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: 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.

Review: Gospel Assurance and Warnings

The latest volume in the Recovering the Gospel series, “Gospel Assurance and Warnings,” has been published and follows “The Gospel’s Power and Message” and “The Gospel Call and True Conversion” (read my review here) in the attempt to clear up misconceptions and boldly proclaim some of the essentials of the Christian faith. Paul Washer aims to present Biblical truth as taught by faithful men throughout the historic Protestant tradition while unraveling many of the popular, but erroneous teachings that have crept into American evangelicalism. Thanks to Cross Focused Reviews for providing me with the opportunity to review Washer’s newest book.

“Gospel Assurance and Warnings” is a decent sized book (around 250 pages) that is composed of two sections. The first section is on Biblical Assurance and part two is on Gospel Warnings.

In the first two chapters, Washer writes about the false assurance of empty professors and the necessity of self-examination in the life of a Christian. The remaining chapters of the first section are essentially an exposition of the apostle John’s first epistle and covers the biblical evidence of conversion such as confession and repentance of sin (pp. 29–39), keeping God’s commandments (pp. 41–50), purification (pp. 105–114), and practicing righteousness (pp. 115–125).

The second half starts off with the claim that the modern “gospel” has been reduced to a shell of redemptive truth and provides the sobering truth that many professing Christians in the West are self-deceived due to false assurance. Whether they have prayed “the sinner’s prayer” or walked an aisle or received some kind of pastoral confirmation of conversion, Washer points out that these relatively recent inventions are not biblical representations or the doctrines of regeneration and conversion. The last three chapters of the book are an exposition of Jesus’ strong words in Matthew 7; Washer elaborates on the small gate (pp. 167–188), the narrow way (pp. 189–211), the evidence of gospel transformation (pp. 213–225), and the dangers of a false profession (pp. 228–252).

The book closes with an incredible quote by Charles Spurgeon urging us to be about our Father’s business: “If sinners will be damned, at least let them leap to hell over our bodies. And if they will perish, let them perish with our arms about their knees, imploring them to stay. If Hell must be filled, at least let it be filled in the teeth of our exertions, and let not one go there unwarned and unprayed for.” (p. 252)

I enjoyed much of this book, and as someone who is familiar with the pulpit ministry of Brother Washer, I have benefited from a lot of the content within by listening to his sermons. Anyone who has been blessed by the preaching of Paul Washer will be encouraged by “Gospel Assurance and Warnings,” and they will inevitably note familiarity and similarities between his sermons and the book. His bold stance against “decisional” regeneration, the “sinner’s prayer”, and “easy-believism” is to be commended in an era of theological compromise and downgrade. There are many people who would benefit greatly from the counsel and correction in this book.

While I agree with pretty much everything said by the author and applaud him for his thoroughly Scriptural exposé of American Evangelicalism, there are a few things that bothered me about the book. First of all, it is somewhat repetitive. To be fair, there is a lot of repetition in the apostle’s letter, and while it is a good way to drive things home and secure them in the memory banks of the reader, the author’s thoughts sound more like echoes of lament rather than didactic reinforcement. As true and important as his sentiments may be, I believe Brother Paul’s points came across loud and clear, and his book could have been shorter without sacrificing essential content.

Secondly, there seemed to be more “warning” than “assurance” in the first section of the book. Sure, topics like “false assurance” and “self-examination” require cautionary measures and must be discussed in a book like this, but even Washer’s exposition of John’s first epistle reads more like a way to tell if someone is a false convert. While this information is undoubtedly helpful, and while John’s epistle has it’s share of warnings, the purpose of his letter was to assure believers that they were recipients of eternal life. With that in mind, I thought this first section of the book did more to reinforce my thoughts about problems in evangelicalism and the rampant theological errors (and possible empty professions) perpetrated by many who claim faith in Christ. This section does focus on assurance, but it seemed to be eclipsed by the exposure of error in contemporary evangelicalism. I understand that the purpose of this book as a whole is different than that of 1 John, but I felt Washer could have been more pastoral in the “assurance” section.

Lastly, I was not impressed with the way it was ordered. I think the publisher could have done a better job with the layout. It seems that if the book sections were reversed, it would have been a better book. I know that sounds like a petty complaint, and it certainly is a minor detail that does not affect the content (definitely a matter of preference that would not cause me to demerit the book), but it is my opinion that the book would have greater efficacy in driving home the main point.

While my review may sound overly critical (which is quite possible), I am thankful for this book and would recommend it to a number of people. It would be rather difficult to recommend it to the self-deceived false converts that the book exposes, but they would surely be the people who need it the most. I would surely recommend this to pastors and preachers. Those who are already laboring to make the truths in this book known will be encouraged and those who need to apply these truths in their ministry will be challenged and hopefully convicted. The author does an excellent job of addressing downgrade in contemporary evangelicalism and puts his finger on those areas of greatest concern with the hope of revival in the churches and recovery of the biblical gospel.

For more on this subject, please visit Monergism.

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: Salvation by Crucifixion

This season is a time for renewal. People everywhere rejoice as the gloom and chill of winter gives way to the warmth and freshness of spring. There is no question that this annual climate change has been orchestrated by God to be a creative parable for redemption. For instance, Richard Sibbes, the great 16th and 17th century Puritan theologian, once said: “As the winter prepares the earth for the spring, so do afflictions sanctified prepare the soul for glory.” It is no wonder, to us who celebrate Resurrection Day, that death and resurrection also apply metaphorically.

Philip Graham Ryken’s latest book, “Salvation by Crucifixion” (Christian Focus Publications), has arrived just in time for Easter and I have the privilege of reviewing it for Cross Focused Reviews. This short book is based on a series of evangelistic sermons given at Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, PA. Ryken and the late James Montgomery Boice revived an old tradition of preaching during the lunch hour in the weeks leading up to Resurrection Day, and this book is the fruit of that ministry.

The books consists of seven chapters, which are sermons on the cross of Christ. Each sermon explains a characteristic or result of the crucifixion of Jesus. Ryken seeks to show the reader why “the crucifixion of Jesus Christ is the most important event in human history.” (p. 13)

In the first chapter, the author tells us of the necessity of the cross—that it was necessary to fulfill God’s plan, pay for sin, and to save sinners. Chapter two speaks of the “offense” of the cross. It was an abomination to the Romans and a curse to the Jews, but it is also insulting to any “moral” person. (pp. 35–37) “The Peace of the Cross” is the title of the next chapter. Here, Ryken writes of the enmity between humanity and God and the reconciliation that Christ has provided in His cross-work.  The fourth chapter is similar to the second, in that the shame of the cross (Heb. 12:2) is closely related to its foolishness (1 Cor. 1:18). The author spells out the power and wisdom of God in the saving cross of Christ. Chapter five is probably my favorite exposition in the book. Entitled “The Triumph of the Cross,” it speaks of the debt acquired by our sin and its cancellation upon the cross. Jesus “disarmed the powers and authorities [and]… made  a public spectacle of them,” (Col. 2:15) which has wrought victory over death for those united with Christ. In the sixth chapter, Ryken shows us the humiliation of Christ in His incarnation and (active/passive) obedience. He was humble in life and even unto death—by willingly being nailed to a vile cross in obedience! The reader can’t help but ask, “How should I then live?” Finally, in chapter seven, the author concludes by helping us understand the “unusual obsession” of boasting in the cross of Christ. (pp. 86–87) This boasting is unusual because it is other-focused, rather than self-centered. The Christian knows he has not brought anything to the salvation equation except for his sin, and so his boast is in the cross that saves.

