An Introduction to John Owen – Crawford Gribben

Crawford Gribben, An Introduction to John Owen: A Christian Vision for Every Stage of Life (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2020), 190 pp.

John Owen is arguably one of the most influential Puritan writers and should likewise be considered one of the most formidable Christian thinkers in the history of the church. Crawford Gribben sets out to explore the life and ministry of this important man in his book, An Introduction to John Owen: A Christian Vision for Every Stage of Life.

A few short words in the preface nicely captures the core of the book:

For Owen, spiritual life was about increasing in grace and goodness, in fellowship with each person of the Trinity, in the local and visible, catholic and invisible fellowship of the church, in the context of an often hostile world … The good life would be enabled by divine grace and would extend that grace to others.

The author sets the tone in a stirring introduction that alerts readers to the high points of Owen’s life. Owen is presented as one who was reared in a politically charged environment. A serious man by nature, Owen is prepared for a life of scholarship and ministry. He possessed a stunning intellect but also may have battled depression – along with a host of other Puritan pastors of his generation.

A fascinating feature of Owen’s life includes living through the Great Plague (1665-1666) and the Great Fire (1666). The author presents Owen as one who continues to work, write, serve, and minister – even in the midst of the fiery storm.

The remainder of the book builds upon this grand theme of living the Christian life to the glory of God. Four basic headings guide readers through Owen’s life including his childhood, youth, middle age, and death, and the afterlife. Key works of Owen are mentioned briefly and highlights of his ministry are spelled out.

Overall, Gribben’s work is solid and informative. Students who are not familiar with John Owen will benefit greatly from reading this book. But longtime admirers of Owen will also be encouraged.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review.

Lead: Twelve Gospel Principles for Leadership in the Church – Paul David Tripp

Paul David Tripp, Lead: 12 Gospel Principles for Leadership in the Church (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2020), 225 pp.

Paul David Tripp has a special way of delivering a series of “gut-punches” to his readers. These deliberate blows are never meant to harm. Rather, the blows he delivers are meant to build up, encourage, and equip. Such is the case in his new book, Lead: 12 Gospel Principles for Leadership in the Church.

Dr. Tripp’s goal is to “propose a positive character model for local church or ministry leadership.” So he invites readers into the boxing ring for twelve rounds. Each round is focused on a particular subject that is ultimately informed by the gospel. The author writes, “The gospel, which is our hope in life and death, also sets the agenda for how we live, relate, and lead the ‘already’ of our conversation and the ‘not yet’ of our final home going.”

“Remember that the gospel of God’s grace teaches us that lasting change of heart and hands always takes place in the context of relationship, first with God and then with the people of God,” writes Tripp. This heart and passion beats throughout the book as the author relentlessly brings struggling readers back to their first love and a better understanding of the gospel.

The author writes as a churchman, a pastor, a theologian, and a biblical counselor. But he also writes as a fellow-pilgrim. He never throws “punches” from the cheap seats. Dr. Tripp is quick to admit his own weaknesses, hidden motivations, and sin. He along with all people desperately needs the gospel.

I challenge readers to enter the ring. Be prepared for a stringent workout. Be prepared for a few timely punches. When the final bell rings, you will be glad you took the challenge. And you will be better prepared and equipped to enter the real-life world of ministry.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review.

When the Stars Disappear – Mark Talbot

Mark Talbot, When the Stars Disappear (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2020), 128 pp.

Several years ago, I was introduced to the writing of Dr. Mark Talbot. His sharp intellect and warm heart instantly grabbed my attention. Talbot is well-known for his writing on the subject of pain and suffering. As one who was partially paralyzed in his teens, Talbot is uniquely qualified to address the subject. He not only sympathizes with fellow suffers; he has the biblical background and experience to offer counsel that is meaningful and God-honoring.

Sometimes one sentence makes a book worth reading. Such is the case with Mark Talbot’s book, When the Stars Disappear. This is no way detracts from the rest of the book. Indeed, the book is filled with biblical wisdom and encouragement for people who are experiencing a season of suffering.

When the Stars Disappear is the first installment in a series of four books, which are appropriately titled, “Suffering and the Christian Life.” The first volume attempts to show readers that suffering is not only a part of God’s plan for his people; it is a gracious gift, which is to be received in faith.

