Preaching and Preachers, Part 2

Lloyd-Jones, D. Martyn. Preaching & Preachers. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011. 346 pp. $22.99

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This is the second part of a two part review. I split up the reviews because the nature of the new release by Zondervan. It is the 40th Anniversary Edition of D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones classic Preaching & Preachers. If you are unfamiliar with the book, it began as a series of lectures that Lloyd-Jones delivered to the students of Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia. These lectures were held during the spring of 1969, over the course of six weeks. They were published two years later into a single volume which has, since that time, become a classic text on preaching. I will attempt to discover why it became so popular.

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In Part 1 of the review I sought to focus solely on the additions to the 40th Anniversary release. So, part 2 is simply a review of Lloyd-Jones’ book.

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Part 2

If Lloyd-Jones was fearful of the decline in preaching during his day, how much more should we be over 50 years later? Preaching is a calling that is gaining more and more ire from the general public, and is even being pushed to the periphery in our churches–as it was in Lloyd-Jones’ day. So what does this book about preaching have to say to modern preachers and to the act of preaching itself?

Lloyd-Jones begins his series of lectures by stating that preaching is the primary task of the church. And it’s for that reason that he says after many years in the role he is prepared to lecture on this topic because as he says, “to me the work of preaching is the highest and the greatest and the most glorious calling to which anyone can every be called” (17). He argues for the primacy of preaching because it has fallen out of importance in many of our churches. He spends several pages discussing issues that have contributed to this before defending his view. He executes this defense by walking us through the appropriate Scripture references that testify to the primacy of preaching in the life of Jesus and the early church. Lloyd-Jones then reinforces his argument by calling on Church history.

“Is it not clear… that the decadent periods and eras in the history of the Church have always been those periods when preaching had decline?” So, “what is it that always heralds the dawn of a Reformation or of a Revival?” It is renewed preaching. A revival of true preaching has always heralded these great movements in the history of the Church (31).

Throughout the book, Lloyd-Jones often employs “personal reminiscence” to illustrate examples of the points he is trying to prove. He begins his defense of the sermon this way, by reminiscing, and then sets about to prove wrong “modern” thoughts and assertions that there are better ways of communicating than that of a sermon. Lloyd-Jones felt strongly the preacher was to do something. He wasn’t merely to make a speech. It was more than that, it was interacting with the people. They must go away effected if true preaching had taken place.

As I read through the book it became evident to me why this book has remained a preachers classic. I believe it’s because the book has an element of timelessness to it, as Scriptural arguments should. Though there are topics that Lloyd-Jones addresses that were definitely products of his time, yet he also addresses those topics in a way that seems as though he is speaking directly to us in our day. This is the sense in which this book continues to have a following.

I also became much more aware of why Dever says that he never fails to mention this book “as being the most fun to read” (255). It’s a fun read because the Dr. has many, many stories that he employs to illustrate the points he is making. I have no doubt these stories were much more colorful as the Welshman retold them in his lectures than they are in the book. While entertaining, the frequency of them became somewhat tedious as I worked through the chapters.

Much of what you hear about this book is that it is definitely a book on preaching that should be read. You’re not going to agree with everything, but as previously mentioned this may have a lot to do with when the book was written, Lloyd-Jones, in the informal lecture setting at WTS, was reacting against much that was happening to preaching during his day.

Lloyd-Jones knew what it was to be a preacher. Maybe that’s why this book is important to read. He exemplified the preacher. Staying in one congregation for over 30 years, is a feat very uncommon in our day.

He had much wisdom in those years of experience to glean. Listen and learn.

 

 

Book Review: Contend

What is it to contend for something? It’s almost outdated language for us. We don’t often hear the word “contend” anymore. I was curious, so I did a Google search of the term. Surprisingly there aren’t many results. Roughly the first ten search entries were dictionary and thesaurus definitions. I quickly clicked over to the images page and found a little more of what I expected, sports images: boxing, football. These associations we understand a little more clearly. Contending for a title.

But what does it mean to contend as Christians? Armstrong offers this definition in his latest book:

“Contending must be understood and exercised as an act of mercy toward those who doubt and those who have been deceived, regardless of whether they claim faith in Christ.”

Contend: Defending the Faith in a Fallen World by Aaron Armstrong

Armstrong picks up Jude’s theme of contending from the following verses and uses it as the main thesis for his book. “Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3).

