The Evangelistic Zeal of George Whitefield – Steven Lawson (2014)

It is impossible to determine the impact that Reformation Trust’s,  A Long Linewhitefield of Godly Men Series will have.  have personally been enriched, challenged, and inspired by this excellent series that has surveyed the likes of Jonathan Edwards, John Calvin, Martin Luther, C.H. Spurgeon, and John Knox.  The latest installment, The Evangelistic Zeal of George Whitefield by Steven Lawson packs a powerful punch and will leave readers hungry for more.

Several features make Dr. Lawson’s latest work noteworthy.  First, the book is very interesting and readable.  It is filled with historical facts that help readers contextualize the arena that Whitefield ministered in – on both sides of the Atlantic.

Second, the book raises critical awareness about the biblical relationship between the doctrine of election and the need to evangelize.  Lawson is quick to point out that while Whitefield embraced the doctrines of grace, he was also eager to proclaim the gospel to every creature – a scathing indictment of hyper-Calvinism and a challenge to anyone who scoffs at the two-fold  truths of election and evangelism.

Third, the book provides an inside look at a man who faced a myriad of trials and tribulations.  Every preacher, indeed, every Christ-f0llower experiences trials.  But I have yet to meet a pastor who was met by an angry mob who hurled dead cats and rotten fruit onto the platform.  Whitefield endured this and more.  Yet he endured each tribulation and he passed the test.

Fourth, the book acquaints readers with the evangelistic zeal of George Whitefield.  Here is a man who took the Great Commission seriously!  His ministry led to countless conversions – all a result of faithful proclamation.

Whitefield was a man who refused to compromise the truth.  He delivered the truth with power and passion.  And a multitude of lives of changed as a result of his preaching ministry.  Lawson cites Arnold Dallimore who writes about the God-centered stature of George Whitefield: “And what manner of men will they be?  Men mighty in the Scriptures, their lives dominated by a sense of the greatness, the majesty and holiness of God, and their minds and hearts aglow with the great truths of the doctrines of grace.”  Oh that men in this age would model the Whitefield approach.  May their hearts be consumed with nothing but the greatness of God.  And may people from every tribe and nation be drawn to the sovereign Savior.

Highly recommended!

5 stars

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Why We’re Protestant – Nate Pickowicz (2017)

why we're prot

“Justification is the article upon which the church stands or falls.” So said Martin Luther as he battled for reform in the eye of the sixteenth-century storm that we know as the Protestant Reformation. The Reformers rediscovered the truth and beauty of the gospel message and proclaimed it faithfully and forcefully. Their allegiance to the gospel inform and inspire us as we strive to follow in their footsteps.

Nate Pickowicz beautifully summarizes the spirit of the Reformers in his most recent book, Why We’re Protestant: An Introduction to the Five Solas of the Reformation. First, the author clearly describes the “gospel crisis” that emerged in the sixteenth century. The crisis involves a fundamental disagreement on how sinners are justified. The answers proposed by Rome and the sixteenth century Protestants are clear. The answer proposed by Rome falls short of the biblical benchmark and leads sinners to a pathway of destruction. The Protestant reply is faithful to Scripture and leads sinners on a pathway to the Celestial City.

The essential message of the Reformation is captured in the five solas – grace alone, faith alone, Christ alone, Scripture alone, and to God alone be the glory. Pickowicz guides readers on a journey that unfolds these remarkable truths in a way that is winsome, historically accurate, and faithful to Scripture.

Why We’re Protestant is a veritable battering ram and a boon for the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ. As we draw near to the five hundredth anniversary of the Reformation, I commend this fine work and trust that God will use it to fortify a new generation of reformers who exalt the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ!

Walking With God Through Pain and Suffering – Timothy Keller (2013)

kellerI have yet to meet a person who enjoys pain and suffering.  Yet suffering is a part of the warp and woof of life.  It is not a part of God’s original intent for creation.  Since Adam’s first sin, pain and suffering have been an abnormal part of the cosmos.  Suffering is an unwelcome guest who bullies his way to the table and makes demands – much like a  soldier on a bloody battlefield.

