JONATHAN EDWARDS, EVANGELIST – John Gerstner (1960)

Jonathan Edwards, Evangelist unlike many of the other books that entertain the subject of evangelism, is not a “how-to” book.  It describes Edward’s mindset toward evangelism, his theological presuppositions, and inner battles.

Dr. John Gerstner painstakingly poured over dozens of Edward’s sermons and writings.  The result has yielded an extremely readable rendition of Jonathan Edwards and his unique approach to doing the work of an evangelist.

Gerstner discusses Edwards’ view on the divine initiative, namely the first step in man’s salvation is taken by God.  “There is a ‘divine initiative’ not only in regeneration, but long before that when the dead and sleeping soul is first disturbed . . . And this divine initiative, or this first divine call, which must always begin the process that may issue in salvation, is the Word of God.”  So Scripture is at the forefront of Edward’s evangelistic scheme.  Further, one must recognize that the invitation of God is universal and genuine (Matt. 11:28; 22:14).  Men are therefore responsible to respond to the gospel call.  He clearly distinguishes himself from the dreaded hyper-Calvinist.

Next, Gerstner seeks to justify the so-called “scare theology” of Jonathan Edwards.  Indeed this Puritanical genius sought to paint vivid pictures of hell that would prompt sinful men to seek the Savior.  One well-known line, “It would be just and righteous with God eternally to reject and destroy you” surely got the attention of the eighteenth century audience.  However, an additional point must be clarified.  Edwards never sought to merely scare people into heaven.  Rather, he taught that one must have a deep affection for Christ.  Gerstner rightly portrays the teaching of Edwards: “True faith in Christ is not a mere desperate or nominal acceptance of him, as a ticket out of hell, but a genuine affectionate trust in him for the very loveliness and excellency of his being.”

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this book is Jonathan Edwards view on seeking, which Gerstner calls the “keystone” of Edwards.  The New England preacher’s view on seeking was much different than the so-called seeker sensitive approach.  The modern-day approach wrongly assumes that men truly seek God.  Jonathan Edwards view is as follows: “When men have been convicted by the Spirit of God, and are not hardened, nor neutral, nor holding back at one point or another, they are true seekers.  They are those who are determined to find the God who has stirred them up to seek him.”  For Edwards, men are able to seek though they are not able to believe apart from grace.  “The Calvinistic doctrine of inability refers not to men’s inability to seek, but their inability to believe and/or to do any good.”  It is interesting to note that directions for seeking salvation are found in almost every sermon Edwards ever preached.

Gerstner discusses further elements of Jonathan Edwards such as preaching the gospel to children, back-sliding and assurance of salvation, all subjects that are beyond the scope of this review.

Many positive features permeate this helpful book.  First, it is helpful to see the biblical Calvinism of Jonathan Edwards set in motion.  Too many wrongly assume that Calvinism is all about abstract theology that results in an apathetic attitude toward the lost (Indeed some Calvinists wrongly carry this attitude, which clearly needs adjusting!)  However, these critics do not really grasp the doctrines of grace for as Edwards teaches us in this work, a thorough grasp of these precious doctrines results in a love for the lost and a passion to preach Christ crucified.  Second and equally helpful is Edwards view on soteriology that views God as the ultimate initiator of salvation.  He alone draws the sinner to himself (John 6:44).  However as Edwards points out, man is still a responsible agent and is responsible to believe.  Further, Edwards discusses the fact that regeneration precedes faith.  This truth, in dispute among many evangelicals needs to be rediscovered as we contemplate the evangelistic endeavor.  Finally, this work gives modern-day evangelists a framework and a biblical system to carry out the evangelistic task.  It is a breath of fresh air in a culture that is immersed with Pelagian thought.

This book is a helpful addition to anyone who strives to evangelize lost people and understand the mind of America’s greatest theologian.  It will certainly strengthen Calvinistic pastors  and challenge pastors who fall in the Arminian camp.  The biggest way this book will help me in the ministry can be state in one word: passion. The unbridled passion of Jonathan Edwards can be felt in almost every sentence he writes.  He stirs my heart for evangelism and motivates me to obey the command of Christ.

4.5 stars


BASIC CHRISTIANITY – John Stott (1958)

A friend recently asked, “What book should new Christians read?”  I immediately referred him to Basic Christianity by John Stott.  First published in 1958, Stott’s work has sold over 2.5 million copies and was named “Book of the Century” by Christianity Today.