“Salvation by Crucifixion” is a wonderful little book. It’s helpful for preachers and teachers in that it shows what an evangelistic, cross-focused sermon is supposed to look like. It’s an encouragement to Christians everywhere because the gospel is laid bare and the doctrines of salvation are clearly explained. And since the content is evangelistic, it is an excellent resource for outreach. The book is small and short, so one could very easily hand them out while witnessing to others. I recommend having a few on hand for the purpose of distribution.

For more on this topic, please see the Pastoral 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.

 

Review: John Knox

Simonetta Carr has done it again. “John Knox” is the seventh installment of her acclaimed “Christian Biographies for Young Readers” series (published by Reformation Heritage). Here she sets out to tell the story of John Knox, the great Reformer of Scotland. If you would like to know more about this great series, please check out the Christian Biographies for Young Readers website.

I am always looking forward to new volumes for this series as I am a student of Historical Theology and plan on raising my children with great respect for the Christian heritage and reverence for Church history. I have read Carr’s volume on Anselm of Canterbury (you can read my review HERE), and plan on purchasing the other volumes in the future. The literary content and artwork (by Matt Abraxas) in these books is wonderful, but what is also impressive is the quality of materials used produce them.

Carr begins the book with an introduction that informs the reader of the sociopolitical context in which Knox lived (pp. 5–6). The Protestant Reformation had moved from continental Europe to England and Scotland by way of travelers. The author makes note of one such pilgrim, Patrick Hamilton, who brought the biblical gospel back to his home country of Scotland only to be killed by Roman Catholic authorities. After a few changes in the political landscape, commoners were given access to the Bible and Knox was converted by the preaching of the gospel of salvation through faith alone. (p. 8) Shortly thereafter, the freedoms which the Protestants enjoyed were rescinded (p. 10) and so Knox went to work as a bodyguard for George Wishart, who was a gospel preacher on the run from Roman Catholic authorities. (pp. 11–12)

Wishart was killed, and Knox went to live at St. Andrews Castle (pp. 14–15), where he began his pulpit ministry. The author points out that both Protestants and Roman Catholics shared preaching responsibilities, which I thought was very interesting. According to the author, Knox rebuked a Catholic priest who claimed that Rome was the “true bride of Christ” and preached his first sermon as a response to the claim. “In his sermon,” writes Carr, “Knox explained that Christ is the only Head of the church, and only the Bible has the final say. He also showed how many of the traditions of the Roman Catholic Church had been invented by men.” (p. 18)

In 1547, the Scottish government overthrew St. Andrews with the help of France and the Protestants were arrested. John Knox was sentenced to row in the galleys of a ship, and endured severe persecution from his Roman Catholic captors along with the miserable living conditions and grueling slave labor. (pp. 19–24). Two years later, he was released and sent to Berwick, England where he was free to preach under the rule of King Edward VI, a Protestant. Unfortunately, his stay in England was cut short when King Edward died suddenly, leaving his Roman Catholic half-sister Mary Tudor (commonly referred to as “Bloody Mary” for her vicious reputation) to rule the throne. Knox fled to France, and later moved to Switzerland to learn from John Calvin and Heinrich Bullinger. (pp. 25–30)

Knox married Marjory Bowes in Scotland in 1555 before returning to Geneva to pastor a church of English refugees who fled Mary Tudor’s persecution. (p. 31–32) John returned to Scotland at the dawn of the Scottish Revolution to pastor St. Andrews Church, and also served as an army chaplain. When the war was over, Scotland formed a parliament which established the country as a Protestant nation and Knox was one of the men who drafted the Scots Confession of Faith. (pp. 31–42)

Shortly after the death of Marjory, the Roman Catholic Queen Mary Stuart returned to a very Protestant Scotland. Knox was quite vocal about her participation in the mass and they spoke their concerns to each other on a number of occasions. According to Carr, Knox even spoke out about the Queen’s desire to marry a Roman Catholic Prince! (pp. 44–48) This, of course, caused severe hostility between them and marked the decline of the Queen’s rule. When Scottish Nobles forced the Queen to resign the crown, her son James VI of Scotland became the King and Knox preached at his coronation. He continued to preach in his home country until his death in 1572. (pp. 50–54)

Simonetta Carr has written a wonderful little biography of John Knox. I’m a history nerd with a special appreciation for the Reformation, so I am rather biased in my opinion… but she puts a lot of time into researching her subject and likes to include interesting details and side stories, which makes the book an entertaining read for anyone. One example of such is the downward spiral of Queen Mary Stuart. Though it was a sad state of affairs, I was fascinated by the alleged conspiracy to murder her second husband, her imprisonment, and the plot to assassinate Queen Elizabeth that resulted in her execution. (pp. 49–50, 60) The author also includes a “Did You Know?” section with additional information relative to the story, as well as a portion of The Scots Confession of faith, which I thought was very helpful in rooting the reader in the historical reality of the book. I really enjoyed “John Knox” and look forward to the release of future volumes.

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

Recommended reading:

See also:
Review: “Anselm of Canterbury”
Carl Trueman and Todd Pruit interview Simonetta on Mortification of Spin

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: “Spiritual Warfare”

The latest book review from Cross Focused Reviews is the new title from Brian Borgman and Rob Ventura, “Spiritual Warfare: A Biblical & Balanced Perspective” (Reformation Heritage). As always, I appreciate the opportunity given to me by Cross Focused Media to review books… it is especially nice when they are titles I am looking forward to reading. There was a lot of momentum building up with the release of “Spiritual Warfare,” and by the grace of God, I’ve had the pleasure of reading it in order to provide my thoughts to prospective readers.

“Spiritual Warfare” is a short book (124 pages) that covers the biblical teaching of “The Armor of God” in Ephesians 6. The foreword is written by Steven Lawson, who, in my opinion, is one of the best expositors of our time. He rightly points out: “There are three  formidable foes with which we contend—the world, the flesh, and the devil.” (p. vii) This is the basic theme of the book, which authors Borgman and Ventura seek to unpack.

The introduction is a call for balance. The authors contend that the biblical approach to spiritual warfare is to avoid naturalism and over-spiritualizing. We are right to recognize the “supernatural” reality of things unseen, but this is an area of much theological confusion, fantasy, and even false teaching. But, as Christians, “have been delivered from Satan’s dominion through the finished work of Christ, yet we still battle.” (p. 5) The importance of biblical literacy and discernment cannot be stressed enough.

