Book Review – The God-Centered Life by Josh Moody

March 6, 2009

The God-Centered Life: Insights from Jonathan Edwards for Today. By Josh Moody. Vancover, BC: Regent College Publishing, 2007. Available from Westminster Books for $12.71.

There are many saints of the past who need to be reawakened for our churches today. There is much we can glean from in the lives of those who have gone before us. Many of them still speak directly to the issues we are facing today. John Moody, now Senior Pastor of College Church, Wheaton, IL, has provided a helpful volume sharing insights from Jonathan Edwards that address the issues we face today.

Moody, a precise thinker and academic with a pastor’s heart, is an expert in Edwards. He completed his PhD at Cambridge University on Edwards and continues to argue that the great American theologian and pastor speaks to us today. That is the intention in this book. He writes,

Because he preached the historic Christian gospel, and because that gospel is still true today, Edwards’ message, like that of any genuine Christian preacher, is relevant throughout the ages. But Edwards’ contribution is particularly timely today because his great sparring partners, the Enlightenment and the secularist modernism it bequeathed, have defined the recent progression of our culture. Whereas Edwards’ was responding to the Enlightenment at the beginning, our culture has reacted to the Enlightenment modernism at the end. If Edwards formed an effective and biblical response to the Enlightenment, we have lots to learn from him (p. 21).

Moody addresses a number of issues where we can learn from Edwards. These include revival, analyzing new Christian movements not only by what they teach but by their fruit, the human-centeredness of modernism, leadership must be biblically intelligent, the reality that human leaders fail, and family life and ministry. Edwards informs us on all of these issues. For instance, on revival, Moody draws from Edwards the following conclusion,

Revival is not random, not manipulative, not tied to a particular system or certain ecclesiastical machine. It is God’s initiative, his action, his intervention, his applying salvation to the church and the world. Much of the contemporary criticism of revival is well founded. Revivalism can be manipulative and shallow, its techniques unthinkingly aping modernistic attitudes of industrialism and individualism and woefully inadequate to anticipate changing culture in which we live. Revivals can also be excuses for delay, inaction and remaining passive in the face of the challenges the church is called to address. All these and other criticisms targeted towards revivals are at least to some degree cogent. Edwards would have agreed: for him, true revival was less mechanical and more magisterial, less passive and more powerful and Christ-like”(p. 48).

Perhaps the strongest part of the book is the last chapter, “The Edwards Message.” Here Moody summarizes what we can learn from Edwards but especially does a wonderful job at highlighting what an Edwards influenced individual, church, and evangelistic mission would look like. Moody is not content to leave this in the theoretical but places it in very practical terms of how one can learn from Jonathan Edwards.

If I had any one complaint it would be a desire to see more of Edwards actually speaking in the book. Moody knows Edwards well and communicates for him, but it would be excellent to see more direct interaction with Edwards writing on these particular subjects than was reflected in this book. But, this is a minor criticism as it does not overly detract from the helpfulness of this book.

Moody has done the church a service. While the growing body of secondary literature on Edwards is intense and not all of it ultimately helpful, this book is a valuable not only for pastors to learn how to have their ministry be more God-centered but also for individual Christians who seek to have their lives be more God-centered. I whole-heartedly recommend this book to any believe who wants to grow in their walk with God and especially to pastors who want to understand how the supremacy of God makes a difference in their ministry.


Book Review – Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus

January 28, 2009

Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus: Experiencing the Peace and Promise of Christmas. Edited by Nancy Guthrie. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008. 144 pp., $12.99, soft cover.

 

My wife and I enjoy doing our devotions together each night. We also love out loud reading before we go to bed! We also love the Advent season as a time to reflect on the birth, life, death, and resurrection of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Therefore, when Crossway released Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus, we were both very excited. All too often Advent readings are vapid and lack theological depth and precision. Not so with this volume! Nancy Guthrie has collected a wonderful collection of readings from various individuals throughout church history and the modern church today.