The book begins by focusing the attention of the reader on the divine initiative.  It is God who has taken the initiative in creation, revelation, and salvation.  The basic framework of the book is linked to these two realities: God has spoken (revelation) and God has acted in Christ (salvation).

The author proceeds to clearly and thoughtfully describe Christ’s person, man’s need, Christ’s work, and the necessity of man’s response.  He provides a basic overview of critical doctrines such as justification by faith alone, sanctification, the work of the Holy Spirit, the necessity of repentance, and indispensable principles of the Christian life.

Stott repudiates the modern-day notion that a sinner has the option of believing in Christ but refusing to submit to his lordship: “The astonishing idea  is current in some circles today that we can enjoy the benefits of Christ’s salvation without accepting the challenge of his sovereign lordship … To make Christ Lord is to bring every department of our public and private lives under his control.”

The label, “Book of the Century” may be a bit overstated.  But it is indeed, an important book.  Basic Christianity is not only essential reading for new believers; it is a vital tool in the hands of mature believers as well.

4.5 stars

SUFFERING AND THE SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD – John Piper and Justin Taylor, Ed (2006)

The only one who has taught me more about the sovereignty of God than John Piper is Jonathan Edwards.  Dr. Piper does not disappoint in this edited work.  The chapters are compiled in a series of transcripts from the 2005 Desiring God Conference, Suffering and the Sovereignty of God.  This review serves as a summary of some noteworthy chapters.

Piper’s opening chapter unfolds ten aspects of God’s sovereignty over suffering and Satan’s role in it.  He points the reader to the eternal and infinite God; a God who stands in sharp contrast to the finite and contingent creature.  The insight that Piper offers in this chapter are simply breathtaking.

Dr. Mark Talbot pens one of the most helpful and beneficial chapters on compatibalism to date.  The doctrine affirms that God ordains everything that comes to pass and also affirms that agents make free, responsible choices.  God never does evil, but he does in fact ordain or decree evil.  Talbot’s explanations are philosophically and theologically satisfying and are expressed with warm pastoral concern.  Pretty good work for a philosophy professor!  Dr. Talbot’s chapter is worth the price of the book.

Steve Saint poignantly describes the murder of his father, Nate Saint and shares his personal pain as a child and the events that God used to soften his heart and make him usable vessel in God’s kingdom.

There are so many rich nuggets in this volume.  Read it and be prepared for the difficult days ahead. Suffering and the Sovereignty of God is a welcome addition to students taking the Veritas course, Mending the Achilles Heel: A Biblical Response to the Problem of Evil.

4.5 stars

THE REASON FOR SUFFERING

“The ultimate reason that suffering exists in the universe is so that Christ might display the greatness of the glory of the grace of God by suffering in himself to overcome our suffering.  The suffering of the utterly innocent and infinitely holy Son of God in the place of utterly undeserving sinners to bring us to everlasting joy is the greatest display of the glory of God’s grace that ever was, or ever could be.”

– John Piper, Suffering and the Sovereignty of God (Crossway Books, 2006), p. 82

THE TEN COMMANDMENTS – Thomas Watson (1692)

Jonathan Edwards has always been and will always be my favorite Puritan pastor and theologian.  But Thomas Watson comes in as a close second.  Though he did not pump out the material that Edwards produced, his work is always readable, inspiring, poetic, biblical and God-centered to the core. The Ten Commandments is no exception.  Thomas Watson’s prose is typically Puritan in style.  He masterfully mines a given passage and thoughtfully applies God’s truth to the reader.

After a lengthy introduction, the author digs deeply into the ten commandments.  Each commandment is served up, much like a five course meal.  Each exposition is filled with insight and pithy commentary.  For instance, Watson contrasts the first and second commandments: “In the first commandment worshipping a false god is forbidden; in this (namely, the second commandment), worshipping the true God in a false manner.”  “God is to be adored in the heart, not painted to the eye.”  Watson draws the reader toward true worship and warns of false, idolatrous worship:  “Take heed of all occasions of idolatry, for idolatry is devil-worship.”

Clearly, Thomas Watson was a student of John Calvin and was well aware of his famous dictum: “The heart is an idol-factory.”  No doubt Watson was grieved by the rampant idolatry that was being churned out of the Roman Catholic Church.  But he was also grieved with his own propensity toward idolatry.  So he writes with zeal.  He writes with passion.  And he spurs readers toward the glory of God and prompts them to worship him alone!