Through the next four chapters, Borgman and Ventura lay the foundational context for comprehending the “whole armor of God.” We must have explanation prior to application. In order for us to employ this text in our lives, we need to know something of the historical background of the epistle to the Ephesians. The authors give us a guided tour of the “spiritual city” of Ephesus (pp. 7–10) and help us understand the apostle’s exhortation in the midst of spiritual warfare. We are called to “be strong in the Lord” (chapter 1), and to “put on the whole armor of God” (chapter 2), so we can “stand against the wiles of the Devil” (chapter 3), because we “wrestle against principalities, powers, the rulers of the darkness of this age, and spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (chapter 4).

Chapter 5 marks the beginning of the exposition on the armor passage (Ephesians 6:14–17) and continues through to chapter 11. We learn what it is to stand and survive in the fight of our lives. Below are some highlights:

The Belt of Truth:

“As the soldier’s belt was placed at the center of his body, so truth must be central in our lives, encompassing all that we do if we are to be prepared for the fight with Satan, our crafty foe.” (p. 44)

The Breastplate of Righteousness:

“The breastplate was a chief piece of defensive armor for a soldier because it protected his vital organs during battle, and it serves the same function for us spiritually in our battle with Satan.” (p. 50)

The Gospel of Peace Footwear:

“Under enemy attack, we can dig firmly into the soil of the good news. The gospel is an indispensable part of our spiritual military equipment. It makes us immovable in the day of trouble.” (p. 63)

The Shield of Faith:

“As the shield protected a soldier in combat, so also faith spiritually protects us in every situation from whatever the devil might launch at us.” (p. 66)

The Helmet of Salvation:

“As the soldier’s helmet protected his head in battle against enemy fire, so the helmet of salvation spiritually protects our minds against Satan’s attacks.” (p. 74)

The Sword of the Spirit:

“The sword of the Spirit comes from the Spirit. Certainly, the sword belongs to the Spirit, but the emphasis falls on the Spirit as the source of this sword… When the Word is in our heart and mind, when we apply it and use it, it is the sword of the Spirit…” (pp. 80–81)

In chapter 11, the authors explain the centrality of prayer in spiritual warfare. As the apostle Paul concludes his section with an exhortation for constant prayer and watchfulness, Borgman and Ventura rightly emphasize the importance of prayer. “Prayer is not a seventh piece of armor,” they write, “but the means by which each piece is effectively employed… We can only appropriate the armor through prayer. The armor of God does not consist of literal pieces we can put on; rather, it consists of spiritual truths that the Christian appropriates through prayer.” (p. 88) The theme of prayer carries over into chapter 12. As the apostle’s teaching on prayer moves from combat supplication (Ephesians 6:18) to wartime proclamation (Ephesians 6:19), so does the book in this section. Borgman and Ventura explain the components of warfare proclamation: The Word must be given (pp. 101–102), the mystery of the gospel must be made known boldly (p. 102), and the Spirit must empower the preacher in his holy obligation. (pp. 102–103)

The book closes out with a “Spiritual Warfare Debriefing,” in which the authors help the reader understand the nature of the Christian life. It is a struggle that must be lived in God’s strength, so that we may stand and resist in order to advance the gospel. This is done by way of union with Christ—we must utilize the spiritual blessings that we have in Him. (pp. 106–110).

There are also a few appendices that the reader may find helpful as well. Appendix 1 is a pastoral approach to explaining God’s sovereignty over Satan, featuring case studies of Job and Paul. The second appendix considers the question, “Can a Christian Be Demon-Possessed?” and exposes some false teaching on the issue. The final appendix is a plea for people to pray for their elders. The authors’ hope is for the reader to consider the reality of the enemy’s strategy—Satan seeks to attack leaders in order to inflict the most possible damage upon Christ’s flock. Our pastors and elders desperately need our prayer so that they may lead effectively in the war against sin, the flesh, and the devil.

This book was a fairly easy read and I would recommend it as a good introduction to the topic of Spiritual warfare. It may also be a useful teaching or preaching resource for this section of the Bible. I found some of the information to be very helpful, but I was expecting a little more from this book. While I was hoping for it to be an in-depth teaching on the subject akin to Thomas Brooks’ “Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices” or William Gurnall’s “The Christian in Complete Armour,” it read more like a beginner’s guide to “the whole armor of God.” Be that as it may, my preconceived notions should not take away from the importance and potency of this small book. With so much sensationalism and false teaching going around on the topic of spiritual warfare, this is a solid presentation of the biblical teaching on the subject and is a valuable resource for the Church militant.

For more on the subject, please visit the Pastoral Theology page.

See also:

Rob Ventura interviewed on The Janet Mefford Show

Borgman and Ventura interviewed at The Confessing Baptist

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: Life in Christ

The good folks at Cross Focused Reviews have blessed me with another book to review. I was really excited about the prospect of reviewing this book, as it deals with what I see as one of the most neglected aspects of the Christian life as represented in mainstream American evangelicalism: Discipleship. As the title implies, the book also covers the glorious doctrine of Union with Christ—which in its own right is a teaching that is largely overlooked. Jeremy Walker‘s “Life in Christ: Becoming and Being a Disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ” is a welcome addition to contemporary discipleship resources that is not only pastoral, but thoroughly biblical and theologically precise.

In the first chapter, “Looking to Jesus,” he instructs the reader as to how one comes to Christ for salvation. Walker examines the command and invitation of the gospel, as well as the purpose and promise of the gospel. Beginning with the contrast between human depravity and the necessity of regeneration, the author weaves biblical references in and through to help the reader understand the Bible’s teaching of conversion–repentance and faith–and the grace of being declared righteous according to the person and work of Jesus Christ.

In chapter two, Walker seeks to unpack the doctrine of Union with Christ. He points to the teachings of the apostle Paul to explain the Christian’s position “in Christ” and the Christian’s nature as a “new creation.” (pp. 22–27) The author continues by rightfully expounding upon 2 Corinthians 5:17. He explains that for the Christian, “the old has gone and is gone for good; the new has come and keeps on coming.” (p. 28) Walker then closes out the chapter with an evangelistic appeal: “Whoever comes to Christ in faith–repenting of his sins, seeing his misery without Christ, seeking grace to be in Christ–and earnestly desiring that one day he might see and be with Christ–will find Christ to be his Savior and Lord and will enter into the blessed realities of the new creation in himself now and look forward to a life in a new heaven and new earth with Christ in days to come, the very heaven of heaven.” (p. 34)

Walker speaks of “The Unsearchable Riches of Christ” in the third chapter, and described the glorious riches of Christ. Surveying the book of Ephesians, he shows the reader the “unsearchable” love, grace, forgiveness, wisdom, power, joy, truth, assurance, hope, and mercy in Christ (pp. 38–44). The glorious person of Christ is next to be considered, as the author gives a Christological overview regarding the deity, humanity, agony, and glory of the Savior. The chapter concludes with an explanation of the glorious mystery of the gospel and the revelation of Jesus Christ. “The unsearchable riches of Christ are proclaimed in order that they might be known and enjoyed, received by sinners who have come to rest in the boundless resources of Jesus Christ as their Deliverer, the One given for the very purpose of meeting the needs of fallen people. That in itself is unsearchable!” (p. 48) All other pursuits leave something to be desired, but the knowledge and loveliness of Christ, which is inexhaustible, is satisfying beyond measure.

