Ladies and gentlemen, Elvis is in the building!
After three days of trying, I finally got a response from the good folks at WordPress telling me that because my blogging had been mainly reviews including Amazon links (which cannot be the main feature of the blog) they decided that the entire blog was out of bounds. I set all these up to run because I was away preaching in Northern Ireland for my good friends at Knockbracken, but apparently they fell foul of the WordPress badstuffbots, which – it seems – are averse to looking back more than about ten posts to see that this is not solely a review website.
Still, we live and learn, and hopefully I will remember to keep a few other things running alongside the reviews, which will remain a loveable feature of this blog.
So, thanks to those who let me know that there was a problem, thanks to both my readers for their patience while waiting for this blog to return, and I hope you will continue to enjoy the feast of good things I find while wandering.
Finding Faithful Elders and Deacons
Thabiti M. Anyabwile
Crossway (IX Marks), 2012, 176pp., paperback, $10.99
Although the lion’s share of this book is devoted to the eldership, the valuable space afforded to the diaconate is much appreciated, if only because helpful treatments of this office are much rarer. Anyabwile offers an antidote to the deacon as ornamental or obstructive, providing a template for a robust and meaningful contribution to the life of the church. The office of the elder is developed at greater length (although the language of “senior pastor” is employed, the underlying assumption seems to be that elders and pastors are one and the same). The author considers both the Scriptural qualifications and duties of the two offices in language that is simple, clear and warm. Those seeking a fairly full but accessible outline for officebearers in the church will appreciate the solid, Scriptural common sense of this volume, making it helpful as a checklist not only for churches seeking officers but also for men assessing themselves for office, whether already holding it or being considered for it. Evidently a horse out of the 9 Marks stable, this book is worthy of broad reach and careful consideration, especially as a fairly thorough introduction to the topic.
What is the Mission of the Church? Making Sense of Social Justice, Shalom, and the Great Commission
Greg Gilbert & Kevin DeYoung
Crossway, 2011, 288pp., paperback, $15.99
Contributing to the ongoing debate in the “young, restless and reformed” movement about the nature and scope of the gospel, this book is very much of its time, place, and sphere. Written in a chatty and popular style, and assuming a fair amount in terms of the buzzwords, personae, and tensions of the discussion, it attempts to ground, explain and defend the mission of Christ’s church as requiring her “to go into the world and make disciples by declaring the gospel of Jesus Christ in the power of the Spirit and gathering these disciples into churches, that they might worship the Lord and obey his commands now and in eternity to the glory of God the Father” (62). Given this conclusion, there may be some who – already so persuaded – find this book substantially redundant or simply irrelevant. The fact that it is written out of a specific milieu and addresses a specific issue limits it somewhat, given the assumptions that underlie so much of its discussion (for example, the different British social, political, religious and cultural perspectives – class? Anglicanism? – simply find no equivalent here). For all that, many of the questions raised and issues addressed need always to be considered, and for some already rightly persuaded, the authors’ sensitive and carefully-qualified acknowledgement of their opponents’ concerns make us ask whether or not, in embracing a particular notion, we may have missed other elements of the life of the church in the world. With plenty of insightful exegesis to support their assertions, attempts to define key terms, and helpful applications (especially to those still wrestling with these questions), there is much here to commend. Some up-front discussion and statement of the ecclesiological and eschatological perspectives and categories that so influence such discussions might have helped. Overall, those enmeshed in this debate as it is being worked out in 21st century America ought to read this book; those outside this sphere might find it a helpful prompt and reminder, but it will not be essential.
Practicing Affirmation: God-Centered Praise of Those Who Are Not God
Crossway, 2011, 176pp., paperback, $14.99
Engaging critically with a book about affirmation is damned to appear churlish by its very nature. So, with little hope of seeming to be anything but a curmudgeon, off I trundle, hoping that my appreciation of the book will come through alongside any questions and concerns. And I do appreciate the book, because I have a constitutional inclination to consider what is still to be done rather than what has been done, and this is a helpful reminder of the rightness and value of affirming what there is of the image of God, in the best sense, in his creatures, both in terms of common and saving grace. Crabtree spends much of the first and quite lengthy chapter trying to demonstrate the Scriptural warrant his thesis – which I found instructive without being compelling, given the weight he assigns to this topic – with a fair amount of space demonstrating its compatibility with the distinctives of John Piper’s perspective. He moves on to address the simplicity and complexity of his proposition, before considering such matters as assumptions, mistakes, and correction (with what seems to be a fair amount of padding), closing with 100 (to me, sometimes cheesy) “affirmation ideas.” Again, while there is much to commend, I wonder if there may be more of character and culture here than Scripture: different people respond differently to affirmation and correction, and – while all need to be aware of the implications of overdoing either – I recall not only my own appreciation for the transparency and openness of American friends, but also their professed approval for the British capacity for straightforwardness and bluntness. All in all, I would wish to affirm this book and learn from it without endorsing its absolutism on the topic.
It is the darkness of the night that makes the dawn precious. It is the torment of pain that makes relief so sweet. It is the misery of sickness that makes recovery so valued. It is the grief of lostness that makes being found so wonderful. It is the emptiness of self that makes the fullness of Christ so delightful. It is the horror of the curse that makes the blessing of salvation so great. It is the weight of sin’s burden that makes its removal so overwhelming. It is the pain of rebellion that makes peace so dear. It is the distance of being cast out that makes the nearness of being drawn in so enticing. It is the frailty of the creature that throws the might and mercy of the Creator and Redeemer into sharp relief.
Read more at Reformation21.
Matthew Henry (Bitesize Biographies)
Philip H. Eveson
Evangelical Press, 2012, 124pp., paperback, £5.99
As an immediate heir of the Puritans, Matthew Henry ministered during a period often overlooked. Contending against persecutions from opponents of Christianity, assaults against truth within and without the church, and the frailties of his own humanity, Henry navigated a straight and steady course. For the first twelve chapters of this book, the author concentrates on the data, communicating his subject’s life cogently, setting him in his context and tracing his trajectory through the years. Pastoral asides and historical insights are sown sparingly but helpfully into the narrative. The thirteenth chapter on Henry’s legacy and the brief conclusion develop certain observations and applications more fully but still pithily. We learn of his battles against childhood ill-health, his difficulties obtaining the kind of education that would enable him to serve God in his generation, his family circumstances and sorrows, his faithful ministry in Chester and then in London, his wider investment in the church of his day, and his developing writing opportunities, including the justly-famous commentary. There is not space in a volume of this size to develop themes and issues, but Henry’s gracious personality shines through at sometimes unexpected moments. It is good to have such a straightforward view of the life of this servant of Christ.
What is a Reformed Church?
Malcolm C. Watts
Reformation Heritage Books, 2011, 73pp., paperback, $8 / £7.50
This is a careful and thorough volume, covering much in short compass on the distinctives, emphases, worship, government, discipline and evangelism of Reformed churches. It should be read with equal care, for the author makes subtle but significant distinctions almost in passing. There are points in which he speaks with a more absolute tone about matters that I believe allow for a little more latitude among men substantially and sincerely committed to the same body of truth, but the reader does not need to agree with all the minutiae of either diagnosis or prescription to make this a stirring reminder of what has been so much abandoned in so many churches today, helping us to navigate through all the posturing and accommodation common in our age and making us ask whether or not we are practically as well as principially committed to the sufficiency of the Scriptures in our corporate faith and life. Provocative in the best sense, this is a positive statement of deeply-felt conviction that deserves to be wrestled with by all who would like to take the name Reformed.