minds while moving us to action.
Now, if our motives were always and only good, maybe this wouldn't be a problem. After all, allies flying under our radar pose no threat. But what if our enemies were flying under our radar? What if those enemies were our own sinful motives, like self-advancement or self-justification? What if those motives were really good at concealing themselves from our awareness? What if those motives effectively took out our radar, enabling a whole host of evil motives to operate in stealth? Or, worse still, what if those motives scrambled our signals, convincing us that they were our allies to be welcomed instead of our enemies to be repelled?
That could be bad.
Book Review: The Marrow of Modern Divinity, by Edward Fisher
Throughout Church history, there has been a constant tendency, new with every generation, to fall into one or the other of the twin errors of legalism and antinomianism. I know of perhaps no other text that better addresses both of these dangers from a wise, biblical, and evangelical perspective than Edward Fisher's Marrow of Modern Divinity. Anyone who reads this classic volume will come away much richer in the knowledge of the gospel; with a deeper understanding of the unity of the biblical message as a whole; and vastly better able to pursue a genuinely Christian life in a manner solidly rooted in the true gospel. This new and well done publication of the Marrow is a considerable boon to the modern Church, which I hope will be taken full advantage of.
Fisher's Marrow is an unusual book, structured in the form of two dialogues. The first is between Evangelista, a gospel minister, Neophytus, a recent convert, and two false Christians, Nomista (a legalist) and Antinomista (an antinomian). The second dialogue is between Evangelista, Neophytus, and Nomologista, a â€œPrattler of the Lawâ€. In the first dialogue, the gospel minister, Evangelista, in order to address the confusion caused by the false perspectives of Nomista and Antinomista, describes the threefold perspective of the Law as revealed in the Bible: the Law of Works, which says, â€œDo this, and liveâ€; the Law of Faith, which promises free pardon in the gospel; and the Law of Christ, which says, â€œLive, and do thisâ€. The first two portions lay out the redemptive-historical, covenantal understanding of the gospel in as clear and helpful a fashion as is likely to be found anywhere; and the last of the three gives immensely practical guidance for living the Christian life in a manner that does not deny the gospel either by despising the Law and living in sin or by coming back under the Law as a Covenant of Works.
The second dialogue, which gives a very thorough explanation of the Decalogue, and indicates the proper way of putting it to use when dealing either with an unbeliever or with a genuine Christian, is also quite helpful. The vast extent to which the ten commandments reach is very helpfully described â€“ much to the discomfiture of the legalist â€“ on the basis of six principles: first, â€œwhere any evil is forbidden, the contrary good is commanded; and where any good is commanded, the contrary evil is forbiddenâ€. Second, in every specific commandment â€œall of the same kind or nature [of action] is comprehendedâ€. Third, the law is â€œspiritual, reaching to the very heart and soulâ€. Fourth, the law â€œmust not only be the rule of our obedience, but it must also be the reason of itâ€. Fifth, obedience to the law must be directed to the end â€œthat God alone may be glorified by usâ€. And finally, â€œwe must be careful to do all our actions after a right mannerâ€. After giving these premises, Evangelista describes in order the full import of each of the ten commandments, with great insight, showing how vast and all-inclusive is their extent; and with them, he adeptly breaks down Nomologista's self-sufficiency, but comforts Neophytus with the free grace of the Gospel.
One of the elements of Fisher's treatment of the gospel that I found particularly encouraging was the thoroughly Christ-centered treatment he made of the Old Testament. Without a true and genuine knowledge of Christ, interwoven throughout every page of the Hebrew scriptures, there is no profit to be had, either for us or for the Old Testament saints before us. â€œThere is no question,â€ he says, â€œbut every spiritual believing Jew, when he brought his sacrifice to be offered, and, according to the Lord's command, laid his hands upon it whilst it was yet alive (Lev. 1:4), did, from his heart, acknowledge that he himself had deserved to die, but by the mercy of God he was saved, and his desert laid upon the beast [typically]; and as that beast was to die, and to be offered in sacrifice for him, so did he believe that the Messiah should come and die for him, upon whom he put his hands, that is, laid all his iniquities by the hand of faithâ€ (emphasis mine). Much more of the same could be adduced, but the sum of it is this, that the whole bible, when Fisher is speaking of the Law of Faith, or in other words, the gospel, is treated in a truly evangelical manner, which is very refreshing to see.
Fisher is also very gospel-centered in his teaching on sanctification, or in other words, how the believer is still subject to the Law, not as a law of works, but as the law of Christ. Although there is a sense in which the believer is under the law, it is never divorced from his gospel-freedom from the law. This makes for some very powerful and practical teaching on the Christian life. â€œIf a man will go about this great work, to change his life, to get victory over any sin, that it may not have dominion over him, to have his conscience purged from dead works and to be made partaker of the divine nature, let him not go about it as a moral man; that is, let him not consider what commandments there are, what the rectitude is which the law requires, and how to bring his heart to it; but let him go about it as a Christian, that is, let him believe the promise of pardon, in the blood of Christ; and the very believing the promise will be able to cleanse his heart from dead worksâ€ (emphasis mine).
When you read Fisher's work, and in particular this edition of it, you will come away with much more than just Fisher's (significant!) wisdom; for Fisher himself mined the treasures of all the Reformers before him, and he quotes extensively from Luther, Calvin, and others; and in this edition, the very extensive commentary of Thomas Boston (one of the greatest Puritans) is included in an easy-to-follow format. Boston's comments alone would be worth purchasing, and contribute no small incentive to acquiring the Marrow. I hope may readers will put this treasure trove to good use.
Book Review: Wrongly Dividing the Word of Truth, by John Gerstner
Anyone who remembers the firestorm of controversy occasioned by the publication of the late John Gerstner's polemical magnum opus against Dispensational theology may be apt to wonder, â€œWhy another reprint? Aren't these disputes largely a relic of the not-so-distant past? Haven't we moved on from the sort of Dispensationalism Gerstner is arguing against?â€ In fact, there were not a few critics who thought that Dispensationalism had moved beyond Gerstner's critique before the critique was published! But is that really the case? In academic circles, perhaps to a degree. But what kind of world could sustain the immense popularity of the Left Behind novels, which came out significantly after this work? It must certainly be a world that still stands in desperate need of the rigorous and unabashed sort of refutation brought by Dr. Gerstner. The academics may have moved beyond the debate; but in a tragic sort of disconnect, the average pew-sitter is still left in the lurch.
What was it about Wrongly Dividing that was so inflammatory? Well, to anyone claiming the label â€œDispensationalist,â€ it's obvious. Dr. Gerstner is not one to mince words, and his basic contention is that Dispensationalism was begun in very suspect circumstances with very suspect theological undergirdings; it erroneously laid claim to four of the five â€œpointsâ€ of Calvinism while intending them in a manner much more consistent with classic Arminianism; and worse yet, it embraced certain errors so germane to the heart of Christianity that they can only be labeled a denial of the gospel. Furthermore, Gerstner contends, the underlying errors are just as prevalent in today's Dispensationalism as they were in Scofield's day. The only changes have been superficial and largely irrelevant.
So is Gerstner right, or do all the critics have a point? In his well-documented indictment, he makes a very compelling case for the dubious Evangelicalism of the early Dispensationalists; but more importantly, he makes a very good case as well for the essential similarity of the later Dallas theologians such as Ryrie, Hodges, and Walvoord. This is important, for the Ryrie/Walvoord type of Dipensationalism still has widespread influence on the Evangelical masses in America (and across the world!). If Gerstner is correct, there is still serious need of a warning call.
Where the critics have a legitimate point, however, is in Gerstner's lack of allowance for other Dispensationalists who have truly moved away from the dubious Evangelicalism of the past. The Progressive Dispensationalists, for instance, are scarcely addressed; and perhaps more importantly, after devoting a major and hard-hitting part of the book to displaying Dispensationalism's essential antinomianism â€“ an insightful and important portion â€“ he makes the offhand observation that John MacArthur has truly escaped this antinomian snare, as evidenced in his controversy with Zane Hodges. The problem is, Gerstner gives no account for how he could have done so; he does not show that MacArthur's Dispensational premises logically require Hodges' antinomianism. He does not show, in other words, that MacArthur is being inconsistent with his Dispensationalism when he rejects antinomianism. And in order to strengthen the case against him and his sort, that logical connection is requisite to show.
Of course, one could make the point that MacArthur is not Gerstner's target â€“ rather, his target is the classic Dallas position which still has such widespread influence among the common crowds. And furthermore, although he did not show the logical connection between antinomianism and MacArthur's version of Dispensationalism, he still did an excellent job of refuting those Dispensational distinctives of MacArthur on their own terms â€“ distinctives, that is, such as the essential distinction between Israel and the Church as two peoples of God. Whether that distinctive logically requires antinomianism or not, it is inherently wrong, as Gerstner capably proves.
This edition is particularly helpful in that it includes some of the sharpest critiques of the book, including those from Hodges, John Witmer, and Richard Mayhue, together with Gerstner's responses. Whether or not Gerstner was guilty of the charges brought against him, he has a forum at least to defend himself and show the ongoing validity of his case.
So back to the original question: is a republication necessary or likely to be helpful? Ask yourself that question the next time you see someone sitting in the airport reading Left Behind! I, for one, think it is. Even in a day when academic Dispensationalism is largely advancing beyond the Ryrie formulation, there is much Ryrianism out there. The publisher's preface rings true:
Unfortunately, as noted above, the older, classical and revised modern system still has an enormously large installed base.... Dispensationalism's â€œheadâ€ may have died but the body still moves in Frankenstein-like fashion, creating a continuing fascination among the masses armed with torches and continuing to look for the Antichrist. And because so many still cling to the old rugged dispensationalism, we need to keep harpooning it until we witness its final collapse.... Wrongly Dividing the Word of Truth probably will not be read by the masses who still delight to play â€œpin the horns on the Antichrist.â€ But it will be read by some of the more astute students within the movement. And if they read far enough within, they may succumb and begin challenging their fellow stumblers.
May that â€œfinal collapseâ€ soon come!
Wrongly Dividing the Word of Truth: Available at Monergism Books.
Study Bible Recommendations
There are some very good study Bibles out there, but to provide some sort of leadership for the people I serve, today I wrote the following article where I shortened the recommendations to just two: here - Pastor John Samson
Our Top Ten Books of 2009
In no particular order here are ten books that particularly stood out to me this year. This is by no means an exhaustive list. No doubt there are other ones you may think deserve a place in this list. These just happen to be my personal favorites.
The Marrow of Modern Divinity
An intriguing book, quite unlike any other, The Marrow of Modern Divinity defies categorisation. It is penned as dialogue between a minister (Evangelista), a young Christian (Neophytus), a legalist (Nomista) who believes Christianity is a set of rules to be obeyed and (Antinomista) who thinks sinning is not a big issue as God will forgive him anyway. The result is a wonderfully insightful book that remains tremendously relevant. This book is a classic on the gospel - not many books like it and we are dleighted that Christian Heritage has republished this work in such a beautiful easy-to-read format, with Thomas Boston's notes both on the edges and at the end of chapters. Clearly my favorite of the year.
Finally Alive by John Piper
There are very few doctrines, if any, that are more central to the distinction between true Christianity and false religion than the doctrine of the new birth, or regeneration. That is why we are at pains to specifically focus on this doctrine at Monergism. When a very religious Nicodemus sought Jesus out by night, it was the doctrine of the new birth that proved him an unbeliever, still dead in his sins. When the gnostic heretics were filling the church with confusion in John's day, it was the doctrine of the new birth, over and over again, that he used to distinguish true believers from false imposters. And so today, if we would learn what it really is to be a Christian â€“ what distinguishes a true Christian from a merely religious person, how a person becomes a true Christian, what true Christianity looks like in a person's everyday life â€“ it must be the biblical teaching on the doctrine of regeneration that informs our understanding. John Piper's new book, Finally Alive, is a lucid and compelling study of this vital doctrine. Argued adroitly from a wide range of scriptural passages, and applied poignantly and appropriately to the state of the Church in modern America, Finally Alive cannot fail to have a dramatic impact on our understanding of what a Christian really is, how we can examine our own hearts to discern if we are truly in the faith, and how we can labor more passionately and effectively for the gospel-accomplishment of regeneration in the hearts of those all around us and across the world who are still dead in trespasses and sins. This is not just first-rate exegesis â€“ it is convicting, practical, exhortational material. Highly recommended!
A Treatise on the Law and Gospel
Having never before read any of John Colquhoun's considerable output, and only having, for that matter, a very sketchy idea of his place and significance in Reformed history, I was eager to get into what I thought could not but be his most important work, a treatise on the sum of biblical revelation, considered under the headings of Law and Gospel; but if I was eager beforehand, my enthusiasm only grew from the first page and on. â€œHow,â€ I wondered, â€œdid so insightful, meticulous, and applicational a writer escape my notice for so long?â€. The treatise was a feast, and served further to drive home to me the unparalleled tendency of the historic Reformed faith to ground its adherents in the vast and glorious freedom of the Gospel, and always in such a way as not to minimize a life of practical holiness, but rather to excite and encourage true piety and devotion. I would earnestly recommend A Treatise on the Law and the Gospel to anyone at all, and in order to lend force to my recommendation, I would mention a few outstanding features of the work.
Risking the Truth: Handling Error in the Church, by Martin Downes
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 (and the selection of contributors, by the way, is absolutely superb!); and yet it is not exactly like any other example of multi-author works available. 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.
The Law Is Not of Faith , by Bryan D. Estelle, J.V. Fesko, and David VanDrunen
In recent Reformed treatments of Covenant Theology, there have been several trajectories tending to emphasize ever more strongly the continuity between the Abrahamic, Sinaitic, and New covenants as different administrations of the Covenant of Grace, and correspondingly, to de-emphasize any discontinuities that may exist, particularly when it comes to the works-principle so evident in the giving of the Law, and in Paul's treatment of the Mosaic administration. Examples include John Murray's â€œmonocovenantalism,â€ the New Perspective on Paul, and the Federal Vision, but the impact is wider than these examples might suggest, even to the extent that any suggestion within Reformed circles that Sinai entailed, in some sense, a republication of the Covenant of Works, is often met with stiff resistance and charges of Lutheran or (worse yet!) Dispensational influences. But does this widespread reaction against the teaching of republication have roots in historic Reformed thought? And more importantly, can it find support in the whole tenor of the Pentateuch and in the prophets and apostles who later interpreted it? According to the authors of The Law Is Not of Faith, the answer to that question is a resounding â€œNo!â€; and in support of that contention, they have mounted a redoubtable defense. This is stimulating, well-researched and exegetically-formidable writing, and at the same time it is very pertinent to many of the most hotly contended issues in Reformed theology today. I earnestly recommend it.
A Praying Life , by Paul Miller
While there are a multitude of resources out there on prayer, this one stood out as worth my time. Devotionally rich and profoundly insightful.
Counterfeit Gods , by by Tim Keller
In a very insightful examination of our cultural â€œgodsâ€ the things we look to for meaning and success, Keller diagnoses our true underlying problems, which go far beneath the panic we felt when the stock market crashed, and gives hope for a true and lasting solution. My personal favorite of Keller's books! In it he has displayed some amazing acuity in uncovering our â€œcounterfeit godsâ€ and that matters tremendously. Because the idols that we follow are not genies we control to get what we want, they are tyrants that control us and then destroy and forsake us. â€œIdols control us, since we feel we must have them or life is meaninglessâ€. So instead of looking to those tyrannical traitors for what we want, we need to look for satisfaction in the God who really does reign, but is not a tyrant. How? â€œWe have to know, to be assured, that God so loves, cherishes, and delights in us that we can rest our hearts in him for our significance and security and handle anything that happens in lifeâ€ â€“ and we really can come to that assurance, but only if â€œwe look at his sacrifice on the cross, and say to God, 'Now we know that you love us. For you did not withhold your son, your only son, whom you love, from us'â€.
Who Made God? ? by Edgar Andrews.
With the many responses to the new atheists out there, this is perhaps one of the most intelligent!. Andrews gives are very reasonable approach to refuting the presuppositions of atheism. Fun to read.
Why Johnny Canâ€™t Preach by T. David Gordon.
This is a must read book for all preachers of the gospel as it relates to how media and society have shaped our messages. This is a book to be thankful for and has been a blessing to those I know who have read it.
CrossTalk: Where Life & Scripture Meet by Michael R. Emlet
I wanted to find a practical book among the more theological ones above and this book immediately came to mind. It is a book for all people active in personal ministry --- "ministryâ€”counselor, pastor, discipler, spiritual mentor, small-group leader, campus ministry worker, youth leader, crisis pregnancy worker, or intentional friend."Samuel Logan says, "This is simply the best book about the nature and function of the Bible that I have ever read! Dr. Emlet has written a superb book, which anyone who wants to understand and apply the Bible really MUST read! "
Book Review: Baptism: Three Views, edited by David F. Wright
It is a sad reality, but a reality nonetheless, that in the broadly Reformed community worldwide, one of the most salient divisions between churches, denominations, and individuals is the â€œone baptismâ€ which partially constitutes the ground of our great unity in the gospel (see Eph. 4:3-6). As daunting as the proposal may seem, it is still of sufficient importance to be willing to expend great effort in seeking to bridge this tragic disconnect in the understandings and consciences of Christian brothers and sisters, and bring all to a practical unity of opinion on that which really does unite them in Christ. Of course, if this is ever to happen, it will have to begin with humble, articulate, and theologically-astute men from different backgrounds taking the time to explain their positions to one another and respond in gracious dialogue which seeks to understand and critique for the good of the other, not just to score points or win debates. Baptism: Three Views, edited by David Wright, is a very commendable step in that direction, which I can recommend for Reformed paedo-baptists and credo-baptists alike.
The format of the book is very simple: Bruce Ware lays out his case for credo-baptism, is critiqued by the other two contributors, and adds his own final response. Then, Sinclair Ferguson defends paedo-baptism according to the same format. And finally, Anthony Lane defends an intriguing view that a mixed practice of paedo-baptism and credo-baptism is not just acceptable, but was in all likelihood an arrangement of apostolic appointment.
Given the limited space with which the contributors have to work, it is very interesting and instructive to note just what material each gives most time and energy to. Although dealing relatively briefly with Covenant Theology and its implications, Ware gives considerable predominance to dealing with NT texts on Baptism, and specifically, the exemplary texts which provide accounts of just how baptism was done in the sacred record of Acts (Interestingly, he sums up his basic approach most clearly in his response to Ferguson's chapter, where he makes the telling statement, â€œThe Baptist conviction, then, is one driven by the text of the New Testamentâ€ [emphasis mine].).
Ferguson, on the other hand, clearly favors a â€œredemptive-historicalâ€ grounding in the primacy and nature of the Covenant in biblical revelation, and only at the end of his defense moves exclusively into the NT â€“ and then, he deals much more extensively with NT texts dealing with the Covenant and the essential nature and meaning of baptism, and notably less with historical accounts. In fact, one of his most emphatic points from the NT is that, to be properly understood, baptism must be seen as a sign and seal of the covenant realities flowing from God to us, not as a sign of our faith to God â€“ an error which he sees at the heart of credo-baptism.
In the final section, Lane merely gives a brief overview of the exemplary texts with which Ware dealt extensively, for the purpose of pointing out that they all depict baptism as being administered immediately upon conversion, as a means of reaching out and embracing Christ in faith; then he spends the rest of his time dealing with Church history. His essential point is that, when it comes to the dynamic of applying the NT examples of baptism to the children of believers, there simply has to be accommodation on some level â€“ it is impossible to determine exact points of conversion in many, if not most, children raised in a Christian home: so do you deviate from the moment-of-conversion principle by baptizing babies, or by designating a time when the child or young adult can intelligibly frame his own beliefs? The question is left open-ended in the NT, and hence it is a backhanded minimization of sola scriptura to make the answer binding to another person's conscience.
