Steal Away Home – Matt Carter and Aaron Ivey (2017)

chMatt Carter and Aaron Ivey, Steal Away Home, Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2017, 294 pp. $14.60

Church history is filled with stories of courage, adventure, adversity, and persecution. From the exile of Athanasius, the martyrdom of John Rogers and William Tyndale, or Luther’s trial at Worms, these stories are well-known and we are quick to pass them along to the next generation.

Steal Away Home by Matt Carter and Aaron Ivey is a tale that will be new to many readers, however.  It was certainly new for me! The story involves two men from backgrounds that have very little in common. C.H. Spurgeon was the Prince of Preachers, a refined man with a rich theological heritage who occupied the pulpit in Victorian England. He was well-known around the world. He was a best-selling author and recognized by thousands. Thomas Johnson was a simple slave boy who was unjustly shackled in colonial America. He was known by few and treated like an animal. His slave master worked him to the bone on the Virginia tobacco fields.

Jesus Christ liberated Thomas Johnson. He freed him from the power and the penalty of sin. President Abraham Lincoln rescued Thomas Johnson from the sin of slavery. The Emancipation Proclamation, which Lincoln regarded as the crowning achievement of his presidency, liberated Thomas from his slave master. Jesus Christ liberated Thomas from the slave master of sin.

Through a series of Providential events, Thomas Johnson found himself at the front door of C.H. Spurgeon in London. After his training was complete, he and his wife made their way to Cameroon, West Africa in 1879.

PERSONAL TAKEAWAYS

Steal Away Home is a work of historical fiction. It becomes clear at the outset, however, that the authors spent many hours researching the details of this intriguing story. My hope is that a few personal takeaways will prompt many people to enter rich world of the 19th century and absorb some life-altering lessons.

1. The Humanization of C.H. Spurgeon

I have been reading Spurgeon and books about the Prince of Preachers for almost thirty years. This book brilliantly captures the essence of Spurgeon and is not afraid of revealing his warts, weaknesses, and worries. It is a breath of fresh air for anyone who is under the false notion that the famous preacher from London lived a life of ease. Spurgeon’s doubt and lifelong battle with depression is highlighted and his fears are revealed.

2. The Horror of Slavery

Most Americans recognize that slavery is a perpetual “black eye” on our nations’ history. But few understand the gravity of what these innocent African Americans endured. Carter and Ivey masterfully reveal the pitiful nature of slavery through the eyes of Thomas Johnson. Sympathetic readers will feel genuine grief as they walk with Johnson and experience the horror of his chains.

3. The Hallowed Ground of Friendship

Steal Away Home reminds readers of the importance and value of friendship. The friendship fostered by Spurgeon and Thomas is grounded in grace and nurtured by honest communication, genuine fun, rich encouragement, and biblical accountability. Like David and Jonathan, these two men are examples of friendship that glorifies God. Indeed, “A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother” (Prov. 18:24). Indeed, friendship is hallowed ground that too few men tread upon.

4. The Hope of the Gospel

Finally, this story shows how the gospel operates in the real world. Apart from grace, Charles Haddon Spurgeon and Thomas Johnson were dead in trespasses and sins, without hope and without God. Indeed, apart from grace, Spurgeon and Johnson were both spiritual slaves. Both men, however, were set free as they cast their hope on the Lord Jesus Christ. In the course of their very different earthly paths, they wound up on the same spiritual path, which ultimately led them both to the Celestial City!

Steal Away Home encouraged me personally and moved my soul in ways that most books only hope to do. Matt Carter and Aaron Ivey stepped up to the plate and hit the ball out of the park.  Their work will no doubt be a contender for book of the year.  I commend their work wholeheartedly!

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

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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.

 

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.

REFORMATION THOUGHT – Alistair McGrath (1988)

0470672811_bAlistair McGrath. Reformation Thought: An Introduction. Oxford: Blackwell, 1988. 285 pp. $40.54

Reformation Thought: An Introduction by Alistair McGrath explores the fascinating contours of the sixteenth century. The author helps readers understand the historical, cultural, and theological context of the events that led up the Protestant Reformation.

McGrath guides readers on a fascinating Reformation tour and overviews key areas such as justification by faith, predestination, Scripture, and the sacraments.

There is much to commend about this excellent work. Pastors, students, and theologians will greatly benefit from McGrath’s work.

THE DARING MISSION OF WILLIAM TYNDALE – Steven J. Lawson (2015)

DAR05BH_200x1000American people have the right and the freedom to criticize military movements in a foreign theater.  This kind of deplorable behavior makes freedom loving Americans cringe – for the freedom to criticize is actually secured and maintained by the very soldiers “under the gun” of critique.  In like manner, Christians have become quite adept at either criticizing their theological heritage or downplaying the importance of church history which subtly undermines the heroes of the Christian faith.  This mind-numbing, soul-shrinking language that discounts the pillars of church history only strengthens the assertion that R.C. Sproul often makes: “We live in the most anti-intellectual period in all of church history.”