Watson, though writing to a 17th century audience, speaks directly to the heart of America as he unfolds the meaning behind the third commandment: “[God] is not to be spoken of but with a holy awe upon our hearts.  To bring his name in at every turn, when we are not thinking of him, to say, ‘O God!’ or ‘O Christ!’ is to take God’s name in vain.  How many are guilty here … It is a wonder that fire does not come out from the Lord to consume them, as it did Nadab and Abihu.”

Watson clearly articulates the utter inability for sinful men to  keep the moral law.  Indeed, “though man has lost his power of obeying, God has not lost his right in commanding.”  Watson indirectly confronts the heretic, Pelagius who believed that all men have the ability to carry out God’s commands.  His view concerning freewill is clear: “The will is not only full of weakness, but obstinacy …The will hangs forth a flag of defiance against God.”

The author is quick to point sinners to the cross of Christ: “Though a Christian cannot, in his own person, perform all God’s commandments; yet Christ, as his Surety, and in his stead, has fulfilled the law for him: and God accepts of Christ’s obedience, which is perfect, to satisfy for that obedience which is imperfect.”  Here is where Watson shines brightly.  He constantly emphasizes the lost condition and utter hopelessness of sinners apart from grace.  And he consistently stresses the life, death, and resurrection of Christ on behalf of God’s elect.

Soli Deo Gloria!

4 stars

RELIGIOUS AFFECTIONS – Jonathan Edwards (1746)

Religious Affections is a classic work by America’s greatest theologian, and my favorite theologian, Jonathan Edwards.  The thesis: True religion, in great part, consists in holy affections.

Section one discusses the nature of the affections and their importance in religion. Edwards defines his terms early in the work.  He describes the affections as the exercises of the “inclination and the will of the soul.”  He notes that one may have doctrinal knowledge and speculate  in matters of theology, but without affections one is never engaged in the business of religion. Similarly, a man having much affection, does not prove that he has true religion: but if he has no affection, it proves that he has no true religion.

The Scriptures represent true religion, as being summarily comprehended in love, the chief of the affections, and the fountain of all others.  “From a vigorous, affectionate, and fervent love to God, will necessarily arise other religious affections, hence will arise an intense hatred and fear of sin; a dread of God’s displeasure; gratitude to God for His goodness; joy in God; grief when He is absent.”

Part two demonstrates that one cannot rely on signs to test the validity of religious affections.  The author details twelve different supposed manifestations of religious affections that in reality turn out to be shams.

Part three is the heart of the book.  In contrast to the previous section, Edwards shows the distinguishing signs of truly gracious affections.  The fourteen different signs are worth noting.  1) Gracious affections are from divine influence.  2) Their object is the excellency of divine things.  3) They are founded on the moral excellency of objects.  4) They arise from divine illumination.  5) They are attended with a conviction of certainty.  6) They are attended with evangelical humiliation.  7) They are attended with a change of nature.  8) They beget and promote the temper of Jesus.  9) Gracious affections soften the heart.  10) They have beautiful symmetry and proportion.  11) False affections rest satisfied in themselves.  12) Their fruit is Christian practice.  13) Christian practice is the chief sign to others.  14) Christian practice is the chief sign to ourselves.

Edwards clearly describes the deceptive nature of the heart and makes the reader aware of counterfeit religious experiences as well as authentic ones.  The strengths in Religious Affections are numerous.  First, the author is logical.  His points are well-organized and cohesive.  Moreover, the author is biblical.  In classic Edwardsean style, the writer regularly supports his assertions with Scriptural truth, inviting the reader to deeper communion with God.  Finally, the author writes with conviction.  He pulls no punches and forces the reader to contemplate serious questions pertaining to Christian living.

Religious Affections has been and will continue to be an ongoing source of encouragement and an invaluable aid in pastoral ministry.   This work challenges me to measure what I believe about Christ in a practical way.  It forces me to ask difficult questions and probe motives in any given area.  In short, this work can be used as a gauge to measure my affections and devotion to Christ.  Additionally, this work will be a helpful tool in determining where others are coming from.  Finally, Religious Affections may be used to challenge the flock of God. It encourages me to raise the bar higher for those I have an opportunity to shepherd and disciple.

