Kevin DeYoung and Don Clark, The Biggest Story Bible Storybook (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2022), 529 pp.
The Biggest Story Bible Storybook by Kevin DeYoung is a book that every Christian parent should read and re-read to their children. DeYoung makes it clear that “this book is a storybook about the Bible, but it is not the Bible.” The aim of the book is to teach children the “grand, sweeping story of Scripture.” The book is arranged in seven parts:
Acts and Epistles
Each part contains basic narratives that help children see the big picture. Better yet, each page is beautifully illustrated by Don Clark. Clark is a gifted artist that brings biblical stories to life in a way that will keep children interested and drawn to God’s big story.
The great benefit of this book is that it opens the eyes of children to the wonder of theology and the greatness of God. It provides a basic framework for children to grasp systematic and biblical theology as they grow older. Children will discover that Christ is the focal point of Scripture – from the Garden of Eden to the New Earth.
I can’t say enough about The Biggest Story Bible Storybook. DeYoung is able to capture the essential elements in Scripture and does it in a compelling and creative way. Even though the book is designed for children, I recommend that every incoming Bible College student read this excellent book to provide a beautiful overview of God’s Word.
I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review.
Pornography has a stranglehold on countless men and women in our culture. There was a day when one needed to seek porn out but with the rise of the internet, pornography stalks the unsuspecting through means of a phone, computer, or television. Sadly, many of these are naively lured into grievous sin and find themselves in a pattern of defeat.
Ray Ortlund is burdened for people entrapped in the sin of pornography; he also has a burden to see the industry burn to the ground. In his book, The Death of Porn, the author addresses the hearts of men in particular. His aim is to see men become men of integrity who play a vital role in building a world of nobility.
The Death of Porn is a unique book, written with a personal and pastoral tone. It is a simple read and practical in nature. The driving factor in Ortlund’s book is not psychology or self-help. At the very center of the book is the gospel of Jesus Christ. In six short letters, Pastor Ortlund addresses Sons as he would address one of his own.
Part one, Reintroducing the Charactersfocuses on three specific characters: 1) Men who struggle with sexual sin, 2) Women who have been hurt by the porn industry, and 3) The Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus is presented as the conquering Lion, the One who reigns over sin and resurrected from the grave. But Jesus is also presented as the Lamb who was slain. At the heart of this discussion is the need to understand that Jesus is both the Lion and the Lamb:
This Lion and Lamb calls sinners to the foot of the cross to repent and believe. He calls sinners to drink from the fountain of his grace, the only fountain that truly satisfies. Ortlund urges readers to draw near to the Lord Jesus Christ:
Part two, Reimagining the Future offers readers hope for the future as the death of porn becomes a reality. Ortlund assures his Son with timely encouragement: “You’re on the right side of history, not because of your resolve but because of his resurrection.” This is a crucial point as many struggling men attempt to break the power of porn via will-power or promises that are eventually broken. In the end, however, the only One who can rescue men from pornography is the Lord Jesus Christ and the message of the gospel.
The author builds on this hopeful theme by summarizing how to fight well. First, What You’re Fighting For. He adds, “When you take up the fight against evil, you are planning a noble thing. You are standing for a noble thing. If you ever feel like a coward in the face of the battle, you can pivot immediately, turn from your fear back to Jesus, and brace yourself again for the fight.”
Second, How You Can Fight Well. Ortlund encourages his Son to remember that God is with him and rejoices over him. This point assumes that the battle against sin is ongoing until we reach the shores of the Celestial City. He urges, “Let’s support one another as we fight for our integrity. But let’s never make room for sin – even in our thoughts.”
Third, What Winning Will Cost You. The author challenges his Son to be killing sin by the power of the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:13). Such an endeavor will obviously be costly and will be worth every ounce of gospel-centered obedience. Ortlund concludes, “Jesus calls you to fight for his new world of nobility … joyously, decisively, repeatedly.”
In the fifth letter, Sons are encouraged to work together. The author exhorts him, “ … You, with your brothers, will create a new world of nobility. Moving forward shoulder to shoulder, you can starve that predatory Beast – the porn industry.”
Ortlund underscores the importance of transparency. He draws on James 5:16 and encourages his Son to confess sin, pray with like-minded brothers, which ultimately leads to healing. The sum of the matter is deeply encouraging:
The final letter focuses on making a world of difference. Ortlund writes, “Jesus is calling you to build a new world of nobility, to the furthest extent of your influence, for the rest of your life. And he’s in the fight with you.” He includes practical proposals that will enable men to make a maximum impact in their world.
My hope is that The Death of Porn reaches thousands upon thousands of young men who need a strong and biblical challenge from a seasoned pastor who cares about the legacy of the next generation. That legacy involves men committed to holiness and integrity; men who are building a world of nobility.
Sinclair Ferguson, Some Pastors and Teachers. Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2017, 802 pp. $45.00
The day that Sinclair Ferguson’s new book, Some Pastors and Teachers arrived, I was like a kid in a candy store; a monkey in a banana factory; a shark in blood-infested waters. Gazing at the table of contents caused my heart to race, which is a testimony of my deep love for the church, theology, and pastoral ministry.
It was immediately apparent that Dr. Ferguson was attaching a high degree of importance to the past by acknowledging some of the great pastor-teachers in church history – men like John Calvin, John Owen, John Murray, and the Puritans.
Some Pastors and Teachers is a mixture of biography, systematic and biblical theology, and pastoral theology. Ferguson writes with theological precision and pastoral compassion and experience. He writes with a gravitas that is both weighty and inspirational.
While each of the thirty-nine chapters are commendable in their own right, chapter thirty-seven, was especially meaningful to me. Ferguson argues with great force that “all truly biblical preaching is preaching to the heart.” This kind of preaching is marked by several characteristics:
A right use of the Bible which must first be directed to the mind. Ferguson adds, “When we preach to the heart, the mind is not so much the terminus of our preaching, but the channel through which we appeal to the whole person, leading to the transformation of the whole life.
Nourishment of the whole person. Ferguson makes it clear that spiritual nourishment must be carefully defined: “There is a difference between a well-instructed congregation and a well-nourished one.”
An understanding of the condition of hearers.
The use of the imagination.
Grace in Christ.
This behemoth of a book is filled with rich material that promises deep pastoral encouragement, comfort, and instruction. This “doxological Calvinism” is the best of all worlds. Such a theological framework strengthens minds, nourishes hearts, and ultimately equips pastors to feed, lead, love, and protect the flock – all for God’s glory.
In the nineteenth century, the British politician, William Wilberforce began a movement that led to the abolition of the slave trade. His robust Christian faith fueled his resolve to see tyranny destroyed and people created in the imago Dei set free. Today, there are 27 million slaves in the world. 1.2 million are children, enslaved by the sex trade industry in India. These horrifying realities are a painful reminder of the sin that pollutes our world; they harken back to the days of Wilberforce. Yet today, very few appear willing to pick up the cause that Wilberforce began.
First time author, Corban Addison delivers a heart-wrenching, mind-rivetting, spine-tingling thriller that exposes the human trafficking/sex trade industry in his novel, A Walk Across the Sun. Readers should be forewarned that this novel is not for the faint at heart. The author paints a grizzly portrait of the underworld; a world that exploits women and children and panders to the diabolical deeds of men.
I can’t say enough about Corban Addison. He writes with Grisham-like precision which ultimately leads to a redemptive end. He gives enough details to educate readers to this horrifying industry which carries the ultimate aim of involvement, reformation, and the obliteration of slavery around the world. The book is a mixture of unmitigated evil and unvarnished beauty.
Many thanks to my friends, Ron and Mark for alerting me to this book. I’ll never doubt you again!
Matt Carter and Aaron Ivey, Steal Away Home, Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2017, 294 pp. $14.60
Church history is filled with stories of courage, adventure, adversity, and persecution. From the exile of Athanasius, the martyrdom of John Rogers and William Tyndale, or Luther’s trial at Worms, these stories are well-known and we are quick to pass them along to the next generation.
Steal Away Home by Matt Carter and Aaron Ivey is a tale that will be new to many readers, however. It was certainly new for me! The story involves two men from backgrounds that have very little in common. C.H. Spurgeon was the Prince of Preachers, a refined man with a rich theological heritage who occupied the pulpit in Victorian England. He was well-known around the world. He was a best-selling author and recognized by thousands. Thomas Johnson was a simple slave boy who was unjustly shackled in colonial America. He was known by few and treated like an animal. His slave master worked him to the bone on the Virginia tobacco fields.
Jesus Christ liberated Thomas Johnson. He freed him from the power and the penalty of sin. President Abraham Lincoln rescued Thomas Johnson from the sin of slavery. The Emancipation Proclamation, which Lincoln regarded as the crowning achievement of his presidency, liberated Thomas from his slave master. Jesus Christ liberated Thomas from the slave master of sin.
Through a series of Providential events, Thomas Johnson found himself at the front door of C.H. Spurgeon in London. After his training was complete, he and his wife made their way to Cameroon, West Africa in 1879.
Steal Away Home is a work of historical fiction. It becomes clear at the outset, however, that the authors spent many hours researching the details of this intriguing story. My hope is that a few personal takeaways will prompt many people to enter rich world of the 19th century and absorb some life-altering lessons.
1. The Humanization of C.H. Spurgeon
I have been reading Spurgeon and books about the Prince of Preachers for almost thirty years. This book brilliantly captures the essence of Spurgeon and is not afraid of revealing his warts, weaknesses, and worries. It is a breath of fresh air for anyone who is under the false notion that the famous preacher from London lived a life of ease. Spurgeon’s doubt and lifelong battle with depression is highlighted and his fears are revealed.
2. The Horror of Slavery
Most Americans recognize that slavery is a perpetual “black eye” on our nations’ history. But few understand the gravity of what these innocent African Americans endured. Carter and Ivey masterfully reveal the pitiful nature of slavery through the eyes of Thomas Johnson. Sympathetic readers will feel genuine grief as they walk with Johnson and experience the horror of his chains.
3. The Hallowed Ground of Friendship
Steal Away Home reminds readers of the importance and value of friendship. The friendship fostered by Spurgeon and Thomas is grounded in grace and nurtured by honest communication, genuine fun, rich encouragement, and biblical accountability. Like David and Jonathan, these two men are examples of friendship that glorifies God. Indeed, “A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother” (Prov. 18:24). Indeed, friendship is hallowed ground that too few men tread upon.
4. The Hope of the Gospel
Finally, this story shows how the gospel operates in the real world. Apart from grace, Charles Haddon Spurgeon and Thomas Johnson were dead in trespasses and sins, without hope and without God. Indeed, apart from grace, Spurgeon and Johnson were both spiritual slaves. Both men, however, were set free as they cast their hope on the Lord Jesus Christ. In the course of their very different earthly paths, they wound up on the same spiritual path, which ultimately led them both to the Celestial City!
Steal Away Home encouraged me personally and moved my soul in ways that most books only hope to do. Matt Carter and Aaron Ivey stepped up to the plate and hit the ball out of the park. Their work will no doubt be a contender for book of the year. I commend their work wholeheartedly!
I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review.
Open the morning newspaper. Watch the evening news. Pay careful attention to the culture that surrounds us. You will be prompted to protest. You will be cajoled to complain. You will feel the steady pull of pundits who invite you to join their campaign. Emotions will range from fear to frustration. Anger dominates much of the time. When anger doesn’t reign, anxiety is sure to take its place.
Followers of Jesus Christ have a higher calling. We must be discerning and live distinctly Christian lives (1 Pet. 1:14-17). A little phrase is tucked away in Romans 5:11 that helps refocus our attention on what really matters:
“More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.”
“We also rejoice in God.” This is exactly the opposite of what our culture demands. Rejoicing in God, then, is countercultural. It is also commanded!
Paul’s argument in this unit of thought in Romans chapter 5 ends on a high note. The guilty have been pardoned (v. 9). The condemned have been saved (v. 9). Enemies have been reconciled (v. 10). The posture of rebellion has turned to a posture of joy!
Do you want to impact lives? Do you want your life to be a reflection of God? Do you want to glorify the great God of the universe? Refuse to bow down to the idols of the age. Refuse to get caught up in the pettiness that characterizes our day. Choose today to rejoice in God!
Kevin DeYoung, Men and Women in the Church (Wheaton: Crossway Books 2021), 170 pp.
One of the most contested issues in the church in recent days concerns the role of men and women in the church. What are they commanded to do? What are they prohibited from doing? The chief question among many people is this: “Can a woman preach on a Sunday morning to a congregation that consists of both men and women? Kevin DeYoung tackles this thorny question in his excellent book, Men and Women in the Church. The subtitle captures the essence of the book: A Short, Biblical, Practical Introduction.
The book is arranged in two parts. Part 1 focuses on biblical exposition. DeYoung begins in the Old Testament and works his way through Scripture and highlights the pertinent themes concerning the role of men and women in the church. Readers must bear in mind that the purpose of this book is to introduce the central themes and cause them to take a deeper dive into more comprehensive treatments of this subject.
Part 2 contains questions and applications. DeYoung explores common questions that pertain to men and women in the local church and he provides clear biblical answers.
One section that is particularly helpful concerns parenting children and teaching them their respective roles as aspiring men and women. DeYoung is intrigued (as am I) with John Piper’s helpful question: “If your son asks you what it means to be a man, or your daughter asks you what it means to be a woman, what would you say?” DeYoung builds on this thought-provoking question and explores ways for parents to raise their children in the fear and admonition of the Lord. He concludes:
While the arguments in DeYoung’s work are not as detailed as those found in works like Recovering Manhood and Womanhood, edited by John Piper and Wayne Grudem, the arguments are still substantial. Indeed, DeYoung’s arguments are concise. But more important the arguments are biblical. I commend Men and Women in the Church to anyone who will take time to wrestle with DeYoung’s essential arguments. My hope is that many readers will be convinced. The result is a strengthened and more obedient church.
I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review.
The 77’s first album was originally released in 1983. So why review an album that is almost thirty years old? For starters, Michael Roe decided to make the album available on iTunes a few weeks ago. So anyone that has an old crusty cassette and nothing to play it on should be very excited. Also, the iTunes release gives many listeners a chance to hear these unbelievable notes for the first time.
Ping Pong Over the Abyss engages with worldview themes in a way that is uncommon in Christian circles. If King Solomon wrote lyrics to a rock album, this is what it would be like. The album tackles several worldviews in a very straightforward way. A Different Kind of Light questions the notion of finding “truth within.”
They talk about a light inside you
I hope I never get that blind
I don’t want to take my chances
On joining the collective unconscious
I’m waiting for the clouds to break
I’m looking for the road to take
Don’t want the usual merchandise
Recycled in a new disguise
I’m following a different Light
A different kind of light
A different kind of light
It’s So Sad lays bare the worldly philosophy of hedonism and refuses to embrace the lies of Hinduism:
Trying to buy heaven
Right here on earth
The cost will always end up
More than it’s worth
You ponder living
You wonder why
No matter what you do
You’re still going to die
Falling Down a Hole wrestles with a host of worldviews including Buddhism, Islam, Spiritualism, Fatalism, Humanism, Evolution, and Witchcraft:
Is a tired old line
The logos is sleeping
Just give it some time
Evolution is preaching
“From monkey to divine”
Renaissance Man is a frontal assault on atheistic evolution and is a powerful musical apologetic:
It’s from “star stuff” that he’s made
It’s the cosmos that gave him life
How does that help him feed the poor
How does that help him love his wife
A renaissance man
Tearing himself from The Rock
A renaissance man
Tearing himself from The Rock
He’s cast away all thoughts of heaven
His science is full of preconceptions
His answers make me ask more questions
How many can wait on evolution
He needs to live
On the sides of the north
In the city of Reformation
That’s where he’ll find his life
This album is definitely not a typical Christian rock album. The themes are sobering and tap into the meaningless of man apart from Christ. A severe blow is delivered to nihilism, humanism, and hedonism. Something tells me these guys were reading Francis Schaeffer in the late 70’s!
If you like your music raw and realistic and don’t mind a trip back to the 80’s, Ping Pong Over the Abyss is for you.
The opening verses of Psalm 2 unveil the rebels who resist the authority of God. This passage reveals the posture of rebels who are poised to dethrone God. These rebels rage against God and plot against him (v. 1). They oppose the LORD and his anointed (v. 2). These rebels make autonomy their ultimate goal (v. 3). They want to be free from God’s demands. They want to be free from God’s laws. And these recalcitrant rebels seek freedom from God’s reign and his rule.
Here’s the fascinating irony: Every rebel who searches for freedom apart from God is in bondage, and will, in the final analysis, be subjected to the almighty wrath of God. When you flee from Christ to be free from Christ you build a self-imposed prison around your life. Stated another way, when you submit to Christ’s lordship, you will rest securely in your newfound freedom.
The essential message of Psalm 2:1-5 is this: We enter the danger zone when we resist God’s rule and reign in our lives. How then, should people live before God? Psalm 2:6-12 provides an important answer. We will learn that rebels must recognize Christ’s right to rule and respond reverently to his kingly authority. Then and only then, will we find ourselves in the safety zone.
RECOGNIZE HIS RIGHT TO RULE
God possesses royal authority. He is a transcendent and majestic God who deserves our unhindered reverence and obedience. Notice several aspects of his kingly reign.
The Components of God’s Kingly Reign
First, the installation of the King (v. 6). There is a crucial distinction here between the Father and the Son: “As for me, I have set my King on Zion, on my holy hill.” Note the exalted status of his kingly reign. To set someone in a particular place suggests a unique position.
Christ is presented as his enemies’ King. C.H. Spurgeon says, “What are all the mighty men, the great, the honorable men of the earth to Jesus Christ? They are but like a little bubble in the water; for if all the nations, in comparison to God, be but as the drop in the bucket, or the dust in the balance (Isa. 40:25), how little they must be the kings of the earth!”1 Christ is presented as his saints’ King. Christ rules “over their wills, over their affections, over their judgments and understandings, and nobody hath anything to do here but Christ,” writes Spurgeon.2 Christ is presented as his Father’s King. Christ not only rules in the hearts of his people; he rules over a “providential kingdom, by which he rules the affairs of this world, and so he is the king of nations.”3
Psalm 99:1-5 emphasizes this reign. Indeed, his reign is righteous, sovereign, and omnipotent. His is a just and holy reign. This is the kind of King you would want to serve. This is the kind of King you would want to submit to. This is the kind of King you can find refuge in!
Second, we learn about the position of the King (v. 7). The Son speaks of a decree: “God’s decrees are the wise, free, and holy acts of the counsel of his will, whereby, from all eternity, he hath, for his own glory, unchangeably foreordained whatsoever comes to pass in time.”4
The decree tells of the eternal begetting of the Son. The Nicene Creed (revised in 381) confesses faith in “one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten from the Father before all time, Light from Light true God from true God, begotten not created.”
John Frame helps us understand the meaning of the term, begotten:
Third, Psalm 2:8 describes the inheritance of the King: “As of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession.” The inheritance of Christ is absolutely comprehensive. There is nothing outside the scope of his sovereign control. That is, his kingly reign knows no bounds. He owns everything; he rules over everything and everyone. He is sovereign over the nations; he is sovereign over rulers; he is sovereign over our decisions; he is sovereign over our wills; he is sovereign over all. “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory, forever. Amen” (Rom. 12:36). Abraham Kuyper rightly observes, “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, ‘Mine!’”
Fourth, Psalm 2:9 describes the judgment of the King. The focus in verse 9 is on them. The focus is on the rebels who resist God’s rightful rule and reign in their lives. The focus is on the rebels who refuse to recognize Christ’s right to rule. John Stott describes the judgment of God as his “steady, unrelenting, unremitting, uncompromising, antagonism to evil in all its forms and manifestations.”6
Are you numbered among the rebels who refuse to recognize Christ’s right to rule and reign in your life? There comes a time when every person is faced with a reality check. Christ has been installed as the King. He has a high and holy position. Indeed, he is exalted above everything and everyone. He will judge every person who resists his rightful rule and reign. His wrath will fall on every person who refuses to recognize his sovereign rule. With the reality before us, the psalmist helps rebels understand this important principle: We must not only recognize Christ’s right to rule; we must respond reverently to his kingly authority!
RESPOND REVERENTLY TO HIS KINGLY AUTHORITY
Pay careful attention! This passage is marked off by the words, “Now, therefore” (v. 10). The psalmist urges us to “be wise.” He urges us to “be warned.” Three responses, therefore, are appropriate from those who respond reverently to his kingly authority.
First, serve Christ. ”Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling” (Ps. 2:11). The Hebrew term for serve means “to work; to toil; to accomplish something.” But the word also has the flavor of worship:
Serving Christ, according to Psalm 2:11 involves serving the LORD with fear. “Genuine faith is expressed in, and animated by, a reverential awe, and this is the basic meaning of the biblical idea of the fear of God. Unless there is personal awareness of the awesome and majestic sovereignty of God, it is impossible to have a meaningful faith existing in one’s heart.”7 God-centered fear is struck with the majesty of God, which expresses reverence to him. God-centered fear involves a mixture of rejoicing and trembling. When we come into his presence, we are filled with joy and Christ-exalting awe!
Second, submit to Christ. ”Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way …” (v. 12a). Remember, this King as been installed. His is a lofty position. And his inheritance includes all things. Our responsibility, then, is to kiss the Son. That is, we must submit to the One who is sovereign over all things:
We submit to him when he calls us to love our neighbors.
We submit to him when he calls us to love our enemies.
We submit to him when he calls us to put him first – above all things.
We submit to him when he demands us to repudiate our idols.
We submit to Christ by laying down our arms, turning from our rebellion, and by turning to him in faith.
We kiss the Son.
The consequences are terrible and traumatic for anyone who refuses to submit to God and kiss the Son, namely, the almighty wrath of God. This is a punishment that the unrepentant will endure eternally. John writes, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him” (John 3:36, ESV).
Responding reverently to Christ’s authority involves serving him and submitting to him. But there is a third requirement, namely, satisfaction in Christ. The Bible speaks of the one who takes refuge in Christ. To seek refuge is to find safety. To find safety is to be satisfied and to find refuge under his wings (Ps. 36:7; Ruth 2:12). God is called a child for those who take refuge in him (2 Sam. 22:31). Over and over again, we are told in Scripture that the one who takes refuge in Christ will be blessed:
The sum total of service, submission, and finding satisfaction in Christ boils down to this: it involves living a repentant life; one that responds reverently to his kingly authority. You show me a person who refuses to serve Christ, submit to Christ, and find satisfaction in him and I’ll show you a person who has no clue about living a repentant life. Robert Letham says, “In short, the believer is a repentant believer or he is no believer at all.”
But you show me a person who recognizes Christ’s right to rule and responds reverently to his kingly authority, I’ll show you a person who is truly blessed; a person who is living in the safety zone.
What is the proper response to Christ’s kingly authority? We are to respond reverently by serving him, submitting to him, and finding our satisfaction in him. Each response is an act of worship.
Are you responding reverently to Christ’s kingly authority? Can you say that your service to God is a reflection of how you respond to him? Do you submit to his authority? Do you humbly submit to the authority of your employer? Wives, do you humbly submit to the authority of your husband? Children, do you humbly submit to the authority of your parents? Each of these questions is a snapshot of how you respond to the kingly authority of the Lord Jesus Christ.
We must recognize Christ’s right to rule and respondreverently to his kingly authority. And we respond reverently to his kingly authority by serving Christ, submitting to Christ, and finding our satisfaction in Christ.
Recognizing Christ’s right to rule and responding reverently to his kingly authority is another way of saying that you are exercising faith in God. Several years ago, I served at a church that tore down a building that was packed with asbestos. We hired a firm to remove the hazardous material. Here’s what we were told: Anyone on the premises must wear a hazmat (hazardous materials) suit which is combined with a self-contained breathing apparatus.
