Review: Acts (EP Study Commentary)

Waters, Guy Prentiss. “Acts: EP Study Commentary,” Evangelical Press, Watchmead, UK: 2014. 614 pp. $44.99

Thanks to Cross Focused Reviews, I’ve had the opportunity to review another book. This time around, to my delight, it is a commentary. I own a few commentaries on Acts, so I was curious to see what this one might offer. The EPSC is a solid series that boasts a handful of renowned scholars and theologians, and it seems that it just keeps getting better. Guy Prentiss Waters’ volume on Acts is a welcome addition.

                                                                               The author dedicates this book to Richard Gaffin (author of “Perspectives on Pentecost”) and relies heavily on commentators such as F.F. Bruce and John Stott, which are good indicators as to where he is coming from. Waters is a confessional Presbyterian (a teaching elder in the PCA) and Professor of New Testament at Reformed Theological Seminary, which are appealing credentials.

The commentary begins with a useful outline and introduction that includes information about the author, date, title, genre, and purpose. Waters breaks the commentary up into 18 chapters, focusing on “a geographical progression—Jerusalem; Judea and Samaria; the end of the earth,” including a supporting role of Jewish and Gentile missions as documented by the respective ministries of the apostles Peter and Paul (pp. 22–23). This is helpful for the reader because it orients the narrative in salvation history—which is crucial for proper interpretation of the book of Acts.

One of things I appreciate the most about this commentary is the “Application”  at the end of each chapter. Waters uses these sections to drive home the practical aspect of the narrative. This is where we catch a glimpse of the authors’ pastoral heart. Though it is clear he has done the heavy exegetical work for the reader, he doesn’t bog the audience down with the intricacies of his scholarship. What we do see is the fruit of a masterful expositor rightly dividing the word of truth.

I would happily recommend this commentary to anyone who has the task of teaching the word of God, or even the lay person who just wants to dig deeper. A commentary on Acts written from a confessionally Reformed perspective is a great benefit to the Church, and Guy Waters’ volume in the EPSC holds a respectful position in the ever-increasing archive of biblical commentaries.

Recommended reading:

Effective December 1, 2009, Federal Trade Commission guidelines state that bloggers receiving any kind of compensation should disclose that information clearly on their blog when posting a review of the product… that being said: I RECEIVED A FREE COPY OF THE BOOK.

Review: China’s Reforming Chuches

120Baugus, Bruce P. “China’s Reforming Churches: Mission, Polity, and Ministry in the Next Christendom,” Reformation Heritage Books, Grand Rapids, MI: 2014. 320 pp. $20.00

As a relatively sheltered westerner with no missionary experience, I can safely say that my knowledge of Christianity in foreign contexts is extremely limited. Although I have read books and watched DVD’s on missions that have improved my understanding of global Christianity, there are still historical-cultural realities that are beyond my grasp. My perspective on Chinese Christianity, as this book informed me, has been quite skewed and I’ve been guilty of constructing  a naive caricature of the Church in China.

I am very grateful to Cross Focused Reviews for opportunity to review this book—it is an encouraging, and eye-opening read that has helped me to better understand and appreciate global Christianity. What this book offers is an orientation to the history of Christianity in the south Pacific, the presence of Presbyterian and Reformed churches in China today, and the shape of things to come with regard to Reformed/Presbyterianism in the far east.

In this book, you’ll find fascinating stories of missionary bravery as well as major mistakes that have occurred in the history of missions in China. You’ll learn about the sociopolitical issues throughout China’s history and how the gospel mission has been advanced and hindered. You’ll read of the great similarities between the Church in the west and east—the rise of postmodernism and the challenges of materialism in a post-industrial world.

Perhaps the most compelling section of the book is Part 3, in which the authors take a look at the challenges and opportunities for Presbyterianism in China. Here, readers will read of the multitude of social issues that pose difficulties for gospel ministry and the dichotomous relationship between the state-registered TSPM (Three-Self Patriotic Movement) churches and unregistered house churches. The section closes with an essay in which David VanDrunen offers a two-kingdoms approach to ministry in China (which is sure to cause a bit of a stir), and Guy Prentiss Waters offers an argument for global Presbyterian polity from Acts 15.