Michael Horton reviews NT Wright's "Justification"
"As in his other books, Wright mistakenly assumes that the Reformation view argues that Godâ€™s essential righteousnessâ€”in other words, his own attribute of righteousnessâ€”is somehow given to believers. But this overlooks the crucial role of Jesus Christ as mediator in the traditional view: It is not Godâ€™s attribute of righteousness, but the right-standing that results from a complete fulfillment of Godâ€™s law, that is imputed to believers. It is Christâ€™s obedience, not his." - Michael Horton
read Horton's Full Review of NT Wright's new book here
Book Review: The Truth About Man, by Paul Washer
At the beginning of his classic Institutes of the Christian Religion, John Calvin heads his very first paragraph thus: â€œWithout knowledge of self there is no knowledge of Godâ€. This observation is strikingly true, and if one would take the time to discuss the gospel in depth with the definite majority of American citizens living today, he would doubtless find that the one great obstacle preventing them from prizing and embracing the gospel of God's grace is a faulty view of self. The gospel is not for people who are basically pretty good, but just need to believe in themselves, build up their self-esteem, and pick themselves up by their bootstraps. If there is one problem that consistently hinders my attempts at gospel-witnessing, it is that. Oh, for a tool that would give the true picture of man in his sin and helplessness, and so pave the way for a true picture of God in his holy justice and limitless grace! Paul David Washer's biblical study, The Truth About Man, is just that tool, and I enthusiastically recommend it.
The Truth About Man, many of you may already know, is a sequel to another excellent biblical study, The One True God; the two of them are laid out in much the same way, not so much as doctrinal treatises but as guides driving the students to encounter and interact with God's own testimony from the scriptures. But more than this, the two of them are complementary, each causing the truth of the other to shine forth with a more brilliant and stunning clarity. Without the biblical knowledge of the immense holiness and majesty of God, we cannot know the loathsome horror of our reprehensible rebellion; and without the knowledge of our immense sinfulness, we cannot appreciate the depths of God's grace and the perfection of his justice in his response to sin, whether shown in Christ our substitute or upon Christ-less sinners in hell.
That is not to say, however, that The Truth About Man may only be used effectively with Washer's other study. Anyone may benefit from The Truth About Man, from the seasoned and well-rooted Christian who wants to be overwhelmed once again by the staggering greatness of God's grace to the average American who knows nothing of the content of the gospel, and needs to be made a sinner before he can be forgiven. This isn't a book to be handed out on the street corner to anyone who passes along â€“ it demands too much from the reader, its profitableness will be lost upon someone not willing to study, to think, to wrestle with the hard truths of the bible. It is designed that way intentionally, which in my estimation is a good thing. But for anyone who is genuinely willing to search for the truth, even if it means hard work and humility, the reward will be great. And that includes believers who long for a better glimpse of the gospel, as well as unbelievers who are willing to consider at length just what Christianity proclaims.
What scope of material exactly is covered in the book? Well, it is basically about man in his state of sinfulness â€“ the â€œnon posse non peccareâ€ (â€œnot able not to sinâ€) of Augustine. Beginning with God's creation of man and his blessed estate in the Garden, it moves quickly to the devastating first sin, and the vast and universal consequences of that first sin for all humankind. The rest of the study lays out fallen man's estate very biblically and accurately, ending with his final, certain destiny in hell. The topic of man in his redeemed or glorified state is beyond the scope of the book.
Washer does not leave the student without hope, however. After page upon page of scripture passages laying out our misery and guilt, our bondage to sin and Satan, and our terrifying plight before the holy God whom we have spurned and despised, he concludes by pointing the reader broken down by his sin and God's Law to â€œMan's Only Hopeâ€ â€“ a redemptive-historical overview of the gospel that is overwhelming in its lavish grace and jubilant unexpectedness precisely because the calamity from which it saves has been so clearly laid out. If I ever doubted how appropriate it is to magnify the grace of the gospel by spending much time describing the â€œbad newsâ€ â€“ the black backdrop against which the jewel of God's free mercy shines the more splendidly â€“ then this study would certainly have me convinced.
As with The One True God, I appreciated Washer's emphasis on the insufficiency of mere intellectual knowledge. Intellectual truth is important, certainly, a point upon which Washer would agree emphatically enough that he has done a phenomenal job explaining hard passages and difficult concepts with a simplicity and ease that refuses to gloss over their obscurest depths. But by itself, it is not enough. As Washer commences, he declares that â€œThe great goal of this study is for the student to have an encounter with God through his Wordâ€ (emphasis added); and before he gets into the study, he reminds the student that â€œThe study of doctrine is both an intellectual and devotional discipline. It is a passionate search for God that should always lead the student to greater personal transformation, obedience, and heartfelt worship. Therefore, the student should be on guard against the great error of seeking only impersonal knowledge and not the person of God. Neither mindless devotion nor mere intellectual pursuit is profitable, for in either case God is lostâ€ (emphasis original). For anyone willing to take this admonition seriously, I can say with confidence that this study will be of immense profit.
The Truth About Man, by Paul Washer Available at Monergism Books
Book Review: The Walk, by Stephen Smallman
Of all the books available on basic Christianity, evangelism, beginning discipleship, and so on, Stephen Smallman's new book, The Walk, stands out in two ways: first, it truly does start at the beginning, with the very basics, and without taking for granted any knowledge of Christianity at all; and second, it is a book designed not so much to impart basic information (although it does that too), but to motivate to a course of action. It is not so much an introduction to a religion as it is a guide for anyone willing to consider and act upon what it means to come to Christ. It takes by the hand those who have never heard the gospel, as well as those who are familiar with Christianity but have false or distorted perceptions of it based upon negative experiences or wrong personal choices, and leads them along, step by step, to the One whom to follow as a disciple is the heart of Christianity. The book is very patient and gentle, never pushy or prodding, and yet it makes very clear that to be a true Christian, a person must forsake all else and turn to follow Christ. And then it shows, in practical terms, just how this is done.
All this is summed up in the subtitle of the book: Steps for New and Renewed Followers of Jesus. This is not primarily a book of propositions, but of steps to be taken; they are the necessary steps for all who would be followers of Jesus; and they are the first steps for those who are new to Christianity, or for those who have had some experience with Christianity or the Church in the past, but have rejected or drifted away from it, and are now interested in being renewed as true followers of Jesus.
Although the approach is very basic, and does not usually employ all of the Reformed jargon, the book has very solid doctrinal foundations. Much is made from the beginning about the effectual call of Jesus (through his Spirit) as the unexceptional inception of any genuine response of submission and faith. In a day when a merely personal and private approach to religion is commonplace, the necessity of being joined to a local Church is made clear, and the purpose of Christ's redemptive work to fashion a new community, a holy and universal Church, and not just to save individuals and leave them alone, is emphasized. In the meat of the book, the glorious gifts of justification by the imputation of Christ's righteousness and sanctification by the regeneration of the Spirit are clearly spelled out in very simple language. And finally, only on the purely gospel basis preceding, it is explained what a life lived according to that gospel looks like, and the great commission we have been given to be both disciples and disciple-makers brings all to a poignant conclusion.
The Walk is loosely organized around the idea of walking the reader through the gospel of Mark and then the book of Romans; but along the way, other scripture passages come up, and Smallman encourages his readers to spend time reading in various places. He encourages the reader not to rush through the book, and at the end of each chapter gives â€œassignmentsâ€ that he strongly encourages him to have completed before pressing on â€“ assignments such as having the gospel of Mark read through twice by a certain point in the book, and writing in a journal. To facilitate discussion and help encourage an actual â€œwalkâ€ toward Jesus, and not just mental assimilation, the book is designed to be read by small groups, under the guidance of an informal advisor or instructor. In a couple of appendices, Smallman gives direction for guiding people through the book effectively, and at the end of the book he even encourages those who have gone through it once to consider walking through it again as a guide to others. Clearly, true disciple-making is near to the heart of Smallman, and the design of his book gives ample evidence to that fact.
I believe this book will have a unique niche of usefulness among laypeople in the church who have friends, neighbors or relatives whom they would love to see coming to Christ, but who feel unqualified or uncertain how to lead them that way. The book will be very useful in assisting even a young believer to help others begin the same journey of discipleship that he himself has begun, even if very recently. The book will also be valuable for those who have not yet come to Christ, but are seriously considering doing so. All such persons may use this book most profitably, according to Smallman, if they keep the following things in mind: (1) â€œBegin with Jesus. The only prerequisite for profiting from The Walk is a sincere desire to know more about Jesus...â€ (2) â€œThis is 'Discipleship for Dummies'â€ â€“ don't worry about being too ignorant or unfamiliar with Christianity or the bible! (3) â€œThis is written as a handbook, not a 'complete package'...you need to stop and read the bible for yourselfâ€. (4) â€œConsider ways to study with others. This book is written to be used in a class, in a group, or with one or two othersâ€. And (5) â€œTake your time. To be a disciple of Jesus is a lifetime commitment.â€
For anyone willing to consider making this lifetime commitment, or wishing to help others see what all is entailed in that decision, The Walk may prove to be a very helpful tool.
Book Review: Counterfeit Gods, by Tim Keller, Reviewed by Nathan Pitchford
When Wall Street began its painful crash in the Fall of 2008, a great deal of ill-placed global confidence was uncovered. Why did the Great Recession impact so many people negatively, what should we do in the aftermath, and how can we avoid being so let down as a nation and a culture again? In his latest book, Counterfeit Gods, Timothy Keller offers some real answers, not just for those tragically failed by the economic system, but for those let down and abandoned by any false hope or confidence whatsoever. Could it be that we are all guilty of trusting the wrong things for joy and security in life, and that our mask of idolatry was painfully ripped off when things turned bad? In a very insightful examination of our cultural â€œgodsâ€ the things we look to for meaning and success, Keller diagnoses our true underlying problems, which go far beneath the panic we felt when the stock market crashed, and gives hope for a true and lasting solution. A must-read for America today!
If you ask the average American on the streets if we are a nation given to idols, the obvious answer would be, â€œNo!â€. Idolatry was commonplace in the pagan Greek and Roman cultures, but may scarcely be found in these more enlightened times. But what if there really are counterfeit gods all around us, only the kind not made of stone or metal? â€œIn Ezekiel 14:3,â€ Keller reminds us, â€œGod says about elders of Israel, 'these men have set up idols in their hearts.' Like us, the elders must have responded to the charge, 'Idols? What idols? I don't see any idols?' God was saying that the human heart takes good things like career, love, and material possessions, even family, and turns them into ultimate things. Our hearts deify them as the integrating centers of our lives, because, we think, they can give us significance and security, safety and complete fulfillment, if we attain themâ€. If this really is the definition of idolatry, then perhaps it is not so foreign as we think. And perhaps we are not just given over to, but being destroyed by idols. If we look for â€œsafety and complete fulfillmentâ€ in things that can never finally provide that, then are we not doomed to despair? Are there not a great many more Wall Street experiences in store for us?
Book Review: Deserted by God?, by Sinclair Ferguson
Where do you go when you're feeling depressed, disconsolate, overwhelmed by sin, discouragement, loneliness, painful afflictions, dark valleys of despair? For the believer, there is no source of comfort that can compare to the psalter, that blessed â€œanatomy of the soul,â€ an apt description of the Book of Psalms first given by Calvin and referred to by Sinclair B. Ferguson in his book of remedies for the trials of this life, Deserted by God?. Happily, Ferguson is well aware of the rich cures of the psalter for every kind of painful affliction of the soul, and he spends the entire book walking through the darkest psalms of lament, distilling the precious cordial of hope from the bitterest agonies of the very human psalmists. For that reason, it is not just another book about depression â€“ it is a book that cannot fail to help all who take its instructions to heart, no matter how deep their trials may be.
Ferguson is a spiritual physician that knows to prescribe only the medicines that really do cure. He speaks compassionately, with empathy â€“ but what really matters is that he speaks the truth, truth that is living and active and able to help all who listen. If you struggle with depression, no matter the precise cause or form it may take, then read this book. It will help you, by God's grace, even when nothing else can.
I appreciate the fact that Ferguson is not naively optimistic or nauseatingly super-spiritual in how he addresses those who are overcome by despair, and yet he still does not buy into the nonsense that it's somehow ok to be angry with God and vent your sinful frustration in foolish words of accusation. Speaking of the idea that a good Christian will never doubt or be in despair, he states, â€œNor is this biblical spirituality; it is a false 'super-spirituality' that ignores or denies the reality of our humanity. We live in frail flesh and blood and in a fallen world which, John says, 'is under the control of the evil one' (1 John 5:19). There is much to discourage. Jesus felt that. To be free from the possibility of discouragements would be more 'spiritual' than Jesus â€“ and therefore not truly spiritual at all.â€ So yes, Ferguson would say, pour out your complaint to God and seek his mercy, as the psalmists did â€“ but there is a humble, reverent, and appropriate way to roll even your deepest trials on the merciful and loving God who is ready to take them upon himself for your greatest good.
What makes the book applicable for any discouraged person, no matter what he might be struggling with specifically, is that it simply walks through a few well-selected psalms, giving a straightforward and accurate exposition and application. And no matter what a person is dealing with, even when it feels like no one else has ever experienced the same thing, the psalmists dealt with something similar, and found hope and relief at the end of their journey. Ferguson's keen psychological acumen makes him able to probe what was really happening in the psalmists' perplexed souls, and give fitting application to modern humans who have the same trials.
Whether you struggle with guilt over sins in your past, feelings of abandonment and betrayal, physical illness or affliction, bereavement, unfulfilled dreams, or any other similar problem, you will probably find a chapter that speaks directly to you. Personally, I was greatly helped by the chapter, â€œCan I Be Pure?â€. My discouragement comes most poignantly from shame and frustration over falling into the same old sinful attitudes and actions that I thought I had left behind â€“ and there are psalms that deal with that! Whatever causes your despair, there are psalms that you'll find apply most aptly to you to.
The most outstanding portions of the book look ahead to Christ our great Champion and Savior, who took our weaknesses and infirmities, and who very often speaks through the psalmists who were types and foreshadows of him â€“ my only regret about the book was that, although there was much of this, in my opinion there wasn't always as much as there could have been. But when Ferguson does look ahead to the unspeakably wonderful Messiah, heaven comes down and fills the soul. I conclude with a quote from one of those times:
In asking for â€œmercy,â€ David, you are asking that God will show it to you, but withdraw it from Jesus.
In asking to experience God's â€œunfailing love,â€ you are asking that Jesus will feel it has been removed.
In asking to taste God's â€œgreat compassion,â€ you are asking him to refuse it to Jesus as he dies on the cross.
In asking God to â€œblot outâ€ your transgressions, you are asking that they will be obliterated by the blood of Jesus.
In asking to be washed, you are asking that the filth of your sin will overwhelm Jesus like a flood.
In asking to know the joy of salvation, you are asking that Jesus will be a Man of Sorrows, familiar with grief.
In asking to be saved from bloodguilt, you are asking that in your place Jesus will be treated as though he were guilty.
In asking that your lips will be opened in praise, you are asking that Jesus will be silenced, as a sheep before her shearers is dumb.
In asking that the sacrifice of a broken spirit, a broken and contrite heart be acceptable, you are asking that Jesus' heart and spirit will be broken.
In asking that God will hide his face from your sins, you are asking that he will hide his face from Jesus.
In asking that you will not be cast out of God's presence, you are asking that Jesus will be cast out into outer darkness instead.
Oh, the depths to which Jesus went to bear our burdens and carry our sorrows! When we see such a Savior as that, what trial could we ever suppose will finally overcome us who are recipients of so vast a love?
DVD Review: Does the Bible Misquote Jesus?, Dr. Bart Ehrman and Dr. James White (Debate)
Does the bible misquote Jesus? When stated that way, the question â€“ intentionally â€“ sounds provocative. What Dr. Bart Ehrman means to call into question, by this incendiary query, is whether we can actually know what Jesus really did and taught, given the history of the transmission of the original gospel accounts, and the other New Testament documents. We do not have the original manuscripts that the authors of scriptures penned. We do not even have copies. We have, according to Ehrman, â€œcopies of copies of copies,â€ that have been so corrupted that we simply cannot know what the originals actually said with any degree of certainty.
The skepticism of highly-acclaimed textual critic Bart Ehrman has been seized upon by the non-Christian world with a great deal of alacrity. Distorting his nuanced theories, which he has framed, it would seem, in such a way as to be intentionally inflammatory, the news media across the world speak of how the greatest and most brilliant scholars have determined that the text of the New Testament is hopelessly corrupt. This is a distortion that Dr. Ehrman has not seemed interested in correcting, As Dr. White points out in the formal, three-hour debate between the two on the reliability of the New Testament text, which American Vision has made available on DVD.
Essentially, this intelligent and scintillating debate centers on the question of whether or not we must have an absolutely perfect, â€œphotocopied,â€ reduplication of the original inspired text of scripture in order for scripture to have any authority or reliability at all. In simple fact, that is not what we have â€“ we have a huge collection of largely consistent manuscripts that all have mistakes. Most of the mistakes are meaningless â€“ spelling errors, for instance, that have no effect at all on what the text is saying. Some of them actually change the text, but they are obvious mistakes so absurd that they are not even viable â€“ it's beyond any reasonable doubt to suppose that they were actually original. And a very few are both meaningful (impacting the meaning of the text) as well as viable. Those few variants do not realistically affect any major doctrine of scripture, there is no vital point that hangs entirely upon a disputed variant. But they do exist. Perhaps, in a few places, we will never know with a great deal of certainty what an original word or tense or construction was. But does this mean that the New Testament is not reliable or authoritative at all? That is what Dr. Ehrman would say. According to him, if God did not flawlessly (and miraculously) preserve the original texts, then he must not have perfectly inspired them either (a non sequitur, of course). And then, if we cannot know with perfect certainty every single letter originally penned, then we simply cannot be sure of anything at all.
Dr. White helpfully exposes the radical nature of such skepticism. The New Testament is far and away the best attested document of antiquity, and there is much, much more certainty of what it actually said than any other document ever written before the advent of the printing press. If we cannot trust the New Testament, then we can certainly not trust that we actually have anything written by Homer, or Marcus Aurelius, or Suetonius, Tacitus, Cicero, or anyone else. In fact, we can know nothing of history whatsoever, at least before the invention of the printing press, if not before the invention of the xerox photocopier. Is that radical nature of such a standard really something that the skeptic would want to live with? Or perhaps, the antagonism to the reliability of the best-attested document in ancient history comes from some other source, some deeper and more theological reason.
Not only is it unreasonable to suppose that we must have a perfect photocopy of the original texts for them to be authoritative; but furthermore, the nature of the transmission process actually demonstrates God's preservation and care of the documents in an amazing way. The texts we have come from multiples lines of transmission, they were copied out lovingly by persecuted believers in North Africa, Asia, Europe â€“ all over the known world â€“ who had no access to each other, as the Church lived out the Great Commission left to them by the Savior; and now, today, when we gather them together we have substantially the same document. This is certain proof that no one central, controlling body forced changes upon the originals, intentionally corrupting them to be more consistent with their own doctrines, and destroying all evidence thereof. No, the New Testament is essentially the same whether on a scrap of papyrus in Africa from thirty years after John's death or from the careful copying of the Medieval scribes in Europe a thousand years later. What a proof that God carefully preserved all his words in the multiplicity of manuscripts available to us today! We may not know with certainty every single letter â€“ but we have every letter, and to a high degree of accuracy, by comparing these multiple lines of transmission, we can piece together the authoritative Word of God, in what is by far the best-attested document from its time. And even in those places where we are uncertain of a word or phrase, there is no vital doctrine that can be changed or destroyed. For those who are uncertain of the reliability of our modern New Testament or anyone who may interact with such a skeptic, this debate will doubtless prove to be very stimulating and helpful.
Available at Monergism Books.
Book Review: The Fear of God, by Arnold L. Frank
The subtitle to Arnold Frank's comprehensive study on the fear of God says all that is necessary to commend its subject matter to today's Church: â€œA Forgotten Doctrineâ€. If there was ever a major doctrinal understanding, suffused throughout the scriptures from Genesis to Revelation, that a notable segment of the historical Church entirely overlooked, then it is the doctrine of the fear of God, which the vast bulk of contemporary Evangelicalism has blithely, carelessly, and altogether shockingly ignored. The Fear of God is a timely and potent cordial for a very widespread and malignant disease.
