Book Review – Early Christian Martyr Stories by Bryan Litfin

July 15, 2015

The evangelical church, is beginning to see the value in studying the early church fathers. A slew of recent books from the likes of Haykin and Litfin among many more specialized studies, has reawakened the usefulness of the early church fathers (and mothers) to help in our own understanding of theology and living the Christian life today. Bryan Litfin has offered us another look into the early church, in particular with the martyrs of the early church in his book, Early Christian Martyr Stories. Here, Litfin provides for us a very readable, engaging, and useful tool in evaluating our own Christian devotion in light of the devotion of the early church.

After an introduction to Christian martyrdom Litfin begins to introduce us to the major martyrs of the early church period. Through brief, yet complete and interesting introductions, Litfin sets the contextual stage for the account of each martyr’s death to be understood. He begins in the pre-New Testament period with the Maccabean martyrs, and then the Apostolic martyrs, Peter and Paul, and then moves through those who have been martyred (Perpetua and Felicity for example), or those who have written on martyrdom (Augustine for example) within the early church. Following each introduction, Litfin rightly gives us the text as it was written and offers helpful editorial comments throughout. It’s important to let these early church writers speak for themselves first, and then through the helpful guidance of Litfin, see how their stories and their writings speak to us today.

In our easy, McDonald’s, “have it your way,” culture in the church in North America and the West, this reminder of what extreme devotion to Jesus looks like should be sobering, challenging, and encouraging to the broader church of Christ. Litfin offers four points of contact in which we can learn from these martyrs:

  1. The martyrs refused to make Jesus into just another god.
  2. The martyrs counted the cost and gave up everything.
  3. The martyrs were utterly confident in their eternal hope.
  4. The martyrs call us into unity with the ancient church.

So, take up and read and be challenged by both the writings concerning martyrs and martyrdom and the wise guidance of Litfin. Your life will be forever challenged and changed by the boundless devotion of these men and women for Jesus Christ.

Book Review – The Gospel Transformation Bible (ESV)

July 15, 2015

With the multiplicity of study Bibles available on the market, is there a need for another? The short answer is yes. There is always need for additional refinement in making God’s Word clear, but in updating the language of the actual text, and in the notes that correspond to that text. And while I was a huge fan of the ESV Study Bible, the new Gospel Transformation Bible, is my new go-to recommendation for new and seasoned Christians.

One of my biggest concerns in our churches is the rather piecemeal way that most Christians understand the Bible. They understand it in books and chapters, and struggle to put it together in one overarching thematic whole, especially as it relates to God’s progress of redemption and the centrality of Christ in all of God’s Word. The flourishing of the current revival of Biblical Theology,* in our churches has really improved on this area, but most Christians still struggle to put all of God’s Word together. Here’s a way for students of God’s Word, to follow the overall message of how God is bringing a people together for Himself by the redemptive work of Christ. The Gospel Transformation Bible does just that.

With helpful introductions as to details about each book, and good details throughout, you will find how God’s Word all ties together. For instance, in a book I recently taught through on Wednesday nights, Obadiah, it’s difficult to see how it fits within God’s larger purposes. Yet, the introduction identifies areas where the Gospel is found in Obadiah:

  1. Obadiah’s mentions of hope and salvation may be an extension of Amos 9:11-12, immediately preceding Obadiah in our Bibles. The restoration of the Davidic kingdom through the Messiah would restore Judah’s fortunes but would also include a remnant of Edom. This remnant will worshi pthe Lord at his consummation.
  2. The Judah-Edom relationship must be read in light of the Jacob-Esau relationship. They strove against each other, but God sovereignly picked one. This is a reflection of his electing grace even here in Obadiah, of Judah over Edom.
  3. Any blessings in the Judah-Edom relationship (perhaps a remnant of Edom) are due to God’s grace, because neither Jacob nor Esau lived according to God’s plans for them in his covenant.

Connecting this to the NT the writer of the notes helps us to see how this Jacob-Esau dynamic relates to us in the Gospel.

This is the kind of interconnectedness that we need in the church today. When our understanding of God, His plans, and His Word are so piecemeal, a resource like the Gospel Transformation Bible, is of vital need in our churches. My plans are to put one in the hands of every new member of our church!

*For a number of good recommendations in this area consider Chris Bruno’s, The Whole Story of the Bible in 16 Verses, Jim Hamilton’s, What is Biblical Theology?, Michael Lawrence’s, Biblical Theology in the Life of the Church, and anything by Graeme Goldworthy.

Book Review – Marie Durand by Simonetta Carr

July 15, 2015

The historical anemia in the church overall is very frustrating for those who see the vital need to know our history as we move forward in the Church. Especially difficult is the task of teaching said history to our children. Thankfully, a number of new books presents the heroes of our faith, heroes because they make Christ the hero of their lives, for children of various ages and levels. Simonetta Carr’s excellent series, Christian Biographies for Young Readers, are wonderful introductions to many of the church’s choice servants. Her newest on little-known Marie Durand, is just as wonderful as her previous ones.

Durand, a protestant Christian during the reign of Louis XV in France, found herself spending 38 years in prison simply because she would not recant her protestant faith. Her love and care for the church, the neglected women and children who were imprisoned with her, all a demonstration of her love and devotion to Christ alone, are beautifully told here in word and image. The illustrations by Matt Abraxas are wonderfully helpful in developing for us a “picture” of Durand’s life and trials. Upper elementary students will gain much needed perspective on the lives of Christians, and what true devotion to Christ looks like for the believer.

I would heartily recommend Carr’s volume here on Durand, and all of her previous and forthcoming ones. Buy them. Read them. Have your children read them. One of the greatest ways of passing on the faith once for all delivered to the saints, is to do so through the context of those said saints who held onto that faith in days gone by.

Book Review – Passing Through by Jeremy Walker

July 15, 2015

 I’ve been thinking a lot about the pilgrim nature of our lives as Christians. In particular, with so many rapid changes in our culture here in the West, I’m reminded that I’m just passing through and that this world is not my home. Jeremy Walker’s new book Passing Through: Pilgrim Life in the Wilderness, is such a breath of fresh air for the Christian that I cannot recommend it heartily enough.

Walker, a pastor in England, is fast becoming one of my favorite authors. His informed theology, pastoral warmth, and active service for Christ plays out in all of his works and is just as present here in Passing Through.

As Christians we vacillate between isolationist (just gotta endure until the Lord comes) and over-engagement (going to create me a Christian culture on earth). Yet, the reality is, we are travelers making our way to the Celestial City (in the words of Bunyan), and while we will seek “the welfare of the city” (in the words of Jeremiah) this world is not our home. We are aliens and strangers and our citizenship is in heaven.

On that note, Walker brings a helpful balance to our identity as strangers and pilgrims. He helps us to understand our enemy while we travel here on earth, know our battles and our mission, and teaches us how to live in and appreciate the beauty of this world as we anticipate our final destiny of living with Christ for all eternity. Pastors and teachers would be well served to work through the various elements that Walker presents for us in a series to help the many people in our churches who do not know where they are going, how they should get there, and what they should do while they’re here.

I would strongly suggest Christians in the West think through Walker’s teachings here. On that note, I will leave you with the final though from Walker himself, which sums up why this concept of “pilgrimage” is something to be rediscovered in hte church,

And so we live as a pilgrim people, separated to God, engaging for God, citizens of Christ’s heavenly kingdom, seeking His glory every step of the way, living and dying to that end, waiting for His return, pressing on, passing through.