Yet, church history is making a comeback.  Church history is rising from the ashes and is beginning to shine once again.  The heroes of the Christian faith who have been sidelined are making their way back onto the “field.”  Calvin, Luther, Edwards, Whitefield, Knox, and Spurgeon are returning to the collective consciousness of the church – especially in the younger generation.  In my own Christian pilgrimage, I give most of the credit to R.C. Sproul for rattling the cage of my mind and shaping my hard heart in order to not only appreciate church history – but to actually love it!

Another important contributor to this resurgence in the study of church history is Steven Lawson.  In 2007, he introduced the series entitled, A Long Line of Godly Men.  The first volume, The Expository Genius of John Calvin introduced readers to the Genevan theologian and sought to “raise the bar for a new generation of expositors.”  Since that time, several new volumes have been released that survey the lives and ministries of Jonathan Edwards, Martin Luther, John Knox, C.H. Spurgeon, Isaac Watts, John Owen, and George Whitefield.

The newest installment in the series, The Daring Mission of William Tyndale summarizes the life of brave Brit, credited with the first English translation of the Bible.

Lawson presents the high points of Tyndale’s life and guides readers on a step-by-step tour which culminates in the martyrdom of a courageous and godly man.

Tyndale’s theological convictions are summarized in five monumental sections:

  • Radical Corruption
  • Sovereign Election
  • Particular Redemption
  • Irresistible Call
  • Preserving Grace

Lawson is quick to alert readers to the Calvinistic piety of Tyndale, a man who stood shoulder to shoulder with the other giants of the Christian faith.

The Daring Mission of William Tyndale is yet another gift to the church from the pen of Steven Lawson.  Young and old will be challenged, emboldened and encouraged as they read about a man who lived what he preached and died for a worthy cause.

Highly recommended!

5 stars

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

FEARLESS FAITH: JOHN KNOX – Steven J. Lawson (2014)

knox2014 marks the 500th anniversary of the birth of John Knox, the Protestant Reformer who risked life and limb for the sake of the gospel in Scotland and much of western Europe.  Steven Lawson retells the story in his newest work, John Knox Fearless Faith.

The author guides readers though the fascinating account of Knox’s life – a life filled with pain and persecution, powerful preaching, and passionate appeals.  He portrays the Protestant Reformer as one who “remained stout of heart and strong in conviction” even as he neared the end of his life.  Lawson observes, “To the very end, Knox was preaching Christ and Him crucified, exalting his Savior and extolling his Lord.”

John Knox Fearless Faith is a boon for discouraged pastors who have experienced the sting of false accusation and the pain of persecution.  It serves a sort of theological balm for pastors who are lonely in ministry and on the verge of throwing in the ecclesiastical towel.  In a few short sentences, Dr. Lawson rightly summarizes the fiery Reformers passion for truth and his steely resolve:

Through these many dangers, Knox persevered in his ministry, boldly preaching the Word and trusting God for the outcome.  Beneath his frail body was an unshakeable confidence in the sovereignty of God.  He believed that his times were appointed for him by an all-powerful God.  He knew that he was invincible within the allotted time of the divine will.  His faith remained strong in the One who orders all things.

As Knox approached his final years, his commitment to God grew yet deeper.  The opposition he faced never subsided, even to the end, but neither did his confidence in God.

May pastors find strength in this godly man whose birth 500 years ago marked church history and changed a generation.  May John Knox fuel our resolve to boldly preach God’s Word and wield the mighty sword of Reformed truth for the world to see and savor.  May pastors lead the next generation of Christians who live with the integrity and the zeal of Knox.  May they rebuke and admonish carnal professors who seek to divide Christ’s church.  May they be inspired by his example as they champion the cause of truth and challenge every rival from Rome, Mecca, Salt Lake City and every heresy that poses a threat to the gospel!

Semper Reformanda!

5 stars

HERE I STAND: A LIFE OF MARTIN LUTHER – Roland Bainton (1950)

1426754434_bMy copy of Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther is falling apart.  I first read this classic back in 1998.  At that time, Luther’s life and legacy were still very new to me.  Now over fifteen years later, the story is no less exciting.  In fact, it just keeps getting better.

Bainton’s work is clearly the best biographical overview of Luther’s life.  The book walks readers through the humble beginning of Luther’s life as the son of a coal miner, his induction into an Augustinian monastery, radical conversion, and his courageous work as a reformer.

Bainton writes objectively and is not afraid to show Luther’s warts and weaknesses.  Luther’s theological development emerges in these pages which give readers a context for the blossoming Protestant Reformation.

Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther should sit proudly on every theologian’s shelf.  Read it for inspiration, education, and fuel for the soul!