 

The 22 readings are by the following authors: George Whitefield, Joseph “Skip” Ryan, Martin Luther, John Piper, Tim Keller, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, J. Ligon Duncan III, Jonathan Edwards, Charles Spurgeon, Augustine, J. I. Packer, John Calvin, Alistair Begg, Randy Alcorn, John MacArthur, Raymond C. Ortland, Jr., Francis Schaeffer, J.C. Ryle, James Montgomery Boice, R. C. Sproul, R. Ken Hughes, and Joni Eareckson Tada.

 

They deal with various aspects of the nativity story from how the shepherds viewed the nativity, the lessons of the wise men, looking at the deity and the humanity of Christ, and various other theological aspects. These are all both theologically sound, biblically rooted, and practically applicable. There was not one lesson that we did not appreciate and were not challenged by. They often brought up further discussion and brought about ways for us to reflect on how to apply these areas to our own lives.

 

If I had any suggestions for the work, would be that it would include more from the early church. An inclusion from Augustine was welcome, but it would have been good to see entries from Athanasius and others from the pre-Reformation period. We have much to learn from the early church about the person and work of Christ and what better time to talk about them then at Advent? Other than that, the selections are excellent and challenging.

 

We need more devotional type material that is solidly biblical like this and theologically precise. We have much to learn from those who have gone before us and this collection provides an excellent resource on what many have taught about the person and work of Christ, especially in respect to the Advent season. I hope that many will use this resource with their families this next coming Advent season to challenge our hearts and minds to greater love of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ!

 

This is available from Westminster Books for $8.44! Buy it here!


Book Review – Treasuring God in our Traditions

November 24, 2008

 

My wife Tracy has reviewd the following book, Treasuring God in our Traditions, by Noel Piper.

—————————————————————————

When I was a child, I looked forward to each major holiday in our home as a time when we would do the same family activities in the same way year after year. Even today, I treasure traditions I grew up with and hold to them very closely. They continue to give me a sense of belonging, of comfort, and of anticipation. In Noel Piper’s book, Treasuring God in Our Traditions, she states that “both heirlooms and traditions strengthen our sense of history and belonging” (15). In our chaotic and hectic lifestyles, we need, as Christian families, to think through our traditions and intentionally set out to develop the best of what we grew up with, as well as the best of what we develop for our current families. Piper’s book is full of practical suggestions and inspiration for doing just that!

Piper begins by establishing that the most valuable family heirloom we have is our  relationship with Christ. If this is true in our lives, then we should structure our “everyday traditions” and our “especially traditions” around this fact. Traditions and ceremonies in our home become visual representations of our faith and allow our children, as well as visitors in our home, to see our faith illustrated in concrete and tangible ways.

The ceremonies, yearly feasts, and remembrances God gave the Israelites in the Old Testament speak of the power of such annual events. God designed these times as reminders for the adults, as well as teaching times for the children. Piper defines a tradition as, “The things we do regularly that help us in our deepest being to know and love and want God, the things that help our lives to be infiltrated with God—those things are tradition. And then if there are children in our lives, to pass these God-focused activities to the next generation—that’s what tradition is for a Christian.” (25).

The next question is how traditions are imparted, or how they teach the truths we want them to express.  Piper responds with two main points. First, tradition must be intentional. It must be planned. We must think beforehand what we want our holidays to say, and then plan traditions that will support that teaching. Second, tradition must be consistent. We must do things the same way each year, while being flexible and realizing that some things change with the ages of our children, or the make-up of our family

A particularly profitable section of the book is two chapters devoted to “everyday traditions”. We often live very hectic lives with chaotic schedules at a haphazard and frantic pace. We do not have time to do intentional things, nor do we spend much time thinking about the day-to-day rituals of our lives. Piper gives many practical suggestions about ordering your child’s day, scheduling one-on-one time with Dad, doing morning chores, accomplishing bed-time, going to church, and doing daily family devotions. All of these activities become much easier and happier when everyone knows what to expect. We also illustrate for our children how important they are when we make them part of our everyday traditions.