Chapter four is about the blessed doctrine of adoption. Rooted in the writings of the apostle John, the author presents the breathtaking reality of God’s love towards His children: “This is indeed a love that comes from God the Father, the God who does abiding good to the utterly undeserving, establishing an intimate relation with them in giving, as a gift of love, His own beloved Son. This is a love without measure flowing from the infinite heart of a good and loving God, an ocean without shore, a realm without frontier.” (p. 58) The author shows how the love of God is everlasting and unchangeable, abounding and unlimited, and undeserved and overwhelming. (pp. 58–59) He has given us a new nature and calls us His sons, and Walker beckons us to behold this truth for wonder and encouragement, for trust and confidence, for obedience and fortitude, for joy and thankfulness, and finally, for joy. (pp. 60–65)

Continuing with his examination of the apostle John’s writings, Walker addresses eternal security in chapter nine: “The Jewel of Assurance.” He points to the pastoral mindset of John in his first epistle and how he wanted his readers to know Christ and have life in Him (cf. 1 John 5:13). We see that assurance of salvation is definable, desirable, and possible. (pp. 67–76) The author closes the chapter with the pneumatological reality of assurance: “It is the Spirit of adoption who works in us faith and its fruits, implanting and stimulating graces which are the evidence of new life and witnessing with our spirit to their presence and reality and owning us by His sweet influences and by these means as children of God. The good grounds of confidence in the life of a saved person produce, through the Spirit’s witness, their full gift in our minds and hearts.” (p.77)

In what I see as the most important chapter of the book, “The Marks of God’s Children” seeks to present a framework of the Christian life. The author begins by laying to rest some common “inconclusive indications” of assurance of salvation like visible morality, head knowledge, and external religion. (pp. 80–84). He then devotes the rest of the chapter to showcase the marks of a true Christian. These “indispensable indications” of biblical assurance are repentance and faith, devotion to God, growth in holiness, and love for the saints. (pp. 85–108) This section alone is worth the cost of the book and is a spiritual gem for the newly converted and veteran Christian alike. I will certainly be using this material for disciple-making in the future.

“A Work in Progress” is the title of chapter seven, in which the author surveys the apostle Paul’s writings on sanctification. It is a masterful call to persevere; to press on in the Christian life. We should strive to “work out our salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12) and not be passive in our pursuit of holiness. Walker rightly points out that Paul’s exhortation to put on the armor of God (Eph. 6:13–17) “is not a call to occasional endeavor but a command constantly and thoroughly to work at a task until the point of completion.” (p. 113) This is not works-righteousness… the indicatives of the gospel (what Christ has done) are prior to the imperatives of the gospel (what is expected of us). “Our joy and blessing as God’s children,” says Walker, “are bound up in God’s ultimate purpose for us, and he is sovereignly bringing it to pass.” (p. 125)

The final chapter focuses on the apostle Paul’s later writings, particularly those sections where we gain some insight into his impending death. “A Life in Review” is a heartfelt look at the apostle’s unending endurance in the fight and race of the faith. Paul looks around, looks back, and finally looks ahead to a great crown, a great Christ, and a great company of redeemed sinners in the consummation. (pp. 130–138)

Review

Jeremy Walker’s “Life in Christ” is a warm and encouraging explanation on what it means to be a Christian. With pastoral sensitivity and theological clarity, he presents a biblical faithful work on being a disciple and living life to the glory of God. Like a modern-day Puritan, Walker marries doctrine and practice to create a magnificent resource for instructing maturing disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ.

For more on this subject…

Jeremy Walker interviewed on the Janet Mefferd Show

Jeremy Walker interview with The Confessing Baptist

A Reader’s Review of “The New Calvinism Considered”

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.

A Reader’s Review of The New Calvinism Considered

Jeremy Walker has been writing at Reformation21 (the online magazine of The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals) for three years, and I have enjoyed much of what he has shared. I own the book that he co-authored with Rob Ventura, “A Portrait of Paul: Identifying a True Minister of Christ,” and although I have not had the pleasure of reading it yet, I’ve heard nothing but positive reviews. I was excited when I heard about the release of “The New Calvinism Considered: A Personal and Pastoral Assessment,” as I have had my own concerns about the movement and had not read much about the topic. When Cross Focused Media and Evangelical Press offered me the opportunity to review the book, I jumped at the chance.

I confess at the outset that I share many of the same theological views with the author (both of us being confessionally Reformed Baptists who hold to the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith), so my expectations about the book were positive and my assumptions that we were in agreement about the content within were fairly accurate. One difference between myself and the author, however, is our nationality. Walker is a native of the United Kingdom, and I am a citizen of the Unites States. Given this distinction, his perception of the New Calvinism movement had the potential of being quite different than mine. Amidst all of the questions, concerns and criticism, the important thing to remember is that a majority of New Calvinists are brothers in Christ who love and preach the gospel.

The book is a relatively quick read, with just over 100 pages of material. Some of the theological terminology may be more difficult for new converts to Christianity, but the topic is not of interest to all who profess faith in Jesus. Those who are intimately involved with the subject matter (Calvinism, New Calvinism, etc.) will, however, find this a most important and timely book.

“The New Calvinism Considered” is divided up into five short chapters:

1. Comprehending the New Calvinism

2. Characteristics of the New Calvinism

3. Commendations

4. Cautions and Concerns

5. Conclusions and Counsels

Comprehending the New Calvinism

In this chapter, Walker shares his personal history and exposure to “New Calvinism,” which he briefly defines in the Preface as “the label applied to the resurgence of certain central aspects of Calvinistic doctrine within conservative evangelicalism” (pp. 8–9). He explains that while this movement has a large following in the United States, there has been a similar, albeit distinct manifestation in the United Kingdom as well. Walker points out that while there are elements to be valued, no movement is beyond critical examination. He then lays out the necessary approach for evaluation: Nature, Spirit, and Object.

The “nature” of his assessment is both personal and pastoral. He acknowledges the speed and variety of the development of such movements, and so the potentiality of erring in judgment is present. With humility, the author welcomes correction and instruction for any misconceptions and incorrect conclusions.

The “spirit” of the evaluation is “balanced and appropriately irenic appreciation” (p. 15). Walker recognizes that while he perceives concerns and possible dangers in the movement, most within the boundaries of New Calvinism are brothers (some even friends) in Christ. Nonetheless, neglecting to converse and warn others about faulty doctrine is not an option… but it requires wisdom. He writes, “I have no hesitation in affirming that it is not right to deal in a brotherly fashion with some who are increasingly dabbling with a Christianity that Is not merely on the fringes of the historic stream of orthodox faith but has pushed outside the envelope… while I have a desire for genuine understanding, true unity and gospel peace, we must remember that unity and peace at the expense of truth and righteousness is a wicked trade-off… a gentle and gracious approach is not the same as an endorsement of error, and is entirely consistent with a vigorously-held and ardently-promoted orthodoxy (see 2 Timothy 2:24–26)” (p. 16).

