Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category
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.
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 Does God Want of Us Anyway? A Quick Overview of the Whole Bible
Crossway (IX Marks), 2010, 128pp., small case, $12.99 / £8.99
This little book draws together three chapters from longer overviews of both Old and New Testaments by the same author, all three having their origin in sermons. I confess to a being a little nonplussed by the title, which seems to have remote connection to the contents. The first section provides a panoramic view of the whole Bible, with the latter two taking up the identified elements for a marginally deeper view of the Old and then the New Testament. The emphases lie on God’s purposes, holiness and promises, the latter blossoming into promises relating to a Redeemer, a relationship, and a renewal. Each section has its own study questions. This is a high-speed journey through a blurred landscape, with many major landmarks briefly swimming into focus before disappearing quickly. It is helpful in identifying some of the driving forces of the Biblical narrative as a whole, and the particular themes that recur. As a resource, it might be useful for those who have not got ‘the big picture’ or who need some general sense of where they are heading and what they are looking for as they read the Bible through.
A Long Line of Godly Men (Volume 2, AD100 – 1564): Pillars of Grace
Steven J. Lawson
Reformation Trust, 2011, 543pp., hardback, $28.00
Volume One (Foundations) in this series concentrated on the doctrines of sovereign grace as displayed through the entirety of the Bible. This volume (Pillars) picks up the threads in the days of the (post-)apostolic church and traces it forward into the sixteenth century. The aim and approach are simple: to demonstrate the continuity of the teaching of the doctrines of grace through the history of the church. To this end, our author is deliberately selective, identifying a series of figures who – despite some particular aberrations at certain points – nevertheless upheld gospel truth in some form and to some degree. Different figures receive differing degrees of concentration and emphasis, and their weaknesses and errors are not overlooked, but the point is to show the light shining, and shining increasingly brightly as we march toward the Reformation. Each figure is put in context, then we are given a brief biography, an outline of key writings, a review of theology, a concluding assessment, and a page of study questions. In reading, it stands out that the theme of double predestination (specifically, reprobation) receives sufficient attention (given that it is not often addressed in works of this kind) as to almost feel like an emphasis. Taking into account how easy it is to mishandle the issue, this is worth noting. Written with warmth and pastoral insight, all-in-all this is a fascinating volume dealing with a profitable theme in stimulating fashion: here Ignatius, Irenaeus, Athanasius, Ambrose, Isidore, Gottschalk, Bradwardine, Hus, Tyndale and Calvin – with others – rub shoulders, each more or less preaching the wonders of redeeming grace. In considering that theme through the ages of the church, this is a grand resource.
Matthew Henry: His Life and Influence
Christian Focus, 2012, 208pp., paperback, £8.99
While Matthew Henry’s commentary, though sneered at in some quarters, remains rightly esteemed, the man himself is often little more than a cipher. Though in a style that is not always lively, Allan Harman puts that right in this accessible biography by putting the writing in the context of the life. A good two thirds of the book is devoted to the life, with a fair amount of weight on the relationship Matthew had with his father, Philip. Philip’s household provided the environment in which Matthew flourished as a Christian and as a scholar, and we trace Matthew through his early life, his call to preach, and his ministries at Chester and Hackney. It is occasionally disconcerting in this section to have the author follow a tangential theme to its chronological end before returning to the main chronological stream of the central narrative, but not so much as to wreck the flow. The last third of the book is more analytical, considering Henry as preacher, commentator and writer, together with his legacy as a whole. This is a thorough, insightful and helpful section. In the 350th anniversary year of Matthew Henry’s birth, we would do well to consider his life and draw from it the valuable lessons to which Harman points us.
