The Satisfied Soul – John Piper

piperChristian devotionals are “a dime a dozen” these days. Many of these books are nothing more than warmed over self-help guides that prop up self-esteem and pulverize biblical authority. Like a tasty bowl of sugary cereal, they promise nutrition, but in the final analysis, they neglect the truth and leave readers starving.

John Piper’s devotional, The Satisfied Soul takes a different path. In typical fashion, Piper offers readers 120 daily meditations that strengthen, nourish, and challenge. These meditations are packed with Scriptural imperatives, warnings, and encouragements. Piper never skirts the truth – he celebrates it! Piper has a unique gift of blending pastoral admonition with prophetic proclamation. And at the center of his pastoral pleas is the rich message of the gospel.

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

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Favor: Finding Life at the Center of God’s Affection

favorGreg Gilbert, Favor: Finding Life at the Center of God’s Affection Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2017, 172 pp. $9.47

The prosperity gospel has been an influential force within the ranks of evangelicalism for some time. This God-dishonoring approach to the Christian life misinterprets Scripture and misrepresents the gospel. Tragically, many people are led astray by the idea that God’s gifts may be earned and that financial remuneration is at the center of God’s kingdom.

Greg Gilbert’s book, Favor: Finding Life at the Center of God’s Affection takes a different approach, one that is steeped in Scripture and offers people an eternal hope.

Part One: The Favor of God and How to Get It

Part one lays the theological foundation. The author defines his terms clearly by describing the essence of favor which means that you please someone or bring them joy or gladness. Therefore, “to be favored by God,” writes Gilbert, “is to be pleasing to him, to bring him joy … This is not a question of whether you’ll live your best life now; it’s a matter of whether you’ll live at all.”

The author wrestles with the idea of “earned favor.” In other words, humans have a built-in propensity to earn what they receive. For example, a worker receives wages for his hard work. A student receives a diploma for diligent study.

At the core of this study is the reality that most people are unwilling to admit: They do not deserve the favor of God. “You deserve to be condemned, to die, and to spend eternity under God’s wrath …” Gilbert writes. When creatures fail to glorify the living God, they commit cosmic treason against the throne of heaven. Gilbert adds, “It is rebellion and insurrection against the throne and crown and authority of God.”

Simply put, God’s favor must be earned. Yet it is not earned in the way that most people imagine. God’s favor must be earned for us and the only Person qualified to carry this out is the Lord Jesus Christ. He perfectly fulfilled the law of God and thus earned his favor. But then he died. The author explains,

But the fact that Jesus died, the fact that the One who actually earned life submitted to death, tells us that something more was happening. And that something more is the whole glory and joy of the Christian gospel. When Jesus won the favor of God and all its rewards, he wasn’t doing it just for himself. He was doing it for others too. He was acting as a representative, a substitute, a champion.

Gilbert’s winsome presentation of penal substitutionary atonement is stunning, to say the least. This breathtaking portrayal of the atonement leads to an important discussion that concerns union with Christ, a doctrine that is underemphasized in many churches. Gilbert goes so far to say, “Union with Christ … is the most under-appreciated, underemphasized, and overlooked doctrine in all of Christian theology.” Gilbert does his part to put a proper biblical emphasis on this crucial doctrine.

Part Two: The Blessings of God’s Favor

Part two focuses on the blessings of God’s favor by alerting readers to four important topics, namely, the blessing of contentment, peace with God, new life, and fighting as favored sons and daughters in the kingdom. These blessings are obviously practical and multi-faceted. Gilbert does a good job linking these blessings to real-life examples. But more importantly, he shows where these blessings appear in the Bible.

Favor: Finding Life at the Center of God’s Affection is perfect for new believers but will also benefit seasoned Christians as well. It wonderfully articulates the gospel and causes readers to rejoice in the blessings which are theirs in Christ!

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

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.

Getting the Gospel Right – R.C. Sproul

gospR.C. Sproul, Getting the Gospel Right: The Tie That Binds Evangelicals Together Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2017, 235 pp. $10.70

There are many things in life that we “get wrong.” Some of the things we get wrong may cause temporary pain or inconvenience but usually do not pose a significant challenge to our daily lives. But getting the gospel right has eternal implications. R.C. Sproul addresses this matter in his book, Getting the Gospel Right. Originally published in 1999, Baker Books has repackaged this timely book for a new audience that probably never had the chance to read the original work.

