Archives For Historical Theology

Thanks to the generosity of IVP Academic, I recently got not only several new releases, but a few old ones as well. Four of those are in the outstanding New Studies in Biblical Theology series.

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First, I requested Peter Adam’s Hearing God’s Words: Exploring Biblical Spirituality, forgetting I already had that in my collection (read the sample here). You can tell the subject from the subtitle, however Adam unfolds it in a way that is not strictly biblical theology. The opening chapter nails down the shape and structure of biblical spirituality, the gist of which you can discern from the book’s title. Chapters 2 and 3 then trace this theme through the Old and New Testaments respectively. Chapter 4 then focuses on a key historical figure, in this case Calvin, and what can learned from his take on the subject. Chapter 5 looks at issues in the study of spirituality and the final chapter offers examples, drawing on the Puritans and in particular Richard Baxter. Like most volumes in this series, this is worth your time, especially if you’re interested in digging into the basis of Christian spirituality.

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Next, I was able to read Mark D. Thompson’s A Clear and Present Word: The Clarity of Scripture (read a sample here). Unlike many other titles in this series, this volume is more historical and/or systematic theology than biblical theology. The clarity of Scripture is a fairly hot button contemporary issue, so it’s still worth checking out. The opening chapter sets the issue in context. Chapter 2 presents God as the foundation of Scripture’s clarity. From here, Thompson turns to the phenomena of Scripture itself in chapter 3, which does a fair share of biblical theology. Chapter 4 then turns to the hermeneutical challenge. In other words, if we claim Scripture is clear, why are there so many interpretations? Thompson then closes with a chapter that takes some of his doctoral work on Luther’s doctrine of Scripture to help us better explain the clarity of Scripture today. While certainly not definitive, this is still a valuable resource on the topic, showing that there is precedent for the clarity of Scripture in Scripture’s own teaching and in the history of the church’s witness.

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Shortly before Christmas, I read through Paul W. Barnett’s Jesus and The Logic of History (read a sample here). This is one of the earliest volumes in the series and as a byproduct, the typesetting is not easy on the eyes. However, in a culture that questions the historical existence of Jesus, this is a handy volume to pick up. Barnett’s opening chapter talks briefly of historiography how to approach the evidence for Jesus’ existence. The second chapter establishes a link between the historical Jesus and the proclaimed Christ of faith. The next chapter surveys the New Testament letters’ proclamations about Jesus. Chapter 4 looks at Jesus in historical context, primarily in relationship to Herod. From here, Barnett looks at the Gospels as historical records. Chapter 6 moves to the early Christian movement and its relationship to Jesus. Chapter 7 is perhaps the longest and is somewhat summarizing of the ground covered so far. Here, Barnett ties all the previous threads together, solidifying his case for the historical Jesus. Chapter 8 and the conclusion are a combined 6 pages, so this is the pinnacle of the argument more or less. While this volume is one of the shorter in the series, I found it very profitable to read and post a bit more about in the coming days.

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Lastly, while I up in Tennessee I finished Andreas Köstenberger and Scott Swain’s Father, Son, and Spirit (read a sample here). I would say of the volumes I’ve mentioned, this one is the most in-line with what you’d expect from a series called New Studies in Biblical Theology. And the two subjects, the Trinity and the Gospel of John, make it worth your time. The first part of the book, which is just one chapter, establishes the historical context for John’s gospel within Jewish monotheism. The second part is in-depth biblical reflections on the Scriptural data of John’s Gospel. The chapters focus on God, the Father, the Son, and the Spirit in turn. Each chapter covers a similar outline, starting with an introduction and then looking at the relevant passages in the prologue, the Book of Signs (1-12), and the Book of Glory (13-21). The chapter on the Son deviates from this slightly. A short concluding chapter synthesizes the findings.

The third and final part of the book then turns to theological reflections. Chapter 7 is Christological, examining Jesus’ identity as Son in the Gospel. Chapter 8 is pneumatological, exploring the relationship of the Spirit to Christ and believers. Chapter 9 is Trinitarian, unpacking the one divine mission of Father, Son, and Spirit. The final chapter looks in detail at John 17 (the high priestly prayer) and the link between the immanent and economic Trinity.

Given all that, this is definitely a volume for your library if you want to study either the Gospel of John or the doctrine of the Trinity more deeply. Having an author that is a biblical scholar (Köstenberger) working alongside a theologian (Swain) makes for a good combination. I would like to see more volumes in this series try something similar (Köstenberger co-authored another volume, but with Peter O’Brien, another biblical scholar). The tag-teaming I think works well, as does the resulting organization of the material. I know Swain has been co-authoring up a storm with Michael Allen, so maybe there’s another volume like this in the works on the horizon. I guess I could always ask!

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Thanks to Baker Books, I was able to get a copy of William Hendriksen’s More Than Conquerors: An Interpretation of The Book of Revelation. Right now I’m looking at launching a Revelation Bible study in January for college and high school students. I’ve read a few shorter works on Revelation (Poythress and Gorman), as well as Morris’ commentary. I’m planning to use Beale, Mounce, Osborne, Keener, Wright, and Aune for the actual study. Given all that, I thought I’d take advantage of an opportunity to read a short commentary from a well respected and prolific commentator.

Hendrinksen lays out several propositions about the book of Revelation in his introductory chapters:

  • The book of Revelation consists of seven sections. They are parallel and each spans the entire new dispensation, form the first to the second coming of Christ. (28)
  • The seven sections may be grouped into two major divisions. The first major division (chapters 1-11) consists of three sections. The second major division (chapters 12-22) consists of four sections. These two major divisions reveal a progress in depth or intensity of spiritual conflict. (30)
  • The book is one. The principles of human conduct and divine moral government are progressively revealed; the lampstands give rise to the seals, the seals to the trumpets, etc. (41)
  • The seven sections of the Apocalypse are arranged in an ascending, climactic order. There is progress in eschatological emphasis. The final judgment is first announced, then introduced, and finally described. Similarly, the new heaven and earth are described more fully in the final section than in those that precede it. (44)
  • The fabric of the book consists of moving pictures. The details that pertain to the picture should be interpreted in harmony with its central thought. We should ask two questions. First, what is the entire picture? Second, what is its predominant idea? (48)
  • The seals, trumpets, bowls of wrath, and similar symbols refer not to specific events, particular happenings, or details of history, but to principles – of human conduct and of divine moral government – that are operating throughout the history of the world, especially throughout the new dispensation. (51)
  • The Apocalypse is rooted in contemporaneous events and circumstances. Its symbols should be interpreted in the light of conditions that prevailed when the book was written. (54)
  • The Apocalypse is rooted in the sacred Scriptures. It should be interpreted in harmony with the teachings of the entire Bible. (58)
  • The Apocalypse is rooted in the mind and revelation of God. God in Christ is the real Author, and this book contains the purpose of God concerning the history of the Church. (59)