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Book Review: Counsel from the Cross, by Elyse M. Fitzpatrick and Dennis E. Johnson
It will probably come as no surprise to many of you that much of what is passed off these days as biblical counseling is actually nothing but modern, godless, popular psychology dressed up with a few bible verses. But I am very pleased to inform you that Counsel from the Cross, by Fitzpatrick and Johnson, contains nothing of the sort. It is counseling, yes: but true to its title, it is always most eminently counsel from nowhere but the cross of Jesus Christ. Highly recommended for counselors, counselees, and all those Christians who simply have a hard time remembering the gospel when life gets hard.
New Format @ ReformedBooks.net (Book Reviews)
The book reviews @ ReformedBooks.net (a ministry of Monergism) have a new easy-to-use format. Come check out the revised content layout at the website. Also don't miss our top five list, a list of what we consider to the the top three to five Reformed books in all categories, including commentaries of every book of the bible, classics, soteriology, Christology, Calvinism, Covenant theology, Christian Life, etc...
The Doctrines of Grace - now in paperback
I wonder what you or I would do if we were told by a doctor that we had just weeks to live. What Dr. James Montgmery Boice did was set about writing a book. It was obvious that he considered the material he was writing to be the most important of his life, and it certainly had a profound effect upon me. I read the book through 4 or 5 times and gave multiple copies away to people. It had similar effects upon all those who read it.
I remember sitting in a Christian conference meeting about a year after first reading this book and noticed the name tag of the gentleman sitting next to me. It said "Rev. Philip Ryken." I asked him, are you the gentleman who co-wrote "the doctrines of grace" with Dr. Boice? He said, "Yes," but indicated that it was really Dr. Boice's book - Dr. Ryken simply worked hard to arrange the material in a book form.
I then told him that the book had been used mightily by the Lord in my own life and had totally transformed my understanding and ministry. It was key information for me in making the transition from having both feet firmly planted in mid air confusion to understanding the reformed faith and delighting in the grace of God in salvation.
Dr. Ryken seemed very happy to hear this, and even surprised to hear the book had such an impact. For my part, I was very grateful to God for the opportunity to thank the man who was instrumental in getting this book into print.
The book is a rich gift of legacy from Dr. Boice to the Body of Christ. Therefore, I am so glad to now see the paperback release of this work, "The Doctrines of Grace" by Dr. James Montgomery Boice and Philip Graham Ryken. As the authors state, "The doctrines of grace together point to one central truth: salvation is all of grace because it is all of God; and because it is all of God, it is all for his glory."
It is available at a discount at monergism books here. Written in easily accessible language, I recommend this book very highly. - JS
DVD Review: Why We Believe the Bible, by John Piper
Of all the essential doctrines of Christianity, perhaps the most foundational are the doctrines of the scriptures â€“ what they are, why they matter, whether they really are inspired and inerrant in the original manuscripts â€“ for the great foundational doctrines of our eternal salvation through Christ and his cross are all firmly rooted in the bible alone. It is evident, therefore, that one of the most pressing necessities for all believers is that they be taught to know with certainty what books make up the inspired scriptures and the foundational premises for studying them carefully, trusting them implicitly, and defending them unwaveringly. John Piper's small group series on Why We Believe the Bible is an excellent resource for such a purpose, and a tool I would eagerly recommend for small groups and any other Christians desirous of a more stable foundation or a more God-honoring approach to interacting with cynics and skeptics on the vital topic of the Word of God.
Preface to "Christ the Lord: The Reformation and Lordship Salvation" Michael S. Horton
[Back in Print] The purpose of this volume is not to provide an exhaustive defense of what we would regard as the biblical position on the 'lordship salvation' debate. Indeed both leading spokesmen on either side, Zane Hodges and John MacArthur, Jr., have offered some reason for discomfort over the terms lordship/no-lordship salvation. As James Boice, J.I. Packer, and others have argued in their works, no respected, mainstream Christian thinker, writer, or preacher has ever held such extreme and unusual views concerning the nature of the gospel and saving grace as Zane Hodges. In this book, there is no doubt that we are taking a firm stand against what I would rather label the "no-effective-grace" position. While Hodges insists that he is only following the Bible, apart from any theological system, it is clear that he is missing the point of the gospel itself--to make enemies friends, to reconcile sinners to God, to break the power of sin's dominion, and to bring new and lasting life to those who before were "dead in trespasses and sins" (Eph. 2:1).
It is, in part, because of that tendency, sometimes evidenced on both sides in this debate, to pretend that one is reading the Bible without any theological influences or biases, that motivated us to get involved in this sensitive and emotional issue. Both Hodges and MacArthur claim the Reformers for support. In our estimation, there is not the slightest support for Hodges and Ryrie to claim the Reformers' favor for their novel views. The antinomians (that is, those who denied the necessity of Christian obedience) of the Puritan era so pressed the Reformers' defense of justification to the the point where there was no place left for sanctification. However, the modern antinomianism, represented by Ryrie and Hodges chiefly, appears not to be motivated by an unbalanced fear that any talk of human responsibility will take away from God's glory, but by fear that any talk of the effectiveness of grace will erode confidence in human responsibility and choice. In other words, the antinomians since the Reformation have erred by denying human cooperation to the point where every divine operation is while dependent on human willing and running, contrary to the words of the apostle Paul (Rom 9:16).
Nevertheless, this book is not merely an endorsement of John MacArthur's position, either. We will argue that MacArthur at certain points risks confusion on some fundamental evangelical convictions, particularly, between justification and sanctification. It must be said, however, that MacArthur has been most gracious in considering our concerns and we have been in dialogue with him for some time now. Significant changes have been made, as he has fine-tuned his definitions and applied a more specific theological framework to his exegesis. Revisions will appear in forthcoming editions of The Gospel According to Jesus and we are grateful for MacArthur's eagerness to discuss these issues. While other differences remain, there is a great deal of discussion taking place and there is every reason to believe that the chief differences lie in the realm of definitions and pastoral practice rather than substance. MacArthur's humility has been a lesson to us and we hope that we will be able to show our critics the openness he has shown us.
Nevertheless since we are reviewing a position, and not a person, and most readers of this volume will have read the earlier edition of The Gospel According to Jesus, we have retained our criticisms on these points for the reader's benefit, noting MacArthur's revisions at the appropriate places. Let me also say that John has graciously allowed me to read the draft of his book, The Gospel According to the Apostles, which should be released about the same time as this volume. The sequel is clear, precise, and cautious, and it ought to correct the misunderstandings not only of those like Hodges, who have misrepresented MacArthur's position through caricature and hyperbole, but even perhaps the misguided zeal of some "lordship salvation" disciples as well.
It is because both positions claim to be echoes of the Reformation that we thought the debate was in need of a more historical treatment. For that reason, one will not find in Christ the Lord a comprehensive exegetical treatment. While there are chapters devoted to covering the biblical material (which is, after all, our "only rule of faith and practice"), the book has a decidedly historical tone to it. It is offered unabashedly as a "Reformation response" to the positions thus far presented, not because the Reformers and their successors were infallible, but because evangelical Protestantism owes a debt of gratitude to them for digging the gold out of the rich spiritual veins through the centuries so that we could learn from those who have gone before us. Theology, preaching, teaching, counseling, and pastoral care are not done in a vacuum; we are all influenced and shaped by our own traditions, upbringing, seminary education, and church curricula, and these are all shaped by certain theological systems. It is the goal of this book to help rub the sleep from our eyes, to drive away the naive assumption that we can just be "Bible teachers" without careful theological reflection from a particular systematic point of view.
The Reformers were certainly not infallible--they would be the last to say they were--but they were wise, wiser than any of us around these days. And we would be poor stewards of the inheritance God has given us through them if we did not at least attempt to gain their counsel on these important debates.
- W. Robert Godfrey
- Michael Horton
- Alister McGrath
- Kim Riddlebarger
- Rick Ritchie
- Rod Rosenbladt
- Paul Schaefer
- Robert Strimple
Book Review: A Treatise on the Law and the Gospel, by John Colquhoun
Having never before read any of John Colquhoun's considerable output, and only having, for that matter, a very sketchy idea of his place and significance in Reformed history, I was eager to get into what I thought could not but be his most important work, a treatise on the sum of biblical revelation, considered under the headings of Law and Gospel; but if I was eager beforehand, my enthusiasm only grew from the first page and on. â€œHow,â€ I wondered, â€œdid so insightful, meticulous, and applicational a writer escape my notice for so long?â€. The treatise was a feast, and served further to drive home to me the unparalleled tendency of the historic Reformed faith to ground its adherents in the vast and glorious freedom of the Gospel, and always in such a way as not to minimize a life of practical holiness, but rather to excite and encourage true piety and devotion. I would earnestly recommend A Treatise on the Law and the Gospel to anyone at all, and in order to lend force to my recommendation, I would mention a few outstanding features of the work
Book Review: The Prayer of the Lord, by R. C. Sproul
Throughout much of Church history, the Lord's Prayer (together with the Decalogue and the Apostle's Creed) has been one of the most foundational elements used in instructing new believers and children in what it means to be a Christian. But unfortunately, while it is frequently recited by rote today, it is not so commonly used as a guideline to teach Christians just what it means to pray, how we should approach God, what we should speak to him about, and so on. Even books on the topic of prayer itself, in the modern church, rarely employ the Lord's Prayer, given to his disciples for the specific purpose of teaching them how to pray, as a foundational shaping paradigm. The Prayer of the Lord, by R. C. Sproul, is a very refreshing exception to this trend, and in a crystal clear and surprisingly simple way shows modern disciples of the Lord, in his own words, just what it means to pray.
Book Review: The Road from Eden: Studies in Christianity and Culture
What precisely did God mean when he told Adam to fill the earth, subdue it, have dominion over it, and to cultivate and keep the Garden? What significance does that command retain after the Fall? What meaning does it have for Christians living on the earth today, after the resurrection of Christ? In a word, what exactly is the â€œDominion Mandateâ€ or (â€œCultural Mandateâ€) and how is the Church to obey it? The question is nuanced and complex; but John Barber's landmark study in Christianity and culture, The Road from Eden, is well adapted to make sense of the â€œculture wars,â€ not just of today, but of the past two thousand years, by uncovering the real issues, placing the development of questions and perspectives squarely within the broad flow of Church history, and supporting a particular opinion from a trinitarian framework of theology. For all serious students of the relationship between the Church and culture, whether sympathetic to Barber's perspective or not, this masterly study requires careful interaction and genuine consideration.
Whether you happen to be a novice or a scholar in the contemporary discussion surrounding Christ and the culture, The Road from Eden, if you have not yet read it, should be foremost on your list. If the topic is relatively new to you, you will not find a better overview of what all it entails, how it has been addressed throughout two thousand years of Church history, and what specific elements come into play in answering the pertinent questions. And if a scholar, you will find a well-documented and thoroughly-researched advance upon the scholarly discussion, capably arguing for a specific perspective, and firmly rooted in the history of the Church and a biblical-theological perspective of the scriptures. Whether or not you agree with Barber, you will be forced to rigorous thought and consideration which cannot fail to help you nuance your own opinion more carefully, at least, and perhaps even change it drastically. It will at least provide you with much germane material for thought and further discussion.
Book Review: The Fracture of Faith, by Douglas Vickers
The Fracture of Faith, by Douglas Vickers, is a book written in response to the manner in which â€œthe testimony of the church has been tarnished by the devaluation of its doctrine and the uncertainty that clouds its statement of the gospelâ€ (from the preface). It is therefore, by immediate admission, a book concerned with critiquing contemporary Christianity, a goal which it does in fact incisively accomplish at certain key points along the way. But the way in which it does this is just by laying out in a very compelling manner the doctrinal foundations and ethical implications of the gospel, and superimposing the modern teaching and practice of the church upon this carefully formulated paradigm. The end result is a product that is helpful on a variety of fronts â€“ its contributions to ethical theory and Christian apologetics no less than its critique of contemporary confusion within the Western church.
The Cross Centered Life
Here is an excerpt:
The Most Important Truth Is the Easiest to Forget
TIMOTHY'S HANDS TREMBLED as he read. He almost cradled the letter, as though his gentleness with the parchment would somehow be conveyed to its author, now chained in a cold Roman dungeon.
The letter came from the apostle Paul; it would be his last.
For years Timothy had pushed the thought of losing Paul out of his mind. Paul had been like a father. A friend and mentor who guided and instructed the young pastor. How could he minister without Paul's reassuring words, his confidence, his prayers? But now, Timothy knew Paul's death was imminent.
"I am already being poured out like a drink offering," Paul wrote, "and the time has come for my departure" (2 Timothy 4:6).
Timothy read the closing lines of the letter through his tears. But then he stopped and pushed them away abruptly. How could he wallow in grief when his old friend faced death so boldly?
Review: The Late Great Planet Church, Volume One, presented by NiceneCouncil.com
The Late Great Planet Church (volume one) is a well-structured and easy-to-watch dvd presentation that gathers together the insights of several notable scholars and pastors, most of whom were formerly committed dispensationalists, specifically on the rise of dispensationalism and the often dubious nature of its history during its formative years. It continues with more recent trends, including both the â€œrevised dispensationalismâ€ championed by Charles Ryrie, and the â€œprogressive dispensationalismâ€ of such scholars as Darrell Bock and Craig Blaising. By the end of the dvd, the viewer will be well-acquainted with the basic history of the entire movement.
Book Review: A Theological Guide to Calvin's Institutes, edited by David W. Hall and Peter A. Lillback
The tenth of July, on this year of our Lord, 2009, will be a highly significant date for the reformed community, marking as it does the five hundredth birthday of John Calvin, the acclaimed Reformer of Geneva and author of one of the most enduring works ever penned, Institutes of the Christian Religion. As a sort of birthday present, editors David Hall and Peter Lillback have gathered together the insights of many competent scholars and teachers in the reformed tradition, to celebrate the occasion with A Theological Guide to Calvin's Institutes, a volume marked by a variety of characteristics ranging from warm appreciation for Calvin the man to insightful and up-to-date contributions to the ongoing discussion of the Genevan Reformer in the plethora of secondary literature that has grown up around his legacy. If you desire to delve a little deeper into Calvin and his stunning contribution to Christianity and culture (and who should not so desire!), then what better occasion than his five-hundredth birthday, and what better way to make good upon your desire than a foray into this riveting volume? I found myself much benefitted by my own excursion into its pages, and I'm certain you will echo my own sentiments if you take the same journey.
Book Review: The Reign of Grace, by Abraham Booth
To many people, the doctrines of grace are essentially just the five points of Calvinism, commonly remembered by the acronym â€œTULIPâ€; but in reality, the doctrine of God's sovereign, reigning grace impacts every part of Christian doctrine and life. Few people give more evidence of having come to understand and delight in the far-reaching implications of this marvelous grace of God than eighteenth century Baptist Abraham Booth. When he first learned of the doctrines of grace, his life was transformed, and he was driven to write of the precious treasure he had encountered in the warm and compelling volume, The Reign of Grace. For both the dour, stodgy old Calvinist whose affections are quite out of keeping with his doctrine and the non-Calvinist who is suspicious either of the truth or the practical effects of Calvinism, this masterpiece of heart and mind would be a very salutary cordial.
Book Review: The Infinite Merit of Christ, by Craig Biehl
The rich and prolific theological legacy of Jonathan Edwards is one of modern American Christianity's greatest treasures, and interest in the great eighteenth century scholar and pastor is currently quite high. It is no surprise, then, that theologians of all persuasions have attempted to use Edwards to support their own points of view. What Augustine was to the sixteenth century doctrinal conflicts, Edwards has largely become to present day theological battles â€“ everyone wants him on their side, and so all are quick to wrest bits and pieces of his vast output to the service of their own agendas. He has been touted as an inclusivist, essentially a Catholic, and a proto-neo-orthodox, among other things. But what did Edwards actually teach, what was the real heart of his theology? In The Infinite Merit of Christ, Craig Biehl has undertaken to let Edwards speak for himself on a topic that colors everything else in his theology; and the admirably-researched product is sure to lend a lot of sanity and clarity to the muddled state of modern Edwards scholarship.
A Book You Don't Want to Pass Up!
Robert Godfrey's long-awaited book on John Calvin is now available. Dr. Godfrey's deep understanding of church history make this one of those "must reads." What are you waiting for? Don't diddle & loiter around.
Publisher's description: An introduction to the essential life and thought of one of historyâ€™s most influential theologians, who considered himself first and foremost a pilgrim and a pastor.
July 10, 2009, marks the five-hundredth anniversary of the birth of John Calvin. As controversial as he was influential, his critics have named a judgmental and joyless attitude after him, while his admirers celebrate him as the principal theologian of Reformed Christianity. Yet his impact is unmistakableâ€”a primary developer of western civilization whose life and work have deeply affected five centuriesâ€™ worth of pastors, scholars, and individuals.
What will surprise the readers of this book, however, is that Calvin did not live primarily to influence future generations. Rather, he considered himself first and foremost a spiritual pilgrim and a minister of the Word in the church of his day. It was from that â€œessentialâ€ Calvin that all his influence flowed.
Here is an introduction to Calvinâ€™s life and thought and essence: a man who moved people not through the power of personality but through passion for the Word, a man who sought to serve the gospel in the most humble of roles.
Monergism Books Reader's Guide to the Christian Life
Monergism Books Reader's Guide to the Christian Life is complete! Help us spread the word about Monergism Books by printing these two-sided guides and and then distributing them to friends or putting them on your church book table ... or anywhere else it might help believers select key titles for growing in their relationship with Christ.. This is a guide to titles everyone should read and are ranked by level and genre.
A Monergism Books Readers Guide to the Christian Life was designed to be folded into 3 columns.
Instructions: 1) print several copies of page 1 on the first side of the paper 2) turn the printed pages over and print the page 2 on the back. Fold into 1/3s. Thanks in advance for your help.
Book Review: God's Indwelling Presence, by James M. Hamilton, Jr.
Synopsis: The question of the role of the Holy Spirit in the lives of the Old Testament saints is a difficult and complicated one, which has received a variety of different answers from within the Reformed community. In God's Indwelling Presence, James M. Hamilton, Jr. undertakes to trace out a biblical theology from the whole testimony of the scriptures, but most particularly the Gospel of John, in order to discover a biblically-consistent testimony regarding Old Testament pneumatology; the result is a thorough, up-to-date, and compelling case for a position which may be surprising to some, but in support of which Hamilton has laid out some very compelling evidence. All in all, this is a very insightful and engaging work, and deserves a reading far beyond the borders of the scholarly community.
Recent Book Reviews from ReformedBooks.net
Book Review: Get Outta My Face, by Rick Horne
It's an age-old problem: teenagers who are rebellious, angry, unmotivated, acting out, and in desperate need of the truth; but when anyone confronts them with the truth, they will not listen. They see the parent or counselor as hypocritical, judgmental, disconnected, totally unable to understand them or their problems. It's as if they are speaking different languages. How can a parent or counselor get beyond this impasse, and speak to teenagers in a way that will command their respect and willingness to listen to what they have to say? In Get Outta My Face, Rick Horne addresses this question with a good dose of common sense, practical wisdom, and the insight that comes from years of experience.