Talbot utilizes the painful stories of Naomi, Job, and Jeremiah to illustrate the central thesis of the book. He paints a realistic portrait of these characters who struggle with suffering and struggle with a God who allows and ordains it.

The great strength of this book is a biblical perspective that leads readers to a gracious God who is eager for people to draw near in faith and communion. That leads us to the sentence that captured my attention:

“Biblical faith and hope are grounded in God’s self-revelation that – no matter how dark and hopeless life may now seem – his saints will ultimately know him as ’the God of chesed,’ for that is indeed his name.”

The author helps us understand how God is accomplishing good in the lives of his people, even in the midst of pain and suffering. “Believing that this is what God has in store for us,” Talbot writes, “is essential to Christian faith.” He continues, “God’s apparent delay in fulfilling his promises refines our hopes. We lift our heads and see God’s eschatological rewards from afar as our earthly hopes die. Our suffering inclines us to reorient our hopes toward the consummation.”

In the end, our gaze is set upon a Savior who promises to make all things new. Dr. Talbot’s warm-hearted biblical perspective is a welcome gift that is sure to be received with open arms by many. I look forward with great anticipation to the remaining volumes in this soul-stirring series.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review.

Stott on the Christian Life – Tim Chester

Tim Chester, Stott on the Christian Life (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2020), 268 pp.

Stott on the Christian Life: Between Two Worlds by Tim Chester is the latest installment in the excellent, Theologians of the Christian Life, edited by Stephen J. Nichols and Justin Taylor. John Stott was a formidable figure in the evangelical world, a reality that is seen throughout in Chester’s offering.

The author begins with a biographical survey of Stott’s life and serves as a fitting introduction to the uninitiated. Once the groundwork is laid, Chester launches readers on a tour of Stott’s life that is both informative and inspiring.

Stott’s work on the evangelical mind played a significant role in my own Christian pilgrimage. His book, Your Minds Matters was formative and helped establish early convictions as a young evangelical. Stott’s emphasis on creation, revelation, redemption, and judgment (which are the key pillars in the Christian worldview) help establish him as a key voice among evangelical leaders.

Stott was a model preacher and a fine example of a man who labored over the text and was committed to delivering expository sermons:

It stands to reason that every recovery of confidence in the Word of God, and so in a living God who spoke and speaks, however this truth may be defined, is bound to result in a recovery of preaching … Nothing, it seems to me, is more important for the life and growth, health and depth of the contemporary church than a recovery of serious biblical preaching.

His expositional commentaries have been a major help in my own sermon preparation and have helped thousands of expositors for years.

Stott’s book, The Cross of Christ, which many (myself included) regard as one of the best books ever written on the subject is highlighted here. The Cross of Christ was his “greatest achievement,” and considered his magnum opus. The treatment of propitiation, redemption, reconciliation, and justification in this work is unparalleled and should be considered essential reading for pastors and students of theology.

While Stott held a high view of the authority of Scripture, one disappointment is his departure from the historic and orthodox teaching concerning eternal punishment. Chester adds, “Stott refused to ‘dogmatism’ about his position and asked people not to speak of his ‘endorsement of annihilationism.” Chester adds, “ … many assumed annihilations involved a denial of the authority of Scripture. Stott, though, explicitly warned against asking what one’s heart says rather than asking what God’s word says.”

I am impressed with the way that Chester handles Stott’s annihilationism. He does not shy away from the controversy but he also continues to pay proper respect to the man he regards so highly. His even-handed approach should be emulated.

In the remainder of the book, Chester focuses on several matters that concern Stott’s view of sanctification, evangelism, social matters, and the lordship of Christ.

The final chapter is a wonderful summary of John Stott’s life and ministry. This is a life that can be summed up in his commitment to the Lord Jesus Christ and the power of his gospel. Stott gave his life for the great cause of the gospel. Tim Chester’s fine work bears this out in spades.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review.

