Book Review – Rediscovering the Church Fathers

June 8, 2011

Michael A. G. Haykin, Rediscovering the Church Fathers: Who They Were and How They Shaped the Church (Crossway, 2011).

I consider Michael Haykin a dear friend. He previously had been my boss at Toronto Baptist Seminary and a one-time mentor to me on a now defunct PhD dissertation. I consider him one of the keenest theologians and historians in Evangelicalism today and am so thankful for his ministry in my life. One might think that would make the following review too biased to be worth reading. This would be true if the reviewer had nothing negative to say about the book. But while I think it is a wonderful contribution to Evangelical thinking on the Fathers, I think there are a number of deficiencies that create for it a rather limited market.

Haykin is a Patristics scholar par excellence and this volume brings his writings back to a subject area so precious to him. The introduction and the conclusion make reading the book imperative for any thoughtful Christian. His pilgrimage with the Fathers is something of an encouragement and challenge to us all as we seek to live out the historic Christian faith with our ancestors. Especially helpful is how Haykin lays out important and practical reasons for studying the Fathers that most of us would not have considered.

The main bulk of the book is chapters on particular Fathers treating particular issues in Christian thinking and practice (most of the chapters have appeared elsewhere). To those who are widely read in significant Christian theology or in Patristics these chapters are welcome additions from an Evangelical perspective on key issues. Yet, for those average Christian these chapters would be difficult to read and focus upon as they are fairly technical. If Haykin wants us in the church to learn to love and appreciate the Fathers then I would argue perhaps he should identify that his book is really written for pastors and scholars. Yet, the issues that are treated in it are imperative to have a firm understanding of. Ignatius of Antioch’s thinking on martyrdom, apologetics from the Letter to Diognetus, hermeneutics with Origen, the Lord’s Supper with Cyprian and Ambrose, holiness and the Spirit from Basil of Casesarea, and the missionary piety of Patrick are all important things to consider. Yet, the language and details offered put this book out of reach of most average Christians.

The other weakness of the book is the Fathers that Haykin leaves out. Interestingly, in his appendix on a guide to reading the Fathers, Haykin talks about reading Augustine, The Odes of Solomon, Hilary, Athansius, and Gregory of Nyssa. None of these were dealt with directly in the book. It is a shame that Haykin asks us to read the works of those that we might be unfamiliar with and does not introduce us to them through his book. Would not it have been better then to treat these as well if he wants us to become familiar with the Fathers? In the opinion of this reviewer, two monumental Fathers were left out of the main section of the book and it is virtually unforgivable: Augustine and Athanasius. No book seeking to introduce us to the value of the Fathers should leave out these two men.

Now, this is not to say the book is without value. If you are patient and read thoughtfully you will glean fantastic material that will challenge your mind and warm your heart and motivate your hands to serve God more faithfully. We have much to learn from those who have gone before us and those willing to mine the details that Haykin presents will not be disappointed. But, if you are looking for a basic introduction to the Fathers from an Evangelical perspective, I would not recommend Haykin. Instead I would recommend Bryan Litfin’s helpful, Getting to Know the Church Fathers: An Evangelical Introduction. In it he surveys the life, thinking, and major contributions of the major Fathers including Augustine and Athansisus and includes reading recommendations and study questions for each Father. Now, if you want to move further than an introduction, then Haykin is where you should turn, but for the novice looking to study the Fathers, Litfin is a better introduction.

So, while Haykin is a dear friend and I think his book makes a wonderful contribution to Patristics, it is not for those looking for a basic introduction to the Fathers. But, again, for those who want to mine the riches of the Fathers that Haykin does address, it is worth every penny.


Book Review – Get Outta My Face!

February 25, 2010

Rick Horne, Get Outta My Face! How to Reach Angry Unmotivated Teens with Biblical Counsel (Wapwallopen, PA: Shepherd’s Press, 2009).

Want to reach angry and unmotivated teens? This is a great resource for anyone who has a desire to make an impact in a teenager’s life whether it be a teacher, parent, or youth worker. If you have worked with teens or young adults surely you have experienced the Get Outta My Face attitude. Rick Horne has developed a tool that will help you disciple teens in the midst of chaos and turmoil. This book will show you the importance  of seeing people the way that God sees them. Inside every individual there is a soul with real problems, fears, and worry’s and Horne help his readers develop a strategy that will not only help you resolve conflict with teens, but also every individual that comes into your world. As you venture into youth ministry either as a youth worker or a parent this book will be an encouragement to you as you will find that you are not alone in this battle. If you have any role in a teenager’s life this book will help you reach their hearts while learning what is driving their motivations to act they way they do.