Book Review: The One True God, by Paul David Washer
In the Christian life, progress is ultimately made through learning. We do not become better Christians by pursuing good works which are divorced from an increasing understanding of God; but rather, our good works increase, by the power of the Spirit, as we grow in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. That is why, as we seek to grow in grace and to disciple other believers, especially those who are new to the faith, it is of first concern that we strive to do so by pursuing a biblical understanding of who God is, and how he relates to man. The One True God, by Paul Washer, puts feet to that concept. It is perhaps the best basic disciple-making tool on the doctrine of God that I have come across, and will be one of my first recommendations to new believers. Because of the following three characteristics, in particular, I find this workbook highly commendable:
Book Review: Feed My Sheep
From the first days of the Protestant Reformation, when the reformers began studying the scriptures for the essential signs of a true church, the most fundamental of the signs was only this: the true preaching of the word. In fact, according to Luther, â€œEven if there were no other sign than this alone, it would still suffice to prove that a Christian, holy people must exist there, for God's Word cannot be without God's people and, conversely, God's people cannot be without God's Wordâ€ (quoted on the first page of Feed My Sheep). In other words, the preaching of the bible is central, foundational, and vital to the functioning of any local church. But in modern American Evangelicalism, there is a staggering deficiency in this area. The place of preaching is often marginalized, and the character of preaching is frequently lackluster and inadequate. Because of these two things, the need for a passionate plea for preaching, from faithful pastors who passionately preach, is desperate. This new edition of Feed My Sheep could not come at a more opportune time. It delivers a message that is eminently needed.
Review: Basic Training for Defending the Faith (DVD series), by Greg Bahnsen
The responsibility of Christians to proclaim and defend their faith reasonably and intelligibly, in the face of worldviews and philosophies that are antagonistic to Christianity, is a serious biblical concern. So how do we go about equipping ourselves for the task? In order to defend the faith adequately, must we be current with the prevalent philosophies and epistemologies of the day, and eloquent enough to mount a persuasive argument within the confines of those philosophies? In other words, must we be skillful enough thinkers to beat the atheists on their own playing field? No, Dr. Bahnsen would insist; although understanding philosophy and epistemology may be useful, ultimately, if we would be successful apologists, we only need to learn to think as Christians. And in this clear, scriptural, penetrating series of lectures, he demonstrates exactly what that means, and how it can equip any Christian to be a biblical and competent apologist.
Book Review: The Gospel for Real Life, by Jerry Bridges
Synopsis: By now, many of us are familiar with the slogan so often trumpeted by Jerry Bridges (as well as others), that we should â€œpreach the gospel to ourselves everydayâ€. But what is the gospel, exactly, that it should be able to stand up under the weight of this life-encompassing dictate? Surely, after enough time has lapsed, this will become dull and redundant, right? Surely, in all of life's multifarious exigencies, some problem will arise that requires some other answer, some more practical solution, will it not? Perhaps, if this is our perspective, it is because we have a reductionistic understanding of what the gospel is, and all the benefits it entails. And if this is the case, then Jerry Bridges' book, The Gospel for Real Life, will prove a valuable resource for working through just what the gospel is, and what it means for everyday life.
Review: Chosen for Life by Sam Storms
Clear. If one word could sum up Sam Stormâ€™s work on the doctrine of divine election, it would be clear. Stormsâ€™ work was first published by Baker in 1987, but this revised and expanded edition published by Crossway in 2007 was my first encounter with Storms as an author.
The book begins with a brief parable about Jerry and Ed, plausibly fictitious, nineteen-year-old, identical twins with evidently identical lives until a mysterious distinction is revealed. This hypothetical relationship clearly grounds Stormsâ€™ proceeding discussion in the soil of life, and the author recalls his readers back to the story of Jerry and Ed to force an honest handling of an often theoretical topic.
Storms walks his readers thoroughly through the crucial biblical passages, devoting three chapters to the handling of Romans 9 alone. Further strengthening Chosen for Life are the two latter chapters which succinctly answer â€œCrucial Questions Concerning Electionâ€ as well as the appendices on problem passages in scripture, prayer and evangelism, and the justification of Godâ€™s eternal decrees. The authorâ€™s commitment to scriptural exegesis suites the humility of his language and commends his work to the mind of the reader. Those who agree â€“ and those who are thus persuaded to agree â€“ will be strengthened in their personal faith by confidence in Godâ€™s good sovereignty. Those who disagree will be called to pause and reflect deeply on their own grounds for confidence in Godâ€™s goodness.
Mike Horton's People and Place Wins 2009 Christianity Today book award
People and Place: A Covenant Ecclesiology Michael S. Horton (Westminster John Knox)
Mike Horton's People and Place won the 2009 Christianity Today book award for the best theology/ethics text. CT's judges said: Our judges said: "A first-rate work that engages recent world-class voices across the confessional spectrum. Horton offers acute interpretations of his dialogue partners and fashions his own well-argued theses into a constructive, orthodox, biblical, Reformed ecclesiology. This is the kind of scholarly quality that 'neo-evangelicals' were hoping for when Carl Henry and company articulated their vision."
Book Review: The Crook in the Lot, by Thomas Boston
Synopsis: It is a universal truth without exception that everyone's lot in life, since the fall of Adam, is marked at times with certain crooks, whether imperfections, afflictions, relational discords, and so on, under which one chafes and groans, and cries out for relief. But where is God in these times, and why does he allow such evils and adversities to occur? Employing the full counsel of scripture, Thomas Boston gives a very compelling and comforting explanation: all the crooks in our lot come ultimately from God's own hand â€“ and they are not meaningless, arbitrary, or meant for our destruction, but rather employed for our eternal profit, and a necessary means to the glorious end of our being lifted up in God's due time. When we understand God's design in our trials, and the means he would have us make use of in conforming our hearts to his desire and hoping faithfully for his sure and soon relief, we may put to the proof the apostle's admonition to consider it pure joy when we come into the temptation of the various crooks he has placed in our lot.
Book Review: The Sinfulness of Sin, by Ralph Venning
Synopsis: The doctrine of sin is a doctrine that pervades every part of the bible from Genesis to Revelation, and helps to shape and define every other aspect of biblical teaching. Without an understanding of the utter sinfulness of sin, redemption is not so great, grace is not so mighty, salvation is not so sweet, the work of the God-man is not so powerful. The need for an exhaustive treatment on the biblical teaching of the horrific extent of sin is, therefore, an eminently needful and salutary thing; and thankfully, that need has already been admirably fulfilled in Ralph Venning's classic work, The Sinfulness of Sin.
John Calvin: Christian Biographies for Young Readers
In this attractive volume, Simonetta Carr introduces young readers (ages 7-10) to the life, thought, and work of one of the most famous Reformers of the Christian church. She tells about the life of John Calvin from his birth to his death, placing him within the troubled context of the sixteenth century. She also introduces Calvinâ€™s writings in a way that children will desire to know more about his ministry and influence.
Readers will come to know Calvinâ€™s personality, his devotion to God and the church, and the personal challenges he faced. They will understand the struggles the early Reformed church faced at that time, not only surviving attacks of the Roman Catholic Church, but also achieving a clear identity and a unified doctrine. They will also have a glimpse of life in sixteenth-century Europe, stricken by pestilence, poverty, and wars. Simply written, and full of interesting facts, this book makes a great gift for children of this rich Reformed heritage.
â€œThe parents of four ourselves, my wife and I are eager to learn of new materials we can use and recommend. This is surely a resource that we would noise abroad. A translator of Reformed materials into Italian as well as a teacher, Simonetta is remarkably gifted. She knows the history and theology of the Reformation well, yet also knows how to â€˜translateâ€™ for our children. The Reformed community really needs this kind of edifying literature for our covenant youth.â€ â€” Michael Horton
Book Review: A Biblical Defense of Predestination, by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.
Synopsis: There has always been doctrinal conflict in the Church, as Kenneth Talbot points out in his foreword to Gentry's defense of predestination; but in modern times, no controversy has been as widespread or as heated as the controversy over the doctrine of predestination. So why enter into a discussion that is certain to spark disagreement and dissension? Would it not be better just to overlook differences, and find unity in common ground? Dr. Gentry has presented a compelling case that even though â€“ or perhaps because â€“ the doctrine of predestination is so controversial, it is nevertheless a vital subject to broach, if for no other reason than that, the bible has much to say on the topic, and one's understanding of it will deeply affect his view of the character of God and the nature of his salvation. Not only has Gentry provided a compelling survey of the biblical testimony to predestination, he has also given compelling and practical reasons to spend the necessary time and energy to study and defend these deep and intricate truths. For anyone seeking a straightforward, non-abrasive explanation of both the what and the why of biblical predestination, for himself or others, this will certainly prove to be a resource of tremendous value.
Book Review: C. H. Spurgeon on Spiritual Leadership, by Steve Miller
Synopsis: Few preachers in the history of the Church have had as profound and lasting an impact as Charles Haddon Spurgeon, whose ministry in the Metropolitan Tabernacle was characterized by an amazing output in a vast array of ministries, and a worldwide influence for the cause of Christ. For this reason, perhaps, few lives have been as frequently recorded in biographies and as often used for exemplary inspiration as his. In Miller's book, which is not quite a biography and not quite a collection of themed quotations, but displays a little of both, the reader is introduced in a very manageable way, not just to Spurgeon, but to the very heart of the great preacher, and to his thoroughly Christ-centered and Spirit-dependent philosophy of ministry, largely in his own words. For anyone aspiring to the sacred call of the ministry, or for that matter, any believer at all whose heart-cry is simply not to waste his life, this book will be instructive and inspiring reading, everywhere suffused with the godly wisdom that came from a heart that rested always on Jesus alone, and strove always for the greater display of his matchless glory.
1599 Geneva Bible - Calvin Legacy Edition
1599 Geneva Bible - Calvin Legacy Edition:
Casebound in Genuine Leather with gold foil stamping
Description: On July 10, 2009, the world will celebrate the 500th anniversary of the birth of John Calvin (1509-1564). A controversial and often misunderstood theologian, Calvinâ€™s impact on our modern world is simply beyond comprehension. Calvinâ€™s view that God reigns everywhere and over all things led him to develop the biblical idea that man can serve God in every area of lifeâ€”church, civil government, education, art, music, business, law, journalism, etc. Calvinâ€™s teaching led directly to what has become known as the â€œProtestant work ethicâ€ and created unprecedented economic prosperity around the world.
One of his lesser-known contributions is that of the Geneva Bible, named for the city where Calvin lived and taught. The Geneva Bible was the first English Bible to feature chapters, verse numbers, cross references, and textual notes. The Geneva Bible and its nearly 300,000 marginal notes helped lead the English speaking world out from under the ignorance, heresy and tyranny of the Middle Ages and into a full understanding of Godâ€™s Kingdom ruling over all.
As its popularity and distribution increased, the Geneva Bibleâ€™s marginal notes incurred the wrath of the King of England. Specifically, the marginal note for Exodus 1:9 indicated that the Hebrew midwives were correct in disobeying the orders of the Egyptian King. King James railed against this interpretation, calling it â€œseditious.â€ The tyrant knew that if the people held him accountable to Godâ€™s Word, his days as a â€œDivine Rightâ€ king were numbered. Calvin and the Reformers were not about to change the clear meaning of Scripture to cater to the whims of the King or the Pope. The Geneva Bible began the unstoppable march to liberty in England, Scotland, and America.
The great American historian George Bancroft stated, â€œHe that will not honor the memory, and respect the influence of Calvin, knows but little of the origin of American liberty.â€ The famous German historian, Leopold von Ranke, wrote, â€œJohn Calvin was the virtual founder of America.â€ John Adams, the second president of the United States, agreed: â€œLet not Geneva be forgotten or despised. Religious liberty owes it most respect.â€
Book Review: Lord and Servant, by Michael S. Horton
Synopsis: In Lord and Servant, Michael Horton has argued, meticulously and adroitly, that a truly biblical christology cannot be got at except through the lens of a strictly biblical covenant theology. What it is to be God cannot finally be arrived at through the metaphysical and ontological categories of the philosophers, for God will ultimately be known only as he reveals himself through his mighty saving acts as the Lord of the Covenant. What it is to be man, in the image of God, can only be apprehended through the ethical and relational parameters of covenant responsibility. Hence, the covenant is necessarily the locus in which we meet Christ, at once the Lord and Servant of the covenant, who both reveals the nature of the covenant God and brings man to his intended position as the ruling representative of God on earth. Irenic in tone, academic in presentation, and engaging a wide spectrum of opposing viewpoints, this work is sure to be a conservative standard for all who would stay up-to-date on the contemporary conversation about the person of Christ and the nature and design of the atonement.
Book Review: Bible Overview, by Steve Levy
Synopsis: As many bible handbooks, surveys, and overviews as are already in print, a reader may glance at the non-descript title Bible Overview, groan, and wonder, â€œWhy another one?â€. Such at least was my initial reaction; but it took only a few pages for me to realize that this is a different kind of bible overview, which fills an urgent need, and which I cannot recommend highly enough. It's a simple enough book, really: easy-to-follow, down-to-earth writing, peppered with homey illustrations and straightforward explanations; but what it says is so certainly true, so earth-shatteringly important, and yet sadly, so often overlooked today, that it has a value which far outweighs its unacademic presentation. This is a book written for ordinary, unknowledgeable Christians, to help them see the whole point of the scriptures in spite of their lack of acquaintance with the outlandish and inexplicable customs and cultures of their original settings; but it should also be read by scholars and theologians who likewise miss the whole point of the scriptures even in the midst of all their erudite research into those same difficult questions.
Book Review: Faith on Trial, by Martyn Lloyd-Jones
Synopsis: Although the ancient psalmists of Israel were holy men of God, who wrote by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, they were also deeply human, and were not above honestly describing their struggles and temptations, as well as the truths they discovered and the hopes that they clung to, in order to find victory at last in the grip of a sovereign and merciful God. In Martyn Lloyd-Jones' masterful study of Psalm 73, this truth comes to the fore; and what worked for the psalmist is painstakingly distilled and analyzed, and put into a modern context, where Lloyd-Jones is certain that it will work for readers today, who face the same overwhelming problems of perplexity and despair in suffering. Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, by common attestation, was a skilled physician of the body; but in this work, the reader will encounter indisputable truth that he was also a physician of the soul, whose skill to apply sure remedies to deeply hurting souls is perhaps unrivaled in today's world.
Excerpts from Five Things Every Christian Needs to Grow by R.C. Sproul
Pg. 12 Though sin often brings immediate pleasure, it gives no lasting joy. If we understand the difference, we can avoid the pitfalls that entice the believer.
Pg. 21-22 If I don't like something I read in Scripture, perhaps I simply don't understand it. If so, studying it again may help. If, in fact, I do understand the passage and still don't like it, this is not an indication there is something wrong with the Bible. It's an indication that something is wrong with me, something that needs to change. Often, before we can get something right, we need to first discover what we're doing wrong.
Pg. 22 When we experience the "changing of the mind" that is repentance, we are not suddenly cleansed of all wrong thinking. The renewing of our minds is a lifelong process. We can accelerate this process by focusing on those passages of Scripture that we don't like. This is part of the "instruction in righteousness" of which Paul speaks.
Pg. 24 I think one of the reasons many Christians never get to the meat of the Word but remain at the milk level is because they never really learned how to drink the milk. There is a reason why scales are important to the piano player and the grip to the golfer. We must master these basics if we are to reach higher levels of proficiency.
Pg. 48 Just as God uses the preaching of the gospel as the power unto salvation, so He uses the power of prayer to bring about redemption. Our prayers cannot force God to do anything, but He uses them as His own instruments to bring about His will.
Pg. 76-77 Nobody wants to come near to God with an uneasy conscience. Sin is one of the reasons why we like to keep a safe distance from Him.
Pg. 78 If we don't feel like going to church, we are to do it anyway. It's a privilege to come near to God and to worship with other believers, but it's also a sacred duty.
Pg. 80 The primary reason to be in church is to worship the living God, and for this we must bring a sense of reverence and adoration for His transcendent majesty. There's nothing common about this. We walk through the door. We step across the threshold. We enter into His presence. We know that God is not restricted to the building, but we are aware that this is a sacred hour that God has set apart and declared to be a holy time of visitation between Himself and His people. So we leave worldly cares and concerns for a while and focus on God. We come to hear a word from God, and it is the pastor's responsibility to make sure what we hear from the pulpit is the Word of God, not pop psychology. The power is in the Word, for it is the truth. That's what we all desperately need to hear, and more than once a week. And so we come to hear and respond in a way that will honor God, in a way that will honor His majesty.
Pg. 87 This is a glorious story of redemption, but there is great irony here. We see what God redeemed His people from, but we must not miss what God redeemed them to. He called His people out of Egypt, out of slavery, not to become autonomous or to do whatever they please. He called them to serve Him. The Israelites were called out of service to Pharaoh and into service to God.
Pg. 90 Service...is not high on the list of things we enjoy. In our culture, we struggle with the image and role of the servant. We think it's beneath our dignity to fulfill that role.
Pg. 98 I have no "profit" of my own because I earn nothing by doing what I am required to do. That's why our redemption is by grace and grace alone. There is only one thing that I can place before God that is, properly speaking, my ownâ€”my sin. The only thing that can redeem me is not my work, but the work that Christ has performed on my behalf. He freely came to do the Father's will and to submit Himself to the law for our sake. He, and He alone, is a profitable servant.
Pg. 105-106 Our servanthood should require no supervision. We should not need to have someone constantly watching us to ensure that we are working. Our goal should be to please Christ, not perform merely for the applause of people. People-pleasers cannot be true servants of Christ. We must keep our eyes on Christ and not on the judges of this world.
Pg. 108 There is widespread cynicism today about giving to the church. Some unscrupulous televangelists and pastors have made it seem unwise, thanks to their lavish lifestyles. Yet the Bible clearly commands Christians to give and to practice good stewardship. We take an offering every Sunday in our church. Right before the offering, I usually say, "Let us now worship God with our tithes and offerings." The point I'm stressing to our congregation is that giving should be an act of worship.
Pg. 122 Failure to tithe also limits the ministry of the church. One of the greatest barriers to expanding the kingdom of Christ in this world is financial.
Pg. 124 I often hear people say, "I'd like to tithe, but I can't afford to." I honestly believe that if you invest in the kingdom of God, you won't lose anything in the final analysis.
Book Review: Covenant Theology, by Peter Golding
Synopsis: Nearly five hundred years after the beginning of the Protestant Reformation, Reformed theology and piety continue to have a worldwide impact on the Church; but how many Christians who consider themselves to be heirs of the Reformation have drifted from an understanding of what its central and distinguishing doctrines have always been? In his comprehensive and hugely helpful survey, Peter Golding argues that the key of theology in Reformed thought and tradition â€“ the essential genius of the vastly diverse and yet fundamentally unified phenomenon known as the Reformation â€“ is simply Covenant Theology. For a generation of Protestants who have lost their roots and are adrift in the sea of nebulous contemporary Evangelicalism, this book cannot be too highly recommended.
Book Review: "It's Not Fair!", by Wayne Mack
" Synopsis: If we are being honest, we will have to admit that every one of us, in a hundred different ways and for a thousand different reasons, has been guilty of murmuring "It's not fair!" when things don't go as we would like them to. So how do we respond when we, or others who come to us for counsel, are in such a state of despair? In his simple, compassionate, and eminently biblical way, Wayne Mack drives home the point that our only pathway to hope, when times are tough, is in apprehending the character of the just and sovereign God as he has revealed himself in the scriptures. "It's Not Fair!" is a gem of a book, that meets people where they are at, but doesn't leave them there; it takes them to the God who changes sinful hearts, and brings healing and praise out of very real and very painful tragedy.
I must admit up front, that whenever I am asked to read a Christian counselingbook, I immediately become apprehensive. I have seen far too much "Christian counseling" that is really just secular poppycock with a thin bible veneer. But I am very pleased to say that this book is not like that. It does not cast the hurting counselee upon himself, and advise him to find hope in keeping a bright outlook, or believing in his own abilities, or nurturing his self-esteem. And it does not (worse yet!) suggest that it's okay to be angry with God, that a person is right to feel upset when unfair things happen. No, Wayne Mack, although with a deep and genuine empathy and an understanding of the stark reality of hurts and sorrows in this fallen world, makes it very clear that God is God, and we are not; but then, in going consistently to the biblical witness, he shows how a right understanding of the character of this God whom we must not in any event murmur against is our only real hope for healing, change, and joy in the midst of any trouble.