Pastors in the Classics: Timeless Lessons on Life and Ministry from World Literature
Leland Ryken, Philip Ryken & Todd Wilson
Baker Books, 2012, 192pp., paperback, $16.99
This is an odd book. It is not a bad book, but it is hard to categorise. Divided into two parts, the first consists of twelve fairly detailed considerations of literary representations of pastoral ministry, drawn from a reasonably wide sweep. The second contains 58 précis of other such representations. It is difficult to gauge for whom and for what this book exists: from the blurb and endorsements one is clearly meant to come to the book as a pastor and here find prompts to profound self-awareness together with penetrating insights into the pastoral calling. Frankly, this was not my experience. For Christians (not least pastors) with a literary bent it might provide an interesting reading list or a stimulus for study and discussion. However, as a means of getting to grips with the challenges, demands and struggles of pastoral ministry, I think that there are far better lessons to be drawn from life than art: this is one area where reality trumps realism. I am not suggesting that this is a worthless book, but I think it will sit more readily in the literary theory than the pastoral theology section of the library.
The Intolerance of Tolerance
D. A. Carson
IVP, 2012, 200pp., paperback, £12.99
The central premise of this book is that a true and proper tolerance defends both the right of others to hold views other than one’s own together with one’s own right to challenge those views. However, tolerance as commonly understood has come to mean the conviction – strongly held in the name of tolerance – that any strongly-held convictions which cut across the convictions of others are intolerable. In the course of this book, these straightforward and easily observable propositions are beaten rather thin and embossed with some intricacy. The reason for this may be that the material has its origin in an academic environment. Along the way, some useful points are made, including cogent warnings concerning the tyranny of democracy and the subtle progress of this intolerant tolerance, particularly as Christianity – with its exclusive claims – comes under increasing fire in the West. At this point, perhaps, a treatment of the natural man’s incapacity for and antagonism to the truth might have been enlightening. Carson closes with ten counsels, in the course of which he urges Christians to demonstrate true tolerance in their engagements with one another and with the world at large, while exposing the new and flawed tolerance for the dangerous nonsense it is. Not a groundbreaking analysis, but a useful one for those engaging with the issues, especially in the more public intellectual sphere.
Am I Really A Christian?
Crossway, 2011, 160pp., paperback, $12.99 / £8.99
We must be able to give the right answer for the right reasons to this all-important question, because heaven or hell hang upon that answer. Mike McKinley’s book is designed to guide us away from false notions and to equip us to make a Scripturally-informed analysis. Written in a laid-back style with a blend of pastoral honesty and sensitivity, he strips away false notions of Christianity and introduces Biblical tests in their place. The book hits hard where needed, offers comfort where appropriate, and speaks directly with consistency. The negatively-titled chapters (“You are not a Christian if . . .”) contain much positive truth, and prompt a well-instructed self-examination. Perhaps most useful in any environment in which nominal Christianity appears to be a significant problem, this is a helpful book for those who hope that they are Christians (or fear that they are not) trying to answer this question carefully and accurately, those who are seeking to help such, and others who need to understand and address the issues involved.
The Fruit of the Spirit is . . .
J. V. Fesko
Evangelical Press, 2011, 80pp., paperback, £4.50
What is godliness, and how do I obtain it? J. V. Fesko’s book points us to Galatians 5:22-23 for an answer, but puts those verses in their broader context. The result is a book that demands careful thought, for it is both short and deep. Here we see godliness – the fruit of the Spirit – in its place in the broad sweep of redemptive history, in its relation to the Old Testament revelation and to the persons of Christ and the Holy Spirit. We are called to consider not just the fruit itself, but also the tree on which it grows, the soil in which it stands, the nourishment which it receives, and the environment in which it thrives. Much more than a mere “how to” word study, this satisfying book will be a particular help to those seeking holiness without resorting to a quick fix, or counselling those who need to put the pursuit of godliness in its Scriptural context in order to avoid despairing of progress.
Presbyterian & Reformed, 2011, 120pp., paperback, $16.99
This children’s book (I am guessing aimed at 10 year olds or thereabouts) introduces the Lord God by the obvious but easily overlooked means of his names. Over 26 chapters we are introduced to the concept of names, Old and New Testament names of God, building toward a final exhortation to the reader. The illustrations are colourful, the writing lively, and the questions on each chapter engaging (parents or teachers will have to decide how to pitch the material to different children, and may wish to nuance one or two elements of the instruction and application according to taste and conviction). The questions constantly strive to apply the topic in terms the child can understand, and the theme of personal response develops especially toward the end of the book. This is an excellent resource for parents (or teachers) looking to instruct their children in the character of God.
Looking Unto Jesus: The Christ-Centered Piety of Seventeenth-Century Baptists
J. Stephen Yuille
Pickwick Publications, 2013, 120pp., paperback, $15/£10
The substance of this wonderfully rich little book consists of a pithy introduction offering four reasons why the author keeps returning to the Puritans, then two treatises by early Particular Baptists of Puritanic stamp (Thomas Wilcox and Vavasor Powell), each followed by an essay in which Yuille chews over the substance of the treatise. For me, the high point of the book was Wilcox’s Guide to Eternal Glory (also known as Honey from the Rock and Christ is All), a sustained panegyric to the sufficiency and sweetness of Christ. Yuille’s treatment cannot add to its tone and substance, but demonstrates the consistency of Wilcox’s work with the best of Puritanism as a whole. Powell’s short piece consists of three ‘re-imagined’ conversations between Christ and a publican, a Pharisee and a troubled saint (in Yuille’s assessment, the troubled penitent, the moral hypocrite, and the anxious disciple). Yuille demonstrates how, in response to the specific circumstances of each, Christ is presented as Shepherd, Judge and Husband, so answering each case. Whether as simple servings of sweet spiritual sustenance or cookery lessons for pastors and preachers learning to dish up the same, this excellent volume presents ‘Puritan’ and Baptist experimental piety at its purest and best. Sit and eat!
Sex & Money: Pleasures That Leave You Empty and Grace That Satisfies
Paul David Tripp
Crossway, 2013, 224pp., cloth, $22.99
With its cover [I refer to the US edition, but the British one is equally garish] boasting a barcode adorned with the hot pink print of lips (the marketing guys were clearly given fairly free rein on its promotional video as well) and its opening salvo of gripping and occasionally graphic vignettes of obsessions with aspects of our sexuality and solvency, Tripp’s new book certainly sets out to grab the attention. Indeed, so vivid and suggestive is the cover design that – because I was reading it while travelling internationally – I felt constrained to provide my own blank cover. I was slightly concerned that introducing myself as a pastor and then pulling out the volume in question might have caused fellow-travellers to make snap judgements and cause my good (in attempting to review the book) be spoken of as evil (presumed indulgence in the vices condemned). Of course, that conundrum also demonstrates the perpetually pressing nature of these topics.
The core thesis of the book is that our hearts are prone to a moral insanity centred in sex and money – these are the heart-idols celebrated in our own culture (and others) and effectively entertained and even sometimes worshipped by too many Christians. Although this contention is rather assumed than proved, I cannot imagine that many believers would be inclined to argue against the circumstantial but overwhelming evidence. Concerned about insanity, addiction and glory, Tripp begins by describing what he calls “the dangerous dichotomy” – the tendency to separate the spiritual and the secular which needs to be countered by “an everything-is-spiritual-because-everything-is-worship view of life” (37). This ‘all-of-life-as-worship’ meme is not one I am comfortable with, not because I wish to restrict our relationship to God to particular hours or environments and then live as if the Lord did not exist at all other times and in all other places, but because I think it tends to devalue the church’s particular and specific acts of worship (after all, one could argue that if all of life is worship then nothing is really worship) and because it tends to collapse the proper and necessary distinction between the sacred and the secular and/or profane. That said, Tripp’s approach is far more nuanced and careful than some of the more crass and dismissive versions that bounce out of too many pulpits and off too many pages, and the point is well taken: all of life must be lived before the eye of God. That means that the heart is the first and vital battleground.
Our author then goes on to deal with sex and with money, in each case seeking to explore, demonstrate and remedy the moral madness that would elevate our physical pleasures and our material gains to the throne of the heart. Sex and money are not, in themselves, evils, but can be readily turned to evil ends. Our sexuality has to do with worship, relationship and obedience, and must not be sacrificed on the altar of lower pleasures. Our wallets and purses must be governed by God and not by our own appetites responding to ever-present enticements that too often dominate our planning and spending.
Toward the conclusion of the book, the two threads begin to twist more closely together once more, as Tripp focuses on the sense of immediacy so characteristic of this world, with its concomitant blindness to eternity. Developing what he catchily calls “practical me-istic presentism” – self-centred living without regard for eternity, my own personal God-complex – he seeks to re-orient the heart toward the King eternal, the immortal, invisible, only-wise God.
Overall, this volume drives effectively at the perennial problem of heart idolatry. The writing is pointed and pastoral, offering a humble transparency on the part of the author as he makes plain that he is with his readers in this fight. As a modern take on the issue, although I might have differed slightly in his analysis of the problem, I was in fundamental sympathy with his diagnosis and prescription. At the same time, I would have appreciated a little more depth and development in that prescription: Tripp shows us strategies for the heart-battle but could, perhaps, have offered more in the way of tactics. Some readers will not appreciate the starkness of some of his examples, though I hope that this would not be because they refuse to acknowledge that the problems are real. There are also some abrupt shifts of tone throughout the volume, as the author moves back and forth between the main flow of his material and the examples so much in vogue among authors who are counsellors; these shifts at one or two points are so violent as to make one wonder if there has been a printer’s error (of which, sadly, there are a good number, unusually for this publisher).
This, then, is a useful book, probably more helpful among those less likely to buck at some of its ripe straightforwardness, or wrestling with these sins in their more aggressive and open forms and so in need of a more definite alert. That said, it is sometimes the more subtle and less apparent forms of these idolatries that entwine about the heart and which need to be thoroughly rooted out, and in that respect the basic lessons of this work need to be well-heeded by all. Potential buyers might be well-served by flicking through it or reading an excerpt first to make sure that they are happy with its pitch and tone and understand its approach and purpose.
Crazy Busy: A (Mercifully) Short Book about a (Really) Big Problem
Crossway, 2013, 128 pp., cloth, $11.99
The principal virtues of this book are simplicity, brevity and honesty. More diagnostic, even descriptive, than prescriptive, the bulk of the pages are given over to an exploration of the battles we face in the modern world to manage our time and energy. Its focus seems actually to be less on busyness and more on distraction. Aiming to help us burn on rather than burn out, DeYoung identifies pride as lying behind many of our problems in this area, and counsels us to embrace rest, rhythm, death to pride, acceptance of our own finitude and the realities of life as servants of God in a fallen world, and trust in the providence of God as the necessary antidotes to a frantic life. Though some may suggest it lacks gravitas and penetration, and others may not need it (or may deny they need it), those who feel themselves afflicted with a crazy busy pattern of being might find a brief and punchy book like this to be just the ticket, prompting reflection toward action to establish our priorities around our relationship with God, and to organise the rest of our life accordingly.
Anne Steele and Her Spiritual Vision: Seeing God in the Peaks, Valleys and Plateaus of Life
Reformation Heritage Books, 2012, 144pp., paperback, $18
This thoughtful blend of biography, theology and literary criticism offers a fine example of Christian scholarship. With copious but careful quotations, Wong traces three streams of thought through Steele’s writings: God’s glory in creation, faith under trials, and the hope of heaven. Offering helpful insights into Steele’s cultural and theological contexts, the poet’s honesty comes to the fore as she wrestles through the vicissitudes of life with an eye on the glory to come. Readers should be aware that the tone is academic and the text weighted with footnotes, that the content is decidedly and distinctively evangelical, and that the spirit of devotion so prevalent in Steele’s poetry is more incidental than central, though certainly accessible to those willing to ponder some of Steele’s lines and Wong’s insights. Altogether, this blend makes it a little difficult to discern at whom the book is aimed, but it remains a stimulating study.
Morden’s often excellent work must be considered in any further Spurgeon studies, and sheds genuine light at many key points. His marshalling of the data and thoroughness of the treatment cannot for one moment be denied, and are to be applauded. However, those who are either less shackled by the conventions of this way of doing history, or, perhaps, share more of Spurgeon’s convictions more openly, may conclude with me that something is missing, and that Spurgeon’s constraining intention to be governed by Christ speaking in his Word by his Spirit is bypassed when it might have provided a far more complete and satisfying key to the life of this servant of God.
Read the whole review at Reformation21.