A Christian Reading Manifesto

Modern technology has launched us into the stratosphere of learning. With the click of a mouse or a few keystrokes, we can access information from around the world and gain a treasure chest of knowledge. Smartphones are at the forefront of the new technological frontier and provide users with a massive array of educational and intellectual tools. These ingenious devices have “thirty thousand times the processing speed of the seventy-pound onboard navigational computer that guided Apollo 11 to the surface of the moon.”1 Never before have we been able to access so much information. In addition, the rise of podcasting and audiobooks allow us to connect with current and previous generations in a way that was once impossible.

Despite the benefits of recent technological tools, we are also experiencing a phenomenon that should be of grave concern to pastors and Christian leaders. Many people, especially millennials (people born between 1981 and 1995) are eager to learn but appear resistant to reading. They are “on the verge,” in the prophetic words of Neil Postman, “of amusing themselves to death.”2 They may eagerly listen to a podcast or watch a YouTube video, but a growing number of people pass when it comes to the written page. They are quick to listen but slow to read. Thus, we stand at the crossroads. We have a wealth of information at our fingertips but many resist the challenge to read books. Pastors should be especially concerned as they seek to train and equip the next generation of Christian leaders, who are in many cases, reluctant to read.

UNPACKING THE CHRISTIAN READING MANIFESTO

Mark Noll laments, “The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind.”3 Thirty years earlier, Harry Blamires offered an even grimmer assessment: “There is no longer a Christian mind; there is no shared field of discourse in which we can move at ease as thinking Christians by trodden ways and past established landmarks.”4 These allegations should serve as a warning and alert Christians, thus refueling their resolve for learning and spiritual growth. My own view is one of cautious optimism. That is, I maintain (despite the evidence) there is still hope for the evangelical mind. But a new awakening will require a commitment to, you guessed it … reading.

I offer this Christian Reading Manifesto as a brief rationale and apologetic for evangelicals, especially young people. My hope is that many will respond to the challenge and enter a new era of learning which will accelerate their Christian growth and sanctification. Lord willing, this new resurgence of learning will impact countless lives in the coming days and help spark a new Reformation.

1. Reading forces us to think

The very act of reading is an act of the mind. Our culture invites and even demands us to have “open minds” about everything under the sun – religion, philosophy, and politics, to name a few. G.K. Chesterton warned, “Merely having an open mind is nothing. The object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid.” Given the current trajectory, the next generation of Christian leaders will be open to almost anything. Thus, they will fail to discern between truth and error. They will be “tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine” (Eph. 4:14). Their failure to invest in the life of the mind will result in a gradual epistemological erosion that will affect generations to come. They will bear a strange resemblance to Paul’s kinsmen who had a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge (Rom. 10:2). They will, in the words of Hosea 4:6 be laid to ruin: “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge; because you have rejected knowledge …”

God gave us minds. He expects us to use them. Paul charged Timothy, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15). The Greek term translated, do your best means “to be eager or zealous; to show a keen interest in something.” One of the ways we present ourselves to God is through consistent study: “Study to shew thyself approved unto God …” (KJV). Paul’s command to Timothy is no less a command to each of us. The fruit of such diligent study has three important results.

First, such a person is approved. This person has been tested and is shown to be genuine. The prerequisite for this approval, however, is a zeal for the truth. The person who is approved has committed himself to study and has a passion to pursue the truth and practice the truth. “So I will keep Your law continually, forever and ever. And I will walk at liberty, For I seek Your precepts” (Psalm 119:44–45, NASB95).

Second, this kind of person has no need to be ashamed. This person is not open to blame. He is irreproachable. The great benefit of this quality is a life characterized by freedom. Lifelong learning characterizes the one who is committed to passionately pursuing the truth. But the prerequisite for such a pursuit involves reading.

Third, this kind of person handles the truth with precision. The person who commits to diligent study is in a position to handle the Word of God with accuracy. He is committed to reading and analyzing Scripture correctly. Such a person cuts it straight and maintains strict standards of orthodoxy. He will rise up with men like Athanasius by opposing false teaching and clinging to the truth.

