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.

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October, November, December winners

January 2, 2011

Okay, I’m terribly far behind on my blog giveaway for a Crossway book a year. So, without further adieu, the winners of the October, November, and December books!

October’s book was Entrusted with the Gospel edited by D. A. Carson. The winner is: Brian Kooshian!

November’s book was History and Fallacies by Carl Trueman. The winner is: Bob Hayton!

December’s book was For the Fame of His Name edited by Sam Storms and Justin Taylor. The winner is: Rollayln Ruis

Everyone, e-mail me your mailing addresses at allen [dot] mickle [dot] jr [at] gmail [dot] com.

Thanks to everyone participating in the contest!


Carol Cornish on her New Book “The Undistracted Widow”

October 5, 2010

I have known Carol Cornish for as long as I have known my wife. Carol was a member of the church in which my wife was also a member. I met my wife, and all of her friends (including Carol) as I grew to know and court my wife. We also had the privilege of meeting a few times with Carol as we progressed along in our courtship and preparation for marriage, as Carol is a trained Biblical counselor. She is gifted at getting to the heart of matters and bringing the Scriptures to bear on your life. So, when I heard she was writing a book, I knew I wanted to read it, no matter what it was upon. Because it was on a topic so personal to her and because of her skill in counseling, I knew I would want this book for my own. I was not disappointed. Carol’s new book, The Undistracted Widow: Living For God After Losing Your Husband from Crossway, is both an excellent resource for widows and for the churches that should seek to care for them. Carol was gracious enough to take some time to answer some questions I had for her about the book.

1) It is clear from your book that losing one’s husband is a terrible thing. What made you decide to write about it?

I decided to write about the loss of a husband because:

  • I could not find written materials that were biblically sound and extensive in addressing this particular loss;
  • I began to realize that what I wrote for myself and collected from other sources was making a huge positive impact on my ability to adjust to being a widow;
  • I found that in my interactions with other widows and with widowers that they were helped by the things that God was teaching me;
  • I observed that even grieving Christians often seemed to lack focus and were confused about what to do now that their spouse was gone; they were languishing in their circumstances or running away from their sorrowful feelings rather than going to God with them;
  • I sensed a need for instruction for churches and families on how to help widows.

2) How are churches doing in ministering to widows? Where are they lacking?

My impression of how churches are doing in ministering to widows is that help is adequately provided around the time of the death, but that ongoing ministry could be improved.  In fact, ongoing ministry to older people in general needs improvement.  Churches seem focused, like our culture, on youth.  Ministry to older people is a low priority if a priority at all.  While it is common to hear a lot about the church’s obligation to nuclear families or to orphans, how many times do you hear about concern for widows that leads to intentional ministry to them?  Somehow we’ve overlooked the clear and consistent message in the Scriptures that God has deep concern not only for orphans and other vulnerable persons among us but certainly also for widows.  I sometimes get the sense that because a fair number of widows and other older people live in retirement communities and because many have pensions and government support that the church assumes all of their needs are being met.  But that is a misguided assumption.

3) In what ways did your church best help you as you grieved? What could they have done better?

My church best helped me in a number of significant ways:

  • prayer – congregational prayer for us on Sunday mornings, with my husband and me in our home, in small group meetings – consistent, fervent prayer from the leadership of my church and from people in the congregation
  • consistent contact – email, phone calls, cards, visits – we knew we were not alone in the struggle against cancer and failing health
  • meals – and other offers of practical help; our assistant pastor even loaned us a dehumidifier to dry out a wet basement
  • the support of other widows after my husband’s death – they were  my beacon in the darkness showing me how to go on
  • the funeral service at the church and the reception after the graveside service – I felt so surrounded by the strength and love of my brothers and sisters in Christ

I honestly cannot think of anything they could have done better.  They were a model of how to do it right.

4) As individual Christians how can we best minister to widows? How should the church specifically minister to widows?

The best way to help a widow is to get to know her well and to minister the one another’s of the New Testament to her.  Include her as part of your family.  Don’t assume anything – check it out with her.  Will she be alone on holidays?  Ask her.  Does she need help around the house?  Take your rake or shovel over to her home and help her with maintenance tasks that overwhelm her.

