The Identity and Attributes of God by Terry L. Johnson

Cover image for the Identity and Attributes of God by Terry Johnson

Every pastor, teacher, and serious Christian should have a healthy dose of Puritan theology.  Over and over again, I have heard it:  Read the Puritans.  Whole volumes have been written on the value of the Puritans.

But there is a problem.  It is not as though someone said to read the works of this author or that one.  But the call is to read “the Puritans.”  The Puritans of England, along with some of their heirs who paddled over the pond to New England, were among the more prolific, and sometimes wordy, writers that ever lived.  Sometimes their styles are dense, archaic, and too formal for easy reading.  But sometimes they are clear, crisp, and as pointed as a sharp knife.  But still there is the immensity of the task of even plodding through particular volumes, much less through whole sets, of Puritan works.

I suspect that there are more Puritan writings available today than at any time in history.  One of the main publishers of Puritan works has been the Banner of Truth Trust.

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The Banner, however, has no monopoly on Puritan reprints.  As a point to consider, you should be able to quickly judge the depth of a pastor by how many books he has on his shelves by Puritans and their direct theological descendants.  And you can make it a point to see how many Banner of Truth works he has. If his shelves are sagging from the weight of so many Puritan works, you can either buy him more or get him more bookshelves.  If his book collection makes you think of the wimpy guy on the beach before he embraced the Charles Atlas body-building program, you will know what to get him for Christmas, his birthday, and Pastor Appreciation month.

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The relentless accumulation of Puritan tomes doesn’t really solve the problem, however, of the immensity of the task of reading the Puritans.  For that reason, I want to strongly recommend The Identity and Attributes of God by Terry L. Johnson.  Yes, this is a Banner of Truth book.

Terry L. Johnson has read, gleaned, and cherry picked the Puritans with great skill.  This book of nearly 400 pages would be cut in half if all of his fine quotes from Puritans and their fellow travelers were cut out.  This book is a primer on what Puritans to read, which volumes to peruse, and what method to use to get the Puritans’ thoughts into your own heart and mind first and then into your preaching and teaching.  Names like Charnock, Sibbes, Trapp, Henry, Owen, Edwards, Poole, Bunyan, Watson, Gurnall, and Baxter become household names after just going a few chapters into the book.  Add to that, you get a number of other great Christian writers such as Charles Hodge, Benjamin Warfield, A. W. Pink, James Henley Thornwell, and more.  Learning begins with lists and recognition skills.  I promise that if someone were to read this book and then pick a book every month by almost any of the authors quoted, he would have years of good reading choices.

All this being said, Johnson did not write primarily to introduce us to Puritans and other theological writers.  They are only eligible for being the supporting cast for this book.  The key theme, purpose, goal, and objective for the reader is to know God.

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It might seem like God is the Big E on the eye vision chart.  We might think that the pressing need in the church is to focus on family, marriage, the current cultural challenges, witnessing and evangelism, and many more practical things.  Of what practical use is hearing about the incommunicable attributes of God? This entire book seeks to answer that question.  A case can be made that all of the practical needs in the church, all of the cultural problems, and all of the defects in our theology stem from inaccurate, inadequate, and unbiblical views of God.

Pastor Johnson, who ministers in the Independent Presbyterian Church in Savannah, Georgia, originally set out to preach ten sermons on the attributes of God.  It didn’t turn out that way, for he ended up preaching 82 sermons in that series.  This book is the distillation of that series.  Whether one reads for devotional purposes, or desires to delve into theology, or seeks to find material for preaching and teaching, this book is a gem.

On the cover of a 1971 album, the rock group Jethro Tull described modern folks saying, “In the beginning man created God in his own image.”  This is not too far from a statement by Karl Barth: “I said concerning critical reflection that it cannot be good to reverse the order and turn ‘Thus says the Lord’ into ‘Thus hears man’….”  I have been convicted in paragraph after paragraph of this book that I may know God and be known of God, but I have taken the name, identity, and attributes of God far too lightly.

I highly recommend this book.  Thanks to Banner of Truth for publishing it and to Pastor Terry Johnson for laboring to write and share it.