Paul’s command to Timothy and every subsequent follower of Christ involves careful thinking. “Deep within the worldview of the biblical authors and equally within the minds of the earliest church fathers was the understanding that to be fully human is to think.5 And careful thinking involves reading. There is simply no way around this principle. People who resist reading will likely be quick to appeal to other learning venues like audiobooks and podcasting. But the written word is the gold standard of learning. Reading the written word is the great equalizer. John Piper reminds us:

“The way we glorify him is by knowing him truly, by treasuring him above all things, and by living in a way that shows he is our supreme treasure … I am pleading that in all your thinking you seek to see and savor the Treasure. If thinking has the reputation of being only emotionless logic, all will be in vain. God did not give us minds as ends in themselves. The mind provides the kindling for the fires of the heart. Theology serves doxology. Reflection serves affection. Contemplation serves exultation. Together they glorify Christ to the full.”6

To ignore reading, then, is tantamount to turning away from a treasure chest filled with precious jewels.

2. Reading cultivates discipline

While audiobooks and podcasting have their place, one of the major drawbacks is a passive approach to learning. Very few people will commit to sitting down with pen in hand during a podcast session. It is not unusual for audio content to go in one ear and out the other.

Reading, on the other hand, cultivates discipline. It forces us to follow the arguments, reasoning, and rationale of the author. It invites the learner to pay attention to key words and phrases. Reading requires taking notes and highlighting for future reference. The very act of reading promotes attentiveness. The precursor to attentiveness is discipline.

The connection between doctrine and discipline is unavoidable in 1 Timothy 4:6-8. Paul admonishes the young pastor:

“In pointing out these things to the brethren, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, constantly nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound doctrine which you have been following. But have nothing to do with worldly fables fit only for old women. On the other hand, discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness; for bodily discipline is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.”

Paul’s passion is that Timothy would be constantly growing and learning. Instead of fixating on worldly things, Paul instructs him to discipline (or train) himself for the purpose of godliness. Reading, therefore, is an essential aspect of Christian discipleship.

3. Reading forces us to reckon with words

The historic Christian faith is one that is built around words. In Genesis 1:1 God spoke the cosmos into existence. God uttered three words, “Let there be light,” and there was light (Gen. 1:3).

The Jewish people clung tenaciously to a tradition that was undergirded by words.

“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates” (Deut. 6:4–9, ESV).

Words, in all reality, are at the very center of the Christian faith. “God has revealed himself in words to minds. His revelation is a rational revelation to rational creatures.”7 Remember Paul’s challenge to Timothy, namely – to be “constantly nourished on the words of faith” (1 Tim. 4:6). Imagine where you would be as a Christian if you were unable to read. Kevin DeYoung highlights the importance of this emphasis on words: “We make no apology for being Word-centered and words-centered. Faith comes by hearing (Rom. 10:17). That’s how God designed it because that’s how he has chosen to reveal himself.”8 So reading forces us to pay careful attention to words. Instead of condemning words, then, we celebrate words and affirm their importance to historic Christianity.

4. Reading fuels our minds and ignites our hearts

R.C. Sproul spoke frequently about the rampant anti-intellectualism that dominates the postmodern theological landscape. “This same specter of anti-intellectualism rises regularly to haunt the Christian church,” wrote John R.W. Stott.9 Such is the case of a church that seeks entertainment over education. “We are” in the words of Neil Postman, “amusing ourselves to death.”

Reading, however, fuels our minds and ignites our hearts. It connects us with the great heroes of church history. Reading invites us into their world, helps us see things from their perspective, and acquaints us with their sufferings.

Reading leads us to the Word (logos). “In the beginning was the Word,” writes John, “and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1-2). In other words, reading introduces us to the Savior (Rom. 10:17) and helps cultivate our faith in Christ, leading us into deeper fellowship and communion with him (1 John 1:1-3).

The very act of reading, then, serves as a sort of kindling that helps fuel our minds and ignite our hearts. Reading is a great boon to the soul.

5. Reading helps us love God with our minds

Scripture commands us to love God with all our minds. Yet this imperative is routinely ignored by many: “And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matt. 22:37). J.P. Moreland adds, “If we are going to be wise, spiritual people prepared to meet the crises of our age, we must be a studying, learning community that values the life of the mind.” John Piper takes it one step further: “Loving God with the mind means that our thinking is wholly engaged to do all it can to awaken and express the heartfelt fullness of treasuring God above all things.”10 Such a pursuit, as Moreland and Piper assert, is not optional. Rather, it is essential. Loving God with our minds stands at the very center of our Christian lives.