A church in our area has a sign-up sheet in the lobby for anyone who needs help with grass, leaves, and snow.  The youth ministry then provides the elbow grease for helping with these tasks.  What a powerful and practical way to show the love of Christ!  What a powerful witness to neighbors and communities!

Those in church leadership who are responsible for the care of members need to respectfully and sensitively ask if she needs financial help.  Find out if and how family members are in contact with her and if they are caring for her.  If they seem to be neglectful, explore with them what they think their role is in caring for her.

If she resides in a nursing home or retirement community, she is still the church’s responsibility.  Be sure to visit on a regular basis and find out how she is being cared for.  Ask her questions about the care and services provided.  Make sure the staff knows that you look in on her on a consistent and frequent basis.

Any faithful widow left truly alone is the church’s responsibility. The church must be her advocate so that she is not abused and neglected.

5) As a trained biblical counselor, what can you advise us to say to those who are grieving around us?

All of us have suffered in some way – large or small.  Think carefully about what has been said to you that has been encouraging, comforting, and helpful.  If you can’t think of anything to say, at the least say “I’m sorry” because you are sorry – sorry that the person is suffering this loss.  If it’s true, tell them that you’ve been thinking about them and are praying for them.  If appropriate, tell the person you care about them and give a gentle hug.  Do not tell them you know how they feel – you don’t know.  Do not relate to them a story about a loss you have suffered. Do not use Scripture verses as platitudes.

Give a concrete invitation and follow up – “Can you join us for dinner on Saturday?”  Do not nervously say that you’ll have the person for dinner/get together and then not follow through.  Saying nothing would be better than raising false hopes of an invitation. Be genuine, be self-forgetful and let your words bless the grieving.  In my book, I have a small chart of things to say and not to say.

6) I have heard it said that the church should financially support women in the church with no husbands, specifically those with children, so they do not have to work outside of the home. What do you think about this? Is it the church’s responsibility to financially support our single women with children?

While this is an important question, it is not something I have extensively studied.  Therefore, I would defer to those who have – like John MacArthur and Grace Community Church.

7) What other resources would you recommend on the subject of widows and grieving?

Elisabeth Elliot, who was widowed twice, has some valuable written materials on grief especially her booklet entitled Facing the Death of Someone You Love.  Patti McCarthy Broderick wrote a book that is very helpful especially for younger widows entitled He Said, “Press.”  A book recently released is God’s Care For the Widow by Austin Walker.  Walker is a pastor in the UK and his book comes from the perspective of a pastor ministering to widows.  I like his theological understanding of the issues in widowhood, however, for a recently widowed woman the book may come across as somewhat academic.

My book has an extensive suggested reading list in which many helpful books and articles on grieving may be found.

8) You cite a number of different hymns throughout history. How did Christian hymnody help you through the grieving over the death of your husband? How can it help others grieving?

A good hymn is solid theology poetically expressed and set to beautiful music.  In all of the major crises of my Christian life, the thing that kept my mind sane and stable was singing to myself these wonderful hymns.  In a crisis, it is hard for me to recite to myself chunks of Scripture.  But if I sing to myself, the tune carries me along and the words come more easily.  The truths those words express guide and comfort me.  So, in auto accidents, in hospital emergency rooms, in doctors’ offices, and in the room my husband died here at home, I have sung these wonderful songs to myself or out loud.  I receive immense comfort in this way.  I suggest memorizing hymns just as we memorize Scripture.  One way to do this is to take a hymn and sing it everyday (all the verses in the hymnal) for a month.  After thirty days of singing the hymn daily, it will be planted in your mind and hopefully accessed easily in your memory when you are under duress.

9) You cite a number of historical writers throughout your book. Was there a writer who spoke most clearly to what you were facing? Who was the most helpful writer of the past for you?