From the beginning, Wayne emphasizes that an "It's not fair" attitude is never appropriate, and always springs from a heart of rebellion and pride. Whenever we find ourselves feeling that way, he suggests, it is not our circumstances which need to change, but we ourselves. And that change can only come about by the power of God, as he opens up our hearts to understand who he is as he has revealed himself in the scriptures.
Wayne focuses on four basic attributes of God, a fuller understanding of which will change our perspective and our grumbling hearts: his wisdom, his love, his justice, and his omnipotence/sovereignty. These chapters, which are the real meat of the book, are simple and concise, but packed with the plentiful scriptural testimony of who God is, and what that means for us. I can think of no better remedy for the hurting believer than to read through these truths slowly and deliberately, and to meditate on the nature of the God that they reveal.
Although the heart of the book is the biblical testimony about God, Wayne is also very practical and applicational. The pages bleed with the heart of a seasoned counselor, who has seen every kind of hurt imaginable, and has wept with the weeping. He does not have the sort of rosy optimism that suggests that everything will get better (if, by better, we mean that circumstances will change to what we want them to be); but he does have the deeper and more comforting conviction that all things are ordained by an all-powerful, all-wise, and utterly just and sovereign God, who is actively working everything out for the eternal good of those who trust in him, using the pain of trials and the comfort of overwhelming grace for our greater sanctification and eternal weight of glory. And when the pain is deep and real, that is the only assurance that can really do our hearts any good.
Reviewed by Nathan Pitchford
"It's Not Fair!": Finding Hope When Times Are Tough, by Wayne A. Mack available at Monergism Books
Book Review: Fathers & Sons: Hold Fast in a Broken World, by Douglas Bond
"Synopsis: In twenty-first century America, young men are in more need than ever of mature, godly wisdom and counsel to instruct them as they set out on their daunting task of living as genuine Christians in a deceptive and ungodly world. But unfortunately, when young men are in the direst straits, it seems as if wise fathers, who will guide them through the daunting world of false philosophies and lying pleasures stretched out before them, are in scarce demand. Recognizing this dilemma, Douglas Bond has undertaken to write a book that shows how advantageous and necessary it is, â€œin a broken world,â€ for fathers to speak sensibly and biblically on every issue from work ethics to cultural engagement, and for sons to heed their wisdom and fight against sin with the strength of youth. God grant that both generations, by his power and grace, may continue to hold fast when all the world is falling apart.
In the book of Proverbs, King Solomon models what it is to be a godly father, instructing his children in practical, God-given wisdom, which touches on every topic under the sun. How well he recognized the vast array of enticing sins and the bitter ends to which they finally lead, and how ardently did he wish to prepare his children to meet those temptations with an informed mind and a heart set on the truth! Sadly, this sort of father/son relationship is hard to find these days; but Douglas Bond is a refreshing example of just such a father, who takes advantage of every opportunity to press home to his children the courses which the godly life must take, always against the grain of this world, and the popular form of religion which has already embraced the world's deceptive ideals.Bond does not write with the pen of a scholarly exegete or systematizer of doctrine, and he has not produced a structured compendium of theological truths; instead, he writes occasionally, modeling how different circumstances and situations may be wrested to a wise father's purpose, as illustrations to his sons of the heavenly wisdom that sheds light on all of society's perplexing problems. He has a penchant for finding analogies and exemplary materials in all of the events of life, and using those everyday realities of soldiery and athletics, or encounters with inconsistent college professors and selfcontradictory artists, as solid instructional materials, designed to make his children grapple with real issues, and set their hearts on following the path of godliness, no matter what the cost may be, or how inexplicable it may appear to modern society.
Loosely grouped into four themes â€“ Leaders and Servants, Culture and Art, Culture, Humanity, Truth, and Lies, and Death, Suffering, and Heaven â€“ Bond has compiled twenty-one chapters, which may perhaps be fittingly described as informal, didactic monologues, in which he relates anecdotes and illustrations, diagnoses cultural nconsistencies and masquerading sins, prescribes godly actions and responses, and encourages heartfelt perseverance in the truth. Usually he is thought-provoking, sometimes profound, and always authentic and overflowing with a fatherly concern that his sons grow up to be faithful soldiers of Jesus Christ, holding fast in a broken world.
The command that God has given to fathers in Deuteronomy 6:6-9, that they be teaching their children always and at every opportunity of the works and commandments of the Lord, is sobering in its solemn import; and frankly, even among Christian men and leaders, far more failures to observe its prescriptions may be found than true successes. Douglas Bond is one man who seems to have taken this command seriously; and by his example, we may all be admonished. This is a book that both fathers and sons would do well to come to: sons, to drink from the well of practical wisdom, and fathers to encounter an example to be followed. May Christian fathers everywhere be encouraged to use all of life as an opportunity to train up their sons in the practical wisdom that flies in the face of the culture, and which can only be formed by a constant and Spirit-led meditation on the scriptures; and may Christian sons be stirred up to press on through the fierce and numerous foes to their faith. In a word, may both
fathers and sons â€œhold fast in a broken worldâ€.
Reviewed by Nathan Pitchford
Fathers & Sons: Volume 2: Hold Fast In a Broken World, by Douglas Bond available at Monergism Books
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Reformation Day Book Special
For Reformation Day we have an incredible special discount offer. We are extending an additional Discount 10% off the entire order for all customers of Monergism Books who purchase The Prodigal God by Tim Keller. Please read below to learn how to get the discount:
Book Review: What is Biblical Preaching, by Eric J. Alexander
In his booklet, Eric J. Alexander very clearly works his way through eight propositions on the nature of biblical preaching; and in each of these propositions, the one great underlying theme is the supremacy of God. This truth, more than anything else, colors the nature and importance of preaching. Because preaching has to do with the word of God himself, it must necessarily be fundamental in importance; because it has to do with God's word as that which was given to restore fallen man to a favorable relationship with himself, it is certainly spiritual in its essence; because only the truth of God can set us free, it must be didactic in its nature, and expository in its form; biblical preaching must likewise be systematic in its pattern, pastoral in its concern, clear in its structure, and relevant in its application. In a word, biblical preaching, recognizing as it does the supreme importance of God, and the utter dependence that God's creation has upon his word, must cast aside all the wisdom of the preacher, and for the good of the people of God, trust in the sufficiency of what he has said to meet every need of those who are his. The supremacy of God and his word must certainly lead the minister to careful reflection and study; but it likewise demands of him that he be eminently concerned about those for whose advantage God sent his word, recording in it everything necessary for their eternal life and happiness. In other words, it demands that he be a rigorous scholar in his study and exposition, and a compassionate pastor in his care and application. But further than this, it must also lead him to the realization of his own insufficiency for the task: the goal of preaching is to affect the people of God with the truth of God, and that goal can be accomplished by the Holy Spirit alone; thus, at the same time that the nature of biblical preaching demands a careful use of all possible means, it also demands a full-orbed reliance on the allpowerful Spirit. Prayer and humble dependence on God is as requisite to true preaching as scholarly acumen. Without God's anointing, preaching will accomplish absolutely nothing, no matter how wellcrafted the sermons may be. Although this booklet is only 32 pages, they are rich, thought-provoking pages, answering poignantly and succinctly that question, What is Biblical Preaching? I would highly recommend it to all current or aspiring ministers of God's word. Reviewed by Nathan Pitchford What is Biblical Preaching, by Eric J. Alexander available at Monergism Books
In his booklet, Eric J. Alexander very clearly works his way through eight propositions on the nature of biblical preaching; and in each of these propositions, the one great underlying theme is the supremacy of God. This truth, more than anything else, colors the nature and importance of preaching. Because preaching has to do with the word of God himself, it must necessarily be fundamental in importance; because it has to do with God's word as that which was given to restore fallen man to a favorable relationship with himself, it is certainly spiritual in its essence; because only the truth of God can set us free, it must be didactic in its nature, and expository in its form; biblical preaching must likewise be systematic in its pattern, pastoral in its concern, clear in its structure, and relevant in its application. In a word, biblical preaching, recognizing as it does the supreme importance of God, and the utter dependence that God's creation has upon his word, must cast aside all the wisdom of the preacher, and for the good of the people of God, trust in the sufficiency of what he has said to meet every need of those who are his.
The supremacy of God and his word must certainly lead the minister to careful reflection and study; but it likewise demands of him that he be eminently concerned about those for whose advantage God sent his word, recording in it everything necessary for their eternal life and happiness. In other words, it demands that he be a rigorous scholar in his study and exposition, and a compassionate pastor in his care and application. But further than this, it must also lead him to the realization of his own insufficiency for the task: the goal of preaching is to affect the people of God with the truth of God, and that goal can be accomplished by the Holy Spirit alone; thus, at the same time that the nature of biblical preaching demands a careful use of all possible means, it also demands a full-orbed reliance on the allpowerful Spirit. Prayer and humble dependence on God is as requisite to true preaching as scholarly acumen. Without God's anointing, preaching will accomplish absolutely nothing, no matter how wellcrafted the sermons may be.
Although this booklet is only 32 pages, they are rich, thought-provoking pages, answering poignantly and succinctly that question, What is Biblical Preaching? I would highly recommend it to all current or aspiring ministers of God's word.
Reviewed by Nathan Pitchford
What is Biblical Preaching, by Eric J. Alexander available at Monergism Books
Book Review: Recovering the Reformed Confession, by R. Scott Clark
Synopsis: By all appearances, Reformed Christianity is in a heyday of growth and fervor; but how well-rooted in the historic Reformation, with its prolific confessions and deliberate piety, is the modern Reformed resurgence among younger Evangelicals? R. Scott Clark would argue that it has more to do with bare predestinarianism than with the full-orbed Reformed life of the past; and in making his case, he demonstrates a competent understanding both of the past and the present, and is not at all hesitant to prescribe very specific steps towards true reformation. Whether one should finally agree or disagree with all of Clark's prescriptions is a little beside the point: in any case, he has accurately described a troubling trend, and he has been bold enough to suggest a remedy. He has brought the issues to the table, and shown that they demand a response. May the discussion that his work stimulates assist the Reformed community, in the spirit of their forebears, to be semper reformanda â€“ always reforming.
ESV Study Bible: Covenant Vs. Dispensational
Many visitors have asked me where the new ESV Study Bible comes down on the issue of Covenant theology vs. Dispensationalism. The ESVSB being so broadly eccumenical again gave hesitation because I thought it may not take a stand on this issue. I was wrong again. Eccumenial in this instance, simply means the contributors included Baptists, Presbyterians, Anglicals and Charismatic. But the is it overall most definitely Reformed and quite strikingly covenantal in most places. While the Study Bible (perhaps wisely) does not take a firm stand on any millennial view, it does seem to openly affirm some basics of Covenant Theology rather than Dispensationalism or New Covenant Theology.
Vern S. Poythress wrote the ESVSB introductory article at the front of the Bible entitled Overview of the Bible: A Survey of the History of Salvation. As a committed covenant theologian, this view is clearly articulated here. This is a great article but especially read the subsections entitled, Covenants, Offspring, Christ the Last Adam and Shadows, Prefigures, and â€œTypesâ€
Also in some of the Bible notes it has the same ideas expressed:
Regeneration in the ESV Study Bible
For visitors to Monergism.com who are considering the purchase of the ESV Study Bible, the following may be of particular interest to you. Ever since the ESV Study Bibles have come out I have been reading through some of the notes on various texts and skimming the theological articles so I could report back to you what I found. As you might have guessed, one of the first things looked for was whether the ESV Study Bible would take a clear Christ-honoring stand on the vital doctrinal issue of regeneration. Expecting to find an amorphous commentary that neither monergist nor synergist would be offended by, I am very pleased to report to you that the notes from editors of the ESVSB unambiguously affirm divine monergism in regeneration. Because we believe this is a vital biblical doctrine to understand correctly, we wholeheartedly applaud those editors who decided not to be vague on this issue. We are also thankful for the effort and time it must have taken to put the incredible resources available in this Bible together in one place. May the Lord be pleased to use it to His glory
Here are a few samples of ESVSB comments on the doctrine of regeneration:
On page 2531 of the ESVSB in the article entitled "Biblical Doctrine: An Overview" under the subheading of "salvation" it reads as follows:
From God's vantage point salvation begins with his election of individuals, which is his determination beforehand that his saving purpose will be accomplished in them (John 6:37â€“39, 44, 64â€“66; 8:47; 10:26; 15:16; Acts 13:48; 16:14; Romans 9; 1 John 4:19; 5:1). God then in due course brings people to himself by calling them to faith in Christ (Rom. 8:30; 1 Cor. 1:9; 2 Tim. 1:9; 1 Pet. 2:9).
God's calling produces regeneration, which is the miraculous work of the Holy Spirit in which a spiritually dead person is made alive in Christ (Ezek. 11:19â€“20; Matt. 19:28; John 3:3, 5, 7; Titus 3:5). The revived heart repents and trusts Christ in saving faith as the only source of justification.
Notice that the editors clearly affirm that a regenerated, revived heart precedes repentance and trust in Christ. It goes on to describe saving faith as follows:
Living for God's Glory - Excerpt from Preface
For many years, I have searched for a book that would cover the intellectual and spiritual emphases of Calvinism, the way it influences the church and everyday living, and its ethical and cultural implications. The book I had in mind would explain for todayâ€™s reader the biblical, God-centered, heartfelt, winsome, and practical nature of Calvinism, and would clearly convey how Calvinism earnestly seeks to meet the purpose for which we were created, namely, to live to the glory of God. By doing so, it would serve as a corrective to the many caricatures of Calvinism that still exist in North America and beyond. I searched in vain. Over the years, I have frequently used H. Henry Meeterâ€™s The Basic Ideas of Calvinism and Leonard Coppesâ€™s Are Five Points Enough? The Ten Points of Calvinism, as well as a number of smaller books on the five points of Calvinism. But none of these, good though they are, covered all the emphases I had in mind. After giving a number of addresses on Calvinism for Malcolm Wattsâ€™ conference in Salisbury, England, for the Puritan Project in Brazil, and for a conference in Adelaide, Australia, I realized more acutely the real need for the kind of book I envisioned. I wish to thank these groups for the warm fellowship I received from them, and I am glad that I can finally respond to their requests to publish these addresses as part of this introductory volume on Calvinism.
Some of Our Most Highly Recommended Books
The following are books (or sets of books) that, due to their literary and theological excellence, we believe should have a permanent place in your library. In the case of the selected books, these not only are theologically sound but Christ-centered and enriching to the soul.
1) Theology of John Owen Bundle 3 Vol. Set (includes The Glory of Christ, Communion with God, and Holy Spirit)
2) The Christian In Complete Armour - by William Gurnall
3) The Crook in the Lot - by Thomas Boston
4) The Sovereignty of God - by Arthur W. Pink
5) The Valley of Vision - by ed. Arthur Bennett
6) Knowing God - by J.I. Packer
7) A Quest for Godliness - by J.I. Packer
8) The Religious Affections - by Jonathan Edwards
9) The Fear of God - by John Bunyan
10) When Grace Comes Home: How the Doctrines of Grace Change Your Life - by Terry Johnson
11) God's Passion for His Glory - by John Piper, Jonathan Edwards
12) Institutes of the Christian Religion (2 Vol Set) - by John Calvin
Christless Christianity by Dr. Michael Horton (new book coming soon)
Available very soon is a new book by Dr. Michael Horton called "Christless Christianity." Thabiti M. Anyabwile, Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church of Grand Cayman describes this new work as follows: â€œHorton has ably helped us see the train wreck that is so much of popular Christianity... A more important and timely volume could not have been written.â€ Here is a 5 minute video by Dr. Horton about it...
The purpose of ReformedBooks.net is to provide the worldwide Reformed community with a recommended list of books which we believe deserve the distinction of being best in category. This is an ongoing project which will continue to be improved over time. Our goal is to honor Christ by equipping Christians in the truth by pointing you to the finest classic and contemporary resources of historical Reformed orthodoxy. We do this prayerfully in the hope that the church will embrace, and recover a Christ-centered gospel and the true Biblical doctrines of the historic faith. Under each category you you will find 3-5 representative books of high quality that we believe most accurately displays the intent of the Scripture. We welcome suggestions and comments. A ministry of Monergism.com
Old Testament Theology - 2008 ECPA Award Winner, Bible Reference Category
An Old Testament Theology - Bruce K. Waltke (Author) with Charles Yu
The ECPA Christian Book Awards are considered among the most prestigious awards in the Christian publishing industry. Formerly the Gold Medallion Book Awards, the ECPA Christian Book Awards have been awarded to Christian authors since 1978. Given out by the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association, the awards honor excellence in content, literary quality, design, and significance of contribution in six categories, including Bibles, Fiction, Children & Youth, Inspiration & Gift, Bible Reference & Study, and Christian Life. Bruce Waltkeâ€™s An Old Testament Theology: A Canonical and Thematic Approach, his magnum opus,has been named â€œBible Reference & Study Book of the Yearâ€ for 2008. The ECPA Christian Book Awards were announced at the ECPA Awards Celebration held in Orlando on July 13, 2008.
We have been requested to post some of the top books in their categories. So this list is not exhaustive. Previously we posted what we thought to be the Top Ten Books on Piety, Sanctification, Spiritual Growth but the following are all books you should have on your bookshelf (if you are interested in the category). As a side note, starting now through the middle of July 2008, Monergism Books is having a major sale (at least 50% off) on some choice books. Quite a few titles were reduced in price just this week.
When Grace Comes Home: How the Doctrines of Grace Change Your Life
A book we highly recommend has come back into print. Terry Johnson does an excellent job showing precisely why the doctrines of grace are practical for every day life. Anticipating significant interest in the book Monergism Books has secured a large number of copies and marked down to a 30% discout off retail.
When Grace Comes Home:
How the Doctrines of Grace Change Your Life
by Terry L. Johnson
back in print!!!
Sample Chapter: Adversity by Terry L. Johnson
ESV Deluxe Compact TruTone Bible - For Blackletter Christians
ESV Deluxe Compact TruTone Bible: Royal Blue, Eternity Design, Black Letter - This new size Bible takes the features that have earned the ESV Compact Bible such popularity and enhanced them. The deluxe editionâ€™s slightly larger trim size and larger font allow it to retain its classic portability while improving its readability. THAT IS WHAT WE REALLY LIKE ABOUT THIS BIBLE. Previously, even with 20/20 vision we had some difficulty reading the font in the ESV compact bibles. No longer This one we can actually read!!! The font is not large but just the right size for a compact bible in our estimation. The original Compact had 6.2-point type while this one is 6.55, and while this may not seem that much different, it actually made it comfortable to read. So with the Deluxe version because of this it is the first time we can enthusiatically recommend the ESV compacts. The English Standard Version (ESV) Bible is a new, essentially literal Bible translation that combines word-for-word precision and accuracy with literary excellence, beauty, and depth of meaning.
* 6.55-point type
* 12,000-entry concordance
* Size: 3.875â€³ x 6"
* No center-column cross-reference system
* Words of Christ in black
* Ribbon marker
* Free software download request card included
* No maps
* Not thumb-indexed
* The cover is a handstitched, soft, leather-like material and features a unique design
For Blackletter Christians who believe in the whole council of Scripture.
See a sample of the inside (Matthew 1-5).
Also in the following style: ESV Deluxe Compact TruTone Bible: Sienna, Crossroads Design, Black Letter
Book Review: Faith's Reasons for Believing by Robert Reymond
Reviewed by James Anderson
The subtitle of Robert Reymondâ€™s latest book on apologetics gives a fair impression of its purpose and tone: â€œAn Apologetic Antidote to Mindless Christianity (and to Thoughtless Atheism)â€. Reymondâ€™s goal is to counter not only the attacks of â€œmilitant atheistsâ€ like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris, but also the â€œmindless Christianityâ€ of believers who are unable or unwilling to offer any reasons for the faith they profess.