The book includes three parts. Part One discusses the Controversy Concerning the Gospel. The debate reaches back to the sixteenth century when Luther boldly challenged the doctrinal underpinnings of the Roman Catholic church.

Dr. Sproul helps readers determine the marks of a true church which is distinguished by the faithful proclamation of the gospel, the administration of the sacraments (or ordinances for Baptist readers), and church discipline. Since the Roman Catholic church has jettisoned the gospel by abandoning sola fide, which is essential to the biblical gospel, one would rightly consider Rome to be an apostate church. To assign such a label to the Roman Catholic church does not automatically mean that certain individuals have not experienced personal salvation; it merely demonstrates how Rome has abandoned the biblical gospel. The author adds, “When an essential truth of the gospel is condemned, the gospel itself is condemned with it, and without the gospel, an institution is not a Christian church.”

The author presents the historical debate between evangelicals and Rome by clearly identifying the meaning of the term, evangelical. The term means “the gospel.” Sproul continues, “The Reformers used the term evangelical to define their movement as it related to the central theological issue of the day, the doctrine of justification by faith alone … the Reformers believed that sola fide is essential to the gospel, that without sola fide one does not have the gospel.”

Sproul continues by explaining the rise of liberalism and the ECT (Evangelicals and Catholics Together) document that “heralded another subtle but significant shift in the contribution of sola fide to evangelical unity.”

Part Two includes a critical analysis of The Gift of Salvation, the joint statement by Roman Catholics and evangelicals in October 1997. Sproul’s comments and critiques are straightforward and gracious. He affirms the points of agreement between Rome and evangelicals but he also identifies several doctrinal deficiencies. These deficiencies who prevent most evangelicals from endorsing such a document.

Part Three includes a detailed exposition of The Gospel of Jesus Christ: An Evangelical Celebration, a document that was drafted by notable evangelicals including D.A. Carson, J.I. Packer, R.C. Sproul, and others.

The document includes a series of affirmations and denials and is essentially an exposition of the document, which includes safeguards and doctrinal sideboards which help preserve the very essence and purity of the gospel.

We may get things many things wrong in life. Such decisions may prove painful in the short run, but in the final analysis, such decisions have little effect upon our lives. Failing to get the gospel right, however, has eternal implications.Getting the Gospel Right reminds readers of the importance maintaining our allegiance to the truth of God’s Word. Trifling with the gospel is simply not an option for followers of Jesus Christ.

The Gospel According to Paul

paulJohn MacArthur, The Gospel According to Paul, Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2017, 256 pp. $13.20

Nearly thirty years ago, Dr. John MacArthur wrote The Gospel According to Jesus. The book was a clear articulation of the gospel and a sharp repudiation of antinomianism and other views that failed to affirm the lordship of Jesus Christ in salvation. A firestorm erupted and sparked heated debate among evangelicals as a result of the book. Since that time, MacArthur has written several books that articulated the gospel and defended it from attacks, most of which were coming from professing evangelicals leaders.

MacArthur’s latest offering, The Gospel According to Paul, is less polemical in tone but no less powerful than his previous works. His intent is to survey the gospel through the eyes of Paul the apostle and consider several questions that are of utmost importance:

What is the gospel?

What are the essential elements of the gospel?

How can we be certain we have it right?

How should Christians be proclaiming the gospel to the world?

MacArthur adds, “The gospel was no sideline for the apostle Paul. ‘Jesus Christ and Him crucified’ was the principle theme of everything the apostle taught or preached” (129). So with passion and biblical precision, the author showcases the gospel according to Paul.

A wonderful summary of the book may be found in MacArthur’s explanation of Philippians 3:4-11:

“That is a remarkable testimony because of the way Paul weaves in several of his favorite gospel themes: the worthlessness of human works as a means of gaining merit with God; the pivotal role of faith; the principles of grace and imputed righteousness; the death and resurrection of the Savior; and above all the supreme value of knowing Christ over any earthly benefit, privilege, or treasure.”

MacArthur not only provides a masterful articulation of the gospel and penal substitutionary atonement; he defends it against the pernicious threat of antinomians, Pharisees, and other dangerous heretics.

The Gospel According to Paul is a clear explanation of the most important reality in the universe, namely, that “in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself” (2 Cor. 5:19). It unfolds the gospel with a decisively Reformed framework and rightly points readers to the magisterial Reformers and the truths they unearthed in the sixteenth century. And it is basic enough for new believers but also contains a treasure chest of Christ-glorifying truths that are guaranteed to encourage and equip longtime followers of Jesus.

Highly recommended!

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.

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