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

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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

THE TRINITARIAN DEVOTION OF JOHN OWEN – Sinclair Ferguson (2014)

aowenThe Trinitarian Devotion of John Owen by Dr. Sinclair Ferguson is the latest installment in the Long Line of Godly Men Profile Series, edited by Dr. Steven Lawson.  Ferguson presents a readable introduction to the most well-known Puritan, John Owen.

The book includes five chapters which overview Owen’s life and theological commitments.  Chapter one focuses on his life as a pastor and theologian.  Owen’s upbringing is discussed and his pastoral experience is surveyed.  Additionally, the author touches on Owen’s tenure as vice-chancellor at Oxford University.

The remaining chapters overview Owen’s theological framework which focuses more narrowly on his robust doctrine of the Trinity.  Sinclair Ferguson carefully summarizes Owen’s pursuit of the God in all his glory as expressed in the three persons – Father, Son, and Spirit.  Ferguson adds, “To become a Christian believer is to be brought into a reality far grander than anything we could ever have imagined.  It means communion with the triune God.”  The author demonstrates how Owen regarded the Trinity as a chief cornerstone of the Christian faith.  Numerous primary sources are cited and explained.  In addition, Dr. Ferguson provides helpful analysis along the way.  He beautifully captures the essence of John Owen’s devotion to the Trinity.

The Trinitarian Devotion of John Owen is a perfect introduction for the beginning student of the Puritan divine.  But this work is also suitable for veteran students of Owen as well.  Ferguson bring his typical scholarly approach to the table but writes with the heart of a pastor/shepherd.  This work should help revive further interest in Puritanical studies and is a welcome guest at the table of these godly men.  My hope is that Ferguson’s work will catapult readers to Owen primary sources – a practice which is certain to encourage, edify, and equip a new generation of Christians.

I received this book free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.  I was not required to write a positive review. 

 

 

 

TRIUMPHING OVER SINFUL FEAR – John Flavel (2011)

flavelIn 1682, John Flavel published his work, A Practical Treatise of Fear.  Almost 330 years later, the fear continues to plague people.  The simple fact is this: There are two kinds of people in the world – people who admit the battle with fear and those who don’t.  For the people who fess up, Flavel’s writing is of tremendous help.

Reformation Heritage Books is a very helpful ministry that is devoted to reintroducing the writing ministry of the Puritans to an age that is increasingly tied to technology and postmodernism.  This title is appropriately retitled, Triumphing Over Sinful Fear and comes highly recommended.

John Flavel is quick to remind readers that the ultimate remedy for fear is a healthy fear of God.  This kind of fear is defines as “a  gracious habit or principle planted by God in the soul, whereby the soul is kept under a holy awe of the eye of God, and from thence is inclined to perform and do what pleases him, and to shun and avoid whatever he forbids and hates.”

Flavel draws a sharp contrast between the carnal man who “fears man, not God” and the godly person who “fears God, not man.”  He adds, “The weak Christian fears man too much and God too little.”

Flavel continues, “There is a fear which is the effect of sin.  It springs from guilt and hurries the soul into more guilt.  There is a fear which is the effect of grace.  It springs from our love for God and His interest and drives the soul to Him in the way of duty.  The less fear a person has, the more happiness he has – unless, of course, it is that fear which is his happiness and excellency.”

So in a few words, the Puritan divine sets himself in opposition to the world that has invented a multitude of explanations for fear.  Flavel cuts through all the so-called justifications for fear and helps readers understand that sin is at the core of our struggle with fear.  “Sinful fear,” he says, “will cause the best people to attempt to help themselves through sinful compromises.”

Flavel utilizes Isaiah 8:13 as his primary text which he offers as a remedy for fear.  He comments, “The fear of God will swallow up the fear of man.  A reverential awe and dread of God will extinguish the creature’s slavish far, as the rain puts out the fire.   To sanctify the Lord of hosts is to acknowledge the glory of His sovereign power, wisdom, and faithfulness.  It includes not only a verbal confession, but internal acts of trust, confidence, and entire dependence upon Him.  These are our choicest respects towards God, and give Him the greatest glory.”  So fearing God is the primary remedy in the battle with fear.

The Puritan preacher alerts readers to the various kinds of fear: Natural fear, sinful fear, and religious fear.  Additionally, he argues that fear has several uses.  Sinful fear may be utilized as a tool in the hand of God as a “scourge to punish His enemies.”  Secondly, God may use sinful fear to “punish His enemies in hell.”  And God may use sinful fear to “scatter wicked people, especially when they align themselves against God.”

Religious fear may be uses to “excite and confirm His promises in the way of their duty,” namely – to fear God and obey His commandments.  Religious fear may be used to “preserve our conscience’s peace and purity.”  And finally, religious fear may be used by God to “make us prepare for future distress.”

Next, Flavel helps readers understand the various causes of fear including ignorance, guilt, unbelief, confusion, immoderation, and Satan.  The effects of sinful fear are set forth as well.  These effects may include but not be limited to distraction, deception, vulnerability, cowardice, bondage, and apostasy.

Finally, Flavel unpacks several rules for combatting fear:

1. Study the Covenant of Grace

2. Consider the Misery of Sinful Fear

3. Prepare for Future Suffering

4. Commit Yourself to God

5. Mortify Your Affections to the World

6. Imitate Faithful Saints

7. Confirm Your Interest in Christ

8. Keep Your Conscience Pure

9. Record Your Experiences of God’s Faithfulness

10. Consider Christ’s Providential Kingdom

11. Subject Your Carnal Reasoning to Faith

12. Exalt the Fear of God in Your Heart

This short review only scratches the surface of John Flavel’s excellent treatment on fear.  “You must exalt the fear of God in your hearts and let it gain the ascendency over all other fears.”  More than anything else in the book, this is the constant theme that emerges.  This is the constant theme that fear mongers must return to again and again.  Then and only then, will sinners be able to triumph over sinful fear.

Highly recommended!

MEN NATURALLY GOD’S ENEMIES – Jonathan Edwards (Part 3)

imagesJonathan Edwards continues his discussion on natural man’s enmity with God.

3. On What Account Men Are Enemies of God

Edwards argues that the general reason that God is “opposite” to them has to do with their propensity to worship idols: “The apostasy of man summarily consists in departing from the true God, to idols; forsaking his Creator, and setting up other things in his room.”  The enmity between God and man has not always existed, for Adam was created in an innocent condition and expressed a love for God.  “But when men fell, he departed from the true God, and the union that was between his heart and his Creator was broken: he wholly lost his principle of love to God.”

Edwards holds that when natural men casts God aside, by definition he must naturally cling to an idol: “Man will necessarily have something that he respects as his god.  If man do not give his highest respect to the God that made him, there will be something else that has the possession of it.”  We know from personal experience that the human heart is prone to bow down to lesser things; the depraved human heart is vulnerable to the sin of idolatry.  Indeed, as Calvin notes, “The human heart is an idol factory.”  And when natural man clings to a foreign idol, enmity “necessarily follows.”

Edwards notes three ways in which God opposes idolators:

First, he manifests his utter abhorrence of their attachment to their idols.  Edwards exposes the idolator and reveals the true colors of one who casts aside the living God and replaces him with temporal pleasures.  In short, “They love their idolatry; but God does not approve of it, but exceedingly hates it; he will by no means be reconciled to it; and therefore they hate him.”

Second, he utterly forbids their cleaving to those idols, and all the service that they do to them.  Edwards sets forth the divine standard that God reveals to every creature: [God] demands that they should worship him; serve him only, and give their hearts wholly to him: without tolerating any competitor … He requires a final parting with their idols.”

Third, he threatens them with everlasting damnation for service of their idols.  Here, Edwards lists a host of warnings that thunder from the throne of God:

  • He threatens them for his past idolatry.
  • He threatens them with his everlasting wrath for all exercises of inordinate love of worldly profit.
  • He threatens them for that disposition they have in their hearts to cleave to other gods.
  • He threatens every future act of their idolatry.
  • He threatens them with everlasting torments for their self-exaltation.

A PURITAN THEOLOGY: DOCTRINE FOR LIFE – Joel Beeke and Mark Jones (2012)

A comprehensive  assessment of A Puritan Theology: Doctrine for Life by Joel Beeke and Mark Jones is something akin to sharing one’s thoughts or emotions while gazing at the Grand Canyon, Niagara Falls, the Statue of Liberty, or the Lincoln Memorial.  This magnum opus is like oxygen for the barren soul, light for a blind man, a symphony for a deaf man, and a Super Bowl ring for a lame man.

A Puritan Theology is exactly what it suggests.  The authors meticulously walk readers through each branch of systematic theology and discuss the typical view that was embraced by the Puritans.  Where the Puritans disagree, the authors are careful to represent each side with graciousness.  The book is nothing to trifle with.  It is a veritable tome that just falls short of 1,000 pages.  But readers should not be intimidated by the sheer volume; rather they should make their way through this valuable book, noting key insights and marking Puritan writers they were previously unfamiliar with.

While the entire book is worthy of a careful read, several chapters stand out as especially significant.  I enjoyed Chapter 4 – Stephen Charnock on the Attributes of God, Chapter 5 – The Puritans on the Trinity, Chapter 6 – John Owen on Communion with the Triune God, Chapter 10 – The Puritans on Providence, and Chapter 44 – John Bunyan’s Preaching to the Heart.  A few additional chapters are worth examining in some detail.

Chapter 26 – The Puritans on Understanding and Using God’s Promises

The authors remark, “The promises are the pathways where Christ meets the soul.”  It it critical to have a correct understanding of God’s promises.  Additionally, it is important to distinguish between different kinds of promises.  For instance, “Absolute promises make known a certain and sovereign purpose, while conditional promises reveal what God will do if the fulfillment of those promises glorifies Him and is best for His people.”

Christians must make right use of God’s promises.  The Puritan Andrew Gray is cited in this regard and notes ten specific ways to make right use of God’s promises:

1. Believing the promises greatly promotes the difficult work of mortification.

2. Believing the promises helps a Christian in the spiritual and heavenly performance of prayer.

3. Believing the promises upholds a Christian afflicted by spiritual desertions and temptations.

4. Believing fosters patience and submission in the midst of the saddest afflictions.

5. Believing helps a Christian distance himself from the world and live more as a pilgrim on earth.

6. Believing is the mother of much spiritual joy and divine consolation and helps a Christian to express praise.

7. Believing is a notable means to attain spiritual life.

8. Believing raises a Christian’s esteem of the thing promised.

9. Belief is the door through which the accomplishment of the promise enters.

10. Believing secures the advantages mentioned in 2 Peter 1:4: we are brought to the blessed conformity with God that we lost in the fall, and we put off the ugly defilements that are Satan’s images on our souls because of the fall.

The authors point to the Puritans who urged their readers to pray the promises of God which involves submission to the will and way of God.

Chapters 42 and 43 – The Puritans on Preaching 

My two favorite chapters in this work focussed on the biblical mandate of preaching God’s Word.  The Puritans, the authors note, “had a profound sense that God built His church primarily by the instrument of preaching,” an appropriate place to begin, given the reluctance of so many men to preach strong, dogmatic, theologically-informed, expository sermons.   “The Puritans were earnest preachers who made it their aim to please God rather than people.”

The authors point to the power of Puritan preaching who “preached out of a biblical framework to address the mind, the conscience, and the heart.”  Beeke and Jones add, “The Puritans thus reasoned with sinners through plain preaching, using biblical logic to persuade each listener that because of the value and purpose of life as well as the certainty of death and eternity, it was foolish not to seek and serve God … The Puritans understood that  a mindless Christianity fosters a spineless Christianity.

There is no doubt that the Puritans aimed straight for the mind – but never to the exclusion of the heart: “Puritan preaching wooed the heart passionately … The Puritans used compelling preaching, personal pleading, earnest praying, biblical reasoning, solemn warning, joyful living – any means they could – to turn sinners from the road of destruction and to God via the mind, the conscience, and the heart – in that order.”

