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.

Gospel Reformation

bold

The excommunicated monk sits alone in silence. Beads of sweat accumulate on his brow as he reads from the pages of the Greek text. A dark cloud casts a shadow over his homeland as the grace of the gospel is obscured by a church that cares more about tradition than truth.

For the next ten months, Luther will pour over every word, translating the Greek into the heart language of the German people. When his work is complete, the German people will be able to read the Bible for themselves. They will no longer be dependent upon a priest who has misrepresented God, mangled the truth of his Word, and maligned the gospel of Jesus Christ.

For hundreds of years, the gospel had been buried and replaced by a system of “man-made righteousness.” The Roman Catholic Church exchanged truth for tradition. The power-brokers of tradition maintained a chokehold on people who didn’t know any better.  Confessing sin to a priest replaced confessing sin to a holy God.

Yet, Luther unearthed the precious jewel of the gospel, a reality which is unveiled in my new book, Bold Reformer:Celebrating the Gospel-Centered Convictions of Martin Luther. Only $0.99 for a limited time on Amazon.com.

The Legacy of Luther – R.C. Sproul and Stephen Nichols, Ed.

lutherR.C. Sproul and Stephen J. Nichols, The Legacy of Luther. Sanford: Reformation Trust Publishing, 2016, 308 pp. $15.66

On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed the Ninety-Five Theses to the castle door in Wittenberg. One act of courage sparked a theological firestorm in Germany that set the world able in a matter of days. Spreading like wildfire, thousands were introduced to the gospel, which is received by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.

The Legacy of Luther celebrates the accomplishments of this godly man. Edited by R.C. Sproul and Stephen Nichols, the book surveys Luther’s life, thought, and ultimately his legacy. A wide range of pastors and theologians contribute to this volume; men like Steven J. Lawson, Michael Horton, Sinclair Ferguson, and Derek Thomas, to name a few.

The Legacy of Luther is a sweeping look at the German Reformer. The book contains basic information that will appeal to first-time students of Luther. But it is also filled with a wealth of information that will satisfy the most deeply entrenched Luther scholar.

The Legacy of Luther certainly honors a significant man who stands head and shoulders above most others in church history. But at the end of the day, the book does not exalt a man; the book exalts the gospel of grace and celebrates the accomplishments of our Savior. The neglected gospel truths which were recovered by the Reformers are proclaimed with passion in zeal in this important volume.

Readers may be interested in my recently published book, Bold Reformer: Celebrating the Gospel-Centered Convictions of Martin Luther.

THE UNFINISHED REFORMATION

Gregg Allison & Chris Cataldo, The Unfinished Reformation. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2016, 171 pp. $16.99

The book market is beginning to see a rise of titles that deal with the Protestant Reformation as we move closer to the 500th anniversary of Luther’s bold move at Wittenberg. Gregg Allison and Chris Castaldo collaborate on a creative work that poses a critical question: “What unites and divides Catholics and Protestants after 500 years?” The authors are clear about the core of this controversy: “To whom did God give authority to define Christian faith? Did it belong to the institution of the Roman Catholic Church? Or was Scripture its own interpreter?” These questions serve as a sort of litmus test which will eventually help readers discover the truth.

Before discussing the most essential differences between the two traditions, The Unfinished Reformationhelps readers understand that there is, in fact, much that is shared in common. For instance there is essential agreement on the Trinity, the nature and revelation of God, the person and work of Christ, and the Holy Spirit, among other things.

But there are several distinct differences between Roman Catholics and Protestants; differences that have caused a serious rift between the two traditions. These differences are sharp and have prompted much debate throughout church history. The fundamental matters of authority and salvation are the key drivers which have led to severe disagreements between Catholics and Evangelicals. A brief summary of these differences includes the role of Scripture and tradition, the Roman Catholic belief of purgatory, prayer for the dead, penance, Mary’s role in the Christian life, and the role of the sacraments.

The difference that carries the most weight and theological controversy is Rome’s repudiation of justification by faith alone. The authors present the view of justification which was rediscovered by the Reformers and contrast it with the view that Rome embraced during the days of the Reformation; a view that is still maintained to this day. Allison and Castaldo state:

Unlike Catholic theology, in which the decisive verdict of God’s acceptance comes at the end of life following the accumulation of sacramental grace and merits, Protestants emphasize the decisive moment when people believe in the gospel apart from works. They are justified by faith alone, and their perfect standing before God results in new life as children of God, a life that then blossoms with virtuous fruit by the internal renewal of the Holy Spirit through the Word of God.

Allison and Castaldo conclude that the Reformation is finished in some respects. The historical accomplishment of the Reformation is undeniable and have charted a specific trajectory that will never be altered.

But more importantly, the authors note that the Reformation is still not complete. Theological differences remain intact: “From our perspective, unless the Catholic Church undergoes radical reform according to Scripture, the Reformation will necessarily continue.”