The book concludes by looking at the opportunity for Christian publishing in China, a report on Chinese theological education, and the indigenization (the use of Chinese language) and contextualization of the Reformed faith in the Chinese culture. The appendix includes Robert Morrison’s (the first Protestant missionary to arrive on Chinese soil) 19th century catechism that is based upon the Westminster Shorter Catechism of 1647.

Regardless of one’s views of soteriology or ecclesiology, this book should prove to be an encouragement for those interested in the gospel mission in China—which should be all who name Christ as their Savior. Baugus’ “China’s Reforming Churches” provides a captivating look into the past, present, and future of the gospel mission in China, which helps Christians understand the global impact of the gospel so they can minister effectively to those they come into contact with.

Recommended reading:

Effective December 1, 2009, Federal Trade Commission guidelines state that bloggers receiving any kind of compensation should disclose that information clearly on their blog when posting a review of the product… that being said: I RECEIVED A FREE COPY OF THE BOOK.

Notable & Newsworthy

Here are the links and stories for the day…

Get Geerhardus Vos’ “Redemptive History and Biblical Theology: The Shorter Writings of Geerhardus Vos” and “Biblical Theology: Old and New Testaments” for 43% OFF at Westminster Bookstore

Download R.C. Sproul’s “5 Things Every Christian Needs to Grow” for FREE from Reformation Trust and Ligonier Ministries

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Get Walter Brueggemann’s “Spirituality of the Psalms” for FREE for Logos Bible Software and enter to win the 24-volume collection

Enter to win a subscription to Leadership Journal from The Brave Reviews

“Nothing so clearly discovers a spiritual man as his treatment of an erring brother.” (Augustine)

“Scripture has the power to take the simple-minded and make them skilled for every aspect of life.” (John MacArthur)

Please take some time to browse the other pages on this site (located in the tabs above). You’ll find several articles, FREE e-books, and book recommendations for your edification. Check out the Exegetical Theology page or Pastoral Theology page first. Thanks!

Notable & Newsworthy

Here are the links and stories for the day…

Get Geerhardus Vos’ “Redemptive History and Biblical Theology: The Shorter Writings of Geerhardus Vos” and “Biblical Theology: Old and New Testaments” for 43% OFF at Westminster Bookstore

Get William Edgar’s “A Transforming Vision: The Lord’s Prayer as a Lens for Life” for up to 67% OFF at Westminster Bookstore

Download R.C. Sproul’s “5 Things Every Christian Needs to Grow” for FREE from Reformation Trust and Ligonier Ministries

Enter to win The Complete Sermon Collection of Charles Spurgeon (63-Volumes) for Logos Bible Software from Adrian Warnock

Get Russell Moore’s “Same-Sex Marriage and the Future” for FREE from the ERLC

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Get Walter Brueggemann’s “Spirituality of the Psalms” for FREE for Logos Bible Software and enter to win the 24-volume collection

Enter to win a subscription to Leadership Journal from The Brave Reviews

Ed Stetzer with 3 ways to avoid feeling attacked by criticism

J.V. Fesko with a biblical and historical answer to the question, “Is the Pope the Antichrist?”

“Through our wretched apostasy from God, our mind is become the seat and habitation of all vanity, disorder and confusion.” (John Owen)

“If faith wavers, charity itself languishes. And if someone should fall from faith, it follows that he falls also from charity, for a man cannot love that which he does not believe to exist.” (Augustine)

Please visit the other pages on this site (listed above in the tabs) for more information. There are book recommendations and articles on a wide variety of topics across the various disciplines (Exegetical Theology, Pastoral Theology, etc.)—enjoy!

