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Review & Reflection: 15 Things Seminary Couldn’t Teach Me

15-things-seminary-couldnt-teach-me-1243x1920[1]As of this summer, I’ve crossed the half-way point in my seminary education (4 semesters down, 3 to go)!  So naturally, I was intrigued when I saw the title of a little book called, 15 Things Seminary Couldn’t Teach Me.

Though the title might make you think otherwise, this is not an anti-seminary book.  Edited by Collin Hansen and Jeff Robinson, this book is a compilation of 15 short essays/reflections written by 15 different pastors (each of whom goes out of their way to emphasize their gratitude for all they learned in seminary).  The focus of the book is not on the shortcomings of any institution but on the lessons that one can only learned by time and experience.

The writers come from a range of backgrounds and write on a range of issues.  The bulk of the essays focus on what we might call “wisdom issues.”  What do you do when your church is dying (ch. 2)?  When do I accept a call to a new church (ch. 9)?  How do I shepherd my church through seasons of suffering (ch. 8)?  I found each contribution to be thoughtful and helpful – though as with any book involving so many authors some selections were better than others.  My impression was that the bulk of the contributors held to a Baptist/congregationalist polity – a fact which make some of their specific counsel less applicable to Presbyterians such as myself.

Nevertheless, this is a very helpful book.  It would be an ideal book for a young seminary student or minster to work through with an older minister.  Hopefully the careful and mature reflections of these pastors will mean that young men like myself won’t have to learn the same lessons “the hard way.”

 

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Review & Reflection: The Brokenhearted Evangelist

I’ve been doing an internship at a PCA church plant in Andover, Kansas called Kirk of the Plains.  One of the privileges I’ve had this summer is 61WYEP5uADL[1]to lead a four-part class on “Nurturing a Culture of Evangelism.”  In leading this class, I’ve worked through a lot of resources on evangelism, and one that I’ve finished recently is Jeremy Walker’s little book, The Brokenhearted Evangelist.  I’ve read and reviewed some of Walker’s work before.  As always, Walker wields his pen well.  His theology is deep without being dry and he knows how to make a sentence sing.  This book is a helpful look at the subject of evangelism through the lens of David’s words in Psalm 51, specifically the words of verse 13: “Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will be converted to you.”

This is a probing, questioning book that pushes the reader to examine his heart at every turn.  Fittingly, Walker structures his book around five key questions: Am I willing?  Am I effective?  Am I committed?  Am I focused?  Am I fruitful?  In addressing each of these he explores our motivation, equipment, means, aim, and expectations regarding evangelism.

This is not a “how-to” book per se.  Rather, it is a heart check about the work of evangelism.  If you find yourself struggling with apathy or fear when it comes to proclaiming the gospel, this work will drag you out of yourself to see the wonderful and weighty privilege we have to “teach transgressors [God’s] ways.”  Walker does this through thoughtful questions, careful exegesis, and illuminating illustrations and stories.  His careful study of church history comes through in his many rich quotations from our Puritan and Reformed forefathers.

Though this book is small (clocking in at a mere 150 pages) there were a few points where I thought it could have been profitably shortened.  While Walker covers a lot of ground, there is also a fair bit of repetition and some of his discussion felt a bit rambling at points.  (Perhaps this would have been helped by expanding his exposition beyond Psalm 51:13?)  The careful questions were good, but when the reader is confronted with a entire paragraphs of nothing but questions they can lose their force.

That said, this book does its job.  When read with prayer and humility, it will no-doubt challenge, convict, and encourage the believer to seek greater faithfulness and fruitfulness in the hard work of evangelism.  And that, of course, is something we should all desire.


Review & Reflection: The Household and the War for the Cosmos

C.R. Wiley is a writer worth reading.  Two years ago, I read (and reviewed) his book, Man of the House, and today I’m reviewing his latest work: The Household and the War for the Cosmos: Recovering a Christian Vision for the Family.

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Wiley knows how to pack a punch.  In less than 125 pages, he pinpoints the problems facing households in our own day, walks us through the biblical and classical understanding of the (sadly) misunderstood concepts of “piety” and “the cosmos”, and explores the theology of the biblical household codes (think Ephesians 5-6) to show us how households fit into the telos of the cosmos.  Big stuff.

In many ways, this is the book behind Man of the House.  While his earlier work tried to show readers how to build a healthy household, this book explains why they should try.  At the end of the day, Wiley argues that healthy households are not an end in themselves, they are a means.  In fact, they are one of God’s primary means to carry out His grand purposes in creation and redemption.  Our little households are models – images – of the household of God (have you ever stopped to wonder why the New Testament uses that language?  Wiley helps to answer that question).

Wiley moves easily between breadth and depth as he slowly stretches our vision for what households are for and why they must be strengthened.  In God’s providence, I read through this little book the very week that I was preaching through some of the biblical household codes from Ephesians that Wiley discusses.  While his work is not a commentary on Ephesians, I found it far more helpful than many of the commentaries I did read because he takes the time to “zoom out” and see how Paul’s project in Ephesians goes far beyond the bounds of a Focus on the Family agenda.

This book is clear and concise enough to speak for itself.  (And the forward/preface by Nancy Pearcy and Anthony Esolen are the perfect front porch to this book on the household.)  Suffice it to say that if you want to be motivated and equipped to see why households matter, this is the best book out there.  I hope Wiley will keep writing, so that we can keep reading.


The Shape of Pastoral Ministry

Yesterday was the first official day of my Summer-long internship at an OPC church in Northern Virginia.  One of the privileges I have is to complete a number of readings over the course of the Summer.  The first thing I’ve read is from Joel Beeke and Terry Slachter’s book Encouragement for Today’s Pastors: Help from the PuritansFor this book, I read Section One on the Pastor’s piety.  The assigned reading helped to tie some things together for me.  I’ve tended to think about the work of the Pastor as falling under one of two basic categories: either pulpit ministry or parish ministry (though of course, there is significant overlap between the two).  I still think this is basically a sound framework, but on its own it doesn’t go far enough.  What this book does so helpfully is to draw out the vital necessity of the Pastor’s ministry of piety as well.  Together, these three areas (piety, pulpit, & parish) capture the heart of a minister’s duties.

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The picture that’s taken shape in my mind is a railroad track.  There is a rail on each side which allows the train to move forward.  On the one side is the “rail” of pulpit ministry (which would encompass the Pastor’s teaching and preaching) and on the other side is the “rail” of parish ministry (which would cover all the shepherding, counseling, evangelism, and even administrative tasks).  These two rails provide the basic framework for ministry and are what people would see if they look at a train driving down the tracks.  But there is another vital component.  Although it isn’t as visible, what holds these two rails together are the wooden crossties of pastoral piety.  Without those crossties the rails will shift as the train moves and the railcars will careen off the tracks and crash.  With the crossties, the rails stand firm and the train can move safely and swiftly.

It’s the same way with the ministry.  The public work of the pastor is seen in the twin rails of pulpit ministry and parish ministry.  But holding those rails together are the crossties of pastoral piety.  Without a zeal for the Lord, without frequent and fervent communion with God, and without a steadfast dependence on God’s promises the public ministry of the pastor will shift and slide with often disastrous results.  But when the crossties of piety are firmly in place, the public ministry of the Pastor can stand firm.


Review & Reflection: The Spirit of the Age

I just finished reading9781610785725__18478.1508167096.315.315[1] J.V. Fesko’s new book – The Spirit of the Age: The 19th Century Debate Over the Holy Spirit and the Westminster Confession.  It’s a little book (just over 100 pages) with a big title and big themes to match.  His project can be viewed as two-pronged.  First, his goal is to describe the background behind the 1903 revisions of the Westminster Standards that were adopted by the mainline Presbyterian church.  Amongst these revisions was the adoption of a new chapter Of the Holy Spirit.  (There was a second new chapter as well – Of the Gospel of the Love of God and Missions – but Fesko’s focus is on the the doctrine of the Holy Spirit.)  He spends the bulk of the book (the first four chapters) addressing this issue.  The second part of his project is to show how this debate connects with current theological debates which he does in the final chapter.

I’ve always wondering about what prompted the liberalizing mainline church to compose these new chapters and Fesko did an able job of describing that story.  Along the way, he demonstrates the robust pneumatology of the Westminster Divines and locates their work in the context of catholic Christian thought.  He shows their careful attention to exegesis, their masterful grasp of Patristic and Medieval insights, and their mature doctrine of the Holy Spirit.

He tells a fascinating historical tale so I won’t spoil the story by going into the details of his argument.  Suffice it to say, I found the book engaging and fascinating historically while also deeply edifying theologically and personally as well.  This little volume is a model of scholarship with a thorough bibliography and many fascinating footnotes.  Fesko is obviously well-versed in current scholarship and leans heavily on the work of Richard Muller to advance his arguments.  This is a book that will probably be of greatest interest to Pastors and seminarians but historically and theologically inclined laypeople will find it accessible as well.  If there was a criticism, it would be that his account of this debate seems to put diverse figures such as Philip Schaff and John Williamson Nevin in the same camp as Charles Briggs without acknowledging key areas where they disagree.  That said, there was much helpful information here that was new to me and I continue to find myself enjoying Fesko’s writings!

 

 


Review & Reflection: Irenaeus

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I have written about Simonetta Carr’s wonderful books for young adults before.  Reformation Heritage Books has been faithfully publishing titles in a wonderful series called Christian Biographies for Young Readers which introduce older children and young teens to some of the giants of the faith.  The text is always well written and well illustrated.  One of the things that I have appreciated about the series is that Carr doesn’t just write about the popular figures like Augustine or Luther but also draws our attention to lesser-known, but no less significant, figures like Marie Durand or Peter Martyr Vermigli.  This newest title in the series continues that trajectory by introducing modern readers to a figure that may not be familiar: the early Church Father Irenaeus.  Irenaeus was a bishop in the early church who both discipled and defended God’s people.  He was the leader of the church in Lyon, France during a time of intense persecution.  He also wrote extensively in response to the early heresy of Gnosticism (a teaching which is ably and simply explained by Carr’s book).  As with her previous work, Carr does an admirable job of making ancient figures accessible and of providing gripping narrative without sacrificing historical nuance.  This title is a worth-while addition to the series and I hope that there will be more to come!

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: Beyond Calvin

The Reformed51enbd-dhyl-_sx331_bo1204203200_ tradition has endured many stereotypes over the years.  Perhaps one of the most common in our own day is that of the angry Calvinist (what some jokingly call a “cage-stage Calvinist”) who is always on the lookout for theological dissension and debate.  As W. Bradford Littlejohn of the Davenant Institute writes in the introduction to the book Beyond Calvin: Essays on the Diversity of the Reformed Tradition:

“If Reformed theology is associated with anything nowadays, it is often with a factiousness and dogmaticism that seems ready to leave a church or denomination (or better yet, kick your opponents out of one) over almost any offense, real or imagined.  But it was not always so.”

Part of the burden of this book is to show another way forward for the Reformed tradition.  By hearkening back to the irenic theology of leading Reformers the authors seek to explore and model the kind of theology we should pursue in our own day.  They do this without postulating a golden age or pretending that our forefathers always attained to peace in their own day.  As Carl Trueman writes in the forward to the book:

“[T]he past is the church’s past and something from which we need to draw help for the present in an appreciative, thoughtful, and critical manner.  These papers individually, and this collection as a whole, exemplify how this can be done.  Read, learn and go and do likewise.”

As Truman mentions, Beyond Calvin, is a collection of papers each of which explore the topic of diversity in the Reformed Tradition.  Some (such as Andre Gazal’s essay George Carleton’s Reformed Doctrine of Episcopal Authority at the Synod of Dordt, and Michael Lynch’s essay Confessional Orthodoxy and Hypothetical Universalism: Another Look at the Westminster Confession of Faith) explore the theological diversity of the Reformed tradition.  Other essays (such as E.J. Hutchinson’s excellent essay Written Monuments: Beza’s Icones as a Testament to and Program for Reformed Humanism) explore the diverse mediums in which Reformed Theology was discussed and disseminated.  Still other essays (such as Stephen Wolfe’s Pagan Civil Virtue in the Thought of Francis Turretin) consider how traditional Reformed theology can differ from it’s contemporary expressions.  Each of the essays in the book are scholarly and stimulating.  Not all were convincing (to me) but all were constructive examples of sound historical and theological reflection.

There is little doubt that the issue of defining the limits and boundaries of the Reformed tradition will continue to be a pressing task.  With so many applying the term “Reformed” to their churches, ministries, and theologies there will no doubt be rigorous ongoing discussion about what can, and cannot, rightly be known by that name.  This book falls short of resolving such weighty questions, but it does point us towards some productive paths in search of an answer.

 


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