Andrew Fuller: Holy, Faith, Worthy Gospel, World Mission

John Piper, Andrew Fuller: Holy Faith, Worthy Gospel, World Mission Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2016, 57 pp. $8.99

For years now, John Piper has been churning out a series of stunning biographical portraits of pivotal leaders in the church. His newest offering is no exception as he offers up a refreshing volume on the life and legacy of Andrew Fuller.

Andrew Fuller: Holy Faith, Worthy Gospel, World Mission is a sweeping overview of the well-known pastor/theologian. Dr. Piper highlight’s Fuller’s passion for world missions and the impact he had on the expansion of evangelism around the globe.

The life of Fuller is presented as one that was both theologically rich and traumatic. Fuller was committed to expository preaching and expended a great deal of energy in his weekly sermon preparation. Yet, his life was also plagued by tremendous suffering, losing eight children with his first wife.

The intellectual life of Andrew Fuller is explored in some detail. Most interesting is the impact that Jonathan Edwards had on Fuller’s thinking and theological framework.

At the heart of the book is Fuller’s antipathy for hyper-Calvinism. Piper alerts readers to this pernicious error and shows the development in Fuller’s thought and his gradual repudiation of a system of theology that discouraged evangelism and failed to call sinners to believe the gospel.

Readers should understand that while Fuller rejected hyper-Calvinism (or high Calvinism), he did nonetheless embrace historical five point Calvinism with a great deal of vigor and enthusiasm. Fuller stands in a long line of godly men who cling to the doctrines of grace and faithfully proclaim a “faith that was once delivered to all the saints.” Once again, the influence of Jonathan Edwards loomed large on Fuller’s theological commitments.

Finally, the author unveils Fuller’s stance against the heresy of Sandemanianism, a teaching that twisted the doctrine of justification by faith alone.

Andrew Fuller: Holy Faith, Worthy Gospel, World Mission is a deeply encouraging book that should be devoured by gospel-loving, truth-saturated Christians. This book is sure to spark good discussion and prompt many to dig deeper into church history.

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

What is Reformed Theology?

R.C. Sproul, What is Reformed Theology? Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2016

What is Reformed Theology? originally appeared in 1997. This updated volume has a new cover and new contemporary format. The content, however, remains the same as Dr. Sproul guides readers through the wonders of Reformed Theology.

Part One: Foundations of Reformed Theology

The first half of the book helps readers understand the necessary backdrop of Reformed theology. Of primary importance is its devotion to God. Sproul writes, “Reformed theology is first and foremost theocentric rather than anthropocentric … Reformed theology takes sin seriously because it takes God seriously and because it takes people seriously. Sin offends God and violates human beings. Both of these are serious matters.” The author clarifies that Reformed theology is devoted to more than merely five points. Indeed, Reformed theology is catholic (it embraces the great ecumenical councils and doctrines of church history) and evangelical.

Reformed theology is based on God’s Word alone. The commitment to the sola Scriptura principle is a fundamental aspect of Reformed thought. Therefore, the crucial doctrines of the infallibility, inspiration, authority, and inerrancy of Scripture are at the core of Reformed theology.

Reformed theology embraces the sola fide principle. We agree with Luther who famously said that justification by faith is “the article upon which the church stands or falls.” As such, we repudiate the Roman Catholic doctrine of justification which involves both faith and works.

Finally, the author includes a helpful overview of covenant theology which involves the covenant of redemption, covenant of works, and the covenant of grace.

Part Two: Five Points of Reformed Theology

Part two contains a basic overview of what is traditionally referred to as the five points of Calvinism. Each chapter summarizes the critical elements of the five points, including total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace, and perseverance of the saints.

Sproul writes clearly and forcefully. His arguments are biblical and logical and compel readers to embrace these historic biblical doctrines. What is Reformed Theology? is probably the best introduction to the doctrines of grace in print. Other resources include The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination by Lorraine Boettner, The Joy Project by Tony Reinke, The Doctrines of Grace by James Boice, The Five Points of Calvinism by Edwin H. Palmer, and The Potters Freedom by James Boice.

Highly recommended!

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

Good and Angry – David Powlison

David Powlison, Good and Angry Greensboro: New Growth Press, 2016, 246 pp. $17.99

Anger is a subject that most people can relate to. Many people battle a problem with chronic anger that lashes out at others and demands that specific needs be met or this high-toxic anger will continue to escalate. David Powlison address the problem of anger in his most recent book, Good and Angry: Redeeming Anger, Irritation, Complaining, and Bitterness.

Powlison’s primary objective is to teach readers how to more fruitfully and honestly deal with their anger. The book is comprised of four sections, each of which help contribute to the stated objective above.

Section One: Our Experience

The author carefully introduces readers to different kinds of anger that emerge in people. At the end of the day, the descriptions become self-portraits, requiring each reader to examine any anger that may be smoldering in their hearts.

Powlison identifies a wonderful paradox and acknowledges that God blesses people who admit their brokenness and their need for help. The author adds, “Sanity has a deep awareness, I need help. I can’t do life right on my own. Someone outside me must intervene. The sanity of honest humility finds mercy, life, peace, and strength. By contrast, saying we don’t need help keeps us stuck on that hamster wheel of making excuses and blaming others. The end result isn’t life and peace; it’s self-righteousness, self-justification, alienation, and bitterness.”

So like a seasoned surgeon, Powlison identifies areas of need that readers need to acknowledge and confess. This is the first step in the right direction and prepares the humble for section two.

Section Two: What is Anger?

This section uncovers the essence of anger. At its core, anger expresses, “I’m against that.” Anger is seen to be comprehensive in scope. Powlison observes:

  1. Your body operates in agitated mode.
  2. Your emotions operate in the hot displeasure mode.
  3. Your mind operates in judicial mode.
  4. Your actions operate in military mode.
  5. Your motives operate in Godlike mode.

But anger is not what some think it is. Powlison notes that anger is a combination of good and bad: “Your anger is worth brilliant and appalling. The shifting line between good and evil plays out when it comes to your anger, like everywhere else. Your anger is God-like to the degree you treasure justice and fairness and are alert to betrayal and falsehood. Your anger is devil-like to the degree you play god and are petty, merciless, whiny, argumentative, willful, and unfair.”

Section two also contains an excellent treatment on the wrath of God. The author demonstrates the necessity of wrath and shows how wrath is an essential attribute in God. He observes four powerful principles that concern God’s anger:

  1. God’s anger falls on Jesus.
  2. God’s anger disarms the power of sin.
  3. God’s anger delivers us from the pain of others’ sin.
  4. God’s anger protects us from ourselves.

“These realities nourish our hearts,” writes Dr. Powlison. “God’s loving anger resolves the entire problem of evil in a way that brings him inexpressible glory and brings us inexpressible blessing … The truth is that you can’t understand God’s love if you don’t understand his anger.”

Section Three: How to Change

Section three focuses on practical ways to move from sinful anger and lives in ways that promote peace and glorify the Lord. The author includes a very helpful list of eight question that helps readers shift their focus on eternal things. The questions include:

  1. What is my situation?
  2. How do I react?
  3. What are my motives?
  4. What are the consequences?
  5. What is true?
  6. How do I turn to God for help?
  7. What are the consequences of faith and obedience?

Section Four: Tackling the Hard Cases

In section four, the author continues to wrestle with practical cases that readers will resonate with. He makes it clear that God expresses righteous anger. It is at this point that the book drives home the reality of the gospel: “He is angry at all injustice, every betrayal, any time wrongs are done to another … His response to evil is to do the greatest good thing the world has ever seen. He sends his own Son as a man of sorrows who enters and knows our suffering. He sends his own Son as the Lamb of God to die for the sins of his people. God doesn’t want you to ‘just get over it’ or to gloss over what you have suffered as if it didn’t really matter. He wants to help you become good and angry as well. He wants you to become merciful, purposeful, hopeful … It takes courage to face the evil done to you and to then turn toward your God, who suffered unimaginable evil on your behalf.”

Summary

Good and Angry is a terrific book that is forged in the fire and bathed in the Word of God. The gospel runs throughout, urging the followers of Christ to follow his example and treasure him above all things. My prayer is that Powlison’s work will be a blessing to many; that the promises and purposes of God would be clearly revealed and that his people would be served well as a result of this excellent work.

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

Purchase your copy today at https://www.amazon.com/Good-Angry-Irritation-Complaining-Bitterness/dp/1942572972/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473699555&sr=8-1&keywords=good+and+angry

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.

God Took Me By the Hand

Jerry Bridges. God Took Me by the Hand. Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2014. 192 pp. $12.60

When Jerry Bridges went to be with the Lord in March, 2106 I set out to write a tribute. Bridges played a key role in shaping the theological foundations of my early Christian life. After writing several pages, words simply could not capture the influence of Bridges on my life.

Jerry Bridges fine work, God Took Me by the Hand sums up in many ways what I originally meant to write in my tribute. This autobiographical account of Bridges’ life summarizes the important details that characterize the man so many have grown to love over the years.

The highlight of the book is nicely captured in the subtitle: A Story of God’s Unusual Providence. Most biographies capture the essence of one’s life, and rightly so. But this biography reads like a divinely inspired tapestry as the author refers over and over again to the invisible hand of God’s providence. He surveys the good, the bad, and the ugly – but in the final analysis, all the events which unfold in his life prove to be good (Rom. 8:38; Gen. 50:20).

If Jerry Bridges has influenced you or encouraged your Christian life, I commend God Took Me by the Hand. The book is packed with biblical wisdom and will no doubt, encourage many.

Embracing Followership

Allen Hamlin Jr, Embracing Followership: How to Thrive in a Leader-Centric Culture. Bellingham: Kirkdale Press, 2016, 237 pp. $14.99

True leaders will always have followers. At the heart of leadership is the assumption that a certain group of people is committed to following a given leader. Most books that address leadership focus on role of the leader, exclusively. Allen Hamlin’s new book, Embracing Followership: How to Thrive in a Leader-Centric Culture takes a different approach.

Hamlin tackles the opposite end of the leadership spectrum by focusing on what it means to follow. The goal of the book, then, is to “determine how we can engage in our followership role with excellence.”

Embracing Followership is organized into six parts. Each part examines a different facet of what it means to “follow” with integrity and excellence. The parts are outlined below:

Part One: Misconceptions and Realities of Followership

Part Two: The Opportunities of Followership

Part Three: Obstacles and How to Overcome Them

Part Four: Followership in Relationship with Leaders

Part Five: Followership in Relationship with Other Followers

Part Six: Followership in Relationship as a Leader

Uses

Followers from a wide variety of backgrounds will benefit from Hamlin’s work. Pastors serving in associate roles will find this material especially useful. As one who served as an associate pastor for twenty years, I can testify that this role in particular will define the true nature of followership. Associate pastors have a choice: They can tuck under the authority of their superior by supporting, defending, and complementing them. Or they can subtly undercut and marginalize senior leadership. The former option is the only path to success.

Followers are in a strategic position where they can enhance a given leader’s ability to succeed. Hamlin observes, “When I am behind and alongside my leader, I have the opportunity to contribute where my leader is lacking.”

The theme of embracing followership is an empowering concept that every person needs to build into the fabric of their lives. It is a an important theme that is underemphasized in leadership circles. Hamlin’s work is a needed corrective to a misunderstood and neglected subject.

One critique may be in order. While Hamlin is clear about his Christian commitment, the book appears to target a broader audience, which is understandable. However, whenever Christian presuppositions are minimized, the force of the content lacks the authoritative punch that readers need. This criticism aside, I recommend Embracing Followership and hope this work receives a wide reading.

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

Hello Bicycle

Anna Brones, Hello Bicycle: An Inspired Guide To the Two-Wheeled Life. New York: Crown Publishing Group, 185 pp. $11.40

I got my first bicycle when I was six years old. It’s been over forty years since I learned how to ride a bike. These days, taking a long ride is one of the most enjoyable things I do.

Hello Bicycle: An Inspired Guide to the Two-Wheeled Life, by Anna Brones explores the many-faceted world of cycling. The first thing that readers will notice is the extraordinary layout of the book. The book not only has a nice feel; it is loaded with creative artwork that only adds to the content.

Second, this is a practical book. Beginning, intermediate and advanced cyclists will benefit from Brone’s cycling wisdom. A quick glance at the table of contents provides a good overview of the author’s strategy:

  • Why Bicycles?
  • What Do I Need to Know to Ride?
  • Taking Care of Your Bicycle
  • Biking For All Activities
  • Essential Provisions
  • More Than Just a Ride

Much of the material is very basic, so beginning riders will profit the most from this work. However, the author also includes some excellent ideas for nutrition and even adds some favorites recipes that all riders will benefit from.

Hello Bicycle is a fun read that should be devoured by anyone who spends time in a saddle. Good work, Anna Brones!