Walking With God Through Pain and Suffering by Timothy Keller addresses this topic with candor and clarity.  Keller leaves no stone unturned here.  The book is organized into three sections:

Understanding the Furnace

Keller introduces the problem of pain and suffering and explores some of the philosophical challenges that Christ-followers must understand and address.

“Nothing is more important than to learn how to maintain a life of purpose in the midst of painful adversity,” writes Keller.  Yet our culture has a tendency to respond to suffering in ways that are helpful and wrongheaded.  The moralist response to suffering is to “do good.”  The fatalist’s response to suffering is to “hang in there” and “endure.”  The dualist response to suffering is “purified faithfulness.”  And the secular response to suffering is focussed on “technique.”  A combination of these erroneous responses to suffering litter the current milieu and produce a generation of confused and discouraged people.

Keller rightly alerts readers to the importance of worldviews and their relation to the subject of pain and suffering.  Ultimately, the matter of pain and suffering is a matter of faith.  “Faith,” writes Keller “is the promise of God.”  He adds, “We can be fully accepted and counted legally righteous in God’s sight through faith in Christ, solely by free grace … It means freedom from fear of the future, from any anxiety about your eternal destiny.  It is the most liberating idea possible and it ultimately enables you to face all suffering, knowing that because of the cross, God is absolutely for you and that because of the resurrection, everything will be all right in the end.”

Facing the Furnace

Part two provides readers with the theological muscle – a crucial part of the battle.  Keller unpacks the doctrine of God’s sovereignty and provides a painful but biblical rationale for the role of suffering the lives of people.

At the heart of this discussion is an important look at the suffering of the Lord Jesus Christ.  The author summarizes, “That is, in order to satisfy justice, in order to punish sin so that in love he could forgive and receive us, God had to bear the penalty for sin within himself.  God the Son took the punishment we deserved, including being cut off from the Father.  And so God took into his own self, his own heart, an infinite agony – out of love for us.”

Keller’s treatment in part two travels great distances to help resolve the problem of evil – the so-called “Achilles heal” of the Christian faith: “So while Christianity never claims to be able to offer a full explanation of all God’s reasons behind every instance of evil and suffering – it does have a final answer to it.  The answer will be given at the end of history and all who hear it and see its fulfillment will find it completely satisfying, infinitely sufficient.”

While Keller never attempts to provide a comprehensive answer to the problem of evil, his treatment of this thorny subject is some of the best in print.  He may not satisfy the disciples of David Hume, Voltaire, or Sam Harris – but he does give ample ammunition for believers who are looking for honest answers.

Walking With God in the Furnace

Parts one and two explore the philosophical and theological angles of pain and suffering.  Part three helps readers with practical application.  They are given practical tools for “walking with God in the furnace.”  The very notion of walking with God in the furnace assumes pain – pain that some are unwilling to admit.  But practical experience reveals that we live in a broken world; a world which has been torn to shreds by the consequences of sin.

Keller urges readers to walk with God in suffering: “If you go into the furnace without the gospel, it will not be possible to find God in there.  You will be sure he has done terrible wrong or you have and you will feel all alone.  Going into the fire without the gospel is the most dangerous thing anyone can do.”  So the gospel is the first and last defense of every Christ-follower; indeed it is the hope of the watching world.

Second, the author stresses the importance of weeping during seasons of adversity.  Elijah serves as an example of a man who cried out in great agony.  He was a man unafraid of weeping.  Such an approach is not only honest – it is a sign of emotional health.

Third, Keller demonstrates the need for trusting in God during days of pain and adversity.    Joseph is portrayed as an example of a man who trusted: If the story of Joseph and the whole of the Bible is true, then anything that comes into your life is something that, as painful as it is, you need in some way.”  Jesus too demonstrated trust in his Father and points believers in the identical direction.  Keller continues to alert readers to other tools that they should utilize during their dark days.

Walking With God Through Pain and Suffering is a watershed book that deserves to be read.  Christ-followers will no doubt be encouraged by this Christ-exalting book; a book which drives readers to the cross of the suffering Savior.

