The Wanderer

As I walked through the wilderness of this world …

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Review: “Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers”

with 23 comments

Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers
Dane C. Ortlund
Crossway, 2020
224pp., hardback, $19.99

ISBN 978-1-4335-6613-4

Some assured me that it was the greatest book they had read in years. Others warned me that it was profoundly dangerous. Reviewers have largely fallen over themselves to commend it. It is a topic which I need to grasp personally and pastorally. So I took it up and read it. The book is from Dane Ortlund, is called Gentle and Lowly, and is—more or less—an attempt to rework Goodwin on the heart of Christ (available as a Puritan Paperback from the Banner of Truth) for a modern audience, with primary assistance from Sibbes, Owen, Flavel, and Bunyan, and occasional contributions from Edwards, Warfield, and one or two others.

In style, it is interesting, at times combining Blairite sentence fragments with complex and lengthy sentences that would make a Puritan blush. It is generally accessible, but some of those heavier sentences are like steamrollers. I wonder if people are so persuaded that the seventeenth-century authors are unreadable that they never bother finding out if they are at least as clear as some of our more modern writers? That is true, not just of Ortlund’s style, but also in his substance.

So what of the substance? ‘This book,’ says the author, ‘is written for the discouraged, the frustrated, the weary, the disenchanted, the cynical, the empty.’ Its message is ‘that we tend to project our natural expectations about who God is onto [sic] him instead of fighting to let the Bible surprise us into what God himself says’ (13, 155). If the message so stated seems to fall a little short of the target audience, then we need to dig a little deeper.

Ortlund is addressing a genuine and proper pastoral concern, and one which may well be more pressing in his circles than in those of some readers. Most pastors will recognise the malady when he writes that ‘many of us tend to believe [that God’s love in Christ] is a love infected with disappointment’ (189). Ministers wrestle with men and women, believers and otherwise, persuaded that they are utterly unloveable and entirely beyond love. In part, like Ortlund, I am persuaded that this probably reflects a failure properly to appreciate and appropriate the incomparable depths of God’s love toward us in Christ Jesus, and—perhaps, therefore—further reflects a fear of preaching the heart of Christ in all its fulness of love. After all, what if people got the wrong impression and thought that they could sin and get away with it? But, on the other hand, what if people concluded that, because they had sinned, they were helplessly and hopelessly done for, because Christ would quickly become frustrated with us and leave us to our own wretched devices? It may be that Ortlund is conscious of an excessive intellectualism in his own circles, a technical grasp of what Christ is and does without an experimental acquaintance with our Lord’s heart toward us that spills over in our lives and from our lips. Whatever the case, he is quite right to quote Jeremiah 31:20 about the yearning of God’s heart, and challenge us, ‘Does your doctrine of God have room for him speaking like that?’ (164).

In the course of the book there are moments of penetrating insight into the Scriptures (such as the developed parallel between God’s self-revelation to Moses on the mountain and the actions of our Lord Jesus with his disciples), or points at which his apposite quotation of the Puritans, or communication of their sense, leaves the heart singing.

The book as a whole consists of twenty-three reasonably brief chapters, with an introduction and an epilogue. It concentrates more on the character of Christ, although his nature as the God-man is used to elaborate on the depths and demonstrations of his heart toward us. While the first chapter picks up the language of Matthew 11:29, which supplies the title, every chapter takes a verse, or more often a phrase, as its point of departure. The author wants us to understand the depths of Christ’s sympathy for and with sinners, his readiness to receive the penitent wanderer returning home, his patience and gentleness with his erring people, his intercession and advocacy for us in his glory, his perfect emotions in his dealings with us, his persevering affection, and the way in which his heart beats in time with the Father and the Spirit, revealing the Father’s heart and exemplified in the Spirit’s presence and operations. Ortlund labours constantly to overcome our sinful suspicions of the Lord, the twisted pride that assumes we are actually too bad to be saved, or the fear that we have messed up and have put ourselves if not beyond the power then perhaps beyond the patience of a loving Saviour. Some chapters rely more heavily on his source material. Goodwin ties the whole together, but specific chapters owe more or less to other authors, and one or two—such as the chapter on the emotional life of our Lord—are largely summaries of longer pieces by older authors.

As a whole, the theme is wonderfully sweet and absolutely vital. Ortlund’s emphases are sadly missing in too many churches. (It is worth remembering that not everything that he sees as missing has been or is being missed in every church and by every preacher.) For many a battered and bruised soul, either wondering if God could ever love them or keep loving them, there is much truth here to instruct and to comfort, truth presented with a necessarily emphatic edge. Sinners coming to Christ for the first time need not only to be persuaded of their own emptiness and weakness, but also persuaded that the Redeemer is not only absolutely able but eminently willing to save them—he delights to glorify God in receiving the most wretched of sinners. Further, saints need to enter ever more fully into the depths of Christ’s love, never despairing of him and therefore over themselves, but confident (without carelessness) that this fountain opened for sin and for uncleanness will ever be accessible to them, that their Lord and Saviour is more willing to forgive their sins than they might be to come to him for forgiveness. It is a truth that is intended to draw us to Christ and keep us near Christ, and should we ever drift away from him, to bring us back, more fully persuaded of his abounding and enduring love.

So persuaded am I of the need for more such preaching and teaching that I am borderline desperate to be able to commend this book without reservation as a remedy for some of the spiritual ills that afflict far too many doctrinally-sound but experientially-shrivelled Christians and congregations.

I cannot do that. I cannot commend it without reservation, despite my appreciation of the overarching thrust and intent, because I have three particular areas of significant concern. The first has to do with the overstatements that unbalance the book, including some false absolutes and false dichotomies; the second has to do with what seem to be certain subtle misrepresentations or reworkings of the Puritans and their emphases; the third has to do with a lack of clarity in theology proper and Christology.

With regard to overstatement, I mean a tendency—all too frequent both in books and pulpits—to make a point by absolutising one’s statement, or by seeking to throw truth into sharpest relief by setting it in contrast to other statements. This is proper when the other statements are false, but when it leads to the presentation of false absolutes or false dichotomies it undoes itself. I fundamentally agree with Dr Ortlund when he asserts that ‘it is impossible for the affectionate heart of Christ to be overcelebrated, made too much of, exaggerated’ (29, original emphasis). That does not in itself remove the danger of subtly misrepresenting Christ and his heart, even with the best of intentions. I am not sufficiently familiar with Dr Ortlund’s writings to know whether or not other books or articles offer further perspectives that together provide a more complete and balanced presentation of the points he makes here. Neither am I demanding a constant stream of deadening nuance, in which every writer or preacher must identify the seventeen things he does not mean before he says what he does. If we deal every absolute statement the death of a thousand qualifying cuts we are likely to undo our usefulness. That does not, though, suspend the duty for careful precision in the statements themselves. I would not try to cripple any communicator of truth, but we are most free when truly precise, working within the carefully-defined limits of our whole theology and the analogy of Scripture. There are moments at which I think Dr Ortlund either goes beyond himself in his understandable enthusiasm, or fails to be as careful as he might need to be when dealing with some details. Virtuosity is still jarring when in the wrong key.