Puritan pastors were wonderful physicians of the soul.  They knew the Scriptures well, they knew God – especially in a warm and personal way, most of them had experienced significant suffering, and they knew the needs of their people because they visited them regularly in their homes.  And they wrote down what they learned about how to minister the grace and love of God to others.  So, we have this wonderful body of literature to instruct us about life’s crises, for example, Thomas Watson’s The Art of Divine Contentment and All Things For Good, Jeremiah Burroughs’ The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, John Owens’ Communion With God, John Flavel’s Facing Grief, Thomas Vincent’s True Christian’s Love to the Unseen Christ, and so on.

In addition, though they are not strictly considered among the Puritans, I have been profoundly influenced in my thinking and helped in my grieving by the writings of Charles Spurgeon, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, John Angell James, Arthur Pink, and P. B. Power.

10) Now that this book is done, do you have plans to do any more writing or speaking on this topic or on other practical theological topics?

Yes, I am writing for a magazine in the UK and doing blog and radio interviews for the book. I will be continuing to speak at women’s events on various topics on which I have written.  I have some ideas for new writing projects and am praying over them and waiting for the Lord’s leading.


Free Copy of Fred Zaspel’s “The Theology of B. B. Warfield”

September 27, 2010

I am giving away a copy of Fred Zaspel’s new book, The Theology of B. B. Warfield available now from Crossway Books. It is a fantastic volume which will be greatly appreciated by all those who believe the study of theology is a serious business! In connection to my recent interview with the author, I want to give away a copy of the book to a hardcore Warfield fan. This is not for just anyone, this is for those who love the great Lion of Princeton.

So, to win, I want you to write in the comments why Warfield has been influential in your Christian life and ministry. How has he shaped your thought and how you live the Christian life? What book or other written item has influenced you and why? I’ll randomly pick from the answers given to win a copy of the brand new book.

So get cracking! Why do you love Warfield?


Crossway Give-away Reviews – 6 Months In

September 27, 2010

I’ve given away a number of Crossway books so far here on the blog. I want to post some brief thoughts on the books given away during the first six months.

January – Adrian Warnock, Raised with Christ: How the Resurrection Changes Everything

I reviewed this book more in depth here but I just wanted to share some key thoughts. The resurrection does change everything. We tend to focus a lot more on the crucifixion and all that happened there and tend not to think through all the implications for the Christian life in the resurrection. Adrian Warnock helpfully plumbs the Scriptures and its teaching on the resurrection and all that it means for the life of the Christian. For the Christian, it should mean great joy. Go ahead, meditate on the resurrection for awhile. You’ll be glad you did! It is the basis upon which you have new life in Christ!

February – D. A. Carson, Scandalous: The Cross and Resurrection of Jesus

This helpful little book from a master scholar-theologian with a pastor’s heart is just what the church needs today. So many of our issues that we focus upon are secondary if not tertiary in nature. All too often we forget to focus on the primary things. And nothing is more primary than the death and resurrection of Jesus. Our whole faith resides in it. And the real scandalous nature of it all is so profound that what it means for the life of the believer is just as profound. God became man to die for you and rose again to give you new life. Is there any better news than that?

March – Mark Driscoll and Gary Breshears, Doctrine: What Christians Should Believe

You’ve got to give the big guy from Seattle some credit. He gets people to read books on important subjects that would never have read them on their own. The unlikely combination of Driscoll and Breshears though helpfully guides people into reading and understanding theology. Theology was never meant to be solely the realm of scholars but of the people in the pew as well. Driscoll’s popular style buttressed by Breshears’ acumen are a helpful combination. Driscoll sometimes paints things a little too “vividly” should we say, but overall, it is a helpful volume.

April – Paul David Tripp, What Did You Expect? Redeeming the Realities of Marriage

The one reality is, marriage isn’t easy. Anyone who tells you otherwise is lying. Paul Tripp though does an excellent job of presenting the potential issues and redemptive solutions for marriage. Anything by Tripp and his fellow CCEF fellows should be ready by all, especially those in the ministry. The key help in this volume is that Tripp acknowledges from the outset that marriages that do not completely rest on Christ are doomed to fail. Two sinners joined together are bound to create problems! The solutions for a transformed marriage as resting in the redemptive work of Christ is refreshing.

