BOOK REVIEWS

Expository Exultation – John Piper

pipJohn Piper, Expository Exultation: Christian Preaching as Worship (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2018) 328 pp.

Expository Exaltation by John Piper is the final installment of a three-part series. Piper launched the series with A Peculiar Glory, which addressed the truthfulness of Scripture. Reading the Bible Supernaturally focussed on reading the Bible for the ultimate purpose of worshipping God. Expository Exaltation not only completes the trilogy – it satisfies the thirst of preachers around the world who have eagerly anticipated a new book on preaching by Dr. Piper:

“This God-glorifying, Christ-exalting, Spirit-sustained worship – expressed in worship services, daily sacrifices of love, and eternal perfection – is the goal of Expository Exaltation.”

These words encapsulate the intentions and goals of the author and alert readers to the treasure chest that lies ahead. But before he gets started, the author makes sure that readers understand the purpose of preaching:

“The purpose is that God’s infinite worth and beauty be exalted in the everlasting, white-hot worship of the blood-bought bride of Christ from every people, language, tribe, and nation.”

In a word, Expository Exultation is enthralling. I cannot overemphasize the importance of this book, which may, in the final analysis, turn out to be one of the most important books that John Piper has penned to date. Piper captures the essence of the preaching task and marshalls an army of resources to support his claims.

Expository Exultation should be read by rookie and veteran preachers alike. It should be read and re-read. Every Bible College and Seminary professor should immediately add this work to their list of required reading for preaching courses.

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

BOOK REVIEWS

Lloyd-Jones on the Christian Life – Jason Meyer

jonesJason Meyer, Lloyd-Jones on the Christian Life Wheaton: Cross, 2018, 265 pp. $14.91

Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones could very well be the most influential preacher of the twentieth century. If there is any doubt that the Doctor carries such a weighty influence, Jason Meyer skillfully recants such a notion in his work, Lloyd-Jones on the Christian Life.

The subtitle of Meyer’s book nicely captures the central theme – “Doctrine and Life as Fuel and Fire.” The author accurately captures the essence of Lloyd-Jones’s ministry: “Doctrine should start in the head, catch fire in the heart, and create a life aflame with true obedience in the will.” This notion which once dominated the evangelical landscape is presently eclipsed by experientialism, pragmatism, and theological liberalism. Such a notion would have been unacceptable to the Doctor and in his mind would have led to a weakened church.

The ministry of Martyn Lloyd-Jones is presented in four movements as outlined below:

Part One – “The Doctor,” which includes some important biographical highlights.

Part Two – The Doctor’s Doctrine

Part Three – The Christian Life

Part Four – The Doctor’s Legacy

Lloyd-Jones on the Christian Life is a powerful portrait of a godly man who left a legacy of prayer and preaching that continues to impact pastors to this day. My hope is that God will see fit to use this helpful book to shape and sharpen the lives of the next generation of Christian leaders.

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

BOOK REVIEWS

Spurgeon on the Christian Life – Michael Reeves (2018)

spurMichael Reeves, Spurgeon on the Christian Life. Wheaton: Crossway, 2018, 181 pp. 192 $14.95

Spurgeon on the Christian Life by Michael Reeves is the latest installment in the Crossway Series, Theologians on the Christian Life. This excellent book covers some basic biographical information on the Prince of Preachers. He is rightly described as a man who “went at all of life full-on.” Spurgeon was a man of “deep affections.” Reeves is quick to characterize Spurgeon as a man of deep joy and God-centered wisdom.

Spurgeon was a man who possessed a strong reverence for Christ and his Word. A fair amount of space is devoted to showing how Spurgeon made Christ central in his life and his pastoral ministry: “You cannot taste the sweetness of any doctrine till you have remembered Christ’s connection with it,” writes Spurgeon. He was a man who was gripped by the Bible which is evident to anyone who reads his sermons.