Timothy J. Sullivan IV earned his M.Div. with a Youth Ministry focus from Baptist Bible College, Clarks Summit, PA.


Book Review – Practicing Hospitality: The Joy of Serving Others

October 20, 2009

Practicing Hospitality: The Joy of Serving Others. By Patricia A. Ennis and Lisa Tatlock. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008

What is biblical hospitality? According to Pat Ennis and Lisa Tatlock, biblical hospitality is simply a demonstration of love (p. 50). The motivation for this love comes from a heart that responds to God’s work in our lives. When we demonstrate love for others, we demonstrate our love for God in a tangible way (p. 50).

While all Christians would probably agree that hospitality is important, even commanded (Romans 12:13), most would also acknowledge this is a neglected area in Christian practice today. If we are honest, many of us would have to admit to rarely, if ever, practicing biblical hospitality in a formal, intentional way. This is the issue addressed in Practicing Hospitality: The Joy of Serving Others.

Perhaps it is not for lack of good intentions that hospitality is neglected in today’s world. For many of us, life simply gets in the way and we forget to make time for others. We find our lives are busy and pressed already—who has time to invite that new family at church over for lunch? We find ourselves pressed financially. We rationalize that we really don’t have the money to present a nice dinner to someone else. We find we have so little “alone time” as it is, we guard our evenings and weekends with a jealous fervency. For some, the particular season of life presents unique challenges. What if you have several young children and babies at home as it is? The house is barely livable for you and your family, let alone presentable for company. What if you just aren’t Martha Stewart and you don’t feel that creative or even adept in the kitchen?

These concerns and many others are answered in this book. The authors assure readers right away that perfection in being the perfect hostess or quantities of money spent on expensive foods are not necessary for biblical hospitality. An important distinction is drawn between entertaining and offering hospitality. When we entertain, we are more concerned about presentation—the perfectly clean home, the dinner cooked to perfection, and the serene atmosphere at every moment. While events like this may be fun and appropriate at times, they really miss the mark when it comes to biblical hospitality. Hospitality is concerned with showing simple love to people and ministering to their needs. It involves humbling yourself and offering the best of what you have however simple it may be. It means being willing to be vulnerable before others and not worrying if someone sees you or your family in a less than perfect condition. Hospitality focuses on others where as entertainment focuses on the impression others are getting of me and my abilities. For this reason, the first chapter of the book addresses the character qualities all Christians should be striving for as they live everyday life and practice hospitality.

Chapter two challenges believers to follow the biblical command to reach out to strangers. This was common in the New Testament times, but is much neglected today as people find it much more comfortable to associate with those they already know.

Chapter three addresses the very important topic of showing hospitality to your family. Readers are challenged to remember that family always comes first in God’s economy. If we neglect our family, we have no business opening our homes to others. Also, balance is needed, especially in families with young children. This chapter includes some helpful ideas regarding family traditions and special times of year, as well as everyday ways women can minister to their families.

Chapters four and five offer many practical suggestions for ordering your home and life to make hospitality easier to accomplish. Home management is crucial if we are to have homes that are ready for visitors. There are many practical suggestions here for preparing foods with minimal preparation time, decorating economically, keeping the house basically clean on a daily basis, and even how to brew the perfect cup of tea!

Chapters six and seven talk about offering hospitality to people from other cultures as well as those with special needs such as hospital patients, those who are sick, and those who are grieving. Sometimes hospitality happens outside of the home and we take demonstrations of Christian love to people where they are. These chapters will be especially helpful to those who find themselves in situations where they want to reach out to people who have different needs, but are nonetheless important in God’s eyes and in need of a special touch from God’s people. There is also an emphasis on using hospitality as a platform for ministry and evangelism. Especially helpful are ways to incorporate children into learning to serve others and share the Gospel through hospitality.

Study questions and suggestions for creating a personalized hospitality notebook are provided at the end of each chapter for those who want to make personal application out of their reading. Recipes are also provided at the end of each chapter. These recipes are practical and often geared to be economical and easily expanded to accommodate even large groups easily.