The next three chapters are devoted to “especially traditions” including weddings, funerals, birthdays, Christmas, and Easter. I found the chapter about Easter especially exciting as we tend to have many traditions around birthdays and Christmas, but perhaps fewer intentional traditions centered on Lent and Easter.

The only disappointment I had with this book was the lack of any real place for what I would call “just-for-fun traditions”. While I would heartily concur with Piper that our traditions ought to speak of Christ and our Christian faith, and holidays in general are far too secular, I would also like to see a few fun traditions throughout the year. It may have been beyond the scope of Piper’s book to include such events, but what about hunting for pumpkins at the local pumpkin patch in the fall, making strawberry pancakes on the first day of spring, or dying Easter eggs at Easter. While these kinds of things do not necessarily fall under the category of religious traditions, they can speak to a child about the joy of special activities reserved for special days. They can be fun times for the whole family, even if that is the only real spiritual lesson they impart.

I heartily recommend this book to all families whether you have children or not. All people, whether adults or children, need the special place of yearly traditions in their lives. We all need the comfort and assurance that there are some things we will do the same way every single time. Along with that, we can all be challenged to live our everyday lives with a little more ritual and dependability, making sure the intentional things we want to do are given the priority in our day. After all, God is a dependable God. These rituals and traditions are but a shadow of our God with whom there is no shadow of turning or change. May God bless your family, and the traditions you hold dear!

Treasuring God in our Traditions. Noel Piper. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2007, 128 pp., $14.99, paperback.


Book Review: “In My Place Condemned He Stood”

October 22, 2008

 

In My Place Condemned He Stood: Celebrating the Glory of the Atonement. J. I Packer and Mark Dever. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2007, 188 pp., $16.99, paperback.

 

The doctrine of the penal substitutionary atonement is falling on hard times. Modern day theologians, pastors, and people in the pew view the idea of penal substitution as something completely horrific and foreign to the teachings of Scripture. To think that God had to punish Christ in our place is something that seems strangely outside the teaching that God is love. Yet, at the heart of the Scriptures is the teaching that man has spurned God and now is not able to pay the penalty for his sin and therefore needs someone to pay the penalty for him. Only God can pay the penalty of sin that was committed against God. Therefore Christ must come and take our place. He is our substitute. This is the very heart of redemption.

 

J. I. Packer and Mark Dever have done the church a favour with this helpful collection of pieces on the topic of the atonement. Packer is the Board of Governors’ professor of Theology at Regent College, Vancouver and Dever is senior pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church, Washington. Both men have contributed much for the cause of Christ in their years. Now, some of Packer’s best teaching on the atonement, and Dever’s highly acclaimed piece on the topic, appear together in one attractive and well priced book. Crossway should be commended for this release.

 

The genesis of this book comes out of that evangelical powerhouse foursome of Ligon Duncan, Al Mohler, Mark Dever, and C. J. Mahaney. These men are well known individually and as those at the heart of Together for the Gospel. Commenting on how important Packer’s writing on the topic of the atonement had been in their lives, it was thought that these works needed to be released again for a new generation. Dever approached Packer on this and Packer agreed as long as Dever’s article on the topic from Christianity Today was also included. He agreed, and In My Place Condemned He Stood was born.

 

Packer introduces the book with a brief look at atonement, penal substitution, and redemption and sets the stage for the other treatises in the book. In “The Heart of the Gospel” (originally a chapter from Packer’s Knowing God) looks at the issue of propitiation (“averting God’s anger by an offering”) sets the stage for the need for penal substitution with the reality that God is angered at man and that anger needs to be appeased. It needs to be atoned for.

 

Packer goes on in “What Did the Cross Achieve? The Logic of Penal Substitution” (originally the Tyndale Biblical Theology Lecture in 1973) to survey approaches to viewing the death of Christ in the church. He concludes, that penal substitution is necessary and logical, because God’s wrath needs to be appeased. Therefore the cross is directed at propitiating God first, and then second turns humankind toward Him. Penal substitution is completely logical when you look at the reality of sin and the sinner’s relationship to God.