These propositions are stated and defended in the first 6 chapters. Then, Hendriksen validates them further in his commentary proper, which runs for the next 8 chapters. After the first chapters that covers Revelation 1, each successive chapter deals with one of the seven sections that Hendriksen mentions above (2-3; 4-7; 8-11; 12-14; 15-16; 17-19; 20-22). I like his idea that they are parallel, but I’ll need to do a bit more study to be fully convinced. All in all, I’m glad I was able to get a hold of this and start my study early.

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Zondervan sent along the next volume in the 5 Solas Series, David Vandrunen’s God’s Glory Alone: The Majestic Heart of Christian Faith and Life. This volume is about 100 pages shorted than Schreiner’s. At the same time, there isn’t much present controversy attached to Soli Deo Gloria as there is with Sola Fide. Perhaps some of that is due to it being the overlooked sola of the five. Regardless, readers would do well to explore it using Vandrunen’s work here as a guide.

His book has three sections. The first is a kind of historical survey of the Glory of God in Reformed Theology. The second provides a biblical theology of the Glory of God in Scripture starting with the cloud in Exodus and moving to the incarnation and ultimately the glorification of God’s people. The final part tackles some practical concerns. The first two, Prayer and Worship in an Age of Distraction and The Fear of The Lord in an Age of Narcissism are particularly relevant and may constitute the chief contribution of this book to your thinking. The final chapter moves into some of the two kingdoms theology that comes from Westminster West and of which Vandrunen has previously written on (here for instance). I’m not a fan, but it doesn’t detract from the overall value of Vandrunen’s contribution to this promising series.

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Finally, thanks to Crossway’s eBook program, I was able to get The Pastor’s Book: A Comprehensive and Practical Guide to Pastoral Ministry (you can read a sample here). Drawing on years of pastoral experience, author R. Kent Hughes and contributing editor Douglas Sean O’Donnell offer exactly what the subtitle of the book suggests. This fairly large (almost 600 pg) volume is divided into three parts. The first focuses on Christian gatherings with chapters on Sunday worship, annual services, weddings, and funerals. Each chapter is a balanced combination of theoretical foundations and actual practical advice and resources. So for instance, the chapter on weddings not only gives tips for how to structure a wedding service, readers are provided with 10 sample wedding homilies as well as a short guide on implementing pre-marital counseling.

In the second part of the book, the focus shifts to the various parts of a public worship service. Here, readers are given chapters on public prayer, Christian creeds, hymns and songs, baptism, and communion. Once again, and especially in the latter two, readers have strong theological foundations coupled with nuts and bolts advice for leading well. This continues into the final part of the book on ministerial duties. Two in particular are highlighted: pastoral counseling and hospital visitations. An appendix returns to weddings and offers sample wedding services from various church contexts.

There is certainly much to glean and use in this book. Large sections of it could be profitably read for theological development. However most of it is more obviously reference type material that would be consulted as needed. I wish I had a book like this when I was preparing to officiate a wedding for the first time. I had somewhat of a blank slate to work with and think I put together a fairly good wedding homily that I can re-use and adapt as needed. But, I would have put together an even better one had I had the chapter in here with all the wisdom for not only the wedding service itself, but the pre-marital counseling leading up to the marriage. I will most definitely come back and consult this before officiating or counseling again.

While I might not be at ETS this year, if you are, I thought I’d share some books you should check out. Obviously, even if you’re not at ETS, you can still check these out. You’ll just miss out on whatever deals publishers are offering at their booths. And you’ll miss out on meeting people and all that jazz, but you knew that. Following somewhat in the footsteps of Zondervan, who offered two lists, yesterday was theology and today is biblical studies.

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Thanks to a request I made two years ago before they stopped doing hard copies, Fortress Press sent along N. T. Wright’s Paul and His Recent Interpreters. Because of the gap since Paul and The Faithfulness of God came out, it’s a little more up to date, but nothing you wouldn’t really expect from Wright. Part I of the book gets into questions related to the New Perspective on Paul, offering a history of the movement’s development and current status. Part II is a survey of interpreters that have focused on the apocalyptic in Paul and culminates with a pretty savage review chapter of Douglas Campbell’s The Deliverance of God. Part III then moves into interpreters focused on Paul’s social context and names like Wayne Meeks, David Horrell, and Giorgio Agamben take the forefront.

If you’re a NT guy, and especially someone interested in Pauline studies, you pretty much have to give this a look. It’s not much over 300 pages, so if you made it through PFG, this will be a breeze. It is probably more worth your time than the collection of essays Pauline Perspectives, since those are all published elsewhere (minus Wright’s explanatory notes before each article) and he himself suggests only seven of them are necessary to really grasp his thought on Paul. All that to say, I’d look into picking this up to supplement PFG and see what Wright really thinks about some recent trends in Pauline studies.

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While we’re on the subject of Paul, you might want to grab Reading Romans in Context: Paul and Second Temple Judaism. Thanks to Zondervan, I was able to read a copy earlier this fall. Each of the 20 chapters takes a section of Romans and then shows connections with it and literature from second temple Judaism. They are all relatively brief and each focuses on either a single author from the period (Philo or Josephus) or a single piece of literature. Because of that, the further reading sections at the end of each chapter also provide a guide to the best editions of those works.

This book is a useful introduction to how Paul’s writings are part of a larger context and what that context actually is. It also provides interesting background to Romans, which even people familiar with the theology of the book might not be aware of. While it is not offering exhaustive or detailed exegesis of the sections of Romans, it is slightly technical. However, key terms are bolded and defined at the end, which suggests this is intended to be put to use in an undergrad classroom setting. It’s a good way to get your feet wet in the secondary literature of the New Testament period without worrying about drowning. Not that anyone would actually drown, but you get what I mean.

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Shifting to Old Testament, John Goldingay recently released An Introduction to The Old Testament: Exploring Text, Approaches & Issues. Thanks to IVP Academic, I was able to get a copy last month. So far, I like it. However, it’s not a typical introduction to the Old Testament. As Goldingay explains,

In this introduction to Old Testament study my aim is to help you study Scripture for yourself. I spend little time telling you what the OT says or what scholars say. I focus more on giving you background material, noting approaches to interpretation, raising questions and suggesting approaches to questions. My goal is to provide you with a workbook, based on the material I use with my students and on my discovery of what works with them (7).

The book is then divided into five parts. The first is introductory to the Old Testament as a whole and then the next three follow the structure of the Hebrew Bible (Torah, Prophets, Writings) before a final concluding section that summarizes and looks ahead to the New Testament.

Each section (there aren’t chapters) within each part takes up two pages that lay side by side. Because the material is so concise, it’s not necessarily a book you’d sit and read so much as use as a workbook like Goldingay says you should. Further highlighting the interactive nature of the book is the additional material is available on Goldingay’s website, which is continuously updated (for the most part). When I get a little more into it, I’ll be able to comment further on its use as a textbook, but so far it looks very promising. It is probably useful for high school students, but since I do Old Testament in 9th grade it might be a bit too much. It could however be a good book for an adult Sunday School class, or an introductory undergrad section. I really like the idea and if nothing else, it’s worth checking out to see how Goldingay puts it all together.

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Lastly, I was again thanks to Zondervan able to get the most recent volume in the Biblical Theology of The New Testament series, A Theology of Mark: Good News About Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God. Like volumes in this series I’ve previously reviewed (John’s Gospel and Letters, Luke-Acts, James, Jude, and Peter) this is a great resource for anyone who wants to dig deeper into New Testament and biblical theology. Also like previous volumes, it has an introductory chapter orienting us to current studies in Mark. Then, it has an extended literary theological reading of the book. The remaining part of the book is 12 thematic chapters covering subjects like Christological titles, secrecy motifs, kingdom of God, discipleship, and eschatology, to name a few.

Proportionally, this is the most detailed volume since it is almost 600 pages devoted to the 16 chapters of Mark. David Garland has written commentaries on many New Testament books, including Mark. I’ve particularly profited from his Corinthians volume in the BECNT series and look forward to profiting further from his in-depth study here on the Gospel of Mark. The major focal points appear to be Christology and discipleship and that overlaps nicely with much of my reading focus the past few weeks. If you haven’t checked out any of the volumes in this series, this might be a place to start, especially if you can grab a deal on it at ETS!

While I might not be at ETS this year, if you are, I thought I’d share some books you should check out. Obviously, even if you’re not at ETS, you can still check these out. You’ll just miss out on whatever deals publishers are offering at their booths. And you’ll miss out on meeting people and all that jazz, but you knew that. Following somewhat in the footsteps of Zondervan, who offered two lists, this is my first on theology and tomorrow I’ll offer one on biblical studies.

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Ultimately thanks to SPCK, but currently thanks to my own Amazon purchase, I’ve been reading through Anthony Thiselton’s Systematic Theology. So far it has been interesting, as in, I’m still trying to decide what I think about it. As far as the layout goes, it is 15 chapters of roughly equal length that are each split into 5 sections. Because of that, it is ideal for use in a semester long class on systematic theology. As far as content goes, Thiselton makes some interesting moves, though many are predictable if you know his background and publication track record. The opening chapter, Method and Truth, gets very philosophical (speech act theory, etc.). The chapters on God (2 and 3) cover a wide variety of topics, but no traditional treatment of the divine attributes (they aren’t untreated, to be clear though). This is followed by a chapter on the challenge of atheism, which though helpful as a rundown of post-Enlightenment thought, seemed out of place in a systematic.

I found Thiselton’s chapter on nonhuman creation particularly interesting, especially since he spends a section on animals interacting with the recent work of David Clough. Likewise, his chapter on sin is a “hermeneutical comparison of historical thinkers” tracing the way it has been understood through history. He does a similar historical take on theologies of the atonement. Two separate chapters are devoted to Jesus, though not divided along typical person and work sections. Instead, the first is on his role as mediator and the second is a “concise Christology” that is mostly historical in focus. Similarly, the chapters on the Holy Spirit are split between biblical insights and historical insights.The final three chapters cover ecclesiology and eschatology.

All in all, it is useful reference volume, but I don’t think it could serve well as a go-to textbook for systematics because of brevity and diversity. For the latter, Thiselton is very well read, and so has a plethora of sources to draw on. Sometimes, those moves don’t seem to be best for giving a representative exposition of the doctrine. Because of that, it is a systematic that belongs on the shelf in dialogue with other systematics, but maybe that’s simply the case with all of them.

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Thanks to Baker Academic, last week I was able to read through Reading Barth With Charity: A Hermeneutical Proposal. Unlike another book by George Hunsinger related to Barth, this isn’t a collection of previously published essays. Rather, it is Hunsinger’s extended plea to the revisionist school to practice a hermeneutic of charity in their reading of Barth. As such, this book drops into an on-going conversation related to Barth studies. If you’re not familiar with Barth, then this book probably isn’t for you. Through a series of chapters that spar with other top Barth scholars like Bruce McCormack, Hunsinger uses these criteria to to assses the revisionist position (xiii-xiv):

  • Does it seek to understand Barth’s theology in its strongest form before subjecting it to fundamental criticism?
  • Has it truly sought to understand Barth before picking out supposed difficulties or contradictions?
  • If apparent contradictions are discerned (as they are), has an active attempt been made to resolve them in Barth’s favor?
  • If no such attempt has been made (as it has not), does not a certain presumption exist against this interpretation?
  • Finally, do the revisionists honor the principle of humanity, or do they seem to adopt an attitude of condescension towards the writer whose views they are considering?
  • In short, are the revisionists entitled to their key claim that Barth’s views on election and the Trinity, when taken as a whole, are “inconsistent”?