May – Tullian Tchividjian, Surprised by Grace: God’s Relentless Pursuit of Rebels

Taking the book of Jonah as the basis for this work (the substance of preaching through Jonah), Tchividian does a masterful job of showing the great grace that is available through Jesus Christ for the rebellious. All of us, like Jonah, rebel and run from the master. Grace is available to us and to others from Him who is always gracious. Be challenged and encouraged through this good word!

June – Grant Horner, Meaning at the Movies: Becoming a Discerning Reviewer

Come on admit it. You watch movies like the rest of us. The problem is, most of us watch them without a thought in our heads. Or we expect someone else to spoon feed us what we should see or what we shouldn’t see. The biggest problem with our churches today is people don’t know how to discern and frankly, pastors are helping the problem by not teaching them! Instead of a list of dos and don’ts, lets actually learn how to discern right from wrong. Horner does that with movies. Not satisfied in glib “yes or no’s” he teaches us the principles of discernment so we will have the tools to know what to put before our eyes, and what not to!


Fred Zaspel Interview on his New Warfield Book

September 20, 2010

I consider Fred Zaspel a good friend. I first met Fred when I was working for Toronto Baptist Seminary and I came down to his previous church for their missions conference. There I met a solid thinker, caring pastor, rigorous scholar, and excellent preacher. There I also met my wife because Fred served as a little bit of a matchmaker and set me up with my wife who was one of his members. For this I will ever be indebted to Fred. Fred performed our wedding ceremony and has always been a wealth of help for me in the pastorate. He graciously took time to answer some questions I had for him about his new book, The Theology of B. B. Warfield: A Systematic Study from Crossway Books.

1) What made you first decide to pursue Warfield as someone to study?

I have read “here and there” of Warfield since my undergraduate days in the late 70s. I was deeply impressed by his massive learning, his cogent thinking, his theological insight, his exegetical skill – and all this matched by a heart that was contagiously fervent for Christ. And his understanding of Christianity as a specifically “redemptive religion” was enormously impressive, and Warfield helped shape my mind with a gospel focus.

Then in late 2000 or early 2001 I was encouraged by my wife and another friend to pursue doctoral studies, and when I began to consider it, Warfield was (I think) the first to come to mind. By then I had come to realize that Warfield had never been studied “whole.” Of course much had been written of his doctrine of inspiration, but little else of Warfield’s works had received attention. To produce a holistic study of Warfield was a work I genuinely wanted to do – and enjoyed every step of it!

2) What do you see as the main contributions that Warfield made to theology?

Certainly the doctrine of inspiration must head this list. In all the writing that has been done since Warfield, little new has been added. His work – probably more than a thousand published pages – was the high-water mark, and this is recognized by all sides. In the same sense that Luther is the theologian of the doctrine of justification, Warfield is the theologian of the doctrine of inspiration.

What is surprising to many, even though his work on inspiration was so enormous, his work in Christology was more extensive still. He was first and foremost a Christologian, and in the hey-day of kenoticism he stood as the most outstanding champion of historic Christology, providing a massive exegetical foundation and exposition of the deity and two natures of our Lord. And although I’m not sure I can agree with every jot and tittle of it, his work on the Trinity is wonderfully rewarding and deserves much more exposure.

3) Why do you think Warfield is as neglected as he is in modern theology?

I don’t know that I can say for certain. He is still referenced and quoted with commanding authority, of course, but outside the doctrine of inspiration he has not been the subject of extensive study. Perhaps the sheer volume of material is daunting to many. And “old dead guys” are sometimes forgotten for a while only to be studied again later – it’s still not quite ninety years since his death. But I can’t imagine anyone who would not acknowledge that he deserves the attention, and there is a resurgence of interest in Warfield now – the timing of my work was very good, I guess.

4) Can you briefly explain why so many assume Warfield taught an evolutionary position while your research seems to prove otherwise?

I’m sure for many it is just an uncritical acceptance of the standard line, an often-repeated (mis)representation of Warfield that has become canonical. And I’m pretty well convinced that some I’ve known simply wanted Warfield on the theistic evolutionary side. But in fairness I suppose part of the “blame” lies with Warfield himself. He was open to the theoretical possibility of evolution and said so, and his understanding of Calvin as teaching an evolutionary doctrine of creation can certainly leave that impression. But even so, in all his writings on evolution Warfield’s remarks, in the main, are negative and often very critical – sometimes even mocking. And in his evolution lecture he explicitly says that there is just not enough evidence for it. And in several reviews he commends those who condemn it. I really don’t think the evidence I’ve given is all that difficult, even if it does seem novel.

5) What other areas of Warfield studies need to be pursued?

Christology, the person and work of Christ. Very little Warfield study has been done here, and there is a treasure waiting for someone to mine! Also, for Presbyterians interested in their own history, a fruitful study of the Confession controversy awaits – Warfield wrote extensively on this, and the great bulk of it was never republished. No one has ever picked this up. I’ve provided a bibliography of this in chapter one of my book.

6) What other resources on Warfield and his theology would you recommend?

Gary Johnson’s edited work, B. B. Warfield: Essays on His Life and Thought, is a great place to start – the biographical chapters by Brad Gunlach are especially enjoyable. And Paul Helseth’s forthcoming Right Reason (P&R) is an excellent study of Warfield’s apologetic. David Smith has a very good study of Warfield’s apologetic coming out shortly also (Wipf & Stock). But even better, start reading Warfield himself. His two volumes of Selected Shorter Writings (P&R) are a great place to begin.

7) What are the main benefits for busy pastors to study Warfield?

8) How has Warfield and his theology helped you in your ministry? What did you learn from him that affected how you serve as a pastor?

I’ll answer these two questions together. Warfield has enriched my own understanding of Scripture and theology wonderfully. I cannot imagine anyone who would not benefit greatly from studying Warfield. His keen exegetical skills are masterful, his theological insights are profound and clear, and his gospel-centeredness is both model and contagious. The man had faults, and he was not always right. But it is not hero-worship to recognize the giant that he was in all these ways.

9) As a pastor who pursued a Ph.D. (of which we know this book is the substance of) would you recommend the pursuit for other pastors? What advice would you give pastors pursuing academic Ph.D.’s?

It depends on the person and his own goals. In my own case, I did not want a Ph.D. badly enough to have to drudge through an un-rewarding course of study for extended years. But this (Warfield) was a work I wanted to do in any case, and pursuing it on this level refined and enriched my theological understanding considerably. It was a work that benefitted me in ministry many times over. In general, I think that is the determining factor. Most pastors will never need or want a Ph.D., many cannot afford the time, and many are simply gifted otherwise. But if you have the ambitions for scholarly research, and if you can find a course of study that is not overly-narrow and that will enrich your ministry, then it may well be something you should pursue.

10) Do you have plans to write or teach more on Warfield and his thinking? Now that the book is done, what are your plans?

Yes, I am currently writing my second Warfield title, In Light of the Gospel: B. B. Warfield on the Christian Life, which I trust will be released sometime next year. And I have several other ideas, but we shall see.


July… August… September Winners!

September 9, 2010

Sorry everyone! As you can see I am behind with the 2010 Crossway Book Giveawy here at the blog. Lots of things going on in life and ministry but it’s no excuse to not getting you the best in books from Crossway!

So, without further adieu, here are the winners for July, August, and September.

July’s winner is Austin Hoffman. He wins a copy of D. A. Carson’s Collected Writings on Scripture.

August’s winner is Jason at PastoralMusings.com. He wins a copy of Fred Sanders’ The Deep Things of God.

September’s winner is Jenna Kim. She win’s a copy of John Piper’s Think.

Austin, Jason, and Jenna, e-mail me your mailing addresses so I can have Crossway send you copies. Please e-mail me at allen [dot] mickle [dot] jr [at] gmail [dot] com.

Look forward to our October giveaway! For the next month you can look forward to receiving a copy of Entrusted with the Gospel edited by D. A. Carson.

Still not entered in the contest? There’s still time! Enter at the link below!