The book is adapted from lecture material originally prepared for a seminary course in apologetics and is therefore pitched at that level. Reymondâ€™s approach to apologetics is self-consciously presuppositionalist, with the title of the book designed to reflect that approach. Our method in apologetics should not be to start from a position without any faith commitments and to use our reasoning to construct a position of faith â€˜from scratchâ€™. Rather, we should unashamedly start with the faith we already profess, and reasoning in a manner consistent with that faith we should explain why it makes good sense to believe as we do. Reymond insists that â€œoneâ€™s first principle â€¦ is all-important in Christian apologeticsâ€. You either begin with the conviction that the Bible is Godâ€™s Word and ground your knowledge and reasoning on that firm foundation, or else you build on some other foundation that will ultimately prove to be quicksand.
Review Copyright Â© 2007 Discerning Reader
How the World's Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind
Reformation21 has posted a review Dr. Sproul just finished of prominent atheist-turned-theist Antony Flew's new book There Is A God: How the World's Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind.
Read the entire review here .
What I am Reading
Last Month Completed Reading:
The Courage to Be Protestant: Truth Lovers, Marketers, and Emergents in the Postmodern World
David F. Wells (Author)
Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church by N.T. Wright
Why We're Not Emergent (By Two Guys Who Should Be)
by Kevin DeYoung & Ted Kluck
The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations
Michael W. Holmes (Author & Translator)
The Fear of God by John Bunyan (we are going through this in our men's group)
"We should read old books" - John Piper
In a recent posting by John Piper on how he decides which books to read, he ends by saying this...
I don't think we ought to be reading new books all the time. I think we should read old books. And then the question is whether time and history has proven them. There are some books that have been around forever, and they are, generation after generation, witnessed to as being very shaping to people's lives. So I think we should constantly be exposing ourselves to those classics and not always reading the latest thing.
So I recommend reading 1) things that relate to the passions of your life, 2) recommendations from people that are responsible and that you respect, and 3) time-proven, classic, deep works on various issues.
What are two or three classics that you would recommend to just about anyone?
The Bible, the most proven and most useful book, should be in your reading list every day.
Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan. Everybody, I think, who can read English can benefit from working their way through that. In my own life I put The Religious Affections by Jonathan Edwards very high up the list. And for those with a really strong theological bent, The Freedom of the Will by Jonathan Edwards. [Some other] massively influential books in my life:
Bondage of the Will, by Martin Luther.
Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin.
Book Review: Justification and Regeneration, by Charles Leiter
Synopsis: Dealing with the two major aspects of man's sin problem before God â€“ objective guilt and moral corruption â€“ and the two major aspects of the redemptive work of Christ that overcome these problems, Justification and Regeneration, by Charles Leiter, is a book that explains in clear, simple, and eminently biblical terms the very heart of the gospel. Its value can scarcely be overestimated, in a day when the true gospel has been all but forgotten in much of Evangelicalism, and many believers struggle to live a truly Christian life in spite of widespread confusion and ignorance as to what constitutes the foundation of Christianity. To anyone who may be discouraged by a seeming lack of progress and real substance in his walk as a believer, in spite of a ready familiarity with all the emphases and strategems of American Evangelicalism, I enthusiastically say, â€œRead this book!â€. It may be the most important book you read this year or for many years.
Together for the Gospel Approved Book List
Each of these books were carefully selected for the Together for the Gospel '08 book store. Specifically, Al Mohler, CJ Mahaney, Ligon Duncan, and Mark Dever reviewed a larger list of books from several publishers; if any one of the four crossed out a title out, the book did not make it on the final list. Of the books included, the four men do not claim to endorse everything in every book, but every book is one they believe pastors should know about and will find useful in their ministries.
See List Here(.pdf)
T4G 2008 Giveaways
This is a list of new books that were being given away
this week at the 2008 Together for the Gospel Conference
|The Courage to Be Protestant: Truth Lovers, Marketers, and Emergents in the Postmodern World by David Wells
This book is a broadside against “new” versions of evangelicalism as well as a call to return to the historic faith, one defined by Reformation solas (grace, faith, and scripture alone), and to a reverence for doctrine. Wells argues that the historic, classical evangelicalism is one marked by doctrinal seriousness, as opposed to the new movements of the marketing church and the emergent church. He energetically confronts the marketing communities and what he terms their “sermons-from-a-barstool and parking lots and après-worship Starbucks stands.” He also takes issue with the most popular evangelical movement in recent years--the emergent church. Emergents are postmodern and postconservative and postfoundational, embracing a less absolute, understanding of the authority
|Christ and Culture Revisited by D.A. Carson
More than just theoretical, Christ and Culture Revisited is also designed practically to help Christians untangle current messy debates on living in the world. Carson emphasizes that the relation between Christ and culture is not limited to an either/or cultural paradigm — Christ against culture or Christ transforming culture. Instead Carson offers his own paradigm in which all the categories of biblical theology must be kept in mind simultaneously to inform the Christian worldview. Though several other books on culture interact with Niebuhr, none of them takes anything like the biblical-theological approach adopted here. Ground-breaking and challenging, Christ and Culture Revisited is a tour de force.
|Why We're Not Emergent (By Two Guys Who Should Be)
by Kevin DeYoung & Ted Kluck
"With a combination of good humor and firm conviction, Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck have written an insightful critique of the emergent church movement. From the nature of truth to the identity of Jesus Christ himself, many emergent leaders have articulated an understanding of Christianity that is in desperate need of a thoughtful, even-handed, and biblically-grounded response. This book is a great place to start."
--R. Albert Mohler, Jr., President, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Kentucky
|A Tale of Two Sons: The Inside Story of a Father, His Sons, and a Shocking Murder by John MacArthur
The Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32) has been preached from nearly every pulpit in the world and is known by many who read and cherish the Bible. The story is so powerful because it presents, in clear and inspiring terms, our struggle with sin, the need for humble repentance, and the Father's inexhaustible mercy and love. Unfortunately, many Christians would say that they have nothing new to learn from this gem of Scripture. It has lost its luster. But in A Tale of Two Sons, John MacArthur restores the brilliance of this passage, giving engrossing historical background and unveiling a surprise ending readers have never heard before.
|Young, Restless, Reformed: A Journalist's Journey with the New Calvinists by Collin Hansen For nearly two years, Christianity Today journalist Collin Hansen visited the chief schools, churches, and conferences of this growing movement. He sought to describe its members and ask its leading pastors and theologians about the causes and implications of the Calvinist resurgence. The result, Young, Restless, Reformed, shows common threads in their diverse testimonies and suggests what tomorrow’s church might look like when these young evangelicals become pastors or professors.
|The Faithful Preacher: Recapturing the Vision of Three Pioneering African-American Pastors Thabiti M. Anyabwile The cliché is that those who do not learn from the mistakes of the past are doomed to repeat them. But Thabiti Anyabwile contends that it is not the mistakes we must study; it is the people who have overcome them. So he presents three of the most influential African-American pastors in American history who can teach us what faithful ministry entails.
|In My Place Condemned He Stood: Celebrating the Glory of the Atonement J. I. Packer & Mark Dever In My Place Condemned He Stood combines three classic articles by Packer—“The Heart of the Gospel”; his Tyndale Biblical Theology Lecture, “What Did the Cross Achieve”; and his introductory essay to John Owen’s The Death of Death in the Death of Christ—with Dever’s recent article, “Nothing but the Blood.” It also features a foreword by the four principals of Together for the Gospel: Dever, Ligon Duncan, C. J. Mahaney, and Al Mohler. Thoughtful readers looking for a compact classic on this increasingly controversial doctrine need look no farther than this penetrating volume.
|Culture Shift: Engaging Current Issues with Timeless Truth
by Al Mohler
The world in which you live is in the midst of a major cultural transformation–one leading to a widespread lack of faith, an increase in moral relativism, and a rejection of absolute truth. How are we to remain faithful followers of Christ as we live in this ever-shifting culture? How should we think about–and respond to–the crucial moral questions of our day? How can we stand up for the truth?
|The Truth of the Cross by R.C. Sproul
"The Truth of the Cross is the best book on the cross I have read. It is a 'must' for every church library and a book that I will give away many times to friends. This is so because it is sober (i.e., it contains historically informed reflections on salient biblical texts), sensible (i.e., it is well-argued), simple (i.e., it holds the reader's attention through grabbing illustrations and even a seventh-grader can its substance), and spiritual (i.e., it comes from a heart set ablaze by the Spirit)."
— Dr. Bruce K. Waltke, Professor, Reformed Theological Seminary
|The Gospel & Personal Evangelism
Yet those believers fail to recognize that God has already established who and how we are to evangelize. In The Gospel and Personal Evangelism, Dr. Mark Dever seeks to answer the four basic questions about evangelism that many Christians ask: Who should we evangelize? How should we evangelize? What is evangelism? Why should we evangelize? In his answers Dever draws on New Testament truths and helps believers apply those truths in practical ways. As readers understand the fundamentals of evangelism, they will begin to develop a culture of evangelism in their lives and their local churches.
|The Future of Justification: A Response to N. T. Wright by John Piper - Wright’s confidence that the church has gotten it wrong for 1,500 years, given his enormous influence, has set off warning bells for Christian leaders such as John Piper, a pastor and New Testament scholar. If Wright’s framework for interpreting the New Testament text and his understanding of justification find a home in the church, not only could the doctrine of justification be distorted for generations to come, but the New Testament writers’ original intent could be silenced. So Piper is sounding a crucial warning in this book, reminding all Christians to exercise great caution regarding “fresh” interpretations of the Bible and to hold fast to the biblical view of justification.
|Worship Matters: Leading Others to Encounter the Greatness of God Bob Kauflin Nothing is more essential than knowing how to worship the God who created us. This book focuses readers on the essentials of God-honoring worship, combining biblical foundations with practical application in a way that works in the real world. The author, a pastor and noted songwriter, skillfully instructs pastors, musicians, and church leaders so that they can root their congregational worship in unchanging scriptural principles, not divisive cultural trends. Bob Kauflin covers a variety of topics such as the devastating effects of worshiping the wrong things, how to base our worship on God’s self-revelation rather than our assumptions, the fuel of worship, the community of worship, and the ways that eternity’s worship should affect our earthly worship.
T4G Video on Deciding on Which Books to Give Away
Justification & Regeneration By Charles Leiter
Justification & Regeneration By Charles Leiter
Now available from HeartCry Publishers at Monergism Books!
For years, the HeartCry staff and our missionaries have greatly benefited from Charles Leiter's teaching on justification and regeneration. Now you can benefit from the same truth in written form.
What does the Bible mean when it says that Christians have "died to sin"?
How is it possible for a just God to "justify the ungodly" without becoming "unjust" Himself?
What is regeneration?
What is justification?
Why do all men desperately need to be justified?
If I have died to sin, why am I still affected by it?
As a Christian, am I the "new man" or the "old man"--or both?
What does the Bible mean when it says that Christians have "died to the law"?
Are Christians still slaves to sin?
The answers to these and many other questions become clear once we gain a biblical understanding of justification and regeneration. These two great miracles lie at the very heart of the gospel, yet even among genuine Christians they are surrounded by confusion and ignorance. This book attempts to set forth in clear biblical light the nature and characteristics of justification and regeneration that God may be glorified and His children brought to know more fully the liberty that is theirs in Christ.
From the Foreword written by Paul Washer
"There seems to be a great abyss separating the biblical theologian and the Christian in the pew. While the theologian is able to climb the Everest of Godâ€™s truth and be transformed by the vision, he often communicates the vision in a language that is beyond us. Thus, we are left at the mercy of popular Christian literature that is often nothing more than quaint stories, pragmatism, and baptized psychology.
The Church in contemporary America does not need more strategies, steps, or keys to the Christian life. The Church needs truth, and more specifically, the great foundational truths of historical Christianity. In this work, Pastor Charles Leiter has done a great service to the Church in that he has taken two of the greatest doctrines of Scripture and two of the greatest miracles in the Christian life and explained them in simple language without loss of content. As I read through the manuscript of this book I was amazed at its simplicity and scopeâ€¦Of particular interest to me was the setting forth of a proper view of regenerationâ€¦Pastor Leiter demonstrates that regeneration is the supernatural work of God whereby the sinnerâ€™s dead, depraved heart of stone is replaced with a new heart that is both willing and able to respond to God in love and obedienceâ€¦I have read this book many times before its going to press. I have greatly benefited from its teaching, and heartily recommend its contents. May the Spirit of God illuminate your heart and mind that you may not only understand the Scriptures explained herein, but that they might become a reality in your life."
Justification & Regeneration By Charles Leiter
Book Review: Grandpa's Box, by Starr Meade
Synopsis: Set in suburban, twenty-first century America, and yet ambitiously covering all of history in its scope, Grandpa's Box, by Starr Meade, is a book that speaks to children from a venue that they understand, and tells them what they most urgently need to hear. This is, as the subtitle suggests, simply a retelling of the biblical story; which only means that there is nothing new or innovative in the essential content of its message, just in the mode of its delivery. It is nothing but the overarching storyline of the bible, put into simple and coherent terms, and given a context which emphasizes its all-encompassing importance for covenant children today. In short, it not only tells the story of the bible to the children of the church: it makes them a part of that story as well.
Book Review: The Jesus Storybook Bible, by Sally Lloyd-Jones
Book Review: The Jesus Storybook Bible, by Sally Lloyd-Jones by Nathan Pitchford at Monergism.com.
Synopsis: â€œNow, some people think the Bible is a book of rules....Other people think the Bible is a book of heroes...â€, begins Sally Lloyd Jones, in The Jesus Storybook Bible; â€œbut the Bible isn't mainly about you and what you should be doing,â€ she continues: â€œIt's about God and what he has doneâ€. This refreshing God-centeredness continues throughout the book. To Sally Lloyd-Jones, the bible is not primarily a book full of stories which contain moral lessons or instructions to follow (although it does contain those as well); it is a book about a Hero who leaves everything and does something unthinkable, to rescue those whom he loves. And while the Bible does in fact have many stories to tell, they can never be understood until this Hero is seen. Because, when you really have the ears to hear, â€œevery Story in the Bible whispers his nameâ€.
Thoughts & Excerpts from Culture Shift by Al Mohler
Dr. Mohlerâ€™s stellar cultural and political commentaries on his daily blog made me curious about his new book on the subject ... a subject, frankly that I am usually skeptical about due to the many Christian books that overemphasize (or underemphasize) the importance of the Christian's cultural or political role, but we gladly recommend Al Mohlerâ€™s new book, which strikes the right balance. In Culture Shift: Engaging Current Issues with Timeless Truth, Dr. Al Mohler crafts air-tight arguments against the intellectual dishonesty and bankruptcy of those who espouse a secularist state void of all religious influence. The book is a beautiful exercise in clear thinking, such that, it should lead Christians to engage and participate in the culture and the political process in meaningful ways. Mohler correctly notes that many Christians have the tendency to â€œswing between two extremes, either ignoring the City of Man or considering it to be our main concern â€¦ Love of neighbor for the sake of loving God is a profound political philosophy that strikes a balance between the disobedience of political disengagement and the idolatry of political as our main priority.â€
In chapter 3 of the book Mohler articulately exposes of the myth of the secular state, a position which I personally consider foundational if we are to actually have the opportunity to engage and persuade. The following are some extensive quotes from this chapter which expresses some very important basic truths that we should all take the time to understand. Mohler begins by explaining three secular myths:
Book Review: The Big Picture Story Bible, by David Helm
Synopsis: The Big Picture Story Bible, written by a gifted story-teller with an uncanny insight into childhood imagination, and illustrated by a talented child-at-heart, is for all its simplicity a rock-solid explanation of the big-picture message of the bible: the gospel story of Jesus Christ, promised and prepared for in the Old Testament, fulfilling all the promises in a spectacular and unexpected fashion in the New Testament, and culminating in unimaginable glory in the very good ending of the apostle John's Revelation. Any parent who wants to bring up his children, not in moralism or fragmented lessons, but in the big-picture story of the bible, would do well to invest in this compellingly-wrought re-telling of the greatest news ever heard.
Book Review: The Beauty of Holiness, by Philip H. Eveson
Synopsis: Although the book of Leviticus contains the foundational set of instructions â€“ civil, ceremonial, and moral â€“ for the entire Old Testament economy, and although it is an absolutely necessary backdrop for understanding the significance of the work of Christ (and hence it is likewise foundational for the entire New Testament economy); yet it remains one of the most obscure and little-understood portions of the entire bible. There is no doubt, therefore, that a great many Christians would profit most wholesomely from having â€œthe book of Leviticus simply explainedâ€. This is just what Philip H. Eveson's proposes to do in his commentary, The Beauty of Holiness; and I am pleased to say, that he has in fact succeeded in doing so quite admirably.
Book Review: â€œNo One...â€: When Jesus Says it, He Means it, by J. D. Wetterling
Synopsis: â€œNo One...â€: When Jesus Says it, He Means it, is a clear and helpful little book that occupies a unique place in a world of postmodern uncertainty and academic elitism. In a simple, unadorned, and yet heartfelt style, J.D. Wetterling gives a concise presentation of a handful of truths that are both rock-solid in a world full of shifting-sand epistemologies, and practically applicational for a people that have been left without moorings by the prevailing popular opinions which decry all absolutes. Throughout its length, this book is characterized by that rare combination of diverse qualities which was most perfectly expressed in our Savior: a no-nonsense affirmation of absolute truth together with a true compassion for those who have been deceived.
The Gospel of John has long been recognized for its beautiful and well-crafted chains of related sayings or events, which work together to form a harmonious whole. Some well-known examples would be his seven â€œI Amâ€ statements, and his seven sign-miracles. In â€œNo One...â€: When Jesus Say it, He means it, J. D. Wetterling has picked up on another such series of related statements from the Gospel of John which has not been as commonly recognized or discussed: the â€œNo oneâ€ sayings of Jesus. Like the other Johannine saying-series, this one reflects a theological development from the beginning of the gospel to the end: starting with the absolute necessity of divine monergism in the initial stages of salvation, it concludes with the unshakeable certainty of the eternal preservation and joy of those in whom this process of salvation has begun.
Monergism Books End-of-2007 Clearance
Book Review: The Future of Justification, by John Piper
Synopsis: As unpleasant and heart-wrenching as controversy in the Church might be, it may nevertheless be put to very useful ends, when handled appropriately. The new ideas that become the subject of scrutiny may have some elements of truth by which to nuance more accurately the old, beloved doctrines. The refutation of all which rings false in those new ideas calls for new arguments and a more involved and minute understanding of the doctrines under question. In either case, the end result is that the truth is understood more clearly, provided the controversy is approached with the wisdom and Christian grace and sobriety that ought to characterize the leaders of the Church. Polemical works which reflect these qualities (rare as they may be!) are an indispensable help in addressing the contemporary needs of the Church. The Future of Justification, by John Piper, is one of those works â€“ clear-minded, fair, gracious, and sober â€“ which turns a controversy into an opportunity for growth. It is all but indispensable for the pastor or Christian leader who would be up to date on the current issues within Christianity.
Monergism Review of A World of Difference by Kenneth Richard Samples
How Good Can It Be?
A World of Difference covers a wide variety of topics. The result is that some of the topics can only receive a superficial treatment. However, even superficial is better than none (which is the case with most bos on worldviews). The reader must not forget that the work is predominantly â€œevidentialâ€ in its apologetical approach. Yet, one should not think that this detracts from the bookâ€™s usefulness. The work contains some impressive sections, notably, the introductory course on logic; this section will greatly help first time readers on apologetics and should be read by all those who know nothing about logic. Overall A World of Difference is â€œbetterâ€ and â€œdeeperâ€ than your standard â€œevidentialâ€ textbook. It would serve as a great â€œfirst acquaintanceâ€ or solid â€œprimerâ€ on apologetics. The writing is easy to understand and the format makes sifting through the topics effortless. Even the most novice reader will not struggle with the explanations. In the grand scheme of things, it is the most â€œexhaustiveâ€ book on the concept of worldview that I have seen. Compared with other books on worldviews, Samples gives the reader more to think about because he covers more ground. Racking my brain, I canâ€™t think of another work that is comparable.