Review: Worshipping with Calvin

Johnson, Terry L. “Worshipping with Calvin: Recovering the Historic Ministry and Worship of Reformed Protestantism,” Darlington, England: 2014. 460 pp. $23.99

The recent resurgence of Calvinistic soteriology and Reformation theology has sparked many a conversation and produced quite a few popular-level books by the “Young, Restless, and Reformed” crowd. Although we’ve seen many responses to these works, typically addressing the theology and general ideology of the New Calvinism movement, Terry Johnson sets out to provide a scholarly work that focuses on the elements of Reformed worship.

In “Worshipping with Calvin,” Johnson presents extensive biblical and historical arguments for how a local church should conduct its worship services. He begins by looking at the contemporary evangelical landscape and the unfortunate historical and theological anemia that plagues it. After offering a comparison between the early Church and the current state of the western Church, and giving a brief historical survey of the 20th century “worship wars,” he provides strong exegetical, historical, and theological arguments in favor of a decidedly Reformed approach to worship and ministry.

Next, the author emphasizes the strengths of Reformed worship and ministry. He contends that this particular approach to liturgy is God-centered, Bible-filled, Gospel-structured, Church-aware, and Spirit-dependent.

This book was a great encouragement to me. I am in agreement with much of what is said within, but there are several arguments that the author gives that either changed my mind or solidified an existing position. For instance, Johnson has convinced me of the use of lectio continua (consecutive reading) Bible readings and singing Psalms in corporate worship. While previously, I have utilized lectio selecta (selective reading) Scripture readings to “reinforce” the passage preached, the author has convinced me of the wisdom in implementing a continuous reading of both the Old and New Testaments. Furthermore, while I have understood the importance of the Psalms for corporate worship, this book has convinced me of their necessity. Without dogmatically promoting a strict Psalms-only liturgical model, the author insists the inclusion of the Psalter and has convinced me that it is necessary to regularly and consistently involve Psalms in a worship service.

As a Reformed Baptist, I am in disagreement with the author’s views with regard to Covenant Theology and the sacrament of baptism (it is unfortunate that his treatment of credobaptism in chapter 6 only addresses the 16th century Anabaptists and not the 17th century Particular Baptists—though I acknowledge the book’s emphasis on John Calvin and the potential for anachronism), and while I have reservations with Johnson’s observations about ethnicity, his research is top-notch. Regardless of any covenantal differences I may have with Johnson, I strongly agree with the over-arching theme of this book—that our worship should be prescribed by Scripture and rooted in the historicity of the Church (and particularly that of the Reformation period). The cultural trends and encroachment of worldliness in contemporary American Christianity have spurned a new downgrade in the liturgical life of the Church, and my hope is that books like this will precipitate a doxological reformation in local evangelical churches.

Although this is a book primarily aimed at Presbyterians, I would recommend this book to any one who claims to be a Protestant Christian—particularly Pastors and Elders. Johnson offers a cogent exhortation for modern Christians to compare their liturgy with Scripture and Church history. He provides an abundance of Scriptural references, and quotes a multitude of well-known Pastors, theologians, and church historians (around 37% of the book is comprised of a bibliography and notes) to support his position. Terry Johnson’s “Worshipping with Calvin” is a helpful resource for Christians who want to glorify God in worship according to His Word.

For more on this subject, please visit the Historical Theology page.

Recommended reading:

Effective December 1, 2009, Federal Trade Commission guidelines state that bloggers receiving any kind of compensation should disclose that information clearly on their blog when posting a review of the product… that being said: I RECEIVED A FREE COPY OF THE BOOK.

Notable & Newsworthy

Here are the links and stories of the day…

Get Bobby Jamieson’s “Sound Doctrine: How a Church Grows in the Love and Holiness of God” for 50% OFF at Westminster Bookstore

Enter to win a stack of books by Russell Moore, Daniel Darling, Trillia Newbell, John Piper, and Mez McConnell from ERLC and 20 Schemes

Enter to win Michael Reeves’ “The Unquenchable Flame: Discovering the Heart of the Reformation” from B&H Academic

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Get Timothy Paul Jones’ “Christian History Made Easy” for just $3.03 for Amazon Kindle