 

Next Dever looks at criticisms of penal substitution in “Nothing But the Blood.” Dever’s chapter is quite important to the book as a whole because it deals with the current issues and debates surrounding the atonement. It is good to interact with opposing views and identify where the current trends are going on a theological issue so one can better present the Scriptural teaching.

 

Finally, Packer’s “Saved by His Precious Blood: An Introduction to John Owen’s The Death of Death in the Death of Christ,” is probably worth the price of the book. This was originally written as an introduction to Owen’s book on the topic of limited atonement. Owen, and Packer, defends vigorously the teaching that Christ died for the elect. This article by Packer has been used in many a questioning mind to bring them fully over to the Calvinistic understanding of the atonement. It is a fitting look at how that penal substitutionary atonement is applied.

 

Dever and Packer conclude by expressing the reality that to be Christ-centered one must be cross-centered. Ligon Duncan rounds out the book with annotated reading lists on the topic of the atonement.

 

At the heart of the ministry is the atoning work of Christ. As Paul said, we preach Christ and Him crucified. No pastor, ministry leader, or Christian for that matter, can afford to not think through the scriptural teaching on the atonement. Particularly we need to see the reality of the death the unbeliever is in. Our synergistic approach to salvation, so prevalent in today’s society, needs to be eradicated from our thoughts. Dead means dead. The unbeliever has no power to save himself or even to participate with God in saving him. He is dead in trespasses and sins. He has angered God and that anger needs to be appeased. The ultimate sacrifice necessary to appease the anger of an infinite God is in the matchless death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. He stood in our place condemned so we could be redeemed. He paid the penalty in our stead. This is the very foundation of salvation.

 

These issues are not abstract and scholarly. They are at the very heart of the Gospel message. As the Bliss wrote in his hymn, “Guilty, vile, and helpless we; Spotless Lamb of God was He; ‘Full atonement! Can it be? Hallelujah! What a Savior!” Hallelujah for the great lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world through his death on the cross. Praise the Lord that He stood in my place condemned so I might have salvation.

 

Packer and Dever have done an incredible service to the church. All believers no matter the theological persuasion need to read this book and meditate on the reality of the penal substitutionary atoning work of Christ. Cannot be more highly recommended!

 

 

 


Book Review: Francis Shaeffer

October 8, 2008

Francis Schaeffer: An Authentic Life. By Colin Duriez. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008. 240 pp., $24.99, hard cover.

 

One of the most important figures in the areas of theology, apologetics, and culture of the last century is Francis Schaeffer. Until now there had not been a solid biographical work dealing with the life of this important figure. Colin Duriez, someone who knew the man personally, has helped to fill this great need by providing a look at the life of this great man. With an analysis of his books, interviews with Schaffer before he died, his family, friends, colleagues, and people who studied at L’Abri, Duriez offers a volume on the man that essentially comes from the very heart of Schaeffer himself.

 

Francis Schaeffer was born in 1912 and lived quite a tumultuous life until the Lord took him prematurely from Cancer in 1984. Growing up poor in Pennsylvania, he studied hard in school and sensed the call to pastoral ministry. He studied at Hampden-Sydney College and after studied for his seminary studies at Westminster Theological Seminary and then finished at the new Faith Theological Seminary which was formed out of controversy at Westminster. Much of Schaeffer’s apologetical thinking was developed under the Father of Presuppositional Apologetics, Cornelius van Til (although he departed in some key areas). Schaeffer saw how Christianity affected all of life. This thinking is what began his great cultural studies and how he developed the thinking that one could see where one was at and where one was going by studying the development of cultural expression in previous years (areas of art, music, philosophy, etc.). Serving as a Presbyterian pastor for a number of years he convinced the denominational body that a survey trip of Europe was necessary following World War II to see how the New Theology there had affected the churches. Schaffer’s trip was something that changed his thinking and developed a new approach to ministry as he sought to intellectually address issues in the growing modernist and soon-to-be postmodernist society. This resulted in the founding of L’Abri (The Shelter) in Switzerland where Schaffer could meet with those who were searching and talk openly about how Christianity was relevant and addressed issues of culture, the arts, and everything. Through Schaeffer’s speaking and writing, vast amounts of believers became in-tune with what was going on around them and were becoming more and more willing to present Christianity as culturally relevant and intellectually responsible.