The Puritans were convinced that preaching must by definition, be doctrinal preaching: “The Puritans believed that to live well, people must know doctrine.”  J.I. Packer concurs: “Doctrinal preaching certainly bores the hypocrites; but it is only doctrinal preaching that will save Christ’s sheep.  The preachers job is to proclaim the faith, not to provide entertainment for unbelievers.”

The Puritans simply believed that preaching was the primary way to nourish the flock of God.  John Owen writes, “The first and principal duty of a pastor is to feed the flock by diligent preaching of the Word.”  The author concur and offer a challenge to readers: “It is not enough just to read the Puritans.  We need the authentic, biblical, intelligent piety of the Puritans in our hearts, our lives, our sermons, and our churches.”

The Puritan approach to the pulpit is a powerful antidote to the sappy preaching that is so prevalent, especially in American pulpits.  It is a vivid reminder that preaching stands at the center of God’s purposes for the church.

Chapter 52 – Puritan Theology Shaped by a Pilgrim Mentality

J.I. Packer notes, “Puritans saw themselves as God’s pilgrims traveling home, God’s warriors battling against the world, the flesh, and the devil; and God’s servants under orders to do all the good they could as they went along.”  The author pick up on these pilgrim portrait by showing how the Puritans lived the Christian life in practical terms.  First, they had a biblical outlook.  Thomas Watson (my favorite Puritan) and John Cotton are given as examples of men who sought to live their lives in a biblical framework.

Second, they had a pietist outlook – that is to say, they feared the Lord.  Beeke and Jones continue, “The genius of genuine Reformed piety is that it marries theology and piety so that head, heart, and hand motivate one another to live for God’s glory and our neighbor’s well-being.”

Third, they had a churchly outlook.  The authors explain, “We can learn much from the Puritans, especially when so many churches today give scant attention to purity in worship and put all their emphasis on what pleases people rather than God.  The Puritans did the opposite.  Their goal was to please God through holy worship.  The question was never, ‘What do I want in worship?’ but always, ‘What does God want in worship?'”

Fourth, they had a warfaring outlook.  There was a battleground mentality that the Puritans embraced, striving always to battle “the triple-headed enemy” by the power of the Spirit, through the instrumentality of God’s Word.  The authors reflect the mentality of the typical Puritan: “The Christian fights against the devil, the world, and his old nature by looking to Jesus and using the armor of His provision to stay upright as he progresses from this world to the next.”

The Puritans were indeed on a spiritual pilgrimage.  In the final analysis, the authors note: “They can teach us, as no other group of writers in church history, how to live a disciplined life to God’s glory without falling into dead orthodoxy or deadly legalism.”

SUMMARY

A Puritan Theology is a labor of love that should be cherished by the church for years to come.  It should be read for helpful theological insight.  It should be read devotionally.  The contents are bound to equip, encourage, and rebuke.  For me personally, the Puritans have been a deep source of encouragement, especially concerning the nature of God, the promises of God, the sovereignty of God, the lordship of Christ, sanctification, and the ministry of the Holy Spirit.  Of course, no one surpasses the courage demonstrated by the Puritans as they sought to faithfully live the Christian life in the power of the Spirit.

It is not uncommon for people in our generation to marginalize and malign the Puritans.  Even more disturbing, it is not unusual to find people who caricature the Puritans or assign them false motives.  I know of one personally who accused the Puritans of becoming Unitarians!  Much to the contrary, the Puritans were a godly lot who battled sin and believed the promises of God, forever faithful on their Christian pilgrimage.  Oh, that we would learn the lesson of church history well and seek to emulate the Puritans.  May their love of Christ and his gospel permeate our hearts and minds.  May their hatred of sin enter the area of our lives.  May their disdain for the triple-headed monster – the world, the flesh, and the devil be weaved into the fabric of our worldviews.  And may their passion for God’s Word and holiness become a part of the warp and woof of our lives.

5 stars

Highly recommended!