An example of topics addressed include: A definition of the concept of worldview, Discerning truth, Logic 101 (which includes details about fallacies), A Christian perspective on History, Concepts of creeds, A partial exposition of the Apostles Creed, A Defense of Godâ€™s written Word, A defense of the concept of Sola Scriptura (including what it does not mean), Theological notes on the Christian view of God and how God relates to the concept of Worldview, Plenty of charts to assist with comprehension, The doctrine of Creation, An exposition on Providence, The Christian view of man, The Christian view of Moral Values and a critical examination of the most predominate anti-Christian Worldviews including charts in the Appendix.
After reading the work it is clear that Samples intended to ground his readers in the truth, rather than explain the faulty beliefs of other systems. By using this approach he helps the Christian to understand what is false by learning to think in terms of what is true. Essentially, because we know what is true it will make â€œevidentâ€ that which is false. With this I am in full agreement. Study the real picture and you will recognize the discrepancies in those that are false. In the end, I would go so far as to say that a skilled apologist (Presuppositional or Evidential) will find many resources in this book and a beginner will be greatly helped by it. I recommend it simply because it gathers so much apologetical information in one place. Labeled, a very useful resource on apologetics. Reviewed by Monergism.com's B. K. Campbell.
Available at a discount from Monergism Books
Reymond's Systematic Back in Print
After more than 6 months being out of print, Reymond's Systematic Theology (the best one available in our estimation) is back in print.
A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith
by Robert Reymond
(Reviewed by Monergism.com's Nathan Pitchford)
In recent studies of every variety I have been consistently and considerably benefited by Robert Reymond's New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith. I am confident that any student of the scriptures, whether layman or clergy, will likewise be greatly profited by this phenomenal resource; and so I have decided to write a brief review for the purpose of commending this work to anyone interested, by highlighting four characteristics which I have consistently found in Reymond's writing, to an eminent degree. I pray that God will give this beautifully Christ-centered work a widening circle of influence.
Two New Books by Nathan Pitchford
The following are two valuable reference tools newly published by Monergism Books
What the Bible Says about THE PEOPLE OF GOD by Nathan Pitchford
According to historic Dispensational teaching, Israel and the Church are two distinct peoples of God with two distinct destinies. But is this view supported by the testimony of Scripture?
Designed as a reference tool, this booklet succinctly presents the major tenets of Dispensationalism followed by the key Scripture passages that address each tenet. With this simple format, Nathan Pitchford has created a valuable resource for evaluating the merits of Dispensationalism in the light of Scripture. This booklet is a great tool for guiding your own personal study or for engaging in fruitful dialogue with others.
What the Bible Says about THE DOCTRINES OF GRACE: A Categorized Scripture List by Nathan Pitchford
Designed as a reference tool, this booklet succinctly presents the five points of Calvinism followed by the key Scripture passages that support each point. With this simple format, Nathan Pitchford has created a valuable resource for understanding the biblical basis for the doctrines of grace. This booklet is a great tool for guiding your own personal study or for engaging in fruitful dialogue with others.
"Ever since the Serpent first tempted Eve in the garden by casting doubt on God's word and his character as he had revealed himself to her, mankind has always been engaged in the idolatrous pursuit of fashioning a god after his own imagination...There is no cure for this, but to cast off all our prior ideas of who we think God should be, or what we think he should mean when he speaks of his love, his grace, his justice, and his salvation, and to go to his word for all our answers." (from the Introduction)
What is a Human Being?
Here are some of the best books out there for your studies on the nature of humanity
Ranald Macaulay and Jerram Barrs, Being Human: The Nature of Spiritual Experience
Thomas Boston, Human Nature in its Fourfold State
Anthony A. Hoekema, Created in God's Image
A.W. Pink, Our Accountability to God
Kris Lundgaard, The Enemy Within: Straight Talk About the Power and Defeat of Sin
Cornelius Plantinga, Jr., Not the Way Its Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin
Martin Luther, The Bondage of the Will
Must Read Classic
"God knoweth we have nothing of ourselves, therefore in the covenant of grace he requireth no more than he giveth, and giveth what he requireth, and accepteth what he giveth." - Richard Sibbes
A central theme of The Bruised Reed is to provide comfort and assurance to flickering lights in Christ. Those who think they have, at last, lost favor with God will do well for their soul to meditate on the contents of this book. It is a great source of encouragement. Sibbes applies the healing balm of the gospel to those who lack assurance and are struggling with sin. Yet, in a masterful stroke, he does this without giving false assurance to hypocrites, that is, false believers. Like a good Reformed Puritan, he looks for that assurance, not in man, but in the unchanging character of God ... a God who is always faithful to His promises. A God who will never give up on His own until Christ is fully formed in them. â€œThe victory lies not with us, but with Christ, who has taken on him both to conquer for us and to conquer in us. The victory lies neither in our own strength to get it, nor in our enemiesâ€™ strength to defeat it. If it lay with us, we might justly fear. But Christ will maintain his own government in us and take our part against our corruptions.â€ Yet this does not lead to passivity since the Spirit uses the means of his commands and imperatives to work sanctificaiton in us. If you knew there would be a good harvest, would you then throw down the plow? â€œChrist at length will fulfill his purpose in us, and faith rests assured of it, and this assurance is very operative, stirring us up to join with Christ in his purposes.â€ Sibbesâ€™s discussion of assurance throughout The Bruised Reed is filled with penetrating insights true practical spirituality. It is ...
Review: Augustine Through the Ages
Review By. Monergism's B. K. Campbell
The book contains synopses of his ideas and outlines of his work and life. The format is alphabetical, topical with double columned text.
Augustineâ€™s shadow is still on the land, his influence is scattered across the face of Christendom. His thought was deep, profound and original. He mastered everything from theology to apologetics. As a Christian thinker he remains second to none. â€œAugustine Through The Agesâ€ is the only work I have ever seen that gets at every important aspect of his thought. If you have any inclination to know theology, defend your faith or understand the influence behind so much Christian thought this volume is a must for you. Augustine was the most important non-canonical Christian thinker; â€œAugustine through The Agesâ€ is the most important encyclopedia on that thinker. If you yearn for access to his mind there is no better volume available than â€œAugustine Through The Agesâ€.
Top Ten Books on Piety, Sanctification, Spiritual Growth
Recently I posted an excerpt from William Gurnall's classic work, The Christian in Complete Armour and mentioned that this was on our top ten list of books of all time on piety, sanctification, spiritual growth. A visitor asked what the other books were on this list. The following list is in no particular order but consisitute our top ten. No doubt many of you will have different books on your list so feel free to post those that have had an impact on you. These are not in any particular order.
1. The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification: Growing in Holiness by Living in Union with Christ
by Walter Marshall - Hands Down, the best human-authored book on sanctification ever produced.
2.The Life of God in the Soul of Man by Henry Scougal
Critical work! Sanctification occurs because the human soul has been united to Christ and participates in the divine nature. A person is a Christian because of what Christ has done for us, not what we do for ourselves. The Christian life is the same as He and continues to live and intercede for us. He is our sanctification.
3. The Bruised Reed by Richard Sibbes
If you lack assurance, are hurting, weak and suffering under the burden of sin, read this book, and by reading you will be amazed how helpful this is to yourself and your ministry to others.
04. The Mortification of Sin by John Owen
Truly an amazing book. John Owen never dissapoints. Our favorite Puritan author. In a related work, Owen's treatment of the Holy Spirit is the finest we have ever read.
05. Crook in the Lot (Hardback) by Thomas Boston
One of our favorite books of all time. While this book is about providence and the sovereignty of God, the depth of Boston's biblical insight will help you better get a bird's eye view of reality resulting in a life of genuine piety. We studied through this book with our early morning men's group and the result was changed lives.
06. The Fear of God by John Bunyan
This is a great book to give anyone new to the faith and a blessing to those who have already been Christians. A true classic which I am currently reading and benefitting immensely from.
07. Everlasting Righteousness, Horatius Bonar - The Everlasting Righteousness may be the best book on the doctrine of justification by faith alone ever written. Presented here in modern English and spelling, Bonars classic book is a clear and accurate explanation of the heart of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Although this book is about justificaiton, this is the most foundational book we have found as a basis of understanding sanctification.
08. The Doctrine of Sanctification by A.W. Pink
Here Pink compiles the best teaching on sanctification through church history.
09. Holiness by J.C. Ryle
Truly a rich little gem that is to be read and reread. Classic!.
10. The Christian in Complete Armour by William Gurnall (Pub. 1662-1665)
This is, no doubt, the most comprehensive work ever written on the subject of spiritual warfare. Itâ€™s a massive tome, but there are few books in existence that I would recommend more highly. Very Edifying. A must own for your library.
Ok ... those are the top ten but I will list some others which come close
Renewal As a Way of Life: A Guidebook for Spiritual Growth Richard F. Lovelace
Desiring God by John Piper
The Cross-Centered Life by C.J. Mahaney (Author)
Book Review: The Expository Genius of John Calvin. By Dr. Steven Lawson
Reviewed by Pastor David Thommen
When we think or talk of John Calvin it may be safe to assume that we often think of the theologian of the Reformation that wrote the Institutes, which continues to be a mainstay of Reformed theology. It is not often, however, that we think of John Calvin the preacher. I am not saying that we donâ€™t know of Calvinâ€™s preaching, but it is not often we look at Calvinâ€™s method of preaching. This is exactly what Dr. Steven Lawson has given us a look at in his new book The Expository Genius of John Calvin.
The first chapter of this marvelous little book deals with an overview of the life of John Calvin. Lawson gives a brief synopsis of Calvinâ€™s life from birth to death. In the course of this synopsis he marks the high spots of the life of John Calvin such as his conversion, his arrival, dismissal, and re-entry into Geneva, and his continued faithfulness to the Scriptures in the midst of adversity over the Lordâ€™s Table with the Libertines. Calvinâ€™s life was marked by one of continued influence in the life of people. And his life continues to make and impact and have influence on the lives of people, especially those who desire to be faithful teachers of the Word of God.
Lawson has broken down the preaching style of Calvin into seven broad categories. These categories include: 1) Approaching the Pulpit. 2) Preparing the Preacher. 3) Launching the Sermon. 4) Expounding the Text. 5) Crafting the Delivery. 6) Applying the Truth. 7) Concluding the Exposition. These seven categories form the chapters of the book following chapter 1 that gives the brief overview of Calvinâ€™s life. Within the chapters, Lawson articulates with brevity and yet clarity thirty-one distinctives of Calvinâ€™s preaching.
Four Short Book Reviews
Four Short Books reviews by Monergism.com's B. K. Campbell
â€œPushing the Antitheses" by Greg Bahnsen
I have always recommended anything by Greg Bahnsen. The reason is simple: he was a champion defender of the Christian faith. Young minds can learn so much from him. Bahnsen had a â€œmatter-of-factâ€ method for debunking the ideologies of non-belief. He is easy to understand, sharp as sharp can be and Biblically sound as a theologian. In Bahnsen you can always expect the best and strongest of â€œVan tillian thoughtâ€ without the muddled wording of Van til. This is because Bahnsen was a great communicator. â€œPushing the Antithesesâ€ is just as helpful as any of his works on apologetics I recommend it to young and old alike. An apologistâ€™s apologist for non-apologists.
The Reformation By Stephen J. Nicholas
In my estimation Stephen J. Nichols is one of the greatest biographers of our time. His treatment of Machen and Luther where astounding. The concise nature of his format for writing is sensible and realistic. Nichols often does in 100 pages what others canâ€™t do in 500. He effectively tells the story, informs of history and completely brings to life men and women of the past. This new work in no way falls short. It is a powerful and inspiring little book packed full of entertaining details. His narratives seem to have a lively flow that will not bore the reader. Itâ€™s hard to put the book down and with only 160 pages easy to finish. This is a great introduction to the Reformation and with so many Reformation books out there this is a good place to start. If the passion is not there already this book will ignite a desire to dig deeper. Read it as your first book on the Reformation or a revival and commemoration of that great event in human history.
Book Review: Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics
Book Review: Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics by Richard A. Muller
A casual tour by John W. Tweeddale (3/28/07)
Richard A. Muller is the P. J. Zondervan Professor of Historical Theology at Calvin Theological Seminary and has written extensively on the Reformation and post-Reformation periods. His books, articles, and reviews display a knack for historical detail, command of reformed theology, and mastery of a wide selection of sources. All of his writings are worth getting your hands on. However, his crowning achievement is his PRRD. It is the result of a career long investigation of "the rise and development of Reformed Orthodoxy" and is without question one of the most important works on the history of Reformed theology to emerge in the past twenty-five years. Anyone interested in the Reformers and their heirs must wrestle with these volumes.
Take Up and Read
New Feature at Monergism.com
Take Up and Read, a website of weekly book reviews at Monergism.com.
At takeupandread.com our goal is to sift through the thousands of good volumes to recommend the very best literature for your time and money. Our goal is to expose you to historically important volumes, old books that are timeless in application, excellent contemporary books hot off the press, multi-volume facsimile reproductions, small single-volume books you can read in one day, and searchable electronic books on CD-ROM. Our weekly reviews are published in the hopes of helping you build a diverse library of Christian volumes with tested theology and reliability.
This week's review:
Unless You Repent by Jonathan Edwards
J. I. Packer's Introductory Essay to John Owen's 'Death of Death in the Death of Christ'
Dr. J. I. Packer's excellent essay written for the 1958 reprint of John Owen's classic book 'The Death of Death in the Death of Christ' should be read and re-read by everyone who cares about the state and future of Christ's Church.
What exactly IS the Gospel message that we are called to preserve and pass down, and that we should be preaching as ministers, and hearing and obeying as Christians? It is interesting that Dr. Packer wrote this article in 1958, and although it is now almost fifty years old, it was as if he wrote it yesterday- -our problems and challenges are still the same.
May you read, and if you have already read, then re-read this fine introductory essay on the Gospel and the purpose and call of Christ's Church. May this article whet your appetite to also invest time and intellectual energy into reading John Owen's 'The Death of Death in the Death of Christ' (You can purchase this book at www.monergismbooks.com).
As you carefully read this article , as yourself these questions whether you are an ordained minister or elder, or a ministering layperson:
1) What is the historic Christian gospel- -and why is it "good news" for sinners? Notice the difference between the "old" gospel and the "new" gospel that he makes.
2) How has the term "Evangelical" changed since the Reformation, and how can "Reformed and Always Reforming People" regain this term as a meaningful term (or can we?!)?
3) Why is it so hard (humanly speaking!) for confessing Christians to believe and take comfort in the Bible's teaching on 'Definite Atonement' (or 'Limited Atonement' in order to rightly preserve the 'TULIP').
4) Do you personally believe in an "old" gospel" or a "new" one? Is the "new" gospel really a gospel at all (cf. Galatians 1:6-9)?
To my Arminian friends, I would just ask: Before you discuss these things further with Calvinists and Calvinian theological believers, would you consider John Owen's treatise that has never been formally responded to by an Arminian? Would you consider the fact that perhaps he was right (with all respect!).
Enjoy reading (or re-reading) this important article by Dr. Packer! To quote Dr. Packer:
"[The Biblical Gospel] announces, not merely that men must come to Christ for salvation, but also that they cannot come unless Christ Himself draws them. Thus [the Gospel] labours to overthrow self-confidence, to convince sinners that their salvation is altogether out of their hands, and to shut them up to a self-despairing dependence on the glorious grace of a sovereign Saviour, not only for their righteousness but for their faith too."
New Highly Recommended Books
ESV, Single Column Reference Bible (Black, Genuine Leather, Black Letter) In High Demand!
Love That Lasts: When Marriage Meets Grace
by Gary Ricucci, Betsy Ricucci, C. J. Mahaney (Foreword), Carolyn Mahaney (Foreword)
By His Grace and For His Glory: A Historical, Theological, and Practical Study of the Doctrines of Grace in Baptist Life Revised and Expanded 20th Anniversary Edition
by Thomas J. Nettles
Only One Way?: Reaffirming the Exclusive Truth Claims of Christianity
Richard D. Phillips (Editor), David F. Wells, Peter R. Jones, Philip Graham Ryken, J. Ligon Duncan, D. A. Carson
Method for Prayer: Freedom in the Face of God
by Matthew Henry
Book Review: Chosen For Life: A Case for Divine Election
Book Review: Chosen For Life: A Case for Divine Election By Sam Storms
Reviewed by: David A. Thommen
Sam Storms has done the Christian community and incredible service with this publication of Chosen for Life: A Case for Divine Election. This is a revised and expanded version of an earlier publication he did in 1987. I will use Sam Storms own words here to give a brief summation of what he hopes this volume will accomplish. â€œI hope this book will go a long way in dispelling such unkind and terribly misleading caricatures of what people really believeâ€ (p. 21).
He has accomplished his task with great clarity, precision, fairness, and charity that should accompany theological discussions between fellow Christians. I say this because much of what passes for â€œtheological discussionâ€ is simply a batting back and forth of caricatures of theological convictions. Not so in Storms book. He, being a Calvinist and one who holds to the Reformed view of predestination, when dealing with opposing positions pictures them fairly, accurately, and avoids straw man arguments.
Book Review: The Word Became Fresh: How to Preach From Old Testament Narrative Texts
By Dale Ralph Davis
Reviewed by: David A. Thommen
At first blush you may be mislead into thinking that The Word Became Fresh to be a new and inventive approach to preaching Old Testament narrative. It is not. As Davis laments in the Preface to the book after teaching a class on preaching he concluded that he never wanted to teach preaching. The focus of this book is a step removed from the preaching of Old Testament narrative. It is a focus on preparing to preach these fabulous texts. With that being said, I want to heartily recommend this book as simply a breath of fresh air (no pun intended).
For those who are committed to the expository preaching of the whole of Scripture, which includes the Old Testament, this book will not enlighten you to anything you did not know or did not learn in a good Homiletics class, but it does provide good reminders and jogs to our memory important points to consider when one approaches Old Testament narrative.
Two of the most helpful and thought provoking chapters are chapter 3 and chapter 5, entitled â€œTheologyâ€ and â€œNastiesâ€ respectively. The â€œTheologyâ€ chapter serves as a helpful reminder for those who preach these passages faithfully. Dale Davis writes, â€œIâ€™m using the term here to refer to the theology of a biblical text, that is, what the text means to say about God, his ways and his worksâ€ (p. 31). How many of us have heard a dozen ways to conquer our giants from 1st Samuel 17? Davis is helpful here in reminding us to keep focused on the intended meaning of a biblical text.
1599 Geneva Bible - 2nd Printing Update
UPDATE: Due to an overwhelming response, hardback and genuine leather Geneva Bibles were temporarily sold-out from all vendors. We are happy to announce that the second printing is complete and Bibles are currently en-route to us. We project we can begin shipping them from here on Monday February 19th.
When the Pilgrims arrived in the New World in 1620, they brought along supplies, a consuming passion to advance the Kingdom of Christ, and the Word of God. Clearly, their most precious cargo was the Bibleâ€”specifically, the 1599 Geneva Bible.
All but forgotten in our day, this version of the Bible was the most widely read and influential English Bible of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. A superb translation, it was the product of the best Protestant scholars of the day and became the Bible of choice for many of the greatest writers and thinkers of that time. Men such as William Shakespeare, John Bunyan, and John Milton used the Geneva Bible in their writings. William Bradford also cited the Geneva Bible in his famous book Of Plymouth Plantation.
The Geneva Bible is unique among all other Bibles. It was the first Bible to use chapters and numbered verses and became the most popular version of its time because of the extensive marginal notes. These notes, written by Reformation leaders such as John Calvin, John Knox, Miles Coverdale, William Whittingham, Anthony Gilby, and others, were included to explain and interpret the scriptures for the common people.
Read More about this forgotten translation here
Pre-Order at at Monergism Books - Shipping February 19th
"Does God Love Me?"- A Review of 'Assured by God'
Reviewed by Pastor Charles R. Biggs
The Apostle Peter exhorts all believers in his second letter to be diligent to make their calling and election sure (2 Peter 1:10). The Apostle Peter writes with a desire for Christians to have assurance of their right standing before God in union with Jesus Christ, and to experience the joy, comfort, and hope of this special favor of God.
