Book review

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Book review: Sinclair B. Ferguson, “The Whole Christ”

Thursday, June 23rd, 2016

[I received a kindle copy for review from the publisher, Crossway.]

Sinclair B. Ferguson, The Whole Christ: Legalism, Antinomianism, and Gospel Assurance—Why the Marrow Controversy Still Matters. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2016.

Brother Ferguson does an excellent job unpacking a fairly complex internecine controversy within 18th century Scottish Presbyterianism. As a Scottish born Presbyterian preacher and theology professor at various Reformed seminary campuses, he is well-suited for understanding and unpacking the historical and theological niceties of the “Marrow Controversy” – so named because it centered around Edward Fisher’s The Marrow Of Modern Divinity. The basic issue dealt with legalism, antinomianism, the biblical balance between faith and obedience. Ferguson explains it this way:

“On the surface the Marrow Controversy was about how we preach the gospel; what role, if any, God’s law and our obedience play in the Christian life; and what it means to have assurance of salvation. But those issues are always, at bottom, about the gospel itself. While these themes have taken center stage at particular periods in the church’s history, that is only the tip of the iceberg. They are perennially relevant because underneath them lies the most fundamental question of all: Who is the God whom we come to know in Jesus Christ (John 17:3)? What is he really like, truly like—deep down, through and through? The atmosphere that characterizes my Christian life will reflect my answer to these questions. That was the issue that lay deeply embedded in the Marrow Controversy. To that extent, reflecting on it can never be merely an antiquarian hobby or an academic exercise.” Kindle Loc. 241-47.

The implications of this debate touches on the nature of a believer’s assurance of salvation. In my estimation, brother Ferguson is at his best when unpacking biblical reasons for Christian assurance in contrast to the counterfeit assurance of legalism and antinomianism. I am not an adherent to Covenant Theology or Five Point Calvinism, so I could not agree with those views in this book. Nevertheless, I appreciate brother Ferguson’s clear prose and his careful exposition of the Scriptures. This is not a dry tome of church history; rather it is warmly pastoral, and aims to encourage true believers to grow in the true Christian life.

Book review: The Miracles of Jesus: How the Savior’s Mighty Acts Serve as Signs of Redemption

Monday, March 28th, 2016

[Note: I received a complimentary review copy of the book in kindle format from the publisher.]

Vern Poythress, The Miracles of Jesus: How the Savior’s Mighty Acts Serve as Signs of Redemption. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2016.

  Given brother Poythress’ occupation and credentials – he teaches at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, PA and possesses doctorates in mathematics and theology respectively – I expected this book to be somewhat highbrow. I could not have been more wrong! He writes in a lucid, everyday style that avoids technical jargon and sticks to analogies that any reader can understand. I also anticipated a philosophical discussion of miracles, somewhat on the order of a more modern version of C.S. Lewis’ classic Miracles. Once again I was mistaken. Brother Poythress focuses on direct exegesis of the text of the Bible, paying particular attention to the Lord’s miracles in the Gospels of John and Matthew. Along the way he gives a practical tutorial in using Edmund Clowney’s chart of interpreting miracles in their context, as well as looking at greater things pertaining to the gospel that are typologically shadowed in the different types of signs that Christ performed.

  Of course, I don’t subscribe to every bit of interpretation that brother Poythress puts forth. As one would expect from a brother of Presbyterian affiliation, his soteriology and eschatology are thoroughly Reformed (I’m premillennial, dispensational, so some of our future chronology differs, as well as our approach to Israel and the Church!) Nevertheless, I enjoyed reading this book and recommend it as a good primer for studying the gospel miracles in their context. As always, be good Bereans (Acts 17:11) and prayerfully compare everything with the Scriptures themselves!

Book review: Barry G. Webb, Judges and Ruth

Tuesday, March 22nd, 2016

Book review: Barry G. Webb, Judges and Ruth: God In Chaos. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2015.

[Note: I received a review copy of this book from the publisher in MOBI / Kindle format.]

  Part of Crossway’s Preaching The Word series, this devotional commentary does an excellent job of examining the major content of Judges and Ruth. Taking place in a difficult era of salvation history, these two books offer hope against the dark backdrop of Israel’s repeated spiritual and moral failures. Mr. Webb, a retired professor from Moore Theological College in Sydney Australia, does an outstanding job of explaining them in their historical context, while also making relevant applications to the modern situations faced by churches and individual believers.