The “object” pertains to the fact that the movement is not a singular entity of uniformity. Walker explains: “there are degrees of association in this movement, and–working along the spectrum and through the various groupings–there are some who would fight shy of any sort of formal union or cooperation with certain others… we must be wary of assuming that this is some great and absolute theological or religious bloc that stands and falls together” (pp. 18–19). Given that the New Calvinism is not monolithic, the author acknowledges that his book is necessarily dealing with generalities and prefers not to be misunderstood by the reader.

Characteristics of the New Calvinism

The second chapter is quite obviously about the definitions and general properties of the New Calvinist movement. Walker claims that it is qualified by Calvinist doctrine, characterized by figureheads, marked by conglomeration, and in the process of consolidation (or transition).

Calvinism

As can be expected, the movement aligns itself with the five-points of Calvinism (commonly referred to by the T.U.L.I.P. acrostic—Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, and Perseverance of the Saints) and the biblical doctrine of divine sovereignty, but the author rightly points out that this over-simplification of Calvinism is not quite Calvinism (though it is to be commended). Furthermore, a number of proponents of New Calvinism reject the “L” in the acrostic, which is not Calvinism at all (though many refer to themselves as “4-Pointers”). This perspective has been historically recognized as Amyraldianism, which does not recognize the “classical Calvinist’s conviction… that the death of Jesus was intended only for the elect and therefore did not fail or fall short in any point or degree” (p. 22).

Characters

The New Calvinist movement is also influenced by personalities or even “celebrities” (within the American subculture of Evangelicalism). In some sense, any group or subculture will have figureheads who are admired and perhaps looked to for guidance and vision. It should be remembered, however, that we are dealing with categories in the context of Christianity. There are a number of popular Calvinistic pastors, theologians, authors, and bloggers who are the role models and “heavy hitters” in this movement, and Walker impresses upon the reader the potential dangers with this aspect of the movement: “The cult of celebrity in the modern West has infiltrated the church, so much so that we can seem to be presuming that the Lord is obliged to work or invariably will work when the right person or persons are present: get someone prominent to preach and people are bound to listen… this leads to at least three related dangers: the danger of slavish capitulation, the danger of mere imitation and the danger of unintended disconnection” (pp. 26–27).

Conglomeration

The third characteristic Walker points to is a fascination with networks and conferences. While parachurch ministries and Christian conventions are not dangers in and of themselves, they have the potential of confusing and blurring the roles and responsibilities of the local church. Unbridled ecumenism and a lack of antithesis are common issues that are a result of preoccupation with coalitions and seminars. I know many people (including myself) that have benefited from some of the ministries and conferences mentioned in the book, so I cannot say there is an objective and universal risk. While many people who frequent them are mature Christians (often pastors and ministry leaders) who are discerning and critically evaluate all they read and hear, this is not always the case. Furthermore, spiritual maturity and theological acumen are not vaccines that prevent potentially defective doctrine and practice from impacting leadership and the life of the local church.

Consolidation

Lastly, the author explains that the New Calvinism is decelerating: “The whole machine is slowing down. There is not the same buzz, the same energy, the same drive as once there was. The river is broader and it is slower. The enthusiasm has shifted slightly and the issues and arguments have developed… this is not the rushing mountain stream it once was, with the dynamism simply to carry light things before it” (p. 38). Walker points out that by and large, the movement is in a period of transition and succession.

Commendations

Chapter three points to many of the honorable aspects of New Calvinism. I am in hearty agreement with these features and God has used many within the movement to bring these truths to home in my heart and mind. I do not regret these emphases and I am grateful for those men who labor to promote many of these respectable properties.

Christ-Oriented and God-Honouring

The first and most important distinctive of New Calvinism is its orientation in christocentrism (the person and work of Jesus Christ being the central point). Walker offers his heartfelt approval of this tenet: “…this movement is substantially and explicitly galvanized by concern for the supremacy of God in Christ and that the Lord of Glory be magnified in all things. That is a good thing–it might even be properly described as being at the very core of what it means to be a Calvinist–and something we should embrace as giving us common ground with any man who holds truly to that conviction and its necessary corollaries” (p. 41). Amen! He continues, “There are men individually and churches corporately whose entire notions of what it means to be genuinely Christian have been healthily revolutionized or revitalized by this emphasis. Many have been set on a more biblical track as a result” (p. 41). This is something that I can personally attest to and I praise God for this fruit of New Calvinism.

Grace-Soaked

The second commendation offered by Walker is a commitment to the gospel and the practice of grace as a necessary result. Again, this is an element of the movement that has had a profound impact on my life; it is something that has helped my thinking and reminds me of my responsibility to God and neighbor. The author rightly points out the emotional vigor and evangelical zeal that is common amongst New Calvinists—something that any and all Christians should be thankful for.

Missional

Building from the previous two points–and closely related–is a preoccupation with the mission of God to save sinners. “The new Calvinism tends to be passionately and sacrificially missional. There is a desire that the glory of God be known in all the earth and so most of those involved seek to preach the gospel and to make disciples (there is a good and healthy emphasis on discipleship in many circles). They want to plant churches and to train preachers…It is, in many respects, a reflection of New Testament Christianity, and obviously that it is to be heartily commended. It is a model that too many churches have lost sight of, both in their prayers and in their practices and pursuits” (pp. 44–45). While “missional” has been (and largely remains) a vague buzzword that has wide application, the general principle here addressed by Walker is a radical servanthood characterized by self-sacrifice and love of others.

Complementarian

Another common thread amongst the New Calvinists is the biblical teaching of complimentarianism. This is essentially an understanding of the equal value, but unique roles and responsibilities of men and women as ordained by God. With a spectrum analysis there are bound to be exceptions and variations, but by and large, this is a movement marked by complementarianism. It is an interesting distinctive when one considers the whole of biblical revelation, for there are any number of doctrines that can be championed as pillars of a ministry. Walker explains, “I find it rather amusing that–given all the things about the new Calvinism seems determined not to be about–complementarianism in the realm of gender and male/female relationships is such a significant issue, so much so that I could almost put this in the list of defining qualities” (p. 47). While this position is a necessary response to much of the unbiblical teachings on sexuality, the author sees cause for concern. “…in some circles there seems to be an obsession with sex and sexuality–often excused on the basis of the hypsersexuality of the Western culture–which is, at best out of kilter with the biblical treatment of the topic, and at worst, a gross example of darkness masquerading as light” (p. 48).

Immersed and Inventive

Of the many interests that are characteristic of this movement, Walker focuses on two—theology and technology. Many New Calvinists are biblically informed and technologically savvy. These are two qualities that I personally admire… I am grateful for (and sometimes jealous of) the theological prowess and technological creativity of many of my New Calvinist brothers. I have learned much from them and appreciated much of the risk and ingenuity involved in investigating new apps and software and introducing Christians to the potential usefulness of such technology. This is not to say that others outside the movement are not immersed and inventive, but it seems as though a majority of the New Calvinists have a lasting interest in reading ministry-related books and investing in technology for the glory of God.