Perhaps the most practical and helpful part of the book is the suggestions sprinkled throughout gleaned from a survey the authors took while writing the book. The women surveyed represent all walks of life from single working women to stay-at-home moms, to pastor’s wives, to those married for many years. Reading these hands-on suggestions from real women who have had many different experiences in practicing hospitality is very helpful and motivational in giving us all a push toward serving others on a more regular basis.

Throughout the whole book, the authors’ clear intention is to motivate and enable believes to follow the biblical directive to practice hospitality to all people. The book is neither pushy nor difficult to understand. Instead, it seeks to encourage all believers to take up once again this very important aspect of Christian ministry and to reap the many blessings that come with practicing biblical hospitality.

Tracy Mickle is a homemaker living with her husband Allen. She has a Bachelor of Sacred Music and a Bachelor of Science in Bible from Baptist Bible College, Clarks Summit, PA. She is also a certified Suzuki piano teacher. She and Allen are currently relocating to Tunkhannock, PA where Allen will begin serving as Senior Pastor of Tunkhannock Baptist Church in the near future.


Book Review – Becoming God’s True Woman

July 27, 2009

Nancy Leigh DeMoss, ed. Becoming God’s True Woman. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008.

What is a godly woman? In today’s culture, many women—even Christian women—struggle with this question. Is she loud and fun-loving, or quiet and reserved? Is she out-there and bold, or does she always work behind the scenes? Is she exceptionally gifted and talented, or is she an ordinary citizen? Is she fit and good at sports, or is she girly and feminine? Is she out in the work force, or is she always at home? Is God’s woman always found at one end of these extremes, or is there room for many different personalities and types of women in God’s program?

These questions are confusing and even frustrating for women as they read their Bibles and try to reconcile what is there with what they see in modern culture all around them. What is worse is that even within the church, women often hear conflicting answers to their most basic questions. For many, who simply have a genuine desire to please God with their lives, answers seem elusive at best.

Becoming God’s True Woman, edited by Nancy Leigh DeMoss, offers a good starting place for women as they ponder the question of godly womanhood. Since the book has seven contributing authors, it reads almost like a magazine with each chapter being a succinct introduction to a relevant topic.

Part one is entitled The Glory of Womanhood as Created by God. Here, the authors lay a helpful foundation for the rest of the book with three chapters covering femininity, true beauty, and knowing God as Father. Here, the chapter on femininity, written by Carolyn Mahaney, is especially helpful as it offers a broad perspective on many of the roles and responsibilities to which women are called in life. While women are challenged in a counter-cultural way, many will be pleasantly surprised to hear that femininity does not equal being a wall-flower! Instead, there is room for many personalities and types of giftedness in God’s kingdom. The key issue is a woman’s attitude and willingness as she takes on her God-given roles in life.

Part two addresses The Challenge of Biblical Womanhood in a Fallen World. A particularly helpful chapter by Nancy Leigh DeMoss addresses the troubling issue of discretion. As believers living in a sex-saturated society, women desperately need to hear the call to modesty and good judgment as they interact with the men in their lives as well as society at large. I was slightly disappointed by another chapter in this section also contributed by DeMoss on a biblical portrait of a woman used by God. Although the chapter covered many helpful concepts, it stretched the biblical text a bit too far in drawing principles from the life of Mary, the mother of Jesus as showing the life of a woman used by God. This chapter could have been stronger if it were supported by additional texts and did not try to draw all its information from the life of one woman in the Bible.

Part three talks about The Freedom and Joy of Women as Helpers and Nurturers of Life. The chapters in this section cover many practical topics including the wife as helper, submission, raising feminine daughters, being nurturing mothers, and finally implementing a Titus 2 ministry in the church. In a time where many mothers and wives feel unimportant and underappreciated, these chapters serve as an encouragement and a challenge to women as they step up to these demanding roles. The chapter on Titus 2 ministry by Susan Hunt offers several practical suggestions for encouraging mentoring in the local church. While interested readers will want to seek further information, the chapter offers an excellent starting point.

A particular strength of this book throughout is the concentrated effort made by the authors to address women in all seasons of life. Married and single, younger and older women will benefit from this book. Many of the chapters offer direct advice to single women which is refreshing in a book that covers many issues directly relevant to marriage and motherhood.

Another helpful feature is an extended list of recommended resources at the end of the book. Because each chapter is short, many readers may find they will want to do additional reading on a topic of particular interest or challenge to them. The recommended resources are grouped by category and readers will find this feature very user-friendly.