Mr. Webb’s writing is lucid and interesting, and he has a keen sense of the drama of Judges and Ruth. He is also superb at bringing out reflections of Christ in the types and shadows of these Old Testament books. He brings out interesting insights from Hebrew word studies, biblical geography, and extra-biblical history without becoming bogged down in overly technical academic jargon or inconsequential details. Throughout his commentary Webb maintains a reverence for God and His word, and frequently makes gospel applications from the text. His style is expositional, yet it offers much spiritual heart-food for the reader who desires to contemplate the Lord’s glories. I heartily commend this book to anyone interested in Judges and Ruth – or even to someone looking for a good Christ-centered book.

Some choice quotations to whet your appetite:

On the “Minor Judges”:

“In the marathon of life there are few stars and many runners. The same is true in the history of God’s people in both the Old and New Testaments. Thank God for stars like Othniel, Deborah, Barak, and Gideon who encourage and inspire us by their example. But thank God, too, for also-rans like Ibzan, Elon, and Abdon who remind us, by simply being there with their modest achievements and all too human failures, that little people, too, have a contribution to make to the great sweep of God’s saving purposes in the world that reaches its climax in Christ and flows on into our own day and age. Also-rans is what nearly all of us are! But praise God that we, too, have a noble calling and can be used to display his astonishing wisdom to a proud, incredulous world. May it be our joy to do so, with God’s help, and to his glory.” Webb, Judges and Ruth: God In Chaos, Kindle Loc. 3733-39.

On Samson:

“Given the heavy blend of passion, heroism, and tragedy it contains, it is not surprising that the Samson story has attracted the serious attention of great creative artists. No one can view Samson and Delilah (Rubens, 1577–1640) or Samson Killing the Lion (Léon Bonnet, 1833–1922) or hear Handel’s impressive Samson oratorio (1740) or read John Milton’s epic poem Samson Agonistes without being aware of both the creative power of the artists themselves and the greatness of the Biblical narrative that inspired such endeavors. Handel’s oratorio was composed in the same year as his Messiah, and Milton’s poem followed hard on Paradise Lost, and the treatment in both cases shows that they did not regard the Samson story as a piece of comic relief after the treatment of nobler themes. They took Samson seriously, and the author of Judges clearly means us to do the same. That is not to say that the story has no humor in it. The sight of Samson bursting out of Gaza at midnight, for example, like a crazed orangutan escaping from a zoo, taking the gates with him, is a moment to be relished—especially since the joke is on the Philistines. But beneath all the surface chaos and mad careening here and there of the wild-man hero there is a steady building toward a predetermined end of profound theological significance. Samson is God’s man, as Israel is his people, and neither he nor they can finally escape their destiny. Samson may be a testosterone-charged male behaving badly, but he is also much, much more. More space is devoted to him than to any other judge.1 He alone has his birth and destiny announced in advance by a divine messenger, and in his story the whole central section of the book is brought to a resounding climax.”

Ftnt. #1: It is longer than the Jephthah narrative of 10: 6— 12: 7. The Gideon-Abimelech complex as a whole (chaps. 6— 9) is longer than the Samson story, but the Gideon narrative itself (6: 1— 9: 28) is shorter. Webb, Judges and Ruth: God In Chaos, Kindle Loc. 3744-57.

On Ruth 2: “Ruth has not just left her native land and her father’s house, she has also left her foreign gods: ‘The LORD repay you . . . the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge!’ (v. 12). We can almost see the wheels turning inside Boaz’s head at this point. Moabites had been placed under a ban of eternal exclusion for cursing and seducing them into worshiping their gods (Numbers 22:1–6; 25:1–3). But what of a Moabite who abandons those gods and embraces the Lord God of Israel? And what if she is also poor, an alien, and a widow—one of the very people the Law commanded Israelites to protect? What does it mean to truly keep the Law in these circumstances? Would Boaz be wrong to embrace such a one? The answer that seems to be forming in his mind and showing itself in his actions is that he would not. And the rest of the book confirms that he is right.” Webb, Judges and Ruth: God In Chaos, Kindle Loc. 4833-39.

Book review: “God has spoken” by Gerald Bray

Thursday, March 10th, 2016

Gerald Bray, God has spoken: A History of Christian Theology. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2014.

I received a complimentary kindle copy of this book for review from Crossway Publishers. Gerald Bray is a theologian and researcher at The Beeson Divinity School of Samford University in Alabama. Bray’s book is a tour de force of church history, theological controversies, & philosophy. His knowledge of these subjects is impressive, and his erudition is demonstrated by his many appropriate quotations from Patristic, Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and Reformed sources. He has knack for reducing complex arguments to easily understable prose. On the criticism side of things, I find his approach too ecumenical (e.g. he gives more legitimacy to Orthodox & Roman Catholic doctrinal positions, viewing them as part of “the church”.) When he comments on Scripture, I sometimes found his opinions to be contrary to the Bible’s teaching (e.g. he believes that Christ could have sinned – He didn’t, but He could have. A careful study of Philippians 2:5-11 & other passages show that the Lord was & is impeccable, i.e. God manifest in the flesh cannot sin!)

In summation, read this book for a survey of the development of the doctrinal positions of the various parts of Christendom. The book is particularly strong on the Trinity, and also has an outstanding section on the Enlightenment and the development of academic theology of the 18th – 20th centuries. But, like good Bereans, get your doctrine straight from the Bible!

Book Review: Dispatches from the Front

Thursday, July 24th, 2014

Tim Keesee, Dispatches From The Front: Stories of Gospel Advance in the World’s Difficult Places. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2014.

[Note: I received a review copy from the publisher in kindle format.]

Tim Keesee has spent years visiting missionaries in difficult places around the world; this book is a digest of several articles detailing the tough conditions that are faced by Christians and those who minister to them. The stories come from former Soviet republics, Russia, China, India, and other “closed” countries that regularly disenfranchise and persecute evangelical Christians. In a lucid and “you are there” type of style, Keesee puts the reader in the thick of the action. The stories of Christian bravery inspire gratitude to God for His preserving grace and power, as well as the faithfulness of suffering saints in far-flung corners of the planet.

The reader meets Galina, a faithful Russian woman who witnesses in prison after prison in the Soviet Union, as the atheistic wardens repeatedly transfer her in a vain attempt to silence her potent testimony. The book also tells of courageous preachers like Husayn, whose church ministers to unwanted people like the mentally disabled in Azerbaijan. Keesee tells what it was like to be in Afghanistan when foreign aid workers like Cheryl Williams were murdered by the Taliban for their faithful service to Christ among the needy Afghan people.

I thoroughly recommend this stirring account of the contemporary progress of the Gospel amid staunch opposition. It moved me to pray more for the persecuted church around the world, as well as seek to be a better witness in the comparative freedom of the United States. Read it and prayerfully consider your connection to the Great Commission (Matt. 28:18-20.)

 

Book review: Taking God At His Word

Monday, June 16th, 2014

Book Review: Taking God At His Word: Why the Bible Is Knowable, Necessary, and Enough, and What That Means for You and Me.

 by Kevin DeYoung. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2014.)

I received a review copy from the publisher.

Kevin DeYoung, a well-known preacher and blogger, articulates the doctrine of Scripture in a clear, modern, and highly readable style. He emphasizes that classic position of Christians that the Bible is the inspired and inerrant Word of God. As he explains: “This is a book unpacking what the Bible says about the Bible. My aim is to be simple, uncluttered, straightforward, and manifestly biblical. I make no pretenses about offering you anything other than a doctrine of Scripture derived from Scripture itself.” In my estimation, he succeeds admirably.

He has excellent chapters explaining that the Bible is Sufficient, Clear, Authoritative, and Necessary. DeYoung easily condenses several centuries of high-powered evangelical scholarship into a few targeted quotations. The book’s strongest feature is its exposition of the view of Scripture held by the Lord Jesus and His apostles. He uses passages like John 10:35 and Matthew 19:3-9 to show that they viewed the Bible as the inspired, historically sound, and authoritative word of God.

This book is highly recommended for seekers, new believers, and more experienced Christians who want a concise resource on the doctrine of Scripture. The author provides a detailed index of the verses that are quoted in the book, and those wishing to delve deeper into the subject may consult his outstanding bibliography.

Book review of David F. Wells’ “God in the Whirlwind”

Wednesday, June 11th, 2014

Book review: David F. Wells, God In The Whirlwind: How The Holy Love Of God Reorients Our World. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2013.)

David F. Wells is the well-known author of acclaimed books like God in the Wasteland and No Place For Truth. In his latest work, God In The Whirlwind, Wells couples erudition, wisdom, and spiritual insight with a clear writing style that is a pleasure to read. He attacks the modern notion of God existing for the satisfaction of our needs and the bolstering of human self-esteem. One sample of his writing sets the tone:

We become inclined to think of God as our Therapist. It is comfort, healing, and inspiration that we want most deeply, so that is what we seek from him. That, too, is what we want most from our church experience. We want it to be comforting, uplifting, inspiring, and easy on the mind. We do not want Sunday (or, perhaps, Saturday evening) to be another workday, another burden, something that requires effort and concentration. We already have enough burdens and struggles, enough things to concentrate on, in our workweek. On the weekend, we want relief. It is not difficult to see, then, how this two-sided experience, this paradox, has shaped our understanding of God. It leaves us with a yearning for a God who will come close, who will walk softly, who will touch gently, who will come to uplift, assure, comfort, and guide. We want our God to be accepting and nonjudgmental. It also leaves us with the expectation that somehow this God of plenty will dispense his largesse in generous dollops to us. Maybe even through a lottery win. Perhaps we could win Powerball, or maybe some sweepstakes prize. That is the kind of God we want. This is what we expect him to be like.[1]

While I do not share all of his Reformed convictions – most notably his Covenant Theology perspective when dealing with Adam in the garden – I applaud his zeal for the holiness and love of God. He rightly diagnoses and deplores the modern man-centered culture that infects evangelical thinking at certain points and evidences itself in the Church’s worship (especially its music) and preaching (or lack thereof.) He spends a significant portion of the book defining “holy-love” and shows why this understanding of God’s nature is vital for Christian belief and practice. God commands full attention and is worthy of all of our affection and obedience. Wells rightly shows the scriptural emphasis on God’s supremacy and beauty. He inverts the skewed modern idea of human-centeredness, in favor of focusing on the triune God.

[1] David F. Wells. God in the Whirlwind: How the Holy-love of God Reorients Our World (Kindle Locations 446-455). Crossway. Note: I received a review copy from Crossway.

Book Review: Facing Death by Franklin D. Taylor, Sr.

Sunday, June 1st, 2014

Facing Death by Franklin D. Taylor, Sr.

Port Colborne, ON: Everyday Publications International, 2013.

Available here: http://everydaypublications.org/EPI/Order/Books.php?id=617

Reviewed by: Keith R. Keyser

Death is ubiquitous in our fallen world. The Scriptures affirm that “…it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment” (Heb. 9:27.) Given its universality, it is not surprising that death is a necessary subject to consider.

Franklin D. Taylor, Sr.’s recently published book, Facing Death concisely examines death and the practical issues surrounding it from a Christian perspective. Dr. Taylor is described as an educator who has lengthy familiarity in counseling people, including the terminally ill and their bereaved loved ones. His practical experience lends helpful weight to his teaching. Having said that, his points are grounded in the Scriptures. In dealing with such a momentous subject, brother Taylor does not fall back on personal opinion or mere human wisdom; rather, he goes straight to God’s Word for answers to questions about death and the afterlife.

Facing Death helpfully deals with the questions that both Christian believers and unbelievers pose. To this latter group, brother Taylor clearly explains the Gospel, using many relevant Bible verses. To the former group, he likewise uses the Scriptures to offer comfort to those who know the peace of God through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, who died and rose again to give eternal life to those who receive Him as Lord and Savior (Rom. 10:9.)

The book is fairly short – about 37 pages of main text, plus a few sidebars and five appendices – and is written in a nontechnical, easy to read style. The author offers balanced and insightful explanations rooted in the biblical text. Theological questions such as “Where did death come from?”,  and “How did Jesus defeat death?” are discussed, as well as more down to earth topics like planning a funeral, making a will, and counseling the terminally ill. The appendices deal with the common issues of cremation, euthanasia, suicide, and out of body experiences.

The fifth and concluding appendix is a template for planning one’s funeral, providing opportunity for documenting the relevant information for family members or friends who are involved in carrying out the deceased’s wishes, as well as space to record financial information that is germane to paying for the funeral expenses. There is also a journaling section, offering the dying person to record their thoughts as they near the end of their course on this earth. This is a thoughtful and helpful touch that adds practical benefit to the value of the book. In short, I thoroughly recommend this book for all adult believers – and even strangers to the Lord Jesus who desire to know the Bible’s teaching on death and what comes afterwards.