Preaching

Preaching–particularly expository preaching–is also a favorable component. There is a great deal of promise here as there is a correlation with the “character” and “conglomeration” features that were presented earlier in chapter two. Walker observes: “Many of the leading lights of the movement are pastors and preachers, committed either to systematic expository preaching series or to some other form of expository ministry. The conferences have been, by and large, preaching conferences. Discussions often revolve around what the Bible says and what it means. Books are written expounding the Word of God. There are and there will continue to be discussions about whether or not the expositions, conclusions and applications are accurate—the same sort of often-healthy discussions as happen within, across and between other circles” (p. 53). When the leading personalities and ministries truly subject themselves to biblical fidelity (and in so doing, avoid worldliness and renounce what Walker calls “slavish capitulation”) there is an auspicious potential for a lasting positive impact.

Summary

As Walker closes the chapter, he points out that this is not an exhaustive list and that variety within the movement demands wisdom and discernment on a case by case basis. Above all things, the author rightly exhorts us to “recognise the grace of God and to be glad when we see it” (p. 55), rejoice when God uses New Calvinism to redeem sinners (p. 56), and “stand together on matters of first importance and shared interest” with mutual affection (p. 56).

Cautions and Concerns

Although the New Calvinism has many commendable attributes, like other movements, it is not beyond criticism. Using pastoral care and analytical precision, Walker sets forth his concerns about this compelling camp.

Pragmatism and Commercialism

“In many new Calvinists,” says Walker, “there is a tendency to pragmatism and commercialism… in some parts of the new Calvinism the entrepreneurial spirit has run amok” (p. 59). While this is largely true of American evangelicalism, the author gives specific examples of “celebrity pastors” within New Calvinism who employ pragmatism and corporate strategy in their ecclesiastical endeavors. He also points out the common obsession with numerical growth, recognition, and cultural adaptation among many as well: “There is more than a hint of performance, often something overly dramatic or slickly cultured in some of the preaching and presentation… in some circles, there is explicit encouragement to study the methods and mannerisms of worldly entertainers and to employ them for the kingdom…There are times in which men in and around this movement run the church more like a commercial enterprise than they minister to it as the body of Christ” (p. 63).

Culture

Another difficulty with the movement is over-contextualization. Walker claims that to some in new Calvinism, the sovereignty of God translates to the world being “neutral territory” (p. 67). Since God is in control, “culture is all up for grabs: no distinction is permitted between the sacred and the secular, or even the profane—for some, such distinctions are part of evangelicalism’s anti-intellectualism. We are conquering culture for King Jesus, therefore nothing is out of bounds. We can take anything this world produces and we can Christianize it” (p. 67). Sadly, this can often result in an obsession with relevance, or as Walker says, “Some new Calvinists can be so concerned to be relevant and accessible that they become slaves to hipness” (pp. 68–69). There is some to be commended here, for it is important for us to understand the environment we minister in and seek to address issues in an effective way. Nonetheless, we should not become engrossed in the culture to the detriment of the church.

Holiness

There is also, in this group, “a troubling approach to holiness” according to the author. He claims that there is both an “incipient antinomianism” (anti = against; nomos = law) and a “false dichotomy… between faith and duty” which is the result of an improper understanding of sanctification. “The focus,” writes Walker, “has ended up on self-satisfaction rather than God-glorification” (p. 78). While some over-react against obedience out of fear of legalism, he points out that their worry is unfounded. He correctly asserts that “the Christian is liberated in order to be holy! Principled obedience is not legalism” (p. 79). Walker is worried (with good cause) that “the focus on gospel indicatives has blinded some to their connection to gospel imperatives” (p. 80). It is not an either-or, but a both-and.

Ecumenism

The pursuit of unity is not necessarily a bad thing. There is, however, a danger in doing so at the expense of truth. In his book, Walker gives the example of the Elephant Room fiasco involving mega-church pastors Mark Driscoll, James MacDonald (both council members of The Gospel Coalition at the time), and “Bishop” T.D. Jakes (who is a Modalist and word-faith prosperity preacher). While the Elephant Room (both of them) was a ridiculous spectacle of rampant ecumenism,  Walker also points out the lack of accountability towards those involved. He suggests that “this ecumenism is not that Scriptural communion and cooperation which any right-minded believer would pursue, but rather a watering down of that crisp and clear definition which serves the church of Christ best” (p. 91).

Spiritual Gifts

Pneumatology (the study of spiritual things) is also a challenging area for some in the movement. Besides the disparity between cessationists and continuationists in New Calvinism, there is a third group who refuses to address the issue. For instance, one will hear the term “open, but cautious” used in these discussions. Though Walker warns the cessationist of becoming so jaded and worried about the abuses of some charismatics that they “give up” the Holy Spirit, he also points to the real issue: “the whole nature of authority in its relation to divine revelation” (p. 98). One point especially is worth comtemplating: “You will hear the phrase ‘Reformed Charismatic.’ Some would suggest, with credibility, that those two things are mutually exclusive, precisely because of this issue of authority and revelation” (p. 98).

Triumphalism

Those who deal in absolutes and hold to the truth of Scriptures have a susceptibility to theological and/or intellectual elitism. This is not unique to New Calvinism. In fact, Walker admits his own inclination to pride and arrogance, and all of us should too—we would not make claims about the truth if we believed we were wrong. But with the New Calvinism, the combination of celebrity culture, theological rigor, cultutral relevance, and commercial pragmatism creates a hotbed for triumphalism. There is also a prevailing sense of what C.S. Lewis (another darling of New Calvinism) called “chronological snobbery.” Walker asserts, “This is true especially of some of those who are coming in around and just behind some of the figureheads. You can read assertions from fairly prominent individuals that in the past something similar to this movement has happened, but it all fell apart… but this time it’s different, this time it’s better, this time we’ve got it right, this time it’s here to stay, this time it will last, this time the onward march will not falter” (p. 99). There is an overconfidence here that is characteristic of a young and relatively successful endeavor.

Summary

In closing the chapter, the author shares a fascinating observation. Although the New Calvinism seeks to be christocentric and God-honoring, at it’s worst it can be very anthropocentric (man-centered). “There are sometimes prominent indications of concern for human approval, reliance on worldly means and principles, embrace of worldly models, and subsequent departure from or wooliness on historic orthodox Christianity at various important points” he says (p. 102). Certainly, this is a worst-case scenario. We should be thankful for the good fruit produced by the movement, but seek to identify and prune that which causes decay. “On the one hand,” says Walker, “we must not throw the baby out with the bathwater; on the other hand, if the baby has swallowed all the bathwater, we may not have a great deal of choice” (p. 103). At its best, New Calvinism is a commendable effort at practical Christianity; but at its worst, it is the product of egotistical worldliness.

