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

The Affectionate Theology of Richard Sibbes – Mark Dever (2018)

sibesMark Dever, The Affectionate Theology of Richard Sibbes. Sanford: Reformation Trust Publishing, 2018, 198 pp. $16.00

The Long Line of Godly Men Profiles is a series published by Reformation Trust that has been educating and inspiring Christians for over ten years. Steven Lawson serves as the series editor and oversees this important project. This excellent series introduces readers to pastors and theologians from different generations – men like Calvin, Edwards, Luther, Tyndale, and Spurgeon. Each book stands alone and each one offers a treasure chest of biblical resources – historical, biblical, theological, and pastoral. The latest offering is no exception as Dr. Mark Dever introduces the life, ministry, and theology of Richard Sibbes.

The Affectionate Theology of Richard Sibbes is a short biographical sketch of the influential pastor. In Dever’s words, Sibbes was “the quintessential Puritan.” The aim of the author is to present Sibbes in a clear light and provide historical and theological clues along the way that will portray him in a proper light. In a final sense, Dever’s goal in this work is to “recover Sibbes as a historical and theological whole.”

Dever traces the ministerial career of Richard Sibbes and alerts readers to some of the high points of his ministry and makes reference to some of the controversies that emerge, along the way. One of the dominant themes is the tension which existed in the 17th-century Elizabethan era between the conformists and the non-conformists.

Three specific pastoral matters that occupied the attention of Sibbes was the centrality of the heart, assurance of salvation, and the role of the conscience. Dever introduces each subject and highlights the various points, which were emphasized by Sibbes.

The Affectionate Theology of Richard Sibbes has a more academic feel than most of the other books in the Long Line of Godly Men Series. Students interested in the Puritan era and 17th century England will find Dever’s observations interesting and illuminating. Dever’s fine work should be welcomed and applauded.

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

BOOK REVIEWS

The Moment of Truth – Steven J. Lawson

the momentSteven J. Lawson, The Moment of Truth. Sanford: Reformation Trust Publishing, 2018, 227 pp $17.16

Nothing is more important than contemplating the truth. Each person has a specific way of approaching the truth. For example, the Sophists did not believe in absolute truth – they were relativists. Protagoras said, “Man is the measure of all things.” Socrates believed that everyone could find the truth by looking within. “Know thyself,” was his mantra. Plato struggled in his quest for the truth is reported to have said, “It may be that someday there will come forth from God a Word (λόγος) who will reveal all mysteries and make everything plain. In our day, many people influenced by postmodern thought reject the very notion of absolute truth: “Nothing is certain, nothing is absolute,” they reason, failing to realize the built-in contradiction they suppose.

Jesus Christ was born to bear witness to the truth. “Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice“ (John 18:37). Even though Pilate stood face-to-face with the Truth, he willingly suppressed the truth (Rom. 1:18). He exchanged the truth of God for a lie (Rom. 1:25). And he refused to listen to the truth (John 8:43, 47).

Steven Lawson unveils the importance of this vital subject in his new book, The Moment of Truth. Lawson invites readers to examine Pilate’s repudiation of the truth and contrasts his hostility with the crisis of truth in our generation. “The downward spiral always begins with the rejection of the truth,” writes Lawson. He continues, “This all-out refusal to recognize truth is hitting our society like a tsunami, and its breakers have submerged the majority of modern minds.” So the stage is set for what will prove to be a very important book.

Part One: The Reality of Truth

The first section contains foundational aspects of truth including eight distinguishing marks of truth:

  1. Truth is divine
  2. Truth is absolute
  3. Truth is objective
  4. Truth is singular
  5. Truth is immutable
  6. Truth is authoritative
  7. Truth is powerful
  8. Truth is determinative

The author underscores the reality of truth in the inerrant Word, which builds the confidence of people and demands total submission to a truth-telling God. Aspects of biblical revelation are explored and readers are drawn into an important discussion to focuses on the reliability and historicity of Scripture and the important dimensions of the cross.

Part Two: The Rejection of the Truth

The second section is a sobering look at the widespread repudiation of the truth, beginning with Adam and Eve. Lawson also reveals how truth is rejected by atheists and compromised by the church.

In what proves to be one of the most helpful chapters is a discussion on how truth is marginalized. Lawson writes, “Any disobedience to the truth of God’s Word must be treated as a serious encroachment against His holy name.” But in an unexpected turn, the author focusses on seemingly unimportant sins that prove to be devastating, in the final analysis. The sin of discontentment, impatience, envy, and the sin of the tongue are presented and readers are urged to mortify these sins by the power of the Spirit.

Part Three: The Reign of Truth

In the final section, Dr. Lawson presents four powerful expressions of truth – preaching the truth, living the truth, truth in worship, and the reign of truth in the final judgment. Each of these chapters are packed with God-centeredness as the truth of God’s Word comes to light. Readers will walk away humbled and encouraged as they are affirmed in the truth.