Spurgeon was cut from the cloth of the Puritans. This man was a Calvinist through and through. Reeves adds, “Spurgeon was a Puritan and a Calvinist not through adherence to any theological system or tradition as such but because he believed such theology most glorifies Christ.” But Spurgeon never got boxed in by his theological systems. Above all, he was a Christian: “We believe in the five great points commonly known as Calvinistic; but we do not regard those five points as being barbed shafts which we are to thrust between the ribs of our fellow-Christians. We look upon them as being five great lamps which help to irradiate the cross; or, rather five great emanations springing from the glorious covenant of our Triune God, and illustrating the great doctrine of Jesus crucified.”

Reeves labors to explore the essence of Spurgeon’s preaching. The general purpose of his preaching is explored and his exegetical habits are examined. Spurgeon’s first aim in the pulpit was to clearly and faithfully preach Christ crucified. The author remarks, “If he is to be preached faithfully, the Christ who is the light and glory of God must be preaching by clearly and beautifully.” This is the kind of preaching that marked the ministry of C.H. Spurgeon.

Spurgeon’s passion for doctrine appears through this work with an emphasis on regeneration, conversion, human inability, sanctification, and the cross of Christ. “The cross,” writes Spurgeon, “that deepest revelation of the glory of God – is the great weapon that breaks down the heart’s defenses.”

Dr. Reeves presents an honest appraisal of Spurgeon. He was a man of prayer. But he was also a man who battled most of his adult life with despondency and depression. This leads to what may very well be the most important feature of the book, namely, the emphasis on fighting for joy. In one sentence, Reeves articulates Spurgeon’s heart on this matter with deep insightfulness: “Christians must, then, fight for joy, and fight for that intimacy with God that fosters joy. Such is the warp and woof of the Christian life that Spurgeon lived so well.

One may wonder how such a book could make any significant contribution, especially in light of some very good recent publications that survey the life and ministry of Spurgeon. Books like Living By Revealed Truth by Tom Nettles, The Forgotten Spurgeon by Iain Murray, Spurgeon’s Sorrows by Zach Eswine, and most recently, Steal Away Home by Matter Carter and Aaron Ivey have uncovered a wealth of information about the Prince of Preachers. But Spurgeon on the Christian Life is a helpful addition, indeed. This very readable book presents Spurgeon in an honest light which glorifies the great God of the universe. Readers would be remiss to ignore this precious treasure!

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

BOOK REVIEWS · Preaching

Preaching and Teaching With Imagination – Warren Wiersbe (1997)

Preaching and Teaching With Imagination is a book whose goal is to help preachers so proclaim the Word that the people who hear them will experience the power of God’s truth changing their lives.  It argues that biblical preaching must be accompanied by a vivid imagination.  It rejects the “conveyor-belt” mentality of dispensing knowledge which merely fills minds and notebooks.  Dr. Wiersbe writes, “We have forgotten that the bridge between the mind and the will is the imagination, and that truth isn’t really learned until it’s internalized.”

The book includes three major sections.  The first addresses imagination and life.  Here the author contrasts the communication styles of Hushai and Ahithophel.  Hushai is presented as one who speaks in pictures and addresses the imagination.  Ahithophel, on the other hand, is seen as a left brained, analytical thinker who communicates to the mind alone.  The argument is that preaching must help put pictures into the gallery of their minds which reveal the beauty of the Lord.

Section two deals with the numerous ways that Scripture communicates by way of imagination.  Word pictures are presented from Genesis to Revelation and give the preacher a better idea of how to use words creatively.  The key according to this section is to balance images with concepts.

Section three discusses the role the imagination can have on a variety of preaching settings including biographical and evangelistic preaching, funerals, holidays and special occasions.

Preaching and Teaching With Imagination is a very helpful book.  It encourages creativity and imagination without dismissing the crucial disciplines of exegesis, hermeneutics and biblical theology.  The irony is that many times in graduate school, students are discouraged from doing what Wiersbe is prescribing.  This book is balanced.  It encourages the preacher to present images along with concepts.  It emphasizes using words to turn ears into eyes so that people see the truth and in turn want their lives to change.  The documentation and extensive footnotes are extremely helpful.  Finally, Dr. Wiersbe’s book is about transformation.  It seeks to use preaching as a means of life change.