Setting Our Affections Upon Glory: Nine Sermons on the Gospel and the Church
Crossway, 2013, 176 pp., paperback and ebook, $15.99
These sermons were preached in 1969 and it is a measure of their biblical sense and substance that they still sound fresh. Indeed, at points – such as when Lloyd-Jones suggests that we are in danger of having only two or three preachers in the world and everyone else “listening to them on tapes or on television or something else” as if that is the way to evangelize the world – he sounds as if the sermons could have been preached a few months ago. Woven among some of MLJ’s familiar and often-debated emphases are other strands, more central and abidingly relevant. The hope of saints in death, the foolish reliance of many professing believers on worldly wisdom, the requirement for us to know our God and his truth experimentally, the need for all the saints of God to carry with them the savour of Christ and make him known, the narrowness of the way of life: these and other matters are handled with refreshing plainness and adroitness. Much here proves an antidote to some of the crass and even carnal patterns paraded in much of the modern church. While it is, perhaps, easy to think of certain thinkers and speakers who would benefit from taking certain chapters or pages to heart, the great concern is for every reader to learn these things for himself and apply them to his own faith and life. In that respect, I found these sermons bracing to the mind and spirit, providing a helpful measure of recalibration for the soul, and I hope others would as well.
Charles Simeon: An Ordinary Pastor of Extraordinary Influence
DayOne, 2011, 272pp., paperback, £10
The structure of this volume is both pleasing and effective. Beginning with the spring of Simeon’s life, we trace the broadening river to his establishment at Cambridge, at which point our author takes the time honestly to explore the various currents and eddies of his pastoral and wider endeavours, before closing with the stream’s discharge into eternity. This effective trajectory allows us to observe Simeon at close quarters, considering both his character and labours. One does not need to agree with all of Simeon’s convictions and practices, nor Derek Prime’s emphasis on or endorsement of some of them, to find this a thoroughly stimulating biography, challenging, rebuking and encouraging in equal measure. The author’s interest in and sympathy with his subject add a real heartbeat to the book. Pastors especially should come away from this stirred to a service both of greater effort and purer consecration, praying for and seeking out opportunities to serve God in our day as Simeon did in his.
Anne Bradstreet: Pilgrim and Poet
Evangelical Press, 2010, 176pp., paperback, £7.99
The record of a trying life in turbulent times, Faith Cook here weaves together an imaginatively-retold history of Anne Bradstreet. The subtitle accurately reflects the twin concerns of the book as Anne navigates from a childhood in England to married adulthood in the colonies of North America, wrestling not only with the peculiar difficulties of her pilgrimages of both body and soul, but also the challenges of being a poet in a day when – as a woman – her gift might very quickly have been despised and dismissed. We trace the workings of the providence that both gave her material for her poems and also brought them to public light, but Cook never loses sight of the greater trajectory of a godly woman bound for heaven. Historically insightful, personally engaging, and often deeply moving, the immediacy and earthiness of this biography might make it particularly interesting to other godly women, but it ought not to be considered a ‘woman’s book,’ for its tone and substance keep eternal realities and comforts before us to the profit of any reader.
The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert: An English Professor’s Journey into Christian Faith
Rosaria Champagne Butterfield
“Brutally honest” may be an overused phrase in book reviewing, but I think it applies here. This book begins with its then 36 year old author enjoying her role as a high-achieving lesbian doyenne of Queer Theory, a “tenured radical” in the liberal arts at a large research university in New York. From there, it charts her exposure to gospel truth, the comprehensive chaos that followed as Christ called her to be his disciple, and the sweeping sanctification and sincere service that followed. Writing about and wrestling with things as only an English professor with a predilection for the Romantic can, with a strong capacity for self-analysis and a transparency that is bracing, Mrs Butterfield records this journey from the perspective of a felt outsider suddenly drawn into the kingdom and eventually (as the wife of a church planting pastor in the Reformed Presbyterian Church) on the frontline of its battles. That she does so honestly but not pruriently is one of the strengths of this book: she is clear and blunt without ever being coarse. There are points at which Mrs Butterfield wields her vorpal sword to slay whole herds of sacred cattle simultaneously, and I responded with a hearty “Amen!” far more often than with a stifled “Aargh!”, enjoying her boldness even when wishing to push back against her conclusions. Too often Christians seek to win to Christ people who are just like them, who fit their notions of what churchgoers ought to be. Rosaria Butterfield prompts us to think more humbly about what it means to be an effective witness in an increasingly Corinthian society, with real insights into the world (not just the homosexual culture) and the church from both sides. This is a genuinely refreshing read by a woman who, it seems, states and sacrificially acts on her thoughtful and deeply-held convictions with characteristic boldness. I should love to debate with her about all kind of things, but I hope I have also learned from this sobering, provocative and joyful testimony. (I am sure that a homeschooling English professor like the author is disappointed by a significant number of errors in the text that will, I hope, be corrected in future printings.)
Carl Trueman’s longer review is here.
For those who may be interested, there is an extended review of “The Hunger Games” trilogy over at Reformation21.
A sinful world is no surprise, but what is assumed, and sometimes exalted, is an antagonism to any authority, apart from the authority of self, which makes every person a slave to the situation in which they are found, leaving our only excuse for cruel and criminal acts the line that they are less cruel and less criminal than those against whom we are contending.
You can read it all here.
Kenneth J. Stewart
IVP, 2011, 256pp., paperback, £14.99
I had expected to disagree with this book more than I did, for it is not the sustained plea for latitude that I had expected. It is divided into two parts: four myths that Calvinists circulate about themselves, and six circulated about them by non-Calvinists. Surveying the historical data, Stewart seeks to demonstrate the excessive narrowness of some Calvinists (defining Calvinism more by our own distinctive expression of it) and the empty caricature painted by some non-Calvinists (confusing association with Calvinism with origination in Calvinism, and sometimes even getting the first wrong). Stewart also suggests that – while there are ebbs and flows, springtides and neap tides – there is a sustained Calvinistic undercurrent in the Christian church (demonstrated here from the late Georgian period on). While we might contend for particular accretions to the Calvinist core, Stewart reminds us that the river is broader than we might imagine, and in doing so stimulates us to consider our own heritage and our attitude to it more intelligently.
Baker, 2011, 256pp., paperback, $14.99
Responding to the charges of New Atheists like Dawkins, Hitchens and Dennett, our author sets out to demonstrate that the God of the Scriptures – particularly the Old Testament – is not the ranting bully and cruel tyrant he is often misrepresented to be. Trawling through the issues and the Bible, Copan tries to establish some foundational principles before assessing some of the particular charges levelled (concerning weirdness, barbarity, misogyny, polygamy, slavery, and genocide), concluding with some thoughts about the basis of morality. While there are some deft philosophical flourishes and some helpful exegetical insights and suggestions, I think that Copan gives too much to his opponents. We are never robustly confronted with a God who is altogether holy and above reproach, and the argument too often seems to sink to a relativistic level: “Things were pretty bad, the Lord had to improve it incrementally, and – besides – you should have seen the Hittites and the Amorites!” The book might have been better served with a more vigorous demonstration and assertion of the divine character and its consequent morality as the backdrop both to the principles and the arguments. Helpful at many points, I was nevertheless disappointed overall.
Comp. and ed. Graham C. Ashworth
Soli Deo Gloria, 2010, 215pp., hardback, $24
This beautifully-presented volume is essentially a conservative reproduction of the third edition of Doddridge’s Hymns Founded on Various Texts in the Holy Scripture, containing 375 hymns divided into sections on the Old Testament, the New Testament, and particular occasions. In addition to the indices, the editor has added appendices with Doddridge’s key dates, additional hymn listings, some tunes in the public domain that could readily be employed, and – perhaps most interestingly – a theological analysis of the hymns. The hymns themselves are doctrinally potent and structurally sound, if occasionally a little clunky. There is an earthy clarity of expression that brings deep theology within reach of our understanding and affections, for these works lack neither breadth of truth nor depth of experience. That the language and range of reference will sometimes defeat today’s reader and singer speaks more, it might be argued, in criticism of us than of Doddridge. One would probably not contend for Doddridge to take his place in the upper pantheon of British hymnwriters, but those wishing to understand the craft, as well as Doddridge appreciators, will find this a stimulating resource.