The end of the book also features an extensive set of questions for “thinking it over and making it personal”. This book could serve as a wonderful starting point for a group study on biblical womanhood and the well-written questions would be very helpful in that context as well as for individual use.

I would highly recommend this book for individuals or groups who would like an accessible introduction to the topic of godly womanhood. The book does not merely gloss over the issues, but it presents a variety of topics in a readable way that is not overwhelming. It opens the door for women to start talking and thinking through some of these issues, and will motivate many to do further study after they have completed this book.

Tracy Mickle is a homemaker living with her husband Allen. She has a Bachelor of Sacred Music and a Bachelor of Science in Bible from Baptist Bible College, Clarks Summit, PA. She is also a certified Suzuki piano teacher. She and Allen are currently relocating to Tunkhannock, PA where Allen will begin serving as Senior Pastor of Tunkhannock Baptist Church in the near future.


Book Review – Cornelius Van Til: Reformed Apologist and Churchman

May 25, 2009

Cornelius Van Til: Reformed Apologist and Churchman by John R. Muether

D. G. Hart and Sean Michael Lucas should be commended for their work in editing the new P&R series of American Reformed Biographies. (Current volumes include, Robert Lewis Dabney: A Southern Presbyterian Life, John Williamson Nevin: High Church Calvinist, and soon to be released James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman.) Some key members of American Reformed history have been neglected and one important figure especially, Cornelius Van Til.

Now, Van Til’s writing and thinking is not neglected. It is continued to be taught at Westminster Theological Seminary, particularly in the presuppositionalist apologetic he helped to systematize. Even at a dispensationalist school like my alma mater, Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary, we studied the presuppositionalism of Van Til. In this helpful new book by John Muether the life of Van Til is helpfully shaped. Particularly are how Muether traces Van Til’s life and shows the theological influences brought to bear on him from his Dutch Reformed heritage, his studies at Princeton, and other such factors. Muether catalogs his move from the Dutch Reformed church of his youth to the American Presybterian church (reluctantly) as he came to teach at the newly formed Westminster Theological Seminary. For a man who attempted to be simple and unassuming, his thinking became a hotbed for debate.

Many know of Van Til’s thinking (albeit they might not understand it), but many do not see him beyond his life as a professor. Van Til was a devoted churchman who sought to advance the church in its desire to obey the Great Commission in a thoroughly Reformed way. In this way, he was criticized during the various times of controversy in the life of the school and of the denomination. The devoted husband and father and dedicated student of modern theology and the Word of God was often under appreciated during his life and after. But many, knowingly or not, owe much of their Reformed epistemology to that layed out by Van Til. When others would capitulate to the unbelieving mind (as he criticized his former student Francis Schaeffer over) he sought to remain as consistently Reformed as possible in the knowledge that there is no “common ground” between the believer and the unbeliever. His motto of suaviter in modo, fortiter in re (gentle in persuasion, powerful in substance), sums up his life and teaching. He sought to be gentle as he taught the Word and as he sought to present the truth, but the truth was clear and powerful and able to change men’s hearts and minds!

While Van Til was criticized for being difficult to understand (I second that at times) his efforts paved the way for his students who helped to explain Van Til (men like Greg Bahnsen, and to a lesser degree John Frame). But, Muether presents a well-rounded treatment of the unusual life of a Dutch Reformed/American Presbyterian who loved the church and loved the truth and would not apologize for seeking to be consistent. We have much to learn from him in this way. Muether concludes this helpful biography in this way,

What makes Van Til’s life a compelling story and his theology one that merits a hearing is not so much a narrow analysis of his distinctive apologetic methodology. For this reason he is often disagreed with, and perhpas more often misunderstood. Van Til carbed out a way to be distinctively Reformed in the twentieth century. To be sure, that way involved apologetics, but it also involved much more. Van Til taught that the defense of the faith must be as Reformed as the exposition of the faith. Thus, to separate the man from his church is an abstract reduction of the richness of his heart and life. The unity of thought and life continues to be Van Til’s gift to the whole church of Jesus Christ (p. 240).

Besides having endnotes instead of footnotes (painful to check references!) the book is a helpful look at the life and labours of a man devoted to the church of Jesus Christ. I recommend you learn more about the life of this man and his efforts. It just might help you to better understand what he taught!