The Christian mind, therefore, must be nurtured and developed. It must be shaped by Scripture and learn to rejoice in God’s truth. At the same time, the Christian mind must reject worldly ideology and philosophy. “The mind of man,” writes Harry Blamires, “must be won for God.”11

Cultivating a Christian mind requires a basic understanding of knowledge. David S. Dockery suggests that “the starting point of loving God with our minds, thinking Christianly, points to a unity of knowledge, a seamless whole, because all true knowledge flows forms the one Creator, to His one creation … all truth has its source in God, composing a single universe of knowledge.” 12 Such a robust understanding of knowledge will enable us to take the first step to loving God with our mind. Reading facilitates this process and moves us in a decisively Godward direction.

6. Reading is essential for Christian growth

Paul was concerned for the spiritual growth of his friends in Colossae:

“And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy” (Col. 1:9–11, ESV).

First, Paul prays that the Colossians would be consumed by the truth (v. 9). He prays a similar prayer for the Ephesian believers and asks God to grant them a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of God (Eph. 1:16-17). He prayed that the Philippian believers would grow in knowledge (Phil. 1:9). Paul understood that the marginalization of knowledge would be deadly to the sanctification process.

Second, Paul prays that the Colossians would be transformed by the truth (vv. 10-12). The progressive marks of ongoing transformation include worthy walking, bearing fruit, and increasing in the knowledge of God. “We must always make progress in the doctrine of godliness until death.”13 Such a commitment results in spiritual strength.

Reading, therefore, becomes an essential ingredient that helps fulfill the prayer that Paul prays for the people of God.

7. Reading builds humility

On one end of the spectrum, reading reminds us of what we don’t know. When we make a concerted effort to read, we come face-to-face with this reality: We don’t know as much as we think we do! Surely, this reminder will work wonders and help transform us into the humble people that God is looking for (Isa. 66:2; Jas. 4:6-10).

On the other end of the spectrum, reading will alert us to the dreadful deficiencies in our own personal pilgrimages. “Without strong theological traditions, many evangelicals lack a critical element required for making intellectual activity both self-confident and properly humble, both critical and committed. To advance responsible Christian learning, the vitality of commitment needs the ballast of tradition.”14 It is this realization that should prompt us to begin afresh and commit ourselves to reading, which will keep us on a path of humility.

A MODEST PROPOSAL

A fourth-century pagan heard a child mutter two Latin words that would change his life forever. “Tolle lege,” said the child. “Take up and read.” Augustine opened a Bible and read, “Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires (Rom. 13:13-14, ESV). The Spirit of God quickened the stone-cold heart of Augustine that day. A pagan was delivered from the darkness and transferred to the kingdom of Christ (Col. 1:13-14).

My concern is that those who will benefit the most from this article will never read it in the first place. In other words, the strange irony is that those who need this the most simply will not take the time to “take up and read.” While some young evangelicals bemoan the discipline of reading, they sever the root of the tree which is designed to help them grow and flourish. Malnourished and immature Christians will populate our pews and propagate a new breed of spiritual immaturity.

Despite the current state of the church, however, there are some encouraging signs on the horizon. Even Mark Noll, who has offered a grim assessment on the Christian mind has recently written, “We are indeed witnessing improvement in Christian intellectual life from evangelical, but this improvement does not point toward the development of a distinctly evangelical mind.”15 A move in the right direction will require a concerted effort. It will require discipline, as we have already seen. Therefore, I challenge Christians to set themselves to the task of reading. This modest proposal includes four basic goals that anyone can implement immediately.

1. Commit to reading

The first challenge is to begin reading. It should go without saying that the Bible should be foremost in our reading diet. A cursory glance reminds us of the importance of daily time in God’s Word:

“The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes; the fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the LORD are true, and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb. Moreover, by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward” (Psalm 19:7-11, ESV).

“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb. 4:12, ESV).

“I will meditate on your precepts and fix my eyes on your ways. I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word. Deal bountifully with your servant, that I may live and keep your word. Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law” (Psalm 119:15—18, ESV).

“Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart, for I am called by your name, O LORD, God of hosts” (Jer. 15:16, ESV).

The Scripture “is the foundation of the Christian mind. A biblical worldview – a view of the world informed and shaped by the Bible – has always marked the most developed and formidable of Christian minds.”16 Therefore, the Word of God should have priority in our reading goals.

Additionally, we should commit ourselves to a steady diet of Christian books. The average American reads twelve books per year. That figure is likely inflated. Whatever the case, there is a desperate need to introduce good Christian books as a part of our daily lives.

Reading the right kind of books is as important as reading the books themselves. I recommend getting started with these solid resources:

1. The Holiness of God—R.C. Sproul

2. Desiring God – John Piper

3. The Gospel According to Jesus – John MacArthur

4. The Cross-Centered Life – C.J. Mahaney

5. The Pilgrim’s Progress – John Bunyan

6. The Prodigal God – Timothy Keller

Each of these books are relatively short, readable, and readily accessible. But most important, these books are gospel-centered, Christ-saturated, and biblical. They will encourage you greatly and help you move forward on your pilgrimage to the Celestial City. The key is to get started and make a commitment to reading.

2. Set an annual reading goal

When I got married, I began reading books regularly. I began with one or two books a month. Year by year, the number increased. These days, I generally read between ten to fifteen books per month. The number of books is not important. What is important is that you get in the habit of reading.

Once an annual reading goal is established, begin to track your books on Goodreads.com. This site gives you the ability to share your reading progress with others and post reviews for books, if you so choose. One of the great benefits of Goodreads is that you will learn about new books that you can add to your future reading list.

3. Read broadly

The mistake I made early on was to limit my reading to one subject—theology. Over the years, I began to broaden my reading appetite which also included history, philosophy, biography, leadership, management, business, personal growth, health and wellness, popular culture, and politics. Be intentional about the books you read. Reading broadly will make you a well-rounded person and will enable you to engage in conversation with people from diverse backgrounds, nationalities, and worldviews.

4. Read joyfully

Jonathan Edwards urged his congregation to delight in God. He said, “God is glorified not only by His glory’s being seen, but by its being rejoiced in.”17 We do that same when we read for joy. Reading enables us to know who God is and what he requires of us.

“And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.” When the apostle John penned these words in 1 John 1:4, he assumed that someone would read his words. And upon reading, their joy would be complete.

The simple act of reading transformed Augustine as we have seen. When he heeded the words of a child in the garden, he read for joy that day. The very act of reading joyfully will revitalize your whole approach. Gone are the days of duty-filled reading. Why? Because you have purposed to set your gaze upon the Savior.

Summary

I urge you to make this Christian Reading Manifesto a part of your daily life. Begin with the Bible. Jesus says, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11, ESV). And read a steady stream of good Christian books that will serve to strengthen and edify you. Perhaps one day, you’ll say with Erasmus, “When I have a little money, I buy books; and if I have any left, I buy food and clothes.”

📚📚

Thanks to Dr. Ismael Gurrolla for posing the question which prompted this article.

  1. Tony Reinke, 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You (Wheaton: Crossway, 2017), 41.
  2. Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death (New York: Penguin Books, 1985), 4.
  3. Mark Noll, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994), 3.
  4. Harry Blamires, The Christian Mind (Ann Arbor: Servant Publications, 1963), 4.
  5. James Emery White, A Mind for God (Downers Grove: IVP, 2006), 15.
  6. John Piper, Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God (Wheaton: Crossway, 2010), 15, 183-184.
  7. Stott, Your Mind Matters, 20.
  8. Kevin DeYoung, The Ten Commandments (Wheaton: Crossway, 2018), 46.
  9. John R.W. Stott, Your Mind Matters (Downers Grove: IVP, 1972), 8.
  10. John Piper, Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God, 19.
  11. Harry Blamires, The Christian Mind, 81.
  12. David S. Dockery, Renewing Our Minds (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2008), 15-16.
  13. John Calvin, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1965), 305.
  14. Mark Noll, Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2011), 165.
  15. Mark Noll, Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2011), 165.
  16. James Emery White, A Mind for God, 47.
  17. “Miscellanies” in The Works of Jonathan Edwards, vo. 13, ed. Thomas Schaefer (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1994), 495 (Miscellany 448).

Will God Save Everyone? – James W. Walraven

James W. Walraven, Will God Save Everyone? (Enumclaw: Redemption Press, 2020), 311 pp.

Christian universalism has been gaining ground in both the academy and the church. As this regrettable trend and theology heresy grows by the day, the responses have been few and far between. James W. Walraven presents a biblical rebuttal of Christian universalism in his recent book, Will God Save Everyone?

Dr. Walraven patiently guides readers on a journey that explores Christian universalism and each of the corresponding errors, most notably – religious pluralism, post-mortem salvation, and annihilationism.

The book is comprised of three parts. In part one, the author asks, “Is Salvation Universal?” Part two answers the question, “Will people be in hell for all eternity?” And part three focuses attention on eternal life with God on the new earth.

Instead of highlighting the various arguments in the book, I wish to commend the author for several things with a hope that many prospective readers will be captivated by his approach and dive into this excellent material.

First, the tone of the author is gracious and humble. Often times, books like this have a distinct edge and offend readers unnecessarily. To be sure, progressive Christians may disagree with Walraven’s conclusions. But the charge of arrogance will not stand with this author.

Second, the biblical stance and firm resolve are noteworthy. Dr. Walraven is clearly committed to the Sola Scriptura principle and believes that the Word of God is his highest authority. The authority of Scripture pulsates on these pages. There is no doubt where the author stands.

Third, Will God Save Everyone? is comprehensive and thorough. The author has done his homework and has meticulously connected the dots in church history and painstakingly presents the case for conscious eternal torment in hell for every unbelieving people.

I heartily commend Will God Save Everyone? and trust that it will receive a wide readership. It takes over 300 pages and approximately 900 footnotes to answer the question posed in the book, but the answer to the question couldn’t be clearer: God will not save everyone. This is the clear teaching of God’s Word.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review.

Strangely Bright – Joe Rigney

Joe Rigney, Strangely Bright (Wheaton: Crossway, 2020), 117 pp.

“Can you love God and enjoy this world?” This question drives Joe Rigney’s newest book, Strangely Bright. Such a question often generates more heat than light as many people are accustomed to downplaying earthly things and emphasizing heavenly things. After all, the well-known hymn encourages us to:

Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full on his wonderful face, and the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of his glory and grace.

The admonition seems sound and even reasonable. But Rigney argues something that may run counter to conventional wisdom. His argument is essentially this:

Enjoy God in everything and everything in God, knowing he is greater and more satisfying than any and all of his gifts.

The path that leads to Rigney’s conclusion is set up by examining the passages that help clarify the biblical tension. First, the author reveals the biblical texts that place an emphasis on complete devotion to Christ. Such passages are referred to as totalizing passages and include Colossians 3:1-2, Philippians 3:7-8, and Psalm 73:25-26. These texts are contrasted with things of the earth passages that include James 1:17, 1 Timothy 4:4, and 1 Timothy 6:17. These passages emphasize God’s good gift that creatures are meant to enjoy.

In the end, Rigney skillfully demonstrates how glorifying God and enjoying his good gifts are not at odds: “All of God’s gifts are invitations – they display who he is and invite us to know him and delight in him.” The author borrows a page from John Piper’s Christian Hedonism that was introduced in his book, Desiring God that was first published in 1986. “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him,” argued Piper.

Strangely Bright is a stunning retelling of Piper’s original thesis. This is a thrilling and liberating book. It skillfully crushes legalistic tendencies and warns readers to steer clear from any form of idolatry. The author strikes the biblical balance and leads readers on a path that is sure to encourage many.

Highly recommended.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review.

When Character Was King: A Story of Ronald Reagan – Peggy Noonan (2001)

A number of years ago, I began devouring books about my favorite president, Ronald Reagan  When Character Was King by Peggy Noonan emerges as one of the most thoughtful and inspiring books about the former president.

Noonan paints a compelling portrait of President Reagan; a portrait that is an exceedingly human portrayal of a man who feared God, loved his country, and cherished freedom.  The author writes, “As president, Ronald Reagan believed without question that tyranny is temporary, and the hope of freedom is universal and permanent; that our nation has unique goodness, and must remain uniquely strong; that God takes the side of justice, because all our rights are His own gifts.”

Reagan opposed the godless ideology that held millions of Russians hostage from 1917 to 1991.  Lenin said in 1920, “We repudiate all morality that proceeds from supernatural ideas that are outside class conceptions. Morality is entirely subordinate to the interests of class war. Everything is moral that is necessary for the annihilation of the old exploiting social order and for uniting the proletariat.”  In contrast, Reagan knew that virtue and morality are directly related to one’s relationship with God.

A few quotes reveal the man we know as President Reagan:

“We had strayed a great distance from our Founding Fathers’ vision of America.  They regarded the central government’s responsibility as that of providing national security, protecting our democratic freedoms, and limiting the government’s intrusion in our lives – in sum, the protection of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  They never envisioned vast agencies in Washington telling our farmers what to plant, our teachers what to teach, our industries what to build.”

“Don’t give up your ideals.  Don’t compromise.  Don’t turn to expediency.  And don’t for heaven’s sake, having seen the inner workings of the watch, don’t get cynical.”

“All of these things – learning to control the government, limiting the amount of money it can take from us, protecting our country through a strong defense – all of these things revolve around one word, and that word is ‘freedom.'”

President Reagan was and continues to be a breath of fresh air in an increasingly pessimistic political climate.  He was unafraid to stare evil in the face.  He courageously stood for the cause of freedom.  Indeed, he was jealous to see the flag of freedom fly in every land.  He opposed despotism, communism, and socialism.  He promoted free enterprise.  President Reagan refused to capitulate in the face of adversity.

Suffering: Gospel Hope When Life Doesn’t Make Sense – Paul David Tripp

tripp 2Paul David Tripp, Suffering (Wheaton: Crossway, 2018), 210 pp.

C.S. wrote, “If I knew a way of escape I would crawl through the sewers to escape the pain.” Whether a person agrees with Lewis’s radical conclusion or not is a matter of personal opinion. However, the problem of suffering is a universal dilemma that every person must face. How we respond to suffering reveals the strength of our Christian resolve and character.

Paul David Tripp’s recent book, Suffering explores a weighty subject and invites readers onto a personal journey that will encourage deep humility and personal growth. Speaking personally, Dr. Tripp’s book took my breath away. The author’s transparency and humble approach spoke deeply to my heart and lifted my spirit.

In the final analysis, this book has less to do with coping with suffering and more to do with how suffering can supernaturally transform the lives of God’s people. Listen to Tripp’s meditations and allow his words to sink in deeply:

“Suffering has the power to turn your timidity into courage and your doubt into surety. Hardship can turn envy into contentment and complaint into praise. It has the power to make you tender and approachable, to replace subtle rebellion with joyful surrender. Suffering has the power to form beautiful things in your heart that reform the way you live your life. It has incredible power to be a tool of transforming grace.”

Suffering in many ways is like pouring ice-cold water on an unsuspecting victim; a battering ram that brings even the most powerful to a place of humility and surrender. This volume is quick to remind us that all those who suffer are in desperate need of grace. Tripp adds, “This physical travail, in the hands of my Savior, is a tool used to drive me away from self-sufficiency and into a deeper dependency on God and his people.” Therefore, suffering is greatly used by God to propel his people to a place they never would have reached apart from suffering.

This fundamental message of transformation stands at the heart of Tripp’s book and has the power in itself to encourage and equip a lot of people in God’s kingdom.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review.

How to Know God’s Will – Wayne Grudem (2020)

Wayne Grudem, How to Know God’s Will (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2020), 66 pp.

One of the highlights of Wayne Grudem’s ministry is his clear and biblical writing style. His most recent book is no exception. What the Bible Says About How to Know God’s Will is a short book which is focused on one powerful question.

Dr. Grudem probes the inner workings of a complex subject by the dimensions of every action and nine sources of guidance concerning the will of God. The great strength of this book is its brevity. Readers who wrestle with the thorny matter of knowing God’s will shall gain a clearer understanding of the subject in a short period of time and come away with a wealth of biblical counsel.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review.