The beginning of the book paints a picture for us of how the church got where it is today. This book is definitely written to a contemporary audience, so Armstrong doesn’t go too far into the past. He addresses a few of the most recent movements and the reactions to those movements–movements of their own–to help us understand where we find ourselves, the primarily evangelical West.

Armstrong’s primary audience is the church. Just as Jude encouraged the Christians in his day, those who have a “common salvation,” so Armstrong attempts to encourage the church our day to contend.

Evidently we are to contend as Christians, but what is it we contending for? This question Armstrong addresses in the following chapter. He lays out broadly and then more specifically what we are to contend for. Nest he tells suggests exactly “how” we are supposed to contend as Christians. Mainly referring to the attitude with which we contend, because as contending deals with relationships, it can get uncomfortable and messy. Armstrong raises the issue of the Internet and how it can be and how it has been hotbed for heated debate in recent days. These references to modern struggles throughout the book, some very personal as Armstrong is not averse to naming specific names, are helpful.

The final few chapters are about the realm in which we contend. Armstrong first talks about church leaders and their role in contending and then addresses the congregation’s role. We are to function in the body so as to encourage and spur one another on to contend. He concludes with a summarizing and final challenge for us to contend as Christians.

Aaron Armstrong has written a helpful modern manifesto on contending for the gospel, and Cruciform Press with this volume yet again continues to publish tracts for our times.

I would recommend this book for those who are struggling with living the Christian life in these last days. Often it’s difficult to understand how our faith integrates into the world around us. Armstrong really helps to answer these questions and gives a context where it occurs.

This would be a great book for small group study. Not only to better understand what it means to contend, but also in order to hold each other accountable to this active task that we’ve been called to.

 

Contend: Defending the Faith in a Fallen World by Aaron Armstrong

*I received this book free from the publisher through the Cruciform Press blogger review program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.*

 

Book Review: The Life of God in the Soul of the Church

By Way of Introduction

There seems to be more than a little confusion in our day over the role of the church in the life of the Christian, and possibly even more confusion over the role of the Christian in the life of the church. What are we called to as Christians? Are we to simply show up as Hebrews 10:24-25 exhorts us?  Surely this is part of our responsibility as members of a congregation, “not neglecting to meet with one another;” though, of course, it can’t be reduced to this in light of many other New Testament passages. In fact, it can’t be reduced to any list. The commonly used, contemporary phrase, “doing life together” gets at the point a little better, and it certainly seems to imply more than attending the gatherings of the church–however important that may be. So, what more we are to do? If you have asked these questions and you, like our culture, are becoming more confused about the corresponding roles between the individual (the Christian) and the corporate body (the church) Thabiti Anyabwile’s newest book will be a wonderful guide for you to pick up.

The Life of God in the Soul of the Church: The Root and Fruit of Spiritual Fellowship

It should come as no surprise that this book bears the 9Marks imprint. It is a book written by a pastor for the church out of a concern for healthy churches. Though, it is also more than that. I learned just how much more from the introduction.

This book is a follow–up, a companion of sorts, to Henry Scougal’s The Life of God in the Soul of Man which was originally written in 1868. This present volume takes up Scougal’s premise and applies it to the soul of the church. A worthy, but no small task.

Format 

It began as series of sermons Anyabwile preached to his congregation at First Baptist Grand Cayman in 2008. The impact of the sermons had a life of their own and positive response from them was such that Anyabwile was eventually encouraged to send them to print in the hopes the church would be edified through its content.

This format follows a long history of books that began as sermons (e.g. Calvin’s Ten Commandments, Lloyd-Jones’ Spiritual Depression and Ryle’s Holiness) for which I am grateful remain in print. Anyabwile continues this tradition in the most fitting way. Throughout the book he stays very close to his original sermon manuscripts. Reading the chapters (sermons) consecutively could possibly become repetitive as the same basic elements emerge from his sermons. However, on the contrary, I found this to be quite refreshing. For example, it’s not often you find a book that deliberately and lucidly explains the gospel in every chapter. This is but one aspect of Anaybwile’s preaching that is a real service the church as a reproducible model.

Generally each chapter begins with a passage of Scripture, followed by the exposition of that passage, and concludes with applications for the life of the church. It’s a wonderfully pastoral model that is very edifying, and is one that helps the reader connect the point of the passage to their modern day context. Anyabwile introduces many current events, illustrations, and metaphors along the way to further aid the reader in understanding how the foundations of spiritual fellowship are expressed in the life of the church.

