Review: Active Spirituality

There has been a lot of talk over the past several months about the role of works within the context of the gospel. Much confusion has come about by those who promote antinomianism (licentious inactivity disguised as “grace” that is accompanied by a blatant disregard for the Law) as well as legalism (salvation is not by grace alone, but justification is attained by effort). “Active Spirituality: Grace and Effort in the Christian Life” by Brian Hedges is a timely book that seeks to provide a biblical framework for Christians to work out their salvation with fear and trembling (Phil. 2:12). I’m thankful for my friends at Cross Focused Reviews for giving me the opportunity to review this book from Shepherd Press.

This is the first book by Hedges that I have read, though “Christ Formed in You: The Power of the Gospel for Personal Change” and “Licensed to Kill: A Field Manual for Mortifying Sin” are on my ever-increasing “to-read” list (I have the Kindle version of the former). I am grateful for brother Hedges’ labors for the gospel and the practical resources he has provided for the Church.

“Active Spirituality” is not written as a basic theology book, but as a series of letters to a young Christian. It was refreshing to see this format in a book that deals with a few challenging topics. As someone who spends much of his time reading systematic theology or biblical theology, it was nice to see a different approach to theology by utilizing this genre. In my opinion, the use of fictional correspondence helps capture the pastoral heart of the author and helps to emphasize the overall message of the book.

In these letters, Hedges interacts with a new convert who is pondering the Christian life. He covers topics like assurance of salvation, the necessity of the local church, the perseverance of the saints, repentance, self-examination, and spiritual weariness (amongst others). While offering pastoral insight into texts such as Philippians 2, Romans 7, and the warnings in the book of Hebrews, he pulls from a wide variety of sources like Augustine, Bunyan, Owen, Ryle, Edwards, and Lewis to assist him in shepherding this young Christian who is seeking to live for God’s glory.

Overall, any disagreements I have with the book are hair-splitting objections to how something was worded, or knee-jerk reactions to his interpretation of a passage (that he has undoubtedly spent more time studying). While I am not particularly fond of some of the sources he cited, he refers to Bunyan and Owen quite frequently (which I applaud), and does an excellent job synthesizing references. Hedges is also great at creating illustrations from a number of different stories and genres. Unfortunately, this book has no footnotes or Scripture index, but there is a helpful “Notes on Sources” appendix as well as a bibliography.

“Active Spirituality” is a useful little book for people who have recently embraced Christ as their Savior and King. Helping to navigate through the various challenges that await Christians in this life, the author provides pastoral care and concern throughout and offers wise biblical counsel to someone that needs guidance in their sojourn to the celestial city. This is a title that I would use in discipling new believers, and I’ll continue to dip into for it’s practicality and vast bibliography. Hedges has done the Church a service by giving us an easy-to-read and immensely practical book about the balance between grace and effort.

For more on this subject, please visit 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.

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Doug Gievett helps parents encourage their children to think more logically

“The highest happiness consists in holiness. This will make a man happy without anything else. But no other enjoyments or privileges whatsoever will make a man happy with out this.” (Jonathan Edwards)

“A man get to heaven by works? I would as soon think of climbing to the moon on a rope of sand!” (George Whitefield)

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Joel Beeke shares some family worship advice for busy fathers

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10 tips for Christian leaders who don’t want to be self-promoting jerks online

A missionary who died thinking he was a failure was pioneer in Congolese missions

“The miseries and difficulties that a man meets with in this world, will exceedingly sweeten the glory of that other world.” (Thomas Brooks)

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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: 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 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.

Do You Need to be Born Again?

DO YOU NEED TO BE BORN AGAIN?

“You can do absolutely nothing to be born again… Think for a moment about your first birth. What did you do to cause yourself to be born the first time? What part did you play in causing yourself to be conceived in your mother’s womb? You did absolutely nothing! Like every other person who has ever lived, you did absolutely nothing to cause your first birth. No person who has ever lived on this earth has caused himself to be conceived in his mother’s womb, or be born of her. It is a complete impossibility… People are not born again to be children of God by human decision. Instead, it is of God and altogether of God that a person is born from heaven to be a child of God.” (O. Palmer Robertson)

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

Recommended reading: