THE PRIORITY OF PREACHING – Christopher Ash (2009)

Christopher Ash has a simple goal in his book, The Priority of Preaching.  He seeks to encouraged pastors.

Ash begins by stressing the authority of the preached word.  The thesis utilizes the book of Deuteronomy: “We must listen to the voice of the Christian preacher because he is the prophet in our generation as Moses was in his.”

The author maintains the church has a submission problem.  The church has gotten very good a discussing biblical truth but often suffers from an inability to submit to the Bible.  Indeed, “submission is not the same as discussion.  Discussion is comfortably in line with the spirit of the age.”  So in light of biblical authority, pastors must preach with authority and we must all listen with a submissive spirit.

The second section discusses preaching that transforms the church.  Ash admonishes pastors to boldly preach about the reality of God; the God who is transcendent and holy.  “Preaching that engages with culture will press home on people that reality is on our side.  We are not canvassing their vote, but pleading with them to live in line with how the world is … The only way to have reality on our side is to have him on our side, which is what the gospel offers.”

Ash reminds readers that all people are stubborn and uses Moses as an illustration of one who constantly faced stubborn listeners.  Pastors, then, must engage in “silent dialogue”  where questions are being raised and answered between the pastor and the people.

Pastors must preach with passion, with a holy gravitas.  “The urgency of faith means we need to preach with urgent passionate clarity, clear urgent passion, and passionate clear urgency.”

Pastors must confidently offer Christ to their hearers.  “Given that Jesus says Moses spoke of him, it seems that Moses was, in principle, offering them Christ.  That is to say, he was calling them to believe the God of promise.”

The author includes a helpful appendix that stresses seven blessings of expository preaching.

The Priority of Preaching is not a “how to” book.  Rather, it is a sober reminder to preach the Word.

3 stars

DUG DOWN DEEP: Unearthing What I Believe and Why It Matters – Josh Harris (2010)

Dug Down Deep by Joshua Harris uncovers the importance of understanding and embracing a solid theological framework.  It is in many ways a gracious answer to the typical post-modern response to doctrine.

Harris walks the reader through a handful of important branches of systematic theology including the doctrine of God (theology proper), the doctrine of the Bible (bibliology), the doctrine of Christ (Christology), the doctrine of salvation (soteriology), the doctrine of the church (ecclesiology), and the doctrine of the Holy Spirit (pneumatology).

The final chapter is worth the price of the book as Harris promotes the notion of “humble orthodoxy.”  His admonition to seriously pursue truth is a blast of fresh air in a culture where doctrine and theology are often frowned on – even in the church!  Harris writes, “We live in a world of truth and lies.  We live in a world in which God’s true revelation and the smooth words of charlatans and false prophets compete for our attention … Love for God and love for neighbor require opposing falsehood.  There is nothing more unloving than to be silent in the face of lies that will ruin another person” (p. 221).

Dug Down Deep is a terrific book for high school students or beginning Bible College students.  It is an excellent introduction to systematic theology that will likely lure serious students of God’s Word into deeper waters.

4 stars

THE PLIGHT OF MAN AND THE POWER OF GOD – Martyn Lloyd-Jones (2009)

Although Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones went to be with the Lord in 1981, his influence continues to swell even to this day, and better yet, to a new generation of pastors.

The Plight of Man and the Power of God is the fruit of five messages, originally delivered by the Doctor in Edinburgh in March, 1941.  Lloyd-Jones exposition of Romans 1:18-21, 28, 32 is clear, thought-provoking, and Christ-centered.  His primary intention is to unfold, as the title indicates, the predicament of man and the pardon that is received through Christ.

The predicament of man is clear.  Every person is a sinner by nature and choice and is separated from God, and enemy of God, and under the wrath of God.  “Man must be convinced and convicted of his sin.  He must face the naked, terrible truth about himself and his attitude towards God.  It is only when he realizes that truth that he will be ready to believe the gospel and return to God.”

Lloyd-Jones is quick to direct readers to the cross of Christ.  For it is in Christ alone that sinners find pardon (Rom. 1:16).  “The law of God, which decrees travail and sorrow and misery as the result of sin, has been satisfied.  God in Christ offers us pardon and forgiveness, instead of cursing, blessing … There is but one solution to the problem of individual man and of the whole world.  It is ‘the gospel of Christ which is the power of God unto salvation to every one the believes.'”

The Plight of Man and the Power of God is a simple, yet powerful reminder of the necessity of believing and proclaiming the gospel message!

4 stars

CONSPIRACY OF KINDNESS – Steve Sjogren (2008)

Conspiracy of Kindness by Steve Sjogren is written to motivate Christians to begin a lifestyle of evangelism.  The author promotes a fresh style of sharing one’s faith, namely servant evangelism.  Sjogren argues that “God is looking for people who are willing to participate in acts of love and kindness to those outside their present circle.  He is looking for people who believe that a humble demonstration of love plants a seed of eternity in the hearts of others that will blossom into faith in Christ.”   Moreover,  he contends that the message of the gospel must be spoken and shown to the world.  Words without action are simply meaningless.

Servant evangelism according to Sjogren is “demonstrating the kindness of God by offering to do some act of humble service with no strings attached.”  This brand of evangelism works because anyone can do a simple act of kindness.  It bridges an important credibility gap since many unchurched people view Christians as hypocrites.  Ultimately though, servant evangelism enables an unchurched person to receive love in a tangible way and many times open up to talk about the Savior.

Sjogren maintains that modern Christians need to learn to emulate the example of Jesus.  We need to see the world through the eyes of Christ.  The author observes that Jesus held five key paradigms: Jesus saw through the eyes of the kingdom of God, the eyes of Scripture, the eyes of mercy, the eyes of his culture and the eyes of reality.

The author further describes various forms of evangelism ranging from low risk to low grace and high risk to high grace.  He holds that we should primarily be engaged in low risk and high grace in terms of evangelism.  Such an approach enables God’s presence to manifest itself in practical ways and enable the most timid to impact a community with the love of God.

Having effectively demonstrated the effectiveness and viability of servant evangelism, Sjogren proceeds to give practical tools that will enable any group of believers to begin to immediately affect their respective communities.  The section entitled “nuts and bolts” gives excellent advice for starting servant evangelism projects at the grass-roots level.

Steve Sjogren has written a terrific book.  His heart for reaching the lost is evident on every page which motivates the reader to action.  He writes clearly and uses plenty of examples that help the reader understand how to implement his strategy.  Sjogren’s work is incredibly practical.  He refuses to engage in a theoretical approach to evangelism.  Rather, he shows clearly how to impact communities for the sake of Christ.

4 stars

THE FORGOTTEN SPURGEON – Iain Murray (1966)

There are a few books worth reading over and over.  The Forgotten Spurgeon by Iain Murray is one of them.  Murray is quick to point out that his work is not a biography.  He does, however, seek to examine Spurgeon’s life and pastoral ministry in the context of three major controversies that ensued during his lifetime.

The first controversy involved Spurgeon’s battle over “diluted evangelicalism.”  The second controversy involved his passionate rebuttal of the God-dishonoring doctrine of baptismal regeneration.  The third controversy, the so-called Downgrade movement took place from 1887 until his death in 1892.

Spurgeon rightly opposed hyper-Calvinsim for its failure to promote worldwide evangelism.  Indeed, hyper-Calvinism “deviates seriously from Scripture and falls short of Scripture.”  But Spurgeon also rightly opposed Arminiaism and theological liberalism.  Murray maintains with Spurgeon, “Arminianism obscures the nature of grace in salvation, while liberalism assails the inerrancy of Scripture and teaches the insufficiency of the written Word.”

Spurgeon makes a strong appeal for men on both sides of the doctrinal controversy:  “When some of us preach Calvinism, and some Arminianism, we cannot both be right … Truth does not vacillate like the pendulum which shakes backwards and forwards.  It is not like the comet, which is here, there, and everywhere.  One must be right; the other wrong” (p. 57).

Spurgeon was an important man for 19th century England.  And Spurgeon remains an inspiration to faithful preachers around the world.  His commitment to the truth of Scripture, the framework found in the old-paths of the doctrines of grace, and his courage to proclaim these truths serve to strengthen pastors who find themselves in an ongoing ideological  battleground.  The Prince of Preachers reminds us, “The doctrine which is now rejected as the effete theory of Puritans and Calvinists will yet conquer human thought and reign supreme.  As surely as the sun which sets tonight shall rise tomorrow at the predestined hour, so shall the truth of God shine forth over the whole earth” (p. 190).

5 stars

JONATHAN EDWARDS AND THE MINISTRY OF THE WORD – Douglas A. Sweeney (2009)

Jonathan Edwards and the Ministry of the Word by Douglas A. Sweeney is a superb overview of America’s greatest evangelical and intellectual.  Sweeney summarizes his life, pastoral ministry and theological framework.

Sweeney reminds readers that Edwards opposed Arminian theology at every juncture.  For Edwards, Arminianism meant opposition to “the Reformation and its glorious doctrines of grace, opposed to the biblical truth that sinners are saved supernaturally – and only supernaturally – by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone” (p. 115).

The author includes seven theses for discussion; proposals that intend to “spark reflection about what we can learn from Edwards.”  Sweeney rightly argues: “Edwards shows us that theology can and should be done primarily in the church, by pastors, for the sake of the people of God.”

Jonathan Edwards reminds us of the importance of loving God with the mind.  Sweeney points to the reason for his ongoing influence: “He invested prayer, sweat and tears in the life of the mind.”  Instead of belittling the role of the mind like many contemporary evangelicals, we ought to follow the example of Edwards, who cherished Christ and had a holy relish for his gospel.

4 stars

THE UNQUENCHABLE FLAME: Discovering the Heart of the Reformation – Michael Reeves (2009)

I place books on church history in two distinct categories – boring or breathtaking.  The Unquenchable Flame: Discovering the Heart of the Reformation by Michael Reeves is of the later sort.

The Puritan, Richard Sibbes called the Reformation “that fire which all the world shall never be able to quench.”  Reeves is careful to keep the fire stoked in his work on the Reformation.

The author helpfully explains the historical context of the Reformation and links together the important pieces that ultimately led to the formation of what we now know as Protestantism.

Reeves provides a basic and very interesting overview of the key players that emerge in the Reformation.  He is especially concerned with Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin.  He also summarizes the Reformation in Britain and the Puritans.

The author fans the 493 year Reformation flame by responding to Mark Noll’s assertion that the Reformation is essentially over.  Indeed, as Luther so poignantly wrote, “Justification by faith alone is the article upon which the church stands or fall.”

The Unquenchable Flame is well researched and well written And it certainly has the potential to serve as kindling for a new generation of young Reformed theologians who faithfully live and wield the great truths of the Reformation!

4.5 stars

SCANDALOUS:The Cross and Resurrection of Jesus – D.A. Carson (2010)

Don Carson writes good books.  His new book, Scandalous is no exception.  The essays in Scandalous are the fruit of Carson’s work at the 2008 Resurgence conference at Mars Hill in Seattle.

Carson recounts the story of the cross of Christ and his resurrection with the clarity and insightfulness that we have grown to expect from him.

The author zero’s in on the ironies of the cross.  Carson beautifully captures the subtle realities that emerge as Christ approaches the cross and dies for sinners.  Everyday realities are seen and evaluated in the shadow of the cross; grieving sinners, stinky corpses, and crushed dreams.  Carson weaves through narratives and reflects on the hope that emerges in a suffering Savior and resurrected Savior.

Carson skillfully unpacks crucial doctrines that pertain to the cross of Christ, drawing the reader closer to a better understanding of the gospel.  I recommend Scandalous to new and veteran Christians alike.

4.5 stars

SPURGEON AND THE TRUTH OF GOD

“The doctrine which is now rejected as the effete theory of Puritans and Calvinists will yet conquer human thought and reign supreme.  As surely as the sun which sets tonight shall rise tomorrow as the predestined hour, so shall the truth of God shine forth over the whole earth.”

– C.H. Spurgeon

Cited in Iain Murray, The Forgotten Spurgeon (p. 190)

THE GOOD NEWS WE ALMOST FORGOT: Rediscovering the Gospel in a 16th Century Catechism – Kevin DeYoung (2010)

I was first introduced to Kevin DeYoung back in 2008 when I read Why We’re Not Emergent.  I found his follow-up book, Why We Love the Church exceptional.   The Good News We Almost Forgot is no exception.

DeYoung carefully unpacks the Heidelberg Catechsim, first published in 1563.  The Catechism is primarily an overview of the Apostle’s Creed, the The Ten Commandments, and the Lord’s Prayer.  The basic pattern focuses on man’s misery, man’s deliverance, and man’s response.  DeYoung’s categories are instructive: “guilt, grace, and gratitude.”

The Good News We Almost Forgot has a devotional feel.  DeYoung “keeps the cookies on the lower shelves” but never sacrifices content for the sake of brevity.  Honestly, his insight is very impressive.  He promotes a high view of God (in keeping with the Heidelberg Catechism) and offers practical suggestions for pursuing intimacy with God.

The Good News We Almost Forgot reminds readers that followers of Christ need a steady stream of faithful and meaty teaching/preaching.  DeYoung adds, “We cannot capitulate to the contemporary ethos that laments short attention spans and linear thinking.  We must resist the urge to get with the spirit of the age and feed our people with more than a steady diet of video clips and sermonettes” (p. 169).

My only beef with DeYoung is his promotion of paedo-baptism.  While I admit that his arguments are interesting, they are not very clear, convincing or compelling.  Then again, I have never been impressed with any argument in favor of paeodo-baptism.  However, I am encouraged with his humility and the respect he pays his Baptistic friends!

The most impressive feature of DeYoung’s book is its relentless presentation of the gospel: “I’ll be damned, discouraged, and dismayed if being a follower of Jesus means nothing but a new set of things I’m supposed to do for Him.  Instead, my following Jesus should be, first of all, a declaration of all that He has done for me” (p. 27).

The Good News We Almost Forgot is an important resource that should be utilized in churches for many years to come. It is a continual reminder of the importance of catechisms in the life of the church.

4 stars