CULTURE · Edinburgh · Evangelism · Postmodernity · Preaching · Proclamation · Scotland

Truth Unhinged in Edinburgh Square

My wife and I recently spent five days in Edinburgh, Scotland. While there is much to commend in this very beautiful city, it did not take long to realize that God is no longer welcome for many of the inhabitants there.

On the last evening in Edinburgh, I watched a young street preacher proclaiming the gospel from a makeshift podium on Royal Mile Street, which stands in the shadow of St. Giles Cathedral. Here, the mighty John Knox wielded the mighty sword of God’s Word, which brought reformation to Scotland in the sixteenth century. Knox prayed, “Give me Scotland or I will die,” demonstrating his great love for God and his countrymen.

However, the days of the Reformation are long gone in Scotland. The scoffs of the crowd which were directed at the street preacher bore witness to that:

“Who created God?” one man shouted. “What about the holocaust?” another queried. “Who wrote the Bible?” questioned one of the street performers. “How could anyone believe in a talking serpent?” “Where did evil come from?” “What about the dinosaurs?” “What about the other religions?” And, “How could a loving God send anyone to hell?”

These emotionally charged questions were all hurled at the street preacher who merely sought to proclaim the simple message of the gospel.

I stood and prayed for the young man who heralded the truth. I asked God to soften the hearts of this angry mob. In the midst of my petition, the thought struck me, This is the same kind of crowd that Noah encountered. These are the same kinds of people who spewed their venom at Jeremiah and Jonah. And these are the kinds of people who hurled their hate against the New Testament apostles.

Nothing has changed. There is nothing new under the sun. The hearts of men are continuously evil (Gen. 6:5). “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick” (Jer. 17:9). Ever since the fall of man, sinful people continually suppress the truth (Rom. 1:18).

Every person carries a bag full of presuppositions. Atheism, evolution, immorality, homosexuality, and relativism. These are only a few of the presuppositions that I saw in the Edinburgh square. The people who embrace these worldviews are unwitting worshippers. They worship the false god of success. They worship the false god of autonomy. Or they worship the false god of another religion.

The angry mob who squared off against the preacher in Edinburgh willingly exchanged the truth of God for a lie. The Bible says unregenerate people realize that God exists; yet they refuse to acknowledge him: “For although they knew God, they did not honor God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened” (Rom. 1:21).

And so I watched a tragic scene unfold on Royal Mile Street in Edinburgh. I watched a frenzied mob reject the truth from a “voice in the wilderness.” I gazed upon a group of worshippers who willingly turned from the God of the Bible to a god of their own making.

A few thoughts echoed in my mind and pressed against my heart as I stood on Royal Mile Street in the heart of Edinburgh:

First, the unbelieving world who preaches “tolerance” fails to be tolerant when the truth is proclaimed. Tolerance is only a virtue when it lines up with a worldview that rejects God, turns from his law, and marginalizes his Word. The “tolerance mantra” is a smokescreen, in the final analysis. Anyone who repudiates the truth claims of Scripture is tolerated. But anyone who embraces the propositional truth of God’s Word is cast aside and criticized.

Second, followers of Jesus Christ are called to faithfully proclaim the truth. Most will be unwilling to stand on a makeshift platform and herald the gospel to a hostile crowd. But how many of us could utter the claims of Christ over a cup of coffee? How many of us could share the love of Christ in the workplace? Who among us could challenge the pagan mind with the gospel truth in the marketplace of ideas? Paul understood this mandate to faithfully proclaim the truth: “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!'” (Rom. 10:14-15).

Third, when the truth is faithfully proclaimed, the unbelieving world will invariably become offended. The Edinburgh preacher recognized this reality when he stepped upon his makeshift platform. He realized that he would be opposed. He realized that he would be scoffed at. And he realized that the crowd would laugh. Scripture warns us that in the last days, people will not put up with sound doctrine (2 Tim. 4:3). The Bible says people will “accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (2 Tim. 4:3-4). Tragically, we will not only find these kinds of people in the public square; we will also find them in the church.

In his book, Get Real: Sharing Your Everyday Faith Every Day, John Leonard argues that people have stopped listening to the gospel “because we want to share it in the least inconvenient, least costly way. We want to save dirty people at a distance.” Leonard has touched upon an important truth. And we can certainly do a much better job of sharing the gospel up-close. But the real reason for their resistance to the truth is a rocky, stubborn, and unbelieving, sinful heart! Our task is to faithfully share the truth and trust the Holy Spirit to soften hearts and effectually draw sinners to the Savior (John 6:44).

Finally, bold proclamation invites persecution. Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim. 3:12). Yet Scripture reminds us, “And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.” (1 Peter 5:10–11, ESV) The promise of persecution should not hinder our passion to proclaim the truth. Rather, this reality should embolden our efforts to wield the mighty sword of truth!

Was the angry mob who ridiculed the preacher a fair representation of the feelings of the Scottish people? Were their harsh words and cackling laughs an accurate portrait of the people living in Edinburgh? Since I only met a handful of people in our brief stay, I cannot answer this question with any clarity. However, the Word of God informs us that what I saw on that cold winter afternoon is representative of the unbelieving world.

When truth is unhinged, we will face an intolerant audience. When truth is unhinged, the unbelieving world will be offended which will prompt persecution. But when truth is unhinged, some will hear and respond. Some will be cut to the quick. Hearts will be softened. Minds will be sharpened. For the truth of God’s Word will unlock the most resistant and callous heart. Truth unhinged will transform lives as God’s Word is faithfully proclaimed.

Biography · Calvinism · Church History · Church History · Gospel · Martin Luther · Preaching · Reformation · The Gospel

Gospel Reformation

bold

The excommunicated monk sits alone in silence. Beads of sweat accumulate on his brow as he reads from the pages of the Greek text. A dark cloud casts a shadow over his homeland as the grace of the gospel is obscured by a church that cares more about tradition than truth.

For the next ten months, Luther will pour over every word, translating the Greek into the heart language of the German people. When his work is complete, the German people will be able to read the Bible for themselves. They will no longer be dependent upon a priest who has misrepresented God, mangled the truth of his Word, and maligned the gospel of Jesus Christ.

For hundreds of years, the gospel had been buried and replaced by a system of “man-made righteousness.” The Roman Catholic Church exchanged truth for tradition. The power-brokers of tradition maintained a chokehold on people who didn’t know any better.  Confessing sin to a priest replaced confessing sin to a holy God.

Yet, Luther unearthed the precious jewel of the gospel, a reality which is unveiled in my new book, Bold Reformer:Celebrating the Gospel-Centered Convictions of Martin Luther. Only $0.99 for a limited time on Amazon.com.

BOOK REVIEWS · Preaching

Folly, Grace, and Power: The Mysterious Act of Preaching

John Koessler, Folly, Grace, and Power: The Mysterious Act of Preaching. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 150 pp. $13.10

Most books devoted to exploring the mandate to preach the Word of God focus on homiletical method. They help young preachers craft an introduction and a conclusion. They help young theologians with good exegetical skills. They discuss tone, body language, and eye contact.

John Koessler’s new book, Folly, Grace, and Power: The Mysterious Act of Preaching is different. Koessler’s book is about the theology of preaching. The author explains, “Our preaching has the capacity to mediate the true presence of Christ. We display ‘the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ’ (2 Cor. 4:6). This dignifies preaching. But it does not elevate the preacher beyond measure. The all-surpassing power comes from God, not from us. We are nothing. God is everything.” This mindset permeates the remainder of the book as Koestler sets forth a biblical case for preaching.

Central to the message of this book is the sovereignty of God. The author observes, “We have influence over the dynamics of delivery, but not the ebb and flow of the Holy Spirit. He breathes on whomever he wills, and there are many times when we are unable to sense his presence or easily discern his purpose … A sermon which thunders in one service falls flat in another, and we cannot tell why.”

In an age where propositions have for the most part been relegated to the cemetery, Koessler argues that good preaching includes both propositions as well as story: “God’s Word, of course, includes both proposition and story, employing argument to address reason and narrative to affect the heart. Both exert an important influence on the will. But it is the Spirit, ultimately, who convicts.” Here, the author stands with Jonathan Edwards who essentially argued the same in his magisterial volume, Religious Affections.

The sovereignty of the Spirit of God is emphasized as well: “He (the Holy Spirit) works in the preacher to ‘give’ words and boldness and then through what is preached to produce faith in those who hear … God’s Spirt also uses the sermon to stir the heart. The Word of God gains entry by the gate of the mind, but its ultimate target is the heart, where faith is exercised (Rom. 10:10).” This affection-oriented theme permeates the volume and makes it especially appealing to anyone convinced by the preaching methodology of Jonathan Edwards and the New England Puritans.

The author explores the importance of authority in preaching, a subject that causes postmodern sympathizers to cringe. Koessler warns, “Preaching with divine authority does not guarantee a smooth path. We would like to think that God-given authority gives us leverage … But the same Bible that gives us our authority also offers ample proof of the congregation’s capacity for discounting that authority.” Preaching with authority will, however, be costly. Thomas Long adds, “If the word comes from God in the biblical text, the preacher remains true to that word, regardless of the reaction or the cost.”

There is much to commend in this thoughtful volume. Preachers, young and old alike should devour this work and find encouragement in John Koessler’s fresh approach to preaching.

BOOK REVIEWS · Preaching

Folly, Grace, and Power: The Mysterious Act of Preaching

John Koessler, Folly, Grace, and Power: The Mysterious Act of Preaching. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 150 pp. $13.10

Most books devoted to exploring the mandate to preach the Word of God focus on homiletical method. They help young preachers craft an introduction and a conclusion. They help young theologians with good exegetical skills. They discuss tone, body language, and eye contact.

John Koessler’s new book, Folly, Grace, and Power: The Mysterious Act of Preaching is different. Koessler’s book is about the theology of preaching. The author explains, “Our preaching has the capacity to mediate the true presence of Christ. We display ‘the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ’ (2 Cor. 4:6). This dignifies preaching. But it does not elevate the preacher beyond measure. The all-surpassing power comes from God, not from us. We are nothing. God is everything.” This mindset permeates the remainder of the book as Koestler sets forth a biblical case for preaching.

Central to the message of this book is the sovereignty of God. The author observes, “We have influence over the dynamics of delivery, but not the ebb and flow of the Holy Spirit. He breathes on whomever he wills, and there are many times when we are unable to sense his presence or easily discern his purpose … A sermon which thunders in one service falls flat in another, and we cannot tell why.”

In an age where propositions have for the most part been relegated to the cemetery, Koessler argues that good preaching includes both propositions as well as story: “God’s Word, of course, includes both proposition and story, employing argument to address reason and narrative to affect the heart. Both exert an important influence on the will. But it is the Spirit, ultimately, who convicts.” Here, the author stands with Jonathan Edwards who essentially argued the same in his magisterial volume, Religious Affections.

The sovereignty of the Spirit of God is emphasized as well: “He (the Holy Spirit) works in the preacher to ‘give’ words and boldness and then through what is preached to produce faith in those who hear … God’s Spirt also uses the sermon to stir the heart. The Word of God gains entry by the gate of the mind, but its ultimate target is the heart, where faith is exercised (Rom. 10:10).” This affection-oriented theme permeates the volume and makes it especially appealing to anyone convinced by the preaching methodology of Jonathan Edwards and the New England Puritans.

The author explores the importance of authority in preaching, a subject that causes postmodern sympathizers to cringe. Koessler warns, “Preaching with divine authority does not guarantee a smooth path. We would like to think that God-given authority gives us leverage … But the same Bible that gives us our authority also offers ample proof of the congregation’s capacity for discounting that authority.” Preaching with authority will, however, be costly. Thomas Long adds, “If the word comes from God in the biblical text, the preacher remains true to that word, regardless of the reaction or the cost.”

There is much to commend in this thoughtful volume. Preachers, young and old alike should devour this work and find encouragement in John Koessler’s fresh approach to preaching.

Biography · Calvinism · Church History · Leadership · REFORMATION

BOLD REFORMER: Celebrating the Gospel-Centered Convictions of Martin Luther – David S. Steele

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On April 1, 2016 my new book, Bold Reformer will be available at Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble.com, and Booksamillon.com.  Here’s a brief summary:

On October 31, 1517 Martin Luther nailed the ninety-five theses to the castle door in Wittenberg. One act of courage sparked a theological firestorm in Germany that set the world ablaze in a matter of days. Spreading like wildfire, thousands were introduced to the gospel which is received by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.

Bold Reformer: Celebrating the Gospel-Centered Convictions of Martin Luther takes readers on a journey through a remarkable period of church history. It will challenge contemporary readers to learn the lessons of courage, and perseverance. It will inspire a new generation of people to follow Jesus, obey Jesus, and worship the Savior with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength. It invites a new generation of Christ-followers to recover the gospel in their generation and make their stand as a bold reformer.

Bold Reformer is born out of personal pastoral turmoil and inspired by the courage of Martin Luther.  My hope is that many pastors, Christian leaders and Christ-followers will be encouraged as a result of reading this book; that God will propel them into the future by his grace and for his glory.

Soli Deo gloria!

BOOK REVIEWS · Preaching

LET THE EARTH HEAR HIS VOICE – Greg R. Scharf (2015)

earthPreaching is at the very heart of the New Testament church. Yet many preachers find themselves struggling to prepare, lack the exegetical and theological tools to research adequately, and struggle to deliver sermons that connect with people.

Greg R. Scharf identifies some of these homiletical struggles in his new book, Let the Earth Hear His Voice. His primary argument is that pastors have weaknesses which need to be identified in order to improve in the pulpit. He compares these struggles to bottlenecks that restrict the flow of God’s Word to his people. These bottlenecks need to be unclogged which will lead to a more effective preaching ministry.

Eight foundational principles are set forth in Scharf’s work. These principles provide pastors with the necessary “muscle” which will strengthen their pulpit ministries. The principles include:

  1. Trust God
  2. Speak as those assigned, equipped, and empowered to do so.
  3. Speak from the Bible in ways that reflect the Bible’s composition as a literary collection.
  4. Listen to God before they attempt to speak for God, discerning what he is saying.
  5. Understand those to whom God has called them to speak.
  6. Respect and reflect the clarity and orderliness of Scripture while discerning the way people hear.
  7. Respect and reflect the ways that Scripture communicates in stories, propositions, and images.
  8. Take seriously their role as messengers who also embody the message they proclaim.

Each principle is subsequently viewed in a negative way. That is to say, each principle is viewed as one of the eight bottlenecks. The author describes the bottlenecks (unbelief, unqualified or disqualified preacher, faulty text selection, inadequate understanding of the text, inadequate contextualization, faulty organization, inadequate balance of proposition and illustration, and flawed delivery).

Scharf carefully explains each bottleneck in the remaining chapters. He presents reasons for guarding against each respective bottleneck and strategies for overcoming them. The conclusion of each chapter contains practical exercises which are designed to help and encourage struggling shepherds.

Let the Earth Hear His Voice is not a typical preaching book. Frankly, it stands alone in a growing list of excellent books. Scharf’s work is a welcome addition and a complement to books like The Supremacy of God in Preaching by John Piper, Preaching & Preachers by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, A Biblical Theology of Preaching by Jason Meyer, The Kind of Preaching God Blesses by Steven J. Lawson, and He is Not Silent: Preaching in a Postmodern World by J. Albert Mohler. Pastors would do well to absorb the excellent material in this book. May God use this book to his glory as pastors learn and discern their weakness and faithfully wield the mighty sword for the edification of God’s people!

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