This last question gives you an idea of the substance of the book’s focus on Barth. Hunsinger says no, they are not entitled to their revisionist claims about this aspect of Barth’s thought and it’s because they haven’t read him charitably. If you’d like to know how Hunsinger comes to this assessment, then you’ll need to read the book.

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While we’re talking about Barth, you might want to check out Christopher R. J. Holmes’ The Holy Spirit in Zondervan Academic’s new series New Studies in Dogmatics. Edited by Michael Allen and Scott Swain, this series is a kind of update to the classics from G. C. Berkouwer. Holmes singles out Barth, along with Augustine and Thomas Aquinas as his main historical interlocutors (you can read excerpts here, here, and here). After these three parts, he closes with a section on regeneration, ecclesiology, and spiritual illumination. I’m excited to see where this series goes, and this first volume is a promising step.

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Also in the realm of modern theology, specifically of the evangelical variety, there is the festschrift for John S. Feinberg. Thanks to Crossway I was able to get a copy of Building on The Foundations of Evangelical Theology to check out. The book has three parts, each using architectural metaphors. The first is like prolegomena in a sense, focusing “designing the architecture.” Here there are essays by Vanhoozer giving an evangelical account of the development of doctrine; Walt Kaiser’s take on trends in evangelical hermeneutics; and an intriguing account of evidence in apologetics by Thomas Provenzola to name three.

In the second section “setting the foundations,” there are essays on the doctrine of God by Bruce Ware and Keith Yandell; an essay on the modern rejection of biblical authority by John Morrison; and an interaction with Feinberg’s account of moral evil by Thomas McCall. The seven essays here somewhat follow the pattern of a traditional systematic with one essay per loci.

The final section, “erecting the superstructure,” deals with practical and ethical issues related to Feinberg’s thought. Graham Cole has an essay on the interface of the Trinity, imitation, and the Christian life; Harold Netland’s focuses on apologetics in a global, religiously diverse modern world; and John Kilner gets into bioethics.

While I was drawn more to the first two sections, each section gives a good sampling of the kinds of topics Feinberg has written and interacted with extensively. Within the essays, there are many worth digging into deeper in their own right, especially if you are interested in analytic and philosophical theology. I’m glad I have this as a resource and if there’s a sweet ETS discount, you might want to grab it as well!

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Going back to my time at Dallas, I’ve been interested in the discussion about the doctrine of justification. It was at that time that John Piper’s The Future of Justification came out, as well as N. T. Wright’s response Justification: God’s Plan, Paul’s Vision (which if you’re keeping score, is a response book to a response book). It was also during that time (fall of 2010) that Wright and Piper were supposed to have a showdown at the national ETS conference in Atlanta. Instead, earlier that year Piper took a ministry sabbatical and Thomas Schreiner presented instead. His address was subsequently published in the March 2011 edition of JETS, and having missed the conference, that’s when I read it. I was conveniently taking fifth semester Greek, which is exegesis of Romans. My final paper was a triperspectival view of justification, which combined Schreiner, Wright, and Thielman’s points of view into a (hopefully) coherent whole.

Hard to believe that was almost 5 years ago. But, here we are nearing the 500th anniversary of the Reformation and Zondervan is conveniently publishing a series called The 5 Solas to celebrate. The very first volume came out earlier this month and not only got my hands on it, I spent the weekend reading it. While highly theological in content, it’s certainly a very readable volume, which is I suppose makes it trademark Schreiner. The chapters aren’t overwhelming because the water doesn’t get too deep, but for most people it probably would be a slower read than I made it.

A big reason for this the importance of the topic, especially in recent biblical scholarship. To his credit, Schreiner doesn’t avoid these issues. Before getting to them though, he begins with a brief historical survey. These first six chapters establish the importance of the doctrine in church history. Schreiner acknowledges in the first chapter that we don’t find a direct parallel in the early church to what the Reformers taught regarding sola fide (36). However, “we find that a number of the fathers endorsed teachings that are similar to what we know today as the doctrine of justification by faith” (36). From here, the following two chapters profile Luther and Calvin respectively. Chapter 4 briefly touches on the doctrine in The Council of Trent before tracing it into later Reformed writers like Owen and Turretin. The historical section ends with a comparison of Edwards and Wesley on the issue, the latter being slightly uncomfortable with the doctrine because it might lead to antinomianism (same issue Richard Baxter had with it, more or less).

The next section, “A Biblical and Theological Tour of Sola Fide” is the heart of the book. Schreiner begins with a chapter on human sin and ends with one on the role of works in the final judgment. Along the way he covers faith, as well as the debate over “faith in Christ” or “faith of Christ,” and spends the several consecutive chapters on righteousness from all kinds of angles. We read about the importance of justification in Paul (chapter 10) as well as the imputation of righteousness (chapter 15). Those who have read Schreiner’s other works, either his book on Paul, his commentaries, or his NT theology, or even his whole Bible biblical theology won’t be surprised at many of his conclusions. However, I found it helpful to have a distilled form of Schreiner’s understanding of justification in just over 100 pages.

In the final section, Schreiner takes up contemporary challenges to the doctrine. Here he brings his address at ETS into play, splitting it across two chapters and updating it slightly in light of Wright’s most recent Paul book (which doesn’t feature much in the main text, but Schreiner directs readers to his review). He also interacts with challenges posed by the Roman Catholic church, and in particular, leaders like Francis Beckwith who have converted to Catholicism. Between the two, I think Schreiner covers the major doctrinal issues related to the Reformers understanding of justification.

Overall, I enjoyed this book and only have a minor complaint, which may actually just be something I’m working through theologically. In the chapter on justification in Paul, Schreiner says this just before the conclusion:

I would finally note that there is no need to play justification off against participation. As Michael Allen has rightly argued, justification is the ground of our fellowship with God and participation with God is its goal. Another way to put this is to say that justification is the ground of sanctification. This is certainly Paul’s argument in Romans 6. Those who are justified have also died with Christ. The verdict of being right with God is an effective one, and thus the forensic is the basis of the transformative (140).