Albert Mohler on the call to ministry

Help Reformed Forum with their Christian education initiative

14 common logical fallacies that keep showing up in bad arguments

Developing a great relationship with your Senior Pastor

Joshua Harris of Covenant Life (Sovereign Grace Ministries) requests leave of absence following conviction of former staff member

The local church is the chosen and best method of evangelism

“Faith is the root. Assurance is the flower. You can never have the flower without the root; but you may have the root without the flower.” (J.C. Ryle)

“There are those who seek knowledge for the sake of knowledge; that is curiosity. There are those who seek knowledge to be known by others; that is vanity. There are those who seek knowledge in order to serve; that is love.” (Bernard of Clairvaux)

Please take some time to browse the other pages on this site. There are several articles, book recommendations, and FREE e-books for your encouragement and edification. Check out the Historical Theology page or Biblical Theology page first… enjoy!

Sale: Christian Biographies

Westminster Bookstore has the 7 volume “Christian Biographies for Young Readers” series by Simonetta Carr (Reformation Heritage Books) on sale for 50% OFF (individual volumes are on sale for 45% OFF). These are excellent Church History resources for children and adults alike—and a great series for use in discipleship and homeschooling. Click the images or links below…

7 Volume Christian Biographies for Young Readers Set (50% OFF)
(Anselm and John Knox biographies are not shown in above image)

Lady Jane Grey (45% OFF)

Athanasius (45% OFF)

John Owen (45% OFF)

Augustine (45% OFF)

John Calvin (45% OFF)

Anselm (45% OFF)

John Knox (45% OFF)

You can also check out the promotional video here:

Read my review of Simonetta’s “Anselm of Canterbury” and be on the look out for my review of the latest volume in the series, “John Knox.”

Recommended reading:

 

Canon Facts

Michael Kruger has provided a series on the New Testament canon at his site Canon Fodder. The series is entitled, Ten Basic Facts about the NT Canon that Every Christian Should Memorize. I have provided excerpts from each article below:

1. The NT books are the earliest Christian writings we possess.

“They are the earliest Christian writings we possess and thus bring us the closest to the historical Jesus and to the earliest church. If we want to find out what authentic Christianity was really like, then we should rely on the writings that are the nearest to that time period.”

2. Apocryphal writings are from the second century or later.

“Not only are all New Testament writings from the first century, but all apocryphal writings (at least the ones that are extant) are from the second century or later. And many are from the third or fourth century… apocryphal writings constitute an interesting and fascinating source for the study of early Christianity. But, largely due to their late date, they do not offer a more compelling version of Christianity than the New Testament writings themselves.”

3. The NT books are unique—they are apostolic.

“One of the most basic facts about the New Testament canon that all Christians should understand is that the canon is intimately connected to the activities of the apostles… the apostles had the very authority of Christ himself. They were his mouthpiece. As such, their teachings, along with the prophets, were the very foundation of the church… If the church wanted to know the true Christian message, they would always need to look back to the teaching of the apostles… The books that the church regarded as apostolic were the books that were read, copied, and used most often in early Christian worship. These are the books that eventually became the New Testament canon. The canon is the byproduct of the ministry of the apostles.”

4. Some NT writers quote other NT authors and refer to it as Scripture.

“If the NT writers were citing other NT writers as Scripture, then that suggests the canon was not a later ecclesiastical development, but something early and innate to the early Christian faith.”

5. The four gospels are well established by the end of the second century.

“‘It is not possible that the gospels can be either more or fewer than the number they are…’ (Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons). Here Irenaeus not only affirms the canonicity the four gospels, but is keen to point out that only these four gospels are recognized by the church.”

6. At the end of the second century, the Muratorian Fragment lists 22 of 27 NT books.

“One of the key data points in any discussion of canon is something called the Muratorian fragment (also known as the Muratorian canon). This fragment, named after its discoverer Ludovico Antonio Muratori, contains our earliest list of the books in the New Testament. While the fragment itself dates from the 7th or 8th century, the list it contains was originally written in Greek and dates back to the end of the second century (ca.180)… the Muratorian fragment affirms 22 of the 27 books of the New Testament. These include the four Gospels, Acts, all 13 epistles of Paul, Jude, 1 John, 2 John (and possibly 3rd John), and Revelation. This means that at a remarkably early point (end of the second century), the central core of the New Testament canon was already established and in place.”