Conclusions and Counsels

Walker concludes the book with a bold exhortation and plea for biblical Christianity: “Be Calvinists. Don’t be new Calvinists or any other particular brand or stripe of Calvinists, whatever those distinctions may presently mean, or may come to mean. Fundamentally, I would urge you to live before God rather than before men. This means that we should consider what it means to serve the Lord in our particular circumstances and follow that course humbly and faithfully, individually and corporately, regardless of the pleasures or pains which that course seems to hold out” (p. 104). In responding to the New Calvinism, “we should avoid knee-jerk reactions, thoughtlessly dismissing or embracing something or someone, or everything and everyone, without proper consideration,” “avoid blanket judgments,” and “show discernment as believers,” says Walker (p. 105). He closes with a plea for unity with true believers in the movement, and an argument for the submission to Scripture for the sake of the church. This, says Walker, is best displayed in confessionalism: “An intelligent and wholehearted commitment to a more comprehensive, tried-and-tested expression of Scriptural truth provides a buffer against the kind of shocks that drive men and churches off their feet… we need to set our feet upon a doctrinal rock where others have proved that a saint can safely stand when buffeted by the winds and waves of falsehood” (pp. 111–112).

Review

For such a small book, there is certainly a lot to digest. I am impressed with the author’s ability to be concise, for while this is a generalization, the book could easily be a few hundred pages longer if some of the issues and themes were teased out. This book has a limited target audience, so I would not recommend it to everyone—but I would recommend it to any pastor (particularly Calvinist or New Calvinist) who has been involved with or has questions about this popular movement in contemporary Christianity. At the risk of criticizing this work for something it did not intend to do, I would have liked to see more Scripture references in the book (I counted just over a dozen). This will be a problem for some readers—especially those who disagree with the author and seek to discredit him. Nevertheless, the book is full of biblical wisdom and the principles within are the result of a minister critically assessing the New Calvinism with Scriptural lenses after much rumination and meditation on God’s Word. I believe that Jeremy Walker has succeeded in what he set out to do: give an honest and balanced evaluation of the New Calvinism and encourage Christians to think biblically and critically about it; to be grateful for the good qualities, but vocal about the potential dangers.

For more on this subject…

Jeremy Walker interview with The Confessing Baptist

Jeremy Walker interview with Shaun Tabatt of Author Talks

Kevin DeYoung on the New Calvinism

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.

 

A Reader’s Review of The Gospel Call and True Conversion

Approximately eight years ago, I was travelling from Atlanta to Chattanooga to do some street evangelism with some friends from church. I had never been involved with evangelism (and quite frankly, I am not fully convinced that I was truly converted at this time), but I thought it would be a good opportunity to serve the church and assist my friends in their ministry. On the way to the church camp in North Georgia that we were partnering with, we listened to a conference message by Paul Washer that has been dubbed “Shocking Youth Message”. I don’t remember the specific details of the car ride, but I do recall experiencing an acute sense of my own depravity and conviction of sin. This was my introduction to the ministry of Paul Washer and since then I have listened to many of his sermons and even read a book or two that he wrote.

Cross Focused Reviews has once again provided me with the opportunity to review a book by one of my favorite authors/preachers… “The Gospel Call & True Conversion” by Paul Washer.

This particular book is the second in the “Recovering the Gospel” series (the first being “The Gospel’s Power and Message”) and it aims to do just that. The gospel has been assumed, neglected, and even forgotten in our time and the purpose of this series is to restore a biblical understanding of the good news and “recover” it from contemporary mutations and distortions. Here is the series description:

“Although the Recovering the Gospel Series does not represent an entirely systematic presentation of the gospel, it does address most of the essential elements, especially those that are most neglected in contemporary Christianity. It is the hope of the author that these words might be a guide to help you rediscover the gospel in all its beauty, scandal, and saving power. It is his prayer that such a rediscovery might transform your life, strengthen your proclamation, and bring the greatest glory to God.”

The book has three parts: “The Gospel Call”, “New Hearts and the Nature of True Conversion”, and “New People and the Nature of True Conversion”. These units are comprised of a selection of Washer’s sermons.

In the first section, the author describes the biblical teaching on the “double-sided coin” of conversion… repentance and faith. He properly explains repentance as a “change of mind” (pp. 5–8), points out that it involves “sorrow for sin” (pp. 8–10) and a “personal acknowledgment and confession of sin” (pp. 10–11) as well as a “turning away from sin” (pp. 11–13), the “renunciation of works” (pp. 13–16), and “turning to God in obedient submission” (pp. 16–18). Biblical repentance also includes a life marked by “practical obedience” (pp. 18–19), and a “continuing and deepening work of repentance” (pp. 19–21). Next, Washer explains what true saving faith is. He explains that it is essentially trusting in the finished work of Christ alone, by the grace of God alone (to exclude boasting), to the glory of God alone. The author takes to task the modern evangelical traditions of “the sinner’s prayer” and “making a decision for Christ” (ch. 3–4) and finishes the unit by deconstructing a common misinterpretation of Revelation 3:20 (ch. 5).

Washer dedicates the second part to the biblical doctrine of regeneration. He explains the motive (the love of God) and end (the glory of God) in salvation (ch. 6), shows that God is both the author, sustainer, and perfecter of saving faith (ch. 7), and that sanctification (separation and cleansing) is a necessary result of justification (the legal declaration of righteousness by God upon a sinner through faith in Jesus) for those who have been adopted by the heavenly Father (ch. 8). If there is one thing about this book that I am most grateful for… it is this section. Regeneration (i.e. the new birth… being “born again”) is one of the most distorted elements of salvation that is in dire need of being “recovered”. Building upon the previous unit where he refutes the unbiblical teaching of “decisionism” (in which a person is “saved” by making a “decision” for Christ), he explains the Scriptural doctrine of divine monergism. The Bible clearly teaches that because of his sinful nature, man is separated from God and his will is in bondage to sin. Because of this depravity and enmity towards God, man is not able or willing to come to God on His terms and will not seek Him or submit to His will. Salvation is of the Lord, and the only way a sinner comes to salvation by faith in Christ is by the grace of God alone… in drawing them by His Spirit and giving them new life. One cannot seek God or believe in Christ for salvation unless they have been “born from above” by the Spirit (ch. 9–10).