Faith in Christ is the “hazmat suit” that shields us from the wrath of God. Don’t presume upon God’s grace. All rebels will face God’s almighty wrath. But everyone who believes in Christ and his triumphant work on the cross will know eternal life and stand secure in the safety zone!
We must recognize Christ’s right to rule and respond reverently to his kingly authority. And we respond reverently to his kingly authority by serving Christ, submitting to Christ, and finding our satisfaction in Christ. Then and only then, will we find ourselves standing in the safety zone.
Soli Deo Gloria!
C.H. Spurgeon, The Treasury of David (Peabody: Hendrickson), 16. ↩
A comprehensive assessment of A Puritan Theology: Doctrine for Life by Joel Beeke and Mark Jones is something akin to sharing one’s thoughts or emotions while gazing at the Grand Canyon, Niagara Falls, the Statue of Liberty, or the Lincoln Memorial. This magnum opus is like oxygen for the barren soul, light for a blind man, a symphony for a deaf man, and a Super Bowl ring for a lame man.
A Puritan Theology is exactly what it suggests. The authors meticulously walk readers through each branch of systematic theology and discuss the typical view that was embraced by the Puritans. Where the Puritans disagree, the authors are careful to represent each side with graciousness. The book is nothing to trifle with. It is a veritable tome that just falls short of 1,000 pages. But readers should not be intimidated by the sheer volume; rather they should make their way through this valuable book, noting key insights and marking Puritan writers they were previously unfamiliar with.
While the entire book is worthy of a careful read, several chapters stand out as especially significant. I enjoyed Chapter 4 – Stephen Charnock on the Attributes of God, Chapter 5 – The Puritans on the Trinity, Chapter 6 – John Owen on Communion with the Triune God, Chapter 10 – The Puritans on Providence, and Chapter 44 – John Bunyan’s Preaching to the Heart. A few additional chapters are worth examining in some detail.
Chapter 26 – The Puritans on Understanding and Using God’s Promises
Beeke and Jones’ remark, “The promises are the pathways where Christ meets the soul.” It is critical to have a correct understanding of God’s promises. Additionally, it is important to distinguish between different kinds of promises. For instance, “Absolute promises make known a certain and sovereign purpose, while conditional promises reveal what God will do if the fulfillment of those promises glorifies Him and is best for His people.”
Christians must make right use of God’s promises. The Puritan Andrew Gray is cited in this regard and notes ten specific ways to make right use of God’s promises:
1. Believing the promises greatly promotes the difficult work of mortification.
2. Believing the promises helps a Christian in the spiritual and heavenly performance of prayer.
3. Believing the promises upholds a Christian afflicted by spiritual desertions and temptations.
4. Believing fosters patience and submission in the midst of the saddest afflictions.
5. Believing helps a Christian distance himself from the world and live more as a pilgrim on earth.
6. Believing is the mother of much spiritual joy and divine consolation and helps a Christian to express praise.
7. Believing is a notable means to attain spiritual life.
8. Believing raises a Christian’s esteem of the thing promised.
9. Belief is the door through which the accomplishment of the promise enters.
10. Believing secures the advantages mentioned in 2 Peter 1:4: we are brought to the blessed conformity with God that we lost in the fall, and we put off the ugly defilements that are Satan’s images on our souls because of the fall.
The authors point to the Puritans who urged their readers to pray the promises of God which involve submission to the will and way of God.
Chapters 42 and 43 – The Puritans on Preaching
My two favorite chapters in this work focused on the biblical mandate of preaching God’s Word. The Puritans, the authors note, “had a profound sense that God built His church primarily by the instrument of preaching,” an appropriate place to begin, given the reluctance of so many men to preach strong, dogmatic, theologically-informed, expository sermons. “The Puritans were earnest preachers who made it their aim to please God rather than people.”
The authors point to the power of Puritan preaching who “preached out of a biblical framework to address the mind, the conscience, and the heart.” Beeke and Jones add, “The Puritans thus reasoned with sinners through plain preaching, using biblical logic to persuade each listener that because of the value and purpose of life as well as the certainty of death and eternity, it was foolish not to seek and serve God … The Puritans understood that a mindless Christianity fosters a spineless Christianity.