A new book edited by Burk Parsons entitled â€˜Assured by God: Living in the Fullness of Godâ€™s Graceâ€™ seeks to help Christians in knowing that there truly is no condemnation for those who are united to Jesus Christ (Romans 8:1), and that if God is for us, who can be against us (Romans 8:31). Many Christians struggle with their assurance and whether they are loved by God. If you have ever asked (or are asking presently in your life):
â€œI believe God loves, but does he love me?â€ then you should read this book prayerfully and carefully.
Book Review: The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification, by Walter Marshall
Synopsis: Walter Marshallâ€™s classic seventeenth-century treatment of the doctrine of sanctification lays out in clear and simple terms the means by which a Christian might be enabled to grow in holiness. His basic proposition may seem foreign to many modern believers, who are desperately striving to produce in themselves the fruits of obedience, and so guarantee Godâ€™s continuing favor. But it is as scriptural as it is refreshing: sanctification, just like justification, is Godâ€™s free gift of grace, and can be apprehended only through the faith which looks to Christ and his perfect work.
Book Review: The Marrow of Theology, by William Ames
Synopsis: The Marrow of Theology, by William Ames, is a comprehensive and minutely-reasoned dogmatic theology of the Puritan worldview. In its own time, it was commended by such Puritans as Thomas Hooker and Increase Mather as the only book outside the bible needed for making one a sound theologian. And today, there may be no other single volume which will give as broad and insightful an understanding of Puritan theology as this.
Book Review: God of Promise, by Michael Horton
Synopsis: God of Promise, by Michael Horton, is a lucid summary and defense of that traditional understanding of Covenant Theology which has its roots in the first Federal Theologians of the Reformation; and which has been defended and developed, more recently, by such scholars as Louis Berkhof and Meredith Kline. Both as a condensation of a vast body of Reformed writings, and a modern defense of the same, it is perhaps unequalled among one-volume introductions to that vital skeletal framework of all biblical revelation, Covenant Theology.
Book Review: The Lamb of God, by Robert L. Reymond
(Reviewed by Nathan Pitchford)
Synopsis: The Lamb of God, by Robert Reymond, is an admirable attempt, everywhere edifying, to trace, not the thread, but the â€œthick cableâ€ which runs from Genesis to Revelation, and binds together all of scriptures in one unified story. Reymondâ€™s well-supported conclusion is that the Lamb-work of Christ is that thick cable; and that the scriptures are nothing but an ever-increasing unveiling of this Lamb-work in all of its rich significance.
Our Bible opens with the prophecy of a Seed of the woman, who would destroy the Serpent (Genesis 3:15); it closes with a description of Jesus Christ, the womanâ€™s seed, riding forth to destroy the devil (Revelation 19:11-20:15). These two parallel passages, the first promise and final accomplishment of one great event, bind together all of scriptures into one unified story of the suffering yet victorious Lamb of God, Jesus Christ. Beginning with this basic premise, Reymond traces the theme of the Lamb-work of Christ throughout the scriptures. In the opening pages of the Bible, the Lamb is prophesied, symbolized, and typified; throughout the Prophets, the Lamb is depicted much more extensively as the personal and almighty Immanuel, at once the suffering servant and the eternal God. In the New Testament, the Lamb is identified, crucified, and raised victorious â€“ and in the final book of our Bible, the Revelation of Jesus Christ, the Lamb is displayed in all his glory.
The Shadow of Christ in the Law of Moses
As a few of you may be aware, I have recently begun the project of reading and reviewing various books in the Monergism bookstore. Until now, I have merely submitted my reviews to be published in connection with the book in question, at the bookstore itself. But my latest read was so helpful and Christ-centered that I decided to post the review on ReformationTheology as well, for the purpose of encouraging as many readers as possible to make use of it. It was one of the most enriching books that I have read in quite some time, and I cannot recommend it too highly. Here, then, is the review.
Steve Brown's What Was I Thinking?
I read this excellent little book on the Internet Monk's recommendation, never having even heard of Steve Brown before. I'm glad I did, and I'll be sure to read his other books as well.
At first I thought this book was going to be a bit boring. The full title is, What Was I Thinking: Things I've Learned Since I Knew It All. So I figured it would be about how, after he became settled in his perfect Presbyterianism, he came to more earnestly and humbly believe the things he already professed, which is all nice and good. But I wasn't particularly looking forward to 12 chapters of "I thought Jesus was radical, but now I really believe he's radical!"
The Potter's Freedom - Now In Electronic Format
For those of you who prefer computers to books, you might be very pleased to learn that Dr. James White's Reformed response and rebuttal of Norman Geisler's book "Chosen But Free" is now available in an electronic format here.
Chapter headings include:
â€¢ The Vital Issue
â€¢ Determinately Knowing
â€¢ The Inabilities of Man
â€¢ The Will of Man
â€¢ Unconditional Election a Necessity
â€¢ CBF's "Big Three" Verses
â€¢ Jesus Teaches "Extreme Calvinism"
â€¢ Unconditional Election
â€¢ Responding to CBF on Romans 9
â€¢ The Perfect Work of Calvary
â€¢ Particular Redemption
â€¢ Irresistible Grace is Resurrection Power
â€¢ Irresistible Grace
â€¢ The Potter's Freedom Defended
Don't Be Stingy
In his book "A Generous Orthodoxy", when speaking of the doctrine of unconditional election, Brian McLaren in an attempt to redefine TULIP, asserts that anyone who believes in a God who elects some and not others to eternal life (1 Peter 1:2) must be so self-absorbed in their standing before God that they view themselves as having what he calls â€œexclusive privilegeâ€ over others.
How McLaren could reach such a puzzling conclusion is a very interesting question, one which I hope to explore more in depth (along with a testimony of God's grace in my own conversion) below:
It can be demonstrated, on the contrary, that the divine intent of revealing the the doctrine of election to us in Scripture was actually to bring about the opposite effect. Understood rightly, our election in Christ safeguards the biblical axiom that our salvation is by the grace of Jesus Christ, and by that grace ALONE ... that salvation is wholly, not partly, procured by Jesus Christ and our being united to Him by His Holy Spirit. Paul thus defines a Christian as one who worships in the Spirit of God, glories in Christ Jesus and has no confidence in the flesh (Phil 3).
The Five Most Impacting Books I Have Read (Excluding the Bible)
Whenever I am asked an account of my journey to a Reformed, Christ-centered theology and worldview, I am constrained to make mention, first and fundamentally, of the work of the Spirit in opening the eyes of my heart to understand the scriptures â€“ but press me for an account of the secondary means he was pleased to employ to that end, and I must make immediate mention, first, of the Christian friends who exerted a tremendous teaching influence in my life; and second, of a handful of written works which have proven to be no less influential and impacting. I would be hard-pressed to give priority to either of these secondary means in my theological pilgrimage; but in any account, God has so mightily used a few rich, substantial volumes in my Christian growth and maturation, that, if I were to refrain from mentioning them to other believers, I would feel much like a beggar who, having found a rich treasure, selfishly horded it to himself when many others might equally have benefited from it. That I might not be that selfish beggar, I have compiled a list of the five most influential books I have ever read; and I cannot strongly enough exhort anyone who has not tasted these sumptuous banquets to drink deeply from the wells of our brothers before us who have learned much of our Savior, and who freely offer up their deep insights to us all. I list these books, for lack of any better plan, simply in the order in which I happened to come across them and read them. May many of you find them as profitable as I have.
Under the Banner of Heaven
Here's one that people all around me seem to be reading: Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith, by Jon Krakauer. It's an in-depth look at the world of Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints (FLDS). These are folks who have returned to the original teachings of Mormon Founder Joseph Smith, especially with regards to "The Principle" of plural marriage (polygamy). They accuse the "official" Mormon church/cult of having abandoned the genuine faith of Smith.
Krakauer himself is not a Christian, and sometimes he makes blanket statements against religion in general that rub me wrong, but he has done his homework thoroughly on the origin of the Mormon church/cult and current FLDS groups, which is beyond helpful. I couldn't possibly get into a comprehensive review of this book without spoiling it for you, so I strongly recommend you pick up a copy for yourself. I promise you will be floored when you read about the communities and practices of the FLDS groups Krakauer examines.
Must Reading for your Theological Edification & Education
The following are considered among "great works of theology." This collection of books are must-have editions for your library: Highly recommended reading for your journey in the Christian life. This list is, of course, far from exhaustive (so don't get upset if I did not pick a favorite) but a good place to start if you have not read them. Once you read some of these you will wonder why you spent your precious time on lesser things. I assume you already have a Bible of your own so that is not on the list:
Anselm, Why God Became Man
Bonar, Horatius, The Everlasting Righteousness
Brown, John (of Edinburgh, 1784-1858) Discourses and Sayings of Our Lord Jesus Christ, 3 volume
Charnock, Stephen. The Existence And Attributes Of God
Fairbairn, Patrick Typology of Scripture
Sibbes, Richard, The Bruised Reed
Spurgeon, Charles, Lectures to My Students
Turretin, Francis Institutes of Elenctic Theology 3 vol. set
Warfield, B.B, The Works of Benjamin B. Warfield
Watson, Body of Divinity
A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith by Robert Reymond
In recent studies of every variety I have been consistently and considerably benefited by Robert Reymond's New Sytematic Theology of the Christian Faith. I am confident that any student of the scriptures, whether layman or clergy, will likewise be greatly profited by this phenomenal resource; and so I have decided to write a brief review for the purpose of commending this work to anyone interested, by highlighting four characteristics which I have consistently found in Reymond's writing, to an eminent degree. I pray that God will give this beautifully Christ-centered work a widening circle of influence.
Apologetic Dialogues on CD
If you ever wanted to know how to irenically dialogue with a synergistic leaning Christian while also striving to maintain the friendship we highly recommend this modern classic by Doug Wilson now available for the first time on Audio CD. While we may have have differences with Wilson in some areas of doctrine, I would still recommend these dialogues are some of the best ones produced. Wilson goes through all five points of the doctrines of grace as if it were a discussion between two persons. Very simple, effective and useful.
Easy Chairs, Hard Words:
Conversations on the Liberty of God (Audio CDs)Easy-to-read dialogues between Reformed and non-Reformed Christians on the doctrines of grace. Romans 9 presents hard words indeed, but they remain Godâ€™s words. In this bookâ€™s dialogues, the reader will find unapologetic treatment of many such passages in Scripture. Unlike those pasty Socratic dialogues, these are actually in English.
A Dream of Reason Meeting Unbelief (Audio CD) Another one of Wilson's most popular books called Persuasions is also now available in CD format; this collection of easy-to-read dialogues between Christians and non-Christians is a helpful introduction to the defense of Christian faith against a host of common objections from atheism, agnosticism, pantheism, feminism, and more.
New King James Reformation Study Bible
Unbelievable News for lovers of Reformation Theology who read the NKJV. By sheer providence, we have managed to get a hold of a large number of new copies of "The Reformation Study Bible" (NKJV) Bonded Leather Burgundy edition ISBN# 0785258566. Not only is edition this hard to find, we have the best price available ANYWHERE for this item (Only $49.95). Take advantage of the opportunity if you want a Reformation Study Bible in the New King Jemes Version. There is only a limited supply of these NKJV Bibles at this price. The Christ-honoring notes of this Bible are really the best of any Study Bible.
The first Geneva Bible opened the pages of Scripture for all readers and provided helpful notes to assist in the understanding of its central message. The Reformation Study Bible, under the editorial leadership of reformed scholars such as R.C. Sproul and J.I. Packer, offers a modern restatement of Reformation truth for the broad evangelical community. A wonderful resource for anyone who desires to understand the impact the powerful truths of the Reformation have had on today's church. Available in the New King James Version.
God of Promise: Introducing Covenant Theology by Michael Horton
"Thought is packed tight in this masterful survey of the covenantal frame of God's self-disclosure in Scripture, but for serious students it is a winner. Theologian Horton displays the biblical wisdom of mainstream Reformed teaching most vividly."
--J. I. Packer, professor of theology, Regent College
"God of Promise is a rigorous and articulate defense of a traditional view of covenant theology. Dr. Horton's federalist emphasis gleans from well established reformed writers while, as usual, adding his own highly readable and insightful commentary."
--Bryan Chapell, president, Covenant Theological Seminary
"The covenant concept is central to the biblical revelation and must therefore be the foundation stone of any truly biblical theology. Michael Horton has brought covenant theology to life in a way which engages modern thought and appeals to contemporary students and pastor alike. His book is a clear guide to an essential topic."
--Gerald Bray, Anglican professor of divinity, Beeson Divinity School, Sanford University
"It is one thing to give up dispensationalism. But what do you put in its place? Here's an outstanding introduction to classical Reformed covenant theology. This is the way to read and understand the Bible! This one will rock your world--whether you be a dispensationalist, a progressive dispensationalist, or even a Reformed Christian who gets unnecessarily squeamish about a covenant of works. Michael is a great theologian, a superb writer, and most importantly, my friend."
--Dr. Kim Riddlebarger, senior pastor of Christ Reformed Church in Anaheim
"This book is more than merely an introduction to covenant theology. It is not only intellectually informative, but spiritually stimulating. I found it very helpful to my own walk with God."
--Jerry Bridges, staff member, Navigators Collegiate Ministry; author, Pursuit of Holiness
"In this masterful summary of covenant theology, Michael Horton uses his exceptional gifts as a theologian to explain covenant as the central organizing principle of Scripture. Horton carefully shows how systematic covenant theology holds together many important biblical principles in this proper balance! Faith and works, justification and sanctification, law and gospel, human responsibility and divine sovereignty. Clear and comprehensive-the ideal introduction to covenant theology."
--Dr. Philip Graham Ryken, senior minister, Tenth Presbyterian Church, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
This book is rich feast for the soul. If you want to understand the theology that serves as the foundation for the organic unfolding of the Divine disclosure in the Bible, you need to read this book. Essential reading for regular visitors to monergism.com.
--John Hendryx, Monergism.com
The Space Trilogy: A Review
It may seem strange that I am writing a review of The Space Trilogy, by C. S. Lewis. It's a review of a trilogy instead of just one book. It's fiction (scientifiction, even!) instead of heavy propositional theology. What does this have to do with the Reformation Theology blog? It will probably take me the whole review to be able to answer that one (if I can).
I grew up loving to read science fiction and fantasy like The Chronicles of Narnia. I read them over and over again, even though I wasn't a Christian and had no idea about the great symbolism involved. But I hadn't read The Space Trilogy. There may have been one time I tried, but it was beyond me. It's definitely for adults with good vocabularies, preferably with some knowledge of latin, the classics, and ancient mythologies. And for those who know the Gospel well.
It may be difficult for me to boil down the content of the whole trilogy in a review and keep it of readable length, but here goes!
Future Grace (Book Review) by Pastor John Samson
Earlier this year, our church took something of a spiritual journey together by reading (and hopefully applying) the book â€œFuture Graceâ€ by Dr. John Piper. The book has 31 chapters which conveniently works out to be one chapter for each day of the month. I was very pleased with the results we saw in our church and wanted to write a few lines here to recommend that individuals or churches consider taking the same journey we did.
As the people of our church read "Future Grace," I frequently heard comments such as "now I feel I am beginning to understand God's grace," or "now I believe I can overcome the issues I've been facing at my job," etc. Of course, as a pastor, this was a delight for me to hear.
In a nutshell, the message of the book is this: in respect to justification, grace stands opposed to works (Rom. 4:4-5; 11:6). However, in respect to sanctification, grace is the source of works. This simply means that whereas we are saved by grace and not by works, we are saved by grace to do good works (Eph. 2:8-10). Good works are the fruit and not the root of Godâ€™s saving grace, which are fueled by a forward look to the â€œFuture Graceâ€ of God.
God's grace is a huge subject with many facets to it. Grace has meaning only when mankind is seen as fallen, unworthy of salvation, and fully deserving of eternal wrath. It is precisely because people today have lost sight of the depths of human corruption and sin that they think so little of divine grace. Grace is not â€œamazing graceâ€ to them, but merely â€œboring grace.â€ But what makes Paul's declaration that we are saved "by grace" so significant is his earlier declaration that we were "dead" in trespasses and sins, "gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature," "following its desires and thoughts," and were by nature the children of divine wrath (Eph. 2:1-10).
What's In A Name? A Review of D. G. Hart's 'Deconstructing Evangelicalism'
What is an evangelical? Where do we find their confession of faith? If I want to engage in a dialog with an evangelical, where do I find out what they believe? Who are their teachers? How does one get a membership card to join evangelicalism? Who is running this important and influential movement of the twentieth century?
D. G. Hart, scholar, teacher, elder and historian in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, has written another fine historical study that ought to be considered by pastors and lay people alike. Hart's new book is a work of deconstruction. It is not deconstruction as we tend to think associated with French linguists and literary interpretation. It is a deconstruction of an identity.
It is Hart's important claim that 'evangelical' as a term exists, but that as a true identity within Christ's Church, 'evangelical' might as well be nonexistent. He writes provocatively in his interesting introduction:
"Evangelicalism needs to be relinquished as a religious identity because it does not exist. In fact, it is the wax nose of the twentieth-century American Protestantismâ€¦.Despite the vast amounts of energy and resources expended on the topic, and notwithstanding the ever growing volume of literature on the movement, evangelicalism is little more than a construction." (pgs. 16-17).
Owen on the Holy Spirit
John Owen is among the theologians whose thoughts most closely mirror my own and, apart from the Scriptures themselves, this partucular book of his could be called the manifesto of the theology that drives Monergism.com. I can only agree with Sinclair Ferguson when he says, "Whenever I return to read Owen I find myself at least in part wondering why I spend time reading lesser things." I would unhesitatingly put this book up there among Christian classics, and, probably, at least in my opinion, is one of the top ten Christian books ever written. This book will magnify your understanding of the Holy Scriptures and its divine author and make you wonder what ever happened to all the churches who preached from this perspective. Here are among my favorite quotes from the books' abridged edition ...
â€œTo say that we are able by our own efforts to think good thoughts or give God spiritual obedience before we are spiritually regenerate is to overthrow the gospel and the faith of the universal church in all ages.â€
All men can be divided into two groups. They are either regenerate or unregenerate. All men are born unregenerate (John 3:3-8). ...Spiritual darkness is in all men and lies on all men until God, by an almighty work of the Spirit, shines into menâ€™s hearts, or creates light in them (Matt 4:16; John 1:5; Act 26:18; Eph 5:8; Col 1:13; 1 Pet 2:9). ...The nature of this spiritual darkness must be understood. When men have no light to see by, then they are in darkness (Exod. 10:23). Blind men are in darkness, either by birth or by illness or accident (Psa. 69:23; Gen 19:11; Acts 13:11). A spiritually blind man is in spiritual darkness and is ignorant of spiritual things.
Plug For "The Deliberate Church: Rebuilding Your Ministry on the Gospel
There was a time more than a century ago when the thinking of many denominations began to wane because they trusted in the worldview of the secular establishment, especially with regard to it naturalistic presuppositions. In order to share the â€œgospelâ€ with the world, these churches felt they had to conform to the world and its cosmology, so they read materialistic beliefs into the Scripture, and adopted the worldâ€™s agenda. Democratic values were often imported into the church, that is, the determination of truth from the 51% vote, not Godâ€™s word. Liberalism and neo-orthodoxy were born and the church quickly went into decline. This was due to (1) abandoning Godâ€™s revelation and (2) because who wants to go to a church where people do not believe anything real about the historic Jesus. Why bother?
But now we see the same phenomena repeating itself in much of the Evangelical church. Seventy-five years ago, the churches of Evangelicalism were the last hold outs when most went liberal because they strongly maintained their stand in the truth of the Scriptures. But now, it appears that evangelicals have often become like political lobby groups, have their hopes fixed in a political kingdom, using marketing, money and business savvy to advance the cause, rather than the simple gospel. While affirming the Bible as true in word, our ideas and actions often deny it for we no longer seem to think that Christ alone as revealed in Scripture alone is sufficient for the Holy Spirit to open the hearts of unbelievers and edify the saints.