7. Early Christians often used non-canonical writings.

“It is important to note that while Christians often cited and used non-canonical literature, they only rarely cited them as Scripture. For the most part, Christians were simply using these books as helpful, illuminating, or edifying writings. This is not all that different than practices in our modern day.”

8. The NT canon was not decided at Nicea—nor any other Church council.

“The Council of Nicea had nothing to do with the formation of the New Testament canon (nor did Constantine). Nicea was concerned with how Christians should articulate their beliefs about the divinity of Jesus. Thus, it was the birthplace of the Nicean creed… councils did not create, authorize, or determine the canon. They simply were part of the process of recognizing a canon that was already there… The shape of our New Testament canon was not determined by a vote or by a council, but by a broad and ancient consensus… the canon is not just a man-made construct. It was not the result of a power play brokered by rich cultural elites in some smoke filled room. It was the result of many years of God’s people reading, using, and responding to these books.”

9. Christians have disagreed about the canonicity of some NT books.

“God, for his own providential reasons, chose to deliver the canon through normal historical circumstances. And historical circumstances are not always smooth… these disagreements amongst Christians are sometimes used as an argument against the validity of the 27-book canon we know today… God sometimes uses normal historical processes to accomplish his ends. And those historical processes are not always neat and tidy. But, this should not detract from the reality that the ends are still God’s.”

10. Early Christians believed that canonical books were self-authenticating.

“It is interesting to note that the early church fathers, while agreeing that apostolicity and church-reception are fundamentally important, also appealed to another factor that is often overlooked in modern studies. They appealed to the internal qualities of these books… they argued that these books bore certain attributes that distinguished them as being from God… the early church fathers believed that evidence for the canonicity of books can be found in the books themselves. In other words, canonical books are self-authenticating… In the end, the church fathers teach us a very important truth. The NT canon we possess today is not due to the machinations of later church leaders, or to the political influence of Constantine, but due to the fact that these books imposed themselves on the church through their internal qualities.”

For the entire series, check out Canon Fodder.

For more on this subject, please visit the Exegetical Theology page.

 

Recommended reading:

A Reader’s Review of “Prepared by Grace for Grace”

The kind people at Cross Focused Media have asked me to do another book review. I am grateful for the pulpit and pen ministry of Joel Beeke, so I jumped at the opportunity to read and review “Prepared by Grace, for Grace: The Puritans on God’s Ordinary Way of Leading Sinners to Christ”, which is co-authored with Paul Smalley. I must admit that I had no prior knowledge about the Puritan doctrine of “preparation” before encountering this book, so I was a bit intimidated knowing I would have to review it.

The concept of “preparation” is summed up in the subtitle: “God’s ordinary way of leading Sinners to Christ”. In other words, preparation is the means God uses to draw sinners to Himself prior to regeneration and faith. The authors of this book aim to defend the Puritan practice of preparation from those who argue that it is a departure from the theology of the Reformers.

The book consists of fourteen chapters, wherein Beeke and Smalley take the reader on a historical and theological tour of notable Puritan preparatory proponents. It begins by presenting the contemporary challenges to preparation in modern scholarship, which are claims the authors seek to undo throughout the rest of the book. Next, we read about the “Precedents to Puritan Preparation”… the men who paved the way for puritan theology (Augustine, Luther, Calvin). From here, we learn of a number Puritans who, while teaching the doctrine of preparation, maintain the sovereignty of God in salvation and monergistic regeneration. The authors clearly show that they have done the necessary work with primary source material and take pains to refute the claims of modern scholars. The Puritans featured in the book clearly held to the God-centered orthodoxy of Reformed soteriology while keeping in tension the truth of man’s responsibility.