 

There was much controversy and pain in the life of Francis and his wife Edith. People did not understand their new approach to ministry by interacting with people on this kind of casual level at L’Abri. The schedule was intense and with people living with the family it often took tolls on the family relationships and on health in general. Schaeffer though saw himself as being a defender of Christianity by presenting the Christ of the Scriptures and how all men everywhere need to be transformed by Him. Schaeffer’s unique approach allowed him to reach people who were not being reached by the church. The intellectuals of the world turned to Schaeffer as the one who presented a culturally relevant Christianity. To this end he was greatly used of the Lord.

 

Duriez traces all the events of the life of Schaffer from birth to death in a very readable way. He presents the life of this man and his family as a choice servant of God. This is a solid contribution to the history of evangelicalism in the last decade, to the history of apologetics, and ultimately, to the life of this man, so often misunderstood in his own life and today. The only real weakness is that Duriez does not interact with his theology as much as would be helpful. He admits in the beginning that this is not a theological biography, but one is necessary. Duriez offers a helpful look at the life of this man. Now, someone must look at the theology of this man to continue to better help the church. But, this book is highly recommended as a well-written account (from the very mouths of Schaeffer and those who knew him best) of the life of pastor turned denominational leader turned missionary turned prophet and apologist. May all of us have the dedication that Schaffer did for the cause of Christ today in our ministries. Read and be challenged and encouraged by the work of God in the life of His servant.


Book Review: Beyond Amazing Grace

September 4, 2008

 

Beyond Amazing Grace: Timeless pastoral wisdom from the letters, hymns and sermons of John Newton. Compiled and edited by J. Todd Murray. Darlington, England: Evangelical Press, 2007, 282 pp., $17.99, paperback.

 

 

In historical study, it is always highly recommended that students turn to primary source material instead of relying solely on secondary material. Reading things in the author’s own words is incredibly important when attempting to understand their thinking. Therefore J. Todd Murray (Worship and Music Pastor, The Bible Church of Little Rock) has done the church an every helpful service by collecting and editing some of the works of the famous John Newton. The Evangelical leader in the 18th century is still as an important figure today as he was then. The man who brought us the hymn, Amazing Grace, and mentor to the great abolitionist William Wilberforce, has much to teach us as he served as a pastor for so many years. This collection of his “pastoral wisdom” then from his letters, hymns, and sermons is incredibly important today.

 

The book is divided into five main sections, each focusing on a different area. Part 1 is “So great salvation” where Murray compiles material devoted to Newton’s own conversion, the love of God, sovereign grace, and the assurance of salvation. Part 2 is “Growing in holiness” and focuses on progressive sanctification, battling remaining sin, and God’s purposes in trials. Part 3 is “Spiritual disciplines” and here Newton expounds on reading and meditation, prayer, personal worship, family worship, evangelism, and knowing the will of God. Part 4 is “Pastoral ministry” and is where Newton focuses on the pastor and his work and nuggets of wisdom from the great pastor to those in the ministry. Finally, Part 5 is “Hope beyond the grave” where Murray compiles information on the loss of a loved one and Newton’s last days.

 

The strength of this book is Murray’s careful attention to editing and compilation. While many could simply turn to the multi-volume set of Newton’s works or various editions of his letters or the Olney Hymnal, it is a great service to have these fine selections of Newton’s works compiled here in a thematic order. To study out Newton’s thoughts on areas like prayer or the work of the ministry is something that every believer will be blessed. Murray’s notes too are very helpful as he allows some of his personal feelings about Newton’s writings to come out and help to personalize our own reading of this Evangelical leader. Finally, this book could easily be used as a personal devotional as Murray includes suggested Scripture readings for each section. Each section is not overly long which makes it perfect for some careful meditation as readers learn from this godly man.