5 stars

Credibility: How Leaders Gain And Lose It – James Kouzes and Barry Posner (1993)

Credibility: How Leaders Gain And Lose It, Why People Demand It discusses how leaders earn the trust and confidence of their constituents.  The authors engaged in extensive research which included the surveying of over fifteen thousand people and more than four hundred written case studies.  The stunning results yield a treasure chest of information.  Some of the nuggets include the qualities that constituents look for and admire in leaders, the foundation of leadership and of all working relationships, the principles and disciplines that strengthen leadership credibility, and the struggles that leaders face in living up to their constituents’ expectations.  The conclusion: credibility is the foundation of all working relationships.

The first chapter maintains leadership is relationship and credibility is indeed the foundation of leadership.  Businesses can no longer get away with the “us verses them” mentality.  Rather one hears phrases like “seamless partnerships, “web of mutual responsibility” and “mutual commitments” in the marketplace.  Further, the research conducted by the authors shows what constituents expect from their employers.  The most frequent response was integrity or honesty, a leader who is forward-looking, inspiring and competence.

Chapter two discusses the difference credibility makes.  This chapter demonstrates how people feel working with leaders they admired.  The frequent responses are “valued,” “motivated,” “enthusiastic,” “challenged,”  “inspired,” “respected,” and “proud.”  The conclusion is that when people work with leaders they admire and respect, they feel better about themselves.  One therefore comes to the realization that high credibility earns intense commitment.  And commitment will ultimately enable people to regenerate great businesses, communities and churches.  Further, the six disciplines of credibility are offered as the means for building the foundation of leadership.

The first discipline of credibility is discovering yourself.  Three aspects of this discipline are developing one’s credo, competencies and confidence.  The credo is a simple affirmation of one’s values which serve in making decisions and resolving conflicts.  Acquiring competence involves building the necessary skills to perform a given job with excellence which in the long run builds credibility.  Strengthening credibility requires continued improvement of existing abilities which takes time and attention.  Self-confidence  or “self-efficacy” carries tremendous weight as one develops as a leader.  Keys to developing confidence include mastery of one’s job, modeling (learning from mentors who do the job well) and support (hearing from those we respect that we are doing a great job).  Ultimately, credo, competence, and confidence are the content of character.  Leaders do well then, to take time to discover their individual strengths and liabilities.

The second discipline of credibility is appreciating constituents and their diversity.  This skill simply involves empathy; learning how to understand and see things from another’s perspective.  “The greater the extent to which we comprehend each others perceptions, concerns, and values, the greater our ability to work together.”  Appreciating diversity involves showing appreciation by building trust.  And the greatest way to build trust is to listen carefully to the hopes, hurts and dreams of constituents.  Leaders further appreciate diversity by welcoming feedback and divergent viewpoints.

The third discipline of credibility is affirming shared values.  The authors claim that shared values are the foundation for building productive and genuine working relationships.  One critical objective in doing so is the building of cooperative communities that promote these commonly held values.  The net result:  finger pointing is eliminated and problems are solved at the grass roots level.  Further, the authors endorse the utilization of organizational systems to reinforce shared values.  They recommend orientation classes, training and development and promotions to foster an environment that places values at the forefront of the organization.

The fourth discipline of credibility is developing capacity.  The critical concept here is that credible leaders liberate potential leaders around them.  They turn their constituents into leaders and as a result earn credibility as leadership is distributed across the organization.  Credible leaders also have a passion for educating those around them.  They are not intimidated by others in the organization that commit themselves to life long learning.  Further, credible leaders offer choices, encourage ownership and inspire constituents to greater confidence.

The fifth discipline of credibility is serving a purpose.  Leaders serve a purpose and the people who have made it possible for them to lead.  In fact, the service of leaders is the basis of their credibility.  Serving involves staying in touch, constant attention to listening and learning from constituents and matching words and actions.

The fifth discipline of credibility is sustaining hope.  Credible leaders look on the bright side.  Their lives are brimming with optimism.  They demonstrate daily courage and inspire constituents to see positive images of the future.

The final chapter discusses the tension between freedom and constraint.  Kouzes and Posner discuss the fine line of leadership and explore the potential excesses of the six disciplines that comprise the bulk of the book.

Credibility is a tremendous book.   The research should be commended for its depth and breadth.  But more important is the personal nature of the research presented.  Cold statistics and data are absent from this volume.  Rather, real-life stories lay before the reader and the principles emerge confirming the thesis that that credibility is the foundation of all working relationships – and of all relationships that work.  The material is thought-provoking, practical, and may be implemented immediately in the local church context.  I will refer to this book again and again as I seek to develop leaders who are committed to living in and building the kingdom of God.

