Review & Reflection: Pentecostal Outpourings

pentecostal__69435-1446558671-1280-1280“Pentecostal Outpourings” may not sound like the title of a Reformed book, but the collective authors of the new book, “Pentecostal Outpourings: Revival and the Reformed Tradition” show that such an assumption would be wrong.  As the writers make clear, Spirit-wrought revival has had a strong and ongoing presence in the history of Reformed churches.  The book is edited by Robert Davis Smart, Michael A.G. Haykin, and Ian Hugh Clary, and contains chapters from all three of these men together with contributions from Steve Lawson, Joel Beeke, Eifion Evans, Iain D. Campbell, Peter Beck, and Tom J. Nettles.  This is an expansive book, with a range of authors discussing an assortment of issues related to the various revivals which have taken place in numerous countries over many centuries.  The book is divided into two parts.  The first part deals with “Revival in the British Isles” looking at its impact and expression for the Welsh, the Irish, the English, and the Scottish in turn.  Part two shifts to a discussion of “Revival in America” with chapters on revivals among Presbyterians, Congregationalists, Baptists, and the American Dutch Reformed.

Through this thorough survey, the authors clearly show that revival is not foreign to the Reformed tradition.  Indeed, not only is it something that has happened in the past, it is also something the we should long to see happen again.  The final chapter of the book is aptly entitled: “A Concluding Word: A Call to Seek God for Revival Today”.  While Reformed believers have always rightly been wary of Revivalism (and the emotionalism it produces), God-honoring, biblical revival is something that should be close to all of our hearts.  This book goes a long way towards helping us understand what that has looked like over the centuries; and it points us towards what it might look like in our own day.

I would like to thank the good folks over at Cross Focused Reviews for providing me with a free review copy of this book.  I was not obligated to provide a positive review.


Review & Reflection: Portraits of Faith

portraits_front__85263-1450209876-1280-1280Anyone who hasn’t read Joel Beeke is missing out.  Beeke has steeped himself in the biblical, practical, and theological mindset of the 16th-17th century Puritans and it shows.  His writing is winsome and wise, accessible and arresting, devotional and deep.  In his new book: “Portraits of Faith: What Five Biblical Characters Teach Us about Our Life with God” Beeke draws a rich and textured picture of what faith looks like from the stories of the Bible.  He speaks in the first chapter of the challenge of merely defining faith.  Faith is a rich biblical word that is laden with theological significance.  Hours have been spent and pages have been written in the attempt to define it fully.  Beeke tells the story of how he was given the task in seminary of writing a description of faith.  Yet, he writes, “As I tried these ways of describing faith, I began to realize that faith is something far richer than all my theological language.  It is as all-embracing as life itself, for faith is the heart of our relationship to God. […] You can best understand faith by seeing how faith operates by the Spirit in the lives of fallen sinners like us.  And when I understood that, I began to make real progress.” (pg. 5, 7-8)

With this as his starting point, Beeke walks us through the stories of five biblical characters (Adam & Eve, the Shunammite woman, the Canaanite woman, and Caleb) and challenges his readers to, “ask yourself three questions.  First, do I have saving faith? Second, am I exercising the particular aspect of faith evident in this biblical person?  Third, and most important, how can this particular dimension of faith mature me in the most holy faith?” (pg. 8).  Beeke’s book is short, simple, and refreshing.  His chapters speak to both believers and unbelievers of the centrality of saving faith and challenge us all to grow in our faith.

I would like to thank the good folks over at Cross Focused Reviews for providing me with a free review copy of this book.  I was not obligated to provide a positive review.


Review & Reflection: Why bother with Church?

qcachurch_original-yxupwh4ibp64wbxntip4nka3fedlfadrIt seems to be increasingly common to hear people say that they are “Spiritual but not religious” or that they love Jesus but are turned off by church.  Sam Allberry has done us all a great service by writing a response to this mindset in his little book called: “Why bother with Church: And other questions about why you need it and why it needs you”.  I loved Allberry’s earlier book on homosexuality and I’ve found this little book to be equally helpful.  The strength of Allberry’s style is that it is both pithy and pointed.  It comes in at under 100 pages and is written not only to address the perspective described above but also to address the person who holds to that perspective.  This is a book that I would hand to churchgoers and non-churchgoers alike.  It is brief and biblical, practical and pastoral, and is an invaluable resource for our current cultural climate.

I would like to thank the good folks over at Cross Focused Reviews for providing me with a free review copy of this book.  I was not obligated to provide a positive review.


Review & Reflection: Zeal Without Burnout

4175qaqjcql-_sy344_bo1204203200_I was laid up in bed sick this week.  The bad part of that scenario should be obvious, but the good part was that it gave me a chance to read through Christoper Ash’s new book “Zeal Without Burnout: Seven keys to a lifelong ministry of sustainable sacrifice”.  I had the privilege of hearing Christopher Ash speak at a youth workers conference in Wales a few years back and his gracious humility and biblical wisdom struck me at the time.  I was happy to have the chance to work through this helpful little book and to share my thoughts with you about it.

The book is short – just over 120 pages – and I was able to read the whole book in about an hour and a half.  It is sprinkled with stories from various Christians who have wrestled with the specter and symptoms of burnout.  The heart of the book are the “Seven Keys” which are made of up four “needs” (we need sleep, we need Sabbath rest, we need friends, and we need inward renewal) followed by a warning, an encouragement, and a delight.  The book is simple and much that is shared is simply Biblical common-sense.  But it is the very common-sense approach that Ash takes which makes this book profoundly helpful.  At its most basic level, Ash’s book can be boiled down to what he calls, “A Neglected Truth”: we are mortal creatures.  As Ash puts it, “The foundation of all I have to say is that you and I are dust.  We need to know that and never to forget it.  You and I are embodied creatures; we are dust” (pg. 35).  From this truth flows the recognition that we need rest, sleep, friends and renewal.  What drives ministerial burnout is the faulty belief that we are somehow indispensable.  We proudly assume that God needs our sacrifice, our gifts, or our personalities to build His kingdom.  Ash graciously shatters that thinking.  I found myself humbled and encouraged by this book.  It stands as a needed warning against my own pride and offers a helpful balance so that I can faithfully sacrifice without foolishly rushing into burnout.  This is a book to read and to share; enjoy and be blessed!

I would like to thank the good folks over at Cross Focused Reviews for providing me with a free review copy of this book.  I was not obligated to provide a positive review.


Review & Reflection – Wittenberg vs Geneva

61jltnxjool-_sx331_bo1204203200_As my readers will know by this point, from time to time I get review copies of new books that I’ll write about.  The most recent book I received was interesting to me on several fronts.  The title of the book is Wittenberg vs Geneva: A Biblical Bout in Seven Rounds on the Doctrines that Divide by a Lutheran Pastor named Brian W. Thomas.  As the title suggests, the book is designed to offer a comparison of the two great wings of the Protestant Reformation – with confessional Lutheranism on one side of the ring, and confessional Reformed churches on the other.  This book is of interest to me, as I mentioned before, for several reasons.  Partly because I am myself Reformed and am hoping to be a Reformed Pastor, but also because my wife grew up in the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod before becoming a Presbyterian several years ago.  Needless to say, I was eager to dig into this book.

Let me start, then, by highlighting the strengths of Thomas’s work.  The book as a whole is relatively short and the chapters are manageable.  Professional theologians are already able to compare Pieper to Bavinck, so Thomas wisely limits his audience to the layperson.  Thomas also recognizes that  both traditions represent a range of thought and so he wisely compares the confessional documents of each tradition rather that getting locked into interminable debates between individual personalities or theologians.  Thomas self-consciously brings the discussion back to the Scriptures in a recognition that both sides hold the Bible as their final authority.  These are all strengths, and I commend Thomas for his efforts.

Each chapter seeks to identify a topic or question that has been a source of debate between the two camps.  Once the question is identified, Thomas offers a summary of the Lutheran and Reformed views as articulated by their church confessions and leading proponents.  Then he highlights some key passages of Scripture and offers the reader his reasons for why he believes the Lutheran camp more faithfully explains the texts.

As a Reformed person, I often felt that Thomas did not fully grasped the Reformed view of the different topics that were presented.  While it’s clear that Thomas did his best to get up to speed and do his homework, it’s equally clear that he was not fully aware of the intramural debates that exist within the Reformed camp that would anticipate and respond to some of his critiques (for example, on page 6 where he quibbles with the Reformed use of the phrase “common grace” he seems unaware that there are those within the Reformed camp who offer the very same concerns that he does on the topic.  Or on pg. 15 when he suggests that the Reformed fail to stress the objective role of the Sacraments when a close study of Questions 65-82 of the Heidelberg Catechism would show otherwise).

On the one hand, this is an encouraging book – if only because it tries to bring the two great wings of the Reformation back into conversation with each other.  On many substantial issues of doctrine and life both Lutherans and the Reformed stand together in contrast to both Rome and much of the broader evangelical world.  Perhaps this work can help believers from both traditions to work harder to understand what the other believes.

On the other hand, however, I don’t think that Thomas displayed the knowledge of historical theology requisite to faithfully carry out his project.  There are simply too many places where he displays his ignorance of the historical Reformed tradition.  Perhaps another theologian can pick up where Thomas has left off to offer a more rigorous comparison between these two camps.

I would like to thank the good folks over at Cross Focused Reviews for providing me with a free review copy of this book.  I was not obligated to provide a positive review.


The Foundations of American Government

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Here in Kansas today is Caucus day.  Over the next few hours thousands of people all over our state will gather to cast their vote for their preferred nominee.  It seems appropriate on a day like to day to reflect a bit on the nature and foundation of the American form of government.  Over the years, many people have written on what made (and makes) America unique.  Recently I finished a course on Political Philosophy and my capstone work for that class was to write a a paper examining the philosophical foundations of American Government.

My point in this post is really just to point interested parties to that paper, but to whet your appetite here’s my basic thesis:

Shaped in the context of the Western tradition, the American system of government formed a river which flowed from the confluence of three great streams: the Classical world, the Enlightenment project, and the Christian faith. Each of these streams brought with it a range of influences and thinkers. Sometimes these streams of thought (and even the particular thinkers within a given stream) complemented each other, and at other times they contradicted each other.
Each in their own way though, contributed to the philosophical foundations of the American government. In this paper, we will examine how Aristotle (representing the Classical stream), John Locke (representing the Enlightenment stream), and John Calvin (representing the Christian stream), influenced the foundations of American government.

 

If that makes you curious, you can see what else I have to say by clicking here: https://befranksblog.files.wordpress.com/2015/01/the-philosophical-foundations-of-american-government.pdf

Review & Reflection – From the Pen of Pastor Paul: 1-2 Thessalonians

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Of all of the New Testament letters written by the Apostle Paul chances are that 1 and 2 Thessalonians are among the least studied and appreciated.  As Danny Hyde shows, however, in his wonderful book From the Pen of Pastor Paul: 1-2 Thessalonians, this is a sad fact.  Hyde’s book sets out to fill in the gap in our understanding by providing the reader with a simple and straightforward guide to these rich letters.

Hyde walks us through the contents of both letters in the space of 32 short chapters.  Each chapter is around 10 pages and offers the reader a deeper look and clearer explanation into the meaning of a few choice verses.  By keeping the chapters (and the selections from Thessalonians) appropriately brief, Hyde gives the reader a guide which would prove useful for private, family, or group study.  This is not a technical commentary but rather a work which grew out of sermons which he preached to his own congregation.  The comments contained, therefore, have a very personal and pastoral tone.  This is appropriate in commenting on Thessalonians because, as Hyde says in his introduction: “I believe in 1 Thessalonians Paul opens his pastoral heart more than to any other congregation to which he wrote” (Hyde 14).

The book has simple goals, but it accomplishes them well.  It also contains a helpful bibliography and extensive notes at the back.  The only criticism I would bring to the book is that it has no questions for study, discussion, or reflection.  This might limit its use as a group study aid, but would still prove useful to the layman who is seeking to improve his understanding of 1 & 2 Thessalonians.  Nevertheless, this is a helpful little book which would be useful to anyone seeking to better grasp this portion of God’s Word.

I would like to thank the good folks over at Cross Focused Reviews for providing me with a free review copy of this book.  I was not obligated to provide a positive review.


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