The Wanderer

As I walked through the wilderness of this world …

Wider reading

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Reformed Confessions of the 16th and 17th Centuries in English Translation (Volume 1: 1525-1552) compiled and introduced by James T. Dennison (Reformation Heritage Books, 2008) is not cheap, but serious historians and those interested in the confessional heritage of the church will enjoy this first in an intended series of three volumes.  Several of the thirty-three texts included are here in English for the first time.  Each is simply and clearly set out, preceded by a brief introduction.  If nothing else, it gives a rich and encouraging sense of one’s inheritance as a Christian confessor.  This volume carries us from Zwingli’s Sixty-Seven Articles of 1523 through to the Consensus Genevensis of 1552.

From the same stable comes A Sketch of the Christian’s Catechism by William Ames, translated by Todd Rester (Reformation Heritage Books, 2008).  This is a translation from Ames’ original Latin of his exposition of the Heidelberg Catechism.  It is not a systematic treatment of its questions and answers, but rather an exposition of a Scripture passage that corresponds to and buttresses the conclusions of what was often called ‘the Christian’s Catechism.’  Simple, brief, rich chapters give us spiritually stimulating insights into the genuinely practical piety of this seminal Puritan.

Pierced For Our Transgressions: Rediscovering the Glory of Penal Substitution by Steve Jeffery, Mike Ovey, Andrew Sach (IVP, 2007).  In even starting this book, I had to overcome my innate distrust of any book that demands ten (yes, ten) pages containing forty-five (no joke!) separate endorsements designed to appeal to the broadest possible spectrum of readers and any number of groupies of Christian celebrities.  On reflection, this should probably be taken as an indication of the seriousness of the subject.  The book divides into two, the first section positively setting forth the doctrine of penal substitution (Biblical foundations, theological framework, pastoral importance and historical pedigree), and the second answering the critics (the issues of Scripture, culture, violence, justice, God, and Christian living are addresses).  It is a clear and robust statement of this essential doctrine, responding to current assaults and fads, and will be appreciated as much by thoughtful believers in various walks of life as it will by pastors and preachers.

Nothing in My Hand I Bring: Understanding the Differences between Roman Catholic and Protestant Beliefs by Ray Galea (Matthias Media, 2007) is by a Maltese man whose Roman Catholicism was deeply ingrained but became more nominal as he matured.  Then, seeking substance in his life and reading the Bible, he was converted.  The book tells his story briefly, but concentrates on a comparison between traditional Roman Catholicism and fundamentally Biblical Protestantism.  Written with an insider’s insights and a Christian’s convictions, this would be helpful to those wrestling with similar issues, or helping others who are doing so.

In Worldliness: Resisting the Seduction of a Fallen World, edited by C. J. Mahaney (Crossway, 2008), several Sovereign Grace Ministries pastors address the matters of the media, music, stuff, and clothes, beginning with the principle that worldliness (and its absence) is fundamentally a matter of heart obedience to the word of Christ, and also teaching us how we should love the world in a Godlike fashion.  The basic principle is sound, though its application here is interesting.  Curiously prescriptive at some points, at others it allows for (and even promotes) a broadness that will cause proponents of an older evangelicalism to raise at the very least a quizzical eyebrow. The so-called “New Calvinist” view of culture is, I think, the underpinning one.

Preachers and teachers will appreciate Look After Your Voice: Taking Care of the Preacher’s Greatest Asset by Mike Mellor (DayOne, 2008).  Although the “greatest asset” subtitle could be argued on theological grounds, this is a brief but helpful treatment of an important but easily-ignored topic.  Simple, clear and helpful, it is written by a preacher for preachers (rather than by voice-production specialists for the stage, for example) and so takes some account of spiritual aspects as well.  A good investment for preachers, and includes three appendices on voice exercises, voice physiology, and care of the voice (this last by Spurgeon).

Tim Shenton is in the same congregation as the subject of this book, Audrey Featherstone, I Presume?: The Amazing Story of a Congo Missionary (Evangelical Press, 2008).  It chronicles the dramatic conversion, wartime experience, and labours in the Congo – often in the midst of extreme dangers – of a woman of faith who would be considered in many respects unremarkable.  Bringing us right up to her present circumstances as a widow still serving her Lord, this book will be an encouragement to those who consider that they have little to offer their Saviour in serving him.  The book contains a brief history of the Regions Beyond Missionary Union (RBMU).  The legitimacy and terminology of missionary agencies and female missionaries are both assumed rather than questioned.  The 20th century setting is a helpful reminder that such work is not the relic of a more distant past.

Faith Cook has written several compendiums (compendia, if you are so inclined) of Christian mini-biography, and her latest – Stars in God’s Sky: Short Biographies of ‘Extraordinary Ordinary Christians’ (Evangelical Press, 2009) – ranges through time and space to consider the work of God’s grace in the hearts and lives of men and women sometimes associated with brighter stars in God’s galaxy and sadly overlooked by Christian astronomers.  Here we find the lives of such as John Foxe and John Gifford, Susanna Harrison and Fanny Guinness, briefly sketched out for edification and enjoyment.  A good and stimulating read, as one has come to expect.

Growing Leaders in the Church: The Essential Leadership Development Resource by Gareth Crossley (Evangelical Press, 2008) can sometimes feel like a curious combination of theological textbook and business manual.  A format busy with diagrams, text boxes, question sheets is not always easy on the eye, but there is lots of good matter to appreciate.  The aim of the book is to provide a resource for training present and future church leaders in a practical way.  While at points there is a degree of absoluteness in the instruction given, at others one has the sense of several options up for grabs, all considered legitimate – a little more pragmatism in evidence.  Good men will differ on whether these lines are drawn in the right places.  The book raises a good number of the right questions, and offers stimulating and practical answers, though some will wish to emend or extend them.

We Become What We Worship: A Biblical Theology of Idolatry by G. K. Beale (IVP/Apollos, 2008) begins at Isaiah 6 before traversing the Old and New Testaments to demonstrate, support and apply the thesis that “What people revere, they resemble, either for ruin or restoration.”  Insofar as it reaches its intended audience, a thorough treatment of a vital topic, well and carefully argued.  The topic is fascinating, but the handling of it is not popular: the style is a little ponderous and lofty, the substance dense, and the aim high, the whole tone being of the academy.  Perhaps Professor Beale could be encouraged to craft a more accessible and engaging treatment of the same topic on such a necessary theme for those not accustomed to the language and tone of the theological lecture hall?

The New Creationism: Building Scientific Theories on a Biblical Foundation by Paul Garner (Evangelical Press, 2009) will appeal to Christians of scientific skill and interest, as well as others more broadly concerned about the nature and implications of the teaching of creation.  The author deals with the issues of origins in clear and pithy style, not avoiding the hard questions nor fudging on the answers, building a scientific model that will assist Christians being assaulted with regard to their doctrines of origins and practice of science.  As a non-scientist, it seems to me fascinating and useful, not above the head of the untrained, though probably of greater value to those who understand the technical issues.  For Garner, Genesis presents us with the facts of history, provides a framework for good science, and establishes a foundation for the gospel itself.  Some details and emphases might doubtless be challenged, but the whole seems sound and helpful.

The Profiles in Reformed Spirituality series from Reformation Heritage Books includes volumes on Alexander Whyte, Jonathan Edwards, Hercules Collins, Horatius Bonar, Lemuel Haynes, George Swinnock and John Calvin.  A growing interest in ‘spirituality’ (which some believe has been for too long a dirty word in Reformed circles) has led Joel Beeke and Michael Haykin (the editors of this series) to turn to the past to find particular models of Biblically-informed, Spirit-impassioned piety as a spur and guide to modern Christians.  Varying in style, wide-ranging in subject, popular in approach, this is a colourful and profitable series.

If you are visiting Edinburgh, A Spiritual History of the Royal Mile by Paul James-Griffiths (Latent Publishing, 2008) will serve you well.  It is broad both in its temporal scope and its theological sense, with the chapters on the Reformation and the Covenanters probably being of most interest, together with the Enlightenment period and the time of the Great Awakening (where Chalmers and Finney are made to sit alongside each other).  The chapter on 21st century Edinburgh is sobering.  One should not forget that Edinburgh is also home to the offices of the august publishing house, the Banner of Truth, though it is not on the Royal Mile; bargain hunters have been known to head to the Banner warehouse to pick up some damaged stock at good prices, as a help on their own spiritual journey.

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