Lest I seem to tilt at windmills, let me offer a concrete example from the opening lines of Chapter 20: “There are two ways to live the Christian life. You can live it either for the heart of Christ or from the heart of Christ. You can live for the smile of God or from it. For a new identity as a son or daughter of God or from it. For your union with Christ or from it.” On the surface it reads well, and sounds deeply ‘spiritual.’ But put those phrases in parallel and there are some category confusions: are the heart of Christ, the smile of God, a new identity, and union with Christ all precisely identical under all circumstances? What do the prepositions ‘for’ and ‘from’ mean in connection with those particular phrases? Does it make any difference if you are already a believer or not? Ortlund makes clear he is talking about the Christian life. So, for example, if you had asked the apostle Paul whether or not he first obtains union with Christ and a new life by his own efforts, he would have denied it from his soul. However, had you asked Paul if, as a Christian, he lived for the smile of God or from it, he would cheerfully have answered, “Yes!” (based on 2 Corinthians 5:9–11, Galatians 2:17–21, and Philippians 3:7–14, to take three prominent examples). Paul might also have insisted, using careful language, that—having begun in the Spirit, but not now being made perfect by the flesh (Gal 3:3)—we nevertheless go on demonstrating our union with Christ and enjoying the smile of our heavenly Father by way of a life of principled obedience.

On another occasion, in order to make a point, Ortlund insists that “justification is largely a doctrine about what Christ has done in the past, rooted centrally in his death and resurrection” (78), quoting the first half of Romans 5:1, emphasising thus: “we have been justified” (ESV). However, the whole verse reads tells us that since we have been justified by faith, we have a thoroughly present and enduring peace with God as justified men and women, through our Lord Jesus Christ. Ortlund’s characterisation of justification allows him then to insist that ‘intercession is the constant hitting “refresh” of our justification in the court of heaven’ (80). It is not that all this is entirely wrong; it is, though, unbalanced or incomplete in its presentation. Such overstatements can become unhelpful. Should we insist that ‘the Christian life is simply the process of bringing my sense of self … into alignment with the more fundamental truth’ of how Christ feels about us (187)? If I make that my working definition of the Christian life I think I am likely to leave people confused and misdirected.

This isolation of justification comes out in another curious way, and in another direction. Anyone who reads the mainstream Puritans will appreciate their emphasis on the application of truth to the heart. There is distinction but no distance, let alone divorce, between the elements of their soteriology. But, in his epilogue, Ortlund hammers home that his book is about the heart of Christ and of God, and then asks and answers the question, ‘But what are we to do with this? The main answer is, nothing.’ According to Ortlund, to ask, ‘Now how do I apply this to my life?’ would be ‘a trivialization of the point of this study. If an Eskimo wins a vacation to a sunny place, he doesn’t arrive in his hotel room, step out onto the balcony, and wonder how to apply that to his life. He just enjoys it. He just basks.’ The only thing we need to do is go to Jesus, and ‘all that means is, open yourself up to him. Let him love you. The Christian life boils down to two steps: 1. Go to Jesus. 2. See #1.’ All of this is supported with a quotation from Goodwin that, slightly disingenuously, does not actually come from the book, The Heart of Christ. What Ortlund does not say is that Goodwin actually finishes his work on Christ’s heart with four uses (the Puritan language of application). I acknowledge that this is slightly shoddy from Goodwin; if he were on form, we might expect a good forty or so! Also, taking into account the applications and exhortations sown by Goodwin throughout the whole, let us note that it is not just unlike the Puritans, but unlike Goodwin himself, to suggest that our only response is to bask in this truth. Goodwin, in keeping with the emphasis of the best of Puritanism, includes stirring exhortations alongside sweet encouragements. His third use is that, ‘As the doctrine delivered is a comfort, so the greatest motive against sin and persuasive unto obedience, to consider that Christ’s heart, if it be not afflicted with—and how far it may suffer with us we know not—yet for certain hath less joy in us, as we are more or less sinful, or obedient’ (Goodwin, 4:150). At this point you might appreciate why Ortlund sometimes paraphrases Goodwin, so let me do the same. Goodwin is simply pressing home the fact that Christ grieves over our sin and rejoices over our obedience, and that should make a difference to our pursuit of godliness. ‘Take this,’ says Goodwin, ‘as one incentive to obedience, that if he retained the same heart and mind for mercy towards you which he had here on earth, then to answer his love, endeavour you to have the same heart towards him on earth which you hope to have in heaven.’ The proper response to Christ’s heart is not simply basking in his love, but also responding to it with a love of our own that manifests itself in cheerful obedience.

Sometimes, Ortlund simply needs to be more careful with his language. For example, he asks, ‘Do you know what Jesus does with those who squander his mercy? He pours out more mercy. God is rich in mercy. That’s the whole point’ (179). One understands what he is trying to say, but there will be many on the day of judgment who are cast into the Pit precisely because they have squandered (recklessly wasted and cast away) the real and offered mercies of the Lord Jesus. Such imprecision opens the door to potentially dangerous misunderstandings.

Such examples could be repeated several times over. Many such sweeping statements sound clever and are catchy. Digging deeper, though, one finds that they are not properly compelling, and some effectively downplay other necessary or complementary emphases. All this is fine when we are carried along on the wave, less satisfying should we be only temporarily lifted up by the froth. While we do want people to grasp the heart of Christ for sinners and sufferers, that must be a well-grounded and accurate grasp. Overstatement for effect will ultimately hinder or even cripple our efforts to communicate the truth.

This concern bleeds, second, into the way in which Ortlund handles and riffs off the Puritans and others. To be fair, his selection of their quotations is typically judicious, and there are several moments at which one reads a few lines from Goodwin or Bunyan and wants to shout, ‘Nailed it!’ When our author gets it right, he often gets it delightfully right (aspects of his treatment of Warfield on the emotional life of our Lord, for example). However, as we have said, he is making a selection, and selection is often, by definition, interpretation. Sometimes Ortlund takes it upon himself to explain or develop what these other authors have said. In doing so, he seems sometimes to leave out important elements, or to go beyond his sources, or to rephrase them to say something slightly more, less or different. What you have here is essentially Goodwin mediated by Ortlund, not unlike the way in which many read Edwards as mediated by Piper. There is a selective emphasis that necessarily reflects the convictions and priorities of the mediator, and may—inadvertently or otherwise—skew the force of the original to some extent. As so often, it is important to listen to what is not being said, as well as the things that are being said. See, for example, the comments above about the way in which Goodwin applies these truths to God’s people, which is largely missing from Ortlund’s treatment.

Some of this is a matter of vocabulary. Ortlund tends to default to the language of love for the disposition of Christ toward us. It becomes a catch-all cognate for the disposition and all the affections of Christ as they are manifested towards us. While that is sometimes equally true of the Puritans he quotes, they are typically a little more precise. For example, even in the quotations he selects, the Puritans upon whom he relies often use the notions of pity or mercy not as simple synonyms for love, but as functions of love, love responding in certain ways to certain situations. Would it be better, rather than simply to say that Christ loves us all the more, the more we sin, to say that—because of the great love with which he loves us—our sin only draws out the more pity and mercy from his loving heart? Ortlund often hits that sweet spot, as when he assures us that ‘as [God’s] love rises, mercy descends. Great love fills his heart; rich mercy flows out of his heart’ (174). On other occasions, one wonders if a more careful definition of love and its manifestations might have been helpful, rather than assuming that we all instinctively grasp what love is and ought to be, and how it ought to act.

This leaves us sometimes reading Ortlund’s elucidation of Puritan teaching and finding it less clear or crisp than the Puritans themselves. At one or two points he lacks the happy ruthlessness of Puritan logic or precision of language, and, on occasion, the consistent and comprehensive grasp of truth that keeps them from going too far or not far enough in making a certain point. To be fair, there are times when Goodwin and company make assertions that take the breath away, and leave you feeling as if you are teetering on the edge of heresy, so bold are their declarations of the readiness of Christ to receive and go on receiving sinners. However, I do not recall reading the men and works that Ortlund quotes with quite so many questions or niggles. Again, I am not pushing for endless qualification (if that were so, this book would be three times as long as the weightiest Puritan tome!), but for precision and carefulness in the foundational statements. Perhaps I am just more conscious of the issues of the modern day, better attuned to the current issues and the way they are framed, but I don’t recall raising these issues with Goodwin, Owen, Sibbes, or Bunyan. These men seemed better able to address the ‘yes, buts’ or pre-empt the ‘what ifs’ of their magisterial declarations. Some of that breadth and balance is missing in Ortlund’s recapitulation of Goodwin.

Finally, there is the concern of his theology proper and his Christology. I do not envy Ortlund here, and I am deeply conscious that I am picking holes in a game effort to accomplish something at which I constantly fail. He is sailing deep waters, and makes a good fist of seeking to take account of the fact that he cannot deal with the incarnate Son without addressing the persons of the Father and the Spirit, and that the incarnate Son himself is indeed the God-man, two distinct natures in one person forever. I applaud the preacher or writer who manages a lifetime of addressing such things without a moment’s deviation or confusion!

Ortlund is himself deeply aware of that danger. He reminds us that J. I. Packer ‘once wrote that “a half-truth masquerading as the whole truth becomes a complete untruth.” This is an especially sensitive point when we are talking about the Bible’s revelation of Christ’ (28). Shortly after, he warns that ‘we should beware a one-dimensional portrait of Christ that elevates one [dimension] to the neglect of others’ (35). Awareness of the trap does not prevent one slipping into it, if not quite becoming entirely caught up in it. Again, some of this may be a function of Ortlund’s enthusiasm, his working assumption that some things cannot be over-exaggerated. He is also trying to push back at some common misconceptions, such as the sense of some believers that ‘the Son of God came down from heaven in incarnate form, spent three decades or so as a human, and then returned to heaven to revert back to his preincarnate state’ (103). To be fair, across the book there are attempts to ensure that a properly scriptural balance is maintained, but balance is not necessarily the same as correctness and correction.

As the book’s own title makes plain, the focus is on the heart of Christ. There are, then, particular dangers in setting, or seeming to set, the heart of the person of the Son apart from the other persons of the Godhead, and so potentially disrupting the Trinity, or the heart of Christ-as-God apart from the heart of Christ-as-man, and so potentially disrupting the person of Messiah. There are challenges both in positively presenting all that, and in preventing or countering potential confusion about it.

For some, the difficulty might lie in the fact that Ortlund appears to go quite readily down Rob Lister’s route on anthropopathism (God’s ascription of human affection or emotion to himself as a way of accommodating himself to our understanding in making himself known). Ortlund seems quite dismissive of any attempt to discern between emotions or affections in our speaking of God, and perhaps feels that this book is not the proper place to explore fully the ways in which the God-man has sinless human emotions as well as divine affections (his chapter on Warfield is good in this respect). Again, the book is not a contribution to recent debates on divine impassibility (which Ortlund refers to, in connection with Lister as a helpful resource to ‘explore the way God is both impassible and yet capable of emotion’, in a substantial footnote on page 73). However, it is obviously not an issue that can be side-stepped when dealing with the heart of our Lord. Ortlund takes pains later in the book to make clear that Christ’s heart is not apart from the Father’s, still less against it, in his disposition toward us; this can feel more of a balancing act than a correction. We are still left with a danger at earlier points of not so much dividing as isolating the heart of Christ from the heart of the Father. Confusion on impassibility may lie behind statements such as the assertion that God ‘is—if I can put it this way without questioning his divine perfections—conflicted within himself when he sends affliction into our lives’ (138). Is that the safest way of putting it? Does that qualification keep us clear about whether or not the God of all the earth can be self-conflicted?

Again, Ortlund himself warns against the danger of being carried too far in seeking to go far enough. No preacher would begrudge him a proper enthusiasm, but not at the price of necessary precision. In an attempt to show us something great in Christ, there is that constant danger of presenting a one-dimensional Christ. I am not sure that he always stayed on the right side of that line. There are nuances and qualifications, for example, about Christ’s holy hatred of sin, but perhaps not sufficient, or sufficiently clear, to keep some from concluding that we are free to squander present mercies with the confidence that more mercies will come. In Sinclair Ferguson’s language, we need to preach a whole Christ. We cannot always (ever!) say everything, but we might need to say enough, in context or over time, manifestly to keep from preaching less or other than a whole Christ.

Anyone who raise such concerns needs to be aware of at least two dangers for themselves. The first is that, in attempting to keep from error, we will not state the whole truth with the fulness and freeness of the Scriptures themselves. So fearful might we be of legalism that we become antinomians, so fearful of antinomianism that we become legalists, or seek to counter the one with a dash of the other. In the same vein, men constantly on the lookout for even the most minute error in speaking of divine affections might find themselves unable or even unwilling to give free rein to Scriptural language or proper vent to their own souls in seeking to communicate the sweet wonders of the heart of God in Christ toward his beloved people. We cannot afford to be ashamed of or to draw back from biblical truth presented in biblical language.

To conclude, and without wishing to overstate it myself, I am persuaded that this theme is often and tragically overlooked or undercooked. For whatever reasons, the heart of Christ is too often clouded to us and by us. Lost sinners need to be confident that a saving Christ will receive them with infinite readiness and tenderness. Christians need to know Christ’s disposition of love toward us, and to feel it, and to understand the ways in which it is manifested toward us. Because of my delight in the topic, I wanted to love this book, and at points I did. Nevertheless, I too often felt I needed subtly, internally, to rework a phrase, to introduce a nuance, to press further a point, or to adjust an assertion. I still think that for some whose spiritual diet has been lacking this emphasis, Gentle and Lowly could be like a cup of cold water to the soul. For some who preach a known Christ competently, this book might help to preach a felt one earnestly. We need all that is true in this book. Even so, I think there is a danger that it might not so much correct certain imbalances as introduce different ones. I understand why some recommended it with almost no reserve, while some were so reserved they felt that they could not recommend it. That might depend on their circumstances and the people to whom they minister. I am quite confident that, if I preached Christ in all his fulness, I might eventually be accused both of antinomianism and legalism, depending on which truth I happen to be emphasising. That is why a bit more Puritan precision without any loss of Puritan passion (emotion? affection?) would be welcome. That carefulness needs to become second nature to the theologian, so that our language more instinctively, regularly and carefully reflects the whole truth of the whole Christ. I write all this not to be wilfully contrarian, or simply pernickety, but because I think that there are not so much flaws in the diamond itself, but rather genuine concerns about its presentation.

Much good will have been done if this book drives us back to the Puritans. In many modern editions, the Puritans are at least as accessible as this book, or become so for those willing to put in a little effort. Those Puritans also tend to be, I think, more complete and careful. For many, one of the better responses to this book will be to read Goodwin for themselves. However, more will have been done if Gentle and Lowly, with the men upon whose shoulders it stands, drive us back to our Bibles to search out and see these things in Christ for ourselves. If nothing else, it should remind us of the need to grasp these truths in our souls, and to tell them to others, even if we believe that we could and should tell them better. The great tragedy would be to conclude that we have nothing to learn in this matter. If so, it might either be because we have advanced beyond many of our contemporaries in our exceeding zeal for the honour of Christ and the good of his people, or—more likely—because we have not grasped the greatness of this theme, the glory of God revealed in it, or the good that comes to God’s people from a firmer grasp on the loving heart of the Altogether Lovely One.

Review: the Schuyler New King James Version

with 4 comments

IMG_1213(Yes, this is a longer review, but it’s written to be enjoyed as well as employed. It also reflects the measure of the investment concerned. So stay calm, grab a brew, settle in, and ride along.)

The background bit

They called him Brownie. He played village cricket at the level at which a few of the more debonair players would agonise over the weight and balance of their bats and fuss about various aspects of their other equipment. Not so Brownie. He would pillage the dressing room before going out to bat, and – like some latter-day Shamgar with his ox-goad, or Samson with the jawbone of an ass – simply grab whatever came to hand and stride forth to smite lustily about him in order to slay his thousands. Meanwhile, at the boundary, the poor unfortunate whose bat Brownie had accumulated as he headed for the wicket would often be in agonies as he watched his beloved willow being so abused. At the other end of the scale was the occasion when, in the Louisville Slugger Museum, I picked up a casual bat and give it a twirl. “That,” intoned the solemn attendant, “is designed specifically for Derek Jeter.” Our eyes met and a frisson of understanding passed between us. He knew instinctively that I could not afford to damage it, and this was silently communicated to me. Even this uneducated Britisher knew enough to pause for a moment’s reverent silence before, with a slight bow, placing the aforementioned piece of wood back in its pillowed cradle. Apparently, the care with which that particular club was honed would put the most pedantic village cricketer to shame.

So it may be with the physical Bibles that we use for reading and preaching. For some of us, form is of little regard. We will pick up whatever comes to hand and go forth to battle. Others, more particular, or with a measure of permanence and precision in mind, look for the specific implement that best accentuates whatever natural and honed abilities we might have. That may be true for the general Bible reader, and is likely to be more true for the regular Bible preacher. I want to address both the reader and the preacher in this review, with an eye more to the aficionado than the barbarian.

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The subject of my critical gaze will be the Schuyler Quentel Edition of the New King James Version. As a private and public reader and also a preacher of the Bible, I have a keen interest in a physical volume that lends itself to the rigours and demands of consistent and varied use. I would contend that there is real value in the preacher actually carrying a Bible into the pulpit (or any other preaching arena) with him. There is significance in evidently returning to the book in the course of one’s preaching, both by way of spoken and visual reference. It grounds one’s discourse in the very Word of God, with all the implications of authority and sufficiency that such reliance should communicate. And herein lies the problem. Depending on the regularity with and manner in which one refers to the Scriptures, a number of challenges arise. Many preachers, especially as they age, will find that the text of some Bibles is simply too small, or becomes so, leaving the congregation either with the sight of a man’s face replaced by the back of a little book, or regular close-ups of the top of his head as he bends to scour the page. In addition, with repetition comes familiarity, and many preachers can find even the most obscure text in the book and on the page by its location, almost instinctively thumbing to the right spot and casting an eye on the right portion. All this adds up to a more natural and even seamless relationship to the written word in the act of preaching. After a few years, even if one is careful, the Bible over which one pores and paws, perhaps in the armchair and the study, as well as in the pulpit, starts to wear out. The search begins for a new copy, but the desire may be for one which effectively mirrors the previous copy, so that the familiarity and facility are retained. And then the horrific discovery is made that some blighted publisher has only gone and decided to issue seven new editions, none as readable as the earlier ones, and none retaining the same format, often completely retypeset, and all that is now available is the Slovenian Basketweaver’s Edition with hessian cover for the horny-handed sons of toil, available in canary yellow or puce. The disappointment is crushing. One begins to search for some local bookbinder with the requisite skills to get another few years out of your increasingly haggard copy of God’s word.

All facetiousness aside, this is why I would counsel any young man setting out into the ministry, if he is able, to consider investing in one of the Bibles of superior craftsmanship that are currently available. In the same way as an old soldier might become so familiar with his weapon that it pretty much fits in his hand and can be stripped down and built up in his sleep, so a particular copy of the Bible might become almost a part of you, immediately familiar and readily wielded even under the most inauspicious circumstances. The same applies to the reader of the Scriptures: habits of time and place aid retention. Furthermore, familiarity not just with the text in itself but with a particular copy of the text can be a real help in knowing and using our Bibles as individuals, in families, and among friends. For those with a particular kind of memory, looking for something “about there on the page” is an easy way of working.

To be sure, there are times when, like Brownie, one must simply take up whatever lies at hand and go forth to conquer. But it may be that you can invest in a Derek Jeter special that will, because of its superior design and manufacture and catering to your specific capacities, augment your natural abilities and become a lifelong companion and perhaps even a bequest. That may be where a high-end Bible like the Schuyler Quentel NKJV comes into play.

I confess that I am not really an expert when it comes to these things. For years I used the same copy of the Scriptures, a nice but not overly-impressive leather-bound NKJV, purchased for me by my parents for some auspicious birthday. I did indeed have it resewn once, and the brother who did it did what he could with what he had in hand, leaving me with a serviceable but fairly tight volume that lay reasonably flat but pulled at the seams a bit when under strain. It travelled long distances and did sterling service. After a while, it simply began to pull apart once more. It was at this point that I began the search for a serviceable replacement. In addition, as I preached in other places, I found many that had lower pulpits and poorer lighting than I enjoy in my home church building. Readability became more of an issue. Many readers of a review like this might immediately point me toward the excellent work of R. L. Allan (whose efforts are also available through EvangelicalBible.com). I found ‘my’ copy of the NKJV in a slightly larger font but the same layout (the Broadman & Holman Ultrathin Large Print Reference Edition) and have used it now for a year or two. It does the job, but it’s a little larger to carry and the paper is sufficiently thin that – even with use – it is still not too easy to manipulate quickly in the pulpit, though it is familiar and functional. I therefore had my eye open for an alternative, and was pleased to be given the opportunity to review the Schuyler Quentel Edition of the New King James Version.