There is no doubt that the Puritans aimed straight for the mind – but never to the exclusion of the heart: “Puritan preaching wooed the heart passionately … The Puritans used compelling preaching, personal pleading, earnest praying, biblical reasoning, solemn warning, joyful living – any means they could – to turn sinners from the road of destruction and to God via the mind, the conscience, and the heart – in that order.”
The Puritans were convinced that preaching must by definition, be doctrinal preaching: “The Puritans believed that to live well, people must know doctrine.” J.I. Packer concurs: “Doctrinal preaching certainly bores the hypocrites, but it is only doctrinal preaching that will save Christ’s sheep. The preacher’s job is to proclaim the faith, not to provide entertainment for unbelievers.”
The Puritans simply believed that preaching was the primary way to nourish the flock of God. John Owen writes, “The first and principal duty of a pastor is to feed the flock by diligent preaching of the Word.” Beeke and Jones offer a challenge to readers: “It is not enough just to read the Puritans. We need the authentic, biblical, intelligent piety of the Puritans in our hearts, our lives, our sermons, and our churches.”
The Puritan approach to the pulpit is a powerful antidote to the sappy preaching that is so prevalent, especially in American pulpits. It is a vivid reminder that preaching stands at the center of God’s purposes for the church.
Chapter 52 – Puritan Theology Shaped by a Pilgrim Mentality
J.I. Packer notes, “Puritans saw themselves as God’s pilgrims traveling home, God’s warriors battling against the world, the flesh, and the devil; and God’s servants under orders to do all the good they could as they went along.” The authors picks up on these pilgrim portrait by showing how the Puritans lived the Christian life in practical terms. First, they had a biblical outlook. Thomas Watson (my favorite Puritan) and John Cotton are given as examples of men who sought to live their lives in a biblical framework.
Second, they had a pietist outlook – that is to say, they feared the Lord. Beeke and Jones continue, “The genius of genuine Reformed piety is that it marries theology and piety so that head, heart, and hand motivate one another to live for God’s glory and our neighbor’s well-being.”
Third, they had a churchly outlook. The authors explain, “We can learn much from the Puritans, especially when so many churches today give scant attention to purity in worship and put all their emphasis on what pleases people rather than God. The Puritans did the opposite. Their goal was to please God through holy worship. The question was never, ‘What do I want in worship?’ but always, ‘What does God want in worship?'”
Fourth, they had a warfaring outlook. There was a battleground mentality that the Puritans embraced, striving always to battle “the triple-headed enemy” by the power of the Spirit, through the instrumentality of God’s Word. The authors reflect the mentality of the typical Puritan: “The Christian fights against the devil, the world, and his old nature by looking to Jesus and using the armor of His provision to stay upright as he progresses from this world to the next.”
The Puritans were indeed on a spiritual pilgrimage. In the final analysis, the authors note: “They can teach us, as no other group of writers in church history, how to live a disciplined life to God’s glory without falling into dead orthodoxy or deadly legalism.”
A Puritan Theology is a labor of love that should be cherished by the church for years to come. It should be read for helpful theological insight. It should be read devotionally. The contents are bound to equip, encourage, and rebuke. For me personally, the Puritans have been a deep source of encouragement, especially concerning the nature of God, the promises of God, the sovereignty of God, the lordship of Christ, sanctification, and the ministry of the Holy Spirit. Of course, no one surpasses the courage demonstrated by the Puritans as they sought to faithfully live the Christian life in the power of the Spirit.
It is not uncommon for people in our generation to marginalize and malign the Puritans. Even more disturbing, it is not unusual to find people who caricature the Puritans or assign them false motives. I know of one personally who accused the Puritans of becoming Unitarians! Much to the contrary, the Puritans were a godly lot who battled sin and believed the promises of God, forever faithful on their Christian pilgrimage. Oh, that we would learn the lesson of church history well and seek to emulate the Puritans. May their love of Christ and his gospel permeate our hearts and minds. May their hatred of sin enter the area of our lives. May their disdain for the triple-headed monster – the world, the flesh, and the devil be weaved into the fabric of our worldviews. And may their passion for God’s Word and holiness become a part of the warp and woof of our lives.