Content

Here is how the book is organized:

Part I: Foundations: Union With Christ

Anyabwile’s opening chapter focuses on 1 John and concludes from this passage that true spiritual fellowship “is the life of God in the soul of man experienced personally by believing the truth and shared relationally in the church” (18).  He then proceeds to expound the Scripture passage to show how it speaks to our joy and holiness, and how each has a corporate aspect and responsibility.

In the second chapter Anyabwile continues laying the foundation with the corporate theme from 1 Corinthians 12 and really emphasizes the centrality of the church in God’s plans as the body of Christ.

Part II: Expressions: Applying Our Union

Part II of the book is the outworking of the life of God in the soul of the church. It’s the application of our union with Christ. Real life happens in the expressions of our fellowship with other believers. These are the real relationships in the church, and how they play out.

From this point on Anyabwile takes us on a systematic study of spiritual fellowship. He covers the following topics in chapters 3-12:

  • Love One Another
  • Fellowship and Spiritual Gifts
  • Partnership in the Gospel
  • Restoration and Encouragement
  • Suffering and Comfort
  • Forgive One Another
  • Sing to One Another
  • Fellowship of Giving
  • Accept One another
  • Again … Love One Another

This is one of the most Scripture driven books I’ve read in a while. It will be difficult to disagree with his conclusions to the passages he uses to define the different aspects of life in the community.

Conclusion

As mentioned earlier, this book is a wonderful example of how pastoral a book can be.  Anyabwile guides his flock with wisdom in the richness of the Word and simply allows Scripture to speak. I’m thankful for pastors like Thabiti Anyabwile who are careful thinkers about the life of the church, and who take serious their call to shepherd. This is a good example of what the Lord can do when Scripture is faithfully exposited.

Pastors, pick up this book to learn and to be driven to Scripture, and to see from his example how application is driven by the Scriptures.

This is also a must read for church members.  It will challenge them to evaluate their own soul within the church. It will enrich their understanding of the church, what their role is within the church, and just how they are called to live in relationship with other members.

Henry Scougal would be pleased and honored for this book to accompany and be a companion to his The Life of God in the Soul of Man.

 

Pick up your copy here:

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*This book was provided as a review copy by Christian Focus Publications. Find them on Twitter @Christian_Focus*

 

 

Preaching and Preachers, Part 1

Lloyd-Jones, D. Martyn. Preaching & Preachers. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011. 346 pp. $22.99

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This will be a two part review because the nature of this new release by Zondervan. It is the 40th Anniversary Edition of D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones classic Preaching & Preachers. If you are unfamiliar with the book, it began as a series of lectures that Lloyd-Jones delivered to the students of Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia. These lectures were held during the spring of 1969, over the course of six weeks. They were published two years later into a single volume which has, since that time, become a classic text on preaching. I will attempt to discover why it became so popular.

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Here’s what I would like to accomplish in Part 1 of this review. I want to focus solely on the additions to this new 40th Anniversary release. Most of the new elements are additions to the physicality of the book itself: the lay-out and reformatting. The other primary additions are textual:a new foreword and essays by modern preachers.

Upon first inspection, the new edition is a nice refresh. Several new elements compliment the original text and I think will be welcomed by the modern reader. Of first significance are essays by what we may characterize as modern-day Lloyd-Jones’. Pastors that have become known for their preaching. They don’t take up the subject of preaching in order to add to the conversation begun by Lloyd-Jones, rather their focus is to relate how Lloyd-Jones (and thus this book) shaped their understanding of preaching. While I wish each of the men contributing essays to this volume would write their own book on preaching, their essays are a nice addition and will have to suffice, for now. I appreciate the insight these men do provide.

Another new feature that general editor Kevin DeYoung points out in the foreword is that subheadings have been added to further aid the reader through the chapters. The next addition is a formatting change that I do not care for. The addition of “quote emphasis” boxes on the pages of text makes no sense to me. I really do not understand the purpose of these in a full-length book. It seems that all they do is distract from the flow of reading and take up space. It’s repetitive text, and is essentially a huge highlight that someone else chose for you. These may make sense in magazines or short publications, but I don’t understand the function of them in a book such as this. Finally, there is the addition of discussion questions at the end of the original chapters. This should help guide aspiring pastors or small groups through the book. Though, once again, I still question these types of additions.

So, that’s a little of what to expect when you pick up this new edition. Nothing too surprising if you’ve read a book in the past few years. It’s probably best summed up by simply saying, industry standards. As for the new edition, I would probably stick to the old copy if you’ve already got one. Definitely try to read the new essays at some point, but I’m not sure it’s worth buying a brand new copy.

 

*This book was provided by Zondervan as a free review copy. I am under no obligation to write a favorable review.*

Coming: Kingdom Through Covenant

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Due out in June by Crossway is what may prove to be a monumental work on the biblical covenants. PETER J. GENTRY (PhD, University of Toronto) and STEPHEN J. WELLUM (PhD, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) tackle an enormously complex issue in their upcoming work, a synthesis of the covenants. Here’s the book description from the product page:

Many theological discussions come to an impasse when parties align behind either covenant theology or dispensationalism. But Peter Gentry and Stephen Wellum now propose a significant biblical theology of the covenants that avoids the extremes of both classical systems and holds the potential to break the theological impasse. Kingdom through Covenant is not a system-driven work, but a careful exposition of the covenants as key to the narrative plot structure of the whole Bible.

Kingdom through Covenant emphasizes the importance of the covenant concept throughout Scripture, showing that crucial theological differences can be resolved by understanding how the biblical covenants unfold and relate to one another. Rather than looking at covenant as the center of biblical theology, the authors show how the covenants form the backbone of Scripture and the key to understanding its overarching story. They ultimately show that the covenant concept forms a solid platform for systematic theology.

By incorporating the latest available research from the ancient Near East and examining implications of their work for Christology, ecclesiology, eschatology, and hermeneutics—Gentry and Wellum present a thoughtful and viable alternative to both covenant theology and dispensationalism.

And the Table of Contents:

So, keep your eye out for this late June. I can’t wait to read it and the reviews that will come pouring in!

Pre-order it now: Kingdom through Covenant: A Biblical-Theological Understanding of the Covenants

My Top 10 of 2011

As the title suggests the books on this list were not all published during this past year. These are simply my favorite books that I read this year. They are in no particular order. Enjoy!

The Christ of the Prophets by O. Palmer Robertson

This was the best book I read this year. While I had to read it for class, I’m glad that it was on the reading list. It’s an amazing book. This book sparked and fueled the fire for my interest in the Old Testament, for which I am eternally thankful. Even though, it was confined to the prophets, it gave me a new understanding of the importance of our understanding the context of the OT. I’m convinced that we should know the OT as well as the writers of the NT knew it.

Bonhoeffer by Eric Metaxas

This is one of two biographies that made the list this year. I enjoy reading biographies because of the gritty reality of the stories they tell that awaken me to a world outside of my own context. They also encourage me in my walk and fuel my desire to grow deeper in my relationship with Christ as these heroes of the faith were so committed to doing. And this book does all of those things. Metaxas is a captivating writer,  it’s not difficult when you have Dietrich Bonhoeffer as you subject matter. He led a fascinating life amidst the uprising of Hitler and become a key proponent in plotting to overthrow the tyrant.

Reverberation by Jonathan Leeman

Another excellent publication by 9Marks. I enjoyed this book because of its practical application to church life. It’s a book that pastors, elders, leaders, and church members should get in their hands. Leeman’s focus is tracing the Word of God throughout the life of the church. As this is single most important aspect of the church, it’s a worthy and beneficial read.

John MacArthur by Ian Murray

Biography number two. I thoroughly enjoyed Murray’s writing. This is a brief, captivating look at the ministry of MacArthur. I appreciate the focus that has defined MacArthur’s ministry, dedication to preaching the Scripture. It’s really a good “real life” follow-up to Leeman’s book in some ways. There are definitely differences, but overall a good study and a good read.

On The Incarnation by Athanasius

This book was definitely not written this past year. As one of the early church fathers, Athanasius wrote profoundly on the God becoming man. This book is very doxological and worshipful. I enjoyed reading the ancient thoughts, and insights that emerged shortly after the life of Christ.

Holiness by J.C. Ryle

I understand now why this book is referenced so much and why lately it’s been mentioned as a topic about which there is much confusion over in the church, namely questions about sanctification. Ryle is an easily accessible author, and is very matter of fact in his writing. This is a challenging and convicting book but is one that we must confront. Not only once, but over and over again. Pick it up. You will be changed.

Lilith by George MacDonald

Oh, the beauty of masterful fiction writers. I had gone much of the year without a diet of fiction, and I was feeling starved. This book filled me. MacDonlad, I believe, is unmatched in his imagination and is simply a beautiful writer who can weave the most complex themes into the patchwork of a world in which you find yourself easily understanding. Like you’ve grown up there. Immerse yourself.

Rediscovering the Church Fathers by Michael Haykin

As Haykin states in his introduction, this book is needed for the modern church. To the church who think it started yesterday a rich history lesson is in store. A scholar, indeed, Haykin introduces us to a select few of the early church fathers. I listed this book because I think it’s one that we need to take note of. It’s a good read, and is somewhat biographical in nature, but it also relates the lives of these men to the formation of the thought of the early church, an interesting study for sure.

The Man Who Was Thursday by G.K. Chesterton

This book blew me away. Chesterton is a master. I was introduced to him through his series of “Father Brown” stories and wanted to read something else of his. This book did not disappoint. You will not want to put it down and Chesterton will have your mind on the edge of its seat straining to understand the world he’s pulled you into.

Don’t Call It a Comeback ed. by Kevin DeYoung

This one was a surprisingly good read. I’d started it early this year and just recently picked it back up to finish it. I’ve been loving it. The list of authors assembled for this book is very good. Many of whom you will not have read much by. The chapters are also short, but packed full. The conciseness with which the authors had to approach some very weighty issues made them say only what had to be said. Making for rich essays on evangelical identity. You’ll enjoy this read.

 

There are definitely a few more that I could’ve included but this was a good sampling. I’d love to hear some thoughts on books that made your list.

Until next year….

Rediscovering the Church Fathers

Haykin, Michael A. G. Rediscovering the Church Fathers. Wheaton: Crossway, 2010. 176 pp. $16.99

This new release by Michael A. G. Haykin is a relatively brief introduction to a subject of study, Patristics, that is anything but. This is evidenced in the over 400 footnotes that are included in the 150 page book. Haykin, along with his own wealth of knowledge, references many of the top patristic scholars to add to the study of each of the fathers that he guides us in “rediscovering.”

Haykin chooses the church fathers that he’s become familiar with over the years to examine. Here’s the list:

  • Ignatius of Antioch (fl. 80-107)
  • the author of the Letter to Diognetus 
  • Origen (ca 185-254)
  • Cyprian (ca. 200-258)
  • Ambrose (ca. 339-397)
  • Basil of Caesarea
  • Patrick (ca. 389-461)

In the opening chapter, Haykin states the present need for a book like this, and the need for an ongoing study of the fathers in the life of the church: “to aid in her liberation from the Zeitgeist of the twenty-first century; to provide a guide in her walk with Christ; to help her understand the basic witness to her faith, the New Testament; to refute bad histories of the ancient church; and to be a vehicle of spiritual nurture” (29).

Then Haykin begins his interaction with the thought of the early church fathers. He starts with Ignatius. I was surprised at the content and the focus of this chapter. It reads as a defense of Ignatius’s theology of martyrdom. Haykin uses 1 Cor. 13:1-3 as a claim that Paul clearly sees martyrdom as a gift of the Spirit. Haykin attempts to establish the relationship between Ignatius’s thought about martyrdom and the development of the early church, but I had a hard time following this development. Martyrdom was obviously a real issue facing the early church, so I think it’s right that it is addressed, but personally I would need to do a lot more study in this area to connect the dots. This introduction was too much new information for me to grasp.

Next he moves on the “Letter to Diognetus,” which is much easier to identify the thoughts and ideas in the letter, and how they were situated within the culture of that day. Haykin helps us understand the specific objections to Christianity the letter is responding to. And further,that in response to the objections, the author grounds their ideas in Scripture. It’s quite a fascinating look at the issues people faced during this day and time. What is even more fascinating, I think, is their developed view of Christology. For example, in this letter, the author contends that God is only known because He has revealed himself through the Son. Again, at the end of this chapter, Haykin returns to the effects that martyrdom had on the Early Church. It seems this was a vital, if not necessary, aspect of early church growth.

Origen is the next Church Father Haykin introduces. He gives a great overview of his life and times, and his exegetical influences. Also instrumental to Early Church thought is their understanding of the sacraments. Cyprian and Ambrose give us insight into the thought at this time. Haykin continues to give a good overview of each of these as he progresses from century to century.

I was somewhat surprised (though not after reading his conclusion) at the next father that Haykin chose to focus on: Patrick. It was a welcome addition to the few he chose for this book as it broadened my view of the Church Fathers by placing one of them outside the geographical bounds I had supposed the Church Fathers fell within. Further, not knowing much of the life of Patrick–an infamous “Saint” in our day–I was encouraged and excited to read of his desires to sacrifice much and live as a missionary, returning to those who had mistreated him to share the gospel with them.

The biggest criticism I have of this book is that it’s too short. Discussing each of the fathers requires no small amount of background work and context, which I do think Haykin handles well for the fathers he chose to focus on, and for the size of this book, but still makes it hard to really grasp an overall picture of the Early Church Fathers.

On one level I would recommend this book. On another level, though, I would say that if you are interested in the Church Fathers then go straight to the Church Fathers. Ad Fontes! To the sources! The advantage of this book, however, which is its strength, is that you’re getting the view of a seasoned church historian. Haykin introduces us not necessarily to the Fathers only, but also to the Early Church, and h they impacted one another. The in depth analysis provided by one who has spent many years studying the fathers may be the greatest strength of this book. Because of these years of “walking with the fathers” he’s able to pack much wisdom and insight into each chapter.

 

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*This book was provided by Crossway as a free review copy. I am under no obligation to write a favorable review.*

Life Together

This little book ranks among the classics written about Christians living in community. Bonhoeffer’s life was a testament to this book. He lived it, and very intentionally at times. As for example, when he began his underground seminary, teaching against the knowledge and will of the Nazi regime, where most of this was written.

Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. Life Together. New York: HarperOne, 1954. 122 pp.

Bonhoeffer provides us with great insight into the composition of Christian community. There are aspects that must be carried out alone that are then brought into the community, and there are aspects that must be carried out while we live in the presence of community.

This book that was at times convicting to read, yet it was also refreshing. It was convicting because there are so many areas in which I fail while trying to be in community with other believers. Even believers from my own congregation. And it was refreshing because Bonhoeffer paints a picture of community that is grounded in Scripture and is definitely attainable. It may seem too difficult and far off, but it is a possible.

Christian community, I fear, is suffering in today’s world. We no longer understand what it means to live together in community. We try to substitute as many things as we can think to make up for it, such as “doing life together,” but all these attempts fall short at achieving real, intimate community.

Bonhoeffer begins his exploration by defining the meaning of community among believers. He cites many examples from Scripture that allude to the gathering of the community (Ps. 133:1, Zec. 10, John 11). Then he says, “Christianity means community through Jesus Christ and in Jesus Christ. No Christian community is more or less than this” (21). This is where we find meaning in community as Christians.

A point that should be noted in this chapter, and one that needs to be heard in our times, is under the subheading Not an Ideal but a Divine Reality. This subheading alone should should makes us ponder the meaning in relation to the Christian community. How relevant this message throughout the ages! Here’s the quote that hits home,

“Only fellowship which faces such disillusionment, with all its unhappy and ugly aspects, begins to be what it should be in God’s sight, begins to grasp in faith the promise that is given to it.”

Are we failing to face the disillusionment that our culture has fed us about the meaining of “real” community? Once we accept it, we should all the more quickly return to the fact that God has already laid the foundation for the community in Christ, and in nothing else. We don’t need to pattern ourselves after the world or search for some new way of “doing community.” We find it in His Word.

Through the remainder of the book, Bonhoeffer explores the different aspects of community. Primarily, what we do when we meet together, what we do when we’re alone, and the different ministries that we are each called to because we are part of a community. This is the application section. It’s full of practical wisdom, answering the question: Now that we’ve established what the community is, how do live it out?

The final chapter is entitled Confession and Communion. As it’s examined, confession is the “break through” to true community. Confession allows us to be united in Christ in a way that is only possible because of the work of Christ. There is no other community, and has never been any other community, that is capable of this type of union. How sad we so often neglect and fail to practice and thus experience the joys of confession in community. Bonhoeffer believes this all culminates in the sacrament of communion. This is where Christian community reaches its “perfection.”

This book is a great read. It’s one that needs to be read very often, and should be studied in our small groups and in our churches. How I hope and pray that we will rediscover as a Church how to live in community with one another in a world that so desperately needs to see a work that is only possibly in and through Jesus Christ.

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Book Review: The Christ of the Prophets

Robertson, O. Palmer. The Christ of the Prophets. Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2004. 553 pp.

Introduction

The Christ of the Prophets is the product of many years of Old Testament study from O. Palmer Robertson.  While he always wanted to focus on OT studies, his dissertation was on the New Testament book Hebrews because the OT department at Union Seminary was full at the time of his enrollment. This has only helped develop his biblical theology of a Christ of the covenants. Robertson also has a diverse background. At 15 he was converted under the preaching of Billy Graham and felt called to the ministry from that point on. He studied at Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia where he eventually taught, and at Union Seminary in Virginia.  From school he went into the pastorate for a few years before beginning his teaching career at RTS in Jackson, Mississippi. Westminster was his next stop and from there he taught at Covenant Seminary in St. Louis. After pastoring for another 7 years, he packed up and moved to Africa to teach at a Bible College.

Summary

Robertson’s The Christ of the Prophets is a detailed study on prophecy and the emergence of the prophet in Israel’s history. He provides an analytical outline at the beginning of the book, which he then uses to organize the points and sections within each chapter. The outline is a very academic treatment of the subject matter that works very well for this type of study. It aids the flow of his arguments and allows for quick reference to the many points he makes within the chapters. As another note on organization, Robertson structures the book as it relates chronologically the history of prophecy. While he goes into great detail about specifics of prophecy in general (independent of its relationship to Israel) and expounds many points at length, his overall flow is one from the rise of prophecy to its consummation in relation to Israel.

So, where else would the treatment of prophecy begin other than with its emergence? Robertson studies closely the surrounding cultures and their similarities to the prophets of Israel to determine the exact genesis of Israelite prophecy and then asks why the practice emerged at the point in Israel’s history that it did. An important aspect to understanding the prophets’ life and message was his call and commission. Robertson says their “sense of calling from God dramatically affected their work…the prophet lived with a sense of compulsion to speak, and to speak only what God had revealed to him” (67).

Next Robertson addresses an issue that Israel dealt with related to prophecy, namely that of the true and the false prophet. Clearly there is an ultimate source of true prophecy and the motivations of the true prophets will always accord with the will of God, as opposed to the false prophet whose motivation is self-seeking. Robertson proves his arguments by showing the biblical criteria that defines each prophet, the true and the false. He also reveals how this criterion is relevant to modern day prophecy and guides us in understanding the consequences that result.

Many questions arise concerning the role of the covenant and the law upon arrival of the prophet on the scene of Israel’s history. So, Robertson dedicates many pages to this issue. His emphasis is on covenant and law in the “proclamation” of the prophets and then in their “application” of each. Robertson argues that the law is the “root of the ethics of the Israel’s prophets” and that the prophets constantly use the law in “ judging the lifestyle of their contemporaries” (143). And finally regarding covenant use by the prophets, “all the ministries of the prophets may be explained in terms of their application of the various covenants to the people” (184).

Robertson now takes us through the prophetism in Israel: pre-exile, during exile, and post-exile. He does this by devoting a section to each of the prophets who prophesied before exile and after exile (restoration) with two whole chapters dedicated to Ezekiel and Daniel, the two prophesying during exile. The chapters of the prophets during Israel’s exile are very detailed and lengthy. Robertson shows the weight and importance of their role during a very tough time. He says, “It now became the task of the prophets living among the people in exile to reinforce and expand on these great truths” (289). This ends the chronological treatment of prophecy. Robertson now turns to two more final points.

Prediction in prophecy is addressed next, and is simply addressed because while it is a part of the prophet’s message, Robertson tries to show that prophecy is not completely about prediction as if often misunderstood. He strives to continue to define prophecy in its biblical terms. He says, “Prophecy is represent in scripture as a speaking forth of the very world God, regardless of where the prediction the future is involved. The distinguishing element of biblical prophecy is the characteristic of its being a revelation from God” (407). Yet there are specific types of prediction within the prophets’ message and Robertson guides us through each type.

In closing, Robertson writes on what he calls the “focal moment” (453) in Israel’s history during the times of the prophets. He argues that the events of exile and restoration are paramount in understanding the role of the prophets and their relationship to the formation of the elect nation of Israel at this point in history. This cycle is important as well to understanding the larger biblical-theological relationships that ultimately lead to Christ.

 

Critical Evaluation

Robertson’s study of prophetism in Israel is approached from a reformed, covenantal perspective. The impact of this thought on his work is greatly influences his understanding of prophetism. I believe however, this can only be viewed as promoting his work. Robertson has a very high view of the word of God. This is evidenced throughout his book as he calls on Scripture and biblical references to make his points. Robertson is also a proponent of covenant theology. Those that come from a dispensational background will have difficulty following Robertson as he applies the role of prophetism to the different covenants. However I do not think this will be a hindrance for dispensationalists to understand the arguments he promoting.

He also interacts with many scholars throughout the book on issues that have been questioned. Robertson addresses a few scholars directly within sections of the chapters (as with Bruggemann and Childs, 192), but he mostly does so in the hundreds of footnotes throughout the book. The footnotes are tremendously helpful throughout the book. Not only does he use them to clarify certain points, voice different views and arguments, or point to further resources, but he also relies quite heavily on OT scholars through their biblical commentaries. It is in this interaction with the various scholars in which I saw Robertson uphold his staunch biblical integrity the most. He often agrees with and disagrees with the same author about different points. I believe this shows his appreciation for the work of scholars, who may hold a different view on some issues, but that have helped define his own thought as he derives it from Scripture. This is a great lesson to learn for the next generations to learn.

Current biblical critical scholarship has done much in modern times to discredit and argue against the authenticity of the message of Israel’s prophets. Many claim the messages were not prophetic and thus were not words from God, but were simply fabricated after the events occurred so that it looked as if the prophets were foretelling future events. Robertson says, “When the book that claims to be a revelation from the God of Israel is openly represented as a fiction, it is no wonder that the world of biblical academics today is rife with unbelief” (135). Much of the opposition in this field of study is from scholars who actually call into question the very authority of God’s word.

 

Conclusion

Robertson has written quite a magnum opus of prophetism in Israel, yet this 500 plus page book is not overwhelming.  The Christ of the Prophets is organized very clearly and Robertson is succinct in making his points, and not overly complex, which allowed me to read large portions at a time while remaining aware of his arguments. He writing style is engaging and makes the subject matter come alive to reader. This seems to be the mark of one passionate about the topic they are writing.

This book as been beneficial in my study and will be one that I keep on hand as reference volume. It has also given me a new perspective on the prophets of Israel and how crucial their role was to the people during the turmoil that surrounded their times. Robertson has served the church well by investing much time in the study of the OT and its prophets. I pray this work will reach and change the lives of many that read it.

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Book Review: The Next Story

This book immediately got my attention and drew me in. Primarily, because the issue of life in the digital explosion is one that hasn’t been sufficiently looked at within the church from a theological perspective. Tim Challies is also a good writer. I am thankful for men like him who use their interests and gifts to look at things through the lens of the faith “that was once for all delivered to the saints.”

Tim Challies. The Next Story, (Zondervan, 2011), 175 pages.

Discerning and understanding technology is somewhat difficult because it’s an issue that the Bible doesn’t specifically address, so Challies helps us think biblically about these issues. He provides a context in which we can question technology so that we understand how we need to be thinking about and questioning technology. The reason it presents a problem is because we often don’t see the significance of something, and how it has changed us, until we’ve adopted it into our lives and allowed it to. In hindsight.

But how did technology get to the point it’s at in today’s world? We’re told in a brief summary as Challies takes us on a ride through the history of communication. It’s a fascinating chapter. He looks back in time at a very specific thread running throughout history which begins to show how technology is changing the way we live.

Interestingly enough, all of today’s technologies have given us a never before connectivity of communication. We are more connected than any point in history. And while in many ways we have moved from a word-based society to an image-based society, words very much still matter.

Generally each chapter reveals areas in our lives that technology has already taken control of, or is beginning to take control of. Challies then reflects on these changes and finally advises on how we can deal with and understand these plethora of new problems we’re faced with. Most that we weren’t aware even existed!

The book takes great turns to theological matters as well. While helping us understand how technology is changing the way we view ourselves as individuals, and is also shaping the way we think, Challies guides us through these issues theologically and tries to model through his writing what it is he encourages us to do: take the time for thoughtful and thorough evaluation of these new influences our in lives, in our families, and in the life of the church.

Because it’s only through appropriate reflection, and the well needed “slowing down” in our lives, that will truly see how the digital explosion is shaping us. With this knowledge, we will be in a better position to control technology instead of it controlling us. Or at the minimum, we can begin to prevent and limit change that has already begun to effect us.

This book was a pleasure to read, and review. Having followed his blog for sometime, I was anxious to read something of his that was over “250 words.” Challies proves that even bloggers can sustain thoughts and arguments long enough to prove a thesis in a book length treatment. Even in our digital times!

I think that The Next Story should specifically be in the hands of every pastor and leader in the church, not to mention every church member, every parent, and every teenager. I can think of no one in our day that wouldn’t benefit from it because it’s content is already so much a part of who we are.

How will your “Next Story” read?

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*This book was provided by Zondervan as a free review copy. I am under no obligation to write a favorable review.*