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*

 

 

Sojourners and Exiles

 

I’m not sure if this passage is where Gregg Allison got the title for his forthcoming book, or not, but I thought it still worth mentioning. It looks fascinating and is one that I’m really looking forward to.

I came across the title of this post in my reading this morning in 1 Peter 2,

Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. (1 Peter 2:11 ESV)

I noticed a few things from this passage that I thought worth mentioning. One was the reference to 2 Corinthians 5:1-11. It’s the section where Paul is talking about our earthly bodies as tents and that as we are looking forward to our heavenly dwelling we groan to put off this body of flesh. This is what Peter seems to mean here by calling us “sojourners and exiles.” And as long as we are on this earth, we will claim these designations.

Next Peter is warning to “abstain from the passions of the flesh.” Worldly passions. The wrong temptations and desires of this place that is not our home. Let us keep our eyes fixed on our heavenly home, as Christian did in Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress.

Now here is the interesting part that you might normally just passover, but that upon closer inspection really makes you think. Peter warns us against these things because they “wage war against your soul,” not against your body, which would seem a more  appropriate thing to say in the context. It would just make sense that these worldly/fleshly desires would harm your body. Yet, Peter says they wage war against your soul.

That is what is at stake for us as we deal with sin and strive to “put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander” (2 Peter 2:1). Our soul is at stake. Our eternal state. Not just this temporary earthly existence that is but a breath.

 

 

Parent-Priests

I started reading Beeke’s excellent book Parenting By God’s Promises some time ago and have just recently picked it back up. It’s quite a hefty read, weighing in at over 300 pages, but it’s loaded will valuable wisdom to parents. I’m in the second part of a section where he talks about the parents job of prophet, priest, and king. This section on parent-priests focuses on the life of Job and how the Scriptures say of Job,

when the days of the feast had run their course, Job would send and consecrate them, and he would rise early in the morning and offer burnt offerings according to the number of them all. For Job said, “It may be that my children have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts.” Thus Job did continually. (Job 1:5 ESV)

Praying for our children is important. Daily prayer as Job modeled. Beeke says that our children must know that we continually intercede for them, privately as well as in their presence.

There are limitations of this service for our children. Our intercession has no power to save them, and our children cannot save themselves. The worst thing we can do is tell our child, “Do your best, and God will do the rest.” Rather, we should say to them: “Children, we have an alter in this family that is set apart to the Lord and to His service. Here we bow our knees every day. Here we confess our iniquities. Here I bring my corrupt nature as your parent, and you bring the corrupt natures you inherited. Here I lift you up and lay you in the arms of almighty God. Only through God’s power, grace, and mercy am I saved by the sacrifice of the Messiah. He may also save you by that sacrifice. I will pray for you until this happens. Even after it happens, I will pray you. I will bring the sacrifices of prayer every day to the living God.” (pg. 117-118)

The Last Letter

lastletter

 

What would you include in your last letter?

If you were in Paul’s position, under house arrest in Rome, where we find him while writing a letter to Timothy at Ephesus, what would you have included in the letter to one that you considered a “son” in the faith?

I wonder, knowing the end was drawing near––as Paul did––and that this would mostly likely be the last letter to Timothy, if we would have written on the topics Paul chose to address? I think if we are honest and can look objectively at our lives, we will find that our priorities vastly differ from those of the early Christians. It would be sobering and convicting to read what we would write if in Paul’s situation. And if that were possible, would give us great insight into what have become our most cherished possessions priorities in this life.

It’s really hard to know what we would actually write, what our priorities would actually be, but we do know what Paul wrote and we can look to his example in this letter to Timothy to see what he considered his top priorities. Paul’s final word.

—-

  • do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord
  • share in suffering
  • follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me
  • what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men
  • share in suffering
  • endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they may also obtain salvation
  • present yourself to God as one approved
  • rightly handle the word of truth
  • avoid irreverent babble
  • flee youthful passions
  • pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace
  • have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies
  • be kind to everyone
  • able to teach
  • patiently endure evil
  • preach the word
  • be ready in season and out of season
  • reprove, rebuke, and exhort with complete patience and teaching
  • be sober-minded
  • endure suffering
  • do the work of an evangelist
  • fulfill your ministry

It’s quite an exhortation that Paul gives. Much of that list would probably be left out of my list. There doesn’t seem to be much about comfort there. In fact, Paul mentions to Timothy three times that he is to “share in” or “endure suffering.” This isn’t the picture that our western-minded Christianity has painted for us, is it? Far from it. We may unintentionally leave out much of what’s on this list, and I believe that’s because much of this list is left our of our preaching in this present generation. We don’t think on these aspects of the gospel anymore. We’ve forgotten.

And this is because we’ve begun to do what Paul warned Timothy of, “not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions” (2 Timothy 4:2-3 ESV)

And because of this, the following is what we would probably include in our letters:

  • lovers of self
  • lovers of money
  • proud
  • arrogant
  • abusive
  • disobedient to their parents
  • ungrateful
  • unholy
  • heartless
  • unappeasable
  • slanderous
  • without self-control
  • brutal
  • not loving good
  • treacherous
  • reckless
  • swollen with conceit
  • lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God
  • having the appearance of godliness

Brothers, let this not be so! Flee from these things! Let us keep our focus where Paul did, on the gospel of Jesus Christ:

“Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, for which I was appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher, which is why I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me. (2 Timothy 1:8-14 ESV)

Church Life

51TM98P3V1L._SS500_.jpgI stumbled across this 9Marks leadership interview yesterday as I was searching for a copy of Polity: Biblical Arguments on How to Conduct Church Life for my pastor, though sadly, it is no longer listed on their site for purchase. I do hope they plan to offer this volume in the future. It is a real service to Baptist Churches. The interview of the same title of the book actually uses the book a lot for jumping off points into the discussion of what Polity is.

It was a helpful interview, and as I haven’t read through the whole volume, pointed me to a few specific places that may be worth highlighting here. The following is from P.H. Mell’s chapters on “Corrective Church Discipline” which he wrote in 1860. In this section he is making a distinction between “Private” and “Public” offenses.

(2.) Refusal, after admonition, to attend upon the stated conference-meetings of the Church, is a “public offense.” … the object affected by the act is … the Church in its organized capacity.

He says this is a “public offense” because

it is committed against the authority of the Church, which the member is bound and pledged to regard.

What a high view of church membership they had, and what accountability they held their church members to. That we would have such submission to the authority of the body that we submit ourselves to.

“Understanding” the Scriptures

Here’s a paragraph from Luther’s The Bondage of the Will, responding to Erasmus:

If you speak of the internal clearness, no man sees one iota in the Scriptures, but he that hath the Spirit of God. All have a darkened heart ; so that, even if they know how to speak of, and set forth, all things in the Scripture, yet, they cannot feel them nor know them : nor do they believe that they are creatures of God, nor any thing else : according that of Psalm xvi, 1. “The fool hath said in his heart, God is nothing.” For the Spirit is required to understand the whole of Scripture and every part of it.

What does it mean to “understand” the Scriptures? Robert Stein has some good advice from his A Basic Guide to Interpreting the Bible in which he questions just exactly how are we understanding the use of the term knowledge and how its intended meaning from the NT may be slightly different. He cites 1 Cor. 2:14

The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.
(1 Corinthians 2:14 ESV)

as an example stating that it isn’t that we can’t mentally grasp what Scripture is saying, rather we simply don’t “accept it as truth.”

Robert Plummer has a slightly different view of the Spirit’s role in interpretation. Look for that post in the near future.

Irreverent Babble

Irreverent babble and foolish, ignorant controversies. This is an interesting passage in 2 Timothy where Paul is instructing Timothy how to respond to the false teachers he is facing at Ephesus. It seems especially applicable in our day where the internet has spawned much babble and foolish controversies. Paul says in this section:

charge them before God not to quarrel about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers. (2 Timothy 2:14)

then

Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. (2 Timothy 2:22-24)

Did you catch what Paul says happens when we succumb to these quarrels? They ruin hearers.

So how far does this go? What constitutes as irreverent babble? Ignorant controversies?

It should be noted also that Paul says this immediately after telling Timothy to “flee from youthful passions.” Which means  that many of today’s controversies are youthful in nature. Not mature. But again. What how far does this go? What classifies as irreverent, ignorant?

I don’t know that I’m in a position to make that judgement. Only I wonder if many of our infatuations with “buzz words” and with different “camps” would fall into these categories? Main aim here is to simply note Paul’s words. To call attention to his warnings.

Especially the fact that many of these quarrels ruin hearers. This is by far the greatest implication to note. In the context, the hearers being ruined are non-Christians. Brothers, this is not good. So, let us take heed lest we cause others to stumble. Let us watch our words and temperaments carefully. Let us not be quarrelsome.

Be kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting opponents with gentleness.

But to what end? Ultimately because,

God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will. (2 Timothy 2:25-26)

The Elusiveness of Community

The Assumption

In this post I’m working off the assumption that unless we have biblical examples held out before us as “good,” we will not innately know this is the way things should be. This is true in all walks of life. Children, marred by the fall, grow up under the influence of sin, and if the parents do not teach them the “right” way they will not know. Adults are not exempt. We too are sinful and are taught many things by the culture around us. Cultural influence isn’t neutral. And it is by our culture that we are shaped. We become what we worship. So, if we are not explicitly taught how the gospel of Jesus Christ impacts our lives, then we will not know. And if we are not shown how this gospel is applied to our lives, and thus how it should transform our congregations, then we will simply live as Christians in the culture, not distinct from it.

The Facts

That said, what does community look like lived out within the local church? The pervasive anonymity that occurs within our congregations is not a reflection of the biblical transparency that’s given to us as an example in the New Testament. How then are we to live in light of this example as a congregation? How does this play out in the life of the church? Application is one of the hardest things to really teach. It’s often hard for laypeople to make the jump, or bridge the gap, from Scriptural principles to application. This is of course one of the main callings of a pastor, that of leading his people to what the text of Scripture is telling us today.

I recently came across two examples of life in community that I thought were appropriate because they are ways that we should be lead as a congregation to live with one another, by upholding gospel principles and examples from the NT, yet they are examples that are–for the most part–entirely absent from most churches. They are specific examples of applying the gospel to the life of the congregation.

This video contained the first example. It’s a video made by The Crowded House, a network of gospel communities.

While presenting their vision for the network, they talk about one aspect of these communities that is central to their mission: the importance of discussing large decisions with one another. Decisions like what jobs to take, where to live, and how to spend their money. These aren’t light decisions we make in the course of a life. And so, because of the weight of these decisions and the way our culture has influenced us in this sphere of life, these are decisions that we primarily make individually. Often, the church has no real impact when making personal decisions. Is this how it is supposed to be? We tend to see our personal lives and our family lives as private, even when we claim to be members of a church, part of the same body as the other members.

I think it’s obvious that the example given to us by the early church in Acts 2:42-47 would tend to contradict our modern idea of family and community. Especially the gospel community of the church.

I came across the second example in a book I just recently finished reading, Father Hunger by Douglas Wilson. In one of the later chapters Wilson discusses that parents should seek accountability when raising children. His reasoning is that often others can see things in our lives that we tend to overlook.

Here again is another area of our lives that we are very private about. But shouldn’t the church who is a family have an important role in the upbringing of the children that are a part of the community? In this instance it is often pride that keeps us from seeking accountability for help with parenting from the community. We are fearful that others may discover we don’t have it figured out. We want everyone to think that we have it all together, this again contradicts the example of living transparently within the local congregation. And besides, nobody else has it figured out either, who are we kidding? We should be striving side-by-side to learn with one another how to figure it out.

Many people would probably be shocked, and we would probably receive quite a bit of push back if we tried to institute these examples at our church. This, though, is only further evidence that we are living like the culture instead of like the church that Christ called us to be.

There aren’t many who “hold up” examples of life application like these to be followed. Even much of the preaching in our day has aped the culture, meaning it is very individualistic (e.g. this is how you can improve), but if our leaders aren’t making these claims and pointing us to examples like this then how are we to know this is the way we are supposed to be living with one another? We won’t. And we will miss out on a beautiful picture of what the gospel is and how we are to be living in light of it, so that the world may see it and praise our Father in heaven.

The Solution?

It’s a bit more tricky. It seems obvious once you’re privy to the information, but the solution isn’t as simple as telling people they need to live this way. This is the hard part. People have to realize this for themselves. We have to humble ourselves before the cross and let go of our pride in order to live this type of transparent community. How does it begin then? It begins with what I mentioned earlier, teaching. The shepherd of the flock must lead us to these waters of application. Only there will we find the refreshing drink that opens our eyes to the inner thirst we have developed while living in isolation from our brothers and sisters in Christ.

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.

———-

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.*

God’s Word

God’s Word, the Word of the Lord, &c. Are these descriptions of the Bible familiar to you? Have they maybe become too familiar? I came across a few passages today that speak to the danger of this familiarity. The first is from Lloyd-Jones’s Preaching & Preachers where he is giving counsel on personal Bible reading for the preacher. He begins, “Do not read the Bible to find texts for your sermon,

read it because it is the food that God has provided for your soul, because it is the Word of God, because it is the means whereby you can get to know God. Read it because it is the bread of life, the manna provided for your soul’s nourishment and well-being (184).

It seems we have lost sight of the reality that we hold the words of the eternal, creator God in our hands when we read our Bibles.  Gabe Fluhrer lamenting on this fact in a recent Reformed Forum on Inerrancy said,

“It was the opinion of our Puritan forefathers that it was one of the greatest and grossest sins to disavow the truthfulness of God’s word.” [read Jeremiah Burroughs wonderful book Gospel Fear]

When God speaks, I think it is just one of the unfortunate problems we have in the modern day, is that when God speaks we are so used to it, so to speak. We’re so used to having Bibles and going to hear preaching in this country that it’s just not wonderful to us anymore. It doesn’t cause us wonder, and it should. Every time you pick up your Bible God is speaking to you and I wonder how many Christians reflect on that, and I wonder how many Christians become dull to that, that God is speaking to us.

If God speaks, he speaks truth because he is the God of truth, it is impossible for Him to lie to us.

This is something that should shape us. It should define us. It should be all that we are as Christians. So, may we continually marvel that God chose to reveal himself to us through his Word, the Bible. And if we are Christians, we should not only marvel that we have his Word, but that he chose to open our eyes to it’s saving message, while we were yet sinners (Rom. 5:8).