Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy With God – Timothy Keller (2014)

Over the past twenty-five years, I have read books on prayer by thekeller Puritans and Reformers, the Quakers and the contemplative writers, the Desert Fathers, and even some living authors who think they have something unique to contribute to the discussion.

Timothy Keller’s newest work, Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy With God is quite frankly the best book I’ve ever read on prayer.  This short review will only touch the tip of the iceberg; so I encourage readers of Veritas et Lux to read this incredible book for themselves.

Keller’s work is divided into five parts:

  1. Desiring Prayer
  2. Understanding Prayer
  3. Learning Prayer
  4. Deepening Prayer
  5. Doing Prayer

The book aims to show that  “prayer is both conversation and encounter with God” and demonstrates that prayer is both “awe and intimacy, struggle and reality.”

Keller rightly notes, “A book on the essentials of prayer should contain three components: the theological, experiential, and methodological.”  The author succeeds in presenting a lucid theological framework for understanding prayer.  He presents the experiential side of prayer by citing numerous Scriptural examples and drawing on the work of many Christ-followers in Church history.  And he sets forth a workable methodology, which in the final analysis includes many different forms that may appeal to different kinds of people.”  Keller’s book is biblical, engaging, God-centered, gospel-centered, and Spirit-fueled.

Prayer: Experiencing  Awe and Intimacy With God will confront readers with the God-centeredness of Jonathan Edwards, the earthiness and practicality of Martin Luther, and the theological precision of John Calvin.  This work will undoubtedly be used by God to encourage faithful prayer, enlist new prayer warriors, and revitalize a church that has neglected the important discipline of prayer.

5 stars

Reformation Theology

refMatthew Barrett, Ed. Reformation Theology, Wheaton: Crossway, 2017, 784 pp. $33.00

Nearly five hundred years ago, Martin Luther nailed his now famous ninety-five theses to the castle door in Wittenberg. Luther’s courage continues to inspire faithful followers of Jesus. His character raises the bar for anyone who strives to serve with truth-centered passion in the kingdom of God. His conviction puts steely audacity in the hearts of the timid and fearlessness in the one prone to cowardice. The resolve of Martin Luther helps fuel a new generation of Christians who do the right things for the right reasons—all for the glory of God.

Reformation Theology, edited by Matthew Barrett celebrates the doctrinal realities that flowed forth from the pens of men like Martin Luther and John Calvin. Barrett rightly argues that the gospel was rediscovered during the Protestant Reformation. He adds, “The Reformation was a return to a gospel-centered, Word-centered church.” Thus, this book seeks to present a systematic summary of Reformation theology.

Part One reveals the historical background of the Reformation and alerts readers to the pertinent details of the Reformation that helped fuel the fire which erupted in the sixteenth century.

Part Two compromises the vast majority of the book and contains the finer points of Reformation theology. Every theme that one might fathom is set forth in this volume – everything from the doctrine of justification by faith alone to the solas, predestination and election, and the Lord’s Supper. No stone is left unturned here.

Reformation Theology is a must for students of historical theology and systematic theology. The depth and breadth of scholarship is stunning. We owe a great debt to Matthew Barrett for teaming up with such a fine group of theologians.

Highly recommended!

Gospel-Centered Teaching

Gospel-Centered Teaching by Trevin Wax is a practical book that waxadmonishes readers to put Jesus at the center of every lesson and sermon.  Indeed, Spurgeon’s plea in the 19th century to preach the text and then “make a bee-line to the cross” is at the core of this work.  The author adds, “Unless you understand the power of life transformation is in the gospel, you’ll run after anything and everything else trying to manufacture life change.”  So we make it our aim to return again and again to Jesus and his gospel.

Gospel-Centered Teaching is a powerful book that reminds readers that the gospel is not merely for the unconverted.  Indeed, it not only saves us; it also sustains us in the Christian life.  I am reminded of the gentlemen who left a church I served in.  The accusation went something like this: “I left the xyz church because all I ever heard from the pulpit was the gospel.”  This person failed to see that the gospel is not only for salvation; it is life itself and propels Christ-followers into the future by his grace and for his glory.

Wax further elaborates another reason why we must place the gospel at the centered of every lesson and sermon:

“We progress in holiness the more we immerse ourselves in the truth that Jesus Christ bled and died to save helpless sinners like you and me.  The more we see the depth of our sin, the more we understand the depth of God’s grace.  Going deep means we must remember there is nothing we can do to make ourselves more acceptable to God … The gospel-centered teacher understands that the unsaved need the gospel in order to come to know Christ, while the saved need the gospel in order to become more like Christ.”

Gospel-Centered Teaching is a necessary antidote in a culture awash in moralism.  This little book is sure to encourage pastors and teachers to not only maintain fidelity to the gospel; but to keep it at the center of all ministry.

4.5 stars

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 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.

Counterfeit Gods – Timothy Keller (2009)

kellrTim Keller has a special gift for digging below the surface.  He applies his unique gift in the pulpit and in many of his books.

In Counterfeit Gods, Dr. Keller tackles the thorny subject of idolatry.  John Calvin put his finger on this pernicious sin in the 16th century when he said, “Every person is an idol factory.”  Keller notes that anything can become an idol – especially good things.  Keller adds, “Anything that becomes more important and non-negotiable to us than God becomes an enslaving idol.”

The idols of money, sex, and power are the central topics of this excellent volume.  Keller notes, “The secret to change is to identify and dismantle the counterfeit gods of your heart.”

Counterfeit Gods is a convicting read and will no doubt encourage many believers to demolish their idols and cast their hope and trust in the living God.

4.5 stars

HIDDEN IN THE GOSPEL – William Farley (2014)

new farleyIt’s short and sweet.  It is an easy read.  It is also one of the best books you will read this year.  William Farley’s Hidden in the Gospel: Truths You Forget to Tell Yourself Every Day is a treasure trove filled with timeless principles that will enrich your Christian life.

Farley builds upon the dictum popularized by Jerry Bridges: “Preach the gospel to yourself.”  The author takes readers on a journey they should never forget.

The gospel of course is spelled out in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4.  Paul says,

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures …

William Farley presents the gospel in a series of eight movements which include:

  1. Election
  2. Incarnation
  3. Active Obedience
  4. Penal Substitutionary Atonement
  5. Resurrection
  6. Ascension
  7. Return and Final Judgment
  8. New Creation and Consummation

Each of these eight ingredients which make up the gospel are presented with biblical support and appropriate illustrations.  Farley is a master teacher who not only understands the redemptive plot line; he communicates the gospel with precision and skill.

After Pastor Farley unpacks each doctrinal reality, he helps readers preach the given gospel truth to themselves.  He presents the notion of preaching the gospel to oneself as an essential aspect of the Christian life:

“It is key to robust spiritual experience.  We can either listen to ourselves – our fears, doubts, insecurities, hurts, and failures – or we can preach to ourselves.”

Hidden in the Gospel is another home run by William Farley.  This author fails to disappoint.  He is locked and loaded onto the gospel message.  As a reader, you will no doubt walk away from reading his book a transformed person.

5 stars