A Balanced Diet of Readings

Books all neatly stacked reveal a disorderly mind. On the other hand….

I need a balanced diet.  And I need to be fed and fed a lot. I speak of the pastor’s desk and not of the dining table, which is ironic since the dining table is where I do my reading.  I always have ever-growing, tilting stacks of books around me.  Some have been finished, but I want to scan back over parts.  Many have bookmarks at various places. These are the current reads that will be finished with the next few weeks, or months, or years.  Some will be read from cover to cover, while others will be dipped into at parts.  And then there are the new ones, inviting me to peer inside.

This past month, I finished two very different books.  They were Inerrancy and the Gospels by Vern Poythress and Power Through Praying by E. M. Bounds.  As I said, these were two very different books by two very different authors on very different subjects.  Poythress is a professor of New Testament studies at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia.  He has numerous degrees and has authored quite a few books on theological subjects.  He is a living exemplar of the great tradition of Presbyterian theologians and worldview thinkers.  In other words, he is standing on the shoulders of such men as Charles Hodge, Benjamin Warfield, J. Gresham Machen, and Cornelius Van Til.

E. M. Bounds was a Methodist pastor who lived in the South from 1835 to 1913.  He served as a chaplain in the Confederate Army and was imprisoned by the Federals for a time during the War Between the States.  During the last seventeen years of his life, he wrote a series of books on the spiritual life.  The recurring theme and pattern was the call to prayer.  Rising at four in the morning and praying until seven, he practiced what he preached and wrote.

Both of these books were hard and challenging reads. 

Inerrancy and the Gospels by Vern Poythress, another fine Crossway publication.

Poythress’ book discusses how the Gospels are to be harmonized.  We have four Gospels that give similar accounts of events out of the life of Christ.  Each author includes details the others leave out.  Some of the varied accounts can be easily explained, while others are more difficult to reconcile.  Scoffers and critics and lazy Bible students can dismiss the differences and assume that the writers were mistaken at points.  The key word in the title of Poythress’ book is Inerrancy.  Poythress does not give easy, “look at the answer key,” solutions to these accounts.  He gives theological, literary, and linguistic approaches to solving the concerns.  Underlying the tools are the presuppositions.  These are that God is reliable and truthful; therefore, His Word is reliable and truthful.  Add this also, God wants us to labor over the Scriptures. 

This is serious theological reading.  I felt like I was sitting in Dr. Poythress’ classroom.  I also felt like I needed to do more homework.  I certainly had to pay attention.  Karl Barth was right when he said that theology was sermon preparation.  I am realizing more and more that I need to be better at the one so that I can improve on the other.

Vern Poythress, scholar and theologian, at work.

Pastor Bounds’ book, Power Through Prayer, was also a difficult book.  The chapters were short; the language was simple;  the ideas were clearly expressed.  There was no need to have a dictionary or any theological resources handy while reading this book.  The copy I had was an old pocketbook size trade paperback that came out around 1978.  The cover boasts “More than 300,000 copies in print!” 

A newer edition of E. M. Bounds’ classic on prayer. This book has remained in print for over a century.

The difficulty of Bounds’ books on prayer is in the doing of what he said.  It is an all embracing call for serious, devoted, lengthy praying.  In Bounds’ case, remember he prayed for 3 hours a day.  I stumble when I read this book.  While reading it, I prayed prayers like “God help me” many times.  This is an undiluted, uncompromising, unabashed demand that God’s people, and especially preachers, go before God.

Pastor and author E. M. Bounds, prayer warrior and writer.

I had the testimony of two witnesses encouraging me to read Bounds.  George Grant has often spoken and written of the ministry and ministry of E. M. Bounds.  This past year, Andrew Sandlin read through a number of Bounds’ writings and continually exhorted me to do the same.  They were right.  One read is not enough.  And once again, sitting under the teaching of E. M. Bounds, I realize that I have homework to do. 

I need to pull this book from the shelf and read more on prayer. I need to read and labor over prayer until the exhortations truly change me.