Highly recommended!

Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Christian Belief – John Frame (2013)

a frameHow does one review a systematic theology by one of the leading minds of the evangelical world?  How does one summarize the thoughts of a 1,100-page book that towers with truth; a book that takes readers to the top of the theological mountain?  Anyone who attempts to read and devour Systematic Theology by John Frame will be faced with such questions.  Indeed, while the oxygen is scarce at the top of this theological peak, readers will be delighted to enjoy the view that Dr. Frame presents.  As one might expect, every branch of systematic theology is explored.  The author invites readers on a journey which introduces them to God who relates to creatures as their covenant Lord.  The three lordship attributes are articulated throughout the book – control, authority, and presence.

Several thoughts help capture the essence of this incredible book.  While some will be put off by such thoughts, my hope is that a majority of readers will be motivated and inspired to pick up Dr. Frame’s work.  This powerful book is marked by at least ten features:

  1. It is God-Centered
  2. It is Scripture-soaked
  3. It is unashamedly Calvinistic
  4. It is conservative
  5. It exposes liberal scholarship and lays bare its erroneous presuppositions
  6. It is biblical
  7. It is mind-penetrating
  8. It is heart-softening
  9. It is personal
  10. It leads readers to worship God

Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Christian Belief by John Frame is a theological tour de force.   This weighty volume is drenched with Scripture and is drowning with biblical wisdom.  I cannot think of any other writer who has influenced my thinking, outside of Jonathan Edwards himself.  This work is a true labor of love, a gift to the church, and a tool that will sharpen the minds of Christ-followers and serve as a heart-tenderizer for many years to come!

Highly recommended

5 stars

Battling Discouragement in Pastoral Ministry – C.H. Spurgeon

spC.H. Spurgeon. Autobiography, Volume 2: The Full Harvest, 1860-1892. Carlisle: Banner of Truth, 1973. 524 pp. $36.00

In his excellent piece, 21 Maxims for Discouraged Pastors, Douglas Wilson reminds us that discouragement is part and parcel of pastoral ministry. Here is a piece of advice for men in pastoral ministry. Whenever you face the fires of adversity, unjust criticism, or swim in the sea of discouragement – pick up something by Charles Haddon Spurgeon. The Full Harvest: Volume 2 is no exception to this rule.

The second volume of C.H. Spurgeon’s autobiography chronicles his life and ministry from 1860-1892. This account is a revised edition which was originally compiled by the British pastor’s wife, Susannah and Joseph Harrald.

This volume contains the high’s and low’s of Spurgeon’s ministry and demonstrates that Spurgeon was no stranger to controversy and adversity. Here is a man who battled a myriad of maladies and was plagued by chronic depression. The book shows how the Prince of Preachers overcame these barriers and trusted in his Savior to carry him through.

Perhaps the most impressive feature is Spurgeon’s resilient mindset. He endured many hardships in his London pastorate. Yet his influence remains with us today – with thousands of sermons for us read and digest.

Spurgeon was deeply committed to the doctrines of grace:

I have my own private opinion that there is no such thing as preaching Christ and Him crucified unless we preach what nowadays is called Calvinism. It is a nickname to call it Calvinism; Calvinism is the gospel, and nothing else. I do not believe we can preach the gospel, if we do not preach justification by faith, without works; nor unless we preach the sovereignty of God in His dispensation of grace; nor unless we exalt the electing, unchangeable, eternal, immutable, conquering love of Jehovah; nor do I think we can preach the gospel, unless we base it upon the special and particular redemption of His elect and chosen people which Christ wrought out upon the cross; nor can I comprehend a gospel which lets saints fall away after they are called, and suffers the children of God to be burned in the fires of damnation after having once believed in Jesus. Such a gospel I abhor.

Spurgeon’s rock-solid belief in the doctrines of grace is a testimony to the power of the gospel and the joyful journey which is promised to God’s elect.