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 – The Unwavering Resolve of Jonathan Edwards

February 19, 2009

The Unwavering Resolve of Jonathan Edwards. By Steven J. Lawson. Lake Mary, FL: Reformation Trust, 2008. 168 pp., $16.00, hard cover.

 

Jonathan Edwards (1703–1758) is probably the most well known American preacher and theologian of the 18th century and perhaps any century. Interest in him and his theology grows each day with the body of secondary literature rising at an unbelievable rate. Beyond the body of secondary literature, Edwards was a prolific writer and the primary materials take up 26 large hardcover volumes from Yale University Press. Some know only of his sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” and perhaps only from studying it in school as part of their American literature. Some disdain his Calvinistic theology and some extol it. He was a theologian of revival and prayer. But, the question is, is there a need for another volume on Edwards? Steven Lawson proves there is!

 

Lawson, Senior Pastor of Christ Fellowship Baptist Church, Mobile, AL and President of New Reformation Ministries (a ministry dedicated to bring biblical reformation to the church today) has already proved himself with his volumes The Expository Genius of John Calvin, Foundations of Grace: A Long Line of Godly Men (both from Reformation Trust), and Famine in the Land: A Passionate Call for Expository Preaching (Moody Press) amongst others. He has other volumes coming out soon in his “Long Line of Godly Men” series. And if his existing books are any indication, future ones will be just as profound. Lawson is the prophet Evangelicalism needs to highlight the famine in the land with the hopes of God bringing the rain of expository preaching.

 

In this current volume on Edwards’ Lawson focuses on an area that should be of great importance to many of us today, the unwavering resolve of Edwards. Lawson’s focus therefore are on Edwards’ personal resolutions he made. These seventy “purpose statements for his life” (p. xiii) were written in 1722 and 1723 at the ages of 18 and 19. Lawson notes as a result of these resolutions, “this young Puritan minister wrote and worked hard to keep these seventy vows. Here is the key to his spiritual growth–Edwards disciplined himself for the purpose of godliness. He understood that growth in holiness is not a one-time act, but a lifelong pursuit, one that requires a daily determination to live according to the truths taught in Scripture” (p. xiii).

 

Essentially this volume on Edwards then is on the personal piety of the great 18th century theologian and pastor. Lawson argues that more important than Edwards intellect or anything else is his personal holiness. We live in a day of great spiritual interest and confusion. As Evangelicals we must turn to a spirituality that is rooted in the Word of God. Studying the godly men of the past gives us a helpful look at how to apply that Biblical spirituality in our lives today. That makes looking at the personal holiness and resolutions of Edwards of utmost importance.

 

This book then uses Edwards resolutions as a starting point and then includes material from his diary and his “Personal Narrative” to see how he implemented these resolutions in his life. The book begins with a detailed but simple chapter outlining the life and legacy of Edwards. He then moves into looking at the resolutions directly. The first section deals with the purpose and historical setting of the resolutions as well as the theological roots behind them. Then Lawson looks at the resolutions under the broad categories of “the prerequisite of faith,” “the priority of God’s glory,” “the putting away of sin,” “the precipice of eternity,” “the passion of discipline,” “the practice of love,” and finally “the posture of self-examination.” Especially important for today’s believers in this last section. The Puritan practice of self-examination is lost in today’s generation. The journals and diaries of various Puritan authors outlining their lives and highlighting where improvement could be made is a valuable discipline that most today have lost. Journaling our spiritual lives is something of great value as we continue to grow in Christ that we can learn particularly from Edwards.

 

Lawson highlights the major importance of studying Edwards today and learning from him for a new generation in his conclusion. He writes, “In this day, some three hundred years after Edwards’ time, there is a desperate need for a new generation to arise onto the scene of history that will prize and promote the glory of our awesome God. Beholding the soul-capturing vision of this all-supreme, all-sovereign, and all-sufficient God transforms in life-altering ways. This is what we learn from Edwards, and this is what we must experience in our own lives. Our lofty theology, centered on God Himself, must be translated into daily living in practical ways” (p. 154).

 

Truly Lawson will encourage those who already love Edwards and his God but will also encourage those who know not the great American theologian. This book should be in the hands of every pastor especially but in the hand of every believer in Christ to encourage them and challenge them in their constant walk with the sovereign God of the universe! Soli Deo Gloria!