Aaron Armstron, Contend: Defending The Faith In A Fallen World. Place: Cruciform Press, October 2012. 108 pp. Paperback, $9.99.
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Back in the spring, at TGC to be specific, I had the privilege to not only meet Aaron Armstrong, but to also hang out with him and some of his friends at a Chik-fil-a. I was the only American in the mix, and I think that made it more interesting (read: fun). All that to say, Aaron is a great guy, and you should read his blog if you don’t already. He not only reviews a lot of great books, but he posts a lot of great original content. Plus, he can help restore your faith in Canadians to be fine upstanding world citizens.
Contend is Aaron’s second book published with Cruciform Press (his first, Awaiting A Savior, is worth checking out as well). However, from what I’ve read (and I think I’ve read all the Cruciform) titles, this is the most researched book (or at least the most footnoted). Much of that I imagine is because a strong case for contending in our postmodern culture needs to be made. Unless you’re already one of those people who gravitate naturally toward apologetics, you might feel like either a) there isn’t really a big need for apologetics (wrong) or that b) apologetics is an exercise in futility (wrong, but possibly true the way some people do it).
Enter Contend. The book itself is grounded in Jude’s appeal, and early on Aaron comments,
One thing we can draw from Jude’s appeal is that sometimes it is more important to defend the faith than to examine and rehearse what we believe. Like the writer of Ecclesiastes, Jude is affirming that there is a time and purpose for all godly behavior. To face inward, affirming and clarifying among and between orthodox believers everything God has done for us— this is a necessary, ongoing activity of the church. But that must not and cannot be our exclusive preoccupation. We must also at times— as a necessary complementary activity— be intentional about facing outward, contending with those who deny who God is and what he has done, whether these voices come from within the church or without. (Kindle Loc. 122-127)
From here, Aaron traces the context of our modern culture and why contending for the faith is necessary. As he concludes, “Contending must be understood and exercised as an act of mercy toward those who doubt and those who have been deceived, regardless of whether they claim faith in Christ.” (Kindle Loc. 323-329)
In the next chapter, Aaron then begins the journey of helpfully guiding the reader through the content of what we’re defending (the doctrine of God and the Gospel), and the challenge before us (to do the contending well and wisely). At the end of chapter 3, he notes that everything up to that point has been groundwork, and so the practical turn happens with the final two chapters. First, we read about the job of the clergy (most importantly, to faithfully feed the flock, but also to correct errors, and protect from wolves), and then the role of the congregation (build up your faith with Scripture and persevere). Since he alliterated with C’s, it is only natural to have a final chapter titled “conclusion,” in which Aaron encourages readers to put into practice what they’ve read, and to do so with love and humility.
In a way, I think this book has something to offer both types of people I mentioned earlier. Aaron does a good job of setting the context in chapter 1, establishing the need for apologetics, both inside and outside the church. I’m not sure you could read that and walk away thinking that we don’t have our work cut out for us. On the other hand, his practical suggestions in the final chapters help to ward off the feeling that apologetics is a waste of time (i.e. needed, but not effective). He sets modest goals by using the idea of “contending” for the faith, which is not the same as “having all the answers” or “destroying all the false theology out there.” By defending key doctrines against assault, you can focus on what’s most significant and see more fruit in your labors (though your job is to contend, the Spirit’s job is to produce fruit).
All that to say, I would commend you Aaron’s work here. It is a thoroughly researched, easy to read, motivational exposition of Jude’s appeal for our modern context. He focuses on the basic, foundations of our faith that need to be defended and then gives sage advice on how to do so. The book strikes a fine balance between doctrinal exposition and practical application, making it very epistolatory. Yes, I just said epistolatory.
But, don’t just take my word for it, watch this video of Aaron explaining more: