BOOK REVIEWS

John Calvin: For a New Reformation (2019)

calDerek W.H. Thomas and John W. Tweeddale, Ed. John Calvin: For a New Reformation (Wheaton: Crossway, 2019), 608 pp.

Over two thousand years of church history have produced a wide assortment of Christian leaders, theologians, and churchmen.  One man who exerted an enormous amount of influence in his day was John Calvin. In recent years, theologians and pastors have revived an interest in Calvin including, A Godward Gaze: The Holy Pursuit of John Calvin, by yours truly.

The most recent and comprehensive offering is an edited volume by Derek W.H. Thomas and John W. Tweeddale. This massive volume that spans over 600 pages includes contributions from well-known scholars such as Stephen Nichols, Steven Lawson, Burk Parsons, Paul Helm and others. The afterward by R.C. Sproul is a fitting conclusion from the man who should be credited for restoring an interest in Reformed theology in the twentieth-century church. Dr. Sproul’s words are especially moving and significant, since this is his last published writing before his death in 2017.

John Calvin: For a New Reformation is arranged in two parts. Part 1 explores the life and work of John Calvin. The contributors share a wealth of biographical information on Calvin including his early years, conversion, and friendships. Especially significant is the piece by Steven Lawson that summarizes the expository preaching of Calvin.

Part 2 explores the teaching of John Calvin. The contributors weigh in on several doctrinal subjects including the providence of God, the person and work of Christ, predestination, the sacraments, perseverance of the saints, and Calvin’s approach to eschatology. Edward Donnelly’s chapter, The Christian Life stands out the most. Donnelly helps readers see the pastoral heart of Calvin, which is undergirded by four central features of the Christian life: self-denial, cross—bearing, meditation on the future life, and the present life. Donnelly shows how Calvin lived an authentic and transparent Christian life, which inspired thousands of people in the sixteenth century and continues to inspire people in our day.

Additionally, Donnelly shows readers how Calvin lived in constant fellowship with the Lord and submitted daily to his lordship. “We are God’s,” writes Calvin. This acknowledgment was the very essence of Calvin’s Christian life. Also, Calvin was committed to mortifying idolatry and serving other people.

Over the years, I have read dozens of books about the French Reformer, John Calvin. This book is among the best. Thomas and Tweeddale should be commended for assembling such a worthy team of writers who celebrate a man that continues to wield a mighty influence on individual lives and the church of Jesus Christ.

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

BOOK REVIEWS

John Calvin: For a New Reformation (2019)

calDerek W.H. Thomas and John W. Tweeddale, Ed. John Calvin: For a New Reformation (Wheaton: Crossway, 2019), 608 pp.

Over two thousand years of church history have produced a wide assortment of Christian leaders, theologians, and churchmen.  One man who exerted an enormous amount of influence in his day was John Calvin. In recent years, theologians and pastors have revived an interest in Calvin including, A Godward Gaze: The Holy Pursuit of John Calvin, by yours truly.

The most recent and comprehensive offering is an edited volume by Derek W.H. Thomas and John W. Tweeddale. This massive volume that spans over 600 pages includes contributions from well-known scholars such as Stephen Nichols, Steven Lawson, Burk Parsons, Paul Helm and others. The afterward by R.C. Sproul is a fitting conclusion from the man who should be credited for restoring an interest in Reformed theology in the twentieth-century church. Dr. Sproul’s words are especially moving and significant, since this is his last published writing before his death in 2017.

John Calvin: For a New Reformation is arranged in two parts. Part 1 explores the life and work of John Calvin. The contributors share a wealth of biographical information on Calvin including his early years, conversion, and friendships. Especially significant is the piece by Steven Lawson that summarizes the expository preaching of Calvin.

Part 2 explores the teaching of John Calvin. The contributors weigh in on several doctrinal subjects including the providence of God, the person and work of Christ, predestination, the sacraments, perseverance of the saints, and Calvin’s approach to eschatology. Edward Donnelly’s chapter, The Christian Life stands out the most. Donnelly helps readers see the pastoral heart of Calvin, which is undergirded by four central features of the Christian life: self-denial, cross—bearing, meditation on the future life, and the present life. Donnelly shows how Calvin lived an authentic and transparent Christian life, which inspired thousands of people in the sixteenth century and continues to inspire people in our day.

Additionally, Donnelly shows readers how Calvin lived in constant fellowship with the Lord and submitted daily to his lordship. “We are God’s,” writes Calvin. This acknowledgment was the very essence of Calvin’s Christian life. Also, Calvin was committed to mortifying idolatry and serving other people.

Over the years, I have read dozens of books about the French Reformer, John Calvin. This book is among the best. Thomas and Tweeddale should be commended for assembling such a worthy team of writers who celebrate a man that continues to wield a mighty influence on individual lives and the church of Jesus Christ.

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

BOOK REVIEWS

Systematic Theology – Robert Letham (2019)

lethamRobert Letham, Systematic Theology (Wheaton: Crossway, 2019), 1005 pp.

Systematic Theology by Robert Letham is a solid work designed to fit within the framework of Reformed confessionalism. This volume is unique in that is begins with a treatment on the triune God. Dr. Letham begins by offered the dominant arguments for God’s existence and proceeds to show how the doctrine of the Trinity unfolding in church history and redemptive history, respectively.

The remaining sections appear as one might expect – the doctrine of the Word of God, the works of God, the image of God, the covenant of God, Christ, the Son of God, the Spirit of God and the People of God, and the Ultimate Purposes of God.

Letham draws on a wide range of evangelical writers as he articulates each doctrine – biblically, historical, and always in the conservative evangelical stream. This work is unusually objective. That is, while the author does not hide his doctrinal pre-commitments, he is eager to fairly represent his opponents.

As with any work of systematic theology, readers will likely not agree with everything. Some readers, like me, will need to look elsewhere on matters that pertain to baptism and eschatology.

Nonetheless, Systematic Theology makes a noteworthy contribution to a growing list of solid offerings. I will turn to this volume often and use it as a solid resource for theological study and reflection.

Dr. Letham is director of research and senior lecturer in Systematic Theology and historical theology at Wales Evangelical School of Theology.

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

BOOK REVIEWS

The Doctrine on Which the Church Stands or Falls – Matthew Barrett , Ed.

docMatthew Barrett, Ed. The Doctrine on Which the Church Stands or Falls (Wheaton: Crossway, 2019), 912 pp.

Martin Luther boldly declared, “Justification is the article upon which the church stands or falls.” John Calvin argued that justification is the “hinge on which religion turns.” In the sixteenth century, scores of people found these arguments both biblical and compelling. The Roman Catholic Church deemed Luther and Calvin as heretics.

Fast forward to the current generation. While much has changed over the past five hundred years, the biblical wisdom of Luther and Calvin still stands. Many in the church trumpet the grand reality of justification by faith alone. But some continue to deny or discount this critical doctrine. Tragically, some of the dissenters are preaching in Protestant churches. At stake is more than a mere doctrine, important as that is – what is at stake is the gospel of Jesus Christ.

The Doctrine on Which the Church Stands or Falls is edited by Matthew Barrett. Dr. Barrett comes with impeccable academic credentials and is supported by a cast of world-class scholars and theologians. This book both a theological tome and a treasure chest. It is not for the faint-hearted. And it is certainly not designed for the armchair theologian.

The Doctrine on Which the Church Stands or Falls is arranged in four parts:

  1. Justification in Biblical Perspective
  2. Justification in Theological Perspective
  3. Justification in Church History
  4. Justification in Pastoral Practice

This book leaves no stone unturned. The team that Barrett has assembled has examined every theological, biblical, and historical angle that pertains to the doctrine of justification. The fundamental standing of position before a holy God is addressed with depth, breadth, integrity, and God-centered wisdom. The combined efforts have yielded a work that should be used for generations to come and will be of great service to pastors, professors, and followers of Christ.

Those who discounted Luther and Calvin in the sixteenth-century did so at their own peril. Of greater importance is the repudiation of the doctrine of justification by faith alone. To discount this cardinal doctrine is not only dangerous; it is tantamount to theological treason.

I commend The Doctrine on Which the Church Stands or Falls and trust that it will receive a wide readership.

Highly recommended

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

BOOK REVIEWS

Reforming Joy – Tim Chester (2018)

chesterTim Chester, Reforming Joy (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2018), 103 pp.

Reforming Joy: A Conversation Between Paul, the Reformers, and the Church Today invites readers on a journey through the book of Galatians. Tim Chester uses the context of the Protestant Reformation as a springboard to unpack two primary themes, namely, faith in Christ and life in the Spirit. These realities provide the necessary fuel that erupts into a mighty reformation of joy.

“The Reformation,” writes Chester “was a rediscovery of joy.” As such, the author sets out to rediscover and also be reformed by the joy which is brimming in the book of Galatians.

The book is brief in length and is organized in five chapters which are summarized below:

  1. How to Hear God’s Voice: The Reforming Joy of Scripture Alone (Galatians 1)
  2. How to Know God’s Approval: The Reforming Joy of Faith Alone in Christ Alone (Galatians 2)
  3. How to Recognize God’s People: The Reforming Joy of Mother Church (Galatians 3-4)
  4. How to Enjoy God’s Love: The Reforming Joy of Adoption (Galatians 4)
  5. How to Do God’s Will: The Reforming Joy of Life in the Spirit (Galatians 5)

Each chapter interacts with Scripture and alerts readers to the pivotal principles of joy. The solas of the Reformation are clearly taught and celebrated. And the gospel is seen throughout. The conclusion of each chapter contains a summary and snapshot of a specific Reformer along with a pertinent citation, which helps bolster and support the given theme.

Reforming Joy accomplishes what it sets out to do. This short volume is packed with truth and life-changing theology that is certain to encourage and equip the people of God.

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

BOOK REVIEWS

New Calvinism: New Reformation or Theological Fad? – Josh Buice, Ed.

calvinJosh Buice, Ed. The New Calvinism, Christian Focus, 2017, 127 pp. $14.99

“Calvinism is back,” writes David Van Biema, in a Time Magazine article, entitled ‘The New Calvinism.’ The featured article, which was written in 2009 was included in a list of “Ten Ideas Changing the World Right Now.” That’s quite a claim for a secular magazine to make, yet the article tapped into a trend that has been and continues to shake up the evangelical world. The New Calvinism, edited by Josh Buice attempts to evaluate the so-called ‘new Calvinism’ and sets out to determine whether we are on the brink of a new reformation or if this popular doctrinal movement is only a theological fad.

To be fair, it would be important to note that the authors of The New Calvinism are committed to biblical Calvinism. Each contributor, including Josh Buice, Paul Washer, Steven Lawson, Conrad MBewe, and Tim Challies are convinced about the great realities that were recovered by the sixteenth-century Reformers, namely, that sinners are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, on the Word of God alone, for the glory of God alone.

Each contributor speaks favorably about the new Calvinism, but each brings a set of concerns as well. Opponents of Reformed theology will not likely be convinced by the convictions of these essays. But those who are committed Calvinists will be challenged by the warnings in this powerful little book.

The topics include Sola Scriptura, the doctrine of the church, sanctification, spiritual power, and discernment. The contributors rightly challenge some of the abuses which have surfaced in some churches. After challenging these pitfalls, the authors provide biblical correctives, which will insure a path forward that honors God.

This volume honors the best of historic Calvinism and treasures a biblical tradition that was recovered during the Reformation and is being rediscovered in our times. The authors are charitable and level-headed in their critiques – but most importantly, each one clings to the Sola Scriptura principle. Indeed, “Calvinism is back.” Our responsibility is to guard the truth and to and remain faithful to the timeless principles of God’s Word.

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

BOOK REVIEWS

Travel With John Knox

travelDavid Campbell, Travel With John Knox Leominster: Day One Publications, 2003, 128 pp. $20.00

Travel With John Knox by David Campbell is another installment in the Day One series the introduces readers to the heroes of the Christian faith. This 128-page volume is a great introduction to the Scottish Reformer who is described as “the most excellent man Scotland ever produced.”

Color photographs appear throughout this work, sparking interest in the Scottish Reformation and the theological genius of John Knox. A perfect traveling tool for anyone making a trek to the United Kingdom.

BOOK REVIEWS

Long Before Luther

longNathan Busenitz, Long Before Luther: Tracing the Heart of the Gospel From Christ to the Reformation Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2017, 243 pp. $10.49

Long Before Luther: Tracing the Heart of the Gospel From Christ to the Reformation by Nathan Busenitz recently hit the shelves. Busentiz sets out to discover whether or not the doctrine of justification by faith alone was taught and stressed prior to the days of the Protestant Reformation. Anyone familiar with the Reformers understands the motto, post tenabras lux (after darkness light). This little Latin phrase suggests that there was a darkness in the land in the days preceding the Reformation. Such an assertion is true. However, Busentiz asks whether or not any light existed at all. The answer is a resounding “yes!” Indeed, the author discovers that the doctrine of justification by faith alone is not an invention of the Reformers. Rather, they unearthed and recovered this doctrine which can be traced back to the apostles.

Dr. Busentiz utilizes Alistair McGrath’s book, Iustitia Dei, which he admits is “widely regarded as one of the most comprehensive treatments of the subject.” But comprehensive does not necessarily mean accurate as we shall see. For McGrath essentially argues that Luther and his Reformation buddies concocted what we understand now as justification by faith alone. Busentiz adds, “Because the doctrine of justification lies at the heart of the gospel, the implications of this charge are serious.”

McGrath delineates the three pillars of the Reformers’ view of justification which include 1) Forensic Justification, 2) Justification Distinguished from Regeneration, and 3) The Imputed Righteousness of Jesus Christ. McGrath argues that these distinct doctrines are missing in the first fifteen hundred years of church history. Thus, as Busentiz notes, the doctrine of justification by faith alone was “a theological innovation introduced in the sixteenth century,” at least according to McGrath.

With this vexing concern before his readers, Dr. Busentiz carefully guides them on a journey where they discover that sola fide was taught by Augustine and the church fathers. The three pillars the McGrath identifies are used as a sort of litmus test which Busentiz uses to his advantage and I might add, with great skill.

In the final analysis, Busentiz argues that justification by faith alone is not an invention of the Reformers, nor is it a theological novelty. Indeed, this doctrine was taught by the apostles and the church fathers. While it was largely neglected for the first fifteen hundred years of church history, it was, nonetheless a part of the warp and woof of Christian orthodoxy.

While McGrath’s assertions concerning justification are troubling, the three pillars he identifies in Iustitia Dei actually serve Busentiz quite well as he looks backward and ultimately makes a compelling case for the historic doctrine of justification. Busenitz should be commended for his work as he settles the score on this crucial matter that concerns the gospel.

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

BOOK REVIEWS

Martin Luther: A Spiritual Biography

sledHerman Selderhuis, Martin Luther: A Spiritual BiographyWheaton: Crossway, 2017, 347 pp. $23.12

Herman Selderhuis, professor of church history at the Theological University Apeldoorn needs little introduction. His book, John Calvin: A Pilgrim’s Life was warmly received by many as he unpacked the Reformer’s life and legacy.

Now the author makes his contribution to a growing list of books with Martin Luther: A Spiritual Biography. As we celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, Selderhuis’s work is a fitting tribute to Luther and the many men and women who made a contribution in the sixteenth century.

Selderhuis examines ten movements in Luther’s life including Child, Student, Monk, Exegete, Theologian, Architect, Reformer, Father, Professor, and Prophet. Each movement is an opportunity for the author to present historical details and relay the massive contribution that Luther made.

The author carefully traces the spiritual history of Luther – from an unconverted monk who struggled with God and even hated him to a man who passionately embraced the doctrines of grace. Selderhuis does not gloss over the negative details of Luther’s life. Luther’s brashness and vulgarity are explored as well as some of Luther’s racist proclivities.

Luther: A Spiritual Biography is an illuminating look at a man whose influence continues to captivate and inspire people around the world. It beautifully complements classic works such as Bainton’s, Here I Stand and should receive a wide reading.

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

BOOK REVIEWS

Freedom Movement: 500 Years of Reformation

freeFreedom Movement: 500 Years of Reformation by Michael Reeves is a short, yet powerful look at the story that helped shape the Protestant Reformation. Reeves has done a splendid job at surveying the history behind the Reformation and alerting readers to the theological tension and truth that emerged. The author includes just enough biographical information on Martin Luther to gain the attention of readers and draw them into the drama of the 16th century.

Freedom Movement should be devoured by Christians, especially as we approach the quincentennial celebration of the Protestant Reformation. Studying the Reformation should revive our affection for the Savior and refresh our love for the doctrines of grace. It should refuel our resolve to stand obediently before our sovereign God.