Summary and Commendation

The Moment of Truth is an explosive book that will encourage Christians from all walks of life and backgrounds. Pastors who have been beaten down and discouraged will walk away from this book with new resolve and energy. Teachers of God’s Word will be motivated to remain faithful. Compromisers will be encouraged to repent. And unbelievers will come face-to-face with the truth of God’s Word. Like Pilate, each reader will be forced to rejoice in the truth or reject Him. My prayer is that every reader will choose the former; that many will be compelled to live the truth, proclaim the truth, and defend the truth.

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

Whatever Happened to the Gospel of Grace? – James Boice

boiceJames Boice. Whatever Happened to the Gospel of Grace?  Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2001. 224 pp. $14.76

James Boice was the well-known pastor at Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia. He held that post for thirty years, faithfully executing his duties with a primary emphasis on expository preaching.

Dr. Boice loved the doctrines of grace. His sermons were consistently saturated by the biblical doctrines which were rediscovered during the days of the Protestant Reformation. But as Boice argues, these precious doctrines are quickly fading from prominence. Whatever Happened to the Gospel of Grace sets out to answer this important question?

Part One: Our Dying Culture

The first section diagnoses the church in America. The author is especially concerned with the pragmatism which continues to exert an unhealthy influence on Christendom. The author writes, “What has hit me like a thunderbolt in recent years is the discovery that what I had been saying about the liberal churches at the end of the 1960’s and in the ’70’s now needs to be said about the evangelical churches too.” Boice maintains that the church is worldly. He laments a church that has discarded “transcendent authority” and replaced it with pragmatism and relativism.

He continues by demonstrating that the current church has caved in to the pattern of this world (Rom. 12:1) and has slid unwittingly into a secular worldview. Additionally, the church has subtly embraced tenets of humanism, relativism, and materialism – worldviews which clearly militate against the historic Christian faith.

Instead of influencing the world for God’s glory, the church has given up her high standards. And she has, in the final analysis compromised the great doctrines of Scripture.

Part Two: Doctrines That Shook the World

Dr. Boice argues that the church needs a new reformation. Such a reformation will no doubt includes the revival of the five solas – grace alone, faith alone, Christ alone, Scripture alone, and to God alone be the glory.

Boice carefully introduces readers to each historic doctrine, making an appeal to their biblical warrant and admonishing believers to restore these precious doctrines to the forefront of the church and the Christian life. He makes it clear that these doctrines complement one another. Indeed, to surrender one of these gems would be to discard them all!

Part Three: The Shape of Renewal

The final section discusses the path forward. What would the church look like if she recovered the solas of the Protestant Reformation? First, our worship would be reformed. Boice adds, “The first and most important thing to be said about true worship is that it is to honor God. If what we call worship is not God-centered and God-honoring, it is not worship.” The author laments the current state of “worship” and contrasts this condition with the biblical standard.

Second, our lives would be reformed. Such reformation would involve recovering an awareness of God, especially his holiness, sovereignty, transcendence, immanence, and wisdom.

Another aspect of reformed lives would entail biblical repentance. This kind of repentance would involve a new attitude toward self and a new attitude toward God.

Whatever Happened to the Gospel of Grace is a superb book. Written by one of the most influential Reformed theologians and pastors of our generation, it is a wake-up all to the church. It is filled with practical wisdom and strong challenges. I commend it highly!

BOOK REVIEWS

The Life and Theology of Paul – Guy Prentiss Waters

paulGuy Prentiss Waters, The Life and Theology of Paul Orlando: Reformation Trust, 2018, 132 pp. $15.00

It was one of the most dramatic conversion experiences in redemptive history. The apostle Paul, formerly Saul of Tarsus was miraculously transformed into a man who found his delight in God. Guy Prentiss Waters tells the story of Paul’s conversion in his latest book. The Life and Theology of Paul not only unpacks some basic biographical details about the apostle Paul – it explores the basics of Pauline theology.

In some ways, this work is a mini-systematic theology. While the author does not cover every branch of theology, he does present Paul’s hamartiology, soteriology, and the ecclesiology. Also, included is a brief discussion of personal eschatology.

Each chapter concludes with a section of practical application. Here, the author presents real-life principles that readers should wrestle with and apply to their lives.

The Life and Theology of Paul is accessible to a wide range of readers and is a faithful treatment of Reformed theology that will provide deep encouragement for many people. It is my privilege to commend this new volume and trust that it will receive a wide reading.

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

BOOK REVIEWS

Some Pastors and Teachers – Sinclair Ferguson

fergSinclair Ferguson, Some Pastors and Teachers. Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2017, 802 pp. $45.00

The day that Sinclair Ferguson’s new book, Some Pastors and Teachers arrived, I was like a kid in a candy store; a monkey in a banana factory; a shark in blood-infested waters. Gazing at the table of contents caused my heart to race, which is a testimony of my deep love for the church, theology, and pastoral ministry.

It was immediately apparent that Dr. Ferguson was attaching a high degree of importance to the past by acknowledging some of the great pastor-teachers in church history – men like John Calvin, John Owen, John Murray, and the Puritans.

Some Pastors and Teachers is a mixture of biography, systematic and biblical theology, and pastoral theology. Ferguson writes with theological precision and pastoral compassion and experience. He writes with a gravitas that is both weighty and inspirational.

While each of the thirty-nine chapters are commendable in their own right, chapter thirty-seven, was especially meaningful to me. Ferguson argues with great force that “all truly biblical preaching is preaching to the heart.” This kind of preaching is marked by several characteristics:

  1. A right use of the Bible which must first be directed to the mind. Ferguson adds, “When we preach to the heart, the mind is not so much the terminus of our preaching, but the channel through which we appeal to the whole person, leading to the transformation of the whole life.
  2. Nourishment of the whole person. Ferguson makes it clear that spiritual nourishment must be carefully defined: “There is a difference between a well-instructed congregation and a well-nourished one.”
  3. An understanding of the condition of hearers.
  4. The use of the imagination.
  5. Grace in Christ.

This behemoth of a book is filled with rich material that promises deep pastoral encouragement, comfort, and instruction. This “doxological Calvinism” is the best of all worlds. Such a theological framework strengthens minds, nourishes hearts, and ultimately equips pastors to feed, lead, love, and protect the flock – all for God’s glory.

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.

BOOK REVIEWS

Revitalize: Biblical Keys To Helping Your Church Come Alive Again – Andrew Davis (2017)

arevitalAndrew M. Davis, Revitalize: Biblical Keys To Helping Your Church Come Alive Again Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2017, 223 pp. $9.51

Andrew Davis understands what it means to pastor a church in crisis. But Dr. Davis also understands the joy of pastoring a church which has been revitalized. So the author is uniquely qualified to write on such a subject. The name of the book is Revitalize: Biblical Keys to Helping Your Church Come Alive Again.

Davis helps readers understand the biblical rationale for a revitalized church: “Revitalization occurs,” writes Davis, “when God restores a once healthy church, helping it to change course from its recent decline toward spiritual disease and death.” But before outlining the biblical keys for this vital process of revitalization, the marks of a dying church are presented. They include,

• Low view of Scripture

• Man-centered rather than God-centered

• Lax shepherding of members and no church discipline

• Little evangelistic fruit resulting in dwindling numbers

• Disunity and bitter factions

• Disrespect for godly leaders, resulting in short pastorates

• Disorderly polity

• Clinging to traditions, stubbornly unwilling to change

• Selfish spending patterns

• Little zeal for corporate prayer

• Increasingly world doctrines and behaviors

Davis notes the supreme importance of Christ who must be at the center of the revitalization process: “The more church leaders delight in the infinite exaltation of Christ and his rights over his vineyard, the more humble they will be about their own roles.”

With this critical foundation in place, Dr. Davis proceeds to lay out the components of church revitalization. The following biblical keys are each explained in greater detail:

Be Holy

Rely on God, Not on Yourself

Rely on God’s Word, Not on Techniques

Saturate the Church in Prayer

Cast a Clear Vision

Be Humble Toward Opponents

Be Courageous

Be Patient

Be Discerning

Wage War Against Discouragement

Develop and Establish Men as Leaders

Become Supple on Worship

Embrace the Two Journeys of Disciple-Making

There is so much to commend in this excellent work.  A short review falls terribly short. Revitalize does not contain the typical pragmatic approach which is found in books of this sort. Rather, it is filled with God-centered advice that may be immediately applied in the local church context. Dr. Davis has gifted the church with a much-need gift. My prayer is that many pastors will be encouraged and moved to action as they apply this timely wisdom. May the church be revitalized as she prepares for the triumphant return of the Lord Jesus Christ.

REFORMATION

CORNERED IN A CASTLE: THE RESOLVE OF MARTIN LUTHER

IMGP0693The Protestant Reformers were men of unbending principle. They were men of unyielding conviction. These men fought relentlessly for the truth. Some of the battle took place privately as godly men wrote books and treatises, which magnified the mighty work of the gospel.

The story is well-known about how Frederick the Wise arranged to have Martin Luther “kidnapped” and secretly transported from the city of Worms to the Wartburg castle where the Protestant Reformer would spend the next ten months in seclusion. These days were spent largely in isolation under the pseudonym, Junker Jörg.

Luther made good use of his time at Wartburg, translating the Greek New Testament into German, the language of the people. Leather spent hour after hour, laboring over the text and translating God’s Word for the common man. Soon, thousands of people would read the Word of God in their mother tongue for the first time. They would hear the Word of God thunder from the pulpit in their heart language.IMGP0676

After his brief stop in Wartburg, Luther made his way back to Wittenberg where his reformation efforts continued. Indeed, the Reformation tides continued to swell as the Word of God grew and people were transformed by God’s Spirit.

For more on this topic, see David Steele’s new book, Bold Reformer: Celebrating the Gospel-Centered Convictions of Martin Luther.

Dr. David Steele is the Senior Pastor at Christ Fellowship in Everson, Washington.