Part three is about the new covenant community of God. The author devotes this section to helping the reader understand some differences between the old covenant and the new covenant. He writes:

“In the old covenant, God called a physical nation descended from Abraham to be His people, but within that great multitude of individuals, only a small number of them were truly regenerate and believing. The rest were unregenerate and carnal, and are now suffering eternal perdition. In the new covenant, God is calling forth a spiritual nation made up of Jews and Gentiles, and all of them are regenerate and believing. There is not a godly remnant in the true church; that true church is the godly remnant.” (p. 121)

Washer continues by describing the new covenant prophecies of the Old Testament and their fulfillment in Jesus Christ:

“Through the atoning work of Christ and the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit, God has made for Himself a new people. He has taken out their heart of stone and replaced it with a heart of living flesh. He has recreated them to be a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession; a people who will proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called them out of darkness into His marvelous light.” (p. 129)

The author seeks to correct unbiblical notions of ecclesiology (the doctrine of the church) and dispels contemporary accusations against the body of Christ (ch. 12), he addresses the importance of the knowledge of God in the revelation of Jesus (ch. 13), and explains division and unity within the visible church (ch. 14). Washer closes out the book by teaching about God’s covenant faithfulness and the unrelenting lovingkindness He has towards His covenant people (ch. 15)… the covenant He has with the saints is everlasting and as a perfectly faithful God, His promises to them will and must come to pass. Believers stand on the covenant promises of our Lord and trust that all things work together for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose… He has begun a good work in each one of us, and He will continue to work effectually in us until the return of Christ when we will be made like Him (ch. 16).

Overall, I thought this was a pretty good book. Since it is a compilation of sermons, there are times when the book does not necessarily flow from one thought to the next, but the content is great. I would have liked to see an index with references, but nonetheless, this book is saturated with Scripture throughout and along with presenting sound biblical doctrine, it accurately defends orthodox Christianity while dismissing common contemporary misconceptions and false teachings.

For more on this subject, visit HeartCry Missionary Society.

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.

A Reader’s Review of Saving Eutychus

As a rookie preacher with a total of two sermons under my belt, I am always keeping an eye out for the best resources on the subject to help my preparation and proclamation. I have read a few other books on preaching in the past, but this is the first book I actually read during sermon preparation. I am thankful to Cross Focused Reviews for the opportunity to review “Saving Eutychus: How to Preach God’s Word and Keep People Awake” by Gary Millar and Phil Campbell.

This book is especially helpful for people like me—”young” guys who are just getting their feet wet. It is immensely practical and very helpful with regard to the technical aspect of sermon writing and delivery . Since I’ve never been to seminary and/or attended homiletics courses, I have very little experiential knowledge about preaching. My understanding of preaching comes from Scripture and the faithful men who have both taught me about it and shown by example what it is to preach.

“Saving Eutychus” is named after the young man in Acts 20:9 who fell to his death from a third-story window after drifting off to sleep during a lengthy sermon from the apostle Paul. While “keeping people awake” is one of the results the authors hope to obtain through helping preachers, it is just the tip of the iceberg. Millar and Campbell seek to offer practical advice to preachers in order for them to improve their preaching in a number of ways.

In chapter one, Gary Millar reminds us that preaching is not about the preacher and his own ability—it is about the Lord Jesus Christ and relying on His Spirit. He exhorts the preacher to make prayer a priority; not just in his personal life, but in the corporate assembly of believers in the local church.

Millar then explains, in chapter two, what “preaching to the heart” is and why it is important. After offering several examples of how Scripture speaks to the heart of man through preaching, he presents an argument for expository (passage by passage) preaching: “This approach ensures that your preaching will be both predictable and unpredictable. It will be predictable in the same way that the Bible is predictable. At the core of our preaching will be the same message—what God has already done for us in the Lord Jesus Christ. People can count on us, week after week, for the same thing: the Bible carefully, thoughtfully, engagingly explained… And yet, at the same time, our sermons should be deliciously unpredictable. Why? Because we have such fantastic source material, inspired by God Himself, to change people’s hearts.” (p. 39)

Clarity is the subject of chapter three, and Phil Campbell’s advice is excellent. He recommends the preacher master natural scripting. By this, he means to write “exactly the words you’d naturally speak” (p. 45) when drafting the sermon. Cambell then provides his “top ten tips for being clearer” (pp. 50–60… and also in Appendix 2b on p. 168), which is a great resource:

1. The more you say, the less people will remember.

2. Make the ‘big idea’ shape everything you say.

3. Choose the shortest, most ordinary words you can.

4. Use shorter sentences.

5. Forget everything your English teacher taught you.

6. Am I repeating myself?

7. Translate narratives into the present tense.

8. Illustrate the obvious.

9. Talk about real people.

10. Work towards your key text.

Campbell uses chapter four to tease out the implications of “making the ‘big idea’ shape everything you say” and this very well might be the most important chapter in the book. He shares his personal sermon preparation techniques, which I found to be most helpful. He explains, “The big idea of a passage most often emerges when you spot the repetitions in the text and follow the chain of logic between them” (p. 67). After writing out the passage with notes (he dedicates 2/3 of a page to Scripture and the remaining column for ideas that emerge), he takes a look at everything and processes the information. He writes, “I look back over my visual map of the passage and retrace the logic. I try to summarize the flow of the passage by looking through the words and ideas I’ve highlighted” (p. 69). The author closes out this section by offering practical tips for developing application.

In chapter five, Gary Millar encourages us to preach the gospel (with special attention to the Old Testament). He does a great job of pointing out the importance of gospel-centered preaching and offers advice on using a biblical-theological approach:

1. Follow the plan.

2. Move to the fulfillment.

3. Expose the problem.

4. Highlight the (divine) attribute.

5. Focus on the action.

6. Explain the category.

7. Point out the consequences.

8. Describe the ideal human character.

9. Satisfy the longing.

Chapter six, in my opinion, is the second most helpful chapter in the book (although the incessant praise for Mark Driscoll is a bit nauseating). Here, Phil Campbell addresses delivery. I have a feeling I will be coming back to this chapter several times in the future as I continue to mature as an expositor. He introduces what he calls the “delivery sphere” which diagrams the volume, pitch, and pace of the preacher. This imaginary sphere is a helpful mental tool that reminds the preacher to mix things up in order to obtain and retain attention. If there’s one thing that will help keep people awake during preaching, it is variation and agility in the delivery of the sermon.

The last couple chapters of the book point out the importance of critique. In chapter seven, Millar presents common problems that preachers face which make peer review necessary. Included on his list are, “getting the idea wrong” (pp. 113–114), “self-indulgence” (pp. 114), “not preaching the gospel” (p. 114), “not preaching the gospel to people’s hearts” (pp. 114–115), “insensitivity” (p. 115), and “trying to be too clever” (pp. 115–116). In chapter eight, Campbell takes the reader through crafting a sermon, which leads into Appendix 1 (a critique of Phil’s sermon by Gary… and a sermon by Gary critiqued by Phil). The book closes with Appendix 2, which provides the reader with helpful resources for preachers: A sermon feedback form (unfortunately, under the “duration” section, the authors only refer to sermons being too long and make no mention of them being too short), Phil’s top ten tips checklist (which is listed above), and the Dynamic delivery diagram worksheet (referred to previously).

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. The authors provide a fair amount of practical advice and technical pointers to help preachers improve their sermon preparation and delivery. As I receive more opportunities to fill the pulpit in the future, I will strive to implement some of their ideas in my own sermon preparation and delivery. This is a book I will be turning to repeatedly as I seek to faithfully preach God’s Word. “Saving Eutychus” is sure to be an encouragement and an exhortation to countless preachers—rookies and veterans alike.

For more on this subject, please visit Matthias Media.

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.