5 stars

THE SEVEN SAYINGS OF THE SAVIOR ON THE CROSS – A.W. Pink

The Seven Sayings of the Savior on the Cross by A.W. Pink is a devotional look at the final words uttered by Jesus on Calvary’s tree.  But these meditations are more than mere musings.  To the contrary, Pink’s insight is theologically charged, mind altering, and heart transforming.

Pink turns the heart of the reader to the person and work of Christ.  He skillfully explains each of the seven sayings of the Savior on the cross and makes direct application to Christ-followers and calls the unregenerate to repentance.

Pink’s work is an excellent introduction to the basics of Christ’s cross work.  Readers would do well to proceed to The Cross Centered Life by C.J. Mahaney, The Cross of Christ by John Stott, The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross by Leon Morris and Pierced for Our Transgressions by Steve Jeffery, Michael Ovey, and Andrew Sach.

4  stars

TIGER NEEDS THE LION

Thousands of golf fans around the world breathed a collective sigh of relief this morning as Tiger Woods stood before family and friends and apologized for his infidelity.  I was personally relieved and encouraged to see Tiger humble himself by doing the right thing.  His act of humility is a step in the right direction and required a great deal of courage.

Tiger Woods needs veritas et lux – truth and light, as he forges ahead into the future and seeks to rebuild his life and merge onto the road to recovery.  However, this road will reach an eventual dead end if he continues to embrace a Buddhist worldview.  Buddhism teaches adherence to the so-called Eight Fold Path; essentially self-salvation.  But the Bible says our “works of righteousness” are unacceptable to God.  “We have all become unclean like one who is unclean, and all our righteousness deeds are like a polluted garment” (Isa. 64:6, ESV).

Tiger has taken an important step in the right direction by admitting his error.  Indeed, we have all sinned and broken the law of God (Rom. 3:23; Jer. 17:9).  We are sinners faced with eternal judgment for violating God’s law and failing to glorify him as we ought (Rom. 6:23; 2 Thess. 1:8-9).  We are sinners in need of a Savior (John 14:6; 1 Tim. 1:15).  Every person must confess their sin and their need of Christ (Acts 16:31) and receive the free gift of salvation (Eph. 2:8-9).

Tiger Woods needs veritas et lux – and the only way to truth and light is to embrace the Lion of the Tribe of Judah,  Jesus Christ – the One who came as a Lamb and who will return as a Lion. He is the truth (John 14:6, 18:37) and the light (John 1:1-5), the Son of God who died to set sinners free.  Forgiveness is not found through “self-atonement” or “self-salvation.”  Forgiveness is not found in confessing ones sins to a priest.  Real forgiveness is found as one places faith in the Lion who stood in the place of sinners (2 Cor. 5:21).  Jesus said, “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3, ESV).

Christians everywhere should pray for Tiger Woods; for a restored marriage, a restored family, a restored personal life and for salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.

HE IS NOT SILENT: PREACHING IN A POSTMODERN WORLD – Al Mohler (2009)

Dr. Al Mohler has written a clear book that describes the mandate to preach God’s Word faithfully and authoritatively.  He Is Not Silent is not to be confused with preaching methodology.  Rather, Mohler’s concern is to develop a biblical theology of preaching.

Specifically, Mohler presses the need for men of God to preach expository sermons.  He states emphatically, “I believe that the only form of authentic Christian preaching is expository preaching.”

Mohler argues rightly that every sermon should be grounded in Scripture, rooted in the Reformation, and wielded with authority.  Indeed, every sermon should be Christological.  Spurgeon’s wisdom is cited with approval: “Preach the Word, place it in its canonical context, and make a bee-line to the cross.”

The author addresses the current postmodern climate and hostility toward metanarratives.  He maintains that pastors must link their sermons to the great movements of biblical history: creation, fall, redemption, and consummation:  “Our ambition, our obsession as preachers – should be nothing less than to preach so that the congregation sees the big story of the gospel, the grand narrative of the gospel, through every text we preach.”

Pastors who are not convinced about the mandate to preach expository sermons should not waste their time with this book.  Continue to tell stories and chat about Christianity from the safe confines of a stool.  The net result of this kind of “wee little preaching” as Mohler calls it, will be a weakened church that will bear the fruit of an anemic and lifeless Christianity.

Pastors who take the responsibility to shepherd the people of God with blood-earnestness should carefully read He Is Not Silent.  You will be encouraged and motivated to preach the Word of God with the passion and faithfulness.

4.5 stars