He references Allen’s book which I’ve also reviewed and brought up the same issue there. I think it is better to see union with Christ as the ground of both justification and sanctification rather than grounding the latter in the former. Maybe I’m wrong on this. I suppose I should talk with Dr. Allen about it next time we have coffee (it hasn’t come up yet). In any case, this pushed me to want to reconsider the argument, especially in light of Romans 6.

That however hardly amounts to a serious criticism of the book itself or Schreiner’s specific argument in that chapter. There is an intimate connection between sanctification and justification, but I don’t think one is grounded in the other. Or, that understanding one will lead the other to flourish. However, this is definitely a subject I need to study more myself and I’m glad I had the chance to read this book to prod me along the journey.


Thomas Schreiner, Faith Alone – The Doctrine of Justification: What The Reformers Taught…and Why It Still Matters (The 5 Solas Series)Grand Rapids: Zondervan, September 2015. 288 pp. Paperback, $19.99.

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Thanks to Zondervan for the review copy!

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In my one of my classes this year, I’m planning on working through the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF). It’s 11th grade Bible, and it has been a systematic theology class since I started teaching it. I’ve used a variety of textbooks, just trying to find what works well. Last year, I settled on utilizing Grudem’s Bible Doctrine as a textbook since it had good review questions built in, and thanks to one of my TA’s, I have now have answer keys.

As far as the structure of the lectures go, while I have PowerPoints keyed to Grudem (thanks to Zondervan’s Textbooks Plus program), I didn’t particularly like them. Also, it seemed a bit redundant asking students to read the book and then sit through a PowerPoint that was built on the headings of what they had already read. I decided I wanted to do something different this year, and so settled on using the weekly lectures as an opportunity to go through the WCF.

To help with that, I’m reading along through Chad Van Dixhoorn’s Confessing The Faith: A Reader’s Guide to the Westminster Confession of FaithThe 33 chapters of the book follow the 33 sections of the WCF. However, each chapter is split into smaller readable portions, suitable for a daily read through. These sections each reproduce the historic text of the WCF, as well as a modern version for each section.

As an example, here’s the historic text of WCF 2.1:

There is but one only, living, and true God: who is infinite in being and perfection, a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions, immutable, immense, eternal, incomprehensible, almighty, most wise, most holy, most free, most absolute, working all things according to the counsel of his own immutable and most righteous will, for his own glory; most loving, gracious, merciful, long-suffering, abundant in goodness and truth, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin; the rewarder of them that diligently seek him; and withal, most just and terrible in his judgments, hating all sin, and who will by no means clear the guilty.

And here is in the modern version:

There is only one living and true God, who is infinite in being and perfection. He is a most pure spirit, invisible, with neither body, parts, nor passive properties. He is unchangeable, boundless, eternal, and incomprehensible. He is almighty, most wise, most holy, most free, and most absolute. He works all things according to the counsel of his own unchangeable and most righteous will, for his own glory. He is most loving, gracious, merciful, long-suffering, abundant in goodness and truth, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin, and he is the rewarder of those who diligently seek him. He is also most just and terrifying in his judgments, hating all sin, and will by no means acquit the guilty.

Stylistically, I find modern a bit smoother, but it is helpful to be able to compare it against the historic text. Along with each section’s statement, Van Dixhoorn includes the necessary Scriptural proofs, keyed to the historic text via alphabetic footnotes. Then, he offers brief commentary on the particular section. Sometimes he groups several sections together, since the goal is to have the sections on commentary comprise what could be a single day’s reading for 10 minutes or so.

All in all, from what I’ve read it has been a helpful exposition. I got through about the first 6 sections before pausing back in the spring. Now, I’m starting up a reading plan to go along with my lecture schedule. As questions arise, I’m hopeful that having read Van Dixhoorn’s analysis, I’ll be better prepared to clarify. Even you’re not in the position of teaching theology like I am, I imagine you’d find this resource useful for understanding this important historic confession of faith better.


Chad Van Dixhoorn, Confessing The Faith: A Reader’s Guide to the Westminster Confession of Faith. Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, August 2014. 512 pp. Hardcover, $30.00.

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Thanks to The Banner of Truth Trust for the review copy!

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I was barely into my four years at Dallas Seminary when John Piper published The Future of Justification. For better or worse, that was my introduction to both the New Perspective on Paul and N. T. Wright. I say that because context is important and initially, my understanding of Wright was filtered through Piper and mostly as a rebuttal. I would eventually read most all of Wright’s work on Paul for myself and come to slightly different conclusions than Piper did.

In reading Wright, you often run across the implication that Paul has been misread since the Reformation. In part, this is because we got Judaism wrong and then wrongly correlated it to medieval Catholicism. Actually, it’s not really an implication, Wright more or less says this from time to time, I’m just not running the quotes to ground for you. This again suggests that context is important, since Paul is invariably understood against the background of Second Temple Judaism.

When E. P. Sanders went back and read many of the Second Temple Judaism documents and published his study Paul and Palestinian Judaism, it set the stage for a re-reading of Paul that birthed what is now called the New Perspective. The questions that emerged were first, whether Sanders got the first century context right when it came to the Jewish religion, and second whether the medieval context was similar. Context, is after all, king.

If you’re interested in sorting all this out, you will probably be interested in reading Aaron O’Kelley’s Did The Reformers Misread Paul? A Historical-Theological Critique of the New Perspective. Because this is a doctoral dissertation (from SBTS), his thesis is stated boldly right off the bat:

This study will argue that the new perspective’s hermeneutical presupposition generated by Sanders’ view of Second Temple Judaism is a non sequitur; as such, it does not overturn the Reformation paradigm for interpreting Paul’s doctrine of justification. The hermeneutical presupposition does not follow specifically because Sanders’ argument has no bearing on the categories that defined the concepts of grace, merit, and justification in the Reformation debates (2).

Ultimately, O’Kelley will suggest that rather a “new perspective” on Paul, we need to further refine the old one in light of recent research (3). To validate that, O’Kelley spends the opening chapter outlining the New Perspective’s understanding of justification and Sanders contribution in the aforementioned work. With the current context set, O’Kelley delves into the medieval one in chapter 2. Here, he explores grace and merit in theological discussion prior to the Reformation. He then spends a chapter unpacking 3 prominent Reformer’s understandings of justification (Luther, Melanchthon, Calvin) before a follow up chapter on the post-Reformation developments. The latter solidified, but did not diverge drastically from the Reformation understanding. In the final chapter, O’Kelley summarizes his observations and then adds some exegetical observations on three key texts: Galatians 3:10-14, Romans 9:30-10:13, and Philippians 3:2-11.

A big upshot of reading O’Kelley’s book is that you should takeaway a much clearer understanding of the theological climate in which the Reformation doctrine of justification emerged. Once you have that, you are apt to say as O’Kelley does that “the fact that first-century Jews might be better described as ‘covenantal nomists’ rather than ‘legalists’ has no bearing on the categories that gave shape to the historic Protestant doctrine of justification” (121). Granting Sanders argument (and it is not without its critics), Paul is not reacting to legalism and neither are the Reformers since neither first-century Jews or medieval Catholics were purely legalistic (or fully Pelagian for that matter). While there are similarities between the two, “nothing that Sanders has argued necessarily implies that the Reformation reading of Paul cannot be sustained” (121).

All of this is to say, if we need to re-read Paul, it is not because the Reformers misread him. O’Kelley does a fine job of arguing as much. There is probably more work to be done in Paul’s first century context to understand him better, but an essential revision of a new perspective entirely is not necessary. I’ve appreciated insights I’ve drawn from Wright and others, but often they offer them with the hubris of insinuating that the majority of gifted exegetes drastically misread Paul. Ironically, in Wright’s case at least, he practices a reading of the Reformers (particularly Calvin) that is not well acquainted with the historical context, yet chides old perspective advocates for doing the same thing with Paul. In the end, both could use a bigger dose of context, but in different ways. Without it, the interpreter is quite likely to set himself up as king instead.


Aaron O’Kelley, Did The Reformers Misread Paul? A Historical-Theological Critique of the New Perspective. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, October, 2014. 188 pp. Paperback, $23.00.

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Thanks to Wipf & Stock for the review copy!

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Carl Trueman and I go way back. He doesn’t probably know it (or care), but his writing style and point of view tend wake me from my dogmatic slumbers. The first things I read from him were Wages of Spin and Minority Report, both checked out from the DTS Library. Around this time, Republocrat came out. Later, I’d come across Histories and Fallacies, and it was one of the first book reviews I did on this blog. Then another collection of essays emerged, Fools Rush in Where Monkeys Fear to Tread, which like the first two Trueman books I read, was really a collection of blog posts and short essays.

All of that is to say, I’ve been reading and enjoying Carl Trueman’s thoughts for a while now. Even though I don’t always agree with him (nor would he want me to I think), he stimulates conversation better than most. So, it was with significant anticipation that I pre-ordered and then read shortly after arrival Luther on The Christian Life. At this point, I have read all but one book in this series, though I own them all. The series itself I would highly recommend, and while this book ranks high, several others, on the whole, are more commendable. But this one affected me in a different way than the rest.

Historically, I haven’t been a fan of Luther. I realize he is important and all, but I just wasn’t interested in reading much of his writings based on what I knew from a distance. While I recognized his role in starting the Reformation, he was a bit reactionary for my taste. Granted, at the time, that’s what the church may have needed, but I tended to view it as a potential pendulum swing too far in the opposite direction.

This seemed to be confirmed by the way the semi-recent debates on sanctification and Christian growth went on between Tullian Tchividjian and Kevin DeYoung, Tchividjian’s point of view is more less also articulated by Gerhard Forde in Christian Spirituality: Five Views. That view is the Lutheran view, in contrast to the Reformed view, and from my point of view, was more or less antinomian. I say “more or less” because Tchividjian might not outright deny the third use of the law (a rule of law for believers that reminds them of their duties), but his rhetoric makes it seem at times that obedience and the law are in antithesis to the gospel and grace. I’m not alone in that assessment, as another author has pointed out that Tchividjian’s views are more at home in post-Reformation antinoniamism than the casual reader would guess (see also).

The problem with Tchividjian’s formulations, I think, is trying to drive too sharp of a wedge between law and gospel. Treating them as radical disjunctives is a theological presupposition that won’t bear the weight of the available exegetical evidence. I tend to avoid anyone who is real big on this type of thinking, and from what I knew, Luther was the one primarily responsible for it.

But then I read Trueman’s book.

As Trueman notes early on, “An understanding of Luther’s approach to the Christian life is fundamental to understanding the varieties of practical Western Christianity over the last five hundred years” (21). Also important to note is that Luther’s thought developed over time. Trueman explains:

One of the interesting things about the reception of Luther in contemporary evangelical Protestant circles is that it is entirely the early Reformation Luther – the Luther of the Heidelberg Disputation, of The Freedom of the Christian Man, and of The Bondage of the Will – who generally provides the quotations, the sound bites, and the cliches. Thus, it is the Luther of 1525 and earlier who receives all the attention (24).

But, as Trueman goes on to explain, it is the post-1525 Luther that is vital for actually understanding Luther on the Christian life:

In 1522, Luther could lightheartedly explain the success of the Reformation by commenting that he just sat around in the pub drinking beer with Amsdorf and Melanchthon while God’s Word was out doing all the work; the years after 1525 taught Luther that it was a whole lot more difficult than that. The Peasant’s War of 1525 and the dispute with Zwingli throughout the latter half of the 1520’s demonstrated how illusory was the Protestant consensus and how socially dangerous were the times. The rising antinomianism in the parishes showed how the preaching of the Word needed to be set within a more disciplined pastoral and ecclesiastical framework. The failure of the emperor to subscribe to the Augsburg Confession, of the pope to acknowledge the correctness of Luther’s stand, and of the Jews to convert to Christianity all indicated that the Reformation was going to be a long haul (24-25).

In a later chapter, Trueman expands on this. After the Reformation had moved into consolidation phase (by 1526ish), Luther received word back from Melanchthon’s Visitation Articles what parish life was actually like. Trueman notes,

What is clear from the Visitation Articles is that there were serious weaknesses in the effects of Reformation preaching stemming from imbalances in the way Luther’s teachings were being received and transmitted by parish priests. The tendency noted in the articles to preach gospel without law and to try to cultivate faith without repentance had led to behavior that could in no way be considered Christian. Jesus plus nothing was proving to be problematic, and Luther and his colleagues understood that and wished to address it. The law needed to be given its place as that which drives one to repentance. In a subtle way it also needed to be given a role in shaping exactly what the Christian response of love to God and neighbor should look like (169-170).