The Puritans featured in this book are:

William Perkins (1558–1602)

Richard Sibbes (1577–1635)

John Preston (1587–1628)

William Ames (1576–1633)

Thomas Hooker (1586–1647)

Thomas Shepard (1605–1649)

William Pemble (1591–1623)

John Cotton (1585–1652)

Jeremiah Burroughs (1600–1646)

William Guthrie (1620–1665)

John Norton (1606–1663)

Thomas Goodwin (1600–1680)

Giles Firmin (1614–1697)

John Flavel (1627–1691)

John Bunyan (1628–1688)

Jonathan Edwards (1703–1758)

After presenting a long trail of evidence supporting the consistency between the preparatory theology of the magisterial reformers and that of the Puritans, the authors then compare Puritan preparation with the doctrine of the “continental divines” (some of them also belonging to the “magisterial” group): Ulrich Zwingli (1484–1531); Heinrich Bullinger (1504–1575); Theodore Beza (1519–1605); Peter van Mastricht (1630–1706); Zacharias Ursinus (1534–1583); Francis Turretin (1623–1687); WIlhelmus à Brakel (1635–1711); Herman Witsius (1636–1708); and Arthur Dent (1553–1607). Beeke and Smalley show repeatedly that the ordinary means of preparing sinners for salvation (i.e. the preaching of the Law) is a practice that the entire Reformed tradition has in common.

The book closes with a reprise of the contemporary criticism of Puritan preparation and the summation of the investigative work of the authors to refute such claims. They point out that while some Puritan concepts with regard to preparation were erroneous (for instance, Thomas Shepard and Thomas Hooker taught that one must necessarily be content with being damned prior to conversion, which many in the Reformed tradition rightfully deny), the majority views amongst those who hold to the ordinary means of preaching the Law with a view toward preparatory humiliation are consistent with Reformed theology and practice. The appendix contains William Ames’ “Praeparatione Peccatoris ad Conversionem” (On the Preparation of the Sinner for Conversion).

While this book is not necessarily a leisurely read and therefore one that I would broadly recommend, it would nonetheless benefit a great number and variety of people if they were to read it. For the preacher, teacher, and evangelist, it presses upon them the importance of preaching the Law as the necessary means of God in bringing about conviction in the sinner. This book would also be especially valuable to those who have been recently convinced of the truth of Reformed theology. Often times when one is confronted with biblical doctrines such as predestination, election, and monergistic regeneration, they experience a brand of zeal commonly referred to as “the cage stage” (in which they are overcome with a strong urge to vehemently proclaim these grand truths to anyone and everyone with little tact or wisdom). This book, when read with discernment, reminds the reader of the responsibility of man within the framework of God’s sovereignty in salvation. We must remember that the Law is the pedagogical means in which God drives men to His Gospel and He employs men to preach this Law in the power of the Holy Spirit, so that the Spirit may give new life and grant repentance and faith in them. While God is sovereign in His electing grace, it is our responsibility to preach the Law and Gospel to all and rely on the effectual work of the Holy Spirit to regenerate those who are predestined for salvation. The authors do a masterful job of maintaining the balance (for a lack of a better word) of God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility while refuting the claims of critics who say that the Puritan doctrine of preparation is antithetical to Reformation theology.

For more on this subject, visit Meet the Puritans.

Recommended reading:

Effective December 1, 2009, Federal Trade Commission guidelines state that bloggers receiving any kind of compensation should disclose that information clearly on their blog when posting a review of the product… that being said: I RECEIVED A FREE COPY OF THE BOOK.

 

Sola Scriptura and the Early Church

SOLA SCRIPTURA AND THE EARLY CHURCH

“Sola Scriptura is the teaching and belief that there is only one special revelation from God that man possesses today, the written Scriptures or the Bible, and that consequently the Scriptures are materially sufficient and are by their very nature as being inspired by God the ultimate authority for the Church. This means that there is no portion of that revelation which has been preserved in the form of oral tradition independent of Scripture.” (William Webster)

For more on the subject, visit the Historical Theology page.

Recommended reading: