Archives For Practical Theology

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Last summer, John Piper spoke at the Co-Mission weekend meetings called Revive in Canterbury, England. This is a church planting movement in greater London. Those messages were expanded roughly three-fold to become Living in The Light: Money, Sex & Power. Even still, it’s a relatively small book, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth checking out.

Obviously, the subtitle of the book gives you an idea what the subject matter is. What is less obvious is how they are connected. Piper explains,

  • Power is a capacity to pursue what you value
  • Money is a cultural symbol that can be exchanged in pursuit of what you value
  • Sex is one of the pleasures that people value, and the pursuit of it

He then concludes, “Therefore power, money and sex are all God-given means of showing what you value. They are all (like other created reality in the universe) given by God as means of worship – that is, as means of magnifying what is of supreme worth to you” (20).

With this connection made, Piper then turns to Romans 1 to retrieve a diagnostic on the human heart. Since money, sex, and power show what we worship, it is only fitting to use the passage in Romans about disordered worship to shed light on the situation.

In successive chapters, Piper applies his pastoral heart and analytical mind to sex, money, and finally power. He then offers two additional chapters that walk readers through deliverance from improper worship and how to re-orient our approach to this triumvirate. The first is more about taking money, sex, or power out of the center of your universe, whereas the latter is about how to keep them in their proper orbit, to use the metaphor Piper employs.

Because of how significant these subjects are in our culture, this is a book worth checking out. It is relatively short and could be read in a weekend. However, it more than likely introduces readers to what could be a life-time of wrestling with a proper view of money, sex, and power that sees goodness in each (something pointed out in the first chapter), but doesn’t bow to worship any of them. Piper doesn’t offer the final or only word on the topic (one thinks of Paul Tripp’s similar book). But he does offer his own very Piperian take on the topic, and that alone is worth checking out.


John Piper, Living In The Light: Money, Sex & Power. Epsom, Surrey, UK: The Good Book Company, May 2016. 144 pp. Hardcover, $12.99.

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Thanks to The Good Book Company for the review copy!

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Vern Poythress can’t seem to stop publishing books. Since In The Beginning Was The Word came out in 2009, he’s published 10 books, with an 11th coming out later this year (making it the third this calendar year). On the upside, he’s applying his unique triperspectivalistic vantage point to variety of topics (math, philosophy, biblical interpretation, sociology, etc.). On the downside, many of these books are fairly boring to read and often seem like Van Tillian class syllabi prepared for publication rather than individual works in their own right.

Such is the case with The Miracles of Jesus, which after a useful template for analyzing miracles in the first part of the book, proceeds to analyze each and every miracle in the gospel of Matthew in successive short chapters. It is repetitive and dull when read straight through (e.g. chapters 11, 21, 23, 34 are all called Many Healings, and chapters 27 and 29 are variants called Healing Many). It would however serve as an excellent resource to anyone preaching through Matthew who would like to consult Poythress’ analysis of the various miracles that occur. It is also useful for the template in the first part of the book discussing how to think about miracles typologically and within the history of redemption. Beyond that, it is, like several other Poythress releases, not riveting chapter by chapter reading. Nonetheless, I value the way Poythress approaches the issues and will continue to try to get my hands on each and every new book he pumps out (even if sometimes I’m doing so as a collector).

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On a different note, It is fashionable among contemporary New Testament studies to suggest that the Reformers were less than adept when it comes to reading Paul. I’ve suggested a recent monograph on the topic, but now there’s a volume of direct readings of Paul from various New Testament scholars and systematic theologians. Reformation Readings of Paul: Explorations in History and Exegesis is edited by Michael Allen and Jonathan Linebaugh. In it, they curate paired chapters in which the first examines a Reformer’s reading of a Pauline text (Galatians, Romans, Ephesians, Corinthians, and other Pauline letters are the categories) and the second compares the text of that letter and the theology of that Reformer (and they are Luther, Melanchthon, Bucer, Calvin, and Cranmer). The former comes from the pen of a theologian and the latter from a New Testament scholar. The paired essays are finished off with a concluding essay from Gerald Bray that is rather devastating to anyone suggesting the Reformers mis-read Paul.

If something like that is your cup of tea, you will most likely want to grab a copy of this book. I personally was not that drawn in, but I think it may come in handy later on. While I have a recurring interest in Paul, my local church and school context doesn’t generate a lot of buzz around this issue. There are a handful of guys that I hang out with at church that are aware of the discussion in Pauline in studies. Some have even read N. T. Wright. But, none of them are asking questions about whether the Reformers read Paul well. I realize that question has more bite/teeth in the larger online world that I participate in. And because of that, I’d recommend this book if those questions perplex you.

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In a different vein, you might be interested in checking out Christopher J. H. Wright’s How to Preach & Teach the Old Testament for All Its Worth. It is presented as a follow up to How to Read The Bible For All Its Worth (and visually looks like it, as well as How To Read The Bible Book by Book). Like the previous books, it is very user friendly, but unlike them, has a more niche audience. While I’d recommend the previous two volumes to pretty much everyone (especially older high school and college students), this volume is mainly for pastors, and others like myself who teach from the Old Testament.

The first part of the book explains why we should preach and teach from the Old Testament, while the second half explains how we can preach and teach from the Old Testament. The first part is very helpful when it comes to typology and preaching Christ from the OT. The second part is likewise helpful, as it goes genre by genre in paired chapter explaining first the nature of the genre and second, how to preach and teach from it. Wright is a seasoned OT scholar, and if you spend time preaching and teaching from the Old Testament, you’ll probably benefit from his insights. While it might not be a one-stop handbook for understanding the Old Testament better, it does collate the basics you need to know to handle the different Old Testament genres effectively.

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Lastly, let’s say you were interested in getting a better grasp on the book of Revelation. There’s many ways you could go about this, but a helpful thematic way would be to pick up J. Scott Duvall’s The Heart of Revelation. After a brief introduction and a glossary that introduces the “cast of characters,” Duval proceeds to trace 10 key themes through the book of Revelation:

  • God
  • Worship
  • The People of God
  • The Holy Spirit
  • Our Enemies
  • The Mission
  • Jesus Christ
  • Judgment
  • The New Creation
  • Perseverance

Read in tandem with a commentary to answer your further questions as they arise, I can’t think of a better way to get a big picture understanding of one of the most bewildering books of the Bible. While Vern Poythress’ The Returning King goes section by section (and provides a good companion to this volume), I think Duvall is on to something with his thematic overview. Sometimes, in a complex book like Revelation, the forest gets lost as you try to examine each and every tree. Not the case with this book. If you’ve frequently been mystified by Revelation, this book might not answer all your questions, but it will give you a better framework for making sense of the book as a whole.

I’ve actually since passed it along to a student of mine who has been interested in the book. I’ve tried tackling it in class at various times (and in vain promised a forthcoming Revelation Bible study), but to no avail. Part of this because, hey, it’s hard to teach Revelation. The other part is that it doesn’t neatly fit with the subjects I currently teach (Old Testament, Systematic, Biblical and Practical Theology). In any case, if I give it another go, I’d like to be able to utilize the thematic approach here. Maybe that’s even the basis of a good summer Bible study. Who’s to say?

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It is a feeling that still haunts me. Around this time 2 years ago, I was about to experience burnout. But I didn’t know it. Based on the trajectories I had setup, I’m not sure reading this book would have stopped it at that point, but it couldn’t have hurt.

This is a deceptively simple book. In Zeal Without Burnout, Christopher Ash offers just what the subtitle promises: seven keys to a lifelong ministry and sustainable sacrifice. They are:

  1. We need sleep
  2. We need Sabbath rests
  3. We need friends
  4. We need inward renewal
  5. Beware of being on a platform
  6. Beware of discouragement
  7. Pursue in ministry because joy motivates you

Nothing here is necessarily revolutionary. However, Ash puts them in a framework that includes many personal stories (almost one per chapter), as well as some opening material that distinguishes between sacrifice and burnout. He then offers a big neglected truth (we are creatures of dust), before offering his four practical implications of that truth (see 1-4 above) and then three motivational questions to ask yourself. After working through those, there is a postscript from a medical doctor explaining burnout and then some suggested readings.

While the first four items above should not be surprising, they are things those of us in ministry need to remember regularly. When I experienced burnout almost two summers ago I think it was primarily because of lack of sleep, lack of true Sabbath rest (I had been taking a day off, but not really resting), lack of quality friendships (or at least spending time with friends I had) and lack of regular inward renewal (wasn’t really doing a quiet time to speak of). As a result, I hit a wall at the end of the semester and basically had generalized anxiety disorder for most of the summer and didn’t really come out of it until early the following year. I survived, but I certainly don’t want to feel that way again any time soon (or ever really).

All that to say, this book is worth putting on your shelf (after you’ve read it) if you’re in ministry. As the subtitle suggests, these keys are not for ministry in general, but are kind of back-end suggestions (or principles) for how your ministry and level of service can be zealous but sustainable.  Some forms of zeal can be maintained in their intensity for a short period of time. But, eventually, like me, you might hit a wall, and spend a summer wondering how you’re ever gonna move on and get back to your normal self.


Christopher Ash, Zeal Without Burnout: Seven Keys to a Lifelong Ministry of Sustainable ServiceEpsom, Surrey, UK: The Good Book Company, March 2016. 112 pp. Hardcover, $12.99.

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Although I don’t blog about the topic very often, I have had a research and personal interest in the church’s relationship with the gay community for quite some time now. Notice I didn’t say “what the Bible says about homosexuality.” Despite some revisionist attempts to re-read certain passages, I think a traditional understanding of sexual ethics is correct. I realize that claim itself is open to interpretation. However, I think the intention for sexual relationships set forward in Scripture entails typical heterosexual monogamous unions.

Having said that, I still think it’s a different story when it comes to moving from what Scripture teaches to how we should apply that teaching to our contemporary situation. While homosexual behavior is soundly rejected in Scripture, certain other issues like transgender and intersex are not even mentioned. Much less is the question of how to care for and love those who either openly live a gay lifestyle, or are struggling not to do so.

Often in conversations like this, there is a divide between Biblical teaching and personal experience. What I mean by that is that some proudly proclaim what the Bible says but don’t have any experience with the gay community. Others have the experience, and so have a difficult time taking Scripture at face value. As an example, the strongest book offering a revisionist account of Scripture so that it is open to affirming homosexual relationships is James Brownson’s Bible, Gender, and Sexuality. However, the author tells readers in the introduction that he began to re-think things when his son came out to him as gay. Once I read that, it was no surprise where he landed by the end of his reconsideration of the relevant New Testament passages.

When I was reading Preston Sprinkle’s People to Be Loved: Why Homosexuality is Not Just An Issue, I could tell he was up to something different. After an opening chapter that orients readers to Sprinkle’s experience with both the people and the issue, he spends 6 chapters working through all of the main Biblical passages related to homosexuality. He is well acquainted with both the traditional arguments and revisionist accounts and is not afraid to critique either. While his tone makes you feel as if he is going to land in an affirming position toward homosexual relationships, he instead offers a well nuanced traditional understanding of sexual relationships.

This helps illustrate the two different audiences Sprinkle is writing to. On the one hand, he is writing to those who hold a traditional (non-affirming as he calls it) position on homosexuality. To them, he encourages a stance of sympathy and love that lacks the the moral hypocrisy that can creep in. He also takes away some less than sound arguments that can be used to condemn homosexuality from Scripture. On the other hand, he is writing to those who might hold an affirming position and pleads with them to reconsider what Scripture says. He gently critiques affirming arguments, while also writing as someone who is acquainted with those who live a gay lifestyle and those that affirm those who do.

While I don’t fit neatly into either of these categories, I benefited from reading Sprinkle’s book and would strongly recommend it. It is hard to imagine a more pressing discussion about what faithful Christian living and response involves. The final three chapters of this book dig more deeply into that, and Sprinkle offers some wisdom for a way forward. His style throughout is very conversational (in a way that may annoy some), and so for many may serve as a gentle corrective to their current views. For those it doesn’t convince, it still represents a viewpoint to be reckoned with. If this is something you wrestle with (either theoretically or existentially), you should pick up a copy of Sprinkle’s book.


Preston Sprinkle, People To Be Loved: Why Homosexuality Is Not Just An IssueGrand Rapids: Zondervan, December 2015. 224 pp. Paperback, $16.99.

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I believe I mentioned this already, but I’ve been teaching a spiritual disciplines class at church. We opted to call it Rhythms of The Christian Life, and at this point we’re 4/5 done. Because of that, I went back through my books on spiritual disciplines to prepare. Earlier this month, Habits of Grace:Enjoying Jesus Through The Spiritual Disciplines by David Mathis came out and its a book I wish I had from the beginning. But, thanks to Crossway, I was able to get a PDF to read and review.

Mathis provides an excellent, yet concise, foundation for the disciplines in the introduction (which you can read in full here). He reminds us that these can be means of grace, through which God works in our lives. He then divides would could be an unruly collection of practices into three headings:

  • Hear His Voice (Word)
  • Have His Ear (Prayer)
  • Belong to His Body (Fellowship)

There is a fourth part that serves as a coda, but this three-fold division does much to simplify the topic. John Frame makes several appearances in the book so I’m wondering if there’s a latent triperspectivalism.

For the class that I’m teaching we started with a week on Sabbath and then inserted a separate week on fasting/silence/solitude after prayer. Mathis includes fasting, silence, and solitude under his section on prayer. He also includes journaling there. This certainly makes sense, given that these are the most private disciplines and taking time away for silence and solitude gives space for journaling, fasting, and prayer.

I’m glad that Mathis included the final section on fellowship and there also discussed the typical means of grace (the preached word, communion, baptism). This underscores the overall framework he has placed the disciplines within. It is also helpful for people like me who might opt to stick with the private disciplines. I need to be reminded that just as I read my Bible expectantly, I should gather for corporate worship and community with similar expectations for God to show grace.

If you’re looking for a good intro book on the spiritual disciplines, I’d highly recommend starting here. It’s what I’ll be recommending to my class as our time together closes out next week. It might also be the suggested reading on the front end for this class when I teach it again, hopefully sooner rather than later.

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In a related vein, you might also want to check out Keith L. Johnson’s Theology as Discipleship. Thanks to IVP Academic, I was able to read this one toward the end of last year. In this book, Johnson argues that “the discipline of theology and a life of discipleship to Jesus Christ are integrally related because the practice of theology is one of the ways we participate in the life of the triune God.” He hopes to “show how the study of theology enriches Christian practice and how faithful obedience to Christ enables the learning of theology” (12).

This book arises out of an introductory course in theology Johnson teaches at Wheaton. As his argument proceeds, it is presented through close theological readings of Scripture (13). Before that, the opening chapter gives some background on how theological study fell on hard times. After talking about ways to move forward, the following chapters dig deeper into topics like union with Christ (chapters 2-3), the nature of the Word of God and our posture toward it (chapters 4-5), and the mind of Christ (chapter 6).

The final chapter lays out some principles for what “theology in Christ” looks like. Ultimately, we practice theology as disciples of Christ when:

  • We measure our thinking and speaking about God by the person and work of Jesus Christ as revealed in Scripture (156)
  • Our thinking stays within the limits of our faith in Jesus Christ (158)
  • We seek to live obediently in the pattern of the incarnate Jesus Christ’s obedience to God (161)
  • We do our theological work for the benefit of others (166)
  • We use our theological work to serve the church and its mission (171)
  • We pursue both truth and unity (176)
  • We display confidence while avoiding defensiveness (179)
  • We utilizing the insights of non-theological disciplines to enrich our thinking (182)
  • We pursue our theological work with joy (186)

While this is a fairly short book, it packs a punch. It is a good example of theological reading of Scripture being used to defend theology as a practice of Christian discipleship. At places, it can feel a bit dense. In terms of tone, style, and content, it’s a book for people like me primarily. But, in terms of argument, it is aimed at those who are questioning whether the study of theology is worth pursuing. That might make the book itself a hard sell, since I’m already convinced it’s worth pursuing, but I don’t think I could give this book to one of my college students who is questioning the pursuit of theology, because that usually goes hand in hand with an aversion to reading. If they liked reading, they’d already be an easy sell to do some theological reading. If they’re not, I wouldn’t see this book as convincing them, even though I think it has a strong argument. Not necessarily a reason to not check this book out, but a potential issue it might have in making an impact.

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Lastly, thanks to Zondervan I was able to read Julius Kim’s Preaching The Whole Counsel of God: Design and Deliver Gospel-Centered Sermons. I’m not typically a fan of things with “gospel-centered” in the title or subtitle. Not because I don’t like the gospel, or want things “centered” on it (whatever that might actually mean), but rather because it can be faddish. Kim’s book however, is not.

I was interested in picking this up since I joined the preaching planning team at our church this past fall. I had been helping with research for a couple of years off and on. Recently, our church transitioned from being a campus of a larger church movement to an independent church. As that was happening, our pastor setup up a weekly preaching meeting to collaborate and plan the sermons and series. The mechanics of it all, might make for another interesting post. Here, I’ll just note that although I don’t preach often (outside of chapel at school really, and even that is not usually a “sermon”) I am interested in the design and delivery of sermons.

The first two parts of the book cover the basics of Christ-centered preaching. The final two parts of the book are devoted to the delivery and design of sermons so that they might not only be true and good, but also beautiful. This latter focus is what sets Kim’s book apart. Having sermons that are true and good are common goals among preaching books. The latter, while not ignored, is not usually as explicit as Kim makes it. In the last part specifically, Kim incorporates insights from recent studies in neuroscience in order to unpack how to design and deliver the sermon. He also deals with verbal and non-verbal communication as it pertains to the delivery.

All in all, this makes Kim’s book worth checking out if you preach regularly. It is concise (just over 220 pp), but covers quite a bit of ground. In some ways, it might be a better book for people who are already familiar with the techniques of Christ-centered preaching and have either been practicing it for a while or are well read in these kinds of books. It is introductory enough to work well as a class textbook, but maybe not as a stand alone read. Because of what Kim includes about design and delivery though, I think it definitely deserves to be in the mix of books that provide good instruction for preaching.

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In our small group at church we’ve been doing a Hebrews Bible study. Not a Hebrew Bible study mind you, but a study covering the book of Hebrews. This past week, we looked at 5:11-6:12, with a bit of 6:13-20 toward the end. As we were engaged in discussion and study, I noticed a connection between 5:11 and 3:12-14 that got me thinking.

In case you don’t have it memorized, here’s Hebrews 5:11-14:

About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.

We tend to construe “dull of hearing” as pertaining to gaining knowledge. But from context, both here and earlier in the book, I think it has more to do with obedience. Part of that is because the two words are closely related, especially in the context of Hebrews. This connection also features prominently in a recent book on listening. Ultimately, to “obey” is to “hyper-listen” or to listen deeply.

On this understanding, someone is “dull of hearing” if they are “slow to obey.” While it could be construed as not listening well on Sunday mornings, I think it has more to do with listening to God in general, specifically through his Word, and evidencing that you’ve heard by how you live. This comes out more in 5:14 as the contrasting position is called “mature” and that is defined as having “powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.” This more or less describes the wise person in the book of Proverbs, and implies that you distinguish good from evil in order to practice the former instead of the latter. We could say then that listening closely leads to living wisely.

With this in mind, think back to 3:12-14, which again if you don’t have it memorized is:

Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.

Notice how important the community is for helping each other avoid sin’s deceitfulness. The word for “exhort” is parakaleo, which is the same word underlying “Paraclete”, the title Jesus gives the Holy Spirit. If the Spirit indwells believers, then they are able to function as a mouthpiece for the Spirit, doing his job (in part) in the context of Christian community. By being part of an active church body, you are “partaking of the Holy Spirit” if others are exhorting you toward living a godly life (cf. 6:4 and what this might mean in that context).

I tend to think that the way this should work is similar to an aspect of the way I teach piano. Often, I find myself listening very closely as a student plays through a song that they practiced during the previous week. It is rare that a song is played completely mistake free. However, as I’m listening closely and paying attention, I can discern the intentionality behind many of the notes. What I’m looking for is evidence of correct thinking behind the playing.

One thing that is difficult in being a piano teacher is that I’m essentially listening to someone play a song so I can point out their mistakes. I’ve had to think through how to do this well so that it’s not a drudgery to sit through lessons (for me and the student). I’m sure many of you had that teacher growing up. You know, the one that pointed out every single mistake, quickly saying “Wrong!” as soon as your finger touched that F that should have been an F# because you forget you were playing in the key of G.

What I try to do is to either wait for the student to correct the error themselves, or even wait until the end of the piece and ask, “What did you forget?” at which point they remember themselves that all the F’s were supposed to be sharp. Other times, when I wrong note is played, I’ll say “close” letting them know it wasn’t quite right, but in a way encouraging them that they’re right there and then they have the opportunity to move to the correct note on their own.

Thinking back to Hebrews 3 passage, it involves a similar kind of listening. Rather than pointing out every mistake individuals in our community make, we should listen closely to the overall melody their life is making. We should encourage them when the notes they are playing are close to the mark, and perhaps not rush to calling out every error along the way. If we are truly living in community together, we have more than passing interaction with one another and can discern patterns in others’ behavior that might need to be addressed. 

Like a piano teacher that generally sees his students for a concentrate amount of timing weekly, we should seek to spend concentrated time with close community weekly. Doing so allows us to really listen to one another and even better exhort and encourage more melodic living in harmony with the Spirit within us.

 

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If one were to put together a list of influential theologians in the history of the church, Augustine would certainly be near the top. In terms of sheer literary output, not to mention kick-starting a genre (autobiography), Augustine towers over other theologians. Yet, he was primarily a pastor (bishop) for his day job. As such, he had much to say when it came to living the Christian life. Thanks to Crossway’s Theologians on The Christian Life series, you can read many of those insights in one place.

When compared to the other authors in the series, Augustine may seem out of place. The book itself is a bit out of place in terms of style. Gerald Bray chose to divide up the nearly 200 pages into only 5 chapters. Those five chapters give readers a window into Augustine’s life and background, his Christian faith, his influence as a teacher, his role as a pastor, and his impact on today. These chapters are bookended by a rundown on the Latin titles of Augustine’s works (and their English translations) and suggestions for further reading.

So far, you could have gathered much of this yourself by an attentive reading of the table of contents (which is the first step of good book reviewing mind you). You may still be wondering why Augustine made the list for this particular series. He is the oldest author by far, and the only pre-Reformation selection. Toward the end of Bray’s book I think he gives a good reason:

Augustine had the good fortune, if we can call it that, to have lived in the last generation of antiquity. After his death, it was still possible for some people in the Latin West to get a good classical education, as the careers of Boethius, Cassiodorus, and Gregory the Great remind us, but the were exceptions. The old Roman world no longer has urban centers where a large educated public eagerly debated philosophy and theology. Classical allusions fell on increasingly deaf ears as fewer and fewer people were brought up on the literary treasures of pre-Christian times. For many, Augustine – and especially The City of God – became the lens through which they read about what had gone before. He was the source, the encyclopedia of knowledge, through which the whole of antiquity, pagan and Christian, was distilled (192).

In the opening chapter, after his biographical sketch of Augustine, and before his short description of basic beliefs, Bray breaks down all the categories of writing Augustine left us:

  • Autobiographical
  • Philosophical
  • Exegetical
  • Doctrinal
  • Apologetical
  • Pastoral and Monastic
  • Polemical
  • Letters and Sermons

As he notes, “No ancient Christian writer has left us a larger corpus of writings than Augustine” (29). He left over 100 books, 307 known letters, and 583 sermons. If you math, you could figure out that Augustine averaged 3 books a year during his writing career.

With all this in mind, Augustine becomes the obvious candidate for inclusion in this series. He “was the greatest of the Latin (Western) church fathers” (191) and is the window in what came before him for much of the Western world. As far as influential Christian writers of his stature, perhaps Aquinas deserves inclusion in a series like this, but I can’t see him making the cut for various reasons.

Turning back to the book itself, the second chapter begins the exposition proper when it comes to Augustine’s understanding of the Christian life. Here, Bray guides readers through Augustine’s conversion, devotional life, family life and personal values, his choice of lifestyle (celibate), and his general life of faith. In chapter 3, the focus shifts to Augustine as a teacher of the Bible, as well as philosophy (briefly in regards to things and signs) and theology. Chapter 4 turns to his pastoral work, particularly the trials of parish life and his preaching.

In the final chapter, Bray kind of summarizes all that came before, but in the context of how it relates to our world today. He notes two emphases of Augustine’s that are relevant, especially in our modern world:

  • His emphasis on the relationship of the individual to God (198)
  • His adherence to the church (200)

We can tend to opt for one of the other, yet Augustine held both strongly. In addition Bray notes several teaching emphases that continue to have impact:

  • The human race is united in sin and rebellion against God and cannot save itself (201)
  • The Word of God is to be found in the Bible and nowhere else (203)
  • God is a Trinity of love (206)
  • God created the world for a purpose (208)
  • The Christian’s life is a journey that we walk by faith (210)
  • The Christian mission is important wherever it is exercised (212)

Taking all of these together provides a good snapshot of Augustine’s teaching as it related to the Christian life. I would say after reading this that there is much for modern evangelicals to learn from Augustine, even if we might disagree with some of his theological leanings. But, that’s probably true of pretty much every author featured in this series. Bray does an excellent job of presenting Augustine sympathetically, but without overshadowing that Augustine comes from a very different time and place and saw the world much differently than we do.

As a minor criticism, I would have liked to have the chapters laid out in a more digestible form. The chapters are long compared to other volumes in this series and the headings are not numerous. I found that it was hard to read in spurts. Bray can obviously divide up the material however he likes, and I do like his conceptual layout. Perhaps if I had not read nearly all the other volumes already, I wouldn’t have had a chapter length expectation in play. As I’ll say though for pretty much all the volumes in this series, it is one you should take, read, and hopefully grow in your walk with Christ as a result.


Gerald Bray, Augustine on The Christian Life: Transformed by The Power of God. Wheaton: Crossway, October, 2015. 232 pp. Paperback, $18.99.

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Thanks to the generosity of Crossway, I will be posting reviews of the Theologians on The Christian Life series over the next several months. I have one more to finish reading, but since I just recently finished Augustine on The Christian Life, I’m ready to get started.

Recently, I’ve wanted to refocus my attention on the basic of living the Christian life. Some of that is because of teaching commitments (at school and soon at church). Some of that is because of just feeling rusty myself in terms of basic spiritual disciplines. Another part of it is my fairly longstanding interest in the relationship of good works to the life of faith in Christ. When you add all these together, it should make for a good spring series.

I thought it might be interesting to do the series chronologically by theologian rather than book release date. This particularly series unfortunately only has Augustine before the Reformation, but given some of Bray’s comments, it is probably a justified choice (more on that in the actual review). There are more 20th century theologians than I think any other single century. Also, were it not for Wesley, it would be a fairly monochrome sample of Reformed authors (the Germans being mild outliers).

Regardless, in this stack you have some of the most influential Christian theologians and their thoughts on the Christian life. I thought it might be interesting to move through them in a way that gives a brief overview of each book, notes which ones are stronger contributions than others, and over time, note what themes are held in common by each of these writers. With only one title left to read (Bonhoeffer), I have a pretty good idea what these themes might look like, but it will be clearly as I actually start writing the reviews. By next week, I’ll hopefully have Augustine ready to go and then we’ll see how it goes from there!

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Well, it’s almost that time of year again. You know, that time at the end of the year when everyone gets jazzed about Bible reading plans. I haven’t seen the posts pop up yet, but I’m sure the week after Christmas they’ll be here right on schedule.

While I’m all for Bible reading plans, it really is not that effective if you just power through a reading plan without understanding what your’e reading. I would imagine that’s why many people have a hard time getting through a “Bible in a year” plan once Exodus wraps up. Leviticus and Numbers can join forces to tank any resolve you have leftover from January and put an end to your efforts mid-February.

A way to avoid some of this is to learn the basics of biblical interpretation. There are many, many resources you could use for this, but I’d recommend starting with Sinclair Ferguson’s From The Mouth of God: Trusting, Reading, and Applying The Bible. I wouldn’t necessarily make it the only book you read on the topic, but it is an excellent place to start.

The subtitles give you the three parts that the book is divided into. First, Ferguson offers a trio of chapters on the trustworthiness of Scripture. He provides a good foundation that helps readers to see that the Bible is actually God’s Word. The implications of this should be that we make a priority of reading and then applying it.

Toward that end, Ferguson devotes the second part of the book to helping you read the Bible better. The first chapter in this section covers reading in general. The second chapter gives readers several “keys” for reading well. They are:

  • Context
  • Jesus
  • The unfolding drama
  • Biblical logic
  • Each part of Scripture should be read according to its literary character

These could have been presented in perhaps a more memorable way. But, they give readers “handles” for how to handle the Word of God correctly. When we read, we should ask questions about the background context (historical, cultural, literary), as well how it fits into the larger story of Scripture and relates to Christ. We should also develop the ability to read using biblical logic (which is easier said than done) and then read Scripture according to its genre of literature. These are pretty basic ideas, but they are not necessarily common sense and might not be something that every Christian has just naturally thought of in their Bible reading.

Going off the last key above, Ferguson devotes the following chapter to explaining how to read prose, poetry, wisdom, and prophecy well. Then, the following chapter does the same for Gospels, Epistles, and visions. Notice that these seven genres give us the way the Old and New Testaments are organized. The final chapter in this section is a brief Bible study using the keys to examine Ruth.

This makes for a natural transition to the next section on applying Scripture. The trio of chapters here are short, but help readers navigate the use of Scripture, how it takes root (using the parable of the sower) and how to draw practical applications. Ferguson follows up with several appendices, two on divine guidance through reading Scripture, one with more references for further reading, and the last is a Bible reading plan that I happen to use.(which D. A. Carson blogs on here).

Ultimately, this book isn’t a last word on the topic. It is an accessible introduction to reading the Bible profitably as God’s Word. Since many people can make a renewed commitment to do that as the New Year comes, this book would make a good companion resource to help broaden and deepen your reading. If you’ve read many books already on the topic, you won’t necessarily need to add this to your collection. However, simply because Sinclair Ferguson is the author, you might want to anyway.


Sinclair Ferguson, From The Mouth of God: Trusting, Reading, and Applying The BibleCarlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust , July 2014. 224 pp. Paperback, $15.00.

Buy itAmazon | Westminster

Read an excerpt

Visit the publisher’s page

Thanks to Banner of Truth Trust for the review copy!

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I don’t tend to put a lot of stock in book blurbs. However, when it’s a book on discipleship and wide-range of pastors from a wide-range of backgrounds endorse it, I think that’s worth something. While there is certainly not a shortage of books on discipleship, some have more to offer than others. What makes Robby Gallaty’s Rediscovering Discipleship interesting to me is his focus on understanding how Jesus approached discipleship.

The first part of the book is devoted to this topic and draws heavily on Jewish studies to illuminate the first century context. I had brief Rob Bell flashbacks while reading, but found the insights to be solid. The first chapter gives a general overview of how rabbis discipled others. Chapter 2 nudges readers to “think like a Hebrew” and sketches out the contours of a Hebrew worldview. Chapter 3 deepens this by focusing on how visual the teaching of Jesus was. Chapter 4 gives background on the sociological dimensions of Jesus’ choosing of his disciples (and how it was counter-cultural). The remaining three chapters in this part of the book turn to explaining how discipleship fell on hard times in the local church. Particularly interesting and helpful here is Gallaty’s explanation of discipleship post-Reformation and then Wesley’s role in systematizing it.

The second part of the book unpacks Gallaty’s method of disciple-making and ends with helpful answers to frequently asked questions. It essentially comes to discipleship groups of 3-6 people that have the MARCS of a healthy group:

  • Missional
  • Accountable
  • Reproducible
  • Communal
  • Scriptural

None of this is particularly revolutionary. Given that, if you’ve read widely on this topic, I don’t think you’ll glean any insights that are radically new. You might in the early part of the book, which I found particularly insightful. The strength of Gallaty’s book is not necessarily a new method, but perhaps a new framework (the Jewish first century background) to illuminate that method, and a narrative that explains why discipleship has fallen away in recent times and why it’s difficult in our current culture. The title then is apt as Gallaty is helping readers rediscover something that isn’t new. Rather, it’s something that is very hit or miss in the local churches in our culture.

In that light, I think Gallaty’s book is most helpful to people who have attempted to disciple others and not found much success. His book can help explain why and give the insight needed to press on faithfully. It is also encouraging and empowering for people who haven’t been involved in discipleship. Gallaty takes the command to make disciples seriously, but this isn’t the kind of book that will make people who haven’t discipled feel guilty. Instead, he guides readers by giving them the tools they would need to successfully start discipling others. I would say that everyone is capable of discipling someone else, or even multiple someone else’s. With a brief guide like this, you’ll have what you need to get started.


Robby Gallaty, Rediscovering Discipleship: Making Jesus’ Final Words Our First WorkGrand Rapids: Zondervan, October 2015. 240 pp. Paperback, $15.99.

Buy itAmazon

Visit the publisher’s page

Thanks to Zondervan for the review copy!