Trueman goes on to explain Luther’s response to this and how he actually battled antinomianism in his later writings. What this helped me to see is that Luther himself was not the cause of what might be considered antinomian thought. Rather, a misapplication of his thought and an over-emphasis on his earlier writings can, but doesn’t have to, lead in that direction. As a result of reading Trueman’s book, I have a much higher respect for Luther and an interest in actually reading more of his writings myself over the summer. While I don’t have find the law-gospel dialectic helpful, Luther can’t be reduced to that. He may not be the most careful exegete or gifted preacher, he was a great theological mind that I can learn from if I’m willing to take the time. Thanks to Carl Trueman, I’m now ready to do just that.

New Books of Note

March 31, 2015 — Leave a comment

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Last year, I used Gerald Bray’s God is Love: A Biblical and Systematic Theology for my 11th grade Bible class. Along the way, I offered several posts with excerpts:

Now, in addition to his systematic, Bray has written a history of Christian theology: God Has Spoken. Unlike the previous work, Bray does not limit himself to footnotes from Scripture. Instead, he interacts with major theologians throughout the history of the church.

Structurally, Bray orders his work with a Trinitarian focus:

  • Part 1: The Israelite Legacy
  • Part 2: The Person of The Father
  • Part 3: The Work of The Father
  • Part 4: The Person of The Son
  • Part 5: The Work of The Son
  • Part 6: The Person of The Holy Spirit
  • Part 7: The Work of The Holy Spirit
  • Part 8: One God in Three Persons

In presenting the material this way, Bray is able to move through the major discussions in theology in church history stemming from the Old Testament all the way to the modern Trinitarian renaissance. Because he seems focused on roots and development, there is a heavy focus on the early centuries of the New Testament church. As any student of historical theology will know, the early church councils dealt heavily with the nature of the Trinity and the person of Christ. As such, the first 4 parts of the book stay more or less in this neck of the woods.

This differs very significantly from a similar book like Gregg Allison’s Historical Theology which takes a doctrine per part of the book, then within each chapter traces the chronological development of one aspect of that doctrine. Because Bray’s ordering is simultaneously chronological and to some extent systematic, you will get a good feel for how Christian thought has developed and been clarified through the years as you read through it. On the other hand, Allison’s volume is more evenly ordered concerning the individual doctrines as well as the space spent on each time period within each doctrine.

In the end, it isn’t really right or wrong one way or the other, it’s just worth knowing what you’re getting into. Reading this book cover to cover would be quite a commitment since it is only about 300 pages shorter than N. T. Wright’s recent work on Paul which is split into two volumes. Selective reading in this volume is not as easy as it would be in a book like Allison’s which is also considerably shorter. Making your way through this volume then, will be quite a feat given the length of the book. Like any major undertaking, you’d be surprised at how quickly a few pages a day will add up. Or, if you’re looking for some focused summer reading, this just might be what you need to fill out your understanding of the roots of Christian theology.

Gerald Bray, God Has Spoken: A History of Christian TheologyWheaton: Crossway, October 2014. 1264 pp. Hardcover, $55.00.

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Thanks to Crossway for the review copy!


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Several years ago, I had the pleasure of reading and reviewing Michael Reeves’ Delighting In The Trinity: An Introduction to The Christian Faith. It is still the first book I’d recommend to someone who wants to understand the Trinity better. Now, Reeves has a companion book of sorts, Rejoicing in Christ, which focuses on ways we can delight specifically in the person and work of Christ.

This book is a short, quick read. However, it not a book to just absorb, but is better meditated upon as it pushes you to see Christ more clearly. In the course of 5 chapters, Reeves guides readers through the doctrine of the person and work of Christ in a highly readable and engaging fashion. Much like his previous book, there are numerous sidebars that are part historical anecdote and part rabbit trails related to the main exposition. Also, the text is highly packed with images from artwork through the centuries. So, if you’re in the mood for a theology book about Jesus that even has pictures, this book is definitely for you! Christianity is ultimately all about Christ and this book will help you see that more clearly and hopefully will move your affections for him more deeply.

Michael Reeves, Rejoicing in Christ. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, February 2015, 137 pp. Paperback, $16.00.

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Thanks to IVP Academic for the review copy!


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Given both the nature of my Th.M thesis and the fact that I write for Christ and Pop Culture, I tend to keep an eye out for Christian books that are about culture. Whether they are about how to interact well with it general or are about a specific aspect (like movies) in more detail, I try to stay up to date. I recently noticed a new release from Thomas Nelson by author Kevin Harvey called All You Want to Know About The Bible in Pop Culture: Finding Our Creator in Superheroes, Prince Charming, and Other Modern Marvels.

Going through the book, it seems to be best aimed at being an introduction to reading pop culture in Christian perspective. Chapter 1 is about superheroes as Christ figures. Chapter 2 is about movies with overtly Christian themes or depictions of God. Chapter 3 turns to princesses (often of the Disney variety). Chapter 4 covers how Christians tend to be depicted in Hollywood. Chapter 5 focuses almost exclusively on Lost, while chapter 6 gets into reality TV. Chapter 7 turns to pop music, and chapter 8 wraps things up with a collection of biblical artifacts within a broad range of pop culture. With an afterward and appendix that has a quiz about Noah and Moses to see how much you know about the actual biblical portrayal of them, the book would appear to be done, but after the notes there is an activity book of sorts to learn even more about the Bible in pop culture.

Taking all this together, I’d give Harvey high marks for creativity in presentation. A downside is that some of the main chapters are difficult to read because both the typeface and all the sidebars. In that sense, it is very much like wading into pop culture. You’re more or less entering into a visual medium and you have to pay close attention. For a book though, this is kind of distracting. In terms of the content itself, I didn’t think it was anything necessarily groundbreaking if you’re into pop cultural criticism from a Christian perspective. But, as I thought about it, that’s not where most people are and so much of what’s in here would be groundbreaking and paradigm shifting for them. In that light, I’d say this is a good book for someone who really hasn’t reflected at all on pop culture from a Christian point of view. It is also, because of the design, a more accessible book to people who don’t normally read books. Think of it as a more basic and lighthearted version of Mike Cosper’s Stories We Tell.

Kevin Harvey, All You Want to Know About The Bible in Pop Culture: Finding Our Creator in Superheroes, Prince Charming, and Other Modern Marvels. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, March 2015. 240 pp. Paperback, $19.99.

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Thanks to Thomas Nelson for the review copy!


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A while back you might remember my review of Exploring The Religion of Ancient Israel. The author, Aaron Chalmers, newest book. Interpreting The Prophets: Reading, Understanding and Preaching From the Worlds of The Prophets, was recently released by IVP Academic. In it, Chalmers offers an introduction to the prophets that focuses on situating them in their historical, theological, and rhetorical contexts. Rather than going book by book through the prophets, Chalmers offers a kind of background overview that the reader can then take and use to understand the individual books better.

The format of the book is similar to Chalmer’s other work, except that it doesn’t have the dual columns. It does however have numerous side bars that take you off the main trail a bit and a hearty amount of pictures. After clarifying in the first chapter the nature and definition of a prophet, each successive chapter deals with the relevant background contexts for understanding the prophets. Readers are moved from the historical backdrop, to the theological, and finally the rhetorical. Chapter 5 deals with the relationship of prophecy and apocalyptic material and the final chapter offers sage advice for preaching through the prophets. All in all, this is a handy little volume that I hope will pay off as my own 9th grade Bible class is about to embark on a study of the prophets.

Aaron Chalmers, Interpreting The Prophets: Reading, Understanding and Preaching From the Worlds of The Prophets. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, February 2015, 173 pp. Paperback, $20.00.

Buy itAmazon | Westminster

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Thanks to IVP Academic for the review copy!

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One thing that struck me after reading Tim Keller’s book on prayer was how much importance he placed on meditation. Not just meditation in the abstract, or even the secular benefits of it, but the practice of meditating specifically on Scripture as a prelude to prayer. He spent a good portion on the topic, but I could have used more, or at least a wider look at the subject.

Thankfully, David Saxton has supplied that study. In his God’s Battle Plan For The Mind, readers are offered one part historical theology and one practical theology. The goal, as Saxton explains, is

to convince God’s people of the absolute necessity of personal meditation. This book will motivate the believer to begin this work; teach practically how to meditate on divine truth; and guide in right patterns of thinking throughout the day. (2)

He then clarifies that while he is unpacking the Purtian practice, they are but a secondary source to the biblical teaching on the subject. The rest of the opening chapter explains the importance of recovering this habit in our Christian lives. Without meditation, we are ultimately taking in truth like someone who eats without chewing. Unless we take the time to meditate on what we read and listen to from God’s word, we won’t properly digest and apply the truth to our hearts.

In chapter 2, Saxton tackles unbiblical forms of meditation. He is primarily seeking to distinguish the biblical practice from Roman Catholic contemplative forms on the one hand and mystical Eastern religious practices on the other. Having done that, we then offers a positive definition of biblical meditation in chapter 3. It is essentially a spiritual activity of heart and mind which centers on dwelling on and delighting in God’s word (26).

Chapter 3 transitions briefly into the Puritan practice, but it chapters 4 and 5 that do the primary unpacking. In the first, Saxton uses Puritan writings to explain “occasional meditation” which can occur any time and anywhere. This kind of sporadic practice is subordinate to the more important “deliberate meditation” which is the focus of chapter 5. This is more in line with what Keller discusses and takes place at a specific place and time that one deliberately plans out. Ideally, in Puritan thought, this is part of one’s morning ritual to start the day. Or, in evangelicalese, it would be part of one’s morning quiet time.

This is dealt with in more detail in chapter 6 which gets down to the brass tacks of practicing meditation. The steps for effectively beginning this are (59-64):

  • Praying for the Spirit’s help for fervency
  • Choosing a Scriptural thought by Bible reading
  • Questioning, considering, and examining oneself
  • Concluding with personal application, resolution, and prayer

In chapters 7 and 8, Saxton discusses importance times for meditation as well as subjects for meditation. The latter primarily includes the examples of sin (in order to overcome it) and God (in order to find grace and help). Chapters 9, 10, and 11 give reasons, benefits, and enemies of meditation respectively. Reasons for meditation include (95-103):

  • The Christian’s work and duty is to think upon God with praise
  • Meditation follows the example of Christ and other godly people
  • Meditation is God’s own command given for a believer’s good
  • Meditation is necessary for a believer to know God’s Word well
  • Meditation assists believers in the duty of prayer and all other means of grace
  • Meditation applies the Scripture to redeeming the time with one’s mind
  • Without meditation, one cannot become a godly, stable Christian
  • Christians meditate because God’s Word is a love letter to his people

Benefits of meditation include deepening of repentance, increased resolve to fight sin, and inflamed heart affections for God among other reasons. As for the enemies, Saxton does a fine job of detailing the typical excuses/reasons Christians might have for not pursuing meditation, as well as reasons working against us that we might not be consciously aware of. I’ll let you read for yourself to see what those are. The final formal chapter (12) offers further motivation to begin the habit of meditation and the conclusion explores briefly the connection between meditation and growth in godliness.

On the whole, I found this book very helpful. It filled out more of what Keller was saying in his book by focusing on the breadth of Puritan teaching on the subject, as well as just in general giving more detail about the practice of meditation. While some might complain that this book is overly fixated on the Puritans, I would say (a) it is keeping with the aims of the book, and (b) they seem to be the ones who both took the practice most seriously and gave the most detailed instruction and encouragement for actually implementing it into one’s daily life. I personally need to grow tremendously in this area and will look forward to integrating the insights from Saxton’s book in the coming weeks and months. If you’d like to do the same, I’d highly suggest picking up a copy for yourself!


 

David W. Saxton, God’s Battle Plan For The Mind: The Puritan Practice of Biblical MeditationGrand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, January 2015. 160 pp. Paperback, $18.00.

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Thanks to Reformation Heritage Books for the review copy!