The technical stuff

IMG_1212This is a beautiful Bible. Mine is the dark green, black letter edition. A red letter edition is available, and the ability to differentiate between the two is an immediate bonus for those who – for reasons of principle or aesthetics or something else – prefer not to have the garish splatter of red across the pages of the New Testament or who like or wish to be, or are simply accustomed to being, able immediately to pick up the physical speech of the incarnate Christ. In the black letter edition, red is reserved for the chapter numbering and the footnote numbering, giving a helpful touch of distinctness and emphasis without overdoing things.

But let us begin on the outside and work in. The binding is beautifully done. I don’t need much persuading of the beauty of green, but it’s far more than this – or any other colour – that commends the Quentel. What hits home is the quality of the work.

IMG_1211The yapp is not particularly broad, as it is in some of the Allan Bibles. I guess that’s a matter of taste. It’s not something that fusses me too much. The Allan Bibles have a certain loucheness about them, while these Schuylers feel a little more rugged. The edge lining and stitching are all neat and precise, while the pages themselves enjoy red-under-gold art-gilt edging. There are raised spine bands that feel quite substantial but not aggressive, and the same could be said for the gilt lettering on the spine and the stamped cross on the front cover. Different customers might push for less (would many push for more?) but this is not over the top.

Everything is as tight and trim and clean as one would hope for the price and the promises. Three ribbons, a rather fetching combination of copper-gold-bronze colours (I am reasonably persuaded that mine are three different colours, but cannot say why) with the dark green cover, are really as much as most of us would need, while providing plenty of scope (though why they couldn’t be green as well, I don’t know!).

IMG_1210The binders have put in very dark brown endpapers – good in quality if not particularly striking. Again, one asks if a very dark green might have completed the look, though the brown does offset the green nicely – ask almost any tree. The hinges are reasonably stiff, but this is one of the places at which books – especially Bibles opened repeatedly and read regularly – start to suffer. I know that for some the sine qua non of a good binding is that the thing lies open, flat, as supple as an old rag, the first time it is opened – that Allan limpness comes to mind. I imagine that these will work in with use, especially given then overall weight of the book. That initial ‘pull’ does give some assurance that the main block will not break away from the spine if slightly manhandled or dropped. In fairness, this one drops open without too much lift, but – again – that physical robustness is properly tangible. The spine is Smyth sewn, as it should be, but beyond knowing that it’s there, it something you will only realise when it doesn’t start dropping apart within a few years.

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Schuyler on left, Broadman & Holman Ultrathin Large Print right

Inside, the text is a punchy 11 points (the font is Milo for those who like to know such things) and seems larger on account of the crispness of the print. In practice, that means that it is a very good size, almost to the degree of reading somewhere between large and giant print. For the sake of comparison, side by side with an Allan edition of the Ultrathin Large Print Reference Edition you simply cannot argue with its readability.

The paper is a creamy 36gsm with an opacity rating of 83%. “Hooray!” I hear almost no one bellow. “Who knew?” cry the few. “Who cares?” cry the many. So what does that even mean in practice? Well, the initial fear is that black on cream will lack the potentially helpful contrast of the whiter page, but – once more – such is the quality of the print itself that the contrast is not an issue. In fact, the creamier paper is quite easy on the eye, even over time, neither demanding excessive strain to see the text nor offering any of the glare that might result from brighter lighting. The fair weight of the PrimaBible paper does help prevent ghosting – the tendency of the text on the back of the page to be visible from the side you are reading. What helps to reduce the impact further is the effective line-matching i.e. the fact that the lines on both side of the page match each other and don’t overlap and produce shadows on the other side. All in all, that combination produces a distinctly readable page with few obvious frustrations or distractions.

IMG_1214Bear in mind too that the volume contains a concordance and maps. That adds to the bulk a little, but is of value to those who still use such things in concrete rather than electronic form – I must confess I don’t mind having them to hand. The maps are beautifully done, it must be said, though the one of Paul’s journeys suffers a little with being stretched over two pages – great for scope, tricky to follow the detail in the centre. With all this, I knew that it would be a good size, but I was still slightly surprised by its heft. Of course, this is partly a consequence of the weight of the paper, which brings its own benefits. It feels like it will last. It may be a little heavy for some to tote around, while others accustomed to hauling around a study bible or its equivalent might feel this a frisky little number by comparison.

The practical considerations

For the reader, this is a delightful experience.

I actually love reading a paragraph Bible, especially with big blocks of text set out in single columns. For personal devotions and more intense reading sessions, there is not much to beat a single column Bible. The Schuyler reading experience is sufficiently pleasant that I had no real complaints. For those accustomed to such reading, the Schuyler will be a joy. If I were being snarky, I would ask why we need to have the text broken up with headings rather than paragraphed, but it does have the virtue of opening out the page, despite my personal distaste for it.

IMG_1156For the preacher, there is so much to commend. I have only used the Bible for preaching and teaching a couple of times, and was concerned that my lack of familiarity with the layout might become an issue. In particular, paragraph Bibles do not always work well for the preacher, especially if he is working very specifically. Finding individual verses in the text block can become extremely difficult, especially when working at speed. The Quentel largely overcomes that by simple virtue of its excellence of design and production. The font is sufficiently large to make it easy to follow, the verse numbers are picked out in bold, giving them that extra visibility, and the print clarity of the whole means that the eye very easily begins to work with and around the text, even in larger blocks, allowing one to zero in on a particular verse or verses.

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Spine bends out, good flexibility on the cover but DO NOT make a habit of doing this to your Bible – demonstration purposes only!

Perhaps the downside for the preacher, especially one who travels more often and might need to travel light, is the size and weight of the Quentel. It is simply quite bulky: you cannot have what it offers without that bulk, but the bulk itself might make it slightly awkward as a travelling companion. On the other side, if someone were looking for a pulpit Bible, and did not want to go for one of the weighty tomes that often fall into that category, the Quentel’s readability means that you do not need to go large in order to benefit.

In short, if you are looking for that one Bible which will be with your in your home and home church, and not many other places, and are content to carry something quite massy around with you, you will hardly be able to go wrong with the Schuyler Quentel. For all-purpose reading and use in private, family and public settings, it might be hard to beat. It is, in terms of its reading ease, outstanding; in terms of its physical construction, magnificent. It is the kind of Bible that, God willing, you might hand on after your pilgrimage is done to others who will be able to go on using it in the same manner. On one level, you could argue that it is somewhat overbuilt. On another, it’s just going to keep going. Of course, I cannot guarantee what state it will be in in twenty years, should the Lord tarry, but – well cared for and gently handled – I cannot see it being in anything other than better shape as it gets worn in.

There may be times when you need simply to pick up whatever copy of the Word of God is to hand and go in swinging. However, in summary, if you have the luxury of and the capacity for selecting a more expensive Bible edition (all $222) that will be suited to your particular needs, the Schuyler Quentel begs your consideration.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Monday 23 May 2016 at 08:25

Logos 5

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Logos(Note: while there is an almost endless variety of material available from Logos Bible Software, this compound review is based around Logos Bible Software 5, the Bronze base package, and the Gold Reformed package. A very similar version of this material first appeared in stages at Reformation21.)

What is Logos, is it any use, and should you be interested? The temptation in considering this product is simply to reel off a list of the material that is available, but that is a little like displaying the menu without showing you round the kitchen and introducing you to the chef. I would like to give you something of a tour.

I will divide my review into three elements, considering the underlying platform, a typical standard base package, and then a typical specialist base package. I hope, in this way, to provide a reasonable overview of the product. In writing this review, I should make clear that my reading instinct is to have an open book in one hand and a pencil in the other. I like to engage with my books, and to read them face to face, as it were. So, I come to a platform like Logos with a measure of caution, though not really suspicion, more of an old-school inclination when it comes to the reading experience. At the same time, I am not going to dwell overmuch on the pros and cons of hard and soft copies of books more generally.

First, the underlying platform is Logos Bible Software 5. The basic application is free and can be downloaded to just about any mainstream device or operating system, including PCs and all the iStuff, Android and Kindle. In other words, most users will be catered for.

The application itself opens on a desktop or laptop looking something like a busy webpage or blog. It can be fairly thoroughly customised and personalised, stripping out the extraneous stuff and advertising and giving you potentially useful streams of information, but you may still end up with flows of material you are unlikely to use. That said, that is just the splash page, and a couple of clicks takes you straight into the meat. The layout itself is fairly intuitive, and will be rapidly familiar to anyone with a modicum of computer sense. Playing with the various icons and buttons gives a rapid and developing sense of how things fit together and flip around. In similar fashion, apps opening on phones and tablets are well-designed, and have a familiar and straightforward feel about them, especially as you begin to get used to the tools available.

Of no small moment is the fact that even the standard fonts and settings are easy on the eye, with clean and bright design setting off clear and crisp texts. For those for whom reading off a screen is not natural or particularly pleasant, this is at the better end of the experience, with further options to customise as you wish. Tied in with that are the excellent utilities for highlighting and annotation. Again, for someone who likes to interact with a book, if I am going to be reading this material online, being able to mark it up like this is a genuine boon. I still have no instinct for it, but the scope is there. There is a broad variety of appearance in the highlighting, and a good and clear system for notes, allowing them to be well-organised and easily tracked.

The basic app itself gives you a lot of functionality. Even with a single Bible version, you can create your own reading schemes and memorisation programmes, start picking up the regularly-offered free resources, and being piecing together some low-level capacity. For those finding their way more slowly, and perhaps stumbling a little, my limited experience with the helpdesk is that it is staffed by proper humans who are intelligent, skilled and helpful, demonstrating the kind of persistently polite friendliness that makes Brits wonder if they are secretly being made fun of.

The available training is good – short and clear (if sometimes a little cheesy) videos, helpful tips and tricks – but you will need it to maximise your investment. For example, simply watching through a playlist will very quickly overwhelm you. Little and often will be the way forward. With so many options and countless tools, you will need the training both to work out what you can do, and then you must decide whether or not you want to do it, and then how to do it best. Like many such platforms, there is utility here that many will simply never need, no matter how much they might tell themselves they want it. Of course, for ‘power users’ (great phrase!) many of these tools will be meat and drink. As so often, you do not want to over-buy and end up paying for resources and tools you will never use.

The search tools are fantastic, even if they can take a little time to do all the processing with such a massive database to cover. A great deal of human endeavour (as opposed to mere mechanical data-crunching and algorithmic wizardry) has gone into connecting references, so that searching for an individual’s name, for example, will throw up instances in which that individual is referred to without being named. This gives the student a far more sure grasp on the available material. Of course, the downside of so much material is that you can be overwhelmed even by the more simple searches, leaving you needing to use the search limiting functions wisely and well. A similar issue arises as you begin to learn to use the various windows and tools available. Before long, you might be thinking, “We’re gonna need a bigger screen.” Bear in mind, too, that there are hypertext links all over the place: potentially distracting, yes, but often these various tags and links offer rapid and brief insights and demonstrate valid connections without taking you away from the main thread. The main questions will be: do you need and can you handle the deluge of data?

Then come the base packages. These come at a range of levels, the most popular likely to be Gold, Silver or Bronze. There’s also a Starter pack with some of the very basic materials, and then the system runs up through materials more suited to an academic environment (Platinum and Diamond) until you get to the all-singing and all-dancing Portfolio package, the everything-you-could-ever-want-with-cheap-deals-forever option.

Materials on the base packages are organised under various headings: data sets (basically, bundles of organised information); ancient texts and morphologies; ancient texts in translation; apologetics; Bible commentaries; Bible history and culture; Bible introductions and surveys; Bible reference; biblical studies; church history; counselling; devotionals and spiritual formation; English Bibles; exegesis and interpretation; interlinear Bibles; lectionaries; maps, photo and media; ministry resources; original language grammars and tools; original language lexicons and word studies; parallel passages and harmonies; preaching and teaching resources; and, theology resources. There really is a bewilderingly rich array of resources, and – again – it will do the buyer well to make a careful and full comparison of what is available and to select what he really needs or can use, rather than to get mindlessly greedy. Even the lower level packages contain material enough for the average lifetime and then some.

It is worth pointing out, too, that the proof-reading and editing on all this material is high-grade. It is a sweet relief to read electronic text that has been either scanned or typed and then carefully assessed and corrected (with the added bonus of a quick link for any time you might spot a typo). For those who blood pressure has risen as they have wrestled with some mangled screed, trying to w0rk ont vvhat Is gcing 0n, this is a real plus. Work has gone into making these reader’s documents. Hurrah and huzzah! Among other things, this quality – together with helpful gizmos like the pasting tool with automatic footnotes – makes this an ideal tool for writers, scholars and pastors who write out their notes in full. No excuses for plagiarism here!

At the same time, some of this is beyond helpful. For example, the sermon starter is a bit of a non-starter for me. Yes, if I search the passage I have in mind, it immediately offers a wealth of technical and explanatory material. But it is also very quick to let me choose a topic, and then offer me texts to preach it from, which makes me slightly uneasy: it is too much of a gift to the user looking for a means to vault into the saddle of his favourite hobby horse. While it is great to have all the passages of all your available commentaries available at the click of the button, Logos users will still need deliberately and actively to work at this. As it is, it seems or too easily becomes mechanical, even artificial. To be sure, the material is put on a plate, but – for all the investment of real people behind the glowing screen – it cannot prepare a sermon for my congregation, it cannot meditate on the text for me. You cannot put the Holy Spirit in a box. At best, a tool like this serves you food (sometimes too much) that you need to digest. Such an offering, generous as it is, too easily imposes itself upon the preacher, and potentially clogs up his thought processes and forces him down channels that may not be particularly profitable to him in his particular circumstances. It could make a man inclined to carelessness or laziness that bit more careless and lazy. I can imagine addresses that, because this tool has been abused, are reasonably well-themed collections of what is actually gobbets of disjointed material. That is not the same as a sermon. And just because you have a wonderful tool in your box doesn’t mean that you should be always using it for everything.

Finally, there are the specialist packages and bundles. Here, my example is the Gold Reformed package. That’s important, because Logos is a company that caters to a lot of tastes, and the undiscerning palate could end up with poison as well as tonic. Fortunately, this package is a tonic indeed! Linguists will salivate over the lexicons, grammars, interlinear Bibles and a few of the ancient texts. Historians will indulge in the oldest works and their translations, as well as enjoying a splendid collection of church histories and historical theologies, not to mention a great bundle of the church fathers. Confessional and creedal believers will find a wide range of material at their very fingertips. Preachers will enjoy the range of genuinely classic commentaries and the preaching and teaching resources. People like me will also luxuriate in the magnificent selection of theology, including some Puritan classics (such as Owen, Sibbes, Bunyan) and other gems (Witsius, Edwards, Shedd and Warfield, to mention but a few). And then there is a range of other helps and tools for Bible studies, including various reference works, maps, Scripture harmonies, data sets and the like. All of this, evidently, has been chosen to cater to the appetites of those who are more or less Reformed in their inclinations or convictions, and all the usual suspects are more or less in this bundle. Again, the great issue here is, “How will I use this?” Care will be needed to ensure that enthusiasm does not trample over wisdom, and eagerness swamp utility.

That said, if you do not have this material sitting on a shelf, and don’t have the space on the shelf for it, and you could with legitimacy make this kind of financial investment and then make it a true spiritual investment, who would begrudge you the blessing of plunging into such an ocean of delights?

And then, as if that were not all enough, there are other bundles of themed material catering to your theological or denominational convictions, your scholarly predilections, your favourite publisher, or just about any other various you choose to mention. Some of the bigger bundles might strain older hard drives, so be aware of that.

Finally, on top of all that, there is a wealth of further material, authors Christian (from just about every tradition and of every stripe, from the über-orthodox to the horribly heterodox) and secular (from modern classics to ancient scholarship), allowing the reader with time, appetite and available funds to build a massive library, which – if well chosen – would prove a blessing to anyone. Really, to some of us, wandering through these pages risks turning us less into the kid in the candy store: “Ooh, I like that! Wow, I like those!” and more into Homer on the sugar pile: “Mmm, sugar!” There is a real danger, especially on the better deals, of simply buying all the books you intend to read, rather than the ones you need to read or actually will read. This is a temptation with the physical library as well, but electronic purchasing is often just that little bit easier, and the fact that the book does not lurk before your eye reminding you of your investment can too easily soothe the pang of conscience.

However, at this point, it is probably worth mentioning pre-publication special prices, community pricing on new material, and the generous pricing structures and helpful payment plans allowing the full cost of the more expensive products to be spread over a number of months. If you already have a product and it is part of a new bundle, Logos will usually pick that up and adjust prices accordingly. If there is a new product in the pipeline, early interest usually secures a significantly lower price, but you do have to be in it to win it. Because of the significant price for some of these products, it is worth keeping an eye on these.

And, to be honest, the greatest barrier will probably be the price. Look at the savings, and you are likely to go mad with glee. Consider the cost, and you will be rapidly sobered. This is not a cheap tool – those payment plans will be, for many, both a blessing and a necessity! Again, the judicious, prayerful selection of what will be of genuine use and profit is demanded in the light of so much (and so much that is good) on offer.

So, should you consider Logos, and – if so – for whom? I think that the answer is, essentially, thoughtful and careful yes. There will always be lazy and shallow readers for whom a product like Logos becomes a route to the veneer of understanding, a sort of expensive rent-a-quote or short cut to Twitter profundity. For example, it is all very well to inform others that the venerable Sibbes suggests that “if the Scriptures be compared to a body, the Psalms may well be the heart, they are so full of sweet affections and passions.” But why did he say that, and where, and to what end? Sure, it’s a great quote about the Psalms, but ripped from its context it shines well while it warms little. (I did still put it on Twitter – sorry!) However, such abuses are not the fault of the software, but of the user. Caveat emptor!

So, who might use this well?

It may be that some earnest pastor or eager reader has limited physical space. In such an instance, Logos would provide a wealth of material without further preventing the rapid oscillation of deceased felines. Similarly, for those who feel the need to downsize and are willing to trade in the material for the insubstantial, selling off the paper library might provide for it to be more or less replaced in the cloud. There might these days be men who would simply rather have their books in a black (or silver, or whatever) box rather than on a shelf. For the modern digital reader who has eschewed the bound volume (a tragic case, but still a mad possibility) then something like Logos is simply one of the best ways forward, if not the best way. Of course, by making such significant investments, you are essentially relying on Logos to be there for you, at least for the balance of your lifetime.

Another obvious possibility would be someone entering or graduating from seminary or Bible college. To be honest, I would still buy such a fellow a well-bound set of some spiritual father of proven worth, and bid him take up and read. But I would not be averse to giving him what I hope would be a pretty permanent head start on his library by a wise investment in a Logos package. Of course, you are looking for such a man to develop the capacity – both of attitude and ability – to use the gift so given. Nevertheless, a sponsoring church or a generous individual could very readily give this as a toolbox on entry or a gift on graduation.

What about that brother who is heading into some distant or difficult place to preach the Word of God? Missionaries needing to travel lightly or discreetly might find these resources a wonderful boon, enabling them to take with them in fairly readily accessible form (presuming such things as a reasonable supply of electricity) the sort of library that in days past was the sole preserve of a fairly well-endowed theological college.

Then, again, what of the pastor who – in addition to his labours in his home church – has the opportunity to preach and teach as he travels? I do a scrap of this from time to time, and there have been occasions when either I have needed or just wished for access to my library while on the road. Perhaps there has been a need to produce something new or develop something old at the drop of a slow-falling hat. Or, some question or issue has arisen and – in addition to the tools immediately to hand and the functions of the memory, all with the help of the Holy Spirit – I have wished that I could just flip open a certain volume to refresh my memory as to what some giant of the past had to say on the subject. With a healthy bundle of Logos resources on laptop, tablet or phone, a good number of those resources are a good deal closer than they used to be. In addition to that, I can search those resources more readily and effectively than before. And yes, I could easily turn this into a jeremiad for an age in which we do not train the memory adequately, but the fact is that we do not, and here is one means to make up something of the deficit.

So, will I be throwing away my library? Of course not! As I explain to my wife whenever the need arises, books are instruction, decoration and insulation all in one, the perfect way to adorn a wall. Indeed, it is fascinating that even the advertising videos often show people hunched over their computers . . . while sitting in libraries or studies surrounded by ‘proper’ books. To be honest, that is my ideal. There is never a substitute for knowing your Bible, and then knowing your own books. Where Logos is an aid to that, it is a wonderful aid. But the excellence of the tools can never be an excuse for poor preparation and endeavour on the part of the workman.

So, that is why Logos gets good press. It is an outstanding resource, or compendium of resources, intelligently and intuitively put together, offering the relatively well-heeled or wise investor a great wealth of material from which to select. Indeed, judicious selection and diligent employment are essential for healthy and fruitful output. If genius is indeed one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration, then Logos will provide a shortcut to no-one. What it will do is to give matter to perspire over, but arranged, ordered and offered up in such a way as to maximise your perspiration. For that, I warmly commend it.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Wednesday 16 July 2014 at 13:20

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Review: “Finding Faithful Elders and Deacons”

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Finding Faithful Elders and Deacons

Thabiti M. Anyabwile

Crossway (IX Marks), 2012, 176pp., paperback, $10.99

ISBN 978-1-4335-2992-4

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.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Wednesday 5 March 2014 at 15:55

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Review: “What is the Mission of the Church?”

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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

ISBN 978-1-4335-2690-9

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.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Monday 3 March 2014 at 15:52

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Review: “Practicing Affirmation”

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Practicing Affirmation: God-Centered Praise of Those Who Are Not God

Sam Crabtree

Crossway, 2011, 176pp., paperback, $14.99

ISBN 978-1-4335-2243-7

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.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Monday 3 March 2014 at 15:00

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Review: “Matthew Henry”

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Matthew Henry (Bitesize Biographies)

Philip H. Eveson

Evangelical Press, 2012, 124pp., paperback, £5.99

ISBN 9780852347997

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.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Saturday 1 March 2014 at 15:52

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Review: “What Does God Want of Us Anyway?”

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What Does God Want of Us Anyway? A Quick Overview of the Whole Bible

Mark Dever

Crossway (IX Marks), 2010, 128pp., small case, $12.99 / £8.99

ISBN 978-1-4335-1415-9

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.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 27 February 2014 at 15:40

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Review: “A Long Line of Godly Men (Volume 2, AD100 – 1564): Pillars of Grace”

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A Long Line of Godly Men (Volume 2, AD100 – 1564): Pillars of Grace

Steven J. Lawson

Reformation Trust, 2011, 543pp., hardback, $28.00

ISBN 978-1-56769-211-2

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.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Wednesday 26 February 2014 at 15:40

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Review: “Matthew Henry: His Life and Influence”

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Matthew Henry: His Life and Influence

Allan Harman

Christian Focus, 2012, 208pp., paperback, £8.99

ISBN 9781845507831

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.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Tuesday 25 February 2014 at 15:40

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Review: “Pastors in the Classics”

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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

ISBN 978-0-8010-7197-3

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.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Monday 24 February 2014 at 15:25

Review: “The Intolerance of Tolerance”

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The Intolerance of Tolerance

D. A. Carson

IVP, 2012, 200pp., paperback, £12.99

ISBN 978-1-84474-405-3

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.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 21 February 2014 at 15:25

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Review: “Am I Really A Christian?”

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Am I Really A Christian?

Mike McKinley

Crossway, 2011, 160pp., paperback, $12.99 / £8.99

ISBN 978-1-4335-2576-6

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.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 20 February 2014 at 15:17

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Review: “The Fruit of the Spirit is . . .”

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The Fruit of the Spirit is . . .

J. V. Fesko

Evangelical Press, 2011, 80pp., paperback, £4.50

ISBN 9780852347362

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.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Wednesday 19 February 2014 at 15:17

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Review: “God’s Names”

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God’s Names

Sally Michael

Presbyterian & Reformed, 2011, 120pp., paperback, $16.99

ISBN 9781596382190

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.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Tuesday 18 February 2014 at 15:21

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Review: “Looking Unto Jesus”

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Looking Unto Jesus: The Christ-Centered Piety of Seventeenth-Century Baptists

J. Stephen Yuille

Pickwick Publications, 2013, 120pp., paperback, $15/£10

ISBN 978-1-62032-177-5

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!

Written by Jeremy Walker

Tuesday 26 November 2013 at 19:42

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Review: “Sex & Money”

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Sex & Money: Pleasures That Leave You Empty and Grace That Satisfies

Paul David Tripp

Crossway, 2013, 224pp., cloth, $22.99

ISBN 978-1-4335-3649-6

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.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 4 October 2013 at 17:02

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Review: “Crazy Busy”

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Crazy Busy: A (Mercifully) Short Book about a (Really) Big Problem

Kevin DeYoung

Crossway, 2013, 128 pp., cloth, $11.99

ISBN 978-1-4335-3338-9

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.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 4 October 2013 at 16:49

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Review: “Anne Steele and Her Spiritual Vision”

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Anne Steele and Her Spiritual Vision: Seeing God in the Peaks, Valleys and Plateaus of Life

Priscilla Wong

Reformation Heritage Books, 2012, 144pp., paperback, $18

ISBN 9781601781857

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.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 19 September 2013 at 08:51

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Review: “Communion with Christ and His People: The Spirituality of C.H. Spurgeon”

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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.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 16 May 2013 at 15:50

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Review: “Setting Our Affections Upon Glory”

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Setting Our Affections Upon Glory: Nine Sermons on the Gospel and the Church

Martyn Lloyd-Jones

Crossway, 2013, 176 pp., paperback and ebook, $15.99

ISBN 978-1-4335-3265-8

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.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 11 April 2013 at 16:53

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Review: “Charles Simeon: An Ordinary Pastor of Extraordinary Influence”

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Charles Simeon: An Ordinary Pastor of Extraordinary Influence

Derek Prime

DayOne, 2011, 272pp., paperback, £10

ISBN 978-1-84625-313-3

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.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Wednesday 10 April 2013 at 11:16

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Review: “Anne Bradstreet: Pilgrim and Poet”

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Anne Bradstreet: Pilgrim and Poet

Faith Cook

Evangelical Press, 2010, 176pp., paperback, £7.99

ISBN 9780852347140

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.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Tuesday 9 April 2013 at 16:35

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Review: “The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert”

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The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert: An English Professor’s Journey into Christian Faith

Rosaria Champagne Butterfield

Crown & Covenant, 2012, 154pp., paperback (also Kindle and ebook), $12 ($8.50)

ISBN 978-1-884527-38-8

“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.)

You can listen to an interview with Rosaria Butterfield with David Murray and Tim Challies (either link takes you there).

Carl Trueman’s longer review is here.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 2 November 2012 at 12:39

“The Hunger Games” – an extended review

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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.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Tuesday 12 June 2012 at 23:14

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