Spurgeon’s Sorrows – Zack Eswine

spurgeonI have a friend who was born in 1834.  That would make him 183 years old.  He went home to be with Jesus in 1892 – at the peak of his ministry and in the prime of his life.  I have often asked why God takes the heroes of the faith so soon – Jonathan Edwards, John Bunyan, and John Calvin all died in their 50’s.  David Brainerd and Jim Elliot died before they reached the age of 30.  While the question is interesting to ponder, the question is not ours to ask.  Enter the Creator —

“Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?” (Job 38:2, ESV).

“You know, for you were born then, and the number of your days is great” (Job 38:21, ESV).

“And the LORD said to Job: ‘Shall a faultfinder contend with the Almighty?  He who argues with God, let him answer it’” (Job 40:2, ESV).

I have been learning from my friend, C.H. Spurgeon for nearly 25 years now.  He has taught me many lessons.  He introduced me to Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan, a book he read over 100 times in his short life.  Spurgeon has taught me the importance of expositional preaching.  On many occasions, he has reminded me about the importance of the role of the Holy Spirit in preaching, not to mention living the Christian life.  He has inspired courage and conviction and prompted me to be unwavering, even in the darkest of days.

But one of the greatest lessons I’ve learned from my British friend is how to deal with melancholy.  Zack Eswine helps highlight some of those lessons in his book, Spurgeon’s Sorrows.  The subtitle accurately reflects the basic theme of the book, Realistic Hope for those who Suffer from Depression.  

Spurgeon’s Sorrows is arranged in three parts.  Part One walks readers through the basics of depression.  What is it?  How can one recognize it?  What is spiritual depression?  Part Two presents a path for helping people who suffer from depression.  And Part Three is a practical section that offers practical assistance for dealing with depression.

Chapter nine is worth the price of the book as the author directs readers to the promises of God and shows how Spurgeon utilized this habit of claiming the promises of Jesus in his daily walk with God.

Spurgeon’s Sorrows is a short book filled with biblical counsel for people who battle depression and provides help for anyone who is reaching out to folks who are wading through the Slough of Despondence.  In the final analysis, readers are encouraged to cling to their Savior who promises to walk with them through every valley.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters.” (Psalm 23:1–2, ESV)

4 stars

Katharina & Martin (2017)

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Michelle DeRusha, Katharina and Martin Luther: The Radical Marriage of a Runaway Nun and a Renegade Monk Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2017, 314 pp. $14.79

When Baker Publishing gave me an opportunity to read and review Katharina & Martin Luther by Michelle DeRusha, I hesitated. For almost twenty-five years, I have studied the life of Luther and researched the finer points of the Protestant Reformation. In 2015, I began a period of research and writing which led to the publication of my book, Bold Reformer: Celebrating the Gospel Centered Convictions of Martin Luther. So my original hesitation had nothing to do with a lack of interest. Indeed, my interest in Luther has never waned. My only question was this: Would this book add any new insight or reveal aspects of Luther’s life that were previously unknown to me?

Thankfully, I decided to read the book. After only a few pages, I knew that my decision to devour this new book about Luther’s life would pay rich dividends.

First, Michelle DeRusha is an excellent writer. Her writing is clearly linked to the historical data concerning Luther’s life and is informed by a wealth of scholarship that she is quick to utilize.

Second, Katharina and Martin Luther is not your standard fare history book. The book reads like a novel but never sacrifices any of the historical content that readers expect. DeRusha has a gift for making history come alive and draws the reader into the setting she seeks to expose. I often found myself mysteriously transported to the Wittenberg landscape, smelling the fragrance of the countryside, or experiencing the unique tension of the Reformation. The author nicely captures the zeitgeist of the 16th century and strategically guides readers through its hallowed halls.

Finally, DeRusha skillfully presents the blossoming relationship between Martin Luther and Katharina. Despite the many challenges that this family encountered, one thing remains certain: “The Protestant Reformation would have happened without the marriage of Luther and Katharine. But Luther would not have been the same Reformer without Katharina.”

Katharina and Martin is thoroughly researched and presented in a winsome way that will no doubt attract a wide range of readers. Highly recommended!

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