The Unfinished Reformation is a much-needed book as we move closer to the 500th anniversary of the original Protest. Both Roman Catholics and Protestants will benefit from Allison and Castaldo’s work. Their research is meticulous and they present their findings with grace and humility. My hope is this work will receive a wide readership and that the labors of the Reformers will carry on and lives will be enriched and transformed by the gospel of Jesus.

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

Why the Reformation Still Matters

aaaMichael Reeves and Tim Chester, Why the Reformation Still Matters. Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2016, 223 pp. $10.72

October 31, 2017, will mark the 500 year anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. This quincentennial celebration is remarkable in many ways as Protestants around the world will remember the accomplishments of the Reformers, most notably the bold move by Martin Luther in nailing the 95 theses to the castle door at Wittenberg.

Despite the widespread celebration of many who take delight in the rediscovery of the gospel and the great doctrine of justification by faith alone, there is an ongoing debate concerning the relevance of the Reformation for our time. Michael Reeves and Tim Chester address this specific matter in their new book, Why the Reformation Still Matters.

After a brief introduction to the history and theology of the Reformation, Reeves and Chester waste no time in an initial answer to the question: “We need a stronger, not a weaker focus on Reformation theology,” according to the authors. They describe the Reformation as “a continual movement back to God’s Word.” Thus, the stage is set for the remainder of the book which will argue in no uncertain terms that the Reformation still matters.

Reeves and Chester undergird their stance by pointing readers to key doctrines that were rediscovered during the days of the Protestant Reformation. They showcase the gospel systematically as they unfold the biblical reality of sovereign grace. Indeed, we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, on the Word alone, to the glory of God alone.

Each doctrine is unveiled and contrasted with the historic Roman Catholic position which gives readers an opportunity to interact with two competing systems of thought. The authors are charitable and gracious but never compromise the truth. Reeves and Chester boldly present the core elements of Reformed theology; doctrines the magnify the Savior and humble sinners.

Why the Reformation Still Matters is an outstanding summary of this important topic. People from all stripes, from beginning to advanced will benefit from this book. There is enough information to keep seasoned theologians and students of church history on their toes. Yet the material is not too advanced for anyone just getting started in the field of church history. The balance here is rare and should be well received by readers.

Why the Reformation Still Matters succeeds and makes a positive case for the gospel-saturated truths that flowed from the Reformation and continue to impact lives in our generation. Yet, theology is more than an end in itself. “Through these truths,” write Reeves and Chester, “lives can still blossom under the joy-giving light of God’s glory.” In other words, the Reformation makes a practical difference in the lives of people. In did almost five hundred years ago and will continue to impact lives as we await the return of our sovereign king.

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

 

What Christians Ought to Believe – Michael Bird (2016)

Michael F. Bird.  What Christians Ought to Believe: An Introduction to Christian Doctrine creedThrough the Apostles’ Creed.  Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2016. 237 pp. $18.99

What Christians Ought to Believe by Michael F. Bird examines the Apostles’ Creed and guides readers step-by-step through this important document.

In chapters 1 and 2, the author highlights the importance of creeds. He notes, “The creeds constitute an attempt to guide our reading of Scripture by setting out in advance the contents and concerns of Scripture itself. The creeds provide a kind of ‘Idiot’s Guide to Christianity’ by briefly laying out the story, unity, coherence, and major themes of the Christian faith. In that sense, a creedal faith is crucial for a biblical faith and vice versa!”

The author highly commends the Apostles’ Creed and notes that it contains the essential elements of the Christian faith: “If you ask me, the Apostles’ Creed is probably the best syllabus ever devised for teaching basic Christian beliefs … The Apostles’ Creed is basically a bullet-point summary of what Christians believe about God, Jesus, the church, and the life to come.”

Michael Bird brilliantly not only sets for the case for the Apostles’ Creed; he does so in a winsome and understandable way. The author teaches the Creed, line by line, drawing the attention of the learner to our final standard of truth – sacred Scripture.

While much of the book is encouraging and worthy of commendation, the chapter which unveils the atonement is disappointing. Bird rightly introduces readers to the various views of the atonement and provides a basic definition for each view. However, he stumbles by not advocating penal substitutionary atonement. Bird writes, “My exegetical-theological intuition is to gravitate toward the victory theory (Christus victor) as the integrative model for the atonement since it effectively combines the motifs of recapitulation, representation, ransom, sacrifice, and triumph.” I urge readers to study Pierced For Our Transgressions, edited by Steve Jeffery, Michael Ovey, and Andrew Sach for a better look at this matter.

Overall, however, this work is a wonderful look at the Apostles’ Creed and should be welcomed by evangelicals. Teachers will find this resource to be a helpful tool in the classroom and parents are encouraged to use this book in discipleship for budding disciples.

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