 

We live in an era of historical anemia. More Christians know about modern day celebrities than they do of heroes of the past. My prayer is that more people will turn to books like Beyond Amazing Grace and learn and grow from those who went before us. May Newton become accessible and life changing for a whole new generation!

 

 


Book Review: Engaging with the Holy Spirit by Graham A. Cole

July 8, 2008

 

It has been said that the last century was the century of the Holy Spirit. This of course comes in the context of the rise of Pentecostalism and charismatic theology which puts a greater emphasis on the third member of the Triune God, than other theological traditions. Many have spent considerable amounts of time studying this area of pneumatology out over the last number of years. I spent my own time in seminary doing this as I was assigned the topic of Holy Spirit Baptism in a pneumatology seminar.

Yet, through all this study there is still incredible confusion over the Holy Spirit. Questions about about the deity and personality of the Spirit of God, His work in the past, His work in the present, and His work in the future. How are we as believers to relate to the Holy Spirit? Thankfully Graham A. Cole, in a simple but profound book has helped us to better aquaint ourselves with the Holy Spirit.

Cole is professor of biblical and systematic theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Deerfield, IL. He is an anglican minister and formerly served as principal of Ridley College, University of Melbourne. He is the author of a more indepth look at the Spirit in his volume, He Who Gives Life: The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit (Crossway). His new book, Engaging with the Holy Spirit: Real Questions, Practical Answers (Crossway) helps to answer the questions that people in the pew have about the mysterious Spiritus Sanctum.

Cole answers a number of questions about the Spirit in his book. He writes,

The questions are both crucial and real. People ask them. In fact, one of them in particular, blasphemy against the Spirit, has been discussed from the earliest centuries of Christianity. And our answers ought to affect the practice of the Christian life, whether individual or corporate. As the wise say, theology without application is abortion (p. 17).

Cole then begins to ask and answer 6 key questions regarding the Holy Spirit. These are 1) What is Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, 2) How May We Resist the Holy Spirit? 3) Ought We to Pray to the Holy Spirit?, 4) How Do We Quench the Holy Spirit?, 5) How Do we Grieve the Holy Spirit?, and 6) How Does the Holy Spirit Fill Us? Looking at these questions I know I personally have sought out answers to them. Cole is right, people are asking these questions. Where are the answers? Cole has given us a great place to start.

Now, I do not agree with every one of Cole’s conclusions. For instance, in contrast to Cole, I believe blasphemy against the Spirit could only occur during the time of Jesus earthly ministry and had to do with the Jewish leaders rejection of Christ. Now, Cole’s position is strong though for a possibility of blasphemy today, but rightly notes that it can only be committed by a non-believer (p. 33). They keep the believer walking in a godly state though similar to the warning passages in Hebrews.

Resisting the Spirit has to do with resisting the Word of God which the Spirit has inspired and its faithful interpretation and application (p. 49). He concludes we may pray to the Spirit becaues God is Triune but we must be careful because there is no Scriptural warrant for it (p. 66). Quenching the Spirit today involves ignoring the preached or read Word of God that stirs our consciences or to oppose ministries that show us our failure to line up with the revealed will of God (p. 81). We grieve the Spirit when there is moral disparity between what we say as God’s people and what we do (p. 97). Finally, being filled with the Holy Spirit has to do with congregational life instead of personal sanctification. In the congregation gratitude, reverence, proper speech, song, and submission, are involved with being filled. (p. 113).

I am in sympathy with much of what Cole writes. It is sane, sober, and lacking the typical approach to understanding much of the Holy Spirit’s work. Even where I disagree, I appreciate and respect Cole’s study of the Word. He makes it clear and understandable. And of course, he does not leave it simply in the intellectual realm, but shows how the work of the Spirit is where the rubber meets the road in how Christians are to live. I would challenge all of us to read and reflect on this and on the person and work of the Spirit this year. Our lives and churches will be transformed. Cole serves as an able guide in our journey